Many adjectives describe my sister Robin, the oldest of us four whom we affectionately call “the Elder.”
“Frugal,” brother Ross says. “Still earning interest on her third grade lunch money,” brother Robert notes. “Fiscally conservative,” I’m reminded when I step from her guest bathroom shower to dry off using bald pink cotton bath towels originally purchased by our late mother during the Nixon administration. “Make it do or do without” is her lifetime creed.
A month ago Robin emailed us and announced that she wanted to take us out to lunch “at a very special spot, EVEN THOUGH it’s going to COST ME a lot of money.” Robert immediately booked a flight from Denver. I started studying long-range snow forecasts for my drive from Maine. Unfortunately, Ross could not fly east from New Mexico. (More for us!, Robert and I agreed.)
“You’ve all been so generous to me over the years,” Robin said. “I want to show some appreciation and love DESPITE THE FACT THAT THIS PLACE IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI. But that’s okay, we’re all getting older, and God knows when ‘things’ will happen, so I thought this would be fun. AND IT BETTER BE GOOD BECAUSE…..”
The Glenmere Mansion in Chester, New York is a Relais & Chateaux property, a world-wide association of boutique hotels, resorts, villas and restaurants. Located 50 miles north of New York City, the Glenmere is one of only 83 properties in the United States ever to be invited to join the Relais society.
Originally built in 1911 for a New York real estate multi-millionaire, the three-story Tuscan-style mansion enjoyed a $30-million renovation several years ago, Today, the Hudson Valley’s most stylish hotel sits on 150 wooded acres, and includes 18 luxurious guest rooms, a world-class spa, two gourmet restaurants, along with bocce, tennis and croquet courts. The mansion itself is a paradigm of luxury and impeccable taste.
On the morning of The Lunch, Robin said, “Since this place is so high priced, I think we should dress appropriately.” (I noticed that she was wearing hand-me-down-from-Val slacks with a “gently used” Shantung jacket given to her by a friend who recently moved to Florida.)
A butler stood waiting as the five of us (including my daughter Alex and my sister’s partner Shirley) drove up the long tree-lined driveway. “Welcome to the Glenmere,” he said, ushering us into an antique-appointed entrance hall with marble floors. Because we had come for “luncheon,” he took us into the Frogs End Tavern rather than the Supper Room. (Both restaurants are helmed by award-winning executive chef Gunnar Thompson, who was the 2012 Grand Chef of the Year for Relais & Chateaux worldwide.)
“Order whatever you want,” Robin said, paling noticeably as she glanced at the menu and spotted an appetizer of Petrossian Caviar for $325. “Anything….” she whispered.
We did. Oysters on the half-shell with champagne mignonette! General Tso’s cauliflower! Herbed and grilled flatbread! And that was just the appetizer course. Then, artistically arranged plates featuring pan-seared Maine winter scallops for some, gourmet burgers with Bernaise sauce for others, a Caesar salad here, garlic prawns there! And culminating in Mrs. Astor’s Vanilla Sundae with English toffee, and five spoons. Oh, and a Bloody Mary or two, plus a decanting into several glasses of delicate Sauvignon Blanc.
When the bill arrived on a silver platter, we all looked at our hostess, our sister, the most parsimonious woman on Earth, and said, “Can we…..?” And thank God she said, “No, no! This is on me! Even though…..”
And it was on all counts.