making sense

If there’s one thing that can lure me out of my lair it’s a trip to the spa, which at Rosewood Mayakoba is tucked into the jungle on its own private island. I’m getting a taste of what’s to come in celebration of the end of the Mayan calendar – or what some pessimistic folks are calling the Mayan Apocalypse. Emmanuel Arroyo, Spa Director at Sense, A Rosewood Spa, is one of the optimists, however. “The end of the calendar on December 21st isn’t the end of the world but the end of a cycle,” he tells me while showing off the unobtrusively expansive facilities. “A new cycle is beginning; and with that comes the promise of renewal.” All of which sounds like the perfect excuse to be a pampered guinea pig for the 2 1/2 hour Mayan Equinox Ritual, which begins with a blessing of copal, the ceremonial incense used by Mayan warriors before going into battle. Afterwards comes a full-body jade exfoliation, a gold-infused wrap and mask to nourish and protect the skin, and a 90-minute mineralizing massage that incorporates silver. A word to the wise: they might want to think about rechristening the treatment - something more akin to Mayan Warrior, perhaps? – because far from feeling like I need to scraped off the table at the end, I feel revitalized, armed, and ready to conquer. Maybe the time has come for me to seize the beach.

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top 100: momofuku ssäm bar

Yes, it’s loud, crowded and incredibly cramped even by New York’s standards – and the byzantine reservation system is almost enough to cause you to throw up your hands and arrive hoping for a random cancellation – but in the end there is no denying the crazy-delicious nonchalance of what comes out of the kitchen at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. It’s everything you’ve heard about and more: inventive, intelligent, insidious, and best of all, indifferent – which I mean in the best way possible. David Chang’s kitchen doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass for what’s fashionable or trending. (My god, they don’t even have a Twitter account, if you can believe) What Momofuku does have, however, is a culinary curiosity that asks you to either jump on board or get left behind. If you’re at all accustomed to the preciousness that too often comes with fine dining, this is an insouciant antidote and the gastronomic equivalent of a thrill ride. My table of eight started small with raw bites of striped bass flecked with pungent slices of kumquat. Spanish mackerel followed, cut with black garlic, lime, and a quixotic scattering of strawberries. Stimulated we moved on to what I like to think of as the steamed bun course: thick slices of meaty-fatty pork belly, cucumber rounds and hoisin stuffed into what looks like fluffy tacos; a plate of crispy, seasonal pickles; and BBQ buns, which turn that same slice of belly into a wholly different sensory experience: crispy pork, crunchy coleslaw and creamy smoked mayo colliding with finger licking results. Before the main event we downshift to a simple plate of ham. I’ve written about Benton’s hardcore bacon before yet lo and behold, the humble pig reaches its fatty, flavorful – and refined – apotheosis in a plate of paper-thin slices of Benton’s Smoky Mountain ham which dissolve on the tongue like the porcine equivalent of angel wings. And just when you think things couldn’t get any piggier, the Bo Ssäm arrives: a whole Niman Ranch pork shoulder slow roasted for eight hours in a brown sugar and salt rub. Ssäm is Korean for enclosed or wrapped, and the pork comes with bibb lettuce for wrapping, along with white rice, kimchi, ginger scallion sauce, korean bbq or ssäm sauce and a dozen oysters on the half shell. While you’re encouraged to eat it however you please, there is an art – and a pleasure – in going whole hog. Take a buttery leaf and spread it with a little of each condiment. Using the provided tongs grab a hunk of the tender meat, sprinkle with a little rice, toping with a raw oyster, wrap and devour. Yes, you read that right: top it with a raw oyster. A really good medium-sized oyster has a mouth feel similar to lardo. In the bo ssäm that creamy, colloidal texture – along with the spiky mollusk brine – elevates the simple wrap into a salty-sweet, juicy pocket rocket of porky goodness. You might approach the enterprise with a bit of gustatory hesitation but trust me, you’ll soon be shoveling it in with gusto. A good part of the fun also comes from watching your table mates as they experiment with assembling and eating their carnivorous creations. (tip: the messier the better) Ultimately the bo ssäm turns into an epic battle of the wills: man versus pork. I’m full and yet I keep eating and picking and wrapping because yes, I have no self-control, but also because it is that good.  Collectively the eight of us did some serious damage and still, the pork shoulder won hands down. (I took home a solid five pounds of leftover meat.) Stuffed to the gills it was difficult for anyone to fathom room for desert, yet when the waiter mentioned that pastry chef Christina Tosi was experimenting with an off-menu treat that night, I couldn’t resist insisting on one for the table: pancake cake, layered with raspberry jam and miso ganache, glazed with maple syrup and served with a black pepper butter sauce and strips of bacon. A seemingly playful send-up of breakfast, it was sick come to think of it. Sick and oh, so right.

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lounging at la costa

For all the time I’ve spent taking up space in spas around the world, I must admit I’ve never quite understood the practice of spending a full day at the spa. Until La Costa, that is. The Spanish mission-style resort just north of San Diego in Carlsbad, California was once the first of its kind: a lifestyle resort, where the concept of well-being was at the heart of the guest experience. Ok people, it was a fat farm. But what really distinguished the village-like ambience at La Costa – aside from the celebrities who trekked down the coast from Hollywood – was the innovative spa. A resort within a resort, the spa was more in keeping with the design of a European spa retreat, complete unto itself. When it opened in the mid-1960’s La Costa Spa was the largest in the world, housed on its own private 22-acre spread which accommodated an unbelievable 150 guests at a time. That heyday has since evaporated and now – following a $50 million dollar renovation – the resort caters more to families than fatties, yet there’s still more than a quantum of solace to be found in the thoroughly new spa. The 28,000 square feet of indoor treatment space is complemented by a 15,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard, where a heated lounge pool, Roman waterfall massage pool and reflexology path round out the offerings. Notoriously distracted and prone to boredom, I managed to while away an entire workday without even blinking. Stumbling in bleary-eyed and just a little bit hung over I first took the water cure – an invigorating circuit of steam, cold plunge, and jacuzzi – before grabbing my book and heading to pool for some sun. And a nap. By the time I woke up it was time for lunch. While waiting for mango quinoa cups with grilled chicken and a glass of organic Sauvignon Blanc in the adjoining Spa Cafe, I decided to investigate the curious stone path winding through the fragrant herb garden. A reflexology expert on property consulted on the choice and placement of coastal stones from the nearby Pacific beach interspersed with other local stones of different shapes and sizes. Walking the path – one of only a few in the US, by the way - provides a deep-working stimulation of pressure points in the feet, encouraging vital energy and blood flow throughout the body. Curiosity satisfied, hunger sated – yes, I had dessert, too – the moment had come for daydreams and digesting in the warmth of the California sun. A scant five hours after my arrival came the purported reason for my visit: the Tea-Tox Trio, a mix of organic rosemary, cypress, lime and geranium oils designed to energize the lymphatic system and encourage metabolism. To get your blood going it starts with a bracing sugar scrub, followed by a clay body wrap to promote circulation. Next you sit in a hydro-massage tub for a green tea soak that stimulates cellular drainage. Invigorated, the treatment ends with an application of lotion that will leave you refreshed and hydrated. Or in my case, wondering where the day went – and ready for dinner.

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