Have you visited your local neighborhood Westin Savannah Resort and Spa lately?
Chances are, you have not, but if the plan put in place by Westin General Manager Marc Spadoni and his staff goes as well as they hope, well, that might just be about to change.
The Westin held what was billed as a "Grand Opening" Aug. 15 to showcase something old and something new. The old is their restaurant "Aqua Star" on the second floor, which is hands-down the home of Savannah's best Sunday brunch.
Also getting a makeover was its Midnight Star lounge on the first floor just off the pool area. Both of these areas have been there as long as the hotel, 14 years. However, they have been remodeled, re-branded and re-crafted to appeal certainly to tourists, but they also want to see more locals spending time over the river. Frankly, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't.
The evening was perfectly set against the hotel's picture windows looking back across the Savannah River at River Street. Filled with guests and perfect lighting, the rain outside did nothing to dampen the mood inside. It was one of the better events I've attended in this city.
The Westin has always been a beautiful hotel. However, outside of the Sunday brunch, there was nothing about Aqua Star that made locals say, "Let's go over to the Westin." The dÃ©cor needed love, as did the menu.
I can remember having brunch there years ago and thinking I had walked into an Asian fusion restaurant. There was practically more sushi and sashimi than anything else.
Sure, there was an omelette station, but the attention to the best of what Savannah has to offer was missing.
Similarly, the Saturday night "Epicurean Seafood Buffet" was a good idea a while ago, perhaps, but Savannah is evolving, and the menus around town need to reflect that.
Enter the new-look Westin. I think they nailed it.
I visited ahead of the official grand opening to see what was different, and you see it immediately. I had been told what the plan for renovation was, but until you see it, you cannot really appreciate it.
Aqua Star still has the same layout, but they have made the middle area where guests walk in far more inviting. It's certainly darker, but not dark. Most importantly, it is inviting for a relaxing evening and a glass of wine.
"We want Savannah to think about us when they just want to enjoy an evening before or after dinner," said David Moses, director of public relations with the Westin. "We want people to know they can hop the free ferry boat and ride over from River Street and enjoy an evening here with us."
Chairs and couches have been set up in front of the windows to allow guests to hang around for a while, which I am sure they will. Now, back to the party.
The menu was extravagant. Cheeses from Flat Creek Dairy in Swainsboro (some of the most popular around now, with good reason.) Oysters, shrimp, cured meats and charcuterie. That was for starters. A touch of champagne, and we were off and running.
The main courses were all items from the new menu at Aqua Star. There were crab cakes, whole fish, perfect green bean sides, bourbon blackened rubbed New York strip steaks and of course, the scallops.
Oh, those scallops. Their signature dish - seared in duck fat and served in a garlic, plum tomato, basil broth with porcini risotto.
Chef Roger Michel and Aqua Star won Best EntrÃ©e at Taste of Savannah a couple of years ago. I was a judge.
I fell in love with them that night and can say the same for this night. Simply awesome. Now they are on the menu to enjoy any time.
The final stop of the evening was on the first floor at Midnight Sun, essentially the Westin's just-off-the-lobby bar.
It's now a bourbon/chocolate bar.
Inside, you will find a case filled with Savannah Chocolatier Adam Turoni's handcrafted jewels. Along with that, 120 bourbon varieties.
Sometimes the Westin is easy to forget when you are thinking about something to do or some place to eat in Savannah because of the location.
The great people in charge know this and are doing everything they can to change that perception.
This latest revamp is a huge step in the right direction.
It looks better, it actually feels better and I can say without question, if regular restaurant service and quality is anything like what we were served at the grand opening, then it will undoubtedly taste better.
There was a whole lot of Eating and Liking going on.
Don't believe me?
Ask anyone who was there.
See you on TV!
â€¢ Sage closed on Whitaker without a sound. Sign in window says "Hercules Bar and Grill opening very soon."
â€¢ I told you a couple of weeks ago a new Mexican spot on Whitaker near York was getting a lot of buzz. Tried dinner there the other night, was told over a 1-hour wait. Where does that happen in Savannah unless fried chicken is involved? When I've got an hour to spare, I'll try it.
â€¢ Want to see what we've been up? Check out one of our new commercials at http://bit.ly/13MwDku. See you 7:30 a.m. Sept. 29 on WSAV.