Have you ever had a hospitality experience that was so good – so beyond the best – that it brought tears to your eyes?
That’s what recently happened to a new bride and her husband, who honeymooned at the Forbes 5-Star Chatham Inn, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The couple finished dinner in the acclaimed Cuvee restaurant – at which point the staff presented them with custom-made cappuccinos – with one of their internet wedding photos prominently displayed in the foam. (It’s done thanks to Bluetooth and a special device called a Ripples Machine.)
“The bride teared up when she saw their photo captured on the cup of cappuccino,” says Jeff Ippoliti, the owner of the luxe property. (It is also co-owned by Mr. Ippoliti’s wife, and the Executive Chef, Isaac Olivo). Mr. Ippoliti told me, “She said it was the best part of her honeymoon,” adding, “If we can’t do it perfectly, we won’t do it.”
He also commented – accurately, in my view as a travel journalist – that what passes for service nowadays has been sadly ‘dumbed down’ – and that “Covid has been a crutch, an excuse, for dinner hosts and hospitality providers to deliver poor service. We would never think of that – we are here to create memories and wow moments, with something different.”
Indeed, the award-winning Chatham Inn is a proud member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux, an elite association of the world’s finest hoteliers, chefs and restauranteurs, which many sophisticated travelers regard as the gold standard of hospitality. The group’s goal is to make the world a better place through superior cuisine and uncompromised hospitality. And Mr. Ippoliti is a very satisfied member of this prestigious hospitality association, telling me, “I love the Relais & Chateaux vision.”
Indeed, Mr. Ippoliti told me that Cuvee restaurant only has 10 tables, amounting to only 40 guests in the restaurant per night – “and not one more after that.” That’s because he knows that 40 maximum guests per night is the “sweet spot” where excellent service can be maximized fully – even though the inn could easily fill its restaurant with many more reservations nightly.
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“It’s an experience, not just dinner, with no pretense or stuffiness.”
And indeed it was an experience that left me wowed. All guests typically give the staff their dietary preferences before their visit, so that special requests can be accommodated. For me, I stay with primarily healthy options – however, I have a weakness – and it’s called Nutella; my Number One indulgence in life. And what did I see in my room upon check-in? Two containers of Nutella-to-go, beautifully wrapped in a clear bag, sitting pretty on my two nightstands. That’s service before you can even ask for it.
But lets get back to Cuvee, the inn’s restaurant. (“Cuvee” is a French word, usually used to define champagne, where it refers to the first-pressed and best juice, and usually indicates superior quality.) Upon sitting down, my husband Bill and I were presented with a beautiful seven-course menu (priced at $225). To be honest, it contained a lot of items that I don’t normally consume, and upon informing our waiter, he then asked me exactly what I don’t like to eat – so I told him no foie gras, lobster, seared fish, meats, and positively, definitely, absolutely, no goat cheese. Faster than you can say, “Special Menu,” I received a newly printed four-course menu tailored specifically to my tastes.
We started with seasonal fruits and vegetables (heirloom tomatoes and haricots verts, for example), elegantly sauced with a sweet hazelnut emulsion with petite greens. It was followed by a spectacular, fresh, house-made rigatoni accented with an artisanal Swiss cheese from Vermont called Alpha Tolman. We loved it. Next up were local Harwich scallops with a corn chowder and Serrano chili. Mr. Ippoliti told me that “The fish we serve at night was in the sea that morning.” (Interestingly, the Executive Chef, Isaac Olivo, breaks down all of the whole meat and fish himself.) Then came a terrific chocolate pop with a chocolate olive-oil cake, along with a little treat of – what else? – Nutella with raspberry sorbet and candied violets. Our third and fourth desserts (well, this is a Relais & Chateaux property, after all!) was a yuzu and coconut creation with an elderflower sorbet.
“Everything is full-scratch here,” Mr. Ippoliti added, citing the many sauces, breads, pastries, desserts, ice cream, and a lot more, including the special syrups used in the cocktails and mocktails. I thoroughly loved the cranberry-ginger beer that was complemented by two of my favorite spices – nutmeg and cloves. Dee-lish. Or should I say, “Tres bien.”
Even breakfast is a memorable event at the Chatham Inn. “Breakfast is just as important as dinner,” Mr. Ippoliti added, saying “It merits a level of refinement,” and indeed it reflected just that. Just a simple order of scrambled eggs came with violet-flower accents, made with my request for just one ounce of cheddar cheese plus mushrooms, a chocolate-chip scone amuse bouche beforehand, warm whole-grain bread, and a fresh green salad with house-made dressing. It was a sight to behold, and accented with silken service.
In fact, many of the items on the menu come right from the backyard, where the chef grows strawberries and blueberries, although the restaurant purchases much of its produce from the 100% organic Hedgelawn Farm in Connecticut. About all of its products that it purchases, Mr. Ippoliti told me, “We won’t accept it unless it’s perfect.” At 3:00 PM daily, the staff meets to go over the menu and the quality of products, and if necessary, “We just pivot…Everything we source is well-thought-out.”
There are so many other inimitable features and memorable services that the Chatham Inn offers, I don’t even know where to start. The ice cubes in your drinks are one huge chunk of sculpted ice, which Chef Olivo has created with a giant cleaver, and to which he has added the fleur-de-lis bearing the Relaix & Chateaux logo. And then there is the bed – one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in (aside from the heavenly one at Miraval Spa in Lenox, Mass., which is even available for purchase!). The inn’s Maitre de Maison, Lyn Francis, told me how particular she was in selecting the bedding, based on years of experience, and how she insisted that only one type of mattress be purchased: a very expensive Serta iSeries Memory Foam mattress. Your sweet slumber is further enhanced with 350-thread-count linens, plus there are imported Italian luxury Frette towels.
The Chatham Inn is the only Relais & Chateaux property on Cape Cod, and one of only 323 five-star hotels in the world. There were no glitches during our stay, except that we wound up bringing in our own bags to the lobby. But aside from that very minor small point, it was a first-class experience.
If you’re seeking the best room in the house, it’s the Loft Suite at $999 per night.
Before you go, make sure to disclose your dietary preferences, and if you need your menu to be vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free – you will have it. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Mr. Ippoliti clearly loves his work – and his inn – and is more than happy to always pitch in, whether it’s in the kitchen, or with a paintbrush, or whatever. He told me, “Having this inn is like having a house party every day.”
To which I say, “Amusez-vous bien!”
For more about my Wanderlust travels, please Follow me on Instagram at @DebbiKickham.