So you’re coming to Texas and have been hearing a lot about the Inn at Dos Brisas for a country weekend?
Well, it’s true that plenty of Houstonians are taking choppers out there for dinner or brunch. But as for staying over, most people in this part of the world who can throw down almost $600 a night probably have their own ranch (or at least know someone who does). And so there is a bit of a question mark hanging over the place.
First the good news: The property is lovely—more than 300 acres of rolling horse country an hour northwest of Houston (that’s 20 minutes by helicopter), with meandering streams, groves of towering trees, and fields full of wildflowers. It’s the only Relais & Châteaux property in Texas, and with just four guest-room casitas, it’s also the group’s smallest.
Providing further encouragement: The restaurant has received five stars from Mobil two years running—we know, we know, what does this even mean? It’s not something we usually put much stock in, but Dos Brisas is one of just 20 restaurants in the nation to have earned such endorsement this year. And again, it’s the only one in the Lone Star State, so that’s…something.
As it happens, the chow—whoops! We mean cuisine—couldn’t be better. The chef, 35-year-old Jason Robinson, gave up the trendy Tru in Chicago to come down to this former private ranch and Arabian horse farm in the middle of nowhere. His dining room here, both intimate and grand, has an enormous 18th-century stone fireplace, a cathedral ceiling with rustic beams, and a mere ten tables. Robinson relies heavily on ingredients plucked from the inn’s four-acre organic gardens. Tended by their own horticulturist and production manager, the gardens, orchard, and greenhouse give the chef such fresh choices as 124 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 24 kinds of carrots, and 28 different squashes. I had the chef’s Garden tasting menu, an eight-course vegetarian meal with such deliciousnesses as spaghetti-squash ravioli with spinach-and-truffle beurre blanc. My dessert was carrot cake with citrus reduction. Farm to table is one thing—but this is table at the farm.
There’s also the not quite right or the slightly overwrought here, however. After coming through the hotel’s entrance gate, an imposing Spanish-style affair, I took the dirt drive through the property for more than a mile and a half, passing fields, gardens, and ponds stocked with fish and dotted along their banks with white Adirondack chairs. Pulling up to the red-tile-roofed main building, I was greeted by the general manager, Christopher Bates, who spent time at Jackson Hole’s Amangani, and my car was whisked away, replaced by a cream golf cart. Convenient and practical, yes, but perhaps not quite part of the authentic Texas ranch experience.
The property also features an infinity pool. This may conjure up images of Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, with its sweeping Mediterranean views, but here the pool opens out onto a cow pasture. And at checkout I was given a bill done in handwritten calligraphy on a thick beige stock. It came with a leather Mark Cross tray offering a choice of three pens. “Two are fountain pens, one is a ballpoint,” I was told. My thought: In the midst of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, is this really a decision I need to be making?
But the best news about Dos Brisas, besides the attentive yet discreet service, was that I was never far from another meal. Breakfast—a beautifully prepared egg-white omelet and oatmeal—appeared on a silver tray on the veranda. A trip to the stables and a horseback ride included a picnic on the banks of a stream. And a poolside lunch starred wild triggerfish, simply grilled with broccoli fresh from one of the gardens. It all left me thinking, Who really needs those silly old Mediterranean views anyway?
The nightly rate of $575 at Dos Brisas includes breakfast, lunch, and, on weekdays, dinner. The chef’s tasting menus begin at $85 (979-277-7750; dosbrisas.com).
Capri’s Secret Hotel
On an island where hotels pride themselves on their flash and visibility, Capri’s secluded, family-run Punta Tragara maintains the air of a grand but familiar private mansion. First conceived by Le Corbusier in the thirties—who knew he worked in Capri?—as a summer home for a certain Count Vismara, Punta Tragara was visited by both Eisenhower and Churchill in the forties and today is a romantic getaway for Europeans both intellectual and entrepreneurial. “It’s unknown,” says one Milan fashion exec, “a diamond in the rough.” Perched on a cliff facing the iconic Faraglioni rocks but just a quick walk from Capri’s main piazzetta, the 43-room hotel has a pair of saltwater pools, direct access to two private beach clubs, and an ample garden dotted with cacti and cypress and olive trees. The main villa’s rooms all have balconies overlooking the Faraglioni or the Marina Piccola, and the penthouse gets its own massive patio with 360-degree views. Be sure to ask for Silvia at reception and Bruno at the restaurant. Antonio is your man by the pool. A white peach Bellini at sunset on the panoramic terrace is a must. Open April to October. Rates begin at $560 for a classic garden room and top out at $1,220 for a suite (hoteltragara.com).—Elettra Fiumi