The answer is on your plate or in your glass if you order an arugula salad or a muddled-mint mojito at LCL, the hotel restaurant and bar.
Last summer the Westin Grand Central turned its rooftop into a modest organic Eden suspended 41 stories in the air. And this year the fleet of 11 dirt-filled planters and four fat barrels are back in business, bearing fruit – and vegetables and herbs – destined for hotel guests once again.
“You can’t get more local than this,” says Executive Chef Brian Wieler, who plans to shape his menus around what’s blooming on the roof. “I come up here daily and water it,” he adds.
For a growing number of New York hotels that forgo a roof bar, a roof garden has become the go-to accoutrement (the Waldorf-Astoria and Intercontinental New York Barclay supplement their planters with huge hives of bees). The rewards are obvious: besides a ready source of fresh-picked produce, roof gardens help improve air quality by generating oxygen through photosynthesis and lower surface temperatures, reducing solar radiation.
They also offer the hotel bragging rights. In an ultra-urban setting – the Chrysler Building is so close it’s almost a scarecrow — Wieler sounds like a Vermont farmer, praising his arugula (“some of the best we’ve ever had”) and shaking his head over his legumes (“maybe next year”).
New York isn’t the San Joaquin Valley, but the rooftop growing season is surprisingly long. Following a cold winter, Wieler waited until Earth Day to plant this year’s crops. He expects the lettuce and kale to last into September and pumpkins to sprout in the fall. What he won’t try again: watermelons. “They were the one thing that didn’t work last year.”
So forget watermelon mojitos. But the mint is doing beautifully this year, as are thyme, oregano, basil and cilantro. And Wieler has high hopes for yellow squash, zucchini, peppers and heirloom tomatoes. “You can really taste the difference between tomatoes grown in a greenhouse and tomatoes grown up here,” he says.
Westin New York Grand Central, 212 East 42nd Street, between Second and Third avenues. (212) 490-8900.