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Trump International Hotel & Tower

Luxury at a Price

Donald Trump isn't exactly known for being shy. His name is on six, soon to be seven, buildings in New York City. Anyone who has an ego that big, ought to deliver big, too. At Trump International Hotel & Tower, he does. Luxury costs and stays at the hotel, which opened in 1997, do not come cheaply. One- and two-bedroom suites are pricey even when compared to the inflated cost of finding lodging in Manhattan.

The lobby is modest. A first time guest might wonder what all the fuss is about. You soon find out. Suites are sized to spread out in and have a residential look. The contemporary furnishings would dress up the poshest private home. Large kitchens have high-end appliances; baths are sumptuous. Views are unobstructed, walls are thick and neighbors seem non-existent. Appointments are the most expensive that can be had: Christofle trays, Frette robes and crystal glasses.

The staff delivers, too, but like elves dropping off Christmas presents, they are nearly invisible. The doorbell didn't ring often, but I always had fresh flowers, mineral water, coffee, fruit and candy. A personal attaché left a daily message on my voice mail asking whether she could be of assistance. A malfunctioning safe was quickly replaced by security.

Irons and ironing boards are no longer unusual in hotel rooms, but there is also a Rowenta electric steamer. You only need them in a pinch. Overnight pressing is complimentary. Shopping bags, an essential part of the New York uniform, are supplied, too.

Jean-Georges, one of Manhattan's hottest chefs, heads up the eponymous restaurant. Such is his fame and following that instead of calling it "Trump," The Donald let him put his own name on the restaurant. Unlike many hotel restaurants, Jean-Georges is freestanding with an identity apart from Trump International.

The dining room is spare, the better to focus on the four-star cuisine, but the minimal design is eyecatching. Take, for example, the appetizer plates. Dining with a large group, I noticed that each had different linear patterns to frame the food. Eating with seven others also gave me a chance to taste and relish many of the dishes on the menu.

Two starters sing with fresh flavors: sea scallops sitting in caper-raisin emulsion and topped with cauliflower turned elegant by caramelizing, and toasted brioche of foie gras. A checkerboard of marinated tuna and hamachi has great visual appeal, but tastes no better than sashimi at a good Japanese sushi counter.

Entrees soar: cabbage-wrapped venison with kumquat-pineapple chutney and spaetzle; char, chanterelles, artichoke bottoms and wood sorrel coulis; and lobster tartine, pumpkin seeds, fenugreek broth and pea shoots.

Several dozen seductive cheeses, with a variety of textures and degrees of sharpness, are rolled up to the table on a cart. They are satisfying in a way that only mellow cheeses can be. Crackers, rather than crunchy, dense raisin-nut bread, would have been more suitable with the cheeses.

Jean-Georges's signature dessert is a perfect chocolate cake for grownups. It has a molten interior that comes pouring forth with the first bite.

In place of room service, you can order in-suite dining. With advance notice, the kitchen, overseen by Vongerichten, will send up ingredients, utensils, china, a cook and a waiter.

A Belgian waffle ordered from the regular breakfast menu would have gone unrecognized in Brussels. It is as thin as the ones that are baked in an old-fashioned waffle iron. French toast, prepared for an in-room brunch, is terrific, but I pass on soft cooked eggs mixed with caviar, put back in the shells and piped with whipped cream.

Personal trainers help guests work out one-on-one in their rooms or in the fitness center. They also join guests in Central Park to roller-blade, bicycle or run.

As a frequent spa goer, I never met a treatment I didn't like, but the one in the fitness facility was disappointing. I don't know whether it was the masseuse or my choice of aromatherapy. I did not feel rejuvenated and perhaps should have opted for a deep tissue massage.

Trump International's convenient address is just across from the southwest corner of 840-acre Central Park. It's like having a private preserve in your backyard with access to ice-skating, boating, a zoo, concerts and other entertainment. Neighborhood attractions are endless: trendy boutiques and restaurants on Columbus Avenue, Lincoln Center (Metropolitan Opera House, New York State and several other theaters), American Museum of Natural History and Imax and the Gallery at the American Bible Society.

If you want company when you visit New York, the hotel will arrange a guide and chauffeur-driven limousine and will tailor a tour to match your interests. A few of the popular ones are: Backstage at the Met, Secret Gardens, Flea Market Shopping and Historic Hudson Valley.

Trump International Hotel & Tower, One Central Park West, New York, NY 10023. Tel. 212-299-1000. Special winter rates for standard rooms, which include kitchens, are $375. Dinner at Jean-Georges is $85 for an appetizer and entree. Tel. 212-299-3900. www.trumpintl.com

Winter 1998-99