The illustrious side of life is calling. Reward your palate with dishes prepared by epicurean-adoring chefs. Dip into other cultures with curated experiences that allow you to participate in ancient traditions. And feel the opulence of expansive homes embellished with the finest fixtures. The high life awaits.
Celebrate springtime by sneaking away for a luxurious, romantic dinner in a scenic destination, either close to home or clear across the globe. These exceptionally decadent, private-dining experiences will elevate date night to the next level — an al fresco dinner overlooking Seattle’s waterfront, an elegant spread on a secluded mountaintop, or surf and turf in a spacious villa on a tropical island.
Not bespoke enough? Enlist a private chef to conjure an impressive evening, custom-made for two, anywhere your imagination takes you.
It’s a Lovely Night in Seattle
Gelsey and James Sherrill share one goal — to pull out all the stops and create an intimate, delicious meal their clients will never forget.
The couple owns the aptly named Lovely Night, a catering/private chef service with clients in Seattle and the Bellevue area. James brings his cooking gravitas to the table (literally), and Gelsey manages the operations of the business, from décor to service, and everything in between.
James’ pedigree includes stints at Jardinière and at the two Michelin-starred Aqua, both in San Francisco. He was chef de cuisine at Restaurant Zoë and executive chef at Re:public and Single Shot in Seattle. But he says his most influential mentor in the kitchen was chef Jason Wilson, the well-known culinary director of Fire & Vine Hospitality. Gelsey is no stranger to the hospitality game, either, with plenty of experience managing high-end hospitality gigs all over Seattle.
“We love collaborating with clients,” Gelsey said, explaining that they focus on upscale, intimate dining experiences anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
“We will literally attempt almost anything,” James laughed. “We recently slept in a tent on a private island in the San Juans for five days, providing our client with all their meals. We chartered a boat, loaded our gear onboard, and anchored out — we waded to the beach with all the food.”
Gelsey added: “One of my favorite dinners was when we served caviar in a tree house. The clients brought a kilo of their own imported caviar, which was insane.”
Tonight, the Sherrills have whipped up a sunset dinner for two, featuring James’ favorite springtime ingredients. Whom they’re serving and where are top-secret, need-to-know details. “Clients trust us to deliver a really high-end experience in incredible spots — and then make ourselves scarce,” Gelsey smiled, her eyes twinkling. “We could tell you where we’re going, but then we’d have to kill you.”
Waterfront Elegance: AQUA
A sumptuous private dinner is easily arranged at AQUA by El Gaucho, located at the end of Seattle’s Pier 70. Their exclusive South Bay room and adjacent patio offer fantastic views of the waterfront on Elliott Bay. A fire pit warms al fresco diners — reserve an outdoor table, and enjoy chef Kevin Benner’s creative twists on PNW seafood. Not to be missed are his Chilean sea bass with Vadouvan curry, spring peas, Maitake mushrooms, and Meyer lemon, or his Spanish octopus with habanada peppers, tallow-roasted new potatoes, and creamed leeks.
A Mile-High Masterpiece: Flagstaff House
Diners who aren’t afraid of the altitude (or the winding mountain road that gets you there) ascend to Flagstaff House in Boulder, Colorado for an extraordinary dining experience. The main dining room, perched high above the city, offers views so spectacular, they threaten to overshadow the menu. But executive chef Chris Royster, recipient of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 Award and a Food Network Chopped Champion, creates superlative menus with imaginative dishes, complex in flavor and splashed with exotic influences.
The restaurant has received the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award for one of the most coveted wine lists in the world. Its wine cellar houses more than 16,000 bottles, including a wide variety of vintages, boutique selections, and hard-to-acquire bottles.
Private Dining in Paradise: Estate Solenborg
Denis Bay is home to Estate Solenborg, a stunning private retreat overlooking the Caribbean in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Guests of the estate receive five-star service from Greg Gavin, the estate’s chef.
“I truly focus on catering to our guests’ preferences,” Gavin said. “On their first night, I typically prepare an island surf-and-turf dish to kick off their stay.”
The seven-bedroom estate features a heliport, onsite staff, private pool, hot tub, and beach access. Make it your temporary home for $31,000 per week (during the slow season: mid-April through November), offered through Rental Escapes, a luxury-villa rental agency with more than 3,500 properties in more than 40 countries.
An undeniable urge to travel cannot be satisfied with extravagant hotels or luxury cruises. Those experiences, while lavish and often enjoyable, sometimes lack the substance that can be found in truly immersing oneself in another way of life, with all the intricacies of its customs, cultures, and individuals. True adventurers delight in finding sense of place.
For this reason, we have become big fans of immersive travel — traveling with the intention to participate in authentic cultural experiences. This means trying the street food recommended by locals instead of finding an outpost of your favorite chain restaurant, unplugging from your Instagram and appreciating the history of the surroundings you find yourself in, and stepping out of your comfort zone to better understand and appreciate the vastness of the world we live in.
If you’re interested in giving immersive travel a try, we’ve compiled a list of experiences that can expand your horizons.
Participate in a Traditional Tea Ceremony in Japan
In Japan, tea is much more than a beverage. An often-practiced cultural custom is that of the Japanese tea ceremony, directly translated: “the way of the tea.”
The ceremony includes the sipping and steeping of authentic, Japanese green tea, but it also includes traditional dress, sharing knowledge of the intricate and historically significant beverage, and enjoying esteemed hospitality from the tatami floor of the time-honored tearoom.
Originally established in the 16th century, the tea ceremony’s origins are steeped in Zen Buddhism, with an emphasis on simplicity and spirituality. Today, immersive travelers can experience tea ceremonies across Japan in varying levels of formality. A fully authentic tea ceremony can last multiple hours, contain various courses of teas, and follow a very structured set of practices (an abridged version is taught to first-timers).
We recommend traveling to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, for some of the best tea ceremonies open to tourists in the world. One the most highly rated experiences is at Kyūgetsu, where tea masters take visitors through a traditional tea ceremony and give an introduction to the art and culture of Japanese tea.
The event is unlike anything else in the world, and a chance for tourists to respectfully and mindfully honor the history of the region.
Learn Flamenco in Spain
A dramatically whirling skirt, an emotionally charged ballad, and a team of expert musicians are all part of the traditional Spanish flamenco style. Contrary to popular belief, flamenco refers to not only the dance style, but also the music; handclaps; and, most importantly; soul. All work together to create what we know as flamenco.
Flamenco is an important part of the Spanish heritage, as its roots are distinctly unique to the area. Today, flamenco is popular across the globe, but the true soul of it can be found only in the country in which it was formed.
If you want to unleash your passion and participate in a culturally enriching activity that gets your blood pumping and body moving, there’s nothing quite like taking a flamenco class in Madrid. The largest city in Spain is a perfect place to immerse yourself in this traditional art form. We suggest getting a group together and learning flamenco together with Dance Classes Madrid, a company of Spanish dancers specializing in flamenco, salsa, tango, and more. They also have the option of combining dance classes with Spanish language classes, if you want to participate even more fully in the community around you.
If you’re not much of a dancer, we still recommend attending a flamenco performance and at least, in some way, surrendering yourself to the vibrant experience.
Take a Cooking Class in France
Arguably, there is nothing more intrinsic to the culture of France than its cuisine. Eating is a celebration not only of flavor, but of company and culture. Meals aren’t rushed or grazed upon while one is glued to the television or their phone. The French take their time in picking fresh ingredients and delicately preparing their dishes, and expect those enjoying the meal to show the same care.
French cuisine is held up to an extremely high standard, and eateries all over the world source inspiration from the region. So, what better way to experience France than by preparing and consuming Parisian cuisine?
At La Cuisine Paris, visitors can take myriad cooking classes; travel to a French market; master various French techniques; and, the best part, eat everything they prepare.
The cooking school is in the heart of the city, and instructors have a passion for and expertise in French cuisine, so these classes are a fantastic way to truly immerse yourself in the foodie culture of Paris. If you would rather spend more time eating than preparing your dinner, some of the instructors also lead food tours and will take participants to notable eateries around Paris for meals prepared by the experts.
Got Another Trip in Mind?
There are ways to incorporate immersive travel into just about any trip you have planned, with just a few simple strategies. First, delve into research about the location you’re visiting. You’ll want to have an understanding of the cultural norms and practices, as well as the history of the region.
If something sticks out to you as particularly interesting or notable during your research, see whether there’s a way you can respectfully participate in that custom. There are great ways to do so that can benefit local economies and enrich your cognitive landscape. Some sources for opportunities like this are Airbnb Experiences or Withlocals, both websites that offer tourists the chance to see a unique perspective of their chosen locale.
Finally, make sure to be mindful and respectful of whatever it is you’re choosing to participate in — your intention should be to preserve and protect cultures. Mentally prepare yourself to honor another culture and get out of your comfort zone, and you’ll never look at travel the same way again.
Buying a Luxury Home
The hot real estate market and the increasing popularity of the Eastside make it an ever-changing landscape. To find out more about living large within the local housing market, 425 spoke with two local real estate professionals, Moya Skillman of Team Foster and Vlad Popach of Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty.
How do you define a luxury home?
Moya Skillman: Prices have really increased in the last couple of years. It used to be that $1 million and above was a luxury property. For the Eastside market now, I’d say $3.5 to $4 million is now considered a luxury property. Construction, quality, design, and location are super important as well.
What are the most popular areas for people buying luxury homes?
MS: The most popular area is West Bellevue, which is made up of five areas: Medina, Yarrow Point, Hunts Point, Clyde Hill, and Enatai. For 10 or so years, that’s been the most sought-after area on the greater Eastside. Mercer Island is probably a close second, then probably Kirkland. The reason West Bellevue is so popular is that, as our traffic increases and it takes longer to get from Point A to Point B, West Bellevue is uniquely situated, close to 520 and I-90, with access to downtown Seattle and Bellevue, Amazon, and Microsoft. The highest-priced home sales (in Washington) listed on the MLS have all been in West Bellevue, and that goes for private sales as well.
Vlad Popach: As for second luxury homes, people aren’t looking to vacation anywhere near the city. What’s been really popular lately in the last five years or so is in Suncadia, specifically at the Tumble Creek private resort.
What advice do you give to someone looking to get into their first luxury home?
MS: We always want people to think about their lifestyle first. Do you have a commute? What are your activities on the weekend? Location is so important in terms of an investment: No matter the price point, you need to understand which location is more important to your lifestyle. Then we look at the floorplan of any home — that it functions for use on a daily basis, which is also most important after location for resale.
It’s also important to consider what it will cost to maintain a home. Sometimes, people can fall into the trap of getting a promotion at work, so they can financially afford to move into a luxury home, which is really exciting, but they don’t think of the overall package. What type of exterior do you have? Does it need to be maintained yearly? It’s not just the $4 million home; it’s also the $20,000 in annual maintenance and the high property taxes. So, you have to really take into account the whole financial picture to understand what it means to own a luxury property.
As the market stands right now, is buying a luxury home a good investment?
VP: Most of our luxury homes on the Eastside are a very safe investment because of the fact that we have so much corporate expansion, especially now with the proposed future expansion into Bellevue by Amazon. A luxury home can be kind of like an impulse buy — something you do when you have the money and want to enjoy life a little bit more. People (don’t always) end up profiting from their purchase of a luxury home, but in marketplaces like Bellevue, we’re seeing a lot of appreciation in the last 10 years. We’re seeing home values double or triple in a decade, and you’re not going to find a lot of other investments where that is true.
What can someone expect of a luxury home they buy today?
MS: Good technology and good systems. That’s security systems, cameras, home automation — being able to control everything from your phone. That’s big, especially for new construction in that price range. Typically, you’ll also have about 5,000 square feet, at least four bedrooms, and a bathroom off every bedroom. Outdoor living, like a covered patio off the kitchen with a built-in barbecue and heater, is very popular too, as well as a three-car garage.
If someone is looking at getting into a luxury home, when is the best time to buy?
VP: It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Generally, between February and May is the most competitive time of year for purchasing a luxury home. You’ll probably end up spending a little bit more than the listing price, because there are multiple people bidding on one home. From mid-June to early September, there is a low amount of activity for buyers in the luxury category, which allows for more price negotiation. What we see with a lot of high-net worth individuals, though, is that what matters most to them is the inventory — that there are options available that fit their needs — and not the price.