If we gave you one guess as to where Sir Richard Branson was opening his first U.S. resort next summer, we’ll bet you wouldnt say New Jersey. Alas, 45 miles outside New York City in bucolic Somerset County (half the distance from Manhattan as the Hamptons), Virgins daring renaissance chief, defying the Garden States guido stigma, has converted a century-old, 90-acre estate into the posh $90 million Natirar Resort and Spa. The estate itself, formerly owned by the Moroccan Royal Family, sits within a wider, 500-acre expanse of rolling lawns and woods now accessible as public parkland; its exotic moniker Natirar is a reversal of Raritan, after the local river. When complete, the resort’s Tudor-style mansion will feature 76 guestrooms with interiors designed by David Rockwell, as well as an adjacent spa, croquet field, greenhouse, and 4,000-square-foot pool. Tomorrow, the first phase of the estate’s reincarnation, the Ninety Acres Culinary Center, debuts as a sustainable restaurant and cooking school set inside a renovated carriage house. Most of the farm-to-table restaurants New American fare will come directly from the on-site organic farm and feature, in addition to lamb and lobster, scrumptious seasonal specialties like pizza topped with pumpkin, kale, and sage, and gingerbread panna cotta accented with poached pear and pomegranate. With entrees priced between $20-35, the menu sounds easy for any gourmand to swallow (lets hope come summer the room rates are, too)!
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