An Unexpected Return to Chicago, Part Deux

Posted by Krista on November 22, 2014
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The old Tokyo Hotel, home of Ginza, one of the most traditional Japanese restaurants in Chicago before it went out of business.

I am just back in London after my work visit to Chicago…where it was friggin cold. Too cold. I wanted to leave, it was so cold. My nose, my nose…it is so dry. Everything is dry. My face has aged ten years overnight, in the course of two weeks. No problem then, I just stuffed my aged face at (the oddly empty) Le Colonial for lunch and  contemplated botox. (Probably wouldn’t help with the dryness though, huh?) Everything at Le Colonial was nice except for the exceptional amount of shredded lettuce served with everything. I watched the fans swirl around overhead the (seemingly all) blond ladies having lunch as I contemplated the cheapness of my UK mobile phone in the UK but the hefty £6 per mb of data fee in the U.S. Sigh. I feel so powerless. The Loos: Colonial, but they work. The Verdict: Good for ladies who lunch, but hold the lettuce.

Le Colonial on Urbanspoon

Earlier this year, for various unremarkable reasons, I learned a lot about Darden Restaurants. Darden used to run Red Lobster. They still run Capital Grill and The Olive Garden and a bunch of other places most Americans have been to for one reason or another. This is when I finally put together that Seasons 52, the people who had been repeatedly (repeatedly) pestering me to visit their property in the Chicago suburbs, were a Darden venture. It’s an interesting concept for a big chain affair…every item on the Seasons 52 menu is under 475 calories And the food is — you guessed it — seasonal!! I was honestly more than a little curious, and as Seasons 52 was right across from my hotel, The Conrad Hilton, I stumbled over there one late night after work. The decor was pleasantly surprising…no glaring lights, but rather lots of dark wood and soft lighting. And hey, THERE WAS A PIANO PLAYER. I am a bit of a sucker for a good piano player in a bar or  restaurant. I ordered some low-calorie mushroom bisque — almost as nice as the piano playing — and served with a bit of crispy (low-calorie?) bread. And then I spent $28 on a piece of sesame coated swordfish as big as my palm (and I have small hands) drenched — inedibly so — in soy sauce, with nary a sesame seed in sight. The Verdict: Go for the live music and if you’re on a diet. Don’t order the swordfish.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday night, I had a hankering for lobster bisque and a glass of Riesling. It was m*ther-f*cking cold so again, I did not stray far from my hotel. The bar at Shaw’s Crabhouse it was. And guess what guys??? There was a LIVE BLUES BAND! And they were awesome. (The Friends Band…check out some of their tunes here.) And while I liked my lobster bisque, I probably should have had a cup and not a bowl because the big bowl meant cold soup syndrome set in fairly soon after the soup arrived. (Too large of a surface area.) The Verdict: Worth a visit to the bar for live music (Sunday through Thursday…schedule here) and good times. Also some good happy hour oyster specials pre-band.

Shaw's Crab House on Urbanspoon

Hah so I did get out a bit in Chicago — more than I expected to — but I did not get to many new places. My late working hours and the bitter, bitter cold meant I didn’t stray very far from my office or my hotel. That was a-okay with me though.

An Unexpected Return to Chicago…

Posted by Krista on November 16, 2014

Working working working

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

When I left Chicago this past summer, I really never expected to be back anytime soon. But voila! Late last Friday, it was confirmed. I was heading to Chicago — of all places — for two weeks for work. I’ve been this person before — the Chicago business traveler — but it’s been awhile. Four years? Five? So it’s been weird to be back and in a hotel for so long. And it’s been funny to have my new colleagues doubt my directions to dinner and to their hotels. (“Are you sure this is the right way???” And the ever-alarming “Well surely if we showed up with 8 people at 7 pm  on a Wednesday, they’d have a table for us.”) And it’s been even funnier to try to make dinner plans with my old friends, who want to eat at 7 pm. Ah yes, and I hate my U.K. mobile phone plan that charges me £6 a MB for data, so I have been suffering from iPhone withdrawal. (O2, I am looking at YOU.) But here’s what me, the Chicago business traveler, has been up to.

Monday: I almost threw up on the hotel staff as I checked in. It was 2 am for me and I was BEAT. Jet lag hung heavy and dark around me. I went straight to bed, despite promising myself I’d head to Eataly for a little snack before bedtime.

Tuesday: I made it to Eataly and had some verdure fritto misto and a glass of Gavi. Perhaps not surprisingly, while I was sitting there enjoying the free wifi and Wild Belles playing in the background (check them out, seriously), an old colleague walked by, so we had a nice little catch-up and another glass of wine. I love Eataly, especially on a slow Tuesday night when no one is around. Even though the graphic design does really bother me. The Verdict: Go!

Eataly on Urbanspoon

Wednesday: We were a motley crew from all around the world so I made an executive decision that we all needed deep-dish pizza. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a reservation anywhere. (Lou Malnati’s on Wells does not take reservations???) So we ended up at Pizano’s on Madison, where I had the genius idea of pre-ordering our pizza so it arrived about 7 minutes after we sat down. For about $20 a person, we gorged ourselves on pizza and slugged back half-price bottles of wine. A good time. And festively decorated for the season as well. The free ice cream cakes/pies delivered to our table at the end of our meal were an extra bonus, as was our extremely competent server. The Verdict: No complaints.

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

Thursday: We stopped by Bohemian House on Illinois and had some wine and the largest plate of potato chips. Manny the bar back let us tether our phones to his, which was particularly awesome of him, but caused us to go deep into a dark and downward social media spiral. I like the design of Bohemian House, although it feels so much like Hubbard Inn, I thought I was in the wrong place there for a moment. I thought about eating at Boho but I just wasn’t feeling particularly hungry so I headed back to my hotel where two hours later, I decided I was ravenous and that I really wanted CHINESE FOOD. Do you know what happened next? P.F. mother f*cking Changs. You got it. I dragged my jet-lagged, freezing cold slightly slimmer American ass to P.F. Chang’s and enjoyed their spicy chicken more than I really expected to. The Verdict: Hey, sometimes, you are tired and cold and go with what is close and easy and it all works out just fine.

Boho - Bohemian House on Urbanspoon

P.F. Chang's China Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday: My friend A has just KICKED BREAST CANCER’S ASS. She is the best and the most amazing. Also, modern medical technology is AMAZING. So we met up at Bistronomic with our friend T who I have known since I was 5 years old to celebrate and chat and be normal. Although A loved her steak frites, I was less than impressed. My steak was overcooked — I ordered medium rare — and and my frites were undercooked. And they weren’t really frites anyhow. (I prefer the golden shoestring style when having steak frites.) The Verdict: I want to like Bistronomic! The chef is handsome! The staff is lovely! The location is great! But yet…

Bistronomic on Urbanspoon

Saturday: I worked for 12 hours on a Saturday. So that sort of sucked. I like my weekends (who doesn’t really) and I am down a day. I got “home” at 9:30 pm and didn’t want to spend $57 on room service. So I went around the corner to Oysy and had some maki and it was okay. It was too cold, actually. But the staff gave me some free saki which was exactly what I needed after a day like mine. They all kinda stared at me when I entered though, and then they cleaned all the glasses like right there directly in front of me. Hmmmm…I wonder how much their rent is and how much sushi they have to sell in a month to break even. The Verdict: I will probably try some other places before going back here.

Oysy on Urbanspoon

Hey, it’s not over til it’s over. I’ve got a few more days…

Where I’ve Been Eating in November, So Far…

Posted by Krista on November 9, 2014

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United Ramen, Angel: I want to like United Ramen because it is local for me. But they do strange things with their ramen– like add Yorkshire pudding — and their noodles are kinda sad, like from a package. The service has been sweet and attentive on both my visits, although I learned the hard way during my first visit to shell out the £1 for the bottle of water or else you will find yourself begging every five minutes to have your 4 oz glass of tap water refilled. I’ve ordered the same bowl of spicy ramen on both visits and the first bowl was colorful and, well, spicy. The second bowl was not very colorful and not very spicy. Hmmm. I have a bad feeling I will find myself back here quite often in one of those “Well, I don’t really want to go there but it IS close so…” The Loos: Narrow, green. The Verdict: Fine.

United Ramen on Urbanspoon

Portal, Clerkenwell: Portal has been around for years and I’ve always wanted to try it. So after a particularly long day at work, I decided to drop in and have some snacks at the bar. The vibe was weird…there was really no one there. Friendly bar service but oily, burnt pimientos de padron. No thanks. Also, the place really smelled like gas but the staff looked at me like I was crazy when I said so. The Loos: Unepxlored: The Verdict: Meh.

Portal on Urbanspoon

Ippudo, Tottenham Court: Truth be told, I really wanted to go to Kanada-ya. But the queue was too long and much like I don’t like running for trains, buses and elevators, I also don’t wait to eat in lines longer than 10 minutes. So I went to Ippudo instead, where there was no queue but still a buzzy, full atmosphere. The staff all shouted at me in Japanese when I entered, which was slightly alarming. (I may have been a little fragile from drinks on Blackheath for the fireworks the night before.) I liked the noodles at Ippudo — snappy, dense — but I wanted a soy egg, not a regular one. The Loos: Some of the nicest I’ve seen. Very clean and neat and spa-like. Well done, Ippudo. The Verdict: I sort of want to go back but I want to try Kanada-ya first before I do.

Ippudo London on Urbanspoon

Tayyabs, Whitechapel: My friends B&A emailed me as I was leaving work the other night and asked the question to which there is only one answer: “Do you want to go to Tayyabs?” I said “Yes, I will be there by 7:30 pm.” And I got straight off one train and onto another, in search of lamb chops and all the smoky daal. And while the table of 20 young, drunk investment bankers was certainly distracting, it didn’t distract us from devouring all the food. Our server: “I think it’s too much. You’ve ordered too much.” Us: “Have you seen us eat here before? It won’t be a problem.” The Loos: Quite fancy and new upstairs with good tilework. The verdict: Go and go and go again.

Tayyabs on Urbanspoon

On Outsourcing My Life

Posted by Krista on November 2, 2014

When I decided to leave Chicago, despite preconceptions to the contrary, I made the decision QUICK. (If this had been a slow decision, I never would have closed my awesome Barclays UK bank account  last year — an account I am no longer eligible for because the requirements are so much higher ten years later.) The speed of my decision meant I didn’t have a lot of time for planning, for downsizing, for anything really. And then the moving guy showed up to give me an estimate and told me it was going to cost $12,000 bucks (!!!) to move my stuff from the US to the UK. Plus insurance. Hey, I make a decent living but this move from Chicago to London was entirely self-funded. $12,000 was a scary number. So I had a lot of stuff to get rid of and a lot of downsizing to do. And I needed help. And once I accepted help in my life, I couldn’t stop. Here’s how I did it.

Chicago Anytime Assistants: The lovely Shelley took all my unwanted clothing and kitchen gear to the Salvation Army for me. Clothing I hadn’t worn in years, shoes I bought on a whim when all I ever wore were Uggs anyhow…all gone. (And don’t be hating on my Uggs. I’m a convert.) She also took back my cable boxes to Verizon, a task worth a gazillion dollars alone because I seriously would have had a breakdown if I had to queue up at Verizon for the 90 minutes she did for me. She even sent me a photo from the queue! Shelley picked up my dry cleaning, bought me Thank You cards and picked me up some Chinese for lunch while I waited at home with the movers! All for a very reasonable $45 an hour or thereabouts. Highly recommended. A lifesaver. And so very nice to work with.

Quintessentially: On the other side, here in London, I needed help unpacking. I knew that if I didn’t have help, I would never unpack. It would be like that time I moved back to Chicago in 2010 and four years later, I still had about eight boxes that I had never opened. So on the basis of a quick Google and only a quick Google, I hired Quintessentially. And although I get the sense that I was not their wealthiest of clients and they expected a lot more of me — I must have been such a disappointment to them — they did what I needed them to do and I paid them for it. A lot more expensive than I expected at £65 an hour + VAT, but worth it for my peace of mind. They took a lot of phone calls while they were here, and I guess I also paid for that, but there was some rounding town of their time so I guess it was okay.

buy:time: In hindsight, I probably should have hired buy:time for my unpacking. Thank you to Bon Vivant Concierge for the recommendation. After my move, for £29 an hour, my personal assistant helped me get rid of all my CDs via Zapper.co.uk and also took a bunch of my stuff to a charity shop. (It’s amazing the crap you discover when you unpack.) She also took my bike into a local bike shop for repair, which was a huge lifesaver. (When movers move bikes, they take the pedals off and let all the air out of the tires so the bikes are easier to move. So it kinda sucks when the bike gets to the other side because the movers don’t come with a bike pump and don’t have the tools to put the pedals back on.) In short, my buy:time personal assistant alleviated me of many tasks and for that, I was grateful. She checks in with me now every few weeks to see if I need anything else sorted, which is helpful too!

So…as a single woman living alone with a full-time job, I can’t tell you how helpful these services have been for me in 2014. I think I may have had a breakdown otherwise. Not only did they help me do the things that I wanted to do, but they also helped me (in a larger sense ) lead the simpler life I’ve been wanting to live. Since moving back to the U.S. in 2010, I found myself accumulating a lot of stuff. Let me tell you…what they say is true…stuff expands to fill the space. I went from having two bedrooms and two normal size closets in London in 2010 to having three bedrooms and seven closets in Chicago, plus a storage unit in the garage between 2010 and 2014. Now I’m down to one bedroom and 1.5 closets. Life is better this way.

Where I’ve Been Eating in London Lately, Autumn Edition Part II

Posted by Krista on November 1, 2014

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This week…things that are on my mind…when the HMRC changes your tax code without asking you and changes it WRONG so your October 31st paycheck leaves you little to live on and they say “Don’t worry, you’ll get it all back next month!” And you say “BUT I NEED MONEY NOW.” Thank God for my friend American Express. Also, the man outside my window with a saw and a jackhammer at 8 am on a Saturday. The fact that it snowed in Chicago yesterday but it was 72 degrees and lovely here in London town. That I have lost 15 pounds since moving to London four months ago without really trying too hard. Oh oh oh…when am I going to be able to get into town to eat all the ramen?? And what am I going to do for New Year’s?

Viet Garden, Islington…My obsession with all things Vietnamese since my trip in March knows no bounds. I can’t wait to go back to Saigon and eat all the pho for breakfast. You should have seen me the other weekend, here in London, waiting patiently for 12 noon when Viet Grill was to open. I WANTED PHO. So Viet Grill opened and I did have some Pho but it was a sad, sad version of pho — packaged noodles, tiny slivers of beef — and although service was sweet and attentive, as my reflection reflected sadly back at me through the disappointingly thin, weak, and watery-with-disappointment broth, I thought to myself…”Surely, surely there is more to life than this.” The prawn toast was good though. The Loos: Spacious but in need a good high-pressure water hose treatment. The Verdict: Probably won’t go back.

Viet Garden on Urbanspoon

Zucca, Bermondsey: Ms. Marmite Lover!!! She is, as my mother would say, a pip! You always know something — interesting, exciting, something! — will happen when Kerstin is around. She is a published author and the original supper club expert. Buy her book Supper Club: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant on Amazon.co.uk or wherever books are sold. I hadn’t seen her in four-plus years so it was beyond time for a catch-up, particularly since I was having some deep thoughts about my own life that warranted further discussion.  The conversation? Lively. The food? Meh. Although my zucca fritta was lovely (essentially, fried squash, great frying technique), Kerstin sent her kale salad back. My veal ragu was less than inspiring…while the pasta itself was great, the sauce lacked a bit in flavor. (Although it’s entirely possible that my American tastebuds are still coming down from their Sodium Chloride high.) All in all, a lovely afternoon, but I expected more of my main course. The Loos: Nice.I like a communal sink.  The Verdict: Not sure I would go back although it is a nice “ladies who lunch” sort of place.

Zucca on Urbanspoon

Crispy Duck (aka Overseas Restaurant), Chinatown: My American friend had never had crispy duck before or eaten in Chinatown, so we arranged an outing. I love duck pancakes. Sadly, the Crispy Duck Restaurant I used to know is under new ownership. Apparently though, they’ve kept the duck because so many people know it as the original Crispy Duck. After much confusion about my arrival (“You don’t have a reservation? Are your friends coming? Are you sure they’re coming? Maybe you should call them to make sure they are coming.”) we settled into a table on the ground floor and ordered a full duck. And while they get zero points for presentation, service and attitude — who know asking for additional plum sauce when our dishes were empty would cause such a ruckus — they get a few points for the duck. The Verdict: Probably would try some other places before I go back here.

Crispy Duck on Urbanspoon

Santore, Exmouth Market: Everyone raves about this local Italian and it’s full at all times of the day and night. Well, everyone is wrong because my food was pretty tasteless. So much so that I threw out my doggie bag on the way home. (Oricchiette, sausage, broccoli.) Maybe it’s the pizzas that are the winner here? Not sure. The Verdict: Probably won’t go back anytime soon, although maybe I would with a large group of people when we are looking for a lowest common denominator place.

Santore on Urbanspoon

J&A Cafe, Clerkenwell: Why haven’t discovered this place before? It would always pop up on Foursquare and similar sites as a place near to me, but I thought it was more of a black cab deli (not that there’s anything wrong with that) than a place to linger. Through a doorway into a quiet courtyard, tables spread across two buildings with a few tables outside in between. I enjoyed a peaceful breakfast and lovely, attentive service. An oasis of calm in London town. The Verdict: A new favorite. I will be back.

J&A Cafe on Urbanspoon

Hey, I’ve Been Back in London for Four Months Now!

Posted by Krista on October 26, 2014

Have been waiting to find you!

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

London, you are the best and the most beautiful. I love  you, totally and completely. I get lost in you. (Just like Mark Wallinger and Labyrinth, his London Underground art series of mazes .) But sometimes in love, there is not-so-love. Here is the bad and the good from where I am sitting today.

THE BAD…and/or the things I’ve forgotten…

Yelp London is useless! Barely any reviews for a lot of places.Where is everyone leaving their reviews? No one writes reviews on Time Out anymore. I am left with Foursquare, and even that is kinda sucky and lacking in reviewness. HELP. I want the voice of the people. Help me.

What is with hair color on women? I’ve seen a lot of washed out pink and blue hair. I don’t like it. It looks tacky. If you’re going to do it ladies, MAINTAIN IT.

Flowered trousers…perhaps a bigger thing when the weather was warmer but the patterned blousey trousers on women thing. I don’t know if I like it? Oh wait…hold on, my phone is ringing and it’s MC Hammer…

Smoking…After spending the last four years in the U.S., I have honestly forgotten that people still smoke. On the sidewalk/pavement in London as I’m walking, at work when they need to take breaks and then return to stink up the meeting room, everywhere, everywhere. Smokers are everywhere. Stop putting fire in your mouths, people. It is going to kill you a lot faster than a lot of other things.

Flats owned by people in Singapore and Hong Kong: I had no idea that this was a thing until I started flat-hunting this summer and when I would ask about the landlord, 9 times out of ten, they would tell me, “Oh, he/she is in Singapore/Hong Kong.” Apparently, people in Asia have bought up all the new construction property in east London these last few years. That’s fine, but if you’re going to do it love, hire a property manager. I’m not calling you in Hong Kong when the boiler’s out.

Taking a shower is still hard. In my new flat, I’ve got the two-and-a-half-foot bath and the shower half-glass. I have conquered the two-and-a-half-foot bath (I think) but I HATE THE HALF-GLASS. How do British people take showers?? I do not understand it. I flood the bathroom all the time, and if my bathroom floor tile is any indication, the last tenant did too.

They don’t bag your groceries for you anywhere. They just stare at you (or make no eye contact whatsoever) and then they wait for you to leave. #AWKWARD.

The importance of the past: I learned this hard during my first tour-of-duty. In my experience, British people don’t forget any sort of past. I’m not saying that Americans forget the past, but in general, my take is that Americans have a mindset that’s much more like “Ok, that happened. That was the past. Hindsight is 20/20. Let’s move forward.” Take me out for anything Japanese/Chinese/Vietnamese and I’ll tell you more.

Toasters everywhere but no toaster ovens. I just want an English Muffin pizza. Personally, I’m afraid of toaster-toasters. I’m always afraid the toast will catch fire inside. And I don’t want to fire up the broiler just for some cheese on toast.

THE GOOD…

Tethering: My iPhone came with a wifi hotspot, as opposed to in America, where you have to pay extra for that functionality. So if you’re in London and you wanna tether to my hotspot, you just let me know.

UHT MILK! I love long-life milk because you know, British milk goes bad in like less than five days. (American milk lasts a lot longer, like two weeks.) So I buy UHT milk and it lasts forever. I probably don’t want to know what they did to it to make it that way, do I? A lot of people use UHT milk to make yogurt, apparently. Me, I just use it for my morning coffee.

Charging for plastic bags: London started doing this ages ago. I believe California just started doing it. The U.S. is BEHIND.

Pizza Express Salad dressing: Haters, don’t be hating. This stuff is STILL delicious and I go through it like white wine.

The roads are smooth! I don’t know if it’s because I was unlucky enough to live in Chicago, but London roads are SMOOTH! There are no potholes! It’s amazing! I can ride my bike anywhere and not need any dental work!!

Recycling: My building recycles, we recycle at work, and anywhere I go around London, there’s one of those handy separators for recycling. Me and my empty Diet Coke cans feel so virtuous. Saving the world, people. Saving the world!

Direct debits! No checks! I’ve been here four months and I haven’t written ANY CHECKS. It’s amazing. I cannot believe that in America, people still write checks. It is crazy. My debit card is my favorite thing.

Kettles, kettles everywhere: I love my kettle. I use it more frequently than my microwave.

The weather! It’s NOT SNOWING! It’s not frigid. It’s nice. Thank God for that. Honestly, words cannot describe. On January 6th 2015, I am going to throw a “-40 degrees is where Fahrenheit and Celsius intersect” party. You’re invited.

xoxo

Where I’ve Been Eating in London Lately, Autumn Edition

Posted by Krista on October 18, 2014

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September is gone! October is upon us. My bank account dwindles…London is just too exciting! There is too much to do! Too much to see! Too much to EAT. Yet, my London restaunt blog sits ignored. Let me try to do something about that. Here’s where I’ve been eating lately. If you can’t tell, I’m on a bit of a Chinese and Spanish kick at the moment.

Gourmet San, Bethnal Green. My friend JP and I did a little Szechuan crawl one night, inspired by our mutual love of Sichuan Folk off Brick Lane. We had high hopes, but Gourmet San let us down. It was dirty and smelly and the service was distracted. Everyone told us to order the lamb skewers. They were off. Very off. No desire to go back, like ever.

Gourmet San on Urbanspoon

Ba Shu Fang, Bethnal Green. The red velvet chairs make it feel a bit like Valentine’s Day, but our Szechuan lobster was outstanding. I have been dreaming of this place ever since and might actually make the trek over for lunch today. Also great, the sea bass. Check out the photo gallery for pics of these two dishes. Best quote: “Our new chef is from Chengdu. Our old chef was Hainanese. Our new chef…he is more….professional.” Ask the staff for their recommendations. The menu is a bit tough going for the unadventurous among you!

Yipin, Angel. Somehow, this place got a Bib Gourmand. I want to like it more than I do, so I keep going back. (It’s convenient.) But no, I just don’t like it. Like Gourmet San, also dirty. Everyone tells me this place is great so maybe I need to give it a third try. But my first two attempts have been less than stellar. Ah, but they do bring you peanuts to start your meal.

Yipin China on Urbanspoon

Jose, Bermondsey. I will happily eat here every day. Love everything. The jamon! You can taste the acorns! The boquerones! The croquetas! ALL of it. Go go go go go.

José on Urbanspoon

Pizarro, Bermondsey. I liked Pizarro, but I like it’s sexy busy sibling Jose better. Pizarro is more serious, more sedate. Jose is a party. Still delicious though.

Pizarro on Urbanspoon

Iberica, Farringdon. I really like the space here more than anything. Maybe whoever did the decor can come over and do my flat. I also really like the staff. They are very happy and helpful people. Ah, and their pinxtos at happy hour are a great value. But given the choice, I would still go to Jose. (Just in case that’s not clear or anything.)

Iberica Farringdon on Urbanspoon

More to come…I’ve also been to Mission in Bethnal Green and I am about to go have a big bowl of ramen on Upper Street. Good times!

Bob Bob Ricard, I Love You

Posted by Krista on October 12, 2014

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When people would ask me what I missed most about London, I would tell them honestly, “Waitrose. And Bob Bob Ricard.” American supermarkets were fluorescent nightmares, and American restaurants were full of cheap chairs and limited sparkling wine choices. I ran away from the Jewel’s and Dominick’s of the world, and started doing most of my shopping at the very tiny Green Grocer, which had everything I needed, really. (But still, no Waitrose.) And I found myself spending more and more time in the velvet and brass lobby bars of the grand hotels — The Four Seasons, my preferred choice — chasing that sense of escape and other-worldliness I had found in London at the all plush and all lovely Bob Bob Ricard.

So when Leonid (one of the Bobs of Bob Bob Ricard) invited me over last weekend for BBR’s “Hey look now we’re open for lunch on weekends” grand affair, there was no hesitation. Yes, Leonid, YES. I will be there. And it was just as beautiful as I remembered. One day, when I make the millions I deserve, I will paper my home with Bob Bob Ricard’s wallpaper and install “Press for Champagne” buttons in the most unexpected of places. I will smother myself in caviar, eat everything off of blinis and stamp all my toast with the BBR logo.

Bob Bob Ricard is an escape, a journey to a place you do not want to come back from. Where the sommelier Jeremiah, who you haven’t seen or spoken to in over four years, remembers you and the photography course you were taking in 2009, and you have to wonder if there’s a file on you somewhere, a photograph, a list. (“Prefers tap water, known to break glasses…”)

At the end of my meal at Bob Bob Ricard — caviar, sea bass, filet mignon — when the dining room was quiet again and the staff were gearing up for dinner service, I wanted to hug every single employee. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t stop saying thank you — thank you! — because if there was anything that confirmed to me that I was back in London, it was being back at Bob Bob Ricard. So thank you, Leonid. Thank you!

OK, now off to Waitrose…

I had lunch at Bob Bob Ricard with four — and then five — friends, as a guest of Leonid’s. He was — and is — extraordinarily gracious. And while I am no Tom Parker Bowles, I hope you read this and make yourself a reservation at Bob Bob Ricard’s soon. Tell them I sent you.

Please Help Me Fix My WordPress Site…

Posted by Krista on September 29, 2014

***UPDATE: Thank you to the Internet and @cayloe for pointing me to this post, which explains the song “this is what you want, this is what you get” playing on your site. After 10 years as a loyal Sitemeter subscriber, I have removed their code from my website.***

After a frustrating few hours under the hood of my website yesterday, I am ready to throw in the towel. But maybe there is someone out there who can help me.

A few months ago, I noticed that occasionally, when I loaded my WordPress site, it would play a song. The song goes something like “This is what you want, this is what you get…” The song doesn’t play all the time — it seems to be the first time I load my site each day — so I thought maybe it was an ad or something. Well, three months later and it is still happening. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is, so I suspect it is malware. Here is what I’ve done during my investigations:

  • Updated WordPress to the most recent version. Performed a full backup of everything just in case.
  • Updated all active plugins to latest version.
  • Deactivated any plugins I don’t use.
  • Run a free malware scan on Scuri. (Negative.)
  • Paid money for SiteLock and had them run a more comprehensive scan. That turned up three outbound links to sites with spam to I removed those. The next scan turned up perfectly clean.
  • Wrote a post on the WordPress forums and asked for help. (The three responders suspect an ad.)
  • Researched whether Google ads ever play anything with sound. They don’t, according to my research.
  • Searched my home page code for any mentions of .avi, .wav, .mp3, .m4a. Negative.

I really want to get rid of this annoying song so I need some help. I should note the song has changed a bit since I originally discovered it. It used to do the lyrics followed by broken glass. The broken glass sound seems to have disappeared.

If you are good with code and can help me get to the bottom of this, I will treat you to Sunday lunch at Hix Smithfield. (Roughly £60 value, plus the invaluableness of my scintillating company.) And if you are good with WordPress and code, there could be some smaller projects in it for you.

Please help!

***UPDATE: Thank you to the Internet and @cayloe for pointing me to this post, which explains the song “this is what you want, this is what you get” playing on your site. After 10 years as a loyal Sitemeter subscriber, I have removed their code from my website.***

Little London Obsessions

Posted by Krista on September 27, 2014

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My obsession with London knows no bounds. Some of you will get tired of me talking about this, but…I am not sorry. Waitrose!! Double-decker buses! Pubs! Men in suits! Tuxedos on the tube! Cheap flights to everywhere!! Life is good. It’s nice to be back, and in a way, to be reunited with my London restaurant blog, which I am stretching and changing. Here’s what else I’ve been obsessed with lately.

Orla Keily’s collection of shoes at Clark’s. I’ve written before about my obsession with Clarks in London. Some people — the ones not in the know — laugh at me because they think only nuns and old people wear Clarks. Smart people know to get themselves to Clarks immediately. Inexpensive, comfortable AND cute (although they do still have a lot of ugly stuff). I’ve bought two pairs from the Orla collection already. And I am still so sad that I had to throw away my old Mary Portas Clarks last year after an overzealous shoe shiner scuffed all the pony hair off my shoes. (#firstworldproblems)

Peri-peri wings at Marks & Spencer. OK, I can’t link directly to these because M&S apparently doesn’t sell them online except in party platters. But I love these wings so much that sometimes I have them for breakfast. Haters, don’t be hating.

Dresses from Boden. Hey listen, I’m a woman of a certain age. I like Boden. I now own this one, along with a few others.

Cashmere sweaters from Uniqlo. Super great value. Especially the cardigans! Who doesn’t love a cashmere cardigan?? (OMG I feel like such a tw*t as I write that.)

Modern Touch Nails off Chapel Market in Islington: So yes, no matter where I am, I still have the New York obsession with grooming. Must have a manicure and a pedicure. After revisiting some of the places I used to go to in London during my first tour and finding that they’d all gone downhill (dirty, grubby, too crowded, etc.), I’ve found the very clean and very neat and tidy Modern Nails off Chapel Market. They are very nice, even though they don’t let you combine frequent customer cards. (Grrrr.) Recommended.

Spotify Premium: OK, not a London thing but I remember the halcyon days when Spotify was a European thing and not available in the U.S. I love Spotify Premium. Particularly the playlists. These days, I’m digging these lists:

Good for a party…

Good for taking a nap…

For a little reggae…

Happy days, indeed. I love you and everything in you, London.

Where I’ve Been Eating in London Lately, Summer Edition

Posted by Krista on September 14, 2014

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Yeah, bitches! (See picture.) Time goes too quickly. How long have I  been here already? Almost three months. Give me my time back, please, someone. I grow old, I grow old. (Not into the trousers rolled.) Where have I been eating lately, while the clock has been a-ticking? Here, in no particular order.

Lyle’s, 56 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch. I like the feel of Lyle’s. The older I get, the more clarity I want. I want clean, I want simple. And Lyle’s decor delivers on that. It is an oasis of calm, albeit with terrible acoustics. (There’s something to be said for soft furnishings.) Lyle’s takes all choice away and give us a set menu for the table. I’m fine with that, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I am now, in my later years,  allergic to raw carrots and celery. (Actually, I do know why. It’s a pollen allergy.) Just to be clear, I do not want to be allergic to either of these things. I like raw carrots, particularly with hummus. While I don’t mind being allergic to cats (vile creatures), I do mind being allergic to carrots. (Celery…I’m not so bothered.) Anyhow, Lyle’s is pretty good about my allergy but I misjudge the level of cookedness of the carrots in the broth that starts us out and spend the next 30 minutes hoping that if I die at Lyle’s, someone will take care of my Louis Vuitton bag. I drink a lot of Crozes Hermitage to make things better and only have hazy memories of the rest of my meal. The Verdict: Would go back because I vaguely remember it was nice. But next time, I’m getting an Epi Pen.

Arabica, Borough Market. I want to marry a Lebanese man. Someone find me one. I also want to drink Lebanese beer all the time, but Arabica’s Lebanese beer has been caught up in customs so there is none to be had. I eat a lot of bread — it’s my farewell tour to carbohydrates — and stuff my face with lamb and beef tartare (kibbeh nayeh). It’s all very satisfying. And the loos are clean and tidy. The Verdict: Go now while Arabica is new and fresh. I’m sure it will be a chain soon.

Bentley’s, 11 Swallow Street, Piccadilly: The internet says I need more niacin in my diet. Guess what has niacin?? OYSTERS. So I go to Bentley’s and eat six of the largest oysters I have ever seen. They come from a styrofoam container that our barman has just emptied out in front of me. Classy. He is a slow man. He is a Lean Six Sigma project waiting to happen. He is a nice man, but only capable of handling one task at a time. Low throughput. A Herbie!  The Verdict: No because my wine…my wine…it’s right there…I can see it…just give it to me…please? Also, I did not think my chili clam linguine was anything specials.

Camino Blackfriars, 33 Black Friars Lane. St. Paul’s. Two tapas for £6.50 at lunch. And somehow, they’ve given me like 40 pimientos de padron. Now that’s a good value. The Verdict: Cheap and cheerful. Why not?

Jin Kichi, 73 Heath Street, Hampstead. Sometimes I go to Hampstead to get my nails done at California Nails. Even though California Nails is rather dirty. I’ve actually recently decided to stop going there because of how dirty it is. But hey, I still like Jin Kichi. It is super clean and nice and they will barbecue all the quails’ eggs for you. The Verdict: Go for the barbecue.

40 Maltby Street, Maltby Street Market. Maltby Street Market is my new favorite place. (Remember, I’m new here.) I’m kinda obsessed with it. I keep trying to convince all my non-Internet friends to go and they all sort of look at me funny because really, who wants to go to Bermondsey? Well let me tell you, as someone who lived in the general vicinity of Bermondsey between 2004 and 2005 until my landlord kicked me out because of non-payment of rent  — TOTALLY NOT MY FAULT —  I love Bermondsey. I will go there all the time. In fact, now I kinda want to live there so I can go to Maltby Street Market and 40 Maltby Street all the time and eat all the food and drink all the wine while the rest of you suckers talk about how you don’t go south of the river. Terrific good times. Tomato jelly particularly good which is a big deal coming from me because of my hatred of cold wet tomatoes. The Verdict: Go.

Polpo, Cowcross Street, Smithfield. Ah Polpo. How I want to love you. Because I do love Russell Norman. (One day, I’ll tell you all a good story.) But I had lunch one day at Polpo during my halcyon days of unemployment and the meatballs were flavorless and not hot and the staff were distracted and it was so goddamn boiling inside that I actually had to leave. I’ve never left a restaurant before because it was hot. (In fairness, it was during the heatwave.) The Verdict: Meh. But I am sure I will go ahead. Because it is Russell, after all.

Yo, what else bitches? I’ve got nothing. It’s Sunday. I’m chilling with some Spotify, checking out all the London restaurant blogs, and doing the laundry. Good times.

Things I Miss about Chicago

Posted by Krista on August 31, 2014
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Some Vitners chips/crisps at the entrance to Oak Street beach, Chicago. Vitners are a Chicago institution.

It’s been two months and a few days since I decided to hop on a plane in Chicago and relocate myself to London. The time has gone quickly — way too quickly — to say the least. (Tip: Next time you quit your job, take three months off before you start your new job.) And while Chicago was never really my kind of town (sorry, Chicagoans), after living there for a grand total of 12 years (!!!) between my two stays, there are some things I still pine for occasionally. Here’s what I’ve been missing about Chicago lately.

Around Town

  • Forgive on sidewalks: Sometimes I would be walking around Ukrainian Village in a bad mood for various reasons — thinking f*ck this shit, if you really must know. And then I’d see  Forgive. And I would change the direction of my thoughts.
  • CLS and his/her sculptural street art. Chicagoans, you’ve seen CLS’ stuff around town. Scraps of wood, together, in an art piece. (This Flickr user has a number of photographs of CLS’ pieces if you’re not sure who I’m talking about.) I like CLS’ stuff. It’s natural but architectural and yet random.

Mexican Food

  • Cemitas Puebla: Mexican sandwiches. They deliver to Weegee’s in Logan Square! Now that was an exciting discovery! I want to know how they get their pork chops so thin.
  • Mexican in general…Mexican like the place on the corner of Chicago & Ashland, Taqueria Transpasada. Not the commercial burrito chains. London is full of burrito chains now. I just want some tacos. OK, I really want some tacos at Big Star even though I am not hipster enough for Big Star. (I realize I am, in some ways, contradicting myself. What I want is tacos from the corner shop and on weekends, tacos at Big Star, along with some Johnny Cash and bourbon.)
  • Tamale guys. Magically appearing in bars around town in the wee hours of the morning, just when we all need some carbs. GENIUS.

TelevisionWGN morning news. Seriously, these guys crack me up. (Check out some of their best bits from 2013.) I love that they’ve been doing what they do for so long together. London breakfast news programming is terrible. They repeat themselves every 12 minutes. (I’m gonna time it.) And no jokes! And they don’t have enough human interest stories. And the news is so DIRE. Someone help me. I need something to watch in London between 6 am and 7 am while I am trying to become fully functional.

Chinese: Mon Lung: My Sunday routine when I lived in Noble Square was Szechuan green beans and chicken from Mon Lung. Me and all the cops and the fish tank. I loved that the multi-generational family was so in evidence here. This is really a family-run business, and they are all so super nice. (Sometimes, they run out of green beans. Just to warn you.)

DinersThe Pittsfield and Beef & Brandy: I love a good diner. The Pittsfield is my absolute favorite; it’s a triangulation of beautiful building decor, friendly service, and good food. Breakfast for dinner! At The Pittsfield, I like the Mr. Gyros Omelette, which is on the old menu, not the new menu, but they will still make it for you. Make sure you ask for some tzatziki. $10 (or less) for lunch and you get table service…really nice table service. They do what they do better than a lot of expensive restaurants I know. I also like Beef & Brandy on State Street, mainly because they let you pay at the table. (At The Pittsfield, you have to pay at the counter and then walk back to your table to drop off the tip.) I also love how Beef & Brandy’s website calls it the best restaurant in downtown Chicago. I normally go for the grilled cheese at Beef & Brandy.

Beer: Zombie dust!! All the Three Floyds! All of it!

Vietnamese Food: Han yen on Argyle. After my trip to Vietnam in March, I got a little addicted to pho for breakfast. So once I sold off Noble Square and moved away from Mon Lung, my new Sunday routine became a trip up to Han Yen on Argyle for a big bowl of pho for Sunday lunch.

Cheap Manicures and Pedicures. Particularly New Age Nails on State Street north of Chicago Avenue. So clean and white and nice.

Drinking: Pops for Champagne & The Watershed. London did something to me. It made me drink champagne a lot. I arrived back in the US and everyone kinda looked at me funny when I would ask if we could order a bottle of champers. So I would take myself to Pops and drown my sorrows. Champagne is not cheap in America. Champagne in London is a bargain in comparison. (There’s something to be said for being across the channel from France. ) Also, I love The Watershed, downstairs from Pops, which specializes in midwestern beers and wines. I like focus. And the banjo player on Thursday nights.

What am I forgetting? I am sure there is something!? Help.