Kouzu, London

Posted by Krista on January 26, 2015

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I am feeling grateful a lot these days. Lest I become one of those self-help blogs (not that there is anything wrong with them), I will leave that there and refrain from writing a post entitled “10 Reasons Why You Should Be Grateful Too.” Instead I will simply reflect, positively so, on the mindshifts I’ve been experiencing lately. Guys, I think I’m going to become a Buddhist.

Who am I kidding? I don’t even know what being a Buddhist means means. I just know I like this guy, whom my friend Aileen introduced me to a couple of months ago. (She didn’t introduce him to me in person of course. Just via the interwebs. He’s very ill at the moment, actually.)

Let’s go back to being grateful. It was this spirit of gratefulness that led me to say “yes” when the extremely, extremely kind people at Kouzu, — a new Japanese restaurant catty-corner from the Middleton’s favorite hotel, The Goring — got in touch and invited me and a friend to visit. I have already written a lot on the subject of blogger freebies. So have a lot of other people. And you know what? I’m tired. And I don’t care anymore. Life is yours to live. Live it. Be grateful for the doors that open in life, especially the doors that let you close those others you’ve been holding open for too long.

Cocktail hour with @leeturnerconn thank you @kouzu_london @jprmediagroup

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Be grateful for delicious pear-y cocktails at Kouzu made by the particularly competent and endearing barman. I was very pleasantly surprised by the seriousness of the cocktails at Kouzu. I wish we had had more cocktails. Especially after my friend broke her glass of wine all over our table and the floor, drastically cutting into our alcohol consumption. 

Still thinking about the delish yellowtail with truffle at @kouzu_london last night. Thanks again @jprmediagroup A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Be grateful for the soft and lovely yellowtail with truffles that starts your night off just right.

And then be grateful that a girl that you don’t know can lean across a restaurant table during dinner to kiss her boyfriend and set her hair on fire and survive to tell the tale. (Wish away the smell of burnt hair in the moments afterwards…wish it away.)

See, this is why no one should ever invite me for an “invite to review.” Because when you invite strangers into your space,  you can’t control what will happen, what people will see, what people will feel. And I, unfortunately, will write about the things that do happen and the things that I see and the things that I feel. As long as everyone is cool with that, we’re cool. We’re grateful!

Loved the spicy tuna rolls at @kouzu_london @jprmediagroup

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Hey, the spicy — crunchy — tuna rolls happened and they were fab. I could happily survive on these forever. Also happening…the aburi. All the aburi! We delighted in the aburi. My friend hasn’t stopped talking about the aburi since. It’s getting a little annoying, actually. (Aburi is nigri, partially grilled.)

Less happening: the lamb chops. But then again, after eating lamb chops at Tayyabs all these years, I don’t think I can eat anyone else’s lamb chops again. I wanted the lamb chops at Kouzu to be more smoky, more barbecued.

Most happening: Aromatherapy Associates in the loos! I love Aromatherapy Associates!! I am grateful for Aromatherapy Associates. You should be too.

Also most happening: Beautiful chairs. I am a sucker for beautiful restaurant chairs.

In sum, everything at Kouzu is very beautifully presented. And our server, a wonderfully lovely marine biologist from Poland, was absolutely perfect and fantastic. It was refreshing to have a server who knew something about fish!! (Discussion topic of the night: bottom feeders, literally and figuratively.) Idea…all marine biologists should intern in Japanese restaurants!

Not so perfect and fantastic…there was only one other table of two seated in the entire restaurant when we arrived. Where did Kouzu try to seat us?? Right next to the only other people in the restaurant.

Me to everyone: “Uh, this is weird.”

Couple mainly to the hostess: “You must be joking. Look at all those empty tables!”

Me: “Seriously, can’t you seat us somewhere else? This is so weird.”

I know there is an order of things and there are reservations and logistics and operations to figure out but…this was just weird.

Also weird… after the hair incident, having to point out the large, burnt hunk of sad blond hair lying on the floor outside the handicapped loo.

See…this is why no one should never invite me anywhere. Danger! Danger!

The Verdict: I like Kouzu. I will gladly return and eat all their yellowtail with truffle and drink all their Japanese pear margaritas. You should come with me so we can eat all their spicy tuna rolls together. Let’s just not set anything on fire.

Big Bad Disclosure: My friend and I were guests of Kouzu. Our meal was roughly valued at £140 or so. This was extremely generous of Kouzu. Extremely. I am very grateful to them because it meant I got to spend a night out with my friend who has 3-year-old twins and is limited in her social cavorting. It was nice to be able to treat her. I was grateful for that opportunity. 

Kouzu on Urbanspoon

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

Posted by Krista on January 17, 2015

#London from above

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on


Ah, how I admire the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of any new London restaurant blogger. “MUST GET TO NEW RESTAURANT IMMEDIATELY!!!” Me, I’m sitting in front of Netflix on a Friday night with a bottle of wine. Go out to eat on a Friday night? No thanks. Hummus and pretzels for dinner for me! (Penn State pretzels, sour cream and chive. My favorite.) Every so often, I do leave the house. And you know what? I’m feeling particularly generous in 2015. Life is good! Restaurants are good! Someone, quick, serve me something terrible or else I won’t have anything to talk about. Here’s where I’ve been eating lately.

Ember Yard: They don’t know what to do with a solo diner. I am given a seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen. Bad idea. I smell like smoke for days on end. (There’s a reason why they call it “Ember Yard.”) But the burrata with chargrilled aubergine is delicious as is the lamb slider. But then…I spend a lot of time waving my hands in the air for the bill. The Verdict: Go, but don’t sit at the bar.

Ember Yard on Urbanspoon

The Square: My friend Jen had a baby in October and of course I got the baby presents but I wanted to get Jen a present too. So I took her to The Square, where the service was supremely lovely. The lighting was a bit too bright, but the loos were delightfully chilly. We loved the slow cooked duck egg and the surprisingly large portions for a lunch tasting menu. Also nice, the butter. But we had to practically beg for more. Afterwards, we went to Claridge’s and drank ridiculously expensive champagne by the glass and tried to guess if anyone was a hooker. (Apparently, hookers prefer the Blue Bar at The Berkeley.)

The Square on Urbanspoon

Hakkasan Mayfair: I had naively booked a couple of tables for lunch over New Year’s thinking…who doesn’t want to go out to lunch over New Year’s? Well apparently, I am the only one who wants to go out to lunch on New Year’s Eve. Because not only would no one come with me, but the restaurant was empty too. Watch your wine glass here. They will take it away from you before you are done. And when you’ve had the dainty set lunch and really, really really want more venison puffs, they will judge you. They will suggest that rather than eating the macarons that come as part of your set lunch, you take them to go. (There are five macarons, so you will be okay with this, really. But still…it’s the principle of the thing. Why can’t you eat both the venison puffs AND the macarons in the restaurant at your table?) Best bit not related to Hakkasan: I took money out of the cash machine next door and it gave me fifty pound notes!! Fifty pound notes!! Ah, Mayfair. The Verdict: Good.

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Berners Tavern: It’s beautiful but TOO BRIGHT for lunch. They need to turn the lights down. (They do so, later, at the end of our meal. Lending a rosy glow to the mostly male patrons. Where are all the women??) The service is lovely and the food is good. We particularly enjoyed our lobster and prawn cocktail to start. The venison, perfectly pink, was also nice. This is the type of place to take out-of-town visitors. Atmosphere, you know. The Verdict: Take that special someone here. In the evening, when the lights are low. Pretend you are George and Amal!

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

Mint Leaf: I cause problems with my friends. They think I have expensive tastes. “Going out to dinner with you is expensive,” they say. They don’t know how much I love Pret a Manger and Itsu. And they never consider that maybe it’s not me that’s the problem, but maybe our other friend who does not stick to the “better value” end of the wine list and prefers bottled water to tap. (But we still love him.) Hmmm…availability bias? Not sure what to call it. Because I made the booking and I sent the e-mail, the bill is my fault. Hey, dinner anywhere can be a good value if you stay away from the 2005 Bordeauxs. Me, I prefer Portugal. Lots of good values in Portugal. Do you know what’s a good value at Mint Leaf? Wines by the glass at the bar! Although when I asked for a glass of Viognier and they brought me a Cabernet, I laughed and they didn’t. You know what else? The food was good! I liked it! 17 quid for what amounts to chicken tikka masala is a bit steep though. Next time I’ll stick to Cobras. The Verdict: Good for a scene-y, vibe-y group dinner. Try the smoked cocktails at the bar too. Fun for the entire family!

Mint Leaf Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Royal China Baker Street: Dim sum, I love you above most things. We stuffed our faces with order after order of prawn dumplings and it was only 17 quid a person. 17 quid!!! (Note friend who prefers 2005 Bordeauxs not present!) The loos are clean and nice and the service is prompt and efficient. I could eat here every day and be very very happy. Maybe I will! Dim sum coma everyday in 2015?? Fierce. The Verdict: Go!

Royal China on Urbanspoon

So that’s it. I think. I am all caught up now. Maybe…

The Manor, Clapham

Posted by Krista on January 12, 2015

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My friends Natasa and Olly invited me out to lunch over the weekend. This means they paid, which they shouldn’t have. It was too nice of them. Very nice of them. I know Natasa from my old job. Amongst other things, we’ve hit Prague, Budapest and Moscow together, revolutionizing investing all the way. We make a good team. Her husband, Olly, is a man with many lives. (Next time you see a dangling participle, send it his way.) Maybe I can convince Olly to edit my autobiography.

I make the long journey down to Clapham to have lunch with them. Oddly, I have an entire tube car to myself. If you’ve been reading the press lately, you know that London’s population is at an all-time high. So this is kind of amazing. Also, frightening.

Ah, Clapham. I haven’t been this far south on purpose in a long time. 2008? 2009? I am not kidding. (But before you get all offended, new visitors should know that I was absent from this fair city for a few years and am only recently returned. So don’t be hatin’.)

I get to The Manor and because I am a few minutes early, I ask to use the loo and am shown the way. The loo is crazy. Someone is having a laugh. After all the peacefulness and beauty and light and air and softness upstairs, I am no less than shocked and appalled downstairs. I cannot forget these loos for the rest of my meal. We talk about them throughout. “Have you been to the loo yet? You should go to the loo. So you’ve been to the loo! What did you think of the loo?”

And while the small plates of chicken skin at The Manor are pretty damn fantastic and I actually ate the better part of not one but two kale salads — so good were they — I cannot forget the loos. I really can’t. (Cue a discussion of the American “can’t” vs the British “can’t.” Can’t for me rhymes with ant or pant. Can’t for the British rhymes with want or font. Remember I have been blessed with the vowels of a New Yorker though so this could all be in my head.)

After polishing off a respectable number of starters between the three of us, I opt the The Manor’s pork belly and try to concentrate. It’s very good.

But I still can’t forget the loos.

I have some sort of lovely-doubly chocolate ganache-y thing for dessert — pudding, right Olly? — and I can’t forget the loos.

I try to blind myself with alcohol and order a sweet wine with my dessert and…I can’t forget the loos.

Let me make this clear. What I can’t get over, what I can’t stop thinking about, is that they really don’t have the money for a nice paint job and some soft lighting. A lot can be forgiven with soft lighting. Are candles legal in loos? Candles. How about candles? OK, maybe the tile work isn’t the greatest — they are flowered tiles from the 70s or 80s. But a little high-pressure water hose, a lick of paint and some nice art on the walls and maybe some fresh flowers and you’d be done. I promise.  I know they’ve tried to tie it all together with the graffiti behind the bar but…meh.

Now, 27 hours after my meal at The Manor, what I remember more than the wonderfully nice food is, unfortunately, the loos.

The Verdict: Go. And hope that they’ve done something with the loos by the time you get there.

P.S. Yo, I’ve got a bit of a backlog from the holidays. More to come, soon I hope.

Manor on Urbanspoon

Hotel Review: Le Meridian, Tampa

Posted by Krista on December 29, 2014

Things happen in your life that you don’t expect. Like your father moving to Tampa. The west coast of Florida is full of Harley Davidsons and mustaches and motorcycle cops. My dad is a khaki -and linen shirt kind-of guy who likes to dance the mambo. Hmmmm. But here he is, in Tampa. And British Airways actually flies direct from Tampa to London so here I am too.

Downtown Tampa is a city that time forgot. I try to take a walk around town and it depresses me. Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town. I hear the museums in Tampa are great. But there are a lot of homeless men on bicycles and frankly, I’m not feeling too comfortable. I go to the drugstore, CVS, to stock up on particulars, and a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-guy follows me around and spends a little too long staring at my purse. He hasn’t seen a shower in a long time.

But my hotel, Le Meridian, is lovely. Really really lovely. I’ve booked it on Starwood points, the best points ever, and all is good with the world. It’s a little like Design Within Reach threw up in the lobby of this former courthouse, but hey, I can’t get enough of Herman Miller or Knoll myself so there’s that. Jason at the front desk is the loveliest of chatterers and offers me a free drink voucher at the bar after I check in. My room service breakfast is a little late one morning, and the *gloriously* well-dressed restaurant manager delivers my poached eggs and polenta himself and then tells me it’s all on the house. Life is good.

Tampa is a puzzle. Given how full my returning flight to London is, many people must like it here.  Next time, I’ll stay a little longer and see some more things. Maybe drag my dad to a museum or two. We shall see. But one thing is for sure…I will definitely be returning to Le Meridian. It’s pretty gorgeous.

My Favo(u)rite Things in 2014

Posted by Krista on December 24, 2014

Each Christmas, I am bombarded with photos of my friends’ children. (Sometimes, their dogs and cats too.) So for the last few years — some years, more consistently than others — I’ve decided to bombard people with my own holiday missive. Inspired by my friend Amy, who recently kicked breast cancer’s ass, I give some thought to the websites and amusements and purchases I’ve spent more time with that year than others. Here is this year’s list. Enjoy!

HelloSign (website, Google Chrome plugin). I had to sign a lot of documents in 2014 (Finally sorting out my 2010 UK taxes (oops), moving, new job etc etc) and my home printer was on the fritz. I knew someone must have invented a solution to my problem and I was RIGHT. HelloSign is a very awesome website that lets you upload documents and then insert an image of your signature and create a PDF. It’s amazing. Use my link for a free try (because then I get more free documents): http://bit.ly/kristahellosign

Boden: Returning to London renewed my obsession with Boden, the mostly online clothing retailer. I love their dresses, even though their prints can be a little wacky sometimes. They have online sales so frequently that I barely ever pay list price. (Similar to my recommendation a few years back about Cole Haan online.) You shouldn’t pay list price for Boden either! WAIT FOR THE SALES. Also, check the clearance section. Oh yes, they have clothing for guys too.

Spotify Premium: I went totally digital this year and got rid of the 600+ CDs I’ve been carting around the world these last ten years. Before I did that, of course, I ripped all the CDs to an external hard drive and also uploaded everything to Google Play (which you should also consider). I then subscribed to Spotify Premium. Pretty much every song ever made, available for a small monthly fee. $9.99 a month in the US and £9.95 in the UK. And you can even stream music on your phone! If you need to get the young person in your life a gift this year, get them a Spotify Premium subscription. I particularly enjoy their canned radio stations. Something for every mood.

Hiring Personal Assistants Online: Also related to moving my life to another continent, I spent a decent chunk of change on personal assistants in 2014 and I wouldn’t change anything. My Chicago personal assistant, Shelley, took my cable boxes back to Comcast for me, picked up my dry cleaning, and brought me Chinese food for lunch. In London, my personal assistants unpacked my kitchen, got my bike fixed, and carted away all my old CDs. Services like Task Rabbit offer a plethora of assistants but if you live in a large metro area, try a Google or two to find specialized companies that focus on this sort of personal assisting/organization stuff.

Uniqlo: Another renewed obsession. Uniqlo is a Japanese brand that I love for its simplicity and high quality construction. I loved the cashmere cardigan I bought from Uniqlo so much that I went online and bought one in every color. (Hey, they’re a good value. And I’m trying to be like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and dress in a uniform every day — black dress, black tights, cashmere cardigan — and simplify the decisions I have to make.) Uniqlo doesn’t have as many 20% sales as Boden so buy it when you want it.

GrubHub (US) and JustEat (UK): I’ve been getting a lot of dinner delivered. Healthy stuff mom, I swear. I love sushi! Well, in the US, I’d use GrubHub to get anything and everything I wanted to eat delivered. No more drawer full of old takeout menus! In the UK, I use JustEat, and while it’s not as good as GrubHub (no GrubTracker, which automagically tells you where your food is), it’s still pretty awesome.

DarkSky (app): A great weather app with a lovely design. Dark sky will tell you when it is about to rain! That’s amazing. The best is when it starts warning you that there will be heavy rain, as I experienced this summer when I was at my friends’ barbecue (Hi Andrew and Vanessa!) and we got the alert and then all had to hide in the garage, away from the rain.

My FitBit Aria Scale: Last year, I told you all about my love of my FitBit (basically, a fancy pedometer). Well this year, let me tell you about my Aria scale. I weigh myself and it logs my weight through the magic of wifi on their site and on my phone. And it also does something crazy with my feet with bioelectricalness to determine my percent body fat. It’s pretty cool. You should get one. Don’t be afraid.

Hotel Sites I Really Love: For many, many years, I’ve been a TripAdvisor user. But after a few years of heavy travel, I’ve decided that TripAdvisor is now a little too much lowest-common-denominator for me. (There are a lot of people on the site who have never stayed in a hotel before, so anything is wonderful to them. Also, I don’t trust anyone who eats breakfast in a hotel restaurant unless they are on a tropical island.) When I’m looking for a place to stay, here are the curated sites that I really use as the base of my decision:

  • Jetsetter.com: Originally known for their flash sales, now I turn to Jetsetter.com when I want to know the best places to stay and where.
  • Tabletotels.com: This is more than just hotels to book. It’s a lifestyle. I really like their newsletters. Particularly good when you don’t really care where you go…you just want to go somewhere and need inspiration. I like the user ratings they do too. If the hotel falls below 15 out of 20, they take it off the site.
  • MrandMrsSmith.com: The original curated list of hotels.

Muji pens! I have loved Muji pens for years (thank you Renee and Julie for introducing me to them) and now I want to share the love with you. Find a Muji and buy all the gel pens. Love them!

Serial (podcast): Last one and then I’ll stop. I have my cousin Robert to thank for this one. A spin off of This American Life, Serial tells the story of a real-life 1999 murder, 15 years later and through a journalist’s perspective. Addictive! And harkens back to the old days of radio.

This is getting a little long so I shall bring this to its natural conclusion! Happy 2015 my friends! Hope to see you soon!

Krista

Why It Pays to Comparison Shop: My Dominican Republic Hotel Search

Posted by Krista on December 22, 2014
 Eden RocTortuga BayZoetry Agua
Expedia.com$880
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$775 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$279 (garden view king)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
Tablethotels.com$880
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$465 (garden view king)
Inc 10% service
Ex 18% tax
Jetsetter.com$880
Ex taxes and fees of 24.5%
$895 (oceanfront)
Ex taxes and fees of 25.8%
Not listed.
Splendia.com$589
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$635 (garden view king)
Inc 10% service
Inc 18% tax

My step-cousin is getting married in the Dominican Republic in 2015. I am pretty excited about this because I know I will be ready for a beachy holiday soon. I have always said I am not a beach person, but after falling in love with the Bahamas these last few years, I am a convert. I love love love (love) turquoise water. Instantly calming. I don’t need to lie on the beach. I just need to look at it.

We had to book the hotel for the wedding way, way, way in advance. My family is flying in from New York and Florida and my original idea was to fly to either JFK or PBI or FLL (we try to avoid MIA) and meet them there and then fly onwards to the DR with everyone. I didn’t really like this idea though because I knew I would be a jetleggad mess for the entire trip and it would probably mean a lot of waiting around in airports. BUT THEN…I discovered that British Airways flies direct to the Dominican Republic from London! Score. Done. So I’m flying in a few days before everyone to relax and become a normal, non-jetlagged person. I could stay at the hotel for the wedding…but I get bored after more than a few days in one hotel.

So I decided I needed a hotel for a solo stay where I could rest my weary, jet-lagged head before the party began. The tricky thing about a lot of hotels in these sorts of places is that they are really geared towards honeymooning couples, so you need to stay away from the Sandals of the world. I started working on a spreadsheet of all my hotel choices. I love making spreadsheets. Long-term readers know I love math and I love data. I love to make tables to compare things.

Important criteria in selecting my hotel? You will laugh but they were “Design-ness,” “nice beach,” and “nice pool.” I was slightly price agnostic because I wanted a treat. I’m also not a huge fan of all-inclusive (lots and lots of mediocre food), so that wasn’t important either.

I started searching, using the site with the broadest range of hotels: TripAdvisor. Originally, I had 11 hotels on the list. 11! I will spare you the gory details. For the purposes of this piece — to show you the pretty large price differential between booking sites — let’s say my three top choices for a two night stay from May 4th through May 6th are…

  • Eden Roc at Cap Cana
  • Tortuga Bay Hotel Punta Cana
  • Zoetry Agua Punta Cana

In looking at these three properties on different booking sites, I was pretty surprised by what I found.

Firstly, taxes and fees are tricky. You REALLY have to read the fine print to see what’s included. It’s not consistent within a site or across properties. Jetsetter was even more strange because they never clearly write out what the tax rate is and what the service charge is. They just give you a “taxes and fees” line item to look it and I just deduced the overall percentage from there.

So I found myself making two tables. The first included the list price per night along with whether taxes or fees were included. Then I created a new second table. This table included the full price (with taxes and fees) along with any other details I could glean from the site about what was included in the rate.

Also hard…making sure you are comparing the same room type. For example, if you look at the column for the Tortuga Bay hotel, Jetsetter only offered the high-priced ocean-front room, not the cheaper ocean-view room. Sometimes, like with Zoetry Agua, the price gap between booking sites was so huge, I had to assume I was missing something regarding the room type I was comparing.

Not included in my analysis…whether or not the rate was a non-refundable rate, which generally gets you a discount. I am going to the DR come hell or high water, so I didn’t care too much about whether a rate was non-refundable or not. I  just looked for the cheapest rate overall. That’s what’s included in my table above.

Extra amenities were hard to discern on each site. For example, I really had to look hard to determine whether or not breakfast and airport transfers were included . To make this sort of comparison — along with the comparison of the “all in” price I mention above —  here is the second table I created.

 Eden RocTortuga BayZoetry Agua
Expedia.com$1126.40
Breakfast included.
$992 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
$357.12 (garden view king)
All inclusive.
Tablethotels.com$1126.40
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfer included.
Golf-cart included.
$793.60 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfer included.
Golf-cart included.
$548.70 (garden view king)
All inclusive.
Jetsetter.com$1095.60
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfers included.
$1125.91 (oceanfront)
Breakfast included.
Not listed.
Splendia.com$753.92
Breakfast included.
$793.60 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
$635 (garden view king)
All inclusive.

Expedia made very little mention of any extras — if they did include round-trip transfers, for example, I couldn’t find mention of them in the fine print. And why did some hotels seem to include golf carts in their rates on some sites but not others? I was confused.

In the end though, what I enjoyed about my analysis is that for each hotel, there was definitely value to my comparison shopping and comparison analysis. If I had booked, for example, Zoetry Agua on Splendia’s site and seen the Expedia rate later, I would have been really ANGRY. Likewise, if I had booked Eden Roc on Expedia and then seen Splendia’s rate, I also would have been angry. A very interesting exercise all around. You’ll have to wait a few months to see if I ended up at any of these properties. But my point is…SHOP AROUND.

Other things that I didn’t do but I should have:

  1. Gone direct to the properties and checked their prices.
  2. Looked at each site’s price guarantee and contacted the site if it made sense. For example, Tablethotels.com says that they will match lower prices on the same room/deal on other sites.
  3. Checked all the prices for each hotel listed on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor has that neat feature where it will show you which sites offer the hotel and what the rate is.

Any other thoughts? What are your favorite booking sites? Travel agents? Tips for getting the best rate?

Important caveat about everything I wrote above: Hotel prices change regularly. I ran my searches the morning of December 21st, US time. If you try to reproduce my results, you may be unsuccessful. Also, although I tried to be really organized in my data collection, it did get a bit confusing at times. If you think I’ve made an error, let me know and I will review. 

Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon, Paris

Posted by Krista on December 21, 2014

This is a bit of a lost post but 2014 is drawing to a close — what a crazy year, my friends — and I have some free time on my hands for the first time since my 30 days of blissful unemployment in June and July. (Oh but to have those 30 days back!) I was in Paris back in August, my first time back in four or five years. My friends Karen and Bob were in town so I hopped on the Eurostar and met them for a lovely weekend of wandering and wine. They had rented a flat in Paris and the original plan was for me to stay with them at the flat. But the flat had a cat. And cats and Krista don’t get along. So Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon it was.

And I had made a nice choice in my hotel selection. My room had pretty views over the Pantheon and was a leisurely stroll from a few different metro stations. (Truth be told though, after a long day of walking on Day 1, I kinda wished the stroll back to the hotel from the metro wasn’t so leisurely.) The room was spotlessly clean and also gorgeously, decadently decorated. Each floor in Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon is decorated after a famous French woman. My room was a Juliette Greco room. Greco, a singer, was also a member of the Resistance. A bohemian freedom fighter. Love it.

When I arrived at the hotel, it was fairly late at night. So I was tired and disorganized when I made this video. It might make you dizzy. But it should give you a feel for the place just the same, and if you don’t mind a leisurely stroll or three, you’ll like it here very much.

The Verdict: Recommended. But bring your walking shoes.

DF/Mexico, Shoreditch

Posted by Krista on December 7, 2014

Looks better than it tasted.

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

The cool kids call Mexico City “The DF.” I guess it’s like when I was a kid growing up on Long Island…there was no Manhattan or New York City. It was just “the city.”

I like Mexico City. The DF. The Distrito Federal. Some people are scared of Mexico City. They think they will get kidnapped if they go there. “IF ONLY,” I tell them, “your life was that exciting.” They look at me funny. There is real fear here. More than one person has told me that they would never go to Mexico City “Your loss, fools,” I say. (And more tacos for me! Yey!)

People also think that Mexico City is really far away. It’s not far. At least, from Chicago, it’s not far. 3.5 hours? Maybe four! I would ask people in America how far they thought it was and the mode was eight hours. Eight! (Tip: Fly in late at night or early in the morning to beat the traffic. It’s like getting stuck on the Belt Parkway in rush hour — if you’ve been there — only worse!)

I like eating tacos in Mexico City. And Chicago. I like corn tortillas and grilled tortillas at that. I like friendly, homey service too. That’s something Mexico is very good at. Chicago Mexican places too. I read an article once where they interviewed people in the tourist industry worldwide and they said their favorite tourists were from Mexico because they are so nice and so friendly. Now we are making sweeping generalizations about countries, but I see it. I get it. I agree.

So I went to the DF/Mexico off Brick Lane today and I ordered some pork tacos and some “cowgirl’s beans.” You place your order up front at DF/Mexico and give them your table number and they bring it to you.

A server appears, a plate of tacos in her hand. “Did you order the pork tacos without habanero?”

“Uh, no. Just the pork tacos.”

“Okay, that’s good because we can’t do pork tacos without habanero.”

Why do I have this feeling that if I had said “Yes,” she still would have given me the plate???

The tacos are pretty and BURSTING with meat — someone is not paying attention to margin. But they are steamed flour tortillas, from what I can tell. And did I mention the wet meat? Very wet, wet meat. Watery wet. There’s something to be said for licking your fingers…but this was just watery laziness. Also wet? The beans. And missing the advertised sour cream. And chorizo. Wet tacos, wet beans. No thank you, I’m leaving. I left one taco and all the beans behind. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know this very rarely happens.

The Verdict: Go to the real DF instead. It’s much better. Much.

DF/Mexico on Urbanspoon

Beyrouths

Posted by Krista on November 29, 2014

Just a small little snack…

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

This blog has brought me many good things, including many good friends who share a common interest in good food. One of those friends is Alice from American in London, and while she hasn’t blogged in a long long time, I still hit her up for advice and pay attention to where she is going and what she is eating thanks to the magic of Facebook. She has added Tonkatsu East to my list, and she is the one who first flagged the opening of Beyrouths on Upper Street to me.

In my dreams, I marry a Lebanese man. I love Lebanese food. I think it has something to do with a Lebanese restaurant in Chicago that I used to walk by all the time that always looked so cozy. (Maza, which used to be on Lincoln in a nice little spot south of Belmont, but moved a few years back to a creepy bit of Ashland, just north of Fullerton.) When I finally dropped in for dinner at Maza one night, I fell in love with Lebanese food, something I had never had before.

So on a random day off in November, I wandered up Upper Street, in search of this mysterious new Lebanese place. I didn’t even know the name of it at the time so it was nearly a fool’s errand. The Internet wasn’t helping much either — I had to work really hard to find “new Lebanese restaurant Upper Street.” But finally I did and found myself sitting in a nearly empty restaurant…there was only one other table of diners besides me, on my own.

I ordered the lunch plate for £12 because it seemed like a good value and it had a little bit of everything. Some shwarma, some hummus, some spicy Lebanese potatoes…and some tabbouleh, which truth be told, I really don’t like at all. Everything arrived perfectly presented, along with a generous serving of thin Lebanese bread. I went to town, particularly on the potatoes, which were particularly delicious. Everything was quite enjoyable actually, until I got the bill and realized the lunch platter I had demolished — the now empty lunch platter, except for the tabbouleh — was meant to be a  sharing plate…for two.

The Verdict: I liked it here. I’ll go back…and order that sharing plate again…only this time, I will share it with someone. Maybe Alice! I also liked the industrial chic vibe. Although the stairs look a bit scary…too scary to check out the loo.

Beyrouths on Urbanspoon

Kanada-ya

Posted by Krista on November 28, 2014

Hello dinner

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Let me get this out of the way. Generally, I don’t believe in queuing (or running) for anything. I have other things to do with my time. But…having shown up at Kanada-ya once before and having been denied…I was on a mission. A mission to see if their ramen was really all that. Excuse to visit? Elisa was in town from Chicago and when she saw my post about why I had lunched at Ippudo instead of Kanada-ya, she offered to join me at Kanada-ya. THE PRESSURE. Nothing worse than being denied a second time, so I forced poor Elisa to meet me at 4:30 pm — a full 30 minutes before Kanada-ya opened — so that we were guaranteed a spot. Luckily, we weren’t the first in the queue. We were #3 and #4. And within a few minutes, #5 and #6 were queued up behind us. We spent our time waiting catching up while alternately watching the team at Kanada-ya set up a scary looking heat-lamp that dispensed flames — unnecessarily so in my humble opinion.

London is not cold. London is balmy! I am wandering around town with a lightweight jacket! Why do they need this heat lamp?? It is very kind of them, but they already have other heat lamps so this one seems unnecessary. And unnerving. A column of fire!

The doors open at 5 p.m. on the dot. We are quickly seated and quickly place our orders…original ramen, hard noodles, with an egg each and Elisa opts for the garlic sauce too. 10 minutes later, our bowls of porky goodness arrive. It’s all pretty delicious and pretty satisfying…but is it worth the (sometimes) queue? Hmmm. I liked my ramen at Ippudo too, and I didn’t have to wait. Although the egg at Kanada-ya is better…it’s a (seemingly marinated) hanjuku egg, whereas Ippudo seemed to forego the marinated and just serve me a soft-boiled egg. I don’t know if the egg alone would make me wait in the queue at Kanada-ya though. There’s something to be said for Ippudo’s full service bar…(Priorities, people. Priorities!) Kanada-ya does offer a few Japanese beers though…

We tried to add service to the bill and we were denied! There’s something to be said for that. Also, that they are so concerned about their poor customers queuing up for them in the “cold” London air that they went out and purchased an outdoor heat lamp to supplement the already existing heat lamps. Nice of them. Caring. Sweet.

The Verdict: Nice. Small. Compact. Tasty. But if there’s a queue, Ippudo across the street is just fine.

Kanada-Ya on Urbanspoon

An Unexpected Return to Chicago, Part Deux

Posted by Krista on November 22, 2014
IMG_9054

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…