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
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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 Garden was to open. I WANTED PHO. So Viet Garden 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.