I was wandering around Shoreditch this past Saturday when it got to be lunch time and guys, it’s been a long since I had one of my old days of wandering. I love wandering around London. Everything is always changing! Curtain Road??!! Who’s been down Curtain Road lately? Can you gentrify gentrification? Because if so, it’s a-happening on Curtain Road.
So I had this idea in my head. I’d go to Tramshed. They’ve been closed lately (a fire?) and I figured I’d check out what’s new at Tramshed. But I never got there because I was walking down Rivington Street when I passed Santo Remedio, the Mexican place, and noticed that IT WAS CLOSED. Which is super sad. Because I liked Santo Remedio and I would have gone back for some tacos. Social media says they closed because of things outside of their control. What does that mean?? Stingy landlord? Council problems? In the absence of information, people start to make things up, don’t they? I was imagining all sorts of worst-case scenarios.
Santo Remedio wasn’t the reason why I never got to Tramshed, though. (Although I did stand there for a bit, wondering.) The reason why I never got to Tramshed was a guy named Munur, who was standing in the doorway next to Santo Remedio while I looked at the menu for a new looking place I was pretty sure was not there a month ago.
“We just opened three weeks ago,” he told me, and then launched into a very thorough explanation of all things Popolo.
“Great! Honestly, you don’t have to convince me! I’ll come in!” I said, as I took a place at the counter. (Cement counter, interestingly enough. Sorry, I notice these things.)
I was quickly introduced to everyone within eyesight. We talked about Santo Remedio. We talked about Instagrammers with 90,000 followers. (12 years people! 12 years and all I have is 900 Instagram followers!) I went back and forth on what I wanted for lunch. Pasta? More pasta? I’d just been to Italy! I’d just eaten at Frescobaldi! Who cares? I wanted more pasta. Butternut squash and sage ravioli, thank you. Also, did you say anchovy something? I’ll take that too. Perfect.
The squash ravioli, warm, comforting, autumnal.
The anchovy something (sorry), green, bitter (in a good way), and anchovy (in a very good way).
Delicious. Throughout, Tony the Spanish Bulgarian was there for everything I needed. Including that second glass of white wine, which I probably didn’t need.
And then…after I pretty much told everyone in the entire Popolo how much I did not like grouse, they brought me — surprise! — grouse cappelletti. And it was good. It was very good. Life was good. Popolo was very good. Shoreditch was good. And maybe I’m okay with grouse now. As long as it’s wrapped in pasta.
And no, I didn’t tell them that maybe their name was a little too close to Polpo. I thought about doing it. But I didn’t. And then my friend Lee told me she saw I was at Polpo earlier and I thought again about telling Popolo their name was too close to Polpo. But you know, choices people.
The Verdict: Go. And go soon! I think you will like it.
After a summer of working, working, working — where do the days go, my friends? — I am finally free for a bit. Hence my trips to Thailand and Venice, and hence my leisurely lunch with my friend John last Friday at Ristorante Frescobaldi off of Regent Street. Because you know, I haven’t eaten enough Italian food lately. Oh my goodness, the carbs.
John and I both made the same mistake at Frescobaldi — we tried to enter the restaurant from a corner of the building that is definitely not the entrance. So scan carefully as you approach. The entrance doesn’t seem to be where you might think it is. But once inside, everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be and THE CHAIRS. The chairs are amazing. I am immediately distracted by the chairs, they are so beautiful. Tables are spaced, well, spaciously, and you really get to see the chairs, which look Danish in their form. I spent a lot of time eyeing the chairs at Frescobaldi.
While I waited for John, I tried to order tap water. I tried three times before they actually brought me tap water and not bottled still water. I’m not into the miles or the price on bottled water when London tap water is totally a-ok.
The lunch special! That’s why we’re here. 25 quid for two courses from the very succinct lunch menu. Some lovely, lovely beef carpaccio for me to start…soft and delicious. And then the autumnal tagliatelle with mushrooms which I swear got more autumnal with every bite. Every bite. Many carbs were consumed — i.e., the entire bread basket — in making sure that tagliatelle plate was clean before it was returned to the kitchen. This was all washed down with a very affordable bottle of Frescobaldi’s own attractively-priced Chardonnay, a bottle that never seemed to end. Either that, or I am losing my ability to make half a bottle of Chardonnay magically disappear.
For a Friday afternoon, Frescobaldi was strangely empty during our visit. With the exception of the “Tap Water Incident,” service was prompt and friendly, although don’t mention Monica Lewinsky to them. (I, for one, am a fan of her anti-bullying agenda.) Ah…strangely amazing was the array of candy that was delivered to our table at the end of our meal. It’s like someone had run down to Sainsbury’s and picked up all the Halloween Candy they could. We ate it all, plus the homemade mini meringues and biscotti. I stumbled out of Frescobaldi in a glassy-eyed sugar coma. (John’s words, not mine.) Fascinating.
The Verdict: I like it here. I like the space, I like the chairs, I like the food, I like the wine, and I like the service. I don’t understand why there weren’t more people there. You should go.
Location, location, location. Especially when I am travelling by myself, I like to be central. I also have been trying to be better and better about money these days and not spending an arm and a leg on hotels, even if they do offer slippers, fluffy pillows, and nice sheets. I’ve been trying to stick with a sub-$250 USD per night budget. #FirstWorldProblems, I know. But $250 a night doesn’t go very far in a lot of cities these days. In Venice, it got me Hotel dell’Opera, a centrally located sweet but slightly worn hotel, with no restaurant, no bar, and no communal areas. Although there was a tiny rooftop terrace with a honesty bar — 4 euros for prosecco — so that was nice.
The bed was firm, the pillows were thin, and I couldn’t figure out how to take a shower in the low-ceiling bathroom without sitting down or hitting my head while standing up. The wifi was the type that forces you to login each time you want to use it, which is my least favorite kind of wifi.
But the view from the front door of the hotel was pretty enchanting…right on a canal…and all day long, singing gondoliers and accordion-playing gondoliers would go floating by. I don’t care how touristy you may think that is…it’s pretty amazing. Also, there was a serviceable breakfast with friendly service (when you could find the gal) all included in the price. And,well, the hotel was about a 4 minute walk from Piazza San Marco, so there was that…
I think I mentioned in a previous post that next time I’m in Venice — because there will be a next time — I think I will stay on the mainland, where I’m sure my dollar will go further and where there will be fewer tourists and better, more local food. So until next time, Venice…
I knew eating in Venice was going to be tough. There are only 55,000 residents left in Venice — experts predict there will be none left in another twenty years — and the island (grouping of islands?) gets 30 million visitors a year. So…everyone is catering to the tourism trade, many of which are cruise ship day trippers. And if what I observed is any indication, tourists just want to eat pizza and hamburgers and gelato. GAH. What is wrong with people?
I was fairly booked with tours and other plans while I was in Venice, so it wasn’t always possible to go out of my way to find good food. In many situations, I just selected the closest/best option to whatever it was that I needed to do next. Here’s where I ate and drank, roughly in order of preference. I have not provided addresses because these are all Googleable and then you can read other people’s opinions too…
Ai Mercanti: After I checked into my hotel, I was in need of sustenance, and the little local place the hotel concierge sent me to was packed with mid-afternoon revelers. So I wandered around for a while until I found Ai Mercanti. The place was empty — except for a German family eating hamburgers! — so I was a little nervous. But my server was so helpful and sweet and I loved that the menu wasn’t packed with five thousand different options. I had the typical Venetian starter — sarde in saor — which was a hysterically large portion. Four very plump — and very delicious — sardines. After this, I made room for tripe and octopus pasta, which was very, very good. (If only the plate had been hotter.) All in all, I liked my food here and I really liked the service. The dining room was a bit dark for an afternoon meal, but I can see it being very cozy in the evening. Also, I loved the location in a quiet courtyard. I considered going back here for a 2nd meal but never really had the time.
San Giorgio: On the day I was heading to Murano and Burano, I knew I had to be down at the waterfront for my water taxi. San Giorgio is right in front of the Aresnale vaporetto stop, so it worked out perfectly for a quick lunch. Despite the touristy location and menu, my garlicky spaghetti vongole hit the spot. Service was a little awkward — Q: “Where is the white wine from?” A: “It is white.” — and the outdoor seat covers needed a good power washing, but the view was nice.
Quadri: Quadri is a one Michelin star restaurant on San Marco’s Square. As I told them when I left — sorry, it’s the New Yorker in me — they better do something about their service and staff if they expect to keep that Michelin star. I was ignored, ignored, and ignored further once my main — a luscious bowl of spaghetti with smoked razor clams — was delivered. Yes, yes I know this is Italy and I need to relax but it was still weird. Luckily, the memory of the decadent amberjack tartare with white truffle starter helped assuage my annoyance. (Which was further compounded when I passed the host stand on my departure, only to spy a plate of half-eaten food stashed there by a member of staff. Kids, this is not The Ponderosa!) The dining room at Quadri is over-the-top beautiful with red velvet wallpaper and glittering chandeliers, and the glassware is astoundingly gorgeous. I want to buy it all! And I would have…had they not ignored me.
Bistro de Venise: I popped into Bistro de Venise in between tours and I didn’t have a booking. Don’t do this. Make a booking. I knew immediately that I would like Bistro de Venise. It has that clubby, wood-paneled old school thing going on that I am kinda a sucker for. An off-duty staff member in plain clothes — perhaps one of the co-owners because he looks just like Sergio in the first photo here — immediately saw me hovering at the entrance and ushered me into the bar to wait for my table, where I was promptly brought a bellini. After about 15 minutes, I had a table in the dining room, surrounded by mostly Americans. While I wished my seafood risotto was hotter, my extremely capable server — the omniscient Walter — deserves his own Michelin star. This was a very good experience, except for the loo which is located right off the dining room and regales you with hand dryer noise every time someone exits.
La Caravella: Charming Italian waiters, kitschy old-school sailing decor…I kinda loved it here. (It reminds me of that seafood restaurant in the Drake Hotel in Chicago.) La Caravella specializes in spider crab, particularly, so after a small plate of sarde in saor (nowhere near as good as the ones at Ai Mercanti), I had some thin spaghetti with spider crab. It was nice. I wanted it to be nicer. But it was nice and my servers were nice and well, I just liked it here even though the food wasn’t all that. There is something to be said for a charming Italian waiter of a certain age in an old school waiter outfit, flirting with you incessantly.
Vino Vino: Don’t go here. It’s a tourist trap. I only went here out of desperation. It was late on a Friday night and I was tired and the recommended restaurants I had tried to get into were all full. I knew just by looking at the menu at Vino Vino — a mishmash of what every tourist imagines Italian food to be — that it was going to be terrible and it was. Service though was super nice to me and gave me a free glass of wine! They totally ignored the two tables next to me though. Have you ever realized that the tables next to you hate you? That’s how I felt at Vino Vino! Very odd.
So while I had some nice food in Venice, I’m just not sure…next time I go, I might stay in Castello or in Maestre on the mainland, where the locals live. I bet prices will be cheaper and food will be better as well.
The Cubs are in the World Series!! That’s crazy! It’s amazing! I’m not even a sports fan, but I am so happy for them! Yey Cubbies!
It’s been more than two years since I left Chicago for the 2nd time. And you know…I feel bad about this but I don’t really miss it. Then again, you can’t make yourself feel something you don’t feel so I shouldn’t feel bad about this but I still do. People ask me all the time “Don’t you miss Chicago?” And I have to think about it for a bit because I know my answer won’t really make them happy. It’s not that I dislike Chicago or anything — I just feel pretty neutral about it. Let’s just say…it’s a nice place to visit.
To be fair, I am not a native Chicagoan or Midwesterner. I was born in Queens and raised in Long Island, New York. I moved to Chicago after university because I got a job in Chicago and well, I kinda like change and I figured “Hey, why not.” But during my first visit to the Windy City, I was so used to Manhattan that my immediate reaction was something like “Uh, is this it? It’s just one street. Where’s the rest of the city?”
But well, I did live in Chicago for 12 years in total — eight years the first time and four years the second time — so I must have had a nice time there. There are a few things I still think about now and then. In an effort to placate, here is what I do miss…in no particular order…
Cheap manicures and pedicures: Ah, how I miss you. $35 for the set, if I was lucky. Although I have found at least one new favorite place in London — Modern Touch Nails in Islington — Chicago made it just so very easy to be well-groomed.
The Pittsfield: I love, love, love this old diner off Michigan Avenue in the The Loop. I love the servers, I love the menu. I love the brass elevators as you enter the building and the gorgeous wood ceilings. I love the chopped salad too. (Second favorite diner? Beef and Brandy on Michigan. I love an old school place.)
The Blues: If I can thank Chicago for something, it’s for my love of the blues. WXRT has a Monday night Blues program at 9 pm that I used to listen to on my way home from The Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago. Always the greatest. I love Memphis Slim the best.
The WGN TV Morning Show: These guys still crack me up. Sometimes, they even get a little international attention. I mean, if you want to see a group of people who really seem to love their jobs, it’s these guys. British morning television just doesn’t compare.
The Tamale Guys: Sometimes it’s 2 a.m. and you’re in a bar somewhere and you think to yourself, “Boy am I hungry” and then all of a sudden, there’s a guy there with a cooler full of tamales. So that’s amazing.
Tacos: I was so grateful for London Mexican food when it arrived here way back when. But a few years back in Chicago made it clear: London Mexican food is shit. (This is a sweeping generalization but it’s mostly true.) I do not like steamed tortillas.
Whole Foods: OK, not very exciting but the Whole Foods salad bar downtown fed me pretty much every night once I moved downtown. Love that place. I was just in the Whole Foods Piccadilly Circus the other day for the first time and I honestly felt like I was back at the Whole Foods on Huron. I just need to get to Piccadilly more often.
Red Rooster #1: I must have walked by this place in Ukrainian Village 50 times before I finally figured out it was a shop and went in. I love this store. I want to move in. The cabinet work alone is worth a visit.
Zombie Dust: The unicorn of beers. I love you, Zombie Dust. Robust, spicy, hoppy perfection.
As always, I’m sure there are other things I will remember that I miss in the days and weeks and months after this post goes up. I miss my friends in Chicago most of all, of course. xoxo
You might know I’m a little obsessed with Viator. It’s like Uber for tours when traveling! Lots and lots of tours for most cities you can imagine, all in one place. So when I booked my trip to Venice, the first place I turned for help with tours and activities was Viator. And really, all three tours I booked really delivered.
Walking Tour & Grand Canal Cruise: This was a great little combo pack of tours and while I was a little nervous about the gap in between sections — three hours — it worked out just perfectly. See, first we did a tour hour walking tour of Venice, which started at 11 am and ended at 1 pm. As part of the tour, we skipped the queue at St. Mark’s, which was handy. We also got to visit during the short part of the afternoon when St. Mark’s is actually lit up, which was nice. Then, I was free until 4 pm to wander the city and uh, eat. At 4 pm, I met a subgroup of the original group for a one hour private water taxi tour of the Grand Canal, which was honestly my favorite part of the trip. This was a very well-executed tour which I very much recommend. Book this tour.
Cicchetti & Wine Tour: My favorite tour hands down! Our wonderful tour guide, Simona, took us to FIVE cicchetti bars in central Venice which I totally probably wouldn’t have gone to on my own. We had a little snack at each — some whipped bacalao at one, some ham and tomatoes at another, some fried sandwiches and olives at yet another — AND a glass of wine at each stop! I totally thought there were only four stops on this tour, so I was super sad when I thought the tour was over. BUT IT WASN’T OVER! Which was amazing. We made a fifth stop for more wine, more snacks, even more wine and then dessert. I highly, highly, highly recommend this tour. Book this tour.
Murano & Burano Tour: This tour was an extremely good value, given the mode of transport and the length of the tour — five hours. We traveled by spacious private water taxi to both Murano and Burano and had time to explore each. In Murano, I admired many a set of Murano drinking glasses, but ultimately decided I didn’t have the space for anything in my suitcase. In Burano, I downed some gelato before snapping pics of all the colorful houses. I wish I actually had more time on Burano — even if just an hour more — because the place is so darn cute. The only bad part of this tour is that the ride back from Burano is about an hour. If only they had provided snacks and drinks! Book this tour.
This is the view across the canal from inside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum: Not a tour per se and not booked on Viator either, but on the last morning of my visit, I braved the traghetto — the larger gondolas that only go from one side of the canal to the other — all by myself and roamed the compact museum and gardens, imagining what it would be like to have a gazillion dollars and be a Guggenheim. I then hoofed it over to the Ponte Accademia and crossed back over to the main part of town. If you are into modern art like I am, this is the museum for you. (Also, check out Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy in London which is running through January 2nd, 2017.)
Stay tuned for more on where I ate and drank in Venice…