I’m still not sure how I feel about Sao Paulo. It’s a crazy place. You’ll see people with huge Vuitton bags and small dogs and big Rolexes, but then everyone will tell you that you will be robbed at any moment. And that in Rio, the robbers will not only rob you, they will KILL YOU. SP is a dense place, tall buildings everywhere. It’s a crumbling place, where locals will laugh AT YOU when you explain how you would expect the Internet to work when it rains. And the traffic, the traffic is miserable. Too many people with too many cars and no trains and everything above ground.
I went to D.O.M. while I was in town. You know, one of those 50 best places. (The 6th best right now.) For lunch. A business lunch. I felt bad taking photos because the place was pretty deserted and I would have been a bit conspicuous, so this is all you’re getting. Some decent steak, and some very nice plantains. And the ubiquitous green stuff that Brazilians love. It was all very nicely done, and there were lovely copper pots of rice and beans and potatoes and of course, FAROFA. I really like farofa. Was D.O.M the absolute best meal of my entire life? No. It was just food. My meal at Mani the night before was far superior and inventive and delicious. If you go to Sao Paulo, of course you should go to D.O.M. — lunch was a surprisingly good value. I think we got out of there for about $60 each — but you should also really go to Mani. Really.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been a Global Entry member since late 2010. Global Entry means that when I fly into the US on an international flight, I can skip the main immigration queues, go directly to a machine, have my picture taken, get fingerprinted, and leave. Global Entry is particularly awesome if you are just carrying on luggage, because you really can just LEAVE — unless you get stopped by customs. Yey. Note this process has slowed down a bit lately because of all the new members who can’t find their face when they get their picture taken. (Let me warn you about customs though..I’ve had my bags emptied out on multiple occasions now. I must seem very suspicious or something.)
As a Global Entry member, a year or so ago, they gave me access to TSA pre-check. Now when I fly domestically, I go to a special queue, hand them my boarding pass, and go through a special fast lane. I don’t have to take my shoes off, my laptop out, or take off my jacket. That may sound simple, but it’s pretty darn awesome. (However, about one out of ten times by my measurement, I am randomly denied access to the queue. A safety precaution, from what I understand.)
Well, now the rest of you can join me in the domestic fast lane too. Last week, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it will add a new process allowing more U.S. citizens to enroll in TSA Pre✓™ , the expedited screening program that allows pre-approved airline travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on in select screening lanes.
I had in my head this idea. That I wouldn’t go anywhere for July and August. That I wold stay in town and try to enjoy Chicago. This is my second weekend of that, and frankly speaking, I’m doing a terrible job with all this. Instead of relaxing and exploring, I’m finding myself at Home Depot, Target, the Post Office (!!!) and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Worst bit? I REALLY want to go to IKEA. NOOOOOOOO.
I did have a very nice morning at the Wicker Park Farmer’s Market last Sunday though, helped by some Divvy bikes and some classical music. (But then…stressful…Divvy didn’t show that I had ever returned my bike. They’ve still got some kinks to work out there, apparently.)
Where I’m going with all this is that for the first time in ages, I did take a bit of a break and finally took advantage of work summer hours on Friday and met @Zimmerino for lunch at Siena Tavern. I was a bit nervous about this lunch because Siena Tavern is one of those cavernous River North places with filament flightbulbs and cheap bathrooms. (Not even a soap dispenser. Seriously. Just a container of Softsoap.)
And I was somewhat right to be nervous. Because here’s how this all went down.
Me: “Hi, I don’t have a reservation but I’d like table for two if you’ve got one.” (It was 1:30 pm on a Friday, close to the end of the lunch rush.)
Them: “We’re all booked in the restaurant right now, but you can find a table in the bar area. It’s first come first served.” Fine.
Me, sitting at the bar, about 15 minutes later, “Hi, we’re going to move to that table over there that just opened up if you don’t mind.”
Bartender: “I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that. Have you asked anyone if you can do that?”
Me: “Um, I guess I’m sort of asking you. The front desk said it was okay, so maybe we can just close out our tab and move over…”
Bartender: “Well, I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that but if that’s what they told you at the front desk, I guess you can.”
And then we ordered some food that took ages and ages to arrive. The brussel sprouts salad was rough and dry, and the coccoli, which everyone raves about (dough puffs slightly bigger than golf balls, prosciutto di parma wrapped around stracchino cheese, “drizzled” with truffle honey) was okay, but for me, the honey ruined everything. Too sweet, too cloying. Then the waitstaff disappeared forever and ever. And then we had some gnocchi that I can only describe as overcooked wet blobs of something in a decent cream sauce, and then a prosciutto, pear and arugula pizza where the pears had been “drizzled” with powdered sugar. I don’t want powdered sugar on my pizza. (But the arugula was very good and fresh, and the pizza crust itself was nicely done.) Ah, and then the waitstaff disappeared again and us and the table next to us spent a lot of time trying to flag someone, anybody, down.
Best line? Our waitperson walked by with two very fine looking beers on her tray, stunning in color with fine foamy heads. I had just gotten a beer, but it wasn’t anywhere near as nice looking as the two she had on her tray. “What are those? I asked her.
“Beers,” she answered.
The Verdict: Inconsistent cooking and flavor combos that didn’t work for me particularly well. Too much sweetness. In general, not my scene. But many people will like it here.
I’m less gushy, less wordy, less concerned about a lot of things, I’ve moved continents, and I’ve switched to WordPress. (A mistake, in hindsight. You would think that me, with years of experience in software product management, would have factored in switching costs when making the switch. Bye bye, SEO. And still so grrrr that the woman who made the switch refused to update my Urbanspoon links because “it wasn’t in the spec” so now they all refer to Arbutus in London.)
It’s been a nice ride. Thanks for sticking with me all of this time. xxoo
P.S. Normally, I am very good with math. I don’t know what I was smoking. But this is my 9th anniversary, not my 10th! Title updated.
Let’s start with the free stuff. I am totally in love with TripIt. I book some flights, I book some hotels, I forward the email confirms to firstname.lastname@example.org and it creates nice little itineraries for me. But then it goes to the next step…landing in London at 11 am? TripIt knows where your hotel is and will estimate how much time it will take you to get there. In my case, TripIt has estimated two hours from Heathrow to the City, which I think is a fine estimate, based on my experience. (But you don’t know about my superb airport-leaving skills. I will be in the City, if I’m lucky, in one hour and fifteen minutes.) TripIt will also add the average daily temperature and map everything out for you so you know where you are.
But now let’s talk about TripIt Pro! TripIt Pro will track all of your hotel and airline loyalty programs. (Except for United and American for some reason.) So as you can see in my screenshot, I have 43,385 points that will expire in 60 days. Hence my mad dash yesterday to move my Virgin Atlantic miles to Hilton HHonors before they expire next month.
And ALERTS! The TripIt alerts are awesome, and my experience has been they come in before my United alerts. Has my flight changed gate? Is it delayed? What baggage claim has been assigned to the flight? These all pop up as handy e-mail alerts AND notifications on my iPhone. There’s also a cool feature I haven’t used yet that, in case you are stuck in a middle seat, you will get a notification when a better seat becomes available. Check out the full list of TripIt Pro features.
TripIt Pro is not cheap really — it’s $49 a year — but if you travel a lot and like instant information and if you want to track all your hotel loyalty programs (and ID numbers!) in one place, you should get it.
P.S. Just to be clear, this is my personal endorsement of TripIt and TripIt Pro. I have no relation to them whatsoever.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this blog for a while and the simple answer is…I DON’T KNOW.
But I received this e-mail from Virgin Atlantic today and it certainly got ME thinking…here’s what it said…
Our Reward Seat Sale starts today. For two weeks only (until 17 June 2013) you can book a reward flight to a dazzling destination for 25% less miles* – helping you take your travel plans that much further!
And if you need a few more miles to get in reach of your ideal ticket, we’ll help by giving you 15% extra when you top up your miles** before 30 June. It’s available whether you Buy Miles, Transfer Miles, Gift Miles or even when using Miles Booster. So the choice is yours.
So for example…hypothetically speaking…if you wanted to fly from London to Chicago (or vice versa), you could do so for 28,000 miles plus £240/$371.20 for taxes/fees/surcharges. Now that’s pretty awesome.
I remember places by songs. I was drinking a pisco sour at a place called Mayta in Lima — careful there, Mayta’s got a terrible Web site with Flash AND sound — and a remix of a Shirley Horn song, Come Dance with Me, came on. Head bobbing, I was good for the walk home along 28 de Julio, where the taxis just won’t stop honking. Time passed so quickly in Lima and we did so many different things, that this is the song I hear now.
I stayed at the Hilton Miraflores and I LOVED IT. The bed was awesome, the gym was awesome, the service was awesome. Free wifi everywhere! I really can’t say enough nice things. This is a great chain hotel.
Lima is on the Pacific. The Pacific in this part of the world is an angry, dark ocean. We saw a lot of surfers.
We also drank all the pisco sours in Lima. All of them.
And we ate all the ceviche, all of it. First at El Mercado, which I really really enjoyed (even though their Web site is complete and total and utter FLASH-SHITE), and then at Aromas Peruanas, which was good but not for me. (I am not a buffet person.)
I also ate ALL of the Amazonian snails at Amaz, conveniently located next door to the Hilton. I loved Amaz and would list it as the #1 highlight of my time in Lima, better than Central. That’s the funny thing about World’s Best Lists…
Central. We at at Central. It’s #50 on the World’s Best List. This is a photo of Chef’s desk. I liked the idea of Central. I liked the rooftop garden and the chocolate cabinet and the open kitchen. But the restaurant was a mess…uncleared tables, dirty tablecloths, weird service. In my limited experience with the bottom half of the list, Viajante, #59, is better and more beautiful (and frankly, the loos are nicer). St. John, #71, is MUCH better. Quite odd, this list that.
Better? Manifiesto, where the young chef, Giocomo Bocchio, displayed talent, ambition, thoughtfulness, and what I can only describe as a pureness and openness of spirit. His mother is the restaurant manager. Above, his Taj Mahal dessert, a curry pudding that was one of the nicest things I’ve had this year. (And you know how much I’m not a fan of dessert.)
El Pan de Chola! Chef Jonathan Day used to work at Monmouth in Borough Market in London and I CAN TELL. I loved it here. I loved his bread. I loved Jonathan. I loved his queso fresco. I loved everything. I would happily stay here forever.
Ah, and I also bought ALL OF THE ALPACA. I bought a lot of baby Alpaca blankets. And a suitcase to bring everything home in.
As I write this, I’ve spent 46.1% of my life in The Great State of New York, 28.2% of my life in Chicago, and the rest elsewhere. (And I’m 29!!!!!)
There are things that drive me crazy about Chicago. Super crazy. Like…
Public transport in Chicago is half of what it should be. One night, when I was recently repatriated, I set myself up at the bus stop. A nice man, in a Cubs hat, stopped me. “You know there is no bus here after midnight, right?” It was 12:15 a.m. No, I didn’t know that. Chicago is a world class city. I thought we had world class transportation. $12 later, I got myself home in a taxi. I miss a good night bus. (I know they do exist in Chicago. I could take the Ashland bus, for example. But it doesn’t run in the wee hours.)
Winter in Chicago. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. The blizzard of 2011 was my great welcome. I adopted a 16-year-old German exchange student at O’Hare and took him home for 48 hours. He played a lot of Call of Duty, and I tried to figure out how to feed us. I lived here during the blizzard of 1999, when the roof of my building caved in, taking all the kitchen cabinets on the 3rd and 2nd floors with it. (Thankfully, I lived on the ground floor.) I hate winter. I hate boots. I hate coats. I hate the dark.
Khaki trousers on women. I’ve written about this before. Seriously, what are you thinking? If the New York Times lady had included this, I totally would have taken her side 200%.
Jewel-Osco. I go into Jewel and I’m like totally, “OMG where is the food? I mean, there’s some fruit here, but where is the rest of the food?” Because everything is in boxes and cans. This may be more of a statement about America. I miss Waitrose. (The leading photo on their site right now is of CHAMPAGNE.) P.S. I MISS EASILY ACCESSIBLE CHEESE.
Six-way Intersections. Seriously.
I’m afraid I’m going to get shot. The bar down the street from me got shot up the year before last. On a weekly basis, my neighborhood Facebook page is all like “OMG, did you hear that???” What’s with the gunshots, Chicago?? If you want tourism dollars — particularly from all those countries where their currency lets them buy ALL of Michigan Avenue — people just can’t get shot.
PIZZA. I JUST WANT A SLICE. A real slice. Thank God for that bagel place by the Whole Foods on North Avenue or I would die a salt-bagel-deprived life. Pizza and bagels really have nothing to do with each other, EXCEPT WHEN THEY ARE COMBINED!
Sports Bars and Bars Chockablock with TVs. I am not really into sports. Or TVs. I’ve tried. I’m just not. There are so many other things to do, read, see, etc. This is a total personal preference, but please list for me the bars in Chicago without televisions, and I will gladly visit them with you.
Steamed hot dog buns. SUCK.
People who say they’re from New York. So this happens a lot. I’m in Chicago and someone complains about something and I ask them where they’re from and they say they’re from New York and I ask where from because I’m from New York and it turns out the person is really from Ohio or Pennsylvania or somewhere but they lived in New York for three years and they tell everyone they’re from New York. Note to all: I lived in London for a while. I don’t say I’m from London. (But I still love it to pieces.)
Dude, I am all about being holistic. There are a lot of positives here.
The airport — Chicago O’Hare — is easy to get to. After spending a lot of time in Brazil last year, I cannot even begin to explain how much I appreciate the Blue Line to O’Hare. And they have nice tortas at O’Hare. (Mexican sandwiches.)
I like char dogs. (Grilled hot dogs, although see above about steamed buns.)
People are nice, most of the time.
Cheap manicures and pedicures. $35 for both if you’re lucky.
The grid system makes it hard to get lost.
BEER. From all over.
Liz Phair, when she was good.
Late May through early September.
I own an apartment that I could never, ever afford in NY or London.
I like tacos.
The WGN morning show. (They’re doing something right there. That team has been there forever.)
NPR. So soothing.
Anything from Lao Sze Chuan.
I don’t know if I’ve really said anything. Maybe this is just a brain fart. BUT I WARNED YOU. That is all. Go for it.
I took the family to the Bahamas over Easter. I owed them. And you know when you don’t really know what you’re doing but you do it and it turns out amazingly well? That’s what happened.
We took a little puddle jumper (Silver Airways) from West Palm Beach, Florida to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. Only one flight attendant so the pilots would say things like “Kate, please be seated.” The water as we approached the Bahamas was crystal green and blue and turquoise.
I rented a house in the Bahamas, at the Abaco Club at Winding Bay. It was nicer than my house, my mother’s house, and my aunt and uncle’s house.
The view was tremendous. Obviously, the house was not in the bay. But really, this is what we looked at all day long.
I hired a private chef one night. My uncle said, “The only people who have ever cooked for me are my wife, my mother, my sister, and The Colonel.” We ate a lot of stone crab. A LOT of stone crab.
We spent an afternoon in Hope Town. It was beautiful. Sleepy. Perfect.
We took one last photo before we boarded the Hope Town ferry, of a gorgeous beach with no human in sight. Sunshine and turquoise water…amazing what they can do.
The Verdict: I will be the first to say that I am not a fan of Nassau or Freeport in the Bahamas. Too many t-shirt shops and sunburned tourists with unfortunate braids in their hair. But I loved Hope Town and I LOVED the Abaco Club at Winding Bay. If you’re looking to unplug, you should GO. Note that the Abaco Club is about 18 miles from civilization and you will need to stock up on provisions before arriving (or have the resort stock up for you, as we did). But sometimes, being 18 miles from civilization is just what you need.
Everything’s fine, really. But as I’ve been saying to friends lately, the days are long, but the years are short. And my God, are the days long. Even though Chicago’s darkness makes for darkness. I’m eating out by myself tonight. Not unusual for me, but more unusual for Chicagoans, I think. (Necessity: there is only whole wheat pasta in the house that I bought in 2010. Accidentally at Costco. In bulk.) Chicago must not have the business travellers that London and New York have. The waitstaff ask me, “Where are you from?” And I tell them “Um, I’m from around the corner.” I don’t mind dining alone, but is seems to bother people here for some reason.
I’m rambling. The fact is, this blog is coming to an end. I’m not as excited about food in Chicago as I was about food in London. That may be more about me than it is about Chicago, so Chicago, don’t take it personally. (Although the local industry really needs to invest in power washing its restrooms and you really don’t need to fill my water glass every three minutes.) 2004 til now ain’t a bad run. And maybe I’ll keep going with it. Maybe in a different way. Maybe during trips to London. Or maybe if I really discover something amazing in Chicago.Maybe.
I hope you are well. I know that I have been irregular with updates but, in the main, it is because I have been working so many hours to try and make the [pub] a success. I am emailing today to update you all with the current situation of the business, give you an overview of what is happening.
Since opening in [x] I have continued to work as hard as possible to ensure the success of the [pub] and build a business that would not only give me a future but deliver a good return for my investors and those who put faith in me. The reality currently is that the business is in a very difficult position. Since opening I have, as much as possible, refrained from taking a salary and for the first, nearly two years worked not less than 90 hours per week. I opened in a recession and hoped the economy would improve but it has only got worse. To cut a long story short I have made two chefs redundant, cut every cost to the bone over the last year and it has not been enough.
I know that this news will not be the news that has been hoped for and no one is more disappointed than myself that it has got to this stage. This year I have personally put in every penny I had managed to save plus a loan and up to the limit of my credit card and the business, in October, hasn’t broken even and this is with me not taking a salary and being understaffed. It is this realisation that leads me to sending this email. It is, as you can imagine, not an easy realisation or email to send. I have wanted nothing more than to reward my investors and grow a business that saw everyone paid back but unless something drastic happens the business will run out of money within the next few months and I do not have anything more to put in.
This is not a call for more investment into the [pub] as I am not convinced it would do any good. I have given everything I have; work, blood, sweat, ideas and more and the business, after this long, is losing money. I truly think that closing the [pub] is our only option unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the next four months. There is an option to exit in [month N] as it is the [y] year anniversary but if we don’t then there is another [z] year commitment which, at the current income level, would be impossible to sustain for any time at all and at this point the business would literally run out of money. I am also personally in a position where I can no longer go on without any income.
I think that I made a mistake with the location and, although the general area is wealthy, being quite remote, in this economy, means we are a very infrequent destination. Having been in catering for some years I can honestly say that I think people’s spending habits have changed during this prolonged recession and I am not sure they will ever be the same again. I see customers sometimes who used to come often and now come only every few months and they say “oh sorry we haven’t been in a while, it’s not that we’re going elsewhere but we just haven’t been out for a few months”. It seems that the middle ground in dining, where I firmly sit, is being abandoned and the £10 for two meals big chains are much busier.
I do believe that the [pub] is a good model and in a different economy and a better location the model I have created would work and work well. It just seems that the economy is making it impossible and having not operated outside, effectively, of a recession, I have never had a good period in which to build a steady trade to underpin the business. I have tried everything I can and we have had many successes and have exceeded many customer’s expectations but this hasn’t led to enough repeat business. I took out a loan of £10,000 and put it in this summer but I am not sure what has happened this year, the whole Olympic period and following summer/Autumn just hasn’t moved at all. The whole time we’ve been open we have only really achieved break even because I didn’t take a salary. To give you an example, our best week last summer we took about £12,000 and this summer our best week was about £7,000.
I would welcome a conversation to explain more about the situation and to answer any questions you may have. Finally I want to apologise for any loss that looks likely to happen but I hope you understand that I have given absolutely everything I have to try and succeed but the tide against us was too strong.
Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
From Krista: I received this e-mail towards the end of last year from a friend. I have the writer’s permission to post the e-mail. but without the pub name, location, and specifics. Thanks for reading, and if you can do anything today, tomorrow, this week or next, head down to your local, buy a beer, and stay a while.