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.

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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…

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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

Posted in Blogging, Chicago, London, Miscellaneous, Shopping, United Kingdom, United States | 5 Comments

Things I Miss about Chicago

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

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

Around Town

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

Mexican Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Chicago, United States | 7 Comments

Saying Goodbye to Chicago…My Last Suppers

Posted by Krista on July 9, 2014

011Too many people asked me “Where are you going to eat before you leave?” before, I, uh, left Chicago. And then they would look at me strangely when I would say “Oh, I don’t know…I’m probably just going to order some curry from Rangoli and maybe some twice-cooked pork and string beans from Chengdu Impression.” What they wanted me to say, I do not know. (Don’t ask the question if you’re not going to like the answer.) I had no desire to hit Alinea again. (Sorry, left hungry and stopped for tacos that one time.) I was a little sad that I never visited L20 because I do love seafood more than most Chicago people. But well, other than that, I wasn’t really dying to try anything in particular.

So you know what I did before I left Chicago? I ate A LOT of chicken wings. At Jake Melnick’s downtown. I LOVE Jake Melnick’s! I love Pancho’s wings! Pancho, whoever you are, I love you. I sat at the bar at Jake Melnick’s and I ate a lot of chicken wings and drank a lot of beer. (They have A LOT of different types of beer to drink.) Sometimes I ate chicken wings with friends, sometimes I ate chicken wings by myself. But most of all, I ate chicken wings.

I also ate a lot of Chengdu Impression. It’s a very long story how I ended up in Lincoln Park during the last few days in Chicago, but I had to go to Home Depot a lot and going to Home Depot meant a trip to Chengdu Impression. The staff at Chengdu Impression are super sweet. Ask them for their help in ordering. I hope they do very very well because everything they have is all pretty delicious.

Ah, and Chicago Bagel Authority! My friend Jen’s English husband Leigh LOVES the Chicago Bagel Authority so while I was in the neighborhood, I had to check it out. I did. Many times. Although the New Yorker in me died a little every time I ate one of their **steamed** bagels, they were very tasty. And I kinda liked the intensely flirtatious bagel maker. He had nice eyes.

What else…I finally went to Longman & Eagle and it was very good but in hindsight, I don’t really remember anything we ate. I suppose that was my “cross it off the list” moment.

I did spend a lot of time at Scofflaw, drinking all the Temple Destroyers with Ben & Gerry and then Antonia. (Antonia says she’s now obsessed with verdita and is going to attempt it. I will be there.) I don’t remember much about my time at Scofflaw either, but that was obviously for other reasons. (And remember, I am not a big mixed drink person.)

Other things…Binny’s has a new wine tasting room, so I spent a lot of time there. Ah, and I had a nice lunch at Ramen San, although I hated their stools. Hated. I really need to start that “comfortable restaurant seating” business I’ve been thinking about.

My last meal in Chicago was at Nico Osteria. I stayed two nights at the very lovely Thompson Hotel. ((My stay at The Thompson Hotel was another Hotwire bargain!) I found it easier to camp out at Nico for the afternoon after me and my five suitcases checked out of the hotel. I ate a lot of Nico’s delicious focaccia olive bread. You should too.

So…I think that about sums up my last few days/weeks in Chicago. I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll visit the city. But hopefully when I do, it won’t be MINUS FORTY DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. (Which also, coincidentally, is equal to minus forty degrees Celsius.) So goodbye Chitown. Thanks for all the beer.

P.S. That photo is from the Chicago Distilling Company in Logan Square. You should visit!

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Goodbye, Chicago

Posted by Krista on June 25, 2014

photo (1)I’m on a plane!

To London.

Yes, if you’re reading this Wednesday evening Chicago time, I have purchased a one-way ticket from Chicago to London and I’m somewhere in the sky right now.

My belongings sit in a container in a port somewhere in America, ready to depart. A lot of Americans I know think I’m crazy. (“Wait…you’re moving to London on Wednesday?” and “You don’t have anywhere to live??” and/or “You still don’t have a plane ticket?”) But my parents and Uncle George and Aunt Ursula and legions of taxi drivers across Chicago don’t think I’m crazy, and that says something now, doesn’t it? 

Oh yeah, and that plane ticket problem? Obviously I solved it. Thank you, Internet, which allows you to purchase magic paperless tickets to and through the sky with bits of plastic at the last possible minute.

You know what the weird thing is…10 years ago on June 26, 2004, I published my first ever blog post on the then “Krista in London” site on Typepad.

If that’s not a crazy big sign from somewhere, I don’t know what is.

So yes London, I have come back for you.

P.S. I took that photo under the El tracks in Chicago at that point in Lincoln Park where Bissell dead-ends into a parking lot around North Avenue. Tunnel vision, for sure.

Posted in Blogging, Chicago, London, United Kingdom, United States | 7 Comments

Eating & Drinking in New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 22, 2014
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Bartenders at the Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt

I had no set expectations of food in New Orleans. Drinks, sure. I thought everyone would be wandering around with Hurricanes. Also, I thought I’d see a lot of women taking their shirts off on balconies. (Do not Google Girls Gone Wild.) And a lot of Ann Rice fans dressed like vampires. Those were my preconceptions.

But actually, New Orleans was a lot better than I imagined. Very good actually. It has this old/new thing going on and I kinda liked that. Here’s where I ate and drank.

Sylvain, 625 Chartres St, French Quarter. Mary on Twitter recommended this dark and romantic little gastropub and we were glad she did. Great, personal service and nice food. Then again, I think we were all starving so we would have eaten anything. But really, this was very nice. 

Emeril’s Delmonico, 1300 St Charles Ave, Garden District. I made a last minute OpenTable booking and figured that while we were in New Orleans, we might as well eat at an Emeril’s restaurant. This was the surprise of the trip. I loved my spiced duck and our server was funny and personable. Also, the space was gorgeous. I would go back here. And no one said Bam! Yes!

Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville Street, French Quarter. I took myself on a little oyster tour of the French Quarter one night. I didn’t expect to like Acme Oyster House. It’s loud, there’s neon, and there is a huge queue to get in. Plus, it’s a little dirty. And they skipped over me in line multiple times while they seated parties of two. (I hate that. How many parties of two do you have to seat until you seat the solo diner?) But my server Pam was fantastic…a true veteran…and the baked oysters were garlicky and delicious. Thinking back on all the oysters I ate, these were my favorite. Hot, garlicky and pure unadulterated fun.

GW Fins, 808 Bienville Street, French Quarter: I waddled into GW Fins after Acme and appreciated the change of pace. GW Fins is large and airy and quiet and the bar was empty when I arrived. I ordered some smoked oysters, which arrived almost poached-like, the shells piping hot. I took my server’s recommendation on the wine and passed an enjoyable 45 minutes chatting away about restaurants in New Orleans. It was she that sent me to R’evolution next…

R’evolution, 777 Bienville Street, French Quarter. Dark and rich feeling. Everyone looked expensive and slightly famous. I sat next to a journalist and his wife, who’s skin had been preserved through the blessings of modern medicine perfectly and eerily well. R’evolution served me their fire roasted oysters, but I think they had been left too long to cool before they arrived. Either that or I was still thinking about those oysters at Acme. I liked the ambience of R’evoluton and the service and the wine list, but the oysters left me wanting. So too the Death by Gumbo I had the next day. (Why I went back twice, I will never understand.)

Verti Marte, 1201 Royal Street, French Quarter: The woman who had had all the plastic surgery done told me to get a Po’Boy at Verti Marte. She had seen Angelina Jolie there once. (“Her arms are like toothpicks.”) So I dropped in in between tours and ordered a fried oyster po’boy and the guy behind the counter looked at me like I was 1. crazy and 2. speaking a foreign language. They get zero points for service here, although the woman at the register was nice. The sandwich though was delicious. Five or six really fat fried oysters and some delicious sauce and salad on a pretty good baguette.

 Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, French Quarter. Everyone told me I would love it here. Everyone is wrong. This is a tourist trap. Sit on the carousel bar stools and watch the bar spin around. I left without ordering anything. Full of tourists. 

Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt, 123 Baronne Street. One of my favorite stops of the trip. I really loved the vibe and the fittings and the bar tender. Am I a sazerac fan? Probably not. But I still enjoyed my drink. Also full of tourists, but a different sort of tourist. Highly recommended.  

At the end of my time in New Orleans, I found myself wishing I had more time to see and explore. It’s a unique American city. I put it up there with Boston and San Francisco as cities foreigners should really visit to get a sense of the different cultures of different places. You should go.

Posted in New Orleans, United States | 1 Comment

Tours in New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 21, 2014

Somewhere in my late 30s, I became a fan of city tours. In the old days, I would just hang out with a guide book. But now, everywhere I go now, I look up all the city tours available and sign myself up for anything that sounds remotely interesting. BUT…the tour must be less than four hours long. I really lose interest at that point. Actually, I think that 2 hours and 30 minutes is my max…unless there is food and drink involved. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE STUCK ON A TOUR BUS FOR FOUR TO EIGHT HOURS. Here’s who I toured with while I was in New Orleans.

Ghost & Vampire Combo, French Quarter Phantoms. NOT RECOMMENDED. First, you have to go to a totally sleazy pub to meet the tour group. Not my kind of place. I mean, I like a dirty bar, but this was just awful and unsafe feeling. Then, our tour guide, Tess, was the most boring tour guide ever. She seemed annoyed to be taking us around and was just reciting things. A good tour guide makes all the difference. Tess was not it. This group is a machine…there were three or four tours that went out at the same time, given the number of tourists. I wish I had one of the other tour guides and desperately wanted my time back at the end of the evening. I remember nothing. $20.

St. Louis Cemetery #1, Free Tours by Foot: Recommended. Great tour guide (Elizabeth B) who was passionate about New Orleans and knew all the stories. And it’s a free tour, so there’s that. (I gave her $35 at the end because she was really good and knowledgeable and passionate and interesting.) You get a little New Orleans history, a little Katrina, a little voodoo, a little religion, a little Nicolas Cage. The one thing for me is that after 90 minutes in the cemetery, I was ready for a chance in scenery. This is a HIGHLY focused tour. But still short in comparison to what else is out there. And still good and interesting.

Drink & Learn New Orleans: HIGHLY Recommended. I really loved this tour. Our tour guide was funny and informative. She had all sorts of great stories about New Orleans and its cocktails. PLUS…you get a saddle bag of cocktails at the beginning of the tour. That’s the schtick…drink your cocktail while Elizabeth tells you the history of New Orleans as you wander through the French Quarter. In contrast to French Quarter Phantoms, the bar you start and end at during this tour is quite pleasant. At $50, this tour was worth every penny.

So…those are my tours…I’ve neglected food and drink though and hope to get to it in a later post!

Posted in New Orleans, Travel, United States | Comments Off

My Stay at The Ritz Carlton New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 20, 2014

I had a conference to go to in New Orleans earlier this month so I made a weekend out of it and stuck around. I had never been to New Orleans before and was excited to see what the city had to offer. Plus, at various odd times, the Floridian in me wants some Southern food. GRITS!!

Well, unfortunately for me, what the city had to offer that weekend was WRESTLEMANIA XXX. Yes, the 30th anniversary of Wrestlemania with Hulk Hogan coming out of retirement and everything. Wrestling fans from all around the world — who knew this was such a global empire! Hotel rooms were hard to come by, especially central ones. For my conference, I was staying at the iconic Hyatt from Hurricane Katrina. 1000+ rooms! And they couldn’t accommodate me for the weekend, just to give you an idea. So The Ritz it was. Not many wrestling fans stay at The Ritz, apparently.

Not that I was complaining, of course. You could do worse than The Ritz for a stay in New Orleans. Here’s what I liked and disliked:

What I Liked…

  • The location…just two blocks from Bourbon Street, The Ritz was super easy to walk to/from with most of the things I wanted to do for the short amount of time I had. You might know I love walking, so this was awesome.
  • The bar…live music most nights I was there! Great bands too.
  • The spa! I didn’t use the spa for any beauty treatments, but after a day of a lot of walking, I really needed a hot tub. The Ritz has one! It was great. Although they wouldn’t show me to the locker room because I wasn’t using the spa so I had to get changed in the bathroom. Annoying.
  • Room service. Biscuits and gravy for $10. Pretty fantastic.

What I Disliked

  • The whole “you can have free Internet because you’re a Marriott Rewards member but only on so many devices” thing.  I have A LOT of devices. Also, even though I was a Marriott Rewards member and I was supposed to get Internet for free, they still charged me for it so I had to deal with that at check-out.
  • The distractedness of the check-in staff. It was like my desk clerk had memorized a script. It was off-putting. I expected better of a Ritz…something more personal and welcoming. He was talking so fast I had to ask him to slow down.
  • The lack of security cameras. Maybe they were super-secret-hidden cameras but there were a couple of times where I came in off the street and there was no doorman to greet me. And no cameras. (Again, unless they were very well-hidden.) Call me a wimp but because New Orleans has its unsavory bits and there are A LOT of drunken louts, I did feel a little unsafe in and around the hotel at times.

Would I stay here again? Maybe. It was expensive. I was trapped into it because I booked my plane ticket to New Orleans before I booked my hotel room and when I booked the plane ticket, I didn’t realize that Wrestlemania was in town. I am sure there a are places to stay in New Orleans that are just as nice as well as cheaper, so I might look at those first before I commit to The Ritz again.

Posted in Hotels, New Orleans, United States | Comments Off

Sojourn in Palm Springs

Posted by Krista on March 26, 2014

My friend Julie just celebrated the 19th anniversary of her birthday. What better way to celebrate than rent us all a house in Palm Springs, California where it is HOT and DRY and NOT SNOWING?  We booked Villa Moda (pictured) through LuxuryRetreats.com and couldn’t have been happier with the price, process and the service. The first morning, we had a little trouble with the hot water and our concierge was out at the house in 20 minutes. I would definitely use them again. They have properties all over the world.

While we were in Palm Springs, we got up to some mischief and mayhem. Here are some of the places we visited that you should consider too:

The Spring Resort & Spa, 12699 Reposo Way, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240: We loved the natural hot springs at this compact but peaceful little spa. I met an older couple in the 104 degree pool who had visited earlier in the week and liked it so much that they were back for another visit. The nine of us enjoyed massages, scrubs and other treatments with dips in the pools in between. Highly recommended.

In & Out, many locations: Double-double Animal Style. My first time. (Hey, I’m from the East Coast and live in the Midwest! I don’t get out west much.) Delicious. Highly recommended.

Copley’s, 621 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Dude, Cary Grant used to LIVE HERE. So that’s awesome. We sat around the fire and enjoyed our very inexpensive California sparkling wine. Definitely worth a visit. Although I did definitely feel young…

Trio Restaurant, 707 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Very welcoming to our large party. The food was good and the sparkling wine was VERY affordable. (God, I love California.) Popular with bachelorette parties, just so you know. Would I go back here? Maybe. But they did very well by us.

Birba, 622 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. We had some competent cocktails here while I forced everyone to play a gazillion rounds of Heads Up on my iPhone. We had fun here. I’d go back.

Norma’s at The Parker, 4200 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264. What Norma’s lacks in taste, it makes up for in style. This place has a good vibe, but the food is just okay, in my opinion. I’d still go back just so I can feel cool. Robert Downey Jr. was arrested here, fyi.

Dessert Hills Premium Outlets, 48400 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230: Prada! Gucci! Everything. Totally under construction so not very peaceful, but I think it will be awesome when it’s done. We enjoyed the ride through the dessert to the outlets and all the big windwills along the way.

I really enjoyed my time in Palm Springs. I would totally go back. You should too. And use LuxuryRetreats.com! (Seriously not getting paid or otherwise in saying that, just to be clear.)

 

Posted in Palm Springs, Travel | 2 Comments

Dillmans, Chicago

Posted by Krista on September 18, 2013

IMG_6415I went to Dillman’s for lunch the other day. It is all dark and cozy with chandeliers. My server said “for sure, for sure” a lot. It was distracting. Also distracting? The rose was listed under “Whites” on the wine list. Less distracting? The chicken liver and lovely toasty warm brioche. A very generous, tasty and satisfying portion at $9.95.

Best part? COWSHED PRODUCTS in the bathroom. SOHO HOUSE CHICAGO, I am coming for you.

The Verdict: Go for the chandeliers! And wash your hands with all the Cowshed! Have the chicken liver with ALL the toast. For sure.

Dillman's on Urbanspoon

Posted in American, Chicago, River North, United States | 1 Comment

La Sirena Clandestina, Chicago

Posted by Krista on September 16, 2013

IMG_6389Look at this restaurant. Isn’t it beautiful? Don’t you want to stay here all day? It’s so pretty and serene and the light is coming through the windows JUST SO.

But someone is having a bad day, and it’s not me. I’m having a great day. It’s Friday! It’s lunchtime! Everything is great and everybody is happy!

It’s my server who is having a bad day. He’s not mean or anything…he’s just…absent. And I don’t mean that he’s not physically present, because he is physically present. He’s just mentally absent. He just doesn’t seem to want to be there. At all. And he doesn’t want me to be there either. He doesn’t seem to want me to eat or drink and he has no recommendations on anything. Everything is good here, he says. All the wines are nice, he says.

IMG_6388But everything is not good here. The eggplant empanada is bland and tasteless and doesn’t deliver on the promise of its appearance.

IMG_6387The salmon ceviche, on the other hand, is quite zingy and tart.

IMG_6390The feijoada is good but I am really jonsing for some farofa to sprinkle around everything.

The Verdict: I like the look of La Sirena Clandestina. I also like the sink in the bathroom. The food was good but I think I’m going to have to give this place another go to say for sure.

La Sirena Clandestina on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chicago, Latin, United States, West Loop | Comments Off