Reunited and it feels so good. Long-time readers might remember Canadia Boy (aka Bryan) and Stacey from my London years, they of the lovely wedding in Biarritz which included a side-trip to San Sebastian. They too have decamped to Washington DC, so along with Julie and DC’s favorite morning show TV host, @financialista. We found ourselves at the lovely and peaceful Izakaya Seki in the U Street Corridor, where we promptly ordered everything off the menu. A real Japanese menu will all sorts of real Japanese things and no volcano rolls in sight. Each item better than the last. I would eat here every day if I could, and bring Bryan and Stacey and Julie and Jessica with me.
While in DC, I forced Julie to go to an oyster place (palace!) and watch me eat. And here’s what I realized…it’s no fun having lunch with someone, ordering oysters, but being the only person who eats the oysters. I REALLY wanted Julie to like oysters. But she doesn’t. So I ate all six by myself. And I felt a little lonely, even though Julie was sitting RIGHT THERE.
I liked Pearl Dive. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely eat in the bar area and try to pick up some guys in seersucker and boat shoes.
The Verdict: Do it. If you like oysters, that is. Gentlemen, if you’re reading this, wear your boat shoes and your belts with those boats on them. I’ll be there, waiting for you.
Julie left us here in Chicago and moved to DC. Her boss’ boss’ boss in the President now. That’s pretty cool. So I went out to DC for a visit, hoping for an intro. When I was a kid, we considered everything south of Pennsylvania “The South,”which I think is funny now as a Midwestern transplant. That being said, visiting DC made me miss the East Coast and most notably, the preppiness. I miss preppies…seersucker, boat shoes, Lacoste, belts with boats and whales on them. And I miss the food…clams and clams and more clams. I did NOT have clams when I was in DC but I did eat a Proof, a wine bar full of beautiful people. The gnocchi was beautiful. I would say you should get some, but it’s not on the menu anymore. Sorry!
The Verdict: A nice meal and a very nice wine list. I’d go back here.
P.S. Julie did not introduce me to the president. She owes me.
Ah, Little Goat. You are trying to kill ALL OF US, aren’t you? There is nothing healthy on your menu, is there? I ordered the Caesar salad once, which is generally not a healthy choice either, but I like how you took it to the next level and DEEP-FRIED THE ANCHOVIES. Thank you for that, thank you. Above, my fish tostadas. What a beautiful mess. How deliciously engrossing. (Really, this was really delicious.) Ah, my cholesterol, my arteries, my heart. Really, we are all going to die, thanks to Stephanie Izard.
The Verdict: Don’t go here if you have had long conversations with your doctor about your lab results.
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’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’m behind on things. The New York Times was talking about Chicago about a few weeks ago. Chicago is talking about the The New York Times book review that talks about Chicago. And I am caught in between in ways I probably shouldn’t put words to. I live in Chicago but I was born in Queens and raised on Long Island and then the rest…well, you know.
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 was born in Queens. Raised on Long Island. Call me Bridge & Tunnel but I am more New Yorker than a lot of people. And I miss my people. I miss our directness, our way of talking. In London, I learned to talk AROUND the subject; in New York, I address it straight on.
Three nights in New York City. Three nights that were enough, but not enough. I need to do this more often.
Friday: Dinner with Shinny and Monica at Shin’s place on the Upper West Side, where Shinny tested her recipes on us. (Shinny is an MBA and Michelin chef, now doing her own thing with food.)
Saturday: Food tour of the West Village with Sidewalks of New York with a tour guide who had had gastric bypass surgery. (Fscinating career choice.) Then a visit to the Apple store and a great chin wag with Jessica (Londoners might remember her as Ripe London) over wine and cheese at Bar Boulud. Afterwards, I arrived back at my hotel and stopped in the lobby to pick up some (more) wine and cheese (complimentary, this time). Then, a late night fight in the hotel room above me where I heard a woman yell “Get your hands off me! Get your hands off me!” over and over and over and over and over and over again. I called the front desk. I tried not to listen.
Sunday: Lunch with so many friends with so many babies at a unmemorable Chinese restaurant with a B on the door on the Upper West Side. (I love the NYC version of Scores on the Doors.) $24 per adult and the children were well-behaved. A long walk over to the Lower East Side Tenement Association and a FANTASTIC tour (book ahead), followed by a stop at the Crosby Street Hotel (Firmdale, don’t you know) and meeting up with an old friend for Red Stripes at Miss Lily’s. Then, the most amazing of bands and the most amazing of trombone players at Madame Geneva’s on Bleeker Street.
Monday: Sore head. Sore heart. Bagel full of suitcases from Ess-a-bagel on 1st and 21st. Lunch with Shinny at David Burke Kitchen, in the basement of my hotel, where the duck meatballs were spicy but the service was missing, hiding, gone for most of our meal. Shinny brought me some Excedrin, like a good friend, and I got in a taxi and I went to the airport and I bought some magazines and I flew home. Sore head, sore heart.
Quickly…over Christmas, I did that thing I usually do. I headed up to Orlando to visit my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare in Orlando and — gasp — they actually use it. (Most Americans buy timeshares and then quickly realize they just can’t use them and then they try to sell them and can’t.) We stayed one night at the Marriott Cypress Harbour and boy am I glad my dad is a senior citizen, because without his discount, this would have cost us over $400 bucks just for one night. (My father was happy to stay at the Quality Inn 4.5 miles away for $62 bucks a night. Not me.) We got 15% off our rate because he is over 65.
The Marriott Cypress Harbour is an apartment hotel and our room was HUGE. As was the hot tub. A little disconcerting, this hot tub. I let my dad have this room. I took the smaller guest bedroom, above.
I guess if I were a family with two children, this place would have been the perfect setup. For a father and daughter traveling together though, there was no easy access to alcohol, which was a problem. There was no minibar and the bar at the clubhouse required a car to get there. (I often joke that my father would never survive a trip to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. No red wine.) That being said, my bed was comfortable and the blackout curtains were awesome.
While in Orlando, we had lunch at the Copper Canyon Grill, where my order of rotisserie chicken was large enough to feed fourteen people. (America, this is why you’re fat. Really.) Our server also told us he was a green beret in Afghanistan, and my dad and my uncle, both servicemen themselves, thought he was lying. So that was awkward. (We didn’t tell him he was lying. We just discussed it during and afterwards.) Everything here was nice enough by big-box-chain-restaurant standards though. Speedy service, plenty of tap water, and they very easily dealt with our party of ten.
And before we sped off to the airport the next morning, we stopped at Denny’s at 11037 International Drive. (Remember, I’m not as sophisticated as you might think I am.) And I was again given pause for thought. Do you wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in America? Things like The Grand Slamwich exist, that’s why. Potato bread!! That being said, the service at Denny’s was super-chipper and speedy. There’s something about diner service in America: these servers are not precious, they’ve seen it all, and they are as flexible as flexible can be.
I’m supposed to stop eating things like this but the novelty wins and the 5:2 diet to make up for my life of excess seems like a better and better idea. (Who wants to eat on Mondays and Tuesdays, anyhow?) The food at the Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, Chicago along with their lovely staff, make for an excellent excuse to get yourself out of your Northside “I don’t go south of Madison” comfort zone. Mushroom and kale!! Who knew a mushroom and kale pie could be so perfectly perfect? Best pie I’ve ever had. Really and truly. You should go get one. Or four. (If you really don’t want to go south of Madison, Pleasant House Bakery pies are stocked at a number of places around Chicago.) Thank you to Roam & Home and Mr Roam & Home for the adventure. (And this was only our first stop!) Hmmm…if I’m going to stick around Chicago, maybe I should buy a car. It makes adventures easier.
I don’t know what they do to it. Some sort of breading. Some sort of deliciousness. Some sort of breaded delicious perfection. Some sort of MIRACLE HANGOVER CURE. That being said, the place is a shit hole. (Shithole?) Water dripping from the ceiling, ripped up stools, recycling that hasn’t been emptied for months. You know what I mean.
The guy at the counter did have some nice things to say about my eyes though. And he gave me some free fried catfish, which was AWESOME. You can love my eyes and give me free catfish anytime you want, mister.
The Verdict: If you are hungover and if you want to eat some chicken, you should order from here. Do not eat in; it is gross. And remember, quality takes time. These guys fresh fry everything. It will take time. A lot of time. Bring a newspaper. Or your iPhone. Or something.
Let’s talk about doing things differently in 2013. Let’s talk about being creative. Let’s talked about being INSPIRED. Being original Taking some risks. Let’s talk about brining HAM WITH COFFEE, sprinkling everything with New Orleans, and serving up the most delicious stuffed pig’s trotter (Zampone). Talk about that, think about that, and then tell me what you’re going to do differently in 2013.