Monday, May 28, 2007

Pretty Plates in Chicago - Tru

(I preface this review with my pics were taken by a camera phone, as I didn't want to be the weirdo in the fancy restaurant taking out a digital camera. Apparently I was the only one who felt this way, as tables around me were heavy with the flash and cameras)
After 3 trips to Chicago in the past month I finally landed early enough to make it to dinner at Tru. I've had to cancel a couple reservations there due to flight delays, so this time I opted to not make the reservation ahead of time. Which landed me an 8:45 seating. This is not something I was concerned about in the least as I was dying to try some of Rick and Gale's good cooking.
I can't really use any words that will justify how good this meal was. But I'll try.
There was some hesitation about going to dinner at a place like Tru alone. I
don't particularly love eating in restaurants alone, and tend to hurry through my meals. But I am a firm believer in that good food and great restaurants should not be saved for special occassions. One should indulge and eat good food when they can regardless of they why. The front of the house staff was very friendly and didn't give me the "oh sad you eating all alone face". The table was one of the banquettes in the middle of the restaurant, set for one with the additional chair removed. This gave me a good view of one half of the restaurant, allowing me to take in the art and the height of the place. And strangely, looking out at all those tables of groups out for a special dinner wasn't as awkward as I expected. In fact, I didn't read the book I had brought.
The space is beautiful in a very cool, open large way. Everything is black and white (even the napkins), allowing you to focus on the food and the art. The curtains reaching up to the ceiling, showcasing the height of the room. I spent a lot of time watching the staff, and how they seemed to just glide through the room, serving the food, taking the orders, clearing the plates, it was very beautiful. There was something very graceful and unintrusive about the way they moved.

The initial amuse bouche was served on a silver spoon that had a gorgeous steep curve to it, thus allowing it to stand by itself on the plate. It was a small ball of buffalo mozzerella with a green olive mousse and a shaving of black olive sugar on top. It was a complete explosion in my mouth. Light, airy, and just the right balance of savory from the olive mousse. It took me by surprise.

The wine list was an insane 50+ pages long. One page of wines by the glass, and some very impressive bottles on the list. I opted for a Gewürztraminer that had a great bouquet, but didn't bowl me over with the taste.
The second amuse bouche was a spring consumme gelee. Served in a lovely teacup and saucer, you did need a spoon to eat it with. The cup handle was shaped like a gold wing.

The consumme was bibb lettuce and spring vegetables, best I could tell there were cucumbers and zucchini in there, a gelee base added a substantial base to the light refreshing flavor and there was a dot of creme fraiche to top it off.
I opted for the 3 course dinner, since it was late. My appetizer choice was Grilled Diver Sea Scallops, Red Pepper Essence, Chorizo, Avocado Dumplings.

There was some avocado foam going on in this dish, which had actual flavor. I never expect foams to taste like anything. The avocado dumplings were rolled in japanese rice puffs and were dense but a good complement to the perfectly grilled scallops. The broth was a light chorizo lobster bisque with tapioca balls to add some body to it. On the corner of the bowl was a chiffonade of jalepeno for those (like me) who like a little heat with thier meal. I actually used very little of the jalepeno, for it was a bit too strong and took away from the purity of the dish.

My main course was the Butter-Poached Maine Lobster, White Asparagus, Bisque, Orange, Almond.

As soon as the dish was set in front of me I was overcome with the aroma of the orange. The plate has orange essence painted around the rim, and it definately plays a role in what you taste. Basically, it made me want to lick my plate. Not appropriate in a place such as this. The lobster was poached in an orange butter, so with every bite you got a hint of the orange and a lot of the moistness and goodness of the butter (with none of the greasy butter taste and feel you get when you drown the lobster in butter!). I live in the land of lobsters and this has to be the best lobster I've had. There was a tarragon lobster bisque on the side for me to scoop up with the lobster, and the tarragon added a nice touch of clean herby feeling to the dish. The white asparagus were hidden under their foam (clearly, the kitchen loves that toy) and creamy goodness, but I found and ate them all. I do like the white asparagus, they are milder and perfect for a dish such as this.
Here's my weak point, I am full and they ask if I am interested in a cheese course. My mind says, you still have dessert to go, you don't really need to add a fourth course, and yes you can have cheese instead of the dessert, but really you can't deny yourself half the reason you came which is Gale's desserts. So I succumb to the extremely attractive waiter and ask to see the cheese tray.

Oh the choices, from France to Wisconsin to Colorado! I wanted to try them all, but was limited to 3. In the end 3 became 4. The only other place I've been to with such an impressive cheese tray is L'Espalier where I had discovered my previous 2 favorite cheeses. They were toppled by two that I had this night. My two new favorite cheeses now are Regal de Bourgogne aux Moutarde which despite being covered in mustard seeds, isn't overwhelmed by them. And the Cabreton, which was softer and more flavorful that I expected. The two cheeses that flanked either end of my plate were the sheeps milk Perail and the nutty Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Wisconsin. Both equally delicious. I savored the cheeses as long as I could, with a huge smile on my face. Then I remembered there was still dessert to be had and boxed the rest up.
The sides were figs, apricot, a balsamic chutney (which while the waiter was forming into the perfect shape with 2 spoons, I told him he didn't have to bother "Ma'am, we are a four star restaurant" He was so cute I wanted to take him home. Seriously) and a quince paste, that I just ate as is because I love quince that much.
Before the dessert was a red currant mint lemonade as a palate cleanser. A bit too sweet for me, I only drank half. The color doesn't come through in the photographs, but believe me, it was the most attractive red I've seen in something that didn't contain hibiscus.
And finally dessert, as I was pretty full I opted for one of the lighter desserts. The Vanilla Cream with contained Lemon Chiffon, Vanilla Pot de Crème, Lemon Curd Ice Cream, Citrus Supremes.

The lemon curd ice cream was my favorite part of the dessert. It was creamy without being heavy, full of flavor, and just the right size. It also had some caramel rice krispies with it, so I got some of that snap, crackle, pop goodness. The pot de creme sat on a bed of light spongey lemon chiffon cake, and was enrobed in what was possibly the tastiest shell I've ever had.
Lest you think that was the end of dessert, oh no. There was still the lollipop and mini cake/cookie cart. Since I had not had any chocolate in my dessert, I skipped the spearmint lollipop that looked really good and opted for the chocolate crispy I can't even remember what else was in it lollipop. It was SO good. I also got a chambord chocolate mini cake thing, That was delicious, and thank goodness only a biteful! Are we done yet? Because I am mighty full. Oh no, wait, there is still the truffle cart. Oh handsome waiter, you are killing me with your good looks and tasty food things you bring my way. I opted for the dark chocolate green olive truffle and the milk chocolate caramel truffle.

Now, you may say to me, Razzle, why a chocolate olive truffle? I reply that I am a woman of adventure and am not afraid of strange flavors! While it was not a bad combination, it was certainly interesting. Had I not known that it had been olive, I would have spent hours trying to figure out what that combination was. The caramel truffle was soooo very good. But really, can one go wrong with caramel and chocolate? Not in my book.
3 1/2 hours later, and about 10 pounds heavier, I strolled back to the hotel and fell into bed dreaming of master chefs cooking up wonderful foods for me to eat.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

James Hotel Chicago Part 2

(I didn't realize that Blogger limited my post length)

There is free wireless (yeay!) and it works well all over the room. Then again, the square footage of the room is small and I would be shocked if it didn't work all over. That's the major drawback from the website you don't get the feel for how small the room is. And that is why it reminds me of a NY hotel. The radio/CD player/MP3 dock works well, although it took me some time to realize my iPod would only work with the remote. Lighting is good, however there is one pendant light in the room that does still emit a glow, even when turned down all the way. Soundproofing is lacking, I could hear people all night opening and closing doors and talking in the hallways, perhaps along with the well sized Kiehl's products in the bathroom they should include earplugs. One other cool thing to me, was the alarm clock (clearly, I am a total geek for this) the alarm clock projected onto the ceiling. So when I was suffering from not being able to fall asleep, I just had to look to the ceiling to see what time it was, instead of being bothered to turn my head. Ah, laziness at its finest.

I forgot to pack gym clothes, so I didn't have a chance to check out the 2000 sq. ft gym the hotel boasts. The hotel spa is an Aveda spa, and while there is a card for it in the hotel info book, a services and pricelist would have also been nice.
Going down to check out in the morning I was greeted with the sounds of the Smiths being played. In my book you can't go wrong with a hotel that plays the Smiths. Or at least the person who came up with that CD mix.

Location: The hotel is a block from the shopping of Michigan Ave. and just as close to the restaurants and bars of Rush Street. Should you need snacks Trader Joe's is on the street behind the hotel.
Would I stay here again? Maybe. If I got a really good rate. The too cool for school attitude of the staff was too much of a turn off to make it worth paying that much for a room again. There are plenty of other luxury hotels in the area. I only hope the outposts the group has planned for other cities has more of an emphasis on being warm and hospitable.

SoHo in Chicago - James Hotel

The James Hotel is a newish boutique hotel in the Magnificent Mile area of Chicago. I'd been wanting to stay here the last couple trips and finally prices dropped below $500 a night so I booked my room with excitement.
From thier website you get a minimalist, modern feel. And to that end it does not disappoint.

Checking in around 7pm, the lobby was packed! Loud music (some sorta house-techno whatever the kids call it these days), lots of well dressed people drinking martinis and the like. Apparently the bar is in the lobby, I was too tired to really look for it. It basically was like the W in SF. The check-in process had a bit of attitude (again, just like the W) which really, I don't appreciate. I feel like, and especially in Chicago where customer service seems to be of really high standards, if you work in a hotel you should be hospitable and make people feel welcome. The man who greeted my cab was very nice, as was the one who got me a cab in the morning. The front desk staff, maybe young and inexperienced, but I didn't particularly care for them. I also feel like they should be knowlegable, particularly about the immediate area, when I asked if she could call and make me a reservation for dinner at Tru, she looked baffled. Really? It's one of Chicago's top restaurants, 3 blocks from the hotel and you don't know what I am talking about? Another issue I encountered was the disconnect about thier frequent guest program. Apparently, no one that works the front desk is aware the hotel is part of the Luxury Hotels of the World group, and would not accept my guest card number. They kept insisting they were an independant hotel. Yes, but you have an agreement with this group. "no, we are independant" I finally gave up. Eventually, I will send the hotel an email and request thier staff be made aware of this, I can't be the only person who books hotels based on perks I expect to get.

Onto my room. It's modern, and sleek, and comfy. But wow, is this the smallest bathroom I've ever seen! One step from the bathtub to the sink, and I have short legs. Pretty much you can shower and wash your hands at the same time.

They clearly are all about the textures here, the waffle weave robes are not the typical cotton waffle weaves you get, its a softer larger pattern. The red patent leather chair and ottoman, meant to give you that gloss and cool feeling when you sit on it, and it is comfortable! The built in sofa, soft comfortable fabric with a wool loop pillow that begs to be touched. The roman shades and closet curtain (no there is no door on the closet, and yes, it is very small) are a microfiber sueded tan. The bed, pillowtop, white, I suspect high threadcount Frette linens and enough pillows to make you sink in and get ready to watch your plasma tv. The warm chocolate carpet, is thicker than standard hotel carpet and feels good on your feet. But then you should really be wearing the bright red felt slippers provided for you in the closet.
The room also has a wetbar, did I mention that? Martini shaker, glasses, good sized bottles of alcohol. I didn't check the prices after I noted the bottle of sparkling water on the minibar was $9. The chocolate colored theme carries into the furnishings, a solid headboard for the platform bed, the minibar, and my favorite? The tile floors and walls of the bathroom.
One thing in the room that failed the tactile test, was the spare blanket in the closet. It was really rough wool. I was expecting a cashmere blend :)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Foxwoods Hotels - The Wonder of it All

If you ever find yourself in CT with a sudden urge to gamble, you've got Foxwoods (and Mohegan Sun, but I haven't been there yet). If you drive up at night it just appears, out of nowhere, at the end of this long road.
Foxwoods has 3 hotels within the casino grounds. In order of highest to lowest price there are the Grand Peqout Tower, the Great Cedar Hotel, and the Two Trees Inn. I've stayed at the Grand Pequot and the Two Trees.

The major downside to the Two Trees, is that it's really off-site from the casino. There is a shuttle bus that makes the rounds 24 hours a day, about every 20 min. or so, but it also takes 20 min. It also only has one restaurant and no room service. So if those things are important to you, and you don't want to wait outside in the freezing winter weather, you should probably book a room at the other two hotels, both of which are in the casino. The rooms at the Two Trees are cute, in that country/shaker style of decor, not plush, but clean and comfortable. Parking lot is out back. There is wireless access in the lobby, but not in the rooms. Rooms are a decent size and not crowded for two people sharing a room. Views are basically the parking lot or the driveway leading up to the hotel.

The Grand Pequot Tower has larger rooms with amazing views of the surrounding area, the rooms start on the 12th floor, there is a lounge area on each floor near the elevators. This hotel contains the fancy restaurant Paragon and a high rollers room, that seemed very intimidating to a non-high roller such as myself. The rooms all have free wireless access, a mini-fridge, coffee maker, a very large marble bathroom (with phone), and comfy beds. There is also 24 hour room service, and they will bring you bottles of alcohol (at a considerable markup). The hotel is above the casino, and very close to the Golden Dragon Restaurant and both entertainment venues, the Fox Theater and Club BB. If you are staying the night for a show and don't want to walk through the large casino, I would recommend choosing this hotel.

They have plenty of casual dining options, from California Pizza Kitchen, to Fuddruckers to a hot dog place and the 24 hour diner style Veranda Cafe. The Golden Dragon was surprisingly good chinese, if you are a fan of lemon chicken they make a really good one, it's an entire chicken breast, well breaded and with a really good sauce. The Festival buffet has a wide selection of foods (seafood, asian, american), average quality, we were there on a Tuesday night and it was 2 for 1 so we figured it was a good bet.

There is a spa at the casino, but I didn't have time to take advantage of it, if anyone has tried it I would like to hear your experience.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hot Tomatoes Boston

I've been eating here pretty much 3 - 4 times a week since it opened last month. Mostly because it is convenient for a quick lunch and they have a large enough menu that I have been able to eat something different each time.

Prices are between $9 and $10 for sandwiches, this may seem high, but most of the sandwiches are big enough to last through lunch and dinner and come with a side of pasta salad or cole slaw. I would recommend any except the Sloppy Joe, it's very very very greasy. I took two bites and threw the rest out. The Yankee is good, but would be served much better warm (its turkey with stuffing). The few times I have asked for something slightly different than the menu (the Lucky 33 heated, or ciabatta instead of whatever bread the sandwich was supposed to have) I got back to the office with the sandwich and realized they didn't make the modification.

The salads are pricey, not great, and not large. I'd opt for something else. The pizza slices are $2.50, average sized, and quite good (although, by the slice so far has only been pepperoni or cheese). The frittata is $6.50 for 2 the size of muffins, but they are surrounded with a tomato sauce that is quite good, and it ends up being filling enough for lunch.

The space is cute, albeit a little crowded when there are more than 4 people waiting for food to go. The decor is nice and the punches of red add a fun feel. Downside, for now they are cash only.
The staff seems to rotate constantly (maybe they share staff with their other restaurant Carmen), but as a regular it would be nice to have a bit of a friendly rapport and that is lacking.

Location: North End. North Street at Lewis.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Indian in SF on the cheap - Pakwan and Naan n Curry

San Francisco has lots of inexpensive Indian- Pakistani places. All of them good, most of them in multiple locations. There's something different about Indian - Pakistani that I love and can't seem to find outside of the Bay Area. It's somehow more spicey or flavorful than just straight up Indian.

Pakwan was the place I fell in love with Chicken Makhanwala (Butter Chicken). Different places call it by different names, but as best as I can tell it's basically a creamier (butterier?) version of Chicken Tikki Masala.
I used to hit up the (now defunct) location on Clay Street in the Financial District fairly often, because for about $8 (less if it was the daily special) I could get rice, chicken and naan in good sized portions. My problem with thier food is, no matter how full I am, I can't stop eating it until the plate is wiped clean with some naan. They have since moved and now have a location in the Tenderloin district (which due to an influx of Indian fast food places is dubbed little India).

Naan -n- Curry is another of my favorites. They have locations all over the city, but I've only been to thier locations in North Beach on Jackson and on Berkeley's famed Telegraph St. The location on Jackson is very run down, but the food still tasty, and always crowded at lunchtime. Strangely, the Telegraph location is much cleaner with better ventilation. At both locations, you order up front and grab a table after the fact. Don't forget to get your water, chai, and silverware yourself. There is no table service here. Then again, with the low prices you weren't really expecting that.
Onto the food, I usually tend to get the lamb curry here. It's greasy, but that is how I like my lamb curry, sometimes they manage to get it mixed well. Thier naan is delicious, plain and straighforward. Thier chana masala is also inexpensive so I usually order one of those too. And then I am faced with the fact that my eyes are always larger than my stomach.

Monday, May 14, 2007

House of Nanking - The Best Chinese In San Francisco

If you go to SF and get only have time for one Chinese restaurant you simply MUST get yourself to House of NanKing in North Beach.

Yes, there will probably be a line at lunch time, and yes it is worth the wait.

No, do not ask for a menu. They will give you one, and let you order from it, but don't. Let them bring you whatever they will. I guarantee it will be better than anything you would have ordered.

Usually you will end up with some sesame like chicken dish. It's the best chicken you will ever have. I believe once I got some sort of beef dish as well. It may have been 5 spice beef. I never understand what the chef says he is bringing me, but I also never leave unhappy. Or not extremely full. If you must order an appetizer, opt for the potstickers or the onion cake. This place made me fall in love with the concept of onion cakes.

The portions are huge, so get one main dish to share. The prices are low, the quality good. It is a very casual restaurant and the kitchen is in the window, so if you are sitting in the half with the kitchen you can see all the delicious food being prepared.

Location: 919 Kearney (at Jackson, near Columbus) (415) 421-1429

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tales of Paris - Le Meridian

I wanted to spend a few days in Paris and after seeing what hotel rates translated to with the Euro conversion, decided I would be best off using up all my Starwood points.
I chose Le Meridian in Montparnasse, as it seemed to be a good hub from which to get to other parts of France (there is a huge train station across the street from it). My first mistake was not paying to take the bus that goes from Charles De Gualle straight to the hotel. I wanted to travel like the locals and opted for le metro. The bus would've taken an hour, and the subway took me 2. An hour of that was spent trying to figure out how exactly to buy the train ticket. The machines indicate credit cards, but do not take most American ones, for we lack some sort of chip they require. And they do not take Euro notes, only coins. The subway is not hard to navigate and I actually enjoyed traveling around with it. But they also have no escalators and so you have to lug your luggage up and down tons of stairs. Upon arriving at the Montparnasse station it took me 30 min. to find my way out of it. I followed every sign that said Sortie (exit), but kept ending up on other platforms. And I didn't see the street name of the hotel anywhere. Later on I realized that is one of the larger subway stations with many entrances and exits. I obviously chose the one furthest from the hotel.

There are very small street signs, if at all, in the area. And in my broken French I tried to ask where the Meridian was, but had no luck. Finally, after much walking around I found it. Right across the street from the Airport bus stop. Next time, I will pay double and take the bus.

The hotel lobby was large and had a bar, gift shop, business center and computers with internet. The staff at check in was very friendly and helpful. Up I went to my room. The thing about European hotels is they are not at all like American hotels. A four star hotel at $300 a night in Paris is not at all like what you expect in the States. No down comforters, no featherbed, and not a whole lot of space. But it was clean and comfortable with a double bed, tv, and a nightstand. The bathroom was small but with good towels and excellent shampoos, lotions and conditioners. All good smells and attractive packaging. However the best one? The Hermes soap in an Hermes box. You know that went straight in my suitcase. There was also a tin of biscuits in the room for me.

What I found most interesting about the room was the way the lights worked. You have to leave your keycard in the switch to leave the lights on. Otherwise they only stay on for a couple minutes. This is an excellent way to conserve energy and discourages people from leaving the lights/tv on when they leave a room! I do wish American hotels would incorporate this into thier "green" concepts.

The hotel has a fancy restaurant, Montparnasse 25, which I suspect was where the room service came from. I ordered steak and fries, and was happy with it. There is also a more casual Restaurant Justine, which serves a buffet for every meal. It is an elaborate buffet to be sure, no lack of choices for food, and has a beautiful garden setting.

Location is excellent for getting pretty much anywhere in Paris. And there are plenty of bistros in the immediate area. There is also a small grocery store right next door to grab drinks and small meals from. You may not be in the heart of the Champs-Elysées or the Louvre, but with the metro right down the street (after I found the most convenient entrance) you can get to the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame all in under 20 min.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chicago Ribs Goodness - Gale Street Inn

After a long, rough work day all I want is some hearty food that makes me feel like I'm wrapped in a blanket and don't have to move again. This is where the Gale Street Inn comes in. I wanted ribs. Good ribs. And none of this pretty food that comes in small portions.

When they claim to be the best ribs in Chicago, I don't think they are kidding. This place has the ribs you can eat on a date, there's none of that messy picking them up with your hands and getting sauce all over your face. A half rack ($16.95) got me 6 ribs, with plenty of meat, that fell off the bone when I touched them. Tender, perfectly flavored (even though extra bbq sauce was put on the table - in one of those syrup containers you see at IHOP). The ribs come with coleslaw, your choice of a side (I opted for the twice baked potato, all sorts of cheesy, creamy, bacony goodness!), and soup or salad. I got the chicken tomatillo soup, it was good! Lots of heat from the jalepenos, and I had to get up and blow my nose halfway through, but I like it that way.

What the midwest has that the coasts seem to lack are real portions. I managed only half my soup and half my potato. I was beyond full, of course this didn't mean I skipped dessert. Apple pie ($5). With a scoop of ice cream. And some caramel drizzled on the pie. The slice of pie took up almost the whole plate. I made it through less than half the dessert.

Thier homemade butter is phenomenal, it has a hint of honey. And the bread is warm and soft. I commented to the waiter how much I loved the butter and he kept it coming, and then brought me some to take home with me.
The restaurant also had a 3 piece jazz band playing that night which was a nice touch, especially since they were good! The service was great, the waiter was friendly and engaging and really seemed to like his job.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My favorite South End Gem - Delux

Many years ago I lived down the street from the most outwardly non-descript bar/restaurant called Delux. For months I thought it was a laundramat. Then I went in and discovered really really good food and cheap drinks. And an eclectic mix of patrons, from the old couple who lived next door to me, to bike messengers, and crazy punk rock gay hairdressers.

Years later, I find excuses to go back to the old neighborhood and take people with me, to experience the food and drink. And the decor. You can't be adverse to an Elvis shrine, bathroom walls covered in graffiti, and posters of Eloise. It's kitschy and somewhat divey without a whole lot of seating, but in the sea of change the neighborhood has gone through with high priced restaurants on every corner, this is really a gem.

Perfect example of the prices: The most expensive menu item is $12.95. Dinner for 4 and a shared dessert this evening? $45. We had bean and cheese quesadilla, it's written in small font at the bottom of the menu, not sure why, cause they are goooooooooood. 2 people got the grilled cheese special, 4 cheeses, beefsteak tomato, on thick cut bread with a side of tomato basil soup (one asked for a substitute and got a green salad and coleslaw that wasn't thick and mayo filled and smelled amazing!). I opted for the cajun crusted tilapia (perfectly cooked and not overly loaded with the cajun flavor) with coconut risotto (slightly sweet) and a papaya salsa which lent a nice balance to the cajun and coconut. Dessert was a strawberry banana tiramisu with butterscoth drizzle. We all agreed the butterscoth was a bit much, and it would've been better without it. But the fruit was fresh and the cake light.
The menu changes every 6 weeks, and there are daily appetizer, dessert, and 2 entree specials.
Drinks are also inexpensive, I usually opt for mixed drinks and think they run around $5.

2/10/08 - Updated since the chef changed. The new chef is Chris Cronin, I believe of Davio's fame.
The food has definitely lost some of its goodness. I don't remember the old chef's name, but I wish I did. Because I need to go whereever he has gone.
Last night dinner for 2 with one drink and one quesadilla ran us $43. A far cry from the first entry.
I've been twice since the chef change, once in November and once last night. The menu seems to have remained mostly the same.
Portions are slowly shrinking, my pumpkin ravioli last night was 7 teaspoon sized ravioli. Tasty, but not filling and with the $14 price tag entirely too reminiscent of the typical South End restaurants. The lamb pappardelle also very small portions and not hearty like you would expect. Steak tacos came with a regular salsa, no cheese and would have been bland had we not saved the apple salsa from the quesadilla.
The inventiveness that the menu had is gone, as are the low prices, all that now remains is cheap beer, the kitschy surroundings and one distracted waitress - not knocking last night's waitress in particular, the one I had in November left us waiting 20 min for a Guinness. And we were the only people in the bar!
I'm sad by the changes in the kitchen here, hopefully Chris will get his bearings and go back to what many used to love about this place.

So if you find yourself in the South End, head on over for a drink or two, and give the food a try. They are open M- Sa from 5:30 - 1 am. But they are cash only, so don't go without that.
Delux is on the corner of Chandler and Clarendon (100 Chandler Street)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Persian Food in NYC - Pars

Pars Grill House and Bar is located on W. 26th between 7th & 8th in Chelsea

Food like my momma used to make! And at prices that keep my wallet happy. Went for dinner on a very cold Saturday night, and for a place that is a bit out of the way it was packed. This is always a good sign. My Kashke Bademjoon (and eggplant appetizer) was tasty as can be, my only regret is I didn't finish it. The Mast-o-moosir was also the right balance of yogurty and spinachy.

The table next to us got the Shirazi salad (tomato and cucumber) which seemed a bit on the smallish side. The bread was warm and soft and fresh. Use it to dip into your appetizers.My test for all Persian restaurants is the Ghormeh Sabzi (a vegetable stew with lamb) and this one passed the test, they had enough fenugreek in it to give it the right flavor (some places skip out on this and you are basically eating a parsely spinach stew) and although the meat was a bit tough (Ghormeh sabzi is best the next day) it was still tasty enough to make me keep eating even though I was full. My companion had the kabab koobideh and it took everything in me to not reach across the table and eat a piece. It looked that tasty!

Go there, it's much better than the overpriced persian uptown. The service was good, and didn't take too long for a place that packed.

Exhale Day Spa

Exhale is a high end chain spa. They have locations in Boston, several in NY, LA, Chicago, and TX. In addition to spa services they also offer yoga and core fusion classes. Which does give that part of the spa a bit of an aerobics studio feel.

My first experience was less stellar than I expected for the prices they charge. The $130 facial (z-peel) with Ella rocked! She is handsdown the best esthetician I have come across to date. Thorough, gentle, and super nice! My Pedicure Plus ($80) was rushed, and not completed in one visit (she didn't do my polish, scrub the heels, work on the cuticles, use the paraffin, or the scrub mask) due to the pedicurist running late and having major attitude, like she was doing me a favor by doing her job. I also was not a fan of the location of the mani/pedi stations (next to the workout studio). I did complain to the manager, and was invited back for a second mani/pedi.
My second visit also included another visit with Ella (this time for a cool laser - for the money I would stick with the z-peel, my skin felt and looked a lot better after that, the cool laser did nothing for me). She still rocked. I will go back time and again for treatments with her. My mani/pedi was much better this time (different manicurist). Coincidentally my last manicurist came in halfway through my manicure with the same bad attitude, I realized she just isn't professional in the least. You don't complain and bitch in front of customers (or to customers about who was sitting there before them). I will recomment Sita for the mani/pedi, she was awesome and sweet and very professional. But I would probably stay away from anyone else there.

Thier locker room is enormous, although their showers seem to leak, as the floor around them is soaked more than it should be. They have all the amenities one could ask for, from razors to q-tips, and enough space at the mirrors for 3 people to freshen up simultaneously.
The relaxation den has some interesting tea choices and just plain water.
I'm sure had I not had to encounter the same girl both times my visit would have been far more pleasant, as the spa itself is gorgeous and very zen-like. They even have a steam room which scores major points! Overall, I would go there for facials and a spa day that doesn't involve nails.

Bella Sante

Newbury Street probably gives you the most spas/salons per square foot than anywhere else in the country. You can't walk more than a few doors without seeing one. So after hearing about Bella Sante from various sources, and thier touting of being voted Best of Boston over the years for various services, I thought I should venture that way and try them out.
I made a last minute appointment for a cranberry enzyme facial. The spa seems large for being on the 2nd floor, and the seating area was comfortable, had lots of magazines, 2 kinds of tea and 3 kinds of water (plain, with lemon slices, and my favorite with orange slices). The seating area only had single chairs however, no benches or couches, so it was a bit austere.
My esthetician came out exactly on time and took me back to a candlelit room. I disrobed and crawled under the sheet and down blanket. She explained all the steps as she was working on me and had a gentle touch. However, I was a bit turned off with the constant mention of products that would be good for me. The facial consisted of a cleansing (cleanser wiped off with warm towel), the enzyme treatment, steam, and a mask. During the steam there was a hand massage, and during the mask a scalp massage. That was a nice touch, as I am not a fan of them putting the steam or mask on and then walking out of the room.
As I was getting dressed, she waited for me at the water bar with a fresh glass of water.
The locker room is under remodeling, but a few comments on its current state. Lots of lockers, but only 3 stalls, one shower, and one sink which is inside one of the stalls. This seems to be the regular configuration, so I hope they are fixing it. Three stalls is not nearly enough for how busy thier locker room gets (I was in there at 7 pm on a Monday with 5 other girls, I would hate to see it on a weekend). There are signs everywhere stating best as I remember "we offer you lockers to keep your items secure, please do the same by returning your robes, towels, and sandals, or bring them to the front desk for purchase". Do they really have that large a contingent of clients stealing thier robes and towels? It was a bit weird to see the signage everywhere in the locker room.
Looking in the mirror I noticed the cleansing wasn't very thorough. I don't have skin that requires extractions, and when I wash my face at home with cleanser, I don't have any clogged pores. But looking in the mirror I could see my pores still clogged. I'd like to feel my face is clean after a facial, it wasn't.
When I went up to pay, the esthetician had left some products up front for me. Not surprised given the product mentions during the treatment, clearly they earn commission on sales, and perhaps that blatent in your face "buy this" works on some of thier clientele. But given that the products cost more than my facial (a toner and a moisturizer) it was annoying. I opted to just pay for my facial.
Will I be back? Probably not. There are more spas on Newbury for me to explore.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

South End Brunching - Aquitaine

Seth Woods and his restaurants always get good reviews, so we decided to try Aquitaine for Sunday brunch. The space is medium sized, smaller than I expected, and very inviting and upscale French Bistro style. One drawback was there was only one bathroom, so regardless of timing there is a line. And it's next to the kitchen entry, so difficult to find a safe spot to wait.
There were 4 of us without a reservation at noon, and so we had the option of waiting 45 min. for a table that would seat us comfortably, or to squeeze into a window booth that should really not seat more than 2. We opted for the latter.
Upon first sip of the coffee, my co-diners commented on how GOOD it was. This is a first, I have never heard anyone comment on the tastiness of restaurant coffee. I asked for a Passion Tazo tea (the menu stated they carried Tazo) and the waitress responded that she didn't think they carried it, and would go check. 2 refills of coffee and order being served, she still hadn't gotten back to me. I finally asked her about it again, and she said "oh yeah we didn't have any", seeing as she had told all the tables around us about the daily special and not told us until we overheard her and had to ask, I'd say she was a bit distracted.
We all ordered the brioche french toast, one without creme fraiche, and one with berries on the side. Both ended up coming to the table sans creme. She brought 2 small boats of syrup to the table, which wasn't adequate for the 4 of us. Good thing I don't love syrup. Again, maybe the waitress would have wanted to be more on top of things. She didn't really check in on us during the meal, other than to make sure the water and coffee glasses were full.
But the french toast was good! A hint of cinnamon, thick slices of bread, topped with berries and 2 slices of applewood smoked bacon. . The french toast was cooked very well, soft but not soggy, and crispy around the edges. The bacon was placed on top of the creme, and so was a little strange to eat. I love bacon, I love anything cream related, but the two together didn't do anything for me.
We all enjoyed the food and ambiance immensely. I'll try the restaurant again, perhaps for dinner as the menu looked excellent, hopefully I'll also have a server that isn't so distracted.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Palmer House Hotel

For old style luxury hotel in Chicago, the Palmer House is a great bet. The hotel is under some huge renovation, but during my stay there I didn't really notice it detracting to the extent I would expect it to. The lobby is ornate with lots of gold and marble. The type of place you expect to see old men enjoying an after work scotch.

My room was a king executive room. The executive rooms appear to be floors 21-23, floor 23 being the club level where a free continental breakfast is served in the mornings(Tazo teas, mini muffins, croissants, bagels, yogurt, juices, bottled Evian water, and coffee). and there is a cash bar until 1 am. Also the executive level rooms have a dvd player and a dvd library with free rentals. Unfortunately I didn't know about the dvd library until after I checked out. Cable was good and had HBO, so I wasn't without television.

The room itself was plush. The bed was calling me when I walked in and I sunk into it willingly. Aaaaaaaaaand I didn't want to get back out. I am loving this new standard of hotel beds. They are very conducive to a good nights sleep.

The room was a fairly good size, an armoir housed the tv and dvd player, there was a desk with the cord for internet access (it's a $10.95/day charge and there is no wireless). The cord doesn't stretch so you are limited to the desk for using your internet. My view was of the Hancock Tower and some other tall building, the pics of those didn't come out.
The bathroom was small, but well appointed. There was some nice tilework in the bathtub, and the shower head felt great! It had 2 heads, both adjustable so your back could be getting the massage function while your head got the rain function. My favorite aspect of the showerhead was that it folded down, which for someone short like me meant that I could actually adjust the showerhead! Usually I try and stretch, pull a muscle, and still have whatever function the last person chose. Or I have to stand on the bathtub edge and pray I don't slip. The towels were thick, like the ones I have at home.

The two drawbacks were the size of the bathroom, if I didn't close the bathroom door when sitting on the toilet my knees would hit the door. And this was one of the hotels that places the toilet paper roll on the same wall as the toilet, and about 3 inches out of comfortable reach. Those were the only drawbacks to the entire room.
Room service was expedient, and quite good! I ordered a cup of chicken tortilla soup, which was spicy and filled with corn and peas. But not much chicken, what was there was dark meat, and tortillas were not chips but the thin strips. Not exactly the tortilla soup I was expecting, but good nonetheless. The cedar plank salmon with grilled asparagus, grape tomatoes and spinach was the healthy entree choice (12 g. fat and 450 calories). A good size and moist. Dessert was molten chocolate cake, this is always a tricky room service dessert, since chances are by the time you get to dessert it will no longer be hot and the middle won't be oozy. However, it became clear by the time I took my first chunk out of it at least 20 min. later,that it would have been divine if eaten in the restaurant fresh out of the oven. It was still pretty amazing and eaten in less than 5 minutes.
Location of the Palmer House in convenient for anything int "The Loop" area of the city, but it is also only a mile from the shopping of Michigan Ave. About a $6 cab ride, or a 2 stop ride on the red line of the CTA. It is also close Millenium Park and makes for an attractive walk.