Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tutweiler Hotel - A Hilton in Birmingham

When I was told I was heading to Birmingham, I was none to excited. I'd never really had a desire to go to the South in the summer months, I remembered lots of humidity from my childhood in Georgia.
It was suggested I stay at the Tutweiler, and so I booked my room with the hesitation that it was a Hampton Inn.
Oh was I ever wrong.

I got in late after some major airline snafus at about 1 am. The lobby of the hotel is absolutely gorgeous. It was not your run of the mill Hampton Inn.
The front desk greeted me without seeming tired or annoyed that they were at work so late. They suggested a few places that would still deliver dinner at that late hour.

This was the cornerstone of my stay here. Just how friendly and accomodating every staff member I came across was. This is southern hospitality at it's finest.

The room was a bit on the small side, but extremely clean, renovated, and comfortable. Incidentaly a suite was only $20 more and as I found out the following day would have been well worth it. Everyone else in my party had chosen to upgrade and they raved about the suites.

One thing that was odd about my room was the height of everything. It was as if my room was designed for a tall person. Now, I'm 5'2, so I am a bit on the shorter side, but I felt like I needed a step stool for the bed.

A bed wich was very comfortable I might add.

There was also a plasma tv in the room, quite sleek and a dvd player and cable.

So I crawled into the high bed, turned on the tv and went to sleep.

My shower also was created for the tall people. The showerhead was so high I couldn't reach it by standing on my tiptoes. And as there was no bathtub I couldn't stand on the edges to adjust the showerhead either.

Otherwise, there was nice marble flooring, a granite vanity and good towels.

In the morning there is a free breakfast upstairs. Along with the typical croissants, muffins, cereals and fruit there were also hot dishes everyday. The sausage, biscuits and gravy stick solidly in my mind.

Oh and there's always warm cookies to be had atop the piano in the lounge.

Lunch was at the hotel restaurant Icon. This is not southern dining. It's very California sleek and healthy. The salad portions were good and quite yummy.

All in all, I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again. A fabulous hotel, with a wonderful staff.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hilton Pearl River - NY

The Pearl River Hilton seems to be in a part of NY/NJ that really has no other hotels around. So thier rates can be as high as they want them to be.

We stayed here for 2 nights for a family wedding, and had a block of about 20 rooms. The regular rate for the Thurs/Friday we were staying was $189/night. Our wedding rate was a bit lower.

When you enter the hotel, you are immediately impressed by the lobby. I suspect in any season other than the winter the grounds would be green and lush and impressive as well. The website makes it seem like an extremely fancy and nice hotel.

Now, when a room costs close to $200/night, outside of Manhattan and in an area that doesn't seem to really have much of a draw I expect it to be a fairly nice room.

This was at best a 3* room. The bathroom was small, and the tiles on the floor cracked, the shower was designed in a way that the entire bathroom floor was soaked by the time you got done with your shower. The rooms on the 2nd floor smelled musty, our rooms on the 4th floor fared better in that aspect.

The rooms were large, but the furniture and bedding nothing special. However, the beds were VERY comfy. I do like that about Hiltons.
Internet was $5/day, which is cheap as other Hiltons I've stayed at charged $9.95 or more.
We had breakfast at La Maisonette, the one restaurant the hotel has, other meals we drove into Nyack to eat. Breakfast has 2 buffet options. The cold buffet, which seems to be a glorified continental breakfast for $9, the hot buffet which included eggs and bacon goodness that was $13.

Overall, if in the area again I would have to see if there is another hotel, because for the room rate it wasn't worth it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Myers & Chang - Fancy Asian in the South End

For my birthday this year a few friends and I hit up the buzz of the South End, Myers & Chang. The pedigree of the chefs promises great things, although I am not entirely certain of the decision to not offer a dessert menu when Ms. Chang is known for her pastry skills.

The night started off very poorly with us being quoted a 45 min wait, which turned into an hour and half. There's really no excuse for this, as numerous people who arrived after us without reservations were seated before us. We were a party of 4, it's not incredibly hard to wait for 2 tables of 2 to be empty to seat 4. Plus a party of 4 that arrived after us was seated before us (because one member of the party was pregnant?). They lost many points for the poor handling of this, and for the lame excuses of it will be just a few more minutes.
I wanted to leave, as there are plenty of great restaurants in the area, but my companion K was determined to eat the food there since we had waited already.

Once we turned that corner and were seated the rest of the experience was all positive. Our server was funny and friendly and full of suggestions of what is good "my fault is that I am honest and will tell you what not to get".

The food arrived super fast (as in under 10 minutes), which again, confused me as to why we had such a long wait.

We started with crispy spring rolls ($5) which were filled with chives, bamboo and shitake mushrooms. I didn't taste the mushrooms at all, it was much heavier on the chives and bamboo. Good, standard fare.

We also had the scallion pancakes ($7), K liked them so much we ordered them again later in the meal. These aren't your typical scallion pancakes, they are doughy, an almost foccaccia type of dough lightly sprinkled with scallions. Very yummy, and very filling.
Tiger's Tears ($10). Oh my the yum! If you like beef, and spicy THIS is the dish for you! It's a salad, so it's cold, but the beef is so tender and flavorful and citrusy and just mouth on fire good! The basil and tri-color bell peppers were fresh and crunchy and delicious, and the khao koor (some sort of rice like thing) added a bit more crunch. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the lack of flavor of that ingredient.
Our waiter recommended we have a couple of the dumplings. So we opted for the lemony shrimp ($13), which were interesting yet not particularly memorable or flavorful. Next time, I'll skip this.
The girls also tried mama chang's pork and chive dumplings ($11), I think they all liked them. I had a tiny bite, but not being a huge fan of pork, didn't like these much either.

We had to try something from the middle page of the menu as well and so C asked for the Nirvana Chicken ($9) served over white rice. I loved this dish! It had to be the incredibly strong star anise smell and flavor that did it. One tender thigh and a good smokey flavor.

Onto the noodle portion of the menu, first up we have the Dan Dan Noodle Salad ($7). The waiter commented that this was a heavy dish, but I didn't think so. The peanut sauce was tasty, and the cucumbers added a clean fresh flavor to the dish. K apparently got a bite that had all the sambal in it, because she suffered the mouth on fire phenomenon and yet the dish was completely not spicy to me or anyone else at the table. Perhaps I didn't mix things up well enough. N also loved this dish and threatened to finish it off.

Thai ginger chicken salad was one of the dishes recommended by the waiter. The dish was very pale looking, white rice noodles, very white grilled chicken, pale cabbage. The girls dug in and ate it, I was a bit hesitant it would be too bland. However, I was wrong. The ginger and lemongrass flavor came through in the chicken and at the bottom of the bowl there were even some red pepper flakes.

Although the restaurant doesn't have a dessert menu, before the check everyone is served a dessert. This evening it was a lemon mousse with small pieces of crystallized ginger on top. I am not a fan of the ginger and was able to pick it off, while totally enjoying the lemon mousse. K didn't like it at all and had thought we were being served a bowl of parmesean, which she would have been very happy with. N didn't like the mousse of the ginger on this.

And a special dessert for the birthday girl, a brownie with chunks of ginger. I'll give the brownie yummy points, but the ginger was way too much for me to be able to enjoy it. N loved it and ate half of it.

Ambiance: The restaurant is cool and casual, very reminiscent of a diner. Complete with the counter seating overlooking the kitchen. The soundtrack is provided by an iPod, but the noise level in the restaurant makes it hard to hear what songs are playing unless you are in the bathroom.

Their website is a myspace page, which is a bit odd. Just pay for a real website and design it so that the menu is easy to read. Speaking of menus they do have a vegetarian menu and a nut free menu. You need to ask for them separately, but the items are all also on the main menu (which for some reason smells like crayons).

Our total bill pre-tip was $153, including 2 bottles of wine. A bit steep for the quality of the food and the fact that it's basically chinese food in a very casual setting.