Monthly Archives: November 2012

Eat Down. Tip Up.

A simple concept with a catch phrase that pretty much explains it all. It was started by my good friend and ten other people post Hurricane Sandy. See their website here. Eat Down. Tip Up consists of these following easy steps.

1. Go out to eat downtown.

2. Tip generously.

3. Post a photo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (#EatDownTipUp)

You hear a lot about aid for families that were hit hard by hurricane Sandy, but what about the businesses? What about the restaurant staff that went days without pay, and most likely not reimbursed in some cases because the employer simply cannot afford to? This concept reaches out to restaurants, through community support, to help them keep afloat. No pun intended…

New York restaurants have an 80% fail rate within the first five years. Meaning for every 1,000 enthusiastic restaurants that open up every year within five years 800 of those will close. Say goodbye to that beloved cafe on the corner of the street or that lounge you and your friends frequent every Friday night. With the fail rate being so high, there is no doubt that Hurricane Sandy will increase the fail rate for many restaurants this year. When the margins for profit are so slim, the costs of Hurricane Sandy may place some restaurants in the inevitable 80%. Something as little as replacing the furnishings and decor in a restaurant can push them over the edge. The post Sandy expenses go on and on including replacing all perishable foods, replacing damaged kitchen equipment, and the long clean up process.

For those reading in New York or thinking about visiting soon, eat down and tip up. Support your local restaurants, so they may continue serving you your favorite dishes and providing you with unforgettable dining experiences. Support the waitress that provides you excellent wait service and the invisible staff that keeps the restaurant running. What better excuse to try new restaurants and retry old restaurants. If I lived in New York, I would validate dining out by calling it a good cause – a good cause for my taste buds and a good cause for the NYC community.

Eat down tip up was inspired by this Anthony Bourdain tweet from November 3.

Read more about eat down and tip up including personal restaurant stories here.

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Ambiance

My friends always associate the word ambiance with me, and that is the very essence of me. Foodifyme wordpress readers might notice that I frequently use the word ambiance in my food blogs to describe an atmosphere that elevates the dining experience.

from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

am-bi-ence noun \ˈam-bē-ən(t)s, ˈäm-bē-än(t)s\: a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing: ATMOSPHERE

It is spelled two ways, ambience and ambiance, with the original spelling derived from the French word ambiance.

I fully believe that when eating out it should not only be about the food, but the experience in itself, although this is a highly contested issue among my friends. The experience of being seated surrounded by a new place that takes you to another era, another world, another universe. That experience you cannot get from dining in your our dining room or at friend’s place no matter how good the food may be. It’s just not the same. The food and mood of the restaurant go hand in hand to make a one of a kind experience for any foody!

If a restaurant has just okay food, sometimes the ambiance makes up for just mediocre food. The best restaurant on the other hand offers both quality food and an inviting, unique atmosphere that creates a certain mood to the entire experience.  A lot my favorite places that I frequent have this mysterious, secretive quality to them equipped with moody, dim lighting and aged, vintage decor. This ambiance provides a breathtaking experience that becomes unforgettable.

Here are the recent places I’ve been to.  Note some of these pictures are taken from the lounge’s website.

The Violet Hour – Wicker Park, Chicago

A speakeasy tucked away in a the most hipster neighborhood in Chicago, Wicker Park.

This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.” – Bernard DeVoto “The Hour”

This quote perfectly summarizes the essence of The Violet Hour. A dimly lit lounge with modern decor that exudes a certain magical, coolness about it. The entrance is not as secretive as the other speakeasies I have been to. Instead of taking your number and calling you when your table is ready, they make everyone wait outside until there is an open table for your party. Thus there is a very noticeably long line outside of what would normally be an unsuspicious door. Kind of gives away the best part of going to a speakeasy, finding it.

The Violet Hour has a set of house rules associated with the speakeasy. The most amusing one is their last rule:

“And finally, please do not bring anyone to The Violet Hour that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday dinner.”

Please keep the unclassiness outside of the The Violet Hour!

The long ceiling to floor curtains create an illusion of magic, kind of reminds of the land of Narnia. When you enter into the Violet Hour, you pass through two sets of these ceiling to floor velvet curtains. What’s behind the curtain? Well let’s see.

Unlike the other speak easies, the Violet Hour has a more modern theme than the usual rustic, old fashioned, vintage theme. The high back chairs complement the long velvet curtains along with the very dim, moody lighting.

I ordered two drinks here. The drinks are a bit pricey coming in at $14 a drink, but at a place like this you are not only paying for high quality drinks, but the chance to lounge at the Violet Hour. Pictured is The Lay of the Land, a gin based drink. I also got the Gates of Paradise, a vodka based apple cider drink.

Lay of the Land – Letherbee, Lemon, Strawberry Preserve, Green Chartreuse

Gates of Paradise – Zubrowka, Apple Cider, Ginger Syrup, Lemon, Blackberry

The Gates of Paradise was definitely my favorite. The combination of all of those ingredients made for one delicious drink.  Overall it is a bit loud for a speak easy since they play music in the background. Other than the noise level and the lack of mysteriousness surrounding the entrance, the Violet Hour is definitely worth a visit. Their menu changes every season, so I will have to go back soon to try the Gates of Paradise again!

The Bedford – Wicker Park, Chicago

Seems like all the hip places are in Wicker Park! The Bedford is a restaurant/lounge located underground in what use to be a bank.

Pictured above is a peak at some of the dining area seating. Also pictured on the left is one of the two entrances into the bank vault!

Here I am with my friend in front of the bank vault doors. We didn’t get seating inside the bank vault, but I would love to lounge in the bank vault next time.

This is what the inside of the bank vault looks like. Notice all of the authentic bank drawers lining the walls. How many people could say they sipped a cocktail inside a bank vault?

I wasn’t too hungry, so I just had a drink at The Bedford. They had their own version of  the Dark and Stormy called Darker and Stormier, the drink on the left. This drink was more on the heavier side.  No wonder it was darker and stormier than a regular dark and stormy! Look at all that rum. 

Darker & Stormier – Dark Rum, Allspice, ROOT Liqueur, Jamaican Bitters, Lime, Ginger Beer

There’s something so very special about lounging inside an authentic bank. The next time I come I will make sure to get seated inside the bank vault!

Gilt Bar – River North, Chicago

Finally venturing outside of Wicker Park to River North. Gilt Bar is a small dish (think of tapas) styled restaurant with a full bar serving classy cocktails and range of liqueurs.

The lighting inside this restaurant is whimsically beautiful. Lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, lit with a warm glow from the visible filaments inside the lightbulbs. A gorgeous cascading, web-like ceiling lamp in the center of the room. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of all of lighting.

Here is a picture that captures the warm, alluring charm about Gilt Bar. I took this without flash on my phone. I think it came out pretty well!

A lot of people have been raving about their Truffle Pasta, so I just had to try it for myself. It was definitely a unique dish. It is a little bit too heavy if you were to have it by itself. The creamy sauce it came with was so strong that I started feeling a little sick towards the end. I loved the pasta. You can definitely taste that it was hand made that day. Overall I think this plate is better when shared with someone else.

I got a side of the Blackened Cauliflower to balance out the heaviness in the Truffle Pasta. I have never had cauliflower like this before. It seems like they roasted the cauliflower giving it a slightly crunchy exterior with a hint of smokiness. It was served in a weak vinaigrette sauce and vinagrette onions. Gilt Bar did a very good job in dressing up the cauliflower.

My friend and I both ordered the Pimm’s Cup, a classic summer drink made with the UK liquor Pimm. It had just the right amount of sweetness and kick from the ginger beer.

Pimm’s Cup –  pimm’s, lemon, ginger beer

The thing that made all three of these experiences exquisite and memorable is the unique atmosphere that they provided. Each of them slightly different. A modern styled speakeasy, a restaurant inside a bank vault, and a restaurant, bar with the best ambiance lighting. Ambiance really does make a difference. The next time you dine out make an effort to notice what type of atmosphere the place has. For me there is nothing better than sipping a delicious, classy cocktail in a warmly lit lounge with a couple of good friends. Makes for a fantastic night!

Los Angeles Part 2 – Being A Cali Girl for a Week

Landed in Chicago last Sunday, and I was happily greeted with a bizarre 60 degree weather in Chicago. Can’t complain right?  You have to keep in mind though that whenever there is extremely warm weather in Chicago the next day it will be extremely cold. It’s like you have to sacrifice freezing temperatures for one day of LA weather in Chicago.

I have this theory about people in California especially in places where it’s sunny year round like LA. The more sun people get the happier they are. Doesn’t matter if you are having a bad day, some sunshine makes everything go away. Maybe that’s why New Yorkers are a bit more on the bitter side. All of those skyscrapers and high rises never let sunshine through. The same can be said about Chicago, but because Chicago has that Midwestern charm I think Chicagoans are friendlier. At least I would like to think so! Everyone I met in LA was so friendly. Definitely getting that Cali, hipster, chill, cool vibe from those in LA. Perhaps it was the certain areas of LA I was hanging out at, because I heard people in LA can be a bit phony and pretentious. I’m thinking Beverly Hills.

Even though I loved being a LA girl for the week, I think I prefer Chicago and NYC over LA. Guess I’m a Chicago girl at heart. Here’s my picture documentation of me being a California Girl.

Look at that clear blue skies with no clouds in sight. All that open green space with palm trees. Paradise? I think yes!

Bottega Louie – Downtown LA

This Italian restaurant and bakery is one of my favorite places that I went to in LA in terms of eateries. It definitely did not fit the ambiance of the rest of the places I went to in LA which seemed more hipster and chill. Bottega Louie reminds me of a place that would do really well in Georgetown, DC or Manhattan, NYC. A bit pretentious, classy, and a good looking customer crowd. My cousin and I split a pizza, half Burrata (burrata, grana parmesan, rapini, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and prosciutto di Parma) and Artichoke (roasted artichoke, chevre, mozarella, tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, Italian parsley, fleur de se). The toppings tasted so fresh! LA is known for their extremely healthy and fresh ingredients, and I can really taste that in this pizza.

Being a bakery, Bottega Louie’s bread is the best I ever had. I loved the complimentary bread. You bite into it, and the outer layer cracks right when you sick your teeth in opening up to a soft, moist inside. Plus look at that design of the bread. How pretty!

Macaroons galore! I tried the earl grey and dark chocolate macaroon. Both were so delicious, but I think I had more fun just looking at the beautiful macaroons. So petite, colorful, and yummy. What’s not to love?

I was too full from all the pizza and bread, carb galore, to try any of these petite cakes and desserts. The next time I go back to Bottega Louie I will save my appetite for only desserts! YUM!

Hollywood

First time in LA and of course we had to check out Hollywood. Even Mickey Mouse has a Hollywood star.

Here I am with the Harry Potter cast’s hand prints and shoe prints. Emma Watson is one tiny lady. Her hands and feet are about the size of mine.

In-N-Out

I finally got to try In-N-Out. Californians always rave about how amazing In-N-Out is, and I think they might be overdoing it. After trying In-N-Out, Shake Shack, and Five Guy’s, I definitely would say Shake Shack comes out on top, then In-N-Out, and then Five Guy’s in terms of their burgers. Read this seriouseats burger review of all three chains here. The In-Out burger was a bit lacking. I thought the patty was a bit on the skimpy side. The bun being a classic white burger bun was definitely not as good as the potato buns the Shake Shack burgers are served on. Now I really want to venture to the east coast for a quality Shake Shack burger.

Bench from 500 Days of Summer

500 Days of Summer is one of my favorite movies. There are two scenes in the movie where the two characters sit on this bench. Those who have seen the movie know what I’m talking about. For those that have not you should watch it. It is a great movie! The view from this bench was amazing. Though it is overlooking parking lots and random buildings, it is relaxing spot to just sit and enjoy the little things in life.

To the right of the bench is this beautiful grassy area. Perfect for dozing off in the sun. I love the feeling when the sun hits your face in just the right amount of warmth and light. I could stay there like that forever.

The Getty

We went to visit The Getty, an art museum in LA. I loved the way it was laid out. Instead of being one big building, The Getty consisted of many smaller buildings that were connected through outdoor paths that weaved through flower and sculpture gardens. I am a big fan of impressionism especially the works of Degas. This painting, Dancer Taking a Bow (the Prima Ballerina), captures the complex and delicate beauty of ballerinas.

I also really enjoyed the rooms with the French decor and furniture. Imagine sleeping in this monstrous bed! Maid service please!

If only I could take this home with me. A clock that is intricately beautiful.

View of LA from The Getty. I thoroughly enjoyed my week long trip in LA. The people, the food, the culture, the places were all spectacular. You can definitely notice the stark difference between the go go go east coast culture and the more laid back west coast culture, two completely different worlds. Perhaps there is some truth in my sunshine theory. If you see a cranky east coaster on the street, tell them to take a vacay to the west coast and they might come back refreshed and hopefully a little less bitter. I think the world needs more sunshine-y, happy people.

Los Angeles, where people wear winter scarves and gloves in 60 degree weather

Greetings from Los Angeles! Nothing better than escaping the cold, chilly Chicago weather with a trip to LA before I start real life working. Visiting and living in the other major urban cities, Los Angeles definitely has a very different feel. Spread out on 502.7 sq miles compared to 234 sq miles in Chicago and 468.5 sq miles in New York City, LA is the largest urban city in terms of surface area. Though LA does have the largest surface area, the population in LA is a lot smaller compared with NYC: NYC with 8,244,910 inhabitants compared with 3,819,702 in LA. With that there is a lot of space in LA. Everything is super spread out making LA seem more like a populated suburb than the urban cities I am use to.

One thing that I can get use to for a while is this LA weather. My cousin noted that the weather does not drastically change as in Chicago or NYC where the four seasons are quite apparent. I am a big fan of warm weather! Apparently when the weather starts dipping into the 60s, the people of LA start breaking out their winter gear. I was so confused, when I saw people walking around in the daytime with scarves, gloves, and even puffy winter coats. A bizarre sight when the temperature is in the 60s! Maybe because I am not use to warm weather all the time I feel the need to take advantage of every single warm day in LA by wearing sandals, dresses, skirts, and t-shirts. When I get back to Chicago, I will sadly have to convert back to puffy winter coats, sweaters, and boots.

CALFORNIA dreamin! Here is a picture update of my adventures in LA so far!

on USC campus

Here I am in front of a water fountain on USC campus. The campus is huge and very beautiful. There are a lot of relaxing places outside to just chill around. What a wonderful way to spend the day! If I went to school at USC, I would have so much trouble focusing and actually going to class. Why not just spend the entire day sleeping on the grass outside, basking in the sun?

dinos at the Natural History Museum

We stopped by the Natural History Museum. They had a very large collection of dinosaur fossils. I learned that it is easier to discover fossils on the west coast where it is mostly desert compared with the west coast where the fossils may be hidden in large forests.

Trying my best to fend off the big Polar Bear, but obviously failing.

We walked through the Rose Garden. What a magical garden with all of the towering palm trees in the background!

The Space Shuttle Endeavor recently rolled into the Science Center after retiring from many missions into outer space. Here is the beauty!

farmer’s market in Culver City

The farmer markets in LA are fabulous. Lots of fresh produce at reasonable prices! After seeing some fresh greens and salad leaves, I was craving a fresh salad.

Urth Farmer’s Salad at Urth Caffe

I got the Urth Famer’s Salad at Urth Caffe after visiting the farmer’s market. Inside the salad were locally grown baby spinach salad with peppercorn dressing, heirloom tomatoes, French radishes, grilled artichokes, onion, shaved fennel, glazed pecans & shaved parmesan cheese. The spinach leaves tasted so fresh! I could get use to year round fresh produce!

This outdoor art display of lamp posts called Urban Light at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was featured in the movie No Strings Attached. It must be so gorgeous at nighttime when they turn all the lights on.

Here is Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher at the Urban Light display at LACMA in a scene from No Strings Attached.

Kalbi Bun

I had this Kalbi Bun from a food truck outside of LACMA. There are so many food trucks in LA. There is just something so whimsical and cute about buying a meal from a food truck. Wish they had more of these in Chicago!

More LA adventures to come, sans scarves, gloves, and puffy winter coats of course.