Category Archives: ambiance

Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Manuel Antonio

Hello online blogging world! It’s been quite a while, and a lot of food adventures have breezed by. A week ago I came back from Costa Rica after a week long vacation. As I was talking to my friend at the airport terminal waiting for my flight back to Chicago, she mentioned she read somewhere that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world. After coming back from the lush paradise and back to the chilly realities of Chicago I can believe that. There’s something naturally simple about the Costa Rican life. Of course I was on vacation, but I can see how the day to day Costa Rican life is the pure life.

On my flight from the States to Costa Rica I sat next to a local heading back to Costa Rica. She told me that in Costa Rica people always greet each other with the phrase “pura vida” meaning the pure life. I didn’t fully understand the phrase till I experienced Costa Rica for myself. People greet each other with this phrase, and it essentially means the simple life. Learning to embrace life to the fullest with the genuine appreciation for everything. Though Costa Rica is becoming the mecca of tourism in Central America there are still many parts of Costa Rica that are knee deep in poverty. Huts with roofs made out of sheets of metal perched on the side of the mountain are not an uncommon site. But yet they all go about their day with a smile and the contagious phrase pura vida. Learning to live and to be truly happy with whatever you have is a true skill of the pura vida lifestyle.

Manuel Antonio – Costa Rica 

The first location that my college roommate and I visited was Manuel Antonio, a beach city along the southern coast of Costa Rica. IMG_7082This is the view from our hotel balcony. Just being surrounded by so much green was so soothing. Hidden behind all of the foliage is the open area where we had breakfast every morning.

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This is the traditional Costa Rican breakfast consisting of eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), fruit, and some type of sweet bread. I had this breakfast for three days in a row! Plus eating it in the open air dining area made for a perfect start to the day.  

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We spent many days bumming around on the beach. The view was just breath taking. Since we went during low tourism season it felt like we had the beach all to ourselves. We were bombarded by locals trying to sell us all sorts of things including cigars, handmade wooden bird whistles, coconut drinks, and even horseback riding along the beach.

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This is the flower that was in my fruity strawberry mojito drink. Nothing better than drinking a fruity drink on the beach.

IMG_7140We rented these reclining beach chairs for the day. When the tides came in, I dragged my chair into the tides. Let’s get washed away!

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We headed into the downtown area Quepos for dinner. A staff at the hotel told us the beaches were definitely not as great as the one we went to earlier that morning, but the view was spectacular especially during sunset.

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Since Yelp does not work abroad, I used TripAdvisor to find a good place for dinner. I wanted a traditional, non touristy dinner experience and Bohemia Cafe popped up. As we headed into Quepos I forgot to take my phone where I screenshotted the Bohemia Cafe TripAdvisor page which contained the name and the address. Luckily while wandering through Quepos we stumbled across Bohemia Cafe. It was tucked away on the other side of a small stream that ran through the town.

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This place was owned by a young lady and her mother. The restaurant is actually located in the living room of her house! As we approached Bohemia Cafe I saw the owner, her mother, and her baby sitting in the living room. The living room was tastefully decorated with a very carefree, Anthropologie like decor. The windows did not have any glass or screens on it just bars. An open living room felt so pure and wonderful. The owner is also a seamstress. She displayed her clothes and accessories that she made in her living room. I loved everything about this experience. My kind of ambiance! We were literally eating dinner in someone’s house!

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I got the Mahi Mahi with Passionfruit sauce. The Mahi Mahi tasted so fresh. It came with sides of brown rice and plantains. The meal was delicious. I wanted a traditional, authentic dining experience, and this was more than I could have ever imagined.

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The next day we went to the Manuel Antonio National Park to experience more beaches. This time I hid under trees, because of the terrible sun burn I got from the first beach day. Lesson learned!

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We encountered so many friendly raccoons. They darted across the beach to people’s bags and scavenge through for food. Here they are in action! As I commented in glee that they looked so cute, my friend exclaimed that they were rodents. Well I have never seen a raccoon before, so this was quite an exciting experience for me especially being so close to them!

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Baby raccoons! Cute little banditos.

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The other banditos at the beach were these monkeys. While we were in the outdoor showering area one of the monkeys stole a shampoo packet from a lady’s purse. Then a group of three monkeys sitting on a tree branch opened the packet and started rubbing it on themselves. Pretty adorable.

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The sneaky monkeys and I.

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They called these the traditional Costa Rican platters. I personally love side dishes, so these platters were perfect for me. The plantain at this place was so great! Since Mahi Mahi was the fish of Manuel Antonio, I couldn’t help but have Mahi Mahi again.

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Wouldn’t be a meal without ceviche! I got the fish ceviche, and both my friend and I agreed that this was one of the best ceviches we both had. The fish was so fresh combined with the perfect tanginess of the juice was perfect! My mouth is salivating just thinking and writing about it.

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We had dinner at a really fancy hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant was situated on a very high cliff so it overlooked the tops of the rainforest. A golf cart took us all the way up there. I tried the Mahi Mahi, and this was the best Mahi Mahi I have tried in Manuel Antonio. There was some type of batter on the Mahi Mahi giving it a crunchy exterior and a juicy soft interior. Priciest meal in Costa Rica, but for this Mahi Mahi it was definitely worth it.

Next stop Arenal Costa Rica! Look out for another blog post soon!

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Why I Like Sad Movies

My favorite type of movie is a sad movie. I am not normally a sad, Debbie Downer. I am actually quite the opposite. In college my roommates and I would watch sad movies and joke about popping in The Notebook, taking shots and crying. We even added eating fried chicken to the laundry list of things to do on a Saturday night to make it even more epic. Of course we were only joking… unless desperate times call for desperate measures. Then and only then would that be appropriate.

In all seriousness the thing I love most about sad movies is the way they make you feel so much. With action movies and comedies you get good a laugh and experience a grand adventure, but once you finish the movie it’s over. None of those feelings stick with you. It’s like waking up from a dream. You remember that it was exciting and wonderful, but don’t really recount what exactly happened if someone were to ask you about it later. Maybe it’s just me, but sad movies stick with you for hours, maybe even days. The characters are relatable and the situations and feelings the characters go through seem all too familiar.

It’s the sense of vulnerability when watching a sad movie that is so attractive. I was watching a movie with someone once. I wouldn’t say it’s a considerably sad movie, but he thought it was. I remember him jokingly saying that the movie was taking advantage of his emotions. I think that is the best part of a movie. A good movie makes for an easy watch, but a great movie takes you on an emotional roller coaster that drops you off at the end with emotional heaviness that seems to linger for hours.

I suppose I am into lists nowadays. Let me give you a list of my favorite sad movies I have watched thus far.

Schindler’s List
The Joy Luck Club
Atonement 
The Notebook (what girl doesn’t love this movie?) 
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Virgin Suicides 

All of these movies are hauntingly beautiful. It makes you realize that life is short. It pushes you to reevaluate and reflect. I experienced something at work that mirrored a tragic Grey’s Anatomy episode. At work there was a patient who suddenly died without warning after what they thought was a successful recovery. A death that was unforeseen, a surprise, is the worst. He wasn’t my patient, but  I saw the tragic story unfold within a couple of minutes. The family members teary eyed, cried out in grief. The wife had to wheeled away in a wheelchair too unstable from distress. That event left me shocked all day just as if I was watching a sad movie. It would be very unfair to compare it to a movie, because this situation it was very much real life.

Sad movies reflect the potential of what real life could be in the most tragic way. And that is exactly what I love about these kinds of movies.

A Secret Garden

There is something quite special about finding a place that is unknown to most of the world. It’s like a secret that you keep until you choose to whisper it to others. I want to share with all of you the very magical place I wandered into yesterday. I hope that you will take these whispers of a secret and personally visit the garden. No words or pictures can truly capture the beauty of this garden.

Lincoln Park Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool – Lincoln Park 

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The garden is called Lincoln Park Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. It’s extremely close to Lincoln Park Zoo. I was surprised I have never been or heard of this place till today. I came here to meet up with my friend for an afternoon picnic. After being dropped off by the bus about two blocks away, I walked to where Google Maps said the entrance was. The entrance is discretely marked with a small sign on the ground. Two Japanese metal gates mark the entrance. You can easily pass by the entrance without knowing that there was an entire lily pond garden inside.

Inside is a lily pool wonderland, a sanctuary away from the messiness that is urban life. The garden is very well kept and full of life. Plants densely line the outer edges of the pond and the rocky paths. The flowers are just emerging, so I bet in a week or so beautiful yellow flowers will bloom and hover above the lily pads. There are so many great spots to sit especially on the rocks that border the pond. My friend and I sat right under the Japanese pagoda that provided the perfect amount of shade.

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One of the really great parts of the lily pool was the ducks. They were so friendly and definitely not afraid of humans. They waddled probably within less than a feet of us! I think it really helped that I was feeding them pita chips.  As we left the lily pool there was a small sign that said “no feeding the wild life”. Whoops!

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The four ducklings with the mama duck were so adorable. In this picture they were quacking at us. Probably asking us to feed them more pita chips.

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Here is a close up of the ducklings and the mama duck standing guard. What a very cute family of ducks!

Definitely visit this place if you get a chance. For an afternoon, you will forget you are in Chicago. The tall high barriers that surround the garden insulate the garden from everything that is going on on the outside.  This Japanese garden provides the perfect getaway even if it is just for one afternoon. Perhaps this will become my new favorite spot to just sit and day dream the afternoon away.

“Are you still blogging?”

These last couple of days I’ve been asked by a several friends whether I was still blogging. Guess I have faithful readers out there! I sat there trying to figure out a reason to give them why this blog has been abandoned for a couple of months. I thought well… maybe I have become too busy with work, but that is not a good excuse. Busy yes, but you can always make time for something you feel passionate about. Maybe I just haven’t been eating out enough? That is completely absurd, because I’ve had some pretty tasty dishes these past couple of months. I guess the only reason left is I just became lazy. Lazy with old age I suppose.  So here I am blogging, hoping that this will continue into the summer.

Summer has finally arrived in Chicago. It felt like winter lingered on forever. I am glad the Winter season has passed, because there is nothing better than summertime in Chicago. It’s finally beach time, patio time, outdoor chilling time. Which in my opinion are all the best types of time.

Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar – Bridgeport, Chicago

My friends and I finally wandered over to the Bridgeport neighborhood bar called Maria’s Packaged Good and Community Bar. This bar has become my new favorite bar with delicious one of a kind cocktails, large selection of beers, a patio, friendly patrons, a speak easy dark vibe. What is not to love? Totally my kind of bar.

The inside is dark and moody with ventriloquist dolls sitting on the top shelves. Old fashioned beer cans align the wall as decor. A  little creepy once you notice them, but I think it fits in appropriately with the general vibe of this place.

I ordered the Hornswagglers High Tea which was made with Earl Grey infused Van Gogh Vodka, Filbert’s Cream Soda, and a lemon wedge. I was quite surprised after the first sip, because this cocktail tasted amazingly very much like Earl Grey Tea. I’ve tried Early Grey infused cocktails and foods before, and I have always been a little disappointed in the lack of flavors. This cocktails was the exception. Maybe I’ll just have to replace my regular morning cup of Earl Grey with this cocktail. Kidding.

I noticed on the beer menu there was a craft beer that I have tried when I was at the Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, MI just a couple weeks ago. I had to try it again. The Founders Old Curmudgeon, an aged ale, was as smooth and dreamy as I remembered it to be.  I am a fan of bitter tasting foods, and this beer had a bitter, almost dark chocolate taste to it with a sweet bite at the end.

Overall my friends and I had a great time at Maria’s. The crowd was super friendly and easy going. I was up at the bar counter trying to order my Founders Old Curmudgeon when the guy next to me asked what I was drinking. I told him the #10, and he ended up putting it on his tab since the bar was quite crowded. I told him he didn’t have to do that, and he responded with a very nonchalant “Well I don’t have to do a lot of things”. This place is definitely filled with hipsters, but not your pretentious Northside hipsters. Easy going, friendly Southside hipsters.   I will definitely be back here!

The First Time

It’s always better the first time around – more exciting, more memorable, more fun. That first time you try out that new restaurant, and it then becomes your favorite. That first time you take a mouthful of the ramen, and the springiness of the noodles and the richness of the broth is forever ingrained in your food memories. That first time you meet someone new over a meal, and time just flies like the conversation is endless. When the second time comes around, it is less exciting. You know what to expect, you discovered most of what is new about the person, the place, the thing. It is that uncertainty, whether it will truly be as good as everyone says it is or be a complete disappointment, that makes the first time so great. Treasure the first time, savor the moment, because it will only happen once.

These are my first moments at the following restaurants in Chicago. Even though the food may be the same the second time around, it will never exactly feel or taste the same as the very first time.

Vinci – Lincoln Park

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I came here with my sister to use a Groupon deal that I bought a while ago. $20 for $40 to spend at an Italian restaurant, count me in! I got the Spinach pappardelle – hand-made spinach pappardelle with roast duck, mushrooms, ovendried tomatoes, truffle oil, parmigiano. I loved the noodles. It definitely tasted very fresh. The slight chewiness and springiness of the noodles were perfect. The meal was great, and we even got a table right next to the window. A lot of the guests at Vinci that night were there for a pre-show dinner. I wish I knew about this show that was going on, because I would have liked to go.

Wasabi – Logan Square

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My friend invited me here, because her friend from NYC was visiting Chicago for the week. I am a huge fan of ramen restaurants if you haven’t noticed already, and I was excited about trying another ramen place in Chicago. I’ve had some pretty excellent ramen in NYC, but none that have really stood out to me in Chicago. This place was excellent. As good as or even better than the places in NYC. I loved it! I got the Tonkotsu Ramen – egg noodle, rich pork broth, berkshire pork cheek, soft boiled egg, marinated bamboo shoot, scallion, sesame, kikurage mushroom. The thing that makes or breaks a bowl of ramen is the broth, and this broth was spectacular. I was tempted to drink all of the broth after I finished my noodles! I loved the richness of the broth. The ingredients in the ramen were also quite tasty. The soft boiled egg, which isn’t quite as runny as a poached egg, but not quite as solid as a hard boiled egg, was the perfect texture for the ramen. 

The Girl and the Goat – West Loop

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My friends have been raving about this place for a while, and I finally got to try it. This restaurant owned by a Top Chef contestant is known for having one of the best foods in Chicago. I had high expectations for this place, and I was not disappointed. The small plates are meant to be shared, but my friends and I weren’t too hungry. We each ordered one dish. I ordered the scallops served with squash, onions, and other ingredients. The scallops were so soft. I took the first bite, and I couldn’t believe what I was eating. These are the best scallop I ever had! I hope the next time I go, the scallops will be as good as I remembered it being.

Cafe Iberico – River North

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I came here to meet up with a Georgetown friend who just recently moved to Chicago for his job. I am so excited more fellow Georgetown Hoyas are here in the city! Cafe Iberico is a Spanish tapas restaurant. The highlight of the meal in my opinion was the Iberico Styled Paella – chicken, pork, and rice baked in a pan with saffron sauce. All of the flavors from the meat and seafood infused into the rice making a fragrant and delicious dish. I could eat this for lunch any day!

My firsts with all four of these restaurants were spectacular. I don’t know what the second time will be like, but I hope if I return again it will be good as the first time.

 

 

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!