Friday, February 5, 2016

Blackbird



Came here for dessert. The service was completely non-judgmental about that, which is nice. For what it's worth, Blackbird is MUCH quieter for dessert hours than it is during dinner, which is a huge blessing for the noise sensitive like me. It's also much less crowded, which is considerable because the tables are very close together.



What we had:



candied beet: chocolate, fennel, orange blossom water
This dish was a different take on what I'm used to from beets, which I hate. It was quite good, an eclectic combination of flavors that in some ways complements and some ways overwhelms, and left me quite satisfied. It was balanced, beautiful, and intriguing, and definitely worth a taste.



and the special, a mango sorbet
Mango sorbet, pomegranate seeds, lemon leaves I believe, and coconut something on the bottom. It was off menu and quite good, refreshing though not as balanced as the upper dish, not that I have too much complaint about this one.



Mignardise included some type of pop-rock soda candy and rich chocolate truffles. They were both quite nice.



I loved the food we were served. I also rather enjoyed the quietness and decor of the restaurant, its subdued tones matching its calm ambiance. Based on this, I'm not quite sure I'd want to come back for dinner when I hear it's quite the rustle and bustle, but you can certainly count me intrigued.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Giordano's



From the outside, it looks like a sports bar. From the inside...a family-friendly sports bar. Hahahha.

My Chicago deep-dish tour included Giordano's, Lou Malnati's, and Pequod's. Of the three, this falls right in the middle, I think.



The main restaurant area seems to be loud at all times of day. I called ahead to order a personal size, ready to go right when they said it'd be. This location is right next to Millennium Park and the famous Chicago bean, making the wait all too bearable - selfies make 30 minutes pass by quite quickly. In fact, for tourists this is probably the most convenient deep-dish location, period.

The service was friendly enough, and the pizza quite good. I, a 165 pound man with a healthy appetite, happily finished the personal size alone. The crust was good,and the pizza is layered with enough flavor and ingredients that it keeps you interested.



I did overall find Giordano's to be middle of the road in almost all ways compared to Pequod's and Lou Malnati's. It was the middle in terms of ambiance, middle in terms of service, middle in terms of pizza quality and deliciousness, and middle in terms of price. That said, you really can't go wrong coming here, and it's definitely worth checking out for all you other tourists.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ona Brooklyn Review: Poor Quality At High Prices

Imagine, years ago as a college student, seeing a camera bag that looks like this:


Note: not my photo. This is the official product shot for the bag.

As a college student it wasn't something I was particularly able to afford with the aspirational price of $300, but oh did I want it. Great design, beautiful leather, amazing color. Five or six years later and working full time, I look it the bag up again. The price is now $360, but what can you do? Reviews and pictures only get me more excited. The bag looked so beautiful. I loved how the handle rested on top, how the edges of the leather were bonded, the grain on the leather and how rich it all looked.

One thing that bothered me: all the reviews I found on people's blogs online admitted Ona supplied the bag for them to review and probably keep. There were no bloggers who had paid for it themselves. But how bad could it be?



Upon opening the box, you're greeted by a nice note on soft-touch paper. The bag comes in a nice cloth bag as well. Unfortunately, this is where the quality ends.



Initial impression: a lot of ugly stitching and edging. The color was not what I expected, especially on the edges with the separate pieces of leather. The metals look and feel cheap. The top handle won't really fall in the middle pleasantly, or ever, completely unlike the pictures I had seen. The leather bulges in odd areas. Leather is very matte in finish - it looks easy to stain. Why is everything put together so poorly and dirty? All the metal pieces are disgusting.



Extremely dirty all around on the metals. Scratched, too, right out of the box.



Not sure what this is, but this is unacceptable. Hide these kinds of details if they are absolutely necessary. This could have been placed under a clasp on the front side and nobody would have seen it. For a $400 bag, this is not the kind of attention to detail I was expecting. By the way, that's exposed glue.



Pretty uneven cutting, and I'm again pretty dissatisfied with the overlapping leather. Uneven cutting and stitching. The handle on top slumps either to the left or the right, rather than in the middle. On the picture I bought it from, the metal pieces connected to the top handle are spaced further apart..



An Amazon review I read mentioned "bubbling" on the metal. I didn't want to believe it would be possible, but...here we are. It's ugly, cheap, and looks like the silver will flake off over time.



A closeup of the backside of the clasps. Nobody else seemed to note this but I felt it was a tad cheap.



The bottom of the leather scraps sewn into the bag look like they've been...burned or something. The difference in color was a bit shocking.



Off center items. Like...your logo. That line you see going across the bag above the logo? There's a plastic insert between the leather and fabric, giving the bag the appearance of rigidity. The leather's not actually that stiff I guess.



Wrinkling of the leather and an unacceptably dirty clasp.



I get that it's the bottom view of the bag, but the craftsmanship just got worse. The edges of the leather are fraying.



Worse, you can see how uneven parts of the leather cutting are and how close the stitching gets to the edge of the leather. This will fall apart with a little use considering this corner happen to be the bottom of the bag. And yes, that's exposed glue again.

Frankly, I'm disappointed. Too many details are off-center. I was expecting a beautiful grained leather rather than something sloppily put together and dirty out of the box. The design of the bag is nice, but the craftsmanship absolutely was not. While these lapses in quality could probably be forgiven in lower tier price ranges, we're talking about a $400 camera bag.

As a side note, any shine on the leather in these photos is due to the flash rather than the leather - it's extremely matte in person.

If you think I'm picky, remember this bag is advertised as having "superior craftsmanship and unparalleled attention to detail". I contacted customer service and was told "we slightly changed the leather we use a few years ago".

From what I gathered through some digging, they they changed the supplier and design on these bags a few years back to cut costs. Leather quality and texture changed significantly and manufacturing went to the Dominican Republic resulting in horrible quality control. There were little changes made too - rather than pleasantly cutting/bonding/gluing the edges of the leather together, they added the wraparound leather sewing with scrap pieces. The top handle no longer was the perfect length and curved but now unwieldy, long, and flat. The metal bits were downgraded.

Conclusion? Short and simple, I desperately wanted to love this bag. But I really don't.

Correction: Manufacturing for Ona was always in the Dominican Republic.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lou Malnati's


My Chicago deep dish tour included three stops: Lou Malnati's, Giordano's, and Pequod's. Lou Malnati's in my opinion had by far the best environment and atmostphere - quieter, cleaner, decorated for the holidays.



Perhaps it was just an off day, but the pizza unfortunately failed to stun by far. It wasn't particularly horrid, per se, just nothing really noteworthy or special. I couldn't (and still can't) see how this had made the list of must-trys in Chicago.



The crust, sure, it was buttery-flaky and...okay. It didn't grab me by the hooks and draw me in. As for the pizza itself? As the first stop on my Chicago deep-dish tour, I almost thought I shouldn't visit the others - I'd had LA deep-dish pizzerias that tasted better.



If you're like me and found this place merely average, do yourself a favor and check out the other big two. This one's biggest advantage was how close it was to where I was staying.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pequod's



My Chicago tour included three different pizzerias in hopes of discovering the best: Lou Malnati's, Giordano's, and Pequod's. My favorite by far? Pequod's!

Each takes a little while to get from ordering to eating, making calling in ahead when possible a wise decision. But flavor? Ohhhh man. Technically a pan pizza I'm told, Pequod's is just dumped with everything the way I want it.



It looks a tad like a dive bar walking in, which probably has to do with the time of its founding. By the way, I kind of also like that there's only one location - it gives it more of an authentic, non-chained feel. Even if the service was, well, a little bit distant. Can't win in everything, and in this situation I didn't particularly care, probably due to the dive bar feel.



The best part? The pizza, obvi! The lunch special is somewhere around the $5-6 dollar mark (sorry, I forget), including a soft drink, which I didn't very much care for but gratefully accepted, a lemonade. The bread is thick and delicious, a slightly caramelized crust, and flavorful cheese and toppings hold the rest of it together. I threw on their sausages and mushrooms for an incredible delight.

When I move to Chicago, I know this will be my to-go spot for sure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Interurban



This place is just about impossible to find. But PLEASE do try, it's very much worth it!

You walk on in, wondering if in fact you've come to the right place or have come through the right door. It looks like you've walked into the kitchen. There is a place to order though with some desserts on display.



The lady who I assume owns Interurban greets you. She seems nice - the type of pastry shop owner who started this because she just genuinely enjoyed baking, and was pretty damn good at it.



I had an apple-cinnamon pop-tart and a sticky bun. Both were pretty damn good, and supposedly the pop-tarts are even better fresh out of the oven. Ohhhh, the pop-tart. The sticky buns - maple bacon, by the way, are freshly blow-torched to heated perfection upon ordering.



I'd love it if there were somewhere to sit, and perhaps if it were easier to find - both things I was told they were looking to remedy through a search for a better location. The branding too might need a little work, as the green and the name don't quite resonate with the person I met, her personality, and her amazing pastries. But these are nitpicks coming from a professional marketing strategist, and I won't let things details knock off a star from a local cafe and shop. If anything, I'd love to help.



Interurban, thank you for the deliciousness. I sincerely wish you the best, and will come again on my next visit to Chicago. And I've even told a few friends already who now promise they'll visit.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Au Cheval



Apparently this place always had a wait, but that has only magnified since becoming known as the nation's #1 burger. We came here on a rainy evening, meaning the wait was only...1 hour. Or was it 1.5? Not bad. As a side note, there's an app called NoWait that lets you check on your estimated wait time and how many parties are ahead of you. quite useful.



It's pretty damn crowded, dark, and noisy inside, and there are three tables situated in the waiting area - awkward. Yes, I was seated in one of those tables, and people were literally leaning on our booth and hovering over while we ate. I'm not sure if people usually are waiting inside or if it was just due to the rain. Onto the food!



single cheeseburger 10.95
What I'm told is the single cheeseburger is a lot like a double, and the double is a lot like a triple. This is true. The burger also comes with pickles and microgreens. I also threw a fried egg on it because that sounds just damn good. While I won't deny by any means that the burger was fairly good, I have trouble justifying that it was the nation's best.



foie gras, scrambled eggs & toast 18
This was probably the more interesting of the dishes. Scrambled eggs topped with foie - a rarity for this Los Angeles tourist (California had a ban for a while). The toast is what I would do at home, nothing special there, but dolloping the ingredients on top and eating them all at once? I'd want it for breakfast. As a side note, the foie was quite a bit squishier than the foie I've had in the past - less thick and creamy, more bone marrow-y.



house root beer
Interesting. Slightly different. Mind-blowingly so? No, it's still root beer, not a molecular gastro reconstruction or anything. Still, it was worth checking out if you like root beer.

Conclusion:
Would I ever come here and wait 3 hours? No. Nope. No way. But does the restaurant care about my opinion, or heck, do you? If you're even thinking about it or coming from out of town, you'll probably disregard all Yelpers and give it a shot. Because it's been called the best. Hey, I would probably consider it too.