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Yearly Archives: 2017
Beast – Finer Dining in Portland
After a long Thanksgiving week with the extended family I needed a bit of a break. My final night in Portland for the Thanksgiving holiday, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with a friend – which allowed us lots of time to tell Thanksgiving tales of crazy. It was quite cathartic.
My friend offered three suggestions for our Sunday dinner, of which I selected Beast. Beast is often billed as a “Meat-centric” or a “Meat-Heavy” restaurant in Portland’s trendy Alberta Arts District. I was excited to try this restaurant, but sure didn’t want five courses of meat, luckily the menu was much more balanced.
When I told locals (bar tender, Uber driver, hotel concierge) I was going to Beast, every single person asked when I made the reservation, then they were totally shocked when I said I booked it on Friday morning (for a Sunday meal). Evidently, reservations are very hard to come by. I’m assuming that the Sunday after Thanksgiving wouldn’t be a busy day considering all the gluttony that had taken place over the past four days. On Sundays there is one seating – 19h00, while Wednesday through Saturday offers two seatings 18h00 and 20h45. Beast is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Two communal dining tables offer seating for guests. There was seating for about 20 people, but during our meal, we only had about 10 other people dining with us. The fixed price six-course menu was $125 per person, plus $50 per person optional wine pairings – which of course we did add on the wine pairings.
We had a nice view of the kitchen and staging area, but honestly, we didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in the kitchen, we spent most of our time catching up.
The food was coursed out evenly and with little fanfare. Each course was delivered, along with the appropriate wine pairing, and the server provided a high level description of both the food and the wine. The descriptions were pretty bare bones, but again, our focus on this dinner was a good meal and to catch up with an old friend – we weren’t looking for the full details and all the nitty gritty of the meal.
The meal progressed at a leisurely pace, but never once did we feel rushed nor did we stop to ask ourselves what was taking so long. It was really perfectly paced. The single items that I liked the least, was the espresso ice cream and that is only because I really don’t like the flavor of espresso or coffee. Everything else was really wonderful. The duck ragu was my favorite course followed closely by the beef tenderloin.
Another interesting part about Beast – gratuity is already included in the price. I’m not sure how I feel about that. In Europe, it is common not to tip. We were taken aback when there wasn’t a tip option on the receipt either, and after a quick Google Search we found that tip was included (when my friend saw the receipt she had a vague recollection that gratuity was included). Once the checks were delivered, the staff was redirected into cleaning up and closing shop – so we couldn’t really snag anyone to confirm the gratuity situation.
Portland is a tough city for me. I don’t spend much time there and when I do, I have many obligations, including friends, co-workers and family. There are so many great restaurants in Portland there are too few meals in the day to eat at every I want to try. That being said, I would definitely return to Beast.
Have you eaten here? Did you think it was a meat-centric menu? What other recommendations do you have for Portland dining?
River Street Inn: Where Service Goes to Die
We recently took a trip to Savannah. We were visiting this city with my brother-in-law and his wife. We knew we wouldn’t be spending a ton of time in the hotel, so we didn’t want to spend a ton of cash on the room, but we all do have exacting standards. After several days of discussions we decided to stay at the River Street Inn. This property was rated pretty well on TripAdvisor, although many of the recent reviews mentioned some service issues, plus a feeling of dampness (bad A/C?) during summer stays.
We didn’t argue about the hotel at all, but my sister-in-law was more interested in staying at the Mansion on Forsyth, which cost more than $100 more per night than the River Street Inn. We decided to save the money…the River Street Inn was still $300/night. We booked through Booking.com.
I wouldn’t be arriving with Mike, he’d be coming directly from Chicago, while I’d be driving from Central Florida (yes…me driving and spending time near Orlando isn’t really like me). I called three days before arrival and added Mike’s name to the reservation so he could check in before I arrived (assuming the room was available).
The woman I spoke with on the phone was pretty put off with my request. I explained twice why I was doing this and she finally confirmed that he was on the reso and would be able to check in upon arrival… yeah, you think you know where this is going…but you don’t.
Mike arrives at the hotel around 11am, not expecting to have a room ready yet, that’s still pretty early. The woman working reception, Ashley, couldn’t find the reservation. Mike mentions we booked the room four months prior through Booking.com, but she still had nothing. She didn’t want the confirmation number. She said there was no reservation. After continued requests, she went into another system and found that for some reason Booking.com and the hotel’s system didn’t properly communicate. She then blamed Mike for that, which of course makes sense, right? The guest who works for neither Booking.com nor the hotel should be responsible for IT issues.
Ashley did find us a room. Not the room we booked. A small room with a queen bed (vs. the king room we booked). We booked this room for a reason. She didn’ care.
Evidently this exchange went on for a while and eventually the Manager came out to help. At this point, we were not interested in staying at this property, if an IT snafu creates such anger and drama, who knows what the rest of the stay would be like. The Manager finally decided to release us (both me and Mike and the fam) from our reservations. He also gave us coupons for a free continental breakfast at a local brunch place. The coupon was a nice gesture and the restaurant came highly recommended by everyone we talked to….but the continental breakfast isn’t that exciting.
We ended up moving to the Mansion on Forsyth, a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel, which was stunning by the way. I wasn’t involved in these discussions with Ashley or the Manager, but Mike is the calm one in the relationship. He will put up with a lot of shit (look, he’s married to me, so he has to), but the service at this hotel pushed him way over the edge. There was no way he wanted anything to do with this hotel. I’m glad we moved.
So what could we have done differently? I never call to confirm, a reservation, even when using booking.com. I get the confirmation email and then the reminder a couple days before the stay, but never call the hotel. This time I did call, but I never had any indication they couldn’t find our reservation.
The whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths. I will continue to use booking.com as we’ve never had an issue like this before, but I may find myself calling the hotel to confirm booking before arrival. I also haven’t contacted booking.com about this issue either.
Have you had this type of issue before? How did you handle it? What would you have done differently? How could we have handled this better?
Everest – Fine Dining Chicago
Everest is a mainstay in Chicago’s fine dining scene. This Alsatian restaurant, located in the southern part of the Loop neighborhood. Everest earned its first Michelin Star in 2011 (the first year Michelin visited Chicago) and has kept their single Star ever since. Chef Jean Joho opened Everest in 1986, but it took us until last week to try it.
Everest has been on our list for quite a while. We love French food and we don’t get a chance to sample Alsatian food very often. I booked our reservations about three weeks out, through Opentable, without problem. We snagged a prime reservation at 20h00.
The day of the meal, we arrived right at 20h00 and were immediately escorted to a waiting area that reminded me a lot of a small break out room at a conference hotel. The room had those moveable walls so you can adjust its size. There were three tables in this area, 2 two-tops and a four-top. Techichally we didn’t have anywhere to sit, because the two people at the four-top were sitting in seats one and three. We asked them if we could sit with them, but they didn’t move, so we sat between them. It was awkward.
We ordered a drink in this holding area and watched as all the others near us were moved into the dining room. Another couple, from Toronto, joined us for a drink. At 21h00 we were brought to our seats – yes, one hour after our reservation. I was frustrated and starving.
Everest offers both a tasting menu and an al a carte menu. The tasting menu didn’t really appeal to me as there were two of the seven courses that I would have eaten, but wouldn’t order on their own (Foie Gras and Pheasant). We opted for the a la carte option.
When exploring the tasting menu, you can add optional wine pairings. With the a la carte menu, we just asked the server to select three wines for our four course dinner. We decided to have two starters and a main, followed by a shared cheese course and then ultimately the dessert.
I started out with the Atlantic Oysters then moved into the Everest Roasted Lobster – a dish on which the menu claims Everest has built its reputation. Mike also chose a Everest Signature entree – the Sole Meunière.
We enjoyed our food at Everest, but were really put off by the extremely long wait we had until our table was ready. Then the waiting just continued. It took us a while to get menus, then finally to place our orders. Once that was all done, the kitchen kept everyone on track. The food came out properly prepared and at the right temperature. It was clear the issues were at the front of the house. Two tables next to us had the wrong food delivered – our food was spot on from delivery to taste.
The decor was extremely outdated. It felt like we were in a scene from American Psycho – it felt very late 1980s or early 1990s. I was fully expecting Susan Sugarbaker to be dining at a table next to us — no such luck.
The patrons weren’t like those you see at other Michelin restaurants either. They all seemed very stiff and stodgy…except the table next to us. They were holding hands all through dinner, except when she’d step away to the washroom for 15-20 minutes at a time. We totally got the high-end pro and her John vibe from them. The other table right next to us had a woman and her recent college grad son. The son was explaining why pairing wine with food was stupid. We’ve all been there, a recent grad who knows EVERYTHING and anyone who offers guidance is dumb and stuck in the old ways. This was that guy.
I’m glad we visited Everest. We checked one of the most famous and long standing fine dining restaurants in Chicago. We have no plans on returning. The food was good, but everything else (decor, service and other patrons) all fell short on this dining experience. For $500 per couple, I’d rather enjoy fine dining at Next, Goosefoot or Grace (in Chicago, that is).
Have you been to Everest? Were you looking for Patrick Batemen too? What did you have? What did you love about your experience?
SLS Las Vegas
I travel to Las Vegas almost every year, usually for work, and I may tack on an extra personal day or two, depending on what’s going on in my life that week. This trip was completely business with no add on days. I’ve stayed up and down the Strip on previous visits, including the Luxor, Aria, Planet Hollywood and even the Stratosphere (God help me). Once I even stayed off Strip at the Red Rock resort. This time, I decided to try something new, get away from the massive casinos and earn some night/stay credits at Starwood. After a little research, I settled on the SLS Las Vegas. I have never stayed at an SLS Property before, but these hotels are part of Starwood’s Tribute Collection and can be found in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and the Bahamas.
The rate was on par with the other hotels I found, but the SLS was offering a couple bonuses to the rate, including 20% off all food and beverage plus a $25/day credit to food and bev charged to the room. Easy enough as these credits would offset the $35 Resort Fee that was in addition to the rate (even including this fee the nightly cost was on par with other hotels of its quality during my stay).
I still had five Platinum Suite Night Upgrades on the books, so I decided to use them here. I have a hell of a time getting these upgrades to clear in the US and often a few will go to waste. Surprisingly the upgrades cleared pretty early and I was put into a World Tower suite.
I arrived around 20h00 and found no line at check-in. My previous experiences in Las Vegas always had at least a 30 minute wait – obviously I planned my arrival a little better this time. Check-in wasn’t a painless process however. My rate was right, but the man helping me didn’t see the two F&B benefits. He actually told me they didn’t offer things like that – I had to show him my emailed confirmation. Now whether the credits would have worked the same or not, I don’t know, but I wanted this confirmed. This took about 15 minutes. At the end of this discussion, he told me he had personally upgraded me to a World Tower Suite (the same category that the Platinum Upgrades got me). I mentioned that the “personal upgrade” he had given me was the same upgrade that was given to me a week prior. Of course I asked if he could kick the upgrade to a better room. He said he had done everything he could do (which was nothing). That’s fine, I got good use out only upgrades and if he thought he did something to get it for me, good for him.
After this interaction, my expectations had fallen pretty far. I got to my room, on the 28th floor and was really surprised. The had a fun and funky design – mostly white, with some garish silver accents. There was a ton of space in my living area, enough that they could have added some more seating or a larger bar area.
The bedroom was not only the sleeping area, but the work area. I would have liked the desk to be in the other room to give a more separated feel and allow for a more balanced use of the space.
To get to the bathroom, you had to walk though the closet, which wasn’t a problem for me. There was ample open storage in the closet, which unused immediately. On work trips, especially when I wear suits, I always unpack and hang my clothes.
The bathroom was very big, with a walk in shower, single sink vanity and the toilet. There wasn’t enough space to add a separate tub, but I think it could have been done if the shower had been a little smaller. That being said, I’m not taking a bath in a hotel room in Las Vegas. There is just something off about that to me.
The bathroom use to had two sinks, which you could see by the way the plumbing fixtures were laid out. I don’t think two sinks is necessary in a hotel – if you do have two, I like one to be separate from the main bathroom, so you can use the sink while your roommate is in the bathroom…doing….whatever.
The water pressure and temperature were perfect. Actually, the temperature got quite scalding in the sink, but I’d rather regulate that than shave with tepid water.
With the food and bev credits, I decided to dine on property quite a bit. The Monkey Bar, on the main floor between Registration and the Casino was fun. It is a small bar, open to the public spaces, but was adorned with photos of various apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, etc) in formal attire. Some making martinis, others waiting for your direction. A little garish, but I was digging it. I drank a variation of the cocktail Aviation, called Buzz the Tower, which I enjoyed.
The first night we ate at Katsuya, the sushi restaurant. It wasn’t inventive and the fish seemed a shade less than fresh. It wasn’t bad, but it did give us pause.
The next night we decided to splurge. Dinner was following a rough day as this was the day after the maniac opened fire on the concert at Mandalay Bay killing (at the time I write this) 59 people and injuring more than 500. We had some team members at that concert and luckily everyone from our group was safe. Suffice it to say, I took it upon myself to treat the team to a nice dinner.
We went to Bazaar Meat by José Andrés – the steakhouse, and enjoyed the tasting menu. The food was really phenomenal and when I mentioned I don’t care for salmon (which was one of the courses), the server swapped it out quickly and easily. The steak here was truly great- prepared perfectly and seasoned with a bit of big flake sea salt.
I also ate at the pizzeria one night, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. Here, you design your own pie (I had a traditional Margherita Pizza with pepperoni, pineapple, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts). Pairing with a beer made for a great dinner.
Finally, I grabbed a burger at Umami Burgers. This was the only place I had heard about before my visit to this property. A few colleagues commented that they truly loved the burgers here. I was excited…then after my first bite, I was disappointed. The burger patty itself seemed over processed, the taste and texture felt a bit off. If you are looking for a burger, skip Umami’s and head down to Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace at City Center, head and shoulders above this competitor.
I gambled a bit here too. While the Casino isn’t big, it wasn’t crowded either. The minimums were low, which surprised me when I saw the table occupancy. I also watched three Chinese men lose $15,000 each at baccarat within about 10 minutes of play. That was exciting and confusing. I left when they each pulled out a huge wad of cash to start the process over again.
I snagged a late check out, without a problem too.
I really enjoyed my stay at the SLS Las Vegas and am looking forward to my return…and I will definitely return. The property is a manageable size, but has all the amenities I’d want in a Las Vegas resort – great dining, accessible gambling, a cool looking pool (which I missed out on because I had to work) and it even had access to the monorail. It really was a win-win.
Have you stayed at the SLS Las Vegas? What about the other SLS Properties? What do you look for in a Las Vegas hotel?
Canoe – Fine Dining in Toronto
I needed to be in Toronto for work last week. Almost every trip I take between ORD and YYZ results in delays, cancellations and without an extra “travel day” built in, missed meetings. I’ve been burned too many times on this leg. That being said, my meetings were Tuesday morning, so I flew into Toronto midday on Monday. I was delayed a bit, but I still arrived in plenty of time for my meetings.
Since I had an evening in Toronto without any business plans, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner and a quick search showed that Canoe met my needs. Basically, I wanted a highly rated and reviewed restaurant with a quality tasting menu. Unfortunately, the only time I could book online was either 17h00 or 21h00. I called to see if alternate times were available – no luck. Surprisingly, the day of my reservation (which I booked for 17h00), the restaurant called to confirm and I told them that 17h00 was an ungodly hour for dinner and they agreed. I was able to change it to an 18h45 reservation at the Chef’s Counter.
Canoe is located on the 54th Floor of the TD Bank Tower and offers stunning views of the city and the lake. The chef’s counter seating, that I had, didn’t have those views, but did provide for equally interesting views into the inner workings of their kitchen. It was a great view and period of observation. Their kitchen ran like a well oiled machine and wasn’t like those awful restaurant shows where Gordon Ramsey is screaming like a fool at everyone.
One thing that this seat did offer that I hadn’t been exposed to before was how kitchens handle allergies. Almost every table that was served had some sort of allergy tagged to it: gluten, dairy; garlic; cilantro; egg; high pH. Are these people really allergic to these, or is it just a preference? One table eve had a diner who claimed to be allergic to salt. I don’t really like poached eggs and I’ll mention that during a tasting menu, but come on…a salt allergy?
I started off with Canoe’s famous Dill Pickle cocktail, then moved into a couple glasses of wine as the meal progressed.
At the end of the day, I would say this was one of my favorite meal experiences in Toronto. The food itself was great – showcasing vegetables at their prime (the Ontario Corn was something that everyone was raving about). My server was knowledgeable, personable and left me enough space to enjoy my meal, but didn’t forget me, like can happen so often when you’re just a single diner at a restaurant.
The meal at Canoe wasn’t cheap – and I made it even pricier by adding on an entree, so this isn’t a place I’d visit every week (unless someone else is paying), but I will definitely push for a return visit next time I cross the border.
What are your favorite fine dining places in Toronto? If you have an old staple that you visit regularly, I’d love to hear about it and add it to my list for future trips.