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Tim Foolery

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Brass Heart – Fine Dining Chicago

Brass Heart is Chicago’s newest Fine Dining Restaurant.  Taking the place of 42 Grams, the stellar Two-Michelin-Starred Restaurant in Chicago’s Uptown Neighborhood. We loved 42 Grams from jump, and I was personally surprised at its abrupt closing.  You can Google more about that, but I refuse to support a chef with abusive tendencies, no matter how amazing the food is.

Brass Heart opened in late August and I’ve been looking forward to popping over for a while now.  Deciding to pull the trigger before it becomes impossible to snag a reservation, I searched just four days ahead of time and found an early spot for two on a Saturday.  While 17h30 is usually too early for me, I figured I would make an exception this time.

Unlike 42 Grams, which was fully BYOB (YES! A 2 Starred resto and BYO to boot), Brass Heart has a lovely cocktail and wine menu.  While not outrageously extensive, it was very respectable and the prices are perfectly in line with the neighborhood and the City as a whole.

We arrived a few minutes before our reservation.  The space is small, and without a proper separate bar, we didn’t want to crowd the space….although, the only people there when we arrived were also dining at 17h30.  We were seated immediately upon arrival and were welcomed by several staff members.

When booking the reservation I selected the nine-course tasting menu, so our only real decision was beverages.  We could do the wine pairings or select individual cocktails, glasses of wine or bottles.  We obviously chose the pairings – we always do.

Brass Heart Chicago

Full Nine Course Tasting Menu

Brass Heart Chicago

Osetra Caviar, Pumpkin

Brass Heart Chicago

Osetra Caviar, Pumpkin

Brass Heart Chicago

Ham and Eggs

Brass Heart Chicago

Ham and Eggs

Brass Heart Chicago

Mulligatawny Soup – Ham and Egg Alternative

Brass Heart Chicago

Duck, Apple, Black Walnut

Brass Heart Chicago

Duck, Apple, Black Walnut

Brass Heart

Brioche, Fried Chicken, Honey

Brass Heart Chicago

Brioche, Fried Chicken, Honey

Brass Heart Chicago

Rice and Beans

Brass Heart Chicago

Rice and Beans

Brass Heart Chicago

Duck Fat Halibut, Celery Root, Matsutake

Brass Heart Chicago

A5 Kobe, Chanterelle, Pommes Souffle

Brass Heart Chicago

Quince, Acorn Squash, Granola

Brass Heart Chicago

Gateaux d’Epices, Paw Paw, Bourbon

Brass Heart Chicago

Petit Fours

Brass Heart Chicago

Petit Fours

The meal was stellar.  We loved every part of our experience.  The wine pairings were on point.  There were a surprisingly large number of Oregon wines on the wine list, which we all know is the quickest way to my heart.  The nine-course tasting menu is $125 per person, plus $75 for the wine pairings.  While this isn’t a cheap night out, it’s cheaper than most other fine dining options in Chicago.  My recommendation:  Make reservations NOW while you can still get in!

Have you dined at Brass Heart?  Did you dig the wine pairings?  Which course was your favorite?

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A Night In Vienna

The return home from my 68 Hours in Singapore afforded me the luxury of a night in Vienna.  While I could have found an alternate route home, it would have cost more miles and eaten into my time in Singapore (or added a day to this trip). I love Vienna.  This Vienna layover was short.  I had 15 hours from the time the door on my inbound flight opened until my outbound door closed.

What would I do with this time?  I had a a beautiful suite at the Hotel Bristol, so just relaxing in luxury was an option.  There were no shows at the stunning Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), so that was out.  I wasn’t in the mood for fine dining experience (shocker, I know!), so what is a guy to do?

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

The hotel recommended that I hop on a street car and head out to a huge park on the edge of the City. That’s where the Viennese go when it is hot (and it was 33C when I landed at 19h00).  Splendid idea.  The street car took about 25 minutes to reach the end of the line.  The park was beautiful, very natural, with trails in various levels of manicure which led to a large lake. When I arrived it was getting dark, so not many people were left hanging out.  I spent about 45 minutes walking around, enjoying nature in a fabulous city.  It was starting to get dark and I was afraid I’d get trapped out here in the pitch black – there were NO LIGHTS in this park.

Vienna Erholungsgebiet Wienerberg

Sunset from the Erholungsgebiet Wienerberg

Vienna Nature Preserve

The verdant nature preserve offered a cooling refresh from the heat of Vienna

Heading back on the street car, I rode past my stop up to the Rathausplatz – City Hall Plaza. I figured I’d just walk around and make my way back to my hotel.  What do I hear, once I’m off the Street Car? Music. Laughter. A crowd.  Was this, what Chicagoans call, a Street Fest?

Rathausplatz Vienna

The entrance to the festival – Big Crowd for a Sunday night.

It was! But it wasn’t like a normal Street Fest.  This Platz was not only lined with food and booze vendors, but there was a large screen strung up in front of the Rathaus.  Surrounding the screen was bleachers.  On the screen: A 2002 production of Swan Lake. Yes, a 16 year old recording of the ballet had drawn several thousand Viennese out at 22h00 on a Sunday night. The Platz was electric.

Rathausplatz Vienna

Such a crowd for a Sunday night!

I’m not a huge ballet fan, but I do love warm weather, beer and dining al fresco.  I grabbed a lager, walked around the crowd, yes, even watched part I’d the production.

The most fascinating food booth called to me.  Wienerschnitzel. Made fresh while you watched.  This culinary assembly line kept the crowd as enthralled as the ballet.  It had been about 4 hours since I had the prelanding meal on Austrian, plus the beer, I was famished.

The Wienerschnitzel and Potatoes were amazingly perfect.  Usually I think if this as a cold weather dish, it paired perfectly with the heat, the beer and the fresh air.

Wienerschnitzel or Wiener schnitzel

Wienerschnitzel and Beer!

I had no plans for my time in Vienna, but stumbled upon this absolutely perfect evening.  Music, dancing, food and drink.  Who could ask for anything more?  Have you ever come across a surprisingly great event like this before?  What would you have done with your handful of hours in Vienna?  Would you have relaxed in the beautiful suite or would you have gone out to explore?

NOSHtrekker Private Dining Singapore

Finding a unique dining experience ranks among the top things we focus on when traveling.  This doesn’t have to mean a Michelin Starred restaurant or one ranked on the World’s Top 50 List.  Our requirements are more broad than that.  We want a good meal, with an equally engaging experience. Now that could be a tasting menu, a cooking class, or local casual food eaten on a squat stool.  In Singapore we found a private dining experience that was like nothing we’d had before. NOSHtrekker brings a truly unique experience to discerning travelers.

With only 68 Hours in Singapore, I knew I wanted to make the most of it.  The idea of a Michelin Rated Restaurant just wasn’t exciting me.  I decided to step out of my normal routine and after a bit of Googling, I found articles written about a newer service in Singapore.  This group offered private dining experiences, food tours and cooking classes that focus on Singapore’s rich cultural heritage.

The Selection

With more than a dozen unique options to choose from, you’ll have a hard time picking one.  I quickly decided that I wanted a full dinner and a relaxing space the day I arrived in Singapore.  A few emails and a Paypal payment later we were all set.

We’d be joining the Masala Mistress for dinner.  We wouldn’t be helping shop for or make dinner, we’d just be eating.  Just be eating.  Looking back on our time with Dhershini, it’s hard to say we “just ate” with a straight face.  Let’s start at the beginning.

The Experience

We arrived at her home at 19h30. Yes, we dined in her home.  It was about a 20 minute walk from the closest MRT station and upon our arrival, she greeted us like long time friends.  She welcomed us into her home, offered us some refreshing juice and escorted us to a lovely sitting area on her patio.  She had help in her kitchen, so the meal prep would continue uninterrupted while we chatted.

I can’t properly say how warm and welcoming Dhershini was.  She made us feel at home, in hers.  We initially talked travel – she was enthralled with the idea of my flying 45 hours to spend just 68 in Singapore.  She had lived much of her life in Singapore and was honest about that time.  While the discussion was mostly positive, she did talk about immigration struggles, political change in the City/State and the region and even discussions on climate change.

Her husband had recently passed away and that was still really impacting her. When she spoke of him – he was an avid traveler too – you could see how she both lit up and was hurting.  This wasn’t a restaurant meal.  This was a meal with a friend.

NOSHtrekker requires a minimum of two guests (which we had) but you can have many more depending on what you select as your experience.  Since there were only two of us, Dhershini was joined by another NOSHtrekker – Heather (I believe).  The four of us enjoyed drinks (both alcoholic and non), and talked throughout the whole experience.

The Meal

The meal was a traditional Indian from Kerala.  Served family style, we had vegetarian dishes, mutton and chicken.  The four of us sat at the family’s dining table while Dhershini’s assistant finished the meal.  She even continued to make more dishes as we ate.  Some things were just too good to stop eating!

We were encouraged to take photos and share our experience on social media.  I will say, it did feel odd to take pictures of this lovely woman’s home and blast it on social.  As you can see, my pictures are very limited and they sure don’t do the whole experience justice.  When taking photos, sometimes you have to step away – step out of the experience to get the right shot. I didn’t want to do that. I was having too much fun.

NOSHtrekker Dinner Table

Dinner is served with the Masala Mistress

Dhershini and Heather (?) seemed like they were our old friends.  These experiences are billed as about 2-2.5 hours long. We stayed there for just under four. There was never any feeling that we had overstayed our welcome – or that there would be a surcharge for the extra time.  We were just talking – telling travel tales, talking about food, life and the future.  At this point, I had been up for days, traveling half way around the planet and I was getting sleepy.  We needed to excuse ourselves.

This was so much like a friend’s dinner party, that Heather offered to drive us back to our hotel in her cute little convertible.  We reluctantly took her up on the offer, but made her agree to drop us off at the MTA station on her way home.  No need to go out of her way on our account.  I wouldn’t even ask a great friend to do that!

Final Thoughts

At the end of it all, our time with Dhershini and Heather was utterly stellar.  A completely new experience for us, but one that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.  Dhershini is a cookbook author, former restaurateur and culinary ambassador for the Singapore Tourism Board – could you find a better dinner companion?  I think not.

Have you worked with NOSHtrekker before?  For a truly amazing private dining experience in Singapore, you really can’t go wrong.  Also, I should remind everyone that we did pay for this experience – no part of it was comped (other than the ride partway back to our hotel).  This is truly our thoughts on this unique experience.  Go give them a try and tell them Tim (that crazy guy from Chicago who spent just 68 hours in Singapore) sent you!

Why I Love Toronto

I spend a bit of time each year in Toronto.  Coming from Chicago, Toronto is a very easy city to navigate.  While I do find the comparisons between these two cities to be pretty accurate, there are some things that I think Toronto gets right and Chicago fails.  Here’s why I love Toronto.

Both cities have really great food scenes.  From fine dining to casual street food you can’t go wrong in Chicago or in Toronto.  Canoe, in Toronto has an amazing view that is only matched by the food itself.  The Michelin Guide doesn’t visit Toronto, so you can’t find any official Michelin Starred restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have great options.

The transit in both Cities is great.  I don’t have a car in Chicago and I’ve never needed to rent one in Toronto.  I get everywhere I need to go by foot, streetcar or subway.  Worst case scenario, taxis, or ride share options are plentiful.

Why I Love Toronto

The 3D Toronto Sign in Nathan Phillips Square

Why I Love Toronto

The one thing that I love about Toronto, much more than Chicago, is the diversity.  Both cities have a few million people and a strong immigrant community.  When walking around Toronto, I often hear several language.  Not only do you frequently hear English and French, but it isn’t uncommon to hear Arabic, Hindi and Mandarin.  While these language exist in Chicago, I never hear them when I’m walking around in the central business district.  This worldliness gives Toronto a more cosmopolitan feel than Chicago.  This is really why I love Toronto.

What do you think about Toronto?  Is there just one thing that you really dig about the City that you can’t get back home?  What’s the one thing you suggest to people visiting Toronto?

Need Advice: Argentina Trip

Each year, we travel somewhere for Thanksgiving.  We find it a great time to leave the country as no one is traveling for business that week and most Americans are traveling domestically.  We’ve traveled to Ireland, Mexico City, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Colorado, and Oregon for Thanksgiving.  This year, we are heading south to Argentina.  This will be my first visit to the country, while it will be Mike’s second.

Thanksgiving in Argentina

Thanksgiving in Mendoza, where to go?

So far, we’ve book airfare down to and back from Argentina as well as flights inside the country.  We’ve chosen our cities to visit and the hotels in which to stay.  We’ll be staying in Cordoba, Mendoza and finally a few days in Buenos Aires.  I’ve only made reservations for one meal while we are there too – our final night in Buenos Aires, we are hitting a lovely fine dining restaurant as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

I need your help though.  I’m looking for advice from travelers and locals who can tell us great places to eat and wineries to visit.  Frequent readers know that I love a good bike tour, so any recommendations on who to ride while while in Argentina, let me know.

What is the one thing you wish you had done while you were in Argentina?  What about the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?