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Preflight at O’Hare. Lounges and Why Does T5 Suck?

Our flight departed at 00h30. EVA doesn’t allow you to print boarding passes at home for flights out of Chicago, so that means I had no way of getting into the Polaris Lounge (usually flying Star Alliance Business Class will gain you entrance, but the lounge closed before the EVA desk even opened up). I’ve written before about how the other Star Alliance and Priority Pass Lounges are just awful at O’Hare’s International Terminal. So this trip, I didn’t leave the house until 22h00.

EVA Air Check-in Counter

EVA Air Check-in Counter

There was no traffic and I rolled into Terminal 5 at 22h25. One man was in front of me for check-in at EVA and he was finished within 90 seconds. My check-in couldn’t have been smoother. The agent was confused as to why I wasn’t flying back home with EVA. After his colleague explained in intense detail how this is indeed allowable I was on my way to security.

I never go through the full body scanners. I’ve always joked that if you want to see my junk, just ask, you don’t need to have a fancy nude-o-scope to do the dirty work. Plus it is a bit of a non-violent protest to security theater in the US. Usually It doesn’t matter because Pre-Check works fine for me. EVA does not participate in Pre-Check, so it was either the nude-o-scope or the pat down. I opted for the pat down, as always. The frustrated TSA agent started to explain how the nude-o-scope is perfectly safe and I should just deal with it.

Nope.

Frustrated more at me now, he decides to let me go through the metal detector. An interesting choice, but one I am okay with. Now if that isn’t security theater, I don’t know what is.

Empty Terminal Five at ORD

Terminal 5 at O’Hare on a Tuesday night was quite dead.

Departure Board

The departure board is quite disappointing on a Tuesday night.

Norwegian Airlines

EVA Air 777-300

EVA Air 777-300, my ride to Taipei.

EVA Air 777-300

EVA Air 777-300, my ride to Taipei.

Through security and into the duty free area by 22h35 left me 90 minutes before boarding. I walked around the terminal, checking out the restaurants – not that I would want to eat before my flight, but I sure didn’t want to sit in the dismal lounge for an hour and a half.

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

Restaurants in Terminal 5

The Food Court after security theater.

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

Restaurants in Terminal 5

Post security food outposts

After a while, I decided to hit up the lounge, because now EVA boards lounge passengers directly from the lounge. Now if that isn’t a little piece of heaven, I don’t know what is. I snag an uninspiring glass of prosecco and wait for my flight.

Pre-Flight Champagne

Kicking off the long trip with a glass of sparkling wine.

EVA uses the Air France / KLM Lounge for their flights. Unlike the last time we flew EVA this lounge was pretty empty. Evidently the Friday night flight is much more full. The lounge was quiet and allowed me to get some work done.

The lounge food is abysmal

The KLM/Air France Lounge had dismal offerings.

Boarding started promptly at 23h50. We queued up in a very civilized manner (sometimes flights to China can feel a bit like Lord of the Flies when it come to boarding or deplaning).

Do you have a preferred lounge in T5 at O’Hare? How do you kill time at this disconnected terminal?

Singapore: By the Numbers

Regular readers know that I had a quick trip to Singapore – returning home last Monday.  This was indeed a whirlwind trip.  My better half was in Singapore for work and since I had never been and always wanted to go, I found a way to make it work.  I’ll have much more details notes coming soon, but here are the high level numbers and stats.

  • Airlines Flown: 3
  • Flights Taken: 5
  • United Miles Redeemed: 180,000
  • Miles Flown: 20,288
  • Hours in the Air: 44
  • Time in Singapore: 68 hours
  • Time in Vienna: 15 hours
  • Airport Lounges: 6
  • Hotels Nights: 4
  • Hotels Stayed: 3
  • Cities Explored: 2
  • Meals Eaten: 6
  • Restaurants Dined: 1 (everything else was Street Food / Hawker Stalls)
  • Cocktails / Wine / Champagne Consumed: Countless
My Route to the Singapore for the weekend

My route to Singapore

It was a quick trip, but with more hours on the ground than in the air, which is always a key metric for a trip like this.  That being said, spending 44 hours flying (excluding layovers) in some great business class products isn’t too bad of a way to spend a the dog days of summer.

Give me your honest opinion – would you go to Singapore for just 68 hours?  Does the fact that it cost nothing (other than points and time) change your opinion?  What’s the longest you’ve traveled for the shortest stay?

Saison – Fine Dining San Francisco

We had a single night for dinner in San Francisco, so I immediately turned to the Fifty Best Restaurants list, a list that has never steered us wrong. Saison was rated number 46 on the current listing. Like many fine dining restaurants you buy tickets for a given day and time and those tickets go on sale two months before your desired reservation time. I marked my calendar and had no problem getting reservations.

We did absolutely no further research on the restaurant or the menu before our arrival.  I knew that Saison focused on seasonal produce and meats prepared in a contemporary California style.  That’s all we knew – we prefer to go in relatively blind.

Saison

 

The unassuming exterior of Saison San Francisco

We arrived at 19h00 and were seated immediately.  Our table was a corner two top where we sat right next to each other.  It was a tight fit and for several of the courses the table just didn’t have enough real estate.  It got even more crowded with the various wine glasses.

The minimalist and ostentatious bathroom – a wonderful combination. Saison San Francsico

The Service

Speaking of wine, we chose not to do all of the wine pairings. Honestly, this choice was made solely on price. The wine pairings added another $298 per person, which would have brought our total bill for dinner to nearly $1,200 and while this is a once in a lifetime experience, we’ve had a few once in a lifetime meals already this year and thought we should be more cost conscious. That being said, we asked our server to select a couple glasses of wine for the entire meal, progressing and pairing as the meal went on. We also asked that our wines be different so we could more properly experience the tasting menu.

We had a team of servers helping us and they ran the gamut from Mr. Congeniality to folks on the very far end of the GADS (Asberger’s) scale – so much so that it was painful to talk to them. They didn’t have any details on some of the courses they served, but they tried. When these struggles presented themselves, the server knew quickly that they weren’t prepared (all three times it happened) and one of their colleagues would return and talk more in-depth about the course. At the end we got where we needed to be.

The Meal

This meal seemed more elaborate than other tasting menus we’ve seen recently. Everything from a make-it-yourself amberjack lettuce wrap to a barbecued half quail. Dining in late June allowed for the early summer seasonal produce to really shine. The fresh peas and summer fruits for dessert were stellar.

 

A palate cleansing herbal tea

Amberjack

Amberjack

Sashimi Amberjack

Sea Urchin

Peas

Black Cod

Black Cod

Mt. Shasta Porcini

Barbecued Quail

Barbecued Quail

Pronghorned Antelope – The Service

Preparing the Sauce: Pronghorned Antelope – The service

Pronghorned Antelope – The service

Slicing the Pronghorned Antelope – The service

Pronghorned Antelope – The presentation

Perfectly Prepared Pronghorned Antelope – The presentation

A Broth Made of the Grilled Bones

Sundae

Orange

Orange

Strawberry

The Menu

Our meal lasted about two and a half hours, but at the end we sat around for another 45 minutes sampling a couple of wines and chatting with some of the servers, who had just recently visited Chicago and spent a week eating – so we talked fine dining to beef stands. It was a great way to end the meal.

While not without room for improvement, the food really stood out at Saison. I wish we had a slightly different table and that our team of servers were a little more well-rounded in their training and delivery. If Saison has been on your list of places to try whilst in San Francisco, you must go. It was quite the experience.

Have you dined at Saison? How was your service team? Which course was your favorite? I loved the Peas, the Antelope and the Orange dessert. So refreshing.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – Montréal

After doing a bit of research on fine dining in Montreal, I decided to give L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon another try.  I wasn’t overly impressed with it when I was in Hong Kong, but I had delayed planning a nice dinner until late in the game and I couldn’t find a reservation that would fit into our overall schedule. L’Atelier it is!  I didn’t realize, until the day of the reservations, that the restaurant is actually in the Casino, which honestly, if I had known, I likely would have changed my plans. Casino food can be hit or miss and if I wasn’t sold in the excellence of L’Atelier from a previous visit, I was sure the locale wouldn’t make it better.  Plus, it was too late to cancel without a forfeiture fee.

Arrival

I roll into the casino about 5 minutes before my reservation and like all casinos, it was like a maze finding the restaurant.  Eventually, after a few escalators, an elevator and a flight of stairs, I arrive.  The Maitre d’ greeted me by name as I walked up. The restaurant was booked full and I was a single diner showing up about 10 minutes after my reservation time – process of deduction lead them to me.  

The welcome crew was great, no comment about my tardiness. There were a couple of single seats around the counter, of which I had my choice.  Selecting a corner seat gave me extra elbow room and only one opportunity to have a talkative neighbor.

The menu was delivered right as I sat down. Before I could even get situated, I was presented a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and was asked if I’d be joining in a pre-dinner glass of champagne.  OUI! Madam, OUI!

Veuve Clicquot branded glassware.

Veuve Clicquot branded glassware.

As I sipped my champagne and perused the menu, I finally got a chance to check out the restaurant. It looked remarkably like the Hong Kong version, bar seating, highboy tables around the perimeter, although this restaurant looked out on the river and was quite bright and sunny, despite the deep red and black lacquer finished.

Kitchen View at Joel Robuchon

The Kitchen Moved So Eloquently

Open View to the Kitchen

The Plating Area was Quite Frenetic

Fine dining table scape

Food terrarium

Fine Dining Menu

Fine Dining Menu

I had basically decided I’d be doing the tasting menu this evening.  The final decision was which menu to try, the Decouvert de Saison or the Experience.  I was pushing for the Experience, but I didn’t want the sweetbreads and I couldn’t swap out a course, so it was the Decouvert for me.  It wasn’t a big let down, I just really wish I could have had the canard – I love duck.

I decided to do the wine pairings as well – why not, right?  So I sat at the bar, alone, enjoying a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and I couldn’t be happier.  First up, an amazing bread basket was delivered. I knew I wouldn’t eat all that bread by myself…but I did a damn good job. I just left one of the olive loafs behind.  So perfect, so buttery, so not needed based on the amount of food I was eating!

Beautify Bread Basket

It Begins

Service was surprisingly smooth and knowledgeable.  I kept replaying the dinner in Hong Kong and how disappointing it was.  Not at all like that here.  The service was well timed – a glass delivered, then the wine poured with about 20-30 seconds of explanation of the grape, the region and why it was chosen to pair with the next course.  I’d have about a minute or two to smell, taste and admire the wine before the plate was delivered – again with a 20-30 second explanation of the dish, then I’d be left to enjoy it in peace.  Dinner continued like that for about two and a half hours.

Soup in a Shot Glass

Pour Commencer Cold Pea Veloute Over Fresh Mint Jelly

Sea Urchin

L’oursin Sea Urchin Royale with Fennel Coulis

Scallops

La Saint-Jacques Golden Scallop Over Lettuce Coulis, Crisp Leaves Sprinkled with Ginger

Asparagus Soup

L’Asperge Blanche White Asparagus and Fresh Morel Mushrooms with Yellow Wine Emulsion

Halibut Course

Le Fletan Halibut with Lemongrass, Purple Artichokes and Green Asparagus

Bison Tenderloin

Le Bison Rossini-Style Bison Tenderloin and Foie Gras with Cranberry Elixir, Watercress Salad

Bison Tenderloin

Bison Rossini-Style Bison Tenderloin and Foie Gras with Cranberry Elixir, Watercress Salad

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

The dessert plating was on point.

Le Chocolat Tendance Araguani Chocolate Cremeaux, Crumbled Biscuit, Cocoa Sorbet

The dessert plating was on point.

Le Chocolat Tendance Araguani Chocolate Cremeaux, Crumbled Biscuit, Cocoa Sorbet

Neighbors

By the time the L’Asperge Blanche was delivered (which was SCALDING hot by the way), a couple sat next to me.  She was loud and brash.  She ordered a double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary.  The server confirmed and gave her fair warning that that drink would likely destroy her palate, truly diminishing the tasting menu.  She ordered the tasting menu and a second double spicy, extra horseradish Bloody Mary.  All before the champagne was served.

Despite my initial frustration with this woman, we ended up having a really great time chatting.  Her husband (boyfriend?) was more of the silent, look at his phone type of guy and she was a chatty Kathy.  She ended up being quite respectful, when my dish would arrive.  She’d turn and lavish attention on her date, who couldn’t care less about her (or so it seemed). Once I finished, she let me savor for a moment, then she’d jump right back into her story, without missing a beat.  It made for an enjoyable experience.

Finally the petits fours were delivered.  Eric Gonzalez, the head chef, came out and chatted with me for about 15 minutes.  We spent a lot of time talking about port (I love a beautiful Portuguese fortified wine) and about proper duck preparation and how he doesn’t really dig the whole duck press service.  I loved pressed duck, but many places do it so poorly.

Petit Four

Petit Four

The Departing Conclusion

My early dinner came to an acceptably timely close a little before 22h00, which gave me plenty of time to head back to the hotel, change and meet up with my friends that evening.  The L’Atelier in Montreal is head an shoulders better than the one in Hong Kong.  I was thoroughly disappointed in so much of the Hong Kong experience and despite the casino location, this team did a phenomenal job.  I’d head back and dine here in a heartbeat — but will I dine in Paris, or Shanghai or Taipei or any of the other cities with a Joël Robuchon restaurant?  Time will tell.

Have you dined at any of the incarnations of Joël Robuchon’s restaurants?  What did you love?  How was the service?

IPNC Day Two: On Campus

After an amazing first full day at IPNC, Group A, of which we were a part, remained on campus. The breakfast on days one and two are pretty much identical – amazingly fresh berries and stone fruit (if you haven’t been to Oregon in berry season, you are missing out on one of life’s amazing pleasures), fresh buttery pastries, bacon or sausage, some yogurt, juice and coffee. Nothing terribly fancy, but delicious and nothing too wild that will destroy your palate before the tastings.

The main event is the Grand Seminar, where everyone who was off campus the day before goes to Linfield’s gym for a tasting seminar. This year’s seminar was Two Vineyards | Six Hands, which was an in-depth exploration of six wines from two vineyards. These wines were made especially for IPNC. We actually skipped this session. We decided to head off campus and grab breakfast with some local friends. We’ve had mixed results with the Grand Seminar – sometimes they are really great and other times they can drag on for way too long. Everyone we talked to said we missed out on a really great seminar this year.

After the Grand Seminar was the Lunch on the Lawn. This al fresco dining experience, like the Grand Dinner the night before it is a plated and served lunch where each table has a winemaker sharing a selection of wines they brought and the somms providing larger tastings (half glasses) of other wines from the library. We sat with one person we had met before at another IPNC and everyone else was new to us. Our winery partner was Sokol-Blosser – where we had an off-campus experience a few years ago. Our entire table was such fun and Robin Hawley the Associate Winemaker was a generous host as well. She was inquisitive and engaging – a real delight to sit with. We also had a couple of first-timers at our table, so it was great to get their impressions and to offer sage advice.

Lunch on the Lawn Place Seetting and Menu

Marinated Dungeness Crab, Washington Nectarine, Mint and White Balsamic Vinaigrette, with Cucumber and Fennel

Macaron Pavlova aux Fruits Rouges

Following lunch we had our University of Pinot class, which centered on Austrian Pinot Noirs. There were about a dozen different 90 minute courses you could take – and we actively selected into this course as we do visit Vienna from time to time. The class had three Austrian winemakers showcasing the geography, the diversity and the uniqueness of their wines. These wines definitely had a lighter, crisper feel than a traditional Oregon Pinot Noir, but this is really one of the main points. It is the INTERNATIONAL Pinot Noir Celebration, not the Oregon PNC. The winemakers were insightful and made me want to hope on a plane and pay them a visit. The worst part, this class lasted 25 minutes longer than scheduled, which cut into the Afternoon Activities. We could have left, but we sat in such a place that we couldn’t actually leave without being very disruptive. Next time, plan better!

University of Pinot – Austrian Pinot? PROST! Map

University of Pinot – Austrian Pinot? PROST! Full Tasting Setup

University of Pinot – Austrian Pinot? PROST! The Winemakers

Saturday’s Afternoon Activities were focusing on Rosés and Jamón. I will still pretty full from lunch, but I’ve always got room for proper Ibérico Ham, which was served with heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese and the most wonderful sardines I’ve ever eaten. The line was long for Jamón, but we had a rosé to keep us company. I will admit, I was in the Jamón line twice – the second time we spent more time chatting with one of the Austrian winemakers too. We’ll be visiting him on our next trip to Austria.

Like the first day, there is an al fresco tasting before dinner. Tables with dozens of wineries pouring a curated selection of wines sit underneath old oak trees. You get direct access to the winemakers and owners of these great wineries. Plus, this is a great time to mingle and chat with the new friends you met earlier in the weekend.

The final dinner is the famous Salmon Bake. This buffet dinner is the only part of the weekend that is open to non-attendees of IPNC. Separate tickets can be purchased ($225 per ticket) from the IPNC website. Like all meals, there is no assigned seating, it is first-come-first-served seating. There are two strategies for the Salmon bake 1) Hurry and select a table for you and your friends or 2) Head straight into the buffet line, then once you have a full plate, strikeout to find a seat.

The star of this dinner is the salmon, which is roasted over an open flame in the style that indigenous people of the pacific northwest would cook it. In addition to the salmon, there is beef and pork, plus tons of salads and sides – all made with fresh, local ingredients by excellent regional chefs.

Salmon Bake – Open Fire

Salmon Bake – Slow Roasting

Like the lunches and previous dinner, the somms are assigned to certain tables and they keep your glasses full. They are always rotating different wines including, chardonnays, rieslings and of course pinot noir. There is a ton of food at the buffets, so multiple trips are required.  The separate dessert stations open up about an hour after the main meal is served – dozens of small dessert pastries and even full slices of pie.

The casual dinner allows for easy walking and chatting with new friends.  People also bring their own bottles to share with friends old and new.  We find our selves walking around the tables, exploring new wines and continuing to meet new people.

Beautiful Evening in Oregon. Salmon Bake is fan favorite.

At the end of the night, we always grab a few friends and a couple chairs and sit by the remains of the Salmon Bake Fire.  We have so much fun at this part of the night, it is a sad time as the great weekend is coming to a close.

End of the Night. Salmon Bake Fire Dies Down, While the Conversations Continue