Monday, April 29, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: UAL 836: PVG-ORD (United Economy Plus)

After spending a few minutes chatting with the @United stew crew before boarding I stood back and watched the mayhem that is an Asian flight boarding. Boarding groups and lines mean nothing.  It is like they don't require tickets -- it is just a first come first serve basis on the flight.  I knew my gentlemenly ways would be lost on this crowd. As they say, When in Rome, so I decided to act like a Chinese flyer and pushed my way to the front of the line.

Carrier: United Airlines (PVG-ORD)
Flight #: 836
Seat: 26G
Departure: January 27, 2013 -  17h00 / 17h05
Arrival: January 27, 2013 - 16h15 / 15h50
Travel Time: 13 hours 45 minutes / 13 hours 30 minutes
Flight Miles: 7,056

I was very hopeful that my return flight from Shanghai would be as occupied as my inbound.  No such luck. Every seat was taken and they were asking for volunteers.  This time, I chose not to even attempt this move.  I was sitting in the right aisle seat of the center section. When I arrived at my seat I found another passenger in the other aisle seat in this section. The middle seat was empty. As the plane filled the middle seat remained empty...until the VERY LAST PERSON boarded.  The tiniest of little Chinese ladies comes down the aisle, checks her boarding pass, looks at the empty seats, grunts something then storms off.  Fast forward 2 minutes. The tallest, fattest American on the plane somehow is now sitting in this seat. He wedges himself in and begins to chat with both of his neighbors.  14 hours with Fatty McTalkerson.  Not ideal.

Surprisingly this nearly 14 hour flight went by pretty quickly. I watched some reruns of the same TV shows I saw on the in bound. I ate a pretty average meal and a couple glasses of wine.  The best part, wine is free in economy to/from Asia on United, but they only serve you one bottle at a time.  The gentlemen two rows in front of me ordered two cans of beer, but Carol (my second favorite stew on the flight) said he could have one. He was rude and demanded two. She was stern and said "From what I can smell, you've already had several on the ground. I will not serve you more alcohol".  Fantastic!  She comes for my drink order and I of course order two bottles of which she rolls her eyes and drops of three bottles of red.  Love her.

We land early and make I make it to Customers and Border Patrol to find that I am in the heart of International Arrivals. It seems that every flag carrier in the Northern Hemisphere has just landed and every passenger is in front of me.  I waited just under two hours to make it through the line and to the cab stand.

I am home.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Seared Tuna with Mango Salsa

It has been so long since I cooked a home cooked Sunday dinner. Recently I made Ina Garten's Seared Tuna with Mango Salsa.  I'm not a big "fish guy" - I love sushi but cooked fish doesn't really make it high on my list. I have been trying to be better about it though.  Coupling my favorite cooked (or seared) fish with one of my favorite fruits (Mangoes) sounds like the perfect dinner.

After a quick trip to Whole Foods and I had all the ingredients for this dinner for two.  I am still surprised at the price of tuna - you'd think I'd get use to it eventually, but I'm not yet.

I was a little hesitant cooking the salsa - usually I find that a fresh salsa is more refreshing than the cooked version, but I thought I'd give it a go.

The mangoes were surprisingly ripe and flavorful.  The salsa creation was quick and easy.  The salsa was finished in just a few minutes and then tossed into the fridge to chilled.

A few hours later I prepped the tuna. Best part about the tuna portion - it takes just 5 minutes to cook.  I followed Ina's recipe pretty much as is -- although I did use an additional mango, because I felt mine were a bit smaller.

This dinner looked so good we jumped right in without taking a final picture of the fully plated meal.  We just got so excited to eat this great meal. It did not let us down.  Next time I'll try to be a little better about taking a post prep picture.

What are you fixing tonight?

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Frankie's Scaloppine - Lettuce Review

I find myself eating at Frankie's (@Frankies5th) (@LettuceEats) more often that I care to admit.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the food but I'm there more often because the restaurant is in my office building and when the weather is crappy (either cold and miserable or swelteringly hot) I find myself just popping down for a quick lunch. There are two sides to the restaurant - the sit down restaurant and the pizzeria.  I'll review both of these restaurants separately.  Today, let's talk about Frankie's Scaloppine.

Name: Frankie's Scaloppine
Date of Visit: February 7, 2013
Meal: Lunch
Price/Person:  $15
Stars:  3.5/5

Frankie's has been around for just over 5 years, as I write this.  It replaced another Lettuce restaurant - Tucci Benucch, which we really loved.  Frankie's feels like a more upscale version of Tucci and if memory serves, it is slightly more expensive as well.

Frankie's often has a nice mix of daily specials (salads, pastas and risotto), but I never order from the daily menu, I always pull from the traditional menu.  The menu has a good selection of pizzas, lunch salads, sandwiches, pastas and various scaloppine options.  More often than not, I will choose either a scaloppine or a pasta.

My favorite scaloppine was just recently removed from the menu, which is quite sad. I would consistently eat the Chicken Martini.  The name sounds like a feathered cocktail, but it was a simple flattened chicken breast with Parmesan and asparagus. Loved it.

This most recent visit I had the Grilled Chicken Scaloppine which comes with tomatoes and arugula.   While I don't think this was as good as my favorite Chicken Martini, but I would definitely order this again.

The servers are consistently good at Frankie's.  I rarely drink sodas, but I drink water like a fish. My biggest issue with any restaurant is their failure to keep my water refilled. I think people often think that when I say I'm OK with just water they think I'm being cheap.  Personally, if my water ever runs out the gratuity for the server just collapses.  I really never have an issue with that here at Frankie's. The servers are attentive but really leave you alone during the meal.

What's you're favorite meal at Frankie's? Do you stick to the pizzas or to you move to the other Italian fare?

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Shanghai Pudong International Airport

We took the MagLev back to the airport - this time the taxi driver who took us from the hotel to the train station didn't try to screw us. He charged us the proper amount.  Unfortunately this time (the first ride for MS) the MagLev only got to 300kph. How disappointing.

I really do love exploring new airports. I love looking at all the destinations on the big boards.

I also love to plane spot. In Chicago we don't have a whole hell of a lot of fun international planes. We get European staples like Lufthansa, British, Air France, KLM and Iberia and the Asian airlines like Cathay, Asiana, Air India and ANA and the one of other airlines like Royal Jordanian and Etihad.  It is exciting to see these planes as we taxi past them at O'Hare, but when you are at another airport on the other side of the planet you get to see some fun planes.

Emirates A380 in the foreground with a Thai
Airways in the background. 
Etihad waiting overnight
Singapore Airlines surrounded by Air China
Never heard of, have you?
Nippon Cargo Airlines
Juneyeo Airlines - never heard of these guys either.
The international terminal smelled like cigarettes and when I was there it was pretty empty. You can see from the pictures below that the airport terminal is quite large with surprisingly empty cavernous areas.

As I made my way back to the gate, I heard someone yelling my name. Who the hell do I know in Shanghai?  It was the stew crew from my first flight!  I absolutely loved the crew I had on the outbound and they were working the return.  We ended up chatting quite a bit before the flight.

Time to board -- let's hope the flight is as empty as it was on the outbound -- fingers crossed!

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Monday, April 15, 2013

M Burger - Lettuce Review

I love burgers. Once I saw +Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants (@LettuceEats) was opening up an M Burger right across from my office, I was excited to give it a try.  Let me get one thing clear, right from the start. These burgers aren't the fancy schmancy burgers with imported bacon, wagyu beef or even pretzel rolls. These are classic burgers with classic toppings, cooked quickly and cooked right.  If you want a foie gras burger go some where else.

Name: M Burger
Date of Visit: February 8, 2013
Meal: Lunch
Price/Person: $9.00
Stars: 4/5

The menu is quite limited, for entrees they offer a few burger options, some burger alternatives (chicken and turkey) and a chicken salad. The sides are much more limited - French Fries, but I absolutely love their fries and wouldn't consider anything else, even if the menu had more options (well....maybe tater tots....maybe).

This is really a great lunch place. They serve sodas and milkshakes (and malts...but who ever orders a malt?).  I checked online, but don't see beer as an option, but I would wager you a beer that you can get a beer at the Water Tower Place location.

I recently returned from two weeks in Asia and on my flight back the first thing I wanted to eat once we landed...yes, you guessed it. I wanted to go to M. Burger and get a Double Cheeseburger and a double order of fries (oink).  I find myself stopping by M Burger once every two weeks and am consistently happy.

My one concern about the location I frequent (at Foodlife in Water Tower Place) is the customer service.  The folks who are working the Foodlife counter (there are two counters in which to order from, one inside Foodlife and one outside Foodlife) are very abrupt and short.  The ladies (who interestingly enough have lovely tattoos all over their necks) are pretty aggressive and unpleasant.  Since this is really a grab and go place dealing with the staff isn't really that big of an issue.

Have you been to M Burger? Do you love the fries as much as I do?  Which of their locations is your favorite?

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Shanghai Metro System

I always ride the #Metro in whatever City I visit. I think it allows you to really experience the City as the locals it it usually a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for a taxi. If I can save $25 a day on transportation and reallocate those funds to a cocktail or two in the evening I call that a win.

The Shanghai Metro System has 12 separate lines that will connect you with all aspects of the City.  The Metro is extremely easy to use and has signs in both Mandarin and English (the upcoming station announcements are also in English as well).

We only rode on three separate lines but they were all very clean and well lit. Unlike some Metro systems, Shanghai felt very safe. I wouldn't think twice about taking it anywhere a tourist would be interested in going. Like any large City, I am sure there are places that one wouldn't go (on the train or off), but we didn't come across that at all.

Like the Paris Metro, several lines in Shanghai use a continuous car system - unlike Chicago where the L trains are made up of 8 separate cars.  In Shanghai you can walk from the front to the back of the train without issue - on continuously long corridor allows for the maximum passenger capacity.

Loved this little superman on the subway. Evidently
Metro germs are his Kryptonite.
I recommend to hop on the Metro in any City you are visiting. You get a better feel for the City and you really get to live like a local. Do it, but be wise about it.

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Shanghai-Lights: Yuyuan Garden

Even after a very full first day in #Shanghai we still had a pretty busy second/final day planned.  Our main stop today was the Yuyuan Garden, which was a very short 10 minute walk from our hotel.  The Yuyuan Garden is a major tourist attraction and is even has a "tourist mart" for all the touristy crap gifts you may want: watches, plastic pagodas, parasols - you know that stuff you find in every City.

We were in Shanghai right before the Lunar (Chinese) New Year, so the park (and the City as a whole) was totally decked out. The temples were packed with people and the air was full with incense.

Burning letters for a clean start in the New Year

The Yuyuan Garden is full of classic Chinese architecture and is a quiet refuge in an extremely loud and busy City.  The park itself was quite busy because of the New Year preparations.  A visit to the Yuyuan Gardens is definitely a highlight of an trip to Shanghai.

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Mr & Mrs Bund

Fine Dining in Shanghai. @Departuresmag had a well timed article about all the great restaurants in Shanghai right before we left.  After a quick read of this article we decided for our one nice meal in Shanghai we would visit Mr & Mrs Bund.

We hopped a taxi from our hotel and in less than 10 minutes were are the restaurant -- or so we thought. The cab driver dropped us off too early -- took us another 5 minutes to walk to the restaurant.  Like most of our taxi experiences in Shanghai we were frustrated.

Mr and Mrs Bund is a restaurant by Paul Pairet (of Mosaic Cafe, Jade on 36 and Ultraviolet). Like many of his other restaurants, this place is heavily French influenced.  It's obvious why we visited now, right?

We were quickly seated and menus were delivered.  Without wasting a second, the waiter came over and attempted to take our order. We hadn't even opened the cocktail / wine list at this point, let along the full menu. As we asked for a couple more minutes to review the cocktail list, he took our food menus away.

Warm towels were then delivered to our table.

Our cocktail order was then taken, but full menus were not returned -- but the waiter did return before the drinks were delivered and asked for our entree selection.  When we asked for the menus the waiter was visibly upset with us.  As he stormed away from our table a waitress grabbed him and chatted for a moment then our waiter stormed off in another direction and this new waitress brought over our menus. Saying nothing.  The service continued like this throughout the meal with our first waiter then waitress alternating between our table.  It was very odd and very uncomfortable for us.

Interiors of Mr & Mrs. Bund.
Tomato, goat cheese and balsamic salad.
Steak au poivre
Profiteroles with chocolate sauce...with a second
in the background. Oink.
Throughout the meal, the music in the large room would go silent then a more clubby tune would be blared from the speakers, the restaurant lights would drop and you'd see half a dozen servers trailing a sparkler filled cake - celebrating everything from birthdays to anniversaries to the unknown.  This really reminded me of the Olive Garden, Red Lobster or some other chain restaurant in suburban America. Luckily we were not celebrating anything other than bad service.  Good food, but really bad service.

Would I return to Mr & Mrs Bund?  No, not at all. I was quite disappointed in the execution and honestly the space.  The front house execution was extremely poor. The Departures Magazine Article had several other restaurants that sound much better than how Mr and Mrs Bund actually turned out.  I'd give one of those a try.

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Pudong Architecture

I love #architecture. Anyone who knows me, knows this.  Shanghai is home to one of the most beautiful skylines in the world, if you love modern architecture.  Shanghai is also home to the worlds 5th tallest building (Shanghai World Financial Center) - you can see this building below, it's the building that looks like a bit bottle opener.

Just 15 years ago, Shanghai's skyscraper neighborhood was home to just one tall building (Oriental Pearl Tower) - the rest of this area was farmland and rice paddies.  How things change in less than two decades.

You can see a major new tower under construction as well. This new building is called the Shanghai Tower and will be 632 meters in height with 121 stories and will be the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the world (behind the Burj Kalifa in Dubai).  It is queued up to be completed in 2014.


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Shanghai-Lights: Chinese Foot Massage

A foot massage is one of those required stops when visiting an Asian country, isn't it? This was to be my first authentic Chinese foot massage. I've read that the best ones are given by elderly blind Chinese men and women.  This is their trade (hell, a blind old man can't drive a bus, so he needs something to do) so they do it very well. After a bit of pulling teeth, we got a recommendation for a reputable massage parlor for an authentic foot massage.

From what I've heard and read these foot massages aren't the soothing, relaxing Swedish massage you get at a spa here in the US. These masseuses dig into your feet to release pent up stresses and can be quite painful, but the end results make your entire body feel amazing.

MS and I were led into a room with two chairs for our massages. We change into the pajama bottoms provided and begin to soak out feet. The space wasn't all that soothing - it was quite, but had a distinct smoke smell...hell, everything in Shanghai had a tobacco smell about it.

Our home for the next 60 minutes.
Post soak hooves.
That tea looks like the water our feet were just soaking in. I'll pass.
This hour long massage was quite disappointing. Instead of being the semi-painful massage I was expecting, it was just a calm foot rub.  My expectations definitely were not met.  We both left a little frustrated - we didn't have time to get another massage someplace either.  The plus side, the massages cost us only $13 each (the cost of an average weekday lunch back home).

Have you had an authentic Chinese Foot Massage before? Where did you get it, in country or in your neighborhood back home?  I'm not going to provide more details on where this massage parlor was because it was a disappointment and there is NO chance you guys will accidentally stumble upon it.

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