Monday, April 13, 2009


Province recently opened in our neighborhood a couple of months ago and we've been dying to try it. It's so nice to be able to walk to dinner.

It was crazy crowded when we walked in at the bar. Luckily we were able to snag seats at the bar and then were seated quickly.

It's a very minimalist and modern vibe in the restaurant. I like the pink accent wall and pink lighting outside but I'm a pink lover in general. Very trendy crowd.

Dinner started off with an amuse buche of beef tartare. It was good.

Their menu is divided into food of different sizes. There's bites which are just that, bites of food or teeny tiny sandwiches. Raw which is oysters and ceviche. Soups and salads. Then small which is like appetizers, big which are small entrees, and bigger which is a normal entree size. We decided we'd just order a bunch of food and share it all.

From the bites menu we had the cuban pork bocadillo and peeky toe crab toast. We were able to split the bocadillo in half to share but the peeky toe crab toast was hardly bigger than a quarter. Really liked the crab toast. The Husband liked the bocadillo.

Then we each had a soup. I had the farmed baby shrimp chowder. The soup had a very good flavor. It could have used more of the shrimp in it though. I hardly found any. The Husband had the tortilla soup. He enjoyed it but I'm ashamed to admit he likes the tortilla soup at Max and Erma's better. The pulled chicken at the bottom of the soup was very good.

Next was a small portion of the slow roasted gunthorp farms pork ropa vieja and the melted spanish blue cheese fondue. The ropa vieja was very good and there was a lot of it for a small portion. The Husband raved about this all night. I much preferred the fondue but I'm both a huge fondue lover and a huge fan of blue cheese. I could see how this would be too rich for many people. I honestly might be back one night for a glass of wine and the fondue at the bar.

At this point we were pretty full yet we still had one course coming. We were sharing the grilled beef tenderloin with spanish blue cheese toast and buttermilk whipped potatoes. Very good. The meat was cooked to our specifications. There was just enough blue cheese that it didn't overpower the dish but it gave it a nice flavor. And I really liked the potatoes.

They had a nice wine list. Lots of very reasonably priced bottles to choose from. Service was excellent. Our waitress really knew the menu. My only complaint was sometimes there was too much time between the courses. It's also a green restaurant. It's in a LEED certified building. The tabletops are recycled cork. Even our wine bottle said it was carbon neutral.

Old Town

I bought this pack of cards for 50 different walks around Chicago to explore different neighborhoods. It was a beautiful day yesterday (if still cold and windy), so we decided to start exploring.

First up we decided on Old Town.

We grabbed lunch at Adobo Grill (see review here). Then we started doing the walks starting from the end point. We forgot our camera so no pictures. The Husband took a few on his phone but they weren't very good.

We combined two walks into one since they were in the same area. First up we did Wells Street. This turned into a little shopping (I swear only a little) but still managed to annoy The Husband.

Here's some stores I recommend:

The Spice House - a must for any cook. We had a lot of fun in here and it's nice that you can buy the spices in small quantities. They have everything you could possibly need.

Old Town Oil - another great store for those who love to cook. They had some really cool flavored olive oils here. You can sample all the olive oils and balsamics before buying.

Pulp and Ink - a great selection of invitations and all sorts of paper products that even The Husband thought was kind of cool. Pricey though.

String A Strand on Wells - bead store/make your own necklace place. Had a lot of different beads and things to work with. I don't have the creativity to make my own jewelery though but I enjoyed browsing.

Next walk was around the Old Town Triangle area. Such a cute area with lots of cool buildings and different architectural styles. Also, would be a great place to live. You're steps away from public transportation and shopping, yet the streets were all so quiet and peaceful. A big change from my big noisy building right downtown.

Adobo Grill

We've been talking about going to this restaurant for a long time and finally made it for lunch this weekend. We'd been craving some guacamole so it was a great choice.

They have two locations in Chicago - one in Old Town and one in Wicker Park.

We decided to do a bunch of appetizers to share instead of getting an entree. It was only 11:30 in the morning, I'd only gotten up an hour ago, and my hunger hadn't kicked in yet. We started with the salsa sampler. Had 4 different salsas in the sampler - a pico de gallo (very fresh), chipotle salsa, tres chiles salsa, and the Chef's special. I think the chipotle salsa was supposed to be the spiciest but I was able to eat it without dying and I'm pretty wimpy about spicy foods. All in all a thumbs up for the salsa.

Next was guacamole. I looooove guacamole. And this stuff was good. The chips were good too. Homemade, not too greasy, not too salty.

Next we thought about sharing some tamales. We'd been visited The Tamale Guy last night at the bar for dinner so decided to go with the Empanadas Potosinas instead. Good choice. They were excellent.

Their drink menu looked very good but like I said it was before noon and I'd had quite enough the night before. So we may be back to try some of the delicious looking drinks.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What a deal!

Prices to Australia this September are so cheap I'm almost tempted to book (but don't worry I won't). You can get a flight to Sydney from Chicago for about $1000. Hmmm and it's also a shorter plane ride than to Thailand by about an hour and a half. So tempting. If you've been dreaming of trip to Oz, now's the time to book.

Edit: Hotels appear to be cheap in Australia too! A 5 star for a couple nights in September works out to $169/night for the Shangri-La. Definitely some great deals.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Day 3 we headed out of the city again for a day trip. We were headed out to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles near the town of Fussen. We used a Bayern ticket to get there again. Warning for those headed there in the summer: it will likely be packed and you may not be able to get a seat on the train. We had connecting trains on the way back and the first one was very full and the second one had lots of people standing on it. Be prepared for chaos.

Since we were going at the tail end of winter though the crowds weren't bad. We saw some beautiful snow-covered landscapes on the train ride in with the Alps in the background.

When we arrived in town we went to buy our tickets. (Another note for summer: buy in advance on the internet.) Then headed to lunch at one of the hotels. There we shared a pizza and had beers that were half beer, half lemonade. It makes a nice daytime drink.

Neuschwanstein is known as the fairy tale castle since that's the castle Walt Disney used to base the castle in the parks off of. And it really is beautiful. It was built by the mad King Ludwig although he spent only a little time in it before he died. Hohenschwangau was where Ludwig lived growing up and is nearby.

A lot of the trails were closed for hike up to Neuschwanstein because they were still covered in snow and ice. So we hiked up the road which unfortunately is what the horse drawn carriages also use so it was covered in horse poop. We also saw some interesting outfits. Who hikes up a mountain wearing heels and a skirt?

It is a long and tiring hike up so I would recommend taking a carriage or the bus if you aren't in good shape or if it's really hot out.

We took a tour of Neuschwanstein but unfortunately you aren't allowed to take pictures of the inside of the castle. I was surprised how small some of the rooms were, it being a castle and all. It seemed a lot of the space was taken up by hallways. Sounds like King Ludwig could have used an architect for some space planning assistance.

We didn't take a tour of Hohenschwangau. One castle a day is enough for us.

After we got back from our long train ride we went to dinner then headed over to Hackerhaus. Hackerhaus is the Hacker Pschorr brewery. Since it was Sunday night it was pretty dead but looked like a fun place on any other night of the week.

view on the train ride in
Neuschwanstein Castle

the town


horse drawn carriage you can take up to the castle

waterfall during our hike up to the castle

restaurant near the castle

another view of Neuschwanstein

View from one of the rooms of the castle

The Husband's secret picture of the throne room

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


For day 2 of our German weekend we decided to cross the border to Salzburg in Austria. You can buy a Bayern ticket that is valid all day before midnight on weekends and after 9 am and before midnight on weekdays to get you there. Make sure to check the box for use local transport only when using the ticket machines. The ticket is 28 Euros and up to 5 adults can travel on one ticket. Much better deal than using the Rail Europe website which said it would cost us over $100 to go there. Salzburg is about a 2 hour train ride.

Salzburg is known for the Sound of Music and there's many tours to the Sound of Music sights. Being the loser that I am, I watched the Sound of Music the night before I left to brush up on my SOM knowledge but we didn't take a special tour. Salzburg was also where Mozart was born and grew up when his father wasn't dragging him around Europe to play for royalty.

We loved Salzburg. It's a small town and easily walkable. We walked from the train station over to the old section of the city where we spent the day. There's no cars allowed in the old section so your touring will have to be done on foot. Or you can rent a horse and carriage for an hour for an astronomical fee.

We spent the day just walking around, looking at churches, platzs, and peeking into various shops. After lunch we climbed up the stairs to the hill that overlooks the town. We walked around Hohensalzburg Fortress then walked further down and explored the grounds of the convent.

At this point it was getting cold and the wind was picking up so we decided to stop for drinks. Unfortunately, Salzburg still permits smoking in their bars (and maybe also their restaurants) so every cafe we popped into was very smoky. After finally locating a decently non-smoky bar, we headed off to the train station.

As convenient as our hotel was to the train station, there didn't seem to be a large selection of restaurants in the area nor any German beer halls. So we headed directly from the train station over to our new favorite restaurant, Oleo Pazzo where we proceeded to have some delicious food. We had pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes, parmesan cheese with honey and balsamic on top, several types of bruschetta, and prosciutto on breadsticks along with some German beer for The Husband and bellinis made with elderflower for me. Excellent. Who would have thought the Courtyard by Marriott would have such culinary wonders?

Loved that everyone rides bikes here instead of driving

Me and my friend Mozart

Those are the Alps in the background

Officially the ugliest shoes I've ever seen - Those are Croc boots!

The Husband and his gigantic chocolate pretzel

Our two purchases - the most delicious chocolate bar ever (and I don't even like sweets) and a bottle of liquor shaped like a violin


The Husband met me at the airport at the lovely hour at 6:30 am when my flight got in. We took the S-Bahn into central Munich. It's 18 Euros for an all day pass for all zones for 2 people.

Our hotel was right near the main train station, Hauptbahnhopf. We were staying right near the train station at Fleming's Hotel - Munich City. You do need to make sure you leave the train station through the right exit though or it's a long walk to the other side.

We found a great rate of $120/night for our hotel on The hotel's website was charging 142 Euros and I'm not sure if that included tax. Our room had free internet which is one of our favorite amenities.

Our room also had bizarro showers. And by bizarro I mean they are see-through and visible by anyone and everyone that is in the room. Not a good hotel choice unless you're travelling by yourself, with a significant other, or are just an exhibitionist.

Our hotel also had a fabulous breakfast that was included in the room rate. A whole bread selection, made to order eggs, several juices, cereal, yogurts, a cheese selection, and a meat selection. Maybe one of the best breakfasts I've seen but that could be because I got to eat wedges of brie cheese at 8 am.

There was a free tour available of Munich but it was only 8 am and the tour didn't start until 10:45 am. Another highly recommended tour is Mike's Bike Tour but we weren't sure how into physical activity I'd be after my overnight flight the night before. Instead we followed a walking tour I'd printed off of

The tour took us all over Alstadt, the Old City. We climbed the tower of Peterskirche which gives a view all the way to the Alps if the sky is clear. It wasn't clear enough for that but we got a great view of the city and a great workout walking up all 300 steps.

My favorite thing in Munich was located behind Peterskirche and is called Viktualienmarkt and is a giant market. We were there early in the morning while they were setting up. It was amazing. I have never seen so many great shops with cheese, vegetable stands, butchers, florists, and wine shops. I would go here every day if I lived in Munich. We would have loved to have bought some meat, cheese, and bread and made a lunch for ourselves at the picnic tables if it had been warmer. It was freezing out though even with our winter coats, gloves, and hats on so we planned on heading indoors for lunch.

After watching the Glockenspiel we headed inside for lunch for beers and food at Donisl which was also in Marienplatz. Donisl is Munich's oldest beer hall and we wanted to try the authentic Germany food. We tried and were not fans. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the food before we came but I thought I'd give it a try. The Husband had been eating German food all week on his business trip and wasn't a huge fan. The beer was good though.

We headed back to our hotel for a very long nap for myself. While I was napping The Husband was emailing a group of friends about the start of March Madness since our school was playing that night. They were arguing about who had the first beer of the day when one of guys said he'd had a beer at 12:30 at the Hofbrauhaus so he won. Turns out our friend Jay and his family were in Munich too!
We met Jay for drinks at his nearby hotel and had the pleasure of meeting his adorable new baby Lauren who is only 4 months old. We also discovered the wonderful restaurant Oleo Passo which is where we had drinks. I had a great prosciutto and breadstick appetizer there. Jay went off to put the baby to bed and we went out to dinner.
We chose an Italian restuarant, La Valle, since we'd had enough German food for the day. We shared a margherita pizza and a bowl of spaghetti carbonara before heading over to the Hofbrauhaus. It was good food and really the two of us think you can never go wrong with Italian food.
No visit to Munich is complete without a trip to the Hofbrauhaus. I've been to Cincinnati's version of the Hofbrauhaus many times. Cincinnati is Munich's sister city and has an extremely large German population and their Hofbrauhaus is a good time as well. The beer was delicious, the people at the large shared tables were friendly, and the music fun, and the atmosphere jovial.
It was a great time. When I was in college we thought it was cool to steal the beer steins from the Hofbrauhaus in Cincinnati. Since I'm a grown-up now I managed to restrain myself and my large purse didn't come home with any cool new glasses. The Hofbrauhaus closes down around midnight, as do all other beer halls, and the cool people of Munich head off to clubs where they stay out all night and return home with the sun. Since we're not cool and would prefer to spend the next day seeing some sights instead of nursing hangovers, we headed back to our hotel.