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About Amber

(And The Husband)

After 10 years as an attorney, I left my job at the largest law firm in the world and decided to start living my life. I am now a recovering tax lawyer, perpetual nomad, intrepid foodie, and yoga teacher, traveling the world With Husband In Tow.  I plan, Eric follows, and after 65 countries and 12 years of marriage, I want to share our travel and expat tales with you. Follow me @husbandintow

Currently: Stalled in Ubud, Bali!

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Traveling, With Husband in Tow

Tuesday
Jul152014

Chilam Balam Chicago - a Mexican Small Plate Farewell

Chilam Balam ChicagoFor our final night of gluttony in the US, our friends talked us into Chilam Balam, a new little Mexican place in the Lakeview neighborhood.  I was hesitant to go some place new, rather than an old favorite from our days living in the area, but after so many of them raved, I figured we could give it a go.

In a city filled to the brim with great, cheap Mexican restaurants and tacquerias, Chilam Balam stands above the rest.  It hosts a seasonal menu that supports local and sustainable farmers and suppliers - no large cans of refried beans here.  The whole theme is to offer Mexican small plates, like tapas, with a farm to table twist.  I am not sure how many places are doing this sort of thing in Chicago, particularly in the Lakeview neighborhood.

One of the best parts of Chilam Balam - it’s BYOB.  I always loved how many places were BYOB in Chicago, mostly due to strict liquor licensing.  What is special about Chilam Balam is that it is BYOB for beer, wine, and Tequila!  So, we brought in a bottle of Cuervo from the CVS.  They gave us a pitcher of margarita mix, and even salt rimmed glasses.  Spoiler alert: we finished the bottle… 

Interestingly, the name Chilam Balam loosely translates to "Book of the Jaguar Priest" in the Mayan language.  It refers to the 2012 “apocalypse” that everyone was stressed about a few years ago.  The owners, though, understand it more to mean that eventually, we will finish the natural resources that the earth gave to us.  Their goal is to start thinking local, green, and sustainable, so that the Jaguar Priest will leave us alone.   

Kind of cool, and very fitting considering our gluttonous trip through Chicago was coming to an end - certainly not a sustainable way for us to eat.  In fact, a sustainable eating philosophy was the entire opposite of our tour through Chicago.  It was entirely fitting, then, for our friends to drag us to Chilam Balam for our final night, as we started again to head east to our new, healthier lifestyle. 

Chilam Balam ChicagoSo, what did we eat?  

Mahi mahi ceviche with habanero, tomato, cucumber, and fresh lime: 

Chilam Balam ChicagoCorn masa memelas with black beans, aged goat cheese, arbol salsa and dressed shoots:

Chilam Balam ChicagoCauliflower tacos (that were surprisingly good) with tomato arbol salsa, cabbage, avocado, radish, and crema: 

Chilam Balam ChicagoPan seared quail with green sesame mole, tamalon, quelites (I am not sure what these last two ingredients were but the quail was good):

Chilam Balam Chicago

Grilled tuna with aguachile, pickled strawberries, grilled knob onion guacamole:

Chilam Balam ChicagoGrilled flank steak with roasted potato, crispy onion, guajillo chile and cilantro:

Chilam Balam ChicagoPork carnitas with pinto beans, guacasalsa, pineapple salsa:

Chilam Balam ChicagoGrilled pork ribs with honey-pasilla sauce, radishes, crema and queso fresco: 

Chilam Balam ChicagoAll of the food was prepared thoughtfully and fresh, and all super delicious.  By the time the giant order of pork ribs came, I was full to the brim.  Couldn’t even touch it.  My two healthier girlfriends, one of whom is a vegetarian, barely ate anything all night.  So, the boys finished off the last of the food.  They were happy to be gluttonous.  I was happy to have spent our last night in Chicago with friends.

And, this pork rib, one of the last items to be eaten that night, was certainly enjoyed.  The look on Mike’s face says it all.

Chilam Balam ChicagoChilam Balam

Located at 3023 North Broadway, Chicago

Open for dinners only, closed Monday

Also, serving brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10-2

Cash only

BYOB!!! Bring your bottle of Tequila

Friday
Jul112014

Review of Cathay Pacific Business Class - Boeing 777

I am glad we made the trip back to the US, for a variety of reasons, but I was even more excited to be heading home.  Particularly because Eric called American Airlines every day, and sometimes twice a day, for a week, to score us a miles saver ticket for Cathay Pacific Business Class.  I protested that I would have been fine in economy, particularly on Cathay, but for a 15 your flight, Chicago to Hong Kong, it was worth it. It would have been 35,000 miles in economy and only 55,000 in Business, with a continuation to Singapore.  Totally worth it. 

Unfortunately, the experience started out a bit tarnished by having another substandard business class lounge experience, this time using the British Airways lounge in Chicago O’Hare’s International Terminal.  As much as they have improved their dining options since last we flew through town, the terminal itself is sub par, and the lounge, once again, had no windows, no plane views, and no hot food, all of which were surprising. 

We waited until the boarding announcement was made and made our way to the gate.  We were far from one of the first to board, and the humongous business class cabin was filling up quickly. 

Cathay Pacific Business ClassThere were 53 business class seats, most of which were in our cabin.  then, there was a tiny exclusive cabin between the galley and the first class cabin, with only two rows.  Note to self, try to get those seats.  The purser did not introduce him or herself, but how could you provide that kind of service with so many business class seats.  

Cathay Pacific Business Class

Cathay Pacific Business ClassWe settled in quickly, ordered a glass of champagne, and looked through the amenity kit.  Interestingly, Agnes B sponsored the kits, with a different kit for men and women.  Unlike the United Global First manly amenity kit, the women’s kit was a little more funky shaped, while the men’s Cathay Pacific Business Class kit was square and more mainly.  The contents were fairly typical, and nothing to write home about.

Cathay Pacific Business Class

Cathay Pacific Business ClassUnlike United Global First, the Cathay entertainment system did not start until after take off, leaving me kind of bored as we took off.  Once in air, the movie selection was not great, although they had entire seasons of some popular shows, including Downtown Abbey (love).  The handset to work the system was set in the wall, and not in the seat, which I like.  And, there was a small screen on the handset which not only told you how much was left of your movie, but how much was left of the flight.  That was a nice feature so that you did not have to leave the movie and head to the map function to know how much time lapsed in the flight.

I stretched my legs out and although the foot rest was very far away, so far I could barely use it, the seat itself felt closed in, a little cramped.  There was very little space to enter and exit the pod, which I suppose allowed for some more privacy.  The seat was more narrow than I expected.  The seat belt on the aisle side of the seat also was very, very thick, which I noticed when seated, and when sleeping.  There was no additional foot rest, and I needed to place the seat almost in sleep mode in order to have any leverage under my legs, again a little strange. 

Cathay Pacific Business ClassAnd, the only area for drinks was on the inside of the seat, for me between me and the window, and for the middle seats, away from the aisle.   It meant that the flight attendant constantly needed to reach over me to deliver a drink or take away a drink, which felt a little off.  It did not stop me from enjoying my champagne before take off.

The meal service started shortly after take off, with a roll of Prosciutto with grilled vegetables, followed by a fairly boring salad. 

Cathay Pacific Business ClassThe meal choices included a braised abalone with chicken, a beef tenderloin, pan-seared halibut, or a pasta.  I was so stuffed from our 3 weeks in the US, that there was no way I could eat the steak. As I have mentioned before, my Airplane! PTSD prevents me from eating fish on an airplane, and I was not about to experiment with the abalone.  So, I had the lemon pepper linguine with fire roasted red pepper sauce and zucchini.  

Cathay Pacific Business ClassThe pasta was fine, and fairly light, which was really what I needed anyway.

Once again, I doubled up on dessert, starting with the cheese platter.

Cathay Pacific Business ClassThen, I moved onto the chocolate cheese cake with vanilla sauce, which was rich.

Cathay Pacific Business ClassAnd, when two post meal dishes were not enough, the Cathay Pacific Business Class provided a selection of chocolate pralines, which I of course indulged in.

I tried to get some sleep after my meal, but started to feel ill pretty soon after.  It was not a stomach issue, or a food issue, but I was feverish.  Outside of my duvet I shivered, and under the duvet it was a sweat box.  I took some ibuprofen, and slept way more than I anticipated.

Cathay Pacific Business ClassIt also meant that I missed the mid-flight meal.  After the multi course post-takeoff dinner, they served another dinner five hours later, which meant that in the last 8 hours of the flight there were snacks available, with no pre-landing meal.  This was strange, I have never experienced this on any long-haul flight, ever.  It is usually a meal at the start, a meal or snack before arrival, and in upper class cabins a snack available in between.  

Because I decided the meal service (which included seared prawns with lobster sauce, a stir-fried beef with black pepper sauce, or a wild mushroom ricotta cheese cannelloni), when I finally felt well enough to eat, about 2.5 hours before landing, I ordered a wanton noodle soup, but because the seat belt sign was on, the flight attendant was not allowed to serve soup.  The seat belt sign was on for most of the rest of the flight.  About an hour before landing, and 90 minutes after first requesting the soup, I asked once again if it were possible to have the soup before landing, as I was not feeling well but wanted to eat at least something before arrival.  She offered me a crab cake, which I declined reminding her that I was not feeling well.  Then, she offered me a fruit platter, which I accepted.  About 20 minutes later the guy across from me got soup, and when I was about ready to through an illness-influenced fit, the flight attendant arrived with soup.  It all seemed like such an ordeal.

Overall, I was happy that Eric worked so hard to get us the Cathay Business Class itinerary, particularly considering how sick I was on the flight.  I think that my body had finally started to shut down from all that I fed it in the US, and I recovered enough to eat myself silly after arriving in Hong Kong.  But, there were a few things that really surprised me, in particular how I felt shut in by the seat configuration, and the strange timing of the food service. 

We were scheduled to fly another Cathay Pacific 777 flight in Business Class on the short hop from Hong Kong to Singapore.  We were also scheduled to be in that compact cabin.  Unfortunately, Cathay switched to an older 777 configuration, with a regular old business class cabin.  So disappointing.  Even though it was only a 3 hour flight, I wanted to experience the fancy Cathay Pacific Business Class one more time, before returning to Bali, via Air Asia.  But, alas, all good things must come to an end.

Tuesday
Jul082014

Returning to a “New” Pastoral in Chicago

For our last night in Chicago, and in the US, I was torn as to what I wanted to eat.  We ate a good deal of Mexican and drank some margaritas, and we certainly drank our share of wine and ate our share of cheese (and then some).  Our friends were talking us into eating at Chilam Balam in Lakeview for Mexican.  But, I was craving one last shot at wine before we left. 

Turns out, I had the best of both worlds.  Just down the road from Chilam Balam is Pastoral, one of our old hangouts, now new and improved.  Turned out, I could have some wine and cheese before our Mexican binge.  

Pastoral ChicagoPastoral started as a small store front selling artisan cheeses, wines, and locally baked breads.  We found them because one of the owners is a Rutgers alum, and they hosted an RU alum event - a wine and cheese night.  Probably a good investment for Greg and Ken, as we spent a ton of money at Pastoral while living just down the road.  We were there every weekend picking up a loaf of California bread, along with truffle cheeses, triple creams, and smoky blues. 

I credit Pastoral with nurturing my infatuation with cheese.  

Before that time, I thought brie from the supermarket was fancy, and Eric did not even eat cheese.  Little did I know that there was an entire world of triple creams.  And, blue cheese can do more than just grace a hamburger.  I started to think about where the cheese was coming from as well.  We spent many cold nights in Chicago hanging in our basement with a bottle of red wine and a selection of cheeses. 

Pastoral ChicagoNow, Pastoral has grown up.  They have multiple locations, and recently expanded their Lakeview location next door to create a wine bar.  Which is exactly where I found myself on our final night in Chicago.  It was probably a good thing that wine bar was not around when we lived nearby.

Peter was behind the bar and walked us through our cheese selections, talked me into a surprisingly decent Michigan sparkling wine, which they have on tap! 

Pastoral ChicagoKnowing we had a full Mexican meal ahead of us, I ignored what my brain told me, and went with my heart.  I ordered, with Peter’s help, a full platter of 5 cheeses, served with fresh, warm bread, fruits, and mustard.  And, we added on a heaping pile of prosciutto onto the order.  Of course we did. 

Pastoral ChicagoWe even ran into Greg who was there for dinner.  We chatted for a bit, and he told me about some of the architectural details of Bar Pastoral.  I have known both Greg and Ken to pay so much attention to detail in their shops, and in particular in their selection of products, but this carried over into the way they designed the space, with chandeliers made of butter churners, and repurposed hardwood floors and exposed brick.

It was so great hanging in a little neighborhood wine bar, eating cheese from surrounding states and from around the world, while enjoying a few glasses of wine.  It was the perfect start to our final night in Chicago.

Pastoral

Bar Pastoral is at 2947 N. Broadway in Lakeview, open seven nights a week and Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

Loop location: 53 E. Lake (great for lunch time artisan sandwiches)

Chicago French Market: 131 N. Clinton Street

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