Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Restaurant: Volare

Restaurant: Volare
Web Site: http://www.volarerestaurant.com/
Address: 201 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone: (312) 410-9900

Great, old school Italian restaurant in the heart of Chicago. Good, professional service staff. Was not overpriced, although if you go crazy on the wine and courses you could get there. Noise was off-the-hook loud with the room packed.

Only had a glass of wine with dinner, but list seemed full and lots of reasonable bottles. Had a nice house salad, and the fresh bread was awesome - crusty on the outside, warm and delicious on the inside. Had a sea bass special, that was with some white wine sauce with olives and spinach. My colleague had the risotto, which was probably the best I had ever had, although super hot - you needed to wait for it to cool off before you could eat it (not unexpected).

A good choice when in downtown Chicago.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Southwest to Milwaukee

It’s never fun having to get up for an early morning flight, especially when you forgot to print out the boarding pass 24 hours before the flight - missing that important chance to board in the “A” section. But after getting “B-1” you know there can’t be many people on the flight, so not so bad. Had the budget first class seat - a whole row to myself, and no person in front of me to lean back and crush my computer.

I used to hate flying Southwest because of the old boarding process (“Ready...BOARD!”) when you had to get there two hours before the flight to line up and then sprint down the jetway as fast as you could. The numbered process is much, much better and a good compromise between reserved seats and the chaos of the old method.

Southwest has a different business model than most of the others. Since they only fly 737’s, you always know what the plane will be like and no surprises like small storage (its all small storage) or a seat behind the bulkhead. And, they do seem to be on time more than most. Perhaps this is because they can swap equipment around more easily with the common aircraft throughout the fleet?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Restaurant: Big Greek Cafe, Rockville

Restaurant: Big Greek Cafe, Rockville
Web Site: http://www.biggreekcafe.com/
Address: 4007 Norbeck Rd, Rockville, MD 20853
Phone: (301) 929-9760

They call it Rockville, I list it with Olney, but it’s really Norbeck. The great crossroad of MD Route 28 (Norbeck Road) and MD Route 97 (Georgia Ave) is a small strip mall with the Big Greek Cafe. It’s been a couple of things over the years, but generally a mediterranean take out place, now greek. Always our go-to for kabobs, now our go-to for gyros. From the same people that run the Golden Flame in downtown Silver Spring, a small take out place focused on Greek dishes and comfort food.

Interior is not much, just some tables for people not really thinking about taking-out, but there’s also not much space to park here (parking is actually a challenge with this small, poorly organized strip mall), but it is worth the hassle. The salads are all big and fresh with good ingredients, and gyro meat is real meat and not pressed ground processed meat. Everything we’ve tried has been very good and good proportions, a good value place.

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Big Greek Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 15, 2011

Restaurant: Umami Moto

Restaurant: Umami Moto
Web Site: http://www.umamimoto.com/
Address: 718 N Milwaukee St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 455-6856

High end Sushi joint in downtown Milwaukee.

Here on business with colleagues. Some interesting takes on Japanese dishes, but I stuck with mostly basics but had a Salmon special which was very good (crisp on top with a barbeque like glaze). Sushi and edamame were top notch. We were in a booth in the back, and the noise level was quite high as the interior was all tile and glass. A typical design mistake where style doesn’t consider the sound reflectivity of surfaces in a public space.

I’d go again, very good food and service. I’d ask for a different place to sit, however.

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Umami Moto on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Restaurant: Pizzeria Da Marco

Restaurant: Pizzeria Da Marco
Web Site: http://www.pizzeriadamarco.net/Pizzeria_Da_Marco/Home.html
Address: 8008 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814
Phone: (301) 654-6083

A new (May 2011) pizza joint in Bethesda, right on Woodmont between St. Elmo and Cordell. Promises authentic Neapolitan pizza from a wood fired oven.

Having never been to Italy I can’t judge the authentic part. But, the wood fired oven part is pretty common around here and in general they promise thinner crust that is both chewy and crispy. Da Marco delivers on this. The crust was a little bit thicker than I expected, but very tasty and easy to eat with your hand (the way pizza is supposed to be be eaten) without grease.

The space was large and open, with a large bar stretching the length of the wall that eventually becomes the kitchen. Was there for lunch with some colleagues, so can’t really gauge the noise level for dinner. Also, has only been open a few weeks, so some weaknesses with the waiters but I would expect this to get better over time. Most of the pizzas were 11 to 13 dollars and are of the “personal” size, but plenty big as a serving. Salads were good also.

Not much of a pizza eater at this point, and there weren’t a lot of alternatives (unless you think a calzone is an alternative), but a good choice if this is what you’re looking for and you’ve grown up past the home delivery vendors.

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Pizzeria da Marco on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Restaurant: Seasons 52 North Bethesda

Restaurant: Seasons 52, North Bethesda
Web Site: http://www.seasons52.com/locations/north_bethesda.asp
Address: 11414 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD 20852
Phone: (301) 984-5252

Seasons 52 is a brand new restaurant (as of May 2011) across from White Flint Mall on Rockville Pike (the area known as “Kensington”, “Rockville”, or “North Bethesda” depending on which you think sounds more impressive). The circle of life on Rockville Pike states that when one new restaurant opens, another has to close. We’ll see how long this one will last.

First impressions are that it should be around a while. The restaurant is a chain, owned by the same group that owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, and a number of others. However, Seasons 52 seems to be a good couple of notches above the others. Their gimmick (and the name) refer to a constantly changing menu to reflect seasonal changes in the food. They also had a nicer than normal wine list for a chain, live entertainment with a piano bar, and a very slick contemporary decor. The menu tricks are flatbread appetizers with a variety of unusual toppings, all the items on the menu are less than 500 calories, and for dessert they have small little portions of various cakes and pies all in identical little squarish glasses.

The flatbreads were very good, but they cool off quickly. Once cooled they are more like stale crackers so don’t let the conversation delay eating them. Crab was one of the toppings and very good. The edamame appetizer was also interesting in that some kind of green salt was served on the side and not sprinkled on top.

Most of us had a variety of grilled seafood, all very good. Everyone was very happy with their meals. We all tried different desserts - they way they are presented encourages the party to all pick different things. But, its difficult to share - they are very small. One is very satisfying for someone that normally doesn’t order dessert, and you can order more than one if you’re used to eating a whole pie.

A little on the noisy side. Part of that was the entertainment in the bar which was piped out into the dining area. A lot of glass on the walls also makes it hard to deal with reflected sound. We were a part of 7, and it was hard to hear what the other end of the table was talking about. Service was good, wine was good, kitchen was open as well.

All in all, an enjoyable experience and well priced for the quality. Could use some adjustment to the noise level, and parking is a super hassle because of poor design of the garage area for this newly developed building.

An update October 4, 2011

In the Washington Post Sunday Magazine section from October 2, 2011 page 27 Tom Sietsema was asked about his September 4 review of Seasons 52, and how he didn't inform of the sodium level in the food. The calculation was that a meal at Seasons 52 could contain more then 4,000 mg Sodium - yikes! (Mayo Clinic recommends 2300 mg per day, 1500 a day once you reach your 50s). For anyone who has reduced their sodium intake, a 4 gram hit can actually make you feel bad. We'll be sure to keep this in mind as we make restaurant choices in the future.

There's a lot of focus on calories. Many places are way too liberal in their use of salt.

Another Update, December 2012

Close to a concert, went again out of convenience.  Had a seat in the bar which was good because of the piano player, a little noisy otherwise.  Service was very good, including a very exuberant bartender with a love of gin (he was in good company).  Seems like they got the salt content under control, perhaps they read the above mentioned Washington Post article from last year.  Good for them, they are paying attention, and working on making things better, which is somewhat rare when dining in Montgomery County where places can be crowded regardless of the job being done inside.

The "dessert shooters" are still a fun gimmick.

Another Update, May 2013

Seasons 52 gets better with each visit.  So many places have a rough start, then jump up to a mildly better level and stay there.  Seasons 52 in North Bethesda is clearly paying attention and working to improve.  The concerns about sodium levels is largely gone, the noise level concerns can be dealt with by controlling where you sit, the service gets better each time.  At this point I can't think of a better place to dine for nice food thats a little upscale on Rockville Pike.  The wine list is good also (which is a challenge in Montgomery County) with lots of nice choices by the glass.  Seasons 52 has become a real "go to" for us, especially when dining a little early before the crush of the evening hits or on a weekday.

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Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Restaurant: Clyde's of Columbia

Restaurant: Clyde's of Columbia
Web Site: http://www.clydes.com
Address: 10221 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, MD 21044
Phone: (410) 730-2828

Like all the Clyde's locations, it can't quite seem like it wants to be a fancy restaurant or an affordable restaurant. The location in Columbia seems to lean toward affordable, with much more of a casual, sports bar vibe than other locations. The long space has a a bar with a dozen beer taps as its main decoration, and a projector showing the hockey game on an 8 foot screen really shouts "sports bar". Yet, most of the patrons are there for dinner at tables along windows facing the lake, or in side rooms decorated like an old timey gentlemen club.

Service was good and attentive without being too much, the menu is varied across entrees down through burgers and sandwiches. The food is very affordable, the most expensive entry was under $30 and the special of the month was a lobster dinner for around $25. It's easy to get out of Clyde's at $30 a person including a drink or dessert which makes it a nice choice for larger groups. We were there with friends and outside of the noise level being a little high (not too high, mostly reflected noise from all the glass) it was a pleasant place to spend a few hours in conversation.

Everyone seemed happy with the food. Tuna steak was a little overcooked but I ordered medium so maybe my fault (lots of interpretation on what that means), but it was very good with wasabi sauce and greens. Other dishes were the paella, lobster, beef brisket, and grilled salmon. A liberal in the salt use, but this is common from most chefs these days.

I was surprised I liked it this much, as we've been disappointed at other Clyde's locations. This location has been here a long time and perhaps has a very long established staff and routines. For a casual place that isn't too expensive this was a good choice.

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Clyde's of Columbia

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Restaurant: Taro's by Mikuni

Restaurant: Taro's by Mikuni
Web Site: http://www.tarosbymikuni.com
Address: 1735 Arden Way, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95815
Phone: 916-564-2114

Better than average sushi joint, located in a shopping mall.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hotel: Doubletree Milwaukee Downtown

City: Milwaukee, WI
Chain: Doubletree (Hilton)
Property: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Milwaukee City Center
Address: 611 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53203
Phone Number: 414.273.2950

Check Out: March 2011 ($120)

Right downtown, easy walking to much of the downtown area.

Nice, not real high end but very clean, full service hotel that is at a reasonable price point for business travel. Gave me a hot cookie when I checked in. Hilton Honors gold status put me on the top floor.

Room was clean, comfortable, but surprisingly noisy for 10th floor. Seemed like constant police activity up and down the street. Good internet, Hilton hotel so Hilton Honors perks apply. Used the hotel dining room for breakfast ; buffet that was so so, but that's typical (big tray of eggs, potatoes, etc.).

Staff was nice, helpful.


  • Safety: 1
  • Dining: 1
  • Bar: 1
  • Internet: 1 (free for Hilton Honor)
  • Wireless in Common Areas: 1
  • Work Space, Power: 1
  • Shower: 1
  • Air Conditioning, Bed: 1 (Ditto)
  • Common Areas: 1 (Ditto)
Total: 9

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Flight: Frontier MKE to DCA

The day had all the makings of a disaster. I had to attend a meeting in Milwaukee late in the day, and there aren’t a lot of direct flights between DC and Milwaukee. But, the timing of things seemed like a noon flight up and the last flight back of the day would work thanks to the meeting schedule and the time difference. This would get me back in the office on Tuesday for a pretty full day.

Of course, panic starts to build the day before as we watch the weather report predict very nasty winter storms for Milwaukee. I decided not to panic - weather happens - and if its too bad to travel then its too bad to travel.

The sun comes up the next day and while the news is reporting bad weather, all the flights seem to be on time. So, off to the airport and wait for the plan. A minor delay (15 minutes) is easily attributed to flight issues somewhere across the country.

The plane lands in Milwaukee and it is not snowing badly, but it is cold, mildly windy, and snow is blowing everywhere. The airport seems normal except for all the slushy junk you have to walk through. But, now they are talking about winter weather back in DC. And, I find out the meeting might go long. I was prepared to spend the night if I had to, but I wanted to get back home.

As the meeting was running long I received the page that the flight back was delayed an hour. Well, probably the only time I was glad to have a flight delayed! No problems getting back to the airport, but the snow had kept going all day long.

Thanks to the delay, enough time to get a hot meal for the first time today. And, airport food is soooo delicious! (Actually, not too bad but maybe that’s just because i was so hungry).

On the plane we had to wait for the runway - it was blown over from the wind. Then, two coats of deicer.

As we took off I could watch the snow blow by the aircraft well past 10K feet. Didn't think it would be this high in the air. How do you burn fuel with water pumping into the front of the turbine? Kind of amazing when you think about it.

Now its after midnight. Still, in the air two hours later than expected and wondering what the weather will be like when I land. My advanced scouting team reports sleet, and it sounds very scary against the windows.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hotel: SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Philadelphia Plymouth Meeting

City: Plymouth Meeting, PA
Chain: SpringHill Suites (Marriott)
Property: SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Philadelphia Plymouth Meeting
Address: 430 Plymouth Road, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
Phone Number: 610.940.0400

Check Out: March 2011 ($120)

Very close to PA turnpike entrance in Plymouth Meeting, PA, northwest of Philadelphia. Central to airport via Blue Route, King of Prussia, Conshohocken.

Compare to Hampton Inn; low frills hotel targeted at business travelers with included breakfast, workspace in rooms. "Suite" in the title should be used lightly in this hotel, there are walls to break up the room in to separate work area, bedroom, and bathroom, but no doors and the TV swivels to turn between "living" and "bed" areas.

However, the room was clean, comfortable. Internet access not included. Small exercise room and pool. Small kitchen area in the room with microwave and refrigerator. For a diversion, Plymouth Meeting Mall is across the street.

Staff was nice.


  • Safety: 1
  • Dining: .5 (did not use)
  • Bar: 0
  • Internet: 0 (for a fee)
  • Wireless in Common Areas: 0
  • Work Space, Power: 1
  • Shower: 1
  • Air Conditioning, Bed: 1 (Ditto)
  • Common Areas: 1 (Ditto)
Total: 5.5

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Restaurant: Malaysia Kopitiam

Restaurant: Malaysia Kopitiam
Web Site: http://www.malaysiakopitiam.com/
Address: 1827 M St NW, Washington D.C., DC 20036-2503
Phone: 202 – 833 6232

Had lunch there with a colleague. Not too far from Dupont Circle metro, food was really good. Hadn't had Malaysian food before, really enjoyed it.

Not fancy decor, but service was good. A great choice for lunch downtown.

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Malaysia Kopitiam