Friday, May 25, 2012

Food Fridays: The Fat Hen

I love small neighborhood centers. In Seattle, like many other places in the nation, many of the smallest neighborhood centers fell victim to changing times. These storefronts are coming alive once again with shops and restaurants that cater to locals and the neighborhood. Since these spaces tend to be in places forgotten and off the main street, rents are cheap and give new restaurateurs and shopkeepers a way to establish themselves without risking everything. Today I tried a restaurant that opened up last November in just such a space, far off the beaten track, called The Fat Hen.

The man above is the man responsible for all this deliciousness. He is from Naples originally and that background gives the menu some of its flavor. We were there for brunch and the baked eggs and the egg sandwich were both light and fresh. The serving was just right and the egg sandwich, which if poorly done comes off as cheap, was really well done: The muffin tasted artisan and fresh while the eggs and Canadian bacon were not greasy or overly runny. The baked eggs also came out with the right firmness and the sausage in the alla boscaiola baked egg dish was fantastic. Looking over the lunch menu, there are a couple of sandwiches that sound like they would hit the spot. You can browse through the menus here to see what catches your fancy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Russian Daredevils Climb to Top of Moscow State University, Give us Amazing Photos, Hang Out

Moscow State University is home to one of Moscow's "Seven Sisters", which are seven skyscrapers built in Stalinist style in the wake of World War II. The Moscow State University tower was completed in 1953, stands 787 feet tall, and is topped with the iconic red star of the era. Recently, a couple of guys found a way up (illegally) to the very top of the spire and have given us some astounding photographs of the view from there. These are three of a ton of photos over on their livejournal. Check them out!

Thanks to Marassa from the TripAdvisor Forum

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flight Report: Leaving LA

Burbank Airport

Sunset at BUR...

I ended up not getting very lucky this time around for flights. I was set to fly out on United from Burbank back to Seattle via SFO, but pretty soon it became apparent that things would take a little longer than I expected. My original flight out was delayed and finally we got the green light to board. They got all of us on board and then had to deplane everyone because there was a flow control situation in SFO.

What is flow control? Every airport has a certain capacity for accepting airplanes, which varies through the day and by visibility. Airports tend to accept fewer airplanes at night (often with a curfew to be good neighbors to the surrounding population) and when visibility is reduced they are required by the FAA to limit the number of planes that take off and land for safety reasons. San Francisco is known for fog and for being a hub for air travel and we were delayed a few hours this time around.

Everyone was ready to go and on board, literally, just before they delayed the flight

Unfortunately for me, my connection was only an hour and a half. At this point, I'm not very happy with the way that United is treating their customers and this became an example of that. A few other frequent fliers I was talking to on the flight were standing in line and told me that they had stopped bothering to try and call the new United because the wait times were so bad. That mirrors my experience since the merger with Continental as well, to the point where I've the new United has literally refused to take my call to customer service (all that I get is something like the message: "We have a high volume of people calling right now. Please try again later. Goodbye." and then an audible *click*). I can't believe that that is acceptable to them and while the official line is that this is something new with the merger, I clearly remember a couple times pre-merger where I have been unable to reach Continental during an emergency. I've recommended United in the past, but  my stance is shifting.

In total, they offered to maroon me in San Francisco, if I wanted to fly up there that night, but wouldn't provide a hotel. That wasn't an option. When I told them I had a place in Los Angeles, but would appreciate a $15 shuttle ride there, since it was now 9pm and my friend couldn't provide a ride, they said they couldn't do it despite providing that to other passengers who had to get to LAX for a reroute. They weren't interested in a single day of rental car as a solution either, so I could get there and back. I think overall my requests weren't that unreasonable, especially since afterwards it took about 1.5 hours to get back by bus because it was so late. That's a huge inconvenience and it put me with my baggage in Hollywood late at night. While places like that don't usually concern me, people had been drinking and a fight broke out across the street from me while I was trying to transfer to my next bus. The $15 shuttle ride would have been a very appreciated gesture, especially since that was all I was asking for.

...and back again the next day.

In the end, I came back the next day for my new flight: A direct flight from BUR to SEA on Alaska Air. At the start of the year, I had status matched with them and to my pleasant surprise I was welcomed with a first class seat, despite the fact that my status as a paid Alaska passenger was dubious. In IROP situation, airlines can put you on other airlines if they need to. Burbank was as trouble free, in terms of security, as ever. Even with it being lower on the priority airport totem pole, I still like it better than the other options around LA.

We had a very nice stewardess in the first class cabin who was on her first day. She was very nice and she took great care of us, but you could see that she was a little green. Because I like to take photos, I asked if I could swap seats with someone at a window seat for the climb and she asked if it was my first time on a plane (No, not quite). It was refreshing to see someone at the brink of starting a new adventure and her enthusiasm was really quite infectious. I could see that the rest of the people she was working with got a little caught up in it as well: The pilots offered a couple kids (who were on a plane for the first time) a chance to sit in the cockpit and everyone else on board seemed pretty positive.

Want more like these photos? Keep reading after the break! I've got more photos from the flight, including the inflight meal, and some really nice shots from our approach to Seattle.

Keep Reading!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Eating in LA: Three more Great Places in Downtown LA

Food Friday is back! This time with four more places to check out while you're wandering around Los Angeles. This time I'm going to cover the classics, a good new pizza place, and a hole in the wall that was good but definitely more on the adventurous side of dining. I'll have all three additional places after the break, but for now....

...we have to start off with classic sandwich of Los Angeles: The Roast Beef Sandwich from Philippe the Original. Philippe's has spent 104 years serving hungry Angelenos and this sandwich has been on the menu for 94 of those. It first appeared in 1918 for a dime a sandwich (When they celebrated 100 years of business back in 2008, that price even made a brief comeback). Simply put, Philippe's is an institution and it is not going anywhere. If you visit LA, you have to visit this place which is easy because it is right by Chinatown, Olvera Street and Union Station.

Philippe's is known for being delightfully anachronistic. The menu is a combination of classics like the sandwiches, coleslaw, and lemonade and crazy holdovers from another era. Care of a pickled pig's foot or egg? No problem. How about a single olive? That's a dime, please. Half a peach? Sure thing. Coffee? Up until this year, it was $0.09 a cup. Today, it is still less than two quarters. The women behind the counter look like they were dressed by someone running a restaurant in the run up to World War II and with a place like this, there's no real need to update the interior much. Everything feels old, well worn, and permanent. It's as if they carved the place from a single piece of stone, leaving an unchanging shell in which they run indomitable Philippe's restaurant that we know today (The saw dust on the floor is a nice touch).

It also doesn't hurt that the sandwiches are actually good. I recommend that you ask for your sandwich double dipped (they dip the sandwiches whole into au jus, instead of providing a cup). Asking for it double dipped means more of that great flavor in the bread, without it being soggy. You can add whatever you want to your meal from there, but you have to get the sandwich. 

After the break, three more restaurants including one super hole in the wall by the convention center, another LA institution, and some damned good pizza. 


Friday, May 04, 2012

Skybars in LA: Skybars and Rooftop Lounges in Los Angeles (At the Top)

I enjoy visiting skybars. Being able to look at the city below is a great feeling and lately I've been "collecting" that experience when I visit a city. My goal is to go to the highest skybar in the city and enjoy a happy hour with a frend. This time in LA, I tried three of them: The member only City Club on Bunker Hill, Rooftop Bar at The Standard, and WP24.

The City Club at Bunker Hill is a member's only club at the top of the Wells Fargo Tower. It's on the 54th floor and it's the highest skybar in the city. I managed to get in on a fluke. I'm not a member, but the person I was staying with happened to know someone who was. Lucky us.

From the bar, you can see the entire city. The prices weren't as bad as I thought they would be, but it is more expensive than other places. Then again, if you can afford the monthly membership, you can afford these prices.

The Rooftop Bar at The Standard doesn't have the same view, not by a long shot, but it is open to the public and when we visited cover free. The rooftop is separated into two areas. The first is a super-trendy lounge and the other is a faux-German beer garden. While there was no cover, a beer was $8. It's built in to the prices in any case. Overall the building is a relic that's been updated as much as they can. I don't think that I would stay here for the hotel, but I would definitely come back.

Finally, we have WP24, which is located on the 24th floor of the Marriott in the LA Live development. I have mixed feelings about the bar. The menu looked pretty good, but it's pricey as you would expect for a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. On the other hand, it's in the LA Live development which is all expensive and among the options in the area this is actually a good choice for a pre-game drink or anything in conjunction with a convention or other event in the area. The view is nice and the windows offer an unobstructed view, but it doesn't have the same feel of being embedded in the city as other skybars do. City Club is distinctly above the city and The Standard, although only on the 16th floor, is still distinctly in the city. From WP24, you get a view of the city from a couple blocks away.

Los Angeles actually has quite a number of skybars. I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list, but here is my shortlist of skybars in LA which is part of my big list of skybars worldwide. When I go back, I am definitely looking forward to trying Perch, which I didn't get around to this time. If you have any suggestions of places to add to this list, please let me know!

City Club on Bunker Hill: Wells Fargo Building, 54th floor
BonaVista: Bonaventure, 34th floor
WP24: The JW Marriot at LA Live, 24th floor
Elevate Lounge/Takami: 21st floor
Perch: Pershing Square Building, 16th floor
Rooftop Bar at The Standard: The Standard Hotel, 15th floor

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Transit in LA: Getting around LA without a Car

Los Angeles is known for being an autocentric city, but what happens if you decide not to rent a car? I did just that and I'm happy to report that the transit investments in Los Angeles have paid off and that having a car, while still convenient, is no longer mandatory. Transit in LA, at least for everywhere that I went, was a robust and accessible system that let me put more money to my trip instead of into the tank of a car (which is a lot because a gallon of gas is $4 to $6 right now in Los Angeles).

The map above is the full system map, with every bus and train listed. There really is a bus going everywhere, even if it's not very frequent. Within this network is another network of just those lines that run every 15 minutes or less. The dark red lines are for the "Metro Rapid" service, while the yellow lines are for "Metro Local", both of which are bus based services. The difference is that the "Metro Rapid" lines stop at fewer bus stops along the way, making them express buses.

Also visible on the map below are the heavy rail components of the system. The bright red, purple, and turquoise lines. These are traditional subways for the red and purple lines and modern light rail running on the surface for the turquoise line (which is actually the newly opened expo line that will one day reach Santa Monica). The slim green lines are buses that are operated by other municipal agencies, in this case the Big Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus and Rapid Service). In total, there are 44 additional transit agencies that are represented on their main system map.

After the break, we'll get into a nitty-gritty overview of the system and show off the newest pieces of my transit pass collection.

New cheap service connects Seattle and Portland for less than $10

Getting to Portland from Seattle is about to get much cheaper. Starting May 17th, passengers will be able to buy ticket on direct express buses for less than $10 a piece. There's even one ticket per bus that is $1, given out at random among the first dozen or so tickets. At $10, it is one third of the price of going with Amtrak.

The coaches are from 2009 and feature extra legroom, wifi, and power outlets on board. Even though the service is run by Greyhound, this is not the standard greyhound experience. For $10, it's hard not to see why you wouldn't want to head down to Portland to visit some coffee shops, check out some of their restaurants like Pok-Pok, or just take a look around.

What's more, their new website hints that a new connection might be in the works. On their destinations page, they show Vancouver BC's skyline with a note that tickets are on sale now. I couldn't find these on the website, but creating a $10 connection to Vancouver will shake up how how often we visit our neighboring cities.

[via Portland Afoot and Puget Sound Business Journal]