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Friday, July 29, 2016

Psyched!!!

OK - everyone knows how much I LOVE to travel - even my travel loving husband says he doesn't want to travel as much as I do.  Other than missing my cat Lucy, I would have us be gone pretty much half the time- being elsewhere- discovering new things and exploring our world.  And to that end I have signed up for a new trip this week.

For years (actually since I returned from my first trip to India in 2005) I have wanted to do what travelers refer to as "the five 'stans" (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) but Phil is completely uninterested.... and my "danger zone" travel buddy for many years has now made traveling to golf courses a higher priority than exotic travel so alas the 'stans were back burner-ed for me for a long time.


The Silk Route has always fascinated me and we spent time in western China just a couple of years ago on the Tea Horse Road which was just a different trade route from the same era as the Silk Route.

Then last week I was checking on the website of a travel company we have used to plan trips for us to the former Soviet Union countries (most recently our trip to Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Transdniestria, and Odessa last fall) and found a trip that was perfect for me! It was about markets and food and culture and architecture. It is being led by the author of the new travel/cook book called Samarkand.  Her name is Caroline Eden.  I bought the book and have been pouring over the photos (many wonderful photos) and the recipes (many wonderful recipes) for the last day and a half....

The trip is a "getting my toes wet" kind of dip into the 'stans because it is only ten days long and only focuses on the "Backstreets and Bazaars" of Uzbekistan. I am already so excited about this one. The one draw back is (as with India) getting there... but just like my first trip to Asia (Thailand in 2000) turned out to be a non-event and my India trips were long and involved but a vague memory once you are there on the ground.... this too will be a very very long day of east-bound travel but then I will be somewhere I have never been before.

I think only my Aunt can really appreciate the emotion behind that sentence I just typed "then I will be somewhere I have never been before" - it is that side of the family that holds the travel gene.

then I will be somewhere I have never been before

It isn't that I want to go everywhere - I don't - but there are many places I do still want to see. And while my sister has already left this planet (and didn't get that gene anyway) I am still here and as long as I am I want to keep exploring.  I spend a lot of time in my life in contemplation and despite what you may have concluded about me given the social life we lead (my husband recharges with human interaction) there are many days I never leave home.  I used to say I was agoraphobic LOL - and people would laugh - but it was true in a weird way, because I would only leave the house to go to O'Hare and leave the country.  Then I met Phil and social activities became a part of my married life.

Still the easiest way for me to get outside of myself is to travel.  So this trip- run by this woman- to this place- spoke to me.

this is her book's dedication:



here is the route map and a few photos from the travel agent's website (we use Joanna Millick at MIRcorp.)











From the MIR travel details-

Join renowned travel writer Caroline Eden as you taste your way through the vibrant heart of the Silk Road, Uzbekistan, on a culinary and cultural caravan held during the height of Navruz. A centuries-old festival, Navruz is a joyous welcoming of the return of spring and the beginning of a new year, when families and local communities celebrate over sumptuous feasts, songs and dance. Beginning in the modern capital of Tashkent, introduce your palate to the exciting tastes of Uzbek cuisine during a meeting with one of the city’s renowned chefs. Explore the ancient architecture of three of the most celebrated Silk Road oases – Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand – and browse their famed markets and bazaars for the brilliant silks, ceramics and spices that gave the region its exotic flavor. Join with the locals in celebrating Navruz at a special community ceremony, and gather for a festive Navruz dinner. Along the way, participate in hands-on cooking classes and demonstrations, meet with master artisans in their workshops, dine with local families in their private homes and discover the rich history, enduring traditions and abundant hospitality essential to everyday Uzbek culture.

and these are some of the travel/cook book's illustrative photos -





all the book's photographs were done by Laura Edwards and are wonderfully evocative.  As I titled the post- I am SO PSYCHED to be doing this trip next March....

Thursday, July 28, 2016

OH Oriole!

So we loved loved loved Senza when it was open.  Noah & Cara Sandoval had created a lovely place with excellent food - so good I believe it had received one Michelin star while it was open.

here are my prior reviews:
http://blog.semifreelife.com/2014/08/sensational-senza.html

http://blog.semifreelife.com/2014/09/another-round-of-senzations.html

and this one only has the menu from our first outing there because I forgot my phone :-(
http://blog.semifreelife.com/2014/07/we-come-home-and-go-out.html

Unfortunately the jerks who owned the property and ran a gluten free (YUCK) bakery there in the mornings to mid-afternoon decided that if Noah and Cara could run a successful dinner place there they could too.... just bypassing the fact that Noah is a real chef and they were women baking cardboard cookies... But hey- we live in America - a free country where everyone can think they are qualified for anything, despite the reality of lack of talent looming large in front of them.

But enough of the rant.  Because the story has a happy ending. After a bit of time to regroup Noah & Cara are back with Oriole! And they brought the "band back together" as well as adding new talent!

I almost called this post "NINE Lives are barely enough...." because I kept telling the servers after each course I had died and gone to heaven LOL- so many times I needed cat lives to make it to the end of the evening.  If I said everything was perfect I would really not be lying in the least.  Sure there were things I liked better than others but each course was well thought out and balanced all elements in flavor - texture and presentation.  The service was impeccable (of course we were partial to our old buddy Tori who moved with Cara and Noah from Senza - with an interval at Intro).  The meal was so stupendous we have already made our plans for our three next visits.... with August being gone with the Scandinavia trip - we only have September and October before we head south to Michelin free land (which sadly has no ethnic food either- but does have terrific seafood!)

"Oriole is a restaurant hidden down an alley-like street in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, offering an extended tasting menu presented by Executive Chef & Owner Noah Sandoval and Pastry Chef & Partner Genie Kwon.  The Michelin-starred and Jean Banchet award-winning team hosts 28 in an intimate and elegant dining room shared with an open kitchen. Never bending to industry trends, the dishes and service at Oriole give guests a thought-provoking and interactive experience, where the diner is the true focus of the meal." (from their website)

So here is what happened on our magical evening at Oriole.  We arrived and found parking (for free!) steps away from the entrance and when we stopped to take a photo the door opened (like magic) and we were warmly greeted. The vestibule was small and rather dimly lit and opened onto a freight elevator (the kind that divides in half and part goes down to floor level and the other half goes up out of sight) and when it was opened up it was like a cool magical drawbridge to the inner sanctum of the dining room. From the elevator we proceeded to our table through a short hallway draped in dark material and emerged into a lovely dining area softly lit with japanese lanterns as well as some 'terrific for photos' lighting that was focused downward directly onto the table tops!

the exposed brick and  rough hewn posts of the warehouse space contrast nicely with the sparsely decorated space - food is the main event here.  And I can add it does NOT get any better than this - in any way... attentive and friendly service and amazing food which will be detailed later in a room lively but for the most part moderate when it comes to sound level.  We literally came home and made several more reservations.

here is where we started -









the menu course by course-























we got gifts to take home from Geni Kwon! She was delightful and I got to have my photo taken with the team and then with the ownership group...


 

WOW WOW WOW-  I did die and go to heaven on any number of courses- this was as close to flawless as you can get... thank you to Noah and Cara and Genie and Aaron and the whole team - including Tori (a special shout out for the longest running relationship we have LOL she was our server the first visit to Senza memorialized in the post linked above) It was a wonderful evening! Really special - we were welcomed warmly and left feeling like we had spent the evening with friends!