Posts on the Chicago and SF food will be coming next week, but in the mean time I thought I'd share a short list of thoughts and observations we took while on the road that I thought you might like to file away for future travels, or just some perspective on being at home in Cincinnati. They're very simple, and maybe you'll disagree, but here they are:
1. Be sure to add parking, tolls, public transportation, and taxes to your budget. Probably the biggest expense we forgot to add to our budget was parking. We are so pampered by meters that get between 15 minutes and 2 hours per quarter a pop in Cincinnati, and never needing to spend more than $10 even for an event if you'll walk a bit. At $2 an hour at most meters, and plenty of spots (like Navy Pier in Chi) that have automatic $20 rates, you'd be smart to add in a daily parking cost and bring a few rolls of quarters too. If you want to take the Skyway into Chicago or are going across any bridges and back in SF, you'll need some extra dough there as well. Oh, and even if you rent a car like we did, you'll still want to ride the El in Chicago and BART or the trolley's or Muni in SF, so plan a few bucks for this as well. As for taxes - they're at 10.25% in Chicago and 9.5% in SF. And while it looks like those taxes are going to good use in such beautifully kept cities, it does start to add up notably.
2. Be prepared when you go to wine country. I know, I know, "be prepared" should be a given all by itself. But, somehow all of our preparation did not carry over into our journey into Sonoma and Napa. We had a few suggestions from folks, and mapped them on Google (which somehow missed our final destination of Ad Hoc and our journey home in this saved version), and that was it. The first one was closed, and when we got lost we were in a bit of trouble. We have become so heavily reliant on our smartphones, that when even Verizon didn't have service, we were in a bit of trouble without a good old fashioned map. Then, the first place we went gave us stingily small pours and had a person assigned to talk to us. So, we're standing inside on a beautiful day, being ushered in and out of a spot where 3 small tastes was $10 and we were gone in 20 minutes. From there we weren't too happy with the no-so-nice folks in Healdsburg, and when we arrived in Napa there were expensive tastings and, even worse, traffic. We did have a couple nice flights at a spot in Yountsville before our dinner, but simply put - we needed a plan. On future trips, we'll:
- call ahead to check on hours, prices, whether or not they have outdoor seating, and if it is okay to eat a packed lunch or if they have food
- be sure to also ask about varietals and pick in advance what we want to taste
- not stand there and talk to the people who work at the vineyard/winery - go sit down, or ask for privacy
- sit outside, even if they don't have formal seating (on days as gorgeous as the one we had, there's just no sense in being indoors)
- ask for the flights all at once, so that we can compare one wine to the next
3. We are pampered with great food, and much of it at very good prices in Cincinnati. We'll be sharing some of our thoughts on the places we visited - many of which came with high acclaim - in the coming week, but in short, we've got a great restaurant town here in Cincinnati, and we should be happy and proud to be so lucky. There are, without a doubt, lots of things you simply cannot get here - especially when it comes to ethnic food - but by and large we are blessed to have amazing food that is extremely affordable! Many, many times we went to places that were supposed to be the best and came out feeling like we could do the same or better in Cincinnati. It's a classic small city inferiority complex, I think, to always think the grass is greener somewhere bigger, but we should stand tall!
4. I say go with the young hot chefs when you're in the big city. This is not yet a highly developed theory, but here it is in its current stage. We had less than stellar experiences at spots that were supposed to be can't miss (again, more coming soon). We trusted big names too much. Our server at one of the restaurants said that she thought a particular restaurant we asked about used to be amazing, but when they moved to a new location they got lazy because they knew, almost no matter what, they'd do brisk business every day. This is purely opinion, and I don't have nearly enough experiential knowledge to say this with any certainty, but until I have reason to think otherwise, I'm going to be seeking out the hot new folks who are clearly on the rise and aiming for the top. They won't be lazy, and you might be eating history in the making. If I had to do SF over again, in particular, I'd pay more attention to this article by a reviewer, Josh Sens, who seemed awfully tough based on the reviews of his I read while I was in town - I like tough.
A related thought - I wish we'd added together a few pretty expensive meals at prices where I didn't feel quite right asking for something else because either a) there was nothing else on the menu, it was fixed price, fixed menu, or b) it wasn't that it was that bad, it just wasn't that good. Had we gone to just one really, really expensive spot (we did not, sadly, get in to Alinea), where I would have had no hesitation whatsoever to ask for my money's worth, I bet we would have gotten more bang for our collective buck.
And there you have it - random thoughts they are. Hopefully you'll find them interesting. More coming soon!