Category Archives: culture

Restaurant Visit: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

As a Lincoln Park resident and avid tapas fan, it seems ridiculous to me that my first visit to Café Ba-Ba-Reeba was last week. But alas, it’s true. However, it most certainly won’t be my last visit.

Ben and I headed to Café Ba-Ba-Reeba for dinner with his aunt and uncle. We sat on the patio, which due to Chicago weather was covered and heated, but during the summer is completely open. (I do love al fresco dining.)

We started with pineapple sangria (on special) and house-made olives. As Ben’s aunt is a vegetarian, we heavily sampled the non-meat options on the menu. Even for the rest of us carnivores, the vegetarian options are delicious. We ordered mushroom empanadas (delicious), vegetarian paella (I can smell the saffron), and the Spanish cheese platter (glorious).

We also got one of my favorite dishes that Café Ba-Ba-Reeba does. I was well acquainted with this particular dish in advance of eating in the restaurant because one of my girlfriends enjoys making it for our monthly book club. It is a warm goat cheese marinara dip. Served with garlic bread, it is literally one of the best flavor combinations. (But then you give me garlic and cheese and I’m a happy camper.)

For those of you enamored by glistening veins of fat and cuts of beef, never fear, we ordered the braised beef short rib (so incredibly tender) and the cured Spanish meat tray (again served with cheese…yumm!)

I was in complete food heaven. Delightful conversation and small plates tend to lead to my most favorite dinners. The dinner that lingers on and on as food is brought in waves and the drinks are constantly refilled. It’s such a great way to catch up with friends and family.

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba
2024 Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 935-5000

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Child Safety Seats & more thoughts on driving in the UAE

My 6 months in the UAE have brought me great appreciation for US driving. Yes, there may be bad traffic & tailgating, but it’s all within reason. In the UAE, we say that there are 2 levels of accidents: super minor & fatal. I wish I could say that we meant it entirely as a joke, but it seems that accidents are a minor fender bender or someone was killed on impact. It’s horrible. Most of the time I’m convinced that if you get into a car accident in the UAE, the chance of an ambulance making it to you in time is so small. And all of this leads to my point…

That people drive like crazies in the UAE. The reason that an ambulance might not make it to the scene of a crash in time is because other motorists are driving on the shoulder (where the government has actually placed speed bumps…another worthy discussion) so that they can get to their own pressing engagements.

Now given all of this knowledge, wouldn’t you expect the parents and caregivers of children here to calculate that into their daily lives and invest in child safety seats? I suppose real problem with my question is that I used the phrase “wouldn’t you expect”. Anytime I use that phrase here, I am forced to remind myself that nothing is what you expect in the UAE. Back to the point at hand…

People do not invest in child safety seats because they are still investigating whether child seats are effective in preventing injury to children in accidents. All the while, parents allow their children to ride in the car unrestrained and essentially hopping all around the car. That is, if the children are sitting their parents laps as they pull a Britney! It’s really astonishing…

According to “Propaganda Weekly” (or one of the weekly newpapers here), doctors are starting to give away child seats to parents with newborns…

I guess that’s something…

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Namaste

India, India, India…where to begin?

I really had no idea what to expect when I arrived early Friday morning in Delhi. We arrived just before the sun rose and were in the car on the way to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is) as the sun rose. I barely slept on the plane so that made for a rough morning. After making it through all the airport junk we found our driver and drove through Delhi on the way to Agra.

Because I had no idea what to expect, I was definitely not prepared for the level of poverty that I saw on the drive to agra (which was like 3.5 hours on a “highway” where people drove on the “wrong” side of the road (english) and even then drove on the actual wrong side of the road and honked every 3 seconds (not exaggerating) on a road that had huge potholes…it made it hard to sleep). There was garbage everywhere and people just stopping to urinate on the sides of the road. In Agra itself there were tarps strung up like tents on the sides of the road and lots of people crammed into small spaces. I took a lot of pictures because I don’t think that the sight is ever something I will fully be able to explain.

The whole concept of lanes and “right of way” seems lost on the country of India and most definitely in Agra where people crossed the street at all times as did cars in every single direction. We eventually made it to our hotel in one piece. Our hotel was REALLY nice and a crazy good deal. It had one of the best spas in all of india and I got a Himalayan clay wrap (it was SOOOO nice).

For lunch, we had Indian food in the hotel which was really good and we ate in typical Indian style with no utensils. The food was delicious. After lunch we went to the “Mini Taj” and the “Agra Fort” where I again took loads of photos. The colors of the women’s saris stood out to me the most. The most vibrant colors were used and they were so pretty.

For Dinner, we went to the nicest hotel in Agra where we had managed to get a reservation for dinner despite the fact that they do not normally do reservations for guests not staying in the hotel. A lot of new security features are now in place across India after the Mumbai attacks, and gate security and limited reservations at hotels are just a couple of the new measures. Dinner was delicious yet again as I had curried quail and even ate green bell peppers (i’m hoping to hear gasps of shock from some of you, but it is in fact TRUE!).

After dinner, we were all still feeling very tired from the traveling and knew that the next day would be long, so we went right to bed.

Then the next morning we got up early and went to the Taj at daybreak, but one of the guys that we came with was late so we missed the very early light. The Taj was cool because it was built so long ago, but there were so many people and I wasn’t overly impressed. It was a little bit of a let-down.

After that we headed back to delhi (which took 5.5 hours because of heinous traffic on the way back) and after getting to delhi walked around near the parliament building and india gate. Delhi was a lot nicer. it was much cleaner and the roads were more European (boulevards and open parks). We also did a bit of shopping, where I fell in love with a (say it with me) home store…surprise, surprise. It’s called Good Earth and the site is goodearthindia.com. I am still trying to figure out if and how I can get items shipped to the US.

We stayed at the Le Meridian in Delhi since we are all avid Starwood point collectors, and as such we stayed in a nice suite which was a bonus. We enjoyed drinks in the Royal Club lounge and then had a GREAT dinner at a restaurant that has only been open for 3 weeks, so we got lots of amuse bouche samples and chats from the staff. We all had the tasting menu, so we left dinner very satisfied (at midnight). yum yum yum.

However, we then spent the next day sick, but it wasn’t from dinner. We think it was from the juice at breakfast the day before. Bummer. I was the least sick, so I went with one of the guys to the Lodhi Gardens. It was so pretty. Very much like Central Park in that there’s lots of trails, but also lots of trees and open spaces. But in addition, there were several old monuments and groups doing yoga. We were going to do yoga, but the illness put a damper on that. Later in the day we also went to the Modern Art Museum where I picked up an exhibit poster (again, surprise surprise).

We capped off the day by getting bumped up business class which was really nice. And I spent the ride back drinking Veuve for free and watching some editted movies (I’m convinced I missed some key parts of Quantum of Solace).

Hopefully I’ll have the photos posted to Shutterfly soon!

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Italia

To start, I love Florence. But to be honest, that’s nothing new. I have been in love with that city since I first visited 5 years ago. But it was amazing to be in the city (even if it was just for a weekend) as a resident. Lizzie’s apartment is located in a great location, just north of the Pointe Vecchicio and within walking distance of EVERYTHING.

I flew in on a Thursday and was lucky that Lizzie only had one class. So while she went to class, I caught up on my sleep since my flights to visit her started at 430 am. That night we went to dinner with her flatmates and some of her other friends, all of whom attend Iowa State and are in her fashion program in Italy. We went to dinner based on a recommendation from Benji, who had found the restaurant on his most recent trip to Florence: Za-Zas. Dinner was good and a nice way to fall back into the Florentine lifestyle of eating, drinking, and (as Lizzie says) “be-ing”.

The next morning Lizzie and woke up and walked around the city. We were going to climb the Duomo (in typical tourist fashion), but seeing as neither of us is really a morning person, we arrived at the Duomo after a long line had formed. We were both content to enjoy the Duomo from the ground and continue our walk to an excellent market. In an effort to get back into photography, I brought my manual SLR camera in addition to my digital and attempted to get some cool artsy shots of hanging slabs of meat and wonderfully colorful fruits and veggies.

Walking around the market helped us work up quite the appetite, so we stopped for sushi at a fun little restaurant near Santa Croce Church where the dishes move on a conveyor belt in front of your seat. Rested and rejuvenated, we continued walking on the final touch to our meal: gelato. I introduced Lizzie to Vivoli, a favorite of Mr. McPherrin, and Lizzie has since proclaimed that it is one of her 3 favorites in Florence.

Post gelato, we started our shopping spree, which ended poorly for my wallet, but great for my bag collection as I acquired a very unique and stylish brown and black leather bag, which I later wore to dinner.

For dinner we went to a hip lounge, jazz bar restaurant overlooking the Arno River and with a great view of the Uffitzi Gallery and Pointe Vecchico. I had wonderful baked ravioli and introduced Lizzie to the wonder that is Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella. Delicious. After dinner, we again sampled another of Lizzie’s favorite gelaterias, but not without racing against time to get there before it closed. We went to what lizzie calls “the Yellow one” across the Arno from the Ferragammo building.

The next day we managed to avoid the rain and Lizzie and I took a trip to the Boboli Gardens near Piazza Pitti across from her school. It was wonderful to look out at the city (and I managed to take lots of photos).

Before dinner, we made some appetizers and then headed to a wine bar that Lizzie had been dying to try because of the magnum sized bottles of Veuve Clicquot Champagne that she spied through the window. We went…and it was horrible. There was no one else in the place and some sort of sports show was on the TV when we walked in. Ok, it could get better. We ordered a glass of champagne each which was served in wine glass. Ok, not a total mood killer. We were served peanuts. What?! Champagne and peanuts doesn’t really sound like a winning combination. Needless to say, we finished our drinks and went on our way.

Instead of going straight to dinner, we decided to try a different wine bar across from Piazza Pitti, literally next door to Lizzie’s school. We found a winner. The room had wine racks up to the ceiling which was easily 18 feet high. We ordered a great Chianti Classico and a little tapas sampler. I easily could have sat there for hours and chatted with the sommeliers, but we had to go to dinner.

For dinner, Lizzie chose one of her favorite restaurants in Florence: Quattro Leoni. It’s the oldest restaurant in Florence, and its no wonder why it still exists. The food was phenomenal. Unfortunately, Lizzie and I were a little full from all the snacking, that we split pear and asparagus ravioli (to die for) and a small filet. Good food was definitely not something I went without on my trip.

The next morning, the rain found us. Since I live where it barely rains, I don’t even own an umbrella, so purchasing an umbrella was one of the first items on the agenda. After crossing it off the list, Lizzie and I made our way over to a flea market a little north of Santa Croce. Lizzie found a very cool and ornate key that she put on a chain and made into a nice necklace. I found 2 technical graphic prints for an Ionic column and a Roman Column that the woman said dated to the 1850s (not sure if I believe her, but I really like them), that I will be getting framed upon my permanent return to the US.

After that we stopped again for food and wine, because after all we are “never-miss-a-meal-Caspers”. Later in the day, we also had some cappucino and a carousel ride (only 1 euro!). We also hit a fun little vintage store where I helped Lizzie find a cool blue and white shirt. We capped off the day with another fabulous meal at Acqu Due, where we sampled “blueberry steak”. It’s a filet with blueberry sauce. The sauce must be reduced with red wine or something, but it was AMAZING. If you ever go to the restaurant, you need to order it because it was unreal how good it was. We finished our meal and raced again across Florence to get one last fix of gelato before bed and an early waking to catch my 7am flight…

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St Patty’s Celebration

So as we all know, St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty popular day in the US, with a lot of drunken debauchery and out-of-control behavior. In Abu Dhabi (since it’s a Muslim country and you can’t easily drink here…), it’s a little bit different.

Since St Pattys fell during the middle of the week here, we weren’t really going to do much to celebrate, but I ended up going out with 2 guys from work and one of their girl friends from home who was visiting. We went to an Irish bar in the Royal Meridian Hotel that had clearly been open since 2pm (because their were clearly people who had been sitting at the bar since 2, and we arrived around 830). It made for some enjoyable people watching, especially when the ridiculously drunk older women next to us started singing along with the band. Tone deaf and very drunk…also sporting some tall Guiness hats which had clearly been passed out earlier as part of a promotion. As always there were very few Americans, but lots of British and Irish. We mostly just enjoyed the unbelievablely horrible service (and I mean one waitress for the patio that held about 80), and attempted to drink away the fact that we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in a hotel bar in a city on a Desert Island in a Muslim country. It made for an interesting evening, especially watching the drunk patrons dance to the music of the semi-decent band. Drunk Irishmen have some interesting dance moves…

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Upcoming Travel plans

So as I have already mentioned, I am traveling to Florence at the end of the week to see Lizzie and I am SO excited.

But I have recently made new travel plans as well. I am going to India over Easter Weekend (we have Sunday off). I’m going with 2 other guys from work and we are flying into Delhi. I’m not entirely sure where all we are going, but I know the Taj Mahal (one of the guys is in charge of the sightseeing stuff). But I am so excited. If anyone has any advice on things to see near Delhi, let me know.

Beyond that, my life is pretty tame now. The guys that I work with borrowed 2 projectors from the office, so we have been watching a lot of the NCAA games with 3 games going at one time on one of the white walls in their apartment. Very intense, but it’s been a nice change (having American sporting events). We have been watching all of the games from cbssports.com and the quality has been really good, so that’s a big plus.

It’s starting to get a lot warmer here (and more humid), so I’m not quite sure how I will survive the summer…hmmm. Until next time…

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The Remainder of my Thanksgiving abroad

I know that most American Thanksgivings involve football (American football…not the fake kind that they play here ☺) whether it be watching or playing. Unfortunately, the Emirates do not have any sort of American football. Never fear! I did go to a rugby tournament!
Never having seen a complete rugby match, it was quite an enlightening experience. We spent the day in Dubai sitting in the sun, watching match after match. I did see the U.S. play…and then lose to England, but it was still enjoyable.
I picked up a Scottish jersey, but other than that it was fairly uneventful. I would choose an American football game over rugby any day. The crowds are a lot more lively and intense.

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