Tag Archives: Detroit

Baltimore vs. Detroit

As a native Baltimorean, I’ve seen and heard a lot of media comparisons between Detroit and Baltimore.  Whether it was Anthony Bourdain putting both cities together (along with Buffalo) in his “Rust Belt” episode of The Travel Channel’s No Reservations, or the seemingly endless descriptions of either/both cities as a “murder capital,” “dope capital,” etc., I felt like the cities were somehow linked in American minds.  I recently finished Charlie LeDuff’s book, Detroit: An Autopsy, where the former New York Times and Detroit News journalist and Detroit native, LeDuff, describes the undercounting of murders by the Detroit police, and how Baltimore could breathe a sigh of relief when Detroit’s true numbers were revealed because that meant Baltimore was only #2 in murders that year.  Yes, we’re all so very relieved, thanks.

I recently attended a pop up dinner in Detroit where I asked my fellow diners (all Detroit-area natives) if they had heard the same Detroit-Baltimore comparisons.  They had not.  They had heard Detroit likened to Pittsburgh.  They also wondered if there were ads on TV for tourism in Detroit outside of Michigan because they had noticed an influx of East Coasters “vacationing” in the D and thought it was weird.  I said we had those “Pure Michigan” ads, but I hadn’t seen anything specifically Detroit-related.  But maybe Baltimoreans trek to Detroit just to see what all the fuss is about and if it’s really Baltimore’s twin city.

I guess all stereotypes stem from a grain of truth blown out of proportion, so peeling the onion and mixing my metaphors, let’s see what we come up with.

Both Baltimore and Detroit had booming industrial businesses in the past: Baltimore with ship building and steel, Detroit with autos.  Did you know that according to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, “the first US Navy ship ever to enter service was launched from the Harris Creek Shipyard in Fell’s Point on September 7, 1797“?  That’s pretty cool stuff.

Both cities’ industrial based economies fell on hard times.  Baltimore’s before Detroit’s, and so perhaps Baltimore has had a bit more time to “pivot its concept” to more viable revenue sources (i.e. tourism/healthcare/finance).  It seems to me (from an outsider’s perspective) that Detroit’s auto business is still trying to find its way back to greatness, plagued by scandal and financial mismanagement, they haven’t decided to throw in the towel (yet?).

Okay, crime.  Both cities definitely have bad reputations for lots of drugs, assault, murder, etc.  I think this still holds fairly true (looks like in 2012 Detroit was #1 in murder and Baltimore was #4), and luckily I never experienced first-hand any muggings or assault (unless you count that super unfortunate incident in a Subway sandwich shop where a (homeless? high?) man rubbed scented oil on my arm and the people behind the counter did nothing to throw him out or stop him from cornering me while I stood in shock utterly forgetting all karate moves I learned as a kid…and that was the shop located in the same building in which I worked!)…but I do know many people who were mugged or assaulted…often in broad daylight.  I don’t really understand enough about the societal roots and antidotes of endemic crime to speak intelligently, other than to say poverty and oppression, but that seems obvious.  Are there best methods or even uniformly applicable best practices to lowering crime?

Corruption.  Surely political corruption exists all over, and these cities are no exception: Detroit had Mayor Kilpatrick whose Wikipedia page discusses all matter of scandal from the standard (i.e. kick-backs and abuse of power: indicted) to the extreme (i.e. a stripper party and subsequent murder: metaphorical “jury” still seems to be out on his peripheral? involvement).  Baltimore had Mayor Dixon with her gift-cards-intended-for-the-poor embezzlement scandal.  Interestingly enough, Mayor Dixon’s Wikipedia page mentions that crime actually dropped during her tenure as mayor.  Good job, I guess!

Those seem to be the main hard-on-their-luck/down-and-out/blue-collars-out-of-work-when-industry-left kind of comparisons I’ve heard.  Here are some thoughts on what sets these cities apart:

Both cities are quite old by American standards: Detroit was founded in 1701 by the French and was an important city for fur trade and then for the Underground Railroad during the Civil War; Baltimore was officially founded in 1729 by the Maryland General Assembly but was settled in the prior century by the English.  But what’s interesting to me is that even though both these places have long histories, the feel in each city is very different.

In Baltimore, the neighborhoods are packed together with small row homes on cobblestone streets in the oldest parts of town, getting progressively bigger as you move away from the center.  In Detroit, the historic homes I’ve seen are larger, of the Victorian persuasion and the roads tend to be larger and wider.

The roads are the second major difference.  Detroit’s roads were perfect for the automobile industry that would become the major growth driver of the city in the 20th century.  According to Wikipedia on the history of Detroit:

“After a devastating fire in 1805, Augustus B. Woodward devised a street plan similar to Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for Washington, D.C. Detroit’s monumental avenues and traffic circles fan out in radial fashion from Campus Martius Park in the heart of the city, which facilitates traffic patterns along the city’s tree-lined boulevards and parks. Main thoroughfares radiate outward from the city center like spokes in a wheel.”

Yep.  But to me, those huge boulevard type roads are not conducive to walking from place to place easily, especially if there are large deserted patches along the way.  While Baltimore has been revived neighborhood by neighborhood, so, it would seem, has Detroit.  But whereas Baltimore’s colonial neighborhoods typically center around a market or square, with spidery roads and alleys all around, perfect for close knitting of revitalization, Detroit’s neighborhoods are more main street-esque…that is to say down a particular corridor, which may in fact be a really wide road.  Not necessarily cozy for leisurely strolls from here to there.  I think it would be hard to create that neighborhoodly charm that seems to be needed for urban renewal.  But I guess that’s why Baltimore is “charm city” and Detroit is not.

Okay, so these are completely just my newbie observations after a lifetime in Baltimore, so please feel free to disprove my theories or add in any other relevant thoughts!  But I will leave you with these two pictures of sculptures: one in Baltimore and one in Ann Arbor….not exactly Detroit, but don’t they look really similar??

bmore sculpture

aa sculpture

 

Gymnastics, Jazz, Infinite Winter

What do these have in common?  Nothing except enumerating my weekend’s activities.Gymnastics, Jazz, Infinite Winter

Friday, we went with some friends to the Men’s NCAA Gymnastic Team Finals.  Not because we’re huge gymnastics buffs or anything but because we figured it would be something fun to do, and how often do you get to attend the NCAA finals in any sport?  Michigan was defending their 2013 team championship title, and they didn’t disappoint, winning again this year.

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The whole thing was an interesting event held at the Crisler Center, where they also hold men’s basketball.  They had draped off the upper deck so it wasn’t sold out, but it was still pretty packed, and those fans are LOUD!!!  We were sitting near the Stanford cheering section who were deafening, as well as the almost equally rowdy Cal section, even though Cal wasn’t competing for a team championship; they just had a handful of gymnasts competing individually.  Shockingly, when we got home, our ears were ringing as if we’d just been to a rock concert.  Ugh.

Also, note to self, perhaps bring one of those dust/hygiene masks next time – the chalk dust floating through the air was intense.  It almost looked cloudy from afar, and everything was covered with fine white powder by the time we left.

gym2These dudes had orange shower slippers..Illinois I think.

gym3gym4Penn State on the Horizontal Bar.  They came in last, and by the end, I felt like they were hanging their heads and not really even trying…awkward.  Surprisingly the Big 10 Conference had the most schools represented between University of Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, and a few individual participants from Minnesota and Nebraska.  I’m not sure why the Big 10 takes their gymnastics so seriously, but I guess once one school does, they all do, and clearly they are quite good.  I gotta say though, I felt like Michigan made it look pretty easy as compared to some of the other schools.

gym10There was even a Michigan storm trooper cheering. gym9 This guy from Iowa has the biggest back muscles I’ve ever seen in person.  It looks like he has pillows stuffed in there.  Even though it’s more grainy, can we just zoom in on this a second?

gym9  C’mon, that looks fake…

gym8 Getting set mentally.

gym7Parallel bars look really painful.  When they land on the undersides of their upper arms…ouch!

gym6 gym5 Michigan dominated on the pummel horse.

UMich’s Sam Mikulak came in first all around.  Way to go UMich – two in a row!

Saturday, we went with our new friends, fellow Ann Arbor blogger, The Winegetter, and his wife, to downtown Detroit to check out Cliff Bell’s and find some Thai food.cb1 Cliff Bell’s is a dark and cozy jazz bar which opened in 1935.cb2 A nice little jazz trio to warm up the evening, and I love this art deco backsplash lit up in pinks and purples.

The club was one of John Clifford Bell’s many bars/clubs that he opened during and after Prohibition.  It was closed from 1985 until 2005 when it was renovated and reopened.  Some interesting features include little cocktail tables attached and jutting out at intervals from the bar itself and the fact that the building was designed by Albert Kahn.  Albert Kahn was a renowned architect of the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries, who is credited with designing many many buildings in Detroit and the environs, including University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and according to Wikipedia, is sometimes called “the architect of Detroit.”  Fun fact: his dad was a rabbi.

cb3The dark gilded interior.  The ceiling is domed and painted a deep copper color that almost looks like mahogany and softly reflects the light. cb4The exterior marquee.

After cocktail hour we exited, blinded by the fact that it was still light out, and headed to Bai Mai Thai, located barely two miles from Cliff Bell’s, still technically in downtown Detroit, but really in a seedy Dollar Store strip mall.  No matter that it smelled a bit funny and none of the empty tables had been bused since the last diners, our food was actually really tasty.  We’d been hard pressed to find good thai food in Ann Arbor, since the fast-casual chain No Thai seems to dominate the Yelp ratings, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that this was a pretty good version of drunken noodles and peanut curry (I may have even been convinced to try making curry whereas I have always shunned its coconut creaminess in the past).  We did, however, discover that those two were the better of the four dishes ordered that evening.  Good to note for later.

What with the weather being nice, it was good to get out and do some fun Ann Arbor and Detroit activities this weekend.

Monday, I made my first solo-attempt at cooking Passover Seder for Mark and me.  I made (way too much) roasted sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus and charoset (apples, walnuts, wine, dates) and gathered the ingredients for the Seder Plate (I even roasted the hard boiled egg, which was impressive since I never make eggs of any kind).  I also made a yellow Passover cake from a box with chocolate frosting which tasted a little weird (as many Passover desserts do) but good nonetheless.  The only thing I fudged was the roasted chicken which I bought pre-made at the supermarket.  Somehow it was actually cheaper than buying a raw chicken and roasting it myself, so why wouldn’t I?

passover I even broke out the good china, which I believe was my great grandmother Hannah’s.  Mark and I did the Seder readings ourselves, but we skipped the actual singing of songs since that would entail a solo on my part and chose instead just to read the lyrics.  Overall it was pretty successful if I do say so myself!!  Imagine my horror to wake up on April 15th to this wintry mess:

snow

Ugh.  Even if I’m assured that this is “the last snow of the year” it’s way too late for that; the “last snow of the year” should’ve been a month ago. 😦  Can we all agree that it’s time for spring now?  Thanks.

Ann Arbor Bucket List

Since I’m trying to get out and take better advantage of all that Ann Arbor and Michigan have to offer, I figured the best way to organize my adventures was to make a list.  Looooove lists.  And schedules.  And maps.  Okay, digressing.

In this post, I’m going to offer up the Michigan bucket list.  Restaurants, museums, cultural activities, outdoor adventures, etc.  I’m going to link back to any posts I may have written about these items, and check off anything that’s already been accomplished with an asterisk (*).  Please note that sometimes more than one of these items are discussed in the same post.  Going forward, as I write posts, I will reference back to the list and hopefully link accordingly and appropriately.  I see lots of linking and circular references in my future.

PLEASE OFFER SUGGESTIONS of things to do/see/eat that I can add!

Okay, here it goes, in hopefully some particular order:

Places to Visit in the State of Michigan:

1. Upper Peninsula

*2. Sleeping Bear Dunes

3. Mackinac Island

4. Frankenmuth

*5. Grand Haven

Cultural Activities in and around Ann Arbor/Detroit:

6. Belle Isle Conservancy and Aquarium

*7. North American International Auto Show – Detroit

*8. Dexter Cider Mill

*9. University of Michigan Museum of Art

*10. Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

11. University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

*12. Concert at The Ark

*13. Movie at State Theatre

14. Movie at Michigan Theater

15. Concert at Hill Auditorium

16. Broad Art Museum (at Michigan State)

17. The Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art

*18. Ford Presidential Library

*19. The Henry Ford (Museum)

20. Greenfield Village

Sporting Events:

*21. Detroit Lions Football

22. Detroit Tigers Baseball

23. Detroit Red Wings Hockey

*24. UMich Football

*25. UMich Wrestling

26. UMich Hockey

*27. UMich Basketball

*28. UMich Gymnastics

Outdoor Activities:

*29. Kayaking

30. Botanical Gardens

*31. Kerrytown Farmers’ Market/Artisan Market

*32. Nature Walks

Food & Drink Related:

*33. Zingerman’s (deli)

34. Zingerman’s Roadhouse (bbq)

*35. Lab (coffee and pastries)

*36. (Espresso) Bar

*37. Sweetwater’s (coffee)

*38. Sava’s

*39. Isalita

*40. Aventura

*41. Bigalora

*42. Logan

*43. Lena

*44. Vinology

45. Cafe Felix

46. Gratzi

*47. Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery

*48. Slows Bar-B-Q (Detroit)

49. Traffic Jam & Snug (Detroit)

50. Mexicantown (area of Detroit)

*51. Liberty Street Brewing (Plymouth)

*52. Cliff Bell’s (Detroit)

53. Guns and Butter (Detroit)

54. Two James Distillery (Detroit) – Can someone please weigh in on this?  This is the first Detroit distillery since prohibition (and I think currently the only) and they have a club called the Corktown 500 for which you apply (capped at 50 people), get exclusive tours and discounts, and if you are a member you can go to a weekend WHISKEY MAKING CAMP!!!!  This sounds totally up my alley of learning new skills and interesting experiences.  Problem: to join the club it is $2,000!!! Ahhhh so expensive!  Worth it?!?!?!  Anyone think yes?  Anyone want to subsidize me?  🙂

55. Eastern Market (Detroit)

*56. The Lunch Room

*57. Vellum

*58. Pacific Rim

59. Try “Detroit-style” pizza – I had no idea Detroit had its own pizza style, which is square, and according to Wikipedia: “The square shaped pizza is the result of being baked in a square pan, which is often not a pizza pan.  Rather, industrial parts trays are often used, which were originally made to hold small parts in factories.”  Crazy!  It sounds like the anti-health food, as Wiki goes on to say: “The crust of a Detroit-style pizza is noteworthy because in addition to occasionally being twice-baked, it is usually baked in a well-oiled pan to a chewy medium-well-done state that gives the bottom and edges of the crust a fried/crunchy texture.”

60. Try a Coney Island hot dog (aka Coney Dog)

Other Areas of Southeastern Michigan:

61. Corktown (Detroit)

62. Heidelberg Project (Detroit)

*63. Royal Oak – Got a “butterbeer latte” at a local coffee shop that I found on Yelp called Bean and Leaf.  It was super sweet and delicious with some toffee/butterscotch flavor, however I was confused and dismayed by the coffee sleeve that read Zingerman’s Coffee…it’s everywhere…I don’t actually feel like I’m trying something new when they have such a monopoly on the coffee/bread/sweet treat market all across Southeastern MI.

*64. Troy – To be honest, when I wrote Troy, I meant the mall.  LOL.  The Somerset Collection mall in Troy is akin to Tysons Corner in VA.  There are actually 2 malls connected by a sky bridge: one with Saks, Neiman, Burberry and other posh stores (only one salesperson even approached me in Saks because I clearly was looking more bum-like than the regular ladies who lunch set and I was even wearing jeans and not yoga pants – in other words, stepping it up!); the other mall has Nordstrom (yay for a Nordy fix) and all the other regular stores you would expect in a mall.

Misc:

65. Take a ride on the Detroit People Mover

*66. Literati Book Store

Okay, I think that’s a pretty exhaustive list at this point.  Ann Arbor friends: what am I missing?!??!

Detroit Auto Show

Detroit Auto Show

This post is a bit delayed as the North American International Auto Show was back in late January, but I just didn’t really know what to say about it.  I’m not a car person, but when in MotorCity…  So Mark and I went over to the COBO Center in Detroit one day after work to check out what all the fuss was about.

To say the show was massive would be an understatement.  These photos can’t even do justice to its scale.  Each brand had its own section with concept cars, the newest lines, light-shows, floors that swooped and sloped and changed color, walls that were entirely made up of hi-def videos, and 20-30something ladies in black dresses or suits with extra long fake eyelashes giving car commentary and specs over the sound system.

The comments I overheard were like a foreign language.  Middle aged men spouting off facts to one another about this component or engine or whatever (I have no idea).  I’m glad we went for the experience, but I am none the wiser about anything automotive, except to say “Look at that crazy one!”

So on to the photos:

IMG_2014 IMG_2015 IMG_2016 IMG_2017 IMG_2018 IMG_2019 IMG_2021 Moving machine parts on displayIMG_2023 IMG_2025 IMG_2026 IMG_2027 IMG_2029 IMG_2030 IMG_2031 IMG_2032 IMG_2035 IMG_2036 IMG_2038 IMG_2039 IMG_2040 Virtual reality driving simulatorIMG_2041

IMG_2043Loving this grill IMG_2045 There’s the color-changing floorIMG_2046 IMG_2048 IMG_2049 Enclosed scooter thing?IMG_2050 IMG_2051 IMG_2052 IMG_2053 IMG_2054 Trunk in the frontIMG_2055 IMG_2058 IMG_2059

IMG_2060Cool colors at BMW

IMG_2063A little girl starting early IMG_2064 IMG_2065 IMG_2066 Do you think these wings help with aerodynamics or just look cool?IMG_2067

IMG_2068Here we have a family rocking matching camo. I think the person on the left is the mom.  Or the son.  Ummm. There’s a third person behind them that you can’t see who is either the mom or the son also.

After the car show, we hit up Slows Bar BQ which is a super popular BBQ restaurant in a strangely vacant part of Detroit.  Maybe not strangely.  We couldn’t even find the door because it blended right in with the building, but once we got inside it was jammed packed.  An hour wait on a Tuesday?!?!?!  Car show I guess.  They moved quickly and we got amazingly delicious meat, mac n cheese, mashed sweet potatoes, fries, cornbread, etc.  I ate until I felt really sick, and it didn’t even look like I had touched my pulled pork, chicken and brisket.  They had five or six different sauces, which were all so good, I kept rotating different meat with different sauces to find the best combos.

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An excellent night out in Detroit.  Can’t wait for warmer weather to explore more!

Semi Staycation: Chicago

Mark and I took a mini vacation to Chicago this weekend, and I know what you’re thinking: Why would you trade in the freezing cold and snow of Michigan for the freezing cold and even more snow of Chicago?  While it would be fabulous to head to the tropics at this time of year, Chicago is a fairly quick and easy trip for a relaxing weekend get-a-way.

The four hour Friday afternoon drive across the state of Michigan, through Indiana and up to Chicago was easy enough and uneventful.  As we started approaching the Chicago suburbs around 2:45pm traffic became heavy and the skies, which had already been quite grey, turned even darker.  It looked like dusk.  At 2:45!  In fairness, a snow storm was rolling in (typical), but I’m not sure the sun doesn’t actually set at 3 in Chicago.  It is on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone.  (Okay, I just looked it up.  Today’s sunset is at 4:21pm, which means by 3, it’s definitely starting to get dark.)

We made our way to the Dana Hotel on North State Street, just a block off of Michigan Avenue, or The Magnificent Mile, a main street full of world-class shopping.  We chose the Dana because it is centrally located, has a spa, and they were running a really cheap winter special (apparently Chicago hotels are quite reasonable in the snowy months which is great for us being so close and yet so far that we wouldn’t go for just the day).

IMG_1539 The Dana is a chic modern hotel with “the only” outdoor winter rooftop bar (which was really like a club whose music we could hear 5 floors below).  Everything was as you would expect in a avant-garde boutique hotel: exposed cement ceilings, low lighting, large doorless shower with a glass wall looking into the bedroom and a big rainshower shower-head, floor to ceiling windows with sleek blackout shades, high-end iPod speaker docking station, and fully stocked mini bar with full-sized champagne and gourmet treats neatly packaged in designer tins.

IMG_1540 Two story lobby bar

IMG_1568 The outdoor rooftop bar featured a bar made entirely of ice!  It was actually quite comfortable by these strategically placed fire towers or the fire pit.

Before the trip, I had done some research on where we should eat while in the Windy City.  There are SO many good restaurants, so I combed through Food and Wine magazine for ideas, and Mark and I asked for friends’ suggestions.  Unfortunately even three weeks out a lot of places were booked up for dinner either Friday or Saturday night.  Food and Wine listed the bar at Pump Room in Public (high end hotel) as a must-go-to spot, so I decided to look at the menu to see if we might be interested in eating at the attached restaurant.  It looked good and they had open reservations, so I booked a table for Friday night.

As I was reading Taste by Anthony Terlato about his life building an international wine empire based in Chicago, I noted that he mentioned working with Pump Room in the 1950s to be a leader in putting fine wines on their menu.  Previously, restaurants would just offer a red or a white, as most people were not accustomed to drinking wine with dinner.  He described Pump Room as an establishment restaurant (opened in the late 1930s), where many noteworthy people ate and drank, including members of the Rat Pack.  Apparently it was the place to see and be seen.

Not having gone to the Pump Room website ahead of time, I told Mark as we were walking there, “Look, this place is supposed to be good, but it could be old and stuffy, no idea.”  Upon arriving, it was apparent that the whole place had been renovated in the past few years into a sleek and chic bar/restaurant within the elegantly modern, clean-lined-but-not-in-a-sterile-way Public hotel.  It was clearly still the place to see and be seen.  Our reservation was at 9pm, but due to the obvious popularity of restaurant, we ended up having drinks and an appetizer in the loungy part of the bar until our table was ready at 9:30.  The bar itself was wall to wall with beautiful people: men in tailored suits and horn-rimmed glasses, women with perfectly blown out locks, impeccable make-up and not a skinny going-out jean in sight.

IMG_1518 Looking into the dining room. IMG_1521 Vaulted gold walls and ceiling of the Pump Room bar.

I’ve decided that people in Chicago are generally really good looking.  Everyone I saw, and not just at Pump Room, which I’m sure draws an upscale crowd comparatively, was well groomed, well put together and all around attractive.  Chicago would be a great place to live – always a lot going on socially, extensive cultural, shopping and food offerings, but I would have to step up my wardrobe, hair and make-up game.  Sounds tiring 😉

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IMG_1524 Berry lychee champagne cocktail and garlic shrimp with chili peppers.  I gotta remember that I don’t like lychee….I think it tastes like soap.  The shrimp with crusty bread were delicious, however.

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What I also had not realized about Pump Room prior to arrival is that it is a concept restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a James Beard Award-winning chef who is potentially one of the most famous chefs in the world with restaurants everywhere.  I just got more excited than I already was to be on vacation, dressed up and eating in such a swanky-feeling place.

We ordered (and ate) a lot.

IMG_1528 Perfectly charred scallops with roasted pumpkin and sesame seeds and spaghetti squash.

IMG_1529 Super crispy yet not dry fried chicken with spinach, basil jus and buttery habanero sauce.  Our waiter was amazing and gave us detailed descriptions of everything on the menu.  He was a skilled salesman because he a) was genuinely excited about the food, b) gave us straightforward answers about what were the best dishes (#1 fried chicken, #2 short ribs, #3 scallops) without trying up-sell us, and c) was successful in having us order every single thing he recommended.

We were there with one of Mark’s friends from grad school, so the extra person made it easier for us to justify ordering lots of things to try.  We obviously had to get the three most recommended entrees, so the three of us split the scallops and fried chicken to start, and then we each ordered our own short rib entree….We probably could have split that too because it was starting to be a lot of food.

IMG_1531 The short ribs were actually lightly fried to make them crispy on the outside and fork-tender on the inside, which was a different twist.  They were served with super creamy mashed potatoes, hot pepper rings, friend onions, and then to really make them pop: macerated sour cherries and somehow fried? crispy? baked? mint and basil leaves.  THESE WERE THE BEST THING EVER.  I have no idea how they made those leaves into dried flaky crunchies, but I could just eat them from a large bag like chips if given the opportunity.

Everything was fairly straight-forward and not “frou-frou” in terms of random, over the top ingredients, but the preparation was unique, unexpected, and made the meal special.

Our waiter was spot on again in his dessert recommendations.  There were a few we wanted to try, so we ordered the doughnuts with chocolate espresso glaze, the pecan tort with ice cream (salted caramel? I can’t remember), and the chocolate chip cookie with malt ice cream.

IMG_1534 Hot doughnuts with whipped cream covered warm espresso chocolate dipping sauce, served in an espresso cup.

IMG_1535 (You can see the espresso cup for the doughnuts in the background.)  When he said “deep dish”chocolate chip cookie he wasn’t kidding.  It was also like a molten chocolate lava cake in that it had a hot melted chocolate center that oozed out when you broke into the cookie.  Our waiter was like “You must order this.”  And he was completely right.  I could have forgone the other two desserts and eaten one of these myself without sharing.  Good thing we didn’t do that though, as I already had a hard enough time sleeping stuffed to the brim with the amount of food I did consume.

IMG_1537 Pecan tart…it was fine.  Nothing spesh.

This was definitely the best meal we had of the weekend, and when I woke up Saturday morning planning on meeting two good high school friends, their husbands, and one new baby for brunch, I wasn’t hungry one bit.  But vacation is not about eating only when you are hungry 🙂

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We met them at Siena Tavern, an Italian restaurant from Executive Chef Fabio Viviani from Top Chef (Season 5).  My sister used to work with Fabio when she was on the PR team for the olive oil brand of which he was the face, and she said he does come to the restaurant fairly often.  We were on the look out, but given the super snowy coldness of the weekend, I would have stayed in California too if I were him.

IMG_1547 IMG_1546 IMG_1549 IMG_1552

Mark and I waited at the empty bar with some breakfast cocktails and rose champagne until the rest of our party arrived and we ordered appetizers to share: monkey bread (warm nubbins of chewy bread topped with caramel, hazelnut cream, and chopped hazelnuts) and bomboloni, large light doughnuts that you fill yourself from squeeze bottles of caramel, jam, or pumpkin vanilla cream.

IMG_1554 Me squeezing the pumpkin vanilla cream into the doughnut from the pointed tip of this bottle.  Note the caramel already inserted on the right-hand side.

I ordered the short rib ravioli with porcini mushrooms because, even though I was kinda short ribbed out from the night before, it’s what I had been eyeing on the menu for a few weeks.  They were pretty good; the sauce was delish but the inside of the ravioli was a little dry.  It didn’t matter though because these doughnuts were really the star of the whole breakfast.  That and the wonderful company…I loved meeting my friend’s new baby who was super tiny and cute, and hearing about my other friend’s new job (even though this means I can no longer commiserate with her in the unemployed high school friends club).

After brunch, Mark and I popped into Nordstrom (yay, first Nordstrom visit in months) to buy him a scarf because he can no longer get away with an exposed neck up in these parts.  I would have loved to stay longer but what with the Christmas crowds, it was overwhelming and claustrophobic.  We did make a plan to go (spend the day if I have my way) to the Nordstrom about an hour away in Troy, MI after the holidays though 🙂

We then headed back to the hotel for our afternoon massages.  Conde Nast Traveler has ranked the Spa at the Dana Hotel #34 of the top 75 US Hotel Spas for 2013.  I’m not sure why.  The spa was quiet, clean and the massage itself was good and reasonably priced, but I wasn’t blown away by the ambiance.  There was no sauna, hot/cold plunge pools or other amenities that I would expect in a high end spa, and the waiting/relaxation room was quite small such that multiple people didn’t have seats.  I’ve definitely been to more impressive establishments at The Four Seasons in Baltimore or at the Aria in Vegas (massages in both those places are probably at least 50% more expensive however).  In doing further research, I have now discovered that this was a readers’ poll, and there’s also a Top 100 Resort Spas in the US that is somehow different than hotel spas.  Either way, this was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, and I’m not going to look a gift massage in the mouth.

For dinner, Mark and I had a date night at David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Hotel.  A typical steakhouse known for their dry-aged hefty steaks, I chose the filet instead because I didn’t need that much more red meat in my weekend.  I liked the tan pebble leather tablecloths and the stylized mural on the room’s transom depicting fashionable businessmen and ladies.  I thought it may have been the same artist who did the paintings we saw at Chimney Rock winery in Napa, but in doing some Googling I think it was just an artist with a very similar style of portraiture.

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We headed home early Sunday, and good thing we did, because we hit some lake-effect snow around Kalamazoo and while it wasn’t a white out, the roads were slick and skiddy.

IMG_1574 Chicago burbsIMG_1586 Bridge outta ChicagoIMG_1595 Dramatic electric linesIMG_1617Getting closer to home

To round out our mini-staycation we were so fortunate to get to go to the Ravens-Lions football game on Monday night.  Thanks goodness Ford Field is in a dome because it was faaa-reeezing in Detroit (my first foray to Detroit by the way).  It was a good game (because the Ravens won) that seemed to  be relatively fast-moving even though we only scored field goals the whole time.  Only two things put a damper on a fun evening: 1. Driving home was a snowy mess with barely one lane of semi-visible pavement and 2. Mark wore a BLUE shirt!  OMG that’s the Lions color…so annoying…how could he do this to me? (Just kidding…sort of)

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What a great weekend full of fun activities and catching up with old friends.  Now it’s time to hunker down at home for the holidays.  Go Ravens!!!