Friday, December 9, 2011

Anthro sweaters and my new jacket

I now remember why I avoid the mall like no other during the holiday season. No parking. Not even on a weekday lunch. :(

I debated whether or not to post these pictures since I seem to be kind of oddly evil cross-eyed in some of them, but oh well. Here we go! It'll be short and sweet!


I missed the memo that said they were starting the sale at midnight eastern. :( Sad. I think I probably would have tried to get one of those last remaining mediums if they were still there. The one in the picture is a large and it looks more like a horse blanket than a horse coat. It is surprisingly soft and comfy, but it really needs a closure of some kind. Zippers, buttons, belt ... anything! All my open cardis keep getting blown back by the wind and since I always wear thin layers inside heavier cardis, obviously I start freezing. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise that they're all sold out of the smaller sizes (in store too!). But .... it has horses on it. I like horses. :(




This is a tad big on me - my store only had mediums and bigger, and I probably would have tried on a small if they had one. I thought it worked well enough anyways. I liked the comfy retro look, and for a sweater, it was very non-itchy and soft. I bought this. (This is taken on a different day from other two - thus the uh, non cross eyes. What was wrong with me that day?!?)


Okay, here's a departure from the usual Anthro clothes. I bought this recently and decided to snap a picture of it while I was doing the other two in the dressing room as well. I've been searching for a winter jacket for a long time. I came across this jacket from In Pursuit of Pretty Things and instantly fell in love. I have an 8. I initially ordered a four, and found it insanely tight in the shoulders. (Which is odd. I don't really think I have large shoulders, and nobody on Nordstrom's site is complaining about shoulders in the reviews. Maybe it's just me.) I took it back to the store and tried a six. Still too big in the shoulders. Size 8 - shoulders are finally perfect, the rest of the coat is now too big. Thankfully, the drawstring waist fixes most of the problems, and Nordstrom shortened the sleeves for me. It's a very well made jacket and it'll keep me comfy and warm for most of winter. I don't think it'll hold up to negative temps, but nothing really does unless I go looking for the patented windproof subthermal ski jackets, I think. I'm pretty happy with this purchase. (And once again, I assure you this jacket really looks a lot better when I am not cross-eyed.)

Speaking of the mall and holiday shopping, Tmobile posted a holiday flash mob/music video that was filmed at my home mall of Woodfield Mall, outside of Chicago. It's a bit heavy on the sappy side, but I'm too amused by just seeing my mall on here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Frugal Reader’s Guide to Cheap Books

I like to read. And I love buying books. I do buy some books at full price, but there are only so many books that I’ll shell out $16 to read. And so I’ve found other cheaper ways to get my book fix.

1. The Library

Yes, the library is the most obvious way to read books for free. But not everyone takes advantage of all the features a library offers. Here are a few that my library system offers:

  • Holds – This is the #1 feature I use at my library. It’s extremely rare that a book I want to read is on the shelf at my branch. When I think of something I want to read, I can go to the website at any time of day and place a hold on the item, and it will be delivered to the branch of my choice when it’s available.
  • E-books and other formats – There are ways to read books other than physical copies. I’ve been enjoying the newly available Kindle library lending. It’s also nice to have audio books on CD for a long road trip.
  • Featured shelf – My library has a shelf of featured books. A lot of them are recent best sellers that would otherwise have a long hold line, but you can pick it right off of the featured shelf. I’ve found a lot of good books through this.

2. Used Books

This is my favorite way of getting cheap books because I get a book to keep, and I like the concept of reuse. Some good ways of getting used books:

  • Online sellers
    half
    There are many places online to buy and sell used books. Probably two of the most popular are Half.com and Amazon. I’ve bought a lot of books through Half.com. There’s a lot available for 75 cents. Shipping costs another $3.49 for paperbacks, but if you buy multiple books from one seller, it costs less for each additional book.
  • Swapping
    swap-logo-hdr
    With all the cheap books you’ll be buying, you’ll probably find that you don’t need to keep all of them once you’ve finished reading them. So… swap them! Swap your books for credits that can be used to get books on BookMooch or allow the automated system to find you items you want in exchange for items that you have on Swap.com. I really like the Swap.com system because it’s constantly looking for possible swaps for you, and you don’t have to look for them on your own. It also provides easy print-at-home mailing labels (it’s around $3.25) if you prefer not to go to the post office.
  • Used book stores
    halfpricebooks
    The stores are different everywhere, but there’s a good chance you’ll have at least one used book store in your area. In general, I’ve found prices at these stores to be a little better than buying new on Amazon, but it’s probably still going to run about $8 for a paperback. But even bargain bookstores have a bargain section, and I’ve managed to get books that were on my wishlist for only $1.

    I also have to give a special mention to my favorite bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books in Portland. If you’re ever there, it’s worth a stop. It takes up an entire city block! I’ve never stepped into Powell’s without buying something. It’s that good.
  • Thrift shops
    valuevillage
    My area’s thrift stores have a surprisingly good selection of fiction books. You may not find a specific book you’re looking for, but it’s always possible to find something good to read. Value Village’s most expensive books cost $2.99. They also do promotions. Today, I dropped off a donation and got a $3 coupon, and there was also a “buy 4 get 1 free” deal on books. So I got 5 books for less than $10!
  • Periodic sales
    Okay, I must admit, I am generally too lazy to do this sort of thing. Garage sales fall into this category. Half Price Books, my local used bookstore chain, does a huge warehouse sale every so often. Seattle Public Library does occasional book sales, too. Lots of books for a buck or two.

3. Giveaways

It took me quite awhile to find out about this source of books. And it’s incredibly awesome. Books for free? Free books even before they’re released to the public? And no catch?!

Okay, I guess there is a little bit of a catch. You have to enter for each giveaway, and chances are, you won’t win. You increase your chance at winning books by entering more giveaways (which takes time). You can always increase your odds of winning by being active on the site doing the giveaways and writing reviews.

Here are the giveaway sites I’ve found so far:

  • GoodReads
    goodreads_logo_140
    My fave so far! I’m already active on this site because this is where I keep track of books I’ve read and books I want to read. There are a lot of reasons to use this site. Virtual book clubs and book challenges, good reviews (I find the ratings much more useful than Amazon ratings), and author Q&A sessions. New giveaways start each day. You have a better chance of winning books if you’re active on the site and review the books you’ve received. I’ve been getting a few books per month through these giveaways. Examples of authors who have advanced reader copies (ARC) given away on this site: Kristen Hannah, Philippa Gregory, and Gregory Maguire.
  • LibraryThing
    This site is a lot like GoodReads, but I could never get into the interface. There are also limits on how many books you can add to your bookshelf unless you pay a subscription fee. They do a big batch of giveaways once a month. The books are probably similar to the ones on GoodReads. I never won anything, but I also didn’t try very hard or for very long.
  • NetGalley
    I just found out about this one. Advanced reader copies… but e-books! You fill out your profile, then you browse the available selection and request the ones you want. The publisher decides whether to accept or reject your request. This site is strongly oriented towards book reviewers. It isn’t mandatory to review the books, but some of the publishers won’t even consider you unless you have a book review blog with frequent updates and a number of followers. Not all have those requirements, though.


Hope this is helpful for someone out there! Enjoy the cheap/free books (but save some for me =P)!

~N

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Girls and a Goat

One last very overdue post about our trip to Chicago back in October! When trying to decide where to eat other than Alinea, I took a look at suggestions from my workplace’s Food & Wine mailing list. Moto was an option, but they weren’t open on Sunday nights. Another restaurant that got a lot of recommendations, if you could get a reservation, was Girl and the Goat. I saw that they had Opentable reservations (a big plus in my book!) so I did a search for Sunday night and saw one spot available at 9pm. So I took it. You know how perceived scarcity increases perceived value? Well, when I saw that there were no other weekend reservations available for many weeks out, I wanted to eat at the restaurant even more.

IMG_9990-2  IMG_9993-2

Really, I didn’t know that much about the restaurant beforehand other than the good reviews. Sandy did, though. Girl and the Goat is the restaurant of Stephanie Izard, the winner of the fourth season of Top Chef. I don’t have television service and I’ve never watched Top Chef, but Sandy watched that season and the chef impressed her enough to give her quite a bit of interest in the restaurant.

IMG_9986-4
Sandy in the Take Action Dress and Bouquet of Roses Heels

The ambiance at the restaurant was decidedly different from Alinea. Things seemed more dark, earthy, and casual, reflected both in the d├ęcor and the food. But there were plenty of people who were dressed up as well. Sandy was channeling Anthro spirit with her Take Action Dress and gorgeous, hard-won Bouquet of Roses Heels.

IMG_9995-2  IMG_9996-2
left: chickpeas fritters . eggplant-tomatillo caponata . crave brother's mozzarella
right: steamed mussels . goat sausage croutons . cilantro . caesar

The best way to experience the menu at Girl at the Goat is to share as many of the small plates of food as you can fit in your stomach. We tried seven and were completely full at the end. One of the first dishes to arrive was the chickpea fritters. It definitely didn’t match what I had pictured as a chickpea fritter, but the dish was delicious, one we all agreed was probably the best of the night. The mussels themselves were just okay (I’m spoiled with Washington mussels), but their accompaniments were good.

IMG_9999-2  IMG_0003-2
left: sauteed green beans . fish sauce vinaigrette . cashews
right: roasted cauliflower . pickled peppers . pine nuts . mint

Both the green beans and the cauliflower came highly recommended by online reviews and our waitress. We loved the cauliflower, but the green beans weren’t as tasty as the typical garlic preparation we were used to from Chinese restaurants. I did like the cashews and the acidity of the vinaigrette as a nice change from the typical, but I’d still go with the garlic preparation if I had to choose.

IMG_0002-2  IMG_0006-2
left: confit goat belly . bourbon butter . lobster n' crab . fennel
right: grilled pork ribs . tomatillo-mushroom slaw . grilled scallion vinaigrette

They say to come to Girl and the Goat with an open mind. Makes sense. After all, the restaurant has “goat” in the name, pictures of a cartoon goat all over the restaurant, and a good half dozen dishes that contain goat, a meat that isn’t that standard in American cuisine. We took a “goat lite” approach, getting little tastes of it through the goat sausage with the mussels and a small portion of goat belly. It won’t say the experience elevated my love of the meat to duck and pork level, but it was still good to eat. The pork ribs smelled delicious and came easily off the bone.

IMG_0007-2
wood oven roasted pig face . sunny side egg . tamarind . cilantro . potato stix

Remember the open mind thing? All over reviews on Yelp, people universally exclaimed, “Get the pig face!” Of course, we had to get the pig face. We aren’t extremely squeamish eaters, but once you hear “pig face,” it’s hard to get the image of a pig’s head staring at you out of your head. Of course, that’s not what the dish actually is. It’s just a piece of meat from the face (hidden under the egg in the picture) – a rich, sweet cut of meat. The idea behind the dish is “breakfast for dinner,” and I definitely agree that it’s a must try dish at Girl and the Goat.

IMG_0009-2  IMG_9989-2

Great dining experience, very reasonable total bill, and the good thing about the late reservation was that we got free parking! They really ARE very full. Make weekend reservations months in advance or walk in and eat at the bar. Stephanie Izard wasn’t there when we went (she actually made a stop in Seattle not long after I got back), but you can probably see her in the open kitchen if you pick a day she’s there.

~N

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waffle Dress

Okay, it’s National Novel Writing Month, so I can’t be using too many words on blogging, but a package came for me in the mail today that I thought was worth writing about.

I tried on the Noon and Night dress in Chicago last month (Jenni’s review post here). I’ve been waffling on it ever since. I really liked it, and it would be a good basic piece in my wardrobe. But was it worth $158?

noonandnight  IMG_9958
Noon and Night Dress – $158

Earlier in the year, there was the Embossed Basket Dress, just like the Noon and Night dress, but in navy with sleeves. I missed seeing it until it had sold out of my size, and to this day, it hasn’t made it to sale. I liked the idea of sleeves because I could always wear it without a cardigan. I have enough sleeveless dresses in my wardrobe.

embossedbasketdress
Embossed Basket Dress – $168

One random day, Jenni linked me to a copycat dress of Noon and Night by a different brand. I started picking out the differences that I didn’t like, and then it struck me. I never bothered searching to see if the dress was available anywhere else. Turns out, there IS something.

ASOS had a Waffle Skater Dress by Ganni (the same brand as the Anthropologie version) in black. And it was in my size. And it was on sale. And there was free shipping and free returns. And no sales tax. Too good to be true! I snagged it right away. It was cheaper than the sleeveless version at Anthro!

waffledress  IMG_0370
Ganni Waffle Skater Dress – $145.56 (formerly $242.60)

I still have to think about whether I want the Noon and Night, but now I’ll sit back and wait for sale. If I already have one version, I don’t need the other one so bad that I’d pay full price.

~N

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Meeting Sasha

PUPPIES!!!!

Okay, I am definitely more of a cat person. I can’t seem to convince Jenni and Sandy to get cats, so I guess Sandy’s new puppy is the next best thing. We’d been oohing and aahing at all the cute puppy pics and were eager to meet Sasha in person.

IMG_9843-1  IMG_1709 

We’d grabbed some White Castle (none on the West Coast =/) before heading over to Sandy’s, and she warned us that we should finish our food before Sasha came out. As you can see from the photo above, hungry Sasha was ready to eat anything! Including wood chips! Or a Frisbee!

test

Sasha reluctantly agreed not to eat us (see fake instagram hipster photo above). Instead, she settled for playfully running around the yard, stopping every once in awhile to jump up and say hi to each one of us. Sandy’s family says Sasha reminds them of a deer, and we totally saw that. Very light, graceful, and sweet.

IMG_1749  IMG_1752

One of the traits I’ll grudgingly give to dogs over cats is loyalty. My cat might like me a little better than other people because I feed him and he sees me all the time, but it’s not the same as doggie loyalty. Sandy went in the house to get something, and Jenni snapped some photos of Sasha in the meantime. Sasha had been playful and attentive to all of us while Sandy was there, but once she left, Sasha stood by the door, waiting for her owner to come back. In the second picture above, you can see the reaction when Sandy came back – head and tail eagerly pointed upwards. And when we left, we could see Sasha’s face in Sandy’s bedroom window, watching sadly as her owner went away.

IMG_9881-1  IMG_1726

Sasha’s still in doggie school for obedience or whatever they teach them, but she’s starting to learn some voice commands, which Sandy demonstrated for us. Sit, down, stay, etc. In the middle of this, Sasha gave Sandy a high-five. We’ll pretend she does that on command because it’s just so cool. =)

IMG_1718

In the end, I’m still very firmly a cat person. But I’m glad I have a cute, friendly puppy I can visit in Chicago!

~N (pictures from all three of our cameras)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Anthropologie Reviews: BFF Chicago Remix

As Sandy was the originator of our Anthropologie infatuation, visiting her wouldn't be without stopping by the local area stores to try on the new clothes for the fall 2011 season.  (Hello. =) And I know this post was long overdue.)

Nina first selected an elegant, classic dress by Ganni in gold, named the Noon & Night Dress in the Anthropologie catalog.  It fit her supremely well in size M, creating definition in her waist and hit a bit above the top of her knee.  This looked to be a keeper on her, being versatile for both casual and formal events. 


Shortly after Nina finished trying on her dress, Sandy hopped in Nina's dressing room with the Dark Grey (--it was actually more of a dove gray) Veiled Alder Dress by Yoana Baraschi in size S.


Though we all loved the intricate lace detailing, and there was nothing wrong with the fit on her, there was something that vaguely made all of us feel as if the dress made Sandy look more matronly and conservative.  We were probably more used to her wearing a bit of more 'youthful' style...not to say the dress couldn't be accessorized better to be made younger, but personal-style-wise, it seemed a bit off.

For fun, Sandy and Nina then tried on the Alary Shirtdress together (Nina in size 6 and Sandy in size 4).


Though both of them were generally fans of shirtdresses, they decided to pass on this one since the color wasn't the most flattering for both pale and darker Asian skin tones.

Then they forced me to participate in the silly fun of trying to match up lines on this ... interesting Layered Column Dress.  (Obviously, not the most flattering for those who aren't super thin or tall.)  The effect was a nice pattern in sporting matching tire treads running all over us...


The Unconditional Osier Dress in Brown Motif and size M gave Nina a silhouette similar to the Noon & Night Dress.  The fit looked perfect, but it was too bad the navy wasn't available at the store, since we were curious about comparing the two colors.  The unique, olive leaf-lace was so flattering on her, that later, I decided to try the same dress as well.  (Random disclaimer:  In the history of our friendship, none of us have had issues with having or wearing the same garments -- although we do tend to not wear it on the same day.)


On my own, I tried the Navy version of the Dog Rose Pullover in size XS.  I loved the ornate stitching and embroidery in the shoulders of this sweater, but the bell-sleeves bothered me a bit.  For a short person, it could add more volume to a smaller torso than would be preferred.  Yet I've tried the Ivory-colored version of the sweater before, and that one might balance out the thicker volume.


Copying the Unconditional Osier Dress in Brown Motif and size XS from Nina, the dress was a bit fussy to put on/take off (careful not to damage the lace) with an attached black slip on the inside.  Though it didn't seem badly constructed, the price of the dress seemed a bit much for a construction of cotton, nylon, rayon, and spandex slip that could tear easily.  Though it was flattering and fit me well, it seemed like something I could pick up from Forever 21.  I may consider picking this up if it hits sale.


Lastly, the Zenobia Tee was something Nina convinced me to try on a whim.  At first I was disinclined, since the material looked too thin and easily damaged, but I decided to try it to kill time.  The result was better than I expected, but the rayon was definitely super-see-through.  (Bra shadow is very visible underneath.)  Although I fancied the intricately-laced shoulders, I would worry about how it would survive even in a hand-wash.  It vaguely reminded me of the Hints of Mesh Tee, which I bought from Anthropologie last year, but lost its shape in the shoulders by simply becoming stretched while being on a hanger.


Anthropologie clothing styles have been running more large and shapeless, so it has been difficult for me to find enough clothes to review in my petite size. But though there are some promising items appearing for the fall and winter, I miss the more vintage styles running in their catalogues 1-2 years ago.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alinea

So as Nina already wrote in the previous post, I was graced recently with a visit from two of my best friends here in Chicago. And what better way to celebrate their visit than to take them to the best restaurant in the US? (Well, when I mean "take," I mean - providing transportation. Driving car. Not buying them dinner. I earn a nice salary, and I love these girls, but well, a restaurant with a hefty reputation like this comes with an equally hefty bill. Kind of painful for only one wallet. They earn nice salaries too. They can buy their own meals. I'm a great friend! Everyone wants a friend like me!!)

Alinea is the obvious choice for a fancy, special occasion, once-in-a-lifetime (I hope to go back there again, so fine, once-every-few-years) meal. It recently was named the #1 restaurant in America (and in North America, as well), and #6 in the world. One of my favorite genres to read is culinary documentaries, and Alinea's chef, Grant Achatz, was featured prominently in two of my favorite books: Michael Ruhlman's Soul of a Chef and Reach of a Chef, so it was almost as if I knew him before I ate there! (Nah. Not really. He doesn't give a crap about me. But it's nice to pretend.)

Our story begins two months out at the beginning of August, which is when they opened reservations for the entire month of October. 21 busy signals later, I had a reservation for three lined up. Excellent. We fast forward to the beginning of October and we were in the car driving happily towards our much anticipated dinner. I got to show off my nifty backwards driving skills, as I overdrove the entrance and had to back up towards it (there is no sign, except for a small valet sign on the ground). The restaurant setup is rather non conventional. You walk through a closed in hallway, lit with red neon lights (it does make you wonder slightly if you are heading to dinner, or getting ready to get beamed up into a spaceship), and exit that into the restaurant proper. The glassed in kitchen is to your right, I think there were some dining rooms downstairs, and there were more upstairs, which is where we went. The restaurant reminds me of a modern styled house - there's several small dining rooms, connected by a hallway, and each dining rooms looks more like a living room than a dining room. There's a large island in each room, where the wait staff preps the food and does any last minute adjustments before serving. Speaking of the wait service, I was both amused and impressed. They were all dressed in smart black suits (all men, no women that I saw) and it felt like I was being served by the Secret Service. So, this is how it feels to be POTUS! :) For such a fancy-smanchy restaurant though, the waiters made you feel relaxed with some well timed quips about the food and the service - no pretentious snobbery here ("Wuld you like some GREEEAAAYYY POUPON?")

Okay, four paragraphs in, I suppose we should finally hit some food. :) I should note that they set down clean little cute white pillows to set our tableware on each time we had a dish that required utensils. I got spoiled real quick. ;) The next night at dinner, I was very sad when I had to set my fork down on my plate because I had no pillows.)

Note: All pictures stolen from Jenni, because my iPhone pictures were not great and hers were the easiest to steal from. :)

Photobucket
STEELHEAD ROE
watermelon, kaffir lime, oxalis
This dish was bright and so prettily plated. I loved the watermelon consomme - so light and sweet and a nice opener to the meal.

Photobucket
HAMACHI
west indies spices, pineapple, ginger
Our first interesting plating of the night. We picked up the vanilla bean from the - uh, cage like enclosure - and pulled the fried fish ball off the stick. We were told by the wait staff that "it looks big, but don't worry, it'll collapse in your mouth." Well, mine didn't - so I'm sure I looked super sophisticated chewing on my overly large ball of ... spicy banana-y goodness. (Yes, hamachi and pinapple combined to make me get bananas.)

Photobucket
At this time, they placed a single page of lettuce on a chopstick down on the table as decoration. (Well, three of them, for the three of us.)

Photobucket
Our next four courses came served a log. Now, how often do you get to eat off a log'? (Our waiter thought the same. Him to the table next to us: "I don't get to say this often, but can I take your log from you?") Each dish was a single bite of shellfish, served in it's own shell.

Photobucket
OYSTER LEAF
mignonette
It looks puny, but it was great. That one tiny leaf gave you a lot of salty ocean flavor.

Photobucket
TAYLOR BAY SCALLOP
hitachino white ale, old bay
I don't remember anything about this besides a lot of foam. ;)

Photobucket
TOP NECK CLAM
carrot, soy, daiko
I believe the waiter said this was reminiscent of XO sauce. It was very nice.

Photobucket
MUSSEL
saffron, chorizo, orange
This was one of my favorites of the night. I could have eaten a giant dish of this.

Photobucket
YUBA
shrimp, miso, togarashi
I will say that I took one for the team and broke my yuba stick, so nobody else had to feel bad about being messy or ruining food. This was very nice. I normally am not a big fan of miso, but I could barely taste it in the sauce. This reminded me of a fancy shrimp tempura.

Photobucket
MACKEREL
mango, radish flower, juniper
Remember when I was talking about interesting plating? Here's one that didn't require utensils - or fingers. Nope, just pull it right off the (bouncing) wire with your mouth. This evoked a lot of giggles. I think we were all worried about stabbing ourselves in the back of the throat with the wire. And you don't look very pretty pulling it off the wire with your mouth. It was fun to figure out, though. (Again, when else are you going to get told to eat a dish with your mouth only?) I think I was giggling too much over figuring out how to eat this to remember what it tasted like, but I remember getting a strong blast from the juniper berry?.

Photobucket
WILD MUSHROOMS
pine, sumac, ramp
This is a gorgeous dish - it really looks like you're picking fresh mushrooms from the forest floor. Actually, it tasted like that too. It was a really nice, earthy, rich taste.

Photobucket
HOT POTATO
cold potato, black truffle, butter
We had to put down our cameras for this, as we received very specific instructions on how to eat this. Our waiter loomed over the table and basically refused to leave until we all followed his directions. There was a small wax bowl containing a creamy truffle soup, with a pin stuck through the bowl holding some potato and a truffle. We pulled the pin out of the bowl, dumping the potato into the soup, and then slurped everything out of the bowl in one bite. You received a blast of heat from one of the potato cubes, a polarizing effect from one of the other potato cubes, which was chilled, and thus you received the name of this dish, which was "hot potato cold potato." I remember reading in an article in which Chef Achatz talked about this dish and said he hated people spending too much time taking pictures of a dish, because by the time they were done, the temperature of the dish had changed and they ended up with "warm potato warm potato" instead. One of my favorites.

Photobucket
Photobucket
AGNEAU
sauce choron, pomme de terre noisette
We received next a very unique plating set for the next course. Gold rimmed plates, beautifully edged silverware, and a lovely goblet with beautiful scrolling on it. They said that the dish was from Escoffier and I immediately thought that the dish had been stolen from NEXT, who just had their Escoffier menu (Next is Achatz's new restaurant, in which they serve themed menus for a couple of months only). I actually just looked up Next's Paris 1906 menu and this dish was not on their menu, but ... the plates look awfully familiar. ;) This was a standout for me. The lamb was cooked nicely and had great flavor, and they served a house made hibiscus soda with it that was very nice as well.

Photobucket
VENISON
red cabbage, mustard, paprika
We finally got to use the lettuce leaf for this course! We were served the garnishes first, which was plated over the rest of the serving dish. The garnishes sat on a glass tray, which lifted up to reveal two steel hooks, which attached together to form a bowl of sorts for the lettuce leaf. The waiter spooned in some braised vension chunks, and then we could add garnishes from the glass tray, which included bell pepper slaw, pickled onions, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and a potato custard cube.

Photobucket
BLACK TRUFFLE
explosion, romaine, parmesan
Looking at the next picture makes me sad because I want another one of these right now. This was a single black truffle ravioli that exploded in your mouth (to be eaten in one bite only, not two, or else ... kaboom). I normally don't care for truffle too much (I think it tends to be a bit on the bitter side for me), but this was so incredibly delicious.

Photobucket
SQUAB
inspired by Miro
Our next dish came to us as many spoons. There was one bite on each spoon, and the waiters attempted to arrange the spoons in a very artistic arrangement (yes, they cleaned the table before they did this. They said it was a green tea spritzer that they cleaned the table with.) We were told that the main flavors were squab and lavender, and all the flavors were chosen to match well with those two. I noticed foie gras, beet jelly, and olives on the spoons, as well as a piece of roasted squab and some lavender noodles and flowers.

Photobucket
OCTOPUS
eggplant, coriander, red wine
This was similar to "hot potato cold potato" in that we were instructed to eat this all in a single slurp. The eggplant soup was really rich, light, and delicious.

Photobucket
SNOW
yuzu
Snowcone on an .... industrial screw? This was from yuza juice. It was really tart and cleansing and I would have loved more. However, I think I left more on the table than actually hit my mouth.

Photobucket
PEACH
jasmine, basil, balsamic
This was a really lovely composition of various dessert squares. The creme fraiche ice cream (the big white square) was my favorite on the plate.

Photobucket
LEMONGRASS
dragonfruit, thai basil, finger lime
Yes, it is what it looks like - a test tube! It was blocked off with lime gel at one end, and we were told to lift this to our mouth, and then just ... suck. Hard. (Insert joke here ...) It was a cool juice with cilantro and some other herbs, with a piece of dragonfruit at the very end. We were all getting really full by now, and this was really light and refreshing.

Photobucket
DARK CHOCOLATE
pumpkin pie, lingonberry, stout
Our last course for dessert was a giant spectacle. They spread out a silicon? tablemat on the table and lined up an array of garnishes and sauces on the side. Then they brought out two chocolate balls and poured - what I think is liquid nitrogen - into it, to flash freeze the ball, creating a bunch of smoke on our table. We had two chefs (one per ball) to pour and drip sauces all around the silicon tablemat. When that was completed, they picked up the now frozen chocolate ball and dropped it onto the table, causing it to explode and break, releasing all of the little goodies inside. We were all too full to properly enjoy it, but it was a really eye catching presentation.

Others:
Their wine pairing was pretty expensive, but individual glasses were reasonably well priced. Nina knows more about wine than me, but she took two half glasses and said later than if she had known how cheap they were (I think they were $9 a glass), she would opted for one or two more, maybe.
We all went for their tea offerings. I had no choice, I was getting over a cold and my throat was dying, so hot tea was a welcome option. They offered honey and fresh squeezed lemon juice, and I greatly enjoyed it. (I think this might have also been $9 for a small pot. They kind of don't tell you prices ahead of time ... I guess they assume if you can afford a meal there, you can afford their drink prices. I found it to be quite reasonable for the venue, anyways.)
The service really is top notch. They have a lot of wait staff that seem to stand around doing nothing (I'm sure they have something to do do) and they keep an eye on your table. Jenni mentioned that the water seemed to be a bit warm. About ten seconds later, a guy dashed over to take away all of our glasses and replace them with new glasses and chilled water (note: not just refill the glasses, but replace!). Also, during the last dessert course, the exploding chocolate ball, a bit of the sauce got on Jenni's dress. Without us asking, one of the waiters stopped by and offered her their business card, telling us that they would be happy to pay for dry cleaning.

I thought this was a really wonderful experience - and yes, experience, not a meal. The staff here really goes all out to make sure all aspects of the night: service, decor, presentations, ambiance, and yes - food - are all constructed to be one of a kind. It's the priciest meal I've ever had, but it's a one of a kind special event, so I judged it worth the price. You wouldn't want to do it every night, or every month, even - maybe not even every year - but .... well, I really want another black truffle ravioli explosion now. Drool.