Archive for January, 2008

Is That Ringing in My Ears?

I’ve been having a problem with what I’ve been calling “the beep.” Basically, it’s someone’s fax machine that has been calling the apartment over and over and over again. It started late last week. I must have received 30 calls in an hour or so — and I left the phone plugged in because I was trying to get the problem fixed with the doorman/building manager. It ended up with me unplugging the phone.

The next day, I plugged it in and had a bunch of beep messages and started receiving more calls. I unplugged again. We didn’t get any calls on the weekend, but come Monday morning at 9:08, it started again. It beeped Tuesday and Wednesday, too. Both times I unplugged, and plugged back in to get plenty of messages.

I felt like I was being tortured. I couldn’t make it stop. The building people couldn’t make it stop. BT couldn’t make it stop. And it just kept ringing. Oh, and this phone has a very loud, jarring ring, too. And the fax didn’t have a traceable number. I thought I may lose my mind.

Today I haven’t gotten any calls. Let’s hope this is over.

Update, Feb 1: The beep is back. Rang 5 times already. And Mario isn’t around to help. Not cool, fax machine.

Update, still Feb 1: Unplugged after at least 8 rings (I lots count, actually), but was asked to plug it back in so BT could potentially fix the problem. While they were supposedly fiddling, I got at least 6 more calls, and I had 7 on my voice mail. Mario has been super nice trying to get everything straightened out and it sounds like he’s really getting the runaround from all the people he’s been calling to stop these infernal calls. He even offered to let us switch apartments, though ours is a bit nicer than the alternative, so we’re staying put. The phone shall remain unplugged until they can change the number or figure something else out.

A Slightly Uncomfortable Lunch at No. 7 Market Tavern

Market Tavern StairsNo. 7 Market Tavern is a fun place to go grab a drink. They have a good beer and cider selection and plenty more on the menu. In the evenings it’s quite crowded, with people often sitting and standing outside. Upstairs, there’s a wine bar/lounge called the Chesterfield Room, which I’d never been to before, and I ended up eating lunch up there today.

When I walked into the pub, I wasn’t quite sure whether to wait to be seated or just go grab a spot, and I felt a little uncomfortable about just plopping down because the tables available were all much larger than I needed. After standing around looking helpless for a few minutes, the bartender asked me what I’d like to do and told me that I could also eat upstairs, so I decided to go check out the mysterious Chesterfield Room.

Market Tavern, Chesterfield RoomIt was decorated in red, orange and burgundy, with lots of velvet, wallpaper and chandeliers. It also smelled better than the beer and wet bar cloth smell downstairs, so I decided to stay upstairs. I ordered a sandwich and a soda, and settled in to read my favorite magazine, The Believer. I’m a few issues behind, so I was working on December, which so far is great. I read an article about people’s obsession with cuteness and another about destructive modern art in NYC. I love that the magazine is always different and is written by people much smarter than me.

But back to lunch, things started going wrong when I was served the wrong meal. The waiter was apologetic, though, and brought the sandwich I had been expecting pretty quickly. It was OK. Nothing too special, just grilled vegetables and hummus. It was served with a few parsnip chips, which I enjoyed. And the Diet Coke here tastes so much better than the kind we get in the U.S.

Market Tavern, Chesterfield RoomAnd then the fighting started. The small room was pretty quiet when I walked in. The only diners were me and a table of three women discussing hedge funds. There was a bartender/waiter manning the bar, and he was pretty relaxed since things weren’t busy. And then another bartender/waitress, who seemed to also be a manger came upstairs and started yelling at him. There seemed to be some scheduling/break time conflict and she was not happy. It wasn’t a few quiet words in a corner, but a fit in the middle of the room. It was hard to tune it out, and I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to disturb them to ask for my bill.

The fight went on for a good 10 minutes or so, and once it was done, I was out of there. Probably won’t be going back there for lunch, though I’ll probably still end up there for drinks again sometime.

Sorry the lighting wasn’t great for my cell phone photos. The stairs, which have some fantastically funky wallpaper, ended up being the best shot.

You Have to Try This Veggie Burger

I’ve never been passionate about veggie burgers the same way people are passionate about their meaty counterparts. I eat them. Occasionally I enjoy them. But generally, I find them bland. The flavor is often all left up to how much cheese, ketchup or other kinds of sauces you can put on it to obscure its dry, chalky, barely-there taste. Or otherwise people try to get too fauxrganic, with sprouts and other things that really have no place on a proper burger.

Last night, though, everything changed. I was introduced to the puy lentil burger at GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) in Soho. It sounded interesting and had a clearly Indian flair, though the restaurant’s description only said, “Puy lentils, potato, green curry, spring onion, salad & relish.” What I got was a piping hot (Mom, you’d love it!), large green patty on a perfectly toasted sesame seed bun, which absolutely blew me away. First, I could actually taste the veggie patty, and it was delicious, didn’t fall apart and had an even consistency. The curry flavor wasn’t overpowering, but it was distinct and worked wonderfully with the tomatoey relish it was topped off with.

I burned my mouth a bit, since it was so hot, but I just didn’t want to wait for it to cool down. I’m inspired to learn how to make my own veggie patties now. I just don’t see how I can ever eat a Garden Burger again, and especially not a Boca Burger. And I’m actually a bit enraged about all the poor quality veggie burgers I’ve been served in U.S. restaurants in the past. I feel cheated.

I’m sure the other vegetarian options are fine — there are a few portobello burger options, which I tend to find a bit boring or overly greasy at other places, and there’s a falafel option as well — and I probably will try them eventually, but this veggie burger alone is worth going back for.

Evan had an organic wild boar burger and said my veggie burger was better. We also had some fries, which were also super hot. And we had a mayo chili dipping sauce, which was good, though I hear their mayo garlic sauce is even better. And the ketchup came in cute tomato-shaped squeeze bottles that were on all the tables. Now, I can’t wait to go back.

Lunch at Cookbook Cafe

Cookbook CafeToday I wandered down the street looking for a nice lunch at a cute little cafe I’d walked by a few times before — Cookbook Cafe. Once I realized it was in the Intercontinental, though, I got a bit worried that it would be too pricey or too stuffy or that I would just feel like a bit of a fool. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Walking through the clean and elegant lobby, bar area and cafe area, with its leather seats, shiny tables and small, square pieces of artwork, I stopped to check out the lobby menus. Not bad, but not a huge selection. I figured if the restaurant wasn’t going to work out, I could settle for a sandwich or some sort of snack out there. There prices were more than what I’d normally spend on lunch — 10 to 20 pounds — but it was a nice, soothing environment where I could at least pull my laptop out and get some work done while sitting in a comfortable spot.

When I got to the restaurant, I asked about the menu. It turns out that it’s just as affordable, if not more so than the lobby. And the market table was calling my name. I haven’t encountered too many market tables in restaurants before, but they seem to be the higher-class cousin of the salad bar. No sneeze guard. No regularly shaped and spaced slots. Just an abundance of fresh breads, salads, cheeses and more, laid out on a nice, big, wooden table. For 12 pounds, my meal also included some delicious pumpkin parmesan soup and dessert.

Market Table, Cookbook CafeThe service was also very friendly. My waiter was a very friendly hotel/hospitality management student from China who has been in London for two years now. The restaurant wasn’t very full, and it had a quiet, soothing atmosphere, with lots of clean lines and soft music. It would be a great place for a business meeting, and unsurprisingly, the rest of their clientele was in suits.

And now that I found the Cafe’s website, I have found out they have a “Chocolate Master Class.” Their description: “You will be starting with a glass of bubbles, Keith will demonstrate some tips and tricks, you will be tasting various chocolates and then you can make your own box of your signature truffles. To finish the sweetness off, our mixologist and bar manager Joel will teach you how to make the most seductive Chocolate Swirl Martini.” OK, I’m sold. Next class is on February 6 if anyone wants to join me.

London Bloggers Meetup

Last night I went to what sounds like the nerdiest event I’ve ever been to — the London Bloggers Meetup. I’d read about it on Londonist, but was a bit iffy about hanging out with a room full of blogger-strangers, but I found out I knew one person going (Mike), so decided to check it out.

The walk to the pub, the Camel & Artichoke, was rather scary — it involved walking through some underpasses and down dark, quiet streets and really made me wish I had some pepper spray just in case, or a better route to get there — but I made it there safely, met quite a few new people and had a few drinks courtesy of Qype. I even met some Canadians and Americans, including a guy who also went to USC and graduated 2 years after me.

It seemed like every other person I met was from Londonist, and thankfully they’re a really nice crew. I feel like I just went on and on about how much fun I’m having here and all the things that are totally foreign to me to anyone who would listen. My wildlife experiences in St. James Park got a few laughs, which was good. Though apparently last summer a pelican ate a pigeon right in front of everyone — now THAT would have been something for me to write about! I also finally figured out how to properly write my phone number (Thanks for the tutorial, Andy!).

I did a much better job getting back to the train station since I walked with a few people who knew the back way in. I had a bit of trouble finding my train, since the line wasn’t marked from the top of the escalator, but I ended up making it home just fine.

Britishism: Jacket Potato

Britishism: Jacket Potato

Jacket potato = baked potato

I just said potato when I ordered one the other day since there was only one potato option on the menu.

Our Friendly Neighborhood Polish-Mexican Restaurant

From the first time I walked by L’Autre, I was intrigued. A Polish and Mexican Restaurant? With a French name? Things didn’t quite add up. But the more I walked by, the more I wanted to go in and try it for myself.

I was worried I wouldn’t find any vegetarian options, but was pleasantly surprised to find several — potato and cheese pierogi, vegetarian burritos, nachos, borscht, vegetable blinis — it was quite a selection. And thankfully they don’t try to take the Polish-Mexican concept in the fusion direction. There are two separate menu sections for each cuisine.

Evan and I started with borscht and nachos. The borscht was decidedly better — from what I gleaned from our waitress, the restaurant had a Mexican chef for many years to cater to customers from the Mexican embassy nearby, but the Mexican chef left and a Polish chef came in, still cooking the Mexican (or rather, Tex-Mex) specialties along with her own Polish ones. The borscht was sweet and hot and had small, mushroom-filled tortellinis in it. It also came with some cream and hearty bread.

The nachos seemed pretty prepackaged — I doubt we’ll find homemade tortilla chips and salsa in London — but we still ate the whole small plate.

The decor of the place also leaned heavily on the Polish side, with lots of photos of Greta Garbo, military hats and lots of bottles of wine in the small, dim main room. There were some sort of funny Mexican items, like a sombrero and a Speedy Gonzales figurine. We had a lot of fun just looking around the room and finding new oddities.

We stuck with Polish food for our main courses. Evan got kielbasa and I got vegetable blinis, which I enjoyed. Both portions were huge. We walked away stuffed, and we want to make sure to save room for dessert next time we go since there were plenty of chocolaty items we wanted to try.