Over the New Year's holiday, we had some friends over for my annual meat fest before my three months of the veggie life. The wife made a variation on the traditional Bo 7 Mon (7 courses of beef) which was quite good. To ring in the New Year, I bought a bottle of Suntory 18 Year Single Malt Whisky. I've had the 12 Year before and it was pretty good as a change of pace to Oban and Glenmorangie. After having the 18 Year though, I'm ready to make it my new standby. Rich/smoky flavor, extremely smooth, no harsh after taste. I usually have one or two glasses during a meal but probably ended up knocking back a few more because of how good it was.Only issue is price. At the few bars that had it (Ozumo is one), price was about $30 a glass (and well worth it). Bevmo usually sells it for $99 but they were out of stock at the few places I called. I eventually ordered it online from a UK company and price with shipping was about $135. Still, I'll make sure to have at least one bottle in the house at all times.
So what did we do when we were in Chicago. Without any planning on this whatsoever, we happened to be in town when the Bulls were playing the Warriors. Of course, I couldn't miss the opportunity to watch the W's play and watch my first Bulls game at the United Center. We were able to grab a couple of decent seats off Craigslist and then drove over to the venue. Took the obligatory shots underneath the Jordan Statue and here are some shots from our seats. The arena itself is somewhat par for the course but the surprise was how cheap the food was. We had a couple of dogs, nachos, and drinks. Total price was about $20. At a Warrior's game, that would probably be closer to $30. We had a great time - aside from the outcome, of course.
The main reason we made the trip was to attend the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert and see Nobuo Uematsu. His music has graced our home for years, albeit coming from my PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and now Nintendo DS. For a few years now, Nobuo has been touring the world performing before packed venues of video game enthusiasts who grew up playing the games which he has composed the scores for. My first encounter with his music was in Final Fantasy 8 which has led me to play every installment since then (minus Final Fantasy 11 which is a MMORPG and not my cup of tea) and nearly every installment before (3 thru 7). Though each major installment is its own story with new characters, Nobuo's music is an amazing constant. I thrice missed the opportunity to see him perform and wasn't going to let this one slip by. Suffice it to say, the entire trip was worth it. Not only were we treated to an amazing show but we also were able to meet the man and conductor Arnie Roth after the show for pictures and autographs. For those in the SF Bay Area, the tour will be returning in July of 2010 for two shows at the Davies Symphony Hall. You can bet, I'll be at those performances. For the hard core fans, I have a very nicely shot video of the encore performance of One-Winged Angel performed by Nobuo and the Chicago Mages. Contact me directly for a copy as I won't be posting it up anywhere.
So have a few free moments after returning from Chicago. Lots of folks have been asking for a quick breakdown on the trip. In short, it was a great trip. Chicago is a great metropolitan city with all that you would expect (great food, shopping, sites) and some things you wouldn't (very nice people and surprisingly very affordable).We flew in to Midway on Thursday and headed straight for our hotel. We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton ($75 a night from Priceline!) on Monroe and Wabash. Super conveniently located hotel in the middle of the city. It has an L stop right outside and is only a block away from Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Harbor. Plus there's a 24 hour CVS across the street and a Dunkin' Donuts around the corner. Just for shits and grins, I toured a high rise condo across the street from the hotel, the Park Monroe. Super luxurious with amazing views of the water, the city, and the park. What was crazy was how cheap (relatively speaking) these were. A 2BR, 2BA 1400+ square foot unit with water and city views was selling for only $600K. The salesperson even hinted I could bid much lower and probably have my offer accepted. A comparable location in San Francisco would be the Embarcadero Plaza area just outside the Financial District and the same unit would probably sell for twice the price. Even crazier were the 1BR, 1BA 900+ square foot units which were only selling for $300K! There are condos in Oakland that are smaller and more expensive than that! I guess it just highlights how out of whack Bay Area real estate still is. On to the food. We did our share of high-end and normal food. On the high-end side we hit Alinea and Blackbird. Both good though I have a hard time justifying the cost of Alinea. I guess it's one of those "do it once" type of places. Impeccable service and definitely high on the creativity scale. We opted for the monstrous 35+ course tasting menu (a 4.5 hour meal!). Though I definitely felt as if some of the dishes were more about the flash than the actual substance. Blackbird, on the other hand, was much more reasonable and the flavors were very good. We also hit Miller's Pub a few times. Just a no nonsense pub with very good food. It's right next to the Palmer House so we were able to sneak over whenever we had a craving for a midnight snack or drinks. They're open until 4am and seemingly always busy. Great buffalo wings and a pretty decent fish and chips. Sausages with peppers and onions was not bad and though I didn't have it, they are known for their Canadian baby back ribs. All in all, I'd have no problem vacationing in Chicago again. If I had the dough, I'd even consider owning one of those condos and renting it out!