Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brunch in Uptown

When one of my friends, Roman, suggested doing brunch today wayyy north (in Uptown) today, I was a bit put off. It was going to take a lot to impress me if I have to trek way up to Sheridan and Argyle for a simple Sunday morning brunch. However, Roman has spoken pretty highly of his past experiences at Tweet so I figured I'd approach this with a (fairly) open mind.

I arrived a little early but quickly fell in love with the place. Tweet just has so much CHARACTER... from the decor to the FREE COFFEE while you are waiting to the BOARD GAMES that are available while you are waiting for a table.

I had no problems getting settled on a cozy little stool to wait for my friends while sipping my free cup of coffee (okay, I may have had approximately three cups of free coffee but whatever) and admiring the old-school board games that were just ready and WAITING for players.

Once my friends arrived, we got seated in a back corner and... well, proceeded to get overwhelmed with the menu. I wish I'd snapped a picture of the menu - it was simply ridiculous. Each menu even had an ADDITIONAL menu embedded in it (with Velcro, of all things).

The really interesting (to me) thing about Tweet was how many gluten-free options there were. Not that I require gluten-free items, but it's just nice to know that the option is available.

Anyway, we ended up starting off with these mini-doughnut things that Roman had raved about in the past.

I have to say - I'm not the biggest doughnut-person at ALL, but I fell in love with these things. They were just so warm and delicious (and not overly sweet on their own). While the plate of mini-doughnuts came with a side of like syrup or something, I found that the doughnuts, themselves, satisfied my sweet tooth in and of itself.

After THAT lovely little starter, our server actually brought us complimentary dishes of fruit to enjoy before our actual meal!

I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved this aspect of brunch. We NEVER get free fruit with brunch in Chicago... and this fruit was just so darn fresh and delicious (it's been a while since I've ingested anything from that food group...) and a GREAT way to fill up just a touch before gorging on breakfast itself.

Soon after the fruit was devoured (I was already full by that point), our meals came out...

Holy food. The portions were QUITE generous, to put it mildly.

And SO DELICIOUS. I ended up going with Tweet's gluten-free pumpkin pancakes (helloo!) and... well, yum. Just plain yum. The pancakes were the perfect balance of sweet and (pumpkin) spice and everything nice... and I wouldn't have known that they were gluten-free at all. Unless I"m missing something, gluten-free pumpkin pancakes taste just how I would imagine "normal" pumpkin pancakes to taste.

Roman ended up going with a Danske omelette (he revisited an old favorite of his) while Purvi ended up going with a breakfast burrito and hash browns. I'm not a food critic by any means, but their plates LOOKED quite tasty and both were QUITE pleased with their meals as well.

All in all - today's brunch? A sweet success. Great food, lovely conversation (including a wonderful little blog idea, c/o Roman's creative ingenuity) and... well, FREE COFFEE! Hello! (Clearly, I have my priorities in check.)

Needless to say, I would DEFINITELY make a trip up north to re-visit this eclectic, delicious hidden gem... anytime at all.

Pritesh!!!!!!!! (Plus a Few Other Favorites)

Well, weekend number four of staying up past midnight on the weekends was a semi-success. I say a semi-success, because I didn't exactly stay awake til midnight on either Friday or Saturday night. However, the amount of fun I had on both evenings supercedes the whole midnight goal thing.

This past Friday was the day of our firm's Chicago market's All Hands meeting - this is essentially a large all-day meeting for all people in the Chicago Advisory (consulting) practice at our firm. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the meeting because of other client commitments I had during the day. However, I was able to make it just in time for the networking event that was lined up at Navy Pier immediately following the official business.

If you know me at all, you know I live for networking events - I feel totally in my element during these kinds of things. I knew this particular networking event was going to be especially fun, since a group of us had already planned to go out together afterwards, to celebrate Pritesh's visit to Chicago.

Pritesh is a co-worker from one of my old projects last year and... well, simply put, he QUICKLY escalated to Favorite status in my book He is honestly just one of the GREATEST (read: nicest, chillest, funniest, etc.) people I know... I could literally go on and on about his greatness. Honestly though, as I've said before, you know how you can just pick out the "good people" based on instinct alone? That's Pritesh for you. Given how fantastic he is, it's no wonder that his former teammates "Chicago following" was so excited to reunite with him and take him out for his Friday night in Chicago.

The evening started off innocently enough - after taking FULL advantage of that PwC-sponsored open bar networking event (and/or being the last people to leave the networking event), we decided it was time to move onto the next stop. After a bit of debate, it was settled that we would head to Durkin's (a bar in Lincoln Park)... all you can eat pizza and drinks for $20 on a Friday?! You better believe it - it's times like this that you realize how much it pays to have someone like Sandeep K (read: frugality personified... and another Favorite) around.

How to get there, you ask? Well, why not an impromptu little limo ride?

(It's times like this that you realize how much it pays to have someone like Neha K (another Favorite) around to negotiate those limo rates...)

And, well, I mean, obviously the early evening (it was way too early to be considered "night") deserved a pit stop at a liquor store for... some champagne. Naturally.

I mean, Pritesh WAS in town - we clearly had a lot to celebrate!

After spilling like the majority of champagne throughout the limo and circling around the block a couple of times (we wanted to get our money's worth!), we finally tumbled on outta that limo and into Durkin's.

You better believe we got straight to work with that all you can eat and drink special. God, it's been so long since I've had Domino's pizza... and as much as I love pizza of all kinds (gourmet or otherwise), there is just something so tantalizingly delicious about good, ol' fashioned Domino's.

Okay, I may have gotten a bit carried away with the pizza gorging love that night, but... well, damn. It is just that good.

And... well, in all fairness, I think the rest of the pictures can just speak for themselves. The night was filled with...

Some serious socializing (and consumption of Domino's pizza)...

Some (past and present) roommates of PwC'ers...

Deepti is an old favorite of mine (Neha's former roommate) and Narayan is a new favorite of mine (Pritesh's current roommate)

Some... props, I guess...

What the...

What the... take 2

What the... take 3.

And, most importantly, some seriously legit FAVORITES OF MINE...


Neha and Deepti (and Garrett's popcorn... and Pritesh's hat...) are seriously just some of the greatest things. Ever.

There's a whole lotta awesome-ness enveloped in this picture.

OMG! KARINA!!! Karina and Sandeep seriously define the term "happiness".
Deepti R (legitimately, the COOLEST person I KNOWWWW)
Two favorites (in case you weren't already sensing the general theme of this blog section)

Hugging it out!

Legitimately two of the GREATEST people you will EVER meet. Ever.
All in all... pretty much a perfect night.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Birthdays Galore

This weekend was such a sweet success in my endeavors to stay up past midnight on weekends, I can barely stand it.

Fridays are always a bit of a challenge for me - it's the end of a (typically) long week and all I really want to do is hang out with people for a bit but still go to bed by like 10 PM (which is what happened last weekend). I figured that kind of mentality wasn't going to fly this Friday, since I had two birthday parties lined up.

I just love celebrating people's birthdays - it's just so festive and guaranteed to be a good time (and sure, the cake aspect of things certainly doesn't hurt...). And I was especially excited for these two birthdays - for the people and the vastly different venue choices.

My first stop on this Friday birthday tour was for my friend (Arpana)'s husband (Kaushik)'s birthday. The venue? A bar filled with... arcade games! I love exploring "different" kinds of bars, and Headquarters Beercade was no exception. It's kind of tucked on a quiet little side street in Lincoln Park / Lakeview and it's fairly small, so the whole "cozy" feel is totally there. Also, while the bar doesn't serve food, you can totally order food in, which I also think is such a great idea for a chill bar.

But most importantly - the arcade games!! It was a TOTAL blast from the past! While I didn't have a chance to actually PLAY any of the games (I got a little caught up with socializing), I just loved the whole idea... and don't think PacMan tucked in the corner didn't catch my eye!

Overall, I have to say that stop #1 was a sweet success - arcade games, Pequod's pizza ordered in (nice choice, Kaushik and Arpana!), a Sugar Bliss cupcake (or two... Vimmi and I are apparently the definition of "enabler") and of course, some pretty great (mostly Ohio-based, holler) company!

My second stop on this Friday birthday tour was for one of my best friends in Chicago - Alma. (You have likely seen her name referenced throughout this blog...) Alma's husband, Doug, had arranged this birthday extravaganza at this place called Northside Bar and Grill, out in Wicker Park. It had been SO long since I had been to Wicker Park and since I'd seen Alma (and a few others at her party), so I was quite excited for some reunions galore.

I'd never been to Northside Bar, but as soon as I walked in, I was just so darn pleased. This place was actually pretty big, but still retained a fairly chill vibe. Once I spotted Alma's crew, I made a beeline for the birthday girl and totally bear hugged it out.

(Picture courtesy of Alma:

Unfortunately, I'd arrived a little late (I guess that was the theme of the night) so I had JUST missed the big birthday singing / birthday cake candle blowing extravaganza, but I managed to snag a picture from Alma's Facebook page... (I love this picture, primarily because it captures both Alma and Doug... and Alma's gorgeous necklace - but that's just an aside).

And, let's just have a minute here to... check out that CAKE. Doug - all I have to say is... well done. (I would applaud at my computer but I think that's a little weird).

Overall, though, it was such a fun time - to be expected, since I always love hanging out with Alma and Doug... they are just so FUNNY together (and individually).

(Picture courtesy of Alma:

And it certainly didn't hurt that I got the chance to reunite with some old favorites of mine..

(Picture courtesy of Alma:

Overall, such a great night. Happy birthdays, Alma and Kaushik! I hope you both had wonderful ones :) Cheers to another sweet, sweet year.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Masa Azul + Karaoke

Doesn't that title sound so DIVERSE?!

Alright, weekend two of trying to stay up past midnight on the weekend was somewhat of a success.

Friday, my friend and I had planned this dinner date weeks in advance (and if you know me, you know I don't plan ahead... especially THAT far ahead!). That just goes to show how badly we both wanted to try this new restaurant in, of all places, my new 'hood - Logan Square.

Anyway, have you all heard of this place called "Fat Rice"? Well, let's be honest -  I was fairly turned off when my friend first suggested it. I mean... gotta keep the daintiness and ladylike-ness intact as much as possible right? Wrong. This place has gotten SO MUCH HYPE over the recent few weeks that I quickly came on board.

For a place that's had so much hype over the past few weeks, you would think my friend and I would be smarter than thinking there wouldn't be much of a wait for 7:30 PM on a Friday. Clearly, we have our acts together.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by none other than a two-hour wait. And, I mean, yeah right. As much as I want to try a place, I will never wait two hours (well... okay, unless it's for a cupcake). A bit defeated, my friend and I decided to just meander around and find another restaurant - which seemed kind of a long shot considering the area we were in seemed a little scant of restaurants. After a couple of blocks of some SKETCH-looking restaurants, we stumbled upon this place called Masa Azul, that just looked somewhat cute and cozy and... most importantly, had no wait.

After getting seated right away, we got started on some fun little cocktails and then FOOD. I was STARVING by dinnertime since I'd come straight from work and I think I forgot to eat lunch on Friday or something. Anyway, we went to town and ordered four little tacos (pork belly and braised goat?!?!) as well as some shrimp and polenta dish, just to ensure we were full, full, full.

As soon as I bit into my pork belly taco, I knew I'd found a new favorite Mexican place in Chicago. Each and every bite of food just kept on getting better and better! Honestly, if you are in the Logan Square area, you should TOTALLY add Masa Azul to your little checklist of "must-try" places.

Okay, so Friday wasn't the best example of my staying up past midnight on weekends. In fact, I barely (barely) made it to 10:30 PM that night. I was just so TIRED after a long day at work. But whatever - I did try.

At least Saturday made up for it. After accidentally falling asleep after volunteering on Saturday, I woke up at exactly 7:53 PM... and, upon realizing the time, literally jumping off my couch - because, that's right, I was supposed to be meeting friends for dinner and drinks WAY uptown at 8 PM, before we began our (random, but oh so fun) night of karaoke'ing at this secret brothel Korean karaoke bar.

After having a couple of beers and some seriously mediocre food at Atlantic Bar and Grille (sigh, I guess not everything can be Masa Azul status in my book) and a bit of a walk in some annoying drizzle, we ended up at Lincoln Karaoke (way uptown - I can't emphasize how FAR north we were... it was like a foreign land, if you will). Anyway! I hadn't been karaoke'ing in a long while... which is all very surprising since I'm kind of a karaoke rapping machine.

Let's just say - I'm very good at rapping karaoke. I mean, if you can talk as fast as I can, it's only natural that you can spit some rhyme (is that even a phrase? It sounds like it should be, in any event.) karaoke-style, at least.

But I digress.

First stop once we entered this karaoke joint? The bar - obvi.

First up - vanilla rumchata shots... ummm, have you had these before?? They are legitimately the YUMMIEST things EVER (tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, as someone put it).

Next up? Well...

I mean, naturally. If you're going to drink alcohol while karaoke'ing, champagne would be the only natural choice, right? Right. (I defer all questions related to THAT choice of alcohol consumption to the one and only Neha, herself.)

Man, all I have to say is - karaoke night was such a sweet success. We covered all KINDS of songs - from NSync (obviously) to Elvis Presley (I think) to Mariah Carey (some people got overconfident) to Eminem (some people just know what they're clearly good at ---> me).

What fun. We ended up staying there wayy longer than expected. So much longer, in fact, that I would just like to point out (not like I anyone is keeping track), after a full night of fun-filled karaoke, I only ended going to sleep at... wait for it... 3 AM!!!! Damn straight.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year's Goal: Stay Up Past Midnight on Weekends

It's been so long! The end of the year simply got away from me (and/or I got lazy... one of the two) but still... over a MONTH without a blog post is simply unacceptable from my perspective. Oh well - it's a new year! One of my new year's goals can be to blog at least once a week this year... we'll see how this goes.

Anyway! After a holiday break filled with some serious bumming around relaxing, I realized how much I need structure in my life. I mean, honestly, the amount I slept during those last few weeks of the year (when I had nothing planned to do) could be considered alarming by some. If you know me at all, you know that sleeping is one of my absolute favorite things. But still. Going to bed by 9 PM (on weekdays and weekends)? A little unacceptable, according to some of my peers.

As such, one of my new year's goals involve staying up until at least 10 PM on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

I dream big, I know.

To help me really kick off my first weekend of the new year during which I had to stay up until at least midnight, I coerced invited a couple of friends to join me in experiencing the Map Room on Friday night. I've been wanting to check out this bar for years (literally) because I'd heard it's known for having beers from around the globe (hence, its name) and the ambiance is similar to another bar that I absolutely love (Hopleaf). Because it's located in a faraway land called Bucktown (read: hipster central), I'd kept on putting off this dream of mine... Bucktown is FAR from Lincoln Park, thank you very much.

Well, folks, I'm happy to say... as soon as I walked into the place, I knew I'd found one of my new favorite Chicago spots.

Very few bars have achieved the level of coziness that the Map Room achieved. First of all, it's pretty small... which could make it a bit of a wait to find a table, but we didn't have all too much of a problem (thankfully). We actually snagged a table at the very back corner which was absolutely PERFECT for me and my stellar people-watching skills.

Second of all... OMG, this bar has lines and lines of BOOKSHELVES!!!! And not just filled with books of any kind... sure there're SOME books, but there are mostly shelves and shelves of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS!!!!!

Oh!! And the DECOR!!! The tabletops alone were SO fun and filled with character.

And the walls are LINED with different countries' flags and maps from around the world... and would you look at where we ended up sitting? RIGHT under my Canadian roots!! Oh, Canada. Oh... Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (doesn't flow as smoothly but it IS my birth place... and, well, doesn't it just SOUND magical?!).

I was excited, can you tell? Oh! And do you like those glasses? How hipster am I?? ;)

But I digress.

Finally, as with any place that I learn to grow and love, it's the people that make the difference. And I have to say, the crowd at the Map Room was top notch. I mean, everyone was just so CHILL and ready to have a nice, relaxing time over a beer or two. And the instant I spotted someone wearing a sweatshirt at the table next to ours... well, that's when I knew that Map Room was going to be on my list of regularly-frequented places. Any place that allows sweatshirts into its establishment on a Friday night totally has my seal of approval.

Oh! And I guess I should mention the beers as well. I mean, they were good.

I guess that sounds like I was underwhelmed. But I really wasn't! I did truly enjoy the kind that I'd gotten... it's just that I'm not a beer connoisseur so my opinion on beers really should be taken with a grain of salt. What I will say is this... the beer I had chosen was only $5!!! And it wasn't like a Bud Light or anything!!! I mean, that's CHEAP for good beer, right?!?! Oh happiness, if you will.

I have to say - time literally flew by at the Map Room. It was 2 AM, before I knew it! (Well, okay, this may be a slight exaggeration as there was one point where I looked at the time, saw that it was 11:24 PM and had to will myself to stay out for at least another thirty-six minutes.)

In any event, it was such a fun night! Special thanks to a couple of my friends that I coerced invited to join me at Map Room and help me start off my new year's goal on the right foot.