Flight Review: Air Choice One, Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Burlington, Iowa (BRL)

Disclaimer: In exchange for writing a review for the airline Air Choice One, I was offered a round-trip flight between Chicago and Burlington, Iowa.

After a recent move to the Chicago area, I started to feel excited about different airlines and routes to try, albeit departing mostly from the less-than-pleasant – if very convenient by public transit – O’Hareport.

Enter, St. Louis, Missouri-based Air Choice One.  They’re a small regional carrier with bases in Minneapolis and Chicago, and fly throughout the Midwest and a small part of the Southeastern US.  Their fleet consists of Cessna 208 Caravans’ and Beechcraft 1900s’, with both being propeller aircraft.  Best of all, their customer service is top notch.  Paula, Lexie, Dorothy, and Kimberly were all very proactive and eager to help work around my confusing schedule.  Kudos to all of them!

Now, let’s get on with the flights!  At Chicago O’Hare, Air Choice One check-in is close to security checkpoint 9 at Terminal 3:

Check-in was fast, and the folks had to weigh each passenger to determine where to seat them on the 9-seat Cessna 208 Caravan:

As you can see, there was no jetbridge leading to the flight; however, I appreciated this as it allowed for better photos.

To Burlington, Iowa, the flight took roughly 1.5 hours.  Along the way, we passed by this marvel of western Illinois:

By marvel, I really have no idea what I mean.  Perhaps it’s a relic from the days of Forgottonia?

As you might imagine, Burlington’s airport felt like the complete opposite of O’Hare- relaxed, one small terminal building, and very close to downtown.

For those history buffs, Burlington was officially founded in 1833, and was the first capital of what became Iowa Territory.  With an excellent location right on a Mississippi River bend, it was a major steamboat and train depot.  It is also widely believed that Iowa’s nickname “The Hawkeye State” came from a local resident.  More recently, Burlington was the site of the US’s first Aldi supermarket.

I had a few hours before my flight back – and I stress that both flights were on-time, in spite of them both involving the behemoth O’Hare – so I decided to wander around Burlington–

This downtown street is called Snake Alley, arguably one of the most crooked roads in the world.  Eat your heart out, Lombard Street.

From the city center, I wandered down South Main Street, which runs parallel to the Mississippi River and its two iconic bridges towards leafy Crapo Park, known for its diverse collection of trees.  Lunch was at The Buffalo Tavern, where I enjoyed a pork tenderloin sandwich, and Davenport, Iowa’s Front Street Cherry Blonde ale.

The airport was a short walk from the park, and I had already checked-in that morning.  The flight back took roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes, offering quality views of the US’s top skyline (the New Yorker in me gives deference to their skyline; their pizza, however is another story) as we u-turned over Lake Michigan for our sunset approach to Chicago.

Overall, I had a great outing with Air Choice One, and would highly recommend them for their customer service, regional Midwest expertise, and ease of booking on their website!

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Tour Review: The New York Times Journeys and Urban Adventures – Dumbo, the New Brooklyn

Disclaimer: In exchange for my review of the New York Times Journeys – Dumbo, the New Brooklyn tour, I received one VIP ticket for the soft launch.

When I go to Brooklyn, it’s generally for making a beeline to the Russosphere – in other words, Brighton Beach/Sheepshead Bay, dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  I’d buy a few things at one of the numerous supermarkets, snack along the Coney Island Boardwalk, and then…buy more food, for the fridge.

But this time, the nice folks at the New York City-based tour company Urban Adventures unexpectedly invited me to participate in their newest tour, that being focused on the youthful Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo.  This tour was created in collaboration with The New York Times Journeys, known for their small group educational tours.

Brian was the affable tour guide for the day; you can tell he took pride in his job of chatting with the group about various points of interest, food, and trivia.

Although the acronym Dumbo stands for”down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” the story behind its revitalization is an interesting one.  But first, let’s hear it for the two routes connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn that add the superlative picturesque qualities to the area.

Ah, yes, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and the…other one, the Manhattan Bridges.  These photos were taken from the roof of the Empire Stores mixed-used museum, mall, and office space.  The building which houses Empire Stores was built in the 1870s for the Arbuckle brothers roasted coffee processing facility, and overlooks a waterfront promenade that formerly saw boats mooring daily.  Not to mention, the first of the two bridges – the Brooklyn – was only completed in 1883, with one major reason being that when the river froze, commerce nearly ground to a halt.

Empire Stores

Throughout the tour, we stopped at a few different places for a bite.  The first was a place called Smile to Go, with branches in Manhattan, too.  The Dumbo location has a bakery en situ, and they adopt some seasonal flavors and ingredients to keep the menu fresh.

Banana Quinoa and Banana Buckwheat were among the options

Along with the Arbuckle brothers, Robert Gair was another prominent name in Dumbo in the late 1800s.  He is best known for patenting the cardboard box.  Yeah.  In other words, something that pretty much every business relies on at some point in their supply chain, be it Brooklyn Roasters (another one of our stops), the Powerhouse Arena bookstore and event space, and even…

Randolph Beer, a microbrewery specializing in brews from the Tri-State area.  “Beer Yourself” refers to the beer buffet; you get a stored-value card, hold it up against the computer terminal, and pour away.  Though I don’t agree with their communal glass rinsing space, you might want to check them out for their own brews and foosball.

Overall, the tour was fun, it introduced me to some fascinating tidbits about historic New York, and the eats were good.  Check out Urban Adventures to see what else they have in store.

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Event Review: True World Foods Expo 2018

Disclaimer: In exchange for two VIP tickets to New York‘s inaugural True World Foods EXPO 2018, I am writing this event review.  For this event, Ari Dybnis was the photographer.

Founded as a fishmonger in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s, True World Foods is now an internationally-recognized seafood wholesaler with an emphasis on products from East Asia.  In order to connect with the general public, along with some of their partners, they decided to hold a small products showcase on September 29th, at The Altman Building in Manhattan.

Although it was quite packed, because there were a number of tasty bites overall – but more so, because we had VIP tickets which allowed us in an hour earlier – I enjoyed this small sampling of the array of fish and produce that True World Foods offers.  Let’s take a gander:

Tuna!…in spite of not being able to taste this one (in other words, massive queues), it let me wax nostalgic about visiting Tokyo’s soon-to-be shuttered Tsukiji Market around New Year’s and watching the massive fish being auctioned off.

That tuna was just fine, if a bit vain.

Freshwater eel, or unagi (鰻・うなぎ) is one of those rare foods that I immediately loved…or so I thought, until I realized that it was the combination of unagi with tare (たれ), the sweet-savory sauce basted on top, that I more correctly loved.

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I hope we can both make it to next year’s event, but first, they need to expand!

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Event Review: The Big Chocolate Show 2018, New York

Disclaimer: In exchange for two tickets to New York‘s second annual The Big Chocolate Show 2018, I am writing this event review.

Although there was a small press event and awards ceremony on the night of September 28th, between the 29th and September 30th at The New Yorker, A Wyndham Hotel in Manhattan, The Big Chocolate Show welcomed the visitors – and their food allergies – through its doors.  There were a number of tastings, chocolate-making workshops, and classes, such as pairing red wine with chocolate.  Exhibitors were in show from throughout North America and Ecuador, as well as a few folks from Europe and other parts of South America, though the New York City metro area had the largest presence.

The Big Chocolate Show, Main Hall

…and it all sounds nice and good, but in reality, it was just another New York mosh pit,  made worse by the presence of kids.  There was no way to control this crowd, and vendors never took it upon themselves to admonish attendees to wait their turns for samples.

Enough of that noise, let’s get on with the show!

Brooklyn Born Chocolate and its array of peanut/almond/cashew butter cups

Brooklyn Born Chocolate was probably my favorite of The Big Chocolate Show, if only because they had the best peanut butter cup.  Though, they also offered some paleo options such as almond and cashew butter cups.

Chocolate on Maui

Chocolate on Maui’s white chocolate maracuya (passion fruit) bites, all locally sourced in Hawaii.

Ayurveda-inspired concoctions and somewhat unusual ingredients are part and parcel of Elements Truffles.  The New Jersey, USA-based company notes that they are Fair Trade, and offer 25% of their profits to a charity for underprivileged children in India.

Conexión Chocolate is Ecuador-based, bean-to- bar, and entirely GMO-free.  They use the prized single heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao fruit for all of their bars, and offer distinct flavors such as anise and quinoa (the latter of which showing up a lot at this show), and coriander and golden berry.  At this point, I was getting tired of the scrums, so I took a break from the chocolate…

and moved on to the one place of respite; a 21+ space upstairs that was expressly for liquor tasting, such as Gubba Rum:

Overall, although I didn’t enjoy the show, there were a few good bites from various chocolate makers.  The liquor tasting area – with samples of vodka and martinis – was unexpected, but provided a welcome change from the main event.

Would you be interested in attending The Big Chocolate Show?

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Product Review: The Spice Lab, Pompano Beach, Florida

I met with the folks at Pompano Beach, Florida-based The Spice Lab while attending the 2018 New York Summer Fancy Food Show.    Their booth was chock-full of salts and spice blends, so I decided to take a gander to see if they had a few of my favorite mixes.

The women-owned company was founded in early 2010, and has since become one of the 5000 fastest-growing companies in the US, based on a recent Inc. magazine report.

To be blunt, I noticed at the show that many of their condiments and spreads had sugar added…this is a big no-no in my book.  Not because I’m against sugar – far from it – it’s more that there are some products, such as fruit juice and you know, savory spice mixes, that shouldn’t contain any sweetener.

Out of the blue, I received a package with four of The Spice Lab’s blends (or in bbq parlance, rubs) – Peri Peri Seasoning, Everything {Bagel} + More, Spicy Brown, and Chicago Chop.  According to the labels, save for the Everything + More, they’re best used in cooking meat or roasting vegetables, but you might want to sprinkle them on top of snacks, too.

According to me, (apart from the Everything + More) they’re all extremely salty, with disagreeable hints of sweet and picante.  Just because I’m a fan of peri peri peppers, I liked that the spicy notes were prominent, but again, that, too was a kidney-killer.

Basically, I’d be willing to try other non-blended products from The Spice Lab, to give them the benefit of the doubt.  To be fair, although sugar wasn’t such a prominent flavor profile in the mixes, there was still a sweet undertone every other bite.

Otherwise, I’d give 3/4ths of these samples a pass.

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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a stay in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia in one of the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur’s City View Rooms.

Four Seasons Place, located adjacent to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) in the heart of the popular Golden Triangle shopping and business district – you know, a stone’s throw from the Petronas Towers  – offers both 209 guest rooms and suites, as well as 27 serviced apartments.  It had its soft opening in early July 2018; consequently, as my stay was just in early August, various facilities, such as the spa and executive lounge, were not yet finished (however, both of those have since been opened).  In other words, some of my criticism might be directed more towards the fact that it was a soft opening, and that there were still some kinks to iron out.  However, one of my pet peeves is having to take more than one elevator to get to the room, and unfortunately, this is the case with this luxury hotel.

My first impression was that I had no idea where the main entrance was.  One of KL’s infamously tricky taxi drivers didn’t feel like driving so far into the traffic-laden Golden Triangle (well maybe I don’t feel like paying you the full fare…), which meant that I was deposited onto the busy Jalan Ampang thoroughfare – the entrance to the six-floor Four Seasons Place mall – and not the main hotel lobby behind it.  Not to mention, once I found the first lobby (the actual lobby with check-in is accessible only by elevator), I accidentally ended up in the service apartments wing, because the signage wasn’t adequate.

Once in the appropriate lobby, I enjoyed the very high ceiling, comfortable sofa, and without a doubt, the air conditioning.

One of my contacts from the PR team, Jane, kindly took the time to meet with me, and to offer a tour of the premises.

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The ballrooms were spacious and immaculate, and the boardrooms airy, with great views of the urban jungle.  Additionally, although not all of the kitchens/dining areas were operating, we did visit the  Yun House for a contemporary take on Cantonese specialties, as well as the ultra-modern Bar Trigona, which I’ll speak about later on in this review.  Other dining areas will include Decadent for sweets, and a small eatery/bar in the pool area…

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and oh, was that a tempting pool!  If only I had time to swim…alas, the pool area was definitely one of the highlights of the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur.

After the tour, Jane and I sat down for lunch in the buffet restaurant CurATE, which also comes with an open kitchen.  At that point, the hotel GM, Tom Roelens, came by to greet us, and Rosemarie Wee, the Director of Communications and Public Relations, joined us for a bite.

I was only expecting to have breakfast at CurATE, so the lunch was a nice and welcome surprise.  Given Malaysia’s diverse background as well as the international appeal of Kuala Lumpur, both breakfast and lunch offered a variety of Malay, Arabic, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Western dishes, in addition to fresh fruit and a dessert station.

Let’s start with breakfast, even though it was from the following day:

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And now, for lunch:

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Although I wasn’t particularly taken by the Chinese or Japanese selections, I did keep going back for more of the Arabic, Malay, and Indian treats.  This was true for both breakfast and lunch.

After coming back from a long walk around the city, including a brief rainforest amble, it was high time for a drink at the Trigona Bar.  In spite of only being in business for roughly 4-5 weeks at the time, it was bustling, perhaps due in large part to their famed bartender, Ashish Sharma.  The bar was named after a tropical variety of bee; indeed, locally sourced honey plays a starring role in the bar’s de facto signature cocktail:

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That’s nice and all, but what about the room??  As mentioned earlier, it was a city-view room, one of a number of choices that the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur has designed for its guests.

The room was very clean, offered good air conditioning, and had plenty of  space for relaxing and doing work.  The views were excellent, and the staff had another surprise waiting for me on the night table– a box of macarons.

City-view room with floor to ceiling windows

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There was one quirk about the bedroom that eluded me for a few minutes– how could I open the curtains?  At first, I looked for the chains, then tried pulling them apart.  Bodoh! (stupid)  Refusing to humiliate myself with this silly question for guest reception, I searched around for a bit more until coming across these bedside switches:

So that’s how you open the curtains, and ignore housekeeping…

The modern marble bathroom was the size of a previous apartment in Tokyo, and slightly larger than my Hong Kong dorm room.  In other words, it was more than ample.

Both the bed and shower were great, and my only regret is that neither would fit in the overhead bin on my flight home.

All in all, I had an enjoyable stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur.  Staff were generally willing to help, the room, bar, and pool area were particularly welcoming, and Rosemarie and Jane provided a great introduction to the new Four Seasons property.  Although there were a few issues here and there – such as inadequate signage, underwhelming food at times, and a non-ground floor lobby – I expect that most of these things will be attended to by the time the hotel is 100% up and running.

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Product Reviews: Seal the Seasons, DeLallo Foods, and Sugar Bowl Bakery

Disclaimer: In exchange for receiving samples from Seal the SeasonsDeLallo Foods, and Sugar Bowl Bakery, I am writing these product reviews.

Seal the Seasons

Seal the Seasons is a Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based frozen food manufacturer that also happens to be a Certified B Corporation.  In other words, in spite of being a membership-based organization for for-profit businesses, the Certified B Corporation designation reflects a company that strives to be economically and socially transparent, give back to communities, and support non-profits and legislation for the betterment of the less financially well-off.

Indeed, they try to support small local farmers, and offer non-GMO, seasonal products with a long shelf-life to tap not only cosmopolitan areas, but also neighborhoods more colloquially known as food deserts.

As a New Yorker, I was raring to try the New York (/ehem…New Jersey) cherry apple berry blend (hey now, New York is number 2 in US apple production, after Washington state).  OK, and Jersey has its cherries and berries, too.  The packaging is easy to read, proudly displays the states of origin, and most importantly, overall the fruit tasted great (blueberries can be very sour, but fortunately, most of these were hits).


Established as an Italian food market in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania suburb of Jeannette in 1954, DeLallo has been a tried and tested name for quality Italian and southern European products ever since.  Known particularly for their olives and antipasti, sauces, tea cookies, and pastas, DeLallo products can be found at select retailers throughout the country, or ordered online.  Backed by their renowned brand, DeLallo also offers marketing, sales, and other food industry-related expertise.

As a side note, I’ve heard that Pittsburgh has a roaring food and craft brew scene, so any future visit (my sole trip to Pittsburgh and Kennywood was in 1995) would certainly include checking out the original DeLallo market, as well as every sandwich from the Primanti Bros. menu.

Sugar Bowl Bakery

Starting off as a small coffee shop in San Francisco, California, after being purchased by five brothers in 1984, Sugar Bowl Bakery has become a one of the largest minority-owned, nationwide providers of cookies, brownies, and other sweet treats.  Having sampled a couple of their products, all I can say is…I am eagerly awaiting your introduction of kouign amann, with a café au lait always at the ready!

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