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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Casa Vaca

All you have to do is scroll down this blog a couple of posts to see how passionate I am about what constitutes a good taqueria. As a matter of fact, you'd better not use that sacred word, "taqueria" to describe your taco joint unless you're going to present me with an authentic, delicious, Mexico City style street taco that whisks me back to the Distrito Federal at the first bite. Sadly, so, so very sadly, the tacos at Casa Vaca do not. I'm particularly sad about this because Casa Vaca is in Multonmah Village, Portland, a ten minute walk from my house. Imagine our glee when Jon and I thought we could buzz up to the Village and grab a delicious and authentic taco anytime we wanted. Such is not the case.

It was actually my brother and I, a D.F. taco expert in his own right, who checked this place out about a week after it recently opened. We were impressed with the lovely and rustic interior (suspiciously lovely and rustic, my brother observed, for what usually constitutes a taqueria), happy to see the local beers and other local items they feature, but were terribly disappointed when we were served two plates of tacos: one of Carne Asada and the other Al Pastor (good barometers for taco-sampling) upon the appropriately small, soft, corn tortillas. Once we had a bite of each, we agreed that the tortillas were good and fresh, but both fillings were bland and very far from the authentic flavor we expected. As a matter of fact, they weren't even close. The same lack of flavor applied to the rice and the beans served on the plate, though the kale salad was okay. Wait a minute: KALE SALAD? Served with tacos? Oh, come on, this may be Portland, but that's carrying things way too far.

No, no. The tacos at Casa Vaca will not do, and I have no desire to try anything else they serve, which, is mostly burritos and some appetizers, as I recall - my mind is too muddy from grief over the lackluster tacos to really remember, and I can't find the menu on line. Owners of Casa Vaca, if you happen to read this and want to know what I think a real taco should taste like, go here: La Fuente, Tigard, I mean, actually go there and eat a taco. Or go to the taco truck outside of Village Merchants on Division Street, called Lindo Michoacan. Both those places serve Michoacan style tacos which have thicker, bigger tortillas, but are nevertheless fantastic, or check out Porque No on Hawthorne, whose tacos are a little fancy for me but have exquisite flavor. I'm afraid you could use a little schooling in the art of the taco.

Evaluation: Not sincere at all
(clarification: I'm not saying there are not some sincere aspects to the place, but no place with such disappointing food can rate any higher than this on the sincerity scale.)


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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Taqueria La Fuente, Tigard Oregon

The word "taqueria" always stops me in my tracks. There's something so authentic sounding about it. When we recently moved to Portland, I was worried that we wouldn't be able to find good, authentic Mexico City style tacos - you know, the ones made from fresh, soft corn tortillas with grilled and other sorts of meats inside. I wasn't so worried about Mexican food in general, since I'm pretty skilled at making it, but I can't make street tacos taste like they do in Mexico City.

So one day, as Jon and I were tooling around in Tigard, we saw the sign for Taqueria La Fuente and were intrigued. Upon their window, another sign stated that they make their tortillas fresh, so in we went for a bite of lunch. We had a couple of tacos each and were completely blown away. There's a lady in the kitchen within view, making the fresh tortillas to order, and though they're a little thicker and larger than the Mexico City style, they were fantastic, as was the grilled steak that went inside. As it turns out, the state of Michoacán, Mexico has its own reputation for great street tacos. If you didn't know, Michoacân is in central Mexico, west of Mexico City and borders the coast. I may have driven through it, but am quite certain I never had a taco there. Fortunately, I now have La Fuente to provide them for me.
Tacos Mexicanos with rice and beans

However, tacos isn't all that La Fuente does right. They make a mean chile relleno, excellent enchiladas, fine tortas, and tamales to die for. As a matter of fact, at Christmas time, we were looking for a source of Christmas tamales because (for anyone who wasn't raised in a Mexican-influenced town, like I was, such as Tucson, Arizona) tamales are a tradition on Christmas Eve in Mexico and parts of the American Southwest. I have carried that tradition with me to the east coast and back, but, again, was worried I wouldn't find them in Portland. Well, not only are good tamales not hard to find here, but lots of places do them up for Christmas, and you can order them for about $20 a dozen. We had gone into La Fuente to eat a few weeks before Christmas, asked about them, and the server gave us one to sample. Oh, yeah. We ordered a dozen of the beef tamales and they won the seal of approval from my family.

The staff at La Fuente are personable and sweet, even on Cinco de Mayo when the plethora of gringos lining up at the door didn't disrupt their easy, friendly flow. They make decent margaritas, have a good selection of Mexican beers and sodas, and, though the place is far from fancy, it's clean, comfortable, and the prices can't be beat.

I have lots of other Mexican joints to try in the Portland area, but for now, I'm all about La Fuente.

Evaluation: Very sincere

Taqueria La Fuente
12198 SW Main St, Tigard, OR 97223
Phone:(503) 639-3653




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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Is it Really the Best Buy?

In New York, the Best Buy stores are okay; they will sell you things that you need/want at pretty good prices, but like most big box stores, I think most people would agree, they are soulless. This is not a criticism, but rather a simple observation. I went to those stores because they were handy.

I'll admit that I went to the store here in Portland, because I was used to going there; I pretty much knew that when I went in it would seem familiar (which is, of course, part of the marketing strategy of all such franchise or chain establishments) and I was right. I felt right at home and pretty much knew where everything would be located. I have two surprising experiences to relate:

  • I bought a "smart" (Samsung) TV which after three months became a frustrating, annoying, and remarkably stupid TV. Without much real hope, I went back to the store to relate my experience. I had purchased the extended warranty, but that would only mean that they would fix it, but what I really wanted was for them to replace it with another brand (Sony) that I figured would be a better way to go. They patiently listened to the issues I was experiencing, as well as to my request for something out of the ordinary. The woman I spoke with had to go speak to her manager and I waited around for ten minutes, losing hope by the minute. She came back and said, "no problem, we can see that you're really unhappy so let us make it right." It was a true Twilight Zone moment. I felt as though I should check to see if this was one of those dreams where everything works perfectly, ya know?
  • Nevertheless, the second incident was even more bizarre. Georgina had been needing a new computer for quite some time and finally we decided to move on that. She wanted a Macbook, and I spent quite a lot of time making sure that we'd get the very best deal on a factory-refurb from Apple (we've had great luck over the years doing that). I placed the order. About 20 minutes later I randomly came across a Best Buy ad for exactly the same machine for $250 less than Apple! The only thing was, that I had to make the purchase online. Naturally, I called Apple to see what the heck was going on, and they said, well sometimes other stores had better deals than they could offer. Crazy huh? I canceled the Apple order and placed my order with Best Buy. In both cases the wait for the machine was like five days. No big deal. Georgina's new computer arrived. I installed appropriate software. It worked for 24 hours, and then began asking for passwords that no one on the planet had access to. I called their "Customer Service," and got nowhere (just like in NYC the Best Buy online customer service is a contradiction in terms), so I took it back to my local store, where they kindly took it back for another day to reinstall the operating system, which they said was very likely the problem. Well no. Got it back. Returned home. Installed software. It worked for 24 hours. That $250 was starting to seem like a very small price to pay for a working computer. I took it back yet again, and this time spoke with the store manager, telling him the entire story, and that I simply wanted my money returned. The Apple store was right around the corner where I could just walk in, buy a new computer and be done with it. He listened carefully to everything I had to say and then asked, "look, how about if I sell you a brand new machine with a $500 discount?" Picture me with my mouth hanging open. We're not in New York City anymore!

There's something in the water here, and it works!-)

Evaluation: Extraordinarily sincere
In Portland Oregon only... Everywhere else, you're on your own.


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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Medley Tea House Cafe

As promised, I'm back to feature another one of the treasures to be found in Multnomah Village, SW Portland. Every time my husband and I make the 10 minute walk from our house to the Village we're charmed at how bustling and lively it is, and have come to truly rely on many of the businesses there several times in a week. Our bank (local to the Pacific NW) is there, as is our doctor's office, as well as the holistic pet food store where we buy kitty food, the card shop which is often helpful for special occasions, a great little book store, a fantastic toy store for our nephew and niece, and, of course, the many really excellent restaurants that we've come to love.

Today's post focuses on Medley Tea House Cafe - so much more than just tea! The first time we stopped in there for brunch was because Fat City Cafe (see previous post) was too busy and we didn't want to wait for a table. This cozy, low-ceilinged restaurant would be right at home in a rural English village - and not in a cloying way at all. Decorated with all kinds of teapots, it's sunny, each table is different, and you can choose just the one that suits you. You can relax there with a cup of tea or coffee, or you can order food from their tantalizing and varied menu.

I love their Fediezeldicker Breakfast Plate with genuinely silken scrambled eggs...I wish I knew how they got them like that! Served with bacon, rosemary home fries and toast, it's the perfect breakfast. Julio's Breakfast Bowl is also delicious, with garlic and onion infused rosemary potatoes, chunks of bacon, spinach and sun dried tomatoes, topped with two fried eggs. There are also health smoothies on the menu, crepes, a breakfast sandwich, bagels and more. And since I'm usually traveling in the company of gluten-free diners, Medley is perfect because they have a truly delectable selection of gluten-free scones, both savory and sweet, as well as other pastries and desserts, both vegan and otherwise. Lunch, served from 11:00 every weekday, features soups, salads and sandwiches, and brunch from 9-2:00 on weekends offers a variety of Eggs Benedict dishes, Chocolate French Toast and other delights. Some day, I'm determined to stop in for afternoon tea between 2 and 5 when they offer, besides their other yummy scones and pastries, finger sandwiches, crepes, and afternoon tea platters with an assortment of the above. I'm sure that no matter how proper I might feel partaking, the experience will still have that wonderful, relaxed Portland vibe about it which Medley seems to accomplish so perfectly.

To me, one of the funnest things about Medley is that, if you order tea from their vast tea menu, you get to choose your own pot and cup! This may sound a little girly, but even my rock-musician son was excited about it.

The service is friendly and attentive and the prices just right. We now make Medley a destination, rather than an over-flow spot. If you're looking for both charm and flavor, this is the place!

Evaluation: 
Very sincere

7881 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97219
medleytea.com

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fat City Cafe

Well folks, Jon and I have made quite the shift in lifestyle. We up and moved out of NYC, all the way across the country to Portland, OR! This is a spectacular place to live, we're finding, and so full of sincere establishments we've been too overwhelmed to single a particular one out for this blog. However, since we've been here now a couple of months, it's time to start sharing with you the many amazing businesses in this beautiful, Pacific NW town. Jon did a post yesterday, which you'll see below, and here's my first of what I'm sure will be many:

The morning after we arrived at our new home in Portland, we headed out to breakfast at Fat City Cafe, in the adorable Multnomah (pronounced: mult-NOH-mah) Village, which is a pleasant 15 minute walk from our house. Multnomah Village (MV) resides in the southwest area of Portland, the outer-lying environs of which are perhaps not highest on the Portland hipness scale, yet MV, along with the nearby community of Hillsdale, are actually kind of magnets for the hip set, not only because they're just so darn quaint (which hipsters ironically rather like) but because of the exceptional restaurants and pubs that abound.

When checking out the area during our house search a couple of months before, Fat City Cafe had called to us among those many eateries, so we had been looking forward to trying it. It's a cozy spot, serving breakfast, brunch and lunch only, with maybe ten or so tables, and seats at the counter. The walls are covered with license plates from around the country as well as other photos and bric-a-brac, but it manages to not be annoyingly kitchy. The servers are super friendly and made us feel warm and welcome right away. The day of our first visit, we both ordered a basic breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast (gluten free for Jon), and were delighted by how delicious it all was. The prices are amazing too, especially because Jon, being an oldster, had the same bacon and eggs under the heading of "Geezer Grub," so it was cheaper still.

We've eaten there a handful of times since and have loved everything we've tried, though we haven't done lunch yet, only breakfast. As a matter of fact, lunch gets pretty crowded there, as does brunch on the weekends so we mainly just go during the week so as to not have to wait. On that first day we went, we noticed that by 11:30 the place was already filling up with bearded, man-bunned types and their goth girlfriends. If the crowd prevents you from getting a table, however, don't hesitate to try one of the other great brunch spots in the village, none of which have disappointed yet. I'll get to those eventually, but for now, there's no doubt that I rate Fat City CafeExtraordinarily sincere!

FatCityCafe.Org
7820 SW Capital Hwy, Multnomah Village
SouthWest Portland, OR
503-245-5457

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Buying a Range in Portland Oregon

The rare and elusive slide-in range. 
The concept seemed so simple. The slide-in range in our new home was on its last legs so we decided to buy a new one. Coincidentally we received a 20% "welcome to the neighborhood" discount  from Loews. We went in, chose the stove, paid for it, and were given a delivery date 7 to 10 business days in the future. Ten business days went by and, nothing. I had to call them to find out that the 7 to 10 had turned into another 7 to 10. So yeah, we agreed, stuff happens. Ten more business days dragged by and, again nothing! I called and was told that they weren't sure when the order would be filled. Got my money back, and after a bitter tweet directed at them, they grudgingly provided a $100 store credit. Better than nothing, right? At least they tried. Next, I found the same range on Amazon (to be fulfilled by The Home Care Company) with a delivery date 7 days in the future, a good week before Thanksgiving. We took the bait and all over again went through the same idiocy we'd gone through with Loews. Several days after Thanksgiving I severed that "deal," with nothing from that company but, gosh sorry since you don't like the deal you can cancel it. Suck it Home Care Company! Amazon, are you listening?

Finally, I searched the exact model of range I wanted within my zip code and discovered an outfit called Hutchins TV and Appliance, about 25 minutes from my home. I called and verified that they had the range, and then drove out and made the purchase. That was a Friday. Jimmy was the very laid back and knowledgeable salesman. We arranged for delivery on Tuesday. With Jimmy's help I understood the space that accepted our old range was more than 2 inches too small and that gave me Monday to fix it. I did that. The friendly delivery/installer, Trenton, arrived exactly on time, went about his business and provided clear instructions. An excellent experience all around!

Evaluation: Extraordinarily sincere!

Hutchins TV and Appliance

  • 512 Southeast Baseline Street
    Hillsboro, OR 97123
    (503) 648-2813
  • Store Hours
  • Monday - Saturday: 9am to 6pm
    And by Appointment Closed Sundays

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

EB Productions Brings You...Azreal's Dissent!

As far as the sincerity level of this enterprise is concerned, I'll admit, I'm biased, but I just had to give it a shout out. My good friend Joyia Bradley and her film company EB Productions are about to embark on an amazing project. She has gathered a group of artists and producers, including her wife Mariana Rotenberg, to put together a short film called Azreal's Dissent, the first in a trilogy of shorts. I had the privilege of reading the script and it totally blew me away. It's edgy, dark, sexy, and hip: a modern myth in which Azreal, the Death Angel, tired of shouldering the world's grief, shrugs off her duties and upsets the the balance of life and death. After a year of no one in the world dying, Archangels Michael and Lucifer join forces in a fight to restore proper order, only to discover their enemy, Lilith, is rising to her destiny to oppose them.

I'm totally hooked on the idea of this film and so I wanted to spread the word about the Indiegogo campaign that's currently under way to put together funding.
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/azreal-s-dissent
One of the perks the campaign offers is to be listed as a producer in the film credits, and that really caught my eye. I mean, how cool would that be? This project is on the road to being something really major, partly because Joyia and her team are hiring a well-known casting director to send some big-name talent their way. Yeah, this is serious.

My husband, Jon, and I have worked with Joyia in the past in many capacities, the three of us interchanging roles as actor or director, camera person, writer, etc. - my son has even written music for her films - so I'm familiar with her high level of professionalism, dedication...and, of course, sincerity. I consider her (and her family) family. I know this project is going to go far; I can't wait to see it in its finished state, and watch it succeed at film festivals, since, of course, that's where it will be headed. Jump on board and do what you can to help out. It's going to be a great ride.

Evaluation: Extraordinarily sincere!

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Seeking Suckers for Sears Sales Scams

Sears
 The image above was borrowed from
http://www.brandautopsy.com/2007/03/would_you_miss__2.html



Mr. Eddie Lambert
3333 Beverly Road, Mail Stop RR
Hoffman Estates , Illinois 60179
Case Number 3053753

Dear Mr. Lambert
I am writing to you because Sears sold me something that they did not have to sell (a fraudulent activity), and then lied about it.

Dec 5, 2014 I used your online interface to purchase a water heater along with an extended warrantee and installation. Six days later, December 11 - 7PM, I called Sears to find out why I had received neither call nor email about my "delivery and installation window" - only to be told they there were no installers in NYC, and that someone had called me earlier in the afternoon to let me know that my installation (though not the purchase of the Water Heater) order had been canceled. My phone shows no incoming calls, and certainly no messages. Needless to say I was not happy. What followed was the worst customer service I have ever encountered, and believe me when I say that I've run up against some real stand-outs. What follows here are the Sears Employee ID numbers of the people I spoke with (over a two hour period) trying to get this resolved 065272-Raul, 260928-Susie, 252609-Jonathan, and 251705-Emilio. There was another Sears rep who I first spoke with whose name and number I did not get - she put me on hold and never returned. After 15 minutes I hung up, called back and began to collect ID's. I was ultimately informed by Emilio, who represented himself as the installation manager for the entire region, that he had no one to whom he reported, that he was the final word on the matter. After an endless looping conversation he finally told me that Sears now only wanted to cancel the entire order and refund my money (in 3 to 5 business days) and that Sears was "no longer interested in my business." I know that all of my conversations with your employees were recorded. While I certainly do not come off sounding like the perfect customer, I do think you should listen to all of them.

Dec. 12 - NOON - My order still shows as "active" on the Sears site. At this point no money has been refunded. Ten minutes after my hellish time with Sears last night I called a local guy who has agreed to come out with a Water Heater and install it in basically the time window that Sears never provided (though it's costing me extra for the fast service and a water heater considerably more expensive than the one I was purchasing from Sears). My tenants have been impatiently doing without hot water for a week based on my agreement with Sears, and I had already arranged to take day off from work to assure that I would be available for the installation.

Same Day - 12:15 PM While I await the local installer, I've called a Sears customer service number 847-286-2500 to file an "Executive Complaint," (as suggested by an online source: Consumeriest.com). I'm at this moment - on hold again with a woman named Michelle-410417, who is actually making an effort to understand what I went through last night. She also found that the order had not been yet been canceled - they still intended to deliver a Water Heater to my door! She assures me that she is taking care of that even as we speak. I'm on hold again. She just came back on the call to let me know that her manager is, at this moment, pulling the phone records of my conversation with Emilio.

Sears needs new hold music!

1:08 PM I am now speaking with James-400533, the manager of Customer Solutions. He is making sure that the money I paid to Sears is indeed being refunded. At this time it is not yet showing on PayPal. James has offered me a $100 compensation gift card, and I have expressed to him that that amount is simply not enough. He let me know that $100 was the limit of compensation that he could offer, however he also informed me that I could escalate this to the corporate division, which I am doing with this correspondence. I figure at this point I am out a minimum of $500 because of what has gone on over the last week. I have stated all of my reasons above. James is arranging for the $100 gift card to be sent to me via email, and has expressed that that gift card is being given only as acknowledgement for my taking the time to let the corporate division know about what has happened - not as part of the direct compensation I am seeking.

2:00 PM - My local installer is here and has informed me that the work is going to cost an extra $75 because he has to solder something! It used to be that Sears was the company that protected me from unscrupulous plumbers and such. It's becoming increasingly difficult to see the difference. I am now requesting that Sears compensate my losses in the amount of $575.00.
Sincerely,
Letter Ends Here

Additional Info:
Dec 15 - 6:30 Called the number that James gave me. 1 800 479 6351 hit option #6 and asked for him because I still do not have the money that Sears owes me from the canceled order. I spoke with Maria (didn't get here company ID) who, when I asked to be transferred to a supervisor since Jim was nowhere to be found, just palmed me off onto another rep, Chris-410635 who in the fine example set by those who came before him - was as ineffectual as the rest of those set with the task of telling people why they should be loyal Sears shoppers even in the face of customer service that is out of touch with today's internet connected, blog savvy, world.

Jan 8 2015 - I received a call from Megan, in response to the letter above, who works in a division of the Sears Monstrosity ironically called "Sears Blue Ribbon Service" - basically she stonewalled me in the same way that those before her did. She informed me that that Sears does not and would not pay for the expenses I incurred through their inept and fraudulent sales techniques.

Jan 10 2015 - I let them know that I would be posting all of this online and anywhere else I deemed appropriate. They let me know that they didn't give a damn. Ah well, another giant corporation that has forgotten the reality that we the consumers are not fond of being taken advantage of.

The current Sears marketing taglines are  "Life. Well spent." and "Work hard, shop smarter." I'm suggesting that they make use of this new one "Thought You Were Getting a Good Deal, Right?"

To this date I still do not have that $100 gift card.  And on and on...

Same Day 4:43 PM - to clarify my last statement (written this morning) - I take that last line back - though I will not remove it:) coincidentally I  received that illusive gift card via email. According to my mail it was sent by Sears yesterday - two days short of a month after they offered it to me. Gosh thanks Sears! 

My advice - shop locally. Maybe pay a little more to the guy who will look you in the eye.) 

Peace!

Evaluation: 
You need to ask? Really?
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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The PERFECT Slippers from The Shearing Shed

I recently got the most wonderful pair of slippers I've ever owned from a place called The Shearing Shed in Belmont, MA. I bought them online, Massachusetts being fairly local to New York where I live. The slippers are made right there in Belmont, a Made in the USA product. I ordered a size 7, though I wear a 7.5, because they didn't have half sizes. I was told to expect them to be snug at first, but that they would form to my feet. When they arrived, I was struck by how well made they were, and also by the beautiful, thick, warm sheep fleece inside and around the ankle. On the outside, they are a beautiful suede. They felt like heaven on my feet, but were indeed quite snug, especially with socks. Almost too snug. But Bob, the owner of the company had sent me a personal email when they were on the way, reminding me that they would be. I decided to put my faith in him, and sure enough, after about 3 days, they were perfect. Every other pair of sheepskin slippers I've ever owned ended up being too big after wearing them for a month or so, flopping around on my feet and not keeping them very warm. Now, several weeks later, these still fit like they were made just for me, and in fact, they were. Bob mentioned they made them when I ordered them. And they were only $49, shipping included. I'm wildly in love with them and hope they never get dirty or worn out. And yet, when they someday need to be replaced, I know right where I'm going to order a new pair. These will make great holiday gifts too!
The Shearing Shed is without a doubt...
Extraordinarily sincere!
http://www.shearingshed.com/Slippers.html

Friday, October 4, 2013

Traveling Green - Guest Post by Cliff Barre

Many people are switching to a green way of living.  This allows more sustainability within the environment as well as the opportunity to save yourself some money on energy and other costs. While you may not think of yourself as the most green or eco friendly savvy person on the planet there are small steps that you can take to achieve a more green way of living.  These steps can be incorporated into almost every aspect of life from daily life to commuting and even travel.  Travel is one of the easiest and best ways to make small switches towards being more green.  From sustainable resorts to eco friendly traveling methods, you can quickly become a green traveler.

Begin your green travel by starting at home.  One way to become a more earth friendly traveler is to start before you even leave for your trip.  Preparing your home and packing responsibly are both great ways to make your experience more eco friendly.  Prepare your home by unplugging all of your electronic devices.  There is no need for these to be plugged in, leaking energy while you are away.  Make sure to set your thermostat at a lower- or higher- temperature than you would need it to be at to stay comfortable.  If it is winter, be sure that the temperature is not too low that pipes will freeze.

Packing can be one of the most exhausting parts of planning for a trip, make it easier by packing green.  Make sure you pack a lot of mix and match outfits to avoid having one or more set outfit everyday.  Also opt for one coat instead of two.  Heavier planes and cars use more fuel and your lighter packing will help keep the weight down and ultimately reduce carbon emissions.

Once you have packed, prepared and taken your eco responsible mode of transportation to your destination be sure that you are maintaining the green attitude throughout the trip.  If you are staying in a cool climate keep drapes or blinds open in the daytime to naturally warm the room. Alternately, if you are in a warm climate keep the blinds or drapes closed to keep the sun from coming in and making the room hotter.  This will reduce your use of artificial climate control systems which will in turn be green friendly.

While it may be tempting to buy into the tourist trap chains in your specific travel area make sure that you are getting everything you need locally.  Just like when you're at home locally grown food and locally produced items.  This saves on the transportation rigors that are often bad for the environment.

There are many green travel destinations within the United States and Upstate New York has something to offer every green traveler.  From the exciting adventures on the Finger Lakes to other outdoor adventures, you will be able to connect with nature and do it responsibly.  If the great outdoors are not your type of fun, there are many different wine tours you can go on and the world's largest green shopping mall.  Destiny USA offers a green shopping environment and boasts many stores that are eco responsible.  You can find something for everyone at this mall.  Choosing Upstate New York as your green travel destination will allow you many different activities no matter what your tastes all without ever having to leave the United States.

If tropical travel is more your style you may be surprised to find that Costa Rica is a great green travel destination.  Costa Rica is the largest green travel destination and has a vast array of eco friendly hotels and travel options for people who want to stay green when they leave home. Volcano exploring, hiking and exquisite beaches are all activities that can be done in Costa Rica. The tourist areas in the country also offer many different and delicious food and drink items that are produced locally so you will be able to eat locally and responsibly when you decide to go out for a night on the town.  It is one of the most popular destinations in the world among all travelers and will be sure to suit travelers that are looking for eco friendly opportunities.

Whether you are a mountain person, a beach person or somewhere in between the two there are green travel options for almost anywhere you visit.  Even if your particular location of travel doesn't offer green options you can quickly and easily use a few different tips and tools to help your experience become more eco responsible.  Whenever you decide to travel green you will be able to have a better time, help the environment with small steps and sometimes be able to save money in the process.   Traveling green is easy, responsible and enjoyable for any type of traveler.

http://responsible-tourists.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Plaza Auto Mall - You May Have Already Won!

Sure, I know what you mean; auto dealers in general have a reputation of being notoriously unethical, so why should I have expected this one to be any different? I wanted to believe them. What got me was the flyer I received in the mail informing me that this particular dealer (about an hour-and-a-half round-trip drive from my home) was willing to offer me 100% OF THE ORIGINAL MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price). I know it seems crazy, but it certainly got my attention just as they intended. As you can see on the flyer (below) - it makes that very compelling statement 3 different times in three different places; each time in large, red, bold, and ALL CAPS lettering.

Click to Enlarge
Georgina and I talked about the distinct possibility that this was some sort of a scam, but I called the dealership and asked some very direct questions (just not the most important question, but I'll get to that in a minute:). Really looking the fine print, I even asked, "is this the MSRP for my car, fully loaded as it is, or are you offering the base price (which would be a significant difference of thousands)?" I was informed that the offer would be based on my car with all of it's enhancements being considered, and after taking my name and indicating that they were very interested in talking with me about my car.

There is a sentence on the flyer, as you can see for yourself, that clearly states, "The only adjustments will be made for mileage, 35¢ to 55¢ depending on models and reconditioning." Yes, I placed those words in bold and in red so that they would stand out. (The dealership did just the opposite of that, for obvious reasons.) Typically, when dealing with car dealers, a statement like that typically refers to mileage in excess of 12,000 miles per year. My car has 27,400 miles on it, and the car is five years old. I figured that I was well within the safe zone. If they wanted to offer me $23,000 for a five year old car, minus a thousand or so for for minor scratches - I'd be really happy. Wouldn't you? 

Without even looking at it, the dealer offered us $10,000 for our car. He gave us that price based primarily on our mileage of 27,400 miles multiplied by .35¢ which, of course, equaled $9590.00 taken off their so called "offer!" 

This was a deliberate, built-in, intentional loophole allowing them to tell an outright lie, while making it appear that they were being as truthful as possible! OMG!

I just captured this quote from the website of the owner of Plaza Auto Mall 

"Always work hard, always keep your word, and always be good to people."

Uh, we really didn't have that experience.

We were more than annoyed, and we left the building. A few minutes later, after having examined the flyer which we were told explained it all very clearly, we walked back in and asked to speak to Marcello Scarrino. This is the same Marcello whose name appears on the flyer, which informed us that their research had indicated:

"Recently we have seen an increased demand for certain vehicles, and our research indicates you could be driving one of these vehicles. If so I have an incredible offer for you. I am willing to purchase your vehicle for 100% OF THE ORIGINAL MSRP base price when your vehicle was new! You read that correctly , we will buy back your current 2003-2011 vehicle for 100% of the original base price as listed in the current National Automobile Dealers Association™ Guide."
The general value of my car in today's market.
As you might imagine, Marcello and I had quite a discussion. He informed me with a blank, though seemingly sincere look on his face, that they were, after all, a car dealership and that the reason they sent out ads was to bring people into the dealership to sell them cars, and wondered aloud how I could have even thought for a moment that they would offer as much money for a used car as for a new one. I wondered aloud the same thing, but then there was all their research to be considered, indicating that there was, "an increased demand for my type of vehicle." With a straight face he said, "well, millions of people sign up for the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes every year." Further, he said, "we're here to sell cars and that's why you got that flyer. It was just to get you in here." He's right I suppose, I should be reading all advertisements as if they were contracts, right?

Interestingly, there is nothing on that flyer that is overtly offering to sell me a car. 
There are however 
2 NO-RISK OPTIONS
  • TAKE THE CASH OFFER FOR YOUR VEHICLE
  • TRADE FOR A NEW OR PRE-OWNED VEHICLE
There it is then, when dealing with this Honda dealer (or any of the other car sellers all owned by Mr. John Rosatti under the catchall name  Plaza Auto Mall) realize, based on the helpful and well considered information provided by the General Manager, Mr. Marcello Scarrino, that it's really very much the same as receiving an important looking envelope that indicates that, "You May Have Already Won!

I didn't want, nor was I looking for something for nothing. The flyer got me to believe that for whatever reason my car had an intrinsic value beyond what one might realistically expect. Okay, I admit it it - they got me. 

What if we lived in a world where "always be good to people" was not just a collection of words? What would the world be like if automobile dealers became the people known for being honest, dependable, and trustworthy? Impossible you say? 

Such an impossibility could be changed by any automobile dealership if they wanted it to happen. What are they afraid they might become if they were to make such a change?

Here's a possibility: an automobile dealership known for its integrity. 

Would I write about such a thing? In a heartbeat:-)

But in this case unfortunately our evaluation is:  You need to ask? Really?
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PLAZA AUTO MALL
2740 Nostrand Ave 
Brooklyn, NY 11210
800-553-4645 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Local and a Chain

We ate at two very good places here in NYC over the course of the last few days. The one we went to on the Fourth of July was the more special of the two for various reasons, but they both deserve mention.

Since it was too hot and we didn't feel like grilling on the Fourth, we went to a barbecue place in Astoria we hadn't tried before. It's called Butcher Bar, though the sign on the building just says "Smoke." Small but comfortable on the inside, there's also a backyard garden for dining though too steamy that night for us. We were drawn to Butcher Bar because its website said all the meat is grass-fed, free-range, hormone and antibiotic free, etc., and everything they serve is organic. There were even vegetarian options like veggie burgers for the friend my son brought along, but I wouldn't go in there if I were a strict vegetarian, because they do have a meat-market case and there's a lot of red, raw meat on display. Well, it suited me fine, but only because of the afore-mentioned natural-ness of the meat. I ordered a 1/4 pound each of the pulled pork and brisket (I wanted burnt ends but, like most good bbq places they were sold out by that time of the day) and mashed potatoes. My husband got ribs and potato salad. Everything was divine - I mean scrumptious! And very reasonably priced. However, as friendly, kind, helpful, and fast the waitresses were, the kitchen couldn't keep up with the rush. We waited about a 1/2 for our food and my son and his friend longer, as they came in after us. The waitress said they were always busy on holidays, but if that's the case, the management should plan ahead for it. Oh, and it took about 15 minutes to get our check back after we gave them the credit card, so maybe the waitresses got overwhelmed too. Anyway, I love the idea of a local place that serves great, natural and organic, sustainable food in a nice and friendly atmosphere. For this I rate Butcher Bar:
Extraordinarily sincere!

The chain restaurant we visited Friday the Fifth for lunch in Manhattan was Chop't - a place many readers may already be familiar with. I hadn't yet experienced the chopped salad phenomenon, but it sounded good, and Jon and I just needed a quick, light lunch. Jon ordered a Cobb Salad while I was still deciding, but when we looked at the amount of food going into it, decided to split it. He asked them to divide it into two bowls and I thought they would quibble, but they did it ever so cheerfully, at no extra charge. They were patient as he decided on the dressing, and in general were very friendly - something you don't always find in NYC. At the cashier, we were thinking about getting a drink, and she offered us a free cup of ice water. Very nice. The place was cool and comfortable - we even got a booth, and best of all, the meats are all free-range and hormone free. The veggies are not necessarily organic, but they try to serve local foods as much as possible. The salad was delicious and half of it was plenty for lunch. The whole thing, at 670 calories would have been way over the top for me, but most salads there had way fewer calories - between 300 and 400 for the whole thing, which is more like it. And one more super-plus: you can recycle the plastic to-go bowls and all other plastics, except the forks. They also have to-stay bowls that they wash and re-use, but we didn't think of it in time. I try to avoid chains, though this one is only in NY and Washington D.C. so far. I have to say, Chop't is one I'd try it again. So, though I would rarely give a chain our highest rating, I'll certainly rate it:
Pretty sincere!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Basil Brick Oven Pizza


The green lasagna!
Jon and I were among the lucky few to be invited to the rebirth of Basil Brick Oven Pizza's menu: a night for food bloggers and critics to sample the delights that Chef Daniele Barbos of Piemonte, Italy has recently dreamed up. We love discovering new (or old) places in our Astoria neighborhood, especially if they're within walking distance, but Basil is known as a destination for diners from far and wide. Two blocks off the N or Q train, at Astoria Blvd in Queens, those hungering for the best, authentic pizzas and reasonably priced, gourmet Italian fare come from every borough in New York...and beyond.

For some reason, on the night of the tasting event, we decided to sit apart from the communal table where most of the food writers were gathered - and by doing so were rewarded with being joined by Joe Giannola, one of the owners, and his nephew, Vito, though throughout the night, many members of the Giannola family came by to say hello and make sure our every need was being met. It certainly was. I want to say we merely "tasted" Daniele's newest creations, as well as some of his standards, but the fact is, we were served full portions of everything, so that by the time we got to the main course meats, I could barely move, much less taste. But I want you to know, I gave it my darnedest - everything from the appetizers, including the freshest octopus carpaccio on a bed of lemony arugula, and the fat, juicy clams swimming in a sea of redolent white wine sauce, to the first courses: green lasagna made with pesto, homemade mozzarella, potatoes and bechamel sauce, delicious lobster ravioli, an inventive risotto with speck (a kind of gourmet dried ham), radicchio and mascarpone, and one with asparagus, mushrooms and seafood; and finally, salmon, rack of lamb, and pork medallions - juicy and perfectly cooked with all kinds of delectable garnishes and side dishes. The legendary pizzas were to be served after that, but with not an ounce of room left in my belly, I had to pass, and instead went home loaded down with leftovers and lots of hugs and kisses from the Giannolas, Daniele, and even our wait staff.
Basil's dining room

Yes, they were conscientious of us being food writers, especially because I was doing double-duty that night, being on assignment for the Queens Gazette Newspaper. But by the accounts of others that have delved into the delights of Basil, the family that makes up everything from owners to bussers is always like that. The food is always exceptional and you always feel like you fit right in with la famiglia. On this blog, we're never paid or bribed to say nice things about any business we visit. Yet, though we were fed for free, the sincerity was so palpable at Basil, I have no choice but to declare it: Extraordinarily sincere!

Basil Brick Oven Pizza 
28-17 Astoria Blvd.
Astoria, New York
www.basilbrickoven.com

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Amé Amé (or Rain and Candy)

I haven't posted for a while about just a great little New York shop, but I love Amé Amé on East 9th Street in Manhattan. I went in on a rainy day to buy an umbrella. At first I balked at paying $27.00 for a collapse-able umbrella, even though the designs were all so cute, and the one I was interested in was super-compact, because I was sure I'd lose it or it would break. But the salesperson, who I think is the owner,Teresa Soroka, assured me that if I put it back in it's waterproof case every time I used it, rather than letting it flop onto the floor to dry wherever I went, I wouldn't lose it - nor would it break. Though little, it was super strong, she said. Since my other problem is that my son always borrows my umbrellas and loses them, I bought one with black, white and grey roses so he wouldn't be tempted. It's very pretty and very vintage-y looking. Sure enough, one year later, I still have it, it still works perfectly, and it stands up in any wind. I adore it. Points for that, Amé Amé!

Then, I needed rain boots and saw some cute yellow ones in their on-line store. When I went in to the shop, they were higher in price, but the same salesperson let me have them for the low on-line price of $40, I believe it was. They are comfy, warm, adorable, and really sturdy. More points!

Yes, Amé Amé is a little pricey. I checked just now and didn't see anything in their on-line store as cheap as the prices I mentioned, but there's more variety in the store. And besides, most of their items are made in Canada, England or the U.S. They are the epitome of a great, local business. And did I mention they sell candy too? I used to think they were called Rain and Candy... just an adorable idea for a store. Please patronize them this holiday season, either in person or on-line. You can order from anywhere in the world!

Ame Ame
318 E. 9th street
New York, NY 10003


Evaluation:
Pretty sincere

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Monday, November 5, 2012

New Yorkers and the Storm

Staten Island  http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog
New York was focused on the upcoming election pitting Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and then we were suddenly, physically, torn away from that fascination by the super-storm, blithely named Sandy.  It has occurred to me that the sincerity of individuals affected by the storm had been tested to the limits of endurance.

It's been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I would argue that there are no conservatives in need of governmental assistance - especially when everything they have accumulated over a lifetime has been washed out to sea.

Breezy Point  http://www.bnqt.com
I want to be clear that I am not viewing this from a distance, safe and secure in the knowledge that it could not happen to me and my family, but rather from a mere block away from where food and water was delivered by the National Guard  to the part of my community, the housing projects, that was flooded out. Okay, so those people were likely not conservatives before, and clearly they are not now. But they are no different, in the way of current need, from other people a few miles away in a comparatively wealthy community, who, up until a scant few days ago, were financially secure and dedicated to the idea that what they had was a result of nothing but their own hard work - as opposed to by birthright and  entitlement. I would also argue that this last group is generally (though certainly not all) representative of the conservative mindset in our society.

New Yorkers Helping New Yorkers  http://www.dnainfo.com
When faced with total loss, with nowhere and no one to turn to,  public generosity and governmental intervention are more than welcome. I wonder if some event were to happen in the life of any very wealthy person, taking from them everything, so that no trace of their wealth remained - how long would conservatism endure?

We are all part of a community of people who understand what it means to stand united and outside of political posturing.

Evaluation: The sincerity of individual New York neighbors supporting all of their neighbors, rich and poor in the face of unimaginable loss: Extraordinarily sincere



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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Best Public, Public Bathroom in New York City, and Other Suggestions

Locals and tourists alike are often looking for the same thing, no matter what city they're in: a convenient, clean, FREE, public bathroom. I've heard that in some cities, like London, you pay for certain public bathrooms. In many places, we rely on McDonalds, Starbucks or other fast-food joints that we recognize. In New York City, McDonalds is rarely clean, and at Starbucks you have to ask for the key. Neither of those options work for me.

I like to know my bathroom choices, whether I'm traveling abroad, or traveling around my own city, New York. Here, I know where there's a bathroom I can use no matter where I am, though there are different levels of restroom preferences. Hands down, the best public bathroom in New York City, and by public I mean free and not on or in private property, is the bathroom on the 42nd Street side of Bryant Park, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. Though a little small, only three stalls in the ladies room (and I'm afraid I can only speak to the ladies' side), as you enter, the first thing you see is a huge bouquet of fresh flowers. Inside, the room is spotlessly clean. An attendant, whom you are not pressured to tip, is on hand to keep things clean, and make sure people don't linger needlessly (I hate to say this, but let's face it, she keeps the homeless people from mucking it up, though I hope she allows them to use it.) There's even classical music playing! Sometimes there's a line, but it's usually not a long one. It's definitely a place for the quicker pit stops, and I don't believe there's a diaper changing table.

All of NYC's parks have restrooms. Another decent one is in Central Park, along the stairs that are near the Bethesda Fountain. It's big, and usually clean, but there's no guarantee of that, and it's only handy if you're in the middle of Central Park. There are several other OK bathrooms in CP, but as in the other parks, none of them is great.

If you're not in the Bryant Park area or the vicinity of another city park when you need a bathroom, I recommend a few other options that don't involve going into a restaurant where you have to buy something or ask for a key:
1. Department stores - big, clean and you can generally take your time, but you have to be
willing to go in, find it, and get out without being distracted by shopping.
2. Sit down/take out cafes - I'm thinking of places like Europa Cafe, Panera Bread, or similar. Some are better than others. At most of these kinds of places, no one notices you coming in just to use the bathroom. However, some of their restrooms are quite small, and they're not always clean. Certain other places, like Le Pain Quotidien, are designed to make it really obvious if you're just going in to use the bathroom, so you have to choose carefully.
3. Churches. These can be iffy because churches in NYC are not always open to the public except on Sunday morning. However, a place like St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is a tourist attraction as well as a church, is a good choice - free, clean, and no one is paying attention to whether you are only going in for the bathroom.
4. Bookstores: same pros and cons as department stores.5. Pizza or bagel joints. Anything that is considered a restaurant is supposed to have a public bathroom, but in NYC these little pizza and bagel places, delis as well, don't always, and even if they do, they're generally disgusting, just to discourage you from using them. Same with Chinese take-out places. I once used one where I had to step over a huge hole in the floor to use the toilet. Ew. (However, this doesn't compare to the actual hole in the ground that passed for a ladies room at the train station in Chiusi, Tuscany. That one, however, was far superior to the filthy hole in the ground I once used at a "bathroom" at a beach in Acapulco.)
5. Whole Foods/Trader Joes, etc. Similar issues to department stores and bookstores.
6. Libraries. Passable, but you have to get well inside and be scrutinized by the security. (Another anecdote: I was in a small town in England and needed a potty. I went into the library, and politely asked if they had a restroom. The woman replied, "We don't have anything so fancy as that here, but there is a public toilet down the street." I can't remember if I had to pay for it or not.)7. Public atriums. They all have to have restrooms and they can be really nice, but they don't make them easy to find. There's a big, beautiful one in Trump Tower, 5th Ave and 56th street, but you have to go all the way downstairs, past the restaurants and down a long hallway. It's worth it when you get there though.

Knowing where these kinds of places are in relation to where you're shopping, doing errands, or site-seeing, can really make a difference. If I'm downtown in the Village, I might stop into the Whole Foods in Union Square for a pit stop. More preferable still is The Strand bookstore on Broadway and 12th, and there's a Barnes and Noble on Union Square North as well as on on 18th and 5th Ave. Around St. Mark's Place there's a pizza place on the corner of St. Mark's and 3rd Ave that will do, though it's not very clean, and the bathroom in Washington Square Park will do in a pinch. I don't go all the way downtown to around Wall Street very often, but there's a Burger King down there that immediately comes to mind. In Chelsea, there's Chelsea Market, around the FlatIron District I believe you can find bathrooms in Eataly, but that's the most distracting and fascinating place in the world, so be careful. Around 34th Street there's Macy's, then farther uptown is the afore-mentioned Bryant Park restroom. Midtown, there's a Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, several atriums - you can Google these just by entering "Atriums, Manhattan" - libraries, and of course Central Park. I have to say, I'm not that familiar with the Upper West Side, but tourists don't spend a lot of time there anyway, except in Central Park or the Natural History museum, which of course have lots of bathrooms. That brings me to museums in general. Even if they're pay-what-you can, like the Met or the Natural History, it's not worth that buck or two because they're hidden in the depths of the museum, and unless you have lots of time to spare, you really risk getting pulled into the wonders that lie within the museum itself. On the Upper East Side there's a Barnes and Noble on 86th & Lex, also a Bed Bath and Beyond around 63rd and 1st Avenue - they always have bathrooms. I once used a bathroom in Ralph Lauren around Madison Ave. and 72nd street, but I really had to pretend to be shopping. 

I hope this post helps you be prepared for your time in NYC. After all, these little realities of life are important when you're planning that dream vacation - especially with kids.

Evaluation of Bryant Park Public Bathroom and by default the NYC Parks Department: Extraordinarily sincere!

Here are some suggestions from other sites:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cafe St. Malo, Quebec City

The bar/counter area of Cafe St. Malo
I haven't posted here in a while; I've been so busy working on my third book, which I continued to do WHILE on vacation in Quebec City. Vacation? No rest for the wicked here! In all seriousness, there were so many wonderful things about Quebec City, and so many truly sincere things to comment on, I didn't have much time to write anything down. I finally just decided to spin the wheel and put my finger on one: the restaurant that provided the best meal and loveliest dining experience we had there, Cafe St. Malo (or Cafe Le St. Malo, it seems to go by both). It's located in the super-quaint "Low Town" (Basse-Ville) in Old Quebec (Vieux Québec). Because Low Town is so cute and charming, it's crawling with tourists and rife with pricey shops, not a situation I would exactly call sincere, but Cafe St. Malo is a bit off the beaten tourist track. Just walking in, I sniffed sincerity in the air. Built solidly of stone, like most buildings in Low Town, (because it's the area of QC first settled) with low ceilings supported by massive wooden beams, and filled with interesting accouterments, each table feels like it has it's own nook so that you're not right on top of someone else's dinner. We were eight people in all, so that's not an easy feat to accomplish in a restaurant that maybe seats 25 at a time. Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you about how I made the reservation partly in French and how tolerant the hostess was of my limited skills in that language! As a matter of fact, I tried to make the reservation for 6:30 but they asked that we come at 6:00 since we were such a large party. We were late, of course, but they didn't blink an eye, nor at the fact that we didn't all show up at once, or that we had two little ones with us. The restaurant manages to be both elegant and family friendly at the same time. The prices were surprisingly reasonable, and for an additional $8 or so, one could add a soup or salad, and dessert, so many of us did.
My adorable niece Chloe, and my lovely mother Pat at Cafe St. Malo

And the food: oh my gosh. We started with a couple of orders of escargot and foie gras. Perfect. We decided on a carafe of the house red, and they brought us an oversized bottle. It was also...perfect. Then the main course: most ordered the steak frites, my sister's boyfriend ordered liver (ack!),  and my sister and I ordered mussels and fries. Let me just mention that the special of the night was horse. Yes, horse. None of us went there. Anyway, when our buckets of mussels arrived, my sister and I realized we probably could have split one. There must have been 100 mussels in that thing! And they weren't the tough, rubbery ones. They were tender as butter, and redolent with garlic and white wine. Neither of us wanted to admit defeat before we'd made it to the end of our buckets, which we did; plus we ate a fair number of our fries - stuffed, but happy. The eaters of the steak frites, and even of the liver, were thrilled as well - I tasted the steak and it was superb. The only tiny complaint I have is that the fries didn't come with mayo or vinegar, and when we asked, were given a run-of-the-mill version of both. But that's OK. Every other detail was attended to and the service was flawless. We were especially amused by our waiter who spoke English extremely well but sounded like Kermit the Frog, a fact my nephew very nearly announced out loud to the whole restaurant. Dessert was dee-lish, and we left completely happy, full beyond belief, and declaring it was one of the best meals we'd ever had.

Evaluation: Very sincere

75 Rue St-PaulQuebec CityQuebecCanada

(418) 692-2004
(One can find a full rundown of all the great things we discovered in Quebec City by visiting the post I wrote for Indie Chicks Cafe: http://indiechickscafe.com/oh-so-charming-quebec-city/)

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