As noted in the article, they are getting ready to move across the street into some swank new digs, and I can’t wait. Erik and his staff do an outstanding job bringing in cheeses from Midwest artisans and run a first-class cheese shop right in little ol’ Oak Park. If you’re ever in the Chicago area, I highly recommend stopping in!
Has anyone ever been to the Seed Conference?
With speakers like Jason Fried, Jake Nickell, Jeffry Kalminkoff, Jim Caudal and Gary Vaynerchuk, it sounds like it would be “conference” right up my alley. And with almost four years of law school under my belt, I sure could use a creative infusion right about now.
The only drawback for me is the price tag ($500). With four years of law school student loans about to go into repayment and a baby on the way, it’s hard to justify $500 on a one-day conference.
I’d love to hear about your experiences…
I already have…
Kristyna for Judge!
Have you?! If not, get out and do it!!
My mortgage is with Fifth-Third Bank. The first thing I have to say is that, at least in Chicago and on the phone, they have some of the nicest customer service people I’ve ever dealt with at a bank. They are just sweet. Unfortunately, they are (expletive deleted) incompetent.
Like many people, we escrow our property taxes. A portion of my monthly mortgage payment goes into an escrow account and when the property tax installments are due, Fifth Third pays them. And Fifth-Third did pay ours. Twice. That’s where the nightmare started.
If you’re familiar with Cook County and some of the suburbs, you probably already know property taxes are a nightmare. So imagine my shock when I got a statement from Fifth-Third saying that our escrow was short several thousand dollars.
Now, I never claimed to be a financial genius. But I can add. And when it comes to our mortgage and property taxes, I’m pretty thorough. So I was quite surprised when I received this statement and the accompany letter that Fifth-Third was raising our payment by $500 a month to cover the shortage. Something was up. And when I looked at the amount of the shortage, I noticed it was exactly, to the penny, the amount of our last tax installment. Curious. Then I looked at the tax payment dates on the statement. Wait a minute?! Fifth-Third paid an installment they shouldn’t have!
No problem, I assumed. Surely this will be easy to straighten out. Well, let’s just say I had an easier time shaving my cats.
First, I tried calling the Fifth-Third support line. They were super friendly! And extremely unhelpful. They denied the bank had made any mistaken payments. They denied anything was wrong—except that we owed them more money. They did promise to fax me copies of the cancelled tax checks and mail them out. I never got a fax. I never received a letter.
I started calling back. A lot. I got more friendly phone people, even some supervisors. They all understood my problem, but couldn’t do anything. They all promised to fax/mail the info I wanted. I never got a fax. I never received a letter.
Out of frustration, I called Cook County. The lady on the phone there was not friendly. But you know what? She did her job. She pulled up our PIN. She said, “Our records clearly show a duplicate payment.” And then she promised to send me a copy of our statement, along with a form to request a refund. I got both in the mail two days later.
I faxed the info to Fifth-Third. Then I called. “Oh, that double payment,” they said. “Oh, we see that now. You should really fix that.”
So my wife and I decided to try the personal approach. We went to the local branch. There, we met a very friendly, dedicated and helpful branch manager. He was apologetic. He agreed to take care of everything. We went away, feeling good.
Then, a week later, we got a letter from him saying he’d just faxed all our info over to the tax department. Yes, it not only took him a week to get to our problem—but then all he did was fax the same info I’d already faxed to their tax department!
Another week passed. Now we got a letter from the tax department. Finally, a Fifth-Third representative was taking ownership of the problem. Well, no. Instead, we got a letter stating that we should request a refund from Cook County (duh) and if we had any questions to call… the tax department!
I wish I could say this nightmare was over, but it drags on. We finally got the name of the tax department representative… because she included it on a letter she sent to Cook County on our behalf, asking them to send us a refund form. We called her. She promised to take care of it.
That was two weeks ago. She hasn’t.
Now, I hear you all saying, “Why don’t you just request the refund yourselves.” Well, we need copies of those cancelled checks, as proof of payment. You know, the ones Fifth-Third has promised on a half-dozen occasions to fax and mail to me. The ones I have, to this day, not received.
In the meantime, in order not to be delinquent on my mortgage, I’m having to bite the bullet and pay Fifth-Third the extra $500 each month. And we have a tax installment coming due in September.
I can tell you one thing I’m doing next week: talking to another bank about re-financing our mortgage. Fifth-Third has lost my business forever.
A few weeks ago my wife took me to Topolobampo with friends for my 35th birthday. It was actually a birthday surprise, which was pretty damn cool! I’m not easy to surprise… Topolobampo is Rick Bayless’ fine dining Mexican restaurant in Chicago, the “upscale sister” to the Frontera Grill. The name comes from a port in Mexico that was also once home to a utopian colony in the late 1800s.
The atmosphere is really fantastic. It’s adjacent to Frontera, but much darker and more sedate. It’s quieter, which lends itself to good dinner conversation. Our server, Oliver, was friendly without being pushy, had excellent recommendations and was very attentive without being obnoxious. Oh, and Bayless himself was dining a few tables over, which is always a good sign.
Now, the food! My friend Ken had the Pato al Pasilla con Higos, which was a pan-roasted duck breast in a sauce made from pasilla chiles and figs, with a bacon and potento torda, green beans, and a fig-jicama salsa. It looked very delicious. His girlfriend Kelly had the Borrego en Mole Coloradito, which I was able to sample as well as part of the chef’s menu.
Since it was my birthday, my wife and I splurged and went with the degustation menu. I went all out, and got the wine pairings as well–and I’m glad I did!
The first course was Sopes de Papa con Mantarraya, which were these little potato-masa “boats” that were filled with a tomato braised skatewing. It was topped with some roasted tomatoes, capers and pickled jalapeno salad with queso fresco. They were delicious. The skatewing was perfect, and the potato-masa boats gave a nice texture contrast. This course was paired with a 2004 Nora Da Neve Albarino, a Spanish wine that was *perfect* with this course. Absolutely perfect. By itself, I think the wine was decent, but not something I’d normally drink, but it just matched the flavors of the tomato and and skatewing to perfection.
Next was Sopa Azteca de Hongos Silvestres, which as a wild mushroom broth, flavored with pasilla chiles, tomatos and epazote, with crispy torillas, mushrooms, and cheese. I wasn’t as impressed with this dish–it was server lukewarm, and I just prefer my soup hot. The taste of the broth was nice, and the cheese was fantastic. But overall, I was a little disappointed with the dish. It was paired with a 2004 Andrew Murray Vinyards “Enchante” from California, which was a nice pairing, but after the perfection of the first dish, my expectations were built up to expect more.
Fortunately, the next dish, Arroz a la Tumbada, was back on top. This was a Mexican “paella” which had mahimahi, shrimp, scallops, Dungeness crab and baby octopus, served over white rice with a roasted tomato-jalapeño salsa. Oh. Man. The seafood was perfectly cooked. I mean, perfect. The scallops were done to perfection, and all of the dishes components came together perfectly as one–not a collection of different ingredients. It was paired with a 2002 Joan D’Anguera “Finca L’Agrata” from Spain, which at first seemed an odd pairing–it’s a red, syrah/cab blend(?), a bright berry taste and a hint of pepper, not unlike a Zinfandel. It was quite tasty on it’s own, and it actually worked as a pairing, so I was pretty pleased.
The final dish was Borrego en Mole Coloradito, which was the lamb dish that Kelly had. The lamb was done to perfection, delicate and succulent. It was served in an ancho chile mole, with wild mushroom/chocolate tamales and spinach. The lamb itself was my favorite dish of the night. I’d never had lamb with a mole, but it was divine. The mole was one of the best I’ve ever had, and it was just fantastic with the lamb. The spinach was great (it be hard to mess up spinach!) but I really could have lived without the tamales. They didn’t look particularly appetizing, as they had a dark brown color and a shape that just–well, let’s say if you ran across them at the dog park… At first, I thought they were interesting, but after a bite or two, the mushroom and chocolate were just not working together well. Overall they were the biggest disappointment of the night. This dish was paired with a 2004 Betts & Scholl Grenache, from Australia, which wasn’t the best pairing of the night, but was solid.
Finally, we ended with a sample of desserts: a chocolate and banana tart with peanut frangipan, prickly pear ice cream with chocolate sauce, and a passionfruit panna cotta. The tart was good, but somewhat typical, and the prickly pear ice cream was pretty good. I’d never had prickly pear ice cream before but I would again. Really, though, it was the passionfruit panna cotta that really stood out, it was incredible. It was a great balance of sweet and tart, and was garnished with a thin slice of dried passionfruit that just put it over the top. I would have gladly traded the other two desserts for more of the passionfruit! The dessert was paired with a 2005 Hirschbach & Sohne “Binger St. Rochuskapelle”, an Eiswein from Germany. I may love German beer, but I really don’t care for German wine. If you like eiswein, it would probably be a good pairing, but I find it cloying.
Overall, I thought Topolobampo was really a fantastic dining experience. The atmosphere was exactly what I want in a fine dining restaurant: subtle and elegant. The staff were on their game and the service was excellent. And the food was out of this world. Yes, there were some “misses” on the degustation menu, but I think that’s to be expected. It means the Chef is taking some risks, and on some dishes, it really pays off, even if occasionally it doesn’t.
There was also a final surprise (my wife really went all out this year, did I mention how much I love her?!!) which was a copy of Mexico: One Plate at a Time that she had gotten Chef Bayless to personalize for me. A very cool 35th birthday, indeed.
So, if you’re looking for a great fine dining experience in Chicago with a great ethnic twist, I think Topolobampo is an excellent choice. I will definitely be returning!
This American Life on television, it’s here! The first episode is available to watch for free on the Showtime website.
I was really pleased with how well the show has translated to video. They really have done an outstanding job capturing the mood, feel and content of the radio show, while integrating visual imagery. Do I like it as much as the radio show? I’ll hold off for a few more episodes, but I’m pretty hopeful.
The only issue I have is that it’s on Showtime. There’s nothing else on Showtime I’m interested in… is it worth paying for Showtime just for TAL on TV? Hmmm.
I am never using LaSalle Flowers again. Which makes me sad because I used to love this shop. Here’s why…
Each year for Valentine’s Day, I get my wife a bunch of white tulips because she loves them and I love her. I always used to get my flowers from the LaSalle Flower shop in Chicago, because they have quality flowers and do an outstanding job with arrangements.
This year, I went in and placed my order a week before Valentine’s Day. I wrote out a card. The shop let me know that they couldn’t guarantee a delivery time, being Valentine’s Day and all, which was fine with me, so long as the flowers were delivered on Valentine’s Day. And while her office was open.
They were delivered at 5:02pm. Two minutes after her office closes. The deliver person did catch the receptionist and was able to squeeze them in. My wife had already left for the day. I’d picked her up myself at 4:55. We probably passed the delivery van on the road. On our way home, I called the shop to find out where the flowers were. They told me they would look into it and then never returned my call.
Now, I do understand it was Valentine’s Day and they are super busy. I’m not trying to be unreasonable. But when you count on a business like this and they don’t deliver, I think customer service demands stepping up to the plate.
The only thing the shop was willing to do to make amends in the situation was deliver the flowers to another location (i.e. pick them up at my wife’s office and take them to our home) or take them back for a refund. Take back a bouquet of flowers from my wife??! Yes, they seriously suggested that as an option!
I buy, or rather, bought flowers from LaSalle Street on a regular basis. My wife always loves their arrangements. Unfortunately, after the employees and manager today were rude, unapologetic, and unwilling to give me any kind of credit for what was their mistake, I’m not buying flowers from them again.
It’s about customer service. If they had returned my call in the first place and offered a credit of some kind, I’d be a really happy customer, writing a story about a great local business. Hell, even if they had just apologized profusely–I do understand it’s a busy day for them. Instead, here I am, writing a warning to others not to patronize a business that clearly doesn’t get customer service.
When I called again this morning, they were rude and completely unsympathetic. Do you know they didn’t apologize to me once? Not the employee who took my call. Not the manager she handed me off to. A simple apology would have created a lot of good will. Instead, here’s how my conversation with the manager ended today:
“So, you’re telling me that even though I’m a loyal customer, and it was your mistake in not getting the flowers out on-time, there is absolutely nothing you’re willing to do to make amends and keep my business?”
“I’m sorry I will never be doing business with your shop again.”
Anyone know a good florist in Chicago?
Update: Oh. My. God. You are not going to believe this!! My wife was out of the office and she got a call from the receptionist… the shop sent someone to take back the flowers!! Unreal. I specifically told the manager this morning that we were keeping the flowers (and they already charged my card.) My wife told the receptionist to let them take them, at least she’s pissed off at them, not me! Still, can you believe that??! Maybe they read this post and decided to retaliate. 🙂
However, if you want to know about the heart of Chicago food, we’re talking fine dining, you should check out GreaseFreak who reviews (with photos!) real Chicago food, from Italian Beef to Hot Dogs. I’m both proud and ashamed to say that I know many of the restaurants on GreaseFreak’s list. Check it out!