Getting lucky – unexpectedly good food

One of the pleasures (and I suppose there have to be some) of frequent travel is when we discover somewhere good to eat, that wasn’t expected. You can always look up the good restaurants near the hotel, or the nearest brewpub for a tasty IPA. But sometimes you can be surprised by what’s on your immediate doorstep.

Chain hotels are usually very careful to give a consistent experience. Wherever you are in the world, they will normally have much the same menu, the same drinks, the same decor … But occasionally some individuality crops up.

There was the Embassy Suites in Portland, Oregon where we showed up late, needing a meal after a day of travel, and were told “we’ve got some fish that we smoke on-site.” And that was also where I got introduced to Fat Tire beer. I think we ate (and drank) in their restaurant almost all week.

Then there was the Hilton Garden Inn, only recently opened at the time, where the chef would come out of the kitchen and tell us what ingredients he had. “What would you like me to make with them.” No menu, just excellent food.

And this past week, we’ve been in Pittsburgh for the SHARE conference. We couldn’t get into the official event hotel, so were staying about half mile away in the Doubletree Suites. Again, first evening in there we weren’t expecting much but needed a meal after a day on planes. But the food in their “Bigelow Grille” was so different than the usual menu, locally-sourced ingredients, made into beautiful plates. The garlic and mushroom soup; the steak with chanterelles; the fact that they knew how to caramelise onions; the schnapps icecream … And a good selection of beers too – admittedly they didn’t have an IPA on tap for the first half of the week, but we did work through all their other offerings. One of the serving staff said that some of the guests don’t like the menu because it’s different; we loved it because it’s different. And it wasn’t excessively priced either.

Pleasures like that make up for some of the tedium we normally have to suffer in these hotels.

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