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Chicago restaurant brings fresh California cuisine to the Midwest

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For chef Erling Wu-Bower, few things are better than breaking bread with friends and family and settling into a lively conversation with good food and drink. And that is the premise behind Pacific Standard Time, a California-inspired restaurant Wu-Bower opened in April in Chicago’s bustling River North neighbourhood with his partner, Joshua Tilden. Their company, Underscore Hospitality, in turn, teamed up with the three owners — Donnie Madia, Paul Kahan and Terry Alexander — of One Off Hospitality, the crew behind the popular Chicago restaurants Blackbird and Avec.

The light-filled PST has midcentury modern touches like sleek brass fixtures, earth tones, light wood flooring and white tiles, evoking a homey feel. But it’s a pair of wood-burning ovens that form the centrepiece of the restaurant.

Open to the dining room, one oven is dedicated to fluffy pitas and rustic pizzas, the other for roasting everything from fresh fish and produce imported from California, to hearty local meats, which will become more plentiful on the menu as the weather gets colder. Nearly everything coming out of the kitchen has some sort of wood-roasted component, and that’s intentional.

“I love eating things cooked in a wood-fired oven, things with burned edges,” Wu-Bower said. “Sometimes a piece of cod may break in the oven and we’ll still put it on the plate.”

Start your meal with one of the fluffy-yet-crisp pita dishes, served alongside abundant ahi over green chickpea hummus, or a wood-fired eggplant with creamy whipped ribolina. Follow that with another star on the menu: Harry’s Berries Strawberries. Wu-Bower found the strawberries at the Santa Monica Farmers Market — people were lining up to get them — and, after tasting one, knew he had to import them to Chicago. Served with soft stracciatella, seasonal snap peas and hazelnuts, the dish is accompanied by seeded 1979 bread, courtesy of the head baker at Publican Quality Bread, Greg Wade.

It’s somewhat unusual that a California-inspired restaurant would have not one, but two sections on its menu dedicated to carbs, but Wu-Bower said that diners can’t get enough of the pastas and rustic wood-fired pizzas. PST also serves dishes that are intended for two or more: whole roasted duck, roasted Slagel Farm rib-eye or the Mount Lassen trout served with a zesty, clean zhoug and, of course, pitas for sopping up the sauce or eating the fish like tacos.

The pastry chef at PST, Natalie Saben, worked at the now-closed restaurant Grace, which had three Michelin stars. Her desserts are an elegant counterpoint to a casual dinner. A chocolate tart is paired with peanut dukkah, the Egyptian spice mix, and peanut ice cream, and a slightly savory buttermilk cake is served with huckleberry sorbet, spice meringue, basil and honey ice cream.

PST follows a trend set in Chicago in the past couple of years at restaurants like Summer House Santa Monica, Bad Hunter and Ema, where the focus is on fresh produce and leaner meats, and brightly lighted rooms that bring people together.

“I love eating with family, both blood and not,” Wu-Bower said. “It’s my favourite thing to do. When you break bread at the start of a meal, it just feels right. You tear hot bread, run it through the sauce — life and conversation is a little better. For me, that’s the heart and soul of what we do.”

Pacific Standard Time, 141 W Erie St., Chicago; pstchicago.com.

An average meal for two without drinks or tip is $80.

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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