Tagged Manchester

Z: The last letter in Manchester dining?

A couple of weekends ago, I was looking for a place to book for dinner in the Manchester, NH area. Since it was actually New Year’s Day, the selection of restaurants was somewhat limited, and I ended up booking a reservation at Z, a relatively new bistro on Elm Street. While Google has some decent reviews of the place, I really knew nothing about it, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at the overall high quality of the experience.

The menu at Z is a nice happy medium between overly simplistic and limited bistro menus and the ridiculously over-the-top tomes offered in Manchester’s stuffier high-end eateries. What’s really cool about the place is that some of the dishes that sound mediocre at best are actually surprisingly good. For example, we ordered some Asian Nachos for the table, curious about the taste but not overwhelmingly optimistic about how good they’d be. Despite our reservations, the nachos, which are billed as “crisp won tons, grilled chicken, jack cheese, sesame peanut sauce, wasabi sour cream, daikon sprouts,” actually worked as a tasty appetizer, not just as an item that was unique or intentionally different.

Since it was a holiday, the restaurant was out of Top Sirloin, which two of us had ordered. The server was glad to bring us the sides that were served with that dish, however, including the Yukon gold mashed potatoes, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, the food that was delivered to the table was so good that I’ll be planning a return trip, just to try the sirloin.

It’s worth a note about the ambiance: for a trendy and relatively swanky place, Z didn’t have overwhelming or annoying dance music blasting; instead, there was a jazz pianist playing live music throughout the evening, at a reasonable volume level. All in all, this is the kind of place that appeals to a wide demographic of diners, and everything from the lighting to the service was pleasant and made me want to go back. I feel lucky that the first couple of restaurants that I called for a reservation were closed, or I might never have found Z.

Portland Reptile Expo, August 26th, 9-4

If you’ve ever been to a reptile expo, you know why you should be going, but if you haven’t, let me just say that it’s an experience that must be seen to be believed. The reptile show in Portland, Maine is a new one for me, although I’ve been attending the New England Reptile Expo twice a year for a couple of years now.

NE Reptile Expo

If you have any interest in cold-blooded creatures, or you have kids between the ages of 3-18, the reptile expo is a great place to go on a weekend. There are usually 50+ vendors, each with a wide variety of homegrown reptiles. The difference between buying a pet at a reptile expo and getting one in a pet store is roughly akin to that of visiting a charity bakesale thrown by the American Culinary Association versus buying pre-made cookies in a supermarket. Even if you’re not buying, you’ll see upwards of 100 different kinds of reptiles and amphibians at any given show, which is worth the price of admission itself.

Photo Credit: http://reptileexpo.com

reptiles, expo, show, new england, portland, reptile expo, amphibian, manchester

Southwest Airlines: A symbol of freedom from red tape, unnecessary fees, and overpriced snack food

Southwest: You are now free from airline stupidity
Southwest jet

In the cut-throat world of commercial airline travel, the concept of ‘reward miles’ has come to be used as a powerful tool for keeping frequent travelers coming back to the same airline, time and time again. More recently, as discount airlines entered the fray, we saw the beginnnings of a new variant on the classic ‘miles’ theme: rewards points. Airlines such as AirTran and Southwest started giving away coupons or points based on each one-way flight a customer took, regardless of the length of the flight or how many stopovers it entailed. Once you accumlate a set number of points through one of these programs, you’re entitled to a free roundtrip flight, usually anywhere in the continental U.S.
Southwest is one of the discount airlines offering such a program. With Southwest’s Rapid Rewards, you earn one point for each one-way flight (two for a roundtrip, for the math-impaired). After you’ve accumulated 16 points (that’s 8 round trips), you earn a certificate good for roundtrip air travel anywhere in the U.S.
Now, up ’til now, it sounds like a pretty generic program. And that’s what I figured it would be when I signed up and started collecting points. But recently, I hit the magical 16-point mark, and decided to cash in my certificate for a flight from Manchester to Philly and back. I decided I wanted to go about 3 weeks in the future, and first off, I checked to see what the flight would cost if I paid cash for it–$380. In other words, only the expensive seats were left (Southwest uses a system with about 5 price tiers–this flight normally costs between $85 and $450 RT). Nevertheless, I had no problem booking rewards travel through the website, without ever having to pick up the phone or wrestle with complicated blackout dates.
I admit I was pretty impressed with how smoothly the booking went, but it’s what happened next that I couldn’t believe. I was on vacation in Orlando, FL, and decided I’d like to leave a little early. I called up Southwest on a Tuesday night, explained that I’d already booked a trip from Manchester-Philly, but that I’d like to change it to a one-way from Orlando back to Manchester. When the customer service rep. on the other end asked me when I wanted to fly, and I said ‘tomorrow,’ I figured she’d immediately start laughing at me, or at least announce there’d be a huge fee for changing my reservation. Instead, she put me on a flight the next evening, and told me there was no charge for the change. I’ll repeat that.

Southwest doesn’t charge a fee to change a Rapid Rewards reservation, even at the last minute.

The story gets better. The next morning it turned out I didn’t need the flight back, so I sheepishly called Southwest back and told them I needed to cancel the one-way from Orlando to Manchester, and I’d like to re-book the original flight to Philly. Without even a hesitation, the agent put me back on the same flights I had been on just two days before, and politely wished me a good day. Once again, no fee, no admonition from the person on the other end of the phone, and no whining about blackout dates.

The American Airlines Snack Box, or, What the Heck is a Lorna Doone?

In this day and age, it seems like most airlines believe that cutting their prices and services will help them attract customers while keeping them in the black. On the flight I ended up taking back from Florida, on American Airlines, I was told that I needed to pay $4 for a snack-pack consisting of crackers and peanuts.

Southwest Peanuts: Dry and boring like the Snack Pack, but priced to move

It wasn’t so much that I was being asked to pay for food (I understand that not everyone eats the free food, so it’s a huge waste for the airline, so several have begun offering items such as Bennigan’s sandwiches on an a la carte menu), but rather that my only option was to buy the same junk I used to get for free.
When I expressed surprise to the flight attendant, she said, “How long has it been since you’ve flown…oh wait, you were on Southwest, right?”

Damn straight.

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Air Travel

On the interminably long ride from Manchvegas International to the humble hamlet of Sanbornton, NH this evening, I couldn’t help thinking about the horrid dichotomy that is airline travel….on one hand, my flight from Philly to Manchester takes 50 minutes, or 6+ hours less than the trip takes in a car–on the other hand, it took me 5 hours to get from my house to the place I was staying in PA, a savings of a mere 2 hours. Looking back, the stinking train ride took a full hour to transport me a whole 10 miles, the drive home was another hour (45 miles), and the security line comes in dead last (a full 15 minutes for 20 feet). The 50 minutes in the air? 350 miles, and they bring you drinks. What a marvelous technology, rendered almost useless by the inadequacies of American public transit and the paranoia of its citizens. I know people will think I’m crazy, but I’m starting to think I feel safest when buckled into the hurtling metal can. At least then there’s someone at the controls that’s competent.