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Friday, February 27, 2015

United Airlines ... We Don't Care (Sometimes), We Don't Have To (But, Maybe We Want To)

United Airlines, Inc.
77 W Wacker Dr
Chicago, IL 60601
b/t Lower Wacker Dr & Michigan Ave in The Loop

I do not usually write reviews so many weeks after the fact, but being in India where Yelp did not yet exist, I felt compelled to add my two cents.

My first two of three United flights to Delhi were both two hours late and I had to rush through Frankfurt Airport to catch my final flight after already spending close to 20 hours traveling (with 7+ yet to go). I somehow made it!

However, when I recently checked my mileage balance on United.com, my final leg still had not been added to my balance, requiring me to submit a request that still has not been answered.

Airlines in general, and United in particular, just do not care about customer service because they do not have to. They know that most of us will probably purchase the cheapest fare, so it will only be a matter of time before we return even if their service is pitiful, which it usually is ... rude check-in and gate agents, aggressive flight attendants, and poor on-time departure/arrival record ... they should change their motto to: "United Airlines,We Don't Care, We Don't Have To"

As my India trip neared its end, I have to say that United came through with flying colors. 

When one of my wife's return flights in mid-January was rescheduled, leaving her a 30 minute layover to clear immigration/customs, re-check her bag, and get to the next gate (IMPOSSIBLE), we contacted United and were quickly dismissed ... "sorry"! But when we got our travel insurance company involved, they were able to change her flights and get her home in time to attend a meeting at work the following morning.

I received a call in early February, three weeks prior to my scheduled departure, informing me that my 84-year old mother had been hospitalized and was not doing well.  I contacted my travel insurance company (Allianz Global Assistance/AGA Service Company /Jefferson Insurance Company) thinking that they would be as professional as my wife's, but after 12+ hours of being ignored (on their 24/7 Hotline), I contacted United reservations in New Delhi.  They were not extremely helpful, but when I was finally transferred to an American employee, she was outstanding.  She quickly found me a flight two days later (i had to get from Southern India to Delhi the next day) and WAIVED THE $300 CHANGE FEE ... without even asking.  I was able to get home to see my mother and spend a couple days of quality time before she passed away on 2/12/2015.  Thank you United Airlines!

I am not prepared to give United 8, 9, or 10 Bombs (4 or 5 stars) only because of all the negative experiences I have had in recent years, including finding out post de facto that 15,000 of the 20,000 miles from the US to India and back I paid dearly for were not eligible for frequent flyer credits (K Class). However, I will upgrade my previous 2 Out Of 10 Bombs (1 star) rating ...

CombatCritic Gives United Airlines 6 Out Of 10 Bombs With Room To Grow Or Recede ... More Bombs Are Better!






Title: United Airlines ... We Don't Care (Sometimes), We Don't Have To (But, Maybe We Want To)

Key Words: United Airlines, United, Airlines, air, plane, airplane, travel, airport, flight, reservation, agent, customer, service, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Yelp, value

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

As We Say On Yelp ... "Meh, I've Experienced Better"

Hacienda Colorado
5246 N Nevada Ave
Colorado Springs, CO 80918

Phone: (719) 418-7999
Prices: $$$$$

Three steak tacos and a few black beans - $13
You would never know you were in a Mexican restaurant by the looks of the place. It looks more like a seafood restaurant or a steak house. Anyway, unlike most of my reviews, this will be short ...



Food ... average
Service ... adequate
Prices ... very high ... $10 for guacamole?
Value ... terrible

CombatCritic Gives Hacienda Colorado 3 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!











Portobello Burrito - $11.59 ... For A Burrito With No Meat?

Cheese and Onion Enchilada Ala Carte - $3.99 


Title: As We Say On Yelp ... "Meh, I've Experienced Better"

Key Words: Hacienda Colorado, hacienda, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Nevada, Mexican, menu, food, restaurant, taco, enchilada, guacamole, chips, salsa, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cibo Sano: Great Potential And Good Value With A Little Room To Grow

Cibo Sano

4821 W 6th Street, Suite K
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: (785) 856-2414

Website: cibosanoitaliangrille.com
Prices: $$$$$



My friend Doug P checked-in at Cibo Sano on Facebook while I was in India and raved about the place, so I had to give it a try when I recently returned to the States after four months abroad.

The signs in front of Cibo Sano indicating that parking is strictly for "10 minutes" and "carry out" customers only was a bit off-putting because we had to park 50 feet away and the temperature was in the teens ... brrrrrrrrr!  I asked why 10-15 spots were reserved for carry out customers when the place was empty (when we arrived) and we were told that the signs were from businesses now closed and that they were not sure why they were still there. Paint 'em, tear 'em out, but do not leave them there because they makes no sense, not that many, three spots max.

pasta and proteins
The interior is modern and clean, but cold and uninviting. There is little decor and the place could use some ambiance (color, carpet, art, tablecloths). The menu is a bit overwhelming and confusing at first and the prices ($7.99 for pasta/wrap/salad) did not match those on the web ($5.99 on Yelp, $6.99 on their website), a significant difference and false advertising if you want to get technical. 

veggies
It would be very helpful to have a small menu sheet and a pencil available to check off which ingredients customers want on our pastas, wraps, or salads rather than having to memorize the numerous choices (pasta or orzo, 5 different sauces and proteins, 4 of 15 available toppings, 3 different cheeses ... ouch, my head hurt!). Once we got to the counter it made a little more sense, but the labels on the window between me and the ingredients did not match up with what was in the containers ... more confusion.

The employees were very friendly and helpful and our pastas were quickly assembled, coming to a little under $20 for two of us, including a "cheesy flat bread" ($2.99). I had the penne with arrabbiata (spicy tomato) sauce, spicy Italian sausage, grilled diced white onion, sautéed diced peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese. My wife also had the penne, but with alfredo sauce, sautéed mushrooms, black olives, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella cheese.

The cheesy flat bread was good, coming with a ranch dressing and Parmesan sauce for dipping. The pastas were also tasty and a decent value even at $7.99 (extra for protein), coming in a large bowl and a good size portion. My only complaint was that both pasta dishes were lukewarm at best, not piping hot as they should be. My wife, a native Italian, said hers was good, but tasted like a pasta salad. The manager came over and asked how our meals were, so I told him they were good, but not hot enough, giving him a couple of improvement suggestions.

penne with alfredo sauce, mushrooms, olives, artichokes
The pasta and ingredients are pre-cooked and placed in a warming table, uncovered and not keeping them quite warm enough, a potential health hazard (e.g. sausage). I recommended that the pasta be pre-cooked al dente and dipped in boiling water for a minute prior to adding the ingredients or, better yet, adding the pasta and all of the ingredients to a frying pan, heating it for 30-60 seconds on the grill prior to serving. The manager, a very nice and open-minded young man, indicated that they had tried my second option, but that it took too long and customers ended up leaving. Microwaving should not be an option, not being optimal for texture or professionalism. Personally, I would prefer to wait a few additional minutes for hot pasta, but I am not as anal retentive as many these days ... hurry, hurry, hurry ... rush, rush, rush ... calm down and relax for cryin' out loud!

I may sound overly critical, but as I explained to the manager, I want new businesses such as Cibo Sano to succeed and my criticisms are constructive, not complaints. To summarize:
  • Get rid of the "carry out" signs in front
  • Warm the place up a bit with some fitting decor
  • Make it easier for people to order
  • Keep the website (prices, options) current
  • Serve hot pasta ... figure it out


penne arrabbiata with sausage, grilled onion, peppers, and mushrooms
In all, we enjoyed our meals and will return to see if things change for the better, making Cibo Sano ("healthy food" in Italian) a contender for "best pasta value" in Lawrence, a town with a dearth of decent, reasonably priced Italian food. Another plus, you can now bring your own wine for a reasonable $2 corking fee, a nice option, so bring your favorite vino along and ... buon appetito!

CombatCritic Gives Cibo Sano An Initial 6 Bombs Out Of 10 With Room To Grow ... Bombs Are Good





Key Words: Cibo Sano, cibo, sano, healthy. food, Italian, restaurant, menu, pasta, salad, wrap, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Monday, February 16, 2015

Le Central Is "Le Bombe"

Le Central
112 E 8th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
Southwest, Capitol Hill

Phone: (303) 863-8094
Prices: $$$$$

Le Central is one of my favorite restaurants … anywhere … and I have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the 39 countries I have visited so far. I was in India a week ago, but found out that my mom was hospitalized and dying, so I made my way over a 72 hour period to be by her side in Colorado Springs when she died on February 12th, 2015. Long story short, I was taking my wife to the Denver airport so she could return to work and we decided to stop at Le Central for their Happy Hour menu.

We have been gone for seven years, but the place has not changed except for the being open in the afternoon with a limited, but exceptional menu. They offer a $3 glass of wine, escargots, crepes, their fabulous mussels and French fries (moules frites).

I has a glass of pinot noir ($3), which was excellent, the escargots in brioche ($7), and the moules Portuguese ($12.95).  The pinot noir was dry, a deep red, and robust. The escargots were superb as usual and I mopped-up every last drop with the wonderful French baguette.  The Portuguese mussels were excellent with slices of chorizo and chunks of fresh tomato in the white wine based broth infused with garlic although the broth was not as plentiful as I would have liked as was the case in years past. The frites were excellent, perfectly salted and hot, but by the time I de-shelled all of my mussels, they were not as hot as I would have liked … DRAT!

The prices have gone up a bit since we were there last, but Le Central is still an outstanding value.  The service is always excellent, the food sublime and very reasonable, the wine list extensive, and the ambience country French.  If you have not tried Le Central, you do not know what you are missing!

CombatCritic Gives Le Central the Coveted 10 Out of 10 Bombs … Plus de Bombes Sont Mieux! (More Bombs Are Better)






Read this review ... and others ... on Yelp (Elite '14 and '15) ... UrbanSpoon ... and TripAdvisor (Top Contributor)

Title: Le Central Is "Le Bombe"

Key Words: Le Central, le, central, French, France, restaurant, menu, escargots, wine, moules, frites, fries, Denver, Colorado, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Carne Asada or Tuna Taco? That Is The Question!

Monica's Taco Shop
30 E Fillmore Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
Phone: (719) 473-1996
Prices: $$$$$

After reading the mostly rave reviews on Yelp, I had to try Monica's as it is just a couple blocks from the hospital where my mom is currently admitted.  Let me just say that I was not overly impressed.


Carne Asada Tacos - $2.15 Each
A cheese quesadilla, two carne asada tacos, chips and guacamole, and an horchata came to almost $15, not exactly cheap.  The quesadilla was nothing special, the tacos came on greasy tortillas that tasted like they were fried in dirty (fishy) oil, and the guacamole, and I use that term loosely, looked like the stuff from a tub that you get on nachos at Little League baseball games and was smothered all over the chips (fried in the same fishy grease) and topped with a little cheese. 

Chips and Guacamole? - $4.19
There was no need to deep fry a soft shell corn tortilla for a carne asada taco in the first place as they should have been lightly toasted on the grill prior to serving.  The contents, meat, cheese, and pico di gallo, were actually pretty good and plentiful, but I could barely stomach the greasy, fishy flavor of the fried tortillas. Non me gusto ... YUK!

I would like to think that it was just a bad night, but I honestly cannot say that I will return to find out.

CombatCritic Gives Monica's Taco Shop (Fillmore) 4 Bombs Out of 10 ... MORE BOMBS ARE BUENAS!







Title: Carne Asada or Tuna Taco? That Is The Question!

Key Words: Monica's Taco Shop, Monica's, Monica, taco, shop, Colorado Springs, Fillmore, chips, menu, enchilada, burrito, guacamole, eat, food, restaurant, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

India Jones and the Temple of Gloom

I had heard that this place was "the best" and being #4 of 59 restaurants in Varkala on TripAdvisor I would have thought it was a sure bet, but nothing is for sure except the grim reaper and the taxman.

To be fair, I made several visits at various times of the day and I have to say the service was dismal nearly every time. On at least three occasions I sat at my table for 15 minutes or more and was totally ignored (I many times purposely do not make a fuss to see how long it will actually take), having ultimately had to either get up and ask for or retrieve my own menu. On one occasion one of the servers, who I will call "India Jones" because of his long hair, unkempt beard, tattered shirts, and "local" Kerala dress (he wears a sarong as a skirt even though he is obviously a westerner), moped around, conserving energy I assume, and lumbered past me at least ten times, never asking me if I needed a menu or wanted to order. I sometimes believe that I am invisible here because employees constantly walk by without even acknowledging my existence. 

Chicken Salad Sandwich - 230 Rupees
The coffee and teas are good, coming in large (10 ounce) mugs, but are a tad overpriced by Indian standards.  The food looked good from what I saw others order, but is also a bit more expensive than most places. I have to admit that the only things I tried were the the toast, three large, thick pieces of brown bread with butter and jam (80 rupees/$1.30 - I had to provide my own peanut butter even though the menu claims they make a crepe with it), a large bowl of fruit muesli (100 rupees/$1.60 and not so large) which was not bad and a fair deal, and their chicken salad sandwich (230 rupees/$3.75 with cheese), a huge disappointment.  The bread, a small baguette (see photo above) with sesame seeds on top was the highlight, but what little chicken salad there was oddly enough was served warm, the chicken mostly dark meat and full of gristle, and the mayonnaise had a rather disgusting sweet taste like Miracle Whip, which I loathe. Disappointingly small and lonely on the plate with no garnish, it was one of the worst meals and values I had at any restaurant in my nearly four months in India.

The place has potential with its incredible view and open air feel, but the servers need to do something about their simultaneously apathetic and arrogant attitudes and start acting like customers are important.  As far as the food was concerned, I was not impressed, but the coffee and masala chai were pretty good. The only reason I am giving them 5 bombs and not 4 is because they are about the only place on the cliff that consistently opens early (6:30), so if you are an early riser like me, not always by choice, you can at least get a coffee or breakfast with a sea view no less.

CombatCritic Gives Coffee Temple 5 Out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!





Title: India Jones and the Temple of Gloom

Key Words: Coffee Temple, coffee, temple, Varkala, cliff, beach, Kerala, India, restaurant, cafe, food, menu, tea, sandwich, breakfast, view, sea, CombatCritic, TravelValue, TripAdvisor

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cottage ... Maybe, Swiss ... Not, But A Fair Hotel Value

Hill Top Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage Complex
Rishikesh, India
Prices: $$$$$

View of Ganges River Valley From Room
Hilltop Swiss Cottage sits in its own small self-contained village atop the hills of the High Bank of Rishikesh’s Tapovan area and a little over 1 kilometer from Laxman (Lacksman) Jhula (bridge), the northern most bridge over the Ganges (Ganga) River in town. The “Swiss Cottage” area has seven or eight hotels and guest houses, an equal number of restaurants (Raasta and Nirvana Cafés, Swiss Garden, and Oasis to name a few), a couple of small markets, a laundry, travel agancies, yoga studios, and massage parlors, so you never even have to leave the hill if you desire. It is a relatively quiet area compared to town, but is an easy walk to restaurants, the river, or numerous ashrams and other attractions.

There are cheaper options even within the Swiss Cottage compound (200 rupees/$3.20 per night and up), but I had a nice, large room with a view of the river valley below, flat screen TV with cable (no CNN or BBC), relatively fast Wi-Fi, and a bath with Western toilet, tub, and a great shower with plenty of hot water for 800 rupees ($13) per night.

The staff are not overly friendly and I got the “evil eye” from numerous locals during my stay, but otherwise I would say westerners are well “tolerated”, unless you are an attractive female in which case you are given a great deal of (unwanted) attention.

Their restaurant, The Oasis, was empty every time I walked by and other than a pot of coffee and an omelet my first morning I steared clear because the place was absolutely freezing. There were also a couple of characters there, one Dutch (I believe) and the other appeared to be from the Middle East, that were odd to say the least. The Dutch guy tried to whistle tunes with no melody and went off on a couple of Indian men for no apparent reason and the other guy kept whispering something to me I could not undertsand while looking at me like he wanted to slit my throat. Unnerving, so I ate breakfast at Raasta Café from that point forward.

They have their own yoga studio and meditation hall, but when I stopped by at the appointed times on my first morning, I had apparently awoken the instructor who appeared at the door disheveled from sleep and not ready for a class as advertized. Nothing opens before 8am in the compound, so if you are an early riser be prepared to keep yourself occupied until then. The room did have a small fridge and a boiler (kettle) for hot water, so you can buy some coffee, tea, milk, or soft drinks to have in the room (no alcohol because Rishikesh is a "dry" town).

Being December and in the foothills, Rishikesh is chilly when the sun goes down and the room (and everywhere else for that matter, because India apprently has not figured out central heat yet) was freezing. When I booked the room on Booking.com I clearly saw “heater” advertized in the room, but when I arrived there was none to be found. I asked the manager and he told me that I had reserved the “standard” room without  heat, but when I checked my reservation again I was in-fact correct and he quickly brought me a heater, a small space heater that barely kept the room warm.

CombatCritic Gives Hill Top Swiss Cottage 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!

Title: Cottage Maybe, Swiss It Is Not, But A Decent Hotel Value


Key Words: Hill Top Swiss Cottage, hilltop, Swiss, cottage, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, jhula, Rishikesh, India, hotel, review, Raasta, Nirvana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook