Monday, July 28, 2008

Beer and Tacos

I recently tried two new Vegas taco joints, and two new beers(well, three, but I can't recall the name of the Bavarian dark, apparently it's from the CA Bay Area).

Pepe's: Located at the corner of Charleston and Fremont, this is a quick and cheap taco joint. They have a good selection of soft tacos and one glance at the options makes it apparent that they are obviously not catering to American tastes, and the food is all the better for it. The soft tacos are small, but full of meat, and the basic salsa has a nice heat. The Carne Asada is flavourful and the pork is quite good as well. I have to say this is the only Mexican place I've tried in Vegas that has not left me disappointed(and considering I didn't expect much from the others, that's saying a lot).

Yayo Taco: A neo-fusion taco joint, it's trying to cater to the UNLV students with it's kitschy and relaxed atmosphere. It has an excellent beer and tequila section, but I recommend you stay away from the tacos. I tried a chicken curry taco and it barely had any flavour, the carne asada tacos weren't much better. The service is pretty good and the owner is friendly. Good for hanging with friends over beers, but not really a place to grab a quick meal.

Drake Imperial Stout: Smooth, with a slight bitter note, it's a bit too sweet for my tastes when it comes to a stout. It also feels a little thin for a stout. Not bad, I would still go for a Rasputin Imperial Stout over this.

Kwak: A friend bought this for the bottle and I helped her drink it. It's light and has a slight weird aftertaste that gets stronger and stronger with each drink, making this beer less and less appealing the more you drink it. There's not much to it, and considering all the other similar beers out there, I'd avoid this one.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Lesser Known Bay

I am currently visiting the California Bay Area and figured I'd give some quick reviews on some of the places I've stopped.

Lyons Restaurant: A chain restaurant I thought had gone out of business over 10 years ago. Apparently it didn't, it should have. The service was horrible. It took 30 minutes for our orders to be taken, and then my drink didn't come until after the food had. I ordered the Belgian waffle and they managed to do what I thought impossible, it tasted rotten. Like they had left the batter sitting around growing mold and then used it. It wasn't good 15 years ago, it's not good now.

Koong's Restaurant (in Milpitas): Not bad but not good. Before eating there I asked if the BBQ Pork w/ tofu used fried tofu and was assured by three of the staff that it was. So, I ordered it. It wasn't fried tofu. I ordered a Sprite to drink. That never came. The default was to give patron's forks, not chopsticks, and when I asked for chopsticks, those never came either. Bad service or complete incompetence aside, the dish, which came quickly, was actually quite good.

La Milpa (in Milpitas): Good Mexican food and fast service, the staff have been there for years. Unfortunately, the last time I went their main chip salsa was mild instead of pleasantly hot. It was still good, but it had obviously finally given in to Americanization and lost it's zing. The rest of the food was as good as usual, and the service was still top notch. I recommend stopping by if you're in the area.

Cream Coffee (in San Jose): I normally don't consider myself a coffee conosieur beyond hating the bitter swill at Starbucks. I've tried many one off coffee joints and many chains (my favourite chain being Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf), but I must say, Crema is doing something right. I ordered the Mocha and it was perfectly brewed and had a creamy mouthfeel without the fatty aspect you usually get when you use actual cream. I don't know what they did use, but it's doing the job.

Q-Cup: A chain Boba stop in California, it's got a full range of Boba drinks, Asian fruit drinks, crepes, and deep fried snacks. I highly recommend the Mango Cup, which is composed of 4 different mango products. Their Chocolate Milk Tea is also good, but they have a tendancy to not mix it enough for the powder they're using, so you end up with little crunchy, chocolatey bits every once in a while and a slightly weak chocolate taste the rest of the time.

HC Dumpling House (in San Jose): The best Siu Leong Bao(sp?) in the area. The service isn't that good, but that is readily apparent when you walk in. In addition to very good dumplings, they have decent Fried Fat Shanghai Noodles, but I suggest giving the scallion pancakes a pass. If you want dumplings, this is the place to go, if you want anything else, there's better places.

Shanghai Family (in San Jose): Good Siu Leong Bao, but definitely the place to go if you also want other stuff as well. The deep fried fish in brown sauce is excellent, the pork in preserved vegetables is quite good, the scallion pancakes are good, and the noodles are good.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

On the Chain Gang

These restaurants are parts of larger chains. My experience is with their Las Vegas locations.

The Yardhouse: A great place to hang out but keep in mind that it tends to be very busy, even on weekdays. The food is good, there's over a hundred beers on tap, and the service is always friendly and excellent. I've tried a number of their appetizers and can recommend all of them. The lobster artichoke dip is a particular favourite because it's a dish that, in addition to being really good, is something you'd never make at home. I recommend going after 10PM Monday through Wednesday for the half price appetizer special. You can eat very well for very little money. The only real drawback of the Yardhouse is the bar. While it does have over a hundred beers on tap, they're often out of about 20 of them. And, because it's so busy and the bartenders are relatively few in number in relation to the size of the crowd, they quick pour every beer. While this is fine for lighter beers such as Stella or Sam Adams, it does a disservice to the heavier drinks. Guinness is acceptable when this happens, but you end up having to let the Rasputin Stout sit for a few minutes before it's drinkable. Again, I recommend Yardhouse for hanging out with people, but I would not recommend it as an after work, grab a beer before heading home, type of bar.

Grimaldi's Pizzaria: They say that they are the same as the famous Grimaldi's in New York. Visually, the pizza looks like a proper New York pizza. The mozzerella is sliced not shredded, and fresh basil is scattered on the pizza. The sauce is a little sweet but overall the pizza is good, definitely try a bite before dumping on the parmesan or chile flakes. However, it is a bit pricey. This is where the real question comes in. There is no denying this is a good pizza, whether it's worth the price is a different question. There's good, not quite as good but solidly good, pizza elsewhere in Vegas and in most cities. And usually, you'll spend about $10-$12 for one of these solidly good pizzas (personal size) and a soda. A personal pizza, with a couple toppings, no drink is over $16 at Grimaldi's. I don't think the pizza is better enough to justify the price differential. Again, good pizza, but there's no doubt you pay a premium for the Grimaldi's name.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The SLO Life

These are quick and dirty reviews of some of the businesses, mostly restaurants, in San Luis Obispo, CA.

SLO Travelodge on Monterey St: The place looked relatively new/newly remodeled and had a minifridge, safe and microwave, which is sadly becoming a thing of the past. There's no closet, but there is a place to hang your clothes that need to be. The bathroom was small but nice with the curved out shower curtain bar, which adds some space to the shower/bath combo and reduces that annoying cling that sometimes occurs. The main appeal is the location and price.

The Lamplighter Inn: Good location, nice facilities and friendly staff. The rooms are smaller than some other places in town.

Papa Cantteo's Sausage: A local product that is nearly impossible to find in stores outside of the SLO area, this is the best linguica I have ever found in a grocery store. Unfortunately they don't make that many products and again, it's hard to find outside of SLO county.

Linneae's Cafe: One of the few places that has remained unchanged in SLO downtown in the last decade. The coffee is good, service is good if a bit slow because of the lack of room for more than two people to work at once. Big plus is that they have very long hours and is one of the few places open after last call. This is one of those coffee houses where you just want to sit back and chat with friends. I always stop by when I'm in town.

Firestone Grill: This place keeps remodeling, there's always something different everytime I go there, but the food remains the same. The tri-tip sandwich is consistently one of the best in town, and sides are excellent, and portions are good. Their BBQ sauce isn't the best I've had but it's still solidly good. One drawback is because it is so good, it's almost always crowded and finding seating is difficult. Regardless, I always stop by when I'm in town.

Splash Cafe: The best New England Clam Chowder I've ever had. Hands down. And I've had a lot of Clam Chowder. They used to be only in Pismo on it's main drag and a cash only limited menu joint. A little while ago they opened a branch in downtown SLO and expanded into pastries and other lunch fare. I can't speak to any of that, but I highly recommend getting the chowder and a sourdough roll. I always stop by when I'm in town.

Monterey St. Wine: A wine store with a few extras. Wine tastings are $5 to try 3 wines. The staff are friendly and very knowledgable. Fine cheeses and crackers/bread are also available for purchase and trying. Always laid back and welcoming.

Tsurugi's Japanese Restaurant: This is the place that introduced me to my favourite Japanese dish: Katsu Don. The staff are very friendly and mostly come from the Japanese Exchange Program in the area. This is the longest running Japanese Restaurant in town and my personal favourite because the quality of everything is consistently high. I have not tried the new sushi places and Japanese restaurants that have appeared in the last 3 years, but the other Japanese restaurant that's been in SLO for the last 10 years was so bad, it would turn you off Japanese food completely. Stick to Tsurugi.

Le Fandango: I consider this the best restaurant in town, but I highly recommend going if someone else is paying. This is a Basque restaurant with a boisterous, charmingly European owner. The Scallops and Prawns appetizer is to die for. You will ask for loaf after loaf of bread to get every last drop of the sauce. The charcutrie plates boast a very good selection of cured meats, most of better quality than you'll find at your local Whole Foods. But again, on the pricey side.

Taste: I believe this is the name of the place. A very high tech wine tasting bar that features only Central Coast wines. The people are very friendly and there is a wide selection of wines. They are a little more expensive than many wine tasting bars, because they have a system that lets them charge you different prices for different wines and then have so many available at once that you'll be easily tempted into trying more and more.

Unfortunately SLO downtown has a lot of business turn over because of rising rent prices, shifting town interests, and city redevelopment. Law's Hobby has shrunk in half and lost most of it's appeal in doing so. The butcher/sausage maker shop closed down and has been replaced by yet another bar. Linn's Cafe shut down and has been replaced by another restaurant, SLO brewing has been bought out and is now a regular bar from the looks of it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Moronic Mobile

I recently was forced to get a new celphone due to failure in my much beloved Samsung. Since I plan on getting a data plan in addition to my regular celphone service, and I'm a T-Mobile customer, I decided to go with the Sidekick Slide. I have used Blackberries before and have not been impressed.

I'm not impressed with the Sidekick Slide either. It's been functioning well, and the features work well. But, apparently starting last night and continuing into today, things have been not so well.

I tried to return a friend's voice mail, the call did not ring at all, and found out that all my contacts were gone. Not only that, all my notes and events and calendar entries were all gone as well. So, I called customer support and found that if you do not have data services, if you turn your phone off for too long, apparently 8 hours is too long, then your phone will reset it's internal memory and wipe everything out. Yes, that's right, your phone will wipe everything out for no reason whatsoever. Having data services just means that every time you turn the phone on, it'll load from the server backing up all your personal data.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't want my phone deleting everything whenever it feels like it. I also don't like the idea that the phone is automatically transferring all the information on it to some server.

Also, remember how I mentioned that the call did not ring through? Apparently, another friend tried calling me multiple times last night and my phone never once rang, lit up, vibrated, or anything. I have my Sidekick Slide set to vibrate and light up everytime I get a call. My phone seems to have decided to switch to silent running for no reason. I didn't make the switch, the settings are quite convoluted to get to so I guarantee it wasn't some random accidental hitting of a button. The phone just decided it wanted to switch to "Do Not Disturb." I did not find this out until after I tried to set an appointment for my heater to get fixed and went to check why I hadn't gotten a call back and was told I missed two calls. The phone had done nothing. I double checked all my settings and discovered that the phone had switched itself to silent running. Now, just an hour before the calls last night that I missed, an hour in which I did not touch my phone, I had received an incoming call and my phone had reacted.

So, in conclusion. I cannot recommend the Sidekick Slide. It wipes it's memory for no reason. It sends all information on it to some server if you have data services because they know it will wipe all your information out, which means your personal info is available to anyone with access to that server. And it randomly changes your settings without any input from you.

It is comfortable, it has a lot of nice features, it's got good speakers and a decent display, but the most basic feature: your contact list, is an utter and abysmal failure.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chicks and Car Chases

I recently had the pleasure of watching the "unedited" version of Quentin Tarentino's Death Proof.

Good things:
Zoe Bell on the top of the 1970 Challenger is awesome. I wanted to be a stuntperson back in the day and so I know better than many when it's the stuntperson and what they're hiding or faking. Because Zoe Bell is a stuntperson we got to see all the things we normally don't and it was spectacular. I also like her attitude during the counter-chase scene where she grabs the metal pipe. Use what you can and don't hold back. She was also impressive when she tossed the metal pipe in via the car window and then jumped right after it. Having done something similar with the much easier entry port of an open car door, it is not the easiest thing to avoid that which you have just thrown in before you. Especially after you've made sure not to hit your buddy with the thing you just threw in.

The interaction of the groups of women were great, even if the dialogue made you want them dead. It's the chemistry and the naturalism that works here.

As always, the music was one of the biggest highlights of the movie. I'm a big believer that QT does more for a musicians career than big music studios ever do.

The girl power. Yes, it doesn't seem like it initially, but this is one of the few times that we have seen women(physically) fighting for something other than the standard "browbeaten woman gaining power and beating on the guy in self-defense."

I admit, I love violence in movies and video games and it was a true delight to be taken through what happened to each girl in the crash. We're usually given crashes from one perspective and only the happenings on the whole. If we are given multiple takes, it's usually just different angles. This was a treat.

The visuals. The graininess was fun. The costumes were so 70s even if the time frame was modern. Stuntman Mike's Icy Hot jacket was a hoot.

Bad Things:
The dialogue. I understand the goal of the girl chats is to make you want to see them dead but they just go on too long. Two minutes into the initial scene with the chatting in the car made me ask "Where's the boom?" Unfortunately the dialogue continued, albeit at different locations and times, for another half hour or so.

The distortion of the time it takes to do things. Kim, from the second group of girls, goes into a Circle A for coffee and Red Bull. She's in there long enough to grind her own beans, brew up the coffee, run down the street to the market for cream and sugar, drink the coffee and Red Bull, wash the coffee mug and recycle the Red Bull cans. During the time she's "getting coffee" one of the other girls goes into the same store, gets cash from the ATM, grabs a snack, and has a short chat with yet another girl, who is still outside the store, about that girl's appearance in Allure magazine, find the magazine, show the girl her spread, buy the magazine and snacks, go outside to talk to the other girl about another magazine, and then go back in for the other magazine. I'm sorry, getting coffee and snacks from a convenience store takes all of 4 minutes, MAX. And that's if there's a line at the counter. QT could have shown the foot fetishism and the creepy car appearances in that time. Just cut out the Stuntman Mike considering his latest targets bit that dragged on. If he really wanted the time, he should have had them getting gas.

The fact that the bit set in Texas had everyone going outside to smoke. Last I checked it was ok to smoke in a bar in Texas, why go outside for a smoke? OK, you can argue it's to show the car and set the tension, but really, no. It just makes it seem forced, especially since you have people inside smoking already. Also, Arlene tells Stuntman Mike she's scared of his car, but I don't recall any point before that where she saw him coming out of the car or when he pointed it out as his.

Overall this is a fun movie if you're into exploitation and violence movies. I really enjoyed watching it and I will buy it. I'll just fastforward through most of the dialogue.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Once More Into the Yaoi

I was at Yaoicon again this year, 4th time attending. But, I'm not here to review the con, obviously I like it, but I must admit I go because it gives me a set time/chance to go into San Francisco.

Anywho, the restaurant reviews from the trip:

California Grill @ Marriot San Mateo - I sat at the bar the three times I stopped in. Hmmm. Well, the booze is standard hotel bar price. Same with the food, no surprises there. The bar staff were mostly absent. Oftentimes myself and/or others at the bar would be looking around for service and the bartender was nowhere to be found. And then we'd often have to wait over 10 minutes for them to show back up. Only one of the bartenders during my stops in was there the whole time. She was on top of things, she was friendly, she was great. The others, when they bothered to be there, were incompetent. My first stop, I ordered a second guinness five times and never got it. Then, I asked for the check for my one guinness, I waited 25 minutes and never got my check. I had to ask another staff member the cost and just left the cash on the bar. My third stop in I ordered onion rings, which were OK but nothing really good and the bartender waited until I was already well into them before bothering to get me a plate for ketchup and a napkin. Almost every bar I've been to gives you these things almost immediately after you order food and all give you them before the food arrives. Again, biggest complaint was the absolute absence of the bartenders.

Miyako in San Francisco Japantown - Don't bother. There are so many good Japanese restaurants in Japantown that I would recommend waiting for a table at one of the others before going to Miyako. I ordered my favourite dish, Katsu don, which is a deep fried breaded pork cutlet with eggs and onions over rice. The rice was kinda cold and rubbery, like it was from before and had been microwaved. The eggs were almost completely uncooked. The pork cutlet was acceptable but had turned soggy from the uncooked eggs. My friend's dish was even worse, she barely touched it. The only reason we tried Miyako was because we wanted to try a new place instead of going to our usual stop and it was open before most of the others. We will not go again, and I recommend you never do.