Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salsa (Fresh pt1)

I have recently discovered that my favourite fresh salsa, Rojo's Restaurant style is not available at my local grocers(I recently moved, hence the sudden inaccessability).

As a result, I have been forced to wander into the salsa unknown. My first foray: Santa Barbara Hot.

Stay. Away. From. Santa Barbara Hot Salsa. It's not hot, at all, this "hot" would qualify as mild in any other brand. I'd hate to see what their mild is like. It also has a vaguely overpowering taste of ... I'm not entirely sure what it is, I'm thinking it's unripe tomatoes. It's chunky and watery, it's not blended at all.

I know this review is short, but honestly, there's only so much you can say about unmanageable salsa that only tastes like unripe tomatoes and has no kick.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ka (or kaka?)

I will preface this review by saying I participate in combat arts and I grew up watching various Cirque du Soleil shows.

That being said, this show was very average, for Cirque. I was more entranced by the sets, costuming, and lighting than by most of the show itself. In fact, parts of the show were serious yawners. I wasn't at all impressed by the physical abilities of the performers, not when the very traditional Cirque show Mystere is still running, and IMHO, superior in that aspect.

The set, I loved it. I loved the whole theatre. I want to own that theatre as my personal playground. During one part, when the lighting shifted to a blue/green theme, there was a very Borg atmosphere(which I love as a Star Trek fan). The techincal/engineering aspect is spectacular. It integrates so many different (relatively) new technologies that it really is a marvel of engineering. The stage is in multiple parts, all controlled by massive, and I mean massive, mechanics that have very fine control. There is a huge (for an indoor stage) array of fire effect machines. And, the best part, is the main stage section. The floor/wall/whatever of the stage shifts images depending on the scene. And, it's interactive with the performers. If you've been to someplace that has the interactive floor displays by silicon graphics, it's the same kind of thing. Examples of this technology can be seen at MGM's Studio Walk in Las Vegas, the Metreon(if memory serves) in San Francisco, and at the Rosicrucian Egyptian museum in San Jose, CA. Beyond the main stage there are walkways and column structures that just look like a souped up, techiee version of the Swiss Family Robinson playground at Disney. I want them. I want to play on their walkways and swing from column to column. I can't emphasize enough how impressed I was with the entire theatre.

The staff was excellent. The ushers all were in character and very charismatic. When the ushers spotted small children, they grabbed their gophers, also in character, and sent them to get booster cushions and deliver them to the children. Everyone was in costume. The "guards" did not speak and the explanation was that they had taken vows of silence. Random staff members were scattered around to do nothing but create atmosphere.

The costumes were very impressive. All the initial characters seen wore t-shirts that blended so seemlessly with them that they all looked heavily tattooed. The costumes were very heavily Japanese influenced, except for the main characters whose costumes were very heavily Chinese influenced. I'm actually thinking of going as one of the initial characters for Halloween this year. Beyond the costumes, the shirts they have for sale in the Ka store are really, really cool. The only problem is the price. $65 for a cotton long sleeve tee? No.

The show. Ah, the show. Well, obviously a great number of people who have seen the show before and a great number of people who saw the show at the same time I did were very impressed. I wasn't. Non-martial arts fanatics may be impressed by the sloppy Wushu and stylized fights, which comments from the exiting crowd seemed to indicate. I wasn't. People who have never seen Cirque may be impressed by the, seemingly, amazing physical feats. I wasn't. The story was interesting, if a bit choppy. And the dialogue, which was a sort of bastardized Japanese sounding collection of strung together noises, was pretty interesting to listen to. The sort of intro randomness was entertaining, and looked like a lot of fun. The music was good, as is typical of a Cirque show, although this was a lot more modern and rock than their usual fare, which I preferred. But, really, that's about it. The physical feat aspect was incredibly sub-par for Cirque. Baton twirling? Please, if I want to see that, I'll watch a parade. There are better examples of Wushu drills in Soul Caliber. And almost everything was wire work. Yes, I know it's not as easy as they make it look and takes quite a bit of physical control. BUT, using your hands to "walk" up a vertical pole while holding your body perfectly horizontal takes a heck of a lot more than flipping yourself around in a wire harness and making sure you don't go splat against the wall you're twirling next to. And lets be honest about what sets Cirque apart from other shows. It's the physical feats. They produce great music and have very original costumes, but no one, and I mean no one, would pay over $100 for a ticket to Cirque if that was all they were getting.

Now, if you have minimal martial arts familiarity and minimal Cirque du Soleil familiarty, you may really enjoy this show. A lot of people love it. It was highly recommended to me by several people. However, as someone who knows what real martial arts can look like and as someone who knows just what the performers at Cirque are capable of, I didn't like it. If you're looking to see it, get the $69 ticket, don't get tickets in the top two price tiers. If you really want to see a good Cirque show, my recommendation remains O at Bellagio. Mystere I also really like, and it is probably the cheapest Cirque show in Vegas. If you are not familiar with Cirque du Soleil at all, I would recommend seeing Mystere first as it is basically a compilation of all the best parts of their traveling show(which changes every year or so).

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Lake Las Vegas

Lake Las Vegas is ... hollow. There is expense without luxury, beauty without class, quaintness without culture. At the end of the day all you want to ask is: Where's the beef?

Lake Las Vegas is a failure as an upper class community.  That's not to say that it won't be a financial success, but it is very, very Vegas. Everything is a facade. The shops are cute and the landscaping comfortable, but the utilitarian underbelly is, unfortunately, readily visible. Even looking beyond that, it's no Bellagio. The facade, well, it fails. Even from a distance, you can tell that the doors to "The Avid Dubliner" are not wood, just badly painted to try and look like it. Flat painted surfaces are everywhere, there is no texture. Bellagio gives you marble and wood paneling. Lake Las Vegas gives you manufactured paving stones and plywood. Despite Paris Hilton's best efforts, there still remains a difference between new money and old. Bellagio is old money, Lake Las Vegas is definitely new.

Grand homes should have grand gardens, vast yards, lots of landscaping. Homes in the various developments around the Lake have giant houses stacked right on top of each other. Nothing kills the awe of an impressive mansion like looking out your bedroom window ... into your neighbor's kitchen. One of the advantages of having money is you can buy yourself space, privacy. These are not available at Lake Las Vegas. Famous upper class areas like those in New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong are tightly packed due to space constraints. However, they work within these constraints and have large condos and varied architecture. Lake Las Vegas has space, they should take advantage of it and a hint from San Luis Obispo and sprawl a little. To make things worse the developments have beautiful, albeit obviously fake, gated entryways, covered with Home Depot bought "Open House" signs.

The place is supposed to be a master planned community. Well, they didn't plan very well. Paved walkways quickly become cheap dirt paths. Grass strolling areas have obviously been abandoned by the gardening staff, and dead plants and half completed shrubery are everywhere. Even in the "complete" areas. Beautiful scenery is backdropped by electrical wire towers and faced with hastily thrown on cheap metal balconies. Wiring for this area or that is thrown out windows and run down to electrical boxes, rather than run through the walls where they should be. The Venice-inspired "shop-covered" bridge across part of the Lake has loading dock industrial rolling doors. I'm not sure how the big rigs are supposed to back into these areas since, well, they're on a bridge over a lake! And everywhere, I do mean everywhere, you look you can still see the barren, rocky, harsh, nothingness of Las Vegas's natural landscape. It does create an interesting dichotomy, but it really ruins the illusion.

In the shopping area of Montelago Village, the planning isn't followed through. There are more empty spaces than stores, and the Casino staff don't know anything about what's there. It's really more of a park to wander through with your kids or your dog than a real place to wander and shop. Another place they fail is in the area of self-containment. A good upper class community should be self-contained. It should have available all the things you need to get through the day without you having to leave and go down to the nearest Albertsons or Safeway. There is a fancy, and surprisingly well stocked, village market with both real balsamic vinegar and 409. But they don't have meats, they don't have produce. You have to go Albertsons. Since they have all these empty shops they should try to fill these need-gaps. They need to court a butcher who knows his way around a grill for a Butcher Shop/Bistro combo where you can buy organic steak and duck breast and free-range chicken, or pop to the other side and have it served to you hot off the grill and covered with a fine red-wine reduction. They need a produce shop in the European style where the day's best produce is in open cases in front and everything from apples to watercress is available inside.

There are a few more shops that would raise the class and culture level of the Lake. A good wine bar is one. A place where you can pop in and buy a bottle of a good Sonoma Merlot to take home for dinner, or where you can wander in after work and try the day's recommendations along with some manchego cheese and sopresato salame. A good, honest to goodness, cafe wouldn't hurt either. There's a Starbucks, which is sad. There should be an artisan cafe with fresh baked chocolate croissants and real espresso served by a barista who really loves their job. A Japanese restaurant, or at least a fusion sushi place, would balance things out nicely. All the restaurants currently at Lake Las Vegas are distinctly Western. Actually, other than the Dubliner and the little "cafe" that serves omelettes, all the restaurants had an Italian influence. Sushi is the current luxury food, sushi joints are so profitable they're popping up everywhere, why wouldn't a place trying to be as money as Lake Las Vegas have one?

And the Ritz. The poorly thought out Ritz. Their architecture company should be shot. The place is a maze, more because of each area's distinct lack of distinction than because of any serious failing in the layout. Although, the layout is pretty bad. There is no way to get from the lobby to the shopping area/garden without either walking through a restaurant, going around to the meeting room wing, or taking a long stroll through one of the hotel room wings. This is where the gift shop is located. And I have to say, the gift shop has a mark-up level higher than even a Ritz Carlton deserves. And when you look at the Ritz from the outside, you don't think it's a Ritz. It's very plain for a luxury hotel. The worst part of the Ritz is the aforementioned "shop-covered" bridge across the Lake. It currently houses an Audi convention center, the chapel, and a hastily thrown together fake shop. The Audi convention area is sleek and ultra-modern which looks really good but clashes with the rest of the place. The Chapel doesn't have enough area in front of it to hold a milling wedding crowd and the Chapel management office/prep area is covered in windows. Where's a blushing bride to hide herself from the groom while she's laced into her gown? For that matter, where's a nearby area that can be converted into a reception space so the wedding group doesn't have to go back out into the public areas? The fake shop is really, obviously fake. Again, the entire place is windows so you can see there is no cashier desk, there is no inventory, there are no people. The only thing in there, besides a few doodads, is a giant safe. Why they would keep a safe out in the open like that is beyond me. The rest of the bridge is completely undeveloped. The walls are bare drywall, cracking plaster, and controls to the loading dock doors to nothing. And really, it's the only way by foot to get to some of the Ritz room towers, more should be done with it. These towers have to be abandoned by the Ritz. Oh, there were cars in the little parking area meaning people must be in the rooms, but the space between the towers and the bridge was naked dirt and utilitarian railings. A construction trailer, not recently used judging by the dust, was just to the side. The plumbing and pump for the lake weren't hidden. What looked like a volleyball pit was quite a ways away down an undeveloped dirt path, past a rocky pit in the ground, and completely unlabeled. Why build a volleyball pit so far from everything else? And why build it if you're not going to let people know it's there or even make a decent way to get to it? Even if it's part of some, as yet uncompleted, grand scheme wouldn't it make more sense to roll it out with the rest of the new developments instead of having it down now?

Despite everything wrong with it, Lake Las Vegas is still an enjoyable place to go and just relax. There's a good number of fountains that are perfect for sitting at and doing nothing. A few even offer great photo opportunities, and I didn't find one that wasn't attractive. There's also horse sculptures scattered around the grounds and a really nice Audi sitting in the open for people to admire. There's enough open grass areas for people to play with their kids or dogs, and there's sitting areas everywhere for when you want to sit down, sip your drink, and chat with your friends. Currently there's a small ice rink for the kiddies floating on the lake, and it looked like quite a few of the kids enjoyed it. Bathrooms are clean, everywhere, and easy to find. There's even a pay phone clearly marked and put in a decoration that makes it look classier. The staff at all the restaurants and stores were friendly and helpful. All the patrons were friendly and courteous. The Lake marina had everything from Yachts to gondolas to paddle boats available for rent. Most of the restaurants and a good number of stores have developed their interiors nicely and price appropriately. It's far enough away from the rest of Vegas that you can forget about the hustle, but close enough that you're back in the action in less than half an hour.

With a little more attention to detail, a little more development in key areas, and a few more carefully chosen businesses, Lake Las Vegas can become a place everyone will want to visit. I'm still not sure I'd ever want a house there.