Things I’m Geeking Out On – Top Ten Edition

There is so much going on in the geek circles this week that I’m just going to make this entirely a “Things I’m Geeking Out On” list. We’ll do it list style since we just did a list for Topless Robot this week on the new Daredevil series so my mind is in total Top Ten mode. (By the way, when you are done here, you can totally go read that over here – if you don’t mind spoilers, or have already seen it.)

Top Ten Things I’m Geeking Out On This Week

  1. The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer – I didn’t think I was THAT excited about it yesterday when everyone was losing their minds over it, but now that I’ve watched it a couple of times, it really is pretty exciting. I found myself excitedly chatting up to one of my co-workers after she mentioned her dog is named Mara Jade. Apparently none of her friends are cool because she didn’t know the new trailer had dropped, nor did she know Celebrations was happening RIGHT NOW, 20 minutes away from our office! (I live for moments like this, I really do.) Anyways, it does look like it’s going to be hella cool, so you win this round J.J.
  2. Batman V Superman – Not in the sense that I’m excited about it, because I’m expecting it to be a hot mess at this point, but more in that I’ve been nerd raging about it since that insulting excuse for a teaser trailer dropped yesterday. Then the news that you had a to get tickets to see the trailer in select theaters? After the giant pile of MEH that was Man of Steel, I feel like the Warner Bros marketing team needs to earn my excitement, not act like they are doing the fans a favor. I mean, COME ON, the movie was pushed back A YEAR. That can’t possibly be a good sign. (If this movie isn’t another Suckerpunch, I’ll be amazed.)
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road – That new trailer is amazing. I cannot wait for this movie to be out. What a lovely day indeed.
  4. Fast and Furious 7 – Two of my favorite categories of movies are car movies (see above) and caper movies – F&F is pretty much the best of both worlds. The only reason we haven’t seen this already is because of Daredevil, but that will be fixed on Saturday! I need my car chase fix!
  5. Convergence: JLA – I was pretty skeptical of Convergence because I’m getting pretty tired of the seemingly endless DC comic crossover events, BUT give me the 90s versions of my favorite comic characters from my favorite era of comic collecting and I forgive surprisingly quick. In JLA, they doubled down and gave me not only some characters I’ve been really missing, like the green skinned Jade, Type A Speedster Jesse Quick, and Queen of the Sea Mara (Aquaman’s lady who is a force to be reckoned with herself), but gave us a girl power super group that I instantly fell in love with. If they turned this comic into a regular series I would lose my mind and subscribe in a heartbeat. The issue was pitch perfect – the art was beautiful, the ladies were tough, but also felt like real women, and the part where they taught some grabby dudes a lesson in manners was priceless. Also, a great reminder that DC has some pretty amazing super ladies BESIDES the way overdone Wonder Woman. In this case, we got Supergirl, Jesse Quick, Mara, Jade, and a very gothy take on Zatanna. This would be an amazing TV show – you hear me DC!?
  6. Convergence: Superboy – Speaking of characters I really miss, the Convergence version of Superboy was a total throwback to my favorite Superboy; the one with the leather jacket and the 90s haircut and the attitude. Team Cadmus is also back and excellently written (and reminded me more than a little of another certain science team on some show called Flash. Coincidence?). I felt like I was reading a lost issue from the late 90s. It made me miss it. Can we get this version back, please?
  7. Harley Quinn – Ok, I’m pretty much always geeking out on the Harley series, but this whole Team Harley storyline is pretty amazing. I love how the creators just single handedly exploded the number of female minority characters (and even added one possibly gay dude?) in the DCU. Also, those uniforms are like a gift to cosplayers everywhere. I want to see some cosplay group take this on. The humorous nods to Mad Max and 50 Shades of Grey via Harley and Ivy’s trip to the movies were also pretty delightful. Harley and Ivy’s BFF/FWB relationship has been pretty fun to watch play out.
  8. Daredevil – I liked it. I didn’t LOVE it, like some people seem to. It was very well executed and surprisingly meaty for a superhero show. My takeaway quip was that it was the Breaking Bad of superhero TV Shows. That didn’t make it into the article, but that would be my one sentence summary. If you liked Breaking Bad, you will probably like Daredevil. If you did not (I wasn’t a huge fan), you might find it’s serious approach a little much. Although, in fairness, this is the show Gotham should have been. A hard hitting crime drama with occasional super hero elements. Why didn’t I love it then? I felt like the Kingpin was not handled very well – it seemed like Wesley was in charge of everything most of the show, with the Kingpin seeming more like an idealistic figure head he was indulging, and Wesley seemed way more evil than the Kingpin would ever be capable of. Also, it was just really… dark. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it’s mainly a circumstantial evidence thing. See, we’ve binge watched A LOT of shows at this point. When something is really good, really grabs us – Battlestar Galactica, Lost, the first 5 seasons of the modern Doctor Who – you cannot drag us away from the TV. We will reschedule everything to squeeze in just one more episode. With Daredevil we found excuses to take frequent breaks, rarely able to sit through more than two episodes without suddenly needing to make a coffee run, go to the pool, or deciding to go out to dinner with friends. That’s not a great sign to me that I’m enjoying something. Would I watch a second season? Yes. Would I watch it all in one weekend again? Nope.
  9. Witcher III: The Wild Hunt – I was not expecting to geek out on this one, but we watched the trailer last night and this video game looks AMAZING. I’ve been waiting for someone to give me a Skyrim sequel for years now, and while this isn’t exactly that, it looks pretty damn close. Close enough for me to be super excited to play it!
  10. Community – I don’t know why it took me this long to watch this show, but I finally started it three weeks ago and… I’m already caught up. You see what I mean about devouring a show if I really like it? I think I literally watched all of Season 5 in one day. (Ok, it’s only 13 episodes at 22 minutes each, but still, I have a day job!) The show is really funny, and has that absurdist, pop culture aware sense of humor that I’ve loved since The Young Ones or The State, and currently love on Archer. If you are fan of either of those shows, or have ever been back to college as an adult (which I have), or just love geeky absurdist comedy that would make Weird Al proud, you should totally catch up on Hulu or Amazon, and then check out the new season happening on Yahoo.

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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, etc., etc., etc.

If you hadn’t noticed, we’ve been on a bit of a holiday due to the nasty combination of it not only being the holiday season, but also being month-end, quarter-end, year-end, you name it. So between our day jobs as cublicle dwellers and the both good and stressful demands of the season, we’ve gotten behind. So… Happy Holidays, whatever you might celebrate, even if you just celebrate having a long weekend. We’ll be back after the new year with our increasing back log of reviews, including Orange Tree Deli, Belican Grill, and the new Sherlock Holmes movie.

See you next year!

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Tutto Fresco – Not so fast food

Once upon a time we were searching for a McD’s that still had the McRib available and came across something much better – an Italian restaurant with a drive thru! And thus our love of Tutto Fresco began. There is something very cool about being able to get lasagna and hot chewy bread without having to get out of the car or even leaving the house (since Tutto also delivers). Many a cold mucky day has been saved by the ability to have hot tomato soup or chicken alfredo delivered. Quite an upgrade from cheap pizza, but not as expensive as Lunch On the Run or those other restaurant delivery services.

As to the food – these are good portions of familiar Italian fare, similar to what you might get at an Olive Garden, but with a more homemade taste and greater variety of offerings. So far we have tried a sizable amount of their menu and never come away disappointed. Our favorites include their meatballs, which are huge and appear to be laced with melty mozzerella, salmon with pesto, and the lasagna. Every order comes with yummy chewy bread that can be dipped in rosemary infused olive oil. If you get it delivered, they will bring you a whole bag of the stuff. (Not that you should eat the whole bag, but it’s great for sharing amongst friends when getting pizza or sub sandwiches seems boring.

Speaking of sharing – one of the highlights of the menu is their cake bites. Available in chocolate or carrot cake, they are 2 inch squares of sweetness. Perfect if you want just a little something after lunch, or for ordering by the dozen for aforementioned spontaneous party. (Or not so spontaneous – they also offer catering.)

With locations in both Orange and Rancho Santa Margarita, you should give them a try!

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Peppermint Crunch Junior Mints

We are really enjoying the themed Junior Mints this year. I mean, it isn’t really a world-changer but they are a nice snack and a good bit of variety from their usual. So far, we have had the Valentines Day Junior Mints (really liked these – thicker filling with a bit more sugar) and the Easter mints (did not like the coating, overall was a thumbs down). So, we approached the Peppermint Crunch with a 50% success rate.

The Peppermint Crunch differed from the others in that they didn’t really change the core formula – they had the normal filling and the normal chocolate coating. However, what they added was a crunchy sprinkling that vaguely related a candy cane in flavor. Not in the sense that they tasted artificial or cloying, but just that it was a slightly gentler taste than you would get from literally eating a Junior Mint sprinkled with candy cane bits.

Adding a bit of crunch to a Junior Mint added a lot to the experience (such as it is) of eating them, which didn’t shock me due to our habit of eating them in movie popcorn. They didn’t magically morph into gourmet candies or anything but they were definitely a step up from the normal Junior Mints, with no particular price premium or irritation (unlike the cloying aftertaste from the Easter mints), so I would recommend them heartily.

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House of Blues San Diego – Review

House of Blues San Diego the restaurant is an attempt to attach a restaurant to an intimate concert venue. Though you might expect them to just phone in as far as food preparation due to the captive audience, they have obviously made a big effort to have some really good food, enlisting Food Network celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez.

The first thing I noticed as the portions.  I often complain about restaurant portions ; Burgandy and I were literally just discussing if the leftovers from a big Cheesecake Factory lunch would be enough  to feed our little three person family a dinner. It seems to me that most restaurants give you a double portion and charge you one and a half times what you should really pay, which bothers me. Turns out it is better than what HoB does, which is charge you one and a half times and then serve a normal portion.

I had the buttermilk-fried chicken. I noticed first that the meat was a mixture of white and dark, which disappointed me a bit – at close to $20 for the portion I had expected  chicken breast, as I would have gotten at Cheesecake Factory, Lucille’s, or CPK. The coating was quite good, though, nice and spicy. Almost too spicy, but I got through it and actually enjoyed it after all. The sides were less spectacular – the mashed potatoes were fine, but you only received about a coffee mug-full and they weren’t outstandingly tasteful (though they were a nice contrast to the super spicy chicken). The cole slaw seemed out of place and I didn’t eat it.

Burgandy had the jambalaya, which was similar to mine – maybe too spicy, somewhat small portions, could have used some bread or another side. We had meatball sliders as an appetizer – for almost $10 we received only two small sliders (literally small enough to fit a decent-sized meatball).  They were tasty and had good cheese, for all that they were tiny. I do not want to repeat the size complaint over and over again but I will have to give special mention to the molten chocolate cake. It was more warm than hot, though it did taste good, and the ice cream it came with literally was less than a teaspoon, such a small amount it almost seemed like a joke.

The sum total was $75, with no drinks and a shared dessert. Nothing shocking. The ambience was nice – I would sum it up as trying very hard to look different  but not necessarily failing  – it was a decent impersonation of some roadside restaurant somewhere, old and folksy. The food was a bit more than I would have liked to have paid but the main benefit of eating there is that you get to skip the line for your concert (HoB the venue does not have assigned seating). We showed up and hour and a half before the doors opened, with a line down the block, but with the line skipping we ended up front and center – the very front of the pit, close enough to almost touch the band.

Bottom line – if you’re on your way to a HoB concert, you can have a mildly overpriced meal with the ability to skip the line in a venue with no assigned seating. You are very likely to end up in a VERY good position to see the show. Given that $75 for two isn’t a horrific amount of money to pay in the first place and the food is tasty, I would strongly recommend this option.

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Elder Scrolls – SKYRIM (XBOX 360)

Skyrim is a surpassing RPG experience, and one Burgandy and I have both been logging long hours on. It’s the latest in a long series of games, but in my mind it’s basically a sequel to Oblivion, with all of the good and bad things that entails. It is a sandbox game – a lot of time is just spent wandering around a large game world, looking for trouble to get into and for things to do. You have plenty of things to do on a good / evil / political axis, as well.

Bethesda also does the modern Fallout games, which are another great experience – I remember thinking, after playing Fallout 3 after a long absence from gaming, that I finally understood why ‘the kids’ were largely over table top gaming. Bethesda RPGs have such immersive environments and freedom of action that they start to seem like a full role playing experience.

Now, one thing about Fallout and (even more so, say, Dragon Age), is that they have fully-formed NPCs and exciting plots. The Elder Scrolls games are a lot more ambient – there is lot of detail, but it’s more likely to be environmental – towns with realistic weather and beautiful scenery with plants you can harvest and bugs you can catch. The people you meet are pretty flat, which can be disappointing, though I understand why with the huge mass of people you can run into.

The main thing about this game is all of the stuff you can do – there are a half dozen different crafting systems which, unlike in most games I have played, have a lot of practical use in the game, not least of which the ability to gain experience and money from it. You can also fight with archery, magic, swords, two-handed swords, sword and shield, and even one hand with a spell and the other with a sword, which is great fun.

The combat is fun, but tough – you really have to use your brain and choose your spells, weapons, and companions carefully. You spend a lot of time fighting, but a lot of time just wandering, too. This could be a grind, but the game is so beautiful that I often would grab passerby and tell them to look at a bridge or waterfall I found, and there are strange things and mystical bits everywhere.

Basically, if any of the above sounds fun to you or if you just enjoy computer RPGs, I couldn’t recommend this one more. It is the most fun I have had with an RPG or really any video  game in general in years, and rivals some of the better tabletop gaming for sheer immersiveness.

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The Counter – Fancy Burgers

We’ve been hearing about The Counter for a long time, but given our sour experience with Slaters, we were hesitant to try another trendy hipster burger place. Especially one located in the Woodbridge area of Irvine, where Yuppie meets Hipster in a sometimes mind bending fashion. But while, yes, the wild Hipster is absolutely getting his or her burger on at The Counter, I am quite happy to report that there is no snotty attitude to be found in the waitstaff. Our waitress seemed genuinely pleased to see us, even on a busy Saturday afternoon, and was always quick to make sure we had drinks and understood the ordering system. She even brought us an extra round of their wonderful peanut sauce when our daughter lamented that she wished she’d ordered that to go on her burger. Yes, this was going to be a very different experience from Slaters indeed.

The reason I compare them is both pride themselves on being trendy places with unusual burgers and an almost identical ordering system, in which you fill out a little questionnaire about your perfect burger. (Or chicken sandwich, in the case of our daughter.)  One of the things that made me smile right away is that unlike Slaters you can actually order an individual side of fries for less than $2 – good news when you are the only one who enjoys sweet potato fries at the table. Honestly the side I received wasn’t much smaller than the Slaters one I got for twice as much, so that was awesome. And should you order a full baskets of fries, especially the cheese fries, you will not be disappointed. The order we received was huge, and the fries, while skinny, were amazing. Seriously. I don’t know what seasoned salt they use, but I could eat them all day. I ended up ditching my yummy but nothing to write home about sweet potato fries for a share of the cheese fries pretty quickly.

Then the burgers arrived. The presentation is great. The burgers looked sizable and delicious, without being overwhelmed by the toppings. I ordered mine with peanut sauce and pineapple, which ends up giving the burger a nice sweet meets salty spicy kick. The burger is easy to eat and is not completely lost in the bun. I like that they give you the sauce on the side so you can regulate the amount. This the “six dollar” burger Carl’s was telling you about a decade ago. Except now it’s $10. Oh well. Inflation. I’ve cut almost all fast food out of my diet – if I’m going to indulge in a burger it should be a really good burger, and this was a really good burger. Well worth the splurge. I had a bite of the aforementioned chicken sandwich also, and I am please to report that is is an actual breast of chicken and it was also cooked very well – not all rubbery like certain other burger places we have gone to.

Overall, The Counter was just a total 180 from our experience at Slaters 50/50 in all the right ways, and I have no idea how Slaters got all those awards without bribing someone. The service at The Counter was fast, helpful, and friendly, plus the food was brilliant. I would come back just for the fries. And maybe to try their shakes. I’m very happy this was one of those restaurants that lived up to its hype.

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Pink’s Hot Dogs – Knott’s Berry Farm Location

Pink’s Hot Dogs is a moderately famous place, especially in recent years, with the expansions out in Vegas and in Buena Park. I have not eaten at the original Pink’s, but I have eaten their catering once and their Buena Park location once. Fair disclaimers if they are necessary. Pink’s Buena Park has a pretty standard fast food vibe, albeit with a lot more celebrity pictures than you would expect to see in your average mom and pop fast food place. The line wasn’t too bad but, again, being fast food there was no particular service to talk about.

Pink’s is pretty simple – other than the fries, there are four basic ingredients: turkey dog, hot dog, chili, and cheese. The hot dogs are good but perhaps a bit odd, at least to my palate. This is due to their having a moderately thick casing, enough to pop when you bite through it. This combined with what at least had a mouth feel of better meat, led it verging on seeming more like a sausage dog than a hot dog. I found this good in small doses but the bacon burrito dog, which contains three dogs and thus three times the casing, started to wear me out after a while. Too much work, though the cheese, chili, and tortilla were all quite tasty.

I found myself preferring the turkey dogs – they were tasty and easier to eat, without so much effort in the biting. Now, it certainly isn’t an inherently bad thing to load up on casing and I think a fair number of people actually prefer it, and it’s not really physically difficult to eat – I just prefer a simpler, easier to eat hot dog than the beef dogs at Pink’s, especially when they were packed on top of each other in an appalling but delicious fast food concoction. As a side note, their chili cheese fries were very forgettable. I would definitely take Weinerschnitzel or Tommy’s chili fries instead of these, and I believe they are cheaper, as well.

One warning, though – I am not sure if this is exclusive to the Buena Park locale since that happens to be inside Knott’s Berry Farm’s little shopping area, but the prices were quite expensive for what I would really struggle to call anything other than high quality fast food. On the plus side, Knott’s actually has a handful of free historical exhibits like Independence Hall and a replica of George Washington’s fireplace, so you can make an afternoon out of it. I believe the original Hollywood location may be cheaper, but in the past when trying to go there the line was literally around the block and I can’t imagine waiting that long for hot dogs.

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Steak N’ Shake – Mysteries of the Mid West… SOLVED!

One of the awesome things about Las Vegas is it’s a chance to try restaurants from other parts of the country you can’t find in Southern California. On our latest outing we took the opportunity to try out a burger place often name dropped by gamers who attend a certain mid west convention. Steak ‘n Shake

As it so happens the Vegas Steak ‘n Shake is located at the South Pointe, either on your way in or out of Vegas from all points West and South. Thus it is an easy stop off either to end your Vegas traffic induced fasting or as a preparation for said traffic induced fasting.

What to look for in the casino.

First off, you are warned there may be a line. Go at an off time and you will be spared the wait.

Once you are in, the Steak N’ Shake resembles a 1950’s diner, as mandated by the unofficial All American burger joint code. (See Ruby’s, Johnny Rockets, etc.) Unlike many of our chain diner and Vegas restaurant experiences, however, the service was terrific. The waitress was super friendly and seemed happy to help us navigate the wide array of burgers and shakes available.

Yummy burger! Okay fries.Yes, the “Steak” in Steak N’ Shake does not refer to steak in the traditional sense, as much as it does to burgers made with steak. It also refers to hot dogs made with steak, which we did not try on this go around. However we did try the burgers, and they were very good. I was a little concerned that a steak burger would not be as juicy as I normally like my burgers, but mine was moist and flavorful. There are a ton of toppings to choose from including their own chili, which is also available in little to-go buckets up front, all Tommy’s style. The fries are skinny, which I’m getting more used to, although I still prefer thick cut fries. Still these were tasty and not overly crispy. But the big thing here is the shake.

Side by Side: Chocolate Banana

I was at first dismissive of their shake menu online. It didn’t seem much different than what you could get at Ruby’s or Johnny Rockets. But I was wrong. So wrong. The shakes were thick and tasty, and S&S had a neat “side by side” option where they fill one half of your (GIANT) shake glass with one flavor and the other side with another. The result is you get a much more even blend of flavors than layer usually results in. I had banana and chocolate. It was really really good. I want another one now even as I am thinking about it.

Lastly, it’s important that you know that they aren’t kidding about that 4 meals under $4 pricing on the website. I would take a wild guess keeping their pricing that low has kept them out of California, but the prices at Vegas were insanely cheap compared to the unpleasant surprises we’ve had at Johnny Rockets and Ruby’s. We fed 3 very hungry adults and a growing tween on less than $40 – a meal that included burgers, fries, and huge shakes, plus chili spaghetti (not as good as Big Boy’s, but not bad either). Even by Vegas standards, that’s really good. And it was more than enough to sustain us on our long car ride back to the land of $5 shakes. Sadness!

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Slater’s 50/50

Before I explain anything about Slater’s to you, understand that this is a place where you’re going to pay $20-30ish a head to have a burger, a beer, and a side. Now, where I live, there is a lot  of competition. In-N-Out, the Habit, Grill Em All, Tommy Burgers and Red Robin all come immediately to mind as eateries that are at the very least very competitive with Slater’s on a price point basis. I think most people would  agree that Slater’s is better than In-N-Out, for instance, but is it 3-5x as good? This I am not sure of.  But, now that that is out of the way, consider this review to be pricing blind.

I had the Slater’s 50/50, which is a burger patty that is half bacon (really it seemed more like pork belly). Though I had the unfortunate experience of eating one of these patties that had the approximate consistency of a burger / cold cut hybrid, this (new and improved according to a few Slater’s regulars) 50/50 actually hit the spot – it tasted and had the texture of a burger but it also had a tasty, subtle, smoky flavor that I really enjoyed. The burgers came in 1/3 lb, 2/3 lb and full pound sizes, which was a small bit frustrating due to 2/3 being massive and 1/3 being a bit small (why not a half pounder?)

The toppings had good variety, though for comparison’s sake I will mention that gourmet burger rival the Counter seems to have a bit more variety, from glancing over their menu. Now, to step back, this isn’t a big deal for me personally since I like simple burgers anyway, but then again Burgandy wished for more varieties of jelly and I would have preferred some kind of chipotle BBQ. On the other hand, they do have a cheese sauce option, so I went for bacon, cheese sauce, and American cheese.

Slater’s doesn’t seem too big on fries outside of an $5 appetizer – we ate in a group and almost no one had anything but the burger itself. I thought this was a bit of a gyp considering that you already paid for the burger and extra for the bacon and the alcohol isn’t cheap, but I guess it worked considering that the burgers were massive. We did spring for a couple of appetizers – the most notable was a quesadilla with cheese, bacon, and mashed  potatoes that was almost as good as it sounded but a bit lacking in spice.

So, having in mind that the above is a little on the stream of consciousness side, the summary is as follows:

Apple beer. Delicious. I believe it was $9 for a GLASS, though.

Mashed potato quesadilla. I honestly really liked this one. But Burgandy did make a good point that it was very lacking in spice, or at least tasty dipping sauces. It also had to serve as a side since the burgers don’t come with them.

Burger. Expensive. Delicious patty. Toppings expensive yet lacking in two in a couple of things I would have expected. Bacon was good and so was American cheese and cheese sauce. Huge patty (though I tire of the trick of giving you a bigger portion than you wanted and then charging you proportionately but then trying to turn it into a net positive – ‘look at all the food I treated you with!’

That’s… basically it. And though I really liked my burger and it was as big as my daughter’s head, I still felt a bit gypped because given the price point and the wait. The whole thing took almost two hours, a long time for a burger without much else. Seems like you could at least get a soup or salad? Or at least some fries?

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