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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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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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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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Thing to do in Vegas (When you don’t gamble)

We go to Vegas quite a bit, thanks to the generosity of my parents and their timeshare, but we don’t gamble, and we usually take our daughter. So why go so much? There’s a whole lot to Vegas both on and off the famous Strip that is worth checking out.

1. Hit the Buffet of Buffets – We covered this before, but seriously, this is a great deal for families with picky eaters or who want to introduce their kids to new foods without shelling out for a whole dinner they might end up not eating.

In the Fall...

Or summer.

2. Mt. Charleston – You cannot get farther from the neon lights of Vegas than to find yourself surrounded by miles of beautiful wilderness to explore. Although the mountain does have a ski resort, I’d recommend taking a break from the heat of summer to enjoy the trails – the mountain is often about 10 degrees cooler than the valley. Or go in fall and enjoy the snow like we did on our recent trip. At only about an hour drive from the Strip, it’s a great day trip.

3. Hit the fair or a sporting event – There is much more happening in Las Vegas than just what’s playing at the casinos. Take the time to look up local events before you go, and you might find an expected game or event going on that is right up your alley. The last time we went to Vegas we got to visit a Renaissance Faire being held the park across from Sam Boyd. Way more fun and educational than wandering around the Excalibur Hotel.

5. See a show – Although many shows in Vegas are Adult Oriented Content, a little homework can reveal more than a few magic shows or Broadway style musicals that are perfectly kid friendly. Like “V, the Variety Show” at Planet Hollywood. Just remember, never pay full price. “Family friendly” shows tend to be afternoon shows with light attendance, and discount tickets can usually be easily found in one of the many, many Vegas coupons books you are likely to be handed during your trip.

6. Visit a museum – Vegas is actually home to more than a few museums, some of which are on the educational end and some of which are just fun. We visiting the Museum of Natural History a couple of years ago – while small compared to the one in LA, it had plenty of rooms to explore including some cool hands on exhibits. Or you could get in a game or two or two hundred of pinball at the Pinball Museum.

7.  Meet a furry friend – Nevada is much more exotic pet friendly than California, and as such, it also has some pretty awesome pet stores with much more to check out than your usual kittens and puppies. Visit Pet Kingdom and you might find yourself being nuzzled by a piglet, quietly observing sugar gliders while they sleep, or getting ready to write the governor about repealing California’s ban on ferrets after they climb all over you in the most adorably aggressive way possible. Or if you prefer something you won’t be tempted to smuggle over the border, you could just visit the Las Vegas Zoo. Which also has exotic animals, but in a less up close and personal way.

 

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This is Halloween… Haunt.

Growing up in northern Orange County, Knott’s annual Halloween Haunt isn’t just something fun to do in October, it’s an institution. You didn’t just go to Haunt, you went with friends, you made plans around it, when you were older you would work there, or you would at least know a bunch of people that worked there, then eventually, like all teenage obsessions, you would get over it, then not go for a few years until nostalgia began nipping at your heels and some friend of yours says “Hey, you know what we should do? We should go to Haunt!” And filled with memories of your glory days, you figure out babysitting for the kids, realize you are stuck going on a Saturday because you don’t want to leave early from work for haunt, but you don’t want to go to work after being up until 2am either. Or maybe that’s just us. But it WAS us, and for the first time in a decade we made our return to the land of mazes and mayhem.

First off, it may have been worth it to try to pull off Haunt on a weekday. We dropped off our daughter with my parents at Beach and Main at 6:45. Knott’s, for those unfamiliar with OC, is about a 15 minute drive up Beach from there. Usually. Or it might be 8:30pm before we are FINALLY pulling into the parking lot. And it might then be another half hour braving a line to get in the gates and searching through wall to wall obnoxious teenagers to find our friends. (Cell service, at least for us, was quite spotty throughout the night.)

Once that nightmare was over we were more than ready to hit the mazes. Killer clowns have nothing on a gaggle of teen girls looking like they got lost on the way to a Ke$ha concert and squealing about every roving monster they come across. (Must… restrain… fist of death.)

*Ahem* So, the mazes. Lines were pretty long here, unsurprising at this point, so we didn’t get to hit every maze. We visited Dia De Los Muertos (in 3D!!! Which is weird because isn’t EVERY maze in 3D? WTH Knott’s?), which was pretty fun, if not particularly scary. The sets were drenched in every color of glow in the dark paint, and the halls were actually really roomy, so the whole thing had more the effect of visiting a Hispanic museum in October while seriously tripping on acid than a frightening maze. The sugar skull decorated pole dancer in the “cantina” set was more hot than fright inducing, although she didn’t seem to appreciate this assessment. (Dude, I didn’t put the pole there. I’m just calling them as I see them.)

Working our way clockwise around the park, we next visited the Big Top maze. Apparently the killer clowns did not get the memo they are supposed to be IN the maze. More clowns seemed to be running around outside menacing people around the “Carnevil” scare zone than were actually working the maze. My sister, who once upon a time worked Haunt tells me this is unusual, but it seriously undermined the maze when it became just walking from one goofy room to another, constantly seeing spots where, clearly, someone was supposed to be pretending to be scenery before jumping out at us. Not cool guys. We waited freakin’ 45 minutes to get into the maze, I expect more than just some attempts at off color humor of the circus variety. And again – HUGE hallways. Where were the claustrophobia inducing mazes I remembered from my ill spent youth?

We wandered over towards the Necropolis scare zone, lured by tales of vampire steampunk monsters, and discover some of the best mazes of the night – Virus Z and Fallout Shelter were both very well done, and very old school mazes. Lots of monsters, some surprisingly good special effect, and really detailed set pieces. While most of the monsters so far had managed to do little more than be boring or downright piss me off, the guys and gals working the two zombie themed mazes got us good more than once and by the time I was near the end of the Fallout maze I was getting that fun but creepy paranoid feeling any good maze should give you. Honestly, there were some moments in the Fallout shelter maze that actually felt like some kind of Resident Evil LARP (so much so I had to remind myself that if you punch these zombies, it gets you kicked out of the park), and I consider that high praise . If there was any downside, it was that we were shuffled along so fast by the crowd we didn’t get as good a look at the awesome sets as we wanted to.

Rounding out the night – Cornstalkers was fun, although a couple of the monsters were a little too aggressive, and our friends had high praise for Dollhouse and Delirium, although we did not get to experience them ourselves. Invasion (in the mine ride) was just… lame. Just skip that one.

Highlight of the night was not actually a maze at all – if you go to Haunt, you MUST check out Ed Alonzo’s Psycho Circus show in the far corner of the park – it was a ton of fun. Great magic, funny jokes, and some neat dance numbers with hottie girls, topped off by a topless (male) fire dancer. Really awesome show. Much higher production values than I was expecting after wandering the mazes. (Some of which are populated by costumes that appear to be nothing more than thrift store clothing and a cheap mask.) Very Vegas-ish. Well worth checking out and not a bad way to get off your feet after walking what must be miles of mazes.

So, there you go. Haunt from a middle aged perspective. It was fun, but maybe aimed at a younger audience than me. But, you know, it’s TRADITION!

(I’ll fix this later, but for now, visit their pretty awesome website here: http://haunt.knotts.com/

and if you are going to go, I’d recommend getting discount tix from AAA online if you have a membership – it was the best deal going when we got ours.)

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