Category Archives: Misc

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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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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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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RIP Steve Jobs

Regardless of my frustrations with Apple over the years, without Steve Jobs our world would, quite literally, not look remotely the same. Computers might never have been cool, music wouldn’t be available in a nifty MP3 format and readily available on said computer, Pixar would never have taken over Disney’s reign as the summer animation king (Ok, they were bought by Disney, but only because Disney realized they were beaten at their own game), people wouldn’t be reading this on their “phones” (which are more little hand held computers these days), we wouldn’t have tablets! Our whole LIVES would be completely different. Jobs may not have invented the computer, but he certainly found a way to make them accessible to the average person, and as a result, push us into this crazy future we’re in.

So, thank you, Steve Jobs. Enjoy your rest. You’ve earned it.

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An Epic Tale of Wine and Chocolate

Or at least it seemed pretty epic.

A few weeks ago we visited Sonoma and did some wine tasting, returning with a bottle of Sweet Sunset Red Chocolate wine, which turned out to be perfect for sipping while watching the Coppola restoration of The Godfather on my birthday. But by the end of the movie we had only an empty bottle. Online searches failed to turn up any place to easily procure more of this excellent dessert drink. But I did find the website for the home winery, ADS Wines, and it had a little “contact us” page, so I shipped off an email.

More than a few emails and phone calls later, ADS had put me in touch with a local distributor, San Antonio Winery, who in turn was able to arrange to have our very small order of five bottles shipped to us at the Wine Club, which is on my home. For less per bottle than we paid in Sonoma. Brilliant.

I was just looking for someone to tell me where we would go pick it up, and many companies would just tell you it’s not available in your area. But ADS and San Antonio went out of their way to help us out. That’s old fashioned customer service. Really classy. More companies should take their sales this seriously, even the small ones. I already planning on introducing other fellow wine and chocolate lovers to this great wine, but now I really want to give a general shout out to ADS wines, because they really went above and beyond the call of duty.

And I think I know what I’m having for dessert on Friday.

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The Great Food Truck Race 2

Last year, the Great Food Truck Race came out. At the time, trucks were pretty new and exciting. I at least have enough food truck hipster cred (if there is such a thing) to say that we heard of the show by seeing a sticker on the side of the Crepes Bonaparte truck, but even so it was new and exciting and pretty wild (a portable Slater’s 50/50 type burger truck? Wow!). These days, I am more cynical, aware of the fact that I can’t escape a food truck with a decent portion for less than $10 a head, I’ll usually have to stand in line half of forever,  and that they’re roughly as fast as a particularly tired snail when it comes to turning around orders.

Still, it’s fun stuff, and events are great places to have a really interesting and varied meal that just isn’t like anything else (as long as you get there within half an hour of opening). So, we had to tune into the next season of Great Food Truck Race, if for no other reason than two OC trucks were represented (the always-interesting Lime Truck and the Seabirds, aka the Charlie’s Angels of food trucks). We have been watching the show and generally enjoying it.

Charle's Seabirds?

I do think that the first series was better in a lot of ways – you had a lightning in a bottle feeling, and also the groups seemed much more genuine, like they were just looking to live the dream and had no real plan for anything. You could really feel the trials and tribulations and it always seemed to be an underdog thing. There was also a clear narrative with the always-victorious Nom Nom truck against the scrappy Grill `Em All kids – both were fresh out of college, but one seemed an unstoppable juggernaut while the others seemed like guys you’d see playing pool at the bar at 2 AM.

This time, the groups are distinctly professional – they network as much as they try to sell food, and they constantly try to work restaurant connections. They leverage friendships, associations, ethnicity, and whatever else they can to get their food and get moving. For instance, at one point they were denied seed money. I imagine if this had happened to last year’s group most of them would have just sat on the sidelines and pouted. This time, it seemed to barely be a speed bump as the teams schmoozed restaurants and stores into giving them credit with apparently no effort.

That brings me to a big issue with the show – with the better teams they have now Food Network seems to be trying to compensate with ever-crazier challenges and nonsense like the aforementioned lack of money. They have continued to have a mini cook off with winners getting an advantage, but they added a ‘speed bump’ where the host, Tyler Florence, thinks of some inane way or another to torture the contestants (banning all meat, making 2/3 of the team sit on the sidelines, selling everything for a buck, etc). I don’t really see what the point of this kind of thing is, since it seems like it has to skew the results something horribly, and I think Tyler is really starting to overdo the ‘sadistic host’ thing. Plus after a while I begin to wonder about the realism factor of the whole thing – trucks consistently park next to each other despite having whole cities to choose from, and they sure do resolve what would seem to be major issues such as having no money really easily.

Anyway, I am starting to sound negative, which is not really the case – I enjoyed the original show a lot more (except, if I may show my hetrosexuality a bit, for the eye candy quotient being much higher this time around) …but I still have enjoyed this show – it’s something me, Burgandy, and the little one can all watch and be reasonably engaged by, and none of the trucks are particularly irritating or unpleasant (though this show could really use a villain, a la Nom Nom, have I mentioned that yet?). It is in the Food Network sweet spot of reasonably entertaining / kinda-sorta educational / inoffensive and relaxing content that makes it my Network of choice for ‘peel me off the ceiling after being underwater all day at work’ viewing.

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American Apparel Advertising is… Interesting.

I love American Apparel. If I had a larger clothing budget, I would own more pieces, instead of relying on Old Navy or Target for my basics. Yes, I know they are more expensive because they are actually (gasp!) made in the USA and based on my experience with their clothes they seem to be well constructed and hold up to the most cruel treatment. But what can you do? (Discussion about the state of the economy is a whole other less fun post.)

For example, I’ve owned this skirt for years, I’ve washed in an actual washing machine, and it still looks like new. Also, it looks really bad ass with a black shirt and a studded wide belt. Just sayin’.

But their advertising is… odd. In theory, most of their clothing is aimed at women in the coveted late teens to early 30s market, but their ads always seem more like they are aimed at young heterosexual males looking for a good time. Is this a clever ploy to get our significant others to buy us well constructed American made clothing? A bid to convince us females that plain basic clothing can be just as sexy as that super tricked out leopard print dress from Dolce & Gabbana? Or do they feel that the ladies who love the ladies market is so far under-reached? All possibilities, I suppose, but even these theories do not quite explain this ad:

This is a real ad. I kid you not.

I will save you from a potentially embarrassing Google search history: this gal is a UK porn star. This is like using Jenna Jameson to sell socks here. Not that this would necessarily be a bad idea. Or maybe it would be. I DON’T KNOW. That’s what hurts my head. Oh, American Apparel. You confuse me so. But dang… those are some sexy socks.

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Captain America: The First Avenger movie review

I hadn’t expected much from this movie – I like old-school Nazi-punching and early Avenger Captain America but these days he has a bit of a Superman issue – grim n’ gritty is the place to be, with Cap coming off as a bit corny in the best case and some sort of symbol of nationalist excesses in the worst. I did get sucked in by the First Avenger byline, though, since I liked Thor a lot and plan to see the Avengers. Just for reference, this covers the 2D version only – I have been finding 3D hit or miss lately and so we decided to try this one in the normal dimensions.

I am glad I did – this movie was great fun. The cast was, by far, the best part. Chris Evans’ double role as wimpy Steve Rogers and buff Captain America was good enough that I barely noticed the massive CGI work needed to allow it. Hayley Atwell pulled off the somewhat tricky combination of a pinup girl and a hard as nails soldier well. Tommy Lee Jones basically played himself, though that’s not a bad thing. Hugo Weaving was by far my favorite – his megalomaniac anti-Captain was truly great, I though.

This one also had plenty of nerd nods – Cap cycles through his classic costume (with pirate boots and little head wings) before settling down on something more practical, you have Tony Stark’s dad, who probably-not-coincidentally looks a lot like a classic Tony Stark (The coolest dude with the heart of steel, with the little swinger `stache). He serves, well, basically as a stand-on for Tony, at least in the inventing and piloting sense. Cap’s commando team is also full of real characters from the comics, though I only really recognized Dum-Dum / The Irish One. (It also featured something from Odin’s toybox in Thor, and set up the post-credit scene in that movie, if you care).

The summary is simple – great cast + taking the source material seriously + clever writing = good movie. Shocking! It was not entirely a nerd fest, either – my 9 year old daughter is unfamiliar with most of the sources and Burgandy is much more of a DC fan, but they followed it pretty well and enjoyed it. As portrayed, Cap is a very human hero, for all of his slightly-superhuman prowess, and his lack of chauvanism and willingness to sacrifice himself are at least as important as his red-gloved uppercut (though you get to see a lot of this, too). Combine all of that with some city-sized Nazi super-bombers and a rocket car or too and I am in my movie happy place.

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Xmen: First Class Review

The good: It was a surprisingly fun setting. The evil mutants doubled as Bond villains, and it was fun to see a movie with US vs USSR again, it’s been a while. There was some good usage of the characters – Professor X in his early days, before he had all of his gravitas and lost his legs and Magneto as the ultimate Nazi-hunter were both really interesting. As a side note of Things I Enjoy – this was superheroes as urban fantasy, with hidden powers and secret societies waging a shadow war that is paralelled by the Cold War; this movie’s failures tended to be due to an excess of ambition rather than a lack of imagination, which I appreciate. Magneto and Professor X recruiting mutants from a strip club is one of the funniest things I have seen on the big screen in  a while, and there are some hilarious cameos. The special effects really show the improvement you would expect due to the time since the other X-men movies… Magneto is particularly awesome.

The bad – Well, there was just too much stuff there, I think. You have the bit where we learn that super powers are real and are introduced to Charles and Erik (Professor X and Magneto), even see their childhoods and early adulthoods. Then, you have the bit where Charles and Erik team up to recruit mutants and start their own super team to combat the evil version. And then they teach their team to be awesome, learning lessons of their own along the way and forging a brother-like bond. Then, you have an epic showdown between the two teams, and a bunch of things that set up the series this is a prequel to. Thing is, I think this is all way too much to put in a normal-length movie. Parts felt rushed or packed in, and this isn’t just a viewer thing – the time that passes in the movie is a bit short for all the stuff that happens (it’s only a few weeks).  Also, it seemed off – Xmen 1-3 are clearly set in modern-ish times… why did the basic framework for those movies have to be laid down in the 1960s? Makes it seem like not much happens in those 30 years.

The ugly: January Jones is far from ugly. But I really think she is too much on the skinny / bobble head side to play the White Queen. I know she’s real and the comic book pictures aren’t, but I don’t feel like she quite pulled it off – her look is extremely modern if nothing else, which seemed out of place (though, to be fair, you could say this about other characters, too). They made Mystique’s makeup much weirder looking with something like acne-scarring or scales more prominent on her face so she was much less of a thrill than Rebecca Romijin-Stamos, but I guess that was so they could make the point of her being unattractive (though a shape shifter is an odd choice for such a lesson, especially one who looks like she does in the first three). The Beast is a very pretty boy with very ugly feet who eventually turns into someone who is wearing a cheesy costume that he seems to have trouble talking in.

The weird – I liked Kevin Bacon in this, but for the record Burgandy thought he was too self-spoofing and distracting. I thought it was very confusing to have another winged mutant named Angel, when you already have Archangel (who appeared in the third X-men movie and was known as Angel in his early days), but apparently there really is another Angel in the comics who looks like the Angel in this movie, so fair enough, I guess. The whole premise is pretty weird – James Bond Xmen, more or less. I actually really liked it and heartily endorse seeing it on the big screen, but when I finish it seems like I have more negatives than positives. Still, it was good fun!

 

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