20 August 2011

Vancouver & SF Food Roundup

So between SIGGRAPH in Vancouver and a week with my foodie friends in SF I had an awesome vacation of eating! Here were some highlights:

Steamworks (Vancouver)

Brew pub at the entrance to Gastown. The food wasn't remarkable but the beer is solid, good place for a party or getting together a group of friends. The Vancouver answer to Gordon Biersch (with both the good and bad points that implies -- definitely a bit loud).

Revel Room (Vancouver)

New Southern-influenced small plates. This place is where the Lighter/Darker party was on Wednesday, and the party was so loud that I lost my voice for a couple days even though I was only at the party for an hour. Came back with Carmi on Thursday for dinner and was pleasantly surprised to get yummy small plates including cornbread, hush puppies, beef ribs, and so on to go with our local microbrew. Definitely an easy choice in Gastown.

Locavore (Mission, SF)

MJ picked this for my arrival-day dinner. Despite a lost-key episode giving rise to a 90-minute delay (Sorry MJ!) this place is fantastic. Locally-sourced ingredients as you might guess from the name make anything you order an excellent choice; we shared around and didn't have one miss in anything we ordered.

Little Chihuahua (Divisadero, SF)

I had lunch with Dave Moore at his neighborhood Mexican (lucky dog!), Little Chihuahua. Great unpretentious Mexican food at Divisadero and Page.

Little Star Pizza (Mission, SF)

One of my rituals when heading to the Bay Area is to get some Chicago-style pizza, usually at Little Star, still the best Bay Area option IMHO. Went with Nick and Naoco on a Saturday and just barely beat the rush (I was the latest arrival since there were no taxis in all of SF this weekend due to the Outside Lands concert!).

Ben & Nick's (Oakland)

Great neighborhood craft beer bar. Two new IPAs for me and a whole host of catching up with Ben Thompson!

T-Rex (Berkeley near Gilman)

Met Ewan and Sonoko for yet more new-southern-esque food, this time with an emphasis on the BBQ. Their cornbread is even better than Revel Room, and the Mac 'n Cheese, Beef Ribs, and Brisket meant that we couldn't finish it all so E&S got some take-home food. I predict they made their cats happy with it ;-).

District (SOMA, SF)

Met Melissa Bachman here to catch up on life events, dirnk excellent wines and grab a light dinner. All the small plates are good, the wine is awesome, and the divan seating is fun.

Pixar Cafe (Emeryville)

It seems weird to review a corporate cafeteria... but I have to call out the Gazpacho here! Green tomatillo, garlic... it packed a punch in the mouth and was as satisfying as twice the quantity of something else would have been. Got to catch up with Jeff P. and Ken Lao, ran into Andrew Stanton and Craig Good as well.

Sidebar (Oakland)

The whole week I was in the Bay Area it was sunny, clear, and fair (temperatures in the 60s). It's pretty hard to beat Sidebar as a place to meet for drinks under those conditions: Oren and I sat at a window table and looked out at Lake Merritt. The Paprika Fries are a pretty good choice to munch on while chatting too.

Aziza (Outer Sunset, SF)

As hard as it is to pick one, this was the food highlight of my entire trip. Not surprisingly, Charles picked this place out and guess what he's a regular there (we even got his favorite waiter). I pushed for the tasting menu, which is slightly pricey but oh-my-god good. Aziza is new Moroccan and man have they got it down.

Their cocktails are a revelation. I'm not really a cocktail guy -- beer or wine depending on the food -- but at Aziza the cocktails are a must. Pretty much every single one is a revelation combining ingredients you know in a way you don't, balanced to perfection. Charles had the gin/pilsner/beet and I had the rye whiskey/absinthe/bitters/grapefuit -- both were incredible (beet cocktails! who knew). It seemed like mine tasted more like lemon than grapefruit, Charles was guessing it contained the pickled lemon used in North African cuisine.

The tasting menu takes you on a pretty thrilling run through the menu. I didn't take notes but the highlight was probably the off-the-menu refresh course which was a three-layer with (IIRC) a tomato ragout on the bottom, goat cream in the middle and whipped potato on top. The entrees we went for were the exquisite lamb shank and the squab with fig; the only complaint was that the lamb shank was a bit too much to eat at that point. Fantastic restaurant.

Darwin (SOMA, SF)

But was I done? No! Steph and I met for lunch at Darwin, in fact just around the corner from District. Darwin is a pretty humble sandwich place, but since the sandwiches are *awesome* the lines get pretty long at lunchtime. I had the pastrami, Steph the roast beef. We got lucky and scored a table so we didn't have to use the curb chairs ;-) but definitely be prepared for lines 12-1.

Local Mission Eatery (Mission, SF)

The last stop was this place with Ruby and Axel. When Ruby first mentioned it, I thought it was a description not a place name! Again they emphasize local sourcing and the result is sweet; Ruby's Beef Tongue was good but the Albacore, Beef Stroganoff, and Ratatouille all got great reviews. I skipped the dessert but the really perfect French Press coffee made for a awesome capper to my week of eating my way through SF!

Movie and TV Roundup

Thanks to the entertainment system in the Airbus A380, I saw a bunch of stuff on the plane and tried to watch 2 more...

Big Bang Theory

The best thing I saw was not a movie, but finally getting a change to check out some episodes of this TV series. It's awesome (as much as I like musicals, this might grab top spot from Glee in my limited TV-watching time). Like many of the awesome series work on TV, this is very much writing-driven, with the actors gleefully each pushing their characters to the extreme of their role. So fun to watch, very light although the characters stay real enough to keep you coming back.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

As all friends who've seen it reported, this is a really fun movie. The videogame tropes come fast and furious and despite our hero's relatively lackadaisical approach to life it's a fun ride to watch. The visuals are awesome, completely having fun with the situation (as does the movie in general -- you're clearly meant to believe in the emotional journey, not the literal events).

Fast Five

So, I'm not a huge fan of this franchise but this was a totally entertaining caper movie. In this case, calling up the testosterone warhorses (Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson) and putting them in roles suited to them lets them just have fun with their toys (many of which explode very satisfactorily). A host of fun ensemble members round out the banter. Opening prison break sequence is awesome, as is the train heist sequence. I kinda wish I had seen it in the theater, this is a loud summer popcorn movie.

Kung Fu Panda 2

It had a subtitle, but it doesn't really matter: the plots are going to be pretty interchangeable in this series from now on. This is an OK sequel (seeing on a plane was optimal), the additions to the character list mean that no character really has time for actual character arcs. They're still having fun with the concept though (Michelle Yeoh joins as a soothsaying goat with a tendency to eat whatever paper is in front of her), and both the opening and ending credits are beautifully designed (someone finally figured out that scrolling text is a bad idea!).

01 August 2011

Bands I saw at Fuji Rock (Part 2)

And more....

  • Fountains of Wayne - Really good show. Yes, they were playing all these hit songs you've heard on the radio, but they changed things around a bit, worked with the crowd throughout, and I wasn't bored at any point.
  • レ・ロマネスク / Le Romanesque - Oh so don't ask. We made the trek out to the farthest venue at Fuji Rock called Cafe de Paris, which was supposedly a cabernet/burlesque sort of venue. Unfortunately, after the second continuous day of rain, the path to get there was an neverending slog through the deepening mud and the act that was performing was a Japanese guy in drag with a fake French accent. They did a couple funny bits in between the acts, but it didn't make the 40 minute trek to the back end of Fuji Rock feel worthwhile.
    It's sort of a shame because the Cafe de Paris venue has a couple good ideas (you can join in a drum circle), but the access situation made it pretty brutal.
  • Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - Just awesome. Super high-energy full (12 or 14 people) Japanese ska band. As it turns out, language doesn't matter at all for ska... no one sat down during this show!
  • Digitalism - We only caught a little bit of this show because we were headed to the next one, but while electronica isn't my particular favorite, they were doing the music/video integration thing pretty well!
  • Faces - If you haven't heard of them, it's worth reading the Wikipedia article about this influential band. My friend Ken was very excited that I would get to see this show. Ken, I'm sorry to tell you that the reformed band has it's strong points (bass, guitar, and keys were all rocking) but it definitely has its weak points (vocals... after this show you can put me down as a Mick Hucknall non-fan, and frankly the bass player was so good that when the drummer didn't play it was better). They were all having fun playing loud roots rock, though. Probably it suffered because the next thing we saw was...
  • Incubus - OK, so I had heard enough Incubus songs that I wanted to go to this show, but it's not like I was a huge fan. That all changed pretty much in the first song. Incubus, it turns out, is a live band -- the stuff on the radio isn't the point. First of all, they were incredibly tight (although at Fuji Rock, that was hardly rare). Next, they had the best sound mix of any band we heard... you might think that was a coincidence, but they also had the best video performance on the big screen -- it looks like they brought their own video guy with them. I didn't realize that Incubus has (always) included a DJ -- but seeing them live we realized how important it was to the show. They didn't just play the songs from the record, they made every song a little different and interesting. Brandon Boyd is really interesting to watch on stage, and did a good job of both letting everybody in the band have some time and of interacting with the audience. Even on "Drive", which is probably the song they were least interested in, they simply gave it to the crowd, having the audience sing most of the choruses. This is a band that understands what a modern concert needs to be, works all aspects of that experience, and delivered a great show. The best performance I saw at Fuji Rock.
  • No Age - We saw this two-person outfit more or less by chance. They're pretty noisy-punky but high-energy and lots of fun. Impressive to see two people make that much noise!
  • Cornershop - I was really looking forward to seeing this English band which mixes a lot of Indian themes and sounds to their pop (you may know their song Brimful of Asha). They turn out to be a 10-piece band with the guest Japanese DJ they had on board and did lots of extended jam songs, completely obviating my worry that they would just play their hit songs. Unfortunately, their frontman Tjinder Singh, while he writes cool songs and sings well, is just not very dynamic on stage. He ended every song by running back to get some water and generally stood perfectly still exactly behind the microphone. Again, no slight to him for the musicianship but...

I had to be at work first thing Monday morning so that was Fuji Rock for me this year! I did learn a few important things for attending Fuji Rock:
  • You must must must must must come to Fuji Rock prepared for rain. Next time it's the full-on Japanese rubber work boots for sure, not to mention a better tent.
  • Don't bother to come up Thursday unless you're the person grabbing the campsite. Take a half-day off Monday instead (stupid, stupid, stupid me, I had to miss the Cake and Chemical Brothers shows).
  • The bigger the group of friends, the better!

Th-th-th-th-that's all for Fuji Rock 2011!