Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leap Tempura!

Izakaya Mai Restaurant
212 2nd Ave

I write this while watching American Idol, which might just seem like another example of me admitting to my failings for the sake of the blog, but in this case is actually relevant. You see, a lot of the time you can tell just by looking at a contestant if they are going to be potentially good or a cringe-generating disaster. But every once in a while one of them surprises you-- someone cool and together-looking bursts out with a screechy warble, or the dork in the dumb shirt sings his poorly-coifed head off. Which is all a long way of saying that I went into my dinner tonight, at a nondescript and average-looking restaurant just off of what passes in San Mateo for a main drag, without high hopes, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Not immediately, mind you. When I came in, the waitress asked if would like to sit at the sushi bar (which they almost always seem to do if you are dining solo-- I don't like it because you just don't have enough space for eating a full dinner) and seemed put out when I asked for a table, despite the fact that the place was almost empty, then seated me way back by the rear exit. So points off for service, but to their credit things did pick up some later in the evening.

Food: Like I said, given the surroundings I wasn't expecting much, though I was encouraged by the number of dishes I didn't recognize on the menu (new idea for my next project: go to every restaurant in the neighborhood and try something I've never had before). As usual, I ordered the tempura/sashimi combo ($12.95, with soup, salads (green and potato), rice and orange slices). As expected for the price, the sashimi wasn't the best, but it wasn't bad, and the tempura was really quite good. The batter was thin and crisp, even when I got to the last piece and it wasn't scalding hot anymore and, unusually, the shrimp actually had some flavor of its own, rather than just being a vaguely seafoody fried thing. Points off, again, for lack of originality in ingredient choice, particularly in including two pieces of broccoli, which is fast becoming my tempura bete noir. But overall, a highly positive dining experience.

Tempura: 8/10
Overall: 8/10

I Keep Trying. . .

I made a couple more LOLcats on their surprisingly addictive building page. So far, I still haven't gotten one to show up on the page for voting.

I don't know, I thought this one was pretty funny:

funny pictures

But then, I am a terrible person.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Only Way Politics Will Ever Show Up On This Blog

It's all about Change.

(Yeah, it's kind of an ad, but it's an ad for a good thing, so it's okay.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Further Proof That the Cosmetics Industry Despises Its Customers, As if Such Was Needed

A couple of weeks ago, Mary and I were at the Bloomingdales in the city. Mary was getting her makeup done by one of the many makeup ladies who roam the first floor and I was supervising, by which I mean watching and making unnecessary comments. Anyway, the lady did a nice job on Mary's makeup, and when she was almost done she told us to wait a minute and went off to another counter. When she came back, she had a a spray bottle with a magnet in it, which she proceeded to spritz Mary's face with. This, she explained, was to set the makeup, and the reason you wanted to use this particular water was because (and I'm paraphrasing) "regular water will dry up and pull more moisture out of your face, but because this has the magnet in it, it is polarized so it sticks better".

(Insert sounds of screaming, heads pounding on walls.)

Actually, we both just smiled and nodded, because the poor girl seemed so happy about and, and she only knew what she had read in the product literature. Besides, the cosmetics ladies were nice to me back when I didn't know which end of the mascara wand to poke myself in the eye with, so who am I to judge? But to you I say: "Arrgh!"

Oh, and that little bottle of magnet-enhanced water? Fifty dollars for four ounces.

Now who's pounding their head on the wall?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Kimchi! In! Spaaaace!

Once again, the international space program has provided the world with a vital innovation: orbit-ready kimchi.

It's like the Tang of the new millennium.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Blogging

5:35: Is this thing on?
5:43: Okay, it's working but it's slow. So far so good, Jon Stewart's monologue was funny, and he didn't get too hung up on politics. So far we've had beer and a humus platter, but no popcorn because they were out by the time we got to the front of the line.
5:54: Ratatouille wins! Now I don't have to trash the theater. Soon we will have popcorn.
6:05: They have hosts who are hosting during the commercials. I'd say more but the show is back on and the popcorn is here.
6:21: Now they're doing thumb wresting between two women dressed as Mrs. Lovett from Sweeny Todd. Neither of them seems to know how to thumb wrestle. Montage count:4. Beer count: 2.
6:27: I can't believe that stanard-issue inspirational song was nominated over anything from "Hairspray".
6:34: Did I mention we got gift bags when we came in? No five hundred dollar sunglasses or anything, but I did get a nice bottle opener. Montage #5 playing now.
6:48: The presentation of the technical awards has always seemed a little condescending to me, like "here are these people who do the work and come up with the innovations that make the wonder of the movies possible, but we think they're such losers that this is their only chance to see a pretty girl."
6:56: I kind of love Kristen Chenoworth. Even if I'm not totally sure how to spell her name.
7:06: Twenty-time nominee Kevin ... (I'll look it up) denied again. When will it end?
7:08: I have lost count of the number of montages at this point. We're on our second bowl of popcorn.
7:16: Thank you life! Thank you love!
7:31: Nichole Kidman: that's a lot of necklace.
7:32: Mary says, "Hi, Abigail."
7:42: Just finished beer 2. I can tell it's working because I keep losing popcorn down my shirt.
7:49: This seems to have stopped working. Not sure why. In related news, the crowd here is now noticably drunk. Also, some jerk keeps taking multiple flash pictures into the audience.
8:15: "Discrimination I don't have to face as a married woman." That one gets a big, ironic, laugh.
8:44: "No Country for Old Men," huh? I was guessing it would be "There Will Be Blood." I didn't see either one, so I remain unmoved.
All done!

The Pop Culture Superbowl

That's right, it's Oscar season again. (I wonder what kind of shot you load for that?) This year I'm doing something different; going to the fine Cerrito Theater, home of good popcorn and a wide selection of beers, to watch the show on the big screen with a bunch of like-minded folks, most notably Mary and Alice. I'll try to do some live-blogging from my iPod, assuming I can get wifi in the theater and my fingers aren't too buttery.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Two Down, Eight to Go

Just finished the second draft of my novel. So, you know, that's something.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tempura Thursday: Now With 85% More Thursday

Sushi Sam's Edomata
218 E. 3rd Ave.

I will admit, I came in with some preconceptions to this one, having come across some reviews on the web that touted it as the great place in San Mateo for sushi. So I was expecting good things and high prices, and for the most part I was not disappointed. Actually, in terms of price it wasn't that bad-- about the same as last week, in fact. The place was bright and busy, with a mix of customers and quick service.

Food: $18.95 for the tempura and sashimi combo dinner. For the second time in the increasingly misguided project, I had tempura that I would actually characterize as "good". Lightly battered, and still crisp when I got to the end; even the broccoli was eatable. I actually finished everything but the carrot because, let's face it, even battered and fried, a carrot is still just a carrot. One point lost versus the early leader (and still champion!) Oidon, due to a less interesting selection of ingredients, but overall a truly decent dish. I added back the point to the overall score because the sashimi was quite good-- tekka only, but very fresh, and no connective tissue. The rolls I saw going by looked really good too.

Tempura: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Daisy Falls Victim to the LOLcat Phenomenon, About Six Months After Everybody Else

I know, I know. But I Can Has Cheezburger is having a caption contest, with the prize being a trip to Vegas, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Here's the shot I gave it:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

True story: due to the crossword puzzles I did as a child, for years I believed that "ante" meant to give the cat food.

Oh, and you can vote for this if you want. Or you can go and find one you like better and vote for that.

UPDATE: I have recently learned that this caption does not refer to poker, but rather cribbage and/or euchre. Whoops.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Valentine's Noir

Last Thursday I came in to work to find a small bag of candy on my desk, carefully prepared by a coworker for all the members of our group. I've been nibbling on it ever since, and today I happened to read the writing printed on the pretty, pink-striped bag:

Life was beautiful then. I remember the time. I knew what happiness was. Let the memory live again.

The giver insists she never read the bags, but I think it's some kind of cry for help.

UPDATE: Curious about how these specific words ended up on the bag, I googled them and determined that they are the lyrics to "Memory" from Cats. Specifically, they seem to be from the version sung by Barry Manilow. Clearly, this is worse than I thought.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Your Special Favorite Locker

I know that it's nice to have a special favorite locker in the locker room at the gym. You pick one out and you return to it every time, and it's one less thing to think about. But if your special favorite locker happens to be next to the only other person in the entire locker room, who is at that moment half-naked, and going to your special favorite locker means that you have to go around in front of her, causing her to have to turn and change facing the mirror, maybe maybe you might want to consider finding a second-favorite locker.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tempura Thursday: Special Wednesday Edition

Masu Japanese Bistro
79 E. 3rd Ave.

Early tempuraizing this week, because I didn't want to try and fight my way through the horde of sushi-crazed romantics who will descend on the restaurants tomorrow.

I came in predisposed to like this place. It's open and airy and across the street from M is For Mystery, a fine mystery bookstore. Furthermore, as soon as I sat down I got a bowl of sweet fried wonton wrapper, which didn't strike me as particularly Japanese but was very tasty. Also, after dinner they served me plate with some slices of banana with whipped cream and chocolate and cubed pineapple with a cherry (in a cup). Which was all very nice, but somewhat hard to eat, as the only utensils I had left were the two toothpicks that came with it.

Food:$18.50 for the tempura/sashimi combo. Definitely the most generous servings of the places so far. The tempura came with four shrimp, as well as a good variety of vegetables, with eggplant, zucchini and some kind of white sweet potato as the standouts. Unfortunately, the twin powers of over-battering and sogginess overcame the forces of good, and the tempura ended up being just barely above average. Also, the sashimi was somewhat suboptimal; the pieces of tuna had some connective tissue and the yellowtail was dry on one side. That said, it looked like there were some interesting rolls on the menu and the miso soup was some of the best I've had so far. Still, not really a win.

Tempura: 6/10
Overall: 7/10
Verdict: I'd go again for sushi, and to have the extras, but the big T is a no-go.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Poll: Which Enlightentment Philosopher Had the Worst Hair?

They debated the nature of truth, of morality, indeed of existence itself. They influenced modern thought and writing in myriad ways and several of them had characters on Lost named after them. But one key question about the philosophers of the Enlightenment period remains: Who among them would be least likely to get a starring role in a Pantene commercial? Here are your contenders:

David Hume:

Scottish. Determinism, empiricism, curly pageboy.

Immanuel Kant
German. Transcendental Idealism, "Categorical Imperative", thinning widow's peak. Possibly a wig.

John Locke:
English. Empiricism, epistemology, "tabula rasa", liberalism, wavy crazy-old-guy hair.

French. Irony, satire, deism, powdered curls.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
French. Nationalism, Romanticism, tightly curled bob.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why Tempura?

It's a reasonable question, if not one that anyone has actually asked me. But I'm going to answer it anyway. The way I see it, there are two trains of reasoning behind my choice of test dishes; I'll call them "rational" and "emotional", because that's what they are.

My rational reasoning is fairly straightforward. The way I see it, tempura is something that is hard to do well, and fairly easy to sell even if you do it badly. Therefore, only a place that really cares about the food it is serving will bother to put in the effort it takes to make really good tempura, and that sort of dedication to quality should spill over into the other things they make.

The emotional reason is, as emotional things tend to be, rooted in childhood memory. When I was about five, my family went to Japan. I don't remember it very well, but I have it on good authority that the two things I ate the most while we were there were tonkatsu and, yes, tempura. I do recall being grossed out by the sushi, but as I remember it it was the idea of eating seaweed that got to me, not the raw fish. At any rate, it set me up with a lifelong love of the Japanese fried stuff, which I think has fed into my disappointment with some of the tempura I have had recently and driven my desire to find some that recalls what I originally liked about it so much.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Tempurapalooza 2008: The Saga Continues

California Roll
41 E. 4th Ave
San Mateo, CA

Last week, while I was having my dinner, I was able to pretend fairly convincingly that I was an expat, living in Tokyo, eating at the neighborhood restaurant around the corner from my tiny furnished apartment. Tonight, with the couple to my right discussing Flickr and the band String Cheese Incident and the couple on my left chatting in Spanish, that was significantly more difficult. Especially when I realized that the servers and chefs were speaking Mandarin.

As the name suggests, this was primarily a sushi restaurant, similar to a sushi boat place but with the dishes going around on a conveyer belt under a plexiglas cover instead of boats on water. It was plenty crowded, mostly with families (which led to my favorite overheard comment of the evening: a boy of about six or seven who declared, "I LOVE sushi." Only in California, folks.) Some of the rolls looking interesting, but I was here for tempura, so tempura it was. I got the combination bento, with gyoza and California roll, because if a place has a dish in its name you really ought to try it.

I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much from this one, and unfortunately I was not particularly surprised. As usual, the tempura started out tasty, as long as it was hot, but it went downhill fast. The broccoli was severely oversaturated with batter, and there was a large piece of green pepper, my least favorite tempura vegetable. The gyoza were fine, and the roll was pleasingly cucumber-free, if made with fake crab. This is also the only time I've had miso soup with mushrooms and sweet potato in it, served with a spoon. All in all, not my favorite, though it's possible it would be better to just go for sushi.

Tempura Grade: 3/10
Overall: 4/10

Why You Should Not Piss Off the Person Who Is Doing the Design for Your Prepared-Food Packaging

Exhibit A:

(With thanks to Simon Wood and his fine newsletter.)

The Votes Are In

And the answer is clear. What the American People want in their tropical drinks is:

More Alcohol

Followed closely by "Skewer With Fruit", which is itself followed closely by "Paper Umbrella", which is in turn followed at a close range by "Actual Umbrella". In a surprising upset, it would appear that the American People do not want a frog in their fruity drink.

Would it make any difference if it was a crunchy frog?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tempura-rary Postponement

Due to the absolutely massive dim sum lunch I had in celebration of Chinese New Year's, there will be no tempura tasting today. Tune in tomorrow night for the next exciting chapter in this saga!

Super Thursday!

Hurry! Only 37 minutes left to vote in the all-important "best thing to put in a tropical drink" poll! Unless you're reading this later in the day! Then there will be less time! Or possibly none!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Who Put the Goat In There?

That stuff is pink colored!

Anybody need this sign?

(Thanks to David for this one.)