Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Crappy crappy restaurant reviews

Something I give almost no thought to in daily life is the presence or quality of local restaurant reviews. I think of them sort of like tap water: When I need them, I expect them to be there and I expect them to be adequate. They certainly don't have to be great, primarily because I honestly don't know what a great restaurant review might look like. Would they inform my understanding of the human condition? Would they illuminate man's casual inhumanity to man? They might, but really I just want them to tell me if I should eat here or go down the street.

I was reading the Washington Post's restaurant reviews recently before a night out at the theater and all I wanted to know was where to eat in the most restaurant-dense portion of DC. Unfortunately, Tom Sietsema's reviews let me down thoroughly. The one I read was about Cure. He damns it with the faint praise by talking about its decor and the sense of deja vu he got from the charcuterie plate, or something. I also looked at the one for Azur, but he just yacks on about what's coming in that space.

If your review of a restaurant has nothing about the food, because it hasn't opened, or bangs on about the sofas, stop, take a deep breath, and hit delete until the tyranny of the blank page is back doing its job of discouraging your further composition. You suck. 

Here's what I want: 1) Is the food good, 2) what's the vibe (loungy, greasy spoon, molecular gastronomy, weird), 3) would I be better served by eating elsewhere within the same a) tradition or b) area? 

Here, for instance, are three better reviews for DC restaurants:
- Rogue 24's three drinks and three snacks for $55 deal is great if you can swing that and are at least a little interested in goofy molecular cooking. The bartender, Brian or possibly Bryan, is a lovely Midwestern sort who clearly cares about his craft, and enjoys talking about it. If you're lucky the Chef will wander by and make you a weird thingamabob while you get positively blotto on the drinks. Like much high-end food these days, this experience will appeal most to people who are "foodies" and can treat the experience half like going for food and half like going to a museum of food and cooking.

Eat a half a loaf of bread beforehand because the snacks are minute and the drinks are weapons-grade.

- The Gin Bar at New Heights restaurant has a very enthusiastic bartender, but her drinks are a little sweet. There are tons of gins there, and she's enthusiastic about them, but I found her enthusiasm got in the way of me trying the gins without her odd tonic concoctions. You may get better results by asking her to go light on the ice.

- Loriel Plaza is great for middle-cost Latin food and margaritas. You go there because they have ample covered outdoor seating with heat lamps as well as high-quality crappy margaritas. They're frozen and yet you can drink as many or as few as needed. The food can be hit or miss, but their masitas de puerco are the best puerco you've ever had. Don't go on weekend nights because it's a goddamned zoo.  Go instead to Casa Oaxaca up the street.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Aruba, not bad!

It's a low sort of human that goes to Aruba and complains about it ... so I won't. I had a good time.

I went with my girlfriend, who is shy about being mentioned on the Interwhatsits and who shall therefore still be referred to as Alphonse Dubai.

Aruba, a tiny island outgrowth of the Netherlands is a lovely place if you can believe songs and tourist brochures, and also obviously if you like white sandy beaches and plenty of Americans. Seriously you can speak English and spend US dollars just everywhere there.

And everywhere in this case is about 13 miles long by five miles wide. It's like a squat Manhattan, but, I think, with more native born US citizens.

Through Alphonse's family we got much appreciated access to a time-share that was going unused, and not being ones to punch a gift horse right in the kisser, we found the cash for the plane and told work where to stick it for a week, before toddling off on our merry way.

Alphonse is a big fan of beach, because she likes sunshine and looks good in a bikini. I, being made almost entirely from English man-parts, am leery on both counts. However, we did find a way to combine our loves - hers of beach and ocean and mine of biology/zen sports - by going scuba diving quite a lot.

We got a 5 tank package and therefore dove 5 times. I think there's probably a certification you can pay for so you do multiple tank dives, but I don't have it and the dive shop didn't care to rig their systems up that way anyhow.

A short note about scuba: PADI, which certifies scuba instruction, is clearly a bit of a squirrely group. Scuba isn't actually all that hard to learn, and while there are all sorts of certifications you can get, and are no doubt supposed to have before you go diving in wrecks or diving too deeply, most dive shops don't really care as long as you remember to keep breathing (actually super important), breath in the correct hole, don't bob directly to the surface unexpectedly, and don't ruin dives for their other paying customers.

For instance, Alphonse and I are certified to 60 feet in open water and nothing more. We're not supposed to dive through enclosed spaces or, say, to 80 feet, both of which our dive shop were totally glad to chaperone us through because a) it seemed like fun and b) that's what they were doing. They were mildly troubled when we admitted after our first dive that we'd forgotten more about scuba than we currently knew, but we went home and watched a couple of YouTube videos on how to set up our equipment, so by the time we came back we'd pretty much completed the majority of what PADI actually charges you to learn anyhow.

We dove a couple of wrecks, one of the Antilla, a German merchant ship that scuttled itself in Aruba at the outbreak of WWII (I'm assuming because if you know you're likely to become POW's, why not Aruba?), and a couple of planes that were, get this, sunk because people might want to scuba through them. Fascinating history. We saw some cool wildlife including an eagle ray, a couple of moray eels, a lion fish, some spiny lobsters, and toward the end of one dive, a huge school of silvery 8-inch fish that I tried to float unobtrusively into the middle of. They knew.

Also, once they'd dashed off, I realized that what it seemed they'd been doing, was feeding on the distressingly large cloud of jellyfish I suddenly found myself unobtrusively infiltrating. It wouldn't have been quite so unobtrusive if you could scream underwater. You can, I learned, get stung. Also you can panic. Lucky for us, the boat came and picked us up right in the middle of this cloud of stingy little bastards. Sigh.

Anyway, a good time was, in balance, had by all, and I finally got to examine underwater life in a spot where you could see more than two feet in a row. Alphonse got to hang out on the beaches. The "lively" Aruba economy of money for slightly less alcoholic beverages than advertized, got money. I'm not sure I'd go back to Aruba, but I'd certainly consider it and I'd definitely try other Caribbean vacations. Not cruise ships.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Istanbul ...

.. not Constantinople. I cannot resist.

Anyway, anyone have any suggestions about cool stuff to do in Istanbul (NC)? I plan to go there in a little while and I'd hate to miss your favorite place to eat or whatnot.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ahhhhh iPhone!!!

Ugh, I just don't care. It's got what, like a new cpu and an extra row of icons or something? I thought for sure they'd do some near-field-communication on this one. It's true that the new Samsung Galaxy's NFC is only useful with other Galaxy's, if I'm understanding it right, but at least it's sort of new. You know what would be cool, an app that gives you an easy way to program the phone in an "internet of things" sort of way.

Like, "if (I'm near this address) { turn off my GPS because I'm pretty sure I know my own neighborhood};" And if you tell me about Tasker with its interface designed by 1983, I'll beat you to death with a Java compiler.

Honestly, I'd really like a phone from either camp that doesn't just poop its firmware at about two and a half years and send you back to the venal used-car dealership that all mobile phone stores have somehow become.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Driving - Is it only for asses now?

If you drive in DC, I probably hate you. Sorry. Quit turning without signaling.

Also, quit running blood-orange lights; where the hell do you have to go to so quickly?

Also, go some damn place when the light turns green. You probably shouldn't have gotten in the car if you didn't want to go somewhere, so unless you're contending with dementia, pay some damn attention.

If you're suffering from Alzheimer's I apologize for honking at you the other day. My guess is we can just forget all about it.

Go buy this shirt. It's awesome.

Seriously, DC drivers are among the worst in the known universe. I've thought long and hard about why this is. I've driven in New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A., and many many spots in between. The best drivers are in the Pacific Northwest. Out there, people will slow down to accommodate your lane change if you put your blinker on. I KNOW! It confused me at first too.

In Boston, you are going to get cut off. Some optimist is going to hang a Louie the immediate second the light turns green - possibly before. There may be shouting. It's all in good fun.

In the Big Apple, taxi drivers will move into your lane. They all suffer from selective visual line neglect. The lane lines are more suggestions than law. If a road has four lanes, you can get five cars abreast once you get over 20 miles an hour. Even one way street signs are a bit elastic. You cannot, however, park there, wherever there may be. Don't even try it. You'll get a ticket.

In most of the southern towns, people are driving as though there's a gas shortage on and they'd like to stop and smell the roses, besides. Apparently you only drive fast if your car is decorated like a pop-up window in the South.

But DC, which may or may not be a southern town, depending on who you ask, has the worst drivers, I assume, because people are here from everywhere. North, South, East, West, Ethiopia, the Middle East, the Balkans, Detroit (where, I neglected to mention, driving is divided into tooling around town kind of heedless of traffic signs and driving on the freeway as close to the speed of light as physics will allow). The consequence of this diversity is that you never know how the person ahead of you is about to screw up their driving. Are they from a part of the country that thinks it's okay to wrest your right-of-way off you if they can turn left before you hit the pedal? Are they from some portion of the universe that applies the 5 second rule to red lights? Maybe they're from Texas and just don't give a rats ass where they end up today. The joy is in the journey, so why worry about when we get there?

My wise stepfather lectured me about driving by saying you have to avoid being surprising. Broadcast what you're about to do in as many ways as possible. Don't cede your right of way except in extreme circumstances, because most people don't expect you to. Use your goddamn signal. Accelerate out of corners, because other people taking turns generally don't expect to find two tons of steel and asshole hanging out in an intersection.

That's the problem with DC. There's probably the same percentage of bad drivers here as anywhere. It's just that they're being bad in so many stupid ways.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Voter ID

In my less optimistic moments I think that people shouldn't be allowed to vote unless they can find the US on a map, explain the difference between America and the US, and ideally explain in broad terms the major points of the tragedy of the commons.

The last one I like to throw in because it might talk some libertarians out of being so cavalier with our democracy, but you know what, I know I'm wrong. It's not only on the tragedy of the commons count either, but on the whole shebang. It's not that it wouldn't be super-keen to have an informed and educated electorate, but rather that we can't possibly pretend to aspire to the American dream if we don't hold that all people are, in fact, created equal. That all their stupid ideas are, in fact, worth allowing onto the public stage, even if only in the form of thumbs up to the thinly veiled pandering of these actors we're now calling politicians.

The hope is that if you are really crazy stupid and think that the balancing of the government's budget is similar to balancing a small business budget, or worse, that of a household, then by all means, I hope you vote to counteract the crazy bastards who think every elderly person should get as many free, life-extending operations as our debtors see fit to pay for. Both positions are crazy, so if we inhibit one end of the spectrum from voting, then the other injurious rapscallions will start to rise in influence.

That, the math and the freedom of it, explain why the voter ID laws being enacted by Republicans in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania should dispirit you. By all means, all parties should try to win. A democracy relies on it. We should encourage the free and open discussion and even testing of ideas. It's possible that the Tea Party, as well as actual socialists (which, by the way our current president is not) have some great ideas that deserve to be tried. I doubt it on both counts, but while I'm very smart, I'm simply not smart enough to know the best way to run an incredibly complex system like our economy or our culture. Nor is anyone else alive. Paul Krugman seems to come close on the economy, I guess.

Here's what I hope. If you believe in conservative or liberal ideas, let's discuss them. Let's try them out even once a sufficient plurality of the public votes for the ideas or the smile of the pandering individual trying to sell them. However, if your party or the other tries to erode the very machinery of our democracy, tell them to go to hell. Ask them to stop, and if they don't, refuse to vote for them. We're actually and irrevocably in this together. There is no "taking back" the US from one or other party. Everyone invested in the taking of America lives here, and we were promised by our founding fathers that we would have a right to vote. It's one thing to disagree what colors to paint the walls of our fort. It's another to burn the place down so you can be in the position to decide once and for all. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chinese Art and Me (One of its Audience Members)

I went to see the second of this year's A.W. Mellon lectures today. This year's series is being given by art historian and all around erudite Scotsman, Craig Clunas of Oxford University.

The topic he has chosen to hold forth on is Chinese Painting and Its Audiences which, as you can imagine, is right over my head. Whereas Dr. Clunas is an authority on art from the Ming period, my insight into their body of work begins and ends with the knowledge that they made vases. That ignorance, however, is the reason I decided to show up to the National Gallery today and last week to get some art facts jammed into my largely recalcitrant head-bone.

Last week's lecture, I hate to say, was all intro. The gist, as well as pretty much the rest of it, was that "Chinese art" as a concept is a blunt term that is applied both unwittingly and wittingly by various audiences of the art that has come out of China. It has been applied perhaps more wittingly (shut up it's probably a word) by the Chinese themselves and tells us something about their relationship to the creation and perception of art.

Today's lecture dealt with how courtly and erudite gentlemen of China past interacted with art of the Ming and shortly post-Ming period. (I could be wrong about the eras because, as I intimated above, I'm about as sharp as a potato when it comes to Asian art of any stripe. A clever, but fairly ignorant potato.)

Anyway, knowing very little has seldom stopped me from forming an opinion that I will gladly come to blows over, so I chose to discount the lecture's main theme and develop my own. While Professor Clunas was suggesting (I think) that the active viewing of art was a form of encouraged self-improvement in China's Ming dynasty and that the meta-paintings (the paintings being perused within the paintings) gave form to a notion of capital-A art peculiar to China at the time, I wanted to know what social and spiritual benefit the appreciation of art was supposed to have at the time.

It seemed to me that the meta-paintings being reviewed by the characters of the paintings tended to have a great deal of correspondence with the paintings in which they appeared. This was most true in the paintings wherein the meta-painting was not fully displayed, but was on a scroll that curved so you could see just a lower portion of the meta-painting's subject. I noticed that often the visible portion of the meta-painting mirrored in subject or at least form the corresponding right or left hand section of the actual painting.

This would make sense if the idea of viewing a painting was to appreciate more ideally the essence of what was being depicted. If art was supposed to bring a truer sense of the natural and sublime, in the same way I understand calligraphy was supposed to refine the thoughts of the calligrapher, then this trope makes a lot of sense. If not, then I'm back to being a dopey art monkey. I wish there were a Q and A after the lectures. Maybe there is and dopey monkeys aren't invited.