Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dinner out

Meal for two including drinks and service, $120.

A couple of nights ago we went out for dinner at Rudy's on Ram Cat Alley. This location has a spotty history. It has changed hands several times as restaurants come and go. I think this is about the third restaurant to occupy this location. This time, it's been bought by the same people that run Pixie & Bill's and Calhoun Corners in Clemson, so maybe they know what they're doing and the place will stick around for a while. I guess one downside of this restaurateurian monopoly is that it may lead to very similar menus at all three places. But, at least it gives us three choices of atmosphere. I personally don't care for Pixie & Bill's although locally it's quite popular. To me it's just a large, open dining room with no particular distinctiveness. I like Calhoun Corners and I like where Rudy's is, because it's not far from home and we can get there via a couple of back roads instead of the main highway. And the interior is pleasant enough. As to the food, I guess we need to sample enough things to be able to settle on favorites. The appetizers were quite good: I had the prosciutto wrapped scallops, Corey had the hummus. My scallops came with sauteed leeks with warm corn, red pepper and black bean relish that had a nice kick to it (due to the red pepper). One downside was the mojito: it took them several long minutes to bring out, and when it finally arrived it was grossly underwhelming (especially after all the hype preceding its delivery). It seemed like they used some kind of mix instead of freshly squeezed lime juice. And with only one mint leaf showing in the glass, there seemed to be no hint of muddling of mint leaves whatsoever. Sorry, but my mojito is much better.

For the main course, I had the rosemary crusted lamb loin chops in pinot noir demiglace, Corey had the fish and chips. The rosemary crust was interesting, reminiscent of the bread crumbs in butter topping I sometimes use to top green beans or brussel sprouts when making my traditional pork chops. The lamb was good, going together nicely with a glass of Rodney Strong pinot. Corey said the black cod was good, but perhaps not as good as the fish and chips we had in Aspen.

Perhaps the highlight of the meal was the dessert: the homemade pretzel crusted key lime pie. Oftentimes the key lime pie is too tart, this one, however, was very much like a key lime cheesecake, balanced nicely with the crunchy pretzel crust and the sweet raspberry cream sauce drizzle. Very tasty. Together with traditional coffee and Bailey's, a nice way to finish off dinner.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hell's Kitchen HD

A couple of weeks ago our old 32" Sony TV finally gave up the ghost after about 10+ years of service. So we decided to go digital and upgrade to HD. You practically can't avoid doing so these days. After looking at various options, we went with another Sony, this time a 46" HDTV. I was considering a Samsung or an LG maybe, but we went with the Sony, partly for aesthetic reasons partly because the old worked pretty well for so long we figured this one should last a while as well. It's a 240 Hz LCD model with conventional (fluorescent) backlight. I kinda wanted an LED backlit model because I thought it would be brighter, but the Sony is working out pretty well. Unfortunately, along with upgrading the TV, we also had to upgrade the cable service as well as our Tivo box. Everything has to be HD and for that it all costs a little extra. After upgrading our cable service, I couldn't notice the difference from our old Standard Def (SD) signal. Finally, today I clued in that the HD channels (just a handful of them) are sitting on these decimal channels, e.g., 63.3. Now that I've dialed into those, wow! what a difference. We're getting the signal coming in at 1080i resolution and it looks pretty damn crisp. I've also hooked up our BlueRay DVD also in 1080i so that shows up nicely. Finally, the DVD player also feeds our HD projector, our only 1080p feed. I don't recall what our projected image on the wall measures, but I think it's about 75" or so, or maybe even more, possibly 96". There are still a few kinks that need to be worked out (e.g., Tivo doesn't list the HD programs; I'll have to call them), but other than that we're all HD now. I finally get to see Hell's Kitchen in fine detail :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My next car?

Maybe it's the Bond movie, I don't know, but I sure like the look of the modern Aston Martins. I saw this one in Kingston, and then I saw another one parked outside the W. Hey, there's a dealer in Atlanta. It lists a few of the models in their inventory: ballpark about $150,000, ouch! A little more than what I paid for my current car :) Well, I can at least look. And CHI is in Atlanta next year, hmmm, maybe I can combine academic conference with a test drive, heh heh :)

Me, the food critic

I just finished reading Jay Rayner's "The Man Who Ate the World", where he (a food critic) goes around the world to dine at fine (e.g., three Michelin star) restaurants, including ones in London, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, and New York. The more I read and learn about food (preparation), the fussier I seem to get. One point that Rayner, as well as other writers including Bourdain, Ramsay, make about the whole restaurant experience is that you don't want to eat crap food and you want decent service. Pretty simple, no? Rayner's point, particularly at the more expensive places, is that you're paying for these dishes and service and the experience should be enjoyable and memorable. Yes, I do remember the $70 steak I had in Boston's Smith and Wollensky three years ago. And yes, I do remember the shoddiest dinner my wife and I have ever had at the Marriott in Cocoa Beach. The best vs. the worst, where I didn't mind paying for the former and I resented the fact that they were charging for the latter. I know, it sounds somewhat prissy to complain, but in some cases it's well deserved. Like at this place, the Houston "steak house" at the YUL airport. (Meal for one, including glass of wine and tip: $60.) Inattentive service served along with an uninspiring steak. I had the notion that I'd have a big lunch, knowing that I won't be fed on the planes home. So I had dinner for lunch and opted for the tenderloin. She brings out chicken tenders. "What's this?" I asked after which we clarified the misunderstanding concerning the word "tender". When the steak arrived, it was just ok. For a $34 piece of meat to be just ok is really unacceptable. It was cooked ok (medium rare), but it was just kind of gray, both in appearance and taste. It lacked something. Some kind of spicy, tingly crust is what it needed. I've cooked better steaks on my BBQ than this flaccid grey matter lying on my plate beside the overcooked veggies and what seemed to be powdered mash potatoes. Like Rayner was about some of his meals (at top places no less), I was quite disappointed about this meal, although such dismal experiences help better understand (sympathize with) his complaints (as well as his praises, which I can also appreciate when I find them).

Back in Montreal

I caught the train out of Kingston on Sunday morning. "Renaissance equipment" I think they called it, meaning more modern I guess. True enough I suppose, it seemed a bit more modern looking than the train I was on to Kingston. The seats were fairly comfortable, great at reclining, with some storage underneath for my backpack, but with hardly any legroom! Plus they did away with space for luggage so you had to check it in and then pick it up at baggage claim upon arrival. Still, an enjoyable ride. I think I'm starting to prefer trains to aircraft. After checking in to my hotel I wandered up and down St. Catherine street and found out that it was the last night of FrancoFolie, a set of free outdoor concerts showcasing Francofone talent (or lack thereof :) Here are the first two acts I saw—the first one was ok, the second was more funny (to me) than anything else. It was this muscle-building, long-haired metal band, composed of a guy playing a kind of electronic contra-bass (like a standup bass, but being electronic it was this skinny thing hanging off his shoulder), guitar, and drums. After the first song the shirt went off and off he went twirling his head groaning out Metallica-like grunts. In French! About the only things I managed to catch was the swearing in between numbers, e.g., all my favorites including Hostie, Chalice, and of course Tabernacle! I don't know what prompted him to issue these blasphemes, but it was quintessential Quebecois. Actually I rather enjoyed this bit, not so much the music. Occasionally though the drummer would show off his double-footed technique, which was cool.

The next three acts consisted of a rap group ("The first rap duo out of Montreal!" I was told by a guy helping staff the event earlier in the afternoon), some folk-like ensemble in the mall, and this kind of Brazilian/French fusion band. The rap act appeared to be very popular. I once again had no clue as to what they were rapping/complaining about, but it seemed angst-ridden (much like the metal appeared to have been), and the audience seemed to enjoy it (with the exception of the mall act, all outside acts were accompanied by whiffs of various herbs being smoked by the crowd—gotta love it, Canada is way less uptight than the US of A). The mall act was actually pretty good. It lacked a drummer, instead the percussionist sat on some kind of box that acted as bass and snare to fairly good effect. They would include various instruments including some Indian-looking sittar type thing, a tuba, sax, etc., etc. Anyway, they sounded pretty good with the only crappy number being one where the sax player sang in "phonetic English" as I believe he said he was attempting to due. Well, it was just plain mockery of English, he should have stuck to singing in French which he did much better. The Brazilian act was possibly the highlight of the evening, particularly the drummer. She sang in Portugese but spoke French in between numbers. At one point the drummer launched into this kind of fast-paced, instrumental percussion number evoking visions of Rio's Carnivale (which I've never experienced but imagined it to sound something like what the drummer was doing). I was quite envious of his rolling technique. How the heck did he manage to play that with such good pace and clarity? The last act I saw was these two Francofone girls doing rap yet again. Meh. About the only good thing about this last venue was that I could find a seat on which I could munch on my street-vendor hot dog and $5 beer. Afterwards I caught the Metro home, where I realized that AC/DC just finished playing (judging by the hordes of people with AC/DC t-shirts and red devil horns worn on the head). I stayed at the W, a kind of swanky hotel with its own night club that I was told about a couple of times. Very trendy, and a bit pricey ($10 Coronas, can you believe that?). Still, it was enjoyable to a certain extent except for this annoying club song that I keep hearing here and there: "My dream is to fly over the rainbow so high". Ugh, I can't stand that song, but every time it comes on in these "clacker bars" invariably all the clackers start singing it and flinging their arms up in the air. It's kind of sickening and yet curiously amusing :) It appears that I'm a member of the Starwood hotels group which owns/runs the W and as a perk I had late checkout (4pm). I took advantage by sleeping in till about 10am and then made my way leisurely to the airport where I now sit chewing up bandwidth writing up last night's escapades.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kingston, ON (Queen's University)

Kingston is actually a very beautiful town, perched on Lake Ontario. Around here are the Thousand Islands, an archipelago of islands that straddle the U.S.-Canada border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario (I shamelessly got this from the Wikipedia entry). The left pic above is the view from my hotel room. Nice, eh? The pic at right is of Loughbrough lake, just a little ways out of town, close to my friend's house. I'm not sure why but I've always envisioned Kingston as some kind of suburb to some large, stinky industrial town. I told this to people I know here and they laugh, saying, no this isn't Hamilton.

My friend works at Queen's University, where I am currently visiting and attending the PhD defense of a former Clemson undergraduate (he just passed, btw, congratulations!). The pics above are of my friend's labs (not the new PhD, although he had worked there doing his Masters). I've known my friend for 10 years now, having met at CHI 99, when I was just starting out my academic career and when (and where) I conceived ETRA, partially inspired by his paper there (and by a workshop that I happened to have missed that year). He's turned some of that work into a spinoff eye tracking company, and moved on to other types of human computer interaction projects. He's a pretty innovative guy. It's funny—when I hear people proclaim they're going to reinvent the interaction paradigm (currently our familiar desktop metaphor, based on windows, menus, icons, and [mouse] pointer, or wimp), it's hard to believe them. This guy is likely to do so without even having to say so. He's just probably going to do it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Delta late again

Delta, Delta, Delta...of course they came in 90 minutes late into Montreal. There was a huge queue through Customs, and so I ended up missing my 4pm train to Kingston. Luckily there was one more at 6:30, but I had to cough up another $30 to rebook the ticket. I had a couple of hours to kill in Dorval, so I had dinner consisting of Canadian chocolate bars: O-Henry, Aero, Wunderbar, great stuff you just can't get in the states. There was even some kind of giant Kit-Kat bar that had some kind of gooey toffee squeezed in between the cookie sheets. The train itself was decent, it even had power and sporadic wifi. Wifi didn't quite work, they said they were having problems with their satellite connection, but because of that they made the service free. So I managed to check my email once or twice without having to pay. Not bad. Not quite as convenient as Germany's S-bahn, but not too bad. I made it to Kingston by 9pm, then went out for a couple of quick beers and calamari. When ordering calamari I was pleasantly surprised to find that they could fix it either in the deep-fried fashion (yuck) or the unbreaded way with sausage and tomato. Yes, to the latter. It was similar to the Batali dish we make except for the sausage/pasta substitution. Not bad. Today I'm off to find the University and get some lab demos.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Delta service

Amazing how ever since the Northwest/Delta merger started Delta's service rapidly went downhill. 90 minutes late getting into ATL, now we're sitting here waiting for a new fuel sensor. I still have a train connection to make in montreal. Come on...

Salmon on a plank

A couple of weekends ago we tried grilling salmon on a plank, following a recipe I found in a magazine on the plane that I posted last month. I bought a couple of cedar planks at the store and followed the recipe. The planks are fairly expensive and yet nothing really special. I thought they'd be smooth at least, but nope, they looked like a 1x6 you'd get from the lumber yard. You have to soak the plank for an hour before sticking it on the barbie, and each plank is reusable about three times. (We've done this twice now and the second time the board starting crackling, so I guess they're right, it might start catching fire on the fourth try :) Along with the novelty of using wood as the grilling surface, I found the recipe's spice rub really tasty. Here it is:

  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 3/4 tsp. freshly gnd. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic

I guess I really like the combination of brown sugar, paprika, garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. I don't know how much the oregano contributed, but all I can say is that I really like the rub—I was even eating it dry after coating the fish and drizzling olive oil on it. The only two problems I have with the planks is that (1) the cooking time required seems longer than the 10 minutes the recipe gave, and (2) the planks are somewhat messy, leaving little shavings and charcoal on the counter (and Corey says they stink up the kitchen). However, I think the plank imparted a nice flavor to the fish, giving it a woody kind of aroma. Very good indeed.

Saucer peaches

"Well, they're in! The Mackinaw peaches!" That's what I thought when I tasted these—saucer (or doughnut) peaches (Mackinaws don't exist, that was a fictional peach that Kramer was going nuts about on a Seinfeld episode). "It's like a circus in your mouth!" I concur! It was a kind of revelation to me because for the longest time I was really averse to peaches because of their hairy skin. I just couldn't stand the feel of those little hairs on my tongue. These little mini peaches looked kinda cute so I bought a few. When they're ripe these things split nicely, you just pull the pit out, and then you eat both halves of the remaining "doughnut". They taste great, and for some reason the skins of these little guys doesn't bother me. Maybe I can eat peaches again! Maybe my aversion to the hairy skin has subsided. That'd be great cause they're pretty tasty fruit. But, as with the Mackinaws, are they only around for two weeks out of the year?