Friday, April 29, 2005

The Stephen Lemons "WTF?" Of The Week

If you've read the Phoenix New Times lately, you may have found that the guy doing the food reviews, Stephen Lemons, does not exactly have a gift for pleasant prose. Indeed, he goes into overzealous metaphor so much that you start to wonder if he's trying to paint a picture with the words, or just assault your senses into total numbness. Here's a doozy from this week's review of a Colombian restaurant, where he waxes overly poetic about a Colombian dessert called brevas con arequipe, candied figs with caramel: "And figs are one of my many gustatory passions, right up there with marzipan, green tea ice cream, and persimmon pudding. I could gobble a freighterload of figs and a volcano full of caramel, for the largest brevas con arequipe ever!"

Clever use of alliteration talking about the figs, but a volcano full of caramel? And that exclamation point worries me; I'm almost expecting him to go into Valley Girl dialect. "It was, like, the largest brevas con arequipe ever! Like, Oh my god!" Another thing I find funny is how he does his best to throw bonus-point words* into his reviews whenever possible, but tosses them about like a junior high school student who just discovered what a thesaurus does.

Then there was last week. Lemons showed his utter ineptitude at food reviewing by going to the freshly re-opened Stockyards restaurant less than a week before they opened. It's one of my many Chowhound Rules of Thumb (and yes, I really should index those... just as soon as I figure out what Rule Number One should be, it has to be something that oversees all the other rules, standing mightily on their shoulders as it looks off into the distance at the setting sun... oy, where the hell did that last part come from?)...

Do Not go to a restaurant within 4-6 weeks of their grand opening.

You see, restaurants are incredibly complex operations. Even a well established restaurant runs at a breakneck pace that feels like it's on the verge of complete, utter chaos. When one just starts up, there are many things that need to be figured out and settled. All of this has to be done while the restaurant is operational; if you don't have actual customers, you won't be able to predict what will happen. As a result, the servers are much less than on the ball, the food takes FOREVER to come out, and may not even be all that good. Going out to a brand new restaurant may be exciting in theory, but when it's all said and done, you really should wait until they get the kinks out. Lemons went exactly against the Rule of Thumb, and then bitched about things like spotty service and dishes that needed tweaking. What the fuck did you expect?

*Bonus point words are known in some circles as five-dollar words. I prefer calling them bonus point words after an acquaintance I was chatting with gave me 50 bonus points for using "dreck" to illustrate a point. I have no idea what these points are good for, but hey, bonus points are bonus points, I'll take 'em!

It Was Thought of at Oregano's

Can you imagine painter Bob Ross announcing golf? People wouldn't take a nap, they'd slip into a coma.

Mobile Thought Number One

OK, I was going to post a stub of this via mobile phone and edit it later, but since it didn't go through as planned, you'll never know that's how it was originally supposed to work. Whew.

One of my favorite local radio stations, The Peak, has been giving away tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld when he blows into town in May. While the winner was being excited, I was trying to figure out what it is that everyone really loves about Jerry Seinfeld. I've seen bits of his stand-up routines through the beginning of episodes of Seinfeld, and find that his material falls apart given two seconds' thought. An excellent example that comes to mind is why bookstores don't let you take a book into the bathroom. It's because they don't want you stuffing it under your shirt while you're in there, dumbass. These short thoughts get drawn out into 22-minute long segments of three people whining about why something is a certain way, and Kramer being his wacky self. It's the same damn thing every time, with the same one-dimensional characters and plot moved along by people who are a perfect example of "There are no stupid questions; only stupid people asking the smartest questions they possibly can."

Thinking about how I'd love to see Seinfeld blasted clean off the airwaves got me thinking about other stand-up comedians that really should have had a sitcom before Jerry did. Then it hit me... Eddie Izzard. Brilliantly funny comedian, and the main concept for the show practically writes itself: British transvestite adapts to life in a small American town. Or maybe a large one. Much better than "Three schmucks whine about daily life while a friend does pratfalls in the background", if you ask me.

That Damn Technology

While I can add to my blog by emailing to a certain address, it turns out that if the message is coming from my mobile phone, Blogger will think that it's a piece of spam and kill it quite impressively. I had good hopes for this, too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I'm Moving A Holiday!

I have decided that I'm going to celebrate Thanksgiving on the 25th of November, the day after Thanksgiving proper. Why? Easy, it takes me at least two days to make Thanksgiving dinner, I don't have to call in sick to work. That, and it makes inviting people over a hell of a lot easier since they already did their family Thanksgiving dinner the day before. Now all I need to do is work on perfecting the unbelievably, indescribably delicious Thompson Turkey recipe that I did two years ago. It was one ugly-ass bird, but MAN was it ever tasty.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

On Destiny

Have you ever had the feeling that everyone on this planet is here to accomplish certain things? I'm not talking the big life-purpose stuff, I'm talking the little side tasks. You know, like that person who always brings the chips to a party. I've come to realize that one of my side destinies is to change out rolls of toilet paper. It's weird, the new roll will be sitting there RIGHT NEXT TO the spindle, waiting for someone to take care of it. I rarely have to go find it, all I have to do is toss the old roll, and put the new one on. Do you have any side destinies like this? Give the bells on this jester's cap a ring, I'd love to know.

Currently listening to:
Peter Gabriel, "The Man Who Loved The Earth/The Hand That Sold Shadows", OVO

Friday, April 22, 2005

What The Jester Had For Lunch: AJ's

I was trying to eat a healthier lunch today. Really, I was. The plan was to go to Chipotle and have a vegetarian burrito (filled with their luscious guacamole), but alas I was shanghaied by the delicious aroma of freshly grilled meats coming from the outside grill at AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods. This, my fellow Chowhounds, is quite possibly the best picnic you'll ever find. Not only do they have burgers and hot dogs, they have Kobe beef hamburgers, and the dogs in AJ's meat department are the best I've ever had. They also have not only grilled chicken sandwiches in THREE different varieties, but you can even get grilled salmon! I went for the Kobe beef burger, laced with cheddar cheese and bacon. Everything about this meal was completely perfect. The burger was one of the juiciest I have ever had, and they used REAL thick cut bacon, cooked up nice and crisp. This is all accentuated by a great burger bun, sturdy enough to stay cohesive but light enough to let the burger and condiments shine through, and wonderfully fresh condiments. On the side were baked beans and macaroni salad, and both of these were exemplary versions; the beans were well-seasoned and tender with hunks of bacon throughout, and the macaroni salad had perfectly chewy pasta married with just enough of the flavorful dressing.

For beverages, there is a wide array of bottled drinks waiting in an ice-filled tub. They will gladly supply you with a cup with real ice cubes should you wish to cool down your drink. The ice cubes were a pleasant surprise- they do quite a bit to enhance the aesthetic of your drink, and they don't water it down nearly as much as the various shapes of ice you find at many other eateries. I had selected a Thomas Kemper grape soda from the refrigerated case at the back of the store, and wish I had picked something else. There just isn't much flavor to this particular potion, and watching the fizz settle is mildly unsettling, as the red coloring slips out of the fizz faster, and the foam turns a swirly electric blue. I'm sure that if you were to partake in *ahem* alternative herbal recreation, you could be entertained for hours with a case of this stuff. They do have a very wide range of beverages both in the tub outside and back at the fridge case, so you'll certainly find something that tickles your fancy.

I will say that my only quibbles about a lunch this spectacular are that parking (at the location I went to on Frank Lloyd Wright and Thompson Peak Parkway) is a nightmare supreme (there were literally three spaces left in the entire parking lot when I got there, and both of them were hiding behind Walgreen's!), and since this is a fancy gourmet lunch at a fancy goumet grocer, it's expensive as hell. My Kobe burger with sides and a drink came to just shy of twelve dollars. Certainly not the kind of place that I can go to every day, but very worthwhile when I have a little extra time and money on my hands. Oh, speaking of money- the outdoor grill only accepts cash. If you have to put it on plastic, you can always go inside to grab your drink, and then get cash back on your debit card. I think that they also let you order and then pay inside at the registers; ask the nice person taking orders at the grill before you get in line if you would like to try it.

Quickie: Bushism on the radio this morning

"...We know that 'Marine' is shorthand for 'can do'..."
--George Bush

And apparently "George Bush" is shorthand for "can't count worth squat."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

On Sports Drinks

Not much of a post, more of a theoretical question that I wouldn't mind somebody answering...

How do the folks that make Gatorade get it to taste so much sweeter after you've worked out? I know that everything does this to some extent (such as how dehydrated sludge that's supposed to be chicken chow mein tastes great if you've been hiking long enough), but Gatorade does it to a scary extent. I had some from a soda fountain after playing a couple hours' worth of Dance Dance Revolution tonight, and it tasted like the pure syrup they use for the mix. In the bottles, it's the same thing, but it tastes more like someone dumped a few packets of NutraSweet without my noticing. Why on earth does Gatorade do this?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What The Jester Had For Dinner: Elephant Bar, Chandler AZ

The Music I'm Listening To: "Destiny" by Zero 7, selected by LaunchCast (I rated this song 85)

Fabulous decor,
But high prices ruin this
Friday's wanna-be.

Yeah, the synopsis of the restaurant review is in haiku. Be glad I didn't whip out my iambic pentameter. Besides, if I whipped that out I might get arrested. I went out with a friend of mine to the Elephant Bar by Chandler Fashion Centre*. We decided on it by what seems to be one of my typical methods: We got in the car, and drove around largely at random until either something we passed looked tasty, or we thought of something. My friend mentioned Elephant Bar, and since it's been on my try-it list for a while, I figured we might as well go. Upon walking in, we are greeted by what TGI Friday's would have looked like if the creators had just been on an African safari- all kinds of artwork on the walls, ceiling painted with animal prints, and lots of safari artifacts (lots and lots of steamer trunks) placed up high on the walls. This bodes well that they paid attention to what the place looks like. What does not bode well is that the whole decor is extremely busy, with your eye bouncing around from place to place on the walls. Often, the more spectacular the atmosphere in a restaurant (whether it's the interior decorating, a nice view, or beautiful bodies inhabiting the joint), the less ambitious the kitchen gets... but more on that in a moment.

We ordered drinks; my friend got a Mudslide and a mango Tazo iced tea, I selected their signature martini**, the Tropitini, a concoction of the vodka of your choice, piƱa colada mix, and mango puree. It was reasonably tasty, but weak to the point that I think I paid $6.50 for pineapple juice straight up. My friend's Mudslide was tasty enough, but certainly could have used more ice cream than ice in it. As for the Tazo tea, it was as good as always, but three bucks a bottle? That's how much the much more pretentious Republic of Tea brand goes for anywhere you see it!

The menu itself is much like the decor- so busy that you don't know where to look. A zebra print pattern leads your eye down the menu pages, swaying side to side with a feeling that you're missing half the menu and getting a bit seasick at the same time. Now, with an intensive African safari theme to the restaurant, you may expect to find a menu with influences from Morocco to Egypt, and everything in between. This excellent opportunity is completely missed, as the menu goes for Pacific Rim and Caribbean influences! Ah well, I'm sure the wonks in marketing for the place still have their jobs. My friend got a chicken quesadilla (sans tomatoes), I eventually decided on one of their specials, the Jamaica Mojo Grilled Shrimp Salad. The entrees came out, we dug in, we found the quesadilla to be the same damn thing you get whether you're at TGI Friday's, Applebee's, Chili's, or any of the other casual clone restaurants. How do The Powers That Be ensure such cross-brand homogeneity? The mind boggles. My salad was certainly... interesting. Remember the "interesting" I talked about yesterday? This was the Aunt Boris interesting. The salad was your standard spring mix (can you escape this stuff anymore? Not even five years ago you were lucky if the salad greens were anything but iceberg lettuce, now it's frisee, radicchio, kale, endive, and goodness knows what else!), mixed with dried cranberries and walnuts, tossed in their "sweet and zesty" (the restaurant's words, not mine) Jamaica Mojo dressing. I'm not quite sure how to describe the dressing. I think it consisted of little more than honey and balsamic vinegar, reduced to a syrupy consistency. The ingredients of the salad were all very assertive, needing a careful touch with the dressing to make sure that it doesn't take over the entire salad. Alas, like so many restaurant salads before this one, it was very overdressed and tasted of nothing but the dressing. The shrimp were tasty, but had two very serious presentation problems. For starters, they offered the shrimp on skewers. While it makes for a pretty plate, it makes the shrimp seem less like a salad ingredient, and more like a side order. To make matters worse, the shrimp didn't have the tail end removed. Again, while this does look pretty, it makes it hell to eat. The easiest way to eat tail-on shrimp is by hand; while this works for eating the shrimp on their own, when it's a salad ingredient, it keeps the shrimp separate from the rest of the dish. So, back the dish went to the kitchen, and I ordered the other item I was pondering, the Smokehouse BBQ Chicken Sandwich. This was better, likely because it didn't stray too far into original territory, only being adventurous enough to put onion strings and ham on a de rigueur chicken sandwich. About two thirds of the way through this very generously sized sandwich, I noticed they were playing Eurythmics's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" on the sound system. Anywhere else, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash. In a place that is quite intensely themed like this, it was like hearing the same song in a fancy restaurant. There are all kinds of music they could have done that would fit the theme better (the CDs from Buddha Bar in Paris come to mind very quickly), but instead went with the DirecTV Party Favorites route. Sigh. At least dessert was excellent... we went down the street to Angel Sweet, home of the best ice cream on the planet.

On the bright side, our server at Elephant Bar, Kara, was wonderful. A bit overenthusiastic at times (I think more and more that this is a requirement to work in a place like this, being on Prozac and caffeine at the same time), but friendly and eager to please. I'd love to go back to see Kara again, but with overpriced, lackluster food like the kitchen sends out, I don't know if I want to go back anytime soon.

*Yes, I know that the official name is Chandler Fashion Center, with "er" at the end instead of "re". I like the idea of something that's the middle of something being the center, and a place where people go to find something being a centre. Since CFC is not the middle of fashion in Chandler, I hereby proclaim it a centre.

**More usage footnotes! Exciting, huh? I'm a serious cocktailian, and have realized there are two different kinds of martinis out there- the Martini with a capital M is gin (or vodka), vermouth (or not, if you prefer extra-dry martinis), stirred over ice (or shaken), served straight up (or on the rocks), with an olive garnish (or lemon twist). Yes, that's a lot of variations. It's just the nature of the beast. The martini with a lower-case m is a modern invention, and more of a category of drinks. These are generally fruit flavored (sour apple is very popular), and always served straight up in the classic Martini glass. Years ago, these were simply known as cocktails (and indeed the older ones such as the Pegu Club Cocktail are still known as such), but martini has taken over, largely due to the cosmopolitan air it provides, while cocktail sounds kind of frumpy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

It's JesterBlog 3.0!

Hi, welcome to the brand new blog for JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester). I'm a regular poster on, a conoisseur of board games (I currently have about 200 in the collection), and have enough trivia stuck in my head to be considered a major threat at Trivial Pursuit or You Don't Know Jack. Look forward to all kinds of ramblings about events in my life, and the regular feature What The Jester Had For Dinner, where I review restaurants I have been to, and do so with a style that gets you hungry for another posting and whatever it was I was just talking about. Stephen Lemons, eat your heart out. Something else to look forward to is what I'm listening to, a sub-feature from LiveJournal. It's pretty simple, I'll tell you whatever music I'm listening to as I write the blog. Currently, LaunchCast internet radio is playing "Once I Loved" by Astrud Gilberto. I gave it a 52 on the 0-100 scale, where 100 is "WOW!", 70 is "Hey, that song's really neat", 50 is "Yeah, I like it. Nothing special though.", 30 is "Enh, it was OK, I guess..." and 0 is "Computer, if you play that song again I'm coming after you with a baseball bat."