Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

King To Pawn Three

I don't check critic's reviews of films before I see them, I want to go in unbiased. I'm certain that the critics are going to rip this one apart, film-goers might too. Its not that its a bad film, it isn't, rather it has been advertised to be something it isn't, so the public's expectations have been improperly set.

I know a bit about politics in our great neighboring state of Louisiana, considering my family lived there on 3 different occassions. Its riddled with high drama taking the form of charasmatic corruption to a level that makes it a self-parody. Don't look to Louisiana to apologize for that, on the contrary, they are proud of it. And it seems to work for them, mostly.

All The King's Men

My friend Fifi and I were expecting more drama and action than was delivered, but thats ok, what we got was good, just not expected. All The King's Men is a character and dialogue-centric, slow-paced look at one Louisiana governor's rise to power in the 1940's. The story itself is dramatic but it is told in the nuanced manner of the 40's itself.

Outstretched, moss-covered branches of centuries-old Live Oaks, gracious antebellum mansions on the eve of their decay, lilting accents with that uniquely identifiable step-slide cadence, men in suits, ties and hats. The staging and detail to the location and era in which the story occured were phenomenal. I don't think I picked out one anachronism, and ususally I am good at nailing those.

Sean Penn was at his best portraying Stark (thin disguise of Huey Long), seriously, the scenes of him delivering the "message to the people" with his hands a-flailin' in the air, eyebrows raised and head cocked in tempo with the words made this movie. And that dead-on accent, you'd swear he was a native.

His holy Bear-i-ness of mafialand, James Gandolfini, makes an appearance as yet another corrupt politician thrown into the batter. He comes off believeable, although, on occassion, his accent switched back to northern NJ mob boss. I was glad to see him moving on from Tony Soprano.

I had some issues with Jude Law and his character. While he was certainly good, I felt he delivered too much lamb and not enough lion; the particular character would have had more dimension if he was portrayed as more emotionally involved with the political situation and less politically involved with his emotional situation. But the big problem with this film is that it is about 30 minutes too long. Fortunately the last scene is riveting and I doubt I'll be able to look at a Louisiana state map in quite the same way again.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stephan Pyles

Stephan Pyles is one of Dallas' celebrity chefs, he has started and sold off some of the most well-known restaurants in town. I doubt he will be selling off his latest venture, since it is his self-named restaurant and I believe his best effort to date. Neighbors Mark, Blair, Charla and I decided to give it a go in a group birthday effort.

Neighbors Mark, Blair and Charla departing for SP

Stephan Pyles
1807 Ross Ave., Ste. 500 @ St. Paul
Dallas, TX 75201

If you decide to try this place I would suggest spending a little time looking at the online menus; there are actually two menus - a standard dinner menu and a tapas menu, you can mix from both but the standard menu is delivered to main dining patrons while the tapas menu is delivered to the bar patrons. If you want the other you will have to ask for it.

Stephan is well-known for creating funky sophistication and he has definitely achieved that again with this restaurant. Its subtle but some of the choices in decor were amazing. I loved the copper squares that were attached by copper link to form a see-through division between dining areas. The paritally open kitchen was a nice touch, making me feel somewhat connected to the nerve center. Faucets in the bathroom were Space 1999 unsettling but that was nothing compared to the big uncovered window facing a busy St. Paul Street. "Hello everyone, I'm peeing!"

Unlike many new restaurants in Dallas, Stephan Pyles has not been inundated by the "Dallas people". Patrons here are well-dressed, well-mannered and noone seems to be too interested in impressing anyone else. They come for a culinary experience, and that is the focus.

Be warned, however, peak hours and days can be very, very loud.

Birthday dessert sampling

The Plate
Besides Coyote Cafe's genius chef, Miller, Pyles is the most innovative and bold when it comes to Southwestern fare. Lets just jump right in with the recommendations, shall we?


If you have a larger group definitely go for the 3, 6 or 8-pack ceviche tasting. I loved the Hamachi with Agave and Guanabana, squeaky fresh and the Key Lime marinade was a nice touch. Also flawless and addicitive was the Lobster with Mango and Basil, its worth the extra $4. Not so wild about the Halibut with Avocado and Tomatillos but that was more of a texture thing than a taste thing; the fish was crunchy, I don't do crunchy fish.

Tamale Tart with Roast Garlic Custard and Jumbo Lump Crabmeat and
Pulled Pork Empanada with Peach Pecan Sauce

The tart is made from masa and ground ancho, then comes the garlic custard, then the heavy handfull of lump crabmeat and sauteed red peppers; almost a meal and definitely one of the stars of our evening.

The empanada, while only an appetizer, could easily be a meal if combined with a salad. The barbecue sauce was smoky, sweet and powerful, it blended perfectly with the toothy, moist pork.

You must try the Cowboy Caesar, this is a carryover from when he owned Star Canyon. I'm glad he kept it around, its a super creative spin on the norm. The Caesar dressing itself has the welcomed twist of ancho chili peppers. The croutons are fried jalapeño polenta squares. And the whole lot is served in a deliciously crunchy parmesan latticework cone. A classic is born.

Excellent. Our server was also waiting on a table of 10, which all happened to be ladies from Cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan, South America that is. He managed to see to their every need, and there were many, while taking very good care of us too.

Ouch. Try $75-$125 per person. Definitely not an everyday place but nonetheless a place you might consider making an effort to try, if you live in the area.

Also, if you've never met Stephan in person, this is a good place to do so, since he revolves around the space taking the time to talk to each table.

Jim @ Stephan Pyles

Sunday, September 24, 2006

1, 2, Auto-Destruct

De Niro is my favorite actor. When I look at my favorite movies of all time, he is in most of them. Scorsese is one my favorite directors, he has a knack for yanking the best performances out of any actor. So, why is it that it took me 26 years to see this film since it combined both De Niro and Scorsese? I don't know but I'll be adding this one to the collection.

Raging Bull

Raging Bull is the biography of Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull, one time middle weight boxing champ in the 40's and 50's. One of the aspects of this film that I found interesting was that De Niro went to Scorsese and insisted that he make the film after reading LaMotta's memoirs. Scorsese, as the story goes, wasn't terribly interested but De Niro persisted and eventually the film was made.

De Niro spent an amazing amount of time with LaMotta before and during the making of the film, is essence, living as LaMotta lived. He leaned up and worked out before the filming to resemble LaMotta during his career peak, keep in mind De Niro was almost 40 when he made this one. Then he gained over 60 pounds during the making to accurately represent LaMotta in his later life. I think this is what I like about De Niro the most, his intensity and unbounded willingness to lose himself in a character.

Another interesting aspect of the film was that Joe Pesci, who subsequently went on to have a successful film career, had decided to leave showbiz in the late 70's after a self-proclaimed failed attempt. He had decided that is, until Scorsese saw him in some bad B movie one night and decided he would make a good Joey LaMotta, Jake LaMotta's quirky brother.

On the surface the story is about boxing, winning and losing, but deeper this is more about how insecurity and paranoia won out over physical strength to lead one man into a spiraling, self-fighting, auto-destruct cycle, which eventually left him broken and isolated.

IHMO, this is De Niro's best performance, better than Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Godfather. The scene where De Niro accuses Pesci of sleeping with his wife is some of the best acting, dialogue, directing and filming around. The scene with De Niro having a mental breakdown, slamming his head and fists into the wall of his small jail cell is also disturbingly riveting; you have to wonder where De Niro pulls from to give such scary-real performances.

Raging Bull won De Niro his second Academy Award and was nominated for just about every category in 1980. But more importantly, the success of the film caused the real Jake LaMotta to be thrust back to into the spotlight of adoring fans, giving him the happy ending he didn't get at the end of his boxing career.


Saturday, September 23, 2006


Uh-huh, more birthday :)

A friend sent me an Amazon certif, so I loaded up.

How To Save A Life - The Fray
El Mundo Se Equivoca - La Quinta Estacion
Stadium Arcadium - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Nightcrawler - Pete Yorn
Meadow - Richard Buckner
Major Lodge Victory - Gin Blossoms
Versions - Thievery Corporation
Game Theory - The Roots

Of those I think I like The Fray the best, the lead's voice has an fascinating quality and tone that can gush emotion or be very subtle. They kind of remind me of ColdPlay.

I'm still getting used to The Roots, I like them but they are a bit dark and unnerving, like Portishead mixed with generic rap.

What are your most recent musical acquisitions?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Superfreak, Superfreak

The birthday celebration continues, of course, since it is not November yet :) This installment, Noeha, Galina and Lauren took me to sushi and a movie. This post's reference to the classic Rick James song is because of the movie. You will understand once you've seen it.

Little Miss Sunshine

This is the best indie comedy I've seen this year. Take a very dysfunctional Albuquerque family with an average-looking daughter who wants to be a beauty queen, strap them into a VW bug and send them to Southern California to participate in a pageant.

Sounds easy enough but oh, the complications along the way. Sheesh. Not to mention the end performance from the 10 year old star of the film, which is one of the funniest 5-minute sequences I've seen this year. I could not stop laughing.

Acting is incredible, everyone, but I have to give a big hand to Paul Dano, who plays the son. It takes some talent to have strong presence without saying nary a word.

While this story is decidedly a comedy and an acidic one at that, it is still one with heart. The characters are brilliantly off-beat, each with their own personal demons but strangely enough it is their demons that eventually bring them all together in one big, messy, hysterical group hug of an ending. Little Miss Sunshine may not win any awards but you will be cheering it on anyway.

She's a super freak, super freak
She's super-freaky, yow


Monday, September 18, 2006


Phallic ATL

This trip to ATL was primarily to see if I could live there since the CDC is headquartered there and they hire alot of my kind.

Short Answer: Yes.

Past Impressions
Back in 1996 I spent 8 months in Atlanta. I became very familiar with the path between Hartsfield airport and BellSouth downtown. At that time a good friend and native to Atlanta was living there and he was able to show me around town. I loved Atlanta then; the culture, the endless things to do and particularly the people, much more down to earth than Dallas. But after 10 years, how had the ATL changed?

Current Impressions
Its bigger, WAY bigger. While people compare it to Dallas, I object, it doesn't resemble Dallas in any way. It reminds me more of Houston, not just on population scale (circling 7 million metro) but on the sprawling 60 miles of city that you will traverse before actually leaving the city limits. You might want to allow 3 hours for that traversal since the traffic in ATL is comparable to midtown Manhattan, any day and any time of day it will be bad.

Although some natives object, I still feel Atlanta is a down-to-earth city. Everyone I came in contact with was helpful and friendly, with the exception of some coked-up circuit boy we met at HoeDowns (ATL's gay C/W bar), but drugged-up, bitter, bar people dont count for anything in the final analysis.

Its greener than I remember - everywhere, even Midtown, which is famously dense and urban, is also very green.

Its less diverse than I remembered. I specifically noticed the lack of Asian, Latin and Indian in the population, but maybe they hang out somewhere other than Midtown.

Dining out options are enormous and all that I tried were great. Instead of giving a low down on each I'm just going to recommend one.

Deb, Matt, Paula & Jim ramping up @ Einstein's Midtown

1077 Juniper St @ 12th
Atlanta, GA 30309

Einsteins is a fantastic bar/resturant in Midtown with a spectacular patio. I liked this place because it was a mixed crowd; gay, straight, young, old, dressed-to-kill and uber-casual. Everyone seemed to having a great time. The drinks are killer and the food is even better. Definitely try the Artichoke dip, Calamari and Fried Green Tomatoes. At the bar they seem to have mastered the Mojito and Manhattan to everyone's delight, particularly me since I had 4 Manhattans, which is why I am sitting in Paula's lap :) lol

Nightlife options are almost staggering but again I going to recommend one.

Matt, Deb & Paula @ Red Chair

Red Chair
550-C Amsterdam Ave.
Atlanta, GA. 30306

Sure I liked Einstein's, Hoe Downs (gay CW bar) and to a much lesser extent, Amsterdam (G&L dance club) but Red Chair was my favorite. Its more than the sleek curvy interior mainly accented in red and local artist's fare. Its the atmosphere and the fact that every night is a theme night. We went on Hip Hop night. Funny, I am not a hip hop fan but I really enjoyed myself because the big patio outside kept the music inside at a comfortable level. We were 4 of about 10 white people in a mainly Af.Am. crowd but noone gave us any 'you dont belong' looks.

I have to admit, you will find the most beautiful men in Atlanta here, beautiful black men.

Things To See

Georgia Aquarium

There are too many things to see in Atlanta but the one thing I will recommend if you only have time for one thing is the Georgia Aquarium, awesome!

Any trip is only as good as the people that you travel with and see along the way. So, thanks to

Who was crazy enough to hire me when I worked at Nortel and crazier to remain friends with me for these past 8 years. Paula and I travel so well together, we can spend hours and hours together, and more importantly we can be content going off to do our own separate things. If it werent for Paula I would not have met Deb

Who just recently relocated to ATL, is my female counterpart. We are so much alike in so many ways its almost scary; calm, cool and highly analytical. She was generous enough to put us up in her lovely home during our visit as well as toting us to and from Midtown twice a day. Thanks to my caffiene addicition, Deb also is quite familiar now with every Starbucks and Caribou in the greater metro area :)

Who I met in Dallas when he was a mere pup of 23 is now a handsome young man of 28. He is SO old, lol. Matt moved to ATL last year and much to my delight, he looks very, very happy now so I am happy for him. Matt was kind enough to navigate us through the many options of nightlife in the city.

You may already know Matt from his blog, My So Called Life

If you had the good fotune of reading Sam, The Honest Me before it was taken off the air, then you got a good eye full of some painfully honest blogging. I had never met Sam before this weekend but I had heard alot about him since Matt and Sam are roomies. He is smart, funny, sexy and surprisingly reserved in person.

You can see the rest of the Atlanta pics here Atlanta 9/2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Brownie Points

HD Guy had to fly to NYC for an interview on my birthday so we did our thing the night before. He gets brownie points for actually paying attention to things I like. This is something different for me in dating-land, most just ladel me with too much superfluous detail about themselves with no reciprocal interest.

First, he showed up with sushi and champagne. I like sushi and champagne.

He didn't talk at all about his interview the next day, which by the way, was a huge deal to him, since this is the job he really, really wants.

Then the presents. I asked him not to get me presents, which he promptly ignored.

I guess I bitched enough about my yoga sticky mat not being too sticky anymore that he got me a new one. A purple one, I like purple.

A gift certificate to Central Market; yeah, its a no brainer that I'm a foodie, but still.

A festival pass to the upcoming Vistas Latin Film Festival. I'm still at a loss how he knew I would like that but so be it :)

Then there was the card; a funny card, not a sticky, sweet card - good call. Inside the card was an explanation that I was receiving 3 free months of Blockbuster on him. I had forgotten about the Blockbuster queue thing, it was a funny episode that was noted then immediately dismissed. But you know I had to investigate further.

Me: Thank you for everything, you really went overboard.

HDGuy: Nothing really, just things I knew you would like.

Me: Yes, and about the Blockbuster thing, I noticed that you had a run on adding your own movies.

HDGuy: Just the five I didn't get to see.

Me: It was more like 75, lol.

HDGuy: Actually those are ones you wanted to see, lol.

Me: How would you know what I wanted to see?

HDGuy: Everytime we watch a DVD you comment during the previews about which ones youd like to see but you never see them. So I kept track of them.

Me: Oh, then transfered them into Blockbuster?

HDGuy: Yeah.

Me: How did you remember all those movies, there were 75 of them?


Me: Spreadsheet? lol

HDGuy: Yeah, I'm in finance remember? I keep my grocery list in a spreadsheet, lol

Me: Oh, lol. Well thanks for that. You realize that now I could change my password and your credit card would be charged indefinitely.

HDGuy: I know you better than that.

Apparently so.

Monday, September 11, 2006


First, I would like to thank the many people who called and emailed me today on my birthday. And for those 32 of you who sang you own special version of Happy Birthday, a special thanks; I will be audioblogging them all when I figure out how to get them out of call notes :)

Now, here is a card I received from my sister. I have no idea from where she gets this sarcastic sense of humor. I'm also still laughing my butt off.

Notice how they really do spell out AARP. LOL.

More on my birthday later, since I would hate to break my trend of posting with a week lag. As some of you know, my birthday tends to drag on until November.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Birthday Cirque

Cirque de Soleil, dowtown Cincinnati

My sister gave me an early birthday present this year - a ticket to Quidam, the Cirque de Soleil running in Cincinnati. This was my first Cirque in person, although I've seen others on DVD. I can't even describe it, if you've seen one you completely understand. This is a thick assault on the senses, it was absolutely the most entertaining three hours I've spent seated. The talent of these performers completely defies logic; how can someone, anyone, be so strong, coordinated, flexible and responsive. I ran right out and bought the CD for Quidam. The music, all created for this specific show, is incredible; interesting blend of tempos and leaning often to French language and Middle Eastern beats. Its been on repeat in the car since I returned last Monday.

Thanks sis!

Since my bro in law's birthday is the week before mine we were joint celebrating. First night we did a casa-based night. My sister, who has become the best vegetarian chef ever, made dinner, which was awesome. We the adults caught up over dinner and Rose, while my nieces feverishly tried on their new press-on tattoos from their uncle :)

The rest of the weekend was frisbee, eating out, drinking, exploring and going to my favorite place in Cincinnati, Jungle Jim's.

Highlights beside Quidam:

350 Ludlow Ave
Cincinnati, OH 45220
(513) 281-7000

I love me some Indian food; its one of the best vegetarian options around. Ambar is typical Indian restaurant atmosphere - casual, quick, friendly and family oriented. My ruler dish for Indian, Saag Paneer, was excellent. When the server asked me for spicy-ness, from 1-6, I decided on 4 since Indian spice ratings are a little different than white boy spice ratings. 4 was perfect, anymore would have induced spontaneous self-combustion.

906 Nassau St.
Cincinnati, OH 45206

Andy's is a great casual Middle Eastern in a funky transitional area of town. We drove to Andy's from the north, it was a very scary drive, like Harlem in the 80's kinda scary. But Andy's itself is in a quaint fringe area where you feel totally safe. You can see the gentrification pushing past Andy's to the scary area.

I liked the interior of Andy's; its small and shotgun but the dining space is split between 3 different levels, making each level seem more private. Get the table for 8 in the front, its on its own level with no other tables and looks out through a big window onto Nassau St.

Food is awesome; kabobs, hummous, dolmas and some kick-ass thickened yogurt that was spiked with garlic and parsley.

2724 Erie Ave
Cincinnati, OH 45208

Red actually belongs in Mahattan instead of the quaint upscale village area of Hyde Park. Its funky from the inside out. We decided we would try Hyde Park in a progressive manner. Red for drinks, Teller for dinner, Graeters for dessert.

Drinks at Red are perfect, that's all we need to say. I've turned into a Manhattan person, the version at Red was dead center of the spectrum; not too strong, not too sweet.

In a drink haze we decided to order some apps too. Tuna Carpaccio was flawless; smooth, cool, paper-thing slices of tuna with the appropriate accessories. The shrimp and fire-roasted salsa app was also good but it needed some heat. That could just be the midwestern version of salsa, I suppose.

We made it to dinner at Teller, which is the brewpub restaurant housed in a old bank building next door to Red, but afterwards we passed on Graeters, too full.

One afternoon we walked around the Clifton neighborhood. I love this neighborhood. If I had to move to Cincinnati, this is where I would live. The architecture, detail and care given these homes is extraordinary.

There are a lot of pics of Clifton :)

Jungle Jim's
This place is like a foodie overload. Its a grocery about the size of 3 Home Depots. The first time I went, it took me 2 hours just to get through the wine section, which is bigger than our local Krogers. Sis and I make a stop here each time I visit.

The history of Jungle Jim's is interesting. It started out as a small, ethnic, corner grocery in a small, blue-collar, ethnic neighborhood. Then, over the years, it grew in popularity, as it was the only source of diverse ethnic food in the area. Now, it is so large and so popular that people drive in from Indiana, Kentucky and elsewhere to do their shopping. You can always stay at the hotel next door and make a full weekend of it :)

I have to say my sister and her family, through relocations, have introduced me to some cities that I probably would not have explored of my own intent: Portland OR, Madison WI, Memphis TN and now Cincinnati OH. I really grew to like all of them and that is definitely true for Cincinnati. I hope they will be in OH for a couple more years at least :)

You can see the rest of the Cincinnati pics here Cincinnati 9/2006

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The City Different

Downtown Austin

Austin is the only city in Texas that does not belong in the state. Trust me when I say that Austinites are enormously proud of that fact. They do not hold to the mantra, Keep Austin Weird for nothing. Its one of the few cities where options in industry and entertainment are numerous and balanced. Its also one of the few cities that I've visited where the population is not segmented according to decade in which one was born. On my last trip to Austin I found a night club near the 6th street area where 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 somethings were doing something you would never see in Dallas, they were sharing their evenings out together; interacting, laughing, drinking, listening to music and not remotely acknowledging their differences.

I could go on and on about the reasons I love Austin but I won't. My parents have heard so much about the city that they decided to pop out and investigate Austin as a second place to live. Mostly my trip was to introdce them to the city. They ate, drank and surveyed some homes by Lake Travis. It was a fantastic weekend!

Of course one my dearest friends, Leslie, who I have known for 20+ years, relocated to Austin 9 years ago, so we spent some time with her as well. Poor baby had just sold her house so she was packing and moving but she still managed to be tour guide between cussing at yet another closet and drawer she forgot to pack. (Yes, I helped :)

I tried some new restaurants this time down. Wow, I have to say Austin is good at the food scene. Here are my picks for places to try.

9033 Research Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78758

They won for best sushi in Austin, 2006. Definitely, they have their act together. Modern, upbeat and relaxed professionalism. Some of the most creative and well-presented rolls I have seen. Full-featured, fully cooked Japanese plates were also very good and made for a nice option for those not adventurous enough for the raw.

East Side Cafe
2113 Manor Road
Austin, Texas 78722

So Austin. They actually grow most of the vegetables they use in their menu offerings out back in their organic garden. I loved the quaint environment of the weathered house setting with the many tastefully quiet rooms in casual seclusion. A return visit will be necessary to try the pecan crusted catfish and to indulge in my new addiction, their squash casserole!

You can see the rest of the Austin pics here Austin: 8/2006