Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Unbelievably, I found myself in Syracuse, NY this week. Trust me – nobody is more confused than I am. I guess the one advantage to being on the road is being able to see new places, but really – who wakes up and thinks, “Gosh – I really want to go to Syracuse, NY today.” Needless to say, it was just a work/run/sleep kind of week. And, as luck would have it, the one friend I do have out here was out in Seattle. C’est la guerre.

The Travel Note

I will say one thing for small airports – I was off the plane and in my car driving away in under 15 minutes.

The Restaurant

Upon finding out I was heading on a trip to Syracuse for business, I contacted my friend who's a local and knows good food for restaurant recommendations. His reply was, "This is why [my wife] and I are such good cooks." He then went on to say that many people would suggest Dinosaur but he wouldn't. In my short time here he was proven right on both counts - many people would point me in Dinosaur's direction, and now that I've been there I wouldn't recommend it.

The place has a great vibe - old wood everywhere, very lively and packed nuts-to-butts. I was able to score a spot at the bar only because two people were leaving when I arrived. The bartender who helped me out was very friendly and amazingly efficient considering the crowd that was there.

The beer selection is rock solid (which is why they got their second star). The Syracuse Pale, which I had, is a pretty standard pale ale - not overly hoppy, but still tasty. With 22 taps I'm sure you could find something there.
On to the food. I did the ribs/brisket combo with sides of slaw and macaroni&cheese (which the bartender recommended). The mac&cheese was very good, with (I believe) jalapeƱos. The rest just wasn't that good. The slaw was dry. The ribs came out room temperature and didn't have that much flavor. The brisket was fine, but brisket (as far as I'm concerned) is just a carrier for BBQ sauce. Their BBQ sauce was just bad. I don't know that I can describe it, but the flavor just wasn't right.

I'm glad I went as it seems like the "must visit" place in Syracuse. But I certainly won't be heading back.

The Five

When you start to visit various cities and parts of the country, you start to run into strange rules and laws – mostly involving alcohol. Here’s a list of 5 rules I’ve found rather odd.

  1. In Oklahoma beer over 3.2% ABV cannot be sold in liquor stores cold. On top of that, while you can buy 3.2 beer in grocery stores it must be placed in a bag before leaving.
  2. In Benton County, Arkansas you can’t purchase alcohol of any variety in a store. However, you can enjoy it at a “private club”, a requirement than can be met by any bar or restaurant by having a sign-in sheet at the front door.
  3. In order to play poker at Turning Stone you have to “join the club”, which means paying $2/day to become a member.
  4. In the Houston, TX airport on Sundays, you can’t get an alcoholic beverage before noon. However, between 11a and noon you can have a drink as long as you have food in front of you.
  5. Nevada state law prohibits any municipality from making a criminal offense of public intoxication. This explains Vegas.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

<voice style=”Larry King”>Houston, Hello.</voice>

Yeah, back in Houston, again... But visiting here in April isn’t that big of a problem weather wise at least. No snow, and it’s not 90 degrees and humid. And on the plus side I managed to get in dinner with a friend. But, still, it’s Houston.

The Travel Note

As luck would have it, Drew Brees was on my flight – 2 seats away from me actually (I was in 2F, he was in 1B). Turns out he drinks cranberry & vodka, and is willing to sign every autograph and take every picture.

And, no, I didn’t ask for an autograph or even say anything to him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just trying to live his life, trying to fly home. He doesn’t need me bugging him (much in the same way I don’t like being bothered with computer questions by random strangers). I do appreciate the fact that he’s friendly enough to put up with it. I will add, though, that I thought the flight attendants asking for pictures was rather unprofessional on their part.

The Restaurant

Ever since we've moved to San Diego, we've had many people tell us we need to do dinner at Busalacchi's. According to rumor, it was a favorite Tommy Lasorda who used to visit every trip to San Diego. But despite living in San Diego for 11 years now we'd never made the trip, similar to how you never take advantage of the museums and other tourist attractions in the town you live in. When we heard they were closing to move to a new location, we finally decided to give the place a visit.

The first thing that indicated to me it was going to be closing soon was that we were able to call on Wednesday and get a reservation for Friday - and call on Friday and push that reservation back 30 minutes without a problem. Upon arriving at the restaurant we saw why it was so easy - the place was empty, like tumbleweeds rolling through the restaurant empty (although I suppose that should be tumbleweeds made out of dried spaghetti to fit the location...) We sat outside on the patio, where there was one other couple who left about 20 minutes after we arrived giving us the patio to ourselves.
We started out with drinks - my usual manhattan (which was very good) and a white wine for the lady. We were informed of the specials, and settled on a lobster crepe with a cream sauce. Despite the cream sauce it was still remarkably light and very tasty.

For dinner I went with the lamb chop special, which was just dynamite. The veggies it was served with were cooked well - a nice al dente. My wife had a seafood pasta dish with scallops and shrimp. She enjoyed it, but thought the shrimp and scallops were a bit overcooked (although she is picky about that).

I was fine going without dessert, but when the dessert tray arrived my wife had to have their apple tart. This was the first time the experience fell flat on its face. Dessert was *terrible*! How do you screw up dessert? It's by far the easiest thing. The dessert tasted like it had been microwaved - the crust had no flakiness, no crisp - it was just terrible.

The service was very attentive, with just one faux pas at the end - the waiter gave us our check before we were actually done eating. Beyond that, he was very friendly and took great care of us.

It will be sad to see this place close down. If you haven't been here already, I'd definitely recommend a visit. But skip the dessert.

The Five

As I mentioned above, Karin and I really don’t take advantage of the city we live in, which is really pretty typical for most people I believe. Here are five things we either need to do or need to do more often.

  1. Visit the beach. It’s less than 10 miles away, yet we make it there about once a year (tops).
  2. Do more on the water. Sort of related going to be the beach, but different. I think I’ve been out on the water about twice in our 11 years.
  3. Spend a day in Balboa Park. There’s There ARE many, many museums and sites there that we’ve never visited.
  4. Roam the shops in La Jolla. Not that we could afford anything there, but it’s a great way to spend a day.
  5. Hike up one of the mountains. Not once have I done that.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Take a guess as to where I was this week. Go ahead – guess. I’ll give you a minute.

If you said “Houston”, I’d say move to the head of the class, except of course for the fact that the question was way too easy. If you said “San Jose” or “Tampa”, I’ll give you 2 points for a good guess. If you said “San Diego”, well, then, you must be new here.

This was a rather stressful week for me as not only did I have to teach, but I also was delivering a keynote for the MCT Virtual Summit on Wednesday night. Actually that’s not completely true – the session started at midnight on Wednesday, so it was technically Thursday morning. But despite all of that, both the keynote and the class went off near flawlessly. In all the week went as well as it possibly could have – although I was dragging for about 3 days in the middle there.

The Restaurant

My favorite sushi joint in Houston closed since my last visit. Brokenhearted, I’ve begun the search for a new location, and I may have already found it.

I’ve long believed that there’s an inverse relationship between the “coolness” factor of a sushi restaurant and the quality of the sushi they serve. When you’re spending that much money on being hip, something has to suffer and it’s usually the food. Besides, people there are more interested in being seen than actually enjoying a good meal.

Sasaki further proves this point. Sasaki is a tiny, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall. There’s maybe about 15 tables, and about 10 seats at the sushi bar.

I was warmly greet upon walking in, and settled in at the sushi bar. I went for my standard Kirin and asked for “chef’s choice sashimi plate”. (For those of you who’ve never done sushi, the best way to get the freshest fish and expand your horizons is to let the chef lead the way.) The chef, who was very friendly, put together a plate with tuna, salmon, some form of a bass(?) and snail.

Yes, snail.

As I said above, when you trust a sushi chef you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve had snail before in the form of escargot, and while I liked it I could never get my mind over the fact I was eating snails. But, the chef served it up, and I’m going to eat it.

And I’m glad I did. It had a very delicate flavor. I don’t know that I could truly explain it, but it was real nice. As for the rest of the fish – outstanding.

I may have found my new spot for sushi in Houston.

The Travel Note

I finally saw Up in the Air. The movie itself left me rather flat (it really didn’t go anywhere), but it did a decent job of showing the life of the road warrior. In particular, George Clooney’s suitcase – you’ll notice he was very careful about where he put everything. I’m the exact same way. With my eyes closed I can tell you where everything belongs in my suitcase.

The Five

There are perks to being on the road as much as I am. Below are the five best things about travel.

  1. Upgrades – in particular on airplanes. Yes, the decent food is nice. And the free alcohol is great. But really it’s all about the seat – greater comfort and more room.
  2. Visiting cities I wouldn’t have otherwise. I never would have chosen to go to Boise; it’s now one of my favorite towns to visit.
  3. Seeing friends in other cities. I’ve been able to get out to DC to see Abram many times, Memphis to see old college friends, and many others.
  4. Free travel. I’ve been able to use points to get many free tickets. I was also able to purchase two roundtrip tickets to Australia for just over $700 total.
  5. Being able to shortcut lines. In particular the security line. Can easily cut 30 minutes off the time it takes to get to the gate.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

For those of you scoring at home[1], you'll have no doubt noticed one small inconsistency in my review of Tini Bigs last week – I mentioned Karin in the review but not in “The Week” section. The reason for this is I try to keep the review from Friday to Friday, and Karin didn’t arrive in Seattle until the Friday night that capped off the week.

Having never been to Seattle, Karin decided that this trip was the right opportunity to come up and check out the city. Since the weather behaved, I think she was rather impressed. Friday saw us just hanging out with MCT’s and keeping things rather mellow. Saturday was just us on the town, and we managed to fit quite a bit in but yet not feel overly rushed on the day – despite not hitting the town until about noon.

IMG_3565 We started off with breakfast at Sweet Iron, a small waffle shop (reviewed below). We then roamed on down to Pike Place Market to see all the little shops. Karin would have spent all day (and the better part of a week, I think) checking out every single store if given the chance.

IMG_3591 Because we wanted to do the underground tour and still be able to make dinner at Elemental (you have to be there by about 4:30 or so to get a table), we cut our visit to Pike Place to a shorter period of time thank Karin would have liked. Bill Speidel's Underground Tour takes you through the sidewalks under the sidewalks in Seattle. As it turns out, Seattle was originally built below sea level. When a fire destroyed the city in the early 1900’s, they rebuilt with the knowledge they’d be raising the streets after buildings were built. So the sidewalks you walk on in certain  parts of Seattle are hollow underneath, and the tour takes you through there and explains a lot of the history of Seattle. It’s well worth the visit if you’re up there.

IMG_0441Our visit to Elemental turned out to be a bust. After taking the $20 cab ride over to the restaurant we discovered they were closed for a private party – on a Saturday night. We flagged the same cabbie to take us back to the city (in particular to Tini Bigs so we could have a cocktail and watch the game), and he took pity on us charging us only $10 to go back. Brokenhearted, we soldiered on finding a little wine bar/restaurant around the corner from Tini Bigs called Black Bottle. Black Bottle did have one thing going for it – quite possibly the best ribs I’ve ever had. They’re bison ribs and they came out with a great smoky hickory flavor – and no sauce. But never fear – they didn’t need it. In fact, we ordered another plate for dessert they were just that good.

And if you’d like to see pictures, they’re here.

Sunday saw Karin flying home and me flying to Dallas. My week here was, well, another week on the road.

The Travel Note

Quick review of public etiquette:

People getting off the [elevator|subway|tram] have the right of way. Give them room rather than fighting your way on. Trust me, you’ll have time to board.

Escalators are moving objects. When someone is standing on one they don’t have the ability to stop. When you stand at the end of one, the people approaching have nowhere to go except in your back.

Hallways are meant for walking, not congregating and conversing. Don’t be upset with the man who walks right through your group using the hallway for its intended purpose.

The Restaurant

In an effort to find a quick bite to eat before we headed out to see the city, Karin and I took a trip down to Sweet Iron. This is quite possibly the most affordable, best breakfast in downtown Seattle.

The waffles are relatively small (Karin and I split 3) of them, but very flavorful. We had their banana brulee, strawberry (which comes with whipped cream and balsamic vinegar - very tasty) and bacon - how can you go wrong with bacon on a waffle.

The coffee was very good, the service friendly. Great place to start your day in Seattle.

The Five

I know I need to learn to deal with stress better. Here are five stress relievers that do help me.

  1. A well made cocktail. I’ve mentioned this many, many times before. But at the end of a long day a crafted cocktail helps the stress just roll right off the shoulders.[2]
  2. Going out with friends. This is one are where Karin and I differ greatly – after a long, stressful day I want to go out and let off some steam. Karin wants to curl up on the couch.
  3. Running. This is of course a rather new one, but being able to “run away” from life’s troubles for a while is wonderful.
  4. One on one time with Karin. There’s certainly something to be said for spending time with someone who understands you.[3]
  5. Good music. Give me my Zune and my headphones and after a while I’ll soon forget about what ails me.

[1] Or even if you’re alone.
[2] I thought about asking for comments as to what cocktail in particular I might be after, but then I realized that’d be too easy of a question.
[3] Or at least tolerates you.