Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thanks For The Calories, PBS!!! Greek Pastitsio.

Earlier this week I saw an episode of Martha Stewart's (yeah I know) Everyday Food on PBS. She doesn't even appear on the show, except for little inserts, but rather she has an array of appropriately cosmopolitan soccer moms presenting and preparing the various recipes.

One of the dishes they prepared was a very simple recipe for Greek Pastitsio, often referred to as "Greek Lasagna," probably because it involves meat, pasta. cheese and baking.

I decided the next night to make it. I was a little skeptical going in, as it seemed rather simple spice-wise, but the blond domestic goddess working on this particular meal spoke so convincingly and adoringly about the ground lamb, and it LOOKED rather enticing, so I just buckled down and went shopping.

It was an incredibly easy dish to make. Only about 15-20 minutes of prep and cooking, then it was just a matter of waiting for it to bake.

(Arrggh.... 35 more minutes!!!)

So finally it was done. I let it sit for the recommended 15 minutes and then cut myself a serving and dug in.

It was very... subtle.

Not bad, by any means, but certainly not an explosion of taste. Kind of bland, really. I revised the recipe in my mind; should have used more salt, more tomato paste in addition to adding some fresh diced tomato, a sharper parmesan cheese and more cayenne (I had already increased it to two teaspoons). Also, perhaps, some nutmeg and balsamic along with the wine.

I had pretty much chalked it up to a learning experience when, a couple of hours later, my roommate Danny got home. I told him to help himself to some of the pastitsio if he wanted. I went back to working at the computer when I hear him exclaim, "This is great!"

I was like, "Really? I thought it was kind of bland."

He assured me it wasn't, so I went and grabbed a spoonful.

I was completely wrong about the recipe. It was GREAT. It had just needed
more time for the spices and flavors to properly marry. The cinnamon had reached just the right level of fullness and it just filled the mouth and nostrils perfectly! I was rather astonished that such a simple recipe could produce such a full and robust taste.

I love foods, like the stew and chili, that you can just leave on the counter and know it'll just get better the next day.

Suffice it to say, lunch has been great this week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Apparently I'm Sexy, Straight and Asian...

Well, two out of three, anyway. That first one is a matter of taste, I think.

Anyway, about a month ago I was featured on the blog Sexy Straight and Asian, a new website aimed primarily at women with yellow fever, a condition which, naturally, I support wholeheartedly.

The founders of this site are also launching another website in a few days called Eastbound FX (their Myspace page offers a preview of what to expect). Their goal is to be "the hub of Eastern entertainment for the West. We cover the latest in Eastern cultures, fashions, cuisine, travel, trends and entertainment, as well as the more serious issues facing Asian males and interracial couples in the West."

They interviewed me for the premiere issue of their eZine, presumably because Daniel Dae Kim was too busy drinking and driving and getting himself written off Lost (WTF DDK?!?)

Anyway, I'd like to thank the girls at EBFX for the ego-boost. As a struggling actor, my fragile self-esteem needs constant stroking.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Under the Gun Premiere

After my typical Saturday afternoon of soccer, lunch and napping, I hopped in the shower and got ready to go to the premiere for an independent action film I starred in called "Under the Gun." I've written about a screening of the first half of this movie that they had several months back, but this past Saturday was the first time the film was to be shown in it's entirety.

There was a lovely little pre-show cocktail hour with tons of fried appetizers and featuring a band consisting of two 11-year olds on drum and bass, doing covers of heavy metal songs. In the corner a lesbian ballroom dancing couple, one in a sparkling gown, the other in a tux, tried tango for a few measures of Zeppelin, then gave up, smiling and giggling.

After a bit of a delay, they canceled the drinks service (right before I got up to the counter as luck would have it), took away the food (nooooo!) and filed us into the adjoining room where a screen and projector had been set up. A brief speech by Douglas Ferguson, the director, and the screening commenced.

Citizen Kane it was not. And watching myself act for 90 minutes on screen is about as gut wrenching as a plate of bad sushi. I managed to compose myself and keep my eyes open most of the time. The most painful for me I think were my half-naked love scenes; I was so out of shape when we shot them due to an accident I had back in 2006. Followed closely behind were the fights - due to the erratic shooting schedule and the aforementioned accident, I was never in proper fighting form when it came time to film the action scenes.

However, all that said, it was an incredibly impressive accomplishment from a first time feature director, especially considering the fact that Doug is 22 years old! When I was 22 years old, I was sitting on a couch "finding myself." Hell, I'm still sitting on a couch trying to find myself.

Cinematically the DP Johnny Tsang did amazing things with limited resources - there are some very nice visual sequences for a low-budget indie flick.

All in all, it turned out better than expected and people had some very nice things to say about my performance and the end product. Again, the important thing here is that he MADE the movie. I know so many people, myself included, who have all these big ideas for creative projects, but they never come to fruition. Doug made it happen, and that's to be greatly respected.

And the chicken fingers were pretty good.

P.S. Now I can cross "Star in an action film" off my life list. Next up: "Develop marketable skills!"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Like Killing Zombies? Boxhead!

This is by no means breaking news, but if you like killing zombies AND flash-based online video games, then go check out the latest incarnation of Sean Cooper's Boxhead series, Boxhead: The Zombie Wars.

In this version he's added defensive turrets and barricades, which is just about my favorite thing ever, because my style of game play in most strategy games is one which my friends have dubbed "Gun Island." I like building little forts out of video game couch cushions. And by couch cushions I mean mortar and rail gun turrets.

I scored 2.4 billion points today! (It's not as impressive as it sounds...)

Come to think of it... I hate my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some Decent Burgers (Though Still No McHale's)

Since McHale's closed it's doors in early 2006, my friends and I have been on a search for a hamburger that could help fill the hole in hearts and stomachs left by it's loss. McHale's burger was well over half a pound, served with big, hearty and crispy fries and, if desired, a mound of bacon nearly as large as the burger itself. But even more impressive than it's size was it's taste. Pure, juicy, simple and straightforward - just a perfectly a cooked patty of ground beef. Maybe it was their chef, maybe it was their grill. Maybe a lei line ran directly through their kitchen, infusing their creations with mystical energies, only to be released on the taste buds of their loyal customers.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. McHale's was the best. I can't walk by the preposterous luxury condominium complex they tore it down to build without my blood boiling a little.

As a result, I'm VERY hard on those burger joints which remain (see previous posts). But why shouldn't I be? No one wants to pay good money for a mediocre or even crappy meal, so we, as diners, need to weed out the inferior hunks of overcooked, under-sized, tasteless nonsense being passed off as hamburgers these days.

That said, I hate to be ALL negative, so here, now, is a list of places in New York where a decent burger can still be had. They're not McHale's, but perhaps the second coming is still yet to come...

This former speak-easy, hidden away on a side street of the West Village, serves... wait, what? What do you mean their retaining wall collapsed while they were trying to renovate? They're closed?! SON OF A $!%@#!!!

Nevermind... moving on.

I had eaten here over a year ago and forgotten what a rather nice burger experience I had eaten here. They have a very clean and minimalist decor and menu, which manages to stick to the basics while at the same time adding nice, light touches which serve to accentuate the food rather than overpower it. Their Eatery Sirloin Burger is decent in size and flavor, and comes with crispy fries and garlic pickles, for only $9.95 at lunch (Though it's $11.95 at dinner... I HATE that.) The rest of their menu is incredibly intriguing as well. They're at the corner of 9th Avenue and West 53rd Street. If you need an upscale venue for a date or some such, this is your place.

Located inside Madison Square Park at 23rd Street and Broadway, this cool shake stand serves great frozen custard ice cream and shakes, as well as very good quarter pound burgers and portobello mushroom burgers. In terms of burger greatness, however, it really shines when you order their "Shack Stack," which consists of two cheeseburgers AND the mushroom burger on top, sandwiched between buns with their special sauce, lettuce and tomato. I normally wouldn't go on about a "novelty" burger, but this thing is just a taste explosion in your mouth, and for $8.75. Fries are separate, at $2.75, so it's not too bad. For those of you with smaller appetites, the individual burgers are still good and they also have a great variety of hot dogs and brats available. Don't forget to treat yourself to a frozen custard shake too!

During the warmer months it's hard to beat the combination of good food and sitting under lights strung amongst towering trees in the park.

A neighborhood fixture, this is an old school diner-style eatery, meaning that you can order pretty much everything and the kitchen sink: soups, salads, steaks, Middle Eastern, Italian, Greek, Mexican, sandwiches, pizzas, breakfast, lunch and dinner. 24 hours a day! But we're here to talk about burgers, and Nick's doesn't disappoint. A dizzying array of burgers awaits you here, and they're big, juicy, grilled and reasonably priced. A basic, 1/2 lb. cheeseburger with fries and fixings comes to a modest (for NYC) $8.25. Even crazier, for $9.25 you can get the ONE POUND Sumo Burger. There are far too many toppings and combinations to go into here; suffice it to say you'll find something to tickle your palate.

Cheap beer ($2.50 for McSorley's), cheap burger ($6.75 for a maybe 5-6 oz. burger, $2 for fries), good taste all around. 'Nuff Said.

Well, okay, the service is a bit slow.

There may be more, but until I find McHale's reincarnate, these will have to do.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Roller Skate for Free in Coney Island this Saturday!

Lola Staar, a boutique owner and an active part of the Save Coney Island movement, recently won a Tommy Hilfiger "Make Your Dreams Come True!" contest. She's using the opportunity to open a roller rink in the historic Child's Building in Coney.

The rink will be opening this Saturday, March 22n
d, and there will be a FREE celebration skating party from 6pm-Midnight. If the party goes well and a lot of support is shown, the rink may be here to stay. If not, it will be very fleeting.

So come support roller skating in NYC (we have no rinks left!) by skating your pants off on Saturday night. There will be rentals, but they will likely be limited, so come early. I asked Lola if it would be okay to wear roller blades instead and she said, "Sure!" (She also said that I'd have to wear a Wonder Woman outfit as well, but I suspect she was being facetious about that part. I think...)

On a personal note, I lived out near Coney Island for 10 years and would often run along the boardwalk past the amusement park and the boarded up Child's Building. It's a beautiful old building, with wonderfully detailed exterior ornamental sculpture and tiling. For decades it's remained empty and unused, slowly deteriorating with the passing seasons. A roller skating rink would be fantastic in this venue and would help breathe new life into the area.

The Child's Building is at 3052 West 21st St (enter on the boardwalk). RSVP to 866-211-1629. Some more info at Lola's myspace:

Decisions, decisions. I'm ALSO supposed to go to see a screening of an action crime movie I'm starring in called Under the Gun on Saturday night. I'm rather torn. Either I can go have a once in a lifetime experience at an old building I love in my old stomping grounds which I want to help preserve... or I can spend an hour and a half cringing at my acting and fighting on-screen. Hmmm...

Monday, March 17, 2008

More Burgers of Shame: Stand

So this past Friday, still grumbling over my sub-par experience at BRGR, I decided to try to cleanse my palate by trying another burger joint I had heard recommended, Stand on 24 East 12th Street in Manhattan. I was a little worried, as the aforementioned Michael Kane had ALSO recommended this place, but as he had also named a number of decent places, I just figured I'd ignore all his burger observations, both good and bad.

As my roommate and I arrived, the stylish minimalist black sign positioned high above the entrance on the second floor of the building screamed dollar signs at me. The two story tall room, the black and white theme and the scruffy, disinterested hipster
maƮtre d' just inside the door reiterated the impending bill, and a quick glance at the menu confirmed it. However, as my dinner companion reminded me, it would all be okay if the burger was good.

So we ordered. It arrived. And it was... lame. Admittedly, the flavor of the burger was decent, but it was by no means a taste explosion, and the thing just felt small, despite their claims of being a 7 oz burger. Way over priced (plain burger with nothing is $9; my bacon cheeseburger was $11), fries were good but sold separately and the pathetically mediocre, SIX DOLLAR milkshake came in an 8 oz glass. WTF? I don't know who they were trying to fool with the 3 inches of whipped cream on top either.

Ordered my burger rare; it came medium. Not even medium rare, just frakking medium. No real surprise, as it took 20 minutes for them to drop the burger... of COURSE it was going to be over cooked. The "bacon" consisted of two paper thin discs about an inch and a quarter in diameter and they only offered 2 types of cheese; American and bleu. Orders came with "hard boiled egg mayonnaise," a thoroughly forgettable concoction.

Had to ask for lettuce, tomato and onion separately. No ketchup or condiments on the tables; we had to get up ourselves and scavenge them from other tables.

The bill for 2 bacon cheeseburgers, 1 order of fries and 2 milk shakes came to... and this is the frakking kicker... $42.27. NOT including tip.

Wasn't all bad, of course. As I said, the fries were actually good, and they had some interesting flavors of shakes (blueberry, pumpkin, toasted marshmallow, etc...), though that particular plus gets canceled out due to the fact that it's basically a shot glass of milkshake. And they kept our water glasses full. That's something. The meat was good quality (shame they overcooked it) - free range, though not organic, according to the manager. And they toasted the bun well - always a nice touch.

I've read a number of rave reviews of this place. I haven't the faintest idea where some people get their ideas of what makes a good burger. You can't taste decor, people!

Just a disappointing burger week last week. Gonna go buy some beef and try Gordon Ramsey's recipe from Kitchen Nightmares and see if I can't salvage this ground meat shipwreck.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Burgers of Shame: BRGR

I'm something of a hamburger aficionado. Or a burger snob. However you slice it, I like hamburgers; I'm quick to praise the good ones, even faster to lambaste the crappy ones and the average offerings are forgotten more quickly than the promises of an alcoholic on her third drink.

Which brings us to this evening. I'd had a very, very long day and a friend was coming over to do a quick cameo in my latest sketch video and I promised to feed her. I'd normally cook, but I was beat, so after a little brainstorming on where to eat I suddenly remembered that there was a BRGR hamburger joint on 7th Avenue near my place that I had never tried.

Now, I had avoided this place on purpose. It screamed hipster trash, in it's decor, pathetic portions, pricing... even it's fonts. It featured a 1/3 pound burger, which is, coincidentally, the exact weight of mediocrity. Their basic burger was SEVEN dollars, AND they sold their fries separately - red flags galore. I had my burger oven set to pre-hate this place.

Yet here was an opportunity to finally give it a chance, so in we went. Got myself the BRGR burger - basic cheese, onions lettuce, tomato, pickle and BRGR sauce. Rare, as all burgers should be. With a side of sweet potato fries ($2.75) and a black and white milkshake ($5.50). My friend also got a basic burger and lemonade. Total came to nearly $30. For TWO people! Eating HAMBURGERS.

Must... stay... calm...

Flavor of the Burger: Meh. Slightly too greasy. Huge bun, pathetic vegetables and cheese melted onto the bottom bun... wtf is that? You might as well put the cheese under the table. You can't taste the damn cheese unless it's on top of the meat. That's burgers 101. Amateurs. The beef patty itself was a thin, rather mealy patty that reminded me of the consistency of frozen pre-made hamburgers, despite it's supposedly organic, freshly-made construction. I mean look at that thing; that's a burger that's just given up on itself.

After I took a few bites of the burger, I took a sip of what appeared to be about a 16-oz milkshake - seemed a little small for my taste. I was all ready to hate on it as well for it's rather hefty price-tag, but when it hit my lips I was forced to admit that it's a really, really good milkshake. Pretty much worth the money.

The fries, on the other hand, were crispy, but for being sweet potato fries, rather flavorless. They needed some sort of seasoning, and the sea salt on the table wasn't doing it. They should consider having a version with a bit of cayenne or garlic.

The real giveaway about the burgers though? At the counter next to our table was a mother and her 3 or 4 year old girl. Angelic little slip of a thing, blond curls falling around pink cheeks. She was peering back over her chair at us and I smiled at her, then suddenly realized she was in the process of FINISHING her burger. When a 3-year old girl can finish your hamburger without so much as a fuss, you FAIL. COMPLETE LOSS!

Michael Kane of the New York Post has named BRGR burgers one of the Best Burgers in Town, ranking it BETTER than Burger Joint in the Parker Meridian, and on the same level as P.J. Clarke's and frakkin' Peter Luger's burgers.

Note to self: Michael Kane of the New York Post is a moron.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Your Band's New Album

Here's a game I'm borrowing from a thread that borrowed it from someone's blog. Follow the instructions below to create the name of your fake band's new fake album!

The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.

The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

Here's mine:

Make your own and post it in my comments!

Perfect Way to End the Day? Chink Jokes!

So I've been temping at this ad agency and today, as I was wrapping things up so that I could leave, I overhear a conversation in the office right in front of my desk. It's one of the people I work with and a visiting consultant talking about their personal lives. Typical stuff... dating, job, Facebook, and so forth.

Then one of them begins talking about a friend or paramour of hers and I hear her say, "Well he does racial humor, which I don't like... but he's funny!" This makes me sort of chuckle and shake my head a bit, but I ignore it and continue getting ready to leave. But then I hear her start talking about how her friend was sending out "chink" jokes, but it wasn't bad because they were "funny." She then begins talking in a funny Asian voice.

Now, they know I'm sitting right outside the office. They walked right by me. The visitor even introduced herself to me. Yet there she is, pronouncing the name "Rick," "Lick." Repeatedly.

Anyway, there's nothing better than ending your day at your underpaid day job by listening to a room of white people making chink jokes. Just grand.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Random Art in the Dark

Shuffling my way through Fort Greene last night, I decided to cut through a park to reach my destination. As I trod the winding paths, I saw a small, glowing shack in the distance with a paper bag candle path leading up to it from the walkway.

Naturally I stopped and went up to it. The "paper bags" were plastic and electric, and the shack was made of plywood and Plexiglas, with two rows of benches inside with headphones hanging from the ceiling like airplane oxygen masks. Moving images were being projected on the inside of the shack. The field in front of the shack was lit up with a single bright spotlight stretching out elliptically across the grass and various trees were similarly illuminated. The whole kit and caboodle was being powered by a gas generator, encased in it's own plywood cozy off to the side aways.

Two young folk, bundled up, walked up to me and I asked them if the installation was open. Turns out this was part of a dance performance that would start out a nearby funeral parlor and then make it's way over shortly thereafter. They told me that, while there wouldn't be room for me inside to listen to the sound track on the headphones or enjoy the space heater, I could at least see the movement in the park space.

I came back later in the night and waited, and sure enough a small group of people came up over the hill, led by a cowboy pulling a rickshaw with two lucky audience members inside. He paused for a moment, ruminated over a letter from his sister, and then sprinted he and his passengers up to the shack path. The audience filed inside, put on their headphones, and the cowboy picked up the spotlight and shined it onto a hillside, where the dancers were crouched.

Then began... I don't know what. Without the spoken word and music soundtrack, it was difficult to follow what exactly the movements of the male and female dancer symbolized, packs on their back, red lanterns in their hands.

Realizing the show was going to go on for an hour or more longer, I left after about 20 minutes. Just a taste of the lovely random art that springs up in this grand city of ours.

I'm glad I saw it. I mean, I can watch the episode of Lost I missed online tonight, right?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax ran out of Hit Points.

Gary Gygax, co-inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy-based role-playing game, died today at age 69.

And while today is a day for D&D puns and jokes to run amok (see title of this post), it's also quite sad, as the man had far-reaching influences, not just in his industry, but in other areas of imagination; film, tv, literature, video games and so forth. And there's a nostalgia for the game that is shared by many, many people.

I'm not a huge player of role playing games these days, even though many of my friends are and one of my roommates is even a very successful RPG designer himself.

But as a kid, I spent countless hours flipping through pages of the various D&D books; the Monster Manual, Dungeon Master's Guide, Players Handbook and Deities and Demigods kept me company on many of the long, summer vacation road trips with my mother. Not even playing with anyone else, I amused myself just building characters, rolling out battles with various monsters, collecting random treasure off the treasure tables... all sitting on the floor of the backseat of my mom's station wagon as we headed to whatever camp ground or farm was on the agenda for that summer.

I don't play today, but Gygax's work was a steady companion for an only child on long stretches of highway.

So rest in peace, Gary. May the Gods of Greyhawk tremble at your approach.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Birthday mornings.

Why do my birthday mornings never start out with me waking up in the arms of two or more nubile beauties in a post-coital haze?

There's something a little depressing about waking up on your birthday alone. Even more so the anticipation of it; knowing, as you're riding the train back home at midnight, that nothing awaits you but cold sheets and an empty bed.

Sure it might just be a scheduling snafu - people get busy, people have other commitments. They'll be with you later in the day, in the Russian baths in the afternoon, or at your poker party that evening.

But that first moment when you wake up and the first thought in your mind is instant self-reflection and assessment of the state of your life. And in that summing up of your life, to have a cypher in the column where there should be a warm body is, just a little bit, sad. That twinge in the back of your throat sadness. It passes as consciousness fully inhabits you, as your limbs stretch away it recedes in the distance, but still... it's there.

And you've missed another chance at a perfect Birthday morning.

Such is life.