Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Key Review

The Stormhoek blog recently linked to a The Key Review, a nice Australian wine review site.
Unfortunately there are no RSS feeds for their posts, and the posting schedule is erratic (every month or two), but the wines reviews are well-written and balanced.

For example, here's a review of the 2006 Black Chook VMR I drank at Six Seven in Seattle during the March 25/$25 promotion.

Can't get there from here...

I had no idea how helpful the driving directions on Windows Live Maps are!
I asked it how to get to Tutta Bella in Columbia City from work, and it thoughtfully left out the complicated bits (I probably would have gotten confused anyway...)

Friday, March 30, 2007

French Word-a-Day

Yum Lass found a nice blog titled French Word-a-Day.
It's a bit like a travel blog from your French teacher...

While the postings are not quite daily (more like 2-3 times a week), the entries are really nice, covering an interesting French word with examples of usage, audio recordings to help with pronunciation, and anectdotes about French life (in English). You can read how the blog started here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Strange word of the day: Copasetic

I ran into the word copasetic for the first time this week. (It's also spelled copacetic)

Wikipedia has an interesting article on this word. Interesting snippets:
  • It is an unusual English language word in that it is one of the few words of seemingly unknown origin that is not considered slang in contemporary usage.
  • Its use is found almost exclusively in North America, and has been said to have been first widely publicized in communications between the astronauts and Mission Control of the Apollo Program in the 1960s
  • It's in the OED, so you know it's a real word... :)
  • David Mamet has written an article about its origins, although perhaps in jest.

Cheese, Grommit!

Wensleydale 001
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper.
I noticed this Wensleydale cheese a few days ago at Whole Foods in Redmond, and had to buy it!

I was expecting the cheese to be a bit more memorable though (given that it's Wallace's favourite). It's actually a little bland, and has texture not unlike drywall. Still, it's better than no cheese...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

So, what is Mandrax exactly?

This unusual topic is inspired by hair-dresser I chatted to this past weekend. She was a young American, and quickly asked where I was from after hearing my accent. When I told her I was from South Africa, she started asking me several interesting questions, like "Is it dirty there?"(Err... How do you answer that? Is it dirty here?)

One question was "Are drugs a problem?" (brief answer: Yes, but not a huge problem) While I'm in no way an expert, I felt an urge to explain that most people that use drugs use "recreational drugs" (dagga a.k.a. marijuana), although some harder drugs were a problem, especially Mandrax. This prompted her question: "What's Mandrax?"

I didn't actually know, until today (and thanks in part to a colleague that is having his wisdom teeth out tomorrow, which got me thinking about pain-killers, ...)

Mandrax will be known to most Americans as Quaalude, and the chemical name is Methaqualone. Wiki has a detailed page on this topic, which includes this snippet:

South Africa is the largest abuser of methaqualone in the world. Commonly known as Mandrax, it is not taken orally but is crushed and mixed in a pipe (usually the neck of a broken bottle) with marijuana (known as "dagga") and has become a major problem rivalling crack cocaine as the most abused hard drug in that country. The low price (R30.00 average against R150.00 for crack) of methaqualone together with the ready availability of cheap, low-grade marijuana means it is the preferred hard drug of the low-income section of South African society. Since methaqualone is no longer legally produced, illicit manufacture either in India, or in South Africa itself or other African countries produces methaqualone for the South African market.

(R30 is about $4 today).

So, now I will know how to answer my hair-dresser next time. (And so will you if this topic comes up - don't say you never learn anything useful here!)

More Enomatic news

I came across this website for a chain of wine stores in South Africa that use the Enomatic wine dispensers (like Vino Venue). They're definitely catering to the well-heeled set (with a location in Cavendish Square in Cape Town), but I have to wonder why Seattle doesn't have anywhere like this yet? (Or perhaps we do, but I just don't know about it?)

Maybe the new Woodinville Village development will get one?

San Francisco wine: Vino Venue

A short walk from my hotel was an interesting-looking wine bar called Vino Venue. What makes them unusual is that they are self-service: they feature automated wine-dispensing machines, made by a New Zealand company, Enomatic. (The US agent on the West coast has a page with installations to date, sadly none in Seattle...)

I had read about Vino Venue (or places like them) recently in magazines and the New York Times, so I was very pleased to find them one evening pureley by chance. It turns out they're not new at all (I think they opened at the end of 2004), but they are definitely enjoying continued popularity and attention in the press. (For some older press coverage, see this Wired, or this SFGate story. Whole Foods is also installing Enomatics in their stores.)

I went in around 5:30pm on a weekday, while they were still quiet, and started chatting to the guy behind the register. The system they use is quite elegant - you put money onto a "smartcard" (like a credit-card , but with a tiny computer chip) - with $10 being the minimum. Then you browse through their selection of wines (100+) and find one you like, insert your card, and press a button to get a 1oz (30ml) pour of wine. Each wine costs a different amount, with the cheapest being around $1.20. The most expensive is around $40 a pour. That works out at around $30 if you drank a bottle's worth of their cheapest wine, or $1000 for their most expensive. Obviously this is not a cheap way to get poeg eyed* on wine.

If you're there to drink wine and socialise, you'd be better off ordering a glass or bottle at the bar counter on one side of the shop. You can also buy bottles of wine for what looked like decent prices (Startign in the low teens $ for cheap wines) They also offer a small plate of goodies (a bit like a ploughman's platter), but food is definitely a second thought. (I would have loved a bread & cheese plate, withou the meat... More on that later).

For me this place is a great way to try a few wines without much risk, and I spent a good 30 mins trying wines and generally doing an impression of a wine snob, in solitude. After 6pm things got a little crazy, though, with the local lawyer and financial-types flooding in, including a large private party that practially took over half the space. The feel imediately changed into more of a pick-up bar, with groups of friends huddling together (and blocking access to the wine dispensers), and available singles nervously casting about for the catch of the day. I missed the solitude a little, and it was clear that if you're comign here to focus on tasting wine, you want to come a little earlier...

Their wine selection is good, but with a heavy focus on Californian wine (understandable since this is SF). I was a little surprised to see hardly any wines from Washington (there were quite a few Oregon Pinot Noirs though). One stations featured a few Italian and Spanish wines, and Australia and New Zealand were fairly well represented. No South African wine to speak of (so my dream of tasting a Eben Sadie Columella were dashed).

In terms of wines I remember liking, here are the winners:

  • '05 Glamour Puss Pinot Noir, New Zealand. $13 per bottle.
    Ripe and soft Pinot Noir with velvety tannins. Very drinkable and a great value, compares very well with NZ Pinot's in the $20-30 range, although it lacks complexity.

  • '05 Cicchitti Malbec / Cab Sauv, Mendoza, Argentina. $?? (I think it was around $20)
    This was an amazing full-bodied wine with loads of structure. Malbec adds a spicy, chocolatey flavour, and the Cabernet and body.

  • '04 Tobin James Notorious Cab Sauv, CA, $20 per bottle.
    Wow, and incredibly full-bodied Cabernet with an intense, super-long finish. Initial impact of glycerin and ripe red berry fruit, then tobacco and chocolate. Smooth, perfumed finish that lasts for around 20 seconds and seems to involve a cascade of flavours.

* Blotto, sloshed, hammered...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Before the Gorillaz

... there was Deltron 3030.

Thanks to KEXP for introducing me to these guys! It's interesting to listen to their debut album Deltron 3030 and spot the genesis of the Gorillaz' sound.

I must confess that most of the rapping by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien seems lame to me. (I don't really like his lyrics and style of delivery).
Some songs stand out and are worth listening to, though: Mastermind (great sample!), Virus, Madness, and Memory Loss.

San Francsco food: Sanraku Japanese Restaurant @ the Metreon

Sanraku is located in the Sony-owned Metreon complex*, a short complex from the W hotel. I actually walked by on Monday night and thought it looked a bit dodgy (typical cheap sushi place), but the following night, someone suggested we go there for sushi ("Not the best in SF, but good and quite reasonably priced").

Well, if there's better sushi in SF, then those guys have it very, very lucky. Sanraku was easily as good as the best sushi I've had in Seattle (at Izumi or Kisaku).

I ordered the omakase (chef's selection), which was incredible (and a steal at $38). It included several "appetizers": miso soup, salad with funky seaweed, monkfish liver sandwiching roasted eggplant, tempura prawn head. The sushi platter included fresh wasabi (yum!) and a great sushi assortment: tuna, unagi (eel), amaebi (sweet shrimp), gizzard shard, uni (sea urchin), toro (fatty tuna), giant clam, and 4 pieces of 2 kinds of sushi rolls.

Service was superb (handling a large table of tipsy people ain't easy).

Don't be put off by the apearance or location!

Verdict: Amazing!

* They also have another location in SF.

Friday, March 23, 2007

San Francisco food: XYZ Restaurant

I've just returned from a fun trip to San Francisco (I attended Security Opus)

This was my second trip to SF, which I heartily recommend as a fun place to visit, if you haven't ever been. I got the chance to eat at a few interesting places during this trip, which is the focus for this blog entry. I'll also briefly mention some fun places I walked by or heard about, but wasn't able to visit this time around. (Think of these as to-do entries)

First up :

XYZ Restaurant in the W Hotel, where I had dinner late on Sunday nigh, after arriving from the airport. This place (like the entire W) tries desperately to be fashionable and trendy, and ends up being overpriced and not that good.

I started out with an interesting-sounding roasted beet and goat cheese (Humbolt fog) salad, but the salad featured rocket and a powerful vinaigrette, so the beets and goat cheese were totally overpowered.

I chose lobster ravioli for my main course, and this was truly bad - I was ready to send it back, but the waiter never came around to check how it was, and I was so hungry I decided to just eat the best of it and get to bed. The ravioli were very undercooked and chewy, and had almost no filling. The sauce was thin and watery, without an off-putting flavour (boiled lobster shells, but not good). All this was accompanied by thumping dance music from the adjoining bar, and prompt but impersonal service. Including a glass of average rose, the total was $58.00, which is pretty steep given the poor quality.

Overall, not a place I'd recommend. Breakfast there the next morning was OK, but did little to make me change my mind about this place.

Verdict: Style without substance

Kubuntu and VPC

(Warning - this post may be terminally boring to non-geeks)

I have been playing around with several *nix distributions for a while, trying to get the recent versions of Kubuntu and Backtrack2 to boot or install under Virtual PC (VPC).

So far, Backtrack2 has not been happy - it keeps hanging VPC, usually just after the nice splash screen comes up. At one point I managed to get a prompt, but then hit the same hang again. (If anyone has tips on how to get Backtrack2 to work under VPC, let me know)

Kubuntu is much happier - I have an old Edgy Eft (5.1) virtual machine that was running fine, but was painful to use since it would only run in 800x600 mode. After much tweaking I figured out what is needed to get a decent screen resolution, and then decided to move to the latest release of Kubuntu.

There are some blogs/websites with tips on how to install Kubuntu under VPC and tweak the display, but here's the steps I used:
  • Mount the Kubuntu ISO in your virtual machine, and start it.
  • Hit F4 at the initial prompt, and select 800x600x16. This will allow the install to be visible in VPC.
  • You can also let the boot/install option kick off, and switch to a text console when X-Windows gets messed up under VPC. Since this is useful to know how to do (sometimes you'll want to do this once you've got an install on your virtual hard-disk), here's how:
  • Hit Ctrl-Alt-F1 (switches to text console 1). You should see a prompt already logged-in.
  • Type sudo bash to get a root shell prompt, and cd /etc/X11
  • Edit xorg.conf, and change the display depth entry from 24 to 16. You might also want to add some high-resolution display modes to the 16bpp entry (I added "1280x1024")
  • You now need to restart the X server for the changes to get picked up. A nifty way to do this is to switch back to the X console (Ctrl-Alt-F7), and then use Ctrl-Backspace to restart X.
  • You should now have a display that's usable.

Todo: I still need to figure out how to set the monitor settings so that 1280x1024 is used.

So far, it looks like I'll be sticking to Kubunto 5.10 under VPC, though. Kubuntu 6 has some nasty bugs and the mouse/keyboard behaviour under VPC is terrible... :(

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Music news

Some interesting (to me) music news:

  • Modest Mouse [wiki] have a new album due out any day now. (They're from Issaquah, so you know they're cool!) Plus, they're joined this time around by ex-The Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr. (drool!) I guess this is old news and I've been living under a rock, but I just found out recently (by reading trashy magazines in the gym).

  • Damon Albarn is back with a new album. Blur are one of my favourite bands of all time, so I've been following his post-Blur work with interest. this new album is not by Blur or the Gorillaz; this time he's formed an "unnamed band". Initially it was due to be a solo album (produced by Danger Mouse, no relation to Modest Mouse). The wiki page has some good info - hopefully I can listen to this one on Napster :)

  • Speaking of Danger Mouse, he collaborated on Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere. I'd also not heard this before a few days ago, and it's really good. Reminds me a bit of massive Attack, Portishead, Faithless and Tricky, so if you like those you might like this one too.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Seattle food and bar news

I'm recovering from a fun weekend, and thought I'd share some raves about the places I've been to recently, and also list some of the new places in Seattle I found out about, but have yet to try.

Been there:
  1. Rover's. Wow! This food here is absolutely fantastic! One of the other guests at our table had been to the Herb Farm, and said Rover's was much better. It's also less expensive (although definitely still pricey). A and I had the 5-course vegetarian menu, and I added a scrambled egg with creme fraiche and caviar. Being a total glutton I also went for a flight of wines paired with each of the 5 courses - good value at $50 (the pours were generous, and the wines were all good to excellent). I'll definitely be back once or twice a year for a special treat...
  2. Union Square Grill. Lovely art-deco decor and comfy booths. Fairly aged clientelle and a focus on standard grill fare make this a little too reserved and staid for my liking. The food was pretty good, especially the wild mushroom phyllo appetizer. The heavily salted salmon main course I had was a let-down, though...
  3. Union. We ended up here for dessert after a show on Saturday, and I was really impressed! The service was exceptional - friendly, efficient and with some fun banter between us and the waitress: SNL need to do a "Jaegermeister shots at the symphony" sketch in our honour. Their desserts are excellent - a worthy replacement for our old dessert venue, Earth & Ocean. (And sadly, Coco La Ti Da has closed down).

Places to check out:
  1. The Bottleneck Lounge is a new bar in Capitol Hill. They supposedly serve (only?) South African wine, which is unusual.
  2. The Georgetown Liquor Company is a "retro-gaming bar". They have a 100% veggie menu, which is fine by me!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cheese, Grommit!

A recent cheese discovery at the local Whole Foods is a yummy heart-shaped neufchatel, named Coeur de Bray. It's a lot like camembert, but the shape makes it unusual and a fun choice for Valentine's Day.

From the site linked to above:

It is known that since the Middle Ages the Neufchatel cheese had many shapes, depending on fashion or simply on the moulds the producer owned ! The legend explains that the heart shape is due to the young Norman women that wanted to express discreetly their feelings to the English soldiers during the wars in the Middle Age ...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

How not to describe wine...

Every now and then the email offers I get from Garagiste are unintentionally amusing. Taking this snippet from a recent offer:

"Black pepper, ceiling wax, spices, and toast are found in the nose of the potentially exceptional xxxx Port"

Mmmm... Ceiling wax smells yummy!