Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Maggiano's Little Italy

So, as Friday is my 42nd birthday, my fellow woodland creatures and I are entering a sort of insane Carnivale period as I try to celebrate with as many people as possible. Tonight, the Roo, the Otter, the Tiger, and I all went out for some Italian food. As I'm half-Italian on my Mom's side, Italian food is kind of my soul food. (My Dad's side of the family is French, English, Scottish, and Irish...we never had a soul food through them, exactly.) So, especially with chances to have dinner with the Tiger rapidly dwindling as he prepares for deployment in Afghanistan, I wanted to take the opportunity to hit one of the few chains of restaurants I actually think is excellent food: Maggiano's Little Italy.

We discovered Maggiano's in Philadelphia originally, where we were attending a furry convention. The joy of family-style restaurant servings was well known to us, but the quality of food was new. We feasted well, and the memory of that meal stays with us and reminds us to visit our local Maggiano's now and then, when my ursine soul calls for pasta. Tonight, we ordered family-style again, and I do not regret it...though I might when I next stand on a scale.

Maggiano's is, to borrow a Patton Oswalt quote, "a gauntlet of angry food." The family-style menu lets you choose 2 appetizers, 2 salads, 4 entrees or pastas, and 2 desserts. There are tons of choices for each level, and we've never had anything we don't care for.

We started with the fried calamari and stuffed mushrooms. The mushrooms were decent...I've definitely had better. The calamari, however, is some of the best and most flavorful I've ever had. It was tender, light, and had a great tangy marinara on the side.

For salads, we chose the Caesar and the chopped salad. The Caesar was absolutely delicious, with a great dressing, crunchy croutons, and shreds of excellent parmigiana cheese. The chopped salad was definitely decent, but it was only decent. The bacon was too chewy, and the lettuce was a bit wilted (and not in a good way).

We tried to balance our entrees across various lines. For pasta dishes, we chose the veal and mushroom raviolis as well as the classic spaghetti and meatballs. The rich raviolis were dressed in a fantastic, creamy Forno sauce, garnished with basil and pimento. The spaghetti and meatballs was about the best spaghetti and meatballs I've had, in a restaurant or not. The sauce was thick and meaty, and the meatball was extremely flavorful.

As non-pasta entrees, we chose a chicken marsala and seared pork medallions. The chicken had a great, rich flavor, and it was complimented with mushrooms and onions in the wine sauce. The pork had a fabulous sear on it, and it was soaking in a very flavorful sauce. Every bite was dynamite and given a little kick by capers. If I had any complaint, it's that there weren't enough capers. I love the lil things, and I rarely get enough.

For desserts, we had an excellent tiramisu, creamy and rich, and a chocolate zucotta cake. This cake was incredibly dense, with a light flavor of anise that actually went very well with the chocolate. All in all, we walked out incredibly full and contented.

If you want a quick bite, this is probably not a great choice, and service can be a little slow. If you want a big meal to celebrate with friends and family, this is a great place to eat. Just be prepared to walk out stuffed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hello Me Not Dead

If anyone's still out there, then I apologize for being so danged quiet. I've been busy with so many other projects that I've kind of let this fall by the wayside. I thought it might be time to bring it back.

I'll keep using this blog to talk about gaming, movies, TV shows, food, and so on. Glad to be back.

- The Happy Bear

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Review - The Princess and the Frog

When I heard that John Lasseter had become had of Disney animation and Imagineering during the Pixar buy, I was thrilled. The man knows quality entertainment.

When I heard that John Lasseter had re-opened Disney's 2-D Animation department, I was ecstatic! I love traditional animation. I think that 3-D computer animation, while an interesting and valid art form, is not inherently better or worse than traditional, and I prefer traditional in this case.

When I heard that Musker and Clements, the directors of The Little Mermaid and an umber of other excellent animated Disney films, were going to be producing a movie that was going to be the beginning Disney's new 2-D Animation Renaissance, I was...well...I was interested, but skeptical. That was a lot to live up to. And the Frog Princess? Um...okay.

Slowly, the details came...New Orleans, Randy Newman writing jazz and zydeco...okay, that sounded good. An African-American Princess? About time. A twist on a classic fairy-tale? Hmm, okay. Drama over the main character's name? Odd. Title is now The Princess and the Frog? Ooookay? What's going on over there?

Then a teaser came out, showing a primarily toothless firefly with a thick Cajun accent.

I was prepared to hate this movie.

Then other teasers came out, showing details. Looked nice. Music seemed good. But that firefly was still in there somewhere...

Then I saw an extended preview...the first 10 minutes or so of the film, some of it still in roughs. You could see that this film had heart and a couple of intriguing messages: Yes, you can wish on a star, but you need to help those wishes along with hard work. And while your dreams are important, they're nothing if you don't have love. I was starting to like this movie, and it was still months from coming out.

Cut to a week ago. While visiting Disneyland, we got to hear an extended preview of the music. Gooood music. Really getting interested now. But that firefly was still in there somewhere, wasn't he?

Cut to last night, we finally saw it. Saw it with the Roo, the Tiger, the Otter, and two other friends.

That frickin' firefly was awesome. He made me cry, damn it!

Really, this is a wonderful Disney movie...an instant classic, as we say. The music is fantastic, and the animation looked as good or better than Disney's work ever has. There's a stylized sequence towards the beginning that is literally jaw-dropping. It's filled with colorful characters (including that dang firefly), sequences that're funny, sad, heart-breaking, jubilant...oh yeah. Emotional gamut, for sure.

Tiana, the princess of the title, is a great addition to the panoply of Disney princesses, easily equal to any of the previous princesses, and better than many of them, because she's self-sufficient and gutsy.

Naveen, the charming prince, really is charming.

Dr. Facilier, the villainous witch doctor who puts the plot in motion, is a great Disney villain. His sequences are some of the best in the film, and he is genuinely creepy. He does not die by falling from a high place. ;)

Even Louis and Ray, the obligatory animal sidekicks (here an alligator and the aforementioned firefly) are excellent characters, with actual motivations, personalities, and wants and needs of their own. Ray's devotion to the ideals of love, and to his own love, Evangeline, is one of the most beautiful and ultimately heartbreaking aspects of the film.

See this film. Go in with an open mind. It is truly worth seeing.

- The Happy Bear

Movie Review - Where the Wild Things Are

This review is very late in coming. This was a film I thought would be visually interesting, but I doubted it would have much to say.

In a way, I was right. It's extremely visually interesting. Nothing is exactly resolved. Nothing is explicitly stated.

But it's such a viscerally, richly satisfying film to me, that I feel it very much had something to say.

Max is the epitome of the misfit kid...the different one. Growing up gay, surrounded by people that I was constantly hiding this fact from... Growing up fat, surrounded by jocks... Growing up smart, playing my "weird" role-playing games, surrounded by people who used that as a label to call me a geek... Yeah...I know something about the Outsider. About being angry and unhappy about being different when society wants you to conform.

This was a movie I saw with some friends and didn't dare to say anything, because I was afraid they would not have enjoyed it. I needn't have worried. My friends are Outsiders, too. A friend of mine who saw it with me said that it had been like having his childhood up on a giant screen for 90 minutes. That's exactly how I felt, too.

This movie isn't for everyone, and it sure as heck isn't for kids. Or, rather, kids might like it, but I don't think it was written for them.

Movie Review - Fantastic Mr. Fox

I was not looking forward to this movie. Based on the trailers, it looked like a wacky comedy with poorly animated characters. When the Roo and the Otter asked if I wanted to go, I said yes, but I wasn't really enthusiastic.

Wow. Was I wrong!

This movie is a class act, all the way. Top-notch voice and sound meshes seemlessly with terrific stop-motion animation to create a weird, alternate world where animals and humans can communicate but don't always see eye-to-eye. The plot follows the book surprisingly closely, with some characterization and dialogue added that make it very much a Wes Anderson movie. And to me, that's a good thing, because I'm a fan of the man's work.

Some people are making noise due to Wes Anderson's decision to live in Paris while the movie was being filmed in London. I have to dismiss this issue with this question...what was Anderson supposed to do on the set while the animators were moving tiny figures one frame at a time? Anderson was able to use a system to look through the cameras and to watch the dailies in real time. He acted scenes out for the animators and sent them video of what he wanted. Do these critics think the director of a painted animated movie sits there and watches the animators paint, or a computer-animated film director watches the programmers work? I really doubt it.

This movie brings the word fantastic...it made me laugh and cry, and I believed in all of the characters whole-heartedly. I don't want to give much away, but there's a scene with a truly wild animal, close to the end of the film, that is one of the most beautiful, sad scenes I've seen in a movie in ages.

I highly recommend this film.

- The Happy Bear

A comment on the holiday...

So, a friend of mine recently journaled about his dislike of people's behaviors during the holiday season. With respect to him, I took some issue with part of his comments, which essentially indicated that Christmas would be great, except for the Christians, who had usurped the season from the older pagan traditions.

I don't know if I consider myself a Christian any more. I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a Christo-Pagan, since I think both sides of that pairing have valid and interesting things to say. I do feel the desire, however, to put my point of view up for folks to ponder. It appears here in a slightly edited format.

At the risk of creating some religious drama, Christians originally celebrated Christmas around this time anyway, because, under Roman rule, they were being killed. They hid their celebrations amidst the existing Roman celebration of Saturnalia, or December 17.

Then, many years later, they found it a lot easier to get other religions to accept Christianity if they wrapped Christ in with the current celebrations, so they moved it a week or so later to more closely coincide with Yule and Solis Invictus, because they likened Christ's rebirth to the rebirth of the sun.

You can demonize Christianity if you want, or label it as "sinister", but I've known just as many obnoxious Pagans, Jews, Atheists, and Scientologists as I have Christians. Frankly, when anyone gets smug about their religion, or lack of it, it can be rather off-putting.

I personally feel that you get out of this time of year, shopping and all, what you put into it. If you go shopping dreading it, then you're going to have a lousy time of it. If you go out in a good mood, then you might just be fine. I was out Christmas shopping for about five hours this past weekend. I was in a good mood, and nothing bad or obnoxious happened in my vicinity. Go fig.

And if you don't want to brave the crowds, there's always Amazon. ;)

- Andy

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Anyone interested in a shared world project?

I've been thinking, for some time, about developing a shared world project. Something that could be used for games, stories, art, etc.

Nominally, I'd like it to be D&D related. Something just for fun. Probably using 4E concepts, races, classes, etc.

Would anyone be interested in working on this?

- Andy