Tuesday, February 27, 2007

wooden charcoal barbecue house

dinner at wooden charcoal bbq house.  from left: bahnchan (or banchan), kalbi (or galbee) and chap jaeKorean BBQ is refined cuisine. Lots of meats and just enough vegetables to create the illusion that the meal is healthy. Sadly, good Korean BBQ is hard to find in the Bay Area, but one reliable option is Wooden Charcoal Barbecue House on Geary in San Francisco. Brad and I have been going for many years, and Saturday night Christie and Lisette joined us for a mini-feast.

WCBH is a no-frills establishment. A large refrigerated case at the front hold bottles of OB beer, and the smallish restaurant is filled with tables with (not so powerful) vent hoods. It is safe to say that no one goes for the décor. The food, on the other hand…

Dinner starts with flavorful bahnchan (9 types). The sprouts and cucumbers are crispy and the kimchi and daikon are well-marinated. WCBH also serves salad and spicy tofu soup. Don’t worry, the soft tofu isn’t that spicy.

As you would guess from the pictures, we ordered chap jae, but the key to any Korean BBQ meal is the beef. We tried the bulgogi (thin sirloin) and kalbi (short ribs). At WCBH both are marinated and you cook over extremely hot charcoal. It is smokier this way but it is authentic. I like the bulgogi, but it is too thin to stand up to the high heat. The thick and fatty kalbi is the way to go. Excellent flavor - not quite good as Chosun Galbee but much more convenient than driving to LA.

WCBH: 4611 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA (415) 751-6336

Monday, February 26, 2007

poleng lounge

from left: lumpia shanghai, beef tenderloin with bone marrow, burma samosa at the poleng lounge in san franciscoDinner last night was at the very chill Poleng Lounge. The Poleng Lounge is a restaurant / tea bar / nightclub on Fulton at Masonic, near USF and on the western edge of the improving NoPa neighborhood. It is opened last year, and it received 3 stars from Michael Bauer and a spot on his 10 best of 2006 list. He writes that Poleng Lounge:

is one of the freshest and most interesting restaurants to open in the Bay Area in some time. It could easily become my casual hangout simply because of the interesting Asian street food created by chef Timothy Luym. But the atmosphere is also terrific, attracting a young and wildly diverse crowd. And the staff is genuinely friendly and enthusiastic.
Poleng Lounge is Burmese influenced with menu items not dissimilar to (but less expensive than) what you might find at Straits Café. Poleng Lounge has two rooms: the Temple Room in back with room for large parties and a small stage for evening entertainment (see schedule); and, the Fireside Lounge in front (also with its own sound system). We dined at a small, low table in the center of the Fireside Lounge while seated on sofas and small stools, so the attentive staff had to pace our little dishes.

We started with sweet potato fries serverd with banana catsup ($3) and crispy roti ($1.50). We followed this with the Lumpia Shanghai (mini egg rolls filled with shrimp and pork, $6) and Burma Samosas (curry roasted potatoes and peas with a sweet tamarind chutney, $6.50).

Next up - garlic noodles with crab ($10). I had just been back to Thanh Long so their very buttery, rich version was still in mind. At Poleng Lounge, the flavor is quite a bit spicier and much less garlicy. Still yummy however. Then we had the highlight of the meal: poached bone marrow ($11). It is served with cubes of beef tenderloin, fried onions and a pineapple salsa, but the standout is the delicious, fatty marrow and the buttery rectangles of toast.

After the Beef Salpicao we had the Golden Gindara ($12), black cod in miso-mirin sauce with sesame spinach. It was a perfect transition to the desert that Joy, our waitress, brought when she overheard that we were celebrating my birthday. Coconut is not one of my favorite things, but both the bread pudding with fresh shaved coconut and the unusual coconut milk tapioca with basil seeds were delicious. Great company, tasty food and a very reasonable prices – I am looking forward to my next trip to the Poleng Lounge.

Poleng Lounge: 1751 Fulton, San Francisco, CA (415) 441-1710

from left: black cod in miso, bread pudding with coconut tapioca

Thursday, February 22, 2007

random link dump

I haven’t had as much time to write the past week as I had hoped, but it doesn’t mean I have stopped finding cool things. There are some bigger topics that will get their own posts, but here is a random assortment of links you might find interesting:

Spank your cat. He might just love you for it. The amazing video is above and, shockingly, there is a new website devoted to the topic, and they have footage of 7 more kitties. (via Thomas Hawk)

Improve your PowerPoint. Potentially effective presentations are often ruined by bad animation and too many words. Seth discusses
common pitfalls and how to avoid them, and Guy Kawasaki gives great advice with the 10/20/30 rule. 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point font (or bigger). His recommendation was for funding meetings but it is universally applicable.

fresharrival – “one amazingly cool thing, everyday” for times when (at least) one cool thing is publishling less regularly. fresharrival is a group blog written by 5 authors with collectively good taste, and their coverage is eclectic. The one major drawback: navigation. It should be easier (and faster) to view previous days posts.

Win bar bets. The site wisebread has
videos from Alex, Jess and Paul explaining how to hustle “drinks off your mates” using the proposition bets. There are 5 at wisebread and each is amusing, but the magic whiskey trick is the best. (via the consumerist)

Remove objects in Photoshop.
This tutorial walks you step-by-step through the process of making perfect background edits to photos using Photoshop CS. If you are like me and still use an older version that does not have the amazing Vanishing Point perspective tool, it is still helpful as you will learn more about basic operations. (via lifehacker)

Finally, read about military commissions and Guantanamo detainees. Vanity Fair has a detailed profile on Charles Swift, a Navy lawyer in the Judge Advocate General Corps, who, with Neal Katyal, litigated the Hamdan case. Note: their victory was short-lived. See Tuesday’s ruling in Al Odah v. USA for the latest.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

avant-garde clothing design

Fashion shows are filled with drama; each season becoming more shocking to command the attention of a jaded audience. Leading the designer arms race has been the avant-garde Alexander McQueen. For his Spring/Summer 1998 ready-to-wear collection he made it rain on the runway (warning: NSFW). For Autumn/Winter 1999 he made it snow, and then for Spring/Summer he used robots to paint a white dress on the stunning Shalom Harlow.

For 2001 and 2002, the sets and fashion became more elaborate. Autumn/Winter was carousel-themed and Spring/Summer featured inspiration from the bull ring. In 2004, McQueen had his models dance and, in 2005, he transformed them into chess pieces.

McQueen certainly has a sense of the theatrical, and for Autumn/Winter 2006 he produced a finale that will be hard to top. To conclude his show, a vision of the controversial Kate Moss appeared in the center of the stage, twirling ethereally before floating away.

The effect, incorrectly described as a hologram, was amazing. If I paid any attention to the fashion industry I would have written about it last March. Instead, I discovered the clip on YouTube quite accidentally while searching for 80s music videos. Glassworks has the details on how the illusion (an updated version of Pepper’s ghost) was produced.

Bonus link: watch cutting edge designs from Hussien Chalayan featuring animatronic dresses, including one that completely disappears for the finale. Read coverage

Monday, February 12, 2007

semi-obscure 80s videos

On Saturday I was practicing my procrastination skills by reading the Download Squad, a handy blog that lists new software and websites. Their description of vodpod caught my eye, and I decided to try out vodpod’s content aggregation capabilities. Ah, but what to add?

In a moment of inspired genius, I searched YouTube for an 80s band. I was surprised at how many results returned and more shocked still to see videos that I never knew existed. So I searched again for something a little more unusual and I received more results.

Emboldened by my success, I wondered: would YouTube have the complete version of Duran Duran’s Girls on Film? After determining that the answer was yes, I started to create my first vodpod pod.

To fill my pod I decided on some rules. First, only “modern” music. Eligible are new wave, post-punk, pioneering rap and almost anything English. This elinimates 80s video stars like: Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Journey, Van Halen and all of the metal bands that would dominate MTV in the later half of the decade.

Second, the groups had to be semi-obscure. I’m not yet ready to proclaim the greatest bands of the 80s (I’m still reeling from the controversy my 70s post created), so I exclude more famous bands like Devo, The Cure, U2, The Clash, The Talking Heads, New Order, Depeche Mode, The Eurythmics, The Smiths, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, Duran Duran, The Cars, Yazoo, Queen, Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and George Michael and Wham.

Third, it had to be a video I never saw and didn’t know existed. This leaves out anthemic hits from groups that did well on MTV in America like: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Flock of Seagulls, Thompson Twins, A-ha, The Bangles, Banarama, The B-52s, The Go-Gos, , Blondie, The Pet Shop Boys, The Alarm, Oingo Boingo, ABC, Wang Chung, Animotion, Bronski Beat, Level 42, Psychedelic Furs, Dead or alive, Gene Loves Jezebel, Madness, Men at Work, Men Without Hats, Gary Numan, Tom, Tom Club, Modern English, The Communards, The Fine Young Cannibals, UB40, The Stray Cats, Billy Idol, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Dire Straits, Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants.

So with those 3 rules as filters, I present 60 semi-obscure 80s videos. Most are from the early to mid 80s, although (as I will explain) there are a two from 1979 and one from 1978 selected for their influence.

To show off the slick vodpod controls I have embedded videos with “Solid Style.” The Solid Style category is quite subjective, but these ones that I would have remembered seeing at the time if they had been aired in the US with any frequency. Now that I have found them, I don’t mind watching them again as each has a distinctive visuals stand up well 20 years later.

In addition to the embedded songs, there are more categories for the collection of semi-obscure 80s videos on my main pod. These include:

great hair (must be seen to be believed)
post-punk (for bands like The Stranglers, Shriekback, Killing Joke and Bauhaus)
cool dancing (check out the Gap Band moves and watch for Lawrence Fishburne in White Lines)
British pop (for Aztec Camera, Haircut 100, the Blow Monkeys and others)
better known (including The Church, The Violent Femmes, Berlin and Missing Persons)
very electronic (home to OMD, Freur, CCCP, Chris and Cosey and 6 more classics)
one-hit-wonders (who can deny this status to The Vapors, Trio or Belgian superstar Plastic Bertrand)

Of course, some like Tarzan Boy have the hair, the moves and the one-hit-wonder fame.

Then, there are the 5 you must watch. Kraftwerk’s 1978 The Robots is an easy call for its incredibly influential sound and theme. 1979’s Human League Being Boiled and the Flying Lizard’s Money make the list for similar reasons. The most random pick is the Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight. I added it because I was shocked it had a video. Finally, Front 242 rounds out my selections because the visuals are every bit as disturbing as I hope they would be.

A final note: there were a few other videos which I had hoped to link to. For example, Peter Godwin’s Images of Heaven is a perfect fit for this concept, but it seems to get removed by YouTube as quickly as it is added. My apologies in advance for any broken links that may result from YouTube efforts to comply with takedown notices.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

the queen

When it opened last fall, I was not that excited about The Queen (official site, imdb, trailers, website for HRH ). Recognizing that they had the good sense to do away with their monarch almost 218 years ago, I am more of a Francophile than an Anglophile; thus, the prospect of two hours on the intimate workings of Her Majesty’s inner circle did not seem enticing. More importantly, I avoid current events movies like Flight 93 or World Trade Center, and I saw no reason to abandon a principle that has served me well.

However, since its release, The Queen has received tremendous critical acclaim and six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Watching The Queen has become an essential preparatory step for informed predictions Oscar night, and when Lisette suggested we go, I thought it was an excellent idea.

The Queen concerns the Royal Family and their newly elected Prime Minister the week between the death of Princess Diana and her burial. The story is framed by news clips and public events, but the actions and conversations are fiction imagined by screenwriter Peter Morgan.

After Diana’s death, Queen Elizabeth’s instincts are for private expressions of grief. She and Prince Philip feel that this is best for the children. Besides, it is the way things have always been done (stiff upper lip and all). The citizenry’s need for public mourning is inexplicable from her perspective, and it falls to the media-savvy Tony Blair to implore the Queen to reconsider.

There is not much suspense in the film as the outcome is well-known, so it is the details that make The Queen captivating. It’s the precision of dialog, the atmosphere of Balmoral and the contrast to that at Downing Street. It’s the beauty of the sets, the appropriateness of the costumes (compare the cut of Mr. Blair’s suits with that of Lord Airle’s) and, most especially, the quality of the performances.

Helen Mirren is amazing as the Queen, and she is surrounded by actors who portray their very public roles with astonishing credibility. Michael Sheen has become Tony Blair, James Cromwell is perfectly cast, and Roger Allam is both humorous and circumspect as Robin Janvrin, Private Secretary to the Sovereign.

If you grew up watching Upstairs Downstairs on PBS, thought Gosford Park should have won more Academy Awards and are convinced that Manor House is the best reality show ever, I’d tell you to see The Queen, but I am suspecting that you already have – twice. My recommendation is for those who, like me, were avoiding it. There is no need to be afraid: Stephen Frears has made a very entertaining movie.

Friday, February 09, 2007

ze frank

Ze Frank is a graphic designer, Flash artist and astute observationist. Each weekday for the past 11 months he has produced a video blog of humorous commentary on the mundane to the absurd. Today’s topic was the non-binding resolutions; yesterday’s was the cock fight. In honor of his just-concluded trip to San Francisco I present the very funny Ze Frank sharing his expertise on a subject close to my heart: procrastination.

Bonus links: the best of the show and his helpful guide to punctuation

Thursday, February 08, 2007

free stuff

I love free stuff. In the past I have written about free software, free music, free activities and free services. Today I present:

Free money (via slickdeals)

Spend at least $30 with a merchant that accepts PayPal and get a $15 rebate. Just sign up for this promotion and then purchase something with your PayPal account by March 31. You will be automatically credited with your money, hassle-free.

Free minutes (via gizmodo)

I’ve written about Skype before. It’s an easy way to save on long-distance and conference call fees. Computer-to-computer call are free, and computer-to-phone calls using SkypeOut are not more than 2.1 cents per minute. Various inexpensive plans are available, but to celebrate Chinese New Year, Skype is offering 24 free SkypeOut minutes. Get yours by following this link.

Free shipping and returns

Shoes seem like an odd thing to purchase on the internet. There are hard to fit: each manufacturer has different sizing, and even within a brand the shape and comfort can vary widely. Construction and material are especially important for shoes, and those can be hard to assess from a photo. Online companies realize this, and the best ones have developed a solution: free shipping and free returns.

Zappos offers free overnight shipping, and Endless take sevice a step further by charging a negative $5 for overnight DHL. Add in good prices and great selection, and you are presented with offers that are hard to refuse whether you are shopping for men’s, women’s or children’s styles. I’ve used both services, and if I didn’t have more shoes than almost all of the women I know, I might order these, these, these or these.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


You know Carly’s gonna cackle when Patricia gets the shackles!

Last week I had the pleasure of dining with my friend Chris who brought as his dates the lovely Randi and Jen. Randi and Jen are the creative duo behind How to Get a Guy in Silicon Valley and today’s feature: Valleyfreude.

Did you ever read this site? Are you following Michael Arrington’s deadpool? Rooting for the mug over the startup? Then Valleyfreude, a hilarious send-up of the pleasure we take in companies’ failures, is for you.

Filmed in Palo Alto, the video has the wit and style of a college musical. Better still, it has sock puppets - an appropriate touch given that is it a parody of this Avenue Q song (iTunes) and it lampoons over-hyped, bubble enterprises. Want to dress like the coolest sock puppet? Get yourself some LAMP gear.

Bonus link: speaking of college musicals, I just discovered that Rams Head has scripts and photos from the last 15 years of Gaieties online. The best ever scene: Don Kennedy as The Quadfather

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

the queen mary 2 in san francisco

San Francisco Queen, originally uploaded by michael.paul.

The Queen Mary 2, the grandest ocean liner ever conceived, paid a visit to San Francisco as part of an around the world voyage. Built at a cost of $800 million, she is 1,132 feet long, 147 feet wide and 154,000 tons. She has a 3,000 guest capacity, a crew of 1,253 and, with power plants that produce 157,000 hp, she can cruise at 28 knots. Fantastic images of her arrival on Sunday and departure last night courtesy of the photographers on flickr.

DSC_4266, originally uploaded by bkusler.

IMG_2610.JPG, originally uploaded by SJL.

, originally uploaded by birglet.

Monday, February 05, 2007

el super burrito

Paul’s note: My grand vision is to transform (at least) one cool thing into a Talk of the Town for my friend set. Ideally, I’d post 3 times a week and guests would fill out the remaining slots with their picks for food, travel and toys. This dream may never be realized, but fortunately Bill is doing his part with his second contribution of 2007. Joining his list of important WWII movies is a review of a restaurant that is like his home away from home. Bill writes:

El Super Burrito (sorry, that's "The" Super Burrito for those that don't speak Spanish) on El Camino in Millbrae makes the best burritos in the world. That may sound like a strong opinion, but it's not. It's a fact. If you disagree, I'm not looking for a debate. I just feel sorry for you.

What makes El Super Burrito the best is their runny guacamole, equally runny refried beans and the red sauce from their chicken. This combination not only tastes great, but it serves to bind all the other flavors together and makes the inside almost soupy. The result is a burrito so wet that you need to slurp up liquid with each bite, or it will run down your fingers. As my friend Paul learned to his detriment, you don't want to unwrap more than about 2 inches of foil off a Super Burrito at one time, or you risk a messy blowout in the sidewall of the steamed tortilla. When you've grown up with El Super, any other burrito seems very dry in comparison. Like eating toast with nothing on it.

Not everyone is cut out for El Super. It's not unheard of to encounter otherwise decent human beings who don't appreciate it. Take my friend, Eric S. (I'm abbreviating his last name for his own protection). Eric doesn't like what he calls El Super's "stewed chicken." Yet in every other aspect of his life, Eric is a model citizen: hard worker, good friend, loving father. So, you just need to accept the fact that not everyone is chosen. In the end, that's actually a good thing for me, because it means there will be fewer people in line next time I stop by El Super Burrito.

El Super Burrito: 780 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA (650) 583-0487

Sunday, February 04, 2007

the second best television show ever

Paul’s note: I received some very excellent presents this Christmas. As I have a chance to enjoy them more, you will be reading about things like this, this and some very cool items from here. Today, I review a gift from Scott and Julie: the HBO series Deadwood.

In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty granted the Sioux Nation “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the sacred Black Hills of Dakota. On the pretext of reconnaissance “to better control the Indians making...raids toward the south,” George Armstrong Custer led a military expedition of the Black Hills in 1874. As rumors suggested they would, Custer discovered gold in French Creek.

In 1875, while the US government tried unsuccessfully to secure mining rights from the Sioux, pioneers began arriving in the Black Hills in search of their fortune. Their presence was illegal, but following the start of war with the Sioux and the 1876 rout of General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, no attempt was made to slow settlement. By 1877, the war was over, the Sioux had been relocated, and the Black Hills were annexed into the United States abrogating the Fort Laramie Treaty.

It is this context that creator David Milch chooses for Deadwood, the extraordinary HBO series that just completed its third and, most probably, last season. Milch, one of the very talented writers of Hill Street Blues and co-creator of NYPD Blue, had originally shopped a drama about police in the time of Nero. With Rome in development, HBO asked Milch to adjust the concept.

In 1876, Deadwood the city was lawless and part of no state or territory. It was a rough camp, averaging a murder a day, and it was filled with the most rugged of adventurers. Yet, economic opportunity forced the development of order and community, and it is this aspect that fascinates Milch.

At the center of Deadwood the series (wikipedia) is Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem Saloon. Like many characters in Deadwood, Al is an historical figure re-imagined with fictional depth and personality. Al is amoral (he runs his brothel ruthlessly and won’t hesitate to order a murder), but as the series progresses we learn that Al is also human. He is a deeply nuanced character perfectly played by the English Ian McShane.

As New Yorker reviewer Nancy Franklin suggests, the characters of Deadwood go beyond “the familiar cardboard cutouts” of the Old West to acquaint us “with the real forces and peoples that converged to form our country.” An aging Wild Bill is present (Keith Carradine) as is a multifaceted Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert). But, we also meet businessman Sol Star (John Hawkes), former marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), Trixie the prostitute (Paula Malcomson) and a cast of 40 other brilliantly written and acted characters.

It is hard to identify the most noteworthy performances, but if pressed I’d mention William Sanderson as the peculiar E.B. Farnum, owner of the Grand Central Hotel; Keone Young as the non-English speaking Mr. Wu, a leader among the Chinese in camp; Jeffrey Jones as the too jovial A.W. Merrick, editor of the Deadwood Pioneer, Brad Dourif as the grumpy Doc Cochran, the camp’s physician; and, Powers Boothe as Cy Tolliver, the larger-than-life owner of the Gem’s upscale rival. Famous close-up illusionist Ricky Jay is also enjoyable as Eddie Sawyer, Tolliver’s right-hand man.

Milch loves colorful language. NYPD Blue brought “rhythm” and “tune-up” into our lexicon and terms like “asshole,” “dickhead” and “deadbeat scumbag” to prime time. (Ironically, the Parents Television Council has a longer list.) On HBO, Milch is unrestrained. Instances of f*** and c*** pepper most sentences, but so too does beautiful phrasing and an anachronistic style that demands your attention.

I’ve previously proclaimed that The Wire is the best television program I have ever seen. Having watched the 24 episodes of seasons 1 and 2 of Deadwood as quickly as possible I am confident that Deadwood is the second best. Despite the extreme profanity, the dialog is more rewarding in Deadwood and the relationships may be better developed. The Wire’s genius is the tightness of the story, and in this aspect is it unrivaled in television history.

Thanks to Emmanuel (who introduced me to The Wire) for recommending Deadwood and to Scott (who told us all about Primer and Arrested Development) for the gift of season 1.

Bonus link: a re-post of the New Yorker’s 2005 profile on David Milch

Saturday, February 03, 2007

joey and eddie’s pescheria

Last night, Daphne, Lisette and I dined at Joey and Eddie’s Pescheria. Earlier in the week I had had a chance to chat with Joey (local chef Joseph Manzare) about his other ventures (Globe, Zuppa and Tres Agaves), so I was anxious to head over to Noe Valley to check out his newest restaurant.

Pescheria is small (45 seats) and warm. It opened in the fall and the crowds indicate that it is already a neighborhood favorite. Glass tiles and pale blues and yellows are suggestive of the sea, and the concrete floors, polished aluminum chairs and laminated bamboo tables hint at Pescheria’s modern, comfortable cuisine.

The menu (sample) is short and packed with great choices. To start, we sampled the rich lobster bisque, a very creamy polenta with crab, and orecchiette with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. These offered a wonderful beginning to our meal; however, our entrees were even better.

Daphne and I both selected the butterfish with mushrooms, leeks and porcini butter. It is cooked in parchment opened tableside for a dramatic and delicious presentation. The aromas from the dish are enticing, and the parchment technique produces incredible texture. Tragically, I was without my camera, but I found a 7x7 magazine photo of this delightful dish. (right)

Lisette’s choice was even more intriguing. Her artic char was served a bed of celery root puree and topped with a pesto that was a perfect compliment for the sweet flaky fish. A poached egg completed the plating although we weren’t exactly sure what this whimsical extra added – it was balanced and memorable without.

At the end of our very tasty meal we all remarked that the service was excellent. Everyone was quite friendly and helpful without being intrusive. After reading Michael Bauer’s glowing review of Pescheria, I understand why. Mario Nocifera, who has managed The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Michael Mina and Scott Howard, oversees the front of the house. And, Joseph has tapped the very talented Jerry McGinnis from Supperclub to run the kitchen. Together they earned a rare 3-star rating from SF’s most important critic and the suggestion that Pescheria is the “best casual seafood haunt in the Bay Area.” We agree.

Joey and Eddie’s Pescheria: 1708 Church, San Francisco, CA (415) 647-3200