The Seattle Food World is a Magical Castle in the Sky: A Jersey Man’s Perspective on the Seattle Food Scene

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Let’s get right into it:

Poutine

THIS is Poutine

1) What you’re serving is not fucking poutine.

I’m not Canadian and this pisses me off enough that I might someday go all “Jesus in the Temple” nuts on a shop that claims to serve it. Day after day, week after week, I hear Seattle magazines, Seattle restaurants, and Seattle people all raving about their uber-cool poutine scene.

Unfortunately, the majority of places aren’t making poutine. In nearly all of these places, the cheese curds that make poutine what it is are noticeably absent, usually substituted with melted cheese or cheese whiz. I become enraged with a random Quebecois spirit whenever I see this failure on a menu.

Congrats Seattleites, you’ve successfully made a New Jersey diner staple, Disco Fries, only you make it sound exotic and charge eight dollars for it instead of three.

Listen, I know curds might freak some people out, but at least OFFER it. You can always have the whiz as a substitute for the uninitiated or scared.

PS: Don’t get me started on Fish & Chips failures… Where the fuck is the malt vinegar? Curry Fucking Ketchup Sauce? WTF???? K.I.S.S!!!!!

2) I’m not going to pay twelve dollars for a hamburger that comes out of a truck.

I found myself eating a six inch Po-boy sub for about nine dollars the other day, sitting on a bale of hay a few feet away from my chosen food truck. It was the cheapest thing I could find on the food truck menu that could still be considered a fully realized lunch, though I gladly could have had another to really call myself satisfied and full.

Everywhere I look in this town, food is more expensive than it should be. Seattle has one of the best locations in the United States for getting fresh seafood, land animal meat, and a giant plethora of vegetables, but I’m paying through the nose and I don’t know why.

Oh, a CIA grad, eh? Well, charge away then!

Maybe it’s because they trend toward the gourmet. I’m not sure I want gourmet food from a truck. I want junk food. I want to pay five dollars and be full of greasy meat and cheese. I don’t need remulades and aiolis and whatever the hell else is jacking up the price. I need to be full. I expect nice shit when I can actually sit in a nice place and enjoy the ambiance and atmosphere of things that aren’t truck fumes and errant parking lot dog shit. In this case, just fill my damn belly with comfort food at a reasonable price and let’s call it a day.

3) Three bucks for a slice of pizza is not a fucking deal

Neither is $2.50….two and we’re getting warm, but not quite there yet…. Call me when we have some kinda deal where I can get a can of beer and a slice for maybe $2.50-$3, then we’ll be on the right track. A whole pie at twenty dollars isn’t a deal either.

And as a slight pet peeve: Yeah, that’s not NY style. Close, but no cigar… But there’s never really bad pizza, so I’ll survive…

4) When did breakfast become pretenious?

I look over my local dive bar’s breakfast menu and see that I’m not gonna get anything for less than about eight to ten bucks. When did breakfast become something so special? It’s just a bunch of cheap eggs and carbs. Chop up some potatoes, dump in some salsa, add an egg and sell me some five dollar huevos rancheros with my choice of side meat and bread.

You don’t have to have the logistical resources of IHOP or Dennys to make this work. Every East Coast Mom & Pop greasy spoon has figured out a scheme for financial success based on cheap, delicious, and filling breakfasts and a high rate of traffic.

Not sure why Seattle can’t figure it out. It musta been that strange idea to add truffle remulades and garlic basil lemon zest aiolis to everything.

latte art

I wouldn't even notice this at 6am

5) Jesus Christ, just open a freak’n Dunkin Donuts.

I don’t really care if the coffee is made by a master. It’s the drug I want, not the drink. Give me some donuts that cost less than a dollar and a coffee that cheaply kicks me in the ass and gets my day going. The more it tastes like over-brewed mud, the more I know it’s working…

PS: Dunkin Donuts coffee is really better than Starbucks anyway, if we’re gonna compare corporate coffee….

6) Don’t you dare continue down this path of trying to make bagels exotic and expensive…..

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Craig is currently a freelance writer whose works appear on his two blogs (here and here), as well as occasional pieces on Japan and ESL for Language House. He fashions himself as something of a humorist, with a passion for social media, international politics, technology, beer, Asia, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest (Seattle-ish), puppies, both Footballs, and pizza. He can be found ranting about all of the above and more via Google+ and Twitter.

Online Coupon & Deal Sites: Taking a Poop On Groupon & Friends

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groupon cupcakes

A Wonderful Deal!!! (If you don't loathe cupcakes, as I have since about 2nd Grade)

Let’s do a quick listing of things Online Deal/Coupon Sites have offered me in the past week (My responses offered in Bold)

  1. 73% off laser skin rejuvination. Hi, my name is Craig, I’m not an Asian Woman
  2. Half off custom cell phone skins. It’s not 2001 anymore, Pink Sparkle Unicorn Pony Phone
  3. 50% off roof cleaning. I live in an apartment
  4. Auto detail dackage. I lack a car
  5. $10 for $20 dollars off paper. Life’s got me down, but let me check out some exciting deals online! (Followed by, slow stagger to room, door slam, gunshot)
  6. Tickets to a festival where people throw tomatoes at each other and get drunk. Sounds promising, but I’m currently poor, AKA: I came here looking for deals, not crazy overindulgent Roman shit
  7. Hour long canning class. Hi, I grew up in the suburban commuting corridor to NYC, not Little House on the Prairie
  8. 6-hour wine and distillery tour. Do a very quick perusal of any social site I’m on to find why this is the wrong tour for me
  9. $40 for $80 at a fancy restaurant. Do a very quick perusal of any social site I’m on to find why this is the wrong tour for me x2
  10. 50% off dueling piano bar. Yay, it’s my bridal party and I have a list telling me I need a man’s underwear, while getting obnoxiously girl-drunk and bellowing Piano Man in a piano bar

As we sit in our little bastions and social media empires, we’re constantly hemming and hawing about Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the girl at Trader Joe’s who always mysteriously seems to know what beers I like, all having too much data on us.

Facebook alone apparently has 100s of pages of data on each of us, helping them tailor their product to our every need, leading to those awkward moments when adult friend finder adverts fill all your sidebars when your friends are looking over your shoulder.

…BUT WHY THE FUCK DO THESE COUPON SITES STILL SUCK SO BADLY?

I don’t need roofing!  99.99% of these daily deals don’t apply to or interest me in any way. It’s like getting a newspaper flyer in the mail that’s just one giant coupon for one thing (That only works with pizza, idiots). At least supermarket flyers have a wide array of options that I can waste my time sorting though and perhaps find something useful.

In our little modern society, where everyone is mining our data and using it for god knows what, couldn’t any of these sites do a quick, even cursory scan of my various social media worlds to find a basic understanding of who I am as a person, tailoring some deals to my actual wants and needs?

In all the time I’ve connected to these sites, in every morning of sifting through about 10+ different offer/coupon emails per morning, I’ve found maybe ONE deal that actually worked for me.

That singular deal, for a cheap two scoop cup of ice cream, wasn’t even one that came directly to my email box, instead being found after sorting through one of the sites for ANYTHING that might appeal to me.

Coupon Sites, please figure out a way to make this experience fit the world we’re living in. I understand that you little upstarts out there might have trouble mining/paying for information to custom tailor results to your customers, but you Googles and Amazons out there have given me some of the silliest deals of them all. This MUST change.

If you’re gonna steal my data, at least use it to sell me things I actually want, or at least think I want.

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Craig is currently a freelance writer whose works appear on his two blogs (here and here), as well as occasional pieces on Japan and ESL for Language House. He fashions himself as something of a humorist, with a passion for social media, international politics, technology, beer, Asia, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest (Seattle-ish), puppies, both Footballs, and pizza. He can be found ranting about all of the above and more via Google+ and Twitter.

Oh Noes, am I part of the Google+ Backlash now?

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PegsI’ve finally hit a stumble with my Google+ world.

After blissfully floating on a cloud of awesomeness in G+’s early days, I’ve come to an impasse that threatens my enjoyment of the new social network.

I’ve been raised since the early 90s on heaping spoonfuls of the internet. As far as I can remember I’ve been a part of a world where my ideas, comments, and beliefs are thrown out there for all to see and find-able by all who bother to search. I’ve always relished tossing myself out into the void, without much anonymity, for the world to see, finding interesting folks across that void. The internet is a giant swirling nebula of thoughts and ideas, and has exposed me to new ways of thinking, valuable insights, and amazing people from totally different places and viewpoints.

This is why Google+ is slowly seeming more and more like a (perhaps inevitable) step backwards.

At first it didn’t really get to me. I made my happy little circles and I fed them their circle-specific information treats, cutting and parsing my ideas, fitting the triangles pegs into the triangle spaces, the square pegs into the square holes, only occasionally bothering to jam a circle peg into every opening with a public post.

I was happy to do all the audience determination, vaguely aware that my ideas were off to a quick death without appearing on a public timeline, but not really all that worried about it. We were creating these cool like niches and it was fun to suddenly be in all these little people circles!

The first hint that things were slightly off came as a result of my own laziness. I realized that sharing among specific circles in G+  is a click and a few keys more complicated than sharing public posts.  These few moments and actions are enough to dissuade me from sharing about 75% of interesting posts that targeted specific circles, a death of ideas due to personal laziness.

Was everyone else as equally lazy as I was? Were ideas, thoughts, and cute cats all dying early because Google+’s sharing system slows the sharing of non-public posts? Was anyone else sitting there debating with themselves if Bob wanted to share an animated gif of dogs shooting laser-beams from their eyes because Google worryingly notified me that Bob might not want to share dogs with laser-beams publicly?

The second giant neon sign that brought about this conundrum came when I joined the gigantic budding community of Craft Beer enthusiasts on Google+ (Techies like beer, apparently). Suddenly, I was bombarded with angry people, threatening “off with their heads” to anyone who hit their stream with anything but beer related posts.

Before that calamity, I’d been slowly shifting towards a “public only” stance. The day Google+ had opened up to the general public, I started getting necro-posts on shares I’d left weeks earlier (One on the J-Pop Industry, another on Krygz people harvesting weed via naked horseback riding through fields of ganja) . People were finding my posts in public searches and gaining (obviously) valuable insight. I started liking that my public posts could find an audience far after their original shelf-life.

That turned me toward posting nearly everything publicly. If I was just hiding in my little Ivory tower with my Ivory tower friends, no one would ever find us unless we invited them to. It all seemed a bit elitist. I like that my ideas are out there in the world, and I’ve always liked knowing that other peoples’ are too.

Google+ seems to be bringing back the world of isolated nerds on archaic and hidden newsgroups or BBSs.

Even those were still find-able.

My beer circle was becoming this land of fire and brimstone, everyone getting angry at everyone, shouting at them, telling them it wasn’t Facebook and Twitter and they had to follow the rules or be UNCIRCLED!!!!! (OH NOES!!)

I enjoy the posts coming through my beer circle, or any other of my niche circles, but I can’t bring myself to post to specific circles only, knowing my thoughts die if not on public.

I suppose I’m an egotistical only child, craving the attention that the internet has always been there to provide, but I also like to think of the times I’ve been that person searching for Kyrgz Marijuana Riders, and the wonderful folks I’ve found because their ideas and thoughts were out there for me to find.

Isn’t that what the internet is all about?

I hate that Google+ is veering toward a world that alienates, qualifies, and sections-off creativity.

It seems backwards to me.

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Craig is currently a freelance writer whose works appear on his two blogs (here and here), as well as occasional pieces on Japan and ESL for Language House. He fashions himself as something of a humorist, with a passion for social media, international politics, technology, beer, Asia, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest (Seattle-ish), puppies, both Footballs, and pizza. He can be found ranting about all of the above and more via Google+ and Twitter.

Does the Book Industry Take Notes from the Newspaper Industry on Tech?

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snooki in wonderland

Like Snooki, it's easy to get me to drink if you just point me in the right direction (image courtesy of Snooki in Wonderland, a fabulous use of ebook technology)

Discussing the Amazon Kindle the other day with @DavidHoang in the twitter-sphere, he’d mentioned receiving the advertisement “enhanced” version of Amazon’s reading tablet. While pondering the idea of ads in my readings, it dawned on me that I didn’t really mind the idea of them invading my reading space, but that the initial discounted price of that Kindle model wasn’t much of a game-changer in making me consider purchasing one.

The price didn’t outweigh the fact that I’d be forever attached to advertisements. I was already onboard with the original Kindle price, knowing that I’d save a small amount on each book purchase over traditional print media, allowing the investment to eventually pay for itself. This left me with zero impetus to ever bother with the cheaper version, seeing the savings from print to kindle to be greater than that from ad-free Kindle to ad-enabled Kindle.

I began thinking of scenarios that would convince me to pick up a Kindle with advertising. I eventually came to one realization:

I wanted cheaper books and I’d easily jump on a Kindle with advertising to achieve that goal.

Publishers are probably tightening their rears at the thought of another slash in prices. I’m sure they’ve fought tooth and nail to keep Amazon and other e-book sources from cutting more than they have already, waging wars over even the simple dollar or two less I’m currently seeing between the print world and e-world.

Well, they need to get used to it, we ALL know it’s FAR cheaper to distribute e-books and we realize we’re getting ripped off in the guise of small savings. Publishers must adapt. They need to see we’re all holding potential advertising machines in our hands.

While tweeting a bit more with David, I gleaned more information on Kindle’s current biz model for advertising. He was getting ads for Target. It seemed like a massive waste of efforts.

The people who read books are generally into books, and they appreciate finding new reads that fit their tastes. If publishers were buying advertising on the Kindle, and the people at Amazon were finding ways for that advertising to reach the right audience, it would surely help sales. It certainly seems like a better way of driving sales than the recently rumored “Netflix of Books” model (good for Amazon, deadly for publishers?).

How the hell was Amazon not tailoring ads to the tastes of its readers with its advertising-enabled Kindle?  In our world where social media’s filtering through all our data to find our exact tastes and loves, bombarding us with ads tailored to our exact genetic disposition, how is Amazon not adopting a similar model? Their site logarithms already does this quite well.

I’m extremely easy to sway with book recommendations for reasons I can’t discern. Perhaps it’s that I can’t see much of a book before I dive in, creating an air of mystery around it, and tempting me to try it out. When I peruse websites in my hobby-spheres and either people there or tailored adverts ecommend books in line with that circle, I OFTEN check them out, many times even hitting Amazon to add them to my wish list.

If Amazon could offer cheaper books, but mold the in-Kindle advertisements to appeal to the tastes of the reader, gathering money from sponsored publishers that recommend titles to readers with specific tastes and genres, I believe it’d sway more people to give the advert Kindles a go and potentially raise publisher profits in an industry that’s currently crashing and burning.

We’d get cheaper books, the publishers would be able to hit on a consumer base that already has some interest in their goods, and I’d actually be somewhat excited to see ads that reflected my tastes and not be afraid to explore them. If I was reading “A Dance with Dragons” and an ad recommended a Joe Abercrombie book, offering similarities to George R.R. Martin’s works and worlds, I’d gladly click on that link and check it out.

As it stands, I don’t need to go to Target, and all the Coca Cola ads on earth aren’t going to make me drink the stuff while reading.

Make the experience interesting for the customer. Give the customer a vested interest in what you’re offering them. For those concerned with privacy, allow some control on how focused that ads become (Whether intimately focused on the sum of their readings, or a wider net that just offers similar genre choices).

We’re not against advertising, we’d just rather you point us in the direction of things we didn’t know we wanted but come to need, while offering us a bit of a discount on the way there.  Both publishers and Amazon should learn to capitalize on this.

Imelda May & Mayhem: No One Really Asked for a Rockabilly Album, but Maybe We Needed One

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The album cover, possibly where my initial impressions began

Imelda May and I got off to a bad start together. Listening to the first track on May’s new album, ‘Mayhem,’ threw a wrench into our budding relationship. What came to my desk with the promise of sultry, bluesy rockabilly instantaneously morphed into images of wacky 80s movie montages during “Pulling the Rug,” the album’s opener. As I let the song linger, my mind imagined a housewife dancing around her apartment with headphones while vacuuming. It was rockabilly by way of safe pop and it didn’t feel right.

As I audibly sighed at the task of trudging through the rest of the album, I scanned through the track names, stopping my heart in the process. Sitting there at number fourteen, the words ‘Tainted Love’ drove the fear of god into me, but like Pandora’s Box, I was compelled throw it open to the horrors that lay inside. Tossing aside my regular habit of giving an entire album a few listens before skipping around, I immediately jumped to this assumed travesty.

I was pleasantly surprised. While I certainly wondered why the world needed an up-tempo, rockabilly version of the Soft Cell classic, I didn’t particularly dislike May’s version of it. Surely, It leaned more towards “great cover song to play during a movie to make hipsters happy” than “great cover I’ll cherish,” but it was still FUN.

imelda may

I'd almost climbed out the bathroom window on our date, but I couldn't leave the poor girl just sitting there alone in the restaurant

It was then that I realized I hadn’t really giving Imelda May a fair shake. I’d come in with preconceived notions and ideas, and hadn’t given her the benefit of the doubt. I called her back, we arranged for a second date, and we both promised to start from the top again like nothing bad had ever happened.

I began finding things I liked about the Irish-born May. The second track, “Psycho,” comes from a fun world where Karen-O grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and hung out with the Reverend Horton Heat. Mayhem was slowly building a world in my head, full of smoky concert halls, upright basses, tattooed girls in poodle skirts, guys with “My Name is Pablo” gas station shirts, cigarettes rolled in tee-shirt sleeves, and slicked back hair. I hadn’t really travelled in those kind of circles since the ska/rockabilly/horns boom in the late 90s, but the music was unearthing memories of how fun it’d all been (minus an ex’s attempt to force swing dancing upon me).

I was now on board with Mayhem, though the gear shifts were sometimes sudden, leading to a sonic rollercoaster experience. May’s mix of Irish balladry by way of the ‘Cowboy Junkies’ on ‘Kentish Town Waltz’ came out of nowhere after the poppy jaunt and album’s namesake song ‘Mayhem ,’ but it was another track to reinforce my growing love for May’s voice. I can’t fault a woman for throwing some curveballs in there to keep me honest.

On Mayhem, you either going to accept the universe that May’s constructed or you’ll walk on. If the world of rockabilly, by way of a sexy, bluesy songstress with a precise and on-point band backing her conjures up images of wild nights in swank clubs of yesterday, the album will give you a legitimate hop to your step (or vacuuming day), as you dream of a bygone era you never actually lived through.

imelda may live

Not sure how long the album will remain in my life, but I'm sold on catching May live

Unfortunately, if you’re not caught up in that magic, you’re going to get frustrated quickly. Mayhem rocks, but it’s sometimes too note-perfect for a genre full of debauchery. The best songs on the album are the ones that aren’t trying to conform to something, though it sometimes leads to a wild mix of styles, from rockabilly, blues, country, pop, to Irish ballads. May’s talented enough where she could release solid albums in any of those genres of music, but I look forward to an album where she pulls it all together a bit tighter. Still, if she comes to my town, I’m completely on board with catching this sexy, brunette with her bleach blonde swirl in a live setting, jumping headfirst into her world for our third date.

Mission Accomplished: Japanese Wife Full and Sated

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shiro's sushi restaurant seattle

He's fed Japanese Prime Ministers for Christsakes, What are you waiting for?

While in Japan, I agonized over unattainable foods. I watched my wife combine tofu and minced beef into patties, confused and wondering about the weird planet I’d landed on. How could they eat food that would repel both vegetarians and burger lovers in equal measure?

It’s now my wife’s turn to suffer through “Cracker Barrel-ica” and Cheesecake Factories of Sadness.

The other day, she came to me both eager and excited after finding Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant, at 2401 2nd Avenue in Belltown, Seattle. Shiro’s promised raw fish without mayonnaise, crabstick, cream cheese, silly roll names, and pretention. The Japan-set leans more toward traditional plates of raw and beautifully arranged fish sans the trappings of too many tricks and rolls. Shiro Kashiba, the owner and head chef of Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant does exactly that, providing artfully arranged plates of fresh and seasonal seafood, sticking to Japanese traditions, and shying away from “(Insert Explosive Name Here)” roll trends.

Shiro's Sushi Seattle Sashimi

This is sashimi. Note the lack of rice or explosive-named rolls.

Walking into the restaurant, our group was greeted with a bellowing “irasshaimase!” from the chefs, with quick follow-up chirps and welcomes by the helpful and attentive female wait staff. The main room was endlessly full and bustling, with a friendly, loud, and energetic atmosphere.

We were led to the adjacent room, our reserved table waiting for us in a much quieter section of the restaurant. Our party was in need of some catching-up and quiet discussion, so this back area was perfect for our needs. When making reservations, consider which vibe you’re shooting for, as the lively front and the quieter rear are different worlds entirely.

We kicked things off with beers and appetizers. It was fun to see Asahi Super Dry lager on the menu, along with the ubiquitous Sapporo (far more popular in the US than in Japan-proper). I enjoyed having the Japanese salary-man “giant bottle and little drinking glass” experience, reminiscing over times in Asia.  Our waitress was quick to help, explaining the seasonal appetizers in both English and Japanese. We ordered some vinegar-ed and lightly fried smelt and fresh fried oysters, a perfect complement to our ice cold beers.

Since my wife was living the dream, I let her run with the ball, and she went for the Shiro’s recommended selection of sashimi. The plate arrived with a beautiful assortment of fresh options, including raw salmon, tuna, scallops, sea bream, geoduck, and a few other choices of the day, including a fried smelt bone garnish (More interesting than you think, I’d eat a bag of these like potato chips). Shiro’s selection was well-curated and delightful, better than most sushi I’d been privy to in Japan. The salmon and tuna melted in my mouth, and the sea bream was perhaps the best I’ve ever had.

geoduck

I have my own theories as to why Japanese people love these things...

This evening also allowed me my first experience with the famous Pacific Northwest geoduck, famed in America as a scary, monster clam, while fetching commanding sums of money in Asia as a delicacy. Through no fault of Shiro’s, I came away from the raw geoduck a bit underwhelmed. It tasted like most shellfish sashimi, with extra crunch. My wife informed me that the texture was the entire point, but I couldn’t come to appreciate the giant clam that drives Japan crazy.

After the sashimi, we dove into the chef’s selection of nigiri sushi, octopus and cucumber salad, mozuku seaweed, and agedashi tofu.  All were done exquisitely, though the mozuku is another Japanese texture experience that might put off some culinary explorers. I went through this last round with a Red Hook ESB, the lone non-Japanese beer on the menu. It added a nice bitter compliment to the dishes, and was the first time I’ve complimented sushi with anything beyond generic lager. The results were intriguing.

We picked a few last bits off the a la carte menu to help cash in our stomachs. The salmon skin roll was a divine highlight, even with my wife complaining about the time my father threw away all the salmon skin during a family BBQ (They joys of marriage!). The raw squid was equally fresh and tasty.

We ended our meal both full and content, with my wife in a happy little Japan trance.

Shiro's Sushi Seattle

The Legendary Man himself

Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant is one of the few places in Seattle where you’re going to get an authentic Japanese experience. The biggest caveat is the price. You can easily run up the bill as you indulge in the plethora of available options.

Another small caveat, though nothing that can’t be avoided if asked, are the fish origins. They stay as local or Japan-based as possible, but some of the fish (Unagi) does come from China. It’s best to ask if you’re worried, as the wait staff will be happy to tell you.

To those with sufficient bank accounts and those sharp enough to reserve beforehand, Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant will whisk customers away to the magical tastes of Japan’s Tsukiji fish market with the added bonus of Seattle’ seafood scene. If you have the money to spend, it’s a wonderful experience, from the heartfelt welcome at the door, to the last crunchy, fried fish bone.

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Craig is currently a freelance writer whose works appear on his two blogs (here and here), as well as occasional pieces on Japan and ESL for Language House. He a budding humorist with a passion for social media, technology, beer, Asia, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest, and both Footballs, and can be found ranting about all of the above and more via Google+ and Twitter.

The Modern Age Came and Went with a Bang: The Strokes & Their Legacy

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It was wild being twenty one in the fall of 2001. We exploded into autumn with a new found sense of false-power, lifted from the doldrums of a drunken summer, and propelled into the unknown realms of pseudo-adulthood. We sensed change coming, but didn’t know what that meant. We just wanted to take on the whole world.

The candy pop of preening boy bands, the sexualized teen idols we’d been forced to watch during lazy college TRL afternoons of non-productivity were dying. Rock and Roll loomed on the horizon, and we embraced it as the change we craved. The Strokes emerged as the forward cavalry, rising from the New York City scene via hip British magazines and lashing out at all attackers with the promise that we’d never listen to candy-coated nonsense again. We’d heard ABOUT them in the media, and we were already subconsciously imitating their styles, but we hadn’t actually HEARD them.

The Strokes Modern Age EPMy friend brought home a copy of the Modern Age EP, slipping the CD out of the cardboard sleeve, mocked-up to resemble a record, black with a red and white middle that would swirl around if it was on a turntable.  Today, I imagine him putting it on and playing it like a record, but in reality, he popped the CD into my computer’s CD player and fired it up.

It was raw and GLORIOUS.

To a bunch of college students discovering the world of “college music,” aka: The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, and all the college standards, it was fresh ammunition. The drumming and guitars on ‘The Modern Age,’ along with Julian Casablancas’ lazy lyrics, brimming with casual pomp and attitude, pounded with reckless youth and ambition, capturing the “take on the world” energy we yearned for.

It made us feel invincible and cool.

The Twin Towers fell a week later and 9/11 destroyed and altered our national psyche. The news told us we’d die in horrific chemical attacks, our professors proclaiming an end to the glory days. We internalized our pains and ignored them. Worrying about tomorrow became something for the old to do, and we rallied against the notion of our youth and world being taken from us.

“Is This It,” their first LP, was a record for clinging to our youth and casually telling the newly revised world around us to “fuck off.” Things had changed, but the Strokes help us remain ignorant in a world where rock and roll was still important, because forgetting was in fashion.

The Strokes made their Boulder, Colorado debut on October 9th, 2001, the exact date of their revised LP release, delayed by the removal of “New York City Cops” from the album due to its sensitive topic in our newly rebooted world.

Four of us sat around before the show, my then-girlfriend, her love of Mike Ness betraying her rebellious Texan spirit, her redheaded friend, smoking weed for the first time and continuously worrying about her heart exploding, my Brit-rock-obsessed friend who’d dropped the EP on me, and I. We drank and substance-abused, inflating expectations and playing the EP until we’d convinced ourselves of the second coming of the Rolling Stones.

Fox Theater BoulderTheir lead singer, Julian Casablancas, roamed the stage that night as a delirious dervish, knocking into drum kits, bouncing off walls, yet somehow hitting every note, nailing every word. They played with a sense of urgency that had me convinced we’d hear about his death the next morning. It was a Jim Morrison-esque train wreck, but without the mangled words, stage walk-offs, and alleged penis flashing. In that moment, he felt like the embodiment of our minds and attitudes.

A year or two later I caught them again. Being twenty one had passed, and the growing concerns of adulthood were slowly creeping into my head.  They were in a bigger venue, and they put on a similar show, but it lacked the urgency I’d seen that night. It dawned on me that we’d used  the Strokes as a mirror for our own lives at that moment, the reality being just as coordinated and produced as the candy-pop before it…

The moment had passed, the world had changed. By that next show, friends were already going off to war and we were living in a more complicated world. 9/11’s tonal shift had changed the music landscape. The Strokes, with all their bombast and attitude, seem less relevant, and as we grew older and faced real adulthood, their modus operandi just didn’t ring true anymore.

But we’ll always have “Is This It” and that night at the Fox…

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Craig is currently a freelance writer whose works appear on his two blogs (here and here), as well as occasional pieces on Japan and ESL for Language House. He a budding humorist with a passion for social media, technology, beer, Asia, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest, and both Footballs, and can be found ranting about all of the above and more via Google+ and Twitter.

Dai Hachi: The Art of the Modern Food Hunt

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Oden

The hunt is a precise game. The man next to me eyes my fishing skills, confident in his own prowess and judgment. I disregard him and press on, peering into the square, metal vat of murky brown broth, wooden skewers poking out of each of the vat’s eight gridded sections. I grasp a handful of skewers, lifting them from the shadowy depths, checking each, and then gently returning them. I move on to try another group of sticks. The man chuckles, thinking I’ve made an error. Picking up the next group reveals my jackpot, a browned fish cake that’s been potentially floating in the soupy liquid for years. I smile, tossing it on my plate with a large dollop of miso paste and hot mustard, and I walk away the victor. The man looks dejected, settling for a skewered daikon radish that’s only been bathing in the fishy liquid for an hour.

Such is the dining experience at Dai Hachi ramen shop, where acquiring the skills of a seasoned appetizer hunter is half the fun.  Located off of Route 11, heading east out of Takamatsu City, in the Matsushima neighborhood, Dai Hachi is easily hidden by the jarring glow of neon pachinko parlors and 100 yen shop signs. It’s a small, dilapidated metal shack, rusting away in semi-darkness, surrounded by encroaching suburban strip mall restaurants and gambling institutions of ill-repute.

Kirin Beer PosterThe mainstay at Dai Hachi is Japanese-style ramen, and these noodles, while a massive leap beyond your college fare, remains little more than a serviceable, slightly above-average rendition of the Japanese style. It’s comfort food, best eaten with a sixteen ounce mug (or five) of draft beer, while shaking out a fine layer of white pepper onto the noodles from a monstrous, cafeteria-sized can, perfect for keeping your mind racing while the beer sinks in. A side of Chinese gyoza dumplings offers a nice complement to the simmering bowl of noodles.

…But we’re not here for those. There are noodles on every corner and alleyway…

Dai Hachi remains a unique institution in a land hopelessly obsessed with the new and modern. Friends casually refer to year-old restaurants as ancient, and it’s rare to see a shop with over five or ten years under its belt. That’s what makes Dai Hachi special. It’s been around beyond what anyone seems able to remember, and the rusted metal exterior, smoke-yellowed counters, 1970s bikini girl beer posters, outdoor toilets, and an ancient TV flashing the night’s sumo match or baseball game, all give the place a feeling of time-earned legitimacy that’s often lacking in Japan.

It’s grubby and not anything approaching first-date material, but it’s filled with a vibrancy that only comes from aging. Dropping by at 4am after a night on the town, you’ll be rubbing arms with slurring young Japanese businessmen, wobbling, sake-drunk old men in pajamas and flip flops, spending their money on nourishment between booze and slots, and assorted men in sunglasses, either involved in organized crime or pretending to be. The owner and his son, constantly wage battles with their Chinese staff, attempting in vain to politely convince them to stop chatting with customers, all adding to the  entertainment value. It becomes as much a visual experience as it is an eating experience, from the first signs of dusk, on until the last satisfied drunk slowly stumbles out as the sun peeks through the windows at dawn.

OdenHowever, the crowning achievement of Dai Hachi is the hunt for oden, a food best described as nearly anything skewered, tossed into a heated vat of fish broth and left to simmer. It’s a ‘kitchen sink’ food, and the key is letting those skewers stew and tenderize themselves. Many an amateur has returned to his table with an idiot’s array of sticks, unfortunate delicacies only recently placed into the broth and still yet to reach proper maturity. To successfully return to your table, holding a plate stacked high with choice skewers of fish cakes, potatoes, eggs, daikon radishes, beef cartilage, and perhaps a few octopus heads is an exulting feeling. To the professional hunter, watching the guy before you pull a prime piece is akin to losing a sports bet, with the added insult of either waiting for the other skewers or going hungry.

In a country that often tries to repackage nostalgia as something flashy and new, finding  Dai Hachi’s  timeworn ramen shop in the neon swirl is a delight, but the real pleasure lays in rubbing elbows with the entire spectrum of Japanese society and walking away with the best plate of food-on-a-stick. Everything else is just the gravy on top that makes Dai Hachi shine even brighter, allowing some forgetfulness when the topic of average ramen comes up.

(As a brief aside, the wife will kill me if I don’t mention the tofu. Dai Hachi gets their tofu from extremely small neighborhood tofu maker whose quality is known throughout the city. They let it soak in that same delicious, murky broth, but I omitted the dish, as you’re required to allow the staff to fish the tofu out for you. I feel slighted at the rejection of my hunting ability, so the wife orders it for my stubborn self. I begrudgingly eat about three of them whenever we go. It IS pretty amazing.)

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Craig is currently a freelance writer whose works appear on his two blogs (here and here), as well as occasional pieces on Japan and ESL for Language House. He a budding humorist with a passion for social media, technology, beer, Asia, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest, and both Footballs, and can be found ranting about all of the above and more via Google+ and Twitter.