Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I don't - A Rant by the Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic

That line was spoken by Bela Lugosi in Dracula and became a catch phrase in most of the Dracula films that followed. It's a complex line for four little words. We, the hip audience, know what Dracula drinks, but the poor unsuspecting victims had to wonder what kind of person doesn't drink wine. My mother is one of those people - not the blood-sucking undead vampire, but the non-wine drinking type. She doesn't really drink anything alcoholic other than a random margarita or a Baileys-and-coffee. She's not a prude, but, well, she's definitely not her son. My blood type has a 2001 vintage. My doctor doesn't have a phlebotomist and needles for me, but a sommelier and a corkscrew.

On Mother's Day, we went to Al Tiramisu for an early dinner. The food was fine and the desserts were excellent, but the servers were stunned - aghast, actually - that we didn't order wine, to the point that they asked us at least six times. The first time they asked, Mom politely declined. They asked again...and again...and again, and you get the point. We were only there for two hours! There was a distinct attitude that we were somehow a lower-tipping table because we declined to look at their wine list.

Now, I'm only singling out Al Tiramisu because this was recent. Every other time there I've imbibed and had a blast. They're certainly not the only place attempting to shove wine down our collective throat. It makes sense for places to sell wine. A bottle of wine pads the check, it's seldom returned, and most folks tip properly on the higher total. Given the mark-up - usually 100 to 400 percent - the restaurant owners and servers love selling wine!

Sure, wine can make a good meal great, and it's an obvious, vital part of Italian cuisine. But when the offer is declined, please, dear restaurants, accept it, and move on. It's like a break-up - sure, you can mope a bit about the lost opportunity, but let it go. Put an ad on Match. Be mature about it. Nobody likes a stalker.

The city will nail drivers on DUI even if they're not legally drunk. Tourists visit here from temperate Salt Lake as much as wine-soaked Sonoma. Some people simply don't like to drink, or don't want to offend a dining partner who doesn't drink. People have their reasons; please respect them. A desperate sales approach in a restaurant isn't dining, but is akin to walking past those obnoxious mall kiosks, begging shoppers to try their hand creams, cell phones and jiggly colored pens.

Friday, May 26, 2006

X-Men 3 - Reviewed by the Five Paragraph Bitter Film Critic

For me, the surest sign of summer isn't just the kids running around the mall instead of the schools, or the gentle spring being pushed aside by the bullies of Rising Temperatures and oppressive Humidity. Nay, it's when movies come out with more special effects credits than actors.

Or, more to the point, more script writers than actors, extra, SFX and craft services combined. As we all learned in elementary school, too many chefs spoil the soup, and, as I learned in the restaurant business, the head chef can spoil all the sous chefs. And director Brett Ratner ain't showin' up on Iron Chef America anytime soon.

That's one of the numerous problems with X-Men 3 - The Last Stand. The direction is obviously a step-down from the masterful tales of Bryan Singer in the first two X-Men installments. The music is *way* too loud and *way* too dramatic *way* too early - by the time of the epic battle scene at the end, the audience is spent because we were bludgeoned early with pathos and bombast. The pacing is suspect, and a true dramatic scene involving the beloved Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), was truncated to be as moving as a coffee commercial.

For the most part, the actors rise above their lot. Ian McKellan as Magneto is brilliant, the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Beast is genius, and Hugh Jackman once again carries the movie as Wolverine, but all of the cast is hamstrung by dialogue straight from a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. When even the most diehard X-Fans laugh at Wolvie's "we stand together....we're X-Men!" line, you know this film won't sit well with the comic geek boys and the girls who tolerate them. I heard better dialogue (well, not by much) in Robot Jox.

Still, it is an entertaining movie. The special effects are fantastic, and there is a lot more hot mutant-on-mutant action - Iceman versus Pyro, Shadowcat versus Juggernaut and a whole bunch of pierced and tatted dudes and dudettes who looked like they were in that rave scene in the third Matrix movie versus a bunch of good guys dressed in black leather. However, with the exception of a jaw-dropping final scene after the credits have rolled (stick to the end, fanboys), the overall direction is flawed enough to make you forget that occasionally, summer movies can be good, like the first X-Men movies.

16 out of 24 Whammies! This movie would have earned 10 Whammies! for the chance to see Halle Berry (that saved Swordfish, if you ask me) in black leather and Famke Janssen in a cami. However, a Whammy! was added for casting Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut, Dr. McSteamy Eric Dane as Multiple Man, Kelsey Grammer as Beast, and another Whammy! for the line destined to replace "I wish I knew how to quit you" in "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" 2 Whammies! were added for the killer ending scene. However, the movie missed Whammies! for each time I heard a young kid laugh at supposedly serious dialogue and the incredibly sloppy credits - watch them roll, and say aloud "Hey, that person wasn't in the movie!" Might they appear in the DVD?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Angelina's - Reviewed By The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic.

All this Mary Prankster talk inspired me to grab some friends and run up to the Land Of Pleasant Living and eat a genuine Maryland-style crabcake. Much like the beloved-yet-retired Mlle. Prankster, we ignored the
Blue Skies Over Dundalk
last night and headed straight to the Hamilton neighborhood to Angelina's. Angelina's has been on the short list of top crabcake joints in the region for years. The place has won Best Crabcake Awards from many of the Baltimore-area critics, and in Charm City, that's more important than a lobbyist's Blackberry.

Long-time owner Robert Bufano sold the restaurant in 2005, and the new owners swore that they would maintain Angelina's high standards. They definitely maintained Angelina's high prices. Crabcakes are seldom cheap, usually about $14 for a sandwich and $25 or so for a two-8oz cake platter. That's the going rate for the crabcakes found at G&M, Gunning's, Olive Grove and Timbuktu near BWI Airport, the current gold standards for Baltimore crabcakes. Angelina's charges "market price" of $22 for the sandwich, $30 for a two 5 oz. cake platter, and $40 for two 8 oz. cake platters.

That's a damned expensive market. Like, that market makes Wegman's, Balducci's and the Gucci Giant in Potomac look like a bargain. But in the search of le crabcake parfait, no price is too high.

I was more wrong than Jessica Simpson at a spelling bee. The $29 Steak and Cake Combo seemed the best deal - an 8oz filet, a 5oz crabcake, and a couple of side items. For that kind of money, I was expecting a transcendent marriage of delicate crab, Old Bay and non-intrusive, yet unique filler. What I got was a dried-out piece of fishnet that happened to have some crab and boiled carrots in it. It had all the taste and consistency of a musty dish sponge. The filet, while cooked to the proper requested temperature of medium-rare, was barely above room temperature and had no discernible taste. The side items of wild rice and green beans were lousy, at best, and tasted like they just emerged from a can or boil-in-bag. The only saving grace of the meals was the above-average Maryland Crab Soup, but $4 soup ain't savin' no $29 meal in Balmer, hon.

All of us who schlepped up to Baltimore from the District had the same complaints. The service, while friendly enough, was slower than a little kid trying to tell a long story. It took over an hour to get our entrees, and 30 minutes to get soup. We were the only diners in the restaurant, save for two lone women in search of a late snack. I wish I could say it was just a bad night at the restaurant, but the empty dining room, lousy food and an outdated website hawking their mail-order crabcake business more than the restaurant itself, indicates that Angelina's best days are behind them.

10 Whammies! out of 355. 3 Whammies! were awarded to the 3 cups of good Maryland Crab Soup, and 7 Whammies! were awarded to my courageous friends who survived this crap. The 355 potential Whammies! represent our bill, not including gas, tolls and the overall general feeling we shoulda gone to the Old Ebbitt Grill.

Monday, May 15, 2006

NEWS ALERT - Rapper Boasts that He Sucks!

From the New York Daily News - Thanks Lloyd Grove!

If Kevin Federline really wants to be a rapper, maybe he should start writing his own rhymes.
Rapper William (Ya Boy) Crawford claims it was he, not Federline, who wrote two of K-Fed's much-hyped rap singles: "F- the Media" and "America's Most Hated" - which goes: "Kevin Federline, I come tight with every rhyme, I built a kingdom down the street from Pepperdine."

During a recent appearance on the popular San Francisco radio show "Strawberry in the Morning," Crawford took credit for both songs - which Mr. Britney Spears has proudly touted as his own.

"Yep, both of those. Yep," Crawford insisted.


Bragging about writing raps for Kevin Federline... you just admitted to the world that you suck. That's like bragging that you were Charlie Sheen's marriage counselor or Tara Reid's plastic surgeon. Or AA Sponsor.

But he distanced himself from Federline's first single, an ode to female posteriors called "Popozao." Sample lyric: "Toy all your thing on me, baby."

"I didn't have nothing to with that, dog," Crawford said.


Apparently, even rappers begging for attention have a base modicum of taste.


Yesterday, Federline's spokeswoman, Marilyn Lopez, tried to put Crawford's revelations in context: "This is not true that Ya Boy has put Kevin under his wing. They do, however, collaborate together."


As I close my eyes to imagine this unholy pairing, I am struck with the disturbing scene in Boogie Nights where Dirk Diggler tried to launch a singing career based on his awful singing voice and lousy songwriting. Painful to watch, painful to listen to, and definitely so painful as to be hilarious.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go take my journalism classes from Jayson Blair.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

tomorrow's news today!

In response to an article found here:

Washington, May 3 - Congressman Ric Keller spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives today condemning Mexican President Vincente Fox for legalizing drugs.

"Mr. Speaker, Vicente Fox, the President of Mexico, is at it again," Keller stated. "Yesterday, he said that he would sign an irresponsible law legalizing the possession of drugs."

"How much is OK?" Keller continued. "Two ecstasy pills, four joints, four lines of cocaine, and twenty-five milligrams of heroin are now all allowed, according to Vicente Fox."

To follow in the footsteps of such great psychics as Jeanne Dixon, Carnac, Dionne Warwick and Phil Mickelson (he predicted the preseason Super Bowl wins of the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots at 99-to-1 odds and 125-to-1 odds), I present to you a new feature here at Obpopcultref:

Tomorrow's news, TODAY!!

In a stunning turn of events, Mexican activists are calling on the government headed by Vincente Fox to close its borders with the United States to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into Mexico.

"Build a wall, string some barbed wire, do something" exclaimed Miguel Valentino, a shopkeeper in Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. "Sure, they come into my store, but they just stare at my stuffed lizards and bottles of Patron. They never buy nothing!"

In the month since Mexico relaxed laws detailing the amounts drugs that can be possessed and used within the country, Americans looking for a quick high are heading south of the border in droves.

In the Baja California city of La Paz, the streets are teeming with all sorts of Americans, from Midwestern college kids to inner city gang members to senior citizens looking for a quick treatment for their glaucoma. If the street signs weren't written in Spanish, La Paz could be mistaken for any U.S. city.

Any U.S. city with mariajuana growing in people's lawns and heroin flowing through the sewers, that is.

"All these damned American stoners come down here, they take our drugs from hard-working Mexican people" explained Pablo Argilagos, a gas station attendant in La Paz.

The sudden boom in "opportunistic narcotic tourism" has been a boon to most of the Mexican border cities, as groups of Americans cross the border for a quick fix, and then go back to their homes in the States.

"My taverna has never been busier!" enthused Maria DeSantos, owner of El Perro Americano El Dormir Cafe Y Aljamiento. "I just wish Senor Fox had legalized the drugs earlier!"

Mexico's shocking revision of draconian drug laws has also stopped the flow of illegal immigration to America from such countries as Honduras and El Salvador.

"Why should I go to America now?" asked Monte' Elvista of El Mozote in El Salvador, through a translator. "There are tons of jobs in Mexico now. I just started working at a hash bar in Cabo San Lucas, I get paid well, and I get to take home leftovers."

"The only problem are the damned American college kids," continued Elvista. "Them and their damned Dave Matthews Band music. I don't even speak English and even I know fish isn't spelled p-h-i-s-h. On my dead mamma's soul, songs aren't supposed to last twenty minutes."

In a related story, President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton have formed a blue-ribbon bi-partisan investigative panel consisting of themselves to investigate the Mexican drug situation.

"We'll look under every rock with these tiny little mirrors and we'll bring plenty of rolled-up dollar bills to reach into tiny cracks, and we'll sniff those drugs out," said Bush in a hastily-called press conference on the runway in front of Air Force One. "Former President Clinton and I have a duty to protect American citizens from Mexico's actions. It's what we need to do, and we're gonna do what needs to be done, even if we're not sure how much we gotta do now. We know we gotta do it, and it's gotta get done, though."

"Like the song on my iPod says, we're gonna party like it's 1999 or the summer of `69, or it's the dawn of the age of Aquarius, or whatever," said President Bush. "I just hope I remember how to deal with the shakes. Shakes are bad. Nobody wins when you shake. Unless you;re shaking hands with somebody. Then they think you're friendly."

Former President Clinton was unavailable for comment, but was seen wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses, tanning lotion, and screaming "I'm gonna find the Weapons of Grass Destruction, Dubya!" as he boarded Air Force One.

Mexican President Vincente Fox said he would be happy to have the two American dignitaries in his Mexico City palace as long as they "don't harsh my mellow."

Why is it called "Urban Thai" if it's in the suburbs?

That question dogged my mind the first time I saw this restaurant while driving through inappropriately named suburb of Crystal City last year. It's located on 23rd Street on the Restaurant Row, surrounded by bar and grills, diners and restaurants dedicated to other foreign cusines. Urban Thai has carved out a niche providing delicious, affordable food in a surprisingly attractive dining space. Usually, when one thinks of Asian food in the `burbs, the first thoughts are of Fortune, the dim sum palace at Seven Corners, or one of the fine Vietnamese places like Pho 75 in Falls Church or the previously-reviewed Eden Center. Urban Thai isn't as big as those places, but might be as good.

Last Saturday night, I took a couple of friends to the UT for dinner, and we started off with Thai version of crack, Lemongrass-Ginger Iced Tea. It's a sweet tea, infused with those two flavors, and as refreshing as a Thai Iced Tea, but not as filling. We settled on two appetizers, the Chicken Satay skewers and the Crab Dip. I grew up in Baltimore, where hearty, creamy crab dips are as plentiful as tourists in the summer. Urban Thai does their version differently - it's made with mangoes and what looked like some avacodoes, with fresh backfin crab on top. It's prepared beautifully, served in a big martini glass with wedges of fried spring roll wrap. It looks like a fun beach cocktail, and draws admiring stares from across the 20-table restaurant. The Satay was delicious with a good peanut sauce, but that crab dip stole the show.

Dinner was just as fantastic, with one of us selecting the Red Curry Duck, a spicy dish with coconut milk and pineapples, another choosing the Bourbon Grilled Chicken and sticky rice, and with me trying the BBQ Pork, a series of grilled pork tenders served with a pepper-and-scallion-filled translucent barebque sauce. That sauce may not pass muster at a Texas rib joint, but it's just as good, and doesn't have the sugary taste found in most American sauces. UT indicates the relative hotness of their meals with their cicular logo, ergo, more logo = more heat. However, I've had their three-logo Drunken Noodle with chicken, and didn't find it to be too hot at all. However, if you ask the server, they'll be glad to spice your dish enough to induce tears.

Urban Thai has all the essential Thai dishes - Pad Thai, Prik King, Pad See Eew, Kra Pow - and a group of specialities, like a spicy Crispy Duck and Panang Grilled Shrimp that never fail to impress. Their noodles are wide, not too doughy, with just the right consistency. The servings are just the right size - big and filling enough to let you know you ate, but not too big as to be imposing or nap-inducing. The vegetarian menu is full of fine options, too. The Grilled Salmon and Mango salad, mixed with the ginger honey vinagrette, or the Green Curry Veggie stuffed full of tofu, bamboo, basil and eggplant, are real meals, not just a dish without red meat. Meat eaters will love the Ginger Beef Broccoli and the Kao Mon Gai Tod, a battered chicken breast served with garlic-and-ginger rice and a spicy soy sauce, is fantastic. They also offer a sweet soy sauce that they'll be glad to bring out by request, and it goes well with their milder dishes.

Urban Thai has a full bar, with a selection of low-to-mid-priced wines. It offers a decent array of mixed drinks, including all sorts of things ending with -tini, and starting with mart- and lychee-. Watching my mom get half-crocked from an Urban Thai mango daquiri may be my highlight of 2006. I wish I could tell you about their desserts but I've never had room for any.

Urban Thai is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner at 561 S. 23rd Street in Crystal City. They accept credit cards, can split and seperate checks, and the restaurant has a handful of seats outside in a covered patio. Take out and some delivery is available. Most dishes are around 7 dollars for lunch and 12 for dinner.

Just be careful with the Lemongrass Ginger Iced Tea. There's no known 12-step program for overcoming that addiction.