Archive for August 2007

Epicurean Review: Chez Panisse

August 17, 2007

Ask any Bay Area foodie for a restaurant recommendation, and Chez Panisse will be invariably at the top of the list. A Berkeley student myself, I’ve found that Chez Panisse is coveted by all but enjoyed by only a few. I had made a reservation in preparation for my family’s road trip up to Berkeley, but as expected a table was not available (reservations are made up to a month in advance). So when the call came informing me that a cancellation had been made, I jumped at the chance to dine at the birthplace of California cuisine.


French cuisine is my favorite kind of food, but Chez Panisse does not offer standard French fare. Alice Waters, the founder and visionary, pledged to make her restaurant the type where chefs visited local markets daily and came up with dishes on the spot, using only the freshest ingredients possible. Water’s vision, la cuisine du marche, or market cooking, emphasizes improvisation and experimentation, a far cry from the usual Parisian restaurants I’m used to dining in. Never in Chez Panisse will you find duck l’orange or foie gras with chocolate sauce. The menu is never predictable here; there is a different prix fixe menu nightly, ranging from $55 to $65 per person.


An open kitchen where curious diners are welcome


When I dined at Chez Panisse, the restaurant featured an all seafood menu, which is only offered once or twice a month. The menu is as follows: 1) Sardine toast with heirloom tomatoes and pickled onions 2) Local king salmon a la nage with green coriander 3) Yellowfin tuna a la moutarde with green beans and black eyed peas 4) Middleton Gardens raspberry soufflé. Now, I know what you are thinking…sardine toast? However, I found that to be the best course all night. The tomatoes were unbelievably sweet and the sardines were warm and had a perfectly balanced fattiness, with the pickled onions offering a fine bite of tartness. The sauce was amazing as well: an aioli sauce of eggs, olive oil, garlic, and lemon, making the perfect garnish to the appetizer. The next dish was a little disappointing. The salmon was amazingly fresh and braised so well that it required only the slightest of chewing to dissolve. The coriander broth was made well, offering a little spicy kick, but I felt that the dish was a bit bland. The yellowfin tuna was a fitting main dish. Perfectly seared on the outside, the tuna steak was nice and juicy. The sauce was a bit light for such a heavy fish, but the organic arugula and beans were a delicious side. The dish was rich but light at the same time—a very satisfying course. We had ordered a 2005 Prager Riesling, which was dry but complimented the food well, especially the appetizer and the main course. Dessert arrived with well-deserved anticipation. The soufflé was absolutely delicious, literally melting in your mouth. The vanilla bean sauce was extremely tasty as well, and I ended up ladling spoonfuls of it into my mouth when my soufflé had disappeared. The only problem with dessert was that the portions were not large enough.


I was very satisfied with my experience at Chez Panisse, but I had been hoping for a menu that featured some meat instead. Nevertheless, the chef did an amazing job with the seafood. The flavors were lighter than I had expected, but the materials were so fresh and the choice of dishes so unique that I would not hesitate to dine here again. For those who are looking for a more casual dining experience or are unable to make a reservation in time, try the café upstairs, which offers a more informal a la carte menu and does not accept reservations. I’ve dined there before, and it’s the perfect place to grab a late dinner with some friends. With a one star Michelin rating, Chez Panisse is a must-go restaurant anytime you are in the Bay Area. I plan to go again soon, but it won’t be soon enough.

Freakin’ Awesome!! rating: 4 stars



New Dark Knight Photos!

August 17, 2007

Christian Bale is awesome.

Batman is even MORE freakin’ awesome.

So photos of Batman and Joker fighting in the new movie?? YESSS!



Movie Review: Rush Hour 3

August 14, 2007

Ever since Chris Tucker mentioned “Rush Hour 3” at the end of “Rush Hour 2”, I have to admit that I have been waiting with anticipation to see what America’s favorite interracial movie couple will do next. Man, was I disappointed.

Brett Ratner opens up the third installment of the wildly successful Rush Hour franchise with standard fare—Chris Tucker singing while serving his duty as a traffic cop (punishment for some misdeed) and Jackie Chan being the professional and serious cop protecting Ambassador Han (from “Rush Hour 1”). This movie is like a Rush Hour reunion, bringing back characters and references from the rest of the Rush Hour trilogy. Even Han’s daughter Soo Yung from “Rush Hour 1” reappears, played by Jingchu Zhang. Carter’s Corvette also makes a guest appearance. The theater erupted with laughter when the movie revealed that Lee had been dating Isabella (the hot FBI agent from Rush Hour 2) and that Carter totally cockblocks him by accidentally shooting her in the neck, reducing her to a cashier at “El Poco Loco”. It was some good old random humor, but sadly the remaining tone of the movie declines to such a low level that the only fitting adjective is “random”. Or retarded.

Good ol’ Carter

The jovial music and the obvious chemistry between Chan and Tucker displayed in their familiar joking banter lured me to think initially that this may be just as good as its predecessors. The chemistry is really what carries this movie—Jeff Nathanson’s jokes are banal and hackneyed, relying on the talent of Tucker and…well, Chan’s pronunciation to bank laughs. In all honesty, Jackie Chan’s English has improved immensely in this film, and it seems as if he has lost none of his agility and reflexes, as is clearly shown in the first ten minutes of the movie. Chris Tucker hasn’t really changed his character at all; except for adding a little bit of a Chinese Zen attitude, he is still the same brash and loud unwitting LAPD cop. Though the characters haven’t seen much development, the audience still loves them. The way Chris Tucker’s face lights up when he sees beautiful women is freakin’ hilarious. Too bad that the writers made the relationship between Lee and Carter as superficially dysfunctional as the one between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys II”. Nathanson even makes Carter say to Lee, “Fine, I’m not your brother *sniff*”.

Dude, I think script sucks.

“Rush Hour 3” is a must-see, if only to serve to remind the audience never to trust a film with 3 in the title. To be fair, if you loved Rush Hour 1 and 2, you should watch Rush Hour 3. It always feels good to be reunited with beloved characters, just to see that they are alive and well. It seems to me that this is a repeat of “Ocean’s 12”; the cast had a ton of fun and forgot to invite the audience. I expected some laughs going into the movie, and I got those, albeit cheap ones. Certainly not the laughs worthy of the 7 million dollar paycheck that Brett Ratner got to direct the movie, but then he didn’t write the script. And I also hear he’s dating Serena Williams, so I’ll give him a break. Go watch “Rush Hour 3” so that you won’t be left out of the loop, but don’t expect much coherence from it. The movie ends abruptly and the conflict is ultimately resolved without really requiring Carter and Lee’s services. They don’t see it that way though, as they dance off screen to Edwin Starr. Conclusion? Fast dumb gags and faster action.

P.S. Roman Polanski makes a guest appearance as a French inspector who gets “acquainted” with Lee and Carter. Yes, the Oscar winning director of “Chinatown”.

Freakin’ Awesome!! rating: 2 stars









Mario Strikers:Charged

August 13, 2007

Right when I started up this game and saw Mario with a fierce expression of rage, fully clad in battle armor, dive-bombing from the sky ready to kick Bowser’s ass while a guitar was wailing in the background, I knew that this was the kind of Mario that I had been waiting for.

In the past, I have understood Nintendo’s apprehension with trying to make their games more appealing to the “Mature” audience (which in this case means people who will avoid a fun game if it does not have blood or gore, which ironically, makes them immature) because of the raping of certain other franchises, (*cough* SonicandBomberman *cough*) but sometimes it seems that they make their characters overtly happy and cute, just to stay on the super safe side. In the end, this just causes many of us gamers over the age of five to wonder if the characters we grew up had gotten a lobotomy somewhere along the line. That is why I thank God that Next Level games took the risk in putting their own style onto the Strikers franchise. In making the Mario characters tough and competitive, it puts a more realistic sense of challenge and urgency when playing the game.

If Mario was more freakin’ awesome here the internet would probably explode.

As for the game play itself, Next Level games has decided to evolve its game beyond that of simple arcadey soccer. In fact, it hardly seems like soccer anymore. The soccer ball has been replaced by an iron ball that “charges” every time someone passes or charges up a shot. The more a person charges and passes, the more the ball glows and the faster it rolls when it’s kicked. It’s almost impossible to score without charging the ball up at least a little, which makes regular shots obsolete. Also, every character, even the different support characters, have been given different “dekes”, which are moves that help shake off defenders either by dodging or hitting them with some part of their body. Many of the dodging dekes can be used to dodge the keeper altogether and just lets the character run into the goal, adding a whole new element to the game. Furthermore, every captain has a special item they can use which lets them use a special move characteristic of their character, like Donkey Kong smashing the ground and creating a shockwave or Wario farting and disorienting the opposing team. If you are worrying about the Wii controls, don’t. They are very intuitive and easy to use. There really isn’t much motion sensing used in the game except for having to shake the Wiimote when you want to tackle. Most of these additions should be seen as improvements, as it looks like Next Level has deigned to make Strikers into more than just Mario Soccer. Anyways, if you wanted a realistic soccer game, Strikers was never the place to go as even the first one was more simplified and arcadey.

The graphics are a little dissapointing, but c’mon, freakin’ craters and a 10-foot tall Mario!

The other major new feature is the online capability. After you sign online with your Mii, you can enter a ranked matchmaking service that pits you with another player looking to play. I don’t believe they match by rank, as I have played people in the top 100 and people ranked below 10000. The connection is pretty solid. I have played about 30 games over a few days, and I have not received many disconnections or laggy games that were caused by a bad connection, although I have heard of others complaining about the lag. There is also a friend roster where you can add your friends and challenge them whenever they are online. These features along with a leader board and changing seasons make for a comprehensive and fun online experience. One grudge I have is that the rank is based solely on points, which can be earned in victories or defeats, making a bad player who has more time to play often outranking more skilled players. Other than that, the online game play should be where one spends the most time in the game, as everything is already unlocked and it is where the competition is at its fiercest. Although the single-player is more robust, it should just be a place for you to get ready for the online play. The major addition is the event challenges, which places you in interesting scenarios that force you to rely on different skills. However if you have no internet connection, the single player can still offer you 15+ hours of game play with plenty to unlock. Unfortunately some of it is quite tedious, as each cup takes quite a long time to complete.

Strikers is only a must buy this year if you have only a Wii, are a big fan of the first Strikers (having a few friends that are fans doesn’t hurt either), or you are ridiculously rich. While I would love to see Next Level games make other Mario spin-offs in their unique style, Strikers: Charged will not appeal to everyone. Furthermore, due to the overabundance of A+++ titles this year, I would seriously plan ahead and see if you have the budget for the games coming ahead.

Freakin’ Awesome!! rating: 3.5 stars


BMW 335i

August 7, 2007

When it comes to freakin’ awesome cars, I base my judgments on style, performance, and versatility. The BMW 335i scores in all three categories, and I’m not just saying that because I own one. The car is one quick beauty. BMW claims used to claim around a 5.3 second 0-60, but recently have trimmed it down to a breathtaking 4.9 seconds after car magazines such as Road and Track have tracked it at 4.8. Personally I haven’t shaved some nanoseconds off their claim, but I’m pretty excited to have 300 bhp under my hood. Now it used to be that BMW 3-series coupes were for yuppies flashing their newly earned money, but the 2007 335i heralds in a new image. With track times that rival the acclaimed E46 M3, and even beating it at times, the new 335i driver is a grim road-warrior determined to trounce every car on the road with steely determination and cool in his eyes. At least, that’s what I see every time I look in the rearview mirror.

Now, it’s not my balls that give me the confidence or arrogance to challenge all cars, though I do have a steely grim set. With an engine that packs a twin turbocharged and intercooled straight 6 delivering 300 lb-ft of torque at 5800 rpm, this beast will give any pussy balls of steel. The 335i completes the quarter mile at an amazing 13.6 seconds at 105 mph. Too bad the manufacturers have put a chip limiting the top speed to 144 mph. This car handles like a dream. With BMW Active Steering, I can basically telepathically control my vehicle. Only the slightest of movements is needed to drive the car. However, BMW has stated that it does not recommend Active Steering and runflat tires on the 335i, saying that it will not bring out the car’s full potential. I have both, but I still manage to burn it up.

Styling wise, the 335i is one of Chris Bangle’s last creations. You don’t get to see much of his eccentric style in this car, since BMW must have asked him to tone it down to protect the sales of their bread and butter. The coupe had graceful curves with the doors slanting slightly upward. The dimensions are perfect, but I admit I had been hoping for a more aggressive looking car. However, that is a hurdle for the M3 to cover. The back seat only seats two, and be prepared to listen to your backseat passengers moan and bitch for the duration of the ride. The ride quality is good, stiffer of course if you have Sports Package like me, but I find it pretty comfortable.

This car is a perfect everyday driver, and is also a fun weekend car. However, the gas mileage leaves something to be desired. BMW claims a 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, but my car records it at 18 mpg city, and 25 mpg highway. Whatever you decide to use the car for, I guarantee you are going to be one happy driver in one freakin’ awesome car.


GTA IV delayed: good news?

August 5, 2007

So if you haven’t heard GTA IV, which is Grand Theft Auto IV to that one guy who has been living under a rock, has been delayed till the second quarter of fiscal year 2008. Now usually such news would be really unawesome, but with the lineup of releases coming out this year, this news is actually not bad, because believe me no matter your taste in games your wallet will be begging for mercy by the time christmas comes around. Lets take a look at what’s awesome and coming up soon:


Movie Review: Rescue Dawn

August 3, 2007

Ok, before we get started I want to let you all know how our reviews will work. We will talk about the movie itself and the performances featured, then rate the movie on our Freakin Awesome scale. Only “complete masterpeices” will be given a Freakin Awesome review of 5 stars, and so on.

Now, moving on. Last night a couple of friends and I went to see Rescue Dawn. We were pretty excited about the movie since Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 89% review. This is all well and good, but no movie is really definitively reviewed until Freakin Awesome is done with it. I went into the theater expecting some badass freaking awesome action, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

This movie is about badass Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a fighter pilot who crashes in Laos while on a secret bombing mission during the Vietnam War. Ditching his radio and his pistol, Dengler attempts to brave the jungle and elude capture while waiting for a rescue helicopter. However, as thug as Dengler is, he is captured and taken to a camp to face starvation and torture. The reason this film is so intense is because it is a tale about survival of the mind. Dengler and his fellow inmates struggle to stay alive as well as sane. The chilling effects of starvation and exhaustion upon the psyche is masterfully demonstrated by Bale and Steven Zahn, who plays Duane, a fellow inmate and Dengler’s newfound best friend. The actors’ dedication to this film is also appreciated by the audience. Bale visibly drops from a healthy 190-200 to a sickening Machinist-like weight. However, his dedication greatly contributes to the overall badassness of his character. Bale is so good in this that I’ll gladly overlook the fact that he did “The New World” and put him on my list of favorite actors.

After the weightloss
After the weightloss

Of course, being the gangster he is, Dengler takes about five minutes to decide to escape. He hatches a daring escape plan with his fellow inmates, and ends up having to survive for months in the jungle. However, I’m unwilling to reveal anymore about his audacity. Suffice it to say that the movie is Freakin’ Awesome!! from the beginning to the end.


Freakin’ Awesome!! rating: 4 stars