Monday, November 25, 2013

Japanese KitKat (Red Sweet Potato, Shinshu Apple and Kyushu Strawberry)

My friend at work JCOS gave me some of their specialty KitKats that they got when traveling around Japan last September. Thanks JCOS! The below is my review of these special KitKats that are unique to Japan.

Red Sweet Potato.  It's purple!

Red Sweet Potato
Very nice packaging.  This is a special Okinawa/Kyushu version, which is interesting in the sense that I didn't realize that Okinawa/Kyushu were known for their sweet potato.  While the label says red, the KitKat is actually a light purple color.  Will that affect the taste of the KitKat?  Let's take a bite:

The initial bite has that doughy, starchy sweet potato taste.  There is a slight, savory aroma of steamed sweet potato that accompanies each bite.  It starts off well but after a few bites, the aftertaste is definitely white chocolate with only a hint of sweet potato. What's interesting is that while all subsequent bites taste like white chocolate, that initial bite was definitely sweet potato. I had something salty before eating the KitKat so if I cleanse my palate, I was curious if I would get get that same sweet potato taste. I do the following:
  • drink a sports drink
  • drink water
  • eat a couple of potato chips
I then take another bit of the KitKat.  Yes, yes ... sweet potato again!  At this moment, I decide that I need green tea.  Eating Japanese KitKat felt like I was eating wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) and the whole experience needed a cup of tea to go with it.  I found some packets of oolong tea and made myself a hot cup.  I unfortunately spilled some tea over my hand but was determined to continue with my taste review.  The tea hit the spot but it did not get rid of the overpowering white chocolate taste.  I decided that to counterbalance the white chocolate aftertaste, I needed more potato chips.  I ate a handful.  Man, potato chips taste good.

Pros:  nice packaging, purple, initial bite does indeed taste like biting into a steamed sweet potato from a street vendor
Cons:  lingering white chocolate aftertaste, drinking oolong team doesn't help (next time, I'm going to try green tea)
Verdict:  better than I had expected.  But the dominating white chocolate taste makes this more white chocolate than sweet potato

Shinshu Apple.  It looked like a regular KitKat but with magical apple power!

Shinshu Apple KitKat

Opening up the Shinshu Apple KitKat packaging, you're greeted with a very robust apple smell but tempered with the smell of KitKat chocolate.  Will this taste better than the white chocolate/sweet potato hybrid?  I take a bite (and yes, I have my cup of hot green tea with me).

A very rich, chocolate taste with a hint of green apple, very different from the Sweet Potato KitKats. I have to say that I like the combination:  the sweetness of apple and the smoothness of milk chocolate go hand in hand; no white chocolate aftertaste.  This one is definitely habit forming but not as habit forming as a can of Pringles.  

Pros:  Nice packaging.  Great mix of apple and chocolate.
Cons:  there were only two wafers
Verdict:  sweet, fragrant, a perfect harmony of sweet apples and milk smooth chocolate for a delicious combination

Strawberry KitKat.  It was pink and delicious.

Strawberry KitKat
This is the special Kyushu edition ... that's where my parents are from.  Kyushu Strawberry comes in a creamy pink color with a faint smell of artificial strawberries.  Just having finished Shinshu Apple, I drink more tea to make sure the lingering apple taste does not affect my judgement of the Strawberry KitKat.  How does it taste?  Let's find out:

The first bite reminds me of strawberry ice cream in a cake cone.  Yup, it's the taste of ice cream, strawberries and crispy cake cone, all rolled up into one.  Very delicious.  No white chocolate aftertaste but no chocolate taste either; it's like pure artificial strawberry goodness

Pros:  strawberries, cream and KitKat wafer goodness
Cons:  strawberries and nothing else  
Verdict:  savory strawberry flavor with KitKat crunch.  There isn't anything unnecessary about these KitKats.  It's pure strawberry + KitKat goodness put together.  I like it

Strawberry was fine but it was just strawberry.  Score:  5/10
Apple combines chocolate and apple together and works splendidly.  Score 6.5/10
Red Sweet Potato tried too hard and copied too much of white chocolates flair.  Score: 4/10
Winner of this round:  Apple

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Novilhos - Brazilian Steakhouse

I wasn't expecting my brother to make a second appearance in the Pacific Northwest but when he told me that he was coming up to Redmond for a conference, our first immediate thoughts were the same: when are we going to get together and where are we going to eat? Last time, up in Vancouver, we went to Hawksworth and filled up on steak. This time around, we decided to do something similar but different at the same time. How, you ask. Simple. Novilhos: Brazilian Steakhouse. It's steak (similar) but served buffet style (different). It's my brother and myself (similar) but with two of our close friends (different). How was the restaurant? Was it as spectacularly delicious as Hawksworth or different? Let's find out....

"If you're a meat lover, this place is for you."

Novilhos is located next to the Factoria Mall, in its own building so there's plenty of parking. The restaurant gives off a classy vibe. Walking into the darkened entry, it reminded me of walking into a night club.  We were greeted by the receptionist and once we mentioned our reservations, we were immediately seated.  We sat in the main dining room but I saw several rooms off to the side, most likely used for large parties. Our waiter quickly appeared and asked us if this was our first time at Novilhos. We said yes. He then kindly explained to us how things work:
  1. you grab your salad/appetizers from the salad bar first.  Fill up on as much salad and appetizers you want but save room for meat.
  2. on your table is a coin shaped red/green card that each guest has.  The red side is displayed when you're seated.
  3. once you're ready for meat, you turn over your coin to green.  Green means meat.  Meat servers, who are often circling around the main dining area, will stop by and offer what they're serving.
  4. while pigging out on all of the fabulous meat selections, you're welcome to back to the salad/appetizer bar as much as you want
Red side of the meat service coin.  With fried bananas.

Let's start with the salad and appetizers.  Along with leafy green lettuce and vegetables, you can choose from other various prepared salads, such as caesar, potato, pasta, and cole slaw. There are also a number of breads, hams, cheeses, eggs, rice and fruit selections. I stocked up on a little bit of everything.  Each table also gets a basket of warm cheese bread, mashed potatoes, and fried bananas. Very nice spread.

My friends and my brother decided that it was meat time and flipped their coins to green. Within a minute, a server appeared holding a giant skewer with a thick steak covered in mozzarella cheese.  The server carefully sliced off a piece and asked my brother to grab the slice. Each guest has their own set of tongs so using his tongs, my brother grabbed the generous slice of meat and put it on his plate. The server did the same thing with my friends.  I was still eating my salad.  Next came the rib eye, followed by pork loins, then chicken wings and sausage.  If you're a meat lover, this place is for you.  I decided to go for another round of salad.

My "salad".  That round thing on the left is a meatball.  Very delicious.

By the time I was almost done with my second helping of salad, my brother had a concerned look on his face and was wondering if 1) I was on a diet (of course not!) and 2) if I was feeling OK.  I told him I was pacing myself.  I finally flipped over my coin to green and started pigging out on everything that was being offered, including the bacon wrapped chicken (scrumptious), filet mignon (juicy), and sausage (pretty good).  By this time, my brother and my friends were starting to realize that they needed to slow down.  They were consuming too much meat too quickly.  They already went through two rounds of meat and they were already starting to feel the need to stop.  I kept on eating.  More chicken wings, spare ribs and rib eye please.

Protein! And carbs! The best of both worlds. Who needs vegetables?!?

But even my pacing didn't help me in the end.  By the end of the third round, all of us were on the ropes: too much meat consumed too quickly.  But the beauty of buffet is that you can take your time and enjoy the food or enjoy the conversation with your dinner guests so while resting (I was munching on more of the appetizers), we talked and had a really great time.

We finally decided that we had enough and dessert was presented to us.  Unfortunately, we didn't save enough room for dessert (auxiliary stomach, usually reserved for dessert, was used during the third round of meat eating) so we had to pass. I did take a picture:

Too stuffed to eat anything else.  That cheesecake looks good though.  I mean, look at it!  Next time!

Overall, a meat lover's paradise with nice salad/appetizer selection for all of your grazing needs.  It's $48 for the full meat and salad course but if you're in the mood for various types of meat and want it all you can eat, this is the place to be.  Just remember to pace yourself.

Novilhos - Brazilian Steakhouse
12405 SE 38th St
Bellevue, WA 98006

Monday, November 18, 2013


Context:  this is a continuation of the "Interview Experience" post, where I chronicled my initial interview with Northwest Airlines.  A week has passed since the follow up interview and I was offered a job as a flight attendant.  I accepted, thinking that I would enjoy the opportunity of flying around the world while helping customers and then quit within a year or two.  This post talks about training and classmates.

---------------------------------------- o ----------------------------------------

Flying time from San Diego International Airport to Minneapolis-St. Paul is roughly 4 hours. This was my first time riding a plane as an employee of Northwest Airlines.  It was a free ride and although I didn't have to pay, I had to dress up in a suit and tie with dress shoes since as a representatives of the airline, we had to look first class, even if we end up seated in coach.  I was able to grab the last empty seat.

"Luckily, I didn't spill any hot coffee on my passengers."

Upon arriving at MSP, I quickly gather my suitcase and head towards the taxi bay.  The directions I got in my letter from Northwest direct me to go to the Oaktree Apartments in the city of Edina, about 20 minutes away from the airport.  As I'm standing in line for a taxi, a young woman behind me asks if I'm headed to the Oaktree Apartments.  She's about my age, maybe older, Asian and also wearing a smart looking business suit.  I say yes and ask if she's a new hire for Northwest.  She smiles and says yes and introduces herself. Her name is Olivia.  She says that she remembered seeing me get on the plane last and thought that I was a new hire.  We share a taxi to the Oaktree Apartments.

On our way to the apartment complex, Olivia tells me a little bit about herself.  She's originally from San Francisco but currently lives near San Diego with her husband John.  John is a famous hockey player and plays for a team that I've never heard of but I nod my head anyway. He travels a lot and so when Olivia heard about the flight attendant position, she thought it would be a good way for her to travel with him when he was working.

I ask her if she had to talk about her best customer story at the interview and she said yes.  Olivia's parents are both Chinese but she was born and raised in San Francisco and so she only remembers speaking Chinese when growing up.  When I ask her if she's able to speak fluent Mandarin, she says that she's able to get her point across but I think she was just being modest.  For her best customer story, she talked about how, as Ms. Chinatown, she had to work on various public activities, from senior citizen groups to schools and radio and television performances and had to treat each group with respect and understanding, just as if they were her best customers.  I pretty much lost all concentration when she mentioned, almost offhandedly, that she was Ms. Chinatown.  My initial thought was "Wow, I'm in the same taxi with Ms. Chinatown.  That's like being with Ms. Universe!".  But, I listened to the challenges she faced as an ambassador to the city of San Francisco with both admiration and respect.  In hindsight, she seemed almost too overqualified to be a flight attendant.

The taxi enters a nice suburban area of Minneapolis and to me, Edina looked like a nice place to live.  The Oaktree Apartments seemed like any other apartment complex; a well appointed office that looked more like a hotel lobby was in front of us when the taxi dropped us off.  Olivia and I both went in and was given keys to our respective apartments.  When I got to my apartment, two other guys were already there.  Richard Hashimoto, a Japanese American dude from LA, was watching TV when I entered and he greeted with a firm handshake.  Mike Lee, a Korean guy who was in the kitchen also shook my hand and greeted me as well.  The apartment had two bedrooms, with two beds in each. Since Northwest Airlines firmly believes in the seniority system, Richard was the oldest (he was 25) so got a room for himself while Mike (24) and myself (21) shared the second bedroom.  Richard used to work at a supermarket while Mike used to work at an insurance company.  Both seem very easy going and after a couple of hours of talking with them, I know right off the bat that we were going to be fast friends. Down the hall from our room was Harry, a funny Chinese guy who wore glasses and had a very wanting-to-please attitude towards everything.  And, there was Steve the Mormon who spoke fluent Korean because he had done two missions in Seoul.  He was very popular with all of the girls.

Training went something like this:
  • 3 weeks of safety training, focusing on learning all of the safety features of each airplane Northwest has in service.
  • 3 weeks of service training, focusing on proper serving techniques, from first class all the way down to coach.  You also get to learn how to make yourself presentable.
  • Everyday, you take a quiz and at the end of each week, there is a final examination.  If you fail a final exam, you get kicked out.

Safety Training
During the first three weeks, we learned about safety techniques.  What to do on a wheels up landing (you do not deploy the overwing slides since it will deploy right into the adjacent slide), learn how to use all of the safety equipment (from fire extinguishes, CPR equipment, life vests to safety masks), and commands.  The commands I remember are "Come this way, move quickly, leave everything" and "Run, Jump, Help At The Bottom".  I'm sure that the commands have changed over the years but I still remember them.  At the end of each week, there was a final exam that everyone had to take.  For some folks, they were able to soak up every single safety detail and recall everything in an instant.  For others, like myself, I had to read, re-read and then try to remember everything.  I very much admired my roommate Mike who was able to learn everything once and felt that there was no need for study. Everyone was very smart and very motivated so almost everyone passed the test, including myself.  By the end of the third week, only a couple of trainees left the training program, either because they didn't pass the test or felt that being a flight attendant wasn't right for them. For me, I was having the time of my life.  

Like high school, cliques are created within our class and for me, I usually stayed with my small inner circle of friends.  With Richard, Mike, Olivia, and funny guy Harry, the time spent practicing our safety routines, learning the proper uses of the safety equipment and standard operation procedure on all airplane types made it worthwhile.  After training, we would get together and have dinners together, hang out, walk to the supermarket and just talk about all of the things that we left behind and all of things that were looking forward to doing.  I would often invite Steve the Mormon to join us but he would always politely refuse, often letting us know that he had other plans.  Harry would tell us that Steve was going out with a girl from another class.  I always found it interesting how Harry was able to get that kind of information, as if he was some kind of reporter, searching for juicy gossip.  Graduation was still three weeks away and none of us knew which base we would be assigned but we were all motivated to work hard, pass our exams but also have a good time.

Service Training
The last three weeks was focused on proper serving techniques.  I got to learn how to pour wine (the key is to twist the bottle when you're done pouring) as well learning how to pronounce Cabernet Sauvignon (red wine, often served with red meat) to chardonnay (white wine, often served with chicken and light meats).  I learned how to "drizzle" salad dressing instead of pour, the quickest way to serve three carbonated drinks at once (and it's true, Diet Coke is the slowest drink to serve since it takes for time for it to settle) and making sure that the food is served in a presentable fashion.  Speaking of presentable fashion, we were fitted for our uniform and taught grooming skills so that always looked first class (always clean shaven, hair properly combed and moussed, nails trimmed neatly).  We were also instructed on how not to step on people's hands when walking through the aisles.  It almost felt like being a fashion model.

After six weeks, everything that you learned from training culminates to a buddy ride, on-the-job training where you get to fly on a real airplane and serve real customers.  My training flight was LGA-DTW (LaGuardia International Airport, New York to Detroit, Michigan) with a flying time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, just enough time for a drink service.  Richard told me afterwards that on his training flight, he was pouring coffee over the passenger's lap (which is a no-no) and just when the airplane hit a pocket of turbulence, the coffee swirled in and out of his cup and into the passenger's lap.  The passenger didn't get angry and took it all in stride.  Richard, on the other hand, was freaked out and apologized a number of times to the passenger.  Luckily, I didn't spill any hot coffee on my passengers.  On the flight back, we had extra peanuts so I gave each of my passenger two bags of peanuts.  I don't think they even noticed.

When we finally reached the end of our six week training session, we were all happy to be graduating.  While the six weeks seemed to have flown by so quickly, it felt almost like a lifetime of creating new friends, building rock solid friendships while studying together with the shared goal of being a good flight attendant.  At the graduation ceremony, I hugged Olivia and mentioned that it felt like a lifetime ago when we shared the same taxi to the Oaktree Apartments.  I shook hands with Richard and mentioned that it must be a thrilling feeling to know that he'll be working on a Boeing 747-400 as flight attendants instead of working behind a cash register at a nearby supermarket.  He was looking forward to taking his parents to Hawaii. Mike Lee, the Korean guy who used to work at an insurance company, looked somewhat glum. When I asked him if he was alright, he looked at me with a serious look on his face and said, "Yeah.  I just can't believe that we're done with training."  I wasn't sure if he was happy or sad about it.  

The next day, we are told which base we would be assigned to.

Richard, Mike, Harry and Olivia are assigned the Boston base.  I'm assigned to New York. Boston international flights go to Europe (London-Gatwick, Paris and Amsterdam).  New York international flights to go Japan.  I am disheartened to know that all of the people I had in my inner circle were not coming with me to my new home. Everyone was very much excited and looking forward to their new home in Boston and for me, for the briefest of moments, I feel a sense of abandonment.  After all we've been through, I realize that what comes next is what I will have to do on my own.

That's when I hear someone say "Hey Scott".  When I look up, I see Steve the Mormon.  He says, "I guess it's just you and me going to New York.  I guess you can teach me how to speak some Japanese."  He smiles and shakes my hand.  I smile back and realize that it's not really abandonment or a feeling of separation.  It's just that uneasy, uneven feeling of change and growth, not just for me but for all of us.  I was happy that Richard, Mike, Harry and Olivia were going to Boston since now I can visit them and hear all of the great stories about traveling to Europe.  As for Steve and myself, we set our sights on New York City and on what the future holds for us.

[To be continued]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview Experience

Context:  one of my co-workers at work mentioned that his wife was interested in becoming a flight attendant and was going through the process of interviewing with various airline companies.  This reminded me of my first, real-job interview at Northwest Airlines a few weeks after graduating from college.  Below is an account of that interview. Enjoy.

---------------------------------------- o ----------------------------------------

Even before graduating from college, I had made plans to attend graduate school and get a Master's Degree in Linguistics.  That all changed when my parents suggested that I go to an interview near Los Angeles for a flight attendant position for Northwest Airlines (bought out by Delta Airlines in 2008).  The goal wasn't for me to become a flight attendant but rather to get "interview" experience so that, if grad school didn't pan out, I could always start looking for a job with my newly honed "interview" skills.

"I had no interest at all.  And besides, I was there for the 'interview' experience"

Northwest Airlines at the time was hiring people interested in becoming flight attendants who also had Asian language skills.  You didn't have to be fluent in an Asian language;  you just had to have a basic understanding and the ability to get your point across.  They scheduled a group interview session in Long Beach, California, about an hour and a half north of San Diego and 30 minutes southeast of Los Angeles proper.  It was a warm day in June, just a couple of weeks after my graduation and the room we were to be interviewed was jam-packed with Asian faces.  The room had a number of chairs lined up with a side table set up for the interviewers and a podium on top of a small stage in the front of the room of the interviewee.  There were about thirty of us and each candidate went up to the podium and had to mention three things:
  1. Your name
  2. What second language you spoke
  3. Your best customer story
I was the last one to go up and so I had the luxury of listening to everyone else's interview. The first person, a young Asian woman about the same age as me, went up on the podium and looking straight down at her hands on the podium, started speaking in a hushed voice about providing the best service to a regular customer who would often leave them with a huge tip. The next person, a short Asian guy with glasses, blankly stared out straight into the distance, not making eye contact with anyone in the room, as if he was hyponotized by the wall that he was facing. He mentioned something about getting great service about some restaurant that he liked to frequent.  After a while, all of the stories started sounding the same and strangely enough, there were a lot of folks who brought up restaurants as being the place where they gave great service or went to get great service, as if restaurants were the hotspot for best customer stories.  The restaurant name or the name of the person who attended to their needs may have changed but it was pretty much the same super-generic best customer story.  What was interesting was that, since the podium was facing the center of the room where all of the interviewees were sitting, the candidate doing the talking was often facing their fellow interviewees and not the interviewers, who were off to the side.  It was, as if, the interviewees were pleading their case to their fellow candidates and not the interviewers.  And the interviewers?  Well, you could tell right away that they were bored out of their minds.  Blank stares with that glazed look on their faces as if they were in some kind of trance.  I would imagine that they have interviewed a countless number of people the days previous to my interview and were not looking forward to interviewing more hopefuls in the coming days.  Either that, they were drunk.

I had no intentions of becoming a flight attendant.  I had no interest at all.  And besides, I was there for the "interview" experience; learn as much as I can about what types of questions are asked, how people responded to those questions, how to present oneself to others while sounding confident and not cocky.  And so, having watched all of the other candidates repeating the same best customer story with hardly any variation, I decided that my story wasn't going to be about restaurants or favorite servers giving me extra napkins.  Behind the podium, facing the interviewers (who still looked hung over), I said to them and to everyone, with as much enthusiasm I could muster:

"Hi everyone.  My name is Scott Kuramura and the second language I speak is Japanese."

At this point, I say in Japanese that I've studied fours years of Japanese in college, one of those years being spent in Osaka as an exchange student.  I also mention, with as much modesty as possible, that my Japanese is pretty awful.  I then say, in English:

"My best customer story?  I unfortunately don't have a best customer story because it tells me that there is only one customer out there that I need to treat well or that there is only one hairstylist or waiter out there who gave me their best service.  I don't think we should think like that.  We should treat all of our customers the best that we can, putting ourselves into their shoes and providing consistently great service.  And we should be mindful of how that one hairstylist or waiter who gave me their best service treats others, asking ourselves, did they provide the same consistently great service to others as they did to me?  So, best customer story?  I don't have one.  Thank you."

And I sit down.  The interviewers, suddenly of their stupor and highly animated, start smiling and saying thanks as they wrapped up the interview.  They were definitely happy to be done with this torture session.  I quickly duck out of the interview room, head back home and report to my parents that I'm now "interview" savvy

The next day, I get a call from one of the recruiters who was at the group intereview.  Out of the thirty folks that they interviewed, only 5 were selected to go to the follow up interview and I was one of them.  My first thought was, "This is great.  More interviewing experience!".  But as I drove back to Long Beach the next day for the follow up interview, I realized that I was interested less in getting good at answering interview questions.  I realized that I was more interested in providing great customer service as a flight attendant.

[To be continued]

Lunchbox Laboratory

Imagine that there are two categories for Burger Goodness.  You have Fast Food Joints, that are the standard bearers of fast food burgers, where they're made super quick and without much flash.
  • McDonalds - baseline hamburger.  Consistently familiar.
  • Carl's Jr. - good burgers, love the Western Bacon Cheeseburger
  • Five Guys - not bad; lots of burger condiments to choose
  • In and Out - the standard, most basic and most delicious burgers in the world
And then you have your Sit Down and Order Off A Nice Looking Menu Types of Restaurants that serve a supposedly better burger at a slightly higher price.  I had the chance to eat at the Lunchbox Laboratory this past weekend and this place definitely falls into the second category. 

"And the best thing about this? There is no way to mess it up."

Lunchbox Laboratory signage. Seattle Lab. It's autumn and I'm hungry!

There are three locations in the Puget Sound area:  Bellevue, Gig Harbor and Seattle.  I went to the Seattle one with my friend.  What's cool about Lunchbox Laboratory is not just their huge selection of burgers to choose from but the multitude of combinations in bringing together a custom ordered burger to your liking.  Just as the name implies, you get to play around with all of the ingredients (from meat choices to dipping sauces to the number of patties that you want for your burger) to come up with a masterfully delicious concotion. And the best thing about this? There is no way to mess it up.  

My friend ordered the Upstate New Yorker with three patties; it looked like a heart attack just waiting to happen. With Super Beef (which is Lunchbox's American Style Kobe Beef), Monterey Jack Cheese, Onions, Super Gorgonzola Spread and Buffalo Ketchup, it had all of the makings of an edible Empire State Building.  It looked quite decadent, New York style.

Upstate New Yorker Burger.  Yes, that's three patties.  The little cup behind the salad is a cup of jalepeno mayo for the fries

I had the Tear Jerker, which comprised of Super Beef, Pepper Jack Cheese, Onions, Jalepenos peppers, Habanero Mayo and Satan's Tears Ketchup.  The ketchup wasn't as devilishly hot as the name implies but it was quite flavorful, like ketchup mixed with tabasco sauce.  I ordered it with two patties (one patty equating to about a 1/4 pound of ground beef) and that seemed too much. 

The Tear Jerker with two patties. That red stuff is Satan's Tears Ketchup. I did cry a little but it was tears of burger joy.

Overall, this burger was super flavorful, with a bit of kick.  The meat had a lumpy shape to it, as if someone had just handrolled the burger to order.  It's wasn't hard at all when it arrived; it was rather juicy with some flavor.  But the flavor of all of the condiments that come in the burger (from the habanero mayo to tabasco infused ketchup) added more than enough spicy zest to make me sweat.  

Is ... is that bacon salt? And garlic? Wait! Cinnamon? So much flavor!

You get to choose your sides and I got the standard issue skinny fries.  They also had tater tots, housemade chips, sweet potato fries and Mac and Cheese selections.  The skinny fries were OK.  Super thin and salty but lacked any potato taste.  Next time, I'll have to get the tater tots or chips to compare.  Tots would have been better since I could have experimented with the various seasonings they had available.  Mmmmm ... bacon salt.

They had a fair selection of appetizers, shakes and spirits but after a half pound of burger heaven, I decided that eating any more would be too hazardous to my health and decided to pass.  Next time, Lunchbox Laboratory!  I'll see you next time with my empty stomach in tow. Highly recommended for a real gourmet burger.

Lunchbox Laboratory
1253 Thomas St.
Seattle, WA 98109
Also in Bellevue and Gig Harbor

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mini Movie Reviews - November 2013 Edition

A lot of great movies came out during the summer time and I was fortunate to see a good number of them. There were also a good number of films I didn't get the chance to watch so I'm fortunate enough to now have time to watch them on Blu-ray so the following are reviews of movies that I've recently watched.  Enjoy.

World War Z
Brad Pitt is wielding a shotgun and looking rather ruggedly handsome with his flowing locks as he fights against a zombie infestation that is spreading rapidly.  While it doesn't have the same doomsday sense of dread as Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, there is a lot of frantic action scenes in the beginning and slow burn suspense towards the end that works surprisingly well in keeping you entertained.  You may not relate with any of the characters (I mean seriously, do any of the UN investigators look as gorgeous as Brad Pitt, flowing locks and all?) but it's a fun take on the zombie apocalypse.
Verdict:  stimulating enough to make your brain more enticing for zombies

Monsters University
Like Temple of Doom before Raiders, like Phantom Menace before Star Wars, you have Monsters University, which serves as a prequel to the events that transpire in Monsters Inc. Here, we see the beginnings of the deep friendship between Mike and Sully during their early years at MU. Like most prequels, it has the extra burden of tying both films together.  Some do it better than others and luckily, MU does a fine job of making the connections make sense while maintaining continuity between the two movies.  But, like some of the sequels that we've seen this summer, it's a capable adventure comedy with characters that we've grown to love from the original but lacks the same amount of heart as the original.

There are certainly lots of Animal House antics and while the second act falls into a generic storyline that eventually reaches a generic climax, you think the movie is over only to find out there is an intriguing third act that adds much to the storyline. What's interesting is that, while I liked the action packed, jaw dropping climax of Monsters Inc., Monsters University goes in the opposite direction and provides a more intimate climax but one where the pay off is almost as good as the original ... almost.
Verdict:  no Boo but more foo-lishness and fun.  May not be the best of what Pixar has to offer but even so-so Pixar is much better than the best of what's out there

Pitch Perfect
Look at the success of American Idol in the past years and Glee in recent years and you'll see how songs are repackaged into something that's easily recognizable but somewhat skewed in such a way that it's not easily dismissible.  It grabs your attention, makes you want more and feel somewhat nostalgic for the original at the same time.  It's an intoxicating mix.  Now add acapella (a difficult feat in itself since you don't have a prearranged track to use as a crutch) and you have Pitch Perfect.

I wasn't really buying Anna Kendrick as a loner-square peg that doesn't want to fit in with the rest of the girls at her college but as her character goes from self-imposed outcast to reluctant leader/hero, she grew on me. The movie really gets into gear when you see the Beca character take charge, trying to pull her group away from being gauzy acapella choir girls to cutting edge acapella singers.  The scene where they sing the Bruno Mars - Nelly remix is inspired.

There are a lot of times where the movie is absurd, coarse and clich├ęd but hey, Pitch Perfect ultimately wins with some standout singing sets that confidently carries a tune.  
Verdict:  it may not reach the same level of coolness as The Breakfast Club but it will make you not want to forget about this movie.