Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the road still: Katsucon, day 1

Scott is on winter break and wanted to attend this con and a nearby gaming convention, so I find myself wandering the halls of my first anime convention and gathering impressions.

This event is big, with last year's notching over 6,000 attendees and this one supposed to host even more. That's bigger than all but the very largest World SF conventions of years past--and way bigger than modern ones.

The hotel is a wonderful venue. Spacious, clean, and new, with enough function space and rooms that it's hosting this entire con and still has plenty of non-con guests, it's one of the best con venues I've ever visited. I can't recall being in as nice a one-stop-with-everything hotel for any WorldCon. If I were a DC area fan looking to host a WorldCon, I'd tour this place.

The fans are young and diverse. Where SF cons are increasingly geriatric affairs, the halls here are thrumming with youthful energy. Young fans of all shapes and hues are excitedly going about their con business.

Reading is a minority interest. I walked by every single booth in the immense dealer's room, and not one novel was on offer anywhere. Not one. Manga, yes, and plenty of graphic novels, but not one novel.

Costuming is huge. At SF cons, masquerades seem to be slowly decreasing in size. Here, about half the fans are in hall costumes, and the queue to get into the masquerade was vastly bigger than any line I've ever seen at any WorldCon. Marty Gear, my friend who's been coming to this con for many years in an attempt to convince the costumers to come to SF cons, clearly has understood this fact for a long time.

Most of all, I realize that this is not my event. I like some anime, but it represents a tiny portion of my viewing time. I don't recognize any of the character costumes, nor the artists, nor the videos. I was able to chat somewhat knowledgeably at the tables selling ultraviolent Asian live-action films, and I fared acceptably in the Halo: Reach games I joined, but those were the only points of intersection between my life and the stuff going on at this con.

If I were here doing market research for a publisher--which I am not--and if I were willing to take this con and my other SF and mystery con experiences as my only data points--which I am not--I would have to conclude that the novel is dying with the generations that still read such books. I sincerely hope that is an incorrect conclusion.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 5

I never sleep well when I have to get up early, so last night was rough. We hit the airport about when we wanted to be there, however, so everything turned out well. PDX has quite good free bandwidth, so once we made it through security I was able to catch up on email before boarding the plane.

The aircraft also provided bandwidth, so I worked and IM’d a bit the entire flight.

My layover in DFW lasted more than two hours, so I grabbed a parfait at my new favorite airport food place, Red Mango, and then worked in the Admiral’s Club until it was time to head to my gate.

I was not so lucky on the next flight, however: no bandwidth. Of course, that made the time ideal for writing—a different kind of work!

Do you get the sense that work is the theme of my days? It has been for most of the last several decades, but now it is depressingly common. I have to work to change that.

Still, it’s hard to complain about a travel day that ends with an on-time arrival at your destination (for me, today, Washington DC).

And now, a little work, a little dinner, and so on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 4

Another long work day, another bunch of cool stuff I can't discuss. Sorry about that.

I have to get up at 5:30 to shower and head to the airport. If you know me at all well, you know that's like a curse that will hang over me all night.

Due to work, we ate room service from the hotel. Normally, that would be a real step down in cuisine, but the Heathman's restaurant is so good that even room-service dining is actually a treat. You can't go wrong when the in-room menu offers Kurobota short ribs, Kobe tartare, and so on.

More work beckons, and tomorrow a plane to D.C.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 3

Another very long work day, another ton of cool stuff I can't discuss.

I can mention the excellent dinner we enjoyed at Gabriel Rucker's second restaurant, Little Bird. I made a meal of starters, and everything I tasted was delicious. The pork belly, soft egg, and frisee salad, and the foie torchon were, predictably, stand-outs. The desserts here also deserve special mention; Pastry Chef Lauren Fortgang, formerly of Paley's Place, is at the top of her game. You can't go wrong with anything, though I have to particularly recommend the classic Apple Tart Tartin.

If I lived in Portland, I would be tempted to eat at both Le Pigeon and Little Bird once a week. Unfortunately, if I did so, I would swell so large that the Oregon government could moor me off the coast as a vacation resort island for those into climbing large fleshy mounds. Okay, that grossed out even me, so I'll stop now before the images in your head become too much to bear.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 2

For all the usual confidentiality reasons, I can't tell you about any of my work on these trips. I can say that I love the rushing pace of technology products; the future is always bringing cool, interesting new tech.

Dinner tonight was at Ping, a place I've never tried before. The food is Southeast Asian, with a special focus on the cuisines of Singapore and Malaysia. Consequently, the menu was full of dishes that were new to me. I sampled a familiar skewer, but a particularly delicious one, because it featured Kobe beef, before going on to a small pork collar appetizer with a lovely sour chili sauce. My main course was a wide-noodle soup with a duck leg, large pieces of mushroom, spinach, and an intense broth.

For dessert, we sampled an ice cream sundae of sorts that combined pandanas ice cream with sweet sticky rice, coconut, shaved nuts, and chocolate; it was lovely. We also tried the black sesame ice cream, which I quite liked.

The flavors are new enough to me that I can't say Ping immediately became a new all-time favorite, but it was good enough and sufficiently intriguing that I hope to go back.

Post-dinner time is work time, so to that I go.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On the road again: Portland, day 1

I used to think that I was cursed to encounter one freakish airplane row-mate after another, but now I believe my bad experiences are just artifacts of how frequently I fly. Get in a plane often enough, and you're bound to encounter your share of mutants and freaks.

Case in point: the man next to me on my first flight today. I was lucky enough to snag an exit row seat, so though I was on the window, I could still work. The guy in the middle seat, however, made that very tough. He began by twitching like he was tweaking for meth or cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. His legs bounced up and down in alternating rhythm. He twisted side to side, then bent forward, sat up, and repeated the move. He kept his earbuds in his ears at all times and focused intently on the soccer game on his PSP. He drank a can of Coke in fitful sips, one after another after another, never pausing until he'd swallowed it all.

And he farted. Loud ones, SBD creepers, slow releasers that made you wonder where the gas leak was--he expelled them all. The only thing his farts had in common was the stench, which was prodigious. I leaned into the bulkhead in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to avoid them, and for a time even breathed through my handkerchief. The man on the aisle leaned into that narrow passageway and eventually even said something, to which our flatulent tweaker apologized, shrugged, and ripped again.

His farts continued for more than 90 minutes of flight time.

DFW air never smelled so good.

After an hour and a half of work in the Admiral's Club and a sandwich lunch, we boarded the next leg. As if Karma were balancing itself, this one went superbly, with a first-class upgrade, good bandwidth, and an early arrival.

After a refreshing walk and a constitutional small cup of intense hot chocolate from the Cacao shop attached to the hotel, work once again took over, as it did the rest of the night save for dinner.

That meal was, predictably, at one of my favorite places in the world, the awesome Le Pigeon. At the suggestion of John, the thinnest and possibly friendliest chef I've ever met, I had the pork cheek and the chicken (which they cooked via sous vide and then crisped slightly on the grill top). Both were excellent, with the chicken and its accompanying bleu cheese spatzle particularly delicious. I cannot recommend this place too highly. If you live nearby and aren't eating here regularly, you're wasting a huge opportunity.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nina's Ristorante: Don't go

Enough folks have praised this North Raleigh restaurant that we decided to try it last night. Its Web site certainly makes some of the kinds of claims that entice me: innovative menu, focus on service, etc. I was hoping that it, like the wonderful Saint Jacques, would rise above its strip-mall location and showcase the food of a chef steeped in a country's tradition.

Nina's did none of that. Instead, it provided one of the more frustrating meals I've eaten lately.

I asked if the bar could make me something non-alcoholic featuring fruit juices. After a dumbstruck look and several questions from our server, I suggested they could start with orange and pineapple juices. They poured some of each from a can into a glass.

Our server's stellar behavior continued throughout the evening, running the gamut from mush-mouthed and surly to downright rude.

I opted to try classic basics: Caesar salad and penne alla vodka with chicken. The salad was basically bag romaine lettuce, four store-bought croutons, and some lemon juice. The pasta was, after a dose of Parmesan, serviceable and pleasant, though the cream that should have been the basis of the sauce was either missing entirely or so faint as not to matter. The chicken in it, like the salad, was of the quality of something you buy in bulk in a bag.

Our server was clearly annoyed that we skipped the dessert and coffee stages of the meal, but after the salads and mains, we were all ready to be out of there.

I almost never write negative reviews. I generally feel that praising the good places (or books or whatever) is enough, and I should leave the weak ones alone. Nina's, however, sufficiently annoyed me and is so far from what it claims to be that I am making a rare exception with this post.

Definitely give this place a wide pass.


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