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alverant [userpic]

Signal Boost Nate Bucklin's New Album, "My Favorite Whirlwind" Kickstarter

February 19th, 2015 (07:36 pm)

Nate Bucklin is doing a Kickstarter for his next ablum so I thought I'd post it here to help him get the last $350 for funding.

alverant [userpic]

Wheaton Chili Cook-Off 2014

November 1st, 2014 (06:25 pm)

It's that time of year for the Wheaton Chili Cook-off. Thankfully my gaming group didn't meet today so I could attend. There were 13 entries, some new ones and some long-standing entries. Instead of breaking down each restaurant, I grouped them together and ordered them in favorite from most to least favorite.

Favorites These were the restaurants who really got into the spirit of the event and worked to make a distinct chili that I enjoyed. I hope the winner is one of these.
Wheaton Meat Company: they listed their ingredients (I wish they put it on cards so I could make a batch at home) and had several kinds of meats including using pork neck bones for flavor. This was a chili made my people who care about their final product. It's the only place I returned to for a second bowl.
Ivy Restaurant: has won before and with good reason. They had a great chili and offered a decent amount. On the downside they offered too many options when it comes to toppings which could distract from the chili itself.
Muldoon's: another previous winner. They put an Irish slant on their pizza by using Irish beer and offering potatoes and Irish cheddar cheese as toppings.
River City Roasters: this is their first year and while I think they could have done more with presentation the fact they fire roasted the veggies in the chili made it their own. It's not a hot chili but it's solid and I like fire roasted veggies.

Good Solid Chili Sometimes when you make a distinct chili it works, sometimes it fails, and sometimes it's good but not great. These are the restaurants who fall into the latter two. I applaud them for their effort and hope they refine their recipe for next year.
Bricks Wood Fired Pizza: This was an early favorite before I tried the others. Good but not great.
Suzette's Creperie: I'm not sure if they won before or not, but they make a good effort. This had the problems of toppings. In an effort to make it distinct they offered butternut squash and mini cornbread muffins. The muffins were OK and the squash would have been good under other circumstances but it just didn't work here.
The Bank: a winner from years before. They have a popular chili but you get so little of it and a buffet of over half a dozen toppings included cornbread muffins. It's easy for the chili to get lost in the cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro, tortillia strips, elbow maccaroni, etc. If the winer isn't one of my Favorites, it's this one.
Wok N Fire: A newcomer they made their chili distinctive by adding Chinese five-spice powder to the mix. This is a case of "distinctive" not being the same as "great", but I think with some effort and experiments it has potential.

Token Effort Most of these gave me the impression just partisipated for the sake of partisipating and get people into their place. If they drop out next year, they won't be missed.
El Zarape: The most out of the way of the entries and it shows. I almost put it in the above category since their pinto bean heavy chili gave it a refried bean slant I liked. But they've been doing this long enough to know they should up their game.
Armand's Pizza: I am willing to cut these guys a lot of slack since they're new but their chili was watered down and tasted very generic until I added the hot sauce provided at their tables. There was nothing separating this from fast food (except for chains where chili is a feature). You can do better next year. Make it Armand's Chili!
Cellar Bistro: Another repeated entry. Watery with nothing distinct. Plus the flow of people in and out needs to be redone.
Gino's East Pizza: This is their first year but they've been in business for some time so they don't get the breaks I was willing to give Armand's. They weren't as out of the way as El Zarape but their chili was generic and I think their attitude at the door reflected that. You should know better.
Front Street Cocina: I am so disappointed. I think since chili is a Tex-Mex food I expect more from Mexican places. FSC has been part of it since the beginning and while their service is good they just don't seem to try in the chili department. I never saw a big line going out the door here. That's a clue.

alverant [userpic]

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 3rd, 2014 (05:11 pm)

I loved this movie. It's more of an epic sci-fi saga than a super-hero movie. In a way it's more like Star Wars if you take out the Jedi and whiny actors while keeping the setting and kicking the "sense of wonder" up a notch. It is set in the Marvel movie-verse but you don't need to see the other movies to enjoy this one. Conversely if you don't see it, about all you need to know is that the stakes for the plot involving Thanos (hinted at in Avengers) just got a lot higher.

One of the many things they got right about this movie is working in bits of the Marvel comic book setting into the movie without making it important. Some things are introduced, told what we need to know about it, then we move on.
It's window dressing for the fans. If you recognize something, great, if not that's OK too.

After the movie they have two bits before and after the credits (not during). They're both funny but neither foreshadow anything in the other films. They're not the "I want to tell you about the Avengers Initiative" kind of thing that made our jaw drop at the end of Iron Man. So if you drank the Bladder-Buster sized drink at the start of the movie and need to visit the privy, go ahead after the first one. You may make it back in time for the second, but if not you'd just miss an inside joke.

I know there's a cartoon in the works, but I'm not sure about a sequel. I don't know enough about GoG lore to say if there's something that would work in a sequel.

My only concern about the movie is that since it is more sci-fi than super-hero, some people may not be interested. To those people I say, "You're making a huge mistake. Go see it. It may not have super-heroes but it does have super-hero style action."

alverant [userpic]

Business annoyances

January 24th, 2014 (07:04 pm)

There's some thing I wanted to mention in the last post but forgot.

A supermarket opened up about last Halloween and two weekends ago I drove past it and they still had their "Now Open" signs up. Plus they were taking applications. Now they were open for 2.5 months and not only they're still in their "grand opening stage" but they've already gone through some employees. So while they were "newly opened" someone was hired and something happened in their life to cause them to no longer work there. That doesn't seem right.

The other thing that bugs me with restaurants is when the service is slow and there's no functioning "contact us" page on their website. I'm looking at YOU "Warren Ale House"! It should not take 15 minutes to get a beer in a mostly empty place and it shouldn't take another 15 minutes for a simple appetizer!

alverant [userpic]


January 12th, 2014 (03:35 pm)

This post is mostly going to be me venting about some annoyances I faced today. They're pretty small compared to the real problems other people are facing, but sometimes a man's gotta complain.

* I went out of my way to visit a Rock Bottom Brewery in Warrenville while running errands because they sent me an ad last week for their cheeseburger nachos. That sounded good so I went in just to try them. Well guess what, I was told no one knew how to make them. So I left. I saw the waitress speak with her boss about it so maybe something would get done. But they should have been ready in the first place. I don't go there as often as I'd like so that was pretty much my best chance to go there in months and by then that item will be off the menu.

* Barbers who ask you how you like your hair without giving you your glasses first.

* Slow service at the Warren's Ale House. I was going to order a burger after my appetizer but I had to wait so long for the latter I decided not to get the former. The food is good, but the staff is slow. I saw them chatting with customers and each other. The only thing they were fast at was running my credit card.

* BellaSolutions sent me a damaged calendar last week. Now to be fair, they gave me half my money back since they couldn't replace it. Except the stores are already selling calendars at half off so I could have paid the same amount at the mall and gotten an undamaged one. From now on, I'm going to take some time out of a weekend each January and go to the mall first then Amazon just in case they don't have what I want.

Now some good news. A sucker investor bought the Morgan's Charhouse in Warrenville. The "for sale" sign is gone and I saw someone working on the inside. Good for them. I'll try and visit when they reopen an hope they're better than their predecessor. But I still say the location is lousy.

alverant [userpic]

Ender's Game, its creator, and protesting

November 5th, 2013 (10:17 pm)

Tom Smith recently did a LJ post about Ender's Game he wanted to just stay focused on the movie and not the person who wrote it nor his views. It's his blog and his right. But this is my blog so I'm going to go a bit further. OSC is a horrible human being. If you don't like the idea of two people of the same gender getting married, fine don't marry someone of the same gender. But don't mess with the rights of others. Your opinions (and yes, a religious view is still an opinion - attributing to "god's" word doesn't make it any less of an opinion) is no excuse to treat people like sub-humans. They do not give you the right to discriminate. Even if he won't get another dime from the movie, I can't bring myself to see the movie. First I understand it's not as good as people said it was. From the commercials, Ender is clearly psycho and the only thing the adults are really guilty of is making sure that when he does go crazy that he's focused on a perceived enemy than the Earth. I know in later books he says he regrets what happened. There's a word for that: "retcon"!

But ultimately this raised the question of whether or not it's OK to avoid the artistic works of a creator because you don't like their views. OSC only makes the problem worse because he actually talked about an armed revolution unless the people he hates aren't imprisoned. He does not deserve to be a US citizen since he clearly has no understanding of the ideas behind this country. I'd say he has a right to his opinions but he's gone beyond just expressing them and tried turning them into law. It's not like he's being done actual harm by the people he hates. They exist and his magic book says they're evil so he wants to oppress them. That's no longer just an opinion.

Now back to the question, I have thought about it and I would have to say that it depends. Does the view in question offend you so much that you don't even want to give the impression you give passive approval of those views by enjoying their creative works? If so then you should follow your conscience. I have to draw the line however when those views by the creator cross over from basic opinions into forcing them on others. There was a boycott and demonizing of the Golden Compass movie a few years back because of Philip Pullman's views on religion. The key difference is that Pullman hasn't talked about taking away the rights of others. He hasn't talked about putting people in prison because he doesn't like what they do in their private lives. Even though Pullman's views are in the film, they are not dangerous or harmful views. And that is why the boycott of Golden Compass was wrong.

alverant [userpic]

Wheaton Chili Cook-Off

November 5th, 2013 (09:29 pm)

Last Saturday was the 5th Wheaton Chili Cook-Off so like some years before I'm going to give my impression of the different offerings. The prices were raised this year to $15 but it was worth it. About 3/4 the chilis were OK in the sense they didn't make me want to come back immediately. Looking back it might have been because I added too many and too much of the same toppings which covered up the real flavor of the chili. I actually wondered if some places were doing it just for the sake of joining and didn't strive to win. But since some of the places I thought were doing that won, I have to re-evaluate that line of thought. If I ever go to these restaurants and they offered their award winning chili, I'd buy a bowl (with a few exceptions).

Ivy People's Choice 1st place
I liked it, a bit better than average.

Suzette’s Creperie People's Choice and Critic's Choice 3rd place
They ran out soon after I got there. A nice solid chili. They offered free samples of sorbet to clean the pallet.

El Zarape
The one disappointment in the bunch. It had too much liquid smoke plus they didn't seem that into it. But it was the furthest from the center so probably didn't get much traffic.

Muldoons People's Choice 2nd place
They continued to commit the sin of putting corn in their chili, but it wasn't as much this time. Another solid chili but with a lot of toppings to distract from the actual steak chili.

The Bank Critic's Choice 2nd place
Last year this had such a long line it wrapped around inside the restaurant and I didn't go. It's still a good chili with a long table of toppings.

Front Street Cocina
Good but not great and not bad. At least they stopped adding toppings on it for you. They also had jalapeno peppers to give it a kick.

The Cellar Bistro
OK I've given them grief before because in years past their chili tasted like pasta sauce with beans. This year they improved enough to earn my vote. They had a delicious bison/buffalo chili that actually tasted like chili and not something to put on a plate of linguini.

A newcomer since their restaurant opened up earlier this year. They ran out soon after I got there and it was a close one. They too used steak but it was a bit thin (which could also be because I got the nearly the last bits out of the pot). Good luck next year.

Genghis Grill Critic's Choice 1st place
To me they tasted just average this time, but they had a party atmosphere with a DJ and tent. Again, it could be the fact I went overboard with toppings that I missed the chili itself.

Il Sogno
Again with the pumpkin in the chili. It was fun one year but now it's more "meh". I won't refuse it if offered, but I won't go out of my way for it.

Tasting deVine
Another good, if unremarkable, chili. I think they should put some wine into it because some tomato flavors only come out with alcohol. Maybe they couldn't to keep it kid friendly (you never cook ALL the alcohol out). I think it would help sell their product if they added a bottle of red wine to their bottle of red.

Another newcommer. They set up in the park since their restaurant is miles away. They also offered smores and a campfire to lure people in. Another solid chili that I'd get if I visited the restaurant.

alverant [userpic]


July 3rd, 2013 (11:02 pm)


1703 Freedom Dr
Naperville, IL 60563
(630) 904-1703

I felt like going out to dinner and had a choice between Naff Naff Grill and Zap. I went to Naff for lunch and thought I'd try something new and let myself be surprised. Zap is an upscale Mexican restaurant. For those familiar with Cozy Mels, it's what Cozy Mels would look like if it was made today. It's in the current style you have seen other new restaurants (no ceiling covering up the duct work, bricks on the walls, just enough light to read the menu, spartan look, etc) but with some Mexican decorations. There's no wall between the seating area and the kitchen so you can see orders coming in and if even watch your meal being made.

The complimentary chips and salsa were good. The salsa had a chipotle base that made it distinctive over the other Mexican restaurants. The service was prompt and friendly. I ordered the manager's special of chicken cooked in wine with veggies including two kinds of cabbage. Imagine my surprise when they brought out a burrito with rice and beans on the side. I didn't know what form the entree would take so I accepted it. I thought it was strange, but what the hey this was a new experience and I wanted to keep an open mind. Now imagine my surprise when I took a bite out of the burrito and tasted shrimp. I hate shrimp. The smell, the taste, that membrane around the meat, YUCK! It turned out they got my order wrong. Fortunately there weren't many people there and my server remembered what I ordered. I'm not sure how that happened. Since they couldn't take it back they let me keep it while they made my original order.

I gave it an honest try. But I couldn't eat half of it. The burrito was cut in half and one half put over the other artistically and after a few bites the filling fell out of the bottom. Usually I try to finish things since I hate wasted food, but this dish did not work for me. It felt mushy and unappetizing. The Mexican style rice was sticky clumpy and some of the spices didn't make it to some clumps. The black beans were good though and I used the salsa to spice it up some and make an impromptu dip for the chips.

My actual meal was pretty good. It was a salad with shredded cabbage (green and red) with tomatoes, multiple kinds of greens, corn, jimmica, chicken, and some other things. It was filling and was well made. It wasn't spicy at all, just flavorful with different textures from the vegetables. My server only charged me the price of the burrito since it was cheaper, but I made up the difference in the tip. The rest of the staff was attentive with only a small problem with the language barrier that led to my bowl of chips being taken away before I was really done with them. It's wasn't enough to mention.

I usually judge a place by asking the question, would I go back. The problem I have in this case is that if I want to go to a good sit-down Mexican restaurant I'd go to Cozy Mels. It's closer and more familiar. I'm rarely in Zap's neighborhood. I wouldn't have been there at all if I wasn't considering grabbing something at Naff Naff and got the urge to try something new. But I wouldn't mind going back if I was in a group who wanted to go. Just be sure you keep your menu so you can be sure what you ordered is what you got.

C+ (I'm deducting one letter grade for the wrong order)

alverant [userpic]

pot gardening

April 27th, 2013 (10:04 am)

Today was the local Prairie Plants sale. I picked up a sensitive fern, two turtleheads, and an elm goldenrod and planted all of them in pots. I also planted seeds for rosemary and lavender in my larger pot and finally used this herb growing kit my parents gave me for Christmas some years ago. I don't know how well these plants are going to do. The soil I have is old and the water was just running right through it and out the bottom. But it was a chance to go outside and do something. And you never know until you try. I'll probably go outside a few times during the weekend to give the water and help the dry soil become more normal. I'm not too fussy about my plants so I have to pick ones that are low maintenance and shade tolerant.

I'm also switching MMORPGs, or at least trying a new one. After City of Heroes ended I quit MMOs for a while as a break then returned to Star Trek Online. That was fun for a while, and still fun, but after I reached 50 and completed the main content things seemed like busy work. I tried a different character but I didn't see enough difference in things to really continue. So I'm trying Neverwinter. Usually I don't like game settings where you're stuck in the Dark Ages but I think I could use a switch. I don't have much to lose and if I hate it, at least I could say I gave it an honest try.

alverant [userpic]

Third Annual Chili Cook-off

November 6th, 2011 (12:01 am)
Tags: ,

I forgot to go to the second cook-off last year. I remembered about it the day after. This time there were twice as many restaurants participating. I did manage to go to all twelve. The portions were smaller this time so people could try all of them without much trouble. The restaurants were spread out over several blocks and I'm sure some places didn't get as many votes as they should have because they were too far away.

Ivy Restaurant (last years winner) the only place I came back to for a second helping. Very very good chili with a mini buffet of toppings including scotch bonnet peppers and cilantro (leaves or in sour cream). All were good toppings. This was my vote for #1. It had flavor and was well rounded with enough heat for you to feel it without it being overpowering.

Genghis Grill - Mongolian Stir Fry (my choice for the 1st cook off). Good, but not as good as the first time around due to 1) a lack of bacon topping and 2) pre-adding the sour cream. They had music playing and was pretty popular. It was still a great chili and would have been a good choice.

Suzette's Creperie They went a different route than the others and had a pork-based chili from an authentic southwest recipe with heirloom anasazi beans. I cheer their uniqueness but it reminded me of my Dad's navy bean soup with ham (but with chilies).

The Bank Restaurant. Big improvement over the first year. It was good, I'd rank it third. Lots of toppings and a solid chili. They had some elbow macaroni in the bowl before adding the chili on top which added a lot to the dish. I would have gone back and had a drink if I wasn't exhausted by the end.

Austin BBQ Not so much of a chili but a pulled beef soup. Plus they put a flyer for some creationist nonsense in the front window. That alone would cost them my vote, but their chili did it by itself. OTOH, if they reduced the chili, it might taste OK on a sandwich.

Front Street Cocina It's on Hale street, not Front but who cares. It was better than before but again nothing memorable.

Muldoon's (First year's winner) It's in a prime central spot. A good chili but it had corn in it, a worse sin IMHO than putting the extras on for the customer. I think they rested on their laurels while others went ahead.

Skylight Bakery My first stop. They didn't offer chili but a beef sandwich with jalapenos on cornbread. I also got my ticket here and the owner marked his place. You vote on the ticket, but I think he thought you were suppose to check where you've been. (Or he knew that was the ballot and tried to rig it in his favor.) It wasn't a chili but a nice sandwich.

The Cellar Bistro This was closer to a red sauce for pasta than a chili. It was just bits of meat in a red soup with a mix of Itlaian and chili spices. It had heat but no body and the flavors didn't play well together. You couldn't decide if you should order rotini or cornbread.

Harbor Express Average. This restaurant has the problem of being the most out of the way of the participants being on the other side of the tracks. Not many people came by. You get to see the inside of the building and that's about it. Nothing special.

Tasting Devine Average. Nothing awesome, nothing lame. They said there was coco powder added (I guess for a Mexican flavor) but I couldn't tell it was there.

Sushi Mono This was a pallet clenser. Nothing special about it. Closer to a tomato soup with meat than an actual chili. No heat at all. You're much better off eating the sushi here. They know how to do sushi.

IL Sogno (a new entry not listed on the site) They had 2 chilis a pumpkin one and an Italian one. The flavors in the Italian version blended better than in Cellar plus they had a piece of cheese topped polenta at the bottom of the bowl. An interesting addition. The dish tasted like a cross between pasta e fagioli soup and chili but in a good way. Average but only because the highs and the lows canceled each other out.

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