Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ground is Shaking

I'm going to go ahead and interrupt the Great America coverage to report our first earthquake. I was home and Jonathan was at work (Monday morning). I had gone down for breakfast, returned, and was writing while the television was on. The building was being extra creaky, but I figured maybe someone was moving in so they were bumping walls and stuff.

Time goes on, I continue with my project, when out of nowhere, there's a shaking sensation. After the first two seconds, I was pretty sure it was an earthquake. I unplugged my laptop, grabbed it, and high-tailed it over to the bedroom doorway. By the time I got there it was pretty much over, but I stayed there another 30 seconds or so, since I knew that some earthquakes have aftershocks. Then, my cell rang, so I went back to the couch and grabbed it, retreating to the doorway to answer. It was Jonathan, asking if I felt anything. We briefly discussed each other's experiences, and then it became clear how hyped up on adrenaline I was, from excitement. I've been wanting to experience an earthquake since we moved here, and here we go! Not gonna lie, it was a pretty neat experience that many people never have. It's not the thrilling event that you want to have start your every day, but it wasn't bad.

Jonathan's building at work has a tendency to sway a bit anyway, so at first it was a little unclear what was going on. But, he said that it felt like the shaking was up-and-down (mine was more side-to-side), so he knew it was something different. Of course, being in an office allowed him to hear all sorts of chatter about the earthquake.

The quake itself was a 4.3 on the 1-10 scale, so it's a weak one, but still noticeable. The center/starting point/origin (I don't know my seismographic vocabulary) wasn't all that close to our place (southeast of us), so I'm glad that we still felt it (and apparently they even felt it up in San Francisco, which is a good 50 miles from here). Very little damage was reported, according to websites such as this one and this one. All in all, it was nothing to worry about, but neat to talk about.

Monday, March 30, 2009

California's Great America, Part I

Lockheed Martin had its Family Day at California's Great America on Saturday. This was particularly special because the park didn't technically open for the season until the next day. This meant two things: 1) we were excited because we'd been wanting to go, and didn't realize there was a "season" for the theme park, and 2) they were using us as the "dry run." It became clear that they weren't at full-staff, and many of the rides weren't ready to be launched for the season. But, more on that later. And by later, I mean sometime this week, since this will probably be several parts.First, a mini-lesson. This is NOT the same as Six Flags - Great America. In fact, this Great America was built by Marriott, as was the theme park in Illinois that became Six Flags - Great America. It was built in 1976, but Marriott sold it (ours here) to the city of Santa Clara in 1985 (there was a failed sale in 1983 as well). In 1989, the city partly sold the park to Kings Entertainment Company. Then in '92, Paramount bought the park. When Nickelodeon bought out Paramount in 1994, the Nickelodeon part of the park was born (I still am unclear on how the Hanna Barbera characters came to be part of the park as well...). Apparently the park stopped looking like Marriott's original design at this point, since they tore down the Ferris Wheel and Train Ride. In 2006, Cedar Fair bought the property (and the other Paramount Parks), and renamed it California's Great America.The park opened at 10am (I know, what!?!), and we got there at 10:30 (it's all of a ten-minute drive from our place). We strolled right on in, with security being higher than FL parks, but not bad (they did have you go through a metal detector, after first passing cell phones/cameras/keys through in a bowl). We had only taken a brief look at the map before arrival, but weren't too concerned. I should mention here that in FL, theme parks are practically an art. As in, you systematically work your way through, and back-tracking is quite limited. Here, that didn't really work, so we ended up walking the length of the park a good five times.We started off with Vortex, one of their roller coasters. The line wasn't too long, and it was early yet. While in line, we were observing an extreme amount of baggage being carried by other patrons. Not extreme like duffle bags, but extreme like almost everyone was carrying a bag! In FL, that would never happen. Maybe 1 bag per 5 people, but still, bags aren't very utilized there. As we pondered how that would work on a ride, we got closer to the actual coaster. We realized the riders were STANDING UP. Well, this'll be new! As we got closer, we saw that there were cubbies set aside for riders to leave their bags. Not the most secure way to go, but since they were only running one train at a time, and the cubby was on the "exit side" of the ride, theoretically nobody would go by there until you returned. Of course, this means you have to climb all the way cross the ride, then put your stuff in the cubby, and then reload into the ride. But, it worked for the park.

However, they didn't have a worker regulating those waiting in line into rows in preparation to board. No lie, I took over and pointed some people into a row that nobody was waiting in (this would be a trend throughout the park, but we'll get to that). Anyway, the group before us had technical difficulties, and they had to lock and re-lock the restraints about five times. What seems to cause the problem: you have to stand straight up so when it comes down and locks, you're set. Some people were squatting or tip-toeing, and that wasn't going to work. Finally, the workers came to realize that they need to say "restraints will be locking in three seconds" or something similar. We boarded, got locked in, and were off! It was a pretty different ride from a standing-up perspective. It would have been neat to be in the front row for this one! It was a pretty short ride, less than 90 seconds I'm sure, but was worth the 30 minutes or so we had to wait. Jonathan didn't care for it quite as much as I did. The pic below is of the swings (that we didn't go on), I liked the design.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pho Ngon

Jonathan had a little bit of a sore throat the week before the Florida trip, and in our book that means a trip for pho. As I mentioned a while back, pho is a Vietnamese soup of sorts. And Pho Ngon has had a "grand opening" sign over the store since we've been here, so we stopped in for some.

It wasn't the best pho ever, and it might have been $1 more than the standard bowl, but it was good. Jonathan got the flank steak and I got the shrimp. He noted that the flank steak was very good, but a little fatty. I tried it and thought it was gummy. The shrimp were incredibly fresh, which I really appreciate. Jonathan thought it was flavorless. The accompanying platter featured mint, jalapenos, bean sprouts, and lime. The cilantro was in the soup (along with onions), and they put a perfect amount in. I needed to ask for extra lime (one wedge per person isn't enough, I use two or three). The broth as a whole was a tiny bit sour, and I used some soy sauce in it.

There was a television on with some sort of Asian Idol show or something... several girls singing and it looked like there was a judge, etc. There were a bunch of plants on the counters and stuff, but you could still see quite a bit of the preparation/kitchen area. The service was quick, but we were there at 8pm on a Wednesday, so I can't imagine that's a prime time.

The reviews on yelp are pretty bad, and recommend other places. I'll probably do the same. I liked the downtown place better, and there are tons of others that we have yet to try.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Florida Weekend, Part II

So the time difference was throwing us off a bit, and we woke up fairly late on Saturday. We did a few things and then it was down to Fort Pierce to have lunch with his family. We had some delicious sandwiches (I really miss sandwiches more often in Cali). We saw the new gate opener, talked about his parents visiting this summer, and his uncle and aunt visiting later this spring.

We headed back up to Melbourne, and gathered the group for dinner and a movie. Joe, Andy, Bryan, Tori, BK, DJ, and Swu all met up at Chili's in Palm Bay about 7:15. We had a ridiculously difficult time getting a table, and in the end they only gave us back-to-back booths. At one point Tori and I drove down the road to see how busy Applebee's was, but as soon as they were putting together some high-tops for us, the guys called and told us they just got seated, so back over we went. In a surprise move, Tori and I ordered the same entree (which doesn't usually happen unless we're at McAlister's and splitting our fave dishes), the new mini-chicken sandwiches. They were pretty good, even with the ancho-chile ranch sauce they came with.

Since it took so long to get a table, we missed seeing Knowing at Oaks and had to drive to Cinemaworld. No biggie, and we were able to get a bunch of seats together as well. The movie was WEIRD. The previews did a good job of explaining how the first half of the film would go. The second half, however, was messed up. (Spoiler Alert) Aliens were going to destroy the Earth, and it was never made clear whether or not they had caused the other disasters mentioned in the film. Only the little boy and little girl survive. It was very scientological. After that, we headed back to the house and played Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture II (except BK and Swu, they headed out early).

All things considered, the fact that traveling took so incredibly long made the trip not really worth it. But, as a head's up to those I didn't see on this trip, I'll be back in Florida for Easter, and the three weeks following it. More on that later. ;)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Florida Weekend, Part I

Okay, well you heard about our trip there. We arrived at the Melbourne house (which was gorgeously spotless, thanks Bryan/DJ), and everyone was watching Barack and Jay Leno except DJ and I, who caught up a bit. After Jonathan's parents left, the five of us (JB, myself, Joe, Bryan, and DJ) headed to Steak & Shake, as we were crazy-hungry from the aforementioned flight.

We were all pretty sure that the server was high, but the only employees present were teenagers, so there wasn't much we could do about it. I ordered the same thing I always do, the breakfast bagel combo. Only this time I ordered it with a vanilla milkshake instead of a hot chocolate... which meant he should have charged me an extra $2 or so to cover the beverage difference. But instead he charged me for the "large combo" instead, which I think saved me a dollar? Joe and JB each ordered the slider-special, meaning one of each of the sliders (5 or 6, I forget).

Of course we were up late, but a lot has happened in the past two-and-a-half months, so it was good to talk. The next morning JB and I needed to go to the bank (Bank of America's customer service is only helpful if you're IN the state in which you created your accounts, FYI). I went back to the house to get some work done and switch out some items from my suitcase to the house and vice-versa. JB went to have lunch with some of his old coworkers from the Cape. I was starving by the time he called to say he was on his way back, and asked him to pick up something for me. He mentioned he'll be passing a Wendy's, so I ask for a caesar side salad and a 5-piece nugget. 35 minutes later he walks in the door with a #1 from Chick-Fil-A and a lemonade. This here demonstrates how well he knows me, as I was so happy with this surprise I burst into tears (marking the first time I'd done that out of happiness since we got engaged four years ago). I enjoyed my lunch thoroughly (remember we don't have Chick-Fil-A here in Cali), then drove JB to the gym to meet Ebad for racquetball. I didn't see him again until the next morning, so he'll have to fill you in on his day.

The drive was very strange, since they've finished the Florida Ave corridor while we were gone (and it certainly looked like it would take much longer when we last saw it). If you're heading north on Hollywood, there used to be a light at Eber, then a four-way stop at Henry, and then a light at US-192. Now, between Eber and Henry, there's two more lights, one at Florida Ave (which cut to Dairy) and one 100 yards later at Westbrook. There's no real reason for the second new one, but Florida Ave sure needs it. It makes getting from our house to FIT a lot faster, but otherwise there's not a heck of a lot you can do with that corridor, except alleviate traffic trying to get to another major place like Palm Bay Road.

I then went shopping at Ross (I haven't shopped in FOREVER) and picked up a dress and a polo. After that, I headed down to Vero to hang out with BK. Traffic was nuts, and when I reached the agreed meeting place, BK was ready to move on, as there was a steel-drum-band concert in the park. His friend had told him about it, so we headed out, kinda like the blind leading the blind, since I only kinda knew how to get to Riverside Park from the US1 and SR60 area. I got to 53rd and US1, and it was clear I had done something wrong. We pulled over and BK phoned his friend. Turns out the concert was at Rivergate Park, not Riverside. Since Rivergate is in Sebastian, we decided to go to Abbott's instead. I've probably suggested it to BK five times since he moved to Vero, but he still hadn't been. And frozen custard is my FAVORITE dessert. It's hard to come by, so I was looking forward to it. I only had a small dish of vanilla and chocolate (planning for a fun fair meal later), but BK tried one of their sundaes. We caught up on a lot, especially since he's a first-year teacher and that's a rough industry right now in Florida.

From there we met up with Tori at Target, and carpooled to the Indian River County Firefighters' Fair. None of us had been to this particular fair before, and it was really... bad. The food was way more than it used to be (comparing this to the St. Lucie County Fair, South Florida Fair, and North Florida Fair), which was annoying. Tori and I shared a funnel cake with powdered sugar, and a Sprite (but we're pretty sure it was really 7-Up). Tori and BK played one of the games where you aim your squirt gun at a target, but both lost. We almost paid to see one of those crank exhibits - the snake woman - but I refused on principle. There's all these signs that say "Special - 50 cents today!" but when you actually go up there, the man says that it's 50 cents for children, and $1 for adults. I mention the sign, he shrugs and says it's only "for kids." Tori points out false advertisement, but you can only argue so much with a carny. Tori wanted to pay the full dollar and see it, but I was rude to the man and we left. We also saw a hypnotist show, which was mildly amusing. Most of the volunteers were teenagers, so at least it wasn't racy.

We ended up staying at the fair almost three hours, which was really surprising when you consider that we didn't even go on any rides (let's not even start about those prices now!). Then, back to Target so we could get our cars and meet up for Phase 10 at BK's house. But first, a stop at Wendy's since we hadn't eaten the planned sausage-peppers-onions that is our (Tori and myself) typical fair food. We did some parking-lot circling, BK went to a closed Starbucks, and we met up again at his place. We proceeded to play Phase 10 until after 1am, when I won. I headed home shortly after.

more photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2611095&id=5201298&l=fe950f21fd

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flying this Weekend

We were out in Florida this past weekend, seeing some friends and catching up on various things. I'll cover the actual weekend later this week, as I wanted to describe our traveling experience first, since many of you caught our Twitter updates.

We flew out of San Jose Thursday afternoon. We were both giggling as we left the apartment, as we had planned to leave at 10:30am, and were both looking around at 10am, ready to go. Neither of us had ever not-rushed to get out the door in time for a flight. We checked-in the rental car and took the bus over to the terminal. Security took 5 minutes, 45 seconds, which was pretty darn fast. Jonathan sent a few emails, I bought a bottle of water and started a book (play), and then we were boarding. Interestingly, the plane actually boarded from both the front and rear doors, so that was pretty fast. We were up and landed in Phoenix pretty quickly.

However, we were supposed to have a 40-minute layover, but we landed late and pretty much had to run to the gate. This meant that we missed eating, since it was like 2pm (PST) and we wouldn't land in FL until 10pm (EST). We also didn't have enough cash to buy expensive plane food. But that didn't actually matter, since they were out of sandwiches and salads, only having the $5 snackpack left. We chalked it up and bought one, as did our seatmate. Between the three of us, two boxes worked out pretty well, since Lawrence didn't want his crackers or cookies (meaning I got all 8 Oreos, hehe). Sidenote, Lawrence was pretty cool, he was a software engineer from Orlando who also had his first job at Lockheed, so he and Jonathan chatted quite a bit. His undergrad was from FSU (grad degree from UF, and he was born and raised a Miami Hurricane fan, haha), so we talked about campus changes over the years as well. Anyway, it was a bit long of a flight to be stuck in a window and a middle seat (we're both aisle-kids), but we made it. Jonathan's parents picked us up from the airport, and we made it to Melbourne in time to see Obama and Jay Leno have their now-infamous "I bowl like I'm the Special Olympics" comment.

Okay, fast-forward to Sunday morning. It was actually like $60 cheaper to fly out of Melbourne than Orlando, so we did that. We were to have a 6am (EST) flight to ATL, then a connection to San Jose, landing about 10:45am (PST). That would give us the entire day to catch-up on California things, buy groceries for the week, etc. Well, none of that happened. We were at the airport in plenty of time, and boarded the plane on time. I was feeling a little queasy/claustrophobic in the seat (last row, window seat) for the first time in my life, so I dozed off to calm down. I woke up as we taxied to the runway, and the pilot came on to say we were second in line. I woke up again twenty minutes later, and we were still on the runway. Jonathan was also asleep, so I just figured somebody cut the line and jumped in ahead of our plane. But, then it was 6:35, and I began to get antsy about making our second flight. We were shortly asked to disembark the plane, as there was a problem with a pneumatic valve. We get off, get in line for customer service, and wait another 40 minutes. An announcement comes on to suggest a 7:50 departure, and that meant we'd surely miss our connecting flight. (No checked bags, so no worries there.)

As we waited for our turn, Jonathan used his phone/ipod touch to see what our options were going to be. We could hear that some of the people in front of us weren't going to get where they needed to go, and I began to have a similar fear. We consider getting someone to drive us to MCO (Orlando) so we'd have more airport choices to fly to with a connection chance, but decide against that when MCO is looking pretty booked that day. That's out. We briefly consider just going back to the Melb house and trying the same flight the next day, but that would take a 1/2 day from JB's job. So, when we finally get to the desk and the gentleman informs us that there were no other ATL-SJC flights that day, we were forced to suck it up and fly to San Francisco instead.

We get new boarding passes, and go sit down. An announcement comes on, letting us know that the flight is now pushed back to 10:20. We're not concerned in the least, as our flight to SFO wasn't even leaving ATL until 5:05pm (EST), and it's only an hour flight to ATL. That did mean a lot to other passengers, many of which had to get back in line again, as now they'd miss the connection that was already their second choices. We tried to go get some breakfast, but the only eatery in the terminal offered nothing more than cookies and wraps. So we sat down to do some work (free wi-fi in MLB), and we ended up boarding about 9:45. It was a smooth flight, and emptier, since some people had opted to fly elsewhere or the next day instead.

We landed in ATL and immediately tried to get a different (read: better) flight. By the time we found a gate with a representative, we had lost about 15 minutes. We then waited in line another 20, only to be told that this specific desk only deals with flights going to and from Detroit. This was despite the fact that the person who checks on "why you're waiting" looked at our passes and told us to stay in line (her job seemed to focus on taking care of small problems which didn't involve computer help). We were a bit frustrated, and headed to the desk we were instructed to seek out. On the way, we passed a "boarding pass scanner" which we used to find out our flight's status, and also get seats. This ended up being realllly lucky, as we found out hours later that we got the last two seats on that flight. The new rep wasn't all that friendly, and I'm not sure she was that good at her job, either. At first she offered us an earlier SFO flight, which we took, but then there weren't seats. Then she offered us a flight to SJC... it would land later than our SFO flight, but we'd be where we wanted, and the time would pretty much balance out with ground travel. But somehow it turned out that this hypothetical flight wasn't operating that afternoon. Still not sure what she was looking at when she told us about it.

So, we walked away and looked at our tickets. We realized that they were first-class seats (not together), which was a little spark of light in this glum day. We then remembered that we had witnessed another person receive a meal voucher when he missed a flight due to an airport screw-up. So, I went back to the unfriendly woman and asked about this. She was a bit reluctant, but I reminded her that a mechanical problem beyond any control of ours has cause us to be at ATL for the next seven hours (it was really six, but I wasn't looking at the clock when I spoke). She printed out two $7 vouchers for us, and I expressed great appreciation.

We headed over to E, since that concourse has a Qdoba and (allegedly) free internet. I'm starving, so the fact that it was only 11:30 wasn't a big deal as we made our way over there. By the time we sat down with the food, it was five minutes til noon. Luckily, we were able to order Fajita Classica burritos, which have been off the menu for almost a year. I was beyond excited when I ordered and made substitutions, and the worker was like "so you want the chicken fajita?" and all but high-fived me for choosing his favorite meal as well. After eating, JB checks on internet. Nope, not actually free. So we travel the 4,000 feet to get to Concourse A, and find seats at the gate which we wouldn't depart from for another four hours.

I suck it up and pay the $8 to get online so I could get some work done while Jonathan took a nap. I end up getting a little more than 3.5 hours in, so it was worth it. At one point, Jonathan got up to take a walk and found another SFO flight, so he added us to standby. We didn't take it/get it, as we figured we might as well go with the first-class seats and the perks they'd give (JB had flown first-class once before, I never had).

We board, find our seats, and I have a hell of a time getting my luggage up into the overhead compartment. I finally figure out that the side I was on and the middle bulkheads were smaller than the ones on Jonathan's side, so I stuck mine over there. By the way, we were in the same row, but separated by four people between us, as we had opposite windows.

"Business" seats are pretty sweet, let me just say that. They have TONS of legroom, and recline extra far. They're also wider, so you're not thigh-to-thigh with your neighbor. I had an orange juice before flight, and skimmed through the latest American Theatre magazine. We took off and the view was great (it was the entire flight, miraculously). I was really hoping to fall asleep quickly, but that didn't happen. I played some trivia, then some other games, and finally decided to check out the movie selection. I watched Slumdog Millionaire as I ate my dinner. Yes, dinner. I had the pasta (which was only okay... it had a lot of mushrooms in it), salad, roll, and lemon meringue pie. I also had a few Sprites (in real glasses, mind you). Had I been into wine, I pretty much could have had a bottle's worth, as they refill you like 5 times. I didn't really care for Slumdog, which I was sad about, since I wanted to love it, LoL. I also saw most of Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys, which also wasn't that great.

We landed a full 30 minutes early, but it was freaky descending, as we were over the bay until the second we touched down, so I really thought we were about to land in water, and was a bit freaked out.

Picking up the rental car from SFO instead of SJC wasn't that bad. Now that we're on the Preferred List, it's a lot quicker. We got a brand-new Nissan Altima. Brand-new as in only had 9 MILES on it when we got it. As soon as the door opened we were greeted with new-car-smell, pouring out of the doors. I'll talk about the car when I talk about the weekend. But yeah, that pretty much sums up how we were to be home by 11-11:15am, but ended up pulling in just a few minutes before 9pm.

Oh, and ironically, I had mentioned in my other blog last week that I didn't have an opinion on ATL. I sure do now...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hong Kong Bistro

Another weekend lunch in downtown Mountain View. I think we've avoided this place until now because it's a little too fushiony. By this, I mean that they have an easel outside on the sidewalk that lists special like "garlic string beans" and "creamed corn." But we gave it a try, and it turned out to be great.

I ordered the shrimp chow fun, and Jonathan got the mango shrimp special. The special came with a potato-ish soup (maybe porridge?) and hot milk tea. He had a choice of potato, rice, or spaghetti (?), which I thought was strange. He went with rice, and the dish was served in mango peels, which is always a nice presentation. The shrimp were delicious, lightly fried in a syrupy-sweet sauce. There were TONS of mango chunks in the meal, so it was a little too sweet to finish in one setting. My shrimp chow fun (fun is a rice noodle instead of mein, a wheat noodle, from what I can tell anyway) was a huge portion for just $7.50. The shrimp were cooked just right, and the noodles had a good flavor to them. There was a hint of mushroom in the dish, and some onions, but otherwise no vegetables.

We both took home leftovers, and I had mine for dinner that night it was so delicious.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drive-In Movies!!

I was born in New Jersey, home of the original Drive-in Theater. But, having grown up in Florida, going to "the drive-in" is pretty hard to do. There are less than five drive-ins in the whole state, and that was three or four years ago, there may be less now (edit: the internet seems to believe there are six in FL). So, three weeks ago when we found out there was a drive-in less than half an hour away, we knew we'd have to make the trip.

My only knowledge and understanding of a drive-in was what is seen in movies and on television (think Grease, the Full House episode with DJ and Viper, Flintstones, Rugrats), so I didn't quite know what to expect (neither did JB). For those who haven't been in recent years (or who have never been), it's nothing like what's pictured. The one in San Jose is behind a regular cineplex, and is a HUGE open space. Entering is like going to Disney... there's an entrance, you follow a bunch of other cars, and get funneled through one of four ticket windows. You pay, and the teller lets you know what radio frequency to turn to based on the movie you tell him/her. You can also buy candy there (popcorn, nachos, drinks, etc. are at a separate concession stand). Then, you drive onward and through a bit of a maze (especially in the dark) to find a good spot facing the screen you want. At this place, there are six screens in a half-circle format. You can park any-which-way since there's no box to put on your window. The center screen is the biggest, and all start a movie at 7:35. This is where it gets tricky.

Jonathan wanted to see Watchmen and I did not. Luckily, I was able to angle myself so I could watch Madea Goes to Jail and he could still concentrate on his movie. Being clever, I brought along my Zune, and just set that to the frequency needed for my movie, while JB used the car's radio for his. Mine ended about an hour before his, so I turned my body and watched Confessions of a Shopaholic, which Jonathan also watched after his movie ended. See, you get to see a double feature for the price! The first round start at 7:30, but the second round start when the first individual movies end. THEN, after the second round, the first movies all start over again. So you can catch a 7:30 and 9:30 show, or 9:30 and 11:30 show (give or take).

Thoughts on the movies: Watchmen didn't really make the cut. Madea is definitely not my favorite Tyler Perry film. I really wasn't planning on Confessions being any good, so it served its purpose as being a light-hearted comedy. I got really mad at a few characters, but otherwise all was well.

Other thoughts: I LOOOOOOVED the experience. JB felt it was okay, he didn't particularly care for how far away the screens were (although if we had arrived earlier, we could have parked way closer). The nachos were okay, but the cheese-in-a-yogurt-container grossed me out. I think we should watch all movies this way from now on, LoL.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pan Tao Seafood Restaurant

We wanted to try dim sum at a new place, and we also wanted to try ordering ourselves (aka not having a Chinese-speaking friend with us). So we found a place in Sunnyvale (it was maybe ten minutes away), called Pan Tao. It was noon on a Sunday, and we waited about ten minutes for a table (this was after scouring for a parking spot in their teeny tiny lot). Water and jasmine tea were served right away, and it was only a couple minutes before the first cart came by. The carts were frequent, and we chose five dishes overall. Since it was a seafood place, they were all seafood dishes, LoL. The Shrimp & Spinach Dumpling was good, but the spinach was a little overwhelming, but much better with some soy sauce (which, by the way, they do not offer a low-sodium option). We had Shrimp ground up on Green Pepper, which was pretty good. I wouldn't get that one again, mostly because I prefer a noodle/dumpling component to my dim sum. Jonathan didn't care much for that one either, as I ended up eating three out of the four pieces. Their Shrimp in Rice Noodle, on the other hand, was all Jonathan. I didn't care for the sauce on it at all, it was way too sweet for shrimp and noodle. I should note, though, that you got six pieces instead of four, AND it was cheaper than at Fu Lam Mum. We also had this weird item... it was a sticky ball covered in rice with a solid shrimp center. It was delicious and very filling. We should have gotten two helpings of that one, LoL. Finally, there was the Shrimp and Scallop Dumpling (pictured left), which was more of a ball than a dumpling. It was good... and different... but a bit odd.

Overall, we were semi-comfortable pointing to dishes and using keywords to ask for things. Five dishes was plenty, and our total was about $22. Not too shabby. Jonathan really loves dim sum as a cuisine, and I've got to admit that I'm coming around. I've always enjoyed it, but since we've been out here it's been growing on me even more.
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Update: we went again (today) before I had a chance to actually publish this entry. We got 5 dishes, four of which were repeats. We got the sticky-rice-balls again, as they're a favorite. We also got a plate of noodles (like a wheat vermicelli with onions and bean sprouts) that was pretty bland. I special-ordered the shrimp and banana roll... which was interesting. The outside was very flour-y, and it was shrimp and cilantro with a hint of banana puree. We also got a crunchy shrimp ball... it was the same insides as the sticky-rice-ball, but instead of rice, it was covered in crunchy flat noodles. Not all that appetizing. We also had some sort of shrimp-egg mess. It was in a pastry, and served in a very thick sauce. I didn't care for it, and neither did Jonathan. It totalled $25 this time, and there was no wait (although parking was still a problem). I felt a little more rushed and we needed our waters refilled more frequently than they were. Goal for next time: learn how to order in Chinese. seriously.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yakko Japanese Restaurant

On a recent Thursday, happy hour was canceled so Andy, JB, and myself went downtown to have dinner together. The last time we went to the library (which I need to write about, it's rather amazing), we saw a sushi place that we wanted to try, and that was the night!

We got there about 7pm, and were immediately seated at a booth - the type that's designed to look like Japanese seating, so you sat on a cushion on wood, with your feet (shoes removed) hanging down into a space. The menu was large, and some of the sushi rolls had amusing names ("screaming orgasm" was tuna over daikon, "new girlfriend" was like a rainbow roll, etc.).

We ordered a simple tekka roll for the table (plain tuna), and it was about as expected, pretty plain. We all ordered combination dinners, which included miso soup, salad, and ice cream. I chose the tuna sashimi and chicken sukiyaki. Andy picked tuna sashimi and beef teriyaki. Jonathan ordered a different type of combo, and his came with shrimp and vegetable tempura, a california roll, tuna sashimi (smaller portion than Andy or I had), and beef teriyaki.

The salad was pretty blase, mostly lettuce, and the dressing wasn't very gingery. The miso was also average, but it was strange in that all of the tofu sank and sat at the bottom of the bowl. The tuna sashimi was great - very fresh and just excellent all around. This was my first sukiyaki experience, and I don't care for the food. It's a soup with a lot of vegetables in it, and tofu and chicken. The broth is a bit sweet, and the chicken was like the kind a mother or grandmother would put in soup (aka real and not perfectly square). There's also rice noodles in it, but they weren't enough to act as a saving grace. The vegetable tempura Jonathan had was interesting - it included carrots, broccoli, peas, and some triangular vegetable. The beef teriyaki wasn't worth noting. On the ice cream front, the guys had green tea (which tasted just like the real thing) and I had chocolate (yum).

The bill ran $70 with tax and tip for the three of us. A bit much, considering the quality. But, service was good, and the atmosphere was nice, so it was worth trying. I doubt I'll return, particularly because I prefer a Japanese menu to have a larger sashimi/nigiri section.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Snow Sports at Sierra-at-Tahoe, Part II

I left off by talking about our clumsiness on the mountain. After our fourth run, we broke for lunch. There were like seven places to eat at this resort, but we chose the Sierra Pub, since there were two chairs open together, LoL. I had a chicken-bbq-pesto panini, and Jonathan had a smoked beef sandwich. Both were great, as were the homemade chips that came with them. After our lunch, we realized we were too pooped to head back to the mountain. Instead, we headed to the car for a nap. Some of my leg muscles were done for the day, and my right foot hurt from the boot.

As I drifted to sleep, I thought about the mountain, and wanted to go ahead and share some of the facts with you, in case anyone is considering a Tahoe trip. The first run we did was Sugar n' Spice, which is 2.5 miles and the longest trail at the resort. There's 6 snowparks, a halfpipe, and a 17' SuperPipe for the adventurous. Out of the 46 slopes/trails, 1/4 of the trails are "easy," 1/2 are "intermediate" and 1/4 are "difficult." Here's the trail map. The temperature was in the high 30s, and there was no precipitation that day. They'd had 414" of snow this season, and the base depth was over 6 feet.

I got up an hour later and headed back into the resort, this time in sneakers. I took a bunch of pictures of the snowpark and the tubers, plus a children's area and the bottom of some of the trails. Kathy had met up with some of her friends and snowboarded with them until the lifts closed at 4pm. We loaded the car and headed out, this time in some heavy traffic, as there's only one road down the mountain.

We stopped in Berkeley for dinner, at Pyramid Alehouse. We had met up with Kathy's friends, and I was really impressed with how quickly the restaurant was able to accommodate and serve eleven people on a Saturday night (especially when it's only a few miles from UC-Berkeley). It was a neat place, and like most breweries, there was a tour that you can take in the daytime (complete with free samples, apparently). I tried a "beertail" called "one bad apple" which was a pear cider wit a splash of black cherry soda. It was okay... I don't think I would get it again. Jonathan tried the Oregon Honey Beer, which tasted like every other beer, except it had a sweet aftertaste. The rest of the table had a variety of things, including the three major brews that the place makes.

What was even more amusing was the number of "duplicate" orders at the table. Two people got cilantro chicken. Two people got honey salmon. Two people shared a pizza and both had salads. Two people got meatloaf. Jonathan and I were going to both get burgers, but he found a Reuben and changed his order. Crazy. Jonathan thought the Reuben was a bit salty. My burger was pretty good, although it was a medium instead of the medium-well I requested. And the mashed potatoes were about the most plain I had ever had. We also had a "pizza twist" appetizer, which was fabulous. Hefeweizen crust stuffed with garlic, parmesan, and mozzarella, with a little ranch flavoring. Served with ranch and marinara sauces. Oddly, nobody else wanted to try them, so we even got to take some home!

Reports of the other meals... the cilantro chicken was very moist and delicious. The pizza was really bad, they couldn't give it away. The meatloafs were very good. The salads were huge.

We got home a little after midnight, and were fast asleep shortly after 12:30. With the time change for Daylight Savings, we slept straight until 11am. I woke up incredibly stiff and sore, and Jonathan's knee and neck were stiff. Luckily, we went for a dip in the hot tub, and that made us feel a lot better.
If you want to see more photos of this trip (along with the bike trip and Alum Rock trip), try here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Snow Sports at Sierra-at-Tahoe, Part I

Kathy invited us to take a day trip up to Lake Tahoe for some snow sports this past Saturday. We pretty much jumped at the opportunity, and had a great time.

Friday after JB got off work we went to The Ski Renter of Mountain View to pick up some gear. It was a great deal for the price, and we were able to pick-up Friday and return Sunday and count it as a one-day rental. This also kept us from losing time on the slopes on Saturday morning. It took about half an hour to get all the measurements and stuff together, and we waltzed out with a ton of stuff. I had skis and poles, boots and a bib. JB had a snowboard, boots, and a bib. We loaded the car and headed home. We booked lift tickets through Liftopia, and printed out the paperwork we'd need at the ticket center the next day. We could have gotten them a bit cheaper through my Borders Rewards Card, but you can't book at the last minute.

The plan was to pick up Kathy at 4am, and we were on the road by about 4:30, so not too bad. We still made it to the resort shortly before it opened, which gave us time to get on our boots and pick-up our tickets. Traffic wasn't bad, and we got great parking. We wasted no time and took the lift to the very top of the mountain. I was a bit nervous, since I hadn't skied since MLK weekend 2002. (Wish I had those pics to share, but they're only in album-format in Melbourne)Sierra-at-Tahoe was pretty nice, and a much better set-up than Winterplace, WV. At Winterplace, you had to take three separate lifts if you wanted to go all the way to the top of the mountain. Here, one lift does the trick. Although we did get kinda stuck at one point... we were headed down the mountain for lunch and our trail ended in the middle of the mountain, at a tiny lift. We had to take that up to get back down again, so it took a bit longer than expected.
It's at this point I should mention that skiing and I have a love-hate relationship. I love the idea. I love the snow. I love gliding on the snow down the hill. BUT, I hate cliffs. I hate moguls. I hate steepness. I hate going fast. And I should add that I'm pretty bad at skiing. In 2002 I spent three days on the slopes, and never mastered the whole "S" thing that's kinda imperative for skiing. I managed to do a blue run (easy is green, difficult is black, and medium is blue), but it was rather disastrous. And on a green run I almost fell off a cliff... if there hadn't been one of those soft-plastic fence things, I woulda gone straight off. I always want to ski more, and at the same time never want to do it again. go figure. I guess that's why I love the bunny slope (pictured below)... no cliffs, no crazy speeds, and you can practice whatever you want. This time around, I did much better in a sense. I can now make VERY wide "S" shapes, but I have poor control because I can't turn fast enough. So I resort to "snowplowing" to stop the majority of the time. But, that doesn't always work, and after the snow gets packed a bit, there's a lot of skidding and getting out of control by doing that. Luckily, I haven't gotten hurt, although I had two rough wipeouts this time, and two got-stuck-in-the-snowbank moments. I don't have any photos of me, but I have one of Jonathan that I took as we both fell in the same powder area (and from this fallen point a shot up the mountain and down the mountain).and next time I'll finish off the day, including a couple neat pics of people at the snowpark and the brewery we went to for dinner.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The End of Month 2

So, with the end of February, we needed to return Escape #2 (which was awesome). We got a Jeep Patriot this time, but it didn't last long. We left the rental place (at the San Jose Airport), went to get our free subs at Quizno's (it was the last day of the Million Subs Giveaway), and then drove straight back to return it. It was pretty useless, and was a definite hazard. Jonathan could hardly see to drive it, it had so many blind spots and was awkward all around. I didn't even feel safe riding in it. So, they exchanged it for a Hyundai Santa Fe, another SUV.
We went out and sat in it before we took it, just to make sure it was drivable for another month. It passed the test, and we headed down to San Jose to go to Alum Rock Park for some hiking.

It's named for the Alum powder in the mountains (think Aluminum), and it makes some of the flowing water white.We took a basic path at first, admiring the rock structures, but the path dead-ended at the creek, so we retreated and headed for the bigger trails.We took the South Rim and Switchback Trails if you look at this map, and Jonathan took the GPS along and mapped our route with that.The views were great. You can see the trees, the city of San Jose, and the parking lot.This is a photo of the mountains on the North side of the park, we'll have to hike there another day!My favorite parts of mountains are the culverts that make the trees grow toward each other because of the angles. They're just so neat.
It was a great park, and there are a bunch more trails. It's safe to say we'll be back.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Red Rock Coffee

We're not really coffee people, and when given the opportunity, I usually take a hot chocolate or a spiced cider on a cold morning instead. I did spend a year working next to a pizza cafe and got many a free cookie and coffee-drink from there. That's when I learned about the differences between lattes and americanos and macchiotos, etc. Although I do love an after-dinner espresso before a night of fun on cruises.

So to try out a coffee shop is not really common. It happened when I was helping out a stranger, really. Because my own thesis required interviews and I had a difficult time getting participants, I really enjoy helping others who need interviews or surveys done for their graduate school projects. I've done two since we've lived in California, and the second one was rather involved. It took over two hours, and we did it on the second floor of a local coffee shop, Red Rock Coffee. I was thinking of getting a mocha espresso, but ended up with a blended mocha (think cold and creamy). It was delicious, although I'm not really into spending $4.25 for a little caffeine-y goodness.

The place itself is on a corner in downtown Mountain View, and is rather pretty on the outside. Not because of paint or anything like that, but just because it is built in large stones instead of the same look every other storefront has in downtown. The menu is quite small, serving coffee/tea drinks and bottled waters.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Biking

**image-heavy post**

So this will either surprise you or it won't: I don't like bicycles. I'm pretty afraid of them, actually. They require a lot of balance and control, and I never quite got down the "easy" tricks like popping wheelies or even only driving with one hand. So, I've simply avoided riding a bike since I was fifteen or so. Well, in February I decided to give them another try. Jonathan and I went and rented a bike for me, and the two of us rode around Mountain View.
We took a commuter trail down near Google and Microsoft, then over the highway and into the woods near downtown. Google is a really big campus, and it's very colorful.They also have a giant dinosaur skeleton, which for some reason has a pink flamingo in its mouth.Google had these neat carports for those with electric cars.Microsoft had their maps on the ground instead of on placards or podiums. There's a few trails and a dirt course on the path toward downtown, and Jonathan had a little fun on it. We were out for two or three hours, and it was an interesting time. I didn't particularly enjoy it, although I must say that I adore the gears. My bike from when I was twelve had a bunch of gears, but they didn't all work, and they were a pain to shift. The bike I rode the other day (which was considered a hybrid between mountain and road) had little clickers, you pushed one way to go up a gear and there was a separate clicker to push that went down. Much simpler, much easier.