Sunday, March 9th, 2014

buying ticketsMy Darling B, poised & ready to buy tickets to the Wisconsin Film Festival on the first day they were available. You would not believe how anxious she was …

tickets | 10:26 am CST
Category: festivals, play, vacation, Wisc Film Fest | Tags:
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Friday, January 24th, 2014

I was up about half the night after I made the mistake of popping open a bottle of my most recent homebrew. The mistake was that I had just come home from Sardine, one of our favorite restaurants, where my sufficiency had already been serensified so my belly really didn’t need all that beer. On the upside, after bottle-conditioning for four weeks, this batch of California Common is the best batch of beer to come out of the new brewery setup to date, if I may say so myself. I’m well chuffed.

But back to Sardine, our next-to-last night out during Madison Restaurant Week, and one of our favorite places to visit because overall its such a wonderful experience. The food’s good, the service is good, and the location is comfortable and inviting. B ordered the cassoulet, as is her custom, because she doesn’t believe in messing with a good thing, while I enjoyed the grilled Norwegian salmon, because salmon.

Dessert was the most delightful surprise of the evening: Gianduja Crunch, a chocolate hazelnut ganache on a crunchy feuilletine crust. What that translates to in Midwestern English is, a super-rich bar of chocolate pudding served on a crust of chocolate with a dab of caramel sauce on the side, as if it wasn’t decadent enough already. My mouth did somersaults with every bite.

Sardine | 6:09 am CST
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Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

It was cold enough to freeze my beard to my face as we made our way across Campus Drive to Steenbock’s on Orchard, where we had a dinner reservation this evening, our third night out during Madison Restaurant Week. Everything that was on the menu sounded really good so it took us forever to decide what we wanted, but in the end …

B had: Fagioli for starters, rabbit pot pie for her entree, and carrot cake for dessert. The fagioli was delicious. The rabbit tasted like chicken. No, really. That would’ve been my first guess, and if you’d told me it was chicken, I would never have known. It was still really, really good, but it was uncanny how much it tasted like chicken.

I had: Roasted chicken risotto for starters, halibut for my entree, and molten chocolate cake for dessert. We both loved the risotto. The halibut was a touch overdone, but it came with a generous helping of ratatouille, so I still finished every bite.

And molten chocolate cake! Wowzers!

molten chocolate cake | 8:26 pm CST
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Finding places like Plate & Barrel, in Sun Prairie, is why we like going out for Madison Restaurant Week so much. The only trouble with finding yet another place that has good food and great service is finding the time to visit again. But I’m pretty sure we’ll go back.

Plate & Barrel serves tapas-style meals, just the kind of thing My Darling B goes for. Her plate, for instance, was a couple of lamb meatballs, stuffed piquillo peppers, and a big old mushroom cap stuffed with polenta. She liked it so much that she even nibbled on a corner of the mushroom to see if maybe this was the one that would get her to want them. I have to report with a tear in the corner of my eye that she still does not get mushrooms.

Plate and Barrel | 5:55 am CST
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Monday, January 20th, 2014

What I did with my Sunday:

Well, first I made a big, steaming pot o’ joe, same as I always do. Always. The day doesn’t start without a pot o’ joe. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. If you have, and you’ve been wondering why your day didn’t start as early as every other day, it was because I got up late. Now you know.

Then, I ate some oatmeal and drank my coffee while I read the morning news. Took me hours. Because Sunday.

At about ten o’clock, My Darling B reminded me that we had a date for eleven o’clock at a restaurant on Park Street called Inka Heritage, our first meal to kick off Madison Restaurant Week, one of our very favoritest festivals. I may be remembering this wrong, but I think Inka was the first restaurant we visited when we started going to Restaurant Week many moons ago, and I think we’ve been starting the winter version of Restaurant Week every year by going to Inka. Even if I’m not remembering that right, I’m pretty sure this is the third time we’ve been there and I know I haven’t been disappointed by the food yet. I don’t know why we don’t go more often. Probably because it’s not in the neighborhoods we usually visit. We should get out more.

We both had the fish, by the way. Scrumptious.

Then I spent all afternoon in the basement throwing crap out, putting away the stuff I couldn’t make myself throw out, and finally knocking together a work bench where I could work on choo-choo trains. I used to make a temporary work bench by throwing a board across an open stretch of the layout, but there aren’t any open stretches any more, and I still needed a place to solder track together or whatever.

I had an old pine shelf that came out of one of our closets, and a dozen or so sawn-off ends of two-by-fours I could knock together into brackets. Took me a little longer than I thought it would to knock them together, but then it always does. Once the braces were up, all I had to do was cut the pine shelf to length and screw it down. The shelf was too long to cut it with the table saw, so I clamped it down to my Black & Decker WorkMate 200, with a board across the top to act as a guide, grabbed my circular saw and got ready to make some serious noise.

The clamp was in the way. It usually is. I don’t use the circular saw very often, so I usually make this mistake. As I was repositioning the clamp it seemed there was something about the way I’d set up the cut that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was bothering me about it until I was just about to pull the trigger on the saw, and then I saw it: The line I’d planned to cut was laying right across the middle of my WorkMate. If I’d gone and made the cut, I would’ve sawn the WorkMate in half.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I’ve abused it that way. One end of the WorkMate’s front jaw has been shorter than the back jaw (the top opens like a vise) ever since I sawed it off the same year I got it as a Christmas present, and the tops of the jaws are pockmarked with holes where I’ve drilled through work that I was sure was too thick for the drill bit to get all the way through. I’ve known for years that I’m probably going to saw it in half eventually; it’s pretty surprising, really, that I haven’t done it already. And yet somehow I avoided doing it yesterday.

With the shelf cut to length, all that was left to do was screw it down and cover it with a whole bunch of crap. And done.

setting up shop | 7:53 am CST
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Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Today I learned from Garrison Keillor via The Writer’s Almanac that:

The Times Square celebration dates back to 1904, when The New York Times opened its headquarters on Longacre Square. The newspaper convinced the city to rename the area “Times Square,” and they hosted a big party, complete with fireworks, on New Year’s Eve. Some 200,000 people attended, but the paper’s owner, Adolph Ochs, wanted the next celebration to be even splashier. In 1907, the paper’s head electrician constructed a giant lighted ball that was lowered from the building’s flagpole.

Other cities have developed their own ball-dropping traditions. Atlanta, Georgia, drops a giant peach. Eastport, Maine, drops a sardine. Ocean City, Maryland, drops a beach ball, and Mobile, Alabama, drops a 600-pound electric Moon Pie. In Tempe, Arizona, a giant tortilla chip descends into a massive bowl of salsa. Brasstown, North Carolina, drops a Plexiglas pyramid containing a live possum; and Key West, Florida, drops an enormous ruby slipper with a drag queen inside it.

Wait, what was that last?

Yes. Yes, it was:

drag queen drop | 7:38 pm CST
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Sunday, October 13th, 2013

drinkingBShe only has two hands, but that doesn’t stop My Darling B from being a three-fisted drinker! We were at the Great Amherst Beer Festival, hosted by Central Waters Brewing yesterday when B found herself trying to juggle three cups of beer while we took photos of the goings-on. She turned out to be one of the goings-on.


beer juggling | 1:05 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Funny thing: I’ve been to two beer festivals in two months and at both of them I’ve seen bluegrass bands that made me, and I mean made me tap my feet. Last month it was The Material Guys at the Dilly-Dally, hosted by Karben4. This month, it was Horseshoes & Hand Grenades at the Great Amherst Beer Fest hosted by Central Waters. It gets me to thinking I ought to look for more live performances of bluegrass bands, but then I wonder if it would take the wonder out finding them by accident.

horseshoes & hand grenades | 8:34 am CST
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Friday, October 4th, 2013

Shasta Lake CA

Had to hit the road as early as possible this morning and drive, drive, drive to get to Chico in time for Oktoberfest at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Quite a lot of our drive took us through the area around Shasta Lake, gorgeous to look at but it’s part of a national park, right? Everywhere we went, we saw rangers standing vigil over sawhorses draped with signs that all said, “Go Away! Your government doesn’t want you to have fun today.” So hitting the road was about all we did until Chico. No sight-seeing today.

After a week of sleeping on the lumpy futon in the little hobo camper, we decided last night that we would splurge when we got to Chico and check into a hotel, where we could have an indecently long, scalding-hot shower before we went to the festival and sprawl on a king-sized bed when we got back. It would probably have been the best plan we made all week, if we hadn’t already planned to spend the day at the Sierra Nevada brewery, drinking beer and eating bratwurst with lots of sauerkraut. I had the sauerkraut. B doesn’t like sauerkraut, so her plan wasn’t as good as mine was.

The good folks at Sierra Nevada chartered a bus that ran from downtown Chico to the brewery and back, so all we had to do to get there was take a short walk, maybe four or five blocks through what looked like the central shopping district of the city. As we ambled slowly toward the bus stop, we notice a surprisingly large number of people camped out on the pavement. What was especially odd about them was that almost none of them asked us if we had money. They just watched us, very intently, as we walked by. Turns out this creeps me out way more than when they ask.

The bus that picked us up was one of those fifteen-passenger vans that hotels use to drive you to the airport. There was almost nobody waiting for it when we got there, but by the time it left, it was chock full o’ people. The driver dropped us off at the brewery about a half-hour before the fest opened its gates, so our busload ended up at the front of the line. A guy who came out to take tickets and put wristbands on us so we could waltz right in when the gates opened. He chatted us up while he worked and was pretty surprised when we told him we came all the way from Madison for this.

The fest was in a big tent set up behind the brewery, and when I say “big,” I mean it’s one of the man-man objects that can be seen from the moon. Off-the-scale big. Vast would not be too much exaggeration. I didn’t take the trouble to count, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that there were at least two hundred picnic tables in there, and there was still room left over for a stage up front where three or four bands took turns playing, to say nothing of the tables and booths in the back where they were selling merch. Really, really big.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Chico CA Oktoberfest

The tent was in a field alongside the brewery and the end of rows of hop poles that stood empty this late in the year. One side of the tent, the side that was facing a semi trailer where they were dispensing their beer, was open to the field. We each collected a big glass mug as we entered and something like five or six tickets, made our way straight through the tent, out the side and across the field to the trailer where nice young people were tapping beers and handing them across trestle table set up all along the side of the trailer. If memory serves, I asked for a glass of their Märzen first, the brew that they and every other brewery sells as their Oktoberfest seasonal. Sierra Nevada makes a Märzen that is even more deliciously refreshing after you’ve been driving all morning.

We found a seat at a table along the open side of the tent where we could hear the band, watch people go by, and watch the sky slowly fade from bright blue to twilit shades of purple and navy blue. I got my mug refilled twice (I’m pretty sure), once with a crisp lager and later with more Märzen; they both went down well. I’m sure there was a brat in there somewhere. Right after we came in, I think, but who cares? We were there for the beer.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Chico CAThe beer, and the chicken dance! The highlight of the night was when I got to dance the chicken dance with My Darling B. Apparently it’s as much a tradition at this event as the beer is. I think every band that climbed up onto the stage played it at least once; I think one of them played it several times. Turns out I’m pretty bad at doing the chicken dance; I keep mixing up the order of the flapping and the cheeping and whatever else it is you’re supposed to do, but I always got the part right where I linked arms with B and ran around in a circle, and that was the most fun anyway, so I win.

We went back to the hotel at around ten and slept soundly as a couple of babies. Tell me, how did that come to mean a good night’s sleep, by the way? Our boys slept in fits and starts and hardly ever through the night. Weird.

California Day 8 | 8:34 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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Monday, September 16th, 2013

Hoppy CoupleWhen I take photos with my smart phone, it automatically saves them to my Google account, and when I take a series of photos that all look the same, Google makes a flip-card cartoon out of them. The only time I remember this feature is afterward, when I’m looking through my photos and I find one that’s moving.

This photo was taken at the Dilly Dally two weekends ago in front of the wall of hops growing up the outside of the Karben4 brewery.

hoppy couple | 6:11 am CST
Category: Dilly Dally, festivals, My Darling B, O'Folks
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Sunday, September 8th, 2013

I did not know that I liked Madonna songs until I went to the Dilly Dally last weekend.

The Dilly Dally is a small gathering of microbreweries from the Madison area: Ale Asylum, Bos Meadery, Capital, Next Door, Old Sugar Distillery, One Barrel, Vintage, Yahara and, last but certainly not least, Karben4, the brewery that sponsored the event. Or at least I assume they sponsored the event, because it took place on their lawn. They had a great big tent set up out by the patio, The Tipsy Cow was there to cater the event and there was even a bluegrass band to provide the entertainment.

The first couple of tunes the band played sounded vaguely familiar, but then all bluegrass tunes sound familiar to me because they all sound more or less the same. I’m not saying I think it’s boring music, I’m saying I don’t know enough of it to recognize a tune when it’s played for me, so they all sort of blur together. Besides, there was all that beer to drink, so I wasn’t really paying attention.

After sampling a couple of beers, My Darling B and I ducked inside for a bite to eat, then came back out onto the patio to sit for a bit. The band was twanging away on another tune that sent a bell ringing somewhere in the back of my memory and, as I paid a little more attention to see if I could get the words, it hit me: it was the Madonna tune True Blue! They were covering Madonna tunes! If memory serves, and I don’t think it does very well at this point, the next song was Borderline, and then they did a cover of the Duran Duran song Hungry Like The Wolf. They did it awesomely!

My Darling B and I parked ourselves right in front of the band and stayed there the rest of the afternoon, taking turns getting beer so one of us could hold our spot. The banjo player came over during the break to talk with somebody right behind us and we had to tell them how much we were enjoying them. He stuck around to talk about the other songs they were working on, and then they went into their last set, when they sang Like a Virgin, which has got to be their signature song. Although they finished off with a scorching version of Rocky Top, which turned into a sing-along. Of course.

greatest cover band ever | 1:32 pm CST
Category: Dilly Dally, entertainment, festivals, music, play
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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

at the Bristol Renaissance FairGiant rats on a stick? “Pass the mustard!” said My Darling B.

Would it be a renaissance fair without food on a stick? I can’t see how. That, and a funny hat were all I needed to make this the greatest weekend ever, and although I had to try on a lot of funny hats, I finally found exactly the right one.

But wait! It got even better! We went to the renaissance fair in Bristol courtesy of the bespectacled fairy you see in the photo and her partner, who gets around in an SUV because he doesn’t have a delicate set of gossamer wings and a magical flowered tiara. So we got the trifecta: Food on a stick, funny hats and fun friends. *bliss!*

Bristol Renaissance Fair | 6:12 am CST
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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Sean and Nikki, dancing fools, at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

image of Sean and Nikki dancing

mosh pit | 6:19 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Sunday, August 11th, 2013

attending the Great Taste of the MidwestTime once again for the Great Taste of the Midwest, the very best beer fest anywhere in the world, as if that has to be said. We’ve been going to the Great Taste every year for seven years now but this time around there were two significantly different changes to the way we attended.

The first and most amazingly fun change we made was that we invited Sean and Nikki, his significant other, to the event. We snagged a few extra tickets and were trying to figure out how best to spread them out amongst our friends and acquaintances when My Darling B hit on the idea. To sweeten the pot, she bought the plane tickets for them, too, and we offered to put them up in our guest room while they were here. Not too surprisingly, they snapped at the offer, arriving the Friday night before the festival.

The other big difference is that last winter I became a member of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, the group that organizes the Great Taste, mostly because I’ve really wanted to help out at the event and I’d heard that I’d stand a better chance of being allowed to volunteer my time if I was a member, so I paid my dues, waited for the call for volunteers and raised my hand high in the air when it came. And you know what? Not only did they give me a chance by letting me help the vendors set up, they let me in with the rest of the members an hour before the gates opened! Now My Darling B wants to be a member and volunteer, too. I can provide her with a good character reference if she needs it.

At the Great Taste of the MidwestI think Nikki and Sean enjoyed it more than we did, as hard as that might be to believe, although B had a pretty darned good time this year as well, disappearing into the crowds with Nikki to look for more delicious beer whenever Sean and I got distracted by bacon on a stick or an appearance by Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. Then we’d all meet up again by texting each other on our cell phones or, later in the day when our eye-hand coordination had deteriorated to the point where some of our text messages became mostly nonsense (and here I’m thinking of the already-legendary “BACON MEAT IN OUR MOUTHS!”), by agreeing that we should all meet at the picnic blanket if we got split up.

When the taps ran dry and the people began to make their way home, the two youngest members of the tribe, still full of energy and just getting their weekend started, caught a downtown shuttle to join a dance party on the roof of the Children’s Museum where one of Nikki’s friends was DJing. Wow. I probably could’ve done that when I was thirty, but we’ll never know now. The two older members of the O-Folks headed home via the taxi queue where we waited in line for the better part of an hour before being packed tightly into a Toyota Prius with two other people headed back to their hotel room in Monona. We were practically sober by the time we returned to Our Humble O’Bode and ordered the customary after-fest pizza.

Many, many thank-yous go out from Drivel HQ to Nikki and Sean for coming all the way to Madison to make our visit to the fest this year extra-special.

Great Taste 2013 | 2:42 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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Saturday, July 27th, 2013

hot dateDinner Wednesday night at The Wise was pretty awesome, probably because I had a hot date. Also, the food was tasty. But don’t forget the hot date. Here’s a photo to remind you. Wowzers, eh?

The Wise is a very hip restaurant in the lobby of Hotel Red, which I didn’t know was a hotel even though I’ve driven past it dozens of times. It looks an awful lot like an office building. A Japanese office building, to be maddeningly precise about it. B didn’t seem to get this impression but I did. Okay, glad I got that random observation out of my head.

After we were seated, the waitress came around to welcome us and ask if we’d like to start off with any drinks. I asked for a martini. When she answered, “What kind of martini?” I wanted to go all Denis Leary in a coffee shop on her, but I didn’t. I played nice. “Gin martini,” I told her. And it was a pretty good one, too, so I’ll let them off the hook for not defaulting to gin when making a martini.

When it was time to order for the meal, I started off with a salad of field greens. That means rabbit food. Dandelions and water cress and stuff like that. You can’t call it “field greens” if the chef so much as thought about iceberg lettuce while he was preparing it. Which is not to say I don’t like field greens – I love ’em. I gobble them up like, well, a rabbit, especially when they’re drizzled with a yummy topping the way this one was. But I love making fun of them, too. If I had a restaurant and they were on the menu, I’d call them “rabbit food,” because that’s what it is and who can object to that? You want to eat healthy food? Eat like a rabbit. Honestly, it doesn’t get any more frou-frou than that.

B’s starter was gazpacho. More rabbit food. Everybody thinks gazpacho is just cold soup, but it’s not. It’s pureed veggies. A zucchini smoothie served in a soup bowl. B loves gazpacho.

All that rabbit food left plenty of room for the entree: short ribs for me, pork tenderloin for B. All free-range and grass-fed. B was the tiniest bit disappointed in her tenderloin; it was just a bit too overdone and beginning to dry out. Still very enjoyable, but not as good as it could have been. The short ribs, on the other hand, were more delicious than I could have imagined. The yummy glaze made with Guinness stout was an especially nice touch. And because presentation is everything and they wanted this to be the hippest dinner we would eat all week, the entrees were served on pieces of slate about the size of record albums, instead of on plates. Slate, as in the stuff that roofing shingles and blackboards used to be made of. First time I’ve ever eaten off a slab of slate.

Dessert was a chocolate truffle tort for me. I was going to have the citris olive cake because it was billed as “our famous citris olive cake” and I would normally try whatever dish the restaurant was famous for, EXCEPT WHEN THERE’S CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE TORT ON THE MENU! NOM NOM NOM NOM! Besides, B ordered the olive cake and she let me try a bite. It was yummy.

the wise | 7:34 am CST
Category: festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, play, restaurants
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Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Sardine is one of our top five favorite restaurants in Madison. It’s also the one we never go to. The last time we visited, which was also the first time we visited, was two years ago during restaurant week and we’ve been saying “We gotta go back to Sardine” ever since, but for some reason we never did and I don’t know why. It’s a lovely place. The food is delicious. I was going to say “exquisite” but I didn’t want to sound pretentious. But it is. The service is absolutely top notch. And the restaurant itself is gorgeous, all done up in old wood and shiny white tile.

Last night we were lucky enough to snag a couple of seats at a table on the patio overlooking Lake Monona. The patio is a walkway just wide enough for one row of small tables screened from the parking lot by planters hanging from the handrail. The weather was so close to perfect that it makes no sense to describe it any other way: It was sunny and warm, a few fluffy clouds hung in the sky and a very light breeze kept the bugs away, if there were any.

For starters I chose the smoked whitefish croquette, even though I had no idea what that was. Something with fish in it was my guess, and a pretty good guess it was, too. I love fish, especially when it’s as tender as this creamy little chunk of flesh was.

For the entree, I had grilled salmon served on a square of fried polenta, with some grilled fennel on the side. When I cook salmon on the Weber, I put a piece of tinfoil over the grill so the meat stays nice and juicy, but the tinfoil means I don’t get that browned cross-hatching that makes it looked like it was grilled. I don’t mind, but I guess people who go to restaurants expect that, so restaurant chefs slap it right on the grill. The good ones can get away with that, but in a lot of places I’ve been the grill was so hot that it charred the outside of the meat and dried out the inside, leaving a blackened orange-ish puck with really great cross-hatching and almost nothing in the way of taste. Lucky for me the guys in the kitchen at Sardine didn’t do that. The salmon was tender and flaky and full of flavor. I even liked the fennel, and I’m not what you’d call a huge fan of the stuff.

B enjoyed the duck confit. Really enjoyed it.

I had the blueberry crostata for dessert and it was so good that I can’t remember what B had. I’m looking right at the menu this very minute and I couldn’t tell you whether she had the profiteroles or the strawberries and shortcake.

Back to the excellent service: After I finished my main dish I sat back with wine glass in hand and gazed out across the lake. The waitress happened by right about that time, stopped when she saw I was no longer eating and asked me, “May I take that away?” instead of, “You still workin’ on that?” She got an extra five percent just for that.

Sardine Madison Restaurant Week Summer 2013 | 6:02 pm CST
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Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Porta Bella is one of the restaurants we’ve been saying for the past five or six years we have to visit, yet somehow we never got around to it until yesterday, the first night of Madison Magazine Restaurant Week, when we finally went. And, just like all those other restaurants, after our sufficiencies were serensified and we were waddling out the front door, we wondered why it took us so freaking long to get off our lazy asses and try out such a wonderful place.

First off, coat hangers: They had lots. Thank you Porta Bella, for all the coat hangers. This is a thing with me that I think we’ve already covered, but in case you came in late, I give bonus points to restaurants that have coat hangers because most of them don’t any more and there’s nothing I hate more than being forced to drape my coat over the back of a chair or on the seat of a stool, forcing me to sit on it. Nothing. Literally. Not even baby-eating politicians. And if you know anything about me, you know how much I hate those guys. So good on ya, Porta Bella.

Second, the water situation. Both My Darling B and I think it’s pretty darned important not to let a customer’s water glass go dry, and technically our waiter did manage to save his butt at the very last minute by swinging by our table with a pitcher to fill both our glasses, but just as technically My Darling B’s glass was, ahem, empty. It only cost you a point or two, but I feel obliged to point it out because I’ve dragged other restaurant staff over the coals for this, and I don’t play favorites.

(That’s a load of bullshit, for your information. I totally play favorites and I don’t care who knows it, especially if somebody feels like comping me a meal or two. Just saying.)

Now that that’s out of the way: I can’t remember when I’ve been to a restaurant that was quite like Porta Bella. The interior is all dark wood, the booths are upholstered with overstuffed brocade fabric and curtained with heavy velvet draperies, and you have to walk a labyrinthine path to get to any table in the dining room. It wasn’t just a dining experience, it was like playing Dungeons & Dragons for food. Italian food. Good Italian food.

We both ordered the bruschetta for starters. I have to say, I was a teensy bit disappointed. My Darling B thought it was delicious, and she’s got the refined palate of the family, so I bow to her pronouncements when it comes to tastiness, but I like bruschetta served on very crunchy bread, the way My Darling B makes it. This was on a very limp, not at all crunchy bread. When we go back, I’ll try something else for starters.

For the main dish I had the seafood tetrazini. In a word, Wow! When I first laid eyes on the browned cheese slathered over the broiled shrimp that crowned the dish I thought, Oh, man, those are going to be the chewiest, most overcooked shrimp EVAR, but I was as wrong as a big, fat wrongness can be. The shrimp, the scallops, the lobster and whatever other seafood was in there was cooked to perfection! Props to the cook.

B ordered the steak braciola. She even let me taste it. It was good, but I preferred the tetrazini.

For dessert, I gobbled up a slice of the toasted almond cake and washed it down with a cup of strong black coffee. Really, that’s the only way to eat dessert when you’re out on the town, but don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. You might disagree with me, but I doubt it.

B had the strawberry and almond cannoli and hungrily devoured every bit of it.

There’s really no better way to start off restaurant week than discovering a new favorite place to eat. We’ll be going to back to Porta Bella soon.

Portabella | 7:15 pm CST
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Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

image of Mob Craft beerThe last and arguably best event we went to during Madison Craft Beer Week was a beer pairing at 8 Seasons Grille. A beer pairing is when the guys who prepare the food serve a beer that complements a food. A strong porter, for instance, goes well with a thick, juicy steak. Heffeweizen is terrific with chicken. A stout is delicious with grilled steak, and so on. Wine snots have done this sort of thing forever, but as far as I know beer snots started doing this just a few years ago.

In this particular case, the chefs at 8 Seasons teamed up with the brewers at Mob Craft Beer to collaborate on a menu of specially-prepared foods and beers, and what a menu they came up with. We had never been to 8 Seasons Grille before even though we’d driven past it dozens of times. Hidden away in the ground floor storefront of a dual-purpose apartment block, we’d never noticed it was there. Finding places like 8 Seasons is just one of the great benefits of taking part in Restaurant Week.

Mob Craft is three guys who make some of the tastiest kitchen experiments I’ve ever sampled. I loved each of the four of the beers they brewed specially to pair with the dishes served by 8 Seasons, even the Pear Sour, which I expected I would have to pass over the table to My Darling B because I usually don’t go for fruity beers or sour beers. I drank every drop of this one, though. However they made that happen, I hope they keep on doing it.

Menu:
Beer 1: Pear Sour
Course 1: Frisée salad, bacon, shallots and a poached egg
Beer 2: Tamarind Heffeweizen
Course 2: Bed of Israeli cous cous, roasted red peppers, grilled curry marinated chicken breast, heffeweizen reduction
Beer 3: Smoked Bock
Course 3: Parpardelle noodles, lamb ragu with smoked bock demi glaze
Beer 4: Chocolate Rye Coffee Porter
Course 4: Double chocolate Layered cake

Mob Craft + 8 Seasons | 3:05 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Saturday, May 11th, 2013

We’re a little bushed after a week of debauched revelry, I can tell you. Drinking a beer or two nearly every night for a week at various neighborhood taverns will do that to a couple of inert homebodies like us, but when it comes to festivals like Madison Craft Beer Week, we feel a certain sense of duty to see it all the way through.

Which is why last night you could’ve found us at The Malt House sampling from their “Dark, Fiery & Sensual” menu of beers.

Biscotti Break from Evil Twin Brewing made My Darling B’s eyebrows shoot up. “That’s like drinking dessert!” she said, handing the glass to me. It really was. Each and every sip – and this was a beer so rich that I could only sip it – filled my head with the smell of chocolate. The sugary body reminded me of caramel, and the thick head of foam was like a whipped-cream topping. Wowzers, what a BIG beer. The porter I chose to drink was like water after that.

I was not a fan of coffee stouts when they first became a thing. Stouts are supposed to be sweet and boozy; why spoil that, I thought, by throwing coffee in the mix? But I have slowly come around to liking coffee stouts, and it’s because of tasty brews like The Devil Made Me Do It from Tyranena Brewing that have managed to sneak in the best things about coffee – a coffee aroma that’s just like waking up to a piping hot cuppa, as well as that toasty-chocolaty taste – but managing to keep out any coffee bitterness, so the stout’s boozy sweetness isn’t ruined. Tyranena is getting so good at brewing tasty treats like this one that it’s fast becoming one of my favorite Wisconsin breweries.

dark, fiery & sensual | 7:27 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Thursday, May 9th, 2013

smiling daveI think we spent more on taxis last night than we did on beer! We grabbed a cab into town for our nightly visit to Madison Craft Beer Week because we planned on taking advantage of the shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between cap square and the near-east side of town (thanks, guys!). We wanted to stop at four different places, and it would have been rude to stop and not sample the beers at each place, so we incurred a little added expense getting there and getting home again, but it was definitely worth it.

We started at The Old Fashioned, where Central Waters was pouring many of their tastiest beers. They have so many tasty beers, it must have been a tough job picking the ones they wanted to feature. Wonder how I can get that gig? I tried a very hoppy session beer that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve forgotten the name of. I can enjoy hoppy beers but My Darling B, delicate flower that she is, can hardly sit across the table from a glass of hopped-up beer. “Smells like armpits,” is her comment, every time. I kinda like the smell of my armpits. Guess that explains that.

Then we ambled down the street to The Cooper’s Tavern to see what Left Hand Brewing was offering, and got the most pleasant surprise of the evening: Good Juju ginger ale. Just delicious! I would have sworn there were orange peels in there but the brewer said nope, just ginger. Very nicely done! (Their Milk Stout Nitro wasn’t too shabby, either!)

Feeling mighty peckish after that, we crossed the square to Natt Spil for a bite to eat. Note to self: The chips & salsa platter is a LOT bigger than you think it will be. Plan the rest of your menu accordingly. (We were satisfied with just ordering a hummus platter to round out the meal. I think we got our recommended daily allowance of carbs. Maybe even weekly allowance.) Oh, and the beer: we sampled several draughts from Widmer Brothers Brewing. Marionberry and Raspberry Imperial Stout, to name just two, but unfortunately none of them were strong enough to dominate the chips & salsa so I can’t say anything about them, really. Bad move on our part.

Then we jumped on the shuttle bus to ride down to Schenk’s Corners where B wanted to try the bourbon barrel-aged stout offered by One Barrel Brewing. I’m not discerning enough to notice much difference between beers aged in bourbon barrels – they mostly give me the impression of sticking my head in a bourbon barrel, not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing. Well, if it were full it might be a bad thing. Never mind. B liked it but thought it would be a lot better if it aged a year or so.

We called Union Cab to pick us up from One Barrel, then stepped out to the curb just as a cab was pulling up! “Did you just call a cab?” the driver asked us after rolling down the window. B told him that she had. “He’ll be along any second,” he explained, then drove away. Odd. But then another cab appeared just minutes later, so the first guy was right. Still pretty weird.

left hand | 6:23 am CST
Category: booze, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

She’s been waiting 14 weeks for this glass of beer.

img of My Darling B with a glass of 1515 from Central Waters BrewingWe went to the Central Waters anniversary party 14 weeks ago and the one beer that My Darling B dearly wanted to try was an Imperial Stout they put up in bourbon barrels specially for this very anniversary. They named this special beer “Fifteen.” See if you can guess why.

As soon as a line started to form for the tapping, she got in it, but while she was waiting they ran out. She’s been searching for it ever since then, with no luck at all, until tonight when the good brewers at Central Waters brought a keg of Fifteen to our favorite restaurant, Alchemy, for Madison Craft Beer Week.

I work just a few blocks away, so I was tasked with getting there as soon as I could after work to make sure I would be there when they tapped the keg. I snagged our usual table and, when the waitress came around, warned her that my wife would run over me with the car if I didn’t have a glass of Fifteen waiting on the table for her when she arrived.

A cheer went up from the crowd at the bar when the bartender announced, “Let the beer flow!” And about three minutes later the waitress delivered a goblet of Fifteen to our table so it was waiting when My Darling B walked through the door two minutes after that. I’d give her props for becoming my biggest hero if only she’d signed her name so I could read it.

This was a beer worth waiting months for. I like beer quite a lot, but bourbon-barrel-aged beers are really My Darling B’s thing. She loves them, but most of the ones I’ve tried are too boozy for me. Fifteen was not like that at all. It was silky smooth, rich and creamy, so easy to drink. Probably a little too easy; I’m sure we could each have put away enough of the stuff to make us unfit for work the next day. Thank goodness they served it in eight-ounce goblets and set the price just high enough to make us think twice about ordering too many.

Fifteen | 12:09 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

I am now a card-carrying member of One Barrel’s Mug Club!

mugclub

Last night was the inaugural meeting of the Mug Club, and I jumped on my bike and was there minutes after quitting time so I could break in my mug.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked me.

“I want you to take this mug and fill it with happiness,” I told him. “Can you do that? I’m pretty sure you can.”

And he did. It’s almost like having a super power.

mug club | 6:00 am CST
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Monday, May 6th, 2013

There is no better way to spend Sunday morning than camping out on a sidewalk in downtown Madison at six o’clock and waiting for the stroke of noon, when tickets go on sale for the Great Taste of the Midwest.

This is the fourth time we’ve bought tickets this way, if memory serves. The first time we casually got out of bed at whatever time, drank some coffee, ate some breakfast, showered, shaved and dressed, and at about nine o’clock we finally got in the car to head into town. So at about nine-fifteen we joined the lineup of people waiting to get into Star Liquor and scoffed at the stories from the people who had been there since four o’clock that morning.

But it turned out that we got there just in the nick of time: Around mid-morning they hand out placeholder tickets, and we got numbers 264 and 265. That meant that we were guaranteed at least two of the 600 tickets on sale (each person can buy two tickets). To make sure we didn’t sneak in so close to the end next year, we resolved to get out of bed an hour earlier.

Which we did. And ended up with numbers 258 and 259 – almost exactly the same place in line.

So last year we got up early enough to join the line at seven o’clock. I got number 252 that time. Geeze Louise!

This year, we did what we said we would never, ever be caught dead doing: We got up at five o’clock – we even set our alarms to make sure we got up! – and joined the line by six. And where did we end up? Hands up, everyone who said “Same place as last time?” To add to the frustration, we were in exactly the same place as last year: I got placeholder ticket 252, and B got 253.

At this rate, in five more years we’ll have to get up at midnight just to keep the same place in line. I like beer and I really like the Great Taste, but I think I’m done when it gets to that point.

252 again | 5:52 am CST
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Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Oh my, I have sooo many carbs to burn off after last night’s fish fry. We joined the kickoff of Madison Craft Beer Week by meeting a couple of friends at Quivey’s Grove to swap stories over a Friday night fish fry and a couple glasses of Common Thread Biere de Garde, which is French for “beer that is good.”

My belly was stuffed full after gobbling up all that fried fish, which I didn’t mind until I climbed into bed to go night-night and felt as if I was lying on a bowling ball, not very comfortable at all. I had to squirm around for a while until I found an angle where the bowling ball wouldn’t keep me awake.

I felt just guilty enough about overindulging that I got up early to take a little spin around town on my bike. I may have gone far enough to burn off the pie. Did I mention the pie? No? There was pie.

burning carbs | 7:10 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, restaurants
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Saturday, April 20th, 2013

I am never going to understand conspiracy theorists.

Room 237 was a documentary about people who have watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and have become convinced that it’s about anything but a remote, haunted hotel that twists a man’s mind and makes him want to kill his wife and son.

One person watched the film and saw that it was about the genocide of American Indians.

One person said it was about the holocaust.

One person said it was about the myth of the Minotaur.

None of these people explained why Kubrick would decide to make a movie about genocide, or a Minotaur, and then devise an obscure patchwork of code to hide that movie behind a movie about a haunted hotel.

One person said it was Kubrick’s admission that he helped the government fake the video of the moon landing. That one sort of made sense, from the point of view that Kubrick had a message that had to be hidden, although this conspiracy theorist, like the rest, hung his entire premise on just one thing.

  • The guy who thought the movie was about the genocide of American Indians started from a scene in which he spotted a can of Calumet baking powder in the background. That was it. Can of baking powder equals genocide of American Indians. A rock-solid theory, really. Don’t see how I could dispute that.
  • The guy who said it was about the holocaust started with the number 42, based on the idea that 1942 was the year that the Nazis decided on the ‘final solution.’ I just love theories based on numerology because they never make any sense at all. If it was about the holocaust, and the year 1942 was the key, then wouldn’t you expect to see the number ‘1942’ everywhere?
  • The gal who claimed it was about a Minotaur got that from one scene where a poster of a skier in a classic bent-knee pose looked a little like a bull, if you stared at it for hours and hours, or you were drunk.
  • The guy who said it was about the moon landing based his theory on one scene where Danny was wearing a sweater that had a rocket and the words ‘Apollo 11’ across the front. The movie came out in 1970, the year after the landing. Every kid had a sweater like that.

What makes conspiracy theories so hard to swallow, though, is that they’re not convincing. At all. The theorists could babble for hours and hours, I’m sure, but all they were doing was babbling. Not one of them made a coherent argument. I’m always interested in hearing a good moon landing hoax theory, but that guy’s was the least convincing theory I’ve ever heard. And Minotaurs? What the hell has that got to do with anything?

So, yeah. Weird film.

Room 237 | 10:07 am CST
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I somehow managed to remain upright and awake all through the day yesterday after staying up way past my bed time every night last week during the film festival. I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to bed before 11:30 on any night, and several nights I was up past midnight, only to have to get up bright and early the next day because I took only the afternoons off work to conserve my leave time. My Darling B, the smart one, took the whole week off from work. Not that it helped her get any more rest than I got. She just didn’t have to face going to work every morning. That’ll have to be my plan, too, next year, so I don’t turn into a staggering zombie by the end of the week.

made it! | 7:43 am CST
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Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing was our final film of the festival.

tickets

Twenty-seven films in seven days!

tickets! | 11:27 pm CST
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Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Anfang 80 is the story of Rosa and Bruno: how they meet, how they fall in love, and how they die, all in the space of just a few months.

I really wanted to like this movie. In fact, I really did like this movie a whole lot, even though I felt very strongly that I shouldn’t because Bruno was a married man when he met Rosa. He left his wife of fifty or sixty years by simply walking away from her. Didn’t seem right, and I wanted not to like the rest of the story because of that, but I had to. Relationships are complicated, no less so when they’re someone else’s.

Anfang 80 | 6:33 pm CST
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We had to duck out of Computer Chess, too, except that My Darling B was the one to tap me on the shoulder this time. I didn’t hesitate to grab my jacket and scurry out of the theater right behind her, though. Whatever kind of humor they were using in that movie, the audience was sitting up and begging for more of it, but it was a whistle only they could hear.

B had one other objection: “I couldn’t sit and watch a whole movie that was out of focus,” she said. “I thought maybe it was just an introduction and the picture would eventually get better, but I don’t think so now.” The way the movie was shot mimicked the look of the earliest low-rez home video.

We punched out of that movie pretty early, leaving us plenty of time to fill, so we crossed the street to Sushi Muramoto and passed the time sampling flights of sake. Well, we had to do something.

Computer Chess | 6:04 am CST
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We saw two really good films today, the first one at the beginning of the day and the other one at the end of the day, that sort of bookended the day and made it worth going out for.

And we saw two stinkers. One of them stunk so bad it took under thirty minutes for us to get up and leave. The other one, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, took me a little longer than that to figure out.

I thought at first it must have been a joke. The actors were all so gosh-darned Beaver-Cleaverishly wholesome that I figured it had to be satire. Some of the people in the audience were laughing, but other than sounding weird, I though all the jokes fell flat. I nodded off before I could figure it out.

When I woke up, quite a lot of the dialogue made me think that maybe the movie was a straight-up propaganda piece, although the audience was still laughing. Maybe they thought propaganda was funny in an ironic way, but I still didn’t get it. I nodded off again.

I only stayed with it after that because I figured I’d already stuck it out so far and there wasn’t anything to do in the lobby, but after another fifteen minutes of that awful dialog I felt that staring at the wall would be preferable, so I patted B on the shoulder and said, “I’m out. See you in the lobby after.”

I’d been waiting barely ten minutes when I got a text from B: “Where U at?” I caught up with her as she was coming out of the ladies’ room.

“You couldn’t put up with any more either?” I asked her.

“I was asleep when you poked me,” she admitted. “You woke me up!”

So neither one of us gave Comrade Kim high marks.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying | 12:02 am CST
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Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The Wisconsin Film Fest still has a few more days to run, but all those shows will be out at the Sundance movie theaters, which makes this as good a time as any to make a few interstitial comments about the festival in general:

We started going to the WFF because we love watching movies, but we didn’t start taking time off from work until we experienced the fun of wringing as many films out of the schedule as possible. We did that by making a list of must-see movies, then puzzle-piecing them together as tightly as we could. This often required dashing from one theater to another. Sometimes the theaters were almost next door to one another, but sometimes we ended up running from the university campus to capitol square. One year we had to trot all the way from the Union theater to the Bartel and didn’t miss the start of the movie. I’m still well-chuffed about that.

The films are still wonderful and we still take the time off to watch as many as possible, but this year the nature of the festival has changed fundamentally. I don’t know what it was like in the beginning, but when we started to attend in earnest, it was a walking festival. We would park the car in a lot downtown, walk to the first movie and wouldn’t return to the car until the end of the day, strolling from theater to theater, or running, as the case may be. When we had time between screenings we would do a little window shopping, or actual shopping, or step into a restaurant for a meal.

That element of the festival was gone this year entirely. Most of the films shown over the weekend were on campus at the Chazen, the Cinamateque or Union South, far enough from State street to keep us from wandering over there, to say nothing of capital square. The rest of the films were at the Sundance theater in Hilldale, which is not a bad theater at all. I like it quite a lot, not least because of the comfy seats, all that legroom and the fact that I can buy a beer and nachos and take them into the theater with me. But the location rules out walking much.

So it’s not a walking festival any longer, and that bums me out just enough to mention it here. Last year and the year before that, and the year before that, we had quite a lot of fun walking back and forth across town from one theater to another. This year, we spent a lot of time driving to theaters and, not incidentally, paid quite a lot of money for parking. Which is not to say we won’t do it again next year. The films are really good, after all. But I miss the old festival. Just saying.

A different film fest | 11:39 pm CST
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Another favorite from the British Arrows, the best of television advertising for 2012: Madness singing a much more relaxed rendition of Baggy Trousers than I’ve ever heard before. Been stuck in my head all day.

Just in case your memory needs refreshing, here’s a link to the original version.

Baggy Trousers | 12:12 am CST
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The best movie I saw all day today was The Moo Man, a documentary about a dairy farmer in Britain, because cows. Who doesn’t like cows? Not people who I want to talk to, that’s for sure.

I’ll bet you can watch this documentary on Netflix. If you can’t, you should get it somewhere else, because cows. Really, go watch it right now. I’ll wait here until you get back.

The Moo Man | 12:00 am CST
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Monday, April 15th, 2013

I am not nearly clever enough to completely understand what was going on in Tiger Tail in Blue, our second-to-last film on this, the third day of the Wisconsin Film Festival.

The film focuses on Christopher, an Aspiring Writer who waits tables on the night shift at a Chicago restaurant to bring in some money. He comes home in the wee small hours of the morning to find his new wife Melody waiting on the sofa for him. Sometimes she’s awake, sometimes she’s nodded off because her job as a teacher keeps her working all day.

Brandy is a woman on the wait staff at the restaurant where Christopher works. Working together in close quarters, they develop a relationship that brings them closer together day after day until, almost inevitably I suppose, they’re nearly as close as a husband and wife.

And here’s the thing I’m not nearly clever enough to understand: Brandy happens to look a lot like Melody. So much alike that, for the first thirty minutes or so, I thought this was going to be one of those movies where the guy’s living in two alternate universes and we were headed for a Twilight Zone-type ending. And it almost went there when Melody showed up at the restaurant to give Christopher a ride home. He took the ride, they went home and then, when they got there they sat in the car for many long minutes flirting with each other and it didn’t become apparent that somewhere in the drive home she was Brandy and not Melody until finally Christopher got out of the car but she didn’t, and she drove away. Maybe. I’m still not sure what happened in that scene.

Just about the time I wanted to grab My Darling B’s arm to ask her if she thought that maybe Brandy and Melody looked a little too much alike, there was a scene near the end of the movie where Brandy sprouts kinky hair. REALLY kinky hair. Practically an afro. I honestly thought I had missed that little detail before.

I didn’t find out until after the movie, from My Darling B, that Melody and Brandy were played by the same actress until that final scene.

So, this is my confusion: What was so important about making Brandy and Melody look and act exactly alike that required confusing the shit out of me? I’m not getting it.

Add to that a technical gripe: I was never quite sure that the two women looked exactly alike because quite a lot of the movie was so badly lit that I couldn’t make out what was going on. One scene that went on for minutes was just a blank, grayish washout. Quite a lot of other scenes were so glaringly backlit that for long stretches all I could make out were profiles and some bright lights in the background.

In short, the whole “one woman playing two people” gimmick was lost on me. It wasn’t a bad movie; it was pretty good, in fact, but that gimmick is just about all I can think about and it distracts me from anything else that might have been going on. Unless that was the only thing going on. If it was, I would have to change my vote from “pretty good movie” to “just a so-so movie propped up by a gimmick.”

Tiger Tail in Blue | 11:53 pm CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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We watched The British Arrows last night. It was an hour-long collection of the best television advertisements of 2012. This one gave me the best belly laugh of the evening!

Aldi tea advert | 9:28 am CST
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Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Between movies, we had time enough to drive up to Brasserie V to check out some of the imported beers and fill up on some delicious pub food!
photobomb!

Photobomb! | 11:22 am CST
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I’m not sure what I can say about Dragon Inn that would do it justice. A classic chop-socky film that goes great with a bag of popcorn and a bottle of beer, I didn’t expect anything from it but lots and lots of kung-fu action, and that’s exactly what I got. It had an evil overlord with almost godlike powers, it had dozens of henchmen who were clever, skilled fighters until they were required to be dumb and oafish, it had a mysterious stranger who could catch flying daggers with a pair of chopsticks – you name it, this movie had it in spades. Sit back and enjoy.

Dragon Inn | 11:18 am CST
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What if I told you that Terrance Stamp could not only play the lead in a movie about a devoted husband dealing with the loss of his wife to cancer, but that he could melt your heart doing it? You’d say I was nuts, right? And I’d expect you to say that, because until last night all I’d ever seen Terrance Stamp play were psychopathic killers, when he wasn’t horribly miscast as, say, an astronaut looking for God on Mars.

And to be sure, I’m thinking the makers of Unfinished Song cast Stamp because they needed a crusty curmudgeon and that’s somebody everyone would instantly believe Stamp would play. So it surprised the hell out of me even more that he could not only convincingly play the tender parts, but that I cried my eyes out through most of the movie.

Bravo, Terrance Stamp.

It would be utterly wretched of me not to mention what a great performance the rest of the cast turned in as well. Bravo as well to Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, and Christopher Eccleston, to name just the principles. My hankie was soaked. Nicely done.

Unfinished Song | 10:14 am CST
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Talk about lost in translation: M, a 1931 murder mystery from Germany about a psycho stalking and killing the children of Berlin, was remade in Hollywood twenty years later in such a hamfisted way that you can’t help laughing at the goofy lines and the clownish acting. That’s not just my opinion, that’s an observation. As we watched the 1951 remake last night, most of the audience was laughing, not just snickering, but laughing full-blown belly laughs at clumsy lines of dialog and scenes that were so wildly staged as to make them practically slapstick. It made me cringe to hear people laughing at a murder mystery about a killer stalking little girls, but it was a wholly understandable reaction to such a goofy film.

My Darling B’s one-word review said it best, I think: Disappointing. The way the guide to the film fest described M, I was expecting one dark, sinister scene after another.

Before he was blacklisted and exiled to Europe, LaCrosse, WI native Joseph Losey made five deeply personal features in Hollywood, including this surprisingly potent and original remake of Fritz Lang’s classic 1931 thriller, reset in Los Angeles. Giving Peter Lorre a run for his money, the intense David Wayne plays a compulsive murderer of children. When the police begin harassing every gangster, prostitute, thief and gambler in a desperate attempt to find him, the underworld gets organized and forms its own network of spies and a kangaroo court to stop the menacing killer. Aside from Wayne’s nerve-jangling performance, Losey’s version is distinguished by classic film noir atmosphere, some remarkable fast-paced cutting, and excellent use of familiar and seedy L.A. locations, especially the oft-used Bradbury Building where the final pursuit of the killer takes place. Originally banned in eight states, Losey’s M remains very hard to see in the U.S. and is still not available on home video. Don’t miss your chance to see this rare 35mm print from the collections of the British Film Institute.

I’ll give it this: David Wayne turned in a surprisingly good performance in the final scene, but it wasn’t enough to save M.

M | 9:48 am CST
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The longer I think about Cheap Thrills, the last movie we saw yesterday, the less I understand the entertainment value of it. I realize that people seem to think shows like Fear Factor and Jackass are entertaining, but I don’t understand that, either. And maybe I’m just as gullible as the guy, but I’d like to think that, if a stranger invited me over to his table in a bar and started throwing fifty dollar bills around, challenging me to do this or that dumb trick, I’d excuse myself and get as far away from him as I possibly could.

But maybe not. Maybe I’d encourage him to put down money for one stupid bar bet after another, jacking up the payout as each bet became more self-destructive to my dignity until I had none left and I was fighting like a dog for the privilege of doing things so outrageously humiliating that I would never be able to face myself or my family ever again. I suppose that could happen.

And the acting was not unbelievable. And the videography looked good. I toyed with as many rationalizations like these as I could stand, trying to find technical reasons to like this movie, or at least not to hate it, but in the end I couldn’t do it. This is a revolting movie. My initial one-word review of it was ‘repulsive,’ but now that I’ve had time to think about it, ‘revolting’ is a much more suitable adjective. And I guess if that’s what the writers and the director were going for, then thumbs up, good job, nicely done. You made a movie that was thoroughly revolting. May you make many more. There seems to be an audience for it.

Cheap Thrills | 9:21 am CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Friday, April 12th, 2013

My Darling B has challenged me to come up with a one-word review for each movie we see during the Wisconsin Film Festival. The only word I could think of to describe In The Fog was: Russian. The word B came up with was “bleak,” which is the same kind of vibe but “Russian” is “bleak” times one thousand. At least one thousand.

The movie is set during World War Two. The German army has occupied Belorussia, and the natives who have not been able to fade into the background have become either collaborators or partisans. Over the course of the movie, we meet all three kinds. For each one of them, life is bleak, has no meaning, and ends in pointless death. “Doomed” is the most optimistic way to describe each of the characters.

The final scene of the movie sums everything up best. All three of the principal characters are in it. Two of them are dead. The one remaining alive, the only one who has retained his humanity, is left holding a pistol in his hand as a heavy fog rolls in to envelop him. Most other directors would have ended the movie as the fog completely obscured him, leaving his fate open to conjecture, but this is A Russian Film. The sound of a gunshot is the only way to be sure that his fate is sealed.

Blam!

In The Fog | 10:48 pm CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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My one-word review of Brewster McCloud: Stoned.

In fact, Michael Murphy, one of the principal actors, introduced the movie by explaining that “there was an awful lot of this going on,” and then pinched his forefinger and thumb together in front of his puckered lips and made a sucking sound, the universal sign of doing a spliff. “That’s the prism you should view this through.”

If only I’d ever gotten stoned even once in my life, I might have been able to understand this movie. I guess that’s just not going to happen, though.

Brewster McCloud | 10:40 pm CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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My one-word review of Gideon’s Army, the second movie we saw at the Wisconsin Film Fest last night, would be: Inspiring. It’s inspiring to know that there are people like public defenders out there, if ‘inspiring’ is the word to describe the way they made me want to get a law degree and fight for the rights of the indigent. I wonder how long it takes to get a law degree?

Gideon’s Army | 11:02 am CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, music, play, Wisc Film Fest
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There was a moment about midway through our viewing of Blancanieves when I thought to myself, There’s no way this movie can possibly have a happy ending. So even though it’s called Snow White, don’t think Disney, think Grimm.

The film opens with the champion bullfighter, Antonio Villalta, in his final match against half a dozen bulls at the ring in Seville. Just before he’s about to slay the final bull, he turns to his wife in the stands and tells her, “This one’s for you, sweetie, and that darling baby you’re carrying.”

Turning to My Darling B, I whispered in her ear, “Well, this guy’s a goner, for sure.” You never turn your back on a bull to say to your woman, “This one’s for you, babe.” It’s like the foxhole rule: Never show your buddy a picture of your girlfriend if you both happen to be in a foxhole on the front lines, because if you do, you’re going to die in that scene. Everybody knows that.

After the inevitable happens, things go downhill pretty fast. Villalta and his daughter Carmen end up in the clutches of Encarna, a scheming woman who got into nursing for all the wrong reasons. By the time she finally got her comeuppance, I felt cheated that they only implied her gory death on the horns of the biggest bull in the pen. The movie showed Villalta getting the stuffing kicked out of him by a bull. The least they could have show us was Encarna getting torn limb from limb. Oh, well.

After the movie, B asked me to review the movie in just one word. “Tragic” was the only word I could think of, particularly in light of the ending. Carmen plays the part of Snow White to the very end, but it’s not the ending you think it will be. “After the way that ended,” I told B on the way out of the theater, “I’m going to need a stiff drink.” But they didn’t serve Harvey Wallbangers at the Union South (do they still serve them anywhere?), so I settled for a beer.

Good movie. But a total bummer.

Blancanieves | 9:09 am CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Sunday, March 17th, 2013

We got our tickets for the Wisconsin Film Festival, and it only took thirty minutes this time. Last year, we were struggling for more than an hour to buy tickets on-line because of some awful glitch in the software that took so long to process payments that it kept timing out. We were ready for the same sort of shenanigans this year, though: My Darling B had her tablet and I had my laptop and each of us had a short list of must-see films that we went for the minute tickets went on sale. But aside from a short panic I hyperventilated through when I couldn’t remember my user name to log in, neither of us had any problems buying tickets. Thirty minutes and done.

The first show to sell out this year was Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. We wanted to see it as much as anybody else, so it was the first set of tickets we tried to buy. My Darling B snagged a couple first but then ran into trouble trying to pay for them. I was checking out with some must-see tickets so I snagged a couple for Much Ado. That’s when they asked me for my user name and I hyperventilated and cussed my way through the process of trying to recover it. It only took five minutes or so, but felt like forever.

Once we’d gone through the process once, going back for more tickets was so easy that, when we were done, we had that irrational feeling that we’d forgotten something. B went through the list of films I was supposed to buy tickets for and I checked them off against the I had, reading from the confirmation e-mails. And this time her obsessive-compulsive tendencies paid off: She found a film that I missed, dove back into the web site and bought them in a minute.

When we finished, we checked the film festival’s Facebook page and Twitter feed to see how things were going with all the other on-line tickets buyers. Everyone seemed to be happier than last year, although by then there were lots of disappointed Joss Whedon fans.

tickets | 6:34 am CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Friday, March 15th, 2013

It’s our custom every year to retire to a booth at The Roman Candle pizza parlor and choose the films that we want to see at the annual Wisconsin Film Festival. In years past, the festival’s schedule has been published a week before tickets went on sale but this year, along with all the other changes to the festival that I don’t like, the schedule was published on Thursday and tickets were set to go on sale the following Saturday, giving us less than 48 hours to make our selections. Just in case anybody from the WFF is reading this: That’s really bogus, guys.

We took our usual booth, ordered a 14-inch Supreme and a couple beers, and set to work. A little more than an hour later, we had our first choices.

There were surprisingly few movies that reached out and grabbed me, but then I feel I didn’t have enough time to think about my choices. B, on the other hand, came up with a long list of movies she wanted to see. Reconciling our two lists was a quick and relatively painless process.

Somehow, B ate all but one slice of her half of the pizza and regretted it almost right away. “Ate. Too. Much. Pizza,” she moaned over and over, wondering how she was going to get through the night. I stopped a slice and a half short of finishing my half and somehow escaped the indigestion that plagued her until I ate the rest for lunch the next day, when I was stricken with the Oh My God Trots almost immediately. TMI? Sorry about that.

choices | 7:06 pm CST
Category: beer, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, Wisc Film Fest | Tags:
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Monday, January 28th, 2013

We are exhausted after our long, long journey to the distant city of Stevens Point, where we stayed overnight after attending the 15th anniversary celebration of the Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst. Really. I need a nap. Oh, wait, I already had a nap. Guess I’ll write some drivel, then.

If, for some reason, you glanced to the north as you drove along Highway Ten just outside Amherst and your eyes happened to fall on a certain plain white steel-walled utility building in the middle of a corn field, you would very probably never feel the slightest inkling that some of the finest beer in Wisconsin is brewed there. Last night, though, the long lineup of cars parked along both sides of the access road would have given you the idea that something rather important was going on there. That something was the fifteenth birthday party of the Central Waters Brewing Company.

My Darling B and I found out about it maybe a month ago when Paul, one of the brewery’s owners, was in Madison to host a beer tasting at Star Liquor on Willy Street. Star has one of these events almost every Friday. They’re a great opportunity to try new beers, or just enjoy the beers we’ve always enjoyed while chatting up the guys who make them. I mean, really, how can you not like talking to a guy who knows how to make great-tasting beer? It’s like meeting someone who can make happiness.

So while we were asking Paul a few nosy questions about his beer and how he made it, he mentioned that the brewery’s anniversary party was coming up, and that it was sort of a big deal. I was thinking maybe he meant it was a big deal on the scale of big deals in Amherst. I mean, the brewery has a tap room, a small place off to one side of the building where visitors can sit around a bar or at a few tables and partake of a few of whatever beers the brewery has on tap, and when I say small I mean maybe there are seats for twenty-five or thirty people. Sixty or seventy people might be able to get in there if they didn’t mind getting really friendly. How many more people could they get in there?

Paul said that for the party they didn’t confine people to the tasting room, but let them into the rest of the brewery to mingle around the fermenting tanks and brewing vats. I remember wondering then, and again last night, about the wisdom of allowing a hundred or more beer-drinkers to wander around amongst the plumbing and other delicate apparatus that he depended on for his livelihood, but then he’s been doing this for years, so he must have had some idea what he was getting himself in for.

Amherst is a drive of almost two hours from Our Humble O’Bode. There was no way in hell I could possibly have spent the afternoon drinking beer in any amount, then driven all the way back to Madison. As it turned out, I didn’t have to even consider it. The guys at Central Waters said on their Facebook page that they would be running a charter shuttle bus from Stevens Point to the brewery, so My Darling B did a little googling and found a B&B not far from the bus stop. We made reservations to stay the night.

It was a grand old Victorian house known as Dreams of Yesteryear. Check-in time was three but the owners let us in an hour early. That was so we could leave Madison at around noon, be in Stevens Point by two o’clock, and catch the first shuttle to the brewery at two-thirty. And it all went like clockwork, except for the last part.

Since we missed the first shuttle, we hung out in a bookstore downtown for a while where we discovered the new genre of books called “Urban Fantasy.” As near as we could figure them out by reading the jacket blurbs and looking at the cover illustrations, they were all variations on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer story. There were twice as many urban fantasy books as there were of almost any other subject in the store. People in Stevens Point really like their vampires.

I was completely wrong about how many people they could fit inside that building. There were hundreds of people buzzing around inside the brewery when we got there, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out that thousands of people came and went over the course of the evening. Chartered buses were bringing visitors in from far away, and the cars parked along both sides of the roads bore license plates from several states. This was a big deal.

We took turns standing in the long, long line for specialty beers. My Darling B was especially keen on trying to get hold of the anniversary brew, but we never did manage to get any. While she was standing in line, though, the guy behind her noticed her cup was empty and poured her a shot from the growler he was carrying. He was either being very generous, or he wanted to empty the bottle before he got to the front of the line. Or maybe a little of both.

I tried two brews I’d never heard of before, Exodus and Le Petit Mort, both very tasty, but by the time I got them I had already had enough of standing in line, so I didn’t go back to try anything else. We made do with a couple beers from the regular taps while we listened to the band, or wandered around the brewery to check it out.

Being a couple of lightweights, we didn’t stay late at all, heading back to town on the seven-thirty shuttle. If I remember, we were in bed by nine so we wouldn’t miss breakfast in the morning. A good thing, too, because the hostess cooked up breakfast burritos that were delicious. I’d consider going back to Stevens Point just for that.

fifteen | 6:27 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, travel | Tags:
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Saturday, January 26th, 2013

This was how my Friday began:

I drove My Darling B to work yesterday because we were going to meet some friends of hers at Smoky’s Club on the west side. If I had the car and went back to pick her up after work, it would eliminate a lot of driving back and forth.

Her office is on the west side of town and, at that hour, the beltline is the quickest, easiest way to get there. On Friday morning, though, there was a dusting of new snow all across Madison and, when I came down the on-ramp and merged with traffic, I had the luck to fall in behind a county truck and, just as I pulled up behind him, he dropped his spade and wing plow to clear snow from the on-ramp and he started spreading salt. Of course.

I tried to get out from behind him but couldn’t. He slowed down quite a lot to plow and salt the road, and the oncoming traffic in the other lanes was moving too fast to safely merge with it. Also, I was having a lot of trouble seeing: The spray thrown up behind the truck mixed up with the salt he was laying down, which quickly coated the windshield of the O-Mobile in an opaque, white glaze. I tried the windshield washer but nothing squirted out. Tried it again; still nothing.

It’s the kind of car where the wipers come on when you try to squirt the wiper fluid. Sweeping back and forth across the windshield, they smeared the road spray and salt all over the glass, leaving about three inches at the very bottom for me to peek through. I had to drive the rest of the beltline hunched down in my seat. My head was lower than the top of the steering wheel.

After dropping B off at work I pulled into the first gas station I could find on University Ave, a small Mobil station. There was a rack of one-gallon bottles of wiper fluid right next to the door; I grabbed a gallon on the way in, set it on the counter and dug my wallet out of my pocket. And waited. There was no one at the counter. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the service bay, either. I shuffled around a bit, making noise, but nobody came out of the bathroom or whatever hidey hole they were in. I could have shoplifted the cash register.

I was standing there about five minutes when an older guy came out of a back room behind the service bay. “Can I help you?” Yeah, that’d be nice, thanks.

Back at the car, I popped the hood and filled up the wiper fluid reservoir, started the engine and yanked on the wiper stem. The wipers swept back and forth, but nothing squirted out. I yanked again, because, you know, that fixes it, right? Only it didn’t fix it, and I didn’t have time to figure out what the problem might be. I was already late for work, so I just poured wiper fluid straight from the bottle onto the windshield, then reached inside the car and yanked the on the wiper stem. The wipers swept across the windshield, squeegeeing the wiper fluid off the glass and slopping almost all of it onto my pants. Of course.

This was how my Friday ended:

We’ve driven past Smoky’s Club I don’t know how many times, and every time we drove past, one of us said, “You know, we really have to visit there some time.”

Well, we finally stopped in at Smoky’s yesterday. They were taking part in Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week, so for the last night we decided to finish off with a steak dinner at Smoky’s. And just to make it as much fun as possible, we met a couple that B knows from work and passed several happy hours swapping stories while we enjoyed dinner and some drinks. So, as bad as the day started, it ended about as well as it could have.

my friday | 7:56 am CST
Category: booze, commuting, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, restaurants, work
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Sunday, January 13th, 2013

choicesChoices, choices.

Next weekend is the start of Restaurant Week here in Madison, Wisconsin, Our Fair City. My Darling B has been pouring over menus to try to decide which ones she wants to go to, and has whittled it down to a ‘short list’ of thirty-seven dozen restaurants, more restaurants than are actually participating in Restaurant Week. There’s a quantum theory to explain how this is possible, but I never went any further than high school science, dammit, so I don’t know how she did that.

I, on the other hand, have only glanced at the available choices and have not made any list at all, because they all look good to me. My list would be their list. I want to go to all the restaurants and eat all the food.

But we have just one week and we can only go to lunch and/or dinner, so we could eat twelve meals at the most. Then we’d have to go home and cry for all the meals we couldn’t eat. It’s a bittersweet event.

choices | 9:46 pm CST
Category: food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Teriyaki Samurai set up this booth at Taste Of Madison today.

image of food vendor

Notice anything missing? Like maybe at least one dish with teriyaki in it? I was really looking forward to teriyaki by the time I got to this point. They could’ve at least had a ninja making the smoothies.

My Darling B and I biked into town this morning to see if we could find any really good or unusual food at Taste of Madison and sadly we have to report that we did not. Pulled pork seems to be a really big deal in the world of restaurant food, but neither of us had much of a hankering for pulled pork. Wrapping just about anything you can think of with bacon is also huge right now. The first thing B tried was BBQ shrimp wrapped in bacon. Tasted like bacon in barbecue sauce. The shrimp didn’t add much to the dish, except maybe to jack up the price.

And I’m going to gripe about the portions again. I ordered a gyro that turned out to be a full-sized gyro, big enough to be a complete meal. Couldn’t taste anything after that because I couldn’t bring myself to take another bite.

We keep going to Taste of Madison because the first year of the festival we had a lot of fun trying the showcase foods of the restaurants in the area, but frankly now that the food’s become more like the deep-fried twinkies, bacon-wrapped lard and the rest of the weirdo stuff served at a county fair, I’m not that interested any more.

food fail | 4:23 pm CST
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