Japan Festival

JF-1Houston may have many faults but it certainly does not lack festivals. On any given weekend there will be one or more festivals, usually country themed. Greece, Lebanon, Jamaica, Germany – sure, you can visit all of those in a 2-week span.

The Japan Festival, which has been going on for decades, I always seem to miss. But not this year. While you can sample ‘Japanese food’, its really more food trucks with generally Asian offerings. The pulls here for me were the patrons themselves, dressed up as their favourite anime characters, and the Taiko drumming concert.  If you happen upon this mid-April festival in Hermann Park, definitely make time for the Taiko concert. The drummers with their wide stances, intense focus and intermittent yelling appear both as musicians and martial arts warriors. You have to love drumming you can feel in your teeth.

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Antiviral

antivLongtime horror film fans definitely know David Cronenberg and his brand of strange body horror ranging from bizarre to completely undecipherable. But, did you know that he has a son, Brandon, and he too is now a horror film producer. Thanks to a co-worker, who did not make the Cronenberg connection when mentioning this film,  Antiviral, now I know and I’ll keep watch over his future efforts.

Antiviral is set in a dystopian future where fan obsession has reached truly unsettling extremes. When celebrities take ill, ‘virus-brokers’ harvest the illness and resell it to fans who want to make a ‘biological connection’. As happens with profitable businesses, piracy and black market deals enter the picture and that’s where the more disturbing plot twists enter.

The good news is the film is extremely stylish; cinematography is fresh with heavy use of blur and zoom to reveal plot details with timing that surprises. The soundtrack sounds a little borrowed from Papa Cronenberg’s earlier works, industrialized to appeal to modern audiences. The acting is good considering they were going for a dystopian environment. The rather heavy-handed social commentary about spiraling celebrity status is delivered as a cautionary tale, not for us, rather for the celebrities.

The bad news is the character development is poor. So poor that even with the interesting plot twists, stylish delivery and attention grabbing camera work, I just didn’t give a crap what happened to the characters.

For Baby Cronenberg’s first effort, not bad. If you’re a long time David Cronenberg fan definitely reserve the 90 minutes to see what is Brandon’s talent in the rough. For all others, you can safely fast forward to his next film.

Izakaya

After discovering a sensitivity to rice I cut back a little on my sushi outings. Sad but luckily there are rice-free options in sushi restaurants and there is a new crop of Japanese ‘farmhouse’ restaurants featuring even more rice-free options.

Izakaya is one of the new “farmhouse” entries and I’m happy to say, excellent across board.

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Atmosphere
Casual anime chic, I suppose. Polished concrete floors and walls surrounding raised booths, big anime murals in the brightest of colours. We were late in the lunch cycle so it wasn’t busy, making conversation pleasant. However, I’ve seen this place mobbed beyond capacity on Saturday night.

Food
Wins.

Edamame. Use caution if you are hot pepper sensitive. I loved the super spicy version with soy-ginger-garlic sauce but my lunch partners were eating one or two, smile-turned-surprise, then gulping down a quart of water.

Scallop Banh Mi. Open faced scallop banh was good as well as creative. Nice sized scallops, lightly marinated in a fish sauce base then seared, placed atop a pillowy French bread round. Cilantro, julienned carrots, peppers and radish mixed and topped to finish the assembly. Good mix of salty and herbal which, surprisingly, did not detract from the flavour of the scallops.

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Snapper Crudo. Snapper sliced thinly, topped with extra virgin, ground pistachios and quartered grapes.  Simple flavours which work surprisingly well together without muddling the flavour of the snapper.

Wasabi Beef Skewers. You can’t go wrong with skirt steak strip marinated in a sweet soy then grilled to crispy-out, juicy-in texture topped sparingly with wasabi.

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Gelatinous Peach Sake. OK, this was not what I would call good, however I would still recommend you try it once as a rite of passage. Sake mixed with gelatin, peach flavouring and something carbonated. Its a chewy, bubbly, whirlwind on your tongue and just its plain weird. It comes in a can and our server tried to pour it out but it had to be coaxed out like ketchup from of a bottle.

Consider it a conversation piece.

 

Price
Its a little pricey. Three small ‘tapas’ plates and a weird sake drink – $45. The quality is excellent, however.

Service
Very friendly and efficient with good knowledge of the offerings but they lean a little towards overselling. Quick turnaround but we were on the late side of lunch with only three other tables in play.

I’ll definitely be back to try some of the other offerings, perhaps at a busier time to see how the crowd and atmosphere evolve.

The peach-gelatin sake will not be on the menu.

Lunch: April 2016

Izakaya| 318 Gray | HTX 77002

 

Eye In The Sky

Eye]Eye In The Sky doesn’t pose any new questions, at least not those that haven’t already been posed frequently since 9/11. While billed in some places as action or suspense, it isn’t, it is however a drama.

It works as a thought-provoking vehicle by putting the viewer in a position to evaluate the costs of the war on terrorism. The plot mechanism is straight-forward. A British-US drone recon mission with intent to capture a group of long sought after terrorists changes course drastically with new information – those terrorists are about to execute a new, dangerous plan. Now. From capture to kill but not without some known collateral damage. That’s the pickle for you, dear viewer. What would you do? Take out the terrorists knowing you will kill one innocent bystander or let them continue, saving one but knowing they might kill hundreds.

I liked the coverage of ethical, moral, political and social viewpoints as the military commanders, legal counsel, advisors from other countries chime in with thoughts. The sheer administrative madness to make a decision was infuriating, however the dialogue along the way was well-written and certainly current.

That aside, I was glad to see Aaron Paul in something other than Breaking Bad. His character was the drone pilot,  the person most reluctant to ‘press the button’ since he saw the collateral damage up close.

I was also glad to see Alan Rickman, who you better knew as Harry Potter’s, Severus Snape, in his final film performance. He was entirely convincing as British command and he had the sledgehammer line  – “Never tell a soldier he doesn’t know the costs of war”. I don’t think you need to identify right-side or left to appreciate the weight.

Overall I recommend but not for those seeking action nor suspense, rather drama and good coverage of many perspectives of a current situation without declaring a winner. The decision to see it, however, may depend on how heavily saturated you are already with opinions about the war on terror.

 

 

 

Eggplant “Sushi”

While in Miami Sister and I found an interesting dish at a sushi restaurant, Doraku Sushi, eggplant prepared and presented as a sushi roll. It satisfied Sister’s vegan lifestyle and my sensitivity to rice, plus it was amazing in texture and flavour.

So impressed with the dish I set out to recreate. Overall this rendition is good. Not having used miso before, now I know its much saltier than expected; next time I’ll cut the miso in half.

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  • 2 Japanese Eggplants (the skinny ones)
  • 2-3 T Yellow Miso
  • 2-3 T Mirin
  • 1 T Chives, chopped, dried
  • 2 T Oil (any light flavour)
  • 1 t Sesame Oil
  • 2 t Garlic, chopped
  • 2 t Ginger, chopped
  • 1 t Red Chili Flakes
  • 2 t Sesame Seeds, roasted

To prepare the glaze, take miso, mirin, oils, garlic, ginger and chili and process in a food processor until smooth. You could also do this with a whisk if you want a chunkier glaze.

To prepare the eggplant, slice 1-2″ rounds, depending on how high you want them to stand. If you’re going for pick-up appetizers, 1″ is better. If you’re going for a side with visual appeal, 2″. In the 1″ case, it worked out better to pre-cook the rounds by slightly basting with oil then baking them for 15 minutes in a 375 oven. Remove from oven, let cool slightly then top each round with a  few teaspoons of glaze and a few toasted sesame seeds. Pop them under the broiler until the glaze starts to char around the edges. Remove and sprinkle with the remaining toasted sesame seeds and chopped chives.

I loved the flavour (savory with a little garlic-chili bite) and texture (pillowy on the inside but still sturdy enough to pick up) of these, although they were not as good as the Doraku version. The secret here seems to balancing the miso with the other flavours and finding the right pre-bake time and temp for the desired texture.

I’ll try these again, perhaps with less miso or  a little agave and a longer time under the broiler.

Sculpted In Steel

Another month of work interruption but things seem to be returning to somewhat normal.

I did have a chance to sneak away from my computer to see Sculpted In Steel, one of the newer exhibits at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I loved these cars and motorcycles all from the Deco Era, late 1920’s through early 1940’s. Sleek linearity and symmetry of the Deco style were a countermanding force to the ornate detail and asymmetry of the previous style, Art Nouveau. Its a shame Deco fell out of favor at the start of WW2 but at least its quite well preserved here, that is until 30 May when it moves on to another location.

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Miami | Vizcaya

Nope, we don’t have any relatives living in Miami but it turned out to be a convenient place for a makeshift family gathering and given it was winter, much warmer.

Miami reminds me of Las Vegas in the late 90’s; perpetually busy and shiny with high rise condo construction rocketing forward on every corner. If you happen to be in Miami and are looking to escape the maze of impassable streets and a density of cranes blotting out the sun, you’re in luck. A mile or so south in Coconut Grove, there is Vizcaya Museum. Museum might be a strong word, its really the villa and grounds formerly belonging to the Deering family. Despite current renovation of the villa, this is still an extraordinary 2-3 hour stop. You’ll need at least that long to traverse the “Gardens”, which cover 50 bay-side acres and seem similar to gardens I’ve seen in Florence, Italy.

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