Labor Day 2012 — restaurant weekend

On Saturday, 1 September 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and college chum Stuart C.G. and his family. Stu and his wife Zoe and their sons Sammy and Benji were in Boston for a wedding. On the way, I stopped by the Compleat Strategist and Pandemonium Books & Games. We went to Hei La Moon in Chinatown for a dim sum lunch.

After that, we took the “T” to the Museum of Science to let the boys “burn off some of their excess energy” (their own words). We headed back downtown for dinner at Oishii, the best sushi and sashimi restaurant in the area. The food, presentation, and service were all very good, if also very pricey. Janice didn’t join us because she doesn’t like seafood.

Sushi and sashimi
Sushi and sashimi at Oishii Boston

After dinner, we hiked back up to No. 9 Park on the Boston Common for dessert. Zoe took her kids back to their hotel, and Thomas and I shared several tasty cheese courses. Unfortunately, service was slow, and even with Thomas giving me a lift back to my car in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I didn’t get home until midnight.

After Janice’s usual shift at the animal shelter on Sunday morning, we went to historic Lexington, Mass., for American food at Lexx. Although most towns in New England have an ice cream parlor, I was pleased to find a few shops in Lexington that serve frozen yogurt because of my late-onset lactose intolerance. We even picked up a container at Rancatore’s to bring home.

On Labor Day 2012, Janice and I returned to Central Square, Cambridge, to meet Thomas & Kai-Yin, Stuart & Zoe, and rambunctious Sammy and Benji for an “Asian-style tapas” brunch at Moksa. Since Stuart and his family had gone to Harvard Square on Sunday, Janice and I headed to the bookshops there while Thomas, Stu, and company went to tony Back Bay.

In addition, I ran my “Vortextelecom space opera game on Sunday night, and I participated in Brian W.’s fun Fiasco scenario last night. I’ve still got some big projects coming due at work, so more role-playing updates and genre entertainment reviews will have to wait for now. Here comes autumn!

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Watch City Festival 2012

On Saturday, 12 May 2012, Janice and I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. at the Waltham Common for the third annual Watch City Festival. Before exploring the steampunk fair, we walked to Carl’s for a filling steak sub lunch. (I’ve also recently eaten with co-workers at nearby Baan Thai and Bombay Mahal.)

Customized vintage vehicle
At the Watch City Festival 2012

We enjoyed perusing the tents and shops of the farmer’s market and assorted vendors, watching some performances, and seeing fellow steampunk fans in costume. We also went to the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation and associated galleries and workshops.

Janice and I went to last year’s International Steampunk City, and we were glad to see strong attendance, including many young people. We didn’t get to any of the panel discussions, but I did get to chat with some authors and artists in a variety of media.

The weather was warm and pleasant, so even though I’ve been fighting a cold and allergies, it was good to be outside after another week of rain. I admire the energy of steampunk enthusiasts, who are more open to creative experimentation than fans of other subgenres. Janice and I later walked up Waltham’s Moody Street, where we stopped by some bookstores and got ice cream at Lizzie’s.

Catching up — sheep and pirates

I’m still catching up on work, unpacking, and game notes after the fun reunion with friends from high school and college a few weeks ago. I’ve started writing blog posts about the Boston Comic Con, the current season of genre television, and more, but in the meantime, here’s a quick report on this past weekend.

On Saturday, 28 April 2012, Janice and I went to Gore Place in Waltham, Massachusetts, for the 25th annual Sheepshearing Festival. I was impressed by the size of the event and the number of attendees. We enjoyed the herding dog demonstration, fair food, craft tents, and bluegrass music. Janice and I also took a brief tour of the early 19th century home of one of Massachusetts’ governors.

The next day, we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for lunch on Waltham’s Moody Street. We ate at Kabab & Tandoor, which is downstairs from an Indian grocer and part of an appetizing food court. We enjoyed the buffet of savory, spicy, and sweet items before going to the Landmark Embassy Cinemas nearby.

We caught a matinee of The Pirates! A Band of Misfits, the latest comedy from Aardman Animation, the studio responsible for Wallace & Gromit, among other things. We enjoyed the movie, which follows a hapless pirate captain (named “Pirate Captain” and voiced by Hugh Grant) in his quest to win the “Pirate of the Year Award.”

Aardman Animation's latest comedy
The Pirates!

Along the way, Pirate Captain and his eccentric crew — even for pirates — meet Charles Darwin (voiced by Martin Freeman, also known as Arthur Dent, Dr. Watson, and Bilbo Baggins) and an entirely unamused Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). Also important to the plot are a dodo, a dirigible, and Darwin’s monkey butler.

If this sounds delightfully chaotic, it is. The Pirates! has a lively Anglo-American voice cast, sight gags too numerous to catch in a single viewing, and good use of modern music (the Clash’s “London Calling” is most memorable). The movie, which combines stop-motion and computer animation, also alludes to real-world literature and science of the 19th century.

I enjoyed The Pirates! more than the past few Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, and I recommend the movie to anyone who likes animation, comedy, or swashbuckling and steampunk. The Pirates! is rated PG for some crude humor and slapstick violence, but most of the adult jokes will sail right over children’s heads. I’d give The Pirates! A Band of Misfits an 8.5 out of 10, a B+/A-, or four stars. This coming weekend is the opening of the much-anticipated Avengers live-action movie….

Reunion report

On Friday, 13 April 2012, Janice and I took half a day off from work and drove to Utica, New York. We checked into the Best Western Gateway Adirondack Inn and had a solid dinner at Babe’s, a nearby Italian restaurant. After Janice’s parents arrived, we went to see our niece Laura as Cobweb in an entertaining community college production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The next morning, Janice, her parents, and I met Janice’s middle sister Shelly and her children Laura and David for breakfast at the Denny’s across from our motel. Janice and I then visited high school chum Damon F.P. at his apartment in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. We got to meet his cat Caesar, and we watched a little of That Metal Show, before going to check in at the Courtyard Tarrytown Greenburgh, where we have stayed before.

The highlight of the weekend for me was an informal reunion that Damon and I have been planning for a few months. Since we didn’t attend Archbishop Stepinac High School‘s official 25th anniversary reunion last year, we organized a gathering with some of our longtime friends in White Plains, N.Y.

Informal high school reunion and friends
Sean F., Frank J.D., Brian D.H., Carlo R., Damon F.P., and Steve M.

Carlo R., who was two years ahead of the Class of 1986, joined us, as did Frank J.D. We hadn’t seen Frank, who was also my first roommate at the State University of New York at Binghamton, in many years, so we were excited to catch up. After checking out the lacrosse game on a field that was much nicer than the one we remembered, we walked the halls of our alma mater.

Janice was patient as we recounted various adolescent misadventures, including a bus riot, assorted teachers who scared us or whom we drove to tears, and the pranks of our classmates. I was thrilled to reconnect with Frank, who was from Yonkers like me and now lives with his family in Connecticut.

We perused old yearbooks together. It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 30 years since we first met! Carlo reminded me of our shared interest in Doctor Who and our space opera screenplay for “The Zarkonian Bomb,” which later evolved into the short stories of “The Adventures of Jason Delmar” and the “Vortex” role-playing game setting. We also noted the passing of our collaborators Bill B. and Ray C., among others.

Damon and I once sparred over politics, and we’ve been in regular contact — I’ve served as best man at his weddings, and we met other friends at a 40th birthday bash a few years ago. His impressions of our former teachers, including several priests, were hilarious. Frank was just as interested in sports, cuisine, and good times as I remember, and it was like finding a long-lost brother.

From Stepinac, we went to Executive Billiards, where we met classmates Steve M. and Sean F., as well as Brian D.H., who knew Frank at SUNY-B. and was my housemate right after college when we worked at NYPIRG in Queens. Hockey goalie and painter Steve lives near Frank in Connecticut, and Sean, whom we hadn’t seen since high school, lives and works in White Plains. I’ve been away for long enough to find that city’s growth is impressive.

I saw Brian and several other college friends in Manhattan last summer, but it was nice to catch up with him and everyone over friendly games of pool with beer and munchies. Damon, Frank, and I had tracked down a few other Stepinac alumni, but they couldn’t make it. Maybe next time.

All of us but Sean had a late dinner at Hacienda Azteca, a nice Mexican restaurant near the pool hall. Were it not for family obligations and travel plans, we could have talked even later into the evening. We may have matured somewhat, but I was pleased to find that our bonds have changed little. Unlike the promises scrawled into our yearbooks, I expect to stay in touch as our friendships are renewed as adults.

The next morning, Janice and I met Damon, Carlo, and Ron J.K. for brunch. Ron is another Binghamton alumnus and a core member of the “Westchester crew.” Unfortunately, we couldn’t eat at the City Limits Diner as planned because it had suffered a kitchen fire just as we arrived! Fortunately, we found Highridge Bagels 2 nearby.

Janice and I had a smooth drive back to Massachusetts, stopping at Cracker Barrel on the way home. I’ve still got some unpacking to do, but work, various games, and my historical weapons class have kept me busy. I’ll try to review recent genre television, restaurants, and more soon.

Finding food around Waltham

Waltham's Moody Street
Moody Street in Waltham, Mass.

In the past month, Janice and I have started exploring our new neighborhood in Waltham, Massachusetts, and I’ve gone out to lunch a few times with co-workers.

I still miss the inclusive menus, unpretentious cooking, and all-hours convenience of the diners and delis in metropolitan New York. We occasionally ate breakfast or brunch at Fresco Café in Needham, and there is a Friendly’s near our new apartment. I’ve been to Wilson’s Diner, and I look forward to eventually checking out In a Pickle and Arcadia in downtown Waltham.

Carl’s Subs, also in Waltham, makes a very good cheesesteak — if not at the level of Talarico’s Sandwich Shop in Pennsylvania — as does Charley’s Grilled Subs in the Burlington Mall. I’m also looking for a hamburger to rival Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square, Wild Willy’s in Needham, or Four Burgers in Central Square, Cambridge, all of which I’ve eaten at recently.

On a related note, since there is no Chipotle nearby, I’ll be checking out the various Latin American eateries on Waltham’s Moody Street for tasty, filling, and cheap burritos. Ixtapa Mexican Cantina in Lexington, Mass., is similar to Acapulco’s in quality, and I saw that there is a Border Café near the Burlington Mall. I found that the drinks at Margarita’s were better than the food.

For pub grub, Watch City Brewing Co. is pretty good, although I think I like the British Beer Co. a bit more. I’ve had drinks a few times after work at Boxx 109 in the fancy Hotel Indigo. We have yet to eat and drink at Grassfield’s, City Streets, John Brewer’s Tavern, or Skellig. For Southern food, Bison County joins Firefly’s, Blue Ribbon Barbeque, and Midtown Smokehouse and Grill. For steak, we recently found Texas Roadhouse in Walpole, Mass.

Speaking of steak, we’ve celebrated many birthdays at Fuji in Needham, and I’ll have to look for another sushi/hibachi place. I tried to go to Takara Sushi in Newton with some co-workers last week, but we ended up at Bread & Chocolate instead. Speaking of cafés, in addition to the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbuck’s, I’ll have to try Panera and Café on the Common.

I’ll also have to find a decent Chinese restaurant, hopefully one that delivers. There is no shortage of promising Indian restaurants in the area, including Waltham India Market, which has a small food court in its basement. I’ve enjoyed “fusion” Asian cuisine at Tom Can Cook, Elephant Walk, and Ponzu (I ate at the last of these yesterday with Beruk A.).

I also hope to find a good local pizza joint similar to Stone Hearth Pizza, in addition to reliable chains Papa Gino’s, Bertucci’s, Uno Chicago Grill, and The Upper Crust (which had labor problems). An economical Italian family restaurant is also on my “to find” list.

For groceries, we miss having a Trader Joe’s in walking distance, as we did in Needham, Mass. Still, the Shaw’s is close, and I’ve ogled the fresh produce at the Wagon Wheel Nursery & Farmstand and Wilson Farm in Lexington. Finding locally produced bleu cheese isn’t always easy, but it’s important to me.

Speaking of dairy, I look forward to stopping by Lizzy’s Ice Cream as the weather gets warmer. Every town in New England has an ice cream parlor. I prefer gelato, sherbet, or frozen yogurt, however, because of my lactose intolerance. Janice and I will also have to find a decent bakery. So much to eat, so little time!