Thursday, December 30, 2004

RESTAURANT REVIEWS

This is a new section I would like to devote to restaurants. I will write reviews of places where I have dined. I certainly would like you to write to me and offer your opinions on all types of restaurants in your area. You will get full credit under the name of your choice and the date of your submission will be posted above the review. I will just make typo corrections and highlight certain items.

You may post your reviews in comments or e-mail me at marinadedave@yahoo.com


AMURA JAPANESE RESTAURANT

8/25/2005

Yesterday, three of us from work went to the Amura Japanese Restaurant in Lake Mary, Florida, a suburb north of Orlando. The name "Amura" comes from a deviation of their original name. It was, at one time, called "Samurai" but someone had already registered that name. Instead of completely renaming themselves, they dropped the first and last letters. Amura is Japanese for "Asian Village."

Upon entering, we noticed it was nicely appointed. Not way too elegant, but, not at all shabby. Overall, it's a very nice interior and quite large inside. When the hostess seated us, we immediately noticed how loud the lunchtime crowd was. The open ceiling with exposed air conditioning ducts had a lot to do with that. It didn't bother us since we were three guys and there was nothing romantic about it. A cute and petite waitress came up and took our drink orders. In the meantime, we perused the regular menu and the requisite sushi sheet that we're all familiar with, if you like sushi. This one, though, had a very large selection to choose from, with little descriptions accompanying each item.

When the waitress, Tita, came back, we ordered three Seaweed Salads with Spicy Tuna from the regular menu appetizer list. We also ordered the Shrimp Tempura with Vegetables. The Seaweed Salads with Spicy Tuna were really good, with a decent amount of the raw fish. With it were slightly pickled sliced cucumber and julienned daikon radish. Very enjoyable. The Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura came with various battered and deep fried vegetables and two large shrimp. Kind of tough when there are three of you, but, we cut them up and there was no problem. The salads were $7.99 each and I don't remember what the tempura was, but, hey, I wasn't paying. Saturday is my birthday and they wanted to treat me.

From the sushi menu, we ordered nothing but rolls. Lots of them. They brought the feast out on one of those Titanic sized boats that took up much of the table for four. We ordered the "Brainstorm" ($10.99) which consisted of soft shell crab, shrimp, smoked salmon, cream cheese and scallions. Very good. We got the "Crunch Munch" ($6.99) with tempura crunch, crab, avocado and mayonnaise. Another good one. We had to see what their take on the "Dynamite Roll" ($7.99) was going to be. This was just tuna, yellowtail and wasabi. So far, no complaints. The "Hiroshima Roll" ($11.99) was a strange name to me. I don't think naming something after death and destruction was that appropriate, but, it was good. It had tuna, yellowtail, snapper and mayo stuffed in it. The "Kamikaze" ($9.99) was merely a spicy tuna roll, albeit, tasty. The "Super Crunch Roll" ($9.99) was loaded with tempura crumbs and I don't remember what else. The "Unforgettable Roll" ($10.99) was spicy tuna, eel and tempura crunch. They like using that crunch stuff a lot, but, it does add a flavor that, overall, enhances a little bit. Now, last, but, not least, we penciled in the "Volcano Roll" ($10.99) which consisted of scallops, real crab, which is sometimes hard to find these days, salmon and cream cheese, but for 11 bucks, it had better be the real thing.

Overall, all of the rolls were delicious. The fish was firm and very fresh. Obviously, you could put all of the rolls on a scale, listing from first to last. There wasn't one particular roll I would not order again. There wasn't anything any of us could complain about. Me? Personally, I thought the prices were kind of high, although, this particular location is in a high end section of town. There are expensive homes nearby, some of the costliest around the metro Orlando area. Heathrow and Alaqua come to mind. Plus, there are some pretty sophisticated office buildings all around, housing some business suit type clients.

There are over 70 rolls to choose from, including vegetarian. We got 8 rolls. There are so many, we could go back and never order the same ones for some time to come. One I'll order next time is the "Mexican Roll" ($6.99) which has tempura shrimp, avocado and jalapeno peppers in it. All of the rolls were large, so we ended up bringing a good part of our order back to the office. I never get sick of sushi, so, needless to say, I didn't cook anything for dinner. There is also a fine selection of Nigiri sushi to choose from, not nearly as extensive as the rolls, though.

Amura has three locations in the Orlando area. This one is located in the Colonial Town Park at 950 Market Promenade Avenue, in Lake Mary. The phone number is 407-936-6001. I didn't ask if they take reservations. Next time, I want to ask the cute little Thai waitress if she wants to marry me.


SPATZ OF WINTER PARK

9/22/2005

Spatz is one of those neighborhood type bars with pool tables, electronic darts and golf. They have an eclectic blend of blue-collar workers, professionals and college coeds as their regular customer base. The bartenders are beautiful. Already, from gathering this information alone, you can pretty much conjure up a good idea of what's on the menu. They offer the usual bar type grub, from Jalapeno Poppers and Cajun Curly Fries to Burgers and Wings. There is a small but nice selection of stacked high deli type sandwiches. Spatz's House Rack ($6.95) is loaded with roast beef, ham, turkey and cheese, for example. And all sandwiches come with chips, a pickle and several other options, like what type of bread you want. The Philly Cheese Steak with grilled peppers & onions ($6.50) is a really good sub and quite filling. If you like Mushroom & Swiss Burgers ($6.50) don't pass this one up. We're talking about a half-pound of top grade ground beef here. The only complaint with it is that it depends on who's doing the cooking if you want it a certain way, like rare. Not that there's any talk of state law regulating how it's cooked, mind you, because there isn't. It's just that some people don't know how to grill a burger just right. And that leads me to Bill...

Bill is the lunchtime chef, and I do not use that term "chef" lightly here. Bill comes with high-end credentials, having spent many years in some of the finest restaurants around the country. Why on earth would someone want to leave the security and confines of world class dining? Well, take the word "confines" for instance. After so many years indoctrinated into a corporate realm, one could quite conceivably understand the burnout. Spatz happens to be the lucky outfit he’s settled in on. Not that he's in any immediate hurry to go anywhere else right now. Job offers still flow, but he's pretty content right where he is, and it shows in the quality of his work.

Until he started cooking at Spatz, the food was nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part. Don't get me wrong, the menu items are very good, but, bar food is bar food is bar food. You can only eat so many burgers and wings until you're left with tuna salad and onion rings. Not that there's anything wrong with their versions, either. But, where Bill excels, and it's a true asset to the restaurant he works for, is in his professional style of cooking. Everything he makes is delicious. Soon after he started there, he brought me a sample of gumbo he had concocted. I'm not a real gumbo aficionado, but this stuff was great. The okra wasn't slimy at all. I could clearly detect buttery notes instead. The shrimp were not overdone. I savored what few bites he allotted me. That got me started, and since then, I've tried his Clam Chowder, Vegetable Beef and other soups he's made whenever I go in. I've yet to find something I don't like. Homemade soups are not his only specialty. One day, I went in and the special of the day was Beef Stroganov. Just the right blend of sour cream and other ingredients over a bed of noodles. He had Grilled Trigger Fish one day. I had never heard of it before. It was spiced just right and was, indeed, a very nice piece of fish. Last week, he offered an 8-ounce NY Strip Steak for $7.95. All of his specials come with two sides. This one had French Fries with Gravy as one of the sides. For those of you who have never had that, you don't know what a treat you're missing. The other day, I tried Beef Burgundy. Yum. You don't know what to expect when you go in there, but I guarantee it will be excellent, and it will be very affordable. Prices vary due to the variety of offerings. Don't be fooled by the ambience. Believe me, the quality of the food belies your surroundings. You can peruse the regular menu, but don't go in there without asking your server what the specials of the day are. Or call Bill over. Ask him if he can whip up a new special for you one day. He brings a vast amount of knowledge blended with years of experience into the kitchen and he's certainly brought the level of the bar up quite a few notches.

Remember Bill when you are thinking about catering your next function.

Spatz of Winter Park is open Monday through Saturday, 11am-2am, Sunday, 12-12. It is located at 1025 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, Florida. The phone number is 407-647-3354.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Can Religion and Evolution Coexist?

My grandfather was a preacher. When I was young, he told us all to pray in "thees and thous" as if it were a structured English that might be more understood by God. It clearly was an old way of speaking, but, God had been around a lot longer than me, so who was I to question it? But I did. I asked him why? Jesus never even spoke English. My grandfather didn't quite have an answer for me that made an awful lot of sense. I mean, Jesus never heard of the King James Version of the Bible. It was written long after His time. Once again, also many years ago I questioned him. He said that bodies should be buried, not cremated, for the resurrection of the body at the time of the Second Coming. Just before this, I lost my Boy Scout troop leader, who was a TWA pilot. The plane crashed and his body was never recovered. He could have been pulverized, like someone in an atomic or major explosion. I aked him about these people, who have no body. He didn't quite have an answer for me on that one, either. My point is not to question his religious fervor or rationale or beliefs, but to show how far religions have evolved since those days in the early 60's. Many religions of the Christian faith no longer adhere to such thinking. New versions of the Bible have been written. People of all faiths are cremated every day. As far as other religions, I am not that learned and make no conjectures of my own. Certainly my grandfather had to have changed with the times, but he was old even then, being born in 1904 and instilled with doctrines from an earlier era.

This recent event encompassing such a massive area of destruction in Sri Lanka, Phuket and surrounding countries was and is terrible and catastrophic. These things have occurred since the existence of earth. How could such things happen? I don't think a merciful God would snap His fingers and...Poof! Death and destruction everywhere! I have a hard time, for one thing, believing that God is a man, with the same organs and urges as the ones He placed on earth, but that is another issue. I think the earth is continuously evolving, thus evolutionary. This earthquake was a natural disaster, which brought on the impending tidal waves, and caused the deaths of so many innocents. The forces that caused this did not happen overnight. It took how many thousands or millions of years for all the dominoes of nature to fall in just this precise formation in order for this to happen? One thing of particular interest to me is how do animals know when to find shelter? How many animals were killed during this event? Did something tell them to seek higher ground, a message we humans did not receive? Why would God alert the animals and not us? Could this be an instinct preserved from ancient times that we've lost as we evolved into a more intelligent species? Everyone, at some point, has sensed something they wouldn't normally feel. Could this be remnants from a time long gone that we've mostly lost down through the years?

Could nature and God coexist? Why not? We do with nature. If there is a God in the universe, don't you think this god would want humans to learn to fend for themselves? To evolve into constructive, intelligent beings that know how to protect themselves and others, and to grow with life's experiences? I'm certain that more people around the world are murdered every year than the ones who were lost on that fateful December day. Would God want any of these events to take place? I don't think so. And you can pray for the rest of your life for none of this to ever happen again, but it will. Unnatural versus natural deaths. Such is the recurring theme.

Think of the first computer. It was the size of a house. How small are they today? It has evolved into what it is today and will evolve into what it will become tomorrow, with God's help, or did we as humans do it all alone? This is what I ask unto you: Shall we live in a distant past, intrinsically tied to the laws of God written by men from a bygone era? Or are we to live here on earth, bound by the forces of nature not of our doing, along with an ever evolving God and universe and grow along with the ride?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Message From The Captain

My brother sent an e-mail from Iraq the other day. Then he called Christmas morning. It sure was neat talking to him. He seems to be safe, which is hard to believe. He caught a very bad cold. The insurgents lob missiles into the base at night while they are asleep. They land wherever. If they hit you, then it was just your day. That is their greatest fear. The soldiers then go on a seek and destroy mission. Some of the locals will try to tell them where they are coming from. Once in a while, snipers get close to the base and try to shoot personnel, so that is also a danger. In the meantime, they must get up during the deluge of missiles and dress in full gear for protection. This disrupts their sleep patterns and probably is what the insurgents are trying to do if they can't do anything else. The food is good, he says, the billets (beds) are hard and not very comfortable. Otherwise things are OK so far. He works at least 12 hours a day.

On his way to Iraq, there is a funnel on the plane where you pee. It is open for all to see. Not really a cheap thrill, since they all know where they are headed. The women arrive dehydrated. They don't drink any water so they don't have to go. In order to do so, they must expose a lot more of themselves than the men. There are a lot more men than women aboard. And it is a pretty long flight.

I worry about his safety every day, but it is reassuring when I get an e-mail and get to talk to him. His wife is a little less apprehensive now, too. God be with them all.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Just In Case...

My brother, the Air Force captain, is halfway around the world now, in a place no one wants to be. I just got off the phone with his beloved. Now that he is gone, she is filled with anticipation and the void only a spouse knows. I know how I feel, but she would feel his warmth in the morning, enjoy the breakfast banter and all that goes on in making a marriage so special. This morning she was alone. She is a military wife and is aware of the pitfalls of being one. But, when the time comes, it's tough, no matter how strong you are.

The weeks preceeding his departure, he left little hints, not on purpose, of course, but, I guess just a natural instinct to protect her. He told her little things, like, how to work the sophisticated stereo she never got around to learning, just in case...

Make sure you do this, just in case...

Don't forget that, just in case...

He's gone away before, as is the nature of the business, but, never thrust into a hostile environment. I think not being able to contact your loved one has got to be one of the worst things in the world. For all concerned.

I told her that I would keep in touch with her. Try to fill some of that void. Fortunately, she has family and friends where she lives to help her along the way. I told her to call me when she is down. I will lift your spirits, I said. Together, as a family, we will all be strong. We will all pray for his safe return.

Little does she know how weak I may feel inside. I will never tell her, just in case...

Friday, December 17, 2004

La Caca Pasa Cafe


La Caca Pasa Cafe
Originally uploaded by Marinade Dave.
Back in the mid-eighties, here in Florida, there were 2 movements gaining momentum. One was about outlawing vulgar bumper stickers, such as the ever redneck popular "Sh*t Happens." The other one was about making English the official language of the state. I thought about printing my own bumper stickers if both of these were enacted into law. Simply, it said "La Caca Pasa Cafe," which, loosely translated, means "The Sh*t Happens Cafe." Then, if I were to be pulled over by a Spanish reading cop, he would not be able to ticket me since English would be the official language. Imagine what nasty stuff I could put on my car as long as it was foreign. The obsurdity of it all.

Alas, only the bumper sticker law was passed. I could have made a killing in the bumper sticker business.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Book Cover Design


Book Cover Design
Originally uploaded by Marinade Dave.
This is a book cover I designed for a book my father wrote. He has been sober a very long time. He has had small quantities printed and it is being used in a rehab facility now. He is in the process of having it printed for a larger audience.

At first I was reluctant to do the work since I myself drink occasionally, but then I realized that if he took it elsewhere, that doesn't mean the other designer doesn't drink either. Plus, it's for my father. Who would do a better job than his own son, a graphic designer?