Restaurant Review: Cafe Amilia

Cafe Amilia is located at Lawrence and El Camino in Santa Clara, California, in the former location of Flames. I went there tonight with my father, his girlfriend, and one of his co-workers who’s been kind enough to give him a ride to and from work recently in light of his broken leg.

I was surprised upon entering, as I suppose I was expecting an atmosphere similar to that of Flames. The decor was quite a bit nicer than the former restaurant’s, with yellows and golds and browns dominating the color scheme and a surprisingly open and spacious floorplan given its odd shape. The space as you enter is long and narrow, extending to the right and the left. Far to the lefthand side, the space opens out a little into a square bar area with a flatscreen wall-mounted TV. We were seated immediately at a window table about halfway between the entrance and the bar. The atmostphere was quite pleasant — I was easily able to forget that there were customers at other tables, though this may be because there weren’t very MANY of them. The lighting was low but not dim, and the furniture was simple and elegant, leading to a comfortable, uncluttered feel.

The service was pretty good, with the waitress frequently offering refills on drinks and checking to see if we needed anything, though I felt the wait times for food were a bit long.

The food was excellent, if a bit pricy. Pasta dishes ranged from $10 to $15, and entrees were generally between $15 and $25. You get what you pay for here, however — portion sizes were generous, and their dishes are loaded with the good stuff. The three cheese baked macaroni I had, for instance, had plenty of chicken and bacon in it, making it feel like a much heartier meal than you’d expect from mac’n’cheese. My friends in Portland might do well to think of Mother’s macaroni and cheese dishes as a parallel. The chocolate creme brulee I had for dessert wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, although it should be noted that I have a cold right now and my sense of taste isn’t what it usually is.

Overall, this is a pretty good restaurant — great food, good service, a bit pricy, with a nice atmosphere. Good place to take a date on payday. 😀 I give it four and a half stars out of five. Check it out!

Product Review: Altoids Dark Chocolate Dipped Creme de Menthe Mints

I picked these up at Safeway about a week ago. I noticed them while I was in the checkstand, and, always interested to try new flavors of Altoids, I decided to throw them in my basket.

I think it was for these that the phrase “exactly what it says on the tin” was invented. I noticed that they do not bear the “Curiously Strong” trademark that all of my other tins of Altoids do. I put one in my mouth and was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness of the chocolate. Letting that melt in my mouth, eventually I got to the mint inside, which seemed pepperminty, but not as strong as the traditional Altoids peppermints. The texture was the same as a regular Altoid — and therein lies the problem.

The outer shell of soft, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate with a hard Altoid center means that the flavors don’t blend much in your mouth. I was expecting something that tasted like a chocolate mint, but got something rather more like eating a chocolate chip, finishing it, then having an Altoid. They were discrete, separate flavors. Overall, I’d prefer a blend of the flavors, more like what you’d get in a Junior Mint.

Nevertheless, my tin is very nearly empty, whereas I’ve got five tins of regular Altoids close at hand that are around half full and I’ve had them for years. Clearly, I do enjoy these, flavor separation or no. I give them four stars out of five, and may buy them again after I’ve finished some of my other tins, if I’m in the mood for chocolate and Altoids.

Now I want a Junior Mint.

Movie Review: Patch Adams

I am a big fan of Robin Williams, but I’ve missed several of his films over the years. Some of these are in my Netflix queue, and Patch Adams was one of them.

Patch Adams (based on a true story) is the story of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a med student who, a few years earlier, in a mental institution, formed some non-traditional ideas about how to treat patients. As he goes through med school, he takes the saying “laughter is the best medicine” to heart, and develops a philosophy of treating the patient, not the illness. 

There was not much about this movie that I didn’t like. There were a couple of parts where it got slow and I did find myself checking the time once or twice, but I think that had more to do with the fact that it’s a little longer than the average movie. There was one horribly sappy scene that would have been more at home in a decades-old animated Disney feature than in a fairly-recent dramedy based on a true story, but I suppose I can forgive one brief scene of this nature.

On the other hand, there was plenty about Patch Adams that I did like. Robin Williams, as always, gave a thoroughly enjoyable performance, bringing both levity and gravity to the role as appropriate. The writing was clever and the story meaningful. Although it was more serious than is my preference in films, it was enjoyable to watch, and I think any biographical film will be more inclined toward seriousness than average, so it goes with the territory. It’s a bit of a feel-good movie (though it has its darker moments), and it’s nice to see what Patch does for his patients and how his presence in their lives makes their hard times a little easier.

Four stars out of five. I enjoyed Patch Adams and took something away from it, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. Check it out if you like Robin Williams’s more serious fare, movies based on true stories, or if you want a solid mix of laughter and drama.

Television Review: Dollhouse

Dollhouse, the latest series from Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), premiered Friday night on Fox. Whedon’s shows have always been fun and funny, even when they are dark (and when they are dark, they are very very dark). I’d been interested to see what his latest project would be like, so I marked my calendar and made an exception to my policy of avoiding watching on television what I can legally watch online. Dollhouse airs on Hulu one day after it airs on Fox, and I decided I didn’t want to wait. 

Dollhouse follows the adventures of Echo (Eliza Dushku), an “active” — an operative whose memory and personality are wiped before each mission and replaced with ones custom-tailored to the challenges she’s about to face. Echo is one of a number (apparently five?) of such operatives, who are overseen in the field by “handlers” — agents who merely observe and are responsible for extracting the active should things go awry. This type of oversight is deemed necessary due to the actives’ inability to remember their true identities. Woven into the tale of Echo’s first mission were snippets of what I assume was her real personality, as well as a sub-plot about a fellow who’s learned about the Dollhouse organization and aims to take it down. For comic relief, we have Topher, the wisecracking programmer who is responsible for wiping Echo’s mind and crafting and loading her custom personalities.

My experience with Whedon’s previous shows led me to believe that he could do no wrong. The first episode of Dollhouse serves as a potent reminder that nobody gets it right all the time. It started out slow, and though it picked up later in the episode, it still was nowhere near as entertaining as the worse episodes of his previous shows. It shows no sign of the wit or whimsy that are hallmarks of his other work (again, even when the subject matter is dark), and doesn’t stand out amongst the other shows on television. It is a decidedly mediocre offering from the man I’ve come to regard as the greatest storyteller of our time.

Additionally, while Whedon’s casts usually feature beautiful actresses in lead roles, Dollhouse seems to rely too heavily on this factor (and at least triply so in its advertising). I agree that Eliza Dushku is hot, but that’s a rather poor premise for a TV show (or at least one that airs on primetime network TV).

On the upside, it’s no worse than a lot of stuff on TV, and in all fairness, it is only the first episode. Perhaps it will improve with time — I would hope that eventually the script would bear some sign that it’s a Joss Whedon project — and come to take its place beside his other shows. I will give it at least one more chance, but if it doesn’t improve significantly and quickly, I don’t think I’m going to be following this one.

Two stars out of five.

Watch this only if you really have nothing better to do (or, like me, you’re desperately hoping it gets better).

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

The fifth and final flavor in my Celestial Seasonings variety pack, Raspberry Zinger didn’t sound so great to me. I’m not too keen on the taste of raspberries in general, but sometimes I’m in the mood for them, and if this tea were sweet enough, I could see maybe wanting a cup once every several months or so.

Sadly, it isn’t. It’s tangy and a bit sour, and they seem to have focused on the flavor elements in raspberry that I like the least. I do think this is very much a matter of taste — I doubt the tea is bad, it just tastes bad to me. Raspberry fans might find this tea to be tasty, but I won’t be buying it again. Even a packet of sugar didn’t help much, though it was much better than the black cherry berry.

Three stars out of five.

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Cranberry Apple Zinger Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

The fourth of the five teas in my variety pack, this one surprised me. Based on the name, I expected something tart and possibly a little bit sour (depending on what type of apples were used), but that assumption proved totally unfounded.

The cranberry apple flavor is actually quite sweet, reminding me of apples and cinnamon more than cranberries and sour apples. It’s the sort of tea you’d want to drink on a snowy winter day while sitting in front of the fireplace — you know, if you didn’t have any hot chocolate at the time. 😀 It would make a good dessert tea, and I may try it out that way soon — I’ve had this idea floating around in my head lately about sweetening tea with a little bit of vanilla ice cream instead of a sugar packet. Cranberry Apple Zinger is certainly a good candidate for that!

Four and a half stars out of five. Highly recommended for those with a sweet tooth and a love of sweet apple flavors.

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I wanted to see this since the first one was decent and my main complaint about it was that they had to spend too much time on establishing the characters. I figured since they wouldn’t have to introduce everyone this time, they could actually tell a story this time. 😉

Rise of the Silver Surfer is the story of how the Fantastic Four face a global threat that arrives unexpectedly on the wedding day of Reed Richards and Susan Storm — the Silver Surfer. The Surfer, a man whose entire body is silver, arrives on Earth astride a flying intergalactic surfboard. He begins punching craters in the Earth, preparing it for its ultimate destruction in only eight days. The Fantastic Four must abandon their plans and challenge the Silver Surfer, learn his mission, and discover a way to prevent the Earth from being destroyed.

This one starts out slow — for about the first half hour I was thinking, “gee, this movie could use a plot”. The writers seemed to enjoy the characters a little too much, wanting to show off the clever everyday uses they’ve come up with for their powers.

But eventually, things picked up and they got to the plot, and it was indeed a better movie than the previous one since the characters had already been introduced. It was nice seeing the characters use their powers and catch phrases more comfortably, rather than with the experimental tone they had in the first movie. There were some funny lines and amusing quips, some cool action sequences, and some awesome technology. Von Doom fans will be glad to know that he makes his return in RotSS, and those who are already familiar with the Surfer and know what his arrival portends can rest assured that his role has not been altered for the movie. I loved the Stan Lee cameo in this movie, much funnier than in the first one.

Overall, this was a good Marvel movie — not a great one, but a good one, and better than its predecessor. Three and three quarters stars out of five.

See this movie if you’re in the mood for a fun superhero story and don’t mind a little ramp-up time before it gets going.

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

I had heard good things about this tea from a friend, so I picked some up last time I was looking for something caffeine-free. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, except that it should be relaxing.

Tension Tamer has a complex flavor with several different herbs. The taste is mild and relaxing, with a muted peppermint being the only thing I can identify in it. (It also contains catnip, which just makes me want to see what happens if a cat drinks it…) One downside I noticed is that although it’s very good hot, it tastes awful when it gets cold. I’ve had a couple of cups of this now, and I find it fairly enjoyable, and it does seem to help me stay relaxed (although I have yet to try it out at a time when I’m feeling particularly stressed, so I’m not sure how well it works as a remedy).

This is a good caffeine-free tea, and I will likely purchase it again. Four stars out of five.

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

Another tea from the variety pack I bought. I like peaches, and this was the best-sounding tea in the package aside from the cherry one. I went in expecting it to be tasty and sweet. 

Fortunately, that’s exactly what is was. Another aromatic, fruit-flavored tea that’s good for sipping in the evening as bedtime approaches and caffeinated teas could be problematic. Sweetened with one packet of sugar, this warm peachy beverage was good to have at hand last night while I was working on my web site. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and look forward to having another cup soon.

Four stars out of five.

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Tangerine Orange Zinger Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

This is one of the other flavors in the variety pack that included the black cherry berry. Not being one to let such things go to waste, I started sampling the other flavors in the package.

Tangerine Orange Zinger has a tangy-sweet flavor, and you can definitely make out both flavors. It has a good balance of orange and tangerine, and is strong enough without being overbearing. This is a good cup of tea for the evening when caffeine tends to be less welcome. It came as quite a surprise to me after trying the black cherry berry that this tea, in a flavor that sounded less to my liking, was so much better.

Four stars out of five.

A good tea if you like fruit flavors and want something caffeine-free.