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Dangerous Liaisons
Dangerous Liaisons
Directed by
Stephen Frears
Staring
Glenn Close
John Malkovich
Release
December 21, 1988

This movie is on a short list of ones that I'll watch repeatedly, like a little kid with a Disney video. Set in pre-revolution, 18th Century France, the movie is based on a contemporaneous novel. The story of social intrigue and deceit could just as easily take place at any point in time since the beginning of history to today (Mean Girls, anyone?). I find it endlessly fascinating even though I am not the type to engage in such behavior. (I probably have more in common with Le Chevalier Danceny than I care to admit.)

What truly grabs my attention, though, is the period portrayed. This movie deserves the Oscars it won for Art Direction and Costume Design (in addition to the Screenplay, another well deserved award). The depiction of everyday life of the French nobility is captivating. From the opening scene with the main characters getting ready for their day to the faux good act of the Vicomte de Valmont in saving the peasant from the tax collector, you truly get a sense of the gap between rich and poor of that era. We seem to be heading in that direction today, hopefully we'll arrest it before we have our own 1789.

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A Confederacy of Dunces
Author
John Kennedy Toole
Publisher
Grove Press, Inc.
Edition
First Black Cat Edition, Second Printing - 1981 - paperback - 415

I fear, in an alternate universe, I may be Ignatius J. Reilly. Perhaps it is my Irish Catholic upbringing that leads me to believe, in my dark moments, that despite my good intentions, I am worth less than a small pile of flea turds. When it gets bad, I break out this book and give it another read. The laughter it induces is enough to bring me out of my funk, but I also realize -- Damn! -- things could be worse.

...continue reading "Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces"

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There is a wide variety of sources on food: books, magazines, websites and television. Likewise, what is presented ranges from traditional cookbooks to history and travelogues. Despite this diversity, I will use the following general evaluation to rate food media.

Content (60 points)

What did I learn? While this varies depending upon the subject, I need to feel like I learned something useful or that this would be a good introduction for a newbie. Does this provide you with new techniques or knowledge that will aid you in the kitchen or make eating more enjoyable?

Quality (20 points)

How well was the content presented? Was it well organized, well written? Was there something in the content that makes me question the author's credibility? While this measurement is closely tied to my evaluation of the content – a low content score will likely also mean a low quality score – I keep these separate to account for the case where good stuff is obscured by a crappy presentation.

Food Porn (20 points)

Show me the money shot! Yes, I want to learn, but I want to salivate, too.

Recipes (10 points extra credit)

I do not want a simple recitation of recipes. Divorced from context, this is solely rote memorization. Recipes, if present, serve to support the content.

Grading Scale

I will divide the points awarded by the maximum possible (rounded to nearest whole number) and assign a letter grade according to this scale:

A: 93 - 100%

A-: 90 - 92%

B+: 87 - 89

B: 83 - 86

B-: 80 - 82

C+: 77 - 79

C: 73 - 76

C-: 70 - 72

D: 60 - 69

F: Less than 60

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Dave's Seafood and Subs
Dave's Seafood and Subs

While running errands in the Chantilly area, I was overwhelmed with hunger. Lunch time! I happened to be driving by Dave's Seafood and Subs. Normally, I would not have chosen this place. It's a generic store front in a generic strip mall with nothing beyond the word "seafood" to grab my attention. However, a workmate of my wife's recommended it.

My first impression was, "Yup, inside looks just like what you'd expect from the outside. I was a little worried that I was the only one there, despite it being a little after noon (there was a steady stream of patrons after my arrival, though). This was assuaged by the aroma of freshly fried fish. MUST EAT NOW!

The Fish Combo
The Fish Combo

I focused solely on the seafood, ignoring the subs options. I order the fish sampler which included 3 pieces of fried fish (catfish, tilapia and, I believe, haddock) and 2 sides (I selected onion rings and potato salad). The wait was long enough to tell me that my order was made fresh. I was not disappointed.

Three large pieces of fish come out piping hot with a cornmeal coating strong enough that I could eat this by hand (calluses come in handy to insulate you from the heat). Delicious! It did not even need the tarter sauce it came with, though it was equally good with that and the ketchup / hot-sauce combo I usually mix up when anything fried is on the plate. The potato salad is as I like it: no big chucks, almost puréed with a mustardy dressing. The onion rings were nothing to write home about, just your generic Sysco supplied side dish.

My only complaint is that this is too much of a good thing. I could only eat half, and I was stuffing myself. This combo could easily be split between 2 people, maybe even 3. I say this is a problem because you need to eat fried fish (well any fried foods) quickly as the quality decline accelerates with time. My last few bites were still OK, but it was clear that this wouldn't make for good leftovers.

I will make a return visit with the family.

Revisiting Dave's Seafood & Subs

I find that with many new places we go to, the second visit is never as good as the first. Sometimes after raving about a place, my return trip leads me to wonder what in the heck I was thinking. (See my piece on the Curse of the Second Visit.) Not so with Dave's. This time I went with the whole family.

We ordered the 3 fish sampler again. The catfish was everyone's favorite, followed by the trout. The whiting was OK. The fried oysters, at first, had me worried. They looked over done, but were actually well cooked, meaty and just a degree below scalding. Perfect. The buffalo wings, too, had heft and a good combination of crispy outside and juicy meat.

Where this place excels is with their side dishes. For most places, these are just after thoughts probably bought frozen from a vendor. Dave's, however, makes their own and does it well. I will take this time to apologize for my comment in my initial review about the onion rings. I claimed they looked like typical food service fare, but, no, they are clearly home made and taste that way. I'm not sure why I thought otherwise last time. The potato salad, though, was as good this time as last. The only comment from the family was surprise at the the lack of chunks, being mostly puréed. The hush puppies were the best I've had this far north.

If you're in Chantilly and you're hungry, you could do a lot worse.

Dave's Seafood and Subs
4008 Walney Rd
Chantilly, VA 20151-2986

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A variety of factors interact to influence my opinion on an eating establishment, be it a taco wagon or an upscale restaurant.

The Food

Obviously! But it is much more than just how it tastes, although crappy food can never be balanced by other factors. While all of the elements that go into taste such as quality ingredients and skillful preparation matter greatly, I'm looking for more. How unique is it? I am more likely to drive 50 miles out of my way for some good carnitas than I would be for a great hamburger. How different is it? If you serve me something that I would have never thought of doing, and it's good, I will bow down in homage.

Service

I want prompt service that does not intrude on my dining experience. I don't want to be your best friend and I don't care what your name is. I do want a drink in my hand ASAP, though, and you better make sure my glass is never empty. If you provide good recommendations, you will make me a happy man. The food better be damn good to make up for bad service.

Ambiance

How I rate this one depends upon the restaurant's and the meal's context. It encompasses noise level, background music, the decor and clientele. I will make an effort to point out circumstances in which it might be better to visit a place. Sometimes what works for lunch just doesn't ring my bell at dinner. It is hard to overcome bad ambiance since I cannot enjoy a meal if I'm in a bad mood.

Money

The more expensive a place, the harder I'll grade it on the above factors. All else being equal, a $5 burger is always better than a $10 one.

The Ratings

I will try to visit a place multiple times before I write a review. Sometimes, though, a place is so bad, it only takes once. On the other hand, I would like to bring attention to place that has potential, so I'll flag it with Quick Bite and will follow up later after additional visits.

5 Stars: This is among the most amazing food you will ever eat. I will visit this place as often as I can so I can work my way, continuously, through the menu. You cannot get this rating unless the food is top notch and the ambiance perfectly matches the context. I will over look the occasional service slip, but not if it appears to be systemic.

4 Stars: This is a good place. You will get a very good meal here. This will always be a good fall back option when you're stuck for where to eat out. They offer enough good dishes to allow you to see past the items on the menu aren't that great, how loud the place is, or the fact that their prices are a tad too high.

3 Stars: Eh. I don't feel like I wasted my money, but I probably won't come back here. If you have no other options, I suppose. Likely, the low price allows you to stomach the less than stellar food or consistently bad service.

2 Stars: This place sucks. I finished my meal, but I was not enthused. This place must be avoided!

1 Stars: Why is this place in business? I didn't finish my meal either because the food was inedible or the service was catastrophically bad. I don't need to tell you to avoid this place, since it will probably be shut down soon.