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Heavy Rain

April 20, 2010

Heavy Rain reminds me of one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” from childhood. The actions you take have a profound effect on the way the plot progresses, and no matter what happens—even if a major character dies—the show must go on. Some of your actions are menial and serve only to provide a sense of immersion, or the illusion of freedom. Brushing your teeth, choosing between beer or orange juice: these are actions that draw you in but seem inconsequential.

Going through one’s daily routine may seem mundane, but if you appreciate slow-burn thrillers like David Fincher’s Zodiac, then the payoff will be all the more rewarding. Perhaps an hour in, the pace switches from brushing teeth at home to defusing holdups at the liquor store, and when you have no idea exactly what the outcome is going to turn out like, every moment is as intense as it gets.

All these actions and choices are executed with context-sensitive button presses, flicks of the analog stick, and SixAxis waving. Remarkably, the controls convey the same type of feeling as the ingame action. Tying a suit tie involves a complex sequence of flicks. I happen to be totally untalented at tying ties in real life, and doing it in Heavy Rain is almost as hard! Whatever happened to escapism in videogames? Anyways, when your character is trying to do something physically difficult, like squeezing through a tiny space, you as a player are tasked with holding X, then O, then L1, then L2, then L1..which can get quite uncomfortable (just like what your character is going through). After experiencing this smart and elegant control system for a while, I felt like my character was an extension of myself, something I have not felt before in videogames.

Heavy Rain is the first game I have ever played where I felt obligated to fail a quicktime event on purpose. At the beginning of the game, you are given the opportunity to play with your children. Your two sons ask you which one of them you want to play with first. This is probably the hardest decision I had to make all game, and it ultimately did not even carry any consequence to the plot! I decided to play-fight with the birthday boy first. As my character and his son clashed plastic swords in delight, I found that whenever I pressed the buttons displayed onscreen, I would deal a blow to my son! Feeling guilty, I instead pressed all the wrong buttons, letting my virtual son win.

Fast-forward maybe four hours into the game, I am between a rock and a hard place. A serial murderer has given me a test: am I willing to kill to discover my kidnapped son’s whereabouts? I can either assassinate a random stranger, or I can choose not to. I have no idea what the outcome is going to be, but the important thing to remember is that there is always a choice. And that is the beauty of Heavy Rain. (Sorry for the spoilers!)

Top Ten Food Experiences / Videogames of 2009

January 8, 2010

It was a very good year. Let’s run it down.

Top Ten Food Experiences

10. Kogi (Truck) Although it started up a few months before 2009 began, the lines were too crazy to even attempt enduring. But the first time I had that galbi burrito…OH, so good!

9. Bottega Louie (Downtown) Eggs Benedict w/ Smoked Salmon and Potato Pancake: Perfectly poached eggs, great hollandaise, and that potato pancake really does add a lot. A perfect dish, in my opinion.

8. Nickel Diner (Downtown) Another breakfast spot..while the Hangover Helper tasted perfect, the real star here is the maple bacon doughnut. That maple-syrup glaze, with candied bacon on top…sublime.

7. Boiling Crab (San Gabriel Valley) Because of the recession, lobster prices are dropping bigtime. Luckily, Boiling Crab’s lobster with the “Whole Sha-Bang” sauce is worth the hype. Sooo delicious.

6. Elite Restaurant (San Gabriel Valley) The new snowcap buns that you can get at dim sum are EXCEPTIONALLY delicate, fluffy treats. I never expected dim sum in LA to be this refined.

5. Nanbankan (Santa Monica) After almost a decade, I came back here. With a bottle of nice sake, the yakitori here is exceptional. Surprising highlight: the incredible open-faced Wagyu burger

4. Church & State (Downtown) The bone marrow appetizer here is so hedonistic, it should come with a warning label.

3. Stefan’s at LA Farm (Santa Monica) Presented by the coolest contestant to ever grace Top Chef, this place is surprisingly casual and not overhyped. From the perfect tuna tartare to the incredible red-wine ice cream lollipops, this is probably the one place I want to come back to as soon as possible.

2. Bazaar (Mid-City West) After one dinner here, my mind was filled with an unexpected wealth of food memories. The unique take on the Wagyu Philly cheese-steak is something that everyone needs to try. And of course, the liquid nitrogen caipirinha is pretty cool too.

1. Kagaya (Downtown)

Let me just say first, I don’t plan on ever coming here again, even though it’s just 5 minutes away from my apartment. One visit really was enough to last me a lifetime. The single best oyster of all time to start it off, Alaskan King Crab, and then Wagyu beef shabu shabu. When people talk about food melting in their mouth, they really don’t know what they’re talking about until they’ve had this.

Top Ten Videogames

10. Infamous: Since this game came out so much earlier in the year, it’s been quickly forgotten. But, this, in my opinion, is still the most technically awe-inspiring game of the year. The chaotic and epic prison siege setpiece is something that I yearn to play again.

9. Left 4 Dead 2: It doesn’t pack the innovative punch that the first one had a year ago, but the refinements and new zombie classes really do add a lot of depth to the game. Definitely a game you want to play with 7 other friends at least once.

8. Street Fighter 4: Although I’ve been playing the arcade release since last year, the console version had me pleasantly surprised. You know, these days, the online play is pretty damn smooth. 2 years ago, I would have never thought that possible. And as the metagame progresses, the game gets more and more fun to play. Gen is sooo cool.

7. Demon’s Souls: An amazing combat system, a unique take on singleplayer / multiplayer hybrids, and brutally difficult dungeons. What’s not to love?

6. Heroes of Newerth: Over the past few months, HoN has really started to shine. While I initially dismissed it as beneath DOTA, engine features and the constant gameplay refinements continually make me respect HoN’s dev team more and more. The fact that, as Glacius (Crystal Maiden), you can iceblock yourself as protection and then ult? Yep, that’s smart.

5. Assassin’s Creed II: The first one was so flawed that I couldn’t stand it. But this sequel? Oh my god, the hours flew by. Nothing is better than flying one of Da Vinci’s gliders into a fortress and shanking a coward in the face, you know? Plus, they say “arrivederci” a satisfyingly abundant number of times throughout the game.

4. Dragon Age: That old-school, Baldur’s-gate style western RPG has been gone a long time, and I missed it. The level of strategy involved in the combat is simply on another level. It’s good that you can pause the combat at any time, because if your formation is just slightly open to a backstab, then you’re done for. On top of that, Bioware has taken all the lessons it’s learned from KOTOR and Mass Effect and applied them nicely to the dialogue and storytelling here.

3. Batman Arkham Asylum: This captures PERFECTLY the characters of Batman and the Joker. The methodical pace to the combat feels satisfying and…just right. You know the Jack Nicholson line from the old movie, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?” Well, you get to use them all here. And it is everything you hoped and dreamed.

2. Modern Warfare 2: Yeah, the singleplayer storyline is over-the-top and at times just plain ludicrous. But I was able to do a driveby shooting on a snowmobile, so it’s all good with me. And there are throwing knives in multiplayer. Seriously, I was overjoyed when I discovered that.

1. Uncharted 2

This is the year that showed me that you don’t have to be arthouse or controversial to deliver the most impressively memorable experience of the year. As far as “popcorn action” goes, I think this really is the masterpiece of 2009. And not just in games. It can stand its own when compared to movies, too. The pacing, setpiece moment after setpiece moment, all accompanied by some of the most enjoyable dialogue out there. What Avatar 3D did this year for movies, Uncharted 2 did for games. Because it’s more than just a game. It’s the most thrilling rollercoaster ride, and you are in control.

Haven Gastropub

December 25, 2009

“Irish Car Bomb Dessert”

Everything here is tasty. Their excellent fries w/ homemade ketchup slash tomato paste, their steak with chocolate deglaze, their pork belly with celery puree… it’s all good. And crazy weird beers, too (Smoked beer?!) But, the reason why you really go to Haven is this dessert right here.

Traditionally, an Irish Car Bomb is a *very* alcoholic drink that you down in one gulp. Take a shot-glass filled to the brim with 1/2 Jameson whiskey,  1/2 Bailey’s Irish coffee. Drop it in a glass of Guinness beer. Sounds like a very strong drink (and it is), but somehow the combination of alcohols tastes just like a dessert!

Well, Haven Gastropub took it to the next level. The cupcake is infused with Bailey’s, the ice cream is made with Guinness beer, and the caramel uses Jameson whiskey. Now, remember that it’s not easy to freeze alcohol. Since, given enough time, alcoholic ice cream will fill apart, they make the Guinness ice cream made to order. Pretty cool, right? And yes, it tastes remarkably similar to its namesake.

190 S Glassell St
Orange, CA 92866
(714) 221-0680

Nanbankan

November 12, 2009
tags: ,

Beef, veggies, quail eggs

The last time I came here was 11 years ago. But, as a birthday present, one of my friends took me here for some good yakitori and sake. Man, it was so good. It was like falling in love all over again.

So, I’m sure everyone knows what yakitori is. It’s the Japanese take on skewers. It’s a little pricier than what you would expect for skewers (especially outside of Japan), but the quality of ingredients is excellent.

Being Japanese, she naturally knew all about sake. To celebrate, she ordered a bottle of Hakkaisan sake, which cost $40 at the restaurant. It was the perfect amount of sake for 2. Wow, that sake was so amazing. It was smooth, and had character, and even gave off a different type of buzz. Like a clean buzz. Whereas most alcohol will just make you feel muddled, this allowed me to retain clarity. Absolutely, the sake was not cheap. But when you think about it, a glass of wine will run you $9-15. And this was $40 for a whole bottle.

Hakkaisan Sake

Anyways, onto food. For the skewers, the stand-outs included the pork belly and bacon-wrapped okura. Of course, at yakitori you always have to get chicken hearts and chicken meatballs. And Nanbankan has really great renditions of those. They also do several non-yakitori dishes really well. The line scallops, cooked on the shell, were great. The soup on the shell was so clean and flavorful. Knowing it was unclassy, we took the shell up to our faces and finished the soup down to the last drop. It really was that good. Their black cod is really nice…not overly sweet like a lot of other places. Their quail? Succulent as hell. And then their Wagyu slider was an excellent, hearty ending.

So, this is a good place to celebrate a special occasion. It’s not cheap, but I think it’s actually got good value. For an equally fulfilling experience at a Western restaurant, you would have to pay more, I believe. It’s a place to sit down, eat slowly and drink slowly, and enjoy the good things in life.

The Golden State

November 5, 2009
tags:

How crazy is it that, at “only” ten dollars, the burger at The Golden State seems like one of the best deals in the city? Oh well..that’s what I get for living in LA, I guess. At least you get an accompanying side of those delicious sweet potato wedges dipped in a satisfactorily HEAVY aioli. As for the burger itself, the ingredients are all extremely tasty. The Rockenwagner bun, Roquefort cheese, good bacon…it all adds up to give you that wonderful hearty feeling that a burger is supposed to deliver.

Is it the most spectacular, life-changing burger I ever ate? No. But, in a city obsessed with top-notch, pricey burgers, The Golden State offers a very good, value-driven option.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

October 28, 2009

There are a lot of types of videogames out there. Some games, like Rock Band, strive to be the best toys on the market. Some arthouse games, like Braid or flOwer, strive to impart a message or tug on our emotions. And then, there are some videogames, like GTAIV, that strive to create a playable Hollywood cinematic experience. Uncharted 2 is one of those games.

Have you ever watched Indiana Jones? Did you ever think it was the most awesome movie ever? Because Uncharted 2 is essentially an awesome Indiana Jones game. I think the trailer is Hollywood quality; some of those shots are better than in any movie I’ve seen recently.

We’re finally getting to the point where videogames can reach the quality level of storytelling that movies traditionally were superior in. While most “blockbuster” videogames in the past separate the cinematic portions of the game (cutscenes) and gameplay (anytime you’re in control), Uncharted 2 is different. A lot of the characterization happens in-game as banter, and this banter is as good as any screenplay. On top of that, Uncharted 2 is so technologically impressive that some of the PLAYABLE action sequences are better than anything you’ll see in a movie. For example, having a gunfight while sliding down a building that is being demolished by an attack helicopter. It’s pretty cool.

The gameplay is awesome, and the gunfights are designed VERY well. Cover is destructible, especially when enemies keep lobbing grenades at you, so you have to keep on moving. It’s not like Gears of War where you can just stick in one spot until everyone’s dead. On top of that, you never stockpile that much ammo, so you have to be constantly picking up new guns. They’re all effective, diverse, and fun to use, so it’s more of a joy than a hassle. You have an incredible amount of freedom to approach the firefights. You can hang from a ledge on one hand and shoot with the other, you can snipe, you can sneak around the back and stealthily take enemies down, or you can just run up and punch them. It’s great.

The pacing is also incredible. There’s no loading at all, so you are never taken out of the experience. After one of those intense firefights, you’re exploring temples, solving puzzles, and so on, but it’s never a drag, especially with the really humorous dialogue between the characters.

The story’s great, the multiplayer’s great, and I haven’t even talked about the camerawork, which is subtly some of the best camerawork in any game. But the take-home message I want to say is…Uncharted 2 is a glimpse into the future, showing how videogames really can be a superior evolution of the cinematic experience. Because I would definitely rather play through Uncharted 2 again than watch Indiana Jones (and I love Indiana Jones!)

Corkbar

October 23, 2009

That’s a lot of wine!

What is $2 Tuesdays?
Well, the chef goes to the farmer’s market, buys whatever produce looks good, and then turns it into delicious, affordable appetizers!

I went the other Tuesday, and they offered the tortilla española and chorizo croquette for the $2 special. I asked the sommelier for pairing suggestions, 1 white and 1 red. She recommended the albariño, which is like a riesling except with a little bit lower acidity, and a pinot noir which I can’t remember the name of.

The pairings were spot-on, so big props to the sommelier. The albariño was perfect with the tortilla española, and the chorizo croquette paired with the pinot noir? MINDBLOWING. It was sooo good. The cheese inside the croquette and the aioli outside of it were great together, and the smokiness from the chorizo was EXCELLENT with that specific pinot noir.

I also shared a ribeye sandwich, which was WAY better than I expected. It was revelatory! Every part of it was stellar; the bread, the way the ribeye was cooked, I’m going to have to go back and have that again for sure.

Finally, I had a few bites of the crema catalana. It was *just* good, but not on the same exceptional level as the ribeye sandwich and the chorizo croquette.

A great cozy wine bar that I will have to return to at some point. And also, sorry for my gratuitous, douchey usage of ñ above.

Neighborhood: Downtown
403 W 12th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015

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