Thursday, February 25, 2010

El Jaripeo

It turns out that maybe two-year-olds do better at restaurants than I have been inclined to give them credit for doing. It might well be less-than-two-year-olds who are the real troublemakers. It’s also possible that going from high chair to booster seat or just sitting there in the booth with Mommy was the turning point between going out to dinner being an intolerable situation and its being a fairly pleasant one. Whatever the reason, we managed to have another meal out tonight, pretty much on a whim. We headed out to the far east side to try out the “new” El Jaripeo, near Washington Square - “new” because it moved into a different building basically across the street from where it used to be on East Washington Street, roughly halfway between Mitthoeffer and German Church Roads.

The interior is more desert southwest and considerably more open than the cramped, kitschy space it occupied before. Never fear, though - this is still the east side, so you’ll definitely have the chance to sit in a booth adjacent to a trio of obese gringos who send their meals back three times because they don’t know how to order what they want correctly and who clearly belong at Taco Bell and not at a place where there is table service. But then the chips and salsa came out, and everything was okay.

Like most everything we tried tonight, the chips and salsa were fresh and bright with flavor - the chips crispy and warm (apart from that one wayward chip that ends up in every basket - the one that’s soggy with oil and has the consistency of leather if you happen to grab it and start chewing without looking at the chip) and the salsa that just-right consistency between too thin and too thick, and just spicy enough to give it some character. Speaking of spicy, have you ever seen a two-year-old eat something that’s a little too spicy for them? It’s kind of hilarious. Jackson has developed quite the taste for chips and salsa, and his grabby little hands went right for the chips when they arrived. He dunked a chip and chomped down and started chewing, and then his eyes started to water a little bit and he sucked in air, making a sound not unlike the sound Hannibal Lecter made when he told Clarice about the census taker and the fava beans. Then he went right for his cup of lemonade, and you could just about see the relief on his face as the sugar in the drink started to unlock the taste buds that had gone into panic mode because of the capsaicin in the peppers that were in the salsa.

Amy had chicken fajitas, which did not come out sizzling and steaming the way they do at pretty much every other place where she has ordered them (and that would be practically every Mexican restaurant she has been to, ever). The accoutrements (sans tortillas) for the fajitas came out well before the plate of meat, peppers, and onions; and the non-sizzling fajita plate came out a couple of minutes ahead of my Burrito Pablos. She pronounced them delightful and was very pleased with the restaurant overall, deciding that it’s probably the best place to get Mexican food on the east side (other than El Sol de Tala).

I agree with that sentiment. My Burrito Pablos contained chicken, steak, chorizo, onions, beans, lettuce, guacamole, and pico de gallo in a tortilla topped with sour cream and cheese and tomatillo sauces. I was sort of astonished when it was set down in front of me. I’ve never seen a burrito that big, even at La Bamba at three in the morning. I suppose I should have taken a picture of it, but what are you going to do? Despite the vast array of ingredients inside the tarpaulin-sized tortilla, most of those individual flavors were easily detectable, apart from the chorizo. Other than the telltale greasy orange tint of the spicy Mexican sausage, it could well have been ground anything; La Bamba remains the place to go for chorizo in your burritos or tacos. Other than that, it was a very good burrito - the pico de gallo inside seemed to lighten up every bite and helped keep the meats and beans from making it feel too heavy.

Best place to get Mexican on the east side, other than El Sol de Tala? Yep. That said, though, it still doesn’t equal the version of Casa Miguel’s in Greenwood that was run by Mike and Angie Lee back in the day. That restaurant was situated in a rickety old house near the intersection of Madison Avenue and Main Street (I might be wrong about that location - I haven’t been that far down into stars-and-bars country in awhile), and it had a really great mix of ambience and great food. The food maybe wasn’t authentic, but it was very good and most of it was covered by lots of very melty cheese; and the salsas (four different kinds, at various levels of heat) were simply the best ever. After the Lees closed up, someone else re-opened it as Casa Miguel’s, but it wasn’t the same - it wasn’t even close. Every Mexican place I eat at is measured against Casa Miguel’s and is invariably found wanting.

El Jaripeo might as well be the Steward of Gondor until or unless this deposed king returns. Until I checked their website just now, I wasn’t aware that they were as much of a chain as they are. The restaurant we ate at tonight was the first of them, but they have now expanded to two other states. Doesn’t really matter, though. Apart from Casa Miguel’s and El Sol de Tala, Mexican is Mexican is Mexican. This place is a notch or two above average, and that’s probably the best that can be expected.

10417 East Washington Street

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Question About the Movie Novem That Will Go Unanswered

Why unanswered? Because the odds that there is someone out there who could answer this question are astronomical. Are there any Macbook users out there who have had trouble playing the DVD for the film Novem in their Macbooks? I’ve tried two copies from Netflix and one from the library and not a one of them even started spinning in my Macbook. They play in non-computer DVD players that I have in my house, and every other DVD I have ever tried has worked in my Macbook - but not this one. (I’m only interested in comments from people who have had the same trouble - not in troubleshooting comments generally. The evidence doesn’t indicate a trouble with the drive.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Deep Thoughts #25 - Special Topical Golf Edition

How many “Christians” do you reckon turned off the TV after Tiger said he was Buddhist? Like LBJ, he might have just lost the south forever.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail Gets Stimulus Funding

Just when it was starting to look like Congress was never going to get anything done again ever, Representative André Carson (D - IN) submits a request for - and receives - just over $20 million in stimulus funds to fill the gap between funds raised and funds needed to complete the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in downtown Indianapolis. Reports on the grant can be found here and here.

And while this is excellent news for the city of Indianapolis, it would appear that most of the city’s dim-bulb residents disagree. A poll on the Indianapolis Star’s website shows (currently) that 55% of respondents think that it’s a bad idea to use tax dollars on the Cultural Trail. (I can’t help but wonder how many of those 55% even know what the Cultural Trail is and how many of them have ever used the parts of it that have already been built.) 1400 applications were submitted for the $1.5 billion in stimulus funds for the Secretary of Transportation to allocate, and of those 1400 applications, 50 were selected to receive funds; and there were criteria, too - the funds couldn’t just go to any old project. The Cultural Trail’s website has a much more in-depth discussion, of the grant and the criteria used to determine which projects would be funded, than does the Star’s web site; and probably most of the 55% opposed don’t know anything about the criteria, either.

But all you have to do - if you’re the conservative Indianapolis Star, that is - is ask a loaded question like “Is it a good use of tax dollars to spend $20.5 million in federal stimulus funds on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail?” That’s sure to get people fired up, even if they have no idea what they’re responding to. If ignorance is bliss, then Indiana is without a doubt the happiest state in this fading republic. (Sigh…I didn’t even mean to get off on that rant. I almost wish I hadn’t seen that little poll next to the Star’s article about the grant.)

Click on the picture to get a larger image that shows how much of the downtown will be covered by the Cultural Trail once it's completed.

The Cultural Trail, once completed, will connect all four corners of downtown Indianapolis, including Monument Circle and parts of the Canal Walk; and it will also connect to the Monon Trail at 10th Street and Mass Ave - from which point you could theoretically walk all the way to Carmel, though why you would want to visit Hamilton County is beyond me - and also extend down Virginia Avenue to Fountain Square. That’s essentially eight miles of rebuilt sidewalks that effectively become deluxe double sidewalks with one side for pedestrians and the other side for bikers/skaters/etcetera, along with lights and landscaping and benches. There’s almost no limit to the potential upside; it’s a project that makes an already inviting downtown even more inviting and will absolutely help to make the city an easier sell for tourists, businesses, and conventioneers.

Every single person who lives in Indianapolis - and even many of those who live near Indianapolis if not quite within it - benefits from a project like this. Downtown is not out of the way for any of those people, and it’s perfectly accessible. (Anyone who says there’s no place to park downtown is lazy. It’s not even all that hard to find parking on Colts game days.) And even if the rest of it doesn’t do anything for you - everyone loves the Canal Walk, right?

(Now having said all that, I don’t necessarily think that the early-2012 timeline for finishing the project is realistic, considering how little is currently complete since work began something like two years ago. Right now, the only complete stretch is Alabama Street from North Street down to Washington Street - and I defy anyone to walk along that stretch of sidewalk and tell me it’s anything but awesome. The projection of something like 11,000 jobs that might one day be created as a direct or indirect result of this project might be just a tad lofty - but to say that the stimulus has not had a positive on Indianapolis is false. Just ask the construction workers who are going to have work for - at least - the next two years building the rest of this thing.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Khoury's Mediterranean Island

Two-year-olds and restaurants may not mix, but there’s nothing that says you can’t drop a two-year-old off at Grandma’s house and go out to enjoy a nice, quiet dinner for a change. It just doesn’t happen all that often - for us, anyway. So…we dropped Jackson off at Grandma’s house and made our way north to one of the mainstays in Greek/Mediterranean cuisine here in the city, Khoury’s Mediterranean Island. Just west of Keystone Avenue, Khoury’s exists in that grey area between Broad Ripple proper and Glendale and has been around for quite awhile - but this was our first trip.

Inside, the place could almost be mistaken for a Perkins restaurant, with two exceptions. One is all of the Grecian urns lying about (and the vaguely Picasso-esque painting of a belly dancer on the wall behind our table), and the other was that I was a willing customer. There’s also a tiny little deli/market at the front of the restaurant, before you get into the dining room. I suppose you could equate this to the bakery area of a Perkins - but, again, the difference would be that I was there of my own accord.

The menu has most of the things you would find at other Greek restaurants, including moussaka, spanakopita, and gyros; but they also offer a selection of the kabobs that are usually found in places that focus more on Turkish cuisine, as well as a token hamburger for the tea-party and Freedom Fries folks. The requisite Greek salad precedes the meal, and the offering here is no exception to the iceberg lettuce/tomatoes/cucumbers/feta cheese/olives/vinaigrette that you get everywhere else - although this salad may have been a bit larger than is usual. (That said, it’s got nothing on the Greek salad at the Ben Ash deli in New York City. There, twenty bucks gets you a salad roughly the size of Minas Tirith, and the feta cheese comes in blocks the size of an iPod.) The olives on this one were disappointing, though; they lacked the aromatic punch that a good Mediterranean olive should have, and on first bite they sort of dissolve into a grainy mouthful of goop that made me wonder how long they’d been sitting around.

Amy chose the Shadi combination plate ($15.95), and I had the Jordan’s Vegetarian Combo ($14.94). I didn’t notice until the plates came out that they were pretty much the same thing. Both had falafel, spanakopita, and tiropita; and then hers had hummus with pita and mine had vegetarian dolmathes. While we were waiting for the food to come out, the couple sitting behind me asked the server several times to tell them what the kitchen had that was fresh that day. At first, the answer was that everything was fresh, as they had been very busy the day before and had run out of practically everything; but after repeated questioning, they were told that the grape leaves (dolmathes) were especially fresh. Then a couple was seated behind Amy, and the woman asked - before she even sat down - if the food there was good. How do you respond to that? I looked over Amy’s shoulder a couple of times, and the poor woman looked positively revolted as she perused the menu.

And then the food arrived. We were both taken with the flavor of the falafel, which was crispy on the outside and quite well seasoned inside. There was a strong flavor of curry and of something else I could not quite place but which might have been cumin. The effect was a much earthier flavor than I think is usual with falafel, which is typically heavy on parsley and comes across as both earthy and herbal. Both versions work, and this earthier version was a nice variation. Everything else on the plate was well done, but not especially remarkable - although the spanakopita struck a better balance between spinach and cheese than I’m used to. More often than not, spanakopita seems like a spinach bomb when I order it. Not so here. The Greek potatoes were also off the beaten path - cubed and roasted, home fries style, rather than served up boiled and flavored brightly with lemon and herbs. Once again, a not unwelcome departure from the norm.

For us, Santorini’s, in Fountain Square, is the standard-bearer for Greek food in Indianapolis - Taki’s potatoes are amazing, and I could eat their garlic mushroom soup every day of the week and want for more; and the Bosphorous, on south East Street, is the answer for Turkish food. I would not choose Khoury’s over either, but there are a couple of things on the menu at Khoury’s that will probably merit a return trip. The stuffed olives on the appetizer menu - stuffed with Asiago cheese and then breaded and fried - sounded awfully good, as did a couple of Turkish dishes involving lamb and tomato sauce; but I had a bit of a head cold and opted for known quantities since I wasn’t sure if I was really going to be able to taste everything.

Definitely worth a trip, if you’re in the neighborhood - especially since the Parthenon in the village folded (sigh). They’ve got a hooka bar too, if you’re hip to that sort of thing.

1850 East Broad Ripple Avenue

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Random Musings, or I Miss Blogging, Too

So I’m driving home from work last night and flipping through what little remains of what was once a very good radio market in this city. One of the stations was playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, and I went right on by. I love Guns N’ Roses - well, old school Guns N’ Roses, anyway - but I just don’t know if I ever need to hear that song again. And I sure as hell don’t ever need to hear the acoustic version by Sheryl Crow. I kept flipping and came to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” and it occurred to me that I never hear that song on the radio and want to change the station. I’m mostly indifferent to Springsteen, although there are songs of his that I like. None more than this one, maybe. When I hear the song, I sometimes ask myself why I don’t own any of his records - and then I look over at the couple-hundred-odd CDs I do have, the vast majority of which I never listen to, and answer my own question.

And there may not be a great big point to that not-so-deep thought, but that’s okay; if you think everything needs to have a point, go back and read the author’s note at the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As Michael Maier mused a few days back, I miss blogging. (And that’s sort of ironic, since he’s one of the few people in this little group who still posts regularly. Probably he meant that he misses the bloggings of others. “Bloggings” may not actually be a word.) I miss both the bloggings of others and blogging myself. (“Blogging myself” sounds odd when you say it out loud.)

I don’t know what to blog about anymore, though. I’m losing my passion for politics in a big hurry (reading Time and Newsweek every week is not helping with that), we hardly ever go out to eat anymore (2-year-olds and “sitting still at a restaurant in a booster seat” are incompatible concepts, plus I think Amy’s had it with me photographing entrées), football season is over, and I’m not enthused about the Oscars (fuck Avatar). I haven’t even managed to do a top ten list out of the books I read last year. I started going through the list, but I don’t know that I can come up with a total of ten that really knocked me down. Five, maybe.

And where the hell are the pictures of Jackson, right? That’s a valid criticism - it is - and it’s one for which I don’t have a good answer, either. But here’s a picture from today!

As an addendum to the bit about the music at the beginning, 107.9 today went from “Nothin’ But a Good Time” by Poison into “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. Now that’s a transition.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

For the Glory of Old IU

Yeah, I’m sad that the Colts lost, but what are you going to do? The first quarter was awfully good, with respectable offensive drives and a very aggressive defense - aggressive, but confused. They got into the New Orleans backfield numerous times in the first quarter, but none of them seemed to understand that the whole point of getting into the New Orleans backfield in the first place was to knock down Drew Brees. The Colts sacked Brees all of once, and that sack came at the hands of the guy with the bum ankle. Unfortunately, they apparently put a whole game’s worth of effort into the first quarter because after the first quarter they were, to a man, wretched.

I had a bad feeling in my gut pretty much as soon as the onside kick happened; the Colts always get burned on trick plays, and most of the time they never regain their composure. Despite the extremely poor effort by the Colts, I have to admit that I smiled a little at the end, when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter picked Manning and ran the ball back for a touchdown. Porter went to college at Indiana, and it’s not often that you see Hoosier football products get any glory in the NFL; but now this cat can say that he picked off Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, ran it back for a touchdown, and got a Super Bowl ring. He also had the unenviable assignment of covering Reggie Wayne. Porter was equal to the task, though; Wayne only had five balls for 46 yards, and most of that was during the hurry-up drives at the end of the game.

Not bad for a rookie.