Sunday, June 17, 2018

12th day of summer vacation: in which we review Minado

Minado is an all-you-can-eat sushi (and other Asian foods) buffet in Natick, MA. There are branches of it in a few other cities, but Natick is the closest one to us, and therefore the only one I've seen.

It's a large, well-lit space. Tables are placed far enough apart that you can move easily around the floor. They've got a few banquet tables (up to 20 people) near the front door. Smaller tables (seating 4 or 6 people) are near the food and tucked around on one side, behind the dessert display.

A waiter or waitress will seat you and take your drink order and that's it. Everything else is on available on the buffet or else they don't have it.

The serving area is shaped like a giant U. The right half of the right side is hot Asian food. The always have things like fried rice, tempura vegetables, and some type of teriyaki. The other dishes change, possibly in a pattern (is it always red snapper on Wednesdays?) but enough that you shouldn't go with your heart set on, let's say the red snapper, because it might be cod instead that day.

The back of the right side is a little dim sum assortment (crab rangoon, shu mai, dumplings, and egg rolls) and a little soup bar (ramen, soba, and udon) made to order by a chef. The noodles are pre-cooked, and just require a moment of warming up in boiling water. Then they're added to pork broth and topped with your choice of fixings. Sadly, soft-boiled egg isn't on the list, but they have pork, fish, and a variety of vegetables.

The left half of the right side is a salad bar, and honestly my favorite part of the whole meal. This one doesn't seem to change as much: they always have a couple Western-style tossed salads (lettuce, tomato, etc.). There's some type of seaweed salad. There's a ceviche salad. They've had edamame in the shell every time I've been there, although sometimes it's plain and sometimes it's spiced. Then there are some room-temperature cooked vegetable dishes, and some more cold seafood.

The center of the U-shape (which, remember, is closest to the seating area) has cold seafood. If you go at dinner, it's got king crab legs, shrimp cocktail, and about 6 types of sashimi. At lunch, it's a little less extravagant: just tuna and salmon sashimi, the last time we went. Plus more salads and something in small cups that I think was fresh crab meat, but I neglected to try any.

The right half of the left side is the sushi bar, for which they're most famous. They have over 50 types of sushi and maki, all clearly labeled. I usually take one of anything that sounds good, which makes for a gorgeous plate:

The picture above has well under half of their total offerings: I skipped all the sushi except for the inari, and also dodged all the maki with cream cheese or fried foods in it.

The back of the left hand side is open so that you can get to the bathrooms. The right half of the right side is fruits and desserts, and includes a soft-serve ice cream maker loaded with vanilla and green tea flavors.

So if you have aren't a huge eater but you've got a chance to eat at Minado, what should you try? Here's my totally biased recommendation: go easy on the sushi and maki. Yes, it's tempting to just take one of everything, but in most cases the sushi is competent rather than extraordinary. If you have definite tastes (I love inari and anything with tobiko and avocado), start with those. Similarly, the desserts are competent but not amazing, except for the lychee jello which really is great. Don't worry about saving room for more than a bite or two of the sweet stuff. [Exception: crepe station at dinner. See below.]

Out of the hot-food offerings, I think the red snapper, the fried scallops, and the teriyaki are the best. My cousins swear by the seafood stew. The green beans or Chinese broccoli, if they have them, are also solid choices. The tempura is really hit or miss - get some if the dish just came out and is still hot, but otherwise don't bother. The dim sum selection is very strong and I recommend getting one of everything that sounds good to you. The soup bar is relatively new and I haven't fully made up my mind about it. I used to say that I'd never turn down free ramen, but the lack of an egg has started to annoy me. The udon and soba are both enjoyable. Once again, if you like soup, then get one. The bowls are small, so you won't fill up on it.

If you go at dinner, there's a crepe station taking up part of the salad bar space. Those crepes are good! I'd spend my dessert calories there, if anywhere.

On the salad bar, I really love the fried eggplant, the baby bok choy with shitake mushrooms, and the sauteed spinach with sesame seeds. The seaweed salad is usually good, and the scallop ceviche was a revelation.

If you do go at dinner, load up on crab legs and shrimp cocktail. Both are presented well and they're a large part of why you're paying double at the dinner hour. The other reason is the sashimi, which is also really good.

Last thoughts: this is a great restaurant if you're a pescetarian, but a little more challenging if you're a vegetarian or vegan. A lot of things have fish sauce or fish flakes on them.

Friday, June 15, 2018

10th day of summer vacation, in which we try new recipes

I've cooked some really delicious things in the recent past, so without further ado here's a round-up of some recent recipe triumphs.

Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios, and Mint from Food 52: this is insanely delicious and naturally vegetarian. It can be made vegan if you swap in agave nectar for the honey, and gluten-free if you swap in quinoa for the couscous. We liked it better after letting it sit for a few hours: the mint fragrance spreads throughout the salad.

Olive Oil Blondies with Chocolate Frosting by Molly Yeh: I don't bother frosting them, and I put in more chocolate chips. They're yummy and the prep time is under 5 minutes.

Melissa Clark's Excellent White Bread from The Wednesday Chef: very good white bread

Tempered Lentils from Serendib Kitchen: this was really, really tasty and made excellent leftovers. My friend Roshani says that they aren't fully authentic, as they come out too soupy, but I still love this dish.

Cauliflower Poriyal from Serendib Kitchen: takes a long time to cook, but almost no effort while it's cooking, and the result is incredibly delicious

Coffee Break Muffins from Dorie Greenspan: really good coffee flavor, but they don't keep well

Basic Muffins from King Arthur Flour: easy to make, easy to riff upon

Baked Oatmeal with Caramelized Pears and Vanilla Cream from Smitten Kitchen Every Day (which I checked out from the library): it's a bit fussy, but totally delicious and reheats well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

8th day of Summer Vacation: in which we talk about Altered Carbon, the TV show

We started watching Altered Carbon back in March, but work got in the way and we always wanted to watch at least two episodes at a sitting... and so we ended up finishing it last night.

I have thoughts. So many thoughts.

But first of all, I should clarify that this is only a discussion of the TV show. I've read the book multiple times, and there's a separate discussion to be had, where in I compare and contrast them. But that is not today, not this discussion.



If I hadn't already read the book and several spoiler-free but extensive reviews, I might have stopped watching half-way through the first episode. So confusing! So many people! So much darkness! (literal darkness, as in I couldn't make the action on the screen; also, so much spiritual darkness.)  But I hung in there, and it rewarded me with Poe, the AI-hotel, plus a hallucination of Rei, the long-lost baby sister.

Rei is played by Dichen Lachman, whom I have adored since her days on Dollhouse. She does a lot of work in the SF genre but I still feel like she doesn't get featured prominently enough. Chris Campbell is also terrific, if underused, as Poe.

The first six episodes proceed competently. Joel Kinnaman does a nice job of playing dark-and-broody Takeshi Kovacs. Martha Higareda delights as the hyper-competent Kristen Ortega. The entire Bancroft family comes across as weird, just something slightly wrong with each of them...which is perfect. There IS something wrong with each of them and it just takes Tak and the viewer a little while to figure out what it is.

Special shout-out to Matt Biedel, who does a fantastic job of playing Kristen's abuela in one episode, and then plays a very convincing Dimi the Twin in two other episodes.

Some of the scenes are just too dark, literally, and I had to depend on subtitles and intelligent guessing to deduce what was going on.

Episode seven changed everything for me. I love-love-loved Will Yun Lee's portrayal of Takeshi. I also felt that it was Dichen Lachman's best performance of the series; she's better when her character has a chance to relax a little. Renee Elise Goldberry is terrific as Quellchrist Falconer throughout the series, but this episode finally gave her a chance to do something meaty with the role, and she delivered.

Heck, did she ever deliver.

And that was a problem for me, because episodes eight through ten just felt flat to me. But I liked the pay-off, and I will definitely watch a second season if they make one.

Monday, June 11, 2018

6th day of Summer Vacation: in which we talk about Head On by John Scalzi

I just binge-read Head On (Lock in #2) by John Scalzi. I would have literally read it in one sitting, except that real life kept intruding. I made dinner, found the viola, walked the dog... and read. Voraciously.

It's really fun. Lots of good snark. Female detective kicking ass, etc. I still haven't decided what gender Chris is, but I generally read them as male. This might just be because I know the author identifies as male...

I usually treat Scalzi's books as must-read, but for some reason I'm having a terrible time getting into The Collapsing Empire, which isn't good as it's a Hugo nominee and I'm thus expected to read it by the end of July.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

4th day of Summer Vacation: in which we watch sports all day

It was a really busy school year and I ended up recording a lot of things on the TiVo. Foremost among these would be the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Well, the Belmont Stakes is on today, and Justified is potentially going to win the Triple Crown, so I made time to watch the previous two races while also cuddling the dog and doing some cooking.

Prior to that, a random tweet alerted me to the fact that it's also the finals of the French Open, and tennis is one of my favorite sports to watch... so Halep vs. Stephens it was, while I slurped down some cereal and tried to organize my morning.

In other words, I usually average less than 3 hours a week of sports-watching, and I put in something like 8 hours today. (I did fast forward over much of the commentary on the horse races.) I don't think I'll do that again, anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

1st Day of Summer Vacation: in which we realize that I've eaten out too frequently

Today: lunch at the local country club, which makes a nice gyro sandwich and has craft beer on tap. Saying good-bye to a great colleague, who's headed back to graduate school.

Yesterday: Korean BBQ with a close friend who felt that she needed to eat more protein. Holy heck. All the protein. Plus some banchan that I'd never tried before.

Monday: bubble tea at the mall. Lousy bubble tea. They weren't even sure they had tapioca boba available and tried to talk me into getting fruit boba instead. Fortunately, they had just enough tapioca for our orders. Then we went out for Chinese at a new-to-us place just north of here. They had great sushi - like, really really well done futomaki and Tango the Mango - and also Peking Duck without pre-ordering it. The rest of the meal was only OK, but I'd go back just for the sushi and duck options.

Sunday: burgers with two former students, one now in college and the other doing an internship over the summer. They're doing wonderfully well. It's so good to see them being independent and growing up to be Strong Women in Science.

Saturday: Brunch at Panera after my house-guest took the SAT. I had a very well made ham-cheddar-scrambled egg sandwich. She said the croissant was superior.

Friday: Indian food. Delicious, but far too much dairy. I lost track of the dairy pills I'd taken.

Thursday: Italian food with visiting relatives from the Phillipines, followed by ice cream. I got Thai Ice Tea flavor. It was amazing.

Wednesday: Starbucks coffee with an almond croissant. I will do almost anything for almond-flavored baked goods. Also, I love the easy availability of non-dairy coffee options.

Tuesday: really good ice cream at a locally owned shop. I did two separate trips out there with students and ended up eating a LOT of ice cream. Plus all the dairy pills in my purse. I believe I tried Strawberry Oreo, Bergamot, Double Dark Chocolate, and Coffee.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

0th Day of Summer Vacation: in which we read about multiple choice testing

Hi everyone! Long time no see... it's been a crazy busy year, mostly positive, but still just leaving me with almost no time in which to blog.

Today, I handed in my last official things at noon. So it's not really the first day of summer vacation, but I thought I'd establish a good habit. I'm not going to make myself blog every day, as that's clearly unrealistic, but maybe four times per week would be doable.

This afternoon, I took an accidental nap, drove a friend to the airport, did a small grocery run (and forgot the shopping list, and thus only got 4 of the 8 things that were on it), and read the first half of Learning and Assessing with Multiple Choice Questions in College Classrooms by Jay Parkes and Dawn Zimmaro. It's a little dense, but mostly quite readable and I'm getting a lot out of it. My plan is to skim the first time (this is the stage I'm currently in) and the read more closely while taking notes the second time. Currently my favorite part is that all the examples are being drawn from a statistics classroom and a science classroom, which means that I actually understand most of the questions being used as examples.

I have a long to-do list this summer and doing some casual professional development is high on that list. I took out five books from the library and I might be back mid-summer to pick up more.

I've got a few restaurant and book reviews planned for the rest of this week. Stay cool, stay dry, stay hydrated...