Wednesday, April 30, 2008

© MURAKAMI exhibit

For those who don't know, Takashi Murakami's artwork is on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with valid ID (yeah, I'm a student *wink wink*). If you also want to see the Botanical Garden next door, you can get a combo ticket that's only $16

If you don't know who Murakami is, you may find yourself wondering who would be demented enough to decapitate Stitch (from Disney's Lilo & Stitch) and mount his head for display at the entrance to the Brooklyn Museum.


But no, Murakami, also commonly stylized as ©MURAKAMI (makes me think of a Japanese rapper, but we know those don't exist!), is one of the most influential artists to come out of Asia in the late 20th century. In university, Murakami studied a more traditional style of Japanese art, Nihonga. However, he became disillusioned with Nihonga and fixated on the otaku culture since he believed the prevailing popularity of Japanese animation and manga was more representative of contemporary Japanese life. This resulted in Superflat, the style that Murakami is credited with starting.

When you first enter the exhibit, Sailor Moon is there to welcome you to the exhibit.

Okay, not Sailor Moon - some studious internet research revealed her true identity as one of Murakami's signature characters to me, Miss Ko2. Notice the extremely short skirt and the filled-out bust. Indeed, it's quite welcoming and I have an idea as to why she's popular with otakus.

Okay, so as it turns out, Stitch's name is actually Kiki. But is Kiki like Kiki the friendly monkey/chimp, that we know? Kiki is the pink "Stitch" below on the left. The white rabbit-like thing next to him is KaiKai. There was an animated demo that showcased a few episodes of KaiKaiKiKi. It made me think of animated teletubbies. It was quite freaky and I wanted nothing more than to escape from the auditorium, but instead I was forced to watch KiKi grow ridiculously large watermelons by pooping on them. Yeah, poop - do little kids watch this stuff in Japan?

There were also some cool bears (or at least they look like bears to me) on display. And I say cool since these are not your friendly neighborhood care bears, but they are demented bears that belong in Alice in Wonderland right next to the caterpillar smoking the hookah pipe.

That was not the weirdest thing for me. Right after the bears, you run into a girl jumping a rope created from milk spurting from her gargantuan breasts. Her name is Hiropon but I don't think anyone is paying attention to what her name is.

While this is pretty whacky, the craziness does not stop here. Right across the room from Hiropon is My Lonesome Cowboy. I'm not sure why he is 'lonesome' because the cowboy is in quite the happy state while he ejaculates sperm into the air to make a lasso.

After seeing Hiropon and My Lonesome Cowboy I ran off and dragged Peggy over to see it. When she got over the shock, she ran off and dragged her sister over to see it. I'm thinking, I wish my Japanese friend Sorry was here to see this. And while I'm thinking this, some little 13 year old girls walked over gape-mouthed to (no, they did not do anything with their mouths) get a *ahem* handle on the Cowboy.

Murakami also created an alien, Inochi, that stars in a commerical. I'm not sure what the commercial is supposed to be about though. Maybe Sorry can watch this and tell me what the hell is going on.

When you're ready to leave, a many-armed tadpole is at the exit to say good-bye.

Really, about the only normal thing I saw at the exhibit was an animated video of Kanye West's The Good Life. For those not in the know, Murakami was tapped to do the artwork for Kanye's Graduation album.

© MURAKAMI only runs through July 13th. As perverted as everything was, I thought it was kind of cool and definitely worth checking out if you're into the museum thing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smile, You're on Hidden Camera!

Ever the eagle eye, we spotted a camera lens hidden inside a box on top of a lamp post while leaving the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG) last weekend. We just figured it was to monitor the trespassings of the BBG visitors. However, I should be ashamed of my jaded New Yawkness. *hangs head* In fact, they were simply capturing time lapse images of the cherry blossoms. Look carefully, I'm trying to see if we are in it since we stood in front of the camera making funny faces. *wave*

Here's the official video created by Dave Allen, BBG's web manager! It's *almost* as good as being there in person considering the rainy weather will probably damage the blossoms this week.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Cherry blossoms were the main reason we decided to venture off to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. We decided to purchase the Art & Garden tickets so that we could enjoy both places in the same day. Little did we know we would have so much trouble purchasing the tickets! The garden's sales booth is run by teenage volunteers who are not even familiar with the different pricing plans. We asked for 2 student, 1 adult Art & Gardent tickets which costs $11 and $16 respectively. (This is a pretty good deal considering all the things we were going to see!) But at the booth, we were trying to explain to the perplexed teenager that we wanted the Art AND Garden ticket. She had to ask her manager (twice) for help but ended up ringing us up for 1 student and 1 adult combo, on top of 2 student and 1 adult garden ticket. The booth next to us had similar troubles as they didn't recognize the corporate company discount.

Many minutes later, we were free to wander around the beautiful garden. I vaguely remember coming here when I was young. We were able to take tons of pictures (as evidenced by the above slideshow) and see most of the garden in less than 2 hours. It was fairly crowded, lots of families with young children. But I'm glad we picked that day to go because it was the perfect time to see the cherry blossoms. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden website said the blossoms are in first bloom and I thought they were absolutely beautiful! The light wind blew the blossoms into the sky and gently fell on the green grass - it made for many picturesque Kodak moments.

Another favorite location was the long curvy row of tulips planted across from the gift shops and Observatory. It was the most amazing row of landscaped colors!! The security guard was really strict about us stepping the gray stone pathway adjacent to the flowers. We were to remain at least a foot away from them. Hmmm, and what was the point of putting the benches inches away from the flower bed? I guess they didn't want anyone falling into the flower bed. We also enjoyed the Japanese pond - we enjoyed the (mating?) turtles and fishes more than the anything! There were certain spots that we missed, like the Rock Garden and the Children's Garden but we didn't feel like we missed out on anything. We skipped out on the Observatory as well - so if anyone thinks it was worth going to, please leave a comment.

Brooklyn Museum's Murakami exhibit review is coming....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Restaurant Review: Blue Water Grill

American Nouveau, Seafood
31 Union Square West at 16th Street

After a long week's work, Jander and I decided to hit the town Friday night with little Kim and our travelling buddy, Chris. Kim suggested the Blue Water Grill (BWG) just off of Union Square so off we went! Since we weren't eating until 7 PM, I bummed around in Barnes & Nobles while Jander drooled over the oatmeal cookies being offered in the Farmer's Market in the Square. Yeah, we're cool like that.

We arrived on time and since we had reservations (yes, you should make reservations) we were seated fairly promptly. I think we were probably given one of the worst possible tables - all the way in the back immediately after the register the waiters input the orders into. This in itself wasn't so bad except with the warmer weather, BWG had opened up the outdoor area and our table was right near the patio door. But onto the food!

Actually, before I get to the food, I'll mention that Jander and Kim ordered a glass of Riesling (Schloss Koblenz 'Bornheimer Adelberg,' Rheinhessen 2006) and Pinot Grigio (Cadonini, Delle Venezie, Italy 2007) respectively. Kim didn't like the Pinot Grigio and wished she had gotten the Riseling instead. It was much smoother and a little sweet.

For appetizers, we had the Lobster Sliders ($14). Jander was hoping it would be like a burger, except with a lobster patty, but instead it turned out to be more like a lumpmeat lobster salad on a bun. I guess this is what BWG does with the little bits of lobster that you dig out of the joints of the legs. Don't get me wrong though, it was still pretty tasty.

For our main course, Jander ordered the Wild Striped Bass ($26) from their House Entrees. It was served on top of truffled cream spinach and a chanterelle mushroom nage.

It was pretty scrumptious. Jander wanted to lick his plate clean, but he refrained from doing so since I'm pretty sure BWG would've asked us to leave if he did.

I ordered the Gulf Shrimp & Diver Sea Scallops ($25) from their Simply Grilled selection. At my discretion, it was served on top of a broccoli rabe.

Our friend Kim ordered the Slow Roasted Day Boat Cod ($26). It was served with some crispy shoe string potatoes on the side.

It was only so-so. Kim complained to us and wished she had gotten Jander's dish instead.

For dessert I had BWG's Chocolate Fondue ($8) and Jander ordered the Caramelized Banana Ice Cream Tower ($8). Kim copied Jander since she couldn't get her mind off how bad the cod was and how good Jander's bass was.

The ice cream tower wasn't very good. Jander doesn't really like bananas (so why the hell did he order it?) so it didn't really hit the spot for him - I supposed he was hoping it would be more vanilla-y than it was. Kim didn't like it either and complained that the hazelnut shell was too sweet. She also blamed Jander for the lousy dessert choice. My fondue on the other hand was damn good. So good in fact that the bastards I was eating dinner with ate most of it.

In case you were wondering if Chris ate anything or if perhaps as an imaginary friend Chris did not need to eat, he did eat but the pictures I took didn't come out too well. Chris ordered the $38 prix-fixe that BWG was offering in honor of the Tribeca Film Festival in conjunction with American Express. The starter was a Hawaiian Kona Kampachi Carpaccio. The main courses were a Black Pearl Sustainable Scottish Salmon served over a gazpacho salad with an organic tomato emulsion and a Grilled Fossil Farms All Natural (is there another kind?) Buffalo Skirt Steak server with fingerling potatoes, onion rings, and a blue cheese vinaigrette. The dessert was a mix of various spring berries, honeyed plained yogurt, and an almond tuile. It's a pretty good deal that's only being offered through May 4th so get it while you can!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

One Ring To Rule Them All...Online!

The MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) genre lives in the bloated shadow of World of Warcrack - ahem, I mean, World of Warcraft (WOW). A few stout hearted souls will rant about this bastion of Blizzard evil, but who are they kidding? Once you try the Warcrack, you always go back! I myself have been crack-free for many years, but I try not to think about the Dark Ages too much. I'm sure even my friend Bipa the King would love to fall back into the habit if he could pry himself away from his life of Evercrack (note, this is not a reference to WOW's predecessor, Everquest).

After the emergence of WOW, the MMORPG was flooded with coypcats. I mean, who didn't want a piece of that pie? Sadly, all that is gold does not glitter, and lot of these releases are quite crappy. But in the land of Mordor where shadows lie lies one ring to rule them all, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (LOTRO). So step across the Brandywine Bridge into the world of Tolkien, brought to you by the developers Turbine.

Like any other MMO, LOTRO starts you off by allowing you to pick a race and class. Whether you want to be a plump juicy hobbit burglar like Bilbo, an agile elven hunter like Legolas, a dwarven guardian like Gimli, a human champion like Boromir, or a loremaster wanna-be-Gandalf-but-isn't, the choice is up to you. You can even choose to be an evil Nazgul or a reformed evil-turned-good Nazgul!

Well, no, not really - but you can get killed by them as a consolation prize.

Also like any other MMO, LOTRO also bundles in crafting professions to choose from. If you choose to invest the time, you can develop lucrative crafting skills that will allow you to rip off everyone else that's playing on your server. Yee-ha!

In many respects, LOTRO is not really all that different from WOW. That's to be expected because why would anyone want to change a formula that works? Graphically, LOTRO is vastly superior - but that's to be expected since Warcraft has been around for a pretty long time so it's bound to show some age. Since everyone likes some eye candy:

But perhaps the best thing about LOTRO is the music system. It's pretty innovative and once you get the hang of how it works you can play some pretty crazy things in-game.

This is also something else you can do. Unfortunately, Youtube disabled the embedding for this clip so click here. Only 27 days to go!

LOTRO does have quirks though - namely the Hope/Dread system. Basically the mere presence of the heroes of Tolkien world (Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, etc.) gives you hope - this materializes in a boost to your morale (what passes for health in LOTRO). On the flipside of things, you'll suffer from Dread when you're in the presence of evil. The negative impacts of Dread are much greater than the benefits of Hope. In addition to a decrease in morale, if you build up enough dread you'll find yourself literally crippled with fear, paralyzed and unable to perform any actions as the screen dims and turns gray. Oh, and if you die, you get slapped with Dread. While it's a somewhat original concept, it's kind of annoying and lame.

If you can get over this, LOTRO is a pretty good game - solid enough that I played the game for 2 or 3 months. That may not seem like much, but if you consider that I was hooked on WOW for a measily 4 or 5 months, that puts LOTRO in pretty good company.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Waterfalls in New York City

Starting in mid-July, New York City will be showcasing four man-made waterfalls designed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The designated locations are: Manhattan's Pier 35, Governor's Island, Pier 4 and 5 in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge. The installation will continue through October 2008 and is expected to generate $55 million in tourist dollars. (How da heck do they estimate this number?) The waterfalls will run from 7 am to 10 pm daily and be lit after sunset. All have been designed to protect water quality and aquatic life. Of the project, Eliasson said, "I have tried to work with today's complex notion of public spaces and evoke experiences that are both individual and enhance a sense of collectivity."

You judge for yourself. Here's a view of the waterfall construction outside Governor's Island from an office building:

And this is the digital rendering of the artwork (Public Art Fund/ The City of New York):

More real pictures to follow this summer....

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sake It To Me, Hana!

This flavored sake in lychee flavor is absolutely delicious! It is smooth and sweet, and deceitfully easy to drink, perfect as a dessert drink. We chilled the sake before drinking it, poured it into shot glasses and were suprisingly impressed with the aroma and taste. We would definitely buy this again! Hana also sells other flavors such as raspberry, plum and fuji apple - which we look forward to tasting. yum!

(P.S. This review was NOT written while under the influence of the the sake, *burp*)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Always Be My Baby

Let's face it, American Idol is a powerhouse of a reality show churning out kids with mediocre talent with slick makeovers. However despite numerous seasons with winners who are easily forgettable (Taylor Hicks who?), the laws of probability say that there should be a real gem of a talent among the contestants in the past 7 seasons. (Carrie Underwood!). Yet the majority of the singers relied on their voices and charisma to win the votes. Where was the originality? Thinking outside of the box? While there have been glimpses of unique musicality in previous seasons (i.e. beat-bopping), it takes a real artist to take a popular pop song and transform it to a hauntingly dark (border-line stalkerish) love song.

And that is exactly what describes David Cook! His rendition of Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby" was remarkably refreshing. I am in love with this song - from the moment I heard it, I had to take a double-take from the television because I did not recognize Mariah's song. However once I realized what David was singing, I was floored with his unique take on the song. Were these the same lyrics that Mariah sang from my radio when I was in high school?? Yes!!

You have to listen to believe! (And then worship the talent of David Cook).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Heart Tiffany's

We went to Tiffany's last weekend, and it's not something we do casually every weekend. It's not like "oh, let's go shopping.....hmmm, how about Tiffany's?" =) However we were looking to get a nice gift for Mother's Day and I would not have minded if we picked up something for myself! I checked out several options on the website beforehand and fell immediately in love with two options.

The first is this Open Heart lariat by Elsa Peretti with a cultured freshwater pearl in sterling silver on a 19" adjustable chain. I loved the whimsical dangle of the pearl as it hangs from the silver heart. I can easily change the length of the necklace by adjusting the position of the silver heart. The necklace is even nicer in person than on the website. Absolutely adorable!

The second option, which is more appropriate for a Mother's Day gift, is called the Heart Cap pendant. It is perfectly elegant but casual enough for everyday wear. The single pearl is attached to the necklace with 4 hearts, which gives it the name. There is also a matching pair of earrings but they were sold out at the store. This particular style of necklace was very popular. In fact, when we were just deciding on the necklaces, two couples next to us wanted to see the Heart Cap pendant! Luckily our salesperson was very patient with us (well, considering we told her that we were going to buy *two* necklaces) and let us take our time modeling the necklaces before making our purchase.

Wedding Favors

Weddings are an obsession of mine. In fact, I like to think that I'm still planning for some sort of big event in the future, whether it be my friends' weddings or even my parent's wedding anniversary. So one of the best parts about wedding planning, imo, are the wedding favors! They are often misconstrued as inexpensive trinkets that collect dust after the wedding. However, I believe that the bride and groom should aim for utilitarian gifts that their guests can use and enjoy for months after the special day. The guests have already feasted on a delicious food and shouldn't they have something to bring home to remember the special moment by? Secondly, the favors should not be expensive. Given the average budget of weddings in the U.S. last year was almost $28,000, there is absolutely no reason for the happy couple to spend any more money than they have to on wedding favors. A combination of DIY (do-it-yourself) and inexpensive favors is the perfect combination for the successful wedding favor.

Here are some of my favorites courtesy of Favor Warehouse

The tried and true standby, picture frame that serves as placeholders.

Glass flutes serve as tableware and useful gifts for the guests. The only negative? Potential Personalized breakage.

A modernized glass coaster that holds photos. Beware of purchasing these from an Internet dealer who will charge an arm and a leg for shipping this fragile and heavy item.

For the bride and groom who love to travel, heart-shaped luggage tags!

And finally, I could not resist to add the adorable frog in the prince - perfect for any fairy tale lovers.

Monday, April 14, 2008

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

In 2005, developer Traveller's Tales took the gaming world by storm through the innovative combination of 2 ridiculously awesome brands, LEGO and Star Wars, by the release of LEGO Star Wars. In 2006, Traveller's Tales joined the dark side with LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. Finally, in November 2007, Traveller's Tales brought the Complete Saga to your friendly neighborhood next-gen console market. When had the PS3 version for half-off in March 2008, I jumped all over it. LEGO's! Star Wars! In 1080P hi-def!

If you're already familiar with LEGO Star Wars, the Complete Saga is essentially a compilation of the prior releases - albeit in glorious high definition. Throwing in a pile of bonus missions, some new levels, online multi-play, and new characters gives the game a sexy glow that will appeal to owners of the original releases.

If LEGO Star Wars sounds like a pipe dream that George Lucas might've had when he was a kid, all you need to know is that the Complete Saga is an action/platformer-type game with minor puzzle elements that follows the storyline of Episodes I-VI. Obviously everything has been LEGO-ized. All of the major events are highlighted in the game, including the unfortunate rescue of Jar Jar Binks from certain death in the Phantom Menace. Granted, you can put a lightsaber through his head right afterwards.

One of the more interesting features in the Complete Saga is the ability to mix and match LEGO character parts to make new characters. Remember when you were a kid and you liked to dismember your LEGO figurines and play around with the body parts? ......for example, if you take Darth Vader's headpiece and put it on top of Princess Leia's body, you end up with Darth Leia. LEGO Star Wars allows you customize virtually every body part: headgear, head, cape, torso, arms, hands, weapon, hips, and legs.

I really only have one complaint - the game's Stud currency system. As you run amok through the game with your LEGO jedi, princess, stormtrooper, or what-have-you and deconstruct your enemies into their LEGO components, you'll be rewarded with a torrent of bouncing silver, gold, or blue Studs. While the currency system is conceptually a great a idea (who doesn't like to hoard money and buy things?), the actual act of Stud collection can be quite annoying. Unfortunately, the Studs do not automatically gravitate to your character - you are forced to run around to pick them up before they disappear (and avoiding LEGO death at the same time). While Studs aren't necessary to complete the game, they are vital to unlocking all the really nifty stuff.

If you're still not convinced to go out and try the game, this should do the trick:

That's right! Indiana Jones!

All in all, the Complete Saga is a lot of fun. It's friendly for the kids if you don't mind a bit of LEGO-cide and you won't have to be too embarassed if your friends find out what you're playing.

Restaurant Review: Ippudo

Ramen, Japanese Chain
65 4th Ave, East Village; 212-388-0088

Ramen lovers rejoice! We went here for lunch on a weekend and we expected to wait a long time for a table. The previous reviews on the restaurant mentioned a 45 minute wait. However we arrived a little before noon and we were immediately seated at a communal table. The table was wide and long enough to fit 10 people comfortably, however we had to sit forward to speak to the person across the table. The decor of the restaurant was very elegant and almost unexpected for, quite simply, a ramen noodle shop.

We've eaten at other Japanese noodle chains but what stood Ippudo apart was the rich broth. Don't expect to be full from the ramen bowls, the serving size is quite small. In fact, ask for extra noodles (kae-dama). We ordered the two ramen bowls that are most famous at Ippudo: Shiromaru Moto-aji and Akamaru Shin-aji. The main difference is the broth. The shiromaru was served in a white bowl and came in a milky pork broth. I preferred the akamaru bowl which had a red circle paste that made the broth simply de-licious! Both ramen bowls contained exactly two slices of pork, some cabbage and perfectly tender ramen noodles.

If you love ramen, the broth alone is a good enough reason to try this restaurant. However if you're looking to eat other types of food, then you will be disappointed. The ippudo rolls were simply pieces of cooked pork rolled with rice and drizzed under a warm sauce - not appetizing at all. But the overall ambience of the restaurant, ramen noodles and good service makes it a worthwhile for us to come back again.

Momofuku is next!