Thursday, April 30, 2009

Too Soon, White Castle

Sorry about the quality, but does it say something that this is apparently the only version of this commercial up on YouTube right now?

White Castle's attitude about the H1N1 swine flu pandemic seems to be that if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

(If you'd like to see this video in better quality, White Castle currently has it embedded in their own homepage.)

If the ad itself isn't ill-timed enough, they've also got a buy one, get one free campaign going on right now. Yum!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pepsi Throwback

In a sea of dumb, uncreative ads for dumb, uninteresting products during "24" last night, this blew my mind:

I love contrarian marketing, because I think most marketing is bullshit. Or at least most marketing "conventional wisdom" is. I love seeing a major company use a word like "throwback" in their product name. That's usually a word companies avoid like the plague. Guess this recession's finally making everybody desperate enough to try a little honesty.

Anyway, I suddenly feel an urge to hit the grocery store. Repeatedly.

Why is it that companies always make their best products only "for a limited time"?

I drink Coke, but this is gonna make me switch. At least until they stupidly discontinue it.

The most ironic thing about this? It comes hot on the heels of a disastrous rebranding of the main Pepsi line by the king of disastrous rebrandings. Guess Pepsi themselves are feeling nostalgic for better times.

UPDATE: Of course, it would be nice if I could actually buy this stuff somewhere. Anyone actually see it for sale anywhere? I've looked high and low.

UPDATE 2: Found it!

I checked all over Manhattan and a lot of Nassau county. Finally found it in the freezer aisle at King Kullen in Valley Stream, Long Island, just sitting unceremoniously on a pallet in the middle of the floor. It was not in the soda aisle - obviously, I checked there first. They're hiding this stuff. Price? $1.99 for a case - it was unmarked, but on sale (from $2.99).

Yes, it tastes different. It tastes great! It actually tastes the way I remember Coke tasting, from before they changed their formula to use corn syrup. (I know, they have some natural sugar Coke still, in certain areas, but I haven't found it.) You know how with corn syrup sodas, they taste ok at the beginning, but by the end you have this weird aftertaste in your mouth and your teeth are covered in gunk? Doesn't happen with natural sugar. And it just tastes cleaner.

It's also a little less sweet than regular Pepsi (hence the Coke comparison). I think they upped the sweetness when they switched to corn syrup in order to mask the aftertaste. This stuff is nice and balanced.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Auto-tune the News

One of my several jobs at my company is basically acting as our blog editor - yeah, a full-time job at most companies is just one of the things I do.

Anyway, the thing about that is I have people sending in funny shit to me all day. This is one of the best things I've seen in a while. I'm surprised it's not already bigger than it is - this is already part 2! (Part 1 is below, but I like part 2 better if only for Katie Couric, who's obviously got a budding singing career in the works, not to mention Hillary Clinton's "pirate song").

Part 1:

Nobody else has yet figured out such an effective and funny way of parodying cable news, politicians and the fake crap that is most modern music all in one video.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

NYC Japanese Barbecue and Kobe Beef - Gyu-Kaku

I'm two months late with this, but it's time to start clearing out the backlog.

On Valentine's Day, my wife and I went to this place:

My wife understandably misses the food from her home country, so we go Japanese on most special occasions. Just in case you're wondering why I only ever seem to write about Japanese restaurants.

I've previously written about our home version of Japanese yakiniku - this is the real thing. You're not going to get much more authentic if you go to Japan, and I say that from personal experience. (Ok, much of the wait staff at Gyu-Kaku is western, and at least some of the chefs are too - but you do your own cooking anyway.) This is Japanese style barbecue, which also borrows a lot from Korean style barbecue if you're familiar with that. You just order up a bunch of food and cook it yourself at the table over a gas grill. It's been a while now but I'm reasonably sure they did have charcoal or stones or something down in there to punch up the flavor. (If you're concerned about the authenticity of this, I'll just tell you that the totally rustic, 100% Japanese yakiniku place I went to in rural Ibaraki last time I was there used propane grills.) Pretty much everything's available to grill that you might expect, including many different kinds of meat, vegetables, fish, starches, and whatever else. Here's their full menu.

Gyu-Kaku is a chain; they have locations in about a dozen cities, including two in New York. This one (NYC mid-town) is on the second floor of a 3rd Avenue office building. The interior is pretty modern stylish and very dark, which I like - though the table they sat us at was obviously designed for privacy, as the ones that ring the wall of the restaurant all are. We couldn't see most of the restaurant and nobody else could see us, except for the other couple seated next to us. It's almost like a private room.

I have to point this out, because it's really the main reason I'm writing about this place:

That's Kobe beef. From Japan.

They don't have this every day. It's not on the menu. (You can see at the link above that the menu clearly says "US Kobe Beef".) But it was a special the day we were there, so of course I had to have it even though this little plate - which was probably about six ounces total - was around $26.

I've talked about "Kobe beef" before - the stuff they call that in New York restaurants is basically fake. It's at best a deceptive label. Gyu-Kaku is actually doing a good thing by calling what they normally serve "US Kobe Beef", because I think that, given that Kobe is an actual place, most people think that's where the beef comes from if they see "Kobe beef" on a menu. And restaurants are usually all too happy to take advantage of that misconception, jacking up the prices to unreasonable levels on what's really just a particular breed of cow that's raised right here in the United States on all-American ingredients right alongside (and sometimes cross-bred with) the cows you eventually eat at McDonald's.

(Read a bit more about the American "Kobe-style" beef scam.)

It's very hard to find real Kobe beef in the United States. This is the first time I've had it, and I eat Japanese a lot. And there is a difference. I've never thought US Kobe beef was anything special. Yeah, it's a little more marbled than most cuts of regular beef, but honestly, I've made $3 flatiron steaks at home that were more tender and tasted better than most US Kobe beef I've had.

This was completely different. I won't say it's the best beef I've ever had, but it was right up there (my experience at Peter Luger's steak house is the only thing that might top it). It did melt in my mouth - I hardly had to chew it. And, like Japanese beef I've had in Japan, it just tasted beefier than American beef, including American Kobe beef. It had a concentrated flavor. I have no doubt that the tenderness comes from the breed, the aging and the massaging of the cows, while the flavor comes from the food the cows are fed. These things are just not the same here.

The other ingredients we got were less memorable, but then real Kobe beef is kind of a tough act to follow. I will say that I'd recommend avoiding the Chilean sea bass, which comes wrapped in tin foil (for easier grilling) and is so small that it would barely be worth ordering if it was the best thing on the menu. But it wasn't even; the pepper sauce is too spicy for such a delicate fish, it's like trying to wash down a bowl of Texas chili with a glass of Pinot Grigio. You won't even taste it.

My wife really enjoyed her Negi tongue (to which I say "blecch!"), the assorted vegetables were good and the garlic potatoes were amazing. They're slathered in real garlic, which grills in chunks along with the potatoes and tastes great just by itself. My wife's bibimbap rice was middling.

Definitely a fun date, and if you can manage to go on a Japanese beef night, you won't regret it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April Skies

I'm at that age where I'm both old enough and still young enough that every season and every month of the year brings back a specific memory of some past experience, happy or sad. As I get older, a lot of these things are fading. I don't really want them to - even the bad memories are still memories of things I've done, or that happened to me, and I don't want to lose them. It's my history.

This song is one of my memories of a particularly difficult year.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Japan trip! Again!

Next month, it's back to Tokyo. First time in two years. You can look forward to another series of posts as we navigate our way through typhoons, get lost in urinal poetry and celebrate our love of deep-fried McDonald's apple pies.

Actually, this time we're going on business, but we'll still pack in some fun too. Not all of it will make it in here - hey, we do have private lives too.

Every time we go, it's a hell of a time trying to figure out how to get there. We're veterans of this now so we know all the tricks, but every year it gets a little harder. And this year, we ended up getting the best deal through Orbitz, of all places.

We're flying ANA (our preferred airline) and staying at the Oakwood Apartments Shinjuku while we're in Tokyo. (We're doing family stuff part of the time, so we won't be there the entire trip). This isn't a hotel, it's a serviced apartment building. We're getting a studio, so it's like a hotel room, except it has a kitchenette and a washer/dryer, but no room service. I think it's a good tradeoff, especially when you add in the balcony, the 37" HDTV with DVD player, and the free wi-fi. Not to mention the sky lounge. All for $120 per night! In Shinjuku!

I actually wrote an entire post on finding a hotel in Tokyo. It's hard to get a bad one there, so really my main requirements these days are price, transportation, room size and view. Pretty much every hotel we've (or I've) ever stayed at in Tokyo has had an unbelievable view. We got spoiled rotten on our last trip staying at the Grand Prince Akasaka, an amazing hotel with probably the biggest standard rooms you're going to find anywhere in Tokyo and gigantic picture windows to show off the city.

There's nowhere else you're gonna find a banquette in a standard room in Tokyo.

I wanted to stay there again but it was a little too expensive this time. That's a weird thing about Tokyo; some hotels are crazy expensive but others are suspiciously cheap given what they offer. And they rotate. The Akasaka Prince was also only about $120 per night last time we went, for a room on the 30th floor. Actually, I don't think I've ever paid more than that. Every time I go, I'm actually a little afraid we're going to get to the hotel and they're going to tell us we've been scammed and don't actually have a room. We almost booked the gorgeous Intercontinental Tokyo Bay for $109 this time around, but the price changed to $193 literally as we were talking about it. You gotta be quick.

More great views - this was from the Shinagawa Prince (the original of this is huge, I shrunk it down for the blog):

These were from the Makuhari Prince in Chiba:

The other funny thing about Tokyo (and that's not Tokyo directly above, the other photos are) is that it's not what you'd normally think of as a beautiful city. But there's something pretty amazing about its generally boring skyline, and that's the fact that it literally stretches forever in all directions. And there's hardly even any variation to it; it's not like New York, which has two little areas of tall buildings and the rest is flat. Tokyo is like something out of science fiction; it's like Coruscant in Star Wars, maybe even more impressive in some ways.

Well, I'm rambling. I can't wait to go. More definitely to come.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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