Restaurant Week Pt.1 - Alma De Cuba

Restaurant Week in Philly: a celebration of the city's fine dining scene in which participating restaurants offer a 3 course menu for only $30.

My wife and I absolutely love to dine out and we feel a nice meal is money well spent. I always enjoy revisiting the energy of Center City (ok, its not as invigorating as running around NYC or Tokyo, but in relative comparison to my home in the burbs...its refreshingly stimulating).

So this past Sunday, we braved the winter elements and landed at a beautiful Cuban restaurant called Alma de Cuba. The restaurant is squeezed in between Urban Outfitters and other shops on Walnut Street and the exterior is deceptively small. As you enter and make your way up the stairs, the space really opens up before your eyes with a cozy first floor lounge and 2 floors of dining above. The glass paneling, mirrors and clean interior lines present a space that is modern but not obnoxiously trendy. The warmer, mood lighting (it was much darker than in these photos) accentuates a sense of coziness and avoids the cold detachment of Morimoto.

By the way, my wife says that when her parents were visiting from Japan, they could never get accustomed to the lack of lighting in many American restaurants. They wondered if the establishment didn't want the customers to see everything on the plate in front of them!

We had eaten at another great Cuban restaurant - Cuba Libre in Old City, which had a more traditional homestyle feel. This experience at Alma was definitely more "Modern Cuban Cuisine" as their menu advertised. I felt the food here was more refined and executed well, but I think both restaurants definitely fufill different types of cravings in my palate. So, my first course was a flavorful coconut-chicken broth with sliced poached chicken, yucca, carrots, cilantro, green peas and lime juice. This was a perfect choice for a cold winter night and the flavors were spot on. My wife is a fan of ceviche, so she chose the "Hamachi Tiradito" with red onion, cilantro, lime juice and aji. My main course was the "Vaca Frita" crispy skirt steak, which was definitely crispy without being too dry - sort of like a beef brisket and it was complemented very well by the onions, tomatoes, cuban oregano, black beans, rice and dabs of sauces. My wife had the sea bass with tomato, sweet chili, garlic and white wine with shrimp verde rice, tostones and stuffed peppers. I topped the evening with a banana rum cake and helped my wife finish her vanilla caramel flan. I almost forgot to mention my wonderfully overpriced passion fruit vodka. I have a crazy sweet tooth, so this drink definitely hit the spot. All in all it was a great way to finish the weekend!

Next tasting is Wednesday night at Tangerine's.

random pics

Images that caught my eye while cleaning out my computer. I cropped myself or my family out because I tend to be intrigued by the strangers and objects in the background. Maybe its because they aren't posing or paying attention to the picture-taker who snaps at the command of "Hai-cheese!"

Weekend Remix

The Roots - You Got Me (Me Tienes Remix)
Just might be my favorite Roots remix.
The steel drums give it a sunsplashed carribean feel.
I can close my eyes and almost forget that I'm freezing my ass off today.

Music to jumpstart your weekend:
Outkast feat. Snoop Dogg & Sleepy Brown - So Fresh So Clean (remix)

M.I.A. - Galang (Dave Kelly remix)

Nelly Furtado - Say It Right (Dummies Remix)

on the run

Running is my therapy. A sweet release, where I can visualize the entanglements of work and life being broken as my legs pound out mile after mile. I can feel my daily baggage flying off me and falling back in the distance. Sometimes, I turn my head to look back. I don't run with an ipod...I prefer silence. Not total silence. I like to listen to my breathing, it makes me feel alive. I'm in tune with my vitality when I push myself physically, especially after sitting on my ass for 8 hours at work. My breathing, my heartbeat and my legs are all in rhythm and everything feels right.
If I miss a few days, I get cranky - ask my wife. Is it strange that my psyche has become so dependent on this activity?

Throwback track: DJ Krush

DJ Krush feat. Esthero - Final Home (piano mix)
A nice laidback track that dropped back in '99: DJ Krush featuring Esthero.

In his youth, Krush dropped out of school and became involved in local gangs and later, the Yakuza. Eventually, he cut his ties with the criminal underworld and was inspired to become a DJ after watching the film "Wild Style". 9 albums and 20+ years later, Krush has established himself as a true hiphop pioneer in Japan and has collaborated with many international artists.

Graffiti Bunny

While museum hopping in Japan last summer, I came across a series of postcards that caught my eye. The artist is Kaori Wakamatsu and much of her "Graffiti Bunny" art represents a microcasm of Japan in the juxtaposition of her animation influenced illustrations with traditional subject matter.

Jersey Stand Up!

Don't hate...Appreciate:

New Jersey is the only state where all of its counties are classified as metropolitan areas.
New Jersey has more Cubans in Union City (1 sq mi.) than Havana , Cuba .
New Jersey has the densest system of highways and railroads in the US .
New Jersey has the highest cost of living.
New Jersey has the highest cost of auto insurance.
New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation.
New Jersey has the most diners in the world and is sometimes referred to as the "Diner Capital of the World."
North Jersey has the most shopping malls in one area in the world, with seven major shopping malls in a 25 square mile radius.

You know you're from Jersey when . . .
You don't think of fruit when people mention "The Oranges."
You know that it's called Great Adventure, not Six Flags.
A good, quick breakfast is a hard roll with butter.
You've known the way to Seaside Heights since you were seven.
You've eaten at a diner, when you were stoned or drunk,
at 3 A.M.
You know that the state isn't one big oil refinery.
At least three people in your family still love Bruce Springsteen, and
you know the town Jon Bon Jovi is from.
You know what a "jug handle" is.
You know that WaWa is a convenience store.
You know that the state isn't all farmland.
You know that there are no "beaches" in New Jersey --there's the shore--and you don't go "to the shore," you go "down the shore." And when you are there, you're not "at the shore"; you are "down the shore."
You know how to properly negotiate a circle.
You knew that the last sentence had to do with driving.
You know that this is the only "New" state that doesn't require "New" to identify it (try . . . Mexico . . . York ..! . . Hampshire-- doesn't work, does it?).
You know that a " White Castle " is the name of BOTH a fast food chain AND a fast food sandwich.
You consider putting mayo on a corned beef sandwich a sacrilege.
You don't think "What exit?" is very funny.
You know that people from the 609 area code are "a little different." Yes they are!
You know that no respectable New Jerseyan goes to Princeton --that's for out-of-staters.
The Jets-Giants game has started fights at your school or local bar.
You live within 20 minutes of at least three different malls.
You refer to all highways and interstates by their numbers.
Every year you have at least one kid in your class named Tony.
You know the location of every clip shown in the
Sopranos opening credits.
You've gotten on the wrong highway trying to get out of the mall.
You know that people from North Jersey go to Seaside Heights , and people from Central Jersey go to Belmar, and people from South Jersey go to Wildwood.
It can be no other way.
You weren't raised in New Jersey --you were raised in either North
Jersey, Central Jersey or South Jersey .
You don't consider Newark or Camden to actually be part of the state.
You remember the stores Korvette's, Two Guys, Rickel's, Channel, Bamberger's and Orbach's.
You also remember Palisades Amusement Park .
You've had a boardwalk cheese steak and vinegar fries.
You start planning for Memorial Day weekend in February.
And finally . . .
pumped your own gas.

Wag of the finger at apple

tai chi

My 3rd tai-chi session tonight was definitely more fluid and encouraging. Admittedly, during my first class, I was overwhelmed with all of the detailed forms and movements. I wondered if this was ever going to be an enjoyable experience and questioned my enrollment. How did I end up here? Well, after downing a few drinks at Champs, my friend talked me into joining his tai-chi class. It piqued my wife's interest, since she had been looking to take some sort of class to broaden her horizons. Plus, it gives us a chance to do something together. So, we drive 40 minutes to the teacher's house, which is located in the rural boondocks of south Jersey. The driveway is a long winding dirt road that knifes into the darkness with a Blair Witch aesthetic. Cars are parked between a spacious two story house and a large shed. You can easily imagine people getting whacked and stacked in this shed...but in fact its a martial arts studio where 10-12 mainly caucasian people are inside letting their "chi" flow. I begin to wonder if there's going to be any added pressure on us to excel since we're asian...and they're not.

Now, I'm not a real spiritual person, but I'd like to think of myself as open-minded. Cynical...but open-minded. So I try to listen as this 50 year old harley davidson biker type of dude tries to explain the energy flow of one's chi. Its all very abstract and foreign to me. Beforehand, my wife wondered if I had the discipline to do it. She also thinks that some Americans struggle with martial arts because they don't see it as a way of life but solely as a practical means of defense or combat. I suppose the "Eastern" philosophy behind it is more innate to Asians born in Asia. During my first class, I ended up focusing so much on following the movements that I lost track of the meaning. I haven't felt the "chi" yet- which is often a warm sensation or tingling at the fingertips. Maybe there's a disconnect between my mind, body and spirit.

The classes are also a stark contrast from how I work out. I'm a gymrat, and my workouts are pure speed and physicality - running and lifting hard (I guess with little thought or spirituality behind it haha). So its a real change of pace, when I'm engaged in these slow-motion movements that are supposed to flow rather than being forced or muscled over. But, I've been told that it takes a while for many people to get comfortable with it. Of course, my wife picks it up right away. The Chinese master who runs the school or ("sifu" as he is called) chalks it up to her being asian. Then he turns to me and jokes, "What's your excuse?" Hey man, I'm filipino.

I think I've made some definite strides tonight in understanding the actual methods and as a result, my movements have felt less mechanical and more naturally fluid. As I tell sifu that I'm picking it up better, he offers me some words of encouragement, and says "See, I told you...its in your blood."


I just caught Pan's Labyrinth (yeah, yeah give me a late pass) and it was one great flick. Definitely not a fairytale for the faint of heart - the movie is violently beautiful and haunting in its depiction of post-civil war northern Spain in 1944 through the eyes of a girl who escapes by delving into ancient stories and fairy tales. Its particularly moving in how it champions the power of a child's innocence and imagination amid the horrors of war. You simultaneously embrace the beautiful imagery of Ophelia's fantasy world and turn away from the violent wrath imposed by Captain Vidal. Great storytelling, great visuals, and an ending that really fits the flow of the movie.

guilty pleasures

Today's theme - part-asian singers stand up!

2 Amerie tracks with a nice throwback feel.

Amerie - Take Control feat. Peedi Peedi (Benja Styles "Ultramagnetic MC's - Ease Back" Remix)

Amerie - Losin' U feat. Willy Denzy

A nice Cassie remix that I like better than the original.

Cassie - Long Way 2 Go (Cory Bold Remix)


That so-called "offensive genius" worked his magic huh? You'd think if your team keeps Peyton Manning out of the endzone, you'd win. But the inept Ravens offense reared its ugly head once again. I envisioned a scenario in which the Ravens would lose - but it involved the Colts following the Bengals game plan with Manning spreading out the Ravens D and picking apart the secondary. But to lose a game without giving up a TD is frustrating and pathetic. The stadium was rockin' with energy and the Ravens came out flat as a pancake. The offense was reckless with turnovers then played scared with ultra-conservative and unimaginative play. And to make matters worse, it comes at the hands of the Colts. The same Colts that skipped town in '84 put a disastrous end to a wonderful 13-3 Ravens year of '06.

sneaker appreciation - air max 1 premiums

Yeah, I love my dunks and AF1's...but in the retro running shoe category, I'd like to show some love to the Air Max 1. Often overshadowed in the past by the beloved Air Max 95's, this shoe was the forefather of the whole line when it debuted in 1987. I recently rediscovered them when I copped a pair of Air Max 1 premium "Terra Huaraches" featuring a leather and suede upper and speckled midsoles. Extra comfy and I love the colorways.

peace and blunt ashes

Michigan's Fab Five of the early 90's. Their talent was breathtaking and their style (baldies, baggy shorts, black kicks, braggadocio) was hip hop personified. Chris Webber was literally at the center of it all. I've been a Webber fan: I forgave him for his untimely timeout in the '93 NCAA Finals, followed his travels in the NBA and overlooked his legal troubles and lack of clutch play. Oh and he dated Tyra Banks in her prime (before she became the overbearingly annoying TV "personality" that we know now).

Unfortunately due to injuries, CWebb is a shell of his former self. His stint with the Sixers was a bust, culminating with Wednesday's contract buyout which allowed CWebb to retain all but $5 million of his $43 million contract. Its not Beckham money...but a pretty damn good deal in my eyes. So does he leave quietly with his pockets stuffed? Nope.

He takes parting shots at Coach Cheeks: "If Mo wasn't going to use me, I wish he had told me during the summer. But now, we hadn't won five games and he was telling me I can't play. I knew the relationship was over." Check the game logs and Mo had him in for 30+ minutes several times in the season and received mediocre production. CWebb's playing time dwindled because he was horrible. Horrible as in 38% shooting and 11ppg. I won't even get into his phantom defense.

Where does this guy get off griping about playing time? He should be arrested for for stealing 20+ million a year to underachieve, sulk and complain. Mo Cheeks may not be the best coach, but he's a class act and does not deserved to be ripped by an underachieving malcontent. Hey CWebb, be happy with your $38 mil, shut up and leave town quietly...oh, and work on your music productions skills - that "Blunt Ashes" song you produced for NaS put me to sleep.

As for Philly...all I can say is Greg Oden.

Sidenote: Why does Oden look so old?
He looks like he's pushing 40..can he really be 19?
Lebron is another suspect - although he cleared his age when Dwade forced him to produce his birth certificate.

Gotta be the steroids in the milk - I've been noticing lots of kids looking way older than their age these days.

common (sense)

I'm not claiming to have the hot exclusives, the rare remixes ... just some good music that I'm feeling at the moment.

I've been down with Common since "Resurrection" and was hooked on the jazzy beats and witty lyricism on that album. I've supported him since, but I never got to see him live until his "Be" tour landed in Atlantic City last year. Now, rappers are known to be hit or miss as a live act...but Common did not disappoint. Neither preachy nor pretentious, he put on an intimate show for the grown folks. I'll forgive him for his stint with erykah and the crochet pants and more recently, I'll forgive for his gap ads (ok they weren't that bad).

Common ft. Will I Am - I Have A Dream

(from the Freedom Writers soundtrack)

Common ft. Bilal - Play Your Cards Right
(from the Smokin' Aces soundtrack)


Introductions are in order right? So what do I do for a living? I'm a graphic designer working for a company that deals with artistically-challenged clients in a fast paced environment. So I often sacrifice creativity for productivity. I'd go into detail, but I'm not compelled to revisit the ordeal of beautifying visual garbage on a tight deadline. Hell, I'll be revisiting it 9am tomorrow. I freelance on the side, but at times I teeter on the brink of burnout...and yet here I am in front of the computer again. Between the day job, freelancing and wasting time on the net, I spend more time with the computer than anyone else in my life (sorry wifey). So...before my senses become completely dulled, I need to look at some cool stuff!

You're probably familiar with Yoshitomo Nara, but I can't get enough of his art. For those who don't know, he's a very popular contemporary Japanese Pop artist. Love the imagery - so cute and so evil! And for you hipsters out there, cop the merchandising.

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