Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

A spectacular movie, robbed at the Oscars.

Rochelle and I watched this last night, recorded off Stars onto our TiVo. (I had seen it before, in a theater, but it was Rochelle’s first viewing.)

Even on the small screen, this is an astonishing movie. Most of the many, many Chinese historical / fantasy action movies are long on action, and short on plot — if there’s any discernible plot at all. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon proved that adding great writing to the usual elements could produce a movie that is not only likely the best in its genre, but also a Great Film.

It blows me away that this movie was beaten by Gladiator in the Best Picture category of the Academy Awards. While Gladiator is a decent, enjoyable movie, in anything but the short run it’s completely forgettable. (It would have been forgivable to have given the honor to Traffic, itself a great movie.)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is anything but forgettable. Make sure you see this movie.

Le Pacte des Loups

Saw The Brotherhood of the Wolf today. Recommended!

I finally managed to go and see a movie this weekend! Le Pacte des Loups, or The Brotherhood of the Wolf. It took about 20 minutes to get used to the subtitles (as it always does), but then the dialog just flowed into my head without thinking too much about it.

I highly enjoyed the movie. An intriguing story, some really amazing action sequences (right up there with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix), and gorgeous photography. I’m not a movie reviewer, so I’ll skip trying to sound smart while critiquing the film. I enjoyed it, money well spent. Check out the trailers if you want more of a taste.

Buche de Noel

The wait for our Buche de Noel from Boulangerie Bay Bread was more than 45 minutes, and we got the last one.

A follow-up to yesterday’s post about Boulangerie Bay Bread, that morning we went there to buy a Buche de Noel, a traditional holiday cake shaped like a Yule log.

We got there 10 minutes before they opened at 8am, and the line was already down the block, all the way to the corner. It took 45 minutes for us to work our way to the front, and the line was never shorter than when we first arrived.

A lot of those people were no doubt disappointed, because we got the last Buche. We also got an apple-cranberry tart, a couple croissants, some cookies, two sandwiches, and a big piece of croissant bread pudding (remember, we said we were pigs).

Next year we will be smart, and put in our pre-order a week in advance. We tried on Friday this year, but they had already cut off pre-orders by then.

Croissants, Bread, Desserts!

Boulangerie Bay Bread makes what are probably the best croissants in the Bay Area; many people claim they are just as good as in Paris.

Boulangerie Bay Bread is the best bakery in San Francisco, with the award to prove it. Rochelle and I cannot get out without spending $20, not because it’s expensive (it’s not), but because we are pigs, and there’s just too much good stuff.

Their croissants are heavenly, and customers (including many with French accents) regularly exclaim that you cannot get better without traveling to Paris. Their goodness comes from tradition, technique, and lots of butter. Yum!

They have a wide variety of wonderful breads, of which the walnut baguette is probably our favorite, especially to eat with cheese (Artisan Cheese is right around the corner). And they have some wonderful desserts, including fruit and chocolate tarts, and my favorites, their custard-based desserts (Ooh la la!).

Their main bakery is at 2325 Pine Street, just below Fillmore, but have two other locations with different names, one in Cole Valley and one at 2310 Polk Street. They also have a few restaurants, including Chez Nous and Galette, both on Fillmore Street, a couple of blocks away from the bakery.


Old-fashioned seltzer is extremely refreshing, and is probably the best way to rehydrate after drinking heavily. In the Bay Area, call the Seltzer Sisters to get the best in sparkling water.

On our first date, Rochelle offered me seltzer, real seltzer out of one of those old-fashioned bottles you usually see in Marx brothers movies. I knew right then that she was a groovy chick.

Rochelle has been getting seltzer delivered almost since she arrived in San Francisco, more than a decade ago. We are now both totally addicted to having refreshing, bubbly seltzer delivered a couple times a month. It is the world’s best thing to have in your refrigerator when you’re looking to rehydrate from an evening of drinking.

We get ours delivered to our house by Seltzer Sisters, a local company based in Redwood City. They take Hetch Hetchy water (the best in California), filter and treat it, and then add just the right amount of carbonization. Mr. Lucky Recommends Them Too

They also have a variety of flavored syrups, from brands which are much better than the ubiquitous Torani, and other seltzer-related items. If you’re a fan of the Italian-style sodas made with Torani syrups, you need to give these a try. Personally, I like my seltzer straight, or mixed with fruit juice, 50/50.

Seltzer Sisters will deliver pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area. Give ’em a call, at (800) 928-3755, to get set up with the best way to drink bottled water.

And tell them that Michael and Rochelle say hello!

Questions to Ask About BBQ

There are two crucial questions to ask your pitmaster. The right answers can mean heaven, the wrong answers let you know you should run.

When you’re searching for the perfect BBQ, there are two questions you need to ask the cook behind the counter. If you get good answers, buy something. If you get the best answers, program their Take Out number into your mobile phone.

Here are the critical questions, and possible answers, with the “Best” answer provided by Bob Kantor of Memphis Minnie’s, when we interviewed caterers for our wedding.

Question: How long do you smoke your brisket?

  • Wrong Answer: Eight hours or less.
  • Good Answer: 12 hours.
  • Best Answer: 18 hours.

Explanation: Brisket is a tough, extremely flavorful cut of meat. It takes many hours of smoking to break it down until it’s tender, and for the smoky flavor to penetrate fully. Anything less than 10 hours and it’ll likely be tough, and boring. Most BBQ joints can’t commit to the full 18 hours, so when you find a place that does, you know they’re special.

Question: What is your philosophy of sauce?

  • Wrong Answer: Huh?
  • Wrong Answer: Baste early, baste often.
  • Wrong Answer: Slather it on, baby!
  • Good Answer: Served on the side.
  • Best Answer: Sauce is to hide your mistakes.

Explanation: BBQ that doesn’t taste great without sauce is not good BBQ. Sauce should enhance the flavor of the meat, not hide it. BBQ that’s coated with sauce is probably hiding something.

I Like BBQ!

Memphis Minnie’s is the best BBQ in the Bay Area. And we should know, we tried a bunch!

When Rochelle and I were planning our wedding reception, we wanted a Texas-style summer BBQ (Rochelle is a transplanted Texan). Among other things, this required us to serve real Texas BBQ, which turned out to be hard.

Rochelle started by reading restaurant reviews and other reference sources, looking for places that were considered “good”. We organized a taste test of four of the Bay Area’s “best” BBQ, literally driving 100+ miles to pick up all of our samples.

Brothers In Law, regularly voted the “Best of SF”, was so awful we fed it to the dog. I’m not kidding. Some samples were the favorites of others at the tasting, but were more Southern-style BBQ, coated in sauce with too much sweet for our tastes. In the end, none of the four satisfied us.

A fellow Texan told Rochelle about Memphis Minnie’s, but we quickly learned that the restaurant had lost its lease, and was no longer open. So Rochelle tracked down and called Bob Kantor, the owner, and asked about catering.

There are two critical questions to ask someone about their BBQ, and Bob answered both correctly. Further conversation suggested that Bob was a BBQ Master, but of course, the proof is in the tasting. We arranged to try a sample of his brisket, the quintessential Texas BBQ meat, and said we’d be in touch.

One bite into the beautiful hunk of brisket and we knew we’d found our man. 10 minutes later, there was nothing left of the smoked meat, or of the BBQ sauce he’d given us on the side. Memphis Minnie’s was hired, and did a wonderful job catering our wedding, where we received nothing but compliments about the BBQ (we served Bob’s brisket, ribs, and hot links).

And then we pined away for Minnie’s for months because, with the restaurant closed, we had no way of satisfying our cravings.

Then one Sunday I was laying in the bathtub, soaking in water too hot for Rochelle’s taste, relaxing, when Rochelle started screaming. I literally thought the house was on fire. She ran into the bathroom with the newspaper in her hands and tears in her eyes, and asked me what was the best possible thing to happen to the (then closed) restaurant across the street from us, what was the best possible new place that could open there?

Memphis Minnie’s, of course!

So now we’re regulars. You should be, too. 576 Haight Street, between Fillmore and Steiner. Fire engine red, you cannot miss it. Just look for the Sign of the Pig.

And tell Bob that Michael and Rochelle say hi!

New Channel: I Like

I’ve added a new channel to my Weblog, where I can give kudos to stuff I like, usually vendors with an outstanding product.

I’m a firm believer that voting with your dollars is the most effective way to influence the actions of giants. If everyone started buying In-N-Out burgers instead of Big Macs, you can bet that McDonald’s would improve the quality of their product in response.

This channel is all about leveraging my preferences via your wallet. If you’re a fan of high quality items, foodstuffs, and services, then you may find some good information here, especially if you live in the Bay Area. I.e., you win.

And if I can turn other people onto the things I like, like truly outstanding croissants or BBQ, perhaps there will be more of them in the world. I.e., I win.

So, check my recommendations out, and if you give them a try, be sure to tell them that Michael and Rochelle sent you.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Fox’s new TV show, 24, is the best new show on commercial television. It’s intense, riveting, and frighteningly timely. If you haven’t started watching it yet, start this Friday with the encore presentation of hour #2.

Fox’s new TV show, 24, is the best new show on commercial television. It’s intense, riveting, and frighteningly timely.

The basic plot is that there’s an assassination threat to the Democratic presidential candidate, on the day of the California primary. Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) is the CIA counter-terrorist team leader who is called in to stop it. Each of the season’s 24 episodes is one hour long, both in the real world and on the show, and covers the 24-hour period on that one day.

If you haven’t been watching it yet, you should get caught up while you can (encore episode is Friday!). Once you miss the first couple episodes, I think you’ll be too far behind to get into it.

Keyboard Rant

Why doesn’t anyone make a good USB keyboard for modern Macintoshes?

I recently bought a new Macintosh, my first in three years. The new systems don’t have the old keyboard connector (ADB), just USB connections. They come with a keyboard, and mouse too, but both of them suck.

Oh, they’re pretty enough, but when you use them intensively, day in and day out, the form-over-function flaws start to drive you nuts.

I found a wonderful replacement for the mouse, a Logitech wireless optical mouse, which is easily the nicest mouse I’ve ever used. It’s also beautiful to look at, proving that highly functional does not require ugly. Wish Steve Jobs would learn that lesson.

Which brings me to the keyboard. The Apple Pro Keyboard is, as I said, beautiful to look at, but the actuators are kind of stiff, and the key action is spongy. This means that I’m constantly missing letters and capitalization, because the key doesn’t press correctly to my touch typing. And the combination is causing my hands to hurt, from hitting the keys too hard.

What’s truly awful, though, is that there is no decent third-party replacement for Apple’s keyboard. Oh, there’s dozens, or even hundreds, of USB keyboards, any of which I can use on a Mac. But they all have Alt and Windows keys, and no Option or Command keys, and Alt and Control are in the wrong places. The few that are Mac-specific, with the right keys in the right places, are not very good.

The thing that I don’t understand is that Apple once upon a time made a truly awesome keyboard. The Apple Extended Keyboard (the original, not the “II” version that came out later) is almost universally revered among Mac journalists as the best keyboard they’ve ever used, on any platform.

I’m certainly in agreement with them. I’ve had an Extended for as long as I’ve owned Macs, more than 10 years, taking that one keyboard from an SE with two floppies all the way to my last system, a Beige G3. It took a huge amount of abuse, never gave me any trouble, and the key action is, even after 10 years of heavy use, truly a writer’s delight.

But it’s an ADB keyboard, which means I can’t use it on my new G4, unless I buy an adapter. I don’t really want to do that, because I don’t trust it to be compatible long-term.

Also, Apple did do one thing really right on their Pro keyboard. The addition of Volume Up/Down/Mute and CD Eject keys are a real convenience, and those don’t exist on my 10 year old keyboard. I really want to find a very good modern keyboard that’ll work with modern Macs. So far as I can tell, such a beast does not exist.

If you have recommendations, let me know!