Monday, October 31, 2011


When I first played the card game Dominion, I was "less than overwhelmed". Eventually the game grew on me to the point where a year later, I was playing in a tournament. Other than a weekly lunchtime game, I don't get much chance to play face-to-face. That's why I've been enjoying playing on-line at the Isotropic server.

There's been a long-promised official on-line version, but in the meantime, Isotropic fills the void nicely. It supports all of the released cards (often within hours of their release), and it is in fact used by the game designer and developers to playtest new expansions. There's a nice "auto-match" feature where you can tell it how many players you want to play with, and which expansions you prefer, and it sets up a game with other players.

This being a site by and for gamers, there's a "meta-game" of ranking; it uses an algorithm to determine how good you are based on how well you play against players of various rankings. What I find interesting is that it gives you both an estimated rating and a "plus/minus" error range. Then it awards you a "level" on the basis of the lowest part of that range.

So you start out with an estimated rating of 25 (the average), but an uncertainty of 25. Thus, your starting level is 0. As you play, the uncertainty is reduced -- but as a new player, you may find that your play is somewhat below average. Hopefully, your level moves up over time.

On Sunday, my estimated rating was 33.495 with a plus/minus of 19.492, netting me a level of 14. That's down from Saturday's level of 15. The drop is probably a result of a game Saturday night which was almost finished when I bumped my laptop battery on the side of a chair, turning the computer off and disconnecting a turn or two before the end of a game where I think I was doing pretty well. That's OK, though -- I'm sure I've benefited from others' inadvertent disconnections, too.

Yesterday, during the sad, sad Redskins game, I played three 3-player games. I won the first two, and came in second in the third one. Coming in second shouldn't have hurt me too much -- the opposition was ranked fairly high, and the ranking system counts it as a win over the player who came in third, and a loss to the first-place guy.

Looking at the leaderboard now, I see I moved up to 16th level. Encouragingly, that was more due to my rating creeping up to 35.195, and less due to my plus/minus dropping to 18.899. My total of 27 games is very small. I'm ranked #1609 overall. #1608 has played 577 games, and #1610 has played 1220. So I'm hoping if I can find more time to play, I can move my level into the twenties.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: (25) Monterey Mexican Restaurant

Monterey is Now Closed.

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Monterey Mexican Restaurant, 4449 Mitchellville Road

Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/24/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 3
Pre-Foursquare Visits: A couple
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Earlier this week, some colleagues were visiting my workplace. As the decision as to where to have lunch came around, some of them bemoaned the lack of choices Bowie offered and talked about going to Chipotle. Since I needed to go there to do a review, I was OK with that, but I raised an objection anyway. If you want Mexican food, and you have the time, why not go to an actual Mexican restaurant?

Because that's what you get from Monterey. You get actual, tasty Mexican food served in an actual restaurant. The food is good, but not spectacular -- if I were craving excellent Mexican food, I'd take the half-hour drive to Sierra's in Beltsville or to the "Little Mexico" section of Riverdale. The service is good, if a bit uneven -- the last time I was there with Christina & the boys, they got confused on the order, and the bill needed correcting. But it is family-friendly, and the prices are reasonable.

Every city needs a non-chain, sit-down Mexican restaurant. You're not going to wow friends or relatives from Arizona or California by bringing them here, but this place is one of two solid options you have in Bowie. It's also a reminder -- Bowie has a lot of Chipotle-level options, but if you let your mind get stuck there, you'll miss out on a few higher-caliber meals.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: (24) Panera Bread

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Panera Bread, 3921 Town Center Boulevard
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/18/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Apparently, since I have a menu in my office
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

It's a Panera Bread. It's probably a better place to get coffee and a sandwich than Starbucks (I'm currently slogging my way through Bowie's Starbuckses -- review to come later). I don't drink coffee, so I maybe that would be better at Starbucks. But the sandwiches are pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. If I wanted a sandwich, though, I'd probably just go to Subway or, even better, a non-chain restaurant.

What distinguishes this Panera from other representatives of the chain? Like Noodles & Company, it's located on the "Main Street" portion of the Bowie Town Center mall, with the associated annoying parking, but other than that -- not much. It's a generic chain that's a step up from fast food. Since it's the only Panera in Bowie, that earns it 2 and a half stars.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: (23) Main Street's Brasserie

Main Street Is Now Closed. 

 For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Main Street's Brasserie, 14207 Old Annapolis Road
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/8/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I'm going with "Main Street's Brasserie" as the name for this place, because that's what's on the sign, although their web site refers to it as the "Main Street Brasserie." (The city restaurant guide, which often gets names wrong, refers to it as "Mainstreet Catering.") This lack of attention to detail does not bode well.

The first time Christina and I went there was after seeing a house in the neighborhood. We got sandwiches and soup from the counter and then attempted to feed the kids. Since Main Street doesn't have high chairs, that was a challenge. So much so that I ended up taking my sandwich back to work and eating it there. As I recall, it was a fairly good sandwich.

The second time we ate their food was a result of a question I asked on Bowie Patch, namely, "Which restaurant serves the best burger in Bowie?" We were pretty spoiled living near Hyattsville with Franklin's Restaurant and Hank's Tavern, both of which served great burgers. I have yet to find their equal in Bowie, but someone suggested Main Street. So I placed a takeout order. I knew I had not found the best burger in Bowie when my attempt to order a burger medium-rare was met with, "they cook them all the same way." I'm sorry, but if you won't cook a burger medium-rare, you're not the best burger in town. In the end, the burgers were fairly greasy and neither of us could finish ours.

So it's a mixed bag. The sandwiches were good, but nothing I'd want to make a special trip to West Bowie to enjoy. I might go there if I were already in that part of town (why?), but I'm much more likely to end up at the Chesapeake Grille or the Uptown Cafe. This reticence is compounded by the fact that Main Street is only open Tuesday-Saturday, and only for lunch. The food isn't good enough to cause me to want to keep track of that schedule.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: (21) McDonald's (Bowie Gateway) and (22) McDonald's (Bowie Office Park)

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

For this post, I am adopting Martin's suggestion of grouping all of the establishments in a particular chain together.

Five or more years ago, Christina and I decided to stop eating at McDonald's. Because the food is awful, mainly. Before this project, I think I had broken that rule four or five times -- when I was desperate for a bathroom, a Coke, or in one misguided instance, some fries.

McDonald's, 4306 North Crain Highway

Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/5/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Yes
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

To have more of a full experience, I decided to go in rather than use the drive-thru. Remarkably, despite the long line of cars idling outside, nobody was waiting at the counter. My order required four pieces of information -- the number, whether or not it was a "meal" (I guess that's the latest version of "would you like fries with that?"), the size, and given that the meal was McNuggets, what sort of sauce I wanted. The order was taken by a McDonald's employee, who was assisted by a manager. Despite the fact that they had two people working on the order, every piece of information was repeated back to me incorrectly at some point.

Open 24/7: A good thing?
The food was more or less as I remember it. I might buy some of the Hot Mustard sauce if I could eat it with something other than McDonald's food. The McNuggets tasted faintly of chicken. The fries were good until they got the slightest bit cold.

I noticed that both the lobby and drive-thru are open 24 hours. I almost gave a half-star bonus for this fact, but honestly, you'd be better off if it were closed more often.

McDonald's, 14300 Gallant Fox Lane
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/7/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: In the 1980s
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
McDonald's, Gallant Fox Lane

I have memories of stopping here about 25 years ago on the way to The Magic Page, a nearby comic book shop which has long since disappeared. It makes me sad that The Magic Page is gone, but that this McDonald's remains as one of the oldest restaurants in Bowie.

For my modern-day visit, I adopted another one of Martin's ideas. At one point, he was boycotting McDonald's -- except during breakfast. I had fond memories of, in days with less responsibility, groggily stumbling out of the house and stopping by for a Bacon, Egg & Cheese biscuit on my way to work.

So after a rough night with the kids, I decided to treat myself to Second Breakfast at this McDonald's. As with the other one, I decided to go inside for the full experience. Here, however, there was a really long line, and I decided I didn't want the full experience. Now being overcrowded at 10 am (not peak meal time) either means the service is slow, or the demand is really high. I guess the latter should give it some sort of thumbs up, but I couldn't help wishing the people would find someplace better to go.

The drive-thru wasn't super-slow, but it was somewhat puzzling. You pull up to a screen and speaker, next to which is a menu, which did not show the breakfast options. The apparatus says, "Confirm Your Order Here." But you don't actually order there; there's another apparatus you pull up to later which says "Order Here".

Other than that, the ordering experience was fine. The Bacon, Egg & Cheese biscuit was really disappointing, though. I think at this stage in life, I've realized that when you have bacon, eggs, cheese and a biscuit, you've got potential for something really great to happen, which made this meal all the sadder.

This McDonald's also open 24 hours, which means that neither is fulfilling a unique service for 3 am eats. IHOP is also open 24 hours. Though I haven't reviewed it yet, I have to believe you'd be better off there.

So if you win, you can quit your job at McDonald's?
I visited both McDonald's in the middle of their Monopoly promotion. (Tip: the "rare" pieces are always the last ones alphabetically, except for Broadway.) Thankfully, I didn't instant-win anything, so I don't feel compelled to go back to redeem it. But I noticed next to the $1 million prize they were advertising were the words, "No More Second Job." So if you get Boardwalk ("the approximate odds of collecting Boardwalk are 1 in 618,106,200"), you can look forward to...only working one job? Yay, America?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: (20) T. J. Elliott's

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

T.J. Elliott's, 6814 Laurel-Bowie Road
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 9/30/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Maybe once in the 1990s
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I think I finally have the history straight. The Marcos family and another family opened Ledo Restaurant near College Park in the 1950s. Eventually the families parted ways, with the other family holding franchise rights to Ledo Pizza and the Marcos family running the original restaurant and, later, T.J. Elliott's in Bowie. That's why T.J. Elliott's features "Ledo pizza", but is not listed as a Ledo franchisee. There is actually an entertaining court opinion here which details a series of disputes between the two families.

All that's to say, if you like Ledo pizza, you might want to give T.J. Elliott's a look, but Christina's not a big fan, so we take our local pizza business elsewhere (the subject of a later review). I'm OK with that, because the Italian meals we've had at T.J. Elliott's have been some of the best food we've had in Bowie.

Our first visit there was after inspection on our house, where we still had the babysitter booked for a few hours. It was a nice place for a fairly casual dinner, and the clientèle seemed to be a diverse cross-section of Bowie. I tried to organize a dinner there later, but ended up at Uno Chicago Grill after finding out T.J. Elliott's only has two (or possibly three) high chairs. I organized a later dinner with eight adults and two children, and all the adults expressed satisfaction with the quality of food. My lasagna in particular was quite tasty.

The service was a little weak. ("Can I get you a refill on your drink?" 15 minutes later: "Oh, did you want a refill?") Christina attributes this to the inevitable turnover in waitstaff as the school year starts. I'm a little bit wary of adding it to my "places to take an interviewee" list for that reason -- but the food is so good, I think I will. I can now say, "What do you feel like, Chinese food, American food from a place that looks like it hasn't changed in 30 years, or Italian food?"

The only other negative I'd add is the location in a strip mall doesn't really give much atmosphere. I mean, look at the above picture. The inside is nice enough, but not spectacular. Still, it's Bowie -- how much more atmosphere are you going to get?

So four stars -- excellent food at a locally-owned business at a reasonable price. This is one of Bowie's best.

This doesn't really count as "Bowie restaurant news", since it's just an observation, but Christina and I stopped by the Crab Galley for dinner the other night to discover that it only does takeout. We're definitely going to try it some time, but -- not a restaurant. So that drops the count from 78 to 77.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Waymarking Statistics

In a previous post, I mentioned that while I had been enjoying waymarking more, geocaching had better statistics. That's still true, but that doesn't mean there are no statistics for waymarking.

BruceS, one of the more prolific waymarkers, has released a list of "Top 10 Contributors by Country". With 132 in the United States, I'm far away from the 2623 needed to make the list. I am, however, Estonia. Only two waymarkers exceeded the two waymarks I posted there.

There's a similar list for states, provinces and regions from last year. I was #4 on the Maryland list last year, but my totals have only gone from 92 to 100 since then, so I dropped to #5. (On the other hand, I am #8 in South Australia!)

My general waymark-posting pace is way down.  Here are the by-year statistics:
  • 2007     1
  • 2008     107    
  • 2009     48     
  • 2010     8     
  • 2011     9 
My visiting numbers are down as well.
  • 2007     17    
  • 2008     266    
  • 2009     217     
  • 2010     87     
  • 2011     27
I think that's because when I'm in Maryland, I'm more likely to feel like I can't spare the few minutes to stop and snap a picture of a potential waymark. When I'm traveling, I usually load the waymarks into my GPS receiver, but often find other things to be higher priorities during the trip.

In the new list of categories, the only category for which I'm "Top 10" (besides those so unpopular that one or two waymarks qualifies) is Maryland Historical Markers. That's a pretty cool category, and I know of two unwaymarked in Bowie that I should be able to get before anyone else.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: (19) Hibachi Japan

Hibachi Japan Is Now Closed.
For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Hibachi Japan, 3856 Town Center Boulevard
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/4/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins:1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Yes
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Every food court in America worth its salt has a bourbon chicken place. What I find weird is that it might be disguised as a Cajun food place or a Chinese food place, but it's basically a place where you can get bourbon chicken, rice and corn in a styrofoam container.  In Bowie, that place is a "Japanese" restaurant.

Now, on the menu, it's listed at "bon bon chicken", but the guy giving out samples of chicken on toothpicks (see picture, lower right) called it "bourbon chicken". That's another feature of these places -- they always offer you a sample on a toothpick. I always try both the bourbon chicken and the non-bourbon chicken (in this case, honey chicken), and then order the bourbon chicken.

The bourbon chicken here is pretty much exactly like the bourbon chicken at every other mall -- which is as it should be. I'm not going to give too high of a rating to a stand in a food court, but given that it plays an essential role in the food ecology of Bowie, I'll give it 3 stars.

Note that you can get other food like egg rolls (at a Japanese restaurant?) You can also get sushi. I'm not sure I would get sushi at a food court. (I take that back -- I have, but it's probably not a good idea.) When I last visited, they had menus sitting out for the East Moon Asian Bistro. So while I don't think there's an actual sushi chef hanging out at the mall hawking bourbon chicken, it's possible there's one at East Moon who's shipping fresh stuff over. But there are other sushi options in Bowie, so I'm not desperate to press my luck.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: How to Review a Restaurant

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

At 18 out of 78(ish) restaurants reviewed, I'm about a quarter of the way through this project. The process has been somewhat ad hoc -- for example, where I decided what constitutes a restaurant.

One thing I've been thinking about is how many visits to give a restaurant before writing a review. One visit might not be enough -- I could catch a place on a rare bad day, or I could miss the fact that an establishment is terrible half of the time. On the other hand, this is not exactly a profit-making project, and I don't have the time to eat at every Subway twice in order to establish that it's exactly like every other Subway.

So here are the criteria I've established.
  • If it's part of a chain, and I've already visited other restaurants in the chain, one visit will suffice.
  • If not, two visits should suffice.
  • If the restaurant has table service, at least one of the visits should be dine-in; otherwise, I'll just look around at the seating options and feel free to take my food home.
Reviews for two places I've visited are currently on hold due to the dine-in requirement. Three are awaiting my second visit. Three technically meet all requirements, but I am having trouble forming an opinion and may require a re-visit. One I'm all set on, and a review should be appearing later in the week.

That leaves...about 50 restaurants to go. Ouch. Some are going to be tricky due to the dine-in requirement -- it's not easy dragging toddlers to new restaurants (though it's fun when they love it, as happened at one place this weekend). Some are going to be a pain because they have a dine-in requirement and are so uninspiring that I'm going to have trouble convincing someone to join me for the dine-in, with or without toddlers. (On a related note, see this article "What Does Your Choice of Casual Dining Chain Say About You?" Of the six chains they make fun of, Bowie lacks only a Red Lobster.)

On the other hand, half of what's left can probably be knocked out with a simple willingness to branch out during my lunchtime forays. This conflicts with my desire to pack a lunch more often, as well as the tempting convenience offered by the Uptown Cafe, whose arrival I noted last month. Still, if I end up at one or two a week, the project should move along to its planned 2012 conclusion.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Bowie Restaurant Project: Beyond Bowie: (BB1) Rip's Country Inn

Update: It has since been pointed out to me that Rip's is not actually in Bowie. (Even the City Restaurant Guide is confused on this fact.) I'm renumbering this as my first "Beyond Bowie" review.

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Rip's Country Inn, 3809 N Crain Highway

Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 9/25/2011
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 3
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am trying to think of how many restaurants in Bowie have been open more than 20 years. Grace's Fortune barely makes the cut. Golden Pavilion has been open since the 1960s, though it recently moved a few doors down and changed its menu. The McDonalds on 197 has been there since at least the 1980s. There may be handful of others, but I'm pretty sure Rip's has them all beat, given that it opened in 1952.

In fact, I think I'd use its age to describe it to someone. In my review of Grace's Fortune, I said it was the only place I could think of to take an interviewee. I think I'll now add Rip's, but ask the person, "Are you interested in a place that looks like it hasn't changed in 30 years?"

Rip's seems like the type of place my grandmother would have liked to eat at; in fact, I'd be surprised if she didn't find herself there at some point the in 1970s or 1980s after a golf or bowling outing in Crofton. It features good, but not fantastic American food. I particularly recommend their burger served "Chesapeake style" -- with crab on top. I don't understand why the dish hasn't caught on in more places around Maryland. When we lived near Hyattsville (yes, there!) I got spoiled by having a couple of places that did really good burgers. I haven't found a replacement in Bowie yet, but Rip's is the one place I've tried so far that I can honestly look forward to ordering a burger.

The service has always been remarkably friendly, and everyone has always been remarkably tolerant of the boys and the ruckus they can cause at a restaurant. Something about the clientèle means that they've been cooed over more than sighed at.

Rip's also features a deli (which I haven't tried), a liquor store (which has a really good selection) and a motel (about which I know nothing). When it was built in 1952, there was no I-95, and US-301 (Crain Highway) was a major north-south artery. Rip's is a throwback to that era, but you don't need nostalgia to want to go there, just a desire for tasty, family-friendly fare.