Friday, November 09, 2012

Bowie Restaurant Project: (60) Applebee's

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

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

Applebee's, 4100 Crain Hwy.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 11/7/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Yes
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I am struggling to pick out something that really makes a difference between Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday. I said Ruby Tuesday seemed slightly more "adult" and that's true. The decor at Applebee's is ever-so-whimsical (oh, look, a picture of a caboose), and the menu is a little zanier. In particular, there was a dish with a mix of bratwurst, chicken, french fries, cheese and probably some other stuff that tempted me until I realized how disgusting it would probably be once it was in my stomach.

But the same basic principles -- suprisingly good service, mixed results on the food that applied at Ruby Tuesday's applied here. The artichoke dip was so-so. I ordered a chicken and shrimp skillet that was served overly hot (if you're going to give me my food on the dish you used to cook it, then at least give me a regular plate as well). My colleague's steak, however, turned out pretty well.

Thankfully, I have been to other Applebee's, so I don't feel the need to return to their Bowie location before writing a review. In particular, when I lived in Athens, GA, Applebee's was one of the limited number of dining options, and it was a "safe" choice where you could go if your dining companions didn't like weird food. I wish I had done an "Athens Restaurant Project" back then. The dining scene was notoriously limited -- people complained about how often we ended up at the same places -- but I bet a thorough search would have turned up a few more gems.

Anyway, 60 restaurants reviewed. Nineteen or twenty more to go -- including Chili's and TGI Friday's. We'll see if those distinguish themselves at all from the last two.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Book Review: 2312

23122312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to try to catch up on my book reviewing before year's end.

I'm generally a fan of Robinson's work, though lately my reaction seems to be some form of, "I enjoyed that, but..." With 2312, I enjoyed it, but thought some of the digressions just didn't work. He intersperses "lists" or "extracts" throughout the novel. When they give more historical background to the setting, they help. When they don't, they get in the way. Further, as with his Science in the Capital series, he sometimes allows ideas that seem tangential to the plot to have too much prominence. Forty Signs of Rain had too many frisbee golf scenes, for example. With 2312, there are too many musings on a technique of organizing your life he calls the "pseudoiterative". I don't find it interesting enough to summarize. Also, I didn't find the way he incorporated quantum computing at all plausible.

But these are mostly quibbles. When the book works, it really works, and it zips you around the 24th-century solar system with a sense of wonder and a sense that, "Hey, maybe this is how things will really be." There's enough tension and excitement to keep you turning the pages, not just to find out about the setting, but also about how the characters' plans for preserving and improving it turn out.

I still keep expecting Robinson to hit a home run akin to the Mars trilogy, but it's possible that if I re-read those books with the same heightened expectations, I would also come away disappointed.

Aside from my Robinson fan-dom, I read this book to get a head start on next year's Nebula nominees. At this point, I'm not sure it'll quite do well enough to get nominated (it looks like KSR hasn't had a Best Novel nominee since 1995), and I'm not sure if it should. On the other hand, I'm not sure what's out there; I'm looking forward to what the voters come up with.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Book Review: Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus TresaultiMechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As we get towards the end of the year, I realize that I'm reading books faster than I'm reviewing them. Not really all that fast, but still, I'm behind on reviewing. I started Mechanique in the hopes of finishing it before the Nebulas were announced, so I that I could make my own "pick" in advance. Having read 5 of the 6 nominees, I think I would have chosen Firebird.

When I was partway through this book, I wrote, "So far it's not really to my tastes, but it's an interesting and inventive approach to sf/fantasy." After finishing it (in June), I think that's a pretty good summary of how I feel.

It's a book about a circus in a post-apocalyptic setting. Maybe the neatest idea in the book is that most of the circus performers are "enhanced" and thus able to perform the circus acts with literally superhuman abilities.

It gradually became clear, however, that these abilities were more akin to magic than technology. In other words, this is really a work of fantasy, not sf. Further, the identity of the "post-apocalyptic" setting is clearly intentionally vague -- maybe this is the US after a nuclear war. Or not. It's clearly a valid authorial choice, but not one I find interesting.

It's beautifully written, and the skipping backwards and forwards in time doesn't confuse most of the time. The characters are well-drawn and compelling. Sometimes they come across as a little bit...extreme, I suppose, but they are circus performers after all. The plot was interesting enough, although it took a while to pick up.

All in all, it was a book I appreciated more than enjoyed.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Bowie Restaurant Project: (59) Ruby Tuesday

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

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

Ruby Tuesday, 16451 Excalibur Rd.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 10/10/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Yes
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I couldn't remember whether I had been to a Ruby Tuesday before. It tended to get mixed in with all of the other, similar chain restaurants -- Chili's, Applebee's, TGI Friday's. In fact, I still can't. But if I had to say how it differs from the other restaurants, it's that it feels more "adult" than the others. By that I mean that the decorations were tasteful and understated -- no license plates on the wall, or goofy decorations.

A colleague had a coupon for $10 off two entrees, so we skipped the lunch specials for standard meals. At normal prices, they would have been overpriced, but at $5 less, they seemed reasonable. We probably would have been OK with the lunch prices, too. The food and service were quite reasonable.

My follow-up experience of on-line ordering was less satisfying. First, the lunch specials are not available on-line. Actually, Ruby Tuesday outsources their on-line ordering to the same company that does Boston Market, so I got the weird feeling I was ordering from Boston Market the whole time. Then, they require that you fill out your vehicle information. This seemed like a promising way of having your food delivered to your car -- which could be a definite plus to those of us with multiple toddlers. But a sign at the restaurant directed me inside; maybe some RTs bring the food to you, but in Bowie you have to go to the bar to pick up and pay. Finally, the hamburger and fries were completely unimpressive.

I prefer local restaurants to chains mostly because I believe you will get more interesting and more carefully-prepared meals there. If, however, you're looking for a competent, but not exciting restaurant experience, I guess go here.

Bowie Restaurant News

Looks like the Muffin Man will never be coming to Bowie. The sign is down, and the space is now, "For Lease".

That leaves me with 20 or 21 restaurants left (I suspect two of them identified as separate by the City's guide are actually the same place). The trickiest are places where I need to sit down to review them, because I also feel like I need to bring someone along, so I don't get wrapped up in playing with my phone and ignore the experience. Actually, the trickiest are the subset of those which are so bad I can't get anyone to come along and/or are not open for lunch.

Lima's Chicken was supposed to be open by the end of October; it's not. It looks like a fair bit of work has been done on the interior, though. No sign of an opening date for Freestyle Fish 'n' Chicken, either. (These are the only two on my list that aren't open yet.)