Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Squid Eats: PUBLIC eat + drink

PUBLIC eat + drink is a New American restaurant in North Adams, Massachusetts, home to Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).  My wife is a big fan of the museum, the largest contemporary art museum in the United States, so we make it down to North Adams rather often.  This was my third visit, though my first time at PUBLIC.

We shared the blistered shishito peppers to start.  They were good but hotter than expected.  I suffered for a good five minutes from one of them.  The honey was a nice idea but certainly not enough to offset the spice.  Mind you, I'm usually a fan of pepper heat and definitely prefer a restaurant not pull its punches.  Still.  It was much hotter than I was prepared for.

For entrees, I got the pulled pork tacos, my wife the udon noodles.  I might have gone for the latter myself but peanuts were a prominent feature, both in the broth and the toppings.  I'm allergic.  We both enjoyed.

For dessert, we shared the chocolate chip bread pudding, an excellent choice.  The ice cream sandwich was also tempting.  We'll need to try that next time.

Service was friendly and professional.  The decor is dark wood with big windows facing west towards the mountains - a lovely thing at dusk.  Patrons included both families and people clearly on dates, both locals and visitors like us.  I haven't quite gotten used to the North Adams cultural vibe.  It's an old industrial town but the factory work is long gone.  The museum occupies a converted Arnold Print Works plant.  So while the town looks industrial, the current residents bring more of an artist colony/hippie enclave feel.  Reclaimed warehouses and factories are a big part of how industrial New England has reinvented itself so I'm all for it.  Even so, the juxtaposition requires a mind shift for me.

We'll be back, both to the town and the restaurant.  We need to try that ice cream sandwich...

Friday, April 26, 2024

Star Trek: Parallax

Episode: "Parallax"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 3
Original Air Date: January 23, 1995

Voyager is trapped in a quantum singularity.  The newly-merged crew must learn to work together quickly in order to survive the emergency and resume their long trip home.  

"Parallax" is all about personnel management, finding suitable roles for everyone.  It doesn't help, of course, that the Starfleet and Maquis factions don't trust each other yet.  And just how do Neelix and Kes, the Delta Quadrant natives, fit in to the scheme?  One of the highest priorities is assigning a new chief engineer and one of the candidates, B'Elanna Torres, is already a well-established hot head.  From a technical standpoint, Torres establishes her credentials quickly.  But can Janeway be convinced to trust her with the responsibility, all involved knowing full well that the Starfleet engineers will resent a recent Maquis rebel being promoted above them?

The episode has been criticized by some as dull but I love the human resources stuff.  This is exactly the sort of thinking I often have to do in my professional life and, indeed, I have found that much of my love for baseball, even during the offseason, stems from following all the roster moves.  That said, I'm not so keen on the singularity.  As previously discussed (ad nauseam, I'm sure), I don't like the way Star Trek handles time travel and Voyager goes to that well more often than other series.  I realize, of course, that for the Torres story to work, there needs to be a crisis and being caught in a trap - temporal or otherwise - is a good one.

It's all just a metaphor, Squid.  It's all just a metaphor...

Acting Notes

Robert Beltran (Chakotay) was born in Bakersfield, California, November 19, 1953.  He has nine siblings, two sisters and seven brothers.  Big families are a theme so far with the Voyager cast.  He graduated from Fresno State.

Before Voyager, his films included Eating Raoul, Lone Wolf McQuade and Night of the Comet.  He also guest starred in Murder, She Wrote.  During his Star Trek tenure, he remained active in theater.  He founded and co-directed the East LA Classic Theater Group.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Squid Eats: Guild Tavern

The Guild Tavern in South Burlington is one of the same family of farm-to-table restaurants as a couple of our standbys: The Farm House Tap & Grill and El Cortijo (read more here).  We recently visited the Guild for the first time.  It's a pleasant atmosphere.  We were seated near the bar and open kitchen which was fun.  The waitstaff is friendly.  We're reasonably certain many of them are former members of our child's youth orchestra.  It would hardly be shocking.  Restaurant work is great for gigging musicians and in my experience, they tend to network to help find each other jobs.  

If there are oysters on the menu, we're ordering them:

For entrees, I got the Surf and Turf, my wife the 6 oz. steak frites.  Mine came with steak and shrimp.  I have to admit that what I really want with an S&T is lobster but the shrimp was certainly good.  The highlight for me was the tasty whipped potatoes.  It was a heavy meal.  I couldn't finish, not a reflection of quality.  My wife was happy with hers, too.

We'll go again, I'm sure.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Star Trek: Caretaker

Episode: "Caretaker"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Original Air Date: January 16, 1995

via Memory Alpha

A Maquis raider led by Chakotay, desperate to get away from a Cardassian warship, blunders into a displacement wave that whisks it away to the other side of the galaxy.  A newly launched Federation ship, the USS Voyager led by Captain Kathryn Janeway, is sent to find them and suffers the same fate.  All have been kidnapped by a powerful entity known as The Caretaker.  Once both crews - ultimately united as one - wriggle out of their captors clutches, they're faced with the problem of how to get back home, 70,000 light years away.

Such is the basic setup for Star Trek's fourth spinoff: Voyager.  Simple enough, right?  The long voyage home, one of the oldest and most important stories in world literature, with a crew that doesn't entirely trust each other yet.  It's a strong premise to build on, fueling 168 episodes over seven seasons.  

Voyager certainly has its devotees among the Star Trek faithful.  However, the critical consensus has generally been that Deep Space Nine, which ran concurrently for five seasons, is the stronger show.  In my own family, our child's regard for DS9 borders on religious whereas they couldn't even make it very far into Season 4 before giving up on Voyager.  

There was a deliberate intention to make Voyager different from DS9: more action, fewer dark stories, more exploration.  There's nothing wrong with any of that.  And the creative engines behind the two shows were essentially the same.  The two series shared executive producers, showrunners, writers, directors, guest actors and more.  So, why did the one work better than the other?

My theory: Voyager tried to do too many things and, as is often the risk, didn't do any of them well enough.  The to-do list coming out of the pilot is already long:
  • Find a quicker way home.
  • Explore the Delta Quadrant while we're at it.
  • Develop the principals.
  • Resolve the tensions between the combined crews.
  • Keep the action-level high.
  • Keep the atmosphere light, at least in comparison to DS9.
For my part, I promise not to dwell on the differences too much.  I will try to judge Voyager on its own merits as much as possible.  But I also want to make my own biases clear at the outset.  And I don't mean to imply that I don't like Voyager.  I enjoy it well enough and "Caretaker" is a strong pilot.  But that's not to say there won't be issues to discuss moving forward.  The pursuits of the goals on the list above often run contrary to each other.

Okay, it's game time.  With each new Star Trek series, I match the new characters with counterparts from the earlier series.  I make these matches based on what I see as narrative function rather than job title.  In so doing, I draw a legacy line back to the original series.  This is by no means an exact science.  What I have found thus far is that the more difficult matches go a long way to defining the differences between one series and the next and that's a good thing.  As always, I welcome debate.

While the writers did their best to sell Voyager as a spinoff of DS9, including a stop at Quark's bar in the pilot, I don't feel Deep Space Nine is established enough (only 57 episodes to this point) to boast its own legacy just yet.  So, for the sake of my game, I am sticking with The Next Generation as my template.  Yes, that will mean two separate branches in the family tree and yes, that will complicate things when/if I get all the way to Enterprise.  I can live with such wrinkles.

One final point of clarification before we begin: I base these choices on what we know from the first episode.  Imagine going to a new school and seeking familiarity in all of the new faces.  That's what I'm after.  Obviously, the roles will evolve over time and there will be casting changes to address.  We'll cross those bridges when we get to them.

Picard = Janeway
via Wikipedia

The first move is always the easiest.  Protagonist becomes protagonist.  Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was the first woman to lead a Star Trek series and that was a very big deal indeed.  The Next Generation, particularly in its early seasons, received no shortage of well-deserved criticism for sexist material and what was going on in front of the camera paled in comparison with the mess playing out behind it.  Deanna Troi's survival as a character and her growth into someone more than a great body in a jumpsuit comprise Marina Sirtis's triumphant tale to tell.  But it wasn't enough to make up for the scant and shoddy material generally supplied to the show's female principals.

Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were developed with this shortcoming in mind.  Representation isn't everything, either.  The women (still outnumbered in principal cast in both shows) needed to be strong and they needed meaningful stories.  The Bechdel Test matters.

Janeway definitely has a soft side.  We see her as a nurturing dog mom as she prepares for her mission.  She also has a maternal attitude towards her crew, as we see in the way she talks about Harry Kim.  But there's a toughness, too, and a willingness to get her hands dirty.

The overall lineage thus far:  Kirk = Picard = Janeway

Riker = Chakotay
NextGen is a Picard-centered show and after seven seasons, most of the other principals are best defined by their relationship with the captain.  Will Riker is Picard's friendly foil.  Admittedly, the Janeway-Chakotay dynamic is still a bit of a mystery by the end of the pilot.   Just as with Sisko and Kira on DS9, there's obvious tension to resolve between them.  It's tempting to put Tuvok in this slot.  But in the final scene, there's a much celebrated exchange between Chakotay and his fellow Maquis rebel, B'Elanna Torres.
Torres: Who is she to be making these decisions for all of us?
Chakotay: She's the captain.
The message to Janeway is clear.  Whatever our differences, I've got your back.

Scotty = Tasha Yar = Riker (née Willard Decker line) = Chakotay

Data = The Doctor
This is more obvious.  If Data were cranky and put-upon, he'd be the Doctor, also known as the emergency medical hologram (EMH).  As he clearly has the capacity to be irritated, the EMH already has more emotional range than pre-Generations Data but he's still function-first, personality-second.  Once again, it's tempting to put Tuvok here, practically sacrilegious not to have the Vulcan in the Spock line.  But I'm going to need him somewhere else and the Doctor truly is the better fit.

Interesting that for both DS9 and Voyager, the lead physician goes in the Spock chair rather than the McCoy chair.  I swear, I don't plan these things.

Spock = Data = The Doctor

Worf = Torres
Yes, they both have the Klingon temper.  More importantly, they both bring a healthy paranoia to the operation.  Torres is obviously going to be a tougher sell in adjusting to the new command structure than Chakotay is but in the long run, her natural skepticism will serve both her and her new captain well.

Chekov = Worf = Torres

Dr. Crusher = Tuvok
Even before she is revealed to be Picard's love interest, Beverly Crusher is the captain's strongest emotional link to his past.  Tuvok is, in fact, the only principal character who knew Janeway before our story began so this chair becomes his by default.  But that's not giving him enough credit.  Already, we see that he's more than a competent subordinate.  He's Janeway's trusted friend - not quite a buddy the way Dax is to Sisko but clearly valued on a personal level.  

Uhura = Dr. Crusher = Pulaski = Dr. Crusher = Tuvok

Troi = Kes
Even in the awkward early going, Deanna Troi was Picard's emotional confidant.  To be honest, we don't have much to go on with Kes so far but the few lines she has reveal wisdom, warmth and empathy, all qualities she shares with Counselor Troi.  If she's not Janeway's confidant yet, it's not difficult to imagine she could be, especially given her outside-the-command structure civilian status.

McCoy = Troi = Kes

La Forge = Kim
If NextGen has an everyman character, it's Geordi La Forge.  Harry Kim takes up the mantle for Voyager.  Harry is not only new to the audience but new to Starfleet.  Voyager is his first assignment.  Even before he boards the ship, he has to be rescued from being swindled by Quark.  His mother calls the captain to tell her Harry forgot his clarinet at home.  That's about as close as Star Trek ever gets to adorable.

Interestingly, like both La Forge and Miles O'Brien (the DS9 equivalent), Kim will ultimately become important as the buddy to another principal.  Though it won't be the Data equivalent in Harry's case.

Sulu = La Forge = Kim

That's every match for the TNG regulars but there are still two more on the Voyager side.  This part's always especially fun for me.

Guinan = Neelix
Without the success of Guinan, I wonder if either Neelix or Quark would have happened.  Whoopi Goldberg is awesome, obviously, and her most important long-term contribution to Star Trek was the demonstrated value of a character outside the power structure.  The captain needs one person to talk to who doesn't see her (or him) as a boss or a parent.  For Voyager, both Neelix and Kes fit the bill.  Neelix fits more comfortably in the Guinan chair because... didn't he say he can cook?

Obviously, I have the benefit of having watched most of the series before and I know that Neelix takes charge of meals for the crew.  Thus, his role is closely analogous with Guinan's.  Plus, Kes really does look right in that McCoy/Troi chair.

Nick Locarno = Paris

Tom Paris doesn't fit any of the usual Star Trek principal molds.  Janeway recruits him out of a penal colony for the mission.  Once he's on-board, those who know who he is are not sparing in their contempt.  Even Chakotay bears a potent grudge against him.  No Trek principal has walked in at such a deficit before.  His story is one of redemption from the get-go.  As such, putting him in a Ro Laren chair would seem logical.  But there's some important history worth noting in this case, both in terms of the creative development of the character and the actor's history with the franchise.

Nick Locarno made only one appearance in The Next Generation but it was a memorable one.  He was the leader of Wesley Crusher's scandal-ridden flight team at the Academy in "The First Duty."  It's an important episode for several reasons.  It's the best Wesley episode.  It introduced Sito Jaxa who would feature in an even more important episode, "Lower Decks."  Most pertinent to our current discussion, it brought both Nick and Robert Duncan McNeill, the actor who played him, into the fold.  

Fast forward a couple of years.  As the creators were building the concept for Voyager, the working name for the character who would ultimately become Tom Paris was Nick Locarno.  Whether they actually intended to resurrect the character is unclear but casting McNeill was certainly not a given.  When he read the script (with the name already changed), McNeill immediately saw Nick in the new character.  In retrospect, it all feels like destiny.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Kate Mulgrew was born in Dubuque, Iowa, April 29, 1955, the second of eight children.  At 17, she was accepted into the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York, though she left after only one year.  She made her on-screen breakthrough on the soap opera Ryan's Hope in which she played the role of Mary Ryan for the first three seasons.  As is practically required for Trek leads to this point, her Shakespearean resume is solid: Desdemona in Othello (particularly interesting as both Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks have played the title role), Isabella in Measure for Measure, Tamora in Titus Andronicus and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.

Before Voyager, she played the title character for the brief run of Mrs. Columbo, co-starred with Pierce Brosnan in the miniseries Mansions of America and made guest appearances on Dallas, Murphy Brown and Murder, She Wrote.  Films included Lovespell, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and Throw Momma from the Train.  She first came to my attention as Janet Eldridge, a Boston city councilwoman and briefly Sam's fiancée on Cheers.

Mulgrew was not the first choice to play Janeway.  Quebecois actor Geneviève Bujold won the part initially.  Bujold wasn't a good fit.  When she left, Mulgrew got the job.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Squid Eats: Onion City Chicken & Oyster

The first time we visited Onion City Chicken & Oyster in Winooski, Vermont, my wife said, "Wow, it's like someone asked you what food you would want and built a restaurant around it."

I can't deny that I'm a sucker for both raw oysters and fried chicken.  A restaurant specializing in both is pretty darn exciting.  Beyond the main features, there's a lot of what I would call up-scale comfort food on the menu: hot dogs, tater tots, fish & chips and so on.  There's plenty of up-scale for up-scale's sake, too, notably caviar and lobster rolls.

We have been several times now and I don't think I've ever ordered exactly the same thing twice: a good thing, by my reckoning.  I've never been disappointed either.  This most recent trip, we went all in on the bi-valves: a dozen oysters - 3 each of 4 different varieties - followed by PEI mussels.  All were excellent.  Dessert was nice, too: chocolate mousse for me and a root beer float for my wife.  The mousse was thicker than what I'm used to - not a bad thing.  My wife's a root beer float connoisseur and she was pleased.

From previous visits, I can report that the fried chicken is excellent.  And one can order it in a bucket, KFC-style.  Thankfully, the chicken is much better than KFC's.  Service is top notch.  We always seem to be seated near the front of the restaurant which is nice, especially when there's still natural light.  One drawback: the front door closes very loudly.  I always try to close it gently when we leave.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Star Trek: Past Tense, Part II

Episode: "Past Tense, Part II"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 15, 1995

via Memory Alpha

Last week's episode continues.  In last week's final scene, Sisko (identifying himself as "Gabriel Bell" - long story) and Bashir walk into a hostage situation in the district processing office.  Our friends take the side of the captors - an odd choice at first glance but they do it to calm the situation and keep people from getting hurt.  The ploy works.  By this point, the priority for Sisko and Bashir has shifted from their own survival to preserving the timeline.  The "Bell Riots" as they came to be known, have to happen in order for the residents of Earth to come to their collective senses regarding the homeless, an important step in reaching the utopian future Star Trek promises.

Again, I am on board with the message and admire the production value of "Past Tense."  There is time for comedy as Kira and O'Brien, in trying to rescue their colleagues, pop in on San Francisco of the 1930s and the late 1960s.  But Trek's eternal clumsiness with time travel prevents me from jumping on the "best ever" band wagon.  One could argue, in the end, that the timeline was never actually corrupted as a man named Gabriel Bell was still the hero of the riots.  Maybe this was always the way it happened.  That would be the Doctor Who explanation.  Trek's techno-babble explanation only muddies the waters.

So, "Past Tense" is good, probably even outstanding.  I'm just not ready to call it one of the best.

Because there is still so much awesome yet to come.

Acting Notes

via Miami Vice Wiki

Frank Military played B.C., the leader of the band that takes over the district processing office.  Acting has been a relatively small part of Military's career.  He's done a lot more as a writer and producer.  He's had guest appearances on Miami Vice, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The X-Files.  Film appearances include The Last Castle and Last Exit to Brooklyn.  He was an executive producer and writer for NCIS: Los Angeles which just completed its 14th and final season.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Cherry Battle: Starlino vs. Luxardo

The garnish is an essential element of a perfect cocktail and we've been in love with Luxardo, our favored Maraschino cherry brand, for years.  Amareña Fabbri found favor in my recipe for a while (see here) but over time, Luxardo proved more satisfying, not least for its longer shelf life (see here).  The one major drawback with Luxardo is the price.  A jar is $21.28 on Amazon, and frequently more at local stores.  I realize most people wouldn't even consider spending that much and I don't exactly blame them.  We are not top-shelf spenders when it comes to liquor.  So spending more for damn good cherries seems a tolerable indulgence.  "Are they really that good?" I hear you wondering.  Yes, they truly are.  

Which is not to say it's not still worth trying something else from time to time.  We recently picked up a jar of Starlino cherries for an audition.  Let the battle begin...  

The Luxardo was its usual dark, warm, syrupy loveliness.  The Starlino... oh boy, you should have seen my wife's face after popping the Starlino in her mouth.  I can only describe her expression as disgust.  Plasticy, she said.  I wasn't nearly as offended but will concede the Starlino was sweeter, and not in a pleasant way.  

So, what to do with them?  My wife agreed to still help eat the Starlinos which is good because even though they cost less than the Luxardos, they aren't exactly cheap.  Plus the jar takes up space on the shelf that could be devoted to something we actually like.  Once we finish the Luxardos, we could add the syrup to the Starlino jar, perhaps improving the flavor.  Of course, I have this idea mere days after disposing of some Luxardo syrup I'd been hoarding in order to make room for the Starlino jar.  Wouldn't you know it?

Winner and Still Champion: Luxardo

Friday, April 5, 2024

Star Trek: Past Tense, Part I

Episode: "Past Tense, Part I"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 11
Original Air Date: January 8, 1995

via Memory Alpha

Due to a transporter malfunction, Commander Sisko, Bashir and Dax arrive in San Francisco, year 2024.  Right place, wrong time - off by three-and-a-half centuries.  It's a few days before a riot which changed the course of (in-universe) history.  They must figure out how to survive and get back to their own era while not corrupting the timeline - no easy task.

The social commentary is direct and heavy in "Past Tense."  In 2024 San Francisco, the jobless were kept in Sanctuary Districts, walled off from the rest of the city.  Sisko and Bashir found themselves in Sanctuary District A, home to about ten thousand residents.  Housing, food and hope are all in short supply.  Speculative fiction dystopia?  While the episode was in production, The Los Angeles Times ran an article outlining a proposal by Richard Riordan, real-world mayor of Los Angeles in 1995, to create fenced-in havens for the city's homeless population in order to make the downtown area more appealing for businesses.  Fortunately, that particular idea never went anywhere but neither did LA's homeless problem.  

"Past Tense" (a two-parter; I'll get to Part II next week) does very well on best episode lists, not just for DS9 but for all of Star Trek.  I won't deny the production quality but Trek's typical time travel clumsiness prevents me from listing the story among my favorites.  The technical justifications not only for the transporter gaffe but also for the Defiant crew's ability to remain unscathed by an already corrupted timeline are ridiculous.  Truly, they would have done better to simply drop the three characters in 2024 without any explanation at all.  

Acting Notes

via Miami Vice Wiki

Bill Smitrovich played Michael Webb, a resident of Sanctuary District A who becomes a civil rights advocate.  Smitrovich was born William Stanley Zmitrowicz, Jr. in Bridgeport, Connecticut, May 16, 1947.  He attended Bridgeport University as an undergrad, then Smith College - a significant institution in my family - for graduate school.  

Smitrovich has had principal cast roles on several television shows, including Crime Story, Life Goes On, The Event and A Nero Wolfe Mystery, one of our family favorites.  His films include Independence Day, Air Force One and Iron Man.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Squid Eats: Mexcalito Taco Bar

Mexicalito Taco Bar has two Massachusetts locations: one in Amherst, one in Northampton.  We went to the Northampton location this past weekend, our second visit.

Mexicalito has all of the typical (for the United States) Mexican offerings: tacos, enchiladas, margaritas, etc.  I got the Alambre, a fajitas dish, with steak.  The food is nice - nothing especially adventurous (or spicy) but it's fine.  If we go again, I may seek out heat more deliberately, or ask for hot sauce.

One shouldn't have to ask for hot sauce in a Mexican restaurant...  

Definitely can't fault their service.  Both visits, our wait staff has been incredibly warm and friendly.  I don't know if I'd seek out Mexicalito for its own sake but it's not as crowded as other nearby restaurants and therefore getting a table is relatively easy.  It was our fallback plan this time.  T. Roots was full.  They now have a breakfast menu, though as far as I can tell no typical breakfast hours - never open before 11:30.  So maybe it's really more brunch.  I have to admit, I'm curious.