Monday, March 21, 2011

Street Cred

Place: Qdoba
Lunch: Chicken Mexican Gumbo, Dr. Pepper

Just back from a Texas weekend.  Saw Duran Duran at the previously-blogged-about WinStar in Thackerville, OK.  Got in some LTO's (Limited Time Offerings) at various chains.  Whataburger currently has strawberry know, the fast food version of a pie, deep fried burrito-shaped thingies...but with strawberry filling.  I don't normally like fast food pies, but these are the exception.  And if you find yourself near a Taco Cabana, their Shrimp Tampico Enchiladas are awesome. 

While ordering my gumbo today, I noticed Qdoba is now offering "street tacos".  I also saw "street tacos" at Taco Bueno yesterday.  Actually, it seems to me I've seen the term "street taco" a lot lately.

What's the deal?  It's the latest fad in fast food...taking what started out as a street vendor item and making it legit.  The Americanized street taco, which is actually based on the original Mexican taco concept from the days before Glen Bell invented the modern pre-fab hard shell, tends to be a soft corn tortilla wrapped around a meat filling with maybe a salsa or cilantro and onion mixture.  The meat fillings are almost never ground beef...they're shredded beef, pork, or chicken. Or maybe fish.  Some chains aren't calling them 'street tacos', opting instead for 'cantina tacos' (Taco Bell) or 'tacos del carbon' (Del Taco).

Not just tacos either.  The Wienerschnitzel bacon-wrapped street dog is similar to a commonly-sold item by hot dog vendors around stadiums according to my brother.  (I had one over the weekend.  OH MY it was good.)

I suppose I should try the food actually being sold by real street vendors, but we don't really have any of them around here.  And I get annoyed with the ones out west because the bums are constantly hanging around them panhandling unsuspecting pedestrians.  ("Hey friend!  Do you have change?  I'm only 35 cents short of a taco!")

I wonder if they're going to start hanging around in Qdobas now.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Auto Show 2011

Place: Taco Tico
Lunch: Four tacos (mild, plus meat, no tomato), cheese enchilada, Pepsi (easy on the ice)

Spent Friday in the air, mostly.  Got home around 7, adored the cats, got a phone message birthday greeting from my father (who never ever leaves a callback number), spent the evening catching up on stuff, and slept for about three hours before getting up and driving to Minnesota.

I don't get it either.

It's Auto Show time.  It works like this...Get up at 4, drive to Minneapolis, stop at the Bloomington White Caste for breakfast (which is in a new building this year...I don't see what was wrong with the old one, but what do I know), drive through the ridiculous construction between 494 and downtown, park at the 11th & Marquette garage on the skywalk level, cross the skywalk, enter the convention center, realize you're a half hour early, and stand around with all the other people who are a half hour early.  It's been this way for at least the past decade.  Don't argue with logic.

The only thing that strayed from this routine this year was that there actually WASN'T any construction on 35W coming into downtown.  Unheard of.

On the way up, I saw Burnsville Volkswagen is FINALLY getting their new building.  This poor old VW dealership, one of the highest volume sellers in the country (I bought my Beetle there and had several of my cars serviced there over the years), has been operating out of a small old building along 35W at Cliff Road near almost nothing for years.  They purchased the nearby Knox Lumber property with plans for a new building like ten years ago.  The City of Burnsville ultimately wouldn't let it happen...they wanted park space or some such nonsense.  There were apparently several other false starts at several other locations as well.  Finally, the Saturn dealership building down on Burnsville's modern dealership row opened up and they decided to move down there.  VW stopped that because the building didn't meet their specifications.  Luther Auto, the dealership owner, finally acquired some property to the north near TGI Friday's for an all-new VW-spec state-of-the-art dealership.  VW, in turn, caved and let Burnsville VW temporarily move into the old Saturn building.  Anyway, the new building is well underway and looks like it's going to be freaking huge.  The Saturn building is rumored to have a future as either a new Hyundai or Fiat dealership once Burnsville VW gets settled.

Meanwhile, back at the Auto Show...the parking garage got rid of human ticket sellers in favor of automation.  Parking was actually cheaper at $5, but the signs said $9 (which was the price last year), so maybe they screwed up.

While standing around waiting for the doors to open, I heard a 'meow'.  Then some lady walked by with a cart hauling about a half dozen pet carriers, all filled with cats.  Turns out they're having a pet expo in one of the ballrooms.  Based on what I saw while waiting for the show to start, it was an all cat affair.

The big surprise this year was the smaller footprint the show took up.  Usually, the big convention center space is entirely used end-to-end.  This year, they had a quarter of the north end curtained off.  Never seen that before.

So they open the doors and everybody streams in.  The first thing you see as you enter are some "Cars" character mockups.  Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, and what I assume is Finn McMissle from the forthcoming "Cars 2".  Very well done.

Onward to this year's highlights...

Fiat 500 - I knew exactly where I was going first.  I've been wanting to see one of these for awhile now.  Oh yes...they're as neat in person as they are in photos.  It seats comfortably, and the Luther Auto rep (Luther will be opening the first two Twin Cities Fiat dealerships) said she'd been driving one for a couple of weeks and they "feel a lot bigger on the road than you'd think".  Their first area dealership opens in "about two weeks".  I'm totally thinking one of these would be a blast for beating around town in (outside of winter, of course).

Hyundai Veloster - Apparently coming in 2012.  Sort of looks like a shorter, rounder Nissan Juke.  Hyundai's version of the Kia Soul?  Maybe.

Hyundai Elantra - Hyundai's making a lot of noise and marketing effort towards the new Elantra.  Which is sort of like heavily hyping a store-brand bag of chips. 

Chevrolet Sonic - Sonic replaces Aveo, and is basically an Aveo redesign with a new name and a more Chevrolet-like front end.  Sort of.  Like the Aveo, it's sort of goofy looking.

Chevrolet Cruze - what's THIS?  A manual transmission?  In a base Chevrolet economy model?  NOBODY buys manual transmissions in America!  The teardrop headlights are a nice enhancement.

Chevrolet Equinox - Jeepers, Chevy. Would it kill you to attach the freaking battery so I can adjust the electric seats?  Hyundai does.

Chevrolet FREAKING TAHOE - They have a HYBRID?  Really?  Does it really do better than the 16.5 mpg I averaged in Portland last week?  Not enough to substantiate the extra cash, I think.

Chevrolet Volt - It's here, it's on a turntable, and you can't touch it.  Or buy it.  Up here, anyway.  Maybe next year.

GMC - One of the auto show highlights is frustrating the GMC reps with a simple question they can't answer.  Questions like "What color does the instrumentation light up in?"  This has unintentionally happened almost every year I've come.  Tragically, the GMC people appear to be purposely avoiding me this year.

GMC Acadia Denali - The uber-expensive luxury version of GMC's version of GM's "it's not a minivan, honest" people-hauler has two-tone leather and a dark woodish center console.  Pretty swank.  No push-button start, which is inexcusable in any car in the nearly $50,000 range.

GMC Yukon - Remember when GM would make a single vehicle and give it different names for the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac versions, but there wouldn't really be anything different about them?  GM doesn't really do that anymore...unique styling sets newer models apart.  Except for this one.  Once I climbed in, there was literally no difference between this and the FREAKING TAHOE I drove in Portland last week.

Nissan Leaf - Nissan's new all-electric (EV) is here.  You can even sit in it.  Take THAT, Volt.  It has lots of futuristic modern oddities in the interior design, highlighted by the funny little knob shifter toggle thingie, which everybody is talking about.  A male couple walks by and openly questions the 'zero emission' stickers on the car, claiming 'the electricity itself was produced with emissions'.  They know Nissan is referring to the motor output itself, not the electric source...they're just elitist pricks.  Cute Car Model says the battery has an eight-year, 100,000 mile warranty, so stop freaking out about the cost of replacing it.  It's nice to see manufacturers stepping up with the EV's this way, but until they can get these cars to have a 400-mile range and there's charging stations widely available selling fast recharges at rates significantly less then gas, these are nothing but 'around-town' cars.

(Actually, I predict that we're closer to that reality than we know.  A decade or two, maybe.)

Nissan Murano - 2011 model got a refresh with a new instrument cluster and some exterior oddities almost nobody will notice.  Big surprise for me was the discovery that the drivers seat automatically moves back when you open the door for ease of exit.  THAT'S awesome.

Nissan Rogue - Rogue also received a refresh similar to Murano's.  As it happens, my Rogue is going into the shop this week to get a bad wheel bearing fixed, so I rented a car to come up here.  Guess what it is?  The newly refreshed 2011 Rogue.  I'm not sure I like the new all-white instrumentation and trip computer.  It's boring, and the trip computer is kind of a distraction.  This Rogue does seem to be quieter than mine, as if it has more sound deadening materials.

Nissan Juke - Proving quite popular here.  Looks and feels exactly like what it odd little crossover.  Nissan's answer to the Kia Soul, I guess.  Nissan doesn't understand that it's not the Soul itself that makes it's the hamsters.

Nissan Cube - So did they give up on this?  I can't find it.  Wait...there it the fake GMC area.  Nissan has an enclosed space next to GMC's, but last year they put their trucks outside the space to confuse GMC buyers.  It worked so well that they've done it again this year.

Honda...Ew.  What am I doing in the Honda section?

Acura MDX - The bucket sport seats in this crossover are NOT easy to get in and out of.

Acura ZDX - If crossovers are considered tall station wagons, this is a tall hatchback.  It has sport bucket seats basically as annoying to get in and out of as the MDX.

Toyota RAV4 - RAV4 got a mild redesign and a sport model that FINALLY lost the rear door-mounted spare.  Other models, tragically, still have it.  Sales Guy is trying to explain to a potential customer why that is.  Good luck, loser.

Toyota Prius - A Prius-C ("concept") was on display with typical futuristic stylings that never ever get developed.  The theme with the concept was "Prius Goes Plural?" with possible plural pronunciations of the word Prius (Prii, Prien, and Priuses were suggested).  One of the forthcoming plurals is allegedly a full EV version.

Ford Explorer - The venerable Explorer is now a completely different animal.  Now on a car-based platform with styling that is easily confused with the Edge.  Expensive ones have push-button start.  And lighted cup holders.  They must be local Ford dealership can't keep them in stock.

Ford Fiesta - You know that little car in the annoying commercials with all the dancing and the horrible 'ba-da-da-da-da-da-mmm-bop-mmm-bop' music?  They're even uglier in person.  And NOBODY except little kids were showing any interest.

Scion tC - They squared off the roof which gives the car a deliciously retro muscle car look. Guy sitting on drivers side...a dead ringer for Spinal Tap's David St Hubbins...had a beer in hand.  "Don't drink and drive," he quipped with a sneering smile.

Kia Sportage - What makes the all-new Sportage different from the previous versions?  Well, it actually looks...sporty.  Feels sporty too.  I might need to test drive one.

Mitsubishe MiEV - Mitsubishi returns to the Twin Cities Auto Show after a one-year absense with their forthcoming all-electric vehicle.  They had two of them a right-side driver in Geek Squad guise, and another American model.  It's so narrow that they put the climate dials in a column instead of a row.  Very ordinary interior.  Zero cool factor.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport - It's a shorter, sportier Outlander.  Panoramic sunroof is actually visible from the drivers seat.  I could drive this if I had any faith in Mitsubishi, but they're a far too low volume seller here, and have a reputation for free-falling resale value (which really shouldn't be a concern for me since I tend to drive my cars until the wheels fall off).

VW Jetta - In a desperate attempt to sabotage US sales, VW has been working to make their cars as boring as possible.  The new Jetta is such an example.  With a side profile instantly familiar to any 10-year old Impala owner and moves like getting rid of the cool blue instrumentation in favor of boring white, I don't see myself owning another one.  And my first NINE CARS were VW's.

VW Passat - The new US-built Passat is North American-specific.  The rest of the world gets a completely different Passat.  I'd take it over the Jetta, but I'm not exactly standing in line for either one.

VW Touareg - The new Touareg is leaner, lighter, and still a complete pig.  A hybrid version will be available for around $60,000.  How ridiculous is that?  The Porsche Cayenne, which is built on the same platform, will have a hybrid version available for $69,000.  If you're going to spend that kind of money anyway, why wouldn't you pay the extra nine grand for the Porsche?  Or you could just get a Lexus RX hybrid starting at $43,000 (even loaded, it's only $52,000) and spend the savings on an awesome Fiat 500.

HA HA HA HA!  The Volvo counter is handing out IKEA catalogs.  Didn't Volvo get sold to the Chinese?

Volvo XC60 - I've been kind of interested in these.  Then I sat in this one.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Freaking Tahoe

Place: Burgerville
Lunch: Colossal burger, portobello wedges, Northwest cherry chocolate shake

Burgerville is Portland's hometown burger chain.  Originally known as Burgerville USA featuring a patriotic theme with menu items like Colonel Burgers, the chain has gone uber-hippie with the slogan "Fresh, Local, Sustainable" with a focus on local premium ingredients and seasonal flavors, plus environmentally friendly business practices.  None of which matters to anyone (except hippies) unless the food is good.  Yes.  It is.

The Portobello Wedges are a limited time offering that really need to stick around.  Portobello caps are cut long, panko breaded, and fried.  Served with ranch or garlic mayo.  Yum.

I'm home for my birthday.  I have a fab hotel suite and the biggest rental car you've ever seen...a FREAKING CHEVY TAHOE.  I didn't plan it that way, that's just what they gave me.  It has leather and nearly auto everything.  Auto lights, auto seats, auto climate control, auto beep warning thingie telling you you're about to back into something (a feature which I now want on my next car).  The one auto thing it doesn't have?  Auto wipers.  In PORTLAND.

It's surprisingly easy to park...even parallel if you happen to venture downtown.  WAY easier than the previous generation Equinox and its horrible electronic power steering.  (I can't compare it to the current one, as I haven't driven one of those yet.)

On the road, it's pretty much like piloting a barge.  Not so great on hilly winding narrow two-lane blacktop like Cornell Road.

The trip has been great so far.  I flew out on Frontier, the airline with the animal images on their tails.  The first leg was on a Midwest Airlines (their fleet is being merged into Frontier's) Embraer 190.  This is one of the larger regional aircraft with a 2+2 single-aisle seating configuration.  Midwest apparently had a business class...the first four rows had a 2+1 configuration with wider nicer seats.  That was a pleasant surprise. 

The second leg was on an Airbus A320 featuring Ozzy the Orca on the tail.  Regular seats, but nobody sat between me and the woman in the aisle seat, which we appreciated.  Frontier's Airbus jets have DirecTV monitors on the seat backs.  There I am sitting in the dark watching Craig Ferguson while snacking on cheese curds and Pepsi.  Best.  Flight.  Ever.

Oh...and they serve complementary warm chocolate chip cookies.  Very good chocolate chip cookies.

I hung out with the family yesterday.  My aunt barbecued some fab hamburgers for lunch and whipped up Grandma's homemade fried chicken for dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits with raspberry jam.  Even the raspberry jam is homemade...the most awesome jam you'll ever have.  (Well...I'LL ever have.  Find your own relatives with a vast knowledge of cooking.)  Brought memories of my youth right back.

This morning, I ventured out with the intention of having breakfast.  The perfect breakfast to compliment a fabulous home-cooked meal, of course, is Jack in the Box.  Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich and two tacos.  Breakfast of champions.  But the Jack in the Box wasn't open.  It LOOKED open...the OPEN sign was on and the order screen at the drive-thru was working...but nobody was there.  A Prius was circling the drive-thru, angrily honking its horn by the order window.

I wasn't that motivated.

So I went over to Gresham and found a Jack in the Box with actual people working.  Then I went to Safeway for limeade and the morning paper.  Then I went back to the hotel and lazily read the Sunday paper, a practice I haven't done in years.  Like many of you, I just rely on the web.  You know what I realized?  Physical newspapers are really cumbersome to read.

Then I got a good swim in before every kid staying in the hotel invaded the pool.  Apparently, the magic hour to get under is 9:00am. 

The remainder of the day will be with the family again.  Dinner is at McCormick & Schmick's.

Awesome birthday.