Sunday, November 30, 2014

Restaurant Review - Nue

The latest entrant to the vibrant and growing Seattle food scene is Nue. Technically not yet an entrant, as they're getting ready to officially open the place soon. Thanks to a friend who is friends with the owners, we had the opportunity of a special invite lunch.

Located in Capitol Hill with many other trendy and quirky eating joints, Nue focuses on the global street food fare, with their personalized take on most dishes. In their own words

"...As avid travelers, and insatiable eaters, we set out to build the same kind of casual gathering, food and drink place we consistently frequent while abroad, but for whatever reason, can never quite find back home.  As seemingly diverse as they are, the divey tascas of the Iberian Peninsula, the explosively colorful markets that blanket Asia, the smokey outdoor grills found throughout the Balkans and the vivid town squares of South America all share a lot in common: simple, unassuming, always unique, conspicuously approachable, often times surprising and most importantly, insanely delicious.  This is the food we like to eat..."

The place has a warm and welcoming feel to it with mismatched wooden shelves stocked with random paraphernalia, an open kitchen right next to the tables to tempt you with the sights, smells, and sounds and a communal dining concept. There are three - four large tables were guests from different groups can sit together, get to know each other, and enjoy different cuisines. We struck up some interesting conversations around the abnormal cold snowy day and global food stories with a gentleman moving back to Seattle from Europe after many years and some local Seattle-ites.

As it was a pre-launch special invite affair the hosts offered us a prix fixe five course menu.

First up was the Ethiopian Beer Nuts and Lardo on toast. The nuts were very similar to the large Brazilian nuts we're used to, and came in a bowl with spiced popcorn. It had appetizing written all over it. The Lardo as we were told is an Italian dish of thin slices of pork fat, slightly simmered and served over even thinner crispy toasted bread. The Lardo surprised us with the amount of flavours it packed in those thin sheets. The food blogging cliche of melting in your mouth will not be unwarranted in this case because that's apparently the very purpose of this dish.

Ethiopian Beer Nuts

Lardo on Toast

It was quickly followed up by the South African dish of Bunny Chow. Highly influenced by the Indian community living there for centuries this is like a soup bowl, but more cylindrical in shape and filled with a chicken and chick pea curry, reminding us of familiar tastes from home. While the curry with it's Indian spices tasted familiar the presentation and the combination with the bread added variety to the experience.

Bunny Chow

The third course was a light, tangy, quinoa salad from Lebanon called Tabouli. The quinoa seeds were starting to sprout and this shared plate came with chopped onions, cucumbers, and plenty of lime juice. A refreshing break in the middle of the meal.

Lebanese Tabouli

The final entree was a Romanian burrito like dish called Mititei. The bread was somewhere between a small taco and a large burrito. The main filling was some very well cooked pork, smothered in three kinds of sauces, one of which seemed to be yoghurt based, one a surprising horseradish, and the third I am yet to figure out. The host recommended we fold it into a burrito and enjoy, and we did just that. It was the dish of the day for me.


The meal was completed by a liquid nitrogen cooled, extremely creamy Vietnamese Coffee flavoured ice cream. I have to admit our group was especially excited about the liquid nitrogen part, expecting beakers and petri dishes on the table, and though slightly disappointed with the lack of drama the creaminess of the ice cream mostly made up for it.

The liquid Nitrogen cooled Viatnamese Coffee Ice Cream

I wish the owners - Uyen & Chris - all the very best for their endeavors and hope they will be able to open Nue to the public sooner rather than later, and I can confirm that we will be seen sitting at those friendly tables every other week.

A satisfied bunch!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

One Plus One - Review

After four and a half years with Google's Nexus phones (Nexus 1 - 2009-10, Nexus S - 2010-12, & Nexus 4 - 2012-14) I decided to give the latest entrant in the 'pure Android' world a try. Technically 'pure Android+'. One Plus One (OPO) is a high end Android smartphone manufacturer from China that came out of nowhere in 2014 and with incredible specs, state of the art Android experience, and unbelievable prices, has taken the geeky world of phones by storm this year.

Let's get the basics out of the way first. The 64 GB Sandstone Black phone at 5.5" screen, and 162

gms feels large, but not heavy. The unique "sandstone black" material at the back feels distinct (like hard velvet as many have commented) and comfortable to touch. The device is massively powerful with a quad core Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor (compared to Snapdragon 800, 2.3GHz of the Nexus 5), and to support that kind of power and large screen it comes with a 3,100 mAh battery which keeps the phone going on for an entire day, and sometimes more. Like the new Nexus line of phones the battery is not replaceable and inside the phone, and it doesn't have the option of an external memory card. However at 64GB of memory and more and more multimedia moving to the cloud I am not sure if anyone really needs more memory than that. Oh, did I mention it has a 3GB RAM? 3 GB. Your laptop may have a comparable RAM even today. In short, the phone is exceptional fast and has very nice touch sensitivity. Besides the great stuff inside, they've also paid attention to the details and have delivered a top notch packaging and branding experience (pictures below).

The "hard velvet" back
Because of the large size of the phone, the manufacturers have smartly placed the power and volume buttons mid way through the sides, so even someone with a small hand should be able to control those buttons. 

The camera is also a thing of beauty, with a 13 MP back camera and a 5 MP front facing camera. Of note is the 4K UHD video option. I have not seen such clarity in phone pictures so far. I maybe getting over my prejudice against the phone camera finally. Oh, it also has a Slow-Mo setting (60 fps) which does make for some interesting action videos - running, eating, crowds etc. And the OPO comes with some small but unique features such as switching on the flashlight by simply drawing a V on the screen, even when locked, or a circle to switch on the camera. Have shared some pictures clicked using the phone so far.

Green Lake, Seattle (HDR)

But the 3 things that have set the OPO apart so far are (1) the Cyanogenmod OS, (2) Invite Only distribution system, and (3) $350 price point.

Fall Leaves, Queen Anne, Seattle
If you've heard about the OPO then chances are you've also come across the term Cyanogenmod. While you can read the details right here in their own page, the description is precisely what they claim it to be "CyanogenMod (pronounced /saɪ.'æn.oʊ.dʒɛn.mɒd/) is an enhanced open source firmware distribution for smartphones and tablet computers based on the Android mobile operating system. It offers features and options not found in the official firmware distributed by vendors of these devices." Basically it provides the pure Android experience and enhances it by unlocking many features you won't get in the regular phones. An example will be the ability to set brightness at any level and not just 5 preset levels. Or adding options to the power menu. Or changing the navigation buttons at the bottom. Your Android, your way. Yes, you can install Cyanogenmod on any Android phone if you're comfortable with rooting, and updating the OS as and when they arrive. As this is the first "legit" phone to come bundled with Cyanogenmod you can get the latest Over The Air (OTA) updates to keep your phone and its features always up-to-date. As a long term pure Android user I am very particular against bloatware (unnecessary software that manufacturers add to their devices) and you can rest assured not to be bothered by them. And yes, it's as Android as it gets, you have full access to the Google Play store and all apps and services. They've also promised a 90 day update to the latest Android version, so that countdown for the Android Lollipop version has already started. 

Again, Green Lake, Seattle. HDR.

The 2nd interesting thing about the OPO has been the distribution system. Because of the extreme positive interest in the devices they have kept the distribution invite only, and getting the invites has been a matter of immense pride, fortune, and perseverance in the geek community. In fact, they opened the phone to pre-order on Oct-27 of this year and the demand brought their servers down. According to latest numbers they have sold 0.5M units since launch in May 2014 and have plans of touching the magic 1M mark with the holiday demand. The China based company has solid leadership with veterans from the industry and if the first six months are to go by you'll hear a lot more about them. They have famously spent $350 in marketing till date.

Finally, the price. This beast at $350 is something you could have only expected from the Nexus so far. But this year, after 5 versions of the ridiculously prices flagship phones at the $300-$350 mark, Google has joined the iPhone league and launched it at $649 (unlocked). The OPO on the other hand has taken up that sweet spot ($349 + shipping ($15) for their 64GB version). That's a price point very difficult to go wrong with the kind of specs they're providing.

After four days of usage I will give the phone a 9.5/10 (just had to deduct 0.5 points for the size, but you can say I purchased it knowing fully well). A fan already. Also a fan of the roasted chicken +Veni  cooked over the weekend:)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

To Sir, With Nerves

Happy birthday Sir. Happy 49th in fact. I was a year away from kindergarten when you started winning hearts with those dimples in Fauji. Today I know how thirty feels. But not quite how thirty feels with a DDLJ behind you.

9 years back I wished you. From my heart.

2 years back I wished you. Again from my heart.

This year I thought of sharing something with you that's helped me make friends throughout my life, and also something that helped me feel a bit like you, throughout my life.

Just as I had made my first trip to Mumbai, hopeful of bumping into you at some crossing, posting this here with the same hope of you finding this link floating around somewhere in the online world. Pardon the arrogance here!

All pictures courtesy Wikipedia.