and wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…

Yes, you heard right. Just as I had resigned myself to waiting until after Christmas to get my mitts on a Wii, one of the three most coveted toys this holiday season (along with the PS3 and, of course, Tickle-me-Elmo EXTREME). I thought about preordering it, but decided I wasn’t that hardcore, then wistfully watched as reports of the launch yesterday came in, with happy new Wii owners from coast to coast exultant.

Then I got to our usual Sunday dinner yesterday, and after the excellent home-cooked German fare, Doug laid a pleasantly heavy and large box in my lap, with a tag inscribed “Briian.” I totally missed the joke, but soon I didn’t care as I cradled in my arms my very own Wii (every sentence with that word just begs to be made into a joke…). It turns out that Doug had mobilized the troops, returned early from his excursion to Monterrey, and gotten people in three distinct lines at three distinct stores, rising at 5am to make it there for openings. In the end, it went off without a hitch (as most things researched by Doug tend to), and they landed three distinct Wiis (why not? plenty of other people in the friend group wanted one…), but most importantly I got mine. It was a joint present from Doug, Phil, George, Ali (way out in MI), and Jeff.

We got some great pics of people playing, best of all though is this movie of George boxing virtually. Also included with my Wii is the new Zelda game, which has arrived to universal acclaim. This is good because I just got done beating Final Fantasy XII (yup, they lied again about the last one being final… I don’t trust them this time either). I’ll let you know how it goes.

One other key feature of the Wii is the ability to build little models of yourself and your friends, so you can play sports and whatnot with an accurate virtual likeness. They’re called (wait for it) Miis. Even though Ali couldn’t be there with us, we brought him in virtually:

ali's mii

Isn’t that a spitting image? I think so. Click the above link and check out the nearby pics for more hot Wii action. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of getting toys for my birthday. I think there is some requirement that when writing about the Wii, you must make some sort of pun in the headline. So I went with an old favorite, in case you were wondering.

berkeley food #21: rivoli

1539 Solano Ave
Berkeley, CA
(510) 526-2542

Tonight I had the pleasure of eating for the first time at Rivoli, a gem of a restaurant on Solano, a strip with plenty of food and shopping that we haven’t explored much because it’s more than walking distance from our apartment. I don’t know how this place slipped under the radar for so long, but luckily someone more knowledgeable than I about Berkeley food pointed it out to me.

The layout of the restaurant is a bit unconventional. It’s tiny, so you walk right into a combination bar/waiting area/service prep room. You’re greeted by warm lighting, well selected but unobtrusive jazz and blues, and a very friendly and accommodating staff. You walk right through the service area to get back to the main dining room, which is maybe 30 feet on a side at most. The entire back wall is filled with windows which look out onto a well-kept garden–word has it that you’ll see raccoons and skunks frolicking back there, though all we saw was a hungry-looking but cute cat.

The food was inventive and unusual, not at all forbidding, and universally tasty. To start we had the “signature” appetizer of portabella mushroom fritters with a├»oli, parmesan, arugula and caper vinaigrette, as well as Grilled scallops and dungeness crab in phyllo with ginger relish, avocado, cucumber, watermelon radish and saffron yogurt. The first was simple, but delicious. The mushrooms held a lot of their water which helped to offset the heaviness of the fried breading, as did the bed of greens they sat on. The scallops were heavenly in my opinion: nice and rich (made even more so by the shredded crab they were surrounded by), made light by the cucumber, creamy by the avocado, and finally given a bit of zing by the yogurt.

As usual, for entrees we shared four different dishes. My pick was the slow cider braised pork roast stuffed with wild mushrooms, served with sweet potato gnocchi, braised tuscan kale and pink lady apple and walnut vinaigrette. All four parts of the dish were good, but I need to especially call out the gnocchi as the best I’ve ever had. It had all the great taste I expect from good gnocchi, but it was light and fluffy, and not pasty at all as gnocchi tends to be. I think Les put it best when she said it was as though this was the true Platonic form of gnocchi, and all my life previously I had been eating only the shadows it cast on the cave walls. Ahem. Second was cassoulet of duck leg confit, chicken sausage and ham hock with runner beans, tomato, thyme, garlic and breadcrumbs. While delicious, this was probably the least interesting dish. Hearty and fall-like, but a bit heavy (there was more left over if it than anything else). Marc got the grilled mint and garlic marinated leg of lamb with artichoke, bacon and scallion bread pudding, braised cippolini onions and french beans with lemon. This was your straightforward red-meat dish, cooked well, seasoned well, and simply presented. There was some spice involved that reminded the two licorice sensitive palates at the table (mine was one) of anise, but we confirmed with the waiter that there was none. Finally was Leslie’s butternut squash and chestnut torta with pecans, oyster mushrooms, braised rainbow chard, pearl onions, fonduta, red wine sauce and salsa verde. It tasted as complicated as it sounds–if I worked at it, I could pick out all of the distinct pieces, but that wasn’t really necessary; the flavors fell in well together. In all the choices were seasonal, creative, and not at all pretentious or meager as is sometimes the fear with “upscale” food.

For dessert the four of us shared an utterly perfect hot-fudge sundae, and then staggered out the door, bellies full from the dinner (which capped off a day full of tasting of caterers’ food). I think this place is right up there with the cafe at Chez Panisse (and it’s worth saying that we got a table without having to plan a month ahead), and in the same ballpark price-wise ($20ish entrees), so it’s a place I’ll only see on my birthday or when parents are in town, but that being said, it was worth every penny (that I didn’t have to spend). Yum!

swimmer’s hair

I’ve been in a swimming class at Berkeley all semester. It has been awesome overall: great exercise in a group with an enforced schedule in a beautiful solid-marble pool overlooking campus. It has a few drawbacks, though. Because the pool is outdoor, it has a huge amount of chlorine in it, which gives me the aroma of chlorine for about 2 days afterward, no matter how hard I scrub, and has also destroyed my hair:

bryan's swimmer's hair

My initial plan was to shave it all off. I mean, what’s the point of getting a fancy haircut if it’s just going to turn into muppet fuzz anyway? So, I ordered a set of clippers off Amazon with the full intent of finding out what shape my head really is. Things took an unexpected turn, however, when Leslie turned out to be a very competent stylist and managed to recreate a decent haircut on the floor of our living room. The master at work:

leslie cuts hair

So, now not only do I still have some hair, but I just discovered that I’m marrying someone who can do a decent job of cutting my hair. Woo! Free haircuts for life. That is all.