Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dinner(s) and a show.

My step-sister, Danielle, is a senior at Avila University, majoring in theater set design. I am embarrassed to admit that, up until this past weekend, we'd never been to one of her shows. We were seriously missing out.

Danielle designed the sets for Avila's production of "The Grapes of Wrath." In spite of sounding obviously biased, I must say that Danielle's sets were absolutely perfect and so much more impressive than I possibly imagined. The entire stage was backed with railroad ties that stretched up to the rafters. The ties wrapped around the sides of the stage, so that the audience was presented with a wall of worn and tattered wood. The stage floor was build up out of old scrap wood so that it matched the worn look of the background, but Danielle built several props into the stage floor that were used throughout the production. Two planks on the stage pulled out to be benches for a picnic table. Several compartments were built into the floor that were used as campfires, or graves. At one point, the front portion of the stage floor lifted back to reveal a pool of water that represented a river. To reflect major scene changes, Danielle build modular pieces that dropped from above the stage and hung suspended, as if by magic, above the stage floor. This was such an impressive technique. Each of these touches were unexpected and added to the feel that the set, much like the environment that was so harsh on the Joads, was not just a backdrop for the action but a live thing that could act on the scenes just as the scenes were acted on it. She also designed the car that the Joad's used in their journey - a charmingly old-fashioned yet haphazard jalopy that wheeled around the stage and was as much a character in the show as any of the flesh-and blood actors.

A model of the set was on display in the foyer, and I managed to get an unfortunately blurred picture:

Danielle is currently deciding on a graduate school. I hope she chooses one relatively close to Kansas City so that we can see more of her work. Just wow.

Before we went to see the show, we ate dinner at One Bite Japanese Grill in Overland Park, Kansas. We'd heard good things about One Bite from Brian and Courtney, and since we were sort of in the neighborhood, we decided to check it out for ourselves. One Bite is in a typical Johnson County strip mall, but the restaurant isn't your typical strip mall place. Inside we found a dimly-lit diner of sorts - booths line one wall, and a diner counter runs the length of the smaller-than-expected space. The color palate is modern and the booth we had was very comfortable.

The menu has some of the typical Japanese fare (seaweed salad, gyoza) and a whole lot of unexpected delights. We had two plates - the first was ginger marinated chicken skewers with Japanese eggplant. The eggplant reminded me of the pickled eggplant from the Noodle Shop, so there must have been some miso in there somewhere. Our second plate was the okonomi-yaki, or Japanese pancakes. We ordered the "Mix Special" which included veggies, meat and seafood.

I couldn't quite reconcile my eyes with my mouth. My eyes said this was going to be a sweet and gooey mess - the last time I saw a plate that resembled this one was when I ordered the pumpkin pancakes at IHOP. But when I cut into it, I found a filling of cheese, shrimp, beef and vegetables surrounded by dense pancakes and topped with a slightly-sweet ginger sauce. This dish was very good, but very rich and filling. We both agreed that a portion half this size would have been more than sufficient.

Our weekend adventure in eating wrapped up on Sunday night with a visit to what has become one of my favorite places, Mr. Le's Sushi and Vietnamese Restaurant:

Mr. Le's is located at Parvin and Brighton in Kansas City, North, in what I consider one of the shadiest strip malls around. There are some seriously icky people around this place, but they don't go into Mr. Le's, so don't be afraid. Inside, Mr. Le's is bright and cheery:

The food at Mr. Le's is what keeps us coming back, though. Despite the dubious location, Mr. Le serves up some of the best sushi we've had. The fish is fresh and the rolls are creative and delicious. Presentation is not brushed over, as with this spicy tuna roll (one of the best we've had anywhere):

But I'm a sucker for Pho, and the Pho at Mr. Le's doesn't disappoint. The broth is wonderfully aromatic - I've said several times that if I ever ask for chicken noodle soup while in the throes of illness, it is Pho Ga that I want, and not actual chicken noodle soup - that I can't even imagine how that flavor is accomplished. Lucky for me, I don't have to know because Mr. Le knows and is close enough to my house I can get a fix any time I want.

If you haven't experienced Pho before, you must do so soon. The salad-ish plate in the upper left of the above picture accompanies the Pho and includes bean sprouts, limes, jalapeno peppers, fresh cilantro and fresh basil. You put in as little or as much as you like - I skip the sprouts, add a touch of jalapeno, and put in a fair amount of lime, basil and cilantro. Despite the soup spoons that are brought with the Pho, I strongly recommend you eat the Pho with chopsticks and drink the broth. There is something very calming about eating a bowl of noodle soup with chopsticks. You are forced to slow down, have patience. Part of the experience of eating Pho for me is the exercise of eating it with chopsticks, and while I've tried to eat it with a spoon and fork, something suffers without the chopsticks. So give them a shot. Mr Le's is open on Sundays, which makes me a happy camper. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in.

One last thing before I wrap up - my sister has been telling me about Guitar Hero for six months. For the last couple of weeks, we've been casually thinking about picking it up for the Wii, and after Brian and Courtney got it over the weekend and told us how much fun they were having, we buckled and got it last night. The rumors are true - Guitar Hero is incredibly fun. Frustrating, aggravating, challenging and a whole lot of fun. I can't wait to thrash out (on Easy mode) over the Thanksgiving break.

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