Jul 27, 2014

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Weekend viewing: ‘A Most Wanted Man’

Photo courtesy: Roadside Attractions

Photo courtesy: Roadside Attractions

By Josue Alva

Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright

Director: Anton Corbijn

Synopsis (from production notes): When a half-Chechen, half-Russian, brutally tortured immigrant turns up in Hamburg’s Islamic community, laying claim to his father’s ill-gotten fortune, both German and US security agencies take a close interest: as the clock ticks down and the stakes rise, the race is on to establish this most wanted man’s true identity – oppressed victim or destruction-bent extremist?

My thoughts: Corbijn sticks with a formula he knows well: spy thriller with a lead who is a silent, lonely man, with a troubled past but a good heart –- it worked well in The American and also Control, minus the spy thriller angle. In Corbijn’s latest release, we are introduced to Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman), the disheveled head of a small intelligence group stationed in Hamburg. The group works in the shadows, stealthily keeping a diligent watch over the cities Islamic community for potential terrorist cell activity. As in his previous films, this film goes easy on the action and heavy on the dialogue, which some viewers may find hard to sit through –- I must admit, I was hit with a mini-yawn attack halfway through the film – but what great dialogue it is, and there’s no doubt that the actors, under Corbijn’s direction, really bring these characters to life. The moments of action are succinct and really grab you – I’ve never experienced such an intense signature writing scene; I broke a sweat. If I have anything negative to say about the film, it would be that Hoffman’s accent didn’t work for me. I’m no expert on
German accents but it seemed inconsistent from scene to scene, but then again, what do I know; I’m no expert. Here’s the skinny: I liked the film and will definitely watch it again and probably again but the pace may be a bit too slow for most movie-goers. If you have the patience for a delicately detailed film with intriguing characters and a wow ending, then head on over to the theater, take a seat and prepare for a 121-minute scenic cruise.

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Jul 27, 2014

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Plan a sweet holiday getaway to the JW Marriott in San Antonio

jw slide hotel

Today is your last day to take advantage of a spectacular flash sale happening at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. The gorgeous property is slashing reservation rates for stays occurring Nov. 23-30 and Dec. 12 to Jan. 3; on those dates, a resort rooms will be $139 per night, and a resort room with a view will be $159 per night. That’s a crazy-good savings of 55 to 60 percent! And you know what the timing means? You can plan a totally luxurious jaunt to SA and stay at the JW!

I stayed at the JW Marriott just last month, and fell in love!

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Jul 20, 2014

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Date night gets delicious at P.F. Chang’s

The Twisted Whiskey Sour and Ahi Tartare with Avocado

The Twisted Whiskey Sour and Ahi Tartare with Avocado



Disclosure: P.F. Chang’s sponsored this post, but the opinions expressed are mine, all mine.

It’s been a long while since I’ve dined at P.F. Chang’s Dallas, so to find out that the Asian bistro is broadening its culinary horizons with the launch of hand-rolled sushi, small plates and new cocktails, I thought, “P.F. Chang’s? More like P.F. Changes!”

The chain invited me to take some of the tasty newness out for a spin, so I turned the visit into a date night with the bf at the Northpark Center location. The space was fresher and more airy and open than I remembered, and I loved its casually sexy vibe — perfect for a night out! But let’s get to the food and drink …

I couldn’t wait to dive into the handcrafted cocktails, so I picked the Twisted Whiskey Sour, featuring
Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Cointreau, OJ, and honey with blood orange bitters. The drink is actually ideal for cocktailers on both ends of the beverage lovers spectrum: It’s stiff and bourbon-based to please seasoned tipplers who love their spirits, but delicately sweet and fruit-tinged enough for those who skew more toward lighter cocktails. I loved it, and it paired with the ahi tuna like a dream (below).

ahi up close2

And that dish … oh, how sublimely tasty. Sushi-grade tuna was dice-cut and tossed with cukes, scallions and a citrus soy sauce and served with avocado slivers and fried wontons. It was a feast of textures, too, with the juicy fish, the creamy avocado and the crisp wontons, all mingling on the tongue. It was the bf’s favorite by far.

Next up, I savored the new tempura shrimp hand roll, with a soy wrap stuffed with fried shellfish and strips of avocado, cucumber and Japanese rice. For such a simple dish, it was quite delicious — can I take a moment here to comment on the rice?

tempura shrimp hand roll

Maybe I’m just jaded on the rice that typically comes with or in sushi and Asian food dishes, but I really, truly loved the heck out of the texture and flavor of the rice in the hand roll and sushi. It achieved just the right sticky-to-fluffy ratio, and as a home cook, I know that’s a tough balance to strike! But speaking of P.F. Chang’s sushi

dynamite scallop roll

… the rice wasn’t the only star of the show in the Dynamite Scallop Roll (above). This Cali roll is crowned with gently seared scallop slices and a dot of creamy sriracha sauce. With a dip into my pool of wasabi and soy sauce, this roll was endlessly craveable. The sweet scallop was a nice touch against the spicy sauce, and, well, you already know how I feel about the rice that enveloped it all.

Our last date-night nosh was the Saigon summer rolls, a simple Vietnamese treat starring julienned carrots, celery root, cilantro, peanuts, mint, Thai basil and juicy lemongrass chicken wrapped in rice paper. I loved how the brightly wholesome flavor of each ingredient shined through; it tasted ready-made from the garden, it was so fresh, with veggies boasting a nice snap.

Overall, our picks from P.F. Chang’s new menus were winners, and there’s so much more to try, we’ll have to pencil in another date night there soon. In addition to the above dishes, there’s also Edamame Hummus, Jicama Pork Tacos and Cucumber Rolled Kappa Maki to try, and drinks including the Long Island Rum Tea and Red Sangria.

To make your date-or-other-occasion night that much more delicious, DFW-area P.F. Chang’s will offer “Sushi, Small Bites & Wine Flights Wednesdays,” an all-day special where diners can pick a flight of three vinos that’ll be paired with items off the sushi and small plates menus; cost is $25 or $35, based on your picks. Between the wine flights deal and an incredible expanded happy hour, Wednesdays at P.F. Chang’s could just be the yummy antidote to the hump day blues!

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Jun 26, 2014

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Our new beauty reviewer tries the latest goody from Kiehl’s!

Photo courtesy: Kiehl's

Photo courtesy: Kiehl’s

[Ed. Note: I adore cool beauty products and love sharing great finds with my chickadees when I discover them, but it's something I've gotten away from in recent years. Happily, I've just landed a hand from Tasha, an esteemed fellow lover of all things beauty and convenience! Look out for future pieces I will henceforth call "Tasha Tries ..." spotlighting fantastic products that come across our radar, but for now, enjoy Tasha's review of a new Kiehl's product!]

By Tasha Young

Product: Kiehl’s Since 1851 Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash

What They Say: “The formula was developed to maintain the integrity of the skin barrier while cleansing, without stripping skin of its essential moisture.”

What Tasha Says: Let me start off by saying I am a huge Kiehl’s fan. Now with that being sad, I specifically love my Ultra Facial Cleanser, so I’m thinking, “can a facial wash really get better?” My conclusion? Yes! Meet my new favorite skincare product, Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash ($12.94 for 7.8 fl.oz). This creamy face wash is designed to cleanse normal-to-oily skin without stripping away moisture, and, above all, ensures that the skin barrier is protected. It has a smooth, rich texture and a very light, fresh lemon scent. It foams up just a little bit with water, and leaves my skin feeling very clean, without any tightness. I especially love it because even on my heavy makeup days, it washes absolutely everything off with ease. But it’s still super-gentle on the delicate areas — no stinging my eyes!

Kiehl’s claims this product will cleanse your skin, soothe and hydrate by utilizing calendula flower extract, and it does not disappoint. My skin felt hydrated all day long without feeling oily. It has a reasonable price point, and a little goes a long way! I love the rich texture, how extra gentle it is, and I am super partial to the lemon aroma. It keeps my skin feeling clean and happy. I definitely recommend this one!

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Jun 24, 2014

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At the movies: ‘Words and Pictures’

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Photo courtesy: Roadside Attractions

[Ed. Note: Our intrepid margarita sampler Josue turns his focus to film, with his thoughts on Words and Pictures, an indie film now showing at the Magnolia in Dallas, the AMC Grapevine Mills 30, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Cinemark West Plano]

By Josue Alva

Stars: Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche

Director: Fred Schepisi

Synopsis (from IMDB): An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important.

My thoughts: He was once an admired author – now he’s a pompous blowhard who reaches deep into his word-hoard to show off. She was once a praised abstract painter – now she struggles to even pick up a brush due to health issues.

Jack Marcus (Owen) and Dina Delosanto (Binoche) are prep-school teachers who meet on Delsanto’s first day as the new honors Arts teacher. A love/hate relationship instantly ignites and continued on as they try to one-up each other using their respective artistic discipline – writing and painting.

“Words are lies,” exclaims Delsanto, and Jack declares war! The fire they once had, that passion for their craft, begins to boil within again, and, as a result, their students gain new interest in learning about acclaimed authors and understanding the beauty of art.

Part great teacher movie and part love story, this film felt like it missed the mark with the latter but nailed the former. I wasn’t buying the chemistry between Owen and Binoche, as they seemed more like buddies than lovers. It definitely fit the mold of a great teacher film, and I really enjoyed watching the main characters’ plight and seeing the way they overcame the challenges they faced. Overall, I did like Words and Pictures: The writing was well-crafted, the cinematography was pleasant and the individual acting and the ardor the characters displayed for their artistry won me over.

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Jun 20, 2014

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Travel like a Diva to: Phoenix/Scottsdale!

wpid-20140507_081637.jpg

In May, I spent the most luxurious spa-hopping week in Phoenix/Scottsdale, and as such, I have a ton of suggs to share on how to do it up like a Diva next time you’re in this splendid metropolitan area. Voila, my DiVacation do’s and don’ts …

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May 28, 2014

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A first-timer’s view of Margarita Meltdown

By Steve Mohundro via Flickr.com

By Steve Mohundro via Flickr.com

Here’s a recap of the scene from Sunday’s rainy Margarita Meltdown from my friend and blog-curious writer, Josue Alva. Thanks a mil for braving the weather, Josue!

By Josue Alva

As dark clouds loomed over the city of Dallas and, with them, the roaring sounds of thunder and the sight of lightning, it was just a matter of time before rain came to ruin everyone’s pool time, grilling fun and boat parties. But over in Bishop Arts, there was a something happening that no rainstorm could stop: this year’s Margarita Madness.

No self-respecting Dallasite would dare miss an opportunity to imbibe competing concoctions from dozens of local restaurants, vote on them and help crown the winner just because the clouds outside made it look more like midnight instead of 4 p.m.

As I meandered through more than 30 restaurants’ samples of mouthwatering margarita madness with my tasting card, those pesky clouds brought a cool breeze, but soon the rain began. Few sought cover, but the true tequilaphiles – those who felt the rain and mentally transported to a pool party serving up endless flavors of margarita – stayed the course and continued on with sounds from DJ Tony Fernandez helping us in our journey.

margarita meltdown 2014

There were so many options before me. Some were too spicy (habanero-infused) some were too sweet, some were memorable like the Angry Granny margarita at Mexican Sugar, which tasted like a spicy apple pie (second place for me). But only one would steal my heart: Veracruz Café served two different samples, a dessert-like peanut butter margarita, which was my absolute favorite (but that might be because I really love peanut butter and I was a bit hungry – either way, my favorite), and a carrot margarita that I found to be interestingly good (third place in my book).

I finished my Tour de Tequilaville around the same time the margaritas began to work their magic on the crowd, which went from being eager samplers to happy-faced dancers. As the evening ended, the tally from the text-messaged votes where counted and ready to be presented. The crowd’s fingers had spoken, and the title and honor of national champion (the nation in this scenario being the DFW area) went to Asador Restaurant’s Pineapple Mint Snow Cone margarita. They had a friendly staff pouring the drinks and made their booth unforgettable, with a summery theme. Good job, Asador.

The minds behind the Dallas Margarita Meltdown created a gem of an event – a way to get a great mix of people to enjoy a fun afternoon and discover new tastes from local restaurants and gyrate their bodies to both old-school music and new tunes in unison. The participating restaurants each brought a fun and unique spin on the margarita, and I would say they are each worth visiting for cocktail sampling.
Until next year, margarita lovers!

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