Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Impressions of a Sometimes Moviegoer - More DVDs - Spanish, English, Japanese and Intergalactic

It's been a long time since I posted any movie reviews. I'll start with movies I've seen in the theater this year and then backtrack to DVDs I've seen at home.

In the Theater

The Simpsons Movie
- The adventures of Homer and his friendly neighborhood Spiderpig didn't save the world (though they did save Springfield), but they've been on my mind every time I've seen a promo for the "real thing" (Spiderman, that is). Overall, the writers did a decent job of expanding a 20-minute TV show to a 75-minute feature film, thought at times the pace wasn't quite as frenetic as I'm used to. Green Day's ill-fated concert on Lake Springfield made us all laugh. The staying power of the Simpsons franchise is amazing. I used to think that the movie would mark its end, but now with a new season started, who knows how long Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the good (and not so good) people of Springfield can go on? Four stars (out of five).

The Bourne Ultimatum - This was a movie that all three of us (Dad, Mom and teenage daughter) were willing to see, though it wouldn't have been anyone's first choice. Director Paul Greengrass (United 73) contributed his jarring hand-held camera style. Matt Damon contributed his stoic good looks and action-hero agility. Robert Ludlum and current-day screenwriters contributed the story. My daughter enjoyed Damon (who looks a lot like the quarterback on the hometown LSU football team), but disliked the director's style, which kept the movie from being just another thriller to me. I read Ludlum's books at least 20 years ago, and therefore can't attest to the faithfulness of the films. Still they've all been worthy contributors to the book/film franchise. Three-and-a-half stars.

Hairspray - My exposure to this story started with the Broadway musical, which as a big fan of musicals, I just loved, even at $110 per ticket. When we got home, we watched the '80s Hairspray movie on DVD. It would have been better to see these two versions in the other order, as the original film was an offbeat, low budget comedy--much less boisterous and joyful than the show. The current movie musical follows the path of the Broadway musical, keeping most of the songs and adding a couple others. The young actress who plays the indomitable Tracy Turnblad is terrific, but the rest of the cast suffers from star-studdedness, primarily in the Latex-laden form of John Travolta as Tracy's mom, Edna Turnblad. The use of a male actor is the role isn't unprecedented. Actually, it's the standard, as transvestite actress Divine played the role in the '80s movie, and a variety of overweight male actors have played the role on Broadway. Still, HD-clarity on made-up pores in Travolta face and petrochemical molecules in his fat suit distracted me from enjoying Hairspray as much as I could. (He did do a good job researching and trying to maintain a Baltimore accent.)

Supporting roles were filled with non-singing stars as well--particularly Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle; Christopher Walken as jokester father Wilbur Turnblad. The romantic song and dance featuring Travolta and Walken is pretty hard to watch. Still, a ticket to Hairspray the movie musical cost only about $6, and you get to hear the incomparable opening number, Good Morning, Baltimore, and the rousing closing number You Can't Stop The Beat, along with some energetic singing and dancing from younger and less famous members of the cast, which is more entertainment than a lot of movies offer. This one might even be better on the small screen, where Travolta's Edna won't be quite so enormously alarming. Three stars.

Across the Universe - My 14-year old daughter is not much of a Beatles fan, but her best friend is. The friend, who lives out of state, thought that Across the Universe, a movie musical built around the music of the Fab Four, was terrific, so off we went to a matinee showing. Not too unexpectedly, the music was the highlight. Most of the arrangements stayed close to the original versions, an unfortunate exception being the psychedelic Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, which suffered from a hambone performance by stand-up comic Eddie Izzard. The other mostly unknown performers were all good singers and it was a treat to see Joe Cocker show up in three small roles. Otherwise the movie was a mishmash of Beatles references (the major character names all come from Beatle songs--Jude, Lucy, Prudence, Max, Sadie, JoJo), social consciousness, history lesson, love story, and head trip that I never quite connected with, despite having grown up in the '60s (sort of like my reaction to Forrest Gump). My daughter, neither a child nor student of the '60s or a Beatles fan, loved it. As I mentioned, I liked the music. Three stars (includes one-half from my daughter).

On Netflix

Kundun -
This was Martin Scorsese's fascinating biopic about the Dalai Lama. A little slow paced at times, the film still opens a window to the exotic world of Tibet and its ongoing dispute with the People's Republic of China, and on the life of the current day spiritual icon. Philip Glass contributed a ethereal score. A cast of unrecognizable actors allow you to concentrate on story. The film compares favorably to the more celebrated The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci. Recommended for fans of historical and religious themed pictures. Four stars for fans of this genre.

Little Children - Kate Winslet, one of my favorite actresses, provided the hook to this strange suburban drama. She does her usual fine job, this time playing a bored housewife with a young daughter who befriends a stay-at-home husband and his young son at their small town's public pool. Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly are excellent as the husband and his high-achieving wife. Jackie Earle Haley is brilliant and bizarre as misfit Ronnie McGorvey, who is trying to deal with a history of child molestation. Reminiscent in style and tone to the Best Picture-winning "American Beauty", "Little Children" is a solid, if somewhat creepy movie for adult audiences. Four stars and a bit for adult audiences.

Life is Beautiful - My entire family adored this charming tragicomedy about life in Italy just before and during World War II. Director and star Roberto Benigni has created a fairy tale with an edge. An irrepressible Jewish waiter falls in love with a socialite, winning her away from her Fascist fiance with a mix of humor, coincidence, opportunism and whimsy. They have a son and find themselves in the midst of a Jewish pogrom that transports them to an unnamed concentration camp. Father "Guido" uses the same skill set that he used to win his wife to protect his four-year old son from the brutality that surrounds him, convincing him that the camp is an elaborate holiday and game in which the winner will receive a new tank. Benigni's performance (which won a Best Actor Academy Award--rare for a foreign language film) is a masterwork--manic, touching, hilarious and affecting in about every possible way. The scene where he translates a German soldier's camp instructions for the benefit of his son is priceless ("No lollipops! Don't even think about asking!") His wife Dora is beautiful and bemused in the first act and exists more symbolically, but still powerfully in the second. The very young actor who plays son Joshua is amazing--portraying the wide-eyed enthusiasm of his father combined with a mistrustful wisdom well beyond his years.

Like the recent French film Amelie, "Beautiful" has a whimsical soul. The concentration camp sometimes seems a little too smooth, a feature that Spielberg films on serious subjects are sometimes accused of. Still, the Germans were known for the their organization and order, and the story doesn't really need grisly depictions of much of what went on during the Holocaust to make its point. The production design also fits with the fairy tale feeling of the tale. My wife doesn't much care for foreign films, but said she felt like she'd learned some Italian watching this one. My daughter doesn't like foreign films or period movies. Both loved Life is Beautiful. You will too. Five stars for all viewers!

-The beautiful Penelope Cruz by herself was almost reason enough to watch this Spanish black comedy. The parallel stories about both honoring the dead and protecting the living made Volver both intriguing and fun. The film also provides insight into life in the matriarchal Spanish culture. A gold star to anyone who works out the surprise ending in advance. The supporting cast of actors ranging from age 10 to 80 complements Cruz well.

I didn't feel quite as comfortable with Volver in Spanish as I did with Life is Beautiful in Italian--maybe because I know a little more Spanish than Italian and was trying to follow the dialogue just a little rather than depending entirely on the subtitles. Four stars for a good foreign film, even for American audiences.

Notes on a Scandal - This quiet and creepy film is an acting tour de force for stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. The story revolves around veteran teacher Dench's friendship with young teacher Blanchett, for which the two characters have entirely different goals. Dench is particularly devastating as a soul-bared aging lesbian. Blanchett does the best work I've seen her do as the young schoolteacher. For the quality of acting and the power of the interpersonal story, Notes on a Scandal is almost a must-see. But some viewers, probably more than some, will be put off by the lack of likeable characters--kind of a deadly serious version of Sideways. Four stars with that proviso.

Letters from Iwo Jima
- This is the second and less publicized half of Clint Eastwood's pair of movies on the battle for Iwo Jima near the end of World War II. Based on some actual letters from the Japanese commander on the island to his family in Tokyo, the film tells the story of the American invasion from the perspective of the Japanese troops dug in to protect part of their homeland (politically, Iwo Jima, though an almost uninhabitable rock located hundreds of miles from the mother islands, was part of the Tokyo district of Japan). The Japanese soldiers were put in the unenviable predicament of serving as a stalling tactic. Japanese high command never supported them with the intent of defeating the American invaders, just slowing them down and causing a lot of casualties, hopefully enough to cause the Americans to sue for peace. On the other side, the Americans needed the island badly as a refueling point for bombers tasked to attack the Japanese mainland.

With a cast of actors obviously unknown to American audiences, Eastwood can focus your attention on the relationship between the commander and his men and of both to their hopeless mission. To me, Eastwood's (and the commander's) message is loud and clear to political leaders--be very careful about starting a war because wars are so difficult, painful and costly to end. Soldiers who are sent into battle to do nothing but kill and die have families and loved ones at home. Every casualty is a personal tragedy that ultimately may be not be justified by the war's outcome. Kudos to Eastwood for making the film. Five stars for fans of serious and thought-provoking cinema. Letters is not light entertainment.

Galaxy Quest -- On the other hand, this surprisingly fun spoof of the Star Trek culture was purely light entertainment. The star-studded, ironic (Tim Allen (voice of Buzz Lightyear) and Sigourney Weaver (from the Alien movies) lead the way) and burnt-out cast of the fictional sci-fi TV show "Galaxy Quest" find themselves on a real-life mission when aliens visit the earth. The hambone acting skills and vague familiarity with a spaceship set that work so well on TV help the crew save the . . . well I'll leave it to you to figure that out. But Star Trek fans won't be offended as there's hardly even a "stun" setting in "Galaxy Quest's" satirical ray gun. Even the seemingly over-obsessed Trekkie-types come off looking good by the end. Four stars as fun family entertainment. A star less if you're looking for anything even remotely deep.

Rabbit Proof Fence

The Painted Veil

The Crucible

Quiz Show

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Restaurant Rouge - Now, PoBoy Lloyd's and Roman's Cafe

Dadlak's Guide to Restaurants in Baton Rouge, Elsewhere in Louisiana and Across the South

For a variety of reasons, my family and I eat a lot of meals in restaurants. Lunch on most weekdays. Dinner at least two times a week. On almost every special occasion. With that depth of experience, I thought a Dadlak post on restaurants would be helpful to my Louisiana readers and interesting to others. I'll start with Baton Rouge restaurants, then go to other Louisiana restaurants and finally a short list of out-of-state restaurants. I'll include links to the restaurant websites as they are available. My original list of restaurants just in Baton Rouge runs to more than 50 names, so check back often to see if I've gotten to your favorite, or one that you're interested in knowing more about.

Here's a link to the blog from which I borrowed the photo:


Restaurant Rouge (restaurants in Baton Rouge or immediate surroundings)

The Chimes (two locations)

I've been eating at this restaurant's campus location on Highland Road for 20 years. Once a bar/club with good food, The Chimes has been expanded to serve more diners (and drinkers) over the years, with the music moving next door to The Varsity Theatre. They are also open on Sunday, a big selling point when I was single. Still The Chimes may be most famous for their expansive selection of beers, including more than two dozen on tap. One can drink his or her way "Around The World" by ordering one each of about 60 different brands of beer (their selection is much larger than that). The walls of the restaurant are covered with plaques bearing the names of Around The World drinkers, many with multiple (up to 50 or more) citations. Around Baton Rouge, The Chimes menu (and that of other similar restaurants) is known as Louisiana comfort food--fried seafood, soups, big salads, and poboys are staples. The soups and salads are always good as soups and dressings in made in-house. I like their plate lunch specials, hamburgers, shrimp and corn soup and blackened salmon. Fried alligator, crab fingers and onion rings are appetizer specialties. Service is generally efficient and friendly, though the place can get very busy during lunch hour (from about 11:45 a.m. on) and on football game days. Ambience has improved since Louisiana pass the "no smoking" law for restaurants. TV scattered around the restaurant are generally tuned to sports.

The Chimes East on Coursey Blvd about 8 miles east of the other Chimes restaurant, is the franchise's newest location. They built the weathered looking building from scratch. Dining is offered on two floors. The bar is more separate from the dining area than at the campus location. They also have an outdoor dining area. The Chimes East is definitely a restaurant with a good bar rather than vice versa. Sunday brunch is a highlight here. I've found that the cooking isn't quite up to the level of the original Chimes, though I expect it will improve with time.

Food - Louisiana comfort - very good
Drinks - Outstanding beer selection, great iced tea
Meals - lunch/brunch/dinner
Ambience - casual, busy
Price - inexpensive to moderate (daily lunch specials, which include salad and roll for $7.25 are a particular bargain)
Service - good
Overall Value - excellent
General Comment - Consistently among my top five favorite restaurants in Baton Rouge. I often take out-of-town guests there to feast on Louisiana food.

De Angelo's (several locations)

I've enjoyed watching this franchise grow in the last fifteen years from infancy to a mainstay of Baton Rouge restaurants. In the early 1990's, then 19-year old Louis DeAngelo borrowed some money from his family and opened a small pizzeria in a strip mall. Given the dearth of good pizza restaurants in Baton Rouge that were not also smoky bars, DeAngelo's Pizzeria was an immediate hit. The original location has moved twice into larger quarters. The franchise has added three more restaurants in Baton Rouge and more in neighboring towns and cities across South Louisiana (and even in Bloomington, IN). Pizzas and calzones are still the mainstay of DeAngelo's business, but they've also expanded their menu to include many pasta dishes. In fact, what used to be called "DeAngelo's Pizzeria" is now "DeAngelo's Casual Italian Dining". Their salads and desserts are also excellent. Dressings are homemade and can be purchased for takeout. DeAngelo's went to a "no smoking" policy long before it became law, another step that's made them very popular with young families.

Food - pizzeria, casual Italian - very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, good wine selection, great iced tea
Meals - lunch/dinner/small group events
Ambience - casual, fairly quiet (just a few TVs which may be tuned to sports or news)
Price - inexpensive to moderate (individual pizzas run about $10; pasta dishes are somewhat higher)
Service - very good - team concept employed
Overall Value - excellent
General Comment - Consistently among my top five favorite restaurants in Baton Rouge. My first choice for guests if they want pizza/Italian.

Mestizo Louisiana Mexican Restaurant

I've lived in Baton Rouge long enough to watch this restaurant be born of its parent--Carlo's. Carlo, founder of Louisiana-Mexican cuisine (think shrimp and crab enchiladas and crawfish tacos), has long since retired but several years ago his son opened Mestizo in a small building that was once a donut shop. In the last year, Mestizo moved to a new larger building that more than doubled its capacity. Mestizo features typical Mexican menu items, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and chimichangas, but with a Louisiana flair, as most are offered with seafood as well the more traditional beef and chicken. Shrimp and crab enchiladas must be experienced to be appreciated.

Food - Louisiana Mexican - very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, great and large margaritas
Meals - lunch/dinner
Ambience - casual, quiet (TV only in bar)
Price - moderate (lunch specials are $9-10; dinners about $4-5 higher.)
Service - good
Overall Value - excellent if you like their particular type of food
General Comment - Consistently among my top five favorite restaurants in Baton Rouge. My first choice for guests if they want Mexican and like seafood.

Serrano's Salsa Company

Serrano's Salsa Company has two restaurants, one each in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The BR restaurant is next door to The Chimes LSU campus. Our first exposure came on a day when The Chimes offered a 30-minute wait for lunch. We walked next door and were seated immediately. They also offer superior parking to The Chimes, which has a parking lot about a block behind the restaurant. But enough on geography--on to the food.

Serrano's features a full lineup of Tex-Mex food and drinks in a comfortable atmosphere. They also offer patio dining. We've eaten both lunch and dinner there and I've enjoyed everything I've eaten--the parilla fajitas and verde (green) rice at lunch and the delectable shrimp en brochette (bacon wrapped and jalapeno stuffed) for dinner. Service is consistently good and sometimes excellent as in my last visit, when I forgot to request "double rice and no beans". When I sheepishly asked if they could make the replacement after the food was served, I got a cheerful "sure" and in just a minute a fresh plate full of rice without a hint of refried bean.

My only complaint with Serrano's in Baton Rouge is it's sometimes slippery floor. I'm not sure what's going on there.

Food - Tex-Mex- very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, good margaritas, iced tea can be weak
Meals - lunch/dinner
Ambience - casual, quiet (TV tuned to game shows/news at lunch)
Price - moderate (lunch specials are $8-9; dinners about $4-5 higher.)
Service - very good
Overall Value - excellent
General Comment - Overall, the restaurant appears to be one of the best-kept secrets in Baton Rouge. I always hope that they'll have more customers so that they'll stay around to feed me

Capital City Grill (two)

Capital City Grill has two restaurants in Baton Rouge--one downtown and another on Sherwood Forest Boulevard. The downtown location is adjacent to the new Shaw Center for the Performing Arts. I'm sure it does a good pre-show business.

The downtown restaurant offers limited outdoor seating in good weather. The suburban restaurant has a screened porch for year-round seating, which also serves as a smoking section. The two restaurants feature much the same menu--Louisiana comfort food--fried seafood, steaks, burgers and big salads, along with assorted appetizers--a little more upscale than The Chimes. My favorite is a broiled tilapia with a glazed pecan topping and steamed vegetables. My wife loves their tenderloin salad (strips of filet in a big salad). My daughter eats fried crabfingers off the appetizer menu. Their hamburgers and shoestring fries are also good.

In the world of drinks, the downtown offers flavored martinis made from various fruit infusions. Both the bar and screened porch at the suburban restaurants are good places to watch an LSU game, if you don't mind over-excited middle-aged fans screaming at the TVs.

Food - Louisiana comfort food - good to very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, good iced tea, full service bar
Meals - lunch/dinner
Ambience - nice but casual, quiet in dining room (no TVs)
Price - moderately expensive (lunch specials are $10-13; dinners about $5-7 higher.)
Service - good, but not special
Overall Value - good
General Comment - We go to the suburban version fairly often because it's close to the house. The downtown restaurant is a good choice for business lunches.

India's Restaurant (Indian) - no website, but here's a Yahoo page with more information and reviews - http://local.yahoo.com/details?id=18257659

India's is the older of just two Indian restaurants in the Baton Rouge area. We've enjoyed their lunch buffet for years and occasionally gone there for dinner. Almost everything on the lunch buffet is spicy, some extremely so. Dessert of either kheer (my wife's weakness) or mango ice cream (mine) is always welcome to cool a flaming palate. The buffet includes vegetarian items, lamb and/or chicken curries, a variety of rice dishes, and the ever-popular tandoori chicken. For dinner we often choose the mixed grill--tandoori lamb, chicken and shrimp. The beer menu is limited, but includes otherwise hard-to-find Indian beers. We always get a 22 oz. Kingfisher (or two) and share. It's a beer that I wish were sold in the grocery store. The surroundings show their age a bit. Service is generally efficient and unobtrusive, particularly at lunch, where the buffet is a serve-yourself activity.

India's has been a Baton Rouge fixture for years, but I still worry about its viability, given the very small crowd we usually encounter at dinner. At $7.95 per person, lunch is very reasonable and popular. Apparently, it's what keeps India's going.

Food - Indian
Drinks - Limited beer selection (but including good Indian brands), good iced tea, full service bar
Meals - lunch buffet / dinner
Ambience - quiet in dining room (no TVs), furnishings a little threadbare
Price - inexpensive for lunch; moderate for dinner
Service - very good
Overall Value - very good, particularly at lunch
General Comment - If you like lots of spicy food, I particularly recommend India's Restaurant's lunch buffet.

Zeeland Street Market (plate lunches/sandwiches) - 2031 Perkins Road (at Zeeland Street of course)

I started going to this restaurant when I learned that friends of mine from church owned and operated it. Located on a residential section of Perkins Road, Zeeland Street Market is also the closest restaurant for me to reach by car from our downtown Baton Rouge work location. Some might call Zeeland Street's offerings "soul food". I prefer tag "home cooking". My favorite item is their club sandwich on whole wheat toast. I could without the big pickle, but that's my personal taste. I'm sure the pickle would be great for pickle lovers. My wife gets the plate lunches--fall-apart pot roast is a speciality, along with crab cakes and various chicken and fish dishes. Country-style vegetables, mostly beans and greens, don't do much for me, but they make most Southern diners, including my wife, happy.

The ambience is busy and noisy. You place your order and pay at the register on the way in. Get your drink from the self-service drink machines (iced tea is good although a little strong for my taste--I dilute it with some water) and take a seat. In five minutes or less someone will call your name from the open kitchen. Walk up to get your food, utensils and napkins. Come back to your seat and enjoy. It's that simple and unpretentious.

Food - Home cooking
Drinks - Soft drinks and iced tea, self-serve
Meals - Lunch only
Ambience - busy and noisy, but no TV, furnishings are utilitarian--though wooden booths are substantial. The owner may come out from the kitchen and chat with repeat customers.
Price - inexpensive
Service - quick but sometimes a little shrill (when they have to call your name multiple times)
Overall Value - very good
General Comment - Tasty home-cooked food and quick turnaround make Zeeland Street Market a popular choice for lunch. Get there by 11:45, as sometimes the line gets long.

Jones Creek Cafe and Oyster Bar - I've been eating in this restaurant since I first moved to Baton Rouge in 1987. It was a particular favorite of one of my co-workers. Back in the days when I still ate raw oysters, their 25 cent oyster happy hour was one of the best deals in town. The establishment in both its old location on Jones Creek Road and its new location at 15005 Market Street has always featured an oyster bar side and a cafe side. Patio dining was wedged in at the old location. Their new location includes a designed section for outdoor dining. JCC, as it's colloquially called, features good old Louisiana comfort food, with an emphasis on fried seafood. They'll broil it if you ask, but you need to be clear about your request. At the old location we've send fried food back to be replaced by the broiled food that someone ordered. This is especially painful in that broiled orders take an extra 20-30 minutes.

My favorite food by far at JCC is their seafood gumbo, which I rate as the best in Baton Rouge, maybe anywhere. Their roux must be simmered for hours to achieve its ultra-dark color. The gumbo is full of seafood, including big crab claws you have to handle with your fingers. The rice is always perfect. Other highlights from the appetizer menu are fried crab fingers and boudin balls. Sometimes they even have boudin links--all the flavor of boudin without the guilt of deep frying. Both the fried and broiled seafood platters are favorites of other family members.

Prices range from inexpensive for a bowl of gumbo to almost $20 for a seafood platter. Service is always friendly, but too often imperfect. The new location is spacious and a little noisy, as TVs are set in all four corners for people to watch live sports events.

At one time, the bar side was smokier and noisier. I'm not sure if smoking is allowed with the new Louisiana anti-smoking laws. Smoking is allowed in the outdoor area.

JCC lost some of its downhome charm when it moved from its strip mall location to its own building, but it's still a good place to get reasonably-priced Louisiana seafood dishes at reasonable prices, and a great place to eat raw oysters (up to 35 cents each during Happy Hour, I think, after 20 years), if you still do that sort of thing. A word of caution--if you've got any kind of liver malfunction, stay away from those raw oysters.

Food - Louisiana seafood
Drinks - Beer (mostly domestic), soft drinks, good iced tea
Meals - Lunch and dinner
Ambience - Casual, slightly noisy, TVs tuned to sports in dining room.
Price - inexpensive to moderately expensive depending on choice
Service - friendly but sometimes slow or inaccurate
Overall Value - very good
General Comment - JCC is a good close-to-home (for me) place to get fried seafood and especially their wonderful gumbo, and can be a reasonable "taste of Louisiana" experience for out-of-towners.

I'll let someone else review the sushi part of this Japanese restaurant on College Drive. I can comment on the hibachi grill, having enjoyed it many times. My best story regarding Koto is going there expecting a "last meal" after reading in a neighborhood newspaper about it's imminent closure. When we got there we learned that restaurant was under new ownership--the retiring owner had found a buyer. We were delighted and have been back many times since.

The food at most hibachi restaurants is predictable--salad with ginger dressing, onion broth soup, shrimp and steak cooked in front of you, fried rice and sauteed vegetables. Still it always seems special because it's cooked fresh in front of you and served piping hot. I can eat a lot of fried rice served in this manner. The chef's show--the fiery display after starting the grill, the spinning egg, the onion volcano, the zucchini toss--gets somewhat old hat for adult diners, but the kids always get a kick out of it, making it a great family outing.

Koto does all this better than any similar restaurant in Baton Rouge. They've recently expanded to build more grill tables. Prices are higher than some evening restaurants, but fair for a Japanese hibachi grill in a town the size of Baton Rouge.

Food - Japanese hibachi grill and sushi
Drinks - Beer (limited selection, but including Japanese brands), soft drinks
Meals - Dinner
Ambience - Convivial--"floor show" by chef; sit around grill with other diners
Price - Moderately expensive, but meals are generally "one price"
Service - Good
Overall Value - Very good if you want steak and shrimp; children not young enough to be children may get more food and spend more money than you're used to
General Comment - Koto of Japan is a fine example of its kind of restaurant. It was kind of a special occasion restaurant for us for several years. Probably not the best place to take out-of-town guests. They no doubt have a similar restaurant in their hometown.

Po Boy Lloyd's - lunch in downtown Baton Rouge

The first meal I ever ate in Baton Rouge back in 1980 or '81 may have been at Po Boy Lloyd's (though I may have gone to the down-defunct Giamanco's for dinner the night before, depending on when my flight got in). Even then, Lloyd's was the preeminent lunch spot in downtown Baton Rouge. These days it has a lot more competition, but owner Fred Taylor's combination of fresh fried seafood and a variety of sandwiches keeps the tables full for a couple of hours every midday.

Thursday is chicken-and-dumplings day. Get there early to get a table; and at least by noon to get the better "white meat only" version. Lloyd's has a busy and casual atmosphere, accentuated by their serving process. You stand in line to place your order at a counter. They'll ID it by your name. Take your drink with you and look for a table. Ten minutes or so later, someone will emerge from the kitchen and yell your name, then look for someone who answers to it. Most of the time you get the right food, unless they can't read the handwriting on the ticket, or if there's someone else there with the same name. The server will leave the ticket with you. You carry it to the cash register to pay on your way out, where Fred will take your money (cash, check or credit card) and give you a piece of peppermint candy. He'll also sell you a lottery ticket and give an opportunity to buy a square on a "football board", which is probably a subject for another post.

Everyone has their personal favorites--mine is the regular catfish plate, which includes three pieces of fried catfish, a pile of french fries and two pieces of heavily buttered toast--it's a cholesterol feast, and as such, very tasty. Shrimp poboys are also very good. The featured chicken and dumplings comes with french bread and delicious apple crisp. Plate lunches (pork chops, hamburger steak and the like) and a variety of poboys and sandwiches are also very popular choices. Mississippi mud pie is a great dessert, but costs extra and packs about 700 calories a slice, I suspect.
PoBoy Lloyd's also serves breakfast, but other than the very occasional biscuit to go, I don't eat it, so I'll let others comment.

Food - Poboys and plate lunches, homemade desserts
Drinks - soft drinks, iced tea, minimal beer selection
Meals - lunch and breakfast; though they are open on some weekend evenings for dinner
Ambience - noisy, busy, casual; TVs in midday are tuned to game shows or news
Price - inexpensive
Service - utilitarian (but friendly), not much followup, orders can get lost or misserved
Overall Value - very good; portions large, quality good; prices reasonable
General Comment - competing lunch restaurants come and go in downtown Baton Rouge. PoBoy Lloyds' consistent value keeps them around when others fail.

Roman's Cafe (Greek-Lebanese)
- In general when a restaurant has several locations within a city, the quality is about the same across the board. Roman's Cafe has three stores in Baton Rouge--the original on Government St., their second in Hammond Aire shopping center, and the newest on Perkins Road in south Baton Rouge. The Government St. and Hammond Aire stores serve among the best Greek-Lebanese food in Baton Rouge. Surprisingly, the Perkins Road location has always disappointed me--every time my food has been cold and dry.

I can't talk about much of the menu. I always order gyros, rice pilaf, feta salad and pita. My wife and daughter prefer chicken shwarma. My wife gets hummus and tabouli along with her salad. Being closer to downtown, the Government St. location is our standard for lunch. Being closer to our house, we usually eat dinner at Hammond Aire.

Service is generally quick and efficient. Being semi-regulars for lunch, the staff recognized us and were ready with our drink orders. That is until the entire staff was changed after a recent credit card scandal. On our last trip it was cash and checks only. I wonder if they'll be able to maintain three stores in the wake of that problem.

The atmosphere at all three stores stresses eating. I don't remember their being any TVs. Lunch can be busy. Dinner, at least when we eat (generally early) is very quiet. Along with the usual selection of soft drinks and iced tea, Roman's offers Lebanese tea (rose water and lemon juice, I think--I don't drink it) and a limited selection of beer and wine, including some Greek specialties.

Food - Greek/Lebanese (gyros, shwarma, shish kabob, etc.)
Drinks - soft drinks, iced tea, Lebanese tea, minimal beer and wine selection
Meals - lunch and dinner
Ambience - quiet, casual
Price - moderate for both lunch and dinner
Service - efficient and friendly
Overall Value - very good; portions large, quality good; prices reasonable
General Comment - if you like Greek/Lebanese, stick with the Government St. or Hammond Aire locations and you'll be well satisfied. I hope they'll survive their recent problems and continue to serve my favorite Greek/Lebanese food in Baton Rouge.

On Deck

Christina's (breakfast, plate lunches, sandwiches)

Other Baton Rouge writeups coming up:

Fernando's (Tex-Mex)
Outback Steak House (steak chain)
Superior Grill (Tex-Mex)
Raising Cane's (fast food chicken fingers)
Las Palmas (Tex-Mex)
Galatoire's Bistro (French Quarter upscale)
Mike Anderson's (Louisiana seafood)
Ralph and Kacoo's (Louisiana seafood)
Ruffino's (upscale Italian/steak)
Parrain's (Louisiana comfort)
Mansur's on the Boulevard (Upscale steak/Creole)
DiGiulio's (casual Italian)
Casa Maria (Tex-Mex)
Juban's (Upscale Creole)
Fleming's (Upscale steak)
PF Chang's (chain upscale Chinese)
Las Carabbas (chain upscale Italian)
Gino's (romantic Italian)
Louisiana Lagniappe (Louisiana seafood)
Olive Garden (chain casual Italian)
Macaroni Grill (chain casual Italian)
Buffalo Wild Wings (finger food sports bar)
Maison LaCour (upscale French)
Frank's (breakfast, plate lunches, sandwiches)
The Table is Bread (soul food)
Cafe American (Louisiana comfort)
Taste of China (Chinese buffet)
Great Wall of China (Chinese buffet)
Albasha (Greek-Lebanese)
Arzi's (Greek-Lebanese)
Brewbacher's (plate lunches, sandwiches)
George's (po-boys, sandwiches)
J. Alexander's (upscale steak)
Sullivan's (upscale steak)
Ruth's Chris (upscale steak)
Lone Star (chain steak house)
Hunan (Chinese buffet and menu service)
D'Agostino's (romantic Italian)
Little Village (romantic Italian)
Johnny DeAngelo's (NY-style pizza)
La Madeline (French cafe/bistro)
The Silver Spoon (upscale lunch)
Brandt's Maisonette (romantic French/Creole)

Madden's Flipping Little Monkey

This guy looks nothing like Madden's Flipping Little Monkey, but I couldn't resist posting this picture of Wonder Woman's Monkey Wedding (note that Wonder Woman is a PEZ dispenser).
(photo from Flickr by monoglot)

Most of my dreams I either forget without thinking about them or I choose to forget. For whatever reason, I had a dream sequence last night that I tried hard not to forget, mainly for its possibilities as a stream-of-consciousness blog post.

I call it "Madden's Flipping Little Monkey" because that's the image I could hold on to most easily.

The story takes place at a theme park called "Wabash Heaven", sort of a cross between Disney-MGM and the Cuba Gooding movie "What Dreams May Come", although it's set in downstate Indiana.

One of the attractions (or perhaps the whole park) involves the guest moving from situation to situation while doing impressions of famous people. I know I did Walter Cronkite at one point. The scenes change in synch with whatever's in the player's head.


Here's helpful announcer /pitchman /commissioner John Madden.

I can't recount the progression, but am some point I was doing John Madden in the football announcing booth, playing with a plastic toy monkey. In my best combination of his football commentary and Ace Hardware styles, I demonstrated both the fun and the usefulness of the toy, which when activated, would flip, landing either head down or head up at random.

"Boom!" I cried Madden-like as the monkey landed. "Just kidding, this toy is completely safe." Made in China, each monkey comes with either a personal letter from the Premier of China stating that no lead was used in the paint or a CD single of Sting's new toy-safety anthem "Unleaded." My impression of Sting singing the song was mercifully brief.

"The thought of lead/All parents dread/Unsafe for girls and boys/

Oh Chinese head/Use tin instead/We all need unleaded toys!"

From this scene I became NFL Commissioner Madden, unveiling the Madden Little Flipping Monkey as the replacement for the commemorative coin to be used in the "coin flip" to start the Super Bowl, and in fact all NFL games. The move would solve the epidemic problem of the sides of commemorative coins being misidentified. (This actually happened in one Super Bowl.)

The announcement was met with great concern by executive director of the American Commemorative Coin Marketers' Association (ACCMA), who with great passion and seriousness argued for the continued use of commemorative coins in this service, warning of the dire consequences of such a change for the commemorative coin industry (CCI). "The CCI will produce a coin that cannot be misidentified," he pledged. "Technology can be implanted in the coin so that it will call out "heads " or "tails" as soon as it lands, eliminating the possibility of misidentification."

Commissioner Madden, now appearing in one of those monitor-based discussions on CNN, assured Mr ACCMA that a commerative coin would still be produced for every game, just not used for the captain's meeting. Whatever technology that could be added to the coin just couldn't make it as much fun as that "flipping little monkey." Programming for the Madden08 video game had already been modified to include a monkey flip instead of a coin flip. At this point, Larry King asked the director to pull up the game on one of the monitors and we watched the monkey flipping over and over to the delight of Madden and King and the dismay of Mr. ACCMA, who covered his head with his arms. When all this jollity concluded, Madden announced that his next act as Commissioner will be to rename the replay official the "Helpful Replay Man."

The "Helpful Replay Man"

I hung on to these images for another three or so hours of sleep (I may have made up a few this morning--particularly the appearance of Larry King), thinking "Madden's Flipping Little Monkey" over and over like counting sheep.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday in Tiger Stadium

Along with about 92,000 other people, we went to the LSU-Arkansas football game in Tiger Stadium on Friday afternoon.

Here are some pictures I took outside the stadium and from my seat 26 rows above the 10-yard line.

Newly-renovated Tiger Stadium gleams under the brilliant late-November blue sky.

It's 30 minutes to kickoff as the fans push toward the entrance gates.

Young Mike VI took over mascot duties earlier this season.

The Golden Band From Tigerland plays during pre-game.

Running back Jacob Hester and 24 other seniors are honored before their last home game.

At last, the opening kickoff.

LSU quarterback Matt Flynn looks for room to throw.

Placekicker Colt David stakes LSU to an early 3-0 lead with a short field goal.

Arkansas' Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden takes a handoff.

Tiger fans salute their defense for forcing an Arkansas punt.

The faux-French message "Geaux Tigers" shines from the east upper deck.

Tiger safety Craig Steltz hauls down McFadden near the sideline.

LSU quarterback Flynn directs a perfect pass toward WR Demetrius Byrd.

I only saw one Razorback fan with a "hog hat".

A touchown peeks between a fan's arm and hair.

LSU cheerleaders celebrate a Tiger score.

The Tiger Stadium crowd roars as LSU kicks off (video).

The Arkansas band celebrates a Razorback score.

Tiger RB Keiland Williams breaks free in the secondary.

Balletic Arkansas defenders react to the ball.

An out-of-focus shot takes on an abstract quality. This is how the game might look to me if I were out there (if I could keep my eyes open).

The Tiger Stadium crowd howls on an Arkansas fourth down play (video).

A Tiger running back is stopped just short of the goal line.

On to triple-overtime!

All praise and glory to the victorious Razorbacks!

The Tigers couldn't come back from this deficit. The depressing final score--50-48, Razorbacks. There'll be no national championship for the Tigers this year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Wishes - Enjoy Your Day; Drive Safely

To All My Readers

Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

Enjoy the time spent with family and friends. Overeat, take a nap, watch some football that you do or don't care about, play with the grandkids, but most of all:




Some key points to arriving alive at both your destination and back home:

Wear your seat belt. Seat belt usage in Louisiana runs at about 75%. But only about 40% of those killed in traffic accidents were wearing theirs. A lot of folks are alive today because their seat belt was fastened. Even more would be alive if everyone did.

Follow posted speed limits. You're trying to reach your destination in one piece, not win a NASCAR race. Drive slower at night and in hazardous conditions. That extra 5 or 10 mph that will save 20 minutes on your trip could be the difference in avoiding a wreck.

Don't tailgate. The more distance you leave behind the vehicle in front of you, the better chance you have to react to his or her mistakes.

Use extra caution when changing lanes. See NASCAR note above. Expect the other driver to do the unexpected.

Take regular breaks. Stop before you get tired. If there's an overnight stop involved in your trip, do it earlier rather than later. Late night driving is much more hazardous than daytime.

Stay calm. Don't get upset over delays or bad driving by others along the way.

Minimize distractions for the driver. Let passengers operate cell phones, audio, and GPS.

Stay clear of erratic drivers and 18-wheelers. The former cause accidents; you won't survive a collision with the latter.

Don't drink and drive. Take a nap, not a trip into town, after that third glass of wine.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Bad Decisions Kill Four Teens in Denham Springs, LA Wreck

A mistake compounded on a tragic scale resulted in the deaths of four Denham Springs, Louisiana teenagers last Saturday night. Just before midnight, six young men riding in a Dodge Ram hit another Dodge pickup, a smaller Dakota, on Louisiana Highway 16 south of that small town. Turning a routine traffic accident into a hit-and-run, they fled the scene. The Dakota followed. Senseless tragedy and loss followed as the driver of the Ram missed one of Highway 16's many curves and left the road, slamming into a concrete culvert. Four of the six teenagers were killed by the impact; another was hospitalized in critical condition. The sixth was treated and released from a local hospital. The driver of the Dakota was neither injured nor ticketed in the original crash or aftermath. Alcohol is suspected as a contributing factor, as the teenagers had been seen trying to get into a local club earlier in the evening. None of the victims were wearing seat belts. Below are three links to The Advocate's coverage of the story.

This story made me think of a lesson we got from the Episcopal High principal before the recent Homecoming Dance. He told us to remind our kids to "make good decisions," and said that they'd know what that meant. Remind your kids to "make good decisions" when they go out, and let them know that they can call you no matter what kind of scrape they get in. Anything is better than being called to identify your dead child's body.

In the photo by "The Advocate's" Patrick Dennis, a friend of the victims inspects the crash site.




Wednesday, November 7, 2007

October Book Reviews - Enger, Wilson, and Burke Shine; Maeve Not Binchy's Best

October's books include a great novel by first-time author Leif Enger, a non-fiction manifesto by reknown biologist E.O. Wilson, both a set of short stories and a novel by one of Louisiana's most popular authors, James Lee Burke, and another tale of life in Dublin by Irish author Maeve Binchy.

In order of my enjoyment level, the titles are:

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Well Above Average - We picked this 2002 publication off our ninth-grader's summer reading list. It proved to be one of the best books I've read in 2007. First-time novelist Leif Enger tells a story from the land of Prairie Home Companion, Roofing, Minnesota in the early 1960s, but with miracles and a something like a murder to upset the normalcy. Fittingly the story moves from Minnesota to neighboring North Dakota, home of the Coen Brothers' movie Fargo, where life in the badlands makes no pretension of normalcy.

Like the children of fictional Lake Woebegone, Asthmatic 11-year old narrator Reuben Land and his precocious 9-year old sister Swede, a wordsmith who specializes in epic poetry with an Old West slant, are both well above average as they guide us through Enger's tale of the sometimes conflicting values of justice, loyalty and faith. Father Jeremiah Land and woolly woodsman Jape Waltzer add spiritual notes, on both sides of the age-old battle between good and evil. Grown-beyond-his-years brother Davey works both sides of the aisle on his own. FBI agent Martin Andreeson does his best to stay grounded in a manhunt (and man and children hunt). Several other minor characters pepper the story, with some such as travelling salesman Tin Lurvy finding their way unexpectedly into the plot. Such occurrences, unlikely as they seem, make the reader think about the nature of coincidence vs. miracle, a distinction that seems pretty obvious to an 11-year old boy who worships his father. The novel slows a little in the last third as the manhunt nears its end, but Enger concocts a surprising, touching and fitting ending to it all.

As a big fan of "the book inside the book", I loved Swede's ongoing epic poem about Western hero Sunny Sundown. I salute Enger for both mastering this form (perhaps a little too well for a supposed 9-year old, though who knows about prodigies--Mozart composed piano concertos at age 7) and working it into the story in such an entertaining and relevant manner. I also enjoyed the spiritual element brought to the story, primarily by the Land family patriarch.

Like the Georgia-based coming-of-age novel (also from the 9th grade summer reading list) Cold Sassy Tree, I recommend Peace Like a River to 100 years of readers-- age 11 to 111. I moved the bottom of the scale up a couple of years because of violent nature of the first few chapters, as the conflict and the killing are set up and carried out. As far as I can tell, this is Enger's only novel. I hope he's working on another.

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E.O. Wilson

A Miracle Worth Saving - I heard a sermon based this book at my church and bought a copy at the book table after the service. Like me, the eminent biologist Wilson is a secular humanist. Unlike me, Wilson has made study and thought about nature his life's work. In "The Creation" he appeals to fundamental Christians (as one of which he was raised) to consider the commonality of their beliefs--that the miracle of creation, whether created by God in seven days, or evolved after the Big Bang over a period of billions of years, is something worth saving. He goes on to demonstrate how humans, the supposed lords of the earth, depend of the rest of the nature for their continued existence.

Wilson's sincere attempt to bridge the gap between religion and science is much appreciated by a reader like me who tries to stay grounded in both worlds. My religious tradition, Unitarian-Universalism, calls the concept described by Wilson as the "interdependent web of life". It's heartening to read some real structure to add to that foundation. I also will follow with interest his effort to create an on-line Encyclopedia of Life (http://www.eol.org/). A prototype edition is due out in mid-2008. Wilson also offers ideas on how biology should be taught to develop a generations of citizen environmentalists who can each do their part in this civilization-saving work. After I read this book, I contacted my daughter's high school biology teacher. To my delight, she responded that Wilson was her hero, and that she assigned another of his books to her advanced placement class.

Whether you come at the subject from the scientific or religious perspective, or from somewhere in between, you'll gain a broad perspective on the issue of global sustainability and mankind's role in the struggle. Highly recommended to all readers--middle school on up--even a 5th or 6th grader with a strong interest in nature could enjoy and learn from Wilson's short but powerful book.

Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke

From the Mountains to the Bayous - I've read a lot of novels by Burke, but this was my first short story collection (and maybe his too?) The title, cover and timing might lead you to think that Jesus Out to Sea would be a set of post-Katrina stories, all set on the Gulf Coast--site of so many of Burke's works. The title story and one other fit that mold, but the others are rooted in Burke's life as a resident of both Louisiana and Montana. He writes mountain stories, gulf stories, woods stories, bayou stories and a couple with an eye toward childhood that don't feature any geography at all, other than the lower class neighborhoods of small south Louisiana towns. After reading the Montana-based stories, I expect Burke to bring forth a northwoods novel before long.

After reading Burke's action-packed novels, I was a little disappointed at first by the lack of resolution in a couple of the early stories. Later stories ended more satisfyingly, but life can be unresolved as well. Maybe Burke was trying to make that point. Maybe I was expecting Dave Robicheaux to set things straight. Burke's skill with the language of common people carries over from his novels. He did a lot of living and listening before embarking on his very successful writing career.

Burke isn't quite the revelation he was when my wife and I discovered him 15 years ago, but he's always a thought-provoking and pleasurable read. Four stars for adult readers. Younger readers from Louisiana might be interested in reading what small town life was like 50 years ago, though the stories featuring younger protagonists have a decidedly creepy tinge.

Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke

Burke Ascending - In the latest Dave Robicheaux story to reach paperback, James Lee Burke hits all the expected notes--Dave's past haunts him; Dave drinks; Dave and sidekick Clete Purcel battle lowlifes from all ranks of the social structure; Dave and Clete duel with law enforcement agents from all along the food chain; Dave loves his new wife Molly (number three after the tragic death of number one and the untimely death of number two) and his pet three-legged raccoon Tripod. With all this familiar ground, Burke has to work hard to keep his readers on their toes. This he accomplishes with a twisted plot that wraps around around not one, but three deaths--a hit-and-run from the cold case file, an apparent suicide of a young coed, and a no-doubt-about-it murder committed at close range with a shotgun, that Dave is convinced are related, even though he has precious little evidence to prove it. Somehow, a mob hit from Dave's early drinking days works its way into the mix. Burke skillfully keeps all these plates spinning, with his best trick being a finish that will surprise not only you, but Dave too.

Burke's hard-boiled, yet waxing-poetic prose falls short of great literature, but it's well worth the time needed to ride shotgun on Dave's wild beat. If his experience is anything like the real world of a deputy in a small town in south Louisiana, I live near one of the most dangerous places on earth. (One small complaint--the casino shown on the cover is misleading; the casino industry is a sidelight at the most. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a more fitting setting for cover art, might not have been too thrilled about seeing one of their buildings under the title.) Four bright stars for adult readers and teenage fans of the detective genre.

Quentins by Maeve Binchy

An Unappetizing Meal - I finally finished this one about a month after I started it. What a dropoff from number four on this month's list. We bought the hardback for a few bucks off a table of used books in a general store in downstate Indiana. The book was in fine condition. The story was not.

"Quentins" tells the tale of a young Irish woman's adventure in love and documentary filmmaking. Protagonist Ella Brady tries to rebound from a bad love affair by joining a small filmmaking crew who sets out to tell the story of Dublin's last 30 years through the customers and crew of a popular restaurant. The first reel is interesting from a soap operaish perspective. Reel Two is stultifyingly boring as the we slog through a series of vignettes meant to be the content of the documentary. The third reel is disappointingly predictable.

Peeking out from all this is a moderately interesting story of how Quentins came to be, from the perspectives of ownership, operation, and its grammatically-incorrect name. Like eating an unappetizing meal, I picked at this one for a long time, before the fast-approaching end of the month yelled at me to clean my plate, at which time I force fed myself the last 100 or so pages, just so I could show you this clean, shiny review and move onto dessert (which I'm eating, I mean reading, now--come back next month to see how I liked it).

That's it for October. Check back in early December for reviews of my November reads--"Louisiana Bigshot", a New Orleans-based mystery by Julie Smith, and "The Lay of the Land" by Richard Ford are first on the menu.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Great Baseball Nicknames - Updated

On another baseball-related post we got into a discussion on good baseball nicknames. These days there are a lot of bad nicknames (A-Rod, I-Rod, Dice-K) "creatively" derived from name shortening or initials. Here are some better nicknames I remember from my 40+ years as a baseball fan. Please help me add to the list.

Ron "The Penguin" Cey - Cey's body shape made this nickname a natural
Greg "The Bull" Luzinski - Likewise for Luzinski
Andres "The Big Cat" Galarraga - For his catlike fielding moves at first base
Andre "The Hawk" Dawson - an outstanding fielder early in his career
Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych - Fidrych's flighty behavior was probably the source of this one
Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock - sound alike with last name
Jim "Mudcat" Grant
Dave "The Cobra" Parker
Larvell "Sugar Bear" Blanks
Whitey "The White Rat" Herzog
Ralph "The Roadrunner" Garr

Roger "The Rocket" Clemens - Fastball velocity to be sure
Bill "Spaceman" Lee - Lee had a "spacy" view of life in the minds of some
Bob "Whirlybird" Walk - Like Lee, but closer to Earth
John "Blue Moon" Odom

Other Transportation
Nolan "The Express" Ryan - there was a WWII movie "Von Ryan's Express" in the '60s. This nickname is a takeoff.
Dontrelle "D-Train" Willis

Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky
Darren "Dutch" Daulton
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez - means "the leader" in Hernandez's native Cuba

Tools and Weapons
Hank "The Hammer" Aaron
George "Boomer" Scott
David "Boomer" Wells
Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner - for his scrappy play
Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd - there must be a story
Jimmy "The Toy Cannon" Wynn

Enterainment Characters
Al "Mr. T" Holland - a self-assigned nickname. He "pitied the fool" who stepped in against him
Frank "Hondo" Howard - I'm guessing that this big player resembled John Wayne
Willie "Three Dog" Davis - for love of band Three Dog Night.

From the Baseball Field
Pete "Charlie Hustle" Rose - at first a derisive nickname for Rose's penchant for running out walks
Reggie "Mr. October" Jackson - after three homers in one 1977 World Series game
Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas - for the pain he inflicts on thrown pitches
Don "Full Pack" Stanhouse - managers went through a full pack of cigarettes while he pitched
Ernie "Mr. Cub" Banks

Cartoon / Fictional Characters
Steve "Popeye" Garvey - big forearms
Ozzie "The Wizard of Oz" Smith - amazing play at shortstop
Dave "Kong" Kingman - from King Kong
Tom "Tom Terrific" Seaver
Dick "Dr. Strangeglove" Stuart - could also fit under "From the Baseball Field" as the nickname saluted Stuart's terrible fielding, bad even for a first baseman.

Orlando "Cha Cha" Cepeda

Fathers and Sons
Willie "Pops" Stargell
David "Big Papi" Ortiz
Ken "Junior" Griffey, Jr. - son of Ken Griffey, Sr. of course
Song Lyrics
Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams - Even as a closer, Mitch walked a lot of hitters and threw a lot of wild pitches.

Physical Characteristics
Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson
Carlton "Pudge" Fisk
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez - a good nickname that has been somewhat supplanted by the boring I-Rod.
Jose "Papa Grande" Valverde - unwittingly, D-Backs' announcer Jim Traber nicknamed Valverde after a potato.
Rusty "Le Grande Orange" Staub - from his orange hair and his playing days in French-speaking Montreal.
Don "Big D" Drysdale
Mark "Big Mac" McGwire - these last two aren't too original
Walter "No Neck" Williams

Inanimate Objects
Tim "Rock" Raines

Ollie "Downtown" Brown - for the length of his infrequent home runs.

Previous Nickname Adaptations
Don "Stan the Man Unusual" Stanhouse

Rhyme Time
Will "The Thrill" Clark
Willie Mays "The Say Hey Kid"

Nickname as First Name
Larry "Chipper" Jones - "chip off the old block"
Arnold "Bake" McBride
Lawrence "Yogi" Berra
Richard "Goose" Gossage
Edward "Whitey" Ford - blond-headed
John "Boog" Powell
Jim "Catfish" Hunter
Covelli "Coco" Crisp - nicknamed by siblings as a child
Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker
George "Sparky"Anderson

Entries in blue were suggested by a reader.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Awful Announcing - My Turn

As a Baton Rougean, I watched CBS's coverage of the LSU - Alabama football game with great interest. Commentary by the broadcast team of play-by-play man Verne Lundquist, analyst Gary Danielson and sideline reporter Mary Wolfson was generally OK. I was especially impressed when Nick Saban agreed with Wolfson's assessment of the first half--that the Tide started poorly because they were too emotional over the the Saban-LSU pregame hype. I didn't know that a coach was allowed to tell a reporter "you're right" straight up. Still, Danielson made a statement in the second half that I thought might qualify as Awful Announcing.

In the second half, there was an apparently fantastic catch by an Alabama wideout along the right sideline--a headlong dive and fingertip grab that appeared at first to be a good catch--that's how it was called on the field. Still it was close enough to warrant a review in the booth. Several looks at the replay made the call seem much more questionable than it appeared at first. It could have been that the receiver used the ground the maintain control of the ball, or maybe he did get his hands under the ball. Getting the call right was certainly a matter of millimeters.

Danielson tried to illustrate the closeness of the call by proclaiming that "If there were five replay officials, they'd have four or five different calls." I was stumped. I mean, the vote might have been three-to-two one way or the other (the call on the field was overruled), but I couldn't see more than two possible calls--good catch or incomplete. The receiver never lost the ball--there couldn't have been a fumble. The play was nowhere near either the sideline or goal line. It was well past the yardage needed for a first down. No one kicked the ball, so it couldn't have been a field goal.

I know that live commentary is a dangerous business--LSU play-by-play man Jim Hawthorne notoriously called the wrong receiver's name on the Bluegrass Miracle catch at Kentucky several years ago (he actually called the name of a defensive back whose number was only one off the number of the actual receiver, Devery Henderson. Another sidelight--LSU modified the tape from the broadcast so that Hawthorne got the call right for eternity)--but it seems like a veteran commentator like Danielson could do better than this.