If you’re a sci-fi fan but were put off my the megalithic crowds that jammed into Emerald City Comicon earlier this year, Galacticon could be just the intergalactic ticket.
Beginning today and stretching through to Sunday, this fourth iteration of Galacticon includes luminaries from over 50 years of genre TV and film. The convention’s very much a grass-roots affair run by the Battlestar Galactica Fan Club and a ragtag volunteer team, but even with some guest cancellations and logistic hiccups, it promises to be a great time for this ‘burg’s sizable geek contingent.
There’s a guest or panel to scratch almost every sci-fi or fantasy itch. Are you a boomer who grew up with the 1960s family space opera Lost in Space? Cast members Mark Goddard and Marta Kristen are in attendance. Couldn’t get enough of the kids-and-dinosaurs antics of the 1970s Saturday morning show Land of the Lost? Feel free to hang out with Kathy Coleman (pigtailed moppet Holly), Wesley Eure (earnest big brother Will), and Philip Paley (lovable missing link Chaka).
True to its name, Galacticon’s also showcasing a strong contingent from both incarnations of Battlestar Galactica. Several actors from the 1970s original (Richard Hatch, Terry Carter, Anne Lockhart, Jack Stauffer, and Sarah Rush) are in town to reminisce and meet fans, while Leah Cairns (AKA the new Galactica‘s character, Racetrack) represents the new show’s contingent. The designers responsible for the immersive universe of the 2000s reboot will be also on hand to hang out and discuss creating a new Galactica for a modern audience.
There’s plenty more, too, including Jewel Staite–spunky mechanic Kaylee from the Joss Whedon cult hit Firefly–and Farscape‘s playful fan favorite Chiana (AKA actress Gigi Edgley). Plus Klingons, Borg, Mortal Kombat fighters, and more. All told, it’s a broad expanse of personalities from a lot of great science fiction.
Galacticon takes place in the open environs of Seattle Center, with panels and events taking place in the Center’s Armory as well as Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Tickets are available at the door, or at the Galacticon website, here.
For some, the sight of a pig head on a street corner causes trepidation. For me, it creates salivation.
To be fair, the pig head I saw at 2nd and Bell didn’t surprise me, as the restaurant on that very street corner had invited me in to try their weekly pig roast dinner platter. Each Sunday evening, Bell + Whete fires up the above ground Caja China (a coal-operated metal roasting box) around lunchtime to have a Heritage Meats pig ready for dinner service. They leave the pig head out on the box for giggles and gigs. (Bell + Whete can cater your home or office party in similar fashion.)
For $24 each, diners get a plate of mixed pulled pork meat, cracklings, citrus chili garlic drippings, a seasonal vegetable, a starch or grain side dish, and housemade bannock bread—which some use to make simulated tacos. On this particular day, the sides were a farro and lentil pilaf, Moroccan-spiced summer squash salad with yogurt, and a smear of harissa.
Personally, I’d prefer a sampling of different pig parts, but I understand that would create quite a logistical issue. The mixed pork was incredibly moist, such that the drippings weren’t necessary—but liquid pig only made dinner more decadent. The cracklings were terrific (especially if you break them into small pieces if you’re making the aforementioned “tacos”), and the Middle Eastern-influenced sides had nice flavors. Harissa’s always a winner for me.
Bell + Whete boasts a menu of 60 beers. I paired my pig with Backwoods’ Copperline Amber, though what I enjoyed even more was the Lagunitas CitruSinensis with its distinct blood orange flavor. I savored this while nibbling on an order of “Chilled Ocean Snacks.” At $28, the seafood comes in at a higher price than the pig platter, but with a pretty presentation, and the Kusshi oysters the king of this particular plate.
Seattle is fortunate to have one of the best Gilbert & Sullivan troupes around—and has had for the past 61 years. This year’s production of that perennial favorite, The Pirates of Penzance, opened Friday at the Bagley Wright Theatre for eleven performances (weekends through July 25th: tickets here). Although this is the ninth time the company has presented it (first in 1956), each production has new ideas and clever, imaginative touches while never adulterating the tried-and-true base of the original work.
This time it is as fresh as if they had never performed it before, and also shows a changing of the guard. There are new faces everywhere in this production. There is a noticeably younger generation on stage in roles both principal and chorus. Mike Storie has stepped down from producer (for the past 18 years) in favor of Kim Douglass (who worked with him, and whose title is now producing artistic director), Christopher Nardine has succeeded Christine Goff this year as stage director, and many of the singers are new to the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society. This is all as it should be and it is a pleasure to report that the true G & S spirit is unchanged and the production as lively, charming and fun as always, much as devotees may miss performers they’ve expected to see forever.
One unchanged old-timer, Dave Ross as the Major-General, has lost none of his inimitable ability to sing pattersong at warp speed while making most of it audible to the audience. His daughters, all 12 of them, are young, pretty, vivacious and good actors and singers, while the heroine, Shelly Traverse making her Society debut as Mabel, is as pert, cute, and feisty as she is intended to be and an excellent actress as well. To have one of her sisters be a bookworm is a delightful touch.
Derek Sellers as her swain Frederic is the right age and has the requisite agility as well as voice—this is an energetic production and all the males need to be able to leap up, over or around while singing. Many of the pirates are old-timers but have retained their energy while Pirate King Brian Pucheu, another Society newcomer, leaps highest of all and wields a mean sword he doesn’t hesitate to draw.
One of the delights is Erin Wise as the rough-and-ready nursemaid Ruth. For this, Wise cultivates a voice which could cut through metal and a dialect accent to match. Last but not least of the principals, Police Sergeant Michael Drumheller, also a debut here, leads the bumbling constables as they caper through ruins and get thoroughly beaten by the pirates in a thrilling fight choreographed by Ken Michels. And all of them—pirates, police, girls, principals—can act as well as they sing and they all do, all the time. Nardine has done a stellar job of stage direction.
New sets are by Nathan Rodda, colorful costumes by Candace Frank and the whole is tied together by music director Bernard Kwiram with his orchestra of 28, well-paced and supportive of the singers.
The Northwest Boychoir has just embarked on its latest concert tour, but before leaving Seattle it gave a preview concert Tuesday night for a packed audience at Plymouth Church. The written program included everything the choir would sing while away, each concert having just a selection of these as it did here, one half being sacred music, the other secular.
The Boychoir is a great ambassador for music in Seattle. The quality of the singing is up to the standards of the best English cathedral choirs, not a random observation as the tone is very similar: clear and pure. For the first half, the boys sang, unaccompanied, Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum” and Durufle’s very tricky “Tota pulchra es” with absolute perfect pitch sense. It isn’t easy to be that perfect, particularly when singing with no vibrato. The slightest waver in pitch is instantly noticeable and it did not happen here. Piano accompanist Christina Siemens joined them for Randall Thompson’s “The Place of the Blest,” and in Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater,” of which they sang eight sections.
This was all a delight to the ears musically and the resonant acoustics of Plymouth Church enhanced the boys’ voices. However the acoustics there are death to diction. It was impossible to hear words at any time from two-thirds back in the church, even when conductor and choir director Joseph Crnko announced selections. Since works were not sung in the order given in the program it was sometimes quite a scramble to figure out what was being sung if the music was not familiar.
The same continued in the second half, which ranged from arrangements of folk songs and gospel songs to songs from musicals and even the Beatles. All of the arrangements seemed done with boys’ voices in mind, so that there was a sameness in style no matter what the original was. Thus “When you Wish Upon a Star” had the same feel as “Deep River” or “Home on the Range.” However, all had energy, nuance and dynamics, and the final “America the Beautiful” ended the concert on an uplifted note.
The boys’ demeanor also deserves mention. They stood without fidgeting, their hands by their sides or holding their music books, all the same way, so that nothing distracted from what they were singing. This kind of professional discipline is remarkable in children aged 10 to 14. Crnko deserves great credit for their training in every aspect of performance, as he has done for two generations of boys in the choir.
What’s better than a great live music show? A great, free live music show. And what’s better than a great, free live music show? An entire series of ‘em.
Downtown Seattle’s providing just that with its Out to Lunch Concert Series, a sizable handful of free live gigs going on for the remainder of the summer. The lunch party begins this afternoon with a set by the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra, playing at noon today at City Hall Plaza.
Out to Lunch shows are taking place from noon to 1:30 p.m. throughout Seattle on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays until September 4, at a variety of locations including Westlake Park, the aforementioned City Hall Plaza, the IBM Building, and Westlake Park, among others. The series has been going for a few years now, but this year’s lineup looks to be its best yet, making ample use of the surplus of local music talent and touching on an impressive variety of styles.
You can find the full schedule here (and yeah, there’s not a bum act in the bunch), but enclosed please find our list of the ten acts we’re most excited to see during the Out to Lunch series, in chronological order.
The Maldives (Friday July 10, Westlake Park): Seattle’s most durable roots-rock act also happens to be a rock of consistency live. I’ve seen at least ten Maldives gigs over the last five years, and every set’s been nothing less than full-on.
Craft Spells (Friday, July 24, Westlake Park): Their name says much, if not all. This band’s dreamy, British-inflected guitar pop should be a great, shuffling lilt of a soundtrack to an extra-heady summer afternoon.
Greta Matassa and Friends (Thursday July 30, City Hall Plaza): Nimble, playful traditional jazz and big-band sounds from 2014’s Earshot Jazz Vocalist of the Year, backed by an impressive instrumental ensemble? Yes, please.
The Staxx Brothers(Friday July 31, Lake Union Park): The Staxx Brothers are what that poseur Kid Rock desperately aches to be—namely, a double-barreled shotgun of steamy velour soul grooves and deep-fried southern rock that fires on all eight cylinders, with a charismatic court jester of a frontman who counters his spirited pipes with showmanship to burn.
Naomi Wachira (Thursday August 6, City Hall Plaza): This African ex-pat’s earthy variety of folk embraces her heritage while still connecting on a universal level. And she’s a riveting presence live.
Radiation City (Friday August 7, Westlake Park): In case you haven’t gathered here, and here, and maybe here, we at the SunBreak loves us some Radiation City. As amazing as this Portland quintet’s merger of chamber pop, new wave, lush vocal harmonies, and shoegazer atmospherics sounds on their recordings, though, they’re also able to deliver that mix to stunning perfection on a concert stage.
Fly Moon Royalty (Tuesday August 11, IBM Building): The alchemistic combo of DJ Action Jackson’s beats and melodies with singer Adra Boo’s siren vocals is as close to a two-person summer jam factory as you’ll get. If you ain’t moved to shake your ass, check your pulse.
The Dusty 45’s(Friday August 14, Harbor Steps): ‘Rip-snorting’ is the one adjective that most readily applies to this veteran Seattle rockabilly act. It’s likely way too dry and hot for band leader Billy Joe Huels to set his trumpet on fire onstage (as he’s done live numerous times in the past), but I wouldn’t put it past him.
Shelby Earl (Wednesday August 19, Two Union Square): Earl’s pipes–think Patsy Cline, channeled through roots-rock earthiness–makes magic from heartache and thwarted romance, so it’s a given that her dusky jewel of a voice will make even the most sweltering summer day a little more bearable.
Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme (Friday August 28, Lake Union Park): Again, we’ve sung the praises of Gravy and his gang of funketeers repeatedly over the years. It’s a side effect of them being sharp as hell live. Like Fly Moon Royalty, ass-shaking should be gloriously unavoidable.
To qualify for a visa waiver for my trip to Xi’an, I’d need to fly in from one foreign city and out to another without ever touching down elsewhere in China. Using frequent flyer miles, I’d knew I’d fly home to Seattle via Seoul. Since I’d be in Tokyo prior to Xi’an, my only option using miles meant transferring planes in Taipei, which China fortunately doesn’t claim as its own—at least in this respect.
Well, if I have to fly through Taipei, why not stay in Taipei? It’s a fun food city, and having been before, I know people there, so I figured a two-night stay would be enjoyable. When the W Taipei (see some photos of this gorgeous property and its gorgeous food later in this post) agreed to host me at their hotel, I was excited about this Anthony Bourdain-like layover.
But what to eat, and where? My last visit was in 2008, and since then my love of niu rou mian (beef noodle soup) has grown exponentially, so I wanted to compare what’s popular in Taipei to the version I make at home. And as a fan of xiao long bao (soup dumplings, though some call them buns) and other dumplings, these would be a must as well. Noodles, dumplings, and other doughy items would be my priority for my brief two-day stay.
It was a joy to fly from Haneda (instead of the distant Narita) to Songshan (instead of Taoyuan), as Songshan is so centrally located. (More on my flight at the end of this post.) Within minutes, I was out the front door of the airport and headed down to the tracks of the MRT station. Three stops, transfer, three more stops, and then after walking through the cosmetics department of the Hankyu Department Store, I was in the W Taipei.
No time to unpack, though, as with only 48 hours on the ground, I was backtracking three stops to the Zhongxiao Fuxing stop to meet a former Serious Eats colleague at Dian Shui Lou for the first half of lunch. If I’d not taken time to drop my bags at the hotel, I could have been eating good quality xiao long bao mere minutes after landing! We ordered a few baskets of Shanghainese treats (the pork with basil xiao long bao were especially interesting to try), and then we took a short walk for part two of lunch.
Lin Dong Fang’s beef noodle soup (about $7) falls somewhere between qingdun (featuring a clear broth) and my preferred hong shao that’s a spicier red braised version. Two things make it stand out. First, you can get a small bowl if you can’t commit to the full portion. (I couldn’t resist eating a big bowl.) Second, each table has a container of “beef butter” (a concoction that seems to contain chili oil and beef marrow/fat) so you can further spice up the bowl. The soup is a little clearer than I like, but high quality, and I enjoyed alternating between bites of shank and tendon—which was rich and filling. (Oh, a third point: Lin Dong Fang is open as late as 5am.)
Back to the hotel for a refreshing 5BEER (W Taipei’s own beer, which is double fermented) at the Woobar, followed by a short rest, and then it was back to the streets for more eating. I met friends for a soup dumpling comparison at Shengyuan and Hang Zhou, both located near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (which I didn’t see this time, just as I didn’t do anything touristy in Taipei other than walk through some streets). Shengyuan’s xiao long bao were good but not amazing; better was the pancake with jujube which would be a teaser for one of my favorite things to eat in all of Taipei (tomorrow). Around the corner, Hang Zhou’s xiao long bao were a notch better with thinner wrappers and more flavorful filling, and the version with luffa squash were also worth a try (but not nearly as satisfying as the simple pork type).
From this pair of dumpling restaurants, feeling full, we took a taxi to the Gongguan area, known for its small night market (and National Taiwan University). But we were here for other reasons: the across-the-street-from-each-other Lan Family Bun and Chen San Ding. We jumped at the chance to jump in the tiny line at Chen San Ding, which is usually far more crowded. The name translates to “frog hits milk” because the tapioca balls resemble frog eggs and there’s actually no tea in this “bubble tea’’—just fresh milk. The tapioca balls steep in brown sugar (there’s almost a caramelized sweetness), making this a sweet treat.
From “frog hits milk” it was time for gua bao or hu yao zhu, which translates to “tiger bites pig.” The Chinese hamburger known as gua bao is made with mantou, a steamed bun which when sliced and stuffed with pork belly looks like the mouth of a tiger biting a pig. At Lan Family Bun, you get a choice of desired pork fattiness, with oily content countered by the addition of preserved mustard greens. Watching the fast assembly is almost as much fun as eating the delicious gua bao:
After a day of “glutton eats food,” it was back to the hotel for “man hits pillow.”
The next morning, I entertained thoughts of a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, but slept a little late and decided to save stomach space for my lunch at the hotel. The W Taipei’s YEN would provide tremendous contrast to the casual eating experiences of the rest of my time in the city. YEN is classy (the private dining rooms are especially stunning, and I can see them being popular for casual to formal affairs) with interesting artwork and attentive service, and the food is quite refined with both traditional and modern interpretations of popular Chinese dishes.
I came expecting only to nibble, but was so impressed with the food that I ate quite voraciously. From the standard-bearer har gow to the east-meets-west turnip shreds with cheese to the whimsical “mushroom” dessert, lunch was a delightful experience. A meal is certainly more expensive than street eats, but a worthy indulgence. As part of lunch, I simply had to sample the hotel’s version of beef noodle soup (about $15). It’s a refined version made with high quality ingredients, reflected in the meat, broth, and noodles. Some would say it lacks just a little of the “soul” you find in the beef noodle soup on the street, but it was truly delicious.
A fine example of that soul would be in the bowl I’d later eat at the “nameless” Taoyuan Street Beef Noodles restaurant. Here I’d have my preferred style of beef noodle soup: red-braised beef with a hearty, spicy stock and soft, chewy noodles. Simple, cheap, and inspiring.
From this “snack,” I’d next meet a different set of friends at Jin Din Rou. I’d been looking forward to Jin Din Rou for two reasons. First, in the past, I proclaimed theirs to be my favorite xiao long bao in Taipei. (The dumpling skins were not quite as thin as at Din Tai Fung, but they were close, and the broth was better.) Second, Jin Din Rou was the home of my beloved jujube paste dumplings, with a flavor that reminds me of sour plum. They’re savory-like sweet and unique, as I have never found them anywhere else.
Maybe something strange happened amidst the chaos of meeting a group of nine people, but when the double basket of xiao long bao arrived, I did a double-take. They looked…wrong. And while soupy inside, they were far from what I remember them to be. (As with Din Tai Fung in Seattle, the tall shrimp shumai were better.) Interestingly, I’d been asking people in Taipei about Jin Din Rou, and almost nobody had heard of it, while those who had said it had declined in quality. Luckily, the jujube dumplings were as delicious as in previous years.
My final request for the trip was a visit to the Raohe Street Night Market. But my friends suggested we first make a stop at the Liaoning Night Market, en route, for some pork liver and kidney soup. No need to twist my arm to make that happen!
Finally we made our way to Raohe, where I expected a line for the famous black pepper buns, but got one without any wait. The bun itself was crispy and chewy, and inside were green onions and a glob of pork that’s truly peppery. A bit oily, but delicious. Here’s a look at the production:
After this, we walked the length of the market. Stuffed, I didn’t sample much, but was especially happy to try the ice cream crepe filled with peanut “brittle” shavings and cilantro before calling it a night.
The next morning, moments before checking out, I asked if there were any “old” parts of Taipei in the shadow of the hotel. When I explained that I wanted my final breakfast to be from a street vendor, the clerk pointed me to a couple of rows of older houses across the street. I rushed over, and as luck would have it, I found a woman making fan tuan (sticky rice rolls) with various fillings on a street corner.
Back at the hotel, rejecting a suggested taxi ride, I made my way to the City Hall Bus Station, anticipating my next flight. While I knew it wouldn’t be a Hello Kitty plane (continue on for some “cutesy” photos), I smiled with appreciation of my brief time in Taiwan as a “gateway” to the (tasty) chaos that would come in China.
Thanks to the nice folks at the W Taipei for hosting me for two nights at the hotel, and for inviting me to join them for a delicious dim sum meal. Here’s a look at the property (these photos are courtesy of W Taipei):