Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life on the Farm(Ville)

I tried to grow strawberries initially; my first plants withered away before I even realized the berries were ripe. But with some effort, I’ve since successfully cultivated soybeans, squash, eggplant, artichokes, and even a variety of fruit trees. Did I attack the square foot gardening craze with a vengeance? Nope. The entirety of my gardening experience has been within the pretend land of FarmVille.

In this "simulation game," you plow land, plant seeds, wait for stuff to grow, then harvest and sell your produce to earn money to buy more seeds, livestock, and—if you can afford it—a barn. You don’t learn anything about what it takes to actually grow food or run a farm, except that your crops will die if you don’t tend to them regularly, like a Tamagotchi. I wonder what happens to your chickens if you don’t collect their eggs soon enough? Sounds like an interesting experiment! (Also, it’s really strange collecting eggs or milking a cow with a scythe, which seems to be the only method available.)

Since I never played—much less got addicted to—any of those alter-egotistical games like the Sims or Second Life, FarmVille has been my introduction to inhabiting a virtual persona (well, aside from my Wii Mii). But unlike those other games (or so I assume), FarmVille is rather solitary. You’re encouraged to become neighbors with other players, and you can visit their farms, but at the moment, you never actually encounter anyone else. Your interaction with your farmer friends is limited to posting a sign on their land for them to read later, or leaving messages on your own farm. I suppose instead of socializing, you could look at it as a kind of personality test, comparing one farmer’s approach to his or her homestead with another’s.

I’ve been on the farm for maybe 2 or 3 weeks. Here’s my modest little plot:

As you can see, I’m sort of an easygoing farmer. Once I gained enough cash and “experience points” for the privilege, one of my priorities was to acquire a rest tent, shaded by banana and passionfruit trees, with a couple of hay bales for my visitors to sit on and relax while watching my wheat grow. My animals have plenty of room to wander freely. The duck and the bunny have become inseparable, and since there’s no one to talk to on my farm, I’ve adopted a goat as my pet.

This is my friend Adam’s farm:

He’s only been cultivating his land for a couple of weeks longer than I have, but look how serious his operation is. Not only is it huge, but it’s also super orderly, well diversified, and efficiently laid out for maximum output. He’s an agrinerd.

FarmVille’s developer has been accused of ripping off not only the concept but also the graphic design from an earlier established game called Farm Town, and a Google Images search certainly confirms the two look more or less identical. I’ve never checked out Farm Town, but I gather its advantage is that players have the opportunity to mingle with one another at the local saloon.

It would be nice for my avatar to be able to shoot the shit with my farming buddies over a drink someday. But at the moment, I’m finding the whole experience rather Zen. I don’t claim to get the point of playing. It isn’t clear what the endgame is or whether there is one. Just like life.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Korean BBQ = Sex?

Three of the contenders in the first annual Korean BBQ Cook-Off

The size of Los Angeles’s Korean population is second only to Korea itself, so it’s kind of astonishing that there’s never been a Korean barbecue food festival here before this weekend. But considering the popularity of this particular cuisine, it isn’t surprising at all that the event drew nearly twice the expected crowd of 5,000 to the heart of K-Town.

In fact, held in the parking lot of some slick condo complex and featuring fewer than 10 restaurants, the Korean BBQ Cook-Off was far too small to accommodate the demand. My companions and I arrived just after 4 p.m. to find that a few of the food stalls had already run out of meat, even though the event was scheduled to last another few hours.

Long lines

I would’ve loved to taste-test a variety of barbecue; ideally, each person in our group would have gotten in a different line and ordered one meal to share so that we could all sample at least or three or four different recipes. But the long waits (30 minutes to an hour) combined with the will-they-or-won’t-they-run-out dilemma prompted us to just get in the shortest line we could find and fill up there while we had the chance. At least we weren’t disappointed by what we got. Ham Ji Park’s spicy pork spareribs were succulent, smoky, and tender with just a hint of heat. I wasn’t familiar with the restaurant before, but I’ll definitely be eating there in the future.

Ham Ji Park's spicy pork ribs

Our later arrival also meant we missed both the Choco-Pie eating contest, which is fine since I find competitive eating absolutely repulsive, and the demonstration of Korean barbecue marinating, which I can totally do with my eyes closed anyway. I did want to be sure to catch the actual cook-off, judged by a panel of culinary celebrities including Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food, and LA Times columnist Russ Parsons. But clearly the rock star of the bunch was Pulitzer Prize–winning food critic Jonathan Gold, who remarked, “Like sex, even bad Korean barbecue is pretty damn good.”

Judges' table (Jonathan Gold's face obscured)

Gold has written extensively about LA’s various Asian cuisines, including a compendium of Koreatown’s top 40 restaurants, which is why it was so embarrassing when one of the emcees asked him a totally lame question that began something like, “So I was reading on your bio that you’ve tried a lot of ethnic food.” CRINGE. “This probably isn’t your first time eating Korean barbecue,” she continued, “but how is it different from other ethnic food you’ve eaten?” Gold was perfectly gracious about it, of course, steering away from obvious comparisons and instead pointing out that even though he’s visited something like 160 Korean restaurants, it’s only a fraction of what’s out there, and there’s so much more to Korean cuisine than just barbecue.

The grand prize winner was Moo Dae Po, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t translate to anything but Moo Depot, wherein “moo” represents beef. The win is enough of an endorsement for me to want to try the place, but considering Koreatown’s barbecue abundance, I hope in the future there are more than six entrants.

Adam is interviewed for Korean television

We had a great time at the cook-off but I gotta say it wasn’t especially well organized or executed. In fact we learned that the health inspector didn’t even give the OK to start serving food until an hour and half after the gates opened. But hey, it was the first-ever such event, so hopefully the kinks will be worked out for next year.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Brunch at Little Dom's

Scrambled eggs bruschetta

Little Dom's scrambled eggs bruschetta ($10), served on a grilled baguette with a dollop of pesto, roasted roma tomato, and lightly dressed baby greens, was delicious and a perfect portion. I should've asked for a steak knife, though; it was a bitch to cut through and too messy to simply pick up with my hands.

Housemade granola and yogurt

This was Nathan's. Whenever he orders granola at a restaurant (which is rare, but not unheard of), the server invariably thinks it's for me. Anyway, I didn't try this. It's granola and yogurt ($8). What more can I say?

Grilled Italian sausage

The grilled sausage ($5) is housemade at Little Dom's, so I was looking forward to sampling it. But WOW was it salty. Completely overpowered by salt. Like almost inedibly so, but Nathan managed to finish it.

Fried potatoes

These fried potatoes ($4) looked to be whole slices of potato, maybe boiled first and then gently smashed onto a frying surface, flavored with garlic and a good squeeze of lemon. At least that's how I'm going to try to replicate them at home.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sad Chicken

Last week I ordered delivery from Jitlada, one of my (and Jonathan Gold's) favorite Thai Town restaurants. But something in the green curry apparently turns the chicken blue. Granted, Jitlada specializes in southern-style dry curry, which doesn't use coconut milk, so maybe it's just that typical green curry isn't its forte. Next time I'm there I'll have to remember to ask whether they add food coloring to the dish. And no, I didn't eat it. I'm sure whatever was making the chicken that color was harmless, but I'm afraid blue food is just unappetizing, spinal benefits or not.

Green curry, blue chicken