Neuromancer

Thought I’d share another book review- maybe I’ll follow some Blogging 101 advice and make this a Weekly Feature. Tough for me to commit to something like that though, it makes the blog feel too much like work. Or maybe I’m too lazy? Hrm.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of the Star Wars universe and to a much lesser extent the world of Star Trek, but I’ve never been much of a Sci-Fi reader. I’ve tried on numerous occasions but I always tend to prefer Fantasy. You might think with my technology background and enjoyment of computers the opposite would be true, or perhaps I’m not reading the right Sci-Fi.

I can say this for sure: William Gibons’s Neuromancer hooked me in the first few pages and I could barely put it down. I’m especially drawn to characters when reading fiction and Case, Molly, and Co. pop out of the pages of this book. I see now why it’s considered a classic of the Science Fiction genre and highly recommend it.

Neuromancer won numerous awards upon its publication in 1984. Gibson’s portrayal of advanced artificial intelligence, computer hacking and cyber-security were probably outlandish but are eerily familiar today. I wont give away too much, but I know advances have been made in the development of AI by entities in both private and government sectors to the point where his ideas no longer seem so far-fetched.

Another topic Gibson touches on in Neuromancer is that of genetic alteration and physical enhancement through technology. It’s another area in which our future may not be different (and soon!) from the picture of society he painted in 1984. He followed up with two more novels in the “Sprawl” series, and I’m sure I’ll tackle them next, at least to see if any familiar faces remain throughout the story.

Have you seen that Hollywood hit starring Keanu Reaves, Johnny Mnemonic? Gibson wrote the original. Yes, I know, not exactly awe-inspiring, but Neuromancer from ten years prior is worth the read.

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The Prisoner of Heaven

I had to share my review of this book, being about as enjoyable a novel as I’ve ever read. The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is the third in a set of books, all connected but each a jewel in its own right.

This is one of those books you wish you could give more than 5 stars. Zafón is one of those rare artists who creates in a multitude of media all at once, his words like diffused watercolors, bold, bright oils, soft, blended pastels and hard, cutting lines of darkest ink, all swirling and dancing across the pages, mesmerizing, yet simultaneously solid. A firmament of reason and familiarity that leaves you with a smile on your face. Comforting while at the same time able to shake you to the core, leave you grinding your teeth.

“Prisoner” is the third novel of Zafón’s I’ve read and is quite possibly the best of the three. If you’ve read any of his work you’ll know that’s a tall order. It meandered at a point, in a slightly drunken way, but sobered quickly and left me turning pages, unable to stop reading until I saw what ends his characters were moving toward. Even in its completion “Prisoner” leaves some questions unanswered, but not in a terribly frustrating way. You find yourself transported, standing on a wrought iron balcony looking out over a Spanish city at sunrise, the colors both muted and sharp, and smiling to yourself, knowing it could only be that way.

Wednesday Eats – The Block

Tuesday night I had the pleasure of dining at The Block in Webster Groves. Voted one of St. Louis’s Best New Restaurants in 2011 and St. Louis’s The Riverfront Times’s Best Neighborhood Restaurant 2012, I may have a new favorite restaurant of my own.

 

 

The Block combines locally grown and raised ingredients in its dishes and locally brewed beers behind the bar. Setting itself apart from most local eateries, The Block also features a full service meat counter where you can buy whole and half hogs as well as cuts of beef and pork from local farms. My dad and step-mom took my girlfriend and me there for birthdayIMG_1693 dinner and it’s one of those places where literally everything on the menu sounds incredible. From the salads and appetizers to sandwiches and full plate entrees, the Block offers what I felt was the kind of comfort food you’d want to cook for yourself at home, but with exotic twists most of us probably don’t have stocking the fridge or cupboard.

We started off with these amazing pretzels, dark and crunchy on the outside, white and chewy on the inside, served with a delicious savory and sweet mustard sauce with some kind of caramelized onions. Wow. My dad and I both commented that we could probably just eat the pretzels and drink beers and be happy! More on the beers later. For the main course my step-mom had the Double Star Farms Amish Chicken: grilled chicken accompanied by Yukon gold potatoes, butternut squash, mushrooms, and arugula with a local honey balsamic reduction.

They have a Grass Fed Beef menu special, sort of like the “catch of the day,” and that night it was a 12oz ribeye, served with garlic herb fries and The Block’s house steak sauce.  Ribeye is my favorite cut so that was a no-brainer and it was cooked exactly how I asked. The meat was smooth and cut like butter though I didn’t even need a knife. I believe the cut of Grass Fed Beef changes, but I will get that ribeye every time they offer it.

The off-the-menu specials were amazing too. We enjoyed a flatbread appetizer with shrimp and roasted red peppers which changes daily, like the Grass Fed Beef on the menu. My girlfriend had pan-seared cod with roasted red potatoes, roasted garlic, shaved Brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms and topped this unbelievable bacon jam (that you can buy in jars from the butcher’s counter, do it!) AND truffle oil! Decadent. My girlfriend and I thought we’d end up sharing but both of us cleaned our plates relinquishing only a bite or two at most.

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My dad had an 8oz sirloin, also cooked perfectly, served with a root vegetable gratin: potato, sweet potato, fennel maybe? And Swiss cheese. The coup de grâce though, was a BIG rib, cooked sous-vide, and riding shotgun along with the sirloin. The meat was falling off the bone as the plate was presented at the table. Amazing. All the meat is butchered fresh, on-site, and again, most of the vegetables were said to have been harvested locally. The Block even has a garden project with the local grade school nearby in the spirit of seed-to-table.

Go to The Block for the food, but by no means ignore the incredible, locally brewed beers on tap. There are a lot of micro and artisanal breweries in St. Louis these days, and most restaurants in town feature at least a couple of selections. At The Block their choices matched SO well with the food. It was masterfully done. IPA, altbier, a vanilla porter (awesome) Perennial’s Hommel Bier (RFT’s Best beer 2012) and multiple Urban Chestnut offerings, including Zwickel, Urban’s “flagship lager.” Cloudy, yeasty, unfiltered, unpasteurized, authentically German, and I swear to you, probably the best beer I’ve ever tasted while eating a perfectly cooked steak. I’m a dark beer guy and they also had Civil Life milk stout, one of my favorites, but the grass-fed beef and that Zwickel were so good together it was almost criminal.

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My folks drove a good hour to meet us last night. They got there ahead of us and had time to meet and talk to some of the staff who were genuinely grateful they’d come all that way to try the place. The Block is co-owned by Marc and Amy Del Pietro and Brian and Lea Doherty. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable, and made excellent suggestions. She even brought us a bit of dessert, complete with a candle, when she found out about our birthdays. A very sweet gesture, pun intended. No, they don’t sing Happy Birthday.

The owners are present and engaging. Everyone there did a nice job of making the patrons feel like guests in their home, in my opinion. Oh, and while they’re making mouth-watering lunch and dinner, The Block makes their own ice-cream too! We will try that on our next visit (maybe even the Bacon Candy Crunch!) but honestly, the Six Row vanilla porter would’ve sufficed as my dessert all by itself.

Come to St. Louis, seek out Webster Groves, and find The Block. You’ll be glad you did, and like us, you’ll be making plans to come back even as you’re walking out the door.

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Monday Eats – Pazzo’s Pizza

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Pazzo’s Pizza has quickly become one of my favorite pizza joints in town. Another excellent product of the Del Pietro family, Pazzo’s pizza offerings are, in my opinion, traditional but gourmet at the same time. A super crispy, thin, but yet still hand-tossed crust serves as a base for a wide variety of tomato sauce pies, but their specialty seems to be olive oil based creations with toppings like goat cheese, artichokes, roasted apples, and shrimp. This is not your average pizza hut.

I’ve yet to be adventurous enough to try the olive oil or exotic (to me, for pizza) toppings, but the place always smells amazing. I’v eonly had carry out, but the place has a large, but yet cozy feeling dining room, with a full bar. The young ladies who greet you and take those carry-out orders are always friendly and quick to say hello, give you a menu, and take your order.

IMG_1449[1]My two favorites so far are the Sugo’s: tomato sauce, sausage, hamburger, bacon, pepperoni, and mozzarella, and the Dad: tomato sauce, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, green peppers, olives, and onions. The Mom swaps mushrooms in for the pepperoni and is also great.  You get plenty of toppings, though for my taste, there could be more cheese piled further out to the edges, but it doesn’t take away from the pizza at all. The crust is what’s really incredible about Pazzo’s pies. If you prefer a floppy, New York style, it’s not quite there, but here in St. Louis with so many people preferring the thin cracker crust, Pazzo’s has, in my opinion, hit the sweet spot right in the middle.

An almost famous in St. Louis, Del Pietro’s house salad is the perfect accompaniment, but the menu at Pazzo’s has plenty of other salads, pasta, and appetizers. I look forward to taking the time to visit and dine-in, try some of the other menu items, but I’m already sold on their pizza. Even if I never had anything else they offer it would be one of my favorite places to eat here in town.

Great job, Michael Del Pietro!