Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yummy, yummy mexican food

I was born in Texas, grew up mostly in Texas, went to college in Texas, and most of my family still lives in Texas.

I have spent the last 9 years of my life, however, outside of Texas--mostly in Seattle, Los Angeles, and now France. In general, I didn't miss much of Texas. The mountains and all the snow (snowboarding), the ocean (surfing), the rain-forest (hiking), the lakes and rivers (kayaking)--the west had a lot to offer, and I had already spent about 20 years in Texas, so I was happy exploring and experiencing all the "new".

One thing I always missed though, was food. In particular mexican food, or at least the variety of mexican food we call Tex-Mex. Texas has awesome mexican food! Seattle had decent mexican food, Los Angeles had pretty good mexican food, and Lyon has a few restaurants with spanish words in their names that serve food with the same name as some of the mexican food you might be familiar with.

The kebab place across the street from my work has tacos. I was very excited when I first saw their menu on the storefront that advertised "Tacos: 4 Euros", so in I went to order me a taco. They asked me which kind of meat I wanted, kofke, kebab, escalope, steak, poulet. I knew poulet meant chicken, and I was pretty sure steak meant steak, but I didn't even know what the other meats were.
"Chicken" I said.
"What sauce?"
"Taco sauce" I replied.
Well, taco sauce wasn't an option, so they listed my choices. Burger, tartar, bbq, ketchup, mayonnaise--Mayonnaise! I was pretty sure after they said mayonnaise that whatever I ended up ordering would not be a taco. And to confirm that suspicion, they proceeded to stuff french fries in with the chicken, bbq sauce, lettuce and tomatoes they had rolled up in a tortilla, and stuffed it into a George Foreman grill for a couple minutes.

Strike one for mexican food in Lyon.

The shopping mall I walk by, or generally thru, on my way to work everyday has a restaurant named Suelta Verde that bills itself as a Tex-Mex restaurant. Yeah, I know mall food? But hey, it's supposed to be Tex-Mex. The quesadillas aren't bad, although they are made with french cheeses, so they are a bit strong, and quite a bit not quesadilla-tasting, but I actually enjoy them from time to time. Everything else in the restaurant is bad! The veggie burritos are basically ratatouille wrapped in a tortilla, the other burritos just add some type of meat, and even the tortilla chips were bad. And the restaurant didn't even have beans.

Strike two for mexican food in Lyon.

So time to ask for advice from the locals. Many people recommended a place near Place des Terreaux called El Sombrero. The restaurant looks okay from the outside, has branches in multiple French cities, and even has a website with pictures and animations and stuff (but no menu), so it could be promising. George and I were ready to give it a shot, when my co-worker Komi told me that Mexico Lindo in old Lyon was the best mexican place in Lyon. Komi lived in Austin for a while, so he might actually know what mexican food is supposed to taste like. El Sombrero will have to wait.

We rolled up to Mexico Lindo around 6:30, and the place was empty, no lights turned on, and no menu or even open hours on the door. hmmm... not looking good. We returned at 7, and now there was one light on, and a menu on the door, but we still had no idea when it opened. We returned at 7:30 and... the place was packed, and with no reservation, we had no shot at dinner.

Reservations are almost always needed at Mexico Lindo.

So we made our reservation and returned a week later and it was awesome. They had a good selection of dishes, and the dishes not only tasted like mexican food, they tasted like good mexican food. Some typical mexican ingredients are a bit hard to find in Lyon, so on some things they had to improvise but the result was good (refried beans don't exist here, so they had to make their own from red beans). In typical mexican restaurant fashion, the portion sizes are big enough to feed three people, and in typical french fashion, they do not have to-go boxes, so plan accordingly (skip lunch). I had a quesadilla appetizer that was big enough for a main meal (and the best quesadilla I have had in quite some time), and George had some grilled onions and mushrooms with tortillas, that was quite large too. Our main dishes were also big, and yummy, and came with the typical mexican sides of refried beans and rice. Overall it was quite delicious, and to top it off, they had pecan pie for dessert. Pecan Pie!

Turns out the guy that runs the restaurant is actually from Texas (born in Nuevo Loredo, but grew up in south Texas). That explains the pecan pie. If he could just get some Dr. Pepper, he'd have the best restaurant in all of France.

So if you need to satisfy your mexican food cravings in Lyon, head over to Mexico Lindo in old Lyon.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vieux Lyon

Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) is one of the coolest parts of the city. It's the old (duh) part of the city sandwiched between the hill with the old roman ampitheatre and the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière (The big church on the hill in one of the images below) and the Saône river. It is mostly cobblestone streets, plazas, really old buildings, and the occasional cool statue or fountain. It is also home to some of the best bars and restaurants in Lyon, and one of the few places where things are actually open on Sundays. When George and I start looking for a new apartment, we will look here.

I really like the architecture and style of old Lyon. The buildings are old, and occasionally in need of some repairs, but that is part of the charm I guess. Although there are actually roads running thru this part of the city, there are few cars on them, and the streets are very walkable and generally lined with small vendors.

The hills behind old Lyon are mostly park and green spaces, which is cool too. Lyon is a pretty dense, urban area, and is definitely lacking in grass and general greenery in my opinion. Although I do currently live just across the street from the largest park in Lyon (Parc Tête D'Or), my daily walk to work is mostly concrete.

Old Lyon is also home to some odd, and cool, and somewhat scary old pathways and traboules, that are quite fun to explore and photograph (and extremely crowded on the weekends). Many of these passages cut thru the buildings to allow you easy, and covered, access from one street to the next, and views into the awesome cool courtyards some of these builds have.

This weekend George and I will dine at Mexico Lindo in Old Lyon, and I have been assured by many that this is the best Mexican restaurant in all of France (or at least Lyon). I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'm not the best rock band drummer in France

The 2 best rock band drummers in France.

Arkane hosted an industry wide Rock band contest this week, with each team picking a song they want to play, and every team having to play their song and every other team's song. The team that scores the most points across all songs wins.

We had a pretty good team, but we didn't really practice or plan that much. If we really wanted to get the best score possible, we would analyze the songs, and find the best times to use star power, and blah blah blah. We just planned to go in to the competition and rock it, and let the points fall however they fall. Besides, we are awesome, and awesome people don't need to practice.

We played second. The first team did pretty good, but we knew we could do better, so we stepped up and played Give It Away by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Not that hardest song in Rock Band, but if played right, it is one of the top 5 for point scoring. We rocked a solid 1.5 million points, and I got 99% on the drums. Good start.

The next band up played Almost Easy by Avenged Seven Fold, prolly the hardest song of the night. They killed it. There drummer rocked an awesome 99%, and I think he missed like 3 notes. On our turn to play this song, I only scored a measly 96%.

Well that's okay. I mean they picked this song, so surely they are good at it. Let's see how he does on the next one. Surprise, Suprise--99%. This guy scored 99% on every song they played, prolly could have gotten 100% if the crappy toy drum set didn't miss a few notes here and there. This guy was a robot. He apparently played drums in a band or something, I don't know, I didn't even get his name.

The rest of his group was pretty good too, of course, and even though this was a group contest, I was competing against him. And getting my butt kicked.

We did outscore them on Give It Away (by less than 2,000 points, or just about 1/10th of a percent), and we beat them on one other song, but they scored the highest on the other 4 songs, and overall it wasn't that close.

So, turns out I am not the best Rock Band Drummer in France. Here's to you mystery drummer from Wide Screen Games.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Long Bowl

American TV has way too many commercials! Especially sports.

I always hated the commercial interruptions on American TV, but thanks to Tivo (or other DVRs), I only really had to deal with commercials when watching sports, because sports have to be watched live. It's not really the commercials that I hate, it's the interruptions in the action.

French TV has very little commercials, and what commercials they do have are generally only between programs, not during them. We get 3 episodes of Friends in a row on one of the channels here with no commercials except for a channel identification between them. In fact, France has laws regulating when commercials can be shown, and starting this year commercials are not allowed on public TV at all during prime-time.

With the commercials cut out, all programs are obviously shorter. Sports programs are less than half their US broadcast time. Most of the NBA games shown here are shown tape-delayed, and are edited to remove all the commercials, timeouts, and halftime. This makes your average basketball game about an hour from start to finish.

Football, however usually comes on live, and of course really important games, like the Super Bowl, are shown live. I am a HUGE football fan (football, not soccer), so I had to watch the Super Bowl live. However, the 6:30 PM EST kick off time is 12:30 AM Lyon time, so the game didn't end until 4:30 AM (and I get up for work at 8:00 AM).

The late start, and end, didn't bother me much though. I knew it was coming, so I napped most of Sunday, and wasn't too tired at work the next day. What bothered me was just how little of the 4 hours was spent watching football. And because of the above mentioned law about commercials on public TV, I didn't even get funny, over-priced commercials. Instead, I had (not very good) commentary in French during most of the breaks (or maybe the commentary was awesome and my crappy french was not very good).

American football has a ridiculous amount of commercial breaks, especially in a game with lots of changes of possession (like in the first half). Each change of possession, most time-outs and challenges, between quarters, the 2-minute warning, after every score, half time, another set of challenges and time-outs, another 2-minute warning, booth reviews, injuries--it's ridiculous. Football is four 15 minute quarters, yet the average game is three and a half hours minimum.

I think this is one of the big reasons football isn't catching on here. The popular sports here have almost no commercial breaks, or any stoppage of play. Soccer, hand-ball, tennis, motor sports--except for breaks for half-time or between matches, none of these sports stop, and most have no, or little time-outs.

Of course, to raise money without commercials, you have to paint your players up like NASCAR.