Tiny Rainstorm

I like listening to RainyMood while I work to keep focused. The site isn’t that big, just 327kb, but its usability isn’t great and it’s full of tracking code. The site hits my adblocker(s) (plural at work per GPO) and so is slow to load.

With some “inspect element” I found the source files and made a tiny (just 35k) version that loops, is visually attractive, doesn’t track me, and loads instantly.

You can view the published webpage here or download the raw file to use on your site

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
<html xml:lang="en" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" lang="en">
    <head>
        <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" />
        <meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow" />
        <meta name="googlebot" content="noindex, nofollow" />
        <script type="text/javascript" src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mootools/1.6.0/mootools-core-compat.min.js"></script>
        <title>TinyRain</title>

        <script type='text/javascript'>
            window.addEvent('load', function() {
            var song = new Audio("http://rainymood.com/audio1110/0.m4a");
            song.controls = true;
            song.loop = true;
            song.autoplay = true;
            document.body.appendChild(song);
            });
        </script>
        
        <style>
            html, body {
                height: 100%;
            }

            html {
                display: table;
                margin: auto;
            }

            body {
                display: table-cell;
                vertical-align: middle;
            }
        </style>

        <link rel="shortcut icon" href="https://cdn3.iconfinder.com/data/icons/weather-16/256/Rainy_Day-16.png">
    </head>
    <body>
    </body>
</html>

Damn, That Design

Bartaco, West Hartford, CT

I grew up 10 miles from here, in the hills of northwest Connecticut. My childhood was very whitebread and suburban, but there were always plenty of woods around my house to explore. Whenever I visit, New England surprises me in how different the landscape is from Madison. I don’t expect it because the people are so similar – focus on hard work, pragmatism, and progressive ideology. The hills, woods, and the 400-year history influence the design of neighborhoods and towns in an idiosyncratic way. There are very few highways and lots of residential streets. No ranch houses are to be found but colonials abound. And instead of town squares and city centers, Connecticut seems to have lots of “districts” interspersed with little regard to town boundaries or survey lines. West Hartford has such a district of shops and restaurants, with a weirdly high amount of chains interspersed with unique restaurants. Bartaco doesn’t seem to fit here. The storefront is authentic and welcoming - they clearly pay close attention to design in a way that no other store on the block does. A single and simple color palette unifies the whole restaurant, and the same design motifs are repeated everywhere. Rich cobalt blue and whitewashed wood and bricks make the place feel like Santorini, mixed with the Zihautenejo scene from Shawshank. It puts you in a seaside Mexican town (I imagine, as someone who’s never been to either Greece or the Mexican coast). Or maybe it’s Maine - or maybe I’m just stuck on Shawshank. Smooth wood is everywhere, from the hanging baskets repurposed as lanterns to the wooden barstools and the backs of the booths. If you picture it as driftwood, it completes the seaside feeling.

They take a tapas approach to tacos, and have a strange ordering custom - the kind of custom that either makes you feel like an insider at an exclusive club or like you’re at a chain mongolian grill with millenial-marketing bullshit.

They do manage to make it feel authentic here. The host and both my bartenders introduced themselves by name and asked to know mine. They passed me the menu, which is a quarter-folded piece of cardstock bearing the now-familiar design pattern of the building, and well-executed. It’s probably the first or second-best menu I’ve come across since starting traveling for work (up there with Eventide in Portland, ME, which you should absolutely visit). They have a small and thoughtful beer selection, including this incredible Honeyspot white IPA from Two Roads in CT that I’m drinking. This is a white IPA done in a balanced style. It’s not exploding with hops, it’s crisp and drinkable with a sweet finish (honey?). I digress - to place your order, you fill out the menu card with a pencil (also in the theme color) and clip it to a holder for the staff.

As I said, it’s tapas tacos (tapos?) that come out from the kitchen as they’re ready. They’re small - 2 or 3 bites. I first got a cheese quesadilla and a side of elote. After that came tacos: roasted root veggie with salsa, portobella with queso fresca, and falafel. To be honest, the food is good but not incredible. The presentation is plain and friendly, and made in the image that the design pattern of this place radiates. Even the staff’s uniforms follow the design pattern - blue and white gingham shirts, white pants, and Converse, though each employee can put their own twist on the theme. It’s also great that the tacos are so small and cheap, it lets you pack so many flavors into one meal that you don’t need to overstuff yourself to enjoy. I went back for mushroom mole tamales and a spiced chocolate pudding for dessert. Like I said, the food is good, but it’s an undercurrent to the atmosphere of this room and these people. This would be a great place for a casual date with a longtime partner or dinner 1-on-1 with a friend after work. I also happen to think it is perfect for dining alone, the way I came here, and will do it again the next time I get a chance.

A Weekend in DC's Neighboroods

Mel had a conference in DC this weekend, right in the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan neighborhood. This part of DC is a lot like some old parts of Madison like Vilas/Monroe and the waterfront near Atwood/Jenny St. Lots of mature, old trees, walkable streets with moderate traffic and gorgeous hundred-year-old houses that are fun to stroll by and imagine life in.

We stayed right near the Metro stop in Woodley Park, which has one of the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere. After a late ride from the airport, we were hungry and not in the mood to travel far. Luckily, Open City was just around the corner

Open City, Woodley Park, Washington D.C.

Open City has a cloistered, cozy, shrub-lined patio out front and narrow front doors. Inside, it feels busy and vibrant and has soft lighting - I watched another customer take her phone out and use it to illuminate the menu.

I was glad I had the chance to try some new regional beers. I had a 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison that was spicy and flavorful. The peppercorns took away the cloying aftertaste that some saisons (like my most recent homebrew) have. For dinner, we split pimiento mac & cheese and a Meridian Hill Mushroom Reuben sandwich.

I’m firmly of the belief that nowhere will get mac & cheese as right as Wisconsin. Nowhere else puts in the insane amount of cheese it deserves. Open City’s was no exception, but they made up for it by basing it on orecchiette pasta. ‘Orecchiette’ is Italian for ‘little ears.’ If you think about the shape of an ear, there are thick parts and the thinner parts that burn outdoors in the winter, and lots of folds. The pasta is formed in this shape and so part of each bite is thick and doughy like a pierogi and part is thin and firm like spaghetti.

After this tidy midnight snack, I didn’t need another meal until nearly 11 the next morning - a muffin from Open City :)

I worked most of Friday from my hotel room, and when I wanted to get out in the afternoon I headed to Mt. Vernon Square to try a neighborhood I’d never been to before. When Mel lived in D.C. last summer, we had an incredible brunch at Busboys and Poets on U Street, so I tried another location for work and a late lunch.

Busboys and Poets - 5th and K, Mt. Vernon Square, Washington D.C.

By all accounts, this restaurant has become an instant success in the D.C. metro area. Despite 7 locations in urban and suburban Washington, both locations I’ve been to have their own style and different charm.

The Busboys and Poets in Mt. Vernon Square attracted business clients on this Friday afternoon. It’s an impeccably dressed town and lots of lunch meetings took place around me. Everyone was young and polite and eating food to match. It’s definitely a place you can take your laptop and park for a while without feeling hurried.

The menu is extensive, with almost too much variety to choose from. Breakfast is served all day, too. I picked a vegan tuna sandwich with mashed potatoes for a side.

The vegan tuna salad satisfied my inner elementary school kid. My Dad’s family makes tuna with tons of paprika, a concoction they call “orange tuna”. He used to trade his sandwich for all kinds of treats at school lunches - by the time I grew up I think tuna had gone out of favor among the recess crowd. However, I’ve always loved it and it’s something I miss in a meatless diet. Busboys and Poets’ interpretation of vegan tuna consists of smashed chickpeas, mustard and vegan mayo with crunchy bits of celery, carrot, and sprouts on great sandwich bread - the kind of bread that makes you feel healthy. The mashed potatoes were kind of meh, I was surprised to find - a little bland and porridge-like rather than stiff and whipped. I’ll get fries next time.

The main event of my weekend with Mel was a night out in Adams Morgan with law school friends of hers, Matt and Mia. The real highlight came before drinks, though, in the form of my 2nd favorite restaurant on the whole planet.

Smoke & Barrel - Adams Morgan, Washington D.C.

I first had Smoke & Barrel last year during Mel’s summer internship. We had a very pretty but kind of dippy waiter who was plainly inept. We ordered some vegan wings and took greedy first bites before looking up at each other in concern - he had obviously not heard ‘vegan’ when we had ordered and now we were left with mouths full of chicken and a plate of wings that would be wasted. After chewing a few more bites, the realization dawned on us that it wasn’t meat, but rather the best fake meat we had ever tasted - a perfect vegan wing.

Smoke & Barrel’s Twitter handle and the billing out front say “@beerbbqbourbon,” and that’s exactly what you’ll get here. The space is crammed full of tables and you’ll fight the wait staff for walking space to get back to the restrooms. It’s dim and has really beautiful industrial lighting. The walls are wood-paneled and there’s an array of hundreds of bottles of bourbon on rough-hewn wooden shelves behind the bar.

The bartender was knowledgeable - I asked for a bourbon that I couldn’t find outside of D.C. that was a little sweeter. He poured me Fairchild’s Bourbon aged in sherry barrels. It was delicious, oaky and fruity with a sweet wine aftertaste.

Mel and I had the fabled vegan wings again. We almost ordered 3 plates full. Then we almost ordered some to go to pack on the plane back home. I savored every bite of those wings enveloped in warmth and comfort. Carnivores will find dinners for 2, 4, and 8 served in aluminum pans lined with butcher paper and piled high with meat or an array of BBQ sandwiches which you can slather in the sauces found tableside. Veg*ns can get BBQ plates or sandwiches full of seitan and peppers. Mel and I got sides instead. We split jalapeno cheddar grits and sweet potato fries. Those sweet potato fries were beyond amazing. I was kind of surprised at how consistently delicious the food from this restaurant was. The fries were crunchy and not soggy, light and crisp and not greasy with oil.

We had another drink or two with Matt, Mia, and their neighbor Sara, and hit up a few rooftop bars in Adams Morgan before closing down the bar in our hotel lobby. After a lie-in and drinking plenty of water the next day, I went to Columbia Heights for brunch with my coworker Shauna and her old roommate, Brad.

Crème - 18th and U, Columbia Heights, Washington D.C.

I got to Crème a while before Shauna and Brad and I had plenty of time to people watch and get some more water. It was pretty dead for noon on a Saturday. Crème seems to have a lot of regulars - almost everyone who came through the door greeted the bartender and servers and asked about the goings-on in the city that day and how their weeks were.

Once Shauna and Brad arrived, we got our menus. Crème has a short but mighty menu, with 5 or 6 benedicts, some omelets, and breakfast carbs like pancakes. There’s a unique twist though; several of the items have a Cajun influence. I think that was my favorite part about Crème. Shauna and Brad both got a Louisiana benedict, with spicy andouille sausage and shrimp. I got a mushroom benedict. They poached my egg perfectly, and the benedicts came with lightly dressed spring greens - a nice and unexpected surprise. Shauna’s egg was overdone, and despite the greens there really wasn’t enough there to justify the high-even-for-D.C. price.

Pret a Manger - K Street - Farragut North, Washington D.C.

We rode the metro back through downtown, and I stopped at Pret a Manger on Farragut Square to get a sandwich for the plane ride home. Mel used to work in this part of town and Pret was a frequent stop of hers for lunch. I am desperate for one to come to Madison, but you can find them in Chicago and New York as well as D.C.

They specialize in grab-‘n-go sandwiches, soup, housemade popcorn, desserts, and coffee drinks. The food is made simply but with high-quality ingredients. The food is made fresh in store every day, and anything left at the end of the day is donated to food banks.

Satisfied and with my wallet much lighter, Mel and I flew back home to Madison.

Skyscraper Seeds

##Acorn, RiNo, Denver##

The drive to Acorn is unreal compared to other neighborhoods in Denver. Living in Englewood, I get a gradual shift to downtown - suburbs give way to rows of old bungalows, youthful hipster neighborhoods, then sports stadiums and high-rise apartments relective of the explosive urban growth experienced by Denver.

The drive from the north is diametrically different. Rolling foothills of wide-open prairiegrass are replaced by an ecstasy of interchanges, industrial buildings, train bridges, and warehouses. This is a grittier side of Denver, and feels very much like the Flats in my hometown of Cleveland. The conglomeration of skyscrapers in Denver push right up against this part of town, giving a feeling much like that of the Emerald City, like the buildings pushed up out of the ground, tall oak trees escaping a seedier understory. This is River North - RiNo.

If these glittering, aspirational skyscrapers are the oak trees, then Acorn is, well, an acorn. It’s still grounded, but aspires to grow up a renowned, pretentious oak tree.

Pulling into The Source, which is as far as I can gather a market / coworking / shared business space for all things hipster and gentrified, I park in a dirt lot after driving down a street whose shoulders are also paved with dirt.

Acorn occupies a grafittied exposed-brick and corrugated-steel enclave of the building with an open front and patio. The countertops and seating are polished, refined matte black and the waitstaff and bartenders mirror the image. The menu is tapas-style, and worth the price.

Fried Pickles with Green Goddess Aioli

Not overdone. A good intro.

House-Made Gnocchi

I am raving about these. The creme sauce is amazing - rich, thick, and seasoned perfectly with big, tangy salt flakes, it reminds me of clam chowder. Sharing the sauce are mushrooms bursting with flavor, smoky and tasting like they were roasted over the many logs of firewood stacked against the walls in here. These round out the clam portion of the chowder. The gnocchi are pan fried and starchy, completing the clam-chowder illusion. There’s something lemony there that I can’t quite place as well. Acorn has done very well on this dish.

Razor Clam Ceviche

I needed a third dish to fill me, but I wanted something lighter after the heavy fried food and cream sauce. There wasn’t much left to choose from that was also vegetarian. The razor clam ceviche lacks the rich, briny flavor I usually seek in seafood. It’s good, and light, but that bright ocean clarity wasn’t around in my dish. It is, however, beautifully presented in a rigidly geometric arrangement, with straight and narrow razor clamshells at a jarring 45 degree offset from a square folded napkin, on which sits an ice bed.

The cocktail bar is alright, but not on the caliber of Merchant in Madison or the Upstairs in Boulder. The company was decidely in my bracket though - lots of 30-something young professionals and tattooed well-to-do creatives. I’d recommend this restaurant to any struggling Denverite looking to go out with their parents, a troupe of acquaintances for after work, or the jetsetting, expense account (read: Epic) crowd.

Sexy Pizza

##Sexy Pizza - South Pearl, Denver##

I took a 5K sunset hike in Morrison, CO, today, a solid 20 minutes beyond surburban Denver and into the foothills. Afterwards, I was starving for an uncomplicated meal, and my friend Shauna has been after me to try Sexy Pizza for some time. It was right on the way home, so I stopped in. Pearl Street was unusually quiet so late at night, and I sat near the street in front of the wide-open garage door. An aside - it’s very awkward to walk into a restaurant that has a normal door adjacent to an open garage door. Which is the right entrance?

It was nice seeing all the passersby, and the service staff was, like the restaurant, uncomplicated. They let me walk into the back unannounced to get a box at the end of the meal, they didn’t bother me needlessly once my order was placed, and carried on lighthearted, boisterous conversation.

I can’t express the same happiness for their product. Thick dough goes into a very hot brick-style oven, and the bottom of the crust takes on a Neapolitan crisp. The top of the dough stayed pillowy, however, and it made for a weird texture - too crunchy on the bottom, but underdone near the toppings. I do confess I ordered a lot of watery toppings in the form of a veggie pie, but the weird duality of the texture turned me off. My goal for my time in Denver is to not eat dinner at the same place twice - here’s one I won’t regret not visiting again.