Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great Mexican Food is Just a Short Distance Away

Let’s face it, the South Shore is nowhere near the Mexican border, but that does not mean that locals need to step on a plane to enjoy good Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.  It can be found right here – and it is only minutes away! 

La Paloma Mexican restaurant is Zagat rated and offers some of the best Mexican cuisine north of the Rio Grande.  With two locations in both Quincy and Kingston, now taco night can become any night of the week.  From the vibrant sounds of Latin pop and authentic Mexican music to the refreshing taste of a prickly pear margarita, diners can be transported to a distinctly Mexican experience without ever hopping on a plane

La Paloma, literally meaning “the dove” touts itself as “simply the best Mex.” For almost 30 years this independently and locally owned restaurant has earned its title by creating dishes that balance both flavor and spice.  Mexican restaurants in the Northeast often have a tendency to mask the flavor of their food with spice but at La Paloma they focus on the taste of their dishes not just the heat.  Unlike certain Mexican themed fast food restaurants, this South Shore establishment uses fresh, flavorful, quality ingredients to achieve the unique balance of heat and flavor.  Each dish is made to order so that even the taste buds of the most finicky eater can be easily accommodated. 

La Paloma offers a wide array of Mexican style appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts.  There is a balance of semi-traditional and non-traditional Mexican dishes on the menu.  There are even a few “gringo” themed dishes. Entrees range from more traditional Mexican dishes such as paella and poblano relleno to Mexican inspired dishes like the chimichanga.  Much of the menu is Tex-Mex or American influenced fare such as tacos, fajitas and nachos. The menu is essentially a fusion of traditional and American influenced Mexican cuisine. The restaurant also offers a full bar with nearly 30 different tequilas, a wide array of margaritas and a variety of Mexican and American beers.  

Servers welcome each table with warm tortilla chips and fresh made salsa.  But don’t fill up too early on chips and salsa because La Paloma serves up generous portions that can satisfy the appetite of even the heartiest eaters. Their award winning salsa can also be purchased by the jar at the restaurant or at Stop-and-Shop supermarkets.

La Paloma’s Quincy location is in a strip mall and appears a bit drab from the outside but this appearance is deceiving.  As diners walk into the restaurant they become immersed in a richly unique environment that is both welcoming and fun.  The restaurant teems with authenticity and has a real homey feel about it.  The walls are displayed with vibrantly colored, Mexican themed art and décor accentuating Mexico’s Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish influences.

La Paloma’s recently opened Kingston location features the same menu as its flagship Quincy restaurant.  On August 10th the restaurant treated patrons to free food for its grand opening celebration.  It still has a few minor quirks to work out in the kitchen but overall food is just as enjoyable as its Quincy location.  To ensure that the quality of food in the Kingston restaurant is that same as the Quincy location, head chef Christo Canenquez plans on sticking around to work out all the kinks.

There is also a different feel within the Kingston restaurant.  This location has more of a modern, contemporary feel than its Quincy site.  They have toned down the Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish themed décor and chosen to keep a more simplified look.  But, there are a few small murals painted on the walls including elaborate scenes in the restrooms. Patrons who step inside the restrooms visit a lush tropical rainforest.  The jungle themed murals are exhilarating and intricately detailed.  A downside to this is that lines might be a bit longer waiting for the restrooms.

Entrees range from $8 to $16 with most dishes around $12.  La Paloma offers a discounted lunch or “almuerzo” menu with the same portions at a lower price from Tuesday to Saturday until 4 pm.  There are also themed specials such as “Texicana Tuesday’s,” “Fajita Frenzy” on Wednesdays, and a “Fiesta Platter” every Thursday.
 
La Paloma is family friendly and great for all ages. It can be both a cheap and fun night out with either friends or family. So hop in the car and swing by La Paloma for a great night of tacos, margaritas, and fun.

La Paloma is located at:
195 Newport Ave., Quincy
, Ma. 02170. (617) 773-0512.
Their newest location is
114 Main St. Kingston
, Ma. 02364. (781) 936-8172. 

Hours of operation are:  Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 am – 10 pm and Sunday 12 pm – 9 pm. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

La Paloma can also be found on the Web at:  www.lapalomarestaurant.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Linkin Park's A Thousand Suns


Linkin Park’s fourth studio album A Thousand Suns marks a radical departure from the rap-rock formula that set them on the international stage and made their debut work Hybrid Theory the second best-selling album of the last decade, trumped only by The Beatles 1. It’s a concept album, telling the events of a nuclear holocaust, creepily and confusingly setting the stage with a full minute’s quoting from Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quoting of Hindu scripture, ‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’. The band has described it as ‘atmospheric’ and ‘genre-busting’, saying that it’s a more evolved, mature sound, a departure from the angst-driven lyrics of Hybrid Theory and Meteora.

A Thousand Suns is a carefully constructed political statement, a logical progression in subject matter from 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, in reference to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday Clock. Does this album have what it takes to keep Linkin Park in the spotlight?

Straight away, the old Linkin Park feel is absent, with not one, but two ambient intro tracks aiming to establish a spacey, contemplative mood. Not a good first step for a group whose original single featured the lyrics “Shut up when I’m talking to you!”

After that, three minutes into the album, we arrive at the first actual song, Burning in the Skies, which opens with heavily processed drums and an ambient piano vibe that permeates nearly every track here. “I’m swimming in the smoke of bridges I have burned.” Croons lead vocalist Chester Bennington, in the chorus of this borderline synthpop adventure.

After Burning, we have an eighteen second interlude of crickets chirping (presumably the extended middle finger of the first three tracks was enough to clear the room), which leads into When They Come For Me, a Shinoda-centric rap track with a tribal drum beat, and a Muse-inspired bridge. What’s most annoying about the song is that while it’s more or less a return to form, and excellently displays Shinoda’s rapping skills, it’s like everything else in this album; a sore thumb. It doesn’t fit with what came before, or what comes after - Robot Boy

Robot Boy is another ambient piano item, with overlaid four-part vocals on top of a marching hip hop beat. It’s the second of many times in this album that the band strives for the spacey get-up-off-the-ground balladry of Muse. It’s a largely failed experiment of a song, with Chester’s off-key moaning and ‘YEAAAHHH’S’ toward the end endlessly echoing and cluttering up an already reverb-packed cluster of tones. At the very end, for a few brief bars, Linkin Park remembers that they are in fact a rock band, and bring in their bassist Phoenix to lay down a single note.

Up next is Jornada Del Muerto, yet another ambient passing tone of a track, just over ninety seconds long that builds up to yet another synthesizer riff, with driving marching drums and a cacophony of noise that builds to a magnificent climax only to fade quickly into nothing like it was caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and the cadence is lost just in time for Waiting For the End, which I am doing in earnest now. Another confusing mixture of genres, Shinoda brings a borderline Jamacian accent to the mic to deliver his vocals, describing himself as ‘All cahht up in dee eye ah dah stahm’ while Chester puts down a skillful, if slurred new-age ballad in the chorus.

Next we have Blackout. And here I am the most conflicted. This is strictly a Chester piece, blending the chaotic assault of Mindless Self Indulgence’s acidic-techno rebellion, and the soft keytar bleeps of nerd rockers Freezepop. Two styles of music I like, that, when combined do not complement one another. Within sixty seconds we’re taken from a sample of Chester’s most intense vocal presence on the entire album cut up on a mixing board, and fired from an M16 in a brutal staccato to a tender chorus set against a synthesizer and that damned ambient piano that will leave no track untouched.

Track 10, Wretches and Kings, marks the first time in the album that two actual songs are back to back with no filler material in between. And if Blackout was Chester’s time to shine, this is absolutely Mike Shinoda country. Wretches positively oozes the energy of Shinoda’s masterful hip hop project, Fort Minor. The grinding, shrieking atonal guitar chugging mesh with the drums to create the heaviest, loudest, drag-your-knuckles-in-the-concrete beat that the band has ever produced. Chester makes a devastating foul in the chorus, deciding that it is now his turn to pretend he’s in a reggae band, delivering a chorus straight out of the Bahamas. I guess nothing has gone right on this record.

Wisdom, Justice, and Love is a ninety second sampling of a Martin Luther King speech that sets the stage for the return of the ambient piano. As the track moves, the voice becomes distorted and robotic, with a chorus and the roar of a rocket engine filling the background. ‘Do not be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.’ The robo-MLK warns.

Iridescent comes next, a slow, pop-piano duet between our two vocalists. “Do you feel caught and lost in desperation?” Bennington asks. Yes. Yes, I do. Fortunately, the track redeems itself somewhat, as over time it transforms into a proper rock song, and is the closest the band has come so far to actually getting this whole ‘genre’ thing right so far.

Almost over, and with one more filler track, The Fallout, a robotic auto-tuned reprise of Burning’s chorus. And with that, we are brought to The Catalyst, the album’s lead single. It is important to note that this is not a rock song. This is a synthpop, techno anthem which amounts to Mike and Chester belting out the same chorus over and over and over for nearly six minutes.

Track 15. The Messenger is… a four-chord campfire acoustic ballad. Chester enters the booth for the first time without any autotune and sings the hell out of this song, overloading the mic a couple times. But do you want this guy to be screaming his lungs out on top of, essentially, the chords of Oasis’s Wonderwall? At the song’s end, my longtime friend and entrenched Linkin Park fan only had the following commentary to offer, “It’s over. Silence. Why.”

This album feels like it was designed. Constructed. By an indecisive committee. Everybody wanted their own pet project song on the record, and instead of sitting down and finding a way to link all of this, the hip hop, the balladry, the techno and the Rastafarian post-apocalyptic drum circle, they just said, “Okay, toss your song onto the pile”, and the result was a catastrophic mishmash of genres, styles, and ideas all loosely strung together by that damned piano. And it’s a shame, because if more time was put into this, the filler tracks were turned into something other than howling wind and piano and robot speeches, the album could be so much more. The pieces of a great work are present, but none of them are used properly. Maybe all this 24-million record selling business has gone to their heads.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Toe Shoes

    Runners across New England often ask me, “Do those funny toe shoes really work?”  They are talking about the latest breakthrough in running footwear, the Vibram FiveFingers, and they are asking me if they work because I am employed at retail store that sells these pricey pieces of rubber more than any other shoe.

    Before Christopher McDougall began bashing major shoe companies such as Nike and Adidas in his best selling book Born To Run, very few people even thought about running in anything less than a 11oz trainer with a built-up heel.  Then Vibram made their imprint in the running shoe industry.  You may have heard of Vibram before; they make light and durable outsoles on many outdoor shoes.  An Italian brand whose U.S. headquarters are in Concord, Massachusetts, Vibram did not originally have running in mind when they created these thin-soled shoes with toe sockets.  “VFF started out as a unique alternative to your typical, all-purpose water shoe,” says a local sporting goods buyer.  “It did great for that purpose, but really found a larger audience later on in running and other activities.”  The FiveFingers, which McDougall briefly mentions in his book, range from $75 for the most basic style to $125 for a lightly cleated version with a kangaroo leather upper. 

    Shortly after it was released in May 2009, customers who had read Born to Run flocked to my place of work to pick up a pair.  Nowadays, though, it is mostly by word of mouth.  “My friend swears by them so I had to check them out,” is the most common inspiration these days.  Others stop by to pick up their second, third, or eighth pair.  “I already have two pairs of Bikilas, do you have any in size 42?”  Probably not.

    Retailers across the country can’t seem to keep the FiveFingers in stock, including the buyer I interviewed.  “Like any vendor, VFF is trying to make everyone happy with getting product to retailers as soon as possible.  For an item that’s this popular, though, it’s easier said than done.”  Whenever a new shipment arrives, the most popular sizes usually sell-out within a matter of days.

    Can shoes really make us significantly better or worse at running?  According to Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, there’s a good chance.  When a runner strikes first with their heel, the part of their body that is involved with the collision with the ground is at 6-8%, and is just 1-2% with a forefoot strike.  Therefore, running shoes that promote a heel strike can be dangerous.

    Although followers of this new minimalist movement rave about their newly discovered love for running, it takes time to adapt to the new style.  The buyer I interviewed had this advice for those looking to transition to the VFFs: “Be patient, do research, and listen to your body.  Running ten miles in VFFs after running your whole life in ‘traditional’ running shoes will do more harm than good.  Instead, gradually ease into VFFs as part of your workout, and see how your body feels and reacts.”  Unfortunately, many of my customers see the VFFs as a cure-all, like a magic pill that will rid of all pain.

    When people ask me if the FiveFingers “work,” I know what they’re really asking me.  But sometimes I like to be sarcastic.  “Of course they work,” I’ll say, “they do an excellent job of protecting your feet from any sharp objects on the ground.”  Then I’ll get to actually selling them.  It cannot be stressed enough, though, that slipping on a pair of VFFs will not instantly make you the fastest, most injury-free runner in the world.  Runners like the VFFs because their lack of a built-up heel promotes a more natural stride.  Adjusting to them is a process, which is absolutely necessary to point out when selling them.  I have a pair of the Bikilas, the model designed specifically for running, and I love them.  I do some, but not all of my running in them.  They hurt my lower calves when I run too much in them.  And evidence shows that your body absorbs less shock with a forefoot stride, but does that necessarily lead to fewer injuries?  According to Professor Lieberman, more testing needs to be done before that can be a foregone conclusion.

    Your friend who swears by his or her FiveFingers may be under the illusion that their new funky footwear has changed their lives.  And that may be partially true.  But unless your friend is freakishly athletic, there is a good chance that they had to put in a lot of hard work and patience to adjust to them.  And so will you.  These toe shoes are a fantastic tool for facilitating a barefoot-like stride, but they are not magical.  So please, next time you come in to my store, don’t ask me if they work.

Criminal Athletes


Criminal Athletes
Professional sports in the United States are as popular as ever.  Fans rabidly cheer in stadiums across the country, sport bars fill up on game nights, and civilians don jerseys to emulate the stars from their favorite franchise.  Today’s players have reached heroic, godlike status in all of our major cities.  Adults and children alike want nothing more than to be like the athletes they idolize.  With the increasing number of athletes involved in illegal activity each year, however, sports fans are not being provided with the responsible, admirable behavior that should be expected from their role models.  Since many sports fans are young and impressionable, we should all be worried about the moral demonstration that is being provided by the athletes of today.  Action needs to be taken in order to correct the misbehavior of today’s sports icons, and I believe there is a way. 

            Major League Baseball has done an exemplary job in cracking down on the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s), such as steroids and HGH (human growth hormone).  For years many of the leagues superstars were on steroids, boosting their performance to unprecedented heights.  Many records were broken, attendance was up and the game had reached a whole new level of competition. Granted these are all good things for the sport, however, the commissioner (Bud Selig) realized the importance of keeping the game’s integrity was greater, which spawned the great witch hunt for juicers (steroid users).  A new era has been born in the MLB, which requires regular and surprise drug testing for all players, as well as an ongoing investigation into who used in the past.  Hall of fame caliber athletes who have tested positive for PED’s are now required to be entered into the hall with an asterisk beside their name so everyone will know which athletes elevated their performance abilities with illegal drugs.  This action is like the scarlet letter of the major leagues, and seems to be working well. 

            The scare tactics used by the MLB work great in addressing the problem of drugs in sports, but do not provide a solution to the many other issues that need to be addressed. With players arrested for rape, illegal fire arms, dog fighting, DUI (one incident involving involuntary man-slaughter with an automobile), and involvement in gang related activities, the NFL has become the most troubled league in North America.  The Cincinnati Bengals alone have had 9 players arrested since 2005.  In the NBA, players have been prosecuted with illegal firearms, while others have been suspended for bringing guns into the locker room and possibly threatening teammates. There’s no easy solution, but the most logical approach involves every athlete’s greatest motivator: money. 

            In all sports today, players are issued high paying contracts, where only a percentage of the money is guaranteed.  For many athletes, the largest amount of pay is earned through incentives, designed to increase the athlete’s on-field performance.  Instead of relying on the player to perform their best, team owners offer their athletes bonuses for outstanding play by using certain milestones as markers of achievement. For example, the Washington Redskins signed defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth in 2009, guaranteeing him $41 million over 7 years, with an additional $60 million to be earned through on field incentives. This model has proven to be effective for getting the most out of today’s players on the field, and has become the common design for contracts used in all sports today. With some restructuring, these contracts could be the answer to reducing criminal activity among professional athletes. 

            The solution lies within the use of performance incentives. On-field performance, however, is no longer the only concern owners have for their players.  Off-field issues have cost teams and players heavy fines, and severe suspensions, which have been handed down from the league commissioner.  These suspensions have proven to be detrimental to the success of many teams.  While on field incentives are necessary to promote performance, it may be time to implement off field incentives as well. Of course, organizations already pay substantial amounts to these players, so I’m not suggesting athletes be paid more. The pay should be the same, only the on field incentives should be decreased to accommodate for off-field performance pay.

One of the first initiatives that should be taken is providing bonuses for players involved in community outreach programs.  Athletes who volunteer time and money to the community are less likely to be involved in unlawful situations.  If the team owners were to issue bonuses for volunteering, the value of the bonus could be measured by the number of hours the player commits to their particular cause or community organization.  If team owners are not willing to sacrifice money towards these commitments, there is also the option of creating mandatory, off-season community service as part of a player’s contract.

The next area that needs to be addressed is an athletes actual criminal activity.  A bonus for keeping out of trouble and for not being affiliated with any concerning behaviors would be nice, but would not make much sense for the men writing the checks.  Granted the number of athletes charged with (or accused of) breaking the law is concerning, the number of those who are not is still greater.  Since the majority doesn’t need to be reminded to behave well, the solution should only affect those that do.  The answer for this problem is not a bonus, but rather, a fine. 

When a player is involved in any type of conduct deemed inappropriate by the ownership, a predetermined fine should be assessed.  This fine should be consistent league wide as a percentage of each player’s salary.  By using the same percentage per player, athletes earning only the league minimum would not be expected to pay as much as Albert Haynesworth, for instance. Should a player be a multiple offender, the percentage of the fine should increase with each incident.  These fines will be team issued, allowing the commissioner of the league to still hand out fines and suspensions where he sees appropriate.

            Of course, as with any system, it’s not perfect.  I’m not sure this is the answer for keeping Tiger Woods from having an affair, or preventing NBA referees from gambling on games.  It is, however, an effort towards correcting the problems in professional sports.  Leagues continue to use the same strategy, addressing problems through the commissioner only, with minimal success.  My proposal could be applied to any league, and with some fine tuning, might be the answer to restoring role model status to the athletes of today.