Friday, April 29, 2011

Party Like a Game Star: Nintendo 3DS Launch in Seattle

A few weeks ago I was whisked up to Seattle by Nintendo and Brand About Town for a whirlwind, fun-packed weekend centered around the release of their brand new Nintendo 3DS. I was part of a group of over a hundred bloggers who were lucky enough to tour the Nintendo headquarters and get an in-depth introduction to their newest gaming device. I also came home with shiny new Nintendo 3DS – I was so excited I didn't even bother to steal the soap and shampoo from the hotel. (I did take the shower cap – some things are too good to pass up.)

Speaking of places I get 99% of my toiletries from, here's a view from our hotel. I love Seattle.

The weekend started with a happening party complete with a DJ and fantastic food and drink. You don't know crazy until you let a bunch of bloggers loose in a room with Nelly on the speakers, martinis, pork sliders and cupcakes. Let's just say my shower cap came in really handy.

(And yes I used the word 'happening' to describe this party. I'm going to bring it back, along with 'boss' and 'hullabaloo.')

The next day was spent at Nintendo headquarters, trying out all of the new Nintendo 3DS games and getting a tour of the grounds. We were absolutely forbidden to take any photos except for in the main conference room we were in, but as you can imagine the facilities are beautiful, and extra impressive since they have taken great strides to make sure the entire campus is green and LEED certified. Definitely one of those places where you leave saying, "I'd sure like to work here." Or in my case, "I'd sure like one of my kids to work here so I could come visit."

Here we are listening to an into from Nintendo President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime. He's like the Steve Jobs of Nintendo.

The Nintendo 3DS is like nothing you've ever seen, and certainly one of the few gaming devices that I've been interested in enough to play that I had to actually fight my kids for it. (The other one is the Wii Fit, but that's a little easier just to push them off the balance board when I want a turn.) We played a variety of games that day, including Super Street Fighter (Asians really ARE good at martial arts!) Steel Diver and Nintendogs + Cats (which I brought home for each of my kids, courtesy of a gift card generously given to us by Nintendo.)

But my favorite game still remains the AR games that I was first introduced to in New York in January. Point the screen at a card you place on the table, and 3D images appear to come right out of the table. I can't wait to show this to someone after they've been drinking at a party. Here, take a look:

Something else I've become unreasonably fond of is the Street Pass feature. If you keep your Nintendo 3DS on (in sleep mode) while you're walking around, it will pick up on other Street Pass users and you'll see them 'walk on' to your screen. Kind of like a party in your purse! Or something like that. Here's another helpful video:

(I'll admit I've only used this around people I know, so that I usually recognize the other users who I'm interacting with. I may change my mind about this feature once the first 14-year-old boy walks onto my screen saying he's down with the ladies.)

Then there's the Face Raiders game, that lets you take a picture of your friends (or enemies. Or frenemies) and then put their face on a target that you can then shoot the hell out of. Saying this game speaks to me is an understatement - I feel as if the game developer must have been right there in the car with me the last time I was cut off in the school drop-off line.

After bringing down my enemies in a hail of virtual bullets I was pretty hungry, and since Nintendo knows exactly how to make a gamer happy they had a reception for us in the hotel lobby that night. I had my fill of oyster shooters at their seafood bar they had set up just for us – these people are classy. Then we were all taken out to dinner at various restaurants in the Seattle area. I chose Branzino, which was just perfection.

It was a great trip. Thanks, Nintendo and Brand About Town for giving me a fantastic weekend where I got to hang out with great people, gain some knowledge and party like a rock star. Or at least a game star.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cirque du Soleil's Quidam: Just Do It

Ever want to run away and join the circus? That's how I feel every time I see a performance by Cirque du Soleil, and last week's Quidam show at the Long Beach Arena was no exception. Doesn't matter that I can't juggle, have horrendous balance and am afraid of heights – maybe I could just be the person who drives the van or who runs out for coffee. I think circus performers drink a lot of coffee. (I know I wouldn't have to shovel poop, since Cirque du Soleil performances are animal-free.)

I've seen several versions of the Cirque du Soleil show, starting with their first shows in a tent in Santa Monica over 20 years ago all the way up to the current Beatles' LOVE show in Las Vegas. My kids have grown up with these shows, too, and I have to say we've never tired of them. This is the second time I'm seeing Quidam (I believe the first time was in Santa Monica in the late 90's) but, to quote some overused song lyrics, it feels like the first time. (I'm almost certain Foreigner was thinking about the circus when they wrote that song back in the 70's.)

From the diabolo (Chinese yo-yos) to the skipping ropes to the balancing acts, the entire show is such an inspirational, artistic, magical, visually stunning performance that will make you think, laugh, gaze in awe and get chills all at the same time. Not to sound corny, but throughout the show I kept thinking how happy I was that my kids were getting to see such beautifully crafted art. Funny, I never felt like that once during an episode of Hannah Montana.

If you've never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, do yourself a favor and go now. And take your kids. And yes, you'll probably want to join the circus so bring a suitcase.

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Quidam is currently playing in Ontario, CA at the Citizens Business Bank Arena through May 1. After that it moves on to Reno and then on to Sacramento.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fresh & Easy Wine Tasting: Party, People, Pinot Noir

A while back I was invited to a party introducing several new varieties of California wines from Fresh & Easy. I'm a big fan of their wines, and even though my local store doesn't carry alcohol I'll often drive to another location in another city just to stock up on my favorites. ('Stock up' makes me sound like some sort of wino who needs sixty bottles of liquor lined up in her pantry at all times, but it's not like that at all. There's only forty, and they're not in my pantry they're in my office.)

I've grown to love F&E's wine, and the last time I was there someone working in the wine aisle actually knew a lot about their different varieties and helped me pick out a few bottles. Imagine that - an employee who knows something about the product they're selling! So different from when I was at another market recently, and someone working there told me they had never seen chicken thighs sold separate from the rest of the chicken. (True story.)

The party was held at a space called the Smog Shoppe, an event space in L.A. that used to be – you guessed it - a smog-check shop. It's a beautifully designed green space built with recycled and sustainable materials – an outdoor setting that lent itself perfectly to an evening spent sipping great wine and eating great food. I wish they'd turn all smog-check shops into something as cool as this:

(Disclaimer and credit: These photos were all taken by a F&E photographer. Usually I like to take my own photos, but I was having so much fun [wine] on this night I kept forgetting to take any. Actually, I did but they all look like this:

See? Wouldn't you rather look at their nice photos rather than those taken by a slightly inebriated person wielding an iPhone? I thought so.)

They had these beautiful tables set up for us for the tasting. I was sitting with Amy Anderson, Bernadette Batts and Janine Hayes, all comediennes. As you can imagine the witty repartee was flowing as fast as the wine. It took me three glasses of chardonnay just to be half as funny as them.

But on to the wine.

We tried four varieties that evening:

Open Field Pinot Gris - Open Field wines are from Santa Barbara and are crafted exclusively for Fresh & Easy. I'm not a big fan of Pinot Gris so I'm not the best person to judge this, but personally I prefer a good Chardonnay. 

The Open Field Pinot Noir, however, was hands down my favorite wine of the night. I went out and bought a few bottles for a dinner party, and they were a big hit. At $9.99 to $19.99 the Open Field wines were considered the pricey wines of the night compared to the other selections, but a really great value given the quality.

(Plus, the Open Field wines have the best label designs. That's usually how I pick wines, by how much I like the label illustration and the typeface. Almost as bad as picking a doctor because you like his shoes.)

Cloud Valley Chardonnay - I love a good Chardonnay so I drank this right up, but I have to say it was immediately overshadowed by the Open Field Pinot Noir that was up next. But I was intrigued enough to want to give other Cloud Valley wines a try, and they're a steal at $7.99 to $8.99 a bottle.

Barrel Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon – This was my second favorite wine of the night, but that's an easy one because I'm just a big sucker for cabs. Still an impressive wine for the money - all Barrel Ranch varieties are priced at $10.99 to $15.99.

And the food they served was equally memorable. I'm a big F&E shopper so I was already familiar with many of the items on the pre-tasting table: Their excellent hummus, charcuterie and cheese spread and bowls of luscious olives.

But what came out afterward during the tasting was even more exciting: beef and veggie skewers, crostini with brie, raviolis, and my favorite - an amazing cevice served in martini glasses. These were all prepared on site by F&E chefs. Here I am attacking one of the servers for her platter of meat.

It was a great night, and I'm an even bigger fan of the F&E wine aisle now. Check it out for yourself – they've got 27 new varieties of California wines, and lots of other ones too (one of my faves is the The Vine Yard Late Harvest Riesling.) Cheers, and remember to drink responsibly and take pictures.

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