Ryan Welton

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Korean, Mexican flavors come together at northwest OKC’s ‘Chigama’

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So, I ain’t gonna lie. I’m beat. Kristi, too. I’m lying in bed as this blog is being crafted.

We’re both super busy at work. We’re both still managing multiple trips per week to the chiropractor after a car wreck in November.

We’re both getting married in April. To each other. There’s a substantial to-do list that goes with that. We’ve got two houses we’re trying to sell, including one that belonged to Mom, and a car settlement in the works and all sorts of side projects and various kiddo-centric to-dos.

A nice dinner out isn’t a luxury. It’s therapy.

We had wanted to try Chigama, a Korean-Mexican restaurant, in northwest Oklahoma City, for quite awhile. A colleague’s recommendation this week, however, sealed the deal — and we visited tonight.

It’s at Memorial and May, just off the Kilpatrick Turnpike. It’s in a strip with other restaurants, including Wagyu and Metro Diner. The first thing you notice upon entering is the interior design.

It’s colorful, modern and brilliant. The blue and orange-themed insides matched the color scheme of the hometown Oklahoma City Thunder on the television.

Because Kristi and I were already pooped from a January that, this year, lasted 74 days, we took forever to order anything. Our waitress, Sarah, stopped by 6-7 times before we could get it together.

We weren’t lallygagging. Kristi was plotting different foods for us to try (our thing is to split food so we can try more dishes), and I was researching on my phone every cocktail in their alcoholic arsenal.

I settled on the poma jalapeño margarita. It was sweet, and it had a serious kick. I think the glass might have been lined with salt and chili powder.

The lady had sake. Cold, sweet pineapple sake. She likes it; I hate the stuff.

My cocktail was a 10 out of a 10. Terrific beginning to the evening out.

Next course was bao. I thought Kristi was saying, “bowel,” and the funny part was that I didn’t flinch. I was like, “Well, I guess this is happening.”

But it was a steamed bun with goodies inside, namely soft-shell crab and pork belly.

Then came the scallion pancakes.

The sour cream sauce paired perfectly with the side dish. Loved this.

Kristi tells me this is “elote.” I responded, “you mean corn?” She squeezed the lime over it, giving the sweet corn a tangy flavor.

The theme of the night at Chigama was “flavor combos.” At no place we’ve been in Oklahoma City has had as interesting a mix of flavors as Chigama.

Our main course was a couple tacos — a beef steak taco on the left and a sweet-and-spicy shrimp taco on the right. My favorite taco was the shrimp. Kristi’s, too.

We were supposed to dip the tacos in this chili sauce but we forgot.

Oh, well. Not that the tacos needed it.

Last but not least, we ordered some churros. By then, the Thunder were up by 25 over the Heat, and the last big table had paid up for the night.

We had the place to ourselves.

I don’t rave about a restaurant unless I mean it, but Chigama was both a culinary delight and an experiential one. And it cements my love of Korean food or at least Korean-influenced foods, especially given that the late, great Chae had been my favorite Oklahoma City restaurant.

Anyway, give this place a try. High marks. Totally affordable, too. $$ on prices and I’d say 9 out of 10 on food + experience.

Judge a book by its cover: Why I loved Brian Doyle’s “Chicago”

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"Chicago" by Brian Doyle

Have you heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Of course you have.

But I do it all the time.

Several weeks ago, during a visit to the northwest Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library, I went on a search for my next two books to read. The first one I selected was picked precisely because I loved its cover. It was a 2016 novel called “Chicago,” written by a Portland, Oregon, author named Brian Doyle.

Turns out that Doyle died in 2017.

And it turned out that I deeply loved this book, proving if only for a day that it’s OK to judge a book by its cover. When I say that I deeply loved the book, I mean that it made me extraordinarily sad to learn that Doyle had died from brain cancer just a year before. I had hoped to maybe one day meet him at a bookstore somewhere and get him to sign it.

Not the copy I checked out from the library. No, I bought a copy about 100 pages into it.

I’m not a literary critic, neither in terms of my ability to write proper criticism nor in terms of my breadth of reading experience. I don’t have nearly the reading reps with which to compare “Chicago” to Driesser’s “Sister Carrie,” as this writer did.

But I can tell you why I loved the book, which best I can tell is essentially a memoir for Doyle, who was at one time both a working journalist and a Chicagolander. I loved it because he carried a go-bag and a basketball in his car, two of the items I regularly have. When you can see yourself in a main character, it’s hard not to connect.

The unnamed main character worked as a journalist for a Catholic magazine.

He loved baseball, and the ups and downs of the 1978 Chicago White Sox were practically a character in the story. Heck, my Texas Rangers were mentioned a couple of times.

Doyle also loved Abraham Lincoln, which was detailed through the eyes of a talking dog, Edward. It took me about 30 pages to figure out that this character, one of many residents in an apartment building, was a dog. And he talked. And it was no big deal. I even fancied him a bit like Brian from “Family Guy,” except that this dog was a stamp collector and obsessed with the speeches and writings of our greatest president.

Growing up, I was obsessed with the American presidency in general, having read biographies of all of them. Reading “Chicago” makes me want to honor Edward by at least starting to build my Lincoln repertoire.

I noted the narrator as the main character of the book, but really it was the city of Chicago itself and the apartment building where he lived. It’s characters like Miss Elminides and Mr. Pawlowsky and Ms. Manfredi, and her empanadas, were well drawn, interesting and nice. Genuinely nice. Perhaps it tugged at me a little because I know that Mom would have loved this book. During her later years, we often read the same books to have a little something extra to talk about. In this case, it was the goodness of the people in the story, their sheer decency, that I think would have appealed to her most.

Doyle’s writing reminded me a little of Faulkner in that he loves a good run-on, but unlike the Mississippi master in that he’s easy to read. Faulkner is work.

For anybody who’s randomly picked up a book at the library only to end up loving it, you know how I feel, except that in this case I didn’t merely like “Chicago.” I loved it, and there is a very good chance I read a bunch more from Brian Doyle, who by all accounts seemed like a great dude himself.

Paco’s Tacos might have the best tortillas in America

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It’s Labor Day weekend 2018, and for the second straight year, Kristi and I are taking a little vacation.

Last year, it was Albuquerque.

This year, it’s Southern California.

And it’s my first time in Los Angeles. My first impression is that it’s a city deeply rooted in the 1950s and 60s. A lot of the architecture hasn’t been updated at all since then – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

This was also my first time to land at LAX. Kristi and I rented a car through Budget, which is an awful company (all rent-a-car companies are poor, and I can’t wait until there’s an Uber-of-that-world).

But we survived.

And then we asked the Budget attendant about places nearby to eat.

She had a list. On that list was a Mexican joint I had never heard of: Paco’s Tacos. It could turn out that this place is a total chain, but on their website, I’m only seeing two locations, both in California.

Including one location right near the airport.

The first thing I noticed when we walked into the place was that it didn’t smell very good. The door is situated near the bathrooms, and they had some kind of plumbing issue.

Don’t let your nose fool you though. Have patience.

The host led us to a back room that was virtually empty. We got there well before lunch rush.

And then a waiter brought us homemade chips and a salsa that would rip paint off of metal. It was glorious and hot. For a mainstream type of restaurant, this was the hottest salsa I’d ever eaten.

They also had a station where two women were making homemade flour tortillas from scratch. Kristi and I devoured a stack of them with the help of some sweet cream butter.

And now I’ll stop.

The rest of the experience was good but ordinary. Tamales were good. Enchiladas were a-ok.

But for the chips and salsa and tortillas alone, I’d rate Paco’s Tacos as pretty much the best Mexican place I’ve been to in a long while.

You just have to get past the bathroom smell.

Review: RENT’s Oklahoma City production a worthwhile 20th anniversary tribute

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It was the musical that made Broadway cool again, as one reviewer put it.

RENT opened 21 years ago, and I was among the lucky who got to see it on Broadway. It was during a business trip to New York City, and I had seen the ensemble perform “Seasons of Love” on the TODAY show. This is early Internet era, so I actually watched it on TV. Musically, I was sold.

During this trip to NYC, I spent my days at the Javitz Center, but I spent a good chunk of one particular day trying to procure tickets to see the hot new show at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st. There was no Ticketmaster back then. I had to call somebody on the phone and place an order. Talk about a pain in the butt.

I showed up early to the theatre, mostly because I didn’t know what the heck else to do in Manhattan and I didn’t have a ton of funds with which to do it (the real reason). Truth is: I was the first person to show up for the show that night, and I was struck by how intimate the Nederlander Theatre is. It’s not huge at all. Hell, it’s tiny.

The first person I saw was Wilson Cruz, who was playing Angel Dumott Schunard at the time. He was walking through the theatre in half-dress looking for something. I thought to myself: Kind of cool. Breaking the fourth wall before the show even starts.

Here’s what I realize two decades later: I saw Idina Menzel in her first big Broadway role. I saw Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp, too, although I missed Adam Pascal (the original Roger) by about a month. Cruz was filling in for Wilson Jermaine Heredia on this night, and I believe Fredi Walker (Joanne) had just left the cast as well.

What I got to witness was a genuine early look at pop culture history, first-hand, and the show has always been an influence on me relative to a philosophy of creation-for-the-sake-of-creation. “The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation,” as Mark says toward the end of “La Vie Boheme,” which closes the first act.

If “Seasons of Love” sold me on the show musically, “La Vie Boheme” is precisely and beautifully stereotypically what Broadway should be in its choreographed chaos, catchy music and memorable lines.

“Why Dorothy and Toto went over the rainbow to blow off Auntie Em…La Vie Boheme.”

So, RENT is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and it’s making a stop in Oklahoma City at the Civic Center Music Hall. If you’re looking for in-depth negative criticism, you won’t find it here. I’ll tell you about what I like, but I have no interest in tearing anybody down, and I can’t pretend to be too knowledgeable about Broadway. No, not everybody in this cast lived up to what I remember — but a couple folks damned sure did.

Collins. The review in The Oklahoman from opening night didn’t have great things to say about Aaron Harrington. In fact, his performance was largely panned by the paper. I *think* it may have been Devinre Adams to play Tom Collins on my evening, although I’m not sure. In my opinion, whoever played him had the best voice in the entire company and largely sounded just like the cast recording.

The Oklahoman’s primary criticism of Harrington’s performance was that he didn’t pull off the anarchist part of Collins’ character. I’m not sure what they were looking for: he was terrific.

Maureen. When she first appeared late in the first act, she did so much more majestically than I remember Menzel’s Maureen. And when Lyndie Moe performed “Over the Moon,” she did so with a ton more physicality than I remembered from Menzel. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but it kind of made me think of how Chris Farley would have done “Over the Moon.” What’s even more amazing is that Moe is only a freshman in college, studying at Rider University in New Jersey.

I didn’t like her Maureen…until I did. Moe was terrific, and I realized this about midway through the second act, after her “Take Me Or Leave Me” performance with Joanne, played aptly by Jasmine Easler. I don’t mind sounding like a fool here, but Moe was better to me than what Menzel was in New York City, not that I remember everything about that performance. Sitting in the cramped Nederlander some 20 years ago, I don’t remember thinking to myself, “Holy crap, I’m watching Idina Menzel!” For what it’s worth, the Broadway performance of RENT back in 1997 was highlighted by Cruz’s portrayal of Angel, who by most accounts is the character the entire story revolves around.

Aaron Alcaraz was solid as Angel here in Oklahoma City. If you were to ask me what it takes to pull off a production of RENT, I would tell you that your No. 1 task is to make sure you’ve got a strong Angel. Alcaraz studied at Ithaca College in New York and has credits in “Alladin” and “A Chorus Line.”

For those of you who don’t know the story behind RENT and its creator, it’s highly bittersweet. I’m guessing 99 percent of anybody who reads this blog post knows that Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm the night before the show’s big premiere. Reminds me of Eva Cassidy a bit, an artist who achieved fame only after death.

The only bad part about the experience at the Civic Center Music Hall is one that happens at venues across the country. Their employees obsess over scolding people who take photos before or during the show. On this particular night, the Civic Center Music Hall was only 50-60 percent full. It was so empty that ushers started guiding people to the front of the auditorium.

Before the show, about 10 minutes before, I snapped a photo of the stage from about 200 feet away. An usher named Maurice, wearing big red glasses, came by and said that photography was not allowed and that I needed to delete the photo I just took.

That wasn’t going to happen.

Here’s the deal, and this is for everybody in music, theatre and any kind of performance: Phones are here forever-more, and people spend money not for performances but for experiences, which encompasses the time before the production as well. Furthermore, in an economy where discretionary dollars are tough to come by, touring companies and concert promoters should beg customers to take photos and even record video to share on social media.

Beg them.

That is not an excuse for people to be obnoxious. I would argue that every event has its own norm, its own rules: Sometimes everybody is like, “Nope. No phones.” At others, people are like, “We goin’ Facebook Live up in here!” The behavior of the masses dictates what’s acceptable digitally.

There’s really nothing production companies can do about it — nor should they. I’ll go on a longer rant about this sometime, but they’re collective fools for not embracing technology. It does nothing to degrade the experience, especially when done before the show or at the end of it.

If you get a chance to see RENT while it’s in Oklahoma City, do so (they did a good job) — and take a photo right in front of Maurice. Do it for me.

And check out my version (a too slow version) of “Seasons of Love” that I posted to my YouTube channel this past week. I’d love it if you’d subscribe!! Or at least watch the video. It will only take three of your 525,600 minutes today.

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