Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Christmas Letter

I have had all sorts of posts half written for a few months, but just haven't sat down to finish them all. Thanks to anyone who has read along this year. Just in case there was anyone who I forgot to mail our Christmas letter to, I thought it might be fun to share it here along with the photo I sent (taken by Liz Duren).  Some more details made more generic because I'm paranoid and don't like the exact place we live and work out there on the interwebs.  

December 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, friend! 

We hope this letter finds you well.  This year has been full of the unexpected for us, and in case it’s been a while since we’ve actually had the chance for a face-to-face conversation, then let us fill you in on what’s been happening with a glimpse into a typical day for us:

Somewhere between 6:30-7am: Jason and I wake up for work.  Hold on, you’re thinking, Jason is there? I thought he was supposed to be on an overseas job? Well, yes, he was, but -surprise! - two months into it, he got the news that he got to come home.  So while it was a disappointment in some ways because Jason was looking forward to the job, we are glad it meant he got to be here most of the year.

7am-8am: Drive to the train station and commute from MD into DC.  One of the things we had done to preparation for Jason’s absence, was to move in with Sarah’s parents for the year, so she didn’t have to be solo.  So when – surprise! – Jason came home, it meant, - surprise! – we both get to live with Sarah’s mom and dad until we figure out what comes next.  We do miss our short commute that we had living in DC, but the train is still a better option than fighting beltway traffic.

8am-depends-on-the-day pm: Work at some Federal economic agency.  It’s hard to believe, but we’ve both been at our jobs for 8 years now, and we still only sit a few cubicles away from each other.  Although we don’t often work on the same projects, commuting, working, and living together sure is convenient, and makes us wonder how couples who aren’t always together ever get the chance to talk.  It also makes us wonder if we should get separate hobbies.  :) We’ll get to experience it though in January, when Jason is going to be on a rotational program with another related office.

6pm-7pm: Commute home. One thing we are excited about is that this commute will look different next year.  This is because we will be getting off at a different train stop and walking five minutes to our new house in MD.  For the past 8 years, the longest either of us has lived in one place is 18 months (about what our stint with Sarah’s parents will be), so we’re pretty excited to have a place that we are planning to be in for a while.  Part of me (Sarah) wonders if we’ll get bored and want to move anyways.  :)  This house was another thing that was a bit unexpected.  We’d been talking about various neighborhoods in the tri-state area (DC, MD, VA) for the past year, but didn’t really think we’d buy for another year or so.  Plus, we were really leaning towards going back to DC.  However, this opportunity kind of fell into our laps. It has the walkability to public transportation/shops that we loved in DC, plus nearby family, good schools, and a lot more square footage that we hope to grow into one day.  So again – surprise! – one week we aren’t even looking at houses, and the next we own a house that will be built this spring.

7pm-8pm: Depending on the day, we may be working out in preparation for the half marathon we did in November, attending an Alumni Association meeting (clearly this is Sarah – who else loved hanging out with her teachers so much?), and on the really rare occasion, we’ve actually been able to eat and be done with dinner this early (see next hour).

8pm-9pm: Some kind of dinner “event” occurs.  Sometimes it’s with friends.  Sometimes it’s with family.  Sometimes it’s just us.  Jason has been becoming quite the chef this year, especially when it comes to anything dough.  (Sarah has even taken to Instagramming his creations with the hashtag #doughmanstrikesagain, if you are into that sort of thing.)  He’s become quite the expert at homemade pasta, pizza dough, potpies, and of course, cookies.  The “dough man” has also managed to use up an entire 25-pound Costco bag of flour this year.  It’s been fun to make different parts of the meal together, but it’s not always fast, hence dinner becoming an “event.” We also try to make enough for leftovers, so we don’t have to do this every night.  In addition to dabbling in food, Jason has been starting to use grains to make his own beer.  The first attempt will be after Christmas, when Jason’s dad, the true beer-making expert, will be around to supervise.

9pm-10pm: In the summer, this was our favorite time to go to the local ice cream shop. Lately, it’s when we are making house-related decisions (usually involving spreadsheets and pinterest).   Often, it’s been the time we get caught up on our current TV series with Sarah’s parents.  Even though we set up our own space upon moving in, we retreat to it a lot less often than we expected, and have enjoyed the nightly ritual together.

Ok, so we usually get sucked into watching “one more episode” until later than 10pm, but we also don’t always just work every day either.  Our weekends have been packed with exploring local wine country, hanging out with our nieces and nephews at their sporting events/ orchestra concerts/ apple picking, and visiting with friends and family all over the country.  Sarah somehow used her 30thbirthday in August as an excuse to do fun stuff all year (think telling the waitress 3 months later). We also managed to squeeze in a ski trip to Aspen that we’ve been talking about for years right before Christmas (so if you are getting this after Christmas, that is why – sorry).

So that’s a glimpse into our day and year.  We’ve had both unexpected blessing and trials, but grateful for the redemption Christmas reminds us of, and the truth of Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of a man plan his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Catch up with our adventures throughout the year (or just on the rare occasion that Sarah updates it) at our blog, .  All of our love and blessings to you and your family!


Jason and Sarah

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Goodbye Summer

Tradition.  I like new experiences, new places.  They're exciting.  Tradition has roots.  One year when I was in middle school, our annual family trip was to New England instead of the familiar stretch of beach in Maryland. When we got home though, my sister and I asked my parents when we were going to go on vacation.  It just wasn't a complete summer without the beach.

This year we introduced the kids to the Ocean City experience. Dillon stopped to play with any ball he could find, whether or not the owner was using it. Claire's feet conveniently hurt halfway through her daily walks on the beach with my dad. At least that's what she told us from her perch atop his shoulders.  They loved running full speed down the boardwalk, only stopping for dogs (Claire) or bikes (Dillon). They loved it. I think it's in their blood.

Jason has come with me every year since we started dating.  The summer he was gone, my parents came with me.  I think we spent more time eating at our favorite places than actually on the beach.  I fill him in on my memories.  Here is where we always get subs.  Here is where we stayed when our friends came with us.  I can't believe my entire high school class all came for the day when we organized it.  This is where I stayed with friends when I was in college...feeling so responsible on our first trip without any parents.  Wow, that was a long time ago... this one time...we always...

Why did you always go here? he asks. It's not exactly the prettiest beach.  There were practical reasons, but I forget.

We plan out where we will go next time.  This spot will be good for when we have kids.  Blurry mental pictures.  Other years we've gone to other beaches but we still squeeze in a day trip to Ocean City.  Because we love the beach so much or just because it's what we do? 

We always underestimate the drive.  We stop at my favorite gas station.  I tell the same story each time. One time when it was just my sister and I we ran out of windshield wiper fluid but were too cheap to pay for more, so I tried to stick my hand out the window and splash water on the salt-covered windshield while traveling 50 mph.  None of the water got on the windshield.  All of it got on my face. 

We get donuts.  We get sand in the car.  It's crowded.  It's full of tacky shops.  Full of memories.  Pictures from the past.  Glimpses of the future.  Tradition carried on until next year.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

30 + "Deep"

Guys, I turned 30 this month. I kind of got confused last year, and thought I was turning 30 then, so it was a little bit of a relief to have another year in my 20's. Oh my days of being young and naive. I know. I'm not "that old." And I know if turning 30 happened a while ago for you I just made you feel "really old," and I'm sorry. So I turned 30, but I guess I also turned into a bit of a deep thinker, because along with this birthday, I’ve got some musings and mulling-overs to share.

Milestones, in my case, the start of a new decade, have a way of turning your head, shifting your gaze to the path you’ve come down, identifying the steps that brought you to the present. The good is clearer, but so are regrets, and changing directions seems little harder. I don’t know why I didn’t have these thoughts last year when I thought I was turning 30… I don’t know, it wasn’t a big deal then, but it’s been a different year. This year, I approached my birthday with a heavier heart. And while responsibilities, physical pains, and experiences do make me feel older, I think it's more mental. 2014 has been full of things in life not working out as expected. Not always disappointments, but not always pleasant either. Moves and jobs haven't panned out. Plans and hopes have been thrown out the window and smashed on the pavement. Hurts and trials have required opportunities for love and forgiveness. We've walked alongside friends who buried their precious daughter. We watched others lose loved ones to recklessness, sickness and unexplainable reasons. More than ever I'm aware of the broken world we live in, and the destruction of sin around us and through us. If you take an even bigger step back and consider the suffering that occurs on a global scale, it's truly overwhelming. It makes me want to throw up my hands in a teary mess.

We often sings songs at church that express an anticipation of heaven, such as the Horatio Spafford hymn, It Is Well, which has this verse:

"And Lord haste the day when our faith shall be sight.
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul."

In years past, I often had the thought, "This is weird. Does anyone realize what are we signing? Haste the day? Are we asking to die sooner? Um. Heaven is probably going to be good, but I kind enjoy my life too. God, don't really hasten it too much, or maybe just wait until after I get to do more cool things."

I think I get it now though. I don't enjoy life less - on the contrary, I'm seeing how fast it flies and am doing my best to treasure it. More and more though, I'm growing in my anticipation of heaven. I'm ready for a world that isn't broken, that isn't full of injustices and hurts. Ready to reunite with loved ones. Ready to "see in full" what is only faith now. The truth in Philippians 1:21-23 resounds more clearly: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me... I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

Horatio Spafford wrote that hymn, It Is Well, after terrible tragedy struck his family in 1873. According to Wikipedia (also what I learned from Adventures in Odessey), his son died of scarlet fever, he experienced financial ruin during the Chicago Fire, and then the rest of his children died in a shipwreck. Yet he wrote that hymn while making the same voyage. Such circumstances contradiction the notion that anything would be “well.” However, I love the reminder that even when my world is not well, my soul can be, because as the hymn says, “Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.” That truth still holds.

So… happy birthday to me! All my friends are now glad I didn’t have a party to celebrate. Can you imagine if I had been called upon to make some kind of speech? I’m only thirty and am all doom and gloom and sound ready to check out – and I’ve got what I hope are decades to go! I’m sure I’ll have some kind of gems to share about failing bodies and the deplorable state the world is heading to in a few years. But seriously, whether you are older or younger, maybe you know what I'm talking about. The sure things in life are death and taxes, though "trials" could be added to the list as well, right? Yet not despair.

Milestones not only give you pause to reflect on the past, but they also create fresh hope for the future. I think this next decade is going to be awesome as I watch my nieces and nephews grow up, experience life with my best friend, and insert some other happy cliché about the unknown here. If I'm honest, I know the future will probably hold more hurts too, but with it, the truth that "It is well."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sarah Van Winkle

When I was in college, I fell asleep in class so much that I literally could take notes while dozing off.  The notes usually weren't all that coherent.  One time I woke up to find the words "green" and "God" scrawled in the mix of more economic/math-y words.  Um.. my subconscious is spiritual and artistic?  The only time that my sleeping habit was mildly embarrassing, was when during a night class when the lights were off for slides (equals zero percent chance anyone would stay awake), the teacher spoke directly to me in answer to a question I'd asked earlier in class.  I don't think he really noticed or cared that I was asleep, but it was just not fun to wake up to the professor saying, "Sarah, this is the answer to your earlier question."  Another time, I startled myself so much once I woke up that my immediate reaction was to raise my hand up in the air as if to ask a question.  I think the professor's back was turned so it was just the kids sitting next to me who thought I was a weirdo.  Maybe my hand-in-the-air reaction is more of an insight into how much I liked to talk to my teachers, and ask questions, and that they all actually knew my name, but that's another topic for another day.

The thing is, this sleeping habit was not only restricted to class.  I basically fell asleep any time I was sitting down and not actively engaging: Sunday sermons, car rides (while riding, never driving), movie theaters, etc.  My friends were both amused and amazed at my ability to sleep anywhere.  But guys, I have had a revelation in the past couple years: that was not normal - I have just been sleep deprived my whole life.

I started my daily coffee habit one semester of college when I had an 8 am multi-variable calculus class every day, and a few years later was already so dependent on caffeine that I would get headaches when I didn't have a cup in the afternoons as well.  I worked hard in college, but still was really social, involved in sports, part-time jobs or other extracurriculars, meaning I rarely made it to bed before midnight and usually was up by 7.  Many nights 1-3am was a more typical bedtime. 

Post-college, I got a job in DC, commuted an hour each way, started part time graduate classes, and got old.  (Seriously, it was amazing how even a few years after undergrad, no amount of unfinished schoolwork was worth staying up past midnight.)  Still pounding coffee, falling asleep on the commute, and eating just to to stay awake in class, I just thought how I felt was normal, since that's how my life had been for ten years.  A few times in between hitting the snooze, I would dream that I was so tired that I actually slept through an entire day and was waking up say, on Wednesday instead of Thursday.  My mom, after hearing of Rip Van Winkle, would actually say things like this to my brother-in-law when he fell asleep on the couch, "Jimmy, wake up.  It's Christmas time.  You slept through the whole year."

But then my life changed: I moved to DC, finished grad school and got married all within a few months.  No more commute.  No more school.  And a lot more sleep.  Our "compromise" in marriage for the first year or two was that I adapted to Jason's earlier bed time and he adapted to my later wake up time.  If only we could resolve everything that way! But! I finally got the full amount of rest (ok.. sometimes more) than my body needed for a consistent amount of time, and it was amazing! Revelation upon revelation!  I no longer struggled to stay awake.  Deciding to exercise instead of napping was no longer torture.  I felt great, and my health, while never awful, was the best it's probably ever been!  I knew what it felt like to be alive! For some reason, I always just assumed that 7 hours was all I needed, but it's not! (This was no shock to my dad, who would often have to wake me up because my alarm had been going off for so long and so loudly that he could hear it one floor away with headphones on.  He and my mom did not understand how the fact that I never had enough sleep was news to me.)

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Since our commute time was extended again with the move back to Maryland, I have more frequently needed that second or third cup of coffee.  I cannot really blame the commute, however.  We get up earlier, and although I'm not staying up doing work, we have actually been going to bed later because my dad, a notorious night owl, has gotten us hooked onto a few different TV series that he doesn't start until after he gets back from evening meetings.  I guess going to bed late isn't as bad when it's for fun reasons.

Now, I will say that even during the times of my life I was getting less sleep, it was still more than some people get.  I certainly had the choice as to how to spend my time when some people may not.  Moms of young kids, people with grueling work schedules, and plenty of other people have a much tougher schedule, so if that is you, how do you do it!? You have my serious respect and sympathy.  I'm not trying to complain, and I know that on many levels this is so trivial, but I am just fascinated that I just never even knew I was sleep deprived so much of my life until now!  I mean, I feel like a real adult now because I actually wake up ON MY OWN SOME WEEKEND before 8 am, filled with the same amount of wonder as Pinocchio at being a real boy.  So that's it. That's my story.  I never know it wasn't normal to be so tired - what else in life am I missing?  Is tofu actually tasty?  Or is Game of Thrones really that good?  What else do I think is normal that isn't?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why is North Carolina so Cheap?

Have you seen this map that came out a while back? It's the Business Insider graphic of the United States with the first word that comes up after typing "Why is [state] so" written in every state.  (It doesn't have DC, but the Google autocomplete for DC was, "Why is DC so expensive". Shocker.)  It's amusing and reveals some of the stereotypes (and truths behind them!) across the country.  And I must admit, I've been holding onto some assumptions myself about other parts of the country, especially the South. 

I grew up in Maryland, nicknamed "The Old Line State" for being on the Northern part of the dividing line during the Civil War ("War of Northern Aggression" for you Southerners).  And though we're really in the middle, I identified with Northeastern characteristics more than Southern ones.  (Temperamental and uninhibited according to the Huffington Post - while not flattering, they do probably describe me more than the other regional characteristics.)  I certainly never wanted to live in the south.  My requirements for where I'd move to up until now have been: 1) within an hour of a major airport 2) within 15 minutes of a Target, 3) within four hours of the coast, and 4) nothing farther south than Northern Virginia (Austin and anywhere in California excluded).

Limited experiences in Texas and North Carolina left me with the impression that the slower pace of life "down south" would be way too boring for me, and all there is down there is shopping and eating.  (Maybe some cow tipping?  Is that more Midwest?  Ok, maybe some rodeos?  Also, I am not sure why up until now, I felt like shopping and eating was something I didn't want since those are both pretty big "hobbies" of mine.)  So in that sense, I'd say our trip to Raleigh a few months ago was perfectly southern.  We took it easy, shopped and ate.  And it was awesome, and ok, yes, this city-girl did kind of assume it would be too "country hick" for me.  But there were all sorts of other fun things in Raleigh to do like local breweries, all sorts of green spaces for outdoorsy stuff, local theaters and music venues.  Getting around did require lots of driving, but it was so easy to navigate, find parking, and get most places within fifteen minutes.  I'm not saying I want to move there, but it did make me understand why people do.  As the title and Business Insider graphic implies, I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively cheap things were, making it an affordable yet interesting place to be.

All of that preamble (pre-ramble?) is to say, that we went to North Carolina and I want to talk about what we ate did!  Earlier this year, part of the out-of-town work Jason did was in North Carolina, which meant a good reason to spend a couple weekends in Raleigh. 

The drive wasn't bad and gave me a chance to catch up on phone calls, books on tape, and indulge in chick-fil-a.  I've gotta say, highway driving in southern Virginia and North Carolina is awesome.  Once 95 goes from four lanes to two, most people know to use the left lane as the passing lane and will move to let you pass.  People who hang in the left lane are a major pet peeve of mine, and I appreciate the good people of 95 letting me pass.  The only awful part of the drive was trying to use iphone maps anywhere that wasn't on the highway.  MULTIPLE times I was lead to the middle of a neighborhood instead of a fast-food joint.

We used Hyatt points transferred over from our Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card to stay at the Hyatt House in the North Hills area.  The hotel was brand new and in the middle of a huge new town center with all sorts of shopping, eating, even a bowling alley and movie theater.  The downtown hotels were at least 50% more expensive and charged for parking, so it didn't seem worth it to us to pay more when the Hyatt was only a fifteen minutes drive and downtown parking was plentiful and free on weekends (a true treasure to anyone from DC!)  With so many amenities in walking distance, and rooms equipped with standard kitchen equipment, we were a little bit sad to leave.

With so many good spots within walking distance, we ended up eating in the North Hills town center for a lot of meals.  Call me an "Open-table" addict, but I was astounded at how long waits were all over the place.  The few times we waited until 7pm to begin our dinner search, we were faced with multi-hour waits at all the recommended spots.  I know better than to try hot spots in DC without reservations, but just didn't expect what actually seemed like a worse wait-list situations there.  I think this is further proof of my theory that going out to eat is the only thing to do.  It also is evidence of the economic High Cost of Free Parking, despite how much I love it (you may not pay cash to park, but overcrowding when everyone can park free means you pay in wait-time).  But I digress.  
I've gotten behind on blogging about this, so the details of what we did are slightly fuzzy.  We did a lot of shopping, because there were a few things Jason actually needed, and there was nothing else to do.  Kidding - a friend of our really enjoyed a performance at the Performing Arts Center, and we saw play at the intimate, but hard to find, Theater in the Park.

It should be no surprised that the main thing we did was eat. I've got the full restaurant list at the bottom.  Other than that and the shopping, we walked around downtown a lot.  We went to a couple wineries about half hour outside the city: Gregory Vineyards and Adams Vineyard.  It was something fun to do, and Gregory Vineyards had a nice scenic porch to sit at, but the local grape, the muscadine, really isn't one I enjoyed drinking more than a few sips of - very very sweet and fruity, with a musky undertone (which is where the name "muscadine" comes from).  If we ever go back, there were a lot of breweries that would have been fun to check out and tour.  Plus, after spending a few days in Raleigh, I think spending more time down South sounds just dandy.

Now the list of where we ate along with my comments in no particular order:

Quality Grocery, Oakwood
Details: Deli
Best for: Easy outdoor meal with friends, especially with kids.

This place was quite charming.  Like stepping into some kind of portal to Mayberry, local goods lining the shelves and the white-board menu made promises of honest-to-goodness food as it was meant to be eaten - throwing the notion of calories and food trends to the wind.  Not everything on the menu was as stellar as I hoped (ie: the burger), but I think if you stick to the deli-type items, you're golden.

We were told someone would take your order if you got a seat, but after waiting a while outside, we found that ordering at the counter is much faster. They had a local hot dog that was a frightening shade of bright pink and tasted like red hots candy to me. Cheer wine, another local food, was available in glass bottles. It isn't actually a wine, but the glass bottles fit the Norman Rockwell feel, and I thought the cherry flavored soda went well with my chicken salad sandwich, which was definitely good enough to want to go back.

Bida Manda, Downtown
Details: Laotian
Best for: Special evening with a hot date, both of which I had!

Oh man, I loved the food here. I think you would too, even if Asian food isn't your cup of tea - or maybe cup of green tea (groan!). The flavors were so fresh and vibrantly mixed.  Be sure to make reservations and save room in the budget, as trendy places like this tend towards smaller serving sizes. Our waiter told us Billy Joel ate there and ordered the pork belly soup (he also made a joke about pork "Billy" soup - groan again!). We didn't try that, but we did try the green mango salad and it was amazing! The chicken wings were a little bit of a let down after Pok Pok, but the daily special that day was grilled shrimp, which more than made up for it! Southeast Asian foods tend to have a good bit of French influence, as evidenced by the macrons we had for dessert. 

The Pit, Downtown
Details: BBQ 
Best for: Huge servings, groups, families
For a place with a name like, "the pit" this restaurant was really nice. The portions were also huge for the price. I kind I'd wish we hadn't gotten the cornbread skillet, not because it wasn't good, but because it kept me from finishing everything else. As with all other places in this town, make reservations. We went for brunch and had fun touring the chocolate factory across the street after. 

Q Shack, North Hills
Details: fast casual BBQ 
Best for: Good food for this BBQ novice without any fuss; also iphone maps brought us into a neighborhood across the street from where this place really was.

This was more of a fast casual place, but I'm still thinking about how good the collard greens here were. The brisket was so tender you could break it up with a fork. The dryness was a good excuse to douse on BBQ sauce, though I haven't  quite acquired a taste for the vinegar-based Carolina style sauce. Jason's pulled pork was nice and flavorful and fresh hush puppies were served with everything. I think it was a local chain and wish it would make it's way up here.

Vivace, North Hills
Details: Italian
Best for: a group celebration with your family or friends who like good food, and are either willing to get there early or be loud enough to talk over the noise.

It's my fault - I can't remember how this place was because I didn't take good notes and this happened a few months ago by now.  This was close to where we stayed, but we still had a really hard time getting in, and it was dark, and somewhat cramped, so I think I have unfavorable memories even though the food was really good.  The fun thing here was that they had half portions of their pasta dishes, so we got the gnocchi, spaghetti and meatballs, and the pappardelle.  I'm pretty sure the pappardelle was our favorite, though my memory is failing me.  So I don't have anything helpful to say about it besides reserve early.
Croquette, North Hills
Details: French
Best for: great food, no wait, truffle fries, nice casual date night

Right across from our hotel, we ended up here because it was the only spot without an hour wait at 7pm Friday night. I'm really not sure why it didn't because I thought it was far more memorable than the Italian place nearby. Hungry impatience prompted an order of truffle frites as an appetizer - and wow. The perfect mix of crunchy, salty and savory, these shoestring fries haunt me like the ghost of Christmas past (cause clearly food-ghosts are the friendly ones). As boring as it sounds, I had a burger and it was also wonderfully salty and peppery, though now I'm starting to wonder if my extreme hunger that night is actually what made it so good.  The prices were average for DC, so expensive for Raleigh.

Beasley's Chicken and Honey, Downtown
Details: American/Southern contemporary
Best for: hipsters, hipsters with kids, people with low-risk tolerance who want safe and popular choices (ie: non-ethnic foods)

Call me a food snob/jaded/bored, but I was kind of let down by this place.  I don't know.  Half the things were really good and half were mediocre, making it just not that memorable.  Biscuits were good but didn't come with enough gravy; the chicken was nice and crispy but the poached egg yolks weren't runny.  Plus, it's the same as every other joint that's popping up with their hand-crafted cocktails, reclaimed wood décor, flannelled staff, and food that claims to be a "twist on traditional," but isn't all that unique.  The unique thing to me was that we each got an entrée with coffee and paid less than $25!  Don't get me wrong, it was fine, and the other restaurants by the same chef, a James Beard Award winner(!), seemed highly rated, though I'd bet the quality was higher the first few months of opening.  I'm still curious about how her other restaurants are.

CowFish, North Hills
Details: sushi burger bar
Best for: indecisive people, families like ours since I always want Asian and Jason always wants burgers, young people or those who appreciate a unique and somewhat funky atmosphere, to the point of being like a theme park restaurant

So if my complaint with the last place was that it was too boring, this place was quite on the opposite end of the spectrum! As the name somewhat implies, this place specialized in sushi and burgers.  There were even creations that combined the two foods so it took us a long time to figure out the menu  (burger ingredients in sushi form and vice versa - we weren't brave enough to try those ones).  This place was packed all weekend, and it definitely is fun.  Bright colors, fish tanks, and Asian cartoons made me feel like I would have liked this place a lot more if I was in college still and wanted to go somewhere fun with a group of friends.  However, my adult taste buds still loved all the food we had.  I am in the camp that believes the more foods a restaurant specializes in is inversely related to the quality of those foods (options increase = quality decrease), but this place really did have two very different foods that were still really delicious.  Man of the burgers or "in-between" foods had some kind of Asian flare, and the sushi was fresh and creative.  I'm not totally sure if I'd go back, but it was fun to do once and really did have some of the best food in the area we stayed.