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Three Things Make a Post

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First off, if you ever have the opportunity to try the cheesy pub fries at Laz Bistro and Bar in Stoughton, WI, do not let the moment pass you by. Those are some amazing, tasty chips. However, unless you plan on making a meal of nothing but them, plan to split them with at least one friend. While it may be found in the "tapas" section of the menu, there was nothing "small" about this plate.

Secondly, the Stoughon Opera House is remarkable beautiful venue, both in terms of looks and in sound quality. Even though it was a bit of a drive to get there, I will gladly go again. (And now I am extra sad that the Carolina Chocolate Drops show there last fall sold out before I got tickets. It must have been an astonishing show in that space.)

Finally, even with a hint of laryngitis roughening up her voice, Dar Williams remains as luminous and buoyant as ever. It was an intimate show, just Dar with her guitar and a piano accompanist on some songs. The last few times I'd seen her she had a band along. As nice as the bands were, I definitely prefer her solo (or almost solo) sound. I have always been fond of the way she interacts with the audience and introduces the songs with little stories. It's that kind of thing that gets me to live shows.

She also looked fantastic, and gave me a great idea for what to do with my hair when it gets a bit longer. I think I've always had a tiny girl-crush on her unassuming hippy-goddess rockstar style. She never goes over to top in any direction, but nails it with confidence. Considering her severe stage fright in her early career, it really inspires me.

It was a great night.



Koppa's has a website! And a fan page, too, it seems.

This was totally my place, back in my actual Irving Place days. Right across the street, which made it perfect for transforming pocket change into candy. I specifically remember these wonderful pink (strawberry) taffy lollipops that they had at the register for a while. $0.05 each, and totally wonderful. I have never found anything just like them since, so they have become legendary in my memory. (Along with the veggie sub from the long-defunct, Mad Town Subs.)

They were also the perfect place for that gallon of milk when we ran out right before dinner, and for the Sunday Journal. I also remember them having really excellent elephant ears in the bakery case.

Speaking of the old hood, one of these days I need to get over there and stop at Comet Cafe, which used to be a Chinese restaurant (Edie's? Eddie's? something like that) when I knew it. (Right next to the Constant Reader Bookshop, whose painted sign I once thought said "Out of Paint" and which I found puzzling, until I became a better reader and could distinguish print from paint.)

I may as well finish my tour down memory lane with a mental stop at Abu's Jerusalem of the Gold, at which I first tasted tahini.

I should get over there some time this summer.



Restaurant week: dinner at Sardine

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Tonight was our second restaurant week outing. Dinner at Sardine was not a disappointment.

We had a party of five, and managed to order all but one of the Restaurant Week offerings. (Well, we did order all of the main, published dishes. They had added a veggie entree, but while we were strongly tempted by the Potato, gruyere and leek croquettes, we had all pretty much made up our minds before we even arrived.)

The Soup du Jour was Butternut Squash puree, and while I was tempted, I decided to try the Apple Salad. I'd made a huge batch of squash soup this fall, and I usually don't make salads for myself. I did not regret the choice, for the salad was light, savory, and well-balanced. Reports from the rest of the table were that the House Salad and the soup were also quite enjoyable.

The Bone in Chicken Breast knocked my socks off. (And if you know the kind of socks I wear, that is quite an accomplishment.) The meat was perfectly juicy and tender, and the Riesling cream sauce was one of the best things I have ever tasted. I had to grab a piece of bread at the end a mop of every last drop.

Oh, how I wanted the Vanilla bean crème brulée. It was actually the deciding factor for me in choosing the restaurant. Alas, it was not to be. A very popular choice, it seems, for they were all out. I had to console myself with the Gateau Victoire. As second choices went, it was pretty choice. The one member of our party who chose the Assorted cookie plate shared bits of it around, so I also got to try nibbles of lavender shortbread, and other delicious tidbits.

There was not a single bite of the meal that was not excellent. We had plenty of room at and around our table. The waitress was friendly and professional. A fine night out, on this cold Wednesday night.

Next restaurant week will be around July. Looking forward to it already.



Restaurant week has begun!

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I kicked things off yesterday with a small group lunch at Quivey's Grove Stable Grill. (Someday, I need to have a meal in the Stone House, but not this week.)

The restaurant week lunch offerings had something to please everyone in our group. Sadly, though there were 5 of us, we did not sample every offering. We went 2/3 on the tomato bisque and the breaded mushrooms. The soup tempted me, but I went with the mushrooms and was not disappointed. The pretzel coating was light and crispy, and the portion was just the right size for a first course. Reports from the soup eaters was that it was also delicious. It certainly looked great.

No one got the fish fry, though I was strongly tempted. All but one of us had the Kobe beef cheeseburger. I ate about half of my burger there, and saved the rest to take home. It was a satisfying burger, and actually held up to re-heating, thanks to ciabatta roll on which it was served. The "Pork on Pork on Pork Basket" was a little too much pork for most of us, but the person who did order it enjoyed it, though she did disassemble the sandwich, eating the sausage patty separately from the pulled pork and bacon.

We all enjoyed the thick fries, which also came in reasonable portions. Neither skimpy nor overwhelming. I am often very relieved to receive restaurant meals that don't try to give the illusion of "value" by loading the plate with more food than I will ever eat, and which will only end up in the trash. Give me a reasonable portion that will leave me satisfied, but not gorged.

We did end up with all three dessert options, and each one was quite enjoyable. Three of our party got the brownie sundae (which also came in that reasonable portion). One of my tablemates had the bread puuding, which looked so appealing that if my own slice of Turtle Pie wasn't so light and creamy, I might have regretted my choice. As it was, the crust was flaky, the filling was silky, and the caramel and pecans were chewy and toothsome.

The food was everything we could have wanted. The service was a little bit less than impressive, as we were there for about 40 minutes before our order was taken. Our server took our drink order and said she'd get our food orders when she brought the drinks. Given that we were pretty much ready to order at that time, this was a sad choice. It was a good long wait until our drinks appeared, and then we got an "I'll be back in a minute" followed by another long wait before she returned to take our orders. Once our orders were actually placed, the food came promptly. I think they were understaffed for the day. It wasn't super-crowded, but the staff-to-diner ratio was such that she probably ended up in the weeds for a while when a number of orders came up at the same time. Not entirely her fault, but still unimpressive.

Overall, it was a great start to the week. We are all looking forward to our Wednesday night outing to Sardine. (L'Etoile was our first choice, but unsurprisingly, it was booked up for the whole week.)




I have eaten at Ella's Deli on State Street. I have eaten at Cafelli's, which took its place when the deli closed. Now I have eaten at the newest restaurant to occupy the space, Hawk's Bar and Grill. Honestly, it rates a solidly apathetic "eh". Nothing was bad, but neither was anything all that great. I ordered a grilled portobella sandwich with rice pilaf. When my order came...after a long wait...there were curly fries on the plate instead of the pilaf. When I mentioned the mistake they happily scooped a small bowl of rice pilaf for me on the side.

The rice was servicable but bland. No noticable seasoning, and the only thing that seemed to seperate it from ordinary rice were the small mushroom slices scattered throughout the dish. The curly fries were fairly standard as far as curly fries go, neither too greasy nor spicy as many of that kind tend to be. The sandwich was the biggest disappointment. "A huge portabella mushroom cap, marinated and baked with provolone cheese, sliced tomato, fresh spinach and roasted red pepper pure." Huge it was not, and though it had been marinated before baking, it managed to be a bit on the dry side. The spinach was somewhat lifeless, but still of the pleasant side of the green spectrum. If the mushroom cap was dry, the cheese and the red pepper pure made up for the fact by draining sloppily out of the bun and onto the plate (and the table). Fortunately, the roll it was served upon was crusty and chewy, and the sum total was a sandwich that was pleasant but difficult to eat and otherwise forgettable.

The atmosphere was comfortable and the staff friendly. Please note that while the grill area accepts credit and debit cards (no checks), the bar area is cash only. Also, neither of the front doors are seperated from the rest of the restaurant by any sort of divider. In the summer this wouldn't be a problem, but at this time of year every time the door opened the place would be filled with a blast of chilly air.




Yesterday I had my first meal at Biaggi's, about which I had heard many good things. The restaurant certainly lived up to it's rep, but I was slightly disapointed to discover that it is a corporate (though midwestern)chain. I'm not really against corporate restaurants per se, but the fact is, there are sooooo many excellent, locally owned restaurants in the Madison area that it seems a shame to go the chain route if I don't have to. Still, I was in the neighborhood, and the west side is mostly corporate anyway. When in Rome...

That said, the environment and decor were warm and inviting. The staff was helpful and courteous. I was won over from the first by the generous basket of warm, tasty bread, which came with a plate of olive oil and cheese for dipping. What can I say? Offer me a basket of good bread and I am putty in your restauranteur hands.

For my meal I choose the Portabello Balsamico sandwich, "balsamic marinated grilled portabello
mushroom, eggplant, roasted peppers, red onions and a touch of goat cheese served warm on Asiago ciabatta bread." It came with a serving a homemade potato chips, which were warm, crisp and delightful. For $6.25, it was a decent serving of food. The bread was crisply toasted, though not dry. The portabellos and veggies were piled high, and the "touch of goat cheese" provided just the right accent.

Since the restaurant is corporate, and on the completely opposite end of town from where I live and work, I don't think it is likely to become a regular haunt for me. However, I certainly wouldn't raise too many objections to going again, and would recommend it to others. It strikes me as a decent date spot.

If you are interested in another viewpoint, I was rather amused with Raphael Kadushin's review for the Isthmus shortly after the restaurant opened.



Bring on the Gluttony!

At this moment, I am completely saturated with grease, sugar, and sunshine. I feel so good. Today was day one of the two day Taste of Madison on the Capital Square.

I was up on the square at 11 this morning, to work the Planned Parenthood table at the Farmer's Market. Standing near our table were a couple of anti-choice activists (both men) with rather graphic signs. Closer to our table was Kay, a 76-year old pro-choice activist, and a favorite of the Planned Parenthood tablers. She comes down to the market with a simple, hand-made placard that says only "I'm pro-choice", and stands by our table so long as the protesters are there. Many people passing by greet her by name, and she happily enages them in pleasant conversation. She is also quite deft at handling those who would argue with her or put her down. On man came up to her and asked how old she was (a fairly rude question to begin with). This man, who was about half her age then started quizzing her on what she would be doing now if her mother had aborted her 76 years ago. Yeah. He closed his arguement by telling her that when she died (implying that it would be really soon) she was going to hell, but that he would most assuredly go to heaven, and that those were the only two options. I may be a Christian, but opinionated, in-your-face types really bug me. How unChristlike. Fortunately, Kay held her ground beautifully. When I'm 76, I want to be Kay.

We had another not quite a protestor. He first spent quite a bit of time speaking with the anti-choicers, but I didn't pay him much mind since we were busy. However, after a time he came over to our table and started asking us if our message was so important, would we be out there tabling at the same time on a Tuesday morning? When we said that we wouldn't since no one would be there and as volunteers we would be at work or school. Then he started harranging us about being leeches for using someone else's event to promote our cause. He said that he had no problem with our cause, but with our using the event. We really didn't understand what he wanted, and he wouldn't go away. He just stood there and kept being confrontational, which kept people away. I actually found myself feeling camraderie with the anti-choicers he'd been harranging just before.

No doubt he would have kept it up for quite awhile, and then moved on to the next table...the Tenant Resource Center. However, I had had quite enough. I thanked him for his opinion and asked him if her would please move on (he was directly in front of the table, blocking access to the petitions and freebies). I asked several times and he refused and continued to harrass. So, I did something I never thought I'd do. I went to find security. By the time I returned, he had disappeared, so the other people with info tables were spared his confrontational weirdness. Huzzah. What a jerk, though.

By the time we took down the table, all of the market had been packed up early, to clear the way for the ToM. I missed being able to score my discounted produce, but there will be other weeks.

I strolled across the Capital lawn and found a cozy spot to sit and read while the festival got set up. I also took time to get a copy of the guide and read through the list of restaurants and offerings. Sixty-nine different restaurants had booths, and everything was $1, 2 or 3. (There was a scant few $2.50 and one $1.50 items, but most everything was priced for ease of change-making.)

With so many choices, I knew I had to choose wisely. Not only could my pocketbook take a hit of more than ~$10, but one can only eat so much food in a short time. My gluttony must have its limits. So, eher we go:

I started out with a $1 eggroll from Bluefin. Just what I'd been craving for a while, and it was quite tasty. However, sweet and sour sauce sure does draw the bees.

I took a little time to read the paper and digest, then headed up the street to the Loose Juice booth (try saying that five times fast), where they had frozen fruit dipped in chocolate for $1. The choiced were strawberries, bananas, and pinapple. Strawberries seems awkward, since they weren't on a stick. I'm not the biggest fan of bananas, though they were certainly convenient. In the end, I went with a giant chunk of fresh frozen pineapple on a popsicle stick, dipped in chocolate before my very eyes. Ooooooooo, so yummy and not at all messy. The fruit was cool and sweet, but avoided the drip factor inherent in most frozen treats. I highly recommend this treat.

More reading, more wandering. It wa a great day for people watching, and the obnoxiousness factor of the crowd was super low. There were four stages around the square, and while none of the bands really drew me in, they made for great background noise.

Next stop: Buraka for the Chicken Peanut stew on injera. I was tempted to try the Dorowot or the Misirwot, since I've never had them, but I wasn't sure how spicy they'd be, and wanted to conserve water. Mmmmmm. One thing that makes me sad is that I wasn't eating this stuff years ago. How much of my life has been wasted on burgers, when I could have been having Chicken Peanut Stew with injera?

Catering by Mike Losse had deep-fried cheese curd for $2, best deal on the square for that cheesy manna from heaven. I think fried cheese curds are among my top reasons for staying in Wisconsin. (Though I hear that in some places they fry things like Oreos!)

At this point, I was starting to feel extremely sated, and it was approaching 6, at which point the Taste of Madison winds down for the day. Last stop was at Nutcracker Sweet for a cone of German Roasted Almonds. Heaven!

Drove home with the top down, feeling fat and happy. I am very tempted to take a nap, as I am off to a partay tonight.

Don't worry, I'll work off this gluttony soon enough. (Though I must mention that Brat Fest is also this weekend!!!)



A Better Sammich

Get thee to the Mediterranean Cafe and try the falafel sandwich. This delightful sandwich is huge, yet easy to eat in its wrap; healthy, yet very savory and flavorful; and under $4. Unless you are weird, you won't regret it.




On the advice of several people I know and restaurant reviews, I decided to try Benvenuto's.

I found it to be very Olive Gardeny and somewhat noisy, though not obnoxiously so. The decor was attatractive, if somewhat given to loud accoustics. The tables were set with cloth (!) napkins, yet the table covering was a sheet of white paper, on which the waitress wrote her name with a crayon. I was impressed that she could write it legibly upside down (she wrote it between us, so that the letters were facing me but away from her). However, when she first started to write, I thought she was writting either "HELP!" or "HELLO". It turned out to be Heidi, rather than a distress call or a greating.

I was given a basket of warm, garlicky bread to dip into olive oil and fresh ground pepper (which, as I learned on Mario Eats Italy, isn't very authentic, though tasty). I am a big fan of baskets of warm bread, so I took advantage of this tasty offering as I awaited my order.

My entree was Portobella Farfalle, with fresh tomatoes and artichoke hearts. It sounded really good, so I was a little disappointed when it arrived. The mushroom and tomato chunks were generous and cooked just right, though the artichoke was hardly in evidence. The seasoning was also appropriate, neither bland nor overpowering. The big let down was the mushy, overcooked farfalle. Nothing kills a pasta dish like soggy pasta.

The portion was quite large, and I was able take home enough for a second meal. The overcooked pasta may has been a fluke (bad things do happen to good kitchens) and I would be willing to return if I were trying to find an eatery for a family or a larger group, but I don't think it will become a regular haunt for me, regardless of its proximity to my home.




We started the evening in Luther's French Quarter Cafe. I tried the not-so jammin "Jammin Jambalaya", while my companion had a lack-luster helping of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice. Both were accompanied by rather cakey pieces of corn bread. Neither dish was horrible, but certainly nothing to write home about either. I found myself gazing at the po' boy sandwich of another diner, and wishing that I had gone that route as well.

As usual, the club area was cold. I planned ahead this time, and wore a sweater. I must confess that while Luther's is a fairly decent nightclub, it is by no means my favorite venue in town. Audience noise, plus the noise of people buying tickets at the door, were frequent distractions. Add to that the cocktail waitress checking on our drinks, and you can miss quite a bit. I recommend *not* sitting on the side closest to the entrance, as this seems to be the worst area for extraneous chatter. Fortunately, we ended up sharing our table with a very cool couple, who provided a nice counterbalance to the loud, bouncy drunks standing in front of us.

The show started with Joy Dragland, of Smokin' With Superman and Joy and the Boy. I missed the name of the ensemble she was with last night, due to crowd noise. I liked her voice better than I liked their songs, but I enjoyed the set.

After their set came the unannouced second opener, Bob Hillman. He had an husky, unconventional voice and a witty style, but he didn't win over the audience. In fact, he seemed fairly defensive and a bit confronational during his set. According to his posted reviews, he tours with Vega quite a bit and was well-received in Madison at previous shows. It was hard to tell last night whether he was confrontational because the audience wouldn't settle down, or if they wouldn't settle down because he was confrontational. We were amused, and actually tried to get the drunks in front of us to shut up while he played, but overall, it was a very noisy bar throughout his set.

There is no question, though, that Suzanne Vega's portion of the night was the best. I had no idea that I knew so many of her songs. She has a Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega album out now, so most of the songs were off of that. She had great stage presence and her band was solid, particularly the bassist. She wasn't as talkative with the audience as say, Dar Williams, but she gave us enough to build a connection. She really communicated most through her songs, which were sung clearly and with feeling. She joked about the amount of minor key songs she writes, but even with that, we left the show on a very up vibe.

I'd say more, but the sounds of thunder from outside are convincing me of turn off my computer.



Review time! I've hit

Review time! I've hit two more sushi places. One of them was a little disappointing. The roll was very ricey, and the rice was a little mushy. There wasn't a whole lot of flavor. However, I am willing to give the place another chance, as it has been recommended to me by several people. (I'll tell where it is after I've eaten there again.)

The second restaurant was Takara, a new Japanese restaurant on State Steet, which scored as Madison's second favorite sushi spot in the Isthmus this year. The atmosphere and the waitstaff were wonderfully pleasant. The decor was quite a contrast to the very servicable yet 70's look of the gyro place that used to be in that location. The bowl of miso soup I was given was as good as any I've ever had, with nice big chunks of tofu. The soup was served quite hot, too. I had to take off my glasses to eat it, as the steam kept them fogged.

I ordered a reverse roll of tuna, cucumber and usual. (I've decided to always try the same roll at each new place first, so I have an even basis for comparison.) For me, the perfect size for a piece of sushi roll is large enough to provide a filling mouthful, but not so large as to be awkward. The pieces were a nice size and very attractive. Within the roll, the fish was in generous, juicy chunks. Just the right amount of sesame seeds adorned the outside of the roll. Mmmmmm.

While I ate, I watched some of the other patrons enjoying their meals. A group of three seemed to be having quite a feast. As I was about ready to leave, they were just receiving a boat full of sushi. I couldn't tell how many rolls were involved, but I was impressed.

I would definately go back again, and would also recommend Takara to others. One note: the restaurant does not take checks, and will only accept credit cards for purchases over $19. If you are like me, only having soup, tea and one roll, be sure to have cash on hand! (It doesn't pay to become too dependent on debit cards.)



The end: How does

The end:

How does one end such a lovely three day weekend? With sushi, of course. We visited Edo Japanese Restaurant on Park Street. It is my new favorite restaurant. For one thing, the atmosphere was supreme. Cloth napkins and wooden chopsticks that did not need to be pulled from a paper wrapper, broken apart and sanded. I've never had restaurant chopsticks that weren't the disposable kind before. The sushi was mouth-watering. (Try the Black Dragon Roll!) Our waitress was friendly and helpful, though at one time I caught her watching us from the kitchen door. She waited and waited until both of us had full mouths to come over and ask how we were doing. Seriously, the second I popped a large piece of roll into my mouth, she headed in our direction. I know that is what *always* happens at restaurants, but I've never seen it done so blatantly.

All I can add it that they are open till 11PM, and midnight on weekends; just right for my late-night sushi cravings.



reviews: Mint 'n Creme


Mint 'n Creme Oreos: Come to mama!

Kabul's: Well, shortly after ordering, I developed a headache. (Not related to being in the restaurant...I think it had been brewing for a while.) The headache led to a bit of nausea, so I wasn't at my eating out best.

However, the atmosphere was lovely. The tables were candle-lit (though the dim light made menu reading a challange) and the wait staff was prompt and friendly. I had a great view of State Street, which is always a carnival in summer.

I had beef korma chalow, which came with fluffy white rice, mashawa, and Afghani flat bread. I couldn't do justice to the korma that night, though the presentation was delightful. The portion was large, and I have been working on the leftovers at home. Very tasty, very spicy. For people like me, I recommend a glass of milk to go with it, to cut the spice just a tad. (Yes, I'm a spice wuss.) The soup was satisfying and oddly familiar. I still haven't quite placed the memories it evoked, but I had a great time dipping my bread into the bowl.

I will have to go back sometime for lunch.



Wonderful afternoon with Tori.

Wonderful afternoon with Tori. We took in the Blooming Butterflies exhibit at Olbrich Gardens, then enjoyed the rest of the park including the new Thai Pavilion. (For some reason, the link to Olbrich's own pages aren't working.)

This put us in a very peaceful mood, and also rather hungry. We saw the Thai Pavilion, how about some Thai food? No luck. Every Thai place we tried was closed, and none of them would be open for another hour and a half. We ended up going to Himal Chuli for Nepalese cuisine. Check one more off my ethnic food adventure list. Twas excellent.

I had a combination platter of samosa, roti, momo, and dal with a mango lassi to drink. The food was all vegetarian, lightly spicy, and very filling. The lassi was the perfect beverage to balance the spice of the food, and the ice water brought to the table had lemon slices and mint adding a subtle flavor that was especially refreshing. The price was reasonable, service was friendly, and the photo of the dalai lama smiling down ate us helped sustain a mood of mellow enjoyment. (Is it just me, or doesn't it look like he knows a lot of good jokes?)



Dinner was interesting. I

Dinner was interesting. I ate at the Maharajah restaurant. The food was good, though a little confusing. The only Indian food I have ever eaten was a bit of a samosa, and I don't care for food that is hot spicy (mild spicy is more my style). Deciding what to order was a challenge, and due to language and accent difficulties, the waitress who took my order was not able to help make any suggetions. I took a stab at it and ordered chicken tikka, and some poori. The poori came with three dipping sauces, all of which were tasty but spicy enough to burn my mouth. The tikka came with a large serving of rice and a very tasty sauce that was mildly spicy. There was also a plate of hot flat bread, though I didn't catch the name. I did enjoy the tikka, and ate till I was stuffed. Even then, I filled up a large box of leftovers to take home.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was mixed. All of the other patrons seemed to enjoy their meals, and the Indian music was pleasant. There was a shiny red on gold banner hanging on a wall that read "Season's Greetings. Ho Ho Ho." and featured a picture of Santa Claus. The one downside was that the air conditioning was turned down way too low. I wasn't the only one who was uncomfortable, as I heard those around me discussing the intense chill.

Service was not exactly stellar. The restuarant wasn't very busy, yet it took a long time for them to see to me. Other patrons seemed to be having difficulty getting their checks flagged down. Once I had my food, my water glass was refilled once, and then sat empty next to my other empty beverage cup the rest of the night. No one checked up on me. When I finished eating, it took quite a while before anyone came around to notice that I was done and ready to go. For the first time in a long time, I felt compelled to only tip 10%, rather than 15%. I paid almost $20 for the meal, and I don't expect to be neglected by an idle waitstaff for that price.

Amelie, as usual, was great fun. Fourth time seeing it.



Continued the ethnic food

Continued the ethnic food adventure this afternoon. Today I stopped in to the Mediterranean Caf, which along with many of the other stps on my list, was voted Madison's favorite. Tasty falafel, nummy hummus, a pile of pitas, a stack of rice and a little salad with feta. I ate until I could eat no more. Paid less than $6. The atmosphere was charming and very friendly. I will definitely be back.



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