Archive for July, 2008

Frisco fans, rejoice!

Frisco signThe hawk flies again, the sign proclaims. I toured the interior of the new Frisco location this afternoon. Three different people on the site confirmed that all are laboring mightily to open on Monday.

There were no copies of a menu lying around anywhere. There’s beautiful gilded hand-painted signage on the doors, and one says that the Frisco will be open every day from 7 am until 10 pm. Check it out at the former north Curra’s, 6801 Burnet, just a short distance from the original Frisco location.

If there’s any justice in this world, the Frisco will be there serving up the eponymous Frisco, the famous Top Chop’t, the pies that some people just buy in their entirety to take home for household enjoyment, and the biscuits beyond compare; and Monday will be the day. I’m counting the hours. I have felt so sad to see the demolition of the old Frisco home, but the sign’s been saved (and repainted) and, if Monday’s not the day, the day will be upon us very, very soon.

When worlds collide(10 Green Questions) via @robinbloor

I guessed somehow my interest in my new Austin home town would eventually spill over into my professional life. It happended though in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

One of the people I follow on twitter is IT Industry Robin Bloor. Bloor is also an ex-pat living here in Texas, we only met a few times back in the 90’s. He is currently a Partner with Hurwitz and Associates in the US and also maintains contacts with Bloor Research, the analyst company he founded and established in the UK.

Yesterday Robin posted 10 Green Questions on his Have Mac will blog, blog. My first reaction was this as another green IT blog, but wait the first question was about plastic bags! Oh ok, its broader than just IT… but then I chuckled my way therough the remaining entry, which included Question 8. of interest here since I know fellow Austin metblog Author @lauratex regularly works from various coffee shops around the ‘hood on her bicycle, and I work from home from time to time, and by coincidence my drive to the office is 12-miles and I do bike it from time to time.

Here is Question 8 and Robins analysis, enjoy the rest here.

Question 8: Is it greener to work from home?

Answer: On the plus side you wont be commuting. The average work journey in the US is 12 miles, and each gallon of gas burned emits 25.3 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). Imagine you don’t own a gas guzzler but a 25 mpg car. In which case you’re spewing about 25 pounds of CO2 into the air per day (6000 lbs per year) melting glaciers, raising the sea level and killing polar bears. However, if you stay home you’ll be using more air conditioning or heating, the extent of which could easily total as much. Don’t work from home, get a bicycle and work from Starbucks.

(We’d like to thank Starbucks and their very green logo for sponsoring this eco-friendly posting, but they didn’t sponsor it, so we can’t. If an offer to sponsor it doesn’t arrive in the next few days I’m gonna calculate the carbon footprint of a Starbucks cup of coffee and post it here… You’ve been warned Starbucks….)

Taste Select Austin

taste_austin.jpgI won’t claim to be odoublegood whose frequency and mastery of a restaurant review is legend here on Austin metro blog. So how about a different perspective…

What a great way to get blasted! We caught the bus downtown Friday evening with the objective of going to try out Taste Select Wines. We’d already eaten, so we were not going for the food. Here’s how it worked.

You go in, the take a credit card and in return give you a pre-loaded $50 gift card. You insert the card into one of four machines loaded with an assortment of select wines. You chose the wine you want, hold your glass under the spout and press the button. Out comes a 1.5oz taste of your selection. We were sharing one card between two, and apparently soon hit house rule 1. over the speed of drinking. It was great, a little of this, a little of that, a taste of this, a taste of that. Before long we’d spent $30 and I for one was starting to have a hard time describing the wines coherently. I’m sure that was because of the assault on my taste buds rather than the amount I’d drunk(honest guv).

When we visited they had a selection of 16-whites and Rose wines, priced from $1.75 to $5.02 per 1.5oz serving, and 32-reds, priced from $2 to a staggering $16.70 per serving. So, depending on how careful you were, this could be a pricey evening out. However, we left having spent around $30, tasted some great wines, and in reality spent little more than the price of an average priced bottle of a single wine in a normal bar.

The location was modern style, a high ceiling and lots of brick work. The music was only just audible, and so wouldn’t get in the way if you were eating and talking to friends. The atmosphere was ok, but might not be as good if the place was less than full.

The only downside for the “drinks” only crowd was that was really no easy way to cleanse the palette or obvious way to dump the wines that you didn’t like. It would have been nice to have had a tap with water only, hopefully at zero cost, and some way to get either some bread or crackers. Overall though Taste Select Wines on the corner of Chavez and Colorado was a fun way to spend an hour.

In the interests of transparency, I’d just like to say I paid for all my drinks myself(honest guv) and didn’t declare I was a reviewer for Austin metblogs and so didn’t get any special treatment from the pumps, especially when they though I was drinking too fast ;-)

S 1st St – The more things change, the more they stay the same

It’s been a short 12-weeks since I wrote my first Austin met blog entry, and I’ve come to realize that while I see change all the time, actually it happens very slowly.

In my first post on the alterations of Chavez and access to the S 1st Bridge, I wondered if they were going to finish on schedule, they didn’t and still have not. I didn’t hear of any serious collisions between joggers and cars though, so thats good news.

The VMUification of S 1st still hasn’t taken its first step. While the buildings mentioned in the articles are new developments, neither is being done under the Citys much vaunted VMU classification. Not much progress has been made on either.

In my post on 603 W Live Oak, the former home of Las Manos Magicas, I said they were taking the house away. They jacked it up, cut it in half, put on trailers, tarped it and then found out they needed a permit. Who’da figured? So the house is still there. Permits are an interesting thing.

On the City Permits database(*), it’s interesting to note that a small new bakeshop, Sugar Mama’s will be opening soon next to Secret Oktober, and have been busy applying for permits to cover all their work. You can chart their progress and sign-up to the mailing list on their website.

Those that regularly eat at Polvos might not have noticed the changes going on there. It was only when I saw the permit application for the sign for Sugar Mamas and searched, that it became clear Polvos didn’t apply for one for the monster they installed mid-2007. It appears from City records they also didn’t apply for permits for the work thats being going one around the back and side of the restaurant either, although this is mostly out of sight of the dinners.

Parking continues to be a problem for Polvos and residents, on a good day for the restaurant, W Johanna for 2-blocks, S 2nd for 2 blocks is completely full with customer cars, and damage to cars in the streets is a regular happening from customers who either can’t parallel park, can’t reverse or have had too much to drink(nah surely not…). Interestingly, the parking for Polvos was a significant enough problem to have been called out in the 2002 Bouldin Creeek Neighborhood Plan for action(See action item 62-64). Who’da guessed.

When I moved in, the big yellow building at 2009 was empty, and so it will be again soon. La Luz moved in, and now they are moving out. According to signs on their myspace web page and in the store, La Luz will be shutting its doors and merging with Prototype Vintage Design on South Congress beginning early August!

The more things change on South 1st, the more they stay the same.

(*) When searching the permits database the best results can be found by lugging the street name in the the project name entry field. It’s also worth limiting the search by date at the bottom.

Tejano fest fabulous

don’t mess with Tejano musicThe dance floor was full and the faces were joyful at yesterday’s Primetime Tejano Music Fest. Today’s local paper reports that temperatures reached 101 and 102 in the shade at around 4 pm yesterday, but whatever heat there was came from the stage and otherwise nobody seemed to feel it. That’s what wonderful music does for the body and the spirit.

We arrived shortly after Los Gallos took the stage and left a little before the headline act, Ruben Ramos and the Texas Revolution, left it. Councilmember Mike Martinez was very much in evidence, along with Chris “Tejano Man” Tristan, Marcelo Tafoya (Tejano radio pioneer, community activist, iTejano radio, Texas Artist Music Museum, and much, much more), and the Austin Tejano Music Coalition. All the musical acts remained after their sets to hear everyone else: Los Gallos, Los Texas Wranglers (with special guest Augustin Ramirez), Gary Hobbs, Los Texmaniacs (with eternal crowd favorite David Farias singing and playing the acordeon as only he can), and Ruben Ramos and his group.

Among the presences were LULAC, voter registration, Fiestas Patrias, Recuerdos 107.7-FM (home of Sunday Tejano music from 6 to 10 pm), the IRS (now seeking to employ people who can proficiently speak, read, and write Spanish), and more.

A large crew from the Cotton Gin in Maxwell, Texas, was there operating one of the more elaborate outdoor cooking, grilling, and smoking outfits in existence. A couple of the guys noted our interest and offered fine free samples of chili and cornbread. The Cotton Gin will conduct a fajita-cooking contest on Labor Day weekend. We were mightily impressed by the aguas frescas from Fonda del Sol on Seventh Street. We didn’t try the coconut, watermelon, or cantaloupe versions, but the lime was intense with citrus and the pineapple was the very essence of perfectly ripe fruit.

I thought it was good market research that people were asked at the gate (it was five dollars, children gratis) where they heard about the event. The answer was usually “radio” but of course, as the day progressed, people were hearing via cellphone from their friends already at Fiesta Gardens. This was billed as “the first annual” program. Many are those who wish for many more.

Introducing The Hub

hub.metblogs

If Metblogs is a city, hub.metblogs is the playground. We kept hearing from people that one of their favorite parts of Metblogs was meeting and interacting with readers and writers from other parts of the world, as well as getting requests for more ways that readers could be involved besides just posting comments. We thought about this for a while and decided that with a network like this, a giant community area where folks from all over the world could hang out, post photos and videos, talk with each other, form groups, play games, send messages, and do about a million other things was probably a pretty fun idea. The Hub is that.

If you have any tech ideas or suggestions join this group and speak up. See you on hub.metblogs!

Triangulating again

Yume exotic cuisineYume has been open just a week and we were the first to enter when it opened today at 5 pm. It’s still shaking down, I think. As I understand it, there’s a chef in charge of the sushi bar and raw foods generally, one lording it over the grill and related stations, one working with two other specialists to produce an array of refined desserts planned to change daily, and perhaps one other specialist. I believe I also understood that each of the four major chefs had something to do with designing the plates, bowls, and other ceramics that come to the table. I tasted nobody’s food but my own, miso followed by flank steak presented in slices and accompanied (I think) by wilted chard, but I’m not sure. Anyhow, the chopped green and fresh whatever and the brown sauce both tasted good. The report on the tempura shrimp was favorable and the same was true for the scallops. There was no sushi expert in our party, but all at that bar seemed to be fresh and inviting. The music on the sound system was jazzy instrumental music, predominantly brass, interspersed with vocals from La Isla Encantada.

Yume’s fancy desserts were resisted with difficulty, but the plan was to head for Mandola’s Market afterward for a sitdown with coffee and pastries there. It had been a while since we’d checked in at Mandola’s. Since the last time, many of the grocery shelves have been removed to make way for more tables. Mandola’s was extremely busy in every department. Some breads were sold out. Amidst the bustle we did manage to step up to the pastry and gelato case for some takeaway.

Mandola’s cucidate are beyond compare. The filling of these small cookies is just made to go with strong coffee or dessert wines and cordials. I didn’t see what the label said were the ingredients, but certainly there were dates and figs and cinnamon and perhaps brandy or the like. These are very elegant and grown-up versions of Fig Newtons. I also love another old-fashioned homestyle cookie or pastry. I forget what it’s called, but it’s a sort of shortbread made from polenta (coarse cornmeal) with lots of vanilla and some small bits of raisins or currants and lemon peel. Again, these are perfect with strong coffee or other grown-up after-dinner beverages (and cold milk, too). The beautiful thing about both of these little bits of heaven, and other traditional favorites in the case, is that just one suffices; they are that satisfying.

So, once again, the Triangular coffee came from Flipnotics, and that was more than fine.

Grand Champeen Rock the Continental

Grand Champeen

Alex of Grand ChampeenAlex of Grand ChampeenAlex of Grand ChampeenLast night, local Austin band Grand Champeen played the Continental Club after midnight. The ‘Peen have been playing some of the best straightfoward rock in Austin, if not the US, combining elements of The Kinks and The Replacements, with the energy of punk rock thrown in for good measure. I’m no music critic, so I’ll just say that I thoroughly enjoyed the less-than-capacity crowd at the Continental, which I think is to be relished by us locals these days, when most of the time South Congress can seem to be completely overrun.  Of course, I hope the club and band are making enough money, but after living in DC where every show with any decent band was sold out, it’s great to be back in Austin where one can see great music without the hassle. Sometimes.

Woodland quick-lunch

Pie case at The WoodlandThe Woodland on South Congress has been serving lunch for less than a month, but the word must be out, because every table and booth turned over at least once during the noon-hour today. And the pies in this case were going fast. Our table accounted for one giant wedge of apple pie with a beautiful hand-woven (not pre-cut) lattice top.

Here’s my Big Wish when it comes to The Woodland: may the heavenly pork empanadas never leave the menu, ever, for any reason at all. You must try one to know why I beseech the menu divinities to heed my request. This is non-fatty, completely cooked-down pork seasoned with chiles and more and served with a delightful green sauce and some beautifully dressed finely shredded cabbage.

The on-line menu and what’s actually available are not the same, at least not at lunch-time. Today’s soup was tomato bisque, and a lot of it was being served. The main-dish special of the day was chicken-fried steak. A first course brought to our table in addition to those empanadas was a plate of fried oysters, with yet another sauce that could be consumed in bucket-sized quantities. Of the main courses, I tasted only my own very acceptable salmon plate. Chicken pot pie brought in a large bowl would have fed a platoon. It’s reported that the sauce was rich and that there was both light- and dark-meat chicken.

There was a party including several children. Because the acoustics at The Woodland are so lively, it’s difficult to hear the waitstaff or tablemates, so I doubt that even a colicky infant would create any sort of disturbance. Several people were being served at the bar, and I think that I saw meals brown-bagged for takeout being picked up. I’d be interested in sampling other offerings on a future visit, but I’ll never forsake those pork empanadas.

Will Congress Avenue Survive?

On my way to try out the new Conjunctured co-working space (which is a whole other story) today on my bike, I stopped to get a few breakfast tacos at the doomed Las Manitas Cafe.  Across the street, the abomination known as The Austonian (please don’t start calling Austin residents “Austonians” – we are Austinites!) is going up. In addition to losing Las Manitas as a business, a letter posted on the counter at Las Manitas made it sound like Congress Avenue could lose that block of buildings, completely, to the new Marriott property.  The letter on the counter indicated there will be a hearing of the Historical Commission this coming Monday, yet I could not find out any information on the City’s Web site today.

That little section of Congress, which is supposedly a National Historic District, is really a huge part of what I think of as Austin.  My grandparents ran a store on Congress when I was a kid, and I remember when Las Manitas was Avenue Cafe, Woolworth’s supplied all our pharmaceutical needs as well as tasty shakes and burgers, the elegant Scarbrough’s department store gave us a taste of big-city living a la Macy’s or Bergdorf’s, and the Picadilly Cafeteria was upscale dining.  How much of that essence, the feeling, of that past remain? I’m worried.  Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but we have historic districts for good reason in this country, and I hope there is some teeth in this one. 

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