Posts Tagged ‘sxsw’

Shoreline Grill: peaceful lunch with view

The Shoreline Grill now bills itself as “Austin’s first sustainable seafood restaurant.” Today’s crowd seemed to be half business meetings (law-related, to judge from what was overheard) and half conventioneering (really, also mostly business-related).

At our table, we sampled the soup of the day, a very complex and subtle preparation involving oysters and fennel and many mysteries. It was delicious. The lamb sliders were rich enough on their tiny toasted buns without the addition of a mayonnaise. They were tasty, and intended to be shared, I’m sure, since the three little lamb-burgers were a bit too much for one person. The unanimous choice for the entree was the fish of the day, loup-de-mer accompanied by watercress or a similar green in vinaigrette and by tiny, tiny potatoes.

The post-luncheon coffee was excellent, as was the expresso. The man-magnets quail and fried chicken remain on the menu, but chocolate intemperance, alas, is no more. In its place was another chocolate dessert, chocolate mousse cake, which those who ordered it happily downed, but the flavor was not so subtle or intense as the old standby dessert and the texture was more like a solid mousse with a bit of custard, or something like that. The fish was hot from the pan and exactly as it should have been, for the most part escaping the heavy hand with the salt-shaker that seemed to prevail everywhere else but for the soup.

Parking in the underground garage is still free with a stamped validation from the Shoreline. The music today was California-style pseudo-jazz loud enough to mask conversations but not so loud as to overpower them. Service was attentive and professional. This is still a great place for a business meeting and still has entrees, including vegetarian and salad specialties, to suit everyone, but I’ve decided it was really the chocolate intemperance that was the draw.

We were out and around during the noon rush-hour in order to buy bus passes and conduct some other business. Our plan had been to dine at Chez Nous if possible or, if not, at Louie’s 106. The pedestrian traffic jams were irritating in the extreme and that’s why, after leaving Capital Metro, we headed for the Shoreline. Even on Rainey Street and at the MACC, congestion is the rule.

Cafe Josie: now with outdoor seating

Cafe Josie is just as wonderful as ever (it wouldn’t be possible to say that it’s better than ever, because I’ve never seen any room for improvement). The menu can’t even begin to describe the intensity of flavor in what is brought to the table.

It would be a delight to try something new, but at lunch I can never bear not to order what’s described like this: “pepita redfish with mango habanero butter: Pepita and Spice Crusted and served on Poblano Rice and Cotija Black Beans with Tomatillo Chile, Ancho Chile, Spicy Pepitas and fresh Vegetables.” Today’s vegetables were sweet carrots and snow peas. I think that asparagus was one of the vegetables the last time around. The appetizers always seem to be just as generous as the entrees, and at our table today the following were ordered to be served in that way: (1) grilled lobster cakes with lime cilantro aioli and (2) crisp gulf oysters served with the same aioli and with a honey chipotle sauce. Others raved about the fish tacos. Diners on the patio appeared to be enjoying this new venue.

We found that the ideal “hot cross buns” from Sweetish Hill are available on weekends only, so we did without them, consoling ourselves with poppyseed kaiser rolls instead.

And because we had the rolls, we found it necessary to go to Kash-Karry Fresh Plus for delicious items to put in and on the rolls. And because we were next door to Sledd Nursery, we treated ourselves and our pleasure grounds to some additional geraniums.

All this was necessary to compensate for the spring-break dental visit, not anticipated or experienced with pleasure. But the aftermath described above made up for it. As we hustled around, we enjoyed the sounds of live music everywhere and the sight of so many people walking, wheeling on bikes, and riding the bus. Thank you, SXSW!

Hearing myself think

Sometimes it’s fun to be admidst the tumult; other times it’s nice to be able to talk to your visitors and hear what they have to say in return.

We’ve been sticking with what we stumble upon in the way of music and so it was that we came to follow the sound of New Orleans mysteriously embodied downtown Saturday by experts in brass and percussion dressed in yellow and black attracting a second line.

Beyond that, so far we’ve hit Recycled Reads, Maudie’s on South Lamar, Tien Jin, and Fran’s Hamburger’s and also The Richard Jones Pit for BBQ (lean brisket a favorite) on South Congress. These latter two make for great people-watching without any line-waiting. It was plain that there were SXSW people at Maudie’s, but they weren’t new to the establishment, being returnees in the company of Austinites.

Austin in print

  • There was South by Southwest coverage galore. Some print outfits offered accounts by multiple journalists (e.g., NYT). So far, though, I’ve happened across not much that seemed like genuine enthusiasm. An exception would be the WSJ of March 24, wherein reporter Jim Fusilli (“Where SXSW Points Talent“) says that he loved Austin’s own Band of Heathens, giving the group credit for “the best set I came across during my five nights in town.” Fustilli tweeted from Austin.
  • An outpouring of generosity organized by the local AustinMama community was highlighted in today’s NYT (“Helping out With Cash: A Delicate Art,” byline Ron Lieber). A family with a seriously ill baby and few healthcare resources has been amazed by the support from this local on-line group of caring parents who’ve been known to charge into action as benefactors IRL, as in this case.
  • An Austin-area Voting Rights Act case has attracted national attention and much has been written about it, both as news and as analysis. The best writing that I’ve seen about how this case arose, why it was taken to the Supreme Court and how, and what the issues are is to be found in today’s WSJ (“A Showdown on Voting Rights,” byline Jess Bravin). Note the little remark on how it was that Austin went from single-member districts to an at-large city council. Here’s coverage by the local daily upon the issuance of a writ of certiorari (January 10, 2009; byline Chuck Lindell). The case was originally entitled Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Mukasey and is now v. Holder (08-322). The current Court docket sets this for oral argument on April 29.
  • Austin stars in How Perfect Is That, a novel of social comedy and manners written by our own Sarah Bird. I don’t buy many books these days, and this one’s been constantly checked out from the library, so I only recently caught up with it. I know that Sarah Bird has a national following, but I always wonder what outlanders make of specific references to aspects of Albuquerque (in the case of The Flamenco Academy) or Austin (in this case). Although she sets it as occurring in April, not our current waning days of March, the author offers a wonderful appreciation of the arrival of spring foliage as we see our local trees bursting forth in blossoms and leaves. She pays special tribute to those crispy oysters with yucca root chips on the menu at Jeffrey’s. And one of her composite characters, an earnest and saintly sort, gets about via recumbent bicycle, reminding one of a certain sometimes columnist for the Wheatsville Breeze, frequent writer of letters to the Chron, and former candidate for city council (initials “AB”).
  • One series of accounts from SXSW that I’ve particularly enjoyed appears to be destined for an on-line existence only, but it would be a shame for anyone to overlook these brief takes from some fine folks reporting for The New Yorker magazine.

Overlap! but we all love our stax o’ wax

This is another of those years when South by Southwest (March 13-22) and whatever the rodeo’s calling itself this year (Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo, March 13-28) coincide in whole or in part.

When the rodeo used to be at the Coliseum and along the banks of the river, I used to see more of it than the cowboy breakfast and sometimes a parade. I still go out to enjoy the carnival rides and hear some music, but it’s just not so convenient at the new location. On Saturday, March 21, among those taking the outdoor stage will be Los Texmaniacs, who are up here nearly every week from San Antonio, and Los Texas Wranglers, hometown favorites.

It’s easy to tell that Austin attracts those who arrive early for these events and others. They’re already populating South Congress and downtown hotspots and there’s already guidance to our attractions available.

This past Sunday’s NYT travel section focused on places selling turntable fodder (“In Austin, Vinyl Is Still Vital,” byline Joel T. Weickgenant; additional NYT Austin links). I can think of at least three establishments omitted from the annotated list, but the included are Waterloo, End of an Ear, Sound On Sound, Antone’s, and Cheapo. I don’t care how much anybody offers: I’ll never part with my original Blue Horizon albums or my complete Charlie Parker Savoy sessions.

A good time, even without any food

Eastside CafeEastside Cafe is 20 years young, and the garden is more spectacular than ever. Our rendez-vous didn’t work out quite as planned, but the people-watching was wonderful and the mystery of the missing salad dressings has been solved. We strolled the gardens, admired the cats and the purple martins, and enjoyed people-watching of a high order. And we also checked out the on-site shop, Pitchforks & Tablespoons, where the person in charge told us that the longed-for bottled dressings, Dijon mustard vinaigrette and feta cheese dressing, although missing from the shelves of Central Market, will soon be available again, at Pitchforks & Tablespoons. This little shop sells souvenir T-shirts, botanical-themed stationery, scented products, seeds in packets, and much more, including handsome bird-baths that stand on a metal stake stabbed into the ground. They’re easy to move and are safer against the predations of felines than other forms. Anyhow, food wasn’t on the menu tonight, as it turns out, at least not for us, but our visit was most enjoyable anyhow.

Katz’s unkluttered

We were lucky this morning to be seated without trouble at Katz’s. We all put away astonishingly large quantities of nourishing food, accompanied by real milkshakes, iced coffee, fresh-squeezed fruit juice and more. I won’t say what others ordered, but I went with the all-spud special: four potato pancakes, with applesauce, plus an order of French fries. Katz’s never does close, and there’s food for all. The nearby parking is as ample as the portions.

Lucky to be seated

Sushi Sake, AustinWe didn’t even try to dine downtown last evening. The lodgings were north, so that’s where we sought food and were happy to be seated at a circular table, some us in in a booth and some in chairs, at Sushi Sake. Our party was the last one for a while that didn’t have to wait.

The sushi bar was busy and that’s all I know about that, since we are not ourselves sushi-adept people. Tempura of all sorts was light; we enjoyed our miso and the dressing on the salad. My portion of salmon was very generous. There were several fish specials. The most interesting dish was one from the appetizer section of the menu, chilled spinach with a sesame-seed paste. We all especially enjoyed the gyoza (pan-fried dumplings). Some people order only the dumplings and shrimp tempura.

Service was attentive without being intrusive. The portions were generous. The quiet acoustics make this a good place for a conversation.

Frantastic

Fran’s Hamburger’s, South Congress, AustinPark under the carport, go in, step up to the window and place your order, fill your cup with tea, sit down, and wait for your number to be called.

There’s a jukebox, but there’s usually vintage music coming over the speakers with no need to spend any money. If the jukebox is an option, there’s plenty of Tejano music on it.

I always order French fries. They arrive in a flimsy little paper sack. Tabasco sauce is on every table. The chili cheeseburger is gone from the menu, so those who were fond of it must console themselves with a plain cheeseburger.

Fran’s Hamburgers is for the hungry who can’t wait and for those with tired feet. Skip the lines at Magnolia if either of these two conditions apply to you. Your order is made up just for you, and is usually ready quite quickly. Fran’s, along with the Richard Jones Pit, is a South Congress survivor. Ask for carry-out if that’s what you want. Children are welcome here, too.

Connections

The dial-tone was buzzy and full of static and then it disappeared altogether. This was Monday at 9:00 am; it returned at a little before 5 pm yesterday. That makes over 24 hours without a land-line. And yes; I’m a laggard when it comes to adopting technology, which means it’s POTS or nothing. And let me just say, that the lodgings that promise Internet access don’t always have it up and working or working well. I blame only myself for any Luddite tendencies, but I blame the torrential downpour, aging infrastructure, and the telco for the problem. One variant or another strikes many neighborhoods south of the river from time to time, making life especially unpleasant for businesses. But that’s another story.

It’s South by Southwest, remember, and school’s out and lots of us are taking breaks from work to entertain visitors from far and wide. Here’s what I found when I sought a way to check in. I did not try the City’s free WiFi in the same building, but I did stop in at the Austin Java now serving as a cafe and more in City Hall. The tables are sturdy, the chairs are excellent, and the people are friendly. Even though attendance at SxSW this year seems to be a little light, going by street presence of people with lanyard i.d., there were plenty of attendees at Austin Java. The connection’s good. Food and coffee are available beginning at 7 am (great for early birds!). I know someone who’s returning to try the Eggs Benedict. Acoustics aren’t good, but that’s the only drawback.

For the extremely reasonable cost of a cup of coffee and some pastry or another beverage and an ice-cream cone from the cafe, Ventana del Soul came to my rescue another time during the POTS outage. There, also, I found out-of-town SxSW attendees. This is a great place for people to keep in mind for meetings, formal or in- and large or small. The signal is strong but a little slow; it’s great there there are so many electrical outlets. The natural light is a plus, and the people are always very pleasant. Those waiting may read some of the many up-to-date magazines, and there are board games, too. Supporting Ventana del Soul supports its mission.

Best of all was the Howson branch of the public library. Howson is a reader’s place and so was exceptionally quiet for working. Sign-up for access was quick and simple, with no need to possess or show a library card. Desks aren’t that many, but I worked at one. The height was ergonomically correct, there was sufficient work surface, and the electrical outlets were on the desktop. The signal was strong and downloads were instantaneous. I’ve never taken a laptop to the library, but I certainly will again. Next, I think I’ll try Carver and Ruiz branches.

Wooldridge Square is on the network serving the APL system, I see; when the day is sunny though, even Wooldridge shade probably won’t help with screen visibility. I don’t know what’s the best on-line directory to free Austin hotspots. The ones I tried were just ones I remembered hearing about. So this was my first adventure. Of course, an on-line directory is of no use when it’s needed for the reasons I needed it; nevertheless, it would be very helpful to bookmark a few directories for the future. The directory of access points at Auscillate is extensive; I wonder whether there’s one even better.

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