Sunday, January 7, 2018

Don’t sleep on January in San Antonio

A time existed, probably not long ago, when there was not a lot to do in the way of large-scale events in San Antonio in January.

Save for the Army All-American Bowl, San Antonio Sports All-Star Football Game, and the MLK Jr. March, things were quiet locally to begin a new year, even in recent years.

Yeah, no, that ain’t happening anymore. So let me remind you (or educate you) on the very things that make San Antonio a rather busy place in January. Plus, I've covered (yes, journalisting!) each of these festivities and I could vouch for their educational or entertainment value. 

*Dream Week San Antonio - it's actually two weeks of dozens and dozens of panel discussions, lectures, hands-on family activities, film screenings, galas, dance performances, art exhibits, tastings, poetry slams, readings and more citywide. They all pay tribute to MLK's legacy of diversity, empowerment, education and tolerance. So, there's much more than the march itself.

*PAX South -- I kinda regret having not indulged my gamer cravings. (I'm more of an 80s/early 90s gamer). But PAX making San Antonio one of its prime festival destinations is a thrill. Even if you're not a gamer, you can easily enjoy the fun, active atmosphere at the convention center - one filled that represents virtually every element of gaming culture.

*San Antonio Cocktail Conference - Imbibing for charity. Do you really need another reason to go? There are nightly tasting events, paired dinners, pop-ups, after-parties and seminars, all meant to educate patrons on the art of the cocktail, the spirits and bar industries, and cocktail culture. Proceeds to go local children's charities. 

*San Antonio Restaurant Week -- Be it the winter or summer edition, it's two weeks worth of opportunities to enjoy a multi-course, prix-fixe lunch or dinner menu at some of your favorite local restaurants. This winter's edition lasts Jan. 15-27.

Prices range from $15 lunches and $35 dinners per person at some restaurants, and $10 lunches and $25 dinners at others. More than 80 eateries around San Antonio, Boerne and New Braunfels are participating this winter edition. The number of participating restaurants is on the rise.

Then, $1 from every lunch and $2 from every dinner go to Culinaria's culinary education and promotion programs. Reservations are not required, but they are strongly encouraged. 

There you go, the tip of the iceberg on the local festivities you can use to fill up your January calendar. I don't want to hear any complaints that you don't know what's happening in town in the dead of winter. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

San Antonians gear up for South by Southwest

The nonprofit Choose San Antonio is again heading up a collective effort to showcase the assets in San Antonio’s high-tech, culinary, music and film industries at South by Southwest (SXSW).

Austin’s annual convergence of interactive, film and music will be held March 10-19 this year. Last year, Choose San Antonio put together a coalition of private and public partners, including the city of San Antonio, to officially represent San Antonio in different ways at the festival

Meghan Garza-Oswald, Choose San Antonio’s executive director, said this year’s  SATX@SXSW initiative will be roughly the same as last year’s efforts, but with some tweaks.

“This year, the way we’re doing it is a little different and more strategic because we look at which pillar was most attended, was linked to San Antonio, and had the most applicability to San Antonio,” she added.

Instead of a home base, or Casa San Antonio, at a large Sixth Street restaurant/bar, Choose San Antonio will centralize its activities in a smaller, more intimate venue - Half Step.

Half Step is a cocktail bar in the Rainey Street district , just south of downtown Austin. Plenty of official and unofficial SXSW activities take place south of the Austin Convention Center - the hub of the festival’s interactive portion. In this case, this year’s Casa San Antonio will be in good company. 

Garza-Oswald said the Rainey Street district, with its mix of restaurants, bars, hotels, condos and creative businesses, is a much more fitting spot for Casa Antonio.

“It’s a renovated house. The internal structure of the venue lends itself to a conversational/networking type of environment,” said Garza-Oswald.

“I am excited that Choose SA’s Casa San Antonio will be relocating to Rainey Street,” said Jeret Pena, Choose San Antonio board member, in a press release. “As a business owner, Rainey Street reflects the right character and culture of San Antonio.” 

Garza-Oswald commended Half Step owner Chris Bostick for making Choose San Antonio feel at home when it organized programming there last fall during SXSW Eco.

“Having worked with Choose San Antonio in the past for SXSW ECO, we are extremely excited that they have chosen Half Step for 2017's Casa San Antonio.” said Bostick in the press release.

“I am originally from Austin, but I am thrilled Casa San Antonio will be with us because San Antonio has always been a favorite destination of mine. I'm sure we'll do the city proud." 

Details are being finalized, but here’s a place at Choose San Antonio’s activities at Casa San Antonio during the first three days of SXSW:

*Presentations will touch upon San Antonio as an emerging hub friendly to startups. 

Lorenzo Gomez, executive director of Geekdom, will talk about startup communities and how best can communities such as Geekdom encourage the evolution of a city’s startup tech ecosystem.

Bria Woods and Laura Calo will speak of their journey from college students to developing an app, GLO (Good Looking Out), which seeks to provide safety for college students.

David Henry of Card Isle, speaking from experience, will address how startups can benefit from an incubator or accelerator.

*Other sessions take on San Antonio’s community and cultural development:

Molly Cox, executive director of SA2020, will lead a discussion about her organization and how digital dashboards can help chart the growth of a community across a range of unique indicators.

Hugh Daschbach, Hotel Emma’s culinary concierge, will talk about how Pearl has become the place to be in San Antonio when it comes to culinary experimentation and education blending in with retail opportunities and the live/work lifestyle.

Steve McHugh, chef/founder of Cured restaurant at Pearl, will recall his fight with cancer. He’ll talk about how he managed to protect his professional brand during that battle all the while helping to be part of the redevelopment of the former Pearl Brewery complex.

Those are just a few presentations that’ll be taking place at Half Step. Casa San Antonio is also poised to be the site of a cybersecurity roundtable discussion (including breakfast), and a showcase of smart-city ideas and technology.

Choose San Antonio’s base will have some extra fun activities in the mornings and nights that first weekend of SXSW. 

The schedule so far has called for a taco showcase Friday morning, and McHugh’s curation of a chicken-and-waffles-style breakfast Saturday. Plus, expect some local food trucks to be making their presence known.

There will also be showcase of San Antonio musicians Friday night (courtesy of San Antonio Sound Garden), local filmmakers Sunday night, and a “Life is Better in Texas” party Saturday evening.

“It’s the same amount of panels, but over two days, and we’re using the third day for opportunities to really intimately engage the leads we have met so we can show off San Antonio and some of our initiatives,” Garza-Oswald said.

Plus, like with 2016, Choose San Antonio will organize a presence at the SXSW trade show, March 12-15, at the convention center. 

There, attendees can find the brightly colored icehouse-themed space where attendees will be urged to hang out and learn more about the Alamo City from select “ambassadors” — individuals from local tech, culinary, film, music and other sectors. 

In their own words, they’ll be on hand to promote why San Antonio is more than just a tourism destination. 

On the whole, Choose San Antonio’s community partners will host 10 to 15 small- to medium-sized networking events for South by attendees, San Antonio community members, and select VIP guests. 

San Antonians will take part in other SXSW activities.

“Que Means What” blogger Melanie Mendez-Gonzales makes a return speaking engagement. She’ll be part of the panel, “Pathway to Increase Diversity in the Outdoors.” 

Mendez-Gonzales and other panelists will talk about connecting the nation’s fastest growing populations, such as Hispanics, to the outdoors and heritage sites can promote better health and closing diversity gaps.

A variety of San Antonio-based and -born musical acts will be performing at different places and times during SXSW, such as: Third Root, Rudy Tee y Los Pelicanos Del Rey, Darkness Divided, Harvey McLaughlin, KP tha Profit, House of Kenzo, Question, Lisa Morales, Keedren Boston, Garrett T. Capps, and Ghostpizza

An app, keeping attendees up to date on official Choose San Antonio programming, will be rolling out shortly from Grok Interactive. 

Choose San Antonio also expects, like last year, to have a shuttle to take some local attendees to the conference.
If that’s not enough, Choose San Antonio recently launched its year-long social campaign, #iChooseSA. 

The #iChooseSA campaign will encourage native San Antonians, transplants and boomerang community members to share their San Antonio pride on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. 

The #iChooseSA social uploads will be displayed in an infinite loop while Casa San Antonio takes over Half Step. 

“#iChooseSA because San Antonio is an awesome place to live, work and play,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said in a news release. “Our people are welcoming, our heritage is legendary and our future is bright.”

SXSW staffers showed up at Geekdom in early February to provide information to locals on what to expect from this year's conference.

A kickoff to #SATXatSXSW is scheduled for 6-8:30 p.m. March 1 at Burleson Yard Beer Garden. The free-admission event includes complimentary cocktails, food trucks, and a chance to meet some of the contestants who'll be in the taco challenge at Half Step during SXSW. RSVP here.

Until then, keep up to date with Choose San Antonio's website and social media, as well as SXSW. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reveling in the finale of Restaurant Week

I saved the best for last when it came to this round of San Antonio Restaurant Week. It was the final evening of a two weeks worth of the town's best restaurants offering amazing pre-fixed meal menus for lunch and dinner.

It was no different at J Prime Steakhouse.  It was, admittedly, my first time there. For such an establishment, my friend Miriam and I could not have been more pleased with the professionalism displayed, from the quick seating at our table to departure.

For the appetizer, Miriam went with the lobster bisque, involving minced lobster, creme fraiche, and sherry. Seeing as how I hadn't loaded up on many veggies the past two days, I chose the wedge salad, which was garnished with a parmesan trick and baby heirloom tomatoes.

For the entree, Miriam indulged in the stuffed airline chicken breast -- beautifully wrapped with chicken, stuffed with breadcrumbs, and semi-dried tomatoes with a veal demi glaze.

The chicken breast came accompanied by Miriam's choice of au gratin potato.

I was in love with the Atlantic salmon, which came served with lemon beurre blanc, and beet reduction with baby vegetables.

Given all the appetizers - and glasses of Spaten beer we were downing - what appeared to be a tightly compact main entrees, with great presentation, were plenty enough on their own.

But of course we couldn't leave out the desserts. Miriam enjoyed the petite gateau -- chocolate cake served with warm chocolate truffle, vanilla ice cream and berries. 

I went after a slice of six-layered dark chocolate mousse cake. As you can guess, it was all rich, decadent and irresistible.

Props to J Prime for the excellent execution, on a typically busy Saturday night, even in the final fading hours of Restaurant Week. And all those proceeds go to benefit Culinaria and its many educational programs.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Restaurant Week's a local foodie's delight

San Antonio Restaurant Week has long been a popular way of indulging one’s craving for local culinary delights — and giving to a worthy cause.

Restaurant Week celebrates San Antonio’s chefs, winemakers, bartenders and other culinary arts leaders through specially priced meals at more than 100 participating restaurants citywide.

The latest edition of Restaurant Week begins today, Jan. 16, and continues through Jan. 28.

With each meal ordered for Restaurant Week, these restaurants will donate $1 from each lunch menu and $2 from each dinner menu ordered. 

Participating restaurants are offering an array of prix-fixe menus, encompassing three-course lunch and/or dinner menus within two different pricing tiers: 

*Tier 1 establishments have a three-course menu, costing $15 for lunch and $35 for dinner.

*Tier 2 establishments have a three-course menu, costing $10 for lunch and $25 for dinner.

Here’s just a small sampling of Tier 1 participating restaurants: Asado Seafood and Grill, Bliss, Frederick’s Bistro, Kirby’s Steakhouse, La Frite, Ostra, Saveurs 209, Supper at Hotel Emma, The Clean Plate, and Tre Enoteca.

Culinaria’s main website has a full, updated list, including links to menus. Reservations are strongly recommended at some places. 

Proceeds to benefit Culinaria, a local nonprofit that helps to advocate for San Antonio as a culinary and wine destination by fostering community development and education.

This year is big for Culinaria, as the organization will soon announce a new location for its urban farm. 

Called The Farm, the facility is a place where food professionals, farmers, volunteers, sponsors and other supporters of Culinaria and its goal can gather to  
exchange ideas and show the community at large how people can grow their own quality food.

Construction on The Farm’s original site near Magnolia Pancake Haus had been taking place through 2016. But due to unforeseen circumstances, Culinaria had to find another spot.

In the meantime, take a gander at those menus and enjoy Restaurant Week. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

I Fill My Free Time Reading Other People’s "Rogue One" Blogs

OK, not really. But I figure this is the most fun a fan can have each time a Star Wars movie is released. You know, reading up on fan theories, hidden eggs in the flick, “connecting the dots” between interviews with cast and crew, seeing the links with past movies, books, etc.

This isn’t so much an overdue review as much as it is a backing of the consensus that has developed around “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

It’s hard to keep up with the latest theorized and essentially confirmed tie-ins from “Rogue One” (I’ll do my best to spare you clear spoilers): 

*That Supreme Leader Snoke DID cross paths here with Darth Vader.

*There are references to characters and ships from “Star Wars Rebels.” (Well, one character crossover is very clear.)

*The Kyber crystals date back to pre-script treatment for “A New Hope.”

*The Force REALLY HAS been one with the entire rebellion and the entire rebellion has really been one with The Force.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It all provides hours of thrills for fans whose imaginations are broadened by this expanding Star Wars universe (expanding, finally, on the big screen). 

Star Wars has made me cry three times now: 

*The very end of “Return of the Jedi” when I was age 9 and I truly thought it was - back then - the end of the Star Wars saga. 

*A few tears shed in the end of “Rogue One.” The rebels’ sacrifice is fully realized and it’s a breathtaking, dark affair.

*Jar Jar Binks. Because Jar Jar’s appearance essentially symbolizes nearly all of George Lucas’ miscalculations in the prequels.

“Rogue One” is hope, that this enlarging “Star Wars” cinematic universe will only get even better. It will gives more engrossing characters, incredible worlds, engaging scenes of adventure, romance and drama, and fantastic action set pieces.

Was “Rogue One’s” script sublime? No. By no means did it contain the boredom and clunkiness of Lucas’ writing for the prequels. Nor was it a straight call-back to Episode IV or The Force Awakens. 

And yes, Vox, it is a war movie. Because “Star Wars” is about warfare against the backdrop of glorious, strange worlds. Perhaps unlike past SW flicks, “Rogue One” explores the moral complexity of the Rebel Alliance - that the rebels are practically terrorists who do more than they’re willing to admit for a “greater good.”  

Could there have been stronger character development? Sure. But you could say that for most movies. 

All in all, there’s a tremendous story - the end of which we knew already. But how we get there is thrilling and urgent with a dash of disconsolation thrown in. With its expected - and unexpected connections - to other “Star Wars” iterations, it’s a wonderful addition to the SW cinematic family. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movies That Are Christmas Movies (Even Though Some of You Feel Otherwise)

During the holiday season, you can only see “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “Miracle on 34th Street” so many times. 

That’s where quirkiness, creativity and an open mind come into play. You know well there are many flicks that don’t fall into the traditional “Christmas” or holiday film category.

Yet, these are Christmas movies. They are set during the holiday season. Some may even have redeeming quality or two.
So, get some wassail or “special” hot cocoa (you may need plenty of it to really enjoy these holiday classics), relax and let all this cinematic awesomeness take you over. 

If you think about it, Warner Bros., Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus and Joe Dante were geniuses. Imagine it’s 1984 (I was, umm, youngish). Over the summer, you see this crazy semi-horror comedy about the cutish creature who, in a sense, births nasty little havoc-creating monsters. 
The gremlins take over a small town close to Christmas. You laugh, you cringe, you throw up your hands and say “What in the heck?”
You’re a kid back then. All you want is Gizmo, the mogwai. Darn, he doesn’t actually exist (as far as we know), but you can get him for…wait for it…Christmas! From Ward’s or JC Penney or Sears. Or Toys R’Us. Genius marketing. 

Die Hard
On the face of it, Die Hard launched the modern action movie genre. There have been many imitators…a one-person army against a bunch of baddies. But nothing tops the original Die Hard, for its sheer thrills, drama, dazzling action, and some humor with one-liners thrown in for good measure.
But more than that, it’s a Christmas movie. I mean, c’mon, terrorists take over a Los Angeles office high-rise during a company’s holiday party? Everyone is in the giving spirit. The world is introduced to the great Alan Rickman (rest in peace, sir). We get Bruce Willis, action movie hero. We get Run-DMC’s Christmas song to start, Sammy Cahn singing “Let It Snow” before the end credits roll. What more do you want?
Honorable mention: Die Hard 2 (also set during Christmas in DC. )

Once again, imagine yourself in 1984. George Orwell’s “1984” has been made into a movie, which - frankly speaking - was boring. Then imagine you’re Terry Gilliam and want to envision a futuristic totalitarian society in a wild way. 
“Brazil” is it. Don’t ask about the title. Just. Don’t. Instead, just watch a movie with such amazing, daring vision. The plot? Well, it’s a little hard to explain, but it is set during Christmas. Or what’s left of it in this society. 
It plays like a bleak drama, but it’s chock full of dark humor and socio-political satire. You’ll never think of an imagined dictatorship in the same way again.

Night of the Comet
I honestly can’t call Night of the Comet a straight-up horror/sci-fi flick. Sure, it starts with the return of a comet that apparently contributed to the dinosaurs’ demise. But the comet is returning to pass Earth - in one night before Christmas. And mankind is pretty much finished.
All you have left are survivors played by the likes of Kelli Maroney, Catherine Mary Stewart and Robert Beltran, wondering what may come next. 
(Confession: I had the hots for Maroney and Stewart in the 80s. Ok, back to the blog.)
Anyways, it’s a fun lower budget flick that so fits its time and setting: mid-1980s L.A. Like my other mentioned movies, “Night of the Comet has its share of dark humor and satire. For me at this point, it’s all about the 80s nostalgia. 

Lethal Weapon
Before he tackled a somewhat more anti-traditional Christmas movie, “Scrooged,” Richard Donner directed Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in this action-errr, comedy franchise starter. But it has nice blend of action, humor and drama…all set before CHRISTMAS.

Trading Places
John Landis has been one of my favorite directors, mainly for his use of dark humor in a film that may not be seen as strictly slapstick comedy. “The Blues Brothers” was such an example. So is “Trading Places.” Eddie Murphy’s movie career was beginning. Dan Ackroyd was taking off. It was, simply, a perfect comedy SET DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON.

More honorable mention: Black Christmas; Silent Night, Deadly Night, Bad Santa, Krampus, All Through the House

I didn’t mention Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Home Alone, etc., because it’s naturally assumed these are Christmas-y flicks. Anyways, check these out if you haven’t already. With plenty of wassail.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Playoff college football, or pretending is fun!

Let’s face it — 2016 sucks. Except for the Cubs and Cowboys winning. But let’s wrap it up on a fun note, with my growing tradition. 

As the NCAA has come up with its third edition of a four-team Division I football playoff, it’s that time to imagine a 16-team tournament.

I know, we’ve heard the arguments against practically any playoff. That bowl traditions are dismantled. Student-athletes wouldn’t be able to focus on finals. Schools would lose money. But consider that tournaments haven’t hurt FCS or Division II or III or NAIA schools.

So, fire up those imaginations. Let’s play pretend. Start with automatic champions from FBS (Football Championship Series) conferences -- regular-season champs and championship game victors.

In the instance of co-champions, that conference would determine who gets essentially an automatic FBS bid. From 10 conferences, this year get 12 automatic bids. Average the current computer rankings, and those of Associated Press and coaches polls. Concentrate on schools that get the most place votes, prioritize, and reach a final aggregate Top 25 poll. Top-ranked FBS independents would be considered, of course.

A final 2016 FBS aggregate poll would look like this:

1) Alabama (SEC champion)
2) Clemson (ACC champion)
3) Ohio State 
4) Washington (Pac-12 champion)
5) Penn State (Big 10 champ)
6) Michigan
7) Oklahoma (Big 12 champ)
8) Wisconsin
9) USC
10) Florida State
11) Colorado
12) West Virginia
13) Oklahoma State
14) Western Michigan (MAC champ)
15) Louisville
16) Stanford
17) Auburn
18) Florida
19) Virginia Tech
20) LSU
21) Utah
22) Iowa
23) Pittsburgh
24) Nebraska
25) Temple (AAC champ)

Unranked conference champions
Western Kentucky (Conference USA champion)
San Diego State (Mountain West champion)
Appalachian State (Sun Belt champion)

Ultimately, FBS automatic bids would go to Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State, Oklahoma, Western Michigan, Temple, Western Kentucky, San Diego State, Appalachian State, 

Then look at the next set of highest ranked schools in the aggregate poll. They receive at-large bids: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, USC, Florida State, Colorado

The final FBS tournament seedings would be in a 16 vs. 1, 15 vs. 2, 14, vs. 3, etc. format. Accordingly, they are: 

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Washington
5. Penn State
6. Michigan
7. Oklahoma
8. Wisconsin
9. USC
10. Florida State
11. Colorado
12. Western Michigan
13. Temple
14. Western Kentucky
15. San Diego State
16. Appalachian State

Take a look at the oldest, popular, most lucrative, traditional bowls. Provide some regional interest where established or geographic rivalries may exist. Make those bowls the new FBS playoff matches. And yes, virtually all will be broadcast on ESPN its seemingly hundreds of channels.

Imagine the increased interest from fans, especially for those bowl games that sometimes do not get sold out. Imagine the ratings. Imagine these bowls having truly something at stake — a chance to advance to play for a championship. Just like most other playoffs/tournaments elsewhere on Earth do. Imagine that.

How about dates for these awesome matches? The “younger”-ish/less lucrative bowls would serve essentially as quarterfinals on various days from mid to late December. Using the seeding format — 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 14, 4 vs. 13, 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9 — this is how this plays out in 2016:

Tuesday, Dec. 13
San Diego State vs. Clemson– Motel 6 Catcus (formerly Copper, Insight, Buffalo Wild Wings); Tempe

Wednesday, Dec. 14
Western Michigan vs. Penn State-- Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus (formerly Tangerine, Capital One); Orlando
Temple vs. Washington-- National Funding (who?) Holiday; San Diego

Thursday, Dec. 15
Western Kentucky vs. Ohio State -- Outback (formerly Hall of Fame); Tampa
Colorado vs. Michigan -- Valero Alamo;

Friday, Dec. 16
Florida State vs. Oklahoma -- AutoZone Liberty; Memphis
USC vs. Wisconsin -– Camping World Independence; Shreveport

Saturday, Dec. 17
Appalachian State vs. Alabama -- TaxSlayer (formerly Gator - c’mon, just call it Gator again); Jacksonville

Probable winners?
Clemson, Western Michigan (upset special!), Washington, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State (throws in wrench), Wisconsin, Alabama

Ohio State
Florida State
Western Michigan

Then let’s go for highest vs. lowest surviving seeds for contests in the following week's semifinal bowls. Regional attractions can remain a factor where a match-up lands:

Wednesday, Dec. 21
Wisconsin v. Ohio State -- Hyundai Sun; El Paso

Friday, Dec. 23
Western Michigan v. Alabama -- Goodyear Cotton; Dallas

Saturday, Dec. 24
Florida State v. Clemson — Chick-fil-A Peach; Atlanta
Michigan v. Washington -- Northwestern Mutual Rose Bowl, Pasadena

Probable winners?
Michigan, Wisconsin (shock?), Alabama, Clemson

Final Four of sorts/Friday, Dec. 30 (featuring surviving seeds, low vs. high

Wisconsin v. Alabama – BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, Tempe
Michigan v. Clemson— Orange Bowl, Miami

Probable winners?
Alabama, Michigan

Championship game, Monday, Jan. 9
Michigan v. Alabama– Allstate Sugar; New Orleans

Sure, a variation of this may end up this way regardless in the present four-team system. But the fun is to let it all play out. What’s wrong with that?