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.