Saturday, August 17, 2013

Negativity costs

I'm not a Pollyanna.  I don't see everything as being made of unicorns and rainbows, nor do I walk around smiling all the time.  (I've been told my normal facial expression is somewhere between grim and "I'm going to kill you now," but I can't vouch for that because, well, the expression is on my face.)  I do see the dark side of many things, and I certainly walk through life with more than a bit of paranoia. 

All of which may make this statement surprise some folks:  I'm really tired of dealing with negativity.

Constantly seeing the negative costs not only the viewer but those around him.  The viewer pays by having a shittier than necessary life--and isn't there enough shit in all our lives?--and by missing so much of the good things going on all around and even to him.  Those around negative people pay by having to help cheer up those they care for and by having their own positive attitudes constantly battered. 

Negative attitudes also make work harder.  Yes, considering all the available data is vital, and yes, some of that data will be negative.  Constantly finding fault with every option everyone offers and yet coming up with no alternatives, however, isn't being clever; it's being destructive. 

We all get down.  We all wish parts of our lives were different.  We all want things we do not get.  If, though, we respond to these and other life pressures by constantly being negative, then we should consider getting a little help.  The costs to negative people and to those who are around them are too high. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

On the road again: Austin, day 5

Today was a travel day, with many of the usual fun (not) aspects of such days:  lots of traffic on the roads, a delayed flight, an extended stay working in the Admirals' Club, a mad rush to make the second flight, and, hurrah hurrah, an upgrade on that flight.

All of that is just background noise, however, to the true story of this day:  I made my first visit to the world-famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin. 

If you're not one of the people to whom this restaurant is famous, you'll have to trust me that in foodie circles and among barbecue lovers, it most definitely is.  Anthony Bourdain proclaimed its brisket to be the best in the world, and he's not alone; about the worst criticisms of its brisket I've heard yet are that on some days it's not quite as great as others, and it might be only the second best in the world.

As you can imagine, I was eager to try the brisket.

Doing so requires some dedication.  Chef/owner Aaron Franklin doesn't open his doors until 11:00 a.m.  He serves only lunch.  When they run out of meat, he closes the doors.  People start lining up about 7:30 a.m.  One of our group showed up at 8:30 a.m. and secured a spot under the cover of the restaurant's overhang--but it still took us until nearly quarter past noon to get our food.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Ours is the second-to-last group on the left.

By about ten o'clock, the line was down to the end of the block.

Once you get inside, you see a simple dining room with space for something like 40 folks.

The menu is on the same butcher-block paper they use to wrap the cooked meats.

As you'd expect from a good Texas barbecue house, when you ask for a meat, they cut it right in front of you.  Here he's cutting the fatty brisket--always go for the fatty brisket--for our group. 

Seven of us ate family style from a huge pile of meat, quite a bit of which went home with our local friends. 

Here's a close-up of my brisket and the little bit of sausage I got; they ran out of sausage temporarily just after we bought the last two links.  (They were able to produce another round of sausage before they closed.)

Forget the lines, forget the hype, forget the national reputation.  It all comes down to this:  How does that brisket taste?

As I said aloud after I took my first bite, Franklin's brisket is the truth.  It is the embodied essence of everything barbecued brisket can possibly be.  It is far and away the best brisket I've ever tasted--and I have eaten brisket in a large number of top barbecue joints over the years.  If there was a Maslow's hierarchy for brisket, Franklin's would be sitting alone at the peak, fully self-actualized.

It is just that damn good. 

The sausage is among the best I've ever tasted.  The pork ribs are smoky and wonderful and also among the very best I've ever had.

The brisket, though, is simply the best.  Period.

Periodically, Franklin wanders the tables and talks to folks.  When he came to ours and asked after our meal, we sang the brisket's praises.  "It's what we do," he said, with evident pride.  When we talked about all the places I'd eaten brisket and how this one was far and away the best, he smiled and said, "The secret is, we cook it until it's over-cooked," and then he moved on.

I will wait in the line at Franklin any chance I get. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On the road again: Austin, day 4

Lunch today was with client friends at a new barbecue joint I'd never tried: Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew.  The brisket was good, but the stars of the show were the huge beef ribs.  If you're in the Austin area and love the mighty beef rib, consider Stiles.

Dinner was at a long-time favorite, Uchiko.  Our group tried the ten-course omakase, basically the chef's tasting menu, and it was delightful.  No dish was too big, each was extremely flavorful, and the collection showcased a great many aspects of Uchiko's menu.  I highly recommend this restaurant. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On the road again: Austin, day 3

More interesting meetings, more I can't discuss.

Dinner really is the only part of the day I can talk about.  Tonight, we'd hoped to eat at newcomer and hot Austin restaurant, QuiThe menu looks interesting, and the place is getting national attention, but it doesn't take reservations.  When we showed up about 8:15 p.m., the wait was at least ninety minutes.

I had too much piled-up work to be able to waste that much time, so we headed off to an Austin institution, Fonda San Miguel.  They seated us immediately, and the food was delicious, as always.

As I've noted in past blog entries, I particularly like the lights in the trees outside this restaurant.  The blue tree to the left of the building is a definite favorite.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

This photo is just as I took it with my phone; I've done no work on it, but I love how it came out.

This visit, the red up-lights mixed with the blue tree lights in front of the entrance to create an effect I found delightful.

You can't go wrong with Fonda San Miguel.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On the road again: Austin, day 2

Interesting meetings with friends who are also clients--but, as usual, nothing I can talk about. 

Dinner took us to Searsucker, one of a small chain of restaurants from Brian Malarkey, a celebrity chef who most recently was one of the judges on the now-canceled TV show, The TasteThe menus looked promising, so I was hoping for some truly interesting food.

Searsucker didn't deliver that at all.  The most interesting, new-cuisine part of the meal was the text of the menu, which aped the style of the menu of a very good restaurant.  We sampled multiple starters, and all were tasty but no better.  None was particularly inventive.  Almost all of them were over-salted, sometimes to the point of feeling like they were burning your tongue. 

Malarkey himself was there, signing books and being a friendly celebrity to a large table of women dining together.  The design of the space was eclectic and fun, the DJ's music was too loud--yes, in the front space nearer the bar a DJ was playing remixes I found more sad than pleasant (do we really need a ruined, overly long, jazzed up remix of "Satisfaction"?)--and the energy was good. 

The food, though, couldn't keep up.  The dishes were indeed riffs on classics, hence Malarkey's labeling of them as "New American Classic cuisine," but they were simple, barely imaginative riffs. 

On the plus side, if Searsucker serves to pull Austin diners from the T.G.I. Fridays of the world and toward at least slightly more interesting dishes, then it will have done a good thing.

Unless something about it changes, however, I won't bother going back. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

On the road again: Austin, day 1

Travel day.  Everything went well--upgraded both legs, first flight early, time for Red Mango in DFW, car ready--and yet I can't say I enjoyed the trip.  I was productive on it, which counts for a great deal.  I do love airplane bandwidth.

Dinner and dessert were my Monday-night-in-Austin traditions:  barbecue at County Line On the Lake and ice cream at Amy's.  Yum and yum. 

For no good reason, tonight I felt the need to pick the very best version of Bobby Freeman's 1958 classic song, "Do You Want To Dance?"  I can make a case for the original, of course, as well as for the Ramones' cover and the hippy ballad version from the Mamas and the Papas.  In the end, I couldn't decide, so I'll leave it to you to pick your own favorite.

As you do, I'll leave you with another song that for no particular reason has been in my head a great deal lately.  I've mentioned this one before, but every now and then it grabs my heart and takes up residence for a while.

Thanks to Pete Yorn for this one.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


I am a fan of writer/director Neill Blomkamp's District 9, so I was very much looking forward to seeing his new creation, Elysium.  After having watched the movie, I can recommend it, though with the reservation that very little about it will surprise you.

If you've seen the trailer, you know the plot.  If you haven't, you'll still figure out the basics in the first ten minutes of the film, so I won't go into it much here.  Suffice to say that Blomkamp attacks another oppressive group, this time the rich.  The story proceeds largely as you expect it to, which is fine, as long as something else carries you along.

Fortunately, Elysium has two forces that compel you to keep watching.  No, it's not the two leads, Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, who get the most play in the trailers.  Damon is fine, completely adequate in the role, but he doesn't shine in it.  Foster plays her part with a grim, "where is my paycheck?" sort of determination, as if more disgusted by her role than by the dirty people on Earth who want to invade her orbital paradise.

What most pulls you through the movie is its look, the scenes on Earth in a crowded, run-down, future Los Angeles.  As was the case in District 9, Blomkamp delivers dsytopic landscapes like no one else.  Just watching an injured Damon trudge through a sprawling favela was a visual treat.

The other gripping force was the performance of Sharlto Copley, the mousy protagonist of District 9, as a psychopathic sleeper agent on Earth.  Every moment he was on screen was a treat.  Even in the too-long fight scenes, he was fun to watch.

I recommend you catch this one in the theater if you can, because the urban landscapes alone deserve time on a big screen.


Blog Archive