Saturday, September 5, 2015

On the road again: DragonCon, Atlanta, day 3

Krog Street Market was such fun the other day that we ventured back there today, this time with Publisher Toni along.  We enjoyed cheesesteaks again at Fred's Meat and Bread, and then grabbed scoops of good but not great ice cream at Jake's, a local place that makes its own ice creams.

Today's big con activity for me involved spending a few hours shambling through the dealers' rooms, an activity that, combined with the incredibly powerful funk of thousands of fan asses in one place, left me sweaty and in need of cleaning.

Dinner took us to a nearby modern Mexican cuisine place, Alma.  The meal was fine, tasty but nothing to write home about.

The Hyatt's lobby was the busiest I've ever seen it,

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almost as congested as the Marriott's atrium.

Tomorrow, an early brunch, a panel, and more!

Friday, September 4, 2015

On the road again: DragonCon, Atlanta, day 2

My first panel started at 11:30 this morning.  Titled "Definitions," it was to be a discussion of exactly what science fiction is--and is not.  Instead, we five panelists discussed the origins of the genre, the roles of myth and fantasy, genres as marketing categories, and pretty much whatever else came our way.  The audience of about two dozen folks seemed happy enough and asked plenty of questions, so on balance it was a decent hour.

For lunch we headed to the adjoining (via another enclosed walkway, of which downtown has many) food court for some tasty and fresh Middle Eastern food at Aviva, a place we'd discovered previously.  From the long lines to get in, it's clear that everyone now knows about the place, but I'm glad; the owner seems great and produces very good food.

I spent the next several hours wandering the art show, talking to a couple of artists, and taking in the SF and fantasy art until my eyes were ready to melt in my head.

Dinner was a second delicious meal at Kevin Gillespie's excellent Gunshow.  The chefs were more on their game than they had been on Wednesday night, and every dish we sampled was at least good and often excellent.  The scallop on a farro and vidalia kinda-sorta risotto delivered on every possible front, with multiple textures and tastes and wonderful blending.

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I could eat that every day for quite a while.

I'd show more dishes, but the hotel bandwidth is so overloaded that it's taking minutes to upload each photo.  Suffice to say, the plating on each was lovely, and the taste was better.  Once again, I highly recommend Gunshow.

Later in the evening, I wound my way on my usual course through the Hyatt and the Marriott to take in the crowd.  Tonight provided superb people-watching treats, with many more different costumes than I could possibly identify.

The Hyatt lobby was nearly full.

The Marriott's main gathering space, its atrium, was almost ready to burst with fans mingling, talking, and having a good time.

Tomorrow, I plan to sleep late and perhaps hit the dealers' building.  (At most cons, there's a dealers' room; here, it's multiple floors in a building.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

On the road again: DragonCon, Atlanta, day 1

After a long sleep, which I desperately needed, I spent much of today catching up on various types of work in my hotel room.  That's not an ideal way to spend a big chunk of a con day, but it was necessary today.

Lunch proved to be several culinary treats at the complex of restaurants in the Krog Street Market.  Sharing food made it possible for me to sample both some very good dumplings from Gu's

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and a cheesesteak sandwich from Fred's Meat & Bread.

The dumplings contained a tasty pork stuffing in a package with just the right amount of tooth and a pleasant sauce.  I opted for the chili sauce on the side, because the heat options for the dumplings ranged from hot to thermonuclear, and I was in the mood for mild.

As for the cheesesteak, well, before I can comment on it I must point to a recent short post on culinary mysteries in which I wondered why it was impossible to get a good cheesesteak outside of Pennsylvania.  I must now recant that part of the post, because I am here to tell you that the cheesesteak sandwich at Fred's is every bit as good as the very best version you can get in Pennsylvania--or anywhere else.  The roll is different from the one that most classic PA cheesesteak shops use, but it's tasty, isn't too thick, and has just the right amount of crunch.  The meat and cheese inside the sandwich are absolutely perfect, a tasty combination of high-quality beef and light cheese.  They also didn't skimp on the meat; every single bite contained a good quantity of it.

I may well go back to Krog Street just for that sandwich.  If you want a fantastic cheesesteak sandwich, go to Fred's.

I have to give a special nod to the water station at Krog Street.  Sarah would love it:  you may choose chilled, un-chilled, or sparkling water.

I opted for chilled, but I know Sarah would love the sparkling option.

After registering for the con, I spent most of the rest of the day finishing up some work.

Dinner took us to a nearby restaurant, Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint, for some decent live music and a perfectly adequate meal.  I won't seek out the place again, but it was a reasonable choice in an area thronged with fans.

In my late-evening wandering, I once again visited the prime zones for people watching.  The Hyatt's lobby still had some open space,

but the Marriott's atrium was in full fan swing.

Tomorrow morning, I head to my first panel!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On the road again: DragonCon, Atlanta, day 0

After a little over four hours of sleep, I forced myself out of bed, showered, and began the car trip to Atlanta.  I didn't have to drive for most of it--I was behind the wheel only the last hour and a half--so I was able to doze fitfully in the car.  The rest helped.

For lunch we stopped at Tony's Ice Cream Co. in Gastonia, a place that Sharon, a friend and colleague, had told me about.  I'm going to write a separate entry on it after the trip, but suffice to say for now that I'm really glad Sharon pointed out the place to me.  If you want good, not fancy, cheap food and ice cream, and if you find yourself anywhere near there, don't miss Tony's.  

After settling into the hotel, doing a little work, and napping, I headed out for dinner at an Atlanta favorite of mine, Chef Kevin Gillespie's Gunshow.  I've mentioned this place in previous blog entries (and will do so again soon, because I'm heading back there Friday night), so I won't go into too much detail on it.  The basic premise is one I've not seen elsewhere:  the chefs who cook the many dishes on the menu come to the tables, present the food they just prepared, tell you about it, and see if you'd like to order it.  If you do, they put a tally mark next to the item on the menu.  If you don't want it, they mark off that item.

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We sampled quite a lot of the menu, and every dish was at least good.  None blew me away, though the duck confit was probably the closest.

The lone dessert we shared was the best I've yet had there, a take on rocky road.

The marshmallow layer was thick, smoky, and easily the best marshmallow I've ever tasted.  The burnt caramel foam on top played perfectly with the marshmallow.  All in all, it was an exceptional dish. 

As before, I highly recommend Gunshow.  

After dinner, as has become a DragonCon tradition for me, I took a walk through the Hyatt and the Marriott for some people watching.  Because the con does not officially start until late tomorrow afternoon, both lobbies were relatively empty.  


The Hyatt, for example, featured two remote-controlled droids,

and at the bar plenty of people were getting their drink on.

Over at the Marriott, which connects to the Hyatt via a human habitrail, the main atrium was empty by con standards but hopping by most other measures.  

Tomorrow afternoon, the con starts in earnest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Check out this new PT sabbatical video

Back in 2013, I wrote an entry about how the PT sabbatical program worked and how proud of it I was.  We still have that program, and I'm still immensely proud of the PT staffers who take advantage of it to do some good in the world.

Greg was the latest person from PT to take his sabbatical.  In this new video, he explains the good work he did.


As all the people who have done charity work on their sabbaticals have agreed, you get more from doing this work than you give to it.  Everyone truly wins.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Culinary mysteries

A few mysteries of the food world plague me from time to time.  Today, three arose in various conversations:

Why can't you get a Philly cheesesteak outside of Pennsylvania that tastes as good as the ones in Philly?

I know the bread is key, but surely someone could duplicate it.  The meat and the cheese (whiz or provolone, pick your poison) can't be that hard to find.  Yet I've never tasted a cheesesteak from anyone outside the Keystone State as good as those I enjoyed while living there.

Why can't you get barbecue beef ribs in most places?

They used to be available at a couple of places around the Triangle, but now I see them on the menu only when I'm in Texas.  Why won't more places sell these delicious hunks of meat on the bone?

Why can't you get great barbecue brisket outside of Texas?

I know I'm throwing down the gauntlet here, but the truth is unavoidable:  if you want great brisket, you have to head to Texas.  Sure, you can get good barbecue brisket in a lot of places (though none of them are around here), but I've yet to taste great brisket outside of Texas.  Heck, the fourth or fifth worst brisket in Austin is better than the best anywhere not in Texas.

If you have examples, particularly ones around the Triangle, that prove me wrong, please do let me know.  I'd love to be wrong about all of these.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hitman: Agent 47

may have one of the worst RottenTomatoes critics rankings of a movie I've actually watched:  8% as of this writing.  Despite that horrible score, 51% of the audience liked it, and I had fun watching it.  The reason for this huge disparity is the usual one:  critics quite reasonably measured it against all films, while audiences reacted relative to their expectations.

From the beginning, the plot is clear:  our hero must first rescue the woman in trouble and then teach her how to come into her own hitman powers.  That's fine; you go to this sort of film for the ride, not to be surprised.  The ride is reasonable enough, and the action far enough over the top that I had a pleasant time with it.  What kept the movie from being more is largely its plot--which, as I said, is a known limiter--and the performances of its lead actors.

Rupert Friend portrays the main character with even less emotion than the director probably wanted, a choice that is in keeping with that character's background but that ultimately keeps viewers at a greater distance than is wise.  This choice has the particularly unfortunate consequence that when Friend's character finally should display some feelings, he remains locked in emotionless limbo.

Hannah Ware, the woman Friend must first rescue and then teach, walked through the film appearing largely annoyed and confused.  At times, those feelings were reasonable for her character and so resembled acting, but at other times her reactions should have varied more.

Not surprisingly, Zachary Quinto, playing the lead agent of the bad guys, turned in the best performance of the movie.  Quinto was clearly having a good time with the role for most of the film, and so he was almost always fun to watch.  He's almost enough of a reason to go to the movie.

If you want some big dumb fun, and if you're willing to accept the movie's many limits, Hitman: Agent 47 will repay you with 96 minutes of silly action and some fun turns by Zachary Quinto.  If you want more than that, give this one a pass.


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