Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Summer



A few days ago was the first day of summer, the solstice, or sun standing still.

Its beginning brings to mind a time when summer unofficially began on the last day of school. A time when summer meant endless play for what seemed like endless days. As a young boy we'd play baseball at the park down the street until it got so dark one could hear the ball but not see it, and at the older but still youthful age of seventeen we'd play basketball in the parking lot of the local high school long past sunset.

The last day of school was like standing on a cliff overlooking an ocean that went on forever. We knew the ocean ended in September but for now land was out of site... and mind. Thankfully, I still see and hear that hopefulness in my grandchildren and I cringe at the utilitarian notions of year-round schools, whatever that utility may be.

Back then there were no electronics to keep a child inside and television was a black and white, three-channel medium whose day time broadcasts consisted of soaps, game shows, and westerns. Air-conditioning, that which keeps any sensible person inside these summer days, was still a few years away, so to escape the house-held heat we children sat outside in the shade, and for the fortunate near a lake, the ocean, or a swimming pool.

Most of the time cooling off was done with the hose and a sprinkler. I recall lying on the sidewalk after getting doused and listening to the water sizzle on the hot concrete right under my ear. There were activities but almost none generated by mom and dad who had an easy solution for lying around the house causing trouble which was "find something to do or I'll find something for you" which meant work.

Boredom was a part of summer life and accepted. It seems children aren't allowed to be bored today, every moment of their lives filled with some constructive activity to make them a better person, or athlete, or artist, or scientist. I recall summer days riding our bikes as far as we could from home trying to get lost. The only purpose was the adventure of finding our way home. Now to be fair, my mother's disengagement probably had more to do with the fact that we were allowed to roam the neighborhood, she knowing that we would be gone all day and home for dinner. Mothers don't have that luxury today. When all the bike riding and ball playing were done we'd sit with a friend on a step or a swing, not saying much or doing much but altogether happy knowing we weren't in school. That was summer for us. And the beach. There was always the beach.

It is nostalgia, I know, and romantic, I know, but on these first days of summer it does recall the memory of waiting for that last bell to ring on that last class on that last day of school . . . and jumping into summer.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rafain Brazilian Steakhouse, Fort Worth. All Good.

Marian after dinner and all smiles after a very enjoyable evening

Every once in a while I receive an invitation to sample the fare of a new, soon-to-open restaurant. Such was the case Friday night when Marian and I attended a media-event for the new Rafain Brazilian Steakhouse at West 7th (opening Tuesday, June 24).

A Brazilian Steakhouse as you well know is a little different than the American version. The primary observable difference being that servers carry skewers of assorted cooked meats from table to table. And the Brazilian Steakhouse always features a salad bar, unlimited servings, and fixed pricing. It works well and is particularly enjoyable with a group although Marian and I enjoy it just as much as a couple.

But about this steakhouse. . .

The "salad bar" at Refain Brazilian Steakhouse is better described as a salad/antipasto bar. It's really not fair to call it just a salad bar. There is the assortment of traditional salad fare: romaine, iceburg and other lettuce varieties, but also fresh vegetables like whole steamed asparagus, steamed broccoli,  a selection of breads and olives, and traditional antipasto items like albacore tuna salad, raw salmon, and blocks of assorted cheeses. And more, fifty items in all. I loved the cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs in a light vinaigrette and the red onions in balsamic vinegar.

Now, it's easy to have a salad bar with a selection of 50 items. It's not easy to have a salad bar where the food is displayed handsomely and where each individual item is prepared properly, kept at the appropriate temperature, and can stand on its own if chosen by itself. That's difficult because it takes time and oversight and someone caring. Refain does it very well.

But of course this is a steakhouse and, as I mentioned, in Brazilian churrascaria style, diners are served by gauchos with skewers of assorted cooked meats. Normally, I would keep close to the skewers of beef, but I wanted to try a little of everything so I did: Parmesan crusted pork, bacon-wrapped chicken breast, lamb, filet-mignon, spicy Brazilian sausage (was that ever good) and just when I was gasping for air, slices of roasted pineapple lightly dusted on the sides with cinnamon. By the way, most important to me: the meats are served right-off-the-grill hot. Brazilian-style is charcoal grilled which gives a smoky flavor and a little crust.

Lest I forget, add to each table a serving of polenta, piping hot bread rolls with a center of melted Parmesan, and mashed potatoes. All good.

But dining is more than good food and drink, it is good company, good conversation, and a comfortable, relaxed setting. In our view, besides the great food, Refain's provides the right setting and a helpful staff for a completely enjoyable evening.

This is the second restaurant in the U.S. for the Refain family (the other is in Dallas) who also own and operate a handful of restaurants in Brazil as well as a convention hotel in Brazil.

Refain Brazilian Steakhouse
2932 Crockett Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107
Opens Tuesday, June 24 for dinner. Opening for lunch at a later date.
Price: $31-$50 (price-fixed). Unlimited servings.

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Marian with the first serving of lamb (I think)

My first serving from the salad bar, the fried polenta is the dish behind the salad plate

The salad bar

 Marian with Restaurant Manager, Donilo Magalhaes (sorry for the out focus shot)

Marian with some hitchhiker she picked up on I-30. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Baseball Metaphor.

I'm lying here listening to the Texas Rangers play the Oakland Athletics. They're playing in Oakland so the game is on late in our Central Standard Time. The Rangers just hit into a double play and a third out followed quickly, we're down 4-3 in the 7th.

My son sent me a text the other day saying how nice it was to have the game on in the background of whatever he is doing. I agree. For me, it's a habit going back to childhood lying in bed with an AM-band transistor radio listening to Richie Ashburn do the play by play for the Philadelphia Phillies' games.

And for those of us so inclined baseball became the metaphor for life. Just tonight I used the phrase "it's a Mays/Mantle comparison," meaning whether you come down on the side of Mays or Mantle as the best player you're right.

Who hasn't said after a successful activity "I just hit one out of the park." Or the opposite. Maybe the boss threw you a curve ball when he said you could have Friday off but asked you to work Saturday. And your plans for Saturday are now a big swing and a miss. But the boss plays hardball and you just have to deal with it.

Many people face life with two strikes against them and hope just once someone would throw them a softball instead of the brush-back.

But that's life. If you bat near .300 you're doing pretty good. And if you really don't like something you can take your bat and ball and go home.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Captain America, the Winter Soldier and Downtown's Newly Renovated AMC Palace 9



If you like comic book hero movies you'll probably like Captain America, The Winter Soldier. Unlike some comic book movies this one has a attention-grabbing plot and at the heart of the plot is the always enjoyable political and philosophical question, "Can one perform an evil act if it accomplishes a great good?" I shouldn't be imputing grand significance to a comic book story but I like it when there is such a theme weaving in and out of the story line.

SHIELD, the CIA/NSA-type agency that Sgt. Fury has led since after WWII has grown powerful. HYDRA, the evil opposite and enemy of SHIELD, is alive and well, and has infiltrated the highest offices of SHIELD, and, without giving away too much, has proposed a plan to rid the world of all the bad guys in the world before they act badly.

Captain America being an old school kind of guy--remember it's not been long since he's being out of the frozen tundra--and intuitively understanding the higher philosophical ideal sees the corruption for what it is, the desire to control through power, and comes to the defense of the Good, the True and the American way.

The movie has some suspense, a few very good chase scenes, hand to hand combat in the new style, and lots of things shooting and blowing up. Add Scarlett Johansen and Emily VanCamp (Revenge) and what else could a guy ask for?

I was a Sgt. Fury comic book reader back in the day when it was set in WWII and was about thirteen when SHIELD was started and Fury took the helm. I loved it back then and think Samuel Jackson makes a great modern but tough Fury. Anthony Mackie who plays the Falcon and Chris Evans, Captain America, work well together. Robert Redford is great. Put it all together and this is not a bad movie.

As to the AMC. It's really hard to criticize a place that has honest to goodness fully reclining chairs.  They're very big, very comfortable, electric, and I have to say they're almost a cause for embarrassment when you first go full recline though I'm not sure why. AMC will soon be selling beer and wine which for me would only mean that post-pint and in full recline mode I'd be asleep within minutes no matter what was playing. Food and drinks are at the counter, unlike a Movie Tavern, and priced like any movie theater. The particular theater Captain America played in was small, maybe 100 seats, but very comfortable, the screen is digital as I guess they all are now. I get sticker shock at movies these days but if you're going to go to the movies this AMC is a good one.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Best of Fort Worth, Texas, 2014.

It's been a few years since I have done a "Best of." Three to be exact. A lot has changed. Honestly, Marian and I don't go out as much as we once did and I'm not always going to be able to say with any kind of authority that restaurant X is better than restaurant Y because I may not have been to restaurant Y.

But here's what I like best in Fort Worth right now -- and of course we'll start with the hamburgers.

1. The better than fast-food burger and fries: I like 5 Guys when I'm going for a good hamburger. I know there are lots of options now in Fort Worth, Dutchs, Jakes, Smashburger, M&O, Kincaid's, the Chop House in Arlington, but when decision time comes it's tough to beat the burger-fry combination at Five Guys downtown.

2. Fast-food burger and fries: Whataburger and In-and-Out. I like them both for different reasons. There's something about the efficiency of In N Out that I like but I probably choose Whataburger more often.

3. Beef Fajitas: still number 1 with no competition is Pappasitos. Their Tuesday night 2 for 1 special on Fajitas is a great deal and enough food for two meals for two people.

4. Coffee: you might not like this but I still say a fresh cup of Starbucks dark roast is as good as you can get in the city. And thankfully they've stopped hawking Pikes Place which in my view is just god-awful. I tried the special brewed coffee at Starbucks a couple weeks ago and thought it bitter and over-priced. I think it was $3.25 a cup.

5. Steaks and finer dining: I haven't been to any of the newer steak restaurants at least at the Fort Worth locations. I had been to Bob's in Dallas and the Capital Grille in Washington and Philadelphia which I liked. Marian and I did go to Eddie V's for our anniversary and I liked it with some reservation.The twice-baked potato was very ordinary and the steak was not what I had hoped for but everyone says good things about Eddie V's and they're probably right. I'm going to go back and try again. I still miss the Swiss House on University: mandatory coat and tie, piano, beef-Oscar.

6. Mexican. In Fort Worth I still think Mi Cocina is very good. For family run restaurants I like Benitos on Magnolia. I think La Familia has gone down in quality in the last couple years. Marian and I really like Lupe's in Lincoln Square in Arlington. It's real food, cooked with some care and their brisket tacos are as good as you'll get.

7. Retail disappointment of the year. The loss of Barnes and Noble at University Park. I have nowhere to go now when the wife is shopping down there and I just hate to see bookstores closing everywhere.

8. Pizza. The best pizza is probably Il Cane Rosso, new on Magnolia.

9. Thai: Spice on Magnolia

10. Best new development in the planning: 34 acre Left Bank development on the Trinity at 7th. "Centergy’s plan calls for about 1.5 million square feet of construction, 1,500-1,700 residential units, 100,000-120,000 square feet of retail space including a 50,000-square-foot grocer, and a 150-200 room hotel on the river levee." Fort Worth Business Press 

11. Favorite new spot for a night out dinner: Bird Cafe'

12. Most changed area in the last three years: Magnolia, 7th, or Sundance. Pick one.

13. Best new development: Sundance Square

14. Most unexpected outdoor venue: Panther Island Pavilion

15. Sounds good I need to go: Coyote Drive In movie theater and Melt ice cream cones, on Rosedale.

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