Friday, July 3, 2015

Lunch and a Movie

Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen
15607 Interstate 10 West
(between UTSA Boulevard & Loop 1604, on the outbound side)

As is often the case, choosing this restaurant for lunch yesterday was prompted by nothing more than its location, relatively convenient to our eventual destination at the Palladium theater. This chain, originally out of DFW in the late '70s, now spreads across several states, including three locations here in Paradise South. I, though, had never heard of it, owing to my natural and intrinsic disdain of all things suburban. I found it on (formerly Urbanspoon), and liked what most people said about it.

My friend Roland, who got there first and claims (falsely) that he never gets to see his name in these blog posts, got us a booth in the bar area. Our server was a young man named Brandon, who impressed us both with his personability and memory: we each ordered vegetable plates, which come with soup or salad and four side-dish choices, but he wrote nothing down and still got everything, including that, exactly right. He followed up with timely checks on our satisfaction, and dealt promptly with our bills. This may be the first time I've given a restaurant 5 chili peppers for service.*

The layout and atmosphere was pretty run-of-the-mill for restaurants of this type, but everything was clean and in good repair, and the obligatory ubiquitous televisions around the room were surprisingly unobtrusive: they were far enough away to be ignored, and the sound was low enough not to be heard in our part of the room. We were untroubled by noise from them, from the bar, or from nearby tables. The décor was done with some skill, so that the room was dark enough to feel cool yet light enough to see easily. All in all, quite pleasant, quite comfortable.

What's that mean?
Last city inspection: May 2015
5 demerits
Our choices of side-dishes was due, in both our cases, to an ongoing desire, mostly honoured in the breach, to lose weight. Recent small successes in that area encouraged both of us to opt for foods that Weight-Watchers calls "power foods": things that, in theory, you can pig out on (though I'm sure they wouldn't put it that way) without much risk of adding to an already undesirable mass of body. My choices were a baked potato, with toppings on the side; "southern style" green beans, with the instruction that they be well-drained, owing to some unpleasant prior experiences elsewhere; steamed broccoli; and red beans and rice. I thought I was just ordering sides, but our waiter told us that the "veggie plate," which I didn't see on the menu but consist of any four side-dishes, comes with a choice of soup or salad. I picked the tortilla soup, which Roland had tried at another location and approved of.

Most of these dishes were very good. The baked potato was small by postmodern restaurant standards, but was certainly enough to satisfy. I got a small dish of butter,  sour cream and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese; these too were in sufficient quantities. I might have wished for more sour cream, and more cheese, but I know I didn't need them, and was satisfied with what was there. The green beans were cut in short segments and had been seasoned with a sprinkle of sugar, giving them a pleasant sweet character that I seldom have tasted. Most often, green beans in restaurants are kept on the heat in large batches, and end up being mushy. These, though, retained enough crispness to please. The broccoli was steamed with perhaps a spritz of olive oil, giving them and excellent flavour to go with their perfect crispness. They were florets cut from the stem, so I felt I was getting only the best parts of the plant. 

Only the red beans and rice was at all disappointing, and that only because I would have like a slightly larger serving, and because I thought the seasoning was underdone. There was a bit of sausage of indeterminate variety in the mix, and the dish was cooked to an excellent state of doneness.

I expected to be charged about ten bucks for this assortment, based on the individual prices of side-dishes on the menu. The total bill, though (drinking only water) was right at seven bucks. That, to my way of thinking, is a good deal. 
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After lunch, we headed down the road a piece to see the recent Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson disaster. I'm sorry: disaster movie.

San Andreas
directed by Brad Peyton

Having just last week seen Jurassic World, with its much-hyped CG dinosaurs and high approval ratings, my expectations were a little lower for this movie. After all, the star isn't known for his ability to infuse vast quantities of raw emotion into the quiver of a lip or the arch of an eyebrow; and movies of this genre seldom bother with anything more than a bare-bones plot involving romantic tension, shorthand relationships, setbacks, and eventual triumph. This movie didn't disappoint, and who doesn't love a movie where California gets ripped apart?

The cynic in me loathes the absurdities of the plot, the ludicrously underdeveloped characters, the casuistry in the film's tenuous relationship to scientific reality, etc., etc. But come on: it's a disaster movie, and it's all about the special effects. On that, this movie delivers. Emphatically. The crumbling buildings and collapsing infrastructure seem in every particular to attain a perfect state of apparent reality ... unlike those much more profitable dinosaurs.  And if, in the end, I end up caring more about the daughter's incipient relationship with the two brothers from England, whom she meets just in time to save their asses when disaster strikes, than I do about the oh-so-touching relationships among her, her father, and her mother... well, that's neither here nor there. The actors may not be Leading Lights of the Cinema, but they do well enough to get you through the film. Let's call it solid performances. The script is full of holes that nobody cares about. The film is just a rockin' good time in a dark room. It's a movie that I'll watch (in bits and pieces) again and again when it hits the small screen, and on the big screen I felt like I got more than I was expecting.

* Probably not really; but it sure doesn't happen very often.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Movie and a Dinner

Jurassic World
directed by Colin Trevorrow
starring computer-generated dinosaurs and some actual people

In the original movie of this franchise, there were two moments when the computer-generated dinosaurs genuinely seemed utterly, terribly, frighteningly real: the kitchen scene when two pre-teen children are hiding from velociraptors among the cabinets; and the moment soon after when one launches itself up through a grate in the ceiling. Those two moments scared me as much as any movie moments, and are the main reason why, having seen them once or twice, I don't care to see them again. Yet I also remember the sense of magic I felt the first time the dinosaurs took the screen, and when the stars of that first movie found themselves in a stampede of critters, hiding under a log. It was truly, truly amazing stuff.

Fast forward twenty years and change. The amusement park for the first movie has been reborn as Jurassic World, a successful destination for a prosperous fun-seeking world. But success isn't good enough for the corporation that owns the project: it must always grow and expand and attract more and more visitors and more and more dollars. Okay, we get it: greed and shareholders are the root of evil.

Yada, yada, yada. The plot here is a formulaic rehash of every decent movie. Just sit back and watch. It's a technical achievement, not art. It contains the usual mash-up of dime-store philosophy and blatant obviation deemed necessary by Hollywood types who feel unable to let viewers' imaginations fill in facts. Cardboard people do things for simplistic reasons, or for no reasons. Jurassic World is an ironic attempt by those who own the movie to grow and expand and attract more and more dollars. Nothing more.

It has no moments of shock and surprise like the first Jurassic movie. The dinosaurs look, at best, as good as they did two decades ago; not always, though. Their motions seem more obviously computer-generated, the lines of sight don't always coincide precisely, and the creatures don't always know about the laws of physics. The plot lines advance in predictable ways through a story held together by peanut butter and chewing gum. As entertainment, it's good for a matinee, which is where I saw it.

Afterwards, we headed back down to my neck of the woods for a visit to
726 East Mistletoe
(at Kings' Court, just off the St Mary's Strip) 

I had noticed this place when I went to the restaurant next door for dinner a few months back, and was reminded of it by a laudatory review in the local weekly throw-away rag. The friend I was with is known to be a big, big fan of fried chicken, and that is this restaurant's specialty. Seemed a natural choice.

In actual fact, Attagirl isn't really a restaurant; it calls itself an Ice House, which people who've been around San Antonio for a while know means a place where you can get a beer and maybe something to eat. An apropos description.

The main feature of the place is its comfortable ambience. It's in a modest hundred-year-old building, just two rooms with a patio facing the side street, and no parking of its own. Luckily for the neighbourhood, Attagirl is small enough that it's unlikely to add much to the density of cars already blocking driveways and knocking around trash bins. We found a place half a block up Kings' Court, at 8:00 on a Thursday evening.

There are a couple of tables inside, and a couple more on the patio, but mainly the layout is geared more to the casual: benches along the patio walls, counters with barstools along the inside walls. Very Depression-era. Half the interior space is taken up with the bar and kitchen, including a large cooler for bottled beer, and taps for the dozen or so craft beers offered.
What's that mean?
Last city inspection: June 18, 2015
0 demerits

I chose an overpriced local brew billed as "kölsch." It wasn't really kölsch, which even I know is impossible, but it was vaguely kölschish, and drinkable. To go with this I ordered the chicken and waffles, a "traditional" southern dish that is relatively new to my southern-boy awareness. My friend Roland thinks it's a black thing, and he may be right; although he said he never had chicken and waffles growing up: they always had pancakes. Well, close enough, I suppose. Anyway, I'm pretty sure none of the black folk growing up in Dixie and beyond had Belgian waffles with their chicken. Not sure it makes a difference to any but a purist, and when it comes to chicken and waffles, that ain't me.

My meal consisted of three larger-than-natural chicken wings, well battered and deep-fried. There was a touch of honey to them, which gave them a pleasing resonance with the dollop of maple syrup on the (Belgian) waffle. The waffle was smallish, sufficient for its purpose and not the overlarge sort we Americans seem to have come to expect. It was large enough for any Goldilocks. It was, though, a bit overcooked, and consequently slightly too dry to really please. 

My friend Roland had a different type of batter on his chicken, which I didn't try; he did, however, give me a taste of the potato salad he had ordered, and which we had overheard another customer raving about. She, I think, has low standards. This was just plain ol' potato salad, dryer than one gets at HEB but similarly seasoned. In the kingdom of potato salads, this version can be found hiding behind the throne while mayonnaise is passed out.  It fails to live up to its $4 price tag.
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