Archive | June, 2012

Watering Hole Wednesday: Reunion Tower – Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck

29 Jun

Barnski here with your second edition of Watering Hole Wednesday!  Yes, I realize its Friday, and sorry to leave you hanging with bated breath since my last update.  In addition to be extremely busy in our professional lives, Danielle and I also had the pleasure of hosting my Mom and cousin for a recent visit to Dallas.  I think I sold my cousin on the merits of the Nodding Donkey in my last write-up, since we made a bee line to the Donks for several drinks this past Saturday when he was in town.  After numerous draft beers and Donkey Punches (the name of the house drink in case you missed my last post) we engaged in an epic battle of giant Jenga.  The stakes were high as the loser had to address the entire bar at the top of their lungs and profess their love for Jenga…fortunately I won, sparing myself of the embarrassment.  As you can see from the picture below, we had a pretty impressive stack going.  We even garnered a small crowd that gave me the nickname “soft hands” due to my surgeon like block placing skills.  I won on a potentially controversial block placement that was okayed by the impartial judge of the bouncer, but my cousin gave me a very good run for the money and could have easily prevailed.

Jenga

While hosting my Mom and my cousin, we elected to take them to a staple of the Dallas skyline for a drink – Reunion Tower.  For those of you who are watching the remake of Dallas on TNT right now (JR is such a Gentleman with a capital G btw), you are likely familiar with Reunion Tower as it is heavily featured in the iconic opening sequence of the show.

First a little history courtesy of Wikipedia.  Reunion Tower was completed in 1978 as part of an urban redevelopment project that also renovated the historic Union Station.  When it first opened, the tower included radio station KOAX-FM, now KRLD-FM 105.3 FM, once owned by Westinghouse Broadcasting (“Live twenty-four hours a day from five-hundred feet above the city.”).  The tower closed for major renovations in 2007 and now plays host to a great restaurant and bar called Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck.

On to the review.  We went to Reunion tower on Saturday afternoon hoping to enjoy an early beverage and take in some of the panoramic sites of the skyline and surrounding areas from the bar/restaurant at the top.  Unfortunately we arrived too early as the bar/restaurant at the top doesn’t open until 5:30.  No problem, we hung out at the bar in the Hyatt hotel (which is attached) until it opened.  5:30 rolls around and we bound up to the gate of the tower only to be told that we couldn’t get in because my cousin and I were wearing shorts (it was a blazing 100 degrees after all), which apparently doesn’t comply with the bar/restaurant’s business casual  dress code.  After some finagling that included informing the host of my definition of business casual, letting him know that he was shooting down an active duty serviceman in the U.S Army (my cousin), and a small bribe, I was able to get us all in.

I promised structure around these reviews, so let my dive into my categories from here.

  • Location: Just outside of the more vibrant parts of downtown, Reunion Town is a destination that takes an effort to get to.  As I mentioned it is attached to the Hyatt, but parking is somewhat inconvenient with the choice of expensive valet or a pay parking lot that isn’t really that close.  Once you’re up there though, the views are astonishing.  Danielle and I definitely plan to make this a go-to spot to bring our out of town guests.  As you can tell from the picture I snapped on my phone, the sweeping views of the skyline are quite impressive.  I’m sure they are event better at night, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay to witness sunset.Reunion Tower
  • General Vibe: As you  can probably from my anecdote about the dress code limitation, the bar/restaurant at the top strives to achieve a classier vibe.  Generally, I’d say they hit the mark,  but err on the side of perhaps trying a little too hard.  Once again, I can easily forgive that given that the views easily compensate for that shortcoming.
  • Differentiators: Did I mention the views?  In case that’s not enough, oh yeah, the whole restaurant rotates, so we were able to get a panoramic tour of Dallas without leaving our seat.  It is impressive to see how flat and green certain parts of Dallas are once you rotate away from the venerable skyscrapers that consume downtown.
  • Beer Selection Depth: Pretty shallow here, but then again this is more a restaurant first and bar second.  Of course Shiner is on the menu.
  • The Signature Drink of the House: There really isn’t one per se, however Danielle ordered a Pear martini, which I stole a sip of.  She raved about it, and I was certainly a fan as well.
  • Price Point: This place is definitely on the pricier side.  If memory serves, I think cocktails were around $12 to $15 each, and beers ranged from around $7 to $10.
  • Overall Rating on a Scale of One to Ten: I’m going with an 8 here given the cool factor of the views and overall structure, but am docking points for price, a snooty  dress code policy, and lack of beer depth.

Until next time, cheers! Barnski

What I’m Loving Right Now

17 Jun

I can be pretty random, and these are 4 VERY random things I’m loving right now.

1. Pool Parties with New Friends

Pool Pic

I can’t think of a better way to spend a scorching Saturday in Uptown than surrounded by new friends in the pool (with some adult beverages of course… must stay hydrated!).   I jumped on the invite to hang poolside (more like IN the pool) with a new friend I met at the gym and we met so many wonderful people!   People here are just so darn friendly.  There wasn’t a person in the pool that I didn’t have a great conversation with… and we already have follow up get-togethers planned!   Now if only I didn’t have the WORST tan lines and weird red splotches to prove it.  ;)

2. Little Mr. Furry

Clooney toys

I’m sorry.   There is nothing cuter than a puppy surrounded by all his toys.   You’ve met Clooney in an earlier post.  He’s spending the summer in Durango with mom and dad, but we are definitely keeping tabs on him through photos!   So freaking adorable I can hardly stand it.

3. Indulging in Secret Single Behavior

SSB Food

Any Sex and The City fan worth his/her salt knows about the SSB.  Secret Single Behavior.   It’s the thing you do when NO ONE is around.  Especially not your man.   For your eyes and enjoyment only.   Mine???   Wearing my Lululemon men’s sweatpants, watching Food Network reruns (Giada and Barefoot Contessa, of course), and eating the kind of food that Kevin would think I was a crazy person for cooking for dinner.  Case in point: Roasted brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and yes, that’s bacon.   Accompanied by an Avery White Rascal.

While Kevin’s out of town, Danielle does this.

4. Blue Bell Ice Cream

Blue Bell

I’ve always enjoyed ice cream.   We went out to the illustrious Highland Park Village the other night for dinner, drinks, and as chance would have it, dessert.   We sampled some pretty interesting flavors of homemade ice cream at Marquee, including Smoked White Chocolate, Salted Butter and Dulce de Leche.   It was all very tasty, and the drinks were awesome.  But ice cream to me is nostalgic.   It’s the stuff you grew up on, either in a big bowl by itself or next to every birthday cake, homemade apple pie, etc.   And for me, that was Blue Bell.   Still tastes the same, and it’s heaven.   Reason #246 I’m glad I moved back to Texas.

Hope everyone had a great weekend!   We played on Saturday and worked hard all Sunday.   We have our first overnight house-guests this coming week as we welcome Kevin’s mom, so Casa de Barnski has to be in tip-top shape.   Which means all those things we didn’t get to during unpacking, yep, today was the day.  Add on a few hours of office work and I’m spent.  I’m off to grab a spoon and polish off that pint of Blue Bell!!!

Lessons From The Mat + A Game-Changing Weekend

12 Jun

I feel like I’m way overdue for a post here.   I’ve been very busy at work, but mostly I just didn’t have anything interesting to say at the time.   But after a great weekend and some enlightenment from my yoga class, the words are spilling out.   I said this blog would cover a variety of topics, from our move to Dallas, to fitness, to food.  Well, how about all three at once??

So where to start??   Right… enlightenment!   In my yoga class last night at Uptown Yoga (did I mention how much I love this studio?   Oh, yes repeatedly…), our instructor focused on strength and flexibility of our back.  As a result, we spent a lot of time in poses that are of the heart-opening variety and challenging standing strength poses that require quite a bit of conviction to just stay there and remain grounded and calm.   She dared us to have courage to stay in our poses just a bit longer and courage to remain open, vulnerable and exposed (you have to when you are a total hot mess with sweat rolling down your face, elbows, behind your knees… you get the picture).

Confession time.  The past few weeks I’d been feeling a little insecure, and therefore pretty guarded.   I think it’s a mix of trying to adjust to the ways of Dallas, feeling not-so-hot about the way I look and feel (what happens when suddenly stop teaching 5 classes a week and start eating all your Texas faves) and just like I always had something to prove, just wanting to be accepted in my new home, new gym, with new friends, etc.  I’m loving Texas, but it’s a big adjustment, y’all!

But a few things changed over the past week.   One, I took the most ridiculous advanced yoga class that had me facing my fears and just humbled the hell out of me.   I taught several classes at Gold’s and really focused more on the people in my class and less on how I was teaching or how I was perceived as the “new teacher.”   I attended my first gym practice where I met my fellow instructors and was able to just be myself, have fun and feel like a new addition to the family.

To cap it off, we had a very social, fun weekend with great new friends.   We checked out some  standout Dallas restaurants, such as Il Cane Rosso (pizza to die for… and don’t skip the Nutella pizza for dessert) and Lockhart Smokehouse for some TX BBQ.   And while these were outings with both Kevin and me, I’ve also set up a few happy hours, lunches and gym dates that are just for me.   Cuz every girl needs some good girlfriends nearby, right??

Things are looking up, and starting to feel like home.   We haven’t completely abandoned our East Coast needs just yet though… Kevin and I made the most awesome homemade crab cakes for dinner on Sunday while catching the Mad Men season finale.  Yum!!!   If you love crab, go get yourself some good jumbo lump crabmeat (the real deal please… but be prepared to drop a good chunk of change for it), and try this recipe (Credit to Food and Wine Magazine).

  1. 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  2. 1 large egg, beaten
  3. 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  4. 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  5. 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  6. 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked over
  7. 20 saltine crackers, finely crushed
  8. 1/4 cup canola oil
  9. Lemon wedges, for serving
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the egg, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce until smooth.
  2. In a medium bowl, lightly toss the crabmeat with the cracker crumbs. Gently fold in the mayonnaise mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Scoop the crab mixture into eight 1/3-cup mounds; lightly pack into 8 patties, about 1 1/2 inches thick. In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the crab cakes and cook over moderately high heat until deeply golden and heated through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the crab cakes to plates and serve with lemon wedges.
See, I think I can be a Texas girl with a little East Coast-flava mixed in.   :)   Till next time!

Watering Hole Wednesday: The Nodding Donkey

6 Jun

Welcome all, to the inaugural edition of Watering Hole Wednesdays! First to introduce myself. My name is Kevin, but my friends call me Barnski – note that the word “bar” is indeed part of my name so that should make me uniquely qualified to author these missives. I am Danielle’s husband, but amongst other things I am an avid fan of reality TV (think: Storage Wars, Real World Road Rules Challenge, and yes, even the Real Housewives franchises), golf, good eats, and of course watering holes. Since Danielle seems to have the food and healthy living aspect of this blog covered, I thought I’d expand this blog to include libations and the establishments that serve them.

So, what can you expect in these updates? Every other Wednesday or so, I will review a new watering hole in the Dallas area. To add a little consistency behind my reviews, I plan to cover the following categories:

- Location
- General Vibe
- Differentiators
- Beer Selection Depth
- The Signature Drink of the House
- Price Point
- Overall Rating on a Scale of One to Ten

As the old proverb goes, the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. With that in mind and with so many drinking establishments in the area, we started our journey at the bar literally across the street from our house called The Nodding Donkey (www.thenoddingdonkey.com). We went on a Saturday night while the bar was in full swing.

Nodding Donkey Patio

- Location: Right next to our townhouse in Uptown Dallas a few blocks off of McKinney Ave (the main nightlife entertainment area in Uptown Dallas).

- General Vibe: In short this place is awesome. While I still have a lot of bars to visit, I am fairly comfortable making the following bold analogy that my UVA friends will understand – in my eyes the Nodding Donkey is the Biltmore of Uptown Dallas. As pictured below, The Nodding Donkey is an indoor/outdoor bar that is very inviting to passersby. The outdoor patio is great and features games such as corn hole and mega-sized Jenga…seriously Jenga played with pieces of 2 x 4 lumber. There are also NFL-style cool zone misters outside that run to keep you cool in the Dallas heat. The inside is open to the outside through multiple giant glass garage doors which seem to stay open at all times. Inside there are multiple flat screen TVs streaming a myriad of sporting events. The Donkey or The Donks, as I like to call it, also features your standard bar games including Photo Hunt (not the erotic version though), Big Buck Hunter, and various other video games.

Typically there seems to be a decent mix of guys and girls at this place, although when we were there it was a little more dude heavy at the time – probably because the Ranger game was on as well as the NHL playoffs, and the Donks is a great place to catch a game. The crowd is a good mix of mid twenties all the way to late thirties. We chatted with a couple of folks at the bar when we where there and most everyone seemed pretty laid back and casual. Overall this is a great casual bar that I know I will frequent.

- Differentiators: As mentioned above, the indoor/outdoor seating is great. The corn hole and Jenga are a definitely plus as well. Also, all of their drinks are served in mason jars, which is pretty cool.

- Beer Selection Depth: I can only give a partial review here since I didn’t see a full beer list, but I did get to see everything on tap. While the tap selection is limited, everything they have is pretty good. Danielle and I drank a St. Arnold’s Lawn Mower, which is a Texas brew. A little light for our taste, but decent nonetheless. The Donks also had Fireman’s No. 4 and the Texas staple of Shiner Bock in cans, which is a rarity, since I had only seen it on tap or in bottles before.

- The Signature Drink of the House: This is where this gets great. The signature drink is the Donkey Punch. It even has its own tagline: “It Only Hurts For a Minute.” No one knows for sure what is included in Donkey Punch, but it tastes like some kind of pineapple juice mixed with rum, Malibu, and greatness. Danielle and I had two since we liked it so much. The dude sitting next to us probably had about seven, and was still surprisingly conversant.

Donkey Punch

- Price Point: This is another great thing about Donks, it is reasonably priced.  You can even buy Donkey Punches for just two bucks during their Monday Funday special.

- Overall Rating: I’m gonna have to come out of the gate strong on this one and give it a 9.  I can’t lead with a 10 since there are numerous other places I want to try to get a relative sense for my surroundings.  That said, Danielle and I will definitely frequent this place, and it certainly helps that it is literally a stone’s throw away from our townhouse.

There you have it folks.  I hope you enjoyed the first installment of Watering Hole Wednesdays.  Please comment and let me know if you want to review any other aspects going forward or feel free to recommend a place for me to cover.

Cheers!

Barnski

A gym’s a gym’s a gym… right??

5 Jun

With so many gyms and workout options in large cities, what makes you choose one over another?

There are the obvious decision points:

  • Price/Contract Terms
  • Location/Parking
  • Size/Good Selection of equipment
  • Availability of classes, personal training, etc.
  • Amenities (locker rooms, pool, etc)

There are also some less tangible factors:

  • Brand loyalty
  • The gym’s feel/appeal (bare bones, high-end, body-builders, average Joe, women-friendly, etc)

I’ve had the privilege to teach for Gold’s Gym for nearly 7 years, in 3 major metropolitan areas (Richmond, DC/NOVA, and now Dallas).   Gold’s has both corporate and franchise locations in each of these areas and often instructors teach at multiple facilities.   I’ve probably taught at least semi-regularly in 9-10 different Gold’s.   They all look relatively alike… Gold’s has a pretty standard modus operandi for their facilities and branding, and all of them offer a wide selection of Les Mills classes (BODYPUMP, BODYATTACK, RPM, etc).

But for me, every location and experience can be radically different!  And ultimately, it comes down to demographics and the resulting culture of each.  I’m going to make a bold generalization, but all things equal, gyms seem to fall into 3 categories:

  1. Meat Market.   It’s young, it’s hip, it’s hot.  It’s close to the city center and generally has a high income level.  It has a ton of traffic, and after work, you’ll be hard pressed to get close to a free treadmill.  The BODYPUMP classes run out of equipment.  Lots of people work with personal trainers.  But it’s also uber image-conscious (see last post on Working Out Your Ego).  It’s somewhat sterile (and not because of the steroid use).   As an instructor, you are willing people to stop looking in the mirror and react when you try to engage them.  But you have a room full of fit people and you will make them work!
  2. No-Man’s Land.   These gyms puzzle me a bit.  Maybe it’s the location, which is kind of close to the action but not in the suburbs.  The group exercise classes are hit or miss.   It’s transient, people don’t talk much.  They probably come in, run on the treadmill for 30 minutes and do their circuit and leave.  It’s just lacking character.   These are my least favorite locations to attend or instruct.   But if you put in the work, you can develop very dedicated followings and be content with smaller classes.
  3. The Burbs Phenomenon.  These gyms are often newer.  The chain has expanded with the population.  The rent is cheap, so the locations are large.  All this makes sense.   What defines these gyms for me though is a RABID group exercise following.  They have some of the highest GGX usages in the country (percentage of people who attend classes when they come to the gym).  The population skews a bit older, but you see it all… young, old, incredibly fit, overweight, moms, college kids.    When you get everyone together, it’s not about ego or checking out the hot chick on the hip adductor machine (come on… you know what I’m talking about… LOVE this post about it http://fit-geek.com/tag/hip-adductors/).  It’s about camaraderie.  Everyone wants to succeed together.   This is a place where you meet great friends (I’m looking at you, Merrifield) and get fit together.   It’s a different kind of social.  The instructors know your name because you introduce yourself and ask questions.  People aren’t afraid to sing-along, smile, and even shout out a WOO!!! when they’re really feeling it.   I love these gyms, and I’m willing to sit in traffic, spend my money on gas and give up most of my evening to teach at them.

I’ve subbed a few classes here in Dallas lately, at gym type #1 and gym type #3 and wow, what a difference.   The difference wasn’t just in who was standing in front of me, but also in how I taught the class.   Same format, same exact music and choreography.  But good instructors react to what’s in front of them.   Having a variety of skill levels and participants that are open to you brings out the best in me… and I got some of the best class reviews I’ve ever had at gym #3.

I’ll often pick convenience over some of those intangibles, but it’s hard to match that feeling where you connect with members and feel like you made a difference to them.   That’s why we do what we do!

What is the personality of your gym?   Is there a gym out there that fits all of these needs?

A big shout out to my NOVA Gold’s folks… I miss you!!!

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