Monday, August 20, 2012

Larger Than Life: Dallas!

While the purpose of this trip was to accompany Steve and celebrate his professional achievements at the big ASAE meeting, I definitely did get to do some fun things while in Dallas last week and eat some amazing food…which, of course, cannot go unremarked upon.

First, let me explain what ASAE is:  “ASAE is a membership organization of more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations. Our members manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.” (Read more here.)

What this means is that cities hosting the annual meeting of ASAE really, really, REALLY want to impress these 5000ish meeting participants in the hope that they will return to their own organizations and say, “Hey, we should have our convention in Dallas!”  So what that means is that this is one awesome meeting/convention!!

Here are some of the most awesome aspects of a truly awesome get-together (AWP, I love you, but your conference lacks a certain wow factor):

--The group had a private party in the new Cowboys Stadium, home of the evil Dallas Cowboys football team.  As a Skins fan, I swallowed my bile to attend the event, and I was totally impressed from the moment we walked in—through a cheering line of pom-pom waving Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders—to the moment we left—when we were handed a box of popcorn for the bus ride back to the hotel.  The stadium is gorgeous!  The BBQ was good!  The famous/infamous big screen is WAY BIG, with a picture that’s sharper than life!  We toured the locker room, the cheerleaders’ locker room, and they hauled out the Super Bowl trophies!  We got to walk on the field, stand on the mid-field star, try our skills at various football drills (that is, if we hadn’t been drinking at the open bar…or perhaps it was if we had been drinking too much at the open bar)!  Marble, fog machines, cushy seats, big, clean ladies rooms…oh, dear.  FedEx Field is totally lame in comparison. 

--This is like a dream:  a “taste of Dallas” event with 10 famous chefs offering small tastes of their food.  Oh.  My. God.  !!!  My only regret is that there didn’t seem to be a comprehensive list of chefs and dishes, so this is a rather sketchy report.  But I ate incredible shrimp and grits, and incredible beef on grits (in fact, Texas grits may be better than southern grits? Oh, the sacrilege!).  I also got to “meet” Tiffany, one of my favorites from “Top Chef,” and she was serving up a luscious seafood ceviche; she was as charming as she appeared on the show, and laughed at my lame joke and posed for photos with anyone who asked.  I also “met” Tre, another “Top Chef” contestant, who served excellent beef Carpaccio, and who was…well, pretty much exactly as he was on TV, too.  Another food standout was a goat-cheese corn “ice cream,” similar to a flan, if you can imagine the richest flan in the world.  Anyway, I ate a lot and nothing wasn’t wonderful.  Oh, and by the way, this was all taking place in the lobby of the plush and gorgeous Myerson Symphony Center…which was part of a beautiful arts complex.  If I can’t be a Dallas Cowboy running back, then perhaps I could play a violin in the symphony?

--After this too-good-to-be-true party, we strolled (perhaps some of us waddled) across the plaza to the AT&T Performing Arts Center for a concert.  Randy Travis had been scheduled, but since he was tied up with other matters, we were treated to one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen:  Jack Ingram (I regret to say that I’d never heard of him).  He’s a singer-songwriter in the Willie Nelson/Kris Kristofferson vein, and he would also be right at home cracking jokes in a comedy club or telling stories on the stage of The Moth.  In short, he had the audience in the palm of his hand and put on a mesmerizing, hilarious, and emotional performance.  To give a tiny feel of how magical the night was, the last song was totally unplugged—guitar and mike—just a man alone, standing on the edge of the stage, a small spotlight, singing.  Here’s his website.

--Steve and I took a tour of Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum (the building formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository).  I’m not sure we became Kennedy assassination conspiracy nuts, but there certainly was a lot to think about.  The museum was tasteful and well-organized, and the afternoon took us through many moods.  The Plaza still looks as it did back then, and it was all too easy to picture the horror of the day while standing on the deceptively innocent Grassy Knoll.  But the most moving part of the experience was a short film in the museum that showed clips of JFK’s funeral and various memorials around the world.  Buddhist monks, people in Africa, flowers piling up at various American embassies. Jackie in her black veil…oh, dear.

--We enjoyed a lovely pre-meeting lunch with friends in the Ritz-Carlton hotel:  Steve had buffalo sloppy joes (with a fancier name) and I had street tacos (which were fancier than their name and than anything you’d actually buy on the street).  A beautiful and relaxing hotel…and lucky us to have friends staying there!  I also had a visit to the spa, which featured a eucalyptus steam room that cleared my pores and a giant shower with six jets that felt like getting hugged by water.

--The revolving bar at the top of the Hyatt we stayed at had a nice cocktail list (I had a drink made with rose elixir!), a stunning view of the city, and a mod, 1960’s “Mad Man” d├ęcor, which was appropriate for me, since I was wearing a Mondrian-ish, color block dress that reminded me of something Megan Draper would throw on.  (Here’s info on the restaurant/bar at Reunion Tower.)

--Our last night, Steve and I ducked away from the meeting to have a private dinner at the amazing Al Biernat’s, which specializes in steak and seafood.  Not cheap, but oh, what a GREAT steak!  Cowboy ribeye for me, and New York strip for Steve.  Cooked perfectly, incredible flavor.  Can a piece of meat be beautiful?  God, yes!  Excellent service, a roomy table for two, and “Texas’s best margarita”—made with Patron tequila—and I was a happy, happy, HAPPY camper.

So, thank you, Dallas!  What a memorable trip…and since I didn’t even have a chance to go look for cowboy boots, I guess I’ll just have to return.  Soon.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.