Includes: Foreign and Domestic, Blue Dahlia Bistro, Rio Rita’s, Fino, all in Austin, TX
Sigh … back from Austin and sad for several reasons. I hate to leave Erin. I hate to leave Austin’s dry air. I hate to leave all that great live music at ACL. But, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I must write about why I hate to leave Austin’s food scene!
It honestly is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting of any I’ve experienced in recent years. Even better than — gasp! — the Big Apple’s.
In many locales I’ve typically found superlative food in two main guises: great food in “dive” digs, and great food in prissy, overpriced, more formal restaurants. In between are plenty of spots offering decent — but not outstanding — food, and lots and lots of places serving up downright bad and mediocre stuff. A plethora of chain restaurants, and clusters of establishments owned by several “restaurant groups.”
Austin is my kind of food town. Exciting — truly exciting — food dished out at many individually owned, attractive, casual restaurants, big and small and even mobile (food trucks). Nearly every place we went, the food was colorful, fun, creative and literally bursting with compelling textures and fantastic flavor.
I’ll start with the best (‘cause I can’t help it — and just in case I lose some of you before the end …) As my daughter puts it, Foreign and Domestic is the Austin restaurant she’s currently obsessed with.
Small, charming and casual, with an open kitchen, it reminded me a bit of Barley Swine, which I enjoyed and wrote about on my first trek to Austin. Our Sunday brunch at Foreign and Domestic was the epicurean highlight of my latest trip.
Our table shared an appetizer my daughter recommended: fried okra and shishito peppers with pickled beets, mint and vanilla salt. With all the dish’s bright red and green hues, it looked like a little bowlful of savory Christmas.
Unlike the little wagon-wheel sliced rounds of okra fried the way we do it in North Carolina, Foreign and Domestic’s version were kept whole, which made them firmer than what I’m used to. (And I quite liked it.) The little beet cubes were sharp and tangy, and the slightly salty shishito peppers were cooked to a perfect al dente state. (I’m not sure where shishito peppers come from, but I had them twice during the four days I was in Austin. Yum.)
For our mains, Erin and I shared a salad and a chicken dish.
Sunday was — I believe — only the second time I’ve eaten chicken in the 6 or 7 years (?something like that?) since I became a semi-pescatarian. Of all animal flesh, I find chicken the least appealing. But Foreign and Domestic’s fried chicken biscuit dish was worth making an exception.
The biscuit was merely a vehicle for the thick red eye gravy (the only version I’ve ever liked, finding others far too salty) and nicely fried, juicy piece of boneless thigh. A bit of runny lemon marmalade added an odd but interesting flavor, and the over-easy egg was a welcome topper. The romaine “slaw” was a perfect accompaniment. Altogether, a satisfying, comfort-food dish that sustained us throughout a long day of outdoor music.
The day I arrived, Erin and I had a light midday meal at Blue Dahlia Bistro, a casual place down the street from her house. It was my second visit — Erin’s lost count. Blue Dahlia features fresh, simple and nicely executed light fare. I think from now on when I make an egg salad sandwich I’ll copy how they serve theirs: open faced, with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of dill and capers. Nice.
Every morning, regardless of how late I stayed awake the night before (and I’m pretty proud of my ability to hang much later than my normal bedtime), my body naturally woke well before Erin and her roommate Anna. So each morning I took myself someplace for coffee, and sometimes a simple breakfast. Monday morning found me at Rio Rita based on Erin’s recommendation.
I broke my fast with excellent coffee and a fantastic soy chorizo and brie empanada (supplied by Mmmpanadas).
I loved, loved, loved the casing, which was flaky and piecrust-like, the same as the empanadas I fondly remember from the years we lived in Panama. The chorizo and accompanying salsa were spicy indeed.
And finally, on my last night in Austin I went with Erin and two of her friends to Fino, a restaurant new to us all that specializes in Mediterranean-influenced sharing plates. Like many dining establishments there, it had a nice outdoor patio.
Very, very dim lighting = pretty bad photos once again. I’ll share the four best here with you.
The first photo above shows a bright, fresh salad with fried octopus, arugula, orange supremes, and Marcona almonds.
Next is fried goat cheese with red onion jam and Texas honey. We nearly didn’t order it, but our server’s recommendation convinced us to. My god, I’m glad we did.
The photos below show the two desserts we shared: a brown sugar peach cake (reminded me up an upside down cake) with vanilla anglaise and almond praline, and cardamom mini donuts served alongside an affogado made with Turkish spiced ice cream and espresso. The cake didn’t look like much, but was delightful — gooey cake with ultra-crunchy, barely-held-together almond candy.
You’ll have to be satisfied with descriptions instead of photos of a few of the other favorites of the evening:
- A piquant piquillo pepper stuffed with gulf crab and basil
- Muhummura — a red pepper, walnut and pomegranate syrup concoction that I can’t wait to try to make myself, served with pita
- Zesty little anchovy-stuffed fried olives
- House-made, za’atar-spiced potato chips with preserved lemon yogurt
It was a fitting last Austin supper.
I’m really trying not to be depressed about leaving Austin’s scrumptiousness. But I think I have just the solution to perk back up: Saturday’s Terra Vita Grand Tasting on the Green event.
Stay tuned …