The Austin Chronicle

La Dolce Vita Escapes the Rain, Delivers a Lovely Evening

By Virginia B. Wood, October 12, 2012, 2:15pm, On the Range

Though intermittent rain showers all day threatened to dampen the fun, the clouds parted just in time for the twilight party and a hungry crowd gathered on the pastoral grounds of the historic Driscoll estate for a Lago di Como experience. Guests sipped and strolled to benefit the many educational programs of AMOA-Arthouse.

More than 50 local restaurants joined representatives of more than a dozen area wineries to present signature dishes and quality vintages to the large crowd. We arrived a little late for the VIP/media cocktail hour curated by the Tipsy Texan but were told that mixologists from Houston's Anvil Bar & Refuge joined those from Contigo, Drink.Well Pub, and Midnight Cowboy and did a fine job of creating distinctive libations.

As a person who doesn't drink alcohol, one problem I sometimes run into at events such as these is a lack of non-alcoholic beverages. That was not an issue here, though, as there was regular bottled water, Smart water, and two different stations, Cuvee Coffee Roasters and Texas Coffee Traders, serving refreshing cold brewed iced coffee toddies. The folks from Texas Coffee Traders also thought to bring half and half, an assortment of Monin syrups, and packaged sweeteners. They get points for that, in my book.

It was gratifying to see the local farm-to-table trend so well represented at many of the booths. We sampled goat from Windy Hill Farm at two booths and chatted with chefs of two local hotel restaurants, Urban at the Westin and the Hyatt's Southwest Bistro, that are making great strides in local sourcing. I was amazed to see Larry McGuire's newest eatery, Clark's Oyster Bar (1200 W. Sixth,) serving at the event, considering they only opened for business this week. Can't wait to get by there and try it out. Turns out my dining companion is deathly allergic to lobster and there were taste-tempting lobster dishes at every turn. It worked out okay, though, because he could sample all the Asian-inspired dishes made with soy that I can't eat and there was more lobster for me!

Each booth booth was giving out round colored stickers that guests could affix to a card attached to the stem of their souvenir wine glass as a vote for their favorite dishes and wines. We left long before the votes were tabulated (excruciatingly long wait at the valet stand), but I had three definite favorites: the best dish I had all evening was a hearty and robust goat bolognese over pasta by chef Paul Hargrove of East Side Show Room tied for second and third were Clark's ethereal corn blini topped with lobster salad and caviar and the luxurious lobster bisque from the Driskill Grille. Really exemplary dishes all. The People's Choice winners were the following: Pedernales Cellars: Best Red Wine (2nd year in a row) Llano Estacado: Best White Wine Jasper's Backyard Cuisine: Best Food Tranquilo Cellars: Director's Choice Award

And now, for my one quibble. Is it just me or is it long past time that the bacon-in-desserts trend was retired? I am so over it. As a personal note to two wonderful pastry chefs I truly admire (and you know who you are): a tiny bit of bacon goes a long, long way in dessert. A lot is overkill.

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