Austin Food + Wine Festival: Saturday Recap

Tacos, toast, and Tyson (Cole)

Praise be, to whatever gods may be: The rain stayed tucked inside somewhat ominous clouds during this year’s Austin Food + Wine Festival. That said, there was no shortage of wet brows, from crews working their stations to festgoers sipping and slurping through the oh-so-muggy air.

Stella San Jac’s lamb meatballs (Photos by Jessi Cape)
As I strolled through the happily sedated and sweaty crowd, I had Frank Ocean’s lyrics rolling through my brain: “Inhale, in hell there's heaven.” From booth to booth, the bites reminded me to find the joy in each bite, and it was impossible not to with DJ Mel bumping everybody’s favorite throwback hits. Even the tightest-laced attendees had hands in the air (and nine samples later, legitimately didn’t care).

While Tim Love bellowed across the full house at his Hands-On Grilling session, smoke from Odd Duck’s Texas-style swingset billowed, beckoning passersby to grab one of their delicious sliders. Love’s Lonesome Dove offered a memorable grilled oyster with Manchego and serrano. The Peached Tortilla had people devising schemes to get seconds of their Sichuan noodles with crispy chicken skin – creamy and robust, with a perfect amount of heat on the back end. Olive & June’s refreshingly chilled mozzarella ball with strawberry marmalata and spiced cabbage was a much welcome bite amidst the many other too-hot-to-handle options, and Stella San Jac’s lamb meatballs were a hit.

Seafood bites were pleasantly prevalent, a favorite being the creation by Central Standard’s Michael Paley: minted pea toast with Gulf shrimp, with salad and pancetta; Juliet served up a delectable pesce crudo with salmon, fried caper, salted almond, and a sweet lemon curd. Rosé, one of 2016’s breakout social stars, made an appearance at several wine booths, but the reds and whites were also flowing in abundance. Kombucha cocktails served with gin and flowers were a bright surprise, and for the teetotalers, Pure Leaf had a foursome of tea flavors to shoot.

Festival attendee finds respite on the backside of a convection oven fan

By nightfall, a much appreciated cool breeze blew through town, but thankfully, still no rain. A favorite annual event – Rock Your Taco – was held on East Fifth at Fair Market, and the setup was delightful: Great ambience with plenty of room to network and eat more than a fair share of tacos. James Beard winner Alon Shaya’s line was surprisingly short for a bite of his delicious pastrami taco with pickled cabbage, and Bribery offered guests a sweet treat with their cinnamon tostada with passion fruit, lime, and pineapple. Ming Tsai was on deck inside, plating to the tunes of Tameca Jones. The chefs stationed at booths along the perimeter were competing for the title of most innovative taco bite. The judges panel – celebrated local musician Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia), chef Graham Elliot, and Nilou Motamed, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine - awarded chef Tyson Cole of Uchi/Uchiko the coveted award. But my personal favorite was Ludo Lefebvre’s taco de pomme, enveloped in a crisped tortilla topped with pico de gallo.

As expected, buzzword terms like locally-sourced and farm fresh were celebrated, and sustainably acquired proteins were present on the menus, in a peppered-throughout kind of way. It’s nice to see those concepts moving toward standard issue in quality restaurants. Overall, amidst the glitter and glam of celebrity and privilege, there’s an important hidden takeaway message: Austin is still a bright center of responsible, innovative artisanship in food.

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