Food Top Tens 1996: A Year of Good Tastes

Top Ten Bites of 1996

1. English Stilton Cheese Jeffrey's chef David Garrido has a loyal customer and friend who travels regularly to England and buys cheese from the Royal Family's cheesemonger. After a holiday meal in the restaurant, the chef shared a room-temperature wedge of Stilton with some sliced pears. It was regal, it was divine, it was, to quote Mike Myers, "like buttah." Eating it made me feel just like Queen Elizabeth.

2. 50-year old Balsamic vinegar I attended a Professional Food Writer's Symposium at the Greenbrier Resort back in March. On the last evening we were there, our hosts served a Marketplace Tasting Dinner featuring a fascinating selection of meats, seafoods, cheeses and breads and condiments they expected to be popular in the coming year. The aged balsamic vinegar was incredibly smooth, perfectly complementing slices of avocado and the first strawberries of spring.

3. Mint to Be Ice Cream The grand prize winner at the first Central Market Homemade Ice Cream Contest was a big hit all summer long, a creamy refreshing treat every time I made it. This recipe should be a permanent part of any ice cream repertoire.

4. Il Timpano When the timpano is served in the movie Big Night, someone asks Primo, the chef, what's in it. He replies, "in here is the best stuff on earth." Emmett Fox created two timpanos for the Austin Big Night party, filling them with both ragu and béchamel, spicy sausage, pasta, and sliced eggs. A spectacular centerpiece to a remarkable meal, just like in the movies.

5. Cannoli As I told the Speranzas at the Big Night party, theirs weren't the first cannolis I ever ate, they were the first good cannolis I ever ate. Hallie's are delicate little cylinders filled with a lightly sweetened ricotta mixture flecked with chocolate. If you ever dined on Michael and Hallie's definitive Italian cooking when they operated a restaurant here in town, then you know what you missed.

6. Gulf Shrimp in Coriander Cream Sauce Indian chef/cookbook author Madjur Jaffrey was a guest chef at the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival in April. She didn't receive nearly as much press as Paul Prudhomme or the dessert cigar by Douglas Rodriguez, but her perfectly cooked plump shrimp in a pool of piquant cream sauce was the hit of the evening at our table. Plates were wiped clean with bread so as not to miss a drop of the exemplary sauce.

7. Bouillabaisse Magnolia Cafe-West general manager Karen Rusk whipped up batches of this heavenly seafood stew native to the French port city of Marseille regularly during November and December. She may be a very qualified restaurant manager but this gal really belongs on the range. Last year, we enjoyed crawfish pies, this year the bouillabaisse. Who knows what she'll come up with in 1997?

8. Wild Boar Chop/Wild Boar Chicken Fried Steak My birthday meal at Bertram's was my first experience with a wild boar. It was so appealing that I was eager to try another cut of the tasty meat when it showed up chicken fried on the new lunch menu at Coyote Cafe.

9. Roasted Poblano & Chorizo Botanitas chef/owner Ruben Rodriguez makes this appetizer with melted Monterey jack cheese, smokey strips of fire-roasted poblano, flavorful lean chorizo and sauteed mushrooms. With a pile of fresh, hot corn tortillas, it is simple, rustic and divine.

10. Organic Tangerine Juice A basket of fresh tangerines from Bay Laxon's organic orchards in Carrizo Springs, TX made wondrous juice on Christmas morning.

Top Ten Tastes
From Beyond Our Borders

Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

1. Pao's special Chinese menu

2. Ararat

3. Jean-Luc's French Bistro

4. Sushi at Mushashino

5. Caribbean cuisine at Gilligan's

6. Sandwiches and pastries from Phoenicia Bakery

7. Taramasalata at Ted's Greek Corner

8. Fish and chips at the Dog & Duck

9. La Parilla Grill

10. Pho 75

Top Ten Mexican Dishes

Patrick Earvolino

Baja fish tacos at La Salsa
photograph by John Anderson
1. Manuel's relleno en nogada

2. Fonda San Miguel's the Sunday brunch

3. Las Palomas's mole con pollo

4. Las Manitas' enchiladas morelianas and chorizo de soya

5. El Sol y La Luna's pozole

6. Curras' Grill's huevos curra's

7. La Salsa's baja fish tacos

8. Mr. Natural's vegetarian ceviche and spinach-pineapple agua fresca

9. Tamale house #3/Juan in a Million's breakfast tacos

10. Taco Cabana's borracho beans, flour tortillas, and salsa bar

Top Ten Tastes of the
Country in the City

Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

1. Fresh eggs from Boggy Creek Farm

2. Goat cheese and milk from White Egret Farm

3. Organic produce from Whole Foods Farmers' Market

4. Eastside Cafe's urban herb and vegetable patch

5. Un-homogenized milk in glass bottles from Promiseland Dairy

6. Garden fresh, home-cooked meals at Kerbey Lane Cafe

7. Produce, plants, and seeds from Webb Farms Produce stand

8. Freshly bagged herbs from Hodge Station Farms

9. Produce from Travis County Farmer's Market

10. Vegetable casseroles from Threadgills

Top Ten Made in Austin Edibles

Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

1. Satay's Original Thai specialty sauces

2. Timpone's salsa verde

3. Goodflow juices

4. Amy's Ice Cream

5. Don Alfonso's chipotle sauce

6. Guiltless Gourmet snack foods

7. Central Market sausages

8. Amandine sorbets

9. Pascal's Pate du Bistro

10. Lamme's candies

Top Ten Rumors of 1996

Virginia B. Wood

photograph by John Anderson
1. Hard Rock Cafe is opening in the old Nighthawk. This has been a relentlessly persistent rumor for a couple of years now but it is based on wishful thinking rather than fact. Calls to Hard Rock Cafe's corporate offices in Florida produced confirmation that they have absolutely no plans to open an outlet in Austin, now or ever. "We choose cities based on factors such as population, major events and tourism," says Building & Development Exec. Assistant Kris Johanning, "and Austin just isn't big enough. Also, we already have two outlets in Texas (Dallas and San Antonio) and we don't like to saturate any one state."

2. Central Market is hiring chef Jay McCarthy. This one turned out to be very true. San Antonio's loss is definitely Austin's gain. McCarthy brought his considerable talents and much of his former Cascabel staff to the kitchens of Central Market. The quality of the prepared foods there has appreciated greatly since his arrival.

3. Coyote Cafe is closing this (any) week. Coyote cut back their staff and closed for lunch at the first of 1996, fueling rumors that they would close. Slow payments to purveyors and creditors again fanned the flames over the summer. However, they've re-opened for lunch and are seemingly alive and well.

4. Hard Rock Cafe is opening next to Güero's on Congress. See # 1. Get over it.

5. Tom Gilliland of Fonda San Miguel is opening a restaurant downtown. The Austin Business Journal covered this possibility some months ago, but it turned out that city codes and regulations would have made Gilliland's concept prohibitively expensive in the Fourth Street space.

6. Bon Fresh Food Market is closing. End of the year staff cutbacks and shrinking inventory had Westlake shoppers nervous about this new upscale market. Co-owner Pat Conroy assures us that after the belt-tightening measures in December, Bon is in business for the long haul. They intend to promote their well-received selection of take-out meals in the coming year.

7. The legislature will be in session at Sullivan's. This one could well be true. The new upscale steakhouse could cut well into the legislative business of some other downtown eateries. One look at Sullivan's and you can tell it's just that kind of joint.

8. Founding chef Miguel Ravago is no longer associated with Fonda San Miguel. Longtime business partners Tom Gilliland and chef Miguel Ravago dissolved their partnership in 1996 and Ravago has been gone from the restaurant since June. Ravago is busy creating a completely new restaurant project and should get some more national media exposure when his book comes out.

9. Central Market is hiring Leslie McGrath for their cooking school. The former owner of Blanco River Cooking school would be a great asset to the Central Market facility, bringing her considerable skills and connections to a top quality operation. Look for an announcement about this within a few days.

10. Threadgill's World Headquarters sits on the same sight as the Armadillo World Headquarters. Almost, but not quite. The former cafeteria location on Riverside Dr. is as close as Eddie Wilson will get to the original sight of the Armadillo again in this lifetime.

Top Ten Worth the Distance

Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

1. Tableside cooking (Tuesdays only, by reservation, 210/833-5776) at "Night With the Chef," Sunset Restaurant, Blanco

2. Barbeque at Louie Mueller's in Taylor

3. Game menu at Hudson's on the Bend

4. Peach ice cream stands on the road to Fredericksburg in the springtime

5. Hefty hamburger at Rocky Hill Ranch (preceded by a couple hours of mountain biking)

6. Crisp-crusted New York pizza from Nick's Fabulous Pizza on FM2222

7. Wine tasting and tour at Oberhellman Vineyards outside Fredericksburg

8. Kolaches in West, TX

9. Goat cheese from Pure Luck Organic's farm stand, Dripping Springs

10. Phil's Phried Phricker (a breaded, fried Snickers bar) at Phil's BBQ, Blanco

Top Ten Austin
Brewpub Beers

Patrick Earvolino

Waterloo Brewing Co.
photograph by John Anderson
1. Waterloo Brewing Co:
summer Hefeweissen

2. The Draft Horse:
Fullem's ESB

3. Waterloo Brewing Co.: Guytown IPA

4. Copper Tank: Cliffhanger Alt

5. Bitter End: Espresso Stout

6. Bitter End: Aberdeen
Amber Ale

7. Waterloo Brewing Co.: O. Henry's Porter

8. Copper Tank: Fire House Stout

9. Waterloo Brewing Co.: autumn Pumpkin Ale

10. Copper Tank: winter Warmer Ale/Bitter End Jolly Olde Ale

Top Ten Spots for Java-sipping

Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

photograph by John Anderson
1. Spider House

2. Little City, Congress Ave. location.

3. Highlife Cafe

4. Cup A Jane

5. Flipnotics

6. Ruta Maya Coffee House

7. Soma

8. Austin Java Co.

9. Flightpath Cafe

10. Manor Road Coffee House

Top Ten Things to Look
Forward to in 1997

Virginia B. Wood

1. The remodeling of the HEB at South Congress & Oltorf will be finished. Residents of the 78704 area code will all agree.

2. Chef David Garrido's first cookbook The popular Jeffrey's chef and collaborator Robb Walsh expect to see their book about new Tex-Mex cooking from Chronicle Press this year.

3. Chef Miguel Ravago's first cookbook Ravago worked with Seattle author/travel consultant Marilyn Tausend on a cookbook about homestyle regional Mexican cooking in the US which will be released by Simon & Schuster later this year.

4. A wine and jazz bar downtown The popularity of Cedar Street has encouraged many entrepreneurs. Xena manager Len White and a group are scouting locations now and should have their new joint up and running by mid-year.

5. Desserts from pastry chef Louise McLaughlin This young woman promises to go far because she is the rare combination of both artist and cook. She's a big asset to chef Peter O'Brien at Bertram's.

6. Cafe Josie on West Sixth Longtime Austin chef Charlie Mayes' new spot lacks visibility from Sixth Street but if anyone can draw a crowd it should be this talented, garrulous guy with a big local following.

7. Menu changes at Mars from chef James Fisher The talk is that this well-travelled young man is adding fascinating new Mediterranean dishes to the menu at Mars. Look for us to check this out soon.

8. Chef Ricardo Muñoz at Fonda San Miguel Restaurateur Tom Gilliland has been trumpeting the arrival of his hand-picked new chef from Mexico City, promising that the gastronomy professor/culinary historian will take the cuisine at Fonda San Miguel to "a new level." Chef Muñoz should be in residence by early January.

9. A new chef at Zoot Owner Erika Brown said during the holidays that a local and nationwide search to fill the chef position at the popular West Austin eatery would begin in earnest this month. It should be very interesting to see who lands the job and how Zoot weathers the change as a new chef puts his or her own personal stamp on the cuisine there.

10. Whole Foods Markets' continued support of local farmers Recent conversations with produce marketing specialist Pamela Boyar indicate that her job with Whole Foods is secure and their commitment to local farmers is unwavering.

Top Ten Items on Austin's Dining Wish List for 1997

Patrick Earvolino

1. A genuine, family-style Italian restaurant

2. A real diner

3. A gourmet vegetarian restaurant

4. A deli that is actually a deli

5. A Moroccan restaurant

6. A restaurant for Miguel Ravago

7. A first-rate cocktail bar

8. A restaurant with a full Vietnamese menu

9. A light Tex-Mex restaurant

10. More ostrich!

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