For my birthday last July, a friend treated me to an exclusive wine dinner at Bertram's, where the wines of Napa Valley's Niebaum-Coppola Winery were the main attraction. Miguel Ravago's delicious Interior Mexican menu was matched with Francis Ford Coppola's 1995 Rosso, an Italian-style California red table wine and the 1996 Bianco, an aromatic white table wine. The crowning glory of the evening, however, was a generous supply of the 1980 and 1985 vintages of the Niebaum-Coppola Estate Rubicon, the exclusive premium wine of Coppola's cellar. The price I paid for enjoying the luscious Rubicon was a long, tedious conversation with the opinionated young couple seated on my right. I'm always curious about readers' opinions, but these people strained my curiosity. The wife lectured me at length on my shortcomings and insisted that I fire some writers (one of whom works for another paper) and do away with a star rating system in restaurant reviews that the Chronicle does not use. Just as I was about to dismiss her as an obnoxious woman with a reading comprehension problem, she began spouting the names of ethnic restaurants of which I'd not heard and piqued my interest. She said it was obvious that I was out of step with the new, underground, off-the-beaten-path places like a Salvadorian restaurant called El Zunzal (642 Calles, 474-7749). Since discovering new, offbeat places is the most fun part of my job, my search for El Zunzal began the next day. I was stymied for weeks until a Chron staffer casually handed me an aviso that had been placed on his windshield during the Fiestas Patrias. It described the menu, imported beer selection, and entertainment attractions at the elusive El Zunzal! I visited, sampling carnitas con yuca (pork chunks with fried yucca root), arroz con albondigas (rice and meatballs) garnished with bright slices of tomato and avocado and a hearty torta de carne guisado (a sandwich made with stewed beef chunks). The condiments on each table included curtido, a relish made with cabbage, carrots, onions, oregano, and vinegar. While we waited for our food, steaming bowls of a dark caldo
(soup) with half an ear of corn and an enormous cocktail de camarones (shrimp cocktail) passed by. According to owner/manager Elmer Corea, El Zunzal just celebrated its first anniversary. Felicidades! Readers with information about new ethnic restaurants are encouraged to advise me at email@example.com Thank you "Spooky," whoever you were.
Speaking of broadening our ethnic food horizons, there is a new Caribbean joint in East Austin. Several transplanted Caribbean citizens met through the Trans-Caribbean Network of Austin. They missed their native foods and decided to open a restaurant serving authentic cuisines of the eastern Caribbean islands. Husband and wife teams Michael Caton (Trinidad) and Margaret Reid (Jamaica) and Aziz Laurent (Dominica) and Nneka Laurent (St. Kitts) joined with their friend Savatri Saldana of Trinidad to purchase the former Cafe Armageddon. They gave it a bright new coat of paint and re-christened it Calabash Cafe (2015 Manor Rd., 478-4857). With temperate weather on the way, their deck should be a nice place to try some Caribbean taste sensations.
If the food at the St. Elias festival creates a desire for Mediterranean dishes on a more regular basis, two new restaurants featuring some of foods of that region have opened in the central city. Check out Kismet Cafe (411 W. 24th, 236-1811) and Tokai (601 W. Sixth, 457-8880). More details when we've had a chance to check them out.