The Austin Chronicle


By Virginia B. Wood, December 5, 1997, Food

When people ask why we don't have more really good Italian food locally, the standard response is that Austin lacks a large Italian immigrant community. San Francisco has its North Beach, descendants of Italian immigrants are well represented in the culinary landscapes of New Orleans and Chicago, and most eastern cities have thriving "Little Italy" neighborhoods with small family restaurants, butcher shops, produce vendors, bakeries, and gelaterias. Austin still lags behind those cities, but things are looking up. This fall, a talented group of Italians -- Antonio Borello, Roberto Tarantini, and Romina Derra -- joined forces with first generation American Raphael Bemporad to open Milano's (217 W. Fourth, 326-9492). They imported equipment, flavorings, and coffees from their native Milan, set up a commercial commissary kitchen in South Austin, and opened an inviting storefront in the warehouse district. A stunning photo of the young Sophia Loren adorns one wall, and the business motto is simple: Life Is Rich. The product line is simply divine: multiple flavors of gelatos (premium ice cream), sorbettos (non-dairy sorbets), dolci (traditional Italian cookies and desserts), and Ottolina coffees imported from Italy's Lombardia region. Downtown workers and nighttime revelers alike are being seduced by Milano's voluptuous allure.

Once the American trade embargo against Vietnam was lifted late last year, Austinites Nancy and Trien Bui were able to realize their dream of importing coffee from their homeland to sell to the American public. Bui family members still in Vietnam are growing the coffee on the family's former plantation, and the Austin relatives will market it first in Austin and eventually the whole U.S. Nancy and Trien have built a small retail center in Northwest Austin with the anchor tenant, their own Triumph Coffee Shop and Cafe (3808 Spicewood Springs, 343-1875). The bright, airy shop serves pastries, sandwiches on homemade bread, soups, salads, and a full array of coffee drinks. The Buis roast their own beans and sell imported coffees by the pound. The flavor of Vietnamese coffee is similar to that of Hawaiian Kona, the result of both plants being grown in volcanic mountain soil. My first experience with the new import was a tall cup partially filled with condensed milk and topped with a coffee filter dripping hot, fragrant liquid onto the sweet milk. Stirred together and poured over ice, the resulting libation was robust and refreshing.

After several staff turnovers in the opening weeks, the owners of Rhythm House (624 W. 34th, 458-4411) report that their kitchen has stabilized under the direction of Chap Ross. The campus-area tapas bar is now open for lunch 11am-2pm weekdays. The Spanish/Mediterranean menu should be appealing on crisp, fall days.

Holiday Shopping Alert

The Travis Heights Elementary PTA Tamalada is Saturday, December 6. Parents will spend the day in the school cafeteria at 2010 Alameda making, cooking, and selling tamales. Poinsettias, art, and gifts will also be on sale... The Sustainable Food Center (434 Bastrop Hwy, 385-0080) is selling fresh, Texas-grown Christmas trees. To order yours, call 385-0080 or fax 385-0082. For an extra $5, they will deliver... Boggy Creek Farm (3414 Lyons Rd., 926-4650) will host an open farm/open house at the 150-year-old house on Saturday, December 6, 9am-4pm. Then, on December 6, the French Legation (802 San Marcos, 472-8180) will host a festival celebrating Texas Christmas Traditions from noon-5pm, with food, music and fun activities for children of all ages.

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