Two of Austin's most popular chefs will spend the first two weeks of September immersing themselves in the culture of other countries. Alan Lazarus, chef/co-owner of Vespaio (1610 S. Congress, 441-6100), flies first to Paris for a couple days of buying cookware at Calle Dehillerin and eating bread at Poilane before embarking on a 10-day tour of the Italian countryside. Lazarus' itinerary calls for visits to vineyards, olive groves, small-town trattorias, and agriturismos, country farms that serve meals made entirely from items raised on the farm. While it's only natural to envy such a trip, Vespaio patrons will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this vacation when chef Lazarus returns to Austin inspired to create new rustic Italian dishes for his restaurant. While Lazarus is eating his way across the Piedmont, Roberto Santibanez, executive chef of Fonda San Miguel (2330 W. North Loop, 459-4121) will take a jaunt down under to represent Mexican culinary culture and Fonda San Miguel in Sydney, Australia. For the past several years, the Mexican Cultural Ministry has sponsored a cultural exchange with Sydney, producing grand gastronomic buffets, displays of folk arts and crafts in museums, plus mariachi music and folklorico dances in public parks around the city. Chef Santibanez is making his second trip to Sydney as an ambassador of Mexican culinary culture, having performed this pleasant task four years ago when he was a chef/restaurateur in Mexico City. This time, he's taking longtime Fonda sous chef Oscar Aragon along.
It's amazing how fast things can change over the course of one busy semester or the all-too-short summer break. There have been some serious culinary changes in the campus area in the last year, and hungry students need to know what's what. The bad news/good news is Captain Quackenbush's closed their long-time Drag location, but they're still baking and making coffee at Quack's at 43rd (411 E. 43rd, 453-3399)... The newest local burger joint near the UT market is Chumikal's (600-A MLK, 236-0197). Famous on the Eastside for their Salvadoran food and burgers, Mike's guys are serving tasty breakfast and lunch from 6am to 4pm daily... A few blocks south of campus, the Clay Pit (1601 Guadalupe, 322-5131) offers sophisticated contemporary Indian cuisine and has added a jazz club called the Bombay Room... The garish eyesore just up the street is Mangos (2815 Guadalupe, 472-6264) which boasts "island cuisine," drink specials, and lots of outdoor music and recreational activities... The far side of campus has a new cafe/bar/coffeehouse called Gaby & Mo's (1809 Manor Road, 457-9027), where the eclectic menu changes weekly and they have an inviting selection of vegetarian and vegan offerings, including everything from salads to entrees to desserts... If you're looking for just the right campus-area restaurant to which to take the parents before or after the game, classy enough for them but casual enough to be comfortable, where there's both a good wine list and servings substantial enough so Dad knows he's had a real meal, Ray LeMay has the solution. Ray's Steakhouse (3010 Guadalupe, 478-0000) has everything you're looking for: a casual, upscale restaurant with good service, a good bar, and menu items the folks from home will recognize.
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