Virginia B. Wood updates readers on Austin's expanding Italian restaurants.
The activity in the attractive space at 314 Congress is the family team of Marion, Dan, and Olga Gillchrist working hard on their new eatery La Traviata (479-8131), scheduled to open in July. Former Austinite Marion Gillchrist has returned home and enlisted her brother and sister-in-law in her first chef-owned venture. She's a graduate of the California Culinary Academy who then spent several years working in the top restaurants in Santa Fe, honing her skills before striking out on her own. Gillchrist reports that one of her most inspirational jobs was as sous chef at Santa Fe's former Cafe Escalera where she trained with chefs David Tannis (now at Chez Panisse in Berkeley) and the legendary Deborah Madison. With those influences in mind, Gillchrist plans to serve simple, straightforward Italian food that is as fresh and seasonal as possible. La Traviata will serve lunch weekdays and dinner six nights a week. Watch this space for news of their opening date.
While driving down South Congress lately, we spied the owners of Vespaio (1610 S. Congress, 441-1610) standing with a group in the vacant lot just north of their wildly popular Italian restaurant. We speculated the animated conversation had to do with expansion plans and a phone call last week confirmed that possibility. We'll keep you posted if anything develops. Meanwhile, every savvy expansion-minded restaurateur in town is contemplating the South Congress corner restaurant space most recently known as Shaggy's (1600 S. Congress). City permits establishing the site as a restaurant location are already grandfathered in, making it a very attractive spot for restaurateurs who find the delightfully funky SoCo neighborhood so appealing.
Kudos to those adorable gardening tots at Rhonda's Montessori Garden (4300 Mt. Vernon, 707-8635) whose organic herbs just won 13 blue ribbons at the Austin Men's Garden Club Spring Flower Show and Sale. Look for their award-winning lemongrass, garlic chives, rosemary, and basil in the produce section at Sun Harvest on South Lamar. Restaurants all over town are jumping on the live music bandwagon. Taco Xpress (2529-A S. Lamar, 444-0261) is using their patio for an open mike "Gong Show" competition every Wednesday evening and live music on weekends. Mercedes Martinez (1703 S. First, 440-1889) offers karaoke some nights and live music on their tree-shaded deck other evenings. Call for schedules... Lobster-lovers have just a few more weeks to hurry into Sardine Rouge (311 W. Sixth, 476-2881) for their decadently delicious lobster festival. On Sunday through Thursday evenings, diners can sample several delectable lobster preparations (the chilled lobster with mango curry dipping sauce and the lobster in cardinale sauce are especially wonderful) paired with equally fine side dishes. An extra $10 gets you a made-to-order dessert souffle... Fall Creek Vineyards (476-4477, www.fcv.com) continues their cooking series with a Father's Day Chef's Table this Sunday, June 17, with seatings from noon until 3pm. Hill Country chef Jason K. Felton will be on the range, and reservations are necessary... Crescent City Beignets (1211 W. Sixth, 472-9622) offers a new twist on the happy hour idea. Sunday through Thursday nights from 8pm-10pm, buy one order of beignets ($2.25) and get the second order free!
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