This week's column just won't stay written. Every time I get it finished, up pops some new tidbit of good news worth sharing! Gourmet magazine's annual restaurant issue just hit the stands with four Austin restaurants mentioned among the best in Texas. Zoot (6) and Jeffrey's (10) are listed in the top 10, while Cisco's Bakery & Cafe is recognized for serving the best Tex-Mex, and Vespaio is described as the "most fun." Our heartiest congratulations to these local stars for the well-deserved accolades... The natural order of things is chefs cook and restaurant critics eat and evaluate, but the tables were certainly turned last week in the Central Market Cooking School classroom. Renowned Esquire magazine restaurant critic and cookbook author John Mariani (The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, The Dictionary of Italian Food & Drink) taught a sold-out class last Thursday evening, and the very receptive audience included a large percentage of chefs and cooking instructors. Enjoying Mariani's relaxed patter and simple, straightforward Italian cuisine were chefs David Bull of the Driskill Grille, Dave Hermann of The Range in Salado, Larry Perdido and Dylan Murray of Saba Blue Water Cafe, Lisa Fox of ASTI, Jimmy Shumake of Sardine Rouge, Roger Mollett of Central Market, plus cooking instructors Sahar Arafat-Ray of Central Market, Beth Pav of Cooking by Design, and Abigail Donovan of Culinary Travels. The very talented crowd feasted on Mariani's delicious Italian-American fare while he shared tidbits of Italian culinary history and some very strong opinions about everything from portion size to architectural food presentations and superfluous garnishes. What a treat!... There's a magnum of wine news to kick off Texas Wine Month. Mike Villim has resumed his award-winning wine classes at Mirabelle (8127 Mesa Drive, 346-7900), and marketing director Sandy Collins has reinstated the wildly popular Thursday night Wine Tastings at Whole Foods-Gateway (9607 Research Blvd, 345-5003), so check both places for wine lineups and prices. The current Austin Wine Merchant (512 W. Sixth, 499-0522) newsletter introduces new owners Greg and Kim Soechting and invites everyone to drop in to meet them. Chef Sam Dickey of the Granite Cafe (2905 San Gabriel, 472-6483) will get a little help from his friends at the gala wine dinner Monday, October 16. Make reservations now for a dinner to be prepared by chefs Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks and Mark Bliss of Silo, both from San Antonio, and Ben Berryhill of Cafe Annie in Houston. If you're bored with Monday Night Football, why not try Monday Night Prix Fixe at Tocai (601 W. Sixth, 457-8880) with a three-course meal by chef Betsy Johnston and wine suggestions by sommelier Anthony Garcia. We'll have plenty of info on the upcoming Fredericksburg Food & Wine Festival (Oct. 27-29) in the coming weeks... If you're looking for entertainment this Saturday, Oct. 7, stop by the HerbFest 2000 at Zilker Botanical Gardens between 9am-5pm for food, fun, shopping, and herb education or Kerbey Lane Cafe-University (2605 Guadalupe, 477-5717) for their Fall Festival & Chili Cook-off benefitting Sims Elementary. Live music and chili cooking begin at 4pm with winners announced around 9pm. Food and Live Oak brews will be for sale as well as arts and crafts from local vendors.
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