Virginia B. Wood has news from across the land.

Austin in the Big Apple

For the past several years, the founders and board of directors of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival have sought to raise the event's national profile through an affiliation with a national food magazine, seeking a sponsoship arrangement much like the Aspen Food & Wine Fest has with the American Express publication Food & Wine. Their efforts finally paid off in the fall of 2002 when a deal was struck with Saveur. The current issue of the magazine features full-page ads trumpeting the new affiliation, and the publishers of Saveur threw a big national debut party last week at Blue Smoke/Jazz Standard in New York City to introduce festival principals to the Big Apple food press. Austin chefs prepared Texas foods, Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracey provided the musical entertainment, and frequent Chronicle contributor MM Pack was in attendance. She'll fill us in on all the juicy details when she returns. She also found time to get career updates on former Austin chefs Tien Ho, now at Daniel, and Roberto Santibanez, the new culinary director for multioutlet Rosa Mexicana.

Gotta Lotta Restaurant News

Just back from a camping trip to the Big Bend area, Chronicle contributing writer Rachel Feit reports a sighting of popular Austin couple Peter and Cara O'Brien. The former owners of Si Bon have taken up residence in Lajitas, where Peter is the new exec chef at Ocotillo Restaurant (915/424-5035) in Austin millionaire Steve Smith's swanky new desert resort... Look for the cozy new eat-in/takeout cafe Chow, Baby (814 W. 12th, 236-0660) near the Downtown ACC campus and the legal ghetto... In the late fall of 2002, restaurateur Susie Crews Piaget took over the operation of both the Y Bar & Grill (7720 Hwy. 71 W., 394-0220) and Casita Jorge's (2203 Hancock, 454-1980) from former husband Jean-Pierre Piaget. Mrs. Crews Piaget is now chief operating officer at the Y Bar & Grill and has sold the Tex-Mex eatery to former Midlander Diana Veloz, daughter of a successful West Texas food-service dynasty that operates several Jorge's restaurant outlets in Midland, Odessa, and Lubbock. The north Central Austin restaurant will now be known simply as "Jorge's," and will feature a traditional Norteño-influenced Tex-Mex menu popularized in the Veloz family's other restaurants. Veloz says the biggest adjustment she has had to make since coming to Austin is accommodating an assertive vegetarian clientele... While it doesn't seem possible that anything could be proliferating around Austin as fast as sushi bars, we are seeing some new Middle Eastern dining spots. Check out the Pyramids (6019 N. I-35, 302-9600), featuring pan-Mediterranean dishes from Lebanon, Greece, and Italy, and a new location for the popular Bismillah (565-6061). I hope you'll try it. They're at 6929 Airport, where they serve Indian and Pakistani cuisine... Sixteen months of a soft local economy are taking their toll on Austin's food business. After a boom-time expansion to more than 10 outlets, 21-year-old Austin bakery Texas French Bread has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Operations at the three remaining locations (Red River, Rio Grande and 29th, and South Congress) will continue as always. Everyone who talks a good game about supporting local independent businesses is welcome to put their money where their mouth is... Last week saw the end of chef Collin Treanor's ill-fated Collin B's Bistro & Wine Room, making it the second casual fine dining outlet (Ella's was the other) to close in the central West Austin neighborhood in the past few months.

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