The Dependables and The Discoveries
The year in food, 2004
Virginia B. Wood's Best Sweet Bites of 2004
1) Lemon Curd: My friend Suzann Dvorken gave antique apothecary jars of this rich, tangy spread for Christmas gifts, and I was lucky enough to get some. I've been spreading in on toasted scones every day.
2) Dolce al Formaggio Che Crollare: a creamy, elegant lemon dessert that was the crowning glory of my visits to TinTinNio.
3) Upside Down Apple Pie: Crisp apples under a buttery caramel crust make up this signature dessert from the McCormick & Schmick's chain. It's topped with a huge scoop of Amy's cinnamon ice cream when they serve it here an Austintatious match.
4) Peach Gelato: Matt Lee of Teo's whipped up my favorite summer flavor to complement my birthday feast.
5) 365 Natural Italian Sodas: Tangerine and Lemon flavors helped chill out the summer, and the Cranberry added some sparkle to the holidays. Splendid refreshers from Whole Foods.
6) Bat Creek Farm Apple Cider: Fresh pressed cider was the highlight of a fall visit to the Downtown Farmers' Market.
7) SXUL Chocolate: Rick Bristow's voluptuous gold-flecked bonbons are truly divine.
8) Kakawa Pure Whole Bean Chocolates: Tom Pedersen roasts the finest cocoa beans, then dips them in chocolate and rolls them in cocoa chocolate candy at its most basic and distinctive.
9) Pure Simple Shortbreads: Vespaio pastry chef Barrie Cullinan's crisp, buttery shortbreads were my cookie addiction this year in plain, dark chocolate, spice, and cherry almond.
10) Mary Lou Butters' Brownies: Mary Lou makes many different flavor combinations, each one more decadent than the last. Bring on plenty of good coffee or cold milk.
Virginia B. Wood's Best Savory Bites of 2004
1) Dinner at the Roger Mollett benefit: Everything from Amuse Bouche's appetizers and Salad Lyonnaise, Larry Perdido's Bouillabaisse, assorted pâtés from Le Marseillais and the marvelous stinky cheeses chosen by Ike Johnson, an exquisite salmon fillet with Dupuy lentils prepared by Aquarelle, to the creme caramel from Marta's Desserts and petite sweets from the Texas Culinary Academy came together to make a truly remarkable meal and an unforgettable evening.
2) My birthday feast at El Meson: We braved the summer heat and devoured huitlacoche quesadillas and unique rellenos. Que magnifico!
3) Panisse With Smoked Salmon, Capers, and Anchovy Mayonnaise: My visit to Cafe Caprice was very early in the year, but the taste memory of the delicate fried batons of chick-pea flour, the cool salmon, and tangy mayo still lingers.
4) Crawfish Pie: This delicacy from Cajun Creative Specialty Foods in Jennings, La., offers rich crawfish étouffée in an incredibly flaky crust mighty good eating.
5) Saffron Risotto With Petit Veal Osso Buco: A sprinkling of orange zest was the perfect grace note in this deeply satisfying dish at TinTinNio.
6) Sauces at TinTinNio: Whether it was the mustard cream sauce with the mussels, the marinara served alongside the fried artichokes and risotto balls, or the elegant brandy and peppercorn reduction that bathes the veal ravioli, the sauces here are very impressive.
7) Wagyu steaks: Luxuriously marbled and packed with flavor really excellent beef available at Henry's Butcher Block and the Westlake Farmers Market.
8) SpiceBurst flavored salts: The garlic is great on grilled meats, the chipotle salt adds zing to corn on the cob, and the orange variety enhances steamed, sautéed, or roasted veggies. Look for them at Grapevine Market.
9) Deviled eggs with smoke-dried tomatoes: Chronicle contributor MM Pack whipped up a batch of these for a wine dinner at Spicewood Vineyards, and they disappeared in a flash. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Boggy Creek Farm tomato crop makes it this year, because my stash of smoke-dried tomatoes is officially gone now.)
10) Gulf Shrimp and Rio Star Grapefruit Salad With Avocado Sauce: Joy Peppers (www.joypeppers.com) were the secret ingredient in the sauce that made this salad such a hit at the same wine dinner.
Mick Vann's Top 10 Campus-Area Eateries
My day job is at the university, in the School of Biological Sciences, and during the past 11 years I've become intimately familiar with every eating venue anywhere close to campus. I've developed a short list of my favorites over time, and because I trust you with this valuable information, I now divulge:
1) Madam Mam's Noodles and More (2514 Guadalupe, 472-8306): Truth be told, I eat here about 90% of the time. At Mam's, youll find the most authentic Thai food that I've eaten outside of Thailand. They present a widely varied menu of dishes made from fresh ingredients, in big portions, at very reasonable prices. I spend most mornings trying to decide what I'll order that day. Excellent!
2) Kismet Cafe (411 W. 24th, 236-1811): Kismet offers a somewhat limited menu of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine, heavy on the pita wraps and salads. It's all great, and you have to try really hard to spend more than 10 bucks. Greek salad with chicken, hummus, chicken schwarma, falafel: yummm.
3) Burger Tex II (2912 Guadalupe, 477-8433): Sometimes nothing but a burger will do, and this Korean-run spot has the best. Exceptional burgers, bulgogi burgers, and tempura onion rings. An added plus, you get to dress them just the way you like from the toppings bar.
4) Veggie Heaven (1914-A Guadalupe, 457-1013): You'll be packed in like a sardine, but the large menu of vegetarian and vegan offerings is a delight. Authentic Chinese flavors, low prices, and nice portions. I generally dislike veggie options, but these folks yield assertive tastes.
5) Oma's Kitchen (Dobie Mall, 472-8018): For Korean diversions, Oma's is the real deal. Mother and daughter cook up a storm at this small street-vendor-style paradise in the food court of Dobie Mall. Stick to the Asian dishes and you can't go wrong.
6) Hoover's Cooking (2002 Manor Rd., 479-5006): When you need some Southern soul food comfort, Hoover's is just a short jaunt down Manor Road. Plate lunches to die for, and it's easy on the budget for big portions of satisfying goodness. Top it off with a slab of cobbler and try to resist the nap.
7) Niki's Pizza (Dobie Mall, 474-1876): Most Austinites don't even know this bona fide New York-style pizza joint is here, but they have dynamite thin crust slices and whole pies that are just as good as those from the Big Apple. The eye candy is a plus.
8) Sampaio's (2809 San Jacinto, 469-9988): Brazilian hits the spot when you're in a quandary for something a little different. Genuine flavors from Rio and Salvador gimme those cheese bolinhos, the moqueca, and a steaming platter of feijoada. We love those crazy siganos Brasilenos!
9) Yen Ching (2910 Guadalupe, 472-4754): My favorite comfort Chinese dish is ma po dofu, loosely translated as "Mrs. Po's Pocked Bean Curd." It's really Szechuan-style spicy bean curd with pork in hot bean paste, and these folks make a reliable version when I just have to get some during the day.
10) John Mueller's B-B-Q (1917 Manor Rd., 236-0283): When you have a hankering for a slab of smoked ribs, Mueller's is the place. The sides are a tad pedestrian, but the barbecued meats hit the spot. You may have to fight your way through the business lunch crowd to get in, and you'd best go early.
Claudia Alarcón's Top 10 Gastronomic Discoveries and Delights
1) Uchi: I've tried so many outstanding dishes at Uchi that I can't mention just one. Every single time I eat there, chef Tyson Cole wows me with something exquisite, unique, or completely new to me. His understanding of food is tremendous, and every combination he dreams up is a winner. I love adventurous dining, and, in my opinion, this is the best place for it in Austin.
2) Le Marseillaise: Some of the best reasons to visit the Westlake Farmers Market are the fabulous pâtés, vinaigrettes, tapenades, and other French culinary specialties from chefs Eric and Martine Pellegrin. Not only am I addicted to these products, but their "supper club" was one of the finest dining experiences I have ever had. I can't wait until they open a permanent location.
3) Batabing Martini at the Stephen F. Austin bar: My vote in the Official Drink of Austin contest went to this inventive and tasty cocktail made using local products. Straight-up, ice-cold Tito's vodka with a dash of Sgt. Pepper's Chipotle del Sol hot sauce and a touch of tequila, served with a side of spicy sangrita made with other local ingredients, including a splash of Live Oak Pilz beer. Lively and zesty, like our city!
4) Antipasto case at Vespaio: While this is nothing new, one of my favorite things to do in Austin is sit at Vespaio's bar in the early evening to munch on the wonders from the antipasto case while drinking a glass of wine. I love the roasted tomatoes and goat cheese, and this summer the fresh Texas melon slices with paper-thin prosciutto and a glass of prosecco was my favorite combination.
5) Brazilian fruits: I certainly traveled for food in 2004, and while my gastronomic discoveries in Brazil were many, it was the flavors of the unique fruits of the state of Bahia that captured the essence of my trip. I sampled ice creams and cocktails made from tropical treasures such as caju, cajá, jaca, cupuaçu, jenipapo, and mangaba. Send some to Austin, please. I need a fix.
6) Roy's anniversary party: This unique event, complete with Hawaiian dancers, great wines, and sublime food, exceeded all of my expectations. Each of the five courses served was created by a different chef, including Roy's founder Roy Yamaguchi, Roy's of Austin chef Bill Trevio, and guest chefs Tyson Cole and David Apthorpe, and each shone in its own right.
7) Meats from Cooper's Meat Market: I tasted two fabulous custom-cooked meats from Cooper's Meat Market in 2004. First, during the Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, the roasted whole suckling pig was a showstopper: falling-apart tender, almost sweet, unbelievably delicious. Then, for Thanksgiving, the smoked turkey was absolutely the best ever. Kudos to Lee and her crew!
8) Patricia Quintana's Izote: OK, now I am bragging. But dining at Patricia Quintana's Izote restaurant in Mexico City was the highlight of my trip back home last fall. From the tequila shots served in an ice-coated glass to the miniature shrimp sopes, the exquisite squash blossom broth, and the fish in huitlacoche cream, every dish was superbly executed and elegantly served.
9) SXUL Chocolate: I got some of these luscious, rich, and decadent local handmade chocolates as a wedding gift and found that they are the ultimate treat for the chocoholic: a dark chocolate shell filled with double-chocolate ganache that melts in your mouth. The extra endorphins don't hurt, either. Almost too good to be true.
10) Dim sum at Marco Polo: If it's Sunday and there's no football to watch, I can be found at Marco Polo having dim sum with friends. We love the fried eggplant with shrimp, the pork and leek pan-fried dumplings, the shrimp toast, and those awesome crispy pork ribs. We chase them down with a cold Tsing Tao or a cup of hot chrysanthemum tea.
Top 10 Wines Wes Marshall Has Tasted This Year
After going through more than 2,500 wines, I've done my best to narrow the group down to a top 10 that would both be available locally and that would remember value for your hard-earned dollars. You might have to go ask for some of these, but all will be worth the effort. In alphabetical order:
2002 Balestri Valda Recioto ($35 for a .375)
NV Champagne Bollinger Special Cuveé ($60)
2001 Catena Alta Malbec ($40)
2001 Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($25)
1997 Croft Late Bottled Vintage Port ($17)
2003 Darioush Napa Valley Viognier ($35)
2002 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris "Les Princes Abbés" ($23)
2001 Quinta de Roriz Reserva ($22)
2001 Renwood "Old Vine" Zinfandel ($17)
1998 Trimbach Gewurztraminer "Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre" ($38)
MM Pack's 10 Best Austin Food Events
1) The Saveur Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival is the third-largest food and wine festival in the U.S. Held every April in Austin, it is a four-day gastronomic blowout, with a focus on the local bounty of Central Texas. 2005 will be its 20th year.
2) The Green Corn Project, whose mission is to educate and assist Central Texans in growing organic home food gardens, holds a fundraiser every October at Boggy Creek Farm. The celebration embodies the Project's motto, "Cook globally, grow locally," with cooking demos by local chefs and terrific tastes prepared by premier Austin restaurants and caterers.
3) The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival has been the premier pepperfest in Central Texas for 14 years. Appropriately held in blistering August in Waterloo Park, it's an opportunity to hear local music, swill cold beer, and taste entries from very serious sauce makers, both commercial and amateur.
4) Spamarama, the biggest potted-pork party on the planet, is sponsored each spring by News 8 Austin in Waterloo Park. Where else can you enjoy green eggs and Spam, fried Spam, and Spam queso and chips? And don't forget the Spamalympics and Spam sculpture contest.
5) Thai Cultural Day, sponsored by the Thai Association of Central Texas, is held every spring at Fiesta Gardens. It opens with a Buddhist ceremony and features terrific vendor food, cooking and vegetable carving demos, Thai music, and dancing.
6) Each March, a signature piece of the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo is the Cowboy Breakfast at Auditorium Shores. Beginning at 6am, they serve up cowboy coffee, sausage, doughnuts, pigs in a blanket, steak sandwiches, breakfast tacos, hot pancakes, flaky biscuits, and groovy gravy. Also, the newly annual Chuckwagon Cookoff features old-style trail wagons authentically restored or replicated, right down to the cookbox and dutch ovens. As part of the competition, wagon owners prepare trail food over open fires all day and serve up the delicious results to the hungry hordes.
7) The Philippine-Pacific Island Festival and Friendship Day, sponsored by the Austin Filipino-American Association, takes place in October at Fiesta Gardens. Free to the public, it showcases Philippine and Polynesian foods, music, dances, and crafts. Get your lumpia here, folks.
8) For the past seven Februarys, Project Transitions has held the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? fundraiser. Volunteers host elaborately themed dinner parties around the city, ending with everyone converging for a champagne and dessert gala.
9) Each April, the Austin Museum of Art hosts La Dolce Vita on the grounds of Laguna Gloria, a hedonistic, gastronomic fundraiser with fabu food provided by Austin chefs and restaurants. Wine flows under the stars and twinkling lights, and Austin shows off its party clothes.
10) St. Elias Orthodox Church has hosted the Austin Mediterranean Festival for an amazing 72 years. Held each October on the church grounds near the Capitol, the two-day event features locally handmade Greek food and appetizers from around the Mediterranean. It's all accompanied by appropriate music and the requisite belly-dancing. Opa!
Rachel Feit's Top 10 Restaurants to Which to Take a 4-Year-Old
1) Central Market North (4001 N. Lamar): Still the undisputed best place in town to take your small children. Central Market absolutely buzzes with activity all days of the week. The cafeteria offers a wide variety of dishes guaranteed to please not just little palates. Great wines, live music, and one of Austin's loveliest outdoor porches make it easy for both you and your kids to relax, eat, and take in some music. Once the little ones are done, you can relax some more while they play with 50 of their new friends on the adjoining playground. Kids eat free on Tuesday nights.
2) Waterloo Ice House (6203 Capital of TX Hwy. N. or 1106 W. 38th): With a menu that kids love (hamburgers, french fries, chicken strips, quesadillas), occasional live music, and a casual, kid-friendly environment, Waterloo is quickly becoming a regular on our rotation list. The Waterloo on Loop 360 has a huge outdoor play-ground in a fenced yard. The one on 38th has arcade games (one from the prevideo era) that keep the kids entertained.
3) EZ's (3918 N. Lamar): They have all the things that little kids love, from ham-burgers and fries to pizza and pasta to roasted chicken. The fast-paced, noisy environment guarantees that your child won't be too much of a menace when they use outside voices.
4) Marimont Cafeteria (623 W. 38th): Quick, cheap, and good. Kids will love being able to see it first, then pick out what they want at this Seventies-style cafeteria. The place is usually full of blue-hairs who will ooh and aah appropriately over your little angel.
5) Frank & Angie's Pizzeria (508 West Ave.): Almost all kids love pizza, and this is the quintessential crowded, noisy pizza joint that serves great New York-style pies. Don't forget to order a chocolate chip and dried cherry cannoli for dessert.
6) Austin Diner (5408 Burnet Rd.): Probably the best place in the city to enjoy an American-style breakfast. Fantastic pancakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, and iced cinnamon rolls. They have a whole wall of toys to entertain kids during the meal. My son begs to go there for breakfast on weekends.
7) Dim sum (anywhere): This is a fun way to expose your kids to new flavors. They can choose little portions of what they want from the carts that go by. My son loves the sticky rice in a lotus leaf and the fried radish cake (smothered in soy sauce). The fortune cookie at the end is like a little present. Restaurants that serve good dim sum include T&S Seafood, Golden Bay, Tien Hong, and Marco Polo.
8) Hang Town Grill (701 Capital of TX Hwy. N.): Burgers, pizza, kids' combo meals, and blaring TVs make this a stellar restaurant for a family night out. Kids under 12 eat free on Monday nights.
9) Rudy's on Loop 360 (2451 Capital of TX Hwy. S.): Their huge, grass-covered back yard makes it easy to enjoy Rudy's killer chopped beef or smoked pork loin while the tots run around and play.
10) Upper Crust Bakery (4508 Burnet Rd.): OK, so this is specific to my 4-year-old. He's addicted to the UC's cinnamon rolls, as am I, and apparently so are plenty of other families. The place is packed with couples and their small children on weekend mornings. The staff is very patient with kids.