Good Cuisine and an Interesting Scene

The 'Saveur' Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival

The Thursday drive-time schedule kept the attendance lower than usual at the Home on the Range skeet shoot and cookout at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch, but the food, drinks, and entertainment were stellar. Host Tyler Florence of the Food Network was totally gracious, signing every book and posing for every requested picture all evening long. What a hoot to see incoming festival president and Texas Culinary Academy director Harvey Giblin playing and singing with the bluegrass band that opened for headliner Ray Benson! Who knew Harvey had all this other talent? More than one chef did miraculous things with ribs that night, but my favorite bite of the evening had to be a perfect piece of chicken-fried steak with a little biscuit and some port wine jelly presented by Grady Spears. The West Texas rancher who raised the hormone- and antibiotic-free beef was on hand that night, as well, and with beef this good, we're going to hear more about Billito Donnell... Folks who missed the Culture Clash Breakfast at the Ranch 616 missed an incredible meal: What a way to start the day! Pork and cabrito tacos in homemade tortillas, grilled quail, and biscuits all from Antonio Vidal of the Ranch; chilaquiles and chile potatoes from Diana Barrios Treviño of Los Barrios in San Antonio; spicy jams and jellies from Jill and Kevin Lewis of Austin Slow Burn; and big, beautiful trays of kolaches from Massey Wallace of the new Lone Star Kolaches. They were pouring Bloody Marys and Del Maguey Mescal, but I had to pass... Later that day, Chronicle contributing writer Claudia Alarcón hosted a Tex-Mex bus tour of Austin for visiting media and interested out-of-town guests such as New York über restaurateur Drew Nieporent. Guests sampled Mexican pastries at La Mexicana Bakery, sipped tequila and ate brisket tacos at Matt's El Rancho (where we're told the entire Martinez clan welcomed them), and got an informative history lesson from Güero's owner Rob Lippincott along with some tacos al pastor. The bus then stopped at the new La Paletera for unique Mexican frozen treats before heading to East Austin for cabrito flautas at the landmark El Azteca and winding up with a tour of the La Michoacana Market. Nieporent described it as the highlight of this Austin trip!... Contributing writer Rachel Feit took advantage of a ticket to the Friday winemaker luncheon at the Roaring Fork, where she enjoyed a robustly flavored three-course meal and a two-hour in-depth conversation about wine and food pairing with Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson... The Stars Across Texas event seems to have found a good new home at the Hilton, but even their AC and electrical systems were challenged by the crowd and the huge assembly of chafing dishes. It was great to see so many delectable desserts at the party, everything from the comfort of R.O.'s blackberry cobbler and the Hilton's fresh doughnut holes with hot chocolate to exquisite chocolate boxes from the Driskill and colorful passionfruit bavarians from the students at TCA. On the savory side, I was very impressed with a perfectly seared scallop on a bed of sautéed cauliflower from Abacus in Dallas, while the seared foie gras and crème fraiche gelato from Finn & Porter enchanted Wes Marshall. MM Pack was transported by the offering from restaurant 17 in Houston, crab wrapped in ahi tuna and topped with a generous dollop of caviar... Such visiting celebrity chefs as Wolfgang Puck gave Austin high marks for the organization of the event and the friendliness of the people. Puck also promoted the Sunset Valley Farmers Market of his longtime friend Pamela Boyar from the stage during his cooking demos... If there are better musical ambassadors for Austin than Ray Benson and Joe Ely, I'd be hard-pressed to name them. Benson was all over the fest, singing at the TDS event and "cooking" in an Iron Chef-style challenge at the Shores, while Ely hosted the Chefs Cook & Sing throw-down at Antones's, where the chef band the Barbwires was his opening act.

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More by Virginia B. Wood
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