2) Buffalo Tenderloin Stuffed with Tamales from Hudson's on the Bend: Nobody does it better than Jeff Blank when it comes to buffalo, and his tried-and-true party dish was my favorite at the Buffalo Gap festival last spring.
3) Corn Veloute with Crabmeat at Starlite: A bowl of this elegant concoction captured the very essence of late summer at the restaurant's downtown debut.
4) Prosciutto-wrapped Figs stuffed with Full Quiver Farm cheese curds: Spa chef Terry Conlan stuffed homegrown figs with cheese from a local farmers' market, wrapped them in slivers of cured Italian ham, and baked them for my birthday party. What a treat!
5) Salad Niçoise at Fino: All of the worthy components tender spinach, toothsome vegetables, tangy olives and capers, flaky tuna and anchovies, and a gently poached egg are dressed in a wonderful citrus vinaigrette. C'est magnifique.
6) Cole Slaw and Pomme Frites at Fino: Crisp, crunchy slaw and hand-cut golden potatoes dusted with coarse salt embellish the fine lunch offerings on the pan-Mediterranean menu here.
7) Savory Pomegranate Glaze from Spiceburst: A slathering of Trish's newest product rendered the holiday crown roast of pork truly majestic.
8) Olive Salad Mix from Sgt. Pepper's: Dressing homemade muffulettas with this authentic mixture reminds me of what it means to miss New Orleans.
9) English Toasting Bread at Central Market: Somehow, I just managed to stumble upon this longtime CM staple earlier this year, and now I'm hooked. It's my current bread of choice for BLTs, cinnamon toast, and just about everything else.
10) Cream of Celeriac Soup: Mugs of this voluptuous liquid were the opening act at my friend Suzann's Thanksgiving dinner. Yummmmmm.
2) Apple Trio at Starlite: Pastry chef Philip Speer's accomplished touch with fruit produces apple heaven on a plate; a petite streusel-topped tart in a buttery crust, a slow-baked apple gratin, and a sublimely puckery green apple sorbet.
3) Florentines from P&K Grocery: Though the long-promised Bouldin neighborhood market has yet to materialize, the dainty, delicious cookies in their elaborate summer promotional picnic basket left me hungry for more.
4) Lemon Bars at Mad Cakes: A thin layer of buttery shortbread holds an ultra-lemony custard topping. Just my style.
5) Pear Bread: A super sneak preview of Miles Compton's potential new product for fall 2006 brought a simple, straightforward loaf of sweet bread packed with the flavors of fresh pears and ginger. It's good plain, toasted, with coffee, or without. Keep an eye out for this one.
6) Praline Pistolettes at Evangeline Cafe: Curtis Clarke takes a ball of crusty French bread imported from Louisiana, stuffs it with a candied pecan mixture, deep fries it, and serves it up with a dusting of powdered sugar and some caramel sauce. Oh, baby.
7) Pomegranate Soda at Central Market: Pomegranate is certainly the flavor trend of the year, and this Italian soda in the new Central Market Organics line is very refreshing.
8) Frozen Pistachio Parfait at Cafe 909: The luscious signature dessert accented with a burnt honey caramel followed by a sandy almond sable is my favorite way to end a wonderful meal at the rustic gourmet outpost in Marble Falls.
9) Doughnuts at Whole Foods: I discovered these all-natural, hand-rolled and -cut beauties during the research for a summer story. Grab them early in the day, especially the ones with the coconut glaze and tangy lemon filling.
10) Golden Apple Upside Down Cake at Fino: Simple, warm, comforting, marvelous.
Where do I go when I dine alone? Vespaio: I really hate dining alone, but at Vespaio I never feel like I am dining solo. I sit at the bar; enjoy a few antipasti with a glass of wine; chat with my favorite bartenders, Tom and Olivier; and invariably end up in lively conversations with total strangers. And the food is top-notch any day of the week.
Who do I call when I need delicious food delivered fast? Saigon Kitchen: The granddaddy of Austin Vietnamese restaurants, Saigon Kitchen is still the only place in town that makes my favorite clear noodle soup Southern Vietnam-style and that awesome beef with lettuce and tomato. The food is tasty and affordable, and delivery is prompt and friendly. Another perk of living in far South Austin.
Where's my favorite cocktail in Austin? El Chile: El Chile makes some seriously tasty cocktails, and their michelada is my absolute favorite. On a hot summer day, nothing beats that huge frosty goblet of beer seasoned with fresh lime juice and garnished with a spicy salt on the rim. That and the chilango margarita made with orange instead of lime and that same spicy salt send me back to Mexico City.
What's my place for that very special occasion? Aquarelle: There is no other restaurant in Austin that will make you feel so welcome and so special. The service is attentive yet unobtrusive, the lighting is soft, and the music adds the perfect background. The sublime food is a feast for all the senses. I won't go anywhere else on my wedding anniversary.
Where to go for my salty-sour fix? La Paletera: When that salty-sour craving starts tingling inside my cheeks and my tastebuds won't go for anything else, the only remedy is a paleta de chamoy from La Paletera. This spicy, salty, and sour childhood obsession in the form of a popsicle always makes me feel like a kid again. Yuuuuuuuum!
Where do I get supplies for my football-watching couch picnic? Central Market: For a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in front of the TV, we go to CM and get good crackers and bread, two or three kinds of cheese, lots of anchovy-stuffed olives and marinated Italian tomatoes, a couple of varieties of thin-sliced salami, fresh cucumbers and apples, and, of course, enough beer and wine for a few games. Go Horns! Go Steelers!
Where do I go for Thai in South Austin? Sawadee: When it's hot outside, I crave their delicious larb gai with that fiery dipping sauce on the side. And when I feel under the weather, a big bowl of soup fragrant with lemongrass and galangal always soothes and comforts me. Besides, Marylou and Ray will treat you like part of their family.
What if I'm feeling carnivorous? Ranch 616: At the Ranch I can get all kinds of affordable, well-cooked, mesquite-grilled beasts. Whether it's a juicy rib eye, a thick pork T-bone, some smoky grilled quail, or a wild boar special, they can always satisfy the carnivore crave. The fried asparagus and Sambal mashed potatoes are my favorite sides. Great drinks, too!
What if I just want a burger and a beer? Billy's on Burnet/Opal Divine's: I like both of these places because of the homey pub atmosphere, the great selection of beers on tap including many local microbrews and their fabulous seasoned crispy fries. And while I may give Billy's the nod on the burgers (especially the Ends burger), Opal's takes it when we are ready for a nice glass of single malt Scotch (or two ...).
Java Noodles (2400 E. Oltorf, 443-5282): This Indonesian restaurant serves daily lunch specials with a soup and chicken wing buffet that accompanies the entrée, a superb rijsttafel Sunday brunch, and has a menu loaded with complexly spiced delights.
El Borrego de Oro #2 (3900 S. Congress, 383-0031): The Golden Sheep offers pork in green sauce; a wonderful shredded lamb birria taco plate; the best picadillo tacos in town; real homemade corn tortillas; epazote in the beans; real Mexican Cokes; and rich, zippy salsa and fresh, thin tostados.
Le Soleil (9616 N. Lamar, 821-0396) and Tâm Deli (8222 N. Lamar, 834-6458): Two are listed here for the simple reason that they offer different items, and both places are excellent. Le Soleil is a huge place with a huge menu (think of it as a mega Sunflower Cafe), while Tâm is the mini version: smaller with some real gems on their menu (and great bakery items).
Oaxacan Tamaleo (1300 W. Anderson, 289-9262): Leonor Banos-Stoute's expertise with Oaxacan cuisine shows on the plate: light and silky masa wrapped in banana with robust fillings, lamb barbacoa, incredible bowls of pozole, and turkey in red mole (on Thurdays). A small, tight menu served with love by the most welcoming restaurant in town.
Pao's Mandarin House (2300 Lohman's Spur, 512/263-8869): Could a Chinese restaurant be worth a drive all the way out to Lakeway? Hell, yes! It is, without question, the best and most authentic Chinese restaurant in all of Central Texas. Be sure to carefully peruse the "special Chinese menu" for treats like spicy beef tendon, Chinese bacon Hunan style, and the best mapo dofu around.
Kebab Palace (1319 Rutland, 836-8668): This tiny Macedonian temple of Balkan delights offers a perfect glance into what eating in Skopje must be like: skewered ground meat kjofte kebabs, lamb sandwiches, flaky meat and cheese burek pies, Balkan-style gyros, etc. The Kostovski family shares their culinary love with Austin.
Marakesh (906 Congress, 476-7735): If you don't work downtown you probably don't know that this fantastic Middle Eastern venue is even there. Samir Saadeh puts out his version of Palestinian cuisine that is light-years ahead of the competition, producing layers of flavor with even the simplest dishes. Marakesh is the real deal.
Sawadee (5517 Manchaca, 383-9908): We all know by now that Madam Mam's is by far my favorite Thai, but this small spot offers quite good home-style Thai and a very reliable lunch buffet. Sawadee really excels with their salads: The laab and the som tam are both excellent. Marylou can make any Thai dish as authentic as you like.
Korea Garden (6519 N. Lamar, 302-3149): A loyal Korean clientele that keeps coming back for the first-rate sushi; the extensive sake list; and the authentic, delicious, and dependable fare. Service excels, but it sometimes helps if you speak the language.
Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival: The annual event drew the largest-ever array of food and wine superstars.
Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit: One of the most delightful festivals in the United States. Intimate, interesting, inexpensive, and full of Texas character.Ê
Food & Wine Classic In Aspen: Expensive and crowded, but the best-run festival around. Stunning food, terrific classes, endless wine, and great people-watching. Every wine and food lover should try to go at least once in his or her life.
Wine and Food Foundation of Texas Hot Time in the City: The foundation regularly puts on the best parties in town. Usually they focus on wines from around the world, but this one stuck mostly with Texas wines, and they showed beautifully.
Wine and Food Foundation of Texas Tour de Vin: Foodies had Tyson Cole, David Bull, Fonda San Miguel, and a dozen other top chefs and restaurants to choose from, while the wines represented choices from all over the world. All atop the Whole Foods Market on a beautiful night.
The Hill Country Fall Fest and Wine Auction at Horseshoe Bay: This was the first year for the event, and it was a huge success, especially the Friday-night event on the lawn outside the Marriott resort. Sports fans were excited to see Roger Staubach, but foodies were all crowded around the reclusive Raymond Tatum!
International Banff springs Wine & Food Festival: For our gazillionaire readers, you might want to take a look at this epicurean indulgence. Truffles, caviar, foie gras, kobe beef, top wines. High ticket prices, required formal wear at night, and a strictly limited number of tickets assure an amazing experience.
Denver International Wine Festival: Denver and its neighbor Boulder are making big noises in the quality food arena, so it was only a matter of time until someone came up with the idea for a showcase. The surprise was the amazing quantity of $50-plus wine on pour!
Wine & Food Foundation of Texas Big Reds and Bubbles: The foundation's best party of the year. The Driskill Hotel was the perfect location, the food was stunning, and the folks at Glazer's Distributing pulled out all the stops, delivering some of the world's greatest wines, includingtastes of $250 Champagne.
San Luis Obispo Thursday Night Farmers' Market: This fair happens 52 weeks a year, unless the weather is just ridiculous. I wish our city government would go out and take a look at what is possible when a little creativity is applied to the concept of how to get people involved in their downtown areas. Creatively displayed fresh produce, a dozen bands, outdoor cooking, vibrant people-watching, and crowds swelling the downtown shops. Magic happens here. Why can't we be doing the same thing?
2) Le Marseillais Fine French Specialties: On the Web, this oh-so-French purveyor of fine food (fans of Chez Nous can attest to the quality: Eric Pelegrin was chef there for more a decade) can supply you with succulent entrées like cassoulet or the like for takeout or delivery. Available at Farm to Market Grocery as well as on the Web is a sensational array of pâtés, sauces, condiments, and salad dressings. Slather your fish in tampenade (black or green olive bases available), and you come off looking like a French whiz in the kitchen (www.bistrolemarseillais.com).
3) Spiceburst: These super-flavored, savory/sweet rubs and sauces give a zip, zowy, zing to your shrimp, pork, veggies, you name it. The Chile Lime Saltburst sprinkled on corn on the cob makes it sing. The Garlic Saltburst on steaks adds depth. Any of these flavorings mixed with butter can be slathered on multiple surfaces, but if creaming them seems too much of a hassle, it's done for you with the new line of Spiceburst butters. Available online (www.spiceburst.com) or at Farm to Market Grocery.
4) Alexander Family Farm Eggs: Skip the meat and make it an egg night with a chic little omelet elevated by the source: Alexander Family Farm eggs. Locally raised without hormones but loaded with dark yellow yolks and a rich flavor, these beauties can be seasoned with your Spiceburst and/or something sinful from Le Marseillais. Sunset Valley Farmers Market, Austin Farmers' Market, Wheatsville Co-op, Farm to Market Grocery; 247-4455.
5) Texas French Bread Ciabatta: Story goes that the Italians looked up one day and saw the French had the bread market just about sewn up. And they collectively said, "Huh. We can make a bread better than the baguette." So, they set out to do just that. We're not interested in starting an international dispute over which loaf is superior, but we will say that when it comes to sopping up soup, egg yolks, steak juices, olive oil, butter, or anything else, the ciabatta baked up at Texas French Bread can't be beat. Heat it up, and your bread basket is a triumph. Texas French Bread, 1722 S. Congress; 3211 Red River; 2900 Rio Grande.
6) Gina's Kitchen South Austin Cobb Salad: The catering and cooking class enterprise branched out (www.ginaskitchen.com) and offers a selection of grab-and-go items at Farm to Market Grocery that make dinner as fresh and easy as it gets. While we haven't found anything we object to, we've fallen for the South Austin Cobb Salad, a hearty offering with marinated steak, jicama, and cojita cheese on a bed of greens with a savory and spicy dressing on the side. Muy bueno.
7) Austin Wine Merchant: To be fair, there are as many wonderful places to buy wine as there are spaces in this list. But we were seduced by the sleek holiday flier that the Merchant produced with its oversized, heavy paper and history-heavy text about featured wine. Mmmm ... "full, rich and generous on the tongue" and "Tuscan aromas of dried cherries and saddle leather." We'll take two. Or three. Thereby transforming the food into a meal (www.theaustinwinemerchant.com).
8) Chocolate-Dipped Anything: Anything becomes dessert when it's enrobed in chocolate, and thanks to the undulating fountain of dark goodness at Whole Foods, just about anything can now be enrobed. Sure, fresh fruit and pretzels are always good, but what about homemade marshmallows? Or house-baked madeleines? Or dried apricots? And on and on. Pick it up and make it special when it's dunked.
9) Austinuts: Nuts don't come any fresher or crunchier than these dry-roasted delights from Austinuts that pack a flavorful wallop. If we had to choose one, we'd have to go with the cayenne cashews. But we're glad we don't.
10) House-roasted nuts at Whole Foods: If the aroma of fresh roasting nuts doesn't cause you to surrender, one sample of the tasty flavor combos will. The garlic/lime/chili almonds are addictive with your predinner cocktail, as are some of the sweet cashew varieties to bring your meal to a proper close.
Batter Up Kids' Sensational Snacks: Healthy Eats From the Premier Children's Cooking School, by Barbara Beery (Gibbs Smith, $19.95): This spiral-bound volume of beautifully photographed cooking projects for kids is about real food, using real ingredients and real cooking techniques to create appetizing snacks that children (and adults) actually would want to make and eat.
A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, by James E. McWilliams (Columbia University Press, $29.95): Texas State professor McWilliams writes a fascinating story of the ways in which early North American settlers from Pilgrims through American Revolutionists fed themselves (with the help of Native Americans and slaves), and how food had everything to do with their identity and relationship to the new land.
Fired Up! More Adventures & Recipes From Hudson's On the Bend, by Jeff Blank with Sara Courington (Laurentius Press, $35): The ultimate upscale Texas-style dinner-party cookbook, sporting completely over-the-top graphics and recipes, ranging from truffled mac-n-cheese to wild game paella to passion-fruit crepes. Not for the faint of heart.
The Soup Peddler's Slow & Difficult Soups: Recipes and Reveries, by David Ansel (Ten Speed Press, $16.95): Stories and soup recipes from a well-known South Austin personality who started a thriving business by delivering lovingly crafted soups on his bicycle.
The Driskill Hotel: Stories of Austin's Legendary Hotel A Cookbook for Special Occasions, by David J. Bull and Turk Pipkin (Driskill Hotel, $39.95): A gloriously glossy coffeetable book celebrating the history and cooking of Austin's legendary downtown hotel. Published by the Driskill, it features luscious photos and the recipes of Executive Chef David Bull, a 2003 Food & Wine Best New Chef.
Food Culture in Russia and Central Asia (Food Culture Around the World), by Glenn R. Mack and Asele Surina (Greenwood Press, $49.95): Austin food historians and Central Asian experts have written a vibrant, in-depth study of foods and food customs from the diverse lands and peoples along the Silk Road.
Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art, by Tom Gilliland and Miguel Ravago, text by Virginia B. Wood (Shearer Publishing, $34.95): This stunning, large-format book is a visual celebration of the Austin landmark restaurant and its décor, resident art collection, and above all, its famous Interior Mexican-style food.
Tea Treasures & More: Favorite Recipes from Sims & Company, by Carol Sims (Tea Embassy, $19.95): Austin Tea Embassy owner Sims details the culture, etiquette, and proper preparation of tea in a homey volume that also includes a collection of time-tested Southern family recipes suitable for entertaining and everyday cooking.
The Blue Grass Cook Book, by Minnie C. Fox and John Fox Jr., new introduction by Toni Tipton-Martin (University of Kentucky, $29.95): Austin food writer and historian Martin has written a thoughtful and revealing introductory essay about black-and-white culinary interactions in this re-released 1904 classic of long-vanished Kentucky culture and cuisine. As well as the recipes, the book includes turn-of-the-century photos of black women in Southern kitchens.
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