Taqueria Zocala Fresca on West Lynn and a dessert tasting with Amanda Rockman

Driving down West Lynn last week, I spied Galaxy Cafe owners Jay Bunda, Kelly Chappell, and Chris Courtney working furiously to convert the former Cosmic Cafe location into Taqueria Zocalo Fresca Cafe (1110 West Lynn). The new spot is scheduled to open this week, featuring an Interior Mexican menu complemented by beer, wine, and frozen sangria. We've been told to expect much the same price point and casual atmosphere as the trio's family-friendly Galaxy Cafe outlets… I had a delightful interview and dessert tasting recently with Amanda Rockman, executive pastry chef for both Asti (408-C E. 43rd, 451-1218) and Fino (2905 San Gabriel, 474-2905). Rockman is a Culinary Institute of America grad who worked under such renowned pastry chefs as Emily Luchetti at Farallon in San Francisco and Gale Gand at Tru in Chicago before coming to Austin. She submits menu ideas for both restaurants to co-owner Lisa Fox but admits that Fino's broader Mediterranean focus allows her more creative freedom. "At Asti, the tiramisu and the bittersweet chocolate cannoli are so popular, customers just demand that they stay on the menu, but at Fino I have more freedom to experiment," she explains. I sampled two distinctively different desserts from Rockman's Fino menu, and they certainly demonstrate her range. Her personal favorite is a light, tangy Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta in a pool of Riesling soup, topped with a green apple granita that is very refreshing. Because I love caramel almost as much as I love lemon, I was partial to the Chocolate and Star Anise Truffle Financier, a moist little cake served with a decadent scoop of roasted banana ice cream, some cajeta caramel, and slices of brûléed bananas. From the Asti menu, she presented me with the Caramel Semifreddo: an ethereally light, chilled caramel custard resting on a piece of crunchy almond croquant, garnished with salted almonds and blackberries. The texture contrasts of creamy and crunchy balanced by salty and sweet flavors made this creation my favorite. Be sure to save room for Rockman's innovative and sophisticated desserts the next time you visit Asti or Fino. This young woman has real talent! And speaking of Asti, co-owner Emmett Fox reports that chef Morgan Dishman has left to do some traveling and then pursue stage work in some high-profile restaurant kitchens on the East Coast. According to Fox, former Wink sous chef Johnny Bates takes over the range at Asti this week. Bates is the second Wink alum to join the Foxes' team: Chef Thomas Reed took over the kitchen at Fino three months ago, and we hear that he and wine director Josh Leving are coming up with very inviting food-and-wine pairing menus, such as one the duo recently designed showcasing Rosés. I'm looking forward to a visit to Fino in the near future… Houston-based Spec's Liquors is really sold on the Austin market. They recently opened their huge second store here (4970 Hwy. 290 W., 366-8260), and plans are in the works for a third at the Shops at Arbor Walk at Capital of Texas Highway and Mopac North later this year… Bravo kicked off the third season of Top Chef this week. Queer Eye's Ted Allen has been added to the judging panel, and two Texans are among the 15 new candidates who were filmed in Miami competing for fame and fortune. The new season was previewed last week with a 4 Star All Stars smackdown between the four top contenders from seasons one and two. Contestants from season three were among the diners, and the chefs from season one emerged victorious.

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Amanda Rockman, Spec's Liquors, Fino, Asti, Johnny Bates, Morgan Dishman, Taqueria Zocala Fresca Cafe

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