Restaurant Review: Vixen’s Wedding
Stay for the pork ribs vindaloo; go for more information
Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., Nov. 29, 2019
There isn't enough space on the internet to fully discuss the infinitely intricate relationship of cuisine to culture, which is why those of us writing about what's for dinner are still employed. It's also why chefs and restaurant owners continue to dabble and dive into dishes outside their culinary training and far from home. Opening the mouth's eye ushers in an opportunity to learn about people, provided the experience is soaked in appreciation and not appropriation, a delicate and ever-evolving mission. Such is the case with new-since-mid-July restaurant Vixen's Wedding, and so far the first thing discussed upon any mention is the name: "What does that even mean?"
As husband/wife chefs/partners of this new East Sixth establishment, Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher (of longtime South First favorite Lenoir) describe it on the website: "A Vixen's Wedding is [a] folkloric name describing a sun shower, often leading to a rainbow. It is based on a Portuguese parable about star-crossed lovers (a fox and a wolf) who chose both rain and sun on their wedding day, bringing forth merriment and good fortune. A Vixen's Wedding is a common occurrence in Austin, something that brings us immense joy."
The second thing is the food, which, notably, is a central theme of Konkani – the official language of Goa, India – folktales.
After traveling extensively, Duplechan and Maher set out to take their expertise in Central Texas local sourcing up a notch by focusing on the flavors and dishes of Portugal and Goa. The former's cuisine is known for seafood dishes and a wide array of bold spices, acquired during its four-century colonization of the Western (coastal) Indian state of Goa, which features fare bursting at the seams with vindaloo, saag, and an identity politics-laden history of beef. All of that swirled together makes for an incredible menu, no doubt, but it's essential that significant care and consideration be given to ensure these food staples are honored and that the entire operation at Vixen's Wedding is conducted as a way to introduce Austin to Goan fare without claiming it as their own. Here, the team (mostly) successfully navigates creating an Austin-esque homage to the rich cultural and culinary characteristics of Goa.
The restaurant – part of ARRIVE East Austin Hotel, which also features Duplechan concepts Gin Bar and Lefty's Brick Bar – is small, but thanks to McCray & Co., it packs a design punch. Plentiful macramé and exquisite light fixtures anchor the swirl of coordinated color and texture, and the ambience is like a well-tempered housewarming party: friendly with a twinge of excitement. It's especially lovely at night. And in addition to the Lenoir clout, the team boasts beverage director Lindsay Drew (Guild), executive pastry chef Sarah Listrom (née Prieto, Barley Swine), Executive Chef Greg Zanotti (of L.A.'s notable Red Medicine), and general manager Adam Nystrom (from New York state's famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns).
The menu is divided into "Small," "Just Right," and "Bring a Friend" dinner-only options with a section of sides, breads, and daily spreads, and all of the changing offerings are brimming with the "spices, heat, and acidity that pair well with our hot Central Texas climate." It's easiest to start at the end, deciding whether your party is prepared for the larger dishes – definitely try the whole roasted fish with green curry, lardo, and coconut if you're lucky enough to still find it on the menu. (Note: The staff accommodated my bromelain allergy, carefully shielding my orders from the fresh pineapple juice atomizer, which at least sounded delightful.) At one point, beef was legally consumed in Goa, and here we are in Texas, so, wagyu beef: The portion, smallish but cooked to a correct mid-rare, sat atop their green curry paired with tasty root vegetables so precise in cut and prep that I was reminded of my son's 175-piece plastic produce set.
The dish I've craved consistently since eating it (twice) is the pork ribs vindaloo. More than "Just Right," it's just awesome. Five artfully stacked ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, complete with an incredibly bright and flavorful kick-your-lips heat, and served with shaved coconut salad (and tiny shrimp) and pickled onions. Well-balanced, you'll regret having to share this, so don't. Vixen's starter staples are wonderful add-ons, or great for snacking while sipping from their cocktail menu. (The Holy Basil Colada cocktail – tequila, coconut cream, and lime – is one of my favorites in town; the Baga Sunset cocktail – bourbon, ancho reyes, passion fruit, and lemon – is a boozy whiskey option.) In addition to cheese pão (Portuguese for "bread"), the idli pork buns are a take on South Indian staple savory rice cakes, filled with juicy slow-cooked pork in tamarind, the samosas, perfectly fried and filled with ground shrimp, are served with green tomato cashew chutney – an accoutrement so delicious, I ordered extra to eat with a spoon.
The bread program is brief but mighty. Waves of maple syrup scents tilt diners' noses into the air as the methi paratha – traditional flatbread (crepe-naan-tortilla-esque) – arrives at the table, and the magical, warm, fenugreek-steeped bread is not only wonderful on its own, but also paired with any of the spreads: We've enjoyed chana dal, tamarind butternut squash, mushroom, beet coconut, and smoked fish raita. The turmeric sourdough is thick and fluffy, and the rouge de bordeaux poee (traditional Goan staple; here, like a pita dinner roll) is Comfort Food 101.
While I understand the menu's aesthetic simplicity and the staff is well-versed in reciting ingredients, I wish it leaned more on explanation, perhaps offering brief descriptions of traditional dishes like masoor dal – this could allow the white restaurant owners, openly inspired by a beautiful cuisine/culture that does not belong to them, to shoulder some of the burden of informing those they're inviting along on the journey, rather than letting it rest on members of a historically marginalized group, many of whom do not have this level of financial backing. It's critical to own the non-ownership; it's essential to acknowledge the borrows. I also wish the menu offered more than one (Kerala matta red) rice dish.
Regional Indian cuisine is extremely complex, as is the history of former Portuguese colonies, like Goa, and former Prime Minister Salazar's teeth-gritting legacy. If print constraints allowed, I would likely also mention Thanksgiving's long colonial (ahem, murderous) history. But even short conversations are important, as we saw in last week's Twitter controversy. Under #BadFoodOpinions, mouthy Tom Nichols posted: "Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn't." He was, appropriately, skewered in most replies, including Padma Lakshmi's, but the most damning word in his problematic (idiotic) statement is "we." (Absolutely not, Tom.)
However accidentally, that leads us to exactly Vixen's Wedding's goal: sharing a glimpse of their inner Venn diagram circle of Goan, Portuguese, and Texan fare with Austin diners, especially those who don't frequent smaller, minority-owned restaurants. So, yes, dine at the lovely but expensive Vixen's Wedding on a special occasion – but by all means, branch out to other spots like Tio Pepe, also serving Portuguese peri-peri chicken. And as for Indian food, we're lucky to have several varieties. New India, which featured Konkan staples, closed in 2018, so instead try owner Mahesh Shinde's still-operational Nasha; Tarka is fast-casual; Asiana is plentiful; Himalaya Kosheli, Sangam Chettinad, Papadom, Clay Pit, and G'Raj Mahal all offer options. We can all work harder to acknowledge the effects of colonial imperialism and champion Austin's diverse immigrant communities and cuisines, while also expanding our palates and minds.
Vixen's Wedding1813-A E. Sixth, 737/242-7555
Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm
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