As the weather gets colder, Austin turns from the outdoor festival mecca to the indoor cocktail soiree. I kicked the season off with a bang last week doing 4 parties in 1 week. That may seem like a long weekend to some but it was a wonderfully exhausting tour of some of the best in town for me.
First up was the Amuse Bouche party at the Carillon. Josh Watkins and his team came up with 8 delicious bites paired with matching wines. The guests were free to nibble and socialize between the stations and revisit their favorites as often as they liked. My favorite was the lobster rillette with caviar and curry aioli but other bites included duck confit ravioli with duck consomme, grilled bronzino with chorizo, charred tomato and corn, and hamachi with foie gras mousse, citrus riesling chutney, and currant reduction.
The service was impeccable with each station attendant giving not only great descriptions of the food but also the wines and why they were chosen to pair. Unsightly dirty plates were quickly whisked away and fresh real silver readied for the next bite. The best and the brightest stars in the Austin food scene were there as well making for a delightful evening of food related chatter. The regular tables were all full as well as a private party going on upstairs but the kitchen cranked out small batches continually ensuring a fresh taste. I hope they put on another show like this soon!
Next up was a fundraiser for the Sustainable Food Center which is a marvelous organization that promotes eating locally and runs one of the biggest farmers markets in the area. When I saw the chefs list for the dinner, I immediately bought a ticket. Seven of the best in town in one meal! The dinner was held at La Condesa with a pre-dinner cocktail party upstairs at Malverde. We even had mixologist rock stars including local legend Bill Norris.
Hors d’oeuvres from Zack Northcutt at Mulberry included Richardson’s farm pork sausage wrapped around quail eggs for a delicious scotch egg and foie gras hot dogs with chutney. The spices used for the hot dog masked any of the delicate flavor of the foie but I appreciated the creative effort.
After munchies and cocktails upstairs, we were seated downstairs in a family style setting. I was seated at a booth with a couple of very interesting ladies that I enjoyed getting to know as the best in local produce and meats were showcased for us by the finest chefs in town. First up was Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due Supper Club. Get on Griffiths’ mailing list for dinners as well as charcuterie offerings at the farmers market. The catfish terrine he made for the dinner that night came from fish so local that they probably had relatives swimming just blocks from us. The fish was neither muddy tasting nor overpowering in this creamy concoction. Fresh herbs and crunchy flatbread dressed up the common catfish.
Todd Duplechan from Trio was up next with gulf shrimp served on top of bear boudin. Cajun boudin is basically a sausage casing stuffed with a rice dressing similar to dirty rice. Crawfish, alligator, and pork are more traditionally used as the protein in a boudin, so the bear meat was a nice riff on the classic. The taste of bear meat depends on age, size, and even what his diet consisted of but most closely tastes to me like a cross between venison and pork.
Rene Ortiz, our host at La Condesa, did not disappoint with one of the best bites in a stellar night with caramelized pork hock and belly, beetroot and chili marmelade, and watermelon radish and basil salad. The pork was a meltingly tender blend of meat and fat encased in the thinnest crackle of a perfectly caramelized shell. A spicy marmelade on top played off the sweet sauce beneath to strike a harmonic chord on the tongue.
James Holmes from Olivia served an absolute work of art with crispy braised lamb topped with bison bresaola with mustard tuile. Bresaola is an air dried salty meat, so gourmet jerky bits on top of chicken fried lamb. Delicious! Somehow I have not found my way to Olivia yet. But I will very, very soon. Holmes even joined us at our table after his course and we chatted about his use of offal and other cuts of meat not commonly used like his famous lamb’s tongue.
Paul Qui from Uchiko has to be the hottest thing in town with the very successful launch of Uchiko in July as well as his wildly popular trailer East Side Kings located behind Liberty Bar. He is kind of Austin’s version of David Chang taking Asian flavors and street food to a new level. Tonight we had quail with fuyu persimmons, fried cashew miso, and marigold. The delicate quail was cooked to perfection, only a shade past pink so it was still moist and tender. Sweet persimmon on top with the crunchy fried cashew miso beneath blend to create contrast of taste and texture.
Shawn Cirkiel from parkside served a salad course with the best produce he could find at the farmers market. There were ribbons of roots, veggie chips, table pickles, relishes, as well as fresh herbs and greens all arranged in an abstract canvas. So much more than a simple salad, this veggie plate was an absolute showcase of produce all grown within fifty miles of Austin.
Dessert came from La Condesa’s Laura Sawicki with goat’s milk cremeux, apple and quince confit, and sherry gastrique. Cremeux translates literally as “creamy”. It is a cross between a mousse and a custard, very light. The tart quince contrasted nicely with the apples giving a taste of fall to the barely set cream beneath.
Whew! I’m worn out just reliving the festivities. Next up is part two with a mixology class and a $500 bottle of wine.