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I really must stop taking trains while exhausted. Leaving Montpellier on a 7am train, I dozed off almost immediately and almost missed my plane to the States: I awoke suddenly in a station, not having heard the announcement, and noticed everyone getting off. Charles de Gaulle Airport? Nope: Eurodisney. The nice lady at the info booth assured me that there was plenty of time to catch the next train, and I did, but I lost an hour there. One of the few interesting things in the station was this sign, which I bet you don't see anywhere else. It warns kids, in English, French, and Dutch, to hold onto their mylar Mickey balloons so they don't drift upwards and short out the trains.
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Finishing off my report on edibles in Austin, I should note a few more excellent meals. As I mentioned, I went to Uchi with my pal Ms. Z, only my taste buds were acting up and I didn't get much out of the experience. Naturally, everything came back the next day, so when Ms. A wanted to go out to dinner, I figured we should try its new sister restaurant Uchiko, which advertises itself as "Japanese farmhouse dining." Maybe Japan's changed a lot in the ten years since I've been there, or I ate at the wrong farmhouses but these restaurants both seem to me to use Japanese cuisine -- sushi aside -- as a jumping-off place. The sushi is very much in the tradition, but the other dishes are simply inspired by Japanese esthetics. Portions are tiny, yet one leaves satisfied, and attention to detail borders on the obsessive. Not that this is a bad thing at all; it's part of what makes it so satisfying. Since it's now a couple of intense weeks since I ate there, only one of Uchiko's dishes remains in my memory: little lengths of fermented rabbit sausage (hey, that's better than it sounds; both salame and mortadella are fermented sausages, you know) placed in a row with halved baby vegetables with their greens still on placed between them, the greens having been flash-fried and the bottoms steamed. There was an exquisite sauce, but I should have been taking notes instead of enjoying myself, right? Wrong.
Another "fine dining" experience is available at Barleyswine, a rather chaotic place hidden in plain sight under a neon sign for another restaurant on South Lamar. It's similar to Uchi/Uchiko in that it features small portions, expertly prepared. The seating is rather odd: tables for six bolted to one wall, or dine at the bar. No reservations are accepted, but if you call, they'll put you on the waiting list and call you when you're getting close. I had an amazing opener of smoked fish and potato-stuffed pasta, and a scallop with parsnip, vanilla, saffron, and buttered leeks was pretty fine, too. The bacon-wrapped rabbit (again with the bunnies!) with quick-pickled carrot (eh) and beer creamed spinach (not a success) was the only disappointment. Great beer and wine selection, and yes, if you sit at the bar you can watch them make up the orders, even if you can't quite figure out what they're doing.
And for really fine dining, let me add my meager voice to the mighty chorus of praise for Franklin Barbecue, which started in one of Austin's 1300 food trailers and then took over a failing sit-down BBQ joint on E. 11th St. Probably the best brisket I've had at a commercial establishment, but after 45 minutes in line, they'd run out of ribs and I ordered a sausage, which, as it is in most barbecue joints in Texas, isn't such a good idea. Three excellent sauces are on each table, and the sides were also fine. You have to stand on line and you may not get in. I did, and I did, and I'll do it again.
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As for last words on SXSW, this picture, shot at Book People in Austin, the city's great bookstore, shows how some people wish it were, but not, thank heaven, as it is.
New York, where I went for a project I can't say anything about at present, was fun but exhausting, and expensive as all git-out. I had a $40 pizza (well, the bill was $40, but $8 of that was a Platonic ideal of a caesar salad) which wasn't very good (what was that weird sweet taste?) here, excellent ramen here (thanks to my cousin Jim), and, as always, remarkable food at Grand Sichuan with an assorted cast of weirdos.
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A month is way too long to be on the road, so I'm glad to be back. At the market for the first time in a month, there was nice asparagus and strawberries in profusion which were still too white to be convincing. It feels like the year's begun again, so let's just hope it gets better from here.