Saturday, March 17, 2012

U.S. Tour 2012 Part Five: Food, Miettes, a Camel

So you're walking from one place to another at SXSW -- the BMI party to Ray Benson's new bar, to be precise -- and, as often happens, you see a camel:

The camel is in a trailer attached to a truck. It looks unimpressed, something camels are good at.

To be continued.

* * * 

After the gruelling social events, there was, as one would hope, dinner. This time it was at a brand-new Japanese restaurant, Komé, which, fortunately enough, has opened very close to my hotel. I say "fortunately," because although they don't do it in the evening, they have a ramen and udon service at noon, and I've often found myself stumped for a lunch place in this godforsaken corner of Austin, particularly on Tuesdays, when Tâm Deli on far north Lamar, the best Vietnamese lunch joint in town, is closed. 

We ordered omikase style, chef's choice, and I specifically requested gyoza, the pan-fried dumplings, to start, because the ones I'd had in New York were so good. These had equally good filling, but tougher skins. I do wonder how the New York folks do what they do, because theirs were the best I've ever had. But the rest of what we were served -- fatty tuna sashimi, salmon sushi three ways, including a hot one with fat underneath which just dissolved in the mouth, extremely tender beef on a brochette, some beef sashimi in a very tangy garlic sauce reminiscent of some horse sashimi I'd had in Japan ten years ago, and, um, a couple of other things, including a roll made from grilled eel. Those who dared (not I) had a slice of saké cheesecake with preserved ginger for dessert. The whole thing, including alcohol, came to about $50 each before tip, the waitress (Allee, as I remember, although I could be wrong) was extremely knowledgeable, and the whole thing was perfect. They've opened recently, and seem to be doing very well, and I highly recommend them. 

* * *

One thing I've never gotten in anything like a canonical version in Austin is fried chicken, so imagine my delight the next night when I found out that dinner was at Lucy's Fried Chicken. This place has only been open eight weeks, and shows every sign of catching on. There's indoor and outdoor dining, a nice balance between tradition and innovation, and a jukebox with a fine selection of Texas music, new and old. 

I started with the fried deviled eggs, which sound better on paper than they proved in practice: the breading scooted right off of them when they were cut, and you had to cut them because they were way too big to stick in your mouth whole. The deviling part, though, was truly satanic, unlike the polite filling you'd get at a church picnic. Zowee! Highly recommended, structural flaws notwithstanding. Next everyone got fried chicken, duh. To my way of thinking the batter was too darkly fried, and it was also saltier than I'd have liked. Sides included sweet potatoes whipped with "Mexican" Coke (ie, made with cane sugar, not HFCS: I can only get the cane sugar kind in France, but Texans now have to rely on Mexico for the real thing ) and a potato salad with crab boil (a spice mixture) in it. It was fine, and I was pissed when I went outside for two minutes to guide a friend to the table (he had just gotten off a plane and wasn't familiar with South Austin) and returned to find my uneaten chicken and potato salad whisked away. The service was, as they say, attentive and friendly, but maybe a tad too much on the attentive side. Let's hope this institution survives, too. 

*  *  *

The next day, I managed a trifecta, almost a fourfecta, of legendary Texas guitarists. Billy Gibbons, of ZZ Top fame, was rolling out his new line of barbeque sauce at a local restaurant, and I now wish I had stolen a bottle, because I'm not going to be able to get this in France: it was, um, assertive, but in a very good way. I spotted Van Wilks hanging around as we came in, then as we moved upstairs to sample the sauce on some excellent barbequed pork, a trio featuring Jimmy Vaughn began to play. I mingled and hung for a while, but there was stuff to do, so as I left, up the stairs came Billy himself. We hadn't seen each other in decades, and he shook my hand and said "I'll call you in a minute, man." Still haven't heard from him, but I know how long Texas minutes can be. 

That night, eating at the Evangeline Café way south in town, Cajun food, pretty good, but not as good as I make, even in France, it turned out that there was live music after the kitchen closed, and the night's entertainment was Bill Kirchen, whom I first met 42 years ago when he played with the Commander Cody band in California. I had to leave before he started, but we're going to see each other in California next week. 

* * * 

Finally, thanks to Chef George, I can announce that I've found (with his help) easily the best Indian restaurant in Austin. The Maharaja Indian Café isn't going to win any awards for decor or art direction, and you have to order from a counter and then wait for your meal at a funky table, but oh, man, is it ever worth the wait. The folks who run it are from Goa, a former Portugese colony in the south of India, and you just know it's going to be good when you look at the menu and there's a whole entire goat section. Goat four ways! Kozhi Varutha Curry aka Chicken Chettinand, which (I didn't have it) can be skin-peelingly hot and delicious. Goan fish curry! Dosas and uttapams! And cold chaats, incuding Sev Batuta Puri, which are little balls stuffed with potatoes and spices and doused with yogurt and tamarind chutney, and the more sedate (and heavier) Dahi Wada, which are lentil dumplings given the same basic treatment. Boy, if I lived in the neighborhood, the takeout number would be on my speed dial. They've also got a very nice-sounding buffet from 11am-2pm Tues-Fri, and 12-3 on Sat-Sun, with off-menu items (and more of 'em on weekends). 

And if you're in the neighborhood, the same shopping center (8650 Spicewood Springs at 183, by the Big Lots store) has a Chinese noodle joint that's only open for lunch, which I ate at a couple of years ago and almost lost my mind, it was so good. It makes me wonder if the Mexican joint in the strip is also cosmically good. 

Almost makes me wish I was staying another few days...

* * * 

I'm not, though: Monday morning sees me flying to San Francisco for the next chapter of the U.S. Tour, and I bet there'll be more good eats there, along with some nice photos if the weather clears up some. Although rain can be a blessing: Austin's coming off of a two-year drought, and this poor guy didn't get the memo about parking under a tree where grackles roost in Texas: 

If he can see to drive to the carwash, it's going to cost him several trips through. 

* * * 

Oh, and the camel? I dropped off my 1962 Gibson J-50 guitar today, recently restored to a very fine state by master luthier Bill Giebitz, at South Austin Music, where they're holding it for me on consignment ($2800 and worth every penny -- which pennies I'm going to need before this gruelling tour is over), and headed down Lamar towards my next destination. Stopped at the light at Mary waiting to turn left, I saw the camel, happily giving rides in the parking lot across the way. He looked just as unimpressed as he did in the truck. 

1 comment:

  1. The camel has me utterly confused, but that's Austin for you I guess.
    And now, I'm off to google fried deviled eggs... I need to make these, and get the breading to stick!


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