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Dining with Sarah Johnson

By: Sarah Johnson, Holifield Janich Rachal & Associates, PLLC

Hello, fellow EBC Members! The Foodie is back with a review of the amazing Austin culinary scene from the Midwinter Meeting! This was my first trip to Austin, and I was treated to impeccable creativity, service, and flavor throughout the tour of the local food landscape.

As has become tradition, we began the trip with an Italian meal at La Traviata. We let the sommeliers of the group, Al Holifield, Doug Selwyn, and Randall Constantine, choose an excellent bottle of Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture--a full bodied, earthy, smooth old vine Italian red wine. We enjoyed that selection so much we stayed with that wine (several bottles) during the entire dining experience. The restaurant signature is their daily freshly made ravioli, and the special of the day was a butternut squash variety. My anticipation was for a mildly sweet, nutty flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised by the rich, almost meaty flavor. The tender ravioli was paired with crisp fresh sweet peas and a light cream sauce. The textural combination of the crisp peas and fragile pasta paired extremely well.

While the ravioli and the Cioppino, with its melange of flavorful seafood, including mussels, calamari, and scallops, were both admirable entrees, the star of the entrees was the Fettuccine con Funghi, chosen by Kara Lincoln. The dish represented a forager's dream with portobello and crimini mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, shaved parmigiano reggiano, and truffle oil. The truffle oil augmented the flavor of the mushrooms and balanced well with the crisp artichoke hearts. This dish made it all the way around the table, without a Funghi to be had!

To close out the meal, we partook in toasted angel food cake . . . which may sound very basic, almost humdrum, but it was more akin to the lightest, almost ethereal waffle I have ever eaten. This simple preparation of a common dish brought an intense amount of flavor.

The next evening led us to a contemporary American menu at The Bonneville, where we had the entire restaurant to ourselves! My initial shock at the lack of patrons lead me to question the decision to choose the Bonneville; but, as the first course was served, my reservations immediately faded away. Donna Rachal and I were extremely pleased with the scallops with grapefruit. These large, flavorful Diver scallops paired well with a jolt of tart citrus from the grapefruit and left the dish with an extremely clean flavor. The lamb chops with mousaka and the minted slaw were phenomenal as well. Cooked perfectly, leaving the rich, meaty flavor of the chops to be savored. The salted caramel chocolate tart was a great ending to the meal, with strong, flavorful French press. Overall, a great culinary event!

Friday night was billed as the star of the tour! Lonesome Dove is a Chef Tim Love creation, with additional locations in Fort Worth and Knoxville. Wesley and I have a frequent flier card to the Knoxville location, so I was excited to introduce our dining group to one of our favorite dining experiences. We were welcomed into a private dining area in the wine room and were treated to a number of great glasses of wine courtesy of our in-house sommeliers. The service, as we have become accustomed to, was superb. The chef has instilled a sense of pride and ownership within the staff, and their deliveries of the menu options and techniques were impeccable.

We had to start with an array of first courses and their house specialty, fettine, a creation of Chef Love's that is an amalgamation of cured meats pressed together and sliced wafer thin. Three of the appetizers garnered rave reviews: the Hamachi tostada, pheasant meatballs, and the elk foie gras sliders on a house-baked sweet Hawaiian roll. Chef Love is excellent at creating eclectic spins on classic dishes, and these appetizers were shining examples of his vision.

For the main course, several in our party opted for the elk loin, as was suggested by the service staff. The recommendation was met with unanimous acclaim. Large game has a reputation for being dry and "gamey," but the expertise of the kitchen was on full display with the elk backstrap that was dense, flavorful, and perfectly juicy throughout our meal. The garlic stuffed tenderloin was also a strong contender for best steak I've had in a while. The dish had all the trappings of standard steak fare, but was executed perfectly, and the addition of green garlic as a bitey garnish was a welcome touch.

The Austin staff was brought in to train the staff in the recently opened Knoxville Lonesome Dove Outlet, and we offered to deliver a special message back home. The house and kitchen staff gave us a signed and personalized menu to take back to Lonesome Dove Knoxville with us. Awesome to see a culture based on passion and excellence that streams from Texas to Tennessee.

When in Texas, Tex-Mex has to be on the menu at least once. We opted for a farewell dinner at La Condesa. There is a long list of items that have carved their way into my memory, but the one item I can still taste is Mexican Street Corn from La Condesa--absolutely amazing! Plus, corn on the cob with Mexican crème and a perfect array of spices.

Also of note was the Margarita La Condesa with fresh pineapple, lime, and agave nectar, which was an excellent twist on a classic margarita that left out the traditional sour mix in favor of fresh sweetness from pineapple and agave. The bistec asado was another outstanding dish: grilled hanger steak, garlic mojo, bone marrow, beef tongue, and radish. The taco platter was meaty and flavorful, and left my appetite fulfilled. Overall, La Condesa was an excellent sampling of Tex-Mex.

On the way out of town, we grabbed a last-minute brunch at Stella San Jac. "Chicken fried steak" covered with an over easy egg, a hash brown waffle, and biscuits with chorizo gravy was a welcome, hearty breakfast to send us on our way back to Knoxville. Last, but not least, the chorizo and potato tacos were a hit as the spicy ending to our Austin food tour.

As usual, we had a great time with the EBC in Austin! Please feel free to drop me a line about your culinary experiences across the globe at [email protected]. I'm always excited to hear about outstanding cuisine across the globe! Until next time, seek out the best cuisine wherever you are, and enjoy life to the fullest!