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Winter Becomes Spring:9 Days,29 Movies,16 Restaurants

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I like to approach Austin like a tourist during SXSW.I'm off work so I eat out way more than normal and since it only comes once a year I justify spending more on lunch.It's vacation and should be treated accordingly.

Most of the film festival is held downtown or a short drive away[Alamo South Lamar] so the eating options are approaching endless.Over the 9 days I end up catching 29 movies and visiting 16 different restaurants for a bon vivant style Austin vacation.

Los Huaraches on Cesar Chavez is food for the people.

How can you tell? The breakfast platters are $2.50 cents.Not a typo.We have just enough time between films on day one to race here to dine.Atmosphere is all fluorescent lights beaming down,a few Mexican-ish decorations line the walls and of course a television blaring out.The Huevos Rancheros is two fried over medium eggs covered in an orange/red tomato based ranchero sauce served with cubed deep fried potatoes,refried pinto beans and griddled corn tortillas.The minx orders a single chorizo/bean taco on corn tortillas.My platter is a good generous portion;the eggs are perfectly cooked as are the potatoes.The refrieds need a little love[lime juice and salt]but once garnished really come to life.After eating the finest chorizo in Austin at Mi Ranchito on William Cannon every other version pales.Los Huaraches is no different.It's the same popular version that comes from a tub that almost every restaurant in town uses.It's ok but neither of us would order this one again.

JP's Java is not in easy range of the venues but I have a deep love of their coffee so I speed through a deserted campus for a quick cinnamon roll[Upper Crust purveyed I believe]and cup of coffee.The coffee is a good medium roast,not served at a low boil,which I hate,but a more immediately palatable temperature.The pastry is one of my standby Austin treats and tastes the same every single time.Loads of butter,cinnamon and sugar.Kind of like if you took a dozen pieces of cinnamon toast and rolled them up into a ball.

When I had friends working at Roaring Fork a few years ago I ate there all the time.They did it just right enough to warrant plenty visits.Times changed and I haven't eaten here in a couple years so walking out of the Paramount without a lot of time between movies we decide to step in and avail ourselves of their happy hour.The "made to order"guacamole is fresh,likeable yet bland and served with good totopos dusted with Cotija cheese.

I love a good iceberg wedge covered in bleu cheese but they only get part of the equation right.There is no bleu cheese dressing,only crumbles.A decent ranch tries to tie the flavors in but fails.

The shrimp and grits consists of three tempura battered shrimps camped out on a bed of Falls Mills grits [ http://www.fallsmill.com/ ] which is what convinced us to order them as these are the brand I keep in my fridge and they are top notch.

These probably had been top notch earlier in their lifespan here as well but time on a steam line has left them short of creamy.They are merely good.Rich to be sure but quite dry.

Suzi's Kitchen on South Lamar.
I like the way American style Chinese restaurants utilize their fryers so we decide to dive right in and roll around in Suzi's fryolator.The fried scallops are perfectly rice floured,dusted with MSG and delicious.The shrimp soup with sizzling rice once doctored with all condiments[red chile oil,soy and white pepper]is fine.The shrimp are straight out of the freezer but the broth is good and it's always nice to eat healthy.The eggrolls are plain jane but filled with delicious cabbage and favorably light.Chicken wings are standard fare the actual wings being better than the drumettes.

My intake of $2.71 breakfast tacos is really low.I have numerous sources around town for this morning starter and the typical price is $1.50.Mi Madres' on Manor road proves to be incredibly handy one morning so I roll in for a bacon egg cheese taco.It comes on doubled up commercial corn tortillas,griddled but not oiled.The ratio of egg to bacon and cheese is off.The too large taco is mainly egg with a single strip of bacon cooked crisp,cut in half and jammed into the eggs omelette style.This taco is without flavor and in need of salt,pepper and salsa to breathe life into it.I remember why I quit going to Mi Madre's.It's expensive and doesn't offer very much in the way of flavor.

Yu Sushi Izagaya,Colorado St.
I love the Izagaya-style restaurants[ http://www.whatihearyousayingis.com/2... ]and have been wanting to eat here since they opened a couple months ago.With a rare 90 minutes to kill between films I decide to sprint over here from the Paramount and have a robata lunch.Bad news.No robata for lunch,only sushi.The privations I endure....

Everything is delicious.The tuna is well portioned and fresh,the salmon fleshy and dense,the red snapper steals the show and makes me long for the snapper throats special at the legendary Bright Star in Bessemer Alabama.Atmosphere really reminds me of the little futuristic cafes in Amsterdam.A lot of money has been spent on lighting and the bar area is chic without being too goochi-d out.

Candy's Tacos,corner of Shady Lane and East 7th st.
I've been holding off any pronouncements on this,my new favorite cart 'cause I wanted to march through the chef's menu first.After having numerous and memorable tacos here during the fest,all featuring some of the hottest red salsa I've encountered in Austin, I can't hold out any more.This is one fine taco cart.Candy is the chef,counter girl and cashier so be patient.You'll wait while she presses out the tortilla and crafts the taco into being.Her chorizo is handmade and exists in the same rarefied air as Mi Ranchito on William Cannon.Her bacon is smoky tasting and comes from a well tended pig.I love the way she lightly scrambles her eggs instead of whipping them to hell and back.Candy's tortillas are stellar;plump,corny flats rich with manteca.Nothing can sway my love for Tacos el Rico but if I was going to do any slipping around on Yolanda it would be with Candy.

Flying Falafel,Guadalupe St.
I'm not much of one to swoon but when my oyster/shrimp po boy comes to table with ketchup on it I can feel the floor of the restaurant rushing upwards.

"Is everything ok?".The counter lady inquires as she scrapes me up off the ground.

Is that ketchup?"I moan,gesturing toward the weird red stuff on my beautiful sandwich."Yes,that's how it comes fully dressed.That's the New Orleans style".

I know there are two camps on this in NOLA.Camp one,good people who know that pouring red colored corn syrup on fresh seafood is worthy of a Huey P.Long denouement.This camp's standard bearer is Parkway Tavern.And camp two,heartless oafs who see no sin in this crude aberrance.This camp's standard bearer is Domilise's which I love dearly but know to interject"none of the red stuff please"when I order.

I belong to camp one.She apologizes profusely and moments later returns with a fresh meal.

This po boy is delicious.A skilled hand in the kitchen has fried my seafood and stuffed it into a good loaf most likely from Phoenicia bakery.A good sized fistful of hot french fries,crinkle cuts from the freezer to be sure-but tasty-completes the combo.

11 bucks for a half sandwich,fries and Ozarka means that Flying Falafel is on my special treat lunch list.The family that runs it is extremely nice and you're well tended to while you're there it's simply too expensive for me to eat there with the frequency I'd like.

Buenos Aires,East 6th St.
The best meal I've had in Austin in a very long time.

Miraculous considering the restaurant has only been open 5 days.We've been walking along East 6th alot the last few days and noticed Tony's Southern Comfort has been buffed out and turned into an Argentine restaurant.Lighting is low,hardwoods floors are beaten and gleaming and the joint is packed all day and late into the night.We choose the chef's special and it is divine.Five giant shrimp[in the 12ct range]showered with garlic and fresh lemon,vivid green chive mashed potatoes and ever ubiquitous asparagus completes the plate[a Four Seasons' style long,white rectangle].I'm exhausted by years of balsamic vinegar being hammered onto every menu in town but chef's dressing on the spinach salad is note perfect.The vinegar is so mellow I reckon it must've pulled up in a micro-bus before sidling onto my plate.Service is fine,the staff are frazzled from being thrown to the wolves of south-by but are amiable and excited about the food.

Baker Man,7th St.
I've been impressed by this little spot near Mike's Pub on 7th street in the past but two visits this week found it to've slipped a bit.The cookies are big and the presence of good quality butter,vanilla and chocolate is evident but I'm not sold on the freshness.John Conlee could write a song about these cookies.

Best Wurst
I'm running out of chances to give the Best Wurst food cart.I like the guy who runs it,he's amiable and seems like a solid citizen but....this is the first time I've had the "all beef" and it turns out to be my least favorite.The meat man snips a little piece off a long link and inserts it into the bun.The first bite on either end of the sandwich is all wish-bread,onion and mustard and a wish for a little meat,for 4 bucks I want the meat to at least fill the bun.Tidbits of gristle run through the sausage which is sitting on an [always] stale bun.I like the griddled onions but that's about it.

Hoeks,6th St
Torchys got muscled out of their prime 6th street location near Casino el Camino.I could just see the Hoeks boys rolling up on the Torchys guy in the alley at close some night.

"Nice little taco spot man"

"Yeah I worked real hard to get this place open"

"Really? That's too bad,we've been looking for a place to put our death metal pizza joint and this one really fits the bill".

The Torchys guy starts staring at the ground knowing he just lost his lease.

Maybe that's not exactly how it happened but Hoeks which has bounced all over the area since their long term residency ended at the old Ritz a couple years ago has now taken up residence in the former Torchys Tacos location.

The pizza tastes exactly the same every time.Good bone,light mild sauce,plenty cheese and handy greencan parm and red pepper flakes to dress it up.Hoeks has prevented more dui arrests in Austin than every psa ever aired.When it hits your belly it acts as sort of bread-y sponge,soaking up the liquor and somehow effervescing it through your pores and allowing you safe passage home.It's magic.

Little City,Congress Avenue
Proximity to the Paramount found me here countless times during the week.I guzzled gallons of good,inexpensive coffee and pretended I was in a big city sitting on the sidewalk with loads of Cap Metro buses churning by.I tried one sweet treat,a little lemon cookie that tasted like it'd been painted with Windex.I asked the counter guy where they sourced it and he said Mandola's Italian Market.

Jackalope,6th st
Two dollar cans of Pearl? Nice patio[they punched holes in the giant wall that divides them from Moose Knuckles next door]with many interesting characters;I saw my yearly cool tattoo here.Once a year you see a tattoo in Austin that's not the usual ridiculous,hackneyed skin art.An Irish rose style girl had a really nice back piece with lots of color,done by a steady hand with a deep needle.Jackalope offers solid pub food,essentially Casino el Camino's menu with less surly staff.No Live Oak on tap means I won't be spending much time here but it's a good option if you're on 6th street and hungry.

Alamo Drafthouse
It's inevitable.
When you spend this much time in the theater you're eventually going to have to eat here.It's with a mixture of foreboding and regret yet to come that I place my order.Chips and Queso and "Made to Order Molten Chocolate Cake".

I love the Alamo and will continue to love it no matter how bad the food is[why can't they hire a chef who's the analog of Lars,their resident wildman/film programmer?] and this is pretty bad.

Queso illustration:The following day I notice a little droplet of queso has landed on my boot from the night before.I carefully peel it off[it's similar to candle wax in texture]and it's actually caused a now permanent discoloration on the black steer hide.During the feed I notice the color of the "cheese".It's a sickly tanned orange,the flavor makes me wonder if it's actually a dairy based product or some previously undiscovered cheese like chemical.

The cake is better.Think of a Hostess brand King Don,zapped for a few seconds in the microwave and served with a dollop of ice cream.Service is always good at The Alamo.The waiters scuttle along like hyper efficient crabs,quick sidelong movements always out of the corner of your eye.

McCormick and Schmick's,Congress Avenue
One of the great happy hour deals in Austin.This chain out of the Pacific Northwest gets it.They have a nicely appointed dining room utilizing the honored "men's club"aesthetic:dark wood paneling,mirrors and muted tones of brass.This is the section where you get dressed up and go for a $25 plate of fresh seafood.

Then there's the bar area.Totally casual,windows looking out on the busy Congress Avenue sidewalk,flat panel televisions and a lovely oyster bar with iced down oysters on their shells,small tags delineating the many different provenances of these beauties.

We end up spending $15 for a rather nice meal.The hamburger is charred and served the requested medium rare.It's ground chuck with just enough fat to give it plenty flavor and is served on a nicely toasted bun with decent fries.The mussels are served in a good,garlicky broth and are a yeoman's portion.We wash it all down with two pints of Trumer Pilsener in a couple glasses so nice I have to tamp down the urge to heist them [they're these perfect little beer test tubes,very fetching].

I know I'm forgetting a couple places but time is drawing short on getting this piece finished before SXSW 2009 is a distant memory.

Where did y'all eat during this years festival?

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  1. What a great breakdown! Thanks so much for the detail and thought that went into this post. I have to say that Jackalope has my favorite burger in town. The Cesar Burger is hands down my favorite, and add to it some waffle fries and I'm a happy lady.

    We really didn't eat anything great or out of the ordinary last week, although I heard great things about a taco cart at 4th and Lavaca. I'm curious about it now.

    1. I agree, the detail in your writing, scrumptiouschef, is excellent. I very much enjoyed reading it.

      For some reason this year, the films we wanted to see were pretty much back to back at the Alamo Lamar. So we were kind of forced to eat there. That being said, I very much like the cheddar bacon scones they serve for brunch. Two scones come with chopped fruit and chive butter. At least I think it was chive butter. It's impossible to see in the dark. I will never, ever try to eat a salad at the Alamo again. It was unsettling to me, blindly stuffing salad in my mouth (is that a tomato or an olive?); and I couldn't see where to stab the lettuce leaves. I confess, I ended up using my fingers:)

      After the salad debacle, we ended up spending most of the week eating Alamo hamburgers and fries. The Big Organic one needs more seasoning; but the Royal with Cheese Burger, which also has bacon, was pretty good. I was surprised how good the fries were. When we ordered brewed coffee, it was almost always served tepid.

      I like the idea of food served in the theater; but I think in the future I’ll stick to liquids. Those milkshakes looked awsome!

      1. Been meaning to comment on the review of Buenos Aires Cafe. Visited the Oltorf location, oh, I'd say it was about two Fridays ago, and my party ordered the exact same spinach salad+salmon/shrimp special entree that you had, as well as the Gnocchi and a side ceasar, plus an Argentinian Malbec (don't recall the name, but it was $9/glass, the bottom most Malbec-by-the glass on the menu). I will begin by saying that our server was awesome. A friendly and very knowledgeable ginger with a beard who seemed genuinely excited about the food they were serving. That always wins huge points with me, since it is such a rare thing, particularly at mid-range eateries. When choosing wine, I started to order a Merlot (despite the obvious choice of a Malbec) simply because the description of notes of eucalyptus sounded interesting in the description of the Merlot. The server questioned my choice, asked me what I was looking for, and steered me toward the Malbec, which turned out to be wonderful, big and fruity. As far as the chow goes: I didn't taste the shrimp; not a shrimp person. Dining companion deemed it passable. Both salads were fine, but the spinach was exceptional. The chive (or were they green garlic?) mashers were savory, salty, garlicky, delicious. The salmon was cooked through (I like rare fish) but was still tasty and _should_ have been cooked through, obviously if it wasnt sashimi grade, so that was fine. Nice crispy charred bits around the edges. Was a bit disappointed in the sauce on the fish though. Was described, I believe, as a "lobster brandy" sauce. In my opinion, overly sweet, but maybe someone who likes sweet sauces would have appreciated it more. Gnocci Quartet: pumpkin-cinnamon, sweet potato, cilantro, & herbed potato. For some reason I expected them to be served separately i.e. in four tiny bowls on a big plate but these four flavors were all mixed together in a big bowl, in a light (tasty!) mushroomy broth with haricots verts, mushrooms, peppers. I wound up eating everything except those awful pumpkin ones (which tasted like pumpkin pie and didnt marry with the other flavors- they were just too much. And I am a pumpkin fiend...). The server asked us if we wanted dessert, and when we declined he said "aww, I had big plans for you guys..." Read: suggestions. That was cool. All in all, it wasn't a perfect meal for me, the main problems being the sweet stuff mixed in with my savory dishes, but I will definitely eat there again. I liked the atmo. Sat on the patio which was draped in clear tarp and white xmas lights, very cheerful, didn't feel like I was on Oltorf at all. Curious to try the new location.