Haute Plates comes to you this week from the Great State of Texas, specifically Austin, which I am told is the capitol of the Great State. I visited Austin about 15 years ago and enjoyed it, but I don’t have a clear enough memory of those two days to say why. I’m told the city has changed, and I’m sure it has, but I can’t tell you how. (Yes, it’s still weird.)
I’m here for a conference – the National Retail and Restaurant Defense Association annual conference, to be exact – and I did not do a great deal of research into the restaurant scene here in advance. For one thing, I won’t get to choose most of my meals; for another, I was too busy with other things. When I did get around to looking at the restaurant scene in Austin online, what I saw, at least where fine dining restaurants are concerned, seemed familiar.
There are a lot of restaurants advertising that their food is locally sourced; “farm to table” shows up a lot. I think the restaurant that’s come up most often when I’ve asked people where to eat is Uchi, James Beard award-winning chef Tyson Cole’s Japanese restaurant. As of this writing, I haven’t had a chance to go, but I’m hopeful. Then again I’m also hoping to get to Qui, chef Paul Qui’s wildly inventive restaurant that, like our own Square Root offers a tasting menu. At Qui, the menu shows some of the chef’s Filipino roots.
I had dinner with some colleagues last night at Moonshine, and had a good steak and great company. I stopped in later at Parkside, whose menu I’d been perusing earlier in the day. Raw fluke with toasted almonds, chives and lemon was a hit, and actually prepared at a station right in front of where I was sitting at the bar. The crab fritters came with a spot on ravigote sauce.
I could go on about places I’d like to visit, because I now have about a dozen Austin restaurant websites bookmarked in my browser. But the point of all of this is that we’re seeing the same things in New Orleans that are happening in Austin, and I suspect, all over the country.
New Orleans has never really been on the cutting edge of restaurant trends; to our credit for the most part. But these days the national obsession with food and cooking has permeated the culture to the extent that you see similarities wherever you go. A decade or so ago that would mean you could find the same food at a chain restaurant in Houston or Duluth. Now, it means you can find local ingredients cooked by people who care about what they’re doing.
One of my colleagues is from Cleveland, Ohio. He was telling me about what a “foodie” town it is these days. I don’t know Cleveland, but my guess is that wouldn’t have been a word associated with the place until fairly recently. As much as I dislike the term, I’m happy to see it bandied about more broadly.
Sure it means you get commercials for processed foods you pretend to “cook” in the microwave, and nincompoops like Guy Fieri masquerading as chefs, but on balance I’ll quote Martha S. and call it “a Good Thing.”