Criss-Crossing the Country with Surprises Along the Way
This past month we tasted our way through Austin, Vail and Chicago. In Austin, we finally got a chance to check out Texas Hill Country Festival – a large-scale celebration of regional flavors which has been bringing together chefs, wines and purveyors for the last twenty-two years. The laid-back university town deep in the heart of Texas is growing by leaps and bounds, and has a budding culinary scene. At Uchi, Chef Tyson Cole has a home for his-out-of-the-box culinary style. From a base of traditional Japanese ingredients, techniques and philosophy, he creates dishes like a delicate amuse of Onikoroshi Sake gelée with almost-frozen Muscat grapes and sugar-cured baby kampachi cold-smoked over applewood, paired with green gage plums and juniper. Lambert’s chef Larry McGuire applies a playful and artisan-focused mentality to a classic Texas cooking style barbecue. This means an American Kobe ribeye and maple coriander-crusted Berkshire pork ribs
Due north and a bit west, we noticed a change occurring in the heart of Colorado ski country. Ski–bum style no longer reigns supreme – cuisine is elevated as chefs pay more attention to local ingredients and stylish plates. Vail chef Mike Regrut of Larkspur evokes Michel Bras with a mosaic of beets and scattered just-picked baby radishes and turnips. Chef Kelly Liken serves a New England crab roll that looks like a little present – a cube of crunchy, buttery homemade bread overflowing with creamy crab salad and aioli, plated with two perpendicular first-of-the-season asparagus spears. Itís familiar, but well-executed, fun, and beautifully plated. Dish chef Jenna Johansen has a menu of creative small plates that feature clean flavors – venison sausage with a saffron risotto cake is ski-lodge fare, but sliced in small bites and finished with a port wine reduction, itís sleeker, more playful and made for sharing. At Sweet Basil, Paul Andersís dishes are vibrant: diver scallops with celery two ways and champagne orange vinaigrette, and an American Kobe short rib with tender, sweet spring pea and mascarpone agnolotti.
The 29th Annual IACP Conference brought us to Chicago, where we dropped in on two exciting culinary transplants Ė after nearly ten years in Charlie Trotterís kitchen, Giuseppe Tentori took over Boka, where heís combining his Italian culinary heritage with a sense of culinary adventure. Formerly of WD˜50 in New York, Mike Sheerin returned to his hometown, bringing his technically creative, comfortable, fun style with him. Heís now at Paul Kahanís Blackbird, where heís serving accessible and delicious future food: a decadent veal ribeye paired with a porridge of ground, dehydrated cornbread cooked with Tabasco and milk; grilled sturgeon is served with a mustard consommť, mustard foam, and dense, homey rye gnocchi.
Now itís back to our hometown: the most vigorous and fast-paced dining scene in the country. Stay tuned for a look at what’s new in New York!