Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cocktails, Killer Dessert and Hangin' With a Chef

It's not every Tuesday that I get a five o'clock whistle text from Chel with one single word "bevies?". Okay...that statement isn't exactly true. "It's almost every Tuesday" would be more accurate. It's a great way to wind down after the work day and most Tuesdays our SO's are off doing their own thing, too. Yesterday we met up at South Congress Cafe, a hipster hangout with delectable food and a small selection of great beer on tap. I always give kudos when the draft is a higher quality than Miller Lite or Budweiser.

We hung out, chatting it up and drinking a rita on the rocks and a bellini. Neither of those cocktails were doing it for us so we switched to beer. I had a Stella Artois and Chel chose a Firemans #4 and we happily caught up on life while waiting for our appetizer, the chipotle shrimp quesadilla. The quesadilla was simple yet fabulous, with three types of gooey melted Mexican cheese, pico de gallo and marinated shrimp. It was served with guacamole, sour cream and more pico....mmmmm!

Hanging out in a SoCo hot spot is always entertaining. There was a small group in the bar who had accents I just couldn't place. European, judging by the skinny jeans one of the guys was wearing. Or should I say they were wearing him? Skinny jeans with their tight, smooth fit just don't appeal to me, especially on men. It makes their legs look like toothpicks, their backsides flat and accentuates their tiny waist and hips which in turn just pisses me off. Really? Your waist is the same size as mine was in 9th grade? How nice for you.

I did get to see Austin high society ladies, all decked out in Nordstrom attire, fully accessorized, meet up and air kiss. Their cheeks never so much as brushed each other's as they muah muah'd ever so politely. Freakin' hilarious. I tried to sneak a peek at what they were drinking as we left to indulge in some retail therapy.

Parts & Labour has to be one of my favorite stores on the strip for two reasons: the tee shirts and the jewelry. I don't know who designs the majority of their tee's but it's someone who shares my sense of humor. I laughed at the shirts that said "Sorry, I'm straight" and "Sorry, I'm gay". So Austin appropriate. After trying on oodles of rings and finally deciding that no, I did not need anything although I did want lots of things, we tripped on down Congress to Vespaio.

Vespaio's bar is absolutely one of the nicest to sit and sip a chilly flute of prosecco, which is exactly what we did. Tom, the master mixologist of a bartender, pointed us toward a heavenly dessert as well. It was a hazelnut doughnut with a mild spice cake flavor that had decadent port poached figs layered on it and topped with a honey gelato. Sprinkled around the plate were crumbly bits of hazelnut brittle or toffee, I'm unsure which. The next time I'm in Vespaio I'm going to ask if I can order just a tiny bowl of the deeply flavorful figs and a scoop of the gelato. Okay, maybe with a bit of the buttery candy, too. This is one of those desserts that you remember long after you forget who you were with when you first tasted it (although I promise not to forget you, Chel). The honey gelato was such a creamy, icy delight with a delicate sweetness that lent just the right amount of balance to the figs. Never again will I look at their chocolate offerings, never. And coming from me, that's saying a lot.

While we were lingering over our bubbly, a man dressed in chef's pants came to sit next to us. After almost every staff member had stopped to say hello to him, we couldn't bear it any longer. We had to introduce ourselves. Turns out he was Brenton Childs, executive chef at Bess Bistro. Ever so shy, Chel and I chatted away with Brenton, talking about everything from his upcoming long awaited and much needed vacation to the fact that neither of us had yet eaten at Bess. I cut to the chase immediately and asked what should I order at Bess if I was in Austin only long enough for one meal. Brenton's answer is to order the Porcini Crusted Halibut, which sounded mouthwatering as he described the pan seared fish plated on top of braised cabbage and onion and served with a big ole lump of crabmeat and some vermouth cream. I know what I'm having, when I visit Bess soon. Very soon.

The conversation turned to cocktails, as Tom had mixed up the city's finest Manhattan for Brenton. Chel and I had already discussed the best dirty martini in town (Sullivan's) and so I quizzed the Chef again, asking what to drink at Bess. He immediately recommended the Bess Cocktail, a refreshing glass of demi-sec with a squeeze of fresh lime juice to contrast the sweetness of the sparkling wine. Sounds like a perfect drink for our warm climate, the kind of cocktail you can sip as you relax into your evening.

I always enjoy talking with people who are passionate about their lives. Brenton is the type of person who has a zeal for his work and for his ambitions. While speaking of his cookbook, titled The Convert, the Chef explained he likes to create dishes using foods that many people avoid. The ones where they'll say "I hate _____, ever since I was 9 years old and I had to eat it". One such creation is the caramelized cauliflower Brenton has on the menu at Bess. His father avoided cauliflower at all costs, explaining he hated it and his mother used to make him eat it. Brenton thinly slices the cauliflower and cooks it down to a buttery caramelized softness so rich in flavor that has his father ordering it each time he visits.

The evening came to a close, with Chel and I promising to stop in at Bess once the Chef is back from his vacation and telling Tom we'd see him again, on a Manhattan kind of night. Air kisses exchanged, I headed home, happy to be living in Austin.

1 comment:

The Elder Caribou said...

wow... I am suddenly hungry! :)