I WAS SITTING AT MY DESK earlier this year wondering if anyone would notice if I left for lunch at ten-thirty when the phone rang. Cruelly torn from my reverie of cheese enchiladas, I picked up the receiver. On the line were Lisa and Emmett Fox, Austin chefs and restaurateurs, who had an offer that no food critic in her right mind could refuse: “We’re opening a new restaurant,” they said. “Wanna watch?” I asked them to hold for a minute while I cleared my calendar. And that is how I got to be—I was about to say “a fly on the wall,” but that seems an unfortunate metaphor—an embedded reporter chronicling the highs and lows of the eight-month gestation of Fino Restaurant, Patio, and Bar.
For three decades I’ve been looking on as fledgling dining establishments struggle to open—often behind schedule and hopelessly muddled—so I was prepared for Murphy’s Law to operate with a vengeance. But if anybody could survive the ordeal relatively unscathed, I thought, it was the Foxes, for the compelling reason that they had already opened one successful restaurant. At their five-year-old neighborhood place, Asti Trattoria, Emmett acts as paterfamilias to his staff and customers and Lisa takes care of business. A big bear of a man, Emmett graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York; Lisa, who is shyer than you would expect for someone so pretty, studied art at