This year kicks off with a Tempranillo for Texas Wine of the Month. By now, you should be fairly familiar with the prevalence of this grape. It’s turning heads in Texas blends (McPherson Cellars La Herencia) as well as in single-varietal wines (Inwood Estates Vineyards “Cornelius” Tempranillo). This month, we celebrate a wine devoted solely to Tempranillo grapes—most of which were grown in the Hill Country. It’s an elegant representation of just how great this grape can be in Texas. In fact, it was one of the top 10 Texas Monthly Wines of 2012. And it comes from a winery in Stonewall that continues to make strides in the emerging Texas wine industry.
One of the most notable Austin openings so far this year, the French restaurant laV (think “la vie”) will finally debut after many months of construction delays and rescheduled city inspections. Slated for last fall, it will open for dinner this Thursday, March 6, barring a natural disaster. Happily, there is no ice, rain, or thundersleet in the weather forecast.
The menu will be Mediterranean, principally Provençal, with the occasional excursion into other cuisines. The executive chef is Allison Jenkins (a Texas native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who worked most recently at the Little Nell hotel in Aspen). Janina O’Leary, also a native Texan, formerly with Trace at the Austin W hotel, has come on as executive pastry chef. An extensive wine program is headed by laV managing partner and sommelier Vilma Mazaite (who worked at Bartolotta in Las Vegas and Babbo in New York). Darren Scott and Rania Zayyat round out the sommelier team. The restaurant’s owners are Houston investment banker and entrepreneur Ralph Eads and his wife Lisa.
The other day I took a guided tour of the building with Mazaite. Although the brick structure looks old—it resembles a rehabbed 1920’s warehouse—laV was actually built last year from the ground up. So while the kitchen and dining rooms are brand new, the deliberately drab exterior paint and an industrial façade keep the building from seeming pretentious and out of sync with its east side surroundings.
In a community chock-full of Mexican restaurants, a different take on Latin American cuisine is welcome. Everything is homemade at this unassuming, family-run spot, from some of the best chips and salsa we’ve ever tasted to irresistible fried plantains. For our main course, we tried a pupusa: tender, shredded pork and cheese enveloped in a soft, pancake-like corn tortilla; no single flavor upstaged the others, but all blended nicely.
The nets swing gently over the deck of the shrimp boat. They hover momentarily, raining seawater and all manner of flotsam and jetsam that’s been swept up as they trawl the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The bag lines are cut, and what seems like the full bounty of the ocean spills out—thousands of shrimp, of course, but also finfish, weird-looking crustaceans, and bulbous jellyfish lying motionless on the deck.
Alan Richman, restaurant critic for GQ, has sent some big love Texas's way. Number one on his list of the best new restaurants of the year is Qui, in Austin. Also making the list, at number thirteen, is La Barbecue, in Austin. No other Texas places were included.
If ever a name described a place, it’s this huge indoor-outdoor music venue, with its yards of reclaimed wood and American flag composed of beer cans. The food, like beer-battered cactus fritters with red jalapeño ketchup, is better than it has to be. Burgers and an array of wood-grilled meats round out the menu. The white hominy studded with melted cheddar and smoked ham is almost a meal in itself. (3/14)
So you want to start a restaurant. No problem—you’ll just need to secure investors, find a space, manage the renovations, hire a staff, run the gauntlet of city permits, and somehow find the time to, you know, cook. But if you happen to live in Dallas, there’s a better way. Since 2012, culinary up-and-comers have been routing their dreams through Trinity Groves, a buzzing hundred-acre complex at the western end of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.