Fresh off the half-day experience at Franklin BBQ that I wrote about here, we decided to walk off the food coma rather than succumb to the ‘itis. This led us on a long, hot walk to the Old Pecan Street Festival. This might not be the most popular observation, but my first observation of the street festival was that it was remarkably similar to every other street fair ever put on anywhere by anyone. No disrespect to Austin, but I can’t really understand why so many people would brave that heat to meander down the street looking at booths of stuff they could find just as easily without the heat or the crowds.
I’m being needlessly harsh, but as you can tell I quickly lost interest and so peeled off with a few friends and found this little shop called Bobalu Cigar Co.
I’m not a big cigar guy. By which I mean to say I’m not really a cigar guy at all but do occasionally like them in the right setting. I heard about a cigar pairing beer dinner that Stone Brewing does back in San Diego, so may check that out at some point, but generally for me it’s a novelty more about the conversation with friends (and a nice Scotch) than the cigar itself.
This particular shop is staffed by guys who were apparently trained to roll Cuban cigars and have brought that skill to Austin. I don’t know if there is something unique to rolling a cigar in one country versus another or if it impacts the flavor in any noticeable way. But apparently if you want a nice cigar in Austin, this place is among the decent ones to visit.
Home, home on the range
I’ve skipped forward quite a bit to get us to this little slice of 2nd Amendment pride – Red’s Gun Range. This is the type of true-to-form authentic spot one would expect to find in a state that relishes its firearms. Now, clearly I was coming here to participate in the use of said firearms so I don’t have a problem with responsible gun use/ownership. But can we please dispense with the farce of a position that people need guns to protect themselves from the government? And stop using that laughable-if-it-weren’t-so-monumentally-tragic slogan “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” As someone who fervently believes in people’s right to own and use guns, I find these notions absolutely ridiculous. Of course people kill people. And of course you can kill people with a garden hose and garden hoses shouldn’t be illegal. But these arguments are just plain dumb. Has anyone in the history of anything killed a dozen people at the same time with a garden hose? Or a knife, for that matter? No. Of course not. And let’s not play the silly “let’s deal with mental health first before we deal with guns” game. We’re big boys and girls, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s nothing more than the bald cowardice of Congressmen and women who would rather get elected than take a meaningful position. Which of the mass tragedies in the last decade included the Black market purchase of firearms? Exaaaactly. If you don’t have the integrity to risk losing your cushy place in Congress to do something meaningful, you don’t have the integrity to serve our country.
Okay, all that’s off my chest. Like I said, I believe in – and will fiercely defend – responsible gun ownership. And I think places like Red’s Gun Range are an essential part of that process. I saw multiple people getting trained in Red’s Gun Range. They had several redundant controls to make sure they knew who we were, what we were shooting, and that we had a legal right to be in the store. As far as I can tell, Red’s is doing its job. It’s Congress that needs to get it together. Okay, now I’m done for real this time.
I am not entirely sure I need to say much about the experience in the range. One of my good friends is an expert marksman, a member of law enforcement and was there to help make sure we were using the firearms properly. Here he is giving said instruction
It was reassuring to have someone who works with and around weapons on a daily basis along. Plus, while I have no illusions about ever being good at shooting, I did want to at least understand the basics. I hadn’t been to a gun range in at least 7 years and not to a handgun range since college, so this was an experience.
There were two other really interesting things I noticed while we were in there. First, every T.V. show with firearms gets it wrong. When you shoot the gun, it reflexively pushes back and up against your hands. That’s never shown on the T.V. gangster movies. It’s not particularly easy to hit what you’re aiming at – a lesson that might be helpful for Congress as they debate legislation. Second, it’s really loud. I mean really, really loud. I wonder what it’s like for young people who are thrust into combat to both hear dramatically loud bangs all around them and have to dodge enemy fire while keeping some sense about them. I have a deepened respect for everyone who steps in harm’s way after the experience.
I did an okay job for my first time firing a handgun in almost 20 years. The .40 caliber handgun we shot was no joke and it was a good reminder of the power firearms possess. I’ll probably try it again in a few years, maybe even take a skills class some time. But I can hardly imagine that this is the type of thing I’d work regularly into my life. Hopefully to go hunting with rifles, but that’s about it. You know, one last thought. As strong as the NRA is, you’d think they could just come up with a private solution. It’s not that everyone shouldn’t have guns, just the people who are either mentally ill, violent criminals or selling guns to criminals. How hard can it really be to identify those three groups? Enough about guns, I’m glad we did it, but want to get back to the next experience I really enjoyed – dinner at Foreign & Domestic.
A dinner worth having
Fresh off a trip to the range and vigorous debate three of us hopped in the car and headed off to Uchi for dinner. One problem, my buddy who’d made the reservation got his days wrong and it was actually the next night! No problem, Austin has a few gems so I followed the wise words of some friends and acquaintenances in the Twitterverse and headed off to Foreign & Domestic, a farm to table restaurant just north of Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
First off, I’ll say this. The place gets props for having a nice outdoor seating area that is cozy and allows you to actually feel like your relaxing outside as opposed to waiting for a table. Nice. Here it is.
We didn’t have reservations…at 7-ish on a Saturday night. So I didn’t have high hopes about getting in. Fortunately, three seats popped open at the bar and we snatched those up to get the night’s food adventures going. The trick about being a food person – on the consumption side, not the preparation side – is really to never eat with less than two people in your party. This maximizes the ability to get lots of flavors without gorging yourself. In my ideal world, all of my favorite restaurants would have an Omar special – two bite of everything they serve for a fixed price. But absent such a thing, I’ll take places with small plates over entrees almost every time. With three of us, we could basically short-cut our way to small plates by ordering separate apps and entrees and swapping.
This is a borrowed photo but hopefully it gives a bit of the idea. The place is pretty small, I’m guessing 30 tables and some counter space. Friendly bunch. We posted up at our bar seats, steadied our gullets, and got ready for some fun.
First up, I went with the asparagus and pea soup. This didn’t sound appetizing but I’d learned from trips to places like Bar Tartine in San Francisco that sometimes you just have to take a chance. So worth it. I had never had a pickled strawberry before, but combining the natural sweetness of the strawberry with the tart pickling was a nice contrast to the strong pea flavors. I could taste four distinct flavors in a spoonful, which is one of the things I love for chefs to do with food. The soup was a really good starter.
I’ll skip the popover because I wasn’t crazy about it and bread doesn’t show well in photos anyway. Above is the chicken biscuit that one of my friends got. The reviews of this item were pretty high and both four square and Yelp included this as a dish to be ordered. I’m glad it was his order because I found it just okay. It wasn’t bad, just not something I found special. And if I’m being honest, when traveling the things I want most out of food are really strong flavors and uniqueness (or, I suppose, really well executed local signature dishes a la Franklin BBQ).
This was the first quail I’d had since Statebird Provisions (read here) over a year ago I think. It was a surprising amount of meat, appropriately tender and juicy and just generally well prepared. I was pretty pleased with this choice and it set my meal back on course after the underwhelming chicken biscuit. This quail came from Lockhart Farms, which I mention in case you are a restaurant in the area looking for local suppliers who care about what they do.
**where the lamb would have been had I taken a photo – oops**
This is where the jealousy started to set in. My last friend Malone ordered up a lamb entree and it was ridiculously good. If I were a weaker man I’d have ordered up a second one. The lamb was fall off the bone tender, well-seasoned and proportioned, and easily the star of the show. It was so good I want to keep writing and adding flowery adjectives to help reinforce the point. Bottom line, if you like lamb and are in Austin (and this happens to be on the menu at F & D) order it. It’s one of those dishes I’d put my food recommending reputation on the line for. The lamb, from producer Sterling Lamb, was perfectly prepared.
We ended up with two desserts, one courtesy of the kitchen’s good will. I have a very significant sweet tooth. So I was pleased to have these very different desserts ring the bell for me in distinct and complementary ways. The Nutella pot de crème was a traditionally rich, chocolate heavy decadence set of with the tart cherries. Again, these guys get major points for the use of contrasting flavors. The coconut sorbet didn’t seem like it would or could be particularly good. I mean, sorbet is kind of a boring dessert as a general matter, isn’t it? Well, no, not in this case. I was with a friend who ordered balsamic vinegar on his ice cream awhile back and it opened a whole new world for desserts to me. This sorbet was in that realm because of the dill syrup. It was a perfect flavor accent to the lightly sweet coconut sorbet. Pretty surprising stuff.
I googled the farms associated with our food and linked them above. Have a look. They are small farmers in the immediate area who try to do right by the animals, the earth and the people they work with. The reason, in my opinion, to support restaurants that support local and sustainable practices isn’t to be a part of some trend or to hyperextend your elbow patting yourself on the back. It’s because the men and women own and operate these farms are doing their part to care about the planet we live in and to raise animals with decency. And because food that isn’t pumped full of crap is generally better for you. And if it also makes you feel good to make these types of choices, all the better. I was super pleased to have rounded out the food adventures of day three with this trip to F & D. Sharing a great meal with two very solid friends was a great way to spend an evening. And despite being a fairly small dining space our server didn’t nudge us along and we really enjoyed the whole experience. Thanks for stopping by.
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