Monday, April 30, 2012
Austin Food and Wine Festival
When Michael and I found out that the Food and Wine Festival was coming to Austin we were very, very excited. A couple of years ago we went to the one in South Beach and it was fantastic! We were so excited that we could do another one so close to home. We immediately called Michael's parents and asked them to babysit even though it was still six months away. The morning that tickets went on sale we bought them. We were disappointed when we found out that you couldn't buy tickets to individual events like we could in South Beach, but the "Weekender" Passes were less money than we spent in South Beach so we figured we'd try it.
When I scheduled my surgery I was so worried that it would ruin the festival, but with everything else on everybody else's calendar, we had to book it when we did. I was thrilled to get the go ahead from my doctor on Thursday and Michael promised to help me take it easy.
Martha and Clark came in on Friday afternoon. I had rushed around all morning and was all in a flutter. I did get my hair done that morning, though so I felt pretty. We picked up the kids and then led everyone to art class, said our good-byes and took off for Austin. Michael and I had booked the Hyatt on Town Lake with our Hyatt points that Michael racks up during his work trip. We had clicked a button requesting a suite upgrade for $50 a night, but we never have actually gotten one before so we didn't put much faith that it would happen on this busy weekend. When we got to the counter, they upgraded us into an amazing suite! We were so excited. We had only been up in our room for a bit when they also sent us up a free bottle of wine, truffles and several kinds of fruit. We felt very posh.
A month before the festival, and the morning that they opened reservations for the next month, Michael and I booked a reservation at Uchiko. I had fallen in love with Paul Qui during Top Chef Texas and Michael and I both love Uchi so we really wanted to eat there. We drove up there on Friday and had an amazing dinner. We did a six course Omakase tasting and each had a glass of sake in a bamboo box. Two of our favorite courses were a diver scallop, tomatillo, cilantro dish and an eggplant sushi. We seriously both had fireworks in our heads after the diver scallop dish. Our waiter was kind of knowledgeable, and the restaurant was fun, but loud. It was a romantic, fun dinner. We drove back to our hotel after dinner and I went to bed early and Michael stayed up late with a bottle of wine and movie.
Saturday morning we woke early, grabbed a hot tea and walked over to the festival. We waited in line for a bit and then they let us in and handed us a bag and a map. We were extremely disappointed with the lack of swag in our bag compared to our experience in South Beach. We were also extremely disappointed in the fact that there was no grass at Auditorium Shores. It was a giant dustbowl and the wind was making huge dust storms.
We went immediately to the Morimoto demo tent as that was our first choice for the first class. It was very chaotic inside as the volunteers invited us to find seats and then kicked us out again. We remained patient and calm and eventually we were allowed in and we got some pretty nice seats even though the first three rows were reserved for VIP's. The demo by Morimoto was on how to fillet a whole fish and make sashimi and sushi. It was fascinating and we loved him and the class.
After class we stopped by the tail end of Gail Simmons demo and watched her make a peach skillet pie. Then we waited an hour to get into the Grand Tasting tent while the VIP's had their special time in there. There wasn't much to do in the hour but hit the open bar and try to fight for a shaded seat in the "Weekender's" lounge. It was hot and dusty and we were hungry by the time we got into the tent. It was a terrible crush of people and there were probably 80% booze and 20% food bites. We drank too much and got too hot and finally left the tent to the crowd and bought some food from the food trailers. We met some really nice people and enjoying being out of the crowd. Unfortunately, it was getting really hot and we had to go wait in an hour long line for our next class of choice. Luckily we were close to the front and we got in, but I had a terrible hot flash while waiting and started feeling really bad. The class was wonderful though! We went to see "Pink Without Blushing: the Allure of Rose' Wine" with Mark Oldman. We had done a lecture and tasting with him and South Beach and LOVED him. We loved his lecture this time as well and thought the wines would have been great had they not been hot and dusty. Michael still felt great at this point and LOVED it.
He waited in line another hour in the sun for our next class while I waited in line for a bathroom and then begged a seat in the tent in the shade from a volunteer. We got good seats in this class as well. It was one that Michael picked. I mostly sat quietly, didn't taste and tried to cool off. I did learn a lot from the teacher, but found him very dry and not as entertaining as Mark Oldman. The class was "The Other Italy", with Ray Ilse and talked about wines that you don't hear a lot about from Italy.
There was another chance for the Grand Tasting tent after that but I was DONE. Michael and I walked back to the hotel and took long showers. We had dust everywhere on us. I turned the airco low, lowered the lights and fought what might have been the worst headache in my life. We ordered room service and enjoyed our suite and laid in bed and watched several episodes of Friday Night Lights. I got really nauseous as the evening went on and just felt horrible.
Sunday we slept late and ate breakfast in the lovely hotel dining room. I played it safe and had oatmeal, but Michael had the tofu scramble and enjoyed it. I thought I wouldn't want to back, but I felt much better and so we walked over to the festival around eleven with a fresh perspective.
I am so glad we went. The weather was nicer and the festival people seem to have corrected many of their mistakes. We no longer had to wait in hour long lines and they kept things moving much better. We started the morning at the "Hair of the Dog" class with Jim Meehan. He is the bartender/owner of PDT, a bar in New York that you enter through a phone booth and that I have heard great things about. We loved his class and learned about my new favorite drink, a mixture of gin, lime juice and white wine. It was a great class with yummy drinks and lots of breakfast pastries and ibuprofen.
After that we went straight over to the Jonathan Waxman class, "Gone Fishin'". I stood in line for a few minutes while Michael ran over to the book store and got some cookbooks. We got great seats and had lovely seat mate who sold us her bbq cookbook that she had written. I loved Jonathan Waxman on Top Chef Masters and was excited to see the "Obi Wan Kenobi in the kitchen". He taught us how to make salt crusted fish, and stuffed fish, and hand made pasta and two shrimp dishes. It was really fun.
Michael hit the bar while we waited for the VIP's to finish in the Grand Tasting tent and we perused the festival store and then we went back into the tasting tent. It was still too crowded and there still wasn't enough food, (and I wasn't drinking) so we abandoned the tasting tent and stood in line to get some cookbooks autographed as gifts. Then we headed back to our car and drove straight to a birthday party where we said goodbye to Martha and Clark and hello to our children.
Despite the negatives, I'm so glad we went to the festival. We had some amazing classes and really enjoyed spending our time together. I think we'll probably go again if they can fix some of their first year bugs and grow some grass at Auditorium Shores! I'm sure I'll enjoy it more if I'm not just recovering as well.