Saturday, March 24, 2007

Las Migas de Austin y Califas

And the debate on the websites continues about SXSW -- did they shut down parties they didn't control by releasing a list of them to the police and fire departments? is music doomed? did Iggy suck or not? -- while I think that the most shocking music-related shark-jump happened sometime in the last year without anybody telling me about it: Gibson Guitars seems to have donated a bunch of 8-foot-tall guitars for local "artists" to paint or otherwise decorate under the aegis of a corporate sponsor in much the way that Berlin's got its stupid bears, Chicago its stupid cows, and so on. Ever since Austin declared itself the "live music capital of the world" I've been waiting for the city to make a really boneheaded gesture in that direction, and now I can relax, because they sure have.

* * *

Food in Austin's been mainly on the go, with no great new discovery yet, although it's wonderful to see that my pal Sappachai has opened a Madam Mam's in South Austin. I've known him since he was the manager of my local supermarket in Austin, and got passed over for promotion and was certain it was racially-based. He decided to open a Thai restaurant, of which we had none at the time, and arranged a partnership with a cousin, as well as backing from some rich Thai guys. He confessed, though, that he was scared: they didn't think Americans liked spicy food. I told him that the solution was to take them to a Mexican place -- I think I even recommended one -- because the first thing that would happen would be that the waiter would plonk down some chips and salsa (and I recommended a place with good fiery stuff). When the Thais noted all the gringos (and farangs) around them nonchalantly eating fire on chips, they'd get the picture.

And thus it was that Satay was born, a sort of pan-Southeast Asian restaurant which spawned a family of sauces and other jarred groceries. Sap and his cousin argued, though, and he went over to the UT campus area and opened a little hole-in-the-wall place called Thai Noodle, which, despite its near-inaccessibility, did very well. But a long-lost romance re-bloomed in Thailand, and Sap went back for a while, returning married to his high-school sweetheart, whose mother, Madam Mam, was a masterful cook. Along with his new wife, he had a bunch of Madam Mam's recipes, and, in an incredibly audacious move, he rented a huge storefront on Guadelupe -- "the Drag," as UT students call it -- and opened a vastly expanded version of his old Thai Noodle joint, with entrees starting at $3.00 and going up to $14 for an astonishing catfish soup with an incendiary, fruit-infused broth that rated 5 or 6 chiles on the menu (which markings are to be taken seriously) and remains one of the most amazing things I've ever eaten.

Needless to say, with a menu that pleased both impoverished students and high-end foodies, not to mention one so vegetarian-friendly that whole tables of various Indians and hippies were a full-time feature, he started printing money, so it was with great pleasure that I accompanied Patrick and Denise down to his brand-new joint for my second meal here on this trip. Denise really scored with a special, which I've just returned from enjoying myself: a sort of coconut custard made with salmon and a fine spice mix, with chunks of salmon stirred into it and a bed of collard greens. Again, an incredible achievement.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had another great oyster po'boy from Gene's, which I so loved last year. My love was somewhat diminished by the fact that it took me an hour and forty-five minutes to get my sandwich. There was a young guy who entered after me who'd phoned his order in and he left with his order with five minutes to get back to work. It's a great place, but apparently not at the end of the week.

* * *

And what's a trip to the States without some bumper stickers and t-shirts? There are many, many Republicans for Voldemort bumper stickers around Austin, but the one that had me chuckling most was non-political and said "Yes, this is my pickup truck. No, I will not help you move." And anyone who's been around bands on their way up will appreciate the t-shirt on a kid who got on my Denver-Austin flight on the way back from California: "Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver."

* * *

The California trip was short and sweet, mostly concerned with meetings and hanging around Village Music, having dinner with some folks from the Well, and having lunch with legendary CREEM writer Jaan Uhelski at Viks Chaat, which I'd long wanted to try. I'll have some photos of all of this later, but if you're looking at their page, the Dahl Batata Puri was the winner, and I scored a couple of killer tiny Indian cookbooks at the grocery store next door, which was paradisical -- if impractical for my Berlin-based Indian cooking needs. More different kind of dal than I'd ever seen, though. And I also had a great meal cooked by my friend Bob, whose long service as art director of Salon hasn't diminished the talents that once made him the Bay Area's best-kept secret chef, at whose restaurants the celeb chefs could be seen dining contentedly on their days off. All in all, a nice trip.

There's more, but it involves photos that are hard for me to download at the moment, so stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

dammitall, sorry to have missed you in Austin! (bangs head against wall) it was fun. saw a few shows, drank a few beers.

(btw: i have one of those Republicans for Voldemort shirts. a fave.)

Ed Ward said...

Yup, you were among the 1200 people I didn't have a chance to contact.

Next year. If I come.

Ed Ward said...

And of course you have one of those shirts. I'd even suspect you're behind them!

Arabella said...

Sorry to learn that you belong to an endangered species.
Those guitars are most annoying; San Francisco has huge painted hearts thrown around the place.

Anonymous said...

Nashville did the giant-guitar thing, too, alas. See

Anonymous said...

I thought that that salmon/coconut custard at Madam Mam's was insanely delicious. Denise gave me a bite and it wasn't just that it tasted good, i wanted to keep eating it for as long as possible. It really was crack-like in its appeal!