[travelogue] austin.


austin was a city in which to catch a breath between two long legs of driving — from new orleans to austin (511 miles) and austin to el paso (577 miles). i spent two nights and one day there, spent my day eating and catching up on some writing and getting some rest in-between meals, and it was nice not to have to hit the road right away — i just wish i’d been able to stay and linger in another city, say charleston or new orleans, instead.

(sorry, austin.)

austin was more suburban than i thought it’d be; it didn’t really feel like a city to me, even when i was downtown. i mean, granted, i didn’t venture very far, but here are two facts about me:  i like old cities*, and i’m not very fond of cities that require cars.

it was a good stay, though, and i was glad for it. i ate great food, got to chat with some people, browsed books, bought books, did some writing, got some rest, took things easy, and grabbed a really fabulous cup of coffee on my way out of town. i was able to pull my head and heart together a little, which counts for a lot really, and i do want to go back one day, explore the city more, and eat some barbecue.

* heh, austin’s probably an old city. it just doesn’t feel that way.

you’d think i’d get to texas and run to the first bbq place, but i left austin without having had texas bbq once. i had a pretty mediocre dinner my first night in austin — the queso at torchy’s is fabulous, but i wasn’t that keen on the tacos. then again, when it comes to tacos, it’s street tacos or fish tacos for me — but, you know, even then, the tacos at torchy’s were grotesquely large, so much so that the fried chicken was too dry, the pork too … i don’t even remember what i didn’t like about the pork, simply that i couldn’t finish eating it.

it’s almost like the goal at torchy’s is to load up as many things as possible in the biggest ways, so there’s no balance. there’s no subtlety. i wish i’d liked it more.

a mediocre dinner was apparently the last straw after a long day of driving, of going from a place as flavorful and beautiful as new orleans and arriving in suburban austin in the evening (again, i hate arriving in new places after dark; it sucks for me; and it isn’t fair to the city as far as first impressions go). i took to google after a crying spell in my hotel, looked up restaurants because i wanted something nice, not too expensive, and, above all, interesting because the pretentious way of putting this might be to say that i wanted to eat at a restaurant where the chef was doing interesting things.

(i also honestly just was not feeling like a whole lot of meat.)

i decided on odd duck and sat myself at the bar my second night in austin, had a strong drink, and ordered more food than i probably should have. it was fabulous, though, and exactly what i was looking for — and here is where you might expect an actual review on the food, but here is where your expectation will not be met. i had a great night, though, and would recommend odd duck if you’re in austin.

i get asked, often enough that i think it’s funny, if i’ve just taken a photo of my empty plate. the answer is yes, and the thing is that i find the mess we leave behind just as beautiful as plated food. i like detritus; i like the indications that someone was here, someone ate this, someone left this mess; and, sometimes, i find it even more visually interesting than the visuals of the food that arrived because a cleared plate is the result of someone taking and consuming and, hopefully, appreciating something the chef has created.

i also get asked why i take photos of all my food, and my answer to that is that i do it to remember.

when i think of food, when i think of what i ate, i think of places. i think of people and gatherings and events; i am able to recall memories. when i think about maguro-dons, i think of ishigaki, of a small, quiet restaurant on a small, quiet street on this tiny island with the bluest waters, and i think of spending the afternoon cycling around taketomi, sweating so much i dehydrated, wading in the warm, clear ocean and feeling my heart expand from the beauty of it all.

when i think about dahk-do-ri-tang, i think about a tiny, grungy place in hong-dae, watching a friend sweat buckets while eating, soju poured liberally. when i think about hotel room service, i think about my best friend, about dancing along to suju trot’s rokuggo until a bug flew into our room and stung her on the eyelid, so she had to sit on the counter and hold ice to her face.

and, when i think about momofuku, hainanese chicken rice, bagels, pizza loves emily, pizza in general, grilled squid over arugula, when i think about blue bottle and gourmet ice cream and pie, i will always, always think of home.