*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit.Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration.I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.
As a youngster growing up in New Jersey I frequently visited Six Flags during the summer. In between lines and massive roller coaster rides, our trips always required a refreshing pit-stop at Dippin' Dots, the ice cream of the future. These little vendor carts served a unique treat of little ice cream pebbles produced by liquid nitrogen flash-freezing. I'd often wondered why this interesting technique wasn't more common since the people seem to love it and it didn't seem that difficult to do.Well I don't need to wonder about that any more. While exploring San Francisco, I stumbled across an outdoor shanty in the middle of a park in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, where Smitten is making ice cream to order using this very technique.
*Editor's Note: I'm sad to report that this restaurant is not longer open.Recently, I wrote about a particularly crazy meal I ate at Los Perros Locos. They delivered a kind of craziness through the sheer brashness of piling as many wacky pedestrian ingredients on top of one another as humanly possible. But, like I've said before, there are many kinds of crazy when it comes to food.To celebrate my 26th birthday, my girlfriend took me to a restaurant that's been high up on my worldwide to-do list for a long time, WD~50. The restaurant is the brain-child of Wylie Dufresne who established the molecular gastronomy dining scene in NYC. The kind of craziness that Wylie delivers is less like that of a psychopath, but more like that of a mad scientist through his use of complex, technical, processes and methodologies usually reserved for a chemistry lab. Every dish and drink at WD~50 has some sort of complicated twist whereby an ingredient is transformed or presented in a way you've probably never experienced before.