*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.
For Amy's birthday weekend we had booked a cabin in the Paso Robles Wine Region. From San Francisco, it would have been a four hour drive so we knew we needed a Friday night pit stop for dinner half way there. A bit of web research illuminated the fact that there were very few viable options between Los Gatos at the south edge of Silicon Valley and our ultimate destination without heading into Santa Cruz or Monterey, which we wanted to avoid for traffic purposes. But there was one single place that did seem to be well regarded and worthy of a pit stop — a fish shack on the waterfront in the tiny town of Moss Landing called Phil's Fish Market.
This vacation couldn't have come at a better time. As the entire country fell into a below-zero deep freeze, I was headed for some sun and heat in Turks & Caicos with my girlfriend Amy and her family.