Magnificent, Modern Southern Cuisine at Odd Duck in Austin

Another day, another awesome, upscale dinner out in Austin. This place called Odd Duck is the sibling restaurant to chef Bryce Gilmore‘s also amazing, tasting menu-only hot spot Barley Swine which I had visited only a few night earlier. Similar to Barley Swine, the theme of this meal seemed to be small plates with either a pickled element, runny egg yolks, or both.

The menu leans heavily toward Southern gastropub fare with plenty of clean, modern, cheffy flair and even a bit of molecular gastronomy trickery thrown in. The vibe of the decor matches the tone of the food with its use of mismatched country miscellany carefully arranged by an smart, upscale, interior designer’s touch. This restaurant is pretty well known in the Austin food scene as one of the more exciting places to have a meal and it makes sense why. It has such an interesting menu that continues to experiment and evolve over time – the fervor is only going to grow as this place continues to get the industry recognition it rightly deserves like the James Beard Award Rising Star nod it just recieved.

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Sampling the Much-Hyped Black Seed Bagels at Mile End Delicatessen in NoHo

Like I’ve said before, one of the dishes I find myself missing the most living out in San Francisco is the simple New York staple of a bagel with lox. I haven’t quite found myself a viable replacement yet, so when I find myself back in New York I know 100% of the time I’m going to venture out to get my fix.

In the time since I’ve left the city, there seems to have been a resurgence and revitalization of Jewish comfort food in NYC with placed like Baz Bagels and Black Seed popping up and Russ & Daughters expanding into a full sit-down cafe. After reading much about the now famed Montreal-style bagels being baked at Nolita’s Black Seed Bagels, I knew I had to give them a shot. The write-ups often fall at polarized ends of the spectrum with those in the negative camp often harping on the lines, cost, portion, and quality so I was excited to check them out for myself to make my own judgements. Instead of wandering down to Nolita where Black Seed’s main shop lives, I decided to head to Chef Noah Bernamoff’s closer-to-home Canadian sister restaurant Mile End in NoHo – where I had heard Black Seed bagels were also being served.

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A Meticulous, Experimental Tasting Menu at Barley Swine

*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.

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On the Hunt for XLB & Hand-Pulled Noodles at King of Noodles in the Inner Sunset

So, I’m back on my quest to find all of the comfort foods I used to rely on in NYC in the Bay Area. This journey’s mission: Soup Dumplings aka Xiao Long Bao and Hand-Pulled Noodles. I’d heard great things about the cheap, authentic, Bourdain-approved Chinese food at King of Noodles in the Inner Sunset so one hungover Sunday morning when that particular craving struck, I hoped in my car and headed over to check it out.

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Mike Winston’s Best Bites of 2014

What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too.

Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year’s, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let’s begin!

And if you wanna hear about the 2014’s Best Cocktails, read more here.
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Eating a Whole Dungeness Crab Head at Swan Oyster Depot

A Hanukkah miracle has occurred. I walked by Swan Oyster Depot when I was going out for lunch AND THERE WAS NO LINE. That just doesn’t happen. I walked right up and grabbed a seat at the bar.

Now, it’s not often I write a post about just a single dish, and it’s even less often I write about a place twice, but everything is so freaking incredible at Swan Oyster Depot that I just had to. This time, there was just one dish on my mind – not something listed on the giant menu overhead – something I saw Anthony Bourdain eating on the San Francisco episode of The Layover – a dish simply called Crab Fat.

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A Quiet, Classy, and Impressive Brunch at Maven in Lower Haight

One of my favorite weekend city pastimes is to just pick a direction, wander aimlessly (get it? Winston Wanders), and see where my feet take me. This is also one of the many ways I find new places to eat – I just walk unfamiliar streets and routes and see if I can stumble across something new and interesting.

On this particularly long wander, I started at home in Lower Nob Hill, headed down to Hayes Valley, then over across the Panhandle, through Haight-Ashbury, up Divisadero, across Alamo Square, and down to Lower Haight before I finally decided on a place to sit down for a quality brunch with my buddy, Corey.

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Unique Spanish Basque Brunch at Huertas in the East Village

I completely ignored the opening of Huertas in the East Village when I first heard about it. All too frequently I find myself disappointed by tapas joints, so I often don’t bother to give them a chance. But, then I read a glowing write-up from my most trusted food writer – Robert Sietsema that made me completely reconsider. My tastes pretty much always fall directly in line with his, so I knew that if he loved the place, I was probably gonna love it too.

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The Very Best Airport Food I’ve Ever Eaten

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It’s getting to be that time when we look back on the year in review and 2014 was a very big year of travel for me. Between working remotely in Silicon Valley while still officially living in NYC, moving from NYC to SF, and other miscellaneous leisure travel, I spent a lot of time in airports.

I know that airports get a bad rap when it comes to dining options and you know what, most of the time the food really does suck. But, every now and then I’ve been able to come across some truly excellent dishes. Beyond that, I’ve even managed to find a number of dishes served in airports that blew me away – the overacheivers – the kinds of things I would get even if I wasn’t stuck eating in an airport. Without further ado, read on below to see the best of the best to eat before you fly in the sky. (more…)

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