Austin Film & Food Gala

I love Austin. Granted, I do complain a bit in the summer due to the high heat and humidity, but I am more than willing to put up with that to be able to live in a city like this. Austin is known for its legendary music scene– true enough, but the real fact is that Austin is a true city of the arts. Though best known for the South By Southwest and Austin City Limits music festivals, Austin has also hosted its own film festival for the last seventeen years. A festival which was kicked off by the Film and Food Party, a benefit for the Young Film Makers program, and I was able to attend.

The evening started, like so many other events in town, with a very long line. And for once standing in line did not bother me so much. Sound strange? Well keep in mind my surroundings at the time: the historic and beautiful Driskill Hotel and more importantly for this Fat Guy, the promise of a fabulous meal. A promise which was certainly fulfilled. As I walked up the stairs to the event floor, I was guided on by the rhythmic pulsing of some mind-numbingly loud pop/dance music. Anyone who knows me knows that it this is not the style of music I would have chosen, but for some reason I was not consulted on the matter. But that's ok, I was able to tune it out and headed over to my first stop of the evening– dessert.

Dessert, in this case, was in the form of cake balls provided by Austin Cake Ball. What exactly is a cake ball? Well, it is just what it sounds like. A ball of cake which has been covered in chocolate or white chocolate. Sort of like a chocolate truffle, but with cake. I sampled the salted caramel and the honey walnut brie. Both of the cakes were divine, perfectly moist and rich. The caramel was excellent, present but not overpowering and not too sweet. The salt added a nice touch. Not only did it help the other flavors really pop, but it also provided a nice finish. The honey walnut brie was an interesting one, also top notch. Again, all of the flavors played nicely together, the honey was there but without being overbearing and there was a nice background note provided by the brie. It was very creamy and a nice way to start.

As I headed from the main floor into the nearest room I was greeted with a terrifying sight: a veritable flood of people. As any of my friends can attest, crowds are not the easiest thing for me but I made the sacrifice for all of you. It's just the way I am. That and one of my all time favorite dishes was being served: Tuna Tataki and shrimp provided by Ruth's Chris Steak House. Tuna Tataki is a simple and wonderful thing. Peppered and seared ahi tuna steak. I've had this at several sushi places around town and this ranks among the best. What about the shrimp? Nice and sweet with a perfect texture. It was probably the best I've ever had.

After the tuna I decided that I needed a bit of a break from the crush of people and walked around a bit to see what else was there. There were several spots to grab a drink from the open bar, and plenty of other dishes to sample. I decided to grab a chocolate cupcake from Polkadots Cupcake Factory which I promptly dumped on my shirt. Honestly though, just that's par for the course with me, and it's the reason I'm not allowed to have nice things.

Having finished my little break, I headed back into the thick of it and grabbed a goat cheese and wild mushroom tart, a helping of braised short ribs and cauliflower puree. The short ribs, provided by the Moonshine Grill were absolutely spot on and the cauliflower puree was very nice. Based on just this one dish, the Moonshine Bar and Grill is on our list. The goat cheese tart, provided by the Belmont, was an excellent accompaniment to the short ribs, sporting a nice flaky crust filled with rich, creamy goat cheese.

After the short ribs, I headed back out into the fray and worked my way over to one of the back rooms where I was greeted with one of the best soups I have ever had: a tomato and ancho chile bisque prepared by Executive Chef Rob Snow at the Judge's Hill restaurant. I love a good bisque, and Chef Snow did an excellent job on this one. You first get that nice tart tomato flavor, then are warmed by the ancho, which is balanced out by the overall creaminess of the bisque. The bisque was also served with a slice of garlic toast. Judge's Hill is also now on our list. Judge's Hill will also be putting on a dinner in January in conjunction with Independence Brewery of Austin in which they will be preparing dinner using Independence's brews.

The final savory dish of the evening was Duck Three Ways provided by the Driskill Grill. I don't know about you all, but I love duck. I'll take duck over chicken or turkey any day of the week, and Executive Sous Chef Cody Vasek and his staff did not disappoint with this. The duck in this case was prepared as a rillette, a mousse, and as corned duck. The rillette, a slow cooked preparation, is formed into a paste and served with pickled mustard seed. I could have eaten three portions of the rillette alone and been happy. The mousse was perfect, nice and smooth with salted pistachios and duck cracklins. Finally, the corned duck: a  piece of corned duck served with a cherry mustard. This preparation was, like the other two, absolutely perfect. The duck was tender and flavorful and the mustard added a nice touch. Duck Three Ways was probably the best thing I had all night. Given the level of quality displayed by all of the chef's – that is really saying something.

To round things out for the evening, I got a whiskey on the rocks and decided to finish as I had started– with dessert. This time in the form of pudding. By pudding I mean a proper British style pudding, not that custard-like gelatin served in school lunches. The puddings were provided by the Sticky Toffee Pudding Company, a local business owned by England native, Tracy Claros. I sampled the Sticky Toffee, and it was unbelievably delicious. It was sweet and rich with an excellent flavor. And the best thing about it? It's available for purchase at local Whole Foods and Central Market locations, as well as other local retailers; a fact that I will certainly take advantage of.

All in all, it was an excellent night that benefited a local good cause. To all of the restaurants and staff that put in such effort to make the evening a success, I would like to say thank you and I look forward to next year!