Saturday, March 31, 2012

Songs in the Key of Food

In a single week, near the beginning of the month just passed,
I had two of the most amazing dining experiences of my life.

But I'm going to mention the first one only in this paragraph, by way of a tip-o-the-hat to artist Jeff Scott and the Austin Chronicle's food editor Virginia Wood and the fine folks at Foreign & Domestic who feted our fortunate table with one of almost everything from that night's diverse menu.

But I'll return to Scott and F&D in these pages again, to be sure.

I'm also hoping to return to whatever next thing the tastemaking music-and-food impresarios of San Francisco's Noise Pop and graffEats projects do locally.

Because that's the other dining experience that recently dazzled my sensorium.
To the point where I actually write things like "dazzled my sensorium" with a straight face.

Listen: Noise Pop has this series they've been doing for years in California's Bay Area. It's called "Covers," and it's where graffEats chef Blair Warsham composes a multi-course meal based on the signature dishes of acclaimed chefs from around the nation.

Like covering a song, see?

Like how the Dum Dum Girls covered Morrissey's "There Is a Light that Never Goes Out," kind of, except that of course it's the tastes and textures, the whole culinary gestalt, of food that's being covered here.

Sound good?

Well, what sounds even better ~ literally ~ is that the whole glorious meal is accompanied by musical covers chosen to complement each course. Not just obvious choices based on wordplay ~ not somebody covering Chubby Checker's "Peppermint Twist" if there's a peppermint twist, say ~ although your hosts might be that endearingly goofy every now & again ~ but more subtle pairings of eclectic sonic goodness with what you're eating.

Yeah, it does sound good, doesn't it?

And to that, add this: Wine pairings provided by Wente Vineyards
for each course, too, if you're so inclined.

Perhaps, at this point, you're considering salivating?
Perhaps, at this point, you're already considering attending the next "Covers" iteration?

Let's take a closer look at this most recent one, first;
this one that Noise Pop brought to Austin in time for SXSW
and which they unveiled at the Swoop House.

Yes: That's the place near East Seventh that's run by Stephen Shallcross
and the savants of 2 Dine 4 Catering.

Yes: That's the place that hosts those incredible Supper Friends dinners.

The sound designer and Foley artist Buzz Moran accompanied me on this gustatory adventure, because we're both into food, as the saying goes, and because we never really have a chance to sit down & just chat although we're often involved in the same or overlapping projects. Also, the man looks good in a suit. Tall, thin, well-groomed. Dapper, like. You want some snazzy arm candy that's male, you call for Buzz Moran.

                                                                           OH, THAT BUZZ MORAN!

You call for Buzz Moran and you drive over to the Eastside and park at the curb bordering the small, tidy lawn that fronts the clean and modern lines of Swoop House, a building that sits as pretty as a tilt-shift photo there on Gonzales Street where the blocks of houses continue to struggle against relatively water-rich Austin's version of foliage and forest. You walk up to the front porch, pause to decide between the choice of a vodka-based or tequila-based cocktail to start things off, to delight your palate and moisten your epiglottis and lubricate the ensuing conversation. Tequila, of course: This is Texas, goddamnit, and your residence here (in what is arguably the only worthwhile big city in the entire state) was hardwon, and you'll be damned if you don't choose a drink that derives its potency from something like a cactus.

Never mind that the agave isn't even related to a cactus. The facts can go fuck themselves, because agave looks like a cactus, and there's a couple of agave plants right down the street you just drove on, and, anyway, Christ, this cocktail feels as good as it tastes, going down all cool and smooth, ice clinking against the glass as you enter the Swoop House and are greeted by Noise Pop's Dawson Ludwig, who kindly invited you to this fancy shindig in the first place.

Ludwig's tall and bearded and charming. The interior of the house is as crisp and clean as its outside, with enough natural wood and simple-yet-elegant appointments that it'd make your ligneophile wife swoon. There are three separate dining rooms to this Swoop structure, each room centered with a white-cloth-covered table, place settings casting a silver gleam along the edges of each table and surrounding the rustic metal lanterns glowing along the table's midsection.

Gotta win that Lotto thing, you tell yourself for what won't be the last time this night.

You wander outside now, you and Buzz, sipping your drinks, roaming the grounds around Swoop House, taking in the scenery, the bits of garden still extant and the wide flat areas covered with tarp and being prepared, you assume, for the next season's array of homegrown vegetables. You linger while passing a vintage, subtly finned and turquoise-colored station wagon, then stand at the far edge of the back yard, near a patch of what might be broccoli or might be kale but in any case is enormous and looks like it'd be delicious all stir-fried and served up with a little roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar.

"It's a circle," says Buzz, pointing at what lies between you and the house.
"The lawn's a goddam circle."

Yes: The back yard's single expanse of lawn is a perfectly circular expanse, held in check by a thin band of iron; you're halfway around the wide dirt path that surrounds this grassy circle; everything's all horticultured and lovely, the whole area outside the Swoop House is making you have those lottery thoughts again. Also, that station wagon in the gravelly drive. Is it turquoise, precisely, you wonder, finishing your cocktail … or is it the pale and liquid blue that's at the heart of every agave plant?

You munch a bit from the tiny foil bag of barbecue-flavored popcorn you were handed before you left the building. The spices on the popcorn are complex and intriguing. But the popcorn itself …

"This popcorn," says Buzz, chewing. "It's not really the freshest popcorn I've ever had. But the spices ~ oh, man. That's," he says, smiling, chewing, "that's some good stuff."

Yes: Doesn't the popcorn seem slightly … stale?
An amuse-bouche that's not so … amusing?

Mark that, make a note of it: You'll need to remember this mild disappointment: It will provide the only low point, the sole negative contrast, in an evening of wonders.

Which wonders await as you walk back past the agave-heart-blue Chevy wagon and navigate through the gathering celebrants to re-enter the Swoop House and find ~

Ah, but let's pause here for a moment; this blogpost is already so much longer than it's supposed to be.

Let's break it into two pieces, shall we? The way a pair of friends ~ a writer and a reader, say ~ might break a warm baguette into two shorter pieces for ease of sharing.

Maybe even pour yourself a glass of wine before clicking here to continue …

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