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Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Swift’s Attic is bringing swank back. If you like to dress up a bit and wish Austin called for it more, this is the place for you. If you don’t like to dress up but love good food, Swift’s is also for you. If you think desserts are the point of a night out, and not an afterthought, this is definitely the place for you.

I love the vintage luxe vibe of this place, which is in the old Kyoto space. In building out the space, a ghost sign for the Sunset Central, an old rail line that ran through Central Texas, was uncovered:

There’s a decent-sized bar space (where they serve the full menu), and a larger dining area. A gorgeous banquette at the back of the space with a bird cage chandelier is clearly the table to get.

In addition to wine and beer, they have a small but interesting cocktail list, priced at $10 each. We tried the Razercrac, their take on a Sazerac made with rye vodka instead of whisky and absinthe. Complicated, cool drink.

Swift’s menu is divided into snacks and plates. Our helpful waiter explained that the menu goes from light to heavy, and that all plates are meant brought out as ready and meant to be shared. So you can sample lots of dishes, which is a lovely way to eat.

Right now, there are limited options for vegetarians. All the snacks but only one plate are vegetarian. I had my eye on a sunchoke salad that sounded vegetarian, but our waiter said it had pork in it. (Appreciate him knowing that.) Lots of pescetarian options, very limited choices for vegans.

So I had a lot of the snacks. The edamame with pop rocks and chili oil was clever – a salty take on pop rocks candy. I loved the blistered peppers, served with an addictive dip made with garrotxa cheese and vinegar.

Really good kimchi has been buried in someone’s backyard to ferment, right? Swift’s kimchi sampler included pickled asparagus, cabbage, and cauliflower – the last had a deep flavor and tasted like it had been fermenting for a while.

My “plate” was a roasted radicchio salad with arugula and olives:

The roasting really brought out the bitterness of the radicchio. My friends raved about the scallops (served with an unexpected cucumber gelato), the pork belly, the sardine. Comparisons were made to Barley Swine and Olivia.

For now, vegetarians are better off stopping here for cocktails and the snacks.

Or you could go straight to the fabulous desserts:

We had chocolate six ways, Popcorn & A Movie (a candy bar with carmelized popcorn and root beer sauce), and beet sorbet with thyme sauce. All were good, but the poor beet sorbet didn’t stand a chance with all the chocolate at the table. I love chocolate desserts, so the chocolate six ways is on my list to have again (and again).

So put on something nice (or don’t), and check this place out.


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I love perfectly worn in boots and broken in jeans, but I am obsessed with the new when it comes to restaurants. My head explodes when I haven’t made it to the newest cool place. (Still kicking myself for not toughing it out when the wait at Barley Swine was merely two hours. And for not saying “OK” when Lenoir said they had an opening in two months. That was two months ago.)

But there’s so much to appreciate about a place that has been great day after day for decades. Like Fonda San Miguel, which has been serving interior Mexican food in the quiet, residential Rosedale neighborhood since 1975 (!)

I love the hacienda-style space, with its warm colors and huge old chandeliers:

The margaritas here are tart and strong, totally worth having. And Fonda staff are happy to help you pick a bottle from their long wine list.

I started with the nopales (cactus leaf) salad at my server’s advice – it wasn’t on the menu. Like okra, this dish has a tendency to be slimy, but not here. I liked that they served it with lettuce, avocado, and salsa so I could make little wraps.

Fonda’s menu is unchanging except for seasonal specials, which are rarely vegetarian. (If fish is part of your diet, lots of options here.)

Vegetarians can start with salads and quesadillas and move on to a handful of mains: roasted poblano pepper filled with cheese, baked zucchini filled with corn and cheese, or vegetable or cheese enchiladas with a choice of sauce.

I’ve had all of these dishes over the years, and they are all delicious. On this visit, I had the vegetable enchiladas with the verde salsa.

Enchiladas are a pretty simple dish, but Fonda’s taste amazing. I love the carrot, corn, and filling, as well as the tart verde salsa. The accompanying black beans are a perfect shot of vegetarian protein.

By the way, they have an epic brunch spread, one that will leave you barely able to stagger home for a nap.

And they’ve been doing all this since 1975. Respect.

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My favorite raw food restaurants are in NYC, LA, and OKC. That’s right, OKC. Matthew Kenney is in a sleek retail outpost and looks a little like a spaceship, one with a really advanced farming system, sufficient to supply a juice bar. I love the glass front, cement floors, and open kitchen.  Matthew Kenney has beer, wine, and cocktails, but I can never resist their juice options. Below are the pineapple/apple/strawberry juice and the celery/parsley/lime with pink salt one: Both were refreshing – I love drinking my vegetables.

We started off with an arugala salad (fine) and our favorite dish of the night, kelp noodles:

So delicious! The kelp noodles tasted just like rice noodles (though with a firmer texture), and the tamari and spice broth was so good my friend asked for a soup spoon.

Our entrees arrived soon after:

Both of them featured local vegetables: tamales with wild mushroom and beet gnocchi with braised cauliflower.

The tamales were served in corn husk (fun to pull apart) and contained a pudding-like corn dish with earthy mushrooms. My friend loved this dish and said she’d happily order it again.

My beet gnocchi were tasty and light – a texture that’s hard enough to achieve with potatoes, never mind beets. The hazlenut-parsley pesto cut through the sweetness of the beets.

The braised cauliflower was the only dish of the evening that tasted raw. Their al dente texture reminded me that I was in a raw food restaurant. Everything else we had could be served anywhere, with no explanatory note on the benefits of raw food.

Pureed and flavored nuts seem to be the key to many of the creamy sauces and raw cheeses. Both the tamales and the lasagne, which I’ve had before, had a lot of nuts. The very helpful waitstaff will help those with nut allergies find other options, but many of the “how can this be raw” dishes may not be available to you.

I was pretty full, but my friend insisted that we try the pistachio nougatine:

The combination of pistachio and rosewater made this a kind of halva – one covered with chocolate and shaped like a candy bar. Tasty. It was very rich, in contrast to the other dishes we’d had that evening.

There’s a small shop that sells kale chips, raw cheese, cookbooks, and other goodies. You should buy a bag of kale chips after your meal, or order them as a starter. They are insanely good – just like the overall experience at this elegant raw food outpost in OKC.

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Every once in a while, there are business concepts so destined to succeed that I kick myself for not thinking of them first. (Like Snuggies. A blanket with sleeves. Duh.)

Henri’s Cheese & Wine is like that. A wine bar and cheese shop right next to Barley Swine, where people regularly wait hours for a table. Those people can now wait in a cute little wine bar instead of in a parking lot on South Lamar. Brilliant.

Henri’s space is simple and cozy,with tables and a small bar. There is a deli case for the cheese and a few shelves of wine (you can buy both and take ’em home instead of eating in).

We had the Verata cheese plate, which had wedges of St. Andre brie (triple cream, inevitably delicious), Tomme de Savoie (a nutty semi-hard milk’s cheese), and Deep Ellum (a mild blue cheese made in Dallas). All were delicious, but it was nice to check out the last one, which was new to me. The cheeses were served with a dollop of tasty jam, marcona almonds, and a cone of baguette slices.

Along with a glass of Lioca Chardonnay, it made for a great start to our evening. (Henri’s wines by the glass range from $7-15.)

Once they get going, Henri’s will have sandwiches and salads, with options for the cheese-loving vegetarian, along with plenty of food for those who eat meat.

So check ’em out – whether you’re waiting for a table at Barley Swine or not.

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Sometimes, when eating out, I think: you know, ___ would really love this place. When I was at Haddingtons, the blank in that sentence was filled by “Frank Sinatra.”

The great cocktails, rich food, swank decor: I’m totally sure he would’ve loved it. There’s a large room with a long bar and smaller rooms with old prints and taxidermy (not my favorite thing, but it fits the vibe here).

We went there most recently for Austin Restaurant Week and started the night with cocktails – Haddingtons has a long and creative list. We had a local interpretation of a whisky sour:

It wasn’t too sweet, and my cocktail snob friend declared it a good drink.

We had two vegetarian starters at the table. One was an arugula salad made special with delicious pistachio butter, and the other was cucumber gazpacho:

The gazpacho had a subtle marjoram flavor and a bit of acidity. The grapes and toasted bread added texture to the creamy soup. A great dish for those Austin evenings when it feels like it’s too hot to eat.

Haddingtons typically has a vegetarian main, and this week it was cauliflower steak:

The cauliflower was seared and crisp and came on a bed of cheesy ditalini pasta and a drizzle of caramel carrot puree. If you’re going to have mac and cheese, this is the way to have it: rich and delicious, with cauliflower on top.

There were two desserts on the Restaurant Week menu, and we had them both. The buttermilk pie was fine, it tasted like a shortbread cookie with a sweet buttermilk sauce. The sticky toffee pudding was a blur of caramel yumminess – I’d recommend this option if it’s available when you go.

Overall, Haddingtons falls in the category of restaurants with limited but delicious vegetarian options. The food is rich. But that’s OK, right? Because Sinatra would not worry about calories.

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