What would you do if you could get the 1992 Dream Team back together? Would Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan be down to shoot some hoops together for the love of the game?
That theoretical fantasy became a reality last Sunday night for Team MUNCHIES in Austin, Texas, except that instead of ballers, we asked some of Austin's greatest chefs to come together for one night to create Japanese-inspired dishes in the name of a great time. And as the Lonestar city was busy recovering from two weeks of SXSW, horrendous traffic, and punishing SXSW hangovers, there was no better place to pull off this titan feat than at Ramen Tatsuya, one of the greatest ramen restaurants in Texas.
Sure, Austin might be known for its friendly bastion of food trucks, breakfast tacos, and all those awful comparisons to Portland, but the current reality is that the city is slowly transforming itself into one of the greatest culinary cities in the US.
So for one night, Ramen Tatsuya transformed into the hub for some of our favorite restaurants in Austin so we didn't have to drive all over the city. We put our party pants on and got ready to throw a tasty evening in partnership with Kirin. As the staff projected old Japanese movies in the restaurant's parking lot and iced down cold bottles of Kirin, they opened the doors, which transformed into a gateway to a Texan culinary paradise: Inside, Uchi Austin's chef de cuisine, Michael Castillo; Barley Swine's sous chefs Bradley Nicholson and Charles Zhuo; Bufalina's chef Alexandra Manley; Olamaie's Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas; Ramen Tatsuya's own Tatsu Aikawa, George Thomas, and Steven Cak; Geraldine's pastry chef, Callie Speer; and all of their crews were gearing up to serve a hungry crowd some seriously unbelievable food.
We kicked things off with an ocean trout sashimi with sea buckthorn nuoc mam from James Beard award-winning spot Uchi. It was almost too pretty to eat, but we did anyways and went back for seconds and thirds.
Next, Barley Swine cured many-a-hangover in the space with their deep-fried tempura takoyaki octopus fritters topped with shrimp mousse that tasted like they had been flown in fresh from Tokyo.
In the midst of the party, we realized something of a serious nature: New York needs to check itself, because Austin's coming for your pizza throne, and Bufalina's ready to claim it. The eastside Austin Italian spot is known for its impressive Neapolitan-style pizzas, homemade pastas, and burrata that would make Mario Batali blush, but for the MUNCHIES party, chef Manley dreamed up a pizza fritta that tasted like the beautiful lovechild of Neapolitan and Japanese cuisine: a crispy, deep-fried pizza dough packed with tofu, mushrooms, and spring onions.
As if things couldn't get any better, Olamaie started serving their country-fried shrimp loaf with B&B slaw, sea urchin mayo, and Sally Lunn. The Southern restaurant is a little over a year old and has already won Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef title in 2015, as well as received a few James Beard nominations. That sandwich was the taste of champions.
With our bellies nearly stuffed, the night couldn't be complete without Ramen Tatusya's Texas brisket tsukemen, which was inspired by their time spent on Chef's Night Out. (We're still hungover from that episode).
As we washed it all down with Kirin, there was, of course, room for dessert. Martha Stewart might be heading toward retirement, but Geraldine's Pastry Chef, Callie Speer, walked in with an army of pastry cooks, quickly and stealthfully commandeering an entire section of the restaurant to create a tablescape of inventive desserts: green tea cotton candy, lychee popcorn, and mushroom caramels to end the evening.
While we're not sure if Austin's keeping it all that weird these days with its influx of condos and development, we're certain it's making Texas one of the greatest culinary destinations you should visit as soon as you can. Just please don't add to the gnarly traffic.