Postcard From Tom: Austin, Tex.

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

No time to head into the city? Austin offers an abundance of local flavor at its airport, thanks to outposts of the fine Amy's Ice Cream and Salt Lick Barbecue in the terminal. And in town...

DRISKELL GRILL (604 Brazos ST., 512-474-5911)

The most exciting food in Austin unfolds in a darkly romantic hotel dining room, attended by dashing waiters in white jackets and accompanied by live piano music drifting in from the bar. Yes, the prices come close to those of New York's top restaurants, but so does the talent. Chef David Bull is a mere 28 years old; already, he's cooking like a maestro. Among his many seductions are hot-smoked quail jazzed up with a chorizo and corn fundido, and chile-buttered jumbo shrimp partnered with orange-tomatillo salsa and a soft pork taco. Entrees $32-$42.

EASTSIDE CAFE (2113 Manor Rd., 512-476-5858)

Everyone is made to feel welcome in this cozy former house, which offers something for every taste, be it vegetarian (mushroom crepes with roasted tomato sauce), fish (sesame-crusted-catfish) or foreign (spicy Asian noodles). While waiting for their tables, guests can stroll through the cafe's vegetable and herb garden-the source for much of what lands on their plates-or sip a glass of wine from its quaint shop next door. Entrees $9.95-$23.95.

IRON WORKS (100 Red River St., 512-478-4855)

Here's where you head when you've got barbeque on your mind and you don't want to leave the city limits. Wrapped in wood and scented with smoke, this rustic joint looks like it's been around forever. Place your order at the counter, behind which cook the reasons for a visit: oak-smoked beef and pork ribs, homey potato salad, beans, maybe a seasonal fruit cobbler. Can't decide? Order the sampler plate with three meats for $10.35.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company