Dish Tripper Amy Strauss recaps our latest Rapid Rewards® Cardmembers experience in Austin, Texas.
Fans of the young and vibrant culinary culture of Austin, Texas are familiar with James Holmes, a major, local chef player with national acclaim, particularly seen as a high-profile exponent of farm-fresh food—done the Texan way.
It’s not surprising then that the charismatic chef bursting with Southern hospitality opened up his French-influenced, local food-focused restaurant, Olivia, for a private Southwest Airlines® and Visa Signature Cardmember Experience. The mid-September dinner party offer was extended only to Rapid Rewards Cardmembers via email, and the seats were quickly sold out as many like-minded food lovers were eager to snag a behind-the-scenes seat at the renowned Town Lake neighborhood restaurant.
Occasionally at Olivia, you catch a glimpse of the comedic brilliance of Holmes, who cheekily also owns two trendy fried chicken joints across town. Chickens prancing around the lawn of his fancy restaurant that may catch the high-end diner off-guard at first, as the pack whimsically runs amuck through and around the establishment’s house garden daily. A life-sized photograph of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson overlooks the open kitchen and the sleek, modern dining room, reminding guests that fine dining doesn’t have to be pretentious. And Holmes’ custom-made cowboy boots, hand-tooled with designs like forks, spoons, and wine screws, reminded the Dish Trip crew that we weren’t in Philadelphia anymore.
The exclusive event wasn’t just about the cutting-edge, fresh-Texas cuisine of Holmes and his whimsical setting, though. His partner-in-crime for the night was Clay Mauritson of Sonoma County’s Mauritson Wines, an individual equally as colorful to the winemaking industry as James is to the food scene. Mauritson, once a linebacker for the University of Oregon Ducks, is the sixth generation in a family of grape growers, but the first of his line to become a winemaker.
“Working with Olivia and Chef James Holmes is a perfect fit—we couldn't be more excited about the menu,” shared Mauritson. “He’s a chef that makes me [the winemaker] look really good.”
Together Mauritson, Holmes, and Olivia’s chef de cuisine, Maximillian Petty, immediately whetted the appetites of the attending 64 cardmembers by welcoming them with delicate, salmon-hued glasses of Mauritson Rose ‘12. Softly wafting candied strawberries and rhubarb, before barreling through complex layers of florals, red fruits, and mineral flavors, this was a championing introductory wine, leaving many guests eager to sip through Clay’s soon-to-be presented collection.
With wooden serving blocks circling the dining room as the event’s wine reception began, dancing with options like fried rosemary and mussel skewers elevated by smoked oyster aioli, hearty chunks of headcheese paired with Sambal mustard, and savory sharp cheddar biscuits pumped with Dungeness crab, the innovative chefs were on point, spotlighting lesser-known proteins that are well deserving of hype.
Soon, guests filed to their seats, excited to devour the garden-to-table courses ahead, each influenced with intriguingly modern twists. Glasses of the bright ivory Sauvignon Blanc ‘12 met our tabletops, bursting with clean key lime pie aromas and beckoning our taste buds to have a ménage à trois with its harmonious flavor profile of peach and passion fruit. Paired with an eye-catching, bold pool of geoduck chowder, sourced from Oregon, the rich and savory dish acted as a smooth contrasting pairing to kick off the seated tasting. The dreamy chowder, punched up with generous, in-season bits of sweet corn, took our breath away, pushing my tablemates and I to practically lick the bowls dry.
Clay, one to speak in cooking analogies, continued to entertain the wine-loving crew with light-hearted storytelling and approachable wine education. He was thrilled to present the limited Charlie Clay Pinot Noir ‘10 to private experience, a release that celebrates Mauritson’s cherished relationship with Chef Charlie Palmer. Together, the duo crafted a delicate, subtle pinot laced with silky tannins and extreme elegance. Fearlessly coupling a full-bodied red with a reinvented wedge salad may have been an audacious move from the chefs—but, it comes as no surprise that it worked! Crowning the wedge with textural layers of pork belly confit, Granny Smith slices, crunchy walnuts, and smoked blue cheese kept the course interesting, with the deep, dark fruit flavors easily able to counteract the varying levels of savory and sweet.
The wine with the most pedigree arrived around course four. The Rockpile Zinfandel ‘11, was married with a hearty, multi-dimension entrée of quail and buttermilk biscuits, venison loaf, roasted brussels sprouts, and pickled Fresno red peppers. “Rockpile is one of the greatest places in the world to grow Zinfandel and these wines essentially sell out the day they are released,” shared Mauritson. “It’s really special for me to be able to share this with everyone tonight.”
The Zinfandel hit with blanketing approval, a small yield release that many guests expressed was worthy of several standing ovations. Undeniably a perfect wine to close out a tasting, working equally as terrific with the dynamic, old-world dish and the ridiculously decadent dessert of chocolate torte with goat’s milk caramel, there was no question that Holmes and Mauritson were the dream dinner party team.
The private restaurant experience may not be an opportunity you regularly receive from a credit card, but then Southwest Airlines Chase Visa Signature Cardmembers aren’t like any others. Whether you are a food, wine, or Southwest Airlines fanatic, the exclusive opportunities attached to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Chase Visa Signature card are worth writing home about.
To learn more about Southwest®’s Rapid Rewards click here, and be sure to also keep an eye on your inbox for news of the next exclusive Cardmember Experiences. Don’t forget to follow The Town Dish’s Dish Trip on Twitter @dishtrip or like Dish Trip on Facebook. Dish Tip for a Dish Trip? Do you have a favorite city or food destination that we should know about? Click here to shoot us a recommendation.