The Texas Traveler12/30/2020 05:00AM ● By Kylie Cooper
Photo Credits: Austin - Eat photos: Julia Keim. Play: Provided by Riviera Marina and Lake Travis. Stay photos:: Nick Simonite. Houston - Eat photos: Provided by TRIS. Play Photo: Museum of Fine Arts. Stay photo: Provided by Hotel Zaza. Dallas - Eat photos: Provided by The Adolphus. Stay photo: Fraiberg Hollander. Play photo: Garry Kan. San Antonio - Top Eat photo: Christopher Perez. Bottom Eat photos: Provided by Golden Wat Noodle House. Stay photos: Provided by Hotel Emma.. Play photos: Provided by The Japanese Tea Gardens
A Quick Trip to AustinWritten by: Kylie Cooper
Emmer & Rye
For Chef Kevin Fink and his team at Emmer & Rye, the law of the land is quite literally the land itself. The superb quality of Texas farmers is put on full display and featured in every dish crafted in the Emmer kitchen. The restaurant is influenced by and based in their own community, and that community in turn helps to inspire the menu itself. Listening to their vendors and buying what they believe is best, as opposed to making them fit an already thought-out menu or a year-long recipe, is at the core of their existence.
The vibrancy of food that is grown near you and then served fresh – only a few days after it’s left the ground – is undeniable. Emmer & Rye is entirely farm-to-table and seasonal, which allows for daily changes to the menu. Chef Fink assures us no two dishes are the same. Even if you ordered the same item two weeks in a row, each time you dive into the dish, a new sensation or flavor will come along with it. The only spice purchased at the restaurant is black pepper; every other flavor in a dish comes from wild ingredients or is a byproduct of something fermented or dried or charred or powdered. This also causes the kitchen to steer away from recipes in the traditional sense of the word.
When asked for a recommendation, Chef Fink speaks to the importance of balance to achieve a great meal. If you’re dining for two, he advises choosing two items from the top of the menu, which is brighter and more vegetable- or fish-driven. Then procced to the pastas and choose literally any of them (Emmer & Rye is known for its freshly-milled grains and for good reason, so this step is a no-brainer). Now that you’ve made your way down to the bottom of the menu, you’ll find dishes utilizing the whole animal, which changes each day. And finally, one simply cannot leave the restaurant without finishing off their meal with a dessert from Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph, who Food and Wine named one of the Best New Chefs in 2020. Needless to say, this place is impressive.
January might not seem like the ideal time to go boating on Lake Travis, but we Coastal Bend natives are used to being on the water year-round. With social distancing in mind, spending a day out on the lake is the perfect way to round out your weekend trip in Austin.
Family-owned and -operated, Riviera Marina offers an array of rentals for a fun-filled day on the water. Guests can choose their own adventure in the form of jet skis, pontoons, ski boats, and party barges. Can’t drive a boat? No worries, Riviera Marina has drivers available for your convenience.
Our suggestion comes in the form of a sunset cruise in a ski boat. With the sun setting around 5:30 PM or so, we recommend making a reservation for about 4:30. Grab a bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy the unbeatable beauty of a Texas sunset right on the water. Conveniently located near downtown and North Austin, this also serves as the perfect start to any evening plans you might have.
Paying homage to the local lake house ethos of the 1970s, the essence of the Austin music scene, and Texas’s own natural beauty, Hotel Magdalena is one of the newest hotels to open in Austin. The property, located in the heart of South Congress, sits at varying elevations and will make you feel as though you’re wandering through a massive treehouse – an escape to nature without ever actually leaving the city. The exposed walkways and courtyards allow guests to experience an immersive encounter with the very elements that inspired the look and feel of the hotel. A stay at Hotel Magdalena is undeniably the magical escape you didn’t know you desperately needed.
The 89-room hotel features clean, uncluttered spaces that are instantly calming, displaying a mastery of the art of relaxation. The goal? For guests to walk in and put their feet up, turn on good music, and simply slow down. Mission accomplished, I’d say. The black-and-white photography seen throughout the hotel features various live music shots by Scott Newton, who has been documenting Austin’s music and culture scene since the 1970s. It’s these small, but meaningful, touches that speak to the overall vibe Hotel Magdalena set out to curate for its guests.
We’d be remiss not to mention Summer House on Music Lane, the effortlessly chic restaurant inside Hotel Magdalena. The focus here is on the food, and it shows. Now open to the public, Summer House on Music Lane is helmed by Executive Chef Jeffrey Hundelt (previously the culinary director for Launderette and Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon restaurants). The concept highlights honest and straightforward cooking, taking cues from old-school hospitality and slow food mentality.
A Quick Trip to Houston
TRISThe late, great Anthony Bourdain dedicated a “Parts Unknown” episode to Houston in 2016, signifying that it had finally become a food destination. Still, the best dining experience we had in Houston was at TRIS (pronounced triss) in The Woodlands, on the northern edge of the metroplex. TRIS is the creation of chef Austin Simmons, whom Houstonia Magazine called “one of four chefs to watch” in 2019. It would be a mistake to call the concept fusion, but the new American style of Simmons’s food definitely draws from a bevy of ethnic influences, most particularly Japanese and Korean.
One of the major tests of a chef’s skill is how many different components of a meal they’ve mastered. Simmons has created everything from the signature cocktails to the crème brulee bread pudding, and all of it is extraordinary by any measure. Which is not to say he’s at every station every night; he’s quick to point to his team as the reason the TRIS experience is so exceptional.
How far does he take the crafting of all components? He’s created his own strain of beef cattle by crossbreeding a Charolais with a Black Wagyu. He calls it Gyulais, and the result is intensely flavorful beef. That’s only one of three Wagyu-based options in his steak program. While steak is the heart of the menu, Simmons’s best dish is the Korean butter-poached Gulf crab, served on a kimchi pancake with brown butter and house kimchi. One Houston food writer put it in the top 10 dishes to try in Houston. Honestly, it was the best dish I ate in 2020.
Simmons’s method is to combine comfort food – think pot pie – with seafood, such as lobster, and then layer on flavor, using ethnic inspirations, truffles, sauces, spices, and heat. To fully experience what TRIS has to offer, the best option is the chef’s tasting menu, whch features some of his best dishes (including the crab). His grilled cheese sandwich with black truffles won a truffle contest, and rightly so. The fried chicken, with a Korean flair, is spectacular. Tasting through his menu is a practicum in managing superlatives.
The Museum District
The Museum District is the cultural core of Houston, where visitors have access to 19 different institutions across a wide range of aesthetic, ethnic, and intellectual interests. The Children’s Museum features hands-on activities in a dynamic, learning-centered environment, where kids can discover, not just observe. Similarly, for the adults, the Houston Museum of Natural Science includes a planetarium and the amazing Cockrell Butterfly Center, where you can experience a living butterfly habitat built as a rainforest conservatory with a three-story waterfall.
Different cultures have made important contributions to this incredibly diverse city, and you can experience their stories in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the Holocaust Museum Houston, Museum of African American Culture, and the Asia Society Texas Center. There’s even a museum dedicated to Czech culture. On top of that, 11 of the 19 institutions are free to the public every day.
The highlight of the trip might be The Museum of Fine Arts, with its impressive and diverse collection from antiquity to the modern era, including Egyptian, Roman, Greek, early Islamic, African, and Oceanian art. The collection of European painters is particularly impressive: Goya, Monet, Matisse, Botticelli, and Van Gogh, among others. It’s a very short half-block walk from Hotel Zaza, and it’s arranged by category, so you can plan your visit based on your own interests. For the more science-y types, the Museum of Natural History is also a half-block walk.
Walking around the district provides beautiful photography options, and set off as it is from downtown, the pace is slower and the vibe quieter, bordering on pastoral. The room at Zaza is poolside, so moving back and forth between the festive pool crowd and these soothing green spaces made for a nice contrast.
Hotel ZaZaHotel Zaza sits on the edge of Hermann Park and Rice University’s beautiful campus. Designed as a boutique hotel and spa experience, everything about Zaza is focused on comfort, luxury, and fanciful escapism. For conventional guests, the poolside rooms provide easy access to the pool deck and portable bar, so you can lounge poolside, enjoy cocktails, and have the convenience of your room mere feet away.
In addition to the poolside rooms, Zaza offers concept suites, “minis,” balcony rooms, and luxury suites. Original art is everywhere, and the level of creativity, whimsy, and comfort in the rooms indicates the hotel prioritizes the guest experience at every level. The concept suites and “Magnificent Seven Suites” are built around themes, be it a romantic Italian getaway, or a dive into Houston’s space culture with the “Houston, We Have a Problem” suite. There’s a diversion for every personality.
Pets are welcome, and there is an excellent fitness center on site, as well as the rightly famous spa. The dining on the terrace of the Monarch restaurant provides a lovely view, and the food is an eclectic mix of chops, steaks, seafood, and sandwiches.
A Quick Trip to Dallas
Written by: Greg Horton
The French Room & City Hall Bistro at the Adolphus
In one of those stories that sounds like someone made it up, The Adolphus, a stunning luxury hotel, was built by one of Budweiser’s cofounders, Adolphus Busch – the second half of Anheuser-Busch. The 22-story hotel is modeled after a German castle … or perhaps an NBA version thereof. (It’s really tall.)
The Adolphus is famously home to The French Room, one of the rare fine dining restaurants left in the Southwestern U.S. That the menu leads off with three caviar options is an indication this is real fine dining, and not the “upscale casual” we have grown accustomed to. The menu includes pate, foie gras, and more modern takes on highbrow cuisine, including Berkshire pork jowls and Spanish octopus. The prices are special occasion range, but the entire experience, from the décor to the elegant service to the incredible food, is well worth the cost.
The best meal I had in 2019 was also at The Adolphus, but it was City Hall Bistro, not The French Room, that really wowed me. The new-at-the-time bistro was a nod toward guests and visitors who wanted to spend the normal amount on delicious food, and the rustic-meets-modern take on new American cuisine is brilliant. (The menu changes regularly, so the current one will likely not be current at press time.) Tagliatelle with chicken skin and brown butter, delicious fish dishes, burgers and Wagyu, and more creative dishes like “chicken fried” cabbage make City Hall a delicious, deep dive into fun, creative, and borderline whimsical dining. As a side note, their cocktail program is stellar.
Hall Arts Hotel
Located in the heart of the Dallas Arts District, Hall Arts Hotel boasts its own beautiful collection of art, including a stunning light installation in Ellie’s Restaurant on the property. Gathered from local and international artists, the focus is definitely modern with an eye toward beautiful and striking. Guest rooms feature captivating photography from the district, and a self-guided tour map is available at check-in and in the room. The rooms are comfortable and quiet, and dogs up to 50 pounds are welcome.
The rooftop swimming pool provides exceptional views of the Dallas skyline, and the hotel is situated within walking distance of major arts destinations in the city, including the Dallas Museum of Art. It features works from every conceivable region of the world, dating back 5,000 years. The European collection alone contains works from nearly every artist you can name, including Degas, Rembrandt, Renoir and van Gogh.
In addition to performing arts destinations in the district, the hotel is within walking distance of the Nasher Sculpture Center, which contains a large (more than 300 pieces) selection of modern and contemporary sculpture. At the center landscape, architecture and the collection flow into one continuous experience of various kinds of structures.
A Jerry World Experience
In Dallas for a Cowboys game? Rangers game? Is it at “Jerry World?” (Really, it’s AT&T stadium, but even Lubbock has one of those, so Jerry World at least avoids confusion.) Once inside the Stadium, prepare to be overwhelmed at the scale, but also surprised at how open and light the setting seems to be. The interior is built with expanse in mind, so you never feel compressed or enclosed. Glass and steel create a modern, sleek look, but also provide the illusion that you're in a very open space.
You can get team gear on-site, of course, as well as food and adult beverages, but a stadium that cost more than a billion dollars to build will demand higher prices on everything. The game experience is incredible, helped by the enormous overhead display that is more than half as long as the field. You'll definitely find yourself watching most of the game – especially the replays – on the largest 1080 HD television you're likely ever to experience. Given the grand scale of the stadium, which holds up to 100,000 people, it's surprisingly easy and fast to get in and seated, and back out to your car. Our pro tip would be to head over to the Live! by Loews hotel for an after-game cocktail or bite. Clover Club on the property is an upscale, outdoor lounge with a variety of craft beers made in Texas, creative cocktails, and shareable small bites. It serves as the perfect place to help you celebrate the win or mourn the loss.
A Quick Trip to San Antonio
Written by: Kylie Cooper
Golden Wat Noodle House
Just a few days ago, as this issue began hitting mailboxes, what used to be the Cookhouse served its last meal. Pieter and Susan Sypesteyn opened Cookhouse in 2014, and it quickly became a local favorite. This past August, Golden Wat Noodle House was born out of Susan’s Cambodian heritage and the cuisine the duo prepares for their family at home. Golden Wat began operating out of Cookhouse and via pop-ups—until now. Cookhouse has completely transitioned into Golden Wat Noodle House’s permanent residence.
Susan’s mother, Sokhom Chuon, actually owned her own noodle house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, before making the move to the States in the 1970s – and the recipes from Chuon’s noodle house can now be found in new iterations on Golden Wat’s menu.
Susan’s love story to her rich and resilient culture comes in the form of exceptionally crafted and intentional dishes such as Cambodian Grilled Quail Legs, Duck Num Pang, Beef Lok Lak, Nom Banh Chok and Kuy Teav. Barbeque-loving Texans can try a Cambodian take on pork barbeque with their Bai Sach Chrou dish, a mouthwatering entrée that includes steamed jasmine rice with Char Sui barbecued pork, egg, pickled carrot and green papaya. But, in all honesty, we recommend ordering a handful of dishes and sharing with the table. After all, the concept of sharing a meal with one another is at the heart of Golden Wat’s philosophy.
Housed in what was once a 19th-century brewhouse, Hotel Emma is rich in history. Simultaneously honoring the notable architecture of the iconic Pearl Brewhouse and the grittier character of the brewing industry, the hotel perfectly curates a warm and delightful atmosphere. Upscale, yet unpretentious.
The 146-room hotel features a unique blend of historical elements and modern touches. Immediately upon entering Hotel Emma, you’re embraced with a warm, fuzzy feeling – almost as if you’ve entered an old friend’s home whom you haven’t seen in quite some time, and who has impeccable taste and a curiosity for life’s oddities.
The original Brewhouse tower offers more lavish rooms, while the River Cellars offer a more subtle luxury. Suites are also available and offer accommodations such as private dining areas, two-story terraces, and vaulted ceilings. Whatever your room of choice might be, a La Babia Margarita will be awaiting you upon arrival. You read that correctly; a full margarita setup comes with each room, and that fact alone is worth the stay.
The Japanese Tea Gardens
The City of San Antonio contains a plethora of artistic and cultural experiences for natives and visitors alike. From art galleries and history museums to vibrant streets filled with local shops and creatives, San Antonio is oozing entertainment at the seams. This might seem a bit touristy, but spending a few hours at The Japanese Tea Garden is our suggestion when it comes to choosing your weekend activity.
Serving as one of the most loved, educational, and cultural resources in the area, The Japanese Tea Garden holds more than 90 years of history within its luscious greens and calming waters. Originally operating as a quarry, the Tea Gardens were shaped into a complex through walkways, beautiful stone arch bridges, an island, and a Japanese pavilion. The restored garden features a lush, year-round garden and floral display, as well as a 60-foot waterfall and koi ponds.
The Pavilion takes the cake for our favorite area at the gardens. The gorgeous stone columns, the perfect view of the lily ponds and waterfall … what’s not to love? After a year like 2020, spending some much-needed quiet time in a place like The Japanese Tea Gardens almost feels like a no-brainer – or a prescription from the doctor, we’ll let you decide.