1024 South Alamo
(in Southtown, between St. Mary's Street and Pereida)
There's noise, and then there's noise.
The noise at Feast is a bubbly, pleasant noise. It's the sound of a room full of people enjoying themselves. No canned music, no shouting to be heard, no televisions providing an unwelcome backdrop. Just two dozen pleasant conversations going on all at once, each at a level sufficiently loud for the participants to comprehend, and sufficiently subdued for the rest of us to ignore. The ambience of the place — the crowd, the bright white walls, the stainless-steel tabletops and clear plastic chairs, the circulating waiters — is as much like a stylish cocktail party thrown by a literary magazine to honour a famous foreign writer no one reads, as it is a trendy Southtown restaurant.
Feast is an American version of a tapas bar. The menu is divided into six categories: Hot, Chilled, Grilled, Crispy, Melted, and Mains (a sort of catch-all for dishes that are, presumably, larger; we didn't try any of those, so I don't really know). Nothing on the menu is cheap, but neither are the prices outrageous*; and in fact, when the tally came at the end, I was pleasantly surprised at how little we had spent. The individual dishes in the first five categories mostly run between five and nine bucks each; a couple go for a little more, but if you're on a budget (or just cheap, like me) they're easy to avoid and you won't feel like you've really missed out on anything.
We each chose two dishes to share. I will say right now that one of them, the badly misnamed Montasio Cheese Crisp, which consists of sweet onion and cheese on sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, seasoned with a little oregano, we sent back to the kitchen. It was revolting. It looked like a small mammal had vomited on some soggy sliced potatoes, and I thought its aroma was (I kid you not, nor do I hyperbolize) identical to the smell of a public bathroom that has been recently visited by a victim of turista. My wife disagreed about the smell, but not about the appearance, the texture, or the taste, which was that of oil and undercooked potato.
Well, these things happen. To me, though, the more important fact was that, when I expressed our displeasure with the dish to our waiter, he immediately apologised and whisked the offending plate back to the kitchen.**
|No city inspection done yet.|
The first dish to come out was Jack Cheese Mac: simple, homespun macaroni and cheese, and yet not so simple and homespun. It featured slightly overcooked pasta, a sort of wide cavatappi, covered in a light béchamel sauce and sprinkled with garlic bread crumbs. Presumably there was some Jack cheese in the mix, but the sauce was so rich that I didn't even notice the cheese.
Next out was an order of stuffed poblano peppers. This was no mere chili relleno: it was four fingers of lightly seasoned ground pork (interestingly compressed with a spiral design, just like the cavatappi), wrapped in skins of poblano pepper that were as thin as grape leaves, and drizzled with a slightly-sweet sauce accented with pistachio nuts. They were a delicious blend of flavours, and I thought sure they would be the highlight of the evening.
Until the duck-breast tostadas came out. To paraphrase Martin Crane, your country and your family are to die for, but duck-breast tostadas at Feast are next on the list. An order consists of four small fried tortilla shells graced with julienned duck meat, a schmeer of yogurt (the menu calls it "spicy tahini yogurt"; I call it sour cream) and a bit of lemon-sesame slaw. The overall effect is marvellous. The flavours complement each other perfectly, and the textures — crispy, tender, chewy, moist — swirl together with brilliant sympathy.
Last came a dish of sweet corn fritters, which we ordered to replace the repulsive cheese crisp. This dish — served in a long tray decorated with eight or ten small bundles of fried corn, interspersed with some chunks of honeydew melon, and garnished with heritage lettuce leaves and a small ramekin of tzatziki sauce — turned out to be the perfect closing act of our meal. The corn was indeed sweet, cased in light breading and fried just right. The honeydew melon ... well, I love honeydew of all the melons, but this was fabulously accented by a hint of lime juice. The tzatziki sauce, made with beets, will force me to edit my longstanding list of Five Foods I Will Not Eat Under Any Circumstances. Beets are the vegetable of the damned. I refer, of course, to all those millions of Russian serfs who subsisted on those reprehensible roots for untold generations, until McDonald's opened in Moscow. When I get to Hell, as I surely will, I have long anticipated being force-fed beets three times a day, sometimes by themselves, sometimes mixed with Brussels sprouts or viscera or black-eyed peas. Now, though, I'm not so sure: I accidentally had beets in a dish at Cappy's a few months ago, and found them not entirely repulsive. Having now had the beet tzatziki sauce at Feast, I must conclude that there are, in fact, circumstances in which I will eat beets.
One suggestion, though: It was a little disconcerting, the way the various dishes drifted out of the kitchen in no particular order, one at a time. I recommend you order things one or two dishes at a time, and keep hold of the menu. Figure on ordering at least two dishes per person; three would not have been too much food. Feast is a fabulous place to kick back and relax with friends, and you'll want to drag the experience out for as long as you can.
* Unless you're one of those people who measures value by comparing price to the weight of the food on your plate ... in which case you should stick to places with giant chicken-fried steaks and all-you-can-eat breadsticks.
** Compare that with a similar situation at another restaurant recently visited.