There's something oddly familiar about Foreign & Domestic.
One year ago, the Austin eatery carved out a small, 42-capacity dining room and kitchen in an old skate shop on North Loop (otherwise known as E. 53rd St.), the perplexingly-named street that does not, in fact, loop. Rather, it moves in a straight line, connecting the colorful bungalows of Hyde Park to North Lamar -- still the Wild West of north-central Austin, where one is equally likely to encounter an independent feminist book store as they are a Long John Silvers.
But Chef Ned Elliott and his wife Jodi, herself an accomplished pastry chef, enjoy contradictions. When they broke ground for Foreign & Domestic, they envisioned a neighborhood-friendly atmosphere, with a menu that pushed beyond familiar favorites. Oh, the Brownie Sundae is there. But it's served with Shoestring French Fries. A side you could also pair with your main dinner meat, such as Foreign & Domestic's Beef Heart. (That's Beef Heart Tartare, darlings.)
Perhaps that's why Foreign & Domestic feels like someplace you've been before, only more interesting. Its interior evokes that of a chic diner, or a sophisticated greasy spoon.
I stopped by last Thursday to talk to Chef Elliott about the restaurant's participation in Tribeza's Chef's Table Series, going on today through Wednesday.
Foreign & Domestic in particular will be unveiling their Long Island-inspired multi-course meal -- think oysters, lobster, and cool-in-the-mouth desserts -- on Tuesday evening, and serving on Wednesday night as well.
Chef Ned Elliott and Chef de Cuisine, Nathan Lemley
While Chef Elliott and I were talking, Foreign & Domestic's Chef de Cuisine Nathan Lemley prepared me a hearty Flank Steak Wagyu: Their take on Korean Bim Bim Bap, with more proteins in one bowl than I probably consume in a whole day.
Chef Elliott told me that as a child, he was raised by two mothers, both with a fondness for gardening, cooking, and an Appalachian-fostered sense of culinary resourcefulness. Meaning, cow tongue for dinner was no big deal.
So naturally, the flank steak in my bowl was carted in from Yoakum, Texas, roughly two hours away. It was layered with salty bacon, soy beans, and poached egg (see what I mean about proteins?), along with shiitake mushrooms, fried orzo, basil, chives, and a savory, tart broth -- a welcome surprise, underneath all that rich, mouth-coating meat.
The smeared streak of red on the side of the bowl is a fermented red pepper paste, which I scraped off with my steak-laden fork. Its taste reminded me of hot chilis that had been doused with citrusy white wine.
Foreign & Domestic has always been one of those restaurants teetering at the very top of our Date Night list. I don't know why it's taken me so long to visit.
But now that I have, I suspect it will become a restaurant for me like Second, or even Uchiko. One that I evangelize every chance I get, a restaurant that has me praising the Food Gods and speaking in high-falutin' culinary tongues.
Or in this case, cow tongues.
Or in this case, cow tongues.