For awhile now I’ve poked fun at my own technological ineptitude. I’ve shunned my San Francisco brothers and sisters who jumped at the iPhone when it first came out, while instead, I clung to the simplicity of my Samsung flip-phone—a comfort I’d nurtured for more than the standard two-year life of an electronic device. It didn’t even have a built in camera. But alas I was cursed with the plight of the blessed, and one night at a bar in West Hollywood that troglodytic security-blanket-of-a-phone slipped through the stylish—expensive—whole in my Adriano Goldschmied boot-cut jeans. From that day on I had no choice, and an upgrade was in order, and there was nothing I could do. Resist as I tried, poised with my fists and ready to fight, I dipped my toes in the shallow end of the technology pool, and the world of apps and e-commerce enveloped me.
After several years adjusting to what felt cold at first, but got warmer over time, and after the occasional binge on gallons of digital Kool-Aid, I’ve settled in to our palace off of Alamo Square with a respect and hesitation for all things Silicon Valley. And though I’ve grown, geographically in the heart of it all, and marveled at the boundaries our obsession with innovation has pushed; I wonder if it was all worth it?
Is it better to call an Uber from the comforts of your bathroom vanity while you take your last looks just to run outside and jump in some stranger’s car? Or is there greater benefit in getting ready a little earlier, so you can strut to the end of the block and hail a cab, or be even more adventurous, and hop on the bus? I think the life skills we develop when we actually do the work itself are invaluable. And it’s these skills I’m scared are leaching slowly from our cultural conscience.
We learn how to manage a schedule and keep commitments from having to be somewhere on time. We burn a few more calories and the extra minutes outside are rich with vitamin D and a healthy exposure to local pollens; a great alternative to a daily dose of Claritin if you ask me. And if none of those worked, and my efforts to sway you towards a more primitive—more analog—life were insufficient, can you really argue with the importance of slowing things down a little? Dropping the pace? We spend our days hustling for our piece of the pie. So much so that we forget to stop and actually enjoy the pie itself.
So when Jonathan got that “free delivery” offer from Google Express, I wasn’t the least bit excited at the opportunity. Sure it’s super convenient. I’ll go on record and say it’s the most convenient way to purchase 48 rolls of toilet paper, 18 rolls of paper towels, and a year supply of daily vitamins from Costco—it’s fucking amazing! And if we can convince the delivery guy to bring it up the three flights of stairs to our door—even better! But I don’t care. I still like going to Costco. I complain about schlepping items up stairs. I complain about the crowded parking lot and asshole shoppers who walk their carts at a snail’s pace to their cars and prevent traffic from passing by. I hate the baggers who you have to ask to get you a box, because let’s be honest, we all want a box! How the hell else am I going to take 43 items awkwardly packaged vacuum-tight in industrial strength plastic I need a Leatherman switchblade and pliers to open? But I complain about everything. That’s what I do. I’m Jewish.
What I do like about a trip to the store is that we’re off the couch while it happens. We’re walking up and down aisles and seeing what new foods, books, and gadgets have made it mainstream. It keeps us relevant in a way. It’s a chance to consume the news by listening to KQED while we’re in the car. I like that it’s something Jonathan and I do together, no matter how much fighting we do along the way. It’s a chance to interact with people, maybe run into a friend who’s embarrassed she’s wearing her pajamas in public at 2pm on a Sunday, which actually brings you closer as friends, because your also wearing pajamas and the faded t-shirt giveaway you got from a Padres game when you were 12 years old, at 2pm on a Sunday. Wearing pajamas in public is an excuse in its own right! And if we’re lucky, and there’s a blue moon out, you might speak to a stranger, and realize there are other people in this world with vastly unique histories. And as grounding of an epiphany as that may be—more so to some than others—it’s necessary…..or we’ll forget how to communicate and coexist.
What I fear is the alternative. I’m scared this slippery slope is only going to get slick quick. It will happen overnight, and before we know it, we’ll be the blubbery race of humans from Disney’s WALL-E.
Today there’s an app for laundry pickups, on demand taxis, and everyday shopping. There are buttons—most of which are digital and we can’t even push if we wanted—for every one of life’s little conveniences. And each one is linked to our bank accounts and lines of credit, slowly syphoning the life out of us, and our secure retirements. Thanks to Roomba (or poor substitute if you ask me), I have friends who don’t know how to vacuum. Thanks to contact lists and GPS, nobody has more than a few telephone numbers memorized anymore and we can’t get from point A to B without consulting a Google Map. Tomorrow, FitBits filled with saline—synthesized by Vitamin Water with zero calories—will be programmed to release a nutrient-rich serum intravenously on our wrists every 20 minutes so we can spend more time consuming tidbits of information, and shopping at the wink of an eye, while seeing the world through some plasma virtual reality; all without once interacting with a human being IN PERSON. All so we can have more free time to use shortcuts to get from one instant to the next without the freedom to manage the process ourselves. Routes will be prescribed, and paths will be orchestrated so we can navigate through some information architecture just to do it over and over again. And without a say in the direction we’re going, we’ve forgotten to stop and smell the roses and taste that pie.
So I say all of this with one confession to make, but it is just this one, that I have to make: the convenience of online banking is one I don’t ever want to give up. That aside, I’m not saying all apps are bad. And I’m definitely not saying we’re past some point of no return. The chance to be a human sponge—a thought-process we instill in our kids—is still here. And yet I’ll probably continue to unravel the power of my Samsung Galaxy S5, because curiosity is also one of those cherished childlike charms we must protect.
That just means everything else deserves a day in the sun on the scales of judgment. And in taking a closer look at the trade-offs, the sacrifices we make for the most popular of conveniences, we must sometimes choose to do things the “old fashioned” way. Call it old school, call it artisan, call it vintage, call it craft—call it whatever you want, but know that it’s sometimes the most original way of doing something, that is the most honest and true. Which are two qualities that made it worthy of what little attention we had to spare in the first place. Because that’s what is important to me. That’s what I treasure.
It’s with this passion for old school skills and an underlying appreciation for sustainable living, that I was drawn to Lenoir, my new favorite restaurant on the south side of Austin, an area known as So-Fi or Bouldin Creek. We had a chance to dine there on a recent stop in Austin on our way home from New Orleans. The trip was a chance to see family and check out all the fabulous creativity of local art and culinary scenes that “keep Austin Weird.”
At first glance Lenoir doesn’t look like much. It’s a freestanding single-level structure covered with reclaimed wooden boards, painted white, and nailed haphazardly all over the exterior. There are no windows visible from the street and no fancy light displays to draw you in. There’s a giant tree in back with lights strung for ambiance. This is the wine garden where they offer happy hour and private dining experiences when the weather permits, but it’s nothing out new for Austin eateries that have been converting random outdoor spaces into beer gardens and patios for years.
Inside is where the magic happens. The textured effect continues with reclaimed woods painted white and black, creating an intimate dining room for no more than 34 guests. A focal point is the chandelier of mismatched glass and bronze porch lights hanging from an aquamarine ceiling, over a communal table spanning the entire length of the bar. The décor is simple, elegant, and yet distressed and worn. Think hipster in cigarette jeans shopping at Tiffany’s. There wasn’t a moment when my eyes weren’t dazzled by some innovative way they’d taken something common place and drab and with a little bit of love and spackle, turned it into something beautiful and new. For this—in my humble opinion—Lenoir is a necessary and subtle “f-you!” to the giant restaurateurs of the world who think a venue’s success is directly correlated to the size of its design budget. It should always be about the food!
And the food is what I’m gonna get to. Husband and wife Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher opened Lenoir in 2012 with a passion for locally sourced food that is not only in season, but paired with the climate. They call it “Hot Weather Food,” which is light, fresh, citrusy and full of spice. The menu is arranged in groups with three choices in each category: vegetarian (field), seafood (sea), meat (land), and desserts (dream). For $40 you get to choose any 3 dishes from any part of the menu and they’ll bring them out in the order you’d expect; cold to hot, and light to rich. You have the option of adding additional courses for an additional $10. There were no rules about everyone ordering the same amount, or from the same section. It was a modern day dining experience without all the fluff that can sometimes take our focus of what really counts—what we put in our mouths.
Simply put, the food at Lenoir is delicious. From the artistry of the plating, to the mix of flavors and ingredients both comfortable and new, every bite was followed with the hum of happiness and a yearning for more. To support their mission to foster a strong culinary community, Lenoir is a community-supported restaurant (CSR). Every year Austin foodies alike, pay a CSR membership fee in advance and get a tab worth more than your membership fee, and additional perks like advanced holiday bookings, invitations to member only events, etc. If I lived in Austin, I’d be the first inline for the next round of CSR applications, because a meal at Lenoir is a playful jaunt through a sandbox where DIY and high quality food play harmoniously in the sun.
From the field we had:
Charred tomato with whey sorbet, smoked ricotta and everything rye.
Leek and pimentón agnolotti with leek top fondu, sun golds, and potato chips.
From the sea we had:
The snapper crudo with honey lime, avocado puree and red cabbage.
Octopus tomato curry with shrimp, squid, oyster and cress.
From the land we had:
Buttermilk rabbit with curried potato, carrot, and braised radish.
Honey pork terrine, with rice grits, fish sauce and fava husks.
The seared antelope heart with a dosa and spring vegetables, berbere spice and turnip puree.
And for dessert, or as Lenoir labels is “Dream” we had one of each dessert:
Ginger pie with buttermilk mint ice cream and pecan blueberry salad.
Austin is full of “old school” dining experiences that are taking the foodie-sphere by storm, which are your favorites?