Alex Wheatly Bell of Austin's Aviary Wine and Kitchen eats and drinks his way through the city he loves.
For chefs, meals take myriad forms, from a spoonful of a dish in development to a crust swiped off the line during service to an overflowing plate eaten hurriedly during family meal. So when they’re given larger pockets of time and the freedom to savor breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s a real event, where hours or weeks away from the kitchen mean sitting at the table with family or flying across the country or world to try the creations of contemporaries.
Without the bounds of time, stomach capacity, and location where would chefs eat? We asked them. This is My Perfect Food Day, a monthly feature where industry members share the tables they’d visit and the dishes they’d savor in varied locales.
This month, we feature Alex Wheatley Bell, of Austin’s Aviary Wine and Kitchen, who poetically describes his day of eating as “How to Live with No Regrets While Gaining Weight Joyously.” Join him for breakfast and second lunch in Reykjavik, pre-siesta paella in Spain, and conch fritters in Honduras.
The original Reyjavik roasters, located right near the looming and magical presence of Hallgrímskirkja, is the most perfect space to begin your day as the sun promises to never shine. The coffee stretches the length of your soul as it is set alongside a local slice of bread with the most simple jam and butter. The records spinning gently through the walls from artists that range the world wide make this a moment in which you may wonder if the elves have actually captured and converted you.
This is a farmer’s market that only the Pacific Northwest could pump out—with wondrous and unique vendors that give sunshine even on the dreariest of mornings. The bushel of strawberries is for snacking on as you walk and take in all the incredible smells. To start the show, snag a Pine Street Bisky sandwich, but don’t leave without having a Vegan Steamed Bun from NomNom as you watch the flower vendors arrange live bouquets of pure Oregon wildflowers like a hypnotic acid trance.
If you’re like me, you aren’t always up at the hour you intend. Sometimes the night is too much fun to put to rest and the morning has to sacrifice a slice of the self in order for you to feel whole. When that happens, there is no better space than stealing the outdoor seat or front window table at Bar Pla in the Gothic District of Barcelona as you crush the most refreshing and bright simplicity of tomato and bread rubbed with such friction that the flavors almost seem eternally bonded.
The bread cauldron and its fillings at Svarta Kaffid are a cure for the ravaging cold months in Iceland. The rotating soup du jour is a gambler’s bet, but never a loss.
This single dish has been made for over 30 years and it radiates tradition, human goodness, and dedication. Up at five each morning to prepare the rabbit broth for the paella, Josefa Navarra makes pure magic alongside her husband, Paco Gandía. The paella is cooked in cauldrons atop year-old vine cuttings from local vineyards—scraping the bottom of the pan for the soccarat gives way to some of the most crispy bites of creation ever to be plated.
Surly, short-tempered, and still kind of sweet, this ex-cop makes a Gyro worth mythologizing—I’d give it a goddamn constellation if I could. His savory and slow cooked lamb/beef combo wafts out and calls you in as the kittens run circles around your feet. There are crispy, decadently salted fries and a steady stream of tart tzatziki. Order two, you’re going to go back for seconds.
The more you begin to enjoy and pursue food, the more you realize that sometimes it isn’t the complexity that makes it memorable but the setting and the memory of the meal. This is what The Hole in the Wall restaurant, floating in the middle of nowhere, embodies. Evelyn, who prefers to be called Nana, will make each dish with the same love as if you were sitting in her home kitchen while a flightless Scarlet McCaw steals your fries and all the worries of the world are washed away with a minimum of two bottles of Pura Vida Cerveza.
Chef Pierre Calmels gives possibility to all of your French fantasies without ever leaving the lively, unique components of South Philly. His plates are pure romance—a love affair with the ingredients he displays in wondrous and decadent ways, accompanied by wines from your own cellar. After 22 years, Pierre and his wife Charlotte have had to shutter Bibou, (causing me to shout “FUCK YOU CORONA” more than ever). Yet, the ever inventive magician has turned Bibou into Bibou Boutique, a lovely shop that sells Pierre’s terrines, sausages, pâtés, breads, quiches, as well as specialty items and dry goods.
Chef Ota was born in Kumamoto Kyushu, Japan and was a respected sushi chef in Kobe, Tokyo, and Osaka before a 1982 visit to San Diego. During this trip he tasted local uni for the first time and he never fucking left. That is how deeply the California waters and their offerings spoke to him, and his delivery of them is beyond magical. Let the chefs do all of the work as they fill you with such wonders that you’ll almost see a smoking caterpillar staring a hole in your soul by the end of the meal.
When the last sip of Gueuze has dripped from your glass and the sweet Belgian bartender has thanked you seven times for coming, it is time to stumble down the Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères towards the sweet heavenly nectar aroma of fryer oil and potato. There is no better sturdy-ing agent to the wobbles than a slap of freshly fried frites with the series of sauces one cannot do without: mayonnaise, andalouse, samurai and joppiesaus. The smell sticks to your fingers through sun-up as you revel in your ridiculous indulgence and deep desire to do it all over again.