It's another memorable night with Omaha chef Austin Johnson
I knew before I even sat down that Omaha's own Austin Johnson was going to deliver another memorable meal to diners lucky enough to be in the room Saturday night.
Murmurs from the first set of guests who tasted his six-course menu during his "Retour" pop-up at Block 16 carried a note of excitement. Johnson, formerly the chef de cuisine at Frenchie, in Paris, won a Michelin star. He's living in New York now, and came to Omaha for a week to prepare for his latest hometown event.
I spent time with Austin all week — a behind-the-scenes video of the dinner is coming soon — and I'm excited for you to see the time and care he spent with local farmers hand-selecting every ingredient he served.
As it did during his first dinner, that care showed in every bite. It showed in the carefully selected, verdant herbs, asparagus and spring peas scattered over a few tender bites of burrata cheese, served with a bright rhubarb vinaigrette and crisp, nearly transparent rounds of melba toast.
It showed in a glossily glazed smoked Alaskan wild king salmon served with kalamata olives and a dollop of tamarind paste. And in the dishes he made with ingredients I watched him choose: ricotta and mushroom filled tortellini made with eggs from Plum Creek Farms, and slow-cooked wagyu ribeye from Jon's Naturals served with simple seasonal vegetables.
Austin again worked with master sommelier Dustin Wilson, formerly of New York's Eleven Madison Park, and Omaha's Matt Brown, of V. Mertz, on the wine pairings. Matt said wine selections intended, like the dinner, to take diners on a world-tour, from the U.S. to France and back, just like Austin himself.
The dinner again concluded with carefully hand-painted bon bons from Ellie Pegler at Farine + Four in Omaha; this time, one came printed like a Nebraska dairy cow and the second a like a silver-leafed French flag.
I left, once again, delighted with the experience. And like last time, the dinner is a meal that lives beyond that one night. It elevates the kind of experiences Omaha diners are hungry for. It reminds us that, even in Nebraska, there's many of us who have a deep appreciation for finely crafted food like what Austin serves.
I don't know when he'll be back, but I know one thing: I'll be there when he is.
The latest episode of the Omaha Dines podcast is here.
We're talking this week about "the new guard" of chefs changing the game in the Omaha dining scene. We'll give you a list of all the hot and new places we think you should check out. In the second half, we sit down with the aforementioned Ellie Pegler, of Farine + Four, and talk about her career in New York, how she decided to return to Omaha and the collaborative spirit that's so important to Omaha's new, young chef movement.
You can find the show right now on Omaha Dines, iTunes, Google Play and other podcast platforms.
See you next week.