Tuesday, July 24, 2018

First Look: Kicked Up Grub

The restaurant industry is notoriously tough, and even in booming cities like Austin, we see the waves of openings and closings. The newer multi-use developments around the revered Broken Spoke dancehall have seen a lot of turnover in their short years. I would wager the foot traffic isn't at expected levels in addition to what I am sure are high rents. The corner unit directly south of the Broken Spoke at 3403 South Lamar is now on it's third restaurant incarnation in about the last nine months. aRoma was there for a couple of years, and ManinPasta could barely make it six months.

Newcomer Kicked Up Grub has just recently debuted in their place, and based on this one visit so far, I'll give it a thumbs up! And cross my fingers that they can last.  Calling themselves a farm to table gastropub, their website says the place was created for people who love food and drink, and with a mix of heavier and lighter options, with plenty of vegetarian choices. Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, I see a lot of Italian influence on the menu.

We arrived at 5 pm when they open; currently they are not doing a happy hour, but hopefully that will change soon. They are actually open earlier in the day for breakfast and lunch, 7 am - 2 pm, and then reopen at  5 pm; closed on Mondays.
Hibiscus Martini and Watermelon Daiquiri, both extremely drinkable especially on a hot day!
Very nice and crispy calamari with a panko breading, and a killer lemon aioli sauce.
Beet salad?
We ordered the beet salad;  the waiter came back to us a few minutes later, and apologized that the beets weren't finished marinating and would figs be okay? I was a little confused at first because I thought to myself "a full salad of figs?" along with the goat cheese and walnuts? The menu description doesn't state there are salad greens involved, so once our waiter clarified the description, yes, we agreed figs would be fine. {And while I am positive he said marinating, looking back now at the original menu description, maybe he meant roasting?} It was a tasty salad, complete with a pomegranate dressing, which fortunately was not over-used.
Bechamel Pie, a white pizza with sausage, olives, and mushrooms. The pizza oven was inherited from the previous restaurants, and are close to a Neopolitan style.The leftovers were also quite tasty reheated for lunch the next day.
Cannolis for dessert. The shells were a bit on the thick side, so while they were sturdy and held up well to the ricotta filling, they were almost TOO sturdy.
I spy on the menu that their pasta is handmade so I will certainly be back to try that! And maybe the actual beet salad too. 😊 I should add our server was pleasant and did seem to know the menu. Hope Kicked Up Grub lasts a good long while!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Rosso + Flynn: Nice to Meat Ya!

Red Wattle pork chop from Rosso + Flynn / Smith + Fmith Farms
Red Wattle pork chops with pearled couscous, grilled peaches and pickled onions.
Rosso + Flynn are high quality, online meat purveyors in the Austin area. They contacted me via Instagram and asked if I would be interested in trying some of their products. Being a carnivore, I quickly said yes. They did not monetarily compensate me nor ask for a blog post, yet here I am of my own free volition. Opinions are my own, but you knew that anyway.
Rosso + Flynn logo
Maybe you don't like crowded grocery stores, or don't have the proper time for them. Perhaps the boutique meat shops which you know offer great quality just aren't compatible with your schedule or personal geography. Do the food delivery services appeal to you, and can you plan accordingly? Will you remember to leave a cooler on your doorstep on delivery days? If any of this sounds relate able, please direct your browser to Rosso + Flynn for amazing quality, Texas-sourced, fresh-never-frozen meat.  Here are some of their marketing points, per the email they sent me:
  • All meat is delivered fresh, not frozen
  • We support local, Texas ranchers
  • All of our ranchers are eco-conscious and treat animals humanely
  • All meat is pasture-raised, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, GMO free and soy free
  • We offer Wagyu and heritage breeds that are raised in Austin, Texas
  • You can seriously taste the quality!
  • We offer free delivery for all orders over $25 in Austin, TX
  • Nose-to-tail and zero waste or spoilage - This means that our ranchers use the whole animal and we do not order anything from them that has not been sold. Nothing goes to waste.
  • Order by Thursday at 2 pm for a Sunday delivery (Sunday is their only delivery day)
They asked me what kind of meat I liked and I said I was partial to pork and lamb, and they selected the cuts. They have everything from Wagyu beef cuts to marrow bones to chicken feet to pork shoulder. (I am willing to admit I am glad they didn't send chicken feet! I know there are people who love them, so I am happy to let those people have at 'em!)
 I received Red Wattle pork chops, lamb chops, and bacon. I was a happy girl!
On my appointed Sunday, I left a cooler on my front doorstep and later in the day found a brown bag with individually wrapped parcels. They used the delivery service Drop Off and I was notified via email that my delivery was en route.


I immediately cooked up a piece of the peppered heritage bacon (Berkshire/Red Wattle from Peaceful Pork in Beeville) in my air fryer and froze the rest for later. The genius of the air fryer is it whisks away all the fat leaving an incredibly crisp piece of bacon. And yes, the golden pig butter has been saved for later.
Rosso + Flynn bacon from Peaceful Pork

For dinner that night, I cooked the pork chops from Smith and Smith Farms that you see pictured at the top of this post. These were inch-thick big ol' juicy pork chops, with an incredible clean and fresh taste. I just pan seared them and served over pearled (Israeli) couscous with grilled peaches and pickled onions. 

I also froze the lamb chops until I had more time to cook. This week, I pan seared them to a lovely medium-rare and made a quick fresh mint sauce (more like vinaigrette) to go with them. While I don't currently see lamb on R+F's website, ask them if they have any available. Oh, and the taste? Unbelieveable! Plus I love to gnaw on lamb chop bones.
Capra lamb chops from Rosso + Flynn
What have we learned? If you want some of the highest quality meats available in Central Texas, look no further than your computer. Rosso + Flynn has it all and then some. And they deliver to your doorstep! They also offer giftcards which might be perfect for your favorite meat-eater.

So plan your menu, make an order and prepare to be wowed by the flavor. And don't forget to set a cooler out on Sunday. And if you need more incentive, they have offered me a promo code to share for $10 off your first order: SATXFOODIE

Monday, June 18, 2018

First Look: Winner Winner, Porchetta for Dinner!

When you head out Highway 290 towards Dripping Springs, there is now a "gathering" of train cars perched around a big lot. The one closest to the road is now home to Winner Winner Fine Foods, which three people had mentioned to me since their opening in April. I had lunch with one of them a couple weeks ago as she doesn't live too far from there. What a great, healthy addition to the area!
Winner Winner Fine Foods
Located on the north side of Hwy 290, about a mile west of the light at Circle Drive.
Winner Winner has built up a deck, not unlike a train platform. There are also full restrooms across from the entrance to the what is literally the diner car. All the food has been precooked, and you can either eat in or take it to go. I imagine they're doing booming business in the evening, catching folks headed out of Austin to their homes down 290. There are a variety of meats available, sides/salads,  a soup of the day, and some sweets.
Winner Winner Fine Foods
Order at the counter

We ate there, with my friend E having the lamb with roast potatoes and arugula salad. While their website doesn't say, previous article on Eater Austin says that all the meats are from local farms, the lamb from Capra Foods and the pork from Tender Belly.
Winner Winner Fine Foods roast lamb and veggies
Roast lamb; there was some sort of minty sauce with it too, but I can't remember specifically what!
And I had porchetta with roast carrots and also the potatoes.
Winner Winner Fine Foods porchetta and veggies
Porchetta with some nice crispy, rendered fat and perfectly roasted carrots.
Winner Winner Fine Foods deck
Outside deck

Winner Winner Fine Foods
They were both delicious!
Winner Winner is open Monday - Saturday from 11 am - 8 pm. If I lived in that direction, I am sure I would be stopping by a lot!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Quick Look: Soto South Lamar

Continuing on my unintended Lamar Union restaurant tour, we have Soto, which has expanded from their Cedar Park location.  My neighbors and I recently went for happy hour which we quite enjoyed, but given the very few tables that were filled (early evening on a Tuesday), I do hope Soto will survive. A bottle of Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Vetliner was perfect with all of our dishes. 
Soto Austin Miso Soup
Miso soup (the large spoon didn't really fit into the narrow bowl)
Soto Austin Edamame mouse amouse bouche
The brought an amouse bouche of edamame mouse, which I wasn't in
love with at first but then I finished the whole thing off! 
Soto Austin fish + chips
Fish + chips, one of their signature dishes, said our waitress. And I can see why! Super thin potato chips with salmon sashimi, lemon aioli and truffle salt. Very addicting.

Soto Austin chicken karaage
Chicken karaage without a lick of grease. And loved the plating.
Soto Austin hamachi
Somewhere under there is hamachi! Beautifully presented plate with scallions, fried jalapenos, ponzu and edible flowers.


Soto Austin wagyu carpaccio
Wagyu carpaccio....mmmmm.  These four items were on the happy hour menu and ranged $7 - 14.

Soto Austin Soto South Maki roll
Soto South Maki with torched toro; this one was $18

Soto Austin Real California Maki w snow crab
Real California Maki with snow crab for $13

In the later part of our meal, we did order a couple of cocktails, but found the cocktail menu to be overly fussy. It was heavy on sake and whiskey/bourbon drinks, which is not unexpected for a Japanese restaurant, but there were a lot of complicated ingredients even to my friend who is a wine/spirits rep. (I didn't take a picture of the cocktail menu, nor do I see it online, so you'll have to take my word for it.😉) 

I will most certainly go back to Soto! I posted the fish and chips picture on Instagram, and a friend said the tuna tacos on the happy hour menu are fabulous, and there are other things I spy that I am interested in trying. While I still think it's a bit odd that Soto opened just a block from Uchi, it's a much different vibe. And unlike my experience at Mandala (see my previous blog post) directly across the driveway from Soto, our service and food was on point from the moment we walked in. Fingers crossed that Soto can make it in South Austin!

Monday, May 21, 2018

First Look: The Yin and Yang of Mandala

South Lamar's Lamar Union complex has had a hard time keeping restaurants. Cantine, El Burro, VOX Table, Delicious have all cycled in and out in relatively short periods of time. TLC Austin (which I like very much, see this blog post for info on them) appears to be holding its own, Soto has replaced Cantine, Shake Shack and the Highball are still there too. Mandala, with its Thai and Vietnamese influences, opened in March at the old El Burro spot. Let's hope they can make it last!

I met a group of friends there on a weeknight for dinner; ironically, our same group of four had previously eaten at El Burro too. Another foodie friend had told me about a passion fruit cocktail, but it wasn't on the menu this evening. Our waiter, who seemed relatively new, didn't seem to have a full grasp of the liquors available at the bar, because when asked if they had Tito's Vodka he said no, but one of our group went to check with the bartender who confirmed its presence. They did have some half price bottles of wine held over from Mother's Day so we split a bottle of rose.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin
We started with their mini rice pancakes, which come seven per order. I inquired when we ordered if we could get eight since there were four of us. The waiter said no, but offered no explanation. I understood it when they arrived; they are not pancakes in the flat sense or something that is cooked on a griddle. They are a version of kanon krok, a type of Thai dessert that uses a pan not unlike those for Japanese takoyaki or Danish abelskivers. Anyhow, they were nice, crispy on the bottom from the rice flour, with a savoriness mixed with a sweetness from coconut milk. Could have used a dash of chile or at least one bold flavor.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin rice pancakes
Red curry with vegetables and shrimp also had good flavor. Lots of veggies and just enough kick in the red curry. (This made an excellent leftover dish the following day; I pan sauteed some red fish, added green beans and poured the remains of the curry over it. On my Instagram!)
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin red curry
These mussels were also done with a red curry sauce, and it was quite tasty. What I am noticing though, the menu online says they are served with garlic toast, and this was served with plain bread. Needed more of it too to sop up that delicious sauce.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin mussels
I love Thai noodle dishes, and was excited to try the pad kee mao with chicken, especially after our waiter said it was one of his favorites. What arrived was a plate with clumpy, undercooked noodles that were in short little choppy sections. While I wasn't anticipating the rice noodles to be long and slurpy like ramen, I did expect them to be more than two inches in length! I asked for the manager to come over, and when he did, his attitude was more like "yeah, what's up" as opposed to "how can I help you?". I inquired if this dish was normally served this way; I don't recall what his specific words were but he did imply that no it did not look quite right and took it back to the kitchen.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
This is the second version (below) of pad kee mao that arrived. You can at least see that some of the noodles are in longer lengths. Taste was okay, but for my likes, it could have used a little more sauce and not to mention flavor. Not much spice, though the menu says "spicy brown sauce." The manager did not come back to check on us.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
As you can see, there is some yin and yang at play here. There are some dishes on the menu I really want to try, like the rice pie and the crispy fish with pineapple tamarind sauce. But after the noodle debacle, I am not certain that I would order it again. I know they have only been open about two months but if they are going to survive, especially at Lamar Union, Mandala needs their universes to be in sync.

Have you been to Mandala, and what was your experience with the food and service?