Monday, July 28, 2014

Bits and Bites

-- Mettle has a lovely new summer menu; they recently had a media tasting which I attended. The items from Chef Andrew Francisco that we tasted are: (top row) Scallop Crudo with watermelon, cucumbers, tomato water, salmon roe;  Strawberry Basil Press; Tomato Salad with cheddar, balsamic and jalapeno puree; (bottom row) Grilled Beets with white chocolate, cashews, mascarpone, seaweed; Parisenne Gnocchi with grilled carrots, chevre, black sesame; Shrimp Gratin with Thai-infused flavors and Easy Tiger bread.
-- Hotel San Jose is partnering with Fresa's, by bringing in some of their prepared foods (salsa, guac, quesadillas, grilled Brussels, chicken skewers) for patrons.
-- The Austin Chronicle has announced that longtime food editor Virginia Wood is stepping down; Brandon Watson takes the reins.
-- Chavez is now open for Sunday brunch, 10:30 am - 2:30 pm, $32/adults, $12/kids with $2 mimosas and aguas frescas.
-- Walton's Fancy + Staple is teaming up with Dolce Neve Gelato to make ice cream (well, gelato!) sandwiches!

-- Every Monday at Little Barrel and Brown is now Country Picnic Day, with a $25 all you can eat buffet including items like fried chicken, pulled pork and other country favorites. 6 pm and onward. $2 Lone Stars.
-- Tickets for the 5th Annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest (September 14th) go on sale on July 29th. Guaranteed to sell out!
-- Josephine House is hosting a guest chef series; July 29th will feature Bufalina chef and owner Stephen Dilley with a four course meal for $50 or $80 with wine pairings; for reservations: reservations@
 -- Eat Out for Good, August 3 - 13; a number of local restaurants will participating with special menu items, and donating 10% to a charitable organization of their choice. Restaurants and their charities are listed on the website. 
-- Swift's Attic is hosting an Alaska Seafood dinner, August 3rd, 6 pm and 8 pm seatings, $50/person with a suggested $25 donation to benefit Operation Turkey, which provides Thanksgiving meals to those in need.
-- August 6th, 5 - 10 pm, The Hightower is hosting the kickoff of the Austin ColorCancer Network; a $5 donation gets you a flight of  local beers. 
-- Pay it Forward for Daniel Curtis is August 7th at the AT+T Conference Center; tickets $75-$125, benefiting the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation.
-- Wine and Dine with David Bull, August 13th, $175/person, benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance Culinary Grant Program; tickets here.
-- Hotel San Jose will feature Reggae Night on August 17th, 3:30 - 6:30 pm.
-- Fun Fun Fun Fest is now taking food vendor applications.
-- This spring, Austin American-Statesman launched their #Austin360Eats hashtag, for anyone to tag their social media pictures of meals out on the town.  This past week, they've added #Austin360Cooks for all those creating home-cooked meals! So if you're posting on Instagram and Twitter, be sure to appropriately tag your photos. Besides, you never know.... you could end up with #photooftheweek like I did this past week for my Instagram photo of a salad at Galaxy Cafe recently! Here's the Statesman's link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dang Banh Mi

Dang Banh Mi held a soft opening/media preview just prior to their official opening on July 21st. I was invited to attend, but have not been paid for my opinion. Located in the strip center at the southwest corner of 183 and Burnet Road, DBM is part of the Plucker's family. The owners (three non-Asian Texans) have long been fascinated with Vietnam, and over the course of several trips, found what they considered to be the best banh mi in the country, and its proprietor, Phuong, was willing to impart her culinary secrets. They are definitely trying to make authentic Vietnamese food.

Love the whimsy and color scheme of the interior, as well as the light fixtures, but it doesn't scream "Vietnam" to me.
The menu board.
We started with a spring roll and som tum (green papaya salad), which is more of a Thai item, but is also eaten in Vietnam. Really loved the peanut sauce (almost as good as my own, so I am picky!) ;)
DBM was overly generous with their portions for this tasting! First off was a sampling of three of the banh mi: chicken, the original with four types of pork (belly, tenderloin, ground, and housemade pate), and oxtail.
A big beefy bowl of pho; I missed a star anise aroma to the broth.
A huge bowl of pork bun, which a delicious nuoc cham sauce (fish sauce, typically with added lime juice, sugar, chile, and shredded carrot).
What I felt that DBM did best were the sauces: peanut, their Dang sauce (sriracha/chile sauce), and the nuoc cham. All three were excellent. They are bottling and selling the sriracha and also a hoisin sauce, which I did not try.

I would be curious to know why they've decided to open a banh mi shop in North Austin, in very close proximity to places like Tam Deli and Thanh Nhi, which are authentic Vietnamese restaurants that have banh mi for about half the price (though smaller portions too). I wonder if they should have opened up along someplace like South Lamar or Sunset Valley where there are no other banh mi offerings. (Not to neglect my beloved Lulu B's trailer on South Lamar and Oltorf; love their food, just wish they had longer hours.) And who is the target audience? If they're trying to reach people who are too intimidated to go to an authentic ethnic restaurant, then they may have succeeded. Time will tell.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Liberty Tavern

For a restaurant/bar located inside a corporate downtown Austin hotel, Liberty Tavern  has done a nice job of representing Texas.  Located on the ground level of the Hilton, Chef Carlos Cruz has redesigned the menu to feature "classic pub fare with a Tex-Mex twist," including a number of Texas beers on tap. I was recently invited to come and sample some of the new breakfast items on the menu; I was not paid for my opinions.
The kitchen selected dishes for my brunch companion and I to try. We started with the Texas Short Rib Benedict, a 72-hour short rib on toasted sourdough bread topped with caramelized onions, poached eggs and chipotle hollandaise. Tasty short rib!!
Next up was the Heavenly Hash, with jalapeño smoked sausage from Fredricksburg, red potatoes, onions, Serrano peppers, and  topped with a panko-crusted poached egg. Nice big pieces of potato with medallions of sausage, all under a runny egg.
A HUGE plate of  Texas Oatmeal Pancakes, with toffee sauce and candied Texas pecans. I have to say, I generally prefer the little silver dollar pancakes with the crispy edges, but these were nice and fluffy, and the toffee sauce instead of syrup was a great twist! And the generous sprinkling candied pecans made each bite a great textural combination of soft and crunchy.
And as if we weren't already full, the chef sent out the Caprese Salad from the lunch menu for us to try as well. You can also see in this picture the beautiful dishware Liberty Tavern is using; the Benedict was served on this same oblong plate, and the hash was served on a similar round dish. (I really wanted to stick this plate in my purse, but I swear I didn't!)
Many thanks to the staff at Liberty Tavern for welcoming us and feeding us extremely well. They are open daily from 6 am - 11 pm, with a reverse happy hour from 9 - 11 pm, daily. If you find yourself downtown and are in need of a little (or big!) pick me up, Liberty Tavern is a great place to find it. Their street entrance is on the south side of the Hilton on 4th Street, just across from the light rail station and the Convention Center.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bits and Bites

What's happening in and around the ATX food scene?!

-- Thursday, July 10th, Salvation Pizza is holding a fundraiser for Camp Glimmer (part of the Glimmer of Hope Foundation), 6 - 9 pm.

-- Roll on Sushi Diner celebrates their 3rd anniversary with new group seating, updated menu items, and a revamped drink list; in-house specials July 11-13.

-- Greenhouse Craft Food in Round Rock is having a St. Arnold beer pairing dinner on July 13th, $45/person; to reserve tickets, email:

-- On July 13th, Swift's Attic is holding their first Sunday Supper event, benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Tickets $150/person and available at the door or by calling 512/482-8200.

-- Mulberry is hosting a Bastille Day Dinner, July 14th, $25/person, tickets here.

-- PayPal is getting excited for National Ice Cream Day on July 20th. Leave your wallet at home, and just "check in" on the PayPal app to pay for your cool treats from: Coolhaus, Cow Tipping Creamery, Dolce Neve, Froyoyo, and Hey Cupcake (Barton Springs location).

-- July 25th, Russia House is holding their Black and White Old Hollywood Party, $10, with music by Snorky's.

-- Sunday, July 27th, Dishcrawl is holding their first ever Brunchcrawl, $45/person. Participants aren't told of the restaurants they will visit in advance -- it's a secret -- but will travel to three locations to eat!

-- Saturday, August 2nd, the 2nd Street District hosts White Linen, which will feature bites from some of 2ND Street District’s favorite restaurants, along with wine pairings from local and popular vineyards. This year the event benefits the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Tickets are $25.

-- Thursday, August 7th is the annual Pay it Forward with Daniel Curtis, a benefit for the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation. Hosted by the AT+T Conference Center, a number of local chefs will donate their talents in making dishes for the event.  $75/general admission, $125/VIP

-- The Austin Ice Cream Festival is Saturday, August 9th at Fiesta Gardens; $10/person. 

-- A local company, Supermechanical, has a Kickstarter in place to raise funding for Range Oven Intelligence, a "brain for your oven" that connects to your smartphone. Check them out (or heck, fund them!) here.

-- Foodways Texas annual Camp Brisket will be January 9-10, 2015 in College Station. If you want to learn absolutely everything about smoking brisket, this is the place to be! I believe it always sells out, even at $495-$550/person!

Openings, Updates, etc.
-- Upstairs on Trinity is now open for Sunday brunch, 12 - 4 pm.

-- Pleasant Storage Room is now open for lunches, Tuesday - Friday.

-- We Olive and Wine Bar officially opens July 18th at the Hill Country Galleria.

-- Perry's Steakhouse is celebrating their 35th anniversary, with their 4444 special through July and August. That's 4 courses for $44 after 4 pm !

-- Chen Z has opened at William Cannon and 290/71 in Oak Hill. No website or Facebook page that I can find, but here's the Yelp link.

-- Sagra now has some vegan options, and can also make their entire menu gluten-free if needed.

-- Dock and Roll Diner has new menu selections, including crab and scallop rolls.

-- Peche is introducing Tiki Sundays with $10 tiki cocktails all day.

-- LA Barbecue is moving from their East 6th location to the Good Life Food Park, near IH-35 and Cesar Chavez.

-- Regal Ravioli moved into LA Barbecue's old spot on South First, across from Elizabeth Street Cafe.

-- Dai Due is very close to opening their new butcher shop at 2406 Manor Road. Their next door neighbor will be a second location of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop, with a dessert and wine emphasis.

-- Mandola's at the Triangle has an updated weekend brunch menu, including new pastries and frittatas; 9 am - 1 pm. Both Mandola's locations as well as Trattoria Lisina also have special summer gelato flavors, including peach and black cherry.

Monday, July 7, 2014

aRoma Italian Kitchen and Bar

I drive up and down South Lamar Blvd. everyday, and have watched with curiosity over the past 1.5 years as the mixed retail project surrounding the Broken Spoke takes place. The first two food establishments that have gone in are national chains -- Boardwalk Burger + Fries and Bruegger's Bagel's. {Sidenote: I tried Boardwalk about a month ago; great friendly service, and I loved the fries, but the burger was meh.} So I was thrilled to see a locally-owned place -- aRoma Italian Kitchen and Bar --  take center stage (literally) next to the Spoke. You can't tell from the picture, but aRoma's patio seating is practically in the Spoke's parking lot.
I was invited to aRoma for a media tasting a couple weeks back, and this was my first look and taste. (No money exchanged hands, and I was not paid for my opinion.) Owner Dave Whitney was a head honcho at Threadgill's for over a decade, but always had a love for Neapolitan-style pizza. He found Chef Jason Garcia in San Antonio, who shared his love for classic Italian. Dave is also related to the owners of Mockingbird Domestics, the homegoods store a little further north on SoLa, who helped with the decor of aRoma.

We were started off with a salumi and formaggi plate ($12), with mostarda and castelvetrano olives.
Next was a modern take on a beet salad ($9) with goat cheese, farro, pine nuts, and onion rings. Beets and goat cheese are always a good thing in my book!
The classic Margherita pizza ($12); their pizzas cook for 60-90 seconds in a 900 degree wood fired brick oven! Hot!
And the arugula prosciutto pizza ($16), which I loved! The arugula is very gently tossed in truffle oil, but it's extremely subtle, and oh so good!
The fettucine gamberetto ($12) is tossed in a lightly smoked tomato cream, that imparted some very nice flavor to the dish, and didn't make it too heavy. We also had the brasato al vino ($21), or wine-braised short rib, though I did not get a worthy photo.
aRoma is absolutely a welcome addition to the changing face of South Lamar. Check them out for happy happy hour, from 4 - 7 pm, with half-price pizzas; full dinner service starts at 5 pm and they are open seven days a week. Free parking onsite as well. Benvenuto!

Monday, June 23, 2014

A-OK Chinese

I visited A-OK Chinese on South Lamar last month. They opened in mid-March after several months of permit delays, and they are the only Chinese place I know of run by a couple of white guys. But guys with a long history of local restaurant connections. Chef John Bullington is an acquaintance of mine; he's the former executive chef of Mars (if you've been in ATX long enough, you'll remember Mars) and the Alamo Drafthouse. His business partner Jerry Reid has years of wine background and front of the house management. Their mission statement is clearly on the wall: to create American-style Chinese food. And what that generally means is breaded and fried pieces of cheap cuts of meat with a cloying, thick, bright orange twangy sauce. And fortunately, that's not the case here.
The quality of A-OK's ingredients is super; very fresh veggies and nice cuts of juicy meat. Where things lacked though, was in the flavor. My friend and I split the pu pu platter; the shrimp toast was good and the five-spice pork ribs were REALLY good (good flavor, good tenderness; they have these on the menu as a dish, and I'd definitely eat them again). But the wontons and dumplings seemed to suffer from dough that was chewy and too thick, and the eggroll's vegetable filling (not pictured) was a bit soggy and didn't have a lot going on.
My friend ordered the garlic pork bowl, which could have used at least three times more garlic. I had the kung pao chicken; the dinner bowl is a very nice large portion, and again everything was very fresh. Kung pao is typically characterized by peanuts and spice from chile; this dish had the peanuts, but I would have liked more of the chile flavor. It does employ some szechuan peppercorns, which can give a tingly, mouth-numbing feel when lots are used, but not in this case. The brown sauce lightly coated everything, but was not too thick or gloppy. I ate part of the bowl there, and then took the rest home for dinner, where the chile flavors did  come out a little bit more.
Aesthetically, I liked the look and feel of the space. And at mid-day, there was great natural light for taking photos! They are really good about updating their Facebook page with their daily specials, and some of the dishes have looked gorgeous. I really want this place to succeed, especially since it's in my area of town. I just think there might be some new restaurant jitters that are still being worked through, and I am hoping they can punch up the flavor components and things will iron themselves out.   As South Lamar (and all of Austin) continues to grow, we need these local small businesses to succeed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bits and Bites

-- Central Market's annual Beerfest runs June 11-24; samples and beer makers throughout the duration. A beer stroll through the store with lots of demos and some freebies is June 19th from 5 - 8 pm, $10.
-- Russian House will have streaming of World Cup soccer matches beginning June 12 and Father's Day buffet on June 15th.
-- Dads get a free koozie when they dine at any of the Mandola's restaurants on Father's Day.
-- The Citywide 86'd cooking competition is June 16th at the AT + T Conference Center; watch your favorite local chefs compete!
-- Nada Moo's! Whole Lotta Dessert Social will be June 22, 5 - 7 pm at NoVa. Join Nada Moo!, Good Pops, Chameleon Cold Brew, Skull and Cakebones, and NoVa for some sweet treats, benefiting the Whole Planet Foundation.
-- It's getting warm out and what better way to cool off than at the Austin Food Blogger Alliance's the Big Chill, June 26th at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, 6 - 9 pm, $65/person, benefiting Meals on Wheels and More. See my previous blog post for more details on all  the fabulous participating restaurants and enter to win a pair of tickets! (I am a member of AFBA, and am on the organizing committee for this event -- hope to see you there!) 
 -- Want to improve your kitchen skills? Gateway Guesthouse has a great summer line up of classes from sauces to knife skills, starting at $65.

Openings/Additions etc.
-- We Olive and Wine Bar, an olive oil store, has opened at the Hill Country Galleria
-- Epicerie has switched from ordering at the counter to full table service.
-- NoVa has unveiled their summer menu. (I tried the parmesan risotto at a recent tasting, and it was delicious!)
-- Chavez offering Sunday brunch with $2 mimosas until 2 pm.
-- Froyoyo, the locally owned frozen yogurt shop on Bee Caves Road (at Walsh Tarlton)  has expanded their offerings by adding a large selection of bean to bar chocolates. They welcome people to come by for a taste!
-- Postmates, a restaurant and grocery delivery service has opened in Austin, offering deliveries within an hour of ordering. They currently have a limited delivery zone, though hope to expand.
-- Snarf's Subs, a Colorado-based chain, is opening at 2901 Medical Arts later this month.

-- Bakehouse on Manchaca is closing, and Strangebrew Coffee will open a 24-hour diner.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big Chill

I am a member of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, and our annual fundraiser event is coming up! Join us at the Big Chill, June 26th, from 6 - 9 pm at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Tickets are $65/person, and can be purchased here.... or....

Enter to win two tickets to The Big Chill!

It's the coolest event in the hot Texas summer: the Big Chill! Join the Austin Food Blogger Alliance for a night to remember.

Dress up and cool down with chilly bites from some of Austin's top restaurants at the beautiful Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Chefs from top Austin restaurants -- including The Carillon, No Va, St. Philip, Dolce Neve, Celtic Seafare, Nada Moo, Soup Peddler, Pleasant Storage Room, Swift's Attic, Thai Fresh, Trace at the W, and Noble Sandwich Co. -- will be creating special menu items for the event, with drink stations sponsored by Good Pop and Chameleon Coffee.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Meals on Wheels and More, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Meals on Wheels and More has served the Austin area for 42 years, nourishing and enriching the lives of people in need through meal delivery and other programs that promote independent living.

Event information:
Thursday, June 26 from 6 - 9 pm
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 N. Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78701

Total prize value: $130
Must be over 21 to attend the event.
Enter below to win now through June 15th, and don’t forget to follow along on Twitter and Instagram: #AFBABigChill

I can't get the widget to load properly, but this link should take you to the contest entry! Spread the word!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Food and Wine at Snack Bar

I was invited by Snack Bar to come and check out their new wine menu, and it ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable evening with owner Bethany Andree and Wine for the People consultant Rae Wilson.

My friend and I selected a couple items to eat, and Rae picked four different wines to go with them.  We had the lightly caramelized Brussels sprouts, which by themselves are a nice sweet and savory mouthful, but the addition of an herbed aioli adds another textural and flavor component. And the mussels, with their briny sweetness... what wines DO you pair with Brussels and mussels?
Rae picked four wines for us to try, and they all really worked! I should have taken more wine tasting notes, but all complemented the dishes very well.
  • Compass Rose Cellars Pinot Grigio, Mason, Texas -- very crisp, with honey and pear tones
  • Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany -- stonefruit and more minerality
  • Dead Flowers Rosé, High Plains, Texas -- not too dry (nor sweet) and thoroughly drinkable
  • Inman Family Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California -- a lighter red, great for summer sipping
She also ordered the fish of the day, grilled mahi mahi with mango pineapple salsa and coconut rice. Not only did this look fabulous, it tasted fabulous as well! And of course, her wine selections worked great with this dish. So whether you're into reds, whites, or roses, Snack Bar can match your food and wine choices!
For dessert, we had the "candy bar" which is kind of a cross between a brownie and a Snickers bar, and the raspberry black pepper sorbet. Rae picked a delicious port, Quinto do Crasto LBV Port, from Douro Valley, Portugal and the Gongora Duque de Carmona Orange, from Sevilla, Spain (Seville oranges soak in this sweet wine). I am partial to ports, with their raisin and fig notes, which were lovely with the candy bar, and the orange notes were great with the peppery kick of the berry sorbet. (My picture didn't turn out so great, so I will spare you.)

Rae does wine consulting for a number of area restaurants, which includes staff trainings. With nearly 20 years experience in the industry, she aims to keep wines accessible to people of varying wine experiences. Bethany and her husband have owned and operated Snack Bar since 2009. She had worked next door at the Austin Motel for years, and when the space became available, they decided to go for it, and reclaim some of its vintage diner character. The menu reflects their love of travel and international cuisine, and there's something for everyone on it.  Being right in the heart of South Congress, they get a good mix of both locals, regulars and tourists. Their nice big patio is also perfect for people watching with a big glass of wine or beverage of choice. Check their website or Facebook page for nightly specials, but most importantly, go check out this fun South Austin spot!

I was a guest of Snack Bar; no money exchanged hands, and I was not paid for my opinions. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Recent Eats

A few of the places I have been this past month. I was extremely fortunate to have been the plus one to a media tasting dinner at laV, the newly opened French restaurant at 1501 East 7th. It was fabulous all around!

Best sparkling rose I've had because it wasn't too dry for my tastes, Cremant de Limoux, Cuvee Rose, Domaine Collin NV, and it paired wonderfully with the chicken liver pate. As managing partner and lead sommelier Vilma Mazaite said, the pate is filled with butter and cream, so what's not to like? Accompanying it was brioche toast points, berry preserves, cornichons, and mustard. LaV and Winebelly probably have two of the best pates in town.
The next course was a sweet pea agnolotti, filled with ricotta, with a pea puree on the bottom, and pressed strawberries and pea shoots on top. It was as beautiful and tasty as it looks.
Roast chicken isn't something I would normally order at a restaurant, but this one is special. Executive Chef Allison Jenkins said they salt the chickens the night before, and then roast at 600 degrees, breast-side down, for an hour. Served with perfectly-roasted fingerling potatoes, on the regular menu, this dish serves two and runs $48. And worth every penny.
The bouillabaisse was chock full of head-on blue shrimp, clams, squid, and had a distinct orange flavoring to it's broth. And no, that's not French's mustard on the rustic bread, but rather rouille, a saffron and garlic sauce, similar in texture to an aioli (I was unfamiliar with rouille before this!).
Dessert was lemon and mascarpone budino with local Poteet strawberries, and brioche doughnuts. I could have licked the lovely blue ceramic bowl clean of its velvety contents!
LaV has it all going for themselves -- beautiful decor, superb service, and most importantly, outstanding food. They also have a very extensive wine list (several thousand bottles are housed in the private tasting room we were in) and highly knowledgeable staff. Surely this place will be ranking high on the top places to eat in Austin. Make a reservation and experience for yourselves.

And a few other meals of note. Dinner with a friend at my neighborhood Elizabeth Street Cafe. This is the #20, house specialty banh mi, which they gracefully let me substitute the roast pork for the marinated. They make their baguettes in-house, and it's the perfect consistency for this sandwich.
A media tasting for the new summer menu at NoVa. This was the Parmesan risotto, which several of us shared, and it was hard not to eat it all myself!
We then moved a few doors down to Bangers. It was a rainy evening on Rainey Street, so we sat inside. Extremely loud! And as this was my first visit to Bangers, I was a bit overwhelmed by both the food and drink menus. Ended up with the bockwurst (they make all their own sausages, and even have fresh ones available to take home) and Crispin pear cider.
The movie Chef (see previous blog post) made me extremely hungry for a Cuban sandwich. This one from the Texas Cuban trailer on South Lamar hit the spot!
And finally, after watching a friend make pasta, I decided to dust off my pasta maker, and give it another try. The dough recipe couldn't be simpler: 1 cup of all purpose or double zero flour to 2 eggs. That's it. No salt in the dough, but salt your pasta water liberally. It all came together easily, and after repeated passes through the pasta machine, I had dough, which I cut (imprecisely) into pappardelle.
Which then became dinner with fresh fava beans, pecorino romano cheese, fresh mint, and just a little bit of bacon. I am pretty proud of this dish!
So, just a little peek into my food world. Some of these pictures I previously posted on Instagram. Where have you been lately that's good?