Friday, April 4, 2014

Bits and Bites


Events
-- The 3rd Texas Veg Fest is April 5th at Fiesta Gardens; vendors, speakers, food and more!

-- The Texas Olive Festival is April 5th at the Texas Hill Country Olive Company in Dripping Springs. Advance tickets are $35 and benefit the Sustainable Food Center.

-- Scrumptious Chef is holding one of his pop-up events on April 5th at Tamale House East; salsa and charcuterie.

-- Banger's is holding a dinner and screening of the new movie Craft on April 8th. $15/person; a special sausage will be created to complement the Altered State saison beer.

-- Jack Allen's is hosting a five-course tasting dinner on April 8th with Treaty Oak Spirits, $75/person. For tickets: banquets@jackallenskitchen.com

-- Join Sagra for a wine tasting dinner April 9th, $45/person.

-- Apothecary will hold a spring wine tasting on April 12th from 2 - 4pm, $25/person; for tickets, email them at info@apothecaryaustin.com

-- Mulberry's annual crawfish boil is April 13th, 5 - 8 pm, $10/person. 

-- The Austin Food and Wine Alliance's annual Live Fire! is April 17 at the Salt Lick Pavilion; tickets are $75.

-- On April 19th, Bangers will host Smoke Out Saturday with a low country boil (shrimp, crab and lots more) and music for $15.

-- Chavez will be open for Easter brunch on April 20th, $49/person.

-- The Carillon is doing seatings for Easter at 10:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm and 1:30 pm; $65 for adults. $19.95 for kids ages 6 - 12.

-- Eden East at Springdale Farm will hold an Easter Brunch and egg hunt, $100/person, 1 pm, April 20th.

-- Foreign and Domestic will host Indie Chef Table on April 21st, featuring Jason Vincent of Nightwood Restaurant in Chicago; $100 for table seating (35 available) $125 for counter seating (12 available), and include a glass of bubbly and gratuity.

-- April 24th, Music To Your Mouth is presenting a 4 course dinner at Rough Hollow Yacht Club, for $200/person, which will include a private concert by Kristian Bush of the band Sugarland.

-- The list of exhibitors for the Austin Food and Wine Festival (April 26-27 at Butler Park) has been announced; presenters have also been named. 

-- The annual Pachanga Latin Music Festival will be May 10th at Fiesta Gardens. They are offering a V.I.T. (Very Important Taco) package that offers access to multiple taco stands and unlimited refreshments. $33-$75/person

-- Spike TV is casting for Frankenfoods in the Austin area:
  
Openings/Offerings
-- Paggi House has debuted a new spring menu, which I recently was invited to try. They are also donating a $1 of each handcrafted cocktail during the month of April to the A Glimmer of Hope Austin summer camps program. Pictured here, the tender and flavorful veal cheeks on polenta.

-- A-OK Chinese opened at 1509 South Lamar.

-- Tiny Pies opened a storefront at 5035 Burnet Road.

-- Noble Sandwiches now has their second location at 4805 Burnet Road.

-- P. Terry's is offering a caramel turtle fudge milkshake through mid-April.

-- Benji's Cantina is now open for lunch Monday through Saturday.

-- Porter Ale House is now offering Sunday brunch.

-- The Carillon will launch their new spring menu, and they are now opening their lunch buffet to the public (previously only open to UT staff and faculty).

-- Apothecary also has a new spring menu and a few new wines.

-- Cooper's BBQ will open at 217 Congress Avenue this fall. Yes, THAT Cooper's of Llano!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Odd Duck

Last weekend I made my first visit to Odd Duck, the trailer turned restaurant (after a couple year hiatus) from Bryce Gilmore. This sister restaurant to Barley Swine is about a half mile north on South Lamar, directly across from the construction pit where the Alamo Drafthouse will reopen. Odd Duck is a less-formal setting than Barley Swine, and seats probably four times as many customers when you include the spacious outdoor patio. We had no problems making a Sunday reservation online just two days prior, and while the restaurant was busy, they were no where near capacity. I received a phone call from the restaurant on Sunday to confirm the reservation; they also inquired about any dietary restrictions (none) and let me know most of the seating was at communal tables (ok). Upon our arrival, the hostess sat us outside on the patio (complete with drop-down siding and overhead heaters), which was away from the hubbub of activity that encircled the bar area, and thus a little quieter. And we didn't have to share a table, though it is sometimes fun to do so.

My dinner companion and I were warmly greeted by our waiter Bruno, who proceeded to explain the menu. They encourage sharing of dishes, and about three dishes per person. You can see from the pictures they use a mish-mash of vintage dishware, which doesn't always make the food stand out when photographing the plates, but it's a creative touch nonetheless. We both ordered beers, and I thought my Live Oak Hefeweizen went well with our food choices.

We started with the Parker House rolls with shredded meat from the pig's head, mixed with some seasonings. I could have eaten an entire meal of these and been perfectly happy! Whoever oversees Odd Duck's breads is doing a marvelous job. Warm, buttery, soft, tender, and filled with a well-balanced meat mixture. Do not miss out!
Next up were the mustard seed tater tots with pimento cheese. I didn't really find many mustard seeds in the potato cubes, but maybe they're ground up. It seems that these were mashed potatoes, spread thinly in a pan, left to cool and harden before being scored into little squares, and then fried. Devoid of any trace of grease, which was nice. But I sort of missed the texture of little potato pieces found in a traditional tot. The pimento cheese has great cheesy flavor, but it's whipped to the state of more of a mousse than a "regular" cheese spread, and there was much more pimento to go around than there were tots. Bread would have been handy to scoop up the mousse. While the texture of the pimento may not have been my most favorite, they get points for modernizing and putting their own spin on traditional fare.
There were two fish options on the menu, and we asked our waiter's opinion. He steered us towards this, the raw cobia (a whitefish), with bacon, soy, grapefruit, and sunflower seed clusters. We both thought the dish would be more successful without the soy sauce. But while it goes with fish and with the bacon (pork belly), it didn't go with the grapefruit. Though one could also argue that the grapefruit was the item that should have been removed. All said, the individual components worked, but I didn't feel it worked together as a whole concept.
Our next plate was the carrots roasted in hay with chevre and pistachio crumbs, or what I have been calling a forest of carrots. Fun, artful presentation, different types of carrots cut in different ways, and a good amount of chevre on the bottom of the plate (though you can't really see it in this picture). The pistachio crumbs gave a really nice texture to the softened carrots. By now we realized we needed bread for the ample amount of chevre.
So remember how I said earlier whomever is doing the breads is doing a marvelous job? I had already felt that with the Parker House rolls, and then we had this: their spent grain loaf with salted, cultured butter. So glad I eat carbs! :) This warm bread was also amazing on its own, but then if you slathered some butter on a piece.... try it yourself, and I dare you not to say "oh my god!".
And speaking of carbs, this black olive pasta with braised goat, sage, and Parmesan was also a huge winner. It's a bit on the salty side (which is sort of ironic to me because I always thought the food at the Odd Duck trailer was under-salted) with the olives and Parmesan, but it all just melts in your mouth. I am guessing they braise the goat, because it was tender and juicy. Really a wonderful umami mouthful.
For dessert we picked the buttermilk pie on a peanut crust with sweet tea and celery. Celery? As far as we could tell, the only celery were the little green leaves you see for garnish. Yes, they were celery leaves, but young tender ones. I didn't object to them, but not sure they added anything to the dish. The sweet tea turned out to be a jelly-like reduction (if you can make out the brown dots on the plate) that tasted just like sweet tea. The buttermilk pie part was fine, but it didn't overly excite me. I am wondering now what made it so yellow in color...maybe there was celery puree in it, but it didn't really taste like that.
Here's a shot of the porch seating. I'd say there were about 8 - 10 picnic tables that would each hold six people comfortably. Wish I had had more of an opportunity to look around in the main dining room, but I can say the seating around the bar was pretty much entirely filled, as were the inside tables.
From the people I know who had eaten here since their December opening, pretty much everyone has had good things to say. One friend though had a horrible service experience, so I sort of kept waiting for something to happen. But I thought from the hostess to our waiter, the service was great. Bruno was knowledgeable about the menu, and while his choice of fish dish wasn't my favorite dish of the evening, I don't necessarily feel that he led us astray. He was friendly, and never gone for too long, even though we were outside. I should also add there is an emphasis on local and seasonal foods, and there's a page on their website listing their vendors/sources.

Odd Duck is a welcome addition to my South Austin neighborhood, and I am pleased to make its acquaintance. I look forward to more carb-filled meals there!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Titaya's

Many an Austinite mourned the prolonged closure of Titaya's Thai Cuisine as they remodeled the restaurant and updated the menu. Many of those have long thought that Titaya's was the best Thai food in town. And after what seemed like an eternity, they reopened last month to much fanfare and rejoicing. Those fans may still think it's the best Thai food in town, but while my recent meal was solid, I would beg to differ.

The first Sunday of SXSW, and I had friends in from out of town. They also have friends living in north-central Austin, and Titaya's was suggested as the place for a 6 pm meet up, for four adults, one 5 year old (with an adventurous palate!), and one infant. We had about a 15 minute wait, which wasn't too bad. Fortunately, we were seated in one of the large booths which was quite comfortable for our group. The booth next to us had eight adults packed into it and then two high chairs at the end of the table! The initial wait for a table gave me a few minutes to look at the nicely updated decor: many framed pictures, framed pieces of cloth hanging from the ceiling, a wall of candles. Very colorful and fun.
We started with the som tum (green papaya salad) and fresh spring rolls with shrimp. The som tum comes in a nice mortar and pestle container, and while very fresh, it didn't have the contrast of flavors from the fish sauce or the spiciness that I have come to expect with this dish.
Half the group were vegetarians, so we stuck to seafood and tofu as our proteins. Definitely my favorite dish was the #T4 Chuu Chee Pla, basa (catfish), which was battered and fried, and served with red curry. We asked for the curry not to be too hot, since we had a child with us, and I think the heat level was perfect. Lots of good flavors in the piquant red curry, and the fish was very nice and crispy. Winner.
Titaya's pad thai (with shrimp) was okay; for me though it was a bit too sweet, and not enough tamarind, which provides a sweet and twangy taste. The texture of the noodles was good, but just not that flavorful. Very nice fresh bean sprouts.
The pad see ew was another dish that for me missed the mark. Typically, it's wide rice noodles in a brown gravy/sauce. There was no other flavor to the sauce other than soy, and the noodles seemed a bit thick, and the fried tofu was very chewy. Yes, pad see ew is a soy-based dish, but usually there's some fish sauce and sweetness, not just soy sauce!
The eggplant with mixed veggies was not only colorful, but had a nice little kick to it too. Good consistency to the eggplant, and the stir fried veggies still had some snap to them.
So am I being overly picky? Perhaps. (Though I have talked with one friend who was a huge Titaya's fanatic before the remodel, and he said he was a bit disappointed with their food on his return visit.) Only being about a month into their re-opening, is it a bit too early to tell how things will shake down? Perhaps. Would I eat there again? Yes. But I would like to try some of the dishes with animal protein, not just vegetarian items. But judging from the large numbers of people waiting for tables throughout our meal, Titaya's is quickly making up for those months they were closed, and they will continue to see people flocking to them. As for me, I will stay in my neighborhood and head to Thai Fresh for a great pad thai dish.

Sorry for the slightly blurry photos; when dining with groups (and when there are people I don't know) I try to get my pictures done in a hurry so they're not waiting on me to get a shot.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bits and Bites


Opening/Updates
-- Dan's Hamburgers at Ben White and Manchaca (finally!) reopened.
-- JuiceLand now offers online ordering for quick pick ups.
-- Greenhouse Craft Food has opened in Round Rock, featuring a local artisan menu.
-- Apothecary has a new executive chef, Albert Gonzalez, and has debuted a new seasonal menu.
-- New on South Lamar, in the construction on either side of the Broken Spoke: Boardwalk Burger (now open) and Bruegger's Bagels (coming soon).  
-- Cooper's BBQ has announced plans to open an outlet at 217 Congress in the fall.

Closing/Moving
-- The Omelettry has announced they've been priced out of their current location, and will look for a new one along Burnet Road.
-- Vivo on Manor Road has closed, but say they want to find another location.

Events
-- The Tillamook Cheese VW Bus will be giving away samples at Hopdoddy on South Congress from 11am - 3pm on Friday, March 21st.  They will also be offering free cheese slices on the Classic Burger all day.
 -- Foodways Texas will hold their fourth annual symposium entitled "Farm to Market" in Bryan-College Station, on March 20-22. From their press release: "Farm to Market 2014 will explore the past, present, and future of Texas agriculture and its intimate connection to Texas cultural history and identity....(the symposium) will be spent discussing Texas crops and crop history, feeding cities, innovative urban farming, rice history and current challenges, Texas grapefruit, the business of olive orchards, wine terroir, and much more."
-- Salvation Pizza will celebrate their anniversary with a benefit; the Glimmer-versary event will be Saturday, March 29th from 12-4pm; proceeds will go to Glimmer of Hope, which strives to improve the circumstances of disadvantaged youth.
-- Jester King Brewery is teaming up with Epicerie for their first ever beer brunch on Sunday, March 30th, at Epicere. 
-- Scrumptious Chef will be hosting a Salsa Shootout on Saturday, April 5th from 6 - 8pm at Tamale House East.
 -- The third Vaca y Vino will be Sunday, April 6th 1-6 pm at Bridges Ranch in Wimberley. Tickets are $100-125, and will feature Argentinean-style celebration of beef, wine, and music, all while benefiting the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. 
-- A new event space is opening at 1100 East 5th at Waller, Fair Market, is a partnership of several management, restaurant, and event production companies. With 16,000 square feet of indoor space, they can host a variety of events; see their website for getting rental quotes.

Misc.
-- The Austin Food Blogger Alliance (of which I am a member) partnered with Citygram Magazine to present the annual City Guide to restaurants. My recent post on Regal Ravioli was my contribution to this year's effort. The entire City Guide can be viewed online here, or you can download the Citygram app if you're an Apple/iOS user.

Monday, March 3, 2014

South Austin Restaurant Updates 2014 (plus other rec's as well!)

Oh what a year it has been! We've seen some great new spots open up in South Austin; here's a look at what's new this past year.

Flour + Vine -- I've only been for a tasting, but was very impressed with the food; they haven't really figured out how to use social media to their advantage. My previous post is here. South Lamar and Riverside.
Beef Wellington with purple mashed potatoes
Odd Duck -- The former trailer that started it all for Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine; they opened in December and I hear great things about the food, but haven't been yet for myself. South Lamar and Gibson.

Barlata -- Genuine Spanish tapas on South Lamar! Charming spot, very modern/industrial architecture; good food, though the paellas have tended to be on the greasy side. Happy hour (in the bar area only) is a great value, with select dishes and drinks being $5. Amazing crema catalana for dessert! (I've had it several times and it's always velvety smooth.) My post is here. South Lamar and Collier.
Mussels with sofrito
Crema catalana

East Side King -- The latest from Paul Qui's empire, and his first foray into South Austin. ESK stems from his Asian fusion food trucks on the east side, each with a different menu. South Lamar and Goodrich.

Austin Beer Garden Brewing (ABGB) -- House-brewed beer and house-made pizza. Both fine. West Oltorf and Thornton (one block east of Lamar).

Winebelly -- Another small plates restaurant, Winebelly has a shabby chic feel, and seasonal menus. I'd go back in a heartbeat! My post is here. South First and Oltorf.
Cauliflower soup with smoked trout
Panzanella salad
El Chile -- Once just a Manor Road favorite, South First and Mary Streets can now claim El Chile as their own too. Casual Tex Mex, with lots of good food and not a lot of grease. Patio seating too.

Dolce Neve -- A true gelato shop, owned and operated by three Italians. They use the traditional method of making gelato and utilize local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Deeeee-licious! South First and Annie.
.
Little Barrel and Brown -- Haven't heard too much about this one yet, but it replaced The Woodland and is in a great location  in the heart of trendy South Congress at Annie.

And of you're looking for some recommendations for vegan, vegetarian fare, and other cuisine in South Austin (and all around town), check out some friends of mine!

Lazy Smurf's SXSW Vegan Guide
Aneelee's South Austin Vegetarian Guide
Mad Betty's Indian Food in Austin
Foodie is the New Forty's Upscale Dining
Mary Makes Dinner Pizza Guide
From Maggie's Farm BBQ East of Austin
From Maggie's Farm Cajun/Creole 
Craft Taste's Craft Beer Guide


Thursday, February 27, 2014

South Austin Food Trailers 2014

It's almost March, which of course brings bajillions of people to our fair city for SXSW, the Rodeo, high school basketball playoffs, and some spring break tourists too! While it can create traffic headaches, it's great for our economy, so welcome! The past couple years, I have taken some time to write a post on food trailers/trucks in South Austin, and here's the 2014 edition.
Please note, this is a reference guide, not necessarily an endorsement of each of these trailers, as I have not eaten at all of them. (But now that good weather is back on our horizon, it's time for me to play catch up!) Ones that I have eaten at and liked are noted. I am also probably missing some in this list, and I do apologize; leave a comment below on what else should be included.

Along South Congress (from north to south)
-- A Touch of Fire (Thai) at Riverside, by Howdy Donut
-- Mrs. P's Electric Cock (fried chicken) at 1101 S. Congress; fabulous fried chicken
-- Burro Cheese Kitchen (grilled cheese), at The Circle by Amy's Ice Cream
-- WurstTex (brats/sausages), at Gibson
-- On the west side of Gibson and South Congress, is a trailer park with Crepes Mille (crepes), Fat Cactus (great fry breads, both sweet and savory; last year's food trailer post has a write up of them), Hey You Gonna Eat or What (sandwiches), and Gemma Love (Jamaican)
-- Hey Cupcake at Elizabeth by Home Slice; the cupcake trailer that pretty much started the food trailer revolution along SoCo
-- SoCo Burgers at Oltorf in the HEB parking lot
-- Angry Egg Roll at the 04 Lounge at 3808 S. Congress

Along South First
-- Bouldin Creek Food Park at 1207 S. 1st at Gibson with Big Bad BBQ, Little Thai Food, and Pitalicious
-- South Austin Trailer Park + Eatery at 1311 S. 1st with Torchy's Tacos (fancy tacos!; other brick and mortar locations of Torchy's all around town), Holy Cacao (cake balls), and Conscious Cravings (vegetarian)
-- at Elizabeth Street, Gourdough's Donuts (Big. Fat. Donuts. as the saying goes), Melizzoz Tacos, and the Original New Orleans Po-Boy + Gumbo Shop (Cajun)
 -- at 1906 S. 1st, The Pizza Shop
--  South First Food Court at 603 Live Oak at S. 1st, with Chaat Shop (Indian), the Mighty Beastro (beast food), Bananarchy (banana-based desserts), Global Sandwiches and Mama Mal's Italian (both opening soon), and Try Mai Thai has just moved in.
-- Just east of South First on Oltorf (next to Church's), The Flying Carpet (Moroccan; previous post here) Maria and Abdu have become friends of mine; their food is unique and delicious, and they have hearts of gold. Also Regal Ravioli (Italian; my recent post on RR is here) -- two of my favorite places!!! Note: Regal has moved to 1309 E. 7th for SXSW.
Regal Ravioli's beet ravioli with pecan pesto
Along Barton Springs
-- at 801 Barton Springs, Short Bus Subs, Lucy's European, snow cones
-- at 1003 Barton Springs, Tac-O's and Nuha's Sinful Desserts

Along South Lamar
-- at Gibson by Gibson Bar, Luke's Inside Out
-- at 1311 S. Lamar by Genie's Car Wash, Brown's BBQ
-- at W. Mary by the Corner Bar,  Tommy Want Wingy and Potato.A both on the Mary side. Update: as of March 6th, it looks like Brown's BBQ has moved here as well, on the Lamar side.
-- at Oltorf, just south of the Office Depot under the big oak tree, LuLu B's Vietnamese; you can get a good sized banh mi sandwich and springrolls for $10, and that will make 2 meals for me. Love their bbq pork!
-- at Bluebonnet, the SoLa Food Court with Lone Star BBQ, Taco Baby, Wasota African Cuisine, Kuxtal Coffee, and Com Bun Yew (Asian)

Way, way down south
-- Native South Food Park at 10106 Manchaca
-- Moontowner Saloon at 10212 Manchaca...both of these have an assortment of trailers!

Other Austin trailer resources:
Austin Food Carts
Austin Food Trucks
Food Trailers Austin
Food Trucks TX

Monday, February 17, 2014

Recent Eats

I spent Saturday, January 25th at Travaasa for Edible Austin's Jam and Jive, benefiting the Sustainable Food Center which featured local presenters discussing ways to use seasonal foods.  Thank you to Giant Noise PR for the media pass!
The first session I attended was with Travaasa's own executive chef, Ben Baker, who talked about fermenting and sprouting grains for breads, as they breakdown the cellular structure and make them easier for digesting. He gave us pieces of three different sourdough breads, a traditional, one with red wine and thyme, and one with rye, all outstanding in their crust, crumb, and most importantly, flavor.
The second session was from Hip Girl author Kate Payne who gave us four different ways to use grapefruit, apart from eating it! You can make a shrub (or drinking vinegar) from the peel, an infused salt from the zest, cleaning solutions from the pith and peel, and a natural thickener from the seeds. No waste!
After a happy hour a featuring some of the items made in the classes, we had dinner prepared by Chef Baker and his team. Pickled cauliflowers with hydroponic watercress, preserved trout and deviled egg. Pork tenderloin wrapped in ancho-cured pork belly. Pickled strawberries, chocolate bacon, and zabaglione. All delicious, and much of it grown there on the Travaasa property.

Other recent eats....if you follow me (and of course you should!) on Instagram, you may have seen some of these before.

-- A pleasant brunch at the Steeping Room (the one at 45th & Lamar). A quaint modern tea house that happens to serve an array of food. This was "the Morning Tea Service," one of the brunch options and quite a lot of food, and included tea, coffee, or chai. The ginger scone was outstanding (as was the crispy bacon, duh!), and yes those are miniature cookies on top of the fruit salad, along with a generous serving of clotted cream.
-- Barbeque from the Lone Star BBQ trailer, located at South Lamar and Bluebonnet. While I drive past this practically every day, a recent sunny Sunday during the farmer's market was the first time I had stopped, and the whole place was packed. The service was super-friendly, and I got my food to go. As you can tell, it's a bit on the greasy side. The brisket had a decent smoke ring, but was a bit bland in flavor; the sausage was good, nice medium-coarse texture and if I had to guess, I'd say the potato salad was pre-made from a grocery store. Not bad barbeque, but not outstanding.
 
-- Quite a number of people attended the soft opening/media preview for Chavez, Shawn Cirkiel's latest project, which replaces the TGI Friday's at the Radisson Hotel at Congress and Cesar Chavez. The food is a spin on modern south western cuisine, and the new interior is stunning! The evening featured very hard-working staff members cranking out drinks and passing trays of a number of appetizers which were miniature versions of menu items, including these lovely smoked cherry margaritas.
 -- The impeccable staff at Uchi and Uchiko should be the gold standard for which all other restaurants strive to achieve. The food and service is always flawless. One of my good friends and I went early on a Monday night to celebrate her birthday; we had a 5 pm reservation, and the place was essentially full by 5:30. The bacon steakie with the watermelon radish was pork belly perfection (so good, we ordered a second one, right before the end of social hour), and we were treated to the jizake creme caramel -- browned butter sorbet with a gingery flan and light simple syrup poured on top. I generally don't care as much for their desserts (a little too "modern" for me!), but this was a winner in my book.
-- I had lunch plans with a friend who is the parent of a toddler, so she doesn't get out much. She said "I want ramen! I've never had ramen and I hear you guys all talking about." So I opted for Kome (I really want to get back to Ramen Tatsuya, but I wasn't willing to stand in line, as this was on one of our recent "wintery" days.) Well, needless to say, she loved it (as did I)! She ordered the tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen bowl with pork belly and soft-boiled egg, and I had the chicken kara-age, their take on fried chicken, with an ultra-light batter. While the chicken looks a little washed out in the picture, it was piping hot, devoid of any grease, and very juicy! We also got the tsukemono (pickled veggies) and a longhorn roll (with steak) that were also perfectly prepared. Kome has different menus for lunch and dinner, and now having been twice for lunch, I think dinner there is in my near future.
 -- Yes, I've been on an Asian kick (though I almost always am!), and just days after ramen at Kome, I had dinner with a friend at Michi Ramen, which was better than I remember it from last summer -- maybe because it was colder outside now and hot broth just warms you up! We split the tempura which had a perfect batter on them and the gyoza, which were some of the best-seared dumplings I've ever had at a restaurant. I had the michi ramen bowl (pork broth) with the stout (or heavier) broth, with an extra topping of veggies. The broth has a nice porky flavor and the noodles had just the right firmness; because we had ordered appetizers, I ate about half my bowl, and took the rest home for lunch the next day. My friend ordered the Texas BBQ bowl with a tomato-based broth, which comes complete with pork ribs in it!
-- And finally, I was very excited to receive this in the mail the other day! It's CHOCOLATE! It's my "thank you" from local business Piq Chocolates for donating to their recent Kickstarter campaign, which allowed them to purchase a 3D printer that makes personalized designs on chocolate! I got to custom design my bar, and while just putting a logo on it is pretty basic, I think it's genius for many businesses out there! See their website for more details. Oh, and the dark chocolate tastes good too! After shooting this picture, I took a bite, and it's a nice bittersweet chocolate with some light fruity undertones, and good texture! Not chalky or dry.

What have YOU been eating lately?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bits and Bites

Valentine's Eats -- make a reservation!
-- The Carillon is offering 3 or 5 course meals with or without wine pairings on Feb 13, 14, and 15, featuring Hawaiian blue prawns, wagyu ribeyes, and chocolate terrine.
-- Due Forni is offering a 4 course meal for $60, featuring buffalo mozzarella, lobster ravioli, pizza with prawns, and cannoli. 
-- Andiamo is offering a 4 course meal for $65 or $80 with wine pairings, with main course offerings such as porcini risotto and beef tenderloin, with many of the recipes coming from the owner's Italian family.
-- Peche Austin is offering a la carte choices, including roast bone marrow, and branzino with fennel and artichokes.
-- Liberty Tavern at the Hilton Downtown presents the Hater's Club, an evening for heart breakers and singles with a slow-roasted double bone pork chop and drink specials.

Openings
-- Chavez, the latest from Shawn Cirkiel, at the Radisson Hotel at Cesar Chavez and Congress. Modern Southwestern.
-- Porter Ale House and Gastropub, at 3715 South First (new apartment building just south of Ben White); owned by a trio who come from the Hyatt Lost Pines... menu looks fantastic!
-- The Hightower, at 1209 E. 7th Street in the former Karibu Ethiopian spot. Full bar. They will also hold monthly charity nights, the first Wednesday of the month. On February 5th, 20% of food proceeds will go to Austin Pets Alive.
-- Half Step Bar, at 75 1/2 Rainey Street, hand-crafted cocktails, petanque court and live music.
-- Diesel Foods is opening a brick and mortar shop at 2210 South First Street, where customers can pick up prepared meals, either just on a walk-in basis, or work with their staff to develop a nutritional program. They will also carry local produce and products like cold-pressed juices and protein bars.
-- Crave Restaurant, a national chain with about 10 locations, is opening at 340 E. 2nd Street.
-- Local burger favorite P. Terry's is unveiling a food truck for events later this month.
-- Titaya's....someday!
-- Phonatic, the locally owned casual Vietnamese chain has opened in Cedar Park at 1468 E. Whitestone Blvd.
-- Bar 79 in Perry's Steakhouse at 114 W. 7th Street is being redesigned and will reopen later this month.
-- New food trailer park called The Picnic at 1720 Barton Springs Road coming soon.
-- Later this spring, aRoma, an Italian spot at 3401 South Lamar (new apartment building next to the Broken Spoke)

Events
-- Mockingbird Domestics is hosting a chocolate and coffee pairing class with Houndstooth Coffee, Thursday, February 6th, 6 pm, $20/person.
-- RL Reeves of Scumptious Chef is hosting a pop-up dinner at Tamale House East on Saturday, February 8th, featuring exotic meats -- goose, alligator, yak and antelope.
-- Austin Food and Wine Alliance and David Alan of the Tipsy Texan collaborate on the Official Drink of Austin event, Thursday, February 20th, 7 - 10pm at the AT+T Conference Center, $65/person. 
-- Food truck throwdown between Chilantro and the Peached Tortilla, Saturday, February 22nd, 2 - 5 pm, at the Draught House, 4112 Medical Parkway, $20. 
-- The Edible Austin Bacon and Beer Festival will also be February 22nd, 2:30 - 5 pm, at the Marchesa Event Center.
-- Banger's will host a St. Arnold beer and chocolate pairing, with beers from the personal collection of St. Arnold's owner. Wednesday, February 26th, $50/person, ticket info here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Regal Ravioli

Pasta is quite possibly the ultimate comfort food for me. And while I can make a pretty decent carbonara, homemade ravioli is something I rarely (okay, never) attempt to make. Fortunately, my neighborhood is home to Regal Ravioli, where I have become quite acquainted with the food. Owner Zach Adams has his trailer parked in a lot behind a blue house at 504 W. Oltorf (next to Church's Fried Chicken, just east of the intersection of Oltorf and South First). The house is the indoor seating for Regal Ravioli and my good friends at The Flying Carpet. Order food at either trailer, and they'll happily bring it to you inside the house, or you can dine outside at one of the picnic tables. Credit cards are accepted, and you're welcome to bring your own wine or beer.
I have visited Regal Ravioli a number of times in the past two years, and there is always a nice variety on the menu that would please vegetarians and carnivores alike, not to mention adults and children. Basically, you pick your ideal ravioli and the type of sauce you want to go with it.                      
Zach starts everything out though with homemade pasta, which I happened to catch him making on my most recent visit. One batch of pasta dough will make about eight servings of ravioli, I believe he said, so he makes multiple batches throughout the day. He also makes different doughs for different dishes. It's a very well stocked and organized trailer, and he makes everything right there in the trailer.
Regal Ravioli's logo proclaims they are the king of ravioli in Austin, to which I would add king of gnocchi as well! Their sweet potato gnocchi with bolognese sauce is something I crave and it's hard for me not to order it every time I am there! The individual gnocchi are consistently light and pillowy, and rival any gnocchi I've had at Enoteca or Buenos Aries Cafe, two area brick and mortar restaurants with generally outstanding gnocchi.  (And even if you're not a sweet potato fan, you wouldn't know you're eating sweet potatoes!) The meat sauce is hearty without being heavy, and accompanies the gnocchi nicely. I'd love to see what other kinds of gnocchi dishes they could make!
This is the sausage ravioli with a gouda veloute sauce; simple and clean presentation with outstanding body and flavor.
This is one of their recent specials, a roasted beet ravioli with caramelized onions and a touch of orange zest. Zach's suggestion was to pair it with the pecan pesto sauce, and it was terrific. Earthiness from the beets, a little bit of zip from the pesto, it was a great combination. One special that I've had in the past that's not pictured was a cheese and spinach ravioli with a blue cheese sauce that also had great flavor. They also have a few salads on the menu, including a pear and lentil, which I've tasted and really liked.
As with many trailers, Regal Ravioli is a one-man operation. Zach owns it, does all the cooking, etc. Occasionally I have seen a helper in the trailer, but Zach's the main guy. If he can't go, then the trailer won't open that day; check their Facebook or Twitter accounts for status updates and specials. Zach and his business partner have recently purchased a second trailer that they will use for mobile operations at events, festivals, and the like. He also told me they're working on some new dishes, like roast pork, and they do catering too!

So if you're looking for a great food trailer experience, go check out Regal Ravioli for a big bowl of freshly made pasta and sauce that are as good, if not better (and certainly a better value) than some of the well-known Italian restaurants in town. The ravioli truly is regal!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Habesha Ethiopian

I am hardly an expert on Ethiopian food, but I do enjoy it. I've always felt Aster's was okay, Karibu was better (but now closed), and had heard of a place up north in Pflugerville (Taste of Ethiopia) that the local food bloggers are rather enthusiastic about, but I rarely get that far north. Then a friend suggested Habesha to me, and I had never heard of it. It's on the northbound feeder road of IH-35 at Hwy 290 on your right (6019 N IH-35), in a small strip center, and apparently they've been open a year. My friend really likes Ethiopian and had been once before and loved it.

We got there about 7 pm on a Saturday evening. The decor inside is lovely -- some separate seating areas for having tea or coffee, as well as a bar, and an outdoor patio. It didn't feel like an old Mexican restaurant which is how I have felt when I've been in Aster's. There was only one table of six filled in the entire restaurant, but as our dinner progressed, the place began to fill up, which is always nice to see.
We started with the Ethiopian tea; when I asked our server what was in it, she said it was cinnamon. However upon tasting it, I could tell the predominant flavor was cloves. Our waitress was very sweet, but I don't know if she was new or just helping out, because she wasn't real knowledgeable about the menu, but she was willing to go ask.

From the appetizer menu, we had the sambusas, which I'd say are similar to Indian samosas, in that they are a light dough stuffed with a filling (your choice of beef or lentil, and we had the latter), and fried until crisp. They were delicious! I have no idea what the sauce was, but it was tasty too.
I ordered the Beg Key Wot, or #3 on the lamb portion of the menu. I was immediately interested because of the berbere spices, which is kind of like curry powder or garam masala -- there's no exact recipe. Commonly found throughout the Horn of Africa as a dry spice blend or a paste, each family has their own unique spice blend, which primarily include chiles, ginger, and garlic. The chiles usually give a berbere dish a nice reddish brown color as evidenced here. My friend ordered the Gomen Besega, or beef with collard greens (#6). The dishes come in this wonderful basket (this one is probably close to 30" in diameter and pretty much takes up the whole table), "lined" with a piece of injera, or their version of flat bread. Injera is made from teff, an ancient grain (and naturally gluten-free for those who need it); it takes a couple days for the batter to ferment before it's made into crepe-like bread; it has a very spongy texture, which can be an acquired taste, but I like it! You typically use the injera in place of a fork to eat your meal with, and the waitress did come by with more injera for us.
I really liked the lamb. It was tender, and the sauce had a lot of flavor, and while it was chile-based, it didn't set your mouth on fire, though you knew you were tasting chiles. I wasn't as crazy about the beef dish, as the beef was rather tough and chewy, and the collards were bland; the menu says they're cooked with onions and garlic, but I didn't really taste them. The collards were nicely cooked though.

We decided to try dessert, and I was intrigued by the offerings of baklava, cheesecake and tiramisu on the menu. We asked the waitress if the baklava was made in-house, and she went back to check, and found out it was. And while it looks nice, to me it was very soggy; I like a baklava with some crispness to it, and this was syrup soaked all the way through. While writing this up, I got curious about what typical Ethiopian desserts are, and found out there really aren't any, so it's common to have these offerings on a menu.
The atmosphere alone is worth it at Habesha, as was the friendliness of the staff.  There's a variety of options on the menu, including an extensive vegetarian section. When my friend was there previously, she had the veggie combo plate, which was six or seven different dishes! And they offer some combo plates with the meat dishes as well. Until I make it up to Taste of Ethiopia, I can certainly say this is the best Ethiopian food I've had in town.