Monday, September 18, 2017

Eating in Albuquerque

My parents have lived in Albuquerque for ten+ years now, so I am out there fairly regularly. As an added bonus, I have two friends from college who also live in Abq so my visits often have dual purpose. One of them got married over Labor Day weekend, so I took the opportunity to stay for a week as opposed to my normal 3-4 days at Christmastime.
Lavender at Los Poblanos Historic Inn + Organic Farm in the North Valley.
Fortunately, I come from a family that appreciates good food -- it must be in the genes! My parents consider Abq's food scene about where Austin was 10 years ago. There are a bunch of up and coming places, but not as much that is truly WOW like Uchi, which is someplace my parents always insist upon eating when in Austin. But there are still a number of good standbys in Abq, many with distinctive New Mexican touches to them, as well as places that are on the rise.
Burque Bakehouse's cruffin, a croissant/muffin combo which was heavenly.
They also did three different pies for the wedding.
I had lunch at the Flying Star, which has six locations around town, open 7 am - 9 pm.  Breakfast all day, salads, sandwiches, and large desserts, there's something for everyone here, kind of like a Kerbey Lane here in Austin. I was too busy catching up with friends that I neglected to take a picture of my Chinese Crunch salad that would practically feed two people.

Our group of six college friends had Sunday brunch at the Frontier, across from the University of New Mexico campus. Built like a barn, you order at the counter, find a seat (there are five dining rooms -- the place just keeps going back and back), and watch the digital screens to see what order number is up. And open almost all day, from 5 am - 1 am, I am sure many a collegiate hangover has been nursed by this greasy spoon's offerings. Though I have to say, it was much less greasy than I was anticipating. A couple of my friends had the huevos rancheros with green chile, and there were a few giant cinnamon rolls on the table too. I had the breakfast burrito with hash browns, egg, sausage, and the requisite green chile; delicious and not greasy! But also not as photogenic, so here's the huevos rancheros. I didn't love the cinnamon roll, though others did; I thought it was too doughy and the frosting glaze was made with margarine, not butter.
Huevos rancheros and the cinnamon roll in the top left.
Another Abq classic is the Range, with four locations around town, including the newest, which is in Old Town, where we had lunch. I had the green chile chicken stew with blue corn tortilla strips, which was a nice lighter meal.
The Range green chile chicken stew
And here's the New Mexico Benny with green chile turkey sausage and chorizo gravy. There's poached eggs in there somewhere!
The Range New Mexico Benny
Wedding guests were staying at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. It's new sister property is the upscale Hotel Chaco, and we ventured to their rooftop bar, Level 5 for cocktails and panoramic views.
Level 5 cocktails at Hotel Chaco
Nob Hill could be compared to Austin's SoCo, with it's hip vibe, plethora of eating places and artsy feel. Former James Beard semifinalist Jennifer James opened her new spot Frenchish about a year ago along Central Ave. My parents have been regulars at her previous spots (now closed), and as the name implies this new one has a French influence to the food but doesn't take itself so seriously. We shared the rabbit terrine, where the lightly pickled carrots gave a nice balance to the strong mustard.
I had the 3-course prix fixe, with a tossed salad, 4 oz petit filet with pomme frites, and a chocolate pot de creme. The salad was dressed perfectly and the steak a nicely done medium rare.
Jennifer James Frenchish petit steak
Mom's ratatouille, and Dad had a burger, which you can probably guess what it looked like.
Jennifer James Frenchish ratatouille
Now the pot de creme was good, but the made to order madelines were incredible. Warm, with crispy edges and a soft crumbly interior, it was an ideal way to end the meal.
Jennifer James Frenchish madelines + pot de creme
Bonus coverage! We went to Santa Fe one afternoon, and had an early dinner at La Boca, a Spanish tapas place just blocks from the main plaza. These little boquerones (white anchovies) with olive oil and citrus were quite fresh.
Boquerones La Boca Santa Fe
Loved the Spanish flavors of the mussels in a Romesco broth.
La Boca Santa Fe mussels with romesco broth
And the bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with a marcona almond and a cabrales blue cheese sauce on the side were delicious.
La Boca Santa Fe bacon wrapped dates
And finally, sunset over the Jemez Mountains, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, as taken from the passenger window of the car on Interstate 25.
Sunset Jemez Mountains New Mexico
Yes, it's the Land of Enchantment. 
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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Austin Bakes for Harvey


Austin Bakes for Harvey

Local group Austin Bakes will be hosting a  citywide BAKE SALE on Saturday, September 16th at multiple locations around town. All proceeds will go to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, exact charities TBA. 

Past Austin Bakes events have raised funds for the 2011 Japan tsunami, Syrian refugees, Hurricane Mathew relief in Haiti, and more, all 100% volunteer driven.  If you like to bake, please consider donating baked goods to the sale. See the website for further details. I'll be volunteering at the south location (Crema Bakery) on the 16th. 

Help spread the word!

Update, Sept. 17th:
Yesterday was the bake sale, and all total, we've raised just over $19,000! Our goal was $20,000 and you CAN STILL DONATE ONLINE! :) Please and thank you!!!! 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

California Dreamin': Food and Sights from a Week in Central Cali

Summer in Austin can be wretched, so I was glad to escape for a week to California, where we could sleep with the windows open every night! My trip started with a long weekend in the Santa Barbara/Goleta area for a family reunion -- lots of talking and eating!
Sailing in the Pacific with Santa Barbara Sailing Center netted seals
 and a pod of dolphins who swam with the boat.

Crab cake dinner one night in Santa Barbara at the Boathouse.
Then a friend met me and we proceeded north through San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, where we had a charming VRBO home in the middle of wine country.
Luna Red in San Luis Obispo; Press Gang Cellars rose. Loved the patio and relaxed vibe of this place!
San Luis Obispo Luna Red Tapas
Tapas at Luna Red -- garlic infused olive oil, goat cheese with pesto, and bacon-wrapped dates. We saved the leftover oil for part of our charcuterie dinner at our rental that night.
San Luis Obispo Mission
The mission in San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772
We got a few provisions in Paso Robles (we found a cheese/charcuterie store and a bottle of wine), and then to our VRBO rental, which was technically in Templeton, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Paso. Quiet, charming, clean, and out of the way, it was perfect!
If you want the link to the VRBO just holler. 
Some of the area vineyards
We drove west on Highway 46 through a very dense bank of fog towards Cambria and then to Highway 1 north to San Simeon. Along the way, we found a roadside stand that had oranges, avocados, and firewood (we got two of the three!). Best oranges ever!

San Simeon is home to Hearst Castle, the unfinished dream of newsman/publisher William Randolph Hearst. I had visited as a teenager in 1989 and vividly remember the beautiful Neptune Pool with it's mosaic tiled floor but sadly it was under construction when we there. (Check out Lady Gaga's G.U.Y. video if you really want to see it!) But the opulence, details, and views of the entire castle and grounds never fail to impress.
The main building and some of the statues on the grounds.
The main dining room, complete with requisite bottles of ketchup and mustard, which Mr. Hearst always insisted upon.
The indoor Roman pool, modeled after the Baths of Caracalla; not visible, the eight statues
of Roman gods, goddessses, and heroes.
The ocean view from the property isn't too shabby!
We drove the few miles back to Cambria and had a wonderful late lunch at Indigo Moon. This charming house had fun artwork, and a covered back porch where we ate. They also own a cheese shop next door!
Focaccia with grilled chicken, brie, granny smith apple, and caramelized onions.
What's disappointing about Paso Robles is that all the vineyards and tasting rooms appear to close at 5 pm. We attempted to make it to Pasolivo olive oil, and arrived just before 5 pm to be told they had already closed up the registers. (I have since contacted Pasolivo and received a sincere apology, as it is their normal policy to stay open through 5 pm.) It would be great to see a couple places that stayed open until 6 pm. Fortunately, we found a great spot in downtown Paso called Artisan, where we could sit outside and enjoy the setting. Had a terrific glass of a 2015 Rhone-style red blend from Tablas Creek called Patelin. We snagged a wood-fired pizza to go, and headed back to our cozy rental.
Patelin: a blend of four red Rhône varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise
The next morning, we headed north towards Monterrey. Unfortunately, we had to take the inland route on Highway 101, as parts of the coastal Highway 1 are closed due to landslides. Just north of Salinas, we found a highly-rated hole in the wall from Yelp that had amazing sandwiches and great customer service. Welcome to Prunedale Market, and their tri-tip sandwich, which was so huge, we should have split one! 
From there, we made it over to over-priced but cute Carmel and dipped our toes in the ocean. The sand was so nice and soft!

And then we took the famed 17-mile drive from Carmel up to Monterrey with several stops at look-out stations along the way, while ogling the multi-million dollar houses.

We stayed at a hotel in Pacific Grove, just a hair west of Monterey. The town's annual lantern festival was the weekend just after we left, but the trees as well as many homes and businesses were decorated for it. 

Pacific Grove was charming, and appears to have a lot of good restaurants. Our first night, we found Passionfish, which is all about fresh and local food and sustainable seafood. 
Calamari

Rockfish with a miso-carrot sauce and jicama slaw; my friend had the keto salmon special with pesto and roasted corn. 
The next day we spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I had been once before as a teenager, and it was great to experience it again. We also did a behind the scenes tour of their sea otter program, and while you don't get to be up close with them it was fun and informative, thanks to our knowledgeable tour guide. She explained that many of the otters come to the Aquarium as rescues; they try to rehab them so they can be released back into the wild. They don't want the otters to get too used to human contact, which makes sense. We were glad we went close to opening, as it did get crowded by mid-day; it's not an inexpensive ticket, but if you can spend a good part of your day there, it's totally worth it. And the cafe on site had a great mac and cheese!
Mesmerizing jellyfish

Giant kelp forest and a leopard shark

Sea otter trying to extract a shrimp from the toy

Can you find the seahorses?
Dinner that night was in Pacific Grove at La Mia Cucina, a smaller Italian spot with great posters. Rustic Italian was just what we needed! Not pictured are their yummy focaccia and salad with a perfect creamy Italian vinaigrette.
Arancini balls

Gnocchi with gorgonzola and marinara sauces
On our last day, we found the Pezzini Farms roadside market stand in Castroville, home of an annual artichoke festival. They had a huge selection of fresh produce, locally made goods, and even a food trailer serving fried artichoke hearts.

But our mission was to get to Gilroy, and the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Overall, they have the event logistics down pact, as you park and take a shuttle bus to the festival venue. There's tons of garlicky-filled food for sale, and also a ton of vendors with stuff, if you know what I mean -- everything from garlic bulb shaped hats to wind chimes to non-perishable garlic condiments. It did get warm (for California), and there's not enough shade.  Apparently over the course of three days, 102,000 people attended! The garlic bread and the sauce with the shrimp scampi were to die for!

We each got a combo plate and shared them.On the left, pepper steak sandwich, pasta with pesto, calamari with garlic marinara, garlic bread. On the right, shrimp scampi, garlic bread, marinated mushrooms, sausage sandwich
Like the sign says, free garlic ice cream. Not bad, but not sure I would pay for it! ;)
By mid afternoon, we were done, and it was time to head towards San Jose for our return flight. Having to return to Austin when it was 106 degrees out was LESS than desirable, but I was happy to get home to my own bed, cats, and air conditioning. I want the 55 degree nights back! A girl can dream!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why I Am On the Fence with Mattie's at Green Pastures

I've been curious about the recently renovated Green Pastures for the past couple of months. I live in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood where the historic property's fanciful peacocks roam freely and are often seen in lawns near the Live Oak Street homestead. The Austin American-Statesman published an extensive history of the property earlier this year, which used to be known for it's hospitality. The restaurant Mattie's has just begun a happy hour program, and it turns out we were there on the first day of it though we didn't know it at the time.

When we first arrived, we skirted the patio area and went inside; there is a room with a bar inside to the left, but were informed by the hostess that happy hour was only outdoors. We told her we'd go check it out but would most likely return in a bit for dinner. Given that it was late June, it was a hot day, though thankfully one with cloud-cover and a warm breeze. At our visit, there was no tent, sun shade or fans to keep patrons cool; I hope this changes.
Mattie's Green Pastures
We started with cocktails and a couple of appetizers. The Oak Garden Ginger Buck  was very tasty and easily drinkable on a hot day; your choice of vodka, gin or tequila, and I went with vodka. Loved the thick cut potato chips, and it was a very generous portion. {Since we decided to go inside to eat, I had the remaining chips boxed up to take with me. After putting them in a zip-top bag and into my pantry at home, I promptly forgot about them. I found them two weeks later, and am happy to report they were still perfectly good!}
Mattie's Green Pastures happy hour potato chips pimento cheese
The pimento cheese sandwich was tasty, but the bread was rather on the greasy side. Now knowing this was "opening night" of happy hour, I'll chalk it up to opening jitters, because there's really no excuse for the greasiness on something so simple. But wait....it's listed a starter on the regular dinner menu..... I was a bit surprised by the plastic silverware and water cup; I do somewhat get it as it is an outdoors setting, but for a place with the pedigree that Green Pastures has, the plastic seemed like a dumbing down. And I hope that plastic ware is being recycled by the staff, not just tossed in the trash can.  Speaking of staff, one tried to take my friend's wine glass before she was completely finished.

It was a pleasure to see the peacocks, as they clearly own the place. And there are two albinos!
Mattie's Green Pastures peacocks
Mattie's Green Pastures peacocks
Having enough of the heat, we retreated indoors. For a spacious lobby area, the entry is cramped, as the exterior door opens inward, practically hitting people who are waiting by the hostess stand. I saw this happen a few times while we were there. The same hostess did not seem to remember us from less than an hour previously, and she seemed slightly chilly when we said we didn't have a reservation, but she was able to seat us.

We were seated in the rear of the first floor dining room; we were the first patrons in the room that evening, but it quickly filled up.  Green Pastures was always known for its milk punch, and my friend who is a lover of such declared theirs to be quite fine.
Mattie's Green Pastures milk punch
As neither of us were starving, we opted for a couple more items from the starters list, the pate and french fries, followed by the spinach salad with goat cheese.
Mattie's Green Pastures pate
The pate was wonderful, definitely up there with Winebelly, my local favorite.  The fries were nice and crisp and the aioli was as it should be, creamy and garlicky; to my tastes the ketchup was too sweet and clovey.  The salad was nicely plated, but I quickly discovered that the pieces of goat cheese were frozen. Was this done to shave them into thin bits? When I mentioned it to the waiter, he said that he had heard that before, but swore that's how the kitchen intended for it to be.  I find this extremely odd as it's really not pleasing on the palate. Also, I can't even remember what the dressing was because I couldn't taste it. If the goat cheese is intended to be frozen, I would not order this again.
Being full, we passed on dessert and opted to pay out. Our waiter was taking quite a while to get back to us while another staffer cleared the water glasses off the table, and then a third brought fresh napkins and spoons which seemed odd. I kind of thought it was a cardinal rule of restaurants NOT to clear the water glasses until the patrons were gone. When I finally flagged our waiter down, he said that we were being sent a dessert by an acquaintance of mine I had run into who works there. The Chocolate Avocado Cremeaux was incredible. {Thank you!!}  Loved the puffed buckwheat for that little crunch, and passion fruit is always a favorite flavor of mine. The creaminess from the chocolate concoction combined with the buckwheat, cocoa dust, and sea salt flakes was perfection in taste and texture. Hats off to the pastry chef!
Overall, I have mixed feelings about Mattie's. For the most part the wait staff is very young (college-aged) and not what I would call professional waiters, more like a summer job. An outdoor happy hour does not appeal to me in the Texas summer. For the high points in the food (potato chips, pate, aioli, chocolate cremeaux) there were the lower points of greasy pimento and frozen goat cheese. Love that they are sourcing locally and using hormone, antibiotic free meats. But different aspects need polishing, especially with the plans for a boutique hotel on the property coming in the next year. For a place of Mattie's stature, I expect more.

While not listed on the website at this posting, Mattie's happy hour is 4 - 9 pm nightly.