Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake

Nothing says the holidays like a fruitcake! And we're talking REAL Texas fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, made with Texas pecans, local honey (from cotton blossoms), and in production for over 115 years. Pictured here is the DeLuxe Fruitcake, which weighs in just under two pounds, for $27.95 (larger sizes available)!
Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake
The original recipe came from Wiesbaden, Germany and the family of the bakery's founder. Fruitcakes originated as a method to preserve fruits and nuts over the cold months. Collin Street's fruitcakes continue to be about 80% fruits and nuts. Do you see how big these pecans are?! They're huge, and they still have crunch to them!
Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake
I learned (and loved this hand-written letter from one of the owners, Will McNutt, and they are still family-owned) that Collin Street owns an organic farm in Costa Rica, where they grow pineapples and papaya. And Will shares that he loves his fruitcake warmed up with a touch of whipped cream. Their website also has suggestions on how to "booze" up your fruitcake! But even in it's natural state, you can't beat it! This is not Aunt Bertha's fruitcake, I guarantee you.
Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake
Check out their website to order a fruitcake for the holidays! Order by December 19th or risk the rath of extra postal fees. You'll also discover a trove of other sweet treasures on their site, such as pecan pies, cakes, cheesecakes and much more. Spread the love of Texas products this holiday season!

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary fruitcake, in exchange for a blog post; all opinions are my own.

Monday, December 15, 2014

St. Philip Pizza Parlor + Bakeshop

About a month ago, I met a group of friends for dinner at the new St. Philip Pizza Parlor + Bakeshop in Sunset Valley. St. Philip was the patron saint of bakers, and perhaps coincidentally (or not), the project has been helmed by Phillip Speer, longtime pastry chef extraordinaire of Uchi. And while St. Philip is owned by the Uchi Restaurant group, this is clearly not a Japanese restaurant.
They took the old Cannoli Joe's (nee Wolfe's Nursery) on Highway 290 next to the Toney Burger Center, and converted it into a very modern, streamlined building. In addition to St. P, there's Stouthouse Coffee Pub and a new branch of local spa Milk + Honey. So you can go have a meal (they do B, L + D) at St. P, get all relaxed with a facial or massage at Milk + Honey, and then get caffeinated again at Stouthouse. Good plan! St. P is on the east side of the complex (closest to the Burger Center) and has a lovely shaded patio area as well as some outdoor dining spots. The inside isn't as large as I expected, but at 6ish on a Friday night, they were already packed to the gills with families, couples, small groups, you name it. I didn't get too much of a chance to gawk at the interior given the hustle and bustle, but it's got a warm farmhouse modern appeal to it.

Service was very friendly and once we ordered, dishes came at a pretty good pace. I should also add we had to wait about 15-20 minutes for a table, and they had servers outside taking drink orders and also coming around with warm pretzel bites and mustard for nibbling. Once seated, we started with the house meatballs (beef and pork, I believe) and paired them with the brodo sauce (you can pick from three different types of meatballs and three different sauces); these were served with potatoes. They were tasty, but not the most tender, and fairly small (not quite golf-ball sized) for the price. {Looking at their menu online now, they may have cut back on meatball options, as I am now only seeing two choices of each meatball and sauce.}
St Philip meatballs
These ricotta dumplings with corn, Serrano ham, mushrooms were delicious, but the housemade umami sauce was a bit overpowering for the light and tenderness of the dumplings (I'd call them more like gnocchi or gnudi). It was a flavorful sauce, but both dark in color and in taste, and to me it took control of the dish. Maybe a lighter hand with the sauce or just lightening the sauce altogether would have made this one more of a winner for me.
St Philip ricotta dumplings
Everyone who I knew who had been to St. P before me said "get the cauliflower." So we did, and yes, it's quite tasty. The cauliflower is lightly fried to a golden brown and served with a Greek yogurt sauce, pine nuts, and golden raisins, which I could have done without. You can now make this at home, as the Austin American-Statesman obtained the recipe for it!
St Philip cauliflower
We picked the roasted veggie pizza with its almond Romesco sauce. I liked the chewiness (but not too chewy) of the crust, but felt the Romesco needed more acid (sherry vinegar?) to bring out the contrast. I have heard the clam pizza is quite good.
St Philip veggie romesco pizza
From the daily dessert board, we went with the brownie a la mode with a salted caramel sauce. Definitely tasty, though certainly a small portion.
St Philip brownie dessert
Overall, I felt the food was decent, but could use some little tweaks. Yes, I am being a bit picky, but I am comfortable with my palate to know when something needs a little more acid or a little less umami. But I really felt the portion sizes are small for what you are paying, especially the meatballs and brownie. I would like to go for breakfast one day; they have a separate pastry counter for eat in or take out and some beautiful items in there. Given the buzz and hype of St. Philip even before they were open, I am sure this place will do well.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bits and Bites

Really, it's December ALREADY??! Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, and now on to the next food holiday!

I recently received a Batch box to try; these are gift boxes of locally curated foods available from a couple southern US cities, and now Austin. For $29.99/month, you can give a box subscription to your favorite foodie! (Or yourself!) My box had House Granola, Great San Saba River Pecan Company Praline Popcorn, Royito's Salsa, and Luscious Pastry Chai Tea. Disclaimer: I received the box for free; opinions are my own. And hey, it's a pretty neat and very convenient idea, so check them out! Batch boxes are also available from Nashville, Charleston, and Memphis.
Batch Austin
Events
-- Odd Duck is throwing a trailer throwback party, Tuesday, December 9th, 5 pm onward; suggested minimum donation is $25, and proceeds go towards Zilker Elementary's Edible Schoolyard program.

-- Homeslice's Pizza's Carnival o' Pizza was rescheduled to December 13th.

-- Also on the 13th, drive-thru burger chain P. Terry's will donate all of their day's profits from all 9 of their locations to the Austin American-Statesman's annual Season of Caring campaign; last year P. Terry's donated over $21,000 to this cause. Eat a burger on Saturday!

-- Texas Land and Cattle is offering holiday drink specials as well as some limited time menu offerings, Crab and Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms and a smoked meat board for two people with sirloin, quail, and pork offerings.

-- Celebrate Christmas Eve Italian style with Sagra's Feast of the Seven Fishes, December 22-24, $39.99/person, reservations required and space is limited; additional $25 for suggested wine pairings. Dishes include salt cod, squid ink pasta, shrimp and mussel stew; full menu is here. 

-- The next round of Indie Chefs Week will be January 6-10; tickets begin at $195, and dinners will be held at  Foreign and Domestic, the "home" of the event's founder, Ned Elliot. The event gives up and coming chefs from across the country to showcase their talents in a pop-up restaurant setting.

Misc
-- Delysia Chocolatier won gold at the recent International Chocolate Salon Awards, for their carrot cake truffles in the "Most Unique" category, and white peach balsamic truffle in the "Top Truffle Artistry" category. Delysia's new Chocolate Culinary Center is at 2000 Windy Terrace in Cedar Park.

-- Fresa's will be offering tamales through December, created by Chef Rene Ortiz; varieties include chicken adobado, queso Oaxaca, and hoja santa, and run 3 for $7. 6 for $13 and 12 for $24.

-- Austin Monthly magazine's new food critique is Jolène M. Bouchon, who has previously served as the deputy digital editor for Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine.

-- The Statesman came out with a great listing of area gluten free restaurants/dishes.  Keep this list handy!

Open/Opening
-- Peached Tortilla just opened at 5520 Burnet Road.

-- Juniper, a northern-Italian restaurant will open at 2400 E. Cesar Chavez in the spring.

-- Spun Ice Cream is coming to 1912 E. 7th Street with liquid nitrogen-made treats.

Closed
-- A-OK Chinese at 1509 South Lamar... I was sad to see this one go, as I felt they never really hit their stride. On the flip side, Mexican/Korean fusion food trailer Chi'lantro will be taking over the spot in their first foray into the land of brick and mortar.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Marye's Gourmet Pizza

Marye's Pizza
I have lived in Austin 20 years now, and I had never heard of Marye's Gourmet Pizza. Turns out, they've been in business the entire time I've lived here, although under new ownership for about the past two years. Located in the same shopping center as Breed and Company on Bee Caves Road, the owners are now looking to expand their client base, and I was invited by them to have lunch. Disclosure: food was complimentary and I was not paid for my opinions, which are my own.
Marye's Pizza
Pronounced "Marie's" as opposed to "Mary's", the gray and yellow interior has a nice modern feel that I'd call upscale casual. It didn't feel pretentious like much of Westlake, nor did the clientele I saw while I was there. My dining companion and I had a really nice conversation with owner Stuart Wilsey who (along with his wife) bought Marye's from the original owners and have slowly been making tweaks to make it their own and also to grow the business.  They try to use local and organic foods wherever possible, and also offer a variety of take out options far beyond pizzas: homemade mozzarella, their house salad dressing, a frozen lasagna that feeds 6 - 8 people; catering is also available. Interior photo below is courtesy my blogger friend and eating companion Girl Eats World -- please check her out!
Marye's Pizza
Marye's Pizza
Their menu offers a nice variety, including vegetarian and gluten free; we only tried pizza, but there are plenty of salads, sandwiches, and even appetizers that would please any palate. I would love to go back and try the saganaki, a seared mozzarella appetizer with lemon and ouzo!

Per Stuart's suggestion, we tried the well-named Marye's pizza, which has ground sirloin, spinach, red peppers, onions and jalapenos! With a generous amount of toppings, I can see why this is a favorite of their regulars! I definitely liked the crust on all the pizzas, but not sure how you would categorize it. It's thin and somewhat crisp, but slightly chewy at the edge, but neither crispy nor soggy at the center, and it held up well to the toppings.
Mary's Pizza -- The Marye's
I gravitated towards the Maui, as I always love a sweet and savory flavor combination. Theirs has Canadian bacon, pineapple, and Parmesan, and we added feta cheese for that extra contrast. Thumbs up!
Mary's Pizza -- the Maui
And their special of the day, the pearzola pie, with pears, gorgonzola (blue) cheese, walnuts, spinach, and a drizzle of raspberry balsamic dressing. If you're only accustomed to pepperoni on your pizza, this may not be your thing, but I thought it was delicious! Like a salad, but in pizza form.
Mary's Pizza -- the Pearzola
And dessert, a flourless chocolate torte that's gluten free. Dense, but very tasty!
Marye's is on Facebook and Instagram, so if you're in Westlake, and looking for a place to eat, check them out. (We encouraged Stuart to use their social media tools a bit more! It's free advertising!) :)  I think the food they're offering is solid, and they're just looking to make new customers aware of their presence. Cheers to the next 20 years!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

I attended a media tasting at Malaga last week; new Chef Mario Medina (formerly of Parkside and Chavez) has revamped the menu and the restaurant is more focused on local and seasonal products. The staff was wonderful and they outdid themselves with the ambitious number of items we sampled! Two of my favorites on the evening:

Gambas al Ajillo -- Shrimp in a garlic broth had the most wonderful tasting liquid. I could have inhaled a whole bowl of just the broth.
Malaga Austin
Rossejat -- a paella made from fideo rather than rice. Studded with garlic crema and shrimp, this was seemingly simple and delicious.
Malaga Austin
If you haven't been to Malaga in some time, go check them out! They even have valet parking out front, which definitely helps in downtown.

And on to Bits and Bites!

Events
-- Amy's Ice Cream is holding a contest where the lucky winner will receive free ice cream for life! Enter to win at any of their stores, November 19th - December 31st and the winner will be announced in January.
-- Con' Olio Oils and Vinegars celebrates their 5th anniversary with a special happy hour at each store, Thursday, November 20th,  4 - 7 pm. 
-- Trattoria Lisina is holding a 5 course wine pairing dinner with William Chris Vineyards, Friday, November 21st, $75/person.
-- Jack Gilmore will be signing copies of his new book Jack Allen's Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas at BookPeople, Friday, November 21st at 7 pm.
-- The Austin Meatball Festival is Saturday, November 22nd, 12 - 5 pm, at Winflo Osteria. Over 10 area restaurants are competing for top balls! Live music. Tickets $15 in advance, $20 day of event; proceeds benefit Lifeworks.
-- Metier is hosting a release party for the 3rd issue of Sugar and Rice magazine, Sunday, November 23rd, 3 - 5 pm. They are an independent magazine telling the food stories of the Gulf Coast.
-- Wine and Swine is Sunday, November 23rd, 1 - 4pm, at Star Hill Ranch,  $85/person. See their website for the chef lineup! Benefits the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.
 -- Metier will also host a coffee class in conjunction with Casa Brasil, Friday, November 28th, 1 - 2:30 pm where they will teach you to make the perfect cup of coffee using a Chemex coffee maker. Additionally, Metier's neighbor, Dolce Neve Gelato will provide affogatos for participants.
-- Central Market on North Lamar will be offering Gingerbread House workshops, Nov 28th - Dec 6th; reservations required; $65/one adult + one child.
-- A Downtown Abbey Christmas Supper Club will be held December 2nd, 7 pm, at the Camp Lucy event space in Dripping Springs, $149/person. Period clothing is encouraged!

Open for Thanksgiving
-- Fresas is offering Thanksgivings to go, order by Friday, November 21st for pick up after 10 am on November 26th. Thanksgiving menu here.
-- Travaasa's Preserve Kitchen + Bar is offering family-style Thanksgiving, 3 - 9 pm, $55/person, reservations required.
-- Texas Land and Cattle locations will be open, offering an $18.99 meal, reservations suggested.
-- The Statesman also has an extensive list of open places!

 Misc.
-- Salvation Pizza is opening a second location at 51 Rainey Street in December. 
-- Gourdough's Public House has a new fall cocktail menu and new $5 happy hour offerings.
-- Waterloo Ice House has a new menu and is now offering cocktails along with beer and wine, and they continue to source their ingredients from farms across Texas.
-- Easy Tiger has announced plans to expand to The Linc (the old Lincoln Village, across from Highland Mall of IH-35) in 2015.
-- Lulu B's Vietnamese trailer will go brick and mortar next year, at the old El Flaco at 3632 South Congress.
-- Taste of Ethiopia will open a second location at 3801 South Congress. 
-- The former T + S Seafood will reopen at the Chinatown complex with a new name -- New Fortune.
-- El Chile on South First Street is going to rebrand as Alcomar and focus on Latin seafood.
-- New food invention show holding a casting call Dec 3rd - 4th -- could this be you?!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thai Taste

My Thai friend Bee has become friends with the owners of Thai Taste in Oak Hill. There's a Thai restaurant in Oak Hill, you say? Yeah, that was my initial reaction too, especially after learning they've been there for over 4 years! (They're in the same shopping center as the HEB.) Bee stops by Thai Taste when she doesn't feel like cooking certain Thai dishes, and began noticing there were never that many customers in the restaurant. So she mentioned to the owners that she has a food blogger friend (me!), and would they be interested in having me come out, try the food, and provide my honest feedback. And that's how we ended up at Thai Taste for dinner on a recent Saturday night. Disclosure: the food was comped by Thai Taste, but I was not compensated for my opinions which are my own.
 Thai Taste
The short version: Thai Taste is quite good, and deserves your attention.
The long version: keep reading!

We chatted with manager Som, and discussed some dishes to try. I think because we were there specifically for a tasting/sampling of the dishes, the portion size was not always representative of what's typically served.

Mixed appetizer plate, the pu pu platter of Thai food. Not a trace of grease on the egg roll or crab rangoon; spring roll nice and fresh; good flavor to the peanut sauce (and I am picky about peanut sauce because I make my own and I think it's the best of course); the chicken satay had nice grilled flavor and wasn't over-cooked; chicken wing was standard. The dumpling was the pleasant surprise on this plate as it had a bit of cumin in the ground pork, and it was very moist.
Thai Taste
Fish cakes. Bee really likes these and I can see why! These tasted fresh, had a good firm (but not rubbery) consistency, and were especially nice with the sweetish cucumber sauce.
Thai Taste
Moo ping with pork and tamarind sauce. I've had moo ping before at Sap's and always enjoyed it. This one I thought the meat was too tough, and I told them so. Like the satay, it had nice grill flavor, but had probably been left on the grill for too long. The twangy tamarind sauce had some heat to it, and was good also with the fish cakes and the other appetizers.
Thai Taste
Som tum (green papaya salad). Surprisingly decent, though the addition of a bit of their house-made fish sauce mixture (fish sauce, lime juice, bit of chile, maybe a bit of palm sugar or other sweetener) really brought the flavors out and tampered the sweetness. I know this dish isn't for everyone, but I love the juxtaposition of the cooling papaya shreds with a spicy fish sauce dressing, along with a bit of crunch from the peanuts. A bit sweet up front, but then a late heat hits you.
Thai Taste
Pad Thai. A bit sweet, but had nice flavor to it; good sized pieces of chicken. I found out talking to Bee and Som that this dish can take on many regionalisms, depending on where the chef is from. {Som is from Bangkok, Gib the chef, is from south Thailand; they have both worked at a number of Thai restaurants in different parts of Austin.} A little bit of the fish sauce balanced the sweetness out; I also liked this dish because it wasn't too dry. Certainly one of the better pad Thai dishes I've had in Austin. But can they be consistent with it? I have loved the pad Thai at Thai Fresh, but they are very inconsistent.
Thai Taste
Green curry with beef. Whenever you see curries on a Thai menu, green curry is always going to be the hottest because it uses fresh green chiles. This was spicy, but had very good flavor, although the beef was on the tough side.
Thai Taste
Pad see you. (Can also be spelled pad see ew.) This is typically one of my favorite Thai noodle dishes because of the wide rice noodles and the lightly sweet sauce made from black soy sauce (fermented and sweetened, so it's a different flavor that your typical soy). This was very very good, but that little bit of fish sauce really elevated it. I would SO eat this again! Bee says this is how the dish would be if you ate it in Thailand.
Thai Taste
Larb, made with ground pork. A bit salty, but did the chef over-compensate a bit because we had already discussed the sweetness of the som tum and pad Thai? Still quite good though, and larb is always a dish I enjoy. Reasonably spicy too, and the leftovers I ate the next day for lunch seemed even spicier.
Thai Taste
As I wrote this post up, I've realized that some of the things Thai Taste does exceptionally well are their sauces: the fish sauce mixture, the tamarind, the peanut, the fish cake dipping sauce. All were very well balanced. What disappointed me though was seeing a bottle of soy sauce on every table. Soy is not a typical Thai ingredient, or I should say it's not a mainstay like in Chinese or Japanese food. When I asked Som about it, she said, well, that's what customers want. I told her then and I say it again now, she's not giving her customers enough credit. Why isn't the fish sauce and chile condiments on every table? She says they, the servers, ask every table if they like their food spicy, and if so, they bring the tray.
Thai Taste
My point to them was that not all customers will speak up or speak truthfully when asked. If it's there on the the table, they can be left to their own devices in enhancing their dishes with some umami (fish sauce) or spice. One of the places Som used to work was Thai Passion downtown (though they are now relocating to NW Austin); she said the clients downtown wanted their food much spicier than the clients she sees in the southwest Austin suburban area they're now in. But don't discount that because they aren't asking for it spicy doesn't mean they're not willing to dabble with the condiment tray.

We talked also about their website and social media presence. They do have a website, and I think just a few tweaks to it would really improve its look and functionality. (And website designers out there??) At least their menu IS online. As for social media presence, they have none. They have a Facebook page, which hasn't been updated since 2011. Ask any food blogger, and we'd say that having a decent social media presence is crucial for driving your business, particularly for mom + pop places, food trailers, etc. It would take just a little bit of work, and some good photographs of their dishes to get it up to modern-day standards, but it's free marketing. Som said she's hesitant with Facebook because she feels her English isn't strong enough, but I say go for it!

The exterior sign was on the building facade was not lit up when we left at dark-thirty. Hopefully this is just a very temporary thing, but the very first comment on my Instagram post on my food there was "oh, I thought this place was closed". They got to look open to expect customers to come in. I will say for the roughly two hours we were there, there were very few other customers dining at the restaurant, but there was a VERY steady stream of people picking up their to-go orders, so people do know about the place. And to the trolls on Yelp who complained about their floor: get over it. While it may not look ideal, did it occur to you that this might be a landlord issue and something that a small business can't afford to fix themselves? Otherwise, it was very clean and comfortable.
Thai Taste
I hope this post/critique/feedback with help Thai Taste, and I hope it will encourage some of YOU reading this to go and try them. And to my knowledge, they are the only Thai place in that part of town for quite a ways. Their food is really as good as any Thai food I've had in Austin.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Terry Black's Barbecue

Terry Black's Barbecue opened on Barton Springs Road earlier this summer, across from Palmer Auditorium. They are related to the Black's Barbecue in Lockhart, but are not "THE" Black's, although a Black's outlet has just opened at 3110 Guadalupe in the past week or so. I am still lamenting the lack of really good and accessible pork ribs in South Austin with the closing of Artz Ribhouse a couple of years ago, so I was curious to see how Terry's were.
Terry Black's Barbecue
So I went for lunch one day this fall; parking is easy, and at around 1 pm they weren't busy. It's a large physical space with both indoor and outdoor seating, and when you walk in the door, the food line starts on the far right where they have their sides buffet. I was greeted by a very friendly female employee who was asking patrons if they had been there before and knew how the system worked. I hadn't, so she explained that all sides were $1.98 each (self-serve); I got pintos and cole slaw, and moved on to the meat line.
Terry Black's Barbecue
Terry Black's Barbecue
I quickly scanned the menu board and decided on the lunch special: 1/4 pound of meat, two sides and a drink for $11. Well, I needed to try more than just one meat, so I got a 1/4 pound of brisket (asked for the fatty), one full sausage link, and 2 pork ribs. And it was $22! (And I ate about half for lunch and took the rest home for dinner.)
Terry Black's Barbecue
The burnt ends were really tasty, and I KNOW I asked for the fatty not lean brisket, but this is about the fattiest brisket I have ever seen. You can see the fat cap directly above there. So I scraped most of it off to get to the meat, which was decent. A bit of a smoke ring and moistness to the meat. The pork ribs were ok; fairly tender, but not really a lot of flavor to them. The sausage was extremely finely ground; I like a little more texture to mine. Had some black pepper to it, but also a fairly tough casing. The cole slaw was good and the beans ok too... there's a particular flavoring to them that I couldn't quite place, something besides cumin.

Overall, I'd say that Terry Black's was decent, but nothing exceptional. The two employees at the sides and meat were very outgoing.  As I sat there and ate, there was a slow but steady stream of customers coming in and out, and many seemed to have been there before, so that's always good for business.

Now I am hearing really good things about the Brown's Bar-B-Que trailer on South Lamar by the Corner Bar, so that will have to be my next BBQ stop!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

Upcoming Events
-- Patika Wine and Coffee is hosting a latte art throwdown with the Barista Guild of America, October 30th, 7 pm.
-- Gourdough's Public House celebrates their 2nd anniversary with the Creepy Carnival Halloween party, October 31st, 7 pm.  They're also celebrating Austin Beer Week through November 2nd with a prix fixe three course menu for $25.
-- Tacodeli is celebrating 15 years in business, and during the month of November, try 15 lunch tacos and win a free t-shirt. Stop by one of their locations and pick up a Celebrate 15 card and get eating!
-- Jeffrey's offers a four-course wine pairing dinner with winemaker Christian Moueix, November 4th, 6 pm, $300/person.
-- Little Barrel and Brown teams with the Austin Wine Merchant for a five-course wine pairing dinner on November 5th, 6:30 pm, $60/person
-- Austin Monthly has announced their list of the top 11 new restaurants in Austin, and will celebrate them with their Diner's Club dinner on November 6th, 7:30-9:30 pm, $30/person.
-- Whip In and Wine for the People present Sunday brunch with a Tower of Bubbles! November 9th, 11:30 am - 3 pm with bubblies from all over the world. $30/person.
-- Experience Thanksgiving dinner with Epicerie and Argus Cidery, November 9th, 6:30 pm, $75-93/person
-- Austin Fermentation Festival with Sandor Katz is November 15th at Le Cordon Bleu.
-- Wine and Swine, from the Austin Food and Wine Alliance is November 23rd, $85/person.
-- Silk Road Austin, a dinner benefiting Asian Family Support Services of Austin, will be November 15th, 7pm at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, $100/person with food from Kome, Clay Pit, Koriente, and Chinatown, and co-chaired by Takuya Matsumoto, chef/owner of Ramen Tatsuya.
-- The Sustainable Food Center will host Autumn Harvest at Sway, November 16th, 5:30 pm,  $70-$175/person, and will be a celebration of locally-sourced produce and meats prepared by some of Austin's finest chefs.
-- Edible Austin's Eat Drink Local week is December 6-13; chef/author Dan Barber will be the keynote presenter during the event (December 8th at the Paramount Theater).


New and Misc. 
-- Chocolaterie Tessa, an artisan chocolate shop, has opened at 7425 Burnet Road. 
-- Black's BBQ (yes, of Lockhart) has opened at 3110 Guadalupe.
-- Fall Creek Vineyards has announced they will open a tasting room and production facility in Driftwood, directly across from the Salt Lick BBQ.
-- The Elm Restaurant Group (24 Diner, Easy Tiger, Arro) has announced their latest concept, Italic, an Italian bistro to open in the historic Starr Building at 6th and Colorado sometime next year.
-- Pinthouse Pizza will open a south location at 4236 S. Lamar next year. 
-- Download Citygram magazine on your phone or tablet, and take a look at the article on the family meal at three local establishments.
-- Vivo has reopened at Lincoln Village.

Closing...sorta
-- The iconic Dog and Duck Pub at 17th and Guadalupe will close October 31st; plans are in the works to relocate it to E. 7th in 2015. 
-- 7th and Congress mainstay Thai Passion has managed to find new space in far NW Austin, 13376 Research Blvd. Eater Austin reports that the landlords of the downtown location wanted national tenants, not mom and pops. Boo.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Refreshed from the R3 Summit!

Last weekend, October 17-18 was the Prevention Magazine R3 Summit -- refresh, revive, and reinvent. Held at the Long Center here in Austin, the event brought together presenters and panelists from the health, fitness, and beauty industries. Here's a quick look at what I attended.

Friday night was the kickoff reception and the screening of the movie Resistance, which looks at the use of antibiotics in our food and medicine supply; there's a preview of the movie in the link. Following the screening was a panel discussion with the director Michael Graziano and other health experts.

On Saturday, you could check out fitness classes -- with Barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln or exercise trainer Chris Freytag.
Or hear panel presenters. The keynote speaker of the weekend was actress, model, and L'oreal spokeswoman Andie MacDowell. She now 56, and embraces her age and her look. Through her teens and 20s as a model, she was constantly pressured to be very thin, but it did not suit her physically or emotionally to be rail thin. She says everyone has to find their healthy weight, and you can't be healthy if you're starving, and said "I don't want to waste time being miserable." She's right: life's too short.
Another panel which was moderated by Prevention dietitian Ashley Koff, and included local chef Sonya Cote of Eden East. They stressed eating clean -- things with real food ingredients, no additives! And Sonya also did one of the cooking stage demos. I wish I had caught more of the panel on nutritional supplements, but from the tail end that I heard, the experts were keen on curcumin and Vitamin D3, and you definitely want to take ones from quality manufacturers.
I also really enjoyed:
Creating your own personalized fragrance; I made a body lotion with grapefruit, ginger, and a light musk scent!
 Get your chakras balanced... something I probably need more of, as well as a better understanding of it all!
Fabulous henna tattoos... the top picture is my friend Girl Gone Grits getting her hand done, and the bottom pic is my finished henna! It literally took 2 minutes for the lady to complete the design on my hand! And 10 days later, you can still see the image on my skin. (Yes, I am washing my hands, but not exfoliating them!) Pretty much every person I saw at the event had some sort of henna design on them.
And of course, the heart of it all! (From Applegate Farms, one of the main sponsors.)
Thanks, Prevention Magazine for inviting me to be a Very Important Blogger for the R3 Summit! Look forward to next year! Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Prevention to the R3 Summit; all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sichuan River

Sichuan River (from the owners of A+A Sichuan in North Austin)  has taken over the Tien Jin Chinese restaurant at 4534 Westgate Blvd (on the Hwy 290 eastbound frontage road at Westgate; same strip center as Black Swan Yoga and Sap's Thai). Can't say I had ever been to Tien Jin, but I have now had food from Sichuan River three times in two and a half weeks.

My first time, I got eggplant in garlic sauce for carry out, along with the fried dumplings. My butcher friend had been there, and I thought he had said he had the eggplant with pork, which is what I asked for when I called. Turns out the pork isn't normally part of this dish (I've had it that way at Asia Cafe a place I really really like in far northwest ATX) but they had no problem adding it in. Verdict: thumbs up! Although after I had posted the picture on Facebook, one comment was that it looked like a dismembered Smurf. The eggplant is incredibly tender and the sauce was mildly sweet with a hint of a twang. The dumplings were a bit of a miss, but I am partially to blame, as they sat in a styrofoam container for 20+ minutes, and the ensuing condensation negated any crispiness that pan-frying gave them. I'd order them again, but only if I was eating there. On the plus side, the dough for the dumplings was much, much better than that at Asia Cafe, where it is WAY too thick, and the soy sauce-based dipping sauce breathed some life into them. Oh, and the eggplant dish, which comes with rice? I got three meals out of that!
Sichuan River Austin
The second trip, I went to dine in with a Thai friend. She wanted to try some of the cold specialty dishes, namely pig ears and crunchy jellyfish, as she has had them in Thailand, and she wanted to see how they would compare. While these are not normally dishes I would go for, I was willing to try. And now I can say I tried them, and don't need to try them again. For some, I am sure they are wonderful. But for me, they were both very similar in texture: cartilaginous.  Both were fairly bland, gelatinous, and a touch crunchy, the pig ear more so. You can't really see it, but there was some very nice julienned cucumber slices under the jellyfish. In my defense, my Thai friend didn't especially love them either.
Sichuan River Austin
Sichuan River Austin
I ordered the dan dan noodles, which I had been tipped off by the butcher that they were good, but NOT on the printed menu. Oh, no problem, said the waitress. Now, when I've had dan dan noodles in the past, they've had a decent amount of ground meat with them. These did not, but they did have the nice chili oil, a mild Sichuan peppercorn flavor, and a nice firm quality to the egg noodles. I would definitely get this again.
Sichuan River Austin
The third trip was dinner with my friends who first introduced me to Asia Cafe many years ago. There were five of us total, and we agreed to order a variety and just split everything. We started with some hot and sour soup, which seemed heavy on the white pepper, but not enough sour for my liking. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't anything memorable. The rest of the meal fared much better! The dry fried green beans were a touch salty, but yummy, and still a bright green (as in NOT overcooked) color.
Sichuan River Austin
Sichuan River Austin
We ordered the eggplant in garlic sauce (just as is, no pork) which was again really good, though the sauce might have been just a bit on the thick side, and I would probably ask for it with pork again.

Butcher friend had also recommended the Sizzling Sichuan Lamb, and yeah, it was spot on! It's spicy, though you could probably have them dial it back a bit (see the dried red chiles and the sliced jalapenos?!). And tender. So tender. Very heavy on the cumin (yes, not just for Latin foods!), and a little bit of Sichuan peppercorn again. I love lamb, so I was very happy. Oh, and butcher friend has always loved Asia Cafe for it's tripe, stomach, and other "weird" parts; he's been extremely happy at Sichuan River so if that's your thing, go for it!
Sichuan River Austin
My friends are BIG egg foo young fans, so their eyes got REAL wide when they saw it on the menu, so we ordered the pork version. This did not disappoint, and they went as far as to say it was the best EFY they had had in a very very long time. It was crispy, because they serve the sauce on the side -- genius! And what is EFY, you might ask? Think of it as the Chinese version of an omelet. And really good.
Sichuan River Austin
Our final dish was jumbo sesame shrimp. On the plus, the shrimp were lightly crisp, but on the negative, the sauce was just way too thick and almost cloyingly sweet. Someone had a very heavy hand with the cornstarch in making the sauce. Shrimp good, sauce not so much.
Sichuan River Austin
The nice thing about having a larger group of people, is not only can you try a variety, but the cost seems to go down. We paid $15 each, and that included tip.  And while they seemed a bit short handed (but all the food came in a timely manner), the only other real drawback that we noticed was the lazy susan at our table could really use a good scrubbing and re-coating of protective oil; it was clean but sticky/tacky.

Why am I so excited to have a Sichuan place in South Austin? I believe it's the first place really serving authentic Sichuan (Szechuan/Szechwan) down south. And they're not heavy on the Americanized Chinese dishes, though they do have some if that's your thing. And on this Saturday night, the clientele was two-thirds Chinese, and by the time we left, they had a good-sized crowd. And they are close to my work, so I see more nights of eggplant with pork in my future. Both times I have eaten there, I've had the same waitress who is very good, and speaks good English and has good humor. I am starting to hear a bit of a buzz about Sichuan River, and for those of us in South Austin, this is a great addition to our food scene.