Sunday, July 21, 2019

First Look: Carpenters Hall

Oh computer. I had written an entire blog post on Carpenters Hall at Carpenter Hotel (400 Josephine Street) and the computer ate it. So here's the abbreviated version.

I liked the lunch I had, but I didn't love it; I think the brunch menu interests me more. For a weekday lunch, clientele didn't seem all that diverse. Lots of millennial ladies who lunch, including lifestyle blogger Camille Styles. Loved the decor. Had a great waiter.
Carpenters Hall decor
Restaurant interior. Love the bench seating and they kept the old union hall banner.

Carpenters Hall kitchen
The kitchen

Carpenters Hall corn nuts and salami
Corn nuts and what they call mole salami. Which when I asked the waiter about it when ordering, I understood it to be salami with a mole sauce. No, it's salami with a chile oil with some mole-like flavors. Hmmmm.
Carpenters Hall grain bowl
Beautiful grains bowl, but honestly, not all that interesting.

Carpenters Hall burger and french fries
Double burger with some of the most amazing fries I have had anywhere. I would go back just for these. 

Carpenter Hotel coffee shop
Coffee shop in lobby area.

Carpenter Hotel cookie
Large and delicious salted chocolate chip cookie. 
What's been your experience at Carpenter's Hall? What dishes did you have? Would you go back? Anyone stayed at the hotel? What are the rooms like?


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Thursday, July 11, 2019

First Look: Velouria Cocktails + Coffee in South Austin

Velouria rose and espresso martini

Liquid libations are always a good thing, and when an establishment combines the worlds of coffee and cocktails, that's generally an excellent thing. Meet Velouria, a new lounge/bar/coffee shop/ whathaveyou on South Congress and Alpine Road. {Yes, directly across Alpine from Expose in the Davis SoCo building...hopefully this is different clientele!}

Velouria opens early for coffee and pastries (from Crema Bakery) and stays open late for cocktails and on some evenings, a live DJ.
Velouria interior green velvet chairs
Beautiful dark teal interior with gold accents and luscious green velvet chairs.  In this photo, bar is on the far side with lounge and table seating in the near.
Velouria espresso martini
All coffee drinks are made with local Austin Roasting Company beans, including this frozen espresso martini with vanilla vodka and coffee liquor. Straight from the slushee machine on tap, and extremely delicious, even though having caffeine at 5 pm might not have been the best choice. 😅 I'll do the frozen Mai Tai next time!
Velouria charcuterie plate
Charcuterie board with meats and cheeses from Antontelli's Cheese Shop; love their collaborations with all these local businesses!  Three cheeses, two meats, sweet and savory spreads, a few olives, and a few marcona almonds. My one complaint (apart from there only being like 4 almonds) is the almonds tasted like they had come from the fridge so there was no snap or crispiness to them. I mentioned this to owner Sara who commented on my Instastories picture of our cocktails, and she said she appreciated the feedback, so hopefully the almond quality will improve! And while she may be the owner (along with husband Tim), she was a wonderful barista/cocktail waitress. They also own the Brixton and Drinks Lounge in East Austin, so not their first rodeo....or cuppa coffee.
Velouria chicken salad sandwich
We also had the chicken salad on croissant, which was fine, but not overly exciting. I hope they'll consider expanding their cocktail hour food offerings.
Velouria exterior
If you're looking for a place to kick back in South Austin with a variety of beverage offerings, check out Velouria.  Also their website has handy and very helpful parking info! There is outdoor patio seating, which would be lovely in the mornings, but those green velvet chairs inside are just calling my name...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Chicago Eats: Kaisho Lounge at Yūgen

One of the most memorable and incredibly delicious meals I have had in a long time was in the Kaisho Lounge at Yūgen, in Chicago's hip West Loop.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Mentaiko Carbonara
Mentaiko Carbonara
In preparation for my trip, I had stalked a few Chicago food accounts on Instagram, and saw a dish called Mentaiko Carbonara that sounded amazing. I knew that Friday night would be my only opportunity to go, and fortunately, my friends were amenable to my plan of getting there just before they opened at 5 pm.  Yūgen is a prix-fixe omakase restaurant (starting at $200+ person), whereas its front lounge, Kaisho has a la carte ordering. We ending up having the entire lounge to ourselves and the staff was amazing.

Only open for about six months, Yūgen is helmed by Executive Chef Mari Katsumura, and they are already getting attention in Chicago for their outstanding dishes, both in taste and presentation. As well as being one of the few spots that is completely run by women; in addition to Chef Mari, the pastry chef, beverage director, and general manager are all women.
Yugen Chicago

Yugen Chicago dining room
Main Yugen dining room
Turns out, Beverage Director Olivia Noren was our server in the lounge. While my friends had Chandon, I opted for this unique summery cocktail, called Shizen, made with vodka infused with chrysanthemum, muddled shiso leaves, and yuzu juice (a tart citrus, like a grapefruit/lemon cross). Other than perfectly balanced, I am not sure how to describe the flavors, but I loved it!

Shizen cocktail at Yugen: chrysanthemum vodka, shiso, yuzu
Shizen: chrysanthemum vodka, shiso, yuzu juice

Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Chex Mix
Fun crispies: Japanese Chex Mix with kombu, ramen, udon and edamame
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Chicken Karaage
No doubt, some of the very best Chicken Karaage (with shiso aioli) that I have ever had. Juicy and crisp.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Mentaike Carbonara
The Mentaiko Carbonara, or Japan meets Italy. Udon noodles, with a uni (sea urchin) butter, tempura crumbs, and chiffonade of  nori. An incredible umami bomb! Great variety of textures.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Ramen Raviolo
Olivia could tell we were enjoying our dishes as well as our time in Kaisho, as we were the only ones in the lounge and the main dining room only had a few patrons at the early dinner hour. The kitchen sent out a Ramen Raviolo, one of the previous night's specials. Was this ever a treat! Bathed in tonkotsu (pork) broth, this fat little raviolo had pork shoulder meat inside, with crispy chicken skin sitting on top. In some ways a deconstructed bowl of ramen, and again, more play on the Japan meets Italy theme.

Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Milk + Cookies
This shake down of  Milk + Cookies for dessert was as creative as the "cracked" plate it sat upon. Meringue wafers on cookie crumbs and a caramel sauce all just melted together in your mouth.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Menu
Kaisho's menu

Yugen's kitchen
After our meal, Olivia invited us back into the kitchen, which was immaculate. Hot prep on the left, cold on the right, with the expediter at the ready.
Pastry Chef Jeanine Lamadieu clowns around while presenting us with a jellied tomato apertif in shochu. I was slightly nervous at first as I have had other jellied items while in Japan that I didn't care for (looking at you, egg yolk) but this was mild and went down easily.  I can best compare it to a tomato gum drop.
The four gender-neutral single bathrooms were also works of art, and Olivia explained each was named after one of the four seasons. All had elements of beautiful stone work, and then some other interesting element like a huge geode or hefty driftwood. Winter was my favorite, with its sparkly stack-stone quartz wall and reverse-relief sink that ran the entire length of the counter top.

You can't see the relief texture of the sink, but it was there! Drain hole on far right, "downhill" from the flow.

All in all an experience that won't soon be forgotten. If you're in Chicago, stop by Kaisho for a cocktail or meal, and experience what "Yūgen" is all about -- an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words. And as they say in Japan before a meal: Itadakimasu.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

First Look: Artipasta

If you have followed me here or on Instagram, you may know that I do love a nice big bowl of carbs! Especially when it comes to fresh pasta. (RIP La Dolda Pasta.) So I was very excited to hear about a food trailer called Artipasta, located at The Thicket food park, at the northwest corner of South First and Dittmar in far South Austin, which does in fact make their own fresh pasta.
Artipasta ravioli and carbonara
Artipasta at The Thicket
One of my BFFs and I met for earlyish dinner there last Saturday. I had heard great things about their carbonara (crispy pork and pasta? sign me up!), and saw it on their website's menu. However when we got there, it was no where to be seen on the menu board or specials. Confused, I consulted with the gentleman in the trailer. He said it was an off-menu item, but he could make it for me though it would take a little longer. I said sure! He also wanted to make certain that I was going to eat it on the premises, as it would not travel well (raw egg), and I certainly appreciate his concern for the integrity of his food! My friend wanted ravioli, and after a brief discussion, she told him dealer's choice.

Artipasta carbonara
Carbonara
When our food finally came, we were not disappointed. The pork in the carbonara was super-crisp without any grease.The fresh pasta itself  -- in this dish spaghetti -- was a perfect al dente. I think I would have liked a touch more pasta water mixed with the raw egg to make it a bit more creamy in consistency, but the flavor was there for sure. And yes, this would have been a congealed mess if it was packaged to go.
Artipasta ravioli
Ravioli with ricotta, balsamic and rosemary
My friend's dish was (I think I have this right) chicken ravioli with fresh ricotta, rosemary, and a balsamic reduction. A little heavy on the oil on the plate, but the tastes were great and she ate the entire thing, as did I.
Artipasta cannoli
Amazing cannoli!
We tend not to shy away from dessert, especially when there's cannoli! These were large and delicious. No regrets here! I should add, I ordered the cannoli when we initially ordered the pasta; they said they'd keep them back in the trailer until we were ready for them which was great.
Artipasta food trailer at The Thicket
Artipasta at The Thicket
I really enjoyed The Thicket's atmosphere; about five food trucks sit on a circular perimeter; the inner circle has trees and underbrush (hence the name Thicket, I presume) along with picnic tables. There's also a small performance stage, and it was a family and dog-friendly environment. I realize now, I didn't take photos of the surroundings but you can get the idea from their webpage.
Artipasta logo

Overall, we really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, and judging from the number of people we saw placing orders or picking up to go food, they appear to be doing well! I wish Artipasta had a salad or other greens offering on their menu, as I would have loved something healthy to accompany the pasta. (It also would have given me the opportunity to order a pasta dish that I could eat half of and take the rest home for later.) To their credit, they do have a caprese salad (basil, tomato + mozzarella) on the menu, but the board said sold out when we were there. Constructively, I'd like to see a clearer menu of their regular items posted online. Per one of their Instagram posts, they apparently sell their fresh pasta, which makes me very excited!

And as Artipasta has posted on their website:
Life is a combination of magic and pasta. 
-- Federico Fellini
Indeed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Update: Fat Dragon

I first visited Fat Dragon last fall, and wrote about them in December, as part of an Asian food binge at the time.  They invited me for lunch this week to try some of their new menu items, and I thank them for the opportunity and hospitality!

Soy braised salmon is one of their new items. It's a big 16 oz portion and the skin was crisp!
For my vegetarian friend, vegetarian dumplings are a nice option. In the lower basket are beef and leek ones.
I added a little julienned ginger and chili oil to my beef + leek dumplings. Extremely tender beef. I forgot to ask for them pan fried, but they were still delicious.
Hong Kong style braised tofu and veggies.
From previous meals at Fat Dragon, here are a couple of my faves: dry fried green beans.
Lamb cilantro dumplings are amazing.
Crispy pork belly gua bao.


Go visit Fat Dragon at 183 and Spicewood Springs!
8650 Spicewood Springs, open Tuesday - Sunday 11 am - 9 pm