Friday, February 12, 2016

Crepe Crazy

I walked into Crepe Crazy on South Lamar at 6 pm on a Thursday evening. My friend Linda of Girl Eats World was stuck in traffic, so I sat down to wait. As I was checking my phone, I realized the restaurant was busy, but silent. Then I actually looked around me and took in my surroundings. The staff and what appeared to be all of the patrons were deaf, and were speaking in sign language. And then I noticed the sign above the counter:
Crepe Crazy South Lamar -- point
"Point, And Ye Shall Receive"
A few minutes later when Linda arrived, I felt like we should be whispering. It seemed weird to be using our "normal" speaking voices, as there was something so peaceful and serene in just hearing the sounds of food cooking and other kitchen noises, as opposed to the cacophony of voices or Muzak. So we sort of quietly poured over the menu board, which is nicely divided into savory and sweet options.
Crepe Crazy South Lamar -- menu
Linda got one of the chicken crepes which was tasty, and a good-sized portion, especially for $8.99. All the savory crepes come with a side salad. We liked this one (the Southwest?), but both felt it was lacking a little something special, especially compared to the next.
Crepe Crazy South Lamar -- savory crepes
Crepe Crazy South Lamar -- chicken crepe
I ordered the prosciutto and apricot jam, which we both loved! I am sucker for all things sweet and savory together, and this combo was perfect. The jam is not too sweet, and has enough contrast to go well with the lightly salty pork. The savory crepes also come with a small side salad
Crepe Crazy South Lamar -- prosciutto and apricot jam crepe
For dessert, we got the brown butter and sugar crepe, which is quite delicious. It was hard picking just one (Nutella? peanut butter? s'mores? dulce de leche?) for dessert, but perfect for splitting!
Crepe Crazy South Lamar -- brown butter and sugar crepe
There were a couple of groups of teenagers sitting in different areas, but I concluded they were all together, as a teacher/adult who had come in with the second group was also talking with the other group; probably students from the nearby School for the Deaf. They were definitely teens: having animated conversations, checking their phones, laughing. I noticed a man Skyping on his phone, all in sign language. I can only imagine how advances in technology have made the lives of  so many people easier. For the second time in the past few months, I've gotten to experience just a little bit of what the world of someone who is visually or hearing impaired is like. Back in November, I attended a dinner by The Blind Cafe; you can read about my experience here. (Serendipitously, Linda and I have been together for both of these.)
Crepe Crazy lights
I liked these reflective ball-shaped lights!
I also noticed at least four food delivery service pickups during our hour there. I just think crepes would get soggy if not eaten right away when they are filled, but apparently Crepe Crazy is a popular choice. Also, at this writing, the restaurant is a little hard to find, especially when it's dark out. They have a banner above the doorway, but no neon sign to draw the eye. Located at 3103 South Lamar, they are in the ground floor of the 704 apartment building; it's the building due north of the Broken Spoke, and if you turn into the driveway by the Spoke, it leads to retail parking underneath the apartments. Crepe Crazy is at the north end of the building, bordering the Torchy's parking lot to their north.

I have since learned that Crepe Crazy started out as a food truck, and also has a brick and mortar location in Dripping Springs; the owners of the business are deaf. The location on South Lamar is open 9 am - 9 pm daily, except Sundays when they close at 4 pm. That means crepes are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which "sounds" like heaven!
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Friday, February 5, 2016

VOX Table at Lamar Union

I've been hearing the positive accolades for VOX Table since it opened last year. I was finally able to go for a recent Sunday brunch, which turned out to be a bread-lovers dream come true!
VOX Table
Located in the new Lamar Union complex, VOX Table sits just across from the entrance to the Highball and the Alamo Drafthouse. There's free parking in the garage, and free valet parking in the evenings. The restaurant's interior is light-filled, thanks to big windows, and the decor is a very uniform monochromatic gray and white. While that can come across as boring, here it is not; a huge painted wall above the bar keeps it interesting and tied together (not sure if this is considered a mural or just free-form design but it also mirrors the white and gray marble tabletops). Even the restroom and two private dining areas (one open alcove for maybe eight people, and a larger room that could be closed off entirely) are devoid of bright color, but all the neutral decor lends to making the food *pop* even more. There are seats at the bar, and also a few at the counter overlooking the open kitchen; it would be fun to sit here and watch the action!
VOX Table bar

VOX Table kitchen
My friend and I started with the potato churro appetizer, which comes with "VOX Sauce" that turned out to be a nice smoked paprika aioli. The churros were nicely crisp and squishy (the technical term!) at the same time. I can think of a ton of different uses for that sauce!
VOX Table potato churro
The appetizer section of the menu features a "bread of the day" with cultured butter. I am never one to refuse good bread, so when my friend suggested getting it, I was thrilled. This was some sort of whole wheat bread, and possibly sourdough... can't remember, but it was delicious!
VOX Table bread of the day + cultured butter
My friend ordered the French toast, which isn't your ordinary French toast. Ricotta stuffed brioche bread with roasted strawberries and a balsamic drizzle. All it needs is some bacon. Oh my!
VOX Table brioche french toast w balsamic strawberries
I opted for their version of "biscuits and gravy" which had a chicken roulade baked inside this delicious bread, with mushrooms and chicken gravy. I loved every aspect of this dish except the chicken. And the chicken wasn't bad, but I think I wanted it to be more like fried chicken and it wasn't. Texturally it just seemed a bit soft, but not undercooked. But the bread with the silky smooth gravy was divine.
VOX Table biscuit and gravy chicken roulade
Unfortunately, we did overload on bread, so we didn't leave room for dessert. Which means a return trip is in order! We had a reservation for 11 am, right when they opened, and by the time we left, the place was packed, so I would certainly recommend making one. I would love to go for dinner, and see how different the vibe and lighting is, as we were blessed with a bright sunny day.  VOX has the feel of both a causal and fine dining establishment; there were families with kids, but it was mostly adults of different ages and different styles of dress. As in very Austin. Good service and delicious food, and whoever is in charge of their different breads is amazing! Dinner and a movie anyone?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bits and Bites -- Food + Restaurant News

-- Jack Allen's Kitchen in Oak Hill hosts the 6th Annual Lone Star Paralysis Fundraiser, 6 - 9 pm, $150/person, January 26th.
-- Eat East, a group of restaurants/bars promoting East Austin returns February 2nd (the first Tuesday of each month).  Check their events page for full list of participating restaurants. 
-- The Blind Cafe , a socially conscious dinner in the dark, is back at the American Legion, February 2 - 4. Great experience, see my post here! 
-- Central Market's Chocolate Fest (all locations) runs February 3 - 16; lots of sampling with their Chocolate Stroll on February 4th, 5 - 7 pm.
 -- The Hightower hosts Amadeo's Army, February 4th, which is a community dedicated to promoting awareness and fundraising for Becker Muscular Dystrophy; 20% of food sales between 5-10 pm will be donated. 
-- Olive + June hosts Col d'Orcia wine dinner, $100/person February 4th.
-- Sway hosts an Indonesian pop-up dinner, February 4th.
-- Coffee and donuts pop up bakery at Lenoir, February 7th, 10 am
-- Mama Fu's celebrates Asian New Year with $10 off purchases of $20 or more, February 8 - 12
-- Antontelli's and Emmer + Rye team up, February 8th for a five-course dinner, $75. 
-- Lenoir hosts a Valentine’s-themed wine tasting, February 11 from 5:30 – 7 pm, featuring winter reds and roses with Beverage Director Chris Kelly.
-- Former Austinite Scrumptious Chef will be visiting from NOLA with a pop-up Creole dinner at Tamale House East, February 27th
-- Austin Oyster Festival, benefiting HOPE Market, February 27th, $50/person at the French Legation.
-- One of my favorite events from last year, Lamb Jam from the American Lamb Board, will return to Barr Mansion, Sunday, February 28th. $60/person. 
Lamb Jam -- Feb 28

-- The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas presents Roast + Toast, February 28th, $75/person. The event will celebrate Texas' growing wine industry with a sip and stroll tasting of the Texas Monthly's Best Texas Wines of 2015.
-- The Austin Food and Wine Festival is back April 22-24, tickets now on sale; I would love to see Ming Tsai!

Openings, etc.
-- Torchy's Tacos now open at South Congress and West Mary (the old Fran's).
-- Prelog's now doing Sunday family-style suppers.
-- The Carillon has new winter menu featuring "new American cuisine with a Texas focus and modern spin." 
-- Emmer + Rye now offering Happy Hour, Tuesday through Sunday from 5 - 7 pm. 
-- Austin-based fast casual Freebirds World Burrito has six dishes under 600 calories to kick off the new year (and actually, 4 of them are under 500 calories).
-- Pacific Rim Sushi + Yakitori Lounge now open for lunch.
-- Barley Swine has relocated to 6555 Burnet Road; now open for dinner. 
-- Isla open for Saturday and Sunday brunch.
-- Burn Pizza now open for lunch.
-- South Congress Hotel now has happy hour in the lobby bar. 
-- Dallas pizza restaurant Cane Rosso announced they will open in the old St. Philip spot in Sunset Valley, and also bringing local ice cream truck Cow Tipping Creamery to brick and mortar.
-- Flyrite Chicken at 2129 E. 7th opens February 7th.
-- Contigo has various options for Super Bowl Snacking (February 7th).
-- Fresa's has wood-fired wings and other snacks for the Super Bowl too.

Valentine's Day Specials

-- Andiamo: $70 dinner
-- Barley Swine: dinner
-- Cafe No Se: macarons available, 5 for $20
-- The Carillon: 5-course dinner, $80 with optional wine pairings, February 12-14
-- Contigo: 4-course dinner, $65
-- Dai Due: $85/prix-fixe dinner 
-- Dine: $69 dinner
-- drink.well: dinner
-- Emmer + Rye, 7-course dinner, $75
-- epicerie: brunch (new Chef de Cuisine, Keith Abate)
-- The Flying Carpet: dinner on February 13th, $50
-- Gardner: 4-course dinner, $65
-- Goodall's: 3-course dinner, $70
-- Isla: Paella special for two -- Jack Allen's Kitchen: Red velvet cake glazed with chocolate ganache
-- Jacoby's: Sunday brunch and Valentine's dinner (normally not open on Sundays)
-- Juniper: brunch, with half-off bubbles
-- Lenoir: pop-up brunch
-- Odd Duck: brunch and dinner 
-- Olaime: 5-course dinner, $100 with optional wine pairings, Saturday and Sunday
-- The Peached Tortilla: pre-fixe menu $45/person
-- Peche: dinner specials 
-- Prelogs: dinner special, $75 
-- Russian House: dinner for two, $150; $280 for VIP caviar menu
-- Sagra: Valentine's brunch and dinner 
-- Sala + Betty: $40 dinner
-- Texas French Bread: prix-fixe, $65, Saturday and Sunday nights 
-- The Townsend: 4-course meal for two, $200
-- VOX Table: Saturday and Sunday specials 
-- Walton's Fancy and Staple: floral specials
-- Whislers: burlesque and boozy cocktails, Saturday and Sunday
Image via

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Café No Sé at the South Congress Hotel

Café No Sé, described as Californian-inspired American food, is the more casual eatery at the new South Congress Hotel. Open breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it occupies the northeast corner space at South Congress and Milton Streets, pretty much in the exact spot where Hey Cupcake helped launch the food trailer revolution along SoCo.  Our first challenge though, was figuring out how to get inside! We initially went through the main entrance to the hotel, only to discover the bar and lounge area, but no restaurant entrance from inside. So note to selves: enter the cafe from the street side.

Cafe No Se -- exterior
We had a 6:45 pm reservation on a Thursday night, which ended up being unnecessary, but it never hurts to plan ahead! I was actually surprised the restaurant was almost entirely empty at that time, but it gradually filled as our time there went on. I'd call the decor a modern farmhouse vibe, with sleek moving cabinet doors above the bar station, benches, tile work, and a big communal table. I would imagine in the daytime, the sunlight would make the interior shots quite pretty. Not sure how I feel about the glaring pink neon. Or how this scripted logo relates to the modern block logo with off-set font (at the top of this blog post) that's on their website and social media. Two identities?
Cafe No Se -- interior
Cafe No Se -- interior
I started with a white sangria with sage, which I enjoyed, but in retrospect, might be better in warmer months. My friends both ordered cocktails with different whiskys, and unfortunately the waiter had to come back and tell them that each of spirits they ordered was out of stock, so they had to regroup. Fortunately, they had enough other bourbons + whiskeys in stock, and my friends were happy with their final cocktails.
Cafe No Se -- white sangria with sage
We started with the butternut squash soup, that was smooth and tasty, but the star of this show was the flat bread cracker with chicken liver mousse, carrots, beets, and I think the white dots were goat cheese. Artfully presented, and delicious! I was only sad I had to split the cracker with my friends.
Cafe No Se -- butternut squash soup with chicken liver mousse flat bread
We also shared the quinoa fritters with a cashew butter. These were crisp on the outer parts, but a bit mushy on the inside... yeah, I know, this IS quinoa. But the cashew butter sauce was luscious! I would love a big bowl of the sauce.
Cafe No Se -- quinoa fritters with cashew butter
For mains, one friend ordered the romanesco cauliflower + broccoli, which we all agreed wasn't terribly impressive, but the sprouted lentils with golden raisins and a touch of chile with it was quite lovely.
Cafe No Se -- Romesco cauliflower
Another friend got the burger and fries; the burger seemed a bit salty. Oh, and we had gotten a side order of the fries with the "malt" as listed on the menu; some of the menu descriptions are a bit on the vague side.  Really all it was was fries with Kewpie mayo on top. No malty taste, but the fries themselves were good.
Cafe No Se -- burger and fries
I ordered the lamb ribs from the appetizer menu for my main; they came with a white barbecue sauce, green apples, and peanuts. It was fantastic. I love pork ribs and I love lamb, but I am not sure if I've ever had lamb ribs. The sauce and apples really complimented the light gaminess of the meat. If you're a lamb fan, don't miss out!
Cafe No Se -- lamb ribs with granny smith apple
We decided to split dessert, and it's a good thing we did. This is the Rockman's Basque cake, and the picture doesn't do the size justice. The three of us could barely finish it, and really we each just wanted to lick the plate! It's a buttery cake with speculoos (gingerbready cookie butter) cream, charred dates on the inside, a touch of citrus on top, and sour cream ice cream. Did I mention it was downright heavenly? I can only image what the breakfast pastries are like! Café No Sé could definitely be a stop just for coffee/cocktail and dessert.
Cafe No Se -- Rockman's Basque cake with speculoos cream
And so now, I really would like to go back for another meal, especially if a croissant is involved! After dinner, we discovered there IS a  door exiting the restaurant into the hotel, but there's no door handle or marker from the hotel side. Maybe they leave the door open in the morning for guests to stumble in for breakfast? But leaving the restaurant this way, puts you in the lobby bar area that was quite hopping. Now the architecture and design of the hotel itself is what I would call a 1970s classy throwback. Except that I rather disliked the yellow smiley faces above the bar; to me it just cheapens the look.

Loved the floor to ceiling built-in bookcases/wall dividers in the lobby with their array of succulents; those alone are worth seeing! While admiring those, one friend struck up a conversation with the gentlemen at the front desk; one things led to another, and they offered to let us go look at a couple of rooms. We were shown one of the "standard" rooms on the third floor which was quite lovely, and then the Monroe Suite, which is over 700 square feet, including a big patio overlooking the pool and South Congress itself.
South Congress Hotel -- the Monroe suite
Though.... I am not sure about that ceiling over the bed, but I didn't notice it until I reviewed the photos.  It had comfortable seating area and spacious bathroom, complete with comfortable robes; and there's another half bath by the entrance. I loved the details of the rooms, like leather door pulls on the bathroom's sliding doors, the collection of mini bar items, and the woodwork touches throughout the room.
South Congress Hotel -- the Monroe suite
They did tell us at the desk that the Monroe goes for about $700/night; deals can be found on sites like Expedia and Kayak if you go looking for them. Room rates start at around $250/night for the basic rooms. The hotel's American bar + grill, Central Standard, opened the week before Christmas. Celebrated chef Paul Qui is opening a 12-seat omakase restaurant, Otoko, any day now and there's a rumor it's already booked solid for months. A casual juice bar, Manana, will also be forthcoming. Also keep an eye on Café No Sé's bakeshop page for upcoming specials, like Valentine's macaroons in five flavors.

No shortage of hidden treasures within the South Congress Hotel. And if you're dining at one of the restaurants, they do validate valet parking for three hours. Just part of the changing face of Austin, but at least good food is involved. And while I don't quite get the "Californian-inspired food" tag, at least these are decent Californian influences to be had, not just increased traffic and real estate prices.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pinthouse Pizza -- South Lamar

Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar
As with many things, the adage "if you build it, they will come" holds truth. The new Pinthouse Pizza on South Lamar in the Brodie Oaks shopping center is certainly no exception. It's sister location on Burnet Road has always been well-liked by friends, but I have never made it there myself. This brew pub/pizza joint opened in South Austin in late October, and when I went the beginning of December, it was packed.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar
Five of us decided to meet there on the first Thursday in December. I was the last to arrive at just after 6 pm, and I walked into a buzzing hive. Fortunately, my friends already had a table (or, a spot within the bank of picnic tables), AND one of them had been there before, so she knew how it worked. And thus, here lies my rub with Pinthouse: there's no host/hostess, so it's up to you to stumble in and figure it out for yourself. There are two separate lines you will have to get in, one for beer and one for food. Or maybe you only want one, and not the other, which will save you time. My friends had already ordered this flight of beers when I arrived; I liked the holder and the chalkboard for names.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- beers
We were ogling our neighbors nacho tray, and they gave it high marks, so we started with that. Very tasty queso and nice thick tortilla chips, and I think a decent quantity for just under $8.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar --nachos
The wedge salad was a disappointment, as the blue cheese vinaigrette was very weak in flavor, as it really lacked the promised blue cheese. It just tasted like an oil and vinegar dressing. But it was very fresh iceberg lettuce.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- wedge salad
We got three 10" pizzas so we could try a variety. So they're not quite Neapolitan-style pizzas, but they are a thicker, doughier crust. They come in 10", 14", and 16" sizes. Three small pizzas plus the nachos and salad were perfect for five people.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- pizzas
The pepperoni and basil turned out to be my favorite; the meat was sliced really thin, so it was a bit crispy around the edges and not at all greasy, plus there wasn't too much tomato sauce (I am not a fan of heavy tomato sauce on a pizza).
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- pepperoni
The Armadillo pizza with sausage, poblano, ricotta, and cilantro. I love a white pie, but this didn't do it for me. In my book, it really really needs a drizzle of a balsamic reduction or some other acidity on it to really make it stand out. Fresh and good quality ingredients? Yes. Great tasting pizza? No.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- white pizza
And this other white pizza, with mushrooms and arugula; I think this was a build your own option, I can't remember and someone else did the ordering. This too suffered from lack of acid, whether it's balsamic or tomato sauce or fig jam. Overall is their pizza good? Yes, but just not as good as it could be to my discerning palate.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- white pizza
But hands down, the best thing we had was the chocolate fudge brownie with Amy's ice cream. So rich! And smooth, and really chocolaty. And when split five ways, even better!
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- brownie
I was real glad to have a "veteran" with us, who knew how the system worked, as walking into a new place for the first time can be a tad overwhelming when the place is packed. And a beer and pizza joint with ample parking is sorely needed in this area. They are really good about updating their Facebook page regularly, and I see that a house-brewed "Hefewhyzen" will be tapped later this month (one of my favorite beer varieties). Plus the January pizza of the month is a Thai peanut chicken, which I know won't appeal to everyone, but it does to me! Now I feel that I can enter Pinthouse with confidence, as I at least know how the system works. If my one weeknight experience is any indication, they have no trouble attracting business.