Monday, May 15, 2017

Taste of Ethiopia + My 500th Blog Post!

This marks my 500th blog post! I have been blogging in South Austin since September 2008, and it's been interesting to see how social media platforms have changed the last few years, especially with the rise of Instagram. I strive for substance in my work, and will continue to provide honest feedback on the places I eat. Onward!

I have been to Taste of Ethiopia at 3801 South Congress Avenue twice in the past couple months; their other location is in Pflugerville. The first time was for lunch, where I had the lunch buffet and the second time was dinner with a group of foodie friends and we ordered off the menu, for a typical communal Ethiopian meal. I am hardly an expert in Ethiopian, though I have had it many times throughout the years. It's a great way to literally share a meal and expand your cultural horizons, and many vegetarian options (and I'd guess gluten and dairy free as well). I found a blog, Uncornered Market, that has a good primer on the basics of Ethiopian foods.
Taste of Ethiopia South Congress
Somehow Girl Eats World's hand ended up in my picture! Foodie is the New Forty was also snapping shots. ;) 
The interior of the restaurant is spacious and includes a bar area. Most of the seating runs parallel to the windows along the South Congress side, and there are nice Ethiopian touches throughout, like these baskets, or mesob, that the food is served in.
Taste of Ethiopia South Congress buffet
The lunch buffet is almost all vegetarian, with a variety of lentil, vegetable, and rice dishes. I think this doro wat chicken dish was the only meat item on the buffet. Doro wat is chicken simmered in berbere spices, which can include savory ones like chile and fenugreek and sweeter notes such as cardamom, cinnamon and clove; like curry powder each family has their own recipe! I love the flavor of the chicken!
Taste of Ethiopia South Congress buffet
The roll at the top of the picture above and what's in my hand below is called injera, and it's the tortilla of Ethiopian food. Made from fermented teff flour, it has a spongy texture and also a lightly fermented flavor; I totally dig it, but not everyone does! Typically in Ethiopia, you eat with your hands and can use in the injera to help scoop up your food. Now I am entirely curious to know what injera would be like if toasted like tortilla chips! I may have to get some extra on my next visit and try this at home. And from reading the Uncornered Market referenced above, as in India, it's considered impolite to eat with your left hand. I will say I only ate with my left hand for this picture so I could use the camera with my right hand. Apologizes if I offended anyone!
Taste of Ethiopia South Congress injera
This appetizer from our dinner visit is called minchet abish, and it's finely chopped beef, seasoned with spices (garlic, ginger, cardamom), sauteed in berbere sauce and served with bread. A touch oily, but I really enjoy the flavor.
If you take a look at the photo at the top of this post, you'll see the lamb tibbs on the platter at the 6 o'clock position, and items from the veggie sampler arranged around the platter. These included gomen (collard greens), two different lentil dishes, tikil gomen (cabbage), and fesolia (green beans + carrots). They bring an empty platter and place it in the mesob basket with some injera as the base layer, and they they spoon the lamb and other vegetable dishes onto the injera, leaving some rolls of fresh injera behind for eating with. It's a fun, communal way to eat. The lamb and lentils were my favorites.

Both times, the service has been warm and friendly, and the staff is happy to answer questions about the food, which they are very proud of. They will also bring forks upon request. Again the meat and lentil dishes have been my favorites, and there's a few more on the menu that I'd like to go back and try!

Just a note about parking: there is space available behind the building, turn east on Alpine and then an immediate right into the parking lot, up the hill. When I was there for lunch, there was no problem parking there. For dinner on a Saturday though, the lot was completely filled at 6 pm. I kind of think a lot of the spots were being used by people at the apartments there, because neither the restaurant nor the rest of the complex was all that busy. From the parking lot, there's a wall sign indicating stairs, but things are not well-marked. The door closest to the stair sign was the first I tried, and it was unlocked, but it lead directly into the residential area and I am guessing this door shouldn't have been unlocked. The next door I tried did lead to a stairwell, which does lead to the street level, and the restaurant is straight ahead on the right when you exit the stairwell. It would be nice if the property management company marked things better! Let's just say I was glad it was daylight when I first went.
Blogger Widgets

Friday, April 14, 2017

Home Cooking: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

I am a relative newcomer to crock pot/slow cooker cooking. My mother didn't use a cooker when I was growing up, and it's only been in the last 5 - 7 years that I bought myself one. But I definitely appreciate the time advantages to using one, and actually now I have two: a big six quart one and a baby two quart. They are both REAL handy!

My friend Sharon Chen of Delish Plan has written a slow cooker cookbook. Disclosure, she was offering some advance e-copies at a discount to members of our food blogger group (Austin Food Bloggers Alliance) for critique and to review on Amazon, which I provided. I was not monetarily compensated otherwise, and all opinions are my own. This link here will take you to her web page for the cookbook; or click here to go directly to Amazon to purchase either an e-book or paperback copy. There are a lot of creative recipes from meats to vegetarian dishes to dessert.  And one of the beautiful things about using a slow cooker, it doesn't heat up your entire kitchen the way an oven does in the Texas summer! But back to pulled pork!
Delish Plan Slow Cooker Cookbook
Available on Amazon
I bought a small pork shoulder from Whole Foods, that was about a pound and a half; I decided to make half the recipe and use my smaller cooker. While Sharon advocates for using plastic liners for ease of clean up, I don't care to cook in plastic, so I sprayed the cooker well with non-stick spray. An onion, the meat, and a mixture of ketchup, hard cider (I used Crabbie's, which is more of an alcoholic ginger beer than hard apple cider, but the flavors lent well), Dijon mustard, brown sugar, salt + pepper, bay leaf, and chile garlic paste all went in the pot. I cranked the heat all the way to low and let it work it's magic overnight.  My house smelled good in the morning! Here's what it all looked like still in the pot.
Delish Plan Slow Cooker Hard Cider Pulled Pork
And below, with minimal shredding, you can see how the meat just fell off the bone.  One thing I did though was to reduce the remaining liquid from the pot; I poured it all into a skillet and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. It reduced somewhat, but definitely thickened.
Delish Plan Slow Cooker Hard Cider Pulled Pork
One night for dinner, I made some polenta and brussels and had an easy meal, adding some of the reduced juices.
Delish Plan Slow Cooker Hard Cider Pulled Pork
And this was my favorite, the pulled pork with a great pasta, goat cheese, fresh basil and some of that reduction.
Delish Plan Slow Cooker Hard Cider Pulled Pork

Without a doubt, I would make this pulled pork recipe again! In addition to what I made, there's so much you can do with the pork, like make tacos or pulled pork sandwiches. Easy and versatile. I can happily recommend Delish Plan's cookbook!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Snooze: An AM Eatery (South Lamar) -- Caught Napping or Wide Awake?

Snooze: An AM Eatery South Lamar restaurant review
I've been pondering this blog post in my mind for over a month now, and it's just time to put it out there. Maybe you can tell from the title of this blog post of the conflict going through my head. Read on to learn about my first visit to Snooze: An AM Eatery at 1700 South Lamar, which coincided with International Pancake Day on February 28th, where a portion of pancake profits go to help local community gardens.

What started out as lunch with friends M and B became a very leisurely lunch, though not entirely by choice. More on that in a minute. Snooze is in a strip center on South Lamar, just north of the light at W. Mary/Hether Streets; its patio seating with orange accents is visible from Lamar. They are open daily from 6:30 am - 2:30 pm, and feature breakfast foods (heavy on eggs) and some sandwiches, as well as a full bar. The original is in Denver, where I ate several years ago when visiting friends; there are now around 20 Snooze locations from Texas to California.

I arrived a little after 11:30 am and found the parking lot to be mostly full, but fortunately Snooze was not packed. (I have heard stories about two hour waits on weekends which is one of the reasons I have not gone until now.) I was immediately greeted and seated along the back wall; as I waited for my friends, I admired the playful decor. I don't know what you call the little starburst/jacks thingys, but they are fun and nicely incorporated on the walls, on the glasses, etc.

Our waitress was personable and happily made some menu suggestions when asked.  I ordered the Breakfast Pot Pie, which is a big piece of puff pastry, with choice of egg and gravy, along with their very nice and crisp hash browns. The pastry is probably made from vegetable shortening, not butter, but it's still light, flaky and tasty.  This is a good sized plate of food! The food took maybe a little long to come, but nothing egregious.
Snooze South Lamar Breakfast Pot Pie

Snooze South Lamar Breakfast Pot Pie
B had the Benny Goodman, with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers.
Snooze South Lamar Benny Goodman
M had the Bella! Bella! Benny, which the waitress had mentioned was one of the post popular benedicts, with prosciutto, Taleggio cheese, arugula and balsamic. Both of them enjoyed their food. The menu says you can also order a combo plate of any two benedicts if you can't decide, which is a nice option.
Snooze South Lamar Bella Bella Benny
We all liked our food, and decided to split a couple of the special pancakes for dessert. I can't even remember what we ordered, but I think it was the Acai and Cannoli. So..... 25 minutes go by, and we still haven't received our order, so I asked the waitress when she was nearby. The lunch rush seemed to have peaked and was starting to thin a bit. I saw her go into the kitchen, and another minute or so later, a manager came over. He apologized for the delay and said they should be out in about 5 minutes; he further explained that a lot of his staff was in San Antonio preparing for Snooze's opening down there which was set for the next day or so, and the kitchen was backed up. I told him politely that shouldn't be an excuse for two pancakes.
Snooze pancakes
A few minutes later, the pancakes did arrive; I took a bite of each, and they both seemed a bit dry. But then I saw it: there was a long hair in the batter; I was done eating. We pointed it out to the staff but did not make a scene over it.
Snooze pancakes
Honestly, I think I was more disturbed by the long wait for two pancakes and what seemed like an excuse than I am about the hair. Don't get me wrong, I am not thrilled about the hair, but it can happen at any type of food establishment from fine dining on down. However, I am sure Snooze will be less than thrilled to know that it happened to a local food blogger. I will say the manager comped us a generous portion of the bill after learning of the incident, and I do appreciate his working quickly to try to rectify the situation.

I think I did catch Snooze on a day they were both napping and awake. I will return at some point, though I may still steer clear of the pancakes, but a Dirty Drunken Chai will definitely be in my future.

Addendum: I received a press release earlier this week from their PR agency; the two Austin Snooze locations (1700 South Lamar and 3800 North Lamar) donated $2000 to Becker Elementary and the Sustainable Food Center for their gardens from International Pancake Day. Nicely done.

Friday, March 17, 2017

El Burro: New Fresh and Casual Mexican in Lamar Union

I met a friend last month at the new El Burro, sibling to VOX Table, both in Lamar Union at 1100 South Lamar Blvd. Having just opened earlier this winter, I was curious to try it and hopefully include them in my guide to the Best Mexican Food in Austin, and they did not disappoint! Plus they recently started a happy hour program, which will certainly encourage my return.

We sat outside on the patio, which did have heaters (and hopefully those will turn into misters as the weather heats up), and fortunately since we were on the driveway side, the noise from the Lamar Blvd. traffic wasn't too bad. Also fun to people watch at this new, hip complex.
El Burro Austin
I started with a lovely sangria and my friend a classic margarita.
El Burro Austin sangria
Okay, admittedly it's been a month since I was there, and I didn't write down what my friend had, but I think this is the carnitas taco plate with green salsa. She was rather pleased with it!
El Burro Austin
Mine is definitely the al pastor! Decent corn tortillas, very nice flavor and tenderness to the pork. I almost always feel that al pastor tacos should have a teeny bit more pineapple than what they come with, but the pickled onions were a nice addition. Now the menu calls this avocado salsa, but it was certainly more of a sauce than salsa. But I would still order them again!
El Burro Austin Tacos al Pastor
The El Burro website mentions free valet parking, and also has an online ordering feature that's coming soon. So whether you are planning on dining in or getting food to go, you've got options on how to get your El Burro fix!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Toss Pizza: New York Style Pizza in South Austin

Toss Pizza neon sign
There are no shortage of pizza places in Austin, but last summer welcomed Toss Pizza into the mix. This New York-style pizza place is at 2901 South First Street, and offers on-site parking and an outdoor, dog-friendly seating area.

Somewhere between a restaurant and a bar, there was a laid-back vibe on a recent weeknight. Multiple televisions are positioned throughout, but fortunately they were not blaring. Each day has a different drink/happy hour special, and there's also a window to the kitchen where you can watch them toss pizza dough.

I started with beer and my friend and I split the garlic knots. Looking back at the menu, it says "choice of garlic butter, marinara or ranch." I realize now, the waiter didn't ask our preference, and just brought all three sauces with the order. Except the ranch wasn't ranch; it tasted more like an alfredo, though it congealed quickly, making me now wonder if it was the beer cheese that's mentioned in the pretzel appetizer. But it tasted more like an alfredo than a beer cheese. Oh well. The garlic butter was my favorite of the three.  Who doesn't like soft chewy bread and melted butter?
Toss Pizza garlic knots
Toss makes big 20" pies. That's the only size. Fortunately, you can order a HALF pie. So we picked our own toppings with sausage and roast garlic, though some of their specialty pies sound delicious. As you can see, the half pie is still four very large slices, so we each ate one and took one home. I really liked the pizza. It was sort of easier to eat it with a fork and knife, at least initially, but it's also very foldable for those who like to eat their pizza that way.  Crust is pretty thin on the bottom, with a decent edge to it, almost like a Neapolitan. It crisped very nicely in the toaster oven when I reheated it.
Toss Pizza
We also ordered the warm Brussels sprout salad, with beets, pancetta, walnuts, and balsamic. The flavors were fantastic, but the execution was poor. The Brussels were completely soggy, and after a few bites, I just couldn't do it, and we set the tray to the side. I told the waiter, who sort of apologized, but didn't really appear to take any corrective action, and left them on our check. So I was about to leave a little disgruntled when someone who I assume was a manager came over to the table. He said the waiter told him what I said about the Brussels, so he went back to the kitchen to check, and  sure enough, he felt they were sub par. He apologized and gave us a card for 10% off our next visit. I felt vindicated, and appreciated the manager's efforts, and that of the waiter for reporting it.

You can order online for pick up or delivery; this will come in handy. I will happily return to Toss for the pizza. So while I hope the kitchen gets the Brussels perfected, the pizza is pretty much perfect as is.