Sunday, February 25, 2018

First Look: ATX Cocina

I went to ATX Cocina for happy hour/dinner on Friday night, and came out of it very pleasantly surprised. I wasn't so in love with some of the food at sister restaurant Red Ash on my visit in January, but ATX Cocina more than made up for it with outstanding food and service all the way through. Chef Kevin Taylor and modern Mexican food have found a happy home in downtown Austin.

I made a last minute 5:15 pm reservation and my girlfriends and I figured we would try to have happy hour in the bar area if there was room, but otherwise we had the res to fall back on. The hostess didn't miss a beat when we arrived, immediately asking if we'd like to sit in the bar area for happy hour, which we happily did. Throughout the experience, our waiter Norris was polished, informed, available and unobtrusive. Runners seamlessly brought dishes, cleared plates, and filled water glasses.

Many will be happy to know that the restaurant is completely gluten-free. No flour tortillas here! They get an heirloom corn from Mexico, treat it and grind it themselves to create their masa and tortillas. Here is the rundown of our extended happy hour.

ATX Cocina cocktails
Kate del Castillo, Eva Longoria and Penelope Cruz
ATX Cocina papusas
Papusas, with refried beans and cheese; the filling seemed a touch grainy, but the outer shell was nice.

ATX Cocina queso fundido + tortillas
Queso fundido, which definitely is on the greasy side, but the cheese gets really nice and browned while sitting tableside in its own very hot vessel. The the house made corn tortillas are wonderful; soft and pliable and not overly corn-y.
ATX Cocina queso hamachi coconut tigre de leche
Hamachi in coconut leche de tigre (citrus + herb coconut milk) with papaya and crispy leeks. Delicate yet memorable. We should have ordered another of these!

ATX Cocina cochinita pibil tamal
Cochinita pibil tamal with pickled onions, radish and salsa verde. More meat than masa, which was nice, and excellent flavor in the pork.

ATX Cocina pork carnitas tacos
These pork carnitas tacos may have been my favorite dish along with the hamachi. Very tender and well-rendered pork had great texture and taste, and the entire combination with the salsas was messy but delicious. Served four per order.

ATX Cocina esquites
Esquites, or street corn, with smoked aioli (crema Mexicana), queso fresco, lime and cilantro. Nice big kernels with a good pop to them.
ATX Cocina bunuelos + butter rum sauce
Bunuelos with a butter rum sauce and a extra scoop of flan ice cream. The bunuelos were good, though a bit grainy because they are using corn meal. To me the sauce had almost an herbaceous quality to it that I couldn't quite place. I had to ask our server again what it was and he said it was buttered rum with traditional cinnamon and clove, which I didn't taste. Ice cream more than made up for it though.

ATX Cocina choco flan + ice cream
Choco flan with Mexican hot chocolate sauce and flan ice cream. Okay, the best thing about these two desserts was the ice cream. I don't know if they are using crema Mexicana or what, but it was WAY more than just a vanilla ice cream. So good, as was this sauce. I don't think flan isn't the right name for this very dense concoction. "Flan" implies a custard that can be cut with a spoon, and while this tasted good, nothing about it was flan-like.
Very beautiful modern interior, and while this photo doesn't reflect it, the entire restaurant was bathed in natural light when we arrived, making everything that much more attractive. The interior with its curved ceiling was designed by local architect of note, Michael Hsu.
ATX Cocina interior

Favorite new place I have been to in a while, and I can't wait to go back!
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January's Best Bites: From the Tried + True to Brand New

If you've been following my Instagram account (hint, hint!) you may have seen some of the places I have eaten this month. Here's a recap of a few of the stellar things I have had; maybe I'll make this a monthly feature!

The Flying Carpet lamb + prune tajine Austin TX
This is a special order lamb and prune tajine is from my favorite trailer, The Flying Carpet.  The lamb was incredibly tender and just melted in your mouth. Check their website for items that can be ordered 24 hours in advance; they also have an indoor eating space that will transport you to Morocco!
Red Ash Hot Chocolate Gianduja Cake
Here's the Hot Chocolate Gianduja Cake from Red Ash, a chocolate lover's dream! The crunchy bits added a nice textural contrast, along with the ice cream. We also loved the hot bread with garlic, but the burrata and gorgonzola gnocchi left me underwhelmed. But I would certainly go back for this and a nice glass of Italian red wine.

Confitruas Community Kitchen biscuit
Award-winning Confituras, long a staple at area farmer's markets with their seasonal jams and canned goods, has finally opened their forever-home on Goodrich, off South Lamar.  Get fresh hot biscuits with butter or a rotating jam selection, along with coffee or tea. As a community kitchen, they will soon be offering classes and an expanded menu, stay tuned!

Dai Due Taqueria at Fareground, Wild Boar Taco al Pastor
I was invited to the media preview at Fareground (at 111 Congress Avenue) the first urban food hall in Austin, and their opening is a reason for rejoicing. Six purveyors (Easy Tiger, Antonelli's Cheese, Henbit, Contigo, Ni-Kome, and Dai Due) plus a bar all operate seven days a week. Pictured is the wild boar taco al pastor from Dai Due Taqueria  that had amazing flavors and a housemade blue corn tortilla.
Henbit cookies at Fareground
Also at Fareground, these chocolate chunk cookies from Henbit (offshoot of Emmer + Rye) were warm and delicious.
The Enlightenment vegetarian sandwich TLC Austin
Recently opened in Lamar Union, TLC Austin seeks to bring Texas comfort food with a coastal influence to the masses. This vegetarian sandwich called The Enlightenment was just that! Stuffed with watermelon radish, cheddar, carrots, cukes, avocado and pesto, it was held together by a sturdy grainy bread. And only $8. Raw oysters and boils also available.
What have YOU eaten recently that you loved? What do I need to check out? Share in the comments! Happy eating!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

First Look: Krua Urban Thai

Krua Urban Thai has moved into the old Barley Swine location at 2024 South Lamar. I had heard about their yummy crab fried rice from two different people, so it was time to go check it out for myself. My neighbor and I visited on the Friday before Thanksgiving, arriving a bit after 6 pm. We had no problem getting a table, but by the time we left the place was full and there were people waiting outside.

We decided on a variety of dishes to share, and told the server to send them out in whatever order they were ready.

Krua Urban Thai brussels sprouts
Krua's Brussels sprouts were tossed in a bit of fish sauce and a basil vinaigrette. Nice and crispy with excellent flavor.
Krua Urban Thai crab fried rice
The crab fried rice, one of their signature dishes. Great flavor, but I thought it needed more uumph to it
 and the saucer with chili fish sauce did in fact help. 
Krua Urban Thai pad see ewe
Pad see ewe (or pad se ew) is one of my favorite Thai noodle dishes, as I love the wider rice noodles. This was quite good, though I think my favorite in town is still at Thai Taste in Oak Hill for the fact that theirs contains a touch more sauce.
Krua Urban Thai pork belly pak ka nar
Pork belly pak ka nar -- this pork was amazing. While it doesn't look it, it had a nice crispness to it
Overall, no complaints about the quality of the food. What did bother us though is the timing. The Brussels, which are an appetizer item, did come out first and relatively fast. And then we sat there for about 15 minutes until another dish came out. Then the other two dishes came fairly quickly after that. At a small two-top table, it is virtually impossible to have three large plates on the table. The tables are also fairly close together, which gave us the opportunity to admire the pad thai to one side of us (and to learn it was the father and young son's second or third time there, which for a place barely open a month says something), and the diners on the other side of us inquired about our food.

Pros: food was for the most part, delicious; more Thai variety in South Austin is great; online ordering coming soon. I took my leftovers to work the next day and my Thai friend Bee tried the fried rice and pork belly dishes. While she said it was not the same type of crab they use in Thailand, she did give her blessing to both dishes, and she and I are making plans to come back to Krua. Service was friendly though perhaps not highly experienced, though I guess we could have specified "keep the dishes coming in whatever order" rather than "whatever order they come out is fine."

Cons: the timing of the dishes, noise level (there's nothing to buffer the interior rock walls), decor was lacking (I can't really understand why there are two New Mexico chile ristras hanging over the counter), they were out of one of the wines we ordered.

Verdict: thumbs up! Will certainly be back!
Krua Urban Thai logo

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Good Eats at The Little Darlin'

The Little Darlin' Austin

I went to The Little Darlin' (6507 Circle S Road, near the northeast intersection of South Congress and William Cannon) for the first time on Saturday night for a friend's birthday. I didn't intend to blog about it but the food was too good not to make a mention! I tend to take food pictures out of habit, so these were quick photos, in their natural environment, no food styling here. 馃槈

Little Darlin pork sliders + pimento croquettes
Confit pork jowl sliders that were only $3 each, and pimento cheese croquettes.
 The pork on these was amazing, crispy and not a drop of grease, and the croquettes were nice and gooey inside.
Little Darlin cheese board
Cheese board with selections from Antonelli's Cheese. 

Little Darlin cornbread + chicken wings
Chili-stuffed cornbread in its own mini skillet and buffalo wings with blue cheese, both super tasty.

Little Darlin mac +cheese and little neck clams
Mac + cheese with bone marrow and pickled mustard seeds and
 a little neck clam special, in a killer cream sauce with sherry, bacon, and mushrooms. 

Little Darlin fried fish with pesto
Fried fish (I think someone said it was redfish) with an amazing pesto that was almost pure basil. I wouldn't think to put fried fish and pesto together, but it really worked. I felt the fish could have been fried a little longer (or at a hotter temperature) to make it crispier, but it was still tasty. But that pesto was the star!

Seasonal menu from their Facebook page.
Little Darlin' has parking, is dog-friendly, and child-friendly until 9 pm. The bar is inside along with some pool tables, and a huge outdoor area along with a stage on one side. Super-chill, not pretentious, and delicious food. Stir it up, little darlin'!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

First Look: El Chipir贸n

El Chipiron logo

New Spanish restaurant El Chipir贸n (meaning little squid...yeah, I had to look that one up) opened at 2717 South Lamar at Manchaca at the end of June, after what seemed like a very lengthy process. Looking back at their Facebook page, the exterior sign went up in May 2016, a full 15 months before they actually opened. While I haven't spoken to anyone with the restaurant about the delays, I would guess it has to do with the City of Austin and various delays in being able to get permits issued and certificates of occupancies authorized. I can only imagine how maddening and expensive it is for new restaurants to get started. Anyhow....

While the exterior is your standard and somewhat blah new-build apartment building with street-level retail (it's seems that's all there is on South Lamar these days), El Chipir贸n's interior is a beautiful light-filled space. Big windows facing north and west and a modern design, anchored by a huge white (limestone?) bar. Though the use of vertical elements as space dividers did remind me of South Lamar's other Spanish restaurant, Barlata, I also wonder why El Chipir贸n would open so close by, just 1.2 miles south per Google Maps. But apart from a few tapas dishes, their menus appear to be quite different.
El Chipiron interior
El Chipir贸n's interior
El Chipiron bar
The bar (restaurant entrance is in the back right in this photo)
We arrived a little before 7 pm on Monday night, which turns out to be all-night food specials (aka Pincho Mondays) at the bar. Here's a look at our evening.
El Chipiron bar menu

El Chipiron tempranillo, sangria, gypsy flower gin cocktail
Tempranillo, red sangria, and the Gypsy Flower. They are becoming quite well-known for their gin drinks.
El Chipiron olives + manchego cheese
Each diner was given a little plate of olives and manchego cheese as a starter.

El Chipiron padron peppers
Padron peppers (also known as shishitos) with a light mustard aioli sauce.
El Chipiron patatas bravas
Patatas bravas; these were ok, but unexciting; I couldn't tell you what the sauce was.

El Chipiron oxtail empanadas
Oxtail empanadas, while small, had a wonderfully flaky pastry and very tender meat inside, served with garlic aioli.
Would definitely get these again!

El Chipiron mussels
Mejillones (mussels) + chorizo, with a broth made from an Albari帽o wine and garlic,
that definitely called for more bread. Great flavors!

El Chipiron  churros
Churros with a nice thick bittersweet chocolate sauce (there was a fifth churro that got snatched before I could get a photo!). There was a density to the churros which I liked, and a lack of grease which I loved!
All in all, a nice experience. Both the gentlemen tending bar were personable, but it was my dining companions that really made it a fun evening!  And not that it really matters, but I am curious about the El Chipir贸n logo up top, is the stylized "贸" a squid ink stain or a drippy wine glass? Clearly I need more sangria!

El Chipiron Dali
Dali spies on you as you head to the restrooms.