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.
Rossejat -- a paella made from fideo rather than rice. Studded with garlic crema and shrimp, this was seemingly simple and delicious.
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!

-- 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!

-- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.

-- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Porter Ale House and Gastropub

I've been wanting to check out Porter Ale House since its opening in January. They are located on the ground-level of a new apartment building on South First Street, about a quarter mile north of Ben White/Hwy 290, and on site parking is available. The people who I know who have been to Porter have all reported very good things, and can now say, I concur with their findings!

Friends and I met for happy hour (Sunday - Thursday, 5 - 7 pm) on a recent Tuesday, and they offer drink specials and a few small plates at reduced prices. I started with a Tito's Mule in the requisite copper mug, that was refreshing, but not real strong.
Truffle popcorn and fries were next. The popcorn has a very nice amount of finely shredded cheese; the ketchup with the fries was a bit sweet and sort of so-so. The country pate plate comes with pickled red onions, gherkins (cornichons), and some toasted breads; good pate, but I think I do like smooth pate a bit better.
There was also the grilled flat bread with olives and hummus; I just tried a piece of the bread, and it was fantastic! It's got just a bit of yeast in it, so it's soft on the inside, but lightly charred on the outside. A whole boat of that would have been dangerous. Same with the pretzel bread that was with the beer cheese fondue; don't know if they're making their own breads or if they're getting them from someplace like Easy Tiger, but they are good. And they asked if we wanted more bread and apples (I'd guess Granny Smith) a few minutes after we received the cheesy goodness. I did notice that all of the items we got from the happy hour menu (popcorn, fries, flat bread + olives) were served in paper boats, and the other dishes on wooden planks or trays.
The best dish all around was the oxtail croquettes. They look like well-fried over-sized tater tots, and the shredded beef was super tasty and falling apart. I only ate one of those, but could have easily eaten them all.
Dessert....well, there were four of us and four desserts on the menu, so we said, "Sure, why not?!" And we were not disappointed. Now I am not the biggest pumpkin-flavored-anything lover, but this pumpkin cheesecake was pretty tasty (and my companions definitely enjoyed it). The oatmeal crunch topping on the apple pear crisp was some of the best crunchy topping ever (I mean CRUNCHY!), and it was graced with an oatmeal stout whipped cream. Not pictured were the donuts (really more like uber-crispy beignets) with salted caramel sauce and some cranberry jam on the side, which were pretty tasty in their own right; and we discovered the cranberry jam was also a nice foil with the cheesecake and apple crisp.
Now the ultimate ending to our happy hour nibbles was the peanut butter and chocolate s'mores dessert, served in a low-profile canning jar. So it's a peanut butter moussey concoction in the jar, topped with chocolate ganache, and marshmallow fluff that's been torched; and that's peanut butter powder on the front of the plate and graham cracker crumbs in the back. I think my exact words after taking my first bite of it were "Oh my flipping god!". Yes, it's that good!
The interior is smaller than I thought it would be, as it's pretty much a long, galley-style set up. We were seated in the back booth; not sure if you can get the perspective from this shot. There are three large 10-top tables on the left, a couple booths on the right, and then the bank of booths along the back wall where we were seated. A few more high tables (I think?) by the bar, and some patio seating outside, but I'd guess that total seating capacity is about 100 people total. If I make this picture really large, you may be able to make out the very urban light fixtures on the left; I loved them. Modern, clean lines (as was the whole place), they're different from anything you'd see in a "normal" bar, and I really appreciate that.
There are several things on the menu that I'd still like to try, like the beet salad and pierogies; also the French toast and pork belly on the brunch menu. Overall I think the pricing is decent, though $17 for fish and chips does seem high, but I hear they're great. We each paid $26 plus tip, and each had two cocktails and a decent amount to eat. A fun first visit with girlfriends, and I am glad to have Porter in my zip code.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

 Upcoming Events
-- The Scarlett Rabbit is running Oktoberfest specials, October 6-26, the culmination of which will be an outdoor party with lots of food and live music on the 26th from 4 pm onward.

-- Mandola's Italian in Bee Cave is celebrating their 5th anniversary with a pizza party on October 13th beginning at 11 am.

-- Art Bites, an evening of art-inspired culinary creations from area chefs, Tuesday, October 14th, at Russell Collection Fine Art (1137 W. 6th) benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, $50/person.

-- Marye's Gourmet Pizza on Bee Caves Road is throwing a two year anniversary party, Wed., October 15th, 5 - 7 pm.

-- Meet local brewers at Thunderbird Cafe and Tap Room, October 15th, 6-10 pm, also serving as a benefit for the culinary grant programs of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.

-- Prevention Magazine's R3 Summit is October 17-18 at the Long Center; see my previous post for a coupon code for $20 off tickets!

-- Swift's Attic Sunday Supper Series on October 19th will feature a benefit for LIVESTRONG. $75/person or $100 with wine parings.

-- Truck by Truckwest, October 21-26. Buy a 1-day, 2-day, or 6-day pass and get bites to eat at a slew of food trailers. Vote for your favorite trailer and the winner gets a $10,000 prize, to be awarded at the last Trailer Food Tuesday of the season, October 28th at the Long Center.

-- Carnivores Ball, and as the name implies, not really for the vegans; October 23rd, 5:30 pm, the old Brodie Homestead (you know, sandwiched in between strip malls on Brodie Lane in Sunset Valley -- the old barn is now an event space), $55/person. Organized by Aussie blogger Burger Mary, it will feature meats from Salt + Time, The Slow Bone Crew (from Dallas), Freedman's, Fried + True, beer from St. Arnold and bourbon from Garrison Brothers.

-- Estancia Churrascaria is celebrating their 3rd anniversary October 24-26 with a complimentary dessert for their patrons. 

-- Come one, come all to Homeslice's 9th Annual Carnival of Pizza, Saturday, November 22nd, 12 - 7pm!  Games, contests, pizza, and the event serves as a fundraiser for the Austin Bat Cave, a local non-profit for youth to develop their creative writing skills.

-- Wine and Swine (always one of my favorite events!) for the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, will be Sunday, November 23rd at Star Hill Ranch; details TBA.

-- Delysia Chocolatier is opening a brand new culinary facility in Cedar Park (2000 Windy Terrace, #2C) later this month.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prevention Magazine's R3 Summit

I am excited! And ready for something totally new to me! I have been invited by Prevention Magazine to be a VIB -- Very Important Blogger -- at their upcoming R3 Summit (refresh, revive, reinvent) October 17-18 at the Long Center.  Now in its second year, R3 features health/wellness, fitness, culinary, and beauty experts and sponsors and puts you in the driver's seat to discover new ways to optimize your health.

Friday night will feature a kickoff reception and then a screening of the documentary Resistance (regarding the use of antibiotics), followed by a panel discussion. All day Saturday will have programming on the terrace of the Long Center including:
  • Aha! Moments -- learn some breakthrough thinking that will change the way you perceive health
  • Love Your Age -- how women today are redefining age
  • Eat Clean for Optimal Health -- the power of clean eating for weight loss, energy and overall mood
  • Shake Up Your Supplements -- what you really need to know about all those vitamin and minerals out there
Some of the presenters include actresses Andie MacDowell and Annabelle Gurwitch, CBS Medical Correspondent Dr. Holly Phillips, barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln, and exercise guru Chris Freytag (I've done her videos!). There will also be skin and hair consultations, healthy cooking demos, chakra and reiki sessions, and fitness demos.

Check out their website or Facebook page for all the details on the schedule and sponsors. Tickets to this national event are only $95, but as a VIB, I am pleased to offer my readers a discount code good for $20 off! Registration can be done here through their website.

Prevention hosted a dinner at Eden East this past week to kick off the Summit's festivities. Located at Springdale Farm in East Austin, it's a beautiful setting for an outdoor dinner. Executive Chef Sonya Cote is known for her use of local and seasonal foods, and they do their prep and cooking in a large trailer. With lights in the oak trees and refined picnic tables, it's a gorgeous setting with the farm as the backdrop. We were treated to a five-course meal complete with wine pairings. And speaking of pairs/pears, my favorite course was the delicate pear spoon cake served in a mason jar of course!

Thanks to Prevention Magazine for inviting me to be a VIB! In full disclosure, I have been been invited by them to be a VIB, but have not been paid for my blogging opinions or expert fitness services.

And if you're coming to R3 from out of town, here are some restaurant suggestions that are within one mile walking of the Long Center, which is conveniently located just south of downtown Austin. 
  • Along Barton Springs Road (the south side of the Long Center) El Alma (interior Mexican food), Terry Blacks BBQ (I haven't been yet, but it's supposed to be good, as they have a good pedigree), Sandy's Frozen Custard (not the healthiest, but the custard is delicious!); going further west past Lamar Blvd is a strip of iconic Austin places, but the food is not what I'd call outstanding at any. A it further down and to the north is Casa de Luz, one of the few macrobiotic places in town.
  • Walking south on South First Street: Torchy's Taco trailer park, Sway (upscale Thai), Elizabeth Street Cafe (upscale Vietnamese, with amazing French pastries for breakfast), Lenoir (fine dining, dinner only), a trio of sweets shops La Patisserie (French), Dolce Neve (gelato), Sugar Mama's Bakeshop (cupcakes and other baked goods), El Chile (Mexican),  Bouldin Creek Cafe (all vegetarian), and La Mexicana Bakery (Mexican bakery with tacos, etc. too)
  • Along South Congress Avenue: Doc's Motorworks (bar food), Perla's (seafood), Hopdoddy (burgers galore), Homeslice (pizza), Enoteca (casual Italian).
  • There are a few places just on the east side of South First Street across from the Long Center, but I don't know that I can give them a full recommendation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ireland, Part Two: The Sights

Hope you enjoyed reading my previous post on all the wonderful food I had on my recent trip to Ireland. Now for the beautiful places we saw.

My friend Val and her husband Tim are Austinites who split their time between here and Ireland. They bought land a number of years ago, and built a house in County Mayo, just north of the County Galway border, not quite an hour from the city of Galway. Their house is situated up on a hill, about three-tenths of a mile (seems longer!) from the narrow, winding, shoulder-less road. They allow their neighbors to let a small flock of sheep come and graze, so this is the view from the house. For me, sheep, and green grass, and stone walls were never tiring to look at!
The town of Cong is about 20 minutes away from their house, and many buildings there were part of the 1952 movie The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. The town is extremely proud of it's association with the movie, and tourists can visit all the well-known sites in town and pick up their Quiet Man souvenir postcards and assorted tchotzhes.  Nearby is Ireland's oldest castle, Ashford, which dates to 1228, with several additions since then; it is currently a five-star hotel. It's backside looks over the Loch Corrib, which is dotted with tiny islands.
Ashford Castle's  beautiful grounds also house Ireland's School of Falconry where you can (for a fee of course) learn to hold and fly a hawk. Next trip! (The people in the background are looking at some of the birds in their enclosures; I think they have over 30 birds -- hawks, falcons, and an owl!)
Galway is a quaint city with a nice area of shops, pubs, and restaurants that is closed off to motor traffic. Unfortunately a number of tourist shops too, and once you see one shamrock placard or Guinness key chain, you've seen them all. Fortunately, there are other things to see, like the home of the claddagh ring, and just the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists.
We were there on a Saturday morning, and the farmer's market and a few food trailers are set up around St. Nicolas Church, which dates to 1320 and is the largest medieval church still in use in Ireland. We also saw the building where a young man named John Lynch was killed, giving way to the term "lynching".
It was then off to the Aran Islands, a chain of three small islands accessible by a 45 minute ferry ride from outside of Galway. We spent the night on the largest of the islands, Inishmor, which is roughly 9 miles long by 2 miles wide at the widest point. Part of the charm of these islands includes that fact that the native still speak traditional Irish amongst themselves (called Irish, as opposed to Gaelic, I learned) and English with the tourists. Inishmor only has a population of about 1000 people, and most everyone knows everybody. What once was a fishing industry has given way to tourism, and there are lots of B + Bs scattered throughout.

When fishing was the dominant way of life, each family would knit wool sweaters in a pattern particular to them (like a coat of arms), so if someone were lost at sea, the body could be identified by the sweater. (A bit morbid, but practical.) The anthropologist in me enjoyed seeing the different patterns and their meanings; these hung in the Aran Sweater Market.
We took a tour of the island by pony trap, and at the northern part of the island is the 3000 year old Viking fort, Dun Aengus. It was a bit tricky walking the path up to it, as the stone pathway was a bit slick, but the view headed up and from the top made it all worth it.
The fort was built with three concentric ring walls and a cheval de frise in place. This was a defense system, where they place the stones upright, pointy ends in the air, so if invaders did penetrate the island, they or their horses would have a hard time walking through the stones to the inner-most ring.
You can also lie down flat on the top of the rock and peer over the side and 300 feet down to the water! It was a bit freaky looking over the edge, but it's now one of my favorite memories of the trip.
Returning to the mainland of Ireland, we drove through County Clare and the geologic area known as the Burren. It is what's called a karst landscape, where the limestone was eaten away by glacial formations millions of years ago leaving a pavement of stones (for more explanations, go to Wikipedia or the Burren National Park's site).  The remaining soil is nutrient rich, and about 80% of all Irish plants are only found in this region, which accounts for about 1% of Ireland's landmass. It's also an area where many ancient tombs have been found, including this, Poulnabroune. It's roughly 5000 years old  (give or take a century!), and over 30 bodies were found buried in it, including children.
We also discovered the very off-the-beaten-path Burren Perfumery, which was a treasure in the middle of nowhere! Literally a cottage industry, they blend their own natural scents and make perfumes, lotions, soaps, and candles. There's a shop, an education room, tea house, and gorgeous garden to boot. Well worth a stop should you be in the area!
Leaving the Burren, we spent the night at a B + B in Doolin, and headed to the Cliffs of Moher the following day. (Doolin in the foreground, and the Cliffs begin just past the far point in the picture.)
While it was heavily infested with tourists, it was completely worth it. An accordion player (or maybe it was a concertina?) busks for handouts along the path to the visitors center, which was built into the cliff side. Going up the stepped-path to the top, a harpist is playing. And the views are stunning, even with the bit of haze on the horizon. On clear days, you can see the Aran Islands, and the similarities of the geology between Dun Aengus and Moher are evident. And if you remember the movie The Princess Bride, this is where the Cliffs of Insanity were filmed. You can walk all the way to end point in the pic below, which is looking south.
Just a few miles west of Moher is St. Brigid's Well, an homage to the patron saint of Ireland who lived in the 5th century. People come an leave their mementos for her in the little grotto.
We continued south to Dingle, which is the western-most point of Ireland, and home to some scenic views along the way.
Dingle is a such a cute little town, filled with pubs and shops, many of which have high-quality local crafts, such as paintings, ceramics, woolens and jewelry. I realized going through my pictures that I really didn't get any pictures of the town, but it's cute, so you'll just have to take my word for it! We took a drive out to the very western point, and along the way, stopped to see some of the ogham stones in the area -- writings from about 400-600 AD in the forms of lines and dashes.  And we found  a little sandy beach where we dipped our feet in the Atlantic!
Traditional Irish music (or trad music) has become a mainstay in Dingle's pubs, and a trad music festival was taking place the weekend after we left. We were treated however, to a fabulous show at O'Sullivan's Courthouse Pub, which is owned by friends of my Irish hosts. Turns out one night we were there was a CD release party for two well-known Irish musicians, Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch, so I shall leave you (almost!) with the one and only video I took (and I never take video!) of some fabulous foot-thumping music!
Ireland was a fabulous place to visit, and of course it didn't hurt that I had the best hosts ever. Ever! I can't thank them enough for their hospitality and helping to plan such a wonderful trip. Like I said before, green hills, grazing sheep, and miles of rock walls are amongst the things that make me smile and think very fondly of this beautiful emerald isle.(As well as the crazy narrow roads with no shoulder!)
And, our faithful travel companion, Rua! Slainte!