Monday, September 12, 2016

Fresas Chicken al Carbon

Fresas Chicken al Carbon South First Street
I was excited to hear that Fresa's Chicken al Carbon was coming to my Bouldin Creek neighborhood, taking over the old Freddie's location at 1703 South First Street. I've always enjoyed the food at the original location at Lamar and 9th Street, though have never frequented it.  The team behind Launderette is spreading their wings so to speak with a full-service restaurant and expanded menu. How did my first experience stack up?

My neighbor and I wandered over one recent warm weeknight. The expansive patio has undergone a beautiful transformation, and with a table open near a cooling fan we opted to sit outside. Currently, there are no happy hour specials, but hopefully that will change! We had the Rose Sangria and the Smoky Paloma, and were both quite happy with the quality of the drinks.

Their kids menu says items are for kids of all ages, so we took advantage of the tiny-sized chips and queso offering, which turned out to be the perfect size for two people knowing other food would be involved. It was a very nice queso, gooey enough, but not slick like Velveeta.
Fresas sangria paloma queso
We split the La Mari shrimp taco, which I am not sure I would get again. The shrimp were room temp, and it doesn't really seem like an item that shrimp should be lukewarm, though I could be wrong. The pickled onions and greens were nice, but the whole thing left me cold.
Fresas chimichurri skirt steak + la mari shrimp taco
The chimichurri skirt steak plate is available in different sizes, depending on the number of eaters. We got the smallest plate, which at 1/4 pound of beef is the suggested size for one person. The beef was good, still pink, and maybe a touch tough. But the real standout was the chimichurri sauce, which was nice and bright in color and flavor. Copious amounts of grilled onions. The disappointment though was the corn tortilla, which was very gummy, possibly from the condensation of being served in tin foil.  I think they should ditch the foil and just serve them in the cloth tortilla warmers.

And we also had the Mexican street corn, with cotija cheese and a touch of chile powder. Very tasty!

Topping things off was the Tres Leches Tropical cake for dessert, with a coconut lime sponge cake and exquisite mango passion fruit curd. Really, don't pass this by!
Fresas tres leches tropical
I think we can all agree that the hallmarks of any good restaurant are the quality and consistency of the food and the caliber of the customer service.  I thought our server was quite decent up until the point he accidentally knocked the water carafe off the table as he was clearing our main course dishes. It hit the chair where my purse was sitting and the glass broke. I immediately grabbed my purse and started drying off the strap, which was wet, but not damaged. Our young server's comment was "Oh, how did that happen?" though he must have known he clipped it while clearing plates.

There was no apology for the mess or wet purse strap from him nor the other two servers/bussers who came to sweep up the glass (or an inquiry as if either of us had been cut). Nor was the carafe replaced automatically, and said server knew we still had dessert to come. We had to flag down someone who was carrying a tray of five carafes to ask for one, to be given a slightly dirty look (seriously, my neighbor and I both caught it) and the response that those were for another table, and she'd get us one when she could. Oh my.

While not every restaurant has to exhibit the gold-star Uchi levels of service, it would be nice if more restaurants paid attention to service from the get go and made it more of a priority. I spoke to my neighbor today, and she's been back to Fresa's since our visit, and she said both the service and queso were mediocre. Which is a shame, because my last experience at Launderette was delightful in every way. Yes Fresa's is only a couple weeks old, so let's hope they're still just in the growing pains stages as far as service.

But as far as value, I am not sure it's there. I also got a quarter of a chicken, with rice and beans to take home, and while it was tasty for lunch the next day, it was certainly a small portion of meat. I remember when the drive through first opened several years ago, its hallmark was hormone and antibiotic free chickens. And it said so on the website. Now I don't see it listed on the menu or online (and they don't pay much attention to their Facebook page). So I called as I was writing this up, and was told that yes, they are hormone, antibiotic free, and sourced locally. Then why not proudly say it where all can see it? Though looking back on my 2012 blog post on Fresa's, I forgot they were under different ownership then. Times change.

So kind of like the shrimp taco, I'd call this whole experience lukewarm. I'll give Fresa's another shot though. But not the taco.
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Cane Rosso + Cow Tipping Creamery

Cane Rosso Austin
Soft serve ice cream.
It doesn't get much better than that for kids and adults alike.
Cane Rosso Austin  pizza
The Elena, Honey Bastard, and Ella pizzas
The latest pizza player in Austin is a Dallas import. The well-regarded Cane Rosso Pizza which has several spots in the DFW area, was so impressed with the ice creams at Cow Tipping Creamery, that they bought the Austin-based food truck and have installed CTC storefronts. Conveniently for those of us in Austin, CR just opened in the old St. Philip in Sunset Valley with CTC going next door, in the old bake house spot.
Cane Rosso pizza Austin
Cane Rosso pizza oven Austin
These 900 degree ovens cook a pizza in about 90 seconds.
CR was packed on a Saturday evening at 5:30 pm, but fortunately our group of seven was able to snag a table fairly quickly. Five adults and two kids demolished four pies and a salad -- Margherita (pictured below), the Elena, Honey Bastard, and Ella above. The HB is an off-menu pizza, a white pie with soppresata, bacon jam, and habanero honey.
Cane Rosso Margherita pizza Austin
These are Neapolitan-style pizzas with a soft crust due to the use of Italian "00" flour, and they consider it to be a fork and knife experience, according to the waitress. My one critique is that the toppings are not evenly dispersed, particularly the bacon jam on the Honey Bastard.  And I 'd say the Elena doesn't have enough of local BBQ spot Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ brisket on it to justify it's cost, but both are still delicious.

A Thursday lunch at 12:30 pm, it was only about half full. So if you can get there for lunch, it was a little more relaxed and a lot quieter. Three of us split the Honey Bastard (but note the uneven distribution of the bacon jam) along with a Capra salad; both times the salads were nice and fresh.
Cane Rosso Honey Bastard pizza

Cane Rosso capra salad

Cow Tipping specializes in soft serve and makes sundaes known as stackers. Fortunately, they have a kiddie size, which is still plenty of ice cream! I've also had the mint chocolate chip milkshake which was heavenly! Pictured below are the milkshake and a kiddie stacker.
Cow Tipping Creamery Austin shake stacker
Check out both Cane Rosso and Cow Tipping Creamery at 4715 S. Lamar Blvd, which is really the Hwy 290 eastbound frontage road, between Kohl's and the Toney Burger Center. While I don't see anything mentioning it online, on both visits to CR, I've seen people picking up to go orders, so it appears you can get your pizza to take home. Likewise, CTC has a freezer door with pints ready for take out. Make the kid in you happy with pizza and ice cream!

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Went to a dinner tasting at the PhoNatic in Southpark Meadows last week. With five spots around town, there's bound to be one near you with their fresh offerings. (And shhhhhh! Director of Operations Joe Prior told us there's an eastside location in the works!) Owners Pat and Sara Lee first opened Pho Saigon in 2006, and then went on to build the Chinatown complex in North Austin, where they own the MT Market grocery store. PhoNatic came along in 2011, with the "desire to make Vietnamese food more inviting and less intimidating, in a fast casual environment." I think they've succeeded!

Thanks to PhoNatic for the dinner; all views are my own. Here's a look at what we sampled.

PhoNatic spring rolls
Nicely wrapped spring rolls with shrimp and peanut sauce
PhoNatic banh mi sliders
Banh mi sliders, a nice twist on the traditional Vietnamese sandwich
PhoNatic tofu
Salt and pepper tofu with a sweet chile sauce
Phonatic oxtail pho
Oxtail pho; good flavor from the meat, but a bit hard to eat
The 212 Pho (eye round steak, brisket, tripe and tendon); maybe not my most favorite meat combo!
Phonatic chicken and veggie pho
Chicken pho with super-fresh veggies (they do have one pure vegetarian pho on the menu as well)
Phonatic pork vermicelli
Vermicelli (or bun) bowl with lemongrass beef
Pat's Plate, with egg roll, pork, and fried egg over jasmine rice
Phonatic  grilled chicken
Grilled chicken vermicelli bowl at top, and the runny yolk from Pat's Plate on the left.
Check out PhoNatic's website for locations and menu details. Fresh and flavorful!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Garrison Brothers Bourbon

I had friends in town a few weeks ago, and we took a drive out to Hye (just past Johnson City on Hwy 290) and Garrison Brothers Distillery. Billed as the first legal distillery in Texas, bourbon is their craft. I am not a big bourbon drinker, and I couldn't really tell you what Garrison Brothers tastes like, but it was a fun trip to check them out. A word of caution: it's presently hot out, and you will be outside almost the entire time you are there for the tour. They actually close for a couple weeks in July every year for routine maintenance and because of the heat (really? why not in August?!) so if you're planning to go, check their website first. Plus you'll probably want to buy your tickets in advance ($10/person), especially if you're going on the weekend.
Garrison Brothers Bourbon
Named the American Micro Whisky of the Year by the 2014 Whisky Bible.
When you arrive, there's a nice shady area under the trees and the gift store where you check in. Then your group loads up into the back of a flat-bed trailer that's hitched to a Jeep. You go up the hill, maybe half a mile to when the distillery actually lies. Did I mention it's hot? And dusty?

They get their wheat from their farmland across the road, and the corn comes from the Texas panhandle. After they are ground, mixed with barley, and allowed to ferment for a few days, the mash is put into the copper distiller. The out-product is called white dog, which is the bourbon before it's aged. This thimbleful was like tasting pure alcohol! Then it goes into oak barrels, where it's aged for a minimum of three years. Check out their video for more info on the process.
Garrison Brothers Bourbon grainery
The grainery
Garrison Brothers Bourbon grains
The grains
Garrison Brothers Bourbon still house
In the still house
Garrison Brothers Bourbon still house
They've added more copper stills in the past few years.
Garrison Brothers Bourbon oak barrel aging
Aging in oak.
Garrison Brothers Bourbon signed bottles
 Bottles are hand-dipped in wax (they often need volunteers for this!) and then signed and numbered.

Garrison Brothers Bourbon

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Fit Foodie 5K

Fit Foodie Race Weekend Austin

If you've been following my blog and social media posts, you know that I recently spent two weeks in Japan. And while the overall Japanese diet is one of the healthiest around, there were lots of noodles and rice along the way. I am excited to be a race ambassador for the upcoming Cooking Light + Health Magazine Fit Foodie Race Weekend, hosted by John Hancock. The Austin event is June 24-26, with the main 5K race/walk being Saturday morning at Mueller.

There's a reception Friday night, followed by the race itself on Saturday with lots of sponsor booths, culinary demos, and mini fitness classes. On Sunday, there will be a cardio sweat session for those inclined! The main race on Saturday is $35 to register, but prices will go up to $55 on Monday, June 13th, so hurry up and join me! I'll be the one walking! :)
Fit Foodie Austin 5k Mueller course map

A portion of the event proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association. Until then, I'll be checking our some of my old Cooking Light cook books for healthy inspirations!