Thursday, November 3, 2016

Wu Chow Dim Sum

Wu Chow austin restaurant

I finally made it to Wu Chow for dim sum! The downtown Chinese restaurant, from the Swift's Attic team, opened earlier this year on West 5th Street, six blocks west of Congress Avenue. While they are neighbors to the federal courthouse, there are touches of whimsy throughout that I appreciate. From the smiling dumpling faces on the sign board, to the goldfish bowl with a huge gold chain *bling* around it, to the chopstick wrappers, little touches to make you smile.
Wu Chow sign board
Wu Chow chopsticks
But more importantly, they take their dim sum very seriously, and they only serve it on Sunday mornings. They don't have the fun little carts with stacks of bamboo steamer baskets being pushed around the room, but rather an actual menu and wait staff service. Our team of four ordered a bunch of plates to share, and the overall verdict was eight thumbs up! The highlights are below.

The gai lan broccoli with oyster sauce was steamed perfectly; not overcooked and not bitter. The sauce had a touch of sweetness to it, and the crispy shallots were a good textural contrast.
Wu Chow gai lan broccoli
The green onion or scallion pancake was much thicker and doughier than what any of us had seen before. It wasn't bad, just different, though I think I prefer the thinner, crispier, flakier versions better.
Wu Chow scallion pancake
Char siu bao, or steamed pork buns with crispy chicken eggrolls with a gingery sauce. The bao were a perfect size and one of my favorites, and the eggrolls a nice switch up from the Americanized standard.
Wu Chow char siu bao and eggrolls
Shrimp fritters, which were nicely fried and not greasy.
Wu Chow shrimp fritter
The soup dumplings, which had a nice lighter dough and a very succulent broth that tasted like it has been simmered for hours. My close up picture where you really could see all the pleats didn't come out as well as I had hoped, so you'll have to make due here. Get the soup dumplings! $10, but worth it.
Wu Chow soup dumpling
Turnip cakes with sausage; sometimes when you get these at other places they have a sheen of oil on them, but these did not.
Wu Chow turnip cake
One of the better sesame balls (or fritters) that I have had anywhere. Nice amount of red bean paste inside, but not TOO much, and like other items we had, devoid of grease. In the background are the egg custard tarts.
Wu Chow sesame ball and egg custard tart
The dumplings had a nice sear to them.
Wu Chow dumplings
Overall, I found the various sauces and broths to be full of flavor and not too salty, and fried items were not greasy. To me, these are the factors that help make each dish shine overall. The one disappointment was they were out of the Niman Ranch beef and chive turnover by around noon when we decided to add a few things to our order (and we got there at 11 am when they opened). After tax and tip, we each paid about $21, not that much more than you'd pay at a traditional dim sum spot. Plan ahead though, and make a reservation.

Finally, a great dim sum place in Austin that I don't have to go all the way up north for! What's the Chinese word for *hallelujah*?!
Blogger Widgets

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pear Butterscotch Pie

I bought a new pie dish last week and was immediately inspired to put it to good use! With a smidge of fall-like weather in the air, I thought I would try to summon more cooler temps and less humidity by making something autumnal. I am not a fan of pumpkin, so that was immediately out, and I know I'll be making pecan pie for Thanksgiving, so I decided to pass on that too. Going though some of my saved recipes (three binders worth, and then some!), I came across Pear Butterscotch Pie that had appeared in Gourmet magazine in 2009.



The one note I left on my printout when I made it before was "yum!". Not very descriptive, but it was precisely that. Especially when served a bit warm with fresh whipped cream.
I think I can now add "Yum, YUM!" to my notes. It's a very easy pie to make, only made complicated by the crust. I made my own crust, because I am a pie-purist in that respect. I use Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe, though I use half butter and half vegetable shortening. And I used Bartlett pears and fresh grated nutmeg, which I think always makes a difference. But if you are not a crust maker, the refrigerated pie crusts will certainly do, and you could do a lattice or other fun, fall-like motif.  Do try to use the fresh nutmeg though!

And thanks to the Austin American-Statesman, who featured my Instagram photo in the newspaper, as part of their #austin360cooks hastags.
Pear Butterscotch Pie in Austin American-Statesman

Enjoy! And meanwhile, I am still waiting for sweater weather........

Monday, October 24, 2016

Capital Grille

* I was invited by Capital Grille to experience their current promotion. All opinions are my own.

Now through November 20th, Capital Grille is offering #WagyuandWine, where you can get a Wagyu burger with a glass of either Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon or Goldeneye Pinot Noir for $25.
Photo courtesy of Capital Grille's Facebook page.
Do it!

My friend and I started with the calamari with hot cherry peppers, which was also delicious.

You have your choice of three Wagyu burgers, and I had a huge tender, perfectly cooked medium-rare burger with fried egg, havarti cheese and crispy onions and the Pinot. Oh, and the fries were perfect too.
And save room for the chocolate cake with port wine infused cherries!
Capital Grille is located at 117 W. 4th Street (a block west of Congress), in the old Spaghetti Warehouse space for those who have been in Austin a long time!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Kittery, Maine

I just spent a long weekend in Kittery, Maine with family and friends. I haven't been up there in over thirty years, and it will NOT take me that long to return! The whole Portsmouth, New Hampshire/Kittery + York, Maine area is charming AND filled with great food! The three towns are about a total of 15 minutes apart along the Atlantic coast.

This is the back side of my friend's house originally built in the 1700s, which overlooks a cove on the Piscataqua River.
Kittery Maine house
Photo taken by my father! Thanks, Dad!
Kittery Maine backyard
And my view of the "backyard". That's the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in the distance, where they repair submarines.
Friday night dinner was at Warren's Lobster House, which sits right on the Piscataqua River, which is the New Hampshire/Maine dividing line. Most of our group had lobster, but I was still feeling full from meals with college friends in Cambridge (sticky bun from Flour and lunch at Shanghai Fresh), I opted for the salad bar and a crab cake, which was almost entirely crab.  Check Warren's website for coupons! I also couldn't resist a picture of the fabulous latch hook wall hanging depicting Warren's!
Warren's crab cake

Warren's in latch hook
Saturday morning, someone was up early to make a run to local bakery Lil's Cafe in Kittery for crullers. The day was off to a good start! They were warm and yeasty and eggy and soft and crunchy all at the same time!
Lil's crullers
My friends have been spending summers in this area for generations, and they've been going to Flo's Hot Dogs up the road in Cape Neddick on Route 1 (just north of York) since the 1960s.  It's basically a shack, and Flo's grand daughter is now running the place, and she's kinda the hot dog nazi! There are specific rules on how to order (which are posted!) so you best pay attention (and step #2 comes several minutes after #1... glad I was with locals!). The House Special are steamed hot dogs, on a steamed bun, served with their relish, mayo, and a dash of celery salt. And honestly, the combo was fantastic.
Flo's Hot Dogs

Flo's Hot Dogs how to order sign
On the way back, we stopped in York at The Goldenrod, which I remember from when I was a kid. They're famous for their salt water taffy, aka Goldenrod Kisses, and they still have the machines in the windows pulling the taffy and cutting/wrapping them into pieces, just as I remembered. Given that they've been around since 1896, I guess they're entitled to closing for the season at Columbus Day. Check their website for hours, and don't forget the penuche fudge!
The Goldenrod -- York, Maine

Goldenrod taffy pulling

mixed taffy from the Goldenrod
So as not to be entirely gluttonous, we then went for a walk through the woods where some leaves were turning into fall colors, and the trail ended at an overlook of some salt marshes.

Kittery salt marshes
And then a drive over to one of Maine's few sandy beaches, where I dipped my fingers in the Atlantic. Definitely chilly!
Kittery beach
Some of us then went into Portsmouth and to the Great Rhythm Brewing Company for a flight of IPAs, and they picked up some special release cans.
Great Rhythm Brewing Company IPAs
For dinner on Saturday night. all eight of us went to Anneke Jans in Kittery, which got a very positive comment from an Austin restaurant on my Instagram photo! The entire meal was wonderful. I would have never thought to put blue cheese with mussels, but it worked really nicely, along with a very smokey thick cut bacon. Yum.


Dang the comments don't pop up here, but the Bonneville from here in Austin called Anneke Jans one of New England's best spots!

We took it a little easier on Sunday -- gotta save up some energy for lobster! Some of us make a trip to the farmer's market, where I saw my first ever lion's mane mushroom live and in person!
We went to Sue's Seafood in Kittery, and ordered lobster (LOBSTAH) rolls to go. These things were stuffed with big pieces of lobster, and were served on a nice soft toasted buttery bun. And the best part -- you wanna know how much these cost? $11.99/each. OMG.
Sue's Seafood lobster roll
While we were at Sue's we went ahead and placed our order for dinner. Steamed lobsters, the "chicken" size, so under two pounds for $5.99 each. EACH. And they came neatly packed in this plastic container, all ready to eat. We added corn, cole slaw, and melted butter, duh, and had a feast!
Sue's Seafood lobsters
Sadly we were fewer in number on Monday, but four of us went back to Portsmouth and to Geno's for a last meal together. I took advantage of the lobster, and had this fine chowder. And that's the meat, not the shell!
Geno's lobster chowder
And we couldn't resist a stop at Kate's Bakery, where the bars were literally five inches square and a mere $3 each. Raspberry bar and peanut butter chocolate one.
Kate's bakery bars

And after that, I headed back to Cambridge to stay one night with another college friend, and I headed back to Austin the next day. It was fabulous to get away for a few days, and even better to catch up with old friends (who love to eat too!) and to see my parents! Where's your next adventure taking you?

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.