Monday, May 18, 2015

First Look at Alcomar

Alcomar logo
Last week, I was invited by Alcomar to come try their menu; I was not paid for a blog post and opinions are purely my own. Fortunately, it's all good things to report!

I live in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, so I was surprised earlier this year to hear that the El Chile at South First and Mary Streets was going to change its concept to become at Latin seafood spot, as El Chile always seemed popular. Chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas of sister restaurant El Alma, and Chef Jeff Martinez of El Chile teamed up to form Alcomar, and barely a month in they're making waves (bada bing!) in the Austin culinary scene.

My friend and I each started with some sangria roja, and they brought fresh tostadas, a habanero-pumpkin seed salsa called siklipak and some pickled veggies (yes it was habanero, but no, it wasn't that hot). Beautiful color and flavor on the sangria, and that was just a preview, as everything we had looked and tasted fresh and vibrant.
Alcomar sangria and chips
We started with the snapper ceviche, which has mint, olives, serrano and jicama in it, and is served with yucca chips. Loved just the hint of mint!
Alcomar snapper ceviche
My friend had the scallops Veracruzana; and if the scallops themselves aren't fabulous enough, it comes with a cauliflower flan, which was as decadent as the name flan implies.
Alcomar scallops veracruzana
I opted for the crab cake from the appetizer menu as my main dish, and also ordered the cauliflower a la carte. The tortilla crusted crab cake was loaded with crab, and the plate had tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and a grilled lemon aioli which popped with flavor.
Alcomar crab cake
For dessert, there was the dark chocolate tart with Bolivian sea salt and what I think was cajeta (goat's milk caramel). Love the star burst presentation, and this was over the top delicious!
Alcomar chocolate tart
And bunuelos, fried flour tortillas (I think) dusted with sugar, and a highly edible coconut tequila crema alongside.
Alcomar bunuelos
The interior was completely revamped to give it an upscale Mexican beach feel, and my friend who lived on the Mexican coast for several months was immediately transported.  Each window has a different rope curtain and the simple light fixtures are covered with huge open-weave baskets. And the ever-present octopus graces the north wall, both on the interior and exterior.
Alcomar rope curtains
Alcomar octopus
Alcomar is a great addition to the Austin food scene, as I don't know of another Latin place like this in town. Catch the wave and go try it for yourself! Mariscos y mas, con sabores fabulosos! Gracias a todos, Alcomar!

Alcomar
1816 South First Street
open 7 days a week, 11 am - 9 pm (til 10 pm on T/W/Th and til 11 pm on F/Sa)
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Monday, May 4, 2015

Bits and Bites -- the Mother's Day Edition

South Austin Foodie
Where to eat on Mother's Day (It's this Sunday, May 10th! Hurry up and make a reservation!)
-- Finn and Porter, 11 am - 3 pm, $55/4 courses
-- Due Forni, a la carte, 11 am - 3 pm
-- The Carillon, 4 seatings: 10:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 1:30 pm, $65/buffet, under 12 years old, $19.95
-- Sagra, $28.99/buffet
-- Daily Grill, a la carte
-- Gardener, 10:30 am - 1:30 pm, $30/set menu
-- Bribery Bakery has baskets for breakfast in bed available, from $45
-- La Patisserie has baskets starting at $36, place orders by May 8th

Events
-- Central Market's Passport Greece event continues through May 12th (both locations)
-- La Condesa's 7th Annual Cinco de Mayo block party celebration, May 5th,  5 - 9 pm; live music and Mexican Street foods
-- MexicArte's Taste of Mexico, May 5th, 6 - 9 pm, $50 - 7, various chefs/restaurants 
-- Teachers eat for free at CiCi's Pizza for National Teacher Appreciation Day.
-- Forrest Wine dinner at Olive + June, Wednesday, May 6th, $100
-- Salvation Pizza's Rainey Street Grand Opening Celebrations, May 7 - 10; proceeds benefit the Glimmer of Hope Foundation
-- Metier is hosting "Ice Cream and Cocktails" in conjunction with Lick Ice Cream and Genius Gin, May 9th, 1 - 3 pm 
-- Wheatsville Co-op on South Lamar is holding a chocolate truffle workshop (great for Mother's Day!), May 9th, 10 am  - 1 pm, $35
-- Sustainable Food Center's Farm to Plate Dinner, May 14th at Barr Mansion, various prices; a sip and stroll event with bites from over 30 of Austin's top chefs
-- The Texas Olive Festival runs May 28 - 31, with various tastings, tours, vendors, chef demos and vineyards represented at different times.
-- Trailer Food Tuesdays return to the Long Center: June 9, July 7, and August 4
-- Cooking Light and Health magazine's Fit Foodie 5K Race Weekend will be June 12 - 14, with tastings, cooking and fitness demonstrations, a yoga/Pure Barre class, 5K, and more. Benefits the American Diabetes Association.
-- Early bird tickets for the Austin Food Blogger's Alliance (of which I am a member) conference Byte of Texas (October 10 - 11 at Saengerrunde Hall) have just gone on sale through May 31st, $40 - 120.

Openings
-- VOX Table at Lamar Union
-- Shake Shack at Lamar Union
-- Jack Allen's Kitchen on 360
-- Via 313 Pizza in Oak Hill 

Friday, May 1, 2015

La Patisserie -- Sweet AND Savory!

Just a few yards from the hustle and bustle of South First and Annie Streets lies a charming little house,  La Patisserie. This French bakery opened their renovated bungalow in the fall of 2010 at 602 W. Annie Street  (just a few yards west of South First), and has been going strong ever since. I was invited to come try some of their new lunch items, and had a wonderful chat with owner Soraiya Nagree.
La Patisserie Austin
La Patisserie Austin -- Soraiya Nagree
Regular offerings include the always-popular (and colorful!) macarons. I am partial to the toasted almond variety, as it was my winning suggestion for a "new flavor" contest they had back in 2011!
La Patisserie Austin -- macarons
There is always a case full of sweet breads for breakfast, such as croissants and morning buns, which is like a cinnamon roll, but without the goo. They have a new flavor, orange almond, which is one of the items Soraiya sent me home with. See the little burned spot on top? Yeah, that's from my toaster oven -- this this was so tall, it hit the heating element! I know you can't gauge the size of it here, but this was about baseball-sized. I've always loved the contrast between it's crusty and slightly caramelized exterior and the wonderfully soft buttery crumb inside.
La Patisserie Austin -- morning bun
Speaking of butter, La Patisserie uses Plugra, which is a European-style butter, meaning it has a higher butterfat content than your standard American butters. And while 2% difference may not seem like a lot, it is! Everything just tastes a little bit richer. That was evidenced in the mushroom savory tart I took home. When I heated it in the toaster oven my kitchen just smelled of butter. They're making a great crust on the tarts, as it puffed lightly and was nice and flaky, and of course buttery. (And I am picky about my pie crusts!) They were also the perfect size for one person; add a salad and you've got a nice meal. Right now, they have mushroom, turkey swiss and tomato ricotta tarts.
La Patisserie Austin -- savory tarts
Other new lunch options include chicken salad and rosemary cream cheese "croissant-wiches". And of course, there's always a great selection of desserts, such as eclairs and the Paris brest, which my friends and I were dying to try after seeing La P's Instagram picture earlier this spring, and it did not disappoint!
La Patisserie Austin
La Patisserie is also available for private rentals -- a great place for a shower or tea party. More information about rentals and special orders is available on their website. So whether you need something for breakfast, lunch, dessert or just a pick me up snack like these strawberry pop tarts, there is something for everyone over at La Patisserie!
La Patisserie -- strawberry pop tart

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Olamaie


My friends and I were very excited to try Olamaie. This southern charmer opened last fall after a long buzz of its planning. Located just north of downtown in the old Sagra spot (and the ever older Mars spot for those of you who have been in these parts for a while), the quaintly updated house has a nice side patio and big windows on a relatively quiet street (specifically, 1610 San Antonio Street).  The entrance is through the patio to the left so it takes you to the back of the house; what was once the front door is now handicap access. 
Olamaie
We were immediately and warmly greeted by the host. Throughout the interior, we noticed nice floral arrangements and a modernity to the interior, such as mirrored ceilings in the room we were seated in. 

As we began looking at the menu, a young male came over to our table and filled our water glasses, and mumbled something about drinks. When he walked off, one of my friends immediately said “I hope that’s not our waiter.”  Turns out it was. So a few minutes later he returned to take our drink order. But there was no real greeting or welcome or warmth.  And given the pricing structure, we expected a higher level of service.

We opted for a few appetizers, but felt that the main courses were highly priced (more on this in a moment). Unfortunately my pictures are all a bit blurry -- sorry! I may have been distracted by the cold vent we were sitting under.

Salt roasted beets, grapefruit, edible flowers. Nice mix of types of beets and how they were cut: some slivered, some in chunks.
Beets at Olamaie
Pickled vegetables
Pickled vegetables at Olamaie
Pimento cheese with benne crackers.  I was really hoping for a good benne (sesame) seed wafer with the pimento, but to me these seemed more like basic wheat crackers with benne seeds on top. Benne wafers are made by the Gullah people along the South Carolina coast; they were descendants from East African slaves and continue to have their own dialect. I bought wafers when I was in Charleston years ago, where some of the Gullah still live. But I digress…. Good pimento cheese on a standard cracker, I didn’t really see what was particularly Southern about the cracker.
Pimento cheese and benne crackers at Olamaie
Country gravy, sausage and grits, with soft egg and peanuts. This is the one dish I really felt was amazing and would order again in a heartbeat. The peanuts sound weird, but added such a nice textural element and taste to the grits, which were coarser but creamy, and surely took more than five minutes to prepare. And there's a soft boiled egg under all those peanuts! You could probably make this a main course if so inclined, but a definite star.
Country gravy and grits with soft egg and peanuts at Olamaie
And the biscuits. Which are now so well-known at Olamaie, you have to ask for them because they are not on the menu. And they were fabulous biscuits. But three biscuits for $10? I must say, I make a pretty darn good biscuit myself and could make a whole lot for $10.
Biscuits at Olamaie

There were four entrees on the menu this evening: vegetarian, fish, chicken, and steak, ranging from $26-34. We saw the roasted cauliflower and chicken going to the table next to ours not long after we sat down, and the portion size just seemed very small for the price.

Neither my dining companions nor I feel like we’re being picky. At a fine dining establishment, I expect outstanding service. It should be proper and refined and informed, as that is the epitome of Southern manners. Yelp reviews also point to an inconsistency in the levels of service at Olamaie. My guess is it clearly depends on who your server is, but there should be some (high) standards set by the chef/owners for all of the staff.  Our young gentleman’s attitude and skill set would be fine at a more casual spot. But he was far too unpolished to make our experience at Olamaie a real southern charmer.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dai Due

Dai Due has evolved over the years from a farmer's market booth with high quality handmade products such as sausages, leaf lard, and condiments. Then they started adding hot prepared foods at the market, and soon after, classes like snout to tail butchering. Now they have graduated to a brick and mortar establishment on a bustling Manor Road that is both market and restaurant, and they continue to lead the way in serving local and seasonal foods.

But even a place so highly regarded had its slower times. Seated at the bar one night at the end of February, my friend and I were at Dai Due to "celebrate" Ladies Night, which is every Tuesday. According to our affable bartender, after just a month or two of service, the head butcher (a WOMAN!) and other staff realized that Tuesday nights were definitely slower than others. And, they would have random cuts of steak available that weren't as popular as say a rib eye. So Ladies Night was born, where Tuesdays are $10 steak nights for a 6 ounce portion; on the night we were there, we had a choice between tri-tip and I think eye of round. Regardless of the cuts available, I am sure it will be delicious. And Tuesdays are no longer slow nights there, so ladies, make your reservations!

We started our meal with wine (Duchman's Montepulciano from Driftwood for me) and the house-made pecan sourdough bread with a whipped lard sweetened with a touch of cane syrup. Nice chewy crust, and soft but yeasty insides with a lovely spread of mild pork fat.
Dai Due sourdough bread with whipped lard
Next was a venison ceviche with purple potato chips, tangerine, and carrot. I enjoyed this, but could take it or leave it, only because raw isn't my most favorite. My friend really loves ceviches and tartars and she was very pleased! The purple was a really nice pop of color.
Dai Due venison ceviche
We both opted for the tri-tip steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with a green garlic butter, and we split a side of the kale gratin which came in its own separate gratin dish. The steak was pink and juicy and tender and flavorful. And a complete bargain at $10, and really, I could barely finish it. It was pure meat, no bones. I also loved the kale, which had just a touch of nutmeg or allspice in it. Now the plating of just the steak and the butter was fairly unimaginative just sort of plopped on a beige plate, but I guess at $10 for an exquisite steak, you're paying for taste not looks. And by the way, green garlic is completely underutilized! You never (okay, rarely) see that on a menu; it's got such a nice mild garlic flavor that just reminds you that spring is coming.
Dai Due tri tip steak with kale gratin
I didn't get any good pictures of the interior, but I really enjoyed the modern galley-like space, with black leather booths and wooden accents. The skylights kept the space from feeling too heavy or drab. The market space is closest to the street-side door. There are a few different cases with freshly butchered meats, lard and schmaltz, and ground meats and sausages ready to take home. The main host stand is at the rear of the restaurant, or, the side closest to the main parking lot area and the back entrance.  Might be a touch confusing if you came in the street door expecting to be seated from there.

All in all, great friendly service and very fine food. Ladies Night or not, the steak and kale gratin beckon. Oh, and side note, the lovely east side location of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop is right next door; they're open late and they serve wine!