Friday, October 31, 2008

Day 5 -- Olive oil, Roman ruins & the road to Fes

Pics from top: pressing the olives the old fashioned way; green & black olive paste; view of Vilubilus ruins

Leaving Chefchaouen this morning, there was much concern about the weather, as the winds were howling, and the clouds were down low on the mountains, with some drizzle. Not good for walking the Roman ruins of Vilubilus, about 2 hours to the south. Fortunately, the further south we traveled, the weather improved.

All along the way, lining the hillsides of the Rif Mountains, are olive trees, some citrus, and pomegranates. About an hour into our ride, our guide had the bus driver stop on the side of the road when he saw there was a man operating his olive press. Was I excited! Annie Mance, you would have loved it! The man was leading a donkey, which was turning a huge stone wheel over a basin where the green and black olives were being squashed into a paste. From there, the paste is spread onto woven mats, about 18 inches in diameter, and then placed under a metal plate that screws down on top of it, squeezing the oil out; it drains into a holding tank, and presumably bottled from there. Only the first stage with the donkey was functioning when we pulled up. I asked, and it takes an hour and a half to crush the olives in that press; they were though, adding more olives to it as the olives got more and more crushed down. It takes 100 kilos of olives to make approximately 13 liters of oil. I also asked what kind of olives they were, and was told by our guide, “green and black.” When I further pressed the issue (no pun intended), I was still told, “just green and black.” Aside from the partial lack of info, it was great to see it! Unfortunately, there was no oil to sample.

Another hour down the road took us to the town of Vilubilus, where we had lunch at a fancyish hotel that looked relatively new. They are obviously there for the tourist trade. Lunch was another plate of 4 cooked vegetables, and a mixed grill plate with sausages (the first I've seen in Morocco), a thin pork chop with the salt pork attached, chicken breast, and beef livers. The thin sausages were really good, certainly related to Spanish chorizo, as you could taste the smoked paprika in them. The pork chop wasn't bad (Muslim country, they don't eat much pork here), the chicken over cooked, and liver isn't my thing. Oh, and great bread there too; like a fat, more tender english muffin.

From there, it was a 5 minute drive down the road to the actual ruins of Vilubilus, which was the capitol of the Roman province of Mauritania, Rome's southwesternmost lands in Northern Africa. About 20,000 people lived in this valley 2000 years ago; the ruins are spread over 28 acres, and have some extremely well preserved mosaics of the era. Amongst the ruins are also over 50 olive presses, showing the importance of the oil even way back when. It was used for cooking, massage (they know which building was the town brothel and the public baths), and burning in oil lamps, as well as being sent back to Rome for use there. It was very windy while we were there, but it was an interesting lesson in the Roman Empire, and the views were beautiful.

Back to the bus, and another hour and a half, we were at the Hotel Merinides in Fes, where there is wireless internet! The hotel has a fancy traditional (as in, for the tourists) dining room, which was rather ornate. Unfortunately, the traditional Moroccan meal didn't match the setting..... a reasonable hariah soup, though more tomato-based than what I've had in the past, an assortment of small meat phyllo-wrapped savory appetizers, and an alright beef tagine, but that's our third beef tagine in row, and certainly not the best! The end of the meal was accompanied by musicians playing traditional music, and the requisite belly dancer, who was quite good with the moves, but facially, didn't seem into it.

We get to wander the medina tomorrow! (Today's pictures will be added tomorrow!)

Day 4 -- Chefchauoen

Day 4 -- Chefchaouen

Pic from the top:
The hillside city of Chefchaouen; beef tagine at lunch; Ahmed the local guide

The day started with a town tour by a local guide, the irrepressible Achetot Ahmed, or just Ahmed. A short man, wearing his Berber djellaba (again, think Star Wars robes), with very pale blue eyes.(The light eye color is something I would not have expected in Morocco, but apparently, many of the Berbers are of lighter skin and eyes.) His voice at times sounded like he was talking through a tracheotomy box; then he would raise his voice and yell “hello” to get the attention of the group. Apparently, he's been in the Lonely Planet's video on the town....

Ahmed was entertaining, and like most local guides, is probably in cahoots with many of the area shopkeepers. We wandered through the meandering up & down streets, stopping from time to time, and then taking us to a weaving cooperative where a man and his sons took us through their different styles, types, colors, materials, etc. of the woven items they represented. And then they happily took our money. They had beautiful silk and cotton blankets, some of which were in beautiful ocean blues (the one Mom got) and a really beautiful magenta and cream colored one that another woman in the group bought. The teenage son saw me looking at the fabrics, and of course starts chatting me up. Before I know it, he takes me upstairs to see even more of the collection, and of course, talks me into one. It wasn't the magenta I wanted, but it's a small (2.5' x 4') cotton weave, done in beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows. Apparently poppy flowers and henna comprise its natural dyes. My first Moroccan purchase.

We continued onwards, and had lovely at a very quaint place, that turns out to be a 350 year old family-owned establishment, that also serves as a hotel. Lunch was fantastic cracked wheat bread, with mild olive oil, green olives, a quartet of cooked veggies (carrots, cabbage, eggplant, and something green....); all okay,but they didn't jump out at me. The main dish was a beef tagine, with green beans, artichokes, and green bell pepper. Extremely tender beef, obviously stewed for a long time. It had a faint clove taste, and of course in my opinion, it could have used more spice! But very tasty. A very caramelized flan for dessert with our not very sweetened mint tea, a nice change not to have the added sugar.

Ahmed took us to one or two more places, and then we were on our own. Mom, Peggy and I wandered around the streets for a while more, and then by late afternoon retreated to the hotel, just a hair from the plaza and activity. Dinner was here at the hotel, a harirah soup (I think that's how it's spelled) which is typicallly had at Eid, to break the Ramamdan fast, and another beef tagine, this one with prunes and hard boiled eggs. This one was good, and the prunes gave the beef a nice sweet flavor contrast, but it wasn't outta this world good. Picky, picky.... Onto Fes tomorrow!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The first few days in Morocco

Photos from top: olive trees; inlay work at masoleum; Chellah ruins; chicken tagine. Left: Hassan mosque

Coming to you from an internet cafe in the charming little town of Chefchaoen. Here is what I have typed from my laptop and had to seek out internet connections.

Day 1 – Arriving in Morocco: Casablanca to Rabat

We've made it! While there was little sleep to be had sitting behind a crying child, we,and our baggage, have arrived in one piece in Casablanca. I am taking this journey with my mother, Jane, and aunt, Peggy and as I was previously fairly certain, I am the youngest member of this tour group by a generation.

After getting the bags, meeting our local guide, and exchanging dollars for dirhams at the airport, we loaded up the bus. There a was a local man waiting curbside with a Britney Spears t-shirt on. Nice. But there really is quite a mix of western dress and the traditional khaftans and even the more devout Muslims with head coverings.

Our first stop was a modern mosque, completed in the 1990s, that is the largest mosque in the world that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. That is, after you pay your dirhams to Allah. About $18 USD. I figured it was worth it, as when else are you going to get to go in a mosque like this? Peggy & I decided to do the tour that allows you inside. The Hassan II Mosque will hold 20,000 praying men, with space for an additional 5,000 women in the hanging mezzanines. (Muslim women are not allowed on the main floor.... I can't quite figure out why non-Muslim women are allowed.....)Didn't really have time for the full official tour because we had to get back to the bus, but it's an impressive place.

From there, to a hotel in town that we'll be staying at the last day of the trip. A chance for a snack and bathrooms before the 1.5 hour drive to Rabat. A relatively fancy hotel. Stunning French pastries (I had a fruit tarte with a pastry cream filling), and my first taste of authentic Moroccan mint tea. A strong mint essence, with a touch of sweetness. Even though this is my first, I get the feeling it may be the standard against which other teas are measured. Delicious.

Kinda slept on the drive to Rabat. Lunch was at at touristy seaside place. Prix fix and a preplanned meal for us, starting with a pureed seafood soup with saffron, giving it a beautiful deep orange color. Not real memorable otherwise. Unfortunately, the whitefish presented to us for the main dish was overcooked (really, a seafood place?!!?). We were told it was related to seabass, but it was more like halibut or swordfish steak. Came with Uncle Ben's-esqe rice, and a melange of sauteed carrots and squash ribbons. A really weird spumoni for dessert. 

Then on to the hotel – the Villa Mandarine, about 15 minutes from downtown in a residential area. Goregous. Colorful, over abundant gardens, and it IS October. And I haven't even walked around the whole place yet! A formal welcome dinner for the group was held at the hotel. Started with a salad course – a modern rectangular plate with small offerings of 6 different things: 1) roast beets w/cumin and boiled calamari; 2) something baba ganoush-like; 3) steamed potatoes w/ golden raisins; 4) baby squash (the waiter said “courgettes” but it looked like okra to me) w/ a lightly creamy mixture that none of us could figure out, but the best thing on the plate!; 5) steamed cauliflower florets w/ harissa; 6) baby greens, which was the one thing we shouldn't eat on the plate. All were tasty, and a really nice presentation. Then the main. A chicken tagine, served in the tagine. Stunning. They lifted the lids, and the steam just poured out. It was a drumstick and thigh, with onions, purpley olives, and a bit of preserved lemon. The chicken was so tender, it truly fell off the bone. A side of real couscous, not the box stuff. Looked great, tasted great! Could have used a little more of the lemon.... the dish was so hot, that the olive pits almost burned your mouth. For dessert, they served a trio of cookies, fresh orange slices w/ cinnamon, and mint tea. The cookies were all different types, but all had almond paste in them; kinda so-so, especially after that French fruit tarte earlier in the day! The tea was a bit oversweetened, but I know there will be tons more of that to come!

Day 2 Rabat

Woke up to overcast skies, wind, and a bit of drizzle. After breakfast at the hotel (croissants, yogurt, cheese), we departed to see the Royal Palace. The king, Hassan, is young by royal standards (45), western educated, and apparently popular. He wasn't in residence (the fountains outside are working when he is), but while tour groups have been allowed inside in the past, we were not today. Winds picking up, we headed back to the bus.

Then off to Chellah, the 7th or 8th century BC Roman or Phoenician ruins. What was probably once a bustling city of about 1000 is down to some walls and pillars, but you can get the sense of what was, and it was probably spectacular for its time. Still visible are the remains of the amplitheater, baths, and market. Old arches and garden paths still preside. Several cats line the walkways, and were somewhat talkative to the tourists. At the end of out tour, the rain was starting to pick up. We went across the river to the town of Salé, and parked in an area known for its pottery and crafts. Had some time to walk around in the drizzle, and see what kinds of things are available. Saw some nice quality embroidered kaftans.

Lunch was at a place called La Peniche, on the Sale side of the river. It's on a boat, and as yesterday, our preplanned meal wasn't stellar, though better than the previous. Started with a seafood stuffed crepe, which looked really nice. But I've never had a crepe with glass noodles in it before.... The main dish was white fish, with white sauce, a timbale of rice, q quiche-like thing of carrots and squash (a theme...), and a roasted tomato half with diced, baked eggplant that was quite good. And a much better spumoni for dessert.

We had the option of being dropped off downtown, or returning to the hotel. After some mechanical issues w the bus, it just seemed easier to back to Villa Mandarine. We opted for dinner here, and it did not disappoint, the food or the company! The menu was all in French, and out of 6 of us, no one spoke it, so we muddled through it. They started us with a chilled yogurt cucumber offering, similar to a raita. I ordered a lamb dish, which I thought would be more stew like, but instead, it was baby lamp chops, with mashed potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, and fava beans in a light tomato cream sauce. Delicious. The chops were juicy and tender. And again, another beautiful presentation. This dish was certainly of French influence, rather than Moroccan, but no complaints. For dessert, we ordered the sampler plate with chocolate souffle, crème brulee, banana in phyllo.... and a goat cheese plate, with 4 different aged goat cheeses with fig jam. Mmmm. Wish I knew which cheeses they were, I am guessing all French. Two rubbed w veg ash, one soft ripened like a Brie, one kinda chalky, all lightly tangy, not too goaty, and delicious! A nice way to end the meal!

Day 3 – Ouezzane to Chefchaouen

Most of the day was not a good one. I am sick. At least I am not the only one though, and I'll spare any further details. We left Rabat and the beautiful Villa Mandarine, and headed north. About 30 miles out of town, we stopped at a private ethnographic museum. Beautiful collections of weaving & textiles, old saddles, metal work, etc. Unfortunately, really nothing was labeled with any information as to the origin of the pieces, and what little info there was, was in French. I certainly would have enjoyed it more if had been feeling better. Back to the bus, and a little further down the road, the driver stopped at a roadside fruit stand, and got us oranges and bananas. They also had big pomegranates, though a very light pinkish color, not the deep maroon I am used to. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to eat one. The banana was the first thing I ate all day.

We continued down the road (I pretty much slept), and got deeper into the countryside and rolling hills. You could see young men with their flocks of sheep along the sides. Then the olive trees popped up. We stopped at a bend in the road, and got out to take some pictures. Onwards to a modern gas station for lunch; lamb tagines with vegetables, which the reports on were very good. We backtracked to the town of Ouezzane, and what began as a not terribly trecherous climb up a village street became a little more challenging when we reached the point where they were digging up the entire walkway for pipes or something. The workers waved us on through, as we plodded through the dirt and rocks. One of our group remarked “Imagine the liability in New York!”. Indeed. V arious little storefronts lined the ways – shoes, clothing, kaftans, djeballas (think Obi Wan Kenobi's robe), trinkets, At the top of the passageway, were several craftsmen – kids spinning thread into these braided plakets, weavers making cloth. Tom, the guide, had pictures he had taken of some of the craftsmen on a previous trip, so he gave them to his past subjects. Some of the kids whose pictures he had taken before were tickled to get the photos. I got a picture of them with big full grins.

It was interesting to see the workers, as some of them were in a space the size of a small closet. But they seem content, and happy with their lives. From here, onto Chefchaoen, which seems to be a charming little town, even if it is known for its prevalent kif -- like hashish -- supply.

This cafe computer is taking waaaaaay too long to download photos, going on 5 min for 4 pics.....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We're in Morocco!

Well, we made it safe and sound. We are at the Villa Mandarin in Rabat; Google it, it is gorgeous. No wireless computer access though, so I am using the ancient communal computer that has no USB port. Grrrr. And a screwy French keyboard! So no pics for now, and here is the condensed rundown.

After leaving the airport yesterday, we went to the Hassan II mosque, a modern structure that can hold 25000 worshippers. Stunning facility. Stopped at a hotel for coffee, Moroccan tea, and a delicious French pastry. Onto Rabat for an unmemorable lunch, then to the fabulous hotel. Had a great, authentic meal here for dinner - chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon, served in the tagine. Hopefully will post photo at a later time.

Today, we saw the old Roman/Phoenician ruins of Chellah, that are within the city. The maosoleum of King Mohammed and time walking around a potters and artisans quarters. It has been raining today, so that has put a damper on some things. A small group of us have already decided to eat dinner here at the hotel tonight.... if it is anything like last night, we are in good shape!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oh, Olivia!

** Editor's note: closed by the restaurant group in Fall 2016, and repurposed as Lucy's On the Fly, a carry out fried chicken spot.

I am so fat and happy right now (and very slightly buzzed), that I don't even know that I can write properly about one of South Austin's newest establishments, a fine dining one at that, in every sense of the word. Olivia's, a quasi-Frenchish (with heavy Italian influences) bistro sorta place opened on South Lamar, just north of Oltorf, in early August. I pass it every day coming home from work, and saw it being constructed from the slab on up. So two plus months later, I check it out. What a treat!

We arrived a mere two hours ago, just before 6:30 pm, beating any Friday night crowd that may have swarmed. The interior design of the place is, I think, fairly stunning. High angled ceiling, very clean, modern lines. Flower arrangements with whole apples in the vases added to the visual appeal. Seating includes booths, benchs, 4-top tables, and a small bar area, so something for everyone. See their site for pics.

First the wine... or bubbly I should say.
Alne Prosecco, which for me was perfect! Not very dry, but definitely not real sweet, bit zippy, fruity. It complemented everything nicely. Our first course was the Tarte Flambe, essentially a pizza, with creme fraiche, caramelized onions, bacon and calvados. Bacon was tasty! (Duh.) Not sure I tasted any calvados. The crust on ours was a bit blackened around 3/4 of the edges, but not terribly offensive. We both agreed the crust was a bit doughy/yeasty, like a fluffy pita without the pocket. The second course was the beet salad, which they nicely plated separately for the two of us. Very thin slices of beets stacked with some onions and a milder feta cheese with a vinaigrette that had twang, but not noticeably so.

For the main entrees, we had the
herbed ricotta ravioli in Prosecco brown butter, which was dusted with amaretti cookie crumbs, and accompanied by starkrimson pears. The pears are a smaller red variety that our waitress said were local (neither of us have heard of them), as they've been getting them from the farmer's market. Tasted like a pear... The 6 large ravioli were tasty, and nice with the pears, but could have used more contrast in flavor and texture. Nuts? More amaretti? The other dish was the grilled ribeye.... mmmm, steak! Menu says molasses bacon butter.... certainly got the bacon, and looking back on it now, I guess any sweetness I was tasting I thought was from caramelzation, not from molasses. It was a huge cut of meat, and done a perfect medium rare.... a good deal of fat, but we know that fat equals flavor, so what hasn't already rendered, just cut around it! The meat was extremely tender, and almost filet mignon-like in texture; it's served with sauted fingerling potatoes and some hearty oyster mushrooms.

Not that we weren't stuffed already, but we
had to look at the dessert menu. It was a tossup between an apple pie thing (the exact name now escapes me) and the sticky toffee pudding with creme fraiche ice cream. Our server voted for the sticky toffee, and that's probably one of the best restaurant desserts I've ever had (and yes, I've had a few!). It was a generous sized piece of tender cake, generously covered in a wonderful deep toasted toffee sauce... you could taste the butter and brown sugar, as your eyes rolled back in your head. The ice cream was a great foil, and little bites of the cold ice cream and the warm cake and drippy sauce were like heaven. And I am totally stuffed.... we only ate half the torte flambe (lunch tomorrow!) and if we ate half the ribeye, I'd be shocked...though it was going home to a husband who by now has probably demolished it, if he can keep 3 dogs away.

It's rather exciting that there's such a good mix of food close to my house! The previously written about Lulu's Vietnamese is about 150 yards south of Olivia's. So trailer to fine dining, Lulu's to Olivia's....keep it coming!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dog Almighty

I had a bunch of errands to run yesterday (pick up Rx, vote, Target....), and my intention was to stop at Torchy's or Shuggies on my way back home. After Target, I went to Half Price Books on South Lamar to find some paperback reading material for the upcoming plane rides (found The Omnivore's soon we'll see what all the fuss is about!), and was reminded of Dog Almighty.

The names of their items on the menu board is definitely a reflection of Austin. I ordered a Broken Spoke Dog named for the legendary honky tonk bar, which sits about 50 yards south of Dog, and a side of fries. The dog comes on a nicely buttered (oiled?) and toasted bun, and it's a great grilled beef hot dog. It's got a good snap to it when you bite into it, and is very juicy. The appropriate amount of onions, and a bit of BBQ sauce completed it. The side of fries is a very generous order, and mine were just out of the fryer, so very hot, but not at all greasy, and fairly well salted but not overly so.

There were a handful of eaters in there at 12:30ish, and during a lull, the guy who I am thinking was the manager was on the phone with one of his employees, who apparently has strep. Overhearing the conversation, I was impressed with how the manager was telling his employee not to worry about it, he'd cover the shifts, and just take care of yourself. It's a more compassionate side not always exhibited in businesses today. Kudos.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Andrew Zimmern

Here's why I love Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel... he's really good (better than me!) about always tasting something, even if it's disgusting, twice. (Watch the Moroccan episode, where he ate putrid mystery meat (his words) packed in it's own fat, and left at room temperature overnight....) He's also generally good about giving a real taste description about what it is he's eating -- not just "it's really yummy" but about the flavor profile and texture of the item. This is important in really understanding your food!

But a recent episode, he visited a famous Parisian cheese maker, and got to see how the cheeses age in the underground affinage. As he went down the stairs, he describes the smell alone as "rotten eggs trampled by the unwashed feet of a thousand teenage boys." Hahaha!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lulu B's

** Editor's note: closed in 2016

Finally. Finally!!!!

1) I went to Lulu B's.
2) It rained

More on #1 in a sec. After the promise of rain by the local weather forecasters during the passage of 4 hurricanes
this summer & fall (Dolly, Felix, Gustav & Ike), and how they were wrong EACH time, we finally got measurable rain today! I think I may have close to an inch at the house. Now, if only the humidity would go away, and we could really have a "fall."

Back to LuLu B's. I basically pass it twice a day on my way to & from work. It is a trailer, serving a limited Vietnamese menu, that is literally sandwiched between Austin Quality Tires and Office Depot, just south of the Lamar & Oltorf intersection. The trailer sits under a giant liv
e oak tree, which provided me coverage as the drizzle started up again just after 2 pm today. Their menu consists of bahn mi -- the legendary (and elusive in South Austin) sandwich of French influence; bun, or vermicelli bowls, and summer rolls. I had the Chinese BBQ pork sandwich, and after asking the guy at the counter for his recommendation, he suggested the chicken lemongrass vermicelli bowl.  They've got several gently used tables and chairs out under the live oak, each with bottles of sriracha and sambal oelek for the heat-seekers. I got my food, and headed home, getting a bit of a free carwash in the process.

The bahn mi was simply fantastic. Tasty pieces of beautifully char grilled (but not burnt) pork
, which have a nice subtle sweetness to them. I could eat that pork every day! The relatively tender (as in, not too crusty) French bread is stuffed with the pork, thin strips of carrots, daikon radish, cuke, cilantro and either a jalapeno or serrano (it was fairly hot!). Absolutely stunning in looks and taste, and at $4.50, extremely worth it! The picture you see here is the other half of the sandwich, which I am about to eat for dinner!

The bun was good, though not as outstanding as the bahn mi. The lemongrass chicken has nice flavor (props to the guy at the counter); often you order a lemongrass dish, but it barely has a lemony flavor, much less lemongrass. This hits it. The chicken is on a bed of romaine and vermicelli noodles, with cilantro, maybe some basil (?), chopped peanuts, and a fish sauce dressing on the side. Overall, it's missing a pop though.... I think it needs lime juice. But it's very fresh, quite healthy, and I will happily return!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

12 more days!

I leave on Oct 26 for a trip to Morocco.... I just bought a baby laptop (Asus eee PC -- it's adorable!), and I am trying to figure out all the ins and outs..... Here you see my assistant.... notice the size of the cat versus the size of the laptop.

S. 1st Street

South First Street is gradually turning over, and trying to make itself into South Congress. Still a long ways to go, but progress is being made.

The lovely local taco shack Torchy's has moved its trailer, and added a new one, Shuggies, in what's being called the South Austin Trailer Park Complex. A dessert trailer is supposed to be added too! A big open air lot, picnic tables, moderate parking, and really good food. Went with friends two weeks ago.... why am I not blogging about it until now???? Ooops. On the Shuggies side, I split a burger, which was huge, bacony, and delicious, and onion rings, which were slightly disappointing, but tasted my other dining companion's fries, and they were good. Their menu promises other fried delights that I must go back for!

Torchy's has an actual restaurant further down 1st, a bit south of Oltorf. Hit that today for a late lunch -- were we hungry by 2 pm! I had the green chile & pork taco and the beef barbacoa called the Democrat. Two GENEROUSLY filled tacos cost $7.04. Well worth it. The pork carnitas was tender and flavorful, and incredibly moist, though the roast chiles, and addition of green salsa didn't help with the messiness factor, and I was creating a small lake of pork drippings in my basket. The barbacoa came with an avocado slice, cilantro and queso fresca. The barbacoa was a bit greasy, but it must not have be too bad, as there haven't been any digestive issues this afternoon! Great local places!

And heading back north on 1st, we made a quick stop at Sugar Mama's, as my dining companion had never been. Today's picks: The Odd Couple (chocolate cupcake, with salted caramel cream cheese frosting) and theElvis (banana cupcake with peanut butter buttercream). Oh yeah! And, new offerings, as of today: a "shot" of frosting, available for purchase (only 75 cents!) in a little sample cup. Then, they'll top it with your choice of choc chips, pb chips, sprinkles, or coconut (I think I got those right....). Got the peanut butter w/ the mini choc chips, and it was worth every calorie! Brilliant idea! :)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Behind the thymes...

Okay, so I am a little lagging here.... I have had a couple of meals recently with my friend and restaurant reviewer Monika. Unfortunately, the little Hill Country Kitchen in Dripping Springs, was rather poor food. Country-cute decor, and friendly service, but the food needs major work.

On the brighter side in DS, Rolling in Dough &Thyme right on Hwy 290 is adorable (nice yard with prolific flowering plants for sale), and the BEST croissant I think I have ever had! I ate it the next morning for breakfast -- heated up, and had some butter with it -- so flaky and tender! The cats were watching me eat it, waiting for little buttery flakes to fall. These alone may be worth a trip out there.

Oh, and the new Home Depot out there..... practically empty, and there were a plethora of employees, and they were all friendly, and happy to help customers! Really, in a Home Despot! Now that's worth the trip!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oak Hill eateries

Went for lunch on Tuesday to a Vietnamese place called T & N; it's in the strip center at 290 & Wm Cannon. Got there at 1:30, and there was only one other diner in the entire place. Not a great sign! The hostess was carrying a baby, and then disappeared with it to the kitchen. Hmmmm.

There were 3 of us total, and it took a few minutes to decide. We started with Vietnamese iced coffees. Yum! Fried eggrolls with beef proved to be mushy and very earthy tasting on the inside; on the plus, they really weren't greasy. However the spring rolls with char grilled pork were delicious. The pork had fabulous flavor, though there were a lot of mung bean noodles shoved in there too. Unfortunately, the peanut sauce was a bit watered down -- no real pop of peanuty goodness. (Admitedly, I make a mean peanut sauce, and I am very picky!)

For main dishes, there was the pho with thinly cut steak, spicy tofu & broccoli with rice noodles, and a lemongrass grilled chicken salad. The broth for the pho was quite tasty, but the steak had been immersed in the simmering broth too early in the kitchen, and it was grey and overcooked, making it a bit tough, not tender. It came with a side plate of nice and fresh bean sprouts, stems of Thai basil, lime, and a jalapeno. Lots of noodles in it too. The tofu dish seemed to suffer slightly from inconsistencies in the crispyness of the tofu -- some were more crisp than others. The grilled chicken salad was good, fresh lettuce & other veg, but I failed to really get a lemongrass flavor from the bites I had.

On the plus, the service at T & N was prompt, and the food came fast. While we were in there, two more tables filled, so we were't the only ones. The pho broth very tasty, and I've been dying for more of the pork spring rolls. The other dishes weren't bad, just not real memorable.