Friday, December 18, 2009

Buenos Aries Cafe

As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover, and that would certainly be true of the Buenos Aries Cafe on S. First Street, just south of Oltorf. For four years, this little Argentinian gem has operated out of a fairly non-descript cinder block-ish building between a pawn shop and liquor store. But from the moment you walk in, its intimate setting and smells from the kitchen immediately let you know it's gonna be all okay.

The place only seats about 30 inside; there is some seating on the front patio, and fortunately, they have some heaters going. My two companions and I arrived a little past 7:30 on a weekday night, and there were only two tables available, and fortunately, one was a four-top. We were seated, and began perusing the menu. It's been a year maybe since my last visit (Why has it been so long since I've been there?? it's only down the street from my house!), and I have a warm place in my heart (and stomach) for the Pastel de Papas (shepard's pie), and have tasted some of tender pillows from the magnificent Gnocchi Quartet. But then the Milanesa a la Napolitana was sounding tempting as well. What do to? After perusing the menu, one of the two waiters came over and asked if we had heard about the evening's specials. We hadn't. One was an osso buco and the other a surf & turf. After a little more agonizing, all three of us made some decisions.

We started with two of the empanadas, the carne picante (spicy beef) and pollo (chicken). To me the dough on their little pockets of goodness is quite good, as it's a nice flaky pie dough-type recipe. There have been some other places in town over the years that serve empanadas, but to me their dough has always been like a tasteless cardboard. These are baked to a nice golden brown, and again have a nice flakiness about them. The beef was quite good, little bit of kick to it; the chicken didn't do as much for me, but it could also be because as we split them, I cut each one into three pieces, and since I took an end piece, it didn't have much filling in it. I would be tempted to try it again though, but I can certainly vouch for the beef!
After much deliberation on my part, I decided on the osso buco special, and my companions both got the surf & turf. Neither dish disappointed. My veal shanks were just how you want them to be: totally tender and falling off the bones. They prepared it with carrots, celery & onions in a tomato-based sauce, but the richness of the meat really shone through. Really just divine. The perfectly round ball of mashed potatoes struck me as sort of funny, given the sort of "floppiness" of the meat, but they were a fine accompaniment. My companions' steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and given they both cleaned their plates, I'd say they were happy too. The Argentinian red wine we picked, the Cava de Weinert Carrascal blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Cab, was a great wine for all of our dishes.
Feeling full, but not wanting to miss out on a dessert opportunity, we decided to share one, going for the Pionono, but it was sold out for the evening. We opted for the Panqueques, which I recall being scrumptious, and the little crepes stuffed with dulce de leche mousse did not disappoint either.
This past year, Buenos Aries Cafe has opened a second location in east Austin. Don't know if the building is any more aesthetically pleasing on the exterior, but surely one hopes the food is as memorable as it is in their original location.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ranch 616

Ranch 616 is kinda a guy's place. There are dead stuffed things on the wall (bison, something else with antlers), and the silverware is completely over-sized and heavy. Comfy leather booths, and various western-themed paraphernalia decorate the walls. But then there are the funky chandeliers, modern-retro light fixtures, and a plethora of glittery ball ornaments hanging from the ceiling. The women's room has a deer head mounted in one of the stalls, with rolls of toilet paper on it's multi-pointed rack. A longhorn steer head is mounted in there too, with tp on both of its horns. Very tongue in cheek. (Speaking of which, I sat directly under the bison head in the corner booth, and couldn't help but feel like I was going to get slobbered on all throughout my meal.)

When we arrived around 6:15 pm, I think there was one other table seated, and a few patrons at the bar. Our server was friendly and helpful throughout the night, but unfortunately, the food was not always up to par. I started with a $9 sangria, and while it did have a smidge of brandy and Paula's Texas Orange liquor in it, it wasn't exactly large or potent enough for what I consider a good $9 cocktail. All of the drinks seem to be on the pricey side.

For apps, we ordered the fried oysters (apparently one of their signature dishes) and calamari. Both come with a chipotle tartar sauce (I'd call it aioli) and a green goddess dressing. The calamari was thicker sliced tubes, but no tentacles that I could tell, but fried well. The oysters though, were a bit on the soggy side, like perhaps they'd been sitting around a bit. And they needed salt.

There were a number of dishes on the nightly specials list. The most intriguing was Lamb Three Ways, which I opted to split with a friend. Two of each Australian lamb chops, in three different styles, a rosemary grilled, a tamarind glazed, and a chicken fried, on "fresh mint mashed and roasted fingerling potatoes, with demi-glace, and sauteed green beans." We asked for the chops to be medium-rare. What came was a huge disappointment. Only the 2 chicken fried were tender and approaching medium rare. The other 4 were well done, and a bit tough. Furthermore, there was not a hint of tamarind to be tasted, nor mint in the potatoes. The rosemary one was fine, but again, over cooked. The demi-glace was rather tasty, but when 2 people split a plate (which we had told the waiter up front), it would have been nice to bring the plates out already split, because someone (in this case, me) is going to miss out on the demi, as it's not really something you can spoon onto your share. I did dip one chop into it as my companion raved about it, but certainly didn't get to experience enough of it. Not sure I understand the description of the potatoes; there were no roasted fingerlings on our plate, so were the potatoes first roasted THEN mashed? But that's not how the menu description read. At least the green beans weren't overcooked....

Two diners had the Tenderloin 616, which they both proclaimed to be fabulous, and another had the Jalapeno Maize Trout, in which the skin was left on, then the fish was breaded & cooked. The skin made it a bit unappealing, and slightly hard to remove from under all the tortilla chips it was crusted with.

We discussed it, and ultimately did tell the waiter about the lamb issues when he came by to pick up our plates. In retrospect, I wish we had told him sooner, and had the plate redone, but we were a group of 6 and had such a fun-filled evening, that it would have been a buzzkill all around. We had previously arranged for two of their dessert specials (Callebaut chocolate & banana fried pies with Amy's Mexican vanilla ice cream) to be brought with candles for a birthday surprise for one member of our party. They were tasty! The waiter told us at the end that he had spoken to the chef about the lamb, and they comped the desserts as an apology, which was gracious and appreciated.

It was a fun evening, with 5 dear friends and a lot of laughter. Our waiter was patient and helpful, but if the food isn't 1) what was advertised 2) prepared how you asked for it, and 3) really remarkable, what is my impetus for returning? The decor was worth it though!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Red's Porch

There's a new kid in town, one certainly worth paying a visit to.

You know the non-descript Citibank building on South Lamar, between Enterprise Rent a Car and Chris' Little Chicago hot dog trailer? The back side of the bank building used to be a State Farm Insurance training facility, but has been empty for quite some time. Red's Porch, named for the owner's red 1964 Lincoln convertible, has renovated the spot, giving it a great modern, yet retro feel, and added on a huge upstairs porch with great views of the greenbelt below. (You could actually see water running! I think our drought is over.)

I got an invitation to attend a tasting; there were a couple of dates and times, and I RSVPd and said I was bringing two guests. What I expected was a casual buffet-style tasting, with a bit of explanation about the dishes. What we got was a private tasting with two other people and the undivided attention from the owner, Davis Tucker, the man behind North by Northwest up by the Arboretum. All of the staff couldn't have been nicer, and while Davis gave us background info & stories on many of the dishes, he honestly wanted feedback on what we were trying. They consider their food "1/2 Tex Mex, 1/2 Cajun, 1/2 Southern" (that's a lot of halfs), or as Davis said "It's just food I really like to eat!" No harm in that! And so on the whole, I am happy to proclaim the food was great! Some of the mixed drinks missed their mark a little bit, but there's a ton of stuff on tap. What follows is the play by play of our tastings.

First, a miniature version of their Porch Rita, with Sauza Hornitos, Grand Marnier, oj and sweet & sour. Nice, not too sweet. Would certainly be good on a hot day. Blue cheese stuffed green olives and chili cheese fries followed. Olives were milder, with a great crust, and not greasy; served with marinara. The chili (no beans!) on the fries was tasty, a very dark brown color, with a bit of cumin taste, but not overpowering. On the menu, it said the fries are tossed in parmesan before getting the cheese & chili treatment; we didn't taste any parm, and asked Davis about it. He confirmed that they were not done with parm (though if you order fries from the sides menu, those are), and he would get it corrected for the final version of the menu. They are still undergoing some tweaking, and also because of that, they don't have the menu online yet. He said give them a week or two.
Round two was the South Austin Red Sangria, my favorite of the cocktails. It just goes down easy. Might be nice to offer a pitcher of sangria on the menu... just sayin'! The veggie enchiladas came with, a good blend of grilled zucchini, mushrooms, & onions with a spicy chile de arbol cream sauce, that I think would go well with a lot of things! Beans (refried or charro) and rice accompany all the Tex Mex dishes; they brought us the charro beans, and I have to say, they taste like what my grandmother in Las Cruces, NM (and subsequently my mom and aunts) used to make. The pintos are stewed with a ham hock (ooops, don't tell the vegetarians, hee hee!), and take on almost a creamy consistency. Davis said that's how he used to have them growing up in south Texas.
Next up was the Diablo -- Basil Hayden's bourbon (which I found out is small-batch bourbon made by the Jim Beam family), amaretto, cranberry juice, a splash of Maine Root Ginger Beer, and raspberries. I didn't get a ginger beer taste, and unfortunately, this one tasted like cough syrup to me. One of the men at our table who is a bourbon fan, commented "It's a girly touch to a man's drink." Sorry! The Smokey Goat burger though, was fantastic! Served on a sourdough bun, this nice fat burger had house-smoked bacon (the magic word!), tiny, crispy fried onions, and goat cheese. And served with fries. This was one of my favorites.
But, it's a toss up between the burger and the chicken fried ribeye. With bacon cream gravy (again, bacon!). The batter for this was crisp and flavorful, and fried perfectly. They come with a side of smashed potatoes, which have the lightest hint of horseradish. Apparently the same gravy is on their homemade biscuits too.... next time... (Sorry, the picture doesn't do it justice at all!)
Not that we weren't satiated already, but the last cocktail was the Eleanor Rigby, made with their own fig & vanilla infused Tito's vodka, Mathilde cassis, and oj. Davis said that Rigby's was a liquor store in London, and he's a fan of the Beatles, so it all fits as a cocktail name. The Tito's was very smooth, and very vanilla-y; didn't really pick up on the fig, and not sure I got the cassis flavor either. It kind of reminded me of sipping on an orange creamsicle. But, it did seem to go with the dessert course, which was one of everything on the menu! Kahlua pecan pie, peach cobbler, chocolate bread pudding, banana pudding, and.... fried Snickers. I could tell it was a premade pie shell, but surprisingly, it had a nice taste & flakiness you usually don't get with those. The Snickers are coated in a funnel cake batter, and could have been a touch crispier on the outside, but great semi-melted pieces of Snickers on the inside. Davis did say they are tweaking that one a bit.
Then, he took us on a tour out back and upstairs. There's a 27' silver trailer off the side patio, which is available for private functions. The patio is currently tented, and the back of it is where the trailer sits. Adjacent are the stairs to the upstairs porch, which is about 95% finished from the looks of it. By the time we went up, it was getting dark, and it had been windy all day, but you do get a great view to the west over the greenbelt. A full bar is available up there too, and they are going to put some sides up on the porch so it won't be so drafty.
Leaving around 6:45 pm, it was nice to see the place filling up, with families, happy hour folk, and other diners. They've made great use of the existing architecture; as it was an inspection garage for State Farm, they've kept (and no doubt updated) the garage doors, which in warmer times, can easily be thrown open, leading to the patio. One wall back in the lounge area is covered with slicks from old board games. The place may seat close to 300 when in full swing, but it doesn't feel vast, it's got a very comfortable feel. So combined with great food and an experienced owner, it should lead to good times in the neighborhood.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Frank, a brunch update

I had heard through the grapevine that Frank's Sunday brunch was fantastic. That grapevine did not lie! I started with a lovely chai tea, though I seriously contemplated a mimosa or one of their other lovely cocktails, but my friend was not drinking, so I opted not to as well. I got the fried chicken with bacon belgian waffles, and a side of the hash brown casserole. My friend got the corned beef hash with two eggs.

My waffles were thick, and crisp, and of course hard to go wrong with pieces of nice slab bacon inside. The chicken (your choice of breast or leg, I went breast) had a beautiful thick crust, and not a drop of grease to be seen. They serve it with maple syrup, though I was almost tempted to ask for a little gravy too. I do love me some sweet and savory combos! The hash brown casserole was rich, I think with cream cheese, and also some shredded onions in it too. My friend's hash had nice crispy bits of meat & taters, though we've now realized hers was supposed to come with toast and apple butter, and it didn't. I was hungry, but couldn't finish it all, but that's okay, because now I have tasty leftovers! We also got a great view of our neighbors food, which included the sausage plate, with 4 different types of sausage patties and a big ole biscuit!

I am posting a pic of the menu, because they don't have it on their website. You can't really see the top of it, but in the first section, you can pick any 4 items for $13, or get them a la carte, like my hash browns. I think everything sounds like it's worth trying!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Asti , and it's sibling FINO are owned by local chefs/restauranteurs Emmett and Lisa Fox. They first hired local chef Jason Donoho as a Sous Chef for Asti; he soon moved to FINO, and quickly earned the Executive Chef title. He's now Executive of both spots, splitting his time between the two and elevating the menu at Asti as he goes. Formally known as Asti Trattoria, it's an Italian place in Hyde Park with a focus on clean, simple, seasonal food. The interior has a sleek modern feel, but still a neighborhood comfort spot. There's a small bar area, and the open-air kitchen is there for all to see what's on the stove. The Chef was not at Asti last night, so it was a good test to see what his kitchen could accomplish without him there.

My evening was spent with two dear friends whom I haven't seen in ages. We are all food people, so our evening at was spent laughing and going "mmmmmm" over all of the food. We shared everything, and experienced friendly, attentive, but unobtrusive service throughout the meal.

Things started with vermouth cocktails; a combo of sweet and dry vermouths, club soda, with an orange twist on the rocks. Yum! Asti does not serve spirits, but I don't think they need to if they can come up with nice vermouth drinks. I am not a big vermouth drinker, but in my book, it complimented everything we ate.

First up food-wise was a white bean puree on a crostini; velvety smooth, it practically melted in your mouth. Next up was the suppli, rice balls with mozzarella in them, rolled in breadcrumbs & fried; these were served with a spicy tomato sauce, large flakes of parmesan, and fried basil leaves. I am well-familiar with the suppli at Enoteca, which are more creamy; these had a really great crunchy crust on them, and the tomato sauce was very vibrant.

The lamb pie (pizza) was next. As I have written before, I love lamb, so for me, it could have used a touch more lamb in place of some of the bountiful black olives. But it was delicious. Their crust was crisp on the bottom, with a touch of cornmeal or semolina, and the edges of the pizza still nicely chewy. It went nicely too with the infused olive oil (fennel & sundried tomatoes) they had brought with foccacia bread. The lamb itself was pieces from the leg or shoulder, that were slightly crisp on the outer part, but still tender.

The seared scallops with handmade pasta followed. A regular order has 3 large scallops; they split the dish amongst 3 plates, so we each had our own extremely tender pasta on the bottom, the most perfectly seared scallop ever, scallions, a touch of lemon, and a hint of truffle butter. Called mandilli pasta (not a pasta style I am familiar with), it's something between an extremely wide papparadelle noodle and a long, ribbony sheet of pasta. All the flavors balanced each other perfectly.

Two side dishes arrived with the scallops, the Swiss chard with pine nuts & currants, and large white beans with guanciale (like panchetta), both well done, and the chard certainly adding a nice pop of green color. Lastly, we had the butternut squash risotto with brown butter, chestnuts & fried sage. The kitchen also split this 3 ways for us. This was the only dish that faltered a little; the risotto was underdone, so it was a bit more crunchy than creamy, but the flavors all together were fantastic. What's not to like about butternut squash and sage with a toasty butter sauce?

Okay, so we weren't totally done. There was a tiny bit of room left for the Affugato with beignets. The concept of affugato is a small cup of vanilla gelato and a separate cup of hot espresso that you pour over the gelato so it gets all melty. You then dunk your beignet into the warm espresso sauce. (I guess I'd consider it more a donut because it was round with a hole in it, whereas I think of a beignet as square. Semantics for fried goodness!)Now we were stuffed, and pretty much rolled on out of there. We had arrived at 6:30pm, and not long after, all the tables were filled, and people were waiting it out. Not bad for a neighborhood place that's been there for 9 years. And I would happily go back for lunch or dinner.

Confession time: my dining companions are the mother and aunt of Chef Donoho. In his absence, we were treated royally, but it appeared that the tables around us were getting fabulous service and food as well. My friends are extremely proud of the work Jason has done, and he should be proud of his staff who executed everything to almost near perfection.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lamb Meatballs

I love lamb.

I especially love lamb when I can get it locally at the farmer's market. I've bought lamb a couple times now from Loncito's at the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market. The first time was earlier this summer after Loncito himself and Lou Lambert taught a class on lamb at the north Central Market cooking school. They made a lamb rillette with the shoulder, but after talking to him at the farmer's market, he suggested the neck bones. You basically just plop the bones in olive oil, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. The meat fell right off the bones, and it was to die for. Particularly when served as suggested as a little sandwich with some mustard and chutney; the acidity in the chutney helps cut the fat while enhancing the flavor. It was, in a word, incredible.

This past Saturday, I got a pound of ground lamb from them. (Also fresh mint from one of the stands, and I can't remember the name, oops!) I made a meatball recipe that I have made a few times before, but never with the locally procured lamb. It's a recipe from, and I've adapted it slightly over time. One of the key things to remember when making meatballs is to not overwork the meat, as that will make them stiffer. The currants add a nice touch of sweetness, and the sesame seeds nice texture.

This recipe also makes me reminisce, as I was in Morocco exactly a year ago, eating lamb and seeing sesame plants for the first time. :)

Sesame Lamb Meatballs with Mint Yogurt Dip, makes 18 golf ball sized meatballs
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lb. ground lamb
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, finely ground
1 large egg, beaten lightly
2 - 3 Tbsp. dried currants
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
1/4 cup white sesame seeds

-- In a small bowl, combine yogurt, mint, lemon juice & salt. Combine well and set aside. This can be made ahead and refrigerated. Best when made at least 30 minutes before eating so flavors can meld.
-- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-- In a medium skillet, heat oil over med-low heat, and saute onion & garlic until softened. Let cool slightly.
-- In a large bowl, place onion mixture; add mint, salt, allspice, & cinnamon and combine well.
-- Add lamb, bread crumbs, egg, & currants. Mix thoroughly (with hands is best), but do not over mix or squeeze too hard.
-- Form balls; I make golf-ball sized ones.
-- Combine both the sesame seeds on a small plate. Roll the meatballs in the seeds, lightly patting them on and shaking off excess.
-- Place on a wire rack that is set in a baking sheet (so fat can drip into the baking sheet). Place the meatballs on the rack, evenly spacing them.
-- Bake for about 12 minutes, or until just cooked through. Let cool slightly before serving with the yogurt dip.

* I think I may have cooked these in a skillet once, rather than the oven, but not totally sure. I think it would work just fine. I did manage to set my smoke detector off when I made them the other night, as the dripping fat was apparently getting rather hot in the oven!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chango's, Wildwood Cafe

Last week I grabbed a nice big fat Maximo Burrito from Chango's on South Lamar. I had it with their pork, which is the same pork they use for the al pastor tacos, which I love because of the pineapple. I usually eat half the burrito and save the other for another meal or snack, but I was feeling particularly hungry that night, and ate it all! It's stuffed with pork, refried black beans, rice, tomatoes, salsa, some lettuce. Thumbs up!

Today for lunch, I wandered down Bee Caves Road to Wild Wood Cafe & Bakery. They are a total gluten-free establishment, and also double as an gallery, mostly for Oaxacan (Mexico) artwork. It's been suggested by a naturopathic doctor that I eat less gluten, so I've been meaning to check this place out for awhile. (Let's be honest though, there's nothing like a great bowl of pasta, so the idea of me going completely gluten-free ain't gonna happen!) They are located at Bee Caves & Westbank Drive, in the same center as Breed's.

Arrived around 12:15 pm, and there were a couple of people in line. It gave me the chance to study their menu board, and look at the fresh-baked breads & sweet goods they have. I ordered the special of the day, the Tuna Plate, with tuna salad, spinach salad, and cheesy zucchini bread. And a chocolate chip cookie. The cashier asked me if I wanted ice for my cup of water, and I said yes, and I asked him if the cookie would come with the plate, and he said yes. While it was lunch hour, the place wasn't packed, however, it took about 10 minutes for the food to come out, which seems a bit long for what it was. What arrived was a plate with the tuna, fresh baby spinach, I am sure just out of a bag (hardly what I would call a "salad") with some balsamic vinaigrette on the side, and some slightly soggy looking foccacia bread with red onion and zucchini sliced and baked on top. The tuna was excellent! It had chopped apple and toasted pecans in it. The spinach salad was at least very fresh spinach. When I saw "zucchini bread" on the menu, I just sort of assumed it would be like the loaf pan breads, such as banana or pumpkin bread. This was a sheet pan bread, again, more like a foccacia. It was okay, but nothing stellar. Would have been better a bit more toasted, rather than just (re)heated up. And the cookie wasn't there. So I went back to the counter and asked the cashier, who retrieved one for me, but without a word of apology. (He was rather unimpressive.)

I did also buy from them a loaf of their multigrain bread. When I asked if they had an ingredient list, the cashier was slightly forthcoming in telling me it was flax, teff, corn, rice (I think so at least). I just toasted a piece of it at home, and it's quite good as far as GF breads go. Has a slight sweet taste and a decent not too spongy texture to it when eaten untoasted, but toasting generally seems to be way to go with GF breads.

Then went to my acupuncture appointment (South Austin Community Acupuncture -- two thumbs and many needles up!), which is in a strip center on Ben White, by an Indian/Pakistani grocery called Shree Jee. I can't locate a website for them, so they are at 321 W. Ben White, on the southbound frontage road, between Congress & S. 1st; also the same shopping center where Bender Bar (formerly a Serrano's) is. I hadn't been in Shree Jee in a couple of years. A small place, especially compared to MGM Indian up on Burnet, but it seems to have the basics for Indian cooking. I did notice their hours, written on paper and posted on the door, which say they are open everyday, 10a - 6p (or was it 9p?), as opposed to the printed receipt which says 12a - 9p, everyday but Tuesday (yes, 12a).

Finally, sad news from reading the Statesman's food section this morning. The fabulous salad drive through, Baby Greens, has closed. The one at S. 1st & Oltorf was close to my house, and I made frequent (but apparently not frequent enough) stops for the Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing. I'll miss it! It was a healthy drive through!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Food Blogger Event: Holiday Menu Preview at the Four Seasons

I guess spending your personal time blogging does have some perks! Tonight I was invited to the Online Media Holiday Preview Event by the fabulous folks at the Four Seasons. Great food, and a great way to network with some of my fellow bloggers. I asked my friend and fellow blogger, Savor the Earth, to join me. After picking up our name tags, we were immediately greeted by a waiter with white (Alborino, I think) and red (Syrah) wines, always a good way to start a meal or party! Should have gotten the name of that Syrah, because it was tasty. And they serve them in these deep wine glasses, which had a great feel to them.

, the main restaurant at the hotel, prepared the foods, and it showcased what will be their holiday pick 3 for $39 during the month of December. I sampled: the winter squash salad, pheasant with mushroom jus, prime ribeye (with an incredible red wine sauce), wild salmon with criminis, and of course, the most fabulous pork belly bites. They were little crispy squares of divine pork, done with a coca cola rub, I believe I heard the Chef de Cuisine say, served on a bed of Napa cabbage, and the cranberries on top really brought out the succulent saltiness of the pork. Had seconds on those, but they were small! The dessert offerings were a chocolate-mint baked Alaska, and warm gingerbread cake with a divine nutmeg whipped cream. All the food was delicious, but the pork belly kicked butt!

We also got to sample some of the specialty cocktails their resident mixologist has created for the holidays. The Mistletoe Mojito, S'more the Merrier, and the Yule-thyme Martini. The martini apparently was vodka-based, not gin, but it smelled and tasted like a pine forest! So while it wasn't my first love, the s'mores drink was a sweet chocolate dessert drink, and the mojito with cranberry juice (for that holiday touch) went down way too easily.

The staff at the Four Seasons was incredibly welcoming and gracious, and I thank them for their hospitality!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bistro 88

Just got home from an early dinner with a friend at Bistro 88, the pan-Asian spot on Bee Caves that has survived in a non-descript brown strip center for years. Walking in at 5:30pm, I think we were the first diners, but when we left around 7 pm, it was filling up nicely, especially for a Tuesday.

We decided to go with a bunch of small plates, and pretty much to share everything; we said it didn't matter what order things came out in. I started with a bowl of miso soup, which was a nice more medium-colored (and thus stronger flavored) miso, as opposed to the typical white miso that's usually used for the soup. My friend had one of their evening appetizer specials, blackened tuna in a crispy taco with a spicy aioli sauce. She said it was good, but not exactly blackened, more sashimi-style, and lots of lettuce.

Next up was the Pacific Roll, from their signature roll menu. It's sea bass that's is fried in tempura batter, cucumbers, and scallops with a spicy kick. Very fresh, very tasty. Nice combo of textures. They served huge pieces of the pickled ginger with it too, something I love! This was followed by the crispy tofu, which I don't see listed on their online menu. It was finger-length strips of tofu, fried very crispily, served "jenga" style, and with a light soy-ginger sauce. I really liked them, apparently more so though, than my friend.

The pan-seared pork dumplings were fine, but nothing spectacular. The last dish was the Thai Chile Soft Shell Crab, which when we ordered, our server asked us if we wanted it mild or spicy, and we opted for the spicy, which was his recommendation; thoughtfully, he also brought it out with the dumplings as the last dishes. It doesn't look terribly attractive... large piles of brown, with chile oil (grease?) on the plate. Some of it tasted good (it is fried, after all!), but overall, it was greasy.

Their dessert menu consists largely of non-Asian choices: chocolate mousse, key lime pie, creme brulee, cheesecake. They also offer sorbets, and after asking our server for the daily selection, picked the mango-orange. It was a lovely presentation, a hollowed out orange half, that had been filled with the very creamy sorbet and frozen; the plate had some swirls of raspberry sauce, a leaf (which turned out to be bamboo), and the orange on the plate.

Overall it was a nice meal, though not spectacular. It certainly helped to have a gift certificate from I would like to go back and try some of the entrees, like the ginger- miso sea bass, that they are apparently known for.
Well, certainly no style points on these photos (from the cell phone....). It's kinda hard to tell that that is the crab dish next to the dumplings.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The State Fair

Went up to Dallas for the State Fair last Thursday. Beginning with this billboard, which says it all, here's a quick recap:

Of course, had to start with a Fletcher's Corny Dog!

We moved onto one of the finalists in this year's competition for best new fried food, a thinly sliced sweet potato on a stick, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Delish!

After checking out the car show, we picked up the winner of this year's new fried foods, the fried butter, and went to see the dog agility races. Unfortunately, the butter was a total dud! You can get plain, cherry, grape or garlic. We opted for garlic, so immediately after the balls come out of the fryer, they are doused in the flavoring. When you bite into it, it oooozed, and then you discovered, it was still raw in the middle, AND the ooze was certainly a margarine flavor, not butter. Not impressed. We didn't finish these.
We then stumbled upon last year's winner, chicken fried bacon! Oh yeah!!! Hands down, the best thing we ate. So on one side of the picture, you have the bacon, and on the other, you've got pork chips, thinly cut pieces of pork, in a slightly spicy batter, and of course fried. Both were quite good, and really would have been incredible with a bit of cream gravy!
Moments after we polished off the fine pork products, I saw a booth doing fried Nutter Butter cookies! Yum! These were a great idea, but the execution could have been better. They are dipped in what I think is probably a funnel cake batter, and dropped in the oil. Well, 1) I don't think the oil was hot enough, and 2) they weren't left in long enough. So the flavor was good, but they weren't crispy like they should be.

While I was eating my NBs, my friend found the Green Goblin she had been seeking. It's cherry peppers on a stick, stuffed with guacamole & chicken, battered, fried, and smothered with queso.
Quite inventive!
Another friend of mine was there on Saturday, and reported that the deep fried peaches were delicious. Will have to wait til next year to find out!

Friday, October 9, 2009


In Spanish, gordo means fat. In South Austin, Gourdough's means big, fat, freakin' doughnuts!!! And you will not stay flaca by eating these masterpieces! Welcome to the newest Airstream trailer to hit South Austin. Does it get any better than hot doughnuts??

It's just before 3 pm on Thursday. I am with 3 work colleagues, and we are supposed to be someplace at 3 pm. We heard rumors of a new doughnut trailer on South Lamar. Near Mary St? Near Treadwell? And it happens, that Lamar coincidentally is the road we need to travel on to get to our destination. And there it is. Just north of Genie Car Wash, before the light at Treadwell (when going north). I believe the trio of yard signs say "BIG", "FAT", "DOUGHNUTS." Screw the work appointment, we need fried dough!

The menu board is extensive and overwhelming on the first visit, to say the least. Almost every combination you can think of, OR you can design your own. Click on their website link and look. Try not to drool. Or pee in your pants. We placed our orders, even getting extras to make up for our tardiness (like the Whataburger commercial where they guy stops and gets breakfast for his office), and told the guy we were sort of in a hurry. And politely he says that everything is made to order. And that's fine. We learn the wait pays off. (And they've only been open for 6 days.)

We pile back into the air conditioned car, as it's one of those hot & humid October days. And we wait. It took almost 20 minutes. But, the results were so damn worth it. Being the sucker for bacon, AND for salty sweet things, I got the Flying Pig -- a hot doughnut with maple syrup icing and bacon on it. And I mean a crap-ton of bacon. There were probably 8 pieces of crispy goodness on my doughnut. Look at the picture with the box of four, from the top left going clockwise we have: Naughty & Nice (sugar & cinnamon), Sara's Joy (coconut filling w/ fudge frosting & coconut), Mama's Cake (yellow cake batter filling & chocolate frosting), and Black Out (death by chocolate). These pictures were taking in a moving vehicle as we were trying to figure out how to eat them. I don't recommend eating in the car, but some milk (which they sell) would have been great! It's a sugar-high experience, not to be missed! Get extra napkins too.

So we arrive late to our work function, but fortunately, there's no punishment for those who bring doughnuts! Our event goes late, and at the end, the boss man wants to take us out for drinks. Who are we to argue! We meet at Justine's, the new cottage house French bistro in East Austin. Arriving around 10:30pm, the place is packed. There are several little tables outside, all of which are filled. We get some cocktails, and nibbles. Pomme frites, escargot, and house-made charcuterie, which included an incredible pork rillette, a mousse of duck and don't remember what, and a compagne, or country-style pate, that I think was also pork-based. The pate was lacking in flavor, but the rest of the appetizers certainly make me want to go back for a meal. Obviously this area was majorly lacking in a bar/bistro, and at just a month old, they seem well on track for success.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Magazine

RIP, Gourmet. It was announced today by their publisher, Conde Nast, that it and 3 other publications would cease and desist. I had actually really enjoyed Gourmet this past year, and it leaves a scarcity of quality food magazines. (Thumbs up to Cooks Illustrated, Saveur & Bon Appetit. I personally can't stand the redesign of Cooking Light. Any other good ones I should know about? Food & Wine is okay, but somehow, it's never really grabbed me.)

No word yet on whether the PBS series Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie will continue. Currently in reruns on your local PBS station, they're a gem if you can figure out when they're on.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tarka update

Since my original post, I have now eaten at Tarka two more times. I don't usually repost on places I've eaten, but I feel this is worth it! (And read to the end for updated menu info.)

Arriving Sunday at 7:45pm, we had to wait 15 minutes just to order food because the kitchen was so backed up. Little irritating 'cause I was starving, but fortunately once we ordered, the food came fast. We had the veggie samosas, which are small but delicious, and come with a fantastic mint chutney. I had the lamb vindaloo, medium spicy. Lamb was tender, and the sauce flavorful, but certainly on the milder side of medium heat. My friend had the tikka masala with paneer, and the sauce was great.

Yesterday for a late lunch, I opted for the chicken curry "naaninni," which is their take on a paninni. The chicken was tasty, but maybe not as layered in flavor as it could be. Fortunately, it comes with the mint chutney, and that certainly elevates it. The plate also comes with seasoned fries, which were crisp & perfect. My friend and I split the samosa chaat from the appetizer menu, and essentially, it's a deconstructed samosa. Good flavor -- nice spice mixture, not too overpowering, nice texture. She ordered the lamb korma, hot heat, which it was, but good. She was torn between the korma and the coconut curry, and we asked our order taker, who deferred to the line chef, as he had only been working there 2 days. With no hesitation and a bulging of his eyes, the chef said korma.

I had noticed that there wasn't the after 5pm specials listed on the board, as there had been in the past. We asked about that too, and a woman, who I think is one of the owners, said that they decided to do away with them because they took extra time to prepare, and it was really backing up the kitchen, like my experience on Sunday night. She said they still had a couple things made in the back that people could order, but they're weren't going to be posted. I asked about my beloved Clay Pit Khuroosh-e-tursh, which I have been eyeing in anticipation on the Tarka menu for weeks now, but on my previous 2 visits, I forced myself to try other things. They did have some available, and I got it to go, and that will be dinner tonight! Of course when I got home with it, I did taste it, and the sauce still sends me over the edge! But in short, specials no more.

These last 2 trips in, particularly for Sunday dinner, I was pleased to see a LOT of people of Indian heritage eating there. Apart from Bombay Grill on Bee Caves, this is the only Indian place I know of in South Austin. Lots of happy campers, me included!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Yanagi Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

A friend of mine who is a HUGE sushi freak turned me onto Yagani, open since June in the strip center where Gold's Gym is at Wm. Cannon & Mopac. (I think this may be the same location that housed Noodleism a few years back.) My friend loves this chef, and says he's the best Japanese chef in town... can't remember where she said he used to cook. She's decidedly a food person, and I trust her food input, though raw fish is not my first love.

Anyway, made a 1:30 lunch date today with another friend, who ended up having to cancel because of a sick kid. Decided to go anyway, and see what's what. Fortunately, when you walk in the doors, you forget you're in a strip mall. The pleasant interior could transport you away from the sweaty gym neighbors next door. Dark wood, minimal decor, not too large. At least for a late lunch with only a few tables seated, it seems to work. Except for the Top 40 music playing. Oh well.

A very perky hostess greeted me as I opened the door, and escorted me to a table, leaving a menu and a list of bento box lunch specials. I had a 15% off coupon for the bento lunches; and settled on the tonkatsu box. The waiter took a few minutes to appear, as he was serving meals, but I could see that the food coming out looked good and in large portions. I ordered, and he scurried off. Moments later, he brought my water, and a bowl of miso soup. I don't think the menu listed the soup as one of the accompaniments with the bento meal, but I love miso! While waiting for my bento, I glanced a bit at a magazine, and around the room to really get a feel for it. Looks like the place seats about 80+, room at the sushi bar for 6 - 8 bodies, and a separate bar area by the entrance. Unfortunately I found out before leaving that the ladies room smelled overwhelmingly of room deodorizer.

The bento box arrived, and it was gorgeous! A TON of food. Look at the picture, starting in the top right, we have the pork tonkatsu itself, rice, California rolls, salad, vegetable tempura, tonkatsu sauce (and underneath it I discovered fresh ginger slices), and the top plate with a generous amount of wasabi & pickled ginger. The pork was fabulous, and extremely thin cut/pounded, like the pork isn't much more than 1/4 inch thick. Great panko breading, nicely fried. The sauce with it, I wasn't in love with. It took me quite a while to place the flavor, but it's really raisiny. Not enough contrast in it. The tempura was fabulous too; I was given onion, sweet potato, and a white starchy thing not unlike a potato, but I am not sure that it was....taro, maybe. The batter stuck nicely to the veggies, perfectly fried ( I do wonder what kind of oil they use...). The dressing on the salad has potential, but this didn't have enough ginger in it for my tastes; iceberg lettuce, cuke, & cherry tomatoes were all fresh though. The CA rolls are okay, but nothing special; nice to have pickled ginger that isn't pink, meaning no food dye.

Looking at their menu, they have a lot of rolls, many with interesting names (the Wm. Cannon, the Mopac, the Sexy). They sound good, but I didn't see any go past while I was there. I did see one tray of sushi, which from the distance, looked lovely. Would certainly be fun to go back and check out the other items; they've also got a few Korean items on the menu. I've got a few more of the 15% off lunch coupons, so if you want one, let me know!

I can't find a website for them, and on their takeout menu, there isn't one listed.


How bad can anything be that's called "pork it"??!! At Frank, the new upscale hot dog & sausage eatery in the middle of the warehouse district, you can get any of their dogs in the "pork it" style -- split open, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, and briefly fried. Oh yeah, bring it!

Not to mention, they have bacon infused vodka & whiskey.

So last Friday night, I went with 3 friends for a bacon-inspired meal. One's eyes get very large looking at the menu. You actually think: Oh, I could eat two dogs. Wrong! Not when there are perfectly crispy waffle fries to devour! We started with some cocktails -- an Old Fashioned, a Triple Crown, and an order of fries with 3 dipping sauces -- the horseradish, the buffalo bleu, and the punchy, a slighly spicy vinegary sauce. The non-greasy fries were consumed pretty quickly.

Then the dogs came. I just got a good old standard Vienna, porked, of course, with a side of the grilled corn. Companions had a polish w/ adobo slaw (I think) from the specials menu, a Chicago dog (with the trademark bright green relish), and a portobello cheesesteak. And an order of green chili chorizo cheese fries, also from the specials. The dogs & cheesesteak were devoured in about 3 minutes. We proceeded to pick at the chili fries, which were delicious and gooey, but we were stuffed. The corn cup I had was really tasty too -- fresh grilled corn with cilantro & a bit of chile & lime. Practically healthy! (Hey Mom, it's a vegetable!) Anyway, the thought that some had of eating two dogs was quickly wiped out.

Frank occupies the spot on Colorado that most recently has been Starlite and Crimson. They've renovated the interior a bit, to give it a sort of old-fashioned watering hole feel. Not sure how I'd describe it. When we got there at 6 pm (on a Friday), there were only a couple of tables taken, but a bunch of folks at the bar up front. When we left, it was pretty packed. Maybe a sit-down hot dog place really can make it in this economy. Sure hope so, because anything porked is alright by me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Did you know that India is the largest democracy in the world? Who knew that good eats would come with educational facts? Tarka has arrived.

It is the brainchild of the Clay Pit people, but it's a fastish-food concept. AND, it's in South Austin! It's off Brodie, in the new strip center (yes, aren't they all??) where PetSmart & Babies R Us is. If you know where PetSmart is, it's all the way down to the right, next door to Zen. They officially opened yesterday, and if today's lunch is any indication, If you build it, they will come!

I got there a little before noon, and the place was already half filled. I ordered (at the counter) the Korma with chicken, and asked for medium spiciness. They give you a table marker with a number, and bring the food out to you. So on either side of my #3 marker were fun little facts, like the one about the largest democracy, and on the flip side was the name of the Indian sage who invented the concept of the number zero back in the day. Just little things to amuse you as you wait. Fortunately, my food came fairly fast. The waitress/server politely asked if I was expecting any more food, and when I said no, she said "enjoy" and removed the number marker.

A black melamine tray & bowl held my rice and korma. The basmati rice is flavored with cardamom and cumin seeds. The korma (a flavorful cream sauce with pureed nuts, in this case, cashews, almonds & pistachios) probably wasn't quite the medium spice I had ordered, but was still really tasty. The chicken in it was extremely tender. I got a to go box for my leftover sauce & rice; I'll grill up a piece of chicken to have with these delicious remains!

The place is nicely decorated; a light mustard yellow colored walls, with saffron accents. Color pictures of Indian foods, and what looked like some market photos accent the walls. I'd say the place seats 60ish people, with different configurations of tables: some tall cocktail tables for two along the windows, another tall counter with bar chairs, perhaps for the single eater, and then some 2 and 4-top tables. I sat at one of the cocktail tables in the window, and people kept coming in. There's no other Indian food in the immediate area (in fact, the closest Indian place I know of to Brodie is Bombay Grill on Bee Caves) and, Clay Pit's reputation precedes them.

If you have read my previous post on Clay Pit, you know that I am a HUGE fan of their Khroos-e-tursh dish. Well, Tarka is serving one too. I was really really tempted to order it today, but I opted for the korma, which the Khroos sauce is based off of. My hope was to get an idea for their korma and try to find a recipe that I could enhance to be like the Khuroos, because I've never been able to find a recipe for one that sounds somewhat similar to what Clay Pit does. Certainly, on my next trip to Tarka (and I can see this becoming a bad habit!), the Khroos shall be mine!

Side note, because I don't feel like writing a whole post on it, I went to First Chinese BBQ up in the Chinatown complex for lunch yesterday. I had been once about a year and a half ago, but it had recently been recommended by some food folks I know. Their Chinese BBQ pork is outstanding. Run, don't walk!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Get Sum Dim Sum

Saturday was a good food day, even if both meals were well north of South Austin! Chen's for lunch, then Get Sum Dim Sum for dinner. Best described by a reviewer on Yelp as "the McDonaldization of dim sum," and a few mixed food reviews, I was a touch hesitant, but walked in with an open mind. Up at 45th & Lamar, it's locally owned (by the folks who own the Thai place Satay on Anderson), and occupies the spot previously filled by Panda Express; I had only been in there once, years ago, and can't remember the decor. GSDS greets you with some slightly garish paint colors (bright pink & green), but otherwise is fairly clean lines and looks.

Good thing I had read up on the place a bit before going. You look at the menu, fill out your order form, and then take it to the counter. No quaint little carts or stainless steel trolleys coming to your table, which does take out some of the fun of dim sum, and hence the McDonaldization. I think you used to fill out a paper order form/ticket, but there were none with the menus at the stand coming in the back door from the parking lot, so I went to the counter to ask. I was told they had changed things, and you now use a water-soluble marker and write directly on the laminated menus. Oh. Fortunately, the menus have pictures!!! Without that, I really think I would have been lost. So once you know what & how to order, you're fine.

The two of us ordered: A10, Salt & Pepper Seaweed Wrapped Tofu; A11 Woo Gok (taro croquette w/ shitake & bamboo); A15 Cha Siu Puff Pastry (Chinese BBQ pork in puff pastry); A22 Bok Choy w/ oyster sauce (which isn't listed on the go to menu I have linked here); B1 Cha Siu Steamed Bao (Chinese BBQ pork steamed bun); B2 Cha Siu Baked Bao (Chinese BBQ pork baked bun); and B10 Sesame Balls. And a Thai ice tea, all for $23.

We had barely gotten our water & utensils when the food began arriving. We were at a 2-top table, next to an open 4-top; it was not busy at all, and would have pulled one of the other tables closer to us to better arrange all our little plates, but the tables are bolted in place to the floor! (At least along the bench seating section past the drink machines.) Oh well, we just crammed everything onto our little table. After my little trepidations from reading other's reviews, I was pleasantly surprised with the food. The real winners were the Seaweed Wrapped Tofu (good flavor, lightly fried, not greasy, perfect for splitting), the Cha Siu Puff Pastry (great flaky texture, nice pork -- not too sweet or gooey in the BBQ sauce) & the Sesame Balls (mmmm, bean paste not sickly sweet). My friend and I were split on the steamed vs. baked buns. It's the same pork as in the puff (we were in porky moods); I liked the steamed a bit better, but couldn't really tell you why, other than the baked bun has something lightly glazed across the top and it made my fingers sticky. The bok choy was quite good too. The only thing that wasn't really great was the Woo Gok. It wasn't really hot, and you could tell from looking at the bottom that it had been sitting for awhile, as the grease had accumulated. So maybe when they're real fresh, they're good, but to me the filling also didn't have much flavor. I'd say everything else came at the appropriate temperature.

From the get go, when I asked about how to order, the service was very friendly and helpful. It was not busy when we arrived, and by a bit after 8pm, they got a small rush of people. As we were finishing up, I grabbed a menu to write down what we had ordered. The guy who was clearing our dishes saw me writing things down, and commented "So you can remember what you ate?" I said yes, and he said he could get me a print out of our order ticket. I also asked if they had carryout menus, and he promptly came back with both the ticket and the menu. Done!

While I miss the carts of a traditional dim sum place, if you want dim sum on a Wednesday night, you can now get it. I intend to go back and try some of the dumplings we didn't get this time around and certainly more of the pork in puff pastry! Techonological note: sorry, I don't know how to scan something and then link it to the blog, so I just scanned the menu as a photo to add here. Sorry it's hard to read (but if you click on it, it should give you a larger view), but just go check out the place for yourself! Also, at this writing, their website only consists of the main page "under construction" no menu posted there.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chen's Noodle House

Spicewood and 183 is a looooooooooong way from my abode in South Austin. But Chen's Noodle House makes it worth it. It is located in the rather non-descript strip center at the southwest corner of the intersection. Other notable businesses there include Sambet's Cajun, Asia Market/Cafe, a dance studio, a martial arts studio, and a resale shop called Lovey's run by a very sweet gal that we discovered after our lunch.

Several years ago, the space that Chen's now occupies used to be a hot dog place. Hopefully this will be a place that lasts (though we were the only ones in there for lunch, though it is Saturday of labor day weekend, though one person (who appeared Chinese) did come in to pick up his carryout food, though....), because it really is good. It's a very small place, though clean, and the workers polite. A wall-mounted TV was playing a Chinese station.

The menu has expanded since my previous visit early this year, and while I was extremely tempted by the lamb skewers, what I came for was the hand-cut noodles. I ordered the combo bowl, my friend the beef noodle bowl, and we got a green onion pancake to share. The pancake came out first...piping hot is a bit of an understatement! It's cut into quarters, and if it were pieced back together, it would probably be about 10 inches in diameter. The table with napkins & silverware also has bottles of soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, and bowls for dipping. The pancakes are incredible. Light, flaky, not greasy. These are made by spooning the dough in a spiral or concentric circles onto the griddle. I could eat these all day!

The soup bowls came not long after. They're huge. My was a mix of potato, carrots, mushrooms, tofu, beef, and these delightful noodles in a fairly thick, almost stir-fryesque broth. I wasn't quite expecting a broth that thick; it was tasty, but the vinegar certainly gave it some contrast it was otherwise missing. Some heat (spice, not temperature) would have been good too. The beef bowl was a flavorful clear broth with delicate thin cuts of beef, somewhat reminiscent of pho, and the noodles. My friend used to live in Taiwan, and after her first spoonful she said "Ahh, this tastes like home." On my previous visit, we watched them create the noodles: they have a block of dough, that looks like a loaf of bread, and they stand over a simmering stock pot, and with a knife, shave thin dough strips off the loaf and into the pot. All hand done, all irregular sized, but on average, 6 - 8 inches long, about an inch wide in the middle, with tapered ends. The noodles are doughy, and at the thicker points a bit gummy, but tender and delicious. I think we each only ate half our bowls and were fairly stuffed, and had to get to go containers. But we couldn't leave without first ordering another green onion pancake!

I searched for a website, and found none. I did come across other reviews, and from those, have learned that not all of their noodle dishes feature the hand-cut noodles, so ask if you're unsure. I had previously had the stir fried noodles, which was them. Also, you can ask for your order to be made spicy if desired. The trip is worth it!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


What's not to love about grilled cheese? Or better yet, a restaurant solely dedicated to the existence of the grilled cheese sandwich? And so there we have Chedd's, a Denver-based operation, now with it's third store in the franchise, up at the Triangle. (And for those of you who have been in Austin for more than 5 years, you may remember fondly when this area was just a big grassy patch of land, across from Texas Dept. of Health, where Lamar & Guadalupe streets come together...they talked about developing that land for YEARS before anyone actually did something about it, and from what I can tell, they've been rather successful.)

It's a much smaller shop than I envisioned, maybe because the pictures on their website make it look like huge (maybe the one's in Colorado are...). But it's casual, and the service was friendly. The menu, however is almost overwhelming; I had studied it online a bit before meeting friends for lunch, but still had no clue what I wanted. They have over 30 sandwich offerings to choose from (I was very tempted by the French Kiss), OR, you can build your own sandwich by choosing from 35+ kinds of cheese, add-ons/fixin's, bread options, etc. I decided to build my own, with chipotle cheddar and bacon on multigrain. My order taker said they were out of the chipotle cheddar, and after a couple suggestions and ensuing discussion, I opted for the jalapeno jack. I had procured a 20% off coupon, so my friends and I all ordered on the same ticket. One of them ordered the Meatless Horse, but wasn't told that they were out of the same chipotle cheddar. So, maybe the order taker didn't realize there was chipotle cheddar in that sandwich, but we're sitting there eating, and she's like "I don't taste anything spicy, there's no chipotle flavor." Whoops. So again, they were friendly, and brought the finished sandwiches to our table, but it would have been nice to know they were out of one of the ingredients upfront.

It is nice that you can order a half sandwich of anything, and if you bump up your sandwich to a combo meal, you get your choice of chips or salad... maybe soup too, I can't totally remember. And they do have tomato soup, for all those who grew up on tomato soup & grilled cheese. Overall, my sandwich was good, not greasy on the outside, cheese sufficiently melted on the inside, but the bacon was not crisp, so I'll take some points off there. Would I go back? Yes. Would I want to be in there with a ton of kids? No. But does it take you back to your childhood years? Duh.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Recent Repeats

A lovely dinner at FINO Tuesday night. Apps: fried anchovy olives (one of my favorite things all night!), haloumi & sherried figs, fried goat cheese w/ red onion jam, filo cigars (w/chicken, almonds, raisins & a touch of chile). Soups: acorda de mariscos (garlic & prawn bisque) & gazpacho. Entrees: (me) lamb chops (cooked to a perfect medium rare) w/ green beans in a Romesco sauce w/ black olive tapanade & feta, (companions) Wagyu beef w/ oyster mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, onion confit & blue cheese. Dessert: a chocolate torte w/ golden raisin ice cream (and our waitress said that was its last night on the menu). One note: a pitcher of sangria should have yielded more than 3.5 glasses. Oh, another note: service was great, however, there was a UT MBA group (so said the waitress) seated in the bar area and there was a guy giving a presentation. His voice carried over so loudly, that it made the end of the meal rather unpleasant.

Dinner at Hyde Park Bar & Grill (Westgate location) with a friend and her two kids on Wed. night. I guess I've never "actually" reviewed it. It's a good 'ol standby though. We split the Asian Chicken Salad, which is rather large, and one of their nightly specials, a fried chicken done in a honeyed-cornflake crust, came with 2 sides, so mashed potatoes and creamed corn. Really nice crust on it. The kids didn't complain with their cheeseburger and grilled cheese sandwich, and we got to eat their well-known fries that the kids didn't. Quick, efficient & kid-friendly.

A quick stop for a Chinese BBQ pork bahn mi at the Lulu B's trailer for today's lunch. I really had only intended on eating half the sandwich, and saving the rest, but it was too darn tasty not to eat all at once!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Clay Pit

I could have sworn I had written about one of my favorite places before, but scanning the history of my own blog, it appears not. Whooops! So the Clay Pit has been around for at least 10 years, making it almost as historic as the building it occupies! It's in a beautiful old stone (limestone?) building, an old trading post & general store that dates back to the 1850s. And apparently haunted, but that's another issue.

My friend and I had a 7 pm reservation for Friday night. We were greeted promptly and immediately escorted to our table. On the walk back to the table I noticed that CP doesn't have any 2-tops. The majority of the diners that were already seated were parties of two, all sitting at tables for four. Kind of nice they don't cram us into smaller tables!

I ordered a glass of Hogue Gewertztraminer and my constant downfall, the Khuroos-e-Tursh; my friend ordered a cocktail, the Tikka Masala, and some veggie samosas and garlic naan to split. A another waiter brought the drinks, and inquired "Hogue Fume Blanc?" I said I had ordered the Gewurtz. He apologized, and disappeared. Our first waitress came back and said something to the effect of "I see you got your drinks" to which I replied he had brought the wrong one. With a touch of annoyance, she said, "Well I TOLD him the Hogue Geturz. He must of misunderstood." She didn't exactly apologize, and that set her tone for the rest of the evening. More on the service in a sec.

She had brought pappadums, a thin, crisp cracker-bread that are toasted in a skillet. There was already a dish on the table with two condiments, tamarind sauce, and a green cilantro-y one. I love the tamarind, and it went really nicely with the samosas, which were fried to perfection, not greasy, and still hot. They had a mashed potato filling with green peas and some spices. Very mild in flavor, but complimented nicely by the tangy tamarind. Our main dishes came soon after. One of my "problems" with CP is that I am totally addicted to the sauce that comes with the Khuroos. It's chicken stuffed with spinach in a luscious creamy almond & cashew sauce, with a bit of spice to it, and I could eat the sauce all day long. So my problem is since I don't eat there very often, I almost always have to get that dish, and therefore I don't know the other menu items well at all. But I have always had great luck with the dish, and have turned many other people onto it. This time, I asked for a little extra sauce to go with it, knowing that I would take it home a cook a piece of chicken up the next night for dinner. (Dinner the next night was lovely! Leftover sauce, basmati rice & naan!) The waitress mentioned that it's the korma sauce, which never occurred to me, and now maybe that will make it slightly easier to find a recipe to make it. I've searched for a khuroos recipe before to no luck, and have come "this close" to writing to Bon Appetit or Gourmet, and asking them to get the recipe. Heaven! My friend's tikka was good too, but sorry, nothing compares to my sauce!

The food was great. No issues. It was our server who was just brusque/brisk most of the evening. Maybe she felt the need to turn the table quickly to increase her personal revenue, but definitely not a real gracious host. I will of course, continue to go back, just maybe not on a Friday night. And looking at the fairly pathetic picture my cell phone takes, I am resolving to carry my camera more!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Evangeline Cafe (& KC Donuts too!)

Everyone needs a bit of Cajun food in their lives, and it's just too bad that I don't go seeking it out very often. Evangeline Cafe is pretty far south down Brodie Lane, but it's hard not to enjoy the atmosphere (even if it is in a strip mall) and friendly service once you're there. See their picture on the website; you can sort tell there's decor all over the place, from LSU Tigers to Mardi Gras to the wall-mounted duck that was "flying" above our heads! It's a great mish-mash of Cajun culture.

Arriving just before noon today, the parking lot was full, and my dining companion and I thought we may have made a mistake. However several tables were available, and while there were just two of us, the hostess happily put us at a four-top. They've got six daily lunch specials, and I was torn between a po-boy and the chicken-fried steak with cajun cream gravy. The gravy won out. The CFS comes with a side salad, which I ordered the remoulade dressing to go with it. The salad (basic green salad, all fresh, nothing overly exciting) came in about 2 seconds, and shortly thereafter, the half-order of thin sliced onion rings came as well. Their rings are delicious! I remember them from a previous visit, a couple of years ago. They are very lightly seasoned, fried up, and also served with the remoulade. Yum!

So a fat piece of CFS arrived with a huge bowl of gravy, slightly dirty rice, and a piece of toast. Very nice breading on it, and when I say fat piece, I mean it! It was thick, a bit thicker than I usually see for CFS, but the meat was also underseasoned. It definitely needed salt. A good dunk the gravy helped too! The rice was rather boring. My friend's catfish po-boy was large, and apparently quite tasty. It was accompanied by homemade potato chips, thick cut and not greasy. We both ate half our meals, and got boxes for the rest. Sort of regretting not getting a po-boy, but the gravy was tasty. In retrospect, I may not eat the rest of the CFS, but I think I'll make some biscuits to go with my gravy!

While we were fat and fairly happy, we couldn't resist going into KC Donuts, which is a couple doors down. All I really wanted was ONE donut hole, but they only sell them by the dozen (for $1.99). Ouch! Twist my arm! We asked if he would split a mixed dozen into two bags, which he was happy to do. Or maybe because he thought we're cute. :) And, I think because it was about an hour from closing time, he added extras to the bag; I think we each got 10! And darn, they're good! Cake donuts are my favorite, and so far I've eaten a chocolate and regular hole, and a glazed non-cake style. Great texture, not too sweet. Glad that place isn't real close to my house!

So, let the good times roll!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Downtown Austin Farmers' Market

Ahhh, a Saturday morning off from work. And the temperature wasn't scorching yet, so a quick little venture downtown this morning to the farmers' market. I haven't been to the downtown one in probably close to three years, as I always go to the Sunset Valley one when I am able to go. And in the summer/hotter months, the one downtown is opening up at 8 am instead of the usual 9. Smart.

Plenty of street parking was available just after 8 am, even though construction crews were plenty busy in the neighboring blocks. Got a canary melon at one of the first booths I encountered (I think it was Gunderson Farms), saw my neighbor, and then saw bacon! Peach Creek Farms from Rosanke (near Gonzalez) had a sign board out advertising "Arkansas bacon" and of course that got my attention! Never heard of it, and the guy told me that it's from the pork shoulder; he has Berkshire pork, which are a great heirloom breed. He sells it frozen for $6.50/lb. Got it home and unwrapped it; they are very thick slices, almost a quarter inch. Didn't look closely at the labeling when I was there, but he cures it with salt, sugar, spices, sodium nitrate and MSG. I could live without the MSG, but oh well. Anyway, fried a piece up, and it's good. Certainly more meaty and less fatty, and it's not streaked in fat like your typical belly bacon. More of a ham flavor (go figure). I think it will be good in place of pancetta in some dishes, like lentils.

Also came across Cocoa Puro/Kakawa, which I have always been a huge fan of. Tom Pederson's original Kakawa Bean is a cacao bean, coated in white, milk, & dark chocolate & dusted in cocoa powder. He won a Saveur magazine top 100 products recognition a few years back. His newest item is caramelized cacao nibs. Fantastic! I've never loved the plain nibs, either raw or roasted because they are too bitter, though I do love dark chocolate. These were perfect, coated with a thin layer of caramelized sugar, you get that bitter AND sweetness. These will be gone fast.

Found some red bell peppers and onions, but was hoping for fresh corn, and didn't see any. Maybe too dry around here for corn to grow. Went looking for breakfast, and came across a booth I had never heard of before -- Rio's Brazilian. The affable guy at the booth (and after looking at their website, figured out he was Ben, one of the owners) explained a bit about their salgadinhos, or savory pastries. They offer a variety of hand-held empananda-like creations, which are served with one of three flavors of their Malagueta sauces (chile, vinegar, oil & spices), a spicy/tangy accompaniment. All of their products are all natural! I got the chicken pastry, technically called the Risoli de Frango com Requejão, and some of the original sauce. They are served warm, and it still was warm and perfect for eating about 10 minutes later when I arrived home. The one I got was loaded with white meat chicken and a homemade cheese; the dough may have been made with tapioca (cassava) flour, though I am not sure and the website doesn't say. It was a little thick, so therefore a touch gummy, but rolled in breadcrumbs and lightly fried to perfection -- no grease! The original sauce is apparently the hottest of the 3 offered, and really added a nice punch to the salgadinho. Their website is very informative, listing recipes and other locations where there items can be purchased. I think I will have to seek out more of that sauce, and try some recipes with it!