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!