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 Restaurant.com. 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!