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!