Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Odds & Ends

One of the great things about turning older is celebrating with friends over food. And of course, I love food! Happen to love my friends too, and another thanks to all of those who have celebrated with me over the past few days! :)

Here's a brief recap over the past few days' meals:

Monday night, went to Your Mom's Burger, which as of Monday, had been open 16 days! Whoo hoo! They have relocated from above a bar on Red River to their own stand-alone place on East Ceasar Chavez. We walked in and were immediately greeted by Ryan, who I am fairly certain is one of the owners. Throughout our time there, Ryan and the guy on the grill (unfortunately, I didn't catch his name) were super-nice, kept checking on us, made sure we were enjoying the burgers, etc -- GREAT hospitality! I had the Willie Nelson burger & my friend the Frida Kahlo. The Willie has bacon, American cheese, BBQ sauce & an onion ring on it. It was a gooey mess to eat, but totally worth it! The cheese kinda all oozed out the back, but you can make your own cheese fries with it! The Frida is with pepper jack, chorizo & a fried egg on top! My friend said she hadn't eaten a (beef) burger in almost 9 months, but she ate just about every bite. Rumor has it their fried pickles are delicious. Must go back and find out!
After stuffing ourselves with burgers, and a trip to SuperTarget (say it with me, tar-ghay), we found ourselves for dessert at Likkity's, a frozen custard trailer on far south Manchaca Road. It's actually a trailer with some built-in carport/canopys with ceiling fans & picnic tables. They always have vanilla & chocolate custard, and then a flavor of the day; Monday's was chocolate mint. So I had a small sundae with van/choc swirl and peanut butter cups, and my friend the chocolate mint with Oreos. Yum! The guy in the trailer was super nice, they use environmentally friendly plastic cups & spoons, and provide a recycling can for them as well. Oh, and they made their own real whipped cream as well as their chocolate sauce. After that burger, I couldn't finish the whole thing, but I sure tried!
Tuesday night, I got treated to Uchi. My companion this evening has been there a good number of times, and I pretty much let her order. She picked the Domaine Schlumberger Gewurtztraminer as our wine of the evening, and I think it went extremely well with everything we had. There were the tako pops (baby octopus), one of the tuna rolls, hama chili, scallop hot rock, pitchfork & spider rolls, kona kanpachi, brie ringo, & peanut butter semi-freddo. Our waiter, Chris, was great, bringing items out in random order, but saving the brie ringo for last, as it being fried brie with apple chutney, the sweetness of it lends itself well to a dessert lead-in. So as we are sitting there, I see a patron who looks an awful lot like Anthony Bourdain. I know from the Twittering that he's coming to town on Thursday for a gig at the Paramount, but is also supposed to be checking out some of the local food trailers. I was fairly convinced it was him at Uchi, and Tweeted my finding. I mentioned it to our waiter, who after a few minutes came back and said, no, it's not him (I still wasn't convinced), but his show No Reservations is supposed to film at East Side King tonight at 10pm. Why does the waiter at Uchi know this? Because ESK is run by Paul Qui, one of the Uchi sous chefs (remember that last name). Hmmmm....

So I get home from Uchi, and my friend from Monday night has seen my Tweet regarding Bourdain. We start texting: do you wanna go? kinda, do YOU wanna go? YES! I am on vacation this week and she doesn't have to be at work real early! YES! It's Bourdain for christ's sake! He's a ROCK STAR! Hells yeah!

ESK is a trailer in the back part of Liberty bar's outdoor seating area. You have to go through Liberty (okay, cranberry & vodka!) to get out there. Well, the bar was relatively empty, but the outdoor area was pretty much standing room only. At 10 pm. So we toddle over to the trailer and order a couple items (it's Asian-fusion inspired)... we can tell there are some light poles set up and a couple camera guys, and the staff seems to be rushing around a bit in wide-eyed anticipation. We order the Poor Qui's Buns (pork belly in a bun, which in this case, is like a soft, spongy taco.... and get it? Poor Qui's/Porky's) and the Beet Home Fries. They took about 30 minutes to arrive, but fortunately, in the meanwhile, we found some picnic benches to cozy up to. The buns are amazing -- roasted pork belly, kimchi cucumbers,w/ hoisin sauce. The beets are like nothing I've ever had before! Chunks of beets, roasted then fried, and served with a spicy Kewpie mayo. Heaven! So we ate and drank, and hung out, might have been filmed in some background scenes, and waited.... then the rumors started circulating from people in "the know" that Bourdain's NOT here. Not coming. Just the camera guys. Grrrrr. It got to be midnight, and we called it a night, our brush with fame, sniff, sadly at an end. But damn that food was FINE! TONY, you missed it!

And then I heard this morning No Reservations was going to film at Gourdough's at noon. I already had a lunch date to go to Red's Porch, but another friend went, and texted a bit after 1 pm that there was no Tony. And they're supposed to be filming at Odd Duck right about now, as I type this. Then, I saw a retweet posted from Tony's wife, essentially saying "haha, all you people who thought you saw my husband, he's right here next to me". So the bastard was still in NYC after all. I'd still do it again.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Well, I finally made it to Lambert's! After how many years it's been open? Four? I've been hearing it's praises forever, and finally got to experience it for myself, on the occasion of my, uh, 29th birthday, with some dear friends. :)

Sunday brunch. Not that almost any meal isn't my favorite meal, but I do especially love brunch. It's that marriage of the sweet (generally maple syrup) and the salty (bacon!) that makes me weak in the knees. Lambert's brunch is perhaps a little different from standard brunches. You can either do the buffet line, or order a la carte from the menu, or, as us smarty pants did: both. Genius! All for one price, so you may as well! And as it turns out, the a la carte items are generally smaller plates, so as not to completely distract you from the buffet at hand.

So we started off with the buffet line...feeling healthy, as I had already eaten a banana at home, I skipped the beautiful bowl of fruit salad, and went straight for the good stuff: bacon, sausage, grits, home fries, potato salad (okay, a little redundant on the potatoes), mac & cheese, and a pork rib. Remember that what Lambert's is is a refined barbeque joint. They know their meat, and they start with high quality meat, so it's hard to go wrong from there. The meat items were really what stood out to me throughout the meal. The applewood smoked bacon was crisp & dry (as in, not greasy) and the breakfast sausage I would guess they may make there, and it had a bit of jalapeno in it. That rib you're looking at (which is covering the bacon & sausage!) is a Berkshire pork rib, done with a little bit of coriander & a maple glaze. Berkshire is an heirloom variety of pork, and is one of the best breeds available. The meat pulled right off the bone, nice smoke ring, not a greasy mess, just tasty as all get out. Not pictured, but acquired on another trip to the buffet was some beautiful Niman Ranch prime rib; great crust on the exterior, tender, moist, perfectly cooked, and served with a creamy horseradish sauce. Didn't try the brisket, but ate more bacon and another rib! If you didn't get it when I said it before, the meats rocked!

The other items were good, but not quite as outstanding. The grits tasty, bit of cheddar & chile pepper in them; I didn't love the texture of the mac & cheese, but others at my table really enjoyed it. Potato salad needed a touch of salt. Oh yeah, and when the waitress came to our table after we sat down with our first round of buffet pickin's to get our drink order, I asked her for salt & pepper. Well, she completely disappeared to get the drinks for about 10 minutes, and I had to ask again for the s & p. Slightly ticked that the need for s & p wasn't immediately picked up upon by our server. And I know I do like my salt, but I felt both the potato salad & grits benefited from just a pinch.

From the a la carte, I ordered the French toast with strawberry butter, made from brioche bread, and the biscuit & gravy. The French toast was tasty, but it wasn't just hot off the griddle, and had been sitting in the syrup for a little bit, so it was a bit soggy. The biscuit dough was a bit overworked, so it wasn't as tender as it could be, and the gravy a bit thin (thought I had taken a picture of that plate, but apparently not). My friends ordered the hanger steak benedict, which was swooned over and the berry smoothie, which we all agreed the addition of fresh mint was was really made it stellar (and why hadn't I thought of that before?!).
For dessert, they had a little table with some offerings... to be honest, I was so mesmerized by the bacon and ribs, I hardly looked at the table (odd, eh?). A few chocolate cream puffs and fried chocolate pies made it over to the table, which were pretty quickly devoured. I left well stuffed. I didn't over-eat, and I wasn't busting at the gut, but I ate plenty. And I will happily return! Plus I've noticed they do half-priced appetizers for happy hour!

And after that meal, I ate an apple for dinner at like 8:30 pm.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where to eat?

Ever go blank when trying to come up with a place to eat? Here's a VERY comprehensive list from Texas Monthly magazine.... and they have it categorized by area of town and by type of foods.

Someone must have friends in high places, because Cafe Racer, a new trailer at Live Oak & S. 1st just opened last week, yet they are on the list......hmmmm.

What's YOUR favorite place in town to eat?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Odd Duck Farm to Trailer

Finally made it tonight to the new Odd Duck Farm to Trailer! Not even that it's been open all that long (six weeks?), but it's not far from me, and I love the concept -- locally sourced ingredients and a seasonal daily-changing menu. It was a beautiful evening out, and arriving close to 7:30pm found a crowd in the Duck parking lot. While Gourdough's was also open (Austin Brevita coffee had gone to bed for the night), most of the business seemed to be for the Duck.

Two of us split four items: the grits (the full crossed out line reads "cheesy grits with broccoli and farm egg"), grilled toast, ham & cheese, and pork belly. After at least a 20 minute wait, I went up to ask about our order after seeing food go to two parties who ordered after us. Not entirely sure what the mix up was, but in about 5 minutes we had everything but the slider. Good thing my friend from Boston and I had plenty to catch up on! Sorry the pics of the food are so bad, but there was no light under the umbrella-d table!
Without going in to major detail at the moment, everything was good, and I will happily return. The grits were perhaps a bit under seasoned (but I do admit to liking my salt), and soft boiled/poached eggs aren't my thing. Grilled ham & cheese (Montasio, an Italian mountain cheese) also had some grilled mushrooms in it, a nice touch. Pork belly was very fatty (duh), but really nice smokiness to it. Very fresh butter lettuce & sliced radishes on it. The fresh ricotta on the toast was nice, maybe it too could have used a smidge of salt. Not sure I could describe the turnip flavor, and I've never eaten that many to be able to pinpoint it.

Too full after the pork belly for a Gourdough's donut, I am sad to say!

Friday, March 5, 2010

New India

I love Indian food, and while not an expert, I'd certainly like to think that after eating my fair share of it, I can recognize good food from mediocre. (Well, and I guess I'd say that about most types of food, not just Indian.) Many people are intimidated by Indian cuisine...I am not sure if it's because of it's seemingly exotic array of spices, the combinations thereof which make up a curry sauce, the length of time it takes to prepare even a fairly basic Indian dish, or..... what? To me, Indian food is at its best when you get full range of flavors in each and every bite. When there's tastes you can't readily identify. When there's a balance of sweetness, often from coconut milk or jaggery with a blend of spiciness (as in flavor, not Scoville units) as well as heat. I don't even know that I have adequately conveyed my message on how the flavors all work together for me in a good Indian dish, but I am hoping you get the idea if you are not fully acquainted with the cuisine. (And if not, that's okay, but go and TRY some really good Indian...see some of my previous posts on Tarka & Clay Pit; also Madras Pavillion & Sarovar, though I haven't been to either in quite awhile. Want to go?)

So imagine my excitement when I found out that a new Indian place had opened at Congress & Oltorf, just past the trendiness of SoCo! Close to my stomping grounds! This could be magical! I could have a new fantastic, aromatic, mouth-watering spot that was mere minutes away. Another foodie friend also heard about it, as New India (yes, that's the name) has just opened within the past month. We arranged for a Thursday lunch, and each managed to invite other friends to come along, a total of four serious food people all together for a meal. We ordered a lot of different stuff, and unfortunately, none of it was really spectacular.

We began with chicken lollipops (apparently a signature dish) and vegetarian samosas. The lollipops are drumsticks that have been battered and deep fried (though not greasy); a little bit of spice combo in them, but not much. The dough on the samosas is a bland crust, no flakiness to it; filling is a very dense mashed potato & pea mix. The sauces were the saving grace: a nice tamarind and a very fresh tasting mint/cilantro (?) green sauce with vibrant notes.
For the main dishes, we had: (clockwise, from the 6 o'clock position) malvani chicken curry, kheema masala, saag paneer & eggplant shrimp. The malvani is a dish typical of the Goan coast, along southwestern India using lots of coconut; rare to find it outside that region apparently. So rare that New India believes they are the only restaurant in the US to be serving malvani. Unfortunately, four out of four eaters detected no coconut flavor whatsoever, and the cashier/server came around to check on us, he couldn't say what was in it. A very bland mix of shredded chicken and some nondescript sauce. The kheema was ground goat, in a bit of a spicy brown sauce with peas. It was the one decent entree because the sauce had some seasoning to it (couldn't tell you exactly what). The shrimp dish was okay, in a bit of a tomato-based sauce, but not exciting, and the saag (spinach) was over-pureed with very little paneer (fresh cheese like tofu) in it. There was nothing very interesting about any of the dishes.Other considerations:
Pros: they use eco-friendly utensils, plates & bowls (as in, everything was disposable except the water glasses); great sauces with the samosas
Cons: fairly bland food, lack of descriptions on printed menu or menu board, menu board very hard to read & follow (hand written chalkboard with hard to read print); cashier/server very friendly, but didn't know a ton about the ingredients in the dishes; very random decor from B & W photo posters to painted butterflies on the wall

Just calling it like I see them, but don't go if you're a big Indian food fan.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


My experience tonight at Perla's was the complete opposite of what I had experienced when it's former occupant Mars was in that spot. And all I can say is thank god for that! Arriving at 5:30 pm for an early dinner in conjunction with Austin Restaurant Week, the light hits the interior of Perla's beautifully -- it's literally refreshing and airy (especially with few patrons in it at that hour). The bank of booth seats is done in bright yellow, and white and blue accents round out the color scheme; nautical, but not garishly so. Waiting by the oyster bar for a few minutes while the hostess changes out the menus, I can see a meeting of the waitstaff in the back of the restaurant. The bar has a few patrons, and a young woman shucks an oyster or two. What interested me though, is the man who came along with a spray bottle, labeled "vinegar & water", and he proceeded to spray the inside of the glass barrier, around the oysters. A non-chemical window cleaner in a food prep area! Brilliant! And he was wiping it up with over-sized coffee filters, which he said didn't leave lint like paper or bar towels (I asked). A nice touch.

Austin Restaurant Week allows patrons to dine at certain places for fixed prices; 5 % of the week's proceeds will go to the Sustainable Food Center. I was there to specifically support ARW, and I could tell other patrons were too. I wanted to go someplace I had never been before, and while my fellow foodie has been to Perla's she was eager to return, raving about the grilled octopus she had eaten previously. We started with cocktails, for me, something I now believe was called the Meridian, a honey & thyme infused vodka with ice tea (currently not on their online menu, which appears not to have been updated since Feb. 20) and I think my companion had the Rye Maple Sour. Both tasty, indeed.

Working off the abbreviated (but not limiting) ARW menu, I took the shrimp & roasted tomato bisque as my first course, and my companion the 4 freshwater oysters, shucker's choice. The bisque was nice, very smooth, maybe a hint of saffron and some nice fish stock gave it some richness; it was topped with a swirl of creme fraiche, and a dainty 2 bite grilled cheese (a little greasy) along with it. The oysters were inhaled in about 2 seconds! The very affable waiter recited the names of the 4 when he brought them to the table, but all I remember was Pickle Point from Prince Edward's Island was one of them; they do come with a trio of sauces: horseradish, cocktail, & mignonette (shallots & vinegar).
For the main course, I chose the Crispy Gulf Snapper with Lemon Spinach & Spicy Sofrito. And all I can say is fresh, fresh, fresh. The lemon really gave everything a nice brightness, from the fish, which was perfectly seared, to the slices of garlic in the sofrito. Don't think I'd call the sofrito spicy, but I think it was made from cherry tomatoes, because it had a nice sweetness to it. It was really delicious. My companion picked the grilled mullet from the Fresh & Simple Market Seafood; the waiter said it was delicious, and they had just gotten mullet in for like the very first time ever. It was a beautiful presentation, two whole smaller fish, bones and all! It was probably more work than I would have been up to in a restaurant to pick over it, but my companion did well. I still get a kick of seeing the whole skeletal system being lifted off one's dinner plate.
The dessert course had multiple options, and we settled on the profiteroles with coffee ice cream & chocolate sauce, and a blueberry crostata tart with toasted almonds & vanilla ice cream. Do they make their own ice cream? The coffee one was particularly good, and you could really, really taste the butter in the tart dough. And I am guessing these were fresh blueberries, not frozen. Not that I am complaining about butter (who ME?), but I couldn't finish it!
I had heard a few things about Perla's, most of it good, but now I can firmly say it was a great all-around experience. The service, food, & atmosphere was great, and I now look forward to (slightly) warmer weather and to be able to sit on their large SoCo patio with a cocktail. Also highly amusing was the choice of viewing on the TV at the bar. Finding Nemo. And as my friend said with a laugh "Now that's just tacky!" Nemo's cousins are quite tasty, I can attest.