Friday, June 25, 2010

El Naranjo

There's been a good amount of positive buzz on El Naranjo, a new interior-Mexican foods trailer, on what has become a very hip Rainey Street. In about a 2 block area, Lustre Pearl, Clive, Garaj Mahal, El Naranjo were all thriving on a warm Thursday night (for Austin summers, the evening was actually quite decent). LP & Clive (same owner, I am fairly certain) are both in renovated houses, GM is a trailer with a fancy awning &  yard art (see February's food trailer tour story), and El N is a trailer parked in the driveway of a house that's undergoing renovations for the future permanent home of El N. Not sure what will become of the trailer at that point, but it comes with a good pedigree; the owner had a restaurant of the same name in Oaxaca for years that was very well-received.
Two friends and I arrived a little before 7 pm. We ordered, and sat at one of the picnic tables that's covered by a very nice semi-permanent canopy, complete with fans and bug zappers (need more low-tech fly paper!) First up were the molotes and empandas. They offer 2 types of molotes, and there are 3 pieces to an order. These are little cigar shaped lengths of masa, with different stuffings, that are fried. Our helpful order taker offered to do 1 veracruzano (w/plaintain & Mexican cheese) and 2 oaxaqueno (w/chorizo & potato) as we couldn't decide what to get. They had no trace of grease/oil whatsoever, but unfortunately, were not real flavorful; the masa was a bit dense, and therefore it was hard to taste the fillings. The empanadas were a little on the greasy side; they're stuffed with mushrooms, epazote & some serrano pepper, and were very crisp & tasty; a fresh red salsa (salsa rojo) accompanied them, and a green (salsa verde) with the molotes. Wish the empanadas came with more choices of fillings!
On the recommendation of the recent Austin Chronicle review, I ordered the chicken tinga soft tacos, which come 2 to the plate, and are topped with a slice of avocado. While it was very finely shredded chicken tossed in the salsa verde, they were underwhelming in flavor; a tiny bit of zip from the salsa, but it needed more. One of my friends got the cochinita pibil tacos (also 2 per order), which had been criticized by the Chronicle as too vinegary. Either it had been an off night in the kitchen, or they read the review and corrected it, because they were outstanding! The tender, well-seasoned pork was nicely complemented by pickled red onions. My other friend got the fish taco special of the evening -- 3 tacos per plate, with slaw and a chipotle crema Mexicana. I did not try them, but she said they were great. All three taco plates were served on what I presume to be homemade corn tortillas; they were very tender white corn, but perfectly round, so who knows!
I have heard that El Naranjo makes an outstanding mole sauce, and as I have said before, I do love a good mole. I would actually be highly disappointed if a place with Oaxacan roots didn't have a good mole, given the "seven moles of Oaxaca" were made famous in that region of Mexico. We asked the owner if there was a set day for moles, and she said Wednesdays, so we will have to go back and investigate for ourselves. They have a website, but it is under construction; they also post a little bit on Twitter (@elnaranjoaustin). A chalk board on the grounds had the hours posted, Mon - Sat, lunch & dinner; closed on Sundays. I was glad to see they take all major credit cards, and have trashcans for recycling glass & plastic bottles.  Everything was well-prepared, and except for the swarm of flies, it was quite comfortable out.  Can't wait to get back for the mole!

Monday, June 7, 2010


Two foodies and a wine guy went in search of dim sum on Sunday evening at Fortune, but upon arrival, discovered yours truly misread their website, as there was no dim sum in the evenings. But we easily decided to stay for dinner, and were excited by the variety on the menu. Our young, very efficient and knowledgeable waiter was a little surprised by the number of items we ordered, but we did decent damage. Overall we agreed that while everything was very fresh, some things were lacking in flavor.

The rundown, consumed with a bottle of Chateau St. Michele Riesling, which was at a good price at $24/bottle:

#13 -- Pan Fried Dumplings -- Great sear on them, the pork filling was bland, needed ginger, scallions, etc.
#18 -- Grilled Lamb Satay Skewers --Satay? Does that mean it comes with peanut sauce? Well no, because these came with hoisin. Meat had decent flavor & great texture, but the hoisin did pump it up a little. (Not as good as the lamb skewers at Chen's Noodle House, not even close!)

#21 -- Crispy Duck -- A decent duck, not the best ever, but nice crispy skin and not too greasy.
#39 -- Crab Meat & Sweet Corn Soup -- Probably the biggest disappointment of the meal. Apart from the sweetness from the corn, there was no flavor to it what so ever. My foodie friend noticed the longer the soup sat unattended in the bowl, the more it separated, with watery stuff on top and gelatinous on the bottom. Not really appetizing.
#110 -- Chicken w/ Hot Garlic Sauce (had wanted # 129, Chicken with Honey & Ginger, but they were out) -- really good, though certainly not "hot" in the spicy sense. Very fresh, not an overpowering garlic flavor -- could have used more garlic.
#165 -- Fried Crispy Bean Curd with Special Sauce -- Another disappointment. What might at one time actually been crispy tofu was negated by the sauce which is poured all over the fried slabs of silken tofu back in the kitchen, so by the time it reaches your table, it kills the crispiness. Sauce was nothing special either. Doesn't hold a candle to Java Noodle's Crispy Tofu with Brown Sugar Sauce.

#178 -- Malaysia Fried Flat Rice Noodle -- I love stir fried noodle dishes (and can't master the art of cooking with fresh rice noodles....), and we asked our waiter about this one. He said it was in a curry sauce with pork & shrimp, and we said sure! It turned out to be great! The noodles were a hair on the dry side, as in needed more sauce, but good flavor. I think I detected Szechuan peppercorns in it, because I had a little of that tingling on the tongue that I've experienced when eating dishes with them. (In picture, duck at the top, noodles to right, chicken to left.)

We asked what hamsur on the dessert menu was, as none of us was familiar. Our waiter told us it's the crispy fried fat from under a frog's skin. They were out for the evening, and will take advance orders via a phone call if you want it. I am completely curious about it, but not sure I would have been prepared to eat it that night! (And a subsequent Google search unveils that in some places hamsur can be the ovaries or the egg sack of the frog.... so not entirely sure which part of the frog it us, but consensus says it is frog.)

And though we didn't order it, our waiter brought over 3 bowls of a dessert porridge, a coconut milk base with little tapioca balls and taro root cubes. Decent flavor, but not in love with it. It was a nice gesture though, but still not sure WHY it was sent over. I know he saw me taking pictures of the dishes, and he may of overheard us talking about food blogging.

On a side note, the physical appearance of the restaurant is a little bit of a dichotomy. The entrance room has old wooden carved doors, dark flooring & tables, and a beautiful wall of ceramic teapots. You then enter the main dining room, which is filled with light, and 5 rather gaudy crystal chandeliers. My foodie friend who attended culinary school in San Francisco and is well acquainted with that city's dim sum establishments, commented on how the main dining room felt that it was set up for dim sum service -- plenty of room between the tables for the carts to maneuver. It reminded me of hotel banquet rooms. And by the time we left, the place was filling up, and I'd say 75% of the tables were filled with Asians.
So bummed there was no dim sum, and a little disappointed that the regular menu was kind of bland. It's certainly a trek for me to get up to Chinatown, but it is usually worth it, and I am determined to get back for dim sum, as I have it on the authority from 2 food people their dim sum is fantastic.