Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Patisserie

Earlier this fall, I heard a new French bakery would be opening. And then I found out it would be just blocks from my house! I found La Patisserie on both Facebook & Twitter, and anxiously awaited news of their grand opening. So I was thrilled last night to see that they would in fact be up and running this morning. They open at 7 am, and I walked over around 8 am, and was immediately greeted by a trio of friendly women behind the counter, including pastry chef and owner, Soraiya Nagree.

Located on Annie Street, just off South 1st, La Patisserie is in a converted old house, most recently a chiropractic office. The front two rooms are set up cozily with seating areas, an enclosed play area for the babies, and some commercial sweets & treats as well. The light-filled back room is the bakery counter, with work space off to the left. (They do the actual baking in their commercial kitchen space in East Austin they said.) Coffee, espresso, hot chocolate, and tea are all available too.
Everything looked good enough to eat! Ha ha ha.... Seriously though, I had a hard time deciding WHAT to get. I asked what the "morning buns" were, and Soraiya told me they were one of her favorites. It's like the French version of a cinnamon roll. Yes, please! And an almond croissant, and a mini-palmier, and 3 different macaroons, and she threw in a cookie that I would have called a madeleine, except it doesn't have the ridges... I can't remember what she called it, but I do remember she said brown butter. So she put everything in a box, and I headed back home.
I dove right into the morning bun. I don't think I've ever had anything quite like it! It is like a cinnamon roll in that the dough is covered with cinnamon & sugar, and rolled up though not as tightly as a traditional cinnamon roll. These appear to be baked in large-sized muffin tin, and there's a little bit of a hollow space created by the loose rolling. It's lightly crunchy on the outside from the caramelized sugar, and as you peel back the layers, you see the multitude of them, though not flaky like a croissant. As you get towards the center, it's that squishy, tender just-barely-baked dough core. The whole thing is a wonderful contrast in textures, and you don't come across this kind of flavor by using margarine. There will most certainly be more morning buns in my future.

Almost four hours later, I am still full from my morning bun, but I have managed to nibble on the some of the others for the sake of getting this blog post done! The palmier -- nicely flaky and very light. All three of the macaroons have really distinct (in a good way!) flavor to them: the peppermint chocolate, cardamom orange honey, and caramel fleur de sel. The cardamom probably surprised me the most; I absolutely love the flavor of cardamom, and am usually disappointed because I find the flavor isn't prominent enough in things like this. Not in this case. It took a moment, but the cardamom really pops through. The brown sugar thingy is barely crisp on the outside, with a solid, yet tender crumb. It would be a great tea cookie. I only nibbled on the end of the almond croissant, but it's nice and crunchy on those outer tips, and there seems to be a multitude of almond paste inside! Hopefully, I can save it for breakfast tomorrow.

And there's a multitude of things to go back and try! Opera cakes, madeleine, brioche rolls, eclairs....This is going to be very, very bad, so close to my house! Congratulations to La Patisserie on their opening today, and here's to years of sweet success!

A closer look at some of the sweets:

East Side Pies

As with (dessert) pies, a crust can make or break the deal. Pizza pies of course can be your deep-dish Chicago-style, your more average "regular" crust, or a thin crust, often very hard to do right. East Side Pies has perfected the art of the thin crust pizza. It's practically wafer thin, and it stays crispy all the way through, from the edge of the crust to the center point of your slice. And it stays crispy through the duration of your eating an entire pie. My fourth (and final) slice of the evening was just as crisp as the first one that I slightly burned the roof of my mouth on. Go figure.
The place could best be described as a dive. There's a door with an opening, and yes, you're inside the shop, but only about 3 or 4 people can fit in the space. The counter/case to your left has pizza by the slice for sale, and it's where you place your order for whole pies. Not like the other guys in the shop couldn't hear your order, because I don't think the whole interior is much bigger than 150 square feet, with the big oven taking up much of the wall opposite the doorway. There's seating out on the patio, where a window opposite the above-mentioned counter is stationed to hand out the re-warmed slices.

There's a lot of pizza options. Either build your own, or their creations. Now, they have some things that I just don't think belong on a pizza, such as hummus and spinach curry, but I guess don't knock it til you've tried it. We got the Lu' -- with pineapple, bacon, ham, & jalapenos, and we added feta cheese. We sat at a table under the covered patio, listening to the buses on Rosewood whiz by, and the brief stoppage of one lady, trying to beg off some food. I was amused by all the posters & fliers that were up on the walls. Most were for past/upcoming music shows, but then there was the dichotomy of a poster for a lecture by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and a show called "Spanksgiving". We'll just say one looked a bit more clean cut than the other!

The pizza pie itself was quite lovely. Again, a wonderfully thin crust (my father would approve), an appropriate amount of tomato sauce, that did have some flavor, but did not overpower, and our toppings of choice. I realized that since the crust was so thin, I could eat four pieces, as I wasn't filling up on bread dough. My friend swears by the Moontower Pie, their white pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, romano, feta & goat cheeses.

A lot of their business is carryout. It was a nice November evening to sit outside, but in chillier or hotter weather, it may not be the best spot. I asked, and they crank the oven to 575 - 600 degrees; I'd imagine it takes about as long to build the pizza as it does to sear it in the oven. East Side Pies did just open up a location on Airport Blvd. & 53rd Streets, but a south location would be fantastic. And it's another spot where you can use your Go Local card for a free drink. So if you need to experience the perfection of a thin crust pizza, head east.

Trailer Travels -- Holy Cacao

A high school friend I had not seen in 20 years was in town over Thanksgiving, and I wanted to show him a bit of our food trailer scene. We met at the Torchy's Trailer Park on South 1st, where I devoured the Turkey Mole (taco of the month) and the Trailer Park tacos. It was a beautiful crisp, sunny afternoon, and as we finished the tacos, our attention turned to Holy Cacao, one of Austin's original cake ball establishments.

Holy Cacao has a variety of cake balls, coffee, hot chocolate, and chocolate shakes. Still being a bit stuffed from the tacos, I got three cake balls to eat for later. They are $2 each, or 3 for $5, and since I am a proud Go Local cardholder, my three were $4.50. Yeah, Go Local!!!
My selections:
  • Brass Cake Ball -- peanut butter cookie dough dipped in more peanut butter, and coated in chocolate & crushed peanuts. This was my favorite; I really liked the consistency of the ball & it had great peanut flavor.
  • Rabbit Cake Ball -- carrot cake with cream cheese dipped in white chocolate & crushed walnuts. Mmmm, walnuts!
  • Diablo Cake Ball -- chocolate cake mixed with ancho/cayenne cream cheese frosting, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with cayenne & cocoa toasted walnuts. You definitely taste the cayenne!
Tasty little treats!!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Miscellany... as in, I'm behind in posting

About 10 days ago, I had lunch at Cafe Josie, the Caribbean-inspired place on West 6th, just past Sweetish Hill, that's been around for years. My BFF and I split the lobster cakes, calamari, and each had our own small spinach salad.

The lobster cakes were delicious (in the back of the picture) -- a concoction of mostly lobster, and not too many breadcrumbs. And served with their incredible chipotle aioli (which I have bought jars for years at Central Market). The calamari was good, larger rings, maybe not quite as tender as those at Enoteca, one of my gold-standard places for calamari in town. 
The salad was tasty, with an ample amount of candied walnuts, and a nice passionfruit vinaigrette. The only odd thing was the manchego cheese, which was very finely shredded on top of the salad; seems like you loose the flavor of it that way.  Good meal though. And nice to see that earlier that week, Cafe Josie had received a very nice write up in the Statesman.\

Onto my trailer food quest! I knew I would be headed to East Austin last Saturday to check out some of the artist studios that were part of the E.A.S.T. tours. I've been DYING to try the Coolhaus ice cream truck, and was hoping they'd be on the east side as well. As luck would have it, they were! Checking out their Twitter feed, I found out they were leaving their spot near UT (football/game day crowds) and headed to a spot on Cesar Chavez, which is where I found them. When I got there, there was one small group in front of me, and the truck was still being set up. Their concept is simple (yet genius!) -- you pick your ice cream and your cookie, and they make you an incredible custom ice cream sandwich. 

Of COURSE I've been dying to try their candied bacon & brown sugar ice cream, and it was completely worth the wait. It was heaven.  Oh, and I had it on a good ol' chocolate chip cookie. And they're big!  I was also tempted by the balsamic fig & mascarpone as well as the mint chip, so future plans must be made!
The driver/scooper, Amelia, was telling me their truck is a retrofitted old mail truck.... the steering wheel is on the right hand side, and they've put a deep coffin cooler inside for the ice cream.  The pictures of the cookie & ice cream flavors on the side of the truck are all magnets. So like my new favorite the Peached Tortilla, Coolhaus is a roving truck -- best to keep up with them via Twitter or their websites.

Finally, Thanksgiving. I was invited to a friend's house, and was asked to bring bread/rolls. In the November issue of Saveur magazine, was Tom Colicchio's Parker House Rolls recipe, and I do love the white flour and carbs! ;) I made two double batches, one Wednesday evening, and the other, I made the dough Wednesday night, and let it do it's first rise in the fridge overnight. The recipe calls for barley malt syrup (which is preferred) or dark corn syrup. It uses such a scant amount (one teaspoon per batch), that I opted for the less expensive corn syrup, and I think it was perfectly fine. 

If you make this recipe, bake them at 375, not the 325 as stated in the recipe, especially if using cast iron. I don't know if they will ever brown properly at 325. After almost 25 minutes in the oven at 325, I cranked it to 400 and they browned pretty quick, though a little crusty on the bottoms. For the second batch, I just did them at 375 the whole way through, and they were done in about 27 minutes. 
Above pic, after the first rise & rest; dough portioned out into 1 oz. balls, a little bit smaller than the recipe called for. (I wanted to make sure I'd have plenty!)
 About 2 hours later, the second rise.
And out of the oven and cooling. You  brush melted butter on them before they go in the oven, and immediately when they come out, more butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. 

If you look at the comments for this recipe on Saveur's website, a lot of people didn't have positive experiences. I followed the recipe to the "T", except for the oven temp, and I thought they came out fabulously. Don't be deterred! 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chicken Pastilla

This past week marks my two year anniversary on my trip to Morocco. Since I was with a tour group, while all the food we ate their was authentically Moroccan, much of it was made for the tourist trade -- as in, probably dumbed down a bit.  By far, the best meal of the two and a half weeks was when we were invited to the home of our Moroccan guide while in Fez. His wife cooked for probably two days to feed our group of over 20. My favorite item, the chicken pastilla (or b'stilla, bestilla, etc.), a savory meat mixed with sweet ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar, wrapped in sheets or warka or phyllo dough. (Here's my post from Nov 5, 2008 on it.)

I've seen different recipes for it over the past couple of years, and then recently, through Twitter, chatted with Maroc Mama, and she passed along her pastilla recipe from her blog. I really liked the simplicity of the techniques she used for making this dish; some of the other recipes I've seen involve straining part of the mixture, something I didn't really want to do. I followed most of what she had done, using boneless chicken thighs and tenders, so they cooked pretty quickly.  Otherwise, instead of using saffron threads (not my most favorite flavor), I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons of ras al hanout, a spice blend that is to Northern Africa as curry powder and garam masala are to Indian cooking. They're all blends, and every cook/ family will have a different version; the one I used is a mix of nutmeg, sea salt, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, mace, cinnamon, ground allspice, turmeric and saffron.
Typically, one large, round pastilla is made for all the diners to eat from; Maroc Mama had suggested making individual sized portions, and also had a link to another blogger who made appetizer-sized triangles out of them. And she said they freeze well! I used my mini pie pans, and a few triangles too.
And for final presentation, the pastilla are dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon; I completed the meal with couscous and potatoes & sweet potatoes roasted with olive oil and some of the ras al hanout.
The taste took me back! I am really pleased with how this came out, and in fact, I am going to go eat one now. Thanks again to Maroc Mama for her recipe!

The Peached Tortilla

For the past couple months, I have seen a lot of Twitter chatter about a new mobile food truck, The Peached Tortilla, and their delicious offerings. It was one of the main trailers I really wanted to try at the Gypsy Trailer Picnic last weekend, but after watching the Twitter posts stream in on it, I realized the picnic was waaaay, waaay too crowded to try and go. So I missed out. But then told myself, okay, time to (attempt to) try one new trailer a week for a while to see what I am missing. And thus, I made the Peached Tortilla my first item on my  new "mission". 

It was a sunny/cloudy/spotty rainy day in Austin, not totally unusual for the fall-time. Found out the Peached Tortilla would be at 3rd & Colorado for lunch, opening at 11:15 am. I think I got there at 11:16. I could hear them inside the trailer as they were finishing up their prep. Eric, the owner came out and saw me waiting, and said they'd be ready in just a minute or two. After repositioning the truck slightly, he came out and we chatted for a couple of minutes. He said that Gypsy had been totally crazy for them; they were told to expect to serve 1,000 units of food over a nine hour period. They sold out in three hours.  He kinda sounded like they were still recovering!
I told Eric I had particularly heard about his pork belly, and asked his recommendation, the taco or the slider. He suggested the slider, as they're done on sweet Hawaiian rolls, you get more of the sweet/savory contrast. Works for me! I ordered a slider & a chicken satay taco. He also mentioned their pork belly is fatty, not meaty, and said some people don't really *get it.* Come ON people! Fat = flavor! So I was all kinds of good with fattier pork belly. Right as I got my order, the rain started up again, and I made haste for the car.  It rained heavily for about 3 minutes, so glad I was "indoors"! 
Yes, the picture of the food is taken on the front seat of the car.  On the left is the pork belly, or as they call it, their bahn mi sandwich. In addition to the lovely pork belly, there's a carrot & pickled daikon slaw and sriracha mayo on it. That pork was damn good! And a very generous serving! I don't know if that's because Eric knew my affinity for pork belly, or if that's their normal serving size. Nicely braised, a bit of crispiness on the outside, and the soft succulent fat... up there with the pork belly I had at Uchiko, for a fraction of the price! Speaking of prices, I hope they are staying afloat, because their prices are ridiculously cheap for what they are offering.

So I could eat about ten of those sliders.  The chicken satay taco was good, but really, after pork belly THAT good, almost anything would pale in comparison. The menu says the chicken is ginger-soy and peach marinated, flavors I failed to detect. Very moist chicken, though, not overdone. The coconut red curry peanut sauce was tasty, but for me, it could have had a little more peanut influence; all very fresh though.

Very curious about their Belgian fries, not to mention the catfish taco, which I've also heard a good deal about through Twitter. As their website says: peached = flavor smitten. Call me peached, indeed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

24 Diner

"Chef-inspired comfort food whenever you want it." Now who's to argue with that concept? That is the tag line on 24 Diner's website, as well as just a darn good plan. A more upscale entry into Austin's 24 hour a day eateries, it's been open in the former spot of Waterloo Icehouse at 6th & Lamar for about a year.

The interior has a modern yet "still a diner" feel; there are booths, some tall tables as if you were at a counter, and then the counter/open kitchen. My back was to the kitchen, so I couldn't really read the boards they have posted above with specials & desserts.  There are also a couple booths in the back, on the way to the restroom, and some tables outside, along the north side of the building.

Scanning the menu, I couldn't decide what I was in the mood for.... breakfast? Dinner? Salad? Okay, we ruled out the salad option pretty quick with all this REAL comfort food to pick from, but they sounded decent. I was leaning towards the chicken & waffles, and then one of my dining companions spotted a half-order of it that's available on their Monday thru Friday only menu. So I got that and a side of their homemade sausage patties. I also like how they state on their menu they are sourcing local products as much as possible.
Definitely glad I had the half order! The waffle was extremely yeasty, in a very fermented way. The chicken was well-fried, no grease whatsoever, but a little on the dry side, so I wonder if it got fried earlier in the day and was sitting in the hot box. Didn't really get a taste of the brown sugar butter (not much on there), but the real maple syrup certainly helped things out. The sausage patties were fat & delicious! A smidge spicy, and all around just very flavorful. 

One friend had the 24 Hash, a concoction of skillet fries, sausage, jalapenos, cheese... I didn't try it, but it sure looks good, and he practically licked the plate clean. My other friend had the Caesar salad with chicken, which she liked, but said the croutons were too spicy.
Side note(s): The silverware was of nice design & weight. My chicken & waffles were a little hard to cut because the plate was sliding around on the slick melamine tabletop. Such is life.  Saw several other diners with burgers, which on a nice big (and shiny) Challah bun, they looked good... and large. Our waitress was attentive & polite, the hostess very friendly. Did comfort food ever really go out of style? I think not.


I stopped for lunch the other day at Papalote, the new taco house with an emphasis on Mexican street foods, from the creators of Azul Tequila. I can't find a website, but here's the menu.  It's a tiny spot, with 5 or 6 small tables; you order at the counter, and you can see the full kitchen right in front of you. (The size & layout of the place reminds me of Chen's Noodle House.) I told the cashier it was my first time in, and asked for some recommendations. He was quick to point out 4 different ones from the "los guisados" menu: the pollo, pescado, puerco en mole & coliflor (cauliflower); I went with the pollo & puerco.
The pollo a la parilla is achiote-rubbed grilled chicken with poblano rajas (roasted pepper strips), cabbage, avocado & queso fresca. Everything was very fresh; I thought the chicken needed a touch of salt, and it was grilled nicely, still moist. The puerco en mole pipian is shredded pork loin, mole pipian (pumpkin seed), avocado & queso fresca. Also fresh & tasty, but I don't know that it was memorable. For $3.25 each, you get a good amount of protein stuffed into a tortilla.

Looking now, a bit more thoroughly at their menu, I certainly will have to try their traditional mole poblano, and I have heard raves about their coliflor/cauliflower tacos. I do wish the menu was a bit more explanatory for those of us who aren't totally familiar with some of the street food terms. But everything was fresh, the service was friendly, helpful & efficient. They are also conveniently located for me, and I am intrigued by the Austinville development they are in on South Lamar. (From the owner's of Amy's Ice Creams....this little strip of businesses are all locally owned -- gotta like that!) Next time, one of their masa cakes and some mole!