Saturday, May 29, 2010

Somnio's Cafe

Along South First street in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood there are lots of little cottage houses that have been turned into businesses -- hair salons, vintage shops, head shops, and restaurants.  Somnio's Cafe is one of those houses, on the east side of South First, between Annie and Mary Streets, backing up to the creek itself.  You park in the back and then enter on the side. It's pretty small inside, with a bar/counter with about 4 stools on the opposite wall from the door, the kitchen on the left, and a mix of table sizes (I counted 28 seats total) in the middle and to the right. Small, but cute. Hardwood floors, light green walls with a light blue ceiling, funky light fixtures... it has a good South Austin vibe to it. There's also an eclectic collection of chairs from the edge of the parking lot to the trickle of a creek.

Somnio's prides itself on a heavily vegetarian menu that can be adapted for gluten-free or vegan needs. They do have some meat dishes, just not a lot of them. And they use as much locally and organically sourced items as they can. There's a list of local suppliers on their website, and a statement on the menu describing their commitment to quality, sustainable foods and living. Also worth mentioning that nothing on the regular menu is priced over $13. 

At a little after 7pm on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I didn't know how busy Somnio's would be, and they turned out to be rather happening.  We sat right inside the door, and I had my back to the kitchen, so it was a little hard to see the specials board. I have previously heard the orange pork tacos were really good, but since May 28 is National Burger Day (who knew?!), I opted for the bison burger with sweet potato fries from the specials board. My dining companion opted to go full-on vegetarian, and had the "salad & 3 sides" plate.

Her Uncle Bob's salad and peach & tomato gazpacho came out first. The salad is grated raw beets tossed with fresh ginger in a light soy vinaigrette. You certainly tasted the ginger! It was almost overpowering, and I do love ginger; refreshing though. The soup, from the specials menu, was room temperature (that's fine for a gazpacho), and had a nice sweetness to it from the peaches. I think there was fresh mint in there, and cayenne pepper hit you in the back of your mouth. My friend thought it was too much cayenne; I only took about 3 bites of it and thought it was fine, but I can understand her point, especially if eating a whole bowl of it.
Then my ThunderHeart Bison burger came, along with a spicy pickled slaw, whole grain mustard, mayo (at my request), and a roasted red pepper tahini dip for the sweet potato fries. And in my excitement to eat, I nearly forgot to take a picture of the burger until I was part way through it. Whoops! So not the best pic below, AND my camera batteries needed charging. Anyway, the burger was good; I realize now I wasn't asked how I like my burger cooked (medium rare), and while it looks it in the picture, what arrived was probably more of a medium. But all was not lost. Don't know what else they are mixing into the meat, or if it's just because it's locally sourced and really good quality bison, but it was tender and flavorful. I did one half of the burger with the mayo & mustard, and the other with the roasted red pepper sauce....both fared well on it. The sweet potato fries are lightly battered and well fried... not greasy, but certainly a nice, dark color. Needed a dash of salt on them, but the roasted red pepper sauce was a good accompaniment.
My friend's remaining veggies from her combo plate were the Asian green beans and sauteed red cabbage. The cabbage had some kick to it also, and I didn't try the green beans. The whole plate got eaten, and I kept hearing comments from my table mate on how much she loves cabbage! For dessert, we split the fair trade, vegan brownie. It was a huge piece, I think we may have gotten lucky there! A bit too cake-like for my personal brownie tastes, but the chocolate flavor was nice; there was a occasional pecan baked into it, which surprised me when I first found one, because I had already taken a few bites without noticing any nuts when I bit into one.

What became the only downside the latter portion of our meal was the noise factor. Two tables of two each finished their meals and left, to be replaced with tables of five and six people, both of which brought their own wine/beer. (It's a BYOB place with a corking fee.) Both those two new tables were really loud, and because of hardwood floors and being a small space to start with, there's no place for the sound to go, so it just reverberates. Our primary waitress (possibly the wife part of the husband & wife team who owns Somnio; I saw the husband/chef in the kitchen) was apologetic when she brought the check, saying it had just gotten really crazy, which it kinda had, but the busy-ness wasn't her fault. Overall, it was a solid meal, and I am glad to know a quality place that supports other local businesses in my neighborhood.