Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Porkalicious Happenings!

You know it's going to be *March Madness* in Austin whenever SXSW (and the rodeo and the high school basketball playoffs) rolls into town, but this year, we're taking things to a higher level! Not one, but TWO pork cookoff challenges! 

In my previous post, I mentioned the Bacon Takedown, happening Sunday, March 13th at 3 pm at Emo's (603 Red River).

And there's also the Pork Experiment, also on Sunday, March 13th from 12 - 4:30pm at Club DeVille (900 Red River).  So pick which part of the pig you like best, and get busy! Unusual ingredients are welcomed in the Pork Experiment throw down, but in whatever you make, pork must be represented. There will be awards for fan and judges favorites, and prizes include a delicious pork party for ten of your closest porcine friends at Franklin BBQ! See their website to enter or to buy tickets.

I am going to whine a little here, because I will be out of town, so someone better attend these events and report back to me!!  I do heart me some pork!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Local Happenings

News bits:

-- My neighborhood bakery, La Patisserie (LP), has teamed up with Pate Letelier (PL) to now serve lunch! I have purchased the bison and pork pate from PL at the Hope Farmer's Market, and had appetizers with the chicken liver pate, and thought they were both delicious! This is a great idea by LP to make their business more versatile; weekly menus will be posted on LP's website. Yum, yum, yum!

-- Think you are ready for prime time? Bravo's Top Chef and Top Chef: Just Desserts will be in town next week, doing casting at Olivia on Wednesday, March 2nd. There's an application and video involved, so if you think you're ready for quick fire and elimination challenges, not to mention living with a bunch of semi-crazy roommates, DO IT!! And as for the current season, we're down to five chefs, and I have to say, Antonia is really growing on me!

-- While I am bummed to be missing it (I'll be in San Fran, so not all that bummed!), the second annual Austin Bacon Takedown will be here on Sunday, March 13th at Emo's. Contestants get 15 pounds of Hormel bacon to make their creations. So entering or attending, lots of pork happiness will surely abound.

-- The annual Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival will take place March 31 - April 3 at various venues throughout the area. Check their website for details and tickets. The traditional Sunday fair (huge event with tastings from local restaurants, beer/wine/spirit vendors) is at a new locale this year -- the Mexican American Cultural Center off of Rainey Street.... where are people going to park? Guess I'll be finding out, because I already have my tickets!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

BarChi Sushi

Nestled in the 2nd Street District on Colorado is the recently opened BarChi Sushi, the sister restaurant to one in the Woodlands, and cousin to Chi Chinese Buffet at the Southpark Meadows complex in far south Austin. BarChi "fuses sushi bar and lounge with classic Japanese elements." The owner, Susan Chan, also has a background in interior design, and has given the place a very modern feel -- big glass windows in the front, bar area with clean lines, lights that change color embedded in the floor of the main dining room, some more private booths, and of course, the lengthy sushi bar.  BarChi recently hosted a tasting for local media, so here's a look at what we had.

Shrimp crunch, California, and Tuna rolls; all tasty, especially the shrimp.
Pork Gyoza, there was a bit of ginger in the filling, which I liked. The marinated cucumbers and lightly pickled cabbage were nice accompaniments.
Fried Spring Rolls, which, filled with cabbage and carrots, were mostly bland, though well-fried, and not greasy.  (Also not a typical Japanese food.)
Sashimi -- Tuna, Salmon, and an Australian whitefish, similar to yellow tail, and Eel. And while I may be half Japanese, I have never completely embraced the raw fish thing. The tuna & salmon were fine, the whitefish seemed a  little off to me, but others at my table completely loved it and thought it was the best item on the plate. I did like the grilled eel... maybe it's the sauce!
Spicy Duck Breast in what I think was a plum sauce -- really delicious, the whole thing!
Roasted Chicken Teriyaki, with sauteed enoki mushrooms, and crispy rice noodle fan. Very tasty and beautifully presented with the fanned noodles. Don't see this on the menu online or the pamphlet we received, though there is a lunchtime bento box with teriyaki.
They kept bringing things out! What I believe was called Phoenix Roll -- fried whitefish balls with sweet soy sauce; don't see this on the menu either.
This is one of the sashimi combo trays that I photographed while walking past the sushi bar -- looks great!
Patrons can choose the more traditional dining room or the bar area. BarChi also offers a traditional daily happy hour (3 - 7 pm) and a reverse one (10p - 2a) on Friday and Saturday, something that we're seeing more and more. It's my guess that they do quite well as a late night establishment, as you're in the middle of a growing entertainment district with the new Austin City Limits Theater just a block away.  And, they've got lunch specials starting at $8, which include some non-Japanese items like burgers and Thai curry.  Overall, their menu appears to be well priced, and BarChi will certainly fill the void for good Japanese food downtown, with the recent closure of the more traditional Kyoto. I almost forgot to mention their pineapple sake, which was amazing! Cold, smooth, and very easy to drink, it complimented our dishes very well.


Sagra is a husband and wife owned and operated Italian place, that's been on San Antonio Street between the capitol and UT campus for three years. They have recently begun using digital tablets as an extension of their paper menus, and I was invited to come check them out.

I was warmly greeted by Sarwat Pellegrini; she seems to manage the front of the house duties, and her husband Gabriel is the executive chef. While I sat and waited for my friend, she told me a bit about the tablets. As far as they know, they are the only restaurant in town, and possibly even the nation, that are using them to supplement their food menus; there are places that have their wine lists in digital format. (Later that night, I asked my Tweeps if they knew of other places using them, and got no replies. So if you know of someplace, please let us know!) Sarwat stressed that the tablets are in no way meant to replace a waiter, but if a diner has more than average questions about the menu or needs a gluten free, vegetarian, or even vegan option, a tablet can be brought over. 

She demonstrated on the iPad how on the regular menu, you can touch a menu item, and it will pull up more info about the dish, including suggested wine pairings. You can also get to the GF and veg options; and while they make their traditional pasta (and you can watch a brief video on their pasta machine), they do not make the GF ones. And, because it's web-based, you can actually view the menus through your smart phone -- click here. 
My only difficulty with the readers is not having familiarity with the devices to know where things like the "back" button are located. I think that's one of the reasons Sarwat made sure to tell us that you can access the menu on your phone -- you're familiar with your own phone, and know how it works. Overall though, I think the tablets are a stellar concept! Obviously a restaurant has to invest in the tablets, the website development, and having a WiFi connection, but I can see tremendous payoffs, especially in places like Austin where there are a lot of people eating gluten free and vegan.

Foodwise, I started with a blood orange cosmo, which I could have had about 4 more of! As we were there on a Tuesday, we had the mussel bowl special; it's offered either with marinara or white wine sauces, and we opted for the latter. I was delighted to find thin slivers of fennel and lemon in the bowl, something I've never experienced in a mussel bowl before, and I loved it! The table bread is also the perfect softness for sopping up some of the briny wine in the bottom of the bowl. 
Our original plan was to split an oven-fired pizza, but after hearing Sarwat explain how they make their pasta everyday, it was hard for me to not try the spaghetti alla carbonara. The spaghetti was cooked a little past the al dente that I prefer, but the green peas and house-cured guanciale gave nice flavor and texture to it.
My friend picked the pesto pizza, with tomatoes, kalamata olives, goat cheese, and shrimp. The pizza had fresh, generous toppings on it, and a nice thin, crisp crust to it. We split a tirimisu for dessert; it's really cute and very tasty (nice mascarpone richness cut by the espresso flavor), served in a large mug with a little biscotti on top.
Thanks again to Sarwat and the staff for the hospitality and good food! Now having seen the digital tablets in action, I am a believer! Sagra may very well be on the forefront of a new and exciting culinary trend.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Casa Colombia

As a food person, I feel like I have heard of  *all* local restaurants, even if I haven't been to them. So imagine my surprise when a friend suggested we check out Casa Colombia. Casa WHO, I asked? Turns out, it is quite the gem, currently hidden by road construction on East 7th and Concho, one block past Comal and the Texas State Cemetery.

Saturday night, a little before 7pm, my friend and I enter what sort of seems like a side entrance on a house on the northeast corner; there's a small parking lot in back, and spots along Concho. The place was crowded, and there was a group of six that arrived just before us. The waiter/host greeted us, and said it would be a few minutes; true enough, in about five minutes, we were at a table. My friend spent about 8 months in Colombia while in college, so she was thrilled to see some of the traditional dishes that she enjoyed while living there. She chatted with waiter, who was wearing a stick-on name tag that said "In training -- Juan," about Bogata, and while they don't have Colombian beers (apparently hard to get in Austin) he recommended one to her that was similar to the national beers there, and I had my trusty Negra Modelo. And they came with icy cold beer mugs -- nice! 

I picked a cheese arepa as an appetizer, which was nice and toasty and melty. Not sure of the cheese inside, but just your good basic white cheese that melts really well. Think grilled cheese sandwich on white cornmeal cakes.
For the main dish, I picked the Pabellon, which is actually a Venezuelan dish, the country next door; I didn't realize it was Venezuelan at the time, it just sounded good, and not quite so heavy as some of other meat dishes. (How do you put accents on letters in Blogspot? Pabellon should have an accent on the "o", but when I cut and paste one from Microsoft Word, it tells me there's a format error.) It's stewed, shredded beef  in a criollo sauce with onions, and served with white rice, black beans, and sweet, sauteed plantains, that I call maduros when caramelized like this. The meat was delicious. Extremely tender and flavorful. The maduros were delicious too... I could eat a ton more of them! The rice and beans were fine, nothing to write home about.
On Juan's suggestion, my friend got the house special plate, the Bandeja Paisa, which was beef skirt steak, a chicharron, rice & pinto beans, with a fried egg on top, along with the maduros and a small plain arepa with avocado on the side. I had a bite of her skirt steak, which had good flavor, but I thought was a bit tough. She didn't care for the chicharron, but I absolutely loved it! It was a long piece, that was scored lengthwise and up and down, and then deep fried. So you get little cubes of crispy pork that you just pull off. It looked kind of like a grenade (at the 6 o'clock position in the photo below.... hard to make out I know, because besides the egg and rice, everything's the same color), and you certainly got a pork fat explosion in your mouth!

I would so go back to Casa Colombia in a heartbeat! It doesn't seem that the long-standing road construction along East 7th has affected their business, because the place was packed with gringos and Latins alike. Their website self-proclaims "The Best Hidden Secret in Austin! No More!" -- lo es verdad! Vamanos!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fried Green Tomato

This cute little red trailer is not at the Whistle Stop Cafe, but rather the SoFi Food Court, which is the southwest corner of South First and Live Oak streets. At present, there are three tenants, Fried Green Tomato, Grill Haven (sandwiches), and Arancini (Italian). (Previous occupants included Cafe Racer, which moved to East 6th and Pick up Stixx, which is now called Trey's Cuisine over by Gourdough's and Odd Duck on South Lamar.)

I wandered over during the noon hour for some lunch. After looking at their menu, I asked the guy inside for his suggestion: the pimento cheese sandwich or the crab cake slider, both served with fried green tomatoes, of course! He definitely paused and thought about it before recommending the slider. And for $4, this is what I got:
Brioche roll with a nice crab cake, that was mostly crab, NOT filler; that's the fried green tomato at the 6 o'clock position, and a very nice mixed greens salad with the Louisiana remoulade on it, as well as on the bun. The crab cake was tasty, the FGT was fried well so it was nice and crisp on the outside, and the remoulade had a real good horseradish kick to it. I should also add it was a very fresh salad, with some more unusual leaves in it...perhaps baby totsoi or mache?

The guy working (I am sorry I didn't catch his name) was really friendly, and brought the food out to me. Food and service, thumbs up all the way around. Hopefully FGT will be a long-standing fixture at SoFi. I will be back for that pimiento cheese sandwich!