Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bits and Bites

I am admittedly behind on food news in Austin....ever since I've been back from Japan, I've had a ton of things to catch up on, and haven't been following Twitter as faithfully. If there is some big food news, event, restaurant opening/change, etc, that I should know about, please let me know!

-- Coming up, December 3-10 is the 5th Annual Edible Austin Eat Drink Local Week, which helps raise money for the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots. From the press release: "Guests are invited to dine at over 50 participating restaurants that will feature a locally sourced menu, and to attend eight signature events throughout the week that raise awareness of Austin’s vibrant local food scene." Check their website for a list of participating restaurants and various events. Eat local!!!
-- On Wednesday, December 7th, Better Bites of Austin presents their holiday food fair at the Domain II. This event is also part of Eat Drink Local Week, and will showcase local food and beverage makers, and you can purchase their treats just in time for gift giving! (Why oh why does it have to be way up at the Domain though? Can't there be another event held down south??!)

-- Jack Allen's will be hosting a wild game dinner, paired with Treaty Oak Rum cocktails and other local spirits, on December 6th. The menu includes wild boar chili, achiote grilled quail and antelope osso buco; I have the full menu if you'd like me to forward it. $100 per person, reservations required (512.745.4713 or

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Phil's Ice House

The fine folks of Amy's Ice Cream created the "Austinville 78704" retail triangle at South Lamar and Manchaca. All locally-owned businesses, including their own: a second installment of Phil's Ice House, this one an actual hybrid of Phil's and Amy's under one roof. A treat for big kids and little kids alike!
I think this location has been open for almost a year. Usually when I drive past in the evenings, the place is overflowing with cars, literally, as they park on the South Lamar shoulder. I have figured that lunch would be my best time to take a stab at Phil's. But, taking a chance on Friday night around 7:45, we were pleasantly surprised to find a few open parking spots in the lot, and there were a couple open tables inside, and plenty available outside. The noise level was a little high, as it is a kid-friendly establishment, but it soon quieted down some, and the noise from the kids playing outside didn't affect us.

The burgers mostly have neighborhood names, very catchy for Austin. They've also got dogs, frito pie, chicken sandwiches, and some vegetarian options. Cleverly, they have a sampler basket with three sliders, mini versions of their grown-up neighborhood namesakes. And that became my choice for dinner, cooked medium rare, along with onion rings. My dining companion chose what I believe was the Travis Heights burger, with Swiss, grilled onions and mushrooms; I don't see it on the online menu. The chatty high school order taker said it was her favorite, and suggested adding blue cheese, which he happily did.
Both the regular burger and my sliders were good sized portions. My slider basket consisted of (from top to bottom in the picture) the Crestview, with chili and cheese; the Rosedale with mesquite bbq sauce; and the Violet Crown, with blue cheese and grilled onions. The Crestview burger was cooked to more of a medium/medium well, and while there was enough chili to make it messy, there wasn't a ton of chili on it. The mesquite on the Rosedale was very sweet, and probably my favorite was the Violet Crown. Sort of surprisingly given the strength of blue cheese, it was the one where I could best taste the grilled flavor of the burger. All three were served on kolache-style rolls, as in, a sweeter bread, rather than just a traditional roll. (The large versions each come on specialty breads, like jalapeno cheese buns.) The onion rings were a nice thin cut, with a light batter, and were really good! Likewise the sweet potato fries. And there was no complaining about the Travis Heights burger, and the eater definitely liked the blue cheese addition.

So after burgers and beer, these big kids could happily take home a pint of Amy's Mexican Vanilla so we didn't have to overdo it at Phil's! Solid food, friendly, fun service. They've got a good thing going!

El Tacorrido

They don't call the stretch of South First street from Gibson to Oltorf "the Mexican Mile" for nothing. There's El Mercado, Torchy's & Izzo's trailers, Jovita's, La Mexicana Bakery, La Reyna, Polvo's, Little Mexico, and Habanero, though it's squarely on Oltorf. (Did I forget any?) And now, adding to the list, we have El Tacorrido, which took over the former Baby Greens drive thru spot at the northwest corner of South First and Oltorf. Did we REALLY need another Tex Mex spot?
I'd say the jury is still out.

I ordered a gordita with carnitas and a salad, which I don't see listed on their online menu. The very friendly young woman who was working the window asked if I wanted any salsa with the gordita; I asked for her recommendation, and she picked the verde -- avocado, onion, cilantro, and jalapeno. Really nice and creamy, with a bit of a bite, but not overpowering. The salsa was the best part of the gordita! The carnitas meat was not all pulled apart/shredded. There were some chunks in there, and I hate to say it, I passed over a few of them, because they looked like they were a little past their prime, with a bit of that shimmery look to them. I sort of thought to myself "am I taking a chance here?", but I was fine, no illnesses to report. The gordita was fairly greasy, and the bottom portion of it was thick and soggy. Not the best gordita by a long shot.
The salad I saved til dinnertime. For $6, you get a bowl of spinach with tomatoes and avocados, topped with tortilla strips; you can add your choice of meat for $2 more, and I opted for the habanero-marinated chicken breast. Hate to say it again, but the honey chipotle vinaigrette might have been the best thing about it. Some of the greens were past their prime, and I didn't really get any habanero heat from the chicken.

For a Mexican/Tex Mex spot, I find their dessert choices to be a bit odd: ice cream sandwich (vanilla on chocolate chip cookies) or banana bread.

This location of El Tacorrido is the third installment around town, and it seemed like the site sat idle for months, with an "opening soon" banner on it. I have no idea who's behind these joints, and there's no additional info on their website. This was only their second day open, so I will give it a little time to shake down, and go back and try some of their al pastor and breakfast tacos. Their prices are reasonable ($2 for a breakfast taco with 3 ingredients, additional ones 25 cents each) and their hours are great (7 am - 10 pm, let's see if that lasts...). They also seem to be catering to both the traditional Mexican population as well as the gringos; there are some diverse meat options (cuerito, buche) on the board, as well as menudo on the weekends, and meat can also be bought by the pound.
 Let's wait and see if the Mexican Mile can sustain another place....

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Happy hour with my food blogger friends -- epicuriosities, Girl Gone Grits, Tequila Tracker, Austin Gastronomist, and Franish Nonspeaker! And now that the weather is decent enough to sit outside, it was a great opportunity to go to Contigo, an east Austin, all-outdoors spot, that is generating a lot of buzz, and now I know why -- the food and service was great!

Contigo has some covered seating areas, but let's be clear, it's still outdoors. I CAN'T imagine what it was like in the brutal heat of the summertime. They did install fans and I think some water misters, which have now given way to heaters, but when it's 100-and-whatever-degrees outside, no thank you. I will stick to the air conditioner. On a cooler November evening though, it was perfect. And when you put six food people together, everyone wants to share!

Like a dork, I walked out of my house without my camera, and as we know from past experience in low light, the camera on my cell phone is of no use. So a big *thank you* to the lovely Christy from for her willingness to share her photos! :)

Tempura green beans with sambal aioli.
PEI mussels in a kimchi and lemongrass broth.
Pigs in a blanket. French fries with aioli. Olives.

Foie gras with chestnut butter and apple gastrique with brioche toast. OMG!
Two different pates, a country (with apple and Dijon mustard; on right in photo) and a smooth (with tempura eggplant drizzled with honey; top left in photo).

S'mores with sweetened lardo....almost too sweet, but still amazingly good! Chocolate and pig fat! That's right.
Housemade ricotta with almond tuille, sort of a deconstructed cannoli. Light, and not real sweet, almost savory. (Would have been perfect with mini chocolate chips!) The tuille looks huge in this pic, and I guess it was....I could have eaten two bowls of that!
I feel like I am forgetting something, other than the two Moscow Mules that I consumed. They change their menu, because what is currently listed online only has about half the dishes we saw on the menu.

Before last night, I had a hard time wrapping my head around Contigo's location. The best way to describe it is the southern border of the Mueller tract. I took Manor Road east of Airport Blvd, and about another quarter mile down is Anchor Lane, and turn left. Contigo is on the left, and you can see Mueller houses on the right. A great spot for that part of town! And granted it was a Friday night, there were hardly any free tables; I'd say they're not hurting for business. And I'd happily return.

Chez Nous

Chez Nous has been downtown Austin's reigning French bistro since 1982. I've been aware of it (and have wanted to go) practically since I moved here, in late 1994. Success!

The night before Halloween, we were brave enough to venture downtown; Chez Nous lies just off 6th Street on Neches, in the middle of all the hubbub. My dining companion had been there innumerable times over the years, and even knew some of the wait staff by name. The inside is more rustic than I had imagined. Very comfortable and casual, not at all "snooty" like the French and their establishments have a reputation for.

I had attended the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival at the Long Center earlier in the day, and was not starving. Side bar: I now know what all the fuss over the brisket from Snow's BBQ in Lexington is all about. It and Franklin BBQ easily were the best briskets on site. But back to French food. We split the pate for an appetizer, and my friend's salade Lyonnaise with poached egg is in the background of the picture. The pate looks more pink in the picture than I recall it being in person, but it was very nice and smooth, mild flavor.
For a main dish, I had the escargot and salade du marche, in an effort to eat a bit lighter after lots of bbq. The escargot (the middle dish, in the pic below) were a little difficult to find amongst all the mushrooms. The menu description says they are sauteed with traditional garlic and parsley butter, but to me, it had a very strong white wine flavor, and it  hadn't been cooked off all the way. Have to say, I like the escargot at Justine's better, just pure garlic butter that makes you want to lick off the plate. My spinach salad was a nice combo with endive, haricot verts, roquefort, and lardon with a citrus vinaigrette. My friend had their menu du jour, which consists of an app, main course and dessert. Her main course was grilled rib eye steak, which was cooked a perfect medium rare.
For dessert, we had the chocolate mousse, which was underwhelming (gummy and with skin) and the crepe Normande, a slightly thick crepe with undercooked apples, but a really delicious caramel sauce that makes you want more. Overall, I found the service to be odd. The staff was friendly, but sort of aloof, and that's all 4 of the different wait people who took drink, food, and dessert orders, cleared plates, brought new silverware, etc. We couldn't tell if they were a bit short staffed or what the situation was, though my friend did say it wasn't usually like that.
So I can now say I've been to Chez Nous. It's comfortable, a good value, and overall, quite decent food. But I don't now that there was anything about it that makes me want to go back in the near future. Seeing how it took me 17 years (!) to get there in the first place, I can wait a little while before heading back over.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bits and Bites

I am slowly getting back on track in the Austin food scene after being in Japan....also, my regular desktop computer is in the shop, so I am working off my notebook, which gets old after awhile! I am sure there's plenty I've missed, but here's the latest Bits and Bites installment! Drop me a line if there's some good food news that needs to be shared.

-- Pastry chef Plinio Sandalio is leaving Congress for The Carillion.
-- Sagra is debuting a new menu.
-- The spot that housed the former El Arbol is being taken over by parkside's Shawn Cirkiel, for a Southern Italian restaurant named Olive and June, hopefully to open by March.
-- Farmer's market mainstays Tiny Pies are offering free delivery of their yummy pies through the holidays.

Around the Bouldin Creek 'hood, I've spotted construction progress at the old Bouldin Creek Cafe home, the soon-to-be upscale Vietnamese, Elizabeth Street. And directly across the street from it, in what's been rumored to be a Thai spot, the land has been cleared around the building for parking. That building has been pretty much non functional in the years I have lived around here, so anything would be an improvement at this point!

And I haven't been yet, but hear that Lick, the upscale ice cream place in the building next to Barley  Swine on South Lamar has opened. My source said Pure Puck goat cheese ice cream with thyme. Yes, please!