Saturday, March 31, 2012

Travaasa Spa

I hadn't intended to write about my stay at Travaasa Spa when I went last week for the first time. But it was such a wonderful experience, I feel that everyone should know what a great place it is! Mostly, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves....these are all from my camera phone, as I didn't take my real camera.
My food blogger friend Christy, of Epicuriosities won an overnight stay for four people through a contest on Mix 94.7 -- thank you Mix! Each person received a $125 spa credit, and we had all of Travaasa's daily classes available to us, as well as the pool, hot tub, and sauna. So Christy, her friend PJ, our food blogger friend Kristina of Girl Gone Grits, and myself had about 24 hours to indulge at Travaasa. Formerly known as The Crossings, Travaasa has new ownership, and will celebrate their first full year in May. (To get to Travaasa (map), take 2222 west of 620, where it turns into Bullick Hollow; this dead ends into FM 2769, go right, and it's about a quarter mile on the left.)
For me, it started with a 50 minute hot rocks massage at the spa. This is the first stone massage I've had, and this one is designed to balance your chakras. A nice and relaxing way to get away from it all! The spa does facials, massages, and body treatments; I think next time, I will try the avocado body wrap! The radio station hosted a happy hour in our honor, so we were treated to Gruet sparkling wine and some healthy appetizers, mushroom caps and lettuce "tacos" with a mushroom saute inside. 
Travaasa's general manager, Tim, chatted with us on the patio with a gorgeous view overlooking Lake Travis -- nice to see some water in it! He said that most of the visitors are people from within driving distance -- Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, but they are working to get the word out. They are currently rated the number one spa in Austin by Trip Advisor, no small feat, given the fame of Lake Austin Spa nearby, so congrats! Granted our time at the spa was comped, but I feel the prices for Travaasa are more affordable than that of Lake Austin. And Kristina put it very well, Travaasa has the feel of an intimate bed and breakfast. All of the staff we encountered were so genuinely friendly and welcoming!
We checked into our rooms which had great canyon views, and luxurious beds and linens! Our rooms were in the Longhorn building, to the left of the main check in.
The restaurant, known as Jean's Kitchen, is a great big huge room with an open grill and prep area at one end, and a lounge (where we had happy hour) at the other. I started with a mixed green salad. We had a bottle of Matsu Tempranillo, and nice big red, that complemented everything extremely well.
For my main, I had the antelope scallopini, my first foray into antelope, and it was delicious! It was pounded thin, and served with a bit of goat cheese and pecans, and served with mashed sweet potatoes. I would SO eat that again!
Kristina had the grilled mahi over kale, both cooked perfectly, and Christy and PJ each had the ribeye, which was a little fatty and smoky, but beautifully grilled, and good flavor.
For dessert, we had the chocolate chipotle tarte.... this was my fave of the three -- it was a perfect chocolate and spicy balance, and the flavors even more enhanced by the tempranillo.
 ... the blackberry pie.... the top crust had been baked as a separate piece, and then added -- smart!
And the pound cake with soft fruit (on the inside).
Hearing we were "food people," the food and beverage director, Edward, sent over glasses of port to go with dessert. Turns out, it's a Bogle Petit Syrah port, that none of us were familiar with, and it was extremely tasty, though a touch sweet.
After dinner we took advantage of the hot tub, sauna, and pool, and chatted with some of the other guests who were doing the same. In the morning, various classes were available (yoga, challenge course, horseback riding, cooking class...), and Kristina and I went to the chakra meditation, which was held in a beautiful building with huge wooden doors, medieval chandelier, and a calming garden outside.
Then to breakfast, which was good, but not as good as dinner. My fritatta with mushrooms, potatoes and turkey sausage were all well prepared; the polenta French toast could have been crispier. Did have a bite of an apricot scone which was exceptional!
I wish I could have had some time by the pool, but it was then time for a shower, and gathering my stuff up. Hard to leave this lovely place! And now that my chakras have been (apparently!) balanced and mediated upon, I need to find out what that all means! Very excited to come back later this year, as -- *lo and behold*-- there was a coupon on Travelzoo for Travaasa this past week, so I am already plotting my return trip to this little bit of paradise a mere 20 miles from home.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bits and Bites

As I posted yesterday on my Facebook page, I am dismayed at the closure of Artz Ribhouse. It's always been my favorite spot in town for BBQ, especially their baby back ribs. I am crossing my fingers and hoping and praying a pig will rise from the ashes, and Art Blondin will be able to continue on, whether it's at this current location, or somewhere else close by. Yes, us food people have certainly given attention to some of those "other" places now in town, but Artz, with it's food and live music, is a true South Austin mainstay.

-- With a bit of disgust, I see there is a Chipotle under construction on South Lamar, just a hair north of Artz, in the old Golf Shop location. Really?? While I haven't eaten at a Chipotle in a couple years, I have thought their food to be decent..... I am just not in the habit of supporting national chains, even if they are using good quality meats.
-- Urban Wine + Liquor in the Austonian building at 200 Congress Avenue.
-- Cenote Coffee at 1010 E. Cesar Chavez
-- Bahn Bahn, a new Vietnamese place, at Jessie Street Eats.

-- East Side Drive-in, a trailer park eatery on East 6th, just past IH-35, is closing to make way for the development of apartments/condos. Even though I've only been there once I constantly rave about Bits and Druther's fish and chips. Hopefully all the current tenants will live on....when I hear where they've landed, I'll let you know. 
-- Kick Butt Coffee at the Triangle.

-- A beer collaboration, to be unveiled tonight at Drink.Well -- a beer from the brew masters of Hops and Grain and Thirsty Planet, an imperial Belgian brown ale.
-- A five-course beer pairing dinner with North Coast Brewery at 24 Diner on Monday, April 2; $65/person.
-- Austin Beer Guide Spring Release party, Monday, April 2, at Black Star Co-op beginning at 6pm.
-- Easter brunches (yes, it's NEXT weekend!) at Urban Grill ($45/person), Paggi House ($35), Sagra ($24).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Con Olios is building a second oil and vinegar store, this one smack downtown, at 215 Lavaca. Opening soon, here's the link to their Facebook page.
-- Fresas Chicken al Carbon, a Mexican rotisserie chicken joint, from the Lambert's/Perla's/Elizabeth Street Cafe people, at 915 Lamar Blvd (old Emerald City Coffee). Chickens, tortas, salads, and homemade ice cream will be available at the drive thru.

-- Estancia Churrascuria, the Brazilian meat house, on Hwy. 290 by Brodie Lane

-- Foodways Texas annual symposium is March 23 - 25, here in Austin. It "will explore the ways we preserve Texas (as a region, as an idea) in our food and the ways we preserve food in Texas." More info, including tickets, on their website.
-- Sagra's Sunday Supper Club is in full force, another meal this Sunday, March 25th, 5 courses for $55 with complimentary wine pairings. And they will have Easter brunch coming up as well.
-- Slow Food Austin is holding an Austrian dinner with food from Wolfgang Murber of Fabi + Rosi, March 27th at Springdale Farm. More info and tickets
-- The first Texas VegFest, on March 31st at Fiesta Gardens. Lots of vendors!
-- CultureMap Austin's 2012 Tastemaker Awards will be held April 12th at the Driskill. Tickets available.
-- Tickets have gone on sale for Live Fire!, part of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance's annual Festival. Live Fire takes place April 26th at the Salt Lick Pavilion, and features some of the best meat-masters around, including Aaron Franklin (Franklin BBQ), Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine), Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo), John Bullington (Alamo Drafthouse) and a whole bunch more! The Festival is April 27-29.
-- San Marcos is home to an on-line bakery (via Etsy) and local catering company, called Um, Yum! They are looking to expand their business by converting ("up-cycling") two shipping containers into an actual storefront, a la La Boite here in Austin, and recently launched a fund drive via Kickstarter!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cafe Malta

In the few months that Cafe Malta has been opened, I have heard some really good feed back from food bloggers and from some other friends, whose food opinions and palates I trust. So I was excited to check it out for dinner on a recent week night with two friends. And while we had a great time catching up, ultimately the food was somewhat disappointing.

Two of us started with cocktails, as we waited for our third member. Catchy names -- I had "I Can Explain Everything" and my friend the "Blue Ruin."  When the drinks arrived at the table, our waitress, Jessica, apologized because they were out of the gorgonzola-stuffed olives that were supposed to come in the Blue Ruin. After my friend expressed disappointment as that's what had attracted her to the drink, Jessica returned a few minutes later with a couple of olives she said she had just stuffed herself. Overall, she was a very good server, was knowledgeable about the menu, and provided specific flavor profile information about the nightly specials without being asked.
We started with the mussels from the appetizer menu. The description reads: PEI mussels in white wine, garlic, tomato, preserved lemon, harissa, and onion. Looking back, there was no preserved lemon in it at all; I didn't realize it was supposed to have it in there, or I may have asked the waitress about it.  The plate was a gorgeous looking dish, that was tasty enough, but didn't have a lot of "oomph" to it, perhaps because of the missing ingredient that would have provided some acidity. Loved the Moroccan-inspired bowl they were served in, though it turns out to be from World Market, and still had price tag residue on the underside. We also ordered two of the dolmas from the evening specials board; from where we were sitting (by the windows), I couldn't read the board at all (on the wall opposite where we were). I was surprised by their large size (think hearty eggroll), and because I generally don't care for dolmas (it's a texture thing) I let my companions dig in....and forgot to take a picture! They use napa cabbage leaves, which are stuffed with rice that's mixed with chives and currants, and served over a zesty tomato sauce. I did try them, and we agreed it was a good dish.
I had a hard time deciding on what to get for my dinner; I had eaten a large lunch that day, and wasn't starving or feeling particularly in the mood for meat. Ultimately, I opted for the gnocchi, from the appetizer menu; I am think this is a dish I had previously heard was good. Unfortunately, these were not. They were dense, not light and pillowy, which tells me the dough was over-worked. Also, the menu description says they are tossed in a gorgonzola-white wine sauce and topped with parmesan. The restaurant must not have gotten their full order of gorgonzola in, because this was the second dish with problems with the gorg, and do you see any parmesan on top?  What little sauce there was had some nice flavor, but overall these gnocchi were dense and dry.
One friend had the house-roasted pork shoulder with date demi-glace, over fennel pearled couscous and haricot verts. This dish came out looking spectacular. The haricot verts were prepared perfectly. I thought the meat and sauce were fairly good, though the couscous was a touch gummy. My friend though, was rather unimpressed with it.
My other friend had soup du jour, cream of broccoli and spinach salad with fresh mozzarella. We're all people who like salt, and this soup was very salty. The salad looked good and fresh, and got good marks from my friend.
Two of us had lemon curd shortcakes for dessert. It's a good thing the lemon curd was amazing, because the shortcake was not. Not that there has to be a touch of sweetness to a shortcake, but in this case it would have really helped, because you could taste the excess of baking powder when you tasted the cake on it's own, and it's not a good flavor.
Cafe Malta is located at the southeast corner of Brodie and William Cannon, in a strip mall, in what apparently used to be a Double Dave's Pizza. And it's certainly a mixed bag. Liked the atmosphere, ambiance, and our server. Nice to see that the tables were mostly filled as the evening wore on. The food had it's ups and downs though, and that's what you're there for. I did tell our server about the denseness of the gnocchi, and she said she'd tell the kitchen. Hope they got the word. Based on what I had heard from others, I had high expectations. Was this just an off night for them?


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Sonya Cote's Hillside Farmacy at 1209 E. 11th. She's also the 2012 winner of the Edible Communities Local Hero Award.
-- Drink.Well, a bar specializing in craft beers, at 207 E. 53rd
-- New Chinese foods trailer, Wok Around Austin, on Brazos, between 5th and 6th Streets.
-- Parkside and the Backspace will both be staying open late for SXSW eaters.

-- Estancia Churrascuria in Sunset Valley

-- Fado Irish Pub will of course be celebrating St. Patrick's Day in style with Paddython, a day long celebration, beginning at 7 am.  Pace yourself is an understatement!
-- Jester King Craft Brewery will have their second annual Danish Day Festival, March 17, $20, beer and bands, away from the SXSW madness. 
-- Chef Parind Vora of Braise will be hosting a cooking class at Whole Foods, March 22; $50, reservations required.
-- Theatre Action Project will be holding their annual fundraiser "Big Hair Country Fair" at Salt Lick, March 24th. TAP is an Austin based non-profit that uses the creative arts to activate the academic, social and emotional development of young people. Tickets to the event are $75, and are available here.
-- Chameleon Cold Brew Coffee is now available at Central Market stores.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

South Austin Restaurants

It is my pleasure to present the South Austin restaurant portion of the Austin Food Blogger's Alliance 2012 City Guide. There are tons of places, and these are just some of my favorite spots. Please eat and enjoy!

Along the South Congress corridor, map
Doc's -- Great bar food and people watching.
Perla's -- Upscale seafood spot, including a raw bar; salted butterscotch pot de creme for dessert not to be missed! Previous post
Hopdoddy -- This hoppin' burger spot has given new life to this piece of real estate. The beef burgers are great, but I CAN'T say enough about the lamb (Greek) burger! (Or the salted caramel milkshake.) You may want to think about splitting your food with a friend! Previous post.
Home Slice -- NY style pizza, right here in ATX! Props to the owners, in the past, have closed for a week and taken the staff to NY for "research". Be prepared to wait, unless you do the walk-up window. Southside Flying Pizza  also worthy.
Enoteca/Vespaio -- Enoteca is the neighborhood bistro side, and Vespaio the fine dining, but they share the same kitchen. E will have your delicious pasta, paninis, pizza, V will have these, plus some great meat specials, great date spot. It's hard for me to go to Enoteca and not have the spaghetti carbonara; suppli and calamari too. Previous post on Enoteca.
The Woodland -- Brunch is divine, as are the desserts. Previous post.
Magnolia Cafe -- One of the few spots in town open 24 hours a day. Bernadette's salad and Martian Landscapes are always favorites.
Lucy's Fried Chicken -- Upscale fried chicken and luscious pies, s'more pie below; from the folks at Olivia (at 2218 College Ave, map).
Photos courtesy Mandy Graeber, Bite of Austin
Curra's -- (at 614 E. Oltorf, 1/4 mile east of Congress) I much prefer their food to that other spot in the middle of SoCo. Avocado margaritas. Breakfast tacos. Grackles on the patio.
Habana -- I feel like I've been eating here for years (and yet, I don't seem to have pictures, ooops!) Cuban and Caribbean foods, mojitos and happy hour specials. Love the outdoor cabanas; I am always partial to the pollo salteado.
Borrego de Oro -- Bit of a dive, but the interior Mexican food is worth it. Mole. Lamb stew. Previous post.
Hill's Cafe -- Great burger, served on a sweet bun. Sweet potato fries too. (Just past Ben White at  4700 S. Congress) Previous post. 
Whip In -- Part liquor store, part grocery store, part bar/restaurant, they serve food with an Indian influence. Nice patio, live music, you often forget you're on the IH-35 frontage road (1950 S. IH-35, map).

South First, map
Elizabeth Street Cafe -- Barely two months old, but making a mark already. French-inspired Vietnamese food. Pork meatballs are so incredibly tender. Previous post.
 Lenoir -- Also new to the Bouldin neighborhood, this tiny spot is influenced by "hot weather" foods; previous post.
La Patisserie -- Really a French bakery, not a restaurant, but too good not to share! (If they have the toasted almond macaroon, try it -- it was MY suggestion!) Love a warm morning (cinnamon bun) bun for my breakfast; previous post. 
What's known as the Mexican Mile -- starting at El Mercado, headed south, Jovita's, La Reyna, La Mexicana Bakery, Polvo's, Little Mexico, El Tacorrido (map)
Bouldin Creek Cafe -- A laid back, vegetarian haven, even us carnivores find tasty things like their veggie burger or enchiladas with "chorizo" and caramelized onions.
Sugar Mama's Bakeshop -- Also a bakery, but owned by some great people, and they're in the process of expanding into the space next door. Cupcakes, pies, bars, and soon, breakfast! 
Green Pastures -- A beautiful old estate, complete with peacocks. Not just for events.
The Flying Carpet -- This Moroccan spot started as a food trailer, and they've just "graduated" to a brick and mortar establishment at 504 W. Oltorf, about a block from S. 1st. Maria and Abdu are some of the nicest folks ever, and their food is delicious and made with love -- try the Moroccan burger; previous post.
Habanero -- At Oltorf, a hair off the Mexican Mile, this one's my favorite of the South First Mex/Tex Mex places! Great charro beans. Previous post.

South Lamar, map
Casa de Luz -- Just off Lamar, this macrobiotic spot, has legions of faithful devotees, and a community center.
P. Terry's -- Now there's fast food a la Mickey D's (boo!), and then there's P. Terry's, where it's GOOD! Please drive though! (Several locations around town, but this was the original.)
Shady Grove -- Probably where I had my first veggie burger many moons ago! 1624 Barton Springs, about 1/4 mile from S. Lamar.
Uchi -- Fine dining at some of it's finest. The original of the Tyson Cole empire, fusion Japanese. Wagyu hot rock. Hamachi. Pitchfork roll. Make a reservation; one of my earliest blog posts.
Maudie's -- One of several locations around town, good happy hours.
Suzi's Chinese Kitchen -- Yes, it's Americanized Chinese food, but it's consistently good. No one does sesame chicken like Suzi's.
The Highball -- From the Alamo Drafthouse people, is it a restaurant? A bar? Lounge? Bowling alley? Karoke bar? Yes. The Dr. Pepper ribs are VERY messy! Previous post.
Sazon -- Really good interior Mexican food, nice outdoor patio, even if it is sitting directly on Lamar. You don't find huitlacoche just anywhere; previous post.
Olivia -- A beautifully designed building, outdoor patio, garden in back, and a solid menu. Dinners and weekend brunch, committed to locally grown as much as possible; previous post.
Black Sheep Lodge -- Yeah it's a bar, but it's a bar with great food, like Nathan's corndog bites, and fried pickles.
Barley Swine -- One of the spots that has been buzzing ever since they opened last year. Creative seasonal foods, with an emphasis on beer pairings, and a highly knowledgeable wait staff. Community seating, no reservations taken; previous post
Mr. Natural -- Another vegetarian spot (yes, this is SOUTH Austin!), a combination cafe/store. Hearty, hefty portions.
Artz Ribhouse -- My favorite local spot to make a pig run! And the place I often take out of town visitors. I get cravings for their baby back ribs. Previous post.
Juicebox/Soup Peddler -- Part of the Austinville 78704 complex at Lamar and Manchaca. You've got soups and smoothies/juices, healthy and tasty, all in one spot. 
Photo courtesy Jodi Bart, Tasty Touring
Papalote -- Small little Mexican street foods spot (post), owned by the people of Azul Tequila, good vegetarian options.
Phil's/Amy's -- Burgers galore, and yes, THAT Amy's ice cream; previous post.
Kerbey Lane -- Another 24 hour spot, Kerbey just move into a new location (3 blocks from the old) with more parking. Gingerbread pancakes.
Red's Porch -- A Tex Mex/Southern/Cajun combination -- something for everyone. Great views of the Greenbelt and crowded for happy hours, previous post.
Pluckers -- Kind of a sports bar, and decidedly known for their wings, but I like their fried mac 'n cheese!

Westgate/Brodie Lane/Sunset Valley
Central Market Westgate Cafe -- Daily specials, family friendly, and live music a couple nights a week. Oh yeah, and then you can shop!
Hyde Park Bar and Grill -- Known for their battered and highly addictive french fries!
Sap's (formerly Madam Mam's) -- Recent name change, due to a divorce. I eat here frequently enough to know what some of the better dishes are: the tom yum soup, tiger cry, moo ping with pork, amazing green beans. And frequently enough that I should have pics. Next time.
Tarka -- Indian, from the previous owners of the Clay Pit downtown. Dine in or carry out; post.
Craig O's Pizza -- Yes, it's in a strip center but it's good food, certainly better than the chain restaurants nearby. Pizza, pastas, subs, salad, beer.
Full English Cafe -- Quirky British place has picked up a South Austin vibe in their decor. High tea, wi-fi, bangers. (Just off Manchaca, at 2000 Southern Oaks, map)

William Cannon and beyond
Yanagi -- Japanese food with great value; lunchtime bento boxes for lunch average $10 and are a LOT of food. 
Wholly Bagel -- Big, fat, NY style bagels! Bialys too! Crusty and tender, all in one. 
Photo courtesy Eli Castro, Grubbus
Cafe Malta -- I haven't been yet, but I hear great things, like house roasted pork shoulder over roasted apple couscous and warm ratatouille with a date demi-glace. And they make their own pasta.
Photo courtesy Michelle Cheng, Foodie is the New Forty
Galaxy Cafe -- They have a few locations around town now, but this one at Slaughter and Brodie is the original. Soup, salads, sandwiches, family friendly. Map.
Evangeline Cafe -- Cajun in deep, south Austin! Po'boys, and tiny little crispy onion rings. Previous post, map.
Jack Allen's Kitchen -- On Hwy 71, past the Y in Oak Hill (map), lies a destination in what was once the middle of nowhere, at least restaurant speaking. Lunch, happy hour, dinner, brunch, JAK's has it all! I've got to get there for brunch.... Previous post.