Thursday, July 26, 2012

Garlicky Goodness

Austinites, have you ever been to Phoenicia Bakery and had the garlic sauce they serve with the roast chicken and cheese breads? A couple friends and I have been addicted to that stuff, but haven't known what it was called or how to make it. A chef friend of mine couldn't even figure it out. We were all stumped. One day, I stumbled across something online, and the mystery was solved! It's called toum, and it's a Lebanese garlic sauce, similar to a French aioli. The original post I read is from a blog, and you can read more about toum here; I have adapted their recipe.

Garlicky Goodness – aka Toum (aka Crack)

1/2 cup fresh garlic cloves* 
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (it may more though!)
2 cups grapeseed oil (or other light, neutral tasting oil)
3 - 4 tablespoons lemon juice

* About the garlic: fresh, whole heads of garlic are preferred, but I have used the pre-peeled, refrigerated cloves too. Either way, once peeled, I remove the stem end, cut the cloves in half lengthwise, and remove the shoots in the middle -- the shoot is where all the bitter garlic aftertaste flavor is contained. This is a little time consuming, and your fingers get sticky, but I think worth it.
Have everything at room temperature before processing.

Put the garlic and salt in the food processor (I use my mini Cuisinart), and pulse until finely chopped. Begin streaming in the oil through the top of the processor with the motor running; alternate with the lemon juice. You may not need all of the oil (I usually use around 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups), but keep blending until it reaches a mayonnaise-like consistency; it will take several minutes. Check for salt.

Yield: about 2 cups. Keeps well in air-tight container in the fridge

I have come up with multiple uses for this garlicky goodness....what else can you think of?
-- garlic bread
-- toss with pasta
-- smear over chicken or a pork loin, add fresh herbs, and bake
-- make a bean dip with cannellini or black beans
-- vegetable dip  
-- burger/sandwich spread
-- on French/sweet potato fries
-- baked potato 
-- on pizza, instead of tomato sauce
-- with roasted/steamed veggies

Bits and Bites

-- Dunn Bros Coffee is celebrating their grand opening this weekend at the Gables 5th Street Commons at 1611 West 5th Street. Free coffee, samples, and raffle prizes.  (Hmmm, they're a chain, founded in Minnesota, 25 years ago, so I think this is a locally owned franchise.)

-- Toast for the Cure presents Sunday Funday, this Sunday, July 29, 2 - 6pm at Icenhauer's on Rainey Street, with live music, and proceeds benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Charlie Gore plays music, suggested donation $10.

-- Austin Cake Ball Kitchen & Bar at the Domain has a new chef, new menu, and new specials/events, including Sunday Speakeasy on Sundays (beginning August 5) with cakeballs and cocktails, and Ladies Night on Tuesdays (beginning August 7) from 5 - 10 pm. 

-- Pay it Forward with Daniel Curtis will be held at the AT&T Conference Center, August 21, 6 - 10 pm. Daniel was the assistant food and beverage director at The Carillon restaurant (located at the AT&T) when he was left quadriplegic after a diving accident. A fundraiser for him last year raised $65,000 to help with medical expenses, and now, he wants to pay it forward to help others. This year, a number of the area's top chefs will prepare dishes to be paired with cocktails from local beverage crafters. Tickets begin at $100, and can be purchased through the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Go Texan Restaurant Round Up is July 23 - 29;  a number of local restaurants will feature Texas menu items. Great list of the participating places and see what they're serving!

-- Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden will officially open on July 30th in the Rainey Street District. With 30 sausage and 103 (!!) taps of beer, and even vegetarian sausage (oxymoron?) and kombucha on tap, there ought to be something for everyone! Am told there's a parking lot behind the building.

-- Max's Wine Dive will host a "Picnic Wine Dinner" on August 2, $50/person, available for purchase in advance here.

-- Slow Food Austin is sponsoring the 2nd Annual Slow Food Quiz Bowl at the Highball, August 12. To join in, purchase your $25 tix here.

-- Roll On Sushi at 5350 Burnet Road, has a new chef, Patrick Acuna so look for some updates to the menu.

-- Drink.Well at 207 E. 53rd has launched a new menu.

And, a reminder COME AND JOIN US!!!

The Austin Food Blogger Alliance is holding a fundraiser, Cocktails and Cupcakes, for Bake a Wish, a non-profit group of volunteer bakers who provide cakes to kids in foster care.  It's Wed., July 25th, from 6 - 8pm at the AT and T Conference Center on the UT Campus. Food and cupcake-inspired cocktails by the Carillon, a cupcake taste-off from five fabulous local bakeries, and a silent auction. Tickets are $35 (purchase here), which includes two drink tickets! Come see me, eat some cupcakes and drink some drinks!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hai Ky

Hai Ky on East Oltorf is one of just a few Vietnamese restaurants in South Austin, the majority of them being up north, where larger segments of Asian populations live. This place was one of my very early blog posts, but since it's been three+ years, it deserves another mention.

I scheduled a last minute lunch with a friend; she used to frequent this place, so she's more familiar with their menu than I am. (I don't think I had been here in the past three years, clearly a mistake!) I got a Vietnamese coffee and she suggested the the crab rangoon as an appetizer, which come with this outstanding sauce with lots and lots of ginger in it. The sauce also ended up being good on my entree!
I ordered a bun (vermicelli noodle) bowl, #44, with char-grilled pork and crispy egg roll on the side. The pork is cut into fairly small pieces, but has a nice flavor to it. The accompanying cucumbers and carrots were nice and fresh, though the lettuce in the bowl as well as from the appetizer plate did not hold up well at all to hot food being placed on them. While you can't see them, in the bottom of the bowl are thin rice noodles; I ate about half this bowl and saved the rest for dinner. Not bad for $6.99.
My friend recalled a dish she had consumed in the past, one where flat rice noodles are pressed into a cake and then fried. I don't know the dish was called, but it's #101, and it was really tasty and filled with fresh veggies. I love noodles, and this was different from anything I had ever had before. At first glance, I thought it was a tofu dish, but it's certainly noodle.
Hai Ky does serve some standard Chinese dishes, but what's not so typical about this Asian eatery is that all of the waitstaff were twenty-something hipster guys. Service was fairly prompt, and the dishes came out fast. A Google search does not come up with a working web address; the link above is what's posted on their Yelp review site, but interestingly, they don't list the Oltorf location on the website. And, my #44 was $7.29 at the Guadalupe spot, and $7.99 on Bee Caves. I'll stick to the Oltorf spot.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Central Market Westgate

Central Market Westgate has once again changed it's old wine bar in the center of the store to yet another eatery. At present, they have The Local, inspired by British pub grub and will coincide with the upcoming Olympic games in London. It's got a pub feel to it and even a telly, currently playing daytime sporting events. 

I stopped in the other day, and had Squeak and Squeal -- a piece of seared pork belly over wilted cabbage. And this pork had a wonderful sear on it, wasn't too fatty, and was served with a Crispin Cider glaze to it.  And I think a decent sized portion for $7. I could eat more of those -- it certainly rivaled some of the pork belly dishes I've had in fancier restaurants around town!
My friend had the steak and ale pie, a pot pie with nice chunks of tender beef. The ale gave it a great flavor, but it seems more of a colder-weather food to me.
The fish and chips is also a generous-sized piece of fish, with a great batter on it. It was well-fried, and not greasy, and the plate is with a house-made tartar sauce, though malt vinegar is also available. 

The Local is open daily, 12 - 8pm. Apparently it will change to New Mexican foods to coincide with the store's green chile festival (aka Hatch chiles)  August 8th. Shop for your groceries, and go grab a pint and some pub grub! All three of these were really good dishes!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bits and Bites

I am a member of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, and we are very excited to be hosting a fundraiser to benefit Bake A Wish, an area non-profit that provides birthday cakes and other treats to those in need. Cocktails and Cupcakes will be held on Wednesday, July 25th, from 6 - 8 pm at the Carillon, part of the AT&T Conference Center at UT. Tickets are $35/person, and can be purchased here; you will receive two drink tickets for some cupcake-themed cocktails!

Bake A Wish is comprised of volunteer bakers who donate their time, talent, and materials to provide birthday cakes to area children and elderly who may not otherwise have a cake to enjoy. We will have a silent auction at Cupcakes and Cocktails that will also help raise funds for them. Much thanks in advance to the Carillon for their support. Come and join us for a fun and very tasty evening! 

Other news:
-- Trento is celebrating Half Way to New Years on July 17th from 5 - 8 pm, with half price food and drinks. 
-- Eleven Plates will be hosting a Spanish wines dinner on July 24th, $69/person for a four course meal with wine pairings.
-- Easy Tiger is hosting a Real Ale beer pairing dinner, also July 24th, $55/person for six coursed with beers.
-- We're coming up on the first Trailer Food Tuesday, a changing collection of area food trucks gathered at the Long Center on the last Tuesday of the month, in this case, July 31st from 5 - 9 pm. They've got about 10 trailers lined up for this first one, see their Facebook page for more details!
-- Thunder Heart Bison: Ranch to Trailer has a food trailer! Now located at 1104 E. 6th.
-- The Pizza Shop trailer is an offshoot of the currently closed Mercury Pizza (I think they're trying to get their liquor license) at 1906 S. 1st.... I saw their menu in something online the other day, and now I can't find it, but it looked good.
-- Several places expanding their offerings: Swift's Attic now doing happy hours, Fresas Chicken al Carbon now doing breakfast tacos, Max's Wine Dive will begin Sunday brunch on August 12th.
-- Other spots with hot happy hours: icenhauer's, Paggi House, Urban at the Domain.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Like many things, it seems that Austinites either like Chuy's or they don't. I fall into the latter category. I've lived in Austin since 1994, and I probably haven't been inside a Chuy's (and there are now several, even outside of Texas!) one since 1997. I just never thought it was all that great, and life's too short to eat bad food! So imagine my conundrum, when an old colleague is visiting town, several of us are slated to get together for a reunion, and all he wants is a Chuy's strawberry margarita. After all, they can't get good Tex Mex in Minnesota! (Sorry, John!) What's a highly opinionated food *reviewer* to do? Go in with an open mind. Yes, even me. And you know what? It really wasn't bad.

There were going to be seven of us, meeting at 6:30 on Sunday. I met the first couple of people in the bar/waiting area, and they already had a round of chips, salsa, and queso going. The tortilla chips are your standard thin, crispy chips, the salsa is also fairly staid, as is the queso. Once our whole group was there, we got moved to a round table in one of the dining rooms. The only downside is that it's LOUD. The decor is a bit garish, with faux car parts and parrots on the walls and ceiling. Our waiter came and got our drink order; they had just run out of Negro Modelo beer, which was the only beer on the list that really interested me, so I opted for sangria.
I thought a combo plate would be the best way to try a couple of dishes, so I went with the #4, a chicken enchilada with queso, and a ground sirloin-stuffed chile relleno with ranchero sauce. Basically, you get your choices of enchilada and relleno. I asked our server for his opinion on which sauce to get on the enchilada, and he patiently walked me through the options (the menu also has good explanations). When we got the check, I learned his name was Clayton, and he was great. More on that in a sec.
The chile relleno was really good! The beef was seasoned well, it was a nice layer of fried-crispiness that was NOT a bit greasy, and the ranchero sauce, while mild (as advertised) complimented it all very well. I would eat this again. Now the chicken inside the enchilada was nice large pieces of white meat. The queso however, was kind of dried and rubbery. I think this plate sat under the lights for a few minutes, because the refried beans too, had a bit of a skin on them. In retrospect, I should have ordered the enchilada with one of the green chile sauces on it; they claim on their menu to be fairly spicy though, and I still wanted to taste my food, so I went with the processed cheese queso. No bueno.
Other people's food looked pretty tasty too. I believe this plate is the #2, Elvis Presley Memorial Combo, with three different types of enchiladas, and covered in the boom-boom sauce, which I believe is a creamy version of the green chile. Other dishes at our table included the Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken, with a batter made from potato chips and the Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, which are chicken enchiladas with the boom-boom sauce.

For the place being fairly packed on a Sunday evening, our food came out relatively quickly. Our waiter would swing by every now and then, checking on drinks, clearing the chip baskets to help make more room on the table, and was just really a friendly, patient, guy. The kicker for me was he automatically split our checks without us even asking. Good call, Clayton! So now when one of my close friend's craves Chuy's tortilla soup (which apparently many people rave about), I won't be so quick to shoot it down. This meal had some pros and cons, but probably the best pro was it opened my mind! :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tino's Greek Cafe

Whoops! I almost to forgot to write about this place..... and unfortunately, it was just THAT memorable! About ten days ago, three of us were getting together for lunch, and we needed someplace near Brodie and William Cannon, so Tino's was suggested. It's a little further south at Slaughter, at the northeast corner of the intersection.

There were no printed menus that I could see, just the chalkboard, which I found a bit hard to read. You go to the counter to order, and they serve it up in front of you, cafeteria style. One of my friends had said the gyro meat was good, so I decided to get that as part of the the combo plate. I asked the man working the line which sides were the best, and he shrugs his shoulders and says they're all good. not really helpful. So by looking at the food (shoulda taken a picture), I choose the spanakopita, falafel patty, and meatball; and I had my choice of soup or salad, so I opted for the chicken lemon soup.
The soup wasn't bad, it definitely had some lemon flavor to it, and rather small bits of chicken. Would have probably enjoyed it more if it weren't 100 degrees outside! (But I picked it rather than the salad, because that was iceberg, under ripe tomatoes, and cucumbers, as seen in the plate below on the left.)  The gyro meat is a combination of lamb and beef (I wasn't sure, so I just called them to ask as I sat here writing this up), and was really quite good, especially with their nice, soft, pita bread. (One friend comes here to buy their pita, as opposed to going to Phoenicia Bakery, and I can see why.) The meat was tender and moist, with very good flavor. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the meal. The spanakopita (spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo dough -- the triangle in the lower right of the picture) was decent; not quite crispy enough for my liking, but not as soggy as it could be given that it had been sitting under the heat lights. The falafel patty was totally limp, no crunch to it at all, as you would expect to find, and the meatball really didn't have much taste to it, nor did it's tomato sauce. I tried a bite of my friends' hummus and baba ghanouj, both of which were decent, but nothing to write home about.
It also concerned me that they were storing paint cans next to the soda dispenser. In food safety and sanitation rules, that's a big no-no. Also, the bottled cleaner they were using to wipe down the tables had a very strong chemical odor to it, and while I guess it's good they were being liberal with it's application, one of my friend's is 30+ weeks pregnant, and there was a mother with a newborn at the table next to us. The smell from the cleaner drove us out.

So if you venture over to Tino's, and there are a couple locations around town, go for the gyro meat and pita, but skip the rest. Oh, and maybe get it to go.