Monday, October 29, 2012


Q: Where the heck am I???
A: Someplace completely foreign!

I don't think anyone would say the Oasis is known for the food, as it's always been a "drinks and watch the sunset" kind of place, earning the name The Sunset Capital of Texas as it overlooks Lake Travis. A fire, caused by a lightning strike, engulfed the restaurant and their iconic cliffside multi-storied decks in 2005, closing it down. I probably hadn't been out there since the late 1990s, as it's just an area of town I don't get to. And in their defense, I have heard that since the fires, they have been working to elevate the caliber of their food.

So imagine my incredible surprise when I drove down Comanche Trail to the rebuilt Oasis compound. It truly is an oasis in the middle of practically nowhere, a phoenix that has risen from the ashes to use another cliche. The road dead ends into a huge Tuscan villa, that encompasses a number of entities -- the Oasis, Soleil, Uncle Billy's Brew and Cue, Austin Java, and some retail shops and galleries. From the part I could see, it's a beautiful looking compound, and I was beyond shocked to see how it's been rebuilt -- it looks fantastic.

I attended a media tasting recently at Soleil, the very polished younger sibling of the Oasis, serving "new American" cuisine.  Chef Daniel Burton Sanchez is in the process of revising the menu, and he wanted so share some of the new items. I arrived about 7 pm on an overcast day and it had been raining off and on. Coupled with the fact that the sun was going down, I wasn't able to get any great views of the lake or sunset, but I am certain they are there!

We began with appetizers in their bar area, called the Azure Lounge. My favorite of what we tasted was the seared foie gras with Sauterne-mulled apple sauce on toasted brioche.
Once seated in the dining room, our meal began with an amuse bouche' of veal sweetbreads, chantrelle mushrooms, haricot vert, and a mignonette beet dressing. A nice combo of flavors, the beans were perfectly crisp, and the sweetbreads nicely cooked. 
The first course was a large seared scallop on a bed of sweet corn risotto, bacon, and an arbol chile oil. The sweetness of the scallop and corn played perfectly with the savory notes of the bacon and the little bit of heat from the chile oil. Probably my favorite dish of the evening!
The next course was a pan roasted duck breast, butternut squash and edamame stuffed ravioli, and a pumpkin seed pesto. This was some of the most perfectly cooked duck I have ever had! Moist, tender, and lightly pink inside. It was also well-salted, which for me is usually rare.
The third course was braised pork belly on a cilantro parsnip puree. I liked the pork, but I don't think it was as good as the previous proteins! I liked the idea of the puree, but I think it needed a little more acid to brighten the flavors, as it was very earthy.
Dessert was called a "reverse fondue" -- a piece of Camembert cheese, hazelnut brittle, and spheres of green apple adorned the plate. There was a little pitcher of warm caramel sauce to pour over, and the combination of all the flavors together was quite tasty. (If you try this, just note that the rind on a Camembert, while perfectly edible, can be very strong tasting; in this case, by removing the rind so you just have the paste of the cheese, it was perfect with the other elements on the plate.)
Each course was expertly paired with a different wine by sommelier Melissa Hale, who along with Chef Burton, made themselves available for questions and comments. My dining companion Christy of Epicuriosities put it best when she said "This is now a dining destination!" Soleil has absolutely elevated the stature of restaurants near Lake Travis, and I look forward to going back in the near future.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Matt Odam, the food critic for the Austin American-Statesman has unveiled his list of Austin's Top 50 restaurants. Great list, some old warhorses that you expect to see, some newer spots, and some I had never heard of! I think I have been to 37 out of 50 -- so many places, so little time! And money! ;)
-- Tickets are on sale for next Sunday's Wine and Swine event! Looks like an amazing line up, and I will be there volunteering with some other food blogger friends!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lavaca Teppan

A friend was in from out of town and staying near Guadalupe and MLK, so we had lunch at Lavaca Teppan, a Japanese spot next to the Women and their Work gallery.  The interior decor is your typical minimalist Japanese style with clean lines, though for some reason to me, this place almost had an unfinished look to it and they've been open over a year. There seemed to be a mix of clientele, young professionals, couples, a family with kids, and the guy at the table next to us, who quickly ate and was in and out in about 15 minutes.

I'll be honest, it wasn't memorable food. I was there two weeks ago, and am just now remembering to write about it! We shared some steamed edamame, and I had the beef udon noodle bowl with some veggies in it, and my friend the chicken udon. The noodles were a bit chewy (or shall I say chewier than normal for udon), and the beef was okay, marinated a bit in a soy or teriyaki sauce to give it a bit of flavor. They do serve the udon bowls with a side of pickled ginger, which did add a really nice flavor -- if you like ginger, and I do -- to the dish.
Maybe it's just what I ordered... some of the other menu items, like the donburi rice bowl sounds good, as are some of the offerings on their menu that begins after 2 pm. Would I go back? Maybe? There's just other Japanese places at similar price points that I know are really good.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Lots of our local beer gardens/pubs/breweries are having October Beer Month/Halloween specials:
   -- Bangers is holding "Beer College" now through October 28 and it will teach you about the craft beer community and different beer varieties each day.
   -- Hops and Grain will have different daily beer specials and tastings.
   -- drink.well will have special Halloween night drinks

And two beer-related openings:
   -- October 25 -- Pinthouse Pizza, at 4729 Burnet. Beer + pizza.
   -- October 31 -- Public House, from the Gourdough's trailer folks, in the old South Lamar Kerbey Lane spot. Beer + donuts!

-- Olivia will host a dinner October 25, $75/person that matches Eric Texier French wines with James Holmes' "haute Texan" cuisine.  Five courses, each with a wine.

-- The Sustainable Food Center will hold their Haunted Ball at the Mansion at Judges Hill, October 28, 6:30 pm, $60/person, costumes encouraged!

-- Zen, the Japanese fast food spot on South Congress is closing and reopening as Lucky Robot, which will be a full-service restaurant.

-- Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, Bryce Gilmore's precursor to Barley Swine that closed last year, will reopen as a 120-seat brick and mortar restaurant in the same location as the previous trailer -- 1219 S. Lamar, in the still-being-built mixed use building, Gibson Flats.

-- The trailers on South Lamar next to Red's Porch, as we make way for yet another apartment/condo project (boo!). Honky Tonk Hot Dogs and Collie's Burgers will be at 415 Jessie Street, and Trai Mai Thai will be at Manchaca and Prather.

 -- Though temporarily, The Highball, November 17th, as the Lamar Plaza complex redevelops.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Along South First Street, longtime mainstay La Reyna at Mary Street has recently closed. New management took over within the past year, but I guess that wasn't enough to save this notch along the "Mexican Mile."  I live nearby, and will be incredible curious to see what happens to the property in what's becoming prime real estate. Sway, a new Thai spot at Elizabeth Street (from the La Condesa restaurant family) is still not open...

-- California Pizza Kitchen at the Domain location only will donate 20% of your check to Stiletto Stampede, an organization that promotes breast cancer awareness, on Wednesday, October 17; you must have a flyer to present to CPK. If you're interested in the flyer, please email me at, and I can forward it to you. 

-- I Spy Pie will take place at Central Market on North Lamar on Saturday, October 20 from 12 - 3pm. Local bakeries will be competing for best pie, as picked by both judges and audience. The event benefits Creative Action, formerly the Theatre Action Project; pie tasting tickets are $5, and it's a family-friendly event.

-- Tuesday, October 23rd, Lucy's Fried Chicken will have a pig roast in the parking lot beginning at 6 pm,  $17/person. These pigs have been feed a special diet, which includes (512) Brewery's brewers mash; southern side dishes and (512) beer will be served. 

-- Two upcoming events at Easy Tiger, a five course pairing with Ommegang beers on October 23rd, $70/person, and the Real Ale brewmaster will be present on October 25th with six casks of beer from their collection.

-- Uncle Billy's Brew and Cue will have a five course beer and food pairing at the Barton Springs location on November 4, 6 pm, $50/person.

-- Already a huge list of restaurants who are donating soup to this year's Empty Bowl Project, where your $20 donation gets you a one-of-a-kind ceramic bowl made by a local artist, you get it filled on the spot with a bowl of soup, and proceeds go to the Capital Area Food Bank and Meals on Wheels. Stop by Marchesa Hall (in Lincoln Village, across from Highland Mall) on Sunday, November 18th from 11am - 3pm.

-- You may have seen my recent post on dinner at The Carillon, which was absolutely fantastic. They are continuing their 3 course, $29 prix fixe menu during October when you dine before 6:30 pm. The courses: grilled Bandera quail with miso, Broken Arrow Ranch antelope with butternut squash, and sweet potato beignets. They are currently my new favorite fine-dining restaurant!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Backspace

Last week was the conclusion of Austin Restaurant Week, where a number of area restaurants offer a three-course prix fixe menu, no more than $37 for a dinner. It allows patrons to perhaps try some places that they haven't been before or that are generally priced above their budgets. Restaurants in turn donate a portion of the proceeds to a designated non-profit, which was Meals on Wheels.

A friend and I went to The Backspace on San Jacinto between 5th and 6th; I believe the name comes from the fact that it is located behind sister restaurant Parkside, whose entrance is on 6th. It's a long, skinny spot, dominated by the bar that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant; I'd say the whole place seats about 40 people tops. I liked the decor -- the old (not sure if it was genuine or faux) tin ceiling, the stained glass, and the "modern farmhouse" look of the bar stools. The women's restroom was plastered in wine and water bottle labels!
The value of The Backspace's ARW menu was quite good. They priced it at $54 for two people, which included  shared dished of an appetizer, a pizza, a dessert, AND a bottle of wine (the bottle we had normally retails there for $30).  We started with the oven-roasted green beans with pancetta, guanciale, a bit of chile flakes, Parmesan and some little crispy fried onions on top. For me, the beans were cooked perfectly (I think overcooked green beans are the scourge of the earth!), and the flavors of everything together was really good, though I don't think I could distinguish pancetta from guanciale in this case.
For our pizza, we picked the squash blossom, with ricotta, mozzarella, pesto, and scarto (apparently, a homemade sausage, I had to ask, as I was unfamiliar) that was crumbled on top. It was delicious! It's a yeasty crust, and thick around the edges, but still manages to be thinner in the center; I wouldn't call it crisp in the middle part, but it wasn't soggy either. Fresh cheeses. Great flavors. Now I am realizing now as I study the picture and the menu description that "squash" was not on the ingredient listing, and I am wondering if they were low on squash blossoms, as there weren't many of them on the pizza, so maybe they compensated with squash. Doesn't really matter, we ate the entire thing!
The choices for dessert were a hazelnut chocolate budino (pudding) or a ricotta cheesecake; nothing wrong with cheesecake, but I am a sucker for hazelnut anything, and fortunately my friend was more than willing to try the budino. Again, not disappointed. The toffee on top was like crack, and the pudding was silky smooth.
I am only disappointed that I have not been to the Backspace sooner, as the regular menu sounds yummy too. I also wish it weren't downtown, just because parking is more of a pain as is the whole 6th Street scene. But for early dinners, this is perfect, and I look forward to a return trip. Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable, which always helps too. Cin cin!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- The official ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Jack Allen's Kitchen in Round Rock (2500 Hoppe Trail) will be October 9 at 3:30 pm. (But they're actually already open for business!)

-- On October 20, the Cedar Park Farmer's Market will hold a local artisanal cheese and wine event to help celebrate National Cheese Month. The event is 10am - 1pm, and features five area cheese makers.

-- There will be a vegan bakesale on October 21st at Counter Culture (2337 E. Cesar Chavez) to benefit the SARA Animal Sanctuary.

-- On Halloween, Restaurant Jezebel will reopen, this time, a 32-seat prix fixe eatery located inside of Bar Mirabeau, in the new Cirrus Logic building at 800 West 6th Street, both facilities operated by Parind Vora.

-- The First Annual Austin Oyster Festival will be November 9th, $30/person at the Shoal Crossing Event Center. 

-- The Burnet Road and Lake Austin Blvd. locations of Mangia Pizza have been upgraded to The Pizza Bistro, with different styles of pizza and a whole new menu. (Thus far, the Spicewood Springs location on Mangia remains the same.)

-- Capital Kitchens near Manchaca and Stassney is available for commissary rentals.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Carillon

Not that one needs an excuse to visit a fine dining establishment, but it helps when you're in the company of fellow food bloggers, and when one of them is a regular and knows the chefs. Such was the stage, or rather, table, as I joined Epicuriosities, From Maggie's Farm, Girl Gone Grits and Tequila Tracker at The Carillon (at the AT+T Conference Center on the University of Texas campus) to celebrate the birthdays of two of our foodie crew. 

Through September, the Carillon was offering a $29 three course prix fixe menu from 5:30 - 6:30 pm, and they are continuing it in October, with a different menu. We decided on a 6 pm reservation to take advantage of this special. And we would have been fine with this menu alone, but Patrick Jones, the Beverage Manager took good care of us. He selected a bottle of Domaine du Piaugier Gigondas 2009 from the southern Rhone Valley, a Grenache-based wine that complemented every dish extremely well.

The food started with an amuse bouche, a corn soup that was so smooth and buttery, we all wanted to stick our fingers inside the glasses to get to the bottom.
The first course was the seared scallop, with jazz apple, fennel jam, goat cheese. That's a fennel chip standing up in some goat cheese in the back. The sweetness from the sauteed fennel "jam" and the goat cheese were perfect with the large scallop, which was seared nicely, but not overdone, leaving the sweet ocean flavor intact.
The next course was a complete surprise -- a complimentary course from the kitchen! -- and one that we all swooned over: foie gras with whiskied cherries, mushrooms and toast points. Totally divine. A perfect size, perfectly seared, and sheer perfection with the sweet/tart of the cherries to cut the fat/creaminess. (The Carillon offers one of the best deals in town off their bar menu -- a hamburger with a nice piece of foie for $12 -- shhhhh, don't tell!)
The main was pork jowl croquettes with sauteed jazz apples, fried lobster mushrooms, and the little creamy dots are pawpaw pudding. What is a pawpaw? It's a fruit native to the eastern US, including east Texas, with flavors of mild banana and mango. It has an interesting flavor, not bad at all, though I don't know if it lent a great deal to the dish.
The dessert on the prix fixe menu was a feta cheesecake. However, since we were celebrating birthdays, they switched it up. On the right is a pannacotta and on the left a browine/cake concoction with a fruit sauce with chipotles, I believe. Totally elegant.
It's always a trip going out to eat with fellow food bloggers, because we all sit there and photograph everything! I feel like I get better food shots because we're all doing the same thing; I am not rushing a photo because others are waiting on me to take my pics so they can eat! So with apologizes to my other friends, I need to be more patient like this for future endeavors, because I am happy with how all these photos came out. I don't think I will ever be one who carries a tripod or my own light source, but being able to shoot a few frames from different angles was really helpful. Otherwise, we had such a good time talking and eating that I have forgotten the details of what all was on the dessert plate!

Again, a wonderful evening, and thank you to Patrick and the chefs for serving up a delicious meal!