Monday, September 30, 2013

Recent Austin Eats

When I used to work downtown, we would frequent Manuel's for lunch or happy hour. Their interior Mexican food has always been consistently good. I hadn't been in a couple of years, and a friend held a birthday celebration there on a Saturday night in August. We had a reservation for about 12 people, and while the food was overall fairly good, the service was not. Clearly the waiter knew that with a party that size, he was guaranteed an 18% tip, and our consensus was, because of that he didn't try very hard at all. Drinks took 30 minutes to come, lemon that was asked for when the fish dish was ordered took an extra 10 - 15 minutes to appear after the dishes were served, and he was in general absent for long periods of time. Yes it was busy, and there were other large tables, but the place was not a zoo, nor did they appear to be short handed. Anyhow, no surprise that I ordered the mole chicken enchiladas. I've always liked their mole in the past, and while I do still find it good, it didn't wow me. Not a lot of depth to it. Still on the quest to find the best mole in town, and sorely disappointed I missed Scumptious Chef's Oaxacan pop-up dinner in September.
Hadn't been to Hopdoddy in a long time either, and met a friend for an early dinner. I had the Greek burger, which is made with lamb, and my friend and I split the parmesan truffle fries and a milkshake. Delicious. Have to give props to the staff, as when we arrived at about 5:45 pm, there was a  line to order food, but their credit card machines had just gone down. They had someone working the line with a big tray of fries, and letting people know there was an ATM around the corner. Fortunately for them, they got the machine back up and running pretty quickly.
I was invited by Citygram Magazine to participate in their Twitter chat at the Bonneville. We had a great evening of various cocktails, and a couple complimentary appetizers, the salt cod fritters, and this arugula and banana pepper pizza, which was surprisingly really good with the peppers.
After the event, a few of us stuck around and ordered dinner. I had the bacon and egg ravioli in brown butter. I could have used more bacon (duh), and probably even more brown butter flavor, but the pasta looked freshly made and was nice and light. Throughout the evening the staff was welcoming, and I really want to return for their Sunday brunch.
My Fit Foods
On a recent weekend, I was running errands on Bee Caves Road, and realized I was starving since I hadn't eaten lunch. Not totally knowing what I was getting myself into, I decided to try My Fit Foods, hoping to get a quick bite. I was given the whole explanation of their meal program by one of their staff; in short, when you sign up, you meet with their nutritionist to design a healthy eating program. They make pre-packaged meals in two sizes (basically for men or women, depending on what your calorie intake should be), and they really did have quite a variety. I picked the Chargrilled Crazy Chicken, with green beans and sweet potato puree. They have microwaves to heat the meals up, and you can eat on site (which I did), but everyone else I observed during my time there was buying a few meals to take home. I would have called this poached chicken, as I didn't see any indication that this chicken ever sat on a grill, and it was pretty bland. I could tell even before we popped it in the microwave that the green beans were overcooked, and sure enough, soggy, tasteless green beans. The sweet potatoes were tasty, though definitely sweet. This whole meal was 240 calories, 21 grams of protein, and 6 grams of fat. And completely lacking in flavor, which could be easily remedied by the use of spices, which wouldn't add calories! I've also kept their menu for inspiration for some good healthy home cooked meals.
The Flying Carpet
One of my all-time favorite trailers, The Flying Carpet, recently did an evening of pastilla, a traditional Moroccan dish of chicken with ground nuts, a touch of sugar,  and some egg, wrapped in phyllo dough.  They took a while to arrive, because they had to switch commisary kitchens as the oven in their regular kitchen broke, but it was worth the wait.  I had a salad and fries with their famous L'Afrique sauce in the interim -- make sure you try some when you go, and tell Abdu and Maria I sent you. :)
Austin Beer Garden Brewery
I was invited to the media preview of the new ABGB, located on Oltorf, just east of Lamar Blvd., next to the railroad tracks. Their brew masters come with a lot of industry experience (Live Oak and Uncle Billy's, amongst others), and they will always have 6 regular beers on tap, and another 5 or 6 taps of seasonal or special brews. Plus, they've got a kitchen producing good salads (you could take the anchovy in the Caesar salad dressing), and nice pizzas (good crisp crusts). I've driven past a couple times and the parking lot has been packed, and surely once the weather cools down, their outside areas will be extremely popular. If you build it, they will come -- and they are!
LA Barbeque
A friend bought it, and I only took a bite, but OMG! This is LA Barbeque's El Sancho, with pulled pork, sausage, and onions. Must go and get one of my own.
I met a friend at Olivia for brunch, and realized I hadn't been there in over two years, which is a crying shame, especially since they're in my neighborhood. I had the MacDaddy, the upscale take on an egg breakfast sandwich, this with crispy pork belly, scrambled eggs, and mustard glaze. The glaze was a bit sweet, but otherwise, a very tasty dish. My friend had the bison burger, which was huge!
What does one eat when one visits Ikea? The Swedish meatballs of course! This was my first time trying their famous meatballs, and I have to say, I am sort of on the fence about them. Something was a bit strange about their texture, but I can't put my finger on it.... not dense, not gummy....over-processed? I liked the lingonberry sauce a lot, and the little flag is a great touch. And I would guess a Texas Ikea store is one of a very few worldwide that offers hot sauce as a condiment.

Local Yokel
Over at the Moontower Saloon, there are three trailers in residence, but on a recent Tuesday, the Local Yokel was the only one open. There were three items on the menu: bratwurst, quesadilla, and cheesesteak. I had the beef fajita quesadilla with caramelized onions and their housemade jalapeno sauce. I think they're pressing them, rather than grilling, because this was one of the best, crispest quesadillas I've ever had! Great flavor, and again, super-crispy, and perfect with beer. Thankful the weather is starting to cool down -- time to visit more trailers!
So this will give you something to chew on for awhile! What have you eaten lately?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bits and Bites -- your Austin food news!

-- Both locations of Central Market kick off Brewniversity, a two-week event all about beer! Sept 11 - 24. Check their respective web pages for special classes, demos and tastings at each store. In conjunction with Brewniversity, the Brooklyn-based Floyd Beer Cheese will also be making their debut in the CM Dairy case; it's a cheese dip made with beer of course,  in three varieties.

-- Scrumptious Chef RL Reeves is hosting a Diana Kennedy inspired Oaxacan pop-up dinner with Jack Allen's Kitchen chef Diana Sanchez, Saturday, September 14th at 7 pm at Tamale House East.

-- Uncle Julio's will be running guac and drink specials on Monday, September 16, or National Guacamole Day!

-- Bourbon, Bluegrass + BBQ will be September 24th at Mercury Hall, sponsored by the Austin Chapter of the US Bartenders Guild and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM). Thirty American whiskies, all you can eat BBQ, music from Sour Bridges and the Possum Posse, and a friendly cocktail competition, all for $35/person.

-- The Austin Food Blogger Alliance (of which I am a member) is holding it's first ever Photography Camp, Saturday, September 28th. It's a day-long workshop with different classes geared to make you a better photographer. AFBA members $45 /non-members $75, lunch and snacks included; register now before it's too late! While this is geared towards food photography, sessions will include photo editing, the manual settings on your camera, camera phones, and the best gear for your camera.

-- Local theater collective the Rude Mechanicals is hosting a fundraiser, Pearl Dive at The Plant, Saturday, September 29th, 4 - 7:30 pm, at The Plant in Kyle. A great lineup of area chefs (Kenichi, Cafe Josie, Salt + Time, East Side Showroom, Paggi House) are preparing a seafood feast, tickets are $100.

-- Travaasa Austin will be hosting the Mike Beck Concert + Dinner, October 18th, $75/person (or $15 for just the concert), benefiting the Joyful Horse veterans program, which brings former combat soldiers together with horses that are being rehabilitated for adoption. Five courses (wild game), with beer pairings. Mike Beck is an acoustic solo guitarist who plays around the nation; his recent album "Tribute" features a collection of horse songs and a few that were recorded in honor of US veterans.

-- Houndstooth Coffee is introducing their new line of packaged coffee, Tweed, now available at Houndstooth and Texas French Bread in Austin.

-- Benji's Cantina is now open for Sunday brunch, 10 am - 2 pm. 

-- The Austin Food + Wine Alliance is offering culinary grants again this year; the application period has just started (September 9 - October 11). From their press release: "$25,000 in grants will be given this year to support chefs, farmers, wine-, beer- and spirit-makers, artisan producers and food-focused nonprofits." Got a project in mind? Apply now!

-- The Woodland on South Congress has apparently closed, and will reopen later this fall as a new establishment, Little Barrel and the Brown. (My last trip there in February had mediocre food and not-so-great service, so I am not entirely surprised.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


In case you've been away from Austin this summer, Barlata is finally here.  After close to two years of rumors that Daniel Olivella (a Spanish chef, by way of San Francisco) would open a tapas restaurant in town, the doors opened the beginning of July. Immediately, there were rave reviews. I've waited a bit to let things settle down, but I have been excited to try Barlata.
Located at 1500 South Lamar, Barlata occupies a street-level position at the Post South Lamar apartment complex; parking is available in the garage behind the building. I'll call the interior and decor a modern industrial look, but without the coldness that often comes with that style. Service was extremely good throughout our visit. Water glasses were regularly attended to, finished plates whisked away, and our server was knowledgeable about the menu. And happily, when we arrived on a weekday at 6 pm, they were not that busy; by 7 pm they were at least half full, and by the time we left around 7:45, it was 80-90% filled, but there was no line waiting for tables. And on to the food!

We started with the cheese plate, which is probably the only dish that I would not order again, only because the value is not there. (But in their defense, most cheese plates are not a good value.) It's great to have the variety of 6 cheeses, but they are such thin slices. At $12, I'd rather have three cheeses, and thus more quantity of each. This is certainly a sampler plate. And at a table of four, we each got half a piece of toasted bread. The fig cake and quince paste are good traditional pairings with the cheeses. Fortunately, the food and value got better as we went along.
Next were the Mussels in Sofrito. Delicious, and well worth their $9 price tag. Beautifully presented, the sofrito (generally a sauce made from onions, garlic, and tomatoes) and the green peas gave a nice pop of color and presentation.
While my Lamb Brochette picture did not turn out exceptionally well, this $9 plate was delicious, though I am partial to lamb. The meat was grilled to a nice medium rare, was savory and juicy. I think I was too excited about the lamb to remember much about the sauce with it.
In Spain, a tortilla is an egg dish, not a type of bread that comes in flour or corn. This is the Tortilla Espinaca, with spinach and Manchego cheese. The tomato sauce/relish had a really nice kick to it, and certainly made the dish more interesting. The pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomato) was a bit soggy from the condensation.
Barlata offers 10 different paellas, including a vegetarian option and two made with fideua (fideo, or vermicelli pasta). We picked the Arros Cacadora, made with rosemary instead of saffron, and chicken, rabbit, pancetta, and mushrooms. As you may be able to tell from the sheen, the dish was on the oily side; I also don't recall finding any pancetta in it, and the rice was not crispy on the bottom. But despite these, it was still incredibly tasty. The mushrooms really added a nice depth and that umami quality to it. This was the "small" size, which was in an 8 or 9 inch paella pan ($15), and with the other items we ordered, was perfect for four people.
And a meal would not be complete without dessert. There was the Mel i Mato, a traditional Catalan dish, of goat cheese mousse (or I'd say cheesecake) on top of a walnut crust with a oloros (sherry) ice cream and caramel drizzle. It was really delicious. And then there was the Crema Catalana. This is probably one of the single best desserts I have had at a restaurant, so simple and clean. It's the Spanish take on creme brulee; Barlata's is lightly infused with lemon, and while it's rich, it's not overly decadent. The "crema" was so velvety smooth and contrasted nicely with the caramelized sugar crust on top. Worth every single penny and then some.
I would go back just for the Crema Catalana, but fortunately there are other things on the menu that I am interested in trying. Barlata has happy hour Sunday through Thursday, from 5 - 6:30 pm in the bar area only. From their social media posts, it appears each day has a different drink and food offering. It's a great addition to the growing Austin food scene, and I am extremely happy to have Barlata in my backyard.  


Monday, September 2, 2013

Bits and Bites

Jeez, how'd it get to be Labor Day already?!

Here's what's going on:

-- Buy one entree, get one free at both Roaring Fork and Salty Sow, on September 2nd.

-- Jack Allen's Kitchen (original location) is holding a local Texas spirits dinner (as in alcohol, not ghosts) on September 3rd, $75/person; email for reservations.

-- Olivia continues their Summer Dinner Series with a Pacific Northwest meal on September 5th, $115/person; for reservations,

 -- Dining for Life, which supports AIDS Services of Austin, will be September 16-17; participating restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds to ASA. 

-- Olive + June is hosting a wine and pasta dinner with Italian winemakers from Tenute Silvio Nardi and Tenuta Sette Ponti, September 16th, $100/person.

-- Austoberfest will be in full-German swing on September 28th from 1 - 6 pm at Saengerrunde Hall, with all you can eat German food from the area's best meat purveyors, including Louis Mueller and Black's barbeques. $35 in advance/$45 at the door.

-- Edible Austin is planning an Edible Escape to Marble Falls for an evening highlighting regional chefs, food artisans, and winemakers from areas North and Northwest of Austin. September 29th, $35-45/person.

-- The 24th La Dolce Vita Food and Wine Festival is October 24th from 6 - 9 pm at Laguna Gloria.  From their press release: "Guests will be privy to 'the sweet life' as they experience and taste the creations of over 50 of the best and brightest culinary teams and wineries." Tickets are $150 for general admission/$200 for VIP, and they benefit the newly re-branded venture, The Contemportary Austin.

-- Fado Irish Pub is now showing the English Premiere League soccer matches; schedule can be found here, and they've got a full brunch menu.

-- Umami Mia Pizzeria, KUTX (98.9 FM) and LiveVibe are partnering to host live music at Umami Mia, beginning September 1st. See their website for the list of upcoming musicians. 

-- Daily Grill in the Domain is now offering a new happy hour drink and food menu; daily happy hour from 3:30 - 7 pm.

-- A-OK Chinese, a new partnership of former Mars and Alamo Drafhouse Executive Chef John Bullington and front of the house manager Jerry Reid, will open at 1509 South Lamar around the holidays.

-- Dai Due has announced plans for a kitchen and butcher shop at 2310 Manor Road; former Sway Chef Rene Ortiz will consult on the kitchen layout. 

-- No Va, from Chef Brad Sorenson, at 87 Rainey Street, serving modern American foods, including late night pizza and tacos to support the area scene.