Friday, November 22, 2013

Bits and Bites


-- Hotel San Jose is holding their last brunch cocktail hour of the year on Saturday, November 23, from 10am - 1 p.

-- Hops for HOPE Art and Beer Bazaar will be Sunday, November 24th at Vuka, 411 W. Monroe Street, 4 - 10 pm. Lots of beer vendors, food trucks, and artwork!
-- Austin Bakes will be back on Saturday, November 30th, this time donating all proceeds to Austin Disaster Relief Network, which is working with victims of the Halloween flooding. There will be 5 locations selling baked goods all around town. If you'd like to donate baked goods or help at one of the locations on Nov 30th, please see Austin Bakes website.  Friends of mine are organizing this! Please lend a hand, bake some treats, or donate directly to our neighbors who are in need.

-- In  fun way to engage their customers, P. Terry's will be running a cookie challenge, December 2 - 9 at all locations. A local customer felt her oatmeal cookie recipe was better than P. Terry's, and they agreed to take on the challenge. The cookie (made with no artificial ingredients) will be available for $1, and if it receives local support and deemed better than their own, the burger chain will replace their own recipe.
-- Support the National Day of Giving (#GivingTuesday), December 3rd, by making a donation to help send a culinary arts high school student to the Culinary Arts Career Conference  (May 2014), sponsored by the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.

-- Edible Austin's Eat Drink Local week is December 7 - 14. From their website: "Join us for our annual homage to local food. We urge you to dine out, cook in, and celebrate the ingredients, landscape and people behind our plates through our events, restaurant meals and plenty of cooking and drinking at home."

-- The Austin Cookie Takedown will be December 15th from 2 - 4pm at Shangri La. Got a favorite cookie recipe? Make a huge batch and enter them in this contest for your chance at cool prizes.

-- Barley Swine announced a change to their operations. They are now accepting reservations, and have moved to a multi-course,$60 prix fixe menu, with optional wine or beer pairings.  As the seasons and available ingredients change, so will the number of courses and the price. Any place that takes reservations is a plus-mark in my book.  Barley Swine's sister restaurant Odd Duck (1201 S. Lamar) is slated to open late November-ish.

-- JuiceLand is opening a new location at 2601 E. Cesar Chavez on December 1st. 

-- Gourdough's Public House has a special November donut -- the Gobbler, a donut with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry habanero jam.  After eating that, a nap will certainly be in order.

-- New chef team at Josephine House: Chef Rebecca Meeker, Pastry Chef Alexandra Manley, and forager Libby Goldberg.

-- Bess Bistro has new cocktails and dishes on the menu, including fried green tomatoes and Lockhart quail.  Happy hour M - F, 4:30 - 7pm with nightly specials. Their sister establishment, Walton's Fancy and Staple, is also offering an array of  holiday sweets and treats, such as bourbon vanilla + brown sugar apple pie.

-- Arro is also now doing happy hour, M - F, 5 - 7pm.

-- As previously announced, Chef Shawn Cirkiel will be taking over the old TGI Friday's in the Radisson Hotel at Cesar Chavez and Congress Avenue. The new spot, featuring contemporary southwestern cuisine, will be called Chavez, and will be designed by Michael Hsu Architecture and FODA Studio.

-- Black's BBQ announced they will open next year at the old Vinny's/Peso + Buck's location on Barton Springs Road, across from Palmer Auditorium.

-- LA Barbeque announced they are moving to the east side, as their current trailer spot on S. 1st will become a parking lot. Look for them at E. 6th and Waller after December 4th. 

-- Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen's Kitchen will be working with Mobile Loaves and Fishes to provide a Thanksgiving meal to Austin's homeless. First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity, Monday, November 25th from 5:30 - 7:30 pm. Now THAT is the spirit of Thanksgiving!

-- Bikinis Sports Bar and Grill will be working with Operation Turkey to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving Day.

-- Hyde Park Bar and Grill will be open from 11am - 7pm, $16.95/person. Fried turkeys are also available (must be pre-ordered)  for $55

-- The Carillon, at the AT+T Conference Center on the UT campus will be serving Thanksgiving meals from 11am - 3:30 pm, $65/person.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Three Little Pigs

I have been wanting to go to the Three Little Pigs trailer for over 2 years. Somehow other things always come up, and I never made it over to East 11th and Rosewood, where it's parked behind East End Wines, on the north side of the Texas State Cemetery. Then on a recent Saturday, I got a message from friend and blogger Mad Betty asking her if I wanted to go with her that evening, as she had set up an interview with owner Raymond Tatum for a future edition of Austin Foodstyle magazine. I ditched work a little early and jumped at the chance!
Since we were there early, they weren't too busy, and Raymond came and sat with us for a little while. He's a native Austinite, and was at the helm of Jeffery's during it's late 1980s/early 90s heydays. He thinks pigs are the perfect animal, because you can use every part of them to cook with; I think he's done "nose to tail" cooking before it was *cool*. He's done some dishes at the trailer like pig tripe, which he knows doesn't have mass appeal, but it's something he loves, even though it takes days to rinse and prepare the tripe. You can feel the passion for the food oozing from him. He also draws a lot from Asian cuisines, as was evidenced by the three dishes he made for us which were on that night's specials.

First was the pork belly with kim chi. Bite-sized pieces of pork belly that have been cooked so nicely, each piece was good and crispy, and the kim chi had a nice kick. His Korean friends have taught him which is the best kim chi to buy at the Korean grocery store on North Lamar and Justin Lane. For people who may not like pork belly because of its fattiness, this is a great way to try it.
Next was pork tongue with noodles, leeks, and a spicy black bean sauce. I had never had pork tongue before, and it was really good! I doubt I would have known I was eating tongue, because it had a good texture, kind of crispy, but not tough. The black bean sauce really added a nice savory dimension to the dish.
And braised pig cheeks with pineapple jalapeno chutney. It's a very close call, but I think this was my favorite, in part because of my love for sweet and savory combinations. The cheeks were really meaty and incredibly tender, the plastic fork just sliced right through them.
Here's a shot of the menu. They've got their Twitter and Facebook pages linked to their main website, and they're good about updating them with the daily specials. I aim to get back there soon. Even the regular menu items sound fantastic. Good people, good food. New favorite trailer, hands down.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Finn + Porter

I was invited by Finn + Porter to sample their new fall menu by Chef Peter Maffei. Located in the downtown Hilton Hotel, Finn + Porter hasn't really been on my radar as an Austin dining destination, but it surely is now. The staff and the food were delightful; here's the rundown of the 14 courses (!!) they presented to myself and my friend. And no, we did not eat all of it, and they were gracious to provide to go boxes! Gracious doesn't even begin to describe the entire staff -- they were fantastic, as was the food.

Lockhart quail with celery root, golden beet, leek, carrot. While not the best photo to start things off with, these little guys were tasty and the different vegetable purees went nicely with it.
Trio of beets with Wateroak Farms chevre, pistachios, arugula, beet vinaigrette. Really pretty simple, and one of my favorite dishes from the whole evening. The addition of pistachio was almost revelatory, and the Wateroak Farms chevre was very mild and incredibly creamy.
Grilled broccoli salad served room temperature, with pickled shallots, golden raisins and sourdough bread. Hey Mom! THIS is how I'll eat my broccoli! Somehow the grilling and the acid from the shallots made this magical, and I am not a broccoli fan. (Until now.)
Crispy Gulf oysters with a masa crust, with arugula, celery, tomato chutney, pickled shallot vinaigrette. A little thick on the crust, but a gorgeous presentation, and a great pop from the tomato chutney.
Soy-glazed Richardson Farms pork belly, with Asian pear, celery, balsamic teriyaki. I rarely have met a pork belly I didn't like, and that sweet little square of Asian pear made these two-bite cubes of savory pork just perfect.
Gulf shrimp with smoked salt, truffled orzo, chives. I think the chef was impressed that I could tell it was smoked salt on the shrimp. I knew they weren't grilled enough to take on the nice smoky flavor on their own. The shrimp on their own were great, but almost overshadowed by the accompanying orzo. Creamy and just the right amount of truffle.
Beef cheek ravioli with little neck clam ragout, root vegetables, arugula. Chef Peter said to get a bite with a little bit of everything, and he was right -- all the tastes together for one big party!
Braised local lamb shank with roasted carrot, mushroom, tarragon, and a rosemary popover. Loved the little cast iron dish the lamb came in; this is really such a perfect fall dish. The popover would have been great if it was served straight from the oven.
Beef short rib with roasted bone marrow, fall root vegetables, and beef consomme. This was another one of my favorites, and it was juicy (and not just from the consomme) and fork-tender.
Striped bass with sourdough crust, broccoli, ricotta gnocchi, sweet potato. I was intrigued by the technique employed here; they took a very think piece of sourdough and basically adhered it to the fish, and pan-sauteed it to give it the look of the skin. It came out really nice and crisp with perfectly flaky fish underneath. Chef Peter called it a grilled cheese without the cheese. The gnocchi was a bit dense for my taste.
Halibut with roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, raisins, verjus. Great use of fall flavors here.
Duck breast with farro, heirloom carrots two ways, raisin puree. This was a huge serving of duck breast , and the raisin puree really went nicely. Duck generally needs something sweet/tart, and the raisin puree was a lovely spin.
Meat trio of Strube Ranch Wagyu strip steak, brined pork chop, and filet mignon, with bacon and potato terrine. For this last entree, they plated three separate meat dishes onto one plate so we could finish with a hearty morsel. We were so stuffed at this point, we could barely eat more than a bite of each. All were delicious, but for me the filet was the standout.
And *finally* dessert! Chocolate peanut butter mousse with toasted marshmallow and banana sorbet. A little sweet and a little savory, and surprisingly fairly light.
Chef Peter brought every dish out to us personally, and he talked about how he tries to find local as much as possible. He started creating the menu earlier this spring, and is already working on concepts for next spring's offerings. Finn + Porter's fall menu has something for everyone, I was just lucky enough to be able to try almost all of it!

Disclaimer: They invited me for a meal, no money exchanged hands. They did not even ask me for a blog post, but I am happy to sing their praises.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Recent Austin Eats

Here are some recent eats worth mentioning! If you follow me on Instagram < @southaustinfoodie > you may have seen some of these pics before.  :)

Blue Bell in Brenham
Last month, I took a little road trip to Round Top with the hopes of eating for the first time at Royer's, but they were closed because it was the week after the big market. And so we continued on to Brenham, to go to the Blue Bell ice cream plant! Now can you believe I was with some NATIVE Texans, who had never been there before? Heck, I am East Coast girl, and I had even been once before, many years back. Anyway, we had a blast. And I learned from our tour there that Blue Bell was the very first company to produce a cookies and cream variety of ice cream. Originally they used Oreos, but they eventually switched to making their own cookies. And employees can eat as much ice cream (or other Blue Bell products) as they wish when they are on their break! My mint chocolate chip was refreshing and delicious!

Wholly Cow Burger
I drive past this convenience store/burger spot all the time on South Lamar. Wholly Cow uses locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone-free beef from a farm in Fredericksburg, and also has many vegetarian, paleo and gluten free options. I had the burger and onion rings, and my friend the cheese steak and fries. Look at those gorgeous onion rings! It was a huge pile, and they were fried really well..... but I think they are using a gluten free batter, because there was no crispness to them. (I did try asking about the batter, but the guy at the counter was a rather evasive...) The burger is served on a King's Hawaiian Sweet Roll, which I like; the burger itself was fine, but I wouldn't say there was anything majorly special about it.
The fries unfortunately weren't a whole lot better; they too look like they'd be great, but they were undercooked, and rather starchy in the middle. Overall, a bit of a disappointment for me, but my friend really liked her cheese steak.

Peached Tortilla
The Texas Book Festival had a barbeque food court, and the Peached Tortilla trailer was serving items featuring brisket from Miller's BBQ. I had the sweet potato fries, with brisket, fried egg, and sriracha mayo, and it was pretty darn tasty. The meat was really nice, though it could have used more brisket; I would order this again if I came across it. My friend had the pork bowl with wasabi slaw, pickled cucumbers, and rice; I didn't try it, but it looked good, and he ate all of it.

Dong Nai (no website)
Tucked away by the Target on South Lamar and Ben White is Dong Nai, a Vietnamese place with some Chinese food options as well. It's been probably 2 years since I've been here, even though I've always liked it. They've changed their decor a bit, removing the booths along one wall in favor of regular tables. The chairs at our table though were on wheels which was a little odd for a non-carpeted environment. Prices have always been good, and food comes out quickly. Their pho has always had a wonderful broth, very aromatic. I am partial to their vermicelli, or bun, bowls, particularly the char grilled pork. It looked great, and everything was very fresh, but the pork wasn't as flavorful as I remember it to be. Hopefully it won't take me two more years to return.

Veracruz All Natural
On East Cesar Chavez between Chalmers and Chicon, you'll find the Veracruz All Natural trailer alongside Kerlin BBQ. My friend and fellow blogger Mad Betty is crazy about chilaquiles, and she had learned that on the first Sunday of the month, Veracruz serves them as a special. I was prepared to get the chilaquiles too, and figured one of us would get with red sauce, and the other with green. However, when I saw they were offering chicken enchiladas with mole for breakfast, all bets were off. You know I've been a on quest to find Austin's best mole, right? (And if you have suggestions, PLEASE leave them in the comments below!) I LOVE a traditional Oaxacan mole (aka mole coloradito, made with chiles, nuts, raisins, chocolate....), and I rarely pass up the opportunity to try a new one.

These were nice fat chicken enchiladas, with mostly shredded white meat. I could have lived without the raw onion slivers, but the fried plantains with their caramelized edges made up for it. And the mole sauce -- overall, not bad, though not my ideal. It was a thinner sauce in body, and was heat-forward, meaning the chiles were pretty much the first thing I tasted, and I didn't get the depth that I should get from the other ingredients, but still tasty. Plus this stunning plate was only $8.50. I've been to brick and mortar restaurants who have served smaller portions for twice the price. And, for a food trailer, notice they are using REAL plates!
I had a taste of the chilaquiles (with red sauce) which were quite good, and Mad Betty seemed very pleased. Check her blog, as I am sure she'll be writing it up soon.

The local 7-Eleven had a two pound Rice Krispie treat! And they even had "recipe suggestions" on the back! I am not even that big of a fan of these things, but I just marveled at the sheer size of this thing, and think it's pretty genius, especially for those who can't make their own. Though I think for the cost of $11.99, you could make two batches.

And finally, all the recent rains brought a bounty of snails to my front porch (seeking higher, drier ground, perhaps?) Escargot, anyone?