Monday, June 23, 2014

A-OK Chinese

I visited A-OK Chinese on South Lamar last month. They opened in mid-March after several months of permit delays, and they are the only Chinese place I know of run by a couple of white guys. But guys with a long history of local restaurant connections. Chef John Bullington is an acquaintance of mine; he's the former executive chef of Mars (if you've been in ATX long enough, you'll remember Mars) and the Alamo Drafthouse. His business partner Jerry Reid has years of wine background and front of the house management. Their mission statement is clearly on the wall: to create American-style Chinese food. And what that generally means is breaded and fried pieces of cheap cuts of meat with a cloying, thick, bright orange twangy sauce. And fortunately, that's not the case here.
The quality of A-OK's ingredients is super; very fresh veggies and nice cuts of juicy meat. Where things lacked though, was in the flavor. My friend and I split the pu pu platter; the shrimp toast was good and the five-spice pork ribs were REALLY good (good flavor, good tenderness; they have these on the menu as a dish, and I'd definitely eat them again). But the wontons and dumplings seemed to suffer from dough that was chewy and too thick, and the eggroll's vegetable filling (not pictured) was a bit soggy and didn't have a lot going on.
My friend ordered the garlic pork bowl, which could have used at least three times more garlic. I had the kung pao chicken; the dinner bowl is a very nice large portion, and again everything was very fresh. Kung pao is typically characterized by peanuts and spice from chile; this dish had the peanuts, but I would have liked more of the chile flavor. It does employ some szechuan peppercorns, which can give a tingly, mouth-numbing feel when lots are used, but not in this case. The brown sauce lightly coated everything, but was not too thick or gloppy. I ate part of the bowl there, and then took the rest home for dinner, where the chile flavors did  come out a little bit more.
Aesthetically, I liked the look and feel of the space. And at mid-day, there was great natural light for taking photos! They are really good about updating their Facebook page with their daily specials, and some of the dishes have looked gorgeous. I really want this place to succeed, especially since it's in my area of town. I just think there might be some new restaurant jitters that are still being worked through, and I am hoping they can punch up the flavor components and things will iron themselves out.   As South Lamar (and all of Austin) continues to grow, we need these local small businesses to succeed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bits and Bites

-- Central Market's annual Beerfest runs June 11-24; samples and beer makers throughout the duration. A beer stroll through the store with lots of demos and some freebies is June 19th from 5 - 8 pm, $10.
-- Russian House will have streaming of World Cup soccer matches beginning June 12 and Father's Day buffet on June 15th.
-- Dads get a free koozie when they dine at any of the Mandola's restaurants on Father's Day.
-- The Citywide 86'd cooking competition is June 16th at the AT + T Conference Center; watch your favorite local chefs compete!
-- Nada Moo's! Whole Lotta Dessert Social will be June 22, 5 - 7 pm at NoVa. Join Nada Moo!, Good Pops, Chameleon Cold Brew, Skull and Cakebones, and NoVa for some sweet treats, benefiting the Whole Planet Foundation.
-- It's getting warm out and what better way to cool off than at the Austin Food Blogger Alliance's the Big Chill, June 26th at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, 6 - 9 pm, $65/person, benefiting Meals on Wheels and More. See my previous blog post for more details on all  the fabulous participating restaurants and enter to win a pair of tickets! (I am a member of AFBA, and am on the organizing committee for this event -- hope to see you there!) 
 -- Want to improve your kitchen skills? Gateway Guesthouse has a great summer line up of classes from sauces to knife skills, starting at $65.

Openings/Additions etc.
-- We Olive and Wine Bar, an olive oil store, has opened at the Hill Country Galleria
-- Epicerie has switched from ordering at the counter to full table service.
-- NoVa has unveiled their summer menu. (I tried the parmesan risotto at a recent tasting, and it was delicious!)
-- Chavez offering Sunday brunch with $2 mimosas until 2 pm.
-- Froyoyo, the locally owned frozen yogurt shop on Bee Caves Road (at Walsh Tarlton)  has expanded their offerings by adding a large selection of bean to bar chocolates. They welcome people to come by for a taste!
-- Postmates, a restaurant and grocery delivery service has opened in Austin, offering deliveries within an hour of ordering. They currently have a limited delivery zone, though hope to expand.
-- Snarf's Subs, a Colorado-based chain, is opening at 2901 Medical Arts later this month.

-- Bakehouse on Manchaca is closing, and Strangebrew Coffee will open a 24-hour diner.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big Chill

I am a member of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, and our annual fundraiser event is coming up! Join us at the Big Chill, June 26th, from 6 - 9 pm at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Tickets are $65/person, and can be purchased here.... or....

Enter to win two tickets to The Big Chill!

It's the coolest event in the hot Texas summer: the Big Chill! Join the Austin Food Blogger Alliance for a night to remember.

Dress up and cool down with chilly bites from some of Austin's top restaurants at the beautiful Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Chefs from top Austin restaurants -- including The Carillon, No Va, St. Philip, Dolce Neve, Celtic Seafare, Nada Moo, Soup Peddler, Pleasant Storage Room, Swift's Attic, Thai Fresh, Trace at the W, and Noble Sandwich Co. -- will be creating special menu items for the event, with drink stations sponsored by Good Pop and Chameleon Coffee.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Meals on Wheels and More, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Meals on Wheels and More has served the Austin area for 42 years, nourishing and enriching the lives of people in need through meal delivery and other programs that promote independent living.

Event information:
Thursday, June 26 from 6 - 9 pm
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 N. Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78701

Total prize value: $130
Must be over 21 to attend the event.
Enter below to win now through June 15th, and don’t forget to follow along on Twitter and Instagram: #AFBABigChill

I can't get the widget to load properly, but this link should take you to the contest entry! Spread the word!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Food and Wine at Snack Bar

I was invited by Snack Bar to come and check out their new wine menu, and it ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable evening with owner Bethany Andree and Wine for the People consultant Rae Wilson.

My friend and I selected a couple items to eat, and Rae picked four different wines to go with them.  We had the lightly caramelized Brussels sprouts, which by themselves are a nice sweet and savory mouthful, but the addition of an herbed aioli adds another textural and flavor component. And the mussels, with their briny sweetness... what wines DO you pair with Brussels and mussels?
Rae picked four wines for us to try, and they all really worked! I should have taken more wine tasting notes, but all complemented the dishes very well.
  • Compass Rose Cellars Pinot Grigio, Mason, Texas -- very crisp, with honey and pear tones
  • Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany -- stonefruit and more minerality
  • Dead Flowers Rosé, High Plains, Texas -- not too dry (nor sweet) and thoroughly drinkable
  • Inman Family Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California -- a lighter red, great for summer sipping
She also ordered the fish of the day, grilled mahi mahi with mango pineapple salsa and coconut rice. Not only did this look fabulous, it tasted fabulous as well! And of course, her wine selections worked great with this dish. So whether you're into reds, whites, or roses, Snack Bar can match your food and wine choices!
For dessert, we had the "candy bar" which is kind of a cross between a brownie and a Snickers bar, and the raspberry black pepper sorbet. Rae picked a delicious port, Quinto do Crasto LBV Port, from Douro Valley, Portugal and the Gongora Duque de Carmona Orange, from Sevilla, Spain (Seville oranges soak in this sweet wine). I am partial to ports, with their raisin and fig notes, which were lovely with the candy bar, and the orange notes were great with the peppery kick of the berry sorbet. (My picture didn't turn out so great, so I will spare you.)

Rae does wine consulting for a number of area restaurants, which includes staff trainings. With nearly 20 years experience in the industry, she aims to keep wines accessible to people of varying wine experiences. Bethany and her husband have owned and operated Snack Bar since 2009. She had worked next door at the Austin Motel for years, and when the space became available, they decided to go for it, and reclaim some of its vintage diner character. The menu reflects their love of travel and international cuisine, and there's something for everyone on it.  Being right in the heart of South Congress, they get a good mix of both locals, regulars and tourists. Their nice big patio is also perfect for people watching with a big glass of wine or beverage of choice. Check their website or Facebook page for nightly specials, but most importantly, go check out this fun South Austin spot!

I was a guest of Snack Bar; no money exchanged hands, and I was not paid for my opinions.