Monday, July 28, 2014

Bits and Bites

-- Mettle has a lovely new summer menu; they recently had a media tasting which I attended. The items from Chef Andrew Francisco that we tasted are: (top row) Scallop Crudo with watermelon, cucumbers, tomato water, salmon roe;  Strawberry Basil Press; Tomato Salad with cheddar, balsamic and jalapeno puree; (bottom row) Grilled Beets with white chocolate, cashews, mascarpone, seaweed; Parisenne Gnocchi with grilled carrots, chevre, black sesame; Shrimp Gratin with Thai-infused flavors and Easy Tiger bread.
-- Hotel San Jose is partnering with Fresa's, by bringing in some of their prepared foods (salsa, guac, quesadillas, grilled Brussels, chicken skewers) for patrons.
-- The Austin Chronicle has announced that longtime food editor Virginia Wood is stepping down; Brandon Watson takes the reins.
-- Chavez is now open for Sunday brunch, 10:30 am - 2:30 pm, $32/adults, $12/kids with $2 mimosas and aguas frescas.
-- Walton's Fancy + Staple is teaming up with Dolce Neve Gelato to make ice cream (well, gelato!) sandwiches!

-- Every Monday at Little Barrel and Brown is now Country Picnic Day, with a $25 all you can eat buffet including items like fried chicken, pulled pork and other country favorites. 6 pm and onward. $2 Lone Stars.
-- Tickets for the 5th Annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest (September 14th) go on sale on July 29th. Guaranteed to sell out!
-- Josephine House is hosting a guest chef series; July 29th will feature Bufalina chef and owner Stephen Dilley with a four course meal for $50 or $80 with wine pairings; for reservations: reservations@
 -- Eat Out for Good, August 3 - 13; a number of local restaurants will participating with special menu items, and donating 10% to a charitable organization of their choice. Restaurants and their charities are listed on the website. 
-- Swift's Attic is hosting an Alaska Seafood dinner, August 3rd, 6 pm and 8 pm seatings, $50/person with a suggested $25 donation to benefit Operation Turkey, which provides Thanksgiving meals to those in need.
-- August 6th, 5 - 10 pm, The Hightower is hosting the kickoff of the Austin ColorCancer Network; a $5 donation gets you a flight of  local beers. 
-- Pay it Forward for Daniel Curtis is August 7th at the AT+T Conference Center; tickets $75-$125, benefiting the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation.
-- Wine and Dine with David Bull, August 13th, $175/person, benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance Culinary Grant Program; tickets here.
-- Hotel San Jose will feature Reggae Night on August 17th, 3:30 - 6:30 pm.
-- Fun Fun Fun Fest is now taking food vendor applications.
-- This spring, Austin American-Statesman launched their #Austin360Eats hashtag, for anyone to tag their social media pictures of meals out on the town.  This past week, they've added #Austin360Cooks for all those creating home-cooked meals! So if you're posting on Instagram and Twitter, be sure to appropriately tag your photos. Besides, you never know.... you could end up with #photooftheweek like I did this past week for my Instagram photo of a salad at Galaxy Cafe recently! Here's the Statesman's link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dang Banh Mi

Dang Banh Mi held a soft opening/media preview just prior to their official opening on July 21st. I was invited to attend, but have not been paid for my opinion. Located in the strip center at the southwest corner of 183 and Burnet Road, DBM is part of the Plucker's family. The owners (three non-Asian Texans) have long been fascinated with Vietnam, and over the course of several trips, found what they considered to be the best banh mi in the country, and its proprietor, Phuong, was willing to impart her culinary secrets. They are definitely trying to make authentic Vietnamese food.

Love the whimsy and color scheme of the interior, as well as the light fixtures, but it doesn't scream "Vietnam" to me.
The menu board.
We started with a spring roll and som tum (green papaya salad), which is more of a Thai item, but is also eaten in Vietnam. Really loved the peanut sauce (almost as good as my own, so I am picky!) ;)
DBM was overly generous with their portions for this tasting! First off was a sampling of three of the banh mi: chicken, the original with four types of pork (belly, tenderloin, ground, and housemade pate), and oxtail.
A big beefy bowl of pho; I missed a star anise aroma to the broth.
A huge bowl of pork bun, which a delicious nuoc cham sauce (fish sauce, typically with added lime juice, sugar, chile, and shredded carrot).
What I felt that DBM did best were the sauces: peanut, their Dang sauce (sriracha/chile sauce), and the nuoc cham. All three were excellent. They are bottling and selling the sriracha and also a hoisin sauce, which I did not try.

I would be curious to know why they've decided to open a banh mi shop in North Austin, in very close proximity to places like Tam Deli and Thanh Nhi, which are authentic Vietnamese restaurants that have banh mi for about half the price (though smaller portions too). I wonder if they should have opened up along someplace like South Lamar or Sunset Valley where there are no other banh mi offerings. (Not to neglect my beloved Lulu B's trailer on South Lamar and Oltorf; love their food, just wish they had longer hours.) And who is the target audience? If they're trying to reach people who are too intimidated to go to an authentic ethnic restaurant, then they may have succeeded. Time will tell.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Liberty Tavern

For a restaurant/bar located inside a corporate downtown Austin hotel, Liberty Tavern  has done a nice job of representing Texas.  Located on the ground level of the Hilton, Chef Carlos Cruz has redesigned the menu to feature "classic pub fare with a Tex-Mex twist," including a number of Texas beers on tap. I was recently invited to come and sample some of the new breakfast items on the menu; I was not paid for my opinions.
The kitchen selected dishes for my brunch companion and I to try. We started with the Texas Short Rib Benedict, a 72-hour short rib on toasted sourdough bread topped with caramelized onions, poached eggs and chipotle hollandaise. Tasty short rib!!
Next up was the Heavenly Hash, with jalapeƱo smoked sausage from Fredricksburg, red potatoes, onions, Serrano peppers, and  topped with a panko-crusted poached egg. Nice big pieces of potato with medallions of sausage, all under a runny egg.
A HUGE plate of  Texas Oatmeal Pancakes, with toffee sauce and candied Texas pecans. I have to say, I generally prefer the little silver dollar pancakes with the crispy edges, but these were nice and fluffy, and the toffee sauce instead of syrup was a great twist! And the generous sprinkling candied pecans made each bite a great textural combination of soft and crunchy.
And as if we weren't already full, the chef sent out the Caprese Salad from the lunch menu for us to try as well. You can also see in this picture the beautiful dishware Liberty Tavern is using; the Benedict was served on this same oblong plate, and the hash was served on a similar round dish. (I really wanted to stick this plate in my purse, but I swear I didn't!)
Many thanks to the staff at Liberty Tavern for welcoming us and feeding us extremely well. They are open daily from 6 am - 11 pm, with a reverse happy hour from 9 - 11 pm, daily. If you find yourself downtown and are in need of a little (or big!) pick me up, Liberty Tavern is a great place to find it. Their street entrance is on the south side of the Hilton on 4th Street, just across from the light rail station and the Convention Center.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bits and Bites

What's happening in and around the ATX food scene?!

-- Thursday, July 10th, Salvation Pizza is holding a fundraiser for Camp Glimmer (part of the Glimmer of Hope Foundation), 6 - 9 pm.

-- Roll on Sushi Diner celebrates their 3rd anniversary with new group seating, updated menu items, and a revamped drink list; in-house specials July 11-13.

-- Greenhouse Craft Food in Round Rock is having a St. Arnold beer pairing dinner on July 13th, $45/person; to reserve tickets, email:

-- On July 13th, Swift's Attic is holding their first Sunday Supper event, benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Tickets $150/person and available at the door or by calling 512/482-8200.

-- Mulberry is hosting a Bastille Day Dinner, July 14th, $25/person, tickets here.

-- PayPal is getting excited for National Ice Cream Day on July 20th. Leave your wallet at home, and just "check in" on the PayPal app to pay for your cool treats from: Coolhaus, Cow Tipping Creamery, Dolce Neve, Froyoyo, and Hey Cupcake (Barton Springs location).

-- July 25th, Russia House is holding their Black and White Old Hollywood Party, $10, with music by Snorky's.

-- Sunday, July 27th, Dishcrawl is holding their first ever Brunchcrawl, $45/person. Participants aren't told of the restaurants they will visit in advance -- it's a secret -- but will travel to three locations to eat!

-- Saturday, August 2nd, the 2nd Street District hosts White Linen, which will feature bites from some of 2ND Street District’s favorite restaurants, along with wine pairings from local and popular vineyards. This year the event benefits the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Tickets are $25.

-- Thursday, August 7th is the annual Pay it Forward with Daniel Curtis, a benefit for the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation. Hosted by the AT+T Conference Center, a number of local chefs will donate their talents in making dishes for the event.  $75/general admission, $125/VIP

-- The Austin Ice Cream Festival is Saturday, August 9th at Fiesta Gardens; $10/person. 

-- A local company, Supermechanical, has a Kickstarter in place to raise funding for Range Oven Intelligence, a "brain for your oven" that connects to your smartphone. Check them out (or heck, fund them!) here.

-- Foodways Texas annual Camp Brisket will be January 9-10, 2015 in College Station. If you want to learn absolutely everything about smoking brisket, this is the place to be! I believe it always sells out, even at $495-$550/person!

Openings, Updates, etc.
-- Upstairs on Trinity is now open for Sunday brunch, 12 - 4 pm.

-- Pleasant Storage Room is now open for lunches, Tuesday - Friday.

-- We Olive and Wine Bar officially opens July 18th at the Hill Country Galleria.

-- Perry's Steakhouse is celebrating their 35th anniversary, with their 4444 special through July and August. That's 4 courses for $44 after 4 pm !

-- Chen Z has opened at William Cannon and 290/71 in Oak Hill. No website or Facebook page that I can find, but here's the Yelp link.

-- Sagra now has some vegan options, and can also make their entire menu gluten-free if needed.

-- Dock and Roll Diner has new menu selections, including crab and scallop rolls.

-- Peche is introducing Tiki Sundays with $10 tiki cocktails all day.

-- LA Barbecue is moving from their East 6th location to the Good Life Food Park, near IH-35 and Cesar Chavez.

-- Regal Ravioli moved into LA Barbecue's old spot on South First, across from Elizabeth Street Cafe.

-- Dai Due is very close to opening their new butcher shop at 2406 Manor Road. Their next door neighbor will be a second location of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop, with a dessert and wine emphasis.

-- Mandola's at the Triangle has an updated weekend brunch menu, including new pastries and frittatas; 9 am - 1 pm. Both Mandola's locations as well as Trattoria Lisina also have special summer gelato flavors, including peach and black cherry.

Monday, July 7, 2014

aRoma Italian Kitchen and Bar

I drive up and down South Lamar Blvd. everyday, and have watched with curiosity over the past 1.5 years as the mixed retail project surrounding the Broken Spoke takes place. The first two food establishments that have gone in are national chains -- Boardwalk Burger + Fries and Bruegger's Bagel's. {Sidenote: I tried Boardwalk about a month ago; great friendly service, and I loved the fries, but the burger was meh.} So I was thrilled to see a locally-owned place -- aRoma Italian Kitchen and Bar --  take center stage (literally) next to the Spoke. You can't tell from the picture, but aRoma's patio seating is practically in the Spoke's parking lot.
I was invited to aRoma for a media tasting a couple weeks back, and this was my first look and taste. (No money exchanged hands, and I was not paid for my opinion.) Owner Dave Whitney was a head honcho at Threadgill's for over a decade, but always had a love for Neapolitan-style pizza. He found Chef Jason Garcia in San Antonio, who shared his love for classic Italian. Dave is also related to the owners of Mockingbird Domestics, the homegoods store a little further north on SoLa, who helped with the decor of aRoma.

We were started off with a salumi and formaggi plate ($12), with mostarda and castelvetrano olives.
Next was a modern take on a beet salad ($9) with goat cheese, farro, pine nuts, and onion rings. Beets and goat cheese are always a good thing in my book!
The classic Margherita pizza ($12); their pizzas cook for 60-90 seconds in a 900 degree wood fired brick oven! Hot!
And the arugula prosciutto pizza ($16), which I loved! The arugula is very gently tossed in truffle oil, but it's extremely subtle, and oh so good!
The fettucine gamberetto ($12) is tossed in a lightly smoked tomato cream, that imparted some very nice flavor to the dish, and didn't make it too heavy. We also had the brasato al vino ($21), or wine-braised short rib, though I did not get a worthy photo.
aRoma is absolutely a welcome addition to the changing face of South Lamar. Check them out for happy happy hour, from 4 - 7 pm, with half-price pizzas; full dinner service starts at 5 pm and they are open seven days a week. Free parking onsite as well. Benvenuto!