Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

Upcoming Events
-- Patika Wine and Coffee is hosting a latte art throwdown with the Barista Guild of America, October 30th, 7 pm.
-- Gourdough's Public House celebrates their 2nd anniversary with the Creepy Carnival Halloween party, October 31st, 7 pm.  They're also celebrating Austin Beer Week through November 2nd with a prix fixe three course menu for $25.
-- Tacodeli is celebrating 15 years in business, and during the month of November, try 15 lunch tacos and win a free t-shirt. Stop by one of their locations and pick up a Celebrate 15 card and get eating!
-- Jeffrey's offers a four-course wine pairing dinner with winemaker Christian Moueix, November 4th, 6 pm, $300/person.
-- Little Barrel and Brown teams with the Austin Wine Merchant for a five-course wine pairing dinner on November 5th, 6:30 pm, $60/person
-- Austin Monthly has announced their list of the top 11 new restaurants in Austin, and will celebrate them with their Diner's Club dinner on November 6th, 7:30-9:30 pm, $30/person.
-- Whip In and Wine for the People present Sunday brunch with a Tower of Bubbles! November 9th, 11:30 am - 3 pm with bubblies from all over the world. $30/person.
-- Experience Thanksgiving dinner with Epicerie and Argus Cidery, November 9th, 6:30 pm, $75-93/person
-- Austin Fermentation Festival with Sandor Katz is November 15th at Le Cordon Bleu.
-- Wine and Swine, from the Austin Food and Wine Alliance is November 23rd, $85/person.
-- Silk Road Austin, a dinner benefiting Asian Family Support Services of Austin, will be November 15th, 7pm at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, $100/person with food from Kome, Clay Pit, Koriente, and Chinatown, and co-chaired by Takuya Matsumoto, chef/owner of Ramen Tatsuya.
-- The Sustainable Food Center will host Autumn Harvest at Sway, November 16th, 5:30 pm,  $70-$175/person, and will be a celebration of locally-sourced produce and meats prepared by some of Austin's finest chefs.
-- Edible Austin's Eat Drink Local week is December 6-13; chef/author Dan Barber will be the keynote presenter during the event (December 8th at the Paramount Theater).

New and Misc. 
-- Chocolaterie Tessa, an artisan chocolate shop, has opened at 7425 Burnet Road. 
-- Black's BBQ (yes, of Lockhart) has opened at 3110 Guadalupe.
-- Fall Creek Vineyards has announced they will open a tasting room and production facility in Driftwood, directly across from the Salt Lick BBQ.
-- The Elm Restaurant Group (24 Diner, Easy Tiger, Arro) has announced their latest concept, Italic, an Italian bistro to open in the historic Starr Building at 6th and Colorado sometime next year.
-- Pinthouse Pizza will open a south location at 4236 S. Lamar next year. 
-- Download Citygram magazine on your phone or tablet, and take a look at the article on the family meal at three local establishments.
-- Vivo has reopened at Lincoln Village.

-- The iconic Dog and Duck Pub at 17th and Guadalupe will close October 31st; plans are in the works to relocate it to E. 7th in 2015. 
-- 7th and Congress mainstay Thai Passion has managed to find new space in far NW Austin, 13376 Research Blvd. Eater Austin reports that the landlords of the downtown location wanted national tenants, not mom and pops. Boo.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Refreshed from the R3 Summit!

Last weekend, October 17-18 was the Prevention Magazine R3 Summit -- refresh, revive, and reinvent. Held at the Long Center here in Austin, the event brought together presenters and panelists from the health, fitness, and beauty industries. Here's a quick look at what I attended.

Friday night was the kickoff reception and the screening of the movie Resistance, which looks at the use of antibiotics in our food and medicine supply; there's a preview of the movie in the link. Following the screening was a panel discussion with the director Michael Graziano and other health experts.

On Saturday, you could check out fitness classes -- with Barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln or exercise trainer Chris Freytag.
Or hear panel presenters. The keynote speaker of the weekend was actress, model, and L'oreal spokeswoman Andie MacDowell. She now 56, and embraces her age and her look. Through her teens and 20s as a model, she was constantly pressured to be very thin, but it did not suit her physically or emotionally to be rail thin. She says everyone has to find their healthy weight, and you can't be healthy if you're starving, and said "I don't want to waste time being miserable." She's right: life's too short.
Another panel which was moderated by Prevention dietitian Ashley Koff, and included local chef Sonya Cote of Eden East. They stressed eating clean -- things with real food ingredients, no additives! And Sonya also did one of the cooking stage demos. I wish I had caught more of the panel on nutritional supplements, but from the tail end that I heard, the experts were keen on curcumin and Vitamin D3, and you definitely want to take ones from quality manufacturers.
I also really enjoyed:
Creating your own personalized fragrance; I made a body lotion with grapefruit, ginger, and a light musk scent!
 Get your chakras balanced... something I probably need more of, as well as a better understanding of it all!
Fabulous henna tattoos... the top picture is my friend Girl Gone Grits getting her hand done, and the bottom pic is my finished henna! It literally took 2 minutes for the lady to complete the design on my hand! And 10 days later, you can still see the image on my skin. (Yes, I am washing my hands, but not exfoliating them!) Pretty much every person I saw at the event had some sort of henna design on them.
And of course, the heart of it all! (From Applegate Farms, one of the main sponsors.)
Thanks, Prevention Magazine for inviting me to be a Very Important Blogger for the R3 Summit! Look forward to next year! Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Prevention to the R3 Summit; all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sichuan River

Sichuan River (from the owners of A+A Sichuan in North Austin)  has taken over the Tien Jin Chinese restaurant at 4534 Westgate Blvd (on the Hwy 290 eastbound frontage road at Westgate; same strip center as Black Swan Yoga and Sap's Thai). Can't say I had ever been to Tien Jin, but I have now had food from Sichuan River three times in two and a half weeks.

My first time, I got eggplant in garlic sauce for carry out, along with the fried dumplings. My butcher friend had been there, and I thought he had said he had the eggplant with pork, which is what I asked for when I called. Turns out the pork isn't normally part of this dish (I've had it that way at Asia Cafe a place I really really like in far northwest ATX) but they had no problem adding it in. Verdict: thumbs up! Although after I had posted the picture on Facebook, one comment was that it looked like a dismembered Smurf. The eggplant is incredibly tender and the sauce was mildly sweet with a hint of a twang. The dumplings were a bit of a miss, but I am partially to blame, as they sat in a styrofoam container for 20+ minutes, and the ensuing condensation negated any crispiness that pan-frying gave them. I'd order them again, but only if I was eating there. On the plus side, the dough for the dumplings was much, much better than that at Asia Cafe, where it is WAY too thick, and the soy sauce-based dipping sauce breathed some life into them. Oh, and the eggplant dish, which comes with rice? I got three meals out of that!
Sichuan River Austin
The second trip, I went to dine in with a Thai friend. She wanted to try some of the cold specialty dishes, namely pig ears and crunchy jellyfish, as she has had them in Thailand, and she wanted to see how they would compare. While these are not normally dishes I would go for, I was willing to try. And now I can say I tried them, and don't need to try them again. For some, I am sure they are wonderful. But for me, they were both very similar in texture: cartilaginous.  Both were fairly bland, gelatinous, and a touch crunchy, the pig ear more so. You can't really see it, but there was some very nice julienned cucumber slices under the jellyfish. In my defense, my Thai friend didn't especially love them either.
Sichuan River Austin
Sichuan River Austin
I ordered the dan dan noodles, which I had been tipped off by the butcher that they were good, but NOT on the printed menu. Oh, no problem, said the waitress. Now, when I've had dan dan noodles in the past, they've had a decent amount of ground meat with them. These did not, but they did have the nice chili oil, a mild Sichuan peppercorn flavor, and a nice firm quality to the egg noodles. I would definitely get this again.
Sichuan River Austin
The third trip was dinner with my friends who first introduced me to Asia Cafe many years ago. There were five of us total, and we agreed to order a variety and just split everything. We started with some hot and sour soup, which seemed heavy on the white pepper, but not enough sour for my liking. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't anything memorable. The rest of the meal fared much better! The dry fried green beans were a touch salty, but yummy, and still a bright green (as in NOT overcooked) color.
Sichuan River Austin
Sichuan River Austin
We ordered the eggplant in garlic sauce (just as is, no pork) which was again really good, though the sauce might have been just a bit on the thick side, and I would probably ask for it with pork again.

Butcher friend had also recommended the Sizzling Sichuan Lamb, and yeah, it was spot on! It's spicy, though you could probably have them dial it back a bit (see the dried red chiles and the sliced jalapenos?!). And tender. So tender. Very heavy on the cumin (yes, not just for Latin foods!), and a little bit of Sichuan peppercorn again. I love lamb, so I was very happy. Oh, and butcher friend has always loved Asia Cafe for it's tripe, stomach, and other "weird" parts; he's been extremely happy at Sichuan River so if that's your thing, go for it!
Sichuan River Austin
My friends are BIG egg foo young fans, so their eyes got REAL wide when they saw it on the menu, so we ordered the pork version. This did not disappoint, and they went as far as to say it was the best EFY they had had in a very very long time. It was crispy, because they serve the sauce on the side -- genius! And what is EFY, you might ask? Think of it as the Chinese version of an omelet. And really good.
Sichuan River Austin
Our final dish was jumbo sesame shrimp. On the plus, the shrimp were lightly crisp, but on the negative, the sauce was just way too thick and almost cloyingly sweet. Someone had a very heavy hand with the cornstarch in making the sauce. Shrimp good, sauce not so much.
Sichuan River Austin
The nice thing about having a larger group of people, is not only can you try a variety, but the cost seems to go down. We paid $15 each, and that included tip.  And while they seemed a bit short handed (but all the food came in a timely manner), the only other real drawback that we noticed was the lazy susan at our table could really use a good scrubbing and re-coating of protective oil; it was clean but sticky/tacky.

Why am I so excited to have a Sichuan place in South Austin? I believe it's the first place really serving authentic Sichuan (Szechuan/Szechwan) down south. And they're not heavy on the Americanized Chinese dishes, though they do have some if that's your thing. And on this Saturday night, the clientele was two-thirds Chinese, and by the time we left, they had a good-sized crowd. And they are close to my work, so I see more nights of eggplant with pork in my future. Both times I have eaten there, I've had the same waitress who is very good, and speaks good English and has good humor. I am starting to hear a bit of a buzz about Sichuan River, and for those of us in South Austin, this is a great addition to our food scene.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Porter Ale House and Gastropub

Porter Ale House
I've been wanting to check out Porter Ale House since its opening in January. They are located on the ground-level of a new apartment building on South First Street, about a quarter mile north of Ben White/Hwy 290, and on site parking is available. The people who I know who have been to Porter have all reported very good things, and can now say, I concur with their findings!

Friends and I met for happy hour (Sunday - Thursday, 5 - 7 pm) on a recent Tuesday, and they offer drink specials and a few small plates at reduced prices. I started with a Tito's Mule in the requisite copper mug, that was refreshing, but not real strong.
Porter Ale House
Truffle popcorn and fries were next. The popcorn has a very nice amount of finely shredded cheese; the ketchup with the fries was a bit sweet and sort of so-so. The country pate plate comes with pickled red onions, gherkins (cornichons), and some toasted breads; good pate, but I think I do like smooth pate a bit better.
Porter Ale House
There was also the grilled flat bread with olives and hummus; I just tried a piece of the bread, and it was fantastic! It's got just a bit of yeast in it, so it's soft on the inside, but lightly charred on the outside. A whole boat of that would have been dangerous. Same with the pretzel bread that was with the beer cheese fondue; don't know if they're making their own breads or if they're getting them from someplace like Easy Tiger, but they are good. And they asked if we wanted more bread and apples (I'd guess Granny Smith) a few minutes after we received the cheesy goodness. I did notice that all of the items we got from the happy hour menu (popcorn, fries, flat bread + olives) were served in paper boats, and the other dishes on wooden planks or trays.
Porter Ale House
The best dish all around was the oxtail croquettes. They look like well-fried over-sized tater tots, and the shredded beef was super tasty and falling apart. I only ate one of those, but could have easily eaten them all.
Porter Ale House
Dessert....well, there were four of us and four desserts on the menu, so we said, "Sure, why not?!" And we were not disappointed. Now I am not the biggest pumpkin-flavored-anything lover, but this pumpkin cheesecake was pretty tasty (and my companions definitely enjoyed it). The oatmeal crunch topping on the apple pear crisp was some of the best crunchy topping ever (I mean CRUNCHY!), and it was graced with an oatmeal stout whipped cream. Not pictured were the donuts (really more like uber-crispy beignets) with salted caramel sauce and some cranberry jam on the side, which were pretty tasty in their own right; and we discovered the cranberry jam was also a nice foil with the cheesecake and apple crisp.
Porter Ale House
Now the ultimate ending to our happy hour nibbles was the peanut butter and chocolate s'mores dessert, served in a low-profile canning jar. So it's a peanut butter moussey concoction in the jar, topped with chocolate ganache, and marshmallow fluff that's been torched; and that's peanut butter powder on the front of the plate and graham cracker crumbs in the back. I think my exact words after taking my first bite of it were "Oh my flipping god!". Yes, it's that good!
Porter Ale House
The interior is smaller than I thought it would be, as it's pretty much a long, galley-style set up. We were seated in the back booth; not sure if you can get the perspective from this shot. There are three large 10-top tables on the left, a couple booths on the right, and then the bank of booths along the back wall where we were seated. A few more high tables (I think?) by the bar, and some patio seating outside, but I'd guess that total seating capacity is about 100 people total. If I make this picture really large, you may be able to make out the very urban light fixtures on the left; I loved them. Modern, clean lines (as was the whole place), they're different from anything you'd see in a "normal" bar, and I really appreciate that.
Porter Ale House
There are several things on the menu that I'd still like to try, like the beet salad and pierogies; also the French toast and pork belly on the brunch menu. Overall I think the pricing is decent, though $17 for fish and chips does seem high, but I hear they're great. We each paid $26 plus tip, and each had two cocktails and a decent amount to eat. A fun first visit with girlfriends, and I am glad to have Porter in my zip code.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

 Upcoming Events
-- The Scarlett Rabbit is running Oktoberfest specials, October 6-26, the culmination of which will be an outdoor party with lots of food and live music on the 26th from 4 pm onward.

-- Mandola's Italian in Bee Cave is celebrating their 5th anniversary with a pizza party on October 13th beginning at 11 am.

-- Art Bites, an evening of art-inspired culinary creations from area chefs, Tuesday, October 14th, at Russell Collection Fine Art (1137 W. 6th) benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, $50/person.

-- Marye's Gourmet Pizza on Bee Caves Road is throwing a two year anniversary party, Wed., October 15th, 5 - 7 pm.

-- Meet local brewers at Thunderbird Cafe and Tap Room, October 15th, 6-10 pm, also serving as a benefit for the culinary grant programs of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance.

-- Prevention Magazine's R3 Summit is October 17-18 at the Long Center; see my previous post for a coupon code for $20 off tickets!

-- Swift's Attic Sunday Supper Series on October 19th will feature a benefit for LIVESTRONG. $75/person or $100 with wine parings.

-- Truck by Truckwest, October 21-26. Buy a 1-day, 2-day, or 6-day pass and get bites to eat at a slew of food trailers. Vote for your favorite trailer and the winner gets a $10,000 prize, to be awarded at the last Trailer Food Tuesday of the season, October 28th at the Long Center.

-- Carnivores Ball, and as the name implies, not really for the vegans; October 23rd, 5:30 pm, the old Brodie Homestead (you know, sandwiched in between strip malls on Brodie Lane in Sunset Valley -- the old barn is now an event space), $55/person. Organized by Aussie blogger Burger Mary, it will feature meats from Salt + Time, The Slow Bone Crew (from Dallas), Freedman's, Fried + True, beer from St. Arnold and bourbon from Garrison Brothers.

-- Estancia Churrascaria is celebrating their 3rd anniversary October 24-26 with a complimentary dessert for their patrons. 

-- Come one, come all to Homeslice's 9th Annual Carnival of Pizza, Saturday, November 22nd, 12 - 7pm!  Games, contests, pizza, and the event serves as a fundraiser for the Austin Bat Cave, a local non-profit for youth to develop their creative writing skills.

-- Wine and Swine (always one of my favorite events!) for the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, will be Sunday, November 23rd at Star Hill Ranch; details TBA.

-- Delysia Chocolatier is opening a brand new culinary facility in Cedar Park (2000 Windy Terrace, #2C) later this month.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prevention Magazine's R3 Summit

I am excited! And ready for something totally new to me! I have been invited by Prevention Magazine to be a VIB -- Very Important Blogger -- at their upcoming R3 Summit (refresh, revive, reinvent) October 17-18 at the Long Center.  Now in its second year, R3 features health/wellness, fitness, culinary, and beauty experts and sponsors and puts you in the driver's seat to discover new ways to optimize your health.

Friday night will feature a kickoff reception and then a screening of the documentary Resistance (regarding the use of antibiotics), followed by a panel discussion. All day Saturday will have programming on the terrace of the Long Center including:
  • Aha! Moments -- learn some breakthrough thinking that will change the way you perceive health
  • Love Your Age -- how women today are redefining age
  • Eat Clean for Optimal Health -- the power of clean eating for weight loss, energy and overall mood
  • Shake Up Your Supplements -- what you really need to know about all those vitamin and minerals out there
Some of the presenters include actresses Andie MacDowell and Annabelle Gurwitch, CBS Medical Correspondent Dr. Holly Phillips, barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln, and exercise guru Chris Freytag (I've done her videos!). There will also be skin and hair consultations, healthy cooking demos, chakra and reiki sessions, and fitness demos.

Check out their website or Facebook page for all the details on the schedule and sponsors. Tickets to this national event are only $95, but as a VIB, I am pleased to offer my readers a discount code good for $20 off! Registration can be done here through their website.

Prevention hosted a dinner at Eden East this past week to kick off the Summit's festivities. Located at Springdale Farm in East Austin, it's a beautiful setting for an outdoor dinner. Executive Chef Sonya Cote is known for her use of local and seasonal foods, and they do their prep and cooking in a large trailer. With lights in the oak trees and refined picnic tables, it's a gorgeous setting with the farm as the backdrop. We were treated to a five-course meal complete with wine pairings. And speaking of pairs/pears, my favorite course was the delicate pear spoon cake served in a mason jar of course!

Thanks to Prevention Magazine for inviting me to be a VIB! In full disclosure, I have been been invited by them to be a VIB, but have not been paid for my blogging opinions or expert fitness services.

And if you're coming to R3 from out of town, here are some restaurant suggestions that are within one mile walking of the Long Center, which is conveniently located just south of downtown Austin. 
  • Along Barton Springs Road (the south side of the Long Center) El Alma (interior Mexican food), Terry Blacks BBQ (I haven't been yet, but it's supposed to be good, as they have a good pedigree), Sandy's Frozen Custard (not the healthiest, but the custard is delicious!); going further west past Lamar Blvd is a strip of iconic Austin places, but the food is not what I'd call outstanding at any. A it further down and to the north is Casa de Luz, one of the few macrobiotic places in town.
  • Walking south on South First Street: Torchy's Taco trailer park, Sway (upscale Thai), Elizabeth Street Cafe (upscale Vietnamese, with amazing French pastries for breakfast), Lenoir (fine dining, dinner only), a trio of sweets shops La Patisserie (French), Dolce Neve (gelato), Sugar Mama's Bakeshop (cupcakes and other baked goods), El Chile (Mexican),  Bouldin Creek Cafe (all vegetarian), and La Mexicana Bakery (Mexican bakery with tacos, etc. too)
  • Along South Congress Avenue: Doc's Motorworks (bar food), Perla's (seafood), Hopdoddy (burgers galore), Homeslice (pizza), Enoteca (casual Italian).
  • There are a few places just on the east side of South First Street across from the Long Center, but I don't know that I can give them a full recommendation.