Wednesday, April 29, 2015


My friends and I were very excited to try Olamaie. This southern charmer opened last fall after a long buzz of its planning. Located just north of downtown in the old Sagra spot (and the ever older Mars spot for those of you who have been in these parts for a while), the quaintly updated house has a nice side patio and big windows on a relatively quiet street (specifically, 1610 San Antonio Street).  The entrance is through the patio to the left so it takes you to the back of the house; what was once the front door is now handicap access. 
We were immediately and warmly greeted by the host. Throughout the interior, we noticed nice floral arrangements and a modernity to the interior, such as mirrored ceilings in the room we were seated in. 

As we began looking at the menu, a young male came over to our table and filled our water glasses, and mumbled something about drinks. When he walked off, one of my friends immediately said “I hope that’s not our waiter.”  Turns out it was. So a few minutes later he returned to take our drink order. But there was no real greeting or welcome or warmth.  And given the pricing structure, we expected a higher level of service.

We opted for a few appetizers, but felt that the main courses were highly priced (more on this in a moment). Unfortunately my pictures are all a bit blurry -- sorry! I may have been distracted by the cold vent we were sitting under.

Salt roasted beets, grapefruit, edible flowers. Nice mix of types of beets and how they were cut: some slivered, some in chunks.
Beets at Olamaie
Pickled vegetables
Pickled vegetables at Olamaie
Pimento cheese with benne crackers.  I was really hoping for a good benne (sesame) seed wafer with the pimento, but to me these seemed more like basic wheat crackers with benne seeds on top. Benne wafers are made by the Gullah people along the South Carolina coast; they were descendants from East African slaves and continue to have their own dialect. I bought wafers when I was in Charleston years ago, where some of the Gullah still live. But I digress…. Good pimento cheese on a standard cracker, I didn’t really see what was particularly Southern about the cracker.
Pimento cheese and benne crackers at Olamaie
Country gravy, sausage and grits, with soft egg and peanuts. This is the one dish I really felt was amazing and would order again in a heartbeat. The peanuts sound weird, but added such a nice textural element and taste to the grits, which were coarser but creamy, and surely took more than five minutes to prepare. And there's a soft boiled egg under all those peanuts! You could probably make this a main course if so inclined, but a definite star.
Country gravy and grits with soft egg and peanuts at Olamaie
And the biscuits. Which are now so well-known at Olamaie, you have to ask for them because they are not on the menu. And they were fabulous biscuits. But three biscuits for $10? I must say, I make a pretty darn good biscuit myself and could make a whole lot for $10.
Biscuits at Olamaie

There were four entrees on the menu this evening: vegetarian, fish, chicken, and steak, ranging from $26-34. We saw the roasted cauliflower and chicken going to the table next to ours not long after we sat down, and the portion size just seemed very small for the price.

Neither my dining companions nor I feel like we’re being picky. At a fine dining establishment, I expect outstanding service. It should be proper and refined and informed, as that is the epitome of Southern manners. Yelp reviews also point to an inconsistency in the levels of service at Olamaie. My guess is it clearly depends on who your server is, but there should be some (high) standards set by the chef/owners for all of the staff.  Our young gentleman’s attitude and skill set would be fine at a more casual spot. But he was far too unpolished to make our experience at Olamaie a real southern charmer.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dai Due

Dai Due has evolved over the years from a farmer's market booth with high quality handmade products such as sausages, leaf lard, and condiments. Then they started adding hot prepared foods at the market, and soon after, classes like snout to tail butchering. Now they have graduated to a brick and mortar establishment on a bustling Manor Road that is both market and restaurant, and they continue to lead the way in serving local and seasonal foods.

But even a place so highly regarded had its slower times. Seated at the bar one night at the end of February, my friend and I were at Dai Due to "celebrate" Ladies Night, which is every Tuesday. According to our affable bartender, after just a month or two of service, the head butcher (a WOMAN!) and other staff realized that Tuesday nights were definitely slower than others. And, they would have random cuts of steak available that weren't as popular as say a rib eye. So Ladies Night was born, where Tuesdays are $10 steak nights for a 6 ounce portion; on the night we were there, we had a choice between tri-tip and I think eye of round. Regardless of the cuts available, I am sure it will be delicious. And Tuesdays are no longer slow nights there, so ladies, make your reservations!

We started our meal with wine (Duchman's Montepulciano from Driftwood for me) and the house-made pecan sourdough bread with a whipped lard sweetened with a touch of cane syrup. Nice chewy crust, and soft but yeasty insides with a lovely spread of mild pork fat.
Dai Due sourdough bread with whipped lard
Next was a venison ceviche with purple potato chips, tangerine, and carrot. I enjoyed this, but could take it or leave it, only because raw isn't my most favorite. My friend really loves ceviches and tartars and she was very pleased! The purple was a really nice pop of color.
Dai Due venison ceviche
We both opted for the tri-tip steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with a green garlic butter, and we split a side of the kale gratin which came in its own separate gratin dish. The steak was pink and juicy and tender and flavorful. And a complete bargain at $10, and really, I could barely finish it. It was pure meat, no bones. I also loved the kale, which had just a touch of nutmeg or allspice in it. Now the plating of just the steak and the butter was fairly unimaginative just sort of plopped on a beige plate, but I guess at $10 for an exquisite steak, you're paying for taste not looks. And by the way, green garlic is completely underutilized! You never (okay, rarely) see that on a menu; it's got such a nice mild garlic flavor that just reminds you that spring is coming.
Dai Due tri tip steak with kale gratin
I didn't get any good pictures of the interior, but I really enjoyed the modern galley-like space, with black leather booths and wooden accents. The skylights kept the space from feeling too heavy or drab. The market space is closest to the street-side door. There are a few different cases with freshly butchered meats, lard and schmaltz, and ground meats and sausages ready to take home. The main host stand is at the rear of the restaurant, or, the side closest to the main parking lot area and the back entrance.  Might be a touch confusing if you came in the street door expecting to be seated from there.

All in all, great friendly service and very fine food. Ladies Night or not, the steak and kale gratin beckon. Oh, and side note, the lovely east side location of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop is right next door; they're open late and they serve wine!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News: the Easter Edition

Chocolate Easter bunnies
Be nice to your Easter bunnies!
 Places doing Easter brunch, Sunday, April 5th:
-- Finn + Porter, 11 am - 3 pm, $48/adults, $20/kids
-- Olive + June, 11 am - 2 pm, $42/person
-- The Carillon, select seating times, $65/adults, $19.95/kids ages 6-12
-- Goodall's, 10 am - 3 pm, $65/adults, $27/kids
-- Daily Grill, 11 am - 3 pm 
-- Hyatt Regency, 11 am - 3 pm, $65/adults, $30/kids 
-- Sagra, $28.95/adults, $12/kids

-- Passover dinner at Lenoir, April 5th, $40/person

Other events:
-- Starting Wednesday, April 1st (and every Wed in April), Thundercloud Subs is rolling back it's prices to 1975 in honor of their 40th anniversary. $1.10 for a small ham sub!
-- Thai pop-up dinner at Weather Up, April 2nd, $75/person
-- Johnson's Backyard presents their Spring Hoedown, April 4th, various activities 
-- Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden Brunch for the Bold with Real Ale Brewing, April 4th, 11 am 
-- Salty Sow taking reservations for their James Beard House preview dinners, April 7 and 22, $75/person
-- The Austin Food and Wine Alliance's annual LIVE FIRE! at the Salt Lick Pavilion, April 9th $85 in advance ($100 at the door)
-- Texas French Bread celebrates spring and their new patio with a Garden Party, April 12th
-- Michele Chiarlo wine tasting at The Backspace, April 14th, $40/person
-- Waller Creek Conservancy presents their 3rd Waller Creek Pop-up Picnic at Palm Park, April 18th, various prices
-- The annual Umlauf Sculpture Garden Party, April 23rd, $150/person
-- The Austin Outlaw Party, April 24th at Container Bar
-- The Austin Food and Wine Festival returns to Auditorium Shores, April 25th-26th with over 100 culinary exhibitors, chef-led classes and much more.
-- Cheese and Texas Cider Keeper pairing at Epicerie, April 26th, $40/person
-- Central Market's annual culinary tours of the world begins April 29th for two weeks with Passport Greece. Opa!
-- Starting May 4th at 6 am through May 5th at 6 am, Kerbey Lane Cafe will donate 100 percent of net profits at all Austin-area locations to the United Way
-- Mexic-Arte presents Taste of Mexico: A Culinary Arts Event at Brazos Hall on May 5th (Cinco de Mayo), $75/person
-- Sustainable Food Center presents Farm to Plate at Barr Mansion, May 14th 

-- Italic, the latest from the Elm Restaurant Group, at 123 W. 6th (I went to a sneak peak last week and it was amazing!)
-- Fire and Ice Pizza Bar in Round Rock at 2601 S. IH-35 in the Boardwalk Shopping Center
-- MOD Pizza at 1801 E. 51st St. in Mueller and 701 S. Cap of Texas Hwy in Westlake 
-- Jenna's Asian Kitchen in Cedar Park at 12300 RR 620 
-- Gelateria Gemelli, 1009 E. 6th Street
-- Food trailer Toaster at Stay Gold, 1910 E. Cesar Chavez

-- Mama Fu's now offers delivery
-- Batch, a specialty curator of locally-produced, artisanal goods delivered to your door, launches its Tour of Texas, spotlighting six different cities each month. Each month during the Tour of Texas, subscribers will receive a box of premium goodsfood, drink, and other hand-crafted itemsfrom a different city. $200 for the 6 month/city subscription or $40 for individual city baskets. 
-- Hyde Park Bar + Grill is now serving kalettes, a non-GMO cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, and is the only Austin restaurant to have them.