Friday, November 20, 2015

Bits and Bites and the Thanksgiving Round-up

Make your dining reservations or order your Thanksgiving meals NOW!
Places to Dine In
-- The Carillon, buffet seatings at 11 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, 2:30 pm; $65/adults, $19.95/kids ages 6-12

-- Estancia Churrascuria, 11 am - 9 pm, $49.95 for the full experience, $24.95 just for the salad bar

-- Goodall's Kitchen buffet, 12 - 8 pm, $68/adults, $25/kids ages 12 and under

-- Southwest Bistro at the Hyatt, $65/adults, $30/kids

-- Kerbey Lane, from 11 am onwards at the Central, South Lamar, Northwest, University, Southwest and Round Rock locations; $14.95

-- Russian House, 11 am - 11 pm

-- Dine at the Radisson, $49/adult, $15/kids; buffet 11 am - 3 pm, three course meal after 4 pm

Places to Pre-order and Pick Up
-- Central Market's Holiday Hotline, you can now order online
-- Blue Star Cafeteria, order by noon on Nov 23rd 
-- Elaine's individual-sized pies, order by Nov 24th
-- Fresa's, order by Nov 20
-- Walton's Fancy and Staple, order by Nov 20
-- Wheatsville Co-op
-- The Austin Chronicle has a great list of places to get your pies!

-- The Empty Bowl Project will be Sunday, November 22nd at the Marchesa, from 11 am - 3 pm. Come and buy a unique, locally made ceramic bowl, and get it filled with soup! Proceeds benefit children's programs at both the Capital Area Food Bank and Meals on Wheels + More.

-- Vivo celebrates it's first anniversary at the Linc, November 24th, 11 am - 9 pm.

-- Edible Austin presents its 9th Eat Drink Local Week, November 28 - December 5; various events including the Beekman Boys at the Paramount Theater, Harvest Dinner at the Palm Door. See Edible's website for all the details.

-- Metier has a variety of upcoming events, including a Thanksgiving wine tasting, pie workshop with owner Jessica Maher, pop-up shops from Dude Sweet and I Knead That, and their own Black Friday sale. See their events page for details.

-- Slow Food Austin and Antonelli's Cheese host their annual cheese tasting with 512 Brewing, December 3rd, $60/adults, $50/SFA members

-- Opal Divine at Penn Field holds its 13th Whiskey Festival December 3rd, $45 in advance, $50 at the door; a portion of the proceeds goes to Meals on Wheels and More.

-- Kettle + Brine has a variety of events and pop-ups coming; Coffee Sock on November 28th and Coterie Market, November 28 - December 4th; see their website for details.

-- Serena Lissy Chocolates and Coco Paloma Desserts will hold a holiday pop-up sale, Saturday, December 5th, 11 am - 3 pm. These are Serena's pumpkin spice truffles that I recently got to try -- beautiful (they're hand painted!) and delicious! Check out her website for pre-ordering info. 
Serena Lissy Pumpkin Spice Chocolates
-- Odd Duck is having a trailer throwback party to benefit the garden at Zilker Elementary; December 9th 5 pm, $25

-- Prevention Magazine's third R3 Summit will be January 15-16 at the Moody Theater.

-- Slow Food Austin has re-launched their Emergency Farmer/Rancher Relief Fund for farmers affected by the recent floods, and are accepting nominations until November 23rd. 
-- Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company is now offering offers tours every Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m, $5/person or $15 with lunch.

-- Joining the local food delivery ranks is Harvest  and regional grocery powerhouse HEB 

-- And for cocktail delivery, Sourced, which I got to try out! You pick from a menu of cocktails, how many you want, and when you want them, and a mini-barrel with all the makings are included. Plus the delivery person/bartender can make your first round for you. They'll pick up the barrel the following day. Easy and delicious! We had Moscow mules, complete with copper mugs and the good pellet ice!
Sourced Cocktail home delivery service

-- Your Mom's is back in the burger business, now with a stuffed burger home delivery kit.

-- The Three Little Pigs trailer has found a new home (it's previous landlord, East End Wines has closed) at the Aristocrat Lounge (formerly Poodle Dog Lounge) at 6507 Burnet Road.

-- Geraldine's at the Hotel Van Zandt opened November 17th.

-- Stinson's is opening another location at 3300 N. IH-35.

-- New fall menus from Finn + Porter and Scarlet Rabbit; Juniper has a new happy hour

-- Sala + Betty just launched reverse happy hour Monday through Saturday, 8pm to close, featuring 50% off all bottles of wine.

-- Launderette and Bangers now open for lunch.  
-- Dollar nights on Tuesdays at Pacific Rim Sushi

-- Urban Outfitters on the Drag is getting into the food business, with the counter service-only opening of Chef Michal Symon's new Symon's Burger Joint.

-- Central Standard will open at the South Congress Hotel in mid-December, serving classic American bar and grill food.

-- The Roosevelt Room offers Monday movie night, Tuesday all night happy hour, and Wednesday discounted whiskey.

-- In and Out Burger opened on South Lamar

-- Fast-casual Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers announced their Famous Fry Sauce is now available for retail purchase at all locations or online.

-- St. Philip
-- Mann's Smokehouse BBQ
-- Noodle and Company have closed all five area locations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Well, Romeo's on Barton Springs Road bit the dust a long time ago, as did another ill-fated tenant, Umami Mia, but in their place, Juliet has risen off her deathbed. Will she have the stamina to survive?

On a recent Thursday night, I met four of my favorite food-loving friends for a girl's night. Only one of us had been to Juliet previously, and all being South Austinites, we were exited to try this newer establishment.  Walking in from the parking lot, I really loved how the landscaping and welcoming pathway worked together to lead you to the covered patio where one of our group was already seated. There's a bar and a large dining area, as you almost don't notice that you're right next to the street. Check out their Instagram account for some exterior shots.

It took us a while to figure out what we wanted to order, and our waitress was super-patient with us. One friend was excited to see a Negroni flight, and she and I decided to split them. These came out quickly, but the two sidecar cocktails took an exceptionally long time to come, and about 10 minutes apart at that. The bar area seemed busy, but not slammed, so I don't know what the hold up was and no explanation was offered.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- Negroni Flight
We started with a couple of appetizers. The corn fritter (frittelle de mais) with goat cheese was delicious, very well fried, crunchy on the outside and soft inside. The ceci fritti, or fried garbanzos, had a nice pop of lemon and garlic that made them addictive. And we built our own salumi plate with soppressata and two cheeses, an aged buffalo milk (quadrello di bufala) and younger sheep milk (pecorino fondatore).
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- chick peas, salumi, corn fritter
The beet salad was a nice mix of thinly sliced beets and cubed one, with pomegranate seeds adding a nice light tartness and burrata for a creamy balance to the earthy flavors.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- beet and burrata salad
One in our group had the goat cheese agnolotti, ravioli-like pasta pillows filled with goat cheese. The pasta was the perfect texture and had the right amount of pungency from the goat; fresh corn, chives, and tomatoes also added nice flavor.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- goat cheese agnolotti
Another person had a pizza, which I didn't try, but she seemed to enjoy it.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- pizza
The main miss for the evening was the carbonara, which three of us ordered. I am a carbonara freak (pig, hello!), so it's the dish I frequently order when trying out a new Italian restaurant. This lacked in flavor and creaminess, and erred on the side of being a bit grainy, and the spaghetti seemed to be on the border of being overcooked. Juliet's is prepared with guanciale which didn't really seem to add a tremendous amount to the dish, and a Parmesan crisp, which was tasty, but not quite satisfying with the dish.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- carbonara with guanciale
For dessert, we split the pine nut tart (crostata di pignoli) and the torta di ricotta. I really liked the pine nut one, though one person felt the toasted pine nuts were too bitter. I really disliked the ricotta one, and consensus at the table was that it was off. I know that ricotta is granular, but this seemed exceptionally so, not to mention a mushy ginger crust.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- pine nut tart
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- ricotta tart
The patio lends to a comfortable atmosphere both inside and out. While the outdoors is very light and airy, Juliet's interior is darker, but without being heavy or somber. Our primary server was very good (chatty and knowledgeable), but there seems to be a breakdown of service between the main servers and the runners/waiters in training. I could see the runners going around to other tables with fresh grated Parmesan, but they never approached our table after our main courses came, and I had to flag one down. Also, our water glasses went unfilled/unrefreshed for long most of the evening.

So I want to swoon with love for Juliet, but I am just not quite there yet. The potential is there, but some of the food and service still need some polishing. I still have hopes though for Juliet to rise.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Blind Cafe: Follow Up

I attended a Blind Cafe dinner last week; they invited me to participate in exchange for blog posts before and after the event. This is a sponsored post; I was not monetarily compensated and all opinions are my own.

These dinners are a sensory experience, designed to simulate what it's like to actually be blind. We were told beforehand that people have different reactions to being in the total darkness; some people are fine, for others, it brings up different emotions. They encourage you to work through it, but if you really need to escape, you're told to yell for help, and some one will come to escort you out.

In small groups, we were led by a visually impaired host through a series of curtains into a pitch black dining area and to our tables.  We placed a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, and we progressed slowly into the darkness. This was accomplished by clutching my complimentary glass of wine (in a plastic cup, probably much safer that way) in one hand and grasping the shoulder of my friend Linda of Girls Eats World (and a link to her blind experience here), as we took baby steps to acclimate ourselves. Once our guide knew each of us was standing behind a chair, he left us to our own devices to sit down and fumble around as it were. I will reiterate: the room was PITCH black! You could NOT see your hand in front of your face, even if it was an inch from your nose; I tried. Repeatedly. My brain registered the same level of darkness whether my eyes were open or shut. You know when you're lying in bed with your eyes closed trying to go to sleep, and you sometimes see little patterns of light or color dancing in front of your eyes? THAT, with your eyes open!

I could feel the curve of the table, so I knew we were seated at a round table with a rough top (standard banquet/rental table), no tablecloth. The food was already on the table (all vegan and gluten free), and there was a heavy-duty paper plate (like Chinet plates with that lightly embossed fibrous texture on them) with a bottle of water and napkin at about 2 o'clock. I started feeling around the plate, and just as someone at my table of six exclaimed "there's a spoon!", I found my own.

But it was rather fun sitting there feeling everything, trying to figure out what things were with my fingers. I could tell there was something round and squishy, which turned out to be stuffed mushrooms. Lightly roasted carrots with a hummus dip, which I pretty slurped off my fingers. The spoon seemed useless in some ways. Something leafy...lettuce wraps done in Asian flavors that I couldn't quite pinpoint. Turns out to be an orange miso dressing that was delicious. Roasted Brussels.  Food was prepared by local chef Dustin Lundewall of Wholesome Body Now. If you want to cheat, you can check out his Instagram photo of the meal, but if you think you might want to attend a Blind Cafe dinner, maybe you shouldn't! ;)

We were told before we entered the room there was a basket of bread (the one non-gluten free item) in the middle of our table. One of our six was able to find it, and began passing it and a small open container of olive oil. I remember groping for the arm of my table mate to my right, as we gingerly passed the oil around, double checking with one another "ok, got it?". The initial trepidation culminating in a mini-rush of success for accomplishing a small task. As a sighted person, you take for granted the seemingly simple tasks of passing an item to someone else. You can see their outstretched hand; clearly not an option when you are blind.

The dinner is structured so the visually impaired hosts have a chance to tell the audience a bit about themselves, and then people can ask questions. All four of our hosts had been sighted earlier in their lives; one person lost his vision at the age of two, others in their teens.  They all lead normal, productive lives. They discussed the ways they identify colors (descriptive adjectives) and articles of clothing (some use safety pins in the tags pinned in different ways to notify them what's what), the advent of an iOS phone app designed to assist in different situations, like one Be My Eyes. And of course one of the strongest messages of the evening, blind people don't have to be treated any differently than a sighted person. Ask if you can assist, don't assume they need your help; offer your arm, but don't grab theirs. Be that positive social change.

The Blind Cafe will be returning to Austin February 2 - 4, 2016 again at the American Legion. I do not know if the chef will be the same, but the food was good, though the food itself is a minor part of this whole experience. Go "see" what the Blind Cafe is up to, as you may be the one who is enlightened.