Sunday, November 26, 2017

First Look: Krua Urban Thai

Editor's note: Krua closed in March 2018

Krua Urban Thai has moved into the old Barley Swine location at 2024 South Lamar. I had heard about their yummy crab fried rice from two different people, so it was time to go check it out for myself. My neighbor and I visited on the Friday before Thanksgiving, arriving a bit after 6 pm. We had no problem getting a table, but by the time we left the place was full and there were people waiting outside.

We decided on a variety of dishes to share, and told the server to send them out in whatever order they were ready.

Krua Urban Thai brussels sprouts
Krua's Brussels sprouts were tossed in a bit of fish sauce and a basil vinaigrette. Nice and crispy with excellent flavor.
Krua Urban Thai crab fried rice
The crab fried rice, one of their signature dishes. Great flavor, but I thought it needed more uumph to it
 and the saucer with chili fish sauce did in fact help. 
Krua Urban Thai pad see ewe
Pad see ewe (or pad se ew) is one of my favorite Thai noodle dishes, as I love the wider rice noodles. This was quite good, though I think my favorite in town is still at Thai Taste in Oak Hill for the fact that theirs contains a touch more sauce.
Krua Urban Thai pork belly pak ka nar
Pork belly pak ka nar -- this pork was amazing. While it doesn't look it, it had a nice crispness to it
Overall, no complaints about the quality of the food. What did bother us though is the timing. The Brussels, which are an appetizer item, did come out first and relatively fast. And then we sat there for about 15 minutes until another dish came out. Then the other two dishes came fairly quickly after that. At a small two-top table, it is virtually impossible to have three large plates on the table. The tables are also fairly close together, which gave us the opportunity to admire the pad thai to one side of us (and to learn it was the father and young son's second or third time there, which for a place barely open a month says something), and the diners on the other side of us inquired about our food.

Pros: food was for the most part, delicious; more Thai variety in South Austin is great; online ordering coming soon. I took my leftovers to work the next day and my Thai friend Bee tried the fried rice and pork belly dishes. While she said it was not the same type of crab they use in Thailand, she did give her blessing to both dishes, and she and I are making plans to come back to Krua. Service was friendly though perhaps not highly experienced, though I guess we could have specified "keep the dishes coming in whatever order" rather than "whatever order they come out is fine."

Cons: the timing of the dishes, noise level (there's nothing to buffer the interior rock walls), decor was lacking (I can't really understand why there are two New Mexico chile ristras hanging over the counter), they were out of one of the wines we ordered.

Verdict: thumbs up! Will certainly be back!
Krua Urban Thai logo

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Good Eats at The Little Darlin'

The Little Darlin' Austin

I went to The Little Darlin' (6507 Circle S Road, near the northeast intersection of South Congress and William Cannon) for the first time on Saturday night for a friend's birthday. I didn't intend to blog about it but the food was too good not to make a mention! I tend to take food pictures out of habit, so these were quick photos, in their natural environment, no food styling here. 馃槈

Little Darlin pork sliders + pimento croquettes
Confit pork jowl sliders that were only $3 each, and pimento cheese croquettes.
 The pork on these was amazing, crispy and not a drop of grease, and the croquettes were nice and gooey inside.
Little Darlin cheese board
Cheese board with selections from Antonelli's Cheese. 

Little Darlin cornbread + chicken wings
Chili-stuffed cornbread in its own mini skillet and buffalo wings with blue cheese, both super tasty.

Little Darlin mac +cheese and little neck clams
Mac + cheese with bone marrow and pickled mustard seeds and
 a little neck clam special, in a killer cream sauce with sherry, bacon, and mushrooms. 

Little Darlin fried fish with pesto
Fried fish (I think someone said it was redfish) with an amazing pesto that was almost pure basil. I wouldn't think to put fried fish and pesto together, but it really worked. I felt the fish could have been fried a little longer (or at a hotter temperature) to make it crispier, but it was still tasty. But that pesto was the star!

Seasonal menu from their Facebook page.
Little Darlin' has parking, is dog-friendly, and child-friendly until 9 pm. The bar is inside along with some pool tables, and a huge outdoor area along with a stage on one side. Super-chill, not pretentious, and delicious food. Stir it up, little darlin'!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

First Look: El Chipir贸n

Editor's Note: closed Summer 2019
El Chipiron logo

New Spanish restaurant El Chipir贸n (meaning little squid...yeah, I had to look that one up) opened at 2717 South Lamar at Manchaca at the end of June, after what seemed like a very lengthy process. Looking back at their Facebook page, the exterior sign went up in May 2016, a full 15 months before they actually opened. While I haven't spoken to anyone with the restaurant about the delays, I would guess it has to do with the City of Austin and various delays in being able to get permits issued and certificates of occupancies authorized. I can only imagine how maddening and expensive it is for new restaurants to get started. Anyhow....

While the exterior is your standard and somewhat blah new-build apartment building with street-level retail (it's seems that's all there is on South Lamar these days), El Chipir贸n's interior is a beautiful light-filled space. Big windows facing north and west and a modern design, anchored by a huge white (limestone?) bar. Though the use of vertical elements as space dividers did remind me of South Lamar's other Spanish restaurant, Barlata, I also wonder why El Chipir贸n would open so close by, just 1.2 miles south per Google Maps. But apart from a few tapas dishes, their menus appear to be quite different.
El Chipiron interior
El Chipir贸n's interior
El Chipiron bar
The bar (restaurant entrance is in the back right in this photo)
We arrived a little before 7 pm on Monday night, which turns out to be all-night food specials (aka Pincho Mondays) at the bar. Here's a look at our evening.
El Chipiron bar menu

El Chipiron tempranillo, sangria, gypsy flower gin cocktail
Tempranillo, red sangria, and the Gypsy Flower. They are becoming quite well-known for their gin drinks.
El Chipiron olives + manchego cheese
Each diner was given a little plate of olives and manchego cheese as a starter.

El Chipiron padron peppers
Padron peppers (also known as shishitos) with a light mustard aioli sauce.
El Chipiron patatas bravas
Patatas bravas; these were ok, but unexciting; I couldn't tell you what the sauce was.

El Chipiron oxtail empanadas
Oxtail empanadas, while small, had a wonderfully flaky pastry and very tender meat inside, served with garlic aioli.
Would definitely get these again!

El Chipiron mussels
Mejillones (mussels) + chorizo, with a broth made from an Albari帽o wine and garlic,
that definitely called for more bread. Great flavors!

El Chipiron  churros
Churros with a nice thick bittersweet chocolate sauce (there was a fifth churro that got snatched before I could get a photo!). There was a density to the churros which I liked, and a lack of grease which I loved!
All in all, a nice experience. Both the gentlemen tending bar were personable, but it was my dining companions that really made it a fun evening!  And not that it really matters, but I am curious about the El Chipir贸n logo up top, is the stylized "贸" a squid ink stain or a drippy wine glass? Clearly I need more sangria!

El Chipiron Dali
Dali spies on you as you head to the restrooms.

Friday, September 22, 2017

First Look: Phoebe's Diner

Phoebe's Diner logo

Phoebe's Diner, a comfort food spot, officially opened at South First and Oltorf on September 6th (533 W. Oltorf, on the southeast corner). Their sister restaurant, Winebelly is just a few doors down, along with Gilt, a nail salon. Quite the mini-empire being established! Phoebe's is open for breakfast and lunch, whereas Winebelly is open in the evenings so as not to compete with one another for parking spots or patrons.
Phoebe's Diner Cheeky Monkey
The Cheeky Monkey, a 6-minute egg wrapped in sausage and potatoes with sage sausage gravy. 
Friends wanted to go to brunch this past Sunday, and they chose Phoebe's. Normally I try to avoid new places for the first month or two so they can work their kinks out, but I was excited to check out this new spot in my Bouldin Creek neighborhood.

We had the table right inside the door, which was nice and light-filled, though I never ventured more than six feet inside the door! The interior is modern farmhouse with trendy but timeless shiplap walls and subway tile. They have a variety of mimosas (beet?) which tied us over as we studied the menu. Our friendly waitress immediately asked if we wanted separate checks, which made it easier for all of us.
Phoebe's Diner interior
For the table, we started with the Peaches + Cream bowl, a twist on the traditional with burrata cheese and granola. I know that you can't get fresh peaches year-round, but a little disappointing that this is made with canned peaches. The flavors all worked together very nicely, and I could see getting this again, perhaps as a dessert.
Phoebe's Diner Peaches + Cream
Peaches and Cream, with burrata being the creamy factor.
But there were a few things that show the youth of Phoebe's.

Of our group of five, two people ordered the Benedict, one shrimp and grits, one fried chicken + grits, and one Cheeky Monkey. The Benedicts and fried chicken came a full five minutes before the other dishes, leaving that awkward "Go ahead and eat" conversation. I noticed that the table across from us which had 4 or 5 patrons all appeared to get their food at the same time, so it can be done!
Phoebe's Diner Benedict
Phoebe's Benedict, ham, eggs, + hollandaise over a biscuit with hash brown casserole.
I ordered the fried chicken and grits, which also comes with a biscuit. Except mine arrived sans biscuit, so I of course piped up. Our waitress had to grab a menu and look to see if it actually did come with the biscuit, and she said that she had been serving them all day without the biscuit. And this was at 1:30 pm. No one has asked for their biscuit yet?? Pay attention people, don't forget your biscuit! (Uh, hold that thought....)
Phoebe's Diner Fried Chicken, Grits + Biscuit
Fried chicken, goat cheese grits, and biscuit.
Well, the very large biscuit arrived a moment later. It's huge, about 4 inches square and 2 inches thick, nicely browned on top, and fluffy. However, when you get into the middle of the thing, it was undercooked. Under a Benedict, you wouldn't really notice, but on it's own, you do. I could squeeze it together, and it made a little dough ball like you used to do with Wonder Bread when you were a kid. A few more minutes in the oven, please. Fortunately the chicken was expertly fried and I think all of our eyes rolled back in our heads a bit when trying the goat cheese grits. Goaty and corny and rich. Same grits with the Shrimp + Grits dish, though I think it's even more grits!
Phoebe's Diner Shrimp + Grits
Gulf shrimp and goat cheese grits, with green chile hollandaise. Love the sauce pan as a serving dish.
Overall though the food was quite good, and I think all plates were pretty much licked clean. They don't have an actual website up and running yet, so the link above (and here) is to their Facebook page. Here's a shot of the menu in case you are curious. I thought that everything was well-priced, and it's nice to see a variety of gluten-free items. My mother would probably bemoan the lack of fresh vegetables, but I don't think anyone ever called a salad "comfort food." Sorry, Mom. But yes, there is a house salad and a bowl of fruit available.
Phoebe's Diner menu

So a few rough patches, but all in all a great new addition to South Austin! Welcome to the 'hood, Phoebe's Diner!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eating in Albuquerque

My parents have lived in Albuquerque for ten+ years now, so I am out there fairly regularly. As an added bonus, I have two friends from college who also live in Abq so my visits often have dual purpose. One of them got married over Labor Day weekend, so I took the opportunity to stay for a week as opposed to my normal 3-4 days at Christmastime.
Lavender at Los Poblanos Historic Inn + Organic Farm in the North Valley.
Fortunately, I come from a family that appreciates good food -- it must be in the genes! My parents consider Abq's food scene about where Austin was 10 years ago. There are a bunch of up and coming places, but not as much that is truly WOW like Uchi, which is someplace my parents always insist upon eating when in Austin. But there are still a number of good standbys in Abq, many with distinctive New Mexican touches to them, as well as places that are on the rise.
Burque Bakehouse's cruffin, a croissant/muffin combo which was heavenly.
They also did three different pies for the wedding.
I had lunch at the Flying Star, which has six locations around town, open 7 am - 9 pm.  Breakfast all day, salads, sandwiches, and large desserts, there's something for everyone here, kind of like a Kerbey Lane here in Austin. I was too busy catching up with friends that I neglected to take a picture of my Chinese Crunch salad that would practically feed two people.

Our group of six college friends had Sunday brunch at the Frontier, across from the University of New Mexico campus. Built like a barn, you order at the counter, find a seat (there are five dining rooms -- the place just keeps going back and back), and watch the digital screens to see what order number is up. And open almost all day, from 5 am - 1 am, I am sure many a collegiate hangover has been nursed by this greasy spoon's offerings. Though I have to say, it was much less greasy than I was anticipating. A couple of my friends had the huevos rancheros with green chile, and there were a few giant cinnamon rolls on the table too. I had the breakfast burrito with hash browns, egg, sausage, and the requisite green chile; delicious and not greasy! But also not as photogenic, so here's the huevos rancheros. I didn't love the cinnamon roll, though others did; I thought it was too doughy and the frosting glaze was made with margarine, not butter.
Huevos rancheros and the cinnamon roll in the top left.
Another Abq classic is the Range, with four locations around town, including the newest, which is in Old Town, where we had lunch. I had the green chile chicken stew with blue corn tortilla strips, which was a nice lighter meal.
The Range green chile chicken stew
And here's the New Mexico Benny with green chile turkey sausage and chorizo gravy. There's poached eggs in there somewhere!
The Range New Mexico Benny
Wedding guests were staying at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. It's new sister property is the upscale Hotel Chaco, and we ventured to their rooftop bar, Level 5 for cocktails and panoramic views.
Level 5 cocktails at Hotel Chaco
Nob Hill could be compared to Austin's SoCo, with it's hip vibe, plethora of eating places and artsy feel. Former James Beard semifinalist Jennifer James opened her new spot Frenchish about a year ago along Central Ave. My parents have been regulars at her previous spots (now closed), and as the name implies this new one has a French influence to the food but doesn't take itself so seriously. We shared the rabbit terrine, where the lightly pickled carrots gave a nice balance to the strong mustard.
I had the 3-course prix fixe, with a tossed salad, 4 oz petit filet with pomme frites, and a chocolate pot de creme. The salad was dressed perfectly and the steak a nicely done medium rare.
Jennifer James Frenchish petit steak
Mom's ratatouille, and Dad had a burger, which you can probably guess what it looked like.
Jennifer James Frenchish ratatouille
Now the pot de creme was good, but the made to order madelines were incredible. Warm, with crispy edges and a soft crumbly interior, it was an ideal way to end the meal.
Jennifer James Frenchish madelines + pot de creme
Bonus coverage! We went to Santa Fe one afternoon, and had an early dinner at La Boca, a Spanish tapas place just blocks from the main plaza. These little boquerones (white anchovies) with olive oil and citrus were quite fresh.
Boquerones La Boca Santa Fe
Loved the Spanish flavors of the mussels in a Romesco broth.
La Boca Santa Fe mussels with romesco broth
And the bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with a marcona almond and a cabrales blue cheese sauce on the side were delicious.
La Boca Santa Fe bacon wrapped dates
And finally, sunset over the Jemez Mountains, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, as taken from the passenger window of the car on Interstate 25.
Sunset Jemez Mountains New Mexico
Yes, it's the Land of Enchantment. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Austin Bakes for Harvey

Austin Bakes for Harvey

Local group Austin Bakes will be hosting a  citywide BAKE SALE on Saturday, September 16th at multiple locations around town. All proceeds will go to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, exact charities TBA. 

Past Austin Bakes events have raised funds for the 2011 Japan tsunami, Syrian refugees, Hurricane Mathew relief in Haiti, and more, all 100% volunteer driven.  If you like to bake, please consider donating baked goods to the sale. See the website for further details. I'll be volunteering at the south location (Crema Bakery) on the 16th. 

Help spread the word!

Update, Sept. 17th:
Yesterday was the bake sale, and all total, we've raised just over $19,000! Our goal was $20,000 and you CAN STILL DONATE ONLINE! :) Please and thank you!!!! 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

California Dreamin': Food and Sights from a Week in Central Cali

Summer in Austin can be wretched, so I was glad to escape for a week to California, where we could sleep with the windows open every night! My trip started with a long weekend in the Santa Barbara/Goleta area for a family reunion -- lots of talking and eating!
Sailing in the Pacific with Santa Barbara Sailing Center netted seals
 and a pod of dolphins who swam with the boat.

Crab cake dinner one night in Santa Barbara at the Boathouse.
Then a friend met me and we proceeded north through San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, where we had a charming VRBO home in the middle of wine country.
Luna Red in San Luis Obispo; Press Gang Cellars rose. Loved the patio and relaxed vibe of this place!
San Luis Obispo Luna Red Tapas
Tapas at Luna Red -- garlic infused olive oil, goat cheese with pesto, and bacon-wrapped dates. We saved the leftover oil for part of our charcuterie dinner at our rental that night.
San Luis Obispo Mission
The mission in San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772
We got a few provisions in Paso Robles (we found a cheese/charcuterie store and a bottle of wine), and then to our VRBO rental, which was technically in Templeton, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Paso. Quiet, charming, clean, and out of the way, it was perfect!
If you want the link to the VRBO just holler. 
Some of the area vineyards
We drove west on Highway 46 through a very dense bank of fog towards Cambria and then to Highway 1 north to San Simeon. Along the way, we found a roadside stand that had oranges, avocados, and firewood (we got two of the three!). Best oranges ever!

San Simeon is home to Hearst Castle, the unfinished dream of newsman/publisher William Randolph Hearst. I had visited as a teenager in 1989 and vividly remember the beautiful Neptune Pool with it's mosaic tiled floor but sadly it was under construction when we there. (Check out Lady Gaga's G.U.Y. video if you really want to see it!) But the opulence, details, and views of the entire castle and grounds never fail to impress.
The main building and some of the statues on the grounds.
The main dining room, complete with requisite bottles of ketchup and mustard, which Mr. Hearst always insisted upon.
The indoor Roman pool, modeled after the Baths of Caracalla; not visible, the eight statues
of Roman gods, goddessses, and heroes.
The ocean view from the property isn't too shabby!
We drove the few miles back to Cambria and had a wonderful late lunch at Indigo Moon. This charming house had fun artwork, and a covered back porch where we ate. They also own a cheese shop next door!
Focaccia with grilled chicken, brie, granny smith apple, and caramelized onions.
What's disappointing about Paso Robles is that all the vineyards and tasting rooms appear to close at 5 pm. We attempted to make it to Pasolivo olive oil, and arrived just before 5 pm to be told they had already closed up the registers. (I have since contacted Pasolivo and received a sincere apology, as it is their normal policy to stay open through 5 pm.) It would be great to see a couple places that stayed open until 6 pm. Fortunately, we found a great spot in downtown Paso called Artisan, where we could sit outside and enjoy the setting. Had a terrific glass of a 2015 Rhone-style red blend from Tablas Creek called Patelin. We snagged a wood-fired pizza to go, and headed back to our cozy rental.
Patelin: a blend of four red Rh么ne varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourv猫dre and Counoise
The next morning, we headed north towards Monterrey. Unfortunately, we had to take the inland route on Highway 101, as parts of the coastal Highway 1 are closed due to landslides. Just north of Salinas, we found a highly-rated hole in the wall from Yelp that had amazing sandwiches and great customer service. Welcome to Prunedale Market, and their tri-tip sandwich, which was so huge, we should have split one! 
From there, we made it over to over-priced but cute Carmel and dipped our toes in the ocean. The sand was so nice and soft!

And then we took the famed 17-mile drive from Carmel up to Monterrey with several stops at look-out stations along the way, while ogling the multi-million dollar houses.

We stayed at a hotel in Pacific Grove, just a hair west of Monterey. The town's annual lantern festival was the weekend just after we left, but the trees as well as many homes and businesses were decorated for it. 

Pacific Grove was charming, and appears to have a lot of good restaurants. Our first night, we found Passionfish, which is all about fresh and local food and sustainable seafood. 

Rockfish with a miso-carrot sauce and jicama slaw; my friend had the keto salmon special with pesto and roasted corn. 
The next day we spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I had been once before as a teenager, and it was great to experience it again. We also did a behind the scenes tour of their sea otter program, and while you don't get to be up close with them it was fun and informative, thanks to our knowledgeable tour guide. She explained that many of the otters come to the Aquarium as rescues; they try to rehab them so they can be released back into the wild. They don't want the otters to get too used to human contact, which makes sense. We were glad we went close to opening, as it did get crowded by mid-day; it's not an inexpensive ticket, but if you can spend a good part of your day there, it's totally worth it. And the cafe on site had a great mac and cheese!
Mesmerizing jellyfish

Giant kelp forest and a leopard shark

Sea otter trying to extract a shrimp from the toy

Can you find the seahorses?
Dinner that night was in Pacific Grove at La Mia Cucina, a smaller Italian spot with great posters. Rustic Italian was just what we needed! Not pictured are their yummy focaccia and salad with a perfect creamy Italian vinaigrette.
Arancini balls

Gnocchi with gorgonzola and marinara sauces
On our last day, we found the Pezzini Farms roadside market stand in Castroville, home of an annual artichoke festival. They had a huge selection of fresh produce, locally made goods, and even a food trailer serving fried artichoke hearts.

But our mission was to get to Gilroy, and the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Overall, they have the event logistics down pact, as you park and take a shuttle bus to the festival venue. There's tons of garlicky-filled food for sale, and also a ton of vendors with stuff, if you know what I mean -- everything from garlic bulb shaped hats to wind chimes to non-perishable garlic condiments. It did get warm (for California), and there's not enough shade.  Apparently over the course of three days, 102,000 people attended! The garlic bread and the sauce with the shrimp scampi were to die for!

We each got a combo plate and shared them.On the left, pepper steak sandwich, pasta with pesto, calamari with garlic marinara, garlic bread. On the right, shrimp scampi, garlic bread, marinated mushrooms, sausage sandwich
Like the sign says, free garlic ice cream. Not bad, but not sure I would pay for it! ;)
By mid afternoon, we were done, and it was time to head towards San Jose for our return flight. Having to return to Austin when it was 106 degrees out was LESS than desirable, but I was happy to get home to my own bed, cats, and air conditioning. I want the 55 degree nights back! A girl can dream!