Monday, June 18, 2018

First Look: Winner Winner, Porchetta for Dinner!

When you head out Highway 290 towards Dripping Springs, there is now a "gathering" of train cars perched around a big lot. The one closest to the road is now home to Winner Winner Fine Foods, which three people had mentioned to me since their opening in April. I had lunch with one of them a couple weeks ago as she doesn't live too far from there. What a great, healthy addition to the area!
Winner Winner Fine Foods
Located on the north side of Hwy 290, about a mile west of the light at Circle Drive.
Winner Winner has built up a deck, not unlike a train platform. There are also full restrooms across from the entrance to the what is literally the diner car. All the food has been precooked, and you can either eat in or take it to go. I imagine they're doing booming business in the evening, catching folks headed out of Austin to their homes down 290. There are a variety of meats available, sides/salads,  a soup of the day, and some sweets.
Winner Winner Fine Foods
Order at the counter

We ate there, with my friend E having the lamb with roast potatoes and arugula salad. While their website doesn't say, previous article on Eater Austin says that all the meats are from local farms, the lamb from Capra Foods and the pork from Tender Belly.
Winner Winner Fine Foods roast lamb and veggies
Roast lamb; there was some sort of minty sauce with it too, but I can't remember specifically what!
And I had porchetta with roast carrots and also the potatoes.
Winner Winner Fine Foods porchetta and veggies
Porchetta with some nice crispy, rendered fat and perfectly roasted carrots.
Winner Winner Fine Foods deck
Outside deck

Winner Winner Fine Foods
They were both delicious!
Winner Winner is open Monday - Saturday from 11 am - 8 pm. If I lived in that direction, I am sure I would be stopping by a lot!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Quick Look: Soto South Lamar

Continuing on my unintended Lamar Union restaurant tour, we have Soto, which has expanded from their Cedar Park location.  My neighbors and I recently went for happy hour which we quite enjoyed, but given the very few tables that were filled (early evening on a Tuesday), I do hope Soto will survive. A bottle of Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Vetliner was perfect with all of our dishes. 
Soto Austin Miso Soup
Miso soup (the large spoon didn't really fit into the narrow bowl)
Soto Austin Edamame mouse amouse bouche
The brought an amouse bouche of edamame mouse, which I wasn't in
love with at first but then I finished the whole thing off! 
Soto Austin fish + chips
Fish + chips, one of their signature dishes, said our waitress. And I can see why! Super thin potato chips with salmon sashimi, lemon aioli and truffle salt. Very addicting.

Soto Austin chicken karaage
Chicken karaage without a lick of grease. And loved the plating.
Soto Austin hamachi
Somewhere under there is hamachi! Beautifully presented plate with scallions, fried jalapenos, ponzu and edible flowers.

Soto Austin wagyu carpaccio
Wagyu carpaccio....mmmmm.  These four items were on the happy hour menu and ranged $7 - 14.

Soto Austin Soto South Maki roll
Soto South Maki with torched toro; this one was $18

Soto Austin Real California Maki w snow crab
Real California Maki with snow crab for $13

In the later part of our meal, we did order a couple of cocktails, but found the cocktail menu to be overly fussy. It was heavy on sake and whiskey/bourbon drinks, which is not unexpected for a Japanese restaurant, but there were a lot of complicated ingredients even to my friend who is a wine/spirits rep. (I didn't take a picture of the cocktail menu, nor do I see it online, so you'll have to take my word for it.😉) 

I will most certainly go back to Soto! I posted the fish and chips picture on Instagram, and a friend said the tuna tacos on the happy hour menu are fabulous, and there are other things I spy that I am interested in trying. While I still think it's a bit odd that Soto opened just a block from Uchi, it's a much different vibe. And unlike my experience at Mandala (see my previous blog post) directly across the driveway from Soto, our service and food was on point from the moment we walked in. Fingers crossed that Soto can make it in South Austin!

Monday, May 21, 2018

First Look: The Yin and Yang of Mandala

South Lamar's Lamar Union complex has had a hard time keeping restaurants. Cantine, El Burro, VOX Table, Delicious have all cycled in and out in relatively short periods of time. TLC Austin (which I like very much, see this blog post for info on them) appears to be holding its own, Soto has replaced Cantine, Shake Shack and the Highball are still there too. Mandala, with its Thai and Vietnamese influences, opened in March at the old El Burro spot. Let's hope they can make it last!

I met a group of friends there on a weeknight for dinner; ironically, our same group of four had previously eaten at El Burro too. Another foodie friend had told me about a passion fruit cocktail, but it wasn't on the menu this evening. Our waiter, who seemed relatively new, didn't seem to have a full grasp of the liquors available at the bar, because when asked if they had Tito's Vodka he said no, but one of our group went to check with the bartender who confirmed its presence. They did have some half price bottles of wine held over from Mother's Day so we split a bottle of rose.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin
We started with their mini rice pancakes, which come seven per order. I inquired when we ordered if we could get eight since there were four of us. The waiter said no, but offered no explanation. I understood it when they arrived; they are not pancakes in the flat sense or something that is cooked on a griddle. They are a version of kanon krok, a type of Thai dessert that uses a pan not unlike those for Japanese takoyaki or Danish abelskivers. Anyhow, they were nice, crispy on the bottom from the rice flour, with a savoriness mixed with a sweetness from coconut milk. Could have used a dash of chile or at least one bold flavor.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin rice pancakes
Red curry with vegetables and shrimp also had good flavor. Lots of veggies and just enough kick in the red curry. (This made an excellent leftover dish the following day; I pan sauteed some red fish, added green beans and poured the remains of the curry over it. On my Instagram!)
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin red curry
These mussels were also done with a red curry sauce, and it was quite tasty. What I am noticing though, the menu online says they are served with garlic toast, and this was served with plain bread. Needed more of it too to sop up that delicious sauce.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin mussels
I love Thai noodle dishes, and was excited to try the pad kee mao with chicken, especially after our waiter said it was one of his favorites. What arrived was a plate with clumpy, undercooked noodles that were in short little choppy sections. While I wasn't anticipating the rice noodles to be long and slurpy like ramen, I did expect them to be more than two inches in length! I asked for the manager to come over, and when he did, his attitude was more like "yeah, what's up" as opposed to "how can I help you?". I inquired if this dish was normally served this way; I don't recall what his specific words were but he did imply that no it did not look quite right and took it back to the kitchen.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
This is the second version (below) of pad kee mao that arrived. You can at least see that some of the noodles are in longer lengths. Taste was okay, but for my likes, it could have used a little more sauce and not to mention flavor. Not much spice, though the menu says "spicy brown sauce." The manager did not come back to check on us.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
As you can see, there is some yin and yang at play here. There are some dishes on the menu I really want to try, like the rice pie and the crispy fish with pineapple tamarind sauce. But after the noodle debacle, I am not certain that I would order it again. I know they have only been open about two months but if they are going to survive, especially at Lamar Union, Mandala needs their universes to be in sync.

Have you been to Mandala, and what was your experience with the food and service?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Quick Look: Wrigleyville ATX

Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs
New food trailer Wrigleyville South Dogs + Beef reached out to me and asked if I would like to come by and try one of their hot dogs. Yes, please!  {The dog was complimentary, I was not compensated monetarily, and opinions are always my own.}
Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs -- Rodeo Dog
While they specialize in Chicago dogs, I opted for a Rodeo dog, a Vienna beef dog with grilled onions, sport peppers, barbecue sauce, cheese all on a poppy seed bun. (There's something about that bright green relish on a Chicago dog that scares me just a bit! 😉) Verdict on the Rodeo dog? Delicious! And messy. The bun split down it's seam a couple of bites in, but it was still worth it. Loaded up with all the toppings, there was no skimping here. I wish the bun was more toasted, but I also know it can be hard to open up hot dog buns to toast without compromising the seam.
Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs
Owners Brian and Teri are following their passion! The trailer is located at the Genie Car Wash at 1311 S. Lamar Blvd, open Wed - Sun 11 am - 6 pm (5pm on Sun). And they are good about keeping their social media updated! Facebook and Instagram. So if you need a good hot dog, here is the place to go!
Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April's Eats

Apart from my last post on the new Lunar pizza trailer, what else have I been eating?

The month started with Easter brunch with friends at Chicon.
Chicon -- eggs benny with pulled pork
Chicon -- eggs benny with pulled pork
The Asian food game is getting stronger in Austin, though I continue to wish there were more places down south! I visited Teahaus 101 (Airport and Lamar Blvd) with blogger buddies Girl Eats World and Foodie is the New Forty for a complimentary media tasting. We had a LOT of food! I think my favorites were the bulgogi tater tots, the chicken wings, and the noodles with black bean sauce.
Teahaus 101
Teahaus 101 -- Asian smorgasborg!
While it was a long drive from South Austin 😉 up to the new H Mart Asian grocery in Cedar Park, I am glad I finally made it. On a weekday, the store was virtually empty and there were no lines at the food court. The KJ chicken and onion rings at Sunday Bird were yummy, and they reheated (as in crispy!) really well in my air fryer for dinner. Don't know what they did to the onion rings (MSG? twice fried?) but they were worth the drive.
Sunday Chicken at H Mart
Sunday Bird at H Mart 
I revisited ATX Cocina with a group of family friends, and once again I was impressed.  We had a variety of plates that we all shared, and our server was spot on with recommendations.
ATX Cocina -- snapper crudo
ATX Cocina -- fish of the day, branzino with red and green sauce, along with a jicama slaw and fresh corn tortillas
ATX Cocina -- chicken with white mole sauce
ATX Cocina -- carne asada
Frontier Airlines now has a nonstop Austin to Albuquerque flight (something Southwest hasn't had in years), which makes visiting my parents a bit easier. And they offered super-cheap introductory rates, which I took advantage of.  I hadn't flown them before, and yes, they do nickel and dime you, but the $130 I paid for a round trip ticket including a checked bag was well worth it. Fortunately, my parents appreciate good food too. My first full day there, we had lunch at neighborhood spot Piatanzi.
Piatanzi Albuquerque beet salad
Piatanzi's Ottavio salad with golden beets, goat cheese, pistachios, dried cranberries and balsamic dressing.  Good pizza too.
After checking out the Leonardo DaVinci exhibit at the Natural History Museum, we went to Mary and Tito's for lunch. This true mom and pop spot has been around since 1963, and were recognized as a James Beard award winner in 2010. New Mexican food at its finest!
Mary + Tito's, on the left the carne adovada omelette and on the right, crispy taco, a tamale smothered in Christmas chile sauce (both red and green chile) and a carne adovada flauta. I wish there was good New Mexican food here in Austin!
Frenchish is probably my parents' favorite place, as they have followed chef/owner Jennifer James from place to place over the years (also a James Beard semifinalist for best chef in the southwest). The food here never disappoints, and it turned out that our lunchtime waiter from Mary + Tito's the day before (and grandson of the namesakes) was our waiter at Frenchish. Small world.
Frenchish -- blue crab salad
Frenchish -- blue crab salad
Frenchish -- pork belly with carrot chutney
Frenchish -- pork belly with carrot chutney
Frenchish -- lamb bolognese
Frenchish -- lamb bolognese that just melted in your mouth
Frenchish -- risotto jardinere with pork three ways
Frenchish -- risotto jardinere with pork three ways
Up in Santa Fe, we had another fine New Mexican foods meal at La Choza. We've dined at sister restaurant The Shed (just off the main plaza downtown) for years, but La Choza is a relatively new discovery for us even though it has been around since 1983.
La Choza -- blue corn soft taco (not that you can see it) smothered in red and green chile, with a magnificent side of posole with pork.  Who's got a good recipe for posole??

I treated myself to a spa package and a night at Ten Thousand Waves Spa, where the in-house restaurant is the award-winning Japanese izakaya Izanami.
Izanami kushiyaki
Izanami -- jamon serrano wrapped asparagus. wagyu beef, chicken meatball, and onigiri rice.
Izanami cucumber and wakame salad
Izanami -- cucumber and wakame (seaweed) salad
After returning from my trip, I caught up with friends for lunch at TLC Austin, where I hadn't been since their media tasting in January, and also still impresses.
TLC Austin
TLC Austin -- the Enlightenment, a vegetarian sandwich for me believe it or not!
TLC Austin
TLC Austin -- snow crab legs seafood boil
TLC Austin
TLC Austin -- 04 Goodness Sake
Finally, lunch at Pho with Us in Southpark Meadows.
Pho with Us -- bun bowl with grilled pork and eggroll and a VERY strong Vietnamese coffee
What have you been eating lately that I should know about? Don't want to wait for a monthly recap? Check out my more up to date Instagram page! 😊

Monday, April 16, 2018

First Look: Lunar Pizza (It's Outta This World!)

Lunar Pizza has landed! While established as a mobile lunar rover, this new food trailer has planted it's pizza flag next to its sister Regal Ravioli at 1502 South First Street, across from Elizabeth Street Cafe. Earthlings rejoice!
Lunar Pizza cheese pie
The Lunar, aka cheese pizza
I was invited to try Lunar by owner Zach, who knows I have loved his ravioli trailer for years; previous post here. (Cheese ravioli with pecan pesto? Yes please! But don't overlook the sweet potato gnocchi with bolognese sauce.) So let's get this part out of the way, I was not monetarily compensated for this blog post and all opinions are purely my own.  I *dragged* two friends along with me, and we enjoyed a pleasant spring evening dining al fresco with our adult beverages we brought with us. And independently, we reached the same conclusion about Lunar Pizza: we loved it.

This is New Jersey-style pizza, which is known for a thinner and crispier crust and a little more sauce than its New York cousin. To me, the crust was the best part of the Lunar pizzas, and like a good apple pie, the crust MAKES a (pizza) pie.  Lunar's dough is thin, but not cracker thin, with a little bit of a chew to it, but not a doughy mouthful. It's unique and I dig it.

The deck oven in the trailer heats to 525 degrees. For a classic cheese pie, Zach spreads cheese over the dough and bakes for about 2 minutes, then adds sauce and more cheese before returning to the oven. This process helps the crust to bake to perfection. He recommends not putting too many toppings on the pizzas as it will overload the thin crust.
Zach of Lunar Pizza
Zach, making pizza
There are a couple pies on the specialty menu, and Zach also brought us the Super Moon, a white pizza with garlic, olive oil, cheese, prosciutto, roasted red peppers and broccolini. A few red pepper flakes added a bit of zip, and this pie was outstanding. I always love a white pie, and as the song goes "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore." And for times when you don't want a whole pizza, you can also order by the slice.
Lunar Pizza -- the Super Moon pie
The Super Moon pie
Lunar Pizza logo
1502 S. 1st Street
Pro tips:
  • Go directly to the Regal Ravioli trailer to order. All the orders and pick up is done from Regal and the Lunar trailer does all the prep and cooking.
  • BYOB
  • Order via Favor if you can't make it in person. (Not sure how well the crispness of the crust holds up.)
  • Reheat your leftovers in the oven or toaster oven, don't make a soggy mess of the crust by putting it in the microwave.
  • Monday - Saturday, noon - 10 pm; Sundays 3 - 10 pm

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

First Look: Loro -- The Offspring of Two Austin Legends

What happens when Tyson Cole of Uchi and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue (both James Beard award-winning chefs) come together? Loro, the Asian/smoked meats eatery that is currently in soft opening stages. Trust me, it's going to be HUUUGE!

Located at 2115 South Lamar Boulevard at Oltorf Street, Loro is a new build-out, just south of the Office Depot. Plenty of parking onsite, and with a huge covered outdoor area, the Michael Hsu designed building is gorgeous inside and out. Starting April 4th, they will operate seven days a week for lunch and dinner. No reservations taken.

I got to attend a soft opening last Friday. You go inside and order at the counter and they bring the food out to you. Local beers on tap, a few cocktails and wines offered too. Here's the rundown of what we sampled (food was 50% off, so we figured we should try a lot!).
Loro Austin -- corn fritters
Corn fritters

Loro Austin -- garlic rice noodle salad
Garlic rice noodles with pineapple, currants + cashews

Loro Austin -- chicken karaage
Chicken karaage with jalapeno aioli *
Loro Austin -- green papaya salad
Green papaya salad

Loro Austin -- oak smoked salmon
Oak smoked salmon in a cucumber yuzu broth
Loro Austin -- smoked brisket with Asian flavors
Smoked brisket with sweet chili sauce and Thai herbs *
Loro Austin -- char siew pork shoulder bowl
Char siew pork shoulder bowl

Loro Austin -- Aaron + Tyson
Aaron + Tyson 
 * = favorites on the evening. We also had the wonton chips with Thai green salsa and a sambal peanut dip that were also outstanding.

Throughout the evening, we saw both Aaron and Tyson running food, chatting with people, and in general looking relaxed. You would have thought they were just regular guys working a shift, as any "big chef egos" were clearly checked at the door. This unique mashup of food styles is sure to be a hit, and I believe Loro will be popular for a very long time.