Thursday, July 11, 2019

First Look: Velouria Cocktails + Coffee in South Austin

Velouria rose and espresso martini

Liquid libations are always a good thing, and when an establishment combines the worlds of coffee and cocktails, that's generally an excellent thing. Meet Velouria, a new lounge/bar/coffee shop/ whathaveyou on South Congress and Alpine Road. {Yes, directly across Alpine from Expose in the Davis SoCo building...hopefully this is different clientele!}

Velouria opens early for coffee and pastries (from Crema Bakery) and stays open late for cocktails and on some evenings, a live DJ.
Velouria interior green velvet chairs
Beautiful dark teal interior with gold accents and luscious green velvet chairs.  In this photo, bar is on the far side with lounge and table seating in the near.
Velouria espresso martini
All coffee drinks are made with local Austin Roasting Company beans, including this frozen espresso martini with vanilla vodka and coffee liquor. Straight from the slushee machine on tap, and extremely delicious, even though having caffeine at 5 pm might not have been the best choice. 😅 I'll do the frozen Mai Tai next time!
Velouria charcuterie plate
Charcuterie board with meats and cheeses from Antontelli's Cheese Shop; love their collaborations with all these local businesses!  Three cheeses, two meats, sweet and savory spreads, a few olives, and a few marcona almonds. My one complaint (apart from there only being like 4 almonds) is the almonds tasted like they had come from the fridge so there was no snap or crispiness to them. I mentioned this to owner Sara who commented on my Instastories picture of our cocktails, and she said she appreciated the feedback, so hopefully the almond quality will improve! And while she may be the owner (along with husband Tim), she was a wonderful barista/cocktail waitress. They also own the Brixton and Drinks Lounge in East Austin, so not their first rodeo....or cuppa coffee.
Velouria chicken salad sandwich
We also had the chicken salad on croissant, which was fine, but not overly exciting. I hope they'll consider expanding their cocktail hour food offerings.
Velouria exterior
If you're looking for a place to kick back in South Austin with a variety of beverage offerings, check out Velouria.  Also their website has handy and very helpful parking info! There is outdoor patio seating, which would be lovely in the mornings, but those green velvet chairs inside are just calling my name...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Chicago Eats: Kaisho Lounge at Yūgen

One of the most memorable and incredibly delicious meals I have had in a long time was in the Kaisho Lounge at Yūgen, in Chicago's hip West Loop.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Mentaiko Carbonara
Mentaiko Carbonara
In preparation for my trip, I had stalked a few Chicago food accounts on Instagram, and saw a dish called Mentaiko Carbonara that sounded amazing. I knew that Friday night would be my only opportunity to go, and fortunately, my friends were amenable to my plan of getting there just before they opened at 5 pm.  Yūgen is a prix-fixe omakase restaurant (starting at $200+ person), whereas its front lounge, Kaisho has a la carte ordering. We ending up having the entire lounge to ourselves and the staff was amazing.

Only open for about six months, Yūgen is helmed by Executive Chef Mari Katsumura, and they are already getting attention in Chicago for their outstanding dishes, both in taste and presentation. As well as being one of the few spots that is completely run by women; in addition to Chef Mari, the pastry chef, beverage director, and general manager are all women.
Yugen Chicago

Yugen Chicago dining room
Main Yugen dining room
Turns out, Beverage Director Olivia Noren was our server in the lounge. While my friends had Chandon, I opted for this unique summery cocktail, called Shizen, made with vodka infused with chrysanthemum, muddled shiso leaves, and yuzu juice (a tart citrus, like a grapefruit/lemon cross). Other than perfectly balanced, I am not sure how to describe the flavors, but I loved it!

Shizen cocktail at Yugen: chrysanthemum vodka, shiso, yuzu
Shizen: chrysanthemum vodka, shiso, yuzu juice

Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Chex Mix
Fun crispies: Japanese Chex Mix with kombu, ramen, udon and edamame
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Chicken Karaage
No doubt, some of the very best Chicken Karaage (with shiso aioli) that I have ever had. Juicy and crisp.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Mentaike Carbonara
The Mentaiko Carbonara, or Japan meets Italy. Udon noodles, with a uni (sea urchin) butter, tempura crumbs, and chiffonade of  nori. An incredible umami bomb! Great variety of textures.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Ramen Raviolo
Olivia could tell we were enjoying our dishes as well as our time in Kaisho, as we were the only ones in the lounge and the main dining room only had a few patrons at the early dinner hour. The kitchen sent out a Ramen Raviolo, one of the previous night's specials. Was this ever a treat! Bathed in tonkotsu (pork) broth, this fat little raviolo had pork shoulder meat inside, with crispy chicken skin sitting on top. In some ways a deconstructed bowl of ramen, and again, more play on the Japan meets Italy theme.

Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Milk + Cookies
This shake down of  Milk + Cookies for dessert was as creative as the "cracked" plate it sat upon. Meringue wafers on cookie crumbs and a caramel sauce all just melted together in your mouth.
Kaisho Lounge at Yugen: Menu
Kaisho's menu

Yugen's kitchen
After our meal, Olivia invited us back into the kitchen, which was immaculate. Hot prep on the left, cold on the right, with the expediter at the ready.
Pastry Chef Jeanine Lamadieu clowns around while presenting us with a jellied tomato apertif in shochu. I was slightly nervous at first as I have had other jellied items while in Japan that I didn't care for (looking at you, egg yolk) but this was mild and went down easily.  I can best compare it to a tomato gum drop.
The four gender-neutral single bathrooms were also works of art, and Olivia explained each was named after one of the four seasons. All had elements of beautiful stone work, and then some other interesting element like a huge geode or hefty driftwood. Winter was my favorite, with its sparkly stack-stone quartz wall and reverse-relief sink that ran the entire length of the counter top.

You can't see the relief texture of the sink, but it was there! Drain hole on far right, "downhill" from the flow.

All in all an experience that won't soon be forgotten. If you're in Chicago, stop by Kaisho for a cocktail or meal, and experience what "Yūgen" is all about -- an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words. And as they say in Japan before a meal: Itadakimasu.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

First Look: Artipasta

If you have followed me here or on Instagram, you may know that I do love a nice big bowl of carbs! Especially when it comes to fresh pasta. (RIP La Dolda Pasta.) So I was very excited to hear about a food trailer called Artipasta, located at The Thicket food park, at the northwest corner of South First and Dittmar in far South Austin, which does in fact make their own fresh pasta.
Artipasta ravioli and carbonara
Artipasta at The Thicket
One of my BFFs and I met for earlyish dinner there last Saturday. I had heard great things about their carbonara (crispy pork and pasta? sign me up!), and saw it on their website's menu. However when we got there, it was no where to be seen on the menu board or specials. Confused, I consulted with the gentleman in the trailer. He said it was an off-menu item, but he could make it for me though it would take a little longer. I said sure! He also wanted to make certain that I was going to eat it on the premises, as it would not travel well (raw egg), and I certainly appreciate his concern for the integrity of his food! My friend wanted ravioli, and after a brief discussion, she told him dealer's choice.

Artipasta carbonara
Carbonara
When our food finally came, we were not disappointed. The pork in the carbonara was super-crisp without any grease.The fresh pasta itself  -- in this dish spaghetti -- was a perfect al dente. I think I would have liked a touch more pasta water mixed with the raw egg to make it a bit more creamy in consistency, but the flavor was there for sure. And yes, this would have been a congealed mess if it was packaged to go.
Artipasta ravioli
Ravioli with ricotta, balsamic and rosemary
My friend's dish was (I think I have this right) chicken ravioli with fresh ricotta, rosemary, and a balsamic reduction. A little heavy on the oil on the plate, but the tastes were great and she ate the entire thing, as did I.
Artipasta cannoli
Amazing cannoli!
We tend not to shy away from dessert, especially when there's cannoli! These were large and delicious. No regrets here! I should add, I ordered the cannoli when we initially ordered the pasta; they said they'd keep them back in the trailer until we were ready for them which was great.
Artipasta food trailer at The Thicket
Artipasta at The Thicket
I really enjoyed The Thicket's atmosphere; about five food trucks sit on a circular perimeter; the inner circle has trees and underbrush (hence the name Thicket, I presume) along with picnic tables. There's also a small performance stage, and it was a family and dog-friendly environment. I realize now, I didn't take photos of the surroundings but you can get the idea from their webpage.
Artipasta logo

Overall, we really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, and judging from the number of people we saw placing orders or picking up to go food, they appear to be doing well! I wish Artipasta had a salad or other greens offering on their menu, as I would have loved something healthy to accompany the pasta. (It also would have given me the opportunity to order a pasta dish that I could eat half of and take the rest home for later.) To their credit, they do have a caprese salad (basil, tomato + mozzarella) on the menu, but the board said sold out when we were there. Constructively, I'd like to see a clearer menu of their regular items posted online. Per one of their Instagram posts, they apparently sell their fresh pasta, which makes me very excited!

And as Artipasta has posted on their website:
Life is a combination of magic and pasta. 
-- Federico Fellini
Indeed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Update: Fat Dragon

I first visited Fat Dragon last fall, and wrote about them in December, as part of an Asian food binge at the time.  They invited me for lunch this week to try some of their new menu items, and I thank them for the opportunity and hospitality!

Soy braised salmon is one of their new items. It's a big 16 oz portion and the skin was crisp!
For my vegetarian friend, vegetarian dumplings are a nice option. In the lower basket are beef and leek ones.
I added a little julienned ginger and chili oil to my beef + leek dumplings. Extremely tender beef. I forgot to ask for them pan fried, but they were still delicious.
Hong Kong style braised tofu and veggies.
From previous meals at Fat Dragon, here are a couple of my faves: dry fried green beans.
Lamb cilantro dumplings are amazing.
Crispy pork belly gua bao.


Go visit Fat Dragon at 183 and Spicewood Springs!
8650 Spicewood Springs, open Tuesday - Sunday 11 am - 9 pm

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Best Mexican Food in Austin, Updated for 2019

Click here to see the full Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide! 
** Post updated for 2019 ** 

Mexican or Tex-Mex? What’s the difference you ask?


I think of Mexican (or interior Mexican) as more chicken and pork than beef, thick flavorful sauces like mole, and while not edible, beautiful ceramic plates and tile work. Tex-Mex is more cheese and bean-centric, nachos and plastic tortilla holders. Think chicken enchiladas in mole sauce vs. cheese enchiladas with red chile sauce. Here’s a great article explaining some of the differences on Serious Eats (and written by a former Austin Food Blogger Alliance member). Some places serve both types of dishes, and that’s okay, there's bound to be crossover! And I don't claim to be an expert, I just know good food when I taste it! 😉

Added April 2019: Here's an article from Eater Austin explaining some of the different Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes and where to get the best ones!


Here’s my guide to the best Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin!

Interior Mexican
ATX Cocina, 110 San Antonio Street (Downtown)
Modern Mexican food in an upscale setting. Heirloom corn from Mexico, from which they make their own tortillas and masa; gluten-free establishment. Pretty much everything we had was spot on; you can read my full blog post here
ATX Cocina pork carnitas tacos
Pork carnitas tacos from ATX Cocina's happy hour menu
Borrego de Oro, 3900 South Congress (South) 
Definitely a diamond (or should I say piece of gold?) in the rough; just north of Ben White/Hwy 290. One of the few Mexican spots that I see with lamb.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Borrego de Oro chipotle cabrito
Borrego's chipotle cabrito, which was absolutely OUTSTANDING! The meat just fell off the bones.
Curra's 614 East Oltorf (South)
Popular spot, known in part for their avocado margaritas; prepare to wait on the weekends. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. 


El Naranjo, 85 Rainey Street (Downtown)
What started as a food trailer on Rainey Street has graduated to a brick and mortar, run by Oaxacan Chef Iliana de la Vega. Dinner and weekend brunch; fine dining.
El Naranjo mole negro de oaxaca
Niman Ranch Pork Chop with Mole Negro de Oaxaca
Fonda San Miguel, 2330 North Loop (North Central Austin)
This iconic spot has been a mainstay of fine dining in Austin for over 25 years; the beautiful hacienda and all it’s gorgeous tile work and decor is worth the price of their delicious margaritas. Try their traditional dishes like mole or cochinita pibil. Dinner and Sunday brunch; fine dining.
Fonda San Miguel margarita
Fonda's margarita
Habanero, 501 West Oltorf (South)
Mom and Pop place just off South First Street, open breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner on Friday and Saturday only. 

Hecho en Mexico, 6001 West William Cannon Drive (Southwest) and 4300 North Quinlan Park Road (Steiner Ranch/West)
This family-run establishment is also known for their monthly tequila dinners. Lunch and dinner.
Hecho en Mexico
Tacos al Pastor at Hecho en Mexico
Juan In A Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez Street (East) 
A neighborhood staple since 1980, very popular, especially on weekends.

La Condesa, 400A West 2nd Street (Downtown)

Trendy, modern Mexican in the heart of downtown. Great little outdoor patio to watch the people go by while sipping on a sangria, margarita, or cerveza.

La Mexicana, 1924 South First Street (South)
Mostly known as a Mexican bakery, they also have great inexpensive tacos, tortas, gorditas, and street foods. Open 24 hours, which comes in handy when you're jet lagged from an international flight.
La Mexicana breakfast tacos
Fat and inexpensive breakfast tacos at La Mexicana
Manuel's, 310 Congress Avenue (Downtown) and 10201 Jollyville Road (Northwest)
Their tortilla soup never disappoints, and I've always been a fan of their chicken mole. Lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch at both locations. 
Manuel's enchiladas de mole
Manuel's enchiladas with mole sauce
Papalote,  2803 South Lamar (South), 3632 South Congress (South) and 13219 North Hwy 183 (Northwest)
The South Lamar location only has a handful of tables, and does a lot of carry out business. Street foods including tacos, tortas, and tlacoyos; known for the vegetarian cauliflower taco. Daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great spot for a quick meal, not to be overlooked by other area taco places.


Sazon, 1816 South Lamar (South)
One of the few spots that serves huitlacoche; they have indoor and outdoor seating, nice happy hours.
Sazon tacos al pastor
Sazon's pastor
Suerte, 1800 E. 6th Street (East)
New trendy spot on the eastside, brunch with tacos, tostadas and doblado was quite good, but the palmier with cajeta is not to be missed!
Suerte brunch beef tongue taco, shrimp tostada, grilled doblada
Shrimp tostado, beef tongue taco, and chorizo + potato stuffed doblado.
Taqueria Chapala, 4201 S. Congress Ave. (South)
Looking for awesome chilaquiles? Look no further.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Veracruz All Natural, Several trailers plus a brick and mortar
This popular food truck offers plate specials on weekends, like these mole enchiladas with plantains and chilaquiles.
Veracruz All Natural mole
Mole enchiladas at Veracruz

Tex Mex
Chuy's, Six locations
The original on Barton Springs Road is what started it all, now with multiple locations nationwide. The tortilla soup is still a staple for many. Daily, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Chuy's
Chuy's sangria
Cocina de Consuelo, 4516 Burnet Road (North Central) 
Try the huevos rancheros and enchiladas. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, closed Saturdays.
DK Maria's Legendary Tex-Mex, 1807 Slaughter Lane (Far South)
They took over the former Tres Amigos spot at Slaughter and Manchaca, and have incredible thick tortilla chips and a jalapeno/avocado sauce that's amazing. Pictured here, Anselmo's Grilled Fish, which on this day was a drum with veracruz sauce; hearty portions. Large venue, great for groups.
DK Maria's Legendary Tex Mex Anselmo's Grilled Fish
Anselmo's Grilled Fish at DK Maria's
El Dorado Cafe, 3300 W. Anderson Lane (North Central)
This family-owned establishment has quickly earned its buzz. I went for lunch and the place was packed! Salsa X, calabacitas, and Esme's Magic rolled enchiladas with mashed potatoes amongst the standouts. I really wish this place was south!
El Dorado Cafe Esme's Magic Enchiladas
Esme's enchiladas at El Dorado
Fresas, 915 N. Lamar Blvd (Downtown; drive through/carry out) and 1703 S. 1st Street (South Austin)
I recently had a very solid meal at the South 1st location with excellent service, which had been my bone to pick before. But they are back in my good graces. While known for their chicken al carbon, the posole was outstanding.
Fresas posole
Posole from Fresas

Joann's Fine Foods
,
 1224 S. Congress (Downtown/South) 
I debated whether or not to include this in my Mexican foods post, but yes, as they say online: "The menu is a tribute to diner culture featuring Tex-Mex favorites and California inspired healthy options." And the beef picadillo enchiladas were delicious. Here's the link to my full blog post.
Joann's Fine Foods hash brown nachos
Joann's hash brown nachos
Matt's El Rancho, 2613 South Lamar (South) 
Serving some of Austin’s most popular Tex-Mex since 1952. Lunch and dinner daily; closed Tuesdays.

Maudie's Tex MexSeven locations

Multiple locations around town, popular happy hours. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Nachos compuestos for $5 during Maudie's happy hour!
Mr. Natural, 1901 East Cesar Chavez (East) and 2414 South Lamar (South) 
This is the spot for vegetarian and gluten free options; tamales, migas, and rellenos. Both locations, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, closed Sundays.
Mr. Natural's stuffed pepper
Trudy's,  Four locations
A popular spot near UT campus, and now with multiple spots around town, try the stuffed avocados. Daily, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


If you've got favorite dishes at any of these places or suggestions for other spots, leave a note below! Buen provecho!


And check out my City Guide picks for the ultimate South Austin restaurants!