Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Little Thai Food Trailer

Underwhelmed. Saw some encouraging things on Yelp, but when it came down to it...I've had better Thai food. Today was my first visit to the Little Thai Food trailer on South First Street, next to the School for the Deaf property. Very friendly, and the food came fast.
I ordered the tofu spring rolls and chicken pad thai. The spring rolls are mostly vermicelli noodles; some cabbage and a bit of cucumber, and a strip of firm tofu. But no basil or mint or cilantro to give it any flavor. The accompanying peanut sauce was good; very thick, and very coconutty.

The pad thai wasn't bad, but it didn't have enough of the sweet and twangy flavor that I like. They do put scrambled egg in it which was nice, and some ground peanuts and bean sprouts on the side. But there was a lemon wedge for garnish.... why no lime?

With Thai Fresh also nearby, it's disappointing not to be able to get really good Thai food in the neighborhood. I'll stick to Madam Mam's.


I was warned. Or shall we say advised.

A friend who went to Hopdoddy last week (and thus spurred on my going last night) told me about their method of ordering. Basically, you order at the counter. However, as you are waiting in line to order, a friendly hostess/server comes along, asks how many are in your party, and finds a table for you. You're told what your table number is, and in turn, you tell that to your order taker. You order, get your drinks and condiments, and find your table. Then the server finds you and your table with your food. As three of us were approaching the order taker, we were told there were no tables at the moment, but we were next up. Within a couple minutes, we reached the order taker, and the waitress had secured us a table.

I guess it's not all that different, but it's nice to know they won't let your food get cold as you're waiting for a table to clear. 

Very clean lines, and a very effective use of space (the old Cissi's Market on the SoCo strip). High booths line the right-hand perimeter, and high tables in the middle and on the left. A couple "regular" height tables are to the right of the main door. The booths would be difficult for kids or a mobility-impaired or elderly person to navigate. We were in one of the booths, and at one point, my shoe came off my foot, and it was a bit of struggle to fish for it on the floor with my short legs. Great pictures of local music legends line the walls.

Anyway, the food. They have a number of burger options from basic burger, to ahi tuna to lamb to veggie, etc; there seems to be something for everyone! And, they bake their own bread, cut their own potatoes, and even make their own ice cream. 
Two of us split the classic burger with an add on of bacon and cheese; our third member got the Terlingua burger, complete with chili con carne, Fritos, and cheddar. Our order taker immediately asked if we wanted them to pre-cut our burger in half. We got an order of chili cheese fries and a Mexican vanilla milkshake. Once we picked our condiments and found our table, our milkshake was already there, split into two cups, and we hadn't even asked for it to be split; very thoughtful! It was heavenly! OMG! Real vanilla beans were used -- you can see the specks from the seeds, and it was a very thick, incredibly creamy, tasty shake. A good sign of things to come!

The burgers arrive on small metal trays (quarter sheet trays). A nice soft challah-style toasted bun, filled with meat and the fixin's. They don't ask you how you want your burger cooked, so this was cooked more than I like it (medium rare), but still good. The fries were extra crisp, and well-seasoned, though perhaps a bit heavy on the salt, and I am the one who puts salt on everything. We still ate practically every last one though! Overall, I'd say the shake and fries were phenomenal, and the burger was good, but didn't blow me away. Will try the lamb burger next time.
Hopdoddy was hopping on a Tuesday night at 7:45. It is a bit loud in there, and the booth tables are wide, so I sort of had to lean in to hear all of what my friend's were saying. Oh, and the name Hopdoddy. Another beer + animal named establishment (see Barley Swine post). Hop(s), obviously for beer, and doddy is the nickname of the Aberdeen cow in Scotland. Hop to it, for beer and burgers!

Barley Swine

One of the perks of writing this here blog, is occasionally you get invited to a tasting. And when the tasting happens to be at one of the brand new hot spots, then all the better! And when the restaurant is closed to the general public, and it's just you and your fellow food bloggers, and you have the staff at your disposal to ask questions, then even more fun! And just who is this new kid, you ask? Well, turns out, it's a rather familiar face -- Bryce Gilmore, the man behind the Odd Duck trailer, which sits about 1/2 mile north on South Lamar from it's new baby sibling, Barley Swine
The name Barley Swine comes from some of the owner's favorite things -- beer and pork. Like Odd Duck, the food menu, comprised of mostly local ingredients, will change as the seasons do. The beer menu is comprised of several local breweries, and all the staff are educated on the beers, being able to make food pairing suggestions to customers. I have never seen a beer menu where the percentage of alcohol is listed, and I imagine this is a trend we may start seeing more and more. The space itself was completely remodeled after the previous tenant (RIP Pie Slice....your pies were fantastic) vacated. Very efficient use of space, with the whole place only seating about 40 diners total. There's a rustic farmhouse feel to it, which matches that of the food. The old doors along the base of the counter give it some further character.
Our tastings started with the Ommegang Hennepin, a lighter citrusy beer, and my favorite of the night. The food began with the potato fritters, with goat cheese (the puree), leeks (inside the refined tater tots) and espelette pepper. Normally these come five to a plate, and I think I could have eaten ten! Very light and flavorful.
Next, grilled broccoli, farmhouse egg dressing, and housemade ricotta. This also included some seasonal greens and radish slivers. Broccoli has never been one of my favorites, but grilling the florets made them much more tasty.
The next beer was the Brooklyn Local One Strong Pale Ale, my second favorite. The dishes were grilled scallops, with pancetta, (green) cauliflower,and a curry-esque sauce. This was one of my favorites. For big, fat sea scallops, they were still moist inside, and the curry sauce didn't overpower.
Also with the Local One, was grilled baby octopus & chorizo on a white bean sofrito. While I thought the octopus was cooked properly (as in not tough and chewy), it was too smokey; the chorizo was flavorful (and turns out to be from local charcuterie Salt and Time), and I could have eaten a whole bowlful of the beans! Tender but incredibly tasty.
The next beer was the Ommegang Rare Vos, an amber ale with a hoppy finish. Lamb sweetbreads followed, with a creamy garlic and almond puree, baby brussel sprouts and while described as bacon on the menu, it was larger cubes, like pork belly. I have not eaten that many sweetbreads in my life, and these were so tender and light; the whole dish was amazing.

Here's where barley and swine came to play, as crispy stuffed pig trotter's (feet), were paired with a soft-poached egg, mushrooms, and some greens. It was suggested you cut everything up so it all mixes together with the runny yolk; and while runny yolks aren't my faves, it really worked. The trotter was very well fried, and I wouldn't have known what body part it was unless I had been told. Extremely tasty.
Getting fuller by the minute, the next beer was Brooklyn Local Two Dark Ale. The richness continued with red wine and bone marrow risotto with radicchio. This one normally comes with grilled beef, but it was plenty decadent on its own.
Finally, coming to the end of the gluttony, was more swine, this in the form of braised pork belly, with lightly pickled enoki mushrooms, on a very tasty, creamy puree that I can't recall what it was. The belly was some of the meatiest, least fatty I've had, and while fat = flavor, this swine still had plenty of it.
Dessert also had a creative touch.  A Real Ale Coffee Porter float, with pecan ice cream in it. The porter was too bitter for me, but the ice cream was delicious!
Barley Swine has barely been open a month, but I've already seen a lot of buzz on Twitter, and imagine there will be much more for some time to come.  So excited to have a place like this in the neighborhood, and I can't wait to go back and try things like roasted beets and foie gras that we didn't have.  A big THANK YOU to Bryce, the engaging and dedicated staff (they're usually closed on Sundays, so this was their "day off"), and Bread & Butter PR for hosting this delectable evening!

Blue Dahlia Bistro

In the revitalizing stretch of East 11th Street, just a stone's throw from IH-35, sits Blue Dahlia Bistro. Located in a re-purposed building, there's patio seating in both front and back, and while too cold to make good use of it this past Sunday, the back area particularly looked inviting for warmer times. You walk in, and a sign says to seat yourself. There's both some bar stool-height tables, a couple large community tables, and a smattering of two-tops. I took up the end of one of the nice wooden community tables, and waited for my two friends to join me.
Breakfast items are served all day, and overall, the restaurant has a commitment to local, fresh, and organic whenever possible. Originally thinking I would get the waffles, I changed my mind after hearing about the frittatas of the day; two of us picked the sausage and mozzarella one, and the other, the olive, artichoke (I think), and feta. The very nice fresh, basic salads come undressed, and there are bottles of oil & vinegar on the tables, as well as three hinged jars -- Nutella (or close facsimile), orange marmalade, and raspberry jam. Thought the frittata was good, but not outstanding; a bit overcooked, so somewhat dry on the inside and crusty in parts on the bottom. The breads - one whole wheat, the other white were both tender and delicious. Really didn't need the jams on them!

Our waitress was very friendly from the get go; also very honest too. When we were asking about some items on the menu, she said the frittatas were always some of her favorites, things like chicken salad you can get anywhere, and the blintzes on the breakfast menu should be considered more of a dessert item. So we split the blueberry blintzes for dessert, and they were delicious! She was right about them though, sweet, rich, and it would have been too much as a breakfast item.
While we were there for brunch, the other portions of the menu look really interesting, and I'd like to go back for dinner! Cassoulet, bouillabaisse, ratatouille.... all those good French-inspired dishes!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chi'lantro BBQ

So it's mid-January, and I've got to get back on my "one new food trailer a week" program. Problem is, the food trailer population keeps growing and growing! But I decided to track down one that I think is one of Austin's original "Tweet our location and find us" trailers -- Chi'lantro BBQ, a tasty marriage of Mexican and Korean flavors. 

I had a doctor's appointment off Jollyville Road this afternoon, and as luck would have it, one of Chi'lantro's trucks (YES, they have TWO trucks!) was at the Twin Towers complex on the Mopac southbound frontage road, between 183 and 360 (it's the building where Google has it's offices). Fortunately, I could see the truck in front of the northern building as I went up Mopac to made the u-turn at 360. And for a cold day, I was pleasantly surprised to see about 8 people waiting for their food. Everyone appeared to be from one of the two office buildings; I felt a little bit like a party crasher! ;)
I decided on the kimchi fries, and asked the woman taking the orders what she recommended, the pork or beef bulgogi. She immediately said the pork was really looking good today. So after a few minutes in the colder temps, I had my hot basket of fries, topped with pork bulgogi, cheese, cilantro, onion, sriracha, their magic orange sauce (it's a mayo-based sauce, I think), and sesame seeds. 
Retreating to my car, I took the picture and began devouring it! Mighty, mighty tasty. A really great balance of flavors. The pork was cut extremely thin, and probably chopped with the metal spatula while on the grill; it has a nice bit of sweetness to it when you get a bite of it with out all the other stuff. The sriracha heats you up, without overpowering, and the creaminess from their magic orange sauce is a nice texture addition too. There's not too much of the earthy cilantro, but what's there adds nicely to the depth of the flavor profile.

Looking at their other menu items, it's mostly Korean flavors made into Mexican foods -- tacos, burritos, quesadillas, with a rice bowl thrown in too. Not sure how the tofu would do bulgogi-style, but with that succulent pork, don't think I'll be getting the veggie option there anytime soon.

Uncle Billy's Brew & Cue

Once upon a time, the restaurants along the north side of Barton Springs Road between Romeo's and the stop light at Robert E Lee all seemed to have surface parking lots. Turning in to Uncle Billy's Brew and Cue, there's now an apartment building/condo in the midst, so while there's still parking, it feels weird doing so in the basement level garage for the building. Fortunately, it's well lit, and I didn't feel creeped out walking through it by myself. Stretching a ways back, Billy's used to be a pan-Asian placed called Mimosa; good food but terrible service. And I can't quite recall what it was before that, but hopefully, Billy's has put the end to the revolving door of eateries at that location.

From the garage, across the driveway, and into Billy's front patio area, they've got what appears to be a sweet set up (it was dark when I got there). Lots of picnic seating, a bar, and requisite TV with football on.  Similar inside, wood floors, TV's, bar.... I had a seat, and waited for my friend, who arrived just minutes later, while I was sipping on my house-brewed Agave Wit beer. Nice citrus notes in the beer; I had a taste of my friend's IPA, which was pleasantly not bitter to my palate (most IPAs usually are to me). We also got a starter of fried pickles, which were well coated and fried. Tasty, not greasy, and they come with a side of spicy ranch. 

Meal-wise, I picked the two meat plate with the pork spareribs and pulled pork, after soliciting an opinion from our waiter who said both of those looked particularly good this evening. My side choices were mashed potatoes and baked beans. My friend also got the two meat plate with smoked turkey and pulled pork. 
The meats, or at least I should say the porks, were GOOD. The meat on the spareribs fell off the bone the moment you bit into it. Good smokey flavor and moistness. The pulled pork was also very moist and tender (and was still very good the next night too -- leftovers). Had a piece of the smoked turkey, which had good flavor to it, but particularly around the edges, it was rubbery and tough. Our waiter said that they used oak wood this particular night, and sometimes they use an oak and hickory combination.  The sides were okay. They use red potatoes for the mashed dish, and they keep the skin on, which I like and they leave some chunks, which I also like. However, some of the chunks were still a bit undercooked. The baked beans must have had a lot of cider vinegar in them, because they were very sweet-tart, as was the bbq sauce, which was too twangy for my tastes; not much balance to either of them. For dessert, we split a piece of the buttermilk pie, which to me tasted like artificially flavored French vanilla pudding.

I was a little disappointed the plate only came with 3 ribs; I guess I expected at least 4 or a quarter rack. And at first I didn't know why I was charged an extra $1 for the ribs (yes, I know, it's only a $1), but now, after studying their menu online, I see it listed. However, because of the design of the menu -- they needed filler space on the right hand side (in yellow) -- the meats are listed, and for moist brisket and ribs, it does say add $1. However, in the middle part of the menu where the meat plates are listed, it doesn't say anything about a $1 extra charge for the special meats, and that's where I would expect to see it listed. 

Our waiter was helpful and friendly, and was happy to answer our questions about the menu. We used a Groupon, and he didn't seem put off by that. Looking forward to warmer weather, when we can sit outside, drink some beers and order some family-style meats.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ho Ho Chinese BBQ

My butcher friend who likes the entrails and innards of just about all animals has spoken highly of Ho Ho Chinese BBQ for those very things. While I tend to like the more traditional cuts of meat, I of course, am always on the lookout for new tasty morsels. So a reunion with three old friends took us a ways north of the south Austin 'hood to IH-35 and Parmer Lane, in the middle of strip mall central. And I think Ho Ho is about the only thing that isn't a national chain (Walmart, Red Robin, etc.) in that neck of the woods. But it is without hesitation that I say I am glad we stuck our necks out to venture up 35. Ho Ho is heavenly.

The exterior of the building fits in with the rest of the strip mall (or "road rash" as my mother and I call it) design. When you walk inside, I immediately was drawn to the water tanks on the right hand side of the lobby area that are holding tonight's very fresh meals -- lobster, crabs, geoducks, and some sort of fish that would be well-camouflaged if it were amongst rocks. The tanks were impeccably clean. Nothing growing on the walls, and hardly even a fingerprint smudge. And to the left of the door is the requisite plexiglass booth with whole roast ducks hanging by the neck, and the man with a very large cleaver whacking away at things. (Darn, I couldn't get the cleaver really in the picture -- he was working fast! The chunk hanging on the right is the roast pork; I really wanted to grab it and run out the door!)
We were seated in a booth, and all four of us started oohing and aahing over the menu, our eyes growing bigger with excitement with the turn of every menu page.  After a lot of "Oh! What about....." we picked the bbq pork and roast duck combo plate (#M27), the sauteed snow pea leaves (#V8), and the wide flat rice noodles with beef, pork, and shrimp in a brown gravy (#N12). Our charming server, a man in his 50s, was very patient with us, and as we were debating order an appetizer or the roast pork in addition to what we had already committed to, he smiled and said, start with these three, then see how you are feeling. Very nice that he didn't just stand there and let us order a ton of food just to run up the tab.
To myself, I sort of lamented not getting an appetizer, because I was hungry! Lo and behold, the pork/duck and snow pea leaves arrived in five minutes, and the noodle dish came two minutes later. And we swooped in on it all! The pork had a very lovely red tinge to it's outer layer, with sweet tones with mild ginger from the bbq glaze on it. The duck was one of the most lovely ever. Very crispy, extremely well-rendered skin, with a Chinese 5 spice taste to it (star anise, clove, cinnamon, sichuan peppercorns, and probably more ginger than fennel seed as the fifth spice). The pea leaves had thin slivers of fresh garlic sauteed in with them, and they were perfectly cooked, with stems still slightly firm.
The noodle dish was this mound of sliced meats, cabbage and broccoli over the very wide rice noodles, which are hard to manage with chopsticks! I would have liked more flavor in the gravy, though a bit of chili flakes and oil helped; still tasty though. The four of us made pretty short work of the dishes, and all the while, the servers refilled our water glasses, and seemed to be peering over at us to see if we liked our choices. You better believe it! Our gentleman waiter brought us orange slices and fortune cookies with the check. And the check itself.... $30.25 for four people. For that quality food in a sit-down restaurant (heck, even better priced than some trailers), you CAN'T beat it. 

The next day, I saw my butcher friend, and told him I had been to Ho Ho's the night before. He asked if we had eaten the roast pork, and when I said no, we had the bbq pork, he said you HAVE to go back for it, because the texture of the roast pork, especially the outer crispy layer is sheer perfection. Must go back. ASAP!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Upcoming Events

Two food events I have just heard about:

Sip & Savor, a city-wide food and drink celebration, that is organized to try to get people in the door of places they haven't been. Running January 16 - 30, participating restaurants will have special menus for patrons to try. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. Go to their website for more details and a listing of the restaurants. A Facebook event page is here, and Twitter hash tag is #SipSavorATX.

The second is the annual Taste of Austin, held at the Palmer Event Center on Thursday, January 27th from 5:30 - 8 pm; tickets are $25 each and should probably be reserved in advance, as they do sell out. The event is designed to allow participants to taste dishes from a multitude of different restaurants, and is sponsored by (and benefits) the Greater Austin Restaurant Association and Westwood HS DECA Marketing.