Sunday, June 12, 2011

El Meson

The second location of El Meson opened last fall, and while it's not that far from my house, last week was my first time going. I was really struck by the interior of the building, with beautiful tile work on the floors and even in the bathroom! Unfortunately, I think because of the tile, noise bounces all around, and it was fairly loud for a little bit. But we were also surrounded by two tables with young children, but good thing they left not too long after our arrival.

My friend was there when I arrived, and also at the table was a fresh melon "ceviche" that was very tasty. Nice amuse bouche palate cleanser, with melon and cucumber diced very finely.
For entrees, I had the chicken with mole rojo, and my friend the chicken enchiladas with verde sauce. Mole is often the standard dish I get at interior Mexican restaurants. I love the complexity of flavors it brings, and having made it before, I appreciate the work that goes into it. Our waiter said it's 22 ingredients, and continued to say that it tastes the same -- consistent -- every day. It was a good mole, I will certainly agree. However it lacked the depth and aforementioned complexity of a great mole sauce (or even my own mole sauce...). So thumbs up, particularly if you're not too familiar with moles. The verde sauce on the enchiladas had the requisite tomatillo tartness to it. Their sides of rice and beans didn't really excite me, not a ton of flavor in either. They actually aren't pinto beans; the waiter said they are a close cousin, but I can't remember the name.
 For dessert, we split a piece of tres leches cake, which was quite good. Not overly sweet.  
The biggest complaint I have heard about the South Lamar location is their pricing; apparently it is higher that at the original Burleson Road spot (I haven't been there either). From their incomplete website, I think Burleson serves breakfast and lunch, whereas South Lamar is lunch and dinner, which may account for some of the price differences. I wish their website would post the menu for the SoLa location. Would I go back? Yes. But given the choice between El Meson and their neighbor one block north, Sazon, I would pick Sazon.

IACP Wrap Up

Last week was the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference at the Hilton in downtown. I volunteered on Saturday, and got to sit in on a couple sessions.
-- Cooking from the Edge of Vietnam and Texas, with Chef Duc Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who grew up in Texas, but has returned to Vietnam and opened his restaurant, The Mango Rooms. He prepared some Asian fusion foods -- seared ahi tuna on top of a bed of mango salsa. Students from one of the local culinary schools had assisted by pre-making the mango salsa. Chef Tran then seared the tuna pieces, and they passed out samples -- delicious!
 -- The Science of Baking, with chemist Shirley Corriher. I actually got to chat with her a little prior to the Vietnamese session above. Shirley's class was using the same ballroom, where a demo kitchen had been erected, and she was a touch concerned about the limited amount of time for set up between the two sessions. She and her husband were rather delightful, and had enjoyed their time in Austin thus far. For those who are fans of Alton Brown's Good Eats show, you may recognize her as the food scientist who occasionally shows up to explain the food chemistry. For her session at IACP, she had a nice handout with baking tips, as well as the recipe for an extremely light buttermilk biscuit that was served with raspberry chambord butter. Yes, we all swooned when we tried the tender biscuit!
 -- Let There Be Light! Harnessing the Right Light for Digital Food Photography, with married photographers Diane Cu and Todd Porter. This engaging couple really had some great tips on how to look at lighting when you are photographing something, and they emphasized trying to use inexpensive props to bounce or diffuse light when doing a shoot. I took some good notes, which I need to review and see what I can incorporate.
-- On Saturday evening, there was an optional event for conference participants: Up in Smoke, held at Boggy Creek Farm. The event was co-sponsored by IACP and Foodways Texas, with proceeds benefiting the Sustainable Food Center. Dai Due roasted a feral hog onsite, Hoover's had pork ribs and beans, Trace restaurant had various sides, El Naranjo made lamb barbacoa...and more, those were just the ones I tried! It was a delicious finish in a lovely setting!