Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bits and Bites

What I've come across this past week:

-- Kerbey Lane has moved into their new, bigger home at 3005 S. Lamar, only 3 blocks from the previous location.
-- Can't remember if I have mentioned before that Sugar Mama's Bakeshop at South 1st and Mary is expanding into the space next door to them! The knocking down of walls is about to begin,with the hopes to have a "grand opening" in mid-February. More space = more sweets! Can't wait!

Happenings, etc.
-- Stubb's BBQ has created a line of ready-to-eat BBQ meats, available exclusively at the South Austin Costco, February 2 - 5.  There's a big football game that weekend that those meats would be perfect for watching with!
-- Houndstooth Coffee will be hosting a pop-up vintage shop, Fridays in February, as they work with local on-line business, Hold Vintage. Drink good coffee, and experience this unique pairing!
-- Braise is debuting three and five-course prix fixe menus, though diners can still order a la carte.
-- Valentine's Day specials being offered at: Jezebel, Paggi House, Sagra.  (The original Jezebel location burned in a fire, and Chef/Owner Parind Vora is utilizing the space at Braise, also his spot, for the Jezebel Valentine's event.)
-- Just need to enjoy the nice Austin weather? Eater Austin has a great list of restaurants with outdoor seating. 

I'll be trying the new Lenoir this coming week! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fabi + Rosi

Tucked away on a side street of Lake Austin Boulevard, in a quaint bungalow lies Fabi + Rosi, serving traditional European foods with a more modern flair, brought to you by a German chef. They will celebrate their third anniversary in May, and I don't know what has taken me so long to get there! I had a really lovely happy hour/dinner experience with some food blogger friends last week, and now I can't wait to go back again!

Thursday happy hour, bottles of bubbly are half price; I think their wine list is quite decently priced to begin with, but it was a no-brainer in picking a libation to go with our collection of appetizers.

Beginning with the Metzger Platte, chicken liver pate, wagyu beef tartare, and smoked duck breast with grainy mustard and cornichon. The pate was sitting on a mound of little wine jelly gems, which cut the fattiness nicely. I didn't get a whole lot of impact from the beef tartare, but the duck breast had a nice mild smokiness. Oh, and the aioli with the bread? Pure heaven.
The P.E.I. mussels were delicious, largely because the broth was so incredibly flavored with pinot grigio and garlic. (As opposed to the bowl of mussels I recently had at a popular seafood restaurant on SoCo....)
The escargot were ok, probably the least exciting thing that I had, and they weren't bad at all, just not as buttery and garlicky as I had hoped for. Maybe all the garlic went to the mussels and aioli!
The cheese board was a pretty simple, straightforward presentation, with a brie, a blue (valdeon), a semi-firm with a mild truffle infusion (sottocenere), and a sheep's milk (manchego). This board was a good example of selecting cheeses of different textures and types of milk.
For main course, I had the Loncito's Lamb Ragout. Cheese ravioli with the lamb, which had been simmered in a light tomato sauce. The pasta for the ravioli were a little dense, but the flavorful local lamb was outstanding. I've bought Loncito's at the farmer's markets before, and it never disappoints.
Three of the five diners at our table had the spatzle and schnitzel, because it is THAT good. Sorry that you don't really see the incredibly light spatzle in the picture, but trust me, it was delicious. And I can totally see ordering that in the future.
Our fifth diner had the Ich Liebe Tiere, or mushroom strudel, which really had a great meatiness to it. The cauliflower puree was so smooth, you really would think it was potato unless you knew better.
We split two desserts: crack pie with hooch cream and chevre cheese cake with gingersnap crust and candied lemon peel. The crack pie is like a cross between buttermilk or chess pie and a blondie; sweet and tasty, though a bit heavy. The goat cheese concoction, was really lovely, especially the lemon peel, which weren't bitter at all.

I think restaurants in old houses have such a charm to them, and Fabi + Rosi is no exception. There's also some tables out front, which, if the weather were warmer, would be a great spot for a cocktail. Our service was outstanding, and all the dishes were timed well. They are also committed to serving locally raised, sustainable, and organic-when-possible items. They have a garden for some of the greens, as well as chickens for their eggs; they also compost and recycle as much as possible.

And the name Fabi + Rosi? Chef Wolfgang Murber's nephew and niece back in Germany, Fabio and Rosalie. How lucky they are to have such a fine establishment named for them!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Lenior, from Todd Duplechan and wife Jessica Maher, officially opens in the old Somnio spot on January 20th at 1807 S. 1st Street
-- Easy Tiger, a bake shop and beer garden from the folks behind 24 Diner, at 709 E. 6th Street, opening January 23. Bread and beer...potentially a celiac's nightmare and a carb-lover's dream!
-- Hillside Farmacy, from Sonya Cote of East Side Show Room, a soda fountain/bar/deli/grocery store /carryout kind of place. 1209 E. 11th. Sort of a Walton's Fancy and Staple for the east side?

-- El Greco's kitchen nightmare has come to fruition, and they have officially bitten the dust. 
-- Get Sum Dim Sum has closed their 45th & Lamar location; apparently they are in negotiations for a spot close the UT campus....stay tuned!

-- On January 24th, the Lone Star Paralysis Tequila Bash will be at Jack Allen's Kitchen, where five local chefs will be pairing their dishes with various tequilas. $200/person, which includes spirit pairings, in addition to tax and gratuity;100% of ticket sales will be donated to the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation
-- Austin Restaurant Week has tweaked their structure a bit. Restaurants will now be able to register on ARW's website, and $1 of each meal will go to the designated charity. Mark your calendars now for the spring cycle of ARW, April 1 - 4 and April 8-11. The new Austin Food Trailer Week will be May 6 - 13.
-- Valentine's Day at Braise for $99/couple. 
-- The Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival is now the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Their inaugural festival will be April 27-29, largely at Auditorium Shores.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I've only been to Perla's once before, a couple of years ago, during Austin Restaurant Week, so they had prix fixe menus with three set courses (previous post on it is here). I went for lunch with a friend earlier this week; we had the full menu available to us, and we took the opportunity to split all of our dishes. 

Arriving for a late lunch around 1:30 pm, there was hardly anyone in the restaurant. They have erected a huge tent over their front patio, and given that they used clear plastic panels, it looked quite nice (no, I didn't take a picture, sorry!), and even though it was slightly colder outside, the temp was comfortable as we walked through.

We told the waitress we were going to share everything, and she did not ask if we wanted them all together or spaced out. And after what seemed like a bit of a lengthy time, given the lack of patrons at that hour, all three dishes came at once. PEI mussels steamed in Fireman's #4 Blonde Ale, with fennel sausage and tomatoes. Mussels were good, sausage was a great addition, but the broth had no zip to it, no real depth of flavor. With a good bowl of mussels, you should really just want to drink up the broth, and in this case, it mostly sat there. The accompanying ciabatta garlic toast was quite tasty.
Beer battered fish and chips with hand cut fries was unfortunately, an epic fail. Everything was soggy, not well-fried at all. And now looking at the picture, it appears that the pieces of cod were sitting on a cooling rack for quite some time, getting grid impressions in them. I like that the russet potatoes had their skins on, but they too, were on the limp side. Our waitress had come back to check on us early on, when we were still both eating the mussels, and then she was rather scarce. One of the other expediters/bussers cleared our table, and when our waitress finally reappeared, we told her the fish was under-fried. She apologized, and said she'd inform the kitchen. When she came back, she did tell us they would take it off the bill. I will still maintain that the best fish and chips I've had in town is at the Bits and Druthers trailer. (My post on them here.)
Our third dish was a pan-roasted crab cake with caramelized endive and sauce gribiche (not pictured, as it was in a pitcher on the side). The crab cake by itself was excellent -- almost all crab, very little if any filler. Well cooked, so it was nice and crispy on both sides. The endive was an interesting addition, but it didn't do a whole lot for me. And what, might you be asking is a sauce gribiche? I had to look it up, and my culinary school graduate dining companion wasn't familiar either. It's a mayonnaise-based sauce with chopped up hard-boiled egg in it, and often capers, cucumber, and some green herbs like tarragon or chervil. Neither of us particularly cared for the flavor profile of this one, and I am not entirely sure what the flavors were. Quite sure there weren't capers, but perhaps it was was something I clearly can't identify. The tartar from the fish and chips was a little better match for the crab cake, I think.
Not really needing dessert, we were going to pass entirely until we saw a pear tart tatin and butterscotch pot de creme on the dessert menu; we opted for the later, which had fleur de sel in the dish on the side, and lovely coconut-oaty tuille cookies. Underneath all the cream was the thick and creamy  (and rich) butterscotch, and when dipped in a teeeny bit of salt, it was delicious!
Our waitress was very friendly, though absent for various periods. Clearly she pegged us as "ladies of leisure," as the dessert also took a very long time to come out. (Were they harvesting the sea salt?) While there were some hits, like the crab cake and the dessert, we both left a bit disappointed in the food. I also wonder if the chefs and management are concentrating too much on the new Elizabeth Street Cafe, which is owned and operated by the same group (Lambert's too)? Despite the misses that we encountered, I don't think it will do much damage to Perla's...they're in just about the hottest location in town, in the middle of the SoCo strip. Visitors and locals alike will pay Perla's prices, and will continue to think they're getting outstanding food, but I'd say the luster of off the pearl.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Elizabeth Street Cafe

When Bouldin Creek Cafe announced last year they were moving a few blocks south, I wondered what would become of their old home (it's actually the house that my friend's grandparents used to own many years ago) at the corner of South First and Elizabeth. I was excited when I heard it would become Elizabeth Street Cafe, an upscale Vietnamese boulangerie, brought to us by the folks from Lambert's and Perla's. And then even more excited when I heard rumors (and I think they have been substantiated -- renovations and parking lot paving are underway) that the long-vacant building on the north side of Elizabeth would become a Thai spot, from the La Condesa people. ESC opened about two weeks ago, and I was giddy with excitement -- as were my three companions! -- to go eat dinner there on Friday night. We were not disappointed!
I had heard good things and long waits at ESC through the foodie rumor mill. I anticipated a lengthy wait on a Friday, and was almost shocked when the hostess said it would (only) be about 30 minutes. Fortunately, it was a beautiful, warm January night, so sitting on the front patio to wait with a cocktail was no issue at all. We had the champagne punch, which comes in a large beaker with a strainer and stirring spoon; it's comprised of champagne, Lillet Blanc Passion Fruit, some lime, grapefruit and bitters, and had strawberries and blueberries in it. It needed a good stir to get the passion fruit flavor, but once I found that, I was happy. 
We had remarked on how nice it would be to eat outside for our dinner, as we noticed tables on the north side as we waited. Lo and behold, that's where we were seated! About six small round tables dot the patio. A little tight for a table of four, but we're a cozy bunch, and had planned on sharing items anyway. Starting with a few apps, we had the #16 Niman Ranch Pork Belly Steamed Buns. I promise, there was some very tasty pork under all that cilantro! The bun part was a little doughy, and I can tell now from the picture, they are a little uneven in thicknesses; pretty sure I had the thicker one on the right.
Followed by the #10C Ginger Marinated Tofu with Radish, Thai Basil, and Serrano. These could have used more "oomph" to use a technical term. However, the dipping sauces are killer! Peanut (heavy on the coconut milk) on the right, sweet chili vinegar the clear one, and ginger-jalapeno the green. The green one I think may have some avocado in it, because it's very was hard for all of us to resist not licking the little bowl!
And the #27 Kaffir Lime Fried Chicken Bahn Mi. Loved the presentation on the newspaper! To start with, this the most perfect baguette for this sandwich, and they make them in-house. It's got a nice crust to it, but it doesn't tear up the roof of your mouth, nor is it too thick. The chicken was nicely fried, but I thought it lacked in kaffir flavor. Would I eat it again though? Yes.
We then got the #31C Pork Belly, Pork Meatballs, and Soft Boiled Egg bowl of Pho, done in pork broth, of course. We had been smelling the pho as it had been delivered to other tables, and it was really tasty. It has a fairly strong scent of Chinese five spice powder, or at least the star anise, but the flavor of it is not over powering. There were a few slices of pork belly, which was nice, but what was totally amazing was the meatball -- so tender and flavorful. (They actually do a bahn mi with the meat balls....hmmmm....) I have some runny yolk issues, so my friends split the soft boiled egg in their bowls, and they said it really made it even more amazing, so next time, I will have to try it!
And the #40 Grilled McAllen Ranch Flank Steak Bun (noodle) bowl (pronounced boone) -- look at those vibrant colors! There was a small bowl of nuoc cham (seasoned fish sauce) that we poured over, but next time, I would ask for an extra bowl of it. The meat was a little salty (and you know, I LIKE salt!), and a little bit on the tough side, but it was cooked beautifully, and had good flavor, once you got past the saltiness. I just think the dish in general needed a bit more contrast from the fish sauce. Now, each table does come with a tray of condiments -- chile paste, sambal soy, hoisin,and  fish sauce, so you can do some doctoring on your own.
Though we were ALMOST at our tipping point, there was just a little room left for Puffed Rice Profiteroles, with Vietnamese Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Creme Anglaise, and Candied Hazelnuts. Hell yeah! These were perfect, and when split amongst four people, it's just right.
Our server Kathleen was great. Very open with the suggestions, but totally understanding when our pregnant lady didn't show as much enthusiasm for the recommended octopus dishes (#18 grilled octopus salad and #48 octopus bun -- apparently the octopi is very nice and tender) or the bahn mi with pate. All the waitresses were in cute retro-ish print dresses. And what I will assume is a Vietnamese rice basket for a trashcan in the women's room, along with some Asian prints and an orchid on the counter to round out the Asian feel.

We also had one more round of punch cocktails, the Sake and Plum Wine Punch, which was maybe a little more cucumber than I was expecting. But all told, four people had Friday night dinner and drinks for $108 before tip. That's $27 each, and I really don't think that's at all unreasonable. We didn't leave feeling hungry, but Gourdough's and Izzoz's are in the lot next door if anyone was.

And then we walked back to my house, a mere five blocks away from Elizabeth Street Cafe. Very excited for such a great addition to the Bouldin 'hood! Oh, and they're open for breakfast!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


The new hot Japanese place that's getting a lot of buzz? No, not Uchi/Uchiko. Kome -- serving up authentic, home style food.

Open since the end of October, Kome is operated by a Japanese couple, who previously brought us bento boxes at the farmer's market, followed by the Sushi-a-Go-Go trailers. Take Asazu previously worked at Uchi, before he and wife Kayo launched their own food businesses. Executive Chef of Uchiko and current Top Chef contender, Paul Qui (also owner of the East Side King Asian fusion trailers), is also said to be very fond of Kome.

I arrived a few minutes ahead of my lunch companions, and asked our waiter if he had any favorite items on the menu. He said he was partial to the gyu-don, a rice bowl (donburi) with beef and onion, as well as the gyoza, which were filled with ground pork. I ordered some genmaicha tea (green tea with toasted rice) and studied the menu. My foodie friends and I all agreed to order a few different items and just share. It's always more fun that way!

We started with the recommended gyoza, which were some of the best seared I have come across! Forget steamed dumplings/pot stickers/gyoza, they all need to be like these, nice and crisp on one side, and soft on the other, and still steaming hot when you took a bite. The pork filling had nice flavor, with something a little zippy/tangy in them that I can't totally place. Yuzu (a type of Japanese citrus) perhaps? We also got the veggie tempura, which consisted of onions, zucchini, and slices of kabocha squash, which was certainly the best one of the three.  Zucchini sort of has no flavor as it is, and onions are onions (think these were sweet onions of some sort). Kabocha is a nice winter squash, not unlike pumpkin in taste or appearance; it's used a lot in Japanese cooking during the cooler months. (I came across it a few times during my recent October trip to Japan.)
We chose two of the rolls, the #11 Rock 'n Roll (with tempura shrimp, avocado and carrots), and the #13 Spooky (with tuna, avocado and salmon). Both very fresh, and the larger one being a bit more difficult to eat!
And then the Tonkatsu Ramen bowl. This was downright fabulous! The broth is made by simmering pork leg bones for hours on end....the breakdown of the marrow is what gives the broth it's milky color and sumptuous flavor. From the 12 o'clock (okay, 11:55) position, that's a piece of nori (seaweed -- what is used for wrapping sushi rolls) sticking up, and next to it are some type of greens (chard? not sure what it was), corn, slices of pork belly, soft-boiled egg with fried onions or shallots, kamaboko (pressed fish cakes), and what looks like carrots on top is actually slices of pickled ginger. Oh, an while you can't really see them, there were a whole lotta nice fresh noodles under all those toppings. Really a delicious bowl! And the waiter had brought a sesame seed grinder and white pepper, which I had forgotten about until we were mostly through the bowl, but they do add a nice little extra dimension.
The serving dishes at Kome are a nice mix of your typical Japanese pieces, like the tea cups, and the small bowls for dipping sauces, and then your whiteware pieces like what the tempura and rolls were served on. Decor is sparse, but it emphasizes the clean interior lines. I liked how the vertical support beams had various Japanese labels on them, I think many from sake bottles. The staff was friendly, and our waiter helpful with suggestions. It definitely feels like a neighborhood hangout, nothing stuffy or pretentious about it.

Kome, which translates to rice,  has recently been written up in Austin 360, mentioned by Eater Austin as one of the most exciting new places to open, and has been receiving a host of other press, well chronicled by their Facebook page. And I'd say it's certainly well-deserved. Their lunch and dinner menus are completely different, so I look forward to going back and trying new dishes with foodie friends who like to share.

Bits and Bites 2012


22 Trattoria and Wine Bar  on West 6th near West Lynn


La Sombra
El Greco -- reports that they've gone AWOL, but I have not confirmed
McCormick and Schmick -- really, M and S couldn't make it? Their happy hour was WAY too affordable, and it will be missed! That leaves a large vacancy in the Frost Bank Building.
Shoreline Grill

Newsy Stuff/Events.....

This week's food section in the Austin Chronicle has some GREAT lists, from 2011 food/restaurant success stories to savory and sweet favorites. All in all, 9 top ten lists to keep you well fed!

And, for more lists to keep handy, check out Eater Austin's quarterly list of 38 top places in town.

Chef Tyler Johnson out at Bacon...

A Torrid Affair's next event is January 16th at Springdale Farms, a six course offering from Barley Swine's Bryce Gilmore, and the drinks of Dwayne Allen Clark from Peche. Tickets are $100, and benefit the Dell Children's Medical Center and the Sustainable Food Center.