Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ramen Tatsu-ya

If you've been paying attention to the food buzz in Austin lately, you know that ramen noodles are one of the hottest things out there. The Japanese restaurant Kome serves ramen at lunch time (see my post from January here; I did rather like their ramen!). There was a ramen trailer called Michi Ramen that opened in late spring/early summer, and ultimately closed to search for a brick and mortar home. (Their website announces they have secured a spot at 6519 N. Lamar Blvd., in the old Korea Garden spot, and that they were aiming for a November SOON, hopefully) Then Ramen Tatsu-ya opened in a strip mall in North Austin. And Paul Qui's new East Side King at Hole in the Wall on The Drag just opened, and is also serving ramen. (Hey! We could use some ramen in South Austin!)

Very quickly, that's become a lot of noodles!

Ramen Tatsu-ya did succeed in opening in September, on Research Blvd., at Peyton Gin, in the strip mall that houses Target, Sunflower Vietnamese, and Din Ho Chinese BBQ. They are only open for dinner, and immediately, they gained a following, with people were lining up outside, waiting for the doors to open at 5 pm. The owners are two Japanese guys who have both been in the restaurant business for a while. The stylized design on the wall in the picture below is the mon, or family crest of one of the owners.

The interior is small, only about 40 seats, with a modern feel. The light fixtures have ropes dangling from them -- to resemble noodles? We arrived about 4:45 pm, prepared to do our duty and stand in line. There were seven people in front of us, but the line quickly grew behind us. Just before 5 pm, they opened the doors for business. As we entered, one of the waitstaff asked how many were in our party, handed us an order number placard, and directed us to where we should sit after ordering at the counter.
There were four in our group, and four different types of noodle bowls, we we agreed to each get a different one (more on this coming up). I also wanted to try some of the other menu items, like the Katsu slider, which is lightly breaded and fried, and served on a Hawaiian roll with a little potato salad. After successfully cutting the slider in half with chopsticks (!), I thought it to be quite delicious! Relatively tender and flavorful. The potato salad wasn't particularly memorable.
The sweet and sour yodas, or Brussels sprouts, we all agreed were amazing! Roasted, and seasoned with apricot vinegar and some curry seasonings. I have become a fan of Brussels all around!
Ramen #1 -- Tonkotsu original, a creamy pork broth with pork belly, marinated egg, mushrooms, and green onions. I tasted it, and it was a fairly rich-tasting broth.
Ramen #2 -- Tonkotsu Sho-yu, like #1, but with the addition of soy sauce, bamboo, and roast seaweed.
Ramen #3 -- Mi-So Hot, a miso-based tonkotsu broth with ground pork belly, cabbage, corn, bean sprouts, and marinated egg; this also has the addition of chile, but can also be ordered without the extra spice. This was my bowl, and I did like it. It was not overly spicy for those of you concerned with spice levels. (A solid medium spicy? But every person is different!) The broth was creamy and velvety, with a certain sweetness to it, but upon further contemplation over the broth later that night (I took my leftovers home), the broth does not have a depth to it, and certainly lacking in a umami-character that I would really expect from a miso-based broth. Miso is something that is known to provide that umami quality, that savoriness, that extra layer of hard-to-describe-flavor that really can give a dish it's depth. This didn't have it. Don't get me wrong, it was tasty, and a nice large bowl of soup for $10, but it did not change my life.
Ramen #4 -- Tsukeman, or dipping ramen. A bowl of noodles, with pork belly, nori (roasted seaweed), and a nice side bowl of broth to dip into. I had a taste, and it seemed good; the person who ordered was quite happy. This is probably what I would order on a return trip, as it's a bit different.
Bathroom decor is quite colorful!
If you go to Ramen Tatsu-ya, be prepared to wait in line for a bit. I have talked to one friend who has been a few times, and has never had to wait more than 30 minutes, having gone at different times in the evening. It appears the staff runs a pretty tight ship, and are fairly quick to bus plates from the tables. Apparently they do not have to go containers (nor do they prepare to-go orders), but customers are welcome to bring their own, which is what I did. I don't think they have forks either, so if you are not comfortable using chopsticks, BYOF. The one thing I am confused about, if you look at Ramen #3, you'll see thin, red strands of something topping the bowl. I got no discernible flavor out of them (though they looked pretty on top); I asked one of the wait staff what they were, and was told saffron. There's no way this is saffron! One, I've never seen saffron threads that long (these were probably 3" long), and again, no real flavor, and saffron has a very distinct one. Must get to the bottom of this mystery!

So it will be interesting to see what kind of Ramen Battles will ensue once Michi Ramen opens. I've already seen various debates and opinions formed various food bloggers and foodies as to who has the preferred ramen between Tatsu-ya, Kome, and East Side King. Food and flavor is such a personal preference, I don't think there could ever be a clear cut winner. Go to Austin's first official ramen noodle house, and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gourdough's Public House

Donuts What's not to like? Well, that's what the folks behind the Gourdough's Donut trailer have come up with in their new brick and mortar venture, Gourdough's Public House, in the old Kerbey Lane spot on South Lamar. But don't fret, the big, fat, donut trailer is still alive and well on South First Street and Monroe!

Some friends and I met for happy hour on a recent weeknight. Public House has daily specials, which so far, they seem to be very good at publicizing on their Facebook page. Drinks in hand, we sampled a number of items from the menu, most of which have highly entertaining names.

The Big Cheese -- mozzarella wrapped in donut dough and fried. They were good, but a bit too doughy for my taste, but the garlic sauce with it was yummy!
Dizzy Porker -- fried pork ribs with a hard cider bbq sauce that I really liked. On the greasy side (shocking, I know), but decent flavor, and fairly tender. Good reheated (and blotted) the following day.
Popeye's Roids -- a spinach salad with cranberries, walnuts, roasted red peppers, blue cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. With a garlic donut, that was delicious! You know the (faux) butter dipping sauce that comes (or used to) with Papa John's pizzas? The donuts taste like that! AND, the donut was great the next day reheated in the toaster oven, because it got kind of crispy on the outside.
Even the Public House Salad, at $5 is a great deal! (This is probably the one item on the menu that does not have a catchy name!)
Three Little Guidos -- think caprese salad with balsamic on a donut, topped with potato chips. I did not try this one, but the person who ordered it was quite pleased.
The Country Clucker -- not for the faint of heart! Bring your appetite! A donut, topped with a potato pancake, fried chicken breast, cream corn, and candied jalapenos. As gorgeous as it was tasty! I had a couple bites of this, and it was FINE! The potato pancake kind of gets lost in the mix, but at $11, it's a great value, because it's pretty much two meals. And probably a hangover cure for some.
Salty Balls -- donut holes with cream cheese frosting, salted caramel sauce and peanuts. I had heard about these from someone else, and finally got a chance to try! I love sweet and salty mixes, so this was perfect, and the ideal dish to share with others. Generous on the peanuts, love it!
The Southern Belle -- a donut topped with pecan pie filling, cream cheese frosting, and candied pecans. While I originally cringed at the thought, this was actually quite tasty! Most of the donuts even from the Gourdough's trailer are waaay too much, especially for one person to handle. This belle wasn't too sweet, though it was a sticky mess.
The interior of Public House is fairly rustic, and not long after we got there, they dimmed the lights even more. It's sort of a contrast to the restroom, which was very modern and light-filled. Our waiter was very attentive, good at answering questions, and the food came out fast. Overall, I thought prices were quite reasonable, and again, a variety of happy hour specials each night, both on drinks and some food picks. While I don't know if I would dine here frequently, I would certainly go back. Actually the Popeye's Roids had me fairly excited! They didn't skimp on the salad toppings. But apart from the salads, Public House is a place to go to have a drink and SHARE some food!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bits and Bites

Random bits of food-related news!

Celebrity News
-- Colt McCoy, yes, the football player, has invested in Dunkin Donuts, which will be opening 24 area donut stores in the coming months. I prefer a good Dunkin cake donut or holes over Krispy Kreme anyday!
-- Justin Timberlake is going to bring his Southern Hospitality Memphis-style BBQ restaurants to Austin in 2013. Bring on the baby backs!

Restaurant News
-- The Carillon is continuing with their 3 course, $29 menu through December, which includes a salad, pork loin, and a dessert with beets and goat cheese!  
-- Foo Swasdee is back at her Satay restaurant after an extended trip to Thailand.

Open, finally
-- Sway, the new Thai spot from the La Condesa restaurant family at South 1st and Elizabeth Streets,
-- East Side King, at Hole in the Wall on the Drag, the first brick and mortar installment from Paul Qui, building on his ESK food trailer empire.
-- Unfortunately, Jax Neighborhood Cafe, where former Artz Ribhouse owner Art Blondin was tending the BBQ, has closed. I ran into Art this past week and he said he's got some options to explore.

Holiday Gift Ideas
-- Looking for that perfect gift for your favorite foodie? Edible Austin has put together an awesome holiday guide filled with local ideas and products.
-- Places like Central Market have pre-made gift baskets or you can shop for your own favorite items!
-- Lots of restaurants and purveyors offer gift cards!
-- Local online shopping can be done through merchants like Confituras  (amazing & award-winning jams, sauces, and now salts!) and Cocoa Puro (artisan enrobed cacao nibs), both farmers' market regulars who have branched out! 

-- The Austin Food and Wine Alliance announced the winners of their $20,000 culinary grants this past week: Argus Cidery, Tecolote Farms, and Connally High School Culinary Program. Congrats to all!

-- I received a press release for a new reality tv show that's casting for the Late Night Cooking King or Queen. If you or someone you know operates a bar, food truck or other establishment into the wee hours of the  morning, and are interesting in applying, shoot me an email {}, and I can forward you the email that was sent.

And finally...
-- I've got one reader who is looking for locally made plum pudding. If you know anyplace, would you leave a comment here or drop me a line? Thanks!

Peace and good eating to you all this holiday season!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Meet Me at the Market: Sustainable Food Center + Cocoa Puro

As a member of the Austin Food Blogger's Alliance, we've been asked to help spread the word about the Sustainable Food Center's (SFC) capital campaign and one of their farmers' market vendors. So I present to you, the SFC and Cocoa Puro!

The Sustainable Food Center (SFC) was founded in Austin in the early 1990s, as an offshoot of the Austin Community Gardens program. Their mission is to cultivate a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food. The SFC offers opportunities for the community to learn about farming and gardening, as well as to become educated on cooking and nutrition. They also work with area farmers and growers to present several area farmers' markets, where they connect the farmers to additional urban resources. The irony of the center is they've never been an actual "center," in that they've never had a facility that people could come and visit. That's about to change with their capital campaign in full swing.

Their new facilities will offer 2.3 acres of garden plots, where approximately 70 area families will be able to grow their own food; classroom and meeting space; a teaching kitchen; greenhouse, and much more to continue to let the community grow.

Another ongoing effort of the SFC is the coordination of four area farmers' market. SFC Markets Manager Suzanne Santos says that the new permanent facility will greatly help with the coordination of the farmers' markets. They will have storage space for the items they haul to the weekly markets (water jugs for drinking water, brochures at the information booth, etc.) and farmers will be able to use the commercial kitchen to prepare their bumper crops -- turn fresh tomatoes into freshly canned tomatoes that have a much longer shelf life, but are still "made" by a particular farmer. SFC can offer classes to farmers on utilizing social media to spread the word about their products (The Carlsons of Swede Farm are an excellent example of using Facebook and Twitter to market themselves!) The meeting space will be utilized for annual farmer and vendor meetings, as well as the quarterly SFC Farmers’ Market Committee meeting.
One former SFC Advisory Council member is Cocoa Puro founder, Tom Pederson. He started experimenting with cacao beans in 1999, and in October 2004, he and his family founded the company. Their creation: Kakawa beans, an item so unique, it was named one of Saveur magazine's Top 100 food items of 2006. 

Tom takes a whole cacao bean, lightly toasts it, and enrobes it in white, milk, and dark chocolate, followed by a roll in cocoa powder. What it creates is a slightly bitter and sweet flavor combination, and as he best describes it "pure bliss."
Photo by Kent Lacin for Cocoa Puro, used with permission.
It's a labor intensive process to create the Kakawa beans, of which Toms says "It takes me four to five hours of continuous labor just to lay the chocolate layers on a batch of Kakawa Cocoa Beans. There's also considerable prep work and roasting of the beans prior to them being enrobed in chocolates. In all, it takes the better part of a day to make a batch, sometimes more. Then we bag and label them all by hand."
Tom Pederson at SFC Farmers' Market Downtown, November 2012

They've also created some other products, exclusively available at the farmers' markets, such as chocolate bars, pictured above. My absolute favorite is the dark chocolate with cayenne, cinnamon, and nibs. Cocoa Puro also has hot chocolate mix, a lip balm, and delicious caramelized cacao nibs. The original Kakawa beans are also available through their website. 
Tom was invited by Suzanne Santos to be a part of the SFC's Advisory Council, something he was part of for several years. He appreciates SFC for their support of farmers, small businesses, and artisan food makers as they are doing good work to support food security in the Austin community. Which is exactly what SFC's mission is all about. So visit the SFC's website, and consider donating to their capital campaign. We can't all give large amounts of money, but the SFC is truly a grassroots effort, so every little bit counts. 

And when you visit the farmers' markets, remember they don't just have locally grown produce. Look for Cocoa Puro and their little bites of pure bliss, and appreciate the time and effort that went into making these extraordinary products! Support local.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Swift's Attic

Swift's Attic has been on the "hot" list since it opened earlier this year, and the people who I know who have been have raved about it. So it was finally time to go check it out, and I went with a group of eight foodies. However the food overall did not blow me away, though I think one contributing factor was being with a large group and there was so much chatter going on, it was harder to concentrate on the food.

I loved the decor and the feel of the place; for those of you who have been in Austin a while, Swift's occupies the former Kyoto, above the Elephant Room at 315 Congress Avenue. It's a long, narrow space; both these pictures were taken from the lounge/bar. We were seated for dinner at the opposite end. Not sure what the light fixtures below were made from (some type of basket?) but I liked the look and effect. 
It's a bit dark in the restaurant so in many ways, I am "seeing" my food for the first time in looking at these pictures (thank goodness for flash photography!). It also got very loud, not because we were a group (we were seated at a booth at the back), but because they really jacked the overhead music up. There was no way to hear the conversations at the other end of the table. So here's the food that we had, with a little bit of commentary on it. I WOULD like to go back to Swift's with maybe just a couple people to see if being able to focus more on the food would elevate their standing in my book.

Cocktails in the lounge started with The Reunited -- fresh peach, herbed simple syrup, Remy Martin V (cognac-esque), Cointreau, and lemon juice. This went down very easy!
Tempura "frickles" (fried pickles)
Blistered shishito peppers with Garroxta cheese and Banyuls vinegar... From the online menu, I knew this was with Garroxta (aged Spanish goat's milk cheese) and Banyuls (French vinegar from grenache grapes). From the printed menu at the restaurant, all it reads is "Shishito peppers, GBE."  Garroxta Banyuls Emulsion? No idea what GBE stands for, and if I hadn't previously looked online, I really wouldn't have had a clue as to what this was. And this is one of my criticisms of their (and other establishments) menus  -- why is it so lacking in information and details about the dish? Are you supposed to ask your server about every little thing? Why can't a menu be printed with more info???? Grrrrrr.
Charred edamame with chili oil and pop rocks; there was something else in the small bowl closest to you other than pop rocks, but I couldn't tell you what for sure, though now looking at it, I think it's salt and pepper. The middle bowl was for the empty edamame pods.
Raw red kale Caesar salad with crispy sardine; the whole sardine (underneath the kale) was a bit of a surprise!
Fried oysters on horseback with root vegetable puree, crispy serrano ham. The ham was good, but I have no distinct memory of what the other components tasted like.
Squid fries with garlic aioli.... a little on the limp side, bit disappointing.
Goaty Cheesy Poufs with braised goat, crimini mushrooms and basil puree. You know the Brazilian pao de quejo cheese balls? This is what this was, with stuff on top. The cheese balls were very chewy and a bit tough. I think they're sort of lost under the meat and mushrooms.
Tater Tot "Swiftine" with smoked ham hock, queso fresco, and gravy. The meat had good flavor, but there's supposed to be queso fresco in here? Where? Maybe the tater tots are made with it? The tots themselves weren't as crisp as the picture suggests the should be.
Idaho Rainbow trout in a leek and radish broth with sun-dried tomato tapende. Quite tasty, very nice broth.
Fried chicken meatballs with pickled ginger and nori sauce. I've never had a battered and fried meatball, but these were good! Actually fairly light.
Evening special: wild caught striped sea bass with sunchokes, sauteed butternut squash ribbons, ramp butter and pistou sauce -- I think I have the description right! I had the waitress repeat it once the plate came so I could write it down. Best dish of the evening, by far! The sea bass was seared, and the skin was amazingly crisp, and the fish tender and moist. A wonderful flavor combination when you got a bite with all components -- velvety butter sauce, the al dente squash with it's sweetness, the crispness of the skin with the light sea taste from the fish. Divine.
Desserts: Popcorn and a Movie.... tasty but a bit too minimalist to be truly satisfying. Kind of like caramel popcorn with Kit Kats.
Fried brie, apple compote, pomegranate gel, pine nut crunch ice cream. This was probably my second favorite dish of the evening. The brie and apple combo was yummy and the pomegranate a nice, bright flavor contrast.
Our lead waitress was quite knowledgeable about the dishes and patient with a group. The staff was a little too efficient in trying to clear plates and drink glasses that maybe hadn't quite been finished yet (like my cocktail).

So, if you've been to Swift's, what dishes did you enjoy (or not) and why? What should I try when I go back?