Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Flour and Vine

Last week, I did a tasting at Flour and Vine (next to Zach Scott Theater on South Lamar) that highlighted several dishes that will be part of their Gypsy Moon New Year's Eve celebration. The big glass windows and the late afternoon light made it perfect for photographing these gorgeous plates by Chef John Kramer. And tasting them was even better! (Items with an * are part of the New Year's Eve menu.)

Beef Wellington with purple potatoes. We were all struck by how beautifully the beef was cooked and the gorgeous contrast of the potatoes.
Pork chop with apple sauce, chard, and sweet potato patty. I often find pork chops to be dry, but this was very juicy (perhaps brined?), and the sweet potato was encrusted with panko bread crumbs, giving it a light crust.
Chicken with marsala mushroom sauce and blue cheese potato croquettes. One of the most lovely marsala sauces I have ever had. Local free range chicken too, and the potato croquettes were very crisp, well-fried, and not too strong on the blue.
Roasted duck breast with cippoline onions, pickled cabbage, and port cherry sauce.* Very nice contrast of the savory onions and cabbage with the sweet/tart of the cherry sauce.
Quail stuffed with chicken mousseline.* I have no idea how you stuff a tiny quail, but it was very tasty.
Roasted striped bass with gnocchi, roast tomatoes, and meyer lemon beurre blanc.* The skin was very nice and crisp, and what's not to love about a beurre blanc?
Braised short rib with Cabernet demi glace.* The meat absolutely fell off the bone, and combined with the demi glace, it was an incredible bite.
Very vivid decor, from the red walls to the wavy paintings on the ceiling. All the artwork are pieces by the Zach Scott Theater family. Nice high-back leather chairs give it an extra touch of class, but the wooden tables keep Flour and Vine homey and comfortable.
Flour and Vine's New Year's Eve celebration is $49/person or $75 with wine pairings. It includes an amuse bouche of smoked salmon and caviar. Course one, your choice of a beet and goat cheese napoleon or butternut squash soup. Course two, choices are: gulf shrimp, stuffed quail, or polenta cakes. Course three: short ribs, duck breast, striped bass, or mushroom risotto, followed by dessert. Call the restaurant at 512/474-4846 to reserve!

*I was invited by the restaurant to try their food, but was not paid for my opinions. No money exchanged hands.

Monday, December 9, 2013

White Bean Soup with Bacon

I didn't set out for this to be a blog post, but I posted a picture on Facebook of the soup I made this nice cold weekend, and got some requests for the recipe, so here we go!
Soups and stews are nice for a number of reasons:
-- they're hardy and hearty
-- relatively inexpensive to make
-- don't require the precision that baking does, and are generally easy to halve, double, or make other changes (sometimes known as winging it)

This soup was from a blog post on a site called The Crazy Apron, and the original post is here. I thought that six cans of beans sounded like a bit much, and changed things along the way. I am quite happy with how mine came out, but don't be afraid to make some tweaks of your own.

White Bean Soup with Bacon, serves 4

6 ounces thick-cut bacon, chopped (I think a smoked ham hock would be very nice too)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 (15 ounces) cans white beans (I used great northerns), drained & rinsed
3 cups chicken stock/broth, warmed a bit
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice

-- Heat a Dutch oven (at least 3 quarts) over medium heat.
-- Add bacon and cook until crisp; remove with slotted spoon & let drain on paper towel.
-- Remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon grease, and of course save for another use!
-- Add olive oil and butter to bacon grease over medium heat.
-- Add onion, carrots, and celery; allow to soften for about 5 minutes.
-- Add garlic; let cook another 2 - 3 minutes until aromatic.
-- Add thyme, salt and pepper, beans, and about 2/3 the cooked bacon, stirring to combine.
-- Add broth; increase heat to high, and bring to a low boil.
-- Reduce heat to medium/medium low (whatever allows it to keep simmering gently), pot covered most of the way; stir occasionally and simmer for 30 minutes.
-- Remove thyme.
-- If you have an immersion (stick) blender, place it in the pot and blend about half the mixture; alternately, you can just mash with a potato masher, or if you really want to mash it, carefully ladle into half into a blender and puree.
-- Stir to combine, and return to heat for about 10 more minutes.
-- Remove from heat; add lemon zest and juice.
-- Ladle into individual serving bowls, and serve with reserved bacon on top; great with crusty garlic bread.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Recent Eats

Here's a little recap of places I have been in the past month.

El Chile
I was invited by El Chile to check out their newly reopened original location on Manor Road. I love what they've done with the interior decor; they're using the same light blue and white that the South First location has, and it really makes it so much lighter and airier inside. And the food is still as good as ever.

We had the queso flameado with chorizo, which gets so nice and gooey! Caution: the pan is really hot, so it helps to have one person hold it, and the other to scrape the yummy stuff onto a nice thick tortilla chip.
My friend had the cochinita pibil; the picture was taken after the banana leaves were removed from the traditional Yucatecan pork. (Think Mexican pulled pork -- delish!)
And I had the pescado al mojo de ajo, or fish with garlic. A fabulously huge piece of grilled black drum, with garlic and a mild chile kick. After consuming a bunch of the queso, I ate half of this and saved the rest for the next day, and it comes with beans and rice -- a nice healthy dish.
Smart move by El Chile to reopen. They said they got so many calls from the neighborhood asking them to reopen, they ultimately decided to do so. Great service and food, and a great neighborhood restaurant, whether you're on Manor Road or South First Street.

* I was invited for a meal at El Chile, I was not paid for my review or opinion; no money was exchanged.

Together Korean
This ended up being a great food blogger evening! Mad Betty and husband Craft Taste, Sushi in the ATX, Tasting Buds contributor SuperTsai, and his Korean fiancee MJ, plus a few others. MJ is friends with the owners of Together, and the place is considered a bar by Korean standards, located in a strip mall on North Lamar. The owners only speak Korean, so MJ pre-arranged the meal; when we arrived, the table was set with all kinds of fermented dishes (banchan), and grills at either end of the table.
The owner brought out plates of pork belly (called fresh bacon on the menu), and you place them on the grill tops (griddle?) to cook (and the fat drains down the center into a collection cup), before cutting them into pieces. There's also cloves of fresh garlic and sliced jalapenos that can be grilled as well. When you remove your meat from the heat, you dip it in a little bowl of sesame oil with salt and pepper, and place it in a piece of lettuce that you also smear with a little bit of fermented bean paste. They are extremely tasty, and relatively light, since you're not filling up on rice.
We had a couple other dishes, one that I can best describe as the Korean version of sweet and sour pork (on the left) and then a kim chee and green onion pancake variety. The pork dish was extremely well-fried (not greasy), and the sauce had wonderful flavor to it.
There was also a kim chee udon noodle soup with dumplings, that was a little spicy and very slurp-worthy.
Together is a cozy mom + pop place, with very little English on the menu. I think all the other clientele were Korean. It was ideal to have a native speaker taking charge of all the ordering, though I *think* I could go back and order sufficiently. (Or maybe just point to the pictures on this blog post!)

I've been to Pieous (out Hwy 290, on the way to Dripping Springs) once before; that full blog post from April is here.  It's a great family-run place, serving up tasty homemade foods, from the doughs to the mozzarellas. Here's the Fat Queen pizza:  
And their near-legendary pastrami.
They often sell out, but they're good about using their Facebook page to alert customers. Worth the drive! (Really, it's only like 15 minutes from South Lamar and Ben White if the traffic isn't bad)

Blue Dahlia
I spent the better part of two Saturdays in East Austin checking out various venues during the EAST Art Tour, which was tons of fun. We started one day out with breakfast at Blue Dahlia on East 11th.  They don't have a huge breakfast menu, and I was surprised they don't have any breakfast meats like bacon or sausage, and I didn't feel that prosciutto would be the best accompaniment to my waffles. (Though maybe it is! I've been wrong before.) The waffles were okay, I like mine a little more browned and crisp, the fresh berries were a nice touch, and the pots of chocolate hazelnut spread on the table were a big tease! And it definitely improved the waffle.

Asia Cafe
On one of those recent cold November nights, friends and I headed to Michi Ramen; my friends SWEAR their dumplings are delicious. Well, everyone else had the idea for hot soup that night because there was about a 30 minute wait, so we decided to go up to Asia Cafe at Spicewood and 183. Fortunately, when we got there, there was no wait, and a very large gathering of what appeared to be college students was leaving.

Their dumplings were not spectacular; the dough is not right, too doughy and gummy. I think I've had them before there and I wasn't super in love with them then, so I need to remember this is not one of their better dishes. We had the stir fried pea leaves (#815), chicken with cilantro (from the specials menu), and Asian eggplant with ground pork (I think it's #835). It wasn't until I was going through my pictures for the post that I realized the steam from the first two dishes totally fogged up my camera, so the shots are not worthy of posting. The pea leaves are always good, nice and vibrant green in color, with slices of garlic. I wasn't as much in love with the chicken dish, as I thought it kind of lacked some kick, but the dumpling sauce helped out.

This is the eggplant dish; they seem to take two rounds of eggplant, and shove some ground pork (sausage?) in between them, batter and fry them, and then toss it in this lovely twangy chile sauce. I think it's #829, eggplant with garlic sauce that I've had before there, and that's been delicious too.
Asia Cafe has some of the Americanized Chinese standard dishes, but this is such a great place to get authentic dishes, from Szechuan to things like pork intestines. And the servings are large, and the prices are extremely reasonable. Don't be intimidated; go in get a menu, and have a seat wherever. When you're ready, order at the counter, but also be aware they have lots of specials posted up there as well. The place is also always filled with Asians, a very good sign!

And finally, on to dessert.

The HEB Cronut (select stores, weekends only)
The cronut craze. (For those of you who don't know what a cronut is, it's a cross between a croissant and a donut, made famous by a bakery in NYC this summer who charge an arm and a leg; now being imitated across the country.) I am OVER it. I've had La Patisserie's "crobrio" (croissant/brioche cross), which was okay, but tough (chewy) and underwhelming for $6. And now HEB is jumping on the bandwagon. For $1.68, you get a boxed confection of artificially flavored sweetness. The white on top is icing, the yellow glop in the middle is "Bavarian" pastry cream.  They're using margarine in the dough, which sure as heck isn't buttery goodness, and their pastry cream reeked of fake vanilla. Really and truly, it was gross, and I don't understand why people are going nuts over it. Oh yeah, there's NO accounting for taste! Save your calories!

Pecan Pie
To me, Thanksgiving foods are all about the stuffing and the pecan pie. My grandparents were farmers in Las Cruces, NM, and one of the things they grew were pecans. I feel New Mexico pecans are superior to Texas ones, and I was thrilled to find a bag in my freezer!  I love making pies.... this crust was a combo of butter and vegetable shortening, but I like using Dai Due's leaf lard too.

What tasty places have you been to recently?