Friday, January 24, 2014

Habesha Ethiopian

I am hardly an expert on Ethiopian food, but I do enjoy it. I've always felt Aster's was okay, Karibu was better (but now closed), and had heard of a place up north in Pflugerville (Taste of Ethiopia) that the local food bloggers are rather enthusiastic about, but I rarely get that far north. Then a friend suggested Habesha to me, and I had never heard of it. It's on the northbound feeder road of IH-35 at Hwy 290 on your right (6019 N IH-35), in a small strip center, and apparently they've been open a year. My friend really likes Ethiopian and had been once before and loved it.

We got there about 7 pm on a Saturday evening. The decor inside is lovely -- some separate seating areas for having tea or coffee, as well as a bar, and an outdoor patio. It didn't feel like an old Mexican restaurant which is how I have felt when I've been in Aster's. There was only one table of six filled in the entire restaurant, but as our dinner progressed, the place began to fill up, which is always nice to see.
We started with the Ethiopian tea; when I asked our server what was in it, she said it was cinnamon. However upon tasting it, I could tell the predominant flavor was cloves. Our waitress was very sweet, but I don't know if she was new or just helping out, because she wasn't real knowledgeable about the menu, but she was willing to go ask.

From the appetizer menu, we had the sambusas, which I'd say are similar to Indian samosas, in that they are a light dough stuffed with a filling (your choice of beef or lentil, and we had the latter), and fried until crisp. They were delicious! I have no idea what the sauce was, but it was tasty too.
I ordered the Beg Key Wot, or #3 on the lamb portion of the menu. I was immediately interested because of the berbere spices, which is kind of like curry powder or garam masala -- there's no exact recipe. Commonly found throughout the Horn of Africa as a dry spice blend or a paste, each family has their own unique spice blend, which primarily include chiles, ginger, and garlic. The chiles usually give a berbere dish a nice reddish brown color as evidenced here. My friend ordered the Gomen Besega, or beef with collard greens (#6). The dishes come in this wonderful basket (this one is probably close to 30" in diameter and pretty much takes up the whole table), "lined" with a piece of injera, or their version of flat bread. Injera is made from teff, an ancient grain (and naturally gluten-free for those who need it); it takes a couple days for the batter to ferment before it's made into crepe-like bread; it has a very spongy texture, which can be an acquired taste, but I like it! You typically use the injera in place of a fork to eat your meal with, and the waitress did come by with more injera for us.
I really liked the lamb. It was tender, and the sauce had a lot of flavor, and while it was chile-based, it didn't set your mouth on fire, though you knew you were tasting chiles. I wasn't as crazy about the beef dish, as the beef was rather tough and chewy, and the collards were bland; the menu says they're cooked with onions and garlic, but I didn't really taste them. The collards were nicely cooked though.

We decided to try dessert, and I was intrigued by the offerings of baklava, cheesecake and tiramisu on the menu. We asked the waitress if the baklava was made in-house, and she went back to check, and found out it was. And while it looks nice, to me it was very soggy; I like a baklava with some crispness to it, and this was syrup soaked all the way through. While writing this up, I got curious about what typical Ethiopian desserts are, and found out there really aren't any, so it's common to have these offerings on a menu.
The atmosphere alone is worth it at Habesha, as was the friendliness of the staff.  There's a variety of options on the menu, including an extensive vegetarian section. When my friend was there previously, she had the veggie combo plate, which was six or seven different dishes! And they offer some combo plates with the meat dishes as well. Until I make it up to Taste of Ethiopia, I can certainly say this is the best Ethiopian food I've had in town.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bits and Bites

 Upcoming Events

-- Peace Through Pie is "an Austin-based grassroots movement, which encourages all generations and cultures to honor and celebrate the peace-building legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. via old and new culinary traditions and shared pie." The first pie "social" was four years ago, and the movement has spread, and Peace Through Pie became a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. The movement has grown to include area schools, churches, and community centers. This year, over 25 organizations and businesses will hold pie social events beginning later this week, where participants will eat pie and engage in meaningful conversations. As founder Luanne Stovall, said “In our increasingly complex world, there is a great need to come together in an intentional way to celebrate diversity as a strength and cultivate trust. What better way to see the world as the pie and each of us as a piece, than to share our rich culinary traditions at the table?” Check out Peace Through Pie's website for a listing of events throughout the Austin community!

-- Central Market is holding Citrusational, their annual citrus festival, January 15-28, at all stores.

-- Salty Sow will be offering the menu they will serve at the renowned James Beard House in late February to guests at the restaurant on January 22 and February 5; $55/person or $75 with wine pairings. The 5-course menu includes Berkshire pork, swordfish, baked ricotta, and banana beignets.

-- The 8th Annual Jo's Chili Cookoff, benefiting the Sustainable Food Center will be January 26th at Jo's on South Congress. $20 to sample all 14 of the chili entrees from local restaurants and cooks.

-- Satay Restaurant will be featured on the Cooking Channel's Restaurant Redemption on January 28th. 

-- Jack Allen's Kitchen (Oak Hill) is holding the 4th Annual Lone Star Paralysis Bourbon Bash on January 29th; $150/person, and all proceeds to go the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation. 

-- Sway will be hosting Night of 50,000 Lives, a fundraiser for the American Red Cross and their measles and rubella initiatives, February 13th, $250/person. 

-- The first Bacon and Beer Festival of Austin will be February 22, presented by Edible Austin in conjunction with Edible Boston.

Openings, etc.
-- The downtown outlet of the Memphis-based Gus's Fried Chicken opened last week at 117 San Jacinto.  

-- Juiceland has opened their 7th location at 620 and Lohman's Crossing.

-- The latest from ATX Brands, Vinyl (a music lounge) and Upstairs on Trinity (a wine bar) will hold their opening weekend January 16-18 at 607 Trinity. Tastings, drink specials and DJs!

-- A new pizza trailer, The Unconventional Oven, will hold their grand opening at the Breakpoint at the Boardwalk trailer park (2201 Lakeshore Blvd.). 

-- The new Whole Foods at the Domain officially opened January 15th. I attended an opening earlier in the week; it's a gorgeous store, just rather far from my South Austin home! ;)

-- Henri's Wine and Cheese will be adding a coffee shop next door (2026 South Lamar Blvd.)

-- P. Terry's is changing their oatmeal cookie, after a cookie challenge by a local fan! Ellie Livesay's own recipe was voted by customers to be the preferred cookie, and the local burger chain will now be using hers.

-- Andiamo has updated their menu to reflect colder-weather appropriate courses, including beef tenderloin with Gorgonzola, gnocchi with fontina cream sauce, and hot chocolate coup with a dash of hot pepper.

 Valentine's Events

-- The Flying Carpet trailer is selling "Moroccan kiss" cookies in Moroccan-inspired flavors for Valentine's Day. To preorder, click here.
-- Goodall's will serve a 4-course prix fixe menu for $109/person over V-day weekend.

-- Finn + Porter will serve a 4-course prix fixe menu for $75/person on Feb. 14th, which includes options as braised lamb, butternut squash soup, Gulf red snapper, and a dessert trio. 

-- Satay will serve a 3-course meal for $35, $49 with wines.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dolce Neve Gelato

My little Bouldin Creek neighborhood has undergone quite the transformation in recent years. South First Street is starting to look like South Congress, and a plethora of quality eateries have been popping up along the way. While we still have "the Mexican Mile" (El Mercado, Jovita's -- RIP, El Chile, La Mexicana, Polvo's, Little Mexico) and a couple food trailer lots, we now have a triumphant trio of sweet shops within a two block radius -- Sugar Mama's Bakeshop (cupcakes and other baked goods), La Patisserie (traditional French pastries), and now Dolce Neve Gelato.

Dolce Neve is owned by three Italians (Marco, his sister Francesca, and her boyfriend Leo) who all moved to Austin last year to specifically open up this shop. I met Marco back in December at the shop when it was still under construction. He told me they looked long and hard to find what they felt would be the perfect location for their shop. Gelato is what they are passionate about; Francesca went to gelato school back in Italy, and placed in a national gelato talent competition. They use an old-fashioned method to make their gelatos. Ingredients are sourced locally, and everything is made from scratch, as opposed to a mix, and they make everything out in the open, so hence their slogan "We do it in front of everyone." No secrets here!
Last night was their official media tasting. On a daily basis, they will have 20 flavors, including vegan and savory choices, as well as cookie sandwiches, gelato pops, and semifreddo gelato cakes. I tried the pistachio, salted caramel, tiramisu, meyer lemon sorbet, and Parmigiano Reggiano, which tasted just like a cold piece of nicely aged parm.
Their passion translates to the quality of their products, and the quality is high. So whether you live in the neighborhood or you're coming to eat, stop by Dolce Neve. Your sweet tooth will thank you.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bits and Bites

Happy New Year! I hope everyone's year is off to a good start. I can certainly say mine is, as I got some pretty incredible news on Friday. The Austin Chronicle released their annual Top 10 lists of 2013, and I am humbled and honored to have been named one of Austin's top food bloggers! A sincere THANK YOU to the Chronicle and all of you out there reading my little blog, or following me on Facebook (South Austin Foodie), Twitter (@southatxfoodie), and/or Instagram (@southaustinfoodie). I will continue to offer you my honest opinions of the places I eat, create a few dishes in my own kitchen, and round up the local food scene news here in Bits and Bites!

And now, back to business!

-- Back in December, the Austin Food and Wine Alliance announced their annual culinary grants. Big congrats to winners Confituras, Blacklands Malt, and Salt + Time!

-- My friends at Austin Bakes raised almost $5000 with their citywide bake sale on November 30th, with proceeds going to the Halloween day flood victims in southeast Austin, via the Austin Disaster Relief Network.

-- Travaasa Austin is hosting Jam + Jive, a two-day culinary weekend with canning and food preservation workshops, January 25 - 26, more info on their website.  Sessions include jam making, bread baking, kim chi fermenting, and citrus preserving, each led by local experts.

-- There's a new culinary product called Gourmet Starter. It's similar to a bouillon cube, but it's got onion, garlic, herbs and spices, and is used as a flavor base. Nothing artificial, and they are based here in Austin. They reached out to me via Facebook, asking if I'd help spread the word; I haven't tried it, but it sounds interesting.

-- Like Meyer lemons? Need suggestions on what to do with them? Check out my friend Girl Gone Grits, as she celebrates all things Meyer with guest posts from local bloggers (ok, slight shameless plug, as I will write a Meyer post too!).

-- Russian House is holding a fusion dinner of Russian dishes with New Orleans flavors, January 27th, $55. Details here.

-- Hops + Grain has just expanded their tap room, adding 80 additional seats; 507 Calles St. at East 2nd.

Openings, etc.
-- East Side King at 2310 South Lamar opened at the end of December.

-- Odd Duck at 1201 South Lamar opened in mid December.

-- Little Barrel and Brown opened at 1716 South Congress (the old Woodland) in December.

-- The 8th  P. Terry's drive-thru burger spot is now open, at 12018 N. Research Blvd.

-- Dolce Neve, an Italian gelateria, opens in my Bouldin Creek neighborhood at 1713 S. First on Friday!

-- G'raj Mahal is in the process of moving from their original trailer to brick and mortar.

-- Amaya's Taco Village will open a second location in Southpark Meadows this spring.

-- St. Philip, a pizzeria/bakery from the folks of Uchi, in the old Cannoli Joe's spot on 290 in Sunset Valley.

-- Mercury Pizza was sold to the owners of 360 Pizza, and rebranding is in process. 2107 Kinney.

-- Wu Chow, a Chinese food concept from the people at Swift's Attic, 500 W. 5th, sometime this summer.

-- Both locations of Lucy's Fried Chicken are now offering Sunday brunch and weekday Blue Plate specials.

-- The aforementioned Mercury Pizza.

-- Your Mom's Burger at Wm. Cannon and Hwy 290.