Sunday, March 29, 2015

Schlotzsky's -- Viva I'talia

In case you think I just go to fine dining events, think again! I was invited to a preview of the new Schlotzsky's menu items at their flagship store at 218 South Lamar.  This homegrown Austin chain welcomed local food and mom bloggers with open arms, and presented us with a huge amount of tasty new foods. And the new items are available in almost all locations, not just here in Austin!

The "funny name, serious sandwich" folks are now embracing their inner Italian food lover, with new pasta and even more specialty sandwiches. Here's a look at their Viva L'Italia menu.

The oven-baked pastas include Bayou Chicken, Chicken Pesto Carbonara (my favorite!), Tomato-Basil (vegetarian), and Sausage with Peppers and Goat Cheese (my very close next favorite!). They sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs made from their signature sourdough buns on top and run them through the oven so they get nice and crispy on top, just like homemade, and if you're dining in at Schlotzsky's they're served in actual dishware, not disposable. These were impressive; you do not feel like you're dining at a "fast food" establishment.
Schlotzsky's -- chicken pesto carbonara pasta #hoorayitaly
The new sandwiches are all done on a tender ciabatta bun (as opposed to their signature muffalata-esque sourdough). My favorite was the Caprese, a vegetarian option (yes, me the pork-lover loved the vegetarian!). Stuffed with tomatoes, lettuce, mozzarella, and basil pesto this sandwich was absolutely packed with flavor. The other two (and still quite good) are the Sicilian with lots of meats, and the Tuscan, with turkey.
Schlotzsky's -- caprese sandwich #hoorayitaly
The Caprese
Schlotzsky's -- sandwiches #hoorayitaly
L to R: the Sicilian, the Tuscan and the Caprese
There's also a chicken alfredo pizza and Italian chopped salad if you're looking for something healthier. Plus, Schlotzsky's also does catering, and these new pasta dishes are certainly perfect for a crowd. A big grazie to the Schlotzsky's team for an outstanding evening, and for providing gift cards that I sponsored a giveaway on Instagram.  So if you need some fast casual food for lunch or dinner or have an event, head on over to Schlotzsky's for their new menu. #hoorayitaly

I was invited by Schlotzsky's to try their new menu items; I was not paid for my opinions or any social media posts. 
Schlotzsky's -- catering options
Catering options!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New (sorta) Asian Spots in South Austin -- Ramen Tatsu-ya and LuLu B's

** Editor's note: LuLu B's closed in 2016

As a fan of all kinds of Asian food, it's often hard to live in South Austin as most of the quality Asian places are up north. Fortunately, things are changing, and we now have Ramen Tatsu-ya's new location on South Lamar, and Vietnamese trailer LuLu B's has expanded, going brick and mortar on South Congress.

Ramen Tatsu-ya's southward march has been highly anticipated and well-documented in social media. Located at 1234 S. Lamar, they are just south of the Alamo Drafthouse complex. The remodeled exterior of their spot is certainly more pleasing to the eye than the strip center that houses the original, and they've done visually stimulating things to the interior without breaking the bank with their extensive use of plywood. I really love the huge dragon mural along the back wall, and overall, there is much more seating than at the other locale.
Ramen Tatsu-ya, South Lamar
And as for the food. Still excellent. RT is known for their hearty pork broth-based ramen, or tonkotsu. The broth takes on a cloudiness from the bones simmering for hours on end to make the broth. A bowl of this stuff will fill you up. Fortunately, for lunch, they offer the chicken broth, which is definitely lighter but still hearty and delicious. This is what they call "ol' skool" which comes with chasu (pork belly), ajitama (soft boiled egg), nori (seaweed), bamboo shoots and green onions; extra toppings can be added if desired. The ramen noodles are tender, but have some springiness to them, definitely toothsome.
Ramen Tatsuya -- chicken broth at lunch
Take note, they only do the chicken broth at lunch and the pork broth at dinner; a vegetarian ramen is offered during Sunday dinner. They don't to do "to go" orders as they don't want the integrity of their product to suffer while waiting for you to consume it, but containers are available if you can't finish everything on site.

LuLu B's has always been my go-to banh mi in South Austin, and I think for a long time, they were the only banh mi in South Austin. Their trailer under the huge oak at South Lamar and Oltorf has always been popular for lunches, churning out spring rolls and bun (vermicelli) bowls along with the banh mi. But their hours were always limited, and I can't count the number of times I would have stopped there to pick up dinner on my way home from work had they been open past 4 pm. It's all changed now, as they moved into an old Mexican restaurant at 3632 South Congress. From their Facebook page, their hours appear to be 11 am - 3 pm, and 5:30 - 9 pm.

The decor in the new spot is fairly sparse, and when I was there the menu board was hard to read (purple on black isn't a high contrast to see the writing) but the food still delicious. I met a friend there for lunch and we split the Chinese sausage summer rolls, which were the recommendation of the person taking orders. Don't think I'd had sausage in a roll before, but I'd totally eat it again! And their Chinese BBQ pork banh mi is so dang good -- lightly sweet with great char-grilled flavor. Usually I'll eat half and save the rest for later, but on this day, I ate the entire thing.
Now that they are open for dinner, I can't wait to go check out some of their specials they've been posting about. Oh, and they're cash only right now. So don't go to north Austin, stay right here, down south for some awesome Asian food!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Recent Eats -- Launderette, JW Marriott, Counter 3.FIVE.VII, The Carillon

Here's a recap of some openings and events I've attended in the past month. Warning: good fabulous food ahead!

A friend invited me to a "friends and family" soft opening of Launderette, located at Holly and Robert Martinez Streets. The new restaurant (located in an old laundromat) is the latest project from Chef Rene Ortiz and Pastry Chef Laura Sawicki, both formerly of La Condesa and Sway. For the soft opening, the food was on point, and our waitress was outstanding. They asked for a social media lock down, so I wasn't able to get very many pictures, but the star of our meal was the Texas grouper with gremolata, fennel and brown butter sauce. Also, the dessert of hazelnut cake with coffee mousse was amazing. I look forward to heading back to East Austin!
The new JW Marriott hotel at 2nd and Congress is Austin's largest hotel at over 1,000 rooms, and to feed all those guests (and then some!) they opened three eateries, where local media and bloggers were treated to a preview. For fine dining, Osteria Pronto is a beautiful, elegant space with a focus on Northern Italian foods. We sampled a wonderfully creamy burrata with prosciutto chip, shrimp ravioli, and calamari with baby artichokes in the mix.
JW Marriott -- Osteria Pronto
Next was Corner Restaurant, with its tastefully done Texas memorabilia and tequila bottle chandelier, who offers upscale bar food, with local beers on tap. We tried their delicious cornbread, pork tacos, and the amazing barley and butternut squash salad with a miso sesame dressing that I am determined to recreate at home. No greasy bar food here! And our last stop was out on the sidewalk for window service at Burger Bar, serving burgers, fries, and soft serve.
JW Marriott -- Corner Restaurant
Counter 3.FIVE.VII, is a new dining space where every seat is at the chef's table, or in this instance, the chef's counter. A 26-seat counter has been built around a kitchen to create an intimate dining experience, where the diners can choose a three, five, or seven course prix-fixe meal, with or without wine pairings. I was invited to one of their final soft openings, and it's a beautiful space, nestled at street level between Swift's Attic and the Elephant Room at 315 Congress Avenue. The front room is a bar serving charcuterie, and it peers into the dining room, which was elegant with its clean lines and attention to detail.
Counter 3.FIVE.VII
Details included the embossed aprons that all the chefs wear, the handmade wooden silverware holders, and the leather-bound menus. Plus you get to see almost every detail of what's happening in the kitchen.
Counter 3.FIVE.VII -- aprons & silverware
And the food. Everything is seasonal. Dishes are served to you by the chefs themselves, and there are expertly selected wine pairings at every turn. They're using more than just basic whiteware to serve the dishes, and the affect of artfully crafted dishes on artfully crafted dishes is exquisite. And delicious. (Pardon the shadow over the menu; I originally intended for it to be a reference for me to the dishes, but it's just easier to include it so you can see for yourself.)
Counter 3.FIVE.VII -- menu & dishes

Counter 3.FIVE.VII -- menu & dishes
The Carillon at the AT +T Conference Center on the UT campus is one of Austin's semi-hidden gems. With a new chef's team in place, they have revised their menu offerings and recently hosted a media event to showcase their dishes. The crisp pork belly was accented with tart green apple, and is certainly amongst the best bellies I've had. The oxtail was presented beautifully (I loved the textured rim of the bowl) and was incredibly tender, and everyone at the table was in love with the little chocolate ganache desserts. So smooth and silky! Other delicious new dishes include a Indian-inspired braised lamb, cassoulet, heads-on shrimp, blood orange curd, and foie gras ice cream pops!
The Carillon at the AT+T Center, Univ of Texas
{I was an invited guest at all of these events, money did not exchange hands, nor was I paid for my promotion or posting of these establishments on social media.}

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Best of South Austin Restaurants 2015

Click here to go to the AFBA City Guide!

"Where should we eat in South Austin?" The age-old question! Well, I've tried to think of every possible decent meal/dish I've had, and list them here for you by type of cuisine (warning: there's a lot of info here). Here are my picks for best restaurants in South Austin, focusing the area from Town Lake to William Cannon, and IH-35 to Mopac. For restaurant picks south of William Cannon, please see Homemade Austin's post, and for vegetarian in South Austin, see Aneelee's post. Happy eating!

Finer Dining (Let's be real, nothing in South Austin requires a tie, but pants without holes in them would be nice.)
-- Barley Swine, 2024 S. Lamar: Now prix fixe and mostly reservations-based; small seasonal plates.
-- Flour and Vine, 300 S. Lamar: Some of the best chicken marsala; next to Zach Scott Theater.
-- Lenoir, 1807 S. First: Also prix fixe at $40 for 3 courses; seasonal menu, enchanting dining room.
-- Olivia, 2043 S. Lamar: Dinners are more French-inspired, brunch Texas-inspired.
-- Uchi, 801 S. Lamar: Japanese, the epitome of customer service and creative food that's not just sushi. Tip: go for social hour when they have half-price apps.
Uchi assortment
-- Vespaio, 1610 S. Congress: It all reminds you of your Italian grandmother's cooking -- pasta, pancetta, parmesan...mmmm.

Mexican (My personal preference is interior Mexican, as opposed to Tex Mex, but there is some crossover.)
-- Borrego de Oro, 3900 S. Congress: No frills, just good food. Yes, that nondescript place on S. Congress right before Ben White. Try it. BLD.
-- Curra's, 614 E. Oltorf St: Al pastor, mole, cochinita pibil, avocado margarita... 
-- El Alma, 1025 Barton Springs Road: One of the few places that uses duck (rellenos and enmoladas); great rooftop patio.
El Alma
El Alma's sangria
 -- El Chile, 1816 S. First: A beautifully remodeled space, brunch, happy hour specials.
(On its way to becoming Alcomar, a Latin seafood place, by the same owners/chef, also the same owners as El Alma.)
-- Habanero, 501 W. Oltorf: This little place is mostly open for breakfast and lunch; dinner on Fri/Sat only.
-- La Mexicana Bakery, 1924 S. First: Cheap breakfast tacos and a ridiculous amount of sweets (pan dulce).
-- Papalote, 2803 S. Lamar: Street food inspired, just plain good (sister restaurant to Azul Tequila, which I hear is good, I just haven't been there in years); for the vegetarians, they're known for their cauliflower taco.
-- Sazon, 1816 S. Lamar: Haven't been in a while because their parking is more challenging, but have always loved their mole, and how many place do you know that serve huitlacoche?

-- Hill's Cafe, 4700 S. Congress: This has been one of my favorite burgers for years, largely because of the sweet kolache bun they serve it on (other bun options available); meatloaf, catfish and chicken fried steak -- something for everyone.
-- Hopdoddy, 1400 S. Congress: Fabulous, creative burgers, partial to the lamb myself; truffle fries and thick milkshakes (honestly, two average adults could split a burger, fries and milkshake); be prepared to stand in line, but they won't take your order until there is a table available.
Hopdoddy's Greek (lamb) burger
-- Phil's Ice House, 2901 S. Lamar: Good burgers and a great playscape for the kids. Conveniently run by the Amy's Ice Cream folks, so you can get your dessert there and eat it too.

Chinese + Korean
-- Chen Z Noodles, 6705 W Hwy 290: This is not your typical Chinese restaurant; they specialize in hand-cut noodles, which can be a bit doughy, but I love them. Their pan-fried dumplings, green onion pancakes, and lamb skewers are top notch; previous post here.
Chen Z
Green onion pancake from Chen Z's
-- Chi'lantro, 1509 S. Lamar: Korea meets Mexico with this food truck that's just made the leap to a brick and mortar establishment; try the kim chi french fries and k-pop chicken wings.
-- Sichuan River, 4534 Westgate Blvd: Finally! Sichuan food that's not in far north Austin! Sizzling Sichuan lamb, mapo tofu, egg foo young, and dan dan noodles are amongst the specialties; see my review here

-- Sap's, 4514 Westgate Blvd.: While I don't love their noodle dishes, their tom kha soup is other-worldly.
-- Sway, 1417 S. First: Australian-influenced Thai, can be very loud inside. Son in law and jungle curry both delish.
 -- Thai Fresh, 909 W. Mary St.: Some of the best pad thai I've had, but they can be inconsistent.
-- Thai Taste,  7010 W Hwy 71: Bit of a hidden spot by the HEB in Oak Hill; great noodles; my review here.
Thai Taste
Thai Taste's Pad Se Ew
-- Ramen Tatsu-ya, 1234 S. Lamar: South Lamar location just opened in January 2015! If you're feeling hungry, get the #1 original tonkotsu broth -- it's rich! Chicken broth offered at lunch only (I was pleasantly surprised how much flavor it has), vegan available for at Sunday dinner. 
Ramen Tatsu-ya South Lamar
Lunch at Ramen Tatsu-ya with the chicken broth ramen
 -- Uchi, 801 S. Lamar: Again, the gold standard for food and service. Exquisite sushi but plenty of other dishes for those who aren't into raw fish (see also Finer Dining, above).

-- Dong Nai,  4211 S. Lamar: I love having this casual place so close to me, and the #7D bun (vermicelli) bowl with char-grilled pork and a crispy egg roll will forever have my heart. 
Dong Nai
Love this pork! The #7D at Dong Nai
-- Elizabeth Street Cafe, 1501 S. First: upscale French-inspired Vietnamese; hormone/antibiotic free meats; decent banh mi, bun, and pho, but the real stars are their range of French pastries.
-- Lulu B's, 3632 S. Congress: Just transitioned in February from a trailer to an actual restaurant; their bbq pork banh mi is the stuff of dreams.
Lulu B's
Chinese sausage summer roll at Lulu B's

-- Bombay Bistro, 4200 S. Lamar: Always a good sign when Indians are at an Indian lunch buffet; delicious curried mussels on the a la carte menu and I hear occasionally on the buffet.
-- Tarka5207 Brodie Lane: Modern Indian in Sunset Valley (and other locations around town too), with both traditional dishes like samosas, biryani, and korma as well as twists like "naanini" sandwiches.
Tarka's chicken korma
-- Whip In, 1950 IH-35: Is it a liquor store, bar or restaurant? Yes. Indian twists on bar food as well as some more traditional dhaba bowls. Open late too. 

-- Amy's Ice Cream: The best ice cream in town with bold flavors and fun mix-ins! Several locations, including a small outlet at the Phil's Ice House.
-- Central Market Westgate, 4477 S. Lamar: Full-service bakery (four words: Anthony's Chocolate Mousse Cake) and house-made gelato.
-- Dolce Neve, 1713 S. First: An Italian gelateria run by Italians! They've embraced South Austin culture, and "do it" in front of everyone. Oh, and the gelato is crazy good! Blog post here.
-- Lick, 2032 S. Lamar: Great quality ingredients, more subtle but interesting flavors. 
-- La Patisserie, 602 W. Annie: French pastries? Yes, please. {And the toasted almond macaron flavor was suggested by yours truly!} The morning bun is a favorite, especially slightly warmed in the toaster oven so the sugar caramelizes.
-- Sugar Mama's, 1905 S. First: Not just cupcakes, but cakes, pies, muffins, bars... sugar heaven! 
Sugar Mama's Bakeshop
Can't go wrong with a carrot cake cupcake!

Pizza (lots of places like aRoma, Enoteca, and St. Philip have good pizza too)
-- Homeslice,1415 S. Congress: New York style pizza; I appreciate the fact they close for a week and take the whole staff to NYC for pizza research.
-- Southside Flying Pizza, 2206 S. Congress and 1224 S. Lamar: good portions and family-friendly
-- Via 313, Coming soon in Oak Hill! Detroit style -- uber-thick crust! 

Gastro Pub/Eclectic
-- Jack Allen's Kitchen, 7721 Hwy 71: Texas food: upscale cross of Southern and Mexican
-- Odd Duck, 1201 S. Lamar: local seasonal food, amazing breads; blog post here.
-- Porter Ale House, 3715 S. First Street: Excellent happy hour with equally excellent desserts; my post here.
Porter Ale House
S'mores in a mason jar from Porter
-- Snack Bar, 1224 S. Congress: in the heart of South Congress, a great mix of food with a lovely wine program -- something for everyone.

Snack Bar
Grilled mahi with mango salsa from Snack Bar
 -- St. Philip, 4715 S. Lamar: After opening this fall, they seem to be settling into the groove with their comfort food menu and fresh pastries.
-- Winebelly, 519 W. Oltorf: I've only been a couple of times, but have really enjoyed this wine bar; silky smooth pate, amongst the best I've had. 

Italian and Other Ethnic
-- aRoma, 3403 S. Lamar: open for lunch and dinner, pizzas, pastas and a decent happy hour
-- Barlata, 1500 S. Lamar: Spanish, tapas, don't miss the Crema Catalana for dessert. 
-- Enoteca, 1610 S. Congress: This bistro has been my go-to Italian for years, as their carbonara is amongst my favorite comfort foods. (The less-formal sibling to Vespaio.)
-- Habana, 2728 S. Congress: The outdoor cabanas, along with mojitos and the pollo salteado, make for a perfect Cuban meal.
-- Phoenica Bakery, 2912 S. Lamar: This Mediterranean staple is both a grocery and take-out deli; the simple cheese bread with garlic sauce makes me swoon.

Bars with decent food
-- Austin Beer Garden Brewing (ABGB), 1305 W. Oltorf: They brew all their own beer onsite and make a mean pizza.
-- Black Sheep Lodge, 2108 S. Lamar: Mini corn dogs? Yes!
-- Doc's Motorworks, 1123 S. Congress: Great for people-watching on South Congress
-- Red's Porch, 3508 S. Lamar: Quite good food, a Tex-Mex/Cajun combo
-- Bouldin Creek Cafe, 1900 S. First: Vegetarian spot, great patio, huge omelets, and my favorite veggie burger around.
Bouldin Creek Cafe
One of the many omelet options at Bouldin Creek Cafe
-- Casa de Luz, 1701 Toomey Road: Macrobiotic (which is not for everyone!), charming locale.
-- G's Dynomite, 2312 S. First: Hidden gem with great sandwiches.
-- Mr. Natural, 2414 S. Lamar: One of two locations, all vegetarian with lots of vegan options.
-- Soup Peddler, 501 W. Mary and 2801 S. Lamar: Fresh soups and juices/smoothies; love the Flotsam and Jetsam (green juice with a lot of ginger!).

-- Rudy's, 2451 S. Capital of Texas Hwy: A bit outside the geographical boundaries I am trying to stick with for this post, but Rudy's is definitely worth a mention, even if they are a chain. 
-- Terry Black's, 1003 Barton Springs: I didn't love it, but didn't hate it either. See my post
Terry Black's BBQ
Terry Black's menu board
 -- Uncle Billy's, 1530 Barton Springs: It's admittedly been a while since I've had their 'cue, but I was there for an event in the fall, and the appetizers they served were delish! Plus they brew their own beer.
Wine Bars
-- Henri's, 2026 S. Lamar: Wine, cheese, charcuterie, sandwiches -- yes!
-- Patika Wine and Coffee, 2159 S. Lamar: Just opened this fall, this former trailer is doing both coffees and wines, and they have a killer pastry chef.
Have wine or coffee at Patika
 -- Winebelly, 519 W. Oltorf: Again (see Gastro Pub), nice wines and tapas.  

Old Standbys
-- Central Market Westgate Cafe, 4477 S. Lamar: Soup, salad, pizza, nightly specials, and live music Thursday - Sunday.
-- Magnolia Cafe, 1920 S. Congress: Open 24/7 for breakfast, soup, desserts, you name it.
-- Kerbey Lane Cafe, 3003 S. Lamar (multiple locations): Also open 24/7, not just for stoners or college students.

What are your favorite South Austin meals? Please share and leave a comment below! Also, see my guide to South Austin food trailers!