Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bits and Bites -- Food + Restaurant News

-- Jack Allen's Kitchen in Oak Hill hosts the 6th Annual Lone Star Paralysis Fundraiser, 6 - 9 pm, $150/person, January 26th.
-- Eat East, a group of restaurants/bars promoting East Austin returns February 2nd (the first Tuesday of each month).  Check their events page for full list of participating restaurants. 
-- The Blind Cafe , a socially conscious dinner in the dark, is back at the American Legion, February 2 - 4. Great experience, see my post here! 
-- Central Market's Chocolate Fest (all locations) runs February 3 - 16; lots of sampling with their Chocolate Stroll on February 4th, 5 - 7 pm.
 -- The Hightower hosts Amadeo's Army, February 4th, which is a community dedicated to promoting awareness and fundraising for Becker Muscular Dystrophy; 20% of food sales between 5-10 pm will be donated. 
-- Olive + June hosts Col d'Orcia wine dinner, $100/person February 4th.
-- Sway hosts an Indonesian pop-up dinner, February 4th.
-- Coffee and donuts pop up bakery at Lenoir, February 7th, 10 am
-- Mama Fu's celebrates Asian New Year with $10 off purchases of $20 or more, February 8 - 12
-- Antontelli's and Emmer + Rye team up, February 8th for a five-course dinner, $75. 
-- Lenoir hosts a Valentine’s-themed wine tasting, February 11 from 5:30 – 7 pm, featuring winter reds and roses with Beverage Director Chris Kelly.
-- Former Austinite Scrumptious Chef will be visiting from NOLA with a pop-up Creole dinner at Tamale House East, February 27th
-- Austin Oyster Festival, benefiting HOPE Market, February 27th, $50/person at the French Legation.
-- One of my favorite events from last year, Lamb Jam from the American Lamb Board, will return to Barr Mansion, Sunday, February 28th. $60/person. 
Lamb Jam -- Feb 28

-- The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas presents Roast + Toast, February 28th, $75/person. The event will celebrate Texas' growing wine industry with a sip and stroll tasting of the Texas Monthly's Best Texas Wines of 2015.
-- The Austin Food and Wine Festival is back April 22-24, tickets now on sale; I would love to see Ming Tsai!

Openings, etc.
-- Torchy's Tacos now open at South Congress and West Mary (the old Fran's).
-- Prelog's now doing Sunday family-style suppers.
-- The Carillon has new winter menu featuring "new American cuisine with a Texas focus and modern spin." 
-- Emmer + Rye now offering Happy Hour, Tuesday through Sunday from 5 - 7 pm. 
-- Austin-based fast casual Freebirds World Burrito has six dishes under 600 calories to kick off the new year (and actually, 4 of them are under 500 calories).
-- Pacific Rim Sushi + Yakitori Lounge now open for lunch.
-- Barley Swine has relocated to 6555 Burnet Road; now open for dinner. 
-- Isla open for Saturday and Sunday brunch.
-- Burn Pizza now open for lunch.
-- South Congress Hotel now has happy hour in the lobby bar. 
-- Dallas pizza restaurant Cane Rosso announced they will open in the old St. Philip spot in Sunset Valley, and also bringing local ice cream truck Cow Tipping Creamery to brick and mortar.
-- Flyrite Chicken at 2129 E. 7th opens February 7th.
-- Contigo has various options for Super Bowl Snacking (February 7th).
-- Fresa's has wood-fired wings and other snacks for the Super Bowl too.

Valentine's Day Specials

-- Andiamo: $70 dinner
-- Barley Swine: dinner
-- Cafe No Se: macarons available, 5 for $20
-- The Carillon: 5-course dinner, $80 with optional wine pairings, February 12-14
-- Contigo: 4-course dinner, $65
-- Dai Due: $85/prix-fixe dinner 
-- Dine: $69 dinner
-- drink.well: dinner
-- Emmer + Rye, 7-course dinner, $75
-- epicerie: brunch (new Chef de Cuisine, Keith Abate)
-- The Flying Carpet: dinner on February 13th, $50
-- Gardner: 4-course dinner, $65
-- Goodall's: 3-course dinner, $70
-- Isla: Paella special for two -- Jack Allen's Kitchen: Red velvet cake glazed with chocolate ganache
-- Jacoby's: Sunday brunch and Valentine's dinner (normally not open on Sundays)
-- Juniper: brunch, with half-off bubbles
-- Lenoir: pop-up brunch
-- Odd Duck: brunch and dinner 
-- Olaime: 5-course dinner, $100 with optional wine pairings, Saturday and Sunday
-- The Peached Tortilla: pre-fixe menu $45/person
-- Peche: dinner specials 
-- Prelogs: dinner special, $75 
-- Russian House: dinner for two, $150; $280 for VIP caviar menu
-- Sagra: Valentine's brunch and dinner 
-- Sala + Betty: $40 dinner
-- Texas French Bread: prix-fixe, $65, Saturday and Sunday nights 
-- The Townsend: 4-course meal for two, $200
-- VOX Table: Saturday and Sunday specials 
-- Walton's Fancy and Staple: floral specials
-- Whislers: burlesque and boozy cocktails, Saturday and Sunday 

Image via Babble.com

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Café No Sé at the South Congress Hotel

Café No Sé, described as Californian-inspired American food, is the more casual eatery at the new South Congress Hotel. Open breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it occupies the northeast corner space at South Congress and Milton Streets, pretty much in the exact spot where Hey Cupcake helped launch the food trailer revolution along SoCo.  Our first challenge though, was figuring out how to get inside! We initially went through the main entrance to the hotel, only to discover the bar and lounge area, but no restaurant entrance from inside. So note to selves: enter the cafe from the street side.

Cafe No Se -- exterior
We had a 6:45 pm reservation on a Thursday night, which ended up being unnecessary, but it never hurts to plan ahead! I was actually surprised the restaurant was almost entirely empty at that time, but it gradually filled as our time there went on. I'd call the decor a modern farmhouse vibe, with sleek moving cabinet doors above the bar station, benches, tile work, and a big communal table. I would imagine in the daytime, the sunlight would make the interior shots quite pretty. Not sure how I feel about the glaring pink neon. Or how this scripted logo relates to the modern block logo with off-set font (at the top of this blog post) that's on their website and social media. Two identities?
Cafe No Se -- interior
Cafe No Se -- interior
I started with a white sangria with sage, which I enjoyed, but in retrospect, might be better in warmer months. My friends both ordered cocktails with different whiskys, and unfortunately the waiter had to come back and tell them that each of spirits they ordered was out of stock, so they had to regroup. Fortunately, they had enough other bourbons + whiskeys in stock, and my friends were happy with their final cocktails.
Cafe No Se -- white sangria with sage
We started with the butternut squash soup, that was smooth and tasty, but the star of this show was the flat bread cracker with chicken liver mousse, carrots, beets, and I think the white dots were goat cheese. Artfully presented, and delicious! I was only sad I had to split the cracker with my friends.
Cafe No Se -- butternut squash soup with chicken liver mousse flat bread
We also shared the quinoa fritters with a cashew butter. These were crisp on the outer parts, but a bit mushy on the inside... yeah, I know, this IS quinoa. But the cashew butter sauce was luscious! I would love a big bowl of the sauce.
Cafe No Se -- quinoa fritters with cashew butter
For mains, one friend ordered the romanesco cauliflower + broccoli, which we all agreed wasn't terribly impressive, but the sprouted lentils with golden raisins and a touch of chile with it was quite lovely.
Cafe No Se -- Romesco cauliflower
Another friend got the burger and fries; the burger seemed a bit salty. Oh, and we had gotten a side order of the fries with the "malt" as listed on the menu; some of the menu descriptions are a bit on the vague side.  Really all it was was fries with Kewpie mayo on top. No malty taste, but the fries themselves were good.
Cafe No Se -- burger and fries
I ordered the lamb ribs from the appetizer menu for my main; they came with a white barbecue sauce, green apples, and peanuts. It was fantastic. I love pork ribs and I love lamb, but I am not sure if I've ever had lamb ribs. The sauce and apples really complimented the light gaminess of the meat. If you're a lamb fan, don't miss out!
Cafe No Se -- lamb ribs with granny smith apple
We decided to split dessert, and it's a good thing we did. This is the Rockman's Basque cake, and the picture doesn't do the size justice. The three of us could barely finish it, and really we each just wanted to lick the plate! It's a buttery cake with speculoos (gingerbready cookie butter) cream, charred dates on the inside, a touch of citrus on top, and sour cream ice cream. Did I mention it was downright heavenly? I can only image what the breakfast pastries are like! Café No Sé could definitely be a stop just for coffee/cocktail and dessert.
Cafe No Se -- Rockman's Basque cake with speculoos cream
And so now, I really would like to go back for another meal, especially if a croissant is involved! After dinner, we discovered there IS a  door exiting the restaurant into the hotel, but there's no door handle or marker from the hotel side. Maybe they leave the door open in the morning for guests to stumble in for breakfast? But leaving the restaurant this way, puts you in the lobby bar area that was quite hopping. Now the architecture and design of the hotel itself is what I would call a 1970s classy throwback. Except that I rather disliked the yellow smiley faces above the bar; to me it just cheapens the look.

Loved the floor to ceiling built-in bookcases/wall dividers in the lobby with their array of succulents; those alone are worth seeing! While admiring those, one friend struck up a conversation with the gentlemen at the front desk; one things led to another, and they offered to let us go look at a couple of rooms. We were shown one of the "standard" rooms on the third floor which was quite lovely, and then the Monroe Suite, which is over 700 square feet, including a big patio overlooking the pool and South Congress itself.
South Congress Hotel -- the Monroe suite
Though.... I am not sure about that ceiling over the bed, but I didn't notice it until I reviewed the photos.  It had comfortable seating area and spacious bathroom, complete with comfortable robes; and there's another half bath by the entrance. I loved the details of the rooms, like leather door pulls on the bathroom's sliding doors, the collection of mini bar items, and the woodwork touches throughout the room.
South Congress Hotel -- the Monroe suite
They did tell us at the desk that the Monroe goes for about $700/night; deals can be found on sites like Expedia and Kayak if you go looking for them. Room rates start at around $250/night for the basic rooms. The hotel's American bar + grill, Central Standard, opened the week before Christmas. Celebrated chef Paul Qui is opening a 12-seat omakase restaurant, Otoko, any day now and there's a rumor it's already booked solid for months. A casual juice bar, Manana, will also be forthcoming. Also keep an eye on Café No Sé's bakeshop page for upcoming specials, like Valentine's macaroons in five flavors.

No shortage of hidden treasures within the South Congress Hotel. And if you're dining at one of the restaurants, they do validate valet parking for three hours. Just part of the changing face of Austin, but at least good food is involved. And while I don't quite get the "Californian-inspired food" tag, at least these are decent Californian influences to be had, not just increased traffic and real estate prices.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pinthouse Pizza -- South Lamar

Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar
As with many things, the adage "if you build it, they will come" holds truth. The new Pinthouse Pizza on South Lamar in the Brodie Oaks shopping center is certainly no exception. It's sister location on Burnet Road has always been well-liked by friends, but I have never made it there myself. This brew pub/pizza joint opened in South Austin in late October, and when I went the beginning of December, it was packed.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar
Five of us decided to meet there on the first Thursday in December. I was the last to arrive at just after 6 pm, and I walked into a buzzing hive. Fortunately, my friends already had a table (or, a spot within the bank of picnic tables), AND one of them had been there before, so she knew how it worked. And thus, here lies my rub with Pinthouse: there's no host/hostess, so it's up to you to stumble in and figure it out for yourself. There are two separate lines you will have to get in, one for beer and one for food. Or maybe you only want one, and not the other, which will save you time. My friends had already ordered this flight of beers when I arrived; I liked the holder and the chalkboard for names.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- beers
We were ogling our neighbors nacho tray, and they gave it high marks, so we started with that. Very tasty queso and nice thick tortilla chips, and I think a decent quantity for just under $8.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar --nachos
The wedge salad was a disappointment, as the blue cheese vinaigrette was very weak in flavor, as it really lacked the promised blue cheese. It just tasted like an oil and vinegar dressing. But it was very fresh iceberg lettuce.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- wedge salad
We got three 10" pizzas so we could try a variety. So they're not quite Neapolitan-style pizzas, but they are a thicker, doughier crust. They come in 10", 14", and 16" sizes. Three small pizzas plus the nachos and salad were perfect for five people.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- pizzas
The pepperoni and basil turned out to be my favorite; the meat was sliced really thin, so it was a bit crispy around the edges and not at all greasy, plus there wasn't too much tomato sauce (I am not a fan of heavy tomato sauce on a pizza).
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- pepperoni
The Armadillo pizza with sausage, poblano, ricotta, and cilantro. I love a white pie, but this didn't do it for me. In my book, it really really needs a drizzle of a balsamic reduction or some other acidity on it to really make it stand out. Fresh and good quality ingredients? Yes. Great tasting pizza? No.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- white pizza
And this other white pizza, with mushrooms and arugula; I think this was a build your own option, I can't remember and someone else did the ordering. This too suffered from lack of acid, whether it's balsamic or tomato sauce or fig jam. Overall is their pizza good? Yes, but just not as good as it could be to my discerning palate.
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- white pizza
But hands down, the best thing we had was the chocolate fudge brownie with Amy's ice cream. So rich! And smooth, and really chocolaty. And when split five ways, even better!
Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar -- brownie
I was real glad to have a "veteran" with us, who knew how the system worked, as walking into a new place for the first time can be a tad overwhelming when the place is packed. And a beer and pizza joint with ample parking is sorely needed in this area. They are really good about updating their Facebook page regularly, and I see that a house-brewed "Hefewhyzen" will be tapped later this month (one of my favorite beer varieties). Plus the January pizza of the month is a Thai peanut chicken, which I know won't appeal to everyone, but it does to me! Now I feel that I can enter Pinthouse with confidence, as I at least know how the system works. If my one weeknight experience is any indication, they have no trouble attracting business.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Your Mom's Burgers -- Delivered!

Your Mom's stuffed burgers meal delivery

** Editor's update: I think they are working on a brick + mortar in Smithville; not certain if the mail order burger is still around.

Your Mom's burgers is back! This time in the comfort of your own kitchen, as they now offer home delivery meal kits. They contacted me back in November, and asked if I would be interested in trying one of their kits. This is a sponsored post, and all opinions are my own.

While their restaurants unfortunately closed in 2014, they have reinvented themselves in this new era of home delivered meals. Go to their website, Your Mom's, and scroll down; I did the Stuffed Burger Meal Kits with blue cheese stuffed burgers, but you can also just get the stuffed burger without all the extras. But I was glad I got the kit! You'll see when you go online you have lots of options: what kind of cheese you want it stuffed with, type of bun, sauces, sides, etc.

It came in a cardboard box with two separate packages, one with the dry goods and the other, with all the perishable goods, in an insulated bag with a couple ice packs. Here's what everything looked like when unpacked.
Your Mom's burgers meal delivery
As you can see, everything is very well labeled, which is good to make it as idiot-proof as possible.  The burger itself kind of flattened out during transport, so I reshaped it a bit before cooking. I also hardly every fry things at home, so making the sweet potato fries was a treat! They included flour and soda water for dredging the fries; all you need is the oil. There was a "sweet tater bling" seasoning for them once cooked, which was really delicious with it's chai flavors, and they suggest a little homemade caramel sauce (also included) drizzled over.
I don't have any fabulous pictures of my Black Angus beef burger cooking, but really, you know what a burger cooking looks like!  Here's my plate, and I was QUITE pleased with how everything turned out! You can kind of see the blue cheese starting to squirt out the edge of the burger! I normally like a good medium rare burger, so I was being careful not to overcook these, and I succeeded. They were delicious!
And check out their Instagram page , because when you register on their website, you could win an upcoming burger giveaway!!!
So even though the holidays are past, give yourself or a loved one a gift of burgers! If you were a fan of Your Mom's restaurants, or if you just want a darn tasty burger, hop online and order (delivery within the 48 contiguous states). Your biggest problem will be deciding on blue, jack, cheddar, or mozzarella to stuff it with! Burgers up!