Monday, May 21, 2018

First Look: The Yin and Yang of Mandala

South Lamar's Lamar Union complex has had a hard time keeping restaurants. Cantine, El Burro, VOX Table, Delicious have all cycled in and out in relatively short periods of time. TLC Austin (which I like very much, see this blog post for info on them) appears to be holding its own, Soto has replaced Cantine, Shake Shack and the Highball are still there too. Mandala, with its Thai and Vietnamese influences, opened in March at the old El Burro spot. Let's hope they can make it last!

I met a group of friends there on a weeknight for dinner; ironically, our same group of four had previously eaten at El Burro too. Another foodie friend had told me about a passion fruit cocktail, but it wasn't on the menu this evening. Our waiter, who seemed relatively new, didn't seem to have a full grasp of the liquors available at the bar, because when asked if they had Tito's Vodka he said no, but one of our group went to check with the bartender who confirmed its presence. They did have some half price bottles of wine held over from Mother's Day so we split a bottle of rose.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin
We started with their mini rice pancakes, which come seven per order. I inquired when we ordered if we could get eight since there were four of us. The waiter said no, but offered no explanation. I understood it when they arrived; they are not pancakes in the flat sense or something that is cooked on a griddle. They are a version of kanon krok, a type of Thai dessert that uses a pan not unlike those for Japanese takoyaki or Danish abelskivers. Anyhow, they were nice, crispy on the bottom from the rice flour, with a savoriness mixed with a sweetness from coconut milk. Could have used a dash of chile or at least one bold flavor.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin rice pancakes
Red curry with vegetables and shrimp also had good flavor. Lots of veggies and just enough kick in the red curry. (This made an excellent leftover dish the following day; I pan sauteed some red fish, added green beans and poured the remains of the curry over it. On my Instagram!)
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin red curry
These mussels were also done with a red curry sauce, and it was quite tasty. What I am noticing though, the menu online says they are served with garlic toast, and this was served with plain bread. Needed more of it too to sop up that delicious sauce.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin mussels
I love Thai noodle dishes, and was excited to try the pad kee mao with chicken, especially after our waiter said it was one of his favorites. What arrived was a plate with clumpy, undercooked noodles that were in short little choppy sections. While I wasn't anticipating the rice noodles to be long and slurpy like ramen, I did expect them to be more than two inches in length! I asked for the manager to come over, and when he did, his attitude was more like "yeah, what's up" as opposed to "how can I help you?". I inquired if this dish was normally served this way; I don't recall what his specific words were but he did imply that no it did not look quite right and took it back to the kitchen.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
This is the second version (below) of pad kee mao that arrived. You can at least see that some of the noodles are in longer lengths. Taste was okay, but for my likes, it could have used a little more sauce and not to mention flavor. Not much spice, though the menu says "spicy brown sauce." The manager did not come back to check on us.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
As you can see, there is some yin and yang at play here. There are some dishes on the menu I really want to try, like the rice pie and the crispy fish with pineapple tamarind sauce. But after the noodle debacle, I am not certain that I would order it again. I know they have only been open about two months but if they are going to survive, especially at Lamar Union, Mandala needs their universes to be in sync.

Have you been to Mandala, and what was your experience with the food and service?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Quick Look: Wrigleyville ATX

Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs
New food trailer Wrigleyville South Dogs + Beef reached out to me and asked if I would like to come by and try one of their hot dogs. Yes, please!  {The dog was complimentary, I was not compensated monetarily, and opinions are always my own.}
Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs -- Rodeo Dog
While they specialize in Chicago dogs, I opted for a Rodeo dog, a Vienna beef dog with grilled onions, sport peppers, barbecue sauce, cheese all on a poppy seed bun. (There's something about that bright green relish on a Chicago dog that scares me just a bit! 😉) Verdict on the Rodeo dog? Delicious! And messy. The bun split down it's seam a couple of bites in, but it was still worth it. Loaded up with all the toppings, there was no skimping here. I wish the bun was more toasted, but I also know it can be hard to open up hot dog buns to toast without compromising the seam.
Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs
Owners Brian and Teri are following their passion! The trailer is located at the Genie Car Wash at 1311 S. Lamar Blvd, open Wed - Sun 11 am - 6 pm (5pm on Sun). And they are good about keeping their social media updated! Facebook and Instagram. So if you need a good hot dog, here is the place to go!
Wrigleyville ATX hot dogs

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April's Eats

Apart from my last post on the new Lunar pizza trailer, what else have I been eating?

The month started with Easter brunch with friends at Chicon.
Chicon -- eggs benny with pulled pork
Chicon -- eggs benny with pulled pork
The Asian food game is getting stronger in Austin, though I continue to wish there were more places down south! I visited Teahaus 101 (Airport and Lamar Blvd) with blogger buddies Girl Eats World and Foodie is the New Forty for a complimentary media tasting. We had a LOT of food! I think my favorites were the bulgogi tater tots, the chicken wings, and the noodles with black bean sauce.
Teahaus 101
Teahaus 101 -- Asian smorgasborg!
While it was a long drive from South Austin 😉 up to the new H Mart Asian grocery in Cedar Park, I am glad I finally made it. On a weekday, the store was virtually empty and there were no lines at the food court. The KJ chicken and onion rings at Sunday Bird were yummy, and they reheated (as in crispy!) really well in my air fryer for dinner. Don't know what they did to the onion rings (MSG? twice fried?) but they were worth the drive.
Sunday Chicken at H Mart
Sunday Bird at H Mart 
I revisited ATX Cocina with a group of family friends, and once again I was impressed.  We had a variety of plates that we all shared, and our server was spot on with recommendations.
ATX Cocina -- snapper crudo
ATX Cocina -- fish of the day, branzino with red and green sauce, along with a jicama slaw and fresh corn tortillas
ATX Cocina -- chicken with white mole sauce
ATX Cocina -- carne asada
Frontier Airlines now has a nonstop Austin to Albuquerque flight (something Southwest hasn't had in years), which makes visiting my parents a bit easier. And they offered super-cheap introductory rates, which I took advantage of.  I hadn't flown them before, and yes, they do nickel and dime you, but the $130 I paid for a round trip ticket including a checked bag was well worth it. Fortunately, my parents appreciate good food too. My first full day there, we had lunch at neighborhood spot Piatanzi.
Piatanzi Albuquerque beet salad
Piatanzi's Ottavio salad with golden beets, goat cheese, pistachios, dried cranberries and balsamic dressing.  Good pizza too.
After checking out the Leonardo DaVinci exhibit at the Natural History Museum, we went to Mary and Tito's for lunch. This true mom and pop spot has been around since 1963, and were recognized as a James Beard award winner in 2010. New Mexican food at its finest!
Mary + Tito's, on the left the carne adovada omelette and on the right, crispy taco, a tamale smothered in Christmas chile sauce (both red and green chile) and a carne adovada flauta. I wish there was good New Mexican food here in Austin!
Frenchish is probably my parents' favorite place, as they have followed chef/owner Jennifer James from place to place over the years (also a James Beard semifinalist for best chef in the southwest). The food here never disappoints, and it turned out that our lunchtime waiter from Mary + Tito's the day before (and grandson of the namesakes) was our waiter at Frenchish. Small world.
Frenchish -- blue crab salad
Frenchish -- blue crab salad
Frenchish -- pork belly with carrot chutney
Frenchish -- pork belly with carrot chutney
Frenchish -- lamb bolognese
Frenchish -- lamb bolognese that just melted in your mouth
Frenchish -- risotto jardinere with pork three ways
Frenchish -- risotto jardinere with pork three ways
Up in Santa Fe, we had another fine New Mexican foods meal at La Choza. We've dined at sister restaurant The Shed (just off the main plaza downtown) for years, but La Choza is a relatively new discovery for us even though it has been around since 1983.
La Choza -- blue corn soft taco (not that you can see it) smothered in red and green chile, with a magnificent side of posole with pork.  Who's got a good recipe for posole??

I treated myself to a spa package and a night at Ten Thousand Waves Spa, where the in-house restaurant is the award-winning Japanese izakaya Izanami.
Izanami kushiyaki
Izanami -- jamon serrano wrapped asparagus. wagyu beef, chicken meatball, and onigiri rice.
Izanami cucumber and wakame salad
Izanami -- cucumber and wakame (seaweed) salad
After returning from my trip, I caught up with friends for lunch at TLC Austin, where I hadn't been since their media tasting in January, and also still impresses.
TLC Austin
TLC Austin -- the Enlightenment, a vegetarian sandwich for me believe it or not!
TLC Austin
TLC Austin -- snow crab legs seafood boil
TLC Austin
TLC Austin -- 04 Goodness Sake
Finally, lunch at Pho with Us in Southpark Meadows.
Pho with Us -- bun bowl with grilled pork and eggroll and a VERY strong Vietnamese coffee
What have you been eating lately that I should know about? Don't want to wait for a monthly recap? Check out my more up to date Instagram page! 😊