Congress:Three Courses with Wine Pairing

 

Way back in January before Food & Wine let me down with their initial Austin F&W fest, I won their dinner for two at Congress giveaway.  I held on to this certificate for nearly 5 months with visions of the ultimate date night dancing in my head.  Ian and I snuck away to Austin while Sophie was at camp.  She would be disappointed to have missed our fun-filled day at Lick Ice Creams and Barton Springs Pool, but the wine pairings would have been wasted on her.  Ian agreed to take only 3 shots of each course so as not to spoil the date night ambience.

I wasn't going to leave Congress without one of their craft cocktails.  On the left is Ian's "Scarlet Lantern": a tequila based cocktail with a smoky hint of Rabarbaro Zucca.  The tall glass is my "Dark and Amari" a delightfully bitter take on a Dark and Stormy with ginger beer, Cynar and Velvet Falernum. My future version of a well-stocked bar will include these obscure ingredients.

Ian's first course: Beef Tartare with kimchi, rice, and black bean paste.  Topped with fried oysters.  The superstar was the beef--melt in the mouth tender, perfectly seasoned.  Second only to the oyster--a taste of the sea in a beautifully crispy package.

My first course: Heirloom tomato salad with burratta, peach/macadamia nut/opal basil/passionfruit.  Loved the nod to the islands, and you can't go wrong with tomatoes and peaches in Texas this time of year.  Note to self: always toast your macadamia nuts. 

Ian's second course: tete de cochon with toasted barley and whiskey bacon marmalade served over a sweet corn puree.  Ordered after the server glowingly recommended it--don't be put off by the title.  For those of you who think bacon has jumped the shark, think again.

My second course: potato gnocchi with merguez sausage, fava bean, eggplant and mint pesto.  This dish had a wonderful Mediterranean feel, and I think the wine pairing--a 2008 Paitin Nebbiolo d'Alba was my favorite of all.

Ian's third course: it was all meat all the time for Ian, charred ribeye loin with braised kale/garlic puree and BBQ onions.  Every component of this dish was beautifully prepared, a testament to the power of simplicity.

My third course: Seared scallop with pistachio crust, red quinoa and cardamom yogurt/sour cherries. Complex combination of flavors that played well with each other. 

Dessert:we shared the Blanc Manger: white chocolate base with blueberries and topped with a mandarin mint marigold ice.  Mint marigold is an herb I am fond of--it is reminiscent of tarragon but super hardy and thrives in the Texas heat.  Combined with mandarin it made for a stunning and refreshing finish to our dinner.

From start to finish Congress' attention to detail was evident in the care of staff, the immaculate decor, and above all, the food.  Chef Bull came to say hello as we were finishing our meal--so nice to have the opportunity to thank him personally for a wonderful experience. 

Located on the corner of Congress and 2nd St. just north of the river, Congress provides valet parking for $8, and you have a choice of a three or seven course meal with optional wine pairings. It is strolling distance to the Congress Street Bridge where if you are lucky you can watch the bat emergence on a fine summer evening.

Oh Texas, I will miss you.

Congress on Urbanspoon

 

Feast

We finally made it to Feast--seems like we will never run out of good restaurants to try in South Town!  It was a particularly steamy first Friday so we elected to sit indoors, but look at how much fun those people are having on the patio!  Our early arrival did ensure immediate seating and good lighting for Ian's photos...Feast doesn't take reservations except for parties >6.

The interior is funky-chic with lucite chairs and sparkly pendant lamps, and I found myself coveting the waitstaff's awesome aprons.  There were a couple of slip-ups with service--forgetting to ask Sophie for a drink order and trying to clear plates that were not finished, but overall friendly and happy to explain the menu concept of small plates meant to be shared.

Not to mention that the arrival of a pretty cocktail assuages almost any sin of omission...Ian got the  Prince:a gin and tonic kicked up a notch with peppers and cilantro, definitely spicy!  I got the Jester: Feast's take on a margarita, lightened with sparkling grapefruit.

And for the <21 crowd, you can never go wrong with a Shirley Temple.....

The menu is divided into several sections, and we tried one from almost every section.

7-spice Barbacoa: juicy, spicy shredded beef cheeks in lettuce cups with garlic-infused yogurt from the "hot" section.

These were good, and I ordered them hoping Sophie would try some--that was a no-go. Your barbacoa has to be above and beyond in a town like San Antonio, and this was average.  In retrospect, I wish I had ordered the mussels with green harissa.  Seeing them at neighboring tables only increased my regret. 

 From the cold section: arugula with crushed almonds/shaved fennel/strawberries and piave vecchio

 I love arugula salads and will order them whenever I get a chance.  This was a beautifully composed salad...definitely enough for sharing, and it made me feel better about ordering two items off the crispy section.  Both delicious and both requested by Sophie who loves anything fried.

 Yukon Gold Potato chips with blue cheese bechamel--technically on the "melted" section.  These were a huge hit.  I would go and have just a plate of these with a beer on a cold day.  On the hottest Friday of the year I was glad I was sharing them.  The portion was huge, and they were generous with the bechamel. 

Sweet corn fritter with beet tzatziki

Sophie, "What is a fritter?"

Me, "It's like a doughnut."

Sophie, "Let's get those."

These were some light and fluffy, unlike the leaden hush puppies I remembered from my Eastern Shore days.  The tzatziki was subtle and tinged with beet flavor.   Served with some honeydew and arugula lightly dressed with a lavender vinaigrette--some bites were a little too lavendery--kind of like an old lady's perfume.  I still got angry when the server tried to clear the plate with a fritter still on it!

Moving along to dessert...this is a freshly baked square of bread pudding with tobacco infused custard and caramel ice cream.  I think Ian just heard "bread pudding" and didn't realize there was tobacco in it.  No matter, it was delicious, and we all enjoyed it including Sophie.   We are hoping they invent a bread pudding patch sometime soon.

Chocolate caramel tart with hazelnuts--like a super sophisticated milky Way.  We couldn't wait for it to warm up slightly but it was still outstanding with a fudgy layer on top of some stellar caramel.

Happy customers....planning on returning for Mother's Day Brunch!

Feast on Urbanspoon

 

Austin Food & Whine Festival

I had the great fortune to attend the first annual Food & Wine festival in Austin this past weekend.  True, there were lines, heat, dust and a whole host of first world problems.  Tickets did not come cheap at $250 for the "weekender" and $850 for the VIP.  VIP ticket holders had a couple of exclusive events including a taste of Texas dinner Friday night and a "rock your taco" throwdown Saturday night.  I was jealous of both events, but not $600 worth.  Additionally, VIP had the ability to pre-register for the demos, early entry into the tasting tents and a separate VIP "lounge" area.

I was seriously under powered in the camera department and my photos would have benefited from a serious zoom lens, so apologies now.

My first demo was Gail Simmons of "Top Chef" fame.  I was looking forward to her inside scoop on this past season.  Cracking open a Shiner at 10:00, Ms. Simmons was obviously smitten with Texas despite the brutal temps of last summer when the season filmed.  She showcased a couple of recipes that were "Texas inspired", but disappointingly, we didn't get to taste them.  I found myself wishing I had attended Tim Love's hands on grilling demo--his people came away with bags of meat.  And while I realize that there is definitely a "preaching to choir" element to speaking a foodie-centric event, I hoped to learn a little something new.  I didn't expect to hear "you all know the difference between a dry measuring cup and a liquid measuring cup, don't you?"  Yes, since I was about 12 years old.

There was quite a bit of time between sessions, giving time for a bathroom break, a frosty adult beverage, or as I learned, standing in line so as to assure your seat at the next demo.

The Meyer's washing station, conveniently located next to the bathrooms, very generous with their swag!  Another plus were the bathrooms themselves--a little air-conditioned trailer instead of stinky porta potties.  Stocked with Meyer's products for hand washing within the bathrooms as well.  The one place you would expect a huge line, mercifully was always free!

Speaking of free--an abundance of water, soft drinks, beer and wine for the taking.  If you were dehydrated it was your own fault.  With the size of the venue I would have expected more tents for shade and bigger tents for demos.  There were food trucks available: East Side King's was slinging some excellent pork buns, fried chicken and Paul Qui's famous brussel sprouts.  Helpful for absorbing the alcohol until you got a crack at the food in the tasting tents.  The tents were crowded and hot--not unexpected, but still annoying.  There was a big emphasis on wine, less so on food.  This contributed to my angry tweets when I showed up to the Makimono Hands on demo with Tyson Cole/Paul Qui an hour early only to be told that all the seats had been reserved by VIP.

                                   This was as close as I got to Paul Qui.

I elected not to stand in the blazing sun and headed over to Andrew Zimmern's talk.  He was very polished and definitely entertaining.  Apparently I missed this speech about choosing alternative proteins he gave during his talk on Sunday.  He passed around an alternative protein....

                                                                 Any guesses?

It's ox heart!  His description and the smells as he prepared it were mouthwatering.  Alas, still no tasting!  I had heard it was some bullsh!t about "food safety," but if not at Andrew Zimmern's talk where else could you try some actual chef-prepared foods?

I left Saturday a little sunburned, a lot filthy due to the dust kicked up my the winds and disappointed by the experience. 

Sunday began with more lines and another stampede to get into Chef Love's grilling demo.  Back in January when I purchased my tickets I won a contest put on by Austin F&W for dinner for two at Second.   My winning entry described the class I was most excited about and why. 

This young lady did not disappoint.  Christina Tosi's "Cereal Milk" demo was the highlight of the festival for me.  My daughters and I have loved and bonded over her book and it was sitting in my bag awaiting her signature at the book signing.  From her honest and humble presentation about her work to the fact that she actually provided food for the masses--cereal milk, cornflake crunch, cookies and (gasp!) unbaked cookie dough she was inspiring and down to earth in a way that no other chef had been previously.  The fact that I won another copy of the book seemed karmic.  Her thoughtful inscriptions to Sophie and Maddy will ensure that we treasure these books forever.

I bought a copy of "Uchi" since we are moving to Washington DC later this summer and won't be able to make it back to our favorite sushi place ever anytime soon.  Tyson Cole signed my copy--looking a bit fatigued, but accommodating as I gushed about his world class sushi.

Overall, a good time:

Pros:

  • met a bunch of great people who despite the heat and crowds were patient, pleasant and respectful
  • free beer and wine!
  • Christina Tosi!
  • close to my house and easy parking close by

Cons

  • free beer and wine! and no one to drive me home
  • wasted space that could have been used for shade/bigger tents for demos
  • no tasting at demos--seriously, at a food festival?
  • VIP allowed to take up an entire demo with reservations
  • seemed oversold and more disorganized than I would have expected for the price
  • only able to attend 4 demos--staggering them would have been nice

I know, first world problems.  I came away inspired.  In the kitchen with Momofuku Milk Bar as we speak.  Cream on!

Auden's Kitchen

Friday night dinner out is becoming a tradition for Sophie and me.  With the beautiful spring weather we are seeking out patios to enjoy before the summer heat blankets San Antonio.  I had heard good things about Auden's Kitchen on the Twitter recently, and was additionally motivated by the happy hour offerings.  With Auden's Kitchen, chef/owner Bruce Auden (of the Riverwalk's Biga on the Banks fame), has achieved his goal of creating a dining destination for locals.

Blueberry mojito: putting the happy in happy hour.  Five dolla, no holla!  There was a nice selection of wines by the glass for $4 and April is margarita madness month including a cucumber margarita that sounded intriguing--maybe next time.  The service was excellent, and our waiter made sure that Sophie's Dr. Pepper was refilled without her having to request it.

From the patio happy hour menu: garlic parmesan fries.  The aroma of garlic wafted invitingly as the waiter put these on the table. As you can see, they looked crisp and tantalizing.  Unfortunately, they were woefully under seasoned and required quite a bit of salting. Disappointingly uncrispy.  The ketchup was strangely sweet and thin--possibly with apple sauce.  It didn't cling to the fries and I gave up after a couple. 

Sophie's pizza on the other hand was outstanding and a huge bargain at $6.  She picked off all the tomatoes and gave them to me.  They were nicely carmelized, perhaps having been roasted with some balsamic prior to their application the the pizza.  The crust was thin and crispy/chewy, and I would not hesistate to order pizza the next time I go. 

My main dish was pan seared salmon with smoky tomato butter, arugula and fennel salad and feta polenta cake. Excellent.  The smoke really came through in the sauce but not overpoweringly so.  The salmon was a generous portion and properly cooked.  Soft but not raw in the center, it melted in the mouth.  I was finished in an embarrassingly short period of time.

Sophie left half of her pizza on the table in order to make sure she had room for dessert.  I chose the Earl Grey creme brulee.  It was smooth and creamy with a nicely carmelized topping but could have been Earl Greyer and less sweet.

Sophie's lemon bar did not suffer from the same heavy hand with the sugar and was tart and bright.  She ate so much she had to lay down on the way home. 

Seek out this gem, tucked away in Stone Oak, and like our waiter encouraged us, enjoy and stay as long as you like.  Thanks Chef Auden for thinking about us folks up here on the north side!

Auden's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Friendly Spot

The Friendly Spot, another Southtown phenom.  You can hang out with a bunch of people in a sweet outdoor setting without having to cook or clean your bathroom for them.

 One of my favorite people to hang out with (she doesn't even require a clean bathroom).

On this warm Friday night in the 15 minutes that pass for spring in San Antonio Sophie and I had to park about a block away and walk over to The Friendly Spot.   Sophie snagged a table while I stood in line for beverages and vittles.  There is no waiter service here.  Just walk to the counter, place your order, and start a tab.  Should you decide to take off so you don't have to stand in line later to pay they will just add a 20% tip and close the tab for you.

The beer selection, both draft and bottled is extensive.  I decided on an Anchor Steam draft, and Sophie had an Izze Blueberry.  There is a large cooler for those who want to self serve water.

The menu is simple--burgers, including the garden variety and the garden variety, nachos, and hello! Tamales!  Love you San Antonio! Sophie had the chicken verde.  Wrapped in a banana leaf and about twice as large as the corn husk wrapped kind.  This filled her right up.  Not too spicy either.

We shared an order of chips and salsa cocida (cooked salsa).  These days it seems chips come in two varieties-the workhorse chip as pictured above and the micro-thin kind that is great for snacking but extremely feeble when it comes to dipping.  The salsa and chips both would have benefited from a dose of salt. 

My salad (jicama, watermelon, cantaloupe) on the other hand, was bright with lime and chile.  This is a $3 serving.  I was also intrigued by a ceviche on the salad menu but not brave enough to try it on this super warm evening. 

The Friendly Spot has a play structure for the kids, bathrooms (clean enough), free wi-fi, and a lot of outdoor seating for you and your friends--even the four-legged variety.  When Mother Nature cranks up the thermostat it may require more than one beer to get me through a meal here if we don't score a seat in the shade.

The Friendly Spot Ice House on Urbanspoon

The Friendly Spot did have a dessert menu (churros, dessert tamale), but Sophie and I had spotted the Where Ya At truck at the Alamo Street Eat Bar on our way down S. Alamo.  Beignets vs. churros?  No contest!  Look at the generous dusting of powdered sugar...

Sophie approved.

I only wish I had been hungry enough to try their BBQ shrimp or ham hock/venison gumbo.  Check them out here.  Don't be fooled by the food truck facade--the owner is a former sous chef at Il Sogno, so you know the food is the real deal.

Bliss

 We had an early dinner at Bliss this past Friday, and it was relatively empty initially--perfect time for taking some great exterior and interior shots.

 Located in Southtown San Antonio in a converted service station, Bliss is visually pleasing with a lot of different textures, beautiful plantings and a huge parking lot!  Chef/owner Mark Bliss returns to San Antonio and hits it out of the park.

 Our server pointed out the perfectly framed Hemisphere Tower during our tour of the restaurant.

 Not pictured here are the beautiful patio seating areas and the chef's table in the kitchen.  The chef's table is available for reservations for 4-10 lucky people.

 Our server was excellent--aside from the tour of the restaurant she gave Sophie great advice re: the charcuterie plate, brought out two different rose wines for me to try, and was unobtrusive yet available.

 Potato blini with poached quail egg, truffled caviar and creme fraiche.  This beautiful appetizer was a crowd pleaser.  Even Sophie tried the blini (minus caviar) and pronounced it delicious.  The menu is rotating--see sample here, but it looks like the blini may be rightfully a permanent menu item.

Ian's starter:arugula salad with lemon anchovy dressing, fried capers and sun dried tomato bruschetta.  Visually stunning to be certain, but the dressing was so balanced and perfectly applied it will move this salad into my top 10 of all time.

 Sophie's charcuterie plate with prosciutto, fennel salami, aged white cheddar, bucheron and rochetta cheeses, marcona almonds and honey comb.  This was Sophie's first experience with honey comb, and she couldn't wrap her head around eating the entire thing.  Since she wanted to save room for dessert she had ample leftovers that we plan on turning into a panini.

 

 

 My entree: redfish ala plancha with Gulf shrimp, little neck clams and cream peas swimming in a tasso jus.  The flavors of this dish brought me right back to Savannah, Georgia.  Salt and smoke, sweet shrimp and clams.  There was not a speck of food left on my plate.

 Ian's entree: Akaushi Strip Steak: 14 oz. of sheer perfection with frites and asparagus.  Only needed a sprinkling of salt to bring it to its potential.  The server also provided a cup of homemade ketchup when she saw Sophie eyeing the fries.

 Luckily the entree filled Ian up enough that we convinced him to forgo bread pudding and try these two citrusy desserts.

 Lemon tart with rosemary crust, candied kumquat and berry compote.  A super short crust with the tangiest of lemon filling.  Surprisingly Sophie's choice--she usually veers towards the chocolate based option.  Definitely hoping this stays in the dessert rotation.

 Tiramisu: a citrus twist with grapefruit supremes, the best candied orange peel I have ever eaten, and lady fingers soaked not in espresso (Sophie relieved) but orange--maybe a little Grand Marnier? 

Bliss has a wonderful wine list including many by the glass selections as well as beer.  No cocktails though.  There are plans to open an outbuilding for private events--it was under construction at the time of our visit.  Add Bliss to the ever growing list of establishments elevating the restaurant culture of San Antonio!

 Gratuitous "blissful" picture.

Bliss on Urbanspoon

Esquire Tavern

 

Sophie re-examines the menu after learning they are out of the Pimento Grilled cheese...

We ventured out for a pre-symphony meal at the Esquire Tavern on a rainy Sunday not too long ago.  The interior of this iconic San Antonio with its moody lighting and 100 feet of bar begs you to stay for a cocktail or two.  Unfortunately, I  settled for a draft Live Oak Heffeweisen to avoid snoozing during the symphony and did not get a craft cocktail.  Doubly sad because Jeret Pena, the resident mixologist, was recently awarded a star chef award for his creative libations.  Will return when I have a designated driver.

                                 Waffled Potato Chips with Texas Onion Dip

After our own attempts in potato chip creation, Sophie and appreciated these deeply crispy chips.  Paired with onion dip--you'll never go back to the Lipton onion soup recipe--these disappeared quickly.  Sophie's second choice was the BLT, albeit minus the "T".

Served on buttered Texas toast with a side of uber-fresh giardinera (the pickle that sounds like an intestinal parasite).  Despite the palate shredding potential of a Texas toast sandwich, Sophie devoured this.  I took care of the pickles.

 I had the hangar steak salad with arugula/roast tomato/goat cheese and basil vinaigrette.  Very Paleo after the chips and beer.  I didn't specify the temperature on the steak, and as you may be able to tell (or not) from my subpar photo, it was pretty blue.  That's OK by me, but buyer beware.  Really enjoying the meal up to this point despite the lack of craft cocktail....

We had been planning on the fried apple pie (served with vanilla bean ice cream and Bourbon caramel), and I had even talked Sophie out of her bourbon phobia only to find out they were out.  We settled on the snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich. 

 Charming presentation, tasted like it had been sitting in the freezer unwrapped for a day.  I don't know whether it was just our disappointment about the pie or the fact that we had just spent a couple of epic weekends cooking out of Momofuku Milk Bar.  At any rate, our pastry expectation bar was set way high and this dessert fell short.

Definitely would re-visit the Esquire--have a Pimm's cup waiting for me! Worth trying to park in Downtown SA.

The Esquire Tavern on Urbanspoon

Uchiko

Uchiko: child of uchi.  Tyson Cole's second Austin restaurant with executive chef Paul Qui at the helm.  After our dinner at Uchi last spring, I have longed to visit Uchiko.  After seeing Paul Qui's quietly professional and humble performance on this season of Top Chef, I knew I had to go now!  Once he wins Top Chef, and he should, it may be nigh impossible to get a table.

I made a 5:00 p.m reservation because I am now hip to the sake social hour with it's fantastic menu of smaller bites of regular menu items, and because I am uncool enough to eat dinner at 5:00.  On arrival, I was immediately glad for the reservation.  The bar area was already humming with activity and the restaurant seemed filled to capacity by 6 p.m.  We enjoyed a chile lime salted peanut while we waited for our table--Sophie with a Ramune, me with a glass of Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul (@$7 for a generous pour).

Our waiter arrived with hot towels and steered us through the menu.  After dining at Uchi, I knew how well the front of the house staff paced the courses.                                          Kakiage:tempura sweet potato fritter

Watching this arrive at a table next to us, Sophie exclaimed, "we should get that!"  Tempura forever eludes me at home.  My fritters are always leaden and oil-soaked with the vegetables sliding out of their batter faster than Paris Hilton slips out of her undergarments.  These were ethereal without a whisper of grease and disappeared quickly.  We also thoroughly enjoyed the brussels sprouts--crispy and tossed with a lemon chili sauce. 

More tempura!  Sophie's choice--"I like this better than Uchi.  There's a lot more for me to eat."  Again, that cloud of tempura batter sprinkled with togarashi and white soy, sheer perfection.  Lest you think I went to a sushi restaurant for fried vegetables...

 Look at these beauties!  From the daily special menu: kaiwari and fresh mackarel nigiri.  If only every sushi restaurant could give the attention to detail that elevates a slice of raw fish and white rice to this level.  Warm rice, tender fish, minimal seasoning to allow the fish to shine.  How ironic that the best sushi I have ever had has been in central Texas.

From the sake social menu I tried the koviche: fresh diver scallop, tomatillo, kalamata, black lime.  Accompanied by the thinnest "corn chips" ever--it was like a really sophisticated ceviche.  Also the yokai berry: atlantic salmon, dinasour kale (a combination of kale chips and fresh kale), asian pear, blueberry and yuzu.  What a combination of flavors!  Apologies for no pictures of these excellent dishes, but the light was waning, and I was hungry....

                                Hanna: cauliflower, daishi, white soy

This beautiful dish, laid out like a painter's palette, was Sophie's favorite.  It was on the daily special menu, and the chef wanted to know what we thought of it.  We thought very highly of it.  A simple ingredient, exquisitely prepared and presented. 

We finished off the dinner portion of the meal with "ham & eggs" : makimono with katsu pork belly accompanied by a yolk custard dipping sauce.  A crowd-pleaser.  Sophie finally ate pork belly without removing the fatty layers.  This must be a time-consuming roll to make--the pork belly was warm and still crispy, surrounded by warm rice--immediately to the table without allowing pork's coating to steam into oblivion.  Amazing.

If you have followed our blog for any length of time, you know we are dessert-centric.  Sophie and dug deep and found a corner in our bellies for TWO! desserts.  I had the special: coconut gelato with tiny thai tea gelee gems, orange and apricot gastrique.  Sophie had the fried milk: iced milk sherbet, fried milk (little purses bursting with a creamy interior), chocolate wafers, cereal crumbs and a chocolate semifreddo.   Their pastry chef is a magician, and we'll keep saving room for his creations.

By the time we left, there was a 90 minute wait for a table....I'd wait without batting an eyelash for the opportunity to be enchanted all over again.  Top notch service, beautiful food, stunning interior...a winning combination.  Worth a trip to Austin, get here soon before Paul Qui wins!

Uchiko on Urbanspoon

Gourdough's

We used to call that feeling of complete lethargy you get after a trip to Dunkin Doughnuts "doughnut fever."  If you are particularly susceptible to this ailment you should avoid Gourdough's.  The cheery Airstream trailer (new location on the corner of Monroe and S. 1st Street) has been doing business in Austin for the last two years.  I don't know how Sophie failed to ferret out this world-famous (featured on Bourdain's "No Reservations") doughnut spot, but she lit up like a penny slot machine when I mentioned it.

She quickly amended her plan to eat "two of them" when she realized these are no ordinary doughnuts.  These are the kind of doughnuts that would make for good survival food as long as your survival didn't depend on your ability to move quickly after eating them.  I was disappointed to hear that the bacon resupplier had not visited--no Flying Pig for me (maple glaze with bacon).  I settled for Granny's Pie: caramel, bananas, and graham cracker crumbs

Sophie got the Heavenly Hash: marshmallow fluff, chocolate icing, brownies--yes, brownies.

 All jokes about the size aside, these were some fresh, hot doughnuts with carefully curated toppings.  If you want to make your own special creation feel free--or top with meat or ice cream for an additional $1.  At $4.50 per doughnut you get your money's worth.  We got there around 10:00, and I wasn't hungry until 4:00.  Open late, til 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights Gourdough's would also make an excellent post-party snack. 

 Gourdough's on Urbanspoon

Lick Ice Cream

 I like to think of myself as an early adopter of all things ice-cream so imagine my surprise when I discovered there has been an artisanal ice cream purveyor in Austin since October!

Sophie and I made the pilgramage this past weekend {after calling to confirm that they were open}.  We are the kind of people that will drive 60 miles for ice cream, and we aren't afraid to call it lunch.

 The store wasn't busy when we arrived.  Plenty of parking in a private lot.  The owner was manning the counter and encouraged us to "try all the flavors."  I wish that had made our decision easier, but alas, each flavor was equally yummy.  Lick sources all the ingredients locally, and every batch is made on site. They infuse the flavors with fresh herbs and tend to use less sugar--the flavors really shine. 

 With more than a dozen flavors to choose from it took us awhile.  After much agonizing and hand-wringing, Sophie settled on orange chocolate, Salt Lick Caramel and peppermint bark.  I chose Too hot chocolate (spicy! with some chipotle kick), goat cheese with thyme and honey, and carmelized carrot tarragon.  The beautiful pink tub is beet ice cream with mint...and they have holiday adult flavors like spiked egg nog, pecan rum pie, as well as peppermint bark and pumpkin pie for the youngsters.  Plans for sundae offerings in the future!? I sure hope so, maybe with artisanal candies instead of gummi bears....

If you are lucky enough to live in Austin, you are minutes away from an ice cream gold mine.  If you live in San Antonio it is worth the drive.  They are open every day.   Website www.ilikelick.com is currently under development but you can find them on facebook and twitter (@lickicecreams).

Il Sogno

After my third visit, a long overdue post for Il Sogno...that sound you hear is me gently pounding my forehead against the table for not experiencing La Reve when I had a chance and also for not taking pictures during my last visit when I had better light.

I know that your photos should tell a story, but this time I will have to use my words.  Hopefully somewhere between, "We ate good food," and "the sauce was redolent of (insert obscure ingredient here) with just a soupcon of joie de vivre." 

The grapefruit slice in my water looked a thousand times more beautiful in real life and exemplefied the care taken at Il Sogno on the most basic level.  When you are seated at your table you are offered a slice of citrus (grapefruit/orange/lemon/lime) or cucumber (Sophie noticed this) for your water. 

I had heard via the Twitter that the appetizer special would be oven roasted sardines with aged balsamic and tomato and knew I had to have them.  They arrived at the table--4 whole fishies with their crispy skin, surrounded by roasted tomatoes--Sophie said, "I thought that was your entree until I saw the faces."  After spending time in Korea, I have come to appreciate the simple goodness of a properly roasted fish {mackerel in Korea}.  My first experience with fresh sardines--whole fish conversion completed.

This is what the funghi pizza with goat cheese, mascarpone and carmelized onions looks like without the mushrooms....If you are wondering what kind of person orders a mushroom pizza and asks to have it without mushrooms....

 It's this person right here.  The waiter didn't bat an eyelash and I didn't hear any screaming from Chef Weissman in the open kitchen....and this came to the table....

The waiter even brought a spoon for serving them...The customer is always right at Il Sogno.  Even if she is a 12 year old whose mother forbade her from ordering the 4 cheese pizza.  Sophie also enjoyed the white bean puree that accompanied the complimentary foccacia--score 10 points for Gryffindor--I mean Il Sogno.  That is the first time a legume puree has passed her lips, and she went back for more, and I quote, "This adds a lot of flavor to the breadsticks."  

 Without Ian's help we were seriously underpowered in the eating as well as the photography department.  This is a photo of my entree (braised beef shortribs with roasted brussel sprouts and root vegetables with shoe string potatoes) after I "finished."  Thankfully braises tend to taste just as good the next day.  The crispy, smoky, impossibly delicious haystack of shoe string potatoes--I didn't have to encourage Sophie to try.  The meat was everything you could ask for in a shortrib, the sauce had the perfect balance of acid and fat, and it almost made a turnip lover out of me.  What a great dish for a rainy winter evening--as evidenced by the 4 out of 6 people who ordered it at the table next to us.

Here's the real reason we went home with takeout containers...Lots of blur in the photo because I had to capture the Nutella tart quickly before Sophie snatched it up.  Such a gorgeous dessert.  Sophie loved this and finished every bite except the one I managed to steal.  She was surprised and pleased that the tart is served warm.  I think I will have to find this recipe even though the Lee family needs another Nutella vehicle like a hole in the head.  Note the absence of take out containers on the table...that's because the waiter brought them with the check--saving us both embarrassment and table space.

My dessert selection: Bunet--a Piedmontese chocolate dessert.  Focus on chocolate.  Like the dark kind, with gelatin. Chocolate power without the gut bomb. Enough said.  Still couldn't finish it, damn.  I had an espresso that I knew I would regret come bedtime but powerful enough to get me home before I lapsed into a postprandial coma.

Great food + excellent staff=return visit guaranteed.  Grazie mille. 

Il Sogno on Urbanspoon

Brunch at the Monterey

This was my second (on consecutive Sundays!) visit to the Monterey for brunch.  Last week Sophie and I had made the mistake of having a piece of toast earlier in the morning which left us too full to finish our meals.  She was determined to destroy the apple pop tart this week. 

It was easy to talk Maddy into the Fried green tomatoes with fried eggs and Crystal hollandaise---knowing she would never finish it allowed me to steal a few bites.  How do they get those tomatoes so deeply crispy? If you need to have one meal last you all day this is the choice for you.  Maybe you should take a baby aspirin with it if you are over 20 years old.

If you are a kid at heart you need this apple poptart in your life.  Last week it was dusted with finely grated cheese--Sophie preferred this version with its festive sprinkles.  Our waitress made sure the chef didn't skimp on the sprinkles.  The flakiest dough with a warm apple filling and icing--you will never go back to Kelloggs.  Expecting to pull back a bloody stump when I reached for a bite--Sophie graciously allowed us to sample her pastry.

Perhaps because I had shared this blackberry macaron that came with my coffee--score!

And because she had an order of crispy Benton's bacon.

I had the house cured salmon. Hoping this stays on the menu.  The fish was velvety soft and the garnish of capers/dill/egg and onion was pitch perfect.  A lighter option to be sure allowing me to sample with abandon.

The bacon cheeseburger with Waygu beef and the best french fries ever.  Ian had a plane to catch and wanted to be sure that he had one good meal before his flight.  This didn't disappoint--points for flavor and satiating capabilities.  Another humongous meal for the vegetarians in your party is the Bananas Foster French Toast ordered by a friend at our last brunch outing.  She described it as "tummy armor."  If you leave hungry it's your own fault.

We tried to sit outdoors on this blustery day--love, love the outdoor patio but the staff was very accommodating as we scurried inside when we realized our mistake.  If it hadn't been windy it would have been tolerable with the blankets and propane heaters.  Looking forward to a glass of red wine some chilly winter evening under the stars.

The Monterey on Urbanspoon

 

Social House International

I was curious when I received a message on Urban Spoon inviting me to "San Antonio's first and only underground restaurant."  The menu sounded appealing, and I R.S.V.P.'d for Sophie and me--without telling Sophie the menu had lamb and fish.

I texted Ian that it was in a private residence when we arrived, and he replied "How is food? Do u still have your kidneys?"  No worries.  We were greeted at the door with offers of libations and appetizers.  Sophie was underwhelmed by the lamb tacos, but I assure you, they were delightful.

Sophie choked down one.  I choked down 3, or maybe it was 4, but who's counting. Accented with fresh  mint and cojita cheese--these bite sized tacos were a promising start.

Smoked Rainbow Trout and Chive Cheesecake: apple, mint, almond, jalepeno syrup, bagel crust

Probably Sophie's favorite item on the menu and a close second for me--she realized that smoked meat, even if it's fish, has bacon-like properties.  The jalepeno syrup was a bright, almost neon green and had just a little kick.  This dish didn't suffer by by being served room temperature. 

Roasted Organic Sweet Corn Soup with fennel creme brulee: The soup plate with the creme brulee was brought out and then the chef poured the soup into each plate tableside.  My favorite dish with well balanced seasonings.  I am not sure if the creme brulee added anything other than visual appeal--I didn't really taste the fennel.

 But as you can see, that didn't stop me from eating the entire bowl.

 Braised South Texas Heritage Pork Belly: smoked cheddar grits, sous vide scrambled egg, tarragon puree.  Sophie stage whispered, "I hate grits."  She then proceed to eat all of them.  I could have eaten an entire bowl.  The pork belly was delicious as well but a little chewier than I would have expected a braised pork belly to be.  The scrambled eggs were pitch perfect as far as texture for me, just wish they had been warm.

 Mustard Seed Crusted Gulf Redfish Chop: ragout of black eyed peas and smoked ham, cornbread crumbs and lemon fish bone sauce.  An interesting, if monochromatic presentation.  Suffered greatly for lack of seasoning.  Even the peas with the smoked ham could have used more salt.  Again, not warm enough for my liking either.

Spiced Gala apple tart, pecan shortbread, Jack Daniels ice cream: Overall pretty good.  My crust was a tad overcooked, but not burnt.  The Jack Daniels ice cream had the barest of bourbon flavor, but made a nice addition to my after dinner coffee (btw, excellent coffee).

The chef and staff were extremely friendly and attentive. He came out after dinner and answered questions and provided us with a little take home gift of rosemary and olive oil cake with lemon marmalade.  I hesistate to comment negatively on the dishes but hope they would appreciate any constructive criticism.  I can appreciate the difficulty of accomplishing a menu like this out of a non-commercial kitchen.  Hoping to see great things down the pipeline. 

The Peach Cafe--Boerne, TX

These cheese rolls are probably one of the reasons that The Peach Cafe has a 91% approval rating on Urban Spoon.  The other reasons may be the charming location, the friendly staff and the reasonably priced and diverse menu.

Sophie and I stopped in for lunch after passing by numerous restaurants and cafes along Main Street.  The chicken pot pie with cheddar crust was a slam dunk for Sophie, although she would have likely survived on multiple refills of the cheese rolls given half a chance.

 Sophie pried off the flaky lid immediately and exclaimed, "It's like soup on the inside!"  The interior was chock full of potatoes, white meat chicken, and carrots in a thick gravy.  Perfect comfort food.  Apparently this is a fairly new menu item and sells out quickly so grab one if you have a chance.  I was looking for something a little lighter and had the Greek Orzo Salad with a cup of tortilla soup.

No skimping on the olives in this beautiful salad.  Plenty of sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta too.  Tossed with romaine and orzo in a balsamic vinaigrette.  The tortilla soup was just how I like it with a clear, lime-touched broth and crispy tortilla strips. The only improvement I would have made would have been to order the larger bowl. 

Unfortunately, we did not save room for dessert because after experiencing their cheese rolls {there is a secret recipe that came with the restaurant!} I am sure there other baked goods would have been outstanding.  Maybe next time....and there will be a next time. 

the Peach Cafe & Catering on Urbanspoon

2tarts Bakery

2 Tarts Bakery in New Braunfels could easily be my home away from home...Cozy couches, big windows and lots of natural light, I could have hung out there all day.  I stopped on my way to pick Sophie up from school one day last week.  The array of pastry was outstanding.  We just needed a little something to tide us over before the movie and dinner we had planned or there is no way I could have limited myself to just one pastry. 

 I can never go wrong with a cupcake for Sophie, and she loved the combination of the strawberry infused cupcake with the zesty lime frosting.

I had this delightful fruit bar.  A dense shortbread crust with fruit and struesel topping, heavy on the struesel just the way I like it.  One of the customers that came in while I was there commented, "It's so

so nice and "loungy".  I did some lounging and knitting and have to agree.

 2 Tarts is a family-owned and operated establishment with a "mission to bring the community together through all things edible."  I am totally down with that.  Closed on Sunday, but open til midnight {!} on Friday and Saturdays for those late night munchies.  Looking forward to heading there every time I am in New Braunfels!

2tarts Bakery on Urbanspoon 

The Monterey

The Monterey is officially my new favorite restaurant in San Antonio.  The backyard patio feel will draw you in, and the food will keep you coming back.  As you gaze up at Hemisphere Tower for once you won't be thinking "I wish I was in Austin."  Far removed from the touristy Riverwalk scene and free parking to boot.

We went with a small group of friends early one Friday evening--early enough for happy hour specials on all Texas brews and a selection of wines by the glass.  Sophie had her first Mexican coke.

 Enjoy, that's the closest I will let you get to Mexico.

While awaiting the arrival of the remainder of our party {$#%@ Friday traffic} we shared an order of the fries with charred jalapeno mayo.  The fries were out in a blink of an eye and perfectly crispy and boiling lava hot just like we like them.

The mayo was not too spicy--more like aioli but delicious nonetheless.  The server was very patient and explained each dish in detail, gave recommendations and was generally a delight.  She even made sure Sophie had her grilled cheese on the table as the adults at the table remained indecisive.

 This is what a perfectly grilled cheese sandwich looks and smells like.  I scooped up her pickled vegetables--kimchi-esque and tasty. 

The brussel sprouts are back!  Nearly every review I read for the Monterey heaped praise on these tiny cabbage harbingers of the coming season.  I couldn't leave without trying them.  Now I will go to my grave trying to figure out the right combination of sweet chili sauce and peanuts to recreate these at home. 

The server described the pork belly dish as "sort of a play on Buffalo wings."  Sitting atop their bed of egg salad and surrounded by crumbled blue cheese and celery--they were reminiscent of the ubiquitous bar food.  The tangy hot sauce cut through the fattiness of the dish and prevented it from tasting obscenely rich. 

The braised beef cheeks were, as marketed, fork tender.  They also had that beautiful glossy sauce that comes with hours and hours of cooking--missing something to mop it up with was a shame but next time we'll just order some cornbread.  Topped with watermelon radish--beautiful and crunchy, a lovely foil to the meat.

Since my selfish companions had already chosen the dishes I would have picked I was forced to order the barbecued fried chicken.  Ordering fried chicken always seems so gluttonous that I will rarely commit {like that pork belly dish was any less fattening}.  The chicken is first smoked, then battered and fried and needed no accompaniment.  I grudgingly shared with the table, but this is the kind of chicken you want to hunker down and eat like a farm hand.  Can't you just see the crunchiness?  Maybe I can convince Sophie to order this the next time we go because she would never be able to finish it all.

Desserts are a must in our family and we tried both of their selections.  Pictured above is the banana panna cotta with peanut brittle and parsley {!?} The peanut brittle was light and airy--I hate to say it, like Captain Crunch but without the roof of the mouth shredding properties.  I wished for a whole bowl of it.  Even the most staunch banana hater in the group tried this dessert.  No one was sure what to do with the parsley.  The chocolate pudding with raspberry jam and cubeb pepper (not a typo for cubed pepper but a type pepper) was pure comfort food. 

Can't wait to come back for brunch.

The Monterey on Urbanspoon

 

Crosswalk Coffeehouse & Cafe

Don't you love it when you stumble on a great little cafe in a random location?  Crosswalk's Westpointe location was an unexpected surprise when we stopped at HEB the other day on the way home.

Sophie and I split the Fourmage Grilled Cheese: gouda/cheddar/gorgonzola/swiss on perfectly toasted, not greasy sourdough. 

She wanted to save room for the cupcake so I was able to sample the sandwich--wonderful blend of flavors.  Sophie didn't complain about the gorgonzola, a testament to the judicious use of the powerful cheese.

 Twix cupcake: chocolate cupcake with mini Twix baked inside.  Vanilla buttercream with more Twix bars and chocolate. Who said the cupcake fad was over?  Not for this family it isn't.

We had lemonade (free refill!), and there is the usual selection of coffee drinks, beer and wine.  It is so nice to have an alternative to fast food in a strip mall.   Free wiFi, comfy seating, friendly service--next time we'll stay awhile.

Crosswalk Coffeehouse & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Oktoberfest(s)

Willcommen!  Oktoberfest is a big deal in Fredericksburg, TX.  The Texas Hill Country had many German settlers whose offspring will still happily don a dirndl and lederhosen and tip a stein (or three). 

The festival runs for three days in early October each year.  The one day pass was $6 for adults and $1 for children up to age 12.  There were booths with crafts and entertainment stages...

 Old folks doing the polka and young folks (like me) enjoying the beverages...

German beer (and why would you drink anything else?) was $6 per cup.  The food was varied, some German like the outstanding potato pancakes that Sophie waited in line for, and some your typical Texas fair fare--like sausage on a stick, turkey legs, and funnel cakes.  Except you know what funnel cakes taste like right?  Old cooking oil and regret.  They also had my personal kryptonite--crepes.

Nice crepe griddle.  It was too hot to steal.

 Sophie and I split a chicken pesto crepe ($8) and saved room for the aforementioned potato pancakes.  There was plenty of seating at picnic tables, most with umbrellas.  Mercifully the temps stayed in the mid 80's. 

Still a little too warm for jeans, but this is Texas and cowboy boots are de rigueur.  We had 4 food tickets left and spent them on a patriotic sugar cookie.

We were too full to ring the bell. 

 We wandered around Fredericksburg on the way back to the truck.  Stopped at a great store called Red where Sophie charmed the employees into letting her sit in this awesome chair...

We were all about the festival this weekend, and spent some time at OktobeerFest at Boardwalk on Bulverde.  Sophie had been excited about this all week--she is a food truck fanatic.

Friday night we sampled the chicken tikka kebab from The Rickshaw Stop, it came with a veggie samosa and some awesome chutney and yogurt sauce. 

 I got the Korrito from Seoul Grill SA, a perfect marriage of East and West--bulgogi, kimchi fried rice, cheese wrapped in a tortilla.  With a side of kimchi, of course!  This truck got my vote hands-down, and not just because I am homesick for Korea.

Looks even better on the inside!

 Homemade kimchi!

We had two desserts from the Tapa Tapa truck.  Birthday cake with popcorn and ice cream...

 And watermelon with Pop Rocks and mint.

These guys must be mad kitchen geniuses (or stoned) because these combinations worked.  I wish I had room to try their chicken fried pork belly, but someone sharing our table sang its praises.

I was excited to return Sunday evening because I knew the SaySheAte truck would be there.  I remembered their roasted corn fondly, and was saving room for their sliders this time around.

It seemed criminal not to so I added an order of the duck fat fries.  The sliders really shone--tender, juicy, topped with carmelized onions and blue cheese.  My favorite burger in a long time.  The duck fat fries were good, but couldn't hold a candle to the sliders.  I did love the spicy ketchup, but wished the fries had been a touch crisper.   Sophie had a bowl of fancy mac n cheese from Guilty Pleasures--it was gone before I could get a picture....

I don't know how she did it, but she managed to have room for this cookies and cream crepe from Crepe Nation--I took a token bite but was in a postprandial slump after the sliders/fries. 

The weather was much more conducive to an eating event, and the bees were fewer as well.  Much more enjoyable.  My one suggestion would be to offer smaller portions so you could try more food. 

CIA Bakery Cafe

A collective cheer went up when the CIA Bakery Cafe opened in the Pearl Brewery Complex this spring.  At least in my family.  The first time we went to the farmer's market this year I remarked that it would be wonderful to have a little cafe/coffee spot nearby.  The pastry and coffee at the farmer's market are great, don't get me wrong, but they are only available on Saturdays.

It is located on the corner across from the Full Goods building, and directly adjacent to this awesome example of knit bombing.  They have a case of delightful pastries both savory and sweet....

 As well as a light lunch menu with soups/salads/sandwiches.  The oven roast turkey is excellent, nothing beats a homemade brioche bun.  Their rotating agua fresca selection is delicious as well.  I have tried the lemonade, the ginger peach and the jaimica--perfect on a hot San Antonio day.

Another favorite is the passionfruit choux puff--takes me back to my Hawaii days.  The pastries are as tasty as they are pretty.  A window lets you peek into the teaching kitchens of the Institute. 

 We settled on the candied apple poundcake.  I think I have the only 12 year old that would remark, "Hey, edible gold leaf." 

The cheddar and chive scone provided a nice savory counterpoint.  The poundcake was moist but not greasy and studded with a generous amount of candied apple chunks.  The scone was dense but not dry and for <$10 (including a small coffee for me) it felt like a good deal for great food.  If I saw someone walking by with a Starbucks cup I would have wanted to bat it out of their hand, drag them into the cafe and tell them to try some real coffee and pastry.  They have a wonderful outdoor seating area, perfect for people watching.  The cafe is closed on Monday, and only open until 5 pm so you will need to plan ahead if you want one of their gorgeous pastries for dessert.

CIA Bakery Café on Urbanspoon