Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time Magazine's Top 10 Food Trends of 2008

If there's one thing I love about this time of year, (and I say this without sarcasm) it's every magazine putting out their "Best of 2008" issues. As the writers of cracked.com would tell you, everything is better in list format.

Time Magazine is among my favorite year-end issues, mainly because they put out a top 10 list of just about everything. This year, coincidentally, they added (at least, I believe it's new) the "Top 10 Food Trends of 2008."

It's a pretty interesting read, and so I thought I'd share it with you all, adding my own two cents where I can.

1. Recession dining

I think it goes without saying that every retrospective of 2008, regardless of topic, is going to incorporate the economy in some fashion. I've stated time and again how thankful I am how plentiful Austin is with restaurants that serve food that is healthy, natural, and inexpensive.

2. Nanny-state food regulations

I am 100% whole-heartedly behind this movement that forces restaurants to post the nutritional content of their menu items. Even for those who are not specifically counting calories, the caloric content of some of our favorite foods can be downright shocking. Personally, I think it's a bit embarrassing for big-name chains like Chili's to continually refuse to release their nutritional content. To me, this is like an electronics store refusing to list the prices of their items.

3. Salmonella Saintpaul

As an avid Mexican food lover, nothing was more disruptive this year than the salmonella outbreak. Just when they declared tomatoes safe again and we thought we could all go back to the salsa, they tell us the source of the outbreak was tainted jalapenos. D'oh!

4. The war on bottled water

Agreed. Everyone needs to cut this bottled water nonsense, buy a reusable bottle, and drink from the tap. If you don't like the taste, buy a Brita filter, but I'd be willing to bet if we gave you the Pepsi challenge, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

5. The Clover coffee maker

Sadly, I have not gotten a chance to try one of these out. For those of you who don't know, this $11,000 coffee maker supposedly brews the holy grail of coffee cups. You can be sure that my next trip back to the Bay Area will include a search for one of the Starbucks's carrying this bad boy.

6. Caffeinated foods

Not really sure how I feel about this one. I feel like as a nation, we're already consuming enough caffeine that we don't even feel it any more. I'm not sure if the next thing we need is to be putting it into our water and candy.

7. Goat

I love goat. Han can't stand it. What I didn't realize, though, is that it's both healthier and environmentally-friendly that many of the other meats we regularly consume. Cabrito for everyone!

8. The backlash against local food

Man, oh man. I've definitely felt this year that every new book or article I read tells me to completely change the way I eat. "Eat organic, it's better for you and the environment." "No, organic is a corporate conspiracy, eat local." "No, local is worse for the environment than big farm." I'm not sure we're ever going to get to the bottom of this, but in the meantime, I think an indisputable good rule-of-thumb (aside from generally avoiding red meat) is to not eat things that are out of season. That way you know it probably wasn't shipped in from halfway across the world and it hopefully isn't loaded with preservatives. I usually check eattheseasons.com as a guide. If nothing else, it makes decision-making at the grocery a bit easier.

9. The year's most celebrated chef

The chef they are referring to is Grant Achatz, the Chicago chef who came back from tongue cancer, of all things, and is now one of the leading experts in molecular gastronomy (the science of cooking). A very inspiring story indeed. I definitely think I'm going to try adding molecular gastronomy to my list of hobbies for 2009.

10. Mex-Italian

Yeah, that picture in the article looks delicious, and after a quick google search, I don't believe Austin has yet to offer any Mex-Italian restaurants. Anyone out there in blogville know of any? Be sure to send any recommendations my way!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Din Ho Chinese BBQ

Though Austin sorely lacks a centralized "Chinatown" area, there are still excellent Chinese restaurants to be found. It just takes a little more effort to find them. (Yes, we're aware of that new shopping center up on Lamar, but the jury is still out.)

Din Ho Chinese BBQ, as far as we're concerned, is the creme de la creme of authentic Chinese food in Austin. It has everything you should look for in a good Chinese restaurant: great food, cheap prices, bad service, and orange slices with your check. You would think most restaurants would hide their meats in the kitchen until it's time to be served, right? Just like it is in China, Din Ho proudly displays its Peking ducks front and center right when you come in, like a Communist army of deliciousness. And of course, Din Ho passes the Mama Ong test of authenticity by providing a special section of the menu that you can only order from if you can speak and read Chinese.

Because it is a Chinese BBQ, Din Ho's menu is championed by the big three: roast duck, BBQ pork, and roast chicken. You can get any of these dishes solo or any combination of three, but I would recommend skipping the roast chicken and focusing on just the duck and pork. Both are quite tasty and delicious, particularly the BBQ pork, which is just about as good as I've ever had it.

The rest of the menu is very extensive, and one reason that I particularly like Din Ho is that it has several dishes that really set it apart from your average generic Chinese restaurant. Sure anyone can make chow mein and General Tso's chicken, but you won't find Din Ho's salted fish fried rice at many other places, and believe me, once you try it, you wish it were.

If I had one nit to pick with this place, it would just be that traditional Peking duck is served as a three-course meal: a duck soup, a lettuce wrap-style dish, and finally the duck itself, served with steamed buns. For some reason, Din Ho opts only to serve the last dish, which was disappointing.

For those of you asking what the difference is between roast duck and Peking duck, roast duck is merely duck tossed into a broiler. Peking duck is similar but has a much more extensive preparation process that includes salting and inflating the duck (don't ask) prior to roasting, and this process makes the skin extra delicious and crispy, almost like cracklings. Also Peking duck is about three times more expensive than the roast duck, which may be the most important difference of all for the undistinguishing palate.

In short, if your concept of Chinese food is like Pei Wei or PF Changs, greaseless and served over brown rice, you're going to need to look elsewhere. Din Ho BBQ is the real deal, trust us.

Din Ho Chinese BBQ
8557 Research Blvd Ste 116

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Clay Pit

Hey folks. Before we get started, just wanted to give a quick shoutout to Addie at Relish Austin!

Ah the Clay Pit. This was actually our second visit to the place, and we had high hopes it would go better than the first. I'll spare you all the details but I learned an important life lesson that night: never ever eat a bunch of Indian food and then go watch 'Cloverfield' from the front row at the Alamo Draft House.

That said, the food was so delicious the first time (going down, anyways) that we were happy to make a return trip, this time with friends.

First off, the Clay Pit follows a very delightful trend we've discovered in Austin: top-of-the-line food in a really nice atmosphere at prices that are actually affordable. (The more time I spend in Austin, the more I realize that there is a large population in Houston that enjoys spending money just to spend it.)

I would definitely recommend reservations though. Weekends especially can get pretty harried, and had we not made them ahead of time, it looked like our party of 5 would have been in for an extensive wait.

We started off our dinner with a few appetizers. The curried mussels are a must-have. And our weakness for fried calamari pretty much mandated us to order the coriander calimari, which wasn't anything particularly special (some Chinese-style spiciness) but the portion was pretty hefty and good for even a larger party.

The curry dishes, not surprisingly, are the house specialty, but you won't find your standard stoplight fare here (green, yellow, or red, har har). The Tikka Masala is always a favorite, but the Mirch Masala adds a spicy jalapeno kick to the classic dish. But if you feel like indulging yourself, definitely go for the self-described "sinfully rich" Korma curry, which mixes cashew, almond, pistachio, and coconut into a sweet creamy curry sauce.

For my dish, I solicited the help of our waitress who immediately suggested the Lamb Roganjosh without hesitation, and after tasting the dish I could definitely see why. The lamb was the most tender I had ever tasted and the curry sauce was tasty and rich.

One thing to definitely be aware of: I've referenced earlier my love of spicy food and my propensity for biting off more than I can chew, so to speak. Be aware that when you order any of your dishes "hot" instead of "mild," THEY DO NOT MESS AROUND AT THE CLAY PIT. If you can handle the Blazin' wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, you should have no problem with the hot dishes at the Clay Pit. Otherwise be prepared to take a little bit more time to finish. The Clay Pit boasts an additional level of hot, called Desi Hot (which roughly translates to "hot even for a real Indian person"), and I can only begin to imagine what that would do to non-Desi tastebuds.

The bartenders at the Clay Pit are a talented creative bunch. Their bloody marys are definitely recommended. But their mixed drinks do run on the small size, so you may rack up quite the bill, especially if you're downing them one after the other trying to put out the fire in your mouth. If staying power is your goal, order the Taj Mahal beer, which gives you a Maharaj-sized glass of beer for less than most of the mixed drinks.

The Clay Pit
1601 Guadalupe

Monday, November 17, 2008

Austin Land and Cattle

I've read enough Michael Pollan to understand the benefits of vegetarianism. And if you ask me now, my belief is that red meat should be treated as an indulgence and not an every-meal staple, kind of like a hot fudge sundae. But at the end of the day, I just appreciate a good steak far too much to ever quit cold turkey.

For Han's birthday, we went to Austin Land & Cattle, located on Lamar. I think what I like best about this restaurant is what I like best about Texas: it's unabashed and upfront. Don't get me wrong, the interior is very nice, decorated with white tablecloths and antique ranch-style decor, but when you walk in, it's not like you'll ever confuse this place with Fleming's.

The service was had the same charm. Sure our waiter was dressed in slacks and a tie, but he also talked like he worked at Chili's. I loved it.

And when I say that the restaurant is upfront, it's never more apparent that in the food. You definitely get the steaks that you pay for. Nothing fancy, no crazy Asian-fusion marinades or New American-style side dishes. Just delicious high-quality beef cooked to perfection.

Now, I don't consider myself to be a steakhouse snob or anything, but I do believe that when eating steak, the only two cuts worth your time are the ribeye and the filet (that is, unless, you're going the porterhouse or chateau briand route). So Han and I got exactly that.

The bone-in ribeye (also known as The Cowboy) looked more to me like The Tennis Raquet (pictured above). Perfectly marblized, each bite begins to melt like butter the second you put it in your mouth.

Han's filet mignon was also pretty sizeable and was also perfectly tender and chewy.

What was most interesting about Austin Land & Cattle was the selection of sauces you could get with your steak. Upon recommendation we decided on getting the Roasted Garlic Sauce and the Gorgonzola Butter, which tasted a lot like blue cheese. I usually prefer not to put anything on my steaks, but the sauces were pretty good and probably worth the extra $3 per sauce.

The side dishes were pretty much as you would expect. I definitely reccommend the garlic mashed potatoes. We also had the Oysters Tex-afeller for appetizer. They were just like Oysters Rockafeller but with a pretty big jalapeno kick.

The only downside to the meal was the creme brulee we had for dessert. Of course any creme brulee is good creme brulee, but this particular one sort of tasted like it came from a buffet line. It did come free, though, with our meal. Our waiter said his present to Han was both the dessert and saving our ears by NOT singing "Happy Birthday" to her.

Austin Land & Cattle Company
1205 N. Lamar

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Quality Seafood

A long-standing Austin tradition, Quality Seafood Market (motto: "Selling Our Sole Seven Days a Week") has been serving Austin's freshest seafood in a laid-back atmosphere since the 1930's.

Because of its location and value, it is rapidly becoming an every-week spot for us. They'll probably know us by name by the end of the year.

Like many Austin favorites, you wouldn't know it by looking at it, and you'd probably drive by it 100 times and not give it a second thought, if it weren't for the hoards of people packed in every night.

The premise is simple, if not unique. Go up to the counter and order any number of fresh seafood dishes, then either take it to go or sit down at a table and chow away. Or instead, get your fish directly from the adjacent fish market and go home and cook it yourself. Han and I have gone both routes, and can vouch for great experiences either way.

When dining in, Quality Seafood's biggest asset is just that: the quality of their seafood. The dishes they serve are exactly the same dishes you've had a hundred times over: fried clams, blackened salmon, peel-n-eat shrimp. There is nothing necessarily remarkable about these dishes except the shrimp are exceptionally savory, the salmon especially delectable, and the fried seafood is the best fried anything you've ever had.

In fact, though it goes against our recent goal of trying to eat healthy, the fried shrimp and the fried clams are what has kept us coming back week after week. Lightly battered and equally lemony and buttery, Quality Seafood's frying process definitely enhances the taste and flavor of their seafood instead of masking it. Something you definitely won't get at Long John Silver.

Also right now is a great time to visit Quality Seafood if you are a fan of oysters on the half shell. Imported straight from the gulf, you can get some of the biggest oysters in town for a very reasonable price. See above.

Quality Seafood also has great specials Monday through Thursday with huge discounts on certain dishes and beers, but even if you can't make it then, their non-happy hour beer is still so cheap ($2.50 domestics) that you can't lose either way.

But the best part about Quality Seafood is the staff. Everyone there from the bartenders to the busboys are incredibly chummy and very friendly and helpful to everyone from regulars to first-timers.

Quality Fun Fact: The most famous employee ever to work at Quality Seafood is none other than Joe Lewis, as in Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears fame. Word on the street is he used to alternate working the counter and driving the fish truck in the morning. I'm not sure if he still works there now that his band has kind of taken off, but you will still see an homage to him at the restaurant, in the form of a Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears t-shirt hanging behind the bar.

When you visit the fish market, the experience is more of the same. Sure the prices are going to be a bit higher than HEB, but everything there was caught that morning, never frozen. And with raw seafood you definitely get what you pay for. The fishmongers there are more than willing to give you their recommendations for the day, and if you have any questions about how to prepare the fish there, they are happy to help. The first time Han and I went to Quality Seafood we ordered two pounds of mussels. The fishmonger helping us personally picked through each mussel to make sure that it was still alive and that we would get no duds when we cooked them. Yeah we paid a little extra instead of going to HEB but we definitely got more of our money's worth by going to the Quality fish market.

Anyways, in conclusion, it may not be in the most convenient location in town for you (or the nicest) but definitely make it a point to come on by. Han and I will probably be there too.

Quality Seafood Market
5621 Airport Blvd

Monday, October 27, 2008

Casa Colombia

Hey folks. Been a while, but we're back with a pretty good one. In addition to good cheap sushi, another thing that Han and I have really been missing here is really good authentic Latin American food like they have in Houston.

Casa Columbiana came on recommendation from Kiara, one of Han's classmates. According to her, it's basically a throwback to the original Dona Emilia's, a local favorite. Legend has it that Dona Emilia's rose to popularity in its original East Austin location before corporate sponsors partnered with Emilia to move the restaurant to the upscale location downtown. As time went by, Emilia either tired of the upscale restaurant lifestyle or clashed with the new owners, and broke off their business relationship. The new owners kept the name and Emilia re-opened Casa Columbiana in the original location.

The food itself is as good as you would imagine it. For appetizers we ordered the aborrejado (fried plantain with mozzarella) and the fried yucca. The fried yucca is an absolute must-have. In fact, it's pretty much worth making the trip just for that. The lunch specials are moderately priced, and are smaller-sized portions of their top-selling dishes. The Pabellon (or has Han calls, "Pantalones") is a delicious Venezuelan combo of shredded pork, black beans, white rice, and plantains [pictured left]. Han ordered the equally delicious daily special, the Pollo Guisado: a chicken quarter stewed and covered in yellow sauce [pictured right].

Also worth trying are the selection of fresh squeezed tropical juices that the restaurant offers. The lulo and the guanabana were both pretty good.

All-in-all this restaurant is a pretty complete package. Award-winning food, quaint but clean atmosphere, kind service, and great prices. A definite high recommendation.

Casa Colombia
1614 E 7th St

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Korea Garden: The Eternal Quest for Good Austin Sushi

Before I go any further...

ACL Music Winners: Beck, Manu Chao, CSS, Gogol Bordello, Vampire Weekend
ACL Food Winners: Hudson's cones (of course), anything from Salt Lick (of course), nICE CONEz ice cream-stuffed sno cones, P. Terry's veggie burger (courtesy of Erika, our resident veggie burger connoisseur)

Great time as always. Looking forward to next year. Now onto business.

One of our biggest complaints since moving to Austin is that we really miss Houston's abundance of cheap quality sushi. You know, places like Oishii and Hokkaido. We just haven't been able to find any place like that here in Austin.

Our most notable sushi experience came during 4th of July weekend, when we met up with Pam and CJ and went to Kenichi on 5th St. We ended up dropping over $100 there and we still had to go to Best Wurst afterward because we were still hungry. Han ordered a sashimi plate and it was literally six slivers of fish drizzled with lemon saffron. Don't get me wrong, the piece I tried was delicious, but most of the money we paid definitely went toward the pretense.

We had been to Korea Garden before for their Korean food, but post-ACL we were looking something relatively healthy like sushi to aid in our detox process. We got a salmon roll and a spicy scallop roll, and we ended up getting a few Korean dishes as well, because I couldn't resist.

Probably the best part about this restaurant is the service. The food comes out quick and the waitstaff is very courteous and responsive and also hilariously FOB-by. If you ask for a refill of your water, you may be greeted with a huge smile and a "Sure!! Why not?"

The sushi itself was passable but did the job. Basically neither roll was as fresh as I would have liked, but it was still very good sushi. If only the price of the sushi was reasonable, it would have been a home run. But $6-7 per roll and $3-4 per nigiri (!!!) makes this sushi a little less easy to swallow.

The Korean food on the other hand is very delicious and worth the money. The bibimbop is pretty amazing, although the jury is still out on whether it's worth it to pay the extra money to have it served in a stone pot. The japchae is probably among the best I've ever had, mixing in both bugolgi beef and soy medallions into the sticky noodles. Han got the the sashimi bibimbop (which, to me, was more chirashi than bibimbop) which was really good as well.

Overall the restaurant is definitely worth it. We're still looking for that little niche sushi hole-in-the-wall to call our own, but for now we will take the occasional salmon roll from here alongside our bugolgi and galbi bbq plates.

Korea Garden
6519 N. Lamar

P.S. If anyone wants to know our best bet for sushi so far, it's to make it yourself using fish from D.K.'s Sushi Mart at the corner of Koenig and Lamar.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ACL Festival Preview: The Food Booths

Headed to ACL this weekend? I personally cannot wait. Sure the lineup is going to be awesome, and I of course can't wait to see all our Houston friends coming in town, but my personal favorite is the ACL food court. The Austin Eats food courst at ACL features many of the local Austin favorites and is a great chance to try out several at the same time. Han and I went to both ACL and Lollapalooza last year, and believe me, Chicago ain't got nutthin on us.

I've taken the liberty of re-posting the entire menu of the Austin Eats Food Court, with our own commentary of our past experiences, to help you all make decisions once you're at the festival.

Salt Lick Bar-B-Que: Sausage Wrap, Sloppy Nachos, Chopped Brisket Sandwich

You must believe me when I say this will be the very first thing I eat at ACL. In fact... Salt Lick... Vampire Weekend... eh... we'll have to see. In all seriousness, the Salt Lick is widely known as being one of the best, if not THE best, BBQ spots in Texas. Their meats are incredibly tender and covered in their famous BBQ sauce (which, recently, we learned contains unholy amounts of calories and saturated fat, but is delicious nonetheless). I'm probably going with the Chopped Brisket Sandwich.

Hudson's on the Bend: Hot & Crunchy Fish Cone, Hot & Crunchy Chicken Cone, Hot & Crunchy Avocado Cone, Death by Chocolate

These cones are amazing and ACL is a great chance to try of one of Austin's best (and most expensive) restaurants for an affordable price. We had a fish cone and a chicken cone (think pita wraps, not ice cream), and even though they are still a bit pricey for ACL standards, they're pretty much a must-have.

Boomerang's Pies: Guinness Steak & Potato, Southwest Chicken, Spinach & Mushroom

Han and I became fans when we first moved to Austin, so much so that at our first visit we bought an additional 5 frozen pies to take home. Essentially these Australian-influenced meat pies are similar to the chicken pot pies that mom used to make (ok maybe not my mom), with buttery and flaky crusts but filled with flavors of various cultures. I'd definitely give them a try, but it's too bad they're not offering the Curry pies at the festival, because those were definitely my favorite. You can pick some up at their restaurant on Guadalupe and 30th.

Austin's Pizza: Pepperoni Pizza, Cheese Pizza

I've heard it said that pizza is like sex. There's good pizza and there's bad pizza but even bad pizza is still pretty good. Austin's Pizza is definitely the former. Originally located on the drag, there's no surprises with this pizza but it's definitely a good thing.

Doc Green's Gourmet Salads: Chicken Caesar Salad, Dr. Fruity Salad, Grilled Veggie Wrap

There's one of these kind of near where we live. Han liked it a lot but I wasn't blown away. But if you're anything like me, you're probably going to want to take a break from fried foods at some point during the 3 day festival, and this is a pretty good bet.

The Original Hoffbrau Steaks: Steak Sandwich, Cheeseburger, Jumbo Hot Dog

I'd avoid this. Even though Hoffbrau is a local legend, the charm of the place doesn't carry over to a festival setting. I had the steak sandwich last year, and it was literally a steak between two pieces of bread. And not a particularly good steak either. I just think there's too many options here to settle for something you could easily make at home.

The Best Wurst: Grilled Sausage Sandwich with Bratwurst, Smoked Pork Italian, or All Beef Country, New York Buttered Salt-Potatoes

A Sixth street favorite, the Best Wurst definitely lives up to its name. I'd go with the smoked pork italian.

Amy's Ice Cream: Ice Cream with assorted toppings

Chances are, if you are reading this, you already know about Amy's, but they will be at ACL too, and deservedly so. I'm hoping they're bringing the Shiner flavor.

Vespaio Ristorante & Enoteca Vespaio: Housemade Mozzarella, Tomatoes & Basil Pesto, Crispy Calamari with Lemon Aioli, Pork Meatball-Parmesan Hoagie with Melted Mozzarella

We haven't been here yet but we've heard a lot of good things. I'm a big fan of things with mozzarella and/or calamari in general so you can probably bet we'll have something to report after the festival.

Here are the rest of the offerings:
Aquarelle Restaurant: Steak N Frit Sandwich, Crawfish Poor boy, Blackpepper French Fries
El Chilito Tacos: Chochinita Pibil Taco, Tinga de Pollo Taco, Bean and Cheese Taco
Austin's Best Burgers: Cheeseburger, Veggie Burger, Cheese Fries, Sliced Watermelon
P. Terry's Burger Stand: Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Chicken Burger, Veggie Burger
Pureheart: Beef and Lamb Gyros, Mediterranean Veggie Gordita, Greek Salad, Turkey Panini
Restaurant Jezebel: Falafel Pita Sandwich, Cold Pasta with black olive pesto, Big'ol Curried potato, Cabbage and Pea Burrito
Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant: Hawaiian Style Smoked Turkey Leg, Pulled Kahlua Pork Nachos, Grilled Sausage on a Stick
Saba Blue Water Café: Mahi Mahi Fish Taco (chipotle aoli slaw), Pulled Pork Taco, Chicken & Cheese Flautas, Coconut Plantain Shrimp
Solar Natural Wraps: Falafel Wrap, Hummus Wrap, Chicken Wrap
Stubb's BBQ: Chopped Beef Sandwich with Fritos, Pulled Pork Sandwich with Fritos, Sliced Brisket Sandwich with Fritos
Thistle Café: Chicken Chipotle Wrap, Smoked Turkey Wrap, Veggie Wrap
Wahoo's Fish Taco: Blackened Fish or Grilled Chicken Tacos, Fish or Chicken Burrito, Vegetarian Burrito.


Best Lemonade: Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, Fresh Squeezed Strawberry Lemonade, Fresh Squeezed Blueberry Lemonade
Flipnotics Chilled Beverages: Strawberry Smoothie, Mocha Frappe, Iced Coffee
Maine Root Hand Crafted Beverages: Root Beer, Ginger Brew, Prickly Pear Agave Lemonade
Sambazon Acai-Organic Smoothies: Organic Acai Smoothie, Organic Acai Juice, Rio Bowl, Rasta Bowl


Ben & Jerry's/Lifeworks: Cherry Garcia ice cream bar, Half Baked ice cream bar, Vanilla ice cream bar
Children of the Kettle Corn: Organic Kettle Corn
nICE CONEz: Shaved Block ice Snow Cones, Snow Cones stuffed with ice cream
Snowie: Regular and All Natural Snow Cones

Also don't forget that there are plenty of great restaurants outside the festival near by too, including Shady Grove, Baby A's, Chuy's, Flipnotics, and Austin Java. If you've got an hour or two between shows, why not take a break from the crowds and enjoy some air conditioning?

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Hey everyone. We're back. The hurricane madness seems to have passed. Luckily all friends and family are safe and unharmed, and no one we know even had any major property damage. In the meantime, we're having a blast hanging out with our refugee friends.

Anyways, this is a bit of old news, but I definitely wanted to write about our dinner at Zoot, before I forget. So, from what we understand, there is kind of a "big three" of Austin fine dining, and they are Uchi, Fonda San Miguel, and Zoot. We are planning on visiting all three in the upcoming months.

Overall, let me just say that Han and I have been to a modestly decent number of fine dining restaurants in Houston, and wow, Zoot pretty much blows all of them away.

Actually, let me clarify that a little first. I consider myself to be a "foodie" but by no means a food connoisseur. I love trying new and interesting dishes, and I always appreciate innovation over the same things over again, but I'm also not one to require the latest culture fusion dishes with trendy designer ingredients. Atmosphere is very important to me, and I like dining at upscale places, but I also feel really uncomfortable if the restaurant is stuffy or elitist.

Zoot is pretty much the perfect balance of everything. The restaurant itself is cozy and set inside of a house, kind of like Just Dinner in Houston. The interior was white table cloth and very classy, but comfortable enough that you'd still be ok wearing jeans.

But the reason this place was such a home run was the food. Some times when I've gone to expensive restaurants for dinner, I feel like I'm paying the extra money because whoever created the dish was more creative than someone else. The food at Zoot was like the work of a master artist, where the technique and craftsmanship were every bit as good as the creativity of the recipe. Every single bite we had was perfectly seasoned, perfectly textured, and perfectly prepared.

Zoot is famous for its Chef's Tasting Menu and its Farmer's Tasting Menu, but we kind of opted to build our own. We started out with a take on tomato basil soup with grilled cheese. The soup was savory, creamy, and flavorful, and the (minature) grilled cheese sandwich was perfectly buttered and lightly textured.

And then it was off to the second appetizer, foie gras, which I had for the very first time. Now, those of you who know me know that I try to be a good person. I recycle, I drive a hybrid, I donate to charity, and I love animals. But God help me, I feel awful saying this, but foie gras is DELICIOUS. (Veal is too, btw.) The foie gras is one of the specialties of Zoot, and it's not cheap, but I can definitely say it's worth the money. Unbelievably tender and fatty, it's hard not to just wolf it down in one bite.

Next came the entrees. I had the seared duck breast and Han had the roasted escolar. Like I said earlier, every single bite we had was both perfect and uniform. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy it. I apologize because the pictures of our dishes didn't turn out but they wouldn't have done justice anyways.

Lastly we finished it off with a french press of coffee and a salt toffee ice cream sandwich. Absolutely amazing. The mixture of sweet and salty made you pause when you tasted it because it was such an odd combination, but once you were done processing it, all you wanted to do was eat more.

509 Hearn St

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Recipe: Mango Salsa

Someone once asked if we were going to put recipes on here.  Han and I are by no means superstars in the kitchen, and I can only shudder to imagine what you all might think if I ever posted about some of Han's "grab 4 random things from the fridge and throw them in a pot" dinners, but every now and then we find a recipe (or make something up) that might actually fool people into thinking we know what we're doing. 

Here's a pretty good recipe we found a few days ago that's not only delicious but unbelievably easy. 

1 large or 2 medium sized mangoes (largely diced)
1 cucumber (diced)
1/2 medium sized onion (you guessed it, diced)
1 tablespoon minced jalapenos (this is for a very mild salsa, add more if you want it spicier)
A few sprigs of cilantro, chopped
Salt and Pepper

Throw them all together in a big bowl and mix together. 

And voila! You're gourmet.  Eat it with chips or throw it on a tortilla with grilled mahi-mahi and chopped red cabbage and have one of the best fish tacos you've ever had (that you made, anyways). 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Post-Tubing Grub: The Gristmill

[Editor's note: This post coming to you live from Chrome!] 

So Berman and Lindsay came up to visit this weekend and we all had an awesome time.  On Sunday we all went up to the Guadalupe which was a blast as always.  Of course we ended up staying on the river much longer than planned, so we were definitely starving by the time we left.  Berman had a fantastic suggestion for some post-tubing grub. 

Right by the river is the historic district of Greune.  I'd heard a lot about this area as a great day trip from Austin, and believe me it was pretty much exactly as described.  It was a very quaint old town with a lot of wooden-sided buildings and a great place to just stroll around and look at shops and eat food.  At the heart of the Greune district is the Gristmill, a very popular restaurant right by the river. 
The look-and-feel is very reminicent of the legendary Salt Lick BBQ.  The "inside" looks like the inside of an old watermill, and the outside seating was on a spacious patio under the trees with a great view of the river.  It's perfect for post-river floating because you're out of the hot sun but still get to enjoy the outdoors. 

The food itself was satisfying.  No one at our table seemed to have a "can't-miss" dish, but everyone seemed pleased.  If you go, go ahead and pass on the queso, but the Gruene Wings and the Texas Torpedos (stuffed jalapenos) were as good as I've had in a while. Here, Yesenia chomps down on her Chicken Salad Sandwich. 

The Guadalupe Chopped Beef was an interesting entree. At first glance it looked like just a plain regular hamburger patty, but inside it was stuffed with queso, jalapenos, and onions.  A diet killer for sure. 

I do wish though that there were more barbeque options. Maybe it was because the place looked a little like the Salt Lick, maybe because we were in the Hill Country, home of legendary barbeque, or maybe it's because Gristmill sounds like "Greasemill" or "Gristlemill," but I was really jonesing for some post-river barbeque. The only option it looked like they had was the Best Wurst, which I opted not to get, but I guess you should always leave something for next time. 

The Gristmill
1287 Gruene Rd
New Braunfels, TX

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Austin Hot Sauce Festival

So if you know Han and me well, you know that we love to eat spicy foods. And if you know me even better, you know that I am completely overconfident in the amount of spicy food I can handle, and often bite off more than I can chew, so to speak. My best story was when Han and I went to BW3 and I had to quit midway through a dozen Blazin' wings. My mouth was so red that Han said I looked like a little child who had been drinking Kool-Aid all day.

On Sunday, Han's new classmate Alyssa got to see this first hand when we all went to the Austin Hot Sauce Festival in Waterloo Park. We were actually a little surprised to see how big of a festival this was and how large the crowd was. Tents were sprawled out all over the place, with everyone from large restaurant chains to small independent bottlers letting everyone try free samples of their hot sauces and salsas.

It was a really hot day which made waiting in line pretty awful (and that comprises about 90% of your time at the festival) but what was great though is that a lot of places had a wide variety of sauces. So once you got to the front you could take your time and try as many as you like. We later figured out that some of the longest lines weren't necessarily for the best salsas, but just that they were in the shade. We didn't end up getting to try even a significant fraction of the sauces available, but here were some of the highlights:

TacoDeli - I actually ate here on Friday at lunch, but I didn't even bother to get any hot sauce. My mistake. Their green sauce was creamy and very tasty with a spice that sneaks up on you. I'll definitely know better next time.

Aztexas Habanero Supreme - One of our favorites and winners of their division several years in a row, including this one. We actually took a bottle of this home, and it's already going pretty quickly. It's very flavorful, VERY spicy, and goes with absolutely everything. Our favorite so far has actually been peaches.

Big Daddy's Ass Burn - Their motto is "Hell going in. Hell going out." These guys were actually Houston-based. We took home a bottle of their "Flaming Lips" sauce, which is made with pineapples and St. Arnold's Lawnmower.

Austin Slow Burn - This group had one of the bigger selections that we saw. They had a green sauce, a red sauce, and a queso --all delicious-- but they also had a selection of spicy jams and jellies and a "Fire Dusted" peanut butter. I made myself a hot little PB&J with them.

Honorable Mention: HEB - Above average for a supermarket brand, they still had a tough time competing with all the other guys at the festival. But what was really impressive was that, while most supermarkets probably only have three types of salsas (mild, medium, and hot, if that many), HEB had no less than a dozen gourmet-style salsas ranging from roasted garlic to peach pepper.

We actually didn't get a chance to try all the individual contenders, which I regret, but the line was incredibly long and we had already eaten more than our fair share of tortilla chips, but I'll definitely be looking forward to it next year.

Here are the list of winners, some of whom may be available in your area, even if you don't live in Austin:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chicken fried steak at Shady Grove

Since moving to the dirty south, I had yet to experience the magic of chicken fried steak. Justin had been egging me to try it for quite some time. I finally had the chance at Shady Grove this week. I went there with my new school psych classmates twice, once for drinks and again for a social mixer with the 3rd year students.

This Austin staple has an energetic atmosphere, outdoor seating, and live music every Thursday. The staff are nice, even letting me bring Malcolm (my toy poodle) in despite the "dog-free dining" sign. The lead singer of the folksy band that was playing when we arrived was passionate and reminded me of Alanis Morrisette. They also have a separate outdoor bathroom located in a cute metal twinkie-shaped trailer with flower curtains. Very charming. My only gripe is that they split up our party of 12 into 3 separate booths, which defeated the "mingling" intention of the mixer.

The inside of the restaurant is cozy but dark. Justin and I decided to split the chicken friend steak after being told the caloric content is in the ballpark of 1800. This was definitely a cheat meal for me! Well worth it though, it was crispy and spicy and covered with cheese, gravy and green salsa. I forgot to take a picture before I scarfed it down, but judging by this "after" shot, it was super yummy! I don't think I'll be eating another one of these for quite awhile, especially after tonight's fried avocado meal. But I'm certainly glad to have experienced this southern delight.

Shady Grove
1624 Barton Springs Rd.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


So Trudy's is one of those places that if you haven't heard of it by now, you're either brand new to Austin or you live in some kind of cave. It's one of those Austin legends: always packed, always worth the wait. The atmosphere lively but unremarkable. The food is really what people come for.

Tonight we started out with the queso especial, which was pretty standard for a restaurant queso, and definitely sub-standard compared to the Kerbey Queso at Kerbey Lane. Things soon got much more delicious with the sushi-meets-chimichanga called the Poquito Chicken Flautitas. It's fried and you can eat it with your hands. Enough said. They also have a veggie version as well.

Then came the star of the evening, the Stuffed Avocado. Two people at our table got this dish tonight so everyone got a chance to try it, and it was pretty much consensus that if we were ever put on death row, this is what we would order for our last meal. Pictured, here, is our friend Kim's stuffed avocado, as by the time I remembered to take a picture, we had already gone to town on ours.

Now keep in mind, this isn't for the faint of heart. It's basically an avocado half, stuffed with chicken and cheese, and then deep-fried. And then covered with more cheese. I like to justify eating it by telling myself that avocados are in fact vegetables. The waiter warned us that ordering it with the caliente sauce (three peppers!) could be dangerous, but I hardly noticed it. Psh! Oh well, we'll definitely be tested more at the hot sauce festival tomorrow.

Also not to be forgotten were the fish tacos which were delectably crunchy and delicious. You can ask Han, I'm pretty picky about my tortillas and these ones were pretty good, even for whole wheat. They are pictured here, only half-eaten.

Lastly, if I had one beef with tonight's meal, it's that I had heard many stories about the famed Texas Martinis at Trudy's. That they can't serve you more than two and they knock you on your ass and lead to all sorts of blackout antics. Well I must say I had one and I'm still standing tall. Maybe two is the catalyst, who knows. Any of you out there who've personally experienced one of these Texas Martini nights, I'm eager to hear first-hand of your accounts.

In short, Trudy's. It's worth the hype and worth the wait. Check back soon for the Hot Sauce Festival update!

409 W. 30th St

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Flightpath Coffee House

Ok so our first review isn't exactly a restaurant. Bear with us.

First, let me give a little bit of backstory. I've been working from home for the past few weeks, and I'm sure that sounds
pretty great to all of you unless you have actually done it. Anyways, I started looking around for places with free wi-fi where I could work and just get myself out of the house.

I first tried Flipnotics, a local favorite that recently opened a branch up in Hyde Park. Seemed like a cool place with great music, but the lighting was pretty poor and the seats were really uncomfortable. Worst of all, the shopping center has an apartment complex sitting on top, and the window where I was sitting opened up to their pool. I definitely exchanged a few awkward glances with some of the residents.

Not too far away though was a great little place called Flightpath Coffee House and I have to say, in terms of coffeehouses, this is one of the best working environments I've ever been to. It may not have a trendy motif or the coolest indie music playing at all times. But what it does have are a lot of big tables and working spaces, comfortable chairs, and lots of electrical outlets. The place is pretty much packed during the day, and almost everyone has a laptop or at least a book.

The feel of the place is very comfortable, kind of modern and retro at the same time. The staff is very friendly and the coffee is pretty good too. They feature 4 or 5 different brews at one time, including one decaf. And then of course your usual array of barista-created drinks. Haven't gotten a chance to taste any specialty drinks, but I assume I'll be here a lot, so if I try anything noteworthy, I'll let you all know.

Anyways, if you ever need to get some work done, or just want a great place to read, or a comfortable atmosphere to just relax and play some games, give this place a try.

Flightpath Coffee House
5011 Duval (at 51st)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Welcome to Keep Austin Tasty!

Hello and welcome to our blog! We are two brand new Austinites who can't wait to explore our new city. We are foodies at heart who are always on the look out for good restaurants that are exciting, delicious, and healthy (or at least delicious enough to be worthy of a cheat meal). Check back often as we discover all that Austin has to offer!