Tuesday, March 24, 2009

JP's Java: The Best Cup of Coffee in Austin

About a month ago, I sent out a twitter/facebook request for coffee shop recommendations in town. (Big thanks to Laura Oleson and Kiara Alvarez for providing the bulk of the recommendations!) The idea was that Austin has coffee shops everywhere you look. Some have great live music, some are great places to read or study, and some have the best double-chocolate upside-down lattes you've ever tasted. But who has just the best straight up cup of coffee?

Well I'm ready to call off the search, and let me just say it wasn't even close.

But before I get to it, let me preface this by giving a little of my coffee background. I believe that coffee is like pretty much anything else in the world, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I think it's important to know where I'm coming from. I don't consider myself a coffee snob at all, but I do have distinct likes and dislikes. My preferred cup is brewed at home in a French press, and my favorite brand is HEB Taste of Texas: Houston blend. I do not like flavored creamers, but I do like flavored blends. I prefer a very full body but a taste that is smooth and not acidic. And the best cup of coffee I've ever had was on a sidewalk cafe in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

With all that being said, the Ethiopia Siddammo at JP's Java is pretty much as good as that Guatemalan cup, and possibly better. Their secret, of course, no secret at all. It's an $11,000 coffee machine called the Clover. I won't go into the science of how it works (you can read about it here) but from my perspective, it's worth every penny.

The resulting cup (though pricey) is the smoothest, most flavorful brew you can get from an instant machine. I rarely drink my coffee black, but you can easily get away with that here. I can't really describe it any better, you have to just try it for yourself.

After the Clover-brewed coffee, it's really hard for regular drip brews to compete, but the two I liked best as runners-up were of course the famous Jo's on South Congress and a place by my work on Bee Caves called Trianon. Jo's was a great light taste with almost no bitterness, and the Coconut Cream brew at Trianon was definitely the best flavored brew that I had. Definite coconut flavor but not sweet like candy like you might expect.

Upon further research, I found one blogger's take on how to replicate the Clover using your own French press at home. I'm a little skeptical but I may give it a shot. If anyone else out there gives it a try, be sure to let me know how it goes!

Well Austin? What do you think? Am I crazy? Is JP's the best out there or is there something you think I may have missed? Post below!

JP's Java
San Jacinto and Duval

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Austin360 Food and Wine Bloggers Bash

Well first off I wanted to once again thank Addie Broyles of Relish Austin for putting this whole event together and inviting us along for the ride!

Last night, Han and I were lucky enough to be invited to the Austin360 Food and Wine Bloggers Bash. It was an amazing time with great food and wine and we really enjoyed meeting our fellow food bloggers in the area.

The event was hosted in the culinary center of the Whole Foods flagship store, and the gorgeous weather made it difficult to decide between patio lounging and going inside where the actual event was taking place. Gourmet tastings were featured throughout the space, with the favorite dish being the carne asada skewers with chimichurri sauce, and the most divisive dish being the mushroom with goat cheese. From what I could tell people either fell in love with it or wanted nothing to do with it (I was part of the former group).

The event also featured the "Texas Two-Sip Tasting" which faced local Texas wines off against counterparts from Europe, California, and South America. I'm not a wine expert, but I definitely felt that the Texas wines held their own, with my favorite being the Llano Signature Melange ($9.99!).

And of course the main event of the night were demonstrations by Jesse Griffiths of the Dai Due Supper Club and Tyson Cole of Uchi. Chef Cole was kind enough to talk with us (see picture at right) before his demonstration. I was told I swooned a little bit.

Chef Griffiths prepared an herb-stuffed flounder that, to be honest, was a little bit much in terms of flavor. Chef Cole on the other hand prepared a fish-stuffed rice ball that I easily would have had seconds, thirds, or fourths had it not been the first time I'd be meeting many of my favorite Austin food bloggers.

All in all it was a fantastic time, and I can't wait until the next event!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Austin Restaurant Week: Driskill Grill

I know that I said I was going to make it a point to try to cover restaurants a little more off the Austin-beaten path, but in celebration of Austin Restaurant Week and the fact that we were so incredibly stoked to be eating a place like this, may I present to you our review of the Driskill Grill.

As you probably already know, the Driskill Grill sits in the lobby of the historic Driskill Hotel in downtown, and is known for its world-class cuisine, posh interior, and prices that match both. Now, admittedly, we were a bit ambivalent about going in. Obviously we were excited to eat at the Driskill, especially at a fraction of the normal cost, but our last foray into uber-fine dining like this left us with a sour taste. Specifically, we celebrated our 1 year anniversary at Da Marco in Houston, only to receive the worst service I've ever experienced. We were left unwaited for 20 minute stretches at a time, and the waiter even abandoned us in the middle of taking my order to go serve a different table. (Psst - the food isn't even that great!)

We were very happy to see that this was not the case at the Driskill Grill. The food was excellent and both our server and our sommelier could not have been more attentive.

Just to clarify, Han and I are by no means the type of people to normally give two hoots about the level of service of the sommelier. We just think that for that kind of money you should be getting the best dining experience imaginable!

In fact, another difference between the Driskill and Da Marco that we really appreciated was the atmosphere. The Driskill still had everything you'd come to expect -- white table cloths, men dressed in jackets, candlelight -- but the people there were actually lively and having an enjoyable time.

The tasting menu for Restaurant Week included three courses plus a dessert, all for $35. It did not disappoint. In situations like this, we tend to try to "split up" the menu and order as many different things as possible, so we can get a taste of everything, but on that night, our individual greed won out.

For the first course, we both opted for the lobster bisque over the salad (because seriously? a salad? not tonight), although it may have been the evening's only off-note. The presentation was impressive: the waiter brought out big bowls of crab salad, then poured the bisque in to the bowls from sort of a teapot right at the table. But the bisque itself was bit underwhelmed and underseasoned.

For the second course, we diverged. I ordered the beef carpaccio (raw beef, very thinly sliced) which I was very interested to try. I can't even begin to describe the taste. It was very flavorful but the paper-thin slices seemed to disappear immediately in my mouth. It was definitely good, but I will feely admit I was out-Whataburger'd by the Roasted Bandera Quail that Han ordered. The meat was smoky and tender and was served on some of the most delicious mashed potatoes I've ever had.

The third course ended up being the filet mignon for both of us. This was based on the heavy recommendation by our waiter, followed by a subsequent quarrell over who would get to order the filet and who would order something else. Upon first bite, it was pretty clear we made the right decision. I'm sure the other entrees on the menu were more than delicious, but the sight, smell, and taste of the filet surely would have sparked an uncontrollable rage and jealousy in the losing party.

The meal ended with a Chocolate Rasberry Gateau, which I'm pretty sure is French for "Pure Sin sent straight from the Devil himself."

All in all, I think it's safe to say we are big fans of both the Driskill Grill and Austin Restaurant Week. Although even at a fraction of the normal cost, they are still friendly to neither the wallet nor the wedding diet, we cannot wait until next year.