Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Took the little black dog over to the farmer's market at 4th and Guadalupe on Saturday morning and picked up some fresh duck legs, duck eggs, Arkansas style bacon cut from the shoulder, and some baby leeks.

Lo and behold...

Piggy Duck Stacky Uppies...

Carnitas-style duck confit in cinnamon orange chile broth and strips of Arkansas style bacon on toasted baguette topped with fried duck egg, ancho chile pan sauce, and cilantro-leek sour cream.

Yep, it was good.  Really good.

P Terry's - Austin, TX

The famous In-N-Out Burger is making its way to Texas, but I don't really care, because in Austin, we've got P Terry's, a quintessential coastal California-style drive-thru burger joint serving up burgers and fries similar too, but perhaps even better than those at the noted California chain.  I'll wait for a side by side for final judgment, but know that it has got to be close.

P Terry's has a few locations in Austin, but the one that I am familiar with a frequent pretty regularly is the one just south of Town Lake on South Lamar.  A true drive-thru, this place is slightly larger than a breadbox, with windows on either side, one for conducting business, and one for receiving morsels of goodness wedged in a bun.  The walk up business is great too, with a small, almost hidden outdoor seating area, which might be alright on a nice day, but you're not going to see me there in the heat of summer.

Saturday I arrived shortly after noon and was behind eight to ten cars, but it took less than fifteen minutes to get my food and be on my way.  Shockingly, in that span I heard Florence and the Machine's Dog Days are Over on the radio not once, but twice (different stations at least).

Anyway, not a lot to choose from here, but that's just fine with me, it means they do what they do well, and they get it done quick.  Burger, double, with cheese or without, or a veggie burger.  Fries.  Standards included, crisp iceberg lettuce, local organic tomatoes, and their special sauce, an In-N-Out like version of Thousand Island, which is incredible.

I chose the double, and added onions, which I strongly recommend.

So these burgers aren't big, so I do recommend a double, both for filling you up and also, it's the absolute perfect meat to bread ratio.  These are thin patties, and the kind that nearly melt together, the same consistency throughout, made of fresh local, grass-fed beef, with great flavor and In-N-Out, fresh, never frozen.  The cheese is high quality Processed In The USA variety that envelops the meat but seems to know to stop short of wilting the vegetables.  Tomatoes are advertised as local and organic, and I'm fairly certain if they contained any bit of green or yellow, you wouldn't see them on your sandwich.  Lettuce is the thick, hand torn from the head kind, which remarkably retains its crispness and temperature on the way home despite being wrapped in wax paper with the hot meat and cheese.  Onions.  Wow, the onions are great, and I urge you to add them to your burger.  Chopped white onions.  Crisp.  Cold.  Pungent.  Lend incredible texture and flavor to an incredible sandwich.

On to the fries.  Again like In-N-Out, cut fresh on site.  Know how I know?

Oh, and they are DE-LISH.  That's right.

So these have a nice, fresh flavor and are cooked to order and served piping hot and lightly salted.  They're of the soggy, but not too much, variety, lacking the outside crispiness but making up for it in flavor.

Good stuff.  This is a weekend spot for sure.  Only thing missing is hitting the beach right afterwards.  But wait, there's Barton Springs...even better.  Finish off your fattening with a refreshing dip in the natural spring, and as you're FLOATING on the top of the crystal clear water, be sure to thank P Terry for the start to a great Saturday.


Atmosphere:  burger stand, drive-thru, outdoor seating

Food:  burgers and fries

Dog Friendly:  yes

Time to Go:  lunch

Crowd:  jerseys, loafers, bad blouses

What to Order for the First Timer:  double cheeseburger with everything and onions, fries

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Perla's - Austin, TX

I love this place.

Great seafood.  Great raw bar.  Great bar.  Great cocktails.  Great outdoor seating.  Great place for dinner.

Now, with a thesaurus...

Great seafood.  Splendiferous raw bar.  Swell bar.  Hunky-dory cocktails.  Marvelous outdoor seating.  Fabulous place for dinner.

In the second half of 2010 (2H2010 for you corporate folks) when I was commuting to Austin weekly and staying with friends down off of South Congress, I frequented this place for dinner quite a bit whenever I was feeling like seafood or a relatively healthy meal.  Also, it's a fantastic place to have a solo dinner, with a spacious bar, knowledgeable bartenders, and other solo diners sitting at the bar ready to have a conversation.

The menu is huge, comprised almost entirely of seafood, split up into sections for the raw bar, which features no less than twelve different types of oysters on the half shell, appetizers, salads and soups, simple a la carte fish, seafood and non-seafood plates, sandwiches, and sides.  The bartenders and waiters can tell you anything and everything about everything on the menu, and can help to get you the right meal for you.

My Lovely Wife Mrs. Gordo and I hit up Perla's for an early dinner last night for some drinks and some food to share, which is a great way to experience this place as it allows you to try several things.  We arrived right around 5:30pm, which was clearly too late to get a table outside on this fantastic day, but in time to get $0.50 off oysters (each one) and some discounted drinks at their happy hour.  I'd say there are twenty or more tables outside underneath the shade of awnings and a massive oak, and in addition is an outdoor "bar" to sit at, not an actual bar but a long, skinny concrete table which is perfect for bellying up, be you flying solo or on a date.  So with the outside packed, we found two spots at the bar inside, which is my favorite place to sit for a meal here.

We started with some oysters on the half shell, and after talking with the bartender about the various oysters on the menu, decided on the Salutation Cove Oysters from Prince Edward Island.  Shucked at the bar and served on a bed of crushed ice with a couple of lemon wedges, these were medium sized, slightly briny though not as salty as those from the northeast, and very good.  They serve them with sides of cocktail sauce, horseradish, and vinegar/onion mignonette, all perfect complements and perfect acidity to cut through the oysters.

From the oysters we moved on to the Salt and Jalapeno Pepper Fried Calamari with Green Sauce and Marinara, which is one of the better renditions of fried calamari I've had.  Not greasy at all, the rings and tentacles come out dry and crispy on the outside, plump and perfectly tender on the inside, and are mixed together with fried strips of mild peppers and okra.  Both sauces are excellent, with the green sauce being a simple, smooth and creamy salsa verde with an adequate amount of heat, and the marinara being homemade with chunks of tomato and onion, served warm.

Our raw and deep fried boxes checked, we moved over to the Fresh & Simple Market Seafood section and debated between the steamed North Atlantic halibut, the pan roasted Texas coast grouper, and halibut cheeks, which were littered amongst eight to ten other simply prepared fish selections.  Just for the halibut, we went for the halibut cheeks with a side of potato griddle cakes.

Let me start with the griddle cakes.  These things are fantastic.  Very thinly shredded potatoes, presumably with egg, cream, and mild seasoning, formed into one inch thick patties and fried before being topped with sour cream and chives.  Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside with just a hint of tooth from the potatoes.  I strongly recommend this as a side to whatever you're having.

On to the halibut, and first an educations.  These beauties are halibut cheeks:

They cut them out of this ugly sucker, pan roast these delicate morsels, resulting in a paper-thin, lightly browned and crispy crust, and a tender, mildly flavored, and incredibly delicate interior.  With these simple preparations, you get a broiled lemon for squeezing, an herbed breadcrumb stuffed roma tomato, and a choice of garlic drawn butter, salsa verde, red chimichurri or homemade tartar as a sauce.  I highly recommend the red chimichurri, a take on the standard South American condiment based on oil, herbs and garlic, with this one adding what tasted like oven dried tomatoes, lending a great sweetness to the dish.  It's incredible, and a perfect sauce for the fish, though it can stand on its own just fine.

As I have a tendency to do, I'm going to digress.  I've had fat cheeks my whole life.  Growing up I was sent to the principal's office on more than one occasion for dipping in class, which I wasn't.  I've been asked by cigar store employees what brand I'm chewing, which I also wasn't.  But my favorite story comes after a late night of drinking, and a even later night of food poisoning.  We had this tiny diner that we'd go to after the bars in school called the Pitt Grill, next to the Days Inn (that reminds me, what does La Quinta mean in English?  mull it over, we'll get back to it), which was run by a massive and generally angry lady who would let us get behind the counter and do what we pleased with the griddle, the stove, the deep fryer and the toaster, leading us to some awesome late night meals and second degree burns before turning in for the night.  On one such occasion they had just gotten in a batch of spoiled eggs, which we only found out a few hours later when my roommate and I both woke up in cold sweats with our bodies doing everything in their power to expel the tainted goods.  After spending most of the night on the bathroom floor waiting for the health center to open up, we finally made it over to see the doctor.  While my roommate vomited continuously in the waiting area, I went in to see the doctor, an old army doctor who must of at some point taken some shrapnel to the head, and explained what happened, citing specifically the undercooked and underrefrigerated eggs, my symptoms as well as my roommates, and that I've had food poisoning before.  After a careful study of my body and head, this genius put his hand to his chin and this thinking cap on, thought about it for two or three minutes before informing me that nope, I didn't have food poisoning, I had a full on case of the mumps.

"Are you kidding me?" I asked.  "Why the hell do you think I have the mumps?  My roommate ate the same thing as me last night and is out in the hall vomiting right now."

His answer was simple.  "Your cheeks have very serious swelling."

(I digress from my digression here.  Answer:  nexttodennys.  YEAH!  I'll be here all week, folks.)

Anyway I asked for a mirror, took a look at him, and informed him that's how I looked every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror, but he didn't believe me and asked if he could call my roommate in from the hallway to attest, which he did.  As soon as he asked the question about my cheeks, my roommate looked at me as if to say, "is this guy for real", then vomited in the trash can he brought in with him from the hallway, then said "yeah, his cheeks look like that all the time", and then vomited again.

What could the doctor do at that point but offer a second opinion?  "OK, you have food poisoning."

Thanks.  True story.  Don't get me started on health care overhaul.

Anyway, all that said, here's my best halibut impression.

Did that ruin your day?


Atmosphere:  casual/trendy fish house and raw bar, great bar to sit at, great cocktails, great people watching, great if you're flying solo, fantastic outdoor seating and lots of it, outdoor "bar" to sit at, great place for a date, great place for a group

Food:  seafood, some of the very best in town

Dog Friendly:  indeed

When to Go:  happy hour, dinner

Crowd:  businessmen, 20somethings, 30somethings, tourists, hotchicks, groups of girls, groups of guys, groups of girls and guys, scantily clads, solo diners, seafood lovers

What to Order for the First Timer:  oysters on the half shell, whatever pan roasted white fish they have with red chimichurri, griddle cakes

Friday, May 6, 2011

Habanero Mezcal Margatini

What better way to spend a 90 degree and perfectly sunny day than with one of these on the porch?

Whip In - Austin, TX

Whip it.

Whip it real good.

I did.

It's a beer store.  It's a concert venue.  It's a convenience store.  It's a restaurant.  And best of all, it's a bar.

What better way to spend the time mulling over the hundreds of beers they have for sale, than with a fresh draft beer in your hand?

Chances are, if you don't have one in your hand, someone will find you and make sure you get one.  This is a convenience store on steroids, and an incredible one at that, with a concept that I can't believe hasn't been replicated a thousand times over.

We're not talking about getting a Bud Light or Miller Lite while you shop either.  This place has between 50 and 60 beers on tap behind a long and deep bar, ranging from the basics to local brews, to microbrews, to Belgians, to imports, and the people working there know their stuff, so let them guide you. I didn't get one today, as I just stopped in to pick up a couple bottles of wine and a sandwich, but the last time I was in there, Dipak was incredibly excited about having just gotten some of Real Ale's Devil's Backbone Tripel on tap, and convinced me (not difficult) to have one.  Glad he did, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as I glanced over the Belgium section of the store for a good, new beer to take home with me.

This place is a beer and wine store first and foremost, but nearly equally as much a restaurant and bar specializing in draft beers and Indian food.  Nestled between the register and one of the coolers is a sleek polished wood bar behind which tower taps from brews all over the world.  Choose from the taps or choose from the chalkboard which changes daily and is arranged by beer type, and pull up a stool, but don't take your cell phone out, they are forbidden at the bar.  Somewhat annoying in today's age, but truly captures the historic spirit of a bar, where you and the bartender strike up a conversation and a relationship taking you away from the problems of the world for a few minutes at least.

The food, also on chalkboards above the bar, is Indian based, with Austin twists incorporating local meats, chili, and sandwich combinations, some of which change daily and weekly, with some constant staples that keep people coming back.  As tempting as it was today, I opted not to go with the lamb beeryani, made with mushrooms, carrots, and both Saison and Abbey Brown ales, and instead opted for one of their hot sandwiches, the SoCo.  House made gingered roast beef, pepper chutney, and gorgonzola, folded up in fresh naan bread and grilled.

Doesn't look like much, I know, but it was good, with my only knocks being that it was a little on the dry side, and I wish it had been oozing with gorgonzola, which was only sparingly used.  The beef had a great fresh roasted flavor, the gorgonzola added a little flavor and salt, and the pepper chutney added a nice sting to the tongue.

As I waited, I took a look at the wines, and picked out a Sardinian and a Tuscan white to take home to My Lovely Wife Mrs. Gordo, and I took a deeper look at the menu, which will have me coming back.  A few of the highlights that I'd like to try include that lamb, the Woodland naan sandwich with tequila pulled pork, spicy mango chutney, and feta cheese, the "Whip In-dianized" Beef and Beer Chili Curry, the Indjun gingered chicken fried steak with garlic gravy (dinner only), and the bison and porkbelly meatloaf (dinner only).

Though it's a beer store, the bar is a comfortable place to sit for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as is the small indoor dining area and the picnic tables in an enclosed courtyard next to the parking lot, which is where the stage is, featuring local music most days of the week.  If you're a beer connoisseur, this is your place to shop, second to none, and if you're hungry, it's a great spot to pick up lunch or dinner, or dine there with a recommended beer pairing.


Atmosphere:  bar, beer and wine store, outdoor seating, good if you're flying solo, good for a group on a nice afternoon or evening, fantastic beer selection, for drinking there or taking home, great wine selection, tv behind the bar, and friendly staff

Food:  Austin Indian

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  breakfast, lunch or dinner

Crowd:  locals, singles, hipsters, beatniks, me

What to Order for the First Timer:  pending

Last Night's Dinner

Pan Fried Squid with Lemons and Chiles

Parmigiana Brussels Sprouts

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Spiced Lamb Kebabs with Hummus, Tziziki and Salads

Spiced Lamb Kebabs on Sumac White Onions

Chickpea Salad with Fresno Chilies

Thai Cucumber Relish

Sunday Dinner

Chicken Kapama and Saffron Rice Pilaf

South Congress Cafe - Austin, TX

Who likes short shorts?

I do, I do.

But that has zero bearing and nothing to do with this review, terribly that just happens to be the song that's stuck in my head right now.  Not sure what I did to deserve this.

South Congress Cafe

This is a place on my "must go to" list for anyone going to Austin for short visit, particularly for a weekend.  Specialties:  dinner and brunch.  This place embodies Austin culture in a nice, clean setting better than anyplace in town, and with more than just the food.  A funky little spot on the continually growing South Congress strip, it offers a true taste of Austin featuring game, southwestern fare, and innovative creations with bold flavors.  It's also a fantastic place to belly up to the bar and have a drink and a meal.  AND, don't quote me on this because I'm not sure if it's still true, but if you sit at the bar, it's 20% off.  I'm not sure there is a better place in town for a morning after a long night for a bloody mary and some grub.

Let me start with brunch, because that's where I found myself on Saturday morning.  First off, YOU WILL WAIT for a table, but maximize it.  My recommendation is to pack yourself into the bar area and start with a bloody mary, or a beer, or a poison of your choosing.  It's tight, but there are seats for waiting around the bar area which you can snag if you're lucky.  On a nice day, if you don't feel like starting with booze before food, sit outside and watch all of the people, it's some of the best people watching you'll find in the city, with all walks of life, or stroll up and down and stop in the shops and outdoor stands filled with funky art, furniture, vintage clothing, costumes, and all sorts of crap you don't need.

So, the brunch menu features all sorts of incredible entrees ranging from breakfast to lunch to dinner to appetizers.  I'd recommend starting with some chips and salsa or queso as well as the prosciutto wrapped quail while you figure out what to order.  The breakfast options lean toward the savory, and include three to four omelets, three to four different benedicts, a smoked briskey hash, and the standard Mexican migas, and the lunch-type options range from burgers to venison meatloaf to fish.

I opted for the Italian omelet on this most recent trip, after a really tall bloody mary garnished with celery, olives, and a pepperocini.  The omelet was a fluffy egg disk stuffed with wild boar Italian sausage, a spicy pepper and onion mix, fresco, panela and asadero cheese, and was topped with a creamy tomato gorgonzola sauce, which was incredible.  Awesome combination of flavors, very savory, and served with a smoked gouda potato pancake with a dollop of sour cream, which is worth ordering in and of itself.

On the dinner side, I particularly like the mesquite smoked pork chop, the jalapeno-venison meatloaf, and most of all the barbecued quail, which is served on a bed of goat cheese bacon grits.  Yeah, that's right.  Goat cheese and bacon.  But choose what sounds good to you, as the menu is a great mix of steaks, pasta, and seafood, all of which are no doubt flavorful and well prepared.

This is one of my favorite spots to hit up if I'm looking for a good, casual dinner and am by myself.  It's the kind of bar you sit at, and will have conversations not only with the friendly staff, but with the locals as well who are also bellied up.  As I said from the get go, a must stop to experience Austin on a short trip for a short trip.


Atmosphere:  truly Austin, funky, great bar to sit at, fantastic place for a weekend brunch, good for groups, great if you're flying solo, great people-watching, nice place to take a date or meet a friend, great spot for meeting new people

Food:  southwestern, game, meats and seafoods

Dog Friendly:  no

Best Time to Go:  weekend brunch, dinner

Crowd:  eclectic, 20somethings, 30somethings, hotchicks, hipsters, beatniks, artists, musicians, loners, hangovers

What to Order for the First Timer:  quail

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lambert's - Austin, TX

I'm normally a happy hour guy here, because it's one of the best deals in Austin, but on Friday, a friend of mine was in town so we ventured over there shortly after the happy hour for a dinner off the regular menu, which thinking back on, I've never done.   

We started with the roasted green chile queso while we perused the menu, and while it was good, it congealed quickly and became almost paste-like.  While that may cause problems with your average tortilla chip, not here.  Theirs are thick and deep fried, and have a great crunch as well as the necessary strength to cut the cheese, just like me.  Despite its moniker, there wasn't a lot of flavor in the queso outside of the cheese, and virtually no heat.  Not terrible, but not great, and probably not something I'll order again given other appetizer, salad and side choices.

For the meal, I opted to go from the wood-grilled section of the menu instead of the barbecue side, and went with the bone-in Niman Ranch Pork Chop, coincidently one of the cheaper options on the grilled side at $26.  At least you get some mashed potatoes and vegetables with it, though that didn't stop us from going a la carte on family sides, splitting the brussels sprouts and the macaroni and cheese.

The pork chop was very good, not great.  The glaze on it was a little sweet for my taste, though it was cooked perfectly, was very juicy, and was given a nice crust on the fatty portions.  While I like something sweet on the side with pork, such as applesauce or something along those lines, I prefer my pork chops a bit more savory.  To each his own.  They certainly know how to cook.

The Brussels sprouts were the real winner at the table.  Roasted with bacon and drizzled with brown butter these things were perfect.  Sometimes the pungent taste of these sprouts can be overpowering, but not here.  They were cooked to the point of ultimate tenderness while still maintaining their integrity, which really mellowed the flavor, which was cut further by the nutty brown butter they were served in.  While basic, simple, and somewhat common, this is one of the better preparations of Brussels sprouts I've had.

Macaroni and Cheese was very good, and like the queso, thick and paste-like after a few minutes.  Not much to report other than the flavor was very rich, and very good.

Not one of my better trips to Lambert's but this is still an incredible place that I'll be back to again and again, primarily for the happy hour.  I don't think any less of it after this, I just learned a bit about what to order.  Great atmosphere, as usual, and I'll defer to my prior post on Lambert's for an overview of it.

I will however, mention that a few weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to see one of my favorite artists there are the upstairs bar, which is a great small venue to see a show if you get the chance.  Mishka.  If you don't know him, get to.


Atmosphere: understated classy, Austin, two bars with plenty of seating, concerts at the upstairs bar, good for a nice dinner, great for happy hour, good for groups, good for a date, good for shooting the shit with strangers, good if you're flying solo, outdoor seating

Food: upscale barbecue and grilled meats

Dog Friendly: maybe outside

When to Go: happy hour, dinner, lunch

Crowd: locals, regulars, out of towners, groups, families, couples, hotchicks

What to Order for the First Timer: barbecue plate, green chile cheese grits, Brussels sprouts