Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Saturday, June 25, 2011

El Flaco - Austin, TX

Woke up yesterday with a craving for fajitas and figured I'd try a place that I haven't yet reviewed, so I headed over to Habanero Cafe down at South First and Oltorf, but as I thought might be the case, it was packed and there was a wait, so I hopped back in the car and wandered around until I noticed El Flaco, on South Congress, which I've never noticed before, and which looked a lot like the dirty little Tex-Mex place that I was feeling like.  

This place is likely often overlooked as just another far South Congress dive, but it ended up being a perfect spot to satisfy my fajita craving.  After pulling into the parking spot there in front of the newspapers, I backed back out and found another spot after reading the posted sign notifying me that the spot I was in was "Mr. Flaco Parking Only".  Must be the Mexican Burt Reynolds or something to get that kind of treatment.  

Not much for interiors or decor here, but who cares, it's about the food.  I was one of six people in the joint, two of which were heavily tatooed and dining alone, a couple who was discussing a friend's domestic dispute, and two other rather heavyset Latino women, all of us watching the news on the small little box tv hung in the corner of the joint.  

I ordered the beef Fajitas Rancheras, which axes the bell peppers in place of the much hotter serranos, and decided to start with some of their queso, which came out first with the obligatory chips and salsa.  The salsa was a great, hole-in-the-wall, red variety, with lots of heat and a liquid consistency.  Very good with the warm, salted chips which came in a basket of translucent wax paper soaking up the excess.

Queso was pretty simple, and, well, let me just give you the recipe based on what my fine palate was able to decipher.

2 parts government issued cheese
1 part Elmer's wood glue
1 chopped pickled jalapeno

This stuff was THICK, and lasted about three minutes before becoming a solid paste which set the spoon such that you could lift the bowl off the table with it.  That said, it was good, but I limited myself as I could literally feel it catching and sticking to my ribs on the way down.  Combining it with the salsa was a nice means of keeping it more liquid-like as well as giving it some needed kick.

Fajitas.  Let's do this recipe too.

1.  Chop onions, serrano, peppers, and tomatoes.
2.  Marinate and slice skirt steak.
3.  Heat up cast iron fajita plate to somewhere between 100,000 and 110,000 degrees, throw steps one and two on it, garnish with cilantro, and serve.  

Seriously, this thing came out so hot that even after I was done eating my first fajita, it was still going strong, strewing off loads of smoke, and charring everything on the bottom to a crisp, giving it all a nice caramelization and fantastic flavor.  The first department must have this place marked on a map on its wall with a "Do Not Respond" note, and Mr. Flaco must have some pull with the local Fire Marshall in order to not have smoke detectors in this place.  

The meat was fantastic, heavily seasoned throughout and cooked to order, with the serranos providing really good heat.  The taco was cooled down to a comfortable temperature to eat once put on the hot flour tortillas with chunky, day-glo green homemade guacamole and pico de gallo, making it a fantastic combination that I'll be back for soon.  

Portions were perfect for lunch, with enough meat, vegetables and tortillas to get you three nice-sized tacos, without giving you the "I just ate a massive Mexican meal for lunch and need a siesta before heading back to the office".  Charro beans were a nice flavorful side, while the rice was run-of-the-mill and an unnecessary filler.

Great place to pop in for a quick and good lunch if you don't mind smelling like a line cook for the next few hours.  


Atmosphere:  dirty Tex-Mex hole-in-the-wall, good for lunch, good for a hangover, good for dinner, good for carry out, outdoor seating, no bar seating

Food:  classic Tex-Mex

When to Go:  lunch, dinner

Dog Friendly:  yes

Crowd:  combination of WT and real Mexicans

What to Order for the First Timer:  beef Fajitas Rancheras

Wednesday's Dinner

Venison Medallions in Red Currant Sauce with Handmade Egg Noodles and Red Cabbage

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Little Thai Food - Austin, TX

Well it's overcast and only 86 degrees out today, so I took that opportunity to hit a food trailer for lunch today, and settled on Little Thai Food, on South 1st.

Great atmosphere for a food trailer, and really nice people running it.  Set on the east side of South 1st just north of the Trailer Park Eatery, this place has ample seating with colorfully painted picnic tables, set along the edge of a nice little creek/greenbelt (though I'm not sure which one) in the shade of large, mature trees.  In addition to the quality of the setting and the food, the service is nice if you're dining with them, and after ordering you take a seat and they bring your food out to you with the necessary utensils.

I opted for the Pad Ka Prow today with pork, which is thinly sliced pork stir-fried with basil, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, thai chiles and a brown sauce.

It was awesome.  The pork was tender with hints of caramelization on the edges, the vegetables were cooked but still crisp also with nice brown on them, and the mushrooms still had some tooth to them, not having been cooked to the point of being limp.  The chiles and the brown sauce combined for a flavorful and tasty seasoning for the dish, as well as something nice to drag the rice through with each bite.

The rice was also good, perfectly cooked so that it held together enough for you to cut a piece off to eat with the sauce and meat and vegetables, not dry in the least or difficult to control on the fork or with chopsticks.

My only knock with this place is the same as with every single Thai place I've been to.  Despite reputations, and my asking them to make it "as hot as they possibly can", it barely tingled the tongue.  That said, great flavor and a great meal at a good price ($6.50), and I'll be going back to give some of the curry and noodle dishes a shot soon.


Atmosphere:  one of the nicer food trailer setups out there, along the banks of a creek, with ample seating for large and small parties, good for lunch, good for a family, good for a group, good place to meet on a nice day, good for carry out

Food:  Thai

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  lunch, dinner

Crowd:  couple of other white people, but I was there after the lunch crowd

What to Order for the First Timer:  TBD, but I recommend the only thing I've had there so far, the Pad Ka Prow

Schlotsky's - Austin, TX

Does your Big Mac look like this?

or does it tend to come out like this?

Does your Subway sandwich look like this?

or more like this?

How about your Whopper?  This?

or this?

Forget it, I know the answers.  Yep, the fast food joints really know their plating and presentations, don't they?

And then there is Schlotzky's, the Austin original sandwich based fast food joint which I often overlook, lumping it into the vast world of fast food, though I like it (and McDonalds for that matter).  Anyway, I had a chance last Friday to stop into the flagship store on south Lamar to check it out.  While it had the mechanics of fast food, this particular restaurant is much larger and must nicer than most fast food joints and actually much more restaurant-like than your typical Schlotzkys.

I'd heard that this Schlotzky's has more than just the normal Schlotzky's sandwiches, so I wanted to give one that I hadn't seen before a go.

They had a couple of new chicken sandwiches, and one called the Windy City Pastrami, which from the picture looked a bit ho-hum, and despite my expectations of run of the mill manufactured pastrami without that real New York taste and texture to it, as I gathered from the picture, I went ahead and ordered it.

This is the only fast food I've had where what is served looks better than the picture.  Now, my picture won't do it much justice here, but what I got was a perfectly toasted rye bun, with fantastic pastrami and swiss cheese filling it up.  The pastrami was warm and tender, with fat on it, which it should have, and a great peppery crust on the outside of that beautiful fat.  The flavor was even better, with the cheese giving it a nice gooey texture and the dijon a little bite to it, without being overpowering, which I feared.

No processed taste or feel with this sandwich.  It's like something a really good deli in the Northeast might put together, with quality ingredients and no skimping on the ingredients nor the preparation.  They've won me back with this, and I'd urge you all to consider it, not as fast food, but a great place to stop in for a sandwich.


Atmosphere:  fast food meets real restaurant, good for lunch, good for groups, good for carry out

Food:  sandwiches, pizza and salads

Dog Friendly:  don't think so but maybe outside

Time to Go:  lunch

Crowd:  everyone from families to business lunchers to newspaper readers

What to Order for the First Timer:  Schlotzky's Original

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Braised Chicken in Caraway Mushroom Sauce with Red Cabbage

Brown skin side of chicken thighs, and when done remove from pan, add some chopped onion to the pan along with some butter, saute until onions are soft and then add slightly less flour than butter to the pan and stir to make a roux.  Cook until roux is light brown, and add some chicken stock, a tablespoon or more of cream sherry, caraway seeds, salt and white pepper, cooking until hot.  Add mushrooms, then put the chicken in a baking dish and cover with the mushroom onion and roux mixture.  Bake at 350 for an hour or so.

For the cabbage, throw some chopped onion and apple in a pan with some butter and sugar, cook until butter begins to brown and then cover and braise for a few minutes, then add shredded red cabbage, salt and a quarter cup or so of red wine vinegar, toss, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until cabbage is bright purple, then add a cup or so of water, cover and simmer for an hour and a half or so until soft.  Stir in a quarter cup or so of jam (raspberry, lingonberry, red currant, grape or a mixed fruit jam along those lines), cook a few minutes and serve.

Welcome to Germany.

Noble Pig - Austin, TX

Doing a little catch up here, and my apologies for the lack of reviews lately.  Continuing unemployment has me cooking more at home, which is no big deal because I love it, and recent travel, contract work, and job searching has me a little behind.  

Anyway, had a chance last week to hit up a sandwich shop way up northwest, near Cedar Park, where I popped into the Noble Pig for a sandwich.  Man this place is great, and I wish it were closer to town.  If you happen to find yourself up within earshot of the place, make it a point to stop in.  I love what these guys are doing.  Everything from scratch, including condiments.

Non-descript little place in a crappy little strip of retail shops, you've got to be on the lookout for it to find it.  Only around eight tables or so inside of it, and not much on the decor, but you know it's got to have something with a deli case filled with homemade sausages, condiments and jarred goods in it, which you only notice after looking up at the massive chalkboard with a handwritten menu.  

I opted for the Smoked Duck Pastrami.  Homemade smoked duck, with homemade rye pickle slices, and homemade Russian dressing, on homemade toasted bread.  Catching a trend here?  I told you everything was made from scratch.  Came with chips, and I added a side of homemade (that's right) pickles for an extra $2, which was well worth it.  

Let's start at the top of the sandwich and work our way down.  

The bread.  Wow, I've never had toasted bread like this.  While I expected, and surely would have welcomed, a butter-laden fried to a crisp outer crust with real crunch, what I got was a hybrid between the softest homemade white bread you've ever had, and a piece of toast fresh from the toaster.  I have no idea how they executed what they did except to say they likely heated a dry cast iron pan to +/- 1,000 degrees, then dropped the bread onto it, dry, and taken it immediately off without toasting the other side.  The outside was perfectly toasted, picking up a fantastic pan-seared flavor, but only to the depth of a piece of paper, or less.  Below that perfect crust was the softest and freshest white bread you've had, an incredible hybrid of toast and bread that was perfect for the tastes inside.

The duck.  I'll be honest I expected something along the lines of a higher quality and less watery turkey pastrami, but was pleasantly surprised at both the texture and flavor of what they did crank out.  Torn strips of smoked duck, that resembled more of a barbecued pulled pork than a deli meat, rich with smoke flavor and incredibly tender and flavorful.

Russian dressing.  I don't much care for communism, but the Ruskie's got TANG!  Awesome condiment made in house that blows any Thousand Island you've ever had out of the water.  Much more flavorful, much more complex, and a perfect offset to the smoky duck.

Rye pickles.  I like to think that these guys nurtured these cucumbers in the patch by pouring rye whiskey on them instead of water, but more likely, they brined them in some sort of vinegar and rye solution before slicing them thin lengthwise and using them on this sandwich.  I'll admit I couldn't necessarily distinguish the rye from another type of pickle, but that's most likely in part due to the fact they had that duck and dressing on top of them.  Still, they were great pickles that provided the necessary crunch in the middle that the outer edges of the bread couldn't penetrate.  The briny flavor of them also cut through the mayo of the dressing and the smokiness of the duck to give the sandwich the only thing it lacked otherwise.

Bottom piece of bread.  Same as the top.  Scroll up.

My only knock on this sandwich was that it could have used more duck to make the meat to bread ratio a little stronger.  But hey, they've got to make their margins and if they load it up you'll either pay more and not go, or they won't be there much longer.  

The side of pickles was equally as good as the sandwich, and was the perfect compliment.  Pickled with onions and carrots, these things were cold and crisp like I like them, and cut in little chunks, which was perfect.

Seriously, great place and they should be proud of what they put out.  Go see them and keep them in business despite their far out location.  You'll enjoy it.


Atmosphere:  deli-like, no-frills, good for lunch and good for takeout

Food:  innovative sandwiches with fresh and homemade ingredients

Dog Friendly:  no

Crowd:  can't say other than likely suburbanites, as I hit it at an odd time and was one of only a couple in there

What to Order for the First Timer:  smoked duck pastrami

Best Time to Go:  lunch

Monday, June 20, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Mexican Roast Chicken with Jalapeno Corn and Saffron Rice

Chicken - brine whole chicken for eight hours in two quarts of water, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup salt, quarter of a bunch of cilantro with stems, torn in half, two smashed garlic cloves, one chopped serrano or jalapeno pepper.  Truss and stuff chicken with quartered onion, lime wedges, salt and cilantro, and roast in the oven at 400 for and hour and twenty minutes or so, basting halfway through.

Cut the legs off and slice the breast, and serve with onions.

Corn - heat butter over medium high, add half a chopped onion and two chopped jalapenos, and after they're softened, add a bag of frozen corn.  Fry until blackened in spots, take off the heat and add salt and chipotle chili powder.

Rice - I cheated and used packaged saffron rice, but from scratch bring a cup of rice, two cups of chicken broth, and some saffron threads to a boil and then simmer until done.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Delaware Sub Shop - Austin, TX

Delaware:    The First State

Delaware:    No Sales Tax

Delaware:    No Bologna Here

I'm not sure they're really as tough as their slogan would have you believe, nor do I think that "No Bologna Here" is necessarily as large of a selling point as they think it is.  It's more of a "look over here" trick to hide the fact that they use cheap Hormel meats to build their sandwiches.  That said, this is a good spot for a quick sandwich fix along the lines of a Thundercloud Subs...i.e. a step up but in the same genre as Subway, Blimpie or Jersey Mikes.  At least this place is an independent, despite the TM, and makes a good sandwich for a decent price.

Non-desrcript sandwich shop with, get this, ample parking, up near the medical district in Austin, this place has good, made to order sandwiches, and does a good job of wrapping the condiments in the meat to give you a good solid sub with no leakage.  Not a bad place to grab a quick bite with a friend or hit up for a quick lunch alone, which is where I found myself today when I got a craving for an Italian sub.  Bring a date here, and it'll be your last.

I took this picture from the back of my rental Chevy Silverado 1500LS FlexFuel QuadCab pickup truck which the good folks at Enterprise lent me after my truck was destroyed by softball sized hail a month ago.

Anyway, the sandwich.  I opted for the Italian Gourmet Prosciutto with the addition of sweet and hot peppers, which I recommend.  Mostly a thinly-sliced ham-based sandwich, the 7" was good sized and filling, and I had the added bonus of them having Sunkist on tap and Miss Vickie's chips.

As I mentioned, they roll the condiments in the meat, which I like, with a basic red wine vinegar and oil dressing, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles.  I'd go ahead and add the peppers for a bit of flavor and punch, but I'd axe the pickles next time as they're the soggy Kroger brand dill variety, whereas I feel a sandwich of this caliber, with certain expectations to uphold, deserves something more along the lines of a Claussen.  But, then again, it's a profit deal and fits with the Hormel.  Now, you can order just an Italian Gourmet by itself, and the prosciutto is an upcharge, but I'm not sure is worth it, as we're not talking about a cured prosciutto of the salty/sweet variety, but rather Hormel (did I mention they're the supplier?) version of such, which is more of just a run of the mill ham with a little bit more flavor than their basic.  The salami on it is barely discernible, and the sandwich seems mostly like a ham sandwich, but the lettuce is crisp, the peppers are flavorful, and the vinegar adds the necessary tang.

Alright, enough bashing, I did like this sandwich and will likely be back, but when I'm really craving an Italian sub and have a little time, I'll head back over to Home Slice, who's bread, meats, condiments and density kill anything I've had in town.  I'll also be back to try the cheesesteak, which I'm hoping is good despite the "cheesesteak" deli meat in the front case which boldly advertises choice cuts mixed with water and presesrvatives and then molded back to a meat structure.

My advice, ditch the meat case.


Atmosphere:  no frills, quick sandwich, Subway-like shop, decent for grabbing a quick sandwich

Food:  subs and cheesesteaks

Dog Friendly:  no

Crowd:  pasty white people

Time to Go:  lunch

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Lemon and Fennel Pollen

Last Night's Dinner

Chorizo Queso Fresco Veal Roll with Oven-dried Tomato Pappardelle

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Mexican Mixed Grill

Honey-pasilla marinated skirt steak, lime marinated pork, grilled potatoes, corn, tomatoes, onions, and squash, pickled cabbage with cilantro.

Served with homemade chipotle steak sauce, fresh salsa, and chipotle tomatillo salsa.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lambert's - Austin, TX



Lower level bar at Lambert's.

Cheeseburger and Waffle Fries


Modelo Especial in a Can


Total Bill with Tax


Conversation with the Lunatic Next to You


See prior Lambert's posts for the summary

Tonight's Dinner

Pan Roasted Lamb Chops with Mint Gremolata and Sauteed Sea Beans and Morel Mushrooms

Marinate double-cut lamb chops in lemon, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper.  Fry in a hot pan with olive oil on high for 4-5 minutes, flip and throw the whole pan in 450 degree oven for another 4-5 minutes.  Chop together lemon zest, garlic, mint, salt and pepper and set aside.  After you pull the lamb out of the lemon, put in on a plate to let rest, and then heat butter on high, add morels, then sea beans, then prosciutto and saute for 4-5 minutes.  Put it together like it looks there and you've got yourself a meal.  Now all you need is a date.

The Differences Between Italians and Italian Americans

Ever wonder why Italian-Americans look like this?

and this

and are stereotyped like this?

While real Italians tend to look like this?

and this?

(alright so he's in Italy but not really Italian, let's try this instead)

They both eat pasta, right?

They both eat all sorts of cured meats and cheeses, right?

Hell, the real Italians even eat lardo, straight up pig fat.  

Well on a sleepless night on a recent trip to Italy, I figured it all out.  The secret, friends, to eating what you want and staying thin, follows right here.  The Italians brought us the Fiat after we brought them Ford.  The Italians brought us Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi after we brought them President Bill Clinton.  And now folks, the Italians have brought us the MAX Personal Trainer, after we brought them the Shake Weight.

You're welcome.

Mistral - Bellagio, Italy

Michelin rated, this place was great, but pretty pricey and fancy, though the food was excellent and the service even better.  I like the down and dirty Italian cooking a bit better, but this really was good.

So.  Let's do some food math.  Scroll slowly and see how many YOU can get right.  I'm guessing this is a first for a Michelin rated restaurant review.








That's right, eggplant mousse with roasted tomatoes, toasted bread, and parmigiana foam!






Yep, risotto with goat cheese, mushrooms, and chocolate.





You guessed it.  Peacock tortellini with peacock and porcini broth.

Alright, things get a bit more complicated from here, we've got multiple preparations of the same meat on each plate.  Ready?  Here goes.











(if you got this one, you're good)

Lamb cutlet with aromatic herbs, lamb shoulder cooked at a low temperature, and lamb tongue with red wine sauce.  BAM!

and finally, 










Final answer...stewed pork leg and pork chop with honey and myrtle.

Congratulations, you have just spent a mere fraction of the time that I did on this, so go ahead and rate yourself.  

If you got 5 out of 5 correct, congratulations, you're as bored as I am.

If you got 4 out of 5 correct, pat yourself on the back, you've got nothing better to do.

If you got 3 out of 5 correct, I applaud you for trying.

If you got 2 out of 5 correct, you must be gainfully employed and gave up halfway through.

If you got 1 out of 5 correct, well done.

And if you didn't get any correct, you're the only smart one in the room.