Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Evening at Rao's...sorta

For those of you who haven't heard of Rao's, my understanding is that this is the quintessential New York Italian restaurant, formerly frequented by the connected and now the occasional celebrity, you can't get a seat at this place.  Really.  The demand for this place over the years is such that if you're one of the lucky ones, you have a night, a time, and a table, and whether or not you eat there, you're paying for a meal.  Rumor has it, Dick Schaap passed up a Monday Night Football gig years back because it conflicted with his weekly reservation at Rao's.  Needless to say, I want to eat there.  But for now, this will have to do.

To start...


And the meal

Zimmerhanzel's Bar-B-Que - Smithville, TX

Guten Tag, Mein Freund...

How's this place look?

Zimmerhanzel's Bar-B-Que.  When you're missing a Q, cut a notch in your O.  And make sure people know you're open.  Two signs are always better than one.

Had a chance to swing by this place on my way back from Houston late afternoon last week for a quick bite to eat.  Opened the front door and walked right into my elementary school cafeteria, milk money in hand.

Yep.  Six sided folding tables, rock hard chairs, dropped ceiling, cafeteria line, and lunch ladies.  But with a meat processing plant immediately next door, I hoped the quality of the food was better than the hot pack/cold pack variety I used to get.  And it was.

Hold on a second.

Duck, duck...wait, deer, deer, deer, deer, BOBCAT!

And I secured a chair.  Ok, so this place isn't really exactly like my elementary school cafeteria, as we lacked the dead animals on the wall, but it was a good pit stop on my drive nonetheless.

As happens periodically at the central Texas small town barbecue joints, my late arrival limited my choices to just chopped beef and sausage, so I had them pile both on a bun with some onions and went to work.    

Sausage was fantastic, cut in half lengthwise and placed lovingly on a soft bed of chopped beef, the juices of which permeated the bottom bun to the point of making it difficult to eat as a sandwich, but packed with flavor.  I was a bit disappointed with the chopped beef having been stewed in their sauce prior to serving, as I like to control my sauce and also sample the flavor of the beef itself before seasoning it.  That said, the beef was flavorful and tender, with just the right mix of fat, meat, and bark, and the sauce, extra of which was available center hexagon in a used 60oz Heinz ketchup squeeze bottle, was thin and vinegary with a hint of heat.   The sausage was packed with flavor, with the casing providing a perfect snap, and really made this sandwich.  If I do it again, I'll skip the onions, which were thinly sliced whites which tasted like they'd been cut well in advance and left to sweat, which when taken in stride with the size of the cut, took away nearly all of the crunch and coolness I love and expect of onions on a sandwich as a stark contrast in texture from the tenderness and heat of the meat.

The sides behind the sneeze guard, consisting of the basic slaw, potato salad, and beans, looked run of the mill almost as if out of a tub, but as the massive piles of wood and smoker out back indicated, you're not here for those.  So I passed.

All in all, a good stop, but not worth a pilgrimage.  If it's that you're looking for, continue on to Prause's Market in LaGrange, and get there early.

Oh, nearly forgot, stopped in the butcher shop/processing plant next door.

I have high hopes for this.  Two small cases of meat hidden behind dirty and foggy plexiglass, a giant bloody table, plenty of knives and slicers, and very friendly proprietors.  I used my last $12 (cash only at both places) to get some hickory-smoked, rind-on bacon, and some homemade hot links, which I plan on throwing on the smoker next time I fire up a butt.


Atmosphere:  hole in the wall cafeteria-style barbecue joint, a place where everyone knows your name...well, not mine but everyone else in there

Food:  barbecue

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  lunch

Crowd:  locals, locals, and locals

What to Order for the First Timer:  sausage

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Counter Cafe - Austin, TX

Walked down to Counter Cafe this morning with the intent of getting breakfast tacos, one of the two breakfasts I tend to rotate between when I go, but after a quick discussion with my waitress, I decided to go with the special of the day, two sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches on homemade biscuits.

Glad I did.  Great batch of sausage today.  Very fresh, cooked medium well, heavy on the sage and red pepper, giving it immense flavor and kick.  Topped off with a over-medium egg and shredded cheddar.

Full reviews here, just wanted to share today's special with you...

Last Night's Dinner

Penne with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Lemon

Saute some sliced mushrooms (I used baby portobellos) in butter and olive oil, add three cloves of chopped garlic and the zest of one lemon.  When it's looking good, add some fresh thyme, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire, and lemon juice, then 8-10 canned San Marzano tomatoes without the extra juice.  Break up the tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes or so before adding salt and tossing with penne.

Dirty Martin's - Austin, TX

Thought I'd share yesterday's photo from Dirty's since the lighting was better in the front room.  

Went with the large cheeseburger, two patties with cheese between them, onion, tomato, pickle and mayo.  Caught them on a good day too, the bun had just enough grease seep into it to be really good, but wasn't supersaturated as happens sometime.  

For the full review,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Serrano's - Austin, TX

Press play and continue on...

Yeah, Google Serranos and this is the first image that comes up.  Relation to the chile or restaurant?  I have no idea.

Now, I did find myself fascinated by this not-so-Mike-and-Carol family upon seeing this.  A true pioneer, sometime in the late 60s, this not-Mike managed to piece together a little slice of Mexico, an FLDS third-wife, a scary little future serial killer, and enough butterfly collars and bad haircuts to fill his little California bungalow and make a pitch to the networks.

Thankfully, ABC didn't pick it up.

And thankfully, these people weren't at Serrano's on Red River when I went there for fajitas on Tuesday night.

There was however, a drunk man in his 60s that sat down next to me who, after offering the bartender extra money to make his margarita not sweet, asked me if I wanted to share enchiladas with him, to which I politely declined indicating that I had already ordered.

Ok, let's back up a minute.  Found myself craving some fajitas the other night, and after driving by the packed parking lot at Polvo's, decided I'd try somewhere I hadn't been before.  Advertising itself as the home of Mesquite Grilled Fajitas, I decided to give Serrano's a shot, despite a misguided preconceived notion that this place was run-of-the-mill and probably not very good.  Now I've driven by the downtown location countless times, and always chalked it up as being one of those cool little spots with average food, that likely gets visitors more than locals, and might be a good spot for a bite and some margaritas, but not a place someone looking for great food would go.

Despite the downtown location, I was able to park right out front, and after helping a group of six ladies to understand that the reason the parking meter wasn't working was because it shut off two hours earlier, I ambled up the Austin stacked stone stairway, across the "amphitheater", where the Brady's or not-so-Brady's could play if the every did come, to the bar, where I ordered a margarita, chips and queso, and beef fajitas.

This is actually a cool little spot, which, on a day that's not 105 would be a nice setting to sit outside, particularly if they filled the little stone stage along the creek that flows through the place with mariachis.

So as I mentioned, I started with the chips and queso, which came out quickly and hot, thankfully, as it's congealation factor was an eight on the standard ten point scale.  Not spicy, but flavorful and creamy, this was a perfect starter, but the real winner was the salsa.  Red and chunky, almost a blend between fresh pico and standard salsa, it carried some serious heat, which I welcomed, and was also cool and refreshing.

I can't speak for the rest of the food there, but the fajitas hit the spot.  Upon their arrival, I was disappointed that, though served on an iron platter, they weren't sizzling, there was just a lone serrano pepper, and the onions looked raw, lacking that caramelization and continued cooking that I love so much.  The beef itself was lukewarm, and cooked medium to medium-well, but had great flavor.  Not so much the flavor of the heavily seasoned Polvo's meat, but more along the lines of the nice grill-flavored Habanero Cafe cuts.  Tortillas were clearly homemade, thin flour tortillas that were nearly see through and which were easily the hottest thing on the plate, which did well in transferring the refried beans, beef, onions, sour cream and pico de gallo from the plate to my mouth.  All in all, these were very good, including the onions, and the place gets bonus points for being and easy-in, easy-out fajita fix.

Nothing to write home about on the sides, standard rice, which I had a bite of but no more, and pureed refried pintos, carrying an oxygen-affected crust on the top.


Atmosphere:  old Austin, ample outdoor seating in a cool old setting, bar, good place to meet for a drink and a bite, good place for a group, decent place to sit and have a solo meal

Food:  Tex-Mex

Crowd:  drunk old man, family who demanded the Food Network be turned on minutes before leaving, couples, and families

Dog Friendly:  yes

Best Time to Go:  dinner on a cool night

What to Order for the First Timer:  beef fajitas

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Today's Lunch

Pork Parmigiana Sandwich

Reheated my pork parmigiana from a few nights ago in the oven at 450 until the cheese was bubbling and the breading sizzling.  While that was going on, I fried ciabatta bread, cut side down, in some hot olive oil with a garlic clove in it, and then I put it all together with the worlds best condiment, Italian pepperocinis in oil...

Yes, it was fantastic.  And yes, I'm fat.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Lamb and Mushroom Fettucini with Pecorino Sardo

Lamb:  Finely chop together the leaves of one or two sprigs of rosemary, a few sprigs of thyme, three garlic cloves and a small handful of italian parsley.  Mix half of it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and rub on a couple of shoulder blade chops and let marinate for a while.  Fry the chops in olive oil and butter on medium high until done and then let rest before slicing.

Pasta:  Make using three cups of pasta and four eggs by mounding the flour on a counter, digging a hole in the middle and putting the eggs, scrambled into the middle and stir into a dough before kneading for ten minutes and wrapping and setting aside for thirty.  Then roll it out and make your pasta.

Sauce:  Saute the other half of the herb mix with some butter and olive oil for a minute or so, then four or five San Marzano tomatoes and chop them up in the pan and mix in.  Add half a container or so of baby portobello mushrooms, cover and let cook on medium low until the mushrooms are tender.  When that's ready, add the sliced lamb to it, some salt and pepper, and toss with the cooked pasta, topping with shaved pecorino sardo.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Pork Parmigiana with Burrata

Pork:  Beat some pork medallions like a hated stepchild, then coat with seasoned flour, shaking excess, wash with egg, and coat with breadcrumbs and put in refrigerator for fifteen minutes or longer.  Saute in butter and olive oil, then top with sauce and sliced burrata and broil until cheese bubbles and browns in spots.

Sauce:  Put half a chopped carrot, half a celery stick, and a couple of garlic cloves in a food processor and blend until fine.  Add a rough chopped onion and pulse until chopped well, then toss all of that in a pot with some olive oil and saute until soft.  Add a little bit of thyme, a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, a little red wine and stir, then add two 28 or 35 oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, with seeds and stems removed, and cook over low for a couple of hours over low after bringing to a boil.  Add salt and pepper near the end.

Yesterday's Cocktail

May have gotten out slightly over my skis on this one.  An evening cocktail, good for a hot day, I like to call, "Have a Nice Morning, from Mexico", this isn't for the spice-averse...

Muddle one habanero in a shaker, top with ice, a few dashes of Celery Bitters and gin.  Shake and serve up.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chinatown - Austin, TX



And that pretty much sums up my feelings about Chinatown.  Just not quite the same without the Flavor.

Now, this place does have a few things going for it.  First, and most importantly, they deliver, which is exactly what we were looking for last night.  Second, the chicken wings.  Though completely unseasoned, these things were perfectly fried resulting in a crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, blank canvas for whatever you want to put on them.  Me?  I drenched them with one of life's little secrets, House of Tsang's Mongolian Fire Oil, an incredible blend of chiles, garlic and ginger infused in oil, and I think there are few things that this goes better on than fried chicken complementing a bland Chinese meal.

Now let's get back to the meal.

Looks good, doesn't it?  I thought so too, but looks can be deceiving, as I found out with the first bite.  First let me say this though, the food wasn't bad, it just had no flavor, and certainly no spice.  Two of the blandest Chinese dishes I've had in my life, and with a blindfold and inability to detect textures, I'd have trouble discerning it from the rice which came with it.  It did however satisfy a few needs essential for us, and, frankly, we'll probably order from there again because of that.  One, it filled a temporary void in our stomachs and allowed our bodies to convert the sugars, proteins and fats contained in it into energy, thereby performing essential life functions and sustaining life as we know it.  Two, it gave us about twenty minutes before, and an hour afterwards, to really work on our ass grooves in our new couches, which still need some breaking in.  Three, it gave me the opportunity to write a review on it this morning, and one that I felt I could really have some fun with.

Let's start with the Mongolian beef.  We ordered the "Monoliagn Beef" that they had listed on their menu, figuring it was close enough to Mongolian beef, which My Lovely Wife Mrs. Gordo so dearly loves.  

First, odd color for beef.  In fact, I dished it up on my plate first thinking that it was the duck and just sliced oddly.  (As a related side, this picture is actually listed in my files as "Chinatown Duck" as I couldn't easily identify it when saving.)  Second, good texture, tender morsels of thinly sliced beef or beef substitute, with slightly cooked carrots still with a bit of tooth to them.  Third, very little flavor, but nothing a little soy sauce and Sriracha couldn't take care of.  

The duck.

I should have reconsidered after my initial conversation with the lady on the phone, when I ordered the Szechuan Spicy Duck and asked if was good, to which I got, " guess between that and the Ma La Duck, I like that one better."  Despite that ringing endorsement, I stuck with it.  

First, the duck was well prepared, dark meat pulled from the bones in tender chunks, breast meat thickly sliced and holding onto some of the skin and fat that it needs to make it juicy, which it did.  Second, this brown sauce was a bit darker than the one on the beef or beef substitute, but tasted exactly the same...bland.  Again, nothing a little soy and Sriracha couldn't cure.  Third, this was described on the menu as being steamed, deep fried, and then sauteed, and despite the perfection with which this was prepared, I think I could save the cook some time and say that throwing it into a searing hot wok as is with the rest of the stuff wouldn't result in anything too different, as there was no evidence of the deep fried crispiness that I expected.  Fourth, the menu starred this as being spicy, and said it was sauteed in the chef's secret spicy sauce.  Wrong on both counts.  Not too dissimilar to the beef in flavor, each one satisfied the hunger, but left the tongue hanging out in the wind.  

The eggrolls, at $2 a pop, were good but underwhelming both in size and flavor.  Like the main dishes, not bad, but nothing to write home about. 

As I said earlier, I'll most likely be giving this place another shot, primarily because of their delivery, but will make it a point to ask what I should get before ordering, giving them the opportunity to prove themselves as a more than one brown sauce type of place.  


Atmosphere:  TBD, we had it delivered

Food:  Americanized Chinese

Dog Friendly:  negative

Best Time to Go:  dinner

What to Order for the First Timer:  TBD

Crowd:  TBD, delivery

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Grape Tomatoes, and Sausage

Orecchiette - mix a cup each of semolina flour and all purpose flour with 2/3 of a cup of warm water and knead for ten to fifteen minutes and then let rest for ten minutes or more.  Tear off hunks of the dough and roll out into a half inch long tube, then cut into 1/4 inch pieces and push and roll them with your thumb to create the pasta.  Leave them aside while you do the rest.

Sausage - the healthy kind - mix 3/4 pound of ground pork with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon each salt, black pepper, and chopped fennel seed, two tablespoons or so of grated parmigiana reggiano, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Saute three chopped cloves of garlic in olive oil, add the sausage and cook until done, then add half to one bunch of chopped broccoli rabe, half a pint of grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, squeezing them as you put them in, and some red pepper flakes, cover and cook for a few minutes while you boil the pasta.  Add the pasta and a tablespoon or so of butter to the sauce, toss, top with pecorino romano or parmigiana reggiano and eat.  DO IT!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

Pan-Seared Hanger Steak with Red and Green Chimichurri, Broccoli Rabe, Fries and Garlic Aioli

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Speedway, Indiana

Went back home to attend my 18th straight Brickyard 400, which is all of them, but moreso to get one of the best stadium foods you'll ever have.  The official sandwich of the state of Indiana.  The most tender part of the tastiest, most succulent, mud-dwelling dead animal in the world.

The Breaded Tenderloin Sandwich

Served at restaurants and bars across the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana, this is not necessarily as sandwich you'd expect a 300,000 seat stadium hosting three events per year to execute well, but they do.  Simply a pounded pork tenderloin medallion, breaded, deep fried, slapped on a much too small white bun to which you'll want to add onions and your choice of mustard, ketchup, or Chalula, this thing is damn near perfect.  Crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, watch yourself or you'll burn the roof of your mouth, so have your PBR open and at the ready by your side.

The perfect food, for the perfect seats, at this perfect moment...


Atmosphere:  stadium, bench seating, food stand

Food:  stadium food, sandwiches

Crowd:  200,000 of your best friends for the day, trailer trash, white trash, smokinhotnascarwives, Southern die-hards, God-fearing Hoosiers

Best Time to Go:  Memorial Day, Last Weekend in July

What to Order for the First Timer:  Breaded Tenderloin Sandwich

Dog Friendly:  No

Last Night's Dinner

Spaghetti with Venison Ragu

Saute in olive oil chopped onion and garlic until soft, add ground venison and cook until brown.  Mix in tomato paste, a cinnamon stick, red pepper flakes, a couple of cloves, a couple of bay leaves, and some rubbed sage and mix well before deglazing the pot with some red wine.  Add a can of San Marzano tomatoes, some water, and bring to a boil before lowering to a simmer for a couple of hours.

And, butter lettuce and radicchio with the worlds simplest and best homemade salad dressing.

For the dressing, mix the following in order until emulsified.  Smashed into paste garlic clove, salt, pepper, one teaspoon of dijon mustard, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Wednesday's Dinner

Littleneck Clams in Habanero Broth with Tomatoes and Garlic Scapes

Texas Cuban - Austin, TX

Press play and continue on...

I'll sheepishly admit that swinging by the Texas Cuban trailer on South Lamar was not my destination, but became my destination once I found that Trey's Cuisine, where I hoped to try their mint and sweet soy marinated lamb kabob with feta Greek sauce, had closed for the afternoon given the extreme heat.

Not so at Texas Cuban, where I'm not quite sure if it was the oppressive Castro regime or the sole insanity of the owner that put the nice young man inside the tin sweat lodge at the peak of this 107 degree day hovering above a searing hot griddle and press making hot sandwiches for the few nuts who dared venture outside.  That said, it's nice to know that weather can't shut down some people, and I'm glad to say that for his effort and the quality of the food, I'll be back, rain, shine or hell-like heat conditions.

I ordered the El Cubano, which is a half of their signature sandwich, the Texas Cuban, which feeds two easily.  As he finished up the one other sandwich he was working on, and started on mine, I asked him how hot it was in the trailer, to which he replied, "a little cooler than outside, but probably around 95 or 100".


The sandwich was well worth the ten minute wait in the shaded, but still cruel, heat, though next time I'll be sure to call ahead with my order.  Not that I've had a lot of them, but this Cuban is absolutely the best of it's kind that I've ever had.  Juicy grilled pork tenderloin sliced in quarter inch thick medallions, topped with ham, swiss, provolone, pickles and mustard, pressed between an incredible garlic Cuban flat bread which retained it's outer crust and crunch on the ten minute drive home, despite being wrapped tightly in foil and bagged with some smoking hot, and perfectly cooked plantain chips, which, despite being labeled as chips, were actually half inch thick plantains smashed and deep fried to a perfect crisp on the outside with a moist and sweet inside, finished off with kosher salt.

I mean, damn.  This is an incredible sandwich.  And despite the assortment of hot sauces available outside of the trailer, I brought it home and dipped it in my favorite hot sauce for just such sandwiches, Matouk's Calypso Sauce, which is perfect for a sandwich as good as this.

I urge you to try this if you haven't, if at the very least just to reward a highly dedicated team determined to brave the weather to introduce us to one of Cuba's finest exports.

And after that nice Cuban music, I'll swing you to the other side of this trailer...


Atmosphere:  Africa-hot, food trailer, shaded picnic tables

Food:  Cuban sandwiches

Crowd:  gluttons for punishment on this day

Dog Friendly:  yes

What to Order for the First Timer:  El Cubano

Best Time to Go:  Lunch