A Little Piece of Paris in Austin

 

The Best French in Austin!

I made un horrible mistake in my last blog posting. I recounted my favorite restaurants in Austin and completely forgot Chez Nous – Quelle Horreur! I will proclaim something I am sure some Justine’s fans will hiss and spit at – Chez Nous is the best French restaurant in Austin. They not only have fantastic food, a stellar and not too expensive wine list they also have a real Parisian cafe atmosphere – the waiters will even sometime speak to you in French! But what they have that is the best of all is their prix-fixe menu that changes daily. They charge about $27.50 per person and you get a 3-course meal. The starters are usually a choice between a salad Lyonnaise, pate and some type of soup of the day.

Salad Lyonnaise

pate

potato leek soup

For the main course you can usually choose from a red-meat dish either lamb or beef and then there are usually two fish dishes. I love red meat, but Chez Nous does fish so well that I almost always choose one of their fish dishes. My mother who absolutely detests fish (I know, so sad), actually really liked the fish she tried. Of course, their fish is usually covered in a butter and/or cream sauce, so it’s kind of cheating. That’s fine by me.

Sole with mushroom sauce

Steak with a shallot butter sauce

Salmon with a cream sauce

Last, but not least there is the dessert course. In the prix-fixe menu you can choose between mousse, creme caramel and a cheese platter. Or, you can spend a couple bucks more and get other desserts. I always want the creme brulee, so I always order off the main menu for dessert. All of their desserts are excellent though.

Normandy Crepes

Creme Caramel

Creme Brulee

Chez Nous, you will be sorely missed. I guess I just have to try and eat at French restaurants here in Portland to try and find a replacement.

Au Revoir!

Advertisements

A Good Bye Food Tour of Austin

After more than 100 days of over 100 degree weather in the summer of 2011 in Austin, Chris and I made the painful decision to leave the town we loved. It was hard, we have a group of friends we love. But we knew we wanted to be able to live a more outdoorsy life style. We chose to move to Portland, Oregon. It just so happens to also be a pretty awesome foodie town. More on that in a later post.

We knew the most important thing we had to do before we left – eat at our favorite restaurants. So below is a quick list of some of our favorite places in Austin.

5. Enoteca Vespaio – This is a solid Italian restaurant. Not too pricey, but definitely nice. It’s not one of those hidden gem Italian restaurants in a strip mall, it’s a fairly fancy place. But this is Austin, so it’s never going to be too fancy. It shares the kitchen with Vespaio, but it’s half the price. If you have not been, go there. Their suppli is fantastic. I also recommend their spinach salad and tagliatelle con funghi. They also have super cheap, delicious desserts.

                                 

4.Kerbey Lane – There are tons of renowned breakfast places in Austin. Magnolia Cafe is a lot of people’s favorite. I have always been a Kerbey Lane girl. And this became more pronounced when they opened up shop 10 minutes away. Kerbey Lane is home-grown Austin kitsch, from their tattooed waiters to their vegan pancakes. It is supreme comfort food fashioned in a “weird” way. I love it. Please try their pancakes. There is not a bad one. I love their gingerbread as well as their pumpkin, but any will do. Also check out their seasonal specials, always season appropriate and full of locally sourced ingredients.

 

3. Uchiko – It’s not like this place needs my rave review. But I will give it anyway. Uchiko is simply divine. It’s a lot harder to get into now, since Executive Chef Paul Qui won the 9th season of Top Chef. And I will be honest, it was better the first time I went in August than this last time we went. It is still remarkable and inventive cuisine that is delicious. Some of our favorite dishes are the jar jar duck, bacon tataki and the hamachi sushi.

2. Home Slice Pizza – I really love Home Slice. From its unbelievable, thin New York style crust, to it’s wonderfully organic and random play list all the way to its spot-on Austin vibe, this place is just about perfect. Here’s the thing – I love pizza, but I would never have thought a pizza place could be one of my favorite restaurants ever. And it’s because this place is so much more than pizza. The owners of this place, just have it right. We always got the pepperoni, mushroom, basil and eggplant pizza. I miss it, so have it for me!

1. Marie’s House – So this is not a restaurant. This is my friend Marie’s house. Not only does she cook some of the best food in Austin, her house is always abuzz with lots of love and some of the coolest people just walk on into her house. One of our best last meals in Austin was with Marie, her husband Tommy and our friends Barbara and Shiu Mei. Marie whipped up a delicious seafood curry that was unbelievable.

So you may not be able to make a reservation at her place. But always keep in mind that when you cook and open your home to people, you are making a special kind of experience, a special bond, a friend family. It gives me hope that I can find this same kind of family in Portland. We will miss you Austin, but look forward to sharing new memories of our life here in Portland.

Here are a few more Austin favorites:

Uncorked
Andiamo
Clay Pit
Three Little Pigs

South Padre Island: Not a Foodie Destination

Fried Artichoke Hearts from Padre Island Brewing Company

Our anniversary trips have gotten steadily less sexy as time has passed – Paris, Portland and this year – South Padre Island. At least we stick with a “P” theme. This year we had a pretty valid excuse for not jet-setting to Prague or Paraguay. We were just not ready yet to drop off the baby and take off.  So we wanted somewhere that was driving distance (nowhere is a good driving distance with a fussy baby) and was cheap. Initially, the thought was Big Bend, but it’s eight hours away and Padre was six and much cheaper.  We found a great deal at the Travelodge at the very end of the island. We got a two bedroom room with a huge kitchen and living room, plus we got to take Olive and it was only $99 a night. The hotel also had beach access. I highly recommend this place and the location was perfect. It was not fancy by any means, but if you are staying in South Padre you are probably not looking for fancy.

Ranch burger with grilled onions

I wish I could give some positive reviews of the food we had on the island, but man, oh, man, what a disappointment.  Our first stop was the Padre Island Brewing Company. This brew pub was located on the main drag, not too far from our hotel. The menu seemed to consist of standard pub fare. But I guess I have been spoiled by Austin and Portland brew pub food – basic, but tasty. This food was really just basic, not too much ingenuity going on. We started with the fried artichokes and the beer battered mushrooms stuffed with crab and served with ranch and a citrus tartar sauce. And then we split the Ranch Burger, which was topped with BBQ sauce and grilled onions.

Stuffed Mushrooms

I know these choices are not terribly exciting, but neither were our options. And while the food was not horrible, it was just kind of –  meh. At least with this place we did not get stuck with a large bill, which is not something I can say for a couple of our other dining choices.

Delicious Beer!

And at least they had delicious beer! So all in all the food was bland, but the prices and beer made up for it!

Beet and Raspberry Bruschetta and Parisian Mac and Cheese

The next day was Thanksgiving. We all slept in and watched some football (just like at home!). Then we took Olive and the baby down to the beach – for both of them it was their first trip. So we had so much fun.  Olive ran and caught the ball in the waves with Chris, while Owen and I just sat in the shallow part of the water enjoying the lapping water. It was a very nice introduction to the ocean. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by South Padre Island beaches. I am from Florida and I have heard many Texans trash the shore here, so I was a bit nervous. But this part of Texas is not that bad and is fairly comparable to some Atlantic side beaches in Florida.

After the beach we headed back to the room and had a nap. And desperately searched for a restaurant that might be open on the holiday. We found Cafe Kranzler, which seemed like a great option and was ranked highly on Yelp – well, it was ranked highly on Yelp for the area. When we got there, I instantly thought it was a pretty cute place. It’s not fancy, but it’s got a nice vibe to it. And they had what seemed to be a very nice fixed price menu. We decided against it in order to try some of their regular menu items, but it looked great. We started with a couple of appetizers – the beet and raspberry bruschetta and the Parisian Mac and Cheese. Both of these were fantastic and were the highlight of the dining experience. The mac and cheese had brie, mushrooms and truffle oil in it and was superb. The bruschetta was even better, the melange of flavors including the tartness of the raspberries, the earthiness of the beets combined with the creaminess of the goat cheese was amazing – a big winner. If only we had stopped there. But alas, we ordered entrees. I ordered their wiener schnitzel. Mine was not bad, it was pretty basic, it was just bland. It was your standard fare schnitzel, nothing out of the ordinary, very thin. Chris’s entree was just, for lack of a better word – gross. He ordered the mandarin orange crab crepe. While I commend him for ordering exotic, it definitely backfired. The crab filling itself was very sweet and then it was topped with an equally sweet sauce. I think it would have served the chef better to create a contrast versus just piling on the sugar.

Mandarin Orange Crab Crepe

Wiener Schnitzel

Cold Creme Brulee

For dessert we ordered the creme brulee. It’s a favorite dessert of ours. And while it was cold inside and super thick and sugary on top, not my favorite, it was not bad. It just wasn’t my favorite version. This time, we did get stuck with a big bill. So my feelings on this place are very mixed. I might recommend sticking with appetizers and wine.

My sexy husband at Clayton's beach bar

One big surprise was the food at Clayton’s Resort. If you have ever been to Panama City or any other super touristy beach destination, you have seen this place before – huge open deck playing bad music, beach volleyball nets and a frozen alcoholic drink machine. So I was not expecting much. Oddly, this was the best food we had the whole trip.

Yummy nachos and the requisite frozen margarita

Chopped Shrimp Cocktail

Since we had plans for a big dinner, we just ordered a couple of appetizers  – nachos and a shrimp cocktail. The shrimp was hands down the freshest seafood we had the entire trip. And there was a lot of it. At first, I thought the presentation was weird all chopped up in the sauce, but it worked. And the nachos had huge chunks of fresh avocado and tomatoes as well as jalapenos. It was simple and yet very fresh, not what I was expecting.

Snapper Special

Captain Dan

For dinner on our last night I really wanted to go to the Sea Ranch Restaurant. I had done my research and this seemed to be the best place for seafood. I guess I should caveat this again, it seemed like the best place for the Island. What was odd about this place, is that it is right on the water, but I could swear it was some of the most stale and not fresh seafood I have ever eaten. We started with some oysters, clam chowder and a salad. All were ok. The oysters were very nice and yummy. I would recommend them. But the chowder was just unbearably salty and the salad was fine, but nothing extraordinary. Our entrees were not great either. Chris’s entree – the special of the evening was pretty good. It was a snapper with a cream sauce over pasta topped with shrimp. So it had a lot going on to mask anything fishy. Mine was just bad. It was the Captain Dan, which consisted of a broiled flounder, scallops and shrimp. The seafood was so slimy and I could not even eat the fish, it stunk. There is no excuse for that on an island. And then we got the check, which added insult to injury. I will say that our server was impeccable. And it seems that service overall is a big priority, which is great. I just wish they had better food.

If you want good seafood or good food in general in Padre it seems the best way to do it is cook. But the island overall had a great vibe and it was a wonderful getaway.

A New Foodie Has Joined the Family

Owen and His Sweet Potatoes

Owen and His Sweet Potatoes

For the first six months of a baby’s life many things are complicated and stressful for new parents. One thing that is not is food. Babies at this age are either drinking breast milk (free and readily available, at least for most mothers) or formula (not free, but definitely available). So while we are stressing over disrupted sleeping patterns, bowel movements or lack thereof, people constantly telling you your baby is teething and many more issues we never saw coming before baby, we did not have to fret over what to feed baby Owen. I just whipped out a boob or a bottle and he was happy. That all changed on Aug. 20, 2011 – or the day my son became a foodie.

The Baby Bullet Containers

Baby Bullet Filled with My Son's First Meal

In preparation for this day, my mother bought us the Baby Bullet. It’s  a food processor and container system specifically for grinding and storing baby food.It’s been a great investment for us. I mean it’s basically a food processor with matching freezer containers. So if you are low on the cash, it’s not a must have. But if you plan on making your baby’s food and you have an extra $60, go for it!

Since I love food so much, I had a dilemma when choosing his first food. Many people still do the rice cereal first. But after much research, I decided to go with something that packed more of a nutritional punch and actually had some flavor – sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes also happen to be one of the safest foods to give to babies – in terms of food allergies.

So the day before he ate his  first real food, I went to the store with my sister Kara and her fiance Eric, who were visiting from Florida. And we picked out his sweet potato and then I baked it.  It took a lot of effort for me not to add a bunch of cinnamon and other spices. It seemed so uneventful for something so drastically life altering.

And so the day dawned, when my son would join the foodie ranks of our family.

Owen Being Seated for His First Food Experience

Owen Being Seated for His First Food Experience

There was much fanfare that accompanied this event. It was as if there was a royal wedding going on in our dining room and the press did not want to miss a single minute of the event.

The Press Capturing the Event

The Press Capturing the Event

And so we all sat and watched Owen take his first spoonful of sweet potatoes.

Owen's First Bite

Owen's First Bite

I do not know what we were expecting. He seemed mostly just mystified by what it was. All in all, he did pretty good.  Despite grimacing at every bite,  he ate the whole container.  And by the whole container, I mean what did not end up on his onesie or his face.

Messy and Mystified about Food

Messy and Mystified about Food

Since his sweet potato feeding he has eaten peas, bananas, rice cereal, peaches, apples, squash, potatoes, brown rice, green beans, avocado and butternut squash. He has loved it all and eaten for the most part with gusto. He looks a lot less confused at dinner time. We are proud to have another foodie join the family!

Dinner Parties – with Baby!

My reason for food blogging hiatus

A few days after my last post I had a baby.  And that kind of slowed down the whole dinner party, going out to eat lifestyle that is fodder for my blog. Instead of grass-fed, farm-raised beef and farmer’s market, fresh veggies, my husband and I were eating lots of macaroni and cheese and chicken casseroles. Anything that we did not have to cook. But then slowly but surely we have emerged from our baby-induced, bad-eating funk! Last weekend Chris and I had our friends Jennifer and Mike over for a Southern-inspired dinner party.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates and a Lovely Rose

Bacon-Wrapped Dates and a Lovely Rose

We started off the evening by grilling dates stuffed with thyme and feta cheese and wrapped in bacon. It’s this great recipe out of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The feta was a twist we added. And I think it actually made the dish. Also, the recipe called for baking and we went with grilling. Which I think was also awesome. This is a simple stunner that everyone will rave about. We also paired it with a yummy Sunstone Rose, that we purchased on our trip to LA a few years ago. It was great together, but honestly we made them a couple of weeks ago and drank it with a juicy red and that was superb as well.

Grilled Carrot Salad with Almond Brown Butter Viniaigrette

Grilled Carrot Salad with Almond Brown Butter Vinaigrette

The second course was a salad recipe I got from a recent edition of Food and Wine magazine. I loved the recipe and it turns out the chef behind this masterpiece is local Austin restaurant owner Bryce Gilmore. Gilmore is the force behind Barley Swine. This dish is not only easy-to-understand, it is beautiful. Admittedly it is a salad with a dressing that includes butter, so it’s not the healthiest option. But I got the carrots fresh from the farmer’s market, does that count for anything?

You might be asking yourself right now, so how is this a Southern-inspired dinner and where is this baby you have? Well to answer the first question, the meal has grits in it. That’s how it’s Southern. As for the baby, there is a pivotal point in the night when my husband takes Owen upstairs and puts him to bed. And, unfortunately for our guests, it’s about the same time as when he would man the grill. Kind of a problem in the summertime, when all of our food is grilled. So usually we get some help. It really does take a village – to raise children and have a dinner party. At this particular dinner party, Owen went down without a fight and we were able to eat with adults only. But there have been a couple of dinner parties with our little Monkey sitting on one of our laps. He’s social like his parents.

Cornish Game Hen and Creamy Grits
Cornish Game Hen and Creamy Grits
For the main course we chose to do Cornish Game Hens with creamy grits and a creamy shiitake mushroom sauce and a side of grilled asparagus. I wanted to bathe myself in the creamy shiitake mushroom sauce. Chris made it and he added some herbs to the recipe, it was divine.The sauce combined farmer’s market shiitake mushrooms with regular white mushrooms, heavy cream, sherry and our backyard herbs. I am not much of a fan of grits, but for some reason they seemed perfect for this dish and it was a great side dish for the game hens. In all fairness they were cooked with heavy cream and cheese. 
Fig Recipe Gone Bad

Fig Recipe Gone Bad

So I found this, what I thought, was a great fig recipe. Mind you, I have never eaten or cooked with figs. So I am not sure what I was thinking. It sounded fantastic – figs with pistachio brittle and topped with a honey, orange zest mascarpone. Well the pistachio brittle that I made was excellent. That was so cool. I had never made brittle before and it was easy and tasty. The mascarpone was sinfully delicious. Unfortunately, the figs were just so bland. I do not want to give up on figs, I think I just need a fig guru. So if anyone out there thinks they can help me understand and love the fig, please let me know.

All in all, it’s getting easier to throw the dinner parties. The hard part is finding the time to blog about it! But I will try and persevere and continue writing about our food and travel (well maybe just food for now) adventures.

Andiamo, a year later

Cheesy, herb bread!

Cheesy, herb bread!

First Course

First Course

So, it turns out Chris and I have created a birthday tradition. Andiamo’s delicious five-course chef’s menu for Chris’s birthday. We’ll see if we can keep the tradition alive when we have a baby. Something tells me it might be hard to find the time for a five-course meal with 10-month old.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand – food. So a few things were different this time versus our last experience. The service was noticeably improved. Last time they lost our reservation and did not acknowledge his birthday. This time everyone was on the ball and we were sat right away and the hostess even gave Chris a birthday greeting. It was nice to see the improvements.

On the less positive side, while the food was still superb, it was just not as creative as our previous experience. This time our first course was asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with artichoke hearts and roasted bell peppers with an olive oil and red pepper reduction drizzled on top. Of course this was delicious. But I mean, my sister’s boyfriend made asparagus wrapped in prosciutto at Thanksgiving. It’s not exactly deserving of a chef’s menu first course. That’s just an opinion, but hey it’s my blog.

Veal Ravioli

Veal Ravioli

Our second course was absolutely delicious. It was veal ravioli topped with a veal, marinara sauce that was then baked with smoked provolone on top. While it was tasty, just as the first course was it just did not electrify me. This dish just seemed very safe and comfort foodish. Believe me, it was as good as it sounds. But how can you go wrong with tons of cheese baked over pasta stuffed with veal??

The Piece de Resistance

The Piece de Resistance

It was finally in our third course that I saw some of the innovation I had experienced the first time we visited Andiamo. This course was a venison osso buco with Barolo wine and tomatoes in a brandy and green peppercorn sauce with a side of spinach risotto. The meat simply fell off the bone. There was no need at all for a knife. And the sauce was perfectly seasoned, not too salty at all. And it did not have the game taste that is so common in venison. It was delectable. And something I might not have ever tried on my own, but I was so glad I did.

Salad Course

Salad Course

After the heaviness of the second and third course,  it was nice to switch it up and have a light salad. The salad consisted of  spring greens with caramelized walnuts, grapes, oranges and pears topped with a raspberry vinaigrette. Once again, it was a perfectly fine salad. But it just did not inspire.  There was no real explosion of flavor, it was just kind of bland.

Dessert

Dessert

Unfortunately, the final course did not knock it out of the park like I was hoping. It was a white and milk chocolate mousse with powdered sugar and butter pecan gelato with white chocolate shavings. First the good, I loved the butter pecan gelato. It was a lovely consistency, with a perfect balance of flavor. The bad was the rest.  I think the problem might be that I am not a big lover of white chocolate. It just, in my book, does not have a lot of flavor. Also, the mousse did not really have a normal consistency. It was more like a Panna Cotta that had too much gelatin in it (and I know this because I have done it before).

On the whole, people reading this might think this is not a very positive review. But I must re-emphasize how wonderful our first meal was there and that this just was not as good. I will still go to Andiamo whenever our paycheck allows. As I love this place. So please check it out.

Also, if you do go for the five-course menu be prepared to spend a lot of time there. The first time was not a timely endeavor, but this recent experience it took us almost three hours to be served and eat.

Travels to Oregon, Part 2 – The Bend Edition

Tumalo Falls Stat Park

Tumalo Falls State Park

 

Wow, it’s been awhile. I hope I can even remember our trip to Oregon. Not to worry, I have a great memory – much to my husband’s chagrin. So when I last wrote Olive’s Herbs I recalled our edible adventures in Portland with my family. After a few days enjoying the city, Chris and I embarked on the rest of our vacation to Bend. Neither of us had been to this part of Oregon and it looked to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the weather did not fully cooperate. It was cold and rainy for most of our stay in Bend. And it was a very interesting city, a lot like a rich, ski town. Tons of fancy shops and restaurants in an isolated area for well-off visitors surrounded by small Native American reservations and flat, farm land. Bend is also heralded as a place for outdoor adventurists. There are tons of activities like fly fishing, hiking, swimming, tubing and more. We just visited when the weather was not cooperating. But we did manage to get out and hike for two of the days we were in town. And our most beautiful walk was at Tumalo Falls State park. The only thing you have to pay for is $5 for parking. But bring your checkbook or cash – as you have to leave this in an envelope in a box for the USDA Forestry Service.

Me and Chris at the Observation Area at Tumalo Falls

Me and Chris at the Observation Area at Tumalo Falls

We also went hiking at the Upper Deschutes Trail, which is also very nice and convenient to downtown Bend. Here is a link to a few other trails in the area.

Oregon Iceberg Wedge Salad

Oregon Iceberg Wedge Salad Crispy with pancetta and bleu cheese vinaigrette

Well with all that hiking Chris and I were excited (read starved) to eat at one of Bend’s nicest restaurants – the Blacksmith. Since this was our anniversary trip we decided to splurge on a fancy meal. And after much debate we settled on Blacksmith. They have a great “Sunset Dinner” special that is a four-course meal served every day of the week from 4:30 to 5:30 for only $24. But alas, we are not early eaters so we did not partake, but this is a great option!

We started with a very simple iceberg wedge salad, which was delicious. But it’s pretty hard to mess up a wedge of lettuce topped with pancetta and bleu cheese dressing.

Surf and Turf

Surf and Turf

Campfire Trout

Campfire Trout

Michele Emery’s Award Winning White Truffle Mac & Cheese

Michele Emery’s Award Winning White Truffle Mac & Cheese

For our entrees we ordered a surf and turf for me and the campfire trout for Chris. And I will tell you I never get surf and turfs, but since I am not drinking wine because of the pregnancy I decided to just go for it. And I am glad I did. The dish is comprised of an organic grilled top sirloin with Dungeness crab and a scallop Newburg sauce. It was divine. The steak was perfectly cooked and the scallop sauce was delicious.

Chris also enjoyed his campfire trout, which consists of a fresh Idaho trout, pan fried in brown butter, served with beer barley risotto, cowboy caponata, grilled spinach and a honey-almond beurre blanc sauce. While I loved my selection more, Chris’s was pretty damned good as well. The trout tasted like it had been caught in the morning.

For our side we could not pass up the truffle mac and cheese. Plus it says it’s award-winning. That means you have to try it. While it was delicious, I must point out that very similarly to the salad it’s hard to mess up something with ingredients like cheese, pasta, breadcrumbs and truffle oil.

Bananas Foster Tableside

Bananas Foster Prepared Tableside

And the absolutely best part of the meal was something we belabored over a bit – the Bananas Foster prepared tableside. Once again I justified dessert by the fact that I am not drinking the wine. And once again, it was worth it. Our wonderful waiter almost lost life and limb in a blaze of flambed dark rum but it was so decadent I would do it again. The dessert consisted of dark rum caramel, poached bananas, warm banana bread, vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream all prepared at your table. If you ever end up at Blacksmith, get this dessert.

Our repast at the Thompsons

Our Repast at the Thompsons

 

Fresh Trout

Fresh Trout

While we did eat at a few other restaurants in Bend, there were not many noteworthy experiences that we had eating out besides the Blacksmith. Our only other great dining experience was at the home of Bunny and Mark Thompson. Their son Mat and daugher-in-law CJ are friends of ours that live here in Austin. And it just so happened CJ, Mat and their adorable baby girl Maggie were visiting when we were there. So we scored an invitation for dinner. And boy did we get lucky. Mat and Mark had spent the previous day fly fishing and we got to eat the fresh fish they caught. The fish was prepared a couple of ways – baked and grilled. There was also an appetizer of smoked trout – awesome! Bunny did a great job of truly honoring the simplicity of the fish and prepared some delicious but minimal sides. There was a cucumber salad that was dressed with a herbed vinaigrette as well as a rice pilaf dish. It was one of those meals that fed you, but also made you feel a little healthier.

This is just one of the many trips Chris and I have made out the Pacific Northwest and we love it more and more every time. There is the beautiful scenery, a true commitment to locally-sourced healthy foods and wonderful people. We will definitely be back.