Category Archives: Austin Restaurants

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!

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

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.

Great Wine and Superb Food at Uncorked!

Casa by Lapostolle Carmenére

Casa by Lapostolle Carmenére

I have spent the last few blog postings focusing on Austin restaurants I love. This posting is no different. The next post is a travel edition – New York City! But for now I want to write about Uncorked. Full disclaimer we are good friends with Uncorked Owner Ron Wight. Ron could be a complete stranger to me and I would still write a glowing review of his baby. I think Uncorked is one of the most underrated fine dining experiences in Austin and most definitely has the best wine list in the city. Bold words you say. Yes, they are and I stick by them.

Fresh Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Fresh Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Uncorked has a seasonal menu. So we decided to go check out their new Summer options. Our wine choice – Casa, a Chilean red was a lush, earthy wine with a lot of dark berry flavors. And it was not too shabby on the pocketbook either. I think it was approximately $23 for the bottle.

For our starter course we opted for the super summery tomato and cucumber salad. What an excellent warm weather option. It’s a superb melange of tomatoes and cucumbers topped with light and tasty basil vinaigrette. A few pieces of  baguette grilled with olive oil are  served with the salad.  I highly recommend this salad for these hot Texas summer months.

Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chop With Summer Corn Succotash

Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chop With Summer Corn Succotash

For Chris’s entrée he chose the seasonal pork chop dish served atop a delicious corn succotash. The Uncorked pork chop usually starts with a brine base making it the most tender pork chop in the world. At least in my world. In the past they served a pork chop with a chopped pecan coating. That was the best pork chop I have ever eaten. Therefore this one is the second best pork chop.  What I am trying to say is that Uncorked Chef Patrick Deschner knows his way around pork. The succotash was a perfect accompaniment to their summer pork dish. It was full of squash and corn and perfectly seasoned.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Potato Gnocchi with Arugula and Mushrooms

Hazelnut Brown Butter Potato Gnocchi with Arugula and Mushrooms

For my entrée I chose the gnocchi topped with a hazelnut infused brown butter with sautéed mushrooms and arugula. Pretty much the only thing missing from this is truffle oil. And it could then have been the dish with everything in the world I love.  I mean seriously, talk about flavor. The gnocchi was cooked perfectly, a little chewy – which I love. And all the flavors worked so well together. But what was so great was that it was not overwhelming. A perfect summer entrée.

While we did not get dessert this time, we highly recommend their almond macaroons topped with fresh strawberries and citrus creme fraiche!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the spectacular view from Uncorked’s massive deck. Just check out their website homepage to see what you are missing!

Somnio’s: A Local Hidden Gem

The Bud Salad

The Bud!

So you know in my last post, when I mentioned there were a few restaurants on rotation for Chris and I? Well Somnio’s is probably on the highest rotation. The wait staff knows us by name. They often wonder where we have been if we don’t come in for a couple of weeks. We love this place. And there are a number of reasons why we keep coming back – mostly local meat and vegetables, healthy fare,  super cheap and it’s BYOB.  What’s not to love. On the downside (and these are my only negatives) there is not a lot of ambiance at the place and there is a slight food pacing problem. It’s a cute space, but it’s often brightly lit and there are times when I have had my salad, a bowl of soup and my entree show up around the same time. But that to me is not a big deal.

But enough about the con’s. Let’s talk food. The menu at Somnio’s is fairly sparse, but they make up for it by having specials every night. Specials in the past have included a Quail and Kale pasta, a Bison burger and Quinoa loaf. There are also side specials.  Side specials have ranged from broccoli sauteed with Balsamic vinegar to a curry vegetable soup. And most of the entrees come with your choice of a side and one of their awesomely-named and very original salads. My standard is the Bud, which comes with garbanzo beans, marinated roasted golden beets and greens served with a chipotle vinaigrette.

The Sissy Salad

The Sissy Salad with apples and avocado, mint, and mild jalapeños served over a bed of greens, topped with pecans and a garlic vinaigrette

Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob has marinated grated raw beets mixed with ginger and carrots served over a bed of greens topped with sprouts and a honey soy vinaigrette

The night we last visited Somnio’s Chris and I went with our friends Seanna and Allen. This allowed for me to try an array of dishes – some I have never eaten before.

Seanna and the Risotto

Seanna and the Risotto

Let me start with a rare miss. My cute friend Seanna ordered their  vegetable risotto. It was just very bland. There is not much more to say about it. She had to add some salt to get any flavor. This was a little disappointing.

Crazy Crispy Pork Medallions

Crazy Crispy Pork Medallions

Allen ordered the always delicious pork medallions, pork tenderloin breaded with panko breadcrumbs served with a side of buckwheat noodles with raw greens.  For Allen’s side he ordered the squash medley. This a regular menu item, not a special. This pork happens to be my stand by if I do not want any of the specials. This dish is delectable and not heavy at all. And the red pepper aioli drizzled on top is perfection.  I also recommend the squash medley. Like most of their sides, it is a little sweet. Not sure why. I am wondering if they drizzle a little agave nectar, but it’s delicious.

Pasta Fresca

Pasta Fresca

Delicious Cordon Bleu and Cabbage

Delicious Cordon Bleu and Cabbage

For Chris’s entree he ordered the Pasta Fresca, which I believe is their new summer pasta dish. The past few times we have been to Somnio’s this dish was not on the menu or on the special board, but if you try and order the other pasta dishes we have found they are out and the Fresca is in.  For the Summer, it’s a perfect dish – very light and full of summer vegetables like squash and zucchini and topped with raw Parmesan and basil. The pasta is homemade by Pasta & Co, a local Austin pasta manufacturer. And let me tell you, fresh pasta makes all the difference!

But it was my Chicken Cordon Bleu that was deemed the winner. It was hands down the best thing I had ever eaten at Somnio’s. And it was a special, so it’s not always there. But if you see it on that chalkboard – get it! I am not usually the type to get chicken, but I am glad I did. The breast was huge and from a local poultry farm. It was stuffed with the most excellent bleu cheese sauce and a crispy piece of ham, then it was breaded and topped with sliced green onions. It was perfection!

Cold Green Bean Salad

Cold Green Bean Salad

Curry Vegetables  Soup

Curry Vegetables Soup

Lastly, I wanted to mention some of our sides for the evening. Seanna ordered a fantastic cold, green bean dish. It was very Asian-inspired and had some hints of ginger. And Chris ordered, as his side, a curry vegetable soup. This soup is one of their best. It packs a lot of flavor, but is not too salty or too overpowering in terms of the curry. I loved it.

I highly recommend Somnio’s. The food is fresh and the staff is friendly, what more could you ask for?

Somnio’s is open Tuesday – Friday 11-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m., Saturday 11-10 p.m. and Sunday brunch 10:30-2:30 p.m.

Simplicity is Sometimes Complicated

Simplicity Menu

Simplicity Menu

I am always on the hunt for new, interesting restaurants. We have a few on rotation that I love, but sometimes you just don’t want to go where everybody knows your name – you know what I mean?? So I did some research on Yelp and found this wine bar in North Central Austin called Simplicity. It had a lot going for it – it’s a sister restaurant to Jezebel, the menu is mainly tapas, they serve cheap wines and boast that they are “almost a zero-waste restaurant.”

This was too intriguing to pass up, so a couple of weeks ago Chris and I went on a Friday night.  Since it was so cheap and they offer demi-bottles (which I love!!). We started off with a nice Gruet Blanc de Noir – a super nice, crisp sparkler from New Mexico. It was pretty cheap at $7 a glass.

Gruet de Blanc

Gruet de Blanc

For the food courses we ordered a variety of small plates including: mushroom and hearts of palm duxelle, pork satays with Caribbean jerk mayo, roasted mussels & Andouille sausage and a garbanzo bean and rosemary spread. The dishes were hit or miss. The garbanzo bean and rosemary spread was a winner. It was essentially pureed garbanzos with olive oil and rosemary. While it was simple and something I could make at home, I enjoyed it. I also really liked the mussels. There was so much flavor, which was actually the problem with the rest of the food. It was kind of bland. But not the mussels. The dish looked like a typical mussels dish you would get anywhere, but the sausage packed such a unique punch, it was well worth it.

Rosemary Garbanzo Bean Spread

Rosemary Garbanzo Bean Spread

Yummy Mussels

Yummy Mussels

Pork Satay

Pork Satay

The two dishes I was not as impressed with were the duxelle and the pork satays. The duxelle was actually not bad tasting. It was just underwhelming. I never really tasted any hearts of palm. It seemed to me like a cup of  sauteed mushrooms.  Don’t get me wrong – I love mushrooms. I just did not want that to be my dinner. The real disappointment of the night were the satays. They had such promise. I don’t know how, but the jerk mayo had no flavor at all. I mean I dipped my satay in and went to bite it and I tasted nothing. It was kind of weird. And the pork kind of had a jerky taste to it, not jerk. Needless to say I won’t get that again. But I will be back. The ambiance is very nice and the prices can’t be beat – all tapas is $4.95 and they have approximately 25 wines available for between $3.50-$8 a pour. Also, on Saturday and Sunday they offer Sangria and wood-charcoal grilled Paella.