Category Archives: Italian

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

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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.

The Gnocchi Experiment

Homemade Gnocchi

A staple meal a lot of my great cook friends make is homemade gnocchi with pesto and a grilled steak. I believe the tradition was started by Sarah and Chris Swanson at one of their incredible New Year Dinner parties. I have never made homemade pasta before, but I heard gnocchi was a good place to start. Our guinea pigs were close friends Jessica Lee and Gary Marburger.

Besides a desire to stretch my boundaries as a cook, I was also inspired by our grill and the promise of fresh rosemary. Spring is starting to show up in Austin and there are green things growing all over – including a lot of weeds.

Yogurt-Based Cesar Salad

Yogurt-Based Cesar Salad

We started the meal off with a very light Cesar Salad. It’s actually a yogurt-based dressing with garlic, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. I toasted some old crusty baguette and made croutons and then threw on some black olives and Parmesan cheese. It’s so light and tasty.

Filet and Pesto with Gnocchi and Marinara

Filet and Pesto with Gnocchi and Marinara

After the salad, the main course was ready! Because of our new grill ( a present from Chris’s parents!) we have started to throw almost all our vegetables on the grill. This evening was no exception. Chris made a stuffed artichoke and then grilled it along side the filets. I will admit this was the one disappointment of the night. I adore artichokes and add stuffing to them, well forget about it. But for some reason they were a little hard to chew and not very tasty. So I will not share this recipe. And I will be on the lookout for better ideas. Because I cannot believe that grilled, stuffed artichokes are all bad.

The steaks on the other hand were cooked perfectly! Chris sometimes overcooks on the grill. But not this night. It was perfect. the center was a little bloody, but not too rare and there was such a nice flavor from the olive oil, sea salt and rosemary marinade.

I also whipped up a homemade pesto sauce. Pesto sauces are pretty easy to make and are always a winner. So if you are looking to impress.  Below is a standard recipe. But feel free to mix it up and parsley or even cilantro. Have fun with it.

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Makes 1 cup.

For the gnocchi I used a Eating Well recipe, which I liked a lot. They turned out fantastic. But I will admit half way through I freaked out and had to hand over the dough to Chris. I kind of fault the recipe, here’s a snippet of the instructions “Be careful not to overwork the dough: overworked dough will yield tougher gnocchi.” So I kept softly trying to deal with the dough. The last thing I wanted was tough gnocchi. At least according to this recipe anyway. After checking the clock and realizing our guests were going to arrive shortly I just handed the dough over to Chris, who promptly pushed and pulled that dough into submission. And it was just fine. So I learned a lesson. Do not let the dough scare you!

The marinara sauce was actually a last-minute, fortuitous decision. We had a friend make us this sauce the weekend before and we loved it. So I really thought it would be a great addition.  This should be a staple in all Italian chef’s repertoire. It is simple and divine.

  • 28 ounces  whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano, if you can find them)
  • 5 tablespoons  unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • Salt to taste

1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat.

2. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.

3.Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste (you might find, as I did, that your tomatoes came salted and that you didn’t need to add more) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

I cannot tell you how awesome this sauce was. But how can you go wrong with all that butter???

Panna Cotta with a Berry and Red Wine Syrup

Panna Cotta with a Berry and Red Wine Syrup

The final masterpiece was a panna cotta with a red wine syrup. I had never make a Panna Cotta before and it is a delight to make. My only real problem is that the recipe calls for gelatin. If you read the comments under the recipe in the blog link I hyperlinked I believe there are some vegetarian options for gelatin. I am not a vegetarian, I just really hate the idea of gelatin.  The panna cotta was easy to make, a crowd pleaser and just a pretty dessert. So if you are looking for something striking and simple this is perfect.