Category Archives: Mediterranean Food

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!

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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.

New York, New York

My Best Friend April

My best friend April in New York City

Jennifer Santoro

Me and my other Best Friend Jennifer in New York City. Sorry Jen, there were not a lot of good close-ups

I recently made a much needed trip to visit my two best friends in the world April and Jen. It’s kind of a long story, but I have known April since I was 10. And when I moved to Boston for graduate school I met Jen. In 1999, April moved up to Boston and we all lived together. Jen and April hit it off immediately. So it’s pretty convenient for me that my two closest friends are super close and now live in New York City. Over the years my visits to New York have evolved. They used to include drinking wine at the apartment, getting dinner and drinks and then hitting bars until 4 a.m. , and pretty much not getting out of bed until at least noon. Now, it’s mainly dinner and drinks, with an occasional glass of wine enjoyed beforehand and we are out of bed by 9:30 to walk around the city. But the big emphasis is always food! This recent trip proved no different.

First stop, Turkish Grill in Sunnyside Queens

Turkish Wine

Turkish Wine

Friday night, after I had just flown in we went to the Turkish Grill,  right around the corner from Jen’s place in Queens.  I absolutely love Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food. You pretty much cannot go wrong in ordering. We started off by getting a bottle of Turkish wine, which was interesting. it was very spicy with a dark, red fruit taste. It was not a super full tasting wine and probably could have used a little more time in the bottle, but it was not a bad buy. And I always like to try different types of wines.

Babaganush

Babaganush

Sigara Borek

Sigara Borek

Cheese Bide

Cheese Bide

Doner Yogurt Dish

Doner Yogurt Dish

For dinner, we ordered a bunch of stuff to split. We started off with an order of babaganush. It’s kind of hard to mess up this smoked eggplant dip, and they didn’t! It was superb. We then got the Sigara Borek, which is pastry dough stuffed with feta and fresh herbs. WOW! This was a great light summer appetizer. The pastry dough was not super doughy or overwhelming. You could really taste the herbs and the tang of the feta. Our next course included the Cheese Pide and the Doner Yogurt dish. The Cheese Pide was essentially cheese bread with tomatoes. Once again, a pretty safe pick. And it did indeed deliver and was even better when it was dipped in the yogurt sauce of the Doner dish. Lastly, we chose the Doner Yogurtlu. This was a little bit of a departure for me. Mainly, because the dish involved bread crumbs. It also included vegetables and lamb, but there were a smattering of bread crumbs mixed in as well. While the bread was awesome in the yogurt sauce, I felt that they put more bread that meat or vegetables. So while I did like the dish, I might try something new the next time we visit. All in all, it was a very pleasurable dining experience.

La Flor

La Flor for Brunch

For brunch on Saturday morning we headed to another one of Jen’s close by haunts – La Flor. It was a tiny place serving Mexican food and a pretty diverse brunch.  We started off with a bread basket full of scones and muffins. You HAVE to get this if you go. It is awesome. The blueberry scones were that perfect blend of sweet and savory that I love about scones.

The Best Bread Basket in the World

We went with a big group of people, many I did not know, so I am just going to post their food photos. I did not eat all of these, so I cannot do much describing. But as they say a picture tells a thousand words, and these pictures have me salivating.

Portobella and Goat Cheese Salad

Portobello and Goat Cheese Salad

Tropical Fruit French Toast

Tropical Fruit French Toast

Chicken Sandwich with a Field Greens Salad

Chicken Sandwich with a Field Greens Salad

Chicken Tostada

Chicken Tostada

Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp Tacos

Portobella Omelet

Portobello Omelet

I can really only speak on the last dish – because it’s mine. I am a sucker for omelets and pretty much solely order them when I go out for breakfast or brunch. On the day we went this was the omelet special with Portobello mushrooms. It was tasty, nothing out of this world. But it was a solid omelet with lots of cheese and mushrooms. Jennifer also swears by the tropical fruit french toast.

Tres Palacios Carmenere

Tres Palacios Carmenere

For my last meal in NYC, we had a couple of options and even went to Otto, Mario Battali’s Enoteca Pizzeria joint in New York. But I was feeling sick and hungry, it was loud and there was an hour wait. So we went to our second choice which was Bar Paya, a Peruvian tapas restaurant located in the East Village. I had very high hopes for this restaurant. The chef – Matthew Kenney,  is fairly well-known and his last project was the high-end raw-food restaurant and culinary academy 105 Degrees in Oklahoma City. Instead, it was a bit hit or miss. The meal started off with a great hit –  the wine. The yummy Tres Palacios Carmenere was an absolutely delicious deep red fruit wine with some hints of earth. I loved it and it was perfect with our dinner. It was recommended by our waitress.

Yuca Fries with Lucuma Mustard

Yuca Fries with Lucuma Mustard

Sweet Potato, Andean Goat Cheese, Spinach, Black Pepper

Sweet Potato, Andean Goat Cheese, Spinach, Black Pepper

Peruvian Guacamole with Lobster, Shrimp and Aji Amarillo

Peruvian Guacamole with Lobster, Shrimp and Aji Amarillo

I am going to start with the hits. Similarly to the previous night, we split a bunch of different dishes.  We started off with the Yuca fries and the lucuma mustard. I really loved the texture of the fries. I know some may disagree, but I like the thick and very starchy flavor of Yuca. And while I did like the lucuma mustard, I did not really taste a lot of the lucuma. Lucuma, is a tropical fruit with a flavor similar to sweet potatoes. It just never stood a chance against the bold flavor of the mustard. But what does? That’s why mustard is one of my least favorite condiments – it overpowers all other flavors.

Another standout was the sweet potato, spinach, pepper and goat cheese paya, which is essentially a flatbread. I’ll be honest I was not expecting much, but the flatbread was one of my favorite dishes. The tartness of the goat cheese was a perfect companion to the sweet potato.

And another wonderful dish we picked was the Peruvian guacamole with, lobster, shrimp and aji amarillo. I already love guacamole, but add some delicious seafood and a yellow chile pepper and you have a winner. I was impressed by how much shrimp and lobster were actually in the guacamole, but I also liked that it did not overpower the flavor of the guacamole. I would like to add that I did not really taste a lot of the chile pepper.

Chickpea-Potato, Avocado, Farmers Cheese,Harissa, Heart of Palm, Herbs

Chickpea-Potato, Avocado, Farmers Cheese,Harissa, Heart of Palm, Herbs

Peruvian Meatballs, Green Olives, Coriander Paya

Peruvian Meatballs, Green Olives, Coriander Paya

The two biggest disappointments were the chickpea-potato, avocado, farmers cheese, harissa, heart of palm and herbs causa and the meatball, green olives and coriander paya. Causa’s are a very traditional Peruvian dish that is essentially a mash of vegetables – mainly potatoes. What I was really blown away with by the causa is the blandness. I could not believe a dish with all of those yummy ingredients including harissa, could be that boring. But it somehow managed to be almost tasteless. The meatball, green olive and coriander paya was also somewhat bland and then compound that with the fact that the meatballs were SUPER dry. The meatballs were just unacceptable for such a nice restaurant.

Cacao Tart, Vanilla Maca Crema

Cacao Tart, Vanilla Maca Crema

And last, but not least our waitress advised us to get the chocolate tart for dessert. She thought it would go very nice with our wine. And she was spot on. I was actually not in the mood for dessert, but one bite of this delicious concoction and I probably elbowed Jen and April out of the way to eat most of it. It was a very dense chocolate tart topped with a delightful vanilla sauce. We all raved about this dessert.

One final note, I really love writing this blog because it is a chance for me to re-live and re-visit these memories. And since I definitely do not get to see Jen and April as much as I would like – life and distance get in the way all too often, this blog allows me to feel like I am there again with them. I love you ladies so much and I thank you for hosting me. And I look forward to more dining experiences with you -wherever they may be.