Travels to Oregon, Part 1 – The Portland Edition

Pastries, Croissants and Bread, oh my!

Pastries, Croissants and Bread, oh my!

In honor of our second wedding anniversary Chris and I took an early trip out to Portland and Bend. We also invited most of my family – including my brother John, sister-in-law Ginger and my mom and dad. Missing was my little sister Kara and her boyfriend Eric Lee.  The first night Chris and I arrived we got our rental car and headed to the house we rented in the Alberta Arts District. I have only high praise for this rental. It was only a couple of  block away from Alberta and we were walking distance to restaurants, bakeries, markets and coffee shops.  Chris and I fell in love with the house and the neighborhood. That first night we walked to a cute French restaurant on Alberta called La Petite Provence.  The restaurant definitely had a very authentic bistro vibe inside including very bright lights. So while it was quaint, it was not exactly a romantic setting. Which was ok considering it was me, Chris and my parents. After much mulling over the menu we all ordered. I got the goat cheese salad with salmon. Chris ordered the Salmon special , which was a poached salmon filet with sautéed vegetables, rice and a basil pesto. My parents split the couscous salad and the chicken cordon bleu.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Couscous Salad

Couscous Salad

Salmon Special

Salmon Special

Salmon Salad

Salmon and Goat Cheese Salad

My salad was ok, but a little bland. The pears and goat cheeses were a lovely touch though. Chris’s special was nice and light, but also a little bland. The two winners were my parents dishes – the couscous salad and the chicken cordon bleu were both fantastic. Both had a lot of flavor and richness.

Overall, I did enjoy the food and the experience. But there were a few cons to this place.

  • The service was not very good, but I have heard that service in Portland is iffy.
  • Chris did not receive his meal until we were all done eating.
  • The salmon was not super fresh.

And while they obviously forgot Chris’s meal, they did reward us with a free pastry sampler, which adequately made up for the forgotten meal!

Oregon's Williamette Valley Wine Region

Oregon's Willamette Valley Wine Region

The next day, everyone had arrived. John and Ginger’s plane had gotten in from LA the night before very late. We all got up and had a yummy breakfast at the house. And then we headed to the Willamette Valley to do some wine tasting. As most of you know I am pregnant, so it was mainly wine sipping for me. We went to a number of wineries including Erath (avoid), Torii Mor (pretty good), DePonte Cellars (also pretty nice) and Penner Ash (good wine, GREAT winery, beautiful scenery). I was a little disappointed in the Willamette Valley wines. They mostly produce whites and pinot noirs that are not very complex and a little flat. I am told it’s because of the rain and lack of intense sun, which makes a lot of sense. It was still a beautiful day and the scenery at these wineries was unbelievable. Even more beautiful than Santa Barbara wineries.

The family!

The family!

In the midst of this wine tasting everyone needed some food. So we stopped at Farm to Fork, an adorable restaurant in Dundee, Oregon located in the Inn at Red Hills. The place was filled with preserves and specialty vinegars and the food was not too shabby either.

Draper Farms Chicken Salad Sandwich on House Baked Brioche

Draper Farms Chicken Salad Sandwich on House Baked Brioche

Croque Monsieur

Croque Monsieur

Crispy Duck Confit Salad

Crispy Duck Confit Salad

 House Roasted Top Round of Beef

House Roasted Top Round of Beef

Everyone’s meal was outstanding. My top round of beef sandwich was tasty and the combination of the earthy beef and au jus mixed with the gorgonzola dulce, arugula and pickled onions was a delight. Ginger’s duck confit salad was a clear winner. Not only was there duck confit on it, it was also topped with wine preserved figs and roasted grapes as well as hazelnuts! My parents split the croque monsieur, I was not able to eat this since there was an uncooked egg on it, but how can you mess that up? And according to my parents, they did not. John and Chris both ordered the chicken salad sandwich. I would have to say that was the most boring item, but it was still very fresh and tasty. It was served open-faced with celery root-apple remoulade, grapes and hazelnuts.

Cabezon Mac and Cheese

Cabezon Mac and Cheese

After driving back into Portland we all freshened up and headed to dinner at Cabezon. John and Ginger had a few friends in town from Corvallis and an old family friend also met up with us there. So our big group took up a large table in this small and intimate seafood restaurant located near both Portland’s Hollywood and Rose City Park neighborhoods. I had done a lot of research on restaurants in Portland. And in the end we mostly cooked, but I insisted that we go to this place. I had read some stellar reviews and the menu looked great as well as the prices. One thing I really try to do when recommending restaurants is find places that I think are steals. And this place fit that to a T. This was the best service and food we had dining out while in Portland. And I highly recommend it. Now on to the food!

Ginormous Caesar Salad!

Ginormous Caesar Salad!

Arugula and Frisee Salad

Arugula and Frisee Salad

House made Paté with crostini, pickled, pears, wild plums and red onions

House made Paté with crostini, pickled cherries, wild plums and red onions

Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin

Mussels with French Fries

Mussels with French Fries

Homemade Pappardella with Braised Lamb

Homemade Pappardelle with Braised Lamb

Sturgeon with a tomato and pepper sauce

Sturgeon with a tomato and pepper sauce

The menu at Cabezon changes daily and they are really into local, fresh and seasonal items. While this is pretty awesome, it meant the dishes I loved on their website were not on their actual menu. This ended up being fine as one of their specials was pappardelle with a braised local lamb sauce. It was excellent! If you go in and this is a special definitely get it! If you don’t like celery I would not order it though. For my starter I ordered a delicious frisee and arugula salad. The truffled goat cheese absolutely made this salad and I believe this might be a more permanent item on the menu. I loved it! I did not get to try all the dishes as there are lots of things off-limits to pregnant ladies – caesar salads, pates, shellfish and the list goes on. But the sturgeon dish was lovely and light. I was also surprised at how flaky and white it was. Sturgeons can live a long time and grow to be huge, so I was expecting something a bit more steak-like. Chris’s pork tenderloin was awesome and it was served with a pickled cabbage side that was out of this world!

Almond cake with berries and mascarpone caramel sauce

Almond cake with berries and mascarpone caramel sauce

Local peach crisp with house made vanilla ice cream

Local peach crisp with house made vanilla ice cream

Dessert at Cabezon was also a home run. Chris and I ordered the almond cake and it was so moist and flavorful! And the mascarpone was a perfect accompaniment to the berries. My dad ordered the crisp and it was also delicious. The homemade vanilla ice cream was perfection!

As we left the restaurant the chef came out to say hi and check on how our meal was. I always love it when a chef comes out and asks you about your meal. I think it was a nice touch to an already nice meal.

Our Cornucopia from the King Portland Farmer's Market

Our Cornucopia from the King Portland Farmer's Market

The night before we all left to go out separate ways, we decided to cook a meal at the house (another awesome bonus to renting). In preparation for the meal a few of us went to the King Portland Farmer’s Market, which was just a 10-minute walk from the rental. I am just so used to the farmer’s markets in Texas where there is about five things in season and all vendors are selling the same things. Not here in Oregon. There were fava beans, artichokes, fennel, peppers, garlic, heirloom tomatoes and much more! Visiting the farmer’s market was one of my favorite foodie experiences in Portland. If you go find a farmer’s market near you and pay a visit.

After the farmer’s market we went to a local chain grocery store called New Seasons and got some yummy salmon, lamb and sausage.

Dad and John Versus the Grill

Dad and John Versus the Grill

Lovely Cheeses Brought By Kevin and Anat

Lovely Cheeses Brought By Kevin and Anat

The Final Product

The Final Product

The Sundae Dessert

The Sundae Dessert

The final dining event ended up being my favorite of the trip. Maybe it was that we had all of our family and some friends over and it felt like we lived there or if the food was just so fresh it stood out. I do not know, but it was a wonderful experience. To start off John and Ginger’s friends Kevin and Anat come up from Corvallis again and brought with them a bevy of yummy cheeses and homemade wines and champagne as well as some delicious Pinot from the vineyard where Kevin worked. For the main course John and Ginger made an unbelievable fava bean salad with grilled fennel, artichokes and feta cheese. There was also a regular salad with heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches as well as fresh corn and the grilled salmon, lamb and sausage. The salmon was the best salmon I have ever eaten. It was cooked perfectly! For dessert we made sundaes with crushed chocolate, ice cream and fudge sauce.

The perfect meal made the parting even sadder!

Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy at Helser's on Alberta

Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy at Helser's on Alberta

But it wasn’t anything a yummy breakfast couldn’t partially fix. After the family had all parted Chris and I made our way to Helser’s on Alberta for breakfast. We both ordered the same thing – biscuits and mushroom gravy. And it was yummy. It was a fairly overcast chilly day – the first we had while in Portland, so this nice hearty breakfast hit the spot. This was the only meal we had here, but the rest of the menu looked awesome. So when we come back I would love to try some other dishes.

Alas, we were out of time and headed to the Part II of out Oregon adventure – Bend! Stay tuned for our eating adventures in the outdoorsy town of Bend.

St. Pauli N’awlins aka my foodie adventures in New Orleans while pregnant

Here's what I got to drink!

Here's what I got to drink!

We recently took a family vacation to New Orleans. We all got hotels right in the French Quarter. Normally, this would be pretty awesome. But normally I am not pregnant. And let me tell you all this –  New Orleans is not the city for pregnant people. At 5 p.m. when most people are getting off of work and just hitting the bars, most of New Orleans is passed out puking in the streets from drinking all day long. Also, New Orleans is crowded and humid! I took about three baths a day to just rinse the sweat off. Despite all this I love New Orleans. It’s a city with a personality, a smell and a sound. But does it have a taste??? While most people automatically say Cajun, New Orleans has a very innovative and at times sophisticated palate these days.

Not really sure what this is!!!

Not really sure what this is!!!

Delicious Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Delicious Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

That being said our first stop on the New Orleans road trip was a stop at Bourbon Street Cafe in Jennings, Louisiana – a casino/truck stop/Cajun restaurant.  This place might have been the culinary highlight of our trip. It just goes to show you that sometimes the best stuff comes in the most surprising packages. The gumbo was amazing – big chunks of flavorful, dark meat chicken and loads of smoked sausage. On the side were rice and a very tasty potato salad.

Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Fries

Shrimp Po Boy

Shrimp Po Boy

We also ordered a shrimp po boy which came with a side of sweet potato fries. Both were very good, but it can be hard to mess up fried foods. I would recommend this place just for the gumbo alone!

Once we arrived in New Orleans we had dinner reservations at a highly recommended restaurant called Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. I thought the restaurant had a lot of character and about 3/4 of the table loved their meal. I unfortunately was a part of that 1/4 that did not.

Super Yummy Garlic Corn Muffins

Super Yummy Garlic Corn Muffins

It started off great with a complimentary plate of their delicious garlic, corn muffins. You could feel the butter on your hands – pretty awesome. For me it started going down hill with the salad.

Salad with Worcestershire Sauce

Salad with Worcestershire Sauce

I love salads. I really do. This salad was gross. It was essentially spinach (awesome!) topped with Worcestershire sauce. That was it. I had two bites.

Grouper Imperial

Grouper Imperial

Yummy Lamb Dish

Yummy Lamb Dish

My father and I ordered the grouper. Which he liked. I was disappointed. The description of the grouper did not mention that it was covered in a cream sauce. I really enjoy simple fish dishes, especially with a fish as yummy as grouper. Eric, my sister’s boyfriend ordered a lamb dish with red wine that was fantastic. My husband and sister ordered the soft shell crab special atop friend green tomatoes. They both loved it. My mom ordered an eggplant dish that was sub par, very salty and topped with a too rich cream sauce.

All in all people are going to tell you how great this place is, I say take that with a grain of salt. But give it a try.

Stanley's Awesome Bloody Mary

Stanley's Awesome Bloody Mary

The next morning we all got up to get some beignets at Cafe du Monde. Well, so did everybody else in New Orleans. So we picked a close by brunch place called Stanley, it is also in Jackson Square. I loved Stanley. It was a simple brunch menu, with some nice New Orleans twists.

Mixed Baby Green with a Raspberry Champagne Vinaigrette

Mixed Baby Green with a Raspberry Champagne Vinaigrette

Eggs Benedict Po Boy

Eggs Benedict Po Boy

Eggs Stanley

Eggs Stanley

Eric Lee eating his Big Stanley

Eric Lee eating his Big Stanley

Let’s start with the salad. It tasted like a salad should – healthy, not like a lettuce leaf soaked in sodium water. And the dressing was yummy. I also ordered a plain burger and it was delicious. The table ordered a small order of fries and that was enough, the order was huge. My sister and dad ordered the Eggs Benedict Po boy and it was lovely. I could not eat too much because of the raw egg factor, but they both loved it. And my husband ordered the Eggs Stanley, which had cornmeal-crusted P&J’s Louisiana oysters, poached eggs, Canadian bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a toasted English Muffin. I would also highly recommend this dish. There was actually nothing that I can caution anyone against ordering at Stanley. It was all good.

Nola Brewing Tour!

Nola Brewing Tour!

I am not going to go into this portion too much. Because there was not a lot of food consumed, unless you consider hops a meal. But we were lucky enough to get a private tour of the Nola Brewing Company. And I believe they give tours on the first Fridays of the month. Do yourself a favor, if you are beer lover, make a trip here!

Cochon Sign

Cochon Sign

For Saturday night we celebrated my brother’s 33rd birthday at Cochon a restaurant that specializes in making cuisine out of random pig parts. While I am inspired by their innovation, when you are nine weeks pregnant pig parts don’t sound very appealing. But it was my brother’s choice, so we all went. It was a very large group that included our immediate family, a couple of my brother’s friends and my Aunt Mary and our cousins Anna and Clare. Hence, I will not be going over everyone’s meals. I will pick a few to highlight.

Squash salad with goat cheese and fresh herbs

Squash salad with goat cheese and fresh herbs

Delicious squash blossoms with pickled vegetables

Delicious squash blossoms with pickled vegetables

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Birthday Boy Dessert!

Birthday Boy Dessert!

What’s interesting to me about Cochon is their inspiration appears to be derived from meat, but their vegetables are what really stood out for me. I did have a side of ribs, but to me they were just so-so, nothing special. Also, Chris ordered their signature dish which was their Louisiana cochon with cracklins. Essentially it’s pulled pork. And he found it to be very boring.  But my word, their squash salad and squash blossoms were out of this world. The salad was fresh and summer-y and full of flavor. The squash blossom was delicious itself, but the pickled vegetables on the side were an incredible complement to blossoms.  Another standout was the macaroni and cheese. It was lovely, it had a homemade cheese sauce that was crispy brown on the top and was just perfect.

flamenküche

flamenküche

assiette de charcuterie

assiette de charcuterie

Crawfish Bisque

Crawfish Bisque

Our last night in New Orleans we went to Luke’s. This was my choice and all in all it was pretty good. It was not as good as I thought it would be, but the service was awesome.

My sister started off by ordering a yummy Alsatian appetizer called flamenküche , it’s an onion tarte with bacon, caraway and Emmenthaler cheese.  It wads divine.

Dad ordered the assiette de charcuterie which looked delicious. I could not eat it as it involved various meat spreads, one of the many things pregnant women are deprived of.

And lastly Chris ordered the bisque, which was very good. It was not too salty and had nice chunks of crawfish in it.

Ravioli of local crabmeat

Ravioli of local crabmeat

The famous Luke burger

The famous Luke burger

Poulet grand mere

Poulet grand mere

Crisp pork belly and clams

Crisp pork belly and clams

For the entrees most of the table ordered the burger. And I had a bite, it was pretty tasty. Apparently Luke is known for it’s burgers, which is a little odd as it’s a fancy French/Alsatian restaurant in a hotel.  For my dinner I ordered the crabmeat ravioli. I was a little disappointed in my dinner. The portions were small and the meal was essentially one-note and bland. Chris ordered the poulet grand mere – an herb roasted local chicken with  bacon and whipped potatoes. This sounded very good to me, but it ended up being VERY salty. So if you are not a salt fan, do not order this dish. My father ordered the pasta with crispy pork belly and clams. He loved it! I had a bit and I thought it was a very nice dish. The pork was cooked perfectly and the fresh pasta was delicious.

For dessert we ordered two portions of the basque vanilla cake with creme fraiche and blueberries. That was a winner! The cake was super moist and the creme fraiche with the blueberries was a great combination.

“gateau basque” vanilla cake

“gateau basque” vanilla cake

In summary, I would say this culinary adventure to New Orleans was a mixed bag. A few of the dishes were impeccable, but overall most of the restaurants themselves did not shine. Let me know if you all have any other New Orleans restaurants you love!

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.

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.

Koriente: An Austin Favorite

Hummus Rolls

Light and Tasty Hummus Rolls

Before I delve into this, VERY belated, restaurant review I wanted to share something with my readers (aka my husband and my family). As part of having a blog on WordPress you get to see the search query people use to get to your site. And today I saw one of the strangest ever. Apparently someone typed “the louvre dave matthews band tallahasse” and found Olive’s Herbs. If someone can explain this to me, please go ahead.What is odd is that I have definitely been to the Louvre, it’s documented in this web site and I did admit at one point that I was from Tallahassee. But something I have never put out there is that I was indeed at one point in my life a devotee to the Dave Mathews Band (as my poor college roommates Candace and Ali can attest to, they still can’t listen to the musical stylings of the jammy and soulful DMB without thinking of me playing “Under the Table and Dreaming” on repeat).  Fortunately for my friends and family I broke that addiction. Just wanted to share.

But enough about me, let’s talk about food.  It’s way more interesting. Recently, okay, maybe more like a month ago I had a fellow foodie in town Tammy Gordon (of adventures of a florida girl in dc fame). I took her to a mixture of Austin area restaurants – some were new and hip and others were my favorites.  One of these favorites was Koriente. On their web site they describe their food as “… delicious Asian inspired dishes that are healthy, affordable, and quick.” What they fail to mention is Koriente is also centrally located and very affordable. It might not be a fancy date night restaurant, but if you are looking for healthy food in a very cute setting this is your place.

Summer Rolls

Equally Light and Tasty Koriente Summer Rolls

That night we started off with a couple of appetizers – hummus rolls and summer rolls. I love both of these super healthy options. The hummus roll is presented like your typical spring roll but with some very untraditional fillings including homemade hummus, avocado, organic greens, red cabbage, cucumbers and carrots.  Diners can choose between  peanut sauce or a spicy red pepper sauce.  The summer rolls are a little more traditional but still there is a little twist. The summer rolls are stuffed with avocados, spiced noodles, carrots, cabbage and greens. The summer rolls are served with a light soy-based sauce that is not too salty and is just right.

Chicken Bulgogi with Steamed Vegetables and Rice

Chicken Bulgogi with Steamed Vegetables and Rice

For entrees Chris picked the very popular spicy chicken bulgogi. This dish is what one of us usually picks when we are there. It is chicken in a spicy traditional Korean marinade. It’s not too spicy, but definitely has a kick. And the steamed veggies and rice are a great complement to the chicken.

Shrimp Delight

Shrimp Delight

I ordered something new for me, which was the shrimp delight. I’ll be honest it was not as good as I had hoped. I still liked it and would order it again. It was just not as flavorful as my fellow dining companion’s choices. The dish is shrimp, carrot, broccoli and mushrooms in a light sauce served over rice.

Koriente Curry with Tofu

Koriente Curry with Tofu

The big winner of the night (at least according to my taste buds) was fellow foodie blogger Tammy. She ordered a superb dish of seared tofu with carrots, onions, potatoes, and button mushrooms topped with a very light curry sauce (not as pungent as the usual curry) on a bed of steamed rice. It was so yummy. I love curry sauces and the tofu was a great texture. I highly recommend this dish.

I would love to somehow tie this blog posting back to the Dave Matthews Band, but alas I am stumped. Perhaps you should make sure to “Crash” into Koriente some time soon, or maybe – I definitely did not see “Ants Marching” anywhere at Koriente, it was a very clean establishment. No, I have it – it’s a “Typical Situation” that I leave Koriente very happy, full and feeling healthy.