Vino Vino

June 14, 2012

4119 Guadalupe Street
Austin, TX 78751
512-465-9282
http://www.vinovinoaustin.com

It has been a very long time since I posted, so it is time to make note of our new favorite hang-out: Vino Vino at 41st and Guadalupe. I am surprised, nay shocked, that it took me two years of living in Austin before I visited this place! Vino Vino has everything you want in a wine bar. Plenty of space, great atmosphere and service, arguably the spiffiest wine list in town, and great food. Read on to find out more about it!

Wine
Of course, we have to start this conversation with the wine! Along two of the four walls in the room (the whole place is one room) sit floor-to-ceiling racks full of wine. Simply pick a bottle of wine off the rack, bring it to the table, and your server opens and pours the wine for you. Even though you have to get up to do it, it is a fun game that sure beats staring at a wine list! The selection is heavily biased toward Europe (some from other places, but no US wine) and is carefully selected by the expert oenophile owner and his team. Every bottle here seems to have a little extra flavor in it. High quality stemware helps, but we think it is simply the case that they have the best wine here. The staff also seems to have a special talent for finding great stuff at good prices that you’ve never heard of. If you don’t come by yourself, then you have to get a bottle. For sure.

Cocktails and Wine by the Glass
No visuals for these items since they are ordered off the menu, but they are just as tasty as the bottles of wine. Either as a pre-bottle primer, a nightcap, or an option when you don’t like the bottle that the group selects, you won’t be disappointed here. The wines by the glass come from some high quality bottles and are priced accordingly, running from $10-15 and up, unlike many places that simply serve their simplest and cheapest wine by the glass. The cocktails run from the unusual, including liquors like Chartreuse and absinthe, to the simply tasty, such as a traditional Negroni. An excellent choice before or after your bottle of wine.

Food
Since Vino Vino is a wine first place, the menu is short and sweet, with an emphasis on small plates and cheese. That being said, everything is tasty and not your usual fare! The cheese plates are fantastic, and one plate for $8 will be plenty for a group of four people. The small plates include items such as mussels, watermelon salad, and a charcuterie. The large plates, ranging from scallops to rabbit, leave nothing to be desired. And don’t forget about a chocolate semifreddo for dessert!

Sunday Paella
Sunday paella has become an awesome tradition at Vino Vino. First of all, you absolutely need a reservation in order to get a table. You should arrive at about 6:30-6:45 to place your order, and at 7 PM sharp, the staff brings out two enormous paella pans that are each about 3 feet in diameter. One pan has seafood paella and the other has meat, and each order feeds about two people (half orders are encouraged). The best thing to do is to bring three friends and get an order of each. With some solid Spanish wine, this meal is a real treat!

Service and Atmosphere
Like most good wine bars, the atmosphere definitely emphasizes low lighting and dark wood tones, but the place seems to have a pep to it every time you walk in. Just noisy enough to give you some energy but not so loud that you can’t carry on a soft conversation. The service is as friendly and helpful as anywhere in Austin, and the staff knows their wine! Any mistake is always corrected by a free glass. Perhaps the best part of the restaurant is the patio out back, which has a handful of tables and a slick kiva fireplace. Great place to hang out on a nice weather evening.

Overall
The combination of great food and great wine always satisfies, and the fact that Vino Vino has both, with an emphasis on the latter, makes it a great place either to eat or to just hang out. They do have a happy hour from 5:30-7 PM – $2 off wine glasses, 1/2 off beer and appetizers – so be sure to hit that up. All around, these guys have it figured out. For many years now, Vino Vino is consistently been the best wine bar in town, and it is another place that makes Austin the great city that it is!


Polvos

June 26, 2011

2004 South 1st Street
Austin, TX 78704-5142
(512) 441-5446
http://www.polvosaustin.com

Well-known among the South Austin crowd, but only recently gaining recognition among other Austinites is the colorful and flavorful Interior Mexican restaurant Polvos. Don’t let the goofy neon sign and low-slung building fool you. This isn’t your regular Tex-Mex place! Home to the best tacos (lunch, dinner, and breakfast) and the best mexican martinis in town along with a spiffy salsa bar, Polvos is flat-out addicting. Read on to see why we go here at least once a month.

Drinks
Although the margaritas and tequila list show prominently on the menu and are worthwhile in their own right, first and foremost in our minds is the mexican martini. Served ice-cold in an enormous shaker (same size as you would use for a milkshake), this $12 drink is really at least four drinks and can be easily split, especially with the small martini glasses they give you. However, don’t think that quantity trumps quality here. They can make an argument for the best mexican martini in town and can easily stand up to the more famous mexican martini at Trudy’s. A nice twist unique to Polvos is the free hot apple cider (spiked on request) that they serve to warm you up on the outdoor patio in the winter.

Salsas and Appetizers
The salsa bar is comprised of three salsas. For the chips, use the regular tomato based salsa, which is a bit watery but otherwise superbly spicy and flavorful. For the entrees, use the mole-based salsa or the sweet salsa depending on the dish. Also at the bar is a fantastic escabeche. This Mexican derivative of a classic Mediterranean fish dish uses pickled jalapenos in place of fish and soaks them in an acidic marinade with other vegetables to make a perfect garnish. Also, the guacamole and queso are great and come with all kinds of ingredients that you can mix in. For an appetizer, go for the ceviche, and you’ll be very pleased.

Tacos
As the introduction states, Polvos has the best tacos in town. Our opinion is far from complete or authoritative, but we have tried many places and only TacoDeli comes close (very close). If it is your first time to Polvos, you MUST get them! The problem is finding them on the menu. They are tucked away at the bottom of the last page. All of the regular tacos are superb, especially the steak and fish tacos, and two of those make a perfect meal. Another option is to get an exotic taco, in which a meal-sized taco is laid out and topped with any one of several amazing sauces.

Other Entrees
Polvos is very hit and miss on the other entrees, especially if you are picky about how you like your burritos and enchiladas. However, one area you can’t go wrong with is the fish dishes. Their sauces and preparations make otherwise boring fish like tilapia really come alive. If you are really hungry, another dish to try is the Puerco Adovado. It is basically a huge pork flank (looks like a flank steak) that is marinated in an amazing spicy red rub and topped with fresh pineapple. The combination of flavors, along with black beans on the side, makes for a fully satisfying meal.

Breakfast
We don’t get to enjoy breakfast often at Polvos due to its location, but any South Austinite commuting to downtown should make breakfast here a regular occurrence. Austin Monthly rated their breakfast tacos the best in town, just ahead of TacoDeli no less, and we agree! They also offer a variety of entrees, including migas, huevos rancheros, and machacado (shredded steak and eggs). Order up a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice – you can watch them make it behind the bar – or a cup of their exclusive Costa Rican coffee, and you have one of the best breakfasts in town.

Service and Atmosphere
Polvos’ small size and its reliance on a large patio for seating is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it retains the lively, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere that makes a good Mexican restaurant great. However, the wait for a table can be pretty long, especially if the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor seating. The good news is that once you are seated, the wait staff moves quickly and always brings your food hot and on time. Just remember that they’ll bring you the chips but not the salsa!

Overall
By offering food that is nearly as good as most of the higher-end Mexican places (like Fonda San Miguel) for mid-range prices, Polvos is the perfect place to get your regular south-of-the-border fix. Even with all of the options we have in Austin, we don’t miss a trip to this place! Bear in mind that they don’t take reservations, and getting a table during peak hours is getting harder these days. The good news is that they are open from 7 AM to 11 PM every day, so you can always find a time that works. Even if you have to wait a while, you can grab a drink from the bar, and you’ll soon realize that your wait was worth it!


Cipollina

April 8, 2011

1213 West Lynn Street
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 477-5211
http://www.cipollina-austin.com

Cipollina is the younger brother of the renowned Jeffery’s. It has the same owners and is located just across the street at West Lynn and 12th. Interestingly, in many ways the younger has surpassed the elder. Cipollina is a better value and is more accessible for a regular night on the town or a nice lunch, whereas Jeffery’s is more for special occasions. They don’t take reservations, but only during certain lunch times and from 7-9 on Friday and Saturday night will you likely have to wait.

Small Plates and Appetizers
The menu at Cippolina is by design small and simple but wonderfully creative. Start with the creamy tomato parmesan soup or the mixed greens, the latter of which applies the well known but little used trick of putting apple slices on salad. Yum. Even better are the selection of small plates, which can be combined with a soup or salad and a dessert for a nice three course meal. The mussels are some of the best in town and the pork belly is awesome, as it always is when prepared correctly.

Large Plates and Pizzas
First on the list and first in my heart is the grouper, which is magnificently prepared in a meyer lemon buerre blanc sauce. It sounds goofy to say that a $20 dish is cheap, but the grouper tastes like a $30 piece of fish and is emblematic of what Cipollina is striving to be as a restaurant. Vegetarians and really anyone will be pleased with the two large plates – potato gnocchi and red wine risotto – plus the two pizzas – a fresh Margherita and the intriguing kale – that are totally meatless and totally flavorful. Also be on the lookout for specials. On my first visit there, I snagged some really good antelope off the specials list.

Dessert
A dessert list consisting of only 4 items seems kind of weak, but rest assured that you’ll like one of the four. My favorite was a decadent (and I mean that seriously) chocolate pot-de-creme, which has now been replaced by a chocolate mousse. Rounding out the four is always a fruit dessert, which is now a grapefruit trio and the two standbys – goat cheesecake and creme brulee. I’m not a fan of those two items, but everyone I know who is assures me that they are up to par.

Wine
Generally speaking, the wine matches the philosophy found in the food: simple selection, medium-range prices, and high quality. The vast majority of the wines are European and are meant to compliment the lighter food rather than power through with strong flavors. All of it follows well with the bistro theme. A nice touch with the wines by the glass is the option of getting a carafe, which in this case is about 3/4 of a bottle. That is good amount to split on most occasions, or if the meal is long, one person can handle it without having to get multiple glasses or a whole bottle.

Service and Atmosphere
The entire restaurant is one room with a bar on the right side. Again, definitely in the bistro style and definitely a more casual setting. It can get noisy when it is full but never too bad. The wait staff does an excellent job, and the simple menu cuts down on mistakes with orders. The atmosphere fits the food, which is ideal.

Overall
The best part about Cipollina is that it features a creative, high-end menu with medium-range prices. It is a great way to impress a date or to have something other than a burger for lunch without breaking the budget. Combine it with good wine and a lively atmosphere and you have one of the best kept secrets in Central Austin!


Fricano’s Deli

March 12, 2011

2405 Nueces St. Ste. G
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 482-3322
http://www.fricanosdeli.com

Located in West Campus at 24th and Nueces next to Starbucks, Fricano’s brings a piece of great deli tradition from Chicago to Austin. The location is new – they used to be located at 31st and Speedway – but the same monstrous and delicious sandwiches are still there. Also sticking around is the gregarious owner and namesake of the restaurant, Paul Fricano, who is often behind the counter taking orders and yuking it up with customers along with a friendly and loyal staff. Bring your appetite or a friend with whom you can split, and prepare to dig into an awesome Italian club or a pastrami on rye. Best deli in Austin? Read this post and go see for yourself!

Sandwiches
Fricano’s is all about the sandwiches, and boy do they make a statement! Each one is big enough for two lunches (with delicious Zapps chips added) and is made with totally fresh ingredients. Whether you eat your sandwich cold or run it through the panini press, each bite has a zip and a burst of flavor that sets these sandwiches apart from almost any other place in town. Go for the Italian Club on a first visit or make your own, but I have yet to go wrong with any sandwich here. There are several Reubens and several veggie sandwiches along with a few interesting house specialties, including Grandpa Tony’s All-in, which includes every meat, every cheese, and every spread on the menu.

Extras
Like any deli, the food does not stop with the sandwiches at Fricano’s. They have an enormous chef salad that is the rough equivalent of an Italian Club turned into a salad. They have also have smaller side salads and a soup of the day, all of which you can turn into a combo with half a sandwich. If you feel like something unhealthy, go for the monster hot dogs, chocolate chip cookies, or this amazing half-chocolate, half-vanilla iced cookie that they make in house.

Customization and Catering
Probably the main reason Fricano’s stays in business is its excellent catering service. The enormous market that is UT – several hundred student groups and numerous events every day – provides ample opportunity, and they have built a strong reputation among the students and faculty on the north side of campus. Their new location will expose them to more people and should only help this part of their business. They do free delivery on weekdays (and Longhorn Delivery on weekends), and they offer a nice selection of sandwiches, including chip/drink combos, along with some salad bowls. It is the perfect option for an event with 10-30 people.

Service and Atmosphere
The best thing about the new location is the abundance of space, which the old location lacked. Parking is still scare, but now there is a big patio and plenty of air-conditioned space inside. The sandwiches take a while to make (5-10 min) because they are done carefully by hand and because they are so huge. This place isn’t Thundercloud, so sure to take that into account. Otherwise, the staff is very friendly, they get to know their frequent customers by name, and they gladly take Go Local cards. Kick back, take a seat on the patio and enjoy!

Overall
Although my experience is still limited, especially by my need to be near campus often during lunch, I think Fricano’s is the best deli in town, certainly in Central Austin. Many professional reviewers seem to agree at least in part, and perhaps Fricano’s new location will put it on more people’s radar screens. Make sure it in on yours!


Daily Juice

February 21, 2011

2307 Lake Austin Blvd. (one of three)
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 628-0782
http://www.dailyjuice.org

I wasn’t really fond of smoothies before I came to Austin. I have never been big on fruit, and Smoothie King, Jamba Juice, and so on just didn’t really do it for me. Then my sister turned me on to Daily Juice, and it has been a love affair ever since, albeit a rather expensive love affair! This local chain occupies three of the quirkiest hole-in-the-walls in town, which suits their personality perfectly. Sporting the freshest fruit juices and smoothies you can imagine, along with about any kind of raw food you can blend up and put in a cup, they are one of those places that puts the weird in Austin. Don’t be turned off by their high prices, which are simply a reflection of the fact that everything is fresh and homemade. Every trip there is worth it!

Smoothies – Any first time visitor to Daily Juice MUST try one of their smoothies. To not do so is to dishonor the incredible creativity and effort they put into these signature items. If you are hesitant to try their combinations, as I was at first, you are welcome to make one of your own. For a simple smoothie, try the Sure Thing or the Berry Melon-O. For a little complexity and adventure – and what is life without that – go for the ever popular Subliminator. Peanut butter in a fruit smoothie? Oh yes. Regardless of your choice, the smoothie will be made fresh right in front of you and will overload you with fruity flavor and rich, thick texture that can only come from grinding up real fruit and never, ever using concentrate.

Juices – The juices lack the awesome thick texture of the smoothies, but they lack none of the flavor and are lighter on the stomach. The zaniness of the smoothies is carried on in the juices with the Vitamin C – I Told Ya So (grapefruit, orange etc.) and the Raw Chocolate Milk (which has no milk). For a cheaper option, try the Strawberry Limeade for “only” $2.50 for a small. It is well worth it to try their version of this popular drink.

Extras – Every location has an eclectic selection of raw food bars, Master Cleanse juice, and other potions and concoctions that offer a “natural” solution for whatever ails you. The Hyde Park location, situated in an old gas station, also offers a nice selection of sandwiches and salads as well as indoor space to sit down. However, the best extras are the 14 kinds of shots, in one or two ounce sizes, and the some 30 kinds of add-ins, from the “Emergen-C” or “Power-C” Vitamin-C add-ins to the raw pecan butter. One of the most interesting shots is the wheatgrass. Grown in house and then cut off and blended on the spot, it is often cited that an ounce of this “living drink” has as many vitamins and nutrients as two kilograms of raw veggies. This claim is likely wrong, but there is no doubt that wheatgrass is good for you. It tastes like grass – yuk – but you can almost feel yourself get healthier after drinking it. A fine example of the weird but wonderful goods that Daily Juice brings to Austin!

Service and Atmosphere – The staff is quintessentially Austin: young with dyed hair, passionate about food, and always friendly. The colorful signs, posters, and random information about the health benefits of various raw foods furthers the weirdness and coolness factor. The awesome part about Daily Juice is that everything is made fresh, as in they blend or squeeze fruit individually for every drink for maximum flavor and healthiness. However, this practice also means that you can easily wait five minutes or more for your smoothie when it is busy. Be prepared, especially if the weather isn’t great. The Hyde Park location is indoors, but the other two are not.

Overall – Few places embody all at once the weirdness, coolness, and tastiness of Austin. Daily Juice is one of those places. If you are willing to spend a little bit extra for that extra level of quality in your snacks, then head over and check it out!


TacoDeli

February 3, 2011

1500 Spyglass Drive (original location)
Austin, TX 78746
512-732-0303
http://www.tacodeli.com

After a long hiatus due to a difficult semester, I have built up a few places on which I want to elaborate. Taco Deli is at the top of that list. Now that they have opened a location at 42nd and Lamar (close to campus!) and another near the Domain, it has become, along with Amy’s Ice Cream, a place that I absolutely must visit every week. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!!! The original location on Barton Skyway has the outdoor atmosphere and long-tenured waitstaff that is impossible to beat, so go there if you can. However, you aren’t missing out on much by going to the new locations. They are thoroughly up to speed.

Regular Tacos – From the Mojo Fish Taco to the famous Frontera Fundido to the Cochinita Pibil, Taco Deli has something fresh and creative for every taste. The Freakin’ Vegan is a real winner for a veggie taco, but only the original location can make it without explanation (the Heather is also a good veggie option). However, what sets Taco Deli apart is the Thunder Heart Bison Picadillo. Not only do they have the cajones to put bison on a taco, but they also do an awesome job dressing it up with garlic, tomato, carmelized onion, jack cheese and jalapeno. Fabulous!

Taco Specials – What also sets Taco Deli apart are their daily specials. Monday: El Picosito, Tuesday: Achiote Chicken, Wednesday: Shrimp Tacos and Rellenos (banana peppers and not chiles bit still tasty), Thursday: Scallop Tacos and Tacolomo, Friday: award winning Ceviche Yucatan and Guacasabi Tuna Tacos, and Lomo Especial on the weekends. It doesn’t get much better!

Breakfast Tacos – My favorite breakfast in the morning is to grab a couple of tacos from Taco Deli before going to campus. The papas (mexican mashed potatoes), chorizo, and egg combo is unbeatable. Also try adding any of the meats to one of the specialty tacos for a delicious and hearty combination. They will add or subtract anything for everything, so don’t be afraid to ask! My best tacos have been made by doing that.

Salsas – Ah the famous Salsa Dona! This jalapeno based salsa has really put TacoDeli on the map. Personally, I find the spice to be too much and the texture too thick for tacos. Hence, I like to mix the Dona with the milder and more watery Roja, and the combination is absolutely perfect. For the spice hounds there is a blow-your-top-off Habanero, and for the wimps there is the flavorful-but-not-really-salsa Verde. However, most people we have met either like the Dona, the Roja, or the combination of the two.

Extras – Here is the one area where TacoDeli is lacking a bit. The tortas, salads, and so on are very good and creative, but they come up short of the awesome flavor of the tacos. The homemade juices – orange juice, grapefruit juice, and lemonade – are a nice touch, but they are all a bit watery and are very overpriced at over $2 apiece. Fortunately, these things are not central to the TacoDeli experience, so I just skip over them and go straight to the tacos!

Service and Atmosphere – The general format is counter ordering with table service. There can be some very long lines at the counter, but they move things along pretty quickly and your food always comes out hot. Plus, the employees are always friendly, experienced, and willing to make any changes that you want to make. Overall, TacoDeli does a solid job with their service. The only downside is that they aren’t open for dinner.

Overall – Torchy’s, Taco Shack, and a few other taco stands are very good, but TacoDeli takes the prize for the best tacos in town. Not only are the tacos creative and and delicious, but they also tend less toward the unhealthy fried side and more toward the healthier (although far from really healthy) fresh side. If you live in Austin and don’t go here, you are missing out! For a fast breakfast or lunch, TacoDeli blows everything else out of the water.


Fion Wine Pub

August 19, 2010

2900 N. Quinlan Park Rd Ste A150
Austin, TX 78732
512-266-FION (3466)
http://www.fionwinepub.com

For the second post in a row, I am reviewing a place in far west Austin, but fear not because downtown is on the agenda for the next few weeks. Except for those in the Lakeway area, Fion Wine Pub is probably an unknown, with a location in Bee Cave off Bee Cave Rd. (next to the incomparable Zoot) and in Steiner Ranch just outside the entrance to UT Golf Club. Both of these restaurants are easy to miss unless you drive by them every day. However, they should not be passed up altogether. The only difference between the two seems to be that the Bee Cave location has more alcohol but not a full menu. I took a Groupon to the Steiner Ranch location on a mellow Wednesday night, and here is how it went.

Wine – They call themselves a wine pub, so you know they have lots of wine. The neat thing is that they have a unique license that allows them to retail over 600 different wines while allowing you to consume on the premises. I did not take advantage of that, but I did get one of their almost 20 wine flights. My flight was called the Pinnochio, and it was a collection of three pinot noirs. The wines were sadly served unchilled, but the Leese-Fitch stood out as a great find among the three. I should also note that they have equally impressive collections of beer (over 500 bottles) and cheese.

Appetizers – Disappointingly, most of the appetizers consisted of the usual bar fare (shrimp, fried mozzarella, etc.) with just a little twist. But from among the boring items came the mixed field greens. It was a delightful combination of green lettuce (my preference at least), apples, walnuts, gorgonzola, and shallots. It was almost a small lunch, so I’m glad I came hungry. The lemon vinaigrette lacked a bit of punch, but fortunately the cheese and apples made up for that lacking to create a well balanced dish.

Main Courses – Again, most of the menu was filled with regular bar food such as grilled chicken, steak, and sandwiches, which was less than I had expected from an upscale place. However, on the back page of the menu lay a hidden gem: the “Healthy Living” menu. At other places, this menu might consist of some generic veggie items, a chicken dish, and a piece of fish. Not here! Beef tenderloin, lamb bolognese, a chicken wrap (the waiters all like that one), and several other items all well-portioned at under 700 calories. I went for the turkey meatloaf, which was lightly covered in an Asian BBQ sauce and served with mashed sweet potatoes and spinach. That dish alone is worth coming back for, but I want to try all of the others. It was truly a great surprise and a sign that there is a excellent and creative chef in their kitchen.

Desserts – The dessert menu seemed pretty solid but was nothing to write home about. I busted my healthy entree with a huge brownie sundae. I didn’t finish it, but I’m pretty sure what I ate was more than 700 calories. At any rate, although it was not spectacular, it was still worth ordering.

Service – I sat at the bar, and the bartenders were very friendly despite being obviously worn out and a bit slow at 9 PM. I always like a little encouragement on my menu choices when I go to a new place, and they were happy to oblige. The only gaffe, as I mentioned before, was with the wine service.

Atmosphere – In general, the atmosphere was very laid back, with a mix of neighborhood folks and groups of friends having a night out. The decor was akin to a California wine cellar transplanted into a suburban shopping center. It would have been neat if they had removed the suburban tinges, but doing so would make the restaurant less comfortable and too upscale-looking for the suburbanites that form their core customer base. In the end, the place had a good vibe that made up for being buried in the back of a shopping center.

Overall – Fion is worth visiting regularly just for the “Healthy Living” menu, but it is also a nice place to hang out and have a drink after a round of golf or a long day at work. I’m sad that it took me a year and a Groupon to visit, but I’ll be sure to go back soon.


Baguette et Chocolat

July 15, 2010

12101 Bee Cave Road (FM 2244)
Bee Cave, TX 78738
http://www.baguetteetchocolat.com/
Also look for their Facebook page.

There are many excellent bakery/deli combinations in Austin (Texas French Bread comes to mind), but the perfection of the concept comes from the French. Now we are fortunate to have a real, absolutely LEGIT, authentic French bakery/deli called Baguette et Chocolat. It is located out on Bee Cave Road near the Hill Country Galleria, so it is not convenient for the centrally located folks. But if you are in that area, it is a must visit.

Background – This place has a great story behind it. The owner and head chef, Chi-minh Pham-dinh, grew up in Versailles (apparently of Vietnamese descent?) and graudated from the prestigious National Institute of Bakery and Pastry in France. You figure he could have gone to work anywhere, but he and his wife Anne-lise wanted to come all the way to Austin to open their first restaurant. They have created quite a place. Forget about the recession here because they can’t make their desserts fast enough. I stopped by in the late afternoon on a wet and dreary Thursday, and almost everything in the display case was gone.

The Goodies – Among the items still left was a personal favorite: chocolate mousse. It was perfectly rich and creamy but the chocolate flavor was a bit weak. Perhaps my American taste buds are too desensitized for the subtle French ways, but it did need more chocolate. Still, you can’t discount the homemade quality. The other pastries ran the gamut from eclair to cakes to danishes. The French coffee seemed to be quite popular, perhaps due to the rain but probably because it was good.

The Sandwiches – I still need to go back and try their sandwiches, but they have quite a selection. Many of the regular deli sandwiches were there, but they often had a French twist. The croques were a popular choice, the paninis looked good, and the French salty crepes looked really intriguing. I have had crepes, but not salty crepes and not crepes that were made like sandwiches. Anyway, it will be interesting to try out, and I will update this post after I go back.

Atmosphere and Service – The chocolate mousse was already made, so I can’t comment on speed. I will say that the staff was very friendly. You can tell they are taking pride in building their business from the ground up by winning over each and every customer. The decor was modern bistro with the cash register on the display case and plenty of indoor seating. The atmosphere was lively because there was a steady flow of people in and out. Most of the other tenants in the surrounding shopping center have failed, so the steady business is a good sign. What is that saying about “Location, location, location?” They don’t care.

Overall – It is difficult to make a trip all the way out there just to visit a bakery/deli shop. However, if you are in the area, you absolutely should stop by. If you need a birthday or a wedding cake, look them up. They also serve breakfast starting at 6:30 AM, which is perfect for the early morning commuters heading from that area toward downtown. Sadly, they do close at 6 PM, and many of the desserts may be gone by the end of the lunch hour. Suck it up, be an early bird, and check out this wonderful place.


Your Mom’s Burger Bar

July 3, 2010

1701 East Cesar Chavez Unit B.
Austin, TX 78702
eatatyourmoms.com

Located in the strangely hip corner of East Austin across I-35 from downtown, Your Mom’s is a new gourmet burger joint run by Ryan and Gina Blackmore. The story behind the name is that “Your mom’s,” was Gina’s response to Ryan’s question, “Where should we eat?” True to form, this place sports its share of Austin quirkiness, including an entertaining and humorous menu. The prices are rather high by Austin standards – about $7.50 for a burger and fries – but it is a gourmet burger joint after all. Now for the low down.

The Burger – I ordered a John D. Rockefeller, which was a 1/2 lb. burger stuffed with peper jack cheese and topped with spinach, artichoke, tomato, more cheese, and the intriguing Good Fellas sauce. The sauce tasted like a chipolte mayo but was much thicker than that. The burger itself was not much to behold – except for the stuffed cheese – and the bun was rather plain. However, the combination of the sauce and the spinach made the whole thing worthwhile.

Misc – The crispiness of the fries was good, but they were also a little bit too greasy. After they got a little cold, they seemed to soak up that grease and lose their inherent flavor. There are a wide array of specialty burger options, but you can also make your own and or make anything a veggie or vegan burger for a little extra change. Sadly, Your Mom’s does not do shakes! I hope they will add them in the future.

Service – First of all, don’t expect your burger to come quickly. They are all made to order, which ensures that the burger comes out hot and fresh but also guarantees a ten minute wait. You order at the counter and then they bring it to you, so at least you can sit and ensure yourself a table while you wait.

Atmosphere – Indoor seating is limited to a handful of barstools near the ordering counter, so plan on eating in the outside covered patio (watch out in the summer!). The place has a slightly dirty feel to it, but in a good way like Torchy’s. The vibe definitely matches the laid back, blue-collar nature of that side of town, which will no doubt help Your Mom’s become a go-to place for lunch around there.

Overall – This place could make the case for the best burgers in town, but I can’t grant them that for now. They do win tops for creativity in their toppings, sauces, and combinations, but the burgers and buns themselves are too greasy and plain. It is worth venturing across the highway for once or twice, but P. Terry’s does the trick just as well and is more convenient on the go.


The Carillon

June 26, 2010

I’m getting a late start on the posts, and once a week may be ambitious until I get into the habit a bit more. However, this restaurant, which we visited two weeks ago, demanded a post.

The Carillon at the AT&T Conference Center
1900 University Avenue
Austin, Texas 78705
512-404-3655
http://www.meetattexas.com/restaurants.html

Located in the ground floor lobby of the new hotel at UT, The Carillon is one of serveral excellent hotel restaraunts in Austin (see also Finn and Porter and the Driskill Grill). Hotel restaurants are often the best places in any town to get great food without crowds. These places don’t have to make money and tend to repel crowds by default, so their chefs can focus on the menu and not on filling tables. Austin is no exception to this trend, and in a city with so many great chefs, many of them have found their way to the hotels. Executive Chef Josh Watkins came to the Carillon after working under the famed David Bull at the Driskill Grill. He may not be at The Carillon for long after some top restaurants get wind of what he is serving up here. Now for the nitty gritty:

Wine – I like to order things chronologically, and wine is always first in my heart anyway. The wine list is surprisingly understated compared to the food, with most of the options in the $40-$70 per bottle range. However, they do an excellent job of diversifying the list and including a few nice high-dollar choices for the extra special occasion. We had a Catena Malbec, which is a common sight in the liquor store and a great value wine. It went perfectly with the meats that we ordered and was even OK with my fish.

Appetizers – The short rib croutons that came with the mixed greens salad were both unique and tasty, and the quail egg that came with the bacon-wrapped sea scallops was unexpected. It was great to see new things right off the bat. However, the winner was probably the crisp pork belly, which melts like butter in your mouth and tastes even better.

Main Courses – The mero was perfectly crisp on the exterior but almost too soft for a fork on the insde -very much akin to seabass – and it sat on top of a delicious mushroom risotto bed. My dad’s short ribs were cooked nicely and had a superb glaze on them. My sister’s niagri was something I had never seen before. It was similar to ahi tuna in look and taste but was a little bit lighter on the pallete. The main courses seem to rotate regularly, so expect to see different stuff on there when you visit.

Dessert – The guanaja chocolate terrine was a perfect dark chocolate ending to a great meal. I am a devoted chocolate lover (if you want to hear about non-chocolate desserts, go to another blog!), and it always pleases me when a restaurant repects the chocolate by leaving the fruity sauces on the side. In this case, the coriander cream and burnt orange reduction (what else would you expect here?) compliment the dense cake quite well without overpowering it.

Service – Nothing special but prompt and on target. For a realtively new restaurant that gets so little business, I give them huge props for the service being up to par with the food.

Atmosphere – The Carillon has a large floor space, two story ceiling, and total lack of patrons – we counted about 7 other filled tables at 7 PM on a Friday. The dark decor and muted lighting add to the romantic tint, which inevitably makes it a perfect quiet place for a date. As a matter of fact, almost all of those other seven tables were couples on a date. However, don’t count it out for any special occasion. We went there for a family birthday meal and did not feel out of place at all.

Overall – This place is on my top five list for fine dining in Austin. Perhaps only Paggi House can top it night in and night out, but the advantage here is that you are guaranteed a reservation! The best indicator of a great restaurant is consistency, and I look forward to testing that in the future.