Monday, 13 February 2006

π = A Flaky, Buttery, Aussie Treat

Austin has a new, fun, little addition to the fast service culinary scene. It’s called Boomerang’s and it’s a haven for some delightfully savory Australian-style pies.

Bommerang's Entrance

On a recent visit, we had a chat with Jack of the proprietary duo Jack and Emilie Fennell. Apparently, they got the Aussie meal-in-a-pie concept while working for Dell on a 3 year dispatch to Sydney. The handheld, tasty pastry is so popular Down Under that the couple decided to move back to hometown Austin and open up their own pie outpost.

Boomerang's Tryptich

I don’t know if one or both of them have a marketing background, but they’ve done a great job on the branding and décor of the place. From custom door handles and light fixtures to the comely blue concrete floors and brushed copper cabinets, the little restaurant is a just plain inviting space to hang out and get your grub on.

Very cool floor at boomerang's

I know what you’re thinking, “Alright Mr. Talky McRambles, cut with the interior design and get to the eating.”

Ok, ok, I’ve got to give the Fennells props for deciding to make all of their crusts and fillings from scratch. They could have easily gone the scoop-it-out-of-a-can route, but these homestyle pies are some moist, buttery, goodness. They offer eleven different varieties in both the veggie and meat genres. While the overall concept may be Aussie, the flavors span a larger gamut. The range includes classics of course, but also southwestern, Asian, pizza, and even some Texas BBQ.

If it’s your first time, I would recommend starting with one of the traditional offerings, either the classic beef or the steak and mushroom, with ketchup if you want the official experience. For the non-carnivorous among us, both the Mediterranean and the Spicy Mexican Veggie make excellent choices.

Steak and Mushroom Pie with Kettle Chips

Boomerang’s also makes their own kettle chips that are certainly better than bags of mass produced crispies, but on the day we were there they were a bit on the overcooked side. And while the salads are welcome signs of greenery, they are at best serviceable side-notes to the main pastry attractions.

The Vegetarian Pie

Currently, the joint is all B.Y.O.B, but once they get their license they’ll have a nice variety of beer and wine and Tuesdays appear to be slated for $2 pint night in good Aussie fashion.

All things considered, this unique little eatery is definitely worth your attention. The fast, friendly service, extremely reasonable prices (around $4.50 per pie) and delicious fare will certainly have us stopping by for more.

Boomerang’s                                                                                                                             3110 Guadalupe                                                                                                                    (512) 380-0032

-L. Pants

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Start Seein’ Korean

         Being very white and quite round-eyed myself (so tasteless), I am hesitant to pass judgment on the authenticity of various Asian cuisines. However, I have it on good word that the eats over at Korea House in the Village Shopping Center are about as real as you’re going to get these days in the American south.

Funny mug o' beer (Sapporo)

Traditional or not though, it doesn’t much matter because the food is real, real good. As you can tell from the picture, our favorite way to start a dining experience here is with a big goofy-ass mug of Sapporo (look, I know it’s from Japan – get off my case). The best quality about this particular beer being that, like the English will tell you, it is served in a proper 16oz. portion.

Vegetable soup -Gook

Next, it is customary in Korean meals to have soup, known as Gook. It’s usually a clear broth with assorted vegetables and meat bits included. This is called vegetable soup on the menu, but tastes distinctly like a piping hot cup of ham. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We also augmented our soup selection and continued to mix cultures with a bowl of miso soup. Even though it’s not Korean, they do it very well and it makes for a great aperitif.

Miso soup

Possibly my favorite thing about Korean restaurants is the slue of tiny dishes that they call panchan. With every meal they wheel out this cart, absolutely swarming with multiple, delicious, often-times unrecognizable, food stuffs. A server then proceeds to cover your table with 8 to 12 of them. If it were Italian, I guess these would be like a mother-lode of antipasti. But since it’s Korean, it’s called panchan and it’s mandatory.

Panchan

The dishes vary every time we go, but on this particular occasion we were presented with mung bean sprout salad, marinated potatoes, spinach sautéed in sesame oil, pickled cucumber and crab, spicy tofu, soy-glazed fish cake strips, three types of kim-che, and green beans fried in a sweetened egg batter. Yum. And not that most normal people could, but if you find yourself so inclined, Koreans have an unwritten all-you-can-eat philosophy on panchan and will gladly bring you more of anything you polish off.

Now on to the main dishes. Feeling adventurous (and really, when is she not?) Mme. Pants ordered the Yuk-hoe bi bim bop. The dish is rice and vegetables topped with raw marinated beef and a raw egg yolk. If this doesn’t sound up your alley, then you’re s.o.l. because it’s crazy delicious. Spicy, crunchy, rich and creamy, a blend of hot and cold – it’s really quite an interesting culinary experience. Oh, and I don’t know what kind of crack they put in their rice, but it’s soooo tasty. I would literally come here just to eat the rice.

Yuk-hoe bi bim bop

Slightly tamer, but just as scrumptious was a new tofu dish that they have recently added to the menu. It’s a compilation of super crispy tofu strips topped with a pepper mixture, all resting on lettuce, various pickled things and lots of crack rice. I hope it stays on the line-up, because it freaking rules.

Crazy tofu special

Finally, we finished the whole thing off with absolutely no dessert. That’s right, nothing. Come on, the two of us just ate fifteen bowls of food. Yes, FIFTEEN! Koreans are obviously more American than they realize.

So listen up people, if you’re sitting around hungry and have a hankering for some Asian, cast off the Chinese-Japanese manacles. Get out there and rub some of that beautiful Korean fare all over yourself and revel in a modicum of worldliness. Or some such. Unless of course you’re already going out for Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Thai, Malaysian…

Annyeonghi kaseyo and thanks for stopping by.

L. Pants

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Enoteca: The Little Bistro That Could

Front Window

Now for an experiment in full frontal appearances of impropriety. Wait. That sounds a little more exciting than I intended.  What I meant to say is, is it possible to deliver an unbiased assessment of the food of a restaurant in which you work? The answer: How about it doesn’t freaking matter because no one’s paying me and it’s just food anyway? No one’s going to lose a limb folks. Unless you backtalk.

Speaking of back, now a little back story: I sought out a job at Enoteca because I’m obsessed with food and this new endeavor by the owners of Vespaio (best Italian food in Austin and insanely successful) seemed like an extremely promising opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a great new restaurant. Was I right? Well, it is still a little early to say definitively, but there are a lot of good signs. Regardless, on to the food.

Pepper Shooters

-Pepper shooters-

Like any good Italian place, Enoteca features a large array of antipasti. My favorites so far are the beet, fennel, and orange salad and the haricots verts salad with asiago pressato and sopressata. The beets are dressed with an awesome red wine and caraway vinaigrette, while the haricots verts (what? There’re French people in Italy) are kicked up with a bright citronette. Both are delicious, but on occasion the verts are less than consistent with the salt level, tending to the bland side.

Carne Plate- Nostrano

-Nostrano Affumicato-

Next, they have a large assortment of charcuterie. The cured meats are high end and snacktactic and are sourced from some excellent producers. But if you ask me (and technically, you kind of are) the pates and mousses steal the show. They are all made in-house which is unusual.

We have an authentic French farm boy chained to a table, breaking down whole pigs and water fowl and churning out vast quantities of savory terrines. The most impressive is the duck galantine. It’s a whole duck, boned out through a single incision on the back, then stuffed with the force meat of more ducks, some spices and maybe some dried fruits. Then the whole thing is wrapped up tight and poached so that it comes out looking almost like a whole duck, legs and all. It’s pretty cool and certainly scrumptious, but seems like a real pain in the ass to make.

Charcuterie- Duck Liver Mousse

Ok, appetizers. I’ll be brief. Try the suppli. They’re herbed risotto balls stuffed with fontina, deep fried and served with a slightly spicy arrabiata. What’s not to love? To be fair, suppli can go pretty wrong. I’ve had more than a few at various restaurants, that are dense, gummy and more like eating racquetballs than fried deliciousness. Not Enoteca though. These are worked gently and are all light, creamy, cheesy goodness.

“But what about the sandwiches,” you say? That’s easy. All of them are good, but if you must get one (and sweet lord you must) try the prosciutto and truffled egg panini with fontina and arugula. I’d say more, but it’s pretty self explanatory.

It’s kind of the same story with the pizzas. The crusts are really tasty with a nice balance of crisp and chew. They don’t have the same smokiness as Vespaio’s wood fired pizzas, but all of them are well above average. There are several unusual offerings including some more truffled egg, as well as a delicious lardo pizza, made with a delicate, seasoned and preserved pork fat. My personal favorite, however, is the funghi and taleggio. A spinach and mushroom pie, covered in generous amounts of pungent taleggio that fills the whole restaurant when it’s baking. (Astute readers will remember my soft spot for taleggio from this earlier tart.)

Funghi and Taleggio Pizza

Finally, all of the pasta is handmade in the kitchens and is toothsome and satisfying. They do have a tendency to over sauce in that unfortunate American style, but luckily the sauces are great.

I’ve rambled on quite enough. Just go and check it for yourself. If you like Italian food, you’ll have a great time getting your eat on at Enoteca.

Bread and Butcher

Oh, one last shout out. Barry, the pastry chef extraordinaire, kicks ass! Have dessert, eat the breads, try the breakfast pastries. It all seriously rocks.

Pastry Case

L. Pants

Saturday, 17 September 2005

Union Oyster House

outside of restaurant

While I was in Boston over Labor Day weekend, I absolutely had to find me some good clam chowder.  That is definitely something missing here in Texas... I've found good places for oysters, fried seafood, and Mexican seafood, but for some reason (hmmm...) we're missing good clam chowder.

So, on Labor Day itself, while we were walking the Freedom Trail, we stopped at the Union Oyster House.  It's been there for an awfully long time (since 1826, apparently) and I hoped that this might mean that they know what they're doing. 

I was a little worried, as I am really prejudiced against "ye olde" anything; my family used to call all of them "ye oulde touristte trappes".  Well, whatever - I had to suck it up and squash my worries.  Maybe if I lived in Boston, I'd have a better handle on where the locals go for their clam chowder, but to my untrained eye, this looked pretty promising.

The ambience was perfect - again, the kind of place we don't really have here in Austin.

Ambience

So, after deliberation et cetera, I'm pretty sure these guys do know what they're doing... I only had a couple of things off of their menu, but it did seem like I was surrounded by happy eaters, and there were certainly many things on the menu that I wanted to come back and try.

Union Oyster House Menu

Suprise - we all got clam chowder.  My friend k-dog and I split the luxurious - sounding "Cold Seafood Sampler" - as you can see on the menu above (under On the Half Shell) this was a combination of oysters, cherrystone clams, and cocktail shrimp.

Luxurious my foot!

our eleven dollar seafood platter

OK, yes, really tasty (though I'm pretty sure it's not oyster season right now - correct me if I'm wrong?), but 6 things for 10.50?  Either I'm getting old or I've been in Texas too long, because that seemed like a bit much to me.

Here's everything we ordered.

Our chowdahs and seafood

It was all very good; the beer really hit the spot after a morning walking around the Freedom Trail.  I felt like it was a great Boston day. 

So, the clam chowder was awesome as advertised; I think it would have been even better if it had been really cold outside.  (Not that I'm going back in February to test that!)  The cornbread was all right; a little dry, and a little too sweet for my taste, but it was nice with the salty chowder.  I was really pleased overall, and I'd definitely go back for their lobster ravioli!

Clam chowder and oyster crackers yum

Union Oyster House

41 Union Street

Boston, Mass

(617) 227-2750

-girlie

Monday, 08 August 2005

Congratulations to the Husbear!

I just wanted to fire off a quick post to congratulate the Husbear (also known as Mr. Pants -- yes, we'll settle on a nickname one of these days, I promise) on his new job working at Vespaio/ Enoteca Vespaio!

Vespaio is a great restaurant here in Austin -- consistently one of the top 10.  They're opening up a new wine/snack bar, a more casual place, which is where the Husbear will be working.

He actually went and "worked the line" in the kitchens at Vespaio on Wednesday and Thursday of last week; according to him, this was an awesome experience, and he's truly excited.  He's already amassing a lovely complement of scars and burns on both of his hands.

Anyway, more updates as events warrant (tm - Calvin and Hobbes).  We're both just thrilled to pieces.

Thursday, 09 June 2005

Zoot Soup Riot

Pop quiz!  What do two food obsessed people do to celebrate their first anniversary?  “Badminton?” you ask.  “Spelunking.” you might say.  No, sillies!  We go out and find some tasty and interesting eats, yo.

Austin has a lot of great restaurants that we haven’t been to (a problem we’re slowly attempting to rectify).  One of them though, Zoot, has an intriguing little deal where the chef offers not one, but two tasting menus.  Neither of us had ever had the pleasure of being brought a succession of tiny courses designed to not only complement one another, but also pair divinely with multiple, equally miniaturized, glasses of wine.  No time like the present, so we took the fancy-shamncy plunge.

(If you want to check out a guy who’s made tasting menus into practically a full contact sport, look him up at tastingmenu.  Unfortunately, envy doesn’t go with my suit. Oh well.)

Zoot has kind of a New American thing going on with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients.  Everything was delicious, and overall we had a fantastic time, so any criticism is purely nitpicky and minor in nature – but that’s how we get our jollies. Because we’re bitter, sanctimonious jerkwads.

The two tasting menus were the Chef’s(c) and the Farmer’s(f), the latter being vegetarian. They each had six courses.  Since I’m a linear thinker, I’ll take them in order from the top.

1st_course1

First were rabbit rillettes(c) and a blue cheese broccoli soup(f).  The rillettes were moist and lipsmackable with an awesome tangy-sweet sherry gastrique (Sherry Gastrique would be a great porn name).  The soup was served chilled and had an excellent texture and savoriness that got you revved up for the meal to come.  It was served with a truffled crème fraiche that seemed kind of fancy for fancy’s sake.  I know it’s tempting to throw a truffly sop to vegetarians, but maybe a blued crème fraiche would have tied the theme together a bit more – especially since the soup’s promised blue-ness really stayed in the background.

2nd_course_2

Second came the salads.  Not to dis right out of the gates, but this was the weakest link in both menus.  Mme. Pants had greens and daikon with a red pepper vinaigrette(c).  It was good but exuberantly dressed. I had a baby spinach salad with feta buttermilk dressing(f).  It was tasty and all, but it looked a bit like diner-salad-deconstructed.  Maybe it’s my fault for not being more into tiny piles of cucumber and radish.  Props though, for getting the greenery from the local Bluebonnet Farms.  (I say that our lack of excitement re: the salads was because L. Pants’ salads are tasty beyond reason, so it blinds us to salads that are merely good. – Girlie)

3rd_course_2

Happily, the third courses were firmly back on track.  The lovely lady was served escolar on a fines herbes risotto(c).  The escolar was perfectly done.  The fillet showed off these attractive concentric rings in the presentation.  The risotto was also spot on with a rich creaminess accented by some fun little preserved lemon dealies (they called it nage, but dealies works for me).            

I had an heirloom tomato bruscetta(f) that was surprisingly fresh tasting for something that’s been passed down through the generations.  Ok.  I’m sorry.  Moving on.  The highlight of this very straightforward dish was the ricotta that Zoot makes in-house.  It had a super rich mouthfeel and an earthy sweetness that you just don’t come by in the store-bought stuff.  For such nice tomatoes, though, they sure did chop them into itty-bitty little pieces.

Main_course_2

Copious joy, for we have reached the entrees.  Both were delectable.  The meatful one was an eensy lamb chop with quinoa and demi-glace.  The lamb couldn’t have been cooked better.  Perfectly seared outside and just a hair above rare in the moist vibrant center.  The tiny crunchy vegetables were quite complimentary, but Mme. Pants felt the demi-glace was a little overpowering.

The farmer’s menu featured a wheatberry risotto with a parsley emulsion.  It was a totally different experience from the earlier risotto.  The wheatberry has a lower starch level, so it wasn’t all about a creaminess. Instead, it had a fantastic toothsome texture that was enhanced by the verdurous parsley flavor.  The whole dish said Spring all over it. Yum.

Cheese_course_3

Next, behold the majesty of cheese.  It’s hard to go into detail, since there are only so many superlatives.  Suffice it to say that they were all f*ing fantastic; but what else do you expect to hear from a cheese-whore like me?  Fine, stop begging - I’ll just tell you what they were real quick.  From mild to pungent: Brillat Savarin(brie like), Buches de Causses(a tangy goat cheese), and Crater Lake Blue(mmmm…).

Yummy_creme_caramel_1

Finally, dessert.  Not that we needed it, not that that stopped us.  We had an enticing variety to choose from, but our server nudged us gently (and perceptively) towards the crème caramel.  He said that they’d only perfected it a few days ago, which seemed like an odd thing to say, but whatever, because he totally wasn’t lying.  It was a rich, velvety custard with a crisp, mouthwatering caramel top.  We didn’t want to finish the whole thing, but the laws of men and gods demanded that it be so.

Zoot

509 Hearn Street

Austin, TX 78703

(512) 477-6535 

Monday, 16 May 2005

The Bluebonnet Cafe: Where Girlie and Mr. Pants learn a Lesson in Cash-Bearing

Sorry, folks.  I know I haven't posted in a while -- I've been leaving that up to the multi-talented Sr. Pants to take care of, while he's unemployed (briefly) and knocking about the house in his boxers.  Just know that I've been lurking.
Yesterday, Sunday, we actually dragged ourselves out of bed and packed ourselves into the car at 9 AM (not a typo).  We did this because we wanted pie.  Not just any pie, but the pie to be had at the Bluebonnet cafe, in Marble Falls, TX. 101_0175  This seemed like a terrific idea (and it was, by gum -- their banana and peanut butter cream pies were totally awesome), but, being children of the digital age, it simply didn't occur to us that since we were visiting a small-town diner, mayhaps we should fill our wallets with some cash.  It came time to pay for our meal & pie, and Mr. Pants goes up to the register.  I see the helpful ladybehindthecounter point behind her, and the Mr. goes back and starts fiddling with something behind the cash register area.  I wait for him to come back to the table... nothing doing.  I poke at the leftover bits of pie for a minute, and look up, and he's motioning for me to come join him at the fiddly thing. 
Turns out, the Bluebonnet cafe doesn't take cards.  They have an ATM of sorts, which looks like one of those little card scanners they use at the mall... it had no slots for money to come out of.  Unfortunately, we never figured out how the thing dispensed cash, because it wouldn't take either of our cards. 
I've never been in that position before.  We'd just enjoyed a lovely meal, coffee, eggs, biscuits, and pie, and now we had no means of paying for it!  How freakin' embarassing!
The lovely owner gave us his business card and told us to write our name and address on the check... he said we could mail in a check or some cash when we got home.  I guess we were in a small town... in Austin, I'm pretty sure we'd still be washing dishes, no matter that the check's only $20.
We left and walked through the town until we found an ATM, which luckily accepted our cards so we could pay for our meal.
I'm so glad that worked out... what a nice guy for letting us pay like that!
Girlie

Bluebonnet Cafe

211 Highway 281
Marble Falls, TX
(830) 693-2344
101_0181

Sunday, 06 March 2005

Well Ba Le

244_4416_2

Sandwiches. Much like Haikus anyone can produce one but most turn out bland, boring, and adhering rigidly to syllabic meter. Not a perfect metaphor, but you get where I’m going.

Sandwiches are a food that seems to fall easily into a repetitive rut, with many restaurants offering small variations on generally well established models.

But I like change. I crave fresh, interesting things. I need delicious and unique stuff to come layered between various breads or bread products.

This is why I am in a new, almost sexual, love affair with a little Vietnamese diner called Ba Le.

I don’t know the history of the French colonialism in Viet Nam. I’m sure it was messy and unpleasant for the most part, all around. However, I will be eternally thankful for the strange fusion that resulted when amazingly tasty Asian fillings assimilated a sweet, freshly baked Franco-exterior and dressed up with a little European sauce.

244_4430_r1_1

So…good…ungh… (insert drool here).

This is the deal. They bake little sandwich-size baguettes on site. They cut it open and scoop out a little of the soft airy interior. Then they spread on some rich, homemade, French-style mayonnaise – the kind with a deep pearl color and actual flavor.

Then comes any of a variety of stuffings: bright pink pickled-pork, seasoned shredded tofu, Asian style bar-b-que pork, moist pulled chicken and more stuff with names that I don’t understand. 

Then the toppings – marinated strips of daikon and carrot, a spear of cucumber, a few small slices of jalapeno, and finish it up with a sprinkle of green onion and a healthy dose of aromatic cilantro sprigs.

It begs to be eaten. “Please, please,” it screams.

I like to add a little extra spice, some of the vibrant red chili sauce and then kind of a tangy-sweet twist with a squeeze of hoi sin.

244_4431_1

 

 



Then after you’re done, if you're feeling a little adventurous, you’ve got to try a Che (which probably, in the real spelling, has several accent marks that I can’t duplicate).  It’s a dessert that’s either a sweet rice or tapioca base, usually with coconut milk and then other stuff ranging from banana and jell-o to seaweed and mung bean.  The black-eyed pea one is my favorite so far.

 

Che_composite

244_4437_4 (Seaweed and Mung Bean)

Alright so I’ve pimped Ba Le enough for now. They have lots of other great eats- soups and noodles and such, but those aren’t sandwiches now are they?Finger_food_2

-L. Pants