Tuesday, January 27th

First Look: Wu Chow Dim Sum

The highly anticipated Wu Chow is slated to open sometime this spring, but they’ve been hard at work for months perfecting the modern yet traditional Chinese menu. They’ve leaked a few previews in the form of a soup dumpling giveaway downtown and more recently, a dim sum pop-up in Swift’s Attic. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the sold out event and now I’m sharing my findings with you.

Sesame Fritters at Dim Sum, Wu Chow, Austin, Texas

First, a quick and dirty explanation of dim sum for those who may not be familiar: Cantonese small portions that are served in steam baskets at brunch with lots of dumplings and other delectable, hard-to-make dishes. A better explanation, along with dim sum etiquette, can be found on Serious Eats.

In addition to a full menu with things like Salt & Pepper Squid, Mapo Tofu, and Yu Xiang Eggplant, Wu Chow will serve dim sum on the weekends. Having tasted the preview, I can say with confidence that this will be Austin’s next huge restaurant sensation. (In case you didn’t know, my secret talent is predicting sensations and restaurant closings.) Dim sum will be packed every weekend and you’ll be lucky to get a seat. Heed my advice and go as soon as they open.

Pictured above are the Sesame Fritters, glutinous rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste. These are chewy, slightly sweet, and technically a dessert, but I won’t tell if you want to eat them first. The quality of these puffy treats is unlike any other I’ve ever had. While the glutinous texture can be off-putting to some, I think Wu Chow’s version will be a universal crowd pleaser.

Radish Cakes at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

What Wu Chow calls Radish Cakes are usually called Turnip Cakes…but they are always made with radish. Daikon, to be exact. +1 for calling a spade a spade. The savory pressed dish was crispy on the outside, succulent and tender on the inside. If I have to each a radish, this is how I want to do it.

Xiao Long Bao, soup dumplings, at dim sum, Wu Chow, Austin Texas

The oft-lusted after—and hard to find in Austin—soup dumplings are an exquisite version of a beloved classic. Gossamer thin wrappers are filled with searing hot broth and seasoned pork. While it’s tempting to dig right in to the Xiao Long Bao, it’s beneficial to wait a moment and let them cool slightly. The quicker you bite in the more likely you are to get burned. My inner circle is unlikely to ever get burned as we all take 5 million photos before ever taking a bite…of anything. Anyway, these are so worthy of praise and I can’t wait to have them again.

Scallion Cake at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin, Texas

Scallion Cakes (or scallion pancakes) are not specific to early dining; you can usually get them day or night. The flaky pastry is layered with lots of scallions and are the perfect snack to dip in a dumpling or vinegar-based sauce.

Chicken and Taro Eggrolls at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Okay, have you ever seen egg rolls this long and thin? I haven’t and let me say, it’s a crying shame that this doesn’t happen more often. Filled with chicken and taro root, the extra length meant for more crunch in every bite and the ability to wag it like a cigar while chatting. This egg roll was a contender for best dish of the day and best egg roll of my life.

Gailan for dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Another contender for best dish was the Gailan, or steamed Chinese broccoli. Always a nice foil for heavier dumplings and fried bites, don’t assume that it’s a bland plate of wilted greens. Sauteed to perfection and lying on a drizzle of oyster sauce, this broccoli was one of the most flavorful parts of the meal and my favorite greens I’ve ever eaten. No exaggeration. My only regret is that I didn’t fill my purse and ration the leaves until Wu Chow opens in a few months.

Shrimp Fritters at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Because I’m crazy about anything from the ocean, I have a real love for these shrimp fritters. My photo doesn’t offer anything for scale, so you can’t see just how large these are. And they are loaded with shrimp. Big succulent pieces of shrimp and crispy julienned potatoes. Simply excellent.

Char Siu Bao at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Char Siu Bao are soft steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecue pork, which is savory and sweet. They are like yeasty, fluffy pillows, filling and satisfying.

Shao Mai at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

I must confess that Shao Mai (or shumai) is never my favorite dish as I’ve had many with less-than-quality fillings. Nothing is worse than biting into a cute little open-faced dumpling and hitting something hard and weird. That’s not going to be a concern at Wu Chow, as the ingredients are of the highest caliber, often local and farm fresh. Notice the dollop of smelt roe on top, which adds an extra burst of flavor and texture, and perfectly compliments the fragrant filling of pork, mushrooms, and garlic. These are real winners.

Ha Gow at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Ha Gow (or har gow, ha gao, and a million other spelling variations) are shrimp dumplings. Again, Wu Chow is not skimping on the shrimp here. Dumpling lovers will rejoice in the plumply stuffed delicate wrappers. At this point I should mention the dipping sauces, which I didn’t photograph, but were divine. Savory and brown, there were a couple to mix and match as well as a fiery hot sauce that came with a warning. I could eat these dumplings for days.

Egg Tart at dim sum, at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Egg tarts are another dessert item, that are, again, not overly sweet. The custard tarts are usually pretty eggy and Wu Chow’s were just a bit mellower, which is a plus in my book. The crust was flaky and airy, with many little layers of pastry. These were shockingly good.

Shockingly good is an accurate description for the whole meal, actually. It’s no surprise that C. K. Chin, owner of Swift’s Attic, has another fantastic venture in the works. No, the surprise, or thrill, is that dim sum could be this good. The quality and care put into each morsel was astounding. My fellow diners and I joked that Wu Chow is going to ruin us for all other dim sum, but the sentiment rings true. This is what dim sum was meant to be. Wu Chow is my early pick for hottest restaurant of 2015.

Wu Chow, 500 West 5th Street, Austin, TX (IBC Bank Building)

Tuesday, January 6th

Easy Greek

Easy Greek meal

Greek food is all about good ingredients and flavors that work well together. One of my favorite dinners involves more shopping than cooking, as I grab fresh produce, good olives, and the very best feta I can find. (I prefer French sheep’s milk feta for its smooth creaminess and mild flavor.)

I pile those onto a platter with hummus, FAGE yogurt, a simple salad with red wine vinaigrette, and toasted blanched almonds.

Thomas Keller's Roasted Chicken

This arrangement works well with any protein. A lean steak, grilled halibut, shrimp, spiced meatballs…they’d all be delicious. But the easiest (and most wallet friendly) might be a roasted chicken. I like Thomas Keller’s famous recipe that just calls for salt, pepper, drying, and trussing. If you haven’t tried roasting a chicken this way, you simply must.

Easy Greek cooking

I like to serve with fresh pita from the bakery and butter lettuce to make yummy roll ups. Skip the pita if you’re off carbs. Mr. Betty and I like to cozy up and share a plate, so this type of dinner where we graze is perfect for us. But you can serve on separate dishes if you’re fancy like the pope.

Easy Greek cooking

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet have long been celebrated, so in addition to the simple preparation, eating this way may lower your risk of cardiovascular conditions and certain cancers. Plus, it’s just damn delicious.

What’s an easy, throw-together meal that you like to make?

Wednesday, December 10th

Sichuan River

Dan Dan Noodles at Sichuan River, Austin Texas

You might have heard some buzz about Sichuan River, which took over the old Tien Jin spot at Westgate several months ago. If you haven’t been yet, go now. Previously, the best Szechuan I’ve had in Austin was at Szechuan House, and I’m happy to say they finally have a rival. And in South Austin to boot! No more hopping on the highway for decent Chinese.

Dumplings at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

I’ve been several times now, including an evening of a very successful Asian Supper Club. When they’re on the menu, we always begin our club nights with dumplings. Here, they come fried or steamed and are your basic dumplings. Yummy, but not particularly standout in any way, other than the dipping sauce which is above average.

Ma-Po Tofu at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

Ma-Po Tofu is one of my favorite dishes, and Sichuan River’s is fragrant, rich, and fluffy. It’s not as atomic-spicy as Szechuan House’s version, but it still packs a good punch.

Sizzling Lamb at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

But if atomic-hot is what you’re craving, let me direct you to the Sizzling Lamb. Covered with chili paste, whole chiles, jalapeño slices, and lots of cumin, this dish is for serious spice-lovers. I have a little bit of an aversion to cumin, but I like this dish anyway and highly recommend it.

Dry Fried Green Beans at Sichuan River, Austin Texas

My friend Foodie is the New Forty is a connoisseur of Dry Fried Green Beans and declared these exceptional. The shallow-fry just blisters the outside of the beans, so they retain a healthy snap. They are salty, seasoned, and downright addictive.

Eggplant with Curry Sauce at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

For those who like something on the sweeter side, a good option is the Eggplant with Garlic Sauce. I’d say this is an acquired taste. While not my cup of tea, my friend South Austin Foodie really likes this dish. So give it a whirl if you like a sweet curry.

Egg Foo Young at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

Egg Foo Young is a Chinese omelette, loaded with veggies and whatever meat you choose. It’s fried and served with a savory brown gravy and…it’s just incredible. I had to be talked into this dish but now I’m a convert. I highly encourage you to try it if you haven’t before.

Dan Dan Noodles at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

The last dish I’ll share with you is the Dan Dan Noodles. The springy noodles are covered with pork and pickled and fresh vegetables, and are immersed in a spicy, soupy chili-oil sauce. I think this is best shared with friends because, like many Szechuan dishes, it can be a little heavy on the oil.

Sichuan River is a good place to pop in for lunch, a casual dinner, or to grab takeout. The service is fast and friendly; prices are reasonable. Have you been? What are your favorite dishes?

Sichuan River, 4534 Westgate Blvd, Ste 105, Austin TX

Wednesday, December 3rd

This Bar Saves Lives

Disclosure: I received a box of This Bar Saves Lives in exchange for a blog post to help spread the awareness of this important work they are doing to help end malnutrition in children around the world. 

This Bar Saves Lives

Do you eat granola bars? They are a staple in my house. We rely on bars for days when we’re on the go and need to eat in the car, or when we wake up too late to make breakfast, or when the fridge is a little bare and we need something more than an apple for lunch. So, pretty much all the time.

I like the trend of granola bars getting healthier and being made with high quality ingredients. This Bar Saves Lives is a relatively new company that makes seriously delicious bars. Made with organic, non-GMO ingredients, they are gluten-free, all natural, and kosher. The three flavors are Wild Blueberry Pistachio, Dark Chocolate Cherry & Sea Salt, and Madagascar Vanilla Almond & Honey. Yum!

This Bar Saves Lives

So what’s the name all about? Well, this is the best part. Each time you buy a bar, a nutritious packet of life-saving food is given to a child in need. It’s a buy-one give-one model (like TOMS) where you get to help end malnourishment. Check out the website for more information about the cause. Be warned that it’s pretty powerful. I hope that it moves you to buy some bars.

I, for one, am committed to including these bars as part of my regular Whole Foods shopping. You can also get them online along with some cool wearable stuff. I like the idea that my buying power can help nourish those who really need it, along with sustaining my grab-and-go lifestyle.

If you’d like to try This Bar Saves Lives, use code THISBAR for 20% off. Code is good for one week.

Monday, December 1st

Texas Rio Star Grapefruit

Disclosure: I was gifted a box of Rio Star grapefruits and some tools and recipe cards from TexaSweet. Opinions, photos, and grapefruit love are my own!

Grapefruit Guacamole

I did a grapefruit post last year and jumped at the chance to do another one this year. I’ve always liked juicy red grapefruit, but since moving to Austin and having access to the Rio Stars—which are ten times redder than Ruby Reds—I just can’t get enough. Mr. Betty and I buy giant bags while they are in season and enjoy them for breakfast for weeks on end.

But last year’s grapefruit extravaganza had me expanding my repertoire and I started including the fruit in dinner salads, with shrimp, quinoa, and more. It’s in that spirit that I made a refreshing grapefruit guacamole to snack on before Thanksgiving dinner. Grapefruit is a natural fit for the creamy treat, with the bursts of acidity playing nicely just like lime does. Plus, you can’t beat that color combination.

Mash together:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 3 TB finely minced red onion
  • 3 TB chopped cilantro
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Top with fresh Ruby Red segments

Grapefruit Breakfast

For those who prefer to keep grapefruit to their mornings, try pairing it with a toasted bagel. Mix the zest of one grapefruit into plain, light cream cheese before slathering onto your favorite bagel. Top with additional segments. Enjoy with a cappuccino on a sunny porch while catching up on Serial.

Grapefruit Breakfast

Need some grapefruit tools?

Set of 2 Grapefruit Spoons and 1 Grapefruit Knife, Stainless Steel, Serrated Edges

Friday, November 21st

Kerbey Lane Cafe

Kerbey Queso at Kerby Lane, Austin Texas

Long before Austin became the hot foodie destination it is today, Kerbey Lane was there, serving up a high quality menu that catered to vegans, dessert-lovers, and everyone in between. Now there are hundreds of newer restaurants to compete with Kerbey Lane, but they are as busy as ever, partly due to their famous Kerbey Queso, pictured above.

I was recently invited to taste some new special dishes at the South Lamar location and can report that each are worth returning for, just like that queso.

I’ve always liked that Kerbey Lane has really special dishes for those who don’t eat meat. Not just the typical salad fare, but interesting, flavorful choices that aren’t an afterthought. The Eggplant Tartine is an appetizer, but is enough for a very satisfying meal. Layers of hummus, roasted eggplant, tomato, onion, garlic, and pesto cover a crisp pita.

Eggplant Tartine at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

The Cuban Pork Benedict is a twist on the classic Benedict with the inclusion of Cuban-style pulled pork and a hoagie roll. This was a crowd favorite. I found the hollandaise to be better than most, with the bright lemony flavor cutting through the richness.

Cuban Port Benedict at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

If color = flavor, then the Huevos Motuleños has both in spades. Eggs, ranchero sauce, queso fresco, ham, are dotted with peas and other fresh vegetables. I love to see plantain at breakfast!

Huevos Motulenos at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

Since we’re fully in pumpkin season, it was only right to try both the fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes and the Pumpkin Bread French Toast. Both were excellent and had us swooning. The French Toast was so decadent that it could double as a dessert.

Pumpkin Pancakes at Kerbey Lane Cafe

Pumpkin Bread French Toast at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

Another favorite of the table was the Moroccan Beef with apricot, ginger, garbanzo beans and spices served with curried mashed potatoes and warm pita. Add this to your comfort food rotation on chilly days.

Moroccan Beef at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

The Pear & Bacon Grilled Cheese is a fall item that customers go crazy for every year. Crisp bacon and grilled pear are smothered in melty Antonelli’s aged white cheddar and a garlic basil aioli. Grilled cheese perfection!

Pear & Bacon Grilled Cheese at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

One last pumpkin item, the pumpkin mousse pie (from The Cake Plate) was lighter than traditional pumpkin pie both in texture and pumpkin flavor. This would be a good pie for people who like pumpkin but aren’t in love with pumpkin. The chocolate graham cracker crust was a nice touch. All in all, a splendid meal!

Pumpkin Mousse Pie at Kerbey Lane, Austin Texas

What are your favorites at Kerbey Lane Cafe? Have you sampled the fall menu and pumpkin dishes?

Wednesday, November 12th

Bess Bistro

In our quickly evolving restaurant environment, it’s nice to see some of our older eateries hanging in there. Now most people wouldn’t classify a business that opened in 2006 as old but given that most places we talk about in Austin came into play after 2008 or so, let’s go with it. I believe each generation of Austinites has a valid point of view in the Old Austin vs. New Austin debate, as old means something different to all of us.

Anyway, Bess Bistro has been around for about eight years, a mainstay on West 6th for locals and tourists alike. Sandra Bullock’s name brings a bit of glamour and a lot of cache, but Bess doesn’t want to ride on that indefinitely. To keep up with Austin’s changing tastes and constantly elevating standards, they’ve reinvented their New American menu, while keeping the same cozy, romantic ambiance.

In fact, it’s so dark and cozy in there that my photos didn’t come out. Luckily, I was able to snag some professional photos* of what we ordered. First—my favorite dish of the night—mussels sautéed in a rich tomato broth with lardons and crunchy ciabatta to soak it all up.

Sauteed Mussels at Bess BIstro in Austin Texas

We also had Mushroom Arancini as a starter, and they were crunchy on the outside with a dense and fragrant center.

Mushroom Arancini at Bess Bistro, Austin Texas

For our entrees we had the Diver Seared Scallops and Berkshire Pork Chop. Of the two, the chop was better cooked. But I’m a professional scallop eater and am extra particular about my sear. It should be noted that when I ate at Bess my plates looked just these, so beautiful and artfully presented.

Pan Seared Diver Scallops at Bess Bistro, Austin Texas

Berkshire Pork Chop at Bess Bistro, Austin Texas

The Chocolate Hazelnut Napoleon was a perfect finish with its comforting flavors and satisfying textures. The hazelnut mascarpone ice cream was so decadent and would be a fantastic dessert on its own.

Chocolate Hazlenut Napoleon at Bess Bistro, Austin, Texas

Have you been to the new Bess Bistro yet? What are your favorites from the fall menu? What do you think Sandra’s favorite is? Probably something light…

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

*All photos by Jody Horton

Monday, October 13th

Epicerie

Epicerie, Austin Texas

I’m jealous of the people who live within walking distance of épicerie Cafe & Grocery because it’s just the nicest little place to have in a neighborhood. From the ivy-covered exterior to the bright modern interior, épicerie is an ideal spot for drinks, dinner, lunch, or a quick cup of coffee. Or in the case of Mr. Betty and I, a leisurely brunch.

Epicerie, Austin Texas

Cheese Counter at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Epicerie, Austin Texas

Part of the casual charm of épicerie is the small grocery where you can browse specialty cheeses, beer, and yummy specialty items while you wait for your food. It really does feel like a tiny French neighborhood spot that you’d stop by on your way home to pick up some delicacies to enjoy with your fancy poodle. Now, I don’t have a fancy poodle but I do have a coffee habit. And the Blue Bottle Coffee made in a Chemex is some of the finest to be found in Austin.

Chemex pour over coffee

Coffee at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Famous for their beignets, we had to try a batch. They were warm and fluffy and sweet. I’d happily go back for just coffee and beignets any day of the week. We also had the Shrimp & Grits and the Croque Madame. Both were filling and decadent. This is a robust brunch that keeps you full till dinner.

Shrimp & Grits at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Croque Madame at Epicerie, Austin Texas

I ogled the brownies and shortbread, which looked positively sinful. Someday soon I’ll be asking one of you to meet me at épicerie under the guise of having a productive meeting, when I really want to gossip over top-drawer coffee and a little something sweet.

Brownies at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Shortbread at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Do you have any neighborhood gems that I should be checking out? Leave a comment and let me know.

Epicerie Cafe & Grocery

2307 Hancock Drive, Austin TX 78756

M-Th 10:30am-9:30pm, F-Sat 10:30am-10:30pm, S 10-3 

Friday, October 3rd

Spend the Day in Lockhart

Lockhart BBQ

Most of my ventures outside the city take place on a plane. Even though it’s been years since I moved to Austin, I haven’t taken much time to explore much of Texas. Lame, right? An exception has been Lockhart, a small town so famous for its barbecue that they estimate a quarter million people travel there annually just to eat meat.

On this particular trip I was with a group of people who were working on a large barbecue write-up. Now I’m not going to write about barbecue or try to compare who had better meat because y’all be crazy when it comes to barbecue and I’m not claiming to be an expert. I know my place as a yankee is to just shut up and try not to cover everything in sauce and rudeness.

Kreuz Barbecue Lockhart Texas

We ventured to Kreutz, Black’s, and Smitty’s, in that order. Kreutz was my favorite. Maybe it was because it was our first stop and that’s where we were hungriest. And I think the atmosphere had something to do with it, as it was my favorite setting of the three, too. Just nice and large with fun stuff to look at while you wait in line. We agreed that the spare rib was nothing short of a miracle.

Barbecue from Lockhart, Texas

Black’s is where I learned I do not like beef ribs. After spending about $35 for a rib that was mostly fat and gristle, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: Bigger doesn’t mean better. Maybe it was the just a bad rib or the wrong day, but I’m hesitant to ever try again. Black’s had the most interesting selection of sides and we sampled our fair share.

Black's Barbecue, Lockhart Texas

Black's Barbecue, Lockhart Texas

Smitty’s Market made me feel like I had stepped back in time when I walked through the door. From the classic market in front, to the burning fires inside the place, it felt historic. Like I was eating in a museum. We loved the brisket here and we finished off the meaty day with ice cream cones.

Smitty's Market, Lockhart Texas

Smitty's Market, Lockhart Texas

Smitty's Market, Lockhart Texas

That’s a lot of barbecue for one day, isn’t it? We took our time and browsed the antique stores in between meats stops. Perhaps my favorite part of the day was sitting in dark bar lined with foil and loaded with hundreds of elephants, all facing the door for good luck. We drank cheap beers and searched the jukebox for something familiar as we talked about what it must be like to live in Small Town, Texas.

Lilly's Lockhart Texas

Lilly's Lockhart Texas

Lilly's Lockhart Texas

Sadly, we didn’t make it to the fourth must-do barbecue spot, Chisholm Trail, but that gives us a reason to go back. I know people feel a strong allegiance to these Lockhart barbecue joints. Do you have a favorite?

Friday, September 19th

First Look: Stouthaus Coffee Pub

Cappuccino at Stout Haus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

Still in the soft opening days, Stouthaus Coffee Pub already looks promising. The cappuccino I had, one of their first in the newly converted space, was dark and complex. Sophisticated.

Sophisticated is how I’d describe the space, too. The ghosts of Cannoli Joe’s have long been exorcised and in their place are clean lines, modern decor and dashing new places to spend money. Stouthaus inhabits the building with soon-to-be-opened Milk + Honey Spa and the most anticipated opening of the year, St. Philip.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

It’s impossible to discuss Stouthaus without talking about St. Philip. The former will be selling the latter’s baked goods. They coordinated beer taps. They share a building, doors, planning, and even share similar philosophies of excellent edibles, genuine customer service, and superior attention to detail. This is an optimal match and the best thing to happen to Sunset Valley since the farmer’s market.

Beer taps at Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

While the intended focus is, of course, the coffee (Cuvée) there’s plenty more to be enjoyed in the vintage fittings, the gorgeous reclaimed wood, the subtle art that enhances and doesn’t scream to be noticed. Blacksmiths are currently working on custom tap handles for the carefully selected brews. I am most excited for the Leprechaun Dry Cider, a personal favorite of mine.

Stammtisch, Stouthaus Beer Pub, Austin Texas

The inspiration is found on the wall. Stammtisch is loosely translated as “regular’s table” or a get-together. Owners James and Sandy Hughes envisioned a comfortable place that was an extension of their living room. A setting where people would gather to converse, have fun, and enjoy being together. There is wifi, but James insists that this is not going to be a coffeehouse with heads buried in laptops. He wants to restore community from an online notion to…real life. What a novel idea.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub

Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

There’s no word on the official opening date yet, but stop by in the morning or afternoon for the soft launch, which they anticipate to last another week or so.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub

4715 S. Lamar, Austin, TX 78745