Wednesday, April 10th

Llama’s Peruvian Creole Food Truck

Llama's Peruvian Creole

Recently I was invited to check out Llama’s, a cool Peruvian food truck on the corner of 7th and Trinity. After stopping for a beer at The Chicago House, Mr. Betty and I walked over to Llama’s. They are right next to each other, and you can feel free to grab some food and bring it into the bar. I can tell you, I will definitely do that. Because this food was SPECTACULAR.

Llama's Peruvian Creole

The colorful little trailer serves fresh and healthy dishes, unlike any I’ve ever tasted. All food is prepped from soup to nuts inside the trailer. Not in a separate kitchen. How impressive is that? In a space this small, there’s not a lot of room to stock things, so everything is truly very fresh.

I had little knowledge of Peruvian food, so I was surprised (and delighted) by the Chinese influence on street food. We tried two dishes, but it was a tough decision because everything on the menu was appealing. Arroz con Pollo is typically very hard to execute to perfection, so I immediately gravitated to that. Mr. Betty chose the Lomo Saltado, a stir fry of beef tenderloin, tomatoes and onions, thick cut french fries, scallions, soy sauce, and cilantro over garlic rice. The beef was so melt-in-your-mouth tender and every bite was an explosion of flavor.

Lomo Saltado

The Arroz Con Pollo was equally good. The fragrant cilantro rice was the perfect background for the succulent braised chicken. My heart sings that I can get a Peruvian version of this classic home-cooked meal out of a truck.

Arroz con Pollo

We have so many food trucks in Austin, and more often than not, I walk away feeling meh about the whole experience. When you find a good one, it’s like winning the lottery. And this, my friends, is the jackpot. I can wholeheartedly recommend this truck! Go check it out!

Thursday, April 4th

Daruma Ramen

Next Monday Austin’s newest ramen shop opens for business! Located on East 6th across the street from Easy Tiger and Jim-Jim’s Water Ice, Daruma is an off-shoot of the immensely popular Komé

Daruma

The decor is chic and modern, with seating for maybe a couple dozen people packed in tight. The place is small and the kitchen is small. This is an authentic little ramen shop so be prepared to cozy up to your neighbors.

Daruma

Daruma

Now, the menu will surely evolve and expand, but when I went for the soft opening last week there were four ramen options. I was with Mr. Betty, South Austin Foodie, and Sugarfoot Eats, so we tried all four. There are two major things that set Daruma apart from the other ramen places in town. One, it is run by a woman. Two, the broth is not pork-based. These are both appealing.

The Shio is a clear, very intensely chicken-y broth. Toppings are simple and the noodles were bouncy and had the perfect amount of give. I found myself wishing for a flavor bomb or some mayu to give it a little something.

Shio

The Shoyu has the same chicken-based broth mixed with seafood stock. It had great depth of flavor while still maintaining the meticulous clarity and lightness.

Shoyu

The Miso was the favorite among my group. It was the most flavorful of the broths. Don’t let the opaqueness fool you, this was still as light as could be. Where ramen broths tend to be bold and often fatty, Daruma is doing something different. I love the variety and complexity of each of our ramen places. There is so much labor that goes into making these broths and it’s a beautiful thing to sit in front of a steaming bowl and taste the love. Not to be a total hippie about it.

Miso

And finally, the most interesting of the broths, the Veg Ramen. Which is actually vegan. The most difficult and time consuming broth to make, the layers of flavors are achieved by slowly leaching the essence of many vegetables and fruits. Yes, fruit! While not sweet, I was able to detect the fruit up front, with a clean vegetable finish. The rainbow of toppings will make this a clear favorite among vegans and veggie lovers, who often miss out on complex broths.

Veg

I believe the woman’s touch is evident in the devotion to lightness and clarity of the broths. It is unique in its style and presentation, and while it may not be for everyone, I predict it will have a solid fan base who favor the lightness.

When Daruma settles in and adds some sides and tweaks to the menu, I will make a return visit and reevaluate. I encourage you to go visit Austin’s newest noodle friends and give them a try. Be prepared to wait in line outside and know that you are taking part in centuries old tradition. The wait for ramen is time to reflect and focus on your hunger, deepening your appreciation for this art in a bowl.

Monday, April 1st

Why should you go to Uchi for happy hour?

Here’s why. The palette-cleansing sorbet is divine. The flavors are seasonal and change all the time. This was coconut. My favorite!

Sorbet

The smoked baby yellowtail is balanced with sweet Asian pears and sits atop yucca crisps. The crunch is intensified by Marcona almonds and garlic brittle.

Machi Cure

Uchi offers a selection of rolls for their social hour, all priced at an affordable $6, or $3 for vegetarian rolls. The Negihama Roll is simple with baby yellowtail and scallions.

Negihama Roll

The Crunchy Tuna Roll features big eye tuna, avocado and cucumber. The tempura flakes elevate the traditional California roll to something much more special.

Crunchy Tuna Roll

The side to end all sides are the aromatic, flavorful brussels sprouts. Fried and tossed with a caramel fish sauce, lemon and chili, the staff jokes that this is the dish that pays the mortgage. I believe Uchi is the cause for the brussels sprouts renaissance in Austin.

Brussels Sprouts

My friend is a pork belly connoisseur and the Bacon Steakie is one of her favorites. I am crazy about the presentation and the watermelon radish. This is a little plate of decadence.

Bacon Steakie

Last but not least, on this particular social hour visit was the Walu Walu. The large piece of succulent escolar is grilled and sitting in the lightest broth. This was my favorite dish on this day and I thought about it for days afterward. God, I love fish so much.

Walu Walu

Both Uchi and Uchiko have very popular happy sake social hours, which is daily from 5 to 6:30 . You get the same great service and food at an unbelievable price. Sake and Asahi’s are $3, and most menu items are $6. Uchi’s prices might fall into “special occasion” eats, but their happy hour makes it affordable for anyone to enjoy a fabulous dinner and the royal treatment.

Wednesday, March 20th

Iron Chef: Philadelphia Edition

City Hall

My Austin friends might not be aware, but the food scene is Philadelphia is serious. I usually politely smile when people mention the Philly cheesesteak. I can count on my hands how many I’ve eaten cheesesteaks in my life. Philly is so much more than the cheesesteak and it makes me sad that people don’t know better. I mean, Philadelphia is a big city. Of course there is a huge culinary scene.

What I miss most are the gastropubs and casual Italian places with really good food. The stuff Austin doesn’t have. A lot of people here like the Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale, which I’m happy to see in Austin. Not my cup of tea, but the actual Monk’s Cafe? My favorite bar in Philly. It has an enormous Belgian beer selection, but I am in it for the mussels and frites. Are those chicken wings? Nope. Frog legs. Just a regular ole dark bar with crazy good food. Par for the course in Philly.

Long pour

Ghent Mussels

Frites

Frog legs

But we’re not here to drool over Monk’s. Today’s post is about Jose Garces, Iron Chef and Philadelphia chef royalty. When I left almost five years ago he had two incredibly popular restaurants in the city and I think now there are eight. People just can’t get enough. The last time I went home Mr. Betty and I met two other couples at Garces Trading Co. The European style cafe also has a fabulous market with cheeses, meats and an outrageous selection of vinegars and oils.

The menu contains a mouthwatering selection of charcuterie, cheeses, pizzas, salads, sides, and a whole bunch of other stuff. We opted for the tasting menu so we could try a chef’s selection of everything. And plenty of wine and sangria, too. The delicious cheeses were accompanied by lavender honey, jams, and other condiments. I don’t remember what the meats were, only that they were spectacular. Everyone was knocked out by the Potted Duck, a beautiful presentation of duck rillette, foie gras mousse, and elderflower caramel.

Charcuterie

Cheese and accompaniments

Crisp breakfast radishes sat atop goat’s butter, olive oil and fleur de sel.

Breakfast Radish

The next two courses might have been my favorite. The famous Lyonnaise Duck Salad did not disappoint. Look at that exquisite duck egg yolk pouring down on the duck confit, bacon lardons and frizzy frisee. The pizza with serrano ham and whipped ricotta was heightened by a pear balsamic reduction.

Lyonnaise Duck Salad

Serrano Ham Pizza

Pan Roasted Scallops, which would have been perfectly delicious on their own, were brought to life by a cauliflower puree, chanterelles, and an aged sherry glaze. Oh my.

Pan Roasted Scallops

I’m not sure what this is. But it looks yummy, right?

IMG_0759

When we were already quite full, the most succulent organic roasted chicken came out with two sides: whipped Yukon gold potatoes with mozzarella curd and beluga lentils and in a harissa vinaigrette. Comfort food straight from your mother’s kitchen. Well, if your mother is Jose Garces.

Roasted Organic Chicken

GTC Potato Puree

Warm Beluga Lentils

Cappuccinos and macarons finished off perfect meal.

Dessert

Have you been to Garces Trading Co.? What are your favorites?

Thursday, January 24th

Life of Pi

Are you making your way through the best picture nominees? I’ve missed the boat on a few. Argo left the theaters before I had a chance to go. But if there’s one movie that you really, really want to see on the big screen it’s Life of Pi. It’s a thrilling visual spectacle that should be seen on as magnificent a screen as possible, preferably in 3D.

Life Of Pi

First let me ask you: Have you read the book? Doesn’t matter. Go see the movie. But also, read the book. The book sold over $9M copies and the film has made over $500M already. Clearly, this is a story that resonates with people.

Without giving away too much of the plot, this is a story of survival. Unlike Cast Away, which showcased the star power of Tom Hanks, Pi is carried by an unknown. The title character, Pi Patel, is played by four different actors of various ages. For most of the movie, we see Suraj Sharma as Pi. It’s shocking that this was his first acting gig, and he’s since gone back to college to study philosophy. Just a normal guy…with a phenomenal talent. The physical and emotional demands would have been challenging for even the most seasoned actor. It’s unbelievable that Sharma pulled it off.

Saraj Sharma

I am also a huge fan of the grown up Pi, Irrfan Khan. You might recognize him from Slumdog Millionaire, The Amazing Spider-Man, In Treatment, or my favorite, The Namesake. He’s one of those actors that always breaks my heart, and this was no exception.

Irrfan Khan

Again, I must stress that the beauty of this movie is reason enough to see it. The incredible and often sad story make it almost unbearable at times, but the wondrous scenes glorifying bioluminescence or water so calm that it can only be described as spiritual, it’s almost euphoric to watch. Ang Lee was the fourth director to take on this film, and his choice to make the ocean a central character is proof that he was the right director to complete the project.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Again, I don’t want to spoil the story for those who aren’t familiar, but I’m sure you’ve seen the tiger in ads. Yes, a main character in the story is a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Four real tigers were used for filming although most of it was CGI. I’m a lover of all big cats so I was drawn to Richard Parker and bow down to the brilliant teams that made this character so real, so alive, and at times, terrifying.

Richard Parker

I couldn’t help but think of my own little terrifying tigers at home.

Cats in laundry

 Though 2012 was packed with incredible movies, this is one of the best. Did you see Life of Pi? I’d love to read your opinions in the comments section!

Tuesday, January 22nd

Michi Ramen is back!

On Friday Michi Ramen made its grand reopening in a brick and mortar. For those of you that didn’t make it to the food truck when it was open, it was excellent. I reviewed it here, and have been anticipating their return for months. As Austin’s first business fully devoted to ramen, they broke important ground. I’m so glad they are back.

Michi Ramen

I met a couple friends for lunch at the soft opening. Having only been open or an hour or so, I have to say the service was pretty flawless. The staff were extremely excited to be there and expressed enjoyment over their tablet ordering system. The feel is modern and clean, with airy white space being the main backdrop. It’s quite comfortable and there’s even a cozy waiting area.

Michi Ramen

Michi Ramen

I had a diet soda, but my friends sampled the teas. I was jealous of their teapots.

Michi Ramen Tea

There are about ten sides on the menu. We tried the Seaweed Salad, Gyoza, and Chashu Don (steamed rice with bonito flakes and burnt ends.) The burnt ends are available on their own as a side and I will definitely order that next time, because they were redonk. The sides were all large and sharable. We had plenty of leftovers.

Seaweed Salad

Gyoza

Chashu Don

There are four ramen options: Michi, Sapporo, Veggie and Meat Lover’s. As the Meat Lover’s is an amped up version of the Michi, we skipped that one, knowing that we were truly sampling the main varieties.

Michi: Chashu pork, roasted nori, woodear mushrooms, green onions, and mayu oil with shoyu tonkotsu broth.

Michi Ramen

Sapporo: Chashu pork, bean sprouts, woodear mushrooms, green onions, sweet corn and a knob of butter with miso tonkotzu broth.

Sapporo Ramen

Veggie: Mix of chives, sprouts and cabbage, woodear mushrooms, and green onions with shoyu vegetable broth.

Veggie Ramen

One cool thing that Michi does is adjusts broth thickness for you. You have your choice of light, regular, or stout, with the exception of the veggie, which is naturally on the lighter side. I went with the regular, as it is plenty rich for me, but diehard ramenheads will want to check out the stout, which is named as a nod to Austin’s local beer craftsmen.

In the photos you’ll see that the chashu is pork belly, but Michi has since decided to switch to pork shoulder, which is what they used when they operated out of the truck. It will still be flavorful and tender, but cut down on the richness a bit. This is a good thing.

There are lots of add-ons and extras to be had, and we each ordered eggs, either Ajitama (marinated, soft-boiled) or Onsen (lightly poached) and they were all creamy, delicate, and delicious. We thoroughly enjoyed the ramen, slurping away and savoring the broth.

The sweet end to the meal was the incredible Mochi. Made in Hawaii and flown in on dry ice, this is the best I’ve ever had. We tried the Passion Fruit and Pistachio, but they are eight other flavors to chose from including Guava, Green Tea, Peanut Butter, and Lychee.

Mochi

Those of you who are already ramen-initiated will love it here. Those of you who haven’t tried ramen yet…what are you waiting for?

So now we have a few ramen options in Austin and there are rumors that more are coming. Before you rush to rank them against one another, I suggest you enjoy each one for what it is. They are all very different. Think of these businesses the same as you would beer brewers, hard working craftsmen that put in the intense labor and time sheerly for the love and passion of the end result. This is ancient soul food we are talking about here. It takes many hours to cook and has been honed for over a century. Take your time to get to know each bowl.

Michi Ramen is located at 6519 North Lamar and is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 17th

Barley Swine

Where’s your favorite place to celebrate a special occasion? Austin has so many choices, it’s hard to remain loyal to any one particular place. On Mr. Betty’s most recent birthday he opted to skip our normal favorites in lieu of Barley Swine, Austin’s culinary darling where we hadn’t been yet. I’m slightly embarrassed that it took us so long, seeing as we live almost within walking distance. Truth be told, it’s the long wait that has kept us away. But Mr. Betty’s birthday fell on a Wednesday, and when we showed up at 5:50 for the 6 pm opening, there were only a handful of people waiting outside with us.

Barley Swine

We were pleased to be seated at the bar so we could watch the activity in the open kitchen. I’m not in love with small communal tables, which is what the non-bar seating is. Big long tables? Sure. Tables of six? Weird. We ordered beer off the interesting tap list and chatted with the friendly bartender.

Barley Swine

Barley Swine

Barley Swine Beer

Barley Swine does small plates and recommends three or four per person. The menu is small enough that if you had more than two in your party, it would be fine to order the entire thing. We chose a bunch of stuff off the seasonal menu as well as one of the specials.

Barley Swine Menu

Barley Swine Specials

The service is impeccable. Plates are brought out in perfect succession in the order they deem most pleasing to the palate. The descriptions on the menu are merely an ingredient list, rather than a description of preparation, meaning that each dish is a bit of s surprise and a visual treat. This is such a fun way to dine. We started with the Soft Poached Duck Egg, Sunchoke, Apple and Saffron. The tart, crisp apples were the true star of this dish and were in perfect contrast to the egg.

Barley Swine Duck Egg

Next was the Goat Belly, Walnut Glaze, Kohlrabi, Fenugreek, and Wild Rice. The most notable part of this dish was the rice, which was really crunchy, like it was deep fried or something. A very nice texture with the creaminess of the rest of the dish.

Barley Swine Goat Belly

My favorite dish of the night was a special, the Pulled Pig Face, Hefeweizen Donuts, Butternut Squash, Peanuts and Jalapeño. The donuts were warm and airy and the jalapeño provided a subtle heat.

Barley Swine Pig Face

The Sweet Potato, Grilled Bacon, Chipotle, Yogurt, Pecan and Fried Kale was the most substantial dish. In my opinion, the sweet potato and yogurt were not quite enough to balance the heavy-handed saltiness of the dish.

Barley Swine Bacon Sweet Potato

Next we had the Crispy Stuffed Pig Ankle, Foie Gras, Beans and Hot Sauce. The foie gras was the best part, creamy and decadent. And the homemade hot sauce was so good! The crispy pig ankle itself was a bit of a disappointment both in texture and appearance.

Barley Swine Pig Ankle

The Rabbit was prepared three different ways and accompanied by Shishito Peppers, Radishs, and Chanterelles. I was so full at this point that Mr. Betty handled most of it himself. But the bites I had were tasty, even though I’m not a big fan of rabbit.

Barley Swine Rabbit

For dessert we had German Chocolate Cake, which was beautifully arranged with salted caramel ice cream and salted toasted coconut among other things. A fine ending to a really fun meal.

Barley Swine German Chocolate Cake

The ambiance at Barley Swine is warm and inviting, with dark wood, muted lighting and the cozy comfort that would make this my favorite neighborhood bar. That is, if it didn’t cost $150+ to eat there and there wasn’t a three-hour wait every Saturday night. To call this a gastropub is a bit misleading, as you certainly can’t just drop in for a beer and some delicious bar food. This is fine dining in a non-stuffy atmosphere, with A+ service. I will certainly go back for return visits as their menu changes with the seasons and there is always new food to try.

Friday, January 4th

Django Unchained

I’m going to have a hard time writing about Django Unchained because I don’t want to spoil for you. And I won’t. I promise. But I really want to, because this movie was SO GREAT! So I’ll just discuss the superb acting and I won’t blow the story.

Here’s the trailer:

First, let me say that Jamie Foxx is phenomenal. No surprise, seeing as he won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Ray Charles. Hard to believe this is the same guy:

Shanaynay

Now he’s 45, sleek and polished, and in the best shape of his life. While Django is a fun movie, the title character is mostly serious. Foxx pays proper reverence to the plight of the slaves, and Tarantino ensures that we do not take the subject lightly. We cringe and absorb the sheer horror of abuse. This particular brand of violence is extremely hard to watch. But those moments are fleeting and balanced with action, humor, and ultimately, a love story.

While there are a couple scene-stealers, the real star is Christoph Waltz, who plays a charismatic dentist/bounty hunter. He and Foxx make a great pair and most scenes feature the two of them together.

Dr. King Schultz

Schultz and Django

Acting heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio is predictably brilliant as plantation owner Calvin Candie. He plays the best, most charming kind of smarmy there is. Isn’t it the greatest when an actor takes a character that does unspeakable, horrible things and makes you like them? I can’t think of a role Leo has played that I’ve enjoyed more.

 Calvin Candie

I should also note that Samuel L. Jackson is marvelous. I didn’t even recognize him immediately. Critics who say he always just plays versions of the same character will be silenced by his role as head house slave Stephen. This persnickety old fool is simply put, fucking delightful. I couldn’t get enough of him. Tarantino brings out the best in Jackson. Like, the opposite of what Tim Burton does for Johnny Depp.

Django Unchained Stephen

Of course, the righteous soundtrack and cool factor are totally badass, just like all of Tarantino’s films. He goes slightly over the top with blood spatters and imagery, taking the Spaghetti Western to a new level. From the opening credits to the extra scene at the end of the closing credits, you can see how much fun he had with this one. His growth as a filmmaker is evident, although that growth does not include restraint, thankfully. I believe this to be his finest work, which is not to say it is completely flawless. His own acting is pretty bad and his scene could have been eliminated altogether. It’s the imperfect stitch in his Persian rug.

I loved this so much, I’ll be seeing it in the theater again. I unabashedly recommend this above all other 2012 movies.

Wednesday, January 2nd

Takoba Happy Hour

It’s a new year! I’m sure you all have your resolution lists prepared and that they are similar to mine in that they add up to being a better person. Great. All good intentions aside, how about becoming more relaxed people? Or maybe you’re not wound as tightly as I am, readers…? Either way, let’s all resolve to treat ourselves better and to have a good time. That’s where happy hour comes in.

Takoba

Takoba is a sweet spot on East 7th with plenty of parking, a large terrace, and an awesomely cheap menu of happy hour offerings. How cheap? Well, it’s one of those places where you can order the whole menu and not put much of a dent in your wallet. My friend and I had such a great time that I returned again with my friend Maggie, who blogged about it. See? Everyone’s blogging about Takoba. You should go.

Happy hour is 3-6pm on weekdays, 3-4 on weekends. So you have plenty of time to sit in this welcoming spot and watch the sun set. How great is this space? I love it.

Takoba

Takoba

I don’t remember what my friend drank on this occasion, but I had the Mango-Habeñero Margarita. The smooth citrus Patrón and habeñero syrup gave it a nice sharp bite. Courtney proclaimed her drink delicious, too.

Habeñero Margarita

While we didn’t order the entire happy hour menu, we hit it pretty hard. The food was half price, making the most expensive thing about $4.

We started with Sopa del Dia, which was a cream of mushroom and the Ensalada de la Casa, a yummy spinach salad with jicima, oranges, pecans and goat cheese. Oh, and chips and salsa, of course.

Sopa del Dia

Ensalada de la Casa

Chips and Salsa

We also tried the Molletes, monterrey jack and roasted poblanos with refried beans on a bolillo. This was warm and melty and satisfying.

Molletes

Takoba does a beautiful guacamole, too. And my personal favorite, the Baja Ceviche, which I could eat everyday. Savory and acidic, the citrus flavor and onion bring out the shrimp’s full potential. It reminds me of the ceviche I ate in Cozumel, wrapped in my beach towel, the sun drying the salt water in my hair until it was time to jump back in the ocean with my snorkel. Ceviche does this to me. Makes me want to jump in the ocean.

Guacamole

Baja Ceviche

So wherever you are, I hope your resolutions include setting aside some me time, whether it’s happy hour, a vacation, a trip to the spa, or simply time alone dreaming of the ocean. Cheers to 2013!

Friday, December 28th

G’Raj Mahal

I’ll admit it. I like to play favorites. When it comes to cuisine, I’ll take Asian over anything else. Spicy over non-spicy. Rice over fries. Curries over ketchup. So I’m going to review another of my favorite trucks, G’Raj Mahal. Aside from being one of the most popular food trucks around, with lots of seating and a super-cool vibe, it’s got some kickass spicy Indian food.

G'Raj Mahal

The last time I visited G’Raj Mahal Mr. Betty and I had a double date. We brought wine and beer (hooray for BYOBs!) and sat under the Moroccan tents listening to the crazy hobo-style band. It was about 9 pm on a Saturday night, beautiful weather outside, and very crowded. Lots of Rainy Street pub crawlers were out to fill their bellies before a night of drinking, yet we landed a table after only a short wait.

We settled in and took our time with the menu, choosing a bunch of different things to try and share. The tables are really tiny and all the same size, so it’s a challenge if there’s more than two people eating. But we made it work and were just happy to be there, balancing paper plates on our laps. Due to the outdoor seating, everything is served on disposable ware. This is decidedly unfancy and just fine.

G'Raj Mahal

Here’s what we ordered: Samosas and Vegetable Pakoras. After a long discussion with the waiter about putting in our appetizers first, they still came out the same time as the rest of the food, contributing to the space limitations on the table. But they were tasty, especially the pakoras.

Samosas

Pakoras

For our entrees: Chicken Vindaloo (the spiciest dish of the night), Seafood Coconut Curry, Tandoori Shrimp, and a fiery hot Goan shrimp dish called Rechaad Masala.

Chicken Vindaloo

Coconut Curry

Tandoori Shrimp

Rechaad Masala

On the side we had fluffy basmati rice and naan and flavorful chick peas.

Naan

Chick Peas

Everything was fresh, spicy, and enjoyed by the whole group. There wasn’t a dish that I wouldn’t eat again, although I’d most likely go for the Rechaad Masala. It’s my favorite dish they do. G’Raj Mahal can hold its own against any Indian restaurant in town. At about $14 per entree, the prices are the same as everyone else, too. I don’t know about you, but I expect to pay a little less when the portions are so small and I’m eating with plastic utensils. But such is the trend of Austin restaurants these days: high prices for even the most casual of dining experiences. Our funky little affordable city is disappearing before our eyes. But until then, there’s curry.