Saturday, January 30, 2010

Best Husband Ever.

Trying to be as disciplined as possible with my MCAT studying (why I'm taking it is a story for another day) and I find this on my desk.


Trader Joe's yummy European-style assorted cookies and a pot of Rickshaw black tea. This is one more in a long string of big and small reasons why D. is the best husband ever.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Austin: Home Stretch

We did a lot of good eating in Austin and this wraps up the rest of it. On the way to downtown from the Austin airport, we spotted Casa Colombia. We headed there for dinner and I ordered the Bandeja Paisa.

Highlights of the dish were the rice, the plantains, and the fried yuca (which was a substitution for beans... delicious). The egg tasted bizarrely like dish detergent. The arepa, a cornmeal patty, was so hard that it was inedible, as was the chicharron (top of plate). The steak paillard was tasty, but tough due to overcooking. We also had to wait an hour for our food and the mediocrity of my entree was somewhat infuriating. On top of that, our server was unbelievably pushy with the upselling. While very nice, she just would. not. back. off. Gah... talk about ruining the mojo of a meal.

There were some saving graces in the food: D.'s bistec criollo was delicious, as the criollo (spicy garlic sauce) was really flavorful on top of a similarly dried-out steak paillard. The plato vegetariano was also very tasty with the criollo. Arepas were much better with filling (cheese, potato, etc.). Winner of the night was the aborrajado, plantains stuffed with mozzarella.

Wandering downtown on a Sunday morning looking for breakfast, we happened upon Cafe Crepe.

I was a fan of the flavors... great eggy flavor from the crepe itself, the smoked salmon, and the garlic/dill/cheese of the Boursin. We saw the crepes being made en masse and being stacked in preparation for filling, which was disheartening and led to a too-chewy crepe. Also, $8 for this? Yikes. Service was excellent and the outdoor tables were perfect for great company on a sunny morning in Austin.

After breakfast, I needed to visit a drugstore, but the closest one was closed, so the Garmin pointed us to Nau's Enfield Drug. It's an old school drugstore with a soda fountain. Yay! Naturally, we had to stop for shakes, malts, and sundaes.

The shake was ridiculously cheap at roughly $2. It was also very good, made with Texas' Blue Bell ice cream.

The pulled pork tacos at Chupacabra would have been the perfect meal to have with the extensive beer selection, with the cool jicama slaw and the tasty pulled pork. However, stale tortillas and a gut-searingly hot habanero sour cream upset the balance of flavors. I don't mind spicy, but this was just hot and needed to be used sparingly or served on the side.

Airport food tends to be very meh, but Austin's airport had lots of choices and many turned out to be decent. Quite pricey, of course, but quite tasty. J.L. and D. liked the Waterloo Ice House, while C.B., M.T. and I enjoyed sandwiches from The Salt Lick. It was great how the airport's food courts had mainly local establishments. Even the coffee was Austin Java vs. the ubiquitous Starbucks.

My pulled-pork sandwich was quite lovely. The pork itself wasn't anything to write home about, but the sauce was really tasty and the bread was a super-fresh egg bread. I picked a vinegar slaw as my side, which was very fresh and nicely balanced. Tart enough to be a good slaw without being completely overwhelming. Afterwards, I had to have the Oreo Speedwagon (coffee ice cream mashed with Oreos and chocolate chunks, topped with hot fudge) from Amy's Ice Cream.

Our Austin trip was delightful and I hope we return soon. Goals for the next trip: sampling Austin's myriad of food carts and exploring SoCo (South Congress).

1614 East 7th Street
Austin, TX 78702

200 San Jacinto Boulevard
Austin, TX 78701

1115 West Lynn Street
Austin, TX 78703

400 E 6th Street
Austin, TX 78701

Monday, January 25, 2010

Breakfast tacos

I've been craving breakfast tacos ever since our trip to Austin. D. and I made a trip out to Pancho Villa, a Mexican supermarket a few blocks from us. Check out Michael's Pancho Villa post. We picked up fresh chorizo, fresh corn tortillas, and a tub of roasted tomato and pepper salsa.

D. put the tacos together and they were awesome. He decided to cook everything separately and pile them into the tortillas for a final heating, which turned out great. I'm not a big fan of breakfast burritos, but breakfast tacos pack the same flavors without having to eat a giant burrito first thing in the morning.

Breakfast Tacos
(recipe makes 6 tacos)

3/4 pound chorizo
6 soft corn tortillas (approximately 6 inches in diameter)
1/2 cup onion, diced
4-5 eggs, beaten
Sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Cook the chorizo in a skillet and keep the ground meat from forming big chunks. Transfer chorizo to a bowl and return the pan to the stove. Cook the onion in the chorizo drippings, approximately 3-5 minutes, until soft. Transfer the onion to a separate bowl and return the pan to the stove. Cook the eggs in the chorizo/onion drippings, scrambling them as the eggs cook. Transfer the eggs to a separate bowl, then wipe the pan dry with paper towels, if necessary. Place the pan back over medium-low heat and put a tortilla in it. Add about 3 tablespoons chorizo, 3 tablespoons egg, 1 tablespoon onion, and 1 tablespoon cheese (amounts can be adjusted to taste) to one half of the tortilla and fold the other half gently. Toast taco until tortilla is very lightly crisped on both sides and the cheese is melted. Serve with salsa.

Coming soon: wrapping up the Austin trip and holiday eating.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lockhart, Texas: BBQ and Hats

I'm really excited about Caprica. After Battlestar ended, there was a void left in my life.

What? You don't want to read about my neverending love for Battlestar? You'd rather read about lots of grilled meat? And hats?

Alrighty... back to Texas we go.

I'm a Southern California girl, so I have no idea what makes proper BBQ. Dry rub, wet rub, smoke rings, blah blah blah. It's quite foreign to me. The only type of BBQ I've experienced is Santa Maria style BBQ, but that's hard to find south of California's central coast. There are BBQ joints around here, but I'm told that building codes prohibit proper smoking and grilling, ergo they are not authentic BBQ joints.

Needless to say, I wanted to try some Texan BBQ. The denizens of Chowhound's Austin thread were divided over which joint was best, but they were unanimous in one thing: the best BBQ in Austin was not in Austin.

We decided to travel to Lockhart, which was about a half-hour drive from Austin. Smitty's Market was like a cathedral of meat.

Walking into the market, there was a cavernous brick hall lined with benches. Little did we know that those benches will fill with people, clutching butcher-paper bundles filled with deliciousness.


We found the back of the line and I looked down to find a literal fire at my feet. This was going to be good. Inside those brick tanks is meat. Lots of it.

The menu was a little hard to figure out, at first. The rings were sausages, and hot meant cooked. Cold meant uncooked, I think. A box was 25 sausages. Fat was brisket, Lean was shoulder, and the rib, chop, and prime rib were pretty self-explanatory. D. and I bought a hot ring and a pound of Fat (brisket).

When they were piling our order on the butcher paper, the cashier asked, "Bread and crackers?" Sure, why not? Saltines and plain white sandwich bread were unexpected, but they went really well with the meat. After the meat is purchased, we moved from the bricked smoking area to a cafeteria, where we could order drinks, sides, and dessert.

Our friend J.L. wanted to visit Texas Hatters and it was a really fun stop. The owners and staff were really accommodating to our roaming around their store and explained a lot about how their hats were made and the materials used.

The hats, ranging from classic cowboy hats to awesome bowlers and fedoras, were gorgeous.

I would have loved to buy one, but I apparently don't look very good in a cowboy hat. Oh, well.

208 South Commerce Street
Lockhart, TX 78644

911 South Commerce Street
Lockhart, TX 78644

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Austin: Annie's, Koriente

Day two brought two interesting eateries, plus visits to the state capital and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. Both are fantastic stops in Austin and easily reached on foot since we were staying downtown.

Annie's Cafe and Bar was the only re-visit during the entire trip and that's because it seems to be one of the few places downtown that serves a sit-down breakfast.

During our first visit, I had oatmeal, topped with bananas, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, walnuts, berries and raisins. Perfectly cooked, although it was served a bit cold. I liked the interior decor, starkly black, white, and silver with clean lines.

Breakfast tacos are apparently an Austin and Texas thing and, while I haven't sampled a wide range of them, I love them more than the California classic breakfast burrito. Annie's version has chorizo, cheese and egg with a simple salsa and a side of fried potatoes. The salsa's nothing to write home about, but the tortilla was perfect, as was the chorizo with egg.

We headed to the Texas state capitol, where the Senate and House chambers have amazing chandeliers that spell TEXAS in bright lights, and the LBJ library, where we learned a lot more about him beyond his presidency during the Vietnam War. It was pouring, so we needed to dry off and find some inexpensive eats, because we were going to end the evening with beer. Lots of it.

Koriente fit the bill perfectly. Korean-influenced dishes that were well-prepared and inexpensive. The menu is vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free friendly.

The Koriente pickles fell flat, as they had lots of heat but no flavor. My japchae, however, was lovely. The noodles were tender and toothsome with the veggies cooked to perfection. Unlike many other versions of japchae, this wasn't greasy at all.

I'm a sucker for green tea ice cream and they make a simple scoop of green tea ice cream fabulous with chopped pistachios and a drizzle of honey.

Afterwards, we fulfilled our mission with lots of beer at The Side Bar and Casino El Camino, the latter having great food to satisfy late-night drunken munchies.

319 Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701

621 E. 7th Street
Austin, TX 78701

602 E. 7th Street
Austin, TX 78701
517 E. 6th Street
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, January 22, 2010

Austin: Frank and Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill

D. and I arrived in Austin a little after lunchtime, so we were quite hungry. After reading about Frank on Chowhound, I thought it would be a perfect place to eat right after we checked into our hotel.

Their menu had many types of typical and artisan sausages. I settled on the Jackalope, an antelope and rabbit sausage, served on a fresh bun with huckleberry compote, sriracha aioli, and applewood smoked cheddar.

The tart huckleberries were perfect with the gamey and rich sausage. I didn't taste much of the cheddar and the aioli gave everything a nice kick.

D. loves waffle fries, so we ordered fries with two dipping sauces: Texas BBQ and Buffalo Bleu.

Frank also has a wide beer and cocktail menu... we weren't ready for drinks, even though it was 5 o'clock somewhere. Indeed, a cold beer is man's (and woman's) best friend. I'm a sucker for dachshunds. Although they didn't offer Frankenmuth, they did advertise bacon-infused Maker's Mark. Really? I was rather intrigued.

They seemed to have an obsession with putting bacon in everything, so I indulged in an ice cream sandwich. Mexican vanilla ice cream from Amy's Ice Cream, diced bacon, and bacon/chocolate chip/walnut/cranberry/pecan cookies.

That evening, we headed to Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill. Great-looking building, although we didn't see a lot of it in the rain. Really cozy inside and they had a heated patio, which wasn't a bad place to dine during a rainy evening. Service was excellent, as our server indulged our indecision over the wine with tastings. They were attentive and were very kind when we stayed long past closing, catching up with an old friend.

I love the Ball mason jars as drinking glasses, which Frank used, too. Moonshine provides a cute bucket of popcorn instead of bread, which is a great touch. Fabulous service continued when they comped an extra side because D.'s side dish wasn't prepared at the same time as the entree. They brought the original side dish 20 minutes later and he wouldn't have minded the wait, but the comped dish was a really nice touch.

My own entree, the pecan-crusted catfish with crawfish tails, homemade hot sauce, and brown-butter sauce, was awesome. The vegetables on the side were cooked to perfection, especially the succotash. I wasn't a huge fan of my red beans and rice, which was really bland and far too much bean vs. rice.

I've had quite the love affair with red velvet cake and this version didn't disappoint. While versions in California typically lean towards a light chocolate flavor, Moonshine's had subtle hints of coconut, with the richness of the buttermilk coming through in the cake. The frosting was a basic buttercream and not heavily used. There was even a mild berry drizzle, which was interesting. It was a fantastic dessert.

407 Colorado Street
Austin, TX 78701

303 Red River Street
Austin, TX 78701

Thursday, January 21, 2010



D. and I recently went to Austin, Texas, and talk about a fabulous city. More posts on that coming soon, but this meal came right after we landed in rainy San Diego. We'd spent days eating out and didn't want to spend anymore money, but were tired after a long day spent in the airport and a delayed flight. What to do?

A quick survey of our freezer yielded a package of Trader Joe's Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina and the fridge was full of veggies from our new CSA (Be Wise Ranch). Chopped garlic, onions, and Swiss chard made a great addition to the gnocchi. The package calls for a little water while it cooks/thaws in the pan, so I added a few spoonfuls of homemade turkey stock. The gnocchi is quite decent for a frozen product and is one of the standouts in Trader Joe's frozen food offerings.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Las Vegas: Bouchon revisit, Studio B buffet

Wow, 2009 was a really shitty blogging year for me. I'm sorry, y'all. We'll see how I do in 2010.

Lots of really great things happened during the holiday rush... we went to the Sam Adams Utopias dinner, had a fun Thanksgiving with friends, traveled for almost every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, traveled some more for the holidays, and came home to... wisdom teeth extraction.

Yikes. Let's just say my first brush with anesthesia was uneventful. I was having an IV jammed into my hand, grimacing as the nurses tried to distract me by asking about my hobbies. The first thing that came to mind was cooking. I was talking about cooking and baking when I looked straight ahead and ostensibly blinked. Ostensibly. I happened to be looking out a window and closed my eyes... what seemed like a blink later, I opened them and realized the clouds were different. And the IV was gone. And the surgeon and one of the nurses were gone. Just one nurse. And D. Hey D.!

My literal first post-surgery words were, "Holy crap, it's done?!?!"

I was, as D. put it, way too gabby for someone who was just anesthetized. Gabby... and loopy. I stood up way too abruptly, waved way too gaily at the office staff on my way out, and yapped for a good 10 minutes about how surreal it all was. I might have drooled a little, too.

Anyway, that was a week ago and I think I might be one of the lucky few that have had a really uneventful wisdom teeth removal. Worst of the pain on the 3rd day, swelling that dissipated easily, and the ugliest part has been the blasted antibiotics. They're wreaking havoc with my GI tract. I'll leave it at that.

Since I've been eating lots of jello, soup, porridge, and other soft and semi-soft foods, let's look back to more glorious meals.

After Thanksgiving, our friends D.B and D.D. were headed to Vegas to run in the Las Vegas Rock-n-Roll Marathon. Good friends that they are, they invited us along and hooked us up with comped rooms. We were there for roughly 36 hours, but we ate like kings.

D.B. wanted to try the buffet at the M Casino and Resort. Top Chef fans should be pretty familiar with this place. I thought the buffet was pretty awesome. For one thing, it wasn't crowded.

Gorgeous gingerbread village... speaking of, Kim and Brett made an awesome gingerbread house. Check out her slideshow of the process.


The picture's a little blurry, but it's oxtail soup with a 5-spice broth. It's a bold move to include something like this in a buffet, where it may or may not appeal to a lot of palates. It was well-executed, with the oxtail perfectly cooked and the vegetables very tender. The broth was a little heavy with 5-spice, but it was flavorful.

All you can eat gelato... sigh.

Round one of my dessert course. The macarons were insanely perfect. I would have paid just for a buffet of macarons. The buffet will run about $25/person and it's a large and clean buffet with a great selection of food. Booze is also free, which is very nice, but don't expect a wide selection of wine and beer.

That night, while D.B. and D.D. rested up for the marathon, D. and I went back to our usual favorite: Bouchon. What do I order after a filling lunch? Duck confit followed by a gigantic ribeye on the bone. As our server put it, "Now, that's what a lady orders!"

He was teasing, but the duck confit was all business. Rich, moist, cooked in its own fat business. Oh, duck confit... how do I love thee...

Apologies for the grainy picture, but D. and I had just bought iPhones and we went nuts using them the first couple of weeks.

I've always ordered the daily special, which has been pork on my last two visits. This time it was beef and it seemed like it was prepared in a rush. For one thing, the ribeye was a little too rare. I like rare, but this almost mooed at me. The roasted parsnips were bland and the truffle risotto was blasting with butter. Some may argue that there's no such thing as too much truffle, but yes, this was a smidge too much. Additionally, I question the decision to pair a strong truffle risotto with more... fungus. I didn't know the type, but the roasted parsnips were served alongside lightly cooked mushrooms. They were clustered, like enokitakes, but the head looked a little like a straw mushroom. It had a fairly strong taste and, along with the truffle risotto, was a little too much.

It was a great pre-holiday trip. Thanks again to D.B. and D.D. for the invite!

12300 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Henderson, NV 89044

3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Samuel Adams Utopias Dinner at Urban Solace

"Oh, are you media?"

D. and I glanced at each other briefly and I can sum up what was going through our heads:

Well, I guess I am, if by "media" you mean I'm going to enjoy this meal, take lots of pictures, and geek out about beer and food/beer pairings on my humble food blog.

I'm just here with my wife, who insists on photographing every. single. damn. meal. we. eat. If that pays off for me in having amazing food and beer, then yes, she's media.

D. smiled politely and I explained that I was invited via my food blog. I couldn't help but wonder if I sounded insane. After all, it's the first dinner I've attended by invitation and the first one where I didn't feel self-conscious about photographing my food, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.

It started with an email. I occasionally receive PR emails and this one jumped off the screen at me. Urban Solace. Samuel Adams. World's strongest beer. I was sold. Urban Solace is one of our favorite North Park restaurants and Sam Adams is our go-to "big name" beer. Being in San Diego and living a few blocks from 30th Street, local microbrews are always plentiful, but we know that we can rely on Sam Adams for a good beer no matter where we are.

Bert Boyce, who brews for Samuel Adams, was hosting the dinner with talks about each beer and beer/food pairings. Matt Gordon, executive chef of Urban Solace, crafted a menu that paired well with the beers. What I love about beer pairings is that stronger flavors can be showcased without the food overpowering the drink or vice versa. Star anise and fennel were two ingredients that gave the dishes a pop that was noticeable, yet not jarringly so. Since both taste like licorice, it was a nice contrast to the various caramel and malt flavors coming from the beers.

We've been eating at Urban Solace since it opened and, while I've definitely heard of him, I'd never had a chance to meet Matt before. It was great to hear him talk about his process in creating the menu and it was even better to taste it. Talk about hitting it out of the park.

Small bites were passed around on trays, starting with a lovely sassafras-marinated grilled shrimp. It was very good and I'm pretty sure garlic was part of the nice punch of flavor. It was followed by little cubes of meatloaf that I could have made a meal out of. It was a nice little cube of meat, with a little fat for moisture and topped with a five-spice-based glaze. I overheard Matt mention that they make their own five-spice mixture at Urban Solace, which is pretty cool. D., who has a special place in his heart for meatloaf, loved it.

While these delicious bites were being passed around, we were given tasting glasses of Cranberry Lambic. There are good dinner wines and I think Cranberry Lambic (pictured below, on left) is a good dinner beer. Slightly sweet, mellow with a clean finish, it's a beer that's easy to drink and pairs very neutrally with all types of food flavors. This was the only beer that wasn't discussed at the dinner, but they use a wild yeast strain to ferment the beer, although a lambic is spontaneously fermented. This isn't a beer to compare to traditional lambics... ignore the name and enjoy the sweet, slightly tart flavor with a dish that's strongly flavored.

We began our first course with the Coastal Wheat, which is brewed with lemon peel. It's their hefeweizen, but brewing with the lemon peel smooths out the sharp flavor that hefeweizens typically have.

Our first course was a lovely cornmeal ravioli stuffed with smoked chicken and leeks. It was drizzled with brown butter and topped with pine nuts and wilted frisee and fennel. The pasta was toothsome and the chicken/leek filling was good and not too smoky. What brought the dish together, flavor-wise, was the wilted fennel. It threaded many subtle flavors together and brought out the smokiness in the chicken and browned butter.

The second course was pork belly braised in Old Fezziwig Ale. As a braise, the ale gave the pork belly's richness a slightly sweet tinge. As a drink, I can't say I was a huge fan. A dark ale brewed with cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel, it was not very flavorful. With those ingredients, I was expecting a punch, but it was merely heavy with malt and mildly sweet. The broth served with the pork belly smelled of licorice notes of five-spice and fennel, with the star anise in the five-spice making the broth smell like pho. While the drink fell flat, the dish was sublime, with near-molten fat and the light dumpling standing out.

The main course featured an Estancia grass-fed flatiron drizzled with a herb pistou. It was served with braised baby carrots and roasted sweet potatoes in a Boston Lager reduction. For one thing, I know Matt does great things with sweet potatoes, because I've never met a sweet potato at Urban Solace that I didn't like. This dish was no exception. The beef was good, although a smidge too rare, which led to the flatiron being a little tough. The carrots were perfect and the herb pistou was nicely balanced, with just enough sharpness from parsley without tasting like mowed grass.

Apparently, the glass was designed by engineers at MIT who received lots of free beer in return for the perfect beer glass.

Damn, I really should switch careers.

The bottom of the glass has a laser-etched ring, which is a nucleation site and results in lots of carbonation. The wider top allows the carbonation to continue expanding, allowing the concentration of the beer's aroma to concentrate above the liquid and also builds a good foamy head. The flared lip is another agitation site, maximizing carbonation so it creates a light mouthfeel.

D., who was already indulging in the generous refills of our tasting pours, refused to let a pint go to waste. He downed it easily, but raised his eyebrows when he noticed our last three tastings were 10%, 14%, and 27% alcohol by volume, respectively.

Dessert, needless to say, was amazing. Served with Samuel Adams' double bock, which has half a pound of caramel malt per bottle, it was a perfect match. The fudgy, dense, dark chocolate porter bombe was more like a super-thick mousse with a mouthfeel that was as decadent as the flavor. Freshly whipped cream contrasted nicely with the sharpness of dark chocolate. Accompanying the cake was a homemade marshmallow coated in malted milk powder. I love homemade marshmallows, which have a fantastic texture vs. the store-bought stuff.

Some close-ups:

The double bock was buttery and the warmth of the caramel came through easily. The triple bock was very different. At first sniff, I swore up and down that I smelled balsamic vinegar. Bert was talking about how the triple bock was casked for 15 years and how, after all of that time, the ethanol was being metabolized into aldehydes. And some of that is metabolized to acetic acid, hence the balsamic essence I was picking up. Inky and slightly thick, the triple bock left a coat on the glass when swirled. Despite the similarity in names, the double and triple bocks were completely different worlds, taste-wise. As Samuel Adams made inroads into extreme brewing, they had to look for different types of yeasts that could produce and tolerate higher ethanol levels. Strains of yeast from processes such as sherry fermentation were used for the extreme brews.

After dessert, Utopias was served. 27% alcohol by volume and meant to be enjoyed like cognac. It was roughly the same inky color as the triple bock, but it had none of the murkiness nor the balsamic essence. Although it is technically a beer, there's no carbonation. It reminded me of Werther's Originals candies. Butterscotch, caramel, and toffee were the primary notes on the nose. If smells could be "warm", then Utopias had a rich, warm bouquet. It goes down the throat with a sharp bang, then mellows into the buttery flavor. Imagine taking a shot of vodka and chasing it with a Werther's.

If you're curious about extreme brewing, I'd say it's worth trying. Utopias runs a pretty penny per bottle ($150) and it might also be a little hard to find. Check out the comments on Beer Advocate, some of which discuss where the commenter drank it. Some managed to find it at a bar and others bought bottles (certain BevMo locations might carry it). The bottle, shaped like a copper brewing kettle, is a rather nifty keepsake.

On that note, dinner was over, and I was a happy camper. Many thanks to Matt and the Urban Solace staff for a great meal and to Bert and the Samuel Adams crew for all of the fun beer facts. Special thanks goes to Tina from DeVries for the invitation.

(Note: My apologies for the extreme lateness of this post, since the dinner took place right before Thanksgiving. I was swamped/out-of-town for the holidays and wasn't able to write in a timely manner.)