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Everything posted by Luggage386

  1. Let's hear it for quick 'n' dirty last-minute event organizing...I'm a non-Asian who's enjoyed Chinese food his entire adult life, including some of the more esoteric options, but many of the components of this Lakeway New Year banquet were new to me and I appreciated the chance to speak with people familiar with the cuisine at its source about what I was tasting and why. When you're sitting at the table and all these dishes keep coming and coming, it's hard to keep track of what was what (and as a few of us commented, we could've used a lazy susan to facilitate easier sharing), so it's good to digest it all again, so to speak, through Kent's commentary and YiMay's photos. (We were right to be patient as she snapped away at each new course.) I've only recently discovered the importance of cool or chilled food in Chinese cuisine, and one of my favorite parts of the meal was at the start, with all the cold appetizers; the whole was more than the sum of its parts here and I especially enjoyed the drunken chicken, kao fu, and the walnuts! The dumplings were very good (I wished there had been more so people could have had more than one apiece), as was the winter melon soup (savory, tasty, very tactile). The steamed whole fish was my favorite of the entrees. Although there were two or three items I didn't much care for, I'd call it a successful banquet by any standard; it was a very congenial evening and I consider it to have been an informal, relatively inexpensive crash course in Chinese holiday dining. It seemed to go by very fast, and before you knew it we were out the door (we closed the place) to go our separate ways. Happy Spring Festival, everyone...
  2. I went to Asia Market this afternoon and ordered eggplant with garlic sauce, Zhong dumplings, regular pan-fried dumplings and ma-po tofu (the vegetarian version) for myself and family as a to-go order (they threw in a large carton of white rice). We liked everything except the pan-fried dumplings, which my wife hated (they came without sauce and she had to make her own, and even then said they were the "second worst dumplings" she'd ever had, next to another neighborhood restaurant which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty). We were particularly impressed with the eggplant, which was cut into large cubes with vivid purple skin intact, yet the whole, as per Vann, was soft and flavorful. The tofu and Zhong dumplings would be extremely spicy for a palate not used to Szechuan/Sichuan food (even considering a clientele of Texans), though I love the sinus-clearing qualities of the chile and red oil. If it hadn't been for this post, and the Statesman review, I would have never found this restaurant, although it's only about two miles from my house and is in a strip mall I visit frequently for one thing or another! (It's a funky, downscale mall whose anchor store is a Big Lots, and also includes Sambet's Cajun Deli and a huge gaming/comics emporium called Thor's Hammer.) From the outside it looks like a standard Asian supermarket; the cafe is in the back, and almost all signs are in Chinese only. If this is, as Vann says, "Austin's best and most authentic Chinese restaurant in town," so be it! I look forward to sampling the chicken and spicy wontons on my next visit. Love these kinds of places. (How can you tell it's authentic Chinese? No fortune cookies, for one thing...)
  3. Ah, the barbecue festival. Like Kent, I also got there on the late side, around 2 p.m., but it left a distinctly sour taste in my mouth -- not so much from the quality of the food as the disorganized and thoughtless way the festival was put together. (In fairness, it was the first annual edition.) The organizers were clearly unprepared for how many people would show up at the Farmers Market site (after a long hot summer, reasonably cool, or at least coolER, October weather had finally arrived, and everybody in Austin apparently decided to make the scene). To begin with, parking was hopelessly inadequate, and I had to cruise blocks away to find a spot in this crowded North Austin neighborhood. Upon entering the festival site, I was greeted by nobody, given no orientation, and had to figure out for myself, threading my way through the madding throngs, where everything was and where I had to buy tickets (after I learned you had to buy tickets, except for the restaurant in the center of the lot where cash still ruled). So, this was my experience: buy tickets (which were no bargain for what was provided) and stand in line 20 minutes at one booth for some ribs and sausage, then get into another line and wait 20 minutes at another booth for another few bites. Fail to find any open tables at which to sit and enjoy the food, so eat standing, or sitting on the curb. Notice that about half the food booths have sold out of everything before you got there. Constantly dodge people pushing past you to get to some other alleged attraction. Decide to leave, because it's not fun at all. Be disappointed that you never got to sample enough to make any reasonable comparisons of Central Texas barbecue. Consider swearing off barbecue festivals altogether. I have written to the event organizers, who are well aware of the shortcomings of this year's event. I may consider going next year, IF they are able to procure a much more suitable venue capable of handling the anticipated crowds. But I did not enjoy the First Annual Texas Barbecue Festival one bit.
  4. My wife I celebrated our mutual birthday at Andiamo on July 11, which was a quiet Monday evening. We were disappointed that the restaurant's hands-on, table-hoppin' owner, Giovanni Cocciante, whose reputation definitely precedes him, was elsewhere that night, but apparently the waitstaff had learned from that infamous Chronicle review in January: http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/disp...od_feature.html To our relief, the supporting cast has definitely learned what to do when the boss is away. Our waiter looked to be about 15, AND it was his first night on duty , but he was engaging and was smart enough to admit when he didn't know enough about an entrée we asked about, rather than trying to bluff his way through. The maitre d' smoothly filled in with descriptions as needed. The room is medium-smallish and conservatively decorated, and tables are widely enough spaced to avoid a crowded feel (there were only a few other tables occupied, in any case). We began with a frico-like appetizer called croccante, made of fried parmesan, that we both liked. The Mrs. had veal in a wild-mushroom-and-creamy-cognac sauce that was perfectly done; the sauce was silky-smooth and very flavorful. I had linguine frutti di mare, an abundance of fresh shellfish in a light but somewhat spicy broth; I was happy. Dessert was a terrific (and complimentary) huge slice of tiramisu, served on a large white plate along with sparklers, candles, and all the waiters singing Happy Birthday to us in Italian. Service was attentive to a fault, and friendly without being obsequious. With tax and tip, the dinner came to slightly over $100 for two, which we both felt was well worth it. For the budget-conscious (and who isn't), they're also open for lunch. We shall return. Andiamo Ristorante, 2521 Rutland Drive (NW Austin), tel. 719-3377. When you arrive, note the impressive autographed photos on the wall of many politicians (including two presidents and at least one first lady), from Cocciante's former location in Virginia. Website (if a quite rudimentary one) at www.andiamoristorante.com
  5. Did anyone try the recipe given above? I'm very curious to hear how it turned out.
  6. Luggage386


    Perhaps I spoke too soon: check out this site. http://interoz.com/lubbock/stubsmen.htm Apparently it's on 19th St., not 50th. Perhaps Stubb's is really a mirage, or Brigadoon? (Come to think of it, I kind of got that feeling about Lubbock as a whole...at least that would explain all those musicians coming out of there.)
  7. Luggage386


    I was in Lubbock last September and can report that Stubb's has been definitely closed for quite some time (like, 20 years) -- only the Austin location remains; but do make time to visit the statue and plaque at the original location (put up by musician/sculptor Terry Allen, and funded by scores of musicians of greater and lesser note, whose names are inscribed in the patio bricks). I've heard that decent barbecue can still be found at Whistlin' Dixie, 3502 Slide Road (tel. 806-795-9750; try the burnt ends and brisket plate). If your horizons expand beyond barbecue, go to the Hub City Brewery in the Depot District for great beer, pizza and pub grub in general; I ate there more than once and it's a nice friendly place to meet the locals, if that's your idea of a good time. It's also walking distance from the Buddy Holly Center, which you shouldn't miss if you're any kind of a fan of Holly and West Texas music in general. (For a truly loopy Lubbock experience, visit the Hi-D-Ho diner, in the middle of an industrial district -- it's the last descendant of a '50s chain where Buddy Holly and his friends ate and reportedly played (on the roof), and where Stubb himself worked as a fry cook back in the day -- owned by an ex-employee of the original drive-in who is a true character in his own right. "Don't say hello, say hi-d-ho.") Believe it or not, Lubbock is also home to one of the finest bagel shops in Texas, Hoot's Bagels at 8201 Quaker. Of course, if you're only going to be there for the day... Hub City Brewery: http://interoz.com/lubbock/brew.htm
  8. My wife and I were in SA for a couple of days in late January and though we didn't go to Dolores Del Rio, we were amused by the name and she (my wife, not Dolores) remembered the words of a naughty cabaret song mentioning the eatery's namesake. We went to three places worth mentioning (two old standards and a high-end Riverwalk joint) and I'll do capsule reviews rather than go into any great detail: 1. Earl Abel's, 4210 Broadway (a few miles north of center, but still very much downtown). If you like unreconstructed 'throwback' Roadfood-type places with comfort food and a nostalgic feel, a vanishing species in 21st-century America, Earl is your guy. Fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, pies, and breakfasts in general are the specialties of this large, 70-year-old eatery that looks as if it was last renovated in 1963 (you could say the same about the waitstaff and much of the clientele). The food is straight-ahead American grub, well-prepared and modestly priced, but you'll get just as much of a kick out of the corny signs above the counter and the 'crest and knight-in-armor' décor. Fried chicken was decent, but more gravy would have been welcome; maybe you have to ask for it 'wet'? There's nothing about Earl Abel's that particularly says 'San Antonio,' but there couldn't be a more American place than this. 2. Mi Tierra, 218 Produce Row (El Mercado) -- Sprawling, Uber-touristy eating hall in the heart of the faux Mexican marketplace, which we much enjoyed on its own terms (both the plaza and the restaurant). We went for an early lunch (a fish daily special and a taco salad) -- reliable, filling and good value. The strolling mariachi players have to be fended off with a stick every 3 to 5 minutes (I finally caved and requested 'La Bamba' -- a song is $5 and I'd say it's worth it, ONCE) but we put it down to 'it's all part of the experience.' The pastries have a local rep for excellence. If you go, ask to be seated in the mariachi room, decorated with framed costumes and instruments of legendary musicians. (It also seemed to be where the locals sit, maybe because it's closer to the bar...) 3. Biga on the Banks, 203 South St. Mary's (in a quiet section of the Riverwalk): Some consider it the best upscale restaurant in town, and we both loved the creative and delicious presentations. (They do excellent $29 prix-fixe three-course dinners before 6:30 and after 9:00 p.m., if you're on a budget.) Classy, tasteful décor; service was correct, if a bit stiff. Great place for a romantic dinner. We'll be back, and are looking forward to going to La Fogata (old established, much-visited Mexican place near the airport) next time. CNN Food Central has a section on SA restaurants here: http://www.cnn.com/FOOD/restaurants/weissm...sanantonio.html
  9. Thanks again to everyone who answered my original query about where to eat on Kauai. We visited in September and had a great time. A Pacific Cafe was, hands down, our favorite spot. Their scallop-and-tobiko (fish roe) ravioli with lime ginger sauce may have been the best appetizer I've ever had, and the rest of the menu was equally perfectly presented, appealing, fresh, interesting and flavorful. (We've since acquired Josselin's cookbook A Taste of Hawaii.) The Hanalei Dolphin restaurant on the north shore was a reliable second choice for both food and ambiance. For a quick bite on the way from one place to another, Duane's Ono-Char Burger in Anahola lived up to its reputation (especially for the fantastic onion rings)! We'll be back...
  10. The best Texas bagelry I've been to is Hoot's Bagels, in, believe it or not, Lubbock (which I had occasion to visit a month ago in connection with Buddy Holly-related festivities). It was founded in 1995 by a couple with the actual surname of Hoot (they retired in 2001 and sold the business, which has since changed hands again). The quality of the bagels themselves is about on a par with Bagel Works in Austin (i.e. unremarkable for NY), but Hoot's gets major points for its friendly, real-bagel-shop atmosphere (there are a few tables and stools for sit-down eating) and, especially, the imaginative offerings, which include a peanut butter bagel; a Fiesta bagel (corn-based, with chipotles, cilantro and olives), roasted garlic sourdough; the Amigo, with jalapeno and salsa mixed in; chipotle chive -- you get the idea. Some of the conceptions aren't for purists, to say the least (i.e. the Aloha bagel, which contains pina colada, pineapple and coconut!), but on the whole, they work. Hoot’s is a better bagel place than you’d find anywhere in Austin, and what does that say? (The line on a Saturday morning I visited was out the door, another authentic NYC touch.) Hoot's is in the upscale Kingsgate Center at Quaker and 82nd (the south end of town), home to Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, a Bath & Body Works, a day spa and a Gourmet Pantry. Who knew? The website's at www.hootsbagels.com.
  11. I was in Lubbock last week and visited two of the three wineries there, Pheasant Ridge and Cap Rock (I decided to omit Llano as I found the smaller ones more interesting). The drive out to the isolated Pheasant Ridge was actually more interesting than the wines themselves, or the winery, but Cap Rock is a gem -- a purpose-built estate (late 1980s) that's so impressive it's a regular venue for weddings, with wines to match. They offer 15 wines for tasting, and you can sample five for $5, which is waived in case you buy a bottle (which I gather is expected). I bought a bottle of the terrific Reserve Orange Muscat dessert wine for $20, and on my return to Austin picked up their excellent Reserve Toscano Rosso blend, which is a velvety romantic well-balanced wine that Fitz and I enjoyed over a dinner of mushroom pasta and broccoli. I highly recommend Cap Rock to any skeptical Europeans who think Texas couldn't possibly produce good wine...
  12. I agree that the Messina Hof Papa Paulo Port is excellent. Becker (one of the better TX wineries, say the SO and myself) also makes a very good Vintage Port and a nice Cabernet Reserve. For great value, try stuff by Pepperwood Grove and also Fall Creek (a bottle of the latter's terrific Granite Reserve can be had around Austin for as low as $8; snap it up if you like deep, characterful reds). Are there any TX white wines of note, anyone?
  13. Fitz and I visited European Bistro last Saturday and were, overall, quite pleased. The phrase 'old-world charm' is certainly overused, but it it fits this open, welcoming, slightly old-fashioned (but not stuffy) establishment to a T. We were greeted like old friends by the staff, and took a table in the center of the main hall. Following the waiter’s recommendation, we opted for the pan-fried cauliflower with creamy sauce (something like a well-made mayonnaise) on the side. We were both fond of this, but next time I’ll opt for the mushroom crepe. My main was a chicken paprikash (off the bone) with dumplings that compared favorably with the ones I’d had in Hungary, if a bit less heavy on the paprika than usual. The portion size was perfect. Fitz ordered a stuffed cabbage with smoked Hungarian sausage and artistically cut bacon that sent her into raptures, as it reminded her of the Polish food she’d grown up on (and the stuffed cabbage she prepares herself when special occasions come around). Service was the only rough patch we encountered. Our waiter (who was friendly and helpful otherwise) left halfway through our meal to ‘take care of some unexpected business at home,’ as the waitress who took over (who I think was his wife) put it; when the bill came, we found ourselves charged for a bottle of Tokaj Aszú, and one extra glass of wine, that we hadn’t ordered. This was soon straightened out, though, and we’re inclined to put it down to a fluke. After the main course, Anni, the charming co-owner, came over and chatted with us (I evidently impressed her with the couple of phrases I know in Hungarian). She’s an excellent saleswoman of desserts (all of which her sister prepares in the kitchen) and we opted to split an Austrian walnut dumpling with vanilla-lemon sauce. Both of us were very happy we did, as we were purring with delight over it in short order. The coffee, as you might expect, is quite good, and they also serve espresso and cappuccino as any proper Hungarian café should. Wines, which include Hungarian and Romanian selections, were decent but unspectacular, as was the wine list in general – given the difficulty in finding Hungarian wines in Austin outside of the odd bargain bin, I suppose you have to applaud them for trying at all. Next time I might opt for a Czech pilsner to accompany the meal, and buy a bottle of Tokaj Aszú for real this time, to take home. Our lunch (not including tip) came to $61.70 for two – this included three glasses of wine and two coffees. Lunch prices during the week are lower; you might escape for $40 or so. We thought it was worth it, and we'll be back. To complete the Central European experience, after our meal we went next door to the Old Prague Market (a gift shop) and bought a Czech crystal doodad to use as the cake topper for our upcoming nuptials.
  14. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread. You've provided us with lots of good leads. We'll be staying on the north shore, probably at Hanalei Bay Resort (if anyone can suggest anything better without breaking the bank, I'm all ears). Oh, and my copy of the Ultimate Kauai Guide is in the mail...
  15. My fiancée and I are planning to honeymoon on Kauai in September, and would welcome anyone's recommendations on good places to chow down there -- both for a 'special dinner' and cheap eats, anywhere on the island. (We don't mind straying off the tourist reservation!) Many thanks in advance.
  16. Thank you, Mr. NYT! Hungary has come to Pflugerville, imagine. The dinner menu looks promising indeed (so does the lunch menu, come to that). I wonder if the place is run by the same people who did A Taste of Hungary. There certainly look to be authentic Magyars involved, and I'm glad that a few Czech dishes have found their way into the mix (I prefer Hungarian cuisine to the generally more bland Czech offerings, though Czech desserts can be just as good; both are too heavy for me to be sampling on a regular basis if I know what's good for myself). I'm looking forward to trying the fruit kolaches, among many other things... By the way, Jaymes, the 386 refers to Slovenia's international dialing code prefix -- not that I really expected anyone to get that one. And foodie52, I still think you rule.
  17. Guilty to that -- I suppose I could ask myself about Hungarian restaurants in Austin, but I wouldn't get a satisfactory reply . Fitz can make a great chicken paprikash at home, though, so I consider myself lucky in any case. (We wish we could make it to the event on the 19th, as we're both fans of Thai, but we have so much else going on around that time that we're probably going to have to beg off.) What happened to A Taste of Hungary? The only Hungarian in Austin I know of is the co-owner of Austinuts -- not exactly trad Magyar cuisine, though it has its own charms. I developed a taste for Hungarian food while living in Central Europe (Slovenia, not Hungary; I suppose asking for a Slovene restaurant in Austin is even more unrealistic).
  18. I know Austin's not exactly known for its Hungarian restaurants, but my SO and myself are fans of Central European cuisine and are keenly interested in trying one, if there's one out there. I know there was a place in Round Rock called A Taste of Hungary, but it seems to not be a viable organism these days. Does anyone have any suggestions, and failing a Hungarian restaurant recommendation, what are the best Central European restaurants in Greater Austin? Yee-ha.
  19. Well, here's my report from Dubrovnik, October '02: The place is just as beautiful and impressive as when I left it in June of '98; if at all possible, you should make the effort to visit this unique place. I returned to the Orhan, outside the Pile Gate (see my post above) with my fiancee in tow this time, and it didn't disappoint. I of course had another go at the grilled squid in oil, while she had a Dalmatian-style steak au poivre topped with a reddish something quite like ajvar (a roasted-pepper-and-eggplant sauce indigenous to the Balkans, used primarily as an accompaniment to grilled meats). Service was attentive and all was quite tasty; we couldn't figure out why we were almost the only customers in the restaurant at dinnertime. The view of the medieval walls and the sea lapping almost right outside our window was as romantic as you can get. On the recommendation of a friend originally from the area, we went another night to Sesame, on Dante Alighieria about a ten-minute walk from the Pile Gate (ask someone for directions when you get there). Quite popular with the locals, it's a famous artist's cafe dating back to the late 19th century. One dines in a whitewashed, cavelike space decorated with an eccentric hodgepodge of everything from a large framed picture of Bette Davis to a shell that fell on the premises during the siege of 1991-92. The Fiancee had an appetizer of fried cheese (huge; the two of us barely managed to put it away between ourselves) and a main of veal; I opted for seafood and pasta. Wine was a very fine Mali Plavac, from the vineyards of Miljenko "Mike" Grgic (a Croatian who maintains vineyards both in his homeland and at Grgich Hills winery in California, where he's known as the "King of Chardonnay."). All was wonderful, and while not cheap, it was a much better value than you'd be likely to find in the US. The Buffet Kamenice was as uniquely delightful as ever (I love places that stick to a few things they know how to do to perfection); the Roka pizzeria is now known as Mea Culpa, but the pies are still good and the beer good and both are cheap. When you get to Dubrovnik, pick up a copy of the free Riviera tourist guide at your hotel or a tourist office for more ideas; online, try www.tzdubrovnik.hr. Go to Dubrovnik. You should.
  20. Sorry, but if you ate badly in Venezia you went to the wrong restaurants, period.
  21. Oh, about the wine...the Plavac mali is considered good, and Dingac is a decent, heavy red wine. For white wines, I'd try something from neighboring Slovenia!
  22. Well, I was in Dubrovnik in '98...I'd stay away from the tourist traps on Prijeko (the main 'restaurant street' in the old town) and head for the Restaurant Orhan (Od tabakarije 1, just outside the main gate) for a special dinner (which should cost less than a comparable meal in the States). The grilled squid in oil is fantastic. For more casual meals in Dubrovnik, try the Buffet Kamenice (Oyster Buffet) on Gunduliceva poljana (try the terrific squid-ink risotto) or the Roko pizzeria on Ulica za rokom, south of the Placa. Pizza in Croatia is generally wonderful wherever you go, and a great deal too.
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