Monday, September 28, 2009

Frank-ly Speaking

"Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
— Frank Zappa

I originally blogged about Frank back in late July, on my first visit to what was then a relatively new restaurant. For one reason or another, I never made it back there, although I really loved everything about the place (why, oh why don't I still have an office downtown?!?).

Yesterday, I finally had an excuse to pay them another visit - they hosted the kickoff party for Launch 787's new FLAVORS of Austin series. What's FLAVORS of Austin, you ask? Well, Monday through Wednesday of each week for 52 weeks, one featured restaurant will offer a discounted, exclusive, multi-course menu for FLAVORS diners. It's like having Austin Restaurant Week all year long! Best of all, a portion of every dollar spent at a participating FLAVORS of Austin restaurant will be donated to the Sustainable Food Center of Austin.

At any rate, Frank has upped the ante since my last visit; they've just added a brand new coffee shop serving Intelligentsia coffee and a little store that offers locally-focused sausage, nostalgic candy, funky gifts, and other goodies TBD (they're accepting requests if there is something special you'd like them to carry). They're also serving breakfast items and are on the verge of rolling out a Sunday brunch, as well.

We got to taste a nice sampling of what Frank has to offer at the kickoff party. Although I didn't save you any, I did take some photos for you.

First up: cocktails. Frank has a pretty unique cocktail menu, featuring several original creations as well as a few classics with a Frank-esque spin. I tried two different cocktails, the Red Headed Stranger (Frank's version of a bloody Mary - house-made, bacon-infused Dripping Springs vodka mixed with Frank's ultra-spicy bloody Mary mix and garnished with a big slab of bacon, a pepperocini, an olive, and a chunk of cheddar cheese). I know this sounds a little unconventional, and perhaps even slightly unbelievable, so I offer you proof:


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It's a meal in a glass, baby. Check out the half pepper/half salt rim.
Oh, and did I mention the big slab of bacon?

By the time I was ready for my second cocktail, I wanted something a little lighter, so I tried the Daytripper: fresh watermelon juice, St. Germain, Tito's vodka, and mint, garnished with a big chunk of watermelon. Soooo refreshing.

Daytripper at Frank
My kind of day trip. I could've done without the
salt/pepper rim on this one, though. Maybe a sugar rim?

Now, the food. Oh, the food! The good folks at Frank were very generous about giving us a good cross-sample of the menu to taste. We tried two of their new breakfast bierocks (an Eastern European filled pastry), the chorizo, potato & cheese:

Chorizo, potato & cheese bierock at Frank

And the Elvis (peanut butter, banana, and bacon). This sounds ridiculously gross (and doesn't look all that pretty, either), but it had my number. Seriously, I LOVED it - it was hot out of the oven and the peanut butter was just all melty and smooth and just oozed yummily in your mouth with the banana and bacon. I can see why Elvis' gyrating ways weren't enough to keep him super slim if he was eating this decadently on a regular basis.

The Elvis (PB, banana & bacon) Bierock at Frank
This Elvis may well inspire women to throw their panties.

Also on the breakfast menu: beignets! Not quite Cafe du Monde, but delicious.

Beignet at Frank

Moving on to Frank's specialty - hot dogs and sausage - the latter of which is made in-house on a daily basis.

Of course, no Frank tasting would be complete without a classic Chicago dog. I was so pleased to see that my beef (insert knee slapping here) from my previous visit about how they were building the dogs all wrong has been remedied - the pickles, tomato and sport peppers were wedged very nicely between the dog and the bun. Perfect.

Chicago Dog at Frank

We also sampled the Italian sausage, served with fennel mustard salad and aged provolone and topped with balsamic barbecue sauce:

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The jalapeno venison sausage, served with butterkase cheese and bluberry coulis:

Jalapeno Venison sausage at Frank

The crawfish & pork sausage, topped with cajun tartar sauce and lappi cheese:

Crawfish & Pork sausage at Frank

And the Foie Gras - sausage made from foie gras, paired with pickled onions and an orange slice:

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As if that weren't enough, we also savored some Gator Boudin fritters, dressed with a bit of hatch remoulade:

Gator Boudin at Frank

I don't know where I put all that food, but I feel sure I'm going to pay for that at some point.

I'm hard-pressed to pick favorites; I think it would all depend on my mood on any given day. But I really don't think you can go wrong, no matter which sausage you choose (there's a life lesson in there somewhere).

I even got to chat a bit with one of Frank's co-owners, Daniel Northcutt, and was so impressed with his passion for the food and for the unique adventure that he and his co-conspirators are creating. I'm sure Frank Zappa would have agreed that their unconventional approach to food is progress, indeed.

Frank's FLAVORS of Austin menu features a flight of FIVE mini-dogs/sausages for the ridiculously low price of $12. The promotion ends this Wednesday, September 30th, so hurry in! But in the event that you must miss it, Frank's great grub is very reasonably priced all the time.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Tour de Mandolas

One of my co-workers was celebrating his 10th anniversary with our firm, so we all planned to make a trip of it yesterday and drive out to Trattoria Lisina in Driftwood, Texas, for lunch.

Well, Murphy's Law intervened, and I didn't get to go. I was sorry to miss the outing, as I'd heard so much about Trattoria Lisina, so I consoled myself by having lunch at one of the Mandola family's other ventures, Mandola's Italian Market. Here's my Yelp review of Mandola's, written nearly three years ago (back when my reviews weren't so darn WORDY). I've since eaten at Mandola's many, many, many more times, and always had a perfectly pleasurable experience.

Anyway, back to yesterday. I opted for Mandola's pesto pasta and added a chicken breast for some protein. Perfect for a rainy, fall day.


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I had a bit of a sweet craving after the meal (must've been that bushel of garlic in the pesto), so I also snagged one of their pignoli cookies. I hadn't had their version before, and was surprised that it was so very chewy and almond-y flavored. Delicious, just not what I was expecting.

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Pine nuts were, apparently, the theme of this meal.

Wow, that cookie looks positively MONSTROUS next to that chicken breast. Objects may not be to scale.

I thought my Italian-food-eating ways were over for the week, but then my senior partner took pity on me and another co-worker who didn't get to go yesterday, and offered to take us out to Trattoria Lisina for lunch today. Woo hoo!

It's about a 30 minute drive out there from our office, but a fairly easy one. It's really kind of delightful - you pass the rugged outbuildings of the Salt Lick BBQ, the pastures full of longhorn cattle, the volunteer fire station, the Barsana Dham Hindu temple (wait...what?), and suddenly, you find yourself in Tuscany.

No, really.

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(I wish I'd taken photos of the other things listed above so you non-Austinites could get a feel for how crazy it is that this is sitting out in Driftwood).

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The vineyards at Mandola's Estate Winery, with which Trattoria Lisina is connected.

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Barrels o' yum at Mandola's Estate Winery.

After a quick tour of the winery, we settled in for some lunch. Since we were right at the winery, we wanted to sample some of their offerings, so tried the Mandola 2004 Sangiovese and the Mandola 2004 Viognier. Both were as good as any Texas wine I've had, particularly the Viognier, which had just a lovely, lightly fruity bouquet and was very clean and agreeable on the palate. I'm not usually a white wine drinker, but I really enjoyed this glass.

They gave us some complimentary rosemary focaccia along with what our waiter called some "olive oil breadsticks," served with some herbed olive oil. I liked the texture of the focaccia, but it was a little greasy, even before it was dipped in the olive oil.

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For my entree, I had the Costate di Maiale Milanese ($18), which was described as "a pork chop coated with seasoned breadcrumbs, sauteed in EVOO and garnished with a mixed salad and fresh mozzarella." I was a little confused about what all this meant, and was a bit surprised by what arrived:

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Again, it's a bit difficult to see the scale, here. First of all, this thing was gigantic. However, when I cut into it, I was surprised to see that the chop had been pounded as thin as a slice or two of lunchmeat; more than 50% of the dish was the breadcrumbs. It tasted fine, but really wasn't what I wanted (I was trying to eat a little less carby today). I did like the freshness of the salad, but thought the mozzarella was a little on the mushy side.

Of COURSE, we had to also sample a dessert, so we ordered a tiramisu for us all to share. I was very glad I did not have my own serving of this in front of me.

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Beautiful, but honestly, I prefer a lighter tiramisu with lots of amaretto, and this was uber-thick and sort of lacked in the amaretto department. Good, but not great.

Perhaps I ordered poorly, but I think the food at Mandola's is actually better than the dishes I tried at Trattoria Lisina today. What sets Trattoria Lisina apart is the lovely setting and the fact that you can walk next door and sample a slew of Texas wines either before or after you dine. It's an event, not just a meal.

On a completely unrelated note, look at the beautiful evening sky Mother Nature treated us to tonight. It gradually turned into deeper and progressively more spectacular shades of pink and orange, but I couldn't find a good spot to shoot toward the west. I chased the sunset until the most glorious of the pink shades had faded below the horizon.

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A parade of Italian food and gorgeous Texas skies - what more could a girl want?

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Austin Chronicle's "Best of Austin" Party

I am glad to report that I am back from San Antonio, which means that I can get back on the blogging wagon again (or would that be off the blogging wagon?). And I can eat meals that aren't 90% carbs, too...not that there's anything wrong with meals that are 90% carbs, but phew - they have a way of sticking around when you're also off your regular exercise schedule.

At any rate, my first "back in the game" fling was at the Austin Chronicle's "Best of Austin" awards party, which I got to attend courtesy of the fabulous Jennie Chen, a/k/a MisoHungry. Jennie won a "Best of" Critics' Picks award for "Most Diversified Portfolio," which is to say that Jennie does lots of things, all well, and is an inspiration to those of us who can barely keep our socks clean. Read more about Jennie's award here.


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Jennie and her very well-deserved award!

As you might imagine, a party celebrating all of Austin's best was replete with great people, cool beats, and tasty nibbles (and let's not forget the free-flowing river of Tito's Vodka). I had a great time, ran into lots of old friends and made some new ones, and ate and drank myself silly. Thanks so much, Jennie, for letting me tag along for the party!

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DJ Manny (Best Live Club/Party DJ) kept the beats thumping.

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The most interesting-looking bite I've seen in a while - muscat grape terrine with goat cheese, black lava salt, and ver jus - made by The Carillon.

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Green curry tofu by Zen (they also had some wonderful filet mignon and seared ahi, but I ate mine thinking I could come back and photograph later, and they were out when I went back for more).

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Gouda/Havarti and Monterey Jack/Colby grilled cheese sandwiches by Chedd's

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Rigatoni with house-made red chile fennel sausage sugo, roasted sweet peppers, basil and pecorino romano from Primizie.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baking Therapy - Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins

I've been spending the week gearing up for a trial in San Antonio, so my blog has been languishing over here, all lonely-like. It's now 2 a.m. and I'm hitting the road in the morning with the trial team...but I can't resist throwing up a quick post about the pumpkin chocolate chip muffins I made tonight as a work break, inspired by my friend Alice, who made some last week and set off this craving.

I started out with this recipe, but as usual, I made quite a few modifications based on the comments (I really, really love the comment feature on AllRecipes - having that community voice of experience is invaluable).

Here's the recipe as I made it. I like the way the muffins turned out - not very sweet at all, and the whole wheat flour and walnuts give them a groundedness that makes me feel like I could eat these for breakfast without sending my blood sugar out of whack. They taste healthy enough to give you that smug, "I'm eating something good for me" feeling, but are still delicious enough that you want to eat them - a very difficult balance to achieve, in my experience. As you can see from the photo, I made these using cupcake wraps, but I'd strongly recommend greasing the muffin tins and not using wraps; for some reason, they stuck to the paper like crazy. (EDIT: OK, it turns out that I was just eating them while they were too hot. They came off the paper like a charm the next day!)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins

INGREDIENTS
* 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
* 1 cup sugar (original recipe called for 2 cups; if you like sweeter muffins, go to town)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 4 eggs
* 1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
* 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
* 1/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
* 1 cup walnuts

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the first eight ingredients (all the dry ingredients).
3. In another bowl, combine egg, pumpkin, applesauce and oil; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.
4. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
5. Fill greased muffin tins or cupcake wraps two-thirds full with batter. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes about two dozen muffins.


Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

In Celebration of Bacon (Sorta)

Seeing as how it's International Bacon Day today and all, I'd been seeing a lot of tweets from my foodie friends about that mouthwatering meat. A girl (OK, this girl) can only take so much of that kind of thing before a massive craving sets in, and set in it did. My brain became fixated on having myself a big bowl of carbonara.

I had never made carbonara before, but I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to try my hand at making it rather than heading to a restaurant. So I swung by the store and picked up the ingredients (along with a whole slew of other goodies I hadn't intended to purchase) and dove in. Bacon-celebrating purists may criticize, but I ended up with pancetta rather than bacon, 'cause it just looked so dang good (and because I personally think pancetta is much better in this particular dish). Pancetta has been called the Italian version of bacon; both are made from pork belly, but bacon is brined and smoked, whereas pancetta is seasoned with salt and pepper, wrapped up into a big roll, and cured.


Pancetta
Like this.

To make the carbonara, I more or less followed this recipe, which I'm going to copy here in my own words, because I'm paranoid that one day I'll want to go back to a recipe that I've linked to and it'll have gone the way of the mastadon. Also, I tweaked it a little...as usual.

Pasta Carbonara

INGREDIENTS:
* 1 lb spaghetti
* 1 lb pancetta, thickly cut (I got mine in slices about 1/3" thick)
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese + extra to sprinkle on top
* 4 cloves of garlic, minced
* 1 T olive oil
* freshly ground pepper
* white wine (about 1/4 cup - amount isn't critical)
* chopped Italian parsley

DIRECTIONS:
1. Boil water for your spaghetti (as you'll see from the photo below, I accidentally grabbed a package of cappellini. I think spaghetti would be better for this application).

2. Cut the pancetta into cubes.

3. Heat a frying pan on medium and add the olive oil, garlic, and minced pancetta. Cook until a lot of the fat on the pancetta has cooked off and the meat is pretty well browned. Take the pan off the heat and add the white wine, then put the pan back on low heat and let it simmer.

Pancetta Fryin' Up in a Pan
Sizzlin' pancetta.

4. At some point during the pancetta-cooking process, your spaghetti water will boil. Add the pasta.

5. In a big bowl (large enough to fit the entire batch of cooked pasta), crack two eggs, add the cheese, and grind black pepper all over it. Stir the mixture together with a fork.

6. When the pasta is done, strain it, then add it to the bowl with the eggs and cheese and black pepper and STIR. Keep stirring. You don't want the eggs to scramble, but they will be cooking from the heat of the pasta.

7. Add the pancetta to the pasta and mix in. If you want to tell yourself you're being fat-conscious (You do realize you're about to eat a meaty, cheesy, pasta dish, don't you? But suit yourself...), you can scoop out the pancetta and leave the fat + wine mixture behind. But I do think that having at least some of that mixture in the pasta adds a lot (Julia Child would be proud!).

8. Before serving, add a generous helping of the parsley, some more freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkle of cheese.

9. Bliss out. You can start your diet tomorrow.

Or not.

Carbonara

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