Friday, December 10, 2010

My Love Affair With a Pie

Most days, being a food blogger is a labor of love. But then there are days when it's just love.

Like the other day, when I got an e-mail with the subject line, "We've got a pie with your name on it!"

Well, that got my attention.

So I go to pick up this pie, a gift from The Monument Café in Georgetown. I open the lid of the box, and see this:


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(Unfortunately, my photos do not really do this pie justice. This one that Christian Bowers took of his pie might give you a better feel for this thing.

A cloud of whipped cream piled atop a surprisingly rich, dense, chocolatey filling, on a crust made of candied walnuts. Did you hear that? A crust made of candied walnuts.

Pardon me while I go all teenage girl on you and say: OMG.

In an attempt to prevent myself from eating the entire thing, I took this pie to my office. Here are a couple of my co-workers' comments:

"I don't care if I have to work out for four hours because I ate a piece of that pie. It was worth it."

"It is demeaning to call this a chocolate pie. It is so much better than any chocolate pie anybody has ever eaten."

Cliff's Notes version: you must eat this pie.

Online ordering with full selection of pies and cakes available from Monument can be found here. The Monument Chocolate is a shockingly low $20 (but don't tell them I said that).

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Apple Fennel Panzanella

A couple of summers ago, my neighbor Jackie gave me some lovely bulbs of fennel that she'd received in her CSA box. Not having ever cooked with fennel before, I did some Googling and came up with a few recipes that sounded interesting, including this one for an apple fennel panzanella (bread salad) from Bitchin' Camero. I gave it a whirl and really enjoyed it, so I broke it out again for a holiday potluck we attended recently. The red and green are rather season-appropriate, and it makes for a nice, reasonably-healthy addition to the heavy trappings of the typical holiday table. I love the way the dressing soaks into the bread, giving the whole thing a delightful mustardy-garlicky kick, which is nicely tempered by the sweet apples and mild fresh fennel.

I tweaked the recipe a bit, so am reprinting the recipe here with my comments/changes.

Apple Fennel Panzanella

• 1/2 loaf stale Ciabatta bread (fresh Ciabatta works just fine, too)
• 1 Macintosh apple, thinly sliced
• 1/2 large fennel bulb (or 1 small one), thinly sliced
• Handful of salad greens
• Small bunch chives, snipped into small pieces
• 1 tsp. poppy seeds (I always forget to put these in, as you can tell from my photos)
• Finely chopped fennel fronds (for garnish)

Dressing:
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
• 2 tsp white wine vinegar (I didn't have any white wine vinegar, so used apple cider vinegar, which I thought worked just fine)
• Fresh garlic cloves, finely minced (The original recipe called for one clove. I love garlic, so I used five (!). Adjust according to your own garlic taste.)
• Salt (to taste)

Preheat the broiler. Slice the bread into 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch cubes. Arrange them on a cookie sheet and pop them under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the completely dry out and begin to brown slightly. Keep your eye on the bread – it burns quickly.

In the meantime, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, vinegar, garlic and salt. Toss the bread with the apple, fennel, greens, chives and poppy seeds, then drizzle with the dressing and give it a good toss, making sure everything is evenly coated. Garnish with bits of fennel frond.


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wine and Swine GIVEAWAY!

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone!

I have so much to be thankful for this year. At the top of my list is the birth of my beautiful new niece, Anna, who at the age of one week, already has me completely and utterly smitten. I mean, how could you not love this face?


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Self-indulgent aunt-swooning aside, though, I have something exciting to share with you all. A giveaway!

If you're a food lover worth your salt, you're probably emerging from your turkey coma, shaking your head at the mass quantities of vittles you ingested and simultaneously wondering, "What's next?" Well, the good folks at the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival are here for you, with a delightful weekend of porcine delights that you won't want to miss. Voilà - the Wine & Swine Culinary Weekend!

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The Wine & Swine weekend pairs pork and pinot (and other vino varieties, too) in all manner of piggerrific ways. They're kicking things off this Friday, December 3rd, with a Pork & Cork at the AT&T Conference Center, during which chefs will use all parts of the pig to create a flavorful feast paired with Old and New World wines. Saturday brings the Sip, Swirl & Squeal Wine Seminar, where you'll be treated to unique wines paired with a sampling of pork specialties. The weekend will culminate on Sunday with a real Hill Country Pig Roast, during which a herd of fantastic chefs (namely, Jonathan Gelman of the Driskill Grill; Paul Qui of Uchiko; Larry Kocurek of Kocurek Family Charcuterie; Josh Watkins of The Carillon; Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen's Kitchen; Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery in Fredericksburg; Larry McGuire of Perla's and Lambert's; John Bullington of Alamo Drafthouse; and Jason Dady) will each be preparing a whole pig in his or her own culinary style to share with attendees. Add live music, craft beer, and wine tastings and set the event at a ranch in Driftwood, and you've got yourself a very Austin-y pig party.

The Festival folks have very generously provided me with a pair of tickets to the Texas Hill Country Pig Roast to give away to one lucky reader of this blog! To enter, simply leave a comment below with your favorite part of the pig. If you are on Twitter, you can get an additional entry by tweeting, "Enter to win a pair of tickets to the @txwineandfood's Hill Country Pig Roast from @foodiethenew40: http://bit.ly/iiZhsk"(retweeting my tweets about the contest works, too). Entries will close at 7:00 p.m. CST on Tuesday, November 30th; I'll pick the winner that evening.

If you'd like to attend any of the Wine & Swine weekend events, be sure to check out their website for more info and tickets!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

She lives!!

I know, I know; it has been a ridiculously long time since I last posted. I apologize, dear readers - I have been so busy devouring everything in sight (well, except for that time when I was duking it out with the stomach flu). But never fear! I won (take that, flu!), and I have so much deliciousness to share with you.

For starters, I was fortunate enough to attend the media preview for Project Transitions' Guess Who's Coming to Dinner series. If you're not familiar with this fundraiser, I urge you to get familiar, pronto. This wonderful foodie event offers an evening of delightful dining in the company of other fun folk. Each person attends one of a number of different themed dinners (the themes vary widely; everything from "Around the World in Eight Platters" to the more cheeky "A Shroom with a View" or, my personal favorite from last year, "Winter Olympics: What Would Tonya Harding Serve?"). After the meal, all the guests from all of the dinners assemble at NEST for a champagne and dessert reception. The Project has the support of Les Dames d'Escoffier, which means that the meals are top notch - and all the food and wine is donated by the hosts, which means that every dollar of the $100 ticket price goes to fund critical services for Austinites living with HIV and AIDS. What could be better than that?

If the media preview was any indication, this is truly an event not to be missed. The food and wine were absolutely fantastic, and the wonderful company and gorgeous surroundings ensured that the evening was delightful in every way. For starters, check out the table that was set when we arrived. It looked to me every bit like a sparkling jewel centerpiece for the lovely fall evening.


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The theme for the media dinner was "Going Quackers," so duck was the order of the evening. Luckily for me, as I loooove duck. As we waited for the other guests to arrive, we sipped prosecco and nibbled some ducky hors d'oeuvres.

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The very gracious Cathy Negrel of Negrel Antiques, serving deviled duck eggs.

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Smoked duck breast bruschetta with fig & walnut tapenade

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Warming shots of sweet corn soup with duck cracklings. MmmmmMMMMMM.

After mingling a bit, we were seated at the table and plied with wine. Then this arrived:

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I was still getting the hang of using my nerd lights with my new camera, so please don't let my less-than-optimal photo convince you that this dish was anything but divine. There were two preparations of duck - a confit and a pan seared breast with candied cranberries. These were served with a lovely couscous pilaf with currants and toasted pistachios, and some roasted fall vegetables.

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Duck cam close-up.

Dessert was an impossibly luscious green tea and dark chocolate pot de creme with orange blossom honey whipped cream and a bit of honeycomb for garnish, prepared by Suzanne Court:

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It was with great difficulty that I restrained myself from eating both mine and Pat Sharpe's pot de creme (so that's how she stays so thin).

Thanks to this wonderful preview, I'm completely sold on this event and fully intend to attend Guess Who's next year. The 2011 Guess Who's is on February 5th; keep an eye on this page for details. Hope to see you there!

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bola Pizza

Judging from my Facebook wall, I think somebody around here might've had a birthday or something. No, I'm not changing the name of my blog.

I could not think of a better way to celebrate than at one of the fabulous pizza parties thrown by my friends Christian and Jamie. They have been throwing these pizza parties for a long time (which I previously blogged about here), but there is a recent new twist - the addition of a wood-fired pizza oven (which just happens to be on a trailer!) - and the launching of a pizza catering business, Bola Pizza, so that you can throw your own pizza party - with their help, of course.


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This could be the centerpiece of your very own pizza party!

Christian and Jamie are my friends, but I can honestly say that their pizza is the best in town, hands-down. First of all, the crust - a recipe that took them years to develop - is perfect. Just a little bit chewy, just a little bit crunchy, and just a teeny bit sour - in other words, delicious in every way. And they've added some new, seasonal pies to their menu that are out of this world. Their pizzas just keep getting better and better, and I can't get enough.

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Witness: the fig & pancetta pizza, made with pancetta from Salt and Time.
(Much better photo by Christian here).

Why was the mushroom the life of the party? Because he was a fun-gi. This mushroom pizza is the life of the party: Minced criminis cooked down with thyme, garlic, shallots and white wine, then lovingly sprinkled atop sweet ricotta, mozzarella and black truffle oil.

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Friends don't let friends tell fungi jokes.

I'm hard pressed to choose a favorite, but where garlic is involved, I'm tempted. This pie, called Garlic Two Times, should be renamed 'Gasm Two Times. But then the Texas Board of Education would probably try to ban it, and vampires would take over the state. Olive oil poached garlic cloves are mixed with shaved garlic and arugula atop sweet ricotta and mozzarella. Garlicgasmic.

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Somebody attacked this pizza before I got my photo shoot in.

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Scratch 'n' sniff!

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Magic in action

Skip the catered lunch with dry chicken breast. Be a hero and book a Bola Pizza party today (if you need my address so you can invite me, let me know).

Shout out to my dear friend Carla, who brought not one, but two amazing cakes to the party from Sweetish Hill to help me mark another year, and to Jennie, who brought me a gorgeous batch of tipsy ispahan macarons!

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Thanks, too, to friends and family too numerous to mention who make getting older worth every minute. Love you all.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Steak Night at the Hotel San Jose

Many years ago, before this blog was but a twinkle in mah belly, the Hotel San Jose hosted regular steak nights. I'd heard about them and kept meaning to go, but before I made it, they discontinued them.

So I was thrilled when I heard that Steak Night was making a comeback. And I was even more thrilled when I won reservations for two to their maiden meal, courtesy of Thrillist Austin (if you don't subscribe to this terrific e-mail publication, sign up now; it's a great way to learn about new eateries in town, and the writing is excellent, as well).

I had already planned a girl-date with my friend Liz that evening, but luckily, I was able to convince her to join me in a rare (for her) meat-feast. The meals are prepared by Chef Larry McGuire of Perla's and Lambert's fame, and focus on the use of local ingredients. Cost is $40 or $45 (depending on what cut of steak you choose) for three courses.

For our starters, we got to choose between a wedge salad with Pure Luck bleu cheese, local pear tomatoes, and sherry vinaigrette, or late summer gazpacho with pearl couscous, Texas crab, and basil oil. I chose the wedge salad:


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And Liz chose the gazpacho:
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The wedge was good, but man...the gazpacho! So fresh, so crisp, and the couscous provided just the right amount of chewiness. Like a tomato pearl tea, only better.

The entrée choices included McAllen Ranch NY strip with seared mushroom and shallot relish, Niman Ranch ribeye with fennel salsa verde, certified angus beef filet with hollandaise and fresh horseradish, or ahi tuna steak with smoked paprika chimichurri. All entrees were served with grilled asparagus, steak house potatoes and crispy shallots. Both Liz and I ordered the ribeye, but with different preparations (they'll also let you mix and match the sauces) - I got the mushroom & shallot relish, and Liz got the hollandaise.

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Holy meat. This was the day after the BBQ Festival, by the way.

The ribeye was wonderfully prepared and deliciously marbled, although once again I was jealous of Liz's order; I thought the mushroom sauce was a little too vinegary and wished it was a little saucier (something I also wish of myself). Nevertheless, it was a delightful plate overall, and there was enough left over for another meal.

I did, however, save room for dessert - Mexia pear and blackberry cobbler served with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream. 'Cause you can never have enough cream.

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Of course, part of the pleasure of a great meal out has to do with your surroundings and the service, and the San Jose excelled on both counts. A big steak just tastes better if you're enjoying it on the San Jose's perfect patio, particularly in the midst of this amazing fall weather.

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These photos were taken before I met my new toy. Obviously.

The next Steak Night will be on October 18th. Menu details/reservation info here.

Huge thanks to Thrillist and the Hotel San Jose for a lovely meal!

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Monday, October 4, 2010

New Toy!

As most of you know, the large majority of the photos for this blog have heretofore been taken with a four-year-old ultracompact camera, my beloved Canon SD800 IS. Despite the fact that - back in February - the flash started to emit puffs of smoke, I couldn't quite bring myself to part with my trusty friend.

But with a birthday on its way, I finally decided that it was time to treat myself to a new toy. I picked it up on Thursday night, just in time for a visit from my dear friend Andi, whom I had not seen since 9th grade (thanks, Facebook!). Between eating my way through Austin with Andi and our Supper Club's October meeting, which consisted of a food trailer tour, I had ample opportunity to play with my new baby. It's still a compact camera, because I need to be able to throw it in my bag and go - but it is still SO much more powerful than my old one. Here are a few shots from its maiden weekend.


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Corned beef hash at Zax.

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Shot at Lambert's on Auto mode without a tripod. With my old camera, this photo would have been a terrible blur. This camera handles low light shots extremely well for a camera of this size.

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Lambert's pork ribs with a ah-ma-zing fennel & coriander rub and a hint of maple glaze. Served with apple & roasted fennel slaw. ($16)

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Calamari at Fonda San Miguel.

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Lengua tacos at Taqueria Arandas. One of the best bargain meals in town at a ridiculously low $1.60 apiece.

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The fragrant Fish Malabar at G'raj Mahal.

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Seared Yassa chicken served bunny chow style at Cazamance.

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Army of sliders from Along Came a Slider.

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Poor Qui buns from East Side King.

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Chicken karaage at East Side King.

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Brussel sprout salad at East Side King.

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The terrifying Baby Rattler, featuring fudge icing, fudge Oreos, and the largest gummi-anything I've ever seen, at Gourdough's.

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The Razzle Dazzle (raspberry filling, chocolate icing, chocolate chips) at Gourdough's.

I have high hopes that this new camera will help me bring you a whole new level of food porn. Stay tuned!

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Texas Monthly BBQ Festival

Last weekend, Texas Monthly threw a big barbecue party and everyone was invited. Everyone, that is, who was on the barbecue ball - as I heard these tickets sold out during pre-sale (big thanks to our friend Mari, who is quite possibly the most organized person I know, and who was on the phone buying our tickets no more than 0.000001 seconds after the pre-sale began).

Let me tell you, this was a glorious event. For a mere $15, we had access to unlimited samples from twenty of the fifty best barbecue joints in the state as listed by Texas Monthly. This includes quite a few places from far-flung locales, as well as the place that earned the #1 spot on the list, Snow's Barbecue in Lexington, Texas. I was particularly excited about trying Snow's, because they are only open Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. until they run out of meat (before noon, I've heard), and I had yet to make the trek out there.

I sampled from sixteen different places and drank two Shiner brews before throwing in the WetNap and calling it a day.


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One of the many "samples" I had. See why I didn't make it through all twenty?

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Succumbing to a barbecue pusher from Lambert's.

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Two of the items in my food bloggers' toolbox for the day.

Although I snatched de-meat from my jaws of victory, I was still able to pick out some f(l)avorites:

Brisket: Snow's. The hype is true. So tender you'll still be able to eat it when you're 100 years old.

Sausage: City Meat Market. I like a coarser grind to my sausage, and theirs was just right. Juicy but not heavy, and the flavor was terrific.

Beef Rib: Louie Mueller. Pepper crusted and so good that I wanted to keep eating it even though this was the 16th sample I'd tried.

Pork Rib: Ehhhhh. I love pork ribs, but surprisingly, I didn't find one here that stood out from the rest.

Sides: Most places didn't bring sides with them, so this really shouldn't be a category, but I wanted to give a shout-out to Wild Blue BBQ from Los Fresnos, who was serving up by far the most moist, most amazing cornbread I've ever had in my life.

Looks like the others at the Festival (at least, the ones who bothered to text-vote) didn't agree with my picks, with the exception of Snow's. People's Choice award winners here.

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A very small portion of the aftermath.

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After this photo was taken, we stumbled to the car and collapsed into meat comas.

Texas Monthly says this will be an annual event. Click on the link to the left on this page to get on the mailing list for info about next year's MeatFest. See you there!

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Uchiko, part deux (and trois)

I was fortunate enough to attend a media reception at Uchiko last week. I had been once before during their soft opening in July and had a great meal - so I was very excited to go back and sample more of their menu. A few days after the reception, Chris and I went back and enjoyed a regular meal there, as well. I want to incorporate both experiences into one post, so I'll try to limit the photos from the reception a bit.

Most exciting thing about the reception? Tyson Cole and Paul Qui were standing at an open window at one end of the room making our food. Let's just say that the moment I realized this, I made my way over there and kind of refused to leave. It was amazing to watch both of these talented chefs at work and be able to taste each item as they were completing it.


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Tyson Cole serving up some chicken yakitori with candied peanuts and garlic

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(left) Paul Qui putting the finishing touches on a batch of koviche bites

(right) Fried tuna tendon. This is usually an inedible part of the fish, but in the hands of these amazing chefs, it became incredibly delicious - with a crispy, flavorful batter outside and a slightly chewy texture when you bit into it. Tyson said when he served it up, "This is what we eat." Tyson, I want what you eat.

This doesn't look like much, but it was stellar - housemade chicharrones with a fragrant truffle sauce that is still indelibly etched in my memory. There were also some gorgeous black chicharrones (colored with squid ink), but my little camera just couldn't do them justice. I beg the powers that be at Uchiko to add these fantastic morsels to the menu!

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Could this be any more gorgeous? This is the Akami Te - big eye tuna with watermelon, cilantro and coriander. I love the way the colors of the tuna and watermelon are so closely matched, making it difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

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We got to try quite a few other things at the reception, but I'm going to fast forward to our sit-down meal here, now. To start, we were treated with an amuse bouche of tomatoes with basil blossoms. So fresh and bright and crisp - perfect.

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Then we had a bowl of their wonderful roasted edamame. The roasting process really coaxes an extra level of flavor out of these. I think these had a little douse of oil somewhere along the way, as well, which added a nice sumptuousness to them.

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Next up was the koviche, one of my favorite dishes from my first visit to Uchiko and on my permanent to-order list here. Ridiculously fresh raw diver scallops atop tomatillos, dressed with kalamata powder and black lime. Put a scallop/tomatillo bite onto an architectural cracker, insert in mouth, make gutteral mmmming noises as your eyes roll back in your head.

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Our order of chicken karaage arrived next. Half a chicken is expertly fried and served with a lemon juice/salt mixture and a side of marinated onions.

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I know pork belly has become nearly cliché at this point, but I personally haven't tired of it - and Uchiko's version is well worth putting your pork belly suspicions aside. Done just as pork belly should be - crisp, yet rich and juicy. The roasted carrots that were served with it made my eyes widen with pleasure and delight - and I usually hate cooked carrots.

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Also on my permanent to-order list are two of Uchiko's nigiri offerings: the nasu (eggplant) nigiri and the shiver-inducing beef tongue. The eggplant is smooth and silky and pairs so beautifully with the slight vinegar flavor in the sushi rice. And the smoky char to the falling-apart-tender beef tongue is simply revolutionary.

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Our last savory selection was the tiger cry roll - grilled wagyu steak with yuzu kosho, toasted rice, and cilantro. The flavor of the beef was wonderful, but based on the two rolls I've had at Uchiko so far, I really think Uchiko shines more in its other offerings.

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We closed the deal and the meal with their sweet corn sorbet, served with polenta custard, caramel salt, and lemon. I love that this dessert isn't too sweet, and the way the clear corn and polenta flavors challenge your palate to re-interpret the meaning of dessert.

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I think Uchiko has worked out some of the minor kinks that were present during my first visit; between the media reception and the outstanding meal we had there this week, Uchiko just earned itself a place in my list of favorite restaurants in Austin. Everything here - from the service to the space to the food - marries excellence and accessibility in a way that really appeals to me. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love great food, and I enjoy it even more when it's served in a context that doesn't take itself too seriously. Uchiko nails this for me. Big thanks to Tyson Cole and Paul Qui for bringing this wonderful dining experience to Austin.

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