Friday, May 21, 2010

Foreign & Domestic

Please allow me to interrupt my regularly-scheduled vacation blather with a post about an exciting new Austin restaurant: Foreign & Domestic.

The pre-opening buzz for this new venture by Ned and Jodi Elliott did as good a job as any I've seen at building anticipation. Between their menu-tease tweets, their Facebook page, and the highly-intriguing menu posted on their website (which has already changed slightly and is supposed to change weekly according to this Austinist article), well, it was nothing short of foreplay.

Needless to say, I was chafing at the bit for their official opening; so much so that I hurried over on opening night for a reconnaissance mission.


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Exterior - built in an old skate shop.

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Interior, stage right - didn't realize this at the time, but I'm pretty sure that's superstar Jodi Bart and her guy Adam Holzband over in the bottom right corner!

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Interior, stage left.

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Outdoor seating area. Dog-friendly, but having your dog might be a bit of a hassle given the community seating arrangement unless you are able to snag the end of a table.

After agonizing at length over the menu and wishing desperately that I had some human compatriots with me so I could steal bites off their plates (my dog was with me, but she failed to order anything), I decided to try a couple of items in the middle "Chomps" section (larger than the "Snacks"; smaller than the "Plates"). I ordered a Summer Salad, the description of which I won't be able to do justice, as I foolishly relied on being able to get it from the online menu, and it's not there. What I do know (or, at least, think I know - this place has a way of reinventing ingredients so as to trick the mind): there was a generous pile of mixed greens, pickled onions, what I believe were zucchini shavings, grilled peaches, corn, artichokes, and a champagne vinaigrette. Oh, and it looked like this:

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Summer Salad ($6)

I liked this salad fine, but thought that it was a bit on the sour side. I think this may have come from the pickled onions, although it felt more pervasive than that. The champagne vinaigrette and grilled peaches alleviated this some, but both were laid on the bottom of the bowl and there was very little of the latter, so it took some doing to incorporate them into every bite. I will say that it was a pretty generous portion for the price, and a very light eater could probably make a meal out of this (no protein, though).

I had also ordered the Grilled Octopus. The octopus and the salad came out together, which wasn't a huge deal, but I would have preferred to have the salad served first so I could properly focus on it without worrying about my octopus sitting on the table, getting cold.

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Grilled Octopus ($8) - served with refried chickpeas, dried olives, shattered garlic, and almond milk foam.

I really enjoyed this dish and would definitely order it again. The octopus was wonderfully tender, which can be tricky with octopus, and paired nicely with the chickpeas, a combination I hadn't visited previously. I loved the fact that they were taking some risks with the shattered garlic (those things that look like shavings on top) and the almond milk foam, but I thought the foam got completely lost in the other flavors, and the texture of the shattered garlic seemed weirdly paste-like to me. Of course, this may be my fault for picking most of the garlic bits off the top and eating them separately rather than eating them together with the rest of the dish (hey, I was curious!).

I couldn't resist trying dessert. Unfortunately/fortunately, they were out of the Pig Licker (chocolate dipped praline bacon served with bacon root beer [bacon root beer!] and pork rind churros). So I opted for the Eat a Peach (peach tarte tartin with sweet cream and basil snow cone). Yes. Basil snow cone.

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Eat a Peach ($6)

I mean, YES! Basil snow cone! Wow, was this ever good. The ice was very light and fluffy and was infused with just the right delightful whisper of basil herbaliciousness. It was downright ethereal, and worked well with the fresh Hill Country peachiness of the tarte tartin. This dessert was innovation done really, really well. So well that I actually made Allen and Stephanie of Austinist fame, whom I'd been lucky enough to meet just that evening (hooray for community tables and friendly Austinites!), try a bite.

While my experience here wasn't without a few minor issues, I was very impressed considering the restaurant had been open just a few hours by the time I arrived. It is clear that there is a great deal of passion and innovation in the kitchen here - Ned and Jodi both attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and their combined resumé includes the likes of Thomas Keller's Per Se, Alain Ducasse's Essex House (now closed), and Gramercy Tavern, among others. And they bring to the table something that Austin has heretofore lacked - an inventive and risk-taking menu with extremely affordable pricing in an atmosphere so relaxed that I felt comfortable here in my exercise clothes with my dog in tow. Now that's a Foreign & Domestic policy I can get behind.

Foreign & Domestic
306 E 53rd St
Austin, TX 78751
(512) 560-7628

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Seattle, day 2

The next day dawned clear and beautiful - perfect for our plans for the morning, a Savor Seattle tour of the famous Pike Place Market. At nearly 103 years old, Pike Place is the oldest continuously-running public market in the country. Our tour, led by David Goldstein (on the bottom of the page at the link), included tastings at many of the more popular places in the market, including:

• Doughnuts at the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company;
• Market Spice tea at Market Spice;
• Several types of smoked salmon and salmon jerky at Pike Place Fish Market;
• Fruit from Frank's Quality Produce;
• Clam chowder and seafood bisque from Pike Place Chowder;
• An assortment of goodies from Chukar Cherries;
• Cheese samples and mac 'n' cheese from Beecher's Handmade Cheese;
• Two types of piroshkies from Piroshky Piroshky; and
• Mini crab cakes from another Tom Douglas place, Etta's.

Here are a few shots from our tour:


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These doughnuts are pillows of warm, fluffy heaven.

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David serving up the Market Spice tea.

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Pike Place Fish Market.

The fish market is high in entertainment value; when somebody orders a fish, the order-taker shouts the order loudly, then the rest of the fishmongers all shout it back to him in a loud chant. Then the fish is basically hurled through the air from the original fishmonger to an area behind the counter, where it is hopefully caught, then packaged up for the customer.

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Gorgeous produce...check out those massive pomelos behind the pineapples in the bottom right corner!

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Tray o' delicious soups from Pike Place Chowder.

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Cramming in behind the counter at Chukar Cherries. I especially loved the dark chocolate cabernet cherries and the black forest Cackles, but really, everything here is fantastic.

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Watching the cheesemaking process at Beecher's.

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Hula Hoopin' musician!

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Crab cakes from Etta's.

After the tour was over, we walked down the waterfront to catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island, where we wandered about, poking around in all the cute little shops. Chris miraculously became hungry again and we snacked on some wonderful flatbread from Blackbird Bakery, and I bought a ridiculously comfortable pair of purplish patent leather Romikas for 75% off.

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Mount Ranier!

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And...back to civilization.

We had planned to dine at Rover's that evening, but after a day of seemingly endless walking and eating, we were exhausted and really wanted something lighter, so we opted instead to stumble to a little sushi joint a block or so from our hotel. It was just what we needed at that moment.

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And I discovered that Chris' new book light makes a nice little spotlight for food photos.

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Perfect day. I love vacation.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seattle, part I

We just got in from one of the most lovely vacations I can recall having in a long time. Wonderful food, gorgeous weather, the company of terrific friends, and a nice mix of scheduled vs. not-scheduled-what-do-we-feel-like-doing-this-very-moment? time (with apologies to our dear friends in Portland and our friend Eugene for not sharing the unscheduled portions of our trip).

I've said many times that I think Austin is a fabulous city for eating...for its size. But I'll be honest; going somewhere like Seattle, a city that is very into food and has the larger population to support more variety/diversity does remind me that we don't have it all.

We landed in Seattle on Saturday afternoon, drove downtown and checked into our hotel, and decided we'd head over to check out the Space Needle before dinner. We rode up to the Observation Deck (520 feet up in 41 seconds!), wandered about there for a while, then snapped a few shots around the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (we didn't have time to go in, though).


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The Space Needle

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One of the many beautiful views from the Space Needle Observation Deck - we lucked out on the weather!

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Funky building that houses the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame

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Reflection

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Cool sculpture near the EMP/SFM

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. When we arrived back in our room, we discovered that the concierge had heard us telling the woman who checked us in that we were celebrating an anniversary and had left us some chilled sparkling wine and two ah-MA-zing truffles (which, thanks to a very industrious front desk employee, I've now learned were made by Zambers Confections). Now that's service!

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After a sip or two downing the sparkling wine and a quick change of clothes, we were off to dinner. I was super excited for dinner, as we were getting to dine with an incredibly talented photographer and blogger whose work really inspires me, Jackie Donnelly Baisa. I was fortunate enough to meet Jackie online through our mutual friend Marc, who introduced us through Facebook so that Jackie could give me a few restaurant recommendations for our trip. Well, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, Jackie had very graciously agreed to give up her Saturday night, drive down from her home in the mountains, and join us for dinner at one of Tom Douglas' restaurants, Lola.

My two new friends - Jackie and Lola - were both fabulous, yet delightfully unpretentious. I love people and places that make you feel right at home, and both Jackie and Lola did just that.

Unfortunately, I failed miserably as a blogger and didn't get any good shots of Jackie. However, here are a few of Lola:

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Main dining room.

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The bar area. I love those flame lamps!

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We lucked out and were seated right near the kitchen, which is pretty much in open view of anyone who cares to look. I took this photo from my seat in our booth.

We started out ordering a couple of appetizers, Lola's version of manti (lamb ravioli, yogurt, aleppo pepper, and toasted pine nuts) and an order of lamb meatballs (it was a lamb kind of evening). The manti was one of my favorite dishes of the evening - tender, with layers of interesting flavor, and the pine nuts were toasted to perfection.

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Mmmmmmanti ($12)

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Mmmmeatballs

After we'd already ordered the appetizers, we decided to go with Lola's "Big Dinner," a multi-course extravaganza served family-style for $45 per person. It was the perfect way to sample a large cross-section of the menu - and for Jackie and me to have lots of "models" to photograph!

First up was a six-spread sampler, served with fresh, house-made pita bread. It is a testament to these spreads that all three of us had a different favorite - they were all delicious!

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Six-spread sampler, which included hummus with smoked paprika; a red pepper harissa; a cucumber/yogurt tzatziki; a cauliflower/anchovy spread; a kalamata olive/Turkish fig spread; and a garlic skordalia.

The next course was a plate of kebabs - three made with Washington chicken in a yogurt-dill sauce, and three made with Pacific prawns with a muscat glaze. I'm usually not one to fawn over chicken, but the chicken on these skewers was so ridiculously tender that I momentarily wondered whether it was cooked through. The prawns were good, too, but a bit more pedestrian; the sauce was a little too sweet for me, and tasted faintly barbecue-ish.

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The next course was Jackie's Greek salad - obviously named for our new friend, although we weren't nice enough to let her have it all to herself. I often turn up my nose at restaurant tomatoes (they're so often flavorless), but these were fresh and juicy.

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Our entrée was a sliced leg of lamb, served with garlic smashed potatoes and asparagus (usually comes with horta, but we saw another table getting a plate of this gorgeous asparagus, and our server graciously offered to let us substitute).

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Leg of lamb: tasty, although maybe the teeniest bit on the chewy side.

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Asparagus: also good, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Garlic smashed potatoes: revolutionary. The combination of the wonderful garlicky flavor and the perrrfectly roasted skins had me swooning. Every bite was cooked just right and chock full of flavor, both of which can be so difficult to do with potatoes.

For dessert, we indulged in a plate of goat cheese turnovers garnished with pistachios, mint and honey. This would make a great dish for a person who dislikes overly sweet desserts; it just barely skirted the line between sweet and savory, and the warm meltiness of the slightly sour goat cheese had a comforting feel to it.

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A great meal overall, and a lovely way to wrap up our first day in Seattle. I can't wait to go back to try another Tom Douglas spot (he has six different restaurants all within a few-block area). I hope we're lucky enough to have Jackie's wonderful company when we do.

(Be sure to check out Jackie's post about our evening for some utterly gorgeous shots of our meal!)

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Foodie is the New Forty on Fox 7!

Last week, I had the opportunity to film a fun segment for Fox 7 News with reporter Lauren Petrowski. Lauren's "Fearless Foodie" series focuses on some of the more unusual foods available to eat in Austin. We visited one of my favorite Chinese restaurants, Asia Café, and took a walk through the adjoining market, as well. It was lots of fun...check out the clip here and see what we ate!





So, fearless foodies out there...what's the strangest thing YOU'VE ever eaten?

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

I think that might be the longest I've gone without a post since this blog started. Sorry, readers! I don't know what got into me.

It certainly is not for lack of goodness to share. For instance: last weekend, I finally got to fulfill a lifelong desire to go strawberry picking. It was lovely! I had mentioned to Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring that I wanted to go via Twitter, and several other foodie types chimed in that they'd like to join in the fun. Next thing we knew, a group outing was being planned. Jodi generously agreed to send out the info via her Tasty Touring Facebook group, and just like that, a little strawberry posse had formed.

Chris was in a seminar on the appointed weekend and his dad Carl was visiting from Lubbock, so Carl got roped into accompanying me for the trip. We met up with the rest of the group on Saturday morning and made our way out to Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls. We were delayed for quite some time on the way out by an accident on Highway 71, but when we finally arrived, this is what greeted us:


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Stop here first to pick up a picking basket for $.50. After that, whatever strawberries you pick are $2.75/lb. No entrance fees, parking fees, etc. Note that they do not weigh you before you start picking!

The fields were lush with gorgeous, ripe strawberries. There were rows and rows of plants, and gently pushing back the leaves between the plants would reveal a bounty of the juicy red gems.

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Before too long, Carl and I had two boxes full of strawberries. This was actually the less-full of the two boxes! They tell you that a level box of strawberries will run you about $16; our two boxes cost around $25.

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Aren't they gorgeous?

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Before we headed out, we had to indulge in some of Sweet Berry Farm's homemade ice cream. They have pumpkin, vanilla, strawberry, and berry-berry (a combination of strawberries and blackberries, which you can also pick there from May-June). We tried the strawberry and the berry-berry. Both were fantastic, but I preferred the berry-berry because of the nice texture that the blackberry seeds imparted to the creamy treat.

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If you'd like to make a day trip out of this, there are several other fun places to visit in the area. We stopped at Spicewood Vineyards for a wine tasting (just $2 to taste six wines, and the generous cheese/cured meat plate was $13):

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Then we wandered through this really neat shop specializing in unusual cacti and succulents, Spicewood Spines. I am a sucker for funky and easy-to-care-for plants, and came away with three fun little guys.

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This was such a nice way to spend a gorgeous spring day! Big thanks to Jodi for making this happen, and to Carl for being game to join me on this trip!

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