Friday, April 29, 2011

Food Photo Friday - G'raj Mahal

Most of the dishes at G'raj Mahal, while delicious, are not particularly photogenic. Chunks of protein swimming in sauce and served in a cardboard bowl do not make for the most compelling photos (but don't think I didn't try).

The exception is their rack of lamb, which is cooked to tender perfection in their tandoor oven. This dish is now going to be a staple every time I visit G'raj Mahal, along with their fantastic beef kashmiri, which was far less sweet and delivered more of a kick than I expected. If you go in search of these dishes - which you should - try not to arrive at peak hours, as they curtail their lamb tandoor production when it's too busy.


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Tasty, tender, spicy goodness on a plate.

On the other hand, if you're there when it's not too crowded, you might feel more intimidated by the critters that make up the Austin Bike Zoo. They are typically hanging around G'raj Mahal, casting their beady eyes upon the diners, plotting their next move.

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Quietly encircling the unwary masses.

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Sweet butterfly bicycle, or creepy alien food-stealer? You decide.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Food Photo(s) Friday - Austin Restaurant Week at Uchiko

It's official - I am in love with Austin Restaurant Week. After using it as an excuse to visit four "special occasion" restaurants in two weeks, how could I not? More importantly, this week I ate at Uchi and Uchiko on back-to-back nights. That pretty much qualifies this as the best week ever, in my book.

I have long thought that I preferred Uchiko over Uchi. My favorite meal in 2010 (which, regrettably, I never got around to blogging about) was at Uchiko. But my ARW meal at Uchi was so mindblowing that I am forced to re-evaluate that stance (requiring additional "research" meals, of course). It was so epic that it requires a full blog post, not just a Food Photo Friday. So, here you're going to get photos of my ARW Uchiko meal. Although it was not as good as the Uchi meal, it was still excellent, and I for sure would not have kicked it out of bed for eating crackers, if you know what I mean.

We started with an amuse bouche of house-made sweet potato chips, served with a sweet potato purée.


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Although it was not on the Restaurant Week menu, we knew we had to get an order of Uchiko's edamame, which is the best I've ever had and doesn't cost any more than a bowl of edamame at any other restaurant. It's grilled, which adds a smoky, roasted quality to the beans that tastes fantastic.

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In order to maximize the number of things we got to taste, we each ordered different things for each of our three courses. Our terrific server, Robert, orchestrated the meal so the courses landed one at a time.

First up was the yokai berry - raw Atlantic salmon served with dinosaur kale chips, Asian pear, bluberries, and yuzu. The yuzu was pretty sour and overpowered the other ingredients a little, but I liked the salmon-Asian pear-kale combination.

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Next was the Shag roll, made famous by Uchi and beloved at Uchiko, as well. It's a roll with salmon and sundried tomato that's been tempura fried and topped with spicy sauce. I personally think that frying a sushi roll robs it of some of its best qualities - the lightness of the raw fish and the slight chewiness of the nori - but like I said, its a crowd favorite, so who am I to say?

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Our first entrée was the wagyu prime rib, which was dressed in some sort of vinegary sauce and served with fresh wasabi root, candied garlic, and parsley. I honestly would've preferred a more straight-up soy sauce preparation on this, but the beef was very tender and flavorful.

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Oh, pork belly. I can't quit you. Uchiko's ninjin bacon dish showcases grilled kurobata pork belly on a bed of pecan soil and topped with fabulously architectural carrots. Yesssssss.

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For dessert, we started with their sweet corn sorbet, which comes with a wonderful polenta custard and is sprinkled with a bit of caramel salt. Caramel salt!

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I chose the chevre fondant, which is accompanied by the loveliest tomato sorbet and a Sicilian pistachio soil. I was totally wowed by the way the fresh tomato flavor infused the sorbet - that is some dessert genius, right there.

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Just when we thought it was over, Robert presented us with a complimentary order of their "dirt and berries" dessert. This is the kind of innovation that makes Uchi and Uchiko great, IMO. A thin layer of foie gras mousse is covered with a pumpernickel "dirt," out of which fresh and dehydrated Poteet strawberries are "growing." Beautiful, playful, and fodder for both the mind and the palate.

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Now, if you'll pardon me, I have some exercising to do. Happy Friday!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Austin Restaurant Week - Parkside and III Forks

The spring installation of Austin Restaurant Week 2011 is halfway over, but there are still four more days to snag yourself a multi-course brunch, lunch or dinner at a special Restaurant Week price. I've hit two places so far, both for dinner - Parkside and III Forks. I enjoyed both experiences thoroughly, and would definitely recommend either if you're still thinking about adding another notch to your Restaurant Week belt (I know I'll be needing a new notch on my belt, soon, and not in any proverbial way).

Some scenes from my Restaurant Week so far:


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Buttery loaf from Parkside

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Parisian gnocchi appetizer from Parkside (served with braised lamb, ramps, radish, swiss chard, & orange).

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Chris' very spring-y farm rabbit entrée at Parkside. That pretty green pool is a green garlic broth.

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My grilled bass entrée from Parkside - served with green olives, artichoke, foraged mushrooms, spring onion, lemon, and Espelette peppers.

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Parkside's lovely and light frozen Meyer lemon soufflé.

And from III Forks:

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Wedge salad. The large tomato was giving the small head of lettuce a run for its money.

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Bacon-wrapped filet with red wine demi-glaze and bernaise sauce. This ridiculously tender filet tasted like it had been injected with bacon...it was warm and rich and bacon-y like all get out. Served with sugar snap peas and duchess whipped potatoes which were too whipped and wayyyy too salty for my taste (and I LOVE salt). No matter; it was easy to ignore them with that filet in front of me.

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I kind of can't believe I ate this piece of chocolate ganache cake after conquering the two plates above.
But I did.

Each of these meals was $35 for Restaurant Week. I'm not sure whether it's exactly the same, but an 8 oz filet is usually $37.95 at III Forks, and their wedge salad is $8.25, so this was a great deal.

You can check out the list of participating restaurants, browse their menus, and even make reservations on the Austin Restaurant Week website, here. Restaurant Week continues through this Wednesday.

Where have you been for Restaurant Week so far? Did you love it?

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Jack Allen's Kitchen


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Aren't these shrimp tostada bites from Jack Allen's Kitchen purrrrrty? They were serving these tasty nuggets at a fundraiser thrown by the United Way Young Leaders Society last week. I went through the line a few times...enough times that Jack Allen himself finally introduced himself to me. He was extremely gracious about me eating all his food.

If you haven't been to Jack Allen's Kitchen, it's worth the drive. The food never disappoints, and they've got a terrific, open space with a large patio that is perfect for this fantastic spring weather. Here are a few bonus photos from previous visits to Jack Allen's. These were all taken with my old camera.

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Their homemade pimento cheese & crackers, which is served before every meal. I didn't know pimento cheese could taste good until I had it here.

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The Navaho Taco. It is ginormous. That flash fried spinach just dissolves in your mouth...I am sure it must be very healthy.

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Speaking of healthy, this is the Trout Salad. Yes, they actually call this a "salad" on their menu.
My kind of salad!

Hope to see you out there, and happy Friday!

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Food Photo(s) Friday - Love Balls Bus

Thank god for food trailers. They've been scurrying to plug up some of the holes in our food scene. Take Love Balls Bus, for instance. They've brought a Japanese street food called takoyaki to East Sixth Street. In case you're not acquainted with takoyaki (I wasn't), they're balls of savory pancake filled with octopus, pickled ginger, and green onions, and fried to order. Before serving, they top the balls with a brown sauce, kewpie mayo, aonori, and bonito flakes, which curl and twirl as if they are alive and look disturbingly like giant flakes of fish food.


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Takoyaki - $6 for eight balls.

This was my first foray with takoyaki, and I'll admit that I wasn't quite expecting them to be quite so...glutinous...inside. I liked them, but preferred Love Balls' garlic yaki-onigiri, which was like a big, delicious ball of comfort food to me. Sushi rice is formed into a ball and grilled in garlic soy sauce till it's just a little crunchy on the outside. I could've eaten an army of these, and at $3 for two large balls, that's a possibility. It comes with a slice of nori, so you can just wrap it up and go.

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Takoyaki made to order, anyone?

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Love Balls Bus
1001 E. 6th Street
Austin, TX 78702
Website

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Carillon

One of the things I love most about the Austin food scene is that it's not afraid to surprise me. Some of our best food emanates from the most unlikely places, from trailers to convenience stores. Although it's not quite in the same genre as the latter two examples, The Carillon falls into the same category for me. It's part of UT; it's a hotel restaurant...both of these attributes would make it easy for The Carillon to get away with mediocrity, but there is nary a trace of that here.

I've had several meals and attended a number of events at The Carillon, including a couple of complimentary blogger events (one of which I blogged about here). A week ago, we got the opportunity to experience their six-course tasting menu, thanks to a Groupon they had run some time back. It was the last weekend that the Groupon could be used, so the dining room (which is quite large) was totally packed, and pretty much everyone in the place was having the tasting menu. This could easily have been a (literal) recipe for disaster, but from where we sat - which had a view into the open kitchen - it did not appear that Chef Watkins ever lost his cool.


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The view from our table.

Nor did the food seem to suffer one iota. We've eaten many a tasting menu, and there is very frequently a course or two that is good, but not great (and sometimes "good" is an overly generous descriptor). Not so here; every single course was excellent, and we were both unreservedly delighted with our meal.

They started us off with a little amuse of lemon and basil panna cotta and a nice little tuna tartare.

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The complimentary bread is baked onsite, and is studded with chunks of garlic. It has a nice crust and the inside is the perfect texture with a tiny bit of chew. Oh, and did you hear that chunks of garlic thing? Yeah. Mmm hmm.

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Our first course, this nairagi napoleon, was the perfect spring dish. Raw nairagi (also known as striped marlin) was chopped and served stacked with fresh cucumber slices, a bit of Texas grapefruit, and some smoked chevre to bring it all down to earth. Smoky, creamy earth.

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Then we were served this gorgeous sea scallop, which was resting on a bit of cauliflower puree and served with asparagus, a bit of vanilla citrus sauce, and a dusting of sumac. Wonderful.

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Our third course married elements that I would not have thought to put together - white tuna was crusted with pistachios and served with a blueberry puree and chantrelle mushrooms. I had a bit of a "what?" moment when this dish was first described to me at a blogger event a few days earlier, but one taste made me a believer.

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Our next course was probably my favorite course of the evening. Chef Watkins poached prime beef tenderloin in olive oil using an immersion circulator, which ensures even cooking throughout - and results in one of the most flavorful and tender preparations I've tasted. He served it with a potato purée, a peppercorn sauce, and a lovely fritto misto of fennel, which really livened up the dish.

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At this point, I was starting to feel full. But I pressed on through a plate of braised beef short rib with vanilla sweet potato, carmelized onion, and more chantrelle mushrooms. The Texas Beef Council would have been so proud.

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Continuing on in the "dark brown and delicious" theme, we finished off the meal with a Guanaja chocolate terrine accompanied by a baby scoop of coriander ice cream and crystallized cilantro. So smooth, so rich, and so sorry was I when it was gone...in part because I knew that meant I'd soon have to transport my body to another location.

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It was a wonderful meal and a terrific experience, largely enhanced by the fact that we happened to run into three other couples we knew, and were lucky enough to be seated next to blogger Rachel Naugle and her husband Doug. As a result, we spent most of the meal chatting with them, which was super fun - although I know we interrupted their date night (sorry, guys!).

The Carillon has rightfully earned itself a place on my favorites list for fine dining in Austin. The food is consistently excellent, the wine pours are generous, and the pricing is reasonable for what you get - the tasting menu described above is normally $60 per person, which for sure is on the low end for tasting menus of this quantity and quality (of course, the tasting menu is not the only option, here; you can also order off their regular menu). And Chef Watkins is always the picture of graciousness, even while his kitchen is being barraged by a pack of ravenous, coupon-wielding patrons. You've got to admire the man for that.

Chef Watkins will also be serving many of these same dishes at the Grand Wine & Food Affair in Sugar Land, Texas from April 27 - May 1, 2011. If you happen to be in the area or are in the mood for a foodie road trip, check it out!

The Carillon
(at the AT&T Executive Conference Center)
1900 University Avenue
Austin, Texas 78705
(512) 404-3655
Their website

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Hot Diggety

Lest anybody accuse me of being a pretentious eater, I present to you a photo of a recent meal I had at Dog Almighty. Cheap, tasty, and they make a mean fry. If you are not easily offended, check out my Yelp review of the place, which has received more "Funny" votes than any other Yelp review I've ever written. Mom & Dad, if you are reading this, I'd suggest that you not click on that Yelp link.


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