Monday, December 31, 2012

Ramen Tatsu-ya

I'm reluctant to do anything to add to the throngs of people already waiting outside Ramen Tatsu-Ya, but I'm so dang excited about this place that I just have to blog about it. Finally, excellent ramen in Austin!

We wanted to try a little of everything during our first visit, so ordered quite a few dishes. Here's a little tour of what we tasted:

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#1 Tonkatsu Original

The #1 Tonkatsu Original ($8.50), a masterpiece that made me go all wide-eyed and swoony. Seriously, it's been a while since a dish stopped me in my tracks the way this ramen did; the broth is so amazingly smooth that I actually thought there might be cream in it. So much so that I actually asked our server whether it did - nope, it's just that 60 hours of marrow leaching out into the broth that gives it that silky texture. Ohhh, baby. Like buttah.

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#3 Miso-Not

The #3 Miso-Not ($9) - a lovely, flavorful bowl that standing alone would probably have been delightful, but to my palate, this was the ugly stepchild compared to the Tonkatsu Original.

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Chashu Bowl

Chashu Bowl - again, I wasn't as excited about this when I had the Tonkatsu Original in front of me, but we couldn't finish it and took it home. The next day when this was all I had in front of me, I thought it was fantastic.

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Katsu Slider

Katsu Slider - nicely crispy, but ehhhh...I'll probably skip this next time.

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Almond Tofu

Almond tofu with ginger lemongrass syrup - a very refreshing, light bite of sweetness that nicely capped off our meal.

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Things you need to know:

• Unless you get there just as they open or later in the evening (9ish), you'll have to wait. They're very efficient about moving people through (and they've adopted the Hopdoddy system where you have seating ready for you as soon as you finish ordering), but I'd budget 45 mn to an hour in line if you're going during normal dinner hours (they are not open for lunch).

• They will not allow you to take the ramen to go. Something about the noodles getting mushy and the broth, um, congealing. Did I mention how smooth it is?

• This is not a place to show up with a large group, or a place where you'd feel comfortable sitting and talking after your meal, since there will be a long line of hungry people waiting for your seat.

• And a tip from my friend Kristin over at Mad Betty - be sure to check out the bathrooms! (Photos at Kristin's blog, here).

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I can't wait to go back - especially now that we're having weather that passes for chilly! See you there.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Pinthouse Pizza

Pizza and beer. Is there a better combination? Okay, so maybe my mom's homemade potstickers and kim chee are a better combination, but that's not always available, so sometimes you have to settle for pizza and beer. For those days, the new(ish) Pinthouse Pizza is there for you.

My first visit to Pinthouse was on a Friday night, after a particularly stressful day. It was LOUD. It was crowded. We had to hover over people for a while before we finally scored spots at the large communal tables that make up the majority of Pinthouse's seating. All of which, oddly enough, was just what I was wanting that night.

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Full house.

With over 40 craft beers on the menu (including several house-made offerings), there's a little something for everyone. One of my favorite local beers, Live Oak Hefeweizen, was there. I also tried my first (and definitely not my last) Left Hand Milk Stout here. Delicious. 

In the pizza category, we tried a couple of different pies - an Armadillo (olive oil, artisan sausage, ricotta, cilantro, and poblano peppers) and a Cannonball (crumbled sausage, bacon, pepperoni, Canadian bacon). 

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The Armadillo

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Cannonball! (a word that demands to be shouted)

I loved the sausage and the fluffy, mild ricotta on the Armadillo, but wasn't fond of the poblano peppers in this context - I'm usually a poblano fan, but the way these were delivered made them taste too much like green peppers, which I don't love. The Cannonball (!) was surprisingly tasty, and I regretted having written it off as "boring" when I'd heard we were ordering one. 

As we were finishing up, my friend asked, "Top five pizzas in Austin?" Unfortunately, probably not - but maybe top ten? I can easily think of five pizzas I like much better (Bola Pizza, East Side Pies, Little Deli, Giovanni's, and Mandola's prosciutto and arugula), but from there the field drops off pretty quickly. That said, the festive atmosphere, the excellent beer selection, and Pinthouse's proximity to our house (also, their great lunch deal - small pizza, your choice of four generously-sized salads, and a drink for $9.50) will likely mean that I'll be back with some regularity, nonetheless.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Road Trippin' (sort of) - Bastrop Brewhouse

If you've ever had any doubt that Austin's influence is winding its way along the Colorado River into Bastrop, one visit to Bastrop Brewhouse will help you cast that doubt aside. "Eat Local / Drink Local," which may as well be Austin's mantras (not that they're bad mantras, mind you) greet you in huge letters as you walk up to the place...and doesn't it seem so very Austin to put your pup on your logo?

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The interior is well-lit and spacious, and there's a substantial patio in case you don't want any windows blocking your view of the river (or in case you have a four-legged friend in tow).

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Sadly, I've been in Bastrop on business both times I was here, so I've yet to taste their house-brewed beer - has anyone out there given it a try?

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As far as the food goes, both times I was here, I was pleasantly surprised by the skill in execution; a BLT became special with the addition of flavorful aioli, and a chicken sandwich (something I would normally avoid ordering in a restaurant) was executed perfectly, with nary a morsel of dry meat in sight (the generous slathering of pesto didn't hurt).

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I raised an eyebrow initially at the fact that I only got five onion rings for the $1.50 upcharge (fries come with it for free), but after eating all five, I was secretly glad that there weren't more on the plate. They are filling.

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If you find yourself pining for Austin, but you just can't quite make it that last few miles to the Big City, I definitely recommend that head on over to Bastrop Brewhouse for a little taste of ATX.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Off Topic: Shoal Creek Fields

Shortly after we first adopted our dog, Mindy, back in 2008, I discovered a very special piece of land near my house. Nearly any time of day, regardless of the weather, you could reliably find people there walking, playing, flying kites, laughing, connecting - and you could also reliably find solitude, too, if that's what you needed.

Mindy and I visited frequently. We made friends there that I still spend time with today. We took lots of photos, including the ones in this post. And together we developed a love for this magical place, a place where wildflowers grew rampant, where there was enough open space to give the wind (and the dogs) room to play.

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Eighty acres of undeveloped land in the middle of a city growing as fast as Austin was bound to meet its demise at some point. Over the years, I'd heard rumors that it would be developed "soon," but the rumors never grew legs - until recently. A few months ago, developers' names started to be bandied about, and there was talk of grocery stores and movie theaters and gas stations. Here. On top of this.

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And this.

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And this.

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I'm not naive enough to think that there is anything that can be done to stop the development of my beloved land. But I'm hoping you'll consider supporting a group of people that has formed to ensure that any development that does occur here is done sustainably and preserves as much as possible the soul of this beautiful space.  If you are on Facebook, you can support this group, called the Bull Creek Road Coalition, by "liking" their Facebook page. There will probably be more ways to help later - please watch the Facebook page for updates. We need to protect as much of this...

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...as we possibly can.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Food Photo Friday: Snarky's Moo Bawk Oink

I find it hard to resist the siren song of a banh mi, even when I'm dining somewhere that isn't likely to serve up real banh mi (my screen name is Optimista for a reason). And if it's authentic banh mi you're looking for, you may want to pass on this one from Snarky's Moo Bawk Oink - honestly, this is more like a cheesesteak with an assortment of Asian-esque toppings than anything approaching what you'd find in a Vietnamese restaurant.

That said, it's a pretty tasty sandwich - the meat was tender, the baguette crusty but not too crusty, if you know what I mean, and it went down just fine with an ice cold Topo Chico on yet another unseasonably-warm "fall" day. I didn't have room left over for the s'mores doughnut I was eyeing on Snarky's menu, but here's hoping that I'm able to rally next time.


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Pork Banh Mi from Snarky's Moo Bawk Oink ($5.49)

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

GIVEAWAY! Austin Food & Wine Alliance Wine & Swine!

Bonkers for bacon? Pining for pork belly? If so, you'll go hog wild over the Austin Food & Wine Alliance's 2nd annual Wine & Swine, a pigerrific event being held this Sunday, November 4th, at Pioneer Farms.  18 chefs will each be preparing a whole, locally-raised pig to use in a pork-forward dish for attendees to taste (check out the drool-inducing chef lineup and menu here).  In addition to the pork tastings, there will be live music; wine, cocktails and craft brews; farm tours (via hayride!); photo booth fun, and butchery and sausage-making demos - all included in the ticket price of $75 ($95 at the door). The proceeds from this event support the Alliance's culinary grant program.

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My friends at the Alliance have very generously shared a pair of tickets to Wine & Swine with me to give away to a lucky reader!  You can get up to three entries, one entry for each of the following:

1.  Leave a comment below naming your favorite of the chefs participating in Wine & Swine (make sure you include a way to contact you if you win!);

2.  Tweet, "Enter to win a pair of tickets to @ATXFoodWineAlly's Wine & Swine from @foodiethenew40: http://bit.ly/UgWVFI".  Then let me know in the comments that you've done so (please include your Twitter handle!).

3.  "Like" my blog's Facebook page and let me know in the comments here that you've done so.

Entries will close at 7:00 p.m. CST on Thursday, November 1st, and I'll pick the winner that night.  May the pork be with you!

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Eleven Plates & Wine

Eleven Plates & Wine has been on my "to try" list for some time, so when they invited us out for a meal as their guests, we jumped at the opportunity. Their space is very pleasant - casual and comfortable, yet lovely, with a large west-facing patio that looks out over the hills.

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A small part of Eleven Plates' interior. 

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Patio at Eleven Plates

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View from the patio

We started with cocktails - I selected an Ode to Hemingway ($10) which, according to the menu, contained Bacardi, cucumber, St. Germain, and lime. I was a little confused by the color; when I asked, I was told that it also contained peach bitters. I drank every bit of it, but I think I'll ask them to leave out the bitters next time. My husband's mojito (not pictured; it was attacked too quickly) was perfect - one of the nicest specimens of a mojito we've found in Austin.

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I have great difficulty turning down truffle fries...so I didn't. These are listed amongst the side dishes and came in a large cone ($7); we made short work of them. They were scrumptious, tossed with shreds of fresh parmesan and herbs as well as truffle salt.

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Brussel sprouts are another thing I find hard to resist. These super rich sprouts ($7) are deep fried to produce a lovely caramelization and tossed with Meyer lemon dressing and aioli. Healthy? No. Tasty? You'd better believe it.

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At least you can tell your mom you ate your vegetables...

For my entrée, I ordered the soft shell crab ($21), which is served with roasted heirloom tomatoes, and shaved fennel & arugula salad with a sherry vinaigrette. I don't usually like cooked tomatoes, but these were as perfect as cooked tomatoes come for me; I found myself wishing I could have a whole plate of just those.

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At the suggestion of our very helpful server, Michael, my husband ordered the diver scallops with grilled corn, Spanish chorizo, corn nut dust, and citrus aioli. Oh my, this dish was divine. The chorizo was fried crispy, bringing a nice texture and flavor counterpoint to the lusciously tender scallops.

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We finished off our meal with a sweet corn panna cotta with brown butter sorbet, which was served over a sauce made with apples. I don't like overly-sweet desserts, so I'm always on the lookout for ones that use ingredients that are most often used in savory applications, like corn. I must say, this was one of the most successful examples of corn desserts I've had. The flavors and textures were just right, and that brown butter sorbet - oh!

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After our meal, their Executive Chef, Chef Joe Anguiano, was gracious enough to come visit with us for quite a while. Chef Anguiano is new to Eleven Plates as of about six months ago, and he is a great addition to their kitchen. I loved to hear that he is passionate about sustainable, local sourcing, and his enthusiasm for bringing his culinary viewpoint to Austin was infectious.

Eleven Plates is open for lunch and dinner daily (except for Saturdays, when they are dinner-only), and offer a social hour with $5 select small plates and $3 off wines by the glass on Mon-Fri from 3-6p and all day Sunday at the bar. They also do monthly wine dinners - three courses paired with wine for $45 - and they're currently participating in Austin Restaurant Week, where you can get three courses for $37. I definitely recommend that you check them out - I know I'll be back soon.

Eleven Plates & Wine
3801 N. Capital of Texas Hwy, Suite C-200
Austin, TX 78746
(512) 328-0110

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Food Photo Friday - Café Blue

Hey look, it's time for Food Photo Friday and THERE IS ACTUALLY SOMETHING HERE.

Sorry, dear readers; it seems that every year around this time, the heat saps all my creative energy and I'm destined to stare blankly at the empty screen in front of me, willing the letters to pour forth from my fingers. In stark contrast, my love of eating never wanes, so here you have a couple of fresh new photos from a recent visit to Café Blue in the Hill Country Galleria.

This may not be the best photo specimen that ever graced the internet, but the calamari that it depicts was a standout for this calamari-lover. The breading was light, not greasy, and replete with sesame seeds and crushed red pepper flakes, giving each bite a lovely flavor and crunch.

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Calamari appetizer ($11)

I thought my blue crab cake caesar was slightly less successful, but that's not to say that it was bad. The salad was generously sized and nicely dressed, although I thought that two or three really small crab cakes might be psychologically more pleasing than the singleton I received, perched all lonely-like atop Mount Romaine.

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Crab Cake Caesar Salad ($14).

Café Blue has a HUGE space and - sadly - there was nearly nobody in it the day I was out there. I vote we all converge on the place and buy out all their calamari. Who's with me?

Café Blue
Hill Country Galleria (there is also a second location at Sandy Creek Marina)
12921 Hill Country Blvd, Suite D2-120
Bee Cave, TX 78738
(512)366.5230
Their Website

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pan-fried Squash Fritters

In my eternal quest to turn our healthy CSA bounty into something less healthy, I set out to make some squash fritters recently with some Magda squash and Benning's patty pan squash we got from our fabulous CSA farm, Tecolote.

I used this recipe as a base, but since I had no idea how large the original recipe author's squash were, I sort of winged it on the proportions. I just love a forgiving recipe, don't you?

I started with this much squash:

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Shredded it up in my brand new food processor (yay!), along with a small spring onion, also from Tecolote:

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Added in two eggs, a cup of shredded cheddar cheese, and a whole cup of flour. The recipe calls for only 1/4 c of flour and suggests that the batter will be "almost a dry mix" at this point. But even after a full cup of flour, it wasn't even close to being dry. So I did what most home cooks would do; I cheerfully ignored the recipe and started frying flattened spoonfuls in a skillet with a little peanut oil.

It worked.

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If When I make these again, I'll probably try draining the squash or squeezing it out with paper towels before mixing in the other ingredients to see if I can dry out the batter a bit. I liked them as they were, though - ever so slightly crunchy on the outside, but soft and squash-y (that's "squash-y," not squishy) on the inside. My friend Jackie described them as being sort of like squash crepes, which I think is a good description.

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You can top these with all manner of condiments depending on your tastes - a little sour cream or creme fraiche and a light sprinkle of sea salt is wonderful, or you can even eat them with a few drops of soy sauce and Asian hot oil to mimic a potsticker flavor. They make for a nice, light summer meal, or could be served as a side dish.

Mission un-healthify squash, complete.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fresh Coconut Paletas

As anyone who follows my Pinterest boards has probably guessed, I'm a little bit obsessed with homemade frozen treats right now. My friend/neighbor/food co-conspirator, Jackie, got a popsicle mold a while back, and has been sharing her delicious creations with us. After devouring a particularly memorable horchata pop, I broke down and bought my own mold.

The beauty about making paletas (or popsicles, whatever) is that you can completely fly by the seat of your pants while making them. Get as creative as you want. Throw a little of whatever sounds good in the blender, taste it, doctor it to your heart's content. In other words, my kind of food creating.

For my first batch of paletas, I cracked open a couple of fresh, young coconuts (I was intimidated by how this was going to work, but this post made it a cinch). I used almost all the juice of both coconuts and the meat of one of them (because I couldn't resist eating the other). I also tossed in maybe 3/4 c shredded coconut from a bag and about 2 tablespoons of honey. Again, the beauty of these is that you can really adjust the ingredients to taste, and recipes are difficult anyway, since popsicle molds come in so many different sizes. I knew my molds held a total of 25 oz of liquid and my blender has hatch marks for ounces on the side, so that helped me eyeball how much liquid I needed to end up with. I blended everything together, poured the concoction in my molds, and waited.

I was delighted with the way the finished product came out. Like eating a fresh coconut, only with a lovely crunchy, icy, refreshing texture.

I'll definitely be making these again.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Food Photo Friday: Baked Eggs for Brunch

It's Friday! Which means that those delightful brunch days of the week are upon us. I finally made it to Contigo for brunch last weekend, and I'm so glad I did; the baked eggs that I ordered catapulted Contigo to my short list of favorite brunch spots after one bite. Beautiful golden eggs, spicy arugula, roast-y brussel sprouts...both delicious AND low-carb - unless, of course, you order one of their amazing housemade buttermilk biscuits to go with it. Or a bloody Mary. Hey, it's the weekend, after all.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Un-Pho-Gettable: Best Vietnamese Food in Austin

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My third and final post for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide is on Vietnamese food. I'll be honest; I did not grow up eating Vietnamese food and am not really sure I'm qualified to write this post, but I've eaten a whole lot of it since I moved to Austin, so I can tell you what I like.


Pho
When it's cold out or I'm getting sick, few things make me feel better than a big bowl of pho. Thin rice noodles swimming in warm broth that you flavor yourself with the fixings they bring you (basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, and lime are the accompaniments I've commonly seen) has a way of warming your soul.

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A version from Pho Thaison

While I've had a fair number of bowls of pho, they've been few and far between enough that I didn't have very developed opinions about where to find the best. So I turned to my delight-pho friend Linda from Girl Eats World and asked her to weigh in on her pho-vorites. Here's what she said:

"I judge a good bowl of pho by the texture of noodles, the clarity and flavor of the broth, and most importantly, how tender the meat is. (I’m partial to brisket.) These places pass on all three of these metrics. Since its opening, Pho Dan (previously named Pho Danh) has been my favorite place for pho and spring rolls. They have the best spring rolls I’ve had and are the closest thing to my mom’s spring rolls I’ve managed to find in Austin. Other notable places for pho are Pho Saigon, which is a hop and skip away from Pho Dan, and the new PhoNatics. PhoNatics has big portions and I recommend the Banh Mi Sliders. Pho ThaiSon also delivers when it comes to perfect bowls of pho and they do it in such a darling space. If you are in town for SXSW and find yourself out late into the night, might I suggest you indulge in a bowl of pho the next day? They’re the perfect antidote to a late night out on Sixth St."

Thanks, Linda! I've yet to visit two of these spots, and they are now high on my list.

Bun (Vermicelli)
Although it probably violates some sort of Asian code, I always think of bun (a/k/a vermicelli) as the soup-less version of pho. The versions I've had have typically been layered - a hidden mound of lettuce (usually shredded iceberg) is covered by a pile of rice noodles, which in turn is topped with your choice of protein and often garnished with chopped peanuts and cilantro. It's also usually accompanied by a side of fish sauce.

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Vermicelli from YaYa's Cafe

My favorite spots in town for vermicelli are currently YaYa's Cafe and Shaved Ice (full blog post here) and - I know this will probably be controversial - my nostalgic favorite, Kim Phung. Kim Phung was the first place I ever ate vermicelli (around nineteen years ago, now!), and as a graduate student, it was a rare treat to splurge on their delicious shrimp, garlic, hot pepper vermicelli (which cost less than $6 back then). I'm also fond of Kim Phung's combination spring rolls, and sometimes make a meal out of an order of those.

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Kim Phung's spring rolls


Banh Mi
It's too bad I never discovered banh mi while in graduate school, because these tasty Vietnamese sandwiches are the ultimate way to fill up on the cheap. My favorites are at Thanh Nhi, where the large banh mi will set you back a mere $3.50. I'm pretty sure that's less than it would cost me to make these at home! Baguette House and Tam Deli also have excellent versions. Unfortunately for those of you who live in the southern parts of Austin, all three of these spots are pretty far north - but you can get a banh mi fix closer to home at YaYa's, LuLu B's, Elizabeth Street Café, or T&N Café.

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Banh mi at Thanh Nhi. Say that five times fast.

Family Style
Although pho, bun and banh mi seem to have made it into mainstream eating, family-style meals still seem to be an unjustifiably rare way to enjoy Vietnamese food. The best places for this in Austin are, hands down, Le Soleil and Sunflower. These two competing restaurants are owned by former spouses who divorced; she kept Sunflower, he moved up the road and opened Le Soleil. Both have very similar menus, but Le Soleil's is somewhat expanded. I have a slight preference for Le Soleil because they have a larger space (which means it tends to be less crowded/claustrophobic), but both deliver solid food on a consistent basis. And it is worthy of note that Sunflower garnered top honors in the Vietnamese category of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance restaurant poll. At both places, I love the sizzling seafood platter, the shaken beef, the green beans with tofu, and the sea bass (either preparation).

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Sizzling seafood platter at Le Soleil

Did I miss your favorite Vietnamese place? Leave me a comment!

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lettuce Eat: Salads in Austin

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Feeling a little roughage around the edges from all that heavy food you've been eating? Then my second post for this year's Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide should provide you with some re-leaf. Yes, it's a tribute to the best salads in Austin.

I'll admit it: in general, a plate with a few feathery green things typically leads to me snacking later in a bad way, so I favor salads with a bit of substance to them. Here are a few of my favorite spots to get my greens (plus) on:

Leaf - all salads all the time, and they do them well. Their Abbi's Asian chicken salad is the only salad I've ever met that I'm consistently unable to finish in a single sitting. Leaf's ingredients always taste super fresh, and in addition to their pre-conceived salad offerings, they've got a build-your-own option so you can get yours just the way you want it. Leaf also took top honors in the salad category in a restaurant poll of Austin Food Blogger Alliance members, so you know it's gotta be good!

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Abbi's Asian Chicken Salad at Leaf.


Zax - on my short list for excellent salads; their shrimp remoulade salad is just the right size and always makes me feel a little better about my health afterwards. If I'm feeling more indulgent (much more indulgent), their steak salad is also a winner in the taste category, although I'm less sure about its caloric minimalism.

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Shrimp remoulade salad at Zax


I'm similarly suspicious about the calorie profile of the Interior Mexican Grilled Chicken Salad at Corazon, particularly since it's served with a couple of blue corn empanadas that have most definitely taken a bath in the deep fryer. But oh, man. It's totally worth every bite.

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Suspiciously delicious salad at Corazon


Finally, they'll cook the salmon just the way you want it for the Miso-Hi Salmon Salad at The Grove. Yes, those are panko-crusted onion rings on there. Maybe they shouldn't have let me write this category...

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Busted!


Some of my other very favorite salads in Austin include the Greek salad at Milto's (add tender grilled chicken for just $1; the dressing is excellent and the rolls they serve with it are perfection); the grilled salmon salad at Café Josie; the hacked chicken salad at Hangtown Grill; the maytag blueberry salad at Chez Zee (best with pecan chicken on top, but then it becomes awfully $$$); the smoked salmon and shrimp cake salad at East Side Café; and - I'll admit it - the cilantro lime shrimp salad at Nordstrom's Cafe Bistro.

Other top salad picks in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance poll included Alamo Drafthouse, Fogo de Chao (which I really think ought to be renamed Fogo de Chow); and Blue Dahlia Bistro.

Where's your favorite salad in town?

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