Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Austin Taco Project

If there is one thing that everyone in Austin can agree on, it's tacos. Tacos for breakfast, tacos for lunch, tacos for dinner - it's the food for all occasions.

The Hilton recently dove into the taco fray with the Austin Taco Project. They invited us out for a meal on them (we covered alcohol and grat) and we jumped at the chance to check out the newest tacos in town.

Austin Taco Project
Is it just me, or did they model this guy after Brandon Watson?

We kicked off our experience with cocktails, of course. I chose a Last of the Oaxacans, a fabulously smoky take on the Old Fashioned, with Mestizo mezcal reposado, Luxardo, and blood orange bitters. 

Austin Taco Project Cocktail
Last of the Oaxacans ($12)

Austin Taco Project's quest to cull flavors from all over the world can be seen in this North Pacific Poke "Taco" appetizer. Raw salmon, lotus root, cucumber, and sesame seeds were served on slices of daikon radish. 

Austin Taco Project Poke
North Pacific Poke ($8)

My husband loved their take on poutine - tater tots topped with rib eye cap barbacoa, fried cheese curds, poblano gravy, and a fried egg. A person could easily make a meal out of this appetizer!

Austin Taco Project Tots
Poutine ($7)

For the taco portion of our meal, I tried the Bulgogi, the Oc-Thai-Pus, and the Wake Up! tacos. The Wake Up! is our server's favorite taco (not just here, but anywhere) - chili & coffee smoked brisket, apple anytime slaw, and blueberry ghost pepper crema on a flour tortilla. My hands-down favorite of the three was the Oc-Thai-Pus: tender Thai BBQ octopus with crispy garlic and cashew cilantro coconut curry on a saffron tortilla.  

Austin Taco Project Tacos
From left to right: Wake Up! ($7), Oc-Thai-Pus ($7), Bulgogi ($6), Mexican Street Corn ($4)

My husband also got a Wake Up!, as well as a Wilbur & Huevos (mojo pork, sunny egg, Oaxaca cheese and arbol sauce on a corn tortilla) and a Barbacoa On Deck.

Austin Taco Project Tacos
From left to right: Wake Up!, Barbacoa On Deck ($7), Wilbur & Huevos ($5)

We were pretty full at this point, but the dessert menu wooed us. My husband chose the Southern Affair, a bread pudding made with doughnuts and topped with pecan pie crumble, vanilla bean ice cream, and bourbon butterscotch.

Austin Taco Project Bread Pudding
Southern Affair Bread Pudding $5)

I had to have the trio of stuffed churros: spicy salted caramel, creme brulee, and ganache stuffed chocolate, served with a warm chocolate dipping sauce and Mexican vanilla whipped cream. I could not get enough of these - they were fabulous.

Austin Taco Project Churros
Trio of Stuffed Churros ($9)

In a city full of fantastic tacos, Austin Taco Project has some stiff competition, particularly given their price point of $5-$7 per taco. Nevertheless, I think Austin visitors and locals alike will enjoy the wide-ranging menu, the well-made cocktails, and the killer desserts.

Austin Taco Project
500 E. 4th Street (inside the Hilton)
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 682-2739

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Kula Conveyor Belt Sushi

Kula Sushi - Conveyor

There are a few good things about the population explosion in Austin, one of the most compelling being the slow expansion of more ethnic food options in our fair city. The arrival of Kula Revolving Sushi Bar is evidence of this growth, and based on the ever-present crowds of Austinites waiting for a table here, Austin was ready.

Now that I have a couple of visits under my belt (literally), I've gathered a few tips for those of you who haven't yet been (and maybe even a couple for those of you who have).

1.  Be Prepared for a Wait
Everyone is super excited to check this place out, and they don't take reservations, so right now there's pretty much always a wait. The good news is, it goes fast. Both times I've been, the wait was shorter than the electronic check-in kiosk estimated (just to give you an idea of what to expect, I waited about 45 minutes on my first visit and 30 minutes on my second - both times for dinner). You can choose to get a text when you're close to being seated, which means you can go across the street to Black Star Co-op for some pre-gaming if you like.

Kula Sushi - Seating

2.  Ordering Tips
•  If it's your first visit to Kula, your server will show you how to remove plates from the conveyor belt (don't take the whole dome!) and walk you through the digital ordering system. One thing we missed the first time we went is that there's a Next button for some of the sections of the menu (we explored the various tabs, but didn't notice that some tabs had several pages).

•  There's a button on the pad to summon your server. You'll probably need to do this if you need a water refill - they don't come back regularly to check on you.

• Everything on the conveyor belt is $2.25/plate. On the digital menu, any item without a price is $2.25; the things that cost more are marked with a price.

• A couple of the items I liked off the digital menu:

Kula Sushi - Ramen
Ramen - at just $5.80 a bowl, this is a great deal - and the ramen is surprisingly good.

Kula Sushi - Poke
"Poke" - I put this in quotes because this is not like any poke I've ever had. It's more like a chirashi bowl with some sort of really flavorful (and delicious) oil poured over the top. Also $5.80.

Kula Sushi - Scallop Hand Roll
Spicy scallop Hand Roll - at $2.25 apiece, the hand rolls are an excellent value.

• Conveyor belt favorites:
  - Any salmon nigiri;
  - Any beef nigiri;
  - Ikura (salmon roe);
  - Seared scallop with Japanese mayo;
  - Crispy rice with spicy salmon;*
  - Sesame balls*

* I highly recommend ordering any fried items off the menu, even though they're available on the conveyor belt. They taste better fresh!

Kula Sushi - Salmon

Kula Sushi - Beef Nigiri
• Avoid:
  - Uni - uni is one of my favorite things in the world, but the uni I tried here did not taste fresh. :(
  - Maki - I've tried four different maki rolls here - would not order any again.

3.  Have Fun!
Both of my visits here were a ton of fun. I love being able to "shop" the conveyor belt and explore the menu simultaneously. Plus, the cartoons that play for every five plates you buy and the prizes you win for every fifteen plates you buy add to the festiveness of the experience. If your kids are adventurous eaters, they will love it. If you are just young at heart, you'll love it, too!

Is it the best sushi in town? Of course not. But it's better and much more interesting than grocery store sushi, with plenty of options available for your non-sushi-loving friends, too. Mostly, you're here for the experience - and I think it's one you'll enjoy.

Kula Sushi
6929 Airport Blvd., Suite 125
Austin, TX 78752
(737) 209-8799

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