Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Steak Frites Mondays at Josephine House

Sometimes, the stars align to give you a perfect evening. The night we discovered the Monday steak frites at Josephine House was one of those times. It was a crisp winter evening, but the patio heaters kept us cozy in a toasty glow. We were dining with a dear friend from out of town (and her sweet, sweet pup), and the conversation was lively and connected. Our server, Catherine, completely charmed us and made sure our every need was attended to. The food was delicious and the wine flowed freely. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

Josephine House's steak frites night happens on Mondays. You pay a set price for a salad or starter, an entrée, a dessert, and - ahem - unlimited house wine. The pricing seems to vary from week to week, but the night we were there, the three-course menu + wine started at $40 (though the actual steaks started at $55). Not a cheap meal out, but a pretty good deal, we thought (see: unlimited house wine). We left happy and sated and I even had enough steak left over for lunch the next day.

They started us off with a really lovely bread basket. You can't see it here, but there's a walnut bread hidden in there that is excellent.

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday

For my salad, I chose the wedge, an excellent version of the classic with bleu cheese, grape tomatoes, red onions, and buttermilk dressing. 

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday

At steak frites night, it's hard not to order a steak. I didn't attempt to resist.

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday
Where the steak magic happens!

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday
And the actual steak magic, an 11 oz New York strip. Also, I am a sucker for fries served with aioli.

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday
#NigellaTheDog may or may not have had a few bites of my leftover steak.

There were four choices for dessert. We wanted to try as many as possible, so we divided forces - and conquered.

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday
Not that interesting looking, but delicious: cardamom ice cream.

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday
Pretty AND delicious: blueberry & chevre bread pudding 
with meyer lemon ice cream & blueberry compote.

Josephine House Steak Frites Monday
Stinky cheese!!! Point Reyes Blue Cheese with housemade jam
and baguettes from Elizabeth Street Cafe

Our first date with steak & frites at Josephine House was a winner. I can't wait until we meet again.

Josephine House
1601 Waterston Avenue
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 477-5584


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Banh MANIA! ~ Discovering the Best Banh Mi in Austin ~

Many, MANY years ago, I had a conversation with fellow food blogger Peter about putting together a banh mi taste-off. Fast forward a few years, and an Instagram post by another fellow food blogger, Dave, gelled the guest list and we were off to the races! We had seven families participating, so we collectively chose seven restaurants to try and to standardize things, we ordered both combination and grilled pork banh mi from each spot (except for Lulu B's, which doesn't offer a combination sandwich - there, we instead got lemongrass chicken). On the appointed date, we converged in one spot with 33 sandwiches, a bag of mini cream puffs, a massive tin of Julie's love letter cookies, a couple of amazing homemade bagels, the ingredients for Vietnamese coffee, and a diverse set of palates for a real life Banh Mi Throwdown.

The tasters:
Kristin & Chris
Peter & MJ
Linda & Mitch
David & Laura
Jimmy & Amber
...and me!

Banh Mania!
Preparing for the inevitable photo shoot

Banh Mania!
The lineup

Banh Mania!
From left to right: Lulu B's, Saigon Le Vendeur, Baguette House
(combo on the bottom, grilled pork on top)

Banh Mania!
From left to right: Thanh Nhi, Ng BMT, Lily's
(combo on the bottom, grilled pork on top)

Trying to choose favorites - particularly based on 1/6th of a sandwich whose ingredients weren't likely spread evenly throughout - was pretty difficult. There was much tasting and re-tasting before we finally sat down and compared notes. Here were my favorites & the group winners:

Combination Sandwich - My Favorite: Saigon Le Vendeur

Banh Mania!

This sandwich was fantastic. I had eaten SLV's combination sandwich before and remembered it being pretty good, but this time they really wowed me. This one had LOTS of pâté, which I love, and it was bursting with pickled veggies that still tasted super fresh and crunchy.

Two restaurants tied for my second place favorite: Tam and Lily's.

Combination Sandwich - Group Favorite: Baguette House

Banh Mania!

I was a little surprised that this one was the popular favorite; I had only given it a 7/10 (and my lowest-rated combination sandwich was a 6/10). I thought the meat tasted too...lunch meat-y and there wasn't nearly enough pâté (which may very well be the reason it was the crowd favorite - turns out pâté is sort of polarizing). I did, however, like their crusty bread and they had a higher meat-to-bread ratio than some of the others, which I appreciated.

Grilled Pork Sandwich - My Favorite: Saigon Le Vendeur
Grilled Pork Sandwich - Group Favorite: Saigon Le Vendeur

Banh Mania!

Again, Saigon Le Vendeur impressed me with their grilled pork sandwich - and this time, the group average agreed. The seasoning on the pork was outstanding and the meat itself was super tender. The uber fresh tasting pickled veggies helped elevate the sandwich to winning status. Tied for second place on my list were Lulu B's and Ng BMT.

In case you're a data nerd, here are the group average ratings for each sandwich:

• Baguette House - 7.6
• Tam Deli - 6.83
• Ng BMT - 6.55
• Saigon Le Vendeur - 6.45
• Lily's - 6.25
• Thanh Nhi - 5.88
(Lulu B's scored lowest with a 5.5, but it was their lemongrass chicken, so not an apples-to-apples comparison.)
Grilled Pork:
• Saigon Le Vendeur - 7.4
• Tam Deli - 6.8
• Lulu B's - 6.6
• Ng BMT - 6.55
• TIE - Thanh Nhi & Lily's - 5.6
• Baguette House - 5.0

Banh Mania
Banh Mania made Violet happy, too!

This was a really fun afternoon and I loved the opportunity to bahn-d with blogger friends. The side-by-side comparisons really highlighted the differences amongst the various options. The good news is that there wasn't a single sandwich here that I wouldn't eat again. We're lucky to live in a city with such a bahn-anza of Vietnamese sandwich options.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Emmer & Rye

In my last post, I talked about how easy it was to dine at Al Fico. My first experience at Emmer & Rye was quite the opposite.

Parking was a hassle. The space was loud and it was difficult to hear. Seven of us spent two hours crammed into a 6-top while a table for two remained empty right next to us the entire time. If I had to choose one word to describe the staff, it would be "hipster." In short, the experience made our group - all aged 40+ - feel positively ancient.

The ordering experience was similarly a bit stressful. Being asked to order off the menu, then being offered dishes off carts while you waited for your food, was a little confusing. I wished that they had a cart menu that you could look at prior to ordering (they call the carts "dim sum," but I refuse to refer to them that way because the items on the carts were basically additional small plate offerings, not Asian dim sum). If you don't have an adventurous palate, you might be inclined to over-order off the menu because you literally have no idea at all what might show up on the carts, and then you don't have room or budget left for cart items.

Emmer & Rye
Cart Server Describing His Wares

All kvetching aside, though, the food was very good. Here's a little peek at some of the dishes I tried.

Cart Offerings:

Potatoes, very delicately sliced and fried so they offered a bit of crispiness at the edges. Served with a combination of creme fraiche & egg yolk. $6

Emmer & Rye
Emmer Johnny Cakes - pork shoulder, Deer Creek cheddar, creme fraiche. 
A little heavy on the salt, but good. $6

Emmer & Rye
Crudité of nuka-fermented squash, radish, carrot, golden beet, chevre $6

Ordered Off The Menu:

Emmer & Rye
I thought this squid dish was pretty and was impressed at how tender the squid was and the wonderful flavor of the broth. However, some of my fellow diners were not fans; they thought the squid was so tender as to taste almost like innards. Either way, at $14 for this very small portion, I would not order it again.

Emmer & Rye
Burrata toast, straciatella, kale, mustard frill, black butter $12. The bread used for this toast was lovely and rustic and the burrata was divine. It looks relatively simple, but this was probably my favorite dish of the meal.

Emmer & Rye
Remember what I said about unadventurous palates? That describes my husband, who opted to play it safe by ordering this 1 lb Berkshire bone-in pork chop with pork fat aioli and winter greens ($34). The pork by itself was quite bland, but if you prepared yourself a bite with the salty, nicely-dressed greens and the aioli, it was quite lovely.

When I reflect on the things I'm willing to do for outstanding food - stand in hours-long lines; travel long distances - I don't think of myself as a particularly lazy diner. But as I reflect upon this meal, I just don't think the food or the experience was sufficiently compelling that I would brave the hassles standing between me and another meal here. Judging by the crowds that were here the evening I went, though, others may very well disagree.

Emmer & Rye

51 Rainey Street, #10
Austin, TX 78701
512) 366-5530


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