Elizabeth Street Cafe

After a couple visits to Elizabeth Street Café, the newly opened restaurant has left a promising first impression, as examined in a recent morning visit. Since opening in late December, the French Vietnamese restaurant has seemingly been faced with the happy predicament of instant popularity as it is mostly bustling daily morning, noon, and night. While taking advantage of a work holiday, I visited post morning rush to enjoy a rare indulgent, leisurely full service breakfast. During a previous lunch rush visit service seemed a little green, but overall friendly and accommodating. Despite visiting at the tail end of Monday breakfast service, each moment still felt fresh and energized.
Because no Monday morning, holiday or not, should begin without ample caffeine, first order of business was an Americano and a house specialty Vietnamese coffee. The Americano, made from Portland’s famed Stumptown espresso, was gone in seconds. The Vietnamese coffee served with strong pressed coffee was a tad sugary from the sweet condensed milk on bottom. The breakfast menu features a variety of French baked goods and Vietnamese dishes similar to lunch and dinner options recrafted for morning. Breakfast orders included a bahn mi and ham and gruyere croissant.

Breakfast Bahn Mi - $7

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Foreign and Domestic

                    A recent revisit to Foreign and Domestic only further demonstrated what a delightfully exceptional restaurant it is. After falling head over heels initially, subsequent visits to Foreign and Domestic have routinely and consistently left me hungry for more, but this particular visit may have been the best yet. Playful yet refined, each dish displayed significant technique and quality, but also restraint.
                      No better example of this was found in the meal’s high note, which was a deconstructed version of the perfect steak dinner. Avant-garde in design and nostalgic in taste, this dish took flavors reminiscent of a traditional pot roast and retooled them using molecular gastronomy to create a final product that was both comforting and surprising. The steak itself was cooked impeccably, seared outside and medium rare inside. Although the flap cut of meat used generally lends itself to be on the tougher side, it was remarkably tender as it had been sous vide in advance of a final sear. Had Chef Ned Elliot stopped after plating the steak on top of creamy potatoes and carrots, it would have been a solid winter dish. However, served alongside a tangy, sweet tomato jam and spicy horseradish foam, it was simply outstanding. Continue Reading [expand title=Here]
                     Prior to the aforementioned waygu entrée landing on our table, dinner began with a pear cobbler aperitif and an Austin Beerworks Pearl-Snap Pils. The aperitif featured a blend of prosecco and caramelized pear which tasted as its name implied without being overly sweet. It was an imaginative twist on a seasonal cocktail. I make mention of the beer mostly because of its $4 price tag, which is unusually reasonable for a fine dining restaurant these days. Similarly, Foreign and Domestic’s wine list boast an array of food friendly, interesting wines at extremely reasonable price points. Out of ten bottles, seven are priced $40 and under, including a delicious Granacha enjoyed during this meal.
                After drinks we started with a roasted pepper and mozzarella (usually burrata) served with burnt brioche toast. The peppers were combined with fruit in a chutney to accompany the creamy cheese. Generally burnt anything does little to elevate a meal, but in this case the burnt flavor helped to cut some of the brioche and chutney’s sweetness and bring out the smoky pepper flavor.
               Next was the night’s special appetizer, smoked red fish over a chestnut cream sauce and topped with fennel, frisee, and pickled red onions. This immensely flavorful dish tasted like a reinvented version of lox and cream cheese in the most wonderful way. As a South Texas native, fresh red fish was ingrained in my diet from an early age. Although I have eaten red fish every which way many times over, this version was not only unexpected, it was unexpectedly exciting as well.
            For entrée, I chose a three cheese and soft egg ravioli topped with arugula and crispy garlic which was rustic and simple. The lemony spinach and crispy garlic added a nice depth of flavor to the ricotta layered pasta sheets. The generously portioned pasta dish was slightly too similar in texture between cheese, soft egg, and pasta, but not so much that my fork every really got a moment’s rest.
           Despite best efforts, the dessert shelf was too full for another bite, which only means a return visit is required in the near future as pastry chef Jodi Elliot’s desserts are hard to beat. Foreign and Domestic is also known to have a killer brunch which needs investigating as well.
            There is much to love about Foreign and Domestic beyond the excellent food. Service, especially our top-notch waitress, is laidback, engaging, and accommodating. The gussied up diner style interior complete with an open kitchen creates a neighborhood, casual vibe, something furthered by reasonable price points. While Foreign and Domestic has garnered a reputation as a nose to tail or offal haven, there are several options for the most skiddish of diners on the menu. Overall, Foreign and Domestic is high-quality and unpretentious fine dining that just keeps on getting better. [/expand]

 Foreign and Domestic. 306 E.53rd St., Austin, TX 78751.512.459.1010. http://fndaustin.com/new/

Braised Waygu Beef - $26

 **Please excuse the iPhone pics…forgot the camera!

 

Smoked Red Fish Appetizer - $10

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Recipe File: Butternut Squash Ravioli

With cool mornings actually giving some semblance fall is upon us, it is officially time to update the recipe drawer to reflect new seasonal offerings. When I think autumn, any dish involving butternut squash immediately springs to mind. From soups to desserts, this versatile fruit adds a natural richness from its sweet, nutty flavor and thick texture without much effort in the kitchen.

One of the most classic preparations of butternut squash is in ravioli topped with a sage brown butter sauce. Inspired by an order of ghost pumpkin ravioli during a visit to Houston’s Glass Wall Restaurant, I hoped to recreate a similar version using butternut squash. In order to update this classic fall dish, I made a few changes to the traditional filling and sauce, noted below.  More details [expand title= here]

For lack of time and equipment, I did not make my pasta from scratch. Many recipes suggest using wonton recipes, which I have used before, but always feel as if something is missing. I picked up fresh lasagna sheets and used those instead. They did seem to hold up better when cooked, but wontons still are a suitable and budget friendly substitute. The filling was a blend of roasted butternut squash, fresh herbs and spices, onions, garlic and burrata cheese. A tip read a few years back in Saveur Magazine suggested using roasted sage leaf wrapped garlic cloves to the filling for a more robust flavor. Burrata is not traditionally used, but its subtle creamy flavor worked well.

The Glass Wall’s ravioli was excellent, but a candied pumpkin seed topping made it magnificent. While their ravioli came floating in a bowl of pumpkin seed oil, I opted to toast mine stovetop and toss with a less rich sauce butter, caper, and sage sauce. The capers added acidity sometimes needed against the sweet pasta filling. Playing on my inspiration, I toasted pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds) with a bit of grapeseed oil, salt and pumpkin pie spice before tossing with grated lemon zest. The pepitas added an extra ‘oomph’ to the dish, but alas still not as special as the Glass Wall’s version.  

This classic dish uses simple ingredients leave for a bit of creativity. Great budget-friendly entertaining recipe! [/expand]

 

 Recipe after the jump! Served with roasted Brussels Sprouts, recipe here.

Continue reading Recipe File: Butternut Squash Ravioli

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin w/Sweet Pepper Relish & Peach BBQ Sauce

After a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I left with a bag of sweet peppers and peaches, amongst other items, and with no set plan on how to use them. I already had pork tenderloin I needed to use, and after some brainstorming, I decided to make pork tenderloin with sweet peppers and peach BBQ sauce. Originally the plan was to serve the relish as an accompaniment but I wanted to try stuffing the tenderloin since it was a technique I had yet to try. By adding the stuffing to the meat, it seemed to keep the lean tenderloin from drying out. The subtle heat from the peach BBQ sauce balanced the sweet relish. I had also planned to grill it, but instead opted to bake the stuffed loin. I simply marinated an additional tenderloin in the BBQ sauce for the grill, which was simple and very good. It may not have been the most beautiful stuffed pork tenderloin, but everyone who tried it seemed to enjoy it!

The sweet pepper relish would make a nice addition to chicken or beef, burgers, salads, or even grits or a baked potato.  I served this dish with cheese grits and a green salad. Peach BBQ Sauce Recipe can be found here.

 

Farmer's Market Sweet Peppers A little 'family' dinner

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Peach BBQ Sauce

 After a lifetime aversion to peaches, I have suddenly found myself a full on peach convert recently. Growing up I avoided the pitted fruit despite Texas’ outstanding crop of peaches. In fact, I grew up with a peach tree in my own backyard and despite numerous attempts to become a peach fanatic, it didn’t take. This was a fairly cruel dislike for me to have as I regularly walked into my kitchen growing up to find my mother making batches of chutneys and jams with her bumper crop of peaches. My grandmother, whose hill country garden produces peaches galore, makes homemade, from scratch, peach ice cream every summer, and it was a travesty I never enjoyed it as I should.

With Austin’s local restaurant scene fully immersed in the farm to table movement peaches are a regularly featured item as some of the best peaches come from the Texas Hill Country just a few miles away. No longer contained to cobbler, peaches are now a central ingredient in salads, savory meat dishes and margaritas. In my own kitchen, I have started using peaches as if they are the new tomato by playing with flavor profiles and inverting them into my dishes any which way I can. This Peach BBQ Sauce is the first in a series of recipes representing how my life has become one giant peach in Summer 2011.

 

Farmer's Market Peaches

 

 

Peach BBQ Sauce

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Foodie Event: Rio’s Brazilian Cafe

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a foodie event at Rio’s Brazilian Café. Located in the heart of the East Side, Rio’s building is a blink-and-miss from the street, but once you walk up on a patio complete with misters and step inside the brightly decorated interior, it is hard not to feel like you are on vacation. The atmosphere is one of warm hospitality and relaxation, a direct reflection of Brazilian culture. Owners Ben Googins and Chef Elias Martins have cultivated a special place that proves you don’t have to board a plane to experience Brazil.

Prior to my initial visit, I, like many, associated Brazilian food with meatcentric steakhouses. Rio’s Brazilian Café, however, focuses on lighter fare, concentrating more on salads, sandwiches, small plates and other traditional dishes.

Read More by Clicking [expand title=HERE] There are plenty of vegetarian options on the menu as well. Unlike most Latin cuisines, Brazilian food isn’t overtly spicy or rich, something I appreciate, especially in the dog days of summer. However this lack of fire does not equate to lack of flavor by any means; dishes are marked with the freshest fruits and vegetables, bold sauces and layers of unique flavors. True to their Austin Farmer’s Market roots, Rio’s Brazilian Café makes everything from sauces to breads to juices from scratch, and this commitment shines in their food. While Rio’s no longer has a presence at the downtown farmer’s market, the happy result of the restaurant’s growth, their famous cheese bread can still be found at several stores around town and online.

                As for the tastings, let’s just say it is almost difficult to write about Rio’s because I feel like I am releasing a best kept secret. The prices are a bargain on any budget, especially when compared to the quality. For the foodie event, we sampled several entrees and appetizers. The avocado pasta with scallops was creative and delicious; who knew avocados translated into pasta so well? Pork meatballs topped with a pink cream sauce and yucca chips were unlike any meatball I have ever tried, and as evident by our completely clean plate, a clear-cut favorite of the evening. I am normally not a beet aficionado, but the papaya, beet and sprout salad may have converted me for a moment as I couldn’t stop snacking on it. It is certainly big enough to share as well. Previously, I have order the chicken salad with pineapple, and it is also a salad that defines freshness. The salgadihnos, a traditional Brazilian savory pastry, may be small in size, but not in flavor or ingredients. We sampled the Kebi (beef) and pastel de Frango (chicken and gouda) on this visit, and both were very good, especially when paired with the spicy dipping sauce. Previously I have had the pastel de Abobrinhna (veggie) and risoli de camarao (shrimp), and it is amazing how you can taste the individual proteins and vegetables under the fried shell. Of course, I cannot mention a trip to Rio’s without talking about the famous Pao de Queijo, or Brazilian cheese breads. Rio’s makes the cheese bread in three flavors, original, basil and red pepper, and all three are impossible to stop eating when in front of you. Given the fact this little morsel encompasses my two favorite ingredients, cheese and bread, it is no surprise I am a fan, but truly they are so delicious.

 A few additional notes…            

Rio’s Brazilian Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dine in or out – you don’t even need to get out of the car as they have a drive through window!

 Every Thursday Rio’s Brazilian Café is hosting a live band and art event through the summer.

There is a brunch on Sunday starting at 11 am and happy hour Tuesday – Saturday from 4 pm – 7pm.

Additionally, Saturday nights mean one thing at Rio’s: Freajoildi, the national dish of Brazil, is the nightly feature.

 Our event was held in the new private party room, aptly named the Tropicana Room, which is available to host your next event!                                                                                                                                  

While they do serve beer, wine and amazing sangria, the best deal in town is the $2.50 caipirinha set ups. Bring your own caracha or vodka, and they will provide the rest needed to make the traditional Brazilian drink. [/expand]

 Thank you Ben and Elias for a lovely evening!

Rio’s Brazilian Café. 408 Pleasant Valley Road, Austin, TX 78702. http://www.riosofaustin.com/

Amazing Sangria

 

Pao de Queijo - the famous cheese breads!

 

Uchi + Navigating the Menu

 As I mentioned here and here, Uchi is one of the best, if not the best, restaurant in town. My latest trip to the Japanese Farmhouse on South Lamar proved this once again as everything we ordered was a party for the mouth. Of course, I can’t visit Uchi without ordering a bacon steakie, and while no tears sprung to my eyes, it was just as enjoyable as previous visits. I also ordered about 7 pieces of madai (Japanese Sea Bream), which is my favorite piece of sushi to order. The combination of subtle, sweet white fish combined with . . . → Read More: Uchi + Navigating the Menu

Second Bar + Kitchen

Last week I took another trip to Second Bar + Kitchen, this time with my visiting dad in tow. The ubiquitously pleasing Second Bar + Kitchen is a rare downtown establishment which can accommodate a wide range of desired experiences, budgets and tastes. From pizzas, burgers, seafood and salads the well priced and inventive menu has a range of options which can appeal to almost anyone.  The general up tempo atmosphere, open bar and view of Congress Street’s hustle and bustle create an ideal location for a lively group dinner, yet take a seat at a candlelit table on the patio or cozy booth, and you have a nice date spot. Since Second was crowded on a Monday night, I suspect a few others share my opinion.

Continue Reading the Full Second Bar + Kitchen Rundown [expand title=Here] The cocktail menu boasts an ample selection of inventive drink choices. As I had still not recovered from my post work Town Lake visit, I immediately ordered a refreshing Moscow Mule. With just the right amount of ginger beer, crushed ice and served in a copper cup, Second’s version reinvigorated me instantly.

For our dinners, I started with a peach and fig salad while my dad opted for an heirloom tomato. While both were flavorful and creative, the combination of local tomatoes, creamy burrata and avocado was tough to beat. Despite the heat, I insisted my dad try the pepperoni soup as it is a little bowl of something wonderful. Judging by how quickly the bowl emptied it is safe to assume Chef Bull’s pepperoni soup has another fan.

For my entrée, I choose the ‘shrimp boil’, which was a reconstructed and refined interpretation of the classic Cajun dish. The beautifully presented shrimp, potatoes and corn were all perfectly cooked and had a nice flavor. A hearty sauce created using generous amounts of traditional boil spices served as the base. The dish was then finished with a creamy remoulade sauce. While both sauces individually were good, as I delved into my entrée I found the combination of the two a bit too rich, and I missed the lightness of a conventional Cajun boil.

The goat cheese ravioli was simple yet delightful. Housemade pasta proved a solid backdrop for the green olive and goat cheese combination, especially when finished with a bit of crunch from a breadcrumb finish. The star of our meal was actually a side; the corn panzanella was one of the best corn dishes I have tasted. The sweet grilled corn mixed with crisp ciabatta, sundried tomatoes, peppers and onions was a homerun and perfect homage to summer’s star vegetable.

With football season approaching, it is safe to assume this will not be my last trip to Second in the near future as it will make an excellent refuel and recharge dinner spot post game. I still need to try the brunch which I have heard is delicious. (And of course, the tasting menu at Congress, but alas, that wait might be a tad longer on my beer bottle budget…) [/expand]

 Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 W. Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701. (512) 827-2750. http://congressaustin.com/second/

 

Moscow Mule

  

The 'Shrimp Boil' - $24