Dish of the Day: Barley Swine

Today’s Dish of the Day represents one of those wonderfully unforgettable food moments, courtesy of Barley Swine. A March small plate offering, this unexpected dish, featuring a chicken fried egg, sweetbreads, hay grits, whole grain mustard sauce, and ash sauce, was a perfect representation of Chef/Owner Bryce Gilmore’s style of cooking. The plate arrived with an egg encased in a crispy fried shell served on a bed of sauces and grits. The savory ash sauce and the tangy whole grain mustard were ingeniously paired with the sweet, tender grits and sweetbreads. Once split open, the egg oozed a creamy . . . → Read More: Dish of the Day: Barley Swine

Barley Swine

Happy One Year Anniversary to Barley Swine!  Although Austin bid a fond farewell to the Odd Duck Farm to Trailer that started it all, there is much for Bryce Gilmore and crew to celebrate. From serving an almost nightly full house to Owner/Chef Bryce Gilmore being named a 2011 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine Magazine, it has been quite a year for the South Lamar eatery.

An initial visit to Barley Swine in its infancy was almost pitch perfect, and subsequent visits throughout the year only reconfirmed this first impression. The long awaited opportunity to sit kitchen side on visit in early December allowed seeing firsthand the precision and technique each dish takes to compose as well as how well run Barley Swine is from top to bottom.

An evening at Barley Swine is not just a dinner out, but an experience. Despite nightly waitlists and small waiting areas, the hyper-organized front of house is always relaxed and hospitable, making small talk and setting a welcoming tone for the evening. Once seated, one is immediately greeted by a friendly server who is as excited about Barley Swine’s food as diners are to try it. Armed with recommendations and explanations, it is clear the kitchen takes time to educate the full staff on the night’s dishes and beer and wine list. Service at Barley Swine is always exceptional, in part because everyone seems to truly enjoy being a member of Chef Gilmore’s team.

As for the food, well, any attempt to describe will fall short, but here’s to striving for an A for effort. If in need of a New Year’s Resolution, add trying Barley Swine to the list and experience it firsthand. A perfect example of the type of dish which defines Barley Swine was Waygu beef over banana grits dish sampled in early fall. Gilmore takes a familiar Southern comfort dish like steak and grits and recomposes it using unusual flavor profiles or elements. The results are an entirely inventive and surprising dish that somehow feels like home. His cooking is creative and pushes the limits, but also restrained and unsuspectingly familiar. It’s foodie food without being overly intimidating to more reserved palates.

From trailer to brick and mortar, Barley Swine epitomizes the new direction of Austin’s dining scene. With its welcome blend of unique and outstanding dishes in a casual, comfortable atmosphere, Barley Swine will surely be celebrating many more anniversaries to come.

For a variety of reasons, it seems follow up visits didn’t receive a Ginny’s Austin shout out, but I will now take an opportunity to sum up a year’s worth of amazing Barley Swine experiences. Please forgive the less than beautiful photos. Between Barley Swine’s lighting and my dinner companions’ lack of patience, you will see one reason for my post hesitations. (Others include ‘what could I really say that publications like Food & Wine hadn’t already said better?’ and ‘this ever changing menu is hard to keep up with!’)

Click the picture for a full Barley Swine Slideshow…

 Curried Scallops at Barley Swine Continue reading Barley Swine

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

Continue reading Foreign and Domestic

HOPE Farmer’s Market

The HOPE Farmer’s Market returns to later hours as fall’s cooler temperatures set in. A farmer’s market outing is one of my favorite weekend activities, but busy fall Saturdays sometimes mean I miss out on a morning spent in vegetable bliss. However, HOPE Market is open on Sundays from 11AM – 3PM, which is perfect for late risers. The market is a part of the Helping Other People Everywhere campaign, which helps artists and creatives support education and peace projects around the globe. In comparison to the Sustainable Food Center’s much larger market downtown on Saturday morning, the HOPE market features a smaller assortment of high quality vendors. Artisanal cheese from Dos Lunas is reason enough to shop at the HOPE farmer’s market, but from prepared foods to farmers to community wellness booths, there is a wide variety in the small market.  Nationally acclaimed butchers Salt & Time maintain a presence there. As does Johnson’s Backyard Garden, a favorite farm source of many local restaurants. Perfectly sized pies from Pie Fixes Everything are sold next to picnic sized pate plates from Pate Letelier. Pick up vegetables and meats from Bastrop Cattle Company and Windy Hills Organics before grabbing a tamale from The Gardener’s Feast and enjoying some live music. There is also a petting zoo for the kids and local art for sale. Set in the East Side’s Pine Street Station Art Workshop, the HOPE Farmer’s Market is a perfect start to a lazy Sunday.

HOPE Farmer's Market - 414 Waller Street, Austin TX 78702

Farmer’s Market Appetizer: Seared Dos Lunas Especial Cheese with Sautéed peppers and onions from Johnson’s Backyard Garden…

A taste of the HOPE Market!

 

Continue reading HOPE Farmer’s Market

Papi Tino’s Mexican Cantina

                After stumbling upon Papi Tino’s, it was love at first sight. Diners visiting the restored east side home turned restaurant are greeted with a serene open lawn speckled with pink flower adorned tables under a canopy of trees. Even on the hottest of days it is hard not to be completely enamored with Papi Tino’s quaint, romantic outdoor setting. We took a walk up the staircase leading inside, past two musicians providing the perfect brunch soundtrack, and were greeted by a friendly host who delivered the bad news that the indoor seating was reserved for a private party. After being assured of ample misters and plenty of cold drink offerings, outside it was. Remarkably, the heat was never an issue throughout the entire meal, despite the 107 degree temperature, thanks in part to the aforementioned misters, drinks, and refreshing menu options. We were greeted by our waiter, who apparently is vying with Chris for Austin’s waiter of the year. He gave us a rundown of the restaurant and menu, taking time to acknowledge Papi Tino’s partnership with local food source Johnson’s Backyard Farm.  Continue Reading about Papi Tino’s [expand title=Here]                   As we were easing into the day, we started with daily selections of agua frescas. While we order our first round sans alcohol, Papi Tino’s offers the option to incorporate a variety of different liquors or sparkling wines with the refreshing juices. The watermelon version was refreshing with the right amount of sweetness balanced off with a hint of chili lime salt. My tablemate’s hibiscus fruit was different, in a very good way, but I was partial to the watermelon as a standalone juice. The hibiscus was so flavorful, but with such a powerful essence, it would have benefited from an addition of tequila or mezacal to make what would have been heaven in a cocktail. After we finished our revitalizing drinks, it was time for a bit more which meant mimosas. Papi Tino’s makes their mimosas with fresh squeezed orange juice, which was outstanding, but since I developed a quick addiction to my agua fresca I chose to mix my champagne with that.

                 Despite the small, well edited menu of Mexican favorites, when it came time to order our brunch selections both of us were overwhelmed with too many toothsome options to choose. Thankfully, our wonderful waiter was able to steer us through the menu. To say he was knowledgeable about the menu would be an understatement; he detailed to us what was best to order relative to morning kitchen happenings, gave ample breakdowns of menu items, and answered our questions in a meaningful, thoughtful way. While our waiter was great, his efficient service was seemingly common among every member of the Papi Tino’s team. There was an overlying cohesiveness about the restaurant staff; looking around, it appeared every person there was not just picking up a paycheck, but having fun. This is in no small part due to owner Alan who was omnipresent during brunch service, enjoying the music, greeting customers, and sharing laughter with his staff. Our waiter was not this knowledgeable about the food he was serving by accident. This is the product of Chef Lalo and Alan because they have taken the time to invite the faces of Papi Tino to be a part of the kitchen they are representing, and this egalitarianism translates very well to the customer.
                

                      And the food, as it happens, translates very well to the customer as well. We started with an order of guacamole and freshly made tortilla chips. The hand hacked guacamole was just the way I like it; simple flavors and made to order. Instead of chips, Papi Tino’s supplies fresh fruit as its Mexican amusebouse, and may I say this is a very welcome custom when it is sweltering outside! My ceviche was almost too beautifully presented to eat. Thankfully, I got over the presentation because it was exactly as ceviche should be. The brightly flavored, abundantly portioned of pescado was my idea of ideal ceviche. Since opening, Papi Tino’s enchiladas have been getting rave reviews, and the chicken enchilada suizas did not disappoint. The green sauce tasted as if it had been made to order, and the chicken was tasty and tender. I sampled a neighboring friend’s cold beef salad, and I was shocked by how much I loved it. Normally it would not be something my eye would be drawn to, but it was light and unexpected. A must order on the next trip. I am not a dessert person at dinnertime, and certainly not at brunch, but the fruit starter left us craving more, so strawberries and cream for a final treat it was. Paired with our mimosas, it was the perfect finish to a perfect meal.   

                Papi Tino’s may be a neophyte in terms of how long it has been open, but it certainly is no novice from an operational standpoint. Good food combined with outstanding service give Papi Tino’s the right chemistry and momentum. Furthered by a whimsical, charming, and relaxing atmosphere make Papi Tino’s a quintessential Austin restaurant, and perhaps my new favorite brunch spot in town.  Right now Papi Tino’s is cash only, but this will change soon. There is an ATM in back as well. As far as prices, expect to pay a bit more than the typical Tex-Mex weekend lunch, but it is worth it! [/expand] Or With the Pictures Below!

Papi Tino’s. 1306 East 6th Street, Austin, Texas 78702. 512.479.1306. http://www.papitinos.com/

Live brunch music

 

Watermelon Agua Fresca – $4

  Continue reading Papi Tino’s Mexican Cantina

Lunch @ Haddington’s

Since first opening Haddington’s has evolved slowly, but significantly.  In recent weeks I have visited Haddington’s on a few occasions, including lunch service detailed below. From my first visit to the most recent, Haddington’s has always had, in my opinion, exceptional service, something I am thrilled to see has remained consistent despite changes. When Haddington’s first opened, (review here) the ambiance, cocktail list, and experience were wonderful, but the meal left a bit to be desired. I loved the American/British tavern theme, but it just needed a little editing; this is something Chef Jimmy Corwell’s addition has brought to the kitchen. The shift from heavy, rustic entrees to more finessed dishes was certainly welcomed, as I mentioned here, but with more delicate presentations and options popping up on the menu, I hope Haddington’s doesn’t veer too far from its unique conceptual roots.

As my recent lunch foray proved, Haddington’s menu plays with showcasing upscale versions of classic rustic American food and gussied up modern American dishes. We started with the white bean puree and truffled egg custard pots, which were amazing as always. These little $4 gems are absolutely a must order on any Haddington’s visit, especially the truffled egg custard. Continue reading [expand title=Here] Next was a bowl of chilled melon soup; it was refreshing and beautifully presented, but I was a bit disappointed by the scallop ceviche which was more of a garnish than a featured component. While I really did enjoy the soup, it was missing a little extra kick of flavor to balance the sweetness of the melon. I split a bowl of vegetable risotto, which proved to be a wise decision since Haddington’s doesn’t mess around with the risotto portion size. The risotto was extremely creamy, almost polenta like in texture. Instead of cooking the vegetable mixture in the risotto, it was placed on top of the rice. Normally, I prefer my risotto a little more al dente, but in this case the creamy, subtle risotto worked against the texture and earthiness of the vegetables. The tavern roots of Haddington’s were, however, showcased with the burger and fries. It was a feat to take on and quite possibly gave new meaning to a ‘knife and fork burger’. Topped simply with ample amounts of cheese and delicious, creative wine braised leeks, the star of the burger is the meat. The thick patty was juicy and messy, but worth every napkin needed. The bun was a little to toasted, which made it a little tough to dig into, but somehow the burger still disappeared rather quickly. The fries served alongside are amazingly crisp, salty and everything a fry should be.

Haddington’s embraces fine dining in a casual, laid back setting, but updating the menu too drastically may trickle over and change this element. Because Chef Corwell focuses on a regularly changing menu based on seasonal availability, the dog days of summer naturally give way to more pristine, lighter dishes, and perhaps this is one main reason for less ‘tavern-eque’ options.  Figuring out how to walk the fine line between staying in the niche of the restaurant concept and still appealing to mass tastes is no easy task, but Chef Corwell and the Haddington’s team seem well on the way to mastering it. [/expand]

Haddington’s. 601 W. 6th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. http://www.haddingtonsrestaurant.com/

 

Pots with Soldiers - $4 each

Continue reading Lunch @ Haddington’s

Counter Cafe

 

Any given Saturday around 11:30 or 12, drivers will notice a number of people lingering outside a small diner on Lamar, just a few blocks North of Whole Foods. Regulars know to get there early, especially since Texas Monthly wrote a little article about burgers, spurring countless debates from Orange to El Paso. I am talking, of course, about Counter Café. Prior to the Counter Burger being named Texas Monthly’s 2nd best burger in Texas, locals knew for a great daily brunch or lunch, Counter Café was golden. Finish reading  [expand title = Here] From the outside Counter Café appears to be the usual greasy spoon diner, especially given the location’s predecessor was the famously (and delightfully) unhealthy GM Steakhouse. But this is Austin, after all, and Counter Café is certainly an Austicentric diner from menu to motto. Glancing over Counter Café’s daily chalkboard and regular menus you will find a collection of diner favorites, some reinvented or given gourmet touches perhaps, but enough items to appease those longing for the GM Steakhouse of yesteryear.  But showcased alongside down home staples like bacon cheeseburgers and biscuits and gravy, there are also locally sourced organic, healthy options like spinach salads, homemade daily soups, and grilled quail. Anyone proclaiming to be a burger lover must try the burger at least once, if not only to be able to throw two cents into the great burger debate. The list aside, Counter Café’s burger is delicious. Served medium rare on a sweet bun, fresh off the grill with cheese, with grilled onions added, it is pretty hard to beat. Best burger in Austin? I still cast my vote for Contigo, followed by the Tavern or Red’s Porch, but it is definitely good enough to appease any burger lover. As my office would prefer to not find me asleep under my desk a la George Costanza, I skip the burger when venturing to Counter Café for lunch during the week instead choosing a bowl of what is surely wonderful, fresh soup and a spinach salad. What is great about Counter Café’s healthier options is they are always good enough to avoid a serious case of food envy from my cohort’s undoubtedly greasier order. When I am living on the edge beyond salads and the burger, I love the grilled pimento cheese sandwich or crab cakes and eggs. With a ying and yang menu, Counter Café shows combining two normally round peg, square hole styles of dining, can sometimes be a welcome compromise. [/expand]

 

Counter Café. 626 N. Lamar, Austin, TX 78701. 512.780.8800. http://www.countercafe.com/

The famous Counter Burger - $10

Continue reading Counter Cafe

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