Monday, May 12, 2014

chavez

chavez


There are several things I have come to expect about any establishment in which Chef Shawn Cirkiel is involved. The place will be stylish and attractive, the food will be fantastic, and the service will be stellar. So it was with these expectations in mind that I eagerly went to chavez. So how did chavez do? Well my fine readers read on to find out. The restaurant itself was beautiful to look at. Lots of clean lines and stylishly decorated without being in your face. The service was fantastic and it alone might be enough to bring me back. As for the food, well it was....just keep reading my lovelies!

We were of course excited about the opportunity to check out chavez and our server Desirae really helped make the evening perfect. She picked our coursing menu on the fly and knew every detail of every dish served. The service was exactly what you want: there when needed but otherwise invisible. And each course she brought to us was fantastic.

Ribs
We started with the baby back ribs and empanadas. The empanadas were a fabulous vegetarian offering. Fried masa dough stuffed with black beans and Oaxaca cheese (pronounced Oh a haca) and served with a delicious salsa verde (green sauce). As for the baby back ribs...well I still dream of them. They were perfectly cooked; the meat fell right off the bone. Normally I'm not a huge fan of sweet ribs but I gladly make an exception here. The agave glaze was sweet without being cloying. The ribs were a little sticky from the glaze but not to such a degree as I've usually seen, where the ribs are bathed in sticky, cloying syrup. No, these were near perfect. This will be my appetizer of choice from here on out.

Next was one of the best fruit salads I have ever had. I think what sent it over the top for me was its simplicity. It was Just some mango, jicama, lime juice, and a little chili powder. It was sweet, tangy, a little spicy, and just playful enough to leave a smile on my face!

Mahi Mahi
For our entrees we were served Blade Steak al Pastor and herb crusted mahi mahi. The Blade Steak was hands down one of the best pieces of pork I have ever had. It was served with roasted radishes, tomatoes, and onions and will probably be my go-to dish.

Next was the Mahi Mahi. There two fish meals that I will always remember. One was a 30 inch trout that I pulled out of Flathead Lake in Montana when I was about 14. The other was the trout I had Andiamo, and now I have to add a third to that list. This was one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of fish I have had. I have cooked mahi mahi a few times myself and have never managed to get these kind of results. It was served with a nice salsa negra, which reminded me of a mole poblano, turnips, pineapple, and scallion.

Cafe Cake
To finish things off my daughter and I split the Cafe con Leche. It was a plate with cafe cake, cajeta, chocolate espresso sauce, cocoa nib ice cream, and a chocolate crumble,

To everyone at chavez, thank you for a fantastic evening. And to Desirea, your service made a great evening absolutely fantastic.






Official AFJ rating- 5 points of the Lone Star  


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bess Bistro

Three kinds of salt? Fancy!
    On rare occasions this life of ours is graced with the presence of something near to perfection. We've all had those moments where everything comes together, all the crystalline shells align, and the universe sings in perfect harmony to the music of the spheres. The last time I can recall such a moment, I was in Paris. Until last night, that is. Last night Matt and I were invited to have dinner at Bess. We were treated to a culinary feast. Everything we had, the appetizers and soup, the entrees, and the dessert were out of this world phenomenal! This was a wonderful dining experience and I thank Bess for having us.

The bread
   Bess opened a few years ago right in the heart of West Sixth Street, in the old Stratford apartment building. For those of you who don't know, Sandra Bullock is one of the principle owners of this fine establishment. The interior is warm and inviting, the staff are all friendly. Our server, Jonathan, was one of the best servers I have had at any restaurant in Austin. He was friendly without being overbearing and exceptionally knowledgeable when it came to the entire menu. Bess would be a wonderful place for a special occasion with that special someone. Unfortunately, I was stuck with my dumb brother.
 
Chicken Fresno Chowder
    Matt and I each started with a bowl of soup. Matt ordered the soup du jour, a Fresno chicken chowder that was out of this world good. It was rich and creamy with just enough to spice to liven it up a little. The potatoes in the dish were cooked perfectly, with just a little give left when you took a bite, a rarity as many places overcook their potatoes . I ordered the gumbo, which had tasso ham and andouille sausage in it. It was a very nice gumbo, one of the better ones I've had in a restaurant in Austin. We were also given fantastic corn bread and whole grain rolls to go with our dish. Along with my soup a had a snifter of Calvados, an apple brandy from Normandy. This was a nice reminder of the eight days I spent in Bayeux last spring.
Gumbo
Escargot

   As an appetizer we shared we shared one of my favorite French dishes: escargot! I love this dish, though all too often chefs over cook the snails and they become chewy and difficult to eat. This was most certainly not an issue at Bess. The snails were sauteed to tender perfection in a fantastic white wine garlic butter sauce. The dish reminded me of steamed mussels, but a little earthier from the snails. The ciabatta bread served with it was the perfect accomplice to this dish. The bread had enough body to not get overly soggy from the broth the snails were in but enough pockets and nooks to soak it in an become true heaven. These are, without doubt, the best snails I have ever eaten!
Escargot on Ciabatta

    Next came the entrees, both of which were very good. I ordered steak frites: a hanger steak, cooked to order and topped with a sauce au poivre (pepper sauce for the non-French speakers) and a side of Parmesan pommes frites. I also had them add a little foie gras to my plate, a personal favorite. Everything on the dish was fantastic, the steak was perfectly cooked, the sauce au poivre was out of this world good, and the fries were cooked well. I had a very similar dish to this in a little bistro by the Louvre last spring and the one at Bess rivaled it in quality and flavor, honestly I think the only thing missing from it was the fact that I was in Austin, not on the banks of the Seine. Matt ordered the Pappardelle a la Piquante, a dish of pappardelle pasta with mussels, shrimp, and crawfish in a really good creole parmesan sauce. The dish was nice, it tasted like the sea and had just enough to spice to let your palate know it was there. All in all a complete success for the entree course.

Pappardelle a la Piqaunte
Steak Frites
   Jonathan  practically demanded that we save room for dessert, and we figured who were we to argue with an expert? Matt ordered the Pistachio Lime Tart, a pastry filled with a goat cheese cream and limes with pistachio ice cream and a strawberry beet white chocolate ganache. This was fantastically well balanced, not too sweet, not to sour, it hit the tongue just right and was perfectly refreshing! I, being the lover of beignet I am, ordered the Bess' Beignet. It is four perfectly pillow and fluffy beignet, based on the Cafe du Monde recipe, served with a toffee sauce and a vanilla creme anglaise. The beignet were stunning- cooked perfectly and with just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar, they were 100% spot on. The toffee was absolute heaven, as was the anglaise. As a compliment to my dessert, and appropriate finish to a French meal, I had a double espresso. Normally I wouldn't bother talking about a local restaurant's coffee, because it usually isn't much to write about. This espresso, however, was probably the best I have had since I came back from Paris. It was perfectly pulled and the flavor of the coffee was just strong enough without being aggressively bitter. This was truly the perfect end for to my meal and it really tied up the nostalgic, wistful feelings I was having contemplating the meals I ate while in France.
 
Pistachio Lime Tart
Beignet
    I'm sorry that I keep mentioning that trip, I'm not bragging (much), Bess honestly drew all those good memories back for me. This was a fantastic meal at a wonderful establishment and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you. Thank you again to our friends at Bess for hosting us, I hope to come back in soon.




Official AFJ Rating- Five Points of the Lone Star








Monday, April 28, 2014

Andiamo

Andiamo

A part of our stated mission here at the Austin Food Junkies is to bring you best of little guys in town. You know the places I'm talking about: the little out of the way neighborhood type places, the hidden gems that you can't wait to tell everyone about. The kind of place that while not run by some well-known culinary superstar in the trendiest locale is still deserving of high praise and accolades. Bearing all of that in mind I present to you Adiamo Ristorante, or just Andiamo for short. When viewed solely from the outside Andiamo is not what you might expect. It is set in a little shopping center at the corner of Burnet and Rutland. I used to work around the corner for a major computer company so I knew the area and actually did a bit of a double take when got there. It's just not the sort of place that you'd expect in that area. Needless to say I was very pleasantly surprised.

When I first walked in the first thing I noticed was the overall cozy atmosphere. It just felt like a welcoming establishment, the kind of place that is ok with patrons staying for a bit instead of the usual “turn 'em and burn 'em” approach you tend to get at most major restaurants. I had a chance to chat with the owner, Daniela Marcone, and found her to be very pleasant passionate about what she does, a very genuine person who provides absolutely top-notch food. Her attitude extends to her entire staff as well. The service was excellent and the staff seemed to know all about each of the items we ordered. Speaking of the items we ordered let’s get to the review!!



To start we decided on the Salsiccia Della Casa (house sausage). We were told that this item is a favorite for customers and it was easy enough to understand why. It is fresh sausage that has been pan fried just long enough to warm it through and develop a bit of a crust, AKA Flavor Country. The sausage is also served with lightly pickled peppers. 


Insalata di Finocchio
Next up was the Insalata di Finocchio. It is served with a bit of fresh fennel sprigs, shaved fennel root, goat cheese, and white truffle oil. The goat cheese was a nice, creamy foil to the rest of the dish. I'd order this one again in a heartbeat. 






Pollo Saltinbocca
For our main courses my daughter chose the Pollo Saltinbocca and I 
chose the the Trota Ripiena.The Saltinbocca is a flattened chicken breast with pancetta and fontina cheese and served in a burgundy sauce with pan fried potatoes and wilted spinach. Everything on this plate was delicious. The chicken breast was moist and tender, the cheese added a nice note and the pancetta is bacon. Wonderful Italian bacon, what could be better than that? 


Trota


The Trota is a stuffed rainbow trout. I was expecting to get a nice filet of trout with some herbs on top, but I was presented with far more than that. It is in fact nearly the entire trout, minus the head and tail, boned, and stuffed with a wonderful mix of herbs and spices. I haven't had trout in years and this brought me back to my youth. Days spent at grandma’s in Utah pulling trout out of the river and grilling them up, or the time my dad and I went to Flathead Lake in Montana and I pulled 30 inch steelhead out of the lake.....In addition to the memories I was also treated to some of the best cooked fish I have ever had. 


Bread
As well as some great appetizers and main courses we also had some of the best bread I have ever had. Ever. EVER.....Perfectly baked until soft and moist, what really set the bread apart was the generous amount of spinach and cheese baked into it. They do also sell the bread by the loaf, so I think I will be stopping by to pick up a loaf or two. Or three......

Daniela, we had a fantastic time and your establishment comes very highly recommended from the Austin Food Junkies! 

Official AFJ rating- 5 Points of the Lone Star!   

2521 Rutland Dr.
Austin, TX 78758
512-719-3377





Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dolce Neve



Dolce Neve Crew


We have all heard the old children's rhyme: "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream." Ice cream is one of those quintessential treats that all kids love. Heck, most if not all adults love the stuff too. And why not? The truth is that like pizza even bad ice cream is still pretty good. It's cold, sweet, and brings us back to a simpler time. I'll bet most of you are probably smiling fondly as read this, thinking of days gone by..... While we may even be able to enjoy less than stellar ice cream it is always worth the drive and money to get the best, most indulgent ice cream we can find. Friends, I may have found the best anywhere, not just Austin. Where is this magical place of whimsy, wonder, smiles, and all things frozen?

The Answer my lovelies, is Dolce Neve (pronounced Dole-chay Nevay) gelato on South 1st street. I know I've been talking about ice cream and here I mention gelato. The way I see it both are part of the same family of dairy based frozen confections, along with Indian Kulfi. The differences are few and you still end up with a tasty frozen treat that happens to be lower in calories than traditional ice cream. You might think of gelato then, as ice cream's prettier Italian cousin. I'd take her on a date any time! I'd get into a full discussion of the differences between the two but I don't have the space to do so. Also it's just not that important.

Opened in January 2014 by Italian transplants Francesca, Leo, and Marco, Dolce Neve offers some of the best frozen goodies you'll find anywhere. They source everything as locally as possible, including the decor. Just get them talking and you will quickly see their passion for their craft. Francesca, as it turns out, learned the craft at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna Italy. That's right, Ice Cream University. It actually exists. Her training and dedication to the craft really show! Each of these good folks can easily tell you what goes into each of their gelatos, but that may be because there aren't that many ingredients start with. Only naturally ingredients, no chemical preservatives or stabilizers. Just good, natural stuff.

Here is a quick look at what we were able to sample-

Parmagiano Reggiano- This one is savory, and one of my favorites. It is totally unexpected. Imagine the richest, creamiest parmagiano cheese you've ever had and then freeze it.

Goat cheese- This one took my daughters by surprise. They were expecting the tangy in your face flavor of feta cheese but instead got a sweet, rich gelato. It reminded us of cheese cake. It was the girls' favorite.

Pistachio- If you are a fan of pistachio ice cream, as I am, then you owe it to yourself to try this flavor. Fresh roasted, all natural pistachios.

In addition to the gelatos they also have some other hand crafted frozen treats. We didn't sample any of them but they looked absolutely fantastic. And what could go better with your cup of frozen goodness than a hot cup of steaming espresso goodness? They also have a beast of an espresso machine imported from Italy, stocked with locally roasted beans, and powered by the gods of all things caffeinated! And it's just begging to make you a cup, so why not grab some on your visit. And you know you'll be there.

Nostalgia, great treats, and feeling of doing something socially responsible. Can there be anything better?

Official AFJ rating- 5 points of Lone Star! We'd give more if could.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Daily Juice

Daily Juice


Anyone in the food community is aware of the fantastic documentary "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead," but in the off chance that you are newer to the scene or perhaps have been living under a huge rock someplace, it chronicles an Australian man's journey from overweight and ill to fit and trim in just a few short months. And secret to his success? Juicing. Now to be clear we are not talking about store-bought juices in nice sealed plastic containers. We are talking fresh, hand-made juice from all manner of fruits and vegetables. The end results speak for themselves.

So why mention this at the start of a write-up? Quite simply, it started, or perhaps restarted, a revolution. People are now more interested than ever in getting their hands on fresh juices and the health benefits associated with it. While juicers come relatively cheaply (I picked up a nice used juicer for around $20, thank you very much McLemore!) there is the time factor involved in creating your own juices. Making enough for an entire day can be rather time consuming. Thankfully the beautiful people at the Daily Juice here in Austin have heard our pleas and have come to our aid! Hooray capitalism!

A while back my daughter and I decided to go on out to the Bee Caves location and give them a spin. The first thing we noticed was how nice the place was, and how much variety they have. Variety not just in the form of juices and other drinks, which we'll get to shortly, but in the over all products offered. And the best part? Almost all of the products they sell come from Texas with a preference for Austin based producers. That kind of "Keep it Local," or as we say Austin, "Keep it Weird," attitude is something that means a lot to us and I find it genuinely gratifying to see a local business help out other local businesses. Incidentally, I reccomend the kale chips. They're raw vegan friendly and produced in Austin.

Here's a quick look at the drinks we tried:

The Depth Charge: A potent mix of cucumber, kale, celery, spinach, parsley, and coconut water. Earthy from the kale and spinach but refreshing from the cucumber and coconut water. This is one that I'll need to memorize for the next time I go on a juice fast!

Vitamin C, I told ya: In addition to being a fun name for a teenager to order, this one is a very refreshing mix of grapefruit, orange, pineapple and lime. I think this one makes a nice go to drink anytime. While I've always been a fan of citrus juices from a bottle I have to say that there really is nothing like flavor of freshly squeezed. This one does not disappoint. It's just fresh juice with nothing added.

Vitamin C I Told Ya and the Depth Charge


In addition to great juices, smoothies, and other products you also get a great staff. I found them to be very knowledgeable and friendly and always ready to make a quick recommendation or give a quick history lesson on the company. You folks at the Daily Juice have an excellent staff, in fact give them a raise already!

All told, it was a great experience. Official AFJ rating: 2 points of the Lone Star.

The Daily Juice


Friday, July 12, 2013

Garbo's

This review will be fairly short by our standards but illuminating none the less. We hope. A while back I was talking with my mom, and being the honorary Junkie that she is she let me know about a new truck that has popped up- Garbo's Lobster rolls.

"Lobster rolls? What the heck are they", you may well be asking. If so, sit back and be illuminated. Lobster rolls, for our readers not familiar with this New England treat, are comprised of lobster salad spread liberally on a fresh baked roll. What could be better than that? Garbo's serves up some great rolls done either Connecticut or Maine style. Connecticut style is served on a roll spread with tarragon butter, Maine is without. I opted for a half roll, Maine Style, and soup. Here's a quick look-


Lobster Roll
Roll- The bread itself was perfect for the sandwich, which is to say that while tasting good it knew its place. It had a nice fresh baked kind of taste without being too bready, if that's a word. If not, then I just invented it. As for the lobster salad, it was delicious and had very generous amount of lobster. Maybe I'm just used to crab salad which is usually made with krab, not crab, and seems to consist mostly of mayo. Not the case here at all. This lobster salad is absolutely delicious.



Add caption
Bisque- The soup offered when I went was lobster bisque. It had a nice rich broth, and again a surprising amount of lobster meat in it. I figured it would be just be a nice lobster broth but was pleasantly surprised to find large pieces of meat in it as well.

All in all this is a very good truck and well worth the visit. If you're interested in trying them, and I suggest you do, you'll need to visit their site for current locations because they are mobile.

Official AFJ rating- 2 points of the Lone Star

Garbo's Website

Friday, June 21, 2013

Benji's Cantina

Photo credit- Reagan Hackleman

West 6th street. For an old-timer like myself (I've been in Austin for nearly 18 years) the entire area has lots of great memories: Gatemouth Brown at Antone's with my buddy Noah, Sue Foley also at Antone's, with Dave and Alex. Social Distortion, the Misfits, and Clutch all at Liberty Lunch (RIP). And after great shows like that we would grab a bite at places like Best Wurst, and Katz's (RIP). But things change. Liberty Lunch is gone, and so is Katz's. Change is inevitable and not always a bad thing. For instance, one of the newer arrivals to 6th street is Benji's Cantina, a Tex-Mex and Mexican inspired gem that has popped up recently. The place was recommended to us by good friend Paula, and when Paula suggests a place it is bound to be good. Here's a quick rundown of what we had-

To start we opted for the guacamole. Guacamole so fresh it's made at your table. The avocados were mashed just the way I like them. Creamy but still plenty of texture, and the tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro were just right with a little fresh squeezed lime juice. Table side guacamole service.....I need this at my house.



 My lovely wife opted for the fish tacos. A piece of lightly fried redfish with tomatoes, cilantro, and topped off with fresh crema (Mexican style sour cream) and a little green sauce. Like much of what is served a Benji's the tortillas are made fresh which went perfectly with an absolutely stellar piece of fish. It was tender, flaky, and not even slightly dry. I'd order this again in a heartbeat.




I decided on Pork Adobodo. I'm not even sure where to start with this. We were told that this dish was one that they worked on for weeks to perfect. Quite frankly it shows. The flavor of the Adobo sauce was deep, rich and just a little sweet. The pork was cooked perfectly. Honestly I don't remember the last time I had pork this good. I ordered mine with corn tortillas. These were some of the best I've had in a long time. Seriously. I've had tortillas made right in front of me in Monterrey Mexico and these tortillas rivaled any of the tortillas I have ever had there. This one is a must order when you go.


The atmosphere of Benji's is pleasant and upscale. The service is as you would expect at a restaurant of that caliber- helpful, courteous, and attentive. Another thing that impressed me was that both the General Manager and one of the owners were walking the floor and did not hesitate to stop and chat and make sure that things were going as they should. It's that kind of attention that helps to ensure that a restaurant will succeed.

Benji's Cantina