Monday, May 12, 2014



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.

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.

   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
    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