Sunday, July 24, 2016

Geraldine's - Restaurant Review


Geraldine's is gorgeous. The space is beautifully designed, and thought is put into every detail, including the water glasses, which I believe are Waterford (they are SO heavy and sparkly!).

Since my last visit, however, things have deteriorated. Instead of comping parking for a few hours if you are eating at the restaurant (which they did previously), the Hotel Van Zandt now charges $13 AN HOUR for valet parking (the only option, no self-parking available). Shocked and unwilling to fork out this amount of cash for parking at 11am on a Sunday morning, I found some public parking half a mile away at the MACC and made it back to the restaurant via the alley behind their dumpsters (smelly), wobbling on my heels (which I wore not expecting to have to trudge so far on foot) and dripping with sweat (thanks, Texas summer).

Once inside, I hoped things would get better. Lucky me, I was having brunch with SI, and that was fun! However, our service was inadequate. Our server was polite enough (just polite, not warm), but didn't know anything about the menu. We asked her several questions about different dishes we were interested in, and each time she said she would have to ask the chef. She was sure that the sauce that came with my Scotch Egg had cream in it, so I had her put it on the side. When a different server (he might have been a manager as he in a suit, not in the same uniform as the wait staff) brought the dish, I again asked what the sauce was made of, and he had to go ask the chef. He returned to announce that it was a carrot purée.



This was my third visit to Geraldine's, but my first time to try their brunch menu. I was happy with my meal (Scotch Egg in Duck Sausage - ~$12) and the prices at brunch are pretty average (~$10 to $20 per main dish). I also ordered a mimosa ($6), which was fine.

I'm not going to be rushing back to Geraldine's despite the gorgeous interiors and pretty good food. The cost of parking is astronomical at $13 per hour (not per visit). I just couldn't relax knowing that we would pay more for parking at brunch than for our food and drink combined. Other hotels, such as the JW Marriott on Congress, offer discounted valet parking for folks visiting their restaurants. HVZ should offer something comparable.


Bieler Pere & Fils Rosé Cuvée Sabine 2015, Provence, France - $11


     

I purchased this wine at the Austin Wine Merchant and shared it with the three JBs last night. We really enjoyed its light and fruity taste! Perfect for a nightcap! It's very affordable at $11 a bottle.


Vinaigrette Austin - Restaurant Review


What a lovely setting for a restaurant - a building full of light, and a gorgeous patio with a majestic oak tree as the centerpiece! Amazing! The place was clean and bright, and the service was very friendly.


We started with a bottle of bubbly and the kale nachos, which our server said is their most popular starter. The flavor were great, but the cost is pretty high for five tortilla chips loaded with kale (I think it was about $8 for this dish?).

     
After a couple bottles of the bubbly, we switched to this Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris Rosé 2015 from Corbières, which was very nice (~$40).


I ordered the All Kale Caesar! (~$12) and added scallops (~$7). The salad was great (a kale-based Caesar) but the portions are small for the price. I was still a bit hungry afterwards.

     
To cap of the night, we ordered this bubbly Charles Bove Méthode Traditionnelle Touraine Rosé (~$40) and sat on the patio under the impressive tree. It was lovely. What a perfect night with friends!


Saturday, July 23, 2016

In the Coconut - Restaurant Review #3


Back to my favorite food truck, In the Coconut. This time we went for weekend brunch, which was great because they serve tropical mimosas for free with your meal!



This time, in addition to ordering my favorite Tere's Taco ($3) and a side of Brussels Sprouts ($2.25), I also took a chance on the Pork Belly Musubi ($2.50).

While everything tasted great, the nori (roasted seaweed) wrap on the musubi gets a little tough to bite when it's steamed, so with the hot ingredients inside, it was a bit messy to try to eat. In Hawaii, musubi is served cold, which prevents the problem of the hard to tear nori. Not sure how this could be done at In the Coconut because they make everything when you order it (they don't make things ahead of time and let items sit until ordered), and pork belly is really better when it's warm. In any case, the flavor is great!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Truluck's- Restaurant Review #2


Loved my last visit to Truluck's so much that I had to come back again and share the experience with my sister!


This time, we tried a bunch of raw seafood dishes. The Featured Oysters (6 oysters on the half shell - $18) were small, sweet, slightly salty, and extremely fresh. I prefer mine with just lemon squeezed over them so that I can enjoy the full flavor of each bite. I did try the mignonette on one bite, and it was good. I still prefer just lemon.


We also ordered the Seared Albacore Sashimi (Seared cold water albacore tuna over arugula with mandarin oranges, spicy yuzu dona sauce and white soy - $12), which was served like a small salad. The fish was fresh and perfectly cooked, and the entire combination of flavors was lovely.


The Caesar Salad ($10) was a winner again - just like I remember it from last week. Every ingredient was fresh with just the right amount of dressing.


Behold the Fresh Crab Claw Platter ($59) - simply fantastic! Eight chilled and cracked claws were served with steamed asparagus and Parmesan mashed potatoes. Again, just a squeeze of lemon on each claw made every bite perfect! The sides added to the perfection.


Truluck's helped us celebrate our double birthdays with a Baked Alaska and a bowl of berries. The Baked Alaska is a stunning dessert, with meringue that tastes like a marshmallow cooked over a campfire, ready for a s'more.


And of course, since the restaurant asked about dietary limitations, they knew I couldn't enjoy the Baked Alaska (except for the meringue), so they brought me a fresh bowl of berries. I think they were slightly macerated with a tiny bit of sugar. A perfect way to finish our wonderful evening together!

Update: The next morning, I received another phone call from Truluck's making sure that we had an enjoyable evening. Wonderful follow up!


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Eggplant Parmigiana - Attempt #1


Eggplant Parmigiana, how much do I love thee? A heck of a lot!

I made two versions of this dish - one with mozzarella, and one with only Parmesan (for those of us who are lactose-intolerant). The photo above is the version with mozzarella.

This is the version that is probably safe for those who are lactose-intolerant - just a light shaving of Parmesan.

I'm not going to post the recipe for this dish yet because I'm actually not happy with how either version turned out. I think I'll try deconstructing the dish next time so that the eggplant crust doesn't get soggy. Why fry a beautiful, golden-crusted eggplant if you're just going to bake it in tomatoes and make it mushy? No thanks.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Gérard Bertrand Gris Blanc 2015, Pays d'Oc, France - $15





I usually love Gérard Bertrand rosé wines, but this one was so light it was like drinking water. I won't purchase it again, but white wine drinkers might enjoy it. It was dry and slightly bitter, and made from Grenache.

I bought it at Whole Foods for around $15 a bottle.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Rosemary Parmesan Roasted Potatoes - Recipe




I love roasted potatoes. I also love rosemary and Parmesan. Having abundant rosemary in my herb garden inspires me everyday. Tonight, I felt like supplementing my stuffed bell peppers with Rosemary Parmesan Roasted Potatoes. Sorry, no exact measurements here - everything is done to taste.


Ingredients
  • 2 lbs organic red or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean and chopped into 1/2" pieces
  • organic extra virgin olive oil
  • approximately 1 T rosemary, chopped or broken into pieces
  • apporximately 2 T freshly-grated Parmesan
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly-ground pepper

Instructions
  1. spread the washed and chopped potatoes in one layer over two baking sheets covered in parchment paper
  2. drizzle all of the pieces with the olive oil - a few tablespoons should do it
  3. evenly sprinkle the rosemary and Parmesan over the potatoes
  4. roast the potatoes at 425F degrees for 30 to 40 minutes
  5. when the potatoes are done, add the salt and pepper to taste

Peppers stuffed with Quinoa - Recipe




Here's a great recipe for Meatless Mondays - Bell Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa, Zucchini, and Tofu. These are healthy and absolutely satisfying. They are also easy to pack for lunch the next day!


Ingredients
  • 4 bell peppers, any color, cut in half with seeds and ribs removed
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked in water or veggie broth
  • 1 zucchini, chopped into 1/4" - 1/2" pieces
  • 1 package firm or dry tofu, drained first and then chopped in to 1/4" - 1/2" pieces
  • Soyaki sauce to taste

Instructions
  1. wash and cut all of the veggies
  2. if using firm tofu rather than dried tofu, drain the tofu for 20 minutes by placing the tofu on a plate and placing a heavy plate on top of it
  3. after draining the tofu, chop and marinate it in the sauce for 20 minutes
  4. prepare the quinoa on the stovetop according to the instructions on the package
  5. mix the quinoa, zucchini, and tofu together in the marinade
  6. stuff the peppers with the mixture and bake at 350F degrees for 40 minutes

Options
  • Add or substitute in any veggies you like - celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, kale - the list is endless!
  • I used Soyaki sauce from Trader Joe's, but you can use Teriyaki, Sriracha BBQ, salad dressings - anything you prefer!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Terry Black's BBQ - Restaurant Review




Let me just start by saying that I'm not a barbecue aficionado. I like it occasionally, but usually find it too salty for my taste.

I had high expectations for Terry Black's because of all of the hype around town. I believe that a type of cuisine, especially if it's exceptionally done, should appeal to folks of all tastes. I had a good experience at Franklin's last year, and have always had consistently good food at the Salt Lick and Rudy's.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the meat at Terry Black's. The beef ribs were way overdone with so much rub that all I could taste was salt, spices, and hardened meat near the edges - it was moister closer to the bone, but really good barbecue should be edible all the way from the outside to the bone. The sausage pieces the server gave me were also burnt and tough on the ends. I left those on my plate as well.

The meat cutters serving the barbecue need to be better trained to cut the hardened, unpalatable parts of meat off before they carve the rest and pile it on your plate. I don't know a single person who wants to pay $18 a pound for tough, unappetizing meat that you have to throw away. I've never had this experience at another barbecue restaurant.

They make three sauces - original, spicy, and sweet. I preferred the original and spicy. The sweet seems to be mustard-based.

While they had a selection of wine (a white blend, Chardonnay, Moscato, Malbec, Cab Sauv), I didn't see one that I preferred to pair with barbecue. I settled for a Topo Chico, which was great. 

The green beans were done very nicely, but the other veggie-based sides looked too creamy or had too much mayo for me.

I know a lot of people love this place. It's just not one that I prefer to try again myself.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Truluck's - Restaurant Review



On top of having wonderful food, Truluck's in Downtown Austin has the most amazing customer service I've experienced recently at a restaurant. Everyone, from the managers to the hosts to the wait staff is on the same page. This makes dining at the restaurant a total dream!

After being greeted by name and shown promptly and politely to our table, an assistant manager placed his card on our table so that we could contact him if we needed anything, another manager drew the curtains for just the few minutes that the sunset reflected in the large windows across the street and then opened the drapes back up to reveal the gorgeous downtown view, our water glasses were never empty, and our finished plates never stayed on our table for more than a few moments.


I started with salad. I can't pass up a traditional Caesar. Truluck's has one of the best I've ever had - a crisp and classic rendition down to the anchovies on top. It was fresh and flavorful, and I can't wait to have it again!

I had a glass of JCB No.69 Rosé NV from Burgundy, France ($12.50). It was light, dry, and lovely! My main dish was the Stuffed Lobster Tail (topped with a jumbo lump Blue crab cake and served
with parmesan mashed potatoes and lemon-garlic butter - $42), and it was absolutely rich and amazing - exactly what I expected and bursting with juiciness and flavor!

To top it off, they brought a bowl of fruit to the table for our dessert because of my lactose-intolerance. So thoughtful!

Update: The next morning, one of the managers called to make sure that we had a great experience at the restaurant. Wow - that's customer service!

Truluck's is my new favorite fine dining restaurant. Looking forward to my next visit!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Paella with Turkey Chorizo - Recipe


I love paella - with chorizo, seafood, just veggies - it's so scrumptious and satisfying!


First, I make a homemade turkey chorizo (rather than purchasing the pork or beef chorizo from the store).

Ingredients
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds natural or organic ground turkey
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 4 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Instructions
  • Blend all ingredients and allow flavors to develop for up to one day
  • Heat the EVOO and thoroughly cook the chorizo in the pan, breaking up the clumps of ground turkey



I always add these veggies (and sometimes more) to my paella:

Ingredients
  • EVOO
  • 1 organic onion, chopped
  • 4 organic carrots, chopped
  • 2 organic bell peppers, chopped (I prefer green and yellow because the carrots are orange and the tomatoes are red)
  • 8 oz organic mushrooms, chopped
  • 20 quartered artichoke hearts
  • 20 quartered olives (any kind)
  • 14 oz can organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 16oz bag organic peas

Instructions
  • Stir fry all of my ingredients in olive oil until they are tender


My real secret is Chef Paz's Paella Mix, which I've not found an equal substitute for, even when I try to make my own paella from scratch. To make this paella, I prepare and cook the chorizo and/or veggies, then add the paella mix and follow the rest of the instructions on the back of the package. A winning combination!


In the Coconut - Restaurant Review #2


In the Coconut is currently my favorite food truck! The food is so fresh and prepared with such care, and is absolutely delicious!




They have a cute new location on E. Cesar Chavez with tons of covered seating - it's so much nicer than their previous location on Airport!


I ordered the same thing I had before - one Tere's Taco (see the photo on the right - blackened shrimp, Mexican cheese blend, pineapple pico, cilantro and pina colada - $3.25) and one Ohana Taco (see the photo on the left - Kalua pork, pineapple, Sriracha glaze, pickled onion, pineapple pico and cilantro - $3.25). Add a side (like the Brussels Sprouts below) and the total is just $7.95!

I love the Tere's Taco - it's my favorite main dish hands down! The Ohana Taco is very good, too. Next time I'll ask them to go light on the glaze.


These Brussels Sprouts with bacon and Parmesan are to die for! Amongst the best Brussels I've ever had! Usually $2.25 per serving, but a little less if you order it along with some tacos.

Seriously, if you haven't gone yet, go try In the Coconut! It's simply wonderful!


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

TRACE at the W Austin, Lunch on the Fly Menu - Restaurant Review #1




TRACE at the W Austin has a wonderful Lunch on the Fly menu - three courses for only $12! The service is quick (I only had 30 minutes!) and the food is great! It comes with a main dish, a side, and cookies in a box for dessert.

I ordered the Pork Belly BLT as my main and Roasted Broccolini on the side. The sandwich was fantastic - so large that I was full after just half of it and I took the rest to go. The broccolini was under-seasoned and bland. If I wasn't in such a hurry I would have asked for some seasoning to add, but in my rush I just swallowed it and ran. The cookies were decorated like Pokémon balls, a nod to the current Pokémon Go craze. I took those to go, too.

This is a great option for those who want a quick lunch downtown!


Monday, July 11, 2016

Caprese Salad and Pesto Pasta Salad - Recipe


These are recipes that I kind of throw together using whatever I have and whatever sounds good.


This Caprese Salad is a classic. I grow basil in the backyard from spring to fall, so I always have some on-hand for recipes.


Ingredients
  • 2 organic Roma or medium-sized tomatoes-on-the-vine, sliced
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella ball, sliced (I purchased mine from Antonelli's Cheese Shop in Austin)
  • 1 bunch fresh organic basil, washed and stems removed
  • organic extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar, preferably aged
  • fleur de sel
  • freshly-ground pepper

Instructions
  1. alternate slices of tomatoes, mozzarella, and a basil leaf until the plate is full
  2. drizzle the EVOO and balsamic vinegar over the combination
  3. lightly sprinkle the salt and freshly-ground pepper over everything
  4. adjust EVOO, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste

This Pesto Pasta Salad is a really nice meal for a picnic or if you need to prepare something quickly.


Ingredients
  • 8 oz turkey bacon, cooked until crisp (I bake mine in a 400F degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes)
  • 1 lb organic whole wheat fusilli pasta
  • 1/2 c prepared pesto (I get mine at Whole Foods or Costco)
  • 1 pint organic grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 or 2 oz of crumbed goat cheese
  • 20 thinly-sliced fresh organic basil leaves

Instructions
  1. cook the bacon and let it cool, then break or cut it into small pieces (about 1/4" to 1/2" square)
  2. cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, subtracting one minute from the recommended cooking time
  3. meanwhile, slice the tomatoes and basil
  4. when the pasta is done, drain it and add the pesto in the warm pot immediately
  5. then add the tomatoes, bacon, goat cheese crumbles, and basil leaves
  6. stir until ingredients are evenly mixed
  7. may be served warm or cold

Hope your family enjoys these dishes as much as mine does!


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Asian Clear Noodle (Mung Bean) Vegetable Stir Fry - Recipe



This mung bean noodle veggie stir fry is awesome! It's perfect for meatless Mondays. Here's the recipe:


Ingredients
  • 4 mung bean noodle cakes (about 4 oz/115g) - flat or thread-shaped noodles are fine
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, julienned
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T minced ginger (or 1/8 t garlic powder)
  • 2 Thai chilis, sliced (or 2 pinches red pepper flakes)
  • 4 squares dried tofu
  • 1 lb Chinese broccoli, stemmed and stalks sliced
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1/2 large red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 scallion/green onion, sliced
  • 1/3 c (80ml) low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 t sesame oil
  • sesame for topping (optional)


Instructions
  1. Fill a large saucepan with 3 to 4 inches of water and bring it to boil. Drop the noodle cakes into the boiling water, and let it cook for about 4 to 5 minutes or until the noodles look translucent. Drain the liquid and run the noodles under cold water.
  2. Heat a large stir fry pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the onions and cook for a minute. Add the celery, garlic, ginger, and chili and stir until the onions start to brown.
  3. Add the Chinese broccoli and cook for 2 to 3 minutes before adding the carrots, pepper, and green onions. Once the Chinese broccoli turns into a bright green, add the noodles and stir.
  4. Mix the soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil in a small bowl, and pour into the noodles and vegetables. Cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top, and serve immediately.

See the original recipe here.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Mrs. Johnson's Bakery - Restaurant Review


     
If you haven't been to Mrs. Johnson's, you need to go now! Their fluffy, sugary donuts are absolute classics! The store is old but clean, and the prices are very reasonable! A perfect stop after a light dinner!

Their hours are great for night owls - they are open from 7:30pm through the night and morning until 12pm the next day. How great is that?!

I loved the dozen donut holes that I ordered. They were sweet and light, yet filling - just like I remember them, and just like they should be! Step aside, undercooked cakey donuts from Gourdough's - I'm a classic kind of girl!


Bullfiight - Restaurant Review


     
This was our second visit to Bullfight. We ordered a couple of bottles of Bodegas Barco de Piedra Tempranillo. It was really lovely with the food.

Note that all of the servings are fairly small. With the exception of the seafood paella, each dish can be eaten in about four bites, which means that for a party of four, each person will get one bite of each dish.

We ordered the Jamón Croquettes (filled with ham and cheese - $6), which come four to an order in a paper cone and look like little mozzarella sticks. They are good - rich and creamy, with tiny bits of ham. Sorry - forgot to take a photo before we finished them!

The Tortilla with Caramelized Onion and Potato ($6) was also very delicious - firm egg and flavorful fillings and toppings. The serving consisted of two small triangles.

These Shishito Peppers ($9) were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Not sure how they make them without charring or burning them. So yummy!

This Branzino Crudo (with piperade, green olive puree - $12) was absolutely fresh and delectable!

The Duck Meatballs (with citrus, mint, and sesame - $11) were very tasty and substantial - I think this was the favorite dish for hubby.

The Seafood Paella (with clams, chorizo, shrimp, and saffron - $32) was exellent, although a little more charred on the bottom than expected. Each person got a few bites.

The Fried Potatoes in Bravas Sauce ($7) were also covered in an aioli. I'd prefer for the aioli to be dotted on or offered on the side.

The Redfish Dish was a special that night. Very nice - probably my favorite dish of the evening. Redfish sashimi, frisée, radishes, pickled red onions, a bit of orange, and a nice green sauce - yum!

Hubby isn't into small plates - he barely gets enough to eat. However, I enjoyed the meal, and we went to Mrs. Johnson's for dessert afterwards!


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Pizza Press, Old Towne Orange, CA - Restaurant Review


Love this place - what a revelation! So much better than Blaze Pizza just down the block - same concept, but TPP has much better execution! You can build-your-own pizza at either restaurant. However, the pizza that I ended up with at TPP was absolutely loaded with toppings (yay!), while the pizza I designed at Blaze was meager at best.



At TPP, you can either choose a signature (pre-designed) pizza from the menu (between $6 and $8 for a medium-sized pie - you'll have about 2 or 3 pieces left over if you're an average eater), or you can "Publish Your Own" for $8.25, adding any (or all) of the toppings available. Options they offer include several meats (pepperoni, sausage, bacon, chicken), veggies (too many to list), cheeses (including vegan), fresh herbs (basil and cilantro, etc.), and sauces (balsamic vinegar, BBQ, pesto, etc.). I chose red sauce, goat cheese, green peppers, olives, tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms, caramelized onions, artichokes, kale, and a drizzle of pesto.

I paired the pizza with a fresh homemade salad and Trader Joe's VINTJS Pinot Noir Rosé, and it hit the spot!

I absolutely adored this unbelievably yummy pizza - so much so that I had the two leftover slices for lunch on the plane the next day - so perfect! I wonder what it would take to get a TPP here in Austin? (Sorry, Home Slice - it's a totally different concept!)