Saturday, March 13, 2010

Changes Are Afoot

So, who else is cranky? Despite the fact that it was a gorgeous day today, I'm in a wicked funk. It might have to do with spending too much time in the Social Security office, getting lost on the way there, or forgetting about Wednesday night's reservation at Aquarelle...Okay, there it is. The root of my crankiness.  Wednesday night was the last night of Austin Restaurant Week and where was I? At home on my computer, not eating delicious french food.

I have a confession to make. I've suffered a blogging setback that has me rethinking the direction of Austin Food Journey. The setback isn't really a setback, but more of a consequence of my own stupidity. Without going into detail, my choices are:
  1. Change the title of Austin Food Journey, which is basically starting over with a new url
  2. Keep the same url, but redirect to a different domain name (That's the cyber equivalent of fixing it with chicken wire and duct-tape.)
  3. Start a completely new blog with a new focus (I'm liking that option the most.)
  4. Give up on blogging altogether and live my life
As I've been pondering the situation over the last few days, I realized that I'm in kind of a state of mourning. I really enjoyed my life as a "food blogger." I liked having a focus and feeling a part of a community, even if I was just barely part of it. But now it's time to use what I've learned and move on. I don't have the details together quite yet, but when I figure it all out, you'll be the first to know. And, trust me, it's going to be a lot more fun than food. In fact, I just bought a new pair of shoes with the money that I would have spent on fine dining at Aquarelle. I'm feeling better already. So, stay tuned...

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Restaurant Week Vol. 1: Hudson's on the Bend

I eat meat. Yeah, I eat meat like nobody's business. ~ Tina Fey in Baby Mama
My sister and I kicked off Austin Restaurant Week with a Sunday night dinner at Hudson's on the Bend. The last time I ate at Hudson's was in 1986 when I met my soon-to-be husband turned ex-husband's parents for the first time. Despite the nerves and the free flowing alcohol, I remember enjoying a fantastic meal. I don't know why it's taken me over a year since moving back to Austin to give it another try, but ARW offered the perfect excuse.

Between the two of us, we ate bits and pieces of a menagerie of wildlife that included duck, buffalo, deer, rabbit, boar, fish, and quail. I'd say we were only a frog and a cat shy from eating the entire Beatrix Potter collection. I would feel guilty, except that I don't, because all of these adorable creatures are just so yummy. R.I.P. Jemima Puddle-Duck.

My sister and I both chose the lobster bisque as our appetizers. Before we even tasted the bisque we were impressed with the porcelain Bernardaud china upon which it was served. Stupid me, I didn't take a picture, but, this is what the bowls looked like.

Back to the food. The bisque was served with a bit of fanfare. The bowls were served empty save for a hunk of lobster claw and a slice of Asiago cheese. Then, the server poured the hot soup over everything in the bowl. It was a little heavy on the tomato base, but had a good kick of chipotle spice.

For the entree, my sister ordered the mixed grill, which accounted for a good portion of the animal products. The mixed grill was a sampler of grilled venison, rabbit, house-made sausage and grilled buffalo all topped with different sauces. It was a perfect dish to highlight what Hudson's does best, preparing wild game for civilized people who secretly yearn for the taste of a fresh kill.

I ordered the pecan smoked duck, shingled with diver scallops.The duck was prepared very well as were the scallops, but the combination seemed kind of pointless. The pairing of shredded sweet potato and wild boar confit as a side dish, however, was inspired.

The menu listed the dessert as Chambord Chocolate Mousse with Legs of Fudge. Served in a large wine glass, chocolate fudge lined the bottom with chocolate mousse filling up the rest of the glass. The "legs" were created by mimicking the way swirling wine forms petal shaped streaks on the inside of the glass. The fact that I ate all of it and tried to scrape the chocolate off the sides of the glass indicates that I liked it a lot. Because, I eat chocolate. Yeah, I eat chocolate like nobody's business.

Hudson's on the Bend on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Walton's Flaky and Stupid

That title might sound a bit harsh, but after my experience at Walton's Fancy & Staple, it's accurate, if not a bit too kind. Question: What's the most unforgivable mistake that a restaurant can make? It's not bad food. Any kitchen can have an off day or night. The worst mistake, in my opinion, is ignoring your customers.

Walton's is another Sandra Bullock project, a combination cafe/gift shop/florist, which means it does none of those things very well. The FTD flower arrangements are nothing you couldn't buy at HEB at half the cost. The gifts are a hodgepodge of overpriced candles and vintagey things. The counter service cafe offers hot sandwiches and bakery items.

We arrived on a Saturday at 11:15, just before the lunch rush. We ordered a monte cristo and a ham and cheese sandwich, got our number and sat down. After waiting for 30 minutes, we saw a guy bringing soup to another table and asked him to check on our order. After waiting another ten minutes with no word from the guy, we went up to the counter to find him behind the cash register ringing up orders. No eye contact. In fact, no one in the place made eye contact or noticed our empty number 8 table as they walked by.

We finally got someone's attention and asked for a refund, since we had an appointment and had been waiting for 45 minutes. She went to the back to fetch a manager who came out and opened the cash register to retrieve our refund. No one offered us an explanation regarding the delay so we still don't know if they forgot to put in our order or if it's typical for them to take an hour to make two sandwiches. We'll never know. Oh, and they never apologized for wasting our time.  Question 2: What's the most unforgivable thing that anyone can steal from you? The answer? Time. We'll never get those 45 minutes back. Then again, they'll never get our business back, so I guess we're even.

Walton's Fancy and Staple on Urbanspoon

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Austin Foodie News & Events

Maybe you don't spend as much time on the webs as I do, in which case, you should be proud of yourself for making wise lifestyle choices. That doesn't mean you can't benefit from some of the information I've picked up along the way. Things are happening in the Austin food world. Important things. Things you need to know.
  • Antonelli's Cheese Shop at 4206 Duval in Hyde Park opened earlier this month and is well on it's way to attracting a loyal following of local cheese lovers. The shop features cheese (including local varieties), charcuterie, beer, wine, chocolate and more. The owners and staff are friendly and knowledgeable, so you don't feel overwhelmed with all the choices. Check out this great write-up on Thrillist
  • That Takes The Cake! Austin cake show and competition will be held Sat. Feb. 27th from 10:30 to 6:00 and Sun. Feb. 28th from 9 to 5 at the Crockett Center, 10601 N. Lamar. Cost: $8/day or $14/weekend with $1 off for donation to the Capital Area Food Bank. Entries are brought from all over the country and are on display throughout the weekend. Entries include all skill levels from children to masters and all types of decorating techniques and themes. I'm hoping this show will inspire my daughter, Ally, that means you, to start using some of her extensive cake decorating supplies.
  • Bad to the Bone Chef Smackdown, Sat. Feb. 27th 6-9:30 pm at Stubb's, admission $35. Celebrity chef challenge to benefit the Sustainable Food Center. Great food and live music.
  • Austin Restaurant Week starts this Sunday, Feb. 28th! There are 60 restaurants participating, but some of the more popular ones fill up quickly, so make your reservations early. I've reserved spots at Hudson's on the Bend, Aquarelle and Green Pastures. You can view all the menus on the ARW site and I must say, they are drool-worthy. Rabbit Ravioli with walnut cream, or Chipotle Lobster Bisque? Puhleez! At $25 to $35 for a fabulous meal, who can resist?
  • The prestigious James Beard Foundation recognizes Austin's culinary mojo with nominations in three categories. La Condesa was named a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in the Southwest along with Uchi's Executive Chef, Tyson Cole as Best Chef and Philip Steer, also of Uchi as Outstanding Pastry Chef. Read about it on the Forklore blog.
  • Learn more about the Slow Food movement in Austin by attending the Slow Food Austin session on Thursday, March 4th, 7-8:30 pm at Flatbed Press, 2830 E. MLK. The session will be moderated with a panel of three local food industry professionals: a farmer, a chef, and a buyer/forager. Bring your questions and, if you like, a dish to share.
  • Happy Hour at Wink, March 18th, 5-7pm. A portion of the proceeds to benefit Slow Food Austin.
  • Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival is coming April 15-18. Wine tastings and food pairings are scattered among venues all over the city and priced individually from $25 to $150 per event. But, if your discretionary funds are lacking, you can do like me and sign up to be a volunteer. There are a variety of volunteer duties available from taking tickets to pouring wine. I've never done this before, so I can't offer a qualified recommendation, but I will report back to let you know how it went.
  • Sometimes my food journey takes me far from the real world. In the real world too many people are hungry. Sadly, hunger exists, not as a metaphor, but as a burning, day in and day out desperation. Here is Michael Ventura's poignant look at what many of our neighbors are experiencing right now. One way to help, volunteer for the 2010 Crop Hunger Walk, Mar. 6th & 7th.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writer's Block Awareness Week

When I started this blog I vowed to never begin any post with the phrase, "I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while..." So, I won't say that. Besides, nine days isn't really that long, right? Hello? Where did everybody go?

Rather than make excuses, I've decided to dedicate this past week to Writer's Block awareness. Coincidentally, one of the best cures for writer's block is perusing the Official Calendar of Awareness Days. Okay, it doesn't really cure the block, but it adds another diversion to my online adventures, while giving me a full week of content to lure you back into my Google Analytics lair.

I have compiled an Austin dining guide to help you observe these important days of national awareness:

February 20 - Clam Chowder Day!
Austin is pretty far away from New England, Boston and Manhattan making it a challenge to find clam chowder. There are a few options, though.
  • San Francisco Bakery & Cafe - 2900 W. Anderson Lane  Voted Austin's best New England chowder. 
  • Manny Hattans - Gateway Shopping Center Serves clam chowder on Fridays and Sundays which is kind of a problem since Feb. 20 is a Saturday. You'll have to figure this out on your own. Altering time is not within the scope of my blogging responsibilities. 
  • Quality Seafood - 5621 Airport Blvd. Serving clam chowder as the soup of day. Call and remind them that it's Clam Chowder day and they will probably make up a special batch.
February 22 - Single Tasking Day!
This is open to interpretation, but why not honor this day by hitting up Austin's one-hit-wonder restaurants. I've listed some of my favs, but if you need more ideas, check out the dish roulette feature at
February 23 - Curling Is Cool Day!
Watch the extensive Olympic coverage of the women's competition at one of these fine establishments.
  • Cool River Cafe - 4001 W. Parmer Ln. Cocktails, curling and cougars at Cool River. Too bad it's not Alliteration Day. 
  • That's all I got.
February 24 - Inconvenience Yourself Day!
The three biggies when it comes to inconvenience - crowds, driving distance and expense can be met with these Austin spots. 
  • Jack Allen's Kitchen - 7720 Hwy 71 W. Located at the Y in Oak Hill, it's a bit of a drive from Northwest Austin, but judging by the crowded bar and the hour long wait, it must be worth the inconvenience.
  • Justine's Brasserie - 4710 E. 5th. Drive to far east Austin, wait two hours for a table in a crowded bar and you will have paid tribute to this auspicious day. Expense-wise, it's not too bad. Unfortunately, that applies to the food, too.
February 25 - National Chili Day!
When I think chili, I think chili dogs. 
  • Frank - 407 Colorado Choose a chili cheese dog or chili cheese waffle fries. Don't forget the cold beer. 
  • Man Bites Dog - 1311 S. First St.  Chili Cheese Dog 
  • Texas Chili Parlor - 1409 Lavaca  Pick your poison; Mild, Spicy or XXX chili. No dog.
February 26 - National Personal Chef's Day
What a great excuse to try a different type of dining experience. Austin has lots of personal chef and meal delivery services. Try one of these.
  • Chef Veggie - Happy and healthy eating by Cristina Carolan
  • Bella Food - Catering, personal chef service, and meal planning. 
  • Urban Gourmet - Personalized menu plan and chef service
February 27 - Open That Bottle Night
Plenty of options for this one. Take your pick. 
  • Apothecary Wine Bar - 4800 Burnet Road. A great addition to SoBur. Coffee and wine bar with wi-fi, live music and sandwiches. 
  • Simplicity Wine & Eats - 4801 Burnet Road. Right across the street, serving wine and excellent tapas. 
  • House Wine - 408 Josephine St. Great wine and cheese plates.

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