It’s always nice to be with family for a traditional Christmas dinner. Our hosts, my sister Lucy and brother in-law Bill are beyond gracious. Growing up in a military family with a European mother and living oversees made me a world citizen before I knew I was American. In the last few years I’ve understood how much honor and courage means to me. It takes courage to face the ups and downs, the battle of life. Generally I prefer a more aesthetic approach, but one rises to meet challenges with grit, a quality I learned at home. Missing Aurora, who traveled north to Buffalo for a white (and frigid) Christmas, we were warm but not as bright.
The tables turned to more down home fare at the Salt Lick, as I meandered out to meet my sister Carol, Mike (my other brother in-law) and Dick, in from California and up for ribs. Holy smoke, I believe it has expanded threefold (like my waistline) but the food is still authentic and the people friendly. Except in the parking lot, where the feeding frenzy prompted snapping carnivores to lose some holiday cheer. We got our cheer back at the Duchman Family Winery (formerly Mandola’s) where we sipped some reds and whites, and split North and South. It’s probably clear to most who venture into this blog that I’m “big on Austin” but honestly, where else can you drive out in the country for great barbecue, enjoy the rolling hills and fields, cypress creeks, vineyards, an ass or two and Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple? The evidence speaks for itself. I hope you stay merry through the New Year and into 2011!
This weekend I made it to Full English with Bill and to the new Soup Peddler/Juice Box hybrid with Dottie. Full English breakfast was less together than I imagined, but this is a new establishment and I have high hopes for its success. The baked items and homemade chutneys are excellent. We were less impressed by the English breakfast. Bill’s suggestion that they plump up their plate with a more generous portion of mushrooms, a second slice of toast and a larger roasted tomato is a good one. The quality of the ingredients was very high, all local, organic or natural and homemade. They are offering a high tea for the holidays which I look forward to and I will be back to try another breakfast in the next few weeks.
The alliance of the Soup Peddler and Juice Box was born of mutual interest. Soup is popular in the Winter and Juice in summer. Thus, offering them together year round should boost the seasons for each. The New England clam chowder was delicious and the pineapple aguas frescas had little pomegranate seeds floating in it, very fresh. Standing on the border between 78704 and 78745, it represents the best of both. We got the funk, say it loud, keep it proud.
Dinner found me in North Austin at the Peony Restaurant for a quick take out meal. While you may have problems downloading the menu, it’s worth a visit. I’ll wait until dining at the attractive, “casually elegant” restaurant to post a review. The sauce was flavorful and light with generous portions of fresh seafood with the pork fried rice fluffy, not oily. Looking forward to a future dining in experience.
Dim sum at Fortune for a birthday celebration led me deeper into North Austin, this time at Braker in the “China Town” complex of Asian shops and eateries. Dim Sum gives new meaning to the term fast food, whirling past at lightning speed. The conversation kept pace and two lazy susans got quite a workout. Savory bites of many appetizers with fresh, spicy condiments, who can complain? The large dining room filled with light from gilded age chandeliers and silk wall hangings convinced me that I would walk out the door into the streets of Singapore. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit. Even with the multi-national collection of families enjoying rolling carts of tasty delights, there was an insular, old world feeling, which of course dissipated as soon as we walked out into the parking lot. Normally I like smaller, less bright and quaint eateries, but the noisy human busyness complimented the experience. Two thumbs up.
I begin to wonder if there is a typical dining day in Austin. I started out at one of the best Mexican breakfast options in town, El Meson on Burleson Rd in SE Austin. There is something mysterious about this spot, but the food isn’t it. Great tacos, red hot but very flavorful hot sauce (you have to get there early for the really spicy one) and the best nopalitos and egg taco I’ve ever had. Bill swears by the chorizo and potato tacos. It’s self-serve and unvarnished, but home cooked goodness permeates the atmosphere. On a more pedestrian note, Dottie and I ate lunch at Scholtzky’s on South Lamar after walking Addy (the chihuahua with a Napoleon complex) around Lady Bird Lake. I wouldn’t mention it, but mid-way through my salad a magnificent rooster strolled by looking for a lunch snack. The staff said he comes by every day to visit, making out like a bandit I’m sure. I’ve seen some chickens loose in the woods by Lady Bird Lake before, so my guess is he makes the rounds; who knows where he has dinner?
After washing my car on Manchaca Rd., I noticed signs along the street for fresh, organic produce and eggs. I saw that a new cafe had opened with a large 78745 tag. Upon further investigation, I discovered Full English an English breakfast cafe and bakery that also serves high tea during the holidays. Their baked goods are all natural, mostly organic as are their eggs and bangers and their homemade chutney. What a find! I haven’t eaten there yet but did make off with some hearty raisin shortcakes that were delicious. They sell their baked goods at two South Austin Farmer’s markets. I knew about the Sunset Valley Market but the Austin Urban Farmer’s Market is one I will need to visit. The next time I’m out and about I will bring my camera.
Bill and I had fun in San Antonio, staying at the Hotel Havana on the Riverwalk. I was given a membership to the McNay Museum as an early Christmas gift, signaling the start of a new series of photo abstractions. I’ve included a few, but most are in development. Friday evening we dined at the famed Liberty Bar in its new location in the King William district (housed in a former convent). A lovely meal, nice appetizers and a particularly tasty Cotes du Rhone, easily 3.75 stars. Apparently, Black Friday was cause for celebration and a river parade, adding a little glitter to the experience and a lot of traffic. The Havana Bar was a fabulous dungeon with underground cellar or hotel elevator entrances, good drinks and quaint alcoves. While it was busy, Bill, Carol and I managed to take over a sitting room with little fanfare. On Saturday we visited the Pearl Brewery farmer’s market, had a drab cup of coffee and a questionable taco. Off to La Villita looking for blankets then back to the King William district for an outstanding breakfast at Tito’s. For a convenient overnight trip, this was a lot of fun. I recommend everything but the Hotel Havana for a quiet night’s sleep. Charm trumps comfort there.
The East Side King food trailer at the Liberty Bar lived up to its press. While the menu sports a number of fried items, the brussels sprouts and beets were lightly dusted, not crusted. Cilantro, fresh jalapeno and a smattering of spicy condiments made for a tasty snack. The chicken was tender and fresh 3.25 stars.
The Bombay Bistro Restaurant in the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center brings more savory Indian fare to South Austin. Tarka offers great Indian food to go and a slightly noisy, modern ambiance. Bombay Bistro offers decent music to accompany a diverse menu and very attentive service. The lunch buffet, served every day, does not disappoint. The variety of dishes, wonderful sauces, “street food” and delicious desserts make me want to go back again this week. They have a full bar and comfortable, tasteful decor for a pleasant dinner experience. It’s not hard to ignore the TV when your taste buds have so much to decipher. 3.5 stars.
Circle the food wagons, are the days of restaurants numbered?
Strolling Ladybird lake anticipating the first annual trailer food festival. Music, foods from around the world, kids, people of every stripe. Classic Austin, all ages no holds barred Auditorium Shores – we’re in the dog park don’t you know. I’m not sure I will go to Pick up Stix any time soon (the only line that was less than 2o minutes long) but I’ll be on the lookout for new and exotic trailer food in South Austin and on Rainy Street. I do recommend the Fish trailer on South Congress and 2nd. Fun to sit curbside and watch the zoo pass by or, alternatively, to be exhibit A.