Monday, March 24, 2008

My Beachside Paradise

I never really feel cool enough to eat here (it's popular with the uber-untrendy crowd), but I've lived on the East-siiide before, so I feel I have some street cred. Probably not. El Chilito is not to be confused with El Chile, which is owned by the same people, but it feels light years away. Every time I pull up to El Chilito, I imagine the cleaners across the street is really the ocean, and my darling little El Chilito is a simple walk-up beachside eatery. The sunny colors add a sense of cheeriness to the Manor Road Restaurant Row.

My old roommate turned me on to this joint, it's a college kid's dream. The breakfast tacos can cure any hangover -- not that I've tried, but I've heard. I prefer to hit El Chilito mid-afternoon. Lunchtime--there's a line, dinner--a line. If you time it just right, no crowd, no fuss -- Saturdays around 4PM seem perfect.

The menu is about as uncomplicated as you can get. Only a few items that you can order as tacos or burrritos, splurge on the side of black beans and rice, it's worth it. My favorites are the Cochinita Pibil and the Picadillo, I always request the corn tortillas because, well, just because. The Picadillo is as close to authentic as anything I've ever had in Texas. Picadillo is typically a spicy ground beef with cilantro, potatoes, tomatoes, it's comfort food at its yummiest. The Cochinita is legendary, I've tried making it at least three different times, but it never tastes as good. This is a dish that takes some serious lovin' ... it's achiote and citrus marinated pork (usually marinated over 3-4 days), steam roasted in banana leaves. Cochinita is usually topped off with pickled onions, a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt. A girl can't ask for more. Okay, well maybe a frozen sangria and the banana paleta, but no more.

If you have time to stay and eat, do. All of the tables are on the screened in porch, but no worries, during the winter you have blankets and heaters, during the summer, you're under the shade. Everything must be ordered with a side of patience because tacos this good, need time, but don't worry just order a side of the spicy guacamole and enjoy!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Uchi, I hate you. You have officially ruined every other sushi restaurant for me. I can no longer enjoy the ubiquitous California roll, or the seaweed salad that I used to begin every sushi meal with. It's just not the same.

My mouth is watering just thinking about the Maguro Sashimi and Goat Cheese. Yeah, you can have maguro sashimi at any Japanese restaurant in Austin, but where-oh-where can you find the freshest tuna, served on sweet, crisp slices of Fuji apples, and the creamiest-of-creamy goat cheese, all of which is drizzled in pumpkin seed oil. Killer. Sure, it’s $17 and we’re only talking about an appetizer, but I just can’t start an Uchi meal without it. Oh, and how do I love thee, Brie Tempura Ringo?! Sure, it’s probably not very Japanese; it’s lightly fried, creamy brie with sweet potato chips and apple chutney. I’m crying, just thinking about it, okay maybe not, but seriously! And, I always have to order at least one Shag Roll. It’s a lightly tempura fried roll, filled with avocado, sundried tomato, white soybean paper and salmon, drizzled in salmon and squid ink, sumiso sauce. Don’t even get me started on how delicious this roll is, all reasonably priced at $14. I also love the Crudo, which is thinly sliced sea bass, coated in grapeseed oil, garlic and black pepper, drenched in a citrus vinaigrette, amazingly light and refreshing. You can find all of these on the permanent menu, but Uchi also offers a daily menu that takes advantage of what’s fresh. And, I think, it allows the chef’s real creativity to shine through. The desserts are pretty outstanding, but to be perfectly frank, I’d rather have an Elvis from Amy’s ice cream.

Uchi does have a few downsides: it will ruin all other Japanese restaurants for you, so don’t go if you can’t make it back at least once a month, which brings me to number two: it’s expensive. If you’re taking a date, you probably won’t leave without dropping $100. It's completely worth it to hit the happy-hour, which is from opening until 7 p.m. Let’s be honest, you’ll want a glass of Prosecco or a bamboo shooter of cold, unfiltered sake. And, the portions aren’t huge, they’re intended for sharing, so you end up ordering more than you would at other restaurants.

Uchi, you are single-handedly killing my bank account, and I love you for it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fine Dining, Airstream Style

Last Friday, a few co-workers and I decided to grab a bite to eat at Flip Happy Crepes. I know, crepes for lunch? Doesn’t sound very filling, besides, aren't they only sweet? Wrong! Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always associated crepes with IHOP, similar to diner food gone wrong.

We got there right at noon on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, so as you would expect, there was a line. Oh, that’s right the girls of Flip Happy, well, they call an Airstream trailer home. Arrive early unless you want to share a meal over a TV tray. There are only a few picnic tables to go around, and TV trays don’t balance well on gravel.

We stood in line for about ten minutes and I could not make a decision. Did I want the Ham & Gruyere? Yes. The Spinach & Feta? Yes. The Smoked Salmon? Yes. Or, should I defy conventional wisdom and just order dessert? The Nutella & Banana was absolutely calling my name. Thankfully, there was a small note next to the order window marked special. Perfect! I say, go with the special, whenever possible. You know it’s going to be a good deal, and probably something that’s not always on the menu. Luckily, the special of the day was the Moroccan. Fantastic! It was just spicy enough with tons of sautéed veggies and the best part, rotisserie chicken, not that "twice reheated" mystery meat.

My friends and I did decide to order a dessert course; after all, we were celebrating a birthday. We ended up ordering the Nutella & Banana. It was the perfect crepe-to-banana-to-Nutella ratio. I think I may have even noticed some attempted bite stealing at the table, er, tray.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On a recent trip down Guadalupe...

My friend Kate and I recently visited Vino Vino on Guadalupe and 42nd Street. It’s worth the trip just to read the menu, full of personal experiences and lotsa sarcasm. On my visit, the by-the-glass menu had only Italian wines found on the owner’s recent visit through the country. Kate and I were interested in eating elsewhere for dinner, so, we decided on the cheese plate. Absolutely worth the $15, to my surprise. I couldn’t get enough of the Gruyere from Dublin – Texas, that is. Out of this world! The bartenders seemed knowledgeable – even when tested to find a wine for a picky drinker, like myself. I lean more towards sweet white wines, but I was encouraged to try a light red and was pleasantly surprised. They don’t cheat you on the wine either, a nice big pour to enjoy. On a side note, when I visit a wine bar I want overstuffed leather club chairs and soft music, think Ella or Nat. Vino offers more bar space than lounge, and the music a little overwhelming, but it's definitely worth a visit.

Later that night, Kate and I stopped by El Greco, on Guadalupe and 30th, for a “quick” bite to eat. Kate and I decided to share a chicken Gyro plate. I’d never had a chicken Gyro before, but I like to try new things... think of a yummier version of chicken fajitas with a super thick tortilla. The food was amazing, too bad it took 45 minutes to make its way to our table. Athina, the owner’s mother, did make things better by bringing over an amazing salad while we waited. It's a new restaurant, so there still seem to be a few kinks, but it's got potential. Don’t even get me started on the baklava, it was (as Kate would say) ridiculous, pick-it-up off the sidewalk good, if you know what I mean!

In the Beginning

OK, I know, deep-fried and covered in queso? EW! Sounds healthy, right? Those familiar with Central Texas cuisine know that we have our own unique blend of food. Whether it’s deep-fried and/or covered in queso (that’s melted cheese for all of you non-Texans out there), Texas is its own gastronomic adventure.

This space is reserved for all of those places in between. Sure, every now and again, everyone needs a little guiltless indulgence in all things fried or cheesy. Deep Fried, Covered in Queso is a place for my musings on all sorts of Central Texas cuisine.