Posts Tagged ‘Peach’

Austin Food Trailers; East Side King and Odd Duck

Friday, June 18th, 2010
Get the flash player here:

I am beginning to learn that a die-hard foodie visiting Austin should probably ignore most of the restaurant and set about hitting the food trailers. While San Francisco has a handful of specialty taco trucks — we boast a crème brûlée truck and one that serves frogs legs — but nothing as expansive and diverse as Austin’s food trailers. Even my hostess has been surprised at the shear number that has popped up in such a short time.

Our first round of visiting trailers occurred during lunch time. It was an attempt to hit Gourdoughs that we learned that not all of the trailers are open during the day and that an early evening venture was going to be necessary. Our first stop was at East Side King, located behind a bit of a dive bar, Liberty. Unlike most of the other trailers I saw, this one was hidden from view and you would have to know where it is and when it is open (after 7:00 p.m.). I was also informed that Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it is open until 2:00 a.m. and many of the local chefs can be found heading there after their own establishments have closed down. The bar is amenable and has a great selection which also enables the diners to grab a drink while waiting for the trailer to open.

Of all the trailers I visited, this was one of the smallest in size and one of the most artistically decorated and what came forth was incredibly impressive. Quite a lot of food was ordered for not a lot of money starting with Poor Qui Buns, roasted pork belly in steamed buns with Hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchee, and green onions. Delightfully tender pork belly, nestled within perfectly steamed buns. So often the buns are over steamed and turn gummy, but this was not the case here. With just enough accountrement and buns to not overpower the meat, these were a great offering. Besides the pork buns, there was also an order Derek’s Favorite Chicken Buns, the same perfect buns holding small bites of tender fried chicken with a touch of spicy Thai mayo.

Considering the giant Cubano sandwich I ate earlier that day, I was happy for some vegetable options. A Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad was a bit on the spicy side for me. Since Brussels sprouts are not in season, it was not a surprise that they were more of a part of a whole, than a showcased single ingredient. Served with shredded cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, basil, cilantro, and jalapeño, there seemed to be more cabbage and seasoning than anything. I did appreciate the bit of fried steamed bun as a “crouton” though. We also shared the Green Papaya salad and Beet Home Fries. The green papaya salad was quite good — about what I have had at better restaurants in San Francisco — and the fried beets were just plain interesting. I don’t think I can remember an occasional when I have ever had a deep-fried beet and the crispy exterior complemented the firm, tender interior. Served with classically Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise (yes, it IS different!) and a bit of Shichimi tougarashi, these were quite a treat.

Eric was the guy working the trailer the evening I visited and he was accommodating despite my sneaking in to get photos, answering questions and doing all of the prep, cooking, and service himself. What surprised me was the fact of tableside service. Yes, we were given a number after we placed our order and I assumed we would be called when our order was ready. Heck, there were easily a dozen people there, waiting for food. Instead, Eric brought the food out himself when he easily could have just called from the trailer and had us pick up our own food. Also, our entire meal was under $30 and that just blows me away.

Despite being mostly full from East Side King, stalwart gourmets that we are, Jane and John drove me over for my much-anticipated Gourdough’s visit. And while we were waiting for our pile of fried dough, we were able to sample a few of the offerings from Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. Jane informed me that the proprietor of Odd Duck, Bryce Gillmore, cut his culinary teeth in his father Jack’s kitchen of Z’ Tejas Grill. This may have given him a little advantage which the people of Austin would be crazy to not take advantage of. While waiting for doughnuts, Jane ordered two dishes, a slice of grilled zucchini bread atop which sat some freshly-sliced grilled peaches, a bit of goat cheese, and a large chunk brunoise of vegetables, zucchini mostly. This combination showed integrity of ingredients and thoughtfulness on the part of the chef; the peach was just firm enough to hold up to grilling while still depicting ripe flavors that complemented the creaminess of the goat cheese.

Another open-face dish was shared, ciabatta toast served with chunks of rabbit leg, grilled squash, eggplant, and goat feta. Again, there is a great deal of consideration given to the combination of ingredients. There is ample freshness in the vegetables with juicy, delectable rabbit. No hint of dryness was detected in the meat, juxtaposing well with the bright vegetables and slightly charred flavor applied to the bread, giving a great crunch against the tender meat.

At this location, we saw many showing up with their own wine and beer and it saddened me that I may not be able to go back to this particular trailer before my departure. The two dishes we tried were a total of $10 and their entire menu could be had for a mere $32; again, a screaming deal. Tiring so much of the $28 entrées in San Francisco and other, large cosmopolitan cities, this form of dining — if truly manageable with food and labor costs — is a sign of how things SHOULD become. I am a huge fan of small plates and lots of flavors and I have often lamented that even the small-plates restaurants have to contend with dramatic overhead, thereby driving up the costs, making it not even that cost-effective way to dine. To scour the trailers of Austin is an enviable way for foodies to taste through literally hundreds of trailers with innumerable variations of a potential meal.

East Side King:
East Side King (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon
Odd Duck:
Odd Duck Farm to Trailer on Urbanspoon

Ubuntu – My Church.

Monday, August 3rd, 2009
Get the flash player here:

I repeatedly said that for me, going to Ubuntu is like going to church; my spirit is awakened, wounds in the soul are healed, and exaltation is experienced. I went in yesterday on the tail end of a very bad day and left with a sense of spiritual renewal. It is quite frankly, my favorite restaurant in the world and with the exception of one course (the carta de musica), every single dish that was served was brand new to me so my sense of wonder at the artistry coming from Jeremy and Deannie Fox continues to appreciate. As usual, I called ahead to pre-order a tasting menu (not yet available on a day-to-day basis, I understand, but something planned for the future). So what was served may not be on the standard menu…  My biggest regret is that my new camera dysfunctioned by the fourth course. Hopefully the guest I was dining with will give me a link to his photos since I have so few. When we arrived, I ordered a bottle 2007 Seps Estate Napa Valley Viognier for the first part of the meal. For the latter part, I brought with us a bottle of 1978 Château Beychevelle, Saint Julien. The Viognier proved a perfect pairing for the “cold” dishes and by the time our hot dishes arrived, the age and softness of the Beychevelle worked excellently as well.

1. Cool ‘Athena’ MELON and LEMONGRAS purée with whipped coconut milk, ‘diva’ CUCUMBER, basil seed “caviar.” A year ago I had the slice of melon which had been brûléed in a different, watermelon-based soup. Now it was paired with a creamier coconut milk soup but heightened with the basil seed caviar and cool, crisp cucumber. A beautiful start.

Immediately after our soup, our utensils were whisked away and we were told the next few courses were to be dined upon with our fingers.

2. Crunchy RADISHES, crème fraîche with nori, mustard-banyuls, HONG VIT, and black salt. Served on a hunk of sheet rock, the radishes were laid out atop the layer of decadently-scented crème fraîche. We had great fun scooping up the dressing with the radishes and when the vegetables were gone, scooping up the dressing with chunks of bread.

3. PADRONS with flowering ‘banana’ MINT, chickpeas in Napa Smith ale, sauce romesco, smoked maldon. This was a two-part dish; sweet fried peppers were topped with fritters of clustered, fried chickpeas. Served alongside was the Romesco sauce. I’m not sure which were enjoyed more, the pure essence of the padron peppers or the batter-encasing chickpeas.

4. Carta de Musica with virtually the entire SUMMER GARDEN, barely dressed with ’round pond’ olive oil, lemon and sea salt, truffled pecorino. Eating this without utensils was a new experience; more visceral and personal. Instead of the usual long, silvers of Pecorino cheese, now the slivers were rolled up into rounds and it made it easier to scoop up the bounty of fresh vegetables.

5. A simple slice of ‘gem’ avocado, ‘cape’ GOOSEBERRY, local sea salt, cast-iron bread. A whole version of this avocado was served so that we could see just how monstrously huge it was and our charming waitress delivered it as “Av-foie-cado” has it has the highest fat content of any other type of avocado. Simply served, we were given large slices served next to a simple Cape Gooseberry and preserves. We would take a chunk of the avocado and spread it on the warm, salty flat bread which was served in a warm, cast-iron skillet (yes, at this point we were given our utensils back!). I was reminded of an anecdote where someone was served a simple peach as a dessert at Chez Panisse and now understand how the brilliant fresh taste of a single ingredient can be so impressive.

6. ‘Forono’ BEETS baked in a ROSE GERANIUM salt crust, ‘alpine’ STRAWBERRY, pistachio with soy milk, AMARANTH. Before this dish was served, the waitress brought out a Le Creuset cast iron skillet to show us the decorative smiley face that had been designed in the salt crust. When plated, we were each presented with quenelles of roasted beets, plated with the unctuous sauce and contrasted delightfully with the small, powerful strawberries.

7. ‘Oxheart’ CARROT mille feulle, NASTURTIUM panade, purée of peach and ‘noyau’, peppery NASTURTIUMS, ‘delfino’ CILANTRO. The ‘noyau’ was their version of a spicy mayonnaise. So much creamy goodness in this beautiful dish colored all with orange — from the carrots to the peaches. So rich, the nasturtium panade was an amazing complement to the richness of the carrots and peaches.

8. Chowder of barely formed BEANS & SUNFLOWER hearts, ‘luscious’ CORN, barigoule, TARRAGON, future sunflower seeds. I was getting full but this dish simply blew me away. A plate of of the beans and sunflower hearts was presented and the sauce was ladled tableside from yet another Le Creuset pot.

9. A ‘sunburst’ SQUASH, named “Merrick” by Chef Jeremy, with young COURGETTES scented with our vadouvan, BASIL. It was over this dish that the four of us dining bonded. Our server brought “Merrick” out to introduce us before he was prepared. Named after the Elephant Man, John Merrick, he was a mis-shapen squash of incomparable beauty and guile. Being one who names her creations, I had an affinity to Merrick and all that he stood for; Jeremy’s garden, the transmutation of the basic into the extraordinary, and the personalization of the intimacy of the ingredients. Once served, Merrick was plated alongside some miniature versions of himself, smaller courgettes and paper-thin slices of the squash, fried and served alongside the steak-like portion of Merrick. The vadouvan was the perfect choice to supplement the sweetness of Merrick with the well-integrated aspects of basil that did not over power.

10. Freshly-dug POTATOES, roasted then crushed, SHISO salt, garlic butter with lemon and miso, FICOIDE GLACIALE, smoked NETTLE. This was yet another dish that was shown to us before it was plated and served; three roasted potatoes, a Peruvian purple, a French fingerling, and a Rose (Klondike?) potato. Showed whole, they were trussed up with herbs but once served, were chunked alongside the ice plant and smoked nettle. Served as a dipping sauce was the miso butter. I had to fight the temptation to just dump the dipping sauce all over the potatos, but it was great to taste the flavors of the potato [i]au natural[/i]. I was getting full but these were so hard not to eat.

11. “French Onion Soup,” heirloom ALLIUMS, Deannie’s brioche, LEEK ash, “midnight moon.” I was fairly convinced at this point that I was going to burst, but the serving of miniature Staub pots with the aroma of the melted Midnight Moon cheese drew me in. Small roasted onion were hidden under generous slices of Deannie’s brioche which were topped with the melted cheese. There was only a hint of broth as the true joy of a French Onion Soup [i]is[/i] the cheesy crouton after all. They essentially did away with the complication of cutting through cheese toast that is on top of a bowl of soup by doing away with most of the soup and leaving all the rich oniony, cheesy goodness.

I have to emphasize the progression of dishes, from cool and light to hearty and satisfying was brilliant. At the beginning, one of my guests expressed concern about the small servings; he was worried that he would still be hungry, eating nothing but small plates of light vegetable dishes. By the time we were in the middle of the chowder, his fears were assuaged and I had to caution him that we still had a way to go.


12. STRAWBERRY-hibiscus popsicles with ‘chocolate’ MINT. Served in a small shot glass, this was more of a clean, inviting palate cleanser. A juice with a bit of spritzer and yoghurt with the juice, small bites of tapioca were gems of strawberry flavor nestled on the bottom of the glass.

13. Stuffed SQUASH BLOSSOM fritters, stuffed with ‘santa rosa’ plum jam, NASTURTIUM ice cream, HONEYCOMB. The Fried Dough Ho in me was more than thrilled with this offering. The squash blossom was stuffed with jam, fried, and served on top of the ice cream. It was easier to go back to our earlier utensil-less fashion by scooping up the ice cream with the squash blossom and eating with with our hands.

14. Chocolate and BLACKBERRY soufflé with chocolate brittle and NASTURTIUM ice cream. Our server was downright giddy with the surprise ending as this was apparently a last-minute change to what had been planned for dessert. Perfect soufflés which were not too sweet were studded with fresh blackberries. I think the strength of this otherwise simple dessert was the fact that they were not overly sweet and the bites of fresh fruit were unexpected bites of richness. They were served with more of the nasturtium ice cream, a scatter of more berries, and sheets of chocolate brittle. But for me, it was all about the soufflé.
Ubuntu on Urbanspoon

Auberge du Soleil

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Over the weekend I agreed to meet a new friend for lunch in the East Bay. I was thinking something innocuous and friendly, like Fat Burger or some other unknown local eatery. Joe picked me up a BART and had other ideas; Napa’s famed Auberge du Soleil. Wow. All the years I lived in Napa, I had only had an occasional glass of bubbly or attended some private, catered event at the institution. I had never eaten off their menu…

We were seated on the terrace overlooking the valley that had been my home for so many years. There was some debate on how many courses to order and Joe forged through with one of my favorite philosophies: Order whatever you want. What a joy! Thankfully, bites were shared across the board so I got a good sampling of a fairly extensive menu. Joe was very sweet in letting me order the wine and considering the lovely warm weather, I opted for a 2002 Dr. Loosen Riesling which was lightly sweet with delicate hints of a floral aroma and a perfect balance of acidity. Overall, it was a great wine to pair with our day’s offerings…


Ubuntu – Napa Valley

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

I have dined at Ubuntu in Napa a number of times – but always for lunch. A full report from last November, with pictures, is viewable over here at eGullet. Fortune brought me back into the Napa valley on a Friday evening and I convinced my sister to join me to experience dinner. Fortune could not have smiled more fortuitously as chef Jeremy Fox had just returned from New York where he prepared a meal for the James Beard House – and it was this meal we was recreating as a tasting. There is no way to express how lucky we are to have the likes of Jeremy Fox and his wife, Deanie, in our vicinity. In my last few years of expansive eating, little compares to the inventiveness and imagination being expressed in this Yoga studio. Besides my recent Ursawa experience, through this meal, this restaurant has moved very near the top of my best-of list.

A few regrets that I did not snap pictures of every course, but hopefully a full description will suffice. Having heard much of the watermelon soup, I was thrilled that a shot glass amuse was our first taste. Cool Watermelon and Lemongrass Soup made with coconut milk, basil seed “caviar,” and mint, the inside of the glass had a small smear of crème fraîche and a fresh miniature pansy. Thick and unctuous, the watermelon was immediately barely discernable, but evident by the red color of the offering and the bright and clean flavor behind the rich coconut milk.