May 26, 2010

Eat Austin

M & I and the family were in Austin last weekend celebrating the Texas portion of my mother's two-state wedding, and in the process managed to squeeze in a few terrific meals. Friday night dinner was at El Arbol, which just enjoyed a little favorable/constructive ink in Texas Monthly (if you read this you'll know everything I know - well, all except for my now first-hand knowledge of the veal sweetbreads). Lunch Saturday was at Lambert's, dinner at Justine's Brasserie. So, more than anything this and the next installment will be thinly veiled plugs for some great eateries in the Capitol City. Hope they help.

Lambert's, Downtown Austin, lunch - To mention Austin's 'Fancy Barbecue?' joint at 2nd and Guadalupe would be to mention nothing new. It's been around since 2006 dishing up interesting takes on classic eats that seem to never disappoint. The Crispy Wild Boar Ribs and Brown Sugar and Coffee Rubbed Brisket are moist and complex throughout. A Cheddar-driven Cheeseburger and Pulled Pork Cuban Sandwich will simultaneously cure-what-ails-you and set you up for the remainder of the afternoon... perfect for fall Saturdays.  But pleasant though the grub may be, it's my opinion that you come for the food, you wait for the libations, and you stay for the merriment.

It's no secret that the real money is made from the bottle, and over the past few years I've noticed a lot of places beginning to take their cocktails seriously; it is in fact my good great hope that one day patrons will take their own cocktailing seriously enough that drink menus will be forsaken, but until then I suppose it's nice to provide a guide, which Lambert's does ably (in spite of the fact that they felt it necessary to add apricot to the Old Fashioned and peach to the Negroni). The Sazerac is certainly the real deal.

Something that Lambert's has done unequivocally right is setting-the-mood, taking obvious care to restore the Schneider Bros. Building in a sliver of downtown Austin that catches shadows from the in-progress Austonian and W Hotel and countless other new buildings that really do a wonderful job of pitching the city as the next Dallas or Atlanta (not to disparage either of those southern towns, but seriously, where's the soul?). So, cheers to the owners and their nod to historic preservation.   

On the weekend occasions I've been for lunch it's really hit or miss (the crowd, not the food), but at night Lambert's assumes the aura of a place doing serious business serving semi-serious food while never taking itself too seriously. So next time you go, avoid a reservation, belly up to the bar, and catch some live music upstairs before (or after) dinner.  

My Wood-Grilled Cheese Burger... 

... dipped in Baked Mac & Cheese.

May 21, 2010

No Work Friday...

Nostalgia - There was a time in my professional life when some friends and I would partake regularly in an outing we termed 'No Work Friday'. It followed the ritualistic pattern of showing up around 10a, taking a three-hour lunch at the Occidental Grill (where we'd each order a cheeseburger, the cheapest thing on the menu), and leaving early to start the weekend. Government workers all... thank you taxpayers. As we've gotten older, collectively added a few more degrees, moved to points elsewhere, and taken on increased responsibilities, NWF has become more exception than rule; today was one of those exceptions. 

Courtesy of an impromptu dinner conversation last night that exposed our hyper-familiarity with Saved by the Bell, I arrived this morning to a trivia challenge. Accepted. Naturally that sent me down a few time-killing wormholes, at which point I stumbled upon Google's homepage, today featuring a live-fire PAC-MAN game in honor of its 30th Anniversary.

And now I'm home. Heading for the Texas Coast. Trying to beat the oil spill. Leave.

I'm still very, very good at Pac-Man.

May 17, 2010

Le Grand Salon de Musique

Olmos Park, San Antonio - When someone with a "VIII" attached to his surname invites you and your wife to his grand salon de musique for a concert in honor of Frédéric François Chopin's 200th birthday - after taking a moment to raise an eyebrow out of sheer curiosity - the only thing to do is don the coat and get out the door.

Some friends of ours – or more accurately, some friends of friends – have rekindled the tradition of a Salon: “a gathering of intellectual, social, political, and cultural enthusiasts under the roof of an inspiring host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through music and conversation.” Or so went the description in the program we nabbed, where M and I were lucky enough to take front row seats for two virtuosic performances given by Jonathan Coombs (piano) and Matthew Zerweck (violin), respectively of Julliard and the Eastman School of Music.

That 9-ft piece of cured wood and iron in the left-hand corner is a 150th Anniversary Steinway (numbered). I've studied this company but have never actually seen one of its instruments; this guy has three. Twenty people in the room, and this was the Program:

Nocturne in F# Major - Chopin
Scherzo No. 2 - Chopin
Nocturne in C# minor - Chopin/Milstein
Sonata in E minor - Mozart
"Dreaming" from Sketches - Amy Beach
Songs my mother taught me - Dvorak/Kriesler
Rhapsodie Espagnole - Liszt

Was speaking w/ Jonathan afterwards, specifically about his performance of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole; “Where do you go, mentally, when you're playing? Because there isn’t a brain on the planet that can process the (I was informed) 28 THOUSAND notes in the 12 minute piece.” I almost felt like I was insulting him by asking the process of memorizing it, as though memorization didn’t do it justice. The notes seemed as much a part of him as his DNA. Turns out that it was the piece he played to get into Julliard. Naturally.

May 12, 2010

the Pearl's Shiny New Thing

Pearl Brewery, San Antonio - after a bit of a whirlwind month - in consecutive order: Houston's ROCC Tennis Tournament, Santa Barbara, Fiesta Week in the Alamo City, and San Miguel - the Z and I found ourselves w/ an all-too-rare free evening last Friday and decided to try out Johnny Hernandez' new joint, La Gloria Ice House. Word is that he trolled interior Mexico for a year, studying (to the extent that one can call it studying) its street meats for inspiration. What he brought back, likely in addition to an empty bottle of Cipro, has come to life in the the menu at La Gloria, which features tacos, tortas, sopes, ceviche, and a host of other items that make us gringos sound like amateurs when we try to pronounce them.

La Gloria is situated nicely at the back of the redeveloped Pearl Brewery and sits adjacent to the tip of the Riverwalk. Notwithstanding the 18-wheeler parking lot on the other side of the river it makes for delicious serenity in the middle of town. Perfect for cold beer drinking and unwinding over a plate of... whatever.

First out of the chute was the Tlayuda Tradicional, a fried corn tortilla enlaced w/ black beans and cheese and covered in fresh avo and tomato. The Ceviche Verde had just the right acidity w/o overpowering the flavors. One aside: a friend of mine (also a friend of the chef) claims to be the reason for this dish's being, having found the "perfect ceviche" while traipsing through Guatemala and, with the good sense to pester its maker for the recipe, brought it back for inclusion on the menu. Whether this is true or not I really don't care; whatever it's origins, the good people of San Antonio are enjoying it now.

The Torta Ahogada de Carnitas was the coup de gras. As my waistline will attest, I eat them whenever they present themselves and have yet to find one with which I disagree. La Gloria's was unique: present was the usual crusty, homemade, buttery sandwich roll, as well as the moist and tender fried pork. But what set it apart was the Chipotle sauce in which it swam, necessitating a fork and knife lest I wanted to ruin a perfectly good shirt.

All told, La Gloria is a terrific addition to the local fooderies at the Pearl.

Chef Hernandez, waxing poetic on the Other White Meat: "Speaking as a chef, pork offers me the Greatest latitude for creativity and what I mean by this, because of its texture, and its flavor neutrality it can handle applications from one extreme of the flavor scale to the other, I guess you can say it's Uncensored...."

And Homer Simpson, same topic... "(Lisa) I'm going to become a vegetarian." (Homer) Does that mean you're not going to eat any pork?" "Yes" "Bacon?" "Yes Dad" "Ham?" "Dad all those meats come from the same animal" "Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!"

May 5, 2010

Desayuno - San Miguel pt. 1

San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mex – Sometimes the best morning-after restaurant in town is the one in which you’re staying. Each time I’ve been to San Miguel de Allende, I’ve found it woefully unnecessary to travel more than 30-ft from my pillow to find some exquisitely prepared helping of whatever rendition of huevos the ladies whipped up that morning. Couple that with fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, melon), hand-squeezed orange juice, and thick, rich, hot coffee, and what you’ve got is a lively recipe that prohibits anything more than newspaper reading and foot propping.

Everything is just so simple and fresh, and centered predominantly around the egg - that incredible, edible egg.  They can be light (whites only w/ cilantro and queso fresco), or they can be heavy (the mother load plus cheddar and chorizo). In fact this more substantive recipe came in handy on a few furry-teeth mornings. Menudo, however, was completely out of the picture.  Adventurous though I may be in my culinary escapades, tripe is something that I only ingest by accident.

I found myself wondering why in the hell I don’t eat like this every morning. And then I remembered… it takes a lot of time to make something look that simple, and unfortunately daddy’s got to go to work, no matter how much I’d prefer to just **ck around in the kitchen for hours-on-end, roasting poblano peppers and perfecting my mole sauce for lunch before the siesta.