November 1st, 2016

Food Truck Series: Cazamance

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Food Trends, Food Trucks, Healthy, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

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Ubuntu: I am because we are. This is the sign that welcomes you to Cazamance, a West African inspired food truck in South Austin. The word “Ubuntu” literally translates into “human-ness,” which is the African philosophy of universal human connection. It’s this philosophy that inspires the unique and approachable food produced here.

Owned and operated by Chef Iba Thiam, who brings culinary experience from West Africa, France, New York, and, of Course, Austin, Cazamance operates by the ethos that delicious beverages and great-tasting food are the secret to making life better. I certainly can’t argue with that!

So let’s dive in to the 2nd installment of the Dish Bliss Austin food truck series and talk food…

Dakar Lamb Wrap

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The fatty earthiness of the lamb is balanced well with a sweet acidic tomato relish to give the wrap a surprisingly light flavor. The melted brie adds a pungent, creaminess that, while unexpected, works well within this scheme. The creamy Sriracha sauce served on the side really took this dish to the next level. The lamb itself could, however, have benefited from additional seasoning and a pinch of salt. Overall quite nice.

Vegan Curry

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I truly appreciate when a vegan dish offers bold flavors and heartiness, which are characteristically lacking in this category. That’s exactly what the vegan curry brought. Offered in either a wrap or on a bed of fresh spinach, as many of Chef Iba’s dishes are, the curry was well-rounded with good spiciness. It, like the lamb though, simply lacked that dash of salt to fully bring out all of those complex flavors.

Mafe Vegetables

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I went off menu to get this dish, and luckily for me, the Chef had some leftover from a catering event from the night before. A nice medley of vegetables and white beans stewed in a peanut butter sauce made the mafe hearty and satisfying. I would have preferred a little more heat along with, yet again, a pinch of salt, but overall flavorful and filling.

Yassa Chicken

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This was by far my favorite item. Tangy and tender pulled chicken with smoky poblano peppers came together ceremoniously under a generous sprinkling of salty feta cheese. I could’ve easily eaten three helpings of this gem. I chose to have this served on a bed of spinach, which was crisp and wonderfully fresh.

Piri Piri

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What a treat the Piri Piri was. Aromas of cinnamon and clove emit from the juicy smoked pulled pork. Flavorful and well-seasoned with a slight heat from the serrano sauce and a great textural contrast between the crispy pieces of pork and the soft starchiness of the plantain. This is the type of dish that keeps you coming back for more.

Fresh Young coconut

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Just consider this the cherry on top. A fresh, butcher cut coconut served with a straw. The fresh, sweet milk was the perfect palate cleanser for the complex seasonings. And, as an added touch of hospitality, April and Iba will happily split the coconut open for you after you finish the milk so you can eat the meat for dessert. Delightful!

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Thoughts

Aside from the under-seasoning of a few of the dishes I found Cazamance innovative, well executed, and crave-worthy. I appreciate the essence of their food and love its healthful qualities. In a landscape of tacos and chicken wings, Cazamance offers a deliciously unique alternative.

Location

4204 Manchaca Rd.
Austin, TX 78704

Located behind Radio Coffee and Beer.

512-769-9560

www.cazamance.com

October 14th, 2016

Food Trends: Fantastic Fat and the Return of Flavor!

Posted in About Christopher, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

In culinary school we’re taught a simple rule of thumb: fat is flavor!

Whether it’s sautéing rice in butter for a risotto, finishing a perfectly grilled squid with olive oil, or tossing gnocchi pillows in sage cream sauce, fat adds depth of flavor, richness, and mouthfeel to every dish.

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For many years Americans have avoided fat in their diet thinking it was the link to health issues such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. However, science over the past 2 decades has been telling us a much different story. While everything requires moderation, it turns out refined carbohydrates and sugars play a much higher role in those disease processes than dietary fats.

In fact, according to reports by JAMA, the Sugar Research Foundation funded a massive research study in the 1960s and 1970s to “successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD.”1

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The truth is, illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are more related to sedentary lifestyles in combination with a high simple sugar, low-fiber diets than dietary fat intake.

What does that mean for us as culinarians?

FAT IS BACK!

In moderation of course. But still, we don’t have to fear butter anymore, and that’s exciting!

So let’s take a look at some current fat related food trends.

Butter Topped Coffee

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Yea, it’s really a thing, and it’s pretty incredible. If you follow our Austin Food Truck series, you’ll remember a write up I did for the South side food truck, Piknic, who serves a great butter coffee. They top their dark roast with grass-fed butter and MCT oil, providing richness as well as an array of healthy poly and monounsaturated fats.

Full Fat Dairies

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If you’ve been to the grocery store in the last 10 years you’ll have noticed there’s a wide array of low-fat dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese. To off-set the loss of flavor that fat provides to these products, they are often boosted with sugar, artificial sweeteners, or other fillers. Fortunately, full fat varieties of these foods are surging back. Keep an eye on Noosa Finest Yoghurt out of Colorado. They produce a uniquely awesome line of full-fat yogurts with flavors like Mexican Chocolate and Blackberry Serrano.

High Fat Cooking

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The restaurant scene has not been blind to the fat-friendly changes in the nation. Becoming popular again are rich foods like foie gras, pate, schmaltz, and marrow. Culinarians are frying potatoes in duck fat while finishing soups with lard. How about a slice seared beef tallow over sushi rice? Or chicharrón tacos? I’ll say yes to all of the above.

This is just a snapshot of upcoming changes in the world of food and fat. If you’ve seen anything incredible in your culinary travels, leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear about it.

Cheers!

1Kearns, Christin E., et al. “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents.”
JAMA Internal Medicine. Web. 12 Sep. 2016. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2548255.

August 22nd, 2016

Austin Eats Series: Tacos

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Consumer Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

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Ok, let’s be honest, we’re not really treading any new ground here. Austin has some of the best tacos in the country. Everyone knows that. But it’s an ever-changing landscape with new ideas, ingredients, and innovations, so it’s always good to get a refresher. Plus, cards on the table, I’m new to Austin, I want to eat some tacos, and the boss gave me the thumbs up.

After talking with several locals, reading up on blogs, and scouring reviews, I wrangled my list of taco havens from 35 to 8. There are literally hundreds of taco trucks and restaurants in Austin so I’m going to the ones that constantly overlap as the best local representation of Austin’s taco heritage.

Remember, we’re measuring these on a scale of the best of the best, so I’m going to be fairly unforgiving with some ratings. All of these tacos are good, we’re looking for truly great!

Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop
2305 E 7th St. Austin, TX 78702                                                                                                      http://joesbakery.com

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Joe’s did a great job of being straightforward. The tacos are executed well and exactly what they claim to be. No frills, no culinary liberties, just good ol’ fashioned tacos in a traditional sense. Seriously, they don’t bother wasting time with silliness like lettuce! It’s all about the meat at Joe’s. The carne guisada was a bit underwhelming but I have to say their chicharrone and picadillo tacos were excellent! Couldn’t help but love the fried pork chop taco, because, well, it’s fried pork! Their homemade tortillas are just awesome; chewy and perfectly charred. Plus, for the average price of $2 a taco you can get full quick without breaking the bank.

Rating out of 10: 8

Tamale House East
1707 E 6th St. Austin, TX 78702
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tamale-house-east-austin

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Tamale House East came with high expectations but unfortunately didn’t deliver on the goods. Of the six tacos I had two were too sweet to enjoy (grilled fish and cochinita pibil), lacking overall balance, and the tortilla on the al pastor was so chewy I just gutted the taco and ate the fillings with a fork. Overall the flavors were average at best and the execution was sub-par. The savior of this service was the delicious, smoky, melty, spicy chicken mole. The tortilla was grilled perfectly and it truly stole the show.

Rating out of 10: 6

Taco More
9414 Parkfield Dr. Austin TX 78758
http://www.tacomore.biz/TacoMore/Texas/Austin.aspx

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Ummm, Taco More? Yes, please! More is the definitive word here. Combine their succulent, traditional style tacos with the crazy spread of goodies on the salsa bar (ranging from colorful salsas to grilled jalapeños) and you can’t be disappointed. The pastor, carnitas, and pollo tacos all get top marks for flavor and execution. Their just plain delicious. The true stand out was the cabrito (goat) taco. Gorgeous red color and a smoky citrus flavor profile blended with the gamey richness of the goat made it an instant favorite. The only letdown on this menu was the under seasoned and sadly dull lengua. I’d recommend skipping that for the melt in your mouth chorizo taco.

Rating out of 10: 9

Veracruz All Natural
1704 E Cesar Chavez St. Austin, TX 78702
http://veracruztacos.com

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The “All-Natural” portion of Veracruz leads to a higher price point per taco, but overall decent eats. The characteristic that ran through my tasting here was really light flavors. There are no truly exciting seasonings or flavor bursts on this menu. Every taco benefitted from either a hearty burst of lime (which were not provided with the tacos) or a slathering of salsa. Execution was on point though. All items, including the fish taco, were tender, moist, and overall cooked excellently. The standout for Veracruz was definitely the steak taco, which, unlike the others, was seasoned perfectly.

Rating out of 10: 7.5

Rosita’s Al Pastor
1911 E Riverside Dr. Austin, TX 78798
http://www.yelp.com/biz/rositas-al-pastor-austin

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Compliment sandwich time. Rosita’s al pastor is AWESOME! Not the whole menu, just to be clear, the actual al pastor. There’s definitely a reason that’s in the restaurant’s name. Great flavor, color, execution, and balance of citrus and spice. The gringa taco, which is al pastor grilled with cheese, is melty fabulousness. Give me 5 of those any day. I’ll skip the rest of the tacos though. Mostly bland, oily, and generally unimpressive. Really disappointed with the mushy, flavorless chicharron that was practically inedible on texture alone. On that note, their salsas are terrific! To summarize: al pastor = YES, all others = NO.

Rating out of 10: 5

Papalote
2803 S Lamar Blvd. Austin, TX 78704
http://yumpapalote.com

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Papalote gets a standing ovation from this eater. What an awesome spread of delicious tacos. They land on more of the culinary side of things with additions like plantain and cactus, but boy do they bring the flavor! Go straight for the alambres taco, a cheesy mix of steak and bacon that just thinking about makes my mouth water. The smoky pork adobada taco made with fresh cactus and queso fresco is another can’t miss. It’s peppery, fatty, and earthy in all the best possible ways. This really was a near perfect spread with clear understanding of flavor and care taken in the cooking process. No doubt that Papalote will become a regular stop for me.

Rating out of 10: 9.5

Torchy’s Tacos: Trailer Park
1311 South 1st St. Austin, TX 78704
http://torchystacos.com

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Torchy’s is an Austin staple and therefore an obligatory stop for any taco investigator. But, to truly see what they’re all about, skip the restaurants staffed by college students and go back to the trailer park, where it’s a true labor of love. One thing I loved about Torchy’s was their creativity and boldness. Tacos sporting jalapeño sausages, seared tuna, and fried chicken represent their adventurous spirit. Unfortunately, not all of the swings were a hit. The pork on the green chile taco and barbacoa on the democrat were dry and oily, as if they’d been stewing in fat over too high heat for a long time. The fried avocado was very bland and the creamy sauce just added sweetness rather than flavor. Conversely, the tuna was seared masterfully with a solid strip of pink in the center and The Independent was absolute gold! Well-seasoned, flavorful, touting a solid complimentary sauce, this unaffiliated bad boy stood alone amongst the rest. Also, don’t sleep on the Trailer Park; fried chicken + poblano = GOOD!

Rating out of 10: 7.5

Valentina’s Tex Mex
7612 Brodie Ln. Austin, TX 78745
http://www.valentinastexmexbbq.com

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I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to Tex-Mex BBQ tacos. I mean, I’m a culinarian, I love food, and I love fusion, but I had my hesitations. Well, did Valentina’s ever make me eat my words (along with all of their tacos). Seriously, phrases like melt in your mouth, masterful execution, and mind-blowing flavor profiles just scratch the surface. The brisket with tomato serrano salsa is rich but not fatty, seasoned well, spicy but not palate busting, and cut perfectly with fresh citrus. Smoked carnitas with tomatillo habanero, are you kidding? Oh, and how ‘bout the beer marinated beef fajita that tastes like something the beer and BBQ gods gave birth to after a night of margaritas and salsa dancing. Oh, and whatever you do get something topped with that sinfully spicy/sour Cole slaw, you won’t regret it. Yea, I’m gushing about this one and I’m not even a little sorry. It’s food crack and I’m hooked.

Rating out of 10: 10

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the taco round of Austin Eats. Next round we’re going to be looking at all the great vegetarian eateries for my greenies out there (bet you thought I forgot about you), so stay tuned.

Cheers!

July 19th, 2016

Paul Qui’s Newest offering In Austin – Otoko

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Celebrity Chefs, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

Otoko
1603 S. Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78704

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Recently myself and a group of friends had the opportunity to dine at Paul Qui’s newest offering, Otoko. Launched out of the brand new South Congress Hotel, Otoko has been well received and heavily talked about in food circles. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement.

The journey to the restaurant began up an unmarked staircase to a covered platform. There we found a great door with OTOKO written in perforated, backlit steel to its right. I couldn’t help but muse that a secret knock or password was needed to enter. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case.

We were greeted cheerfully in a small, backlit entryway by a well-dressed hostess. The intent was very clear the moment you enter: you are somewhere exclusive and there is no room for a crowd. This was reinforced by the modest size and limited seating of the Watertrade, Otoko’s bar open to the public on a reservation only basis.

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Faintly by Edison bulbs, Watertrade is lined with polished stainless steel and warm leather furniture, elegantly modern in design. Drinks include craft cocktails, often including sake, wines, sparkling offerings, and a fine selection of Japanese whiskeys. After a few minutes of drinking and carrying on, a suited man collected us for our seating in the restaurant.

The dining room itself consists of a very intimate, twelve seat bamboo counter placing you in the front row of Chef Yoshi Okai’s culinary spectacle. As the first seating of the evening, the room was particularly intimate. A rear-lit, enveloping glass fixture with dark slats suggestive of shoji screens extends from floor to ceiling, creating a flow and connection between the dining room and kitchen.

The meal is an omakase experience, meaning the dishes are selected by the chef based on ingredient availability and seasonality. The twenty course offering blends Tokyo-style sushi with Kyoto-style kaiseki (multi-course dinner), each one masterfully designed and presented.

Sakizuke

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The amouse-bouche of the evening was diced jellyfish in uni sauce. I found the firm texture of the jellyfish delightful, especially against the richness of the fried shiitake garnish. Cucumber brought a lightness to the dish while acidic finger limes cut through the unctuous uni sauce. The broth was so pleasing I asked permission to drink it directly from the bowl. The Chef appreciated this.

Zensai

With prickly pear and Wood Ear mushroom, this starter did not disappoint. Sweet and savory flavors with contrasting textures were brought together with a sour saltiness of the umeboshi sauce.

Sushi

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Of the nine sushi dishes provided none failed to excite the palate. The Shigoku oyster with steelhead roe compromised nothing as it came full force with a salty, smoked profile cut ingeniously with a refreshingly bright turks cap flower.

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The Mishima wagyu beef was sinfully rich and utterly addicting. Topped unapologetically with onion-y negimiso sauce and minced chives, the boldness of this piece burnt itself into my memory.

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Anyone who loves seafood loves uni. The Hokkaido uni was far and away the best I have personally had. Hearty in flavor without the acrid metallic taste of lesser quality unis. Complimented with freshly grated wasabi and hearty white sturgeon caviar, I fear that this will become the ruler by which all future uni is measured.

Mukouzuke

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Literally meaning “placed to the side,” mukouzuke refers to an open ceramic bowl used to serve slices of sashimi, likely in a sauce. The standout among these two courses was the Suzuki (Japanese seabass), with kyuri, tomatoes, and mint in a ponzu sauce. Light, aromatic, and delightfully fresh, this prepared my palate for the rest of the meal.

Yakimono

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This was the course that stole the show, literally. Skillfully cut Hamachi fish touched subtly with a smoldering Binchotan charcoal and finished with a smoked tamari sauce. This is one of those flavors that haunts you for life. Just a smoky, salty, umami bomb that makes bacon seem obsolete. That was as weird to write and it is for you to read, I’m sure.

Mushimono

Goma dofu with flavorful sauces of tsuyu and kurogoma. Spiced with freshly grated wasabi and balanced with perfumes of shiso. I was surprised by how light the texture of the dofu was, almost similar to a firm custard or panna cotta.

Agemono

Nasu, or Japanese eggplant, was fried kara age style and topped with house made natural MSG, sesame oil and the bright garlic-onion flavor of chives. Great crunch and saltiness along with the clean taste of the nasu made this dish a winner.

Shirumono

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I found this course to be the most complex and intriguing of them all. An heirloom tomato broth containing herbaceous mitsuba, firm zucchini, and crunchy pine nuts topped with unripened avocado. This was an ingenious play on sweet and sour flavors with great fatty richness. The addition of black truffle oil solidified the soup into what I can only describe as a world class Japanese gazpacho.

Mizumono

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This seasonal dessert was comprised of plump blackberries and blueberries with a charmingly tart puree of yuzu which provided flavors of grapefruit a mandarin orange. A wonderful sorbet style course segueing into the rich, final dessert.

Kanmi

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The nickname “Mushroom Mountain” deftly describes the stunning dessert course. Chocolate capped shimeji mushrooms with crispy tofu croutons, a goat’s milk frozen yogurt pyramid and freeze dried soy sauce. Brought together with condensed soy milk, this dish displayed not only Chef Yoshi’s skill with design and flavor, but his playfulness and lack of pretense.

Summary

Overall the menu was well-balanced and quite comprehensive without being bloated or unnecessary. It blended unique flavor profiles, traditional Japanese techniques, and careful touches of molecular gastronomy. Ingredient quality stood forefront, driven by masterful execution and thoughtful progression. Chef Yoshi was charming and very personable, making you feel as welcomed as a guest in his home. The staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and skillfully distant. While the ticket price may seem daunting at $150.00, the remarkable experience makes it well worth the cost. Otoko represents the true artistry and balance of Japanese cuisine. We’re lucky to have it here in Austin.

June 16th, 2016

Austin Eats Series: Ramen

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Celebrity Chefs, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

If a great bowl of Ramen is what you’re hungering for the city of Austin has you covered. Austin has developed a world-class food scene recognized nationally by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, thrilllist.com and Travel + Leisure magazine. That’s a pretty impressive resume!

So it would make sense that if Ramen’s your game, Austin’s your place. With that in mind we’re going visit and compare three of Austin’s most well-known, and highly regarded, Ramen haunts. But first, we need to know more about this inexplicably addictive noodle-soup.

History

The history of Ramen is messy, hotly debated, and incredibly fascinating. For the sake (not saké) of brevity we won’t go into the specifics of it, but check out this article if you’re interested. What we need to know is that Ramen originated in China but became hugely popular in Japan due to its low cost and satiating nature. It was considered a unique reflection of the chef and an act of rebellion.

After being all but wiped out due to the food and fuel shortages during WWII, instant ramen was introduced in 1958, which forever changed the perception of the dish. Instant ramen gained popularity, dropped in price thanks to mass production (I’m looking at you Maruchan), and became ubiquitous with college-dorm life.

To know what truly makes ramen different then other noodle soups you have to look at the noodle itself. Unlike rice and udon noodles, ramen noodles are made with sodium carbonate, an alkaline salt produced by baking sodium bicarbonate (thanks for the recipe David Chang!). This produces the yellow color and elasticity we have come to expect from ramen noodles.

Luckily for foodies, restaurants like Rai Rai Ken and culinary leaders such as David Chang and Ivan Orkin have put the “soul” back in ramen with their inspired creations. This has birthed a market for “gourmet” ramen, which, coincidentally, just reflects the dish’s original nature.

The Eats

Okay, now on to the good stuff. Let’s compare Austin’s three heaviest hitters in the ramen scene.

#3. Komé

http://www.kome-austin.com/

With an elegantly minimalistic interior, juxtaposed bamboo and cerulean blue walls, and an exposed sushi counter, Komé feels akin to stepping into a traditional Japanese sushi den. It’s bright and quiet, with the chatter of guests providing the only soundtrack.

Only three ramen appear on the menu: tonkotsu, miso, and vegan miso. Very traditional in style with beautiful design, the Tonkotsu and Miso broths are light, delicate, and have a definitive scale of flavors. If you, like me, find them a bit lacking in assertion, you can add in a spicy kimchi side. The ramen noodles are springy, tender, and have great texture.

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Overall it’s apparent Komé’s goal is to offer very traditional and subtle ramen options. While their vegan ramen was surprisingly flavorful, and the caramelization of the chashu in the tonkotsu was wonderful, the lack of complexity and creativity left Komé flat in the ramen department.

Side Note: The takoyaki (squid dumplings) are a true thing of beauty, don’t sleep on them

#2. Michi Ramen

http://www.michiramen.com/

Right off the bat, Michi Ramen comes at you with high energy and creativity. The music is loud, the walls are adorned by local artists, and the bar takes center stage with a generous selection of drafts. It’s dark, it’s utilitarian, it’s to the point. With big screen TVs playing live sports in main view Michi definitely comes across as a bar first, restaurant second. But don’t let that fool you, there’s talent in that kitchen.

Michi offers an unparalleled amount of innovation on their menu, which includes ten ramen options, three of which are changing seasonal creations. From there you choose from three different broth types: light, regular, and stout (which I can only describe as a concentrated flavor grenade). Care for something extra in your ramen? No problem, you can have any of the twenty-six toppings to make your ramen as unique as you.

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The ramen noodles were angel hair thin while maintaining great dexterity. The tonkotsu broth is definitely one of the absolute best I’ve taste. And while Michi gets tons of extra credit for ingenuity, they get docked for execution. The Texas ramen falls flat with a heavily seasoned but ultimately bland broth and a fairly chewy BBQ pork rib.

They’ve got this for a redeeming factor though, the chashu “burnt ends” are moist, tender, and packed with flavor. The chashu don starter could be a stand-alone meal, and one I would happily order.

#1 Ramen Tatsu-Ya:

http://ramen-tatsuya.com/

Bold, hip, loud, Austin. Four words that describe Ramen Tatsu-Ya to it’s core. From the moment you’re faced with the mural of Japanese fan art along the entry wall (where you will likely wait to gain entry) to grabbing a box seat in the predominately wood grain dining room, you’ll thing only one thing: awesome. Tatsu-Ya is unabashedly audacious and thoroughly dedicated to its craft of making ramen.

The tonkotsu is rich and luxurious, with an incredible mouth feel and clean flavor profile. My personal favorite, the mi-so-hot, packs an intense punch of miso and red chile. I recommend adding in kikurage (woodear mushroom) and beni shoga (pickled ginger) to provide some balance to the heat. And don’t worry vegetarians, they’ve got you covered with an equally delicious veggie ramen that offers complex flavor and full-bodied umami.

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Tatsu-Ya’s ramen noodles have great integrity and flavor, perfect color, and come piled high. The various bombs and extra toppings allow you to add a personal touch to any of their seven ramen options.

Overall Ramen Tatsu-Ya nails the dish in every way. From creativity to execution, they are on point. The painstaking amount of effort they put into their tonkotsu broth cannot be subdued by even the most complex flavor arrangement on the menu. Seriously, try to, it can’t be done. Combine that with the hip ambience, unique starters (the Sweet & Sour Yodas are like candy), and local buzz and you’ve got a real winner in my book.

Hope you enjoyed this version of Austin Eats. Check back soon as we take on another Austin staple: Tacos!

Cheers!