October 2nd, 2017

Food Truck Series: Dee Dee Thai Food

Posted in Food Trucks, Restaurants, Reviews, Trailer/Street Foods

Food Trucks:
Dee Dee
Northern Thai Food

Thai Food

 

It’s time for a new Food Truck review and I’ve got a taste for Thai food today, lucky for me, Austin is always there to satisfy my whims. With all of the great Thai in town (seriously, there is some GREAT Thai food here), I wanted to venture somewhere new to me, but popular among the people. That’s what led me to Dee Dee.

Owned and operated by husband and wife team Justin and Lakana, Dee Dee (which translates to Good Good) focuses on serving street-style Thai food from the country’s northern region. Apparently, they’re doing a good job, because only 20 minutes after opening the line was 15 people deep and running a 45-minute wait on food.

So, let’s look at the food.

Moo Ping

Thai Food Austin

These expertly grilled pork skewers were tender, fatty, and full of flavor. As great Thai food does, this dish balances sweet, salty, spicy, and fishy umami flavors wonderfully. Fresh citrus and cilantro cut through all these flavors for a clean finish.

Pad Ka Pow

Thai Food Trucks Austin

Aside from being fun to say, the Pad Ka Pow packs a fragrant punch with ground pork stir fried with Thai basil and homemade chili paste. The perfect flavor comes with a combination of the fishy pik nam pla sauce and the runny fried egg for a bit of rich fattiness in with the pork and rice. This is my kind of comfort food.

Somtom

Best Thai Restaurant Austin

I truly love complex flavors, especially when you’re not expecting them. The somtom fits that bill perfectly. What looks like a simple vegetable dish is actually packed with sweet, sour, citrusy goodness that’s balanced perfectly with crunchy blanched peanuts. Super fresh and irresistible.

Om Gai

Food Trucks Austin

Ok, to be honest, I was a little underwhelmed when I saw this dish. At first glance, this one is a little bland, but once again, Dee Dee proves to be all about the flavor. The dill and lemongrass bring fragrance and elegance to a hearty, fatty bone broth garnished with zucchini and thinly sliced chicken. The side of sticky rice for dipping in the broth is a great touch.

Mango Sticky Rice

Great Food in Austin

This is a very simple dish, but executed very well. Sweet but not too sweet sticky rice cooked perfectly topped with bright, ripe mango, and finished with a drizzle of sweetened coconut milk. This didn’t disappoint, but I also thought it could use something to make it more unique. A fun spice, a crispy garnish? Maybe both? Room to improve here.

Dee Dee Thai Food: Conclusion

Dee Dee performs even better than its name describes, more like Great Great. Fresh, vibrant ingredients, complex yet well-balanced flavors, and expertly prepared sticky rice make Dee Dee my new go to restaurant for comfort food (don’t worry Ramen Tatsuya, you’re still up there too).

Feel free to comment below on your favorite Thai foods or places in Austin you think I should visit. I’m always looking for my next favorite meal.

Cheers!

 

Dee Dee
Northern Street Thai Food
1906 E Cesar Chavez St.
Austin, TX 78702
http://www.deedeeatx.com/

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April 24th, 2017

Restaurant Review: Kemuri Tatsu-Ya

Posted in Fire, Food Trends, Restaurants, Reviews, Smoke

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya Reviews

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya Review

IRASSHAIMASE! Or, “Welcome to our place,” (roughly translated at best) is how every diner is enthusiastically greeted at Chefs Aikawa and Matsumoto’s new restaurant, Kemuri Tatsu-YA. Originated from the Japanese word for smoke, Kemuri is a thoughtful blend of Texas fare and traditional Japanese izakaya plates.

I was particularly excited to dine here, not only because I expected the food to be top notch, but also because it combines two national trends I recently wrote about: Fire/smoke flavors and the explosion of Japanese izakayas.

The restaurant itself lies on East 2nd St. in the Holly neighborhood, in what used to be the home of Live Oak Barbecue. The interior combines the street art loving design and flair of the Ramen Tatsu-Ya locations with a hodgepodge of Texas based pictures and knickknacks.

Enough of that though, you came here for the food, and there’s LOTS to cover. So, let’s get to it.

First Wave

Izakayas Austin

Marinated Jellyfish and Octopus

Marinated Jellyfish

Starting off strong! The raw jellyfish marinated in a tangy sweet and sour sauce had an awesome crunchy texture and great flavor balance. Perfectly simple, this turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Marinated Octopus

This raw octopus bowl was salty, spicy, slimy, and chewy all in the rights ways. Wonderfully unique and a textually bizarre.

Second Wave

Fries with Eyes

These fried whole smelt were served with a nice vinegary dipping sauce in which you are instructed to let the fish soak in for about 30 seconds. While this diminishes the crispy texture, it helps balance the robust fishy flavor of the smelt, leaving a tender, tasty snack. Not bad, not bad at all.

Chicken Liver Skewer

I won’t lie, while I like offal, I don’t love liver. What I do love is courage, especially the courage to put not one, but two liver dishes on a menu. While low on my list of favorites, the chicken livers were smoky and well-balanced with the sweetness from a caramelized onion garnish. This demonstrated a great use of binchotan.

Monkfish Liver

This one surprised me. Made into a pate coin, the monkfish liver was mild and smooth. The flavor profile was very subdued, which is saying something for such a pungent ingredient. Definitely worth a try.

Third Wave

Pickle Plate

A creative assortment of Japanese and Southern vegetables adorned this take on a pickle plate. Standouts were the mushrooms and collard greens, as well as the amazingly complex smoked daikon radish.

Green Tomato and Avocado Skewer

Absolutely nailed this one! Perfect texture, great flavors, and all around fun dish. The kewpie mayonnaise and sweet and sour sauce were excellent compliments to the tartness of the green tomato and fattiness of the avocado.

Fourth Wave (Getting Full Yet?)

Chicken Karaage

Pronounced KAH-rah-AH-gay (and yes we did triple check), these Japanese fried chicken thighs were a fastball down the middle. Crunchy, salty, fatty, and delicious. A can’t miss crowd-pleaser.

Crispy Onigiri

I won’t lie, this one disappointed me. I love onigiri, but this version was oily to the point of greasy, and absolutely required the pickled vegetable to be eaten along with it to balance out the unctuous flavor of the smoked fish stuffing.

BBQ Eel

Holy game-changer! Tender, smoky, flavorful, and extremely unique. This one-of-a-kind preparation personifies the overall theme of the restaurant in a single, delightful bite. Personally, I’d recommend pushing off some of that herb salad to make way for more of that tender meat.

Fifth Wave (Starting to feel it…)

Ramen Austin

BBQ Tsukemen

BBQ Tsukemen

A thousand times YES! Even with our rapidly filling bellies we were fighting over the next bite. No surprise here, but the broth was amazingly rich and flavorful with all the body of Ramen Tatsu-Ya’s fame and the flair of smoky mesquite and spice.

(Seriously!?) 6th Wave

What can we say? We’re gluttons…

Chili Cheese Takoyaki

Another slight miss. The takoyaki themselves were crunchy, gooey, and full of savory octopus flavor, but the chili sauce was just far too sweet. Points for a superb presentation though.

Smoked Edamame

Great flavor and seasoning, robust smoky flavor, and generous portion size, but the pods themselves were soft and uninspiring. I missed the familiar crisp of wok fired edamame.

Hot Pocketz

Brisket and Gouda stuffed between two pieces of fried cheese covered tofu… Nothing else to say. Eat this. Always.

7th Wave (Bring it on)

Culinarians

Sorry for the bad picture, we couldn’t wait.

Yuzu Pecan Pie

A great twist of a classic southern pecan pie. The citrusy yuzu played great with the crunchy pecans and Azuki bean whip. I especially enjoyed the mild sweetness here, making it a joy to eat while finishing my shochu flight.

Roasted Banana Pudding

Loved the miso caramel paired with the smoky roasted bananas. Great texture from the kokuto crunch, again not too sweet, and an all around great finish.

Final Thoughts

I know this has been a long one, so thanks for sticking it out. In the end, Kemuri set out a unique, courageous, and overall delicious spread. While I didn’t love every dish I certainly appreciated the risks they were taking. This is an exciting, satisfying dining experience that I would call a can’t miss. These kinds of bold leaps are what makes dining fun.

Rating: 9/10.

Location
2713 E 2nd St.
Austin, TX 78702
http://kemuri-tatsuya.com/

P.S. I didn’t cover the drink menu, but to summarize: We drank much, all of it was good.

 

Cheers!

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December 12th, 2016

Food Trends Series: Hawaiian Cuisine

Posted in Food Trends, Hawaii, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Reviews, Trends

Hawaiian Food Trends

Hawaiian food trends

When you think of Hawaiian cuisine, images of roasted pork and, most importantly, Spam are likely what your brain conjures. Though these two staples are indeed important, they are not the end all be all of a culture rich in food tradition. Though more prominent on the West coast of the US, dishes and flavor profiles from Hawaiian cuisine are making their way across the mainland.

Poke, a dish that until recently was widely unknown throughout the continental United States, has seen a surge in popularity over the past year. A simple dish, traditionally made of white rice topped with diced raw tuna, green onions, chili, sesame, soy sauce and furikake, poke is a massive reason for the interest in Hawaiian flavors. Poke is simply part of living in Hawaii. Available in every grocery store and with entire restaurants dedicated to making it, poke is a staple. With poke eateries popping up heavily in both New York and Los Angeles, it is no surprise that we are seeing Hawaiian restaurants appear in major cities across the US.

Certified Research Chef

Liholiho Picture Courtesy of Eater San Francisco

Hawaiian and Hawaiian-inspired restaurants run the gamut from fast casual to fine dining. Concepts such as Pokeworks on the west coast utilize a similar setup as Chipotle, allowing customers to choose the toppings and sauces to accent their fresh fish. Higher end restaurants such as Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco take Hawaiian cuisine to a new level.

Like most major cities, Denver has seen a growth in Hawaiian restaurants in the past year. Though there has been a L&L BBQ (a Hawaiian based fast casual restaurant) located in Aurora since 2004, there has been little competition until recently. Most notably, the newly renovated Adrift Tiki Bar off Broadway St. and Ohana Island Kitchen in the Highlands.

Adrift Tiki Bar

Research chef Denver

Picture Courtesy of Westword

Adrift has taken on an enhanced menu of traditional island flavors blended with American fare whilst still producing delicious tiki drinks and bowls.

Kilauea Poke – Ahi, Albacore, Mango, Wakami, Taro Chips

Chef consultants Denver

A beautiful take on a simple dish, this poke is slightly sweet and spicy with a good depth of fresh fish flavor from the different tunas. The taro chips were very crunchy and a great addition to the tuna.

Green Papaya Salad – Jicama, Asian Pear, Peanuts, Lotus, Tamarind, Sriracha, Chicken

Chef consultants Colorado

A wonderfully balanced salad. Slightly acidic green papaya paired with sweet Asian pear and rounded out with spicy sriracha. This salad shows island flavors with the plenty of Asian flair.

Pupu Platter – Pele Wings (gochujang glazed), Guava BBQ Ribs, Onion Rings, Kalua Pork Sliders, Mofongo Chips, Edamame

Chef consultants Texas

A Hawaiian take on an Asian classic, this pupu platter allows you to try the majority of the menu offered at Adrift:

  • Pele wings are glazed with Adrift’s take on the now extremely popular gochujang sauce, slightly spicy and sweet with the addicting flavor of fermented chilies.
  • Kalua pork, no Hawaiian restaurant would be respected without it. The sliders were good but felt unnecessary, the pork could stand on its own without the addition of the bread and excess lettuce.
  • Guava BBQ ribs added another variety of pork to the platter; very tender with a fruity and sweet glaze.

Ohana Island Kitchen

Hawaiian food trends

Once literally a hole in a wall, but now a full restaurant across the street from their original location, Ohana keeps their menu wonderfully simple and true to Hawaii. With only 4-5 main menu items, Ohana is able to serve exemplary food at a reasonable cost.

Spam Musubi

Chef consultant services

Seared spam with a sweet soy glaze, wrapped in sushi rice and nori; probably the simplest Hawaiian dish and one of the most delicious. Though not seemingly exciting, especially for those adverse to the Spam name, Spam musubi is a must at Ohana.

Poke

Culinary consultants

 

THIS IS POKE! Large chunks of fresh tuna lightly seasoned with soy, sesame, and chilies is all you need. Ohana does poke as it should be and being in a land locked state, it’s not easy to make it this good.

Kalua Pork Bento

Product development

As much as I love pork, I will admit that kalua pork is not my favorite. If made incorrectly, it can come out lacking flavor and tasting steamed. Ohana does a fantastic job of avoiding this by seasoning well with a light sauce and scallions. Served with seasoned white rice and house made pickles, this pork is hard to pass up.

Final Thoughts

Both Adrift and Ohana are great places to dine, each with their own charm. If you are looking for a few classic tiki drinks and some delicious bites, Adrift is the place for you. However, for the best Hawaiian food in town the answer is Ohana.

Though just a few examples, Hawaiian food influence can be seen across the country and is only continuing to grow. Island flavors are making their way into different culinary segments every day. With coconut milk added into the cheese process in KoKos gouda and passionfruit in a sour wit beer with Lilikoi Kepolo by Avery brewing, the possibilities are plenty. 2016 was definitely the breakout year for Hawaiian food and flavors and I doubt we will see them disappear anytime soon. With consumers continually seeking out new experiences trends like Hawaiian are going to continue to flourish in the future.

 

-Patrick

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November 28th, 2016

Eberly Restaurant Review

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Gastro-Pub, Restaurants, Reviews

Eberly Restaurant Review

Dined 11/01/16

For months, I have been walking up and down South Lamar Blvd. wondering what was to become of the empty print shop holding prominent real estate between Paul Qui’s ever-bustling Uchi and the eventful Barton Springs cross street. With the Long Center and Zilker Park nearby whatever would come to the location was ripe with organic exposure.

You could imagine my excitement to find out a new restaurant helmed by John Scott and Eddy Patterson of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q fame would be filling the vacancy.

With a kitchen advertised as serving upscale American fare under the guidance of executive chef Jim Tripi (Spanish Oaks Golf Club) and executive pastry chef Natalie Gazaui (McGuire Moorman Hospitality), it seemed a new high-roller was looking to up the ante in South Austin.

Named after Austin’s famous heroine Angelina Eberly, the restaurant would also house the Cedar Tavern, a collection of drinking and contemplation spaces complete with a rooftop patio designed to mirror the famous New York tavern of the same name. In this space, Kelon Bryant, formerly of Justine’s Brasserie and the Continental Club, would be designing clever libations and pouring local drafts. The original Eberly served as the hub for many famous artists, including Bob Dylan and Jackson Pollock, and Austin’s Eberly hopes to serve as the hub for a new wave artists and free-thinkers.

The Interior

The interior proved elegant, spacious, and thoughtfully designed. A vast dining room with individual tables connected by large velvet lined bench seats fills the front dining area. The decor is a conscious juxtaposition of lavish furniture and ornamentation reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance and the sharp edges and reflective surfaces equated with modern architecture.

A central atrium, lined with rows of high steam punk style support braces encased with clear glass walls transects the floor connecting the dining room to the Cedar Tavern. A rectangular glass ceiling holds the steel arms at bay while allowing a flood of natural light to fill the atrium, much to the pleasure of the many plants that adorn the walls and floors.

To the right of this room runs additional table seating and to the left a walkway parallel to the mouth of the open kitchen, allowing guests to see the action as they wander to and from the tavern or dining room. The additional traffic along this threshold provides an added obstacle for the front of house staff, but they seemed to navigate with ease.

Eberly Austin

Source: Icon Design+Build

The Cedar Tavern maintained a palpable energy with busy chatter, pulsing music, and the collision of ice, glass, and steel typical of a full-service bar. The centerpiece of the Cedar Tavern is the wooden bar itself. The fifty-foot-long mahogany marvel, complete with extensive hand-carved filigree, was purchased from the original Cedar Tavern when it closed in 2006. After being shipped to its new Austin location in pieces, it has been restored to its glory and remains a sight to be seen.

Dispersed throughout the mahogany scented tavern are plush couches, over-sized leather armchairs, and poufs inviting prolonged conversation and welcomed intermingling. This intellectual lounge atmosphere is a refreshing addition in South Austin.

The Drinks

The drink menu is a smart, concise collection of local beers and select wines. Draft beers include popular selections such as Live Oak Hefeweizen and Austin Eastciders Dry Cider, along with more adventurous selections such as the Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed IPA out of Bend, OR. Bottled options offer a larger variety including Sours, Tripels, and Ales.

A selective wine list displays the right amount of options without creating the exhausting paradox of choice. The menu includes personal favorites such as the 2013 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay out of Napa as well as the Italian 2012 Giodo Rosso, “IGT” Sangiovese. A selection of sparkling and fortified wines, scotches, and whiskeys are also available upon request.

The craft cocktails, however limited, are meticulously constructed. The list includes subtly playful gems such as the Lady Bond, which balances the floral notes of a sweet Lillet against a complex gin and the brightness Ketel One Citroen, along with bolder statement drinks like the Final Ward, a fascinating blend of Bulleit Rye and Green Chatreuse balanced with maraschino and lemon.

Ideally we will see this menu grow to ten or twelve options as the restaurant matures, but for now the choices are confident and invocative.

The Food

Now we discuss the most important part. No matter how radiant the interior nor mesmerizing the libations, if the food falls flat the restaurant will decay.

Starters

We began the meal with the house sourdough bread served with citrus fennel butter. The bread arrived warm with a distinctly sweet aroma finished with the tell-tale sourness of wild yeast. The interior showed a broad, albeit uneven, crumb with a chewy golden crust. The compound butter delivered its flavors accurately without proving overwhelming.

From there we were graced with a half-dozen expertly shucked New Brunswick oysters. The flavor was fresh and texture clean, without a hint of grittiness. The mignonette was well-balanced and nicely complemented the bivalve while the overall presentation was authentic.

I was surprised by the overall rustic nature of the cheese and crudité plate presentation. Not that it displeased me, more that I found it uncommon to the current norm of hyper-fashioned visages commonly seen in upscale eateries. Truthfully I found it refreshing. The choice of fennel and baby carrots acted as excellent palate cleansers after a generous bite of smoked jalapeno pimento cheese atop crispy flatbread. I especially enjoyed the latent note of coriander found in the pimento.

Entrees

As a lover of foods from the ocean I could not help but order the whole red snapper. There are few things that compare to the exquisite texture of a whole fish gently pan-fried to encrust the tender flesh in a crispy skin with a slight charring for added depth. Unfortunately, I was not presented with such a dish. Instead, I received a fish so exceedingly fried that the skin was more akin to a sarcophagus than a crust. The flesh was dry and had taken on a mealy, inconsistent flavor. I did, however, appreciate the balancing act between the smoked tomato and gremolata.

The short rib buoyed the experience with a delicate texture and bold flavor profile highlighted by a playful celeriac apple fondue. The presentation was classical and utilitarian.

The third and final selection was the venison and quail. While the flavors of this dish were, again, well thought out and pleasant, the execution disappointed. The venison was surprisingly tough and lacking in moisture, while the quail was arranged haphazardly on the plate.

Additionally, we shared orders of the asparagus and squash, Brussels and cauliflower, as well as shells and cheese which all proved to be well-prepared, nicely seasoned, and delicious.

Dessert

Eberly fancies itself a dining space serving contemporary American cuisine. Generally, the dinner menu reflects this with classic dishes prepared with flavor twists fashioned rustically without pretense.

I make that statement because the dessert menu stands in contrast of that. While providing takes on classics like PB&J and Donuts, they are more elitist than Americana.

While I hold no ill will towards the creativity that science has allowed us with cuisine, I fail to see how the dessert and dinner menus coexist. Perhaps it reflects Eberly’s romance with “risk takers, creative types, and liberated thinkers” as stated on the “About” page of their website, but as a diner it feels disjointed.

That being said, the Basque cake with poached pears was delightful. The honeycomb and Marcona almonds provided a wonderful flavor and texture contrast, however the Manchego cheese ice cream was too earthy and drew away from the balance.

The sweet potato cake donuts were another solid standout. With bourbon ganache, marshmallow, and pomegranate interplay, each bite was delightful. Top marks for creativity and textural variety.

Final Thoughts

They say the devil is in the details. Eberly proves this is true. The components are in place but the execution is hindering the potential excellence of the restaurant. The contrast between the upscale, yet rustic American dinner fare and the avant-garde nature of the dessert menu creates a discernible chasm in the cuisine. Conceptually I am excited by what Eberly is undertaking. The veneer is beautiful, the menu is thoughtful and thorough, but the performance is uneven. I can confidently say the missteps seen in this meal feel more of youthful exuberance than reckless ignorance. I hope with time and experience they will overcome these obstacles to live up to their potential, but until then, I remain skeptical.

Rating: 7/10

Location

Eberly & The Cedar Tavern
615 S Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78704
Website

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