Cochon555 2016

cochon-2016

Cochon555 has been one of my favorite foodie blowouts in Austin. They skipped us last year and the closest one was in Houston. I was very sad ūüôĀ

They are back in Austin with not only the grand pig buffet but also 2 fabulous local celebrity chef dinners that have me drooling already. Which one should I go to?? All three if I can. Yay gluttony!

Click on pics below for tickets and details. Hope to see you there.

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Two Charity Dinners

 

On Friday November 18th, at 9:00PM, Host Chefs Paul Qui of Kuneho, Thai Changtong of Thai Kun, Philip Speer of Bonhomie, and James Dumapit of Old Thousand¬†will host a Cochon555 pop-up dubbed ‚ÄėA Late Nite Asian Speakeasy.‚Äô Family-style dishes will be paired with Silver Oak wines and prepared by guest chefs celebrating the flavor-forward, spice-driven Asian fare so many industry, chefs, and line cooks indulge in after their restaurants close.

On Saturday, November 19th at 7:00 p.m., Chef Ben Runkle of Salt & Time¬†will¬†host a luxury guest chef dinner we call ‘Chef‚Äôs Course.’ Guests will enjoy a refined three-hour culinary experience and a savory climax of Bone-In Tomahawk Steaks, all paired with magnums of Faust Cabernet Sauvignon. Immediately following the meal, guests are invited to attend a concert featuring legendary rapper Kool Keith performing with special guest Mac Mall and friends, upstairs at The Swedish American Hall. Each dinner features a portfolio tasting of sophisticated scotches from Glenfiddich before and during dessert. A portion of each ticket benefits our charity of choice, Piggy Bank. Discover¬†who the guest chefs are by clicking the links below.

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Dolce Neve

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Dolce Neve is one of my favorite gelato spots in town! I saw this post on Facebook and had to share. I will be casting my vote soon!
Dear all, we are representing Texas and the United States and the most prestigious gelato festival in Italy and we need your help!

September 29 – October 2, we are joining other 39 gelato makers at the Sherbeth Festival in Palermo, Sicily. Sherbeth is THE festival of real artisanal gelato and is the only event not sponsored by companies making pre-made gelato mixes. At the festival, the public and a technical jury will choose their favorite gelato flavor.

We have selected three flavors to bring to the event and we need your help pick a winner! The three flavors are:
– Mascarpone, polenta cake and orange liquor
– Brown butter and pecan crumble
– Mascarpone and cocoa nibs infusion

Until September 16, you can stop by the shop, sample the three flavors and vote for your favorite!

 

Best Austin Desserts 2015

Gluten-free Flourless Chocolate Cake from Noble Sandwich Co.
Gluten-free Flourless Chocolate Cake from Noble Sandwich Co.

http://austinfoodbloggers.org/2015-city-guide-best-places-to-eat-in-austin/

Dessert in Austin used to be a boys club. There used to be very few pastry chefs. Many restaurants got their desserts off the Sysco truck and the few that did¬†make desserts in house were led by men. But the times they are a-changin’.¬†¬†As more and more restaurants open and expand to new locations, women are becoming the new face of pastry in town.

Pastry case at Noble Sandwich Co.
Pastry case at Noble Sandwich Co.

 

Noble Sandwich Co. has grown from a tiny location in far north Austin to two much larger shops now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. As much as I love their fabulous sandwiches, I have always been a fan of the eclectic pastry case. In addition to the standard bacon caramel corn and rotating cookie varieties, there is always something interesting like chocolate pate or dried fruit and nut-studded nougat. These creations are the brainchild of Lindsay O’Rourke.

Desserts from Noble Sandwich Co.
Desserts from Noble Sandwich Co.

O’Rourke graduated from culinary school here in Austin and went to post-Katrina New Orleans to hone her skills. After returning to Austin she worked at a few different places until an all-too-familiar chef story happened to her. She knew a chef who knew the chefs at Noble. Like many places, Austin has an incestuous yet friendly and supportive culinary community.

Brioche buns, bacon bread, white and rye. All made in-house at Noble Sandwich Co.
Brioche buns, bacon bread, white and rye. All made in-house at Noble Sandwich Co.

Noble was looking for someone to take over making the bread for their tasty sandwiches as well as make some cookies and other desserts. When O’Rourke got tired of making the same old chocolate chip, a batch of her triple chocolate marshmallow convinced the guys to expand their offerings. Now every trip finds something new and exciting in the pastry case.

Chocolate turtle delice macaron, huckleberry from la V
Chocolate turtle delice
macaron, huckleberry from La V

One of the hottest new restaurants in town is la V. Ladies rule the roost from management to sommelier to chef. Their highly pedigreed pastry chef is Janina O’Leary. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute she worked in New York with such legendary chefs as Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Pichet Ong. She came to Austin to be closer to family and soon became the Executive Pastry Chef at Trace at the W. O’Leary was lured away by a longing to work more with local ingredients including those grown in¬†La V’s¬†own gardens.

Beautiful brioche at La V.
Beautiful brioche at La V.

O’Leary’s other joy is the bread program. As restaurants are going back to having in-house pastry chef’s they are discovering one of the perks is better quality bread. Instead of the same one or two bakeries supplying all of the restaurants in town with mediocre bread, pastry teams are coming up with supple brioche, crusty rolls and hearty wheat breads to fill the bread baskets. In addition,¬†O’Leary also offers an assortment of doughnuts, scones and hand-rolled croissants for brunch.

Goat Cheese and Red Velvet Cheesecake in a Pistachio Crust from olive and june
Goat Cheese and Red Velvet Cheesecake in a Pistachio Crust from olive and june

Erica Waksmunski has worked literally from coast to coast. From Tennessee to Chicago to San Francisco. She came to Austin via the chef’s network- she met someone who used to work for David Bull. Before she knew it she was relocating once again to be the pastry chef at Congress. Like many pastry chefs, survival means versatility and Waksmunski does savory as well as sweet. She opened a food trailer Red Star Southern famous for its hot chicken and social media personality Ol’ Shitter Jim.

Rustic loaves at olive and june.
Rustic loaves at olive and june.

But sweet came knocking on the door once again. This time as Executive Pastry Chef for parkside projects, Shawn Cirkiel’s family of restaurants that include parkside, olive and june, and coming soon- Bullfight, a tapas restaurant slated to open in the Spring. Waksmunski spends her days bouncing between restaurants supervising a team that helps her execute desserts, breads as well as handmade pastas. Evenings are back to the trailer to relieve her partner at Red Star Southern.¬†And she could not be happier.

Handmade ravioli at olive and june.
Handmade ravioli at olive and june.

As the culinary scene changes and expands here in Austin it has been fascinating to watch the pastry scene grow. I am so glad for the fresh faces and innovative desserts. Do not forget to save room next time you go out. You will not be disappointed. And check out my fellow food bloggers posts in our 2015 AFBA City Guide.

2015 AFBA City Guide
2015 AFBA City Guide

St. Philip

DSCN2301Philip Speer, Culinary Director of the Uchi group heads up one of the hottest new ventures in town at St. Philip. I need to go back to do a more thorough review as my 1 trip so far was pre-opening. But I thought I should post my highlights as it is topping many best of lists for the year.

St Philips occupies part of the space that used to be Cannoli Joe’s which was an all-you-can-eat Italianish food. Although better than many buffet places, the pizza there was flabby and greasy. So the beautiful pies that Speer’s crew are turning out are truly tasty. We had the Wild Mushroom with Ricotta, Baby Kale, and Umami Sauce ($14) Not sure what was in the umami sauce but it is my new favorite condiment. I think it would easily make catsup its bitch.

DSCN2305Forget Chicken and Waffles and try the Churros and Chicken. I don’t think this is still on the menu but I really liked the spicy and creamy dipping sauces with the boneless chicken breast and mini churros. The menu updates often with seasonal items and the creative whims of the chef. Had to mention this one though with churros coming up as a new hot item, I really liked the creativity of the savory sweet pairing.

DSCN2294The restaurant seems small but that is most likely due to the eager anticipation that still packs the place on a nightly basis. Tables are close but great for people watching. There is also a huge bar with a long list of Texas beers and wines on tap. Yes, even many of the wines are on tap. There is also a nice porch area outside for the inevitable wait if you try to pop in. Service is friendly and attentive, even bringing us cold ice water outside on a warm day while we had a brief wait on our table.

DSCN2311Speer is still one of my favorite pastry chefs in town. Although he may not be baking on a day to day basis, you can bet he is training and guiding the crew filling the huge pastry case that has its own dedicated area. One of the main reasons I need to return is because there were only slim pickings left on our visit but we did enjoy a rootbeer snickerdoodle, a soft oatmeal cookie, and a puckery sweet lemon chess pie.

So for Uchi dining standards but with wholly new flavors check out St. Philips and see what’s new.

 

Hightower

DSCN2399I was pleased to be offered an opportunity to try the new lunch menu at the Hightower on East 7th. I always get anxious about finding parking downtown but things were off to a great start to pull up to a reasonably sized parking lot. The inside is full of warm wood and soft lighting. There is a huge, gorgeous bar and a tiny postage stamp sized kitchen. But the chef is working his magic despite the petite work area.
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The chicken liver pate is rich and complex. It comes with quince jam and candied peanuts for salty sweet fix that ain’t your mama’s pb&j. ($7)

DSCN2388The gnocchi with house made ricotta, Brussels sprouts greens, butternut squash puree, turnip confit, almonds and sorghum was my favorite dish of the day. The pillow soft gnocchi on the warm winter puree with bitter greens and slightly sour turnips would be especially comforting on a chilly winter day. ($12)

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The fried oysters with sriracha aioli, flying fish roe, sunflower sprouts and avocado oil was interesting. It is served as an open face sandwich with practically a full salad on top as well as on the side. The thin crispy bread gave a needed¬†textural contrast to the plump oysters and pop of the fish roe but made for an extremely messy sandwich. Forge ahead as best you can with a knife and fork. It’s worth it. Owner said they were looking for a new bread source, so it might change to more traditional looking. ($12)

DSCN2414As a pastry chef, I always have to try dessert and appreciate ones that are made in house and not your typical pie-cake-ice cream. And the tiny kitchen did not disappoint with a twist on the classic buttermilk pie. A thin layer of custard is baked sans shell in a wide bowl which gave an especially chewy/crunchy texture to the edge of the “filling”. The bits sprinkled on top are toasted meringue with a pretzel crust crumble for the crunchy, salty bits you usually get from a crust. It also has a chiffonade of mint which took me a bit to decide if I liked. A personal pastry prejudice is mint on top of desserts. Less often now but frequently in the past, desserts were topped with a sprig of mint more for a pop of color than for the flavor profile. But in this case, I decided I liked the fresh green mint with the sour-sweet custard. ($5)

DSCN2393So if you are looking for a reasonably priced lunch downtown with parking (and maybe a tasty beverage or 2) check out the Hightower. They also do brunch both Saturday and Sunday with similar offerings. And thanks to the Hightower for having me in. I’ll be back with friends soon!

 

 

 

 

Snow Monster

DSCN2221Since this is Texas, we go from sweaters to shorts on a weekly basis. So frozen treats are good on warmer days or even on cold ones to reinforce the short chill. Snow Monster near Braker and North Lamar specializes in bubble teas and snow ice topped with fresh fruits, tapioca pearls, and custards.

DSCN2228Choose your ice flavor, toppings, and syrup for a unique treat that is unlike any ice cream sundae. The texture is more like fluffy snow and the flavors have an Asian twist with interesting textures. My favorite is the taro which is kind of like a purple tuber similar to sweet potato.

DSCN2218DSCN2222The shop is clean and bright with free wifi and both high and low tables for comfortable seating. A single is big enough to share but delicious enough to not.

Menu for the Big Chill

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Menu is in for the Big Chill on June 26. Tickets still available here.

 

Drinks

Chameleon Cold-Brew   The Dude- Orange White Russian

 

Good Pop ¬†¬†‚ÄúPop‚ÄĚtails featuring Strawberry Lemonade and Hibiscus Mint

 

Bites

The Carillon   Chilled Cucumber-Avocado Soup with Jumbo Lump Crab, Crisp Wonton and Yuzu-Koshu

 

Celtic Seafare   Irish Soda Bread with Traditional Smoked Salmon, Dill Butter and Pickled Mustard Seed

 

Dolce Neve   Fromage Blanc and Peaches Gelato

 

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts   Shrimp Ceviche with Coconut Lime

 

Finn & Porter   Basil Parmesan Cannoli

 

NadaMoo!   Bananas for PB & Chocolate and Vanilla Cha-Cha-Chai

 

Noble Sandwich Co.   Bierchiken- German style sausage with ground beef, pork and studded with chunks of ham

 

No Va Kitchen & Bar   Grilled & Chilled Watermelon Salad with lemon, pistachios, and basil

 

Pleasant Storage Room   Snapper Ceviche with Lime Mayo and Tostones

 

The Soup Peddler Real Food & Juice Bar   Green Gazpacho with Local Cucumbers

 

St. Philip   Savory-  Cherry Tomato Salad Рyogurt, cucumber, herb dressing, lavash

¬†Sweet- ¬†¬†S’mores Chocolate mousse, torched meringue, graham cracker

 

Swift’s Attic   Silver Fox Snowcone- Caramelized white chocolate, almond granita, vanilla bean sherbet, and caramelized peaches

 

Thai Fresh   Green Curry w/ Bastrop Cattle Company Grassfed Beef and Thai Eggplants (Simmons Family Farm)

 

Trace   Coffee Custard Mandarin Creme with Streusel Crunch

 Nutty Passion Fruit Cake

 Citrus and Berry Mousse Shot

So which restaurant are you most excited to try??

The Carillon

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As a food blogger, one of the questions I get asked most often is what is the best restaurant in town? Of course, this is a loaded question highly dependent on what kind of food you like. I appreciate a greasy burger, bowl of queso, or slab of brisket just as much as fine dining. But if you are looking for a dining experience my favorite go-to is The Carillon.

Half the time I tell people about it, they have never heard of it although it has been around for several years. It is located on MLK in the AT&T Executive Center on the U.T. Campus across the street from the Bob Bullock Museum. (Pro-tip- There is a parking garage and the restaurant validates, so parking is not an issue.)

DSCN2026DSCN2034The Executive Chef is Josh Watkins who has been a force in the Austin restaurant scene since his sous days at the Driskill with David Bull. Watkins commitment to farm fresh, ingredient driven food is evident on every plate.

Pastry Chef Plinio Sandalio is one of the best in town. Not only are his desserts works of art, they also play with surprising combinations of sweet and savory that delight the palate. As delicious as the food is, do not make the mistake of skipping dessert. In fact, save room for two if you can.

One of the first indicators of the caliber of a restaurant is the bread service. It is an area that is often farmed out to an outside bakery leaving diners stuck with spongy rolls more appropriate at a grocery store than restaurant. Not at the Carillon. There are always at least 2 varieties of bread. Tonight we had whole wheat and an olive loaf that were both light and flavorful, along with butter sprinkled with black lava sea salt. That kind of attention to the bread is a great indication of flavors to come.

DSCN2060DSCN2044Of course, you can dine ala carte or there is a 6 course tasting option but one of my favorite dining bargains in town is prix fixe menu for $50. You pick any 2 appetizers and 1 entree from the entire menu.

My friend Michelle from Beyond Picket Fences joined me for dinner, not only sharing her food but also helping photograph our lovely meal. I love my blogger friends. Thanks Michelle!

Our first appetizers were the Escolar Crudo with pickled mustard seeds, celery, golden raisins and paprika aioli and the Crab Salad with wontons, champagne aioli and American caviar. Delightful light bites to whet the appetite. The soft, freshly-picked crab with the crunch of the wonton, slightly acidic aioli and pop of the caviar got my taste buds revving.

DSCN2074DSCN2048From the hot section came P.E.I Mussels with Spanish chorizo, saffron, jalapeno, and grilled foccacia. The broth was fragrant with a slight punch from the jalapeno but not so much that it overwhelmed the perfectly cooked mussels. I could swim in a bowl of that.

The scallops came with almond butter, grapefruit and crispy prosciutto. The only odd thing about this dish was the grapefruit. Texas Ruby Reds are delicious when in season and are sweeter than some oranges. I think a¬† bitter version would have lent the dish the acidity it needed to cut through the richness of the nut butter. Also the scallops were on the small side making it difficult to get a good sear without overcooking. Don’t get me wrong, I practically licked the plate but it was not my favorite dish of the night.

 

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Michelle went for a seafood trifecta with the Miso Marinated Mero with wilted spinach, maitake mushrooms and carrot-apple-ginger reduction. The meaty mero eats like a thick fish steak. This dish was a wonderland of flavor. The slightly sweet reduction was the perfect foil for the umami of fish, mushrooms, and spinach.

My main was the smoked pork chop with cherry polenta, collard greens, turnips and bourbon gastrique. My only complaint with this dish was the turnips, which were in awkwardly large chunks and slightly underdone. I would have preferred a more bite-sized dice that would have been easier to cook correctly. But I have to say, it is hard to see in this lighting but that pork is a perfect rosy pink. It was slightly smoky, tender and juicy. The creamy polenta was accented with pops of sweet cherry and bitter greens, a nice counterpoint to the pork.

DSCN2093DSCN2099DSCN2087Although dinner was delicious and we were more than full, we had to have dessert. Since we could not decide on 2 out of the 5 offerings, we went for 3.

First up was the most unexpected of the three, Plinio’s play on devils on horseback with Bleu des Basques panna cotta, date cake, bourbon toffee, mango pudding and bacon brittle. I have used blue cheese before in a dessert, a poached pear in puff pastry with a frangipane filling and blue cheese mousse, so I was curious to see how this one tasted.

Each of the elements on their own were tasty but as a whole, the blue cheese was a bit overwhelming. Coincidentally, though I had a small bite version of this dish a week later at a special event and instead of the panna cotta, Sandalio used a lighter mousse with just a hint of the blue cheese and I found the second version to be a more well balanced bite. I’m not sure if he adjusted the dish or if we just happened to get an off bit.

Second dessert was the sweet potato creme brulee with aji amarillo custard, basil pudding and annatto ice cream. This was a lovely little bite to tuck into. The creamy sweet potato highlighted with the herb accents is so far from the marshmallow holiday side dish.

The most delightful bite of the evening came with the chocolate and banana terrine. Cashew dacquoise, candied cashews and coconut custard decorate the bittersweet chocolate that holds a surprise center of creamy banana. It made me giggle.

So thank you to the wonderful staff at the Carillon for another incredible meal. I hope you get a chance to try it soon. I bet it will become your favorite too.

 

 

Tony’s Jamaican

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My favorite place on earth besides Austin is Negril, Jamaica. 7 miles of white sand beach followed by 7 miles of jagged cliffs, the most beautiful sunsets in the world, sounds of reggae and warm sand between your toes. And of course, Jerk Chicken (or pork!) So in between visits to Jamaica, when I am banished to Babylon, I have searched and searched for that spicy jerk. But most American versions are sweet and reek of cinnamon. There is absolutely nothing sweet about jerk. It is spicy, savory and smoky. I had been fooled by other trailers that claimed to have true Jamaican roots but it wasn’t until I met my new friend Tony that my taste buds were finally satisfied.

Turns out Tony was in charge of making the sauce at Da Bus which is one of the most famous spots in Negril for jerk. He has been in Austin for several years now and his friends finally convinced him to open a trailer.

DSCN2008DSCN2009Tony not only makes fantastic jerk, he also does other Jamaican classics like oxtail, curry goat, brown stew chicken which come with sides of rice and peas, fried plantains, or steamed veggies. Want a quick bite? Try a savory meat or veg patty just like the bike man sells on the beach in Negril. Tony even carries island drinks like grapefuity Ting and spicy ginger beer.

Tony is located a few blocks east of Franklins at 1200 E. 11th. His hours are listed from noon to midnight but like most Jamaican businesses those are more of a suggestion than a fact. I usually find him later in the afternoon and he is often open late at night as he draws foot traffic from the bar across the street. You can take your food into the bar or buy drinks in the liquor store next door. If the weather is nice, I recommend hanging out with Tony. He will crank up the reggae and after your third or fourth Guinness and a plate of jerkDSCN2015 you will swear you feel a cool island breeze.

 

Gus’s Fried Chicken

2014-01-07 16.13.12Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken started out in a tiny shack in a tiny town outside of Memphis more than 60 years ago. Fifth location in the chain just opened in Austin at 2nd and San Jacinto. With only 5 locations, it really is more of a spreading of the word than the opening of a chain. Austin, like many Southern cities has suffered from a lack of non-fast food, bone-in, slap your Grandma, authentic home-style fried chicken. Gus’s is definitely not fast food. Count on at least a 20 minute wait from when you order. That is a good sign of fresh fried, piping hot chicken. The breading is a thin but tasty crisp crust with a spicy kick. The chicken is juicy and moist with flavor to the bone. 2014-01-07 15.49.23

Here is the menu for Gus’s. Meals come with baked beans and slaw with other sides available for a small substitution fee. The baked beans are of the canned variety with another welcome dose of heat. I opted for mac and cheese over slaw which again was more from a box than homemade but they do sprinkle a healthy bit of real cheese over the top. I went on one of our rare cold days, so the barely warm mac failed to melt the added cheese, which probably would have been a nice touch. Instead it was an unpleasant combination of odd textures.

2014-01-07 15.49.36Your meal comes on styrofoam plates with plastic silverware and slice of white bread. Nothing wrong with that, it isn’t supposed to be fancy. It is just the sides might stay as warm as the chicken if they were served on something that could hold the heat.

2014-01-07 16.39.51I confirmed that the pies are made in-house but was disappointed with the sad chess pie that they brought to finish my meal. The crust was obviously pre-made and slightly burned. The filling, although tasty, was weepy from being overcooked. Considering they have been open less than a week, these small failings are easily overlooked and most likely will be improved upon in the weeks to come.

2014-01-07 15.49.53The restaurant has a casual vibe with plenty of neon on the walls and blues in the background. There are several beers available including 4 or 5 locals. I hear that there have been lines at times but when I went around 3pm on a weekday, the only waiting was for the fresh, hot chicken.

2014-01-07 16.12.35I had to try Gus’s after seeing several shout outs from my favorite local high end chef’s in town including one who went here 3 days in a row when they first opened. Despite the few small criticisms, I get it. The chicken is damn delicious and some of the best in town. I still think Lucy’s is the best but Gus’s is a welcome addition. I suggest you check it out before the hipsters standing in line at In-N-Out figure it out. I was sitting next to a pedicab driver who wandered in and said it was as good as he remembered from Bonnaroo, so I think the word may be out soon.

 

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