Archive | February, 2011

Dining Out Sustainably: SXSW 2011 is going to be tasty

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At dinner the other night, my friends and I were discussing all of the new restaurants in town to entertain our upcoming SXSW visitors.  The trailer scene exploded last year and some of Austin’s best chefs opened new restaurants: Backspace, Barley Swine, Foreign & Domestic, Haddingtons, Second+Congress,  and Uchiko. Trying to pick a place to go out with friends is like playing a roulette of deliciousness.

I’ve updated my list of restaurants that source at least some of their produce or meat from local farms by area of town near SXSW venues.  I’ve included some basic details to help you narrow down your choices and, of course, I have some favorites on the list:
  • Nibbling your way through the farmers markets is a great way to taste some of the best of Austin.  On Saturday morning, the Downtown Austin Farmers Market offers terrific vendors like Dai DueBola Pizza and Taco Deli.  You can dine al fresco, enjoy the live music and soak up the sunshine.  On Sunday morning, the Hope Farmers Market in East Austin is another great spot to grab a snack and a cup of coffee.
  • Some of the best happy hours in town are at TrioParksideUchi and Uchiko. Trio offers all of their incredible appetizers are 1/2 off from 5-7 pm, so you get to eat some of the best food in town for the price of a hamburger.  Uchi and Uchiko’s social hour offers special prices on a selection drinks and dishes both from the sushi bar and the grill. Parkside’s 1/2 price happy hour for the bar menu, beer and cocktails feels incredibly indulgent and is a total bargain.
  • At Second + Congress, Chef David Bull has created the unique experience of two very different restaurants sharing the same space.  Second is casual and fun with craft cocktails at the bar and playful dishes like the Buffalo Fried Pickles, Pepperoni Soup, and Beef Short Rib Pizza.  Congress, which I haven’t visited yet, is fine dining, possibly the finest in Austin, with a prix fixe only menu of three or seven courses.  The Congress Bar menu offers a different selection of craft cocktails and food items from both the Second and Congress kitchens, letting you enjoy the best of both worlds.
  • Slightly off the beaten path, Foreign & Domestic in the North Loop neighborhood is worth the effort.  Ned and Jodi Elliott are talented, creative and maybe a little crazy resulting in delicious, innovative dishes served in a comfortable diner style restaurant.  You know you are in for a different experience when the dinner special comes with a Lone Star tall boy.
  • One of my favorite things about Spring in Austin is eating outdoors.  The patios at Perla’sFINO and El Arbol are terrific places to relax, soak in the sun and enjoy lovely meals. [Unfortunately El Arbol closed Fall 2011.]
  • In South Austin, I can not get enough of Odd Duck Farm-to-Trailer.  Bryce Gilmore is serving up some of the best food in town – from a trailer. I haven’t been to Barley Swine, his new place, yet, but I hear good things.  Loving local must run in the family because Bryce’s dad,  Jack Gilmore, is also serving up terrific locally sourced fare at Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Southwest Austin.
  • Eastside Pies is my favorite pizza in town.  One of the owners is a baker and their crust is outstanding.  Try their Farm to Table pizza made with farm fresh ingredients.
  • 24 Diner serves up high quality diner fare at a reasonable price.  I’m particularly fond of the breakfast plates which are all made with locally sourced eggs.
  • I like to satisfy my cravings for Tex Mex at Taco Deli. For breakfast, I like the Jess Special taco with their fiery Dona sauce (avoid the salsa if don’t like heat; it’s very, very, very spicy.)  The bison taco made with ground bison from Thunderheart is hearty and rich with meaty goodness.  I will drive out of my way on Fridays for the delicious ceviche special, offered in a cup or as a taco.  At $3.25 it’s the best ceviche deal in town.
6th Street/Convention Center
The Backspace, 507 San Jacinto, Antipasto and Neopolitan style pizza cooked in a brick oven imported from Italy, average pizza price $12
Chez Nous, 510 Neches, French Bistro, lunch and dinner, 3 course prix fixe menu $25.50, average dinner entree $25
Congress , 200 Congress Ave., New American.  Congress is dinner only with 3 courses ($65) or chef tasting menu ($95.)
Manuel’s, 310 Congress Ave., Mexican, lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch, average dinner entree $20
Parkside, 301 E. 6th, New American with an emphasis on oysters and seafood crudo, dinner, average dinner entree $23, Austin Farm to Table profile
Second Bar and Kitchen , 200 Congress Ave., New American.  Lunch, dinner and late night, average dinner entree $22.
Trio, at the Four Seasons, 98 San Jacinto, New American, breakfast, lunch, dinner, average dinner entree $25, Austin Farm to Table profile

Warehouse District/West Downtown
Aquarelle, 606 Rio Grande, French, dinner, 3 course prix fixe menu $45, average dinner entree $33, Austin Farm to Table profile
Bess Bistro, 500 W. 6th St., Bistro, lunch, dinner, brunch, average dinner entree $21.
La Condesa, 400 W. 2nd St., Mexican, dinner and Sunday brunch, average dinner entree $26
Leaf Salad, 419 W. 2nd St., Salads, lunch, average entree $10
Peche, 208 W. 4th St., New American, dinner, average entree $22
SFC Downtown Austin Farmers Market, 4th and Guadalupe at Republic Square, various vendors with prepared food, fresh produce, meats, cheeses and artisan food products, Saturdays 9:00 am – 1:00 pm.
Trace at the W Hotel, 200 Lavaca St., New American, breakfast, lunch, dinner, prices vary widely between breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Walton’s Fancy and Staple, 609 W. 6th St., deli, breakfast, lunch, early dinner, average dish $7.
Central West Austin
24 Diner, 600 N. Lamar, American diner fare, 24 hours, average dish $11
Cipollina, 1213 West Lynn, Bistro menu, specializing in pizza, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $15, Austin Farm to Table profile
Counter Cafe, 626 N. Lamar, American, breakfast and lunch, average entree $10, Austin Farm to Table profile
Fabi & Rosi, 509 Hearn St., New American, dinner and Sunday brunch, average entree $20
Jeffrey’s, West Lynn at West 12th, New American, dinner, average entree $30
Wink, 1014 N. Lamar, New American, dinner, average entree $25 (the wine bar has a separate less expensive menu), Austin Farm to Table profile

South Austin
Barley Swine, 2024 S. Lamar Blvd., New American, dinner, average dish $14
Enoteca Vespaio, 1610 S. Congress, Italian, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, average dinner entree $15
Hyatt Austin – Southwest Bistro, 208 Barton Springs Rd., Southwestern, breakfast, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $18
Jack Allen’s Kitchen, 7720 W. Hwy 71 (this place is a jaunt from downtown, but worth the drive), casual Texas cuisine, lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch, average entree $13 Austin Farm to Table profile
Kerbey Lane Cafe, 2700 S. Lamar, American, 24 hours, average entree $10
La Boite Cafe, 1700 S. Lamar Blvd., baked goods & sandwiches, sandwich du jour $6
CLOSED: Odd Duck Farm-to-Trailer, 1219 S. Lamar, New American, dinner, average dish $6, Austin Farm to Table profile
Olivia, 2043 S. Lamar, New American, lunch (Friday & Saturday only), dinner and Sunday brunch, average dinner entree $30, Austin Farm to Table profile
Perla’s, 1400 S. Congress, Seafood, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, average dinner entree $25
CLOSED: Somnio’s Cafe, 1807 S. 1st St., eclectic (some of everything) – vegetarian friendly, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, average dinner entree $12
Snack Bar, 1224 S. Congress Ave., diner and lounge, daily brunch, lunch, dinner and late night, average dish price $9. Austin Farm to Table profile
Taco Deli, 1500 Spyglass, Tex Mex, breakfast and lunch, average taco price is $3
Thai Fresh, 909 W. Mary, Thai, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $10, Austin Farm to Table profile
Uchi, 801 S. Lamar, Contemporary Japanese cuisine + sushi, dinner, average small plate $15, average roll price $12
Vespaio, 1610 S. Congress Ave., Italian, dinner, average entree $25
Whip-In Parlour Cafe & Market, 1950 S. IH-35, Indian, breakfast, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $11

East Austin
Blue Dahlia Bistro, 1115 E. 11th St., French Bistro, breakfast, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $11, Austin Farm to Table profile
Local Yolk, 1112 E. 6th St., Locally sourced egg dishes like egg sandwiches and deviled eggs, breakfast & lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday, dinner and late night Thursday through Saturday, Sunday brunch, average dish $6
East Side Show Room, 1100 E. 6th St., Bistro, dinner, average dinner entree $20, Austin Farm to Table profile
Eastside Cafe, 2113 Manor Rd., American,  lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, average dinner entree $18
Eastside Pies, 1401B Rosewood Ave., Pizza, lunch and dinner, large pizza averages $20
Hope Farmers Market, 414 Waller St, various vendors with prepared food, fresh produce, meats, cheeses and artisan food products, Sundays 11 am – 3 pm.
Justine’s Brasserie, 4710 E. 5th St., French, dinner, average entree $15
Campus/Central
Asti Trattoria, 408-C E. 43rd St., Italian, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $20
Chango’s Taqueria, 3023 Guadalupe, Mexican, lunch and dinner, average cost for 2 tacos $6
CLOSED: El Arbol, 3411 Glenview, Argentinian, dinner, average entree $23, Austin Farm to Table profile
FINO, 2905 San Gabriel, Mediterranean/Spanish, lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch, average dinner entree $22, Austin Farm to Table profile
Foreign+Domestic, 306 E. 53rd St., New America, dinner, average entree $19, Austin Farm to Table profile
Get Sum Dim Sum, 4400 N. Lamar, Asian, lunch and dinner, average cost of 3 items $10, Austin Farm to Table profile
Kerbey Lane Cafe, 2606 Guadalupe and 3704 Kerbey Lane, American, 24 hours, average entree $10
Taco Deli, 4200 N. Lamar, Tex Mex, breakfast and lunch, average taco price is $3
Texas French Bread, 2900 Rio Grande, American, breakfast, lunch and dinner, average dinner entree $20
Uchiko, 4200 N. Lamar, Japanese farmhouse dishes and sushi, dinner, average small plate $15, average roll $13, Austin Farm to Table profile
Vino Vino, 4119 Guadalupe, New American, dinner, average dinner entree $18
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What does eating local mean when you are dining out?

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Picking restaurants that source from area farms can be a real minefield.  First, how do they define local?  Some people define it as 50 miles, some as Texas.  Growers Alliance of Central Texas (GroACT), a newly formed group of local farmers, defines “local” as 150 miles.  
They’ve recently published the results of a  survey in which they asked local farms what restaurants are buying from them and how often.  The intent of the survey is to establish which restaurants are really buying locally and which ones are just saying it to attract customers.  I applaud the spirit of this survey and was thrilled to see some unsung heroes like East Side Pies on the list.

East side pies

The problem is the results are incomplete.  First, the survey was sent to 80 farms, but not returned by all.  It’s unclear how many farms participated, and if a restaurant buys solely from one of the non-participating farms, then they are not on the list.  Eastside Cafe, a locally sourcing icon, ranks only 16th because they grow and raise most of their own produce and eggs, and they were not sent a survey.   The survey also doesn’t account for the untold number of chefs who shop at the markets or farm stands and don’t identify themselves to the farmers.  I’ve heard of at least three such chefs just this week.

Second, because of the 150 mile radius definition, ranches like Thunderheart Bison (220 miles) and Loncito’s Lamb (170 miles) are not included in the survey even though they provide a great deal of protein to Austin restaurants.  San Miguel Seafood probably wasn’t on the list either as the coast is 190 miles and, again, their fresh Gulf seafood can be found on numerous menus around town.

Rabbit Ravioli
Rabbit ravioli from Parkside
Ceviche Criollo
Gulf ceviche from El Arbol
Corn ravioli
Corn ravioli from Foreign & Domestic

Third, the survey ignores distributors, also called middle men.  I understand from the stories I’ve been told that not all of the farmers are happy with the distributors.  I do understand their concerns, but I also think it’s a bit of sour grapes.  Yes, there are probably distributors who define local as more than 150 miles.  And, yes, there are probably distributors, just as there are restaurants, who are green washing (saying something is local when it really isn’t.)  
If we want the local food system to grow, however, we need distributors.  There are a lot of small farms in Central Texas and we need someone to consolidate pick-up and delivery from these farms to the restaurants.  Rather than cutting the distributors out, we could be working with them to make sure we are all supporting similar goals. 
What’s the solution?  The GroACT list is a great place to start, as is the restaurant list on Edible Austin’s website or the list at the bottom of the Boggy Creek Farm home page. But, you can’t just pick from a list.  You still have to ask questions.
If you have a restaurant that you like that says they serve locally and they aren’t on the lists, ask them why.  Ask them which farms they work with and how they define local. Heck, do that even if they are on one of the lists.

I eat locally because I enjoy the community.  I like knowing the farmers who grow my food and I don’t have a yardstick that I use to measure how far they drove.  I like being able to take my niece and nephew to the farms and show them how food grows.  I love the people I’ve met in the local food community, and I like that I feel better when I eat fresh food.  I figure if I can drive to the farm or ranch on a day trip, that’s local enough for me.

The truth is, there is no definitive answer to what is local.  I could ask ten people in the “sustainable food” community and I’d probably get ten different answers.  It’s up to you to define your local – I can’t do that for you and neither can anyone else. 
Just remember:  the restaurants are more motivated to work with local farms when you ask where your food comes from.  So, get out there, start asking questions and ordering local – however you decide to define it.
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Snapper tacos for a most gracious lady

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I’ve been trying to write a post for three days about these delicious, simple fish tacos I made a few weeks ago, but all I can think of is my grandmother Gladys who passed away over the weekend.  Biologically Gladys was not my grandmother, she’s my stepmother’s mother, but through divorces and remarriages our family tree has always been a little more complicated than some, and Gladys was part of my life for 31 years so I claim her as a grandparent.
Gladys and Sid, her husband, were at every birthday, graduation, Christmas and Thanksgiving.  They always remembered us as they did their own biological grandkids and made us feel part of the family.  And, we she had occasion to introduce us, Gladys always said with a big smile, “These are Barbara’s girls.”   
As I’ve been thinking about her this week, I’ve pondered the role that Gladys played in my food life.  She did not like to cook.  She, however, was always very appreciative when invited over for dinner and was the most gracious of guests – never turning her nose up, instead skipping the dish if it wasn’t something she cared for.  She always praised the meal highly and thanked the cook for their effort.  
Gladys did host one dinner each year, Passover Seder; a meal she usually started by apologizing for not being a better cook.  Her table is where I learned to eat things I had never even heard of before –  my first matzo, gefilte fish and kuegel.  She probably had no idea that she was fueling my slowly growing foodie curiosity, but that’s exactly what happened.  
So, even though I don’t think she would have ever chosen this dish, I dedicate this recipe to Gladys for introducing me to a world of food I knew nothing about and teaching me to be a gracious guest.  I am ever so grateful to have had her as part of my life.
Gladys, these fish tacos are for you.
Snapper tacos with avocado, cilantro and black radish relish
Snapper Tacos with Avocado, Cilantro & Radish relish

During an unseasonably nice week in late January, I received an avocado, cilantro and a black radish in my Farmhouse Delivery bushel.  At the market that Saturday and thought they would make a great relish for fish tacos.  I bought the snapper flilet from San Miguel Seafoods that Saturday and enjoyed this light and flavorful dish for lunch. 

The radish gives the relish a nice kick and crunch.  If you can’t find a black radish, you can substitute withe 4-5 smaller radishes. 
The tacos only take about 15 minutes to make and would be a terrific weeknight meal when paired with some black beans or cilantro rice.
1 snapper filet (about 4 oz per person), leave the skin on to keep the fish in tact while broiling or grilling
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
olive oil
1 avocado
1 black radish (you can substitute several smaller radishes instead)
1/4 bunch of cilantro, rinsed and trimmed
juice from 1 lime
salt to taste
corn tortillas
Preheat the broiler or the grill.
Combine the cumin and chili powder in a small bowl.  
Rub a little olive oil on both sides of the fish.  Rub some of the spice mixture on the top (fleshy part) of the fish.  
Place the fish under the broiler or on the grill and allow it to cook about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.  
While the fish is cooking, dice the avocado and radish.  I peeled my radish, but have since learned that if you leave the skin on a black radish it gives it more of a horseradish taste.  If you’d like to add some extra kick to the dish, leave the skin on the radish.  Chop the cilantro.

Black radish

Combine the radish, avocado, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl.  Salt to taste.
Avocado, cilantro and black radish relish
Remove the fish from the oven.  Wrap the tortillas in a damp washcloth and microwave for about 30 seconds so that they are soft and pliable.

Broiled snapper

Place a small piece of fish on each tortilla and dress with the relish. 
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Dining Out Sustainably: El Arbol

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When I was having a bad day as a kid, all I wanted was go hide in my non-existent tree house.  Well, I’m not a kid anymore, but there are days I’d like to go hang out in the tree house, and now I’ve found the perfect place – El Arbol.

With a three story terraced deck surrounding a gorgeous oak tree, El Arbol mixes modern decor with a 70’s Brady Bunch chic giving you all the ambience you need to enjoy their Argentinian fare.

Ceviche Criollo
Ceviche Criollo
Empanadas
Cerdo & Espinaca Empanada


El Arbol sources Gulf seafood like Snapper and Grouper from San Miguel Seafood, pork from Richardson Farms, and Texas beef from Strube Ranch.  They are also working with John Lash from Farm to Table for local produce.

El Arbol Grouper
Mero con Patatas a la Riojana (Gulf Grouper)


El Arbol Pork Belly
Falda de Cerdo – Braised Richardson Farm Pork Belly
The dishes are packed with flavor from the citrusy tang of the tender ceviche to the hearty spice of the chorizo with a perfectly grilled grouper.  Even a seamlessly innocuous side of fried Brussels sprouts was packed with another flavor that we fought over the portion and almost ordered a second batch.

El Arbol Escolar
Pescado con Noquis – Escolar & Gnocchi


Brussels sprouts at El Arbol
Repollitos de Bruselas

The next time you need to lift your spirits, go hang out at the tree house and enjoy some lovely, locally-sourced Argentinian dishes. Your inner child will be glad you did.
See you at El Arbol!
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