Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bess Bistro

I read somewhere recently (probably on one of the blogs listed at right) about the shift in foodie quests. We've gone from seeking out 'best restaurants' to seeking out 'best dishes.'

If that's true, I've possibly found my favorite tuna tartare in Austin at Bess Bistro. I'd never been to Bess, and the reviews have always been mixed. Still, Sandra Bullock's place has always been on my "to do" list because frankly, I adore the woman and her philanthropic tendencies and it just so happens I've seen most of her movies more than once, including "Hope Floats." Sue me.

I'd been to Walton's Fancy and Staple (twice), and while I found the food a bit bland, the space and decor are enough to lure me in a third time. And the bakery. And the cute but entirely unnecessary sundries on display. (Unnecessary because, really, who *needs* a $38 soy wax candle?)

Bess was equally alluring in terms of decor; the cozy factor is off the radar, with warm hues of brown and orange complementing the dark wood furniture. Low light and gas light sconces made it feel like a late-night weekend when it was in fact noon on a Tuesday.

As always, my sushi obsession carries over even to non-Asian restaurants when possible. I perused the menu, and though the salads looked incredible and the crab cake was sounding right up my alley, nothing else seemed to exist from the moment I spotted tuna tartare. Because this was a sponsored lunch (read: my employer paid), I didn't hesitate to order a $15.95 entree (thanks, boss!), and I went so far as to ask our waitress to add a petite arugula salad with lemon-thyme vinaigrette. (I'd noticed the arugula salad listed with the crab cake; they were kind enough to add it to lunch at no extra cost.)

A beautiful, round mound of diced yellowfin arrived, fresh and generous in portion, mixed with avocado chunks. The menu boasts a yuzu-marinated citrus medley, and the citrus flavor blended well and seemed to lighten up the naturally oily tuna and avocado. Toasted crostinis and the added arugula salad were the perfect accompaniments.

This dish most definitely gives the Galaxy salad a run for its money.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thai Basil Noodles

Several months ago, we took a cooking class at Thai Fresh with Jam. The class was noodle-centric and, as I've slowly moved my things into my new home over the past few weeks, one thing is clear: between the two of us, we have a sizable collection of Asian noodles in all shapes and sizes. I'm vowing to cook our way through them to make room in the pantry. (Probably for fresher noodles.)

We picked up some ground beef at the Hope Farmer's market recently, and I figured it would make a great substitute for the pork used in Jam's Thai basil noodle dish. (It was, and I always feel great about cooking at home with a more responsible meat option. As a bonus, the meat wasn't nearly as fatty as your hormone-laden, H-E-B variety. It's hard to miss the fat when you're using generous amounts of oil for cooking the garlic, chilies and shallots.)

I'm too lazy to repost Jam's recipe (it's not on her blog; we only have a soy-stained hard copy), but fortunately, there's a near-identical copy out there.

"Everyday Food" is a DVR-must, and the only differences between this recipe and Jam's are the use of palm sugar instead of regular white sugar, the use of both dark and light soy sauce, and noodles vs. rice. Though once we get through our heap o' noodles, I'm going to try it with the EF's coconut rice suggestion.

Serves 6

1 1/4 cups jasmine rice
1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
(Or sub these first two items for noodles!)
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar (We used palm sugar)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
(We added a shallot)
3 long hot peppers or red jalapeno chiles, seeded and sliced into 2-inch matchsticks
1 1/4 pounds ground beef sirloin
1 cup loosely packed torn fresh basil leaves
Lime wedges, for serving


1. In a medium saucepan, combine rice, coconut milk, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes.

2. When rice is almost done, combine fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl; set aside. Heat a cast-iron skillet or wok over high. Add oil and heat; add garlic and half the chiles. Cook, stirring constantly, 15 seconds. Add beef and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until completely browned, about 4 minutes. Add soy mixture and cook 30 seconds. Add basil and remaining chiles and stir to combine. Serve beef over coconut rice (or noodles!) with lime wedges.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I take that back. THIS is the worst food photo* of all time.

But I don't care. Because despite the $30 Samsung camera phone crap quality of this photo, it's the best homemade pasta carbonara I've ever had. (It's also the first, but that is so not the point.)

Mike made the dough - look, Ma! no recipe! - and I tended to a slow-fry of the pancetta, which we'd purchased at the Hope Farmer's Market a couple of weeks ago. I also prepped the egg/parmesan/black pepper sauce. We didn't have cream in the house, so I Googled and found a creamless recipe. I'm always hesitant to use recipes on the Interwebs when the site looks a bit sketchy, as this one did. I'm glad I took the leap of faith.

I have no doubt that fresh eggs, bianco sardo from Antonelli's and farmer's market pancetta jointly elevated the recipe. But without question, the star of the show was the thick-cut, handmade pasta dough -- a cross between a tagliatelle and a pappardelle. It was delicate yet sturdy, and boiled to the perfect consistency.

I had some doubts a few months ago about making homemade pasta. The store-bought variety, I thought, was just as tasty and so much easier. But now that Mike has mastered the art, I'm pretty sure there's no going back. (Unless he's out of town, and I really want some spaghetti.)

*Food photo quality is about to improve dramatically! We found Mike's camera tucked behind some books on the bookshelf, and just last night, I activated a friend's old iPhone so I can use it until I'm eligible for an 'upgrade' in January. No more Samsung!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Most disappointing food photo of all time*

We'd had calamari steaks in the freezer for a couple of months, so tonight we dipped them in egg wash and bread crumbs a la milanese and paired them with salad. My sister got me hooked on cilantro-laden salad, and tonight I kept it simple: spinach, cilantro, red onion, and some heirloom tomatoes from the best grocery store in Austin. (And in a lucky twist of fate, it is also one of the few grocery stores that is now located between my office and my new commute** home!) The salad was topped with the best - and most fattening - dressing ever. Cashew Tamari from Mother's. I can't explain, really; you'll just have to try for yourself one day.

Because we had such a low-carb dinner, I went and found me some carbaliciousness in the fridge. Our lovely friend Gerald gave us, as a birthday treat for Mike, the loveliest loaf of zuchinni bread on the planet. I raved about it when Gerald brought some to share at our picnic at Blues on the Green last week. It's a far cry from the savory zuke bread my little sis makes on occasion. This one is cakey, chockful of sugar, butter, walnuts and small bits of green that make you feel a little bit better about eating it. I had mere half-slice for dessert tonight, proving to myself that I am capable of exhibiting a modicum of self control.

*I'm still without an iPhone. We can't find Mike's camera. And his Google phone camera is almost as bad as my $30 Samsung phone camera.

**I am officially moved in with my future hubby. Or I will be once we get the last of my furniture into his house next week. My commute is exactly the same, only now I'm a bit northeast of downtown instead of southeast. And I get Wheatsville, the Triangle and most of Hyde Park on my drive home. Double-thumbs up.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


I have a serious confession to make. I've never been to Uchi.

I've tried. Twice! Once on my birthday (too many people/too short notice for a reservation) and once for lunch (closed). I didn't try hard enough, because although sushi is my favorite food in the world, I'm really, really cheap sometimes. And I've heard how easy it is to drop $100 at Uchi and leave hungry. So I held out. And now, I'm glad I did.

Uchiko is the new spin-off of Austin's hippest sushi restaurant -- “child of Uchi,” loosely translated. And though Uchiko has not yet opened to the public, I'm on the email list (thanks, Jodi!) of the PR people who represent Uchi, Uchiko, and Gumbo's, among others.

So when I got an email a couple of weeks ago inviting me to Uchiko's soft opening at 50% of the regular menu price, I jumped. Literally. Out of my seat. Then I quickly sat back down and frantically replied to the PR contact. Once my reservation was secure, I suggest Jodi and Adam contact and make it a four top.

I studied the Uchiko menu days before our reservation; I even printed it out and circled the items I planned to try. I didn't want to be unfamiliar and overwhelmed by the options.

All told, our dinner came to $60 a person (that included a healthy 25% tip; the service was fabulous). Would I go back and pay $120 for the exact same meal? Grudgingly, and it'll have to be a very special occasion. But our comment card, which allowed us to rate everything on a 1-5 scale, came to a 4.75 average as agreed upon by our Party of 4. We left very, very happy -- and very, very full.

Here are some photos, with a promise to fill in actual details later. For now, Top Chef (Season 7, episode 3) awaits!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's What's For Dinner

Argentinians love beef. My family is from Argentina; ergo, I love beef.

I try to eat less of it than I used to. I take tips and inspiration from my vegan and vegetarian friends. I agree with our local newspaper food blogger extraordinaire -- if you can't go the all-veg route, cut back on meat consumption. Buy more local ingredients. (And, in my case, stop eating my all-time favorite food: fast food fried chicken. Because what goes into the making of that crap is a nightmare with more ethical and environmental offenses than I care to think about.)

But back to beef.

We were home, you see, visiting my beef-eating Argentinian parents, and lo and behold, there are pounds of meat in the second freezer. So my mom sent us home with about a pound and a half or two of this milanesa-cut beef (neither locally procured nor hormone-free, I'm sure). We invited friends over for dinner the night after we got back. They loved the breaded-and-fried milanesa (we paired it with a beautiful salad courtesy of my sister), but the four adults only consumed about 2/3 of it.

We fried up the rest tonight -- egg wash and whole wheat bread crumbs. (Low on crumbs, we bulked it up with cornmeal this time.) We paired our milanesa with chard (!) from our own backyard (!).

It was lovely low-ish carb dinner.

And then I went and ruined it. At work earlier today, I'd Googled 'sweet potato' and 'gorgonzola' -- two ingredients in our possession, both needing to be cooked sooner rather than later. The first item to pop up yielded this rather rich gratin, and we promptly served ourselves small portions and tucked away the rest.

I'd make this again, but I'd cut back a bit on the brown sugar (at Mike's request) and on the butter (because we wouldn't have missed a little butter).