Sunday, May 23, 2010

Andy Sams Photography

Andy recently tip-toed to the edge of the photography industry. With a deep bend of his knees, he leapt up, curled his legs to his chest, wrapped his arms around them, and did a canonball into the deep end of the photography world. He started his own company- Andy Sams Photography! It's all the work that he (and I) dreamed it would be. But it's paying off. All this is an attempt at explaining the slow tide of posts on Austin by the I'm now the blogger-in-chief of the Andy Sams Photography web log, I spend a lot more time on that. It does have the potential to help pay the bills, so I had to prioritize. We're also spending ample time keeping up the photography website and hope you'll cruise on over and check it out:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thumbs up - Austin Bbgo...Thumbs down - Korea Garden

This post is about something lovely, but it must begin with a diss. Skip Korea Garden. They are dirty, stinkin’ liars who have to rely on past tales of the ‘sushi train’ to lure diners. after hearing that the train had been out of order, I called to verify that we’d be able to indulge in the silliest of sushi services. was told “yes, come on down, yes, it’s open on weeknights, yes, it’ll be going till 10pm but we are open now so come on over…” only to arrive and see the conveyor belt is now a shelf for knick knacks and hear the only woman working there deny that she’d been the one who misinformed me on the telephone. it’s not like we live up north, we drove 20+ minutes for that sushi experience. just on principle, we ended up eating somewhere else.
*rant over*

after debating on trying somewhere new, we settled for Austin Bbgo, the yummy place with the whacked out name (did they misread BBQ and didn't realize it until after their massive sign was made? is it an indecipherable effort to bolster their take-out business?). ambiance is non-existent in the strip mall spot, but it’s BYOB and consistently turns out some of the best Korean food I’ve had. they recently got a new menu (which has better English explanations) and new signage.

we ordered and quickly gobbled up some mandu dumplings while deciding on the max amount of food we could possibly hold. we selected 2 dishes, knowing the banchan would be plentiful.

on this night the little dishes were piled with kimchi, cucumber kimchi, spicy fish cake strips, jellyfish salad and mild egg custard (the only plate we didn’t lick clean. it was a texture thing for me, andy was down though.) our bibimbap was a plentiful mix of fluffy starch and crunchy veggies, of tame fried egg and spicy red pepper sauce. Textbook and delicious.

the kimchi pajeon was loaded with the fermented cabbage, pork chunks and green onions. it was thick enough to retain it’s spongy center while crisping up oh-so-nicely on the outside. I was really excited the next day to see that it re-heated better than I’d expected.

Austin Bbgo is not a first date kinda spot…more like an 'I know you’re down for a great food adventure even if there’s nothing to look at but each other’ kinda place. the people are friendly enough. but definitely go for the food.

6808 North Lamar Blvd # B-110

Friday, April 23, 2010

Straight from the state of Michoacán?

La Michoacana Meat Market is the largest independently owned, Hispanic grocery store in the US. Although it was started in Houston in 1986, the stores generously dot the city of Austin. My interest was first piqued because I noticed no matter what time of the day or night I passed one, it seemed to be flanked by tons of loiters.

On a Sunday exploration, between thrift store shopping and wildflower hunting, we decided to stop in for some fuel. We landed at one of the smaller locations, near Manchaca and Stassney, that was adequately crowded considering its square footage. After passing the bling corner where they ‘compramos oro’, we headed straight for the deli counter off to one side. All the signs and menus are written in that type of Spanish that uses reflectives and odd verb endings and obviously isn’t intended for college-level gringos. After trying to order at the counter, being waved off to the checkout line, finding the correct lane in which you could buy deli foods and returning to the ready-made food counter, we got a little nervous, fearing we wouldn’t be able to communicate what kind of carne we wanted; it appeared they didn’t have time to play language games. As I tentatively tried to request specific fillings, one cook took pity on us and called us to the end of the counter where we were able to talk meat.

For a whopping $5.50 we ended up with enough food to easily feed us both a hearty, might have to delay your actual dinner sort of snack.

The barbacoa gordita was stacked and sauced nicely. the tortilla halves were complementary bookends; the top thin and fried crisp, the bottom thicker with a bit of toothiness and grain to it. The barbacoa was plentiful, tender and not too fatty but lacked any salty highlights. the crema and key lime juice did their part to wet the mound of goodness. it was the kind of sandwich that leaves a small side salad on your plate to be devoured as a second course.

The carnitas taco was so excellent that we had eaten it all before realizing that neither of us had photographed it. The meat was flavorful and juicy, and accented well by green and red peppers that had been simmered along with the pork. With its sprinkling of onions and cilantro, it stole the show.

The Mexican drinks left something to be desired. Be sure to choose the ones that say ‘natural flavors’ to avoid that battery acid after taste.

La Michoacana also provided after lunch entertainment; weaving through the aisles we found tons of reasonably priced and well organized goodies. Although, we would go to a larger location next time for more real estate to explore. The meat counter revealed all sorts of cuts and bits that aren’t normally displayed in grocery stores. It’s stacked in lexan containers behind glass. In an attempt to order some loose chorizo I requested a half hour of book, but eventually got around to a decipherable medio libro.

The whole place is quite an adventure and the delicious food was a fitting reward for navigating some confusing protocol.

Ps. We found the wildflowers post-meal.
Pps. We didn't demolish the entire field by traipsing through it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Japanese cause for celebration

Deep nostalgia about my time spent living in Japan creeps up often, but never more so than during early spring. It reminds me of Hanami, the cherry blossom festivals, and the days we spent camped out in the park admiring the delicate pink and white blossoms and partying with townspeople. It’s a magical sight, in March and April (depending on the year’s weather), when all the trees are in full bloom. Takada Park was minutes from my apartment and was home to an aged castle and one of the largest cherry blossom gatherings in the region. The sky would be awash in floating and fluttering petals and the land would turn to a sea of tarps topped with picnics, coolers of beer and revelers. For the entirety of the blooming spell, people would stop by the park on the way to work and stake out a coveted spot. You could leave a blanket and supplies unattended all day, no worries. After work, everyone would head straight to the park, party all night with any and everyone, straggle home late, and do it all again the next day.

In honor of the season, Andy and I decided to hit up the most izakaya like restaurant we know of in town, Ryu. We were excited about the prospect of Japanese bar food instead of the more usual fare of sushi and noodles that prevail in most towns. The menu nor the food disappointed.

We started on fresh palettes with a sampling of nigiri- hamachi, hotate, unagi, maguro that was all tender and resting atop tasty rice (bad rice is a show stopper for me…).

Aji tataki was the star of the evening. While tataki is sometimes construed as seared, it actually comes from the Japanese word tataku meaning to beat or hit. It refers to the chopping of the fish. This Aji was top-notch in taste and presentation. So much so, it warranted an iphone shot.

Small piles were positioned around the plate, each a different preparation. There were slices to be eaten as sashimi, chopped bits to be wrapped in accompanying shiso leaves and a dice mixed with ginger, scallions and sesame oil that was out of this world. Once finished, our waitress took the skewered carcass back to the kitchen, had it deep fried and chopped into sections. We ate the entire crispy, salty skeleton minus one eyeball and a tiny bit of head. Don’t grimace ‘till you’ve tried it.

We also sampled the seafood and vegetable tempura. The batter was spot on, but the pumpkin and sweet potato were sliced too thick and didn’t soften up adequately during fry time.

The nasu no shogayaki was perfectly reminiscent of the ginger-sauced sautéed eggplant we ate weekly in Japan.

Yakitori was a better-than-what-I’m-used-to representation of authentic Japanese chicken on a stick. But the cuts and pieces aren’t for the weak at heart; skinless, all-white breast meat was a minor player on the skewer.

I was excited by the willingness of our Japanese waitress to suffer patiently through my failing Japanese. She also took time to tell us about a recent trip to Japan that unfortunately had occurred a week before the cherry blossoms began to bloom.

I highly recommend checking out Ryu (which means dragon in Japanese) for the quality of the food and experience. One thing that was decidedly un-authentic is their lack of a beer and wine license. It’s BYOB until then or, if you luck out like we did, the bartender from a spot next door will stroll through with a few 6-packs tucked under her arm and hook you up, hoping that you’ll visit her for your ni-jikai (that’s Japanese for after party).

Ryu of Japan.11101 Burnet Road.(512) 973-9498

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tam Deli's lovely banh mi

andy and I spent an afternoon on the north end of Austin exploring. I’d heard tell of Tam Deli and darn near insisted we seek it out. That became much more of a hard sell after iphone lead us astray and we ended up on a dead-end, pot-hole ridden street surrounded by dilapidated trailers and stray dogs. luckily we doubled back and spotted it tucked away in a non-descript strip mall.

upon entering, we already knew what we were having pretty much. it was a nice surprise to see a rather lengthy menu of options that proved this wasn’t just a sandwich shop but more of an earnest Vietnamese café. we split 2 banh mi sammies, the lemongrass beef and the bbq pork, and couldn’t resist trying the shrimp and yam fritters.

the sandwiches were a bit smaller than I’m used, barely pushing 8 inches. but they definitely brought the goods. veggies did their crunchy, tangy trick…bread was crusty and chewy.

the juice and marinade from the lemongrass beef seeped into the bread and added a nice, moist complement to the asian mayo. hands down the bbq pork was the more perfect sandwich, which speaks to the quality of the meat considering all other ingredients were held constant. the texture was firm but not tough, the pieces were well chopped, in strips not logs, and the flavor was just charred enough.

although the fritters were unlike my great-grandma‘s hoe cakes and cornbread fritters in composition, I wasn’t disappointed. These non-pancakes were expertly fried; the crunchy nests of batter dotted with tiny chunks of yam and miniature shell-on shrimp.

the cheap and cheerful meal makes me lament it’s a bit of a haul to Tam Deli. but if that banh mi recipe from Bon Appetit that I stumbled upon tastes as awesome as it sounds, I won’t even have to leave the house for one…

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Love Me a Banh Mi

been craving one of these vietnamese sandwiches for a while now. the urge was compunded by an article i read in the new york times dining & wine section which reviewed the best spots for these fresh and filling treats. unfortunately they were all in manhattan. luckily, austin has a contingency of its own banh mi vendors. i've heard great things about tam's deli, but it's a little ways north and never seems to be inside the acceptable radius for scoring food when i get a hankering. after a little internet research, i uncovered Lulu B's on the corner of s. lamar and oltorf. i would have missed this little white trailer nestled under some trees next to office depot had i not been scouting for it.
the menu is simple; sandwich or noodle bowl. the choices of meat are straightforward; pork or chicken that's grilled, bbq'ed or cooked with lemongrass. i ordered the chinese bbq pork sandwich and hunkered down by a tree, which also holds the menu, trying to escape the wind. After less than 5 minutes and $5 i was on my way.

this sandwich was really, really good. perfectly sauced and grilled pork, lightly charred with just enough crunchy, carmelized bits. not too fatty. the condiments were yum; pickled carrots, handful of cilantro, and cucumber sticks that were seeded and peeled with care. the footlong french-inspired bread was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, with a swipe of good asian mayo (kewpie?). the sandwich was light on the daikon, a personal favorite, but heavy on flavor. i'll definitely be back for another of these treats that managed to tickle all my sweet, salty, sour and spicy taste buds.

good thing i studied CPR...

Oh no…this is horrible…
We need help…
It’s not looking good.
What’s the little guy’s name?
Austin…can you hear me?
(Quiet. Waiting)
No pulse.
I need a defib – stat.
Everybody stand back.
In 4, 3, 2, 1…
Checking for pulse.
I’ve got something…
It’s holding steady.
Dunt dun…dunt dun…dunt dun…
Not quite the end of the road for austinbythehorns yet…