Friday, January 8, 2010

Love for La Condesa

Basically anything Rene Ortiz touches is amazing. I love Public, love Odea, and love La Esquina. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE La Condesa.

I walked in the door knowing that the “jalapeno drink”, or so it was called by my friend, was one that must be tried. There it was on the drink menu – the Alma Blanca described as habanero-infused simebra azul blanco ,domain de canton ginger liquer, agave nectar, pineapple juice, fresh corn, joja de hierba santa, hibiscus-rose-infused salt rim. Um…yes please.

But then I saw the El Guillermo – fig infused Jim Beam Black, navan vanilla liquer, orange butters, grilled pineapple juice – and I was torn. So I ordered both. And I could not tell you which one was better. It truly is a not better but different situation.

My cousin ordered the Watermelon-elderflower martini - Tito’s vodka, st germain elderflower liquer, agave nectar, citrus and watermelon juice. It was nice but a little too sweet. It would be a great cocktail to round out a meal versus having dessert.

With the drinks at the table, we were still in a quandary over what to order for dinner. Honestly, I wanted all of the entrees but was stuck trying to pick between the Barbacoa de Cordero – Lambchop & Roasted lamb shoulder baked in maguay leaf, esquites, cactus salad and jalepeno-mint recado and the Carne Asada – Oak-grilled ribeye, ensanada red wine butter, fried delicate squash, local radish salad, roasted garlic.

I went with the carne asada and bullied my cousin into having the lamb. With entrees selected we ordered some guacamole with pomegranate and queso fresco (you can also get it with Chipotle and toasted almonds, green apple and crab and, I heard a rumor, they serve it with watermelon in the spring!) and sipped on our amazing cocktails.

The guacamole was fantastic. And never would I ever have thought of adding pomegranate seeds because of the contrast in textures. But the sweet pop actually complimented the smoother avocado texture quite nicely. I usually live by the rule that a simple guacamole is the best way to enhance an avocado. However, I will be breaking that rule and will steal this little addition next time I make it at home.

With not one pomegranate seed left behind, we moved on to the main courses. The carne asada was impeccable. So good that I can’t even remember how the accompaniments tasted. And if I think about it, I can actually conjure up the taste of the sweet and savory beef, which immediately makes me start salivating. The meat was so delicious on its own that I was two-thirds finished before I remembered it came with a sauce. (Which is crazy because we all know that sauce is my favorite food)

The lamb was also delicious though not as flavorful as the steak. However, the esquites, the lamb’s signature side dish was one of the most unusual and delectable dishes I’ve ever tried. It was corn that had been charred, soaked in milk (I think) rinsed to remove the burnt kernels, and mixed with cheese, mayonnaise, and a number of other ingredients I can’t recall. It tasted like nothing I’ve ever tried before but can be best described as a smoky creamed corn with whole kernels and without the thick cream. If you are a vegetarian, ask if you can order this corn dish as a side!

We were too full for dessert, but the selection looked spectacular and will have to be tasted on the next trip. I’m back in Austin in March for two weeks and I plan on visiting them multiple times. Hopefully, I’ll have dessert along with the entire right side of the menu.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dinner at Lamberts

I’ve been waiting to eat at Lamberts for three years. And it was well worth the wait, though the meal got off to a rocky start with the appetizer. Before I even walked in the door I’d decided that I was going to start with the Crispy Wild Boar Ribs served with Honey & Sambal* Glaze & Daikon Slaw.

Dissecting a menu before you walk in the door is a fatal flaw because you have a lot more time to raise expectations. And for some reason, I expected these to be amazing. But they were so teeny tiny I could barely taste the meat, which meant I could also barely taste the sauce. And I hate when I can’t try a new sauce. So I grabbed a corn muffin and dipped it in. AMAZING! If only the ribs had been a little meatier…

Moving on to the main course. I had the Beef Brisket. My cousin had the Jalapeno Hot Links and we shared the Brussels Sprouts, Fried Okra, and the Green Chili Cheese Grits. My brisket was perfect – perfect as a conduit for the three unbelievable sauces brought to the table. The sauces were so delicious. One sweet, one mustard, one spicy – and when mixed together it created a tangy sauce with a kick. I tried to buy them to bring home but because they are made without preservatives (that’s usually a good thing!) I couldn’t swing it. It may be reason enough to move to Austin.

Lamberts is a BBQ spot. But the selection on the sides’ menu probably draws in almost as many herbivores as carnivores. As an omnivore, I wanted to try it all. You must get the grits. I’m writing a grits cookbook. I know grits. But never have I ever tasted grits quite like these. They were more chili than cheese and sweet with a hint of spice. Next week while on vacation I’m going to try to recreate this recipe. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Day one in Austin was a success. I can’t wait to see how tonight’s dinner at La Condesa compares.

*For those who don’t know what Sambal is because I didn’t and had to turn to the Google. Here you go: A Sambal is a chili based sauce which is normally used as a condiment. Sambals are popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and Sri Lanka, as well as in the Netherlands and in Suriname through Indonesian influence. It is typically made from a variety of peppers, although chili peppers are the most common. It is sometimes a substitute for fresh chilis. It can be extremely spicy for the uninitiated. Some ready-made sambals are available at exotic food markets or gourmet departments in supermarkets in many countries. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

I kicked off 2010 in proper form by hosting a Hair of the Dog Party. It was a great day shared with 30 (yes, 30 people in my one-bedroom apartment) of my favorite friends and involved an all afternoon Bloody Mary bar, snacks, and football followed by a Southern Dinner Buffet. Here is the menu:

Bloody Mary Bar
13 bottles of BM Mix (in six varieties)
Pickled Okra
Green Beans

Red Pepper Relish w Cream Cheese - Fritos Scoops
Onion Dip - Homemade Potato Chips
White Pizza Dip
Cheese, Fruit and Charcuterie Platter
Veggies & Spinach Dip
Ricotta & Fig Tart
Puff Pastry Pick Ups

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder
Spicy Collards
Black Eyed Peas
Corn Casserole
Pineapple Casserole
White Cheddar Grits
Rice Stuffing

Peppermint Brownies
Christmas Cookies
French Vanilla Cupcakes
Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream

Hands down the pineapple casserole was the crowd favorite as few hadn't even heard of such a thing. I forget that not everyone grew up having it at every family reunion and/or potluck. I tripled the recipe which was not smart. I should have made three batches separately and combined them at the end.

I was very ambitious and tried David Chang's Bo Ssam Pork recipe from the Momofuku cookbook. It was good, but no where close to the deliciousness I had at Momofuku Ssam Bar last month. And I should've tried to make it at least once before tripling it to feed 30 people. I also made his recipe for ginger scallion sauce which will forever be a staple in my fridge.

I'm really proud of three things. First, I've finally perfected my White Cheddar Grits recipe. Second, I made the best vanilla frosting I've ever eaten...if I do say so myself. Third, I may honestly have the best friends in the world. I feel so blessed to have been able to celebrate the start of a new year with such kind, smart, and talented people. And I have a feeling it's only going to get better from here!