Yes, we will. It’s true. Descriptions of the best Italy trip- its wine, its food, its sights- coming soon!
Yes, we’re back! Many life events have happened. But, we’re back. Some great new places, food, and wine. We’ve enjoyed the experience of getting to know these and are looking forward sharing!
Here is a great article from NY Times wine writer Eric Asimov. He is are favorite wine critic and writer. Please note- several wines are from our favorite valley in Oregon.
It’s Wednesday night. Marc is at a dress rehearsal for Austin Opera’s A Masked Ball. He texted me earlier in the day “let’s do something fun Friday night.”
Inspiration came in an email from the Red Room Lounge on 3rd Street:
Exclusive Wine Tasting – The Donum Estate with Anne Moller-Racke. There are only two days left until our next tasting event at The Red Room Lounge. The Donum Estate will be showing their wine collection for an exclusive tasting on Friday, November 7th.
Anne Moller-Racke, President and Winegrower of The Donum Estate, will be in attendance to discuss the wines showcased at the event. Anne is also the Featured Winemaker for The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’ Rare and Fine Wine Auction that will take place in April 2015.
We have visited the Red Room Lounge on 3-4 occasions prior to this event, but never for a wine tasting. This place is so unusual and fun, and we always feel an excited energy in the room. The front door on 3rd street has only one red light that is lit when it’s open. You step into what looks like a speakeasy, wishing you had a red carnation for entry. As you step down into the establishment, the dark and cozy atmosphere is romantic and hushed, but with a fun energy of the those who serve you. The decor is a mix of ancient artifacts and signed electric guitars–yes, unusual and fun.
After the pain of facing Mopac traffic and parking downtown, we were treated to a fascinating tasting of California wines (mostly Pinot Noirs) from the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma.
The set-up featured a table set with eight wines available for tasting. Ms. Moller-Racke graciously poured and shared information about each wine. A lovely spread of cheese, nuts, olives and dried fruit was also provided to enjoy with the wines.
We found a comfy corner of a couch to plant ourselves on for the duration of the tasting.
Literature about the winery and the Pinot Noir growing area of Sonoma provided us great reference material. As always, I am overwhelmed by how little I know about the wine-making industry. Once we begin tasting, however, I am reminded of why I love tasting wine:
- It is an activity that invites the use of multiple senses.
- It is a process that provokes uninhibited thought and conversation with friends and those closest to you.
- It is an amazing learning process – life long learning – yeah!
- It brings you close to nature and the humans that nurture and celebrate the earth.
- It is fun!
The wines we tasted (and a few notes on our favorites):
Stemmler Estate Chardonnay, Carneros 2012— crisp, clean, and citrusy without the surge of oak. Pleasing to the palate, paired with cheese and dried fruit like a champ
Stemmler Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011
Stemmler Estate “Nugent Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2011
Donum Estate Chardonnay, Carneros 2012
Donum Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros 2012
Donum Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2011
This “hands down” jumped to the top of our list. What an amazing wine! luscious, velvety texture with a voice that quietly says, “I’m a Pinot and I know it.” A Pinot that touches your soul and reminds you that God speaks through these grapes.
Donum Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2012
Donum Estate “West Slope” Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011
During the course of the evening, Ms. Moller-Racke visited with us several times. We mentioned to her that we had recently become quite fond of Oregon Pinot Noir, and she was eager to hear our thoughts about her wines. So charming and approachable, Ms. Moller-Racke was happy to chat with us about her wines and the area of Sonoma she calls home. She also shared some great travel tips for visiting the region.
Here is a tour of our eats and drinks Thursday – Sunday, October 16-19, 2014.
Dinner: Cheddar, Corn, and Potato Chowder
A recipe from the Whole Foods App. I serve it with Aurelia’s Chorizo. You can find this on occasion at HEB (the Besitos – small links). Central Market also carries Aurelia’s chorizo products. The authentic flavors in this chorizo can no be beat!
Dinner: Conan’s Pizza – Marc grew up with this Austin landmark. Still has the phone number memorized. (sorry – no picture.)
Wine: Cote 125 2013 Corbières, a new French offering from our favorite Austin wine shop, EAST END WINES.
Beer (my Dad joined us): Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Marc grilled Beef Ribeye, served with a Porcini Butter (an idea I borrowed from Vino Vino). The Potato Gratin was amazing! I found this recipe on a favorite blog – the Brown Eyed Baker. This recipe will definitely grace our table again, most likely when a friend like you is over for dinner.
Recipe link – Bacon, Mushroom and Potato Gratin
For dessert, I made Chocolate Coconut Bars, a recipe from Martha Stewart. All of the ingredients were already in my pantry, so this was easy and fun. I substituted vanilla wafers for the graham crackers. I used a variety of chocolate chips – all were partial bags left over from a previous recipe (or Ben’s late night snacking). These bars are soft and chewy, but not sticky. We will be eating these all week long!
Recipe link – Chocolate Coconut Bars
Breakfast: Trader Joes’ Pumpkin Pancakes
At $2.99, this pancake mix is a real deal. They were very easy to make, needing a minimal amount of extra ingredients. The texture was soft and the flavor reminded me of Kirby Lane’s version. A nice treat for a quick breakfast before church.
Lunch: Sierras Mexican Restaurant in Georgetown
Our son, Nick, introduced us to this new place. Now that we are attending church in Georgetown, it is nice to eat locally so we can spend time with Nick. I’ve had the beef enchiladas both visits and they are great. Solid Tex-Mex fare with great service, good price point, and no wait.
Dinner: The famous Chicken Tamale Casserole – an Erck staple.
I found this recipe in a Cooking Light magazine years ago. I’ve altered it slightly, omitting the green chilies, and using one whole egg, instead of the egg white. Heats up wonderfully as leftovers.
Recipe link – http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-tamale-casserole
One of our favorite symphonic pieces lured us to an Austin Symphony concert. Several years ago, Debra played a band arrangement of Scheherazade at LBJ High School (a big SHOUT OUT to Don Haynes, LBJ Band Director). Marc played the same transcription at Anderson High School. A few years ago, the Anderson High School band played an entire marching band show featuring the work’s amazing themes by Rimsky-Korsakov. What can we say. We love it!
Due to ACL (Austin City Limits), we knew that our best bet for a bite to eat before the concert would be to get down to the Long Center early and find some spot close by to dine. We decided on El Alma, described on their website as a “homespun take on the contemporary flavors of Mexico”
The wine list is pretty limited (only 4-5 offerings by the glass). The Malbec Debra selected was fine, but did not hold up to the mole sauce in her entrée. Marc went with a Negro Modello on tap. Excellent choice.
For dinner, we enjoyed the following:
Fish Taco – marinated black drum, Valentina aioli slaw, avocado
The Tamale Special
Duck Enmoladas – Shredded roasted duck enchiladas with pasilla mole and almonds. Side serving of Corn Pudding
The duck enmoladas were fantastic – a generous portion of shredded, tender duck meat rolled in a soft tortilla and covered in an authentic mole sauce. The mole was excellent – in the same category as our favorite mole sauce at Manuels. The Corn Pudding was served like a small cornbread casserole muffin – creamy texture and good balance of sweet flavor and heat.
I might also note that they serve chips with two styles of salsa while you are waiting for your meal. I really like the smokiness and the texture of their red salsa.
After the concert we had planned on stopping somewhere for dessert, but it took us over an hour just to get out of the Long Center parking garage (due to ACL traffic). Oh well, I guess that goat cheesecake at Vino Vino will have to wait.
DINING AT HOME – OCTOBER 2014 — Now that Marc and I fall in the “empty nesters” club, our meals at home look and feel a little different.
First adjustment: servings. Although it is nice to have leftovers for the lunchbox, an abundance of servings equals waste – or eating the same dish for multiple days in a row. Neither of those options suits me. Therefore, our goal is 4 servings max.
Second adjustment: variety of offerings at one meal. Now that there is no longer a need for multiple veggie/fruit choices on the table (aka picky eaters), we aim for a protein, a veggie or salad and one “extra” – either a starch, fruit, or additional vegetable.
Third adjustment: adventure and budget. New recipes are much easier to put on the table now – and we have already found a few keepers that I think the boys are really going to like when they are home. Sometimes new recipes require ingredients that are more expensive and/or more challenging to find. With just two servings needed, however, it is not as cost prohibitive to reach out to a special cut of meat or fish.
Here are a few of our most recent dinners.
SUNDAY NIGHT: Grilled Maple Chipotle Pork chop, roasted sweet potatoes, salad
I found the pork chop recipe on myrecipes.com. This is one of my go-to sites for easy, yet fresh ideas for meals. The maple chipotle sauce is a winner – also works well with grilled shrimp and the Gouda Grits suggested in the same recipe.
Here is a link to my Pinterest Page that features this recipe (and several other family favorites). Musicdillo’s Favorite Family Dinners (Pinterest)
MONDAY NIGHT: Grilled Sausage, Gouda Grits, Butter Lettuce salad with Fuji apple, Goat Cheese and Toasted pecans
We are becoming fonder of the new Whole Foods location in Austin, just north of the Domain. If you go for the sales, you can get some high quality produce and meats at a very reasonable price. They always have a very interesting offering of homemade sausages. We selected two – the Cranberry Chipotle Pork (which we have had before and LOVED) and a Pumpkin Apple mixture (can’t remember the other ingredients). Both were delicious!
The grits recipe is another from myrecipes.com. You can find it on the Pinterest page linked above. I can’t get enough of this dish – super easy and amazingly flavorful. Easy to reheat – just add some milk to the cold grits in a saucepan over low heat until you get the consistency you like.
The salad was my favorite part of the meal. I dressed the fresh ingredients with a light vinaigerette – white wine, white vinegar, a touch of honey, Italian herbs, cracked pepper and olive oil.
TUESDAY NIGHT: Julia Child’s classic Quiche, fresh fruit
I’ve been making this quiche recipe forever! It is so easy, and great for a quick meal when you are not sure what’s available in the fridge. I use frozen regular pie crusts. Do not use the deep dish – they take too long to cook through and the crust will be overcooked. Brown the crusts (I always make two at a time) for about 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven. While the crusts are cooking, combine eggs and milk (2% works fine). The ratio is ONE egg plus milk = ½ cup. It takes about 6 eggs to fill the two pie crusts.
When the crusts come out of the oven, add meat, cheese and/or veggies to your pie crusts. Cooked bacon and cheese (swiss is my favorite, but I use whatever I have in the fridge) is our go-to favorite. In the past we have added things like fresh basil, sliced cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions.
Pour the egg/milk mixture over the other filling items. Sprinkle with seasoning – salt, pepper and paprika are possible options.
Cook at 350F for about 30-35 minutes. GREAT as leftovers for breakfast!
Serve with a salad, or on this occasion, fresh fruit on hand. Nothing elegant, but easy to prep and delicious.
Not sure what’s for dinner tomorrow night – What are YOU serving for dinners at home these days?
After a year hiatus, we are back! We look forward to sharing with you again our culinary adventures – both out and about and at home.
After a challenging week at school, we headed out early (due to ACL) and parked our car at Zach Scott. Before heading to the theatre, we walked over to a relatively new wine restaurant in Austin– Flour and Vine. After reading reviews online, I decided we should sit at the bar and take advantage of their Happy Hour deals. We hit the jackpot.
If your goal is to try several wines, the flight is a good deal. Three half-glasses for half price. We asked the bartender to select a flight of whites and a flight of reds for us from a nice selection of wines sold by the glass.
- 2013 Château Bellevue Entre-deux-Mers, France
70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon blend.
- 2013 Lícia Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain
- 2012 Mouton Cadet, Bordeaux Blanc, France
- 2011 Vecchia Cantina, Rosso Toscano, Campaltino, Italy Sangiovese & Canaiolo.
- 2011 Damilano “Marghe” Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy
- 2012 El Cortijillo Tempranillo, La Mancha, Spain
The Happy Hour food offerings are very reasonably priced. We had:
* The antipasto platter – three cheeses, two meats, cashews, olives, dates, peppers, crostini and mustard. A variety of textures and flavors, which provided some nice pairing with our wine.
* Sauteed Gulf Shrimp, served with paprika rice and a lemon garlic sauce. This was our favorite offering of the evening – and an absolute steal at $7.00. The sauce was reminiscent of our favorite shrimp dish at Paesanos (in San Antonio) – clean, fresh, simple.
* BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders – served with an apple slaw. The pork was delicious – not fatty like some other offerings. Great texture and just the right amount of seasoning.
The bar staff took good care of us as we took our time enjoying our wine and food pairings. It was an easy jaunt to the theatre afterwards for an AMAZING performance of the KING AND I at Zach Scott Theatre.
Hats off to the cast and crew for a moving and memorable evening!!!
Special “thanks” to Mel Sagrado Maghuyop and Yuki Ozeki for visiting my school (Hill Elementary, Austin ISD) and sharing a little theatre “magic” with my 4th graders). Mr. Maghuyop was a captivating King (I cried from the ballet sequence all the way to the end of the show!). Go see the show and support live theatre in Austin, Texas!!
Yes, spoiled we are in Austin. There will never be enough days or meals to enjoy all of the tastes offered in our city – from fine restaurants, to food trucks, delis, cheese shops and wine bars (to name a few). The summer, however, affords us with a little more time to whittle down our “bucket list”.
Fine dining was in order this weekend in celebration of our 24th wedding anniversary. With the amazing experiences we have had in previous years at some of our favorite restaurants (Wink, Vino Vino and the Carillon), it always feels like a risk to try something new. At the top of our “haven’t tried yet list” was Congress, located at the corner of Congress Ave. and 2nd Street on the ground floor of the Austonian condo tower. Two enticing reasons sealed our decision to finally visit this fairly new (just under 3 years old) dining establishment – Chef David Bull, and our favorite sommelier, Paula Rester. Chef Bull needs no introduction – he is a ROCK STAR in the culinary world. We met Ms. Rester at her previous position at Vino Vino, where she delighted us at every visit with great tastes and incredible knowledge of all things “wine”.
Wait until you read about the genius cuisine and wine pairings to follow!
Both the hostess and our server greeted us with “Happy Anniversary”, and before we were even able to get a good look at the surroundings two glasses of Champagne were being poured at our table. Soon after we were presented a menu. There are two choices, a prix-fixe three-course meal, or the chef’s tasting menu (seven courses). I can not imagine attempting seven courses, although there were a couple of offerings on the list that I would have loved to try. The three-course menu presents plenty of choices, but does not include dessert (separate menu). All of the menus can be viewed online at the restaurant’s website: Congress
Once we finally made our selections, the seamless presentation of dinner began.
First, the amuse bouche. Even after having the server repeat the description twice, I cannot remember all of the details about this delightful start to our meal. I will attempt to list the ingredients here, in a similar fashion to how the menu presented the other courses we selected.
Amuse Bouche: Kaffir yogurt * horseradish crème * pickled watermelon * bergamot
Light, refreshing – a great way to prepare the palette for what was coming next.
Bread: Focaccini is what I believe they called this bread. A baby focaccia roll, warm, soft inside, slight crunch on the outside with a hint of sea salt. OMG!
First Course: Steak Tartare · Sunchoke · Parmesan · White anchovy · Grilled Kale · Caesar Dressing
Luscious, rich, beautiful salt from the anchovy, tart from the dressing, Unbelievable. Not sure I have the experience to describe this wonderful dish.
Definitely the most artistic plating of the night! The variety of heights and curves in the visual presentation of this dish reminded me of a roller coaster, but one you would see in a Dr. Suess book. Little stacks of carrots (reminded me of pickles, a little sour and crunchy), tiny orange-yellow hued tomatoes, accompanied by small dollops of two different creams, white and pale orange, that provided a another texture profile for the dish. On top, a playful ribbon of some kind of crunchy veggie – our server believed it was made from a white carrot. This dish was paired with an elegant, yet subtle French burgundy. Excellent!
Second Course: Garden Carrot Ravioli · Spinach · Gingered Carrots · lemongrass · Carrot Tops
Very good, interesting combo (sorry, no picture)
Suckling Pig · loin and Shoulder · Escarole · Ramen Noodle · Black Radish · Bacon Dashi
… and now for something completely different. A big pottery bowl arrives. Inside a pile of ramen noodles, topped with a radish salad (I spied black and watermelon radish cut in very tiny matchsticks with microgreens) and transparent slices of raw pig. Then the server took a beaker with the Bacon Dashi (a piping hot and rich bacon broth, filled with umami) and poored it over the pig, cooking it on the spot.
As the liquid mingled with the rest of the ingredients, pieces of pork emerged from the pile, along with the escarole. This rather substantial dish was paired with an Austrian gewürztraminer, light but spunky. Gewürztraminer is quickly becoming one of my favorite white varietals. Excellent!
Third Course: Surprise! The wine director, Ms. Rester, surprises us with a bonus course – her favorite offering from Chef Bull’s tasting menu:
Cheese agnolotti · Morel Mushroom · Tomato Provencal · Black Truffle · Parmesan
Has food ever made you cry before? Here I go…
(Excuse me while I gain my composure)
This is what I imagine a perfect plate of pasta in Italy would taste like. Delicate pillows of luscious cheese ravioli, accompanied by mushroom heaven, the most tantalizing tomato jam creation, and Parmesan two ways – foam and shaved.
Paired with a beautiful Italian Barbera
– Palladino ‘Bricco delle Olive’ Barbera d’alba Superiore 2007 Piedmont, Italy
Hands down the most exquisite cuisine we enjoyed all night. Simply amazing!
Fourth Course: Ora King Salmon · Grilled Okra · Fried Yucca · Corn Mole · Roasted Corn · Epazote
Goat Tenderloin · Garlic Sausage · Morel Mushroom · Spring Peas · Cumin Yogurt · Pepita
I almost turned this entrée away after the last course. My first time to eat goat, however, so the show must continue. The tenderloin was not gamey at all. It reminded me of a perfectly cooked piece of hanger steak. The sausage was good, but very garlicky and not for the faint hearted. The cumin yogurt and hint of pepita puree were nice accompaniments. This was one of those rare times when I would have liked a little more of the accompanying condiment (not sure what else to call it). I am not a fan of peas, so they were quietly left behind.
I loved the pairing of a Spanish petite syrah blend with this dish.
Fifth Course: Before dessert arrived, I ordered a cup of hot tea. The server returned with a box of large test tubes, each holding a varietal of tea leaves. From the long-winded descriptions, I could not decipher if there was anything resembling a traditional black tea (like English Breakfast). Steering clear of the Earl Grey, I ordered the Goddess of Mercy. The tea was presented appropriately, pretty silver teapot, hot water, sugar cubes and a small serving of milk.
Initially we ordered what appeared to be the chocolate dessert offering on the menu.
Chocolate Veloute · Mint Marshmallow · Cocoa Nib · Strawberry-Coconut Sorbet
We were not impressed with this dessert. The sorbet was very good, but the rest of the dish just didn’t meet the mark, in our opinions. I was not taken with the presentation or the combination of textures and flavors.
Once again, an attentive staff member noticed a “disturbance” in the force. They quickly removed the dish, and without even asking, remarked “Let me get you my favorite dessert on the menu.”
Banana Mousse · Milk Chocolate Chiffon · Compressed Banana · Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Now that was more like it. I am not a banana dessert fan, but this plate took the banana to another place. The texture of the mousse was delicate and airy. The combination of banana, peanut butter and chocolate (much more pronounced and better tasting than the chocolate in the previous offering) was a delight. The presentation left you asking “How did they do that?”
Other observations and insights regarding our evening at Congress:
The décor of the room draws your focus to the food and the patrons. Neutral colors, natural lighting, spacious surroundings and very comfortable seating provide no distractions. The employees were also dressed in neutral colors, and moved effortlessly throughout the space. They obviously had watchful eyes, because our table was continually attended to – water glasses never made it to empty and empty dishes were removed right at the moment when you realized that it was time to say “goodbye”.
So, there you go. Probably way too much information for most folks, but I want to remember every detail of this special occasion.
LICK – via Mister Tramps and East End Wines- for best viewing, view from the site EatSipSwirl.com – especially for our email-viewing friends.
You know it is summer when you find yourself at 7:00pm on a Friday night craving a cold treat. We had just finished having dinner with my parents at Papa’s favorite sports pub, Mister Tramps. The boys have joined my dad before for fish and chips at this spot and to watch soccer. Sorry I did not take any pictures. We all ordered fish and chips – batter fried cod fillet served in a basket with French fries, slaw and tartar sauce. It was good – the Brit in all of us smiled.
On our way out the door, Marc and I decided to take a short road trip around Austin.
First to East End Wines for their Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco tasting. Of the four wines, we had tried two before. Our favorite is the Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Pruno Nero. We first experienced this wine at Wink when it accompanied a dish of beef tartare. The Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Brut Rose Spumante also made it to the register with us. A more delicate drink, the Rose will be nice to have on hand for the hot days ahead.
Next we steered west to Lamar, then south, down to LICK.
Lick: Honest Ice Creams, is a small ice cream shop that prides itself in using fresh, local ingredients for all of their small batch ice creams. The list of local farms and food artisans that they partner with is impressive, and you can definitely taste the care taken to make “honest” ice cream in the combinations of flavors that go into their ice creams. Some selections are “Every Day” flavors, while others are seasonal. They also offer gluten-free and vegan varieties.
Here are the selections that we enjoyed today, along with the descriptions from Lick’s website.
Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt- Buttery notes from Texas Olive Ranch Olive Oil and sea salt shine through this dark chocolate flavor.
Caramel Salt Lick —Salty and sweet make it official! Homemade caramel is elevated with just a hint of sea salt.
Blackberry, Lime & Basil –Subtle hints of lime zest and fresh basil illuminate our sweet & tart Poteet, Texas blackberries!
As you can see, we all picked different flavors, and all were amazing. Everyone in our family gives LICK a big “thumbs up” (or should I say a big “lick of the tongue”). I will mention here that the store is pretty small. We were really lucky. We arrived shortly before 8:00pm and walked straight up to the counter just as a large party was exiting. By the time we sat down (there are only a few stools available), the line had 20 people in it. Our very nice server told us that about 8:00pm, the line starts growing – right out the door!
I wish I could remember the cute saying on the LICK t-shirt that the servers were wearing – I would post it here. I guess that means we will just have to venture down to South Austin again this summer.