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Restaurant, movie, book, etc. reviews

Pumpkin Picks

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It may still be warm in Texas, but it’s still pumpkin season. With Halloween tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of my favorite pumpkin treats I’ve found at Trader Joe’s this year.

I’ve been starting my mornings with the Pumpkin Spice coffee, which is seriously delicious. Lots and lots of flavor and I don’t have to add my own spices. I typically add cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg to most coffees, but this one is so good as is. I drop in some of the organic half and half from Trader Joe’s as well.

I was not so sure about the honey roasted pumpkin ravioli, but—wow—was it delicious. I thought it would pair well with a nice brown butter sage sauce, but since I didn’t have sage on hand and I did have some tomato sauce and veggie Italian sausage I needed to use up, I decided to go against my better judgment and use a red sauce. Luckily, it turned out so good. I also added a few basil leaves from my indoor plant and some burrata cheese (like mozzarella, but scrumptious, creamy goodness inside.) for good measure. I really truly loved every bite.

And then there’s the Pumpkin O’s. These are more subtle if the full-on pumpkin flavors are not for you. They remind me of Apple Jacks a little bit, with more of a fall taste. Very simple and tasty for a quick breakfast.

If you have any pumpkin favorites of your own, please pass them along.

Happy Halloween!

San Francisco: Brenda’s French Soul Food


Brenda's storefrontOff Polk Street, in San Francisco, I found the most delightful surprise. I had passed numerous diners—usually a favorite of mine, those diners are—but they seemed to lack life in the Union area of San Francisco. And so I began
looking up restaurants nearby and came across Brenda’s French Soul Food. It had good reviews, so I wandered around the extra 1/2 mile until I finally came upon the unassuming outside. Just a sandwich board, the name and a door with black metal decorative grating around the door and windows.

A man was cleaning the door as I went to open it, but he quickly opened it and led me to an empty table near the front. The inside was fresh and new, though imitating the old in that way restaurants do: A mural on the right of a crawfish with Bon Voyage Shipping Co. on top of old brick, silverware held in Cafe de Monde empty coffee canisters.

Brenda's wallI ordered coffee and water right away and then was left to familiarize myself with the menu. Everything looked and sounded delicious, but the beignet flight ($10) held my interest. I knew I couldn’t eat four beignets even before I saw how large they were, but the chance to try all four flavors was too strong: crawfish, apple, chocolate and plain.

When they arrived, after a neighbor and I realized we didn’t have spoons and so conspired to use our knives to swirl our coffees, I was very, very pleased. Three of the four were dusted in confectioner’s sugar, with the fourth—the only savory beignet—dusted in cayenne.

beignets

 

I started with the savory crawfishcrawfish beignet beignet, which was creamy inside with scallions and cheese. I enjoyed every bite, which reminded me of my time in New Orleans.

I then moved on to the sweets. Not remembering which of the beignets were which, I dove into the one just after the crawfish. It turned out to be Granny Smith apple, which tasted like a sweet apple pie with its cinnamon and honey butter filling.

Savoring each bite, I thought I could go on when the waitress came by to see if I needed a box. “Oh no,” I said naively. “I think I’ll just have a little more.”

But by the end of the second beignet I had to admit she was right. I needed a box—I could not take another bite.

I later shared the chocolate beignet at lunch, filled with molten Ghiradelli chocolate filling with my brother and his friend Mary. And the next day I finished off the plain for breakfast. Essentially the four beignets lasted me three meals over two days for ten dollars. Amazing.

I’ve already added Brenda’s French Soul Food to the list of recommendations for friends visiting San Francisco (all the rest can be found at If Only), so you know it must have made an impression.

The specials also looked amazing, with Creole pot pie with cheddar biscuits and green salad. I can’t wait to go back and try their lunch or dinner menu, but until then, I have my memories.

 

North Shoal Creek: Verts Kebap

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I was recently introduced to Verts Kebap in North Shoal Creek and its close proximity to my house means I’m likely to go back again and again. In the same shopping center as Hopdoddy’s, it’s a nice option if Hopdoddy’s ends up having a crazy long line (as it usually does).

The first go ’round I tried the veggie patty, but it was a bit mushy. So I went back and tried what I should have gotten the first time: a falafel. The falafel passed the test. It was crispy and hot and came with lots of vegetables and a variety of sauce options. There’s also a snack size, which is perfect for me, as it seems more like normal sized to me. If you like crispy, salty fries, definitely grab a side order, as they are really good hot and fresh.

Now it’s not going to replace Kebabalicious, but it is nice to have an option close to home that’s very reasonable and quick.The house and spicy red sauces really round out the falafel.

Try it for a quick dinner when you’re too tired to cook.

Love: How cheap and quick it is.

 

Mueller: Xian

Located in the Mueller development near the H-E-B gas station, Xian is a quiet little restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. Whether on the run with coworkers, or meeting a friend for lunch, stop in here.

The ambiance is nice and casual, with black granite tables and a bar almost the length of the small restaurant. I especially like that there are mostly booths, as it feels more intimate. I loved the  black and white mural all along the opposite wall from the bar. xiang muralMy instinct was to get sushi, but with my coworkers both getting noodles, I decided to go with the pack. I got the fried noodles from the lunch menu ($7.95), which comes with miso soup. Allison got the vegetable noodle soup from the regular menu, which also looked delicious ($8.50). The noodles are hand pulled and you get to choose from six different kinds: Vermicelli, Spaghetti, Thick Spaghetti, Fettuccine, Pappardelle and Triangle.

xiang fried noodles

The waitress informed us that the only difference is the texture. I got vermicelli, which is a very thin pasta. If you like spice, you’re definitely going to have to add your own, but the homemade chili oil provided is delicious.

The only drawback is parking—we definitely had to go round and round for parking, but if you park on the street side, you may have better luck.xiang noodle bowl

Love: Fresh noodles and great lunch and happy hour specials.

Xian
www.xianfresh.com
1801 E 51st St, Austin, TX 78723
(512) 469-7878
xiansn51@gmail.com

Hours
Mon.–Sat. Lunch 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; Dinner 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
Sun. noon-9 p.m.

If you’re in northwest Austin, Xian recently opened a location near 620 and US 183 behind the IHOP:

South Austin: Chi’ Lantro BBQ

How cute are these?

How cute are these?

Editor’s Note: OhSpooners received free appetizers as part of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance monthly happy hour.

If you’ve never had Chi’ Lantro BBQ, you’re in for a real treat! This Korean barbecue-inspired joint began as a food truck, bringing kimchi fries to the masses at events such as Blues on the Green and ACL Music Festival. Now the food truck is a full-fledged restaurant at 1509 South Lamar in South Austin and soon to open a location in the former Man Bites Dog location at 5222 Burnet Road, which closed in March.

We recently attended AFBA’s monthly happy hour for free apps. It was a much smaller affair than we’ve had the last few times, which was wonderful because we could actually talk to our fellow food bloggers about what they’ve been up to.

Since we’d only had Chi’ Lantro from food trucks previously, we got to try some new additions to the extended restaurant menu, including kimchi fried rice balls ($6), k-pops ($7.50 for 6; $20 for 20) and guac and chips ($6.50). You can still find their truck locations on their website.

While the kimchi fries are always going to be the main staple for me, I must say the kimchi fried rice balls will be added to the repertoire. Antonio said the chicken wings (aka k-pops) were like butter dissolving in your mouth—and who doesn’t love butter? One was spice, the other not so spicy, so you get your choice between gangnam sauce or honey butter.

It’s kind of a small restaurant, but it wasn’t busy for happy hour, so you should be able to easily chill with a few friends after work.

Love: Kimchi fries and fried rice balls as well as the clean, happy atmosphere and nice staff. And that a new location will be coming to my ‘hood soon!

Allandale: Tarka Indian Kitchen

TarkaThe modern-looking Tarka Indian Kitchen can be found in the Northcross Mall Shopping Center behind Dos Batos Tacos near Ross.

This is one of my go-to places when it comes to grabbing dinner to-go after a long, hard day of work.

It’s casual enough to not feel weird if you’re in your workout clothes, but nice enough to go for a date. They have comfortable bar stools at a counter for those waiting for to-go orders and they are pretty fast. They usually offer a water glass during your wait, too. If you don’t want to wait, order ahead online. You could also order a glass of wine for your short wait.

I pretty much always get the same thing—Dhingri Mattar Paneer. It’s a tomato sauce, with paneer, mushrooms and peas, and, of course, spices. Here you can order mild, medium or spicy. I prefer medium as spicy is really spicy, but the mild almost tastes like tomato sauce.

If you’re feeling really hungry, throw in some vegetable samosas and an order of garlic naan. You’re looking at about $15 for the whole kit and caboodle.

Love: Quick, fast solution that always tastes good and is so easy to take home.

Tarka North Austin
2525 W. Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78757
(512) 323-0955

Hours
Sun.–Thu. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Travel: A weekend in New Orleans

cornerAfter Christmas, my mom, brother and I decided to head to New Orleans for a quick trip away. My brother and I hadn’t been since we were little bitty and barely remembered anything about the trip we had made then. And my mom has great memories of New Orleans from when she was a child, visiting with her father.

We arrived on a rainy, dreary day. After at least six hours of driving, we pulled up to the swank Dauphine Orleans Hotel.

75We headed out into the evening, turning onto Bourbon Street, as I followed the crowd. My mom, who has been saying for ages she wants to go to Mardi Gras quickly changed round to my point of view as she saw just how trashy Bourbon Street actually is—and that on a non-party-hardy night. We enjoy a drink or two, but are definitely not the party-hardy crowd.

We found our way to Acme Oyster House, where we stood in line outside (thankfully it had stopped raining!) for about an hour. Acme and Felix’s across the street seem to be the busiest restaurants around, but know that pretty much anywhere you go in New Orleans includes standing in line. This wasn’t a huge deal for my brother and I, but my mom’s feet have been hurting, so keep this in mind if you’re traveling to NOLA.

Acme could be a post in and of itself, but I’ll try and keep it short. Sit at the bar, if possible, to see them shucking oysters. They said each of the workers shucks about 1,700 oysters a day. That’s incredible. The older man who was working at the bar entertained us with stories as he chipped at them with a knife? Pick? An instrument that shucks oysters! He said the hand he held the oyster with was numb from the cold and the other one was beginning to lock up with pain. I have no idea how he was able to open the things day in and day out.

There was a couple to our right who ordered a dozen oysters and found a pearl in one of the shells. My mom said when she was a girl she had found and kept many pearls, but once, after she moved, they were never found again.

We ordered a dozen raw oysters to share and mom and I split the Fried Peacemaker Poboy, while my brother enjoyed a whole one. The peacemaker combines fried shrimp and oysters complete with Tabasco-infused mayo. All of it was delicious.

It amused me how relaxed everyone was when you got inside, while the whole time waves of people are outside lined up waiting to come in. The place is small but homey and the waitstaff were nice and welcoming, cracking jokes with one another and some of the customers as they went about their jobs.Cafe de mondeThe next morning, we went to Café de Monde, because, well, duh! Everyone else was there, of course and we waited in line again, though the line moves fairly quickly. When you get under the big tent, know that the staff is going to tell you to find your own seat. Essentially they send people in waves, you sit down, a waitress attends to you and then this repeats continually throughout the day and night. Again, we had a great waitstaff both times we went. Yes, it’s hard not to go there each morning, though you know your arteries are not the better for the fried dough, sprinkled, no DOUSED, with powdered sugar and the hot cafe au laits.

We then went to French market, which is nearby, but I would advise you to wait until later in the day when more people are milling about for a more festive walk-through. Also, be hungry! They have lots of food vendors, from bread to cheeses, and of course, seafood.

We then headed to the Aquarium, which is just about 1/2 a mile down the road. We took the trolley, but it’s a quick walk, so save your $3 unless you just want to have the experience (and a bit of a wait).seahorses

The aquarium was fun, but gosh … so many kids. If you’re the one with kids, it’s probably perfect, though. We had a good time, but somehow could not figure out how to get to the parakeets.

churchOne of the things on my list was to see the St. Louis church. When we got near the steps my brother was appalled at a sign on the steps that said $6. “In Italy we saw tons of churches for free,” he complained. My mom, mom that she is, led us in there after asking repeatedly, “Are you sure you want to see the church?” Keep in mind, I never said, “Hey, here’s the church. Let’s go in.” Essentially, they led us into a museum next door to the church (it is hard to tell the difference even though the buildings are HUGE, because you’re under the awning near the steps), which we paid $6 a piece to go into and did not realize until after we left that, “Hey, that wasn’t the church. Here’s the church!” Needless to say, the church was free and indeed pretty cool. Not to say the Louisiana State Museum was bad. We just didn’t know that it wasn’t a church (despite not having pews and all that stuff). museum 2

We’re blaming the mishap on the jazz band in front of the square that had everyone paying attention to them (and not where we were going).

bandjazz

This is already a lot longer than I had planned on posting, so I’ll sum up the other places of interest I’d recommend:

The Audubon Zoo is on your way out of town, so hit it up also. This would have been more fun in the spring, but they still have lots to see. You can get a pass for the aquarium and the zoo for a discounted price.

Gorilla

Cooter Brown’s Tavern in Uptown New Orleans has great poboys and cheese fries. A very fun and quirky bar with tasty food. (Ranked 3rd for Best Bar Food of New Orleans by Gambit Magazine.)

Deanie’s Seafood is where all the locals told us to go and it did not let us down! Try the barbecued shrimp and the seafood platter and enjoy boiled potatoes in butter instead of bread before the meal.

Named “Best Seafood Restaurant”  by the Times Picayune and “Best Place for Crawfish”  for Tops of the Town 2014, New Orleans magazine.

Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter has the best bread pudding and it’s gumbo is pretty good to boot. It has won the Best Gumbo category in the Best of New Orleans poll every year since 1999. So, you should probably order gumbo. They have a vegetarian option, so don’t let not eating meat keep you away!

bread puddingPat O’Briens is famous for its hurricane drinks. There are several bars rolled into one, so whether you want to hang out on a patio, or karaoke, it has a little bit of everything. Just know that if you don’t want to keep the glass, you can get $3 back. I know most people probably want the glass at the time, but remember: You’re going to have to carry it around all night and then when you get home, you’ll probably think, “Why did this seem like a good idea?”

me mom and bobThat’s the highlights of the trip. Don’t forget to sample hot sauces and pralines at all the shops, listen to music and enjoy the art galleries along the way!orchestra

 

AFBA Happy Hour: The Hightower

AFBA Happy Hour: The Hightower

The Hightower in East Austin is hard to classify.

Outside the patio is nice and large, perfect for grabbing a drink before heading home. In July, that did not seem like the best option, so we asked to be moved inside, which they so kindly obliged. Inside is a bit dark (and very hard to take good pictures in 🙂 ) but the atmosphere is relaxed for a nice after work happy hour.

About 15-20 people showed up to July’s happy hour—whether that’s because we didn’t have a happy hour in June or because there was free food is hard to say. We each got two free drink tickets. The drinks were fairly strong, so I gave away my second ticket. I would have liked my drink, the Deep Eddy Splash, to have been a tad bit sweeter, but it was refreshing none-the-less.

The rugged, small bar has surprisingly good food, which ranges from classic-with-a-twist American food to traditionally ethnic dishes.

At The Hightower, the chef takes the always-popular Brussels sprouts ($5) and adds peanut butter and golden raisins, to create something different than you’ll find elsewhere. The fried chickpeas ($4) were a nice, crunchy pre-dinner treat. But the real favorite seemed to be the roasted pork jowl with rice, egg yolk, burnt avocado, cucumber, pickled shallots and house sriracha ($14). I tried a bite before the bowl got stirred up with all the roasted pork jowel and it seemed top notch!

I’ll definitely recommend this place to coworkers for a future happy hour. Thanks for hosting us!

NOVA Launches New Menu

NOVA Launches New Menu

OhSpooning recently got the chance to check out NOVA’s new menu, which is launching just in time for hot summer nights on its outdoor patio. I hadn’t had the chance to visit before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I would recommend NOVA for a date night or happy hour.

Located along Rainey Street, the restaurant has nice, big windows and a decent sized patio. I like that you could move around its space and get a completely different feel depending on where you’re at. Downstairs, a bar and bar tables stretch the length of the room, which is bright and sunny during the day. Upstairs is darker and more intimate with a see-through walkway along the area above the bar. The patio is light and airy and has the feel of a friend’s backyard with metal tables and chairs scattered along its pebbled path.

The chef is young and energetic and his excitement about the food spreads. We were given dishes to share throughout the evening. The night brought us NOVA’s double macaroni, risotto, flat bread pizza, veggie tacos and hummus. The restaurant makes its own ham in house, which I found out means it cures its own ham (I wondered where they hid the pigs…).

The chef takes chances, making every day food with a bit of a twist. The veggie tacos are unique in their use of asparagus and arugula and a yummy dressing, along with other tasty tidbits. The hummus was very unique, with the addition of coconut and ginger, making me feel like I was on the beaches of Hawaii instead of Austin, Texas.

For drinks, try the Tudor 77 for $12: Aviation gin, hibiscus syrup, lemon, cava rose and lavender bitters. Not too sweet, this drink has a delicate flavor that will go with a variety of foods.

Give NOVA a try and let us know your thoughts!

NOVA tudor 77

Eating in Texarkana

Eating in Texarkana

Last month, I took a trip home to good ol’ Texarkana. As you can imagine, most of what we do in our family is talk about where we’re going to eat next. However, in Texarkana, there are few places to eat. Restaurants close there frequently as residents leave whatever restaurants are there for whatever the latest chain has opened. Even chains like Johnny Carino’s have closed, but the original restaurants especially have a hard time staying open.

On this particular trip, we didn’t have much of a plan, so for lunch my mom and I had a hard time to decide where to eat, but ultimately chose Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant. It’s one of the best Mexican restaurants in the area. Located in downtown Texarkana, it has a good atmosphere, great queso and good veggie fajitas. My mom and I shared the fish and the veggie fajitas and had plenty of leftovers, both of which comes with a bowl of soup.

Later, we got a bit hungry again and decided to make cheese and wine plates. Who doesn’t love a good cheese plate? Ours included dried apricots, grapes, crackers and cheese, alongside a glass of red wine.

And then there was Twisted Fork. Twisted Fork is a pretty modern “foodie” place in Texarkana, with specialties such as quail and waffles, shrimp and grits and seared duck breast. It’s a bit overpriced given the city. After all, it’s cocktails are priced the same as some of Austin’s best cocktail bars, even though everywhere else in Texarkana charges about half the price of drinks in Austin. But they do have Hendrick’s gin and you know how we feel about Hendrick’s! (You can listen to our podcast with Hendrick’s here.) However, the food was very tasty and the atmosphere was fun, using none other than twisted forks to decorate.

Mom and I shared a pizza—basically a margherita pizza, which they call ‘The Mean Green.’ Dad chose a burger with an egg on top. It looked delicious! They have a pastry chef on staff and next time I definitely want to give dessert a try (the lemon-honey panna cotta to be specific!) as well as sit on the bar side of the restaurant for a view of the kitchen—I think food tastes much better when you see it prepared!

So, if you happen to be going to Texarkana, these are my suggestions: Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant and Twisted Fork. If you happen to make the journey, let me know what you think! I’m also taking recommendations for my next visit. 🙂

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