04 November 2013
The following was written during my last days in Austin between October 23 and 25th
Saturday was a late start and by late start I mean I didn't get out of bed until 1PM. After another 10km run (one of many during this trip) I sat in my hotel room and watched a marathon of Gene Simmons Family Jewels. I watched it from about 2:30 to 6:30, I could almost feel my brain liquifying. Yet, it kept me entertained during the day while I waited for what really was the most anticipated part of my trip: getting together for dinner with Anna Ginsberg, her husband Todd, and their daughter Emma.
I've been reading Anna's blog for a long time. A tonne of my recipes are adaptations of hers. She's a celebrity to me, but more than that, she's someone who inspires me to bake and continue to blog about it. Her recipes are always among my favourites and her site is always my first stop when I'm looking for something new to try. So, needless to say, I was excited to meet her :). For dinner we went to Bartlett's, a nice, cozy, dimly lit, steakhouse style restaurant, also one of their favourites.
We didn't waste time with appetizers and went straight to the mains. I couldn't resist ordering the pork chop, it sounded fantastic, and apparently Anna had been hearing similar things earlier in the day. How could I not get it? I also ordered fries instead of the greens, because I was in a french fry kind of mood.
We had a great time talking about everything from TV to movies, to books, baking, cooking, how they met, Emma and her dancing, Ender's Game ;). It was really a great time and it honestly felt like meeting with old friends, despite having never met before. There was never an awkward moment in the conversation. I mentioned this on Facebook afterwards but it bears repeating here as well: People shouldn't be allowed to be as nice as Anna and her family, it really does make the rest of us look bad.
And the food was incredible. I'm now on my flight home from Austin and spoilers, but this was the best meal I had the entire trip. The pork chop was cooked perfectly. Just a little pink in the middle and it came with this red onion relish that was just sweet and onion-y enough to compliment the pork without overpowering it. The fries were fries, not the best of the best, but good; crisp and salty. But damn, that pork chop was good.
We ended up skipping dessert, mostly because we all really didn't need it (the only time during the trip that I showed any restraint :)) but also because Anna had a surprise for me....
Now don't get too jealous, but do you see what that says? No. Okay, well here's a better look.
Now you see?
Anna brought me some of her homemade chocolate almond toffee. I really can't express my joy at the moment.
Oh, and here's the kicker, they wouldn't even let me pay for my portion of the bill even though my company was picking up the tab. Really, way too nice.
Confession: I ate all the toffee that night. All of it. Holy lord was it fantastic. I think I had more than a few eye-roll moments while eating it.
I probably shouldn't say anymore than that.
Sunday was a bit of a different day. My coworkers and I were all staying for training the following week and we got it in our heads that we wanted to go to a mall. We ended up at The Domain, a really fancy outdoor mall north of our hotel. It was 10AM, the mall didn't open until Noon. I'm not sure why we were shocked about this, I mean, it's the same where we're from.
Instead, we ended up driving to a wild flower park, which was closed, so we decided to head downtown. On our way back up 6th street, we ended up at a store that was dedicated entirely to hot sauce. Hot sauce that is made in house. And lemme tell you, it was some hot sauce. I ended up picking up two bottles of a smoked tomato dipping sauce, that has no spice but may be one of the best sauces I've ever tasted; as well as two bottles of hot sauce for my brother, one that burns instantly and one that burns like a full minute later. Ridiculous.
We ended up at Easy Tiger for lunch, I wasn't particularly hungry, especially since we were determined to go to Gordough afterwards. A gourmet donut trailer not too far away that promised everything from fried chicken to bananas on their giant donuts. We had passed it on our way to Stubbs the previous Wednesday, and only one of our group stopped to get it. He said he couldn't finish it. I realize that he was on his way to eat dinner, but I was a little disappointed with him afterwards; I mean, the donuts weren't that big.
We decided to get the Banana Foster and Maple Bacon donuts. I opted for the later purely as a Canadian who would be remiss if he didn't get the one with maple and bacon. The donut part of the donuts was fantastically light, fresh, warm and soft. The banana foster donut was delicious with cream cheese frosting and caramelized bananas. The Maple Bacon was exactly that, and reaffirmed that I don't want or like fatty, full pieces of bacon anywhere near maple syrup. When mixed with maple frostings, I want it crispy, in pieces and with most of the fat rendered out. It was still good, but I wouldn't order it again. Granted, I probably wouldn't go back again either, it's more novelty than anything.
After walking through a vintage store in the area, we finally remembered that we wanted to go to the mall and ended up back at The Domain. I didn't buy anything except for a white chocolate frozen coffee deal. That was good. Oh, and I walked into a Microsoft Store, which I had never seen before, it's kind of like a Bizzaro Apple Store.
We decided that for dinner that night we would finally go to Moonshine. All I wanted was fried chicken and waffles, and I was pretty determined to get it. We drove down pretty late (after 8 o'clock) since all of my coworkers thought it would be funny to leave me waiting for them while they were in the pool; we must have showed up at about 8:45. There was a 45 minute wait to get in.
Okay time for another backup.
We quickly drove to La Condessa, another fancier Mexican place in the area. I checked if they had seating, they did, and in a few minutes we were sitting down and ordering. We started with fried okra and the guacamole sampler. The chips came out warm, as they should, and I can't tell you which guacamoles were which, but they were all pretty good. Two of them especially. The fried okra was in stark contrast to the one I had at Lambert's (across the street, amusingly) back in August. The batter was light, flavoured with lime, and although the okra flavour was still subtle, you weren't hit on the head with the flavour of "fried." The overall flavour profile was great, especially the sour hint of lime and spice of pepper in the batter.
We were told by our waiter that dishes were meant to be shared and that they would arrive at the table as they were finished. To me this seemed like a pretty “clever” way to not train your kitchen staff to time things properly. We ordered the chicken with mole sauce, the carne asada and something with queso in it, which wasn't very good and not worth mentioning. The mole sauce was a little bitter, which I wasn't expecting, but was rich, it was good; but I wouldn't order it again. The chicken was cooked perfectly though. The steak was fantastic, due to a nice spice rub; cooked perfectly, and easily the better of the three dishes. I'd be remiss not to mention this, but for dishes meant to be "shared" you don't get a lot of food. In fact, I'd say that given their size, by La Condessa's standards, all dishses at every restaurant are meant to be shared.
For dessert, I ordered a blondie goat milk ice cream sandwich. My coworkers ordered the Dulce de Leche pudding cake and and a warm flourless chocolate cake with chile powder. All were good. I wasn't a huge fan of the chile and chocolate cake flavour, the chocolate was quite good, but the combination was a little off-putting to me. One bite was okay, but I couldn't see myself finishing it. Standout had to be the Dulce de Leche. Insanely good. Although mine was pretty fantastic too, the tang of goat milk ice cream was quite unique but even better was the cream cheese ice cream that was served with the Dulce de Leche cake. Even though it was definitely the dessert course that made this meal standout, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn't order anymore desserts that week. It was starting to get a little ridiculous.
Stay tuned for the final meals.