Travel Eats

Congress:Three Courses with Wine Pairing


Way back in January before Food & Wine let me down with their initial Austin F&W fest, I won their dinner for two at Congress giveaway.  I held on to this certificate for nearly 5 months with visions of the ultimate date night dancing in my head.  Ian and I snuck away to Austin while Sophie was at camp.  She would be disappointed to have missed our fun-filled day at Lick Ice Creams and Barton Springs Pool, but the wine pairings would have been wasted on her.  Ian agreed to take only 3 shots of each course so as not to spoil the date night ambience.

I wasn't going to leave Congress without one of their craft cocktails.  On the left is Ian's "Scarlet Lantern": a tequila based cocktail with a smoky hint of Rabarbaro Zucca.  The tall glass is my "Dark and Amari" a delightfully bitter take on a Dark and Stormy with ginger beer, Cynar and Velvet Falernum. My future version of a well-stocked bar will include these obscure ingredients.

Ian's first course: Beef Tartare with kimchi, rice, and black bean paste.  Topped with fried oysters.  The superstar was the beef--melt in the mouth tender, perfectly seasoned.  Second only to the oyster--a taste of the sea in a beautifully crispy package.

My first course: Heirloom tomato salad with burratta, peach/macadamia nut/opal basil/passionfruit.  Loved the nod to the islands, and you can't go wrong with tomatoes and peaches in Texas this time of year.  Note to self: always toast your macadamia nuts. 

Ian's second course: tete de cochon with toasted barley and whiskey bacon marmalade served over a sweet corn puree.  Ordered after the server glowingly recommended it--don't be put off by the title.  For those of you who think bacon has jumped the shark, think again.

My second course: potato gnocchi with merguez sausage, fava bean, eggplant and mint pesto.  This dish had a wonderful Mediterranean feel, and I think the wine pairing--a 2008 Paitin Nebbiolo d'Alba was my favorite of all.

Ian's third course: it was all meat all the time for Ian, charred ribeye loin with braised kale/garlic puree and BBQ onions.  Every component of this dish was beautifully prepared, a testament to the power of simplicity.

My third course: Seared scallop with pistachio crust, red quinoa and cardamom yogurt/sour cherries. Complex combination of flavors that played well with each other. 

Dessert:we shared the Blanc Manger: white chocolate base with blueberries and topped with a mandarin mint marigold ice.  Mint marigold is an herb I am fond of--it is reminiscent of tarragon but super hardy and thrives in the Texas heat.  Combined with mandarin it made for a stunning and refreshing finish to our dinner.

From start to finish Congress' attention to detail was evident in the care of staff, the immaculate decor, and above all, the food.  Chef Bull came to say hello as we were finishing our meal--so nice to have the opportunity to thank him personally for a wonderful experience. 

Located on the corner of Congress and 2nd St. just north of the river, Congress provides valet parking for $8, and you have a choice of a three or seven course meal with optional wine pairings. It is strolling distance to the Congress Street Bridge where if you are lucky you can watch the bat emergence on a fine summer evening.

Oh Texas, I will miss you.

Congress on Urbanspoon



Nao: a sneak peak



We finally made it to Feast--seems like we will never run out of good restaurants to try in South Town!  It was a particularly steamy first Friday so we elected to sit indoors, but look at how much fun those people are having on the patio!  Our early arrival did ensure immediate seating and good lighting for Ian's photos...Feast doesn't take reservations except for parties >6.

The interior is funky-chic with lucite chairs and sparkly pendant lamps, and I found myself coveting the waitstaff's awesome aprons.  There were a couple of slip-ups with service--forgetting to ask Sophie for a drink order and trying to clear plates that were not finished, but overall friendly and happy to explain the menu concept of small plates meant to be shared.

Not to mention that the arrival of a pretty cocktail assuages almost any sin of omission...Ian got the  Prince:a gin and tonic kicked up a notch with peppers and cilantro, definitely spicy!  I got the Jester: Feast's take on a margarita, lightened with sparkling grapefruit.

And for the <21 crowd, you can never go wrong with a Shirley Temple.....

The menu is divided into several sections, and we tried one from almost every section.

7-spice Barbacoa: juicy, spicy shredded beef cheeks in lettuce cups with garlic-infused yogurt from the "hot" section.

These were good, and I ordered them hoping Sophie would try some--that was a no-go. Your barbacoa has to be above and beyond in a town like San Antonio, and this was average.  In retrospect, I wish I had ordered the mussels with green harissa.  Seeing them at neighboring tables only increased my regret. 

 From the cold section: arugula with crushed almonds/shaved fennel/strawberries and piave vecchio

 I love arugula salads and will order them whenever I get a chance.  This was a beautifully composed salad...definitely enough for sharing, and it made me feel better about ordering two items off the crispy section.  Both delicious and both requested by Sophie who loves anything fried.

 Yukon Gold Potato chips with blue cheese bechamel--technically on the "melted" section.  These were a huge hit.  I would go and have just a plate of these with a beer on a cold day.  On the hottest Friday of the year I was glad I was sharing them.  The portion was huge, and they were generous with the bechamel. 

Sweet corn fritter with beet tzatziki

Sophie, "What is a fritter?"

Me, "It's like a doughnut."

Sophie, "Let's get those."

These were some light and fluffy, unlike the leaden hush puppies I remembered from my Eastern Shore days.  The tzatziki was subtle and tinged with beet flavor.   Served with some honeydew and arugula lightly dressed with a lavender vinaigrette--some bites were a little too lavendery--kind of like an old lady's perfume.  I still got angry when the server tried to clear the plate with a fritter still on it!

Moving along to dessert...this is a freshly baked square of bread pudding with tobacco infused custard and caramel ice cream.  I think Ian just heard "bread pudding" and didn't realize there was tobacco in it.  No matter, it was delicious, and we all enjoyed it including Sophie.   We are hoping they invent a bread pudding patch sometime soon.

Chocolate caramel tart with hazelnuts--like a super sophisticated milky Way.  We couldn't wait for it to warm up slightly but it was still outstanding with a fudgy layer on top of some stellar caramel.

Happy customers....planning on returning for Mother's Day Brunch!

Feast on Urbanspoon



Austin Food & Whine Festival

I had the great fortune to attend the first annual Food & Wine festival in Austin this past weekend.  True, there were lines, heat, dust and a whole host of first world problems.  Tickets did not come cheap at $250 for the "weekender" and $850 for the VIP.  VIP ticket holders had a couple of exclusive events including a taste of Texas dinner Friday night and a "rock your taco" throwdown Saturday night.  I was jealous of both events, but not $600 worth.  Additionally, VIP had the ability to pre-register for the demos, early entry into the tasting tents and a separate VIP "lounge" area.

I was seriously under powered in the camera department and my photos would have benefited from a serious zoom lens, so apologies now.

My first demo was Gail Simmons of "Top Chef" fame.  I was looking forward to her inside scoop on this past season.  Cracking open a Shiner at 10:00, Ms. Simmons was obviously smitten with Texas despite the brutal temps of last summer when the season filmed.  She showcased a couple of recipes that were "Texas inspired", but disappointingly, we didn't get to taste them.  I found myself wishing I had attended Tim Love's hands on grilling demo--his people came away with bags of meat.  And while I realize that there is definitely a "preaching to choir" element to speaking a foodie-centric event, I hoped to learn a little something new.  I didn't expect to hear "you all know the difference between a dry measuring cup and a liquid measuring cup, don't you?"  Yes, since I was about 12 years old.

There was quite a bit of time between sessions, giving time for a bathroom break, a frosty adult beverage, or as I learned, standing in line so as to assure your seat at the next demo.

The Meyer's washing station, conveniently located next to the bathrooms, very generous with their swag!  Another plus were the bathrooms themselves--a little air-conditioned trailer instead of stinky porta potties.  Stocked with Meyer's products for hand washing within the bathrooms as well.  The one place you would expect a huge line, mercifully was always free!

Speaking of free--an abundance of water, soft drinks, beer and wine for the taking.  If you were dehydrated it was your own fault.  With the size of the venue I would have expected more tents for shade and bigger tents for demos.  There were food trucks available: East Side King's was slinging some excellent pork buns, fried chicken and Paul Qui's famous brussel sprouts.  Helpful for absorbing the alcohol until you got a crack at the food in the tasting tents.  The tents were crowded and hot--not unexpected, but still annoying.  There was a big emphasis on wine, less so on food.  This contributed to my angry tweets when I showed up to the Makimono Hands on demo with Tyson Cole/Paul Qui an hour early only to be told that all the seats had been reserved by VIP.

                                   This was as close as I got to Paul Qui.

I elected not to stand in the blazing sun and headed over to Andrew Zimmern's talk.  He was very polished and definitely entertaining.  Apparently I missed this speech about choosing alternative proteins he gave during his talk on Sunday.  He passed around an alternative protein....

                                                                 Any guesses?

It's ox heart!  His description and the smells as he prepared it were mouthwatering.  Alas, still no tasting!  I had heard it was some bullsh!t about "food safety," but if not at Andrew Zimmern's talk where else could you try some actual chef-prepared foods?

I left Saturday a little sunburned, a lot filthy due to the dust kicked up my the winds and disappointed by the experience. 

Sunday began with more lines and another stampede to get into Chef Love's grilling demo.  Back in January when I purchased my tickets I won a contest put on by Austin F&W for dinner for two at Second.   My winning entry described the class I was most excited about and why. 

This young lady did not disappoint.  Christina Tosi's "Cereal Milk" demo was the highlight of the festival for me.  My daughters and I have loved and bonded over her book and it was sitting in my bag awaiting her signature at the book signing.  From her honest and humble presentation about her work to the fact that she actually provided food for the masses--cereal milk, cornflake crunch, cookies and (gasp!) unbaked cookie dough she was inspiring and down to earth in a way that no other chef had been previously.  The fact that I won another copy of the book seemed karmic.  Her thoughtful inscriptions to Sophie and Maddy will ensure that we treasure these books forever.

I bought a copy of "Uchi" since we are moving to Washington DC later this summer and won't be able to make it back to our favorite sushi place ever anytime soon.  Tyson Cole signed my copy--looking a bit fatigued, but accommodating as I gushed about his world class sushi.

Overall, a good time:


  • met a bunch of great people who despite the heat and crowds were patient, pleasant and respectful
  • free beer and wine!
  • Christina Tosi!
  • close to my house and easy parking close by


  • free beer and wine! and no one to drive me home
  • wasted space that could have been used for shade/bigger tents for demos
  • no tasting at demos--seriously, at a food festival?
  • VIP allowed to take up an entire demo with reservations
  • seemed oversold and more disorganized than I would have expected for the price
  • only able to attend 4 demos--staggering them would have been nice

I know, first world problems.  I came away inspired.  In the kitchen with Momofuku Milk Bar as we speak.  Cream on!


Auden's Kitchen

Friday night dinner out is becoming a tradition for Sophie and me.  With the beautiful spring weather we are seeking out patios to enjoy before the summer heat blankets San Antonio.  I had heard good things about Auden's Kitchen on the Twitter recently, and was additionally motivated by the happy hour offerings.  With Auden's Kitchen, chef/owner Bruce Auden (of the Riverwalk's Biga on the Banks fame), has achieved his goal of creating a dining destination for locals.

Blueberry mojito: putting the happy in happy hour.  Five dolla, no holla!  There was a nice selection of wines by the glass for $4 and April is margarita madness month including a cucumber margarita that sounded intriguing--maybe next time.  The service was excellent, and our waiter made sure that Sophie's Dr. Pepper was refilled without her having to request it.

From the patio happy hour menu: garlic parmesan fries.  The aroma of garlic wafted invitingly as the waiter put these on the table. As you can see, they looked crisp and tantalizing.  Unfortunately, they were woefully under seasoned and required quite a bit of salting. Disappointingly uncrispy.  The ketchup was strangely sweet and thin--possibly with apple sauce.  It didn't cling to the fries and I gave up after a couple. 

Sophie's pizza on the other hand was outstanding and a huge bargain at $6.  She picked off all the tomatoes and gave them to me.  They were nicely carmelized, perhaps having been roasted with some balsamic prior to their application the the pizza.  The crust was thin and crispy/chewy, and I would not hesistate to order pizza the next time I go. 

My main dish was pan seared salmon with smoky tomato butter, arugula and fennel salad and feta polenta cake. Excellent.  The smoke really came through in the sauce but not overpoweringly so.  The salmon was a generous portion and properly cooked.  Soft but not raw in the center, it melted in the mouth.  I was finished in an embarrassingly short period of time.

Sophie left half of her pizza on the table in order to make sure she had room for dessert.  I chose the Earl Grey creme brulee.  It was smooth and creamy with a nicely carmelized topping but could have been Earl Greyer and less sweet.

Sophie's lemon bar did not suffer from the same heavy hand with the sugar and was tart and bright.  She ate so much she had to lay down on the way home. 

Seek out this gem, tucked away in Stone Oak, and like our waiter encouraged us, enjoy and stay as long as you like.  Thanks Chef Auden for thinking about us folks up here on the north side!

Auden's Kitchen on Urbanspoon