Saturday, August 16, 2008

Stopping the British Invasion, One Plate at a Time

For the past five weeks, my best friend's girlfriend has been in the States visiting from England. They spent some time on the road, driving up to Toronto and Michigan to visit each other's families. They even brought me back some out of state beer.

Sian, my bf's gf, fancies herself to be an eater, so we have something in common,which is a good thing. Two of her friends flew across the pond, timimg their Amtrak voyage across the Colonies to correspond with Sian's trip. When Vicky and Liz showed up, it was entertainment time. We went out several nights in a row, sampling decadent menu's and drinking copious amounts of wine. 

I took the chance to do a little reviewing. I love to eat. I love trying new things, and new places. I love daring and confident Chefs preparing good, clean, solidly executed food. I love wine. I had fun. 

We really covered some bases in our little Austin culinary romp, including a five course homecooked meal at my house. I hope your ready, get comfy, get your drool cups, and enjoy the food porn.

Spanish tapas bar eh? Sounds good. Cory, Sian, and I had planned on taking the girls here, yet a lost passport caused some concern. I little assertion, and a phone call later we were in business and our fears of denied entry were assuaged. 

We were catching Malaga in an interesting time of transition. They were going to be vacating the current premises on Fourth Street for a new facility in the burgeoning Second St. District. This meant that they couldn't move with there inventoried booze, including a shit-ton of wine. 

What this meant for us as customers was that the by the glass selection would actually be something a little better than what was stated on the menu. Sweet. I went for a nice Malbec, and stayed there. I felt that this was the right red to compliment the Spanish influence of the food. We went a little crazy. 

We ordered fourteen of the twenty things on the menu. Most of them were great. There were a few homeruns, and a few that were just meh. Olives are hard to fuck up, so they were nice and salty. Some of the items that really stood out were the Corduro Cacereno, marinated seared New Zealand lamb with a nice curry aioli, Calamares Rebozados, unreal calamari cooked to perfection (falling apart like butter in the mouth!), and the Viuras Serrano, a spanish take on a classic scallop dish -- grilled diver scallops wrapped in serrano ham. 

These dishes were great. We ordered the lamb as  an afterthought, and it trumped everything from our first round of selections.  The scallops were a highlight for me, perfectly cooked, great texture, and of course the serrano ham. I'd eat any thing, shoe, crap, whatever -- as long as it was wrapped in some type of pork product. These were worth going back for. And then there was the calamari. I've eaten my fare share of calamari, and generally can gauge the quality of an establishment from this simple dish. If you can't use your fryer, go home. This was the best, calamari I've eaten in Austin -- period.  I finished the meal with some nice Armagnac, I wanted coffee, but it had already been moved to the location.

The service was great (our server was a Wheatsvillian) and the atmosphere was very warm and casual. I am eager to see what they do with a new space. My only real criticism of Malaga was the aioli happy menu. I really think that they could be a little more creative than a dozen types of aioli as sauces for these great menu items.

Okay. So... If you are an long time reader of my blog, than you may know how much I love this restaurant, and how frequently I go there. If your a newb around here, let it be known that Hudson's is my jam. 

Many of my core group of friends work, or have worked at Hudson's. There are people I've known fro over twenty-five years working there. I'm a groupie. I never worked there. I worked next door at the Hill Country Pasta House, and down the street at the Iguana Grill, but never there. I don't know why, shit, I could still go work there if I wanted to, I suppose. I grew up with most of the staff, have known the owner since the eighties, and have eaten the food from there as leftovers brought home by roommates for over a decade. 

That being said, culinarily speaking, Hudson's has been somewhat of an inspiration on my own cooking. This is not to say that I have the same style, but rather an understanding of the concepts behind the menu, and it's execution. Growing up, my family ate game. We hunted, ate roadkill, what ever. Dove, quail, all types of venison -- deer, elk, antelope -- wild boar, and Texas sea food were things that I loved to eat growing up. As an adult with a more refined palate and a quest for good gourmand food, these are ingredients that I enjoy to use for my own guests. 

Also, and this a big plus, we're IN at Hudson's. The servers, bussers, managers and cooks are friends. Getting VIP treatment at the best restaurant in Austin will make you a believer every time. That evening we'd be six for dinner, with Tim as our waiter.

We got a nice table on the patio. The dining room was full, and it was near the end of a busy service. All the usual suspects were there: Gray, Kevin, Bobby, Dave, Tim, Brad, James, Blake, and even Oscar. Cory was working the amuse shift, and joined us when he was finished. Sara came and sat with us, and choose a sampling of starters for us as our amuse arrived.
Our amuse bouche was a shot of a cantaloupe soup with a hot and crunchy shrimp. It was a nice contrast of texture and flavors. There was a hint of coconut in the shrimp that really complimented the cool flavors of the melon.

Some of us wanted things that she didn't order for us, but I was down -- there was fois gras coming -- so I couldn't complain. I love fois, and they do a nice job with it. Seared on a strawberry shortcake with a zinfadel reduction. Yum. We also got the tuna tartar, and softshell crab. The tartar was great, but it was tuna tartar. I really liked the texture of the softshell crab. 

I was having a hard time choosing a main course. I wanted to go for the pork chop, but was in the mood for something lighter. I ended up choosing the Guajillo  #1 Ahi tuna topped with a seared diver scallop, shrimp, lump crab, prosciutto wrapped asparagus and smoked red pepper sauce. It was nicely done. My tuna was just how I liked it, but I felt it was upstaged by the diver scallop. 

Maybe I'm just a sucker for good scallops. When they are perfect, they are a hard thing to beat, and I was two for two for perfect scallops that weekend. I was having a really hard time getting any pictures to turn out in the low lighting, and stopped trying after a while. Everyone's food looked beautiful and tasted great. Liz's lavender encrusted lamb chops were phenomenal; cooked perfectly, with an awesome peach beurre blanc (which they had changed from the prickly pear beurre blanc that was served with the dish back in May.). The watermelon infused pork chop slammed, and really just hit home with it's flavors. 

I don't know how, but we all ordered a dessert. I got the strawberry short cake, and to my dismay, ate the whole fucking thing! Kelly, one the chefs came out to socialize. She approached saying, "Which one of you is Johnny?"

She told be that she had be hearing about me for years, had eaten my food, and wanted to meet me. I was flattered, and honored. We all sat and chatted for a while, finished up our wine, and drove back into Austin full and content.

After a long day tubing the river, we were in need of sustenance. Cory suggested Polvo's. The five of us went down there after a brief stop, and got a nice patio table. Unfortunately we weren't fully covered by the awning. When it started raining, this presented itself to be a problem. The staff seem, well, confused that we wanted to move under the awning, and had a really difficult time grasping how to make our request happen. 

Eventually we just got up and moved to another table on our own volition. It was cool. The food was decent. My tamales were great, but the enchiladas were just enchiladas, and weren't vert memorable. All in all, this place had tough shoes to fill, and just fell short. The service was the deal breaker, and our little dude just didn't care. So be it. 

The most disappointing thing about this trip was that I was going to bring my tamales to work for lunch the next day and due to an error, I failed. I was leaving. I was out the door, locking it up, and the cat runs up the stairs. Shit. I set down my lunch on the railing, opened the door and fed the cat before heading off to work. About an hour after getting there I realized, "Oh fuck. I left the tamales on the porch!" When I got home they were covered in ants, and ruined. Whaaa.

Our Dinner
I'm going to admit right up front, that I was intimidated to cook a big meal after the two great meals we'd eaten as a group at Malaga and Hudson's. I let that intimidation be the guide, and went for a solid menu for our five course dinner. 

I finished the menu planning on my break after checking out what we had fresh that day. Some great mahi, and some nice produce completed some of my thoughts from the night before. I shopped after my shift. Cory was my sous chef for the night, and was cleaning up my house when I arrived. We went over to Central Market for a few ingredients and some wine. We choose a few nice bottles from styles that I had worked the courses around. 

We got back to my place, and got to work. I lined Cory out on a nice prep path, and he did a great job doing exactly what I wanted him to do, giving me the end results that I needed to work with.

Wines for the night: Villa Marsetti Pinot Grigio, Toad Hollow Chardonnay, Zolo Malbec, Cloudline Pinot Noir, Home Rance Zinfandel.

I wanted to play with the tapas idea, and went there for a first course. I brined some lamb loin chops and started to prep for the shrimp and mahi ceviche. Cory worked on a homemade cherry fennel pork sausage from ground pork that Butler had been kind enough to do at work earlier. The sausage turned out just how I'd wanted it -- good job Cory, if that whole lawyer thing doesn't work out, you may have a future in sausage making! 

The first course consisted a few tapas: pan seared lamb loin chop, with crimini mushrooms and pan jus, a simple mix of  country olives, mahi and shirmp jalepeno shrimp ceviche with a crostini, and crimini caps stuffed with cherry fennel pork sausage topped with a little smoked basils cheese.

We enjoyed the Villa Marsetti Pinot Grigio with this course. Cory and I were going to be enjoying the courses before heading back to fire the next. Things were going smoothly and the first course was really well done. The favorite was definitely the ceviche. It was nicely spiced, and the citrus really did a great job highlighting the flavors of the seafood.

After we finished our wine, it was back to the kitchen for the second course. This was a very light course, and a last minute change had us pairing it with a different wine than we'd originally planned. It was a fish course, and we were going to go for the chardonnay, but we agreed that with the right kind of sauce we could compliment the fatty butterfish with the Coudline Pinot Noir. It was risky, but we pulled it off. 

The second course was a fish course consisting of butterfish (sablefish, or black cod - which is sustainable and fucking delicious) with a raspberry single malt puree and a mixed green salad topped with hemp seeds and heirloom cherry tomatoes with a strawberry kombucha hemp vinaigrette on top of mariposa pluots. 

The raspberries were tart and really worked well with the pinot and the butterfish. The acid from the kombucha went great with the nutty flavor of the hemp oil. This was by far the healthiest dish of the night. The butterfish  has a crazy amount of omega 3's DHA and EPA, and is low in dioxins and mercury. There were also a ton of omega's in the hemp in the dressing, and using kombucha as the acid was also a nice play on some health food.

Next up was the heaviest portion of the meal, the beef course. I did a duo of beef, and wanted to go for two very different but complimentary flavors and textures of beef. I'd picked up some nice meat from the meat case that day; New York strip, and petite sirloin. I braised the sirloin in beer and sherry with tons of shallots, mushroom stalks and leeks.

The strip got seared in a nice hot pan with a little salt, pepper, and coriander. This was going to be paired with the Zolo Malbec, which worked out nicely.

We've had some really nice local green chiles for the past few weeks so we roasted some, and made a creamy mash with them to go with the duo. Now, I don't really like towers of food, yet in this case it worked well with the family style plate up, and sauce table service. 

Here we have the crustacean cream sauce for the strip. 

And here we have a nice thyme pan reduction for the braised beef.

"Oh, we couldn't possibly eat any more," said the Brits. Yeah right. The fourth course was a cheese and salumi plate that would get us read for dessert.

Here we have some local Pure Luck Del Cielo goat brie with some raspberry puree, local Veldhuizen Raw Milk Texas Star, Ibores, some organic black grapes, organic mission figs with balsalmic reduction, two types of salami, and pancetta paired with Toad Hollow Chardonnay.

It all got eaten before we moved onto dessert. I had made some ganache earlier, and have been toying with the idea of a ganache and stroopwaffle candy bar that I came up with in a dream. I wasn't going to venture into that territory yet, but wanted to test that flavor combination.

We dipped stroopwaffles in ganache and made a nice maple ginger marscapone cream. Topped that off with some fresh berries, dark chocolate and raspberry puree. This dish didn't present itself as nicely as I'd have liked. Humidity and ganache are not friends.

This paired nicely with the Home Ranch Zinfandel which was being served by Tim, our friend and waiter from Hudson's. 

He brought some great wine with him that we finished the night off with -- Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon. It was great. 

After all that food, and all that wine, few could move. We lounged, chatted, drank, some removed belts. It was a good night, with great food, great wine, and great friends. It's night's like that remind why I do all the things I do -- from selling food, eating well, and preparing food -- it's that sense of pleasure that can only be gained by pleasing others. That selfless joy of cooking someone the best meal they've eaten in a long time, and having a great time doing it.


Iris said...

Oh, man! Just scanned your most recent blog posts and can't wait to read them more carefully soon. Thanks!

Laurie said...

You might expect "The Last of the Wheatsville Vegans" head to explode (fois fuckin' gras? Holy Jesus!), but hey - diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. The wine list is fantastic, and those heirloom tomatoes have been a staple in my house the last week or so (better on pizza than cheese!), and I don't do the "ranting angry vegan" thing all that well anyway.

So on and so on, etc.

Flapjacks said...

mmnnn... fois gras... for the record, american fois is not produce from forced over feeding... just sensory depravation from being housed in very dark room with loud music... it's still pretty fucked though, but delicious.

TexasDeb said...

Holy excess, flapjacks! Who do you have to kill to get invited to one of your informal soirees? And all of that in the heat of August no less.

Point of inquiry - explain to me how you'd be stopping that Brit invasion by feeding them until they swooned? If I went to England and anybody wined/dined me that way I promise you I'd move in with them on the spot, invited or not.

Flapjacks said...

Well. My thoughts were thus -- perhaps they wouldn't want to tell their friends to come over the pond and spoil the goodies they found. They're gone now though. I'm going to go over there in November to see Leonard Cohen, and eat beans on toast.

Shadd Scott said...

damn! Indian rack!

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