Archive | January, 2012

The new way to picnic – flash mob style!

29 Jan

photo by Melissa Skorpil

Oh what an amazing day!  I just returned from a “wear all white picnic flash mob”.  What the hell is that, you say??  Let me back up a bit…

A few weeks ago my husband and I received this mysterious invitation in the mail, inviting us to “Le Dejeuner en Blanc”, or for those of us who don’t speak French, a “lunch in white” party.  With the invitation came a very detailed explanation and set of instructions.  The event was described as an elegant, festive occasion in which the guests dress all in white and meet at a secret location to share a meal – a flash-mob picnic!  All guests, after they RSVP, will be assigned a “table head” and this person will instruct them on where to meet with the others at their table on the day of the event.  After everyone meets at this location, only then will they be told of where the actual picnic is going to take place.  Every person is responsible for bringing the food/drinks for their picnic, as well as a table, chairs, plates (all in white), silverware, etc.

Wow.  This intrigued me from the start, unlike my husband – who thought it was one of two things: 1) a ploy to sell us a time share or 2) a complete lunatic who is interested in luring naive and willing participants into an abandoned warehouse to kill them so he can wear their skin (I think he’s watched The Silence of the Lambs movie a few too many times).  Well, call me naive because I was all in.  It sounded like quite a bit of work, but so what!  There was a website link on the invitation to give you an idea of the event, so I immediately checked it out.  Apparently this event started in Paris, France quite a few years ago and has spread to Montreal, New York, San Francisco and a few others.  The photos from previous events looked fantastic.  My first thought was, who put us on this list?  It is quite a long story, but after questioning several of my friends – who LIED to me and said they had no idea what I was talking about (shame on you but I must say, you got me, you little devils) –  it turned out to be one of my friends who put the whole event together – and she did a fantastic job.

The secret location turned out to be at Laguna Gloria, on the back lawn by the river.  And I could not have thought of a more perfect place.  The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect and everyone looked absolutely radiant!  I was amazed really that everyone abided by the rule of wearing white, or at least mostly white.  The tables were all adorned with white table cloths, most of the chairs were covered in white, white flowers on the tables – it was amazing.  Soon the wine (white, of course) and conversations were flowing. There were many people there I didn’t know, so it was great to make new acquaintances.  And to top it all off – a band suddenly appeared!  The four piece ensemble, consisting of a few of the members of the very popular local band, White Ghost Shivers, provided a 1920s jazzy sound that really fit with the occasion.

photo by Melissa Skorpil

(photo by Melissa Skorpil)

Did I mention that this day was also the party planner’s birthday?  Yes, she turned 40!  What a great way to celebrate – and what a stark contrast to my 40th birthday this past year, which consisted of drinking beer in the heat of the summer while propelling a bar on wheels – which was freakin’ AWESOME by the way, so I’m not knocking it!  But this was definitely more her speed – elegant and refined, but with a spontaneity that was not the least bit stuffy.

Me with the birthday girl! (photo by Melissa Skorpil)

I could not have pictured a more perfect way to spend an afternoon.  It had everything I love most – great weather, great food, great wine, great music – and most of all, great friends.  How lucky I feel to be included in a circle of such wonderful people who are willing to pull out all the white clothes they own, pack up their dining room and travel to who-knows-where to meet who-knows-who.  I’m not sure if you would call that impressive or crazy, but either way, I call it fabulous.  Santé!

(photo by Melissa Skorpil)

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Caffeine City, Part 2: The search for my favorite cup of jo

23 Jan

Okay, let’s try this again.  If you have read Part 1 of this series (you can read it here), then you know that my first stop on the best coffee shop in Austin tour did not go so well.  But that, my friends, is about to change.  Today I am going to familiarize you with what I think is most likely the place to get the best caffeinated cup of heaven you have ever had.  I’m talking about Houndstooth Coffee.

Houndstooth Coffee is located on North Lamar, near Central Market.  What makes this place a little different from most coffee shops is how enthusiastic they are about coffee.  They are very particular about the coffee they serve – from the beans, to the roasters, to the process that goes into making that steaming cup of jo.  The baristas take their job seriously and consider a cup of coffee like a work of art (which it is).  Every cup of coffee is made to order by either the french press method (my favorite) or the siphon method – no drip brewing in large batches here.  They take pride in their espresso drinks – and this shows through their always fantastic latte art.

Every day they offer a choice of a few different beans, describing their origin and flavor characteristics.  The baristas are very knowledgeable about coffee and are so helpful if you need guidance on which bean to choose.  It’s amazing to me how different each of the beans taste!  If coffee is not your cup of tea, they also serve – tea.  A rather large selection of hot teas are offered from the Steeping Room.  If you’re in the mood to unwind after a long day, they also serve wine, bottled beer and a few quality beers on tap.  They also have a selection of fresh pastries to munch on.

What I really love about Houndstooth is the clean, minimalistic look of the place.  The uncluttered space with mid-century modern furniture and an all-glass front is light and airy, a very pleasant space to spend the morning, or any time really.  Since it is nestled between two great restaurants, Taco Deli and Uchiko,  you could actually make an entire day of it: morning coffee and a pastry at Houndstooth for breakfast, Taco Deli for lunch, back to Houndstooth for your afternoon tea, then sushi at Uchiko for dinner.  Sounds good to me!

Houndstooth Coffee on Urbanspoon

Park your backside at Parkside

15 Jan

One of the reasons why I wanted to write this blog was to discover the culinary gems in my own city and to rediscover my own favorite restaurants by eating and enjoying food mindfully, so that I am again reminded of why I love that particular place. This week I found a culinary gem that I am definitely adding to my faves list – Parkside.  This restaurant  has been in operation for while and why it took me so long to check out, I have no idea!  But I am so glad I did.  My friend and photographer, Melissa Skorpil, grabbed her camera and joined me for a truly tasty happy hour.

Parkside is located downtown on the corner of 6th and San Jacinto.   The place is divided into two separate spaces – the bar area and the dining room.  We chose to sit on the bar side, which also has a long row of tables along one wall.  I found this room to be quite beautiful.  The windows along the front allowed in such nice late afternoon light.  The space is very urban, with brick walls, exposed ductwork and a stainless steel bar counter  – I felt like I was in New York.  We arrived as soon as the place opened at 5, but by 6 pm the bar side was completely full.  Even with this many people, the noise level was not high, so it was easy to carry on a conversation.  Big plus.

Happy hour at Parkside runs daily, from 5 to 7 pm, and includes half off their bar menu, half price beer and cocktails.  They have some good beer choices, though all are in the bottle, no drafts.  After ordering a Rye Ale from Real Ale, we turned to the bar menu.  Oh the choices!  The food sounded divine and we didn’t hesitate to dig right in.

Amazing ceviche

We first ordered the risotto fritters – crispy brown balls filled with creamy risotto and covered with paper-thin parmesan cheese shavings, with sofrito (tomato salsa puree) for dipping.  A great choice for you vegetarians out there.  Next up was the ceviche.  Ceviche is one of my favorite foods and, if done well, is pure heaven to me.  And this was done well.  It’s a basic recipe with bits of salmon, tomato, onion, avocado and herbs and it tasted so fresh, with just a hint of tartness. Yum.

Even more amazing grilled cheese

We also ordered the petite grilled cheese.  I have one word for this dish – adorable.  The cuteness factor alone is enough to order this item – four tiny round sandwiches consisting of buttery bread grilled until slightly crispy and filled with the most divine melted cheese I have ever tasted – Taleggio cheese to be exact.  Tiny pieces of smoked onion and roasted red pepper are held on top by a wooded skewer pierced through each sandwich.  The dish is garnished with wispy green dill and a swipe of homemade ketchup.  This was by far the best grilled cheese we had ever tasted.

Another reason to go to Parkside for happy hour?  The price.  Most of the items on the bar menu range from $5.50 to $11 – and half off during happy hour is a fantastic deal!  I found the quality of the food to be superb and the presentation creative.  The chef/owner of Parkside, Shawn Cirkiel, also opened up a pizzeria next door called Backspace, which I can only imagine is fantastic as well (but of course I will need to check this out for myself).  His next project that I am anticipating with glee is Olive & June, an Italian restaurant set to open this March in the space once occupied by El Arbol.

My recommendation?  Get your hungry little self to Parkside as soon as possible, bring your friends and enjoy some fantastic food at a great price.  Another culinary gem just got added to my list – what great restaurant have you discovered lately?

Parkside on Urbanspoon

Get your burger fix at Flat Top Burger Shop

8 Jan

Every once in a while (ok, maybe a little more often than once in a while) I get a serious craving for a cheeseburger.  This week that craving hit hard, so I decided to check out the new kid on the block, Flat Top Burger Shop.  I love it when new businesses take over an old building site and repurpose it into something fun and that’s exactly what Flat Top did.  They took over an old gas station on Manor Rd, just east of I-35, and remodeled it into a cute burger joint that reminds me of a 1950s drive-in.  The booth and picnic bench seating are comfortable and casual and the red-white-and-blue color scheme is all American.

The menu is simple: a burger or cheeseburger that comes in two sizes, with the meat options of original beef or grass-fed beef, chicken or a vegan patty and all the typical burger fixins’.  The burger was very tasty, with onions cooked into the meat.  The french fries are hand cut with the skins on and one order is enough to share.  They also serve onion rings, fresh-squeezed lemonade and, my absolute favorite side dish to a burger – Blue Bell ice cream shakes!  I tried the Vanilla and it was sweet, thick and creamy.

I think Flat Top  is going to do quite well, especially since it is in good company.  Its neighbors include several well established places such as El Chile Cafe, Vivo, East Side Cafe and Hoover’s Cooking.  I can picture this place being a great hangout when the weather is nice –  with the garage doors raised up, the entire restaurant is open to the outside.  I also like that “restaurant row” on Manor Rd now has an option that is very casual and quick – at Flat Top, you just order at the window, so it’s great if you want to grab something to go.  Flat Top Burger Shop is a good addition to the Cherrywood neighborhood and has earned its place in the list of great Austin burger joints.

When you get a craving for a burger, what comes to your mind?  What’s your favorite burger joint in Austin?  Tell me in the comments below.

Flat Top Burger Shop on Urbanspoon

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