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Think Inside the Box

21 Feb

I have been on a French kick lately.  Right now, anything French is cool.  I have this grandiose idea of living in Paris,  I want to learn to speak French, I want to eat French food, I want to bake French pastries, I am currently reading My Life in France by Julia Child – the list goes on and on.  Not sure where all this originated, though I have a suspicion it started after watching Midnight in Paris, which now reminds me of the time I had a very strong desire to live in Spain after watching Vicki Cristina Barcelona… don’t put shiny objects in front of me, I will follow them. 

So I was quite excited to go to La Boite, the French eatery on South Lamar that is housed in a shipping container.  Boite is a French word that literally means box and that is exactly what the place is – a rectangular box.  I love that they have taken the “Reuse Reduce Recycle” motto to heart and used an object that was built for such a specific purpose and repurposed it into something quirky and fun.   Sometimes my imagination can go in all kinds of silly directions and I started wondering:  Where has this shipping container been?  What exotic places has it traveled to and how did it arrive here?  By boat?  By rail?  What precious cargo did it contain?

Well I can tell you what it contains now – a whole lot of yumminess!  And will someone please tell me how I have been alive for 40 years and just now have tasted my first macaron???  Oh my, those little French cookies are like fluffy pillows filled with pure sweetness.  I tried two flavors – Pistachio with chocolate ganache and salted caramel.  If my life depended on it, I still couldn’t tell you which one I liked more.  They were both divine.  I also enjoyed the almond croissant, which was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and absolutely wonderful.  In fact, while I was there a person called in to ask if there were any of those croissants left.  Since they only had two, the caller asked to please please please hold them – they would be over immediately to grab them!  So they must be in high demand.

La Boite also serves great coffee, teas and sandwiches, so I plan on making a trip over there during lunch.  Since the box is tight on space (though so cute), the seating is located outside under a shade canopy.  If you’d rather just pick up something to go, the parking is convenient and easy.  They open at 7:30 am on the weekdays, 8 am on the weekends and close at 4:30(ish).  They have also just opened up a second location at 1006 Congress Ave.

So my French obsession has been reinforced, thanks to La Boite.  Hopefully I will one day find myself in France but until then, I intend on eating every macaron flavor they make.  Bon appétit!

 

La Boite Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Hugo is the Place To Go

5 Feb

It’s a beautiful, clear evening in Austin, Texas – warm enough to enjoy the outdoors (gotta love Texas winters).  The perfect environment for, you guessed it – happy hour!  I felt the calling of a margarita in my near future, so I gathered up a group of friends and we headed over to Hugos Restaurant Y Tequila Bar, located on Lamar Blvd, just south of the river.

Hugos has several things going for it.  First is the easy parking available in the parking garage next door – and it’s free.  Second is the large outdoor deck – just what we needed to take advantage of this awesome weather.  And third, but definitely the most important item on this list  – great margaritas.  Happy hour runs 4 to 7 pm Monday – Friday and includes $4 select appetizers, $2 Dos XX, $3.50 well drinks and $4 margaritas.  Not only were the ritas great, they were cheap too!

puts the "happy" in happy hour (photo by Melissa Skorpil)

I also had my fill of a couple of appetizers.  First up was the Tres Queso-dillas – your standard quesadilla that was quite tasty, but nothing unusual.  The second appetizer I tried was the mini empanada slider – and these were delicious.  Crispy pastries filled with pork, topped with a little pico and a wonderfully sweet yet tangy mango mustard sauce.  The house margaritas, I prefer mine on the rocks, were a little tangy, not too sweet and perfectly refreshing.  If you are a tequila connoisseur, then this place is right up your alley because Hugos has a very extensive list of the agave concoction to choose from.

empanada sliders (photo by Melissa Skorpil)

I  think what can really make or break a place is the wait staff and I found the wait staff at Hugos to be excellent.  Our poor waiter had the packed outdoor patio all to himself at first and he really had to hustle to keep all of us happy – which he did.  Soon others came to help out and they were all on top of things – our glasses were never empty for long!  Want to know another thing, other than ritas, that makes me smile?  Cute puppies!  And Hugos has those as well, since they allow dogs on the patio.  So bring your pups, your appetite and your thirst for a good time, because Hugos delivers on all of the above.

Hugos Restaurant Y Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

Spend your pesos at El Alma Cafe

11 Dec

El Alma Cafe

A friend of mine suggested I check out El Alma Cafe, a Mexican restaurant on Barton Springs Rd that opened this summer, replacing what was El Chile.  My husband and I  arrived around 7 pm on a Friday and the place was hopping.  It is not very big,  you are able to scan the entire restaurant from the front entrance and the tables are placed closely together.   But this arrangement gives a feeling of intimacy and coziness and I like it.  I absolutely love the colorful artwork on the walls and the lighting that illuminates the room makes the place sparkle.

Happy hour runs Monday – Friday 3 to 7 pm and Saturday – Sunday 3 to 6 pm.  Their drink specials consist of $2 Lone Stars, $3 Sangrias, $4 house margaritas and $5 margarita chilangas, which are a spicy, orange infused frozen margarita (yum).  I was really hungry so I was mostly interested in what they had to offer in terms of food.  The happy hour food deal is half priced appetizers and they have some great choices.  We tried the empanadas – crispy, deep fried, filled with mushroom and cheese and served with salsa and guac.  Very tasty.  We also ate the ceviche clasico, which are pieces of lime marinated black drum fish tossed with tomato, avocado, serrano peppers and red onion and served with thick tostada chips.  I love ceviche  and will order it any chance I get – theirs did not disappoint.

ceviche

empanadas

I was still hungry so decided to order an entree and boy am I glad I did.  Sometimes it pays to ask the waiter what his favorite dish is and he did not steer me wrong.  I love meat but the veggie verde enchiladas were so fantastic that I did not miss meat one bit.  The veggie filling of poblanos, mushroom and spinach was so so flavorful and what really did it for me was the smokey yet sweet blanket of tomatillo sauce.  I think I could drink that stuff!  I consider enchiladas the gold standard for mexican food and these were the best vegetarian enchiladas I have ever had.  Seriously.  They are paired up with white rice and black beans for $10.95 and are worth every penny.

I found the quality of the food and the service of the staff to be excellent at El Alma.  The appetizers, though good, are a little expensive if you aren’t able to take advantage of happy hour prices –  full price is $7.95 to $9.95 and they are small.   The main dishes, however,  are reasonably priced – the enchilada plates are $9.95 to $12.95.  They offer tacos a la carte of all sorts (I bet they are delicious) – $3.25 to $4 per taco.  There are also more expensive plates on the menu, varying from $14.95 to $18.95, but considering the yumminess factor (that’s a real word, right?) of the enchiladas, I bet they are worth it.

My vote – go to El Alma for the food.  Go for the atmosphere.  As far as for happy hour?  If you’re a fan of margaritas, 4 to 5 bucks seems pretty good.  If you like Lone Star beer, which I don’t, then you can’t beat 2 bucks for a beer (are they worth that?).  The appetizers are good but small and if you have an appetite like me, then my guess is you’ll be ordering off the regular menu soon enough – and that is not a bad thing.

El Alma on Urbanspoon

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