Sunday, April 29, 2007

El Charrito - Guest Review

Holy Tortillas Batman!


Best Kept Secret in Georgetown, insofar as Mexican Restaurants, of which there are many, are concerned

Location: 302 S Austin Ave, Georgetown, TX 78626

by Blake Atwood

It's not every day that you get to meet Jesus face to face, at least in this life. Should you ever happen to visit Georgetown, TX (north of Austin) and would like to see Jesus, go to El Charrito, an excellent, family-owned, locally-run Mexican restaurant located close to the downtown area.

My wife first met Jesus in high school. She converted me - I found Jesus - in college. We've been happily married ever since. Coincidence? I think not.

Jesus ('hay-sus') typically works the walk-up window in the mornings, offering the most delicious assortment of cheap breakfast tacos and Mexican breakfast dishes this side of the Pecos. With prices in the $1-$2 range, you can't go wrong buying as much as possible and being that guy or gal who walks into the office carrying the welcoming (and possibly raise-inducing) aroma of a mountain of breakfast tacos. Jesus seduces you with breakfast tacos until you're ready to take the fateful steps into their cozy restaurant.

El Charrito is small, so a short wait occurs sometimes, but not often. It's size is also a luxury, as the low number of waiters and waitresses makes it feel like you're visiting family, albeit the family that mostly speaks Spanish. Fortunately, I have a fluent wife. With as many visits as we make, typically once a week, if not more, they know what we like before we even order.

I constantly waver between chicken quesadillas and the Charrito Supreme: nachos with beans, cheese, and jalapenos, more cheese in melted form, a taco, two chicken flautas, and half a chicken quesadilla. (FYI: as a younger person than Mr. Brad, I can still partake of the culinary delights known as queso and most anything fried. Yes, I will pay for it one day, but, in the meantime, let me reference my friend Solomon). Suffice to say that if I can vacillate between two appetizer plates that their main entrees are just as, if not more-so, enticing than any Mexican food you've ever had. Well, maybe not ever, but at least within the last year, and definitely within the confines of Georgetown.

A few new entrees have made it onto their menu. I have yet to pry myself away from my normal routine in order to try the fish tacos, but it's going to happen soon.

My wife constantly orders the fajitas for one, sometimes chicken, sometimes beef, sometimes both. The meat is brought on a steaming hot pan. I'll almost always eat the platter of seared onion pieces that makes for the soft, succulent meat bed. And yes, I just said "meat bed." Make of that what you will.

Two televisions provide one of two things: soccer or telenovelas. Since I wouldn't be able to understand them even with the sound on, they are a nice visual distraction and a reminder to look up every now and then from gorging myself on the various cheeses, sour cream, tortillas, chicken, and what-not that beckons me to dine with nary a breath or fully-chewed swallow.

With a recent remodeling, El Charrito keeps growing into what we already know it is: a perfect place for perfect Mexican food.

And yes, Jesus still works there. And no, his face does not appear on the tortillas.

As far as I know.

His mom's might though.

Addendum: The above was written weeks ago. Since then, I've had an incident that took place at El Charrito. My car died in a prime parking spot in front of their walk-up window on a Saturday morning, their busiest time. The transmission was shot. I asked if I could leave it there until the next day. I felt bad about taking that prime spot, but the guys that work there were very kind and allowed me to keep it there until I could get it towed. There is much to be said for a delicious restaurant run by caring people.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Evangeline Cafe

Old Austin didn't die . . . it just moved South

The Errant Nephew buzzed through and that plus the tax blues was a good excuse to hit the town. We got a mile from the house, saw the Evangeline Cafe and that was town enough for us. The first time I had Evangeline goodies was back in the winter of aught-four. We were on the mainland for the arrival of the #1 Grandson and I was holed up in the double-in-laws guest cabin cranking out "Hell in a Briefcase." I emerged long enough for dinner and a glance at the bambino and some kind soul brought takeout from Evangeline. After four years in Hawaii, where Cajun is hard to come by, words cannot describe my elation.

The Evangeline is tucked in a strip mall along Brodie between Eskew and Alexandria. There are some tables out on the sidewalk and a bunch more inside, where the ambiance is South Austin neighborly. There seem to be a lot of regulars and you frequently see folks coming in and visting with other tables before taking a seat. The walls are overloaded with photos of musicians and others sprinkled with oddities in an eclectic yard sale bargains motif.

The first time you go, you have to try the stuffed pistolette, a petite French roll stuffed with shrimp or crawfish in a creamy cheese sauce. Serious appetizer action, folks. This time we tried the boudin, which was nice and spicy. Spread a little on your cracker and you're doing Cajun pate! I decided to take it easy and stay on the appetizer menu, going for the small seafood gumbo and a cup of red beans and rice. When they said cup, they really meant it. It was interesting eating red beans and rice out of a coffee cup, but it was just the right amount. On the other hand, the small gumbo was pretty significant in size, as you can see from the Rokr photo. In the background you can see the baby Shiner glass they give you with the beer. The Errant Nephew followed suit, but The Woman got the fried Shrimp dinner and raved about it. Eight oxymoronic jumbo shrimp.

A few weeks later, some readers on spring-break stopped by to treat us to dinner at the Evangeline. I was impressed, seeing as how the review hadn't been posted yet, so they had discovered the place strictly via the Internet. Google is your friend. By the way, gentle readers, if there's some place you want to see reviewed, this is the way to make it happen. Come on into town and take me to dinner there. I'll review it. Guarranteed.

This time we experienced the Evangeline the way it should be. Ten folks crowded around tables pushed together, dishes ordered family style and passed around. The matriarch of the visiting clan directed operations from one end of the table while everyone else enjoyed the fruit of her labors. Pistolettes, boudin, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, cornbread, and the coup de grace, the Catfish with Crawfish Macque Choux. So in demand that additional orders were placed and we passed it around again. Picture, if you will, pan satueed catfish served on steamed rice, smothered with a crawfish creole corn chowder. Sounds unusual, doesn't it? Tastes incredibly good. It's the thing to order. But go in a group so you can sample what everyone else gets, too.

From past visits I can also testify to the Crawfish Evangeline, the etoufee and the creole. It's probably hard to go wrong at the Evangeline, which got a Zagat A rating and has won several Critic's Choice awards from the Austin Chronicle. With two Cajun eateries a mile or so from my house, both great, I'm pretty much set. If you're trying to decide between the two, I'll help you out. Evangeline is more authentic Cajun and has a more relaxed, down home atmosphere. Cypress is trendier, with a more eclectic menu and the irresitable muffaleta. Both have Abita beer, Community Coffee and live music. That really didn't make it any easier, did it?

Better idea. Try them both!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Korea Garden Redux - Podcast

You gotta do this

Korea GardenLocation:6519 N. Lamar, Austin, TX
Phone: 512-302-3149
Hours: Mon-Thu 11a-10p, Sat-Sun 12p-10p

Raw KalbiSpyMan and Wunderfool drag The Woman down to the Korea Garden for a night of revelry and yakiniku craziness, then return to talk about it while The Woman takes a nap.

Raw Bulgogi

Potato and onion Watercress Kim chee Bean sprouts Diakon (radish) Cucumber Little Fishies garlic and jalapenos Lettuce Bean paste

Seafood Pankcake Cooking bulgogi Cooking Kalbi

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Iguana Grill

Mexican food with a view


OK, so yeah, it is a Tex-Mex place. And yeah, I’ve reviewed a half dozen already. But this is different. It’s the Tex-Mex place with a view. And not only that, the food is pretty good.

Let’s face it, you don’t turn to the bride of your youth and say, “Hey, old trouble and strife, I’m jonesing for some haute cuisine. Let’s don the nosebag at yon Tex-Mex beanery.” [Actually, nobody would ever say that, as it cobbles together the argot of 4 or 5 different cultures. Plus, the trouble and strife might bat you upside the head with a stuffed eelskin.] No, Tex-Mex isn't about fine dining. It's about waddling away afterward for a siesta of the sated.

In case you haven’t figured it out, the thing about the Iguana is the view. You go at sunset, sit out on the veranda, watch the sun sink into the lake, listen to the band and sip the beverage of your choice. At that point do you really care what you order? Oh, you do? Well, then, relax – you’re at the Iguana Grill.

They call the food Upscale Mexican a.k.a. Lake Mex. And so it is, both upscale and lake. In addition to the usual options, you can enjoy the Especialidades:
  • Camarones a La Plancha (grilled shrimp with a red chile barbeque sauce)
  • Enchiladas de Espinaca y hongos (spinach and mushroom enchiladas with a mild poblano cream sauce)
  • Enchiladas Suisas con Camarones (seasoned shrimp stuffed enchiladas topped with a rich sour cream sauce)
  • Enchiladas de Pollo con Mole (chicken enchiladas served with a traditionally rich sauce of Mexican Chiles, toasted seeds and nuts and a hint of chocolate)
  • Rainbow Trout Vera Cruz (grilled and topped with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, onions and olives)
  • Chile Montado (batter-dipped poblano chile on top of beef picadillo and rice, topped with zesty ranchero and melted cheese)
OK, so you probably won't lose any weight going to the Iguana, but you can always do a few laps across the lake.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bombay Bistro

Open the Bombay doors!


The Woman told a co-worker from India about the great buffet meal we experienced back during the rains of winter and was informed that the best Indian dining experience in Austin is at the Bombay Bistro. We are both lovers of Indian cuisine. (For me it is second only to Thai.) So, when Valentine's Day rolled around, guess where the lovers had to go? Fortunately, this time we knew of the destination beforehand, so there were no stunt-car maneuvers across multiple lanes of traffic. At least none beyond the normal techniques required to get to Braker and 183 during rush hour.

The nice thing about rush hour dates is beating the crowd to dinner. They're all lemming home on the highway in a crowd and then lemming their way to a restaurant in a crowd. We just zip to our assignation on surface streets and sip the beverage of our choice at our leisure and then order something incredible to eat.

Which is exactly what they have at Bombay Bistro--incredible things to eat. Our source did not fail us, may a thousand rose petals perfume her presence. Only a few tables were occupied when we arrived. The light was suitably subdued and became subduer as the evening progressed. Highly romantic. Until you sit on the booth cushion that allows you to rest your chin on the table. (I recommend going for a chair, instead.)

We ordered drinks and they brought the papadum with sauces and then the dilemma was upon us. One virtue of the buffet is that you don't have to make the hard choices. You really can have it all. And then waddle out after. But The Woman discovered the solution--the Jugalbhandi Dinner for Two ($40). Check this out:

  • Vegetable Samosas
  • Tandoori Chicken
  • Salmon Tikka
  • Tandoori Prawn
  • Lamb Korma
  • Saag Paneer (spinach)
  • Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Onion Kulcha
  • Kachcumber Salad (cucumber)
  • Onion Kulcha
  • Rasmalai or Mango ice cream
Dinner for two? I'd say more like four! I couldn't leave without trying the okra, so we ordrered Bhindi Masala. The waiter warned us that it was a lot of food, but we were already planning on taking a good portion home, so one more dish wasn't going to change that. And we did take home two large, square, sectioned containers and two small containers. Enough for a couple more meals, so figure that into your $40 if you're getting sticker shock.

Bombay Bistro definitely rates as our best Indian dining experience in Austin to date. And the other place was quite good, so that's saying something. They also have a buffet, so if you want to try out a lot of things without doing the dinner for two, go for it. You might even see us there.