Sunday, May 27, 2007

Barbara Jean's - Guest Review

The cooking is mean at Barbara Jean's


by Kelly Brewer

For the late-breaking news, the review is available on Kelly's blog. Well, one of them, anyway. It will eventually find its home here when the rush dies down.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

North by Northwest

Dinner while hanging off Lincoln's nose


Not really. In fact, from what I could see, there were no references to the Hitchcock movie anywhere in the place. But it is located in NW Austin and also is decorated to evoke the aura of the Pacific northwest. So, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

It was double whammy: birthday and rush hour date night. So we went for a classy joint. After all, you only have one birthday every year. We beat the rush, as usual, which was good. When we left, the waiting area was full.

NXNW is a restaurant and brewery, and the tanks are featured prominently in the entry/lobby/bar area, as seen in the virtual tour on the website. The dinning room has high ceilings with a stone fireplace in the middle, the grill running down one side and windows running down the other. Even though it's on a very busy corner, the view out the window is a tranquil garden setting that is very relaxing after a day of slaving away at the keyboard. I decided to celebrate the occasion by sampling some of their microbrews. I ordered a pint of the Duckabish Amber and had it in front of me before I thought to ask if they had a sampler, which they did, but it was too late. I made up for it by trying the Pyjingo Pale Ale. Both were worthy brews, but I'd like to try Northern Light and Okanogan Black Ale. (I'll give the Bavarian Hefewiezen a miss. I'm not much for wheat beer.)

Next on the agenda was to study the menu. With the celebration and all, I decided to throw caution to the wind and get a good steak. And I had come to the right place. The beef tenderloin (hand cut 7oz, topped with blue cheese and haystack onions) was worth celebrating all by itself. Every bite was a singular and separate pleasure. In fact, it was difficult to let even a small bite of it go for The Woman to sample. Yes, that good. It was served over wild mushroom risotto and a merlot butter sauce that was not wasted, either. The Woman went for the herb crusted rotisserie chicken, a half chicken seasoned with a NXNW blend of unique spices, served with caramelized onion mashers and green beans. It was a little more than half the price of the steak and made for two meals. (I finished the rest of it off yesterday while The Woman was out shoppoing. Don't tell her.)

With all this decadence going on, it's a wonder we did behave sensibly enough to start with salads. I got the garden salad. Yeah, yeah, I know. I thought the same thing and almost skipped over it without reading, but something caught my eye and I read closer. Check this out: cucumbers, snap peas, red onions, kalamata olives and tomatoes tossed with baby greens and a chive basil vinaigrette. Now that's a salad, baby! The Woman got the Silver Lake Spinach Salad (cucumbers, green beans, red onion and citrus shallot vinaigrette) and we mixed them together for a really great combo.

Tumescent from the other courses, I didn't bother reading the dessert menu. But now I repent. The offerings are classic items -- Crème Brulee, Cheesecake, Tiramisu, Sorbet -- but knowing how they do the other items, I'm guessing they are all wonderful. And there are some unusual items as well: Frozen Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Terrine, Caramelized Cornbread Pudding, Chocolate Torte. Alas, for of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been!"

On the other hand, it's a good excuse to make another trip. After a look at the starters, I see we could make it an appetizer/dessert extravaganza.

  • Sizzling Mussels in garlic tomato ale broth with toasted crostini
  • Roasted Garlic Bulbs with goat cheese and black pepper crostinis
  • Fried Artichoke Hearts served with house made marinara
  • Crab and Shrimp Cakes pan seared and served with mango red bell pepper salad in sweet chili vinaigrette
  • Skillet Fried Cornbread with goat cheese and a portabello-cremini mushroom sauce
  • Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms mushroom caps stuffed with fennel sausage, roasted garlic and peppers topped with parmesan cheese
  • Spinach Capers and Artichoke Dip asiago and parmesan cheeses and a lemon aioli, served with fired pita bread
Maybe more than one additional trip is required. It will give me a shot at the beer sampler. And they have live music on Thu-Sat. Might just have to make the trek up to the great North West on the weekend.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tinos Greek Cafe - Podcast

The SpyMan gets back to his roots. The Wunderfool just nods and says, "Pass the baba ganouj."

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Baby Acapulco

The original party place?


Our first visit to Baby A was prompted by colleagues from my former life in town for training. The Woman and I cruised on up and caught them on the patio by the giant circular fireplace, where they had a head start on the signature purple margarita. (Limit 2) Not being a margarita guy, I opted for a Dos Equis Amber, my cerveza of choice for Tex-Mex. The Woman, a life-long designated driver, had water with lemon.

After a skim of the menu, I decided I had to try the catfish enchiladas. I mean, how often do you get a chance like that? They were a nice change from the typical Tex-Mex treadmill and I'd do it again. But I didn't. This time I tried the ceviche: citrus marinated shrimp, scallop, octopus, and tilapia blended with pico de gallo and olive oil and topped with sliced avocado. It's a cold, tomato-based soup that is sort of like eating shrimp cocktail with a spoon. Only it's so packed with seafood that you could really eat it with a fork and not miss much. Or forget the cutlery altogether and scoop it up with chips. It was a nice light alternative to the more traditional, heavier Tex-Mex options.

The Woman branched out with the Smothered Chicken Poblano, which I couldn't read without thinking of Lisa Samson's Straight Up, which has a joke about smothered chicken in it. (In my humble, but accurate, opinion, it's her best since The Living End. If that girl doesn't get a Christy for Straight Up, there's no fairness in this world. Which of course, there isn't, so perhaps things aren't looking up for Lisa. Oh well.) Back to the smothered chicken. It was a chicken breast smothered with poblano peppers, mushrooms, fresh spinach leaves, and Monterrey Jack cheese, served with an avocado salad, beans a la charra, and rice. Now that sounds like the perfect Tex-Mex entree if you ask me, and I ate a significant portion of it. Which explains how I ended up waddling out even though I had ordered something light.

It was karaoke night (Tue/Thu) and out on the veranda locals were murdering everything from "The Letter" to "I Love Rock and Roll." We considered sitting out there for the "entertainment" (quotes used advisedly) but it was the outdoor smoking section and we weren't in the mood for dinner with a side of nicotine. Baby A might indeed be the original party place, although I'm pretty sure there have been party places for many centuries past, so they might be wrong about that. But they're not wrong about the food. It's worth going back for.