Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Restaurants

Big Night Out: Uchiko and Blacklane Limousines

Pardon me while I take a small step outside my comfort zone and share a restaurant review…


Uchiko is one of my favorite places to go out to dinner in Austin. I’d be hard-pressed to pick one favorite, but let’s just say this might be it. So, when several of our neighbors hatched plans for an adults-night-out to celebrate October birthdays (or which we have several among us), the hubby and I pushed for a group outing to Uchiko. We were able to snag their private dining room and collaborate with them on creating a menu that catered to carnivores, vegetarians, in-betweens… and one picky eater who declined to try anything but their famous “fried chicken.”


Each time a meat dish was served, we ensured that they brought a complementary vegetarian dish for me. I never even considered feeling deprived!

uchiko food

In the midst of this, Blacklane Limousines contacted me to see if I would be interested in a free ride in one of their cars for my next night out on the town. How serendipitous! I mean, how often do I really get to go out “on the town” these days? Not that often, is the answer — between work and family obligations and babysitter scarcity, we only manage to get out for a date night once a month, if that — and usually it involves someplace a little lower-key and/or closer to home. In addition to amazing food, Uchiko also offers a wonderful selection of wine and sake,* as well as sake-basked cocktails, so a sober ride was in order!


* I mostly stuck to the Otokoyama, which, in addition to being crisp and lovely, is also super-fun to say. (For real — try it.) 

The folks at Blacklane offered impeccable service, allowing me to book a car online less than a day in advance and get my reservation confirmed instantly. The driver was friendly but reserved, allowing us privacy for our backseat conversations but happily answering questions and making arrangements to pick us up a little later than originally scheduled. In fact, he was flexible enough to give us his cell phone number to text when we were ready to leave — awesome for two tired parents who didn’t much fancy being out well past bedtime just waiting on a ride to arrive.


The driver did take a slight (unintentional) detour on the way to the restaurant, but it was quickly corrected and only resulted in a couple of extra minutes in the car — which, frankly, was just fine by me, since it was a quiet place to talk, just the two of us. Plus, we ended up being the last of our party to arrive, and we were seated immediately — can’t beat that for an entrance!

As for Uchiko, I wish I could give our private dining experience the rave review I was expecting to, but it just didn’t live up to the restaurant’s reputation (and what they are actually able to deliver in their main dining room). Don’t get me wrong — the food was spectacular, and each of us (well, except the picky eater!) savored every morsel, even when the combination sounded odd or even downright wrong.

The problem was the service. We weren’t asked for drink orders when we arrived, and technically we were never asked for drink orders — we had to snag a waiter and pin him down to get our orders, and that was 15 minutes into the meal! We also had to request a drink menu/wine list — one wasn’t automatically brought to us.

To all of this, I say, What?! Number 1, being denied a beverage at the beginning of a meal at a tony restaurant, for which we were spending plenty of bucks, was just annoying and set the whole evening off on the wrong foot. Number 2, don’t restaurants make most of their profit on drinks? Shouldn’t they want to push the booze? Bottom line: One should not have to beg for alcohol. Get it together, folks!

Secondly, the pace of the meal was all wrong. The times I’ve eaten in the main dining room or even at the sushi bar at Uchiko, the timing of service has always been impeccable. This is important, since dinner there is a series of many, many different small plates. In the private room, dishes came out as fast as the kitchen could prepare them, crowding our table and forcing us to find a waiter and ask him to slow the pace down. At times we had 3 or 4 different dishes on the table, and we were not eating slowly… and none of us had a movie to catch. What we wanted was a relaxed evening, but we would have been out of there in an hour if we hadn’t asked them to put the brakes on and let us catch up.

So, while I heartily recommend Blacklane Limousines for your night-on-the-town needs, and I continue to highly recommend Uchiko as a dining experience for smaller parties, I’m sad to say cannot recommend their private dining room. We still had a wonderful evening, but I was disappointed and would not book there again for a larger party.

The moral of this story is: Bring me a wine list and take my drink order before you bring any food, or I will be cranky. It’s really not that hard. Also, a night out with a guaranteed sober driver, there when you need him to carry you safely home? Priceless.

Note: Blacklane Limousines provided me with a round-trip ride free of charge, but I was not otherwise compensated for this write-up, and my opinions are my own.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Chili Sauce

You know what’s good? Brussels sprouts. I know, I know — they’re all the rage right now, but I have to say, I’m so glad they’ve been re-discovered and that people are actually doing them right!

Roasting is the way to go, hands-down. You’re not still cutting those little Xs in the bottom of your Brussels sprouts and boiling them are you? Roasting is so much easier, and so much tastier, too.

The hubby and I went out to dinner at Uchiko a little while ago, and, among the many dishes they wowed us with was a side of crispy roasted Brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce. Since I love Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving and wanted to include them in our feast, I decided to try my hand at a similar recipe. Although ours didn’t come out as crispy (or, truth be told, as greasy*) as Uchiko’s, they were still awesome.

Roasted Brussels Spouts with Sweet Chili Sauce

* Not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing — they were utterly delicious.

I love the combination of soy sauce and sweet chili sauce on these, for a slightly Asian spin that was still perfectly at home with more traditional Thanksgiving foods. We had the rest of the sprouts (recipe testing, round 2) with a dinner of caramelized tofu with ramen noodles a couple nights ago, and it went great with that, too. Definitely a must-try!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Chili Sauce
Cuisine: Asian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 Tbs tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs sweet chili sauce**
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Toss the Brussels sprouts in a bowl with the oil and soy sauce to coat them, and then spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes, or until partially tender.
  3. Toss the sprouts and then raise the oven temperature to 400. Continue to roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until tender, crisp and browed, tossing every few minutes to ensure even browning.
  4. Remove the Brussels sprouts from the oven and toss in a bowl with the sweet chili sauce. Serve immediately.
** Available at Asian groceries or the Asian foods section of some grocery stores.


2013 Austin City Guide: Northside Vegetarian Eats

I am pleased as punch to be taking part in the the Austin Food Blogger Alliance’s 2013 City Guide. It was right around this time last year that we were moving back to Austin, and the 2012 City Guide really helped me get my bearings, since Austin had grown by leaps and bounds since I last lived here. I’ve spent the past year exploring, and now I’m happy to share my insider knowledge!

AFBA 2013 City Guide

It’s no secret that I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t spend a lot of time eating at vegetarian restaurants. I cook at home, or I eat whatever is vegetarian on the menu at a “normal” restaurant. It’s almost always easy to find a few tasty vegetarian options wherever you are, especially here in Austin… well, unless it’s a barbecue joint. Then you can just enjoy your potato salad and beer quietly while everyone else tears into their ribs. Not that that has ever happened to me….

But I digress. The following is a list of some of my favorite vegetarian-friendly restaurants in North Austin and thereabouts. Most of them aren’t exclusively vegetarian restaurants (I am married to an omnivore, after all), but they each have a plethora of veggie options on their menus, and they are sure to make your taste buds sing. Enjoy!

My Favorites

The Steeping Room, 1140 Century Oaks Terrace, Suite 112
I first discovered the Steeping Room when a friend suggested we meet there for lunch. I was expecting a tea shop with sandwiches and such, but I was blown away by their offerings! Besides an extensive tea selection, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including vegetable strata, a tasty daily curry (which is usually, though not always, vegetarian) and, yes, a variety of tea sandwiches. My favorite, though, is the Buddha Bowl, which includes a daily grain, beans, sweet potato, sautéed greens and tofu.

Asia Cafe, 8650 Spicewood Springs Rd, Suite 114A (inside Asia Market Austin)
This is the most authentic Chinese food I’ve been able to find since moving to Austin. Take that with a grain of salt, since I am a white girl and not even a particular fan of Chinese food, but this stuff is gooood.

mushroom soup

There are lots of veggie options on the menu, although you’ll want to check to make sure the item you have your eye on is truly vegetarian. They do an amazing black and white mushroom soup with bok choy (#807), and the eggplant with garlic is great, too.

Curry in Hurry, 2121 W. Parmer Ln., Suite 114 
Indian food is almost always a sure win when you’re looking for vegetarian options, and Curry in Hurry (there is no “a”, people, I checked!) is one of my favorites.

curry in hurry

I like it for its extensive menu, which features three daily curries (if they have mutter paneer, get it!), and which also happens to be entirely vegetarian. The service and atmosphere leave something to be desired, so I’d recommend takeout — but the food is well worth it, and if you get a sampling of curries, rice and naan, you can feed an army (or a few people with lots of leftovers) for not very much money.

Spin Modern Thai, 14005 N. Hwy. 183, Suite 1000
Tucked away in a shopping center with Bed Bath and Beyond (and, seriously, it’s nearly impossible to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for), Spin Modern Thai is a delightful Thai fusion restaurant with only a couple of vegetarian options on the menu. But, those vegetarian options are amazingly delicious, which is why it made my list. The vegetarian clay pot is to die for — mushrooms, brussels sprouts and glass noodles are topped with an egg just as they finish cooking. So very, very delicious.

Other Options

I can’t vouch for each of these independently, but I’ve been to most of them, and the ones I haven’t visited yet comprise my “to try” list. As you may have noticed, ethnic food is king in the world of good vegetarian cuisine. Embrace it!

Taste of Ethiopia, 1100 Grand Avenue Pkwy. (Pflugerville): I do love some good Ethiopian food! Try the Ultimate Combo for a sampler of their vegetarian dishes.

Swad9515 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite 156: Described as a “vegetarian’s paradise,” Swad is authentic southern Indian cuisine. Get your dosas and idli here, but don’t expect “standard” Indian dishes like tikka masala. The food is spicy and wonderful, even if the atmosphere and service leave a little to be desired (takeout anyone?), but the best part is that the menu is 100% vegetarian.

How Do You Roll?, 10515 N. MoPac Expy., Suite A165: I’ve heard this place described as the “Chipotle of sushi,” and that’s probably apt. But, the upside for vegetarians is that you get to build your own roll, using lots of tasty veggies, without being confined to the lackluster vegetarian options available on the menus of most sushi joints. Plus it’s cheap.

Bombay Express, 13000 N. IH-35, Bldg. 12, Suite 216: This chaat spot is a favorite among vegetarians and omnivores alike, even though its menu is 100% vegetarian.

Madras Pavilion, 9025 Research Blvd., Suite 100: Another all-vegetarian Indian restaurant, this one gets rave reviews for its South Indian cuisine.

Grilled pizza with eggplant

Before we moved away from Northern California, my favorite pizza place was Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria,* and my favorite pizza there was called the Boston. It was simple pizza with fried eggplant and mozzarella, plus a little tomato sauce. Add some crushed red pepper and dip the crust in ranch dressing, and it was a great, indulgent meal. What it has to do with Boston, I never quite figured out.

*Yes, on the West Coast.

My sister-in-law and her husband were in town a couple of weekends ago, and we had lots of eggplant from our CSA box, so I decided to broil some as a pizza topping. Grilled pizzas are, of course, our favorite casual meal for guests, since everyone can customize their own. I made a pizza for myself with just a smidge of tomato-basil sauce, the broiled eggplant, a handful of shredded mozzarella, and some basil from our garden. It was delicious.

Yes, please.

Recently, the hubby duplicated the experience for a super-easy weeknight dinner. I had a committee meeting and didn’t make it home until after 9, but there was a pizza waiting for me! He had breaded and pan-fried the eggplant this time, but otherwise followed the same recipe, using crusts we had made ahead and frozen. What a great meal to come home to!

I have since found a great new pizza place in my neighborhood, with the hands-down best vegetarian combo I’ve ever tasted (spinach, artichoke hearts, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, garlic, and mushrooms with a white sauce), but at least now when I’m craving a little eggplant pizza, I can make my own!

I don’t really do recipes for pizza, but if you want to see what the fuss is all about, broil or fry some eggplant and give it a try! Just slice the eggplant thin and lay it out on doubled paper towels. Sprinkle it with kosher salt and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. Blot off the moisture with paper towels, and then broil until golden brown on both sides.

The Spaniard

This is A Very Special Edition of Cocktail Thursday, since it is also the day we are heading out of town for a week-long odyssey that will end at our new home in Austin. Naturally, I am feeling nostalgic… so you’ll have to bear with me as I take a few trips down memory lane, here.

The past couple of weeks have included a lot of “lasts.” Last visits with friends, last day trip to wine country, and on and on. Last weekend, we went to a last dinner (for now) at our favorite local restaurant, The Basin. I started the meal off with my favorite cocktail of theirs, the Spaniard.

Hello, beautiful.

It’s basically a dirty martini with a spear of manchego cheese for extra Spanish-ness. It’s perfect to enjoy with a couple of tapas to start the meal.

Of course, my real favorite part was dessert.

Come to mama.

Since it was our last meal here, the hubby and I decided to go all-out and each get our own dessert (we usually share one). After a glass of tawny port, a sundae with bittersweet chocolate sauce and candied hazelnuts, and a couple of bites of hubby’s bread pudding, I was down for the count. What a sweet way to say goodbye…

Cucumber-Basil Gimlet

On our most recent date night, the hubby and I went to one of our favorite pre-baby places, Cin-Cin Wine Bar in Los Gatos. They have fantastic tapas, a great wine list offering tastes, glasses and flights, and (so I had heard) good cocktails. I’m too much of a wino to have actually tried one of their cocktails before, though. We were running a little early that night, and we ended up sitting at the bar for a bit, so I decided to trust the bartender and ask for some sort of vodka-based drink. I was not disappointed in the cucumber-basil gimlet he made for me — it was the best new cocktail I’ve had in a long time!

Naturally, I wanted to replicate it at home, since we had a nice cucumber from our CSA in the fridge and plenty of basil growing in the yard. I pretty much winged it, but it turned out awesome. In fact, I think a gimlet (in one form or another) is going to be my new signature drink.

Makes me wish I had actual gimlet glasses...

Here’s my basic recipe, if you want to give it a whirl.

Cucumber-Basil Gimlet

3 oz. vodka*
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. lime juice
5-6 slices peeled cucumber
a good handful of basil leaves

Drop the cucumber and basil into the bottom of a cocktail shaker and muddle well. Add ice and the other ingredients and shake well. Makes 2.

* I used Tito’s Handmade Vodka, but I also loved it with Grey Goose at Cin-Cin.

Road trip!

Yesterday, we packed up the family and took a trip up to Tomales Bay to see our good friends Sharon and Aren. The better half has wanted to go up there for the famous oysters for a while now, and Sharon and Aren hadn’t seen Nora since she was a newborn, so it was time! Although it’s a somewhat inconvenient spot for all of us, it was well worth the trip.

We made it!

The oysters were awesome. As I mentioned the other day, they’re not vegetarian, but I feel okay about eating them anyway.

We went to The Marshall Store, which is pretty much literally a shack by the side of the road. If you sit outside, you can also BYOB, which I didn’t know, but if we go back, I will definitely be bringing a bottle of bubbly like the ladies sitting next to us did! In any case, we contented ourselves with some beers to go with our oysters — raw, barbecued and Rockefeller (although not for me, since they have bacon).

Worth the drive.

I wish I’d gotten a picture of the barbecued oysters, but I was too busy eating them. They were ah-MAY-zing.

The setting, off Highway 1 right on the edge of Tomales Bay, was beautiful. We caught up with our friends while enjoying the fare, and Nora nommed some sliced apples, freeze-dried blueberries, a couple of bread crusts and a bit of yogurt.

Al fresco dining.

She was an absolute trooper — I was so proud! We even got caught in a little bit of a downpour during the meal (crazy) and it didn’t faze her at all. Unfortunately she couldn’t sample the oysters (no shellfish before a year old, per our pediatrician), but the rest of us were well pleased.

After a quick stop at Point Reyes Vineyards for a little wine tasting on the way out, we headed home, where we all pretty much collapsed. It was quite a day, but well worth it!

Chipotle Thursday

It may not be gourmet, but everybody needs a lazy day now and then. Since the hubby usually has a meeting on Thursday night, we take the night off and pick up Chipotle for dinner. I love them for so many reasons, but getting the night off from cooking is definitely one of them! I’m eagerly anticipating my veggie burrito bol.

To spice it up a bit, we always have Mexican Martinis on Chipotle Thursday. If you haven’t ever heard of a Mexican Martini, well, I’m sorry. It is pretty much the greatest drink ever. As far as I know the original is from Trudy’s in Austin, and it was one of the things I missed most when we moved away. However, seven years later, I feel like I’ve perfected my own version, which — dare I say it — may actually be better than Trudy’s.


Here’s the recipe. Use it wisely. One shaker serves two people, unless you’re feeling overly adventurous!

Mexican Martini

2 oz Sauza Conmemerativo (or any good-quality tequila, but this is a must for me)
1 oz Grand Marnier
4 oz sour mix*

Combine ingredients in a shaker with plenty of ice. Shake well and serve in salt-rimmed martini glasses, with a jalapeno stuffed olive, if you’re feeling feisty. Drink up!

* My old favorite brand was Bone Daddy’s, but they started using corn syrup in their recipe, which I was not thrilled about… so I started making my own! After some experimentation, my recipe is one part lemon juice, one part lime juice, and two parts simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water).

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