Gourmet Veggie Mama

Tag Archives: Austin

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

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.”

menu

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!

sake

* 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.

car

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.

Taste of North Austin 2014

Another Monday is over. So, naturally, it’s time to think about next weekend! I already know what my family will be doing on Saturday. Austinites — if you need something fabulous, fun and foodie- (and family-) friendly to do, I’ve got just the ticket.

DSC01551

Taste of North Austin is coming to the Domain this Saturday, June 21, from 11 am to 4 pm. There will be free entertainment, including live music and fun stuff for the kiddos, but if you want to taste the goods — you do, don’t you? — a wristband is required. It’s $20 for 10 tastes, and $10 more for VIP access.

Participating restaurants include local favorites Cru Wine Bar, How Do You Roll?, The League, Punch Bowl Social, Schlotzsky’s, Tiff’s Treats,* Tony C’s, Top Golf Austin, Urban – An American Grill, Zed’s Restaurant and many more.

* Man, does that ever remind me of college. Warm cookies delivered right to your dorm room — what could possibly be better?

With that plus live music, children’s entertainment including face painting, caricature drawings and balloon twisting, as well as prize giveaways, there’s a little something for everyone. VIP access includes entry into the VIP tent with shaded, soft seating, two drink tickets (for beer/wine) and a goody bag. Wristbands can be purchased at Guest Services at The Domain.

What: The Domain’s 7th Annual Taste of North Austin

When: Saturday, June 21, 2014

Time: 11 am to 4 pm

Where: The Domain, 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Suite 210, Austin

To find more details and updates about the event, follow along on the Facebook event page or The Domain’s website.

* Note: This is a sponsored post. I received compensation from Taste of North Austin for this write-up.

The Great Gatsby: Cocktail Edition!

I just finished re-reading one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby. Of course, everyone is excited about because there’s a new movie out (and, yes, I am planning to see it at my earliest opportunity), but I just love being transported back to the world of the Roaring 20s. And it’s just a fantastic piece of literature. But today, I’m talking about it from a purely nostalgic point of view (that is, if one can be nostalgic for a time period in which one was never actually alive).

If you’d like to get in character and pretend you’re partying on Jay Gatsby’s lawn, you’re in luck — that is, at least if you’re in Austin (or one of the other cities with a Sullivan’s*). Sullivan’s is hosting a Gatsby Gala tomorrow evening, complete with dining, dancing and 20s-era cocktails and dishes. Guests are encouraged to come in full 1920s style and enjoy some delicious food, including a few vegetarian options, like deviled eggs and oysters (yes, I think oysters are arguably vegetarian).

Deviled eggs -- image courtesy of Sullivan's Oysters -- image courtesy of Sullivan's

And the cocktails — Oh, the cocktails! You all know I’m a sucker for classic cocktails, and they’ll have a few delicious-sounding ones on tap for the gala. I’m pleased to share the recipes with you, courtesy of Sullivan’s. Cheers!

Cocktails -- image courtesy of Sullivan's

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Daisitini
Author: 
Serves: 1
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ oz Tanquerey Gin
  • ¾ oz St Germaine
  • ¾ oz Triple Sec
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • Lemon Twist
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a boston shaker.
  2. Shake 10-15 times and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

 
5.0 from 1 reviews
Gatsby Collins
Author: 
Serves: 1
 
Ingredients
  • 1¼ oz SKYY Moscato Grape Infusions
  • ½ oz Aperol
  • 2 oz lemon sour
  • 1 oz soda water
  • Orange twist
Instructions
  1. In an iced boston shaker, add Vodka, Aperol and lemon sour.
  2. Shake 5-10 times to combine, add soda water and strain into an ice-filled tall glass.

 

* I did not receive any compensation for this post. I just happen to think Sullivan’s has an awesome party planned and I wanted to share! Photos and recipes are all courtesy of Sullivan’s.

It’s a Race for the Julep!

Note: This is the first of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Although many people’s minds are turning to margaritas with Cinco de Mayo coming up, it’s almost time for another big drinking day — the Kentucky Derby! I do love a good mint julep, so when Veronica Meewes of My Well-Fed Life (and my fellow AFBA member) offered to do a piece on the julep (so very intertwined with the Derby), I thought it was a fabulous idea. Read on for some great local spots (for the Austinites) and a couple of delicious recipes to make your own julep to sip while you watch the derby. Drink.well also happens to be one of my favorite local spots, so I’m pleased as punch to have the secrets behind a couple of their inventive twists on the julep. So, without further ado, may I introduce you to the lovely and talented Veronica Meewes?

Pineapple Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

Pineapple Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

I’ve always been captivated by the Kentucky Derby.  An excuse to dress up, wear big hats, bet on horses with tongue-in-cheek names, and drink boozy, refreshing drinks? Umm.. yes, please!  You can bet my dress is already picked out with a hat to match for this weekend’s race.

But I’ve always wondered where the tradition of drinking mint juleps came from.  The combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and water is so ingrained in Derby culture, it’s nearly impossible to hear the word “julep” and not think of the races!  The word “julep” itself is derived from the Persian word for rose water, but according to Wikipedia, “the origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitely known.”  But the first American julep sightings occurred in the late eighteenth century after Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky brought the beverage into popularity.

Now, in the course of two days each year, around 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.  And did you know they also sell ultra-premium mint juleps for $1,000 each??  Served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, these high rollers’ cocktails are made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia.  (The proceeds are used to support organizations dedicated to retired horses.)

Thirsty yet?  Here are a couple places hosting Derby parties this Saturday, May 4th in Austin.  Want to host your own?  Scroll down for a several delicious julep variations from the mixologists of drink.well!

Derby Day Polo Benefit @ The Austin Polo Club

Maybe you didn’t even know there was a polo club in Austin?  I sure didn’t!  But this is the third year of this annual event, where you can watch two live polo matches before the Derby begins at 5:40pm.  General admission is $20, while VIP runs $50-75 (how VIP are you??)  Proceeds benefit the Texas Canine and Horse Rescue and the horses of the Longhorn and Aggie polo clubs.

Downtown Derby Day @ The Bonneville

Prize baskets will be given out for best dressed and best hat while bartenders pour juleps in flavors like ginger and blackberry, or a sweet tea collins, if you prefer!  Enjoy a hot brown sandwich while they screen The Run for the Roses before the races start.

Toast the Cure @ The Austin Children’s Museum

Tickets are $30 online and $40 at the door and include open bar, bites from local restaurants, and live music from Waterloo Revival and The Possum Posse.  All proceeds benefit diabetes research.

Cinco de Derby Brunch @ TenOak

Can’t decide which one to celebrate?  Or maybe only have one day to do it all?  Kill two birds with one stone: julep and bloody mary specials and a Cinco de Mayo menu.

Sunshine Camps Derby Fundraiser @ Star Bar

Tickets are $20 and include one “bet”– additional ones may be purchased for $5.  Dress to impress, as there will be prizes for that too.  All proceeds go to Austin’s Sunshine Camps.

drink.well’s Derby Day Party

If you’re in it for the drinks, this is where you need to be (I’ll be here!)  The award-winning staff will be dressed to the nines and shaking up creative cocktails as usual, such as pineapple and baker’s rack juleps (recipes below), Jabronis (a hybrid julep/Negroni), and Seelbachs, an aperitif named after the Louisville hotel where it was created.

Baker's Rack Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

Baker’s Rack Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

Baker's Rack Julep
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 oz Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz Apple Brandy
  • ½ oz Cinnamon & Clove Infused Brown Sugar Syrup
  • 7-8 Mint Leaves
  • Nutmeg
  • Black Pepper
Instructions
  1. Muddle mint with the cinnamon-clove syrup.
  2. Add rye whiskey & apple brandy and crushed ice to the julep cup and swizzle until the cup is frosty. Top with additional crushed ice.
  3. Grated fresh nutmeg & cracked black pepper on top of the cup. Garnish with mint, cinnamon stick and, if you desire, a few slices of fresh apples.

Pineapple Julep
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ oz Bols Genever
  • ½ oz Raspberry Syrup
  • 2 Barspoons Housemade Pineapple Preserves
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1 orange wedge
  • 1 oz Sparkling Wine (we use McPherson Extra Dry)
Instructions
  1. Muddle the citrus with the preserves and syrup.
  2. Shake with the genever and strain into a julep cup.
  3. Top with a mound of crushed ice and then top with 1 oz of Sparkling Wine.
  4. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, fresh raspberries and mint.

Antonelli’s and Jordan FTW!

I got to go to a wine and cheese tasting last night. It was amazing. Not only because I was sprung from the house on a weeknight to go do something grown-up,* but also because the wine and cheese, and especially the pairings, were amazing.

antonellis

* My undying thanks to the hubby for coming home early from work, feeding the little one dinner and putting her to bed… and not even acting like it was a big deal. He is a keeper.

The tasting was hosted by Antonelli’s, an awesome little cheese shop in Hyde Park, and the wines were provided (and mostly paired) by Jordan Winery. How did I get in on this awesome event? I got lucky… literally. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance opened this event to their members on a lottery basis, since there were a limited number of spots, and I was one of the lucky few.

I was psyched to see Elizabeth Van Huffel of Local Savour, Natalie Paramore of Food Fetish, Maggie Louise of Maggie Louise Bakes and Rob Moshein, The Austin Wine Guy (among others) at the event. I love being a part of the Austin food blogger community!

I had never had Jordan wines before last night, but I enjoyed them quite a lot. They pride their wines as more food-friendly than many California wines, and they seem to have hit the mark, judging in particular by how well the Cabernet Sauvignon — not typically seen as a cheese-friendly wine — played with the cheese selections.

cheese plate 2

And, oh, the cheese selections! Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Jordan only makes two wines — Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The only white was a 2010 Chardonnay (its slightly older sister got some good press recently from California Chardonnay skeptic Jeremy Parzen), and it paired beautifully with a young (first of the season!) and creamy Ste Maure from one of my favorite local producers, Pure Luck Dairy, elevated further by the addition of a dab of lime marmalade.

The other three wines were all Cabernet Sauvignons (from 2009, 2008 and 2003), so we were treated to a vertical tasting. The 2009 paired nicely with Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a cheese I am still dreaming about today (and, we were told, one of the only U.S. cheeses currently exported to France). I didn’t try the salumi, obvs, so I missed out on the full impact of the pairing, but that’s cool.

Next up was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which, along with Onetik’s Ossau-Iraty (erotic cheese!) and a luscious strawberry jam from INNA Jam, was my favorite pairing of the evening. The fresh strawberry flavor really brought out the jaminess in the wine, and the cheese balanced it all out. Good stuff.

Last but not least came the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, paired with an aged Cabot Clothbound and a sublime 74% dark chocolate. I loved the wine — it was probably my stand-alone favorite of the evening. I was not a particular fan of the cheese on its own, and I was on the fence about the pairing until I tried it with the chocolate — and it worked! Shazam.

So, many, many thanks to Antonelli’s, Jordan and AFBA for making such a wonderful evening possible! One of these days, I hope to make it to one of Antonelli’s cheese classes, and I will totally make the drive to Hyde Park for all of my fancy-cheese needs from here on out. Specifically, I need to put in my order for some Ste Maure and Red Hawk, STAT!

Big changes afoot…

Sorry for being away for a bit, but I promise I have a good excuse! You see, it turns out we are moving cross-country soon, to Austin. I am very, very excited about the move, since it’s an opportunity to be closer to our families and at least one dear friend, and it means we can finally buy a house — something which has just not been possible in the Bay Area for us. We were in Texas this weekend on a whirlwind tour, and we are now under contract on a house!

While I will miss so very many of the good foodie features* of living in the Bay Area (Awesome restaurants! A plethora of CSAs! Wine country at your doorstep!), I think Austin will be a great fit for us, too, including for my foodie side. I’ve already scoped out several great CSAs, I made sure to pick a house with a nice space for garden beds, and I’m learning about the local restaurant scene, which has matured quite a bit since we left almost 8 years ago.

*I’ll miss a lot of other stuff, too, including many good friends I have made here, but that’s another post for another day.

Plus, I’ll be cooking in this kitchen:

Boo-yeah!

And, hey, since most of my culinary adventures take place in my own kitchen these days, that’s a very good thing!

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