Gourmet Veggie Mama

Tag 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

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.

Cocktails at FINO

I love love love FINO Restaurant Patio & Bar. It’s my new favorite restaurant in Austin, aside from Wink… maybe. The food and wine list stands out at Wink, but, since I tend to veer toward the tasting menu there, it definitely qualifies as a special-occasion restaurant. FINO, however, is my go-to date night pick. And the cocktails? Oh my, but they are amazing.

On our last visit there, I sampled two cocktails, and they both blew my mind. The first was dubbed the Brief Introduction, and it included Flor de Caña 4-year rum, Velvet Falernum, lime, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and grenadine.

Brief Introduction cocktail ~ Gourmet Veggie Mama

The layers of flavor — wow! When dining out, I often eschew the simpler flavors of a classic cocktail for a glass of wine with some complexity, but in this case, I didn’t have to make the decision. This cocktail was as multi-layered as a lovely wine, and I’d expect no less from the mixologists at FINO.

The hubby went with the Professional Courtesy (yes, we were all about formality), which included Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Amaro Ramazzotti, Bénédictine, Zirbenz Stone Pine liqueur and orange bitters.

Professional Courtesy cocktail ~ FINO

Check out the giant ice cube! It was a very different drink from mine, but still lovely and complex. I think we both chose perfectly for our respective preferences.

To accompany dessert, instead of going with my classic choice of port or another dessert wine, I went with one of FINO’s “after-dinner cocktails.” Though I was a wee bit skeptical, I was not disappointed. I can’t recall the exact composition of the drink,* but I do remember that it starred a house-made coffee liqueur, and it was sublime with our dessert of house-made donuts with sugar and cardamom accompanied by coffee sorbet. I felt like I had died and gone to dessert heaven.

* Is anyone really surprised at this point?

After dinner cocktail

While I do love mixing it up in our home bar, it is nice to get out every so often and let the pros do the heavy lifting.

Cocktails at FINO

 

Cheers!

Sorrel Mojito

As the weather changes (two steps forward, one step back around here, it seems) and our fall garden flourishes, I have a bunch of fun new ingredients to play with. So, in addition to hearing about new and inventive ways to use kale and chard, you lucky readers also get to hear about a cocktail straight from the garden today!

We never would have planted sorrel in our fall garden if we hadn’t taken a vacation to Iceland a few years ago. Weird, I know, but there it is.

Leihujukur lava field and geothermal area

Gratuitous Iceland photo post.

Our hands-down favorite dining experience in the country was in the northern city of Akuryeri* at a restaurant called Fridrik V. Our multi-course meal was sumptuous, but the part that really stuck with me was our pre-dinner drink. We asked the host to bring us something quintessentially Icelandic, and he made us sorrel mojitos. Sorrel, being a cold-weather crop, apparently grows during the summer in Iceland, and since we were there right on the cusp of the season, the leaves were tiny, but tasty.

* Pronounced roughly eye-kur-ee — Took me a while to get that one down!

We loved this fresh, interesting take on a traditional drink, so when we saw a sorrel seedling at the garden store, we grabbed it. So yeah, we basically added this plant to our garden in order to make a drink with it. I’m sure we will come up with other uses as well, but this one was lovely.

Sorrel mojito

Cheers!

The leaves on our plant are decidedly not tiny, so it made the muddling a bit easier (although I did use a few more, knowing they’d be less flavorful than new, tiny leaves.

Finally, the sping-y goodness of a traditional mint mojito has a fall counterpart! The tart, refreshing flavor of the sorrel is a great stand-in for mint, while still being different enough for this drink to stand on its own. It’s perfect for sipping on the back porch while enjoying the beautiful weather and contemplating whether you should go grab a fleece. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Sorrel Mojito
Author: 
Serves: 1
 
Ingredients
  • 2 oz light rum
  • 2 Tbs lime juice
  • 1 Tbs + 1 tsp sugar*
  • 6 sorrel leaves (or more, depending on size), roughly torn apart, plus one more for garnish
  • club soda
Instructions
  1. Mix the rum, lime juice, sugar, and torn sorrel leaves in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake until very cold and strain into a glass over plenty of ice. Add the ice cubes from the shaker for extra tastiness.
  3. Top off with just a splash of club soda — don’t overdo it! Garnish with the remaining sorrel leaf.
Notes
* I use Baker’s sugar because it is quick-dissolving and great for making drinks, but regular granulated sugar should work fine.

 

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Royale with Ease

Testing, testing… Is this thing on? I do believe I am officially up and running as a self-hosted site — woo hoo! If you’re reading this, glad to see you! If you’re not, well… I’ll try to find you.

In any case, on to more important matters. It is cocktail Thursday, after all. While I may be tempted to make this week’s cocktail a whiskey, neat, after my bumpy transfer experience,* I do have a lovely new cocktail for you this week.

* I thought I lost all of my content at one point. I nearly threw up. Thankfully the AFBA and WordPressAustin came to the rescue and I was able to figure things out. There is still lots of work to do, but I am no longer freaking out!

The hubby and I had a date night last weekend, and we stopped by Drink Well for a cocktail before dinner. I’d wanted to try this place for a while, and it did not disappoint. Styling itself as an “American pub,” Drink Well had innovative but not over-the-top cocktails and a nice list of beers on tap, including several locals. I had a hard time deciding which of several great options to choose, but I ended up going with one of their “Summertime Sippers,” comically named the Royale with Ease.

Yeah, really.

A mixture of absinthe, grapefruit and lime juices, and a house-made hibiscus cordial, seasoned with allspice and bitters, it was a wonderfully nuanced drink that managed to be, as one regular apparently put it, “vacation in a glass”… but without a tiny umbrella.

In short, it was delicious. This is definitely not something I’ll be making at home anytime soon, due not in small part to a lack of absinthe in my liquor cabinet, but the good folks at Drink Well can make one for me anytime!

Bear with me (beer with me?) while I smooth out the lumps and learn about all my new functionalities, but in the meantime, please let me know if you are experiencing any problems with your subscription (via WordPress, email, or reader) or the site. Cheers everyone!

New Mexican Martini

The hubby was sick over the weekend with what we thought was a stomach virus, but it turned out to be appendicitis. On Sunday, his appendix ruptured, and on Monday, he ended up in emergency surgery. After two days in the hospital, he is now home and recovering well — whew! It has been quite a week.

So, this week’s cocktail is a total cop-out, but at least I have a good excuse. I got out of the house to meet a good friend for cocktails and dinner at Chuy’s last night, and ended up ordering a New Mexican martini.

Martini me.

It’s a bit of a spin on my old standard, the Mexican martini, but made with green chile-infused El Jimador silver tequila. It was definitely tasty, but not as spicy as advertised… or maybe my tender palate is just re-adjusting to Tex-Mex.

In either case, it was a good drink, and later in the summer, when Hatch green chiles are in season, I may just try infusing my own tequila for a homemade version. (Shout out to Boozed + Infused for the inspiration!)

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…

Race report, and wine (of course)

Ahhh… it’s good to be home. I was in Healdsburg this weekend, running the Wine Country Half Marathon with my BFF Kori, drinking lots and lots of wine, and kicking back and relaxing (well, as much as that’s actually possible when traveling with an almost 11-month-old!).

The race was great. It was frigid when we started in the early morning, but once the run was really underway, the weather was perfect. The scenery was gorgeous, of course.

Welcome to paradise.

Other than a stretch at the end along Dry Creek Road, where the road was winding and very slanted at times, the course was great. There were some nice rolling hills, but nothing too nasty. Unfortunately Kori and I lost each other pretty near the starting line, but we hadn’t planned to run together, so it was okay. It was fun spotting people in costumes. The clear crowd favorite was Gumby, but the wine bottle and grapes, the zebras (and their dog), the vikings, and the devil girls were pretty good, too.

I felt good, despite a pretty nice day of wine tasting the day before,* a not-so-great night’s sleep (not Nora’s fault at all, but the fault of our upstairs neighbors), and not really hydrating properly. Glad I didn’t pay too much for my indulgences! I did carry some water to make sure I got enough to drink during the race, at least, and that and regular consumption of Luna Moons was enough to keep me going strong.

* We hit up Martin Ray Winery (for a picnic lunch), J (awesome, awesome pinot noirs and sparkling wines), Stephen & Walker, and the La Crema tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. Not bad for a half day with a baby — I’m proud of us!

The mats at the start line apparently malfunctioned, which is a huge bummer, because no chip times are available. My clock time was 2:14:59, and my Garmin said 2:13:22. In either case, it’s no PR, but I’m still fine with it, especially since I didn’t head into training for this race with anything in mind but finishing with my health and sanity intact and running a fun race with my friend.

Kori ran an awesome race, despite the recent challenges she’s faced (shin pain, a bad cold, and asthma, plus a huge blister developing on the bottom of her foot halfway through the race). She finished strong, and I was able to run it in with her, which was so much fun.

Finished. Bring on the wine!

After rehydrating and grabbing some snacks, we met the rest of our crew and headed back to the B&B, where we showered and freshened up while the boys grabbed us a lovely picnic lunch from Oakville Grocery. Never has a fresh mozzarella and veggie sandwich tasted sooooo good.

After Nora’s afternoon nap (and mine!) we stopped by the finishers’ party at Clos du Bois and did some wine tasting, and then headed back to the B&B for wine hour on the patio.

Kori and I had a girls’ night out that evening, and the tapas, wine flights and dessert at Affronti were just what the doctor ordered. That, plus getting some one-on-one time to reconnect with my friend, made it an amazing evening. We stumbled back to the B&B, and I was dead asleep by 9:30 or so. Bliss.

On Sunday, we hung out around the B&B, and had breakfast with just the adults while Nora napped. Don’t worry, we checked in on her several times, but she blissfully snoozed the whole time! We stayed at Haydon Street Inn, and the Sunday brunch was fabulous. The main course was eggs benedict, but they had no problem accommodating me with a vegetarian version. It was just the regular dish minus the meat, which was fine, but I wouldn’t have minded some spinach or something else to substitute. Regardless, it was a lovely meal, from mimosas (delightfully garnished with a raspberry) on through.

After breakfast, we started our day of tasting at Truett Hurst Winery, which was a great find. Not only are the wines good (and not too pricey) and the people genuinely nice, but they have enormous grounds with grazing sheep, organic gardens, and a path down to the stream where salmon run. Nora loved it, and so did the grown-ups!

Then we headed down the road to Mazzocco Vineyards, which both Kori and I had spied the day before on the race route. It’s an interesting building, but it also had top-notch reviews, so we decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed. Their zinfandels were amazing, each one more rich and complex than the next. I don’t know how many wines we tasted, but let’s just say I probably ended up drinking most of the calories I had burned the previous day!

Just across the road was Ridge Lytton Springs, which is a favorite of ours. They recently renovated their outdoor patio to transform it into a wonderful tasting space with plenty of room for a picnic lunch, so we enjoyed our tasting al fresco, along with some fabulous cheeses, olives, and assorted what-have-you. It was great, but it ended too soon, as it was time for us to head home before we knew it.

It was such a wonderful weekend, and I was so sad for it to end. I had so much fun reconnecting with my friend (who was spending her first weekend with her husband sans kids in almost 7 years!) and running a really great race. I may not be Paula Radcliffe, but less than a year after having a baby, I can put up a pretty respectable time in a half marathon, and that feels pretty good.

We returned home exhausted, but it was well worth it. What a weekend!

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!

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