Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

torchy's tacos, the epitome of austin's food scene

Austin's food truck & stall scene is legendary. There are vacant lots turned into beer gardens and outdoor music venues that have several airstream-style food stalls severing up some of the best food in Austin. One such place is South First Street, a block west of famed South Congress. We were tipped off to Torchy's Tacos by friends who have frequented it a few times and said their veggie options were amazing. They have a few outposts throughout the city including brick & mortar locations, but we decided on the one closest to our hotel in a trailer park.

Of the four or five stalls in this converted lot, Torchy's Tacos was the most popular with a line about 15 deep at 11:45am on Sunday. A real mixed crowd as well, which gives this city it's soul - a graduation party, young well-to-do families, a few tourists, hipster musicians, and uber cyclists. Prices are per small soft taco at about $4.00 each. We decided to try two different tacos (The Independent and Fried Avocado) and an order of chips & salsa. 

The Independent - fried poblano mushroom strips, refried black beans, roasted corn, escabeche carrots, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado with ancho aioli served on warm corn tortillas. This was our favorite, especially the ancho aioli sauce that packed a punch. We could have eaten several; a great elevated taco. The corn and carrots were slighted sweet so there was really nice balance of natural sweetness from the veggies, heat from the aioli, saltiness from the queso. I really enjoyed the combination, not something you would find a traditional taco. This elevated taco with earthy flavors was totally unexpected from a food stall. We're definitely fans.

Fried Avocado - fresh avocado chunks fried, pico, lettuce, cheese with poblano sauce served on warm corn tortillas. Somewhat like a traditional taco because of the pico, lettuce, cheese toppings, but with the twist of fried avocados. Considering Sheila is not a huge avocado fan, she would have preferred a thinner slice of avocado. I would tend to agree as the avocado ratio was a bit high. However, that was our only negative. The pablano sauce had really nice heat and creaminess. The corn tortillas (double layer) were light and airy. The veggies were wonderfully fresh. We both recommend trying it.

Chips & Salsa - homemade corn tortilla chips and fresh roja salsa of fire-roasted roma tomatoes, chilies, grilled onions, garlic, cilantro, and poquito lime. A fairly mild salsa, these were definitely addictive. The chips were fresh, very, very lightly salted and more salsa than we could have wanted. Despite Sheila complaining about having chips all week (she'd been there for the week), she had her fair share. 

Torchy's Tacos is the epitome of Austin's food scene, expertly prepared and inventive food with fresh ingredients served from a food stall at dirt cheap prices. Basically quality food for the masses! Don't make the trip to Austin without trying Torchy's, you'll be craving it for weeks afterwards. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Uchiko, a culinary experience in Austin

Paul Qui fame skyrocketed with winning Top Chef Texas last year. He was the Executive Chef of elevated hot-spot Uchiko in Austin, which serves is some of the most amazing food we’ve ever had. The hype is real.

Located in North Austin, the cars in the parking lot, entrance area, and modern storefront resembles a swanky Hollywood bar rather than a farm to table Japanese restaurant. Nevertheless entering through the door, you’re transformed into haven of dark woods, warm Edison bulbs, red brick accents, and metal/glass enclosures. The noise level was quite high, but we were seated towards the back in a large booth overlooking the open kitchen. Our waiter graciously helped up navigate through the menu and recommended several of our dishes after we told him we were vegetarian. All dishes were family style, so we decided on a mixed of five.

Shishito Yaki - Spicy grilled shishito peppers with sriracha dipping sauce. Packed with heated on both levels (peppers and sauce), this was a great sinus-clearing starter. The peppers were wonderfully grilled in their natural state, meaning no seasoning. The sauce was flavored well, but was a bit too hot for my taste. We were actually surprised at the quantity, could have served a table of four so just keep that in mind.

Brussels Sprouts - Crispy brussels sprouts with lemon chili. The best brussels sprouts that we’ve eaten in our entire life! Came to the table warm and fragrant; this dish had an Asian flair to it. This was probably due to the lemon chili, which was perfectly balanced with sourness and heat. The brussels sprouts were quick fried and still retained their earthy quality. I recommend that everyone who visits Uchiko order this dish.

Yokai - Golden beet, myoga, rice, and avocado wrapped in soy paper. Essentially sushi rolls, this dish was on the menu with salmon, but the waiter was able to make it vegetarian. We didn’t really know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised. The beets and myoga were served warm with the cool rice and avocado; all the ingredients were fresh and balanced. Overall this was a great dish, but not unique, given that in SF we have similar vegetarian sushi options.

Diachi - Sunchokes with crosnes, turmeric, and brown butter. Sheila felt the dish was prepared very well with complex flavors. However her first bite was sandy/grainy, because one of the sunchokes was not washed. I felt the dish tasted like it should have with the crosnes (Chinese artichokes) providing the crunchy elment, and turmeric & brown butter providing savory elements. We ordered this off the daily menu, so no guarantee it’ll be around next time,

Fried Milk - Three ways with chocolate milk, toasted milk, and iced milk sherbet. As our waiter noted, this is the most popular dish on the menu. We enjoyed parts of it, but collectively there was too much going on. The chocolate milk was prepared as powered sprinkling along the plate bottom. I have to admit it was a bit chalky. The toasted milk was coated in corn flakes then fried. This part tasted a bit bland. The ice milk sherbet was quite good, rich and creamy with being overly sweet.

Uchiko was memorable. Think about it, this is a modern farm to table Japanese restaurant in the middle of Texas. It’s quite the scene with a very long wait list. I’m giving it a 8.5 and a most go for any trip to Austin.