Monday, December 22, 2014

Texas: Part Deux

My love affair with Texas has gotten out of control. It seems like a different world down there, one that I can't seem to get enough of after a brief taste of it in the spring of 2014. After exploring more of the sites and bites that Houston has to offer, and dipping my toes into the funky, music-heavy, food truck haven that is Austin, it's safe to say I'll be back many, many times. It's also safe to say that it's nearly impossible to want to be a vegetarian in this state.

I thank my trusty host and BFF Kate for selecting the best of the best when it came to our dining experiences. Sweet Paris Creperie is one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. Torn between sweet and savory, we opted for both - Le Mexicain, offering Pork Carnitas and Chipotle Salsa, and the Toasted Bueno, my first food "moment" of the trip. I seriously paused to savor the sticky Dulce de Leche, marrying Bananas, Coconut, Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean Sugar. It was sensational.

Underbelly's Executive Chef Chris Shepherd received the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. Naturally, his joint was on my list. Pork Carnitas, Lamb Barbacoa, Korean Goat Dumplings - see above re: hard to try vegetarianism here. Everything's bigger in Texas, especially the flavors. And the variety of cuisines - my gosh! Everything I ate topped the last. Istanbul Grill is outstanding Turkish food. The Kofte Kebab lamb patties are juicy, tender and boast huge flavor. The Iskender Kebab reminded me oddly of Italian food - doner meat is topped with toasted pita crumbs and tomato sauce, with a pool of cooling yogurt around the dish. Mind blown. I couldn't get enough.

These days, Austin is known for two things: the music and food truck scenes. In a 12 hour span, I indulged in BBQ, Thai and Tex-Mex, all from food trucks. It's all the rage there, but I can't help but wonder how long they will continue to be so popular. I couldn't wait to get my hands on some authentic Texas-style 'que, so stop # 1: La Barbecue. This place has become an institution in Austin. Pulled Pork piled on top of Chopped Brisket with Pickled Red Onions sits on a soft bun. It was nearly the size of my face, and so easy to devour. I'm a vinegary Carolina BBQ gal at heart, but this was to die for.

After perusing the happenings on South Congress Street, we decided to check out East Side Kings' Thai-Kun, which made Bon Appetit Magazine's list of Top 10 Best New Restaurants. Yes, a FOOD TRUCK made this list. (As well as Huffington Post's and Travel Channel's). Did I mention the creator, Paul Qui, won Top Chef? I couldn't have been more SOLD on this place. But if you can't handle spice, this is not the truck for you. I typically can't get things hot enough to satisfy me, but the Black Noodles and Waterfall Pork melted my face off. I'm disappointed that the spice totally overwhelmed the other flavors, besides Fish Sauce. Luckily, I spotted a taco truck later that night (or earlier the next morning, depending on how you look at it) which made up for it.

Brunch at Searsucker in Austin gave me my second food "moment" of the trip: a Duck Fat Biscuit, swimming in Duck Fat Gravy with Chicken Fried Steak. Duck ME it was tasty. Ducking delicious. The savoriness and richness of the dish really only allowed you to eat about 3 bites, but I will remember the salty, crunchy, buttery flavors for a very long time. Brown Butter Bourbon French Toast was absolutely gorgeous and picturesque, but missing all notes of Brown Butter and Bourbon! What's that about! But eating the fruit garnish made up for all the indulgent dishes I had tried this weekend.

Look at that cream!
This drink is prettier than me.
Honorable mention bites include Shipley's Do-nuts, giving me the fullest cream-filled donut I've ever had. The elasticity of the yeast dough almost pops in your mouth when you bite into it, and the cream just oozes out. For future reference, these can be devoured in 2.5 bites. My new favorite cocktail from Anvil ingeniously combines Gin, Lambrusco, Lemon and Rose Syrup. Sweet, tart, acidic - heaven! Thanks to my fantastic tour guides and friends for indulging in my indulgences! Texas loves Texas and so do I!

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