Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wednesday, 3/7/12 - The Monterey

Date: 2/29/12
Restaurant: The Monterey
Location: 1127 S. Alamo
Executive Chef: Quealy Watson

So yes, I'm late to the show. The Monterey, or El Monty as it's affectionately referred to, has been listed by Texas Monthly as one of the Texas restaurants to try in 2012 (see for the article) and is making a splash in the whimsical, Austin-influenced crowd of young San Antonian foodies. Oh well, that's a bandwagon I'm happy to hop on!

El Monty bills itself as a cool hang-out for "food lovers, beer nerds, and wine geeks." The menu is small, diverse, and open to last-minute additions and changes based on the chef's whim. The food is American heavily influenced by Asian ingredients, and funky organ meats abound! In theory at least.

Why was the photo taken from here? Because it's from El Monty's parking lot! Where you at, downtown? Oh yes, you're right there. And El Monty still has its own parking lot! (I can't emphasize enough how much of a draw this is. Seriously. I happily paid the amount that I DIDN'T have to pay for parking into the waiter's tip.)

This place is so Austin. Observe the kitschy decor and funky bathrooms (men's and women's respectively).

I loved our seating because I got to hear the occasional blurb from the kitchen. Tavis isn't so sure what he's in for.

We arrived in time for "the happiest of happy hours," so I enjoyed a $2.50 bottle of Shiner's new selection, Wild Hare (tasty!). I don't think anything on the food menu was discounted, unfortunately. We listened to the off-menu specials of the day, which included a salmon head (only two of those left!), an okonomiyaki (think Asian savory pancake) made with Chinese sausage and clams which I REALLY wanted to try and sort of wish I had, and a corned Wagyu beef tongue. Which I ended up getting. Which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well enough to read this blog!

Our first course was actually my favorite, and it came as quite a surprise because it was brussels sprouts. Unfortunately it was my phone's favorite dish as well, and it ate the photo. Whoops! I ordered the brussels upon reading several rave reviews, and homygoodness were they incredible. Tavis and both gobbled them like there was a secret decoder ring at the bottom of the plate. I would eat these every single day. They were roasted, swimming in a sweet chili oil, sprinkled with peanuts. Sweet, umami, salty, utterly addictive. (And invisible.)

Tavis ordered the pork belly bahn mi, which is a sammich served with various pickled vegetables and spreads. I think one of them was a sriracha mayonnaise and another seemed like some sort of bean spread. I thought it was awesome, very tangy and tasty, with the crispy pork belly all nice and juicy in the inside, but it was not to Tavis's taste.

This is the corned Wagyu tongue, with a mustard-breadcrumbs coating on one side, covered in some awesome pickled veggies (are those beets? Did I enjoy pickled beets?) and swimming in what was probably some of the same yummy sauce as the bahn mi. It tasted like corned beef, just juicy and tender. I might not order this again, but I certainly enjoyed it this time.

Since Tavis didn't really like his bahn mi, he ordered a second dish, which were greek chicken meatballs. The flavors were pretty much identical to any gyro, with the garlicky dill tzatziki and the feta playing nicely together. He still wasn't stoked, and honestly this was a very forgettable dish.

It's been a long time since Tavis just hasn't had a meal he enjoyed; I maintain that the bahn mi was simply not to his taste. (For reference, he is a man who wants his sammiches as follows: bread, meat, cheese, bread. Yeah. I married that.) There were a couple other items on the menu that sounded interesting to him, but with a strong Asian influence comes sour and spicy, two flavors that just don't really agree with him. So this may just not be his sort of place.

I digress. Here's some dessert.

It was an espresso "panna cotta," the quotations because it was crunchy as much as creamy. I really think it was filled with Grape Nuts. If you've ever eaten them, you know their rather unique crumbly texture. This was tasty even though I'm not a huge coffee fan, but still pretty forgettable.

Overall: I wanted to like this place more! It's adorable, the service was friendly, I love the concept and the quality of the ingredients and the versatility/playfulness of the menu items. I think I would come back here again, but probably with different company. (Blasphemy!) Either that, or order 10 plates of those tasty sprouts (the ones that they call Brussels). I'll definitely give El Monty another try, and I think you should too.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wednesday, 2/29/12 - Feast

Date: 2/29/12
Restaurant: Feast
Location: 1024 South Alamo St (King William district)
Executive Chef: Stefan Bowers

Hi kids! Didja miss me? I missed you. I haven't missed many meals, but they have come and gone unphotographed and unremarked, so you're going to have to take my word for it. Regardless, a new year, a new batch of eateries, and the same willing cohort/accomplice/sidekick/flunky/husband!

Today's delicious entry is brought to you by a word that doesn't exist in the English language. It is a Georgian word (the country, not the state, if that needed clarification) and the word is "shemomedjamo." It means "to eat past the point of being full just because the food tastes good," and it very well be the most succinct summary of my life. Well, at least my life last night.

Feast is "new American with a Mediterranean flair," if you are to believe their website. (Believe it.) It's also hip, food-forward, and in the ultra-trendy King William district about two blocks away from the Overtime Theater and Blue Star Brewery and all that First Friday artsy musicky goodness. Parking is free along the adjacent neighborhood streets and that's fine by me! A lovely evening stroll is just the thing to whet an appetite. Or burn off a fraction of the too many calories consumed.

Welcome to Feast!

Everything was very hip and modern and transparent, which I guess is "in." Fortunately (somewhat; they were all very attractive!) the waitstaff didn't carry the motif to their clothing. The bar was also transparent...but with neon! That's called "layers." (It probably isn't.)

Anyway, the menu for Feast is artistic in its own right. It is broken up into categories: Hot, Chilled, Grilled, Crispy, Melted and Mains. Basically everything but Mains are small plates, tapas-style, meant to be shared or hoarded as you like. I went in with the very modest expectation of selecting three things, encouraging Tavis to select three things that I also wanted to get and making him share them with me. IT WAS SO HARD. I might have been able to select three things I DIDN'T want!

Alas, stomach space is limited and I wanted an excuse to come back, so we found six items and stuck with them. Aaaaaaaaaand may I remind you of the word of the day, shemomedjamo! You'll understand why soon enough.

Delicious, delicious little pork cheek street tacos on masa tortillas. I think it was cotija cheese on top, and a little bit of red onion and (blech) cilantro. These were so sweet and succulent. What a way to start the meal.

Slightly hard to see through the foliage, 7 spice barbacoa tacos with a garlic yogurt sauce, more red onion, (blech) cilantro, and a slice of jalapeno. Even with the jalapeno set off to the side, these packed some heat. Too much for the Tavis, so I downed the rest and grinned through my sweat. Another beautiful and juicy offering, plus these were discounted for happy hour! Score!

Tavis picked the quail, served atop braised kale (hehehe quail and kale) in an oxtail broth. The quail is REALLY pepper-crusted, and on a bird with not that much meat, it was a little disconcerting. I just didn't find the harmony in this dish. But the greens drenched in broth were really tasty.

MAC AND CHEESE. This was done so well. Simple, no unusual cheese, but pasta was cooked perfectly, the bechamel was rich and decadent, the garlicky bread crumb topping was the perfect crispy counterbalance, and....I feel like I'm forgetting something....

Oh yeah. The ridiculous gooey cheese.

Okay, I'm a sucker for offal. You tell me there's sweetbreads, I'm gonna order me some sweetbreads. "Imagine it's like ribeye crossed with a scallop," I instructed Tavis as he prepared a forkful. He still didn't care for the texture. Oh well, more of this for me! The mustard sauce was a classic and very successful pairing, especially with the little sauteed cherry tomatoes for sweetness, and I love the perfect crisp on the outside of the sweetbreads. Might not order this one again though.

This was the only misstep of the entire night, and it was well-intentioned. I listened to myself ordering four meat dishes, and succumbed to the little voice of guilt which told me "Maybe you should get a vegetable too." Silly little voice! Velociraptors don't need spinach.

Plus this was spinach gratin, which means it was essentially swimming in the same bechamel/bread crumb mix that had made the mac n cheese so successful. Who needs green things when you can have mac n cheese? Oof. Sadly we tried to consume our mistake and silence the guilty little voice, and, well, shemomedjamo. Shemomedjamo shemomedjamo shemomedjamo. And a much-needed waddle back to our car before driving home.

Summary, or recap, or overview, or whatever word I used to have here: Feast is a darling little restaurant and I am definitely coming back. The servers were so much friendlier than the chic stylish decor would indicate; the prices were so much more reasonable than the sleek upscale menu would indicate; and everything was darn tasty. Darn tasty, I say. I have the overwhelming urge to try practically everything on this menu, and I rarely feel that way about a restaurant. If you haven't been here yet, please do yourself a favor and make the trip. But please don't feel the need to repeat my shemomedjamo.