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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tomorrow never comes

Just kidding, it'll be here at its regularly scheduled time.

So many delays. We passed all our inspections except for our plumbing inspection on Tuesday. Thanks, union plumbers. It's fixed now and we have our C of O! I participated in my first health inspection, which I guess in my mind was more of a rite of passage than it actually ended up being. So we are cleared for opening tomorrow! It's going to be a short-staffed weekend; lots of changes to employee schedules, mine included thanks to graduation. Messing with the schedule is giving me quite the headache--I thought we were in the clear but there are days that we don't have an evening manager and that's bad mmmkay?


I was up about 4:15am today due to monkeymind, good training for tomorrow. I have so many things I am still confused about. They are 99% to do with the cash register procedures. Today I am also going to finish the OMR handbook (FINALLY), buy ice cream scoops and brown sugar (the package Sysco sent was busted and covered up with labels), call Sysco about said package (as well as a destroyed tub of chocolate icing), call Johnson Bros, and be at the bakery by 3pm to knock out a whole mess of prep work for the week with the baking crew. I feel mostly great. Wishing this weren't all happening at the same time as graduation and having my family in town, because I want 100% of my undivided attention to each of these great events but instead I can only commit so much to everything.

All right, let's lighten the mood! Marnie opened Pandora's Box the other day. She and Jennifer, our other morning baker, were cleaning up the bakery when a friend of the owners came in to inquire about when we were opening and what we would be selling. Marnie went through the menu. When she came to the cake pops, the customer was confused, which is sort of understandable--even though they are trendy and have been popular on the internet and in other cities for quite some time, San Antonio is really behind on trends. We are making two cake pops currently: both round, traditional cake balls, one confetti cake and one peanut butter/chocolate cake. Very tasty, simple, attractive.

So Marnie, bless her heart, says "oh! You should look at, they have lots of cake pops. That's sort of what we're doing."

The customer goes and looks at (and you should too, they're fabulous) and instantly goes, "Great! I want 30 Hello Kitty cake pops by this Friday!"

For reference, what the customer wants:

Darn it all, Marnie.

So this is what happens when you take these bakers:

And have them make Hello Kitty cake pops. I call it "Ohno Kitty."

Be sure to note the expressive, intensely worried eyes....the slightly perplexing placement of facial features....the bullet wound in the side of the head. Masterpieces.

(We had a really hilarious and wonderful time practicing, I have to say.)

It's just our luck to have two jokers in the bakery, huh? Tough break for us. Fortunately, we have other employees, more mature, respectable, GROWN UP employees like our manager Lizzie who can keep these clowns in lin---

Oh dear.

Maybe tomorrow SHOULD never come.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A sample "to do" list for a manager

*Email our rep from Ben E Keith again since he didn't respond to the one I sent last week. We need to set up an account so we don't have to shop at Sam's Club and HEB to get through the week!

*Message the remaining two employees about what time they should come in tonight for training (they missed it Saturday because they were doing their Gala dinner at St Philip's. Awww memories). This involves figuring out what they need to learn and how long that will take. Also how late I really want to be out there if I have to wake up at 4am tomorrow morning. (Did I mention how, in freak Texas tradition, it is supposed to be in the 40s tomorrow morning? ARGH.)

*Send out this week's schedule. I wanted to send out the schedule I drew up for the rest of the month but Tom and Laura need to OK it first.

*Get Tom or Laura to complete the credit card authorization form for Restaurant Depot, a restaurants-only warehouse in town where we will be purchasing our boxes to package up our food in. Go buy said boxes x 200 each as well as a couple other items.

*Finish fixing Focus (our POS system) to the best of my abilities. Mark, our rep, will be at the bakery this afternoon to install and answer any other questions but I want to be as ready as possible before then.

*Get Rodney (our evening baker/manager) to tell me his chef coat size and then call H&M Uniforms to order it.

*Be at the bakery at 11am to give a check for the remainder of the Blue Bell purchase to their rep.

*Be back at the bakery at 1pm to finish setting up and training. I don't know who else is going to be there at that time and I'll be irritated if I'm the only one, what with everything else up there ^^^. Maybe I'll hold off on fixing Focus until I'm on site, that will pass the time. (ETA: After talking with Tom I have a nice list of cleaning to accomplish as well as the times everyone else will be there. Problem solved!)

*Tonight we need to train the remaining two on Focus, opening/closing procedures, the employee handbook and the recipe book/sidework. We also need to train on ice cream scoop procedures which I don't know and I haven't seen any of the equipment yet so that's a big ol' blind spot there. We will also test the proofer/ovens on some products and make test batches and some bags of dry ingredients to expedite opening tomorrow morning. We don't have every ingredient yet; some things are on their way and some things we just won't start with. But for the most part we will be ready to rock and/or roll tomorrow!

*Oh and somewhere in there gosh darn it I wanted to finish the Original Mexican Restaurant handbook. It's so close, it just needs a bit more time. Which I'm out of. Hmph.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Catch-up, update, and pics!

The short version since the other day: everything worked out. I made it to both my classes and the goods were received. Needed a new tank of gas after it was all said and done but it was a great and successful day. Huzzah!

We expect to open Tuesday! The delays right now: finishing the plumbing (we are leaking all over), grouting and cleaning the tile floor, installing shelves and IKEA-style boards to hang our tools in the back, setting up the tables and chairs in the front, and getting our last batch of supplies that Sysco did not provide. (There's a few headaches involved in that.)

We trained almost everyone yesterday as well as some hardcore cleaning and rearranging. Miracles abounded. All of our major equipment fits in the back better than Tetris. All of our food purchases fit in the fridge/freezer. Everything works and is holding the right temperatures. Our coworkers are mature, hardworking and get along. Nothing exploded or caught fire. (But our fire extinguisher is installed if something DID catch fire. That's called "preparation!") We are still getting random walk-ins hoping that the bakery is open already. Our neighboring businesses (particularly Willie's Icehouse and a brand new nail salon, called something like Uniquely Heavenly) are thriving and pulling in a lot of traffic to the area. I mean, seriously, we are set up to win!

So I wanted to share some photos of the process. They are generally a progression of how the bakery is slowly but surely getting rearranged, scrubbed within an inch of its life, and reformed into something very chic, trendy, and clean. I couldn't be prouder.

My first shipment of ice cream!

The front room with Coke machine not where it's going to be and the empty dipping stations (where the ice cream goes).

Hurray for ice cream!

The view from behind the counter, earlier in the week. Plumbing and electrical work not completed.

Without storage (or room to install storage with all the construction in the back), we stacked our dry goods off the ground in the front room.

Much improved! This was our status yesterday. With the lovely giant pictures hung, it looks much more complete. (The vagrant Coke machine moved but is still not in its final destination.)

Our ovens are beasts, lasting for decades of use. But they ugly.

A bit of elbow grease fixed them right up!

And our shiny new refrigeration! I am just amazed at how everything fits. It was like we were meant to be here.

Today: shopping at Sam's (yes, Sam's) for our remaining ingredients that we didn't get. We are going to set up with Ben E Keith in hopes of timely, organized and complete service. But for right now, everyone's thoughts are on getting started and getting through the first week. It's happening, people!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everything all at once

I am standing inside the bakery. Sysco should be delivering our food today at 1pm but suddenly they wanted to come earlier. Like now. Now is coincidentally also the time I wanted to be preparing material for training this afternoon, fixing our pos system, picking up uniforms, and studying for my test today. I have two classes I can't miss today that I might miss. I have training to do that isn't ready. And I am here to receive a delivery that isn't delivered. Rough morning.

Monday, April 25, 2011

One week!

I have completed my 256 hours of internship! Boerne Stage Bakery is set to open next Saturday, April 30. Lots of work is going into preparing for the opening. The highlights of my week were: 1) placing the order for our first (estimated) week’s delivery of food with Sysco, 2) attending the Ben E Keith trade show (I even got a VIP pass!), and 3) training on the POS system, Focus.

In addition, we had our first meeting with (almost) all the employees of the bakery, where we were able to introduce ourselves, see the bakery’s state of completion, and discuss schedules for this next week and the opening. It was a good orientation and I think it was necessary for the employees to see firsthand what Tom and Laura are dealing with on their end, which sheds some light as to why we may not get the immediate communication on deadlines and schedules that we were hoping for. It’s just too soon to say, beyond “here’s what we’re looking at now. We’re going to be flexible to change.” Fortunately, everyone had a great attitude and seemed very willing to bear with the growing pains. Also a good sign: during our 1.5 hour meeting at the bakery, no fewer than 5 people stopped by and tried to enter the bakery, thinking we were already open. Hurray potential customers!

As for the other highlights, I was very pleased with my performance overall. Placing the order with Amy from Sysco was very satisfying; I had everything ready to go and she was very cooperative in person. I am really happy that even though I led that meeting, Tom was there to observe and learn. He is really determined to be knowledgeable about every element of his bakery, which makes me respect him a lot. I can tell that he is relaxing and gaining confidence in his decision to hire me as manager the more he sees me in action. It feels great.

The Ben E Keith trade show was a riot. It was in the convention center, and everything from seafood to sorbet, paper goods to pastry, cooking demos to coolers was there. I could have spent hours sampling goodies if I had been left up to my own devices. Fortunately, I was greeted and then shown around by Henry McCrary, a very friendly and helpful Ben E Keith rep; after I got my bearings, he then turned me loose to gather information and literature on products relevant to the bakery, such as Tupperware/bins, gloves, eco-friendly flatware and to-go boxes, and various food things that we didn’t have settled with Sysco such as ham and chorizo. It was a lot of fun to wander with a purpose, and I look forward to sharing my findings with the owners.

Finally, we began training on Focus, our point-of-sales system. I love this system for the most part; it is very intuitive, does not present too many or too few options, and generally seems very reliable. It was easy for me to understand how to run reports and what those reports would tell us, which is good because that will be a significant part of my job. I took the POS system home and updated the menu options and graphics so it reads in what to me is the most logical and correct way. I trained Marnie on using it and got her ID set up as well, so I feel fairly confident in my ability to train the remaining employees.

Lots to be done yet this week. Wednesday we get our delivery of food, which I will receive and inspect. Wednesday is also when we will all come and clean the equipment and front of house until it's shiny and fabulous. And then Thursday and Friday will be training and a "family & friends" tasting before our grand opening on Saturday!