Monday, February 27, 2012

Vaca y Vino Trial Run

Got invited to a trial run-through for an upcoming fundraising event on April 22 called Vaca y Vino. It's based on one of the seven classic grilling styles chronicled in Francis Mallman's cookbook of last year, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. It was hosted at the Bridges Ranch, a gorgeous spread on the way to Wimberley, off of FM 3237. It is a new event venue for Lambert's and Perla's; also a pristine longhorn cattle ranch...a working ranch at that.

At the event Lou Lambert (Lambert's), Larry McGuire (Lambert's, Perla's, and Elizabeth Street Cafe), and Emmett Fox (Asti, Fino) will roast over oak coals a butterflied whole steer in the "Vaca Entera" style, draped over a custom rig built by Spillar Hitches. Sunday was a test of a half steer, provided by the Texas Beef Council. The lads started cooking the carcass at 8pm the night before. Here's a peek under the cover used to hold in the heat on this slightly chilly yet windy day.

Larry and Lou, tending the monster slab o' meat:

Lou and Emmett:

The primals were removed and slow-cooked separately: strip loin, ribeye roll, and tenderloin, and next to that, heads of escarole lightly grilling.

...there was a great nosh of grilled fresh fava bean them open and enjoy the nutty treats inside:

...had some nice Malbec to go with:

...a pile of found deer antlers from the ranch:

...the table set up in the old corral under the monster spreading live oak:

Reina from the excellent Buenos Aires Cafe brought some delicious empanadas: light, flaky pastry encasing a rich filling of beef, garlic and onion, peppers, hard-boiled eggs, raisins, and olives. Their charm did not escape my gaping maw...several times.

Reina also brought a really simple but VERY nice garlicky vegetable-laden soup, perfect to chase away the chill:

....bowls of chimichurri were assembled, using green garlic and parsley straight from the garden, ready to slather on beef:

....sides were a superlative new potato salad:

...and the sweet, charred escarole with red onion, tossed lightly with sherry vinegar and olive oil:

...the slicing commenced and beeforama ensued......

....the way-incredible sausage was made by Lambert's, a chunky, spicy, garlicky blend of beef and pork:

...the complete finished gut-busting plate:

...friend, wine expert, and author Wes Marshall and his lovely better half Emily were across the table and smiling broadly:

...there was a grand finish from Perla's...a truly excellent tres leches cake adorned with fresh strawberries and strawberry sauce:'s a shot of the perfectly medium-rare haunch, post-feast:

ALL the chefs performed admirably and the crowd was absolutely gob-smacked. FANTASTIC food, grand setting, interesting crowd or chefs, writers, foodies, friends, ranchers, and what-not, a wonderful experience. When tickets go on sale for the event, DO NOT miss this thing!

By the way, the BEEF???? Freaking fabulous: tender, succulent, juicy, smoky....I could go on, but trust me.

For ticket info (which includes a free bus ride from ATX to the ranch and back), see:

Mick Vann ©

Sap's Weekly Feast 2/25/2012

Dropped by at Sap's on Westgate Saturday afternoon late for a culinary pick-me-up, starting with an appetizer called Khao Tung Na Tang, or Crispy Rice Cakes with Shrimp and Pork Dip (S-A3). You get three crispy, nutty cakes made of puffed jasmine rice and a monkey dish (that's a restaurant term for a little bowl) full of a wonderfully rich thick, saucy dip made from garlic, shallot, cilantro, tamarind paste, coconut milk, chiles, peanuts, fish sauce, palm sugar, shrimp, and ground pork. A great, light starter, and uncommon on American menus.

Off of the specials menu, I ordered Gaeng Prik Pla (S - P45), a very spicy, herbal curry without coconut milk, served with a pound of tilapia. The curry has a red curry base, adding lots of turmeric, makroot leaf, Thai basil, jalapeños, and Thai chiles. It's a perfect match with the fish, with deep rich concentrated flavors and a healthy piquant zing.

To round off the meal, I reverted back to one of the old favorite standbys, Pad See Ew Gai, Noodles with Chicken and Chinese Broccoli with Soy Sauce (S-F3). I opted for my usual sen yai, or wide, flat rice noodles. The dish gets that charred, smoky edge from the wok, and the sauce is so much more than simple "soy sauce". It shows the Chinese influence on Thai cuisine, but like most dishes derived from their northern neighbors, it has a distinctly Thai taste. The sauce has light soy, dark soy, a touch of oyster sauce, and lots of garlic, Chinese broccoli, chicken meat, with egg as a very loose binder. One of the all-time great Thai noodle dishes.

Then a lagniappe appeared in the form of a cup of an amazing wintermelon and duck soup that Sap had been whipping up in the back. The broth is wonderfully rich and ducky, and the texture of the wintermelon is silky and lush. It's also one of the healthiest thing you can eat. He sent me home with a container of wintermelon and mushroom soup that I have yet to crack open, made with chicken stock and wintermelon, and four kinds of mushrooms: enoki, shitake, beech, and straw. Here's a shot of the wintermelon-duck soup:

LOVE this restaurant...go there!

Mick Vann ©

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sap's Weekend Feast Report 2/19

Made the weekly pilgrimage to Sap's Fine Thai Cuisine on Sunday for another round of excellent Thai food. We started with the Green Bean and Chicken Salad. Yum Tua Kieow: a variation of a famous Thai salad which uses a vegetable called winged beans (tua puu, or Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), a tropical green bean pod with four winged edges that tastes like a sweet, chewy green bean. Since winged beans are difficult to locate on a consistent basis, green beans or long beans are often substituted here in the States. Wing beans are sliced very thinly, while green beans or long beans are lightly blanched and cut into bite-sized pieces. The plate always has thin slices of hard-boiled egg arranged to one side, and is usually made with shrimp or shredded chicken meat tossed with the beans. The shrimp or chicken is lightly simmered with lemongrass, lime, and honey, while the wonderfully balanced dressing is made from tamarind, palm sugar, roasted shredded coconut meat, fish sauce, peanuts, and a bit of roasted chile paste. The dish is garnished with coconut cream, fried shallot, toasted coconut, and whole fried red chiles. If you have never had this dish, it should definitely be on your short list of Thai salads to eat.

Next came Sap's Special Masaman Curry with Beef. Masaman curry is an Indo-Malay influenced Southern Thai Muslim dish that uses the Thai version of curry powder as a main spice component (coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, white cardamom, bay, star anise, etc.) and what makes it UN-Indian, is the addition of tamarind to calm the spices, and add a bit of tart fruitiness, and depth, and the addition of fish sauce. The coconut milk mellows out the heat, as do the peanuts, potatoes, and onion. What makes it special is that it's got chunks of fall-apart slow-braised beef in it instead of sliced beef. Tender, unctuous, and delicious.

The coup de grace was S-P29, Stir Fried Eggplant with Fermented Bean Paste Sauce. I always add ground pork, which only makes it better. The sauce is perfectly balanced with the saltiness of the beans and fish sauce, the heat of the jalapeños and chile paste, sweet kick of the palm sugar, with herbs, and basil. I love this colorful as it is tasty.

We finished off with Mango and Sticky Rice, the consummate Thai dessert. Pity that we can't get Thai mangoes here in the States (not that Sap's ripe Mexican mangoes were a negative in any way!). Thai mangoes are so incredibly aromatic and sweet,with no hint of fiber. Anyway, this is warm sticky rice with some sugar to sweeten it up, dressed with coconut cream, served with slices of ripe mango. Superb, as always! Love this restaurant!

Mick Vann ©

Tortilleria Rio Grande #2

Tortilleria Rio Grande #2
500 W William Cannon Dr, 326-1341

Tip of the hat to fellow food writer Rachel Feit for turning me on to Tortilleria Rio Grande Dos, located in the shopping center at the NE corner of Wm. Cannon and S. 1st, all the way at the east end (their first location is on Braker @ IH 35, NE corner, in the shopping center….sensing a pattern here). They have about 6 tables, with 6 stools at the counter, and you order at the counter from the menu on the wall.

They have samples of the salsas at the counter, and a salsa bar against the wall, holding: a tangy and tart tomatillo, the molcajete (complex, spicy roasted chile and tomato, coarsely-ground), arbol (deep red, dark, and zippy), verde (avocado and jalapeño), and cebollo-cilantro. I wish the portion cups were bigger, but they sell tubs of each in the cooler; the way to go. The totopos (chips) are done in-house and excellent. They are thick and don’t shatter, managing to split down the middle into two thin lateral crispy halves; they have a good bubble ratio, perfect for dipping. They have bags for sale…get some. Perfect starter with a Sidral Manzano (apple) soda.

Behind the counter are two Celorio Electro Cel #56 maquinas de tortillas: a hopper holds a huge wad of fresh masa (made in-house, and also for sale), portions and shapes it, sheets it, and drops it onto a conveyor comal, flips it over, and cooks the other side before it comes to the end where it is stacked by hand, and wrapped into paper bundles. Buy them still-hot, rush them home, sprinkle some salt, and slather with butter…damn good impromptu treat. They also make flour tortillas, and I’m pretty sure I also saw some from whole wheat flour.

We tried several tacos:
Barbacoa, $1.75 (weekends only)…chunky, not shredded, beefy flavor, a little dry
Pork and potato in red sauce with nopalitos, $1.50…excellent
Picadillo and potato, $1.50…okay, but not as good as others.
Poblano rajas and queso, $1.50…dynamite!

Bistec gordita (more like carne guisado than carne asado), $1.50…their gorditos are fantastic, hand-patted, cooked on the comal, and stuffed, with a thin, gossamer sheet of masa on the top completing the envelope of goodness. Next visit, it’s all gordito at taco-time.

Chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce $5.50. These are the best buy in Austin, with rich, moist, tender shredded chicken chunks filling three enchiladas, draped in that wonderful tangy tomatillo sauce, crowned with queso, served with creamy beans topped with cheese, and nice rice. The wide angle shot makes the dish look small…it is not.

They have menudo on the weekends, and a chile relleno with my name on it for the next visit. A sign outside said “Mole”, though we missed it if they had any. They were also out of buñuelos. We finished with a cajeta-stuffed churro $1.50, also good. TRG #2?...¡ sí, sí !!!

Mick Vann ©

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew

Bopped in to Stiles Switch BBQ last week and sampled some smoked fare. More to come in an Austin Chronicle thing, but a few pics to get those juices flowing. Here's pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick doing his slicing thing....'s a tray of his 'cue....BIG fave was the beef rib and brisket.

Here's what smoked it, a pitmaster's dream and a welder's work of art, produced by Klose Pits out of HTX...

....some happy meats gyrating in a smoky bath....

...they get their sausages made for fave was the one made from their recipe.

Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew
6610 N. Lamar, @ Brentwood

Mick Vann ©

Thursday, February 16, 2012

El Hidalguense in HTX

So, my buddy Art was working on a book on HTX restos and El Hidalguense (713-680-1071) was on our radar. It's in Spring Branch East, although it sure seemed like Houston to me, at 6917 Long Point Rd, between Antoine and Silber, north of IH 10, and west of 610.

Admittedly it looks a little funkified from the outside, and when you open the door, the rich and slightly gamey aroma of cooked goat (and/or) lamb sucks you inside. They feature goat (cabrito or chivo) and lamb (borrego). The menu is straightforward and the staff couldn't have been any friendlier. That shawty at the counter, standing on the crate, is hand-patting tortillas to-order, and slapping them on the griddle.....

We ordered, and they immediately brought out a couple of tasty chicken flautas, with a wonderful dark chipotle salsa...a lagniappe. The other chile was guajillo I think, but could have been costeño?...or pasilla? Dunno, but the salsa was complex, spicy, smoky, and delicious.

....we sucked those down, and that gave me time to see what was next to the tortilla griddle. Built into the masonry counter is a cauldron of about 50 gallons, full of simmering goat bones and ambrosial stock (griddle on the left, cauldron on the right)....

First to arrive was the cabrito soup, loaded with big chunks of unctuous goat meat and chickpeas, all in a dried red chile-laced stock. Outstanding.

We each got a chivo (Goat) taco, and on those just-patted tortillas, simply incredible.

We split a couple of other tacos: one from the specials board: chicken in mole sauce, and one from the menu: pork in green sauce with nopales (cactus). Both had us wishing that we could order another round, but we had several restaurants to try that afternoon. Truly dynamite tacos....

We ask for the check, and with it arrives a complimentary dish of arroz con leche (cinnamon-dusted rice pudding). A nice finish to a great snack.

I WILL go back.

Mick Vann ©