Saturday, October 31, 2009

Autumn Afternoon Tea at Tea Embassy

When I read that Tea Embassy is holding afternoon tea on Halloween, I rushed right over and reserved a spot in the sitting room and invited my parents. The last time I had afternoon tea was at Claridge's in London with my mom. We both loved our experience there, so I thought it would be great to recapture the atmosphere in Austin, this time with my dad!

Tea Embassy
This obviously was a different atmosphere from Claridge's. Instead of a big hotel foyer, we sat on parlor room chairs and a sofa next to the fire place in an intimate tea room. I enjoyed every moment of it.

Afternoon Tea at Tea Embassy
The menu and tea choices were infused with the autumn theme. We drank walnut green tea, cinnamon spice, and pumpkin spice. The walnut green tea was exquisite. It was aromatic yet had a light taste. It has hints of pineapple and coconut. The owner told us that the walnut green, and most of their other flavored teas, is blended in Germany.

Walnut Green Tea; Pumpkin Spice
First Course; Second and Third Courses

Our first course consisted of a pumpkin tart with spiced caramelized onions, mini baked brie topped with cranberry ginger chutney, and apple chicken salad tea sandwich. Each bite were light and pleasant. I especially enjoyed the pumpkin tart, which I think I'll try to recreate for a picnic.

Pumpkin Tart with Caramelized Spiced Onions, Baked Brie with Cranberry Ginger Chutney, and Apple Chicken Tea Sandwiches
I'm more of a savory person, so once the first course of savory bites is over, it always feels downhill from there. It's inevitable and never the fault of the afternoon tea venues. I'm just not much of a sweets person...unless the establishment is La Petite Rose in Paris...
Nonetheless, they did a fantastic job with the cream scones, lemon curd, clotted cream, and jam for the second course. None of us like scones, but we finished these with ease.

Cranberry Cream Scones; Lemon Curd, Clotted Cream, and Jam
The third course is more sweets, but again, we cleaned off the tray, smacked our lips most inelegantly, and drank some more walnut green. Ah, such a hard day's work of acting genteel!

Bread Pudding Bites with Caramel, Apple Spice Tea Cake, and Dark Chocolate Dipped Brownie Bites

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cravin' for Cajun: Gumbo's and Shoal Creek Saloon

Our boss at work took us to Gumbo's for lunch, and I realized just how much I miss Cajun food. Crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya...quick get me a napkin I'm slobbering just writing these words! I can't blame being in China for this deprivation. Austin is lacking in good Louisiana cookin' in general. It's not often I can afford to eat at Gumbo's everytime I crave it.
I sat down, scanned the menu quickly and ordered the trout Michael, which is trout in a cream sauce with crawfish and a side of jamalaya.
I must have forgotten my manners and ate like a madwoman because my boss asked, "Don't they have anything close to jambalaya or gumbo in China since it's a rice dish?" Rice dishes, sure...there are plenty...but nothing this heavy with flava!

Trout Michael with Jambalaya

The next day, I drove by Shoal Creek Saloon, and saw the words "Duck Gumbo" painted on the side of their building, and pulled into their parking lot without even thinking. My instincts took over...Must eat duck gumbo...inexpensive Cajun food...good... I walked onto the patio in a trance and ordered a bowl of the duck gumbo and a seafood platter of fried catfish and fried crawfish.

Shoal Creek Saloon
I've never been to Shoal Creek Saloon, but I've driven past this place countless times. Unfortunately, that day was likely my last visit. The food was not memorable. Not even the smoked duck in the gumbo could lure me back. The roux of the gumbo tasted burnt and the breading of the catfish and crawfish had none of the flava that usually knocks me off my chair in a real Cajun meal.
Nope, I suppose my search for less expensive Louisiana fare is still on-going.

Duck Gumbo

Fried Catfish, Crawfish, Cole Slaw, and Beans

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Squash & Scallops Take Two

I bought a butternut squash like I said I would after my first interpretation of the pumpkin and scallops tapas I had in Dalian, China. Butternut squash definitely has a sweeter and creamier taste than acorn squash, and thus works better for this dish. However, I believe the even sweeter pumpkin would make this dish even better. No wonder the tapas restaurant in Dalian stuck with the pumpkin. I never cooked anything besides zucchini and yellow squash in the squash family so this dish was a fun excuse for me to experiment and taste the different larger squashes.

I cooked the sauce and the scallops the same as last time, but opted to steam my butternut squash this time because it's less work.

Seared Scallops with Creamy Mustard Wine Sauce on Steamed Mashed Butternut Squash

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dad's Cooking

I would just like to take the time to put the spotlight on my dad. As many of you know, I watched my mom cook since I was a baby, and learned the basics of Chinese home-cooking from her. However, she's not the only chef in the family. My dad was always a fantastic cook but haven't found time to cook a lot until after he retired. He has now, taken on the role of head chef in the household, and whenever our family gets together, he creates a smashing meal of great variety. Give him any ingredient, and he'll make it into an incredible Chinese-style dish!

Just check out the dishes he made for one meal!

Stir-fried Lobster Tail with Ginger, Green Onions, and Garlic

Winter Melon Braised in a Dried Shrimp Broth

Stir-Fried Leafy Vegetable

Pan-Fried Prawns in a Sweet and Spicy Garlic Sauce

Smoked Chicken and Caramalized Duck Leg

Maiko Happy Hour

We recently went to Maiko's happy hour to celebrate Jamie's birthday, a happy and fun affair indeed!

This Party of 7 Speaks 6 Languages! (Birthday Girl 2nd on the Left)
However, I was disappointed to find that Maiko's food has gone from Kobe Beef Sliders to Plain ol' Beef and Soft Shell Crab Sliders to just Plain Ol' Beef and Pulled Pork Sliders. In other words, the quality of the ingredients has visibly slipped with each visit! (visit 1, Kobe Sliders from visit 1, visit 2) Perhaps it's the sad state of the economy.
The highlight turned out to be the Lychee-Berry Mojito! I think my requisite drinking experiences at banquets in China has helped me become more tolerant of alcohol. I can now drink a little more than half a glass if it tastes good.

Lychee-Berry Mojito
Edamame with Sea Salt; Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce
Rock & Roll, Salmon Sushi, Buddha Roll, Unagi Avocado Roll; Tempura Calamari and Onion Rings with Sambal Miso Sauce

Chicken Gyozas; Pulled Pork Sliders

Crispy Tofu

Coconut Cheesecake for Jamie

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Highball: Bowling, Gourmet Fries, and Shrimp Cakes?

We celebrated the birthday of our good friend, Bonnie, at The Highball, the Alamo Drafthouse's newest retro venture into the bowling days of yore. Goodbye Wii, hello 1950s!

The Gang at The Highball
The Bowling Champ

Believe it or would believe it if you had seen me bowl that day...I've never bowled before The Highball. Sure, I rock at Wii bowling, but I'm pitiful at the real thing.

We all shared a bowl of fresh cut fries with homemade ketchup and demi glace. It's yummy, but bowling and grabbing fries from the bowl disturbs me during this time of flus. I found myself throwing the ball hurriedly and carelessly so that I can return to this bowl of fries...ok...maybe that's just my excuse for losing by 80+ points.

Fresh Cut Fries with Ketchup and Demi Glace

Seeing how I scored a whopping 34 points after our first hour, I sat out on the 2nd and decided to brush away the embarrassment by doing what I do best--sampling the menu.

I ordered the Thai One On cocktail, which everyone loved, including myself. I especially liked the taste of the Thai basil in the cocktail. I didn't bother to share my shrimp cakes because I was hungry and because the roasted jalepeno tartar was so delicious, I wanted the shrimp cakes all to myself so I could scoop up all the tartar sauce. Food Dilettante has to win at something, right?

Thai One On-mango-infused rum, palm sugar syrup, Thai basil, ginger, cucumber, mint, cilantro & lime juice with a sea salted rim; Texas Gulf Shrimp Cakes with Roasted Jalepeno Tartar
Overall, it was a super fun evening. The only snag is not allowing us to bring in a birthday cake. Ok. You guys have to make money off of your menu, but it's your client's birthday and you're going to charge the party $25 for bringing a cake? What a way to turn away potential future regulars! I was certainly offended. No amount of jalepeno tartar sauce can mend this wrong.
We took our wonderful Whole Foods Berry Chantilly cake to the Butler Park fountain and ate the cake al fresco. Thank goodness for public parks!

Berry Chantilly Birthday Cake from Whole Foods

Saturday, October 17, 2009


One word: underwhelming. I heard and read about how fantastic the food at Olivia is, but none of the dishes tingled my senses. The now famous milk braised pork shoulder was too salty. I could not finish the dish. My taste buds needed a break after that dish, but the dessert was heavy and very sweet. The lamb's tongue and mint salad turned out to be the better dishes of the night, but not very memorable.

My visit was in the winter of 2008, and perhaps my nose and mouth were numb from the cold. I think I should try Olivia again before I rattle off and end up regretting what I write. The brunch menu holds promise.

Olives; Focaccia and Olive Oil
Lamb’s Tongue Fricasee-dijon pan sauce, yaupon honey, cherry-apricot mostarda; Spinach Salad-goat cheese, pear, and mint
Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Semolina Gnocchi; Blintz with Pears and Pine Nuts

Fudge; Sticky Bun