The Best Of: Mexican Food

They are talking about what we already knew. Fonda San Miguel is top of class Mexican food. I am sure La Condesa was high up on the list, also. Maybe Austin should have two of the top spots? I’m just saying. It’s not like I’m biased or anything.

Texas Monthly Best of Mexican Restaurants: TOP 5 (alphabetical by city)

Fonda San Miguel (Austin), Cuquita’s (Dallas), Salsa Fuego (Fort Worth), Hugo’s (Houston), SoLuna (San Antonio)

Austin Specific: Curra’s Grill, 
El Mesón, 
El Naranjo, 
Garrido’s, 
La Condesa, 
Manuel’s
, Takoba

BLT Watch: The Good Knight

I like the simplicity of the BLT. Not a lot of ways to hide crappy ingredients. I think they are a good indicator of how the rest of a menu is going to flow. The Good Knight just started serving lunch, so I sashayed over to check how theirs stacks up.

Four things have to be working for a BLT to sing: bread, bacon, lettuce and tomato. Let’s work our way from the outside in. The bread on The Good Knight BLT ($8) was thicker than I expected, more like “Texas Toast”. It was toasted, but not to much, which I like. I’m not a fan of having the roof of my mouth assaulted by abrasive bread on the first chomp. On this sandwich lettuce and tomato play second fiddle to the bacon, both in ratio and flavor. For me, lettuce is the crunch, tomato is the juiciness. I wish there was a little more of both. The good news? The bacon rocked. House cured, thick cut. They even asked me how crispy I wanted it. Crispy!

Cudos for condiment restraint: a little mayo goes a long way. Sliced White Onion: not needed, but a nice flair. Long story short, not too shabby. Some positives and some negatives, but overall, it works for me. The Meatloaf Sandwich ($8) also caught my eye. Next time.

The Good Knight : lunch M-F, 11am-2pm. 1300 E. 6th Austin, TX (512) 628-1250

Restaurant Review: Uchiko (Child of Uchi)

I have been driving South and turning left into Uchi for years. Finally, Central Austin gets some Tyson Cole love. Uchiko blasted through a ‘soft opening’ like I have never seen. Booked to the gills, polished right out of the gate.

If your recipe is working, why change it? The Michael Hsu (along with Joel Mozersky) designed interior has a stylish mix of colors and textures. Heavy woods balanced by steel and illuminated glass. Their goal was Japanese Farmhouse, but I would say they landed more towards lower Manhattan.

The quality of food is on par with Uchi, which is to say, it is exceptionally good. The flavor combinations are innovative and clean, pushing slightly sweeter than Uchi.

My eye-opener menu moment, Koviche: Fresh Diver Scallop, Tomatillo, Kalamata and Black Lime. Tart, sweet and salty all working in harmony with a Calder-esque presentation.

Tempura Nasu: Japanese Eggplant Crisps, Mitsuba, Sweet Chili Sauce. Let’s focus on that last part, Chili Sauce. I know, it seems trivial, but I would have put this on almost anything on the menu. It has come up in every conversation I have had about the menu. (My wife is demanding I start working on a home version.)

Reservations are accepted, as are walk-ins, for the two dining rooms and the long line of seats at either the drink or sushi bars. I love watching cooks work, but having the undivided attention of a bartender has some unique advantages. House specialty cocktails include the Pan Am: Sake, Agua Fresca, Granny Smith Apples and Rosemary (perfect Summer cooler); Pao: Black Tea Nigori, Pedro Ximenez, Egg White and Yukari (in place of desert); and my favorite, the Larkin: Sparkling Wine, Grilled Thyme and Cured Lemon (named after the Chef’s daughter).

Chef Cole and his team have branched out without thinning out. The same pristine food as Uchi in a more accessible central location. Central Austin is in need of more fine dining spots and Uchiko is a very welcome addition.

Uchiko : 4200 North Lamar Austin, TX : (512) 916.4808 : Sun-Th 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11

Great Plates: Carne Asada at Fonda San Miguel

Carne Asada is a classic Mexican combination plate that can be found on a hundred menus around Austin. Not many are very good and fewer still are true to the original. We think the best in town is Fonda San Miguel’s Carne Asada a la Tampiquena. I stopped by to talk with Chef de Cuisine Jeff Martinez to find out what makes theirs so special.

It starts with Beef Tenderloin. And, why wouldn’t it? This is generally regarded as the best cut money can by. The muscle is spiral cut, along its length, producing a flat sheet of meat. Although it’s thin, Fonda still asks how you would like it prepared (I’m in the medium-rare club). Then, onto the grill.

I think this is where Fonda’s dish pulls ahead of the poseurs. While the beef is grilling, Recado, a traditional Mexican spice blend, is added. Like Garam Masala to India, Five Spice to China and Herbs de Provence to France, Recado is a regional spice blend of roasted and dried chilies. It gives the beef a smoky, rich flavor.

The the other cast of characters are waiting in the wings to be plated. First up is the enchilada. Softened tortillas filled with Muenster cheese get broiled and covered in a traditional Mole sauce. Guacamole (slightly chunky), beans and Rajas (fire roasted peppers) work their way around the plate as the main character, grilled beef, takes center stage.

This was one of the original menu items when Fonda San Miguel opened in 1975 and is still one of their most popular. On a busy night, 40 – 50 slide through the pass.

Fonda San Miguel : 2330 W. North Loop Austin, TX  (512) 459-4121
Click Below For More Pictures of the Process

More Things Change the More They Stay the Same

Recognize it? I didn’t either. It’s Comanche Trail, off 620 by the lake. You know, where the Oasis is. Holy Crap! That is the Oasis. Kind of. It seems they are going full bore on expanding the ‘Sunset Capital of Texas’.

Slated to be finished in 2011, the new complex will have 20+ retail locations, three restaurants and a gated subdivision of homes for sale. I see a stop light in Comanche Trail’s future.

True to form, the Oasis still has some of the best views of Lake Travis. Also true, the food is still unremarkable. Everything we had tasted canned: injection molded croutons, mushy rice and powdery margaritas. Is it too much to ask to get food that rivals a lake view?

Four Seasons TRIO: This Must Not Happen All The Time?

Let me first say that the Chef and server are not solely to blame. I don’t usually write negative reviews (or valet park), but at 7:00pm on Saturday I took a chance and went to the TRIO happy hour at the Four Seasons.

Amidst the gilded kid glove service of the hotel staff, TRIO’s Trio of Sliders were rendered singular, the guacamole was mostly queso and we might have been peed on. What started out as a delightful nosh on a lovely deck overlooking Town Lake quickly went South.

There seemed to be a disconnect between the hostess, server and kitchen. Was it still happy hour? Yes. Was it happy hour on the deck? No. As the bar area was packed, we decided to sit outside and try appetizers from the full menu. Upon being seated, all the dinner place settings were taken off our table and we were given the happy hour menu.

Everybody calm down! This is the Four Seasons hotel!  Relax, luxury will soon arrive. Time passed and hope wained. Not a problem, I’ll just wave down someone to help: wandering bride, downed waiter, loose frat boy draining daddy’s Amex? Then it comes, like a Cabbage Patch kid on lithium, our appetizers (full price on the deck, because we demand the best). Stunted somewhere between the kitchen and our table, the Beef, Lamb and Turkey sliders ($15) became Lamb, Lamb and Lamb (with sweet jelly?). The second Slider order was the same way. The Steak Fries ($7) were a soggy mess, topped with a dripping, oily onion bulb. Bon Appetit.

For dessert? Liquid from the sky (and possibly sesame seeds). Am I saying it was urine? No. Am I sure? Not in the least. The manager immediately came to our service to help pin-point the offending guest room. “Check, please!” The manager was on it now, “Let me take care of this for you.” Moments later our check arrives. Full charge!? Really? Then, our server, swooped in and took off one of the overly sweet, jammie-lamb trios. Like a gift-with-purchase promo at Dillard’s, our table was rifled with Caramel Corn Gift Bags. Kudos my man, problem solved. Get me out of here.

“That will be seven dollars,” says the valet from behind the glass window. They were unaware of any complimentary happy hour parking, though it has been advertised as such. May we pay you in soggy Steak Fries? Nope. I tossed him my Gift Bag, $7 and a couple bucks tip. It wasn’t his fault, but who’s was it? How could so many things go wrong in a place that usually is so great?

TRIO at the Four Seasons : 98 San Jacinto Blvd Austin, TX : (512) 685-8300