Happy Halloween: Three desserts at Austin restaurants I’ve loved this year

In honor of the sweetest of holidays, I’ve put together a list of three desserts I’ve loved at restaurants that have opened since last Halloween.

 The s’mores tartufo at L'Oca d'Oro reached precariously toward the sky like a dessert Tower of Pisa featured a graham cracker base, balls of hazelnut and caramel gelato, a dripping chocolate cap and a gooey coat of toasted marshmallow cream. It looked like a bunch of tartufos had jumped on top of each other and draped themselves in a trenchcoat like a wobbly caricature detective in a kid’s book. (Credit: Jay Janner)
The s’mores tartufo at L’Oca d’Oro reached precariously toward the sky like a dessert Tower of Pisa featured a graham cracker base, balls of hazelnut and caramel gelato, a dripping chocolate cap and a gooey coat of toasted marshmallow cream. It looked like a bunch of tartufos had jumped on top of each other and draped themselves in a trenchcoat like a wobbly caricature detective in a kid’s book. (Credit: Jay Janner)

 

A dense peanut butter semifreddo with chocolate cereal milk ice cream and cocoa crunchies that evoked the sugary breakfasts-in-a-box my mother would never let me have as a kid. (Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez)
Geraldine’s: A dense peanut butter semifreddo with chocolate cereal milk ice cream and cocoa crunchies that evoked the sugary breakfasts-in-a-box my mother would never let me have as a kid. (Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez)

 

Executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman's signature golden Basque cake laced with bright citrus and given sweet depth and complexity from charred dates and the rich tingle of speculoos at dinner at Cafe No Se. (Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell) Cafe No Se Dinner Chocolate butterscotch semifreddo , coconut brittle, Whiskey, chocolate dip,, left and Rockman's basque cake, speculoos, charred dates, citrus, cour cream, righ on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman’s signature golden Basque cake (right) laced with bright citrus and given sweet depth and complexity from charred dates and the rich tingle of speculoos at dinner at Cafe No Se. (Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell) On the left,  a chocolate butterscotch semifreddo with coconut brittle.

 

 

Is this Austin’s best meatloaf? (and a Dining Guide tease)

Longtime Austin chef Ray Tatum has an impressive resume that includes 12 years at Jeffrey's. Now he makes cuisine with Southern and Asian influences at his Three Little Pigs trailer behind the Aristocrat Lounge. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Longtime Austin chef Ray Tatum has an impressive resume that includes 12 years at Jeffrey’s. Now he makes cuisine with Southern and Asian influences at his Three Little Pigs trailer behind the Aristocrat Lounge.
(Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Another day, another fake food holiday. Who comes up with these things anyway?

In honor of National Meatloaf Day, I present you with one of my favorites in town. This beauty comes from chef Ray Tatum. The grumbling, long-haired hippie possesses a resume that includes restaurants like Jean-Luc’s French Bistro, Brio Vista and Jeffrey’s, and now he operates his Three Little Pigs trailer from the back patio of the Aristocrat Lounge (6507 Burnet Rd.)

Crunchy bacon inscribes the tender loaf that is seared to a firm finish and served with crisp, sweet and tangy collard greens and creamy, textural corn cheese grits that all soak in a savory jus.

Tatum’s trailer is one of the best in town. His menu weds Southern (and Texan) food with Asian cuisine. Check it out. And look for Three Little Pigs in this year’s Dining Guide, which drops Sunday.

Is it Austin’s best meatloaf? I haven’t had them all, but when I want one, this is where I go.

Dish of the week: Fried quail with egg salad

(Credit: Adrienne Dever)
(Credit: Adrienne Dever)

This restaurant has experimented endlessly with quail throughout its 28 months of existence. The dish has appeared on the menu in several iterations. I’ve had a cowboy comfort food version of the bird with buttermilk biscuits and pinto beans, a ancho-mustard glazed version, and a recent brunch incarnation was pancake-battered, fried and served with maple and hot sauce in egg foam.

The most recent version, currently available at dinner for ($18) includes a creamy egg salad and a savory Japanese-inspired soy caramel, made on one visit with fish and lamb bones and on another with smoked chicken feet. The whole bird is dredged with pumpkin and sesame seeds and fried to a clean, crunchy finish in sunflower seed oil, with pickled jalapeno slapping some puckered tang on the dish.

MyStatesman.com readers click here to find out where to get this whole fried quail.

 

Dish of the week: Goat sliders

goatprint

These goat sliders deliver juicy, gamy flavor wrapped in puffed naan ($12). Flecks of roasted jalapeno put their aggressive stamp on charred patties the size of smashed golf balls, with pickled white onions adding pucker to the flavorful sandwich. Crumbled feta ($2 extra) tempers the sliders salty sting. I eat the garnish of fresh greens and tomatoes separately as a side salad, allowing the goat to shine with little adornment. My only complaint: I wish I got three little sliders instead of two for that price.

MyStatesman.com readers click here to find out where to buy these savory blasts.

Dish of the week: Pupusas with cheese and chicharrón

pupusas

You think Austin and San Antonio have beef over tacos?

The origin of the pupusa led to a minor international incident between El Salvador and Honduras during the negotiations of the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2003, with each country wanting to claim the doughy treat as its exclusive export. The crisis was narrowly averted and a couple of years later the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly named the pupusa the country’s national dish. Problem solved?

The soft rounded stuffed masa at this East Austin restaurant come in several varieties. A creamy version at a recent lunch included quesillo cheese and a fatty paste of ground pork (chicharrón). The mixture is spread on the dough, which is then folded over and cooked (likely in pork fat) on a flat-top grill to a sunglow finish. A side of chopped cabbage in a pool of vinegar (cortido de repollo) gave a crunchy, acidic bite to cut the fat.

MyStatesman.com readers click here to find out more about the pupusas and where you can find them.

 

 

Dish of the week: Grilled pork banh mi

pork

Gently sweet grilled pork? Check. Tangy, crunchy pickled carrot and daikon? Check and check. Floral cilantro, fierce raw jalapeno and homemade mayonnaise? Check, check and check. Housemade French baguettes? Well, seven-and-a-half out of eight isn’t bad.

This stuffed banh mi sandwich is one of my favorite of its kind in town. There’s probably more chargrilled pork stuffed into that soft roll than any banh mi I’ve had in town. No, the bread is not completely homemade, but they do finish the product they receive par-baked from out of state. Not bad for a trailer.

MyStatesman.com readers continue to find out where I got this great sandwich.

 

 

 

Dish of the week: Nori tama toast

Nori tama toast with egg, green onion, cheese and dried seaweed. (Credit: Matthew Odam)
Nori tama toast with egg, green onion, cheese and dried seaweed. (Credit: Matthew Odam)

I had a little ritual my first few days in Tokyo last spring. Each morning I’d go to the mom-and-pop coffee shop next door to my AirBNB rental and enjoy a cup of coffee, hardboiled egg and fluffy Japanese milk bread. Flossy, feathery, plumped and slightly sweet, the bread reminded me of Texas toast on steroids.

On one piece I’d spread strawberry jam, the other came with a slice of ham hugged to the bread by melted cheese. We left that neighborhood after a few days, but I continued to savor variations of the bread throughout my trip to Japan.

I have finally found the fix for my Japanese milk bread cravings. This piece of nori tama toast comes topped with crumbled egg spread across the bread’s ivory expanse, with a melted layer of mozzarella holding it in place. The creamy and irony mixture is spotted with green onions and the oceanic flavors of dried seaweed bits.

Who needs breakfast tacos when you can have this?

MyStatesman.com readers follow the link to find out where to find the toast, along with some very good chicken katsu.

Dish of the week: Pastry pro offers tasty play on Girl Scout cookie

(Credit: Giant Noise)
(Credit: Giant Noise)

They stand sentry at the entrance to Walgreen’s. You work with their marketing directors, err, parents. Or, you are their parents. From mid-January to late-February the Girl Scouts and their tempting cookies are unavoidable.

At the threat of heresy, I will go on the record here and say that I am not a fan of the beloved Thin Mints. My GS cookie preferences lean towards the Samoas, though I won’t turn down a cold Tagalong or an almost-stale Do-Si-Do. Heck, even the gluten-free Toffee-tastics are pretty swell.

One local pastry chef has draw inspiration from the outfitted sugar dealers to create this marvelous take on the Samoas.

The chocolate-dipped cookies are topped with a slightly salty miso-butterscotch caramel and flakes of toasted coconut. It is the perfect combination of gooey and creamy, with a hidden crunch.

MyStatesman.com subscribers click here to find out where you can get these artisan treats.

 

 

Dish of the week: Chinese spicy jumping fish filet

Spicy jumping fish filet (top) and hot and spicy pork are two standouts at Sichuan River in South Austin.
Spicy jumping fish filet (top) and hot and spicy pork.

When you order steamed fish dishes, especially ones soaking in sauce, you worry about sogginess. Will the fish hold up? Will it maintain springiness while absorbing its broth? The spicy jumping fish filet I recently ate did.

The restaurant says it uses flounder, and though a friend of mine swears it is the Vietnamese river fish swai, the quibble is unimportant. Swimming in sauce and covered in a shower of green onion and a confetti of red pepper, the chunks of white fish absorbed the sauce’s soy-fueled umami blast while maintaining a tender but firm consistency.

Find out where I got had this dish and read about a few more dishes from this South Austin restaurant on MyStatesman.com.