A little vacay was much needed and what could be better than visiting my best friend for some R&R?!
My childhood friend Valerie moved to Austin, Texas last year and I’ve been wanting to visit not only to see her but also to explore a new city that I’ve never been to. Even though Texas isn’t exactly my top choice when it comes to vacation, I’ve heard Austin is a dope culinary city which appealed to the foodie that I am.
The first day, I touched down in Austin around dinnertime and Valerie and I headed back to her quaint house before grabbing a quick bite. Since I was a little tired, we went to a nearby spot called Trailer Park Eatery where we ate at Torchy’s Tacos, a popular tex-mex taco truck chain.
Queso is basically tex-mex style cheese fondue and it was delicious. Creamy, cheesy, and the perfect amount of heat from the green chilis.
All their tacos were fun, creative, and different from what I’m used to eating here in California. My favorite taco was the baja shrimp that were lightly battered and fried with crumbly queso fresco and sharp acidic pickled red onions.
The next morning Valerie and I walked a little over 4 miles along the Colorado River. What’s pretty awesome is that the river runs through the middle of the city so you have views of downtown Austin and yet when you’re on the trail, you feel like you’re submerged in nature.
Now no trip to Texas would be complete without trying authentic barbecue. After a pleasant walk, we headed to Franklin Barbecue which is one of the city’s most well known barbecue joints. Valerie was nice enough to preorder our food a few weeks in advance so instead of waiting hours (and I mean hours) in line, we waited around 15 minutes while they put our order together.
WOW. I thought I’ve tried good barbecue before but oh man this was freakin’ delicious aka totally worth the meat sweats. I didn’t know that traditional barbecue was served with plain sliced white bread to help sop up all the juices and sauces but I ain’t mad about it. All the meats were outstanding such as the fall off the bone ribs, tender pulled pork, juicy sausage, and unctuous brisket. If I had to pick a favorite it would be the brisket that melted in my mouth and the fat was soooo good I could cry. Out of the desserts, the key lime pie was right up my alley. That crumbly graham cracker crust paired with the tart yet sweet creamy lime filling is just perfection. If you’re in Austin, you must come here!
After eating a pretty hefty lunch, we just relaxed and caught up on life. I planned a late dinner at a new hip Japanese restaurant that a coworker recommended to me. Kuneho is the newest project coming from season nine’s Top Chef winner Paul Qui. Since I’ve watched every episode of every season of Top Chef, I was pretty excited to dine at Kuneho.
Both cocktails were fun and inventive and most importantly delicious! We started off the meal with a few small bites.
Out of all the small bites, my favorites were the caramelized eggplant and the salmon butter. The eggplant had a beautiful charred crust and creamy meaty interior. The salmon was incredibly tender with crispy buttery Texas toast and salty pops of ikura.
This dish packed a punch of flavor. While the smoke flavor was definitely prevalent, I really enjoy that smoked fish flavor and the crispy garlic only added to the intensity of flavors.
Our waiter said this was his favorite dish on the menu so obviously we were intrigued. Depending on the day, the “yummy chicken parts” change and we were nervous to try some chicken hearts. I love chicken liver especially after living in Florence, Italy where it’s on every menu but I’ve never really tried chicken hearts. They didn’t taste bad by any means but they were slightly on the tough side. However, I loved the crispy chicken skin with that fish caramel.
I started off the nigiri sushi with some of my favorite types of seafood and all were scrumptious.
This was the most disappointing dish of the night because the tempura was overly greasy where I could barely taste the vegetables.
Not bad but not my favorite of the night. Perhaps I enjoy uni in a simpler version such as nigiri?
Round two of nigiri sushi…all freakin’ bomb!
Inventive desserts and oh so tasty. The sweet potato semifreddo had the perfect texture that went great with the velvety jasmine sorbet and chunks of the chewy chocolate mochi cake. The foie roti coffee bun had a fantastic caramelized crust with the silky coffee cream on the bottom.
Kuneho has only been open for a little over 3 months and majority of the dishes were stellar. Overall my rating is an 8/10.
After dinner, we headed out to 6th street where bars line both sides of the street. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights they close off the street for cars which is pretty cool. We only stopped by a few bars to check them out.
The next day we decided to go hiking since the weather was beautiful, a perfect sunny 75º. We headed to Barton Creek Greenbelt where the trail leads to various small waterfalls (Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls). We hiked about 6 miles total and it was definitely worth it! Also the water was so nice, clear and clean, and we both went partially in (we should have brought our swimsuits).
After a fun hike, we headed to Zilker Botanical Gardens located inside Zilker Park, a great Metropolitan park with hiking and swimming areas.
After a nature filled day, we relaxed back at home before dinner.
I chose another popular restaurant that a coworker recommended called Emmer & Rye similar to San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions where food is served dim sum style. We chose the majority of our food off their menu with a few additions from the dim sum carts/trays.
I loved that the “noodles” were actually made from golden beets that gave a beautiful color and crunch to the dish but also a slight sweetness. On the bottom of the bowl were pieces of blue crab that were only enhanced by the peanuts, various herbs, aji amarillo (a type of chili pepper), and fresh lime.
I didn’t try the pink shrimp tortilla but I wasn’t crazy about the beef tartare. It lacked seasoning and the fermented black walnut paste didn’t necessarily taste that great.
Cheese+bread=my favorite food. The farmer’s cheese was similar to a Ricotta cheese, mild in flavor, but with a firmer texture. The addition of the scallion dressing and charred broccoli oil gave a fresh earthiness to the dish.
This piece of sweet potato was perfectly cooked, super tender yet still had a firm texture. Obviously anything with brown butter is always a good idea.
Cacio e pepe is one of my favorite Roman pasta dishes. While it may seem like a simple dish, perfecting the creamy consistency is challenging and they nailed it. Traditionally, it’s made with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper but they used a cheese called Challerhocker, a Swiss cheese washed in brine and spices with a nutty salty flavor. I could easily eat a few bowls of this…
While I liked the flavor combinations of this dish, there was a technical flaw that I couldn’t overlook. The breading of the pork milanese was not only soggy but completely coming off the pork. A perfect breading should be homogenous with the meat.
Simple but perfectly roasted beets.
This lamb ragù needed more love. It lacked seasoning and depth of flavor and the garganelli pasta had a strange texture to it, almost like it had been precooked.
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night, so glad our server recommended it. The short ribs were unctuous and swimming in a delicate yet flavorful hominy broth. The roti on the side was one of the best roti I’ve ever taste, perfectly golden brown on the outside with a fluffy interior. So good.
Basically a deconstructed bread pudding that was oh so satisfying. The koji ice cream was covered in a bread pudding flavored foam with candied pecans and a tart sticky citrus jam underneath.
Who doesn’t love a good ice cream sandwich? Straightforward but delicious.
Emmer & Rye served up some awesome New American dishes that were not only fun but tasted amazing. Loved the atmosphere as well so my overall rating is an 8/10.
The following day we went on a run along the Colorado River and then went to South Congress to check out all the quirky shops and vintage stores.
My final night in Austin I wanted to treat Valerie out for an early birthday dinner. Two coworkers recommended Barley Swine and after doing some research it looked like a solid choice. They offer either a tasting menu or an à la carte menu and I chose in advance to do the tasting menu since we both enjoy trying various dishes and are pretty adventurous when it comes to food.
This was such a fun amuse bouche that packed a punch of flavor. It basically was a fancy sour cream and onion potato chip jazzed up with a slight bitterness from the nasturtium leaves.
Mackerel sometimes can have a bad reputation because of its natural fishiness flavor. However, the beet cure helped balance out that fishiness and went beautifully with the herbaceous broth and crunchy puffed rice.
This was one of the highlights of the meal. A luscious popcorn flavored custard with a crispy spiced chicken crackling with a creamy deviled egg mousse on top. I’m not a fan of eggs but somehow all the flavors complimented each other where it didn’t taste overly eggy.
Perfectly charred roasted squash that had such a depth of flavor. Simple and delicious.
Tender red shrimp was laying on top of a silky cauliflower cream with juicy calamondin segments, a hybrid of an orange and kumquat, that complimented the natural sweetness of the shrimp.
The ribeye had a beautiful char on the outside and was warmed up once the hot broth was poured on top.
This beauty was served with the beef ribeye and the bread just soaked up all the delicious goodness of the broth. Extremely comforting.
This was basically an asian version of a cabbage roll stuffed with white rice and succulent pieces of pork belly. The xo sauce, a traditional spicy seafood sauce used in Chinese cooking, added a nice kick to the dish.
The last savory course was a great ending. The duck itself had a wonderful caramelized skin and the accompanying duck egg foam reminded me of a rich hollandaise sauce.
Extremely refreshing and a nice transition to the dessert course. I really enjoyed the earthiness of the beet granita with the tart grapefruit flavored crisps.
Every chocolate lover’s dream…luscious and rich. The milk used in the ganache was soaked in hay, giving a slight earthy flavor, that went great with the candied caramel nuts and tart strips of candied lime.
The tasting menu at Barley and Swine was a great selection of dishes, each delicious and satisfying in their own way. Not only was the food tasty and beautiful, service and ambience was great too so my rating is an 8-8.5/10.
My last day in Austin before heading to the airport was quite relaxing aka hangout with the doggies before lunch time!
We grabbed lunch at a seafood restaurant called Alcomar near Valerie’s house. If you’re craving seafood with a Mexican flair, this is the restaurant for you! Super fresh and yummy.
After lunch we headed to the state capitol. I actually had no idea the Austin was the capital of Texas!
I couldn’t have asked for a better relaxing vacation. Good food with great company could only lead to a wonderful time. I definitely can’t wait to visit again!