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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas in Houston: Just Dinner on Dunlavy

My fiance and I went to Houston last week to spend Christmas with his family. The first night there we went to a restaurant called Just Dinner on Dunlavy. I found it through Yelp searches. It was a restored old home and the reviews were all very positive.

This house was built in 1928. It was transformed into this cozy restaurant and opened in 2007. They source from their organic garden and shop daily for the freshest ingredients.

Just Dinner on Dunlavy
1915 Dunlavy Street
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 807-0077
Price: $$$$

It was a small house. Very cozy when we walked in. They had dim lighting, Christmas decorations up and felt like you were going to a friend's home almost. We were seated in the front room. Our table was covered in magazine clippings. I thought that was a unique way to decorate the table, and minimize clean up, AND use up old magazines. haha. Recycle! :)

We brought a bottle of wine with us since it's BYOB. They do charge a corkage fee of $10 for every 750ml. They immediately asked if we wanted an ice bucket for our wine. We asked them if they could put it in the fridge first and it was no problem at all. The waiter brought us some waters and a little bit of their Pesto Hummus (with multigrain chips). The chips were like the store bought multigrain chips. I laughed a little when I saw it, but I actually really like these chips. The pesto hummus was really tasty. I do wish we had pita bread or something instead.

Soup of the Day: Sweet Potato Soup $7~ My fiance ordered this. I wanted to try it. The soup was silky and yummy. There were chunks of sweet potato in the soup as well but I thought they were undercooked. Slightly crunchy still.

He also wanted to try the Foie Gras Creme Caramel (pickled seasonal fruit, warm house-made brioche) $20~ 
He's never had foie gras. I'm not a huge fan. I mean I'll eat it, but it usually tends to be too heavy. So I was thinking he wouldn't like it. However, this was more of a sweet preparation of foie gras and I've never had it like this before. It was made more like a thick flan and it was more sweet than savory. It was pretty amazing. They served it with thin slices of brioche. Normally I love brioche but this one was basically soaked in butter. Too heavy to eat with the creamy foie gras. I ended up just eating the foie gras on its own. But I did like the pairing with the pickled fruit...although they seemed more like butternut squash or something instead of fruit. The acid from the pickled fruits definitely help cut some of the heaviness of the dish. Not the typical prep of foie gras, but delicious. I guess he'll have to try foie gras again another time to get the savory aspect of it.

Ratatouille (pickled vegetables, Belgium endive spears) $11~ 
My fiance's sister ordered this as her main meal. It's listed as an appetizer. Again, a very different preparation than we expected. It was served as a mound with endives on the side. And it was served cold. We all expected to be a hot dish, since it is stewed vegetables...

Pasta of the Day: Spaghetti (with meatballs and sausage).
His father got the pasta of the day. It was a huge portion! The spaghetti was cooked well. I thought the marinara was a bit more sour than I would've liked but the meatballs were good. They have pine nuts mixed into them!

Braised Boneless Short Ribs (port wine cherry sauce, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables) $30~ My fiance ordered this. It was massive as well and the meat was very tender. He loved it.

Pan Seared Chicken Breast (wild mushroom pan sauce, blue cheese polenta, mixed vegetables) $24~ 
His mom wanted to try the blue cheese polenta so she order the chicken. Again, a sizable portion. She had some leftover chicken to take home. I tried a bite of the polenta. The blue cheese flavor was very mild, which is good. Sometimes blue cheese is quite overwhelming.

Stuffed Collard Rolls (quinoa, black rice, amaranth, roasted red pepper sauce) $20~ 
This sounded totally interesting so I ordered it. I like everything listed here. Two large rolls, it was very filling. I loved all the texture inside the collards. There was also hazelnuts (I'm pretty sure) inside... maybe a little too much. It added a nice crunch but a few bites had so many that's all I could taste. But overall, very good, and healthy! Did you know that amaranth is full of protein, iron, calcium, and triple the fiber of wheat? And it's gluten free. :) I need to find more of this.

At some point, we also got rolls. I don't think I noticed when it was served. haha. Too busy taking pictures of everything else!

Crispy Bacon Lardons Brussels Sprouts $7~ I also ordered the Brussels sprouts. Duh! If it's on the menu, I'm ordering it! It was yummy. Plus bacon, always a classic combination.

Everyone had a great time. His parents said they'd go back for sure. Really quaint setting. The service was warm and friendly and the food was good. Plus everything's seasonal so the menu changes every few months. :)

Hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas!!

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Monday, December 22, 2014


Saturday was our afternoon tea at TASCHEN in the Joule Hotel downtown. I've been excited about this for weeks! I love afternoon tea, whether European style or Asian style. The concept, the food, the way everything is presented. It's so classy yet quaint and delicious! :)

I first heard of Tea at TASCHEN several months ago. It just started this year. I saw many pictures on Instagram accounts I follow and it absolutely looked amazing. I looked up the info and they only offer it once a week... Fridays at 2:30PM. And they only have 16 seats, so you definitely have to reserve ahead of time. Early afternoon on a Friday may be a problem for most people since we have to work. But I was psyched when they opened up a Saturday tea time for the holidays (November and December). Also at 2:30PM. I immediately called and got a reservation for 2 on 12/20. I dragged my fiance along with me. haha. He wasn't too keen on the price and had never done afternoon tea so he didn't understand my excitement.

Tea at TASCHEN - The Joule Hotel
1530 Main St.
Dallas, TX 75201
(214) 748-1300 (x4363)
Price: $$$$+

Just some brief info on the tea service...
Tea at TASCHEN is $59 per person, inclusive of taxes, gratuity and valet. During the tea, guests receive 10% off purchases in TASCHEN Library. The library is very intimate. A small room surrounded by interesting books and mosaics. Brightly lit, modern yet cozy. As we walked in, we were given glasses of champagne, the tables were beautifully displayed with colorful china, 24 ct. gold flatware, and a mini tower of delectable treats. The menu is seasonal, so it'll change in a few weeks.

There was a large communal table that was still empty when we arrived. So that gave me time to take like a million pictures. hehe. I loved the cup and saucer for the tea. And there was a shortbread cookie placed on top of it. We waited around for something to happen. My fiance wanted to dig into the food, but no one else had started yet. Plus there was no tea... so we tried to be patient. We were both hungry! haha.

Finally the large group arrived. And the manager came in to welcome everyone and explain how the tea service is going to work. He talked about the TASCHEN library, the rescued mosaics on the walls, the different food items on the display tower and the teas we will be trying. The champagne was all you can drink. Kinda wasted on me since I don't drink champagne, but I actually managed to down a full glass! The champagne they served was Gruet Sauvage.

The 3 teas featured were...
Nile Delta Chamomile (Egypt)
Coconut Assam (India)   
Both of these were from Kai Organic Tea.
2001 Vintage Oak Barrel Aged Pu-Erh (China)
Now this part was different than other afternoon teas I've done before. Usually you just select the type of tea you want, and they bring you a personal pot of it to refill at your leisure. But here, they had a waitress serve the tea, and you try all 3 flavors. I would've preferred my own pot so I can refill my cup on my own. And neither of us were fans of the Chamomile so I had to wait awhile before they started serving the Assam. The Chamomile was quite bitter, not mild like I'm usually used to. And I don't really like it in general, but he did, and he didn't like this one. He added some honey to it and it seemed to help a little. 
The Coconut Assam was interesting. Quite mild, not really sweet, but had a little nuttiness. The manager said this was his personal favorite, and the crowd pleaser, when he made his introductions. I thought it paired extremely well with the shortbread cookie. 
The Pu-Erh was the one we both wanted to try the most. My parents and I actually drink a lot of it at home. It's a very dark tea. It has a very unique smell and taste. I want to say it's a little like licking a tree bark, but in a good way. haha. I guess it's just a bit more herbal/woody tasting. And the flavor of this particular one was actually milder than what I drink at home. The dark color just gives the impression that the flavor is going to be pretty strong. We both liked this the best. 
Also, during the transition of different teas, a guy comes around with a jar and pours any remaining tea from our cups into it. I wondered why they don't give us new cups... It didn't bother either of us, but I would think hardcore tea connoisseurs would say the previous flavor is contaminating the next? Eh... we're not experts. haha. It was just something I noticed.

On to the food! Everything looked so quaint and delicate. I love miniature/finger foods. Always so tasty looking.

Goat Cheese Brioche (pumpkin butter, sage, salted pepita brittle). Y'all know I'm not a fan of goat cheese but I had to try a little anyways. It was quite goat-y... but I liked everything else. The pumpkin butter was a pretty orange and slightly sweet with the savory goat cheese. I loved the pepita brittle with that extra crunch. I just scraped most of the goat cheese off and gave to my fiance.

Lobster Mousse Napoleon (celery, spiced tapioca, soy caviar). This was interesting. There was a piece of lobster on the top and it was cooked perfectly. The soy caviar was done with molecular gastronomy. They did explain that they wanted to take classic afternoon tea foods and put a twist on it. The white puff on top was actually dehydrated tapioca balls and then fried! Cool! 

Ham Mousse Eclair (parmesan tuille, mustard caviar, bonfire salt). Totally cute and yummy. It was like a ham and cheese sandwich but fancier! The bottom was an eclair half, then ham mousse, topped with parmesan tuille, mustard caviar, and 2 little donut balls. It had a lot of flavor in that little bite. The mustard was a great addition to the other flavors. 

Deviled Egg Sandwich (tomato chutney, tomato meringue). This was our favorite. It was fantastic! Pretty AND delicious. I love a good deviled egg and I loved the presentation of it. How did they manage to cut out little perfect squares of egg white is beyond me. And the neat little piping of egg yolk on top. YUMM-O!

I had a friend that went a few weeks before me and she said that they were able to get more of the items they liked best. So we went in thinking that we can get refills on whatever we wanted...which cause my fiance to eat everything faster. haha. But half way thru, we were starting to think that wasn't the case. We asked the waitress that served the tea, if the food was one per person or if we can get more, and she said it was whatever is displayed for us. :( Uh-oh. haha. We were both a little disappointed. But later, when the manager came over, I asked him again. He explained that if the kitchen made extras or if they had some cancellations, then usually they are able to bring out more by request but it isn't always the case. He then asked us which ones we liked the best, we said the deviled eggs and ham mousse, and he winked and said they might have some more in the back. Yay! He later came out with 2 more deviled eggs and a ham mousse. He was fantastic btw, not just because he gave us more food. :P Very friendly, warm, and introduced the food/experience well.

Huckleberry Buckle. This was already on the tower when we arrived. It was one of my favorite items. Kind of like a scone, moister than a biscuit but drier than a muffin. The frosting on top was a perfect ratio to the pastry. It paired SO WELL with all the teas. 

The last 3 desserts came out at the end. (From left to right)
Manjori Ancho Tart. It's a dark chocolate tart. I think he said 65% dark or something? It's very dense and rich, and had a spicy kick. It was too dark for my fiance so I got to eat half of his! :) 
Vanilla Yogurt Sandwich (with lavender). I think they said this was made with their house-made croissant dough. The cream is infused with lavender. I'm allergic to the smell of lavender so I was hesitant to eat this. I tried a teeny bit of the cream and didn't taste anything other than yogurt. He told me not to eat it... and it wasn't worth eating. He wasn't a fan.
Passion Berry. This was so good!! A heavy contender to the Huckleberry Buckle. I love passion fruit and it pairs so well to the marshmallow and cocoa nibs. The passion fruit was sweet, refreshing, and a little tangy. It was nice to end the meal with that bite.

Before we were finished, they gave every person 2 macarons to go. We got a chocolate and I'm not sure what the other flavor is. The chocolate wasn't that great... kinda chewy, but the other one is airy and nice, as it should be. 

It was a great time. The whole event lasted about 2 hours. It was nice to just sit back, relax and enjoy the moment. And my fiance enjoyed himself. Some things were different than I expected but overall I really liked it. The service was great, presentation was classy, the setting was intimate and the food was yummy. The price included tax and tip and valet already so I thought it was very reasonable. Generally afternoon teas are not cheap. I recommend this for a girl's day out, or if you just enjoy afternoon tea. They only have one service each day so you don't feel rushed at all, and you get your fill. We were both quite full after it all. And there's no dress code, but I noticed that most people were at least in nice casual attire.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Post Thanksgiving in Austin - Odd Duck and Lick Ice Creams

Oh man... it's almost Christmas! And I haven't even finished my Thanksgiving posts yet!! Time flies...

Well, to continue on the culinary trip in Austin, we had dinner at Odd Duck. They also used to operate out of a trailer. When it closed, I was so sad because I never got to try it. Then I found out they opened an actual restaurant! Yay! I immediately called for reservations.

Odd Duck
1201 S Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 433-6521
Price: $$-$$$

Unfortunately there weren't great times available for a Saturday night dinner. And they told me they don't really take reservations between 6-8ish because the traffic is so high. So I went ahead and reserved for 5:45PM for 5 people. We were driving back to Dallas later that night anyways so an early dinner may not be so bad.

As the day went on, my fiance's parents decided to join us. I called to see if we could add 2 more people and they told me it would be an hour and half wait. Eeeeks! But we decided to go and chance it anyways.

I really love the outside design of the building. (You can see a nice picture of it on their website.) And the inside was cool too. Kind of rustic-chic. It's not a big place. I checked in with the hostess. She was very nice but said it was about an hour for a group of 7, but she's going to see what they can do. I told them we can sit separately if need be. In the mean time, we ordered some drinks.

Draft Apple Cider Moscow Mule (house ginger beer, apple cider, citrus, vodka) $8~ (right)

Hendricks Gin and Lemonade. (left) This is kinda my go-to drink now. I absolutely love Hendricks Gin, so refreshing.

I went to check in with the hostess after about 15-20 minutes, and she told me there was a table that is late for their reservation and have not called them. So if they pass their 15 min window, then we can have their table. And... to our luck, they were no-shows! Sweet! So I think we maybe waited about 30-40 minutes or so? Didn't feel like a long time. They still had to put us in 2 tables for 4, but it was next to each other.

Odd Duck's menu is pretty small and it's more tapas style. Smaller plates and everyone shares. However, for the smaller plates the prices weren't equally small. haha. I've realized that for most tapas places actually. Tricky.... XP

Since we had 2 separate tables, we ordered separately, but passed everything among the 2 tables. hehe.

Pretzel (ham and cheese, mustard bechamel) $6~ 
These were so cute! I love the presentation in the mug. They gave 1 pretzel for each person. The ham and cheese is baked inside the pretzel. And the mustard bechamel was divine! Rich and creamy and just a bit of tang from the mustard. Paired perfectly with the soft but chewy pretzel. We tried to keep the cup with the leftover bechamel. But at some point it got taken away. haha.

Today's Taco (pigs ears $5~ each). 
We got 2 of these to split among 4-5 of a bite per person essentially. It had really good flavor. I think the tortilla was corn but I didn't mind it. Usually I hate corn tortilla cuz of the flavor but this was very mild. I was excited about the pigs ears but I've had better. I'm not sure how they cooked it but it was too soft. Pigs ears are supposed to be a little chewy and crunchy since there's a thin layer of cartilage between the skin. I wanted more of that texture.

Lamb Kebab (meyer lemon relish, green chile hummus) $7~ 
This was surprisingly good. You know me... I don't like lamb. But the gaminess wasn't bad at all, and it was an explosion of flavor. I really loved the hummus as well, especially with the raisins which added a burst of sweetness.

Roasted Beets (borscht, dill, creme fraiche, chips) $8~ This was interesting, lots of textures and different flavors. I wouldn't order it again, but enjoyed it.

I really liked how their plates and cups all have different designs. Very eclectic, and quite homey.

Buckwheat Crumpet (broccoli, fondue, maitake, hazelnut, duck egg) $14~ 

I thought this sounded really interesting. It was so cute on the afternoon tea-esque plate. A play on tea and crumpets, I'd imagine. hehe. Small portion but sooooo good. This was my favorite dish of the night even though everything else was delicious. I loved the texture of the crumpet. Kinda like a fluffy pancake? But the size of a biscuit. This dish was rich and comforting. The duck egg and fondue made it so creamy. The hazelnuts were a great addition. It added texture and nuttiness. So many flavors and yet it looks so simple. I'd get one just for myself next time. haha.

Cast Iron Pintos (pancetta, grilled cabbage, sage) $11~ 
The other table ordered this and I got a bite. I'm usually not a fan of pinto but this was so good. The beans were creamy and you get the flavor and fattiness from the pancetta but then the frisee on top added freshness and crispness. And the kitchen accidentally made us a second one so we got more of this for free!

Grilled Bacon (corn pudding, chanterelles, mustard greens) $14~ 
This was my #1 pick from the menu to order. I love bacon and all the elements are some of my favorites too. I love corn and mushrooms! The bacon was smokey and flavorful, with just enough fat. And I thought it was plated beautifully.

Spaghetti (fennel pork sausage, egg yolk, mint) $13~ 
This was my 2nd favorite dish. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. The sausage was yummy and I loved the snow pea leaves in there. We eat a lot of snow pea leaves in Chinese cooking but it's very rare in western cuisine. So I'm always surprised when I see it.

Special of the Day: Pork Chop (almost 1 lb., collard greens, apple, mustard, topped with chicharrons) $26~ 
This was an impressive looking plate. So much bigger than anything else we ordered. It's like an edible forest! So pretty with all the different colors and textures. The flavors all worked together. I loved the mustard seeds and the collards. The apples provided a nice refreshing crunch. The pork itself was delicious, but I think about 1/3rd of it was pure fat. So it wasn't really a pound of actual meat...

Risotto (sunchoke, goat cheese, truffle oil) $13~ 
Keeping with the "forest" theme... also a beautiful plate. I knew this had goat cheese in it... and I could taste it, although not super strong. It still wasn't for me. The risotto was creamy and cooked well though. Everyone else loved it.
Most of the portions are pretty small. But when you order a lot of them, you still get full! :P Everyone was pretty full but I wanted to try one of the desserts. (of course. hehe)

Coconut Rice Pudding (horchata, ginger, butternut) $7~ 
This came in an unassuming little bowl. The white stuff on top is granita. The creamy rice pudding is underneath and there are little chunks of butternut squash and candied ginger throughout. Initial bite... whoa! The mixture of textures and the cold rice pudding with the super cold granita was pretty amazing. It was refreshing yet rich. I loved the butternut and ginger... and usually I don't like heavy ginger flavors. Really great way to end the meal. It was weird... my fiance didn't like it. But oh well, more for me! :)

It was a great meal, everyone enjoyed themselves. The food was fantastic. We got to try some incredible flavors and combinations. And a big thank you to my fiance's dad who picked up the bill before anyone knew what was going on. That was super sweet of him. Our waitress was very nice and explained the menu well. And I really appreciate the hostess taking care of us and being really friendly in the process. I highly recommend Odd Duck, just make sure you make reservations!

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Oh... and a little something extra. I discovered, while getting ready to leave Odd Duck, that Lick Honest Ice Cream shop was really close by. Since we're leaving that night... why not another stop first? :P We decided to walk... it's about a 15 min walk from Odd Duck.

Lick Honest Ice Creams
2032 South Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 363-5622
Price: $

They use pure, whole ingredients and locally source their dairy. And they have some very interesting flavors! Such as Cilantro Lime, and Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint. They also have some vegan flavors too. It's a really small shop, not for lingering, but we were getting it to go anyways.

I got a waffle cone with 2 scoops: Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie and Coconut Avocado Curd
Both flavors were fantastic. Although I wished it was richer/creamier. All the ice cream I sampled seemed a little more watery than say Ben & Jerry's or Baskin Robbins. Maybe that's because of their ingredients. Still good though, probably better too because it's lighter.

Pretty good ice cream. Definitely very unique flavors. A bit pricey, which I can understand from the ingredients point of view. It's a nice treat to have if you decide to cut out foods with artificial ingredients. :)

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS~~ Stay tuned for my Christmas food festivities. :)