Saturday, July 26, 2014

Best Chicken Pot Pie, Shrimp Enchiladas, Vietnamese Pho… Part 2 of Rob’s Best in Austin

Thank you for making the first installment of our “Best of Austin” series one of our most downloaded stories of the year. But we’re just getting started. We have a lot of favorites and we’d like to share more of them with you. Again, this is completely subjective: no polls were attempted or even contemplated. So sit back and enjoy Part 2 of Rob’s Best!

Best Chicken Pot Pie

Without question Zed’s in the Tech Ridge Center wins this one. Their Chicken Pot Pie is a study in wonderfully nuanced flavors. a delightful crust, and an absolutely delicious creamy sauce that binds everything together. The vegetable-to-chicken ratio is spot on and texture is also good. I thought the Casserole Queens were numero uno until I tried Zed’s. And they present it in a lovely white ceramic bowl that completes everything.

Best Vietnamese Pho

This was a tough one as I have many favorites. But I have to go with Hao Hao at William Cannon and Manchaca. Kevin and Lynn have stayed the course in this little strip mall pleasure palace and the soups are absolutely riveting. I love the Shrimp Pho for its simplicity and searing flavors. Since I’ve been watching carbs, I sometimes hold the rice noodles and get extra cabbage and bean sprouts instead. Either way the wonderful beef broth and the succulent shrimp light up the bowl. And the Pho Bo Bien with its tender meatballs is another smash. And try the Can Chua Ga, a Vietnamese hot and sour chicken soup with cabbage and pineapples is a longtime favorite.

Best Bone-in Ribeye

The first time I met chef Jamie Guttierez he was so nervous that a food critic was in the house that he literally forgot to cook the lamb chops. They came out looking great but were absolute tartar on the inside. But has Jamie’s career taken off. He holds court at III Forks on Lavaca these days and his Bone-In ribeye is a succulent, lip-smacking paen to all that’s right in the world of steaks. So hats off to Jamie and III Forks. Again, this was a very difficult choice given all the great downtown steak joints. But III Forks seems to capture the essence of this wonderful steak better than anyone.

Best Foie Gras

Another difficult chocie but I had to go with Jeffrey’s on West Lynn. The preparation of the liver of a duck or goose is a time-consuming process and Jeffrey’s has delivered time after time. Their seared foie gras is a remarkable dish with stunningly complex yet rewarding flavors. I had thought that Thomas Keller’s terrine of foix gras at Bouchon in Las Vegas was the best ever but then I went back to Jeffrey’s. And again, from David Garrido and all the great chefs who followed, they blew me away. And to the idiots who continue their mindless and dangerous assaults on restaurants who serve foie gras, I strongly suggest that they get a life.

Best Shrimp Enchiladas

Nilda de la Lata and her partners at El Sol y La Luna on 6th make shrimp enchiladas with a sour cream sauce that elevate the entire genre. I used to set my BlackBerry (before I got a iPhone) to buzz on Fridays at 11:30am so I could get there before they sold out. Each bite is a delicate pleasure and the texture is smooth and savory. And Nilda is as much fun as her food. The new location on 6th is bigger than the former cozy digs on South Congress and has a stage for live music.

Best Guacamole

You think there were a few contenders for this one? But it came down to Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Oak Hill. Their smashed guacamole with pumpkin seeds is so damned good that I often eschew the accompanying chips and just dig in with a fork. The flavors are beautifully complicated yet the end result is a devastatingly simple blast of amazing flavor. Kudos to Cantina Laredo for their table-side prep and to Casa Chapala as well. But for a non Mexican restaurant to win this says something about Jack Allen’s.

Best Chicken Paprika

This elusive Hungarian dish is a terrifically tasty and mellow preparation of sauteed chicken, onions, sour cream and noodles. And a slam dunk version can be had at the European Bistro in Pflugerville. Anni and Pieroschka dish up some food at this charming little spot that is both authentic and incredibly tasty. This dish is ultimate Hungarian comfort food and it simply has to be tried. My grandmother was an amazing chef, perhaps the best I have known, and she would have loved this dish!

Best Sweetbreads

Now this may not be everyone’s cup of tea (downing a thymus or pancreras), but for lovers of this dish, a new star has arisen on the firmament. Now than Zoot has rebooted, the winner is the Apatite Café at the Galleria behind Mandola’s Market. Chef David Burton Sanchez has taken this dish and elevated it to his own uncompromising standards. Lightly dusted in flour and sauteed in clarified butter, the flavor is this dish offers up first bite rushes that are almost astonishing. Kudos to Sanchez for his innovation and to Vail, CO for providing us with a new culinary superstar.

Best Injera and Ethiopian

It may not be much to look at but Karibu on East 7th is as authentic an Ethiopian restaurant as one can find in Austin. The dishes are healthy, lots of meats and vegetables, and the Injera (their uber-healthy bread) is the staple upon which all else is built. Injera is gluten free and literally serves as the plate for most dishes. The sauces and flavors soak into the bread and you literally wind up, happily i might add, eating the plate! Ask for Solomon.

Best Tacos (Specialty)

This category is almost impossible to make a precise determination. I mean, consider the taco joints that proliferate to nearly infinity around Austin. Yet, when all is said and done, the Lobster Tacos at Iron Cactus keep coming back as my go to choice. This dish is just about perfect. You get the real flavor from the lobster in a delicate cream sauce and the corn tortillas are the perfect complement. Each bite of each taco is an incredible taste experience and I often order the dish as an entree instead of the appetizer that it is.

Best New England style Fried Clams

You all know of my New England heritage and that I do tend to periodically bitch and moan about the lack of any great fried clams in the south. Well, Quality Seafood on Airport has taken a quantum leap forward and now offers fresh fried clams. Now these are whole fried clams, bellies and all, and not the odious clam strips that often try to pass for the real thing. They are dusted in flour and deep fried, and trust me, they are flat out good. Just squeeze on a little lemon, dip in the white tartar sauce and have at it. Crunchy, tasty, and offering that “ah ha” moment on first bite, these clams are such a pleasant surprise that Quality should get some kind of special consideration.