wine

You May Not Know This About Me

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Both of these pictures are of me.

I have struggled with a variety of eating disorders over the years. In fact, I think my earliest memories are of the comforting feeling McDonald’s gave me when my mom woke me up in the middle of the night with the smell of French fries and the scratchy sounds of napkins being pulled from paper bags. (She worked late nights, and I had an obsessive, irrational fear that she would die in a car wreck.) When I smelled late night fast food: I knew she was home safe, and that it was finally time for me to eat.

I won’t begin to touch on the pains of being an obese kid or teenager, but at least you can see a small part of where it all began. I decided to have weight-loss surgery at age 20, and had it reversed (against my wishes) within a year because it became abundantly clear that I had gamed my surgery for bulimia, and lost too much weight, too quickly. I learned the mindset required to starve myself, and continued to shrink without the surgery. I thought I’d be happy when I got to 120 110 98 lbs., but believe me: it’s never enough.

In a weird twist of fate, I won a stack of wine books in a drawing. I wasn’t into wine, but I’m the type that has to read every book in my house, and so I did. I learned that a glass of wine could contain endless flavors and aromas; things that I once ate, which were now a distant memory, were now accessible in a glass that contained far fewer calories than the dishes themselves. Some reds could smell of gamey meats, blueberry cobbler, or even cherry pie. Champagne contained lemon zest and yeasty bread, and Chardonnays were (some would argue unfortunately so) full of butter.

My obsession with wine grew, and I attended every class and tasting I could find. Given that wine is almost always served with food, I think you can see where the story goes. I was slowly reintroduced to eating, and eating well at that; I became less and less afraid of nibbling the bits of cheese that accompanied my Pinot. Over the years I became healthy, then slightly overweight, and then healthy again. My life became a balancing act: I did not want to miss out on the things that gave me pleasure, but I did not want to overindulge and face feeling extremely uncomfortable in my plump, loose skin. These days I try to eat a low-carb diet, and work out every day at lunch. I try not to starve myself. I never throw up on purpose. I wear short shorts because I feel good about my body.

And yes, sometimes I still see myself as incredibly fat. I love food, and I hate that I wasted so much time fearing it. I remember visiting France and only allowing myself a croissant and an Orangina most days, crying and trying to purge it somehow if I allowed myself anything else. My days are spent tottering on a mental tight rope: I never want to be obese again, and I never want to let that obsession with being skinny take hold.

This is a very personal post, and I hope you will all respond with sensitivity. I have been working on an autobiography off and on for many years now, and I felt that sharing this might help inspire me to finish it, and to quit fearing what others might think if they knew this about me.

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All Night Long: Monday’s Best Happy Hours

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If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s being swanky on a budget. Here’s a list of some of my favorite happy hours that last well after the usual 7 o’clock cut-off:

Hillside Farmacy: Enjoy half price east coast oysters, and $5 cava.

East Side Show Room: Fancy cocktails for $5, and discounted snacks (such as pork ribs).

Olive + June: Half off piccoli piatti and wines by the glass.

The W: $6 wines and local spirits, $5 bites, and $4 beers.

Jeffrey’s: Half price bar food, and $2 off drinks.

Peche: $5 cocktails, and half off select menu items.

Eddie V’s: $1 Louisiana oysters, $6 wine and cocktails, and a lot of delicious, discounted food.

Winebelly: Select bottles are half off.

Olivia: 30% off appetizers and bottles. $1 off drinks.

 

Media Tasting at Kenichi

Hamachi with Kung Pao Chili Oil
 You know who’s a big, fat jerk? I am. I enjoyed this beautiful media tasting at Kenichi over a month ago, and just now got around to writing about it. (I promise I live-tweeted the whole thing though.) My crazy life, which includes seeking a new day job right now, may have put blogging on a temporary hold, but no longer! Let’s talk about the amazing food I got to try.
Escolar
 The hamachi was the clear hit of the evening for me. If you make anything even slightly spicy I’ll be turned on by it. The escolar, and delicious pre-meal bites (they even had shishitos!!) were all top-notch. Zero complaints here, and I’m rather picky.
Seared Tuna
 The caramelized onions added a sweet element to the proscuitto-wrapped tuna.
Sea Bass
 I normally love sea bass, but my only hesitation on this was the sauce. I still enjoyed it immensely, but would’ve preferred to have the fish’s flavor shine through more than the sauce.
New York Strip?
Dessert was the perfect wrap-up to a perfect meal, that featured more courses than I have decent photos of. That’s right, there was more!! I loved that the dessert was served like a flight with many different tastes and textures. The ice cream egg in the nest was my favorite, my dining partner loved the chocolate, and the rest of the table went nuts for the cheesecake. There was truly something for everyone, and everything went beautifully – without ever being cloyingly over-the-top sweet. Each course had a sake or wine pairing, and I couldn’t have asked for a better dinner. 
Get thee to Kenichi tout de suite!

Lunch at Malaga

Shrimp Tapas

Malaga is a Spanish tapas bar tucked away near the end of the 2nd Street district. I’ve been in there for dinner before, but it was years ago and checking back on my old Yelp reviews… I didn’t necessarily love it. (Nor did I hate it.) I was bored around lunchtime, wandering through the area a few weeks ago, and decided to try them out for lunch.

Cheese-Stuffed Peppers

Their weekend lunch happy hour has discounted food and drinks. Day-drinking is a hobby habit of mine, and to grab some good $4.50 wine at 1:30 in the afternoon was a delight. 


Weekend Lunch Happy Hour(s)

The $10 lunch special I had allowed me to pick a few of my own tapas, and start it all off with a soup or salad. I went with the soup, a gazpacho, and it did not disappoint. I’d show you pictures of it if it wasn’t just so damn unphotogenic. I know that’s not a word.

Two Tapas Lunch

The tapas I chose were peppers stuffed with a creamy blend of cheeses, and shrimp served with aioli and a side of plantains. It was worth it for the money, and people-watching on the patio made it spectacular.

Overall, I think Malaga has a very decent lunch, but it’s been too long for me since I had dinner there to comment further. Just today I overheard two friends discussing how much they enjoyed brunch at this place, but I haven’t tried that yet. All I can say is, if you’re downtown on a weekend between 11:30-2, give lunch a chance.


Happy Hour at Fino

Anchovy-Stuffed Olives
Fino is a hidden gem nestled in a small shopping center near 30th and Lamar. Their fried olives are legendary, and their happy hour makes the short drive from downtown almost worth it.

Muhammara

The appetizers are reduced by a couple of bucks, and sparkling/rose wines are half off. If cocktails and beer are more your thing, those are going to be about $2 off each. Keep in mind that happy hour is only Monday-Thursday from 4-6. 
The muhammara (above) was an interesting mix of red pepper and walnuts. I’m pretty confident that it also was one of the few vegan options on the menu.

Tortilla Espanola and Potato Chips
The potato chips were served with a house made tomato aioli, and were more than alright. The “tortilla” dish however, was a disappointment.



The smoked salmon dish above doesn’t seem to be on the menu currently, but scouring their menus tonight I see one that look pretty similar (only now it involves vanilla, yogurt, and roe). I’d definitely go for that, because the dish above was my favorite at the table.
Overall, the food at Fino was interesting, but not mind-blowing. It was a great break from typical happy hour appetizer fare, and the location was beautiful. We had good service, and the enormous windows, comfortable patio, and knowledgeable staff were excellent bonuses.



La Dolce Vita Food & Wine Fest

Laguna Gloria
The beauty of attending one of Austin’s best food and wine festivals, is that you drink so much free alcohol that you struggle to recall all of the wonderful restaurants you just sampled. Lucky for you, I took notes.

Word of Mouth – Scallop


Word of Mouth was one of our first stops, showcasing delicious skewers of pork and scallops, all over a tangy slaw.

Tuna Tartare from Fleming’s Steakhouse


Fleming’s tartare surprised me with their inclusion of seaweed. I absolutely loved the light, refreshing dish during the exceptionally humid weather.

Lobster from Clark’s Oyster Bar


The line to try newcomer, Clark’s Oyster Bar, was intense. The massive amount of lobster served atop a tiny, homemade pancake made it worth it.

Sugar Circus


The dessert options seemed endless, but in retrospect, they had a good ratio of bakeries versus restaurants. I’m admittedly not often a sweets person. I  loved Sugar Circus for their inclusion of both boozy and vegan options.

Sugaplump’s Mini Cupcakes


By the time night fell, and my speech slurred, it was time for one last bite from Sugaplump Pastries. The cake balls were divine, and we were thankful for wearing “our stretchy pants.”

Was there 500 times more food than shown? Yes!
Is it worth the $125 ticket? Also yes!

I can’t wait for next year.

A Week in Chicago

We can’t eat out in Austin every day, so we decided to eat out in Chicago! You know us, we like expensive things for cheap, as well as ridiculously good food, and we found some delicious gems for you.


First off, the locals raved about a heavy metal themed burger joint called Kuma’s Corner. They also felt compelled to mention that Lady Gaga eats there, but I was more excited about the fact that you could swap any burger with a veggie patty.


My partner fell in love with the beer list. The beer shown above is possibly now his favorite beer ever, and that’s a hard title to win from him. I drank whisky. We both loved the menu and the insane burgers that they put together. 


I know everyone says you have to eat Chicago-style pizza when in Chicago, but we are rebels! We had thin and delicious pizza at Piece. Turns out that most of my friends in Austin had eaten there in the past, and mourned for more.


We had a bit of a twitter fiasco when I threw a fit over my partner ordering a white pizza with clams (I’m very much a sauce person, white pizzas contains no sauce), and wound up really liking the one piece I had. The rest of the entire pizza went into my partner before I could  reach for a second slice. I had to fill myself up the rest of the way with their beer menu.


We thought about going to Hot Doug’s, a place made famous on No Reservations, but our dreams of having a “Tony Tour” (Anthony Bourdain-inspired Chicago fest) were soon crushed. That place is insanely popular, so you’ll need to treat it like Franklin Barbecue. If you don’t feel like the wait, the good news is that the aforementioned Kuma’s Corner is just around the, well, corner.


I’m a recovering vegan, and still a huge fan of the veggie lifestyle, so Chicago Diner was a must for me. My partner hates all thing meatless or healthy, so he  found the one vegan item on the menu that resembled something from T.G.I. Friday’s (shown above). He was afraid of the “cheez,” but ended up loving it! I was surprised to find that I did too!


I ordered an avocado tostada, and those people do not f@&! around with avocado. Do you see that up there?! That’s an entire avocado! Also of note, Chicago Diner is located in Boystown, which is quite possibly the most fun part of Chicago, and they make a mean bloody mary.


One of the most awesome secrets in downtown Chi-town is Quartino. They joke that it’s where wine is cheaper than water, and they don’t lie. The clams weren’t pricey either. 


In fact, it was overall the best deal I found. I was eating scallops and drinking Bianco (around $5 got 1/4 litre), and not breaking the bank.


I didn’t think the fondue was all that great though.


Sorry. That was random.


Considering that Wicker Park/Bucktown was our stomping ground, we made a stop at The Bongo Room. I was not a huge fan of their prices or bloody mary, but their serving sizes were enormous.


I do mean enormous. You should’ve seen the other guests chowing down on monster-sized French toast. They looked happy. It’s a great spot for sweet-lovers with an enormous appetite, or at least a few people to share with.


There was a stop at Usagi-Ya, and it was decent. That hamachi appetizer, which I’ve turned into an elephant, was the best thing there. I’m still debating as to whether or not I liked the uni.


Our final morning was spent having Saturday brunch at LoKal. 


Those poor people made the mistake of letting us near their $7 bottomless mimosas, and I’m sure they regretted it. We drank A LOT. My French omelette, which I got to customize, was great, but never ending mimosas were better. For $9 I could’ve gone bottomless on bloodies, and for a little more, just straight bubbly. They have things on the menu like “Nutella Frites,” and overall they made our last morning phenomenal… Except for the part where we were stuck on the train and dying for bathrooms because we just had 6 mimosas each. I guess we deserved that.


That photo was taken at Signature Lounge, on the 96th floor. I don’t recommend eating or drinking there, but I do recommend running up, stealing the view, snapping some pictures, then running back down.

All in all, Chicago is now one of the greatest cities in America to me. I had never been before, and can’t wait to go back. I will definitely miss the food.

One last thing: Groupons work for alcohol there, unlike here in Texas, so use ’em! You’re welcome. 😉





Happy Hour at Uchi

Let me try to think of something about Uchi that no one has ever blogged about before…


How about “social hour?” (their fancy name for happy hour.) Surely no one’s truly covered that before, right? Let’s do it! All things pictured in this post (so far we have the seared escolar and the shag roll, about $6 each), except for the nigiri, are part of the discount from 5-6:30 every day!


People in Austin say that Uchi is impossible to get into, and impossible to afford. Lies! Get there around 5, especially if it’s on “date night,” and cozy up at the sushi bar. You can get full for under $50. We did. And we each had hot sake for under $5.


Odds are, you live in Austin, and already know that everything served is going to be perfect and blow your mind. That is mostly true, with the exception of the crunchy/spicy tuna roll. We weren’t exactly dazzled.


The nigiri, chef’s choice, seemed to be one of the greatest deals. When you do the math of ordering piece by piece or letting the chefs pick out 7, you come out ahead.


The hama chili, which we often order in a slightly larger quantity and price at Uchiko, was possibly the highlight of our social hour adventure.

The takeaway is obvious: Uchi is an option, even if you’re not rolling in the dough! Have a nice date night, drink some $7 white wine, and keep it fancy. 

Dinner at Barley Swine

Barley Swine is the greatest f@$&!*ing food I have ever had in my life. Just ask anyone that has ever been there. In fact, I’m here for the second time and live-ish blogging it right now.


Defintely sit at the bar. Do not question me on this. Just do it, and preferably on a Wednesday (we’re here right now and there’s zero wait, last Wednesday was just 30 minutes!).


There are more photos that I’m taking even now that I just don’t have time to edit and draw on. Just take my word for it: their menu listings don’t sound phenomenal, but they are in fact, better than Uchi. I said it.


I clearly showed up with a dessert fiend (not naming names *cough, cough “Errol!”*). I loved the locally sourced, fresh-focused menu, and despite being pescatarian, I was able to enjoy everything we ordered. The daily specials are not to be missed!


I know that I don’t have flowery words to describe the incredibly balanced blend of favors and textures in each dish, but nor do my friends that come here. They often say,”If I had to choose between Barley Swine and sex, I’d choose Barley.” If I eat here enough, that just might be the choice I have to make (goodbye, skinny jeans).


Overall, the plates are small, the food is more affordable than you think (though still up there), and the staff is phenomenal. I couldn’t decide if the chocolate ganache dessert worked better as a kitteh or a dragon do I’ll let you, the readers, decide for yourselves.



Happy Hour At Trio

Trio at Four Seasons holds the holy grail of all my happy hour delights.
$5 plates of delicious items like tuna tartare, ceviche, chicken fried steak bites, and crispy brussels.


The big draw for me is half-off wine (over 30 choices by the glass!); these deals are available Monday through Saturday from 5-7.


The outdoor grounds are unbelievable. You can view Town Lake, the bats, and joggers from the most serene settings I’ve ever found in Austin.

Go to Trio, sit at the bar, and hope that you get Suzy (my all-time favorite bartender).