Tag Archives: tacos

Papa, Six-toed kitties & Bulgogi

Close to heaven here. Okay, in comparison to the -20 my Ottawa friends reported this morning. We woke at leisure…no puppy breath or tongue down the throat. No kitty wailing at the horror of not being fed at 5 am.

It promises to be 27 degrees in Key West today and at 10 am it looks promising.  We decide to walk over to the Hemingway Home around the corner to explore a bit. The grounds are small, the house while not overly large lends itself to the traditional Key West architecture, shuttered, hurricane-chic style of most places in the Key. Stately palms wave gracefully in the breeze and moisture permeates every nook and cranny of the estate.

IMG_3360 (1 of 3)The house itself disappoints. It has not preserved the essence of Hemingway. It seems a bunch of crazy cat ladies have  redecorated. I’m 100% sure Ernest did not hang lace cafe curtains in his kitchen that are adorned with cats. The conspicuous computer in the kitchen being a total “zipper in the monkey suit”.

What does make the estate special are the cats. Many descendants, from the original six-toed cat Hemingway received from a ship’s captain,  roam the property. They are part of the landscape.

IMG_3376 (2 of 3)50 cats currently reside there. Some are altered and a few are allowed to breed to continue the colony. According to Wikipedia, half the cats are polydactly but all carry the gene. The property hosts a cat cemetery. Hemingway named the cats after famous people and the tradition continues.

Lots going on in those paws...Since we rose late, we opted only for lunch today. Another triple D joint, Garbo’s Grill. Garbo’s, basically a food truck parked on Caroline Street,  backs on to another property which hosts a bar, shady seating and restrooms. Tacos are ordered and will take 15 minutes. Drinks are on ice in the cooler. Wanna beer? Head into the bar.

IMG_3401 (4 of 5)The bulgogi tacos are absolutely excellent, spicy with sriracha, juicy and over full. Purple cabbage adds a nice crunch.

IMG_3403 (3 of 5)We also got an order of shrimp and fish tacos which was overkill. We did not realize these were 6 inch tacos, not 3 inch. The shrimp tacos were fine, but I find that deep fried shrimp are better suited to this treatment.

IMG_3407 (1 of 5)The fish tacos had very generous portions of excellent, meaty fish, cabbage and thin slices of ripe mango, topped with a creamy dressing.

IMG_3405 (2 of 5)Time to walk back to the inn, order a classic marg and chill by the pool on this gorgeous day.

RT6 – To Portland ME

Woke up early this morning to the sun and sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. We headed down to the harbour to check it out before heading to The Spot for breakfast. This little local dive, open to the outside from within, serves a tasty breakfast in a surf shack that is someplace between California and Polynesia. Surf company stickers, thatched awnings, palm trees, surf boards, leis, tiki carvings and a tropical fish tank, lend a bright, light-hearted, casual vibe. Chairs are comfy and there is a large patio.

I order the Ole burrito with chorizo, eggs, cheddar, red onion, black beans. A small bottle of no-name, mild hot sauce, fresh guacamole and sour cream come on the side. Rob ordered a “make-your-own” omelette, given the array of great looking ingredients. He asked for chorizo, banana peppers, avocado and cheddar, with a side of cafe potatoes and rye toast.

Coffee and orange juice arrives first. The coffee is, well, horrible. Undrinkable really.  OJ is from a carton. The Spot really could upgrade their drinks. Our breakfasts arrive next. The Ole is a beauty to behold. Eggy filling is divided between two nicely charred flour tortillas. The chorizo is abundant and flavourful, and the eggs are well scrambled and delicious. A very good breakfast “taco”. I found the serving size is really a bit too large. One taco was sufficient.

Rob’s omelette was tangy with spice and the avocado and cheese tempered the heat with creamier coolness. A perfect combo. Accompanying small red potatoes  were cooked on the flat top and seasoned with a spice mix, and the rye toast was cut thick. A great breakfast all in all.

Happily sated, we hit I-89, Portland, Maine bound.

The green mountain state of Vermont is picturesque, dotted with small farms and homesteads in the valleys. The mountain roads are cut through walls of shiny black shale, veined with copper coloured rock. I-89 is not cluttered with box stores and billboards.

At some point we cross unknowingly into New Hampshire. There is no sign to welcome us and we are denied a photo of a huge  “Live Free Or Die”. We will have to be satisfied with the mega liquor store that is planted at all access points to the state. We get off the highway in Manchester…major miscalculation. We thought we could grab a quick bite, but the entire town was under construction. After fooling Stella, our GPS into taking a detour to avoid the mess she was trying to lead us back into – we are back on the road. Soon we have the option of getting off the interstate and on to Route 1, a pleasant meandering drive through coastal Maine.

We hit gold right away. Rob spies a seafood shack roadside. 3 Buoys Seafood Shanty and Grille. So glad we waited out New Hampshire. We exit the car and stretch. 3 Buoys, a perfect dive shack, done up in nouveau fishing boat chic delivers exactly what we are looking for.

A homemade seaside business serving up fresh seafood. With the Olympics on the flatie, or should I say, the all-American games and some other teams of little or no interest, we order Blue Moons, clam strips and lobster rolls.

The clam strips are lightly seasoned and well fried. Not greasy. I pass on the tartar sauce. I was raised to eat them with ketchup like a good maritime Canadian.

The lobster rolls come with home made fries. The fries are hand cut but the oil wasn’t hot enough. They are just ok. The lobster rolls. The lobster rolls. Wow. Hot dog bun, split, buttered and made toasty good on the flat top, stuffed, really stuffed –  with lobster lightly dressed with mayo. Washed down with Blue Moon beer, it was exactly what the moment called for. The perfect storm. I cannot get it out of my mind. I will have another somewhere on our journey tomorrow. There is no shortage of shacks along the way.

Route 1 to Portland takes us past classic New England towns, bustling with tourists and residents this Monday. We passed small resorts, old school motels with turquoise cement pools, cafes, patios, clapboard houses with colourful shutters and antique stores. Nice to see the occasional Canadian and pride flags amongst the American. Past the little towns of Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunkport and Arundel, on to campgrounds and cottage country and finally into Portland, Maine. We settle in for a bit and decide on J’s Oyster for a late dinner. Portland has so many places of interest for dining but we have only one night here. J’s comes to us from Roadfood.com.

The oysterhouse is a three minute walk from our hotel so we set out on foot and explore a bit. J’s is right on the commercial wharf, which means seedy – but fresh. They do not take reservations and even though it is late on a Monday evening, we face a 30 to 40 minute wait. We take a seat on the windy dockside. There is patio seating but the night is quite cool, so we wait it out.

Eventually we are called and seated. J’s is dimly lit. The entire center of the room is occupied by the bar. There is seating around much of it. This is authentic wharf dive bar classic. Paper placemats with important lobster facts printed on them appear in front of us along with cheap cutlery. There is no water on the table and if you want rolls, you ask for them. Our waitress drops by with menus and we order Rolling Rocks to start. For apps we decide to share the garlic bread and crab and bacon stuffed mushroom caps. The caps are garlicky and have both a lot of crab and bacon.

I however seem to have developed an aversion to any meat paired with bacon. I love bacon. I love crab. I did not like the flavour combination. I believe though that the fault lies with me. The garlic bread was however, amazing. BEST EVER. A white hot dog bun split, spread with garlic butter and chives, then toasted on the flat top. Chewy, steamy, garlicky. Cheese on garlic bread only complicates things.

For our mains, I get the lobster pernod and Rob opts for the lobster scampi. My dinner arrives. Large chunks of lobster meat are lightly sauteed with mushrooms and cream with a dash of pernod, and served over linguine pasta. The lobster is wonderful and there is lots of it. I appreciate the light hand with the pernod but if I were to make this dish at home I would bump it up a bit because I love anise.

 

Rob’s lobster scampi was rich with butter, garlic, bell peppers and lobster. The luxurious and garlicky butter sauce was used as bread dip for both of us.

Both of our meals came with well made but completely unnecessary coleslaw. All in all, dinner at J’s was excellent, a great end to a long day of travel. We walked back along the harbourfront to our hotel, ready to make plans for tomorrow.

¡Hola from Chicago!

Another gorgeous, warm day in Chicago. Maureen wanted to shop for some Cowboy Boots and there’s a very large western wear outlet in a predominantly Mexican part of town, called Alcala. It’s bigger then the ones we’ve seen in Texas.

Now, Chicago is known for deep-dish pizza, Italian beef, hot dogs and bratwurst, reflecting the hearty European stock that settled the mid-west, and for the barbecue and soul food from its African-American population. Less well known outside of Chicago, but very present is the large Mexican community and the volume and quality of authentic Mexican cuisine they represent. So we thought we’d sample the Mexican food that Chicago offers today. We’re going to both ends of the spectrum, from the local humble taqueria to the internationally acclaimed powerhouse of Latin cuisine.

Great Urban Spoon reviews took us to El Taco Veloz for a late breakfast/early lunch. It’s exterior is brightly painted and festive. As we walk through the door we can see the small kitchen up front, in the window, where one of the cooks is cutting up a mountain of poblano peppers — a very good sign. The interior is as brightly coloured, the walls covered in what can only be called “Festive Mexican Amateur Tromp L’oeil”. The room was filling up with local road workers on lunch break and one poor hungover local next to us, with a comforting bowl of pozole with lime, raw onions and tortillas, as well as a side of grilled baby onions and lime.

Everything on the menu looks great and the prices were so low, we asked the server how much food people typically ordered. On her advice we orders two gorditas each with beans and rice. A gordita, despite what you’ve seen in the Taco Bell commercials, is a soft, puffy frybread made with masa harina (corn flour), fried on a flat top to “bake” and then sliced halfway through to accommodate all kinds of amazing goodies. Maureen chose one with pork al pastor and one with cheese and poblanos. I opted for the poblanos as well and one with “barbacoa“, which is beef cooked over an open fire that’s then pulled and is the origin of the word “barbeque”.

Each plate had refried beans, Mexican rice (complete with lima beans, peas and other veggies) and a small adornment of shredded lettuce. The beans were fine, but far from being the star of the show. The rice was classic Mexican rice — made by Mexicans — meaning it was hand made and mixed and built from the ground up.

The gorditas were soft and luscious. The poblano version was rich with melted queso and mild, fried poblanos, a tremendous combination. The pork al pastor was well-seasoned, although we couldn’t detect the signature pineapple flavour in the marinade or the sauced pork, but it was great nonetheless. The barbacoa was rich with char-grilled flavour.

Dinner is a reprise of a visit to Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill, an upscale Mexican eatery, that celebrates the best of their regional cuisines and ingredients. We’re not going to give you the full run down because we’ve done it before.

After a couple amazing Micheladas, we settled into dinner, starting with  a trio of ceviches:

  • Frontera Ceviche (albacore, tomato, olive)
  • Yucatecan Ceviche (shrimp, squid, orange, cucumber)
  • Tropical Tuna Cocktail (big eye, avoado-tomatillo, mango salsa)

Maureen chose a main of Carne Asada Brava — Serrano-marinated, grass-fed Tall Grass flank steak, salsa huevona (hand-crushed, grill-roasted tomatoes, jalapeños). Grilled knob onions and sweet corn tamales with crema & fresh cheese. It was spicy, but well-balanced by the slightly-sweet tamale and cooled by the crema.

I had the Chipotle-glazed Gunthorp Farm pork back ribs, with tangy cabbage, black beans. The waiter warned us it was spicy. I like it spicy so I had a “bring it on” attitude. I figured I had the beans and the coleslaw to cool things down if it got out of hand. My first bite was of the beans. Damn, they were spicy. The next was of coleslaw, which was full of julienne jalapenos and Mexican chile-pickled carrots and they used the vinegar from the pickles as the dressing for the cole slaw. Turned out I was using the ribs, that I was warned were spicy, as a respite from the rest of the plate. They were spicy and smoky with enough sweetness in the glaze to give me some relief.  Well…that and the cold Pacifico beer I was nursing (or was it nursing me?). The ribs were wonderful.

With burning lips, we went out to enjoy our last night in the city.

Food Truck Day

Today is food truck day! Our goal: to have all of our meals at Austin food trucks around the city. Food truck culture is well ensconced here and there are a large number of choices available to hungry meal seekers. Every type of food is represented, across enthnicities, styles, and trends, for breakfast, lunch and dinner and from the basic to the hautest of haute.

These aren’t your father’s chip wagons. In Austin and other cities, food trucks are a lower cost alternative for a chef with vision to open a food business and to get known, gain a following and to be self-sufficient. The overhead and start-up costs are considerably lower. The nature of the competition is different as well as access and ambiance are taken out of the equation. The focus is on the food.

Our first stop of the day was one of Austin’s original and very popular food truck businesses, Torchy’s Tacos. One of the deciding factors for choosing Torchy’s was that only a small fraction of the trucks are open earlier in the day. Most open around 11:30 for the lunch crowd.

Torchy’s had a large assortment of Tacos available. I chose breakfast variants, chorizo and egg and a migas taco (egg, onion, green pepper, cheese and crisp tortilla strips). Both came with mild red sauce and a green sauce with a green chile kick.

Maureen ordered a “Dirty Sanchez” (probably just so she could say she did) and a green chile pork carnitas taco. The Dirty Sanchez had egg, poblano pepper that was battered and deep fried and dressed with guacamole, escabeche carrots and cheese. The other was stuffed with lots of pork carnitas,  green chile, cilantro , raw onion and soft queso cheese, with a mild herb creamy sauce.

Often tacos ordered this way can be quite small, and the idea is to order a few. These were not that kind. They were larger and full to the top with their fillings. All were delicious and were a great start to the day.

Torchy's Tacos on Urbanspoon

Our second stop was 400 feet down the road.

Gourdough’s specializes in big-ass doughnuts with exotic flavours. Among the 20 or so varieties that all look spectacular. After some major consternation we finally settle on one each.  Ordinarily we might order more and have a taste of each, but these doughnuts were $4.50 each, signaling that they were substantial in size.

I originally asked for the “Flying Pig”, with Bacon and a maple syrup glaze. After all that work of whittling the offerings down to a single choice, I was told that they were out of bacon. So back to the menu board. My plan B choice was  “Porkey’s”, a doughnut with cream cheese and jalapeño jelly topped with Canadian bacon.

Maureen choose a “Sarah’s Joy”, a doughnut with coconut cream filling, frosted with chocolate and covered with large, coarse coconut flakes.  Doughnuts are fried to order so when they called our names, the just-topped donuts were warm and very fresh. And large. Very large — a little wider than a CD in diameter, with no hole.

First mine: The fresh yeasty dough, the cream cheese and the jalapeño jelly were perfect together, not needing the superfluous bacon as it didn’t add or take away from the experience. Although, “Superfluous Bacon” is a very good name for a rock band. Maureen’s, however, was hands-down too sweet. The coconut cream was quite sweet and chocolate icing killed any chance the doughnut had left to be enjoyed. A word to bakers: Chocolate icing obliterates all other flavours — it’s strong and sweet and is almost always paired with more delicate ingredients that can’t stand up to it. Even chocolate cake suffers for it.

All was not lost, however. These are big doughnuts, so I happily gave up half of mine.

Gourdough's on Urbanspoon

Mid-afternoon we headed to our choice for a late lunch, called Fat Cactus, a truck that specialized in combining a couple of our favourite things: they made tacos and  sandwiches using Navaho fry bread, a crispy, fluffy, rich flat bread (similar to a Beaver Tail for our Ottawa-based readers). But alas, they were sold out by the time we got there… That’s an important lesson to learn for food truck aficionados — get it while you can.

The good news was that we were across the street from one of the largest collections of food trucks in Austin along South Congress. We looked at the many offerings, ranging from Cajun/Creole, to cupcakes, sausages, shaved ice treats, assortments of food cooked and put in cones and the one we selected, Thai. Food trucks often have great names built on puns and ours was no exception. “Coat & Thai” served the full range of Thai and near-Thai specialties.

We ordered red curry, pineapple fried rice, spicy Thai chicken wings and crab rangoon. A few minutes later our number is up and we bring it back to one of the communal picnic tables in the area. Everything is hot, home-made and delicious.

The fried rice has a subtle heat and is full of plump shrimp, pineapple, cilantro and vegetables. The red curry is medium spicy with a cilantro backbeat and goes very well on rice. Our chicken wings have that sweet, spicy Thai chili sauce on them and are addictive. Lastly, the crab rangoon (crab and cream cheese in a dumpling and deep fried — not a Thai dish, but an American invention first served at Trader Vic’s as faux Polynesian food) was creamy, and cooked so it was still tender. Lovely.


Coat and Thai on Urbanspoon

We headed out at about 8PM for our dinner spot, G’raj Mahal, and Indian food truck that has stretched the boundary of what could still be called a food truck. It started out as a trailer and some tables, but while the trailer is still the kitchen, they’ve added some semi-permanent structures to provide shelter for the tables and now have a seating capacity of about 60 people across three areas, and recently added full table service with waitstaff. You can also BYOB and many tables were making a night out of good food, company and wine. It’s still outside, the kitchen is in a trailer and it had humble beginnings, so it’s a food truck.

The theme is Indian food and their specialty is Goan cuisine, known for its use of coconut milk, seafood and chilies. We order some naan bread, sag paneer (Indian cheese with pureed spinach in curried cream), dahl, tandoori shrimp, chicken malabar (sweet coconut in caramelized onion cream sauce), and Goan Coconut Curry (Shrimp with freshly grated coconut, simmered with chilies).

The food is made with the freshest ingredients and the chef shies away from the usual artificial colours and shortcuts used by many Indian restaurants. This is without a doubt, the best Indian food I have ever had. The spice level of the food that the chef designates as “spicy” is well within our comfort zone. The coconut dishes are terrific. Sweet, nutty, spicy and creamy all at once. The creamy and rich sag paneer was also a standout. As with all really good Indian food, it’s impossible to stop eating! It takes almost superhuman strength to resist that last piece of naan soaked in the coconut curry.


G'Raj Mahal on UrbanspoonThat’s it for Food Truck Day. The variety and quality are both outstanding. Great food cities like New York, San Francisco, Portland and Austin are seeing more and more food trucks emerge as a key force in the culinary evolution of the city. One will only hope that other cities (Ottawa: hint, hint!) will change their minds about the crippling regulations that they have stacked against these businesses and will ensure they are allowed to flourish. Cities can only be better for it.

Austin!

Touched down just after noon on Friday. Up since 4 am we are tired and hungry. Austin is overcast and a light rain falls but it is also verdant with spring, mild and the birds are singing, with the bonus of being sans slush and the treachery that is our Ottawa driveway currently.

Rob and I have been to Austin on two other occasions for all-too-brief stops on road trips, so we already have a basic lay of the land and some favorite places to grab a bite. We make an easy decision. Gueros!


Guero's Taco Bar on Urbanspoon

Despite the drizzle, South Congress is alive and buzzing on this Friday mid-afternoon. We luck into a parking spot across from the restaurant and head in. Guero’s is packed but has a couple of free tables. We get seated and first up: Margaritas! We already know Guero’s does ’em right. They offer about 15 margs with different tequilas. We order The Don, February’s featured marg made with Don Julio tequila, Triple Sec, fresh lime juice, rocks, salted rim for me, no salt for Rob. Our drinks arrive with a slice of lime and starting to sweat. Guero margs are in short glasses and are about twenty shades paler than the neon chartreuse abomination that the unfortunate think is a real margarita. Ooooh! Goes down easy after our long day.

Drinks arrive with complimentary, well made corn tortilla chips and two house salsas. The first, a smooth, roasted tomato chile dip provides a nice spicy burn. The second is a fresh, chunky pico de gallo with a hint of creaminess provided by some chopped avocado. I’m not sure which I prefer. Both are great with a margarita. I do immediately regret wearing a white shirt however.

Starving, we select a few apps off the menu to share. Tacos Al Pastor and Chorizo Quesadillas. The tacos are small, open-faced and piled with spiced pork and pico de gallo laced with coriander and fresh pineapple. They come with lots of fresh lime. The quesadillas keep me coming back to Guero’s. The soft, pillowy flour tortillas (corn are also available) are sumptuous with just enough cheese, chorizo and spiced oil rendered from the meat to glue the tortillas together. A generous helping of guacamole and sour cream for spooning up with each bite makes these the perfect marg-soaking-up food. With our bellies content we head to the hotel to check in and have a much needed nap.

Refreshed and ready to roll, we select the Iron Cactus for dinner because we can walk there. We are only a block from 6th street which is hopping on a Friday night despite the rain. The Iron Cactus, a large two story affair here in Austin, has a few locations in Texas, much like the Lone Star in Ontario minus the fake Texas crap and waiter named Durango. We have a 15 minute wait at the bar where the tender tells us they make a  mighty good margarita. We bite. They have a pretty good array of tequila behind the bar. He makes us a decent drink with fresh lime and agave nectar. It’s good but a tad too sweet. Not bad though. The bar is noisy on a Friday. We are by a factor of two, the oldest people in the joint. Oddly the sound track beckons to us: The Zombies, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Tom Petty and Steppenwolf.

Iron Cactus on UrbanspoonAfter we are seated, I order a local beer, Fireman Four. Complimentary chips with two roasted chile -tomato salsas, one warm, one cold arrive. Chips are good and the salsas tasty. We order a Chile Con Queso app. It arrives in a cast iron pan, thin and white with a few chunks of chilies and tomato. Quite average but really good when sharing a chip with the mildly spicy roasted salsas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For mains we are sharing an order of shrimp and pork carnitas fajitas. The dish arrives hot but not sizzling.  The pork is in good sized chunks, sweet and nicely spicy. The shrimp appear to be wild caught as they have an intense shrimpy taste and are smokey sweet. Accompanying the proteins are nicely sauteed onions, poblanos, and red peppers. The flour tortillas (again corn are offered) are soft and perfect. Our mains come with a choice of beans. We both opt for the bacon onion beans which are very good but not sweet. The Mexican rice is dull and the classic fajita fixins are fine but in our book cheese is a no no and the guacamole had been set out too far in advance and had started to oxidize which is unappetizing.

We head back to our hotel via 6th Street, Austin’s bar and restaurant scene. Lots of colourful characters and live music spill out into the street. Can’t wait to check it out!