Friday, July 29, 2005



In my book, Shalimar has a storied past. Honestly, I wish it weren't so storied. Ah.. the old days... before the ownership change.... before the food turned to evil. 'Twas the best South Asian food in Austin (arguably).

[minute of silence]

The old glory days of Shalimar are over, but I'm trying to forget about that. I won't go into what used to be good there, etc. Consider the universe to have begun right after the ownership change, which was mid-2004, I believe. After that, I went there a couple of times, tried some of the "new" recipes, and promptly locked myself in my house for a few days so as not to vent my frustration on the wrong people.

Weeks later, with a clear mind and zero expectations, I went in for another try and was shocked to discover one spectacular menu item, the Dal Fry.

Fast forward a few months, to this past weekend. I paid another visit there and decided to play it safe, so I ordered the Dal Fry again, with a naan. My friend ordered the Palak Paneer, also with a naan. We shared.

Naan: Highly edible. That's still great here. Looks like the best naan in Austin now that Bismillah no longer exists. Served piping hot with a bit of ghee drizzled on top.

Dal Fry: [drool].... This is one of those items... so tasty that it seems like it ran out before you even sat down. The best dal in Austin that I've had. Such a rich flavor.... I can still picture it on my toungue. [still drooling]

[still drooling]

Palak Paneer: There are two general categories of palak paneer that I've had. One has very creamy spinch (i.e. with added cream or yogurt), such that it's taken on an almost light green color. [drooling starting to end] The other kind doesn't have this creaminess, so it's left with the normal forest green color. I usually like the second one the most. Well, Shalimar has the first one.... but, I guess I was pulled into the dark side, because it was still pretty good. Actually, it was really good. The paneer within was of decent quality, as well.

Last but not least, I had looked forward to having a paan after my meal, but I heard that the normal paan guy has been sick. Let's hope he has a speedy recovery.

[drooling basically finished]

So, an excellent visit it was. Worthy of future exploration, for sure!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005



I don't have much to say about Trudy's. It's popular to a fault, the food's decent, and the drinks (i.e. Mexican martinis) can be quite good. Excellent for people-watching. That and the Mex-marts are probably the main reasons to go, as well as the fact that the kitchen is open until midnight.

The other night I was there to celebrate the in-town-ness of a friend's girlfriend, who proceeded to reach a hilarious state of intoxication, to the point where every thing coming out of her mouth (words, that is) made perfect sense, yet did not fail to rhyme. Well most of it made sense. In our state, we all thought it made sense.... Ok anyway, here's what I ordered:

- 1 Mexican martini
- 2 enchiladas, one spinach, one mushroom, both with the hot "caliente" sauce
- sides of Spanish rice and pinto beans

Mex-mart was standard. Pretty good. Did the job properly. Enchiladas were, you know, ... good. Normal. Not *awesome* like those at, say, Maudi's. The caliente sauce wasn't as caliente as I had hoped... Maybe they got the wrong sauce? Pinto beans were surprisingly tasty... though they didn't light a candle to the ones at Artz. Rice was ... useful.

Ho hum... this is the normal situation at Trudy's. Now here are the odd standouts this time around: black beans from my friend's plate were REALLY good... That completely flabbergasted me. Another, more important, is the salsa that goes with the chips. The chips are average, and so are the salsas (green and red).. But this time the green hit the jackpot.

There's a salsa made in San Antonio (or El Paso?) called La Fogata, easily acquired at groceries here. I think it's their "roasted" one. It drives me insane.. Total salsa bliss, everywhere you look. Inescapable. Nothing you can do about it. The point: this Trudy's green salsa (just from this visit!) was evvvver so slightly comparable to La Fogata. Realizing that left me in a sweaty mess and with a burned mouth... as I'd suddenly finished several refills of the stuff. Anyway, many salsas around town are better, but this was completely unexpected.

Moral of the story: go there for the crowd and/or the drinks. You might get lucky and go on a day where one of their normally passable food items is suddenly, deperately, inspired.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Artz Rib House

Artz Rib House is the best BBQ place in Austin.

Here is the big reason: It's the only one in town that carries a veggie burger. On top of that, it's even homemade... and WAYYYY better than the ones at, say, Hut's Hamburgers. I think it may be my favorite veggie burger.

Let's run down my meal from the other day:

- Veggie burger, with smoked gouda cheese and extra lettuce
- Potato salad
- Pinto beans
- Pickle

I will ignore the pickle's mediocrity in this review. But who cares about pickles? As I was saying, the veggie burger is great. I had it from there probably... 10 times, and it's *never* been bad. Always good or better. This time it was way up there. The bread is a tasty whole wheat bun. The lettuce wasn't the pathetic iceberg shreds you get at (again) Hut's. It was healthy-looking green-leaf lettuce. As for the gouda.. Meh... not worth it. Didn't really taste it. No biggie.

Now on to the potato salad. This stuff is one of the most consistently well-made items I've had in this town.. It's always been top notch. The main points here:
- Paprika sprinkles on top
- Celery seeds scattered about
Don't like celery? As it turns out, a good friend of mine hates it, yet he's still fond of this. Anyway, it's awesome. Whenever we have some leftover at work, and I'm in the office, I eat AMAP, ASAP.

Pinto beans. If you're hostile toward black pepper, I predict you won't like the ones here. I, however, am pro black pepper. I think they also have some crushed chilis or something. [mouth waters scarily]

Oh yeah... and the BBQ sauce is great, too. I just stuck some on my spinach salad today. I was a happy man.

So make the trip to this local joint for the veggie burger and some very satisfying sides (don't forget the cole slaw). Otherwise, if (a) your meat-eating friends are craving BBQ and you're a burden, or (b) the one carnivore in the group can't stand seeing her veggie friends happy unless she's ingesting vast quantities of cow and pig, this is your place!

(Incidentally, the cow and pig are apparently pretty good here, too)

Monday, July 18, 2005


Madras Pavillion

It's time for the essay you've all been waiting for: my Madras Pavillion retrospective. (Let's call it MP for sanity)

In short: Go. Eat well. Say hi to Delfino (the manager).

I've been paying visits to this place for a few years now. In general, it's pretty darn sweet because:

1) All vegetarian
2) Huge buffet
3) Pretty good food most of the time, some of it excellent
4) South Asian food (my favorite genre - albeit a hugely general one)

I admit, this is an awesome restaurant.

Ok. Some history. I remember back in the days when the best South Asian place in town was probably Sarovar. Long ago, my son, that changed. This place came along.... and I think pretty much was king for a while. Then we saw Shalimar enter the picture and change the playing field... To me, Shalimar at its peak was the best South Asian place in Austin before or since in my experience. (ok, MP *looks* a bit better... but usually don't care about these things). Welll.... ok .. this is clearly very arguable. But no doubt about it: Shalimar was heavenly.

Look... every restaurant has something messed up going on in the kitchen... at least some of the time. MP got caught... and a couple of years ago failed a health inspection. They even closed down for a while. Then check this out: at the same time, their quality was going down.... PLUS... they raised their prices.

Thanks MP! I'll gladly pay more for your worse food that failed the inspection! Yay you! Ugh. (repeat this last word ad infinitum)

I want you to go there. The food is great. There was a stretch last year when I was going there every week. Could have been everyday it it had not been 15 minutes from work. It was scary.. I was obsessed. (Shalimar had it's era like this, too) I admit that. My denial phase is over. And ... I still... have this "problem" to some extent. To sum it up, MP has erased the dark era completely. Good has prevailed. Evil has been confined to the outskirts of the restaurant, alive, but longing for a quick death. (and I suppose much of the evil has taken shape at Shalimar, which plummetted in quality after an ownership change) No more failing inspections. MP lowered prices. Most importantly, the food!!! It has returned to its higher plane of existence. Any questions?

Ok well... the prices have gone up again. But so have all the others in town (yeah yeah blanket statement, blah blah...).

Last year I developed a system for going through the buffet. Here it is for your reference. If you have the same taste buds as mine, you shall find this method ... infallible.

1) Pick up large plate.
2) Rest two of the small bowls (of the larger variety) on the plate.
3) Fill one bowl with sambar (generally pretty good here).
4) Fill the other bowl with rasam.. Quite refreshing.
5) Pick up one idli (I've seen two kinds there... one plain, and one with.. stuff), and one vada. Both of these are quite decent. Evvvvery once in a while, the idlies feel kind of sticky... but they still taste good.
6) In the remaining real estate on your plate, you have your first choice of the day. They pretty much always have either the rice pongal or the upma available. Scoop up one of those. If sweet pongal is there, by all means... please get some, too.
7) Optionally proceed to the end of the buffet and pick up a papad. If it's anything other than brittle, discard it.
8) Also optionally pick up some of the onion or coconut chutney. I think the coconut one is worthy of moderate worship... though Rushi's is superior.

9) Go to your table.
10) Sit. Consume. Soak the idli and vada in the sambar before ending their existence.
11) When they ask you if you want a dosa, say yes if you're REALLY hungry, because we'll be going back for seconds, and possibly dessert. Oh they're great, it's just that I've personally had too many of them. As for the choice of dosa, I recommend the masala, mysore masala, or onion rava. Keep the employees on their feet by asking for a "sada masala dosa" (impossible combination, because sada means plain, while masala implies non-plain).. (I don't take credit for this one)
12) Go back for seconds. Get a large plate.
13a) If gobi manchurian (cauliflour in a chinese-influenced style) is available, fill your plate with it... and try to steal the metal container and take it home. Actually... venture into the kitchen and get all of it that you can... tell them that you'll die if you can't have it. Everyone will freak out. Madness. Let none slip through your fingers. I think they have couple more restaurants in Texas. Go to those and steal all of it from there, too. Once you're done, eat all of it, wait a week, and do it all over again for dessert. (all right... that was a joke, but.... believe me... just eat it)
13b) If gobi manchurian is not available, go home. Just kidding. Do this: declare loudly "It's a non-gobi-manchurian day" so that Delfino will hear you. Then sample whatever other stuff they have. You'll like most of it probably. Sometimes, you'll find something excellent. Whatever it is, complement it with rice or roti.

14) Go to your table
15) Sit. Consume. If you ordered a dosa, and it arrives, make sure you have more sambar and maybe chutney, and consume that as well.

16) Room for dessert? Yes, because this is all planned out. They are, however, fairly hit-or-miss in this department. If there's payasam, you're set. The warm kesari is also pretty good. Everything else is ... questionable.

17) Optionally try the curd rice if you're into that... Not my thing.

18) Go to the counter. Have some saunf. Pay. Take note of the bear near the door. And it's all done!

I hope that was helpful. Now for a summary of today's experience there:

- non-gobi-manchurian day
- sambar was a bit off
- vada was a bit undercooked
- pongal was pretty good
- idli was decent
- no dosa was had
- mattar paneer was excellent
- chana dal was excellent... and unexpected.. perhaps better than the one Bismillah made once.. before it became "El Azteca Marketa"
- the green bean thing was also hardcore excellent
- warm kesari was great

All in all, a good day! But for reasons other than those I'm used to.

I'm sure I missed something. Go there anyway! MP!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Galaxy Cafe

My workplace did takeout from Galaxy Cafe (!!!) today. I called them at some point before, asking if their soups were vegetarian. Turns out they are not, but the answer was instant from the lady I spoke to. That makes me happy.. Plus she realized that chicken broth in soup = nonveggie! Awesome. No worries though, plenty of vegetarian sides.

What I ordered: Veggie burger (their homemade pattie), with smoked gouda cheese, plus french fries. Good bun... decent pattie... (points for being homemade, of course)... gouda cheese was... well actually I forgot about it during the meal. As for the fries... nothing special... Tasted like Dog & Duck's fries. So overall I consider it a good experience.

There were two other veg options, besides the sides, etc... One was a wrap... and the other was . . . a sandwich perhaps? In general, besides the breakfast section, the menu items were burgers, wraps, and sandwiches.

Because the chocolate chip cookies inside looked insanely good, I tried to guilt them into throwing one in... you know... since we ordered so much... for the whole office.

Paul: "Wow those look really good."
Lady: "If you'd like, I can add one to your order"
Paul: (rrrrr!!! doesn't sound free)

Points for:

- local business
- decent veg options
- cool inside! (like you're in a GALAXY)
- knowledgeable phone attendant
- sweet potato fries being on the menu
- getting the large order exactly right
- great name
- veggie burger is homemade

Points off for:

- blah french fries
- and not enough of them, at that

Ok. Yes... Sure.. I know. French fries don't transport well, and after they lose their piping hotness, it's all over. I understand that this is the prevailing view. And I respect it. I feel differently. Though I still prefer the freshest fries possible, I find cold ones still edible... and for sure: my favorite fries (opal devine's), cold, are still leagues better than average fries.. even fresh.

Sounds like other people in the office generally liked their orders... One didn't expect mayo to be in her wrap.... but hey... it was clearly on the menu as such!

On the sweet potato fries.. I tried one. It was pretty decent. Generally I'm not a huge fan of the orange sweet potatoes... which is what these are made of... but I found these good nonetheless.

Try it!


New Romanian restaurant in Austin

I have no idea if the food is decent. No veggie options I could see. All I know is the name.


All is right in the world.