Wednesday, August 31, 2005


South Congress Cafe

Our plan was to surprise my friend at South Congress Cafe the other night... She arrived a LARGE tad too early (normally she would have arrived 15 to 20 minutes late), and this almost ruined the plans. I don't know how she managed not to notice us scrambling about like ants, trying to pick seats at the table. It might have had something to do with the large crowd. This place is clearly popular. Long wait? Yes.

This place has no one genre. Maybe we could call it American, but with a heavy tex-mex influence? There were probably four vegetarian entrees on the menu, but only three I remember. All of them sounded good, but only one seemed like a complete meal to me:

- Angel Hair Pasta: Not enough protein for my taste. Common problem with pastas.
- Vegetarian Stroganoff: No tofu or cheese anywhere, so ditto.
- Portobello Fajitas: Cheese present. Full meal. I had to order this.

Ok, so here's how the evening went. First some bread arrived. No further comments on this, because it was absolutely nothing special. Asti's bread was much more interesting. Then, the main course made it's entrance. To summarize: the main fajitas were excellent.. Everything else accompanying it was generally pretty average. Here's the detailed breakdown:

- White flour tortillas: Ok. Better tasting at Julio's, but certainly these were better for making hats, as they were much bigger.

- Rice: Two rices actually... Some kind of green one, which was... blah, and then the saffron rice. That was great, and pretty unusual for tex-mex-ish stuff.

- Beans: The beans were... nowhere to be found. This is one of those things that irks me. Perhaps I've not consumed enough fajita plates in my lifetime....

- White/Red cabbage shreds: Raw. Unspecial. Ignore unless you love cabbage or need to write a restaurant review.

- Sour cream and guacamole: These served their purposes well, I suppose. The guac was all luxuriously whipped, but it was average in taste. The guac at Maudi's is way better.

- Grated cheese: I love cheese. It was a major contributor in my abandonment of the vegan lifestyle. So by definition this stuff was good... but it was totally average for cheese. It reminded me of Monterey Jack. Anyway, it worked.

- The actual fajitas. Now these were, again, EXCELLENT. Marinated portabello mushroom slices.. Sizzling alongside the shrooms were some onion, green and red peppers, and small dried peppers, too. Yeah! Now for my slight, paranoid concern... I wonder if these mushrooms were grilled with the meat fajitas... Hmmm. Next time I will ask. Either way, I was sad when these were finished.

- Mystery Pico de Gallo: Once again, style over substance. I'm sure you could find better pico in a school cafeteria, but ... it won't be gift-wrapped in a corn husk. It's all about priorities.

Back to the tortillas... I received two huge ones, and I only had enough room to finish one. So one of my friends did, in fact, fold it into a hat, which I promptly wore for about two minutes. It was a great time... half the table was totally embarassed, which I found totally amusing. A couple of others wore it, too, including the birthday girl. Pictures exist, FYI, but it wasn't my camera... sigh.

Now for dessert:

- Cream cheese brownie with ice cream: Okay. Where was the cheese again? I looked everywhere, even under the plate. Nothing. The brownie itself was all right. The ice cream? Exceptional. Mexican vanilla... very nice, and, importantly, purchased from Amy's. By the way, this was free for the birthday girl.

- Raspberry chocolate tort: I normally like raspberry, but I didn't thing the raspberry syrup here was notable. The tort part of it was just ok, I thought. Thick, but not the kind of chocolate taste I like. Wasn't worth it.

Anyway, there you have it. This place was overpriced for the quality, at least for my stuff... The other guests mostly liked their food, it appears. Maybe I wouldn't have this gripe if the fajitas' side items hadn't been so average. I wish I could have just ordered the portabello fajita pieces a la carte. Seems like the place is local, though, so that's a plus. There's a lot more on the menu to check out; that's for sure.

Monday, August 29, 2005



My workplace has done take-out from Rudino's twice now, despite the fact that's it's slightly.. prohibitively far away. Basically this is a pizza place with a little specialty they call "grinders". Maybe grinders are some known type of food.. maybe it's something they made up. I don't know. Well.. actually, some very elementary research turns up this. So I guess it means a sub sandwich. Regional term, I suppose.

These grinders weren't sub sandwiches, though. They were something different. Something ... alien. The bread was more like... pizza dough maybe? Perhaps with a nod to focaccia? I hope I'm not completely, horrifyingly incorrect in this assessment.

Rudino's is a chain, so I was a bit worried that they wouldn't be able to tell me about vegetarian options properly. As it turns out, they passed my tests with flying colors! Check this out: I asked them on the phone about the pizza sauce (whether it was vegetarian), and the highly complete and competent-sounding answer was "all the pizza/pasta sauces are vegetarian, except for the lasagne". Turns out that the menu even says "meat sauce" for the lasagne. Good job!

Next test: the actual food quality.

Unfortunately, the items I've ordered here have all been pizza-like... The grinder I got was the "pizza" one.. Then for the other time, we got, well, pizza. So I don't really have a proper cross-section of flavors. Could be worse, I guess. Anyway, such is my disclaimer.

My cheese-pizza grinder was pretty good. Think of it as a pizza sandwich. Maybe it's sacrilege, but I mean... I liked it. I'm all for it. This just seems like the kind of thing I'd want to send back in time to myself, say, 25 years ago... when I was but a clueless lad growing up in my hometown. I can totally see myself having had roughly the following exchange with my mom:

"Mommy! Can I have a sandwich??"
"Sure... What kind of sandwich do you want?"
"Ummm... I wanna PIZZA sandwich!!!"

Unbeknownst to me then, what I wanted in that conversation was *exactly* a Rudino's cheese pizza grinder.

The grinders don't just come in the pizza flavor, of course.. They have all sorts.. ham & cheese, spinach & feta, for example. "French Dip" is a variety I found amusing on the menu.

The pizza itself: I thought it was ok, in the grand scheme of pizzas. Probably a tad not as good as that of Craig O's, though some coworkers disagreed with me there. It was definitely still a step above the standard pizza chains. No comparisons to places like Rounders, however. I mean... I still enjoyed eating it anyway. I believe my toppings were black olives, green bell peppers, and onions. I was quite happy with the olives, as I generally worship all things containing them. One good thing: very little grease on the bottom crust... One weird thing: the cheese layer seemed to detach from the crust somehow in some situations.

I just remembered: they also these *great* cinnamon stick things.. Yeah... nice dessert after pizza.

So, I'd say there's no need to try out the pizza unless you're nearby. The grinders have potential, though, for sure. If we do this place again, I'll probably get the spinach & feta grinder (or one of the 3 or 4 other veggie options). Need more data!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Texas Chili Parlor

Having either "Texas" or "Chili Parlor" in a restaurant's name would normally be about enough for me (and probably other vegetarians) to just filter the place out forever. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I somehow got dragged into Texas Chili Parlor for dinner. Given my expectations going in, I was pleasantly surprised just looking at the menu. Soon after, I was filled with food. And I've been there twice now.

Before I viewed the menu the first time, the whole wooden "Texas sportsbar" interior had me lowering my expectations even more.. Don't take me the wrong way; I've been a regular of the Texas sportsbar known as Posse East for years. For vegetarian food, though, that sort of decor seems ... worrisome. Anyway, look what I found:

- 5 bean vegetable chili
- Cheese enchiladas
- Sauteed vegetable tacos

All of these are vegetarian. Three options is more than LOTS of other places. Cool! I believe there was also a breakfast menu, with migas, etc.

Since this was a chili parlor, I felt it might be wise to choose the chili. Next time I'll try the enchiladas probably. Anyway, what was in this chili, you ask? Well:

- Chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, and black-eyed peas
- Bits of yellow squash, also maybe zucchini?
- Other unidentifiables in the bowl
- No cheese (maybe you have to ask?)
- Optional garnish: chopped jalapeños (pickled), onions

My take on yellow squash and zucchini is that.. I generally like them when grilled, say, kind of by themselves. In chili, they probably don't add so much, but for some reason, I support their existence in it. I began the meal by of course sticking in the jalapeños and mixing them around. Crackers (in packets) were provided for scooping up the chili (crackerware?), so I used them. They did the job, though I was thinking "I am in Texas" the whole time. "I should buy a cow and move to Amarillo." "Etc.."

The chili itself was pretty good... everything was well-cooked and flavorful. Slightly not spicy-hot enough for my taste, but no big deal. One thing that interested me was that, of all the chilis on the menu, this is the only one which doesn't offer a hotness-level option. Hmmm... Perhaps that means it's packaged chili? Or else they figure the average vegetarian will NOT walk in... I'm guessing the latter, because the beans tasted fresh. Incidentally, it was better than the veggie chili (containing kidney beans and tempeh) available at Spiderhouse, at least as of the last one I had. Also better than the one at Kerby Lane Cafe.

By the way, in case you were imagining this place as having a large longhorn skull mounted on the wall... I, surprisingly, couldn't find it. Maybe it's in the restroom??

I almost forgot: the chili comes with a side salad.. (+1 points). The salad was great! (+1 more points). Stuff in the salad: freshly chopped non-iceberg lettuce, small amount of julienned carrots, black olive slices... some other objects.. It was all uber-good. FYI: I usually despise raw carrots, but these were sliced thin enough so it was ok. Also, the waitress messed up and put my dressing on the salad instead of on the side which I requested... but.. she was *really* cool and is 100% absolved, for life, many times over.

They also have desserts, like key lime pie, which was pretty decent... not to mention tasting entirely unlike the chili (I had been a bit worried about that).

All around, better than I expected, for sure. No doubt the food was tasty. And of course I'm happy that they're local. Definitely give it a try if you're in the mood for chili. Challenge for you: find the longhorn skull! (They're open late, too.)

Monday, August 22, 2005



I've long been looking forward to reviewing Swad, the vegetarian Indian restaurant on North Lamar. What great food!

Now... a light disclaimer. If you're someone who is really into the service at a restaurant.... well.. let's just say I would focus on the food, above all, at this place (though I guess I have that philosophy in general). Not that the service is bad. It's just, basically, hardly existent. Let's call the servers here, not waiters, but: food distributors. You pour your own water, get your own silverware (if you need it, that is), etc. Don't bother asking them any questions (the experts lurk behind the counter). Personally, that sort of thing is a nonissue for me, as long as *someone* knows what's going on and the food is sufficiently delicious... which is DEFINITELY the case here.

It is my understanding that this is, generally speaking, a Gujarati place, with a large number of South Indian items on the menu, as well. In the past, I've usually ordered the Chole Bhatura, which is simply-speaking a chickpea dish (chole) served with puffy bread (bhatura). It's insanely good. During my most recent visit, I ordered the Thali, which has a sampling of a variety of dishes. Hence, I've got a lot to talk about.

First, the item from the old visits. The Chole Bhatura. It's awesome. Highly tasty puffy flat bread, kind of like a Puri, but thicker and less bubble-like, with a bowl of spicy chickpeas in a tomato-based sauce. OMG this is good. I believe I ordered this 4 straight times from there once.. (that sort of consistency is rare for me). Great first item from there! Lots of food.

Now on to the stuff that came with the Thali. There was a choice of bread between puris and rotis. I chose the rotis.

Dal: Pretty good, but nothing compared to the incredible one at Shalimar, that's for sure. Madras Pavillion also had one that was better.. But this one is still highly edible... WAY better than those at Masala Wok and Rushi.

Spiced milky item: Don't have a name for this one, sorry. I guess it was something used for dipping... very liquidy... but tasty. I ended up mixing it into the white rice later on. Oh by the way, there was white rice.

Roti: Very nice. Pliable.. rollable... not as greasy as a puri or bhatura... Let's say this round bread certainly served well beyond the call of duty. Support the Rotis!

Eggplant item: Sigh... another case of my not knowing the name of a food. I need visit this place with one of my Gujarati friends next time. All right... so this was great, too. Kind of a spicy, dry mixture of eggplant, maybe some potato pieces (including perhaps some blue potato??), and some variety of lentil. A bit salty, but delicious.

Mattar Paneer: !!!!! Yes this was excellent! Like Madras Pavillion's in quality. Tops in Austin, both of them.

Papad: Standard. Not an important part of the meal... so no biggie.

Pakora things (I think): A bit dry inside for my taste.. Not entirely sure what these were. Good. Not great.

Rasmalai: I had a friendly heated argument with my friend at the restaurant, who said this was actually Gulab Jamun. After hitting him repeatedly, he finally conceded. That and I (loudly) asked the woman behind the counter. Anyway, the rasmalai was awesome. It's a dessert made of sweet ball things, soaked with and in a spiced cream of sorts. Were it not so good, I would have been more tempted to throw one of the balls at my friend.

Sweet raita?: I was surprised by this, because I don't expect raita to be sweet. I enjoyed it a lot... but .. was it really raita? Does anybody know? ... Is anybody out there?

Dosa: This wasn't part of the thali; I mooched of my friend's meal a bit. This was probably almost about as good as Madras Pavillion's.. though I've had only a few pieces at Swad, compared to many different varieties at MP. Anyway, that means it was great! So was the sambar that came with. Tomato chutney was pretty decent. Coconut chutney was... eh. Ok. I long for Rushi's.

Not that this should matter, but the pickle (not the American pickle) included with the thali was probably something I'll forget about soon. Just ok. Doesn't really matter.

In case there are any Swad employees reading this, I'd like to request that you put back the really funky tiger painting back on the north wall. It was cool.. and certainly better than nothing at all (which is what's up there now).

That is the scoupe. Swad. All vegetarian. Tiger picture missing. Obviously mouth-watering food. Service-robots. You must go! Any meal will do! You like it already! (I would hope)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005



A few months ago, on a weekend, I headed over to Julio's for lunch. I walked in, and they told me "We're closed." Okay. So I walked out... then I saw a sign on one of the windows, scribbled in pen, stating "Closed today for no particular reason". Or at least it seemed like that. And this wasn't the first of these occurrences. Though I would see the place full of business most of the time, my wanting to eat there would immediately cause it to be closed. Repeatedly. For about two years. Earth went around the Sun *twice*.

That is until this past Sunday, finally. We opened the door, and it was "May I help you?" The menu had one obvious vegetarian option, the "Vegetarian Tacos" or somesuch... but I wanted enchiladas.. So I tried to order off-menu: "Do you have cheese enchiladas?" "Yes we do." Just in case, I asked if they were vegetarian, and she said "Yes." No lard? "No lard." Great!

So the stuff comes. Let's break it down:

- 2 cheese enchiladas under a tomatillo sauce
- Mexican rice
- refried pinto beans
- bit of lettuce w/ tomato
- white flour tortillas
- a little plastic container of salsa

The enchiladas were great.. I was very happy. No doubts better than the standard fare from Chuy's and Trudy's. The cheese was of much higher quality (almost as good as that of Maudie's), and the sauce... The sauce! [imagine victory music playing]

The rice (orange in color) was the opposite... pretty devoid of much resembling flavor. It was there, existing. The refried beans were almost like that, too. It's sad... Ugh... It could have all been so perfect.

Bit of lettuce and tomato. I admit... it was pretty good. Freshly cut lettuce, etc. It at least enabled me to cross "greens" off the list for this meal, in a pleasant way. The salsa (red) didn't seem like anything special, but the tortillas... they reminded me more of the enchiladas in their quality. Good stuff. They made the journey through the refried beans much more worthwhile.

Did I miss something? Oh yeah... That would be the chips (i.e chips and salsa).

That's because: they never served chips and salsa. Ummm... What kind of tex-mex place doesn't give out free chips and salsa?? I've developed several theories as to why this happened. Here they are:

a) They consider the tortillas to be the "chips".
b) They forgot.
c) They ran out of chips.
d) Someone... or .. something... stole their chips.
e) They ate all their chips.
f) They didn't like us.
g) They're anti-chips-and-salsa.
h) I have totally spaced out.

You be the judge. Frankly, I think it was (e).

All right, so the lack of chips to try and the lame rice/beans are big deals to me.... but I'm willing to forgive, since the enchiladas and tortillas were so good. Plus, the fact that it's a local business has to count for something. Maybe if you decide to pay a visit, you'll have much better luck finding it open. Check it out.. but call them up first!

Sunday, August 14, 2005



The word on the street about Asti Trattoria is that it's decent Italian food (unless you're a hardcore Italian food fan), but probably not worth the price ($10 - $15 a plate). I'd been there once before when I was vegan, and this assessment seemed true back then.. though it can be harsh to judge the quality of a restaurant just based on the vegan options. Unfortunately, Asti starts with points off for being the favorite restaurant of the woman at my title company who did the closing of my house. She was rude in so many ways, it was unbelievable. Ok, that was unfair. Sorry.

I went to Asti (named after an Italian town) the other night for a friend's going-away dinner. Just FYI, the friend treated us all. Free food! Here's what I got:

- Champagne
- bread
- mushroom thing (appetizer)
- Tomato Risotto

Allow me to expound on the "mushroom thing". Well.. let's do that later. Allow me to expound on the champagne. First and foremost, it went straight to my head. I'm no Mr. Champagne, but it was very tasty... a rosé Champagne to be precise. Yeah... don't know too many champagne-related adjectives. Hmmm... well it's not as if Asti made their own champagne, so perhaps it should not have been included in this review. Ah well.

The bread was kind of funny. They gave us this "bucket o' bread". Totally plain looking bread. No olive oil for dipping. No butter for spreading. Not even little herbs at the bottom of the "bucket". Nothing. Just bread. Turns out it was trick-bread: it had some invisible source of flavor, such that it was something like garlic bread. It was pretty good, but vastly more impressive was the sneakiness of it. Makes me want to give little pieces of it at Halloween. I'm sure kids would love that!

Tomato Risotto. Meh.. it was good. Not worth the extra Asti-tax. But good. I took a bit of it home. Basically it was risotto rice (slightly undercooked perhaps??), within a tomato-based sauce, upon which a small nest of delicious mixed vegetables was resting. Once I got to the mixed vegetable section, the quality increased five-fold. Though I didn't finish it fully, it was the kind of meal that left me hungry almost immediately after leaving the restaurant. This is just another example of the fundamental flaw in Italian vegetarian food that doesn't have cheese: it's not a complete source of protein, unless they add a lot of pine nuts. Craig O's is the same way. Before I forget: Asti had five vegetarian entree options, as well as a few appetizers. Not too shabby.

Speaking of appetizers, let's get back to the "mushroom thing". "Mushroom thing" was *amazing*. It was definitely the highlight of the visit, yet it was also a sad moment... for there were six people at the table, and only six "mushroom thing" items. So I had to limit myself to one. Sigh. Anyway, I shall now reveal the full text that was on the menu for "mushroom thing":

Stuffed Mushrooms with Fried Breadcrumbs & Truffle Oil, stuffed with Goat Cheese, Ricotta and Pecorino Romano with Sage

If you like all the constituent ingredients, I can't see how you wouldn't totally worship this item. Also, this is one of the few things I've eaten where the texture is something I actually care about a LOT... I think it was the fried breadcrumbs. They gave a snappy little crunch at the very end. Excellence.

So that's the story.. appetizer was absolutely incredible, and everything else besides the champagne was just good. Also, the service was of expected quality from a place like that. Again, the food was not enough to fill me up properly, but in this case a quick trip to Mozart's, involving a piece of Strawberry Cheesecake, solved that problem. So, I would say, Asti's a good place to try out... get the "mushroom thing" appetizer, and maybe you'll have better luck finding an entree of comparable quality.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Craig O's

I'll be honest. The only reason I ended up finding out about Craig O's Pizza & Pastaria was that it was so close to work, no one could miss it. Literally across the street (er... freeway), we were all so happy when it opened, as it breathed some fresh air into our previously-stagnating set of nearby lunch options (Sawadee Thailand has now done that again, to a much greater extent.... same with Galaxy Cafe). It was like we were all trapped in Hell, where Hell was eating of the same thing day in and day out. Well... I should pick my words with care. It really wasn't Hell.

The food. Admittedly, it's nothing special (with the highly notable exception of the garlic bread). Pizza? It's okay. Pasta? It's good. Doable for sure. I'm sick of talking about the average-ish things here... let's get straight to the good parts:

- Several vegetarian options: pizza, as usual, works. The pastas have a choice of sauce, etc.. There are also sandwiches, salad, and antipasti (appetizers).

- Ok. I can't stress this enough. Sawadee Thailand has some of this as well: INSANELY friendly ownership! All I know is, if the owner guy (Craig himself?) is there, I'm happy for the rest of the day. That in itself seemingly bumps up the quality of the food.. (more reason not to do the delivery).. The guy is so nice... remembering names... asking about my day, etc.. Maybe I'm just easy.. Just easily amused by people.. Either that or Craig is... not a person?

- This is also a local Austin business (depending on whether you believe the last sentence). So you'll be keeping your money in town, most likely.

This week I ordered the Penne with Marinara sauce. No, this marinara sauce does NOT contain anchovy or anything else nonvegetarian. Oh yeah. That's another thing. Craig knows which things are veg and which things are not. None of the "it's vegetarian, and there are bacon bits in it" revelations you hear at think tanks like Black Eye Pee. Whoops my spelling's a bit off today.

Anyway... right.. The garlic bread, always a bonus with the pasta, was exceptional. I was so sad to see it finish. The pasta was ok. I did not get a chance to get it blessed by Craig. It was a nice hot meal nevertheless, though I admit I was craving a bit more food at the end (this probably wouldn't have happened had I ordered one of the cheesier selections).

As for other items I've tried there, I seem to remember the Baked Spinach Ziti being decent. The pizza, though I don't think is anything really special, it still a step beyond the standard chain pizza places. I mustn't forget about the focaccia bread. That's pretty good, with parmesan baked on the top of it... cheese oils (nothing excessive) seeping in and everything. Oh yeah baby. Highly useful for scooping up sauce from the pasta. Not as awesome as the garlic bread, but still.

So here's the plan. If you're in the area, and you want a .. healthy uplifting experience, combined with sufficient-quality food, make sure Craig is in the house and hop over there. OR, if you're anywhere else, and someone wants to go to Olive Garden, tell them "Ok", but take them here instead.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Sawadee Thailand

Update: New data from one more buffet visit as well as a take out lunch. For the take out at my workplace, people liked what they ordered, save a few notable exceptions. One person got a ground chicken salad... and it was quite disliked, apparently. Someone else ordered a duck soup. They really, really, really hated it, mostly because the duck had the skin on (supposedly duck skin is much more substantial than, say, chicken skin) and the greasiness level. I personally ordered the Pad Plick Pring (I think), which was pretty good... not to the point of causing me to start a new religion, but, a decent meal. Many people had the Chicken Pad Thai and liked it. As for the buffet visit, it was as good as the first visit, and even better in some ways. New items included the coconut jelly dessert (thumbs sideways), plantain egg rolls (thumbs up!), and pineapple dip for the appetizers (thumbs escaping Earth).. Even more tofu dishes, as well. I must also mention that, after we inquired about the great music that was playing (classical renditions of movie soundtracks), the wife of the ownership couple came to us and showed us the CD. They're so nice.

Original Entry:


The other day, this place was the chosen lunch destination... mainly because it's new, Thai, and near my work.... Here's how it played out:

Approached intersection of Manchaca and Stassney.
Noticed the very nice looking Laredo Bank (or something) building.
Noticed the scary facade of Sawadee Thailand. And the empty parking lot. (ok.. it was before 12)
Walked inside....

... and it was beautiful. Somehow it even smelled like my childhood.

Decent size buffet, good selection of vegetarian options (tofu & potato green curry, tofu pad thai, fried rice, egg rolls, some mixed vegetable thing.... more perhaps). The first two were especially tasty. Meat options mostly, for those wondering. Sorry.... Please realize: I *really* liked this place. I can't stress that enough.

Points for:

- local business
- tasty vegetarian options
- smell reminded me of childhood
- highly nice husband and wife owners ... apparently former techies from California
- PAD THAI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Learning my first Thai word (left for you as an exercise)
- second thai buffet option in town (first being Bangkok Cuisine)

Points off for:
- Absolutely nothing

(I don't consider the facade points-off-worthy)

Ok. That was the first visit. We'll see if they vary up the buffet the next time.

Go to Sawadee Thailand!!!! Immediately! Whether you're hungry or not! Tell them you love them!

I'm not done. Good desserts, too: tapioca pudding (w/ diced taro here and there... really cool)... and also the "sweet corn custard" or something... That was great, too. In fact I shall consume one next time. There was also what I call "tapioca pudding #2".. also pretty good.

And the mints are huge.

Go. Now.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Masala Wok

Update: My most recent visit there had me choosing the Malai Kofta. This may have surpassed the quality of the Spinach Masala w/ Paneer. Upon further reflection, it appears to use the same sauce as the Paneer Butter Masala. The kofta balls are supposedly a mixture of paneer, potato, and some other ingredients. Wow they were good. I'm not saying they're the healthiest things in the world... but... this ain't Casa De Luz. Anyway, I now declare my favorite dish here to be the: Malai Kofta!

Original Entry:

I remember the anguish-filled days after I found out it was opening here. Indian-Chinese food. In. Austin. (Chili chicken at Shalimar doesn't count). Finally.

I went to Masala Wok on its opening day, and it was totally packed. That was about 4 months ago, and the crowds are still huge.

The verdict? Hit or miss food, for me personally, but if you know what to order, you should be VERY happy. Service is what you would expect from kind-of-like-fast-food (it's a chain, albeit with only about 4 locations). The people behind the counter know very little about the cuisine. But don't worry about that for now. It's definitely worth AT LEAST a trip or two, *especially* if you eat chicken, as the Chicken Tikka Masala is universally fawned over by my non-veg friends.

Alas, avoid anything but the entrees. Everything else (appetizers, desserts, tea) seems like it's from a box. Tea/coffee will often be watered down or cold. (meat-eaters liked the Chicken Lollipops, though) (the name makes no sense... at least to me) (there's no lollipop anywhere)

The menu has two sections, "Wok" and "Masala". The Wok ones are the Indian-Chinese food. Now the the novelty has worn off, I have to say that the Masala (i.e. normal Indian food) entrees are king here. Here is a breakdown of most of the vegetarian items the menu: (Yes... Obsessively, I have tried all of these. Yes.. Masala Wok is far away from me. Don't know what to say)


Spinach Masala (w/ paneer): My favorite item here. In normal Indian cuisine parlance, it's palak paneer. Pretty darn good, the times I've had it. Not as good as the one Shalimar used to have... but still, get it!

Paneer Butter Masala: Second favorite Masala item. Nice creamy sauce... somewhat close to the sauce in the Chicken Tikka Masala, supposedly. Update: Well... actually... the creamy sauce is perhaps much like the Chicken Tikka Masala sauce, except without the tomato.

Dal Fry: Average. Just dal in a tomatoey sauce. Nothing special. Dal should be cheaper, anyway.

Malai Kofta: Veggie balls in sauce... Not sure how else to describe. Pretty darn decent when I had it. I'll have this one again for the next trip.

Chole Masala. See my Dal Fry comment. This is better than that, though.


Veggie Manchuria: Yeah this is great! More veggie balls, except these are different and in a "Manchurian" sauce. Somewhat reminiscent of the Lucky 7 at Veggie Heaven, but only somewhat. Good intro to the Wok menu.

Masala Wok Spicy: Just tasted like generic American Chinese food to me. Except with paneer. And not enough of it. Blah.

Chili Paneer: Ok. This is the one that was supposed to be the killer. Well... it's really not. Not enough paneer again, that's for sure. The Chili Paneer at Rushi is WAY better, anyway. Basically it's (a bit of) paneer in a chili sauce.

Ginger Masala: Ugh... Why did I even bother with this? I usually like ginger, but.... not this time.

Blazing Masala Noodles: See Masala Wok Spicy.

Allllrighty.. hope this was informative. Something else: the deals are much better with the Masala dishes, as they give you naan in addition to rice, to eat with your entree. With the Wok dishes, you get only rice or noodles. That plus the strange paneer-amount problem in the Wok dishes.... really only the Veggie Manchuria is worth eating from the Wok menu. Strange.

Oh yeah... the music's good here! (from the speakers, not the TV)

So that's it.... Lots of stuff here you may or may not like, but certainly a good set of things to at least get you there a few times.. probably way more. Enjoy! (hopefully)

Saturday, August 06, 2005



For some reason, my office has made Chuy's the default for lunch. Hence, I've eaten from there WAY too many times. Please keep that in mind as I describe the food there... I'll try to be ... objective.

It is consistently decent, however, no doubt about that. Not the best tex-mex in the world by any means, but always edible. It's funny though: they really are *not* consistent when it comes to packing chips, etc, for take out. This last time, they gave us a small white paper bag of chips. A couple of years ago, however, ... let's just say that, for a minute, we weren't sure if they were giving us a week's worth of trash for free.

The chips are pretty good. So is the salsa (red), though there's a slight resemblance to ketchup.

For those who'd want to visit the place, it can get as crowded as Trudy's sometimes. By the way, remember the Bush daughters' fake ID thing? Well, this is where it happened. So that's a reason to visit (or not). Anyways, at least we've got evidence that the drinks are popular.

As for this most recent sampling, I ordered the Cheese Chile Rellenos with (I think) the Green Chile sauce. Came with rice and refried beans. The rellenos were on the delicious side, especially the poblano pepper part of it. The cheese inside was, well, good.. But to me, cheese is always at least "good", so as far as cheese goes, this was just ok. Mediocre. No.. I'll say ok. I guess. Well, I ate all of it. Batter was good, and the sauce was pretty much crowded out by the other tastes, though the texture it provided was nice. The rice was, you know, present. Refried beans were pretty standard (which means tasty). Then I went crazy on the chips and salsa, as always. This time the chips were a bit stale... or something. Very abnormal for these guys. But.. I pigged out on them nonetheless.

To sum it all up, it's a local Austin business, with consistely fairly decent (I really want to say just "edible" again... but... err... trying to be objective) food, and almost some presidential history, so you should give it a try if you're in the area! I'm sure I'll eat from there again.. (not exactly by choice)



Ah yes... the other day we finally made our long-awaited trip way up to Rushi to try their lunch buffet. I had been there on two other occasions for dinner, and it's ranged from blah to excellent, depending on the order. I'd say the buffet had a similar range, but overall, it was good... No bad things, some great things.

Quick overview of previous visits: Dosa good! Sambar bad! Coconut chutney excellent! Chili paneer (Indian-Chinese) excellent! Paneer tikka good but supposedly not authentic!

It should be noted that the people there are really nice. Ramgopal (sp?) (from Vijayawada), who I think owns the place with his wife, said he would offer my Goan friend a free Goan dish as long as she gave an honest opinion of the food. Pretty cool, eh? They serve lots of things from all over the Indian Map (they're from Andhra Pradesh state), so they're looking for input on the stuff they didn't totally grow up with. Also, most of the items on the buffet have a little sign with a listing of the main ingredients as well as whether they have dairy, egg, meat, etc. Big brownie points for that!

Enough of the playing around. On to the hard data.

Naan: Ok to decent. About as good as Masala Wok's.

Potato stuff (?): Pretty good... unfortunately didn't get the name.

Papad: Standard. Kind of like the one at Madras Pavilion.

Matar Paneer: Went back for seconds. Paneer was ok here, but overall the dish was decent.

Lemon Rice: Mmmmm! Lemon-y and Peanut-y! Nice...

Chili Gobi: I got four servings of this. It was AWESOME. Kind of like a different version of Madras Pavilion's Gobi Manchurian. I came close to smuggling some home, but it didn't work out. VERY SPICY.

Misc noodles: Blah. Not worth the scooping action. Well... better than that. Kind of low-to-medium flavor generic Chinese-ish noodles.

Chicken Wrap: Supposedly pretty good (not Indian at all).

Chicken Tikka Masala: Supposedly almost, but not quite as good as Masala Wok's (which has its own religion now)

Coconut Chutney: Not the same as the insanely good one I had last time, but still ok.

Dal: This tasted like what comes out when I make dal at home but forget to put in half the ingredients.

Chana Masala: Ah yes also went back for seconds on this! Seemingly a bit too clovy for my taste, but I still liked it.

Boondi (Bondi?): Yummy appetizer/snack. I think I had two of these. I believe I've gotten the name wrong somehow. Help anyone?

Taro chips: Meh. Though it's a great concept, execution wasn't special here. I'd rather have had any random potato chips.

Idli + Sambar: Didn't get these since I tried them on another visit.

Mango Lassi: I'm not the biggest fan of mango lassi in general... Though I have nothing against mangoes, I vastly prefer just sweet lassi. The one here didn't change that philosophy.

Strawberry ice cream: Wow. This was unexpectedly delicious. Tasted and looked homemade even.

As long as I find a couple of things at a buffet that I really like, I'm very happy.... so if you're like me that way, don't worry too much about the number of "ok" items there.

All right... so I'd say it's worth a trip! Locally owned place, and REALLY nice people. Tell Ramgopal that Paul sent you...