I was in Austin on Saturday. It wasn't intended to be a food trip. But, thanks to some recommendations I've overheard here on Chowhound, I did pretty well for myself.
Breakfast was at the Magnolia Cafe, a diner with a slightly hippy feel. I had blueberry pancakes, gingerbread pancakes, and a "Solar Landscape." The pancakes were very good and, like almost everything on the breakfast menu there, an excellent value. The Solar Landscape was a plate of roasted potatoes topped with chopped ham, sauteed red onions (left in rings), a queso sauce and a mild chipotle salsa. While none of the components to the dish shone, individually, they combined to make an interesting, satisfying breakfast dish (though really it could be just as good as an entree or side for other meals). Service was polite and mostly effective. The tab for our table of six, with tip, ended up being right around $30. No one left hungry. Great little breakfast spot.
I was northeast of Austin at lunchtime, in search of a strayed, migrating Swallow-tailed Kite. I never found the bird, but I did stumble across the Southside Market in Elgin. Remembering its reputation for sausage, I ran in, waited in one of the lengthy lines, and picked up a half pound. Frankly, I wasn't impressed. It was loosely packed, rather fatty, and gently seasoned--nowhere near the quality of sausage I've had at the Lockhart/Luling heavyweights. It was inexpensive. But, given the drive required, I'd just as soon head to Lockhart.
With the holiday/game weekend, I couldn't get last-minute reservations at Fonda de San Miguel or Driskill Grill, both of which I've read good things about on this board. So we went to Jeffrey's. I ordered the tasting menu. She just did an entree and dessert. First up on the tasting menu were the signature fried oysters on taro chips with a habanero-honey aioli. Apart from some toughness in the oysters, it was a solid appetizer, subtly balancing textures (crunchy and soft) and flavors (sweet, spicy, tangy). Next came an interesting chayote and almond soup. The two main ingredients seemed to balance each other out, keeping the soup from being too sweet or earthy. A couple of small shrimp added a touch of sweet meatiness. Not a great soup, but a good one. The tasting menu entree was beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, sauteed veggies, and a green peppercorn/mustard sauce. The beef was perfectly cooked (to medium rare as requested), tender, and flavorful. The mashed potatoes had some kind of flavor addition, though it wasn't pronounced enough to make much of an impression. The veggies--asparagus, haricots vert, baby squash--added a little color and nutritional value. The sauce, milder than I expected, went with the potatoes and beef perfectly. For what it was, it was an excellent dish. Her entree was a duck leg confit with mushrooms, fennel, and sweet potato ravioli. The duck was tender and flavorful, well complimented by the fennel and mushrooms. The ravioli, however, were very disappointing. The pasta was overcooked to mushiness and was stuffed with what wasn't far off from canned pumpkin pie filling. Something bright and sweet should have matched well with the earthy, braised tastes in the rest of the dish. But these ravioli didn't do the trick. Dessert on the tasting menu was "Chocolate Intemperance"--a slice of chocolate mousse/brownie/flourless cake plated with a couple of fruit sauces, a creme anglaise, and some berries topped with gold dust. Apart from the ostentatious gold dust, nothing set the dessert apart from the multitude of similar cake/mousse concoctions available in the market. Totally fungible. Her dessert was a plum and pine nut pie. The tarlet sized pie had a flaky crust, thin layer of slightly tart plum, pine nuts, and sauce, and was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. In execution and interest, it was a step up from the chocolate dessert. (And that's coming from a registered chocoholic.) Service was polite, though there were a few minor glitches. (Drinks were not filled properly on a couple of occasions. Dishes were presented incorrectly once. And the waiter's description of what a hanger steak is missed the mark.) While we had a good meal at Jeffrey's, I consider it a poor dining value. The decor is shabby, for the price point. Execution on dishes came up short in a few instances. Prices often seemed disproportionate to the ingredients and preparations involved (e.g., $38 for six ounces of beef tenderloin and some mashed potatoes). And there was no amuse bouche or mignardises. But we were happy enough with the meal, if you factor out the value considerations.
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