Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Culinary Innovations Fall Feast 2011

It’s hard for me to not want to share the magically unique “Supper Club” experiences that I have been fortunate to be a part of over the course of this year. Andrew Stiver’s Culinary Innovations continue to impress and raise the bar, delivering a dining experience everyone should have the luxury to enjoy. Once again, Stiver and the very talented Scott Ota created an extraordinary evening that I have no choice but to rave about.

It takes a village. Stiver has wisely aligned himself with a Master Sommelier in training, Scott Ota. Scott has received his level two pin from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently scheduled to represent the Driskill Hotel (where he is wine captain/sommelier) at this year’s TexSom Conference-Texas’ best Sommelier Competition. He was responsible for pairing all of the wines/ beverages that were to accompany the 4 four course decadence our group shared.

At the beginning of each course, Stiver, describes the cuisine and Ota discusses the wine selection, including why each wine pairs perfectly with the food that has been prepared, the vintage, type of grapes used, weather that year, all the way down to how many stripes were on the bee that pollinated flowers that lived in the garden that grew the grapes in that particular region --HA! Simply put, Scott’s knowledge of his craft would impress the best and the brightest.

Kim and Jordan Caufield graciously opened their beautiful home to host this special evening that many had anticipated for weeks. Prior to the main event, guests were treated to a cocktail hour complete with seasonal microbrews and local spirits. As always, the table was beautifully set: white linens, formal dining utensils, wine and water stems, and tea light candles for ambiance. Appropriately, being a “Fall Feast” themed affair, scented pine cones, dried gourds and other fall d├ęcor set the mood for the feast that was to follow. The evening’s menu sat rolled with a red ribbon at each place setting as if it contained special instructions to send your palette to wonderful worlds undiscovered. In actuality, it did.

Course one was Baked Grits with Oyster and Wild Boar Belly paired with a 2007 Chateau Picque Caillou, Pessac-Leognan. You had me at grits. But then you had me again at oyster. At this point the boar belly is nothing more than icing on the cake. Be mindful that this icing delicately melts in your mouth the only way a flawlessly prepared piece of boar belly knows how. The oysters paired perfectly with the wine. The grits danced happily with the boar. The guests at the table, hardly food critics, but avid lovers of all things amazing, smiled and moaned with contentment between the constant flows of fork-to-mouth until all plates at the table looked as if they were waiting for the food to be dispersed. Even the skittish eaters among us cleaned their plates! All was right with the world and this was just the first course.

For the second act we were presented with quail two ways, butternut squash puree, brussels sprouts and roasted fig. Our wine selection was a 2007 Remo Farina/ Ripasso . Presentation was picture worthy as seen in high end culinary publications. The first bite I chose to indulge was the fig. The words from my mouth that immediately followed were something to the effect of “Andrew, that fig just changed my life!” The earthiness of the fig and brussels frolicked beautifully with the wine. The quail was prepared to perfection as the butternut squash puree brought all flavors together and provided the necessary link for this course to be as delectable as the last. Course two could have been the pinnacle of the experience, but we were only half way through as all ecstatic guests patiently conversed in anticipation of what was to follow. Forty-five minutes into the experience and I am once again reminded of the journey that meals prepared from heart are capable of sending you on. This is why I love food.

Round Three: Axis Venison Wellington with celeriac puree, wild mushroom with a red wine demi-glaze paired beautifully with a 2009 Qupe/ Syrah (aka: Shiraz). To some at the table this course might have gone down as the finest entree to have found its way into their lives. The generous portions of venison had been seasoned to perfection and skillfully wrapped in Swiss chard and puff pastry then cut into medallions. The medallions set on top of a celeriac (in the celery family; root vegetable) puree that had been drizzled in a very bold and powerful red wine demi-glaze. To me, everything about this course was right. Being an avid meat eater this treat was undeniably the highlight of the meal. Skipping joyfully through a meadow of celeriac root with a demi-glaze morning mist, a deer met a baker whose sole purpose in life was to create beautiful melodies for all who crossed his path. Coddled by the Shiraz, every succulent bite lined up perfectly as if the final piece of our savory puzzle had been laid.

It was time for sweets to bring this collaboration full circle!

DESSERT!! Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel served with a Black Chocolate Stout from the Brooklyn Brewery. As I undeservingly sit here contemplating that best way to describe this seasonal sweet that had found its way into my existence, I find myself at a loss for words. I then realize that sometimes simplicity tends to be overlooked in these moments. Again, Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel!! Do I really need to go much further? Errorless execution, simple presentation as some dining whispered explicative’s of ecstasy. Delicious! I might have found myself in the kitchen after the meal eating the edges from the pan that once housed the bread pudding exerts, maybe ;-P

To me, food is something much more than a process we must go through out of necessity. Food is
a creative passion where the possibilities are endless. There is no right or wrong when it comes to preparing a dish. Much like music, if it flows well, and creates happiness, then it is to be cherished. Any evening that consists of a handful of some of my closest friends and new faces sharing in barrage of enhanced senses and new experiences is pure bliss in my books. This meal was $60 per person and an evening that all who attended are eager to replicate as soon as possible. Align yourself with adventurous, creative minds, eccentric personalities and those committed to excellence and there will never be a dull moment in your life.

If you are ever looking for a perfect way to share in a special occasion, or just want to celebrate life with loved ones, reach out, pick up the phone and contact Andrew Stiver with Culinary Innovations to better understand how you don’t even have to leave the house to experience a memorable gastronomic adventure.


To contact Andrew @ Culinary Innovations call 817.774.8468 or visit http://www.culinaryinnova.com/

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Manny's Uptown Kitchen

9503 Research Boulevard
Austin, TX 78759-5817
(512) 794-0088


I was recently invited to taste the menu at Manny's Uptown Kitchen in North Austin. Some of you may remember it as the New York deli Manny Hatten's. Kind of kitchy, right? Well Manny's has been on a quest over the last 2 years to rebrand themselves. They've turned their deli counter into a wine bar.


Made the dining room less deli lunch and more upscale dinner.


And have totally redone their menu. They've kept the same old deli fresh sandwiches you've known and loved, but they've now added some interesting appetizer and dinner options. Which is what I was there to sample. I had been to Manny's a few months before for the Rueben Challenge they hosted (but thats a post for another day). And I had been a few times on my own when I came down with a craving for a fresh deli sandwich and I happened to be north (since most of you know I've been a southie for several years now). I had no idea, though, that they have been trying desperately to expand their menu (and clientelle) to include dinner.

We started out with a round of appetizers. First up were the Latkes. Now, Latkes, as most of you know, are shredded potatoes that are deep fried until crunchy and golden delicious. Some Latkes, however, can come out soggy and sodden in grease. But not these fresh Latkes, they were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Manny's has even taken an innovative southern twist on their Latkes.On the normal menu, you can order Loaded Latkes, with bacon, sour cream, cheese & green onion, or Chili con Queso Latkes. They also served us a Mexican style Latke with guacamole and queso fresco. It was so fresh and delicious.

Up next, are one of my favorite new additions to the menu, the Pastrami Rueben eggrolls. Whats there not to like about pastrami, russian sauce and cabbage deep fried in an egg roll wrapper. Its a really interesting twist on two beloved New York dishes.

I went on this delicious dinner with Teddy of Fun with Your Food who is a Vegan/Vegetarian blogger. The next appetizer was her favorite new addition to the menu, Butternut Squash pierogies. They were incredibly delicious. A light pan fried crunch on the outside, and a soft tender butternut squash filling on the inside. Over the top was a light drizzle of thick balsamic vinegar and a light sprinkle of parmesan cheese.


Next we moved onto the entrees. The first offering was their Newcastle Pub Fish and Chips. Three large planks of perfectly golden fried cod with a house made tarter sauce. There was a curious glass of brown ale. We weren't quite sure if we should dip our fish in it or drink it. In the end, we did both. The beer helped cut the oil from the fish and the tarter sauce. It turned out to be a nice addition.


But what, do you ask, is the best new addition to Manny's dinner menu? The fresh, house-made pasta. Yes, folks, you read that right. They make their own pasta in house. And it is DELICIOUS. Probably the best pasta dish I've had in Austin. Seriously. We opted for the Chicken Marsala. The noodles were perfectly imperfect, coming in various shapes and sizes. the sauce, was a creamy, garlic alfredo with large chucks of perfectly sauteed mushrooms.

Throughout the meal, I was impressed by the freshness and quality of all the dishes. Each dish a small detail that was interesting and thoughtful. The guacamole on the latkes, the beer with the fish, the russian sauce in the egg roll. It's just different enough to keep even a hard core interested, but just pedestrian enough to make your grandma happy. Its a restaurant the whole family can enjoy.

Mariah ~ 8.5

Thursday, August 11, 2011

iPic Theaters

3225 Amy Donovan Plaza
Austin, TX 78758


Do you like movies? Do you have a lot of money? Well you've probably been to Gold Class Cinemas at the Domain by now. It is the pinnacle of First World comfort and excess. Now you can not only watch a great movie, but you can do it in comfort and style with attendants to cater to your every whim. Seriously.
If you've never been to the Gold Class, then you have no idea how classy the movie going experience could be. First, you order your movie tickets online. But you don't just buy tickets to the movie, you buy a ticket to the actual seat you'll be sitting in.

The facility itself is not just a theater, its also bar and lounge. The atmosphere of the existing lounge area feels plush and luxurious, and well classy. Large drum lights add a soft, romantic glow, and custom sculptures dot the entire theater giving it an artistic panache.


You can grab a drink at the posh looking bar, and purchase a few last minute snacks from their grab and go counter (like a delicious looking cheese plate or some yummy high end candy).


You could have a drink made from the fresh ingredients displayed on the bar.


And then an attendant finds you at the bar and leads you through the beautiful stainless doors to the seat you had reserved.

And not just any movie seat, a large, over-stuffed, reclining seat that does all but massage your butt while you sit in it (did I mention one of the arms is hollow so so  you can put your purse in it? Genius!).


While your enjoying the movie, you have an attendant assigned to you who is only a button push away. They will happily bring you blankets, should you get cold, or a pillow, should you need to prop your head up when you recline your awesome orange seat.

You can also order food, anything from Buffalo Chicken Spring Rolls to Filet Mignon sliders. And there are drinks, lots of lots of drinks you could order to make the movie going experience really... memorable.

It all sounds nice, doesn't it? Well unfortunately the reality just doesn't match with the potential this theater could have.

What you probably don't know, is Gold Class Cinemas was recently bought by the iPic chain (note the sign change below). They own several other small, upscale theaters throughout the US. I was recently invited by the new proprietors to tour the facility and discuss their upcoming renovations (even though the theater is only a few years old). I was greeted by the theater's general manager who led me on a tour of the facility.


iPic's vision is to turn the facility into a full service bar and restaurant in addition to a theater. They are trying to create an upscale gathering space for everyone, not just the movie going audience. They plan to expand the bar and add even more custom art work and fixtures to give the space a less posh feel but to make it feel more alive and full of energy. They have even purchased several new cool high tech wine dispensing kiosks do people can sit in the lounge and get their wine from a super cool machine instead of a person. They have also hired a new chef and mixologist to create a new custom menu of high end food and drinks.

At this point, though, there haven't been many noticeable changes from the old Gold Class atmosphere. In fact, I couldn't see any. Even the menu still said Gold Class across the top. And there are some flaws in the Gold Class menu.

We started off with an order of the Chinois Chicken Salad Rolls: roasted chicken, napa cabbage, radicchio, sesame ginger dressing, wrapped in rice paper. Sounds delicious right? Well, it really wasn't. The chicken was dry and tasteless. And the sesame ginger dressing was conspicuously absent (or at least I couldn't taste it). It just wasn't that appetizing.

Well, one bad dish doesn't have to doom a restaurant. Next we tried the Chicken and Pineapple sliders. I actually really liked these, but whats not to like? The roasted chicken didn't seem so dry here with the addition of a juicy pineapple and a sweet teryaki sauce. The Boyfriend, on the other hand, didn't care for them. So I happily left the Salad Rolls to him and ate the sliders myself.

We rounded out our dinner with the Chicken Artichoke pizza: creamy artichoke tomato sauce, spinach, roasted chicken and mozzarella. The pizza was ok. Pretty standard thin crust pizza fare. The ingredients were fresh but it wasn't really anything to write home about.

The real travesty of the menu, though, comes from the drinks. We ordered two delicious sounding martinis that were delivered to us in lovely glasses with fresh fruit garnishes. The drinks, however, were so syrupy sweet they were almost undrinkable. We choked them down more for the alcohol's sake than the drink's, but when we were asked if we wanted to order another, we both vehemently declined.

We opted to see Super 8, which was a really fantastic movie. But as we snuggled down in our large comfortable seats, trying to enjoy our food, the unthinkable happened. The movie stopped. And it didn't just stop, it repeated the same 1/2 second over and over and over and over and over for about 5 minutes. I'm not sure what took so long to fix the problem, but they certainly could have stopped the annoying 1/2 second loop while they did. I will forever have the sound of that half second seared into my conscience. If I'd have actually paid for that ticket, I'd have been pissed (I know, cry me a river, right).

So would I go back to iPic? Even with the technical difficulties, the atmosphere (and that chair) were so enjoyable, I could definitely go back. I'd be really interested to see how the iPic vision comes to fruition. In the mean time, I would definitely go back to see a movie, but I will stick with the cheese plate and wine until their menu is updated.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Foodie Photo of the Day

Hot Scones at Salty's

Salty's on Alki
1936 Harbor Avenue Southwest
Seattle, WA
(206) 937-1085

Thursday, August 4, 2011


507 San Jacinto
Austin, TX 78701


Do you ever find yourself out and about on 6th and been hungry? I've been faced with this dilemma many times. It's totally a First World Problem, but the dining options on East 6th just aren't that great (the downtown part of E 6th, not the hipster side of E 6th). You could have a delicious meal at Parkside, but you'll spend $60pp for the privilege. You could have a burger at Casino El Camino, but what if your on a nice date, a greasy burger just isn't going to cute it. You could have trailer food, but god damn it's hot our right now and I want to surrounded by the loving embrace of AC, not sweaty man arms. So where can you go?

Recently, a nice, mid-priced dining option opened at 6th and San Jacinto that's a decent compromise between price, quality, and atmosphere. Backspace features in rustic Italian fare, specializing in wood fired pizzas. They don't offer any entrees, but they have a decent selection of Italian antipastis and pizzas. The space is small, no more than a half dozen or so tables and a large bar, but I've never had to wait very long for a seat.

The last time I went, we started out with an appetizer of prosciutto wrapped mozzarella and balsamic. The dish also had a strawberry puree which added a nice dimension. It was a little hard to share, requiring us to claim a piece and cut it. And while it tasted nice and authentic, there was nothing that really set it over the top.

For our main, we decided to split a pizza. Backspace has a small wood fire oven in one corner that emits a most delectable smell. I don't remember exactly what pizza we ordered but obviously it had prosciutto. Backspace specifically hand assembles their pizza's, which gives them an charmingly uneven quality. The crust may be extra crispy on one size, and there may only be cheese on 3/4 of the pizza, but with the quality ingredients they use, you never seem to mind. It ends up being the anti-Domnios.


It's not the best pizza I've ever had, not even the best I've had in Austin, but its a decent, high quality pie.
You've got an established career now, remember, you deserve a better dinner than late night 6th Street pizza. Go on, you've earned it.

Mariah ~ 7

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Foodie Photo of the Day

Chocolate Cupcakes!

Cupcake Royale
2052 Northwest Market Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 782-9557

Monday, August 1, 2011

Foodie Photo of the Day

A bag of hot donuts at Salty's

Salty's on Alki
1936 Harbor Avenue Southwest
Seattle, WA
(206) 937-1085