Wednesday, April 23, 2008


2905 San Gabriel Street
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 474-2905

Oh, my fellow foodies, how busy life gets sometimes. I feel bad for abandoning you these past 2 weeks to take care of the banalities of life (like school projects and work), but sometimes you have to put down the things you love in order to finish the things you don’t. But rest assured, I didn’t deny myself the only pleasure I seem to be getting these days, food (aside from the dates I had this weekend, but I don’t kiss and tell)! I happened to go to two restaurants in the last few weeks that need reviewing. I’ll start with the latest, the one new restaurant I went to last week, Fino.

Fino is actually located in an area I know really really well, at 29th and San Gabriel. When I was in college, I spent a year living in a houseful of men, at my engineering fraternity’s house, which as it happened, was nicknamed “The House” (sounds ominous, right?, well if you spent any time in that bathroom, you’d think so too). The House was an old 1930’s west campus house with bad plumbing, bad walls, bad smells, but oh was it fun place to live. The yard was surrounded in thick, tall bamboo and we used to have these incredible keggers there. Think make out rooms, 2-story beer bongs, and a huge yard to throw up in when you’d had enough. That place was made to be a party house! It was located right at the intersection of 29th and San Gabriel. We used to get all liquored up and walk across Granite Café, the local high end restaurant and pretend to spend money we didn’t have on food we never bought. But they did have a nice patio and for a college student Granite Café was about as swanky as it got.

Flash forward 8 year (yikes!!) to groovy 2008. Lee invited me out for dinner and since I knew I’d need a break from all the school work I’ve been doing I said sure. Let me tell you, if I wanted to relive my college years of pretending to eat at Granite Café I still could, because the place hasn’t changed one bit. Now don’t get me wrong, its really a nice location. Its on the second floor of a nice brick shopping center and basically takes up the whole top of the shopping center. A generous wrap around veranda with tons of outdoor seating, lovely bamboo blinds to keep the sun out, large wicker furniture, and a nice breeze wafting in from Shoal Creek, gives the restaurant has a nice tropical atmosphere. The inside (where I have to admit I’ve never spent much time), seems nice and upscale. Large picture windows bring the tropical atmosphere into the interior of the restaurant while a large bar creates an open space that is segmented by small screens for more privacy.

I sat down and immediately ordered a sangria, the house specialty. It came in a smaller glass than I was hoping, but was a really amazing drink. Little pieces of apples and oranges danced with ice cubes in the ruby liquid. The red wine was neither too sweet nor too bitter. Very tasty. At that point Lee came walking up looking like a Vietnamese Mexican (sorry bud, you’ve been spending waay too much time in San Antonio lately). But we settle and I ordered tapas, calamari and crab bourekia, and decided to get the paella (which requires 30 minutes to cook, btw). Well, technically we only ordered a crab bourekia but a few minutes later what should happen to show up but calamari. We waited a few minutes for the waitress to come back but when she didn’t we decided to dig in. I was hungry and I’ll never turn down good calamari!

The calamari was fresh and the breading was decent. Nothing too spectacular. It was fried to a perfect golden color though. There’s nothing I hate more than overfried calamari. But the sauce. Well, the “smoked paprika mojo picon” sauce was AWFUL. Bleh. I think they mixed tomato sauce with liquid smoke and served it up for us. Avoid if at all possible. By then the waitress had come back and when we pointed out that we had actually ordered the bourekia she said “My bad!” and the bourekia appeared soon after. The crab bourekia wasn’t all that great either. The phyllo was initially crisp and flaky and the lump Crab, mascarpone & roasted peppers filling tasted good but the whole package together turned out being kind of oily and lackluster.

The paella came out soon after which surprised me, I was expecting it take a lot longer to cook. But then, I was on my 3rd glass of sangria and was enjoying the company. Now, after having the less than stellar tapas, I wasn’t expecting much from the paella. Maybe it was because my guard was down, or maybe it really was that good, but the paella knocked my socks off. The octopus, calamari, and mussels (and maybe sausage but I don’t remember) were cooked perfectly in the moist saffron-tomato infused rice. It had a slightly smoky flavor and the texture of the rice was incredible. Not at all gummy like some paella’s I’ve had, and definitely not dry. Each grain of rice was plumped to Portuguese perfection. I totally glutted myself on it. And to be honest the portion was huge. It is meant for 2 people, but 3 people could easily not finish it and with appetizers it would be the perfect amount for 4 people (if you’re cheap like me).

After the incredible paella, we decided to chance dessert and ordered the lemon pot de crème. I love creamy, lemon desserts. When it comes time to order dessert, I don’t want something heavy and chocolaty; I want something light and tart. I have the mis-begotten belief that it makes my after dinner breath smell better (but I know it’s a lie). Now this lemon pot was perfectly acceptable. It was a great consistency, a nice lemon flavor, not to tart, not too sweet. But if you’re looking for an amazing lemon pot experience, Wink’s lemon cream filled sugar balls (no comments) are soo much better. What was amazing about the fino lemon pot were the Basil-Mint sugar dusted blackberries on top. Basil, mint, sugar, and blackberries are MEANT to live together in harmony in my stomach and that’s where they went. Paired with the lemon pot they were amazing, but there were only 4 of them! If the whole top were covered in those awesome blackberries I’d have given it a much better score.

Overall: Wonderful patio, awesome paella & sangria, stay away from the tapas.. please..

Mariah – 7.5 (9 if you ONLY order sangria & paella and get them to throw in the blackberries)