Austin, TX 78758
Mariah: So we’ve officially made it to the big leagues. We, here at Dining in Austin Blog, are now officially members of “The Media,” that loosely confederated organization of operatives that report on the seedy underbelly of society. For a few months now, Laura and I have been receiving interesting food related PR solicitations. It started out as an offer for free cookies in exchange for a plug, but we don’t review products, so we turned it down. Then we got invited to the opening of the Café at the new Blanton. But it was at 5:00 on a Tuesday and it was only a museum café opening, so we passed it up.,
Laura: The cool thing about Dining In Austin Blog is that Mariah and I do this completely as a hobby. We are just two girls who love to eat, write, and live in Austin. This allows us to say whatever we feel like saying and I think it makes this blog totally awesome. This whole "on the Media list" has been a cool experience too. It allows us to have a sneak peak at what goes down in the PR world and report it directly to you. And well, it's pretty fabulous to be getting free food and wine. And for the record, I would have loved to go to the museum opening. I love the Blanton and don't think they should be overlooked. I'm really looking forward to the Birth of the Cool exhibit opening on Monday. The museum has worked with all kinds of places around town to celebrate the exhibit- including some really serious jazz music at the Elephant Room. Do yourself a favor and go see Jeff Lofton play his Miles Davis Tribute there on February 28th. I’ve seen him do his thing on Thursday nights at the Belmont and it has become one of my favorite weekly events.
Mariah: Over Thanksgiving we were contacted by Joel Haro of http://lovepuppiesbrownies.com/. He offered to hand deliver a box of freshly baked brownies to us over the Christmas holiday. How could we turn that down? Like I say, we normally don’t review products, but he was a local boy, so why the hell not? And let me tell you, they’re amazing brownies. They’ve expanded recently and will hand deliver a box of brownies to basically anywhere in Austin. They’re all incredibly fresh with a nice fudgy bite to them. The Burning Love brownies with chili powder are great. They have a nice slow burn to them that really makes your mouth sizzle with excitement. But my favorites were the Peanut Butter brownies. He has somehow managed to take the filling from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and mix them into a fudgey delicious brownie. I liked the double chocolate, but they were kind of plain, and I didn’t care for the Mocha ones at all. They had ground up coffee beans in them. And while a chocolate-coffee aficionado might appreciate them, I didn't. But that’s ok, I gave those away and gorged on the Peanut Butter ones, they were extremely addictive. $28 will get you a box of excellent assorted brownies delivered to your doorstep. On the budget end, a tin of 12 unwrapped brownies all of the same flavor is $16.
Laura: The brownies were delivered all purdy-like in a nicely wrapped box. The 12 brownies inside were each individually wrapped. I had my friend Ghita try them out with me and she described them as seriously gourmet. I liked that because they are locally made they have solid ingredients- like when your grandma makes cookies, you know she’s not pumping extra preservatives into them. My favorites were the Burning Love and Peanut Butter ones too. They were delicious, especially when heated up for a few seconds in the microwave. They become really soft and gooey and the ancho chili took on major character. Yum. Unfortunately, the Mocha and Double Chocolate didn’t do much for me either. I think these brownies are great for a special occasion or a gift. Then again, I’m not much of a sugar eater. Mariah is definitely the expert when it comes to desserts.
Mariah: Since then, we’ve gotten various and sundry press releases for restaurant openings or food events around Austin, but nothing that’s really piqued our interest until a few weeks ago. We finally got a coveted invite to the media opening of a new restaurant. And not just a café, to a real restaurant, Fleming’s! How could we turn that down? Free dinner? Yes please! And I have to tell you, being part of the media is kind of exciting. When we showed up at Fleming’s, a woman at the entrance greeted us and showed us into a private dining room where the other members of the “media” were loitering. We were introduced by the woman to the manager when she whispered in his ear “This is Laura and Mariah from Dining in Austin.” It all felt very official to get such white glove treatment.
Laura: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was definitely expecting wine and Fleming’s delivered. After getting a bearing on my surroundings, I grabbed a glass of wine from one of the waiters walking around in suits with silver trays of appetizers and vino. I spotted a table and sat down. I noticed set menus placed around the table. Not very vegetarian friendly, but the dinner was well thought out- cheese plate, appetizer, four dinner choices and two desserts. I spied the cheese plate in the corner and started hinting to Mariah that we should dig in.
Mariah: The available cheeses were of sufficiently good quality. There was a nice creamy Chevre, a sharp blue, a nice mellow cow’s milk cheese from France, and a harder aged sheep’s milk cheese from Spain. My favorite was the MontChevre mostly because it was the goat cheese I grew up eating when I lived in Chicago. It went nicely with the soft, chewy rosemary bread served with it. Looking at their website, it looks like the “Artisan Cheese Plate” can be ordered from the bar as an appetizer.
Laura: The blue cheese was very intense. It’s the only one that really stands out, I remember it really grabbing ahold of me in a pleasant way. The plate also included olives, which I am a total sucker for.
Mariah: We settled in next to a guy who was a “lifestyle” writer for the Statesman and a couple of folks from KLBJ. I think we were the only food writers within a 3 table radius! But, eh, who cares, it was free. We drank their wine, a tasty $14 a glass (yikes!) Robert Sinksy 2004 Merlot (cherry, currant, soft oak finish, traces of tobacco) and their house white, the “46 Diamonds,” a decent but rather mild pouilly fuisse (apricot, grapefruit and I thought it smelled like strained peas and baby food, but I think that had to do with the Baby Shower I just hosted). The passed appetizers were rather bland themselves. The Seared Ahi Tuna with julienned vegetables and a spicy mustard was tiny and tasteless. I would have preferred a healthier dollop of the spicy mustard or something more flavorful. The Mini Crab Cakes had more flavor, but were fried and filled with a roasted red pepper lime butter goo and were kind of reminiscent of something I’d get at the grocery store or Long John Silvers. I can even imagine the voice-over… “The Sauce is on the Inside!!” They also passed around plates of bread with a sun dried tomato spread, that was in my opinion one of the more original creations of the evening. They had added a strong lemon component to the sun dried tomato spread and the two went surprisingly well together.
Laura: I had to start eating bread when it came out since I was on my third glass of wine at that time. What can I say- it had been a stressful day at work.
Mariah: After we had gotten sufficiently drunk off free wine, the various managers stood up and delivered their speeches about how awesome Fleming’s is. After about 5 minutes of a canned speech, Laura and I flipped over one of the menus and started writing notes back and forth to each other. We felt like we were in high school again. I thought at any moment a nun in a penguin suit would slap my hand with a ruler and tell me to pay attention.
Laura: Actually I started taking notes so that my wine drenched brain could remember important foodie details, but it kind of dissolved into the high school note passing as the canned speeches got increasingly painful.
Jennifer – Serving Manager
Mariah: Why is she spending so much time talking about servers??
Laura: She’s the Serving Manager
Mariah: Oh yeah
Laura: She’s giving a hard sale on the hospitality industry.
Mariah: I want her job. BS for 20 minutes then eat free food.
Marian – Wine Manager
Mariah: So if they chill all their wines at the appropriate temperature, why are there bottles of wine on the walls (we learned later they were decorative only)
Mariah: (after comment that they only served wine in the finest crystal goblets) That’s NOT crystal!!
Laura: Completely unable to get a sound when I rub the rim. Am I just bad at this?
Russell – Food Manager
Laura: Oh good, finally the food!!
Mariah: Bleh! Cornfed. Why do steakhouses keep serving cornfed beef. Gross
Laura: I don’t know why they brag about their cows being cornfed. Grassfed is so much better and um, natural. But he does looks like a hot beefy football player from Iowa.
Mariah: No, he looks like he’d be a detective on CSI: Des Moines
Mariah: So after enduring a half hour of various managers waxing poetic on the virtues of Fleming’s they finally shut up and got down to the food. The first actual course was an appetizer of “Wicked Cajun BBQ shrimp.” The shrimp were highly spiced and cooked well, but I wasn’t a fan of the sauce it came in. It was a Cajun spiced butter sauce with a touch of cream. But the oil and spice were really overpowering and I would have preferred a little more cream to balance it out. Next came the Wedge Salad. It was good, but rather typical steakhouse fare.
Laura: The KLBJ guy next to me got really excited because he got to eat 90% of the dish that was set out for us to share. He said he liked it a lot.
Mariah: The entrees came out much better than the appetizers. I went with the coveted Fillet Mignon while Laura, being a vegetarian, got a special veggie plate. My fillet, was pretty decent. The texture of the meat was typical cornfed with a mild flavor. There was a nice char crust on the outside and a tender red inside (I like mine rare). But it was nothing spectacular. I did, however, try the NY Strip Steak of the Statesman reporter next to me and it was much better. In the typical fashion of NY Strip, it wasn’t as tender as the Fillet, but it probably had 3 times the flavor and the marbling was lovely. I would recommend that over the fillet any day.
Laura: The vegetarian plate was satisfactory, but came off like an after thought. It consisted of creamed spinach, mushrooms, mashed potatoes and asparagus. The asparagus was wrapped up all pretty with a sliver of sautéed red pepper. It was nice to have a bit of thought put into the presentation. The asparagus was cooked to the right degree- still firm and decently fresh. The mashed potatoes were a little sad. They tasted a bit grainy and were made from russet potatoes. I would have preferred a bit creamier texture. The creamed spinach was delicious in its dairy and fattening goodness. The creamy greens complemented well with the sautéed to the point of slight outer carmelization of the button mushrooms.
Mariah: The sides were probably the best part of the dinner. The sautéed button mushrooms (the same as Laura got on her plate) were very good. They had a slight char to their skin and were cooked in a nice thin garlic glaze. They had a crispier finish that a normally chewy mushroom and were quite good. The snap peas were also fresh but rather boring. The real show stealer were the Fleming’s Potatoes. They were creamy, cheesy, jalapeno-ey, and I swear had bacon in them (though Russell assured me they did not). They were very very good.
Laura: I felt mildly cheated since some of my dish was duplicated in the sides, but I was really full, so it didn’t matter.
Mariah: Dessert was a mixed bag of quality. Laura, the Crème Brule lover, ordered the Crème Brule (surprisingly), and I opted for the Walnut Turtle Pie so we could each try one. However, the Crème Brule they delivered with actually soupy! When she cracked into it, a crème goo oozed out the top of the burned sugar crust.
Laura: Mariah was shocked and offended at the lack of quality control on my crème brulee, so she stole the Brule of the Statesman reporter next to us who had bolted midway through the Entrée course.
Mariah: I think he was embarrassed for hitting on (and being shot down by) the Wine Manager. His Brule was appropriately firm, but was really quite bland as far as Brule’s go. We weren’t fans. I liked the Walnut Turtle Pie much better. It was rich and dense and really showcased the flavor of the fresh walnuts.
Laura: The crème brule compensated for lack of complex flavor with loads of sugar. As Mariah stated, the Walnut Turtle Pie was delicious and the cream presented on the side had an interesting pepper-infused quality to it.
Mariah: We left exceedingly tipsy on (free) wine and feeling quite proud of ourselves for scoring such a tasty (free) meal.
Bottom Line: Unoriginal steakhouse fare in an upscale environment
Mariah – 7 (if I paid full price, 10 if it were free)
Laura – 6. Good, but in no way innovative. Also, it gave me a stomach ache, although that’s probably my own fault for eating too much.