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National spotlight on trio of restaurants

The three are Garrido’s, Olivia, and Uchi (“Austin Raises the Bar on Good Food,” WSJ 10/17/09, byline Katy McLaughlin).

The comments in the article regarding the individual establishments have their interest, of course (for instance, there’s one to the effect that there are those who’ll never taste the chips and accompanying salsas at Garrido’s because we’re not accustomed to being charged for them. That’s why I haven’t tried them, even though I love the carnitas at Garrido’s.)

It’s some of the declarations about Austin dining in general, though, that I find especially interesting, and quite perceptive. Tyson Cole seems to have been very generous with his time and to have spoken with the reporter at some length. I hope that this reporter does explore Tex-Mex food ingreater depth, as she seems to have some appreciation for it. The Fearless Critic Austin is presented as a milestone in the Austin food world. She describes Austin as a town that has long offered food for the budget-minded and also unimaginative high-dollar menus for lobbyists and legislators. “With so much good, cheap food . . . it’s been a long path towards convincing the public that $28 entrees have a place on the scene.” I’m happy with the countless $15-and-under outstanding ones out there, but the occasional splurge does have its place.

For all your turntable needs

Audio SystemsIt was mostly the stylus, but the cartridge was as ancient as the turntable, bought used and third in a line that began long ago with a Dual 1212, so I held them both accountable for the excruciating noise that came from the speakers. It was time for a quest. Where was a vinyl-owner to turn for turntable help?

I found my answers and the cartridge, stylus, and proper calibration thanks to the tactful and knowledgable and speedy artists of sound and all-knowing oracles at Audio Systems courtesy of a referral from a kind person who answered the telephone at Waterloo Records.

I was so happy not to be met with ridicule, but with understanding and kindness, and even more pleased by the results unexpectedly found at what I suspected would turn out to be a den of impossibly high-end equipment where people would have no use and no time for assisting me with my modest and antique turntable.

So, yes; some record stores here in town do stock and will sell a cartridge and stylus. I had planned to find replacements, install them myself, and carry on, but this was by far the better course of action. I’m so sorry that I took no names, but I certainly plan to return to Audio Systems when it’s time for an upgrade. The well organized workspace reinforces the confidence inspired by the Audio Systems people.

What’s spinning? It’s Maverick LP-001 (1980, entitled “For the Record”), featuring Marcia Ball and the Misery Brothers, Augie Meyers and the Western Head Band, Doug Sahm, Bobby Earl Smith, Joe Gracey, and more. The exact song at this minute? “Meet Me in Seguin (Once Again).” This album is in close to mint condition and it sounds just like new, thanks to Audio Systems. Look for the blue awning at 1102 West Koenig, telephone 451-5736.

Tarka Indian Kitchen quick-lunch

This is a wonderful addition and an especially welcome one to those south of the river. The tag-line is fresh…fast…flavorful and all three are true. Tarka India Kitchen was doing a busy takeout business in the rain today. This is a great place for those who are hungry and need food as soon as possible.

Here’s what we tried. The pair of vegetable samosas came to the table with a mint chutney. The chutney was a bit sweet. The samosas were generous in size and contained a beautifully spicy potato filling garnished with English peas. The wrapper was a bit on the tough side, but that was inconsequential when the contents were so delicious. The vegetable pakora was fine, but in the future I’d save my appetite to sample other items.

The person who ordered coconut curry asked for it to contain chicken and to be hot, not mild or medium. He was not disappointed and was pleased especially with the chidken. This dish contained potatoes and was very rich.

I want to try other dishes, especially the daal makhni and the channa masala, in the future, but it may be tough, since I always want to order the sheesh kebob. The menu said chicken and lamb, which I thought was chicken or lamb, but it’s a mixture. These were tender and fresh, beautifully seasoned and extremely tasty. The flavor was of lamb, predominantly.

I prefer the naan at India Kitchen on Riverside or at Taj Palace. For me, Tarka’s is too uniform and almost cakelike in texture. The long-grain rice accompanying our dishes was fluffy and wonderful. We could see cloves, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. I assume that this rice is a foundation for the biryanis, which I look forward to trying.

There’s even a children’s menu at very low prices and complete with a beverage choice of apple juice, mango lemonade, or a fountain drink. This is a very child-friendly place, since the recorded music covers a great deal. There’s a diaper-changing station in the restroom.

A diner orders at the counter and pays at that time. There’s a self-serve beverage station with straws and ice. Utensils are picked up there, also. I noticed Kingfisher and Shiner beers on ice. A runner brings the food to the table, recognizing it by the number card displayed. Even though Tarka was quite busy, the food seemed to be there almost instantaneously.

Tarka is related to the Clay Pit. Find it at 5207 Brodie Lane, suite 120, away in a corner next to Zen. If you get lost while trying to locate it, call 892-2008. Do look for it.

Austin youth magnet?

Today’s WSJ puts us right up there in the top five cities reported to be most attractive to recent college graduates, along with D.C., Seattle, NYC, and Portland: “The Next Hot Youth-Magnet Cities,” byline Sue Shellenbarger, with six panelists involved in the selection.

The methodology is explained on line, and the comparative metrics include unemployment rate, cost-of-living index, education levels, and median household income. Of the top five, our cost of living is reported to be the lowest.

The reported downside: “Some panelists have doubts about how strongly Austin will rebound after the recession.” The print version is illustrated by a photo of Lucy in Disguise on South Congress.

Austin ag property pure real-estate play?

Boggy Creek FarmBoggy Creek Farm is featured in today’s WSJ and described more as a prime historic property of substantial size than as a working organic farm: “Where Whole Foods Shops: A historic house on Boggy Creek Farm grows organically in Austin” (byline Katy McLaughlin).

[Before going on to say more about Boggy Creek, since Whole Foods is mentioned in the Boggy Creek subtitle, I’d like to be clear that IMHO it’s no accident that most Austinites have not bothered to comment or blog generally about the recent John Mackey opinion piece on health care, also in the WSJ. Enough of us know people associated with WhoFoo or even Mr. Mackey himself to have formed opinions about this piece. It is of some interest that there are those around the U.S. generally who have not taken kindly to what Mr. M wrote and who state that, as a consequence, they intend to take their business elsewhere (see Facebook page, e.g.).]

Included in the article on Boggy Creek Farm are detailed physical descriptions of the old farmhouse, plus the price originally paid for the farm, what it might have brought at the height of the boom, and speculation about what might be a probable sale price at this time. There’s some discussion of agricultural productivity, coupled with a passing mention of what the per-hour return on the owners’ labor has in the past been calculated to be.

The article in print form is accompanied by three black-and-white photographs; the on-line version shares with us a nifty little color slideshow. Let us hope that the appearance of this article is not a consequence of our drought.

Moonlight by daylight

At Moonlight Bakery on South Lamar I found the only plain croissant in Austin other than the one made by Sweetish Hill that I would ever consider consuming. Another winner is the Italian bread, shaped like a giant bolillo (pointed on both ends, slashed down its “spine,” and coated in poppy seeds, apparently made from unbleached flour and with my favorite kind of crust, not brittle and not soft, just chewy). I loved the homestyle cookies, especially the snickerdoodles and the so-called “refrigerator” cookies, striated with chocolate. These are almost miniatures and are cookies for grown-ups, with true flavors and no over-dependence on just plain sugar. The same is true of the diminutive but flavorful chocolate-chip or Tollhouse cookies. Since I’m a bread and cookie person, I’m unable to report on anything other than the appearance of fancier items. Accomplices in baked-goods debauchery report wondrous things of the fruit pastries, cream horns, small eclairs, coconut macaroons, gingerbread people, kolaches, and many more. Moonlight Bakery is open from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm every day but Sunday, when the hours are from 8 am to 2 pm. Currently on the wall is photographic art by David Jewell, and it is art, not “art.” These small works are available at a very reasonable price. See for yourself. This was my first visit to Moonlight Bakery, but it won’t be my last. The menu promises an entire universe of baked-goods, including cakes, cupcakes. To think that I happened upon it only because someone needed an item from Batteries Plus, next door.

Mysterious noise identified

Some speculated that it was machinery of some sort; others, toads; still others, a bird. Thanks to diligent research and consultation with experts, the producer of the very loud sound that’s new to most of us this summer has been identified as a giant cicada. Here’s a link to some recordings. Warmer weather has apparently encouraged these insects to extend their range northward. Here’s what the San Antonio Express-News reported recently: “Giant cicadas making quite a racket,” byline Anton Caputo. This article has been syndicated by AP but has not appeared in our local daily. We have been seeing the sheddings from the usual cicacadas, not all that large, but have not yet seen any signs of these quite cacophonous creatures, only heard them.

Who knew?

There’s always more to learn about Austin. Here are two info-bits new to me, and maybe to you:

  • Austin Community College offers a personal fitness trainer program. In an article about the role of community colleges generally, ACC is highlighted and there are photo-illustrations showing several Austinites enrolled there. Maybe you’ll recognize someone you know. The print version shows at least a dozen identifiable Austinites. The article appears in the July 20 issue of Time magazine (“Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?,” dateline Austin, byline Laura Fitzpatrick).
  • Austin is the headquarters of an entity known as the Distressed Property Institute. This was learned from an article in the August issue of Smart Money about how the current market has changed things for real-estate agents: “Do-It-All Deal Makers,” byline Brad Reagan). The current issue is not yet on line, but a co-founder of the Austin-based outfit states that more than 12,000 agents will pay to take a two-day course in selling so-called “distressed properties,” reportedly up from 1,400 last year. Paying for and attending the course apparently enables a person to call use the Institute’s proprietary “Certified Distressed Property Expert Designation.” The linked site shows locations of future course sessions, presumably predicted centers of short sales.

All ‘choked up

The title is borrowed from the July/August issue of Texas Gardener magazine. Clicking on the magazine link will take you to the cover photograph.

The similar photo shown here was taken a month ago. Even though the camera is a toy-like Concord 1500, the image is true to life, and the reality is so surreal as to seem unbelievable. These were growing at the Austin Sunshine Community Gardens. I had never seen such a sight.

The magazine reports that A&M has been working in Uvalde on growing artichokes in Texas. I’ve seen with my own eyes that it’s possible right here in Austin.

Garrido’s leisure-lunch

Garrido's in AustinGarrido’s is open and serving food continuously from opening to closing. In July, brunch will be added on Saturdays and Sundays, but otherwise the same menu is available all day long, with a soup special and a taco special each day.

We were burning some vacation time but it was mid-afternoon before we could consider where to dine. Garrido’s was humming and buzzing with activity even after the conventional lunch-hour. Today’s soup was a delightful shrimp concoction in a lobster broth. The oyster-lover at the table was more than pleased.

This was our first visit. We did not try the chips and salsa (these are not free) because we were interested in the lamb “pops,” which are delicious chops, frenched to make a handle of the bone, seared on the outside and just pink enough on the inside. The lamb was of the best. The ancho sauce was delicious and so were the tiny leaves of green dressed with a tasty vinaigrette that took a portion of the same plate.

The carnitas were the very best that I have ever tasted, better even than my former favorite version, served by Tula of fond memory just off the drag. That’s all I’m going to say about them, other than to recommend them highly. The tortillas are tender and made in house; the black beans and the lime rice are delicious. The espresso equals the best in town. The little dessert offering of cookies, chocolate mousse, and chocolate-coffee truffles makes great sharing.

The musica was tropical. The acoustics are busy but do permit conversation. Garrido’s deserves to stay just as busy as we found it today.

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