What's New, Chowhounds?
The thread on which restaurant you patronize most makes me think of the "three modes of dining" that Jim Leff outlined in a report from his Chow Tour (http://www.chow.com/tour/106 ):
1. Going to a known place (for many, this means a chain) or a place you’ve been guided to
2. Taking a random stab and hoping for the best
3. Chowconnaissance, whereby an area is methodically gauged and charted via herculean onslaught in an afternoon or two
For non-chowhounds, those options appear in declining order of appeal. Familiarity is paramount, going off the map is worrisome, and the sampling of multiple places in quick succession is completely daft.
For chowhounds, it’s the opposite. Familiarity is boring, trying someplace new is exciting, and massive exploration is … well, the most rewarding pastime one could imagine.
What new, unknown places have local 'hounds tried? Or seen and want to try? What was good there? Which places left you wanting more? What's the next place that you want to check out?
Well, you seem to have the east and southeast sides pretty well sewn up, but you've inspired me to go up north and put the word in the streets. I may only report back when I find something noteworthy, but I'm going to do a hard-target search of the area centered on Mopac and Howard to try something at every non-chain restaurant I can find. With so many restaurants, I probably won't eat more than once at the same restaurant for more than a year.
I might even branch as far west as the taqueria jwynne2000 mentioned, unless it's already been checked out? ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/361819 )
Just to mark the beginning of the trek, I'll post on today's results, although I'm not sure yet if it's noteworthy for any reason other than being the first.
Starting right at that intersection, I ate at the Mexican place in the shopping center on the corner. No, not the chain restaurant with the drive-through (what I like to call corp-Mex), but the little mom-and-pop place wedged between the Indian buffet and the chain pizza place: Los Portales.
I was in a bit of a rush, so I ordered 3 semi-representative dishes to go: soft chicken tacos, a side of refried beans, and flan. As I was waiting for my order I noticed carne guisada, barbacoa, and picadillo among the breakfast tacos, so I might need to try them sometime.
The 3 tacos in the order were generously sized. The tortillas were on the better end of store-bought (not rubbery, but still machine-pressed thin), the chicken actually had flavor as though it were at least cooked in a chicken stock. The chopped iceberg lettuce and tomato added a little color and volume, but not much flavor.
The refried beans had good flavor from the cooking of the beans, but I could not detect any porcine contribution in the re-frying. The texture was a bit soupy when warm, with some unmashed chunks of bean in the mix.
The flan had a strong caramel flavor, and the texture was a bit curdy on the surfaces other than the top, having been stored and served in liquid. Not bad, but not creamy enough to be really satisfying.
All in all, I'd definitely walk across the parking lot to Los Portales in preference to all the chain restaurants in this shopping center. The food is fresh, and at least the chicken filling and the beans had some good flavor. Most of the menu is devoted to plates of either standard Tex-Mex meat offerings (carne guisada, fajitas, etc.) or enchiladas. I couldn't do a sit-down meal justice this time around, so I'll probably be back at some point.
I agree with Knobby...Your "Chowconnaissance" of the southeast and east sides of town has inspired me to also search out my favorite Tex-Mex and BBQ joints in town. I started my chow-tour with some reccomended places and also some places convenient to my location. While my process is much less systematic or comprehensive then yours, I look forward to every opportunity I get to try a new place, or one I was guided to off of these boards.
I would argue there's a fourth mode of dining: under protest. Sometimes we are forced to locations where the chow is sub-par or even downright bad due to circumstances (business, friendship, whatever). This provides the chowhound with a challenge of finding a diamond in the cluttered rough of a bad menu, or salvaging an outing with friends by sustaining oneself on beer alone. In either case, the "under protest" dining experience can result in chow nirvana if successful, or chow hell if not.
I only wish I were as proficient at chowconnaisance as the Big Dog. Or someone like Texas ‘hound Scott, who tried at least 200 restaurants looking for the best CFS and barbecue in Dallas, in addition to covering an entire long street’s worth of Mexican options. My own chow exploration is extremely slow in comparison. But it’s fun.
Bababooey, I’m very impressed with your own chowhounding to date. After all, you just moved here and have tried—and posted about—several interesting discoveries. I love moving to a new place because it’s all discovery. Your journey reminds me of my own when I first moved to Austin. I look forward to reading more of your posts. And Knoblauch’s, too.
I like your addition of “under protest” as a fourth dining category. My family knows better by now than to suggest mediocre destinations, although we try new places all the time. With friends and business associates, however, it’s a different story. That’s why I appreciate posters who recommend the one or two good dishes at an otherwise lousy spot.
Great topic here.
I'm happy to report that my dinner at Maru was successful tonight. My g/f just landed her dream job, so it was a bit of a celebratory dinner.
I really liked the interior setup of the place. It's small - maybe 10 small tables and one table for a group of six. They also have really nice sushi bar in the center with about 10 seats, tended by a very professional-looking elderly Japanese man. The decor is pleasant, homey, and minimalistic.... a perfect intersection of casual and romantic. They're still BYOB, so we were able to enjoy a nice 750ml of Chimay White with the meal.
Anytime I try a new sushi place, I almost always go with their chef's special for nigiri, so I can try a variety of pieces, with no decision-making, at a good price. These guys offer a 12-piece plate for about $21 (I noticed a smaller offering on the lunch menu for about $10). The pieces are easily the most generous-sized I've seen anywhere in town. I'm not sure if there's a point when nigiri pieces can get *too* big, but they toe that line. I wasn't complaining though... I ate only 8 of the 12 pieces and was plenty full (it usually takes me 15 anywhere else to get to that point). All of the pieces I had were way-above-average delicious.
We started with miso soup. I never really expect this to taste very different from one restaurant to the next, but this was surprisingly rich and flavorful. Don't pass it up.
Unfortunately, there was a low point. My g/f loves rolls, and ordered a shrimp tempura roll, from the specialty roll menu. The presentation was visually appealing, but 1) the things had a diameter of about 3 inches... utterly impossible to eat in one bite, leaving you looking kind of foolish as you try to bite it in half, and 2) they rolled up imitation crab meat in with the shrimp. why??
I have a feeling this place could be a real contender in the mid-range Austin sushi arena. Just steer clear of the specialty rolls.
i've only eaten at maru once. a lot of what we ordered also had A LOT of imitation krab meat in it as well. very odd. nothing was bad really, but nothing was really good either. everything did seem fresh though which will bring me back to try again. i did enjoy their take on the spicy tuna roll, as the spicy sauce was not in a mayonnaise base. the lighting and decor however i thought were hideous.
i think it is a good choice for value sushi, but it won't meet anyone's expectations for great sushi. i'd say it's a baby step up from supermarket sushi. the freshness and low pricing will bring me back in a pinch. my friend swears by their tonkatsu-don (fried pork chop over rice) and ramen. i will definitely go back to try the non-sushi items.