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Jul 28, 2007 12:14 AM

Austin Report

Not nearly as much to report as I thought. Turns out my hotel had a cooked breakfast buffet included in the price and I really needed to watch my budget, so I always had breakfast there. It actually was pretty good, and it was different each morning. Sometimes scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon, others pancakes, eggs and sausage. Plenty to fill up on.

Lunch was included with my conference, so really it's just the dinners...

First night, I succumbed to a Panda Express DRIVE-THRU near my hotel. I was tired and after shopping at a local HEB for sodas and snacks for my room, I just wasn't up for driving around. And I am unashamedly a sucker for their Orange Chicken. The fact that there was a drive-thru was a huge bonus (the ones near me don't have that convenience), so I ate on the couch in my room (a huge suite that I got for peanuts on hotwire) and was quite happy.

Z Tejas...I had to try the ancho fudge pie. The entire meal was just kind of bland. The cornbread was bland; the blackened catfish "tacos" which were actually little burritos (maybe they meant soft tacos) had far too much avocado in them and masked the flavor of the fish. I love avocado...but I wanted a blackened, spicy taste, and there was none of that to be had. The touted ancho pie didn't taste of ancho at all. The texture was gooey and I liked that, but too many nuts for my taste. The best part of the meal was the side salad I ordered that came with a delicious raspberry vinaigrette with blue cheese crumbles. That had the most flavor of anything. All in all a disappointing meal.

Mesa Ranch -- thanks to whomever recommended this place. It was the best meal of the week! I went early (around 4:30) and no one else was dining. The staff was super friendly and the 12 oz. strip steak I had was definitely one of the best, if not the best, steaks I've had in my life. Super tender, juicy, perfectly cooked on the rare side of medium-rare, just the way I like it. Terrific smokey taste and aroma. They gave me a basket of corn sticks in the shape of sahuaro cactuses (cacti?) that made me miss my Arizona desert. And they tasted great...very crunchy and with the best butter on the side -- loaded with garlic, cilantro and hot pepper. Got the taste buds going! A small salad which wasn't anything special...but then that steak, with a spicy hollandaise on the side and poblano mashed potatoes. The potatoes were good, but it was the steak that was the highlight of the meal. I ate it very slowly. When I praised the meat to my server, he said that they get all their beef from Nolan Ryan's ranch and there are no hormones, etc...just natural-raised beef. Whatever it was, it was superb! And $21 was a steal for the quality of beef. I got dessert to go and enjoyed that later in my room. Some kind of chocolate decadence thing...when I opened the box it was a tall cube covered in glistening ganache. Broke into the thing with my fork and it was two layers of brownie, filled with a mocha mousse. Very rich and wonderful. Loved this place!!!

Took a chance at one of the restaurants on the conference list near the facility. I'm always up for trying a French bakery-cafe. Once I stepped inside, though, I realized I had walked into a chain of some sort...the place was called La Madeleine. I'd never heard of this chain, so I have to claim ignorance. It was too late to go somewhere else so I ordered and hoped for the best. The Shrimp Florentine crepes were slathered in a runny sauce that made the crepes soggy. The crispy edges were good, though. The shrimp inside was the best part, very fresh and perfectly cooked. The green beans on the side had a lot of flavor, but way too much salt. The potato galette didn't taste like anything...just something fried and crispy. The best part of the meal was the pesto cheese stick I bought for an appetizer. I took a lemon tart with me, and it was insipid. Probably 1 part lemon mixed in with 5 parts gloppy cream-like substance. How this place stays in business, passing for a French place is beyond me. I have an authentic French bakery-cafe near me and I am spoiled. Live and learn.

The last night was a BBQ at the conference which was quite tasty...sausages, brisket and chicken with all the trimmings.

Wish I'd had time to try other places, but was really glad to have found Mesa Ranch. If I'm ever in Austin again, I'm heading there first!

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  1. I'd give Uchi and/or Vespaio a try if you ever come by Austin again. Uchi, especially, seems to have consistently superb ratings from most of the veteran Austin chowhound members.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dcx1287

      wow this place looks great. i'll have to give it a shot when i am out there in a couple weeks. is this primarily a sushi place or should i try the fish specialties?

      1. re: jeffbatl

        I recommend the omakase, if you don't mind spending the money. If there is anything you really don't like, tell your waiter and they'll let the chef know.

        The traditional sushi and sashimi are masterful as well.

        I visited last Friday, and the food and service were both excellent. I could go on, but I think Uchi has gotten plenty of hype from me on Chowhound already.

        One warning: be prepared to wait a long time to get sat, unless you show up right when they open or have a reservation.

        1. re: jeffbatl

          If you're not down for the price of the omakase and you can get there right when they open, I'd suggest bellying up to the bar right in front of Tyson and let him lead you through the menu. He's very good at gauging a person's adventure quotient (what they are and are not willing to try) as well as thinking about budget (despite Uchi's price point, he does understand that we can't all shell out 100 plus per person all the time and may want to keep the tab more manageable). I say all this with some predjudice toward uchi's greatness, as I worked there the first year it was open. But, I must say Tyson got me to try a lot of things (I'll eat anything once) I'd never imagine (combinations and types of fish) and I treasure anytime I'm able to scrape up the dough on a poor grad student budget and return for a meal (unfortunately my favorites can be quite pricey).

        2. re: dcx1287

          As much as I would like to agree with the status quo in regard to Uchi, I must say that I cannot. The sushi and sashimi are, indeed, superb. The flavor combinations are creative and well executed. However, when it comes to the omakase, I would pass. I ordered it with my father about two months ago, and was sorely disappointed. The tasting consists of ten courses (give or take), and only three of them came off of the sushi line. I do not understand why when one is heralded as the best sushi in town they would opt to serve only one third of the meal from their famous raw menu. The hot food ranged from decent all the way down to abhorrent. They attempted to make "risotto" with Japanese short grain rice. It just doesn't work. The menu was not cohesive, some of the servers could not even pronounce ingredients (I am a stickler for words, sorry), and the lack of thought put into the kitchen food was nearly infuriating. Fusion is one thing, but Uchi gave me interesting raw (or cured) seafood dishes, and the most ho-hum assortment of hot dishes that I know I will never again order their omakase. Stick to the a la carte fish. You will be much better off.