My good buddy and former Boston now Birmingham hound, Dax, was in town this weekend to grub around town. I was thinking about taking him on a tour of east-side Tejano-Mex carts but Dax, being the salty old bastard that he is said, "I got 'nuff Mexican at home. I want Chinese." We were actually cruising for Din Ho until my slight detour led us past T&S, so I called an audible and pulled in. Started out with a round of pan-fried potstickers and delicious s&p squid (very clean fry). Duck had been on the mind all day, and T&S delivered the goods -- stupendously sublime, fatty, crispy duck. Also tried the lamb claypot, which I thought was very good, in particular for the broth which was rich and lamby, something that's not in a liquid state at room temp, I'm sure. Plenty of good bits of lamb meat, as well as some tasty gnarly parts. Rounded out the meal with some chinese broccoli w/ oyster sauce to pretend like we were eating healthy.
Next day we hit Asia Cafe and played a fairly straight-up-the-middle game, but one that is reliably successful.
Zhong dumplings -- love these thick-skinned suckers (particularly coated in chili oil, which you gotta add yourself).
Twice-cooked puerco -- always a winner, sure to please even the most pork-loving folks, as Dax is known to be.
Shredded pork w/ yellow chives -- a pretty tame dish, but I still loved it and it works well to tone down the overall heat of any meal at Asia Cafe.
Spicy fish -- I actually realize now that the fish itself is hardly the highlight of this one for me. I love the loads of crisp veggies underneath the fish that have been bathing in that spicy sauce. I just kept dumping this stuff on rice.
Green beans -- again, just to pretend like we were eating healthy, but these things are highly addictive.
We didn't wake up early enough to catch any dim sum, so I tried to make a case for local soul-food barbecue -- Sam's. Dax wasn't keen on making the Lockhart/Luling run this time out here, and he does have some good 'cue in Birmingham parts, but his weakness was brisket and, heck, you just don't find smoked mutton all over the place. And the scene, oh the scene, it's good and is probably filed under the chapter "upscale" in the scrumptiouschef book of grub.
We went with some mutton, some brisket, some ribs, and a pint o' beans.
Mutton -- so much more sinfully greasy and rich in the sober state. It's delicious, but I also was quickly reminded why this is a 2-3 times a year treat.
Brisket was excellent -- fatty and succulent, and picked up a nice smoke accent.
Ribs -- should've passed on these in favor of the links. Perfect texture, but just a little bland and, unlike the brisket, didn't seem to have much smoke flavor for me.
Pint of beans were also devoid of much flavor, and could've used about a half-shaker of salt.
Homeless guy was psyched to get a plate of ribs. Nab's karma debt restored to an even zero balance.
After attacking leftovers a few times, Dax eventually left with a bellyfull of Chinese that satisfied his soul. His soul was sold a few times during the course of the weekend, but eventually restored by Sam's. It was a good weekend.
Wonderful hospitality Nab. To me, Birmingham's strengths are middle-to-upper priced New American fare, meat and threes, some good Latin (mostly I prefer the taquerias), Greek, and some decent 'cue. There are good examples of other ethnic cuisines, but not a lot of variety or depth to the menus. While it's doubtful anyone immediately thinks of Chinese when visiting Austin, Nab had previously discussed the growing selection of Asian cuisines out in ... that area (I forgot the name of the highway). Being a former resident of Boston residing close to its Chinatown (quite often trying new places or dining at old favorites with Nab) and lamenting the dearth of good, non-orange dayglo "sweet and sour" variety of Chinese cuisines in Bham, I welcomed the opportunity to try some of Austin's finest.
Nab talked up Din Ho but he's better at picking out delicious eats than he is navigating to them, so we "settled" for T&S. Upon arriving, I was pretty ravenous to the extent that one lady kept eyeing me because she thought I was about to go ask another group of diners at table laden with food if I could snack with them until our order. Nab does better describing all of the dishes we had, but the roast duck was easily the best dish of the bunch. The S&P squid was actually large chunks as compared with the rings and bodies with which I am more familiar. Seriously, everything was good, although the lamb was a little rich for 100 degree weather.
Asia Cafe was perfect for what it is. The only place I will regularly eat Chinese in Bham has a similar setup with the marketplace and small restaurant area attached. However, the only have a few exciting dishes and I would not be surprised if half of the food was from their freezer (dumplings, scallion pancakes). At least Asia Cafe and TS offer lots of options, although I did expect Szechuan peppercorns at Asia as I thought the menu had a more Szechuan bent). Loved the twice cooked pork. I could have eaten two orders by itself. Fish was excellent, a huge order which we tried to demolish as fried leftovers leave much to be desired. Loved the green beans; they are an unhealthy but delicious snack with all of the oil and garlic.
Sam's is interesting. I like the by-the-pound option served on butcher paper. Excellent brisket. While maybe not up to Kreuz standards, it was a welcome taste of fatty deliciousness to me. I still haven't found decent brisket in Bham; most places trim it too lean. Mutton was interesting and greasy as all get out. Ribs fine but I make better ones.
All in all, great eats and company. Thanks again Nab.
Thanks for reminding me about Asia Cafe's lack of real-deal heat that day. It can always be remedied by the tableside chili oil, but I think it's probably always a good idea to ask for spicy when putting in an order over there. The dumplings were downright sweet and tame this time around.
Can't wait to hit some meat-and-threes in your court next time, Dax.
Hey RB -
Not sure about that, but give em a call before heading over there:
Another mutton shot:
Btw, any idea what this setup is all about ?:
Wonderful pictures! I'm almost sorry I had the luxury of seeing Asia Cafe's dishes, since I'm currently dwelling south of the river and that's an expensive meal with gas (for driving) included. Although with those pictures, I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to find a few companions eager to carpool.