Moviehouse & Eatery

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With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the opportunity for a night out to relax in a comfortable recliner and enjoy a pepper spiced burger and a cold draft beer while watching a Christmas themed movie was too much to pass up.  This past Saturday night found the vegan and I at the Moviehouse & Eatery at 620.  We chose the venue for the opportunity to compare and contrast our prior movie/dining experience at Alamo Drafthouse.  Our loyal readers will likely recall that dining experience to be enjoyable for the vegan, and lackluster for me (the carnivore).  I am pleased to announce that, from my perspective, the Moviehouse & Eatery experience blew the doors off of Alamo Drafthouse.  The food was better.  The setting was better.  The staff was spectacular (special shout out to our server, Brandon). And even the movie was better.  But then again, who doesn’t love a good fart joke delivered by the newly minted first lady of comedy, Kate Mckinnon?

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As we always try to take pictures of the meals we critique, we arrived early enough to find our seats and receive our food prior to the movie starting.  Brandon promptly greeted us and delivered our adult beverages in record time.  He offered suggestions on the menu and recommended The Big Jake burger when I asked him what he thought I should order.  He advised me that The Big Jake wasn’t for the faint of heart, and whomever ordered the burger should be ready for a sandwich delivered with a kick via the pepper jack cheese, house bacon, red pepper relish, horseradish aioli and topped with a whole Jalapeno pepper.  Complement that with a side of “man style” fries (French fries topped with queso), and you have a meal that any self-respecting carnivore would be proud to order.   Brandon was right.  It was good.  Real good.  It only lasted a minute because I devoured it quickly and ordered another beer to quell the remnants of the jalapeno pepper.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t on fire.  But the burger was packed with flavor and extremely satisfying.    Another quality shout out to Brandon for the solid recommendation!

As our primary goal of this blog is to highlight where carnivores and vegans can enjoy a mutually satisfying dining experience, I will defer to my pretty vegan partner to share her opinion of her meal.  I will say that, while there was a vegan option on the menu, (The Sweet Potato Sandie) it was only one.  A couple additional vegan options would surely enhance the experience.  It really only seems fair when you consider that, though I very much enjoyed my burger, I plan on trying the Carnitas Street Tacos, The Shaved Ribeye or The Classic Chicken Sandwich on our next movie outing.  After all,  A vegan does not live by a Sweet Potato Sandie alone.

This carnivore scores the Moviehouse & Eatery at 620 a very respectable 3 cow faces for this most recent experience.  I’m a fan and will surely be back in the coming weeks.

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Where to begin?  I tend to be the one who drives the HCHV team to completion of posts due to the fact that I am the techy one.  However, life has been happening quite a bit lately and between my knee surgery, the holidays and work I haven’t been able to keep up.  Well that and also, I just wasn’t as excited about this post.I love going to the movies.  It has always been a favorite pastime of mine and it got more interesting with the onslaught of movie theaters offering more than just snacks like Moviehouse & Eatery.  I enjoy being able to have a meal and a beverage with my movie and so we decided to do just that last weekend.  I purchased tickets ahead of time as we were seeing a new release and was able to walk right in to our seats.

Speaking of seats, these are lovely.  The seats are like the recliners you would have in your living room, adjustable for your comfort.  And you can indicate with a button when you are ready to order.  Having looked online ahead of time, I knew there were few vegan options.  That said they do actually indicate them on the menu as vegan which was promising.  I ordered the sweet potato sandie, vegan-style as indicated on the menu.  It comes with a black bean and corn side topped with avocado and sour cream if you weren’t vegan.

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Initially they brought the meal and the side was not vegan.  Immediately they corrected the problem and I was ready to dig in, having eaten little that day.  Luckily I was hungry.  Unfortunately the patty was lacking in flavor, tasting much like what people think vegans eat.  Vegetables need more seasonings than meat and especially when sauce is omitted.  I added ketchup and the avocado from the side to try to help the sandwich but with little improvement.  It didn’t taste bad – it just didn’t taste like much at all.

The side looked appealing and I had hoped it would be as I love black beans and corn.  It also lacked in much spice and was cold much to my disappointment.  I ate a few bites and gave up.

I had to give Moviehouse two rutabagas due to the lack of vegan choices and flavor.  They do have excellent seating and service and the drinks were lovely.  I hope they continue to consider vegans and will perhaps increase choices and seasonings as I will continue to return for the experience!  I know my carnivore will mention this but he enjoys this venue more than Alamo due to the seats and food.  If only we could get the Alamo food I love in this venue…

barley SWINE

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img_0189Hello everyone!  Please allow me to begin this post with a very bold statement.  The absolute best dining experience for vegans and carnivores eating together, in Austin Texas, can be had at Barley Swine.  I have looked forward to writing this post since my vegan counterpart and I embarked on our endeavor to discover where vegans and carnivores can best dine in harmony.  In order to do this post justice, I feel obliged to share some history as to how I came to know and love Barley Swine.   I became aware of this fine establishment when my fair vegan friend and I drove past it one rainy Sunday this past April, and I fortuitously asked about its unique name.  It is located near her home, and she was familiar with the restaurant but had never eaten there.  She excitedly told me that it was farm to table cuisine and that the chef would make special accommodations for plant eaters like herself.  When I pressed her as to how she could be so excited about a restaurant so near her home, but had never eaten there, she bemoaned the fact that it is “on the more expensive side” and was probably only viable for special occasions.  I tucked that little nugget away in my mind and made a reservation for her birthday meal the following August.  She was right.  It was spectacular!  And yes, it was also on the more expensive side.   It is important to note that it doesn’t have to be expensive.  There are fabulous offerings that don’t break the bank but we both believe in indulging from time to time.

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That brings us up to date with the history, so now I can share the details of our dining experience this past Saturday night.  It wasn’t a special occasion but we had enjoyed our last Barley Swine outing so much that I was more than willing to drop the 4 bills necessary to enjoy the special tasting menu and the beverage pairings all over again.  This meal is like none other.  It consists of 10 courses of expertly prepared dishes.  Each one more tasty and decadent than the rest.  Couple the exquisite food with wine and/or beer selected to complement the tastes of each individual dish, and the flavors are nearly more than one person can stand.  I was again blown away from beginning to end.  img_0189

As the tasting menu changes daily, I won’t bother detailing every plate.  It is unlikely that they will be replicated on any two visits to the restaurant.  I will however share a few of the highlights.

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The first offering was nothing more than an amuse-bouche of sweet potato, goat cheese and a flute of sparkling wine.  I could have made a meal out of this dish alone but I opted not to ask for seconds though my inner 8 year old self truly wanted to.  It amazes me the flavor that a quality chef can pack into two quarter sized portions.

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The second plate was slightly larger and consisted of Mushroom tempura and a thimble of custard.  I’m not a fan of fungus in general but the Mushroom tempura was out of this world.  This is a testament to the talent of the chef(s) at Barley Swine.

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My absolute favorite dish was the sixth in the series of ten.  The dish was Smoked pork shoulder, sweet potato, and apple.   I don’t know who thought to blend these ingredients but it was a hit!  Honestly, they had me at Smoked pork shoulder but the sweetness of the apple really added a distinct flavor that I never expected.  It wasn’t subtle.  It was so dynamic that I again found myself saddened when I devoured the last morsel of the course.

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A close second favorite was dish number seven.  Dry Aged Akaushi ribeye, bone marrow hash.  I have always been a sucker for bone marrow.  That is to say that I would pick up a cow’s femur and dig the bone marrow out of it with my index finger if I didn’t think the vegan would pass out in disgust.  The hash certainly didn’t disappoint.  It was flavorful and rich like I would expect the bone marrow to render.

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The meal ended with a dessert plate of a chocolate ice cream sandwich, honeycomb, pecan.  We’re not talking a silly store bought ice cream sandwich.  This was homemade and was quite possibly the best finish to the meal that I could have hoped for.   I have no doubt that the chef took that pairing into consideration as well.

Perhaps equally amazing to the meal that I enjoyed was the hospitality and accommodating spirit that Barley Swine employs for its patrons with dietary restrictions.  I cannot stress enough how incredibly wonderful they are about preparing vegan specific plates with the same flair and panache as the carnivorous options.  My vegan cohort went on and on about how wonderful every dish was as well.  They even tailor the wine and beer pairings specifically for her vegan meal, so it really was a unique dining experience for each of us.  You may notice that I refrained from mentioning the wait staff by name in this post.  The reason for this is because they seem to employ a true “community serving method” inasmuch as no one individual attends to a table’s needs.  It is more a matter of whomever is available, and smiling at any given moment, delivers plates and attends to the table’s needs throughout the meal.  We must’ve had 7 different people come by and give information about the various dishes and beverages.  I will call out Robert, the bartender, specifically because we were seated at the bar for our meal.  Robert did much more than merely pour our drinks. He provided insight into the pairings and various flavors that each complemented.  He also generously allowed us to sample multiple beverages of interest while we sat enjoying the atmosphere and watching the kitchen staff work their magic.

img_0187If I haven’t done a good enough job communicating how much we enjoy Barley Swine, let me be perfectly clear – It is AWESOME and truly an Austin gem.  Highly recommended by this carnivore!  I am rating this past experience with a perfect 5 cow faces.  I had originally thought it would be limited to 4 1/2 because I wasn’t exactly “full” when we finished our meal.  In retrospect, the fact that I didn’t feel overly stuffed is actually a plus.  This is the very first perfect score that I have ever awarded an eatery.  I suspect it will be a long search for another establishment worthy of 5 cow faces.  Try Barley Swine.  Like me, you will surely be impressed!

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For my birthday this summer, BHCHV (before Him Carnivore Her Vegan), the Carnivore treated me to an exquisite meal.  In the early discussions of blogging we decided we would surely return to enjoy yet another amazing experience as well as review barley SWINE.  Since the prior experience was a 10 course tasting meal, we went for that once again.  OH MY!  This is gonna be an epic post.

First let me say that barley SWINE does not appear at a glance to be vegan-friendly.  Let me assure you my vegan friends – this is far from the truth!  You do however, need to plan a bit for this experience.  This includes making reservations and letting them know you, a vegan, will attend.  They will improvise on the fly but having also done that on a happy hour whim, I can tell you that while it is still wonderful, you want to give them a real chance to wow you.

Also, before I launch into the detailed descriptions of each course, let me also mention that barley SWINE offers a beverage pairing to go with the tasting.  It can add up to a pricey meal but let me assure you – It is worth it!  They really know what they are doing here and many times we were brought a beverage that we knew we would never choose, even claim to dislike, and yet it perfectly complimented the course.  And really, you can’t get that many drinks for the price anywhere else anyways so it’s actually a deal.  Just bring a designated driver if you are a lightweight like me.

Okay time to talk deliciousness.  I love that barley SWINE has the tasting courses printed out on a card for you so you can read and anticipate what’s in store.  Also while Robert was our main server/bartender, all of the staff work together to bring the food.  Robert started us with champagne and my amuse bouche was “Wheat cracker, avocado”.  Sound plain?  Not in the slightest.  How in the world they packed so much flavor into that bugle shaped cracker is beyond me.  It immediately set the tone and let my taste buds know I was in for a treat.  And of course the champagne was the perfect complement, lifting the creaminess of the avocado off my tongue, readying me for round two.

Speaking of round two, I can’t wait to read my dining partner’s review as this was a mushroom round.  I happen to love them but he disagrees.  This mushroom tempura, however, would charm even the staunchest of mushroom-wary diners.  It was perfectly fried, coated evenly and goldilocks-style – not too much and not too little, just right.  They even came with a little rosemary handle that we could use to dip.  I had a mushroom “tea” to dip mine in.  Yum!

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Next, round three was simply “Tomato, almond, olive oil”.  This title was the most descriptive as it was exactly that.  Honestly this was probably my least favorite course but that said, its simplicity was still more amazing than most food I eat on a daily basis.  It was like a perfectly seasoned salad, er without any greens.

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Round four for me was an “Ember squash” which I believe might have been butternut or acorn, something orange.  The ember part was a charred edge that brought out all the flavors of the spice rub.  Perhaps that was mesquite as “mesquite beans” were mentioned.  Whatever it was it was smoky and amazing with crunchy toasted seeds to accompany.  Honestly when I am eating this level of food, I often don’t even know what I’m eating and frankly don’t care because I just want to keep eating it.

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Next, another mushroom round, oyster this time and yet again, thrilling.  In fact, I feel I need to start consulting my thesaurus to come up with other adjectives.  Siri help!  These mushrooms had the meatiest quality, almost like bacon, which really sated me.  The flavor was enhanced with a Trinidad pepper of which I knew nothing prior but am now a fan!

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Reaching the halfway point, a bit tipsy and a lot happy, I welcomed my next course – the zucchini flower, apple, field pea spread.  This round wins the prize for presentation.  Check it out.  Isn’t it pretty?  After admiring it I enthusiastically dug in and was pleased to discover the taste was as good as the presentation.  Clearly the chef understands flavor profiles and how they complement one another because again my mouth enjoyed the balanced combination of savory, sweet and crunch.

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Apparently at this halfway point it was also time for a palate cleanser.  We received two test tubes with an odd liquid/bead shot inside.  It was vinegary and yet tasty and our palates were ready once again.

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Finally we reach my favorite round – “Rice crepe, shitake, cabbage”.  Two tiny crepes alongside a broth arrive and already I’m excited as I love food I can dip.  I reach for a crepe and dip it in the broth and take a bite.  At this point I believe I said “I want to bathe in this and then clean myself like a cat”!  I told you I was tipsy!  But seriously this broth was unbelievable.  I made such a fuss that Robert had to go tell one of the staff, Bradley, whose friend/dining partner was vegan.  I don’t know what more I can say other than I need more of that broth, even though I drank the rest after my crepes were long gone.  I wouldn’t let Robert take it away until I consumed every last drop.

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Three more to go and the last savory dish was okra and shishito relleno.  The okra was charred and crunchy which really brought out the flavor unlike the typical fried versions.  And I always love a good shishito pepper but this one was relleno which was accompanied by a mustard-like sauce which just enhanced it that much more.  And what a plan to finish with a bit of spice right before the sweet treats!

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Dessert one was “Apple, lemon grass, koji rice pudding”.  Again at this point the food is so elevated I wasn’t sure what I was eating but it was amazing.  The fruity portion was light and sweet and the pudding was creamy and delicate.  The crunchy topping pulled it all together.

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Dessert two was almost like a palate cleanser as well – cucumber sorbet with toasted almond.  Full disclosure here – the other bartender, Kacie, asked if I was okay with honey.  I admitted that I was and she included the main tasting course portion of honey comb in this dessert.  I know we vegans have differing views on honey and mine happens to be just that – I don’t typically seek it out but it doesn’t bother me.  I hope I don’t offend anyone but remember we are practicing acceptance and harmony here!

And finally we reached the end.  Actually (not pictured) they secretly bring you a little baked goodie from the kitchen out with your bill.  Perhaps to soften the blow of the expense of the meal.  No doubt, it is pricey but frankly is completely worth it.  No I didn’t actually pay as I’m lucky to have a generous carnivore.  I’m not sure I deserve it….wait, yes I do!  I’m also very appreciative.

Anyways hopefully you are understanding why I give barley SWINE my first ever five rutabaga rating.  There are few meals I would be this excited about and so you should take this seriously.  My only suggestion to barley SWINE would be – how about some vegan options on the everyday menus?  Perhaps if all you vegans start going they will.  You won’t regret it.

Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill

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Ahh Thanksgiving Eve.  A great time prime the belly for more food.  The Carnivore and I decided to venture out after nearly a week of captivity from my knee surgery (he was an excellent caretaker!).  The cabin fever, however, was setting in and we needed to see something other than the tv.  And so we did!  This evening, due to the threat of traffic, we stayed nearby and visited Z’Tejas.img_0166

Both of us have visited Z’Tejas before and different locations as well.  We went to the Avery Ranch location.  Having been there before and eaten well, I figured this visit would be no different.  We arrived and were seated immediately (my slow walk was the only hold up).  Our server arrived shortly after to collect our drink orders and since Larry was a bit famished, we ordered the Tejas Trio which had something for both of us – guacamole and salsa for me and melty queso for him – all with chips of course.  In the meantime, as I perused the menu, searching for the items I had last eaten there albeit years ago, I discovered they no longer had the vegetarian tacos.  I do appreciate that they indicated vegetarian on the menu but with these gone, I was worried I would not have options.

When our server returned we shared these concerns and she immediately took them back to the chef to see what they could do for a vegan.  I waited anxiously as I feared the answer would be the dreaded “salad”.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good salad.  I just want more than a salad as a meal.  To me, a salad is a side!  She returned and informed me that the Wild Mushroom Enchiladas could be modified to be vegan.  I coached her on what to write on her order pad as she seemed nervous – no cheese, no cream sauce, no sour cream and sub green chile sauce.  It seemed like all would work out in the end.

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The food arrived and looked picture perfect.  Then I noticed a little piece of what looked like cheese on the edge of the plate.  No matter, I said to my dining partner, probably just fell on.  Alas, no.  I cut into the first enchilada to uncover more cheese.  I tore the rest open to find it full of cheese.  Sadly I showed the server who immediately took it away, apologizing and promising me she wrote no cheese.  I assured her that I knew that and only about five minutes later the manager arrived with my correct meal.

In the end the food was delicious.  The green chile sauce added a nice heat and flavor to the earthy mushroom and creamy avocado mixture.  Another fun and unusual element was the introduction of a mango relish which added some bite and sweetness.  I also got my protein with the black beans so no need to worry about that.

Overall though I have to give Z’Tejas two rutabagas.  While the end result was lovely I had already eaten too many chips by the time the food came correctly.  And that said the guacamole was fairly void of flavor.  Z’Tejas would score more points if they would have kept the vegetarian taco option or had more options in general for vegans.  Perhaps they could consider it for the next menu update with a new vegan icon!

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To my vegan friend’s delight, man cannot live on meat and bourbon alone.  As it is necessary to consume the other food groups on occasion, I tend to choose the tastiest versions possible.  When it comes to dairy, the form I most often indulge in is cheese.   When we chose to critique Z Tejas Southwestern Grill on Thanksgiving Eve, I was excited to partake in the glorious creation that is queso!   Z Tejas does it right – quality melted cheese seasoned with a smoky chipotle salsa.  Couple the heavenly cheese with a salted, warm tortilla chip and you have an appetizer that I could easily make into a gluttonous meal.  Alas, I opted not to gorge myself, and merely enjoyed it as a precursor to a meal that I hoped would be remarkable.

I chose the street tacos because I have had them in the past and have found them to be flavorfully seasoned and just the right amount of food.  Not so much that I leave feeling as though I need to unbutton the top button of my jeans, but not so meager that I am forced to order an unnecessary dessert.  I am disappointed to say that this most recent meal left a lot to be desired.  The issue was that the meat on the tacos was devoid of any flavor whatsoever. I truly could not taste anything.  Even the tiny corn tortillas that surrounded the beef sirloin, cucumbers, avocado, Cotija cheese and salsa verde were all but flavorless.  I don’t know if there has been a change in the preparation or ingredients since I last enjoyed the tacos but I was surely disappointed in this most recent offering.

With regard to vegans and carnivores eating in harmony, this outing truly was a mixed bag.  The chef was willing to tailor a meal to fit the vegan among us, but the options were limited to say the least.  In fact, I think there was only one option that was offered.  Kellie will obviously review that portion of the meal so I won’t comment further.  I do feel that it is worth noting that, when the first attempt of a vegan dish came out with cheese on it, the server, Natasha, very graciously took it back to the kitchen for remaking.  She did this without any degree of difficulty, and that was much appreciated.  I noted that the second time the dish reached our table, it was delivered by an apologetic manager.  I found this to be a nice gesture and one that really did go a long way.

Overall, I give this experience two cow faces.  Will I go back?  Most likely, yes.  Perhaps during happy hour for a quality margarita and a hearty helping of chips and queso.  MMMMM QUESO!

True Food kitchen

*Note – the featured image was taken from the True Food twitter profile pic as we forgot to snap a pic of the sign. Please let us know if this needs to be removed!                                                          🍠🍠🍠🍠
Another crazy week!  This vegan is definitely doing too much these days and after another full week plus weekend of activities (including guest podcasting on Have You Seen This One?), it was time for a reprieve.  After working up an appetite diving Sunday I beseeched the carnivore to take me out for some delicious food.  As we wanted to review, I suggested True Food, remembering that there were many options for all dietary preferences last time I visited.  And being the kind man that he is, he obliged.img_0153

So we went late afternoon and soon realized upon arrival that we were not yet in the dinner hour which is the menu I showed Larry.  Instead it was still brunch and while I always enjoy a great brunch, I was nervous that my cohort may be less enthused.  That said we ordered beverages and when Mark, our waiter returned with them, we decided to order our brunch.  While the menu was marked with all the dietary restrictions – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc. – I still went ahead and informed Mark of my vegan ways so he could be sure I was ordering well.  He was excited to hear and asked how long, responding to my 10 years with informing me that he was in year two.  I ordered the T.L.T. (tempeh, lettuce, tomato) with a side of sweet potato hash.  We also selected roasted Brussels sprouts as an appetizer.

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The Brussels sprouts arrived and were just as amazing as they sounded on the menu.  They were roasted perfectly with the complimenting flavor of shallots and a satisfying crunch of hazelnuts.  Then the meal arrived.  Again the first “T” in T.L.T. stands for tempeh, a substance that the carnivore still doesn’t quite understand.  Since you may also be in this camp, I will explain.  Tempeh, according to Wikipedia (always a reliable source wink wink), originated in Indonesia.  “It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form.”  All that said, honestly I didn’t always like it.  It’s only recently that either I have come around or restaurants have found a way to make it palatable for me.  In my opinion, it’s sort of a nutty, firm form of soy much toothier in texture than tofu, even extra firm and pressed.  This tempeh was thinly sliced and smoky to mimic a bacon like flavor.  It was layered with butter lettuce and tomato as the name implies along with creamy avocado and vegan mayo.  The bread was toasted and crunchy.  All together the sandwich was delicious!

Last but not least I shall not forget to mention the lovely sweet potato hash.  It’s hard to go wrong with sweet potatoes in my book.  Well unless you do that weird marshmallow thing…ew!  Anyways, they were both soft and crunchy seasoned with onions, salt and probably other spices I couldn’t place my finger on.  I was already full from my other choices so I couldn’t finish but the carnivore wanted a taste and once he started, he couldn’t stop.  This made me happy because I know he was very hungry and wasn’t full after eating his meal.

I give True Food four rutabagas.  I love being able to come to a restaurant and immediately know what I can and cannot eat.  The food is delicious and the atmosphere is clean and inviting.  My only complaint is a little strange for me.  On the brunch menu, there were more vegetarian options than vegan.  There was about one vegan option per category.  Still I had more options than the average restaurant so I can’t complain too much.  I look forward to visiting again soon (I already have something on the calendar!)

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In blogging, as in life, there are times when compromises and concessions must be made.  Luckily for me, when it comes to dining with the vegan, I rarely am asked to accommodate her veganism.  That’s just how she rolls.  I won’t mince words, I like that about her.  A LOT!   So, when she told me that there was a vegan friendly restaurant,TRUE FOOD KITCHEN, that she wanted to try in downtown Austin, I was game.   She assured me that, while vegan friendly, there were also ample carnivorous options on the menu.We opted for brunch this past Sunday.  I had visions of pancakes, sausage, a slab of bacon and a giant glass of ice cold milk to wash it down.  Alas, either I was lied to or I just totally misunderstood because I got none of the glorious carnivorous treats that my palate longed for.  As I perused the menu, the vegan knew two things 1) we had waited WAY too late in the day to eat (I get a BAD case of hangry). And 2) that I was not feeling the quinoa and mushroom laced menu selections.  Honestly, it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that I realize quinoa was pronounced keen-wah and not quin-Oah.  To say I was irritated is an understatement.

I’m proud to say that my inner eight year old did not win out.  I took a couple sips of my tasty Pearl Snap Pilsner (it was brunch not breakfast) and summoned all the strength that I could muster to honor the vegan by not being a closed minded caveman and heading for the exit.  In fact, I seized the moment to identify the one thing on the menu that piqued my interest – Steak Tacos.  I even got past the fact that they were topped with Greek yogurt, in lieu of sour cream, and pickled onions.

Once settling on an entrée (and secretly dreading having to stop for a burger on the way home), I took a moment to look around the restaurant and key in on a couple very important things.  First, I don’t know that I have ever eaten at a cleaner establishment.  This may seem odd to some but I am obsessed with this aspect of every eatery.  It was remarkable how clean everything was.  I suspect that it had to do with the open layout and great natural lighting, but I was legitimately impressed with the cleanliness.  And second, I noticed that everyone working in the restaurant appeared genuinely happy.  Again, it might seem trivial but a meal served by unhappy people never tastes as good.  I could feel my apprehension subside as our appetizer arrived.  Then again, it could’ve just been the fact that the hangry beast within knew it was about to be fed.

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We started with roasted Brussels sprouts.  They were great.  I love Brussels sprouts; always have.  Of course, these weren’t soaked in butter like Momma made, but they were really tasty just the same.  The vegan and I split the sprouts and my mood genuinely improved.  By the time our entrees arrived, I had nearly forgotten about my bacon craving and had settled into enjoy the next course and a quality chat with the vegan.  The tacos arrived and, as I should’ve expected, were very VERY tasty.  The steak was tender, the Greek yogurt tasted strikingly similar to sour cream, and the pickled onions added just the right amount of tanginess.

The side item that accompanied the tacos was a small bowl of what appeared to be red beans.  They had an interesting flavor that seemed a lot like cinnamon to me but, after inquiring of the waiter, turned out to be cayenne pepper and cumin.  It was a unique blend of spices that delivered a touch of heat and sweetness.  Score one for the True Food Kitchen.  As our repeat readers might expect, the only modification that I would make to my meal was to make it a three taco entrée rather than two.   The meal was good and left me wanting another taco.

Finally, to the matter of vegans and carnivores dining in harmony.  The vegans among us will love this place; of this, I am certain.  However, a closed minded carnivore could find the menu challenging.  Luckily for me, I was open to the experience and chose to dig a little deeper, both into the menu and within myself, to give True Food Kitchen a chance.  I’m glad I did.  The food was good.  Really good. We will surely return when the vegan needs her fix of a T.L.T.  I will just need to know going in that my Sunday brunch will be sans bacon.  This carnivore gives True Food Kitchen a solid three cow faces.

Second Bar + Kitchen

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What a week/weekend!  This vegan has been doing too much – in addition to work I am getting dive certified which is fun but truly means I had no relaxation time this weekend other than the evenings.  So what did we do with our evenings?  We had dinner with friends!  As an introvert, this is not typically my way to relax but surprisingly it worked this weekend and I’m so glad I agreed to it.  It was Sunday night that we went for a new location (to us) so we could review.Second Bar + Kitchen is a place I have seen and heard about for a while but due to its location downtown I have never really made an effort to get there; however they recently opened another location in the Domain.  So when our crazy cave diving enthusiast friends called, I suggested we give it a try.  I did make reservations on OpenTable as I was uninterested in waiting around as always.  We arrived and were seated immediately.img_0125Our server Cait visited shortly after and I gave her the good news that she got to help a vegan out.  She was unfazed, even enthusiastic and happily gave recommendations on drinks and food.  We started with a couple appetizers, mine being the blistered shishito peppers, minus aioli of course.  They were smoky and salty with just the right amount of heat.

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For my large plate, I ordered the vegan as-is soba noodles and sprouts (Cait double checked that it was vegan for me).  How great is that?!  I love when I don’t have to special order anything.  Often when I do, the meal is not as good because it wasn’t designed by the chef to work that way.  This dish was clearly put together with all of these flavors in mind.  The silky noodles were coated with just the right amount of oil possibly including sesame.  The roasted mushrooms gave it that earthy bite cooled by the creaminess of avocado.  And just when I thought I needed a bit more toothiness, I got the crunch of a bit of almond, crushed and sprinkled about along with the fresh sprouts.  This is why I get into food!

I give this dish and experience a full four rutabagas.  I didn’t have to stress about my vegan needs nor did I have to worry that my dining companions resented my choice as they all were equally as pleased with their meals.  And again the service was fantastic.  Definitely check them out and look for them at the airport coming soon!  This frequent flying vegan certainly will.

*We apologize for misspelling Cait’s name incorrectly prior!  We didn’t know.  As a “Kellie” I totally understand and am happy to update!

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As the vegan and I have been writing this blog for a little while now, we have honed our dining out skills considerably.  For instance, I have developed a fairly standard dialogue that I employ with each server that waits on us.  Once they introduce themselves, I almost always pose the question, “if you were having dinner here tonight, what would you order?”   Generally, the response is a combination of a lack of interest and a summary listing of the more popular things on the menu.  But, every now and again, I receive a beaming smile and a response in the form of an impassioned plea to try a specific entrée that is the server’s personal favorite.  Truthfully, I love these responses because I feel obliged to try whatever it is that can make a server gush with excitement about being able to share a favorite meal. This perceived obligation forces me out of my self-imposed dietary “box” to which my palate is accustomed, and exposes me to meals I would never choose of my own accord.    This was the case at the Second Bar + Kitchen on Sunday evening.  Our server, Cait, responded to my inquiry with an emphatic recommendation to try the braised beef short rib.  I’ve never been a fan of beef ribs. . . . . . . until now!img_0133Cait expertly described the entrée as a succulent beef rib that is served sans bone, atop truffle grits with caramelized onions, a brandy balsamic glaze and topped with tabacco onions.  My taste buds almost cowered back into their well known box at the mention of truffle but Cait assured me that I could choose any side as a substitution for the truffle grits.  Let it be known that I dislike all things truffle!  I opted for the warm potato salad, in lieu of the grits.  Apparently, my palate is becoming more refined because the tastes married together exceptionally well.  In fact, that is the best way that I can describe the meal – EXCEPTIONAL.  Everything about it was top notch.  In fact, I can’t find anything negative to remark except for the fact that I could have eaten a second serving.  I don’t necessarily think that is an indictment of the portion size because I didn’t leave hungry.  Rather, I think it is a testament to how wonderful the meal was.  I can’t stress enough how well the warm potato salad and caramelized onions complimented the beef rib.  If you too are not a fan of truffle, this is the way to go.

Now let’s get back to Cait.  The service was excellent, to include the food runners and staff that augmented Cait’s service when appropriate.  But, as the purpose of this blog is to share the places that carnivores and vegans can dine harmoniously, I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically point out Cait’s service in this regard.   Cait listened to the dietary needs of the table (the vegan’s veganism) and offered modifications to accommodate all parties without issue.  The truth is that Cait did this incredibly well and the vegan’s meal appeared to be as good, if not better than mine; but I will let her tell you about it.

We actually had some friends join us for the meal.  They ordered flank steak and chicken, respectively.  They were equally pleased with their meals but I was unwilling to share my entrée so I didn’t get to try theirs.  The vegan doesn’t know it but this was by design because I wanted a reason to go back soon.  Shhh!!!  I hope she doesn’t read this. . . . . .

The Second Bar + Kitchen gets a very happy four cow faces from this meat eater.  We WILL be back soon!

BARTLETT’S

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If you’ve been following our blog you know that I recently convinced the Carnivore to go to an all-veg establishment.  While this is typically not his cup of tea, he was game.  So now it was time to return the favor.  While Bartlett’s does cater to the carnivorous, omnivorous, gluten-free and even vegetarian crowd, their vegan choices are limited.  But I am nothing if not accommodating and willing to try anywhere if for no other reason than to enjoy my dining partner’s company!

So after a less crazy work week but still a journey home, we decided to head to Bartlett’s.  One positive for me is that it is very close to my home!  Also I really appreciate a place that still takes reservations online and therefore we walked in without wait.  We sat down and were immediately greeted by our waiter.  You may notice we always try to get our servers’ names so we can acknowledge them but I am sorry to say that if we did this time, I have forgotten it.  Hopefully Larry will remember.  He was very attentive and after we ordered drinks, I let him know a vegan was in the house.  He blanched a bit but after considering for a moment, coached by my questions, he perked up.  He did a quick check on the ingredients with his chef and came back with the news – I could order the (made in house from what I understand) veggie burger sans cheese and bun.  Unfortunately both the regular and gluten free buns had eggs.  I also had a choice of several sides and I chose the wilted spinach which he assured me was only cooked in oil.

When the meal arrived I tasted the burger right away.  It was very unique (something I appreciate in veggie burgers in general) in that it had a sweet soy glaze on top.  The “meat” was a mixture of rice, quinoa and mushrooms but the soy really made it interesting.  I also enjoyed the spinach that was cooked perfectly with ribbons of crunchy cabbage to add bite.

Overall this experience was not bad; however when I compare it to the other places we frequent I had to give it two rutabagas.  While the food tasted good, my choices were so limited and I didn’t even get a bun for my burger.  I did really appreciate the server checking everything for me and coming back to make sure all was well.  I know my partner enjoyed his meal and I definitely enjoyed his company.  To reiterate our goals, I want to inform people of their choices here and I also hope that Bartlett’s considers adding to their repertoire as I believe by making the tiniest of tweaks, I could easily up their score to three.

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As a man matures, it becomes necessary to learn answers to certain questions.  For instance, what is the appropriate cocktail to consume after a round of golf, while enjoying a quality cigar with your buddies?  Or what is the best Pandora channel to have playing softly in the background while entertaining the fairer sex?   On Friday evening, I learned the answer to another such question – where can you find the best prime rib sandwich in Austin Texas?  The answer, my meat loving carnivorous friends, is at Bartlett’s Restaurant on Anderson Lane.

The Famous French Dip Sandwich, as it is appropriately named, is perfectly seasoned, thinly sliced prime rib piled high atop a French baguette roll, and accompanied by a generous helping of savory au jus and shoestring fries.  The French bread becomes the ideal medium to deliver au jus soaked prime rib, so tender and thin that it virtually melts in your mouth.  I choose to dunk in the au jus first, then in a side of creamy horseradish sauce for an extra tangy kick.  The $22 price tag, while relatively expensive for a sandwich, is worth every penny.  I can’t think of a more fitting remark than to simply state that it is undoubtedly the best prime rib sandwich in the capital city!

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Now then, it is time to discuss the ability for vegans and carnivores to dine in harmony.  Unfortunately, I think this dining experience missed the mark in this regard.  The options were few, and apparently nearly every tasty morsel at Bartlett’s is awash with animal products.  Our server, Nick, provided efficient and courteous service.   To Nick’s credit, he was quick to answer the vegan’s questions about food preparation practices, etc.  Unfortunately, the simple answer was the only option for Kellie was a vegetarian patty with no bun and a side of spinach.  I think it is fair to say that the vegan was moderately disappointed but, since we write our respective viewpoints without input from the other, I will defer to her for her opinion.   I will temper my comments with the fact that I do realize Bartlett’s primary fare is of the carnivorous sort.  I merely think that a stronger consideration of the plant lovers among us could be well received in the off chance that a vegan is among the patrons at any given table.  I will temper my comments further by reiterating that my sandwich was the best damn thing I have eaten in a while!

Three cow faces are awarded to Bartlett’s!

Bouldin Creek Cafe

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If you have ever read this blog before, you have likely noticed that we usually frequent eateries that cater more to carnivores than to vegans.  The reason for this is two-fold.  First, there are just many more carnivorous options than there are vegan options available.  The second reason is because the vegan of this blogging duo is more inclined to blend into a carnivore’s habitat than to insist that the carnivore blend into hers.   She may or may not realize how much this carnivore appreciates this trait, but the fact is that I do.  A LOT!  That being said, every now and again, I feel obliged to open my mind to dining at the haunts that she frequented long before she began spending so much of her free time with a meat loving unapologetic carnivore.  This past Sunday morning found us at a vegetarian restaurant in the wonderfully weird world of south Austin.  The vegan introduced me to Bouldin Creek Cafe’s Sunday brunch.

Anyone who knows me would understand  that I was somewhat out of my element as we walked into the world of sandals, tie dye, and peace and love symbols but, I am nothing if not accepting of others, so I tried my best to not look sideways at the patrons and staff of this hippy dippy establishment.  And, if I can be totally honest, I am so happy that I did. Everyone was incredibly friendly and the meal proved to be quite remarkable!  Even if it didn’t include a side of bacon.

We had a brief 25 minute wait for a table so we started with a beverage at the bar.  I had a drink called a Raspberry Sour.  I think the vegan nearly flipped when she heard me order a drink containing hibiscus tea but, when in Rome.  It was quite tasty.  I feel as though I should also mention the bartender/barista that helped us with our drink order.  He was exceptionally friendly and helpful.  I wish I had gotten his name but I hadn’t gotten my bearings yet, so I totally missed the chance to send a shout out for the quality service he provided.

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When we were eventually seated, I began to get a bit concerned because we waited for several minutes (like 10) before we were greeted by our server.  As we sat there, we quickly realized that she was “in the weeds” and was working as quickly as she could.  When she did approach us, she was friendly and efficient.  Things were looking up quickly and got even better when I asked for her recommendation.  She easily referenced the sweet potato and pecan tamale breakfast.  I’m a native Texan.  I’ve eaten all sorts of tamales – beef, pork, chicken, cheese, venison, raisin (yes, raisin) – but before this past Sunday, I had never had sweet potato and pecan tamales.  The server, Aimee, described the dish as “sweet and savory”, and she could not have been more accurate in her description.  Savory is an understatement.  Coupling that sweet and savory goodness with the yolk of an over medium fried egg was as good of a bacon free breakfast as I have ever had.  I’m not kidding.  It was delicious.

So, whats the moral of this story?  Be open to trying places outside your comfort zone, and you might just find a hidden gem buried in places you would never think to look otherwise.  Bouldin Creek scores a solid three cow faces for the decadence of a sweet potato and pecan tamale, along with friendly wait staff and accepting atmosphere.   Perhaps I will try tofu and tempeh next. . . . . or maybe not.

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When the Carnivore and I started this venture a mere month and a half ago, we discussed all the scenarios that might occur.  One of these included us trying places that we normally would never try.  This was the true first of this type of encounter.  Bouldin Creek Café is an old haunt of mine since the very beginning of my love affair with Austin.  Back in 2006, a budding vegan, I searched for delicious venues.  When I found Bouldin, a little shack down the road from its current location, I was delighted.  I used to frequent it weekly (back in the Leslie days….my salsa never went to waste!).  Upon meeting the Carnivore I never imagined us gracing an all vegetarian restaurant together but Sunday afternoon, there we were.  He was encouraged by the fact that they had engaged us on Twitter (a note for any other restaurants listening…just saying) and also he knew that by doing this for me, payback will be in store!

We signed up for a table and stopped by the bar for a beverage.  I got my usual almond milk Benny which just happens to be the first dirty chai I ever had and I’ve never looked back.  We got a table fairly quickly for Sunday brunch time.  Unfortunately that’s where the speedy service stopped for a bit.  We had to wait quite a while before anybody approached to take our order.  Once our server, Aimee, did arrive, I asked her if the Renedict was still available despite being after the designated cut off time of 2 p.m. and she surprised me with a yes!  I of course ordered it vegan-style which means with tofu.

This is one of my favorite dishes here.  I enjoy many others but I always come back to the Renedict.  Think of it as a vegan version of Eggs Benedict.  They start with a grilled ciabatta bun open-faced.  Then they layer on an apparently soy-based bacon, fresh tomato slices, baby spinach and of course their famous tofu scramble.  This tofu is the tofu I tell everyone who says they hate tofu to try.  It’s amazingly crunchy, fried with, I’m assuming, a ton of nutritional yeast, “nooch” to the vegan crowd.  Finally the dish is topped with a smothering of creamy vegan hollandaise sauce which ties it all together.

I give this meal four rutabagas.  I always enjoy coming here.  My only criticism was the wait for initial contact but that is likely due to the typical Sunday crowd.  My partner in crime and I write these reviews separately so I am also anxiously awaiting his take.  I assume it will be a little less enthusiastic but I’m so pleased that he tried and I will graciously await the more carnivorous adventure that awaits me in the near future. Don’t worry – it’s not my first rodeo…says the girl who has eaten fries for an entire day as this was her only option!

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Alamo Drafthouse

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One of my favorite Austin activities is going to Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie.  Until moving to Austin I had no idea you could eat a full meal with a movie.  Now I feel weird about seeing a movie without the option of a meal and/or an adult beverage.  So after I enjoyed my Audible version of “The Girl on the Train” I had to see the movie.  This is what brought us to review the Alamo Saturday night.

We came early for the 7:50pm show so that we could order and have time to take pics before the lights went down.  If you’ve never been, you should know they have a strict policy about phone usage during the show.  Basically if you talk, text or arrive late, you will not be able to continue with the visit.  They always show a funny video to communicate this message at the start.  My favorite involves a real phone message from a girl who was kicked out.  I don’t know if it’s real but that’s what they claim and it is quite amusing especially when she talks about her rights in the “Magnited State of America”!

img_0073Anyways, back to the food.  A frequent flyer, I knew exactly what I would order.  The Alamo does have a designated vegan menu which I appreciate but my favorite is the Mexican Wrap with which you can choose a protein.  I chose tofu and subtracted the cheese and onions; cheese due to my vegan nature and onions because, well, if you’ve read our blog before, you know that is out of courtesy to my carnivore (as he also does for me).  To accompany and wash down this delicious meal?  I chose another one of my favorites – a red sangria.

Krissy, our server, took our order and brought our food in record time, well before the lights went down.  After snapping our pics we dug in.  My wrap included the tofu that took on the flavor of the jalapeño-lime vinaigrette, plenty of mixed greens, creamy avocado and a crunch of jicama and tortilla strips.  This combination makes every bite a delight.  Alongside the wrap were chips and salsa which perfectly complimented this particular wrap.  I did have the option to switch to a different side such as fries which I also highly recommend.

Overall I enjoyed this meal as I knew I would.  I give it three rutabagas which includes their considerations for vegans.  That said this experience is more about the movie.  I do enjoy having the option for dinner but wouldn’t recommend Alamo for only food.  Also I would love it if they would make a few vegan dessert additions, even if just Mike and Ike’s!  I do appreciate their policies on distractions and while the movie was crazy as expected, I recommend seeing it if you can handle the darkness!

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Carnivores and Vegans alike enjoy the occasional movie.  An opportunity to escape reality, if only briefly, and lose yourself in the magic of the silver screen.  Its even more relaxing when you can enjoy a meal and an adult beverage as the story reveals itself in SONY projection and QSC digital audio.  Saturday evening allowed the vegan and I to venture out to our favorite movie watching venue, Alamo Drafthouse (Lakeline).  While I was reluctant to see the vegan’s movie selection, I was confident that we would enjoy ourselves and the hospitality that Alamo provides.

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Kellie especially enjoys Alamo for its vegan offerings.  I enjoy the beer selection considerably more than the food on the menu.  Saturday’s experience was more of the same – good service, good libations, a pretty decent flick, and a mediocre burger.  As is my modus operandi, I chose the best looking cheeseburger on the menu – The Royale With Cheese.   Unfortunately, I think the cook forgot to season the meat because it just didn’t taste like anything.  It wasn’t bad.  It certainly wasn’t good.  It just had no flavor whatsoever.  Neither Jules nor Vincent would have labeled the sandwich a “A Tasty Burger”.

As I sat in my seat knowing that I was going to have to honestly critique our experience, I opted to send a lob shot over the net to allow the Alamo kitchen staff to redeem itself, if only in my eyes.  I am oh so happy that I did!  For dessert I ordered 3 of the oven fresh chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. By the time I was two bites into the second cookie, I was feeling much better about the experience and was certain that the venue had scored a winning blow against my taste buds.  Believe me when I tell you to try the oven fresh cookies.  It truly is enough to turn a mediocre meal into an “OK” dining experience.

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The bright spot of the evening certainly was not my burger, nor was it the movie on the screen.  It was our server – Krissy.    She was friendly, professional and very willing to help with questions, etc.  She waited on us attentively and checked back several times throughout the evening to clear plates and ensure that our needs were met.  It is Krissy’s service and the salvation contained in the warm cookies and glass of milk that rates this experience as 2 cow faces.

Give Alamo a go and, if the food is lacking, be sure to give the cookies a shot.  They will likely make everything a lot better.

Yard House

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Ok. . . . So last Friday night closed a VERY long work week and, truthfully, I was in no mood to critique a restaurant.  I would have much preferred a low key evening in front of the TV with a quality bourbon in my hand.  That said, the vegan can be quite persuasive and, we do try to honor our commitment of at least one critique per week.  As this was a short weekend for the vegan, Friday night was the only way we would be able to reach that goal.  Our quest for dining harmony brought us to Yard House in the Domain.My bad attitude and reluctance to open my mind and palate quickly dissipated upon walking into Yard House.  Wait, that’s not entirely true. It actually required about 12 steps to reach the bar and lay my weary eyes upon one of the very best draft beer selections in town.  I could feel the tension start to fall away from my shoulders when I saw the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel beer tap.  Mmmm Nirvana!!  I highly recommend this brew.

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We were seated abnormally quickly; I think they seated us out of rotation by mistake. Alas, we did not object and were promptly greeted by a happy server named Autumn.  More on her in a bit.   I ordered the Nashville Hot Chicken. I normally don’t eat many fried foods but this dish had been recommended to me by both Autumn and a friend of mine, so I felt obliged to give it a shot.   I am very happy that I did.  The chicken is fried to a crispy outer layer with tender and juicy flesh that is seasoned perfectly, then topped with a honey hot sauce that is both sweet and spicy.  The chicken is accompanied by 3 sweet potato pancakes that are absolutely decadent.  The syrup and pad of butter atop the pancakes add a ton of calories but the flavor is worth an extra 30 minutes on the cardio bike.  Additional accompaniments are a small dish of creamy ranch dressing and a side of pickles.  Autumn advised me that a “perfect bite” would include a forkful of chicken, pancake and a pickle dipped in the ranch dressing.  OMG was she right!!! The flavors mixed perfectly together.

Now, back to Autumn.  First things first, she does NOT have a sister named Summer.  I asked because I thought it would be cool if she did; but no.  I believe Autumn is a trainer of the servers at Yard House and is only on temporary assignment in Austin.  She was GREAT and really knew her way around the menu.  There are several options for vegans, and Autumn expertly explained each of them.  She and Kellie had a great conversation about egg washes, and various ways that food is prepared that disqualify it as vegan fare. I didn’t follow much of it but the vegan was legitimately impressed.  That made me happy and allowed me to enjoy my meal that much more.  All elements of our dining experience considered results in four cow faces from this carnivore.  Both meat eaters and plant killers can find quality options at Yard House.    Give it a go and don’t forget the Bourbon Barrel Beer!!

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As promised, we finally tried somewhere new to both of us!  First let me back up.  As a vegan I follow many vegan accounts on social media and through this grapevine I had heard that Yard House had a nice selection for vegans.  Our partner in crime from our Soto adventures confirmed as he had recently been to the new Domain location.  I was pretty excited to try something new but was worried that it would not live up to the hype.

 

So Friday night, after a long trip home from my work travels, we ventured out.  We expected a crowd (which we typically are not fond of) and found people waiting outside.  Apprehensive, we signed up for a table and were told that we would wait 30-40 minutes.  We went to the bar to have a drink and wait.  Just as we were ordering, our buzzer went off, only 15-ish minutes after putting our name in.  What a deal!  They thought we had four people so that may have been a mistake but not on our part and we were delighted to be seated.

The menu was all that I’d hoped.  A whole section dedicated to vegetarians with Gardein “chicken” substitutes created into many options such as pizza, sandwiches, bowls and more.  Now I know there are different camps on veganism and some are very anti-faux meat.  To you all I would say, this isn’t for you then; however, don’t hate on those of us who are down!  It is hard being vegan sometimes when you are always expected to eat a salad.  Again read my bio – that’s not my jam!  I like to eat and if I can go out like “normal” people and eat a chicken sandwich by George I will.

Yes that’s what I ordered.  Well rather a Gardein “chicken” torta.  What the heck is a torta?  Good thing our waitress Autumn was on point.  She explained that it was essentially a sandwich.  She was also so knowledgeable about veganism, explaining that they could substitute vegan Daiya cheese for me and knew what sides to recommend.  Apparently the deliciously fried items are fried in the same oil as the animal products so that was a no go.  I ended up trying to be healthy and ordered the steamed vegetable medley.

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When our plates arrived I quickly took my picture.  I noticed two sauces and the cheese looked a little too real so I called Autumn over to reassure me.  Turns out the sauces were not vegan so it was good I checked.  She also confirmed the cheese was “Gary” not dairy so all good.  This is my most feared accidental intake as I am lactose intolerant and a slip up has serious consequences.  Mainly for the people I hang out with later!

The sandwich did not need sauce.  It had an avocado cabbage base that was perfectly creamy and crunchy at the same time.  The Gardein “chicken” was cooked perfectly – yes you can mess that up just like real chicken.  The Daiya was the mozzarella version I believe, which complimented the sandwich perfectly.  All of this on a lovely bread roll which reminded me of a cross between ciabatta and a hoagie roll.  I ate the whole thing!

The only lackluster item was sadly the veggies.  They were a mix of peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, etc., steamed with no detectable seasoning.  It reminded me more of what people think I eat – bland and boring.  Autumn noticed that I had barely touched it and when I told her my opinion she immediately offered to bring me something else.  As I had filled up on the sandwich I needed no more.  She did say next time I could ask for broccoli with Daiya melted on top!  How cool is that?  It’s not even on the menu.

To say I was happy though is an understatement.  I had a fantastic meal and the carnivore did too!  I give this a full four rutabagas for the great food, service and most importantly a menu of choices.  I get to come back and have something different….again and again.  That’s a win in my book.

Soto

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As a vegan, people are always shocked to learn that I am a fan of sushi restaurants.  I understand that surprise comes from the assumption that sushi equals fish.  And that is mostly true; however, most of the time a vegan gal can get a delicious veg-filled meal at any sushi joint.  Soto is no exception.  In fact, they elevate the experience to fine dining and Friday night we were ready for another one of these experiences.Our dynamic duo had a third of the carnivorous persuasion join us for this meal.  He began contributing right away through the drinks.  I ordered my go-to, the Nashi.  Normally we don’t mention the drinks much but this drink is noteworthy.  Light and crisp based in Asian pear-infused vodka with a splash of St. Germaine and Prosecco, this drink is a lovely compliment to this food.  Our third, being knowledgeable in Sake, ordered one and shared.  Not knowing much about it, I learned it too was light and complimentary.  I look forward to learning more about this genre of beverages.

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Nate, our waiter, brought the amuse-bouche along with the drinks.  This citrus-y Jello-like (but not gelatin, vegan-friendly) bite was lovely though it will be gone soon to be replaced by a creamy edamame bite that I hear is amazing but is not vegan-friendly my friends.  Soto is great about informing us about ingredients.

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Our next course included two appetizers – Gyoza and Edamame.  I, of course, enjoyed the edamame as I always do.  I don’t have a much to discuss about that but I will go into my order.  I ordered three pieces of each of my favorite Nigiri – Inari, Kampyo and Shitake Mushroom.  For those who aren’t familiar, I will give a brief description.  First Inari is a tofu skin pouch full of rice.  Second Kampyo are strips of gourd on top of rice.  Finally Shitake Mushroom is simply the mushroom cap on top of rice.  Of course you could order them Sashimi style without the rice.  But what would you use to soak up the wasabi-laced soy sauce?

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I have loved this order so much that I took a picture of the menu so I would remember to always order these pieces.  I found this meal to be a little less satisfying than other meals here.  This is why I can only award Soto three rutabagas for this round.  All of my food was colder than normal (the edamame and Shitake mushroom typically are very warm) and the Kampyo had a fishy taste.  I don’t know if they store it near fish or something but this is not typically the case.  I am sorry because I normally would award more for Soto.  Hopefully next time will be back up to its normal quality.  In the meantime I know my dining companions had a much better experience and that makes me very happy.

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Please allow me to start this post by telling you that I LOVE sushi.  I have eaten more raw fish than the average great white shark and pelican combined.  So when I tell you that I have found the best sushi in greater Austin, I do so with 100% conviction.  Is it downtown?  No.  Is it in Westlake?  The Domain?  No.  It is tucked away in a strip center near Lake Line Mall next to a Party Center and a Best Buy store.  Stop laughing!  It’s the truth.  The name of this hidden gem is Soto Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar.

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The vegan and I have enjoyed several meals at Soto over the past year.  We dined there again on Friday night with my best golfing buddy, and it was FAN-freaking-TASTIC!!   We started with the pork gyoza for me and a dish of edamame for the plant eater among us.  The gyoza was the best I have had in town.  The edamame was as tasty as a steamed soy bean can be, but seriously, it’s hard to get worked up about a legume.  Still, they were devoured quickly and before long we had an empty plate where gyoza had once been, and a bowl filled with empty soy bean carcasses.  The second course was a tasty treat called Spicy Toro Gunkan.  Though this was not the main entrée, it was my favorite part of the meal.  It was so good in fact that it became the 4th course as well.  My buddy and I ordered a second round after we enjoyed the main course, but I am getting ahead of myself.

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For the main meal, my buddy and I each opted to go with the Chef’s Choice Sushi Special.  At some sushi bars this option is risky because it is often the least desirable pieces of fish that the chef selects.   More often than not there will be a piece of shrimp (cheap), some sort of egg piece called Tamago (yuck) and a piece of tuna or salmon that looks more like bait than a meal.  This is not the case at SOTO.  The chef’s selection was absolutely exquisite.  10 pieces of the very best cuts of fish that I have ever enjoyed.  One piece had a sliver of lime.  Another had a sweet sauce that tasted of ginger.  And another had a sliced strawberry perched atop of a sake salmon.  Whomever thought to blend these two tastes together is a genius and deserves to have a day of the week named after them.

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After having ordered the second round of Spicy Toro Gunkan, our waiter, Nate, tempted us with dessert.  Usually the answer is an abrupt “NO” because Key Lime Pie is the only must have dessert and rarely do you find that in a sushi restaurant.  But Nate sold me on a quality alternative called Yuzu Balls.  These were ping pong sized balls of lemon sorbet that were somehow infused with white chocolate.  An order consists of two and, because I am polite, I insisted that the other carnivore at the table try the second one.  I kinda wish he had declined because they were incredible!  Damn manners!

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And finally, there is the aspect of carnivores and vegans dining together.  Soto scores very highly on this front.  There are actually vegan options on the menu and, I am told, they are quite tasty.  As the wait staff is often key to these interactions, I have to give Nate high marks on his service.  He has actually waited on us a couple times and provided quality ideas for the vegan.  We have never had a bad meal at Soto, and the wait staff is always a quality enhancement to the incredible food.  Soto gets a solid 4 cow faces from this carnivore, though I have challenged the vegan to use fishes instead of cow faces for this post.

If you don’t agree it is the best sushi in town, I will eat a bug.