CoCo’s Cafe

Green Onion Pie 蔥油餅

My husband and I went to CoCo’s Cafe about a month ago, and again a few days ago.  I decided to combine pictures from both trips into one entry.

Anyway, I used to go to CoCo’s all the time back in college.  I always went to the Guadalupe location, but this time I took my husband to the one up north (near what used to be the Hong Kong Supermarket).  I wasn’t expecting much since most Chinese food here has been disappointing since coming back from Taiwan.  My husband was pleasantly surprised though.  The first time we went, we ordered the Green Onion Pie, Rice Ball, and Fried Chicken with Rice.  I suggested we get only the half order of Green Onion Pie.  As you can see in the picture above, the half order is still a lot of food.

Rice Ball 肉圓

The Rice Ball looked really good, but it didn’t taste as good when we finally got around to eating it.  I honestly think it’s because we didn’t eat it when it was still steaming hot.  We were too busy filling up on the Green Onion Pie and Fried Chicken with Rice.  Now, we know better.  The fried chicken dish was just all right, so I think we’ll skip that in the future.

The more recent time that we went, we were really looking forward to trying the Fried Squid appetizer.  We couldn’t find it on the menu, so I asked the cashier about it.  He told me that and the Eel Steak with Rice are no longer served.  How disappointing!

We were pretty hungry by then and ended up ordering more than we should have: Sa Cha Beef Lo Mein, Bamboo Leaves Sticky Rice, Fried Tofu, Spiced Kelp, and a Taro Milk Tea with Tapioca Pearls.

Sa Cha Beef Lo Mein 沙茶牛肉炒麵

The lo mein was a bit bland, so we added the sauce that came with the sticky rice.  It tasted much better after that.  Maybe I had my expectations raised after the first visit to CoCo’s, but I left a little disappointed.  The sticky rice was good, but nothing like what my grandma used to make.  Of course I’m biased because nothing will ever taste as good as Grandma’s cooking.

As for the fried tofu, I’m not a big fan of it to begin with.  I don’t get what’s so great about it.  Maybe it’s the dipping sauce that comes with it, or the crunchy exterior.  I don’t know.  My husband liked it though.

Spiced Kelp 海帶

The Spiced Kelp was decent.  It’s kind of hard to mess this up, though.  I don’t eat this for the taste, but more out of vanity.  I heard that eating lots of kelp will make your hair darker, and I’ve recently found a few white hairs.  I know it’s silly to think a side order of kelp will fix that, but hey…I’m desperate.

As for the Taro Milk Tea, it was decent for what I’ve had in America, but nothing compared to the stuff in Taiwan.  In Taiwan, you have the option of lots of ice/sugar, some ice/sugar, little ice/sugar, no ice/sugar.  Maybe I should’ve asked, but I didn’t think to.  The drink was too sweet in my opinion.  Plus, CoCo’s uses taro powder as opposed to real taro (most places use the powder, so I wasn’t surprised).  Again, the pearls were all right.

I realize I’m making this place sound mediocre.  It really wasn’t that bad, but I guess I just had higher hopes.  The service has been great both times, and it’s the closest thing to authentic Taiwanese food that I can find.  I would go back.

I leave you with some silly Chinglish.  I thought it was pretty cool that these drink tops now have cautionary labels.  I wonder if they have these because more non-Taiwanese people are jumping on the tapioca pearl bandwagon.  I feel like Taiwanese kids innately know how to consume tapioca pearls without choking on them.  So, to everyone who thinks tapioca pearls are a novel thing, please remember to chew thoroughly and not let children under 5 have any!

Caution: Not Safe for Children Under 5

On an unrelated note, CoCo’s only accepts credit cards with a minimum charge of $5.  If you only plan on getting a drink or appetizer, then remember to bring cash!

Enoteca Vespaio’s Sunday Brunch

Today, my husband and I met up one of my old college roommates for Sunday brunch.  Alice and I had not seen each other since college…so that would be 5 years ago? 6? I honestly can’t remember.  Anyway, it was long overdue.

Since Alice is no longer living in Austin, I wanted to pick an “Austin-y” place to eat.  I suggested South Congress Cafe, which was a TERRIBLE idea.  No, I’m not saying South Congress Cafe is a terrible place.  We didn’t even get to eat there.  I got there around 11:15 am, pushed through the huge crowd of hungry people waiting out front, and asked the hostess how long the wait would be for a table for 3.  ONE AND A HALF HOURS.  Yikes!

We ended up going down the block to Enoteca Vespaio.  I had never heard of this place, but according to Yelp, it was worthy of 4 stars.  We went in, I was relieved to see that it was busy (a sign that it had to be decent, right?), and was extra relieved to hear that they just happened to have an empty table for 3.  We walked past the delicious dessert display, had our orders taken promptly, and didn’t wait long for food.

Alice ordered the omelet of the day.  I forget what that was, but she liked it.  My husband got the poached eggs with sauteed spinach and roasted tomato.  I ordered the French toast and coffee.  I thought everything was reasonably priced…$9-16.

Unfortunately, I didn’t snap any pictures.  I was too busy chatting and stuffing my face.  I will definitely go back here and try more on the menu.  I hear the adjoining restaurant Vespaio is really good, too.

ChenZ

A group of us went to ChenZ the other night to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  I wasn’t sure what to expect since the restaurant opened only about a month ago, and there were mixed reviews on Yelp.

The moment we stepped foot inside, I was surprised.  It did not look like the “typical” Chinese restaurant.  The decor was modern, the lighting was dim, and things looked slightly upscale.

For a moment I panicked and thought I was in for a PF Chang’s experience.  Nothing against PF Chang’s, but I was just planning for authentic Chinese food at ChenZ.

After glancing at the menu, I was a little more reassured.  I noticed that the noodles and dumpling skins were made in-house.  AWESOME.  I feel like nowadays, most places just use frozen crap.

Another plus was that the menu was varied without being overwhelming.  My husband commented that one thing that often puts people off from going to Chinese restaurants is the complicated menu.  It can be frustrating trying to decide on what to eat.

Anyway, we had no problem making our selection.  There were 8 of us, so we ordered a ton of food to share.

Duck Noodles and Beef Noodle Soup

I didn’t get to try the beef noodle soup.  It was on the other side of the table most of the night, and I was too full by the time it made its way over to me.  The duck noodles were all right.  They were covered in hoisin sauce.

Lamb Noodles and Spinach Pork Fried Dumplings

I thought the lamb noodles were really good.  I think the noodles were made of buckwheat.  The texture and taste of the lamb was spot on…not too gamy, perfectly juicy, not overly flavored (which often happens with lamb).  The dumplings were nice and crispy on the outside.

Dumplings and Ja Jang Mein

Honestly, these dumplings were forgettable.  They weren’t bad, but they weren’t AMAZING.  I also found it a little odd that one order consisted of 20 dumplings, and they wouldn’t let us do a half order.  The ja jang mein (炸醬麵) was pretty good.  It didn’t taste like what I’m used to (a little strong on the peanut sauce), but it was still good.

Chili Oil Wontons

I can’t remember the exact name of this dish, but it’s basically wontons in chili oil sauce.  It wasn’t that spicy, which was perfectly fine with me since I have a low threshold for spiciness.

Pork Sesame Bun Wrap

These sesame seed bun thingies (燒餅…I’m not sure how to say this in English) had pork inside.  It almost reminded me of 胡椒餅 (Pepper pie? Pepper bun? Again, I’m not sure how this is translated into English).  The meat had a nice ginger kick to it, but it was a bit dry.  I really liked the outer part, though.

Green Onion Crepe

I’ve often heard this dish called “green onion pie”, “green onion pancake”, “scallion pancake”, scallion pie”, etc.  It’s called 蔥油餅 in Chinese.  I think you can figure out what’s in it.  It’s basically dough fried flat like a pancake with bits of scallion in it.  ChenZ made it really crispy and flaky.  It was great alone, but I think it would’ve been phenomenal if they also gave soy sauce with bits of garlic chopped in it for dipping.  That’s how it’s normally eaten.

Hot Pot Menu

So, this is what sets ChenZ apart from other Chinese restaurants in Austin…hot pot! ChenZ currently holds the title of the only restaurant in Austin to serve this.  If you’ve never had hot pot, you basically get to cook your food at your table.  Some people have trouble understanding this concept.  “Wait wait wait, you want me to pay to cook my own food??” It sounds silly, but I’m still a fan of it.  You get a huge pot of broth, and then you choose which veggies, meat, and other things to cook in it.  When the food is done cooking, you can dip it in different sauces.  You can also choose different flavors of broth.

Unfortunately, we were too full to order hot pot.  I’ll have to go back another time just to try this.

The bill came out to $87 (including tax, excluding tip).  For all the food we ordered, I thought it was a steal.

Beware the Angry Delivery Man from Dragon Gate by Phoenix

I just posted this review on Yelp about Dragon Gate by Phoenix.

“My colleagues and I have ordered from Dragon Gate quite a few times since they deliver to our office.  However, after today’s experience, I don’t think I will ever order from them again.

The first time we ordered, I volunteered to call.  I guess Dragon Gate decided to save my name and extension as the permanent contact for our company.

We never had problems with this restaurant in the past.  We actually thought the food was decent, portions were big, prices were reasonable, and wait was never long.

Just a while ago, I got a phone call on my extension.  I barely said hello before the man on the other line said loudly and rudely, “Delivery! I am locked out! You locked me out!”

Um, OK.  I didn’t order delivery, but I decided to go and open the door for him (we don’t have a receptionist at the moment).  I figured the customer’s name would be on the ticket.  Anyway, I opened the door, and he immediately said, “$15.02!” I asked to look at the name on the ticket.  I was surprised to see it was MY name…misspelled.

I said that I was the person on the ticket, but I didn’t order and the info must’ve been saved from the last time I called.  He gave an exasperated sigh and said “I’m very busy! I have so  many deliveries this afternoon. I don’t have time for this!” I invited him to wait AT THE ENTRANCE while I figured out who had ordered.

Well, the delivery man pushed his way in, walked into our office, and started yelling (I kid you not), “WHO ORDERED FOOD? DELIVERY! WHO ORDERED FOOD?” I told him to please wait while I found out.  He kept yelling, and EVERYONE was standing up looking over their cubicle walls in confusion at this frazzled delivery man.  Finally, I found the person who had ordered from Dragon Gate.  She went to deal with him, but it turned out it wasn’t her order.

I’m not sure what happened, but the delivery man left in a huff.

I know this is just one instance out of the several times we have ordered.  But I don’t want to risk getting this man again.

Today’s fiasco created some laughs, but it was pretty embarrassing considering we had an interviewee in the office at the time.  Let’s hope Dragon Gate holds an employee etiquette course because the man’s behavior was not professional one bit.”

Buca di Beppo

My aunt, uncle, and cousins came up from Houston for Spring Break.  We went to Buca di Beppo for lunch.  Although this restaurant isn’t unique to Austin, I was pretty sure they would like it.  Italian is always a good choice when you go with a group of people because there are so many different types of dishes to cater to everyone’s tastes.

I thought Buca only served family-style meals, but it turns out that they serve individual entrees during lunch.  We still ended up ordering off of the family-style menu.  For this, there are two options: small-sized portions (recommended for 2 people) and large (recommended for 4). We ordered a small salad and three small entrees thinking it would be just right for the six of us.  We ended up with a lot of leftovers!

I was pleased with all of the dishes.  My aunt and uncle also ordered a cup of the Italian sausage soup.  They both really liked that.

I’m actually really looking forward to eating the leftovers later since I was quite satisfied with our meal.  Take a look at the pictures:

1

Chopped Antipasto Salad - "Diced pepperoni, red onions, pepperoncini peppers, cucumbers, provolone, feta and Gorgonzola cheeses, tossed with our fresh lettuce blend in our signature Italian vinaigrette."

3

Penne San Remo - "Tender chicken breast, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and peas tossed with imported Italian penne pasta in a white wine cream sauce."

4

Supremo Italiano - "Our heartiest offering – chunks of ground beef and spicy Italian sausage mixed with strips of pepperoni, bell peppers and onions, all on top of red sauce and cheese."

2

Baked Rigatoni - "Our rich meat sauce and spicy Italian sausage tossed with imported Italian rigatoni and lots of mozzarella. Topped with Parmesan and dollops of ricotta cheese then baked to golden perfection."

Pho Hoang

My husband and I went to Pho Hoang this morning for a late breakfast/early lunch.  I had just read about it on my friend’s blog and decided to try it.  We went to the one off of Rutland Drive, near Burnet.

As we pulled into the plaza, I looked around and realized I had been to this restaurant before when I was in university.  I remembered because it was “cash only”, and my friend and I, being broke college kids, only had enough money for about 75% of our bill.  The waitress was gracious enough to accept what we had.

Anyway, my husband and I walked in and were seated immediately.  There was only one other group of three, so the waiter took our orders and brought the food out quickly.  We both got the small bowl of the House Special Beef Pho.  The portion size was huge, especially considering it was only $5.85/bowl.

House Special Beef Pho

House special Beef Pho covered with bean sprouts, mint leaves, and basil with a few squeezes of lime juice; spoon of Sriracha and hoisin sauce on the side for meat-dipping

I’m not sure if we went on a bad day, but I wasn’t too impressed.  The broth was a little darker than I’m used to, which is usually a sign of too much beef paste.  It also wasn’t as fragrant as some of the other pho I’ve tried.  In Pho Hoang’s defense, I was suffering from bad allergies…it could’ve been that I couldn’t smell anything.  Going back to the overuse of beef paste, my husband and I both had slight headaches this afternoon.  We’re suspecting it might be from the over-flavoring and MSG of the soup.

I think I’ll just stick to my current go-to pho places.

Le Soleil

I went to Le Soleil tonight for a friend’s birthday.  It’s off of Rutland and Lamar Blvd.  I had never been there before, and the plaza looked a bit sketchy.  Although the place was really hole-in-the-wall-ish, it seemed safe and service was good.

There were six of us, and we ordered the banquet for two plus a chef’s special.  It was more than enough food.

The banquet came with hot and sour soup (choice of shrimp or catfish), a hot clay pot dish (choice of catfish or fried tilapia), and a meat dish (choice of shaken beef, beef spicy lemongrass, or beef with Chinese broccoli and mushroom).  For the chef’s special, we got the grilled catfish.  Sorry for the poor quality pictures…I was using my phone.

Hot and Sour Soup

Shrimp Hot and Sour Soup -- this was probably one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Hot Clay Pot Catfish

Catfish in the Hot Clay Pot -- a bit too spicy for my taste

Shaken Beef

Shaken Beef -- I thought this was the best!

Grilled Catfish

Grilled Catfish -- the menu listed "Grilled Catfish", but it was actually fried. Go figure. It was HUGE and pretty good.

Fixings for Grilled Catfish

Fixings for the Grilled Catfish -- shredded carrots and daikon, cucumbers, lettuce, mint leaves (I think)

Grilled Catfish Wrapped in Rice Paper

We were supposed to use rice paper to wrap the grilled catfish and fixings. This was my first attempt. FAIL!

Grilled Catfish Wrapped in Rice Paper 2

This was my second attempt...much better!

I think I’ll have to come here again before I can decide how much I like this place.  The menu had a page of “Exotic Food” that seemed pretty interesting.  For some reason, it isn’t on the website, but I remember it offered alligator GRILLED AT YOUR TABLE, rabbit, quail, etc.