Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Woodland (finally)

We have lived within walking distance of the Woodland restaurant for more than four years. After having one brunch there right after moving into the neighborhood, we just never made it back in.

Every so often, when we're deciding what to have for dinner, my old man will suggest Woodland. My answer has almost always been no. Then, even less often, I would suggest going, but each time, he wasn't in the mood.

Finally, he suggested and I was feeling it. So we went for a weeknight dinner. And it was not bad. Much better, even, than that long-ago brunch.

The portions at Woodland are large, and the two of us are small and we were determined to end our meal with a slice of Woodland's famous pie, so we ordered an appetizer, a main course, and dessert to share.

But first, there were drinks. He ordered the non-alcoholic cucumber, mint, and soda water concoction. I was dubious, but I took a sip of his and immediately ordered one for myself. It was crisp and refreshing, perfect for one of the several hundred 100+ degree days we had before the temperatures in Austin dipped down into the chilly 90s.

Then came the food. for maximum variety, we got the appetizer and the main course delivered at the same time. We got the corn fritters and the veggie burger with fries. I'd read great reviews of the veggie burger, and I wasn't sure what to expect.

The patty was pinkish, and it had a nice beany flavor, but it was just a little bit dry (and beany) in texture. But the bun, a shiny, rich brioche, made it. The moist, almost sweet bread was excellent with the earthy burger.

Pink veggie burger

The corn fritters were nicely dark, and almost perfectly round. They were served piping hot, and their crisp exteriors gave way to steamy, fluffy interiors. There was definitely corn in there–whole kernels were embedded in the bread–but the fritters didn't really taste of corn. I guess when I think of corn fritters, I imagine sweet, slightly chewy bites with lots of corn flavor, sometimes dusted with powdered sugar. (I'm sure I get this from White Fence Farm, just outside Chicago.) They were good, though not what I expected, and the chipotle dipping sauce was really nice–spicy, tangy, and creamy.

Corn fritters

Last, we got pie. Coconut cream. It was beautiful, with a mountain of whipped cream on top of the sweet coconut custard.

Oh, coconut. (And, aww, dark picture.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I love popsicles.

I love popsicles. As a kid, I took them any way I could get them. Often, in the summer, that usually meant what we called "freeze pops," brightly hued sugar water that tasted vaguely fruity in plastic sleeves. I was an only child, but on my block, my mom and my friends' parents bought enough so the hoards of playing kids could all have frozen treats without it getting too expensive.

My favorite flavor was pink. I'm not sure what flavor it was supposed to bemaybe strawberrybut I went for those first. I loved letting them melt a bit before sucking the "juice" up the sides of the frozen block, leaving the frozen middle intact. That, and whacking the still-sealed plastic tubes on the counter, or the table, or the front stepswhatever was handyand creating a "slushy" that could be slurped.

My grandma's sister (who I also called Grandma) lived in the suburbs and had a pool, and she a freezer chest on her enclosed back porch. In it could be found a trove of frozen goodies for all the often-visiting kids in the family. There were ice creams with flavors like heavenly hash, which I only ever had at that grandma's house, enjoyed with cousins who would bit the tips of their sugar cones to suck the melted ice cream from. Not me. I slowly savored the ice cream to maximize the time it was in the cone so it would soften around the edges, eating the softened cone before devouring the still-crunchy pointed tip, filled with melty ice cream.

That grandma had exotic popsicles, too. In addition to the standard flavorscherry, grape, orangeshe always had an extra-special box with a crazy-exciting varietybanana, lime, and root beer. I'd usually choose one of those over ice cream. I loved them all, but my favorite was banana. Deep golden yellow and rich-tasting, they were lapped up, even when I was freezing cold, wrapped in a towel after swimming in her pool that was surrounded by tall trees, in the shade, and always very, very cold.

Back in Chicago in the summer, paleta men would come around. The men pushed white carts filled with Mexican-style popsicles kept cold with steamy dry ice. The flavor variety was dizzying, and included fruits and combinations I hadn't heard oftamarindo, jamaica, guayaba. I almost always got one of two flavorssandia, made from fresh watermelon, that had chunks of fruit and sometimes seedsor arroz con lecherice pudding. OK. So rice pudding? Not what I'd expect in a popsicle, but after trying it, it became a fast favoritecreamy with a grainy, sweet-rice flavor, flecked with cinnamon, and studded with soft grains of rice.

When I moved away from Chicago, I kind of stopped eating popsicles. I was off to college, in the land of exotic Ben and Jerry's flavors and frozen custards. In grad school in Wisconsin, it was fruit sherbets. (By the way, why is next to impossible to find natural sherbets in Austin?) Sure, there were occasional popsicles along the way, but they'd lost favor to other frozen desserts. Then, I just didn't eat much ice cream at all. A shame really, but I'd buy a pint of the good stuff, have a small serving, and it the remainder would frost over in the freezer before I got to it again.

Lately, I've been eating popsicles again. It started with a box of fruit pops from the grocery. But I've had my eye out for more, and I've been gobbling up Austin-made GoodPops from the farmers market. And I've been on to more. Frozen yogurt, ice cream, and even some homemade treats. And I'm seriously thinking of buying some paleta molds to try to make my own. (This is pretty serious. I am usually really reluctant to buy any new kitchen equipment unless I NEED it, or it's very, very special.)

But making a batch of homemade paletas can lead to its own problems. The most important one is, who's going to eat them? I fear that even homemade paletas, if they number more than a few, would languish in the freezer until they're too frosty to discern their flavor. But I may be up to the challenge.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bombay Express

I love Indian food. Well, I really love any food that that has lots of different textures and that is sweet, savory, sour, and spicy all at once.

Chaat, or Indian snacks, is a particular favorite. Austin doesn't have many restaurants serve chaat, and none south of the river that I know of, so making the trek to the far north side of town to Bombay Express is always a treat.

Like lots of Austin restaurants, Bombay Express is in a big strip mall, but don't let that food you. They serve amazingly delicious chaat that's really cheap and really pretty.

Every time I go, I have to get two things: a dosa and bhel puri.

A dosa is a very thin pancake made with fermented lentils and rice. Very often, they're gigantic sheets rolled or folded and hanging over the edges of the serving platter.

Bombay Express's version is delicate, crispy, deeply savory, and a tiny bit sweet. The pancake is served perfectly brown with spicy sambar and mild coconut chutney. They're so good that I can't not get one. If I don't I know it might be a few weeks before I can get back to have one and I'll think about it probably the whole time.


The bhel puri is crazy. It's a bed of crispy puffed rice and crunchy-noodley sev topped with chopped potatoes, onions, and cilantro. The whole thing is drizzled with sweet-sour tamarind and verdant green chutneys, and a mystery hot chili sauce. Really, I have no idea what the hot sauce is, but it's fantastic. All the ingredients together make what is possibly the perfect food. Every bite has a little of everything in it - crunchy, soft, spicy, sweet, sour, and savory. Again, it's something that I want all the time, so I can't not get it when the opportunity presents itself. I've got to learn to make it on my own.

bhel puri

On weekends, they serve a thali plate - a big, round tray with little portions of lots of dishes nestled in it. This visit's had (clockwise from the bowl at the top) kadhi soup, pickle, galub jamun for dessert, cooling raita, cilantro chutney, vegetable pakoras, green beans, paneer curry, rice, roti, and a papadum. All for, I think, $9 or $10? Well, yes. Yes, I will, thank you very much. With that many dishes, who needs to decide that to have? Besides the dosa and bhel puri, I mean.


The restaurant is very casual. Order at the counter, take a number and your food is brought to you as each dish is ready. Bring a friend (or 3, or 4), order a bunch, and share it all as it comes out.

Bombay Express
13000 N. IH 35, Building 12
Austin, TX 78753
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11a-9p