Monday, 26 September 2011

Kansas City here I come

On my recent trip to the USA I paid a visit to family in Kansas City. KC is not generally known for it’s culinary prowess, however, I did eat while I was there and it wasn’t all bad.
On my first day in town, my grandma and aunts took me to brunch at Lidia’s Italy, which is the westernmost of Lidia Bastianich’s ‘Lidia’ branded restaurant group. 

Lidia’s is in a beautiful red brick building with an refined farmhouse vibe. On Sundays they have a market brunch ($24) that features a buffet of antipasto and desserts with a la carte mains. The food was rustic and flavourful but the presentation was lacking. 
Selection of bread with sweet butter
 Selection from antipasto table – heirloom tomato panzanella was the highlight
Gnocchi with duck ragu
Grilled salmon fillet with string beans, Yukon gold potatoes and mustard sauce
Lasagna Bolognese
Pork shank
Grilled chicken panini

Lidia's Kansas City on Urbanspoon

Kansas City is good at barbecue. This relates to its long history as a location for cattle sales to the east and becomes evident during football season when you see the cloud of barbecue smoke from the tailgaters long before you can see Arrowhead Stadium. KC style barbeque is generally hickory based with a sweeter sauce than you would find in Texas. 

Jack Stack is one of the oldest barbecue restaurants in town and is generally thought to be the best. The meat is smoky and tender, the sauce a tasty mixture of smoke, heat and molasses. One of the highlights of Kansas City style barbecue is the smoky hickory pit beans, which are a slow cooked combination the smoky meat, sauce and beans. 
‘Jumbo’ sandwich with turkey and pork
Pork baby back ribs
Sides of potato salad and hickory pit beans

Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue (South K.C.) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Momofuku-d @ Ssäm Bar, Milk Bar and Má Pêche

When I was planning the NYC leg of my USA trip, my hit list looked something like this:
  1. Shop
  2. Eat David Chang and Christina Tosi’s food
  3. Party
  4. Museums and stuff 
  5. Eat at a three Michelin starred and four NYT starred restaurant
  6. Eat more food from random NYC gems
Now that I’ve done all of those things #5 could be bumped to the top of the list, but that story will have to wait for another day when I feel I can give the proper attention to my upcoming love letter to Daniel Boulud. 

David Chang is pretty much the closest the restaurant industry has to a rock star of the uber cool variety. I’m not saying that he’s necessarily better than other top chefs, just that he has serious buzz around him and a kickass attitude. His cult like following stems from his ballsy but polished fusion of various Asian cuisines and southern cuisine, and his famous steamed pork buns. 

Bloggers Tools

On my second evening in New York I dragged my friends A & Y along to Ssäm Bar in the East Village for dinner (this wasn’t a particularly difficult task). We took the sharing approach and started with a bottle of pinot grigio and jonah crab claws with harissa mayo ($16). The crab claws were served on ice and were pre-cracked, which made it easier to get to the sweet flesh. 

The Claws were followed by the deliciously sinful steamed buns with pork belly, hoisin, cucumber and scallion ($10 for 2). They were addictively awesome served with the Sriracha chilli sauce; a cross between peking duck and steamed pork buns.

This was followed by a plate of Finchville Farm’s ham from Kentucky ($11) that was served with crusty bread and espresso ‘gravy’. The thinly sliced ham was cured and combined brilliantly with the creamy espresso gravy.

Our next dish was market greens ($10 silverbeet) with xo sauce that was underwhelming.

Our first main was the roasted lamb loin & belly with bulgur, snap peas and egg yolk ($26). The lamb loin was very tender and beautifully cooked while the tenderloin was even better. The gooey egg yolk and slightly crisp bulger were excellent accompaniments.

The poached chicken with sticky rice, morels and spring onion ($25) was very tender and the sauce packed a serious flavour punch.

Our meal was slightly soured by our waitress who seemed to hate life that evening. Judging by the quality of service delivered by the other staff I would assume this was an anomaly.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon
After we finished up we wandered across the road to the Milk Bar to get some pies and ice cream.
The Cereal Milk soft serve ($4.5) with cornflake topping was a more-ish creamy, salty and sweet treat that was perfected with the crunchy topping. If I could get that soft serve in Collins Street I would eat it all of the time.

Eating the decadently salty, buttery caramel Crack Pie ($5.25) with the crisp coconut crust made me feel like my arteries were hardening in a good way.

The Grasshopper Pie($5.25) was also a delicious combination of mint, chocolate, butter and marshmallow.

Momofuku Milk Bar on Urbanspoon
 Má Pêche
After a long morning wandering around MoMA, my cousin J and I hungrily descended on Momofuku’s midtown restaurant, Má Pêche. J was tired of listening to me talk about the steamed pork buns and Cereal Milk soft serve and wanted to try them. Má Pêche has a cool minimalist fit out with an upstairs bar and basement restaurant.
We started with the niman ranch beef tartare, which was flavoured soy, scallion and mint ($16). The tartare had fresh flavours was a brilliant textural combination with the crisp krupuk it was served with.

We had more steamed buns…

This was followed by a bahn mi with sticky slow cooked lamb shoulder, jalapeño, eggplant and cranberry ($10).

We finished with Cereal Milk and choc-malt soft serve

Ma Peche on Urbanspoon
*note: all prices exclude tax and tip

Monday, 12 September 2011


At the tail end of my recent US trip, I spent a few days in Austin, TX. Texas may not be the first destination you’d think of when planning a trip to America, but with the Qantas replacing their Sydney to San Francisco route with a Sydney to Dallas route, more Australians are visiting. Tips from fellow travellers led me to bypass Dallas in favour of the hipper State Capitol. 

Austin is home to a plethora of universities, including the University of Texas. This helps to explain the abundance of fixies, which make any Melbournian feel at home (not to mention the availability of somewhat passable coffee). Its insulation from the economic downturn and young population have helped spark a resurgent restaurant, bar and music scene, led by events like SXSW and Austin City Limits.

Austin is HOT in the middle of summer, my four days were spent in a temperature range of 30 degrees overnight to 43 degrees during the day, making it ideal for chilling by the pool, springs or tubing down one of the rivers around the city. It also makes Austin an ideal location for outdoor bars, food trailers and restaurants, of which there are many. My highlights are places which I would frequent if they were magically transferred to Melbourne (in fact I’d probably do a happy dance if that happened).

Franklin Barbecue

My love affair with Austin began while googling ‘Austin BBQ NYT’ on my second morning in Austin, determined to have a Texas comparison to the Kansas City barbecue I enjoyed as a child and while in Kansas City at the beginning of my trip (note: I add NYT to any restaurant google in the USA because I am a NYT dining and wine addict). Barbecue is an art form in the USA, with different styles across the south and Kansas City. There are different types of wood used for smoking (hickory, mesquite etc.), sauces ranging with varying levels of vinegar, heat and sweetness, and different types of meat.   

My search pointed to Franklin Barbecue, which has been voted the best barbecue restaurant in America by Bon Appetit Magazine. Franklin Barbecue started as a food truck but moved to a bricks and mortar location earlier this year. Its owner Aaron Franklin serves up pulled pork, pork ribs, sausages and more importantly, brisket. Franklin Barbecue has a double threat of cool factor and culinary credibility. Upon my 12 o’clock arrival at Franklin, I was confronted with a line of hungry people snaking around the interior of the restaurant and spilling out onto the porch. There was no option but to join the queue, chat to the giant Texas football team members and random Italian academics in the line and see what all of the hype was about. 

By the time I had made it to the front of the line, I’d befriended the aforementioned Italian and wavered about five times on my order. I went with the option of a plate of brisket and pulled pork with slaw and pinto beans on the side that also came with a bit of banter with Aaron Franklin while he was chopping brisket. The brisket was deliciously tender, smoky and juicy that was perfectly matched with the smoky heat of the barbecue sauce that also had a hint of espresso. The porky goodness of the pulled pork was more suited to the slaw. 

By the time I'd finished lunch they had sold out of meat. I was really tempted to go back and try the ‘Tipsy Texan’ sandwich the next day but Torchy’s Tacos won out. 

Franklin Barbecue on Urbanspoon

After sharing lunch at Franklin, I ended up catching up with the Italian and friends at East Side Showroom for a light dinner and cocktails. East Side is a speakeasy themed bar with dark lighting, an interesting menu that mixes southern food with modern American, 20s music and a great mix of prohibition era and modern cocktails with a Texan twist. We shared bison carpaccio, antelope tartar, shrimp gumbalaya, lime crème brûlée and a delicious peach pie. The whisky sour cocktail was the best I’ve tasted anywhere. 

It was impeccably executed with its smoky rye and luxardo cherry. Unfortunately the lighting did not allow for good photos. 

East Side Show Room on Urbanspoon

My hosts from the evening before recommended that I check out the tacos at Torchy’s. Torchy’s has several food trailers around Austin and has its main base at Torchy’s Trailer Park on south first. 

Having heard about the fried avocado taco ($3.25), I had to try it.

The juxtaposition of the crisp batter and the creamy avocado was addictive. I also tried the democrat ($3.75) which was a delicious mix of shredded beef, coriander, queso fresco and pico de gallo.

Places like Torchy’s make Mamasita and Melbourne’s lone taco truck seem passé* (* to be fair, there aren’t many Mexicans in Melbourne)

Torchy's Tacos on Urbanspoon
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