Saturday, December 26, 2009

Austin Bloggirls Holiday Party!

Last week Mai hosted a Secret Santa Austin Bloggirls party. It was her idea and we were all over it!

Mai decorated her cute apartment with her $15 holiday tree and fire from Walgreens (keep an eye out for her Bargain Holidays post), and even had holiday music playing along with the crackling fire.

She came up with and made these delicious faux chicken, i.e. tofu, feta and spinach on phillo appetizers. So yummy.

We had a smorgasbord of food along with it, including chips and homemade guacomole, Whole Foods pizza, artisan cheeses with mini toasts, and delicious dilled red potatoes made by Mai with fresh dill grown locally by Johnson's Backyard Gardens,

She also personalized holiday cups,

and hand decorated adorable stockings for each of us with an adorable little geisha girl keychain inside.

I could learn so much from her! She is an awesome hostess!

We used to pick names. We had a blast guessing which gift was from who, although mine was easy because Kiley accidentally slipped early on and told us she had put a card with her gift (a very sweet one, too!!).

Through Elfster I drew Miranda, who couldn't end up coming at the last minute. I had only met her once besides, but Mai helped me out with picking her gift and I ended up buying her adorable felt coasters from Anthropologie. I kind of heart them.

We were so excited for the first gift that the paparazzi showed up. Adam, our honorary guest and fill in for Miranda, wasn't about to be shown up with the camera frenzy. Fortunately I captured the moment before we came to our senses.

Mai got Jackie her gift, one I wish I had taken a picture of because it was an adorable black with all different colors owl credit card wallet from Emerald's. It was handmade by someone on Etsy, which I also wish I knew who! So adorable. I also adore this picture of Jackie holding up her gifts, so excited with anticipation of what they might be!
Dani got Mai her gift, which was a replacement for a beautiful peacock feather headband that Mai had previously worn on many an occasion until it had started to fall apart. This one is just as beautiful and Mai still gets to wear her signature feathers! So very Sex and the City. I just have to explain that Mai also made this a secondary Ugly Christmas sweater party, but none of us had one except for her, which she wore the entire night. Awesome. I so need one.
Jackie got Dani her gift, and gave her vintage buttons for crafting, as well as a pretty feather green barrette. I love how Mai's fireplace glowed in the background.
We enjoyed a laugh that had me looking around the table so grateful for and in awe of all these wonderful people in my life when Kiley subtly tried to swipe Dani's Secret Santa gift.
Fortunately she seemed pretty pleased with her gift from Miranda. I wish I could remember all of the items, but I don't.

Jackie threw together a last minute Secret Santa gift of sports magazines for Adam. He seemed touched.
I feel pretty darn lucky that Kiley got my gift, because WOW she's an amazing shopper. Somehow she managed to stay under our $10 budget and gave me a beautiful purple scarf, as well as a tin of yummy Smith's Rosebud Salve lip balm. Crazy and so fun!

I had to run out way too soon to attend another holiday party with Brando, though the two of us did join the girls and Adam later to watch Mai's band she works for. We did manage to take a group picture of the girls before we left though, which makes me happy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blue Dahlia Bistro

Another one of my favorite jaunts last week was the Blue Dahlia bistro. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me so you will have to suffer the poor quality of my iPhone pictures. I did get a few decent pictures, including this one of which perfectly captures my ideal picture of how such a place should look - with the styled sign, and the bike leaning up against the greenery. Totally made my heart smile.

When Mai got into town the week before on Friday and we made our trip to the Snack Bar, she also took me on a tour of Austin's very unique and quaint east side. I was shocked to find that as much as I thought Austin reminded me of my hometown, Santa Cruz, California, the east side actually resembles Santa Cruz with it's cute little shops, cafes, houses full of character, and walkable streets. I am SO excited to discover it and can't wait to check it out more.

The minute us girls had a chance to check out even one of their cafes I jumped on it. Mai, Kiley, and I headed to Blue Dahlia bistro to celebrate finals FINALLY being OVER for Kiley and I, and to celebrate Mai being back in town for a good amount of time!

When Mai and I had driven by earlier in the week I was so delighted to see their unassuming little storefront, and the people inside sitting at cozy wooden tables enjoying their meal.

I was equally delighted when I walked in and saw that my vision of the place matched my expectations. The cozy wooden tables sat two, three, four, or many more. We sat and enjoyed one cozy end of a family style table.

This sweet little elementary school class came in and caroled their entire song book to us. I happened to take a picture, not realizing it actually did do the interior justice. Not realizing this and without my camera with me I didn't get a picture of the small outside area in the back, but suffice it to say I will be back to show you the whole experience. And hopefully you'll have a chance to make it there yourself!

The atmosphere itself sold me, but I was still apprehensive that their food would back it up. I had checked out their menu online and was so excited for my favorite, Belgian Waffles, and with fresh berries!! No frozen strawberries or otherwise concocted creation here.

It was as delicious as it looked. And for $4.95 a complete steal for both Kiley and I. My Cafe Au Lait which I absolutely adore at places that don't ask me how much milk or coffee I want in it. Just make it perfect tasting, darn it.

And it was exactly that. Perfect, hot, and comforting.

Mai ordered the blueberry blintzes which looked heavenly. Cheese creations are a little much for me, especially for a meal, but I was glad she ordered it so I could try it. The perfect creaminess of the ricotta, mixed with the sweetness of the blueberry, and the mild flavor of the crepe was a heavenly combination.

I will definitely be ordering it as one of my mainstays when I go back.

I have been dying to find "THAT" breakfast place in Austin and this. is. it. I can not WAIT to go back and try all of their menu items. True, they don't have the traditional omelette, eggs, and bacon items, but what they do have they do well. They did have a frittata on the specials menu, which will definitely be my next menu choice sans unavailability, and you will certainly hear about along with the rest of their atmosphere.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Morning of Breakfast and Shopping

This week was a smorgasbord of breakfasts at unique local Austin jaunts, Christmas shopping, friends, and discovery of new restaurants and stores. One of my favorites was yesterday with Mai and Jackie. Breakfast was suggested, and one thing led to another as we ended up at Austin's new 24 Diner that Jackie had suggested the evening before.

I arrived first, and sat down at a table for two with seats for three, but thru musical chairs ended up in a booth. Fortunately it was a much better angle for taking pictures of their cute little atmosphere. It was also much more comfortable for four when Mai and Jackie arrived a few minutes later.
In spite of it turning out a bit dark, I love that our waitress walking by was completely accidental in this picture. Her laugh is because she thought I was taking a picture of the place we were going to sit, and makes me laugh out loud as well.

24 immediately won me over with their commitment to local foods, starting with their special Owl Tree Roasting blend of, I believe, Kenyan and Brazilian coffee. I am becoming slightly addicted to Owl Tree's coffee.
Their menu was simple, yet managed to offer many options on just two sides. Oh, how I wish I had taken a picture of the breakfast side - next time! I ended up fixating on their cute little slogan, "Farm to Table".
No Belgian waffles, so I had to branch out. I loved how they listed the ingredients they use from local farms on a blackboard above the kitchen. It was the other half of what immediately won me over, and I was excited to taste the freshness.
The prices were a little high in my opinion. $10 for breakfast, not including coffee seems steep for breakfast for one. So, Mai and I decided to split the Spinach, Cherry Tomato, and Goat Cheese Frittata. Fortunately it was large enough to be completely filling for both of us.
I ended up with the cherry tomato half, and Mai ended up with the goat cheese half, as it could've afforded a little more mixing prior to completion of cooking. Although, we did trade off a bit with our ingredients, which made for an AHmazing few bites. Mai ordered veggie breakfast patties as well with her half which, as Jackie put it were, "Savory, smoky, and sweet."
They tasted just like one of the best meat sausages I've ever had, which, as a non-vegetarian, was absolutely delicious, and Mai loved it, too. Jackie ordered a goat cheese pulled chicken sandwich with avocado and roasted tomato vinaigrette which looked absolutely delicious on it's baguette,
and from all accounts lived up to the deliciousness that it sounded. I didn't personally try it, but it sounds like it would taste and look even better than it already did with thick sliced fresh tomatoes.

Overall the atmosphere was adorable, chic, and inviting,
the food was good, filling even with splitting, somewhat affordable with splitting - my bill still came to $11 with tip, and the service was impeccable. I'd actually heard reports that their service was slow, but it seems they were aware of that and were definitely making up for it. They had an excellent balance of making sure things were being taken care of without being intrusive.

With a few improvements this place could easily become one of my Austin favorites. A little attention to taste detail as I mentioned previously would go a long way and up the taste bud experience to perfection. In lieu of upping the taste detail, or even better, in addition to, slightly lower prices on most entree items would make this a much more frequent option. This would create lines out the door almost any day of the week, I'm sure. Also, it would encourage already fantastic service to the extreme as it would leave more room for tipping. But I'm not a business owner and I certainly have no idea of the ginormous funds it takes to run a business so who am I to say that. I just eat there!

I loved it and will totally be back,
on top of recommending it to locals and out-of-towners for an Austin breakfast experience
before shopping the day away downtown at Anthropologie across the street,
or experiencing the rest of the uniqueness Austin has to offer.
Speaking of uniqueness, I can't wait to explore this store, Emeralds, more. Mai says it is amazing with something for any occasion. She's getting her under $10 Santa gift there. Plus, they have clothes that are color-coordinated so if you need a yellow top you know exactly where to go (her words, not mine). I seriously think I could use two or three hours just to explore everything they have here, then be able to have it always in the back of my mind when I need something in particular. And the best part? They're right next door to 24 Diner. Breakfast and shopping. What could be better?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Romantic Weekend Away

Brando won a night at a hotel, the Renaissance, through work a few weeks ago so this last weekend we took advantage of it to celebrate the end of my first semester! We started off the evening by getting checked in and checking out all the fun Christmas decorations in the hotel.

Then we hit up a band, With the Punches, at Emo's. I had heard about via Twitter, and when I checked out their myspace and saw one of their inspirations was Blink 182, I knew Brando would enjoy it. I was right on. We even bought a CD which sounds AHmazing! Wish it had my favorite song of theirs on it! I can't remember the words but there was a lot of "Ooooh, ooooh, oooh"ing in it.
Of course, besides the added plus of actually liking their music, I totally enjoyed it because it was a new place and a new experience for me! The funky atmosphere made for a perfect experience.
After their set and a series of texts to friends about where to eat nearby I remembered a hot spot within walking distance that I had been wanting to try so we took off to Max's Wine Dive (wish I'd gotten a picture of their sign, but since I didn't I'll use theirs).
Oh man, did it ever live up to expectations! First of all, such a cute atmosphere

combined with amazing food that I forgot I was in Texas (no offense, Texas) to the point where I saw a picture of John Wayne above the bar and wondered outloud, "Why is there a picture of John Wayne above the bar?" Brando gave me a look and reminded me, "We're still in Texas." On top of their delicious sounding menu,
the service was superb to the point where small used napkins were swept away discreetly by a waiter or waitress walking by to the point where if I hadn't been paying attention I wouldn't have even noticed. Something I am definitely NOT used to in Texas. Brando ordered the beer battered Mesquite Calamari which was so good he convinced me to try it (I've only been eating seafood for two years and insist on only eating it when a seafoodie claims it's the best they've ever had).
It WAS delicious. I ordered the Ribs with a hoisin glaze.
Mmmm, perfectly tender and sweet flavor. It is a wine bar, but I usually get a headache these days when I drink wine, so the waiter, Clint, convinced me to try a wine he claimed had never given him a headache, Prosecco.
It's a slightly sweet, but definitely not desert like, wine that was oh so good and just right with the hoisin ribs. And he was so right! No headache at all - not even the next day. Will definitely be having that again! After Max's Wine Dive, we stopped by to see a friend of mine at Pure Ultra Lounge. Fortunately we ran into her on the street and hung out with her for quite a bit. Brando's first time on Sixth Street!

I took tons of pictures to record the moment in case it doesn't happen again. We headed back early to get back to the hotel before the indoor pool closed, stopping by Emo's along the way to see if the next band was any good. It wasn't, but it was fun to see the funky atmosphere again and catch this picture.
Back to an amazing night at the super plush indoor pool in the hotel.

We finally checked out our huge room after the pool. I had been to the Renaissance before and the room was TINY so I wasn't expecting this.
Our view was gorgeous on top of it all.
We spent the next morning in bed til' noon, with belgian waffles, orange juice, and coffee in bed watching SurvivorMan (Brando's personal happy place).


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