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This time we tried one of the strangest things on the menu, actually two sea creatures. Abalone and Sea Cucumber.

Meet Mr. Abalone: 
He’s a big fat snail of sorts, a mollusk sort.
Slightly rubbery. Strange ocean aftertaste.

Meet Mr. Sea Cucumber: 

He’s very soft and squishy. The texture is very much like a cooked cucumber with a fishy flavor mixed in. Weird, I know, but I was surprized how much I ate.

To round out the dish is a beautiful presentation of baby bok choi and black mushrooms. I don’t really go for mushrooms in general, but these were so dense and meaty.

Horray for trying something new!  Now where’s my ice cream?

Ho Ho Chinese BBQ is located at 13000 N I -35,  Austin, TX 78753 (Next to Red Robin).

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Tino’s is at the north end of the Arbor Walk shopping strip where Loop 360 ends at North MoPac (Loop 1).  We were in the area for lunch and picked Greek to try something different.  Bring your kids, if they like Greek, this is not a high-brow type of eatery.  The concept is simple, stand in line with a tray and pick either a platter (about $7.49) or a wrap (about $6).  I went with a platter of Gyro meat, salad, tabouli, (one) dolmathe, and tzadziki.  To round out the high price tag I got a pita and a fountain drink for a total of $9.68 with tax.  It’s like a Greek Subway shop.

Everything tasted as it should, but I could not overlook the value of this meal.  In my opinion, the price was a little high for the quantity of Gyro on the plate.  I was glad to see the roasting spit and a carver slicing my order seconds before they handed my plate over the sneeze guard.  The cashier was not as happy to see me.  Note to the wise: you will have to ask for a receipt copy.

For those who do not like lamb, there are chicken and vegetarian options as well.  The gyro is very mild and does not resemble any other lamb I’ve eaten.  If I offered it to my children, $50 bucks says one of them devours it without blinking.  If you’re not in to betting on your child’s taste buds, there is a kid’s plate on the menu ($3.50 meat and rice or potato and a pita).

The dolmathe was the best item I chose.  It was only rice with a spiced sauce in a grape leaf, I guess I’ve developed a flavour for the hot and spicy Mexican foods in Austin.  This is a project to recreate at home and include ground lamb in the rice mixture.

Tino’s offers fast food without a deep-fryer and I would visit again for lunch.

10515 North Mopac, Austin, TX. 78758  tinosgreekcafe.com

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Located in Austin’s Chinatown at Kramer Lane and N. Lamar Blvd, TC Noodle House serves up a lengthly menu of traditional Chinese cuisine.

(Above) The Clay Hot Pot with pork ribs swimming in a dark soy garlic sauce and rendered fat from the ribs.  The ribs are small and most have a fat cap remaining, I usually cut off any visible fat in anything I eat so this wasn’t an issue for me.  The meat is very tender and not overly seasoned.

The Crab Asparagus Soup is made with green asparagus that seems to have originated from a can or the freezer, or it has been cooking in the thick broth all day.  The crab in the soup is scattered about.  I only found a couple notable pieces.  Overall, the soup was good, but we moved on to better things.

Hubby requested Salt & Pepper Scallops, which we didn’t see on the menu but our server said no problem.  He returned mere minutes later with a plate of delicately seasoned and fried scallops.  The best scallops I’ve ever tasted!  And I’m not the seafood buff of the family!  I would go back just to try these again.

The restaurant itself is probably the cleanest one I’ve been to.  Tile floors instead of carpet helps to keep odors away.  A huge elephant statue and tall bamboo near the cashier adds Asian flair.  The bathrooms were also very clean, but I didn’t see a baby changing station.

We had a very pleasant meal and left with full bellies, it onlt set us back about $28 for essentially a three course lunch!

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The Koi greet everyone with open mouths.  They are happy to stay off the menu.

We requested a table at the back.  Word of advice, put in your order while your waiter seats you otherwise you are forgotten and you will fear they will never come back for you.  And the hot tea does not come with a small pot, it is simply a cup of tea.

Sushi Sashimi Lunch - Ichiban Austin

Hubby ordered the sushi sashimi combination lunch platter.  The nigiri is a fine selection of fish and a piece of imitation crab.  “That’s not right.” he said half way through lunch.  Houdini (aka the waiter) stopped by to see if we were still alive.  Hubby explained that imitation crab should not be on the plate or the menu should say something about it (it simply says 5 pieces of chef selected nigiri).  Not only did the server get an earful, he also spoke to the manager.  He knows what real crab is and it’s not the hotdog shaped atrocity he found himself facing at chow time.

I was embarrassed but I know the reason behind the action, in fact,  I AM the reason.  Hubby has picked up a taste for real crab in the time we’ve been together.  He wanted to go off at the restaurant like Chef Irvine does on his show, something like “You can’t serve fake fish at a SUSHI bar!”.  Point taken by the manager, he offered to replace the “crab” with salmon and forgo the $1 surcharge for swapping out the piece.

Special Combo - Ichiban Austin

“Just go with the flow.”  That’s my take on life, and in this situation I ate the damn imitation crab.

I thought that the Dragon Roll mentioned in the possible substitutions for a California roll was the one pictured on the menu of rolls.  On the picture menu it was called Red Dragon I saw no other dragons on the menu and went ahead and ordered it.  Nope, it’s the OTHER dragon roll with eel if I’m not mistaken?  Not what I was expecting.  Did I try to send it back?  No, I just ate it anyways and chalked it up to trying my first eel roll.

The House Roll, which was imitation crab roll dunked in tempura and fried, was good.  The crunch from the tempura helps mix things up a bit, textural wise.

Don’t mind having to take off my shoes to eat lunch.  As far as sushi places go, you might get a better sense of authentic Japanese/Korean dining here at Ichiban due to the ambiance, but you can find comparable service and platters elsewhere.  Lunch prices are decent (starts at $6.95 per person, bento boxes were $8.95 and up).  If we go back for another special lunch, I will try the bulgogi bento box.  Parking is a little tricky, I didn’t know it was a one way loop and went in through the exit confusing the lady leaving at the time.   The green carpet is a little distracting, but most older restaurants have tacky décor.

Ichiban Restaurant 7310 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78757

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I was wandering through Sam’s Club when a perky woman stopped me to offer a sample of juice.  She gave the short sales pitch as I tasted, mmmed and ahhed at her words.  What really sold me was the flavor and weight of the juice.  I know you wouldn’t normally think of weight and viscosity of juices, just follow along on this one.  The more water you add to freshly squished juice, the lighter and less viscous it is.  And the more water added to the good stuff means higher profit margins to the producer.  I like to make smoothies out of real fruit (banana, papaya, berries, mango, pineapple, you name it!) so when a juice really tastes like fruit I get excited.  I bought a bottle of Acai Berry Juice right then.

Cloudiness is a good thing.

I drink about 4 ounces in the morning, and if I need a pick me up in the afternoon.  I’ve noticed a little extra pep in my step when I take it a few days in a row.  If you have kids, I’ll advise you to cut this with water as you might have jumping jackrabbits on your hands.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Maybe my kids are just nuts anyways.

I bought a different brand of Acai juice (Zola) and it doesn’t taste as good, not even close.

Here is the guy behind Genesis Today on The View

http://youtu.be/p6RaoipQN1s

Shop Amazon’s Kindle Accessories Store

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Marisco Grill (6444 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78757 ) is a tiny turquoise blue restaurant serving up a surprising array of Mexican seafood dishes.  The three page menu focuses a third of the offerings from the ocean.  One you shouldn’t miss is the Vuelve a la Vida (above), this was a half portion for only $7.25 and was plenty to share between Hubby and I as our appetizer, besides the house salsa and tortilla chips.  There’s heat, lime, and treasure chest of real seafood pieces, nice avocado chunks and fresh cilantro.  This was my first octopus in a ceviche, I found it soft and oily, maybe like blubber.  It was alright,  I stuck to the shrimp and avocado.

Soccer games flicker in each corner of the dining area.  Neon beer signs hang on the walls above nautical images, mostly sailboats, which is odd because sailboats are not exactly the type of boat you would fish from.  Lunch arrived.  Hubby had the small order of crab soup Sopa de Jaiba ($5.50) which caused a series of “mmmm”s from his side of the table.  I tasted the broth, it had a chipotle flavor in the background and a fish stock base I’m guessing.

The show stopper was my platter of crab stuffed enchiladas, Enchilada de Jiaba.  I was pleased to have vegetables instead of refried beans, and the rice had a garlic butter hint to it.  For $9.50 this pair of crab meat filled tortillas was more than I could eat.  I found a few pieces of crab shell in my enchiladas but I know how hard it is to see the translucent interior shells of those small crabs.

Might be classified in the dive category, but they do have decent seafood at a price I can swallow.

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I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

It was a great read.  I cried.  I giggled to myself.  I felt the fear of the characters and my heart pounded.  I took away a sense of accomplishment, not just your regular obstacles, this was mountainous for the ladies involved.  I can see why a movie sprouted off these pages.

This is coming from someone who just started reading for pleasure at the tender age of 28.  I used to read in school, where I had a library to peruse novels and pluck a gem from the shelves.  There is no library in my house, but it’s growing.  There are more cookbooks than fiction at the moment, however this might be the status for the foreseeable future.

The Help has three distinct voices.  Stockett did a beautiful job of weaving the stories together, overlapping ever so slightly to provide the reader fluidity of the story.  Don’t worry, all those loose ends are tied up at some point, that was part of the reason I wanted to chew through the chapters.  Even though the story takes place in what seems the distant past,  segregation, racism, and lack of air conditioning; I connected with events here and there, enough to stay engaged in the Mississippi tale.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but I wanted to make one of Minny’s famous desserts.  To celebrate finishing this novel and watching the DVD, I baked a cake of Southern inspiration.

After I watched the movie and have to say I liked the book better!  I suppose if the full story in the book made it on to the screen, it would be a four hour ordeal.  The movie keeps the attention on the threesome secretly gathering to write the book.  Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) remained the clear opponent and I loved Octavia Spencer as Minny.

Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake

I have to confess, I needed Minny’s terse eye on me while I made this cake.  I missed the part where you only need 1/4 cup of the caramel syrup and poured all of it in the batter.  I was wondering why the batter was soupy.  Something didn’t feel right but it never occurred to me to check the recipe for the eighth time.  Turned out okay, sort of like a sponge cake that ate the entire five-pound bag of sugar in the pantry.  For the first time in my life I’ve made a cake that is too sweet for my taste.  I’m sure the actual (and flawless) cake Martha made with Dr. Angelou would not cause one to fall into a sugar-high coma.  The frosting with brown butter overpowers the caramel in the cake itself.  It would be fine without nearly burning the butter, plus it added another 30 minutes to this cake assembly because the hot brown butter had to cool down first.

caramel cake

Oh boy! Sweet Caramel Cake!

The kids might like it though!

Find the recipe here

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Phð Lee opened last October in one of the busy shopping areas of Round Rock.  Located near the I-35/SH-45 intersection (exit 250), this new Vietnamese establishment is easy to access.  Prices are on par with other similar restaurants in the area, beef, chicken and shrimp dishes for under ten bucks.  I would order your own plate though, the portions might be too small to share unless you have small children.  Order at the counter when you walk in then get some self-serve drinks at the fountain.  It’s clean and they didn’t seem to mind my toddler running rampant while we waited for dinner.

I had the Com Thit Nuong (Grilled marinated pork with rice) $7.00.  Thin slices of pork on a pile of rice, a basic dish that would please anyone.  Heat is your option.  Add siracha sauce or not.  All it needed was a splash of soy.  Not a huge value for the portion of pork on the plate.  They must expect everyone to fill up on rice (which was a little under cooked).  The plastic plates made the food get cold pretty quickly, although these are good for kids so they won’t burn themselves on hot dishes or shatter them when in the middle of a table-clearing tantrum.

Hubby has his pho as usual.  The kids shared Mi Xao Ga (Egg noodles with chicken and vegetables) $7.50.

The noodle dishes come with a spicy sauce on the side.  The egg noodles tasted stale.  It could have been the sauce, which was garlic infused, that threw me off.  There was a nice assortment of different veggies: mushroom, carrot, broccoli, zucchini, and onion.  The chicken was very soft, like it had just come out of a sauna.  The kids liked slurping the noodles, one at a time, especially Little Sister who squealed “Dada watch!” before each one.

For less than $20 a family of four ate out together.  That is a feat in our family.

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As close to Beijing as you can get

 Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research Blvd (a.k.a. 183)) has bean curd soup, Peking Duck, and BBQ Pork made the traditional way.  You will also find Americanized dishes suitable for anyone, children included, such as Orange Chicken, Beef with different vegetable selections and a steaming pot of rice to share.  My husband adores the Crab Asparagus Soup with thin ribbons of egg.  A popular lunch spot for busy professionals and a sanctuary for fantastic food.  Din Ho proudly displays numerous accolades on the wall behind the cashier, all are well deserved.  The preparation is very consistent, I often have the Orange Chicken and it remains sweet and spicy with the right hint of citrus and ginger.  Quite possibly the best Orange Chicken I’ve ever had.  I keep going back for it, sometimes I’ll be adventurous and try a new dish, like the BBQ combo of duck and pork. I was so glad I did!  The menu is long, don’t hesitate to ask for a recommendation from your server, they are all friendly!  But really, try the Orange Chicken if you go.

If you are in Round Rock or North Austin, you have choices!

Ho Ho Chinese BBQ (13000 N I-35, north of Parmer Lane) is very similar in the style and selection of Din Ho’s.  For lunch you will leave stuffed by any of the specials.  There is a spicy rockfish dish that should have three chilies next to it on the menu, but it’s so good you can’t help but eat more.  I usually get the Orange Chicken (see a trend?) which is just as tasty as Din Ho’s but is lighter on the dredge.

TC Noodle House (Chinatown @ 10901 N Lamar) is a very clean pick of the Chinatown litter.  Austin’s Chinatown may not have the width and breadth of other major cities but it does have spunk.  Host to the annual Chinese New Year festival and a collection of Chinese and Asian markets and restaurants.  I enjoyed the Asparagus Crab Soup, made with green asparagus, lump crab meat, and a thickened broth.  Also try Salt & Pepper Scallops, these darlins almost melt in your mouth, spice it up with siracha if you like.  The Pork Rib Clay Pot (oddly listed under Seafood, never met a swimming pig before) is slightly sweet, full of garlic, and salty (might be soy and fish sauce?), you can order it with fish pieces instead.

Chinese Take-Out

Twin Lion (4815 W Braker Lane Ste 510, off Hwy 183 next to HEB) I love the two lions guarding the entry to this Szechuan/Mandarin/Hunan Restaurant.  I’m not much of a Hunan cuisine fan, but the other two are awesome!  Eat in the cozy restaurant or place a to-go order.  Kung Pow, Moo shu, tofu, flappers, oinkers, swimmers – they’ve got it all and everything I’ve tried has satisfied my Chinese food cravings.

Suzi’s China Grill (7858 Shoal Creek Blvd or 1152 S Lamar) Beyond Chinese take-out you can order sushi to-go too.  It’s a nice business lunch atmosphere if you want to sit down, a little higher price but friendly staff.

Snow Pea (3706 Jefferson St. near Camp Mabry) Less extensive menu of chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu offerings.  Average price $8 for lunch specials that include the typical rice/soup/eggroll accoutrements.  Average dinner menu price $14.  Take out and delivery available.

Not Sure What You Want? Go Buffet!

Buffet Palace (2601 S I-35 in Round Rock) The best time to hit a buffet is for lunch during the week, it’s not as busy as dinner time and a little easier on the wallet.  I have mixed emotions when is comes to Buffet Palace.  I don’t like spending a lot of money to find very few dishes that I like, that’s why lunch prices are tolerable.  Here you will find sushi (mostly imitation crab), crab legs, poached fish, chicken wings, Chinese BBQ, teriyaki chicken, fruit, Jell-O, and cookies.  The prep cooks are constantly refreshing the pans on the lines when there’s a crowd, so at least you can sit down with a freshly made plate.

Golden Lake Chinese Buffet (11005 Burnet Road, next to IBM @Kramer transit stop) The buffet is small but a good if you need a quick refuel before heading to the Domain to shop.

Don’t Miss Austin Food Blogger Top Picks

Chen’s Noodle House or Asian Market Café  McNeil & Research Blvd (Hwy 183)  The Café has a short menu including pork blood, tofu jelly, and whole fish.  Pick up Asian kitchen essentials in the market.  This is now my go-to since the Hong Kong Supermarket closed in 2011.
Shanghai Chinese Restaurant or China Palace Near Highland Mall.
Chinatown  West Lake on Bee Caves Road in Westbank Market.
Hao Hao South Austin on West William Canon, and in Round Rock on West FM 620.
The results are in! AFBA survey for 2012 top restaurants is here

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Ho Ho Chinese BBQ is very similar to another Chinese restaurant in town, Din Ho Chinese BBQ.

Ho Ho is located off I-35 on the north side of Austin near Parmer Lane, for anyone in Round Rock this would be a drivable distance for really good Chinese.  If you want the best (in my opinion) you need to travel further south to Din Ho’s.

The first time Hubby and I ate here after they opened our waiter was a familiar face.  He’s an older gentleman, what’s left of his hair is grey, he is quiet and genuinely nice.  We asked if he works at Din Ho, he said he likes working at Ho Ho’s better.  Anything new, be it a new house or restaurant, always has that fresh appeal.  Ho Ho’s looks like a newer version of Din Ho’s, it’s not as dark and there are booths instead of purely tables and chairs.  We prefer a booth.  The tank of live fish can be stinky, but I will look it over to get a freshly filleted fish.  Straight from the water to the pan!

We met here for lunch, it was not busy and our “regular” waiter greeted us with his friendly smile.  I ordered the Orange Chicken, Hubby had a spicy fish dish.  The chicken had a delicate dredge of flour, the meat was moist and mostly from the breast.  Egg roll, soup and rice come with the lunch plates.  I usually get the won ton soup as the warm broth is so inviting.  The sauce for the chicken is sticky sweet and spicy, just as it should be.  This plate filled me up for 6.95$.  We will visit again and often!

Ho Ho Chinese BBQ @ 13000 N. IH 35, Bldg. 6 Austin, Texas 78753

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