December 2004 Issue

Features

Feature

… Tres Leches Cake

AUSTIN Is it deliriously sweet? Is it dripping with the requisite three milks (cream or whole milk plus sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk)? If the answer is yes—and it is at lively, pastel-painted El Chile—you have the best tres leches cake in the city. A close runner-up,

Feature

… Mole Poblano

AUSTIN There’s a tie for Austin’s best mole: The cooks at Las Manitas once took a class in mole-making from Diana Kennedy, and a version of the famous cookbook author’s own recipe—lush with chiles, chocolate, and spices—is offered at the laid-back cafe Friday through Sunday, atop enchiladas or

… Baked Goods

AUSTIN A spacious bakery and counter-order cafe, La Mexicana is a home away from home for Mexican expatriates, who eat breakfast or lunch, watch Spanish-language TV, and send money to the folks back home while the kitchen churns out multicolored sweet buns, churros (skinny squiggles of fried dough),

Feature

… Specialties Of the House

AUSTIN Texas’s best Mexican Sunday brunch is the lavish spread at gracious Fonda San Miguel, with numerous regional dishes like the Yucatán’s achiote-seasoned pork pibil served in beautiful Talavera pottery bowls. Small, brightly painted El Mesón puts out some seriously good interior dishes, as well as tacos al

… Guacamole

AUSTIN The guacamole at unpretentious El Mesón is the best in Austin—avocado scooped from the shell, lightly mashed, and mixed with chopped onion, tomato, and jalapeño and ample quantities of lime juice; it’s eat-by-the-spoonful good. At El Chile, a repurposed bungalow, the cooks do a nice job with

… Chiles Rellenos

AUSTIN There are chiles rellenos, and then there are chiles rellenos en nogada, a classic variation with a sweet, luxuriant walnut cream sauce. The city’s best relleno is the nogada version served at Manuel’s, both the limestone-walled dining room downtown and the flamboyant place up north; the rich

… Fajitas

AUSTIN At exuberantly eclectic and casual Evita’s Botanitas, the finest beef fajitas in town come on a sizzling platter with strips of grilled onion and bell pepper plus guacamole, sour cream, grated cheddar, and jícama matchsticks. Don’t miss the beef fajitas at dark, sultry Vivo, which come with

… Cabrito

FORT WORTH Fresh from the roasting spit at this north side gathering spot, Esperanza’s tender baby goat falls apart at the touch of your fork. Fill hot, fresh corn tortillas with generous shreds of meat and dab them with the restaurant’s nubby, dark-orange salsa. HOUSTON If you

Instrucciones

Make an authentic margarita. It couldn’t be simpler. Just combine one ounce each good tequila and triple sec with the juice of one Mexican lime (see Respuestas). This is the best—and strongest—margarita you will ever taste. ¡Salud!Squeeze a Mexican lime. To keep pesky seeds out of your

Directorio

Austin, Dallas, El Paso  |  Fort Worth, Houston  |  Laredo, Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio AUSTINCilantro’s, 1025 W. Stassney Lane, 512-707-1207Curra’s Grill, 614 E. Oltorf, 512-444-0012, and one other locationEl Caribe, 5610 N. Lamar Boulevard, 512-452-6207El Chile Café y Cantina,

Diccionario

achiote to divorciado(a)  |  dulce de leche to migas  |  mojarra to zarzamora achiote (ah-chee-oh-teh): Nothing to sneeze at, achiote is a dark red paste made from the crushed seeds of the annatto tree. It has a mild, paprika-like flavor.adobado(a) (ah-doh-bah-doh): seasoned with

The Good Doctor

Can one of the state’s best writers change modern medicine as we know it? Abraham Verghese hopes so—one story at a time.

¡Fuego! Sixteen Popular Peppers

Bell: Strips of sweet bell pepper are ubiquitous on fajita platters. Mild. Caribe: Also called güero (blond), this slightly sweet chile is good for sauces and for pickling. Mild. Chiltepin: This is known as the bird pepper, because birds eat it and disperse the seeds;

… Salsa

AUSTIN Colorful, casual El Chile’s roasted-jalapeño salsa is the best in town, dark as chocolate and just the right thickness to coat a chip; while not terribly hot, it’s not for wimps. A few months ago, Las Manitas created a terrific spicy salsa that blends chile de árbol,

Respuestas to frequently asked questions

What would possess a person to eat a prickly pear cactus?   Well, they’re abundant and cheap—and free if you gather them yourself. Called nopales, the pads have a mild vegetable flavor with a lemony zing. The taste of the fruits—called tunas—varies widely and can resemble anything from watermelon

Cutting Deep

A year after state legislators kicked tens of thousands of children off the taxpayer-funded health insurance rolls, our biggest public-policy problem has reached crisis proportions. And the bleeding shows no signs of letting up.

… Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo

AUSTIN The race for best garlic shrimp in Austin is a tie. Fonda San Miguel’s version is for those who want to taste the flavor of shrimp first, garlic second; the restaurant’s beautifully cooked crustaceans give serious meaning to the word “jumbo,” and its colonial-style dining rooms define

… Tequila Selection

AUSTIN Connoisseurs favor the dimly lit nooks of Fonda San Miguel’s bar for sampling some of its 25 to 30 tequilas, the best of which—such as Patrón silver and cult-favorite Chinaco añejo—should be sipped slowly, like fine brandy. If you aren’t up to the hopping happy-hour bar scene

… Take-out Tamales

AUSTIN Curra’s giant tamales are two or three times the normal size, with great, fluffy masa and ample filling. The savory pork is best, followed closely by the vegetarian (zucchini, yellow squash, and onion), refried-bean, and raisin-and-pineapple. Order well in advance from this popular casual cafe; $9.95—$10.95 a

Some Like It Picante

Actually, most of us do, which is why we’ve visited Mexican restaurants and taquerías all over the state in search of the best enchiladas, guacamole, cabrito, and other classic dishes; pilfered three great restaurant recipes for you to make in your own cocina; answered every frequently asked question we could

The Shot Not Heard Round the World

Elmo Henderson’s entire life story can be summed up in a single moment: when he stepped into the ring in San Antonio one night in 1972 and knocked out Muhammad Ali. At least that’s the way he tells it. And tells it.

Web

More Mexican Food—Ceviche

AUSTIN The city’s best ceviche is the platter at unfussy Polvo’s, with its avocado slices and impeccably fresh, lime-marinated tilapia—if you don’t care for a dollop of cocktail sauce in the middle (a Mexican touch), ask the kitchen to omit it. Big chunks of tender tilapia zapped with Bermuda

Texas History 101

Texas History 101

Houston-based Continental Airlines has survived the deregulation of commercial flights, two bankruptcy stints, and 9/11.

More Mexican Food—Flautas

AUSTIN “Flauta” means “flute”—implying something long, round, and slender—but some of Austin’s finest flautas challenge the definition. Manuel’s does splendid, and unusual, grilled flautas: Toasty-crisp, these folded-over corn tortillas are filled with chicken and served with verde or ranchera sauce and a splash of sour cream; the blocks of

Happy Trails

Happy Trails

A day trip to the little town of Bandera was just what I needed to understand the cowboy spirit.

More Mexican Food—Runners-up

ENCHILADAS: Runners-upAUSTIN At El Chile’s jazzy little converted house, the tomatillo sauce on the chicken enchiladas has ample flavor and a touch of sweetness, and the chile con carne sauce on the Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas is made from real red chiles, not commercial chili powder; but the restaurant’s best

More Mexican Food—It’s About Time

7000 B.C. Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America gather and eat wild chiles, paving the way for enchiladas, salsa, and jalapeño poppers. Because corn grows wild and is thus pebbly and stunted, their major food, besides meat, is roasted agave hearts.3500 B.C.Indigenous peoples cultivate chiles for food.1200 B.C. Native

Recipe

Chocolate Flan With Kumquat Sauce

Flan8 ounces El Rey chocolate (61 percent chocolate, or your preference) 4 ounces Ibarra plain chocolate or Abuelita cinnamon-flavored chocolate, available at H-E-B, Central Market, and Fiesta (if you prefer, use all El Rey) 4 cups milk 8 eggs 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon chocolate liqueur, such as Godiva

More Mexican Food—Directory

AustinCilantro’s, 1025 W. Stassney Lane, 512-707-1207Curra’s Grill, 614 E. Oltorf, 512-444-0012, and one other locationDos Gringos Tamales, 512-249-5947 or [email protected]; no credit cardsEl Chile Café y Cantina, 1809 Manor Road, 512-457-9900Fonda San Miguel, 2330 W. North Loop Boulevard, 512-459-4121Güero’s, 1412 S. Congress Avenue, 512-447-7688Las Manitas, 211 Congress Avenue, 512-472-9357Las

Recipe

Chicken Enchiladas in Roasted-Tomatillo Sauce

Sauce2 pounds fresh tomatillos, dehusked and washed 1 medium yellow onion, sliced 6 fresh serrano chiles or 3 jalapeños, stemmed 2 tablespoons canola oil 3/4 cup chopped cilantro, leaves and stems 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)Place tomatillos, onion, and chiles in a large skillet or on a griddle.

More Mexican Food—Atmosphere

AUSTIN Fonda San Miguel welcomes you to a world of its own through a pair of massive wooden doors. The rustic stenciled walls and artfully faded colors could pass for a centuries-old estate in the Mexican interior. Dignitaries visiting the capital city are invariably dragged (quite happily) to rollicking

Recipe

Cilantro-Pesto Shrimp

1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro, leaves and stems 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan dash salt 1 teaspoon white pepper 1/2 cup chopped spinach 2 tablespoons pepitas (pumpkin seeds) 1 teaspoon chopped basil 16 or 20 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined but with tails on lemon pepper

Books That Cook

Books That Cook

Houston, Culinary Capital: Signature Dishes From America’s Premier Restaurant City (Bright Sky Press, 2004)

More Mexican Food—Seafood Restaurants

EL PASO Recently opened Yum Balam already ranks among the state’s premier seafood restaurants, its look is as sleek and chic as its seasonal menu. Among perfectly executed entrées, the seared ahi tuna was moist yet firm, its pistachio mole sauce a bold combination of traditional and experimental. With

Pat's Pick

Liquid Assets

Spirits of The Season To paraphrase the words that open Little Women: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without something sweet. Which is why this is the perfect time to explore Texas’ small but admirable roster of homegrown ports. In lieu of dessert, have a glass or two along with a strong,

More Mexican Food—Migas

AUSTIN Two distinctive takes on migas tie for the city’s best. More like scrambled eggs, the version at Manuel’s two stylish locations is almost fluffy; spiked with not-too-many bits of fried tortilla, serrano, cilantro, tomato, and crisp onion, it is topped with a discreet grating of Monterey Jack cheese.

Recipe

Caldo Tlalpeño

Chicken Broth and Meat2 whole chickens, excess fat removed and split lengthwise 2 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into about 4 pieces 2 celery ribs, cleaned and sliced on the diagonal into about 4 pieces 1 medium onion, coarsely sliced 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

Recipe

Crepas con Cajeta

Candied Walnuts1 cup walnut halves 3/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon brown sugar 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, meltedPreheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-size bowl combine all ingredients with 2 tablespoons water and toss or stir until nuts are well coated. Spread nuts on a cookie sheet lined

Recipe

Mole Poblano

Note: This recipe makes about a gallon of mole sauce, which is enough for 32 half-cup servings.Spices and Seasonings2 1/2 raw white onions, halved 1 tomato, roasted and coarsely chopped 2 heads of garlic, roasted and peeled 3/4 cup sesame seeds 3/4 cup almonds 1/2 cup peanuts

Recipe

Tequila-Cured-Salmon Tostadas

Salmon4 six-ounce salmon filets, skin and bones removed, sliced into thin layers and then cut lengthwise into strips between 1/2- and 3/4-inch wide and as long as possible (the strips will ultimately be curled into rosettes) 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, stems and leaves (save 16 leaves for garnish) sea salt

Recipe

Pan-seared Diver Scallops

Pan-seared Diver Scallops With Edamame-Corn Succotash and Basil-Sweet Pea SauceScallops 20 diver scallops kosher salt to taste pepper to taste 4 tablespoons canola oilDry all scallops well and season with salt and pepper immediately before searing them. Heat a large sauté pan and add canola oil. In smoking pan, add

Pat's Pick

Hector’s on Henderson

I love a restaurant that’s a personal statement, and Hector’s on Henderson is just that. Hector Garcia, a longtime fixture on the Dallas dining scene (general manager at the Riviera, co-owner of Iris), has his own place now, and you can see his stamp on the food (eclectic

Around the State

Around the State

Sunny Days

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like a sixty-foot nylon Big Bird. The friendly fowl from the Sesame Street block, along with a cast of much-loved characters like Bob the Builder, Strawberry Shortcake, and Elmo (with fishbowl), will fly high above Commerce Street in downtown Dallas on December 4 as part

Around the State

Dreaming of a Gruene Christmas

He goes by many names—Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas—but he prefers to be called Cowboy Kringle when he’s in Gruene. And, whaddaya know, he’ll be there December 4 and 5 for the Gruene Christmas Market Days, when nearly one hundred vendors will be selling their handcrafted wares: jewelry,

Around the State

Great Expectations

Considering all the misery one finds in a Charles Dickens novel, it’s often easy to overlook the scribe’s more jovial sentiments. Except, of course, when it comes to the holidays (think of the rhapsodic “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days”

Around the State

O Little Town

Though the beloved “mare” of Luckenbach was replaced with a more formal “manager of oversight” three years ago, the town where everybody is somebody still draws many for its annual Cowboy Holiday Ball. Now, we warn you: Nobody here dons green and red (dressy Western is the style of

Around the State

The Caves Are Alive

Before yet another rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” threatens to push you over the edge this year, take preemptive action and embrace the season’s classics. On the first three Friday and Saturday nights in December, Natural Bridge Caverns, outside New Braunfels, presents Caroling in the Caverns, a 75-minute tour

Around the State

Michael Martin Murphey

The “Wildfire” singer-songwriter will be playing in Austin, Fort Worth, Waco, Wichita Falls, and five other cities in Texas on his 2004 Cowboy Christmas tour. How would you define a “cowboy Christmas”? It’s a Western-style event that shows the country connection—and I’m not talking about country music, but about the

Around the State

12.2004

The sparkling Old Harrison County Courthouse may be the crown jewel in Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights, but it’s certainly not the whole tiara. Almost everybody in town gets into this festival, festooning homes and businesses with more than 10 million tiny bulbs (much to the delight of the electric company,

Columns

Cold Play

The Astros couldn’t quite make it. The Cowboys have hit the skids. No wonder the state’s attention has turned to . . . hockey?

Miscellany

Gordon Bethune

“It isn’t about cheap. You can make a pizza so cheap nobody will eat it. You can make an airline so cheap nobody will fly it. It’s about the product.”

Reporter

Shock Therapy

For several months, TV shrink Dr. Phil McGraw has been picking apart— in full view of his national audience—the life choices made by residents of the Central Texas town of Elgin, who are apparently too fat, too horny, and too domestically violent for their own good. The diagnoses have not

Music Review

The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered

Jeff Mccord Those around Austin in the eighties heyday of what came to be cynically labeled the “New Sincerity” movement probably recall an omnipresent gawky kid thrusting his cassettes into their hands. If you got through the amateurish musical skills on DANIEL JOHNSTON’s homemade recordings, your patience was

Music Review

It Always Will Be

Not a blues, reggae, alternative rock, or children’s CD, not a TV-special soundtrack of endless hackneyed duets nor a just-another-night-on-the-road live tape but an honest-to-god WILLIE NELSON recording. You’d have to go back to 1998’s Daniel Lanois—produced Teatro or, better yet, 1996’s Spirit to find a time when Nelson

Music Review

Oval Room

BLAZE FOLEY, the itinerant Austin songwriter immortalized by Lucinda Williams (“Drunken Angel”) and Townes Van Zandt (“Blaze’s Blues”), was a caring soul whose spare and simple songs drilled to the core of human emotions. He was also, um, colorful, from his unusual lodging habits (the BFI logo on city

Book Review

Freaks & Fire: The Underground Reinvention Of Circus

What’s in a name? Irony, humor, and nostalgia for the seedy traveling shows of old in the cases of Circus Contraption, Zamora the Torture King, and the Yard Dogs Road Show—just three of the ten or so alternative circuses masterfully profiled in FREAKS & FIRE: THE UNDERGROUND REINVENTION OF

Book Review

Loop Group

Maggie Clary misses her womb. After 58 whole-bodied and even-keeled years living in the Hollywood bungalow where she was raised, a hysterectomy has dumped her into a state of quiet despair. None of life’s usual pleasures—shopping with her best girlfriend, Connie, Bloody Marys at Musso & Franks, or looping

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