Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fun Place, Bad Food

I have a theory about local restaurants -- as they expand locations, the quality of the food changes. It usually gets worse. Opal Divine's proves this theory's validity. I'm not sure what allure Opal Divine's has on the city of Austin, but there are three locations across the city. The food is mediocre at best.

But before I launch into Complain Fest 2008, I will first say the downtown location has a fun atmosphere, with a large porch and balcony, covered in string lights and overlooking W. 6th. It also has a large selection of beers on tap and friendly service.

Now to the food. I had the nachos with guacamole. I split them with a friend, which was plenty of food for us, but I thought they were overpriced, especially for the quality (about $11 total). The toppings -- plenty of refried beans, pico de gallo and cheese -- were actually pretty good, but the chips were stale. The guac was a little runny. I've never had runny guacamole before. I didn't think it was possible, but then I ate at Opal Divine's.

Another friend ordered a side sampler because the vegetarian options are lacking. So he got french fries, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. The fries are probably the best thing on the menu, although a bit too greasy. The mashed potatoes and mac and cheese were only decent. Honestly, both are the kinds of dishes best homemade, but you would expect better from such a restaurant.

Two other friends both ordered fish tacos. They both said they enjoyed their tacos, but needed more food, especially considering the fish tacos cost $9. I guess that's the overall verdict on Opal's Divine -- you just need more for what you're paying. After all you can get a decent burger and fries at so many better, cheaper places.

The Basics:
Location: 700 W. 6th Street, 3601 S. Congress Ave., 12709 Mopac and Parmer Lane
Hours: Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to midnight
Accepts: All major credit cards
Rating: 1 1/2 stars
Bottom line: A shame to waste such a great porch

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sunflower Restaurant

With a name like Sunflower, you might expect some kind of hippie sandwich shop with colorful artwork and coffee drinks named after musicians.

Instead, Sunflower is one of those indistinct Asian restaurants hidden in an ordinary shopping center. Surrounded by other Asian restaurants and grocery stores on Research Boulevard, it's pretty easy to miss. And if you're craving Asian food, why choose this place over any of the others in the same shopping center?

I'm not sure, honestly. Some friends said, "Let's go to Sunflower. It's Vietnamese food." So we went, and once we got there, I realized I had been there before but I didn't remember the name (remember -- indistinct Asian restaurant). But I did remember that the food was good. Really good considering the price. I've only been to a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in Austin, but I'll go ahead and name Sunflower as my favorite.

I can't remember exactly what I had the first time I was there, but I do remember my friend ordering a vegetarian crepe that was pretty good. This time, I had the lemongrass tofu vermicelli bowl, which is pretty white-person thing to order. I could've been more adventurous, but there's always next time, I guess.

It was good, though, and what I love about vermicelli bowls is how full they are, practically running over with noodles and been sprouts and shredded veggies and tofu/meat. They seem bottomless, and I'm always full about half-way through, meaning I have significant leftovers. Two meals in one!

My only complaint is that one of my friends told our server that she had a severe peanut allergy, and her curry was served garnished with peanuts. She told them again she had a peanut allergy, and all they did was scrape off the peanuts. Finally, she got a new plate of peanut-free curry, but it serves as a warning if you have nut allergies.

Otherwise, Sunflower is good cheap food.

The Basics
Location: 8557 Research Boulevard, at the end of the shopping center right of Target
Accepts: Cash and credit cards, but has a $10 minimum on cards
Price: under $10
Rating: 3 stars
Bottom line: Not as indistinct as it looks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vegetarian Variety: Mother's Cafe and Garden

Before I moved to Austin, I heard that it boasted more vegetarian restaurants per capita than any other city in the South. That said, in the last year, I've only been to one place with a full vegetarian menu, and that was Veggie Heaven, the hole in the wall across from campus with plenty of cheap veggie-rice-sort-of-curry combos.

Venturing off The Drag and towards Hyde Park, I had the experience of eating at Mother's, which offers a full menu of vegetarian treats and dishes, and guess what? It's not Asian!

It's not that I don't love Asian food. It's just hard to find good vegetarian food that doesn't center around tofu and noodles. (And Veggie Heaven boasts a menu with more than 50 items, but it serves pretty much five dishes with slight variations.) So Mother's is the first vegetarian restaurant in Austin to impress me. That's not to say it's the best vegetarian food I've had, but it's a viable alternative to yet another plate of pad thai.

First of all, Mother's is a beautiful restaurant. Recently renovated, it's very open with huge windows, allowing for plenty of natural light. Colorful local art splashes the walls, and all the furniture is a dark wood. Everything is clean and simple while still pleasing and elegant. Fittingly, it is a good place to take your mother.

It's known for its Spinach Lasagna, but for my first visit, I tried the Mamma's Quiche. On Sundays and Saturdays, Mother's offers a substantial brunch menu, with plenty of omelets and pancakes, but the quiche is on the regular menu all week. It was hearty portion, with a combo of spinach, mushrooms, black olives and green onions, topped with a thick slice of mozzarella and served on a whole wheat crust.

However, as tasty as the quiche was, it was served lukewarm. My guess is that the quiche is made in the morning. Seeing as quiche is served in slices, it makes sense to make it ahead of time, but it should have been heated up sooner to being served.

I tried some of a garden salad with Mother's famous Cashew Tamari dressing (which you can find at Whole Foods and the Wheatsville Coop). Unlike a sweet peanut sauce, this (very) salty dressing has a strong nutty flavor. It's the kind of dressing that adds great flavor, but only small doses. I would recommend it but with the caveat of ordering it on the side.

My other complaint is that many of the portions were almost too small, and some of the dishes probably should come with sides. One friend ordered the Avocado Sandwich, and it was served with two carrot sticks. For such a beautiful place, there just seemed to be something lacking, both in presentation and quality of the food. I'll say, for now, bigger portion sizes would help.

I will add that for American bistro style food, the prices are good. Most of the menu is under $10, and it offers a lot of locally grown vegetables and vegan options. Salads are a good way to supplement the small portions. One large Garden Patch Salad for $5.95 can feed at least four people.

Next time, I'm going to try the Spinach Lasagna, but for now, I say Mother's has a beautiful atmosphere with only somewhat decent food. That said, in comparison with Veggie Heaven, I'm impressed.

The Basics:
Location: 4215 Duvall Avenue, across from Hyde Park Bar and Grill
Hours: Mondays - Fridays 11:15 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Rating: 3 stars
Price: Under $10, more with drinks
Accepts: All major credit cards
Bottom line: Fares well for the frustrated vegetarian looking for variety.