I have a complaint y'all. Sometimes this whole food critic thing can be a really a hard job. I mean, we have to eat at fantastic restaurants and then write about them while our friends happily listen to us brag. Yeah, our job is tough!
Joking aside, this week's review is yet another in the long, luscious litany that the Austin food scene is becoming. We went to Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar on Burnet Road, after Matt had heard of them while at Antonelli's Cheese Shop. This was a great experience. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, the staff excellent and the owner, Niraj Mehdiratta, was nice enough to spend a few minutes chatting about his place. It turns out they have been open for about 18 months, and if this past Tuesday was any indication, they'll be around for a good while. Matt and I each ordered an appetizer and entrée to get the flavor of the restaurant.
I ordered an appetizer from the cheese and charcuterie menu: Manchego and Spanish chorizo, Brie and honey balsamic marinated grapes, and Gorgonzola dolce with guava paste. The cheeses are from our favorite cheesemonger, Antonelli's, and were paired amazingly. Manchego, if you haven't had it, is Spanish cheese, slightly hard with a mild, nutty flavor. Think of it as a mild Parmigiano-Reggiano. Spanish chorizo, unlike most variety Mexican breakfast sausage in Texas, is mild, with a texture like a good, dry salami. This one had a nice garlic flavor. Brie is one of my favorite cheeses — soft and neutral, but slightly sweet. Nothing pairs better with Brie than grapes, nothing. These were red grapes, marinated in a fantastic balsamic honey, adding a nice tartness and sweetness. It was like eating the best grape jelly you have ever had, no lie. The only type of cheese I like better than Brie is any kind of blue, and this Gorgonzola dolce did not disappoint. Milder in flavor than, say, a Stilton or a Shropshire blue, this had that nice blue funk without kicking out too many teeth. I admit that when I saw its pairing I was a tad dubious — I'm really not a guava fan. But this pairing may have been the best thing I ate all night. I found that the sweetness of the guava balanced the bitter of the blue, and the pairing went down incredibly well with the Malbec I was drinking.
Matt's appetizer was prosciutto macaroni and cheese. As you may have read in our review of San Antonio's Big Easy Café, Matt and I are a bit spoiled when it comes to mac and cheese. Our mom makes the best version of this side that you'll find anywhere. But this particular mac was a very close second to our mom's. The goat cheese and white truffle oil played incredibly well with the prosciutto and the dish just sang beautifully well — absolutely in love with it.
For dinner I ordered a crêpe. "Oh here it comes," you're thinking. Any of our long time readers know I love crêpes. I can't get enough of them. I just adore them. The crêpe I ordered was minced pork and mascarpone with a dried fruit chutney — simply beautiful. The pork was cooked properly, not too dry and not trichinosis-inducing rare, and the combination of mascarpone and chutney added a balanced sweetness. The tomatillo sauce over the top was slightly spicy and tangy. It rounded off a very good crêpe.
Matt ordered an entrée that has seemed something akin to a unicorn for us in Austin — a proper Cuban sandwich. This is a dish we have searched and searched for, but no one gets it right. It makes me weep. What am I getting so emotional about? Most Cubans around here consist of sliced ham, your choice of a second meat (yeah how 'bout pulled pork), crema, guacamole, and jalapeños served hot on a non-pressed bolillo. Tasty to be sure, but a Cuban it is not. A proper Cuban consists of pulled pork, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and a pickle spear all smashed together on a hot sandwich press. This version was also served with a side of garlic mojo, which was essentially minced garlic in olive oil. This may be the best sandwich I have ever tasted in my entire life. The different ingredients play well to create a multi-layered flavor experience that will make you desire another. Apparently, unicorns DO exist!
This was a fantastic meal. We had nothing to complain about. Again, I want to thank Niraj and his staff for treating us so well. We truly look forward to dining with y'all again!
The Austin Food Junkies are Alex Artibee, Matt Braley, and Dave Braley, "Two guys who love food, and one chef, trained at the Texas Culinary Institute." Check out their reviews of other Austin area restaurants on their blog, Austin Food Junkies.