Texas was warm, humid, and wonderful! I was a basket case driving around in Austin, let's just say that the city does not quite look like it did in 1982! Talk about growth! Having endured three flights, getting my first rental car by myself, and driving around what had become a strange city to me, I think I did a splendid job! A certain airline managed to lose my luggage for nine hours, so I could not indulge my free Sunday swim I so desperately looked forward to. That was frustrating as all get out, and my anger was only assuaged by the fact that everyone at my wonderful hotel was so kind to me. I stayed at Staybridge Suites less than four miles from the airport, and it was just lovely. A pool and a kitchenette were my only requirements, and they were met wonderfully. Additionally, after I realized that I simply could not go driving around in a strange town with people whizzing past me at ninety miles an hour, the front desk person handed me a dining book, full of local restaurants that delivered to my hotel for a minor charge. The free Internet and printers were priceless as well, particularly when it came time to electronically check in for my flights, and print my boarding passes. Kudos to Staybridge Suites for a job well done!
The first full night there, I ordered from a Chinese restaurant, and gave them the hot and sour soup test. Which is to say, if they make a decent one, they pass, and I will order from that restaurant, or dine there. I ordered the Vietnamese spring rolls, which were outstanding and had a butterflied shrimp, some rice noodles, cilantro, and vegetables, and came with a dynamite peanut dipping sauce. The hot and sour soup was, actually pretty good, with healthy portions of bamboo shoots and dried mushrooms as well as chicken and spice. It was not outstanding, but it passed the test. The main course, however, was a huge disappointment! I ordered Szechuan chicken, as I love spicy foods, and what came out was more like a watery foo Yong. It had almost no spice, and was not worthy of cafeteria food.
The second night, perhaps dreading take-out that was less than spectacular, I went to a local grocery store, and purchased the ingredients to cook in my little kitchenette. A nice rib eye steak, some salad from the salad bar, a couple red potatoes, and for dessert, a nectarine and some danish blue cheese and wheat crackers. I also picked up a tiny container of zingy horseradish sauce, since I'm saucy like that, and let me tell you, what a joy it was to make my own food, to perfection and cheaper than the restaurant delivery service! My steak was medium-rare, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and tender as can be. I boiled the potatoes with skins on, and then broke them up and coated them with melted butter and salt & pepper. My meal and dessert were outstanding, just the cure for my jet lag. My training was going well, and I met a wonderful new friend who I shall call JD, and she was a great trainer and example for our company!
Speaking of jets, one of the best meals of my trip came at the very end of it. On the way back to Alaska, a long layover in Houston put me right at the dinner hour. Having foregone the pleasure of eating out in restaurants for the whole trip, it was finally time. Airports have a nice array of interesting choices in terms of dining now, and I chose Bubba's Bayou Grill at the Houston Airport for my pre-flight supper. My starter was a "cup" of gumbo.
This is not a very good cel-phone picture, but the crayfish and chicken were perfectly cooked, the broth was spicy, but not mind-blowing, and the portion was large for a "cup". My one and only gripe about the soup was the strange appearance, several times, of uncooked grains of rice...almost as though they had been added too late to cook completely. Oh well on to the main course.....the "firecracker shrimp"
Any foodie worth their salt knows not to eat the toast garnish before the actual entree', it will make you overly full, and detract from your ability to enjoy the whole dish! First, the positive - there were at least a dozen, very large shrimp in that bowl, and they were cooked perfectly. I do have one issue with the dish, however, and that is if your claim to fame is that you are spicy, be spicy! Now I know I like things really hot, but, if I had to drown the shrimp in hot sauce from the table, they were not quite the BANG promised on the menu.
This brings me to the subject of the good cook on the move. What is an excellent cook to do about the fact that the great and grand majority of the dining public is subjected to mediocre food? What do you do to make sure your dining experiences are stellar, even on the road, without spending a fortune? I'm really disappointed that the standard of cuisine in this country is basically low. We should demand freshness, accurate preparation, and an enjoyable experience. Having said that, there have been major inroads made in the culinary standards in the last thirty years, let's just hope the trend continues. The rest of my Texas food fun and descriptions to come later this week, stay tuned, and eat well my friends