chinese food

Austin Gastro Graze 5: Asia Cafe

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I love this place. When I’m reminiscent for New York Chinese food, I have to head to Asia Cafe. I’m still looking for a place with NYC style egg rolls, but they may simply not exist out here. Every thing else delicious that I crave, however, can be found at Asia Cafe. You don’t have to take my word for it, though, as Asia Cafe is a local favorite among people of all walks of life in Austin and surrounding areas as well as extremely deserving of their 95% positive rating on Yelp.

There are two things you can count on at Asia Cafe:

1. Delicious food.

2. A line. (See countable item number 1)

You order at the counter, receive a number, and they call out your order number once it’s ready. Often my husband and I will call in an order. When you call in an order for pick up, they ask you skip the line. March right up to the front and let them know you called in an order for pickup. Yes, it looks and feels rude, BUT your food is sitting back there on the counter and that’s what they ask you to do. I have actually waited in line twice after calling in an order, keeping my food waiting a solid extra 15 – 20 minutes and the woman behind the counter hit my arm – “Come to front!” she berated me. And she’s right. Chip and I normally are craving pieces of home when we go there, which is shameful because there are dozen upon dozens of dishes to try. It’s great to go with friends, grab a table and order family style. It’s affordable, super tasty, and very affordable. Their General Tso’s is the best in town, as are their green beans and eggplant dishes. Their spring rolls are good, but are served with a little container of applesauce; I prefer duck sauce, which they don’t actually offers, but this really doesn’t matter. Every else is so good. Their dumplings are made in house and are an excellent change to the general pre-frozed fare you get at other restaurants. I don’t think I’ve every ordered a dish over $9.95 and the servings are so large that there’s always enough for lunch the next day. If my husband and I order one order of General Tso’s, a vegetable, and an order of dumplings, our bill is well less than $30 and there are always left overs!

I’m already disappointed in this review. Each and everyone of my friends loves Asia Cafe and everyone has a separate favorite dish that I’m definitely going to miss out placing in here. A couple of friends claim Asia Cafe’s spicy fish to be the best they’ve had, as well as excellent garlic pork, baby bok choy, and crispy tofu dishes. Asia Cafe is excellent for both meters and vegetarians.

Sweet potato pancake with a stuffing of black bean curd.

Baby Bok Choy

I want Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, Damnit!

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It’s my ultimate geek dream to one day work for America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country, but without a culinary degree I may be shit out of luck. I am, however, a huge fan of their work and find their recipes simply the tastiest and – most importantly – fail safe.

There are times, however, when a craving I have lacks a recipe through them. Undeterred, I simply make up something myself because it is my personal belief that one should never fear the kitchen.

Here’s my one simple kitchen rule:

Keep a fire extinguisher and a take out menu within reach, and nothing will go wrong.

With that in mind, I dove into creating Eggplant in Garlic sauce.

I took 1 eggplant chopped in roughly 1 inch wedges. Wedges, not cubes, because it’s cylindrical. Duh. And I minced 3 huge cloves of garlic. This is Eggplant in Garlic sauce, not Galickish sauce. I find this dish at many Asian restaurant to be oilier than I would like it to be; making this at home meant I got to change that aspect of it.

The sauce itself went like this:

1 1/2 TBSP low sodium soy sauce

1/2 TBSP brown sugar

2 TBSP white wine (I was out of rice vinegar and cooking sherry, either of which would have probably made this better, but sometimes you just have to improvise.)

1 TBSP Sesame Oil

1 tsp cornstarch (as a thickener)

a pinch of red pepper flakes

And 1 of large garlic cloves, minced.

I whisked everything together. I wanted to get my eggplant going first. I left the skin on because I’m hardcore, but you certainly don’t have to. I tossed the chopped eggplant into a cast iron pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. I wanted it tender, a little brown, but not mush, yet I knew to sauce would take mere minutes to become a rich, syrupy coating over the eggplant, so the eggplant had to start first. Letting it sit on the hot pan for 2 minutes before stirring ensured the golden brown color I was looking for. I then added 2 of the minced garlic cloves, and stirred allowing them to warm and release some oils, an addition 2 minutes.

At that point I added the sauce, which, thanks to the cornstarch and brown sugar, thickened almost instantly. Stirring constantly for an additional 2 minutes I let everything mix and mingle in beautiful garlicky harmony. Then it was time to plate and eat.

The eggplant was sweet, spicy, smokey, and, of course, garlicky. It was tender on the outside and just firm enough in the center. Thanks to that little bit of brown sugar parts of the skin on the eggplant had even become crispy and caramelized. This was a super quick recipe to appease a craving.

I did have to sprinkle a little salt on top, once it came out of the pan; I had thought the soy sauce would add enough salt, but, as mentioned above, I used low-sodium soy sauce and the difference was noticeable.

Over all I was very happy with the way the eggplant turned out. It was the perfect lunch with half a grilled cheese and I’m already excited to use the leftover eggplant on a white pizza at some point later in the week!