Sunday, September 02, 2007

Austin comes to Ballard

Zorg and I strolled over to 24th Avenue NW tonight to try out the new Austin Cantina that just opened (in the spot where Dandelion used to be, just across the street and a block north of QFC).

It turns out to be a relaxing, friendly place where the emphasis is on fresh, high-quality ingredients at reasonable prices.

Our orders were taken quickly, and mojitos appeared moments later, followed by Zorg's cup of chili. The main courses took a bit longer (the kitchen is still experiencing some opening-week franticness). We sipped our drinks and listened to a mix of Willie Nelson and Tex-Mex tunes (at a pleasant volume that I hope the Cantina will maintain).

We both liked the rich, meaty, smoky chili (Texas style, no beans) though Zorg commented that it seemed to lack salt. Since he's more of a salt fan than I am, I shrugged this off. But when our main courses arrived -- enchiladas, his filled with a tender pot roast, mine with pulled pork with apples -- I had to agree that salt was definitely not figuring in the otherwise-interesting culinary equations. Zorg employed the salt shaker on the table; I mused about why the food was being cooked this way, because I sometimes cook without salt to try to adjust my palate to more natural tastes.

I was wondering if I'd be able to lure Zorg back the cantina when dessert arrived and completely won us over. The flan was delicate and not too sweet, and the big bowl of banana pudding with meringue was rich and fabulous. Zorg did not leave a molecule of pudding in that bowl. He swears he didn't actually lick the bowl, but I wasn't watching that closely.

Jefe Birkner, the chef and owner, came over to ask us how we liked our meal. I inquired about the salt (or lack of it). He admitted that he is making a concerted effort to serve interesting regional food that people can eat without freaking out about salt, grease, and calories. He said he is definitely using salt, though not much of it and not the usual type -- he brought us a sample of the special flaky sea salt he favors; it's definitely more subtle and complex than your basic shaker salt. He indicated that the banana pudding didn't exactly fall into the healthy food category, but I noticed that much of its richness came from the banana texture; it did not have too much sugar, and the gorgeous topping was a meringue, not whipped cream.

We're definitely going back to try the dishes we missed on the first go-round. According to Metroblogging Seattle, the chicken fried steak, made with a great local organic beef, is "amazing." And I want to check out the grilled-corn-with-lime-butter side dish.

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