Student Blogger Claire Cella…On all kinds of interesting things
Installment Number 2 in our student blogger series has arrived and for you today we have a group of reviews on some of Austin’s great establishments. Some you will have heard of, but one new treasure will likely come as a surprise. Any Pinkberry lovers out there like me? Did you know Austin has its own version now? I sure didn’t. Have you always wondered what SingAlong’s were like at Alamo Drafthouse? I have, my fear of being forced to sing publicly has always kept me from going!
For more great reviews and entertainment tidbits, read Claire Cella’s entire blog, That’s Entertainment. I have no doubt you will find something new and of interest to you within one of its many wonderful posts.
A handful of white tents interrupt the barren, black pavement of the sizzling parking lot in the mid-afternoon in South Austin. Somehow, The Sunset Valley Farmer’s Market emerges from this dismal, ugly, suburban venue as a prime source of healthy, fresh, sustainable products. The vendors are cheerful and bubbly, inviting customers to try their goodies with open arms and open hearts. Whether it is intricately, hand-crafted jewelry or home-grown, organic tomatoes, each vendor proudly displays the fruits of their labor with vigor that is impossible to not match as a potential customer. The small tastings are irresistible, from sun-dried tomato, mozzarella foccacia bread, hibiscus blueberry mint tea and smokey chipotle hummus. The quaint, neighborly atmosphere of this farmer’s market is overwhelmingly welcoming, rather then overwhelmingly crowded and uncomfortable as is typical of these events. The sights of hippie, bare-chested and bare-footed children skipping merrily about with painted faces and balloons, the smells of fresh, warm baked breads and delicate herbs and the sounds of the acoustic guitar created an appetizing environment for all the senses. Help yourself, help the local economy and help the environment and visit this market.
The Alamo Drafthouse is my favorite place to see movies in Austin. Among its many amenities are plush, comfy seats, hilariously ridiculous previews, giant bowls of popcorn and cheap, student-discounted tickets. I had never attended an event at the Drafthouse though, and was slightly uneasy as I took my place in line for the 90’s Sing Along on Thursday night.
I had no reason to be skeptical – the Drafthouse knows how to deliver, and it certainly did. The sing along, corny as it may sound, turned out to be the highlight of my week. It was two hours of complete nostalgia. Although it required some deep memory digging for some songs, most of them were instantly familiar. I see myself as a pre-teen, blasting Will Smith’s ‘Gettin‘ Jiggy wit it,’ from my giant, black stereo. The memory recreated that jubiliant feeling of childhood. I couldn’t help but stand up and dance. Neither could anyone else in the theatre. It’s easy to stand up and let loose when everyone else around you is making an equal fool of themselves. The Drafthouse also seems to draw in those types of people with no inhibitions.
The night was rap-themed so we disappointingly missed out on a whole genre of songs that the child inside of me would have absolutely died to hear again (mostly the emerging pop scene defined by Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.) But back then my friends and I also listened to the occasional rap song, testing our developing musical palettes, so I knew an overwhelming majority of the songs. And if not, the lyrics were provided so I could sing along anyway. The high points of the night included TLC’s “No Scrubs,” and my personal favorite, Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin.” They mostly covered the classic 90’s fare though, with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,”Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” of course. Either way, the night was utterly enjoyable and I would have stayed well past midnight. The only unfortunate repercussion is that I’ve had “Blame it on the rain” in my head ever since.
The first Pinkberry was opened in West Hollywood in January 2005 by Shelly Hwang and Young Lee. Since then, the store’s success has grown exponentially with 61 stores in California and 13 in New York. Unfortunately, the delicious, upscale frozen dessert franchise has yet to install itself in Austin, TX.
That hasn’t stopped the Pinkberry craze from spreading, however, as frozen yogurt vendors have sprung up all over the city. Many companies add their own twist to the original idea created by the Pinkberry monopoly, but there are subtle similarities to the popular franchise that these companies rely on to lure in Pinkberry fans.
The bright white simplicity of the store’s interior is reminiscent of the Pinkberry I visited in New York. Everything within the store is crisp, clean and defined by sharp, geometric lines and bold, solid colors. Based on interior design alone, the stores could be exact replicas on one another.
But the spin Yogurt Planet puts on their service is a welcoming contrast. Instead of just three flavors of yogurt – original, coffee and green tea – Yogurt Planet has incorporated a line of creative and tempting new flavors, 10 in all, including my favorite, peanut butter. There’s also others, including pistachio, blueberry, Oreo cheesecake and pomegranate. The yogurt itself tastes exactly like Pinkberry which is a relief, filling your mouth with a distinct, almost mouth-puckering tartness that settles quickly and sweetly on your tongue.
And the best part about the Yogurt Planet? The entire process is do-it-yourself, unlike the Pinkberry counterpart. Customers simply select their cup size (16 or 20 oz.) and proceed to the yogurt dispensers to pick their poison. Then, fulfilling their dreams to work behind the counter of an ice cream shop (or mine, at least), customers can playfully swirl their choice yogurt into the cup – as much or as little as they’d like and as many flavors as they want. From there, customers proceed to the sprawling topping bar, where they can hand scoop their own delicious concoction. There is a plethora of options, from the healthy kiwi’s, strawberries, mangoes and bananas to the more rich and decadent chocolate brownie chunks, cookie dough, candy pieces and creamy sauces. The decision remains entirely the customer’s, from the combination of ingredients to the amount that fills the cup. Then, the cup is placed on a scale and weighed (at $0.39 an ounce). On average, the yogurt dishes cost around $4, but it all depends on how generously you swirled and scooped. The visit to Yogurt Planet culminates with the relaxing enjoyment of the refreshing treat. But unlike Pinkberry, the experience started from the moment you walked in the doorway, accentuated by the customer’s ability to choose and create from their own imagination and inspiration.
I write from the store now, as my healthy, creamy concoction of original tart and fresh, tropical fruit slips lightly and neatly into my mouth. The varying fruits bring color and texture to the plain yogurt, creating a chunky rainbow in my dish. It is almost too beautiful to eat. But, of course, I cannot resist – it is the perfect, guilt-free dessert. And I made it all by myself.
I’ve found my new favorite restaurant in Austin – The Clay Pit. This restaurant, disguised quaintly in a old, worn brick building on Guadalupe St., serves up contemporary Indian cuisine in a comforting, accessible style. As I opened the door the smell that greeted me was overwhelmingly rich and distinctly exotic – filled with curry and spice. I found my stomach growling instantaneously. A long, narrow, open room extended to the far side of the restaurant with deep brown wooden floors contrasting against the muted, antique brick walls. The ambiance was subtle at first, but over the course of the meal, I realized how comforting and unobtrusive the simplistic, mature aging of the interior was. The menu was daunting but adventurous, filled with flavors, textures and ingredients that I had never heard of but knew I wanted to try. Dining with my experimental and inquisitive father helped. We ordered chicken Samosas, chicken Tandoori Bites, vegetables Pakoras and Peshwari Naan as appetizers to test out our palettes. We passed the plates around, dipping our anxious forks into each, savoring the newness of the flavors. My favorite was the Naan, thinly baked bread which closely resembles pita that was lightly stuffed with nuts, raisins & cherries. It was served warm and the sweetness simply melted in my mouth. The chicken Tandoori Bites, small marinated pieces of chicken, were made by the Tikka Masala that was served on the side – a rich, authentic, classic Indian sauce. The vegetable Pakoras, breaded in chickpeas and spices, were healthy, fresh and crisp. For dinner, I ordered conservatively since I was already feeling the affects of the appetizers – my stomach was filling up and quickly. After a long decision process, I opted for the Tandoori Vegetables. Served over a bed of sizzling onions, the dish featured a baked mix of broccoli, zucchini, bell pepper, paneer, pineapple & red onion. The vegetables were sweet and moist, baked in a traditional Tandoor sauce and served with a side of basmati rice. And Tikka Masala sauce, which I slathered on..of course. My dad ordered from the Curry House, pairing lamb with the Jeera Saag sauce- a pureé of spinach cooked with roasted cumin and spices. The Curry House allows you to pick a sauce of your choice along with lamb, chicken, vegetables, beef, paneer or shrimp. You can also customize the spice level of the sauce, my father opting for medium and glad he did – any hotter and he would have had sweat drops falling from his forehead into his meal. When the food arrived, our conversations ended but the motion of our forks did not – which I have come to associate with the sign of a good meal. We passed our dishes around, sharing in the experience, basking in the foreign flavors and intricate spice combinations that are relatively unfamiliar to us. The meal was one to remember – a combination of a tranquil dining atmosphere, moments of father-daughter bonding and of course, a savory and invigorating array of nontraditional, tantalizing food.
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