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Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars

28 Oct

Last night I had the pleasure of attending an Austin foodie social at Con’ Olio, a specialty market in the Great Hills Shopping Center that carries an extensive selection of small batch olive oils and artisan vinegars from around the world.  If you’ve ever found yourself at the oil and vinegar aisle wondering if that blackberry balsamic is going to be the genius ingredient behind juicy grilled pork chops or so sweet that your entrée will borderline pork-dessert disaster, I suggest a trip to Con’ Olio instead, where you can taste before you commit, and the huge selection will not allow you to go home empty-handed.

At Con’ Olio, olive oils, flavor infused olive oils, truffle oils, traditional aged balsamic vinegars, and fruit/herb infused vinegars are stored in stainless tanks available for sampling and purchasing in two different size bottles.  A brief fifteen minute chat with owner Jeff Conarko barely scratched the surface of his wealth of knowledge about olive oils, but revealed that emphatic enthusiasm which clearly drives the main theme of the store, quality.  I had no idea that nearly half of the so labelled extra virgin olive oils sold in the US are not indeed “extra virgin,” and the USDA has recently passed a revised set of standards of what can be marketed as extra virgin versus virgin olive oil.  The conversation could go on and on, but alas, we were there to taste!

Proscuitto wrapped around cantaloupe and mint were drizzled with fig balsamic vinegar:

Petite Croque Monsieur drizzled with cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar:

I was skeptical about this one (ham sandwich with cinnamon?) but after one taste I was sold.  Literally.  I’ve got a bottle of the cinnamon pear vinegar sitting in my pantry right now.  It transformed a perfectly adequate eggy ham sandwich into the kind of breakfast/brunch signature dish that you could build a reputation on.  The rich, deep tartness combined with the earthy sweetness makes for the perfect (healthier) substitute for maple syrup at breakfast.  Flapjack burritos filled with ham and egg drizzled with cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar is on the brunch menu this weekend at my house.

Kendall Antonelli of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop (Hyde Park cheese and charcuterie heaven that I love and need to blog about) was on site to present cheese and oil/vinegar pairings.

Sarvecchio, a mild and soft Parmesan from Wisconsin which is rubbed in olive oil as it ages, was paired with classic Greek Koroneiki olive oil to highlight the cheese’s herbal notes.  Campo de Montalban, a hard Spanish cheese that is made from a blend of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk played friendly with the light ripe summer peach white balsamic, but became downright sexy when paired with the tangerine dark balsamic.  Lastly, just when I thought Gorgonzola Dolce couldn’t get any better, the creamy succulent cheese drizzled with 18 year aged traditional balsamic vinegar… simply dreamy.

A little overwhelmed by the idea of so many choices of olive oils?  Jeff is conducting an Olive Oil 101 class at the downtown Whole Foods on Thursday, November 4th.  If you want a more intimate affair, Con’ Olio offers private tastings/classes for up to 50 of your closest foodie friends.

Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars
10000 Research Blvd #130
Austin, TX 78759

(Google Map)


Mom’s Taste: Banchan Paradise

8 Oct

I am picky about Korean food.

When we moved to our sleepy suburban neighborhood in DFW, it was strip mall typical with a dash of bland.  But over the few years we lived there, something unexpected happened.  First the signs on all the area churches became bilingual, then a couple of Korean BBQ restaurants arrived to feed the hungry after church crowd, and finally when Texas’ first H-Mart opened down the street (and anchored a shopping center full of Korean restaurants), it was official: we became Korean food snobs of non-Korean origin.

Fast forward to a uneventful weeknight in our little Austin bungalow, the weather is getting cooler outside and we’re jonesing for a sizzling bowl of dolsot bibimbap or a fiery pot of soondubu, a dozen or so banchan on the side wouldn’t hurt.  Quick Googling turns up a promising eatery inside the New Oriental Market as a suitable choice for authentic Korean in Austin.  But the flavorless meat and mounds of iceberg lettuce (yes, iceberg lettuce!) in the bibimbap and mushy rice noodles in the jap chae disappointed.  We needed something else to satisfy this Korean fix and we needed it quick.

Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall between a martial arts studio and a travel agency, Mom’s Taste is a pint-sized specialty market selling pre-made banchan, soups and stews, marinated bulgogi meat, frozen dumplings, and other Korean staples.  All the prepared and semi-prepared dishes are homemade fresh by the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, in the back of the market.  The scrolling marquee sign outside the store cycles between Korean text and the only English words, “Mom’s Taste.”  So be on the lookout, otherwise you might miss this little gem.  For a photo tour inside the market, check out this wonderful post from Boots in the Oven.

A $5 portion of marinated pork bulgogi (serves 2-3) and a few banchan sides ($3-$5 each) made a dinner that satisfied our cravings, finally.

Pork bulgogi (over steamed brown rice):

Oyee kimchi (spicy, sweet, and sour baby cucumbers):

Kongjaban (sweet black beans):

Odeng (fish cake):

All signs point to this pair of food fanatics becoming regular customers of Mom’s Taste.

Mom’s Taste Korean Specialty Market
6613 Airport Blvd
Austin, TX 78752

(Google Map)