Monday, March 26, 2012

A breakfast. Or two.

My last two mornings in Austin were, as always, bittersweet. There's something about those last couple of days of vacation that shock you into doing really wonderful things (long walks along Town Lake with the dogs, grabbing breakfast tacos with your best friend, lounging by the pool with a cocktail) instead of messing about with shopping or doing anything that requires you to adhere to a schedule.

The last two days of this trip were particularly so, because Louisa introduced me to a seriously amazing thing: breakfast at the Elizabeth Street Café.

Elizabeth Street is a French Vietnamese restaurant and boulangerie, and they serve three meals a day, seven days a week - not to mention coffee and pastries to go at any hour. It's a delightfully airy space, all black and white tile on the floor, calming white on the walls, and pops of teal in the banquette and chairs. Saigon and Paris mix in the space as well as in the food: cane chairs, burnished metalwork edging the communal table and a giant fern bring Vietnam, while white-painted wrought iron and black-and-white striped Louis XVI chairs bring the France.

The coffee - I chose French press both mornings - is fantastic. I was unsurprised to discover it was Stumptown, and couldn't help but enjoy upwards of three cups per visit. So sue me.

And then, of course, there's the food. You can order a pastry (Nick loved his almond croissant) or a French crepe, but I went savory and Vietnamese both mornings, figuring it was the best way to use my limited visits. My first choice: Saigon noodles with peppers, roast pork and fried eggs. The noodles were short, skinny and full of delicious curried flavor. The roast pork was rich and tender, with a wonderful balance of sweet and savory. The eggs were just runny enough to sauce things up, especially when I added a dollop of hoisin and a squirt of fish sauce. And man alive, were they spicy.

That first morning, we gathered up a few pastries to try later, at home. I snagged a butter croissant, a Nutella éclair, and a canelé. I really enjoyed the croissant, which was flaky enough to be authentic, but not so flaky that ended up wearing it. The butter was sweet, the pastry was tender, and the whole thing was just about perfect smeared with some strawberry jam.

The éclair was good, but not great. The filling was straight-up Nutella, so it was an incredibly rich treat, and I loved the hazelnuts on top. But the pastry was a bit gummy - possibly my fault for letting it sit for a few hours before enjoying it.

The canelé, while awfully pretty, was disappointing. It was undercooked, with a not-crunchy-enough exterior and a too-gummy interior. The vanilla flavor was nice, though, and canelés are super tricky to make, so these could definitely improve with time.

All canelé-related sins were forgiven the next morning, though, when we returned for breakfast number two. I ordered the sticky rice with poached eggs and ginger pork sausage. This bowl of perfect goodness arrived, topped with a tarragon and parsley salad. The eggs were perfectly poached, and their yolks mixed with the hot sauce on top of the rice to make a rich, tangy sauce. The pork sausage patties were spicy in both senses - gingery and hot. An ideal bite included a little of everything, and was, truly, perfect.

So, you know: go to there.

Elizabeth Street Café
1501 South First Street
Austin, Texas

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