More tales from the police blotter.

You may have heard of Damian Mandola. He and his nephew Johnny Carrabba have had cooking shows on PBS. The Mandola family are prominent restaurant operators, and the Carrabba’s chain was founded by Johnny and Damian. Damian also has a local chain, “Mandola’s Italian Market”, that I kind of like, and a higher-end Italian place in Driftwood closer to the Salt Lick, Trattoria Lisina.

Damian Mandola is also at the center of one of the more interesting local crime stories I’ve seen in a while.

The story starts on Thursday. Local law enforcement responded to a report of someone driving a golf cart erratically in the area of Trattoria Lisina. This led to Damian being taken into custody and charged with burglary; specifically, he is alleged to have broken into a building at the Dutchman Family Winery (which is next to Lisina but not owned by Damian) and stolen some wine. Other reports I’ve seen put the amount stolen at one or two bottles, which is odd; if he just wanted a couple of bottles of wine, surely Lisina would have that on hand?

So this is already odd enough. But I was talking about the story with my mother this morning, went to look up the press reports, and…

Damian Mandola was arrested again last night, after putting up bail on the burglary charge. This time, the charges are assault with a deadly weapon and “criminal mischief”.

There’s not a whole lot of detail so far about the sequence of events, and I haven’t seen any reporting except for brief stories in the Statesman and HouChron. It is worth repeating that these are just charges, and Mr. Mandola deserves the presumption of innocence. On the other hand, I doubt the Hays County Sheriff’s Office goes around picking up prominent business owners for no reason. And an ADW charge implies both that there was an assault, and the assault victim could identify their attacker (or that there was other physical evidence tying someone to the attack).

This is a darn shame. I really do like Damian’s ventures other than Carrabba’s. (I also like Carrabba’s, but I don’t think he or anyone else from the family is involved in managing it any longer.)

It is sad and odd and I hope it gets straightened out for the better.

(Crossposted from WCD.)

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North Verona Ristorante Italiano Closed

According to a Yelp reviewer and Google Maps, the north location of Verona Ristorante Italiano closed late last year. (The south location still seems to be open, and they’ve done a half-assed scrubbing of mentions of the north location off their website.)

A pity, since they were a pretty good Italian place.

That strip between Middle Fiskville and I-35 really seems to be a cursed as far as restaurants surviving there goes, and I don’t think anyplace except the Korean/Sushi joint that keeps changing names has made a go of it since the Bookstop closed.

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Flipnotics Closing Effective Tonight

I know it’s old news, and from the Austin Chronicle, no less. And since I’m not a coffee drinker, it’s not the sort of place I’d patronize.

But I did want to ask: How the hell do you lose $1.8 million running a coffee shop in Austin?

Wouldn’t the little lightbulb above your head flicker on after you had already lost about $200,000? “Hey, I’m losing my shirt! I should stop throwing good money after bad and seek another career!”

Either the original owners were very, very stupid, or there’s some sort of money laundering/tax dodge involved…

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Yelp’s Top 100 Places To Eat Include Six from the Austin Area

So Yelp has release a Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. list. Their ratings, being based on actual diners, are very different than high-end restaurant critics, and include six places around Austin:

  • 8. Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX
  • 35. Turf N’ Surf Po Boy, Austin, TX
  • 85. Uchiko, Austin, TX
  • 86. Little Deli & Pizzeria, Austin, TX
  • 91. Taste of Ethiopia, Pflugerville, TX
  • 99. Uchi, Austin, TX

Quick thoughts:

  • Yeah, because it just wasn’t hard enough to get Franklin BBQ already.
  • Uchiko and Uchi are run by the same people.
  • I’m really happy to see Taste of Ethiopia on here. It’s a swell joint run by great people.

By comparison, only one place made the cut in Houston, and none in Dallas…

(Cross-posted to My blog.)

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Prima Pizza Pasta Relocating, Mi Pizza Taking the Space

A double-dose of restaurant relocation news I don’t think has been reported anywhere else:

Prima Pizza Pasta has relocated from its location at Parmer and McNeil to a new location at Anderson Mill and 620 as of February 1st. (The news is so new they haven’t updated their website yet.)

Taking the old Prima space on Parmer (as well as their phone number) is a new restaurant called Mi Pizza, which seems to focus on custom-designed 11 inch pizzas cooked in 5 minutes for $6.99.

(News duped from my own blog.)

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Changing the face of dining.

We have a noodle truck at the office on Thursdays.

The Forbidden. Beef stewed for four hours in an Indonesian-style red curry. DFG Noodles, Austin, Texas.

The Forbidden. Beef stewed for four hours in an Indonesian-style red curry. DFG Noodles, Austin, Texas.

And it is pretty damn good.

And they take credit/debt cards. You’ve seen it before, haven’t you? iPad with a credit card swiper, pick your tip, sign, have your receipt emailed to you?

This observation isn’t original to me, and I’m not sure it is terribly profound, but: services like Square have revolutionized credit card processing. I remember the old days, when setting up a merchant account was hard to do, and you needed a phone line, and you needed bulky equipment, and the credit card processors charged enormous fees. Now? I’m kind of far from retail, so I’m not sure if Square has resulted in downward pressure on fees (though I suspect it has).

Someone I know who is in retail and takes credit cards reviewed an early draft of this post and provided this information: they pay 2.61% for credit card processing, but each month’s statement also contains a laundry list of “cryptic inexplicable fees” that they have to pay as well. Square claims to charge a flat 2.75% for swiped transactions (Visa, MC, AmEx, Discover) with no additional fees. (I say “claims” because I have not used Square and can’t verify that for myself.)

Square also claims to deliver your money in one to two business days, no matter what type of card it is. The retail person I know says that AmEx fees depend on how long you let AmEx keep your money: they let AmEx hold their money for 15 days, and pay between 2% and 3%.

But fees aside, anyone who has a bank account can take credit cards these days, and all you need is an iPhone or iPad (or a supported Android device, though frankly that looks a little painful). Little to no bulk, no landline, and the money goes into your linked bank account.

The big thing, as I see it, isn’t the merchant charges: it is the portability. Your credit card machine is your phone or tablet, and it fits in a trailer. Or in a pocket. And you don’t need anything else – you don’t even need a printer, you can just email receipts to your customers. (Okay, you might want a charging cable, depending on how good battery life is on your device. But other than that, nothing.)


Continue reading

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January 4, 2014: Imperia

310 Colorado St. (Austin, 78701)
(512) 472-6770

Lawrence’s Comments:

We’d been hearing good things about Imperia for quite a while, so we thought they were a good choice for the first SDC of 2014.

It lived up to the hype.

Imperia serves up pan-Asian fusion cuisine that draws equally from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines (and probably a few others as well) in an attractive, understated space in the warehouse district (or what used to be called the warehouse district; they keep changing names and I don’t think there are any warehouses left). There’s a bar, but it doesn’t seem overemphasized the way it does in other downtown establishments.

We started off with the pork belly steamed buns, which were delicious but definitely smaller than the steamed buns you get at the average dim sum restaurant. The calamari was very good, with a nicely light batter, but not enough to eclipse perennial champion The Clay Pit. For sushi, we picked something that stretched the definition:”The Hot Mess,” which the menu described as “Snow crab and shrimp atop a honey and avocado roll. Topped with Dynomite [sic] sauce and Kochijyan butter,” to which I can only add “what they said.” The individual portions were very tasty and came out in an escargot dish. (I also had two pieces of unagi, which were fine but undersized.)

For my entree I had “Kinoko to Suteki,” which is a very savory steak and mushroom dish; the portions could have been a bit bigger, but it was in-line with downtown Asian fusion expectations. I also like the portion of Pad-Thai Dwight and I spilt.

I can’t find an online listing for the dessert I had, which involved creme brulee, ice cream, caramel sauce and decadence. Service was pretty attentive.

We ended up getting several entrees and appetizers, so the bill was substantial: more than $150 for three people including tax and tip. You’d be hard-pressed to get an appetizer, meal and drink for under $20, but you could probably do it for around $30. Just keep in mind that you’re not paying for Chinese food, you’re paying for a downtown Asian fusion restaurant, and adjust your expectations accordingly. (The biggest difference between Imperia and the late, unlamented Austin location of Roy’s is value. Though we ended up spending about as much at both places, we didn’t feel like we were being ripped off, and we didn’t leave still hungry.)

Besides price, the biggest problem with Imperia is their location in the warehouse district downtown. Unless you want to use the valet parking, there’s a good chance you’ll have to park several blocks away (I found a metered space on Republic Square). But Imperia is well worth the hassle, either for special occasions or if you already live downtown.

(This review will also appear on my own blog.)

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Closing time.

A quick news roundup:

Encounter has closed. No, that wasn’t an Austin restaurant, so why does anyone care? Well, Encounter was also known as “the restaurant in the Theme building at the LA Airport”. Or you might know the “Theme building” better as “that kind of spider-like thing”:

Austin CultureMap has a somewhat interesting article on the Waterloo Ice House chain, tied to their recent closing of three locations. We actually had a family dinner at the Bee Caves location shortly before their closing, and I had breakfast with a friend at the 38th Street location a little before that.

The problem, as I see it, isn’t “company-owned” versus “independent”; the problem is that Waterloo doesn’t offer a compelling experience. The food is just average, and the breakfast I mentioned stretched out to more than an hour; not because the service was bad, but because it took forever for the food to come out of the kitchen. (And, to be honest, I’ve had more than one bad service experience at the Burnet Road location, too.)

Finally, French Quarter Grill in Round Rock is closed. We were planning to eat there this weekend, as I’d bought some gift certificates. Some may recall that there was a Gumbo’s in that location for a long time, and that the Gumbo’s ostensibly moved because the rent went up and the building was historic (which precluded them from making alterations that might have justified the higher rent). French Quarter Grill moved in shortly after Gumbo’s moved out. And are they closing for the same reasons?

No. Apparently, they’re closing because the historic building has been acquired by the city, which plans to demolish it for a new bridge. That’s kind of a “say what?” moment.

(We’re going to the Parmer location of French Quarter instead. And they’ve said that they are going to honor the certificate, even though it was specifically for the Round Rock location. That’s nice.)

Posted in American, Cajun, Closed | Leave a comment

“We’d never heard of a pizza place closed for New Year’s Eve before…”

Prima Pizza Pasta, you disappointment me. Does it not occur to you that people like to order pizza for their New Year’s Eve gatherings?

I like them overall, but being closed for New Year’s Eve is pretty inexplicable…

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Goodbye, Goodnight.

A couple of friends of mine asked me out to dinner last night. After some discussion, we settled on The Goodnight. I thought this was a good choice: it is a spin-off venture of the people behind the Alamo Drafthouse, which I like, and we’ve been talking about trying it ever since it opened.

I got there a little early (as is my wont). The setup is pretty standard: on the left as you enter is the dining room passageway, with the standard “Please wait to be seated” sign. On the right is a desk with a computer, phone, and a young woman working both.

So I waited to be seated.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then someone who worked there came out, looked at me, and asked me what I wanted.


(This happens to me every so often when I go out. I’ll walk up to the “Please wait to be seated” sign, and the staff looks at me like I have three heads or something. Yes, people do dine alone. It sets my teeth on edge when they do this.)

I politely explain that I am looking to be seated for dinner. The guy looks around a bit, and then tells me “She’ll help you” and disappears into the back.

“She” is the woman sitting at the desk, who has been on the phone and computer the entire time I’ve been waiting, and shows no sign of acknowledging my existence.

So I wait some more.

“She” finally gets off the phone and computer and comes over to where I am. Once again, we go through the same drill I went through with the previous gentleman: it was apparently inconceivable to her as well that I might actually want a table for myself and the two other people who were joining me.

But finally, I manage to convince her that I would like a table for my party of three, and she finds me one. Sandwiched between two noisy parties, when there are several unoccupied tables a little further down in the dining room, but at least it is a table.

Over the years, I’ve developed a rule. If I start a stopwatch running, and the staff hasn’t acknowledged my existence within five minutes, I walk out. I don’t demand drinks be on the table in five minutes: all I want is for someone to show some sign that they know I’m there, even if it is just “I’ll be with you in a minute, sir”.

At 5 minutes and 3 seconds, literally as I was pushing my chair back to leave, the waitress finally came over and asked if I’d like something to drink. I nursed an ice water for a bit, progressively getting more and more angry, and finally decided I’d had enough of this bullshit.

So I walked out, waited for my friends out in front of The Goodnight, and then we went over to Korea House. Say what you will about Korea House, but at least we were treated like valued customers there, and not like something someone had scraped off the bottom of their shoes.

Congratulations, Tim League and The Goodnight. You’ve managed to earn the coveted SDC “Die In A Fire” status, you’ve ensured I’m never going back to The Goodnight under any circumstances, and you’ve given me a great story that I can tell to as many people as possible.

Posted in American, DIAF, Gripes | 2 Comments