3-Fresh: Koriente, Hot Mama’s, Nancy’s Sky Garden

621 E. Seventh St. (map), 512-275-0852, www.koriente.com
Hours: 11am-9:30pm Sun-Fri, 1pm-9:30pm Sat.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.10.14
After a month of barbecue, Koriente heralded the reintroduction of color into my lunchlife. Purple, red, chartreuse, orange, evergreen, yellow. The Summer Roll ($3.50) glowed with bell pepper, avocado, cabbage and bouncy rice noodles, wrapped first in leaf lettuce, then swaddled tightly in a translucent skin of tapioca. A salmon roll ($5.50) followed a similar model, dodging the noodles but adding neat slivers of carrot and white cabbage, plus a silky thoroughfare of clean smoked salmon. Soy and wasabi on the side were just decoys for sushi hunters. Sushi this was not, but rather a pescetarian lunch bounty worth appreciating as its own thing.
If the rolls were the foreground of this Bob Ross still-life, then edamame, miso soup and pickles were the happy little trees along the edges. Steamed and salted, the soybeans rolled from their pods like fresher-maker Mentos ($2.50). The pickles were free with an entree, $1.50 without, a uniformly tan, salty, sour, sweet and hot mix of celery, daikon and jalapeño. Miso was in the same no-charge zone, with blooms of silky white and cubes of tofu in a hot, neutral broth.
Koriente is a civilized culvert in the badlands of the downtown club district. The owners have cultivated sidewalk gardens that form a visually symbiotic link to the food they make, and the interior is spare and charming, with seating along the windows to observe the current of chaos that flows outside while you’re inside, pouring another cup of hot ginger-peach tea from the kettle.
(ABOVE, from left: Summer Roll, edamame and a smoked salmon roll at Koriente.)
Hot Mama’s Cafe
2401 E. Sixth St. #1004 (map), 512-476-6262, www.facebook.com/loveyourmama
Hours: 7am-4pm Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm Sat-Sun
There’s a self-help vibe at Hot Mama’s, from piles of wellness brochures and house-brewed kombucha to hula hoops. So many hula hoops. Three women were working out with them on the courtyard, shaded by a tree whose size suggests that no matter how intensely East Sixth gentrifies, its natural elements endure. The tree is a kind of spirit animal for Hot Mama’s, a Bohemian coffee bar set into a new low-rise development. There’s a velvet settee and upholstered armchairs and warm earth-tone walls set with paintings of butterflies and ‘60s LOVE logos.
The colors seemed to settle on the plates, too. A simple lunch special brought a Greek salad and a cup of carrot-and-lamb stew for $7.75. Pickled chickpeas punctuated the landscape of fresh greens, crushed olives, feta cheese and tomatoes, with a cameo of sweetness from caramelized onions and a warm acidic buzz from sesame vinaigrette. The soup spoke with a Middle Eastern accent, a curried pulp with its components minced into homogenous tawny brown. On its own, a bland canvas, but with wafer-thin toast points sprinkled with rosemary and that fresh, simple salad, it fortified Hot Mama’s self-help regimen.
(ABOVE: Comfort-class seating, a soup-and-salad lunch and a hula hoop collective at Hot Mama’s.)
Nancy’s Sky Garden
501 S. Austin Ave., 4th Floor, in Georgetown (map), 512-554-2060, www.nancyskygarden.com
Hours: 11am-9pm Mon-Sat
Nancy’s Sky Garden is 27 miles north of Koriente, almost a straight shot up I-35 to Georgetown. But spiritually, they’re sisters, working the same Asian rainbow of salads, rolls and teriyaki preparations. The difference: Nancy’s does it from the fourth-story rooftop terrace of a modern brick and stone office block with a view of the Williamson County Courthouse.
With a bouquet of coconut and vanilla, hot Royal Wedding tea ($3) was a therapeutic set-up for the aromatic unifier of the Nancy’s experience: almond-ginger dressing. At once silky, sweet, sharp and cool, the dressing took a bowl of mango, avocado, raspberries, pineapples, grapes and pecans and coalesced that riot of color into a World Cup team for $6.
The dressing’s ambassadorial powers – along with the color riot — rolled on, extending to an entree-sized Mix Mix salad ($7.50) that surrounded a scoop of steamed purple rice with clutches of crisp carrot, purple and white cabbages, feather-sliced avocado and red bell pepper on a bed of mixed greens, all of it speckled with black sesame seeds. For protein, I added chicken for $2 that proved to be the only weak player, a blanched and bland breast with a universal sticky-sweet teriyaki sauce. Every element was sliced, chopped and slivered for easy mixing, an aesthetically tough but rewarding task on a plate as pretty as a painting.
(ABOVE: A fruit bowl, Royal Wedding tea and a Mix Mix salad with chicken from Nancy’s Sky Garden.)
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)