Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Being a Data Nerd: Using Data to Find Super Cheap Flights

The data geek in me loves to research and research and research before I purchase anything, and airline tickets are no exception. There are plenty of blog posts advising you when you should buy and how to strategically use flight credits. In addition to those, there is another piece of data that will greatly influence supply and demand, more so than purchase date.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t work for all airlines who don’t publish their supply. Because some of my more frequented airlines do not publish their supply, I gather data in there other fashion.

  1. Start looking at flights early and sign up for alert services. Hipmunk.com and Zapta.com are two that I use. I like Hipmunk’s ability to have several searches open, however, their alert emails are much too slow. I like that Zapta that is quick with alert emails.
  2. Once you know the range of flight prices, you’ll know if you’re buying at a low, medium, or high price.
    1. Keep in mind that price fluctuations typically only rise close to the departure date. For domestic flights, it is usually three weeks from departure, and it is typically 53 days from departures.
    2. For domestic flights, I check throughout the day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for price drops.
  3. If flights are very empty, you can predict that the prices will drop and keep dropping until you are just about to depart. You'll need to get this data by going to the airline website and go through the purchasing process to see the seat selections. Note you don't actually have to buy the seats to see how many seats were available. See my photos for example.
Both flights are about $900. Silly cheap.

The flights going overseas was so empty that the airline pretty much comped the Austin to San Francisco leg of the trip. The top two photos show that the trip originating from San Francisco or Austin at the same price.  The photo below shows the amount of seats remaining on the flights just three weeks away from the flight date. These prices were a 25% (over $300) less than typical prices.

Look at all those empty seats!
Now you know what kind of data to collect. Start collecting data now, and save a respectable sum.

Monday, June 8, 2015

In the Heat of the Summer, You'll Wish You were at Alaska Brewing

Central Market has fun cooking classes with fun guests. When I saw that Alaskan Brewing was going to be hosting a class, I couldn't miss it. A big thanks to Central Market and Alaskan Brewing for having me as a guest.

The first course started with a seafood crostini. Crisp carbs topped with rich cheese and seafood? Yep. That's a win.

This lovely bite of heaven was served with the Freeride APA for a lovely contrast. Something this rich needs to be paired with something that can cut the fat.

For our second course, we had the orange IPA salad dressing over kale and orange segments. This was paired with a Icy Bay IPA which features a surfer on the bottle. Orange and bitter kale was a most excellent pairing for the salad and dressing. The beer was a great cleanser for each bite.

The next dish up was the amber glazed salmon served with veggies and rice. In addition to providing tasty bites and refreshing sips, they also provided us tips when visiting Alaska. There are many cruise options to Alaska. When you are there you can rent a car and blaze your own adventure. Get salmon when you arrive. It'll be super fresh if you visit at the right time of the year. Salmon breeds spawn at different times, so as long as you arrive during the correct window, you might be in for a treat. You can also go on a tour of the brewery. There are a number of ways to get to the brewery, and here are their recommendations if you aren't coming with a tour group.

Alaskan Brewing has only been in Texas for a few years, but they have been around the block and collecting their fair share of awards along the way. The Smoked Porter is absolutely delicious, and I highly recommend grabbing one of the vertical tasting boxes or keep buying the bombers when you see them available.

Central Market's Jordan Knowles and Alaskan Brewing's Terry Nance and Jon Blakley give us a toast!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Look Back at Gardner Austin

One of the new things I'm starting on my blog is the "Look Back" series in which I'll share my experiences at events and restaurants that have been opened for at least three months.  Sometimes I'll visit new restaurants in their early days, but I like to let the dust settle before diving into the menu. As my good fortune would have it, Gardner happened to be launching a new bar menu and invited some guest to partake in their offerings. Thank you so much, Gardner for having us in for a lovely tasting.

Gardner's new cocktail menu was dangerously subtle and sophisticated. The drinks were not overly forward - which is a refreshingly different from the heavy handed cocktails I typically make at home. This is a photo of the rum, turmeric, and strawberry. I'm a fan of turmeric as supplement, and I'm definitely a fan of how well it plays in a cocktail.

The spring menu has several dishes that make you welcome the warm patio weather and sunny skies. This dish with gnocchi doesn't appear to be on the menu anymore, but if you do see gnocchi on there again, you ought to order it.

This is the trout roe with celery, strawberry, chive. The drastically different textures and colors are make this a truly interesting dish. The salty gelatinous roe with the vegetative ice was a great combination.

It looks like item, named Alliums, isn't on the menu either, and I feel sad for those mushroom lovers who miss it. This umami laden dish was reminiscent of many Asian dishes that are onion and mushroom based. Photo by John M. P. Knox.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Style and Execution in Food Writing with Banh Mi Recommendations

When it comes to food, only one opinion matters.  That's the blunt truth.  You could be a well-traveled and cultured eater with a sophisticated palate or someone who never ventures from a staple of processed foods.  In the end, the only opinion that matters is your own.  It may sound odd coming from a social psychologist that I'm focusing on the N = 1, but the point is that you shouldn't take other people's opinions too literally.  The other point of the post is on style and execution. 

Banh Mi Pate at Uchiko, Austin, TX.  It is a modernist twist.

So back to the point about only your opinion matters, there seems to be intolerance when it comes to food opinions.  Everyone thinks they are right.  Certain types of food are a religion like barbecue and chili (beans or no beans).  What we should do is be tolerant of other people's opinions.  Not everyone is going to love the hottest new restaurant.  Not everyone is going to hate the most disgusting chain restaurant.  All of these are opinions, and why the heck can't people accept that.  I see that in music too.  Unless someone is forcing you against your will to listen to music you don't like, why do you care if people like Lady Gaga.  It really is a personal choice.  It just seems funny to me that many people fight for free speech, but try to oppress other's personal choice in food and music. 

Banh mi at Tan Dinh  in New Orleans, LA.

Everyone has a personal choice of the style of food they enjoy.  Do you like it spicy?  Do you like it like grandma made it?  Do you like it with a modern twist?  All these are are PERSONAL choices on style.  And often time I hear people say,
"That is bad."
But what they really means is,
"That is not my style."
Just because something isn't your style, that doesn't mean it is bad.  It simply means it isn't your style.  It doesn't mean that the execution was bad.  It is not BAD, just not your style.  Style and execution should NOT be confused.

Banh Mi Burger at Swift's Attic in Austin, TX.  Photo courtesy of Zack Northcutt, Sous Chef at Swift's Attic.

Style is manner of creating the dish.  Is the chef aiming for authentic flavors?  Is the chef looking to do some fusion?  Style here is big and broad, and you can define your own style - and hope that other people understand what that means.  Some styles are so distinct that I can identify where the chef was trained.

Execution is the carrying out or putting into effect of that style.  If the execution of any style fails, well, the dish just stinks.  Examples of poor execution are half-baked loaves of bread, broken cream sauces, unintentionally crunchy pasta, or scorched soups.  That is just bad.  I may love the style, but if the execution is bad, I can't eat it.

The pork lemongrass banh mi at Pho Thaison on William Canon, Austin, TX.

One example that has been debated amongst my friends is banh mi styles.  When I think of banh mi, I want authentic banh mi that I had growing up.  My family frequently purchased banh mi from B10 in Houston for decades.  This was way before they were called B10.  The bread is lightly crusted on the outside yet soft and chewy on the inside.  The aioli used was made in house.  It was translucent deep yellow with a slightly sweet flavor.  The grilled pork was perfectly seasoned and smoky.  It was heavenly.

Unfortunately, there is nothing like it in Austin, and that always starts a debate of the best banh mi in Austin.  I stand by my opinion that there is nothing quite like authentic hole in the wall type that I get in Houston.  But there are many other types that are executed well, but I just isn't my favorite style.

If you are curious, here is a list of places that myself or my food loving friends recommend for banh mi.  There are a few restaurants that will have their own versions of banh mi from time to time.  And if you are ever in New Orleans, see if Cochon Butcher has a banh mi on the menu.  It is amazing.  It isn't my preferred style, but the execution was so fantastic that I don't care. 
  • Baguette House 10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753  (512) 837-9100
    • Some people love this place.  It is so far from my style that I just get angry with I eat the banh mi.  I'm told that they are executed well, but just not my style.
  • Pho Thaison several locations
    • The South location (3601 W William Cannon Dr #250is the only place where I've had their banh mis.  It is one of my favorites in town.  It is the closest to the style I like.  The bread is perfectly crusted, and the pork is juicy.  Oh so good!
  • Phonatic several locations  - 2525 W. Anderson Ln., Bldg 3, Suite 280, Austin, TX 78757, 9900 S IH 35, Ste 500, Austin, TX 78748, 1468 E Whitestone Blvd, Ste 200, Cedar Park, TX 78613
    • The banh mi sliders are pretty awesome.  Not completely authentic, but those sliders are awesome. 
  • Tam Deli  8222 N. Lamar Blvd. Suite D-33, Austin, Texas 78753  (512) 834-6458
    • The banh mi here was pretty tasty.  It is a solid choice.
  • Swift's Attic   315 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701   (512) 482-8842
    • The chefs here like the ones from Uchiko are very familiar with Asian flavors.  Do not hesitate to get anything banh mi-like from their menu.  I remember at La Dolce Vita before they opened, they served a foie gras banh mi.  That is how they play. 
  • Uchiko  4200 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78756   (512) 916-4808
    • This is my second home, and they have an uncanny ability to bring nostalgia to the modern dishes they create.  Look for something banh mi like on their specials menu.