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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pho Thaison's Banh Mi - An Austin Hidden Gem

We've been hearing it for years. "There's no good ______ food in Austin." Austin is all growing bigger, and with the growth, comes opportunity for growing a market for new types of food. For the near and possibly distant future, I'll start bringing you posts on these hidden gems in Austin. Some of them have been around for a while, and some are pretty new. All will offer menus from another country or region that you might be missing.

Very few of these places have marketing programs nor do they focus on an upscale dining experience. The vast majority of the places that I’ll introduce to you are family run with an emphasis on bringing you cuisine that they consider comfort food. Do keep that in mind when visiting these restaurants less talked about. The owners are welcoming you into their home to show you foods that show off their culture and their history.  

Additionally, this sparks a conversation that Austin. Growing bigger and developing into a bigger city means being more aware and educated about diversity. Austin does not yet have cultural districts of town like Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City. And that lack makes it really difficult to be exposed to different cultures, foods, and traditions.

However, before jumping headfirst into learning about the other cultures and their foods, taking a step back to understand the challenges. By now you should have hear about the Pho debacle caused by Bon Appetite. This is one of the best responses to the issue I have read, and it brings up many of the issues that is in the following links.

The first one on my list of hidden gems is Pho Thaison, which has several locations in Austin. My favorite location is the William Cannon and Brodie locations that started serving banh mi’s about two years ago. I am a self-proclaimed banh mi connoisseur having eaten banh mi’s all over the world. 

The pork lemongrass banh mi with fried egg roll is one of my favorite dishes. It is my go to dish when I need something fast, satisfying, and to be out of the house. The pork is coming out tender and juicy, and the bread is crusty on the outside, soft and fluffy on the insight. My other favorite dish at Pho Thaison is the pho number 1. It is perfect comfort food on a cold day, rainy day, or just every single day.

There you have it. Hidden gem pho and banh mi in South Austin, TX.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Thomas Keller and Teach Austin Restaurants

When I first start an activity, hobby or professional, I look for a mentor. If I started an activity where I might have to create food for other people, there is no doubt that I would look directly at Thomas Keller. If you’ve read anything about him, he is a tremendous person who can build tremendous chefs. Even when Per Se’s disappointing review was posted, Thomas Keller’s earnest reaction was telling of his character. He acknowledged that the feedback of the review, acknowledged mistakes, and declared that they would improve.

Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Las Vegas

That is how one gets better. They don’t invalidate the opinions of others. Instead, they absorb the feedback with open eyes. They don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Thomas Keller wrote an open letter to address it.

Here’s a few links to article detailing the Per Se’s brush the the New York Times. Thomas Keller responds with a letter posted on his website and a more recent recounting of what has happened since.  I also happen to love this article on lessons learned while working with Thomas Keller and cooking tips from Thomas Keller.

As Austin’s food scene grows, there’s going to be some inevitable growing pains. I experienced one about a month ago, and the reaction of the restaurant was one that needed guidance from a mentor. I left that experience feeling like situation was handled in such a way that it went from bad to worse to infuriating to getting a shout out on my blog.

Long story short, I ordered a meal for two via an online ordering service for pick up.  When I arrived, I could hear the staff in the background making comments that certainly made it seem like they weren’t the most passionate about their work. The meal was a letdown to say the least. Though the my dish was rich was fat, it was devoid of flavor. The rest of the items were disappointing leaving only the salad that wasn’t offensively bland.

When I was finally able to return to the restaurant, the manager’s response was largely of denial, but clearly their Yelp reviews shows that they have really bad days with a bimodal split. I also have friends who love the restaurant on good days, but they do recognize that it has bad days too. They actually call it the *restaurant name* lottery - are you going to hit the jackpot or get a bad day? They’ve even had the same dish at the same table come out drastically different with one being outstanding and the other being barely edible. Everyone has a bad day, and it seems like acknowledging and fixing the inconsistency would be the ideal plan of action.

My refund was also not without tension. The restaurant and the online ordering service pointed the finger at each other claiming that the other needed to issue the refund. I left the store and was already home when the restaurant insisted that I return to get a cash refund or else take store credit on my next order. It was a 30 minute round trip drive given the flash floods, so I declined returning to the store to leave the restaurant and online service to hash it out some more. I was finally promised a refund back to my credit card. This was nearly two hours after I had arrived at the store, and I’m glad I didn’t waste that time waiting for them to find a solution.

The theme of this post is to be more like Thomas Keller. My situation could have easily been solved with a refund that would take just a few minutes if not seconds to perform. But that didn't happen.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Add Oasthouse and District Austin to Your List

*I attended the Oasthouse Crawfish boil and blogger happy hour as a guest. I've been to District Kitchen and Cocktails on my own.

Austin is growing like the hackberry tree in my yard, but the proliferation of chef owned restaurants outside of central Austin is slow to come. There's a few eateries a little drive away like Pieous, Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza, Jack Allen's at the Y, Via 313 at the Y, and Api's. So check those out if you're looking for a bit of a drive.

However, if you live in way South or in Lakeway, Chef Amir Hajimaleki has opened two restaurants that deserve a visit and a nod.

District Kitchen and Cocktail, located in Circle C, opened in 2013, and it is a hidden gem. It is the most nominated meetup location among friends who live in South Austin. The happy hour menu there boasts an array of snacks and cocktails that will please the most diverse group of diners. That's a key advantage to both of Chef Amir's restaurant that you don't always find - a restaurant that has food that will make everyone happy and an atmosphere that is flexible enough for casual meals or even a business meeting.

My recommendations for District are the Persian Princess cocktail, lamb kabobs, and hog wings. Sit on the patio on a cool evening, and be glad that you're not battling Austin traffic to get somewhere downtown.

Oasthouse, located in Lakeway, has a menu with approachable roots yet sophisticated execution. They have a waygu beef burger topped with Guinness cheddar, brown ale bacon, and bourbon mustardo. The truffled waygu flatbread there is also something that is familiar, yet upscale enough for a client meeting.

In addition to their usual fair, Chef Amir brought back some of his Louisiana lifestyle with him. This year, Oasthouse hosted a crawfish boil. Be smart. Bring gloves for easy clean up. If you eat like me, bring an apron and some goggles too. The crawfish boil was $20 for 2 lbs of crawfish, sausage, corn, potatoes, and an Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager. If the rumor that they will be hosting another boil is accurate, the chances of finding me there are pretty high.

*Both District and Oasthouse are dog friendly on the patio. Friendly and leashed dogs welcome.

Monday, March 21, 2016

New Finds in Houston: Moroccan Scrub at Hamman Spa and the Best Hummus Ever

I'm a Houston frequently flyer, and I want to share two new discoveries. My typical Houston stomping ground is on Bellarie where I can happily stuff my face with authentic Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese fare.

This time around I decided to try a Moroccan spa at Hammam Spa on Westheimer. I was looking to try something new, and learning about spa rituals from other cultures is something one can't find in Austin. The Hammam treatment is something that is done on a weekly basis in Morocco. There are large bath houses where you would go to do your own scrubbing or you could pay someone a fee for scrubbing you.

At the Hammam Spa in Houston, it is more of a private spa experience. It starts with being covered in olive oil soap which makes you smell like the olive bar at Whole Foods. Then the dead skin is scrubbed off your body. There will be plenty of skin sloughing off. I'm pretty sure I lost of a few pounds of that way. After that you shower off, and you're covered with a rich lotion. I haven't had a scrub that effective in removing extra skin cells before, and I would certainly do it again.

There's only four hammam spas in the United States - Houston, Vegas, New York, and somewhere in Virginia. This one is independently owned so you can feel good about helping other people achieve their dreams while you exfoliate your stress away.

My second find in Houston does not come with a pretty photo. I stopped by Kasra Persian also located on Westheimer to find that their hummus is amazing. My first visit included a lamb shank, rice, and hummus. It had the fast punch of raw garlic and an amazingly creamy smooth texture. It was not as thick as most hummus, but it was definitely the best I've ever had.

I tried recreating it at home, and I this is my version. It is super garlicky and much thinner than most. I can't stop eating it. If you eat it, there is no doubt that you'll be killing vampires for days to follow.


  • 1 can of chick peas, drained
  • 5-8 large cloves of raw garlic, peeled
  • At least 1/2 cup of tahini sauce
  • At least 1/2 cup of really peppery olive oil
  • juice of 6 lemons
  • salt to taste

Blend this up in a food processor until smooth. Keep adding more olive oil until it is a smooth and creamy. It should be the texture of a thick sauce.

*I know the garlic seems like too much. You can dial it back, but you won't be protected from vampires.
*I added 1/2 a bulb of garlic, and it was fantastic.
*The tartness of the lemon will be tempered with the tahini and the olive oil.