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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Have Yourself a Brooklyn Little Christmas

For a joyful holiday, this year, consider having yourself a Brooklyn little Christmas. Brooklyn  Brewery needs no introduction to those who have been around the block in the beer world. For those who aren't as familiar with Brooklyn, they are one of the old guard. They were there early days of modern craft beer, they are the foundational contributor to the current state of craft beer, and they know how to have a good time.

Representatives from Brooklyn Brewery have been visiting the fair city of Austin for years doing dinners at the Alamo Drafthouse, cheese and beer at the Draughthouse, dinner at Olivia, and now the Brooklyn Mash Series of events. 

A big thanks to Brooklyn for having at their Austin Mash this year!

Torrent and his Brooklyn Bombers!

Well, well, Merry Christmas to me!
This year's Brooklyn Mash offered an array of fun events featuring some of the beer industries' finest. John Holl from All About Beer magazine,  Steve Hindy, Co-Founder of Brooklyn Brewery, and Brooklyn Brewery Chef Andrew Gerson were a few out of towners who hosted the series of events. Let's take a photo tour of the Brooklyn Mash events.

One of the events I attended was the Dinner Lab collaboration held at Vintage Innovation. We were served a lovely scallop crudo with cucumber, charred pineapple, and spicy herb jus.
with Wild Streak.
A big thanks to Choula for sponsoring some pairings.

Here's a beautiful view of the Sorachi Ace.

Roasted squash medley with butternut squash emulsion, alpine cheese fonduta, and candied pepitas.
with Galahad- strong Belgian-style golden ale aged on cider lees.

Venison tartare with rye bread, Jerusalem artichoke puree and syrup, and Cholula-pickled shallots.
with Sorachi Ace

Apples with cinnamon cream, apple butter, and semolina spiced crumble.
with Intensified Coffee Porter

At the three headed beast, the pigs wanted to join in the fun as well. I can't get over these smiles. Chef Zack Northcutt, Swift's Attic, probably had the same expression cooking them. 

The lovely ladies of Brooklyn Brewery meet Torrent, 10 weeks old at the time. That dog is going to have a cultured palate at this rate.

While Brooklyn Mash in Austin wasn't held around the holidays, the knowledge of the beer industry and the experience of fine foods and beers is something that can be enjoyed year round. However, it isn't too late to have a little Brooklyn Christmas.  The Local 1 and 2 are some of my go-to beers for parties and gifts, and you can pick up a few of their other beers. How about pairing the coffee with a dark chocolate pumpkin cake or Sorachi Ace with some pan fried scallops? That's a holiday worthy meal!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Update your Texas Wine Education

Whatever you thought about Texas wine, let’s update those thoughts. I recently went on a media trip out to Spicewood Vineyards where I got to see some familiar faces and meet some new ones too. Spicewood Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Stone House Vineyards, and Inwood Estates Vineyards treated us to a beautiful fall evening of wine, bites, and education with friends.

Welcome to the fine world of Texas Wine. 

After arriving at a beautiful swath of Texas Hill Country, we enjoyed some wine straight from the barrel to bid farewell to the sun. Our wine tasting and education started with and introduction to the history of wine in Texas and the nation. Over the last 20 years, technology in irrigation, advancement in industry knowledge, and the influx of seasoned winemaker in Texas moving Texas wines forward.
Ron Yates gives us a short lesson on growing grapes.

One of the big themes of the evening was quality over quantity. This is not a new concept as this phrase is repeated in many industries that pride themselves on pouring their passion into their products. However, the importance of quality over quantity isn’t pervasive across all parts of the the Texas wine industry yet, particularly in the consumers. The more phenolic concentration in the grapes, the lower the yield, and the higher the price for a great bottle. However, that wine is going to be an exemplar of quality over quantity.

Susan Auler pouring some sips. 

Dan Gatlin feels so strongly about quality over quantity, that he offers an superflight experience at Inwood Estates. During the 2011 drought, Dan sacrificed allowed only 0.29 tons of grapes per acre to develop (9% of typical yield). This produced a harvest that was exceptionally high in concentration and phenolic development which produced a premium quality wine. For just $45 per person, you can taste a flight of these wines against their Spanish counterparts, Numanthia, from  side by side.

A big thank you to Susan Auler and Sergio Cuadra of Fall Creek Vineyards, Dan Gatlin of Inwood Estates Vineyards, Ron Yates of Spicewood Vineyards, and Gina Ross of Stonehouse Vineyard! It was a great way to to further my Texas wine education. 

This is baby Syrah. Oh, you're so young and cute!

Barrels of wine are much more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

Sergio pouring some tastes in the cellar. 

And the vineyard mascot.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Treaty Oak Ranch: Open for Food, Fun, and Cocktails

Disclaimer: I have enjoyed Treaty Oak products since they were established in a variety of settings. This post is based after an enjoyable media preview of Treaty Oak Ranch.

Pretty in Pink is pretty tasty. Look for some highly inventive cocktails with housemade ingredients. This is the Madagascar Libre made withTreaty Oak rum, Moody’s vanilla bean soda, lime juice, and Angostura bitters.
Treaty Oak has opened their ranch, and everyone in Dripping Springs can rejoice. While there have been several “adult” venues opening up on west of Austin, the ranch is a one stop shop for outdoor games, delicious bites, and inventive cocktails. Did I mention there’s a distillery on the ranch?
My only disappointment was that Matt Moody did not do this shirtless like it is done in Japan. Shaved ice + cocktails +Texas Summer = #winning.

The tacos did not disappoint. Duck confit anyone?
Let’s be Frank, the adjective and not Underwood. you’re reading this and wondering what to eat and drink way out there. During our preview, we were presented with a variety of tacos made on site. These are not your traditional tacos, rather they are thoughtfully created tacos that are still approachable by those who aren’t quite ready to deviate from the norm. In addition to tacos, cocktails, and shaved ice deliciousness, we were also treated to booze infused housemade s'mores. The restaurant isn’t open yet, so we’ll save that for another day.
Roasting boozy marshmallows on a beautiful Texas evening is hard to beat.
Though still in the building process, the Treaty Oak Ranch is going to be a destination for outdoor fun with great food and drinks. They are currently open on weekends. Please check the website as hours may change.

Here's a peak at the appetizers served.

And tacos. More tacos.

And open top fermenters to round it out.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Celebrate 10 Years of Buenos Aires Cafe with a Gran Asado

Here's another look back at an Austin favorite. Buenos Aires Cafe has wined and dined Austinites for the last decade with fervor. Today, there are two locations: at the Galleria in Bee Caves and on East 6th Street. You’ll find the classic dishes of Argentina, and with the cold weather rolling in, I’m going to suggest the shepherds pie, Pastel de papas, on the menu. I had it on many cold nights with great pleasure. However, if you’re going to pop in for a quick lunch, please do try the Lomito beef. It is hands down one of my favorite sandwiches in central Texas. The meat is so perfectly done that all your vegan friends will go home and cry their little eyes out. 
Buenos Aires Gran Asado Grilled Meats: Morcilla, Chorizo, Mollejas, and tenderloin.
A few weeks ago, I attended a dinner to kick off the anniversary celebration. My take aways from that dinner was that the cocktail menu is something that deserves a second, third, and fourth look. I haven’t had many opportunities to enjoy the cocktails as my visits to the Bee Caves location are typically lunches. But make it a point to try the cocktails, even at lunch. Oh my goodness, they are delicious. A big thank you to Buenos Aires Cafe for inviting me out for a great anniversary celebration!

A traditional drink of Fernet and coke. 

Mother and Daughter Chef Reina Morris and Paola MG Smith share their passion with us.
Over the next few months, there will be some fun events to keep the celebration going.

Tour del Vino Argentino, Nov.2, 2015, at Cafe Este with Amy Stowers, their amazing beverage director. She knows her way around wine and cocktails. You won’t be disappointed.

Empanada Class, Nov. 3 at Cafe Galleria with Chef Reina Morris and Nov. 10 at Cafe Este with Paola MG Smith. We got a sneak peek at this during our Gran Asado afternoon, and it is something you’ll want to catch if you’re a empanada fan.
Fernets & Amaros, Nov. 4th, 2015 at Cafe Este with Ryan Smith. Relax and unwind with Ryan Smith as he explains and samples you on Argentina’s most beloved fernets & amaros.
Its Gnocchi Time, Nov. 5th, 2015 with Chef Reina Morris. Learn how to make our traditional potato gnocchi. To be enjoyed with our traditional marinara sauce and wine.
Gran Asado, Dec. 6th, 2015. This is the grand daddy of all events, and because there is limited seating, you might want to jump on it. I’ll have some photos of my experience of a traditional outdoor asado at Chef Reina’s property.

A big thanks again to Buenos Aires Cafe for inviting me to celebrate your 10th Anniversary!

Our Gran Asado started with olives and cheese.
And then we had a hands on empanada class. You get to see the lovely @FromMaggiesFarm, @BroylesA, @CuriousNotions, @WindAddict, @SFCLocal, and Chef Reina Morris

That's just enough empanadas for me. All for me. 

One can never get enough photos of meat. 

The grilled onion was perfect with the meats. It was smoky and sweet. 

Who can say no to this Gran Asado? On Dec. 6th, this could be all yours!

And lastly, alfajor de maicena: corn starch cookie filled with dulce de leche & rolled in coconut flakes. I only ate about four of these. About four, which could have been about fourteen. These delicate cookies are heavenly.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Emmer and Rye Brings Passion and Freshly Milled Flours to Rainey Street

Nested in the Sky House building on Rainey Street, Emmer and Rye is poised to be a new restaurant darling. "How can you say that before they open?" you might ask. I'll respond with a several qualitative data points gathered from a preview tasting.

These guys are going to rock it.

  1. They boast an all-star team. With Kevin Fink, Page Pressley, and Tavel Bristol-Joseph, impressive culinary pedigree, you better believe these chefs are going to bring something beautiful to the table.
  2. The team's passion is incredible. One of my favorite quotes from Chef Kevin is, "If I ever lost the ability to learn everyday, it would be the greatest travesty." Those are words you want every leader to be saying.
  3. Grinding grains from scratch. Not with bare hands, but with a fancy marvel of German engineering. I can't do justice on describing the different grains, techniques, and nuances of making your own flours. That task is best served by the Chefs themselves, but I have tasted the fruits of their labor. A restaurant that goes back to the basic, and I mean that far basic, is building a foundation on quality ingredients.
  4. Kevin Fink's Wife, Alicynn. Holy Cow. This woman's resume reads like a Michelin Star, and the way Chef Kevin introduced his wife makes you shed a tear. It couldn't be more blatantly obvious that their hearts and souls are in this endeavor.
  5. Somehow, after the tasting, I had a strong urge ride a bike along country roads in Denmark and tickle the flower blossoms as I go by. You probably won't get that same feel simply by enjoying the food at Emmer and Rye. But if you get a moment to chat with any of the staff, get ready to be inspired to do something crazy, like visit another country to taste their cuisine.
  6. Two words: preview tasting. I'll leave you with some appetite stimulating photos. Now put on your boots and run over as soon as they open at the end of October.

This is the marvel of German engineering, otherwise known as the miller. My favorite freshly milled grain was the fire thrust emmer. Freshly milled grain has a nuttiness and earthiness that is unforgettably aromatic. 

Our first course was Puffed Fire Threshed Emmer Cracker - Raw gulf shrimp, buttermilk, Springdale Thai chilies, fennel, amaranth blossoms, and puffed Sonoran white wheat berries.

And the second course was Fire Threshed Emmer Arrepa - Eggplant chow chow, toasted habanero, Malabar spinach blossom, sunflower, fermented peppers, and fermented apple cider vinegar. Did you know that the malabar comes from Hausbar Farm?

This toast was really tasty. I could survive on this quite well. Red Fife Sourdough Toast - Nixtamilized black eyed peas, golden eye creamer peas, garlic chive, mustard frill, and garlic blossoms.

Fourth up was Rye Garganelli -Windy hills goat, sweet and fermented peppers, hoja santa, papollo, and cultured butter.

Homemade goat cheese.

Dessert was Tres Leches Cheesecake -Three-layer cake with traditional Tres Leches cake topped with New York style cheesecake and a Malabar spinach berry glaze. This eye catching dessert was so beautiful, it was hard to stop looking at it.

Everything about this cake is just perfect, including the flavor.

This cake was on so delicious with the different textures and pop of color. I thoroughly enjoyed it with my eyes and tastebuds!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Community Building Secrets: they might come, but will they stay?

Have you really ever built a community? Like authentic community where people talk to each other, they identify with the community, shared philosophies, and were friends outside of the communication platform? If you're a brand, does your community align with industry organizations and the community? Does the community and industry organizations align with each other? Ideally, brands, communities, and industry organizations should overlap with each other.

Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. Many website and fan pages may boast large numbers of users, but they still lack a community. These sites might have transient users, users who don’t interact with each other, and users don’t identify with the site or activity.

The dirty truth is that building a real community takes hard work and long hours. You must nurture it, protect it, and lead it. You can’t just build the infrastructure for a community (like a Facebook page) and expect it to grow.  I've seen many organizations assume that just because they have infrastructure, they deserve to own the community members. Sorry, it just won’t happen. Here’s a great article by Erik Martin on managing Reddit’s community. Also, users aren't owned by organizations or brands unless they are paid employees.
The disadvantages of having a communities are that you are pretty much there, 24-7.
I’ve build several sites, and they don’t always have to be a community. It is nice to set a goals and boundaries on what you want for your website, blog, business, or hobby. Otherwise, building an online community can take over your entire life.

Follows are some basic activities that you must do when building an online community. They might seem pretty obvious, though in talking to people who seek answers on why community members never arrive or fail to stay; these are the core activities that are forgotten. I cannot stress enough the importance of each of these activities.
An example of a social graph.

  • Be present - Be there online. Be there offline. Be here at industry events. You can’t lead and you can’t build if you are not there. I hear people complain about the lack of attendance at events and lack of members, and my first question is “was all the leadership in attendance?” You might be surprised at how often that happens.
    • Be available - If you do in-house community management for a business, it can be rough looking at your feeds after hours. You need a break too; so spread out the monitoring duties with other team members or only check for urgent messages every few hours. My rule of thumb is that if it is an emergency, I’m available. Otherwise, it can wait.
  • Make connections - While building a community often means that you know everyone, one of your jobs should be that other members get to know other members. You need to make connections. It’s a group thing.  
    • Coordinate efforts between members - active and committed members in communities like to do things, and they are often the same things. Help members coordinate efforts and activities.
  • Recruit - for more mainstream communities (like food and automotives), content marketing and SEO may be great starts for a community. However, niche communities may require some serious recruiting. For some communities, I search in related groups or I call people, like with a phone. I actively ask people to help me recruit. I ask them to be ambassadors, and I ask for their feedback.
  • Market - think of the social benefits of your community, and market those value propositions. If your community has a bad rap, you need to re-position and re-brand your community. Focus on the value your community brings.
  • Create culture - make sure you curate in the fun and curate out the trolls and ugliness. Things people write on the Internet can be horrifying. No one wants to read that. Create a welcoming culture otherwise people will flee.
    • Stop the bickering - people will never agree on the Internet, but they can set aside the bickering and have fun instead. Life is too short to have thin skin or waste it being unhappy.
  • Create or integrate structure - Your community might already have some ongoing online or offline events. Create some online activities or integrate with other events that are already happening. In one of my niche dog groups, I do a monthly birthday card for all the dogs’ as well as yearly in-person events.

If you build it, they might come. If you nurture it and protect it, they will stay.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Taiwanese Aboriginal Cuisine: A Taste of Crickets

The quick scan of Taiwanese history is not short or without interesting stories. From native island dwellers, the influx of mainland Chinese immigrants, and Japanese rule, Taiwan is a melting pot of cultures with a unique cuisine. My cousin took us to an aboriginal themed restaurant. There was a show of singing, dancing, and drumming to entertain us during our meal. We were lucky enough to not get pulled into the line dance so we could observe from afar. I'm not opposed to dancing, but I am a bigger fan of eating.
The dancers were starting their slow descend on unsuspecting diners in order to turn them into dancers. *It was really that bad, but I wanted to eat crickets.
Here's some hot rock shrimp. They shrimp and hot rocks were covered and steamed.
These are baby corn in the husk that have been grilled. It was all the fun of eating corn on the cob wrapped up in a tiny package.
If you're going to squeamish about crickets on my blog, you should probably try some first. Crickets are surprisingly crunchy crouton-like. They add a very lovely dimension to dishes. Think of them like mini-lobsters. 
Squid is a big thing here. Everywhere you turn around, there's squid in a dish. It is a great thing that I'm quite fond of squid. Here it is with some basil.
Whole roasted chicken. This was exceptionally tasty.
Salt crusted whole fish was on the menu, and it was fantastic. I've raved about the quality of the seafood before, and I'll do it again. When you have access to fresh seafood, you can't help but to have it as often as you can and to love it.
Bell peppers, tofu, and sauce. This is a pretty standard Asian style dish.
Another popular set up in Taiwan are personal size propane burners for soup at the table.
And pretty standard Asian barbeque and sausage served with raw garlic and onions.
And this is one of the best noodle dishes I've had. The rice and noodle dishes here didn't look that much different from dishes I've had before. The difference seems to be that the level of umami is through the roof as compared to the same dishes I've had before.