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

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. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Beer, Cheese, and Garrett Oliver - A Photo Post

Garrett Oliver came back for another tour of Austin. He comes every few years, and it is always a pleasure to meet Garrett Oliver. I've written about him before, and a blog post on his work wouldn't do him justice. But you get to enjoy some fun photos of his last appearance at the Draught House.

He always wins the "Best Dressed Man in Brewing" award from me. He's more put together than I am.

Antonelli's Cheese supplied the delicious cheese. If at any time Antonelli's is supplying the cheese, you want to be there.

Here's my unmolested plate and beers. Because I can just take pictures of a place without touching it.

While I don't have a long list of take-aways from this post, I will leave you with a short list of all the cheeses you should always have in the fridge in case company comes over.
  • Cheddar
  • Brie
  • Goat Cheese
  • Feta
  • Blue cheese of some kind

And always have a variety of beers in the fridge to go with the cheeses.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Inaccurately Classify Beer Enthusiasts

TL:DR: Classifying people by their favorite beer might be highly inaccurate and not all that useful.

*The beer community has rapidly changed in the last five years. With growth, there will be growing pains. And as much as legacy members try to indoctrinate newbies into the community'sculture, it has changed. Craft beer is becoming so popular now that it is almost getting a bad rap - as if it were a fad to go out of style in a few years. I would beg to differ that beer is a fad; beer has reportedly been around since the 5th millennium BC, and it is going to be here to stay. All photos by John M. P. Knox

However, its coverage in the media and growing number of consumers might make it appear as if it is just now getting popular. One might argue that indeed, the idea of beer with flavor and a story is just now getting popular.

The purpose of this post is to revisit the beer industry�s trajectory and provide some data-guided insights on what exactly is going on in the beer world. Before we get started on those posts, I have to clarify a few things about the beer industry that see to go hand in hand with its growing popularity.

Growing popularity means growing number of posts aimed to generate clicks and conversation. "What's does your favorite ________ say about you" is a common headline in in the food writing world. It is probably as popular as the "She *insert odd activity here", and you won't believe what happened next" lines. While it is a harmless opener for an article that is based on entertainment, it isn't always indicative of what actually happens, particularly when it comes to beer. While there might be some subsets of the beer community that fit into stereotypes based on what they like to drink, I haven't found that to be the norm.
Here's some other sample posts I'm referring to:
Whatever the case may be, the post really isn't about beer's popularity, but rather to correct something that I thought was a pretty inaccurate description of the core beer community. Let me be clear, there may be many people who might stand up and say, "I love Rye, and I'm in the beer community _______." Well, good for you, Mister/Madame N of 1. This blog isn't about you. It is about a subset of the community. Also, just because you are a consumer, it doesn't mean you are in the community.

If you're truly into beer. I mean really into beer. You're a die hard fan who answers to the name beer nerd. You appreciate the flavors of the yeast, and you can smell wort from five miles away. You probably enjoy a variety of beers. A different occasion calls for a different beer. You're more interested in enjoying the fruits of many breweries' labor as opposed to limiting yourself to only one type of beer. And even if you have a favorite style of beer, these stereotypes seem pretty darn inaccurate.

If you really wanted to classify beer community members, a better way might be to divide by their entree into the  beer community, their role in the beer community, by the state or country they live in, or by something else that does actually meaningfully group people in the community.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Look Back at the 2015 Austin Food and Wine Festival

As this year’s Austin Food and Wine Festival comes to an end, there were certainly some great changes made to the layout of the festival. The addition of more fire pits and more spacious layout of the tasting tents made for a smoother and more accessible experience. 

 A beautiful morsel from Chef Kocurek of Counter3fiveVII.

The addition of more restaurants from the Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio areas was a great move for veteran festival attendees. Let’s take a look back at some highlights from this year. 

Hendrick’s Gin did it again. Not only did that bring that behemoth of a negroni maker (above), they brought the gin hike complete with a punchbowl side car.

Here’s Fred Parent serving up a ginny-punch while on the bike. That’s pretty awesome. 

Best necklace at the festival was this necklace of pork hocks. It is better than my koozie on a lanyard.

Most stylish apron goes to Chef Kocurek of Counter3fiveVII. I love the bold look of leather and hardware paired with the neutral cloth. It reminds me of hanging out with horses, which is pretty awesome. Here he is hanging out with Kristi Willis.

Most awesome cake goes to Walton’s Fancy and Staple. While I didn’t get to eat this cake, it was certainly a head turner. 

Tastiest cake I actually got to eat goes to the avocado cheesecake from Corner Bar located in the JW Marriott downtown. The rich and creamy cake on a tart and eye catching berry sauce was a little piece of spring on a plate.

A little piece of nostalgia shout out goes to Qui for their grilled pineapple shaved ice - the snow version. This reminds me of my childhood Summers. Shaved ice on a humid day, and bike riding into the sunset. Minus the bike at the festival of course. 

And here's Jorge Hernandez of Qui shaving ice. Old World Style.

Three of Austin's shiny stars at the Austin Food and Wine Festival. From left to right, Chefs Page Pressley, Frank Mnuk, and Andrew Lewis. You can visit this handsome crew outside of the festival at St. Philip Pizza Parlor and Bakeshop. Don’t forget to get the Japanese cheesecake in the bakeshop.

The obligatory meat on a stick photo by Chef Shawn Cirkel. No festival in Texas is complete without things on a stick - topped with puffed mustard seeds is optional. These meaty morsels with pop spicy mustard were the perfect bite while enjoying a lovely cocktail and warm day.

Going the whole hog with Jack Allen’s Kitchen is turning into one of my favorites at the festival. This is another Texas thing - whole animals on a stick.

The fantastic display of knife work goes to Wu Chow for their amazing watermelon. Making pretty things out of fruit never ceases to amaze me. Whoever carved this baby has some serious brain surgery precision.

No festival is completely with a little bloody mary for your hangover needs. Luckily for us, Delysia made some sweet bloody mary truffles. That wraps up a pretty awesome Austin Food and Wine Festival.