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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. 

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