Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time Magazine's Top 10 Food Trends of 2008

If there's one thing I love about this time of year, (and I say this without sarcasm) it's every magazine putting out their "Best of 2008" issues. As the writers of cracked.com would tell you, everything is better in list format.

Time Magazine is among my favorite year-end issues, mainly because they put out a top 10 list of just about everything. This year, coincidentally, they added (at least, I believe it's new) the "Top 10 Food Trends of 2008."

It's a pretty interesting read, and so I thought I'd share it with you all, adding my own two cents where I can.

1. Recession dining

I think it goes without saying that every retrospective of 2008, regardless of topic, is going to incorporate the economy in some fashion. I've stated time and again how thankful I am how plentiful Austin is with restaurants that serve food that is healthy, natural, and inexpensive.

2. Nanny-state food regulations

I am 100% whole-heartedly behind this movement that forces restaurants to post the nutritional content of their menu items. Even for those who are not specifically counting calories, the caloric content of some of our favorite foods can be downright shocking. Personally, I think it's a bit embarrassing for big-name chains like Chili's to continually refuse to release their nutritional content. To me, this is like an electronics store refusing to list the prices of their items.

3. Salmonella Saintpaul

As an avid Mexican food lover, nothing was more disruptive this year than the salmonella outbreak. Just when they declared tomatoes safe again and we thought we could all go back to the salsa, they tell us the source of the outbreak was tainted jalapenos. D'oh!

4. The war on bottled water

Agreed. Everyone needs to cut this bottled water nonsense, buy a reusable bottle, and drink from the tap. If you don't like the taste, buy a Brita filter, but I'd be willing to bet if we gave you the Pepsi challenge, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

5. The Clover coffee maker

Sadly, I have not gotten a chance to try one of these out. For those of you who don't know, this $11,000 coffee maker supposedly brews the holy grail of coffee cups. You can be sure that my next trip back to the Bay Area will include a search for one of the Starbucks's carrying this bad boy.

6. Caffeinated foods

Not really sure how I feel about this one. I feel like as a nation, we're already consuming enough caffeine that we don't even feel it any more. I'm not sure if the next thing we need is to be putting it into our water and candy.

7. Goat

I love goat. Han can't stand it. What I didn't realize, though, is that it's both healthier and environmentally-friendly that many of the other meats we regularly consume. Cabrito for everyone!

8. The backlash against local food

Man, oh man. I've definitely felt this year that every new book or article I read tells me to completely change the way I eat. "Eat organic, it's better for you and the environment." "No, organic is a corporate conspiracy, eat local." "No, local is worse for the environment than big farm." I'm not sure we're ever going to get to the bottom of this, but in the meantime, I think an indisputable good rule-of-thumb (aside from generally avoiding red meat) is to not eat things that are out of season. That way you know it probably wasn't shipped in from halfway across the world and it hopefully isn't loaded with preservatives. I usually check eattheseasons.com as a guide. If nothing else, it makes decision-making at the grocery a bit easier.

9. The year's most celebrated chef

The chef they are referring to is Grant Achatz, the Chicago chef who came back from tongue cancer, of all things, and is now one of the leading experts in molecular gastronomy (the science of cooking). A very inspiring story indeed. I definitely think I'm going to try adding molecular gastronomy to my list of hobbies for 2009.

10. Mex-Italian

Yeah, that picture in the article looks delicious, and after a quick google search, I don't believe Austin has yet to offer any Mex-Italian restaurants. Anyone out there in blogville know of any? Be sure to send any recommendations my way!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Din Ho Chinese BBQ

Though Austin sorely lacks a centralized "Chinatown" area, there are still excellent Chinese restaurants to be found. It just takes a little more effort to find them. (Yes, we're aware of that new shopping center up on Lamar, but the jury is still out.)

Din Ho Chinese BBQ, as far as we're concerned, is the creme de la creme of authentic Chinese food in Austin. It has everything you should look for in a good Chinese restaurant: great food, cheap prices, bad service, and orange slices with your check. You would think most restaurants would hide their meats in the kitchen until it's time to be served, right? Just like it is in China, Din Ho proudly displays its Peking ducks front and center right when you come in, like a Communist army of deliciousness. And of course, Din Ho passes the Mama Ong test of authenticity by providing a special section of the menu that you can only order from if you can speak and read Chinese.

Because it is a Chinese BBQ, Din Ho's menu is championed by the big three: roast duck, BBQ pork, and roast chicken. You can get any of these dishes solo or any combination of three, but I would recommend skipping the roast chicken and focusing on just the duck and pork. Both are quite tasty and delicious, particularly the BBQ pork, which is just about as good as I've ever had it.

The rest of the menu is very extensive, and one reason that I particularly like Din Ho is that it has several dishes that really set it apart from your average generic Chinese restaurant. Sure anyone can make chow mein and General Tso's chicken, but you won't find Din Ho's salted fish fried rice at many other places, and believe me, once you try it, you wish it were.

If I had one nit to pick with this place, it would just be that traditional Peking duck is served as a three-course meal: a duck soup, a lettuce wrap-style dish, and finally the duck itself, served with steamed buns. For some reason, Din Ho opts only to serve the last dish, which was disappointing.

For those of you asking what the difference is between roast duck and Peking duck, roast duck is merely duck tossed into a broiler. Peking duck is similar but has a much more extensive preparation process that includes salting and inflating the duck (don't ask) prior to roasting, and this process makes the skin extra delicious and crispy, almost like cracklings. Also Peking duck is about three times more expensive than the roast duck, which may be the most important difference of all for the undistinguishing palate.

In short, if your concept of Chinese food is like Pei Wei or PF Changs, greaseless and served over brown rice, you're going to need to look elsewhere. Din Ho BBQ is the real deal, trust us.

Din Ho Chinese BBQ
8557 Research Blvd Ste 116

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Clay Pit

Hey folks. Before we get started, just wanted to give a quick shoutout to Addie at Relish Austin!

Ah the Clay Pit. This was actually our second visit to the place, and we had high hopes it would go better than the first. I'll spare you all the details but I learned an important life lesson that night: never ever eat a bunch of Indian food and then go watch 'Cloverfield' from the front row at the Alamo Draft House.

That said, the food was so delicious the first time (going down, anyways) that we were happy to make a return trip, this time with friends.

First off, the Clay Pit follows a very delightful trend we've discovered in Austin: top-of-the-line food in a really nice atmosphere at prices that are actually affordable. (The more time I spend in Austin, the more I realize that there is a large population in Houston that enjoys spending money just to spend it.)

I would definitely recommend reservations though. Weekends especially can get pretty harried, and had we not made them ahead of time, it looked like our party of 5 would have been in for an extensive wait.

We started off our dinner with a few appetizers. The curried mussels are a must-have. And our weakness for fried calamari pretty much mandated us to order the coriander calimari, which wasn't anything particularly special (some Chinese-style spiciness) but the portion was pretty hefty and good for even a larger party.

The curry dishes, not surprisingly, are the house specialty, but you won't find your standard stoplight fare here (green, yellow, or red, har har). The Tikka Masala is always a favorite, but the Mirch Masala adds a spicy jalapeno kick to the classic dish. But if you feel like indulging yourself, definitely go for the self-described "sinfully rich" Korma curry, which mixes cashew, almond, pistachio, and coconut into a sweet creamy curry sauce.

For my dish, I solicited the help of our waitress who immediately suggested the Lamb Roganjosh without hesitation, and after tasting the dish I could definitely see why. The lamb was the most tender I had ever tasted and the curry sauce was tasty and rich.

One thing to definitely be aware of: I've referenced earlier my love of spicy food and my propensity for biting off more than I can chew, so to speak. Be aware that when you order any of your dishes "hot" instead of "mild," THEY DO NOT MESS AROUND AT THE CLAY PIT. If you can handle the Blazin' wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, you should have no problem with the hot dishes at the Clay Pit. Otherwise be prepared to take a little bit more time to finish. The Clay Pit boasts an additional level of hot, called Desi Hot (which roughly translates to "hot even for a real Indian person"), and I can only begin to imagine what that would do to non-Desi tastebuds.

The bartenders at the Clay Pit are a talented creative bunch. Their bloody marys are definitely recommended. But their mixed drinks do run on the small size, so you may rack up quite the bill, especially if you're downing them one after the other trying to put out the fire in your mouth. If staying power is your goal, order the Taj Mahal beer, which gives you a Maharaj-sized glass of beer for less than most of the mixed drinks.

The Clay Pit
1601 Guadalupe