July 19th, 2016

Paul Qui’s Newest offering In Austin – Otoko

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Celebrity Chefs, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

Otoko
1603 S. Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78704

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Recently myself and a group of friends had the opportunity to dine at Paul Qui’s newest offering, Otoko. Launched out of the brand new South Congress Hotel, Otoko has been well received and heavily talked about in food circles. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement.

The journey to the restaurant began up an unmarked staircase to a covered platform. There we found a great door with OTOKO written in perforated, backlit steel to its right. I couldn’t help but muse that a secret knock or password was needed to enter. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case.

We were greeted cheerfully in a small, backlit entryway by a well-dressed hostess. The intent was very clear the moment you enter: you are somewhere exclusive and there is no room for a crowd. This was reinforced by the modest size and limited seating of the Watertrade, Otoko’s bar open to the public on a reservation only basis.

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Faintly by Edison bulbs, Watertrade is lined with polished stainless steel and warm leather furniture, elegantly modern in design. Drinks include craft cocktails, often including sake, wines, sparkling offerings, and a fine selection of Japanese whiskeys. After a few minutes of drinking and carrying on, a suited man collected us for our seating in the restaurant.

The dining room itself consists of a very intimate, twelve seat bamboo counter placing you in the front row of Chef Yoshi Okai’s culinary spectacle. As the first seating of the evening, the room was particularly intimate. A rear-lit, enveloping glass fixture with dark slats suggestive of shoji screens extends from floor to ceiling, creating a flow and connection between the dining room and kitchen.

The meal is an omakase experience, meaning the dishes are selected by the chef based on ingredient availability and seasonality. The twenty course offering blends Tokyo-style sushi with Kyoto-style kaiseki (multi-course dinner), each one masterfully designed and presented.

Sakizuke

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The amouse-bouche of the evening was diced jellyfish in uni sauce. I found the firm texture of the jellyfish delightful, especially against the richness of the fried shiitake garnish. Cucumber brought a lightness to the dish while acidic finger limes cut through the unctuous uni sauce. The broth was so pleasing I asked permission to drink it directly from the bowl. The Chef appreciated this.

Zensai

With prickly pear and Wood Ear mushroom, this starter did not disappoint. Sweet and savory flavors with contrasting textures were brought together with a sour saltiness of the umeboshi sauce.

Sushi

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Of the nine sushi dishes provided none failed to excite the palate. The Shigoku oyster with steelhead roe compromised nothing as it came full force with a salty, smoked profile cut ingeniously with a refreshingly bright turks cap flower.

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The Mishima wagyu beef was sinfully rich and utterly addicting. Topped unapologetically with onion-y negimiso sauce and minced chives, the boldness of this piece burnt itself into my memory.

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Anyone who loves seafood loves uni. The Hokkaido uni was far and away the best I have personally had. Hearty in flavor without the acrid metallic taste of lesser quality unis. Complimented with freshly grated wasabi and hearty white sturgeon caviar, I fear that this will become the ruler by which all future uni is measured.

Mukouzuke

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Literally meaning “placed to the side,” mukouzuke refers to an open ceramic bowl used to serve slices of sashimi, likely in a sauce. The standout among these two courses was the Suzuki (Japanese seabass), with kyuri, tomatoes, and mint in a ponzu sauce. Light, aromatic, and delightfully fresh, this prepared my palate for the rest of the meal.

Yakimono

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This was the course that stole the show, literally. Skillfully cut Hamachi fish touched subtly with a smoldering Binchotan charcoal and finished with a smoked tamari sauce. This is one of those flavors that haunts you for life. Just a smoky, salty, umami bomb that makes bacon seem obsolete. That was as weird to write and it is for you to read, I’m sure.

Mushimono

Goma dofu with flavorful sauces of tsuyu and kurogoma. Spiced with freshly grated wasabi and balanced with perfumes of shiso. I was surprised by how light the texture of the dofu was, almost similar to a firm custard or panna cotta.

Agemono

Nasu, or Japanese eggplant, was fried kara age style and topped with house made natural MSG, sesame oil and the bright garlic-onion flavor of chives. Great crunch and saltiness along with the clean taste of the nasu made this dish a winner.

Shirumono

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I found this course to be the most complex and intriguing of them all. An heirloom tomato broth containing herbaceous mitsuba, firm zucchini, and crunchy pine nuts topped with unripened avocado. This was an ingenious play on sweet and sour flavors with great fatty richness. The addition of black truffle oil solidified the soup into what I can only describe as a world class Japanese gazpacho.

Mizumono

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This seasonal dessert was comprised of plump blackberries and blueberries with a charmingly tart puree of yuzu which provided flavors of grapefruit a mandarin orange. A wonderful sorbet style course segueing into the rich, final dessert.

Kanmi

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The nickname “Mushroom Mountain” deftly describes the stunning dessert course. Chocolate capped shimeji mushrooms with crispy tofu croutons, a goat’s milk frozen yogurt pyramid and freeze dried soy sauce. Brought together with condensed soy milk, this dish displayed not only Chef Yoshi’s skill with design and flavor, but his playfulness and lack of pretense.

Summary

Overall the menu was well-balanced and quite comprehensive without being bloated or unnecessary. It blended unique flavor profiles, traditional Japanese techniques, and careful touches of molecular gastronomy. Ingredient quality stood forefront, driven by masterful execution and thoughtful progression. Chef Yoshi was charming and very personable, making you feel as welcomed as a guest in his home. The staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and skillfully distant. While the ticket price may seem daunting at $150.00, the remarkable experience makes it well worth the cost. Otoko represents the true artistry and balance of Japanese cuisine. We’re lucky to have it here in Austin.

June 16th, 2016

Austin Eats Series: Ramen

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Celebrity Chefs, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

If a great bowl of Ramen is what you’re hungering for the city of Austin has you covered. Austin has developed a world-class food scene recognized nationally by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, thrilllist.com and Travel + Leisure magazine. That’s a pretty impressive resume!

So it would make sense that if Ramen’s your game, Austin’s your place. With that in mind we’re going visit and compare three of Austin’s most well-known, and highly regarded, Ramen haunts. But first, we need to know more about this inexplicably addictive noodle-soup.

History

The history of Ramen is messy, hotly debated, and incredibly fascinating. For the sake (not saké) of brevity we won’t go into the specifics of it, but check out this article if you’re interested. What we need to know is that Ramen originated in China but became hugely popular in Japan due to its low cost and satiating nature. It was considered a unique reflection of the chef and an act of rebellion.

After being all but wiped out due to the food and fuel shortages during WWII, instant ramen was introduced in 1958, which forever changed the perception of the dish. Instant ramen gained popularity, dropped in price thanks to mass production (I’m looking at you Maruchan), and became ubiquitous with college-dorm life.

To know what truly makes ramen different then other noodle soups you have to look at the noodle itself. Unlike rice and udon noodles, ramen noodles are made with sodium carbonate, an alkaline salt produced by baking sodium bicarbonate (thanks for the recipe David Chang!). This produces the yellow color and elasticity we have come to expect from ramen noodles.

Luckily for foodies, restaurants like Rai Rai Ken and culinary leaders such as David Chang and Ivan Orkin have put the “soul” back in ramen with their inspired creations. This has birthed a market for “gourmet” ramen, which, coincidentally, just reflects the dish’s original nature.

The Eats

Okay, now on to the good stuff. Let’s compare Austin’s three heaviest hitters in the ramen scene.

#3. Komé

http://www.kome-austin.com/

With an elegantly minimalistic interior, juxtaposed bamboo and cerulean blue walls, and an exposed sushi counter, Komé feels akin to stepping into a traditional Japanese sushi den. It’s bright and quiet, with the chatter of guests providing the only soundtrack.

Only three ramen appear on the menu: tonkotsu, miso, and vegan miso. Very traditional in style with beautiful design, the Tonkotsu and Miso broths are light, delicate, and have a definitive scale of flavors. If you, like me, find them a bit lacking in assertion, you can add in a spicy kimchi side. The ramen noodles are springy, tender, and have great texture.

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Overall it’s apparent Komé’s goal is to offer very traditional and subtle ramen options. While their vegan ramen was surprisingly flavorful, and the caramelization of the chashu in the tonkotsu was wonderful, the lack of complexity and creativity left Komé flat in the ramen department.

Side Note: The takoyaki (squid dumplings) are a true thing of beauty, don’t sleep on them

#2. Michi Ramen

http://www.michiramen.com/

Right off the bat, Michi Ramen comes at you with high energy and creativity. The music is loud, the walls are adorned by local artists, and the bar takes center stage with a generous selection of drafts. It’s dark, it’s utilitarian, it’s to the point. With big screen TVs playing live sports in main view Michi definitely comes across as a bar first, restaurant second. But don’t let that fool you, there’s talent in that kitchen.

Michi offers an unparalleled amount of innovation on their menu, which includes ten ramen options, three of which are changing seasonal creations. From there you choose from three different broth types: light, regular, and stout (which I can only describe as a concentrated flavor grenade). Care for something extra in your ramen? No problem, you can have any of the twenty-six toppings to make your ramen as unique as you.

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The ramen noodles were angel hair thin while maintaining great dexterity. The tonkotsu broth is definitely one of the absolute best I’ve taste. And while Michi gets tons of extra credit for ingenuity, they get docked for execution. The Texas ramen falls flat with a heavily seasoned but ultimately bland broth and a fairly chewy BBQ pork rib.

They’ve got this for a redeeming factor though, the chashu “burnt ends” are moist, tender, and packed with flavor. The chashu don starter could be a stand-alone meal, and one I would happily order.

#1 Ramen Tatsu-Ya:

http://ramen-tatsuya.com/

Bold, hip, loud, Austin. Four words that describe Ramen Tatsu-Ya to it’s core. From the moment you’re faced with the mural of Japanese fan art along the entry wall (where you will likely wait to gain entry) to grabbing a box seat in the predominately wood grain dining room, you’ll thing only one thing: awesome. Tatsu-Ya is unabashedly audacious and thoroughly dedicated to its craft of making ramen.

The tonkotsu is rich and luxurious, with an incredible mouth feel and clean flavor profile. My personal favorite, the mi-so-hot, packs an intense punch of miso and red chile. I recommend adding in kikurage (woodear mushroom) and beni shoga (pickled ginger) to provide some balance to the heat. And don’t worry vegetarians, they’ve got you covered with an equally delicious veggie ramen that offers complex flavor and full-bodied umami.

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Tatsu-Ya’s ramen noodles have great integrity and flavor, perfect color, and come piled high. The various bombs and extra toppings allow you to add a personal touch to any of their seven ramen options.

Overall Ramen Tatsu-Ya nails the dish in every way. From creativity to execution, they are on point. The painstaking amount of effort they put into their tonkotsu broth cannot be subdued by even the most complex flavor arrangement on the menu. Seriously, try to, it can’t be done. Combine that with the hip ambience, unique starters (the Sweet & Sour Yodas are like candy), and local buzz and you’ve got a real winner in my book.

Hope you enjoyed this version of Austin Eats. Check back soon as we take on another Austin staple: Tacos!

Cheers!

March 8th, 2016

How High Speed Home Delivery Will Change How We Eat in 2016

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Marketing, Product Innovation, Promotions, Restaurants, Retail, Trends

If you are craving a burger, but don’t feel like leaving the house, you’re not alone. According to Technomic’s 2016 food trends, the shift to eating in is driving significant growth in the easy order app sector, allowing consumers to order from the comfort of their couch. This trend toward cozy dinners in front of the TV, while watching Netflix in your pajamas, is just beginning to pick up traction. And it’s not limited to fast food either: Safeway and Meijer will deliver your groceries. It’s estimated up to 17 percent of grocery shopping to be done online by the year 2023.

Let’s look at some of the major players in the food delivery sector:

Uber: this rideshare giant has cornered the market in transporting people. They even have some novel offerings, such their ‘puppy delivery service’. Essentially bringing adoptable puppies to you for a play date. This summer they delivered free ice cream if you ordered through the app. A partnership with InterContinental Hotels Group allows riders to earn points towards their stay at participating hotels. And yes, Uber is getting into the food delivery business with Uber Eats, their food delivery platform. Serving 12 cities, including Paris and Toronto, they guarantee a 10 minute delivery within a very limited delivery range. Once you order the food, you just pick it up curbside. How simple is that?

Amazon: they have the drones, they have Amazon Prime, and now they have Amazon Prime Now, which can deliver anything from groceries to cleaning supplies in under 2 hours. That time is cut in half with an order of food arriving within 1 hour. The current delivery area is limited, serving only seven cities as of March 2016. They do have an advantage over the Uber model in that they seem to cover a larger area, you just have to wait a little longer. They even offered free cookies during the holiday season as a promotion.

Postmates: also an up and coming delivery service that features a plethora of items for delivery. Get your groceries and lunch with a delivery fee starting at an affordable $4.99. They also offered for the holidays a “12 days of Christmas” promotion where you could choose from an array of gifts to be delivered each day of the promotion. They have signed agreements with Chipotle, McDonald’s and Starbucks.

Doordash: established in 2013, they are a relative fledgling in the delivery service industry. Regardless, DoorDash has already managed to secure contracts with Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts. They are also in a pending litigation with In-N-Out regarding delivery of their food without permission. The lawsuit calls into question the issues of food safety and trademark infringement. Brand identity and food safety are pretty critical to any chain establishment, so the outcome of this lawsuit could set the tone for the future of delivery service companies.

EatOutIn: This model employs an interface where the order is sent to the restaurant and an independent driver in the local area are notified when a delivery is ready. One of the first entrants into this market, the company has been serving the Austin, TX area since 1986 with recent expansions to San Antonio and Houston.

Grubhub: one of the pioneers of the food delivery industry and the one you are probably most familiar with, Grubhub has the largest delivery base, including over 1000 cities and more than 40,000 restaurants. Their “Track Your Grub” feature gives real time updates on the status of your order. The recently merged with Seamless and formed GrubHub, Inc. in August 2013. Dedicated to bringing the best delivery dining experience, the company offers 24/7 order support to its customers.

 

February 22nd, 2016

Marketing Your Food Brand to the Customers You Love

Posted in About Allison, Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Marketing, Promotions, Restaurants, Trends

We all know that proper marketing of your food brand is just as critical as the food you serve your customers. Effective marketing differentiates your concept from the next, defines your audience, and connects you to them in a positive way.

One of the most powerful ways to bond with your customers is through emotion. Your beliefs and values are what attract customers to your company, so your brand and marketing are critical to maintaining loyalty. How you convey your mission to your customer sets the tone for any future interactions.

Here are some ways that well-known brands are building successful consumer relationships:

ZPizza: their Nice zSLice program is a partnership with 200 nationwide schools to reward kindness. Each October during National Bullying Prevention month, teachers can offer complimentary coupons for slices of pizza to students as a way to reward kind behavior towards others. The initiative also includes pizza parties and materials that educators can use in the classroom.

Chick-Fil-A: just announced in early January, the “Moms” valet service is a new program to help hectic families make the ordering process easier. Parents with little kids can first order through the drive-through, requesting a valet. Once they receive their order in the car, they dine in the restaurant, at an assigned table including the exact number of high chairs that the family needs. The idea came from seeing young families struggle with the ordering process all while trying to wrangle the little ones. Once again, Chick-Fil-A honors its commitment to its family values.

Red Mango: the company created its Raw6 one-day juice cleanse with the help of Erika Bernhard, a registered dietician with Crave Nutrition Solutions LLC. The Raw6 retails for $42.00 and includes 6 specially crafted fruit and vegetable juice combinations. The program, developed with the healthy consumer in mind, provides a juice cleanse that is easy and approachable for the consumer. The products provide a healthy cleanse option without having to compromise on nutrition.

&Pizza: the brand has been offering free “&” tattoos to its employees, more commonly known as the “tribe”, for the past year. It also offers the free tattoo to its loyal customers once they spend $1500.00. They consider their brand, a “human” brand, and the “&” tattoo is clearly aligned with their core value set and celebration of “oneness”.

Pizza Patron: in an effort to their appreciation to veterans, Pizza Patron just launched its “Veterans Por Favor” program. Fully qualified and honorably discharged veterans will get the $20,000 fee on their first restaurant waived by the company. The program, set to run through the end of 2016 and available in Texas, makes a franchise offering a reality for candidates with the qualifications but not the bankroll.

Nekter Juice Bar: in a program clearly targeted to consumers trying to eat healthier, Nekter has designed a program to instill healthy habits in its consumers. Titled “21 Days of Nekter”, it represents the minimum number of days it takes to instill a new habit. As part of the program, they also offer a 6 bottle cleanse, including Activated Charcoal Lemonade and Green Nut Milk, as well as two seasonal soups (“Creamy” Tomato and Butternut Squash).

DQ: in a new twist, DQ is offering their blizzards served to the customer upside down. This is a call out to their values of quality and started January 1st. If your blizzard is not served to you upside down, your next one is free. The new program highlights the company’s philosophy of offering innovative and unexpected flavors and trends.

How do you connect with your consumers? In the end, your ability to interface effectively with your audience is critical to your brand success.

February 8th, 2016

The Next Great Superfood

Posted in About Allison

With increasing consumer interest in health and well-being, manufacturers and operators are always looking for ways to deliver the health message in new and inventive ways. Superfoods, known for their wealth of nutrients and antioxidants, are attractive to consumers because of their nutrient density. You’ve heard of quinoa and kale and everyone raving about green tea and chia. So what does the next crop of superfoods look like?

Achacha: native to the Amazonian basin of Bolivia, its Guarani name is achachairú, which literally means “honey kiss”. A smaller relative of the mangosteen, the achacha is a low sugar fruit. Its flavor is described as combination of bananas with vinegar. Loaded with potassium, vitamin C, and folate, it is said to contain HCA (hydroxycitric acid) in large quantities in its skin. HCA is the same active ingredient in Garcinia Cambogia, which is rumored to be a natural appetite suppressant.

Baobab: a tree native to the continent of Africa, it produces a fruit that is very high in vitamin C  and vitamin D (reputed to contain 6 times the vitamin C of an orange equivalent, and double the calcium of milk – National Geographic blog). It is also a great natural thickening agent, with an extremely high pectin count (upwards of 25% by some reports). Flavor-wise, it tastes like a mild pear. But what manufacturers really love is the low water activity, which make processing a simple straightforward process. Expect to find this in predominantly powdered form as an additive to drinks such as smoothies. Baobab Foods in Washington State, produces Baobites™, loaded with the antioxidants, it is the perfect on-the-go bite. Flavors include peach mango, blood orange and pomegranate.

Moringa: also an African native, moringa is loaded with antioxidants and minerals. It is a powerhouse of protein (double that of yogurt), potassium (three times that of bananas), and calcium (quadruple that of calcium). In Africa, it is referred to as the miracle tree. Farms are already popping up all over the Southwestern U.S., which has a similar climate to their native habitat. It is typically taken in tea form, but is also a common ingredient in skin care products.  One new entrant to the retail market is from Kuli Kuli: Moringa Green Energy Shots. Loaded with moringa, in flavors such as ginger lemon, coconut lime, and raspberry, the moringa in these products is directly source from Haiti, specifically women’s co-ops. Good for you, and good for sustainable farming, it’s a win for everyone.

Chlorella: algae is arguably one of the most abundant plant forms in the world, and is a veritable nutritional goldmine. Not only that, but algae has a low cost of production versus other plants. One of the main algal-derived products is algal oil. Solazyme is one company banking on the success of algal food products. One of their products, AlgaVia, contains 63% protein.  Many food manufacturers are already using their products, including Enjoy Life Brownie Mix, Rising Hearts Vegan Brioche, and Califa Farms Coffee Creamer.

Chocho: an Andean lupine bean that is dense and rich in protein. While it does fit the criteria for a superfood, based on its nutritional profile (it has higher protein than either soy or quinoa), manufacturers may be deterred due to its long processing time: it’s high in alkaloids, so requires soaking, rinsing, and extended cooking times. This could hamper its viability in the market place, so don’t expect this one on your supermarket shelves anytime soon.

Cloudberry: naturally occurring above the 44N Latitude marker, cloudberry have a wide distribution, all the way from Scotland to the Arctic Circle. They are similar to raspberries in their appearance and possess a tart flavor. Cloudberries have a long shelf life if stored under refrigeration, due to their high vitamin C content, and at one time were a remedy to prevent scurvy in the Nordic areas. While the majority of production is through wild foraging, commercial production is on the rise.

Stay on the lookout for these superfoods in a supermarket or café near you, it is just a matter of time before you too can enjoy a baobab smoothie.

 

January 20th, 2016

Austin Restaurant of the Month: Dai Due

Posted in About Allison, Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Recipes, Restaurants, Trends

DaiDue (800x600)

 

Another Austin restaurant found its way onto the Bon Appetit best new restaurants for 2015. Dai Due, the labor of love for chef Jesse Griffiths, is equal parts farm-to-table and upscale butchery with an innovative cocktail program thrown in for good measure. Placing at number 6 on the list, the restaurant started out as a farmer’s market stall, a small format culinary school offering classes in butchery and an underground supper club.

With its brick and mortar opening last August, Dai Due has continued to gain momentum and buzz with its interesting and forward-thinking dishes. Equal parts diner and supper club, the restaurant opens for breakfast and lunch, closing at 3pm for the supper club reset. We decided to sample some of the breakfast and lunch menu items for our foray into the Dai Due universe.

 

Mezze

 

Since they are known for their seasonal focus we started with the Centex Mezze.  Featuring ‘house made feta, house-cured olives, sweet potato hummus, sprouted wheat and dried tomato tabouli, venison and kale dolmas, radish top pkhali, and house grilled flatbread’, this plate was a symphony of flavors. The sweet potato hummus was flavored with garlic and just a touch of tahini and cumin, then drizzled with olive oil. The house cured olives had a subtle briny garlic taste, and the flatbread was slightly smoky from the wood burning oven. Among the more surprising tastes were the sprouted wheat berry tabouli and the radish top pkhali. Pkhali is a Georgian dish composed of greens, nuts, spices such as fenugreek, and garlic olive oil that is pureed into a dip. It was one of my favorite flavors on the board.

 

OysterPambazo

 

Our next side trip came packaged in a house made chile drenched sesame bun. Covered with masa coated oysters, julienned watermelon radish, cilantro and chorizo Mexicano, this pambazo was a flavorful and well executed sandwich that was served with pickled jalapenos for those that like their sandwiches with a little more heat.

Hash

 

Known for their house charcuterie and smoked meats, we couldn’t leave without sampling some of their specialty meats. We decided on the hash because of the variety of meats as well as some more interesting vegetable additions, namely scarlet turnips and beet ketchup. While I loved the various house cured meats, I have to say that the local sweet potatoes were the star. Sweet and clean with just a hint of smoke, they were the epitome of the Dai Due philosophy: buy it fresh, buy it local and know your farmer.

SweetSquashEmpanada

 

What better way to finish a delicious meal than a spot of dessert? My dining partner has a terrible weakness for all things squash, so the sweet buttercup squash empanada with natilla was the obvious choice. I have to say that this dessert was something I might eat every day. They have mastered the crust, which was perfectly flaky and crisp. The filling was a delicately sweet squash with just a hint of warming spices. We ate this with our fingers, unabashedly dipping into the natilla custard. And someone at the table (not me) finished off the natilla with one generous swig.

 

FrontFacePatio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would say that our visit to Dai Due was a resounding success and the first of many visits to come.

December 28th, 2015

The Latest LTOs: What’s To Eat Over Christmas Break

Posted in About Allison

The holiday season always brings with it a special set of flavors and foods that we all look forward to eating. Think pumpkin, cranberry, turkey, gingerbread and peppermint. Here are the latest to grace the holiday table:

Torchy’s Tacos: Austin’s own Torchy’s Tacos has a Taco-of-The-Month program and the December feature is the South Pole which is available between December 1 and 31.    Available at all 34 locations, the special features braised leg of lamb topped with a slightly sweet cranberry-habanero jam, fresh avocado, Diablo Hot Sauce, cotija cheese, cilantro, and French-fried onions. I actually tried this taco and the lamb was very well seasoned and tender. I would definitely recommend it if you are in Texas around Christmas time.

Bruster’s Ice Cream:  Bruster’s is celebrating the holiday with two seasonal flavors, Chocolate Peppermint and Eggnog. The Chocolate Peppermint features a velvety chocolate ice cream with red and green peppermint candy pieces swirled in. The Eggnog version features custardy vanilla notes.  Enjoy them plain, in a cone, or with your favorite sundae toppings.

Dog Haus: This southern California eatery touts itself as a craft hot dog concept. Featuring 100% beef skinless wieners. Their seasonal LTO centers on that Louisiana legend the Turducken. A sausage made with turkey, duck, chicken, cranberries, and sweet potatoes is topped with sage gravy, crispy onions and a Brussels sprout-bacon slaw. According to Adam Gertler, the company’s official würschmacher (that’s sausage maker to you and me), the sausage was also inspired by holiday sides including stuffing and the ubiquitous green bean casserole.

Einstein Bros. Bagels:  Gingerbread is one of my favorite seasonal flavors and Einstein Bros. loves it too. Just in time for Christmas, they released the Gingerbread Bagel, featuring the classic spices of your favorite holiday cookie. The Nutcracker bagel also premiers this year. It starts with a French toast bagel, and from there, it’s topped with maple schmear, bacon and walnuts.

Buffalo Wild Wings: though not entirely holiday related I did have to include the new wing flavor from Buffalo Wild Wings.  Mountain Dew flavored wings  were developed in conjunction with the Citrus Bowl which takes place on New Year’s Day. Dressed in Mountain Dew, soy, ginger and red pepper notes, the wings are available starting December 14th. Buffalo Wild Wings flavor combination should be no surprise since they started the Sauce Lab last year as a showcase for new and innovative wing flavors.

Enjoy your holidays and don’t forget to try one of these delicious holiday-inspired treats!

December 10th, 2015

Technology for the R&D Professional

Posted in About Allison, Product Innovation, R&D Technology, Trends

For Research and Development teams, one thing is sure: getting your products to market as quickly as possible is the key to staying ahead of the competition. Today’s technology takes the R&D Development team well beyond Excel spreadsheets, paper forms and disjointed software systems. The future of food product development lies not in fragmented and disconnected programs but rather in a fully functioning solution that integrates all steps of the R&D process while linking it to critical company information.

From prototype development, and formulation, all the way up through taste tests with customizable surveys, online integrated solutions are the wave of the future.

Flavorstudio Suite

One company looking to change how the research and development department works is Senspire, LLC. Started in Palo Alto, California by Gregory Willis, Senspire has developed the Flavorstudio Suite as a powerful workhorse that allows the development chef to accelerate the development life cycle. A truly powerful management tool, the online platform is broken down into 4 distinct modules: Projects, Inspire, Recipes and Taste Tests.

Projects Module

You can create projects, tasks and subtasks with deadlines; assign tasks to team members; add customers; and set project priorities. The repository allows team members to upload or download documents related to the project. You can also send messages to the team through the messages link.

Inspire Module

Here you have the ability to create flavor relationships. Start by searching for an ingredient, in this case, we will use garlic. You can create weak or strong relationships between the ingredient and other ingredients. The database is 1,000,000 items strong, so the combinations are endless. What the Inspire module does well is show the strongest flavor relationships between multiple ingredients, lending ease to the development process, especially in unfamiliar territory. In addition, the Inspire module is where one can create recipes. There is also the ability to share the recipes and scale up the recipes by changing the batch size. Want to know how much the recipe will cost? No problem, there is even a built in yield and cost option.

Recipe Module

The warehouse for all of your company’s recipes. Here you can view your current recipes, share them with colleagues, and even create new versions of the recipe. A tab along the top shows all versions in order so that you can compare changes between versions. And you can add ingredients to a subcategory. For example, let’s say you work for a spice company. To maintain better organization, you can create a subcategory titled “Spice Blends” and then add all of your spice recipes to the subcategory. It is an easy way to ensure consistency and efficiency in the process.

Taste Tests

The last module is designed to help elicit feedback from consumers, whether internal or external. The module allows you to create a taste test, set time and location parameters, add products (from your recipes module) and add tasters. It can even be set up to require a login to do the survey. You can publish the taste test, which links it to a specific project as well, and you can duplicate a taste test for efficiency.

One other part of the software that is an excellent organizing tool is the Admin section. In this section, you can add customer profiles; import recipes and costing; configure the parameters for formulation, ingredients and recipes; and set yields and costs. You can also set parameters for projects in this section, including fields visible in the dashboard.

What makes this online suite so useful above everything else is its accessibility. If you have an internet connection, you have access to the database, making it a truly convenient option.

For a better feel for Flavorstudio capabilities, start a free 7-day trial at http://www.senspirellc.com/

Alpha MOS Electronic Nose

Another challenge to R&D professionals is the matching process. We are often times asked to replicate a product without access to the formula. Relying on the human tongue can be subjective at best. By isolating the volatile chemicals in a sample, devices such as the electronic nose can accelerate the formulation step.

Electronic noses employ gas chromatography to verify chemical makeup as well as olfactometry, which can determine odor and concentration.  The combination of technologies provides a powerful solution to the issue of product consistency as well as robust analysis of product components to make effective formulation revisions.

Alpha MOS specializes in providing top solutions for flavor and order analysis. Want to make sure your products are consistent? Want to crack the code on an elusive flavor note? The Fox electronic nose is easy to use but can break down volatile chemicals and aromas with respect to concentration, origin of products and shelf life.

The model consists of 3 components: the headspace autosampler, the electronic nose unit and the software package.

The headspace autosampler can house up to 96 samples and a large vessel 750mL sampling oven. Sample headspace is generated so that the detection system sensors can identify the volatile chemical present in the sample.

From there, the samples are analyzed by the electronic nose. The Fox model houses up to 18 sensors, allowing for very fast and accurate analysis of bench samples with minimal sample preparation.

The integrated software then takes the data gathered by the electronic nose and generates and output depending on requested criteria.

With all of these features, the Alpha MOS line of products is a formidable development tool, and one you should consider having in your arsenal.

If you are looking for a more entry level model, Alpha MOS also offers an electronic tongue, the Astree. The model allows for a global analysis of compounds in solution. It can determine shelf life as well as offer taste comparisons to other samples. While not as robust as the Fox model, it can provide broad insight into the makeup of a compound mixture.

As you can see, technology advancements can make the development process all that more streamlined, assisting the development team at meeting and beating development timelines.

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November 11th, 2015

Austin Restaurant of the Month: Violet Taco

Posted in About Allison

ValentinaTexMexLogo

 

Valentina Tex Mex BBQ recently opened a new food truck here in Austin on the patio of Star Bar in downtown Austin’s 6th Street District. Typically known for their BBQ smoked meats, Valentina’s new truck boasts a San Antonio style taco round up with some unique flavor combinations.  The tacos feature the freshest produce, handmade tortillas, and unique toppings and sauces, as well as marinated proteins and Valentina’s signature hand crafted BBQ.

VioletTacoTruck

For our starter taco, we tasted “The Mighty Mo”, a garlic lime shrimp taco, tangy violet slaw, avo de gallo, and sriracha lime aioli on a fresh pillowy tortilla. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the taco was full of flavor. The heat of the sriracha aioli added the perfect bite in contrast to the cooling creamy avocado salsa. Well cooked shrimp can be difficult to execute in a food truck environment, but Violet’s did not disappoint.

MightyMoTaco

Next up was the Violet Taco’s namesake, the “Violet Taco”. Featuring cerveza lime marinated chicken, sweet caramelized onions and poblanos, with violet slaw and a brilliantly colored prickly pear crema, the “Violet Taco” was a unique offering. The chicken was very tender and well-seasoned, but the star of the show was the brilliant purple and slightly sweet crema drizzled on the top of the taco. The mix-up of flavors made for a truly craveable bite.

VioletTaco

For a Tex-Mex twist on the Chicago dog, we tried the “Tejano Dog”. The Violet Taco’s version featured a griddled 100% beef frank on a warm soft tortilla. Topped with caramelized onions, pico de gallo, crema, and a mildly spicy house made brown mustard. While the flavors here were more subtle, they were still complementary and well executed. The house mustard was rich and creamy, making this an easy to enjoy riff on the traditional hot dog.

TejanoDog

Of course, you can’t eat tacos at a place known for BBQ without trying the BBQ tacos, so the last bite we ordered was the smoked brisket taco. Piled high with juicy smoked brisket, sea salt and lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa, it was well worth the wait. The brisket was very tender with pronounced smoky notes and the cooling guacamole served to cool the “gangsta-style” salsa. I have to be honest, even though I was already full, I had a hard time sharing this one!

SmokedBrisketTaco

Overall, the Violet Taco is the quintessential Texas-Style taco truck, blending the flavors of the Southwest perfectly, while putting their own spin on the menu.

October 22nd, 2015

Walking the Sweet and Savory Line: Pushing the Boundaries of Flavor

Posted in About Allison

Sweet and savory combinations have been around for a while and are extremely popular with consumers. This craving for unique flavor combinations has pushed food development in some very interesting directions.  From something as simple as salted caramel to other combinations that are downright wacky, consumers desire the contrast that sweet and salty or savory items bring.

So what happens when a food product you are so familiar with releases a new flavor and you are not sure how you feel? Does it confuse you or make you want to jump right in and try it? Does the flavor combination intrigue or repel you?

Lay’s Potato Chips has done this type of reimagining for the past several years with their ‘Do Us a Flavor’ promotion, where the grand prize flavor submission earns $1,000,000 or 1% of the earnings from the new flavor. This year’s contest focus was regional U.S. flavors.  This year’s flavor finalists include Biscuits and Gravy, West Coast Truffle Fries, New York Reuben and Greek Town Gyro.  If you want to learn more about how Frito Lay developed these ideas and the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, they will be a keynote speaker at the Research Chefs Association annual conference next March in Denver, CO.

Let’s look at some other concepts that are pushing these boundaries.

We all grew up with certain snacks or desserts that give us a comfortable nostalgic feeling when we revisit them. One of mine is crunchy Cheetos. It was the one mainstay snack in our house beyond any other. And of course it also conjures up images of fingers stained orange by the cheese powder.

In other countries, such as Japan, unique and often unheard of flavor combinations are much more common. Take the Banana Cheetos©, which debuted in Japan in response to the release of the new Minions movie. Such a familiar food, yet reimagined with banana powder, cinnamon and salt.

Then there is the Ramen Ice Cream from Nissin: it features soy ramen and curry ramen flavored ice cream, and it is topped with freeze dried shrimp, beef, egg, potatoes and chives.  Available at Yokohama Nissin Cup Noodles Museum, this is one dish I am not sure I would even want to try.

And then came the RamNut: a deep fried donut made from ramen that has been cooked in horchata then mixed with eggs and frozen until firm. From there it is shaped into donuts, deep fried and covered with sweet frostings and sprinkles. This is one in a continuing series of ramen mash-ups, which started with the Ramen Burger last year.

Not to be outdone, Dominque Ansel debuted Burrata ice cream at his new West Village shop. He touts it as an alternative to the sweeter vanilla ice cream we are used to eating. It is finished with balsamic caramel and a whole confited strawberry, and it has a markedly less sweet character than a typical ice cream.

A chocolatier is Minneapolis, B.T. McElrath, is buying quality local bread, toasting it, spreading it with butter, and then enrobing it in chocolate, for its own special take on the artisan toast trend. You’ve seen this trend most commonly as avocado smeared toast and other flavors with a $10.00 price tag.

And let’s not forget one of the most notable sweet savory trends to hit the Big Easy: savory king cakes. In flavors like muffuletta, boudin and crawfish, these savory flavors are taking NOLA by storm. Based on the traditionally sweet version of the cake, some of these newer flavors manage to walk the sweet and savory line rather beautifully.

From the above examples, it is clear to see just how important the sweet and savory combination is to menu innovation.