Restaurant Review: Franklin Barbecue (Austin, TX)


Franklin Barbecue Brisket, Pork Rib, Pulled Pork, Turkey, Sausage

Franklin Barbecue Brisket, Pork Rib, Pulled Pork, Turkey, Sausage

Franklin Barbecue started off as a food truck in 2009 and has morphed into a stand-alone restaurant that is enormously popular.  It has gotten a lot of press, to say the least.  The brisket was hyperbolically named best in the history of the world in 2011 by The Austin Chronicle (come to think of it, coming from a Texas publication, this might be true), and the same year Bon Appetit magazine declared Franklin the best barbecue in America.  Recently, Franklin has even been featured in a national Chase Sapphire Preferred commercial with Chef Aaron Franklin being visited by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa.  All of the buzz has resulted in lengthy waits.  People start lining up before 8am for the 11am opening time.  This is to get a coveted place under the covered awning on one side of the building to help escape the relentless, scorching Texas sun and heat (100 degrees when I visited in early September), and to ensure that the barbecue does not sell out.  I arrived on a Sunday morning at 8am, and was about 20th in line and got a place under the awning.  I finally made it inside after a three hour wait.  Thankfully, Franklin’s restaurant is air-conditioned!

Franklin serves beef brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, turkey, and sausage.  I got a ¼ pound sampler platter of each type of meat, along with one sausage link.  At the counter I got my first taste of the brisket, a generous sample cut by the chef.  Crisp bark, fatty richness, moist interior, and smoky flavor throughout really was extraordinary.  There are fatty and lean portions available, and I think the fatty portions are the best, but they are both great.  The pork rib was also outstanding.  Peppery bark, with tender flavorful interior meat.  The sausage was also excellent.  The turkey was moist and good, and the pulled pork was fair.  The stand-outs for me were that brisket, along with the pork rib and sausage.

Pickles are essential to cut the richness of all the meat.  Their cole slaw is really great, and the beans were OK in my opinion.

I got a pound of brisket to take home.  They wrap it in butcher paper and provide a plastic bag and some containers of three types of BBQ sauce.  Everyone was really friendly.  The brisket survived a plane trip home the same day and was delicious wrapped in foil and reheated at 350 for about twenty minutes.

This is the last in my series on Austin, a city I really liked.  Unique places like Franklin Barbecue, Qui, John Mueller, and East Side King make Austin a really great food destination.

Link to Franklin Barbecue website here.

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“The 21st Century Pastry Chef” SF Panel


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Belinda Leong of b.patisserie, John Birdsall of Chow, Matt Tinder of Coi and the Daniel Patterson Group, Michelle Polzine of 20th Century Café, Nicole Plue of SF Cooking School, and William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves

The San Francisco Cooking School hosted a panel discussion on “The 21st Century Pastry Chef” with several leading Bay Area pastry chefs on August 8, 2013.  The panel was moderated by John Birdsall, senior editor of Chow, and featured Lincoln Carson of the Mina Group, Bill Corbett of the Absinthe Group, Belinda Leong of b.patisserie, Matt Tinder of Coi and the Daniel Patterson Group, Michelle Polzine of 20th Century Café, Nicole Plue of SF Cooking School, and William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves.  All of them are accomplished chefs with great pedigrees, experience, and recognition, working in different segments of the food industry, from Carson over-seeing the pastry program at the 20-restaurant Mina Group, to Werner, Polzine, and Leong with their own recently opened stand-alone pastry shops.

First things first: SF pastry chefs’ thoughts on the massively hyped “cronut” phenomenon in New York.  For those who have not heard of the cronut, it is a pastry created by Dominique Ansel, a very well-respected NYC pastry chef, that consists of a croissant dough shaped into a donut, deep-fried and filled with pastry cream and topped with frosting.  Sounds delicious.  People are lining up for hours before the shop opens, or apparently paying homeless people to stand in line for them, in order to snag one, in part due to coverage not only in food media, but also national media attention as well.  Most of the SF pastry chefs were very congratulatory of Ansel in being able to capture and take advantage of a moment with his creation, which Matt Tinder appreciated as a demonstration of Ansel’s skill with laminated dough.  The three owners of their own shops reported that their customers have asked if they will make a cronut, but none of them have plans to make one.  And despite the hype, Werner felt that any focus on pastry in the national media is good for everyone.

The big question of the night was whether or not pastry chefs were an endangered species.  A lot of the responses had to do with the economics of the restaurant industry.  The pastries and desserts do not bring in as much revenue as the savory side (and may actually lose money), so it’s hard to justify a separate pastry chef (even though that chef might be making “only” $40-45K).  Most customers are coming for the savory side and the chef of the restaurant, and not the desserts.  That said, for fine dining establishments, a pastry program is still essential as part of the complete restaurant experience.  And most of the chefs talked about their passion for cooking as why they are there.

There was also discussion on the  generalization that the west coast is more “produce”-driven, eg David Chang’s infamous “figs on a plate” comment, and east coast is more technique-driven.  Tinder made the point that it he thought it was actually much harder to work with seasonally available fruits and vegetables, as opposed to an ingredient such as, say, chocolate, because of the variability in product quality (need to use refractometers to measure sugar content) and uncertainty over whether something promised from a farm would actually be delivered.

Other notes:

– SF pastry may have in the past best been known for Tartine Bakery’s rustic style, but places like b.patisserie (classic French), Craftsman and Wolves (modern French), and 20th Century (Austro-Hungarian) are moving forward with their own unique styles.

– Favorite under-appreciated ingredient? Corbett, vegetables; Polzine, honey; Werner, macha; Plue, whole wheat flour; Leong, almond flour.  Best response was from Tinder: “plain” yogurt and “plain” ice cream, ie executing a perfect example of a single product in both taste and texture can be a surprise.

– Qualities that the chefs look for in someone who is interested in staging in their kitchens: commitment, respect for the chef’s kitchen and the years they have put in to perfect a recipe, willingness to listen and to own mistakes.

– New cooking school grads want their own shop right away and don’t understand that it takes years to learn the craft and be great and don’t appreciate or even know about pastry chefs who have come before them.  Kids these days!

Overall, it was an informative, thoughtful program from some amazing pastry chefs providing perspective from a range of different backgrounds.  Prior to the discussion there was a dessert bar with absolutely delicious Feve artisan chocolates and pies from PieTisserie in Oakland.

The new San Francisco Cooking School on Van Ness just north of Civic Center recently opened in a beautiful space and is offering various culinary and pastry arts certificate programs as well as single session cooking classes.

Recipe Review: Lobster Summer Rolls


Lobster Summer Roll

Lobster Summer Roll

For a different take on lobster rolls, here is a version by David Tanis published in the New York Times that uses lobster meat in a Vietnamese summer roll preparation.  It is relatively simple to make after steaming the lobster and removing the claw, knuckle, and tail meat.  The lobster is tossed with ginger and scallions, then wrapped in a rice paper roll with avocado, cucumber, basil, and cilantro.  There is a dipping sauce with lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, chile, and peanuts.  This is a very light, refreshing lobster roll, different from the richness of the New England-style lobster roll.  Try both!

Cost: market price for lobster

Time: about one hour

Level of difficulty: moderate

Deliciousness: delicious (4 out of five stars)

Make again: yes

Link to recipe here.

Japan Airlines


Japan Airlines food is so much better than the food served on US carriers.  I really enjoyed their signature drink, Sky Time, a smooth citrus cocktail that is so delicious I ordered it every single time there was beverage service.  Instead of flavor-less pretzels, they serve savory Japanese rice crackers.  Their meal service has Japanese and Western options.  The Japanese options are typically beautifully presented, multi-component, well-balanced meals.  There were great bento boxes with individual bites of food, in both economy and business class.  In between meal service, they put out individually packaged Japanese sweet and savory snacks (I took a selection).  In business class, one can also order udon soup or lamb curry anytime.  The service is excellent, beyond friendly and courteous.  Haneda airport in Tokyo is also a great hub.  There is a large Edo-style marketplace that has great udon and ramen shops.  Haneda is also much closer to Tokyo (~30 minutes by train or monorail) than Narita, and I was able to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market and Ginza during layovers in Tokyo.  Definitely recommend JAL for trans-pacific routes.

A fun site for pics of airline meals is at AirlineMeals.net.

Nan Men Market (Taipei, Taiwan)


Nan Men Market has many independent vendors selling all sorts of preserved and freshly cooked Chinese food.  If a food can be pickled, dried, salted, or otherwise preserved, it is probably sold at Nan Men market.  Dried scallops, shrimp, fish, pork jerky, mullet roe, and mango were on display, and these were just some of the items that I could recognize.  Others, I had no clue (I have captioned what I can below).  The sights, smells, and tastes are very different from a Western palate.  Definitely worthy of a visit to take lots of photos and buy gifts to bring back to unsuspecting folks at home.

Cosmo Bakery and Maison Kayser (Taipei, Taiwan)


The Western-style breads in Taiwanese bakeries are very different from what we are used to in the US or Europe.  The Taiwanese breads are pillowy soft and sweeter (and they stay fresh for a longer time).  Cosmo bakery is located on the corner of Mingshen E. Rd and Kuangfu N. Rd. They bake breads on site throughout the day with unique flavor combinations.  I particularly liked a chocolate bread with sweet cheese filling.  Cosmo has a generous sample policy, where guests can try each of their breads.  The store on Mingshen E. Rd is currently their only location, but I have a feeling that more Cosmo bakeries will be coming soon (Bay Area please!).  Like most food items in Taiwan, the breads are very reasonably priced.

I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a branch of Eric Kayser’s Parisian bakery Maison Kayser in the food court of the luxury Breeze Center mall in the Shongshan District of Taipei.  They had crusty French bread and pastries, similar to the ones available in Paris.  I had a delicious Tarte Citron and Millefeuille.

Link to Breeze Center Maison Kayser here.

Link to Cosmo Bakery here.

Taiwan Bubble Tea


Chun Sui Tang Bubble Tea

Chun Sui Tang Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is a popular drink worldwide that originated in Taiwan.  Chun Sui Tang, loosely translated as Spring Water Meeting Place, is a bubble tea house that serves bubble tea and small snacks.  The owner invented the first bubble tea in Taichung, Taiwan in 1983.  He wanted to find a way to popularize traditional Chinese tea.  So instead of hot he served it iced, with milk and chewy tapioca pearls.  There are multiple Chun Sui Tang locations throughout Taipei.  The bubble tea is great here, as is the food menu, with excellent radish cakes, kung fu noodles, and chicken wings.

50 Lan is a popular chain in Taiwan that I went to almost daily.  They serve dozens of varieties of bubble tea.  Ask for the English menu if it is not displayed on the counter.  I really liked one with pineapple and thin strips of coconut jelly.  Like at Starbucks, one can customize the drink by choosing the size of the pearls, small or large, the amount of ice, and the amount of sugar.  So instead of a venti skinny vanilla latte no whip, one would order a medium milk tea, less ice, 70% sugar, large pearls.  While these drinks might cost $3-4 USD in the US, they are much more reasonably priced in Taiwan at 25-45NT, at an exchange rate of 30NT per USD.

TenRen uses real milk instead of milk powder, and it makes a big difference; this place was a favorite of my local relatives.  Sadly, it’s much harder to get my daily bubble tea fix back in the States!  Boba Guys in the Mission, San Francisco, make a good one, with freshly brewed tea, Straus Family Creamery milk, and chewy boba.

Chun Sui Tang website here.

50 Lan website here.

Ten Ren website here.

Boba Guys website here.

Taiwan Wedding Banquet


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There is much symbolism and tradition represented by the food in a traditional Chinese wedding banquet. These are extravagant affairs, meant as a showing of prosperity and a grand celebration of the union of bride and groom and two families.  I had the great joy of attending my cousin’s wedding in Taipei, Taiwan.  The day began with the bride and groom arriving by motorcade to the groom’s home.  They were greeted with loud firecrackers and the congratulations of passers by.  The bride wore a western-style white wedding dress with long train and feathered white shoes, and the groom wore a formal suit.  They were presented with oranges, for luck, and apples, for peace.  They bowed to honor the groom’s mother and father.  They ate a soup of glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) stuffed with dates, which is a not-so-subtle symbol of fertility.

The wedding banquet took place at the sleek and modern Le Meridien Taipei.  A long table was set up to receive the guests.  There were separate hosts for the groom’s side and bride’s side who greet each guest and receive the red envelopes containing gifts of money, which were meticulously accounted in a ledger.  There was a signature book for the guests to sign. There was an ornate floral arrangement showcasing beautiful pictures of the bride and groom.

A map designated the seating arrangements for eighteen tables of a dozen guests each.  At one end of the room was the head table, for the bride and groom, their parents, and the elders of each family.  The head table was covered in traditional red, while the remaining tables were covered in a silvery bronze satin.  There was an elegant formal place setting with a small wedding favor for each guest.  Placed on the center of each table was a floral arrangement, the menu, and plates of cold appetizers.

For the cold appetizers there was roast duck, chicken, tofu skin, jellied fish skin, preserved tiny fish with peanuts, fermented cabbage, and preserved mullet roe.  The salad course featured an enormous piece of abalone dressed with a soy-yuzu dressing.  This was followed by a bowl of glutinous sweet rice balls, a traditional wedding dish.  Typically, these are served as a soup, but here they were served dry, and one was crisped on the outside with sticky glutinous rice and sweet red bean filling on the inside, perhaps the best bite of the day.  Next was a rich chicken broth with mushrooms and slick chicken skin.  The main courses were a mix of east and west: an enormous single prawn with scallions, a perfectly cooked beefsteak with garlic and soy and mushrooms and Chinese vegetables, delicate steamed fish with soy, ginger, and scallions, sweet rice with dried scallops and shrimp.  For dessert there were rich chocolate brownies with walnuts and a bowl of white yogurt pudding with a circle of mango sauce on top that gave the illusion of a sunny-side up egg.  Finally, fresh fruit of sweet pineapple and watermelon.  Ten courses, because ten is a perfect number.  Each guest received a parting wedding favor of an enormous gift box containing a selection of Chinese pastries.  An outstanding culinary celebration of a joyous occasion.

Borough Market London


Borough Market is a bustling food market in central London.  It’s located a couple of blocks from the London Bridge Underground station and open Thursday – Saturday.  It was my first stop on a recent trip to London and a great starting off point to explore London’s South Bank along the Queen’s Walk towards London City Hall and the Tower Bridge.  There are all manner of food stalls in this huge market – sweets, cheeses, charcuterie, olives, breads, beers.  Plus there are plenty of vendors of hot food – melting wheels of raclette cheese, crisped duck confit sandwiches from  Le Marche du Quartier, empanadas, and grilled sausages (bangers?).  Great fun for the food tourist in London.

Eric Kayser Boulangerie Patisserie Paris


I had the good fortune of staying at a hotel in Paris near Place Vendome that was around the corner from an Eric Kayser Bakery.  Needless to say, I went there almost every morning for breakfast.  They make great baguettes, a traditional one as well as a delicious seeded one (baguette cereale).  There is something about baguettes in France – crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside – that is difficult to find in the US.  They also had great croissants, pain aux raisins that was flaky and had a sweet custard, delicious mini financiers (I ended up bringing two bags back to the US), brioche, and assorted pastries.  There are mini versions of some of the croissants for only 0,65 euros.  They serve coffee and there is a small seating area.  The service was very nice and one morning they even gave us a plate of assorted mini financiers.  There is a 7 euro minimum for credit cards (easy, just buy another pastry if you are short!).  They also have items to take away for lunch, including sandwiches, salads, and quiche.  A great way to prepare for a picnic lunch at Versailles or wherever you might go in Paris.

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