Thursday, February 3, 2011

I got a refund!

As we're nearing peak tax filing season, it always puzzles me when people are thrilled to discover they are getting a substantial tax refund. Does this sound familiar? "I just filed my taxes and found out I'm getting a (x) dollar tax refund!"

A tax refund simply means that you have withheld too much, or overpaid the amount of tax actually due for the year. In effect, you are giving Uncle Sam an interest free loan. A balance due means you have withheld too little, or underpaid the amount of tax actually due. Regardless, at the end, you are going to pay the same amount of tax.

I don't know about you, but I prefer keeping my money as long as possible...that means I'm happy (ok maybe not happy, but content) when I find out that I need to write a check to the Department of the Treasury. Please note that there are underpayment penalties, so be sure to monitor your withholdings!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dinner tonight - Tilapia and bell peppers

After a week away from home, I was looking forward to cooking something. Here's what I made for dinner tonight:
Tilapia w/ red and green bell peppers
From fridge to table in less than 10 minutes, and a total meal cost of $4.50!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sunday Simple Supper at noca

This past Sunday, I went w/ a group of friends to noca for dinner. noca is one of my favorite restaurants in the Valley and many local food enthusiasts regard it as one of the top restaurants in the Valley (along w/ Binkley's and Kai).

Each Sunday, noca offers a different 3-course "Sunday Simple Supper" menu for $35 (the regular menu is not available).
Here was the menu for that evening:

First Course: Cold Pasta Salad – Roasted & Pickled Summer Vegetables, Machego, White Balsamic Vinagrette

Second Course (choice of):
- Fried Chicken – Creamed Corn, Braised Greens & Guanciale
- Market Fish of the Day (cod) – Dill Potato Salad, Shishito Peppers, English Pea Puree, Haricot Verts, Herb Jus
- Tasting of Farm Vegetables – Spatzle, Baby Fennel, Cipollini Onions, Baby Squash, Mushrooms, Broccolini, Red Pearl Onion, Citrus Pudding

Dessert: Brownie Sundae – Caramel, Spanish Peanuts, Mascarpone Gelato

Supplement: Bourbon Vanilla Waffle w/ Wisconsin Maple Syrup (+$5)

Here are a few pictures:
Amuse-bouche
Cold Pasta Salad – Roasted & Pickled Summer Vegetables, Machego, White Balsamic Vinagrette
Fried Chicken – Creamed Corn, Braised Greens & Guanciale
Market Fish of the Day (cod) – Dill Potato Salad, Shishito Peppers, English Pea Puree, Haricot Verts, Herb Jus
Supplement: Bourbon Vanilla Waffle w/ Wisconsin Maple Syrup
Complimentary grape cotton candy
Brownie Sundae – Caramel, Spanish Peanuts, Mascarpone Gelato

I was the only person among the group who had eaten at noca before. I'm pretty sure everyone left very satisfied. The food was amazing, as always, and our server was great. The $35 Simple Suppers are a fantastic value for the quality of food that you get.


Places mentioned:
noca
3118 E Camelback Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85016

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Austin highlights

Here are some highlights from my recent trip to Austin -

My first meal in Austin had to be BBQ of course! Iron Works BBQ just happened to be a block from my hotel.
Iron Works BBQ - beef brisket plate

Next up, a great $26.50 three course prix-fixe dinner at Chez Nous:
Chez Nous - chilled canteloupe and ginger soup
Chez Nous - trout
Chez Nous - creme caramel

I metup w/ a friend for lunch at Olivia. Olivia was named by Bon App├ętit as one of 2009's Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America. The restaurant is beautiful, and the food was delicious. First up, some pictures of the restaurant (I loved the design):

On to the food:
Crispy Eggplant - garden pepper rouille
Potato Gnocchi - tomato sauce, shaved pecorino, puttanesca garnish
Quail - spicy cucumber salad, mint, toasted peanuts, fried shallot
Every dish was fantastic. The flavor and seasoning of each item was spot on. Definitely one of my favorite meals this year.

After lunch, we went to Central Market for some gelato. I happened to be there during their "Hatch Chile Festival"! (lucky me!) Central Market is like a food heaven. It was somewhat similar to Whole Foods, but in a more "natural" market setting. Here are a few miscellaneous pictures:
This was a "Kids" size portion for $2.99 - extremely generous portions!!! On the left is toasted almont; on the right is coconut w/ hatch chile
I loved this quote on the wall
Gelato case
roasting hatch chiles

Since I was in Texas, I had to have some more barbeque (this was a direct order from my sister). This time, I tried County Line:
1/4 rack, 2nd cut marbled brisket, mac & cheese, fries

I love farmers' markets, so on Saturday morning I went to check out the Austin Farmers' Market - Downtown. My first stop was a food cart - The Zubik House, for some breakfast:
Grilled asparagus omelette w/ bacon & montasio cheese

After the farmers' market, I went to Flip Happy Crepes. Flip Happy Crepes has been mentioned in Food & Wine and the Food Network a few times.
Nutella w/ banana crepe. Perfection.
Flip Happy Crepe is a very popular place!
I was so impressed w/ the gelato at Central Market, that I had to have some more before leaving the city.
From left to right: dark chocolate w/ hatch chile, pineapple w/ hatch chile, panna cotta
Right before heading to the airport, I stopped at Gourdough's.
Porkey's - canadian bacon, cream cheese, jalapeno jelly


The "Porkey's" at Gourdough's is one of the tastiest things ever.

Austin is a fantastic food city. There are so many dining options, and come to think of it, I don't recall seeing a single chain restaurant (w/ the exception of PF Chang's, which was next to my hotel). I'm sure those chains are around somewhere, maybe just not as prevalent in the downtown area. Thanks to everyone for all of the suggestions. J - I'll definitely hit Salt Lick next time I'm in Austin. B&T - same thing for the "migas" at El Chile.

Placed mentioned:
Iron Works BBQ
100 Red River Street
Austin, TX 78701

Chez Nous
510 Neches Street
Austin, TX 78701

Olivia
2043 South Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX 78704

Central Market (multiple locations)

County Line (multiple locations)
6500 Bee Caves Road
Austin, TX 78746

The Zubik House
Austin Farmers' Market - Downtown (4th St/Guadalupe)


Flip Happy Crepes
400 Jessie Street
Austin, TX 78704

Gourdough's
1219 South Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First impressions of Houston

After 45 hours in Houston, here are some initial impressions of the city:
  1. It's massive. Yet another victim of urban sprawl, similar to Phoenix...
  2. Traffic is pretty bad. Traffic during peak periods in the Galleria area is awful, especially on the arterial roads adjacent to I-610. At 5:15pm on a weekday, it took me 30 minutes to drive .8 miles. Frustrating!
  3. There isn't much to see, in terms of tourist attractions. I asked a few people, including two Houston natives, and they couldn't really think of any major tourist attractions.
  4. As you may have heard, summers in Houston are hot and HUMID. The weather reminds me of the tropical climate found in Southeast Asia (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.).
  5. Houston seems like a solid food city. In terms of Chinese/Asian food, it's paradise. Driving along Bellaire Blvd, I would put the city right up there with LA, New York, and San Francisco.
#4 and #5 might explain the huge population of Asians in the area.

On to Austin!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fall travel

The fall travel season has arrived! That means it's "nomad time".

I'm off to Texas tomorrow for my first trip of the fall. Over the next few months, my teammates and I will be visiting over 90 cities in 31 countries. Personally, I'll be visiting cities 25 cities in 11 countries (including 5 countries that I've never been to before!).

Here's where I'll be heading this fall:

  • Houston, TX
  • Austin, TX
  • Washington, D.C. (twice)
  • Seattle, WA (twice)
  • Vancouver, Canada
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • New York, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Denver, CO
  • Portland, OR
  • Beijing, China
  • Taipei, Taiwan (three visits, one of those for work)
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Manilla, Philippines
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Chennai, India
  • Dubai, UAE
  • Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Manama, Bahrain

Time to pack my bags...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy hour at Frank & Albert's

After work on Friday, I met up w/ a few friends at Frank & Albert's, which is located inside the Arizona Biltmore Resort. This was everyone's first visit there.

Here are two pictures of the restaurant:
Entrance to Frank & Albert's
bar area

 Here's what I had to drink:

This was my first time trying Session Lager (from Full Sail Brewery). I really enjoyed it - I've never seen this beer before, but would definitely order it again!

From 5-7pm daily, they offer a "High Five" special, where you can choose any four items (from a list of eight) for $5. Here's a picture of what it looks like:

Various shots of things we ordered
Pulled Pork Empanada
Sedona Trout & Poblano Pesto Flat
Cumin Roasted Free Range Lamb
Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
Chipotle Glaze Turkey Meatloaf Slider
The Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Deviled Egg
Woodstone Baked Brie ($5)
Charred Chicken Lollipops ($5)

Overall, the food was good, although there was a service mishap - one of the servers spilled a "Yellow Tomato Gazpacho" all over R. They didn't charge her for her food and drink, but I still think they could have handled the issue much better. With the exception of this issue, we still enjoyed it. The "High Five" special is a great deal. The only universally panned item was the "Yellow Tomato Gazpacho".

Places mentioned:
Frank & Albert's
2400 East Missouri Avenue (in the Arizona Biltmore Resort)
Phoenix, AZ 85016