Category Archives: restaurant review

Getting Some Ink

Not that kind of ink.

If you’re here in Houston, make sure to pick up a copy of the latest Houston Press on newstands today.  Flip over to the dining section and there I be!  In ink!  With my real name and everything!

If you’re not local, here’s a link to the article:  The Tastes of Textile.  (And if you’re intent on leaving a comment on the article, you can do so here.)

This is my first “real” restaurant review, in that someone paid me to do this and then actually used valuable ink and paper to publish it.  I’m still a bit stunned by that.  Moreover, I’m still happily befuddled about being allowed to review such a high-profile restaurant and I know that — undoubtedly — people will question why a bottom-rung, low-man-on-the-totem-pole food writer like me was chosen to review Textile.  I can’t answer that.  But I can say that I’m extremely appreciative for the opportunity.  Working with the folks over at the Houston Press — both on this review and on the food blog (Eating Our Words) has been one of the best experiences of my life so far.

Okay, that was me being sappy.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Now go read the review!

EDIT:  There’s been some feedback on the review this morning, from two different sources.  Plinio Sandalio, the pastry chef at Textile, wrote a short blog about the review.  And H Town Chow Down, one of my favorite local food blogs, has a write-up concentrating on one of the aspects of Textile that bothered me the most.

A Weekend at the Lake

Chef Albert Roux, photos by Jeff Balke.

Chef Albert Roux in the kitchen; photos by Jeff Balke.

After attending a very, very, very soft opening in October 2008, I was invited to the grand opening of Chez Roux — the principal restaurant at the newly redeveloped La Torretta del Lago resort on Lake Conroe — this past weekend.  You can read an in-depth review of the resort itself and its many restaurants over at the Houston Press, where Margaret Downing — our editor-in-chief — hashes out the details.

For my part, I wasn’t overly impressed with either the resort or Chez Roux.  I enjoyed meeting Chef Albert Roux once again; he is an impish, charming little man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, a refreshing quality in a chef of his [extremely high] caliber.  A lot of the dishes were very good — braised short ribs paired with a stunning Cotes du Rhone, octpus cooked in its own ink (a personal favorite of mine), a terrine of foie gras and a mish-mash of other ingredients that was too fatty but had a lot of potential — but so many more of them were downright pedestrian.  Teriyaki quail was a low point, as was a smoked salmon wrapped around salmon mousse — far too much salmon in one bite.  Other dishes were decidedly old school, such as puff pastries in a morel cream sauce.  Delicious?  Yes.  A bit banquety and stuffy?  Yes.

kitchen

Serving straight from the kitchen. Busy, hot, crowded, but wonderful fun.

The resort?  In a nutshell, I was one of the very few people there without an entire matching set of Louis Vuitton luggage and I don’t have a deep yet vapid interest in The Hills, so I was bit out of my element.  La Torretta del Lago caters to a very specific demographic:  Bill and Muffy Wasp, who are going up for the weekend to golf and “spa,” respectively.  They will also inevitably dine in one of La Torretta’s several on-site restaurants — perhaps even Chez Roux — and not understand or care about what they’re eating, but they’ll be sure to pay lots of money for it because they’re being seen in “the right place.”  So, really, it’s a win-win for everyone!

As you may imagine, I clawed my way out of the resort as quickly as possible on Sunday morning.  Choosing not to stick around for breakfast, I instead ended up at a charming little place next to Conroe High School called Egg Cetera.  The owners previously operated restaurants in Maui and San Francisco, so I’m a bit confused as to how they ended up in Montgomery County, but glad.

The restaurant serves an entirely fresh, all-organic menu.  Everything is made from scratch at Egg Cetera: sauces, dips, salsas, etc.  The seafood is freshly caught.  The eggs are hand-gathered yard eggs.  The one single item that’s not organic is the milk, but the high quality of the ingredients shows in the amazing food.  What’s even more impressive is the unpretentious nature of the place and the extraordinarily low prices.  Talking to the owner afterwards, I suggested she needs to open one of these in Houston, like, yesterday.  I’m planning a more extensive write-up — with pictures — of Egg Cetera (and a few other spots we hit while up in Conroe) in the Houston Press next week, so keep your little eyes peeled.

In the meantime, enjoy these pictures that my good friend Jeff Balke took at Chez Roux.  If anything, at least their presentation was stunning.

Previously mentioned terrine.

Previously mentioned terrine.

Salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon.

Salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon.

Busily plating food in the kitchen.

Busily plating food in the kitchen.

The wine vault at Chez Roux.

The wine vault at Chez Roux.

Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes.

Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes.

Sinfully good.

Sinfully good.

Taco Truck Tailgating

Ed: Comments are closed.

A few photos from the weekend, of which most of Saturday was spent tailgating with the Houston Chowhounds in various taco truck parking lots across the city.

Cabeza y Orejas

My favorite tacos of the day, cabeza and orejas from El Ultimo Taqueria on Long Point at Antoine. The cabeza was decadently juicy and bordering on almost too greasy, but the thick homemade flour tortillas solved that problem quite handily. The orejas were pleasantly chewy. This is exactly what the other Chowhounds disliked about them, though. The chorizo and the tripas were also crowd favorites here. The tripas in particular was like a thick slab of crispy bacon — completely the opposite of what you expect when ordering tripe. It was brilliant.

El Ultimo

The woman to the right takes your order at El Ultimo and hands it up to the taco guys inside the truck. It’s an incredibly efficient system, especially given the fact that you’re decamped in the tiny parking lot of a car wash while you await your order. It’s not the kind of place you generally want to hang out…

Rum!

…unless you bring folding chairs and coolers, like we did. Above you can see Peg creating what is sure to be the new popular beverage across the city: horchata with rum and lime. No, seriously; that shit was delicious.

Taqueria Tacamabaro

Tacambaro, behind the produce stalls at Canino’s on Airline, was actually our first stop. They were packed that afternoon and had quickly run out of the more popular items. Luckily, they weren’t out of mollejas, which was the entire reason for going there. As promised, the crispy mollejas were divine. I could eat about five of those in one go.

Nopalitos y Barbacoa

Next to Tacambaro was Taqueria Gloria. It wasn’t as popular and with good reason. Although the homemade corn tortillas and salsas were excellent, the nopalitos and barbacoa were only mediocre. Oh, well.

Estilo Monterrey

Later, we moved on to Taqueria El Norteno on Long Point near Wirt. Although I enjoyed the mural on the bright blue school bus, the food didn’t quite live up to the expectations. The tacos al carbon were good, but a bit too smoky. The chicken and ribs — specialities here — were dry and, again, too smoky.

Chamoyada

Across the parking lot, however, was another little gem: Refresqueria Rio Verde. Aside from raspas (snowcones), they also served elotes and tacos. The elotes were the popular item there, families grabbing an ear apiece of the hot corn and slathering it with mayonnaise and generous sprinklings of seasoned salt. I ordered a couple of brightly-colored raspas for the group: mango and chamoyada (pictured above).

Chamoyada, as it turns out, is not something that most white people are familiar with. The popular children’s treat is made of brined, pickled fruit (plums or apricots can be used) that’s made into a paste and spiced up with dried chiles. It’s an acquired taste to say the least. The general consensus was that it needed celery and vodka, whereby it would make a passable Mexican Bloody Mary. Only one person liked it in its native state, bless him.

Relaxing at El Norteno

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a Saturday with good friends. I could do this every weekend. Anyone else?

Big Expectations; Little Results

Little Big's, Now Open

I finally made it to Little Big’s this past Friday night after an evening spent at West Alabama Ice House with some friends. After having our fill of Shiners and bikers, nothing sounded better on a cool night than to relax on the patio with some hot sliders.

As expected, the place was a madhouse when we arrived at about 8:30.  Parking wasn’t an issue — surprisingly — but the barely-contained chaos inside was.  It was difficult to tell who was in line, who was waiting for their food, who was just milling about drunkenly…but we managed to get our orders in without too much difficulty (although with a lot of yelling; it’s extremely noisy inside the small space).  My three sliders — one beef, one chicken and one mushroom — and butterscotch milkshake came to $10.25.  A bit much for three twee burgers and a shake, but these are supposed to be top-shelf sliders after all.

We took our seats on the patio and began the wait.  The patio itself is every bit as relaxing as anticipated, the smell of freshly-cut wood under the sprawling oak trees, the breeze rustling through the leaves, the hypnotic sights of red-lighted traffic and wild pedestrians wandering up and down Montrose — I could have sat there all night.  Good thing, too, because that’s about how long it will take to get your order out.

Forty-five minutes later, the first name was called.  By this time, we’d run through a sickly sweet frozen sangria and a bland frozen White Russian.  Both were deemed barely drinkable by the group, but we continued to suck on them for lack of anything else to eat or drink.  My butterscotch milkshake was still nowhere to be seen.  When I finally heard my name called, I anxiously ran in to grab my sliders — only to see someone else pick them up from the unattended counter and abscond quickly with them.  Bastard!

The counter attendant came back and I said, “I think someone just ran off with my sliders.”  He looked at me like I was an escaped mental patient — they’re just sliders, lady, take your meds and get the fuck out of my face, read his expression — and went back to handing out the baskets of sliders that came up.  I stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do next.

“You called my name…” I trailed off.

“What’s your name?”  Gruff and irritated.

“Katie.”

“No, we didn’t.”

I looked back at my friends for confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.  “Yeah, you called her name,” one of them piped up.

“Nope.”

I continued to stand there nonplussed as he called out the names of all my friends who’d ordered after me, and handed out their baskets of sliders.

“No, seriously.  You called my name.  Can I just get the next basket that comes up?”  He ignores me completely.  In the back, the crew is working feverishly to get sliders off the grill and into the baskets.  I start to feel like an asshole, watching them work so hard as I complain.  But it’s been forty-five minutes.  And I’m really hungry.

The next basket comes up on the counter.  It has one of each slider: my exact order.  The attendant has his back turned to me.  So I do what any red-blooded American would do.  I took it and left.  Screw you, counter attendant.  You aren’t doing your job and you’re acting like a prick.  AND I’M REALLY HUNGRY.

Steeled by my freshly-acquired sliders, I go to the register to try and resolve my missing shake issue, only to have my head want to explode when the girl behind the counter snottily tells me: “We called your name for, like, ten minutes.”  I looked back at my friends in disbelief; they’re equally as adamant as I am: “NO, YOU DIDN’T.”  Which is it, Little Big’s?  Calling names and not having food ready?  Or not calling names and having food ready?  Choose a crappy customer service style and stick with it.

The girl throws the shake together quickly and thrusts it over the counter to me.  We are equally irritated with each other by this point.  But at least I have my food.

Outside, the chowdown begins.  Group assessment is that the chicken slider is surprisingly good, maybe even the best of the bunch.  The chicken is tender and juicy, lightly battered and perfectly offset by the sweet yeast roll and sour bite of pickle.  The beef slider is underwhelming.  The beef seems to be overcooked and chewy, with only a few wispy onions as an accompaniment.  The spicy remoulade sauce that I picked up from the condiment bar helps, but I end up not finishing it.  The mushroom slider is good, but the molten cheese inside is undersalted and bland.  Fortunately, the French fries and yeast rolls are out of this world.

The butterscotch shake, on the other hand, is abominable.  It tastes as if someone melted down a batch of Werther’s Originals into a tub of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream (for those of you who don’t know, Blue Bunny is just about the nastiest ice cream on the market).  It is vile and appalling.  My friends all agree.  It’s undrinkable, as well as the third drink of the night to be deemed horrible.  Clearly, Little Big’s strength does not lie in their drink-making abilities.

I’m reluctant to go back on another Friday night (or Saturday night, for that matter).  I think I’ll go again on a weeknight, when it’s a bit calmer, and give the sliders another shot.  Those cooks were stretched to their limits on Friday, and I think the sliders suffered as a result.  Hopefully it will net a better experience this time around, as I seem to be the only person so far who isn’t blown away by their efforts.  Wish me luck!

House of Pies and Pies and Pies

Not long ago, I wrote a piece for Eating Our Words about National Pie Day (what, you missed National Pie Day?).  And as a precursor to both the piece and Pie Day itself, I met a group of friends at the House of Pies on Kirby to do a little “research” and “preparation” (I’m nothing if not dedicated).

House of Pies (or House of Guys, if you’re fabulous) has about 30 different pies on their menu at any given time, in addition to regular diner food and the best tater tots — although House of Pies calls them “cottage fries” — in town.  Their house speciality is the curiously-named Bayou Goo pie.

Bayou Goo at House of Pies

According to their description, the Bayou Goo is “pecan crust with a layer of sweet cream cheese, then a layer of vanilla custard swirled with chocolate chunks and topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.”   Meh.  Frankly, I expected more “goo.”  You know, some caramel or something, at least.  But I gave it a whirl.

I was just as uninspired after a few bites as I was after reading the description.  The miasma of contradictory flavors and textures left me disappointed.  I guess there’s a lot to be said for clever naming and rhymes.  Onto other pies, then…

The Texas pecan fudge pie was heavenly and heavily rich.  The slice alone felt as if someone had plated a brick, but Lord was it good.  The French blackbottom (“a layer of chocolate , then a layer of French vanilla rum custard with lots of whipped cream and chocolate shavings”) and the apple were also good, but the sleeper hit of the night was the unobtrusive strawberry-rhubarb.

Served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the strawberry-rhubarb pie was everything I think of when I think pie: flaky, fruity, mildy sweet and just slightly gooey. It utterly melted in my mouth. The sweetness of the strawberries was — as expected — perfectly offset by the tart rhubarb.

While I’m certain to try different pies during subsequent trips House of Pies, I’m afraid I’ve found my favorite and will find it hard to stray.  I’m loyal like that.  I guess I’ll just have to order two slices at a time — a strawberry-rhubarb and a ____________.  Oh, the terrible things I have to endure for the love of food.

Triple Bypass Burger

Behold the monstrosity upon which I gorged myself last weekend:

Triple Bypass Burger

This is the Triple Bypass Burger, found in its natural habitat at Dry Creek in the Heights.  I had brunch there with my friend Jen on a chilly Saturday that meant I needed more sustenance than could be provided by a paltry omelette, but still required some kind of “breakfast” in my “brunch.”  Thus, the bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg you see before you.

At the tender age of 28, I tend not to worry all that much about such piddling adult issues as arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and LDL levels, but perhaps after this meal I really ought to start.  Unfortunately, for as good as the fried egg, cheese, bacon and all the fixings were (including the perfectly spiced chipotle mayonnaise), I had exactly the same problem with the patty and the bun that Robb Walsh had only a year ago.

The waitstaff at Dry Creek will inevitably ask you how you want your burger cooked and — just as inevitably — it will always come out well done.  It’s like some sick joke they enjoy playing on people.  And the bun was as crumbly as ever.  Not one to despair long over crumbly buns, I simply washed it down with some of the divine Shiner Black that Jen had cleverly brought (since Dry Creek is BYOB, after all) and set about enjoying the onion rings, which are always spectacular.

Next time I’m baking some of these bad boys beforehand and packing them to go.  Problem (mostly) solved.  I can’t pack my own meat, after all.  …or can I?

Dam Good Food

My best friends and I have been best friends for going on 22 years now.

Christmas 2008
I’m the one in the green footie pajamas.

As happens when you get older, move away, get real jobs, get married, have children and find your lives filling up with the kind of activities that aren’t as important as they seem at the time, we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like.  So when we do find ourselves in the fortuitous situation of all being in the same city — and free of family and/or work obligations on the same night — we enjoy the hell out of that night.

This past Saturday night, I took my friends to Beaver’s for dinner.  Even the ones who live in Houston had never been before, so it was a treat to get them out there.  The thing I like about Beaver’s is that you get the feeling of having a special meal in a cozy, out-of-the-way spot without any of the pretentious trappings (and without the pretentious prices).  The waitstaff, bartenders and chefs are all serious about their trades, and it shows in every aspect of your meal.

The drinks, in particular, at Beaver’s are stunning.  This is old news, of course, but I tried a few on Saturday that were new to me.  The Rosemary Rickey is an old favorite, so I branched out to their Southern Gimlet (good if very strong) and later to a Mayahuel Fizz, a margarita-style mixed drink made with mezcal, rosemary syrup, foamed egg whites, lime and a dash of bitters.  Although small, it’s a revelation.  You’ll never want to drink another margarita anwyhere else, ever again.

Mayahula Fizz...or something.
Mayahuel Fizz, garnished with a sprig of rosemary. 

I would be writing this mini-review for Eating…Our Words if only Robb Walsh hadn’t done a smashing piece on Beaver’s only a few short months ago.  You should go and read it –  Busy Beaver’s — not just because it’s a spot-on review, but also because I really have nothing else of merit to add to what he wrote.  The place has improved drastically since Jonathan Jones took over and has genuinely returned to its intended purpose as an upscale icehouse/BBQ joint that takes its food seriously yet still has a fun time.

On Saturday night, I ordered the house special: a whole roasted pig.  My jaw dropped when the waiter described the special, until he quickly assured me that the entire pig wasn’t delivered to the table, only select parts.  Damn.

This Little Piggy Went to Beaver's
Whole roasted pig with kale and beans.

The parts I received were wonderful, with only a few rather tough exceptions.  A large, delicious chunk of pork loin was accompanied by a generous portion of crispy fried pork skin.  A few cuts of tender pork butt (the shoulder, not the actual butt…) and a few not-so-tender cuts of other shoulder meat rounded out the plate.  The entire collection was presented on a bed of sauteed kale and slow-cooked beans.  Although the beans could have cooked for longer (they were a bit too al dente for my preferences), the flavor was amazing — tangy and sweet without being cloying — and the dusky kale served as a perfect counterbalance.

My friends, for their part, enjoyed their macaroni and cheese, brisket sandwiches, fried pickles, beer-cheese dip and other assorted items as much as I’d hoped they would.  Comfort food taken to the next level was the keyword of the night, and we all had a wonderful time.  If Beaver’s continues this strong run, they could easily become my favorite restaurant of 2009.