Wine Wishes & Cupcake Dreams

If you don’t remember watching that show, I feel vaguely sorry for you.

Nearly every Tuesday night, I can be found at the same place with the same assortment of friends. As I told Marc, the capable bartender at this establishment, I think it says a lot about the group of people and the libations he serves up that the night I look forward to most in my week isn’t Friday or Saturday, but Tuesday. It’s almost a reward for making it through Monday and Second Monday (because, let’s be honest, that’s all Tuesday really is).

The people that gather here every week are the brothers and sisters I never had, and the sense of family and comfort and assurance that you’re accepted as yourself at all times is strong and encouraging. As is the wine.

The cupcakes, on the other hand, are just divine.

Continue reading Wine Wishes & Cupcake Dreams

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Battle Michelada

The ballot and the remains
The ballot and the remains

Even though our own Plinio Sandalio once competed on Iron Chef (Battle Mango, alongside Chef Robert Gadsby), those guys have nothing on our boys and the Battle Michelada.

An impromptu michelada throwdown was organized on Twitter within the span of a few days after a fellow food blogger mentioned that she couldn’t find a good michelada in Houston. Before long, the discussion had evolved into a full-blown showdown between three of Houston’s best culinary talents.

Read all about it here to find out who won and to watch the video of the contest (which yours truly narrated, National Geographic-style).

Spirited Houston

Books & Bottles
Books and bottles behind the bar at Anvil.

No, I’m not talking about haunted Houston.  I’m talking Houston’s busy wine, beer and spirits scene.  (Although I could just combine the concepts and write a post about La Carafe.)

I was at Anvil Bar & Refuge yesterday afternoon, getting a sneak preview of the bar in its [nearly] final incarnation and chatting with owner Bobby Heugel for an interview that will come out in the Houston Press food blog later this week.  It struck me — and not for the first time — that in addition to the growing emphasis on local, fresh, organic, artisanal food and restaurants in Houston, we’re lucky to have people pursuing that same level of craftsmanship and attention in the spirits scene.

Pimm's Cup
Freshly-made Pimm’s Cup with muddled cucumber, homemade lemon juice, homemade simple syrup, gin and soda.

Bobby and his crew at Anvil aren’t the only ones in Houston who are once again giving bartending as a profession — and alcohol as a libation — the credibility it deserves.  Cocktails made in restaurants like Beaver’s and Textile (both of which were training grounds for Bobby and his staff, and both of which owe their success in those areas to the likes of the Anvil crew) demonstrate a level of craftsmanship and creativity not seen at places like the Daiquiri Factory, the vulgar intoxi-quarium that used to exist in Anvil’s building.

Likewise, more bars around town are seeking out local microbrews and unusual imports to add to their draft beer selection, aside from simply leaving beer-flavored water like Miller Lite on tap.  Grum Bar and Grill is an example of this phenomenon, their beer selection being extremely limited to only beers that they themselves would drink: no Budweiser or Miller to be found here.  More established pubs like the Ginger Man and the Stag’s Head have embraced the concept of exploring unusual or exotic beers for years, and the beer-drinking public is following suit.

Avery Cask Conditioned Ale
Avery cask-conditioned pale ale at The Petrol Station.

We’re also lucky enough to have a local microbrewery — Saint Arnold — that supplies Houston and points beyond with finely-crafted ales and lagers in addition to being a community-minded organization that does much more than simply create beers.  We even have our own local  association of homebrewers —  the Foam Rangers — and entire shop devoted to the craft, De Falco’s.  Beyond Saint Arnold are many other exquisite Texas microbreweries such as Real Ale in Blanco and Southern Star in Conroe.  And let’s not forget the one and only Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, Texas.

Wine bars, too, have cropped up around town like Starbucks.  Although each is different in its character, all are devoted to the ideals of exploring and discovering wine and educating their consumers to do the same.  From high-end, glitzy concepts like The Tasting Room to local, neighborhood-y joints like Boheme, it’s never been a better time for oenophiles in Houston.

To whit, I’d like to encourage you to read a few local spirit blogs that do a far better job of explaining and capturing all of this than I do.

Barley Vine:  This man has the word on wort, hands down.  A local hop-head who provides insightful commentary on the Houston beer scene and Texas microbrews. And he doesn’t just review beers; restaurants occasionally make the cut, too.  Writing consistently since 2006, his blog is the best local resource on beer, breweries and news as it relates to the beer world.

Drink Dogma:  A blog established by Bobby Heugel and his partners — including Kevin Floyd and Justin Barrow — to keep the public abreast of their progress on the Anvil opening, it’s evolved into a fantastic resource for cocktail information ranging from the history of certain drinks to their favorite libation literature.

Blue State Carpetbagger:  A wine blog from a man who knows his varietals, Tom Casagrande worked in the wine business in New York City for five years before moving to Houston.  His blog is a great read for two reasons: He’s been blogging continually since 2005, so there’s a wealth of information from prior years and posts and he specializes in recommending inexpensive yet wonderful wines, an especially welcomed speciality these days.

Do you have your own local favorites? Did I miss a beverage blog you can’t live without? Leave it in the comments section below; we want to hear all about it!

And…cheers!

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!

The Weekend In Food: Holy Monkeys, It’s November

It was a busy weekend, folks.  So keeping that in mind, I’m going to try and stick to the food-related milestones of the weekend, or else we’ll be here all day.  And no one wants that.  …or do they?

Friday

7:00pm:  Pulling up to Feast with Richard for our anniversary dinner.  No, we didn’t get married on Halloween, but who wants to go out to a fancy dinner on a Monday night?

7:15pm:  Love the service at Feast.  Love it.  We have a bottle of gorgeous Spanish red — Castell del Remei Gotem Blue — and some fresh bread and silky butter and ice water and we’re going to town on ALL of it.

7:30pm:  Appetizers are out.  Richard has the curried parsnip soup and I have the stuffed pigs’ feet.  Both are amazing.

8:00pm:  Noshing on the main courses.  Richard is having the steak and kidney pudding with fresh suet, which was made expressly for us by James.  It is divine, and this is coming from someone who does not like steak and kidney puddings, pies or anything else of that nature.  I’m having the equally heavenly sweetbreads with roasted root veggies.  SO GOOD.

9:00pm:  Far too stuffed for dessert.  Sloshing a bit as we finish off the wine.  Watch the Montrose pub crawlers go by outside on Westheimer, on bicycles and on foot, all dressed in outrageous costumes.

9:30pm:  Playing “World Capital Trivia,” which Richard is winning.  Bastard.  I’m no good at geography when I’m full of wine and pancreas.

10:00pm:  Headed home.  Need to sleep off massive amounts of food…

Saturday

7:00am:  Up early for no particular reason.  Would make breakfast if we had food in the house.  Must go grocery shopping.

8:00am:  Have discovered some smoked salmon in the pantry!  NOM NOM NOM.

9:00am:  Piddling around on computer, attempting to write Dynamo article for Houstonist and failing.

12:00pm:  Leave house to meet Groovehouse for lunch at BB’s Cajun Cafe.

12:30pm:  Elbow deep in an overstuffed oyster po-boy and a St. Arnold’s Lawnmower.  It is an absolutely gorgeous day outside, I’ve got a great beer and a great sandwich — what more could a girl want?

12:31pm:  CHEESE GRITS.

12:32pm:  AND CATFISH.

12:33pm:  I’ll bet Groovehouse is regretting eating lunch with me right about now.  Me = notorious food thief.

1:30pm:  Must go back to BB’s soon; too many menu items I didn’t get to this time around.

5:00pm:  Back at the house after a long afternoon of piddling around with friends.  I do an inordinate amount of piddling.  But it’s good for the soul.

5:30pm:  All dressed up and looking semi-cute.  Richard and I ready to leave the house for the McCormick & Schmick grand opening party with Jenny and Fulmer when he gets a call from Trafton: Rockets tickets, tonight.  Bye-bye, husband!

6:30pm:  At Jenny’s house, drinking a bottle of Pulque and waiting for Fulmer to show up to escort us out on the town.  I like the Pulque.  I don’t care what the world thinks of me!

7:30pm:  At the McCormick & Schmick opening.  Free champers and oysters FTW.  Except that they don’t seem to be checking invitations and there are an awful lot of randoms in shorts and flip-flops.  Boo.

9:00pm:  Getting bored.  There’s only so many trays of dropped sliders and random Police cover band songs to hold your interest for so long.

9:30pm:  At Morton’s Steakhouse, drinking coffee and eating a key lime pie that Fulmer owed me from the last Tuesday Trivia.

10:15pm:  Jenny has decided that we need to get into the Foundation Room at the House of Blues.

10:30pm:  And so we do.

11:00pm:  After a lovely tour by the GM (the whole place smells like nag champa; it’s intoxicating), we’re given some free drinks and left to our own devices.

11:30pm:  Those devices include going to Saez & Zouk.

12:00am:  Bottle service?  Hah!

1:00pm:  Can’t hold my own anymore, even though I’m only *mumblecoughmumble* years old.  Jenny and Fulmer drop me off at my car and head off into the great night beyond.  I head home and collapse into bed.

Sunday

6:00am:  Up early again; extra hour of sleep helped.  Cleaning house and doing weekendy-around-the-house things.

2:00pm:  Head over to Coffee Groundz for Houston Twitter Meetup.  Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

2:30pm:  Mmm…gigantic bold coffee.  Love.

3:00pm:  Some delicious gelato is being passed around: honey lavender.  What?  MUST HAVE.

3:01pm:  ALL GONE.  SO GOOD.

3:02pm:  Licking gelato cup.  I have no shame.

3:30pm:  Free glasses of Malbec?  Yes, please!

4:00pm:  Free glasses of Chardonnay?  Yes, please!

5:00pm:  Free glass of Merlot from the totally and all-encompassingly awesome MagsMac?  YES, PLEASE.

6:00pm:  MORE free wine from MagsMac?  Yes, but not before I get on this awesome golf cart and drive around while Fayza yells at people and we cuddle cute dogs named Bentley.

7:00pm:  All this free wine and coffee is awesome, but I’m HUNGRY.

8:00pm:  Heading over to Chuy’s with Monica, Fayza and Groovehouse.

8:05pm:  OH, CRAP.  Lost track of time!  I was supposed to be at Sacred Heart for the fundraiser this evening!!!  !&#!&*!$%@()&!*#

8:10pm:  It’s probably over by now…  Tex-Mex will have to calm my guilty soul.

8:30pm:  Steven rolls up to Chuy’s for our Tex-Mex feast.  We have a healthy five people at a four-top, cause we’re cozy like that.

9:00pm:  NOM.

9:30pm:  Taking leftovers home to Richard, who has probably not left his little Richard-shaped indentation on the couch today for fear of missing football-y goodness.

10:30pm:  Aaaaaaaand…bed.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend, folks!  And just think: you made it through yet another Monday, so only four more days to go until the next one.

Bière française: existe-t-il?

…et s’il fait, est-il bon?

That’s the question that one of my favorite bloggers, Croque Camille, has bravely attempted to answer in a recent post about French beers.  An American ex-pat pastry chef living in France, Camille is living the dream while eating and drinking her way through the bounty of incredible foods and wines that France has to offer.

But I posed the question to her one day: are there any good French beers?  It’s a reasonable question, as one always hears about French wine, but never French beer.  Their neighbors all make fantastic beer — Belgium, Germany, even Italy — so why not France?

Camille and her husband purchased a few French microbrews and began their journey towards discovery.  Their first beer, Etoile du Nord — a hoppy blonde that sounds terribly promising at first glance — is reviewed here:  Worthwhile French Beers.

Does it live up to the standards set by French wine and cuisine?  Find out for yourself…

Scotch Eggs, Sauerkraut & Turkey Legs

In what is perhaps my unhealthiest entry to date, I’m going to chronicle a few of the things that Jenny, Aaron and I shoveled into our mouths this weekend at the Renaissance Festival.

Before we even got on the road to Plantersville, we headed over to Teotihuacan for breakfast.  Had to give our stomachs a little bit of a warmup session beforehand, after all.

Chips & Horchata

Jenny got a margarita (it’s 5:00 somewhere, I suppose), Aaron a coffee, and for me? A huge glass of ice-cold horchata. Teotihuacan serves some of the best horchata in town. This is the real stuff, too. None of this powdered mix crap.

Chorizo!

My “grande breakfast” platter came to the table with a heaping mass of eggs and spicy chorizo, refried beans and freshly-made tortillas. As Jenny says, when you can nearly see through them for all the lard, that’s when you know they’re good. And for only $3.99, it’s pretty much the best damn deal around for breakfast.

An hour and a half later, we were finally pulling up to the parking area outside of the Renaissance Festival.  While I could take this entire post to expound upon the depth and breadth of weirdness that we encountered at the Ren Fest, I’ll instead direct you to Houstonist for more on that subject.  For now, we’ll just discuss the food.

Continue reading Scotch Eggs, Sauerkraut & Turkey Legs

La Torretta: A Preview

Getting ready to head over to a pumpkin-carving party in a bit (and getting ready to get incredibly messy pumpkin guts all over me as I hack-job a perfectly good pumpkin with my complete lack of artistic skills), so no long post today.

But I just returned from an overnight stay at La Torretta del Lago, the new resort that’s opening up in Lake Conroe in only a week, and wanted to share some pictures from our dinner last night with Chef Albert Roux.  Enjoy!

Menu

The rest of the pictures can be seen at my Flickr account: La Torretta set.

A full write-up will come soon. Until then, barn swallows!

What’s Your Sign?

By far the most bizarre food-related article I’ve seen all week:

The Best Beer for You, According to Your Sun Sign

…yeah.

According to the article:

With the countless beers that are offered, it can be a bit overwhelming to order a pint out of your comfort zone. But as with all other tastes, your Sun Sign may be of assistance. Peruse the list below, and you may find a new favorite!

I will let you know right now that I have never been overwhelmed by a beer list.  If anything, it is a treasure map.  But I recognize that not everyone might share my fondness for seeking out random little microbrews to try, so let’s put the article to work…

I’m a Scorpio.  What kind of beers should I like, MSN Astrology-and-beer experts?

Intense, secretive, and usually much more interested in sweet concoctions, you can fool them all with Old Ruffian Barley Wine. It has that sweet, almost honey-like consistency that your feisty side craves, but it still passes as Oktoberfest-appropriate. But be forewarned: many barley wines have a higher alcohol content, so don’t get stung!

WRONG.  I hate barley wine.  I hate sweet beers in general.  Give me a bitter, hoppy beer over anything else.

Let’s try Richard, who’s an Aquarius:

Inquisitive and unpredictable, you usually don’t deny anything that the bartender puts in front of you. So how about something hearty to ground you a bit? Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is not only rich with froth, but despite its hearty name, it also complements most fare! Have a pint, and watch the leaves fall!

WRONG.  Richard hates stouts and only indulges in lagers, Stella Artois being his favorite, which would make him a Leo.

How about you?  Do they have your beer preference pegged or not?

The Days of Mediocre Food and Roses…

sans roses.  Which makes the days even less enjoyable.  Meh.

The week has been filled so far with ample opportunities for good food, and yet everything has fallen short so far.  I hate weeks like that.

Monday afternoon was the perfect day for a lunch outside, luminous blue skies and cool weather glittering brilliantly across the city.  Except that I spent my lunch hour on a dingy couch in a shady inspection sticker place off Long Point, sitting in uncomfortable proximity to a man in a “U.S. Army Artillery Unit” gimme cap with dirty socks pulled up to his knees, who muttered incessantly to himself in between short bursts of yelling, “Hey, boss!  Heya, boss!  Heya!”  I don’t even know that he had a car there to be inspected.  And I ended up failing my inspection after all that.

Monday evening was spent in a private room upstairs at Del Frisco’s Steakhouse.  On hand was plenty of free wine and hors d’oeuvres.  Wine?  Good.  Hors d’oeuvres?  Should have been good, but were frustratingly mediocre: overcooked lobster, well-done steak, fried asparagus with sickeningly sweet sauce.  Then again, what kind of complete jerk complains about free food?  Well…me, I guess.  I ended up eating a stray granola bar at home later on.  You willingly eat a grotty old granola bar, but complain about free lobster?  you may ask me.  Yes.  The difference?  I expect the granola bar to be mediocre.

Tuesday’s lunch was…oh, wait.  I didn’t get a lunch break on Tuesday.  I spent the morning at that squat, hideous, unapologetic trash-magnet, the Harris County Courthouse on Chimney Rock, and had to work through lunch to halfway catch up on the piles of crap littering my desk.

Tuesday evening was slightly better.  We (myself and some fellow Houstonist writers) started out with drinks at Gingerman.  All things are made better by Gingerman.  I had a crisp, refreshing pint of Saint Arnold’s Elissa IPA (oh-so-hoppy and delicious) and enjoyed the gorgeous weather with my gorgeous Houstonist friends.  We ordered the spinach-artichoke dip, but ended up getting a bowl that looked as if it had been grabbed off another table, half-eaten and then nuked.  It was disgusting.  We ate it anyway.

Feeling that we should attempt to procure some better food, we headed directly across the street to that quaint little Italian market/restaurant D’Amico’s.  I hadn’t eaten at D’Amico’s in years, but had some very fond memories of a smashing walnut and wild mushroom risotto that I’d ordered several times with exceptional results each time.  Scanning the menu, I was sad to see that they seemed to have taken it off and replaced it with a walnut and wild mushroom tortellini instead.

I ordered the tortellini, looking to get that elusive walnut/wild mushroom fix any way I could.  We sat under the darkening sky outside, laughing, bitching, telling stories and generally being far too philosophical for a Tuesday night.  The company, at least, was fantastic.  The food, not so much.  We all happened to order various tortellini dishes.  And we all agreed that the tortellini was far too doughy, the fillings too dense, the sauces too watery, doing nothing to hold the dishes together.  Once again, frustratingly disappointing.  I think it’s too soon to claim that D’Amico’s has jumped the shark, but I’m only giving them one more shot after that.

Today’s lunch was a last-minute bite at Berryhill’s.  I used to be a huge fan of theirs, especially their happy hours and their tamales, but my feelings for them have become extremely lukewarm in recent years.  Today’s lunch just reaffirmed my waning affections.  The fish tacos had almost no cilantro in them (you will not deny me cilantro!), very little red cabbage and disgustingly over-fried, eeeeenormous portions of fish.  Let me elaborate briefly on the “over-fried” part, if you will: there was more liquid in the tacos from the grease dripping off the fish than from the almost non-existent remoulade sauce.  Horrid.  At least the hot pickled carrots were reliably good (although one never truly knows how long those have been hanging around…).

Tonight’s dinner will most likely be whatever I scavenge out of the cupboard when I finally make it home.  I swear to God, this week better shape itself up food-wise unless it wants me to give up food blogging for a while.  But there is hope yet: the weekend is still to come!