Category Archives: food reviews

Random Meals I’ve Enjoyed

Nothing like a little food pr0n to perk you up for lunch today:

roasted-beets-with-horseradish

Roasted beets with walnuts and horseradish at Dolce Vita.  Summery, crisp, sweet and nutty but with a sharp bite from the horseradish: the perfect start to a meal (in addition to their amazing truffled egg toast, of course, which smells like rotting gym socks and tastes of heaven).

boiled-peanuts

Boiled peanuts with cucumbers at Classic Kitchen in Chinatown.  The breakfasts here are amazing, but you can expect to wait a while for your food (especially if you don’t speak Mandarin).  Snack on these little gems while you wait and you won’t mind.

dsc01568

An enormous cup of coffee and a flaky, buttery pain aux raisins at Costa Coffee in Alderley Edge, England.  I normally don’t go for pain aux raisins as it can be quite dry, but this was the richest breakfast pastry I’ve ever had.  The strong but silky coffee was equally wonderful.  A copy of the Manchester Evening News in one hand and this coffee in the other each morning: I might have never left if I didn’t have a job and home to return to across the sea.

pork-medallions

Panko-crusted pork medallions with blue cheese at Baybrook’s in Benijofar, Spain.  There’s nothing like a good piece of juicy Spanish pork on a warm night surrounded by family, wine and happy conversation.

in-phyllo-dough

Wild mushroom risotto inside phyllo dough, with roasted root vegetables and mashed potatoes (and, yes, more boiled potatoes on the side) at The Red Lion in Holmes Chapel, England.  This was the starchiest meal I can ever recall having in a restaurant.  But it was freezing cold outside, we had a lot of walking behind and ahead of us, and I was drawn to this dish like a pig to a trough.  Jesus, did it ever hit the spot.

patatas-bravas

Patatas a la bravas and crispy fried shrimp (among other tapas items) eaten at what seemed like the top of the world at a tiny Valencian restaurant in Guadalest, Spain.  This was the view out the window by our table: not too shabby, huh?  The patatas a la bravas were easily some of the best steak fries I’ve ever eaten, served with a spicy tomato sauce that I’d like to take with me everywhere in a little flask.  The fried shrimp were fresh and as light as air without a hint of grease.  Buen Provecho, indeed.

cfs

Chicken fried steak with fried eggs, skillet potatoes and refried beans at G&M Steakhouse in San Antonio: every Texan’s dream breakfast.  This old-school restaurant located directly across the street from the Alamo is home to the best breakfasts in San Antonio.  And despite the fact that it’s smack-dab in the middle of tourist central, this is almost exclusively a locals-only joint.

pasta-corleone

Pasta Corleone at Raia’s Italian Market on Washington Avenue.  Although it’s a relatively new restaurant, their pastas don’t disappoint.  This is my favorite of their dishes.  From my original review of Raia’s last year: “This dish was a simple combination of angelhair pasta, eggplant, black olives, capers and ricotta cheese in a marinara sauce. The soft, creamy ricotta blended together expertly with the hot marinara, producing something similar to a vodka sauce. The velvety sauce along with the slightly sour bite of olives and capers along with the savory chunks of eggplant meant that we all but inhaled this dish.”

bigos-and-kielbasa

Bigos and kielbasa with potatoes at Polonia.  Of all the wonderful Eastern European dishes on the menu at this hidden gem in Spring Branch, this is my favorite.  At once hearty yet refreshing, the tangy bigos is an ideal lunch that won’t weigh you down but will stick with you the rest of the day.

catfish-grits

One of my favorite breakfasts in town: catfish and grits at BB’s Cajun Cafe.  The cheese grits here are as good as I make at home and the lightly battered catfish is perfectly cooked.  The biscuits, too, are dreamy: buttery and flaky, just like my mother makes.  This dish is called The Southern Man, but their Morning Majic po-boy with scrambled eggs, sausage and spicy queso makes a damn fine breakfast, too.

caseys-oysters

Fresh Gulf oysters at Casey’s in Galveston last week.  It’s a bit hard to tell from the picture, but they were absolutely enormous — much larger than normal — and had almost none of the saltiness you expect from Gulf oysters.  They simply tasted rich and buttery with only a hint of the ocean underneath.

first-course

Amberjack (a.k.a. yellowtail) with leche de tigre, gelled tomato, rhubarb and red-veined sorrel at one of Randy Rucker’s tenacity dinners, hosted in his home last summer.  I haven’t been to Rainbow Lodge yet, where Randy is now the head chef, but I miss his inventive, always-delicious cooking terribly.  I feel a trip out to Ella coming on soon…

Enough food pr0n for today, folks.  Stop your drooling and get back to work!

Taco Truck Tailgating

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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?

Dinner for Eight

…not to be confused with Dinner at Eight, my favorite Rufus Wainwright song.  You should listen to it.  Right now.  Before you go any further.  Go on; I’ll wait here.

Great!  Now, about this dinner.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s not every day that I eat seven course dinners.  And it’s not every day you meet someone so talented in the kitchen that it makes you want to go play in traffic for the shame of it all.  Last night, those two things collided quite amazingly when we had dinner at Shannon‘s house.

Describing the Feta

Our gracious hostess, describing the process by which she debrines Bulgarian feta cheese.

Shannon, one of the newer (and younger!Houston Chowhound members and a recent transplant from St. Louis, kindly issued an invitation a few weeks ago for a dinner at her home.  We should have known what to expect when we received an elegantly printed menu in our email inboxes a few days prior to dinner: seven courses, all of which sounded magnificent and none of which were anything like you’d typically find in a restaurant, much less in someone’s home.

Place Setting
Place settings.

When we showed up yesterday evening — myself, Ruthie, Jenny, Joanne, Robert and his wife — we were all greeted by the intoxicating scent of freshly-baked brioche and another, less familiar aroma.  I soon discovered it was the first course: Ash-e Reshteh, Iranian bean and noodle soup.

First Course
Topped with crispy fried onions.

The soup was an immense hit right off the bat. None of us had ever had Iranian bean soup before. Except, of course, Shannon’s husband, who is Iranian and who serves as a huge inspiration for her cuisine. The soup — which normally has ground beef and is cooked with beef broth — was a vegetarian version of the traditional Iranian recipe made with kidney and garbanzo beans, which made it both immensely healthy and hearty. The copious amounts of dill and parsley managed to keep it from being too heavy, though, and lent a refreshing crispness to the soup.

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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.

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Mo’s Bacon Bar: The Meaning of Life?

As I believe I’ve made perfectly clear here in past posts, I love pork. I love pork belly, pork cheek, pork snout, pork loin, honey-baked ham, hot dogs, pancetta — if it’s pork, I love it. And I love no pork-based item more than I love bacon.

A strong runner-up to pork in the Food I Live For Battle is chocolate. Chocolate on its own is lovely, but I really love chocolate when it’s been smacked around a bit and perked up with an unexpected ingredient, hence my total foodgasm over Starbuck’s Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

When I heard about Vosges Haut Chocolate’s new creation, Mo’s Bacon Bar, I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d meet and fall madly in love. My totally rad friend Groovehouse obtained one for me this week, and it’s totally on, people. The love affair has begun.

As with every Vosges bar, the packaging is just as fascinating as the chocolate inside. I giggled as I read the back of the package, which smacks strongly of food porn:

Beside my chocolate-laden cakes laid three strips of sizzlin’ bacon, just barely touching a sweet pool of maple syrup. And then, the magic—just a bite of the bacon was too salty and I yearned for the sweet kiss of chocolate and syrup, so I combined the two. In retrospect, perhaps this was a turning point; for on that plate something magical happened, the beginnings of a combination so ethereal and delicious that it would haunt my thoughts until I found the medium to express it—chocolate.

It’s always nice to see I’m not the only one that holds such intense feelings for bacon and/or chocolate.

Following their instructions, I opened the package and broke off one small square of the smooth, dark chocolate, rubbing it with my thumb to release the dusky aroma.  Upon first glance, it looks like any other bar of chocolate.  Where is the bacon?

Still following instructions, I snapped off one small piece from the square and popped it into my mouth.  Ah.  Yes.  There it is…

The bacon is buried deep inside the bar in the most delicate little nuggets.  I was fascinated, and kept breaking off successively smaller pieces of the chocolate just to see the bits inside.  For such small pieces, they pack a hell of a punch.  Not aggressive or overwhelming, just an unexpected salty rush with just the faintest hint of sweet maple syrup.  It’s a pairing made in food heaven.

In a move that’s surprised even me, I’m now viciously hoarding the rest of the bar, determined to make it last as long as possible.  Greedy, rapacious me?  Who hoovers up anything set in front of her?  Hoarding food?  I know; it’s stunning.  But that should give you an idea of just how damn good this chocolate bar is.

I’d suggest getting one of your own, since any attempt to take mine would result in teeth and/or scratch marks.  It wouldn’t be pretty.  You can order it online at Vosges for a mere $7.50, or simply head down to your local Whole Foods Market and raid their Vosges section yourself.

p.s.  The answer is no longer 42.  It’s now Mo’s Bacon Bar.

The Wrath of Pedialyte

I was incredibly weak yesterday afternoon, either from dehydration or lack of sleep, but I decided that I could try and remedy at least one of the potential causes by going to the drugstore for some Pedialyte.

Inside of Walgreen’s, I stood blearily eyeing the different bottles that lined the shelves, just above the infant formula.  So this is what I’ve been reduced to…

I couldn’t decide on a “flavor” of Pedialyte to buy; the system the manufacturers used for choosing flavors for this stuff seemed laughably arbitrary: grape, unflavored, bubble gum, mango and the ominously-named “artificial fruit flavored.”  None of these appealed to me.  In fact, the thought of “bubble gum” Pedialyte made me want to vomit right there in the aisle, and I was beyond certain that the “unflavored” bottle wasn’t truly going to be “unflavored.”  Also, on a side note, what two-year-old wants mango-flavored Pedialyte?

After finally settling on a four-pack of single-serve portions in apple (also available in cherry!), I dragged my haul home and twisted the lid off a room-temperature apple-flavored Pedialyte, ready to become rehydrated.

If you have kids, then you’ve bought Pedialyte at some point.  However, I doubt that you’ve actually tasted the stuff.  Let me break it down for you: DON’T.  It tastes like candy-coated death.

The second that stuff hit my mouth and tongue, I wanted to cry.  I have never tasted anything so foul and noxious in my entire life.  It is so intensely sweet that the only thing I could compare it to is dissolving 90 packets of Sweet ‘n’ Low into a bowl of “apple-flavored” syrup and then drinking it.  I struggled to swallow it, and as it trickled down my throat it felt like sugary lava.  The stuff is so sweet it burns.  My jaw ached, my throat ached, my eyes watered.

I once had to drink an entire Route 44-sized container of barium for an upper GI scan.  It was brutally thick, concentrated and chalky: like someone had dissolved an entire box of chalk into a pan of water and then stirred in some cornstarch.  But even that was more tolerable than drinking one eight-ounce super-sugary-apple Pedialyte.  I felt like this must be what the Devil gives you to drink in Hell.  But I was determined to drink it.

After several attempts at drinking it straight up, I eventually discovered that it tastes much more palatable over ice, especially when the ice has completely melted into it.  That way, you can chug it all down at once, with your nose pinched.  Watering the stuff down definitely takes away the burn, but not the rancid, metallic taste.  I’m presuming the reason it’s so sugary is an ill-advised attempt to mask that coppery taste.  The solution?  A ginger ale chaser.

So I chugged a watered-down Pedialyte last night and one more this morning and — I’ve got to be honest — I feel like a million bucks today.  I’m still making the regularly-scheduled potty breaks every half-hour, but the stomach cramps are completely gone and I feel completely rejuvenated, despite the fact that I didn’t get more than a couple hours of sleep last night.

Moral of the story:  Pedialyte tastes so spectacularly awful that it will make you want to spontaneously burst into tears and claw out your own throat, but it does a body good.

Bringing Home the Bacon

A shoutout to all my fellow bacon-lovers:

Where to Find America’s Best Bacon

…according to the experts at Cook’s Illustrated, no less.

You’re welcome.

P.S.  Is there anything bacon can’t do?

P.P.S.  For more bacon-related news, be sure to follow The Week In Bacon.

P.P.P.S.  You’re welcome again.