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

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?

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.

Continue reading Dinner for Eight

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

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.

My New Obsession

If this drink was a person, I would totally be going all Rear Window or Single White Female on it right now.  I would be spying on its every move from my bedroom (while Grace Kelly swans around the place, giving me style tips, of course).  I would be cutting and styling my hair to look just like its hair, changing my entire wardrobe so that I resembled it in every aspect.  It’s that damn good.

And what is this obsession-worthy drink?  It’s the new signature hot chocolate from Starbucks: the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.  I know.  You can call me crazy for going all Hitchcock over a cup of hot chocolate from Starbucks, but not before you try it yourself.

The hot chocolate is mixed with thick caramel and topped with artisanal smoked sea salt and Turbinado sugar.  The mixture of the rich chocolate, the buttery caramel and the smoky salt is absolute heaven.  It’s by turns silky, nutty, savory, sweet, smoky and salty: like a parade of every favorite flavor through your mouth at once, all blending perfectly together.

Okay, so it’s got 550 calories per serving.  And it’s got quite a lot of fat in it (more than half of it saturated fat).  But no one ever said that obsessions were supposed to be healthy…

My consolation in these facts, however, is that you’ll all soon be just as obsessed as I am.  I dare you to get a cup of the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate and then not fantasize about it for the rest of the day.  Go on.  I triple dog dare you.

tenacity, Part Two

First things first: let me apologize for not getting this out sooner.  My little camera has officially given up the ghost, so I was only able to shoot the first half of the meal.  And even then, I had to struggle to get the pictures out of the damned thing.  Pictures from the second half of the meal are courtesy of Ronny, Randy’s brother cum sous chef cum photographer.  Anyone who wants to buy me a new camera (yes, please!), form an orderly line at the door…  Heh.

Anyway, without any further ado, let me present tenacity, Part Two.

Pigs Feet

We were a bit late arriving, and were shocked to find a house fit to bursting with people.  I kept telling Randy that I had a feeling there would be a great turnout, but was stunned to see just how great that turnout was.  On the table were the appetizers/amuse bouche for the evening: chicken feet.

Foot

What’s that? You’ve never had chicken feet? That’s okay; neither had I before last week. I was a bit reluctant, only because of the visual issues associated with eating something that still has toenails intact, but anonymous eater cheered me on as I tentatively bit into a foot (and, after all, I had to make up for the fact that I couldn’t stomach the pigs’ ears from the dumpling crawl the week before). I am so glad that I did. I can’t say that all chicken feet are going to taste this good, since Randy braised his in Indonesian sweet soy sauce. But these were damn fine feet. They were like the sweetest, most tender barbeque I’ve ever had. You just have to mind the toenails, is all.

Chef at Work

Randy was hard at work as the rest of us chatted and passed around random bottles of wine, including the aforementioned anonymous eater, Tasty Bits, I’ve Got The Munchies, the head of the Personal Chefs Network and the mastermind behind B4-U-Eat. We Houston food bloggers are an incestuous bunch.

Fordhook Zucchini

I browsed through Randy’s garden as everyone else mingled. As other bloggers have pointed out, the garden is integral to these dinners. Randy will dart in and out of the house at different points during the evening, snipping off a piece of lettuce here or a handful of herbs there. The freshness and the simple idea that so many ingredients are homegrown and lovingly tended transforms your entire experience while eating, especially when you walk into a garden that you know will soon be feeding you for the evening. Above you can see the beginnings of some lovely Fordhook zucchini.

Lined Up

On to the first course… Barely-cooked Gulf shrimp tartare with sprouting radish, kyuri and baby lemongrass. This luscious spoonful of still grey-blue shrimp, soft with the salty taste of the sea, along with the slight crisp of cucumber and the grainy, tangy texture of the lemongrass was the perfect introduction to a meal redolent with fresh seafood.

First Course

It was so good in fact, we scored seconds.

Second Course

The first part of the second course was this glass of leche de tigre. Similar to our Bloody Marys, leche de tigre is a Peruvian cocktail/hangover cure that’s made with all of the leftover juices from a large serving of ceviche. As a cocktail, it contains pisco. Ours simply had the heavenly, salty milk that tasted sharply and strongly of the ocean, with just small bits of ceviche lingering in the bottom of the glass. I can see how this would be a rather effective hangover cure.

Second Course II

The second part of the second course was this delicate little piece of amberjack, a trash fish not to be confused with the Japanese amberjack, or hamachi. Randy had purchased the amberjack in Galveston earlier that day, where he was besotted with its wet eyes and overall freshness. It paid off, as the fish was perhaps the best I’ve tasted — I still can’t believe it’s considered a trash fish. On top of the amberjack is preserved rhubarb, for bite, gelled tomato and red-veined sorrel. The gelled tomato in particular was amazing. Randy marinated the tomatoes and then hung them in cheesecloth, allowing only the juices to escape; it had only the slightest sweet hint of tomato with no astringency and added a rich layer of flavor to the entire dish.

Action Shot

The third course was my second-favorite dish of the night: chilled Third Coast shellfish nage (from the French, to swim), octopus, neri uni, crunchy pig ear and celery pesto. Pig ear with shellfish? Octopus with celery? Things that would never occur to me, which is why I’m not a chef. The contrasting textures (especially the crispy pig ear) and flavors were mesmerizing. I could have eaten this dish all night. And I particularly love the action shot above, where you can see Randy pouring the nage, which was made from a reduction of blue crab and shrimp heads, into the bowl to rendezvous with the other ingredients.

Another note about this course, which I loved: so as not to be wasteful with precious seafood, the shrimp from the first course had their heads end up in the nage here. I love the idea of using every part of an animal or plant possible, especially in today’s world where it’s more important than ever that we not be excessively wasteful. I’d love to see more chefs and restaurants taking this approach. Not only would it cut costs, it would lend itself splendidly to inspiring more creativity in the kitchen.

From here on out, the pictures are courtesy of Ronny. Want to see more? Click here!

Fourth Course

Our fourth course, and my favorite of the evening: “best parts of the pig” with shimeji mushrooms, courgette, marigold and foamed hollandaise. The “best parts of the pig” were, among other things, the headcheese, the hog’s ears, cheeks, shanks and eyes. These different parts had been compressed slightly and seared on one side, for a different texture depending upon which side you ate first. I was in heaven. While one would assume that all these parts would be heavy, fatty or greasy (or just plain unappetizing), they managed to be incredibly light and summery. The shaved courgette, which is just a summer squash, added to this feeling with its softly crisp texture and fresh, delicate flavor. To quote from my tasting notes: “mushrooms ex. dark & earthy; squash light & ethereal; pig surprisingly spring-like.” It was, once again, an incredible pairing of flavors and textures.

Fifth Course

The fifth course seemed to be everyone else’s favorite (I have different tastes in all things, it seems): cobia smoked with apple-wood and broiled, red malabar spinach and cream brown butter. The cobia, a sport fish, had — like the chicken feet from earlier — been braised in the same Indonesian sweet soy sauce that imbued it with an almost caramel-like flavor. I overheard some other diners claim that it verged on tasting almost like butterscotch. The fish was firm with a surprisingly delicate flakiness. I think that many diners might have found a new favorite fish that night.

Sixth Course

Our sixth course was the first of our two desserts: a frothy guava smoothie with coconut shreds. The smoothie was so perfectly summery and fun, with its unabashedly pink hue, cotton candy-like tangles of coconut on top and a tiny bendy straw to drink it all down with. The coconut was fresh and sticky sweet on top of the ice cold smoothie, a tongue-in-cheek and utterly laid back beginning of the end to our meal.

Seventh Course

The seventh and final course: corn pudding with whipped agave nectar, papaya and caramelized dairy with poppyseeds. The corn pudding was actually corn juice cooked over high heat with an emulsifying agent stirred in towards the end. It was surprisingly sweet while retaining that vegetal bite. The whipped agave (the white puffs above) tasted almost like divinity, while the sweet and savory papaya played a nice balance between the earthiness of the corn and the sweetness of the agave and caramelized dairy. An upbeat, fruity, tropical way to end a summery meal.

Randy’s next dinner is tonight, and I hear he still has a spot or two available if anyone is interested. Until next time, campers!

Dumpling Crawl, Part The First

My fellow Chowhounds and I hit the streets of Chinatown on Sunday afternoon, pounding the pavement in search of the perfect soup dumpling.  Yes, folks — it was a good, old-fashioned dumpling crawl (not to be confused with a good, old-fashioned walkoff).

Chinatown FountainThis isn’t where we started; I just like this fountain in front of the Southern News Group building (a local Chinese newspaper).

Starting at 11:30am, we hit Fu Fu Cafe first, which recently won the Houston Press award for Best Dumpling.  That’s saying quite a lot in a town like Houston with so many dumpling joints to choose from, so we decided to start at the top.  Jenny, the head Hound, ordered for us in Mandarin at all of the places we went on Sunday, which only increased my enjoyment of the afternoon (I really love listening to other languages, which a polyglot city like Houston caters to nicely).

Beijing DumplingsBeijing-style pan-fried dumplings.

At Fu Fu, we ordered their steamed pork dumplings, the Beijing pan-fried dumplings and a few orders of scallion pancakes for good measure.  The soup in the dumplings was by far the best here.  The dumplings themselves were huge, with soft, doughy skin that didn’t break as you separated each dumpling from its friends.   The soup was mild, salty and savory, the ideal counterpart to the downy dough and little nugget of steamed pork inside.  Their pan-fried dumplings were also fantastic, with a mysterious smoky flavor that we decided must have come from the super hot oil in which they were fried.  I topped my crispy scallion pancakes with generous portions of spicy Sri Racha sauce and thought of heaven.  This was a meal.  I was almost afraid to go to the next restaurant, as I felt it wouldn’t possibly live up to the delicious bounty we’d just eaten.

Scallion PancakeI could have eaten my weight in scallion pancakes. The restraint I showed was highly admirable, people. HIGHLY ADMIRABLE.

And, of course, it didn’t.  Classic Kitchen was our next stop, across Bellaire from Fu Fu and a world away in terms of service and quality.  It has certain qualities going for it — it’s clean, bright and airy inside.  The clientele definitely looks like they know their dumplings.  And the kitchen is relatively open — always a good sign.  But they were less than enthused about our large group of people: ten of us, to be exact.  They didn’t want to seat us, and they weren’t polite about it.  Jenny eventually wrangled a table for us, but the staff refused to bring us anything to drink and took away our chopsticks, literally throwing a pile of forks on the table and haughtily walking off.

Classic MenuBefore they took our chopsticks away from us.

We managed to get some dumplings, and even wrangled a specialty breakfast item from the kitchen — a donut-type sweet bread wrapped in an omelette with cilantro, wrapped in a crepe/tortilla-ish thing.  It was, despite that admittedly disgusting-sounding description, delicious.  We also had a plate of boiled peanuts with cucumbers that I thought were delicious, although they remained mostly untouched.  I would have eaten them all if I wasn’t trying to pace myself.

Taiwanese BreakfastTaiwanese breakfast oddity.

What we didn’t get at Classic Kitchen was any drinks (they wouldn’t even bring us water) or any semblance of service.  It’s a shame, really, since they could have had ten new happy customers and instead just ended up with ten really pissed off foodies.  Never good for a restaurant, no matter how good their food may be.  And after all that?  Their dumplings weren’t even that great.  They tore the moment you touched them, spilling out all of the precious soup inside and effectively ruining the dish.

Boiled PeanutsDangerously addictive boiled peanuts.

After our rather miserable experience at Classic Kitchen, there was nowhere to go but up.  We hit the famous Lai Lai Dumpling House next, one of the oldest dumpling places in town.  As Jenny noted, it was clear from the moment we went in that this place had been around for a while.  The clientele has gentrified from predominantly Chinese to mostly American.  The only Chinese faces we encountered were the kitchen and wait staff.  Their food has also gentrified to meet American tastes.

More on the weekend’s dumpling crawl tomorrow, including reviews of Lai Lai’s, Sichuan Cuisine, Lee’s Sandwiches (not Chinese, I know) and a few other gems.

In the meantime, if you want to read more, Jenny’s account of our afternoon is much more detailed than mine (and uses the correct terminology!) and anonymouseater’s account is straightforward and picturesque.