Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hurricane Weirdness in Houston

Too much hurricane misery to post lately, but I've had a lot of interesting and strange food in the last few weeks.

First up, I had a pungent fish stew at Mai Thai near our house. It is the greatest little Thai place, and a great discovery. Pretty cheap, with $5.95 lunch specials that sound yummy. We went for dinner and had some dumplings, followed by fish stew. Jon had drunken noodles. All were delicious. The fish stew came blistering hot in a large aluminum pot. It had shrimp, scallops, mussels, chunks of fish, and some glass noodles. Very fishy, in a good way. The only bad thing is that they put the fish in the pot raw, and let it cook as you eat it...a nice touch, but the fish was on the raw side, and the shrimp got overcooked over the course of dinner. I got a few bites of Jon's food, and it was likewise delicious. Perhaps best of all was the decor, consisting of hundreds of orchids, bamboo plants, pots, and fake flowers, all of which is for sale. The music also contributed to the atmosphere, consisting of bizarre synthesized stuff of undetermined origin. Non-Asian but ethnic-sounding music...maybe Central Asian? It was that strange. Kudos on the wicker furniture, too.

Next, we were staying with a friend in Meyerland, the Jewish suburb of Houston, who recommended a Kosher dairy restaurant. Saba's Kosher Kitchen was in a little strip center storefront, with a menu encompassing pastas, salads, salmon, and a bunch of strange Israeli things I'd never heard of (despite having been to Israel). I settled on something described to me as a "sweet pizza dough pancake" (Malawach, apparently Yemeni Jewish comfort food). It came out fragrant and fried, with little plastic cups containing a whole hard-boiled egg, hummus, and something Thomas Keller would probably call 'tomato water'. It was accompanied by a cucumber, tomato, and green pepper side salad kind of reminiscent of Ya Hala's delicious Fettoush salad in Denver. I wasn't quite sure if I was supposed to use the condiments to make a pizza, but the hummus resembled the icky canned kind, so I did not. Our friend later confirmed that one is NOT supposed to make a pizza of it. Despite this, the tomato water was very spicy by itself, and very nice on the pizza dough with a little egg yolk. The salad was ok, as was the Israeli mango nectar I had to drink.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Alamo Drafthouse in Katy

For dinner, I had PBR, chips and salsa, and a burger and fries from the Alamo Drafthouse. The Drafthouse is a chain of movie theaters out of Austin that serves food and adult beverages. They used to do a MST3k-style show out of their main Austin location with some UT students turned stand-up comediennes that was amazing. Alas, they have moved on in their lives, and "Mr. Sinus Theatre" is gone forever.

The salsa was the best part of dinner. It tasted homemade. For a theater chain, they make a lot of things from scratch- the pizza sauce, the sangria, maybe even the salsa. It had a nice level of heat, good tomato flavor, and a texture that was not too chunky. The chips came out warmed, but would have been mediocre had the salsa not been so fabulous.

The PBR was exciting. For some reason, we've had a ton of trouble finding it for sale in Houston. We figure there aren't enough snotty hipsters here to enjoy it, or that they choose to drink the local hipster beverage of choice, Lone Star.

The burger and fries were decent. The fries actually consisted of wedges too thin to be described as 'homefries', but too thick and wedgey to qualify as french fries. In seasoning, they were closer to a french fry, with salt and a little herbed seasoning. The burger was rather dry, and was too low-fat to make a decent hamburger. I requested "rare, if possible" on our little ordering sheet, and it was maaaybe a tiny bit pink in the very middle. I just think it's a little sad that nobody wants to serve me raw meat for fear of a lawsuit. It seems clear that all these restaurants believe their meat is dangerous; I'm just a little bothered that it seems to be ok in the U.S. to serve dangerous meat, as long as it's been fully cooked. Maybe next time I'll bring my own grass-fed, family-farmed hamburger meat with me. Or maybe I should just go veggie.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sandra Lee's Kwanzaa Cake

I guess I've been a remiss food blogger for not noticing this earlier. I can't help but think there's a little bit of racism in putting corn nuts on a cake.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bush's Fried Chicken in Cedar Park

For lunch, I had fried chicken, french fries, and a 32oz. sweet tea from Bush's Fried Chicken.

Bush's is not related to THAT family, for which I'm very grateful, despite being started just down the road from the ranch in scenic Waco, Texas. Over my college years, they branched out from Waco to the small surrounding towns of Central Texas, and now they have a franchise in north Austin, Cedar Park. Their chicken is better than most chains, and a tie with Popeye's. They're completely different chains, so the comparison isn't fair to either, but the overall tastiness quotient is similar. The batter is much lighter and crisper than Popeye's, and there is no 'spicy' option at Bush's. Hence, I end up dumping approximately half a bottle of Louisiana-style hot sauce on my chicken strips, but it is worth it.

I had the #1 combo- four chicken strips, cool zigzag-cut fries, gravy, and a huge sweet tea for $6. I hate soft drinks, but my vice all through college was a 32oz sweet tea from Bush' least until I gained ten pounds off sweet tea alone. It used to be .50, and comes with "good" ice (yay pebbly ice!). With inflation, it's now a whopping .92, but still, without a doubt, the best sweet tea anywhere. I can't be sure, but it tastes like it's still made with real sugar (no HFCS here), and lots of it.

The chicken was pretty good- crispy, super-hot, with a really nice cracker-crumb saltines flavor and doused with hot sauce. Their fries are always nice, with a retro grade-school cafeteria thing going on due to their prefab Ore-Ida shape. They also get doused in hot sauce. I'm not a huge gravy fan, but I gingerly dipped a few fries into the quivering goo for research purposes. It was creamy and peppery and kind of bland (I think gravy is supposed to be bland?); if I didn't think I'd need a quintuple bypass tomorrow, I'd dip my fries in more often.

Bonus excitement:
I adore Central Texas, and try not to make fun of people who live there (particularly when they make yummy food). However, I checked out the Bush's Chicken website in an attempt to clarify the sweetener used in the sweet tea. No dice there, but whomever wrote the copy for their site is illiterate. Check out the inappropriate apostrophes and grammar (and their pics of zigzag fries) here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weirdness in Austin

For dinner, I had a chicken-stuffed chorizo with refried beans and a 'Texas lemonade'. God help me, I think this is the weirdest thing I've ever eaten.The location was Trudy's, a Mexican restaurant on the north side of Austin. It looked like an old-fashioned cantina from the outside, but the inside setup was reminiscent of a sketchy nightclub. The clientele included a good number of Guidos dressed in silly-looking designer t-shirts to show off their bulging biceps.

The chorizo was...interesting.It was called "chorizo stuffed chicken" on the menu, but when it came, I discovered it was really chicken-stuffed chorizo. It consisted of a chorizo sausage casing sliced open, filled with chicken and crumbled chorizo, breaded, deep-fried, and covered with velveeta-like cheese sauce. Oftentimes, inappropriate proteins stuffed inside other proteins can be good (George's Crazy Wings up in Waco, for example, or maybe turducken), so I was feeling optimistic. Unfortunately, it was a dish of mediocrity- the chorizo was not very good in terms of spiciness and texture, and the cheese sauce was truly frightening. I still ate it. I think the concept has potential, but not at Trudy's. It should also be noted that the menu contained several items labeled "flauquities". No matter that the word cannot be pronounced in Spanish, they are flauquities...I wasn't going near those things.

I'd heard tales about Tito's vodka from Austin, so I had to try it when I got the chance. Texas lemonade consisted of Tito's, fresh lemonade, and some muddled mint. I'd go back for the lemonade. Chorizo, not so much.

Today's graphic is not what I ate- it's to give you an idea of plate presentation at Trudy's. It also looks about as disturbing as what I ate. I tried to take a photo, because the chorizo-chicken was truly unique, but the nightclub atmosphere made it too dark.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ravioli in Houston

For dinner, I had whole wheat cheese and asparagus ravioli with arrabiata sauce and a glass of malbec.

The ravioli was Safeway's/Randall's house brand, with an intriguing, but not quite fearsome, three grams of fiber per serving. As might be expected by the 'asparagus and cheese' description, the filling was very, very strange. Not bad, just not the ideal thing to smush up and put in one's ravioli. It tasted kind of lemon-ey, but not in a good way. Also, the cheese part of the filling was also overly sweet, and the raviolis stuck together annoyingly. The sauce was pretty decent. I am very picky about jarred sauces, and Mezzetta's Napa Valley line is in the middle. I adore arrabiata that makes me cry, and this is definitely not it. It's thicker than most sauces, but is also oddly chunky, and the veggies in the sauce are very crunchy, giving it a pasta-with-veggies feel rather than a pasta-with-sauce feel. That said, the flavor isn't too bad.

The best part of the meal was the wine. Gascon malbec from wonderful Mendoza, Argentina. My loving husband has been on a malbec kick of late, and it's a very good thing. I'd forgotten all about malbecs, having gotten quite distracted with the Iberian Peninsula. Anything from Spain or Portugal is a delicious, amazing value, but the same can be said for most wines from South America. This one is garnet-colored, with smooth berry flavors and nice tannins, and under $10.

For purposes of edification (and because more photos of ravioli would be boring), the graphic is the official flag of Mendoza province.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Arugula at Home

For dinner, I had some arugula with TWO kinds of Annie's natural dressing, THREE kinds of grapes, garlic bread, and a glass of milk.

First, arugula is the best salad green, hands down. Would you trust someone who doesn't like arugula to run this country? I wouldn't. It depresses me that the "red" half of this country is so ignorant and sheltered they will not even TRY this tasty little green. I KNOW they haven't tried it, because if they had, they wouldn't mess with it. Forget 'Don't Mess With Texas', it should be 'Don't Mess With Arugula'. Bumper stickers, anyone?
Learn more about the humble green here

So why two dressings? Elitism? No, just misplaced optimism. I love Annie's Shiitake Vinaigrette, but they had a new cucumber-yogurt flavor I wanted to try too. The cucumber-yogurt tasted like tahini wallpaper paste, so I quickly switched to my fave. The consistency was atypically thin, but the flavor was as yummy as always.

I'd also purchased a mixed pack of grapes, so I enjoyed black, red, and green grapes with dinner. I toasted some rosemary bread with olive oil and garlic to make a tasty garlic bread, which made me miss my old grill. Grilled bread is so much better.

And finally, the milk. My lovely husband informed me this evening that we should not drink so much wine, so I consoled myself with a glass of milk. It is organic (good), but also skim (bad). A nice light vionier would've been so much better.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bali BBQ Tofu from Whole Foods

For dinner, I had a lovely three-course meal prepped by Whole Foods and brought home by my loving husband.* The presentation was very exciting- three plastic compartments packed into a large Whole Foods paper bag, with a stapled-on label describing each menu item and the low, low price of $15.99.

The main dish was a "Bali BBQ Tofu". It looked like it aspired to be Sesame 'Chikin'- tofu in gooey sweet sauce, garnished with a few obligatory green veggies and sprinkled with raw sesame seeds (lazy Whole Foods). It actually tasted relatively good, though the tofu was a little -erm, squishy? It didn't appear to have been fried, but its texture was similar to inari. A little weird. But good.

The sides consisted of "Emerald Sesame Kale" and a cold soba salad (no cool name there). The kale was definitely the winner. Who doesn't love kale? I suppose it is an elitist salad veggie, as those things go, but it is also full of vitamins and fiber, and way more interesting than broccoli. It was dressed with ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and tamari. It was also sprinkled with more of those dastardly raw sesame seeds, but otherwise delicious. The soba salad was pretty bland- maybe all the seasonings migrated to the bottom, but I definitely didn't taste any green onions, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, OR ginger. The ingredient list also boasts MORE raw sesame seeds, but they were thankfully absent from this dish.

*isn't my husband nice to help me edit my blog? What would I do without him? For the record, I returned the favor by taking my loving husband out for some Ben and Jerry's after dinner. It was tasty too.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Calling Jason Sheehan: Please Move to Houston!

This post is not about what I had for dinner. This post is about bad food writing.

The Houston Press food critic, Robb Walsh, is illiterate and I am sick of it. Apparently, he also writes cookbooks, but he must have a damn good editor to combat his poor writing skills. Seriously, check out this tangled paragraph from his latest review:

"The ginger-scallion preparation is a favorite with live seafood because of its simplicity. The idea is to savor the incredible freshness of the seafood that was swimming around a few minutes before you ate it. But unfortunately, East Wall messed up on the lobster, as far as I am concerned. It was cut up and stir-fried in oil with the green onions and chunks of ginger as usual, but then the chef coated the lobster pieces with cornstarch."

Okay, so it sounds like something I wrote. Badly. But I'm not getting paid to write about food, and he is. It makes my inner grammar nazi all twitchy just thinking about it. I realize that Denver is the most highly educated city in the country, and that perhaps Houstonians would be unable to grasp the subtle wit that is Jason Sheehan. Regardless, it's sad that the Houston Press is lowering the intellectual caliber of discourse in this country via its shitty food writing.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Skillet in Montrose

Today for brunch, I had two poached eggs, local chorizo, black beans, two kinds of salsa, and breakfast potatoes, all covered with mozzarella cheese. The location was Cafe Brazil, a tasty coffee shop/bar/restaurant in Montrose, the hipster gay neighborhood of Houston. It should also be noted that this Cafe Brazil is (as far as I know) NOT related to the Dallas mini-chain that also has awesome desserts and a hipster atmosphere. If I'm lucky, I'll make it up there one of these days and review it separately- the location in Deep Ellum holds a special place in my heart.

I love the Houston Cafe Brazil- it's like a converted garage full of art, with a nice (at least in January...) ivy-covered patio, and a slew of tasty desserts. No dessert with brunch, alas. Even without some early-morning sugar, Brazil makes some mean Mexican food. Beyond the skillet I had, they also have migas, a breakfast taco plate, and a pupusa plate. I'm a little concerned about the quality of their pupusas, considering their orthography ("papusa"???), but I did have their migas last week, and they were likewise tasty. My only complaint this morning was the eggs, which were poached into don't-sue-us-for-food-poisoning oblivion. Maybe the eggs were old and they were worried? Otherwise, very nice, especially with the two accompanying salsas: sassy green chile, and a sweeter roasted tomato one. Extra points for the piping hot corn tortillas and toasted cinnamon house blend coffee.