Houston food, restaurants and dining review. Urban living, travel, thoughts and other randomness.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Ngoc Chau !

This place used to be called Kim Chau, but it turns out there's another noodle shop on the West side of town called Kim Chau. Not coincidentally, both restaurants serve a great bun bo hue, a spicy broth filled with rice noodles, pork, blood jelly and herbs. Yummy.

Monday, after returning from Honduras, we had to get our noodle fix, so we went to Ngoc Chau. This time, I had bun mang vit, rice noodles in a light peppery broth with steamed duck you dunk in a sweet nuoc mam. Into the broth and noodles you put things like banana blossom, thin strips of lettus, basil and mint, and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). The taste is light and soothing--perfect for the summer.

The restaurant is clean. The iced tea is dark and tasty. The service is quick but forgetful. Overall, one of the best noodle shops in Houston.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Mango Tango (Honduras) !

I've been away for several days rafting, hiking, and risking life and limb in Honduras. I'm back now with a recommendation for the only non-hotel restaurant--Mango Tango. It has the feel of a cantina. Behind the bar, a Honduran grandma cooks the fantastic food. We started with fried yucca. Fried in oil, it didn't taste oily. It helped that the yucca didn't come in regular sizes, but ranged from finger-sized to fist-sized.

My main course? Fried whole tilapia with sweet fried-plantains, pickled spicy onion, and red beans and rice. Everything tasted great. I only hope to find the quality I had at Mango Tango somewhere in Houston.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Pho Nguyen !!!

I really shouldn't be writing this blog. This place is the ultimate secret in my culinary escapades. It's where I go when all else fails. When nothing sounds good, Pho Nguyen sounds good. There are two things to eat here, but it's the chicken pho, pho ga, that I come drooling for. And why do I suffer the diluted tea, poor service and occasional wait? The broth. The broth is the perfect blend of meat, herb, and fish sauce flavor. Okay, enough said. Don't try this place. You might get addicted.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bijan Persian Grill

I had intended to take my friend Jim to Darband (a review for another time), but when we went by the shopping complex, all the lights were out and everyone was standing outside waiting for power to come back... except Babe's, which somehow managed to have electricity. So we wint to Bijan Persian Grill located a little closer to 59, but still on Hillcroft.

I first visited Bijan over a year ago, just when it had opened. It looked like one of the few clean restaurants on Hillcroft. It was and still is relatively clean. Unfortunately, they still seem to have kinks in their system. While we were there today, at least a couple orders others made had to be returned or were missing something.

We ordered at the counter. I was craving koobideh, a ground beef kebab. So I ordered some to go along with the tabouli and coke. I highly recommend skipping the soft drinks here: I've never had a good one in the four times I've visited. As for the koobideh, it came with two halved tomatoes grilled and tasted a little bland but otherwise satisfying. Next time, I'm going to go back and get what has impressed me before: chicken kebab and saffron rice with zereshk (dried barberries). The dish tastes good and reminds me of Negar, who kindly introduced me to the wonderful flavor. Hello Negar, Daisuke & Soraya! We miss you here in Houston.

What do I like most about Bijan? Fresh flat bread and hot Persian tea at the end of the meal.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Maudie's Milagro (Austin, TX) !!

Generally, Tex-Mex cuisine is about as interesting as fast food to me. But my aunt from France was in Austin for my sister's graduation (Congratulations Judy!!!), and we needed to go somewhere uniquely Austin. So Rekha led us to Maudie's Milagro. Since we had just eaten a large lunch at Rudy's a few hours earlier (yummy cream corn), I didn't think I would enjoy Maudies. I was wrong.

Maudie's is very good Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex, if you don't know, is uniquely American. As Robb Walsh explains:
"In the good old days, Texans went to "Mexican restaurants" and ate "Mexican food." Then in 1972, The Cuisines of Mexico, an influential cookbook by food authority Diana Kennedy, drew the line between authentic interior Mexican food and the "mixed plates" we ate at "so-called Mexican restaurants" in the United States. Kennedy and her friends in the food community began referring to Americanized Mexican food as "Tex-Mex," a term previously used to describe anything that was half-Texan and half-Mexican. Texas-Mexican restaurant owners considered it an insult."

This Maudie's is located in Davenport Village, off of 360, just south of the big beautiful bridge. It's on the second floor of the complex and has a very large balcony area. Decorated in a modern sophisticated Austin-Mexican manner, this restaurant features a very large outside dining area with fans for the summer and heatlamps for the winter. It has some good views West and should be pretty fantastic at dusk--we came too early to see the sun set.

We were seated by a pretty brunette hostess (who Manh really dug) at a corner table outside. We started with the Diablo Sol Food--esentially queso with peppers, ground beef and some other interestinf flavors. Fantastic. My aunt had a nicely balanced margarita encased in a glass not too large (where they usually skimp on the alcohol) and not too small (where you feel you're not getting your money's worth).

For dinner, I ordered the chile rellano, a poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef and drowning in the Mild Spanish Rojas, a tomato based mild sauce. The chile rellano came with refried beans and Mexican rice--of course. What was different was the taste. Maudie's creates great flavors without having to resort to a lot of fat or oil. The result? When I finished the chile rellano, there was not a pool of oil at the bottom of the plate.

If you haven't been here, I highly recommend the experience.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

NOTES: Bun Rieu

Tonight, I went home to eat dinner with my parents and cousins. We had my mom's curry, but what I really wanted was bun rieu, otherwise known as crab noodle soup. Bun rieu is a Vietnamese meal in a bowl type dish. I have posted a picture below of my aunt's version. Her version is so good because she uses fresh crabs for the meat. One restaurant on Bellaire, across from the Hong Kong Market outside the beltway,serves the best Houston version of this fantastic dish. I'll review the restaurant one day SOOOON!
Bun Rieu
Noodlepie has an excellent article on this dish.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Armadillo Palace !

Goode Company is a Houston institution. Armadillo Palace is a Jim Goode saloon located in the same complex of Jim Goode restaurants, across from Goode Company Barbecue, on Kirby. I don't really know what the difference between a saloon and a bar is, but Armadillo Palace really feels like a place you should call a saloon rather than a bar. Out front sits a huge metal armadillo. Inside the saloon are leather stools, wooden tables, a small stage for a Western band, and young waitresses in tight jeans.

We sat outside where you could still hear the live performance, but could also talk without shouting. The view from the patio is Goode Company Barbecue and the saloon's parking. Next to us sat a gaggle of young women discussing the disguisting men who work with them and a rotund group of businessmen clearly comfortable at a saloon and completely out of sorts inside the big city.

All this atmosphere leads to the very limited menu. Rekha had the chicken salad with succulent grilled chicken and uninteresting greens. I had the good, but not great chicken fried steak. It had all of the taste of a good chicken fried steak, but was missing the crunchy exterior, the decadent gravy and the rustic texture of a great chicken fried steak. In other words, it didn't taste like the chicken fried steak I loved so much in Lufkin.

We finished the meal with the pecan pie. We weren't really going to order it but the peppiness of the waitress convinced us to stay just a bit longer. Like my previous experience with Jim Goode's pecan pie, this piece tasted good too--though I don't understand all the fuss many others make about this dessert.

After a very long day at work, it felt good to sit outdoors, talk about next month's party, and just hang out with Rekha. The laid back style of the saloon and the quality of the food at Armadillo helped greatly. I highly recommend this place for a beer, nachos, and laid back quality time with friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Auntie Chang's Dumpling House (Delivery)

Let's be clear on this... I've never eaten INSIDE Auntie Chang's Dumpling House, I've only ordered take out. Tonight, like the last two times, I ate their food, I had the food delivered. I got home late, felt hungry and procrastinated for quite a while before deciding to order at Auntie Chang's. I first tried Kam's Chinese Restaurant on Montrose: they don't deliver. Then I tried Ming's Cafe on Montrose: they don't deliver either. I could have tried Montrose Chinese Restaurant, the one closest to my house, but decided against what Rekha has already proclaimed as bland Chinese food.

Last time we ordered their short ribs, hot and sour soup, and their pork in garlic sauce. We liked the ribs and hot and sour soup. This time, I ordered the Mongolian beef, hoping for something like the P.F. Chang Mongolian Beef. No such luck. The Mongolian beef tastes exactly like their pork in garlic sauce. Same gooey brown sauce drowning the meat in both dishes. It's so far away from Mongolian beef, I'm pretty upset they even call it by that name.

No matter, I thought the dumplings might save the day. They did not. The dumplings had been prepared far earlier in the day or maybe even earlier in the month or century. They then steamed the dumplings and achieved the impossible. They tricked my tongue into believing that the shrimp, pork, and chicken dumplings all had the same taste!

Don't get delivery from Auntie Chang's. Maybe eating in the restaurant is better. I don't know and I won't try unless someone is willing to foot the bill for the experiment. Can someone tell me the name of a good delivery Chinese restaurant in the Montrose area?

Monday, May 16, 2005

NOTES: Dreaming of India

This past weekend, we had Indian food on three separate occasions. I haven't had this quick a succession of the subcontinent's food since our trip last November. All this Indian food has caused me to dream of the food cooked by an old man, who could not speak any English, and whose only customers were me, Rekha, and the captain of our kettuvallom, a houseboat. His was some of the best Indian food we had on our trip. Below is a picture I took of a boat that looked almost exactly the same as ours floating along the backwaters of Kerala.
Kerala kettuvallom

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Dhakshin Indian Restaurant

The first thing you notice about this restaurant is the location. It is waaaaaaayyy out there on Highway 249, west of Willobrook Mall, tucked into the Kroger's complex. The second thing you notice is the lack of Indian people eating here.

We went to Dhakshin for lunch Sunday and had their buffet. As with most Indian buffet's, dosa is available. In addition, they serve uthappam a rice pancake with a distinct fermented taste--much like idli. I think the uthappam's slightly sour and bitter taste comes from the fenugreek, a spice used in Asian cuisine. Then again, I can be totally off on this and they may not use any fenugreek to make their uthappam. Whatever the case, uthappam is an interesting replacement for dosa. it gives you a good dose of carbohydrates in a pancake like form. I still prefer the plain dosa.

Dhakshin also served a Chettinad pepper chicken that looks amazingly similar to buffalo wings, but has a more dry heat and a definite Indian spicing. Quite tasty. Other items of note include the the braised lamb (with bone). They spiced this lamb dish perfectly and let it simmer in the pot for a sufficient amount of time for the fat from the lamb to thoroughly tenderize the meat. Yummm...

What not to try? Don't eat the gulab jamun, a milk based brown ball drenched in sugar syrup. The version they serve at Dhakshin will turn you off from this fantastic dessert if you haven't tried the real thing. Check out what real gulab jamun should look like: this version was made by a wonderful Indian lady for us Saturday night.
gulab jamun

An interesting restaurant in a far away location. I won't go back anytime soon, but won't object to going if I'm on that side of the world and someone wants Indian food. But my question to them is: where is the Chettinad flavor? Rekha's grandpa told us real Chettinad food had a very spicy flavor. Did they dumb-down the spice for our American palates?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

NOTES: Art Car Parade

As we crossed the AIG campus to get home from the Orange Show's Art Car Festival, we heard a mom tell her two children, "One of the advantages of living in the inner city is that we get to walk home from the Art Car Parade." I couldn't agree with her more. Thousands came out for this annual parade celebrating Houston's surprisingly strong counter-culture. The festival reflects well upon this city of oil and cars and its sometimes eclectic citizens.

Some of the estimated 250,000 guests
Last night's trip Ten Cafe was a direct result of the Art Car Parade: our friends came for the parade. So, in addition to the throngs of Houstonians, the Art Car Parade attracts other Texans and even non-Texans to see cars such as the one below:

We had a good time watching some of the contraptions that went by and soaking in the sun, the crowds, and the noise. Parades such as this one are quintessentially American. It's good to be among our people.

Oh yeah, since this is a food blog, below is a food related picture:

Ketchup Car

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ten Cafe

Just north of 59, on Hillcroft lies a neon sign that reads, "TenCafe." It's open utnil 10:00 most days, but on weekends it stays open until 11:00. A couple of cool friends from Austin came to visit and they suggested this place. With tail between our legs, Rekha and I had to admit we hadn't tried a restaurant a couple of Austinites with rare visits to Houston have already been to at least once--probably twice. We tried to lessen the blow of our inexperience by claiming we had always wanted to try this restaurant, but the facts remain--we didn't know a restaurant in Houston that Austinites knew about and liked.

Ten Cafe is an Indo-Pakistani place. I think most Pakistani restaurants serve some Indian food to capture the huge Indian population here in Houston. The restaurant is definately not a place to go to if you want to impress a date--but is a good place for a relatively late spicy food fix.

I had the Seekh kebab. It's minced meat with chili and possibly cilantro mixed in. The spiciness is the draw of this meat. It reminds me a little bit of a burger we tried at a restaurant called Himalaya nearby. The kebab comes with onions, a carrot, and rice or naan. I usually like to put lots of pepper and a bit of salt on my onions before drowning the onions in lemon juice, but forgot to do that for this meal. Instead, I enjoyed the simplicity of the Seekh kebabs with hot naan and a brilliant carrot.

We had good conversation at the rickety table. We didn't have to pay much for the food. Ten Cafe was open relatively late and had a good number of people. And the food tasted like ethnic food. Overall, we had a good time. If you need a quick spicy fix before your clubbing jaunt, give this place a try.

Oh yeah, a lot of people were trying the biriyani (rice-based dish), we'll give that a shot next time.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thai Cottage II (Sugar Land)

Located in a strip mall in Sugar Land, Thai Cottage II seems to be run by a family. They are almost always busy for lunch and are definately always understaffed. This Thai place is probably the best lunch Thai restaurant in Sugar Land because of its reasonable cost. For about $6 you can get a soup or salad, an eggroll and a meat portion. I had the chili mint chicken today that looked a lot like my friend's cashew chicken. I suspect the taste wasn't all that different either. Thai Cottage II is a good place for those instances when you're working in Sugar Land and need a Thai food fix.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Saltgrass Steak House

I felt like I was dining in a small town vortex in the middle of the city. Rekha was pretty adament that we go to Saltgrass Steak House tonight--to rekindle her memories of Austin. The Texas themed decorations reminded me of Barnhills, Outback Steak House, and Brazos Cattle Company in Lufkin. It was a nice trip down memory lane.

Saltgrass begins the meal with a small loaf of honey wheat bread stabbed with a steak knife and placed on a cutting board. It even comes with whipped butter. Overall, there was no difference in this beginning from Saltgrass and Outback. Rekha ordered the Steak Salad. A nice medley of salad and steak that comes with balsamic vinagrette. The salad and meat seemed nicely prepared.

I ordered the 7 ounce Maudeen center-cut filet. It comes with a side and a soup or salad. I had the baked sweet potato as my side to go along with my steak and Caesar Salad. The filet tastes excellent. It comes seasoned with salt and pepper as well as some other herbs. The salty crust plays nicely with the tender meat and the garlic butter. I love the charred crust and the perfectly red-pink center. The sweet potato also tasted brilliant. It comes slathered with what appears to be whipped butter. Overall, I think the steak and sweet potato at Saltgrass are better prepared here than the steak and sweet potato at Outback.

The reason why it felt like small town USA? I used to go to a Saltgrass type restaurant at least once a week when I lived in Lufkin. Ahhh, the memories.

NOTES: Caesar Salad

A word about Caesar salad. A Caesar salad is not a Caesar salad unless the dressing is prepared in a wooden bowl with raw egg yolk, salt, pepper, lemon juice, garlic clove, and Worcestershire sauce. I like mine with parmesan grated into small strips--not grated until powder. Saltgrass calls their salad a Caesar salad, but it's really romaine lettuce with Caesar dressing--a distinctly different beast. At least they had the decency to add a bit of zing with whatever they added to give the hint of anchovies, but it was still not a Caesar salad.

Huan's Caesar salad recipe:

Place a single anchovy and a clove or two of garlic at the bottom of a wooden salad bowl. Mince, mash and smash the two ingredients with a fork. Add an egg yolks, 4-5 drops of Worcestershire sauce and some black pepper and beat with your fork until the yolk break and are just incorporated with the other ingredients. Now slowly add half a cup of good extra virgin olive oil in a stream into the mixture beating the mixture all the while. Taste the dressing and add lemon juice, pepper, and/or Worcestershire sauce as desired. When the liquid is well emulsified, you can add a whole head of cold crisp romaine lettuce cut into smaller pieces. Toss the salad thoroughly and add grated (small thin strips) of parmesan. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

NOTES: Wish I were here.

Today, Clotilde posted tasting notes on her visit to the following location. I'm so jealous. They really do make the best filling for macarons. Well worth the wait amongst the score of Japanese tourists. My feet get anxious to travel. My checkbook groans in anticipation. And yes, that is Rekha's paw to the right on the picture.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Saigon Pagolac !

On the back side of Dynasty Mall, on Bellaire, inside the Beltway, is restaurant called Saigon Pagolac. It's now the best place in town for seven course beef. The only place better closed down a few months ago (it too was on Bellaire). Saigon Pagolac is surprisingly well decorated given its location on the backside of a mall. I especially like the fake feel of Saigon, the well-lit baskets of fake food, and the cut-out with fake musical instruments. And, no I'm not being fictitious, I really do like the decor.

What is seven course beef? To state the obvious, it's seven courses of beef. Seven course beef is designed for group eating. You don't come here with just two people and try the seven course beef. Get four or six of your friends and come. Then, order only half plus one as many portions as there are people. So if you have eight people order 5 portions (1/2 of 8, plus 1). You'll have enough for everyone--I guarantee it.

Seven course beef at Saigon Pagolac usually starts with the sometimes good, sometimes missing waiter bringing out the plates of pickled carrot strips and daikon, lettus, mint, and other Vietnamese herbs. the waiter will also bring out the moistened and sticky rice paper and two dipping sauces: a nuoc mam and a grey purple mess that is a diluted shrimp paste cut with pineapple bits.

The first course is inevitably a vinegar or grilled sliced beef dish. They bring out raw thinly cut pieces of beef placed in a marinate of ginger, oil and some other things. You place the beef in the vinegar or on the grill, depending upon what you ordered. Then, you take the rice paper and place the lettuce, herbs, carrots, and whatever else you want on top. Once the beef is cooked, place the beef on top of the herbs and roll the rice paper into something resembling a spring roll. If this task is too difficult, bring a veteren of seven course beef to teach you. Absent a veteren, ask for a bowl. Put all the ingredients into the bowl and eat with a fork. Don't forget to dip the roll into one of the two sauces.

Next comes a series of dishes that can include meatballs, minced beef in la lot (similar to grape leaves, but more delicate), grilled beef, and various other beef products. The meal ends at Saigon Pagolac with alphabet soup with a sprinkling of ground beef.

I didn't have the entire seven courses tonight, but did have the grilled beef and shrimp as well as the minced beef in la lot (bo la lot). We also ordered the grilled/baked monkfish. The monkfish is absolutely fantastic. They probably made this dish by placing the entire fish inside aluminum foil (it comes stuck to the aluminum foil), enclosing the fish in the foil and broiling the hell out of it. The result is a crispy out skin with the most delectable moist white fish meat. Highly recommended if you can deal with a whole fish--including the head.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ouisie's Table !!

Ouisie's Table is one of my favorite Houston restaurants with its good food and good service. They serve updated American food in a cozy yet grand environment best described as a happy Edgar Allen Poe. Ouisie's Table has huge black and white paintings/tapestries blending well with the black and white theme of the the walls. Even if you don't like the decoration, come and enjoy the food, starting with the jalapeno cornbread they make daily.

My favorite dish here is the shrimp and cheese grits--also a favorite dish for at least one Houston Press writer. The grits are perfectly cheesed, giving the grits a taste more akin to risotto than grits. The addition of bacon bits and the perfectly cooked shrimp delightfully complement the grits.

Rekha and I usually come for brunch--served both Saturday and Sunday. This Saturday, we took both our moms to an early Mother's Day lunch. Rekha had the excellent, if somewhat small-portioned cornmeal pancakes with fruit and sausage. I had some grilled beef with a mashed potato cake. Though the potato cake was good, it was also frozen in the center. I should have asked the waiter to take it back, but didn't want to ruin the perfectly pleasant conversation at the table. On the other hand, the meat was good and the warmed portion of the potato cake was fine. Our only scar thus far in the four visits in the last 3 months.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Ibiza !

I first went to Ibiza Food & Wine Restaurant over two years ago to meet a marketing guru who also happens to run www.wineskinny.com.

Today, I went back at Rekha's behest. My interest in Ibiza's was re-ignited because Elithia said this is her favorite restaurant. The first few times here, I ordered a salad or soup and then a main course. This time, we looked at the menu and realized the "small dishes" make the most sense. Essentially, these are tapas. This part of the menu makes sense. On my initial visit, the tall hostess told us that the owners also ran a tapas place downtown. The tapas restaurant is apparently closed, though I can't seem to confirm either their ownership in the place or even its demise.

We started with sardines in olive oil. The dish is lacking in either originality or freshness. From the strong vinegar taste, the small size of the fish, and the complete lack of bones, I'd have to guess that Ibiza doesn't pickle the sardines on their own. Not that canned sardines are bad, they're just not worth paying for at a restaurant.

We also had the much more interesting green pepper and crab meat soup. Very good. It tastes like something between a tortilla soup and a much more exotic herbal soup. Well worth the order.

Next, our waiter brought out the manchengo cheese, Spanish olives and serrano ham. A complete waste of money. The cheese had an oily film over it from being cut earlier in the day and placed out in the humid air. The ham too was cut too early and had dried out. The Spanish olives were clearly canned and not of the best quality with bruising seen on many specimen.

Along with the cheese and ham, we had the very intersting smoked duck sausage stuffed inside a small red pepper. Turning game into sausage adds flavor because of the variety of tastes that the cook can add to large mammals like deer or pork. But Ibiza (or its vendor) pureed the duck to a pate-like consistency before placing it in the flavorful pepper. Great idea: they just need better execution.

We next tried the night's special, grilled scallops on a bed of something that tasted like an Ethiopian grain we had at a Richmond restaurant. The grain is called teff. Teff is used to make a flat pancake called engera. It tastes like slightly fermented pancake. It's the fermented taste that I don't like. On the other hand, the large scalloops were brilliant. Seared on the outside, Ibiza's chef took the medallions off the stove sooner than most restaurants and therefore preserved the sweetness of the meat. They then sprinkled a bit of sea salt (?) on top. Absolutely brilliant--especially given the propensity for other restaurants to overcook this delicate morsel and turn a melt-in-your mouth scallop into something more akin to squid.
We finished the meal with risotto. I agree with the excellent writers at gastroville who say that a well done risotto is a rare species given the quantity of risotto made daily. Ibiza failed to make a good risotto. Their rice came out undercooked and short-changed on the hydration front. Not even the clver use of cremini mushrooms and shavings of parmesan to fake a truffle flavor could overcome the lack of execution. Again, a great idea negated by poor execution.

The service was slow but polite. We wanted a leisurely meal and so didn't mind the pace, but others might not be so forgiving. Ibiza is better than I remember. It's inventive without pretension. Now, all it needs is execution.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Rekha's Pear Tart

For the past three weeks, Rekha has taken pastry classes at the Alain & Marie Lenotre Culinary Institute. She is trying to find out exactly how much she loves to make pastries. I think she must love it quite a bit since she has classes three days a week from 5:00 until 10:00 after work.

Below is a pear tart she made. Yummy!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Napoli's Flying Pizza !

Some reviewers have called Napoli's Flying Pizza the best pizza place in town. I don't doubt the sincerity. I happen to like the place too, but I'm not going to call it the best pizza. There are too many subjective qualities for any pizza to have the label, "best."

Some people, like the four businessmen at the table next to ours, like the thick New York crust pizza. I don't like thick crusts. Some people prefer a lot of cheese. Me? I like a thin crispy crust even if it means a little bit of the burned flavor--so long as the herbs placed on top are fresh and not burned.

Napoli's has a good pizza; however, I won't drive 30 minutes for their pizza. There are just too many other good pizza places more near our house. I will, however, be back for Napoli's Zitti. It's a penne pasta in a deluge of mushroom marinara sauce mixed with a touch of alfredo or bechamel sauce. This sauce is good. the white sauce adds just enough body to balance the marinara's slightly acidic nature.

The only sore point in our visit was the meatball, a compacted mass of meat and bread crumbs. Completely tasteless and so compacted, I had to use a knife to slice the thing... that's right, not cut, but slice.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Max & Erma's (Indianapolis, IN)

One of the most infuriating things about going to a different city for a day is to discover that every person you talk to has no clue what it means to eat good food. Take Indianapolis. The Thrifty Car Representative and a woman on the plane recommended Max & Erma's. The Drury's Inn representative told me to go to a Texas food restaurant called Lonestar. I specifically asked for something local--and these were the recommendations I got.

Max & Erma's is fine chain restaurant food. I had the 10oz gourmet burger with bacon and aged cheddar. It comes with a buttered bun and some nicely salted fries. The meat, however, had no taste. No salt, no pepper, no worcester... nothing. Today represents the only time I can remember putting salt on a burger.

They also serve sandwiches, salads, soups, and the normal Chili's or TGIF fare. Max & Erma's might be local to Indianapolis, Illinois, and other Northern states, but its food is as boring as any chain restaurant. Maybe I should have tried the Mexican food joint.

Monday, May 02, 2005

P.F. Chang's China Bistro (Sugar Land) !

I'm pretty sure that everybody and their mother has tried P.F. Chang's China Bistro. So I won't dwell upon its decor (great), its service (good), or its pricing (reasonable). Instead, I'll talk about individual things I've tried and tell you why to try or avoid.

  • Mongolian Beef. An excellent version of this ubiquitous dish. The P.F. Chang's version comes with tender meat, slightly charred by the high heat in which the cook the product. It comes with 1 inch long scallions. I order this dish most often. If you think it tastes like Pei Wei's version, think again. They use a lesser cut of meat and the results show. A lesser taste--something I never order at Pei Wei.
  • Lettuce Wraps. Their signature. Try it if you haven't. A real crowd pleaser.
  • Chang's Spare Ribs. Although large and nicely basted in the slightly sweet red sauce, their version doesn't hold a candle to a Chinese restaurant that specializes in barbecue items like duck or pork. Try Choy's BBQ in Hong Kong market instead.
  • Shanghai Street Dumplings. Not great, but good enough to dip in the fantastic sweet and sour sauce.
  • Salt and Pepper Shrimp. The high heat in which this dish is cooked means you can eat the whole shrimp--including the shell. Yummy.

I'll save some of the other dishes I've tried for later. I'm sure I'll be back in the next few weeks.


Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Ly - Chinese/Vietnamese Restaurant !

After taking a nice nap, Rekha and I again drove all the way down to Bellaire to meet my family for dinner at A Ly, a Chinese/Vietnamese Restaurant on the opposite side of the Hong Kong Supermarket, outside of Beltway 8. After the demise of A Dong (our favorite restaurant for calamari with watercress), A Ly will probably become our primary choice for full-blown Vietnamese/Chinese meals. The price is reasonable, about $10 a person, and the food is good.

My dad ordered a full-blown meal. It started with the fish maw soup--a dish served at just about every Chinese restaurant I can think of. We then whetted our appetites with the real specialty of the house, Peking Duck. The Peking Duck here is special because it always has crispy skin and because instead of giving you a thin tortilla-like wrap, they give you a thick, white, flavorful bun for you to wrap the duck into. It's so good, I have yet to come to A Ly and not order an extra helping of the bun. Yes, I know it's the same bun for Ban Bao, but it works so much better with duck!

Then the real meal started. Steamed lobster in a ginger white sauce. Broiled chicken with a an incredible dipping sauce. Sauted beef with broccoli in an oyster sauce base. Sweet-and-sour deep-fried tilapia (yes, it probably had a ketchup base, but it really does work!). Seafood in a hot pot. Fried calamari in a bed of watercress (not as good as A Dong was). And, the crowning moment for me? The dessert, a green bean based sweet soup with small tapioca balls. I prefer the base of the soup with taro, but was so happy to taste this soup after so many years, I slurped up two bowls.

tapioca and green bean soup
A Ly may not have the ambiance of P.F. Changs (or even your local Chinese buffet for that matter), but what it lacks in style, it makes up for in substance and price. Come, ask the waitresses that can speak English what you should eat--though you definately need to try the Peking Duck. Enjoy yourself. Tell your friends. Don't let the fate of A Dong befall this jewel.

We were so inspired by the meal we went across the street and picked up an Asian movie--2046. Too bad the movie didn't match the quality of the food.


Black Walnut Cafe (Rice Village) !

As its name implies, the Black Walnut Cafe is filled with dark wood. Yet, the light still streams through and the cafe is a great place to get some light food. After working the Asia Society Young Professional booth at the Asian American Heritage Festival in front of the Miller Outdoor Theater, Rekha and I really wanted some place to lounge, enjoy a good meal, and enjoy the weather.

They serve breakfast, burgers, salads, flatbreads, pasta, and even oriental inspired food here. We lounged at a small table by the window on two very comfortable grandma chairs. I ordered the New Orleans Noodles, a linguini topped with shrimp, spicy sausage, crawfish and a light cream dressing. Although good, the linguini didn't appear salty enough--they probably undersalted the water.

On the other hand, the cafe does have five choices for hot tea: regular, rasberry, and mango among others. Even better, they have real glassware in which to pour the tea. I can't tell you how much better tea tastes in glass as opposed to plastic.

For dessert, we had gelato. I tried a little bit of everything, but ended up getting a combination of dulce de latte and coconut. As any of the servers there will tell you, the gelato ingredients apparently come from Italy. Gelato is an ice cream made of cream rather than milk--thus its richer fat content. But the richness makes the product more creamy and better able to hold flavor. The dulce de latte is, as its name implies a coffee flavor with some toffee/caramel mixed in. The dessert was delectable. Finally, a replacement for the always missed Parfalat Parmalat that used to be at Uptown.

Come enjoy an intimate breakfast, lunch or dinner at this great addition to restaurants inside the loop. Prices are reasonable (about $10 for my noodles), and the gelato is fabulous. Let's all thank Mr. George Pallotta for bringing this Woodlands concept to us!

Copyright Huan Le 2005 - Powered by blogger
Forex trading est une entreprise risquee en soi forex recherches sont necessaires avant l'ouverture d'un compte de trading et de depot large eventail de plates-formes de negociation