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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Maria Selma !

1617 Richmond Avenue

I'm not a fan of Tex-Mex (maybe I've had only bad Tex-Mex), but I love Mexican food. Tacos particularly fascinate me. Maria Selma's might not have the best tacos in the city, but they do serve it in a great environment with great margarita.

For a $6.95 you get your choice of three tacos. I especially like the beef with napolitos (grilled cactus) and the al pastor, marinated pork with grilled pineapple. Fantastic stuff if you're looking for a quick dinner that won't hurt the caloric budget.

The chips are also something to behold. Thick and tasty, it goes great with the spicy salsa. These chips are so filling, that a serving really does count as an appetizer. As for drinks, stick with the nicely balanced margarita.

Maria Selma's might be a bit toned down for the non-latino tongue, but it quality ingredients, fun environment, and consistent cooking never hurt anybody.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ra Sushi

3908 Westheimer Rd.

Ra Sushi has some very cool red lanterns. Brilliantly located across from the Central Market, this place will surely become another hot spot for fake boobs, fantastic drinks and maybe even some eating. I'm not trying to put it down, I'm actually pretty excited about a place so obviously extroverted. Houston needs places like these to succeed if we're going to get more restaurants like Bank, Bistro Moderne, or Gravitas.

The food? Don't try the Nabeyaki udon. It's not bad, just not good. Do try the very tasty, very inventive Chili Ponzu Yellowtail. The yellowtail were tender nicely sized slices covered with a dried radish, pine nuts and a sprinkling of chili flavor. It comes with a chili ponzu sauce that blends perfectly on the bed of shredded daikon. Very good deal for $12.

We also had the spider handroll. There is a reason it's not on the menu. It sucks.

As with any new restaurant, service is a little spotty. But it's definately worth a revisit, especially as the crowds start to find the place. Just don't let the secret out: Ra is owned by Benihanas.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Sinh Sinh !

9788 Bellaire Blvd

Despite all the discussion about Sinh Sinh on this website, there has not been a single review of the restaurant. So our entire family went yesterday, and I thought now would be a good time for the review.

Sinh Sinh is located just inside the Beltway on Bellaire. It's hard to miss and incredibly popular. This is actually the third iteration of the restaurant. One of their first restaurants was located about a mile East and served mostly noodles. This Sinh Sinh serves up an amazing variety of dishes. Here you can get a simple bowl of noodles, or a seafood extravaganza.

I don't really come here for anything other than the hot pot. When you order, remember that the suggested serving size assumes a big appetite. So, for example, we order a hot pot for six when there are eight people. We also add the egg noodle for some extra carbohydrates.

A hot pot is, as its name implies, a pot of boiling broth set on top of a table-top stove. The stove is usually unbearably dirty, but you're not eating off the stove, so try to ignore the filthy spectacle. Inside the pot are two sides, one spicy and one not so spicy. With the hot pot comes raw vegetables, noodles and raw seafood/meat. Your job is to dump the meat, vegetables or seafood into the broth and make your own soup.

Some things to know:

1. Crack the egg over the hot pot. We like to put just the whites in the broth and put the raw yolk in the red chili paste they give you. The chili (combined with the yolk) is to be added sparingly to your individual bowl.

2. Cook the squid first, it takes a long time. Cook the beef last, it takes no time at all.

3. I wouldn't put the noodles in the hot pot itself to cook. When you put the hot water into a bowl already filled with noodles, the hot liquid will nicely warm the noodles.

4. Don't leave the ladle in the hot pot. For some stupid reason, all the ladles are made entirely of metal (including the handles) and they get incredibly hot.

5. If you order the special seafood hotpot, know that the shrimp come alive and on skewers. These shrimp are very sweet and very yummy, but it will freak out a few of you.

Hot pot is fantastic in cold weather like we have been having. Ask your difficult to capture waiter how to eat it if you're unsure. This experience will take you to another level of culinary adventure. Drop a line if you need help.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thai Spice Express!

8282 Bellaire Blvd

There is more than one location for this restaurant, but try the one on Bellaire. I'm told it's the only one with real Thai cooks. One really nice thing about the menu here is that there are pictures of the food behind the counter. I had the soup with the seafood in a pink broth. It's a slightly sweet, slightly soure, nicely balanced soup that doesn't quite fill you up for lunch. Followed by the sticky rice with the egg custard, it's the perfect amount of food.

The other night, Rekha and I tried the fried whole fish, the beef with beans (I forgot what it was called), and the very very spicy tom yum soup. It felt like an excellent meal made at home by a nice Thai family. We followed with Che Thai, a mixture of coconut milk, jellies, and fruit. It's the best we've had anywhere in the city.

The ambiance is fast food mixed with an ethnic flavor. But ignore the ambiance and go for the food.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Empire Cafe

1732 Westheimer Road

One of the problems in Houston is our lack of good coffee houses. A place where you can relax, read a book, listen to some music and generally use as your living room. I know there is Agora, Brasil's, Dietrichs, and Starbucks, but they all lack something essential. I don't know what it is, but I know Insomnia in L.A. had it. None of the places I've visited in Houston has "it"

What bothers me most about a Houstonian's vision of a coffee house is that we tend to include a place like Empire Cafe into the mix of "coffee houses." I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but this is a cafe in the best sense of the word--quick food for a meal or for a snack. Empire Cafe is not a coffee house. Heck, they don't even stay open past midnight!!!

So, I'll review Empire Cafe on the basis of what I like. Let's just say I won't be talking about the pasta or pizza here. I'll talk about the cakes that they don't even make in-house. These cakes are delicious.

For about $6 you get a nice large slice of cake that not even your mother could make. They use a lady who specializes in wedding cakes (you'll have to ask since I forgot her name) and she does wonders. Light, not too sweet, full of the flavor that she intends, the cake doesn't taste processed. If you've ever had a cheap cake from Randall's you'll know what I mean by "processed." For example, some people use liberal doses of extract to flavor a coconut cake. Not this lady. she uses coconut shavings to great effect.

And if you're really in the mood to blow your mind, try the strawberry cake. Moist and delicious, Rekha actually likes to call to make sure they have it before we trudge 5 minutes down the road for some. Don't let them trick you into buying a slice that just got out of the freezer though. Cold cake doesn't taste good when the ingredients make such a moist monster.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


812 Westheimer Road

Rouge is under new management. Thus, the deconstructed plates I so cherished have now disappeared and I am left to ponder hunks of meat swimming in sauce. Sometimes change is not good. I liked the delicate touch of the previous chef. It's not that the food is bad, but the menu reminds me a bit of Ruggles. Big plates with big flavor.

Rekha had the pork chops (yes plural) that she could not finish. The cut was not good compared to images of perfection like the Perry's pork chop. I had the seafood plate that came with a lot of seafood. Although the scallops tasted fine, they lacked that sweetness I love so much. The shrimp was a bit overcooked and the fish tasted like decent fish. In otherwords, nothing overwhelming or bad. It's just that for this price, I expect much better quality.

Desserts were available but were not memorable. Rouge is worth a revisit, but I'm going to have to change my expectations. Maybe I expected too much French when they were clearly going for modern Americana.

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