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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cafe 101

9889 Bellaire Blvd.

When we walked into the restaurant, I thought I was back in Alhambra's Chinatown, right next door to Los Angeles. Bold colors, clean lines, loud patrons, and colorful lights. But what really caught my attention were the waitresses... All were about five feet tall, incredibly skinny, and wearing micro miniskirts.

We had a hard time figuring out what type of food this place was trying to serve. They have sushi, kim chi, kung pao, shaved ice, and pork chops. What is key to enjoying this restaurant is to set your expectations. Come here late at night, after you've had a dinner that didn't quite satisfy. Enjoy the company of your friends at the rickity tables. Then, order from their 8 page drinks menu (no alcohol).

After you've figured out what $4 tea, fruit, frappe, tea/milk, tapioca drink you'll imbibe, start thinking about their limited food menu. We saw lots of folks order the hot pot. So we did too. We had the seafood kim chi hot pot. Remember what I said about expectations? The seafood hot pot comes with 2 shrimp, 2 pieces of squid, and 2 pieces of fish cake. Not exactly overflowing with high quality seafood, but it did satisfy 2 hungry people.

We ended our meal with shaved ice. I love the ice here: it's more flecks of ice rather than shavings. You can choose from a small menu of items that they put on top of your 2 cups of shaved ice. For those of you that haven't tried shaved ice, try this combo: condensed milk, green bean and pudding.

Expectations. Don't think you're getting a gourmet meal: come for the party atmosphere. Enjoy the lively discussions around you and at your table, ponder the the huge drinks menu, and share in the slow miniskirt service.


McCain's Market

550 Heights Blvd.

McCain's Market is a great concept that might one day grow into a great market. But for now, come support this family's quest to serve local foodies with fresh fish, meat and grocery.

The space is small, and a significant portion is devoted to eating their fresh made sandwiches. But the sign out front says "market" so they carry a number of interesting dried pastas, oils and vinegars. They also carry what looks to be good meat and fish. I had expected an abundance of farm eggs, garden herbs and vegetables, and maybe even some local condiments. It wasn't there. What they have looks good, but there ain't much of it.

So on to what we tried.... You sort of custom make your sandwiches here. You order whatever suits your fancy and they put the ingredients on top of Kraftsman bread. It's pretty hard to go wrong with the sandwich since you picked all the ingredients. We also tried an interesting (but not tasty) summer soup of cold peach and mango. It had a cinnamon flavor that really interfered with our enjoyment of the bowl.

I really don't want to say anything bad about this place. It's not really as good as many other local grocers I've gone to in other cities (not enough goods), but Houstonians should support endeavors like this one. So I'll be back, buy more stuff, and ask that they stock stuff like farm eggs. You should do the same.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro

1221 W 11th St

I really REALLY wanted to say good, nay, even great things about Dragon Bowl Bistro. I thought it might be a Noodle-ism (Austin noodle house) for Houston. All the markings of a weeknight regular rotation hangout are there: Clean lines, strip-center-convenient location and parking, and a fresh ingredients concept. When we walked in we were greeted by the very friendly, very engaging staff, all dressed in black

Unfortunately, smoke from the cooking also greeted us. You order at the counter and, like a fast food joint, they call your number when your food is ready. I had the reasonably priced Singapore Noodles with beef. The beef gives away the fatal flaw of this restaurant--it had no spices to flavor it. Everything we had tasted fresh, but the food just didn't come together to form a complete dish. Yes, the meat tasted fresh. The vegetables were nicely cooked. The noodles had nice resistance. But the bowl had no coherent flavor. I was reminded of my college days when I would just put anything I could find on the stove and call it a meal. Rekha had a similarly disappointing meal.

I really wanted to say something good too. The chef/owner, Ken, is a nice guy. The concept rocks and the staff makes me smile. Ken, please put those great ingredients together in a more coherent manner. Maybe using a bit more oil isn't a bad thing?

We’ll be back soon to see how things have come along and keep you posted)

NOTES: Somehow, this blog is getting over a thousand hits a day. I know I've only told half a dozen people about it, so how did it wind up on Google? Is there someone who is linking to me?


Monday, July 24, 2006

Cafe Laurier

3139 Richmond Avenue

Cafe Laurier is one of those restaurants that gets overlooked by even the most ardent foodies when thoughts of French food in Houston percolate. Located next to the Velvet Melvin, this little outpost of French cooking (they call themselves New American though) dishes out good food in an intimate and sexy environment.

The restaurant provokes feelings of intimacy by its dark and very modern decor. The waiters add to the ambiance by being beautiful and competent. The menu is simple. Rekha had French Onion Soup topped with Gruyere cheese ($8 for a bowl). The soup tasted very clean, if a little light on salt and caramelized onions. She followed that soup with endive salad ($8) filled with crispy white endive topped with a pear/apple relish--perfect.

I ordered the pan-fried duck served over a bed of polenta ($22). Thankfully, the waiter didn't even bother to ask me how I wanted it done. tI simply came out medium-rare--the only way to serve this kind of duck. The taste reminded me of a Guy Savoy restaurant in Paris, where they squish the duck under hot iron pans for a nice crispy exterior and then finish it under a salamander.

When we crave French food, we usually head to Cafe Rabelais for simple and honest cooking. However, this recent visit to Cafe Laurier, will make us pause a bit to consider this excellent alternative--even if they do advertise themselves as New American.

One more thing... Order their fries. If you like the crunchy bits of fries at the bottom of a McDonald's bag of fries, you'll love Cafe Laurier's version of frites.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bamboo House

540 Waugh

We eat a lot of Chinese food. Most Chinese restaurants serve what I'll call 0ld-Houston Chinese food. These places typically have moo goo gai pan and specialize in Hunan beef and Kung Pao something or other. These restaurants are much like a visit to McDonalds for me. Not bad, but not something you want to seek out.

From the looks and the name, Bamboo House hints at something new. The location though (a strip mall on Waugh) tells you it might just be another Chinese restaurant. It's not. I think of it as a more fresh and local version of P.F. Changs. The food here is consistent and tasty.

Today we had the pan-fried dumplings to start. The filling isn't the best in the world, but the crunchy outside and the warm soft inside worked wonders in my mouth. We ordered a single main course, the orange beef. This is the best orange beef I have ever tasted. Now, I'm no expert on orange beef (Rekha tells me Scott Chen's version was better), but this thing had actual slivers of orange peel. It tasted tangy and fresh rather than soggy and thick as most orange beef tastes.

The decor is modern, low-key and minimal. They need pictures on the wall. But ignore the blank beige walls and allow the food to capture your attention?


Sunday, July 16, 2006

NOTES: Rekha's Wedding Cake

Rekha put together a beautiful wedding cake for a beautiful wedding.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Paciugo Gelato !

5172 Buffalo Speedway, Unit A (Next to Vietopia)

Since our trip to Florence (Italy for those of you who are thinking of SC), we've been rather obsessed with gelato. When we came back after a week of two gelatos a day, where do you think we went? Teo, a gelateria in Austin. Austin, in fact, has three different gelateria brands. Houston? None (Dolce Vita closed)... until now.

Paciugo is a franchise. But it makes good gelato. Good enough for Central Market in Austin to carry their gelato. So what is gelato? It's like icecream, but a bit smoother and more flavorful. Paciugo claims that it's 80% lighter than icecream. It's served in a semi-frozen state, allowing you to eat it rather easily with a plastic spoon.

Today, I tried the green tea, caramel, and black pepper and olive oil. All tasted very good. Not quite as ice-crystal-free as the gelateria at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, but very good. I much prefer Paciugo's gelato to just about any icecream. The only thing I can compare Paciugo to is a place called Parfalat Parmalat that shut down a while back (a Marble Slab now occupies the space in Uptown Park).

Go try it now... Yummy.

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