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

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sadaharu Aoki (Paris, France)

35 rue de Vaugirard, Paris 6รจ
Paris, France

We were in Paris for the weekend and went to Sadaharu Aoki's pastry shop. As you might have guessed from the name, the chef is Japanese but trained in both Japan and France.

The tiny shop is all white and staffed with oriental women. There are two tiny white tables that can seat two people each. We sat at one while a Parisien in fur sat at the other. The stark white color plays beautifully against the browns, greens, and other colors on display in the pastry counter.

I tried the wonderful Mille-feuille with Green Tea. It was outstanding. The layers were crunchy and crumbly. The filling tasted balanced and rich--like soft butter infused with tea. The powder on top did not distract.

Sadaharu Aoki - Mille-feuille

Miyako (Kirby)

I have a love-hate relationship with this Houston institution. I hate that I always wind up here when there are several better sushi restaurants. I love that this was one my first sushi restaurants and is always consistently pretty good--though almost never great. Today I had the same experience. After wandering around in the car thinking about what I could eat for $10 or less, I settled on a few pieces of sushi.

So I thought about Sushi King (ugghhh), Fish, Cafe Japon, Azuma or Kubos. I ended up at Miyako because it's easy to get to from the house, and the place isn't as stuffy as some of the ones on my list. The sushi chef, a hispanic guy (Latinos will be the rulers of the culinary universe in a few years), told me the sake (salmon), hamachi (yellow tail), and maguro (tuna) were pretty good today. Since these are my three favorite raw fish, I ordered one nigiri (raw fish on top of rice) of each. It seems tuna is good here every time I come in and at every sushi restaurant in Houston. I suspect it's not because the sushi is most fresh, but because people like the red meat taste.

The hamachi tasted good, but lacked that buttery flavor that can really send it over the edge. I enjoyed my sushi while overhearing a conversation between a young political campaign consultant and an old Tulsa engineer who happened into a conversation. I followed the sushi with gyu tataki (seared beef) served with the lemony ponzu sauce. I highlyn recommend this dish at Miyako. The presentation and flavor has changed over the years, but the ponzu sauce remains nicely acidic.

So another failed attempt to save money... $25 for dinner. But I had a good meal in an old haunt. If you go, sit at the sushi bar, order the gyu tataki and strike up a conversation with the sushi chef. It's the best way to enjoy this place.

UPDATE (03.26.2007):I reviewed this restaurant two years ago. It's been about that long since I ate here. Now I remember why. When I last went, the food quality was decreasing. It's gotten to the point where I have to say you shouldn't eat here. Here is the round-up of our food today:

- Agedashi Tofu - Tasteless Tofu (not silky like it should taste) without the gently fanning potato starch. Cut too big

- Beef Sashimi - Low-quality beef cut too thick. Dressed with red hot sauce (ugghhh) and lacking any delicate flavor. If I wanted a steak, I would have ordered one.

- Spider handroll- Over-fried crab

- Yellowtail with Yuzu Sauce and jalepeno - Good idea, but bad tasting fish. It tasted dry and didn't have the butter quality you expect from yellowtail

- Salad - Drowned in dressing.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bibas Greek Restaurant (One's a Meal)

607 W. Grey Street

Bibas Greek Restaurant is old. The very worn, grey booths look like they should smell. They don't. The bar hasn't been use like it was intended in years. The few patrons there during dinner look like they want to smoke a cigarette but can't: One guy kept gnawing on a cigar. The man in front of us read his newspaper page by page, nursing his coffee.

The Spanish speaking little lady who took our order looks like she has become part of the old furniture of painted brick, stain-glass chandeliers, worn carpets, and lights with burned-out bulbs. It's the kind of place Bukowski would have frequented.

The restaurant is open 24-hours and may get busy from time-to-time. You seat yourself and the Greek, American and Italian menu arrive quickly. I ordered the gyros. The meat tasted a bit reheated and the tomatoes had the unmistakable tastelessness of a corporate farm. Despite these drawbacks, the gyro did have flavor and did satisfy a craving.

Rekha had the Greek chicken soup and Greek salad. As she said, it's not bad for chicken soup, but not a very good Greek chicken soup. The Greek salad tastes a lot like the one at Niko Niko with a less interesting dressing.

Bibo's Greek Restaurant - Gyro
This place should satisfy a late-night craving--not a desire for a culinary experience. I won't come back for dinner, but will come back if asked by a friend and will come back when it's late and my belly growls.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Wild Ginger

2735 N Town Center Blvd

Wild Ginger's business card says that they have sushi, satay and pho. I didn't see any sushi, but did see the satay and pho on the menu. The menu is a bit Chinese, a bit Thai, and a bit Vietnamese.

I had the pho. It came with basil and bean sprouts. The pho tasted okay. There are so many better places to eat pho, it's not worth the visit to Wild Ginger to eat pho.

On the other hand, Rekha had the very good, if slightly too sweet, lemon-grass chicken. Tender pieces of chicken, button mushroom and other vegetables are drowned in a golden lemongrass sauce. Quite good for lunch and a good bargain at $6.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shri Balaji Bhavan

5655 Hillcroft Avenue

My father-in-law calls this the best deal in town. He is probably on the money on this point. Balaji Bhavan is a South Indian restaurant. Dark inside, and covered with tile, this restaurant very much reminded me of our trip to India.

The menu is extensive and cheap. I like chaat--a kind of Indian snack. This time I had the best chaat I've ever tried at Balaji Bhavan (how can you not fall in love with such a cool sounding name?), sev puri. It consists of 5 or 6 half dollar sized discs of a crunchy savory fried dough covered with potato, onion, corriander, and chutney. It crispy and good... ohhhh so good.

We also ordered the traditional thali that comes with a variety of small side dishes. When we were in India, everyone mixed the vegetables with the rice by hand and ate with their hands, but at this restaurant, there was an even split between those who ate with their hands and those who ate with forks. We opted for forks.

At some point, I'll do a more extensive review on this place, but for now, go there, order many dishes and determine what you like and don't like. It won't cost you much. And for an after-dinner drink, have the Madras Coffee. It's pretty good.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

1308 Cantina

1308 Montrose

We walked over to John Paul's restaurant today. Formerly known as John Paul's Sabor, the restaurant is now called 1308 Cantina. Redecorated to look much more like a traditional restaurant Mexican, I prefer the new earth tones of this decor to the cold blue of the previous decor. What has not changed is the attentive service and the thoughtful menu.

I had three tacos for under $10. It doesn't sound like a bargain until you see the plate that can feed three people. I'm usually partial to beef tacos, but in this case, the chicken taco tasted better than the beef. Moist hunks of chicken sit inside a tasty tortilla (I had the soft tacos). The pork tasted a bit like dry chicken. The beef was the worst of the bunch. It tasted dry and over-drowned in maggi sauce.

Rekha had one of their combination platters. It came with a hard beef taco, paella rice, cheese enchilada with red chile sauce, and guacamole. The enchiladas has A LOT of cheese. The tacos were a little greasy. But overall, an ecceptable lunch for the price.

She also had the sangria that came nicely balanced, but a bit uninteresting. More interesting were all the margarita flavors they carry--they even had pomegranite the day we came.

Rekha's Combination Plate at 1308 Cantina
So why will I go back? Sitting in the patio area, watching the traffic go by as attentive staff kept our glasses full and our dining needs met were wonderful experiences for us--especially when most of the restaurants we go to these days have service you have to wave down like a taxi driver during rush hour in New York.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Inversion Coffee House !

1953 Montrose Blvd

Hurrryyyy!!! Come to Inversion Coffee House before the suburban yuppies find it. Located in the Art League of Houston's new building, this coffee house will surely grow to more locations in the coming years. The staff are friendly and the local clients bring a much needed boost of artistic inspiration to the coffee house scene.

Inversion Coffee House

The coffee tastes like any other good coffee. It's good, but if you're stuck on the Starbucks flavors, you'll hate it. We happen to like the coffee here more than Starbucks. They also serve up cakes flown in from the East Coast and pastries from Kraftsman Bakery down the the road. If available, grab not one, but two red velvet cakes. Luscious, moist, not too sweet, balanced, red, creamy, delectable... I wish there were more adjectives.

Bask under the two-story ceilings and the lights that are left on too bright at night. Look through the reading material. Lounge under the television on the leather lounge. Make sure you get your frequent coffee buyer card stamp. Listen in on artists, architects, the unemployed, the fabulously rich, and yours truly talk to their significant other or confidant.

Independent coffee houses are few and far between in Houston. Go support this one.

Tofu Village

9889 Bellaire Blvd.
Dun Huang Plaza

We walked by Tofu Village last week and saw a lot of people inside. So this week, instead of Noe or Cafe Laurier, we tried Tofu Village. This Korean restaurant rocks. They decorated with simple elements like wood, oversized pictures of popular singers, and the occasional television. Incredibly, some of the patrons actually sounded Korean.

This is not a Korean BBQ restaurant with large vents going up the ceiling and expensive prices coming down your wallet. Rather, this is a restaurant that prominantly displays bulgogi, a kind of comfort-food type dish in Korea.

We had the tofu soup with clam, shrimp and beef. The kimchee flavor of the soup overwhelmed all other flavors, so it's a good thing we liked the flavor. Too bad they didn't cut down on the tofu. You should also ignore the inclusion of clam and shrimp since those elements added little to the flavor.

For our main course we ordered the very brilliant barbecue shortribs. It comes on a sizzling fajita-platter. The ribs were fantastic. The marinade makes the meat so tender, we didn't need a knife--just our teeth.

Our meal came with kim chee, small marinade potato, blanched greens, and some bean sprounts. Not an overwhelming number of side dishes, but more than enough considering the price of our entire meal... $21. And considering the tastiness of the kim chee, the meal was a bargain.

All meals come with an earthy Korean hot tea. They all end with yogu, a small yogurt-based drink. The service is slow because of the high volume. But the good taste of the beef and kim chee overshadows every flaw.

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