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

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.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Spicy Sichuan

????Bellaire Blvd

I have question marks on the address because I don't know what it is. It's located in the same shopping complex as Sinh Sinh, on the corner of one of the buildings.

The first special on the list is crispy Sichuan chicken (or some name like that). It's basically bite-sized pieces of chicken wok-fried on high heat with sichuan peppers and dry red peppers. At Sichuan Cuisine, just down the road on Bellaire, this dish made my lips go numb. At this place, it made my tastebuds dance. Amazing...

We also tried the whole tilapia in a thick brown sauce. It wasn't so good. The fish tasted sort of microwaved--some parts were chewy and overcooked, while others were a bit underdone.

The thing that really made this restaurant work were the cold appetizers. You go to the back food bar and point to the things you want. You can have up to three items for $6. We had the bamboo shoots in hot oil, beef jerky, and bean curds. The bean curds tasted fresh and slightly sweet. The bamboo shoots just tasted amazing. The beef jerky isn't something I would get as an appetizer--it's better as a snack.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Monsoon Wok and Lounge

1200 Mckinney St # 103

Monsoon isn't that good of a restaurant. It's owned by a group out of Wisconsin called Mo's Restaurants. The bar is a pretty cool place to hang out after work and grab a drink. The decor is modern asian. A bit like a scaled down streamlined version of PF Chang. We sat at the busy bar area rather than the quiet dining area.

They have a small happy hour with hot wings. These things are hottttt and pretty tasty. We also tried the $6 fried wontons that came thin and with dipping sauce. If we ignored that they call these things wontons, they were quite enjoyable. We also tried the Szechuan chicken. Not so tasty and not so Szechuan in flavor. Very much lacking in taste. Their menu isn't extensive, and the lack of tastiness in the food we did have showed us why. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind hanging out at the bar after work with some friends.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mak Chin's

1511 Shepherd Dr

I'm always suspicious of Chinese restaurants in non-Asian communities. Too often, the result is a trite regurgitation of every other Chinese restaurant. Mak Chin is different. This hip joint has a Tuesday busy lounge in the back serving up drinks, televisions and comfort. In front, the restaurant thankfully keeps the menu simple and the modern Asian look the same.

We had the off-the-menu fish lightly battered, fried, and drowned in a spicy and sweet sauce. The fish tasted tender and the sauce well balanced. We also tried the Schezuan Shrimp. It wasn't anywhere near as interesting.

If you live in the neighborhood, give it a tray. It might be a good alternative to Pei Wei.


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.


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 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?


Friday, June 02, 2006

Kim Son Buffet

Just outside the Beltway on Bellaire sits this huge new Kim Son. We had the $15 per head dinner buffett here. It's a great buffet for lunch, but lacks quality for dinner--though it did have some imagination. Seafood heavy, the restaurant has some good points.

Try the congee. Flavorful, but thin, it's a nice little starter for a buffet. Then get the banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe). They put a little bit of coconut milk in the batter so it has a delicate sweetness that contrasts with the egg, bean sprouts, shrimp and other goodness in this fried delicacy. For dinner, the other food is satisfying, if a little low on quality. But what do you expect for a buffet?

If you've eaten at China Bear, you know what this restaurant is all about. It has a Vietnamese take on food and Haagen Daz on the menu: maybe justifying the higher price. So try this place for lunch when you're hungry and just want a lot of food. Avoid it for dinner.


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.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Jasmine Asian Restaurant

9938 Bellaire Boulevard

This location is cursed, but the food might be the magic potion. Jasmine Asian Cuisine is tucked into the corner of a strip mall next to Sinh Sinh on Bellaire. Previous to Jasmine Asian Restaurants, three other restauranteurs had tried and failed. This attempt might be the charm. It's run by the same people who own Saigon Pagolac, the seven-course beef masterpiece on the back side of Dynasty Mall (just two blocks away).

The concept for Jasmine Asian Restaurant is the same as Saigon Pagolac: great decoration and great food. Like Saigon Pagolac, Jasmine offers a seven course meal, but with fish as the main feature rather than beef. Not a bad choice since Saigon Pagolac makes the best grilled whole fish this side of the Pacific.

Since it was just me and Rekha, we opted out of the too-much food seven-course meal and instead tried the twice cooked pork (too dry) and steamed fish. The Steamed fish was a flounder or some other thin fish that had too much oil and so the fish tasted overcooked and oily.

We also had the insane bad luck to go so early in the life of the restaurant that they weren't fully staffed. That caused a half-hour wait to order the food, a 45 minute wait for the food and my having to get our drinks refilled. For now, I'll forgive them the service issue since we generally have decent service at Saigon Pagolac, but the bad food makes me weary. I can only hope they get better and improve to the quality of their sister restaurant. If so, watch out Kim Son.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rickshaw Far East Bistro & Lounge

I always thought rickshaws were exclusively Vietnamese until I came to this restaurant a few years ago. I don't know why, but only after going to this restaurant did I realize these things were ubiquitous in Asia until mopeds and cars became the rage.

This restaurant is as sexy as sexy sounding as its name. Dark woods, sexy patrons, moody lighting. I can go on and on about the drink menu, the decor, and the uber-cool ambiance, but you might be interested in the food: I wish you weren't. The food here is expensive and often not very good. I've had the Miso Bass there. The bass smelled like fish--not good for a sushi restaurant. We tried the Unagi roll there today. The rice fell off the roll and it seemed doused in soy sauce. We tried the Spicy Tuna handroll--where's the spice?

Rekha and I will be back, but for the Upside-down Pineapple Cake martini and the coolness factor--not the over-priced food. Who pays $6 for siu mai dumplings?


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Peking Cuisine !

8332 Southwest Freeway

I love Peking Duck. My wife loves Peking Duck. Everybody loves Peking Duck. Peking Cuisine serves an excellent Peking Duck. Go to Peking Cuisine.

You should call a few hours or even a day in advance to reserve your duck. They don't reserve tables, just ducks. And only one person there speaks English proficiently, so be patient when you call to reserve your duck. You should probably reserve one duck for 4 people. If you have 6 people, you can still order one duck, but you'll probably need to supplement from the rest of their good menu.

The Peking Duck here is a bargain. $23 for a meal. When I say a meal, I mean that the duck comes with steamed bok choy (Napa cabbage for you Californians) and a soup infused with the duck bones and tofu. Yummy.

The duck here is excellent. They cook away quite a bit of fat compared to A Ly (on Bellaire) and the skin comes crisp and flavorful. They come out with a doctored up hoisin sauce that seems more runny than normal, but also less salty and more appropriate to the duck. The wrap is homemade and very thin. I prefer the non-traditional A Ly wrap, but I see the draw of this thinner wrap when the duck is so flavorful. After you finish the duck and bok choy, they'll bring out a big bowl of soup filled with cabbage, soft tofu, and the duck bones and dark meat from your duck. The soup brings lightness to a flavorful meal.

Oh yeah, if you're in the mood for adventure, try the "la pi", "pi lo", or something like that. I forgot what it was called, only that it's thick clear noodles in a garlic sauce. Absolutely fantastic side dish with the duck if you're in the mood for some strong flavors--vinegar, garlic and peppers.

The service at this restaurant is problematic. The wait to get a table is annoying on the weekends. The tea is mediocre. But the Peking Duck and the fact that everyone is Chinese mitigates all its faults. Peking Duck is yum yum at Peking Cuisine.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Fung's Kitchen (Dim Sum)

I've gone to Kim Son (Sugar Land) for dim sum for so long and have been so disappointed in so many dim sum restaurants (Ocean Palace, Golden Palace, etc) that I didn't sexpect Fung's Kitchen to shine. But shine it did.

They have a wide variety of plates available including things you don't usually find in dim sum restaurants in Houston: duck feet or salt and pepper shrimp. Their carts come often enough and the restaurant is big enough to house the masses that come.

I especially enjoyed the siu mai which I know is fairly basic as a dish, but it is usually a good indicator of the quality of a dim sum restaurant. The shu mai had a wonderfully moist wrap. The pork was just cooked and not overdone. The salt and pepper shrimp had a crunch so good, you could eat the whole darn shrimp--including the head. The chinese broccoli came tender, green and crunchy. The fried items like the shrimp in taro had the taste of the product and not the oil.

A wonderful experience. Though I'd recommend sticking with the less expensive chicken feet rather than the less flavorful duck feet.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Chinese Cafe (Richmond) !

Sometimes, I get in the mood for traditional Chinese food with the smell of grease and peanut oil. When I'm those moods, nothing satisfies more than Chinese Cafe. And, yes, it's called "Chinese Cafe." Today we ordered the special fried rice, the Szechuan beef, pork with bamboo shoots, and dried bean curd with mustard green and soy bean. We ordered all of this for take-out. It took 10 minutes to drive home and the aromas/odors filled my car.

Once home, we opened the tightly packaged goodies and dumped them onto plates for service. For $27 we fed four people and everyone got second helpings. The pork in bamboo shoots had a nice, slightly spicy taste and nice richness from the oil. The bean curd came with very green, very fresh and just done mustard greens and soy beans. The fried rice did not have too much soy sauce and came with perfectly cooked shrimp. What a feast. Highly recommended.


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.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kim Son (Sugar Land) Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio

Lunch at Kim Son is about as interesting as any Chinese restaurant around the corner from your house. They have the usual kung pao this, and orange-glazed that. But if you turn the lunch menu around, you'll find a lunch portion of dim sum. Since dim sum on the weekends at the Kim Son in Sugar Land is probably the best dim sum in Houston, it's one of the things I get for lunch on a weekday. Curious for a Vietnamese restaurant, but true.

The good Chinese dim sum at this Vietnamese restaurant, might be the result of what I understand as a split kitchen. The way an employee at this restaurant explained it to me, when an order is brought in, an expediter splits the order into its Vietnamese and Chinese components. The Vietnamese kitchen and Chinese kitchen will prepare their respective specialties and then the order is brought together before the waiter brings it to your table.

Today, I decided to skip the dim sum and get the bun thit nuong cha gio, otherwise known as vermicelli with barbecue pork and egg rolls. If you're used to Chinese cooking, you'll get the completely wrong idea about this dish. First, the Vietnamese vermicelli, unlike Chinese noodles, is made from rice. Second, the barbecue pork is not the thick roasted pork with a sweet brown-red glaze. Instead, the barbecue pork is grilled, thinly sliced pork seasoned with a little brown sugar, light soy sauce or fish sauce, and some garlic or lemon grass. Third, the egg rolls don't have thick covering, but a thin rice-paper skin covering cellophane noodles, mushrooms (preferably woodear), onion, egg, pork, and a few other ingredients and spices. Finally, all of these ingredients are placed in a bowl with fresh bean sprout, greens, and carrots placed through a mandolin.

The bowl is brought out with nuoc cham. Nuoc cham literally means "dipping water." There are many variations to the recipe, but the basic version calls for the dilution of nuoc mam (fish sauce) in equal parts water and vinegar,and the inclusion of ground garlic, chile, and sugar into the liquid mixture.

The recipe from restaurant to restaurant is remarkably similar for this dish. So, the entire taste relies upon the quality of the individual ingredients. Kim Son does not use bad produce and usually hits with its nuoc cham, but the egg rolls left something to be desired. So too did the barbecue pork. Both the egg rolls and barbecue pork tasted like they had come out of a microwave or were overcooked. The egg rolls had no crip and the pork tasted a bit like beef jerky.

But in the end, it's the cold vermicelli slathered in the nuoc cham that makes this dish for me. Since the vermicelli did taste cold and they seemed to hit on the nuoc cham today, I'm not going to complain too much.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

China Bear (I-45 North)

A meeting with Shiyou, Zhia and Kamy saw us at Shiyou's favorite class of food--Chinese. We met at the newly minted China Bear. At 11:45 the restautant had more empty waiters than customers. Shiyou got us a more private table inside one their group rooms This place had two very long rows of fried, stir-fried, steamed, and baked foods. I tried the fried rice, lo mein, general tso's chicken, wanton soup, unagi, salmon, crab claws, king crab, and pastry puff chicken. Only the last one had an interesting taste. The rest of the food tasted much like every other Chinese buffet--oily and fried. I think these Chinese buffets have only three or four sauces and drown all of their food in one of those sauces. The result is a consistency of taste between the chicken, pork, and beef.

Shiyou's choice of this restaurant surprises me. He cooks excellent Chinese food and Szechuan in Nacogdoches (his favorite) is one of the better Chinese restaurants I eat at.


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