DISPLAY UNTIL MAY 28
ISSUE NO. 120 APRIL – MAY 2014
C O N T E N T S
aprilmay14 10 HOUSTON BITES BACK
Includes noteworthy openings & closings, Letter from Navigator of the Seas, a sparkling red wine taste-off, a closer look at bento boxes, over-the-top Bloody Mary garnishes, Houston’s oldest bars, how to make fresh pasta and much more. 46 QUIET OR RIOT
Sometimes you’re in a festive mood and don’t mind a bit of happy chaos during your meal. Other times you need a quiet place for a romantic date or business talk. We recently set out to measure noise levels in 21 of Houston’s top restaurants and bars. Along the way we chatted with Houston restaurateurs and interior designers about creating buzz without sacrificing conversation. By Phaedra Cook Photos by Chuck Cook 52 GARDEN TO TABLE
Sometimes even shopping a farmers’ market can’t deliver vegetables, fruits and herbs into a restaurant kitchen fresh enough to satisfy a fussy chef. One solution: Chefs plant their own edible gardens where they can harvest produce just hours before it reaches the dining room. Here’s a look at six local restaurants and their edible gardens. By Becca Wright
ON THE COVER French-American artist Guy Buffet, originally from Paris, is celebrated for his depictions of Gallic chefs, sommeliers, waiters and cafe scenes. He spent many years in the Polynesian islands and has a vast following of collectors of his colorful island-life works. He has been commissioned by many corporations (including Grand Marnier, Williams Sonoma and Westin Hotels). We are honored that he allowed My Table magazine to use his painting Gourmet Tour of Burgundy on our 20th anniversary cover. See more of Buffet’s wonderful artwork at guybuffet.com.
57 20 YEARS: THUMBING THROUGH THROWBACKS
On our 20th anniversary, we take a look back at some of the articles and features that have appeared in My Table since 1994.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
What’s going on in the Houston restaurant world?
82 RESTAURANT REVIEWS
Caracol 60 Degrees Mastercrafted
36 JUST DESSERTS
38 GETTING IT ON THE SIDE
… with Randy Evans of Haven 40 FOOD LOVER’S QUIZINE
The Sweet Smell of Our 20-Year-Old Feats 74 SO YOU WANT TO OPEN A RESTAURANT? PART TWO
In the second installment of this yearlong series, we present the fundamentals of choosing a good location.
4 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
86 3-IN-1 REVIEW
Kitchen: Possible 88 TASTING THE TOWN
Roll With It
M A S T H E A D
MY TABLE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Teresa Byrne-Dodge email@example.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR &
Jane Kremer, sales manager 713-973-0207 firstname.lastname@example.org
Taylor Byrne Dodge email@example.com ASSISTANT EDITOR
Becca Wright firstname.lastname@example.org DESIGN
Jen Cooper EDITORIAL
Bill Albright, Sarah Bronson, Phaedra Cook, Eric Gerber, James Glassman, Dragana Arežina Harris, Stephanie Madan, Micki McClelland, Carl Rosa, Robin Barr Sussman, Chris Tripoli
Kathy Powell, sales 713-817-7041 email@example.com Jodie Eisenhardt, sales 713-818-7508 firstname.lastname@example.org NEWSSTAND CONSULTANT
Joe Luca, JK Associates 816-229-2305 email@example.com SUBSCRIPTIONS
Joan Byrne firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Bronson, Guy Buffet, Chuck Cook, Chris Hsu, Kevin McGowan, Doug Pike, Becca Wright
Darla Wishart 281-798-8538 email@example.com
Twitter: @MyTablemagazine Facebook: My Table ~ Houston’s Dining Magazine DETAILS My Table magazine is published by Lazywood Press. A one-year bimonthly
subscription (six issues) is $30. Some back issues are available, $9 each. CUSTOMER SERVICE Our website lets you change the address on your account or
order a subscription. Click on “customer service” if you are missing an issue, receive duplicate issues or need to temporarily suspend your subscription. Go to www.my-table.com. LETTERS For the quickest response, contact the editor via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My Table: Houston’s Dining Magazine (USPS #011972, ISSN #1077-8077). Issue No. 120 (April – May 2014). Published by Lazywood Press at 1908 Harold, Houston, TX 77098. Established January 11, 1994. All rights reserved. Material may not be reproduced by any means whatsoever without written permission. The opinions expressed by My Table’s writers do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or Lazywood Press. PERIODICALS Postage paid at Houston, TX. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to My Table, 1908 Harold, Houston, TX 77098. 713-529-5500 www.my-table.com
SideDish is an email newsletter published by My Table and will arrive in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday with restaurant news, wine reviews, recipes, events, giveaways and everything else that celebrates the Houston food world. Sign up today for your free SideDish subscription at www.my-table.com.
6 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
Our Vintage Crew
TAYLOR BYRNE DODGE
Twenty years and 120 issues ago I had an idea for a little dining-out newsletter. A decade of writing about restaurants for local and national magazines had helped me to see the market was ripe for such a publication. In the spring of 1994, with a $3,000 nest egg, I scaled back my freelance writing career to begin organizing My Table. Its purpose was to inform and entertain. We had no business plan. We had no newsstand distribution. We accepted no advertising. Heck, we didn’t even have staples. My mother came to help me mail out the first issue, but it didn’t take very long. We only had 64 paid subscribers. Fast-forward to the issue you’re holding in your hands. I’m regularly astonished by what we have accomplished. Obviously I didn’t do this alone. A magazine is a collaboration among editors, writers, photographers, illustrators and art directors. Among our long-time veterans are designer Jen Cooper (who has done our layout since the second year), writers Robin Barr Sussman and Micki McClelland and photographer Kevin McGowan. My daughter Taylor Dodge, who was just 10 when My Table launched, joined the business TOM CALLINS
in 2010 and is now creative director. Assistant editor Becca Wright is the newest TERESA member of our BYRNE-DODGE team; she came on board in January. Just for fun, here are some of the contributors who were bold enough to share their vintage photos, all circa 1994. It’s the way we were the year My Table launched. • • • We are celebrating our 20th anniversary throughout 2014. On April 26, join us at our Pop-Up Book Spot, a one-afternoon book fair featuring Houston’s many cookbook and food book writers that is part of the Sip & Stroll at the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair. Among the many writers who will be there to sell and sign their books are Erin Hicks, Paul Galvani, Robb Walsh, John DeMers and Michael and David Cordúa. We are also arranging many special events with area restaurants, including Eleven XI, Grub Burger Bar, The Original Ninfa’s and Sparrow Bar + Cookshop. Check SideDish or our Facebook page for details and special offers.
editor & publisher
CHRIS HSU ERIC GERBER
ROBIN BARR SUSSMAN WITH CHEF JACQUES PEPIN
JEN COOPER WITH HER BROTHER JUSTIN
CHRIS TRIPOLI WITH HIS WIFE SUSAN
JANE KREMER WITH HER HUSBAND KEVIN
DRAGANA AREŽINA HARRIS
JODIE EISENHARDT WITH HER DAD, KELLEY JONES
CHUCK AND PHAEDRA COOK
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
TABLE TALK The “non-sports” sports bar KATCH
name, the result of a lawsuit brought by
bar famous for its whiskey selection and
GRUMA CORP.’s trademark of
walk-in humidor has closed, revamped
“Mission” for its line of Mexican foods.
and reopened as a smoke-free business.
The popular fast-casual burrito-maker
We’re sorry to report that JANE
22 has been rebranded and saved
held an online contest to ask its fans to
HUDSON and HARRY PARKER have
from itself. KEVIN MUNZ, owner of
help choose a new name. As of press
closed down their B4-U-EAT.COM
CULLEN’S UPSCALE AMERICAN
time the winner has not been revealed.
website. It began as a BBS in 1991
GRILLE in the Clear Lake area, recently
OUISIE’S TABLE proprietor
and moved to the internet in 1995.
became part of the fledgling restau-
ELOUISE ADAMS JONES (3939 San
rant’s management team. Located just
Felipe) has introduced Classical Music
off Washington Avenue, Katch 22 was
Thursdays. Starting in February, a
GIANCARLO FERRARA, long a
originally a partnership of LUKE
violinist and pianist now perform in the
fixture at the stove at ARCODORO, is
MANDOLA JR. and KORY
main dining room 7 to 10 pm on
opening his own spot called AMALFI
CLEMENS when it opened last May.
Thursday. OSTERIA MAZZANTINI
RISTORANTE ITALIANO & BAR in
Front-of-the-house guy Mandola has
has introduced a Wednesday evening
May at 6100 Westheimer near THE
since departed, leaving young chef
program called Flights & Bites. The
PALM. BRIAN O’NEILL’S in the
Clemens to run the place. The name has
series features a flight of wine with an
Village has begun its transformation to
been tweaked to CLEMENS’ KATCH
array of bites for $20 per person.
THE GOOSES ACRE IRISH PUB,
22 (if you don’t get it, ask a baseball
By the time you read this, Houston’s
They are enjoying retirement. ON THE DRAWING TABLE: CHEF
similar to its sibling in The Woodlands.
fan), and the menu will offer the best of
only cigar bar, DOWNING STREET
Barbecue pro WAYNE MUELLER of
Katch 22 and some hits from Cullen’s.
PUB, will have flipped over its ash trays
LOUIE MUELLER BARBECUE in
and become a non-smoking bar. The
Taylor, Texas, was in Houston on Super
MISSION BURRITO is changing its
10 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
seafood and burgers. BRAD MOORE and RYAN
PALAZZO’S (10455 Briar Forest) in an old PRINCE’S HAMBURGERS.
ROUSE, who have GRAND PRIZE
REPLICATIONS: EL TACO TOTE at
Bowl Sunday and let it be known that
BAR and GORO AND GUN, are
6154 Westheimer closed last summer and
he is looking for a Houston location.
redeveloping the old DANCING
is being remodeled as a BB’S CAFE. The
MARLIN storefront at 300 Main Street
TEXAS WINE SCHOOL now has a
GEORGES GUY and his wife
to become THE HONEYMOON CAFE
satellite location in west Houston at 11311
MONIQUE have exited BISTRO DES
& BAR. Working with MATT
Richmond Avenue inside DOUBLE
ARTS, their most recent outpost. And,
TOOMEY and CHARLOTTE
DECANTED. SYLVIA CASARES,
according to the Chronicle they are
MITCHELL (BOOMTOWN COFFEE),
chef/owner of two editions of SYLVIA’S
reopening at 219 Westheimer. This was
this will add an early-morning element
ENCHILADA KITCHEN, is opening a
once their CHEZ GEORGES location
to this vibrant north downtown block.
third in May. The new Eldridge Parkway
and, most recently, FEAST. The Chez
AMANDA MCGRAW (formerly at
location will include a large patio and
Georges plaque is still on the front of
BRASSERIE 19) is working on the
private room where she will offer cooking
the building. TERRY FLORES and LILY
menu, while Rouse and JUSTIN
classes. LASCO ENTERPRISES opened
HERNANDEZ, who had BOCADOS
BURROW (BAD NEWS BAR) are
their sixth MAX’S WINE DIVE in
on West Alabama before BRICK &
writing the cocktail menu.
January — the second in Houston, at 214
On-and-off Houston French chef
SPOON took over the location, are
JOHN MOORE, who has the two
Fairview. As at the Washington original,
about to open a new spot north of
PALAZZO’S restaurants, is opening a
it’s chef MICHAEL PELLEGRINO’s menu
downtown at 811 Collingsworth called
new taco/Tex-Mex concept.
of powered-up comfort food and a great
RED OX BAR & GRILL. The menu will
MODERNO TACOS & TEX-MEX will
wine list. JOHN MARION
be Mexican along with Cuban dishes,
be in the same shopping center as
CARRABBA has closed his Royal Oaks
11 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
noteworthy openings ANDES CAFE
2311 Canal near Navigation, 832-659-0063, andescafe.com
What Andes Cafe lacks in curb appeal, the South American eatery makes up for in interior design and menu expansiveness. The industrial-chic cafe boasts an exposed ceiling, multiple uses of reclaimed wood and a colorful graffiti mural that captures both South America and Houston’s vibrancy. Menu features South American cuisine with an emphasis on street food. Open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and dinner Friday and Saturday. For an unusual pickme-up, try the Andes Laté with lucuma syrup, a subtropical fruit native to Peru. COLTIVARE
3320 White Oak west of Studewood, 713-637-4095, coltivarehouston.com
Farmer/butcher Morgan Weber and his
business partner/chef Ryan Pera finally opened their much-anticipated Coltivare in January. It’s a garden-to-table restaurant (see our “edible gardens” article on page 52) that carefully sources its local meats, cheese and produce in addition to raising as much of its own food as possible. The ingredients may be Texan, but the methodology is pure Italian, a tribute to Pera’s heritage. Chef de cuisine Vincent Huynh, who cooks alongside Pera, has a great foundation, too. Early crowds have engendered very long waits for a table, so plan accordingly. COOK & COLLINS
2416 Brazos bet. Webster & McGowen, 832-701-1973, cookandcollins.com
The old space that used to house Xuco Xicana and Midtown’s El Patio is almost unrecognizable today, but in a good way. The space has been transformed into a sleek industrial-looking bistro
called Cook & Collins. The menu theme is “straightforward with a twist”: creamy macaroni and cheese punched up with nubbins of sun-dried tomatoes, spinach dip with fried oysters on top, burgers with a plethora of toppings. DUA
1201 Westheimer west of Montrose (next to El Real Tex-Mex), 713-524-5664, duarestaurant.com
The old Mo Mong has been freshened up and the menu overhauled. The restaurant tagline is “Vietnamese homecooking in a modern setting,” and that is an apt summary. You’ll find pho as well as banh mi sandwiches, ramen, satay, dumplings, spring rolls, many kinds of noodle dishes and delicious-sounding salads. The most remarkable dish of a recent dinner: tofu luc lac, a revelation of deep-fried tofu tossed in garlic sauce with slivers of raw onion and jalapeño. If you think you don’t care for tofu, this will change your mind.
pated COMMON BOND to all open
WINERY and MCPHERSON CELLARS.
in the next few months. SLOW
Doc, as he was widely known, passed
DOUGH BAKERY recently revealed
away on January 25 in Lubbock. Sons
PIATTO RISTORANTE and is about to
plans to open a storefront on Caroline
KIM MCPHERSON and JON
open a location at 1111 Studewood in
Street this year.
MCPHERSON are also notable
The Heights. By the time you read this, the second LOCAL FOODS will be open on Kirby
OUR PERIPATETIC CHEFS ET AL: Over at D&T DRIVE-INN, STEVEN
winemakers. CONGRATULATIONS TO:
RIPLEY (previously at Down House)
BRENNAN’S scion ALEX BRENNAN-
at Westheimer. In March the city
has replaced MIKE MCELROY as chef.
MARTIN and ROBIN MARIE SIMS on
welcomed the third edition of THREE
GRANT GORDON, the hot young
their recent wedding … REEF co-
BROTHERS BAKERY, this one on
chef at TONY’S who went over to
owner/chef BRYAN CASWELL, who
Washington Avenue. Speaking of
TONY VALLONE’s new VALLONE’S,
wed JENNIFER DELL on March 1 …
bakeries, ANITA JAISINGHANI
left that restaurant in early February, as
and JOHN and VIOLETA SHEELY,
announced that she will add a bakery
did beverage director EVAN TURNER.
who really did welcome little miss
and carry-out business to her PONDICHERI location this summer by
JAY RASCOE aka the blogger
EMMA DANIELA SHEELY to the world
GUNS & TACOS was recently named
on February 21. She makes PATRICK
taking over the space directly upstairs
GM at OKRA CHARITY SALOON.
SHEELY a big brother.
in West Ave. Look also for FLUFF
He replaces MIKE CRISS, who recently
For up-to-the-minute news
BAKE BAR from REBECCA
opened entertainment-focused bar THE
about restaurant openings and
MASSON, THUY-MY LUONG and
NIGHTINGALE ROOM at 308 Main.
closings, comings and goings,
SANDY TRAN’s TOUT SUITE (a
CONDOLENCES TO: the friends and
follow @MyTablemagazine on
larger and grander spin-off of their
family of DR. CLINTON MCPHERSON,
Twitter and subscribe to our
CityCentre bakery, SWEET) and chef
the father of the Texas wine industry and
ROY SHVARTZAPEL’s much antici-
co-founder of LLANO ESTACADO
12 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
FISH & THE KNIFE
KILLEN’S TEXAS BARBECUE
7801 Westheimer west of Hillcroft, 713-677-0220
3613 East Broadway at South Galveston Ave., Pearland, 281-485-BBQ2 (2272), killensbbq.com
Long in the making, this gorgeous restaurant is a fusion sushi restaurant and lounge, which puts it in the same dining-out category as Kuu (below). It had its grand opening just as we went to press with this issue, so watch our twiceweekly e-newsletter SideDish for an upcoming “First Look” at Fish & The Knife. FLOW
214 Fairview at Taft, 713-528-9206, flowjuicebar.com
Developed by the owners of Max’s Wine Dive and The Tasting Room, Flow strays far from the other restaurants’ comfort-food styles. This juice bar is small in square footage, but the menu is extensive, offering the faithful everything from cold-pressed juices and smoothies to healthy snacks, weight-loss juice blends and detox packages. Examples: The Early Riser — their version of morning joe made with coffee, homemade almond milk, cinnamon and cacao — is a full-caffeine alternative to your soy latte, and the Bounce Back — made with cucumber, mixed greens, pineapple, apple, turmeric and mint — is a hydrating hangover remedy. GRACE’S
3111 Kirby bet. W. Alabama & Richmond, 713-728-6410, gracesonkirby.com
Grace’s, which opened in February, is the third of Johnny Carrabba’s restaurants to open on Kirby Drive and is part of the Carrabba restaurant campus that includes the 27-year-old Original Carrabba’s and the still-new Mia’s, a fast-casual concept named after Carrabba’s daughter that opened last year, as well as a huge (and free) parking garage. Grace’s, named for Carrabba’s grandmother Grace Mandola, will surprise many with its decidedly non-Italian menu. The menu features a round-up of down-home Southern dishes, such as fried quail, gumbo, braised short ribs and chicken potpie, along with an amalgamation of Asian and Tex-Mex dishes.
Located just across the street from Ronnie Killen’s old high school and housed inside the Pearland ISD’s former cafeteria/admin building, Killen’s Texas Barbecue has instantly become a town favorite. By-the-pound meats include brisket, beef and pork ribs, turkey, homemade pork and beef sausage, pulled pork and the favorite bone-in pork belly. The sides are also worth noting, such as the crunchy fresh cole slaw and creamy well-seasoned (and not-starchy) potato salad. Pecan pie is sublime. (Can you tell we liked it?) Open for lunch six days a week until the barbecue runs out. Expect a wait of an hour or more during peak business hours. LUIGI’S CUCINA ITALIANA
3030 Audley just south of West Alabama, 281-888-9037, luigiscucinaitaliana.com
A favorite son has returned to Houston. Luigi Ferre, who was at the stove at Damian’s for well over a decade before skipping over the bridge to operate Luigi’s Cucina Italiana on The Strand in Galveston for 16 years, has come back to the Bayou City. The restaurant’s menu and kitchen skills have been relocated virtually intact from the island to Houston. As before, everything is made in-house, from the sausage to the pasta and sauces to the biscotti and gelato. KUU
947 Gessner just south of I-10, 713-461-1688, kuurestaurant.com
Adison Lee, chef at the brilliant if short-
lived Sushi Raku, has opened a chic new spot next to Vallone’s and Churrascos in Gateway Memorial City. Kuu — the name means “eating” in Japanese — is modern, sort of Californian, in its spare interior and ties together a sushi restaurant and lounge. The fusion menu is very seafood-centric and creative; we spotted no pork cutlets or chicken or tofu on the menu. Recommended: creamy rock shrimp, hot rock beef, kanpaccio (shaved kanpachi, orange, sake-infused grapes, yuzu garlic soy sauce), the snow crab leg glistening with uni. Ricky Cheung (also an alum of Raku) is director of operations, and Martin Weaver (formerly at Artisans) is chef de cuisine. PICO’S
3601 Kirby at Richmond, 832-831-9940, picos.net
After 30 years on Bellaire Blvd. — the restaurant just celebrated its anniversary — one of Houston’s most-loved Mexican restaurants is moving into a larger, spiffier location in the former location of another famous restaurant, Ninfa’s. This is a brilliant move, as it places Pico’s in a more central location and allows expansion of the kitchen. Expect all of your menu favorites (e.g. cochinita pibil, chiles en nogada, mole dishes, softshell crabs) and expanded bar service, including a tequila collection. The official opening was March 12 for dinner service; lunch should be on the menu by the time you read this. At the same time, owners Janice and Arnaldo Richards are expanding their fajita-delivery service. The original Pico’s location on Bellaire will be remodeled and used as a special events venue. Yes, brilliant.
noteworthy closings 1252 TAPAS BAR
GIGI’S ASIAN BISTRO & DUMPLING BAR
1101 Uptown Park Blvd.
5941 Bellaire Blvd. (relocated to 3601 Kirby)
EL GRAN MALO
THE FRESH MARKET
2307 Ella Blvd.
13 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
letter from sea by Taylor Byrne Dodge
“Meals Included.” Many Americans who choose to set sail during their vacations will tell you that a cruise’s all-inclusive dining options — ranging from frozen-yogurt stations on the pool deck and grand dining room dinners complete with serenading waiters to late-night wood-burning pizza ovens and those second servings of bacon set in front of you without judgment — are some of their most enjoyable memories of being at sea. Onboard dining has improved greatly in the last few years, and guests are now able to spend some extra cabbage on exclusive — albeit not inclusive — dining. It may cost more dough for dry-aged steak and hand-rolled yellow tail sushi while steaming across the high seas, but hungry consumers are asking for more wine, more luxury and more options. I’d been on two cruises prior to being invited on my most recent trip as a media guest of Royal Caribbean. When the invitation arrived and the newest specialty dining features were listed, even the publicist who invited me — a University of Texas grad from Odessa — said she knew I would be a skeptic when it came to trying Sabor, the modern Mexican concept that was going to be unveiled on this maiden voyage of the newly renovated Navigator of the Seas. I accept your challenge, I thought to myself while scanning the descriptions of the nine dining options Royal Caribbean spotlighted on their fact sheet. I packed my appetite along with my passport and essentials. I bought extra Tums and some self-tanner, too. This was not a leisure trip. This would be a serious seven-day series of eating, drinking, indigestion and eating again. SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 9
8:32 pm After six hours of delays, guests are finally aboard the Navigator of the Seas, and for the most part they’re hungry and worn out. The 11 am boarding was pushed back to 2 pm, then 4 pm, then 6:30 pm. We got regular email updates from Royal Caribbean hours in advance, but if you and your
book club are traveling by bus to Galveston from Waco at 5 am, you can’t exactly push back your trip. A deep, eerie fog caused an unusual port closure today; vessels couldn’t get into the Port of Galveston, so out-oftown travelers were spending major money on Pier 21 and on The Strand to help pass the time. Because the port was closed, luggage couldn’t be dropped off. I can’t count how many people I spotted at the Willie G’s bar with their luggage crowding the stools, throwing back margaritas and Pinot Grigio. We’re dining tonight in the Sapphire Dining Room, which boasts brand new décor and upgrades just finished in Grand Bahama. You’ll not find any busy movietheater carpet in this grand three-deck room: New design details include tasteful chandeliers and sconces and a continuous classical dance theme throughout. Shortly after we sit down at a large table, a group of octogenarians from Austin joins us. They tell us that they’ve been friends since they were 11 years old. Joe is a retired Marine who taught preschool after he served his country, as did his wife, and nothing chaps Richard’s butt more than being told he can’t have the spirit of his choice after boarding the Navigator. Apparently, per the TABC, vessels in port can only serve well drinks and certain wines. I can’t imagine how many times the staff has had to explain to grumpy vacationers why they couldn’t have a glass of Merlot that night at dinner. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 10
7:50 am We wake up to the sound of large engines churning eight decks below, and soon the Navigator is on her way. Breakfast with more senior citizens. Miss Betty is irritated that she can’t order waffles in the main dining room. (There are mountains of waffles in the Windjammer, the buffet-style food court near the pools.) My boyfriend and I conclude that we’re probably going to socialize with someone’s grandparents during every meal, and then we launch into a conversation about Cocoon. Were we on some mammoth floating pod that
14 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
was taking well-traveled 80-year-olds back to the motherland? 12:30 pm After a bikini un-friendly breakfast of corned beef hash, eggs, toast and hash browns, I feel too bloated and sodium enriched to eat lunch and instead choose to have a Champagne moment for myself on our balcony. The regret of a corned beef hash meal is completely my fault — I know better — but we ate every morsel of our breakfast, it was really satisfying and surprisingly good. Unfortunately for my hips, there was a lovely cheese and dried fruit plate waiting for us back in the room, a savory gesture by the Royal Caribbean team. We opened our second bottle of bubbly in two days and enjoyed. I wasn’t getting in a swimsuit any time soon; the weather was extremely windy and cool as we pushed full speed ahead toward warmer waters. I wish I could say that we spent the afternoon playing shuffleboard or climbing the rock wall, but I spent most of it touring the ship and working on a few articles. Writers were granted access to the spotty WiFi, and I wasn’t the only one who created a temporary office on my balcony and worked to communicate with home base. A big pat on the back for Royal Caribbean’s director of communications, Harry Liu, who was well organized and flexible when it came to rearranging our schedule due to a late start and fickle weather. 7 pm The captain’s reception just before a formal dinner at 8 pm included a lively jazz band and passed Champagne. Seeing (most) passengers dressed in elegant eveningwear is one of my favorite parts of cruising; I enjoy the old-style formalities. Waiters in tuxes and a brass band really get my internal 60-year-old going. 8:15 pm One of the specialty dining restaurants, Giovanni’s Table (a familystyle upscale Italian restaurant) has invited our group to dinner. Specialty dining means there is an extra charge — generally $25 to $35 per person — to
dine in the restaurant. This includes appetizers through dessert; wine, of course, is a separate cost just like it is everywhere else on the ship. While it might seem like an unnecessary expenditure, our group agreed that the small restaurant, the quieter atmosphere and the fine-tuned menu items made it an experience that was worth the extra cost. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 11
9:30 am Feeling massively bloated from a rich dinner of meat, seafood, seven different pastas and, possibly, too much wine, I peel myself away from our balcony — where I’ve set up a pop-up office of sorts complete with a room service tray of coffee and toast — and get dressed for the day. I’ve been awake since 5:45 and I’m grateful that my boyfriend thought to hang a 7 am coffee request on our doorknob in the hallway. Today we’re touring the kitchen of the main dining room, and it is our opportunity to ask executive chef Martin Scott questions. We’re due outside the Sapphire Dining Room at 10 am, and I swear we showed up at 10:01 and
nobody was around. Our group had just started the tour, and we found our way into the kitchen. Chef Scott — a classic Altoid-like citizen of the UK if I ever saw one, with a stiff upper lip and an unwavering deadpan glaze — gives us the grand tour of this sparkling prison of a kitchen. I say “prison” because of the low ceilings and fluorescent lighting. I had assumed that much of the ship’s food was frozen and then heated to serve to guests, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. As we are touring the cook stations, dozens of workers are rolling out dough into rolls. The kitchen offers five types of rolls at dinner alone in the Sapphire Room. That’s about 5,000 rolls for dinner service in the main dining room every night. I promise myself to eat at least one roll at every meal. The kitchen was as sterile as an operating room, and Chef Scott continued the tour by showing us where the staff enters the breakfast and dinner orders on touch screens not unlike those used in a typical restaurant … except this time you’ve got 938 orders of pork chops, 622 tiramisus, etc.
The amount of food prepped, cooked and plated in this one kitchen trumps any banquet volume done in a hotel. Chef explains that this is the main kitchen; some items that are offered in the specialty restaurants are also prepared here and transported many decks above. Murmuring on without breaking his blasé tone, he notes that this grand kitchen can cook 300 lobsters at once in seven minutes. 7:33 pm My boyfriend expressed a strong interest in reliving his Mighty Ducks fantasy on the skating rink on board, but seeing as I’ve never skated and didn’t want to risk breaking an ankle or really engaging in any type of athletic activity whatsoever, I opted out. Instead of pouting, he took a long nap and soon it was time to get dressed for dinner and scrounge up some cocktails. The Navigator has 11 bars and lounges on board, including a cigar bar, a wine bar, a Latin club called Boleros and a craft cocktail bar, R Bar. Yes, even cruise ships have hopped on the craft cocktail train.
Tapas, Paella & Wine in Rice Village
2425 University Blvd. 713.522.9306 www.elmeson.com Chef/Sommelier Pedro Angel Garcia
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B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 12
7:30 am I’m enjoying my favorite breakfast — a huge cup of coffee — and our group is waiting for the gangway to open. Today we will be visiting Maya Key, a private island about 10 minutes away from Roatan, Honduras. I stick a kiwi in my backpack, because I’m fantasizing that I’ll be climbing through some rugged jungle in my Lilly Pulitzer shorts and flip flops, sweating and making friends with small primates. Little did we know we’d remember Honduras not only for the hand-rolled cigars and beautiful wild cats, screaming parrots and fried fish, but also for a raging sand flea infestation. Yes, Honduras, you are a snorkeler’s paradise. You have beaches that are ideal for any Caribbean get-away travel promotions. But your sadistic sand fleas — some people call them no-see-ums — are still haunting me two weeks later after I have returned from visiting your beautiful country. Why didn’t we feel them as we lounged in chaises on Roatan’s beautiful white sands? Because we were pumped full of delicious frozen drinks, namely the Coco Loco, which is something, something else, vodka and Kahlua. I recall scratching at my ankles with a bare foot while I walked through Maya Key’s wildlife refuge while admiring the exotic beak of Gladiator, the resident sociopathic toucan (who has killed every bird he ever lived with, including his bird-wife) and all of the male leopards, panthers and cougars who were surrendered by their owners and could not hunt on their own. Our lunch — barbecued chicken, coconut rice and red beans, fried fish, plantain chips and salad — was gobbled up quickly by our media crew. The homemade salsa on the side was heavy handed with the habanero peppers, and our fellow Texans agreed that it was a surprisingly pleasing meal. 4:20 pm Climbing aboard the water taxi and scooting back to the port of call, we are guilty of too much sun and not enough water. Half of our bodies are hot pink, since we all sat with our right side
to the sun, and the leg scratching began. Desperate for a shower and some Tylenol, we boarded the Navigator and climbed the eight flights of stairs to our room. I didn’t have time to wait for the elevator with our elder shipmates. I needed aloe vera now. 9:15 pm Tonight we’re having dinner at Chops Grille, the only specialty steakhouse offering dry-aged steak on a cruise ship. Our table of three people orders everything on the menu. Really. The cover charge per diner at Chops is $35, and lobster, dry-aged New York strip and a few other options incur an additional charge. But you’re able to eat a damn fine steak complete with appetizers and family-style side dishes within the $35 per person cover charge. THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13
6:20 am I make a promise to myself today that I won’t eat a lot of food. Our media group has been asked to meet at our usual spot at 8 am and disembark the ship together, wearing proper closedtoe athletic shoes. We’re anchored in Belize, and today’s activities include ziplining and tubing through deep caves as well as lunch, all at Caribbean excursion company Chukka’s Crystal Cave. Luckily for our group, we survived our adventures and were rewarded with a late lunch of chiles and rice, tangy grilled chicken thighs and a few local Belikin beers. Just like the people of Belize, their cuisine is a combination of Caribbean and Central American influences. The team at Chukka also had a surprise treat for us — one that I could have used before I sailed through the air on a zipline and swam in a haunted cave: a selection of local wines. Belize isn’t exactly known for their vineyards, but the local people enjoy making wine out of tamarind, cashews and ginger. We sampled six different wines — the cashew wine reminded me of thick, warm, maple syrup and it had an aftertaste similar to apple cider. 5:50 pm The gangway was scheduled to close at 3:30, but our group and a few others didn’t make it in time. We race back to the Navigator of the Seas and
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quickly shower and change clothes. Dinner is scheduled for 6:30. 7:30 pm I was skeptical when I heard that one of the specialty restaurants our media group would be visiting was called Sabor Modern Mexican. Really? I can’t even enjoy Mexican or Tex-Mex in Dallas, so how am I supposed to find it interesting on a cruise ship? I readied myself for disappointment. Tableside guacamole was the first indication that I might not leave dinner too hungry. Our drinks arrived shortly thereafter, and in typical Houston fashion I began the ritual of over-eating queso and guacamole and enjoying my tequila flight and margarita. Some of the large platters of appetizers were great — namely the chili calamari and chicken-stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon. I don’t know that I’d call it Mexican, but both were hot and crispy. I spent extra time nibbling from a shared plate of mole shortribs that sat on pepper and potato “hash” and fell completely apart the moment I dove into them with my fork. I’m ashamed of what I’ll confess next, but it is the truth: The quesadillas were some of the best I’d ever tasted. Generally I prefer a corn tortilla quesadilla, but the buttered flour tortillas that came to the table were thin and crunchy. Even the members of our group from Mexico City and Austin found them to be the simplest but most enjoyable appetizer of the evening. Was a visit to Sabor meant to prepare us for tomorrow? We were headed for Cozumel. FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14
7:45 am Some of us might have sampled a bit too much tequila last night. Our taxi boat skipped over the waves violently from the Cozumel port to Playa del Carmen. A woman a few seats down, the next row over, retches into a trash can while I chew gum and try to read the book my boyfriend just bought, The Widow Clicquot. The biography of the mistress of Champagne wasn’t really ideal reading material for a morning after too many palomas and margaritas. When we arrive at Playa del Carmen, we’ll hop on another bus and travel to the Tulum ruins.
9:20 am Now that we’re well educated in the Mayan lifestyle, our tour guide Pil will show us how the civilization lived and died. The Tulum ruins have lead archeologists to believe that these were palaces and burial sites for the wealthy members of the Maya people. We’re hungry already, standing in what is a very touristy market area just outside of the national park outside of the ruins. While we pause for our group to take a bathroom break before hoofing it to the ruins, we ask Pil about grabbing a bite to eat. He tells me that there is a Subway around the corner. I tell Pil nicely that I’m from Texas, and he confirmed that we’d have a chance to grab a bite after our tour of the ruins. 11:40 am We’ve walked through the ruins, and we could not have asked for a more informative or engaging tour guide. Pil didn’t reveal that the hike to the ruins themselves was longer than the walking tour through the ruins, but it wasn’t a problem for our group, since the Tylenol had kicked in and the promise of tacos was luring us on. A man selling homemade popsicles just outside of the ruins made a believer out of me when I asked which flavor was best: The frozen coconut milk pop was wonderfully refreshing, and I hoped to buy another once we made it back to the market. Our taco lunch at a disappointing tourist trap is the only sour note so far on our trip.
can be seated. Essentially, La Choza is much like Guadalajara Bar & Grill here in Houston. We nosh on chips and a dip that we initially thought was queso but turned out to be mayonnaise and spices. A few platters of beef fajitas and many margaritas later, we’ve all got a case of the sillies and take a large taxi van to the port. After a brutally bouncy boat ride back to the port, I’m feeling a little green, and I need to lie down for a few hours before we prepare ourselves for dinner. 8:27 pm This is our Valentine’s Day dinner — just the two of us for the first time since Sunday — with reservations at Izumi, the onboard Japanese restaurant. It is the only specialty restaurant we haven’t yet tried. Only a few tables were occupied that late in the evening, and I figured we’d picked the right restaurant since we noticed a table of the captain’s crew eating dinner in the far corner. The hot rock service, as the manager, Valentine, told us is a big attraction for diners who visit Izumi. He says that the 66-person restaurant could accommodate 44 hot rocks at once and that about 65 percent of the guests who dine at Izumi tell him it is their first time to eat Japanese food. Others, he mentioned, tell him they are avid sushi eaters back at home. Izumi is the only specialty restaurant onboard that doesn’t have a cover charge. Instead, diners pay for each dish individually, just like in a regular restaurant. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15
2 pm After a long nap on the bus ride back to Playa Del Carmen, I am getting hungry and annoyed, and I ask if anyone else wants to eat … again. Luckily our group leader Harry had just been to this very area two weeks ago and found an authentic, non-touristy restaurant a few scary blocks away from the port. Our group of 26 trail behind him like a line of ants through the streets of Playa Del Carmen, admiring funky murals of the Beatles and Rolling Stones on the sides of apartments and stores and asking each other what drugs we would be buying at the pharmacia that we have to play too much for in the USA. We find Harry’s spot — La Choza — and break into smaller groups so that we
3 pm Today is our last day on the ship, and it is a day at sea. Around 1 pm a band sets up on the main deck, and by 1:30 the group is rocking out everything from the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers. A group of about 300 passengers had been wearing neon green “Nick-L Band” T-shirts during the duration of our cruise. It turns out that this mostly Louisianan group were all friends and fans of the Nick-L Band (that happened to be performing), and they are now wearing serious Mardi Gras regalia. Purple wigs, green sunglasses, dozens of strands of beads and some sort of bizarre patchwork overalls configuration was the attire of most of the Friends of the Nick-L Band. I am not sure where
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the clown-like overalls fit within Mardi Gras celebrations. Perhaps it is simply a fun symbol of being a wild coonass. The group even conducted a costume contest. A husband and wife (native to Louisiana but living in The Woodlands) got my vote for best costume. They were wearing King’s Cakes. A person unfamiliar with the traditional pastry might have mistaken them for chefs wearing giant donuts. I admired the custom frosting of white, purple and green sequins on the inner tube-like cakes that wrapped their waists, and her white leggings and his white pants were finished with sequined flip flops. Their chef hats were embroidered with “KINGS CAKE.” They made the costumes themselves and brought them in separate suitcases for the party. While I drank more frozen cocktails in the hot tub, the Cajun celebration continued as beads flew towards the other co-habitants of the Jacuzzi, and I was hit by several small, plastic crawfish. Had I not been drinking, I would not have enjoyed it. Had I not broken out of my regular day-to-day life and been willing to try familiar foods in unfamiliar places, spent a beautiful day being eaten alive by insects and opened my mind to spending a day in a hellish water-filled cave, I wouldn’t have had an adventure. Even though I spent many hours eating and then sleeping it off, sharing a table with friends made on the trip was an adventure in itself. We argued about barbecue with the writers from Kansas City, and we pushed the older couple from Indiana to try mole for the first time. Traveling is all about experiencing new foods, learning about cultures that aren’t your own, meeting people you might never know back home. These festivities, celebrated several hundred miles away from the origins of Cajun carnival, was my last significant experience on the Navigator of the Seas, and I found it fitting — we were back in the Gulf of Mexico. Tomorrow we’d be home and back to our everyday schedule. Taylor Byrne Dodge is the creative director and associate publisher of My Table magazine.
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
a tide of crimson bubbles Text and photos by Becca Wright
Anniversaries call for a glass of sparkling wine, and for our 20th anniversary issue we thought we would celebrate with an unconventional glass of bubbles: sparkling red wine. We gathered six panelists, a mix of industry professionals and regular folks, for a blind tasting of seven locally available sparkling red wines. The wines were examined for their color, aroma, sweetness, acidity, body, complexity and finish. They were served in order of their alcohol content from least to highest. All wines were tasted blind, and the identities were revealed after all were tasted. The panelists then discussed their notes and sipped more of their favorites.
corkscrew like a still bottle of wine. The color is deepest purple — robanera refers to its blackness — and has some funk to the nose. One taster described the aroma as “dark musky fruit.” There are a few large surface bubbles when poured; these dissipate quickly. This wine has hints of bitterness, like unripe cherries. It is very dry and has low to medium viscosity. It was startlingly different from the first wine. It would be good with fatty salami or well-marbled red meat or as your goto pizza wine.
Italy, 750 ml 6.5% alcohol SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $16 WHERE TO FIND: Memorial Wine
Cellars, Mia Bella, Brenner’s, Sorrel Urban Bistro, Ray’s, Coal Vines This sparkling red wine is a deep garnetcranberry color and has mild effervescence when poured. The nose consists of sweet red fruit notes, like strawberry and raspberry, with floral undertones. It is light bodied, and the finish is gently sweet. One taster noted its fizz reminded him of a bottle of almost-flat Perrier. This would be a perfect dessert choice with nut-filled pastries, and it would also be lovely with rich, creamy brie. As the first sparkling red wine tasted, this wine’s sweetness surprised the panelists; it should have been the last wine of the tasting. UMBERTO “ROBANERA” CAVICCHIOLI + FIGLI LAMBRUSCO
Italy, 750 ml 9.5% alcohol SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $14 WHERE TO FIND: Houston Wine
Merchant Rather than having a Champagne-style closure, this wine is opened with a
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CLETO CHIARLI E FIGLI LAMBRUSCO VECCHIA MODENA
Italy, 750 ml 11% alcohol SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $15 WHERE TO FIND: Houston Wine
Merchant The soft, electric pink color is very similar to that of a dark rosé, and the soft berry aroma is pleasant. There is a nice fizzy head of bubbles that lingers a good while. The acidity is average and the body is light. The sweetness is
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
minimal, and earthy notes predominate. The finish is slightly bitter with hints of raspberry. Overall, this wine is well balanced, tangy and easy to drink, somewhat similar to a rosé. One drinker said she would pay $10 to $12 for a glass of this in a restaurant. This was one of the favorites of the tasting.
balanced with subtle fruity notes, but the finish is slightly tart and tannic. It would suit a simply grilled steak. This Lambrusco tastes better than it smells, but tasters still thought it was a “very rude, rough wine.” One taster simply wrote, “No, thank you.” SEGURA VIUDAS ARIA PINOT NOIR BRUT
LINI 910 LABRUSCA LAMBRUSCO ROSSO
Italy, 750 ml 11% alcohol
Spain, 750 ml 12% alcohol SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $18 WHERE TO FIND: Spec’s Wine, Spirits
SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $15 WHERE TO FIND: Spec’s Wine, Spirits
& Finer Foods
& Finer Foods
As soon as it was poured, the pale salmon pink color had the tasters doubting this was anything but a rosé. (We chose it based on a Spec’s employee recommending it to us as a “red sparkling wine.”) Segura Viudas produces Cava wines, and the Aria is a dry sparkling wine. One taster even noted during the blind tasting that it is “similar to a Cava in style.” The aroma
A drastic color change from the Cleto Chiarli, this wine is a very dark pomegranate-seed color. The nose is grapey with a slight chemical funk. When poured, there are light bubbles that dissipate quickly. There are dark fruit flavors like blackberries as well as grapefruit notes. The medium acidity is
at first had “a bit of a barnyard on the nose,” but then sweet red fruit (including watermelon) notes take over. Minimal bubbles form when poured, and they dissipate quickly. This biggerbodied wine has a nice balance between acidity and sweetness, and it would be a good aperitif. The “Pinot Noir” in its name may be misleading; one taster noted, “This wine confuses me.” This should not be your first choice if you are trying to experience sparkling red wine. THE CHOOK SPARKLING SHIRAZ
Australia, 750 ml 13% alcohol
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SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $17 WHERE TO FIND: Spec’s Wine, Spirits
& Finer Foods This wine is a beautiful dark ruby red color that pours exceptionally frothy. There are bold raspberry and blackberry notes on the nose with hints of earthiness and fishiness. This is more of what one would expect a sparkling
red to look and taste like. It is light bodied, not too acidic and has sweet red fruit flavors. One taster noted, “I felt betrayed by the nose” because the taste and the aroma do not mesh. The finish leaves your tongue feeling fuzzy; one taster described it as “red wine plus Alka-Seltzer.” It was not a top favorite of the tasting, but it was described as a potential “fetish wine.” The taster wrote, “You don’t like it at first, but I could see someone developing an odd fondness for it.” ENGINE ROOM SPARKLING SHIRAZ
Australia, 750 ml 13.5% alcohol SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $19 WHERE TO FIND: Houston Wine Merchant This is a pretty glass of wine, a dark blood red and exceptionally dense. There is a bit of funk on the nose, and it is lightly effervescent with bubbles that dissipate quickly. This is also what one would expect from a sparkling red wine except for the bottle cap closure on the
bottle. The acidity is low and the sweetness is moderate. It is a very complex, medium-bodied wine, described as a “fluffy red” by one taster. It finishes with blackberry notes. This was one of the favorites of the tasting. It would also be a prime example of “Don’t judge a wine bottle by its label,” because the label is a bit unconventional. This was a challenging tasting, because these wines are clearly meant to be enjoyed with food rather than sipped on their own. And, sad to say, we only had water crackers between pours. The tasters all agreed that preferences might have been different if steak, charcuterie or pizza had been served with the wines. Some of the wines were unpleasant, an odd mix of bitterness and effervescence. But some were unusually tasty, like the Engine Room Sparkling Shiraz, which perfectly embodied a sparkling red. Overall, the panelists’ favorite bottle was the Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena.
Happy New Year!
Khun Kay Thai Cafe Fast, casual and authentically creative Happy Hour on the patio M–F 3–6, just $6.75 per couple
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Supatra Yooto and Kay Soodjai, owners since 1982 Weekdays 11 – 9:30 Weekends Noon – 9:30 713-524-9614 · 1209 Montrose at W. Clay
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B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
bentos are beautiful by Phaedra Cook Photos by Chuck Cook
A bento box — the Japanese version of a lunch box — always has a spectrum of flavors. A serving of fish, a bite or two of meat, some pickles, rice. A crunch here, a burst of sweet there. But like so many useful objects in everyday Japanese life, bentos can also be visually stunning. Here are three of our favorite locally available bentos. KATA ROBATA
3600 Kirby at Richmond, 713-526-8858, katarobata.com
Along for the ride on the KOBE BEEF BENTO are moist strips of chicken teriyaki, deep-fried tofu, seaweed salad topped with a dollop of roe, California rolls and lightly pickled daikon and cucumber. The Kobe beef itself is accompanied by a few shishito peppers, which are normally mild although there are occasional exceptions. HOKKAIDO
9108 Bellaire Blvd. bet. S. Gessner & Ranchester, 713-988-8448
We could not have been more delighted with Hokkaido’s BENTO OF THE DAY: chargrilled chicken teriyaki thigh, tempura shrimp, salmon kama (cheeks), delicate pumpkin, green salad and white rice. The only negative is that Hokkaido is fiercely casual: You order at the counter, then grab your utensils and serve yourself miso soup. Still, the folks at the counter are friendly, and if you have questions they’re happy to help.
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B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
kata chef manabu horiuchi talks bentos
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RESTAURANT BENTOS AND HOMEMADE ONES?
Your mom might put your favorite foods in your bento box. Restaurant bentos are a more formal presentation. WHAT SHOULD BE IN A BENTO?
Bentos are comprised of five or six different foods. Anything can be in a bento! There are no rules, but in a restaurant we usually try and include a meat or seafood, rice and soup. ARE BENTOS ONLY SERVED AT LUNCHTIME?
That is correct. It’s more of a quick meal that is good for workers who only have an hour for lunch. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BENTO AT KATA ROBATA?
The Kobe beef bento box is the most popular. The beef is sous vide for 72 hours. It comes with chicken teriyaki, agadashi tofu (deep-fried tofu with a dashi-based stock) and salad. It’s a nice meal. HOW DO HOUSTON BENTOS DIFFER FROM THOSE IN JAPAN?
There are so many kinds of bento boxes in Japan. There are Chinese-style bentos, European-style … they can be more expensive, too. There are $50 and $60 bento boxes in Japan. In Houston, almost everyone sells them for between $9 and $15. FOND MEMORIES OF BENTO BOXES FROM HOME:
When I was in junior high and high school, my mom would make bento boxes for me every day. The ones that she made are my favorite, and sometimes I still miss them. In Japan, they don’t have school meals, so moms make bento boxes for their children. We kids would talk amongst ourselves about our bento boxes. “Oh, your bento box looks beautiful!” In homemade bento boxes you can make characters [of the food], and that’s fun. My mom’s bentos were the best. AUTHOR’S NOTE: A homemade bento sounds better than a sandwich in a baggie and flip-top can of fruit, doesn’t it? If you’re ready to try it at home, buy a copy of The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches to Go by Makiko Itoh (Kodansha USA, 2011).
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309 Gray at Bagby, 713-526-5294, fishhouston.net
The JALAPEÑO SCALLOP BENTO boasts big sweet scallops served agadashi-style with a light dusting of potato starch and gently fried. Rounding out the meal were tempura vegetables, grilled teriyaki chicken, a light salad and the requisite white rice. If you find yourself in Midtown, it’s a worthy lunch stop. Phaedra Cook and photographer Chuck Cook also produced the article on noise in restaurants on page 46.
bento throwdown Every year in February Houston’s Japanese ConsulGeneral hosts a bento competition. When we attended our first one a few years ago we became enamored of bentos — not the restaurant kind, but the Japanese-style lunch boxes prepared at home. Home-style bentos are less fancy than those ordered in restaurants. The greatest similarity is that there is always an assortment of foods to add nutrition, color and beauty. Fish, rice and pickles show up often. But, as chef Manabu
Horiuchu of Kata Robata says in the sidebar on the opposite page, “Anything — anything — can be in a bento.” Many of the 30-plus competitors in this year’s competition fashioned little works of art out of every-day ingredients such as white rice, radishes and carrots. The idea is to make eating lunch fun. Bentos in Japan are simply part of daily life, no more unique than brown-bagging it in the United States, but the artistry and care put into those little plastic boxes are a way that parents say “I love you” to their children. (Visit jflairhomestyles.com to view an array of bento boxes for use by children and adults.) It’s like finding a caring note from home, except in a bento that “note” might be rice that’s been transformed into a bunny with the help of some pink picked ginger and dried seaweed. Either way, it’s a reminder that someone is thinking about you. Houston’s 2014 bento competition — won by Makiko Matsumoto — was judged by Deputy Consul-General Takahiko Watabe, Glen Gondo of Gondo Co. (supplier of sushi in H-E-B stores), J.J. Naoki (president of Satake Corporation and JapanAmerica Society of Houston president) and
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF THE CONSULATE-GENERAL OF JAPAN
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B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
houston’s oldest bars by James Glassman
You have probably noticed that we Houstonians have a slight history problem. Sure, we have plenty of history here — a stream of significant events, countless innovations and more than a few colorful characters who have risen from the Bayou City. Our history problem comes from general amnesia when it comes to knowledge of anything older than the spoiled carton of half-and-half in the refrigerator. Recently attitudes in the preservation community have been improving. In 2005, the Houston City Council created a Protected Landmark designation that is applied for by the owner and transferable if the property is sold. Now, finally, a building can be saved permanently from the wrecking ball. This, however, does not mean that we’re all suddenly preservationists. Houston has always been a forwardlooking community, excited about the newest skyscraper, mall, hotel, park or freeway. And, as a reader of this magazine, you are well aware of our enthusiasm for any and all new restaurants. In Houston we celebrate our local chefs and often treat them like rock stars. Lately the chef ’s mad-scientist bartender cousin has been playing catch-up in a big way. Thanks to innovators such as Bobby Heugel, Alex Gregg, Alba Huerta, Sean Beck and Jeremy Olivier, who have patiently educated the drinking populace on the finer aspects of cocktails, craft beers and locally sourced ingredients, this new respect for the drink has carried over to the buildings themselves. We’re seeing many new bars taking old structures and tapping into the history within their walls and under their roofs. This is definitely a welcome trend, one that bodes well for the preservation of future landmark bars — and all landmarks for that matter. In a city where there are few incentives for those who chose to preserve, the ambitious few who dare to convert or restore an old property into a new
venture can be inspiring to like-minded Houstonians. Entrepreneurs are keen on putting new wine in old bottles. The half-dozen Houston bars described below are all older than 50 years. Although respected now, each one of these beer joints and icehouses fell though the cracks at one time or another, sometimes suffering decades of anonymity or surviving on the fringes of transitional neighborhoods. All have emerged as bona-fide landmarks. Also, some points that are specific to Houston: During the decades following the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, it was tricky to get anything stronger than beer in a local bar. However, in spite of our publicly conservative tendencies, Houstonians could get a drink by joining a membership club, not unlike
The Heights’ current loophole employed today by Shade and Down House. By 1971 the State of Texas began issuing mixed-beverage permits allowing bars to serve liquor by the drink in counties that wanted it. And, boy, did Harris County want it, rapidly ushering in the era of bars as we know them today. Still, what we consider a typical bar is a relatively new idea to Houston and less than 45 years old. As you’ll see in descriptions of the following landmarks, the term “bar” might not even have fit during some part of their long lives. Note: Many people think La
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Carafe (813 Congress) is Houston’s oldest bar. Actually, it opened in 1962 in Houston’s oldest commercial building. D&T DRIVE INN
1307 Enid at W. Cavalcade
Chris Cusack knows a thing or two about opening a business in an older property. After the success of his Down House in a former 1950s bank building on Yale, Cusack sought another preservation project. Opened as an icehouse in 1959 in the Brooke Smith neighborhood east of The Heights, D&T Drive Inn was named after the original owner’s sons, Dan and Ted McKean. Neighbors could pick up groceries, beer and, yes, ice. Before he bought the business in 2012, Cusack says, “We all instantly fell in love with the history and the soul of the bar. We saw a great opportunity to breathe some life into a great neighborhood bar.”
5118 Telephone Rd. near Lancaster St. split
Today only a handful of icehouses exist in Houston, even though Houston had dozens from the 1930s to the late 1960s. South of Downtown, blue collar Telephone Road had the highest concentration of this predecessor to the modern convenience store. Sheffield’s has been serving cold beer since 1942, easily placing it among Houston’s oldest icehouses. Unlike the other bars listed here, Sheffield’s has yet to witness any nearby gentrification, which perhaps gives it greater authenticity as a dive. WEST ALABAMA ICE HOUSE
1919 West Alabama at McDuffie
Arguably Houston’s oldest icehouse still in existence, this not-so-divey Neartown landmark has benefited from being the go-to icehouse for Inner Loopers since it was bought and made family-friendly by Jerry Markantonis in 1987. The sign out front boasts 1928, but we couldn’t confirm anything there until the appearance in the 1941-42 city directory of a McDuffie Ice House, then later Morgan’s Ice House in 1945. West Alabama Drive Inn shows up in the city directory in 1952, and the icehouse appears to have operated there continuously since then. The building, such as it is, was built in 1950. JIMMIE’S PLACE
2803 White Oak west of Studemont
Informally known as Jimmie’s Ice House, Jimmie’s Place has hunkered down on the southern edge of The Heights since Jimmie Murray opened the doors in 1950. The Heights remains officially “dry,” but that doesn’t keep old-school gashounds and the posh neo-Victorians from drinking together as a family of regulars in this crusty landmark. White Oak is hopping now, but Jimmie’s has barely changed despite all the new traffic. While Houston is famous (or infamous) for its lack of zoning, it produces strange adjacencies. White Oak is the perfect example of Houston’s schizophrenia. Just walk around the corner and behold the gentrification.
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B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
2324 Bissonnet bet. Greenbriar & Morningside
Like most other landmark Houston bars, Kay’s has had a few lives. City records show a Kay’s Barbecue and Kay’s Club Grill dating back as far as 1939. The first listing for Kay’s Lounge appears in 1962. (No word on when the giant Texas-shaped table arrived.) Kay’s was once the bar of choice for Rice students; lately, it has a strong Aggie vibe. The building is so old and worn down, it’s easy to imagine what Bissonnet was like before it was paved. LEON’S LOUNGE
1006 McGowen bet. Main & Fannin
By virtue of it not having first been a restaurant or icehouse, Leon’s is the truest of all of Houston’s oldest bars. In 1947, bookie Leon Yarborough bought the existing La Bomba bar and eventually changed the name to Leon’s Lounge. For decades, Midtown was a sketchy, if not dangerous place, even in the daytime. While Houston continued its sprawl, closer-in neighborhoods
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were forgotten. Since the mid-1990s, Midtown started to clean itself up, and Leon’s gained a new clientele. In 2010, Under the Volcano owner Pete Mitchell saw this forgotten bar and bought it from Leon’s daughter, Scarlett Yarborough. Mitchell explains, “Leon’s had been poorly run for years, and we were looking for an old place to renovate.” After getting it up to code, they changed the signage, added a deck and opened up the windows “to make it look less scary from outside.” Today Leon’s, the former dive bar, has been transformed just like Midtown, showing how Houston can take something old and forgotten and make it an asset to the community. James Glassman is the founder and director of Houstorian, a history education and preservation advocacy group. Visit houstorian.org for more information and follow @Houstorian on Twitter for “this day in Houston history” tweets. Additional research for this article was provided by Tracey Robertson.
such a garish garnish! BLOODY MARYS WITH EXTRA FLARE by Taylor Byrne Dodge • Photos by Becca Wright except where noted
Spicy swizzles and a gumbo bottom: When it comes to the garnishes accompanying our favorite any-time cocktail, flamboyant flourishes know no limit. The list below isn’t about who serves the best Bloody Marys in Houston, but about their inventive collateral. BRICK & SPOON
1312 W Alabama, brickandspoonrestaurant.com
During our first visit at Brick & Spoon (which took over the location that used to be Bocados), we immediately noticed the BIG SPOON BLOODY MARY menu, which allows you to choose your own preference of vodka and spiciness levels, BRICK & SPOON’S BIG SPOON BLOODY MARY
DANTON’S BLOODY DANTON
added seasonings such as wasabi and tarragon, rim spice, plus an entire platter of nibbles that come stacked on a skewer. Sweet pepper strips, pickled asparagus, smoked tasso, seafood deviled eggs, cocktail shrimp and pepperjack cheese are just a few of the available cocktail crudités to choose from. $10+ DANTON’S GULF COAST SEAFOOD KITCHEN
4611 Montrose just south of Hwy. 59 bridge, dantonsseafood.com
Sometimes it really is what is underneath that counts. I couldn’t actually see the gumbo that is blended into the BLOODY DANTON, but the vanishing garnish is what gives Danton’s house specialty its extra zing. The gumbo is strained, so you won’t find random floaters of rice and seafood in your glass amongst the extra tall celery stalks and long, leaning green onions. Bloody Dantons also include notso-uncommon olives and pickled okra. $10
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B A C K B I T E S
DOWN HOUSE’S BIG OL’ BLOODY MARY
1801 Yale at 18th Street, treadsack.com/downhouse
Rumors of Down House’s in which a spicy piece of chicken wing mingles with cheese cubes and a cherry tomato have had me curious for ages. This eye-opener boasts that it is “bigger, badder and boozier” and includes a beer back. $9
H O U S T O N
BIG OL’ BLOODY MARY
607 W. Gray bet. Taft & Montrose, elevenxihouston.com
PHOTO COURTESY OF ELEVEN XI
Brunch service at Eleven XI launched last fall, and in keeping with their specialty cocktail program the Eleven
XI team developed a heavily boozy as well as festive BLOODY MARY. If you need a little extra saltiness to heal your hangover, add blue cheese-stuffed olives and bacon-candied jalapeños to your order. For an additional charge throw in a side of seafood such as a Gulf oyster ($2) or a scallop ($8). $10+ MOJEAUX LOUISIANA DRINKERY
2024 Rusk near Hwy. 59, mojeauxsld.com
Sliders on the side have been spotted all over the US in recent years, and apparently miniature burgers and the Bloody Mary are a well-conceived duo. At Mojeaux, the satellite slider is actually a breakfast sandwich of sausage and cheese on a biscuit bun, but it barely has room to shine amongst skewers of cheese cubes and olives, spicy boiled shrimp and an entire jerky stick. It is a wonder that the BLOODY MOJEAUX doesn’t fill patrons up before they get around to ordering brunch. $18, served only on Sundays UNDER THE VOLCANO
2349 Bissonnet at Morningside, facebook.com/underthevolcanohouston
One of my favorite bars has been serving a Bloody Mary that has an entire underground cult following — and I had no idea. Feeling both proud and ashamed of this, I ordered a round of BLOODIES for a group of girlfriends recently. A thickly cut wheel of summer sausage sits at the top of a totem-like skewer, with okra, olives and peppers making up the pole. The standard celery stalks and lime wheel complete the vegetation. $8.25 ELEVEN XI’S BLOODY MARY
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IN YOUR FRIDGE Perhaps you scoff at the idea of spending upwards of $10 on a Bloody Mary when you’re known to make the best in your social circle. You, too, can show off your wacky garnishes with items you probably already have in your kitchen. • STACKED CAPRESE: Using bamboo skewers, alternate chunks of mozzarella cheese lightly dusted in dried oregano and basil with cherry tomatoes. • LOVE
ANCHOVIES OR SARDINES?
Who says you can’t squeeze one between olives and okra on toothpicks?
• During CRAWFISH SEASON serve your homemade Bloody Mary with a boiled crawfish and slice of corncob. Heck, stick a small boiled potato on there, too. • For a (nearly) complete morning meal, a crisp slice of good-quality fried bacon makes for a functional and noshworthy stirrer. Skewer a peeled hardboiled egg and a cheddar biscuit, and BREAKFAST IS SERVED.
MOJEAUX’S BLOODY MOJEAUX
UNDER THE VOLCANO’S BLOODIE
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ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS HSU
• Using LAST NIGHT’S LEFTOVER NIBBLES of steak or pork tenderloin or even fajitas, dice up the remains from the fridge and create kabobs for your Bloody Mary in a flash.
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
pasta … with class Text by Dragana Arežina Harris Photos by Kimberly Park and Dragana Arežina Harris
As 10 of us gathered around the kitchen island of a private home in Bellaire for a pasta-making class with chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio — the much-praised chef at the late Hawthorn and Sabetta Cafe & Wine Bar — two basic ingredients were set before us. Flour and eggs. We lightly mixed the two together with a fork and then gently folded and pushed the dough against the cold granite countertop. Quiet at first as we
concentrated on getting our dough to the ideal consistency, our energy turned lively as we fed the pasta machines and watched as they magically transformed our dough from velvety thin sheets to elegant strands of fettuccini that swayed like a dancer’s fringe as it left the cutter. Due to time constraints, we didn’t use the chitarra, an Old World pasta cutter shaped like a double-sided harp that Palazzo-Giorgio demonstrated. Beautiful in its simplicity, it turns fresh sheets of
pasta into perfect strands of fettuccine on one side and spaghetti on the other. Instead, we used modern-day pasta machines that wowed us with their ability to stretch the dough to its maximum. There were oohs and aahs as one classmate pushed the limits and produced a sheet over six feet long before it began to shred at the edges.
While Palazzo-Giorgio cooked our pasta we removed our colorful autographed aprons (pictured above) in anticipation of feasting with our cooking class “family.” We marveled at the exquisite aroma of a large bowl of pasta with salsa di pomodoro and homemade fennel sausage he presented the table. As I took my first bite, I was reminded of the Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook’s description, “Palazzo-Giorgio cooks with classic Italian discipline, keeping the number of ingredients to a minimum and coaxing maximum flavor from them.” For as little effort it took us to produce this amazing pasta, I ask myself why we often settle for the alternative. Palazzo-Giorgio, who is currently working on a new restaurant concept, cans his fresh salsa di pomodoro and labels each bottle with a black-andwhite 1959 photograph of three generations of the animated Palazzo clan partaking in the most important of Italian pastimes, the family feast. Our Saturday cooking class indeed was “a bonding experience with family.” A few important things to keep in mind, according to Palazzo-Giorgio,
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eggs into the well. Using a fork beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are roughly blended. Still using the fork, begin incorporating the flour into the eggs a little at a time. When the mass is too thick to be mixed by the fork, use your hands. Knead the dough by pushing it against the counter, then folding it onto itself, making a quarter turn and pushing it against the counter again. Since eggs vary in size, you may add ¼ teaspoon of water to the dough if it is too dry. Continue kneading until most of the flour has been incorporated and it becomes very smooth, about eight minutes. The dough should feel firm and pliable, but not hard. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. when making fresh pasta: Use the bestquality ingredients. Flour and eggs are not particularly expensive, so do splurge and buy the best available. Learn how the dough should feel – it should be smooth, firm and pliable. Rest the dough for 30 minutes before passing it through a pasta machine. Lastly, cook the pasta in boiling water that is “as salty as the ocean.” To make superior fresh pasta, pastured eggs and Tipo “00” flour are best. Tipo 00 flour is almost as fine as talcum powder, and it produces the most tender pasta dough. The formula for pasta is easy to remember: For every 100 grams of flour, add one large egg. Weigh the flour, if possible. If you don’t have a kitchen scale use this measure as a guide: 100 grams Tipo 00 flour = ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons Tipo 00 flour. Therefore 200 grams Tipo 00 flour (as called for in the recipe below) = 1¾ cup Tipo 00 flour.
FRESH PASTA Recipe courtesy of Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio Place 200 grams (1¾ cups) of Tipo 00 flour on a clean surface. Make a well in the center of the flour. Crack two
B A C K B I T E S H O U S T O N
This allows the glutens in the flour to relax so that the dough will stretch easily. Using the heel of your hands, flatten the dough to an oval shape about ½inch thick and about the width of the pasta machine. Flour the dough very lightly and feed it to the pasta machine set on the thickest setting #1 on the roller or flat part of the machine. Flour dough lightly again and pass it through #1 setting again. Beginner’s tip: We were all trying our best to get the perfect sheet of pasta by guiding the dough through the machine every step of the way. Palazzo-Giorgio suggests allowing the dough to pass through the machine with minimal handling: Once you feed it into the machine set the dough down gently and let the machine take over. If the edges of the pasta shred, add a light dusting of flour, fold the dough over itself and feed it to the pasta machine again.
Now proceed to the #2 setting and pass the dough through it twice, adding a very light dusting of flour each time. If the dough starts to become ragged on the edges, add a little more flour to it before you pass it through the machine. In the same manner, proceed to #4, #6 and #8 settings. If at any point your pasta is too long to handle, cut it in half crosswise and continue with the shorter pieces. If you don’t have a pasta machine, divide the dough into two pieces and begin rolling each piece with a rolling pin until it is very thin, adding a little flour as you go to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. To cut the pasta, switch to the fettuccini setting or attachment on your pasta machine. Feed the pasta sheets through the machine. The fettuccine can be cooked immediately or dried and frozen for future use. If cutting the pasta by hand, roll each sheet by starting at one
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of the short ends. Cut crosswise with a sharp knife into taglionlini (thin strips) or tagliatelle (wider strips). To cook fettuccine, fill a large pot with about 2 gallons of water. Add a generous amount of salt — a good handful or about ½ cup. It must be very salty and taste like the ocean. Do not add oil to the water, as this will prevent sauces from sticking to the pasta. Bring the water to a boil and add fresh pasta. Boil three to four minutes. Drain and toss with your favorite sauce. Yields four to five main course servings or eight to 10 first courses.
Dragana Arežina Harris is a life-long food, wine and travel enthusiast. She blogs about food at draganabakes. blogspot.com and dabbles in chocolate with her business partner, Chantal Duvall (cdgourmethouston.com).
crash course MEET HOUSTON’S FOOD WRITERS
by Taylor Byrne Dodge
No. 5 Albert Nurick Editor, H-Town Chow Down; contributor, Houstonia @htownchowdown WEBSITE/BLOG: HTownChowDown.com PREVIOUS POSITION: Contributor, CultureMap POSITION/OUTLET: TWITTER:
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING ABOUT FOOD?
On and off for about 20 years “AS A CHILD, I WANTED TO BE …
WHAT IN YOUR UPBRINGING BEST PREPARED YOU FOR THIS CAREER?
… well, the geek gene expressed itself early. I knew I’d do something with computers.”
I created a restaurant review website in the mid-1990s since I didn’t cook and tended to dine out a lot. As a geek, it seemed normal to take notes. It snowballed from there.
“IF I WASN’T A FOOD JOURNALIST, I’D …
… take far fewer photos of my meals.” WHAT IS THE PUBLIC’S BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT BEING A FOOD WRITER?
“GROWING UP, MY FAVORITE FOOD WAS …
That we hate having groupies. That’s the only possible explanation of why I’m not mobbed every time I enter a restaurant.
… barbecue. From a little joint on Bissonnet called Massey’s, unfortunately long gone.”
WHO IS THE FOOD WRITER YOU ADMIRE MOST?
“MY FAVORITE JUNKY FOOD PLEASURE IS …
It’s so hard to pick just one. I think Alison Cook leads the pack by being the total package – an expert on food, a sleuth who finds interesting places and a skillful, talented writer.
… Jack in the Box ‘tacos.’ I really don’t want to know what’s actually in the meat-like substance at the bottom.”
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR FREE TIME?
WHAT LEGENDARY HOUSTON RESTAURANT, SINCE CLOSED, DO YOU MISS MOST?
Travelling, reading, watching films, talking with people, going on long drives, playing with electronic toys.
Kaphan’s on South Main. Superb Gulf Coast seafood in a very genteel Southern atmosphere. WHAT’S ALWAYS IN YOUR HOME FRIDGE?
Ponzu, HEB ready-to-cook tortillas, Champagne, Frank’s Hot Sauce, Dr Pepper. WHAT DO YOU COOK FOR PLEASURE?
As little as possible. When something I cook turns out well, there is no one more surprised than me. DESCRIBE YOUR FITNESS ROUTINE.
Dr Pepper Ten. Walks around the neighborhood. Annual trips to Enchanted Rock, which gets higher on every trip. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR FANTASY FINAL MEAL.
Salt-encrusted red snapper from Tony’s, a half-pound of moist brisket from Corkscrew BBQ and a Bistro Burger from Hubbell & Hudson.
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D E S S E R T S J U S T
Fish Tales by Stephanie Madan
Paul and I were having dinner at Divino’s, a restaurant we always enjoy for its welcoming atmosphere and reliably scrumptious food. Since the menu presented to us that evening was not new, I am still not sure why Paul was so struck by it. All I can say is it is amazing what captures people’s imaginations. On this occasion he spotted the entrée “Drowned Salmon,” and we were off. He was so entertained by the concept a lengthy conversation on the matter ensued. Crucial elements included how the fish drowned precisely. In what environment was it drowned — surely cold would be more humane than hot? It cannot have been an easy death either way. How would you even do that? Who would want to? This is a man who endures my speculations regarding strangers in restaurants with almost no grace. I was nonplussed, but in a good way.
I did suggest that this must not become our debut murder investigation, although it was true we were ready. We had proven this by habitually solving mysterious deaths and kidnappings on CSI episodes well ahead of the extremely toned investigators. (It can only be assumed abs and pecs are what are keeping them on the team.) However, we had no practical experience capturing civilization’s enemies, plus I was opposed to killing, if for no other reason than the paperwork that must follow. Besides, the salmon likely cared less
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about who drowned it than that it was drowned at all. Salmon know almost nothing of their position within the food chain and would not view such information as a step toward calm acceptance. Nevertheless, Paul was keen to know who thought up such savagery. The chef must be strange. When our server arrived, Paul was not finished exploring the drowned salmon execution and involved him in further dialogue. I graduated our server to the category of hostage after about three minutes. I have never seen Paul have such fun with a menu. The server was an earnest, non-playful sort and attempted several times to reassure Paul that no one had taken purposeful steps to drown the salmon for personal pleasure. The server felt sure it was infeasible to manage such an execution even if anyone back in the kitchen felt the urge. At last Paul responded to my neckchopping motion. And even though he condemned the unhappy ending endured by the salmon, there was no question he was dining that night on a fish that had been drowned. He ordered, and the server acted on my signal to flee. On another occasion Paul’s reaction to a menu item was also a bit bewildering. Have I ever mentioned the tuna casserole of my childhood? I did not know how to cook when I left home and assumed it was something that came naturally, much like giving birth, which, according to an article in the encyclopedia we had, might entail some discomfort but was bearable and brief. My opinion of the author of that childbirth article will be explored on another occasion, but the first evening I cooked in my own apartment, I anticipated no discomfort. I chose tuna casserole as homage to Mama. On many occasions during my
D E S S E R T S J U S T
GETTING IT ON THE SIDE
TEXAS STRAWBERRY SALAD by chef RANDY EVANS of Haven
by Becca Wright Stay cool during the coming hot sticky months with chef Randy Evans’ Texas Strawberry Salad. Its bright acidic notes will be a nice change from Houston’s richer salad options. PAIR IT WITH: Grilled quail and a dry rosé. This is a pairing that matches the flavors and aromas as opposed to contrasting the dish.
TEXAS STRAWBERRY VINAIGRETTE 2 cups Texas strawberries, quartered ¼ cup vegetable oil 1 shallot, minced salt and black pepper to taste 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar METHOD: Purée 1½ cups of strawberries with shallot and vinegar using a blender or a hand blender in a mixing bowl. In a slow stream, whisk in the oil to create a creamy emulsion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining strawberries. Allow flavors to marry a few hours before serving.
CANDIED PECANS ¼ cup whole pecans 1 tsp. vegetable oil
confectioners’ sugar for tossing
METHOD: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss pecans with oil. Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring every three minutes. Toss with confectioners’ sugar while still hot. Cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
TEXAS STRAWBERRY SALAD 4 ½-inch slices of brioche ¼ cup butter, melted ¼ cup fresh goat’s milk cheese, softened 1 tsp. ground pink peppercorns
¼ cup candied pecans (recipe above) 8 oz. arugula 8 Texas strawberries, quartered ¼ cup Texas Strawberry Vinaigrette (recipe above) TO PLATE: Brush the brioche slices with butter. Toast or broil until golden brown. Combine the cheese and pink peppercorns and spread over bread. Broil until hot and bubbly, then set aside. In a large mixing bowl, toss the arugula, candied pecans, quartered strawberries and vinaigrette. Arrange salad on plate and top with the cheesy toast. Serves 4.
PHOTOS BY KEVIN McGOWAN
2502 Algerian Way east of Kirby, 713-581-6101, havenhouston.com
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childhood I had glimpsed Mama assembling the casserole while I was setting the table. Easy and so good. I had the ingredients assembled: glass casserole dish, noodles, milk, one can of tuna, drained, one can of mushrooms and one can of cream of mushroom soup. I layered, starting with noodles. After noodles I supposed the ingredients could be layered in no particular order. I proceeded with tuna, then on to milk, mushrooms and soup. I knew the oven had to be on, but no more, so I set it to whatever temperature showed up on the middle of the dial. The aroma of the casserole soon wafted my way. It was going to be an awfully delicious casserole. I decided it was time to eat 20 minutes later, the time it took to confirm I could not complete the Chronicle’s crossword puzzle in pen and that I was not in the mood to secondguess Ann Landers’ advice to the lovelorn, though I felt mine most days offered more excitement and energy, particularly regarding what to do with cheating spouses. Arming myself to remove the casserole from the oven with my oven mitt, I imposed on the mitt a smoldering conclusion via unintended but significant contact with the gas flame lit on the stove for canned green beans purposes. Following this it took me only one third-degree burn to sear a cooking truth into my memory as well as my hand: Fold a dishtowel in half more than once before employing it as a replacement oven mitt. Overcoming such challenges, I retrieved the casserole at last. There was something crispy there. I had not crumbled potato chips on top because I had none and Mama didn’t use them anyway, so this was odd. Investigation identified the noodles as the source. I had missed the part where Mama pre-cooked the noodles. There was something else. The sauce wasn’t a sauce. It was just some quasi-liquid that was clumpy. I had missed the part where the milk and soup are combined to make one pourable sauce. I had also missed the part where you season the dish.
These days, people laugh in the face of such tragedy and head out for dinner. Back then I was too poor to surrender. I added water, Accent and lemon pepper to the casserole and poked around with my fork, thinking the water would boil the noodles and all might still be well. I set the oven to “broil,” hoping for a miracle. Mere minutes later I arrived at a second cooking truth: Glass casserole dishes do not survive the unwavering attention of a broiler. It was hopeless. I abandoned the various casserole dish pieces and contents to concentrate on the green beans that were only slightly stuck to the bottom of the pan. They were delicious. Jump forward. A few years ago I made this favored childhood menu item for Paul, subsequent to providing the above poignant background. I assured him I had mastered this dish soon after the initial debacle, so I do not understand why he was dubious. He appeared resigned when he should have felt jubilation and perhaps even
honored that I wished to share this key marker in my life. I prepared it with no embellishments, to ensure historical accuracy. I presented it and pressed him to taste as I watched, eager to enjoy his appreciative smile. This smile I did not see. Instead he gave evidence of making a tortured decision whether to spit the food out and risk insulting me, or swallow it and die of casserole poisoning. It is fair to say he hated it. After he handed back the paper towel I provided as an exit strategy for the unloved bite, he wondered aloud whether the tuna had gone bad. As it was tuna straight from the foil packet, I doubted it, but tested my own small bite. It was marvelous. Better than marvelous — it was close to Proust’s madeleine. It transported me to the happy evenings when tuna casserole was featured at home. In fact its power could have lead me into my own sixvolume reverie had I not possessed a
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disciplined mind. I asked Paul what he found objectionable. Brief recap: every element — the taste, the texture, the components. He is normally so nice, too. We were not poverty-stricken, so dining options abounded. We agreed we should store the exceptional tuna casserole and take ourselves immediately to Kiran’s Restaurant. Once there we recovered in our own ways. He concentrated on spilling mint chutney as he ladled it onto his plate while I speculated about the three men in a booth who were acting furtive in my opinion. All in all, a successful evening.
Stephanie Madan is a writer who had a hard time believing anyone could fail to relish tuna casserole until a friend shared a favorite dish — pickled herring. She now understands why it is so useful to have a spouse with a napkin nearby when tasting new things.
Q U I Z I N E L O V E R ’ S F O O D
The Sweet Smell of Our 20-Year-Old Feats by Micki McClelland
Milestones are so much more than equidistant road rocks. When something or someone hits a milestone, it is an occasion for uncorking the good Champagne bottle. Twenty years is a long time to stick to your guns. Recalling that it took director Leni Piefenstahl two decades to perfect the filming of the opera Tiefland, dogged perseverance often trees the polecat of failure. Or, consider the commitment made by Slovenia. Deciding in the early 1990s that the biodiversity in the small central European republic was damned important, Slovenians made a pledge to protect the environment and have done just that for the past 20 years. (Except for the edible dormouse. As its name implies, the poor little fellow is the Slovenian exception.) Or, remember that it took the Vatican 20 years to squirt the pepper spray of righteous indignation into the eye of art, ordering Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel nudes covered with fig leaves and firing the painter. But no such ugliness and upheaval has stopped the progress of My Table. We always remove the fig leaves when plating and do remain firmly stuck to the unabashed proposition that the mouth needs love, too. Publishing a successful magazine takes group effort, and – like shower time in a winning team’s locker room – our feats are seen to in the altogether. 1 In the book The Sexual Politics of Meat (20th Anniversary Edition): A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams, when the phrase “piece of meat” is under discussion, Ms.
Adams is not referring to a modest four-ounce serving of beef tenderloin. Rather — and very much akin to her feelings about a “hero sandwich” — the author attempts to make a statement she believes should be universally embraced. In 31 words or less, please state the intention of her statement. 2 Radio DJ Dr. Demento (whose career spanned 30 years) put together a 20th Anniversary Collection of some of the greatest hits played during his time on the airwaves. Many of the titles are food and drink related. Place a checkmark beside the tunes that got Dr. Demento’s stomach gurgling. Put an x by songs that never could have made the deliciously inspired collection.
(a) Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley (1958) (b) Cocktails for Two by Spike Jones & His City Slickers (1944) (c) I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana by Ted Waite (1926) (d) Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight) by Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group (1958) (e) Cheeseburger in Paradise by Jimmy Buffett (1978) (f ) Eat It by Weird Al Yankovic (1984)
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(g) The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati by Rose & The Arrangement (1974) (h) On the Good Ship Lollypop by Shirley Temple (1934) 3 Giving 30 years to it — and enduring 30 years of frustrating, abject failure — a group of scientists finally arrived at the optimum alignment for the 26 colored squares on a Rubik’s Cube. After trying billions of positions the scientists at last solved the puzzle with the least amount of moves. If you take away four, but stick with the other blackbirds baked in the pie, can you calculate how many quarter or half turns are required to reach the perfect, color-coordinated solution to a Rubik’s Cube? 4 When your brother-in-law comes banging into your kitchen, insisting that he had always told you what the world needed was a heaping dish of goose liver ice cream, it would be wise to remember that he has just returned from a visit to San Francisco. Naturally you are skeptical; and of course you cannot recall him ever expressing interest in the needs of the world. Additionally, you are well aware that your brother-in-law had never in the past attempted to create a recipe for goose liver ice cream. The questions: (a) What condition is brother-in-law suffering from? (b) Where in San Francisco would a person find goose liver ice cream?
The Hebrew proverb Nichnas yayin, yatza sod (“Wine enters, and all your lovely discretion and dignity exit”) might have an ancient origin, but it’s as 5
true today as it was when the rabbis of old were sitting around outside the tent discussing the various foibles of human existence. Then, after chatting about how to knock some sense into B. C. boneheads who looked to them for words of wisdom, the rabbis rose from the campfire conference and set about writing the stuff down. Which brings us to the procedures traditionally followed during a Jewish Seder ceremony. There are a couple of questions: (a) What is paradoxical about the ancient rabbinical warning about losing oneâ€™s dignity after drinking too much wine and the wine consumption required of each participant attending a Passover Seder? (b) Name the singer who warbled the tune Man-O-Manischewitz What a Wine! for TV and radio commercials in 1960. 6 When considering a trip abroad, why should you skip Paris and head for Goa, India; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Hoi An, Vietnam; Sighisoara, Romania; Kampot, Cambodia; Banos, Ecuador; or Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine?
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Q U I Z I N E
ANSWERS Feminist Adams’ universal statement in 31 words: Eating meat makes the eyes roll back in the head of a heterosexual male (the hero), which makes a gal (the piece of meat) as appealing to him as a Corvette.
L O V E R ’ S
Songs about the banana, the cheeseburger and the lollypop did not make Dr. Demento’s list.
F O O D
(a) 20/20 hindsight (b) In San Francisco, visit Jake Godby’s Humphry Slocombe to get a scoop of goose liver ice cream.
(a) At a Passover Seder, each one at table consumes four cups of wine. (b) Sammy Davis Jr. sang enthusiastic praises for the kosher sweet Almonetta Wine.
A nice hotel room (most with a private bath) can be had at each destination for less than $20.
Micki McClelland has danced around the pages of this magazine for a good majority of its 20-year run. What a ballroom for a writer! With happy feet ready to tap into future feats, Happy Anniversary, My Table!
MOVING? Take My Table magazine with you! Send your new address to: My Table, 1908 Harold, Houston, TX 77098 or email@example.com
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dining with kids
ladies who lunch
TASTY YEARS â€Ś just a few of the topics weâ€™ve featured in MY TABLE since 1994 martinis
mr. anon turkey awards
F E A T U R E
PHOTO BY CHUCK COOK
RR O T I E
Sometimes you’re in a festive mood and don’t mind a bit of happy chaos during your meal. Other times you need a quiet place for a romantic date or serious conversation. In 1996 the late Linda Barth wrote an article on the subject of noise in restaurants for the 11th issue of My Table. “Loudness in restaurants is a major trend, not just in Houston, but all over America,” she wrote. “Why? Maybe we’ve lost the art of fine conversation, so we seek to fill the void with food and noise. Maybe all that rock ’n’ roll ruined our ears, so we’re more sound tolerant. Maybe restaurant owners don’t get complaints about noise, so they think everything’s just spiffy. Maybe some of them are cranking up the decibels on purpose: high-volume sound equals high-volume turnover of customers. And maybe noise is what diners want.” So, is noise what diners actually want? Certainly not all of them. Here at the magazine one of the most frequent complaints we hear is about noisy restaurants. We try to help by always including a “noise level” descriptor in the info boxes that top our restaurant reviews. But there is something that rings true about some ambient noise being desirable in a restaurant. As Barth noted, people are social creatures, like bees: They want buzz, so they don’t feel so alone. BY PHAEDRA COOK
With all of the changes that have taken place in Houston’s restaurant landscape since 1996, we thought it was time for the noise issue to be revisited. The good news is that modern restaurant designers are gaining a better understanding of the importance of managing noise during the design process. There are also attractive new materials for this purpose. Forget that gross foam that is sprayed into open ceilings. Modern sound absorption materials often look like art unto themselves. (See the sidebars for more details on sound absorption.) We recently set out to measure noise levels in 21 of Houston’s top restaurants and bars with both a sound meter and a free iPhone app called Decibel 10th. When looking at the average decibel levels recorded below, keep in mind that the decibel scale is a logarithmic scale, like the Richter scale for earthquakes. The decibel scale measures sound-pressure level. Every time the sound pressure doubles, the number of decibels rises by three points. When there’s a 10-point rise in the decibel level, your ears perceive the noise as doubling. After every ten points, it doubles again. For the sake of comparison: Human breathing is typically 10 decibels, a whisper is 20 decibels, an average office is 50 decibels, an average school cafeteria is 80 decibels, a jackhammer is 90 decibels, the threshold of pain is 120 decibels and a jet engine is 130 decibels. We indicate a range of noise levels for each restaurant or bar, as sound ebbs and flows constantly. As for where to go at what time of day, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re looking for a place for fun and music or a quiet appetizer and glass of wine, you’ll find choices in our noise guide below.
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Dish Society 71-83
RA Sushi 84-87
Downhouse and Blacksmith are both popular establishments and also have the distinction of being a little more chilled out than others. One look around Blacksmith and you can see why it’s not normally loud, despite the concrete floor and other hard surfaces: Half the crowd is seated at the counters working quietly on their laptops and tablets. Downhouse is also fairly sedate at lunchtime, which makes it a good bet for a casual business lunch over the hearty sandwiches, fries and salads.
Dish Society’s noise levels weren’t bad at all, even though they had an almost full house for their Saturday brunch. It’s a bit of a wonder, really, considering the brick walls, wall of windows and concrete floor. On the other side of the spectrum is the clubby atmosphere of RA Sushi at CityCentre. Even during a weekday lunch, the place is noisy. It’s an acceptable atmosphere for blowing off steam with a group of friends, but I would never choose RA for business or romance.
SATURDAY HAPPY HOUR
Américas (River Oaks) 52-73
The Hay Merchant 58-84
A happy side effect of this noise study was discovering that the happy hour at Américas on a Saturday evening is one of the best-kept secrets in town. Even with a crying child at the next table, it never got louder than 73 decibels, the equivalent of playing music at a medium level at home. On the other hand, The Hay Merchant is packed just about every happy hour and the noise readings show it. It’s also like playing music at home, but think Metallica, not Al Green.
If you’re looking for a quiet lunch, head to Paulie’s around 1:30 pm after most of the lunch crowd has cleared out. Paulie’s has free WiFi as well, so if you’re under the gun on a weekday, you can still get some work done while you dine. Paulie’s is known for its in-house made pasta, professionally trained baristas and locally famous frosted sugar cookies. On the other side of the spectrum, Provisions can get pretty noisy when there’s a full house. The decibel meter we used maxed out at 91, which is equivalent to a blender that’s three feet away. With that being said, most of the time it’s just a happy buzz of chatter that’s still perfect for a jovial lunch with good friends.
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F E A T U R E
TRINITI’S SOUND STORY
Triniti’s ceiling is hung with multi-level panels and the effect is visually striking. Here and there, adhered to the undersides, are attractive, textured pieces that might remind you of Tetris pieces. They’re not just a cool design feature, though. They’re made of Sonex foam (pictured above) and help absorb the sound generated when Triniti has a full dining room. Triniti co-owner and chef Ryan Hildebrand knew early on that there would be an issue with noise. “I brought it up early on in design meetings because the space was so open I knew it would be a concern. All the design materials we used were hard: wood, glass, concrete. The architect’s original intent was that the staggered ceiling would trap sound above it. I talked him into putting black sound proofing material all the way up in the ceiling, but that wasn’t enough. We put rugs down and carpeted the private dining room and that helped a little bit, too, but it was like putting a Band-aid on a gusher.” After that, Triniti’s designer, Chung Nguyen of MC2 Architects, considered how to implement soundproofing measures that would be visually appealing in the space. “It absolutely changed the atmosphere,” says Hildebrand. “Even the music sounds better now. It has a softened edge whereas before it sounded like there was too much treble. We’ve also gotten better at manipulating the music to better match the number of diners and time of day.” We noticed that the booths include partitions mounted on top and asked if those were part of the measures taken. “They’re more for privacy,” says Hildebrand, “but I do think they help contain conversations and allow diners to hear each other.” Another change made after Triniti opened was the addition of a lounge area that divides the bar from the main dining room with drapes, carpet and upholstered furniture, which also helps with absorbing
the sound from bar patrons and preventing it from wafting into the main dining room. While the space can still get loud (see the sound measurement taken at dinnertime in the main article) there are now some great acoustics, so “quietness” isn’t everything. In fact, Triniti regularly hosts coursed dinners that feature Mercury Orchestra as well as other musicians. Hearing live music in this space is a soaring experience, thanks to the measures taken by Triniti to put some controls in place. Hildebrand is working on a new restaurant, FM 903 (on Westheimer at Montrose where Ruggles Grill used to be), and the lessons learned from Triniti have proven helpful. “It’s definitely a focus because the ceilings are even higher there,” he says. “There are some really cool, effective sound-diffusing materials now. We’re looking at one that looks like hay or grass. It’s woven, rustic and really fits the motif of FM 903.” FM 903 is expected to open at the end of the year. To new restaurant owners, Hildebrand advises, “Be proactive because it’s hard to be reactive. We got really lucky in how easy it was to fix our problem. We had white surfaces and found a white material. Our architect did a great job coming up with a pattern that fits the design. If you have a complicated roof structure or material that you want people to see, it’s going to be an expensive disappointment if you later have to cover it with a soundproofing material. Assume the best! Assume you will be busy and your restaurant will be full of people. Do your soundproofing in the design phase, not in the post-construction between-shifts phase.”
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Backstreet Cafe 73-102
Backstreet Cafe takes the prize for hitting the highest sound measurement during our study when we measured in the upstairs dining room. Backstreet Cafe is set in a 1930s house, a structure where no modern soundproofing methods were installed. So, imagine that you had 50 people in your living room, all eating, drinking wine and chatting noisily. You would probably get a similar reading. There were lulls as well, which led to the radically different low measurement that we obtained on the same evening. It’s typically quieter both downstairs and out on the patio, so just express a preference for one of those areas if you want to cut down on the chatter. Coltivare had just opened when we took our measurements and was host to a packed house. There are lots of hard surfaces and little to offset the noise. It will probably be a while before anyone can hope for a quiet dinner here.
I looked around Underbelly and marveled that it wasn’t noisier. There was a full house for dinner, yet I had no problem at all hearing my family’s conversations around our big round table. I wondered why. The secrets to calming the din lie in the carpet, the open shelving running along the long wall and the open wooden wine cabinets that are staggered and angled with respect to the main dining room. In addition, the sizable private dining room is wood paneled. All of these features help deflect or absorb sound. As you’ll read in our sidebar, Triniti had to retrofit some areas to bring down the noise levels after it first opened two years ago. The big, rectangular space is better now, but still capable of reaching a fever pitch when the dining room is full. With that being said, if you can score one of the high-backed, partitioned booths, you’ll still be able to have a conversation.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse 66-79
Vic & Anthony’s 76-84
We compared two of Houston’s most notable steakhouses and found that Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is a little more sedate than Vic & Anthony’s. Both were quite crowded, but the sounds spiked a little higher at the latter. Pappas is more at a vacuum cleaner level, while Vic & Anthony’s is like a heavy truck rolling by. Perhaps the reason is that Vic & Anthony’s attracts more of the convention center crowd who are ready to loosen the neckties and have some fun, while Pappas attracts more of a well-heeled residential and date-night clientele. It’s hard to say, but if you’re looking for a fun birthday party, Vic & Anthony’s is a better bet, while Pappas will allow you to hear your partner across the table.
Osteria Mazzantini 88-99
Osteria Mazzantini and Caracol have both received a lot of buzz since opening last year, and there’s plenty of “buzz” inside as well. The highs and lows at these establishments measured identically on our sound meter. According to our iPhone app Decibel 10th, the noise levels were equivalent to a blender, motorcycle or automobile. So, forget a quiet chat with your spouse over dinner at either of these places, unless you get there before 6:30 pm.
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F E A T U R E
The Original OKRA Charity Saloon 82-88
Goro & Gun
Bad News Bar
The Pastry War
Some businesses on the “Block of Fun” (as the burgeoning group of new downtown bars and restaurants at Congress and Main might be called) have a party atmosphere, but we were pleased to find Little Dipper to be perfect for a quiet cocktail or glass of wine, even during Friday at happy hour. If you’re looking for a scene, though, The Original OKRA Charity Saloon is the direct opposite. Every day after work, the place is booming with young attorneys and other professionals who are ready to unbutton their sleeves and socialize after work. All proceeds go to a selected charity that changes each
month, so we couldn’t be more pleased that the place is packed. Also on the noisy side is The Pastry War, the tequila and mezcal bar run by The Clumsy Butcher group. Our noise measurements were taken at the bar, but you might find that the pool table area in the back is a refuge from the din. Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar and Spirits Lounge is another good choice on this block if you’re looking for peace instead of party time. The space has a lot of wood that helps with sound absorption: a long, wood bar counter, open back cabinets and floors. And, quite frankly, co-owner and
SOUND PROOFING A RESTAURANT DESIGNER’S PERSPECTIVE Gin Braverman worked on the design of both Oxheart and Camerata, and the experiences has made her more aware of the need for factoring in soundproofing from the get-go. “Oxheart is a small place. It never feels super-loud in there because of the shape of the interior. It has a long end and a lot of corners that block noise, so we didn’t have to worry about soundproofing there. It also has a woodbeam ceiling that is not a reflective surface.” Camerata proved to be a different story. (See the sidebar where co-owner Paul Petronella remedied a noise issue with a DYI solution after Camerata opened.) “I’ve had the issue come up for different spaces. It’s the last thing on a client’s list until the day they open, and then it’s the first thing on the list. I’ve learned the hard way that you really need to consider soundproofing upfront. You can have a beautiful space, and no one notices how nice is looks if they’re hearing echoes and reverberations. On the other hand, sometimes you want to be in a place that feels energetic.” Professionals who specialize in understanding and minimizing sound are called acousticians. “All spaces are different, and acousticians can make suggestions. Some spaces just need soft surfaces. Others need major, undulating acoustic panel systems. Spray foam is every
designer’s nightmare, but it works wonders. If you have a dropped ceiling that can hide it, that helps because spray foam is not pretty.” Indeed, many diners have looked up and seen gnarly black fuzzy spray foam. It’s not sexy or appetizing in a restaurant environment. “There are some spray foams with finer particles so it doesn’t look like there’s big chunks hanging off the ceiling,” advises Braverman. “At least the market has products now that are not only like art but serve a function as well. There are some amazing acoustic panels that look like artwork, like the ones produced by Keiri. Ligne Roset has a beautiful modular system that looks like felt. You can start with a small piece or make patterns on the walls with it ” Some techniques work well but are not ideal for the restaurant environment. “It’s not the best thing in a restaurant to have upholstered walls, although they work [for soundproofing].” Costs for soundproofing can be daunting, too, when considered in the scope of a design budget. “A spray foam installation might cost $5,000,” says Braverman. “Panels can range anywhere from $30 a square foot while others are $60. It’s not insignificant.” Braverman is currently working on the design of a beer garden near Almeda at Alabama in Midtown.
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MAKE GOOD CHOICES
As a diner you can contribute to the pleasure of your visit by carefully choosing the places, times and days you dine based on what you’re looking for. Looking for a quiet meal? That hot new restaurant is not the place to go, as every other foodie in Houston will be there, too. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are also likely to be raucous, as are Sunday brunches. The same goes for major holidays where dining out is traditional, such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Even a place that is typically noisy simmers down a great deal on the slow nights of the week. Typically, that’s Sunday through Wednesday. Lunchtime tends to also be quieter, except for Fridays and weekends at restaurants in busy shopping areas such as Rice Village and The Galleria. Photo credits: Hay Merchant and Caracol — Phaedra Cook; Paulie’s — Eric Sauseda/ Groovehouse Photography; all other photos by Chuck Cook Photography.
All Phaedra Cook wants is some peace and quiet to write her articles. A glass of wine would be nice, too. Is that so much to ask for?
ONE D-I-Y SOLUTION Camerata, the recently opened wine bar next to Paulie’s, was designed by Gin Braverman. Much like Oxheart, another restaurant she worked on, the space has elegance in its simplicity, yet is stylish and comfortable. The square room, brick walls and concrete, however, amplified the noise of patrons and clinking glassware. “For it to be a functioning wine bar, something had to be done,” said Paul Petronella, owner of next-door Paulie’s and co-owner of Camerata. So he and Camerata partner/sommelier David Keck found a do-it-yourself solution. Using sections of eggcrate foam, they padded the undersides of the long benches and booths. They also installed soft panels in the ceiling and added a few rugs. “We put softness anywhere we could,” said Petronella. It just goes to show that not every situation requires expensive sound proofing materials and a specialist. Sometimes, it just takes some thought and willingness to do the work yourself.
SideDish is an email newsletter published by My Table and will arrive in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday with restaurant news, wine reviews, recipes, events, give-aways and everything else that celebrates the Houston food world. Sign up today for your free SideDish subscription at www.my-table.com.
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PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
bartender Justin Burrow might have a great deal to do with that as well. His desire to retain a polite atmosphere means that excessively rowdy groups are simply not tolerated. As of this writing, there is also an occupancy limit that is enforced by a doorman outside, which helps keep the crowds manageable. One last place you might want to check out: the newly refurbished Dean’s. Dean’s had just reopened when we visited, so it was too early to tell what the noise levels might be once people really start to find the place. We had some lovely cocktails and a pleasant chat with the amiable bartender. The revamped place needs to be discovered by more people. Hopefully, it will retain the current sophisticated atmosphere when it is.
F E A T U R E
table. Here is a closer look at six Houston-area Sometimes even shopping a farmers’ market can’t deliver vegetables, fruits and herbs into a restaurant restaurants and their edible gardens. kitchen fresh enough to satisfy a fussy chef. One solution: Chefs plant their own edible gardens where they can harvest produce just hours (rather 2502 Algerian Way, 713-581-6101, havenhouston.com than days) before it reaches the dining room. While Haven opened its doors in 2009, and a year later chef it is more costly and time-consuming to grow their Randy Evans’s seasonal kitchen was using produce from the restaurant’s own gardens. Haven has multiple beds spread own food, especially for a small-scale operation, across the property including a bed dedicated solely to mint these folks believe in the added value of garden-to- (see page 54 for Mint Julep recipe), a 10-tree citrus orchard
and even a beehive for honey. Some items, such as the herbs, are used daily; some are used only when ready to harvest, such as carrots, radishes, greens or cauliflower. The produce finds its place in the menu specials and the tasting menus for both Cove and Haven’s kitchen table. Evans is even open to special requests. “I had a customer ask for Swiss chard, which I did not have on the menu but did have growing in the garden. The lady was pretty excited to see me walking through the dining room with her dinner.” HAVEN PHOTO BY KEVIN MCGOWAN
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BY BECCA WRIGHT
Time and cost are Evans’ biggest challenges, noting that it is significantly more expensive to raise produce on his own. “Farming is about commodity of scale, and our scale is fairly small. This is more of an intellectual endeavor.”
Coltivare 3320 White Oak, 713-637-4095, coltivarehouston.com
When Coltivare owners Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera saw the empty lot on White Oak just a couple blocks east of their Revival Market, they looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Garden.” Coltivare’s 3,000-square-foot garden was designed by Scott Snodgrass of Edible Resources and boasts some unique features, such as raised beds that, when covered with tempered glass in the evening, also serve as cocktail tables. The garden also has a beautiful wall of herbs growing on the side of a Jenga-like wooden structure. Coltivare’s seasonal menu — the restaurant just opened in January — will be ever evolving based on the garden’s harvest, whether it is substituting one item in a certain dish or removing an entire dish completely. Pera and Weber admit that there are added expenses to having an onsite edible garden, from hiring a staff gardener to growing organically to significant one-time expenses such as tools and construction. But they are in agreement that “the garden is integral to the restaurant.” Pera explains, “I think to bring food as close to us as we can and control it as much as we can will ultimately enable better food.”
PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
PHOTO BY BHAVIN USEROFREALITY
F E A T U R E
Just Dinner on Dunlavy 1915 Dunlavy, 713-807-0077, justdinnerhouston.com
Like most of the gardens included here, Just Dinner’s backyard garden is a labor of love. What started as a shared co-op garden with neighbors turned into a more organized venture when proprietor Lila Rivas took over the restaurant two and a half years ago. “I really have continued it because I love it. Selfishly, the biggest advantage is the gratification I get from being able to have my hands in the dirt, put seeds down and have this beautiful plant grow without pesticides.” Roughly 50 percent of the produce the kitchen uses comes from the garden, which is an organic environment. “We don’t use pesticides, we make sure the seeds are organic, the soil is local, and we compost also. Composting has been a tremendous help in getting rid of weeds. It makes the soil so much more nutritious,” says Rivas. With the garden, they are able to grow produce not typically found at a farmers’ market. “We are such a small restaurant, and we are able to keep up the supply, so we get to have a closer connection from the garden to the plate,” says Rivas. “It really is the heart of our restaurant.”
JUST DINNER ON DUNLAVY
SPRING RE-FRESH-MINT Nothing grows quite as well as mint does in Houston’s heat and humidity. And since Saturday, May 3, marks the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby why not celebrate gardening and leggy Thoroughbreds with a Mint Julep? The Mint Julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938 and is traditionally made with mint leaf, bourbon, sugar and water served in a silver or pewter cup. About 120,000 Mint Juleps are consumed at Churchill Downs each year. While a “julep” can refer to a sweet drink that serves as a vehicle for medicine, let this Mint Julep recipe, courtesy of Richard Middleton at Brennan’s of Houston, be a vehicle for your freshly grown mint and favorite bourbon.
MINT JULEP 1 tsp. powdered sugar 1 Tbsp. water 6 to 8 large mint leaves (no stems, spearmint is preferred) 2 oz. straight bourbon whiskey (no blends) crushed ice powdered sugar for dusting mint leaves for garnish Muddle sugar, water and mint leaves in a chilled silver julep cup with a flat muddler, which will crush the leaves rather than tear them. Fill with crushed ice and pour 1.75 oz. of the bourbon over the ice. Stir the mixture until the cup is frosted with condensation (or your fingers stick to the cup). Mound more crushed ice to fill the cup and pour the remaining bourbon over the ice. Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with mint sprigs. METHOD:
PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
Visit my-table.com/currentissue for a mint julep video demo.
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RAINBOW LODGE PHOTO COURTESY OF RAINBOW LODGE
Rainbow Lodge 2011 Ella Blvd.,713-861-8666, rainbow-lodge.com
Owner Donnette Hansen planted Rainbow Lodge’s first garden at the restaurant’s former location on Birdsall in 1995, and the tradition has continued and grown since the restaurant’s move to Ella Boulevard eight years ago. Right outside the restaurant is a small fenced patch where a few crops such as microgreens and garlic grow, as well as the herbs, which are cleverly planted in hanging shoe organizers. Across Ella Boulevard on 21st Street is the restaurant’s second and larger garden where crops such as kale, radishes, carrots, bok choy, tomatoes and citrus fruits find their home. Hansen has begun to expand her 21st Street garden by adding blackberry pots, drip irrigation and more frames for vines to climb. The kitchen attempts to use the harvest wherever possible, but the crops are predominantly highlighted on the chef ’s tasting menu. “I can write a menu for three weeks from now knowing what we are about to harvest. That way we can really highlight the ingredient rather than blend it in with others,” said Hansen.
PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
Patrenella’s 813 Jackson Hill, 713-863-8223, patrenellas.net
Urban gardener Camille Waters first borrowed Patrenella’s land 18 years ago to start her local lettuce business. Appropriately nicknamed the Lettuce Queen, Waters sold her harvest to high-end Houston restaurants, and each year Patrenella’s would host a “Lettuce Entertain You” garden party to celebrate the garden’s bounty. Typically 12 or 15 restaurants set up booths and created dishes featuring the goodies from Waters’ garden. Hundreds of guests wandered the rows, sipping wine and exclaiming over the lush springtime harvest. When Waters relocated to the west coast of Mexico seven years ago, Sammy Patrenalla Sr. decided to take up gardening. “It was such a show-and-tell feature of my restaurant that I decided to continue it,” says Patrenella. Depending on the season, the one-acre garden is full of herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets, fruits and the restaurant’s famous cucuzza squash vines that drape over the patio. “The garden is a big asset to our menu,” explains Patrenella. It’s also part of the fun eating here. PHOTO BY KEVIN MCGOWAN
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F E A T U R E
The Inn at Dos Brisas 10000 Champion Dr., Washington, TX., 979-277-7750, dosbrisas.com
No look at Houston-area edible gardens would be complete without The Inn at Dos Brisas, the gold standard of restaurant gardens. What started as a small garden that the chefs would tend is now a 24-acre USDA-certified organic farm that provides The Inn at Dos Brisas’s restaurant with roughly 90 percent of its total produce. Executive chef Zachary Ladwig and the general manager of the farm Jason Coleman work closely together, THE INN AT DOS BRISAS
deciding what to plant and harvest so the menu can be planned around what is available. Rather than farm-to-table dining, Coleman says they refer to the restaurant as pitchfork-to-table because “the chef can go out and walk the fields with the famer, look at the crops, see what he wants to harvest, and within 30 minutes it can be harvested.” Adding to the already large garden, Coleman’s crew recently planted a 600tree fruit orchard as well as 400 berry plants. Coleman explained, “If I could tell a new farmer one thing, it would be you have to be pay attention to the soil health. If you have good soil you are going to have good produce.”
Becca Wright is the new assistant editor at My Table. She recently graduated from UT with a degree in multimedia journalism. You can find her indulging in Houston’s eclectic edibles, sipping a glass of bubbly with her cat or contemplating going to the gym. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE INN AT DOS BRISAS
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THROWBACKS 1994 – 2014
Do you relish pulling dusty old bottles from your wine collection and sharing with friends? Some vintages might have aged better than you would have predicted, while others may have found their way into your stash for strictly sentimental reasons. We’ve been in a reminiscent mood ourselves lately. Since last summer, our My Table team has been digging through the archives to decant 20 years of what was once a tiny 12-page newsletter and has now grown into an 88-page magazine. While we wish we could re-print certain entire issues, we’ve settled for a few tastes of our hand-picked triage of favorite features. ISSUE 6
e Cognoscente’s Guide to Mariachi Music by Edith Sorenson
Gimme at Old Time Cookery by Edith Sorenson
Spamalicious! by Lissa Glasgo
Who’s Who in Houston Restaurants
Treasure From A Compost Pile by Peter Heyne
Fig Time by Molly Glentzer
Funeral Food by Laura Elder
e Chef Who Would Be Elvis by Jimmy Mitchell
Do You Really Want To Eat Art? by Brian McManus
Jake Crimestein’s Euphemisms (Issue 32) Adie Marks cartoon (Issue 39) Edible Etymology (Issue 59) by Keitha & Mik Kushner
I S S U E S
This musical guide from one of our earliest issues is as useful today as it was when Margaret Luellen Briggs wrote it in 1995. Who wouldn’t like to request a song — any song! — besides La Bamba? Please clip and share with friends.
L O O K
P A S T
APRIL – MAY 1995
The Cognoscente’s Guide to
Mariachi Music I
love almost everything about Houston’s Mexican restaurants: hot red salsa, tortilla chips (even if they’re greasy), salty margaritas and boisterous crowds. But there’s one thing I don’t like, one thing that fills me with dread. When people sitting near me summon the mariachi players tableside, I want to run screaming into the parking lot. Not because I don’t like mariachi music, but because I know they’re going to ask for La Bamba. I understand that they’re feeling festive and want to hear some mariachi music. But their problem — soon to become my problem — is that they only know one mariachi song to request. You know, that song Ritchie Valens made famous. Real Texans, born or transplanted, should know better. According to my calculations, I’ll hear La Bamba at least five times during an average Saturday night dinner, seven times if I stay for flan. Make that 10 times if I start with margaritas at happy hour, as I’m prone to do. Wouldn’t it be an achievement to ask for a different, great-sounding mariachi song title, in Spanish? B Y
M A R G A R E T
L U E L L E N
B R I G G S
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Knowing how to request a good mariachi song should be as essential to your enjoyment of a Mexican restaurant as knowing the right wine in a French restaurant. You could deeply impress your friends and family, to say nothing of the poor musicians. I’ll bet they’re as sick of La Bamba as I am. “Please don’t mention La Bamba,” says Severo Lara, a professional mariachi musician who performs at Pico’s restaurant. (Lara’s business card advises that his band performs the best mariachi music in town, for all occasions, and “will go around the world if you pay.”) Even if you only know one mariachi song, rest assured that the professional musicians serenading you have mastered at least 50 or more. You may regard mariachi bands as the “elevator music” of Mexican restaurants, but in fact they represent more than a century of proud tradition. Born in the highlands of Jalisco some time around 1870, mariachi music is said to spring from the intertwined roots of Aztec and Spanish rhythms. Early mariachis wore simple canvas shirts and pants, and a typical band would certainly include a violin, maybe a vihuela, which is a small ﬁvestring guitar, plus a guitarron, which looks like an overgrown guitar with six strings but is actually a bass, and a “Jalisco harp,” as played by Lara at Pico’s. The round-backed vihuela and guitarron are unique to mariachi bands and provide the rhythm section of the music. If you want to listen to the music from this early era of strings-only mariachi, ask for La Negra, for example, or El Carretero. You’ll hear the difference. Perhaps as early as 1900, mariachis moved down from the mountains to the big city, to Mexico City’s famed Plaza Garibaldi. Some say they came at the invitation of President Porﬁrio Diaz himself. This was a simpler time in Mexico, as it was everywhere. The time before the World War, before the automobile. Extended families and courting couples thronged the plaza, while the musicians strolled through
the gentle evening, singing songs like Cielito Lindo in harmony. After the wars, the traditional mariachi sound evolved to include trumpets in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and mariachis donned the nowfamiliar trajes de charro costumes, copied from wealthy landowners: silver concho-studded pants, braid-encrusted sombreros and spurs. Mariachi music then crossed the border into the United States along with the tide of immigrants, spun off the Tijuana Brass sound of the 1960s and, by the 1980s, blossomed throughout the cities of the South– west, particularly Houston, San Antonio, Tucson and Los Angeles — which now bills itself as the “world capital of mariachi music.” Must I point out that Los Angeles is also home to that song, La Bamba? Today mariachi music is more highly regarded and professionally performed in the United States than in its Mexican homeland. Mariachi music festivals are big and getting bigger every year, including “Mariachi USA” in Los Angeles and the “Mariachi ‘Battle of the Bands’” held annually during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. In fact, the ﬁve-year-old Mariachi USA festivals sells out the Hollywood Bowl; no mean feat, considering that 18,000 people are willing to pay money to hear music you can listen to free in any local Mexican restaurant. I asked Santos Yanez, the violinplayer of the mariachis who play at Doneraki’s on the weekend, if this surge of popularity in the United States translates to mariachis getting rich, like the Tejano musicians. “You’re kidding, right?” he asks. Here’s a quick lesson in mariachi economics: First, those beautiful charro costumes are expensive, costing as much as $400 each for competitionquality suits. Then the size of most mariachi bands works against the individual band members, since most restaurants pay the bands little, if any money (say, $20 per night), which is then divided among the band members. This means that the musicians rely on your tips for their real income, and a
buck or two isn’t going very far. For a two-man band, you should tip $5 for any song you request. For a larger group of eight musicians, like Yanez’s band at Doneraki’s, you should up the ante to $10 per song. Of course, Yanez’s advice in this matter is not entirely devoid of self interest, but you can see his point. Most mariachis have at least two jobs.
Although a professional with 15 years’ experience, Yanez is a musician by night and a real estate salesman by day. “So what do you think of La Bamba?” I ask Yanez. “Professionally? I will play any song you request.” “No, personally,” I insist. “Okay. I’m sick of La Bamba. But that’s okay. La Bamba pays my rent.”
P LAYLIST How to Seem Like a Mariachi Cognoscente DON’T ASK FOR:
La Bamba Una Paloma Blanca Cielito Lindo Guantanamero
Non-negotiable. I’m sick of it, too. Well, maybe once per evening. This is a Cuban song, not Mexican.
ROMANTIC, SOULFUL GAZE SONGS:
Y Volvere Sabor a Mi Besame Mucho Cuando Calienta El Sol Malagueña
“I Will Return” — remember it by thinking of Patton “Flavor of Me” “Kiss Me Lots” “When the Sun Warms” About a beautiful woman named Malagueña
CRYING IN YOUR MARGARITA SONGS, A LA PATSY CLINE:
No Vuelvo Amar Cruz de Olvido
“I Cannot Love,” a real tearjerker “The Cross of Forgetfulness” is a rough translation
ROWDY SONGS THAT SOUND A LOT LIKE COUNTRY WESTERN:
Volver, Volver El Rey
“Come Back, Come Back” “The King” — anyone can pronounce it and every band knows it
FESTIVE SONGS, SUITABLE FOR THE BIRTHDAYS OF YOUNG CHILDREN:
“Early Morning Serenades,” often followed by Happy Birthday in either or both languages
OLDER, TRADITIONAL SONGS:
“The Dark Woman” — this one is as popular with Hispanics as La Bamba is with gringos “The Waves”
Las Olas ADVANCED AFICIONADO SONGS:
El Carretero De Que Manera Te Olvido?
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“The Wagoneer” — and rolls those Rs! “How Can I Forget You?” — I don’t know, but how can I ever remember this title?
A C ritical Guide to
© e l b a t y in
IN HOUSTON RESTAURANTS
DEC. 1997 – JAN. 1998
It’s remarkable how many of the 55 folks shown here are still involved in the Houston restaurant business: chefs, restaurateurs, writers, caterers, tycoons. Mixologists and farmers’ markets were not yet part of the mix. Chablis Lawrence’s cover was made using photos, a photocopier, scissors and glue.
Who’s WHO I N H O U S T O N R E S TA U R A N T S n the restaurant business, the mantle of celebrity drapes many shoulders. X Some inherit it. Some buy it. Most still earn it the hard way, with boundless hospitality, business grit, unwavering vision and stamina. While the unendowed fall by the wayside — a recycling bin of poof-less soufflés, curdled hollandaise and overdone steaks — the get-itrights continue to get it right. May their tribes increase. X On the cover and below, our guide to the luminaries and nabobs who’ve made dining out a competitive sport in Houston.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Tony Vallone Jeff Vallone Bruce McMillian Hugo Ortega Tim Keating Harris Pappas Chris Pappas Mark Cox Scott Chen Irma Galvan Mr. Anon Vincent Mandola Tony Mandola Damian Mandola Resa Kelly George Fuermann Jimmy Mitchell Jorge Sneider Marilyn Descours
20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
Monica Pope Joe Mannke Alison Cook Lynn Foreman Coy Ramsey Manfred Jachmich Charlie Watkins Ghulam Bombaywala Geary Ermis John Mariani Elouise Cooper Clive Berkman Bill Edge LaVerl Daily Jim Goode Robert Del Grande John Watt Gigi Huang Antonio Mingalone 61 A P R I L – M AY 2 0 1 4
Cover collage by Chablis Lawrence 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55
Ann Criswell Michael Cordúa Glenn Cordúa Lois Alderman Georges Guy Bruce Molzan Tilman Fertitta Sonny Look Laurann Claridge Jackson Hicks Tony Ruppe Peg Lee Edd Hende Nina Hende Alex Brennan-Martin Carl Walker Tessie Frugé Patterson
I S S U E S
Fig trees are one of the miracles of urban gardens. They grow with almost no care, produce abundantly, are loved by both people and wildlife. Molly Glentzer’s gentle consideration of the fig is our favorite kind of personal essay.
L O O K
P A S T
APRIL – MAY 1998
Fig Time by Molly Glentzer
’ve been thinking lately about figs. Not about how during antiquity they were the food of the gods; or about how Pliny the Elder lauded their medicinal value; or even about the prophet Mohammed’s purported comment, “If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise, it would certainly be the fig.” What I’ve been thinking about is that for years, to my taste, figs were always the most boring fruit. Let’s face it: For most people, the fig universe is limited to that mealy, tasteless cookie, the Fig Newton. When I was a kid, my dad harvested fresh figs from my Aunt Bee’s backyard in Galveston as if they were fleshy gold. Perhaps my impression of them would have been different if they’d come from some fragrant orchard, but Aunt Bee’s fig tree stood on a patch of tough grass between her white frame house and her white frame garage in a blue-collar neighborhood where the streets were named for the letters of the alphabet. It was always hot and humid and too bright out there, and redolent of dog poop. I was no more tempted to try a fig than I was to eat raw oysters, which Aunt Bee also provided. She and her husband owned shrimping boats, and on Sunday evenings, after we’d gobbled her cornmeal-battered fried shrimp, she’d send us home with a bucket of fresh oysters to be cracked at our kitchen table. Daddy loved to tease us with them, plucking the slimy things from their shells, dipping them into ketchup and horseradish, then goading, “Watch it sliiide down my throat!” We stopped going to Aunt Bee’s house when I was a teenager, after bad luck sucked her family into a black hole of misery: The shrimp boats burned, her son committed suicide in her bedroom, her husband drank himself to death. When I was away at college, my mother called one evening to say Aunt Bee had shot herself, and when I returned, Daddy had dug up her fig tree and moved it to our back yard. He’s gone, now, too. And although the sound of his voice has drifted into the far corners of my memory, I can still
hear him trying to tease me into eating raw oysters. If I try hard enough, I can imagine him once again offering me a fig. His tree – or Aunt Bee’s, depending on how far back you follow the roots — still stands in what is now my brother’s yard, although no one has bothered to harvest it for a long time. Two years ago, my husband and I bought an old house in Montrose that happened to have a fig tree in the back yard. We resisted hacking the thing down because we liked its multi-trunked shape and its supply of free bird food. Last year, the blue jays and mockingbirds made such a fuss over the fruit I decided to taste it. The figs were mild, melt-onthe-tongue sweet, with a sticky syrup that leaked like beaded honey from their muted husks of brown, purple and cream. For several weeks, I played a game of beat-thebirds, gathering the fruits I could reach every morning into a big bowl that would be empty by noon. Some of them I ate straight from the tree. Others I dipped in sweetened cream cheese. When it appeared that production was waning, I shifted into a “future rations” mode and tried my hand at canning, adding mint and lemon to the mix. Although I had intended to make fig jam, the results were more like stewed figs, which were delicious anyway. I think my tree is a Celeste, an old variety that was once planted in many yards throughout the South. It is about 12 feet high, with a tangle of grey trunks that branch out at the ends like arms with spindly, extended fingers. Today, late in spring, green tips have burst open. It appears that, come June, I’ll need a ladder.
Molly Glentzer is a Houston freelance writer. Her articles appear in Food & Wine, Texas Monthly and elsewhere.
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JUNE – JULY 1999
Sometimes we ask industry folks to write for My Table. Chef Jimmy Mitchell was known for his organic garden (at Rainbow Lodge), riding a very large motorcycle and totally cheesy Elvis impersonations. Yep, we wanted the Elvis story. Mitchell was a super good sport.
The Chef Who Would Be Elvis by Jimmy Mitchell
have too much native American Indian in me to grow sideburns, so I use a pair of false ones when I do Elvis. Also it’s necessary to dye my brown hair black. The last dye job was five months ago, January 8 (the day Elvis was born), and it’s still the color of coal. Maybe my hair thinks it’s a waste of time to go back to brown since I’ll have to dye it again anyway on August 16 (the day Elvis died). First time I got rigged up as Elvis was Halloween 1988. Lighter then than I am now, my role model was the young Elvis — gray slacks, white silk jacket, black shirt, no tie, contacts instead of glasses. The girls at the party didn’t exactly fall over in a dead faint, but I wasn’t discouraged. Figured I’d work on the act and get them next time. Fate’s a funny thing. On my first day at the Culinary Institute of America, the school was celebrating “Elvis Week,” which included an interesting competition called the “Elvis Potato-Carving Contest.” I carved his head and took only one potato to do it. It was a solemn moment when I won first prize. I kept that shriveled potato with me for months. In my stockpile of Elvis souvenirs, I’ve got a fine life-size photo of Elvis’ face. On the day of graduation from CIA, I had duplicates made of the shot, then went around to all the bulletin boards at school and tacked them up. Elvis has left the Culinary! was written across the bottom of each — an appropriate farewell to those responsible for making me what I am today. Then it was on to California to do my externship cooking at Fetzer Winery. When Valentine’s Day 1993 rolled around, Fetzer decided to throw a red wine and chocolate-tasting party. To entertain the guests the year prior, they’d had Bobo the Clown. The public hated him — tried to run him over with their cars. It made me kind of nervous when Fetzer asked me to do my Elvis impersonation for the event. But since they had already rented the white jumpsuit and procured a 1963 Cadillac with Elvis plates, I said
sure, why not. It was just me, the Cadillac and “Mr. Microphone” out there on the curb in front of the tasting room. My job instruction was twofold: Direct traffic and sing. In the two days I impersonated Elvis for Fetzer, hundreds of happy people came by. I had a few suggestive remarks thrown at me, but I knew Elvis put up with overly excited fans all the time. One particular incident with a mother and daughter team stays in my mind. The daughter asked to sit on top of the Caddie and have her picture taken with Elvis. The mother’s request wasn’t so innocent. All shook up, I said, “Sorry, baby, I’m working right now.” A few months later, I came back to Texas and went to work for the Rainbow Lodge where every birthday and death day I run an Elvis Special: pork chops, mashed sweet potatoes and mustard greens. The special usually sells out in the first two hours. A couple years ago I had a customized big-collar Elvis chef’s coat made to wear at work, but it was stolen. Somehow I think this happened because Elvis was sending me a message. He never liked restaurants. Preferred his mother’s cooking. This year on Elvis’ birthday I dressed in leathers — Elvis’ outfit for the 1968 comeback — and took the act to both the Hard Rock Cafe (noon competition) and to Chuy’s (dinnertime contest). Between the shows I had five hours to kill, so I decided to eat lunch. At Chuy’s, nobody expects Elvis to pay when it’s his birthday, so I stuffed myself and had several drinks to get me in the mood for the night performance. I took fourth place out of nine guys. Third place went to a 12-year-old kid with blond hair. But I’m not discouraged. Figure I’ll work on the act and get them next time.
Jimmy Mitchell is the executive chef at The Rainbow Lodge.
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I S S U E S P A S T A T L O O K A
FEB. – MAR. 2003
Personal essays continue to be an important component of our editorial mix. In this example, Edith Sorenson combines food history, pop culture, personal anecdotes and humor. One day we hope to collect these locally written food essays into a book
Gimme That Old-Time Cookery WASH THE BIRD INSIDE AND OUT WITH A CLOTH WET WITH BRANDY, CHANGING THE CLOTH SEVERAL TIMES AND NOT SPARING THE LIQUOR.
by Edith Sorenson
don’t research this stuff — I just play and ponder. Some cookbooks address uneducated immigrants and farmwomen recently relocated to the big city who need some home economics, quickly. Texts from the 1920s like What Is What in Groceries provide no-nonsense domestic science information, such as the official definition of each of the six canned pea sizes. Carlotta C. Greer, of the East Technical High School in Cleveland, wrote a thorough Text-Book of Cooking in 1915. Greer’s work includes an entire chapter on cereals, information about caloric requirements sorted by profession and fatprotein-carb ratios that are right in line with the most recent information from the American Heart Association. There are also dishwashing lessons, which were probably useful for future homemakers who haven’t spent their entire lives with Procter & Gamble advertising coming at them from all sides. When reading some of these books, it’s easy to know what the authors were thinking. The Browns were thinking “Drink up!” Greer was thinking that household management was a useful science for the modern world. I have no idea what Sarah Field Splint, a former McCall’s editor, was thinking. She authored The Art of Cooking and Serving, a 1931 hardback produced by the Crisco people. As one would expect, every recipe calls for at least a teaspoon of Crisco. But the chapters on place settings and maid’s uniforms? When I’m feeling gloomy, it’s refreshing to immerse myself in the details of another time and place. However, if you would cook from mildewed old books, there are some practical considerations. Vintage recipes are missing a few things, such as precise cooking temperatures and salmonella precautions, so it’s not wise to dive in without some basic knowledge. Many Civil War re-enactors know the minutia of every battle and every little detail of available arms, but my guess is that some of those folks just like to put on scratchy wool uniforms and see what it feels like to run around in the woods. That playful attitude matches my approach to oldstyle cooking — I just like to imagine being in another time and place.
I have made this dish — not sparing the liquor! — just as I have prepared at least one meal from each of the couple dozen moldering old cookbooks and recipe pamphlets I’ve culled from garage sales and junk stores over the years. The boozy bird above is a pheasant dish from The Wine Cookbook by the Brown family of Louisiana. Apparently, Creole culinary authority was already well understood in 1934. Don’t think my interest is in the historical, sociological and gender-issue lessons of early 20th-century cookery. No. I just like the time-travel aspects of playing with these old recipes. Here in Houston 2003, procuring good food is easy, thanks to the city’s upscale supermarkets and carry-out emporia. But it wasn’t always so. A barbecue recipe in Ethel Farmer Hunter’s 1948 Secrets of Southern Cooking begins with these instructions: “Make a pit four feet wide and 18 inches deep. Get small shoats, lamb or kid.” It’s difficult to imagine modern foodies cooking this way: “Hey, honey, go pick up a couple of fresh lamb carcasses. I’ll dig the pit!” Such recipes not only assume that you have days to press spice meat under a plate, but that you know the age of the eggs you’re using, have a butcher who cuts everything to order and are handy with a larding needle if meat isn’t sufficiently fatty for roasting. Oddly enough, earlier cookbook writers often seem to be having fun. Instead of today’s stringent instructions for authenticity or heart-healthy cooking, pre- and post-war cookbooks offer charming insights, explaining, for instance, that shashlik, a dish from nomads in the Caucasus, is now served on skewers “more often than swords, perhaps unfortunately from the dramatic standpoint.” By then, I guess, kitchen gadgets had eliminated some of the drudgery so cooks put an emphasis on festivities. Flavor’s The Thing offers a calendar of holiday foods that includes St. Lucia’s Day, noting that the Swedes celebrate with saffron buns called lussi kattor: “Lucia cats, very realistic with their saffron eyes.” Recipes of All Nations, written by Countess Morphy, has tab indexes for 18 countries, Creole cookery and a grab-bag section that includes Turkey, the Balkans and Morocco. Stuffed pimentos are given as a Moroccan dish, which may or may not be true. Like I said, I
While fond of vintage wine, Edith Sorenson’s appreciation of antique cookery ends with past-their-expiration date Twinkies.
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JUNE – JULY 2004
Peter Heyne met editor Teresa Byrne-Dodge when he took her feature-writing class at Rice University in 2004. This account of the compost miracle was originally a class assignment. We love Larry McIntire’s humorous cover illustration, too.
Treasure From A Compost Pile THIS LITTLE YARN IS ABOUT MY FIRST COMPOST PILE AND THE SWEET SURPRISE IT GAVE ME LAST SUMMER.
Compost is the dark organic matter gardeners use to keep their plants healthy and happy. You toss leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, hay and kitchen scraps into a heap, then periodically mix and moisten. Millions of microbes spring into action, decomposing every twig and leaf, turning the pile into a chocolate brown, nutrient-rich humus — what gardeners call “garden gold.” For several years, I’d been growing a few vegetables at my ranch an hour southwest of Houston. I’d go there most weekends, pull some weeds out of the garden, play with my three labs and feed my Texas longhorn beauties, Zsa Zsa, Modest Maggie and Cactus Sue (who always gave me a welcoming moo). I left the really hard work of the garden patch — tilling the soil and beating back the bugs — to my friend and helper Felipe. We raised zucchini, squash, bell peppers, jalapeños and tomatoes. But season after season, the crop was pitiful, always paltry and blighted. Puny tomatoes with brown spots topped our list of disappointments. One day, sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch, the dogs sprawled at my feet, I pondered how Felipe and I could make the garden more productive. Suddenly, the answer hit me. “A compost pile!” I shouted. The dogs leapt up, tails wagging and barking approvingly. Did I consult with my neighbors on how to prepare a proper compost pile? Did I search the internet? No. I just picked a spot by the garden and started dumping all the non-animal food waste I could find. Two large bags of stale taco chips and a jar of moldy salsa dip kicked things off. Four barbecue parties produced ample plate scrapings, including coleslaw, potato salad, green beans, black-eyed peas and white bread. Felipe threw cow manure and leaves onto the heap. In late spring I tossed in some leftover watermelon. A big pan of old barbecue sauce topped it off, the pile now approaching three feet. I never turned or watered the pile because I didn’t know to. In the early summer I went to see how the mound was doing. What I discovered stopped me in my tracks. I found muscular tentacles, hairy and green, reaching out of the heap like some kind of Stephen King monster. I leaned in, along with the dogs, for a closer look. It was a watermelon
by Peter Heyne
vine! The dogs sniffed and left, but I was amazed. One of the watermelon seeds must have been particularly determined. Maybe it found something in the cornucopia of discards especially to its liking. Was it the barbecue sauce? The manure? Who knew? Every weekend, I dashed down to the ranch to catch the latest development. In a few weeks, the vine slithered through the grass a good six feet beyond the compost pile. Several yellow flowers blossomed. Then a green bud emerged behind one of the flowers. I didn’t dare disturb the pile and I gave the vine plenty of water. With each visit, the bud grew larger and larger. My lowly heap of discards eventually produced a real gem — a big Black Diamond watermelon. I felt like a proud papa. Later in the summer, on a hot, steamy afternoon, my friend Laurie dropped by for lunch. We had salad and iced tea, and then she asked, “What’s for dessert?” Her face suddenly lit up: “Hey, what about that watermelon?” We walked over and admired the dark green giant, round as a Buddha’s belly and weighing some 25 pounds. I gave it a thump. Ah, it was ripe! I snapped it off the vine, hoisted it onto my shoulder and took it back to the picnic table. With a stroke of a kitchen knife, we gazed at the reddest, juiciest watermelon meat we’d ever seen. We sat there for an hour feasting. The dogs and cows watched two very contented people. I saved a couple of big slices for Felipe. Today, I have a “proper” compost pile, neatly contained behind chicken wire with a lid on top. The “green materials,” such as grass clippings, are in balance with the “brown materials,” largely twigs, chipped branches and hay. The mound is routinely mixed and aerated. Savvy gardeners, I’m sure, would nod and give me a thumbs up. Still, I think back to my first compost heap and the treasure of that enormous watermelon. The experience felt magical, that something so wonderful could spring from something so modest as a pile of rubbish.
Peter Heyne is a Houston-based freelance writer. He’s also a gentleman rancher who raises corn, cotton and Texas longhorns on a spread near Glen Flora, an hour’s drive from the city.
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I S S U E S P A S T A T L O O K A
DEC. 2004 – JAN. 2005
Galveston County Daily News reporter Laura Elder has written several articles for My Table. Channeling a Fannie Flagg mindset, she has a funny, wry and distinctive writing voice. Sometimes we are able to persuade her husband Michael Smith to write for us, too.
by Laura Elder
THE ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD PROMPTED THE QUESTION. “HONEY, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?”
The query came from my husband’s great-aunt Irene.* An unlit Pall Mall dangled from her thin lips, bobbing with every raspy word. We were in a small reception hall in rural Hill Country. I celebrated my wedding in the same room nine years before. This time, we were there for a funeral, making our food offerings to the grieving. “Cuckoo sounds about right,” Irene said. Before I could stutter a defense, she was off for a smoke, leaving me to peel the price tag off the flimsy take-out container and ponder where I’d gone wrong. The pearl-colored pellets I had so carefully chosen at Central Market in Austin on the way to the scrub-cedar hinterlands that spawned my husband did seem inadequate among the Pyrex and amber bake ware, those being laden with potatoes — mashed and au gratin — chicken spaghetti, red beans, roast beef, honey-baked hams and peach cobbler. There were aluminum tubs from Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and buttermilk pies. There were consoling casseroles of tuna and noodle, broccoli and cheese, chicken and squash, rice and sausage, beef and potatoes. There were mountains of rolls and rivers of tea. Before me was a feast of sustenance and solace. And of course that’s how it should be. A funeral should offer the ultimate comfort food. Women like Irene just seem to know things like that, in the same offhand way they know how to make Baptist Skillet Cookies and siphon gas. They intimidate me with their folk wisdom passed down from mother to daughter since the days when they all still spoke Gaelic or Scottish. Lest I again be judged harshly at the bereavement buffet, I decided I’d better learn the rules. But where does a city girl learn such things? My husband, who was raised among these hospitable, nononsense people, was no help. “It about the dearly departed, not the pickled okra,” he opined. “Oh, pull up your socks,” I said. “Potluck is for the living.” The one woman who could have answered my questions — my mother — was no longer among us. When my mother died, my family was grateful for the generous food offerings by friends. There was the chicken paella from Honduran neighbors, the bright yellow saffron rice
standing out in gray memory. And I’ll never forget the orange Gatorade from a shy brother-in-law who worried my sisters and I would “cry ourselves dry.” Everything tasted of brine, the flavor of sorrow. I tried channeling my mother. What tender advice could she offer? “Call a caterer.” And then it struck me: Irene might have centuries of folk wisdom, but I’ve got the Internet. So I trolled for answers, torn between memorizing the obsolete ritual ceremonies of Caucasian Estonians or the Pygmy tradition of tooth extraction and pig sacrifice to appease the spirits of the dead. I also considered consulting Lisa Rogak’s new book, Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals and Customs From Around the World. But the only part of the world I needed to know about was that part south of the Mason-Dixon line. I imagined a disgusted Irene, spitting out a tobacco fleck and asking: “Caucasian Estowhos? Are we even kin to them?” Irene already understood what I hadn’t. Food for the bereaved should be simple and unpretentious, never exotic or unfamiliar. There were rules and they were simple. I found an article by Angela Gillaspie, publisher of SouthernAngel.com and resident of Alabama. Gillaspie has strong notions about funeral food. “Paying a caterer to make and deliver the food to loved ones is more offensive to a Southern woman than wearing white after Labor Day,” Gillaspie wrote in a January 2004 article, “Much Ado about the Food.” When it comes to funeral food, there are some unwritten rules, Gillaspie insisted. • All food must be homemade. • Meat dishes must be tender and kept warm. • Veggies never appear alone, but must be baked in a casserole. • Pies must be fluffy with no aftertaste. • Cookies must be perfect — broken cookies are disrespectful, especially if the crumbs fall on fine black mourning wear. • The only drinks allowed are hot strong coffee and cold sweet tea (and an occasional hit of Jack Daniel’s sippin’ whiskey). I think Irene would approve. * Names have been changed to protect me. Laura Elder, a business reporter, lives in Galveston with her husband and is perennially trying to learn the rules.
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APRIL – MAY 2006
Freelance writer Brian McManus is a former chef who conjured some uncomfortable images in this dining-out diatribe that skewers “cuisine as art.” Read it at your own risk of discomfort.
Do You Really Want To Eat Art?
by Brian McManus
Listen closely and you’ll hear the whispers of an everstring sweet potato hay, there is some sweat-soaked, dirtgrowing debate — something any foodie two and a half encrusted hand meticulously ensuring its, um, artistic-ness. glasses of Pinot into a mid-week meal at Noé will gab about The prettier a plate looks, the more the food on that until the Kobe beef cows come home: Food can be artistic, lovely porcelain canvas has been handled. Of course, you but can it be art? know that. It only makes sense. What you don’t know is The hoi polloi would, of course, say “no.” In fact, they’d that, hard as a cook may try, he can’t keep his hands nearly never even think to ask the question. The foodie, however, as clean as you’d hope. He’s washing when he’s able and, on faces a dilemma. For a foodie to admit that, no, food isn’t, a busy night, that, sadly, isn’t near often enough — even if can’t or won’t ever be art is to suggest he knows little about he’s a good guy who thinks about such matters (although either — voluntarily tossing himself the odds are, he is/does not). into the violent, murky waters of the So there you are, admiring an The prettier a plate looks, the more great McDonald’s-eating unwashed. elaborate, breathtaking slab of foie gras You don’t think food is art? Well, that’s been expertly (yes, again) mounted the food on that LOVELY then you’ve obviously never eaten the atop expertly (and again!) tiny, I don’t slow-poached fish head with PORCELAIN CANVAS know, scallion cakes or something, never cucumber/ pomegranate/passion fruit realizing that the hands that spent a has been handled. Of course, you glaze and ancho chutney at such-andgood two to four minutes sculpting your such cafe or the moose tartar served dish were, just hours ago, in the cook’s know that. with pickled figs and pear butter at sonose or patting a fellow cook’s ass as a and-so grill. For a foodie, to answer “good job” jester or applying corn starch “no” to this question is to have his experienced diner card to chaffed and rubbed red inner thighs (kitchens are hot) or revoked, and, honestly, after spending so much money on tapping the final bits of dew off his tinkling lily (you’d be teeny-weeny portions of overrated chow, what in the hell surprised) or petting a stray dog in the alley or wiping the could be worse than that? sweat off a brow or taking out seeping trash or … you get the Oh, believe me, we’ll get to that in a bit. point already! So where did this debate start? My guess is some yahoo in That the very people demanding their food be plucked a high-end kitchen somewhere decided to get really worked from the picturesque pages of Saveur would be the most up about the phrase “you eat with your eyes before you eat disgusted by the work required to get it there is an irony with your mouth” one day, and it was all downhill from thicker than a Port wine reduction. A cup of soup may not there. Suddenly, elaborate, hands-on dishes were being be very eye-popping, but remember — as food approaches a crafted with expert skill and precise precision. Every piece of crossover into the realm of art, the more likely it is part of meat was expertly laid across every expertly laid spear of the medium is better off unmentioned. asparagus, and fresh herbs were expertly sprinkled on top for good measure. Pretty soon chefs are buying chlorophyll to make their greens greener, filleting the dull, porous meat from red peppers so they’ll shine and, generally, doing If Ruth Riechl and John Mariani ever had a baby, Brian whatever it takes to make your plate of overpriced veal McManus would kidnap it. And no, he wouldn’t comfort it cutlet remind you of the vibrant work of, say, Basquiat or with apples. Instead, he’d pump it full of chili and make it eat Warhol or Keith Haring or some other dead guy from New with its tiny baby hands. A former restaurant cook, McManus resides in Philly, PA, where he contributes to several publications. York. He is prone to lie in blurbs he writes about himself. What’s the problem? Consider this: For every plate of food architecture that reaches your table stacked high with shoe-
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I S S U E S
Our annual call for Haiku-Sine entries (sounds like “high cuisine,” coined by Micki McClelland) was so successful that we had entire high school English classes participating. After the third year, we published our book Haiku-Sine: 217 Tiny Food Poems by Texans Who Love to Eat & Feed Their Heads (Lazywood Press, 2000).
L O O K
P A S T
DEC. 1999 – JAN. 2000
Haiku-Sine In our October-November issue, we published our annual call for hungry poets: Write a haiku — the Japanese poetic form of 17 syllables in three lines — with a food theme and perhaps win dinner for four in a private tatami room at Nara, one of Houston’s favorite Japanese restaurants. Haiku-Sine is the liveliest project we organize all year. How entertaining to dip into those big manila envelopes stuffed full of haiku (many of them illustrated!) from area high school and middle school students. Or, just when we need a chuckle the most, here comes an emailed haiku from an enigmatic cyber-author. Or, we are busily slicing open the day’s mail and, among a gazillion business letters, find an elegant notecard with one perfect haiku centered on the creamy panel. These delicious little poems set us laughing and our tummies rumbling with their quickie dissertations on everything from cheese fries to Oreos to, fittingly enough, sushi. As always, it was a challenge to choose just 20 for publication in this year-end issue, let alone one for the grand prize. We finally settled on Gail Donohue Storey’s cheeky tribute to a ladies-only dinner party. Here’s news: We have so many worthy haiku — far more than we can publish in these pages — that we are planning a book, Haiku-Sine, for release in April. It will be a compilation of the best of the first three years of Haiku-Sine, showcasing more than 200 haiku from Houston-area writers.
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Girls’ dinner party — Sun-dried hot tomatoes and Tough cookies, fab dish. — GAIL DONOHUE STOREY, Houston
Tender artichoke Reveals its succulent heart To prying fingers. — Georgia Terrell, Houston
Twice the sweetened lard. Who cares about the cookie? DoubleStuf heaven. — Paige DiMaggio, Houston
Mom’s grasshopper pie Mint cream pond with cookie shore. All insects were spared. — David C. Newell, Houston
Pop open pea pods. Set free some plump round voyeurs, Peeping toms in green. — Jane Butkin Roth, Bellaire
Lingering over Dinner, two old friends become Lovers entangled. — Bill Stephens, San Antonio
Nightly midnight snacks, Raid the refrigerator. It cannot fight back. — Stephen Lemrond, Houston
It may be a crime, But I just love that raw fish. Don’t sue me — sushi. — Davis Mason, Bellaire
Sippy cup of milk, Oreos with two teeth marks Waiting for Santa. — Marianne Fairey, Houston
Cheek piercing, teeth sting Ah! Tequila Mockingbird Lime literacy. — Dawn Marie Cole, Houston
Crisp, crunchy cheese fry Sitting with its family, Leaving for my mouth. — Jonas Herd, Houston
Flimsy sticks waiver, Your fingers tremble and cramp. The art of chopsticks. — Tahira Saleem, Sugar Land
Oven-fresh pizza Dripping with warm cheese and sauce Is delivered now. — Wes Mock, Sugar Land
Sapphire shining bright, Drowning olive eyeballs wink. Night eclipses day. — Christine Cole, Houston
I filled up on bread; I was stuffed by the entrée, But had room for cake. — Benjamin Mize, Houston
Bistros, cafes, bars Seven seven oh oh two Is the place to be. — Scott Brasher, Houston
Escargot is snail. I felt I needed to warn In case your nose fails. — Andrew Harper, Houston
Backyard barbecue Homemade burgers à la Dad. “Kiss the Cook” apron. — Quinn Corte, Bellaire
Collard, sweet green weed, Marries fatback; papas dream, Summer’s music steams. — J. Scott McCleery, Houston
Crunchy cucumber, Crab and soft avocado. California roll. — Jessica Trincanello, Houston
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I S S U E S P A S T A T L O O K A
AUG. – SEPT. 2009
For our 2009 Cheap Eats issue we wanted to celebrate America’s most infamous cheap food. Intern Lissa Glasgo enlisted five Houston chefs to get creative with Spam, and Kevin McGowan photographed the results. Here is what two of the chefs cooked up.
SPAMALICIOUS! Spam is the ultimate in cheap eats. A can costs less than $3 and purports to feed a family of six. Unfortunately, its lumpy shape and dense texture make sampling the stuff an intimidating test of one’s gastronomic resolve, especially for those with particularly elite palates. So, we created a challenge, inspired by a surprisingly enthusiastic response to a tweet on our Twitter account (follow us: MyTablemagazine). We invited five of Houston’s finest chefs to take the infamously economy-friendly, processed-and-canned meat and make it into something impressive, tempting or just plain fun. A previous love of Spam was optional; creativity was mandatory. The results astonished us. Whereas our experimentations with the stuff yielded only basic fried Spam slices and BY LISSA GLASGO • PHOTOS BY KEVIN MCGOWAN Spam-on-a-cracker snack bites, the chefs gave us everything from breakfast to dessert, Caribbean jerk to Latin American summer fare to good old Texas-style comfort food. While we can’t say we’re going on a Spamonly diet anytime soon, we do have to say this: While the canned meat is cheap and decidedly unsophisticated, with a little creativity, Spam dull easily becomes Spam delicious.
GARRET FUJIEDA Executive chef, Remington Restaurant at the St. Regis Hotel Garret Fujieda grew up in Hawaii, which has the highest per-capita consumption of Spam in the United States. Luckily for My Table, chef Fujieda was willing to revisit his roots and whip up a plate of Green Eggs and Spam for our challenge. Dr. Seuss would be proud.
WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES INVOLVING SPAM?
In Hawaii, we put it in all sorts of foods. It never really occurred to me how different it was until I left Hawaii to travel and go to college, and everyone I met wondered why I ate Spam. When I was working on my dish for this challenge, my chefs put it in every single one of my dishes at the restaurant as a joke. People make fun of it here, but it’s very common in Hawaii. WHAT WAS YOUR GREATEST COOKING CHALLENGE WITH SPAM?
I don’t think there are any. We tend to use it in very simple applications, and
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since it’s already cooked, there’s no need to do anything complicated with it. I like creative projects like this because we get to think outside the box and use it in ways I normally wouldn’t. I don’t think I’d ever eat it cold, though. NAME THREE FLAVORS THAT WORK WELL WITH SPAM.
Pineapple, teriyaki and ketchup. WHAT’S ONE THING YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU’D SAY ABOUT SPAM?
Spam is not something a chef would normally admit to eating or liking. So for me, it’s kind of a reversal of the
GREEN EGGS AND SPAM By Garrett Fujieda, The Remington We would eat this in a box, we would eat this with a fox, and we’re pretty sure that Sam-I-Am would go crazy for Garrett Fujieda’s cleverly-named combination of Yukon potato hash, poached egg, avocado sour cream, crispy Spam chips and pineapple ketchup.
SPAM CHIPS ¼ can Spam, sliced very thin lengthwise Preheat oven to 200° F. Place Spam slices on a sprayed cookie sheet and bake slowly until rendered and crisp, about one hour. METHOD:
PINEAPPLE KETCHUP 1 Tbsp. canola oil ½ yellow onion, diced small 1 garlic clove, minced 1 tsp. ginger, minced ¼ cup light brown sugar ¼ pineapple, diced small 1 yellow tomato, chopped small 1 oz. sherry vinegar 1 lemon, juiced 2 Tbsp. honey Put oil in a saucepan over medium heat and sweat onions and garlic until onion is translucent. METHOD:
question — it’s not a new discovery, but more of an old favorite. Spam is part of my heritage and my upbringing. I’m proud of it. TELL US ABOUT YOUR DISH.
It’s a breakfast item, so it’s familiar but with a fun flavor — for example, pineapple is traditionally associated with Spam, but pineapple as a catsup is interesting. I went with chips because they’re a different texture for Spam, nice and crispy and crunchy.
Combine with the rest of the ingredients to mix thoroughly and transfer into a blender. Blend well until smooth. Return to a clean saucepan, bring to a simmer, then reduce until onefourth of the liquid is left. Season with salt to taste.
AVOCADO SOUR CREAM ½ avocado ¼ cup sour cream 1 lime, juiced 1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped ½ tsp. (or more) minced jalapeño salt to taste METHOD: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
YUKON POTATO HASH
potato patties. Flip when golden brown, remove when other side is cooked to match.
1 cup Yukon potato, shredded, patted dry 1 Tbsp. yellow onion, minced and sweated in a bit of canola oil 1 ⁄8 tsp. fresh thyme leaves pinch of salt and pepper 1 Tbsp. butter, clarified
two eggs, using your favorite technique.
METHOD: Combine first four ingredients and form into patties one-half inch thick. Heat butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Cook
To assemble: Top each potato patty with a poached egg, avocado sour cream and Spam chips. Serve with pineapple ketchup. Serves 2.
EGGS METHOD: Poach
HOUSTON’S NEW 1940 AIR TERMINAL MUSEUM Housed in what was once Houston’s first airport terminal, the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport showcases the stunning Art Deco architecture, classic fashions and vintage aircraft from what was once called “the golden age of flight.” The work-in-progress museum features plenty of historic exhibits — think customized dishes and glasses from back when airlines actually served food — and an enthusiastic fleet of well-informed volunteers to help guide visitors. It’s the perfect stop for anyone interested in aviation, history or just the simple elegance of a beautiful old building. To learn more and see a schedule of upcoming special events, visit www.1940airterminal.org. Many thanks from My Table magazine to the museum for allowing us to photograph our Spam dishes and chefs there!
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I S S U E S P A S T A T L O O K A
Executive chef, Pesce
Mark Holley’s mother used to make antipasto platters with Spam for dinner parties. Though Holley is now the executive chef at seafood hotspot Pesce, his high comfort level for working with the canned meat certainly came in handy with this challenge. His Tamarind-Glazed Spam with Coconut Grits tasted as great as it looked. Thanks, Mom! WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES INVOLVING SPAM?
I grew up with Spam. I lived in Dayton,
TAMARINDGLAZED SPAM WITH COCONUT GRITS By Mark Holley, Pesce Mark Holley is a seafood whiz-kid, as is quite clear from his success at Pesce. We took him out of his element (like a fish out of water, if you will) with our Spam project, and we’re delighted with his Caribbean-inspired dish: savory coconut grits topped with pan-
Ohio, where there’s a big German influence, so we had Spam and Vienna sausages, lunchmeat, things like that, especially when we didn’t have the good stuff.
like ingredients that are spicy or slightly sweet. NAME THREE FLAVORS THAT WORK WELL WITH SPAM.
Spam is kind of like ham, so you want to think of all of the things that go well with ham. Citrus, like the tamarind glaze in my dish, would go well. Clove would work too, and then some sort of spicy element to heat and pull out the salt there.
WHAT WAS YOUR GREATEST COOKING CHALLENGE WHEN WORKING WITH SPAM?
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU’D SAY ABOUT SPAM?
It’s really high in sodium, so you have to put it with flavors that counter the salt,
If cooked properly, it can be fingerlickin’ good.
fried, jerk-seasoned Spam, tamarind glaze and grilled pineapple. 1 can Spam, cut into large cubes jerk seasoning (available at grocery stores) Tamarind Glaze (see recipe below) Coconut Grits (see recipe below) caramelized pineapple chunks, optional (made by sautéing pineapple in butter) micro pea shoots, optional Season Spam with jerk seasoning. In a sauté pan over high heat, sear Spam in oil until crispy. Add a small amount of tamarind glaze to coat. METHOD:
TAMARIND GLAZE ⁄ cup boiling water 1 tsp. tamarind pulp (available at Asian markets) 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 Tbsp. chopped shallots 1 ⁄4 cup dark rum 1 ⁄2 cup brown sugar 1 ⁄2 cup white vinegar 1 ⁄2 cup catsup 1 2
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METHOD: In small bowl, blend tamarind pulp with boiling water to a paste consistency and set aside. In a small pan, heat vegetable oil. Add shallots and sauté until tender. Add rum and flambé until liquid reduces by two-thirds. Add tamarind pulp and remaining ingredients and simmer until sauce consistency.
COCONUT GOLDEN GRITS 2 cups chicken stock 1 can coconut milk 1 cup stone-ground golden grits 1 tsp. kosher salt 1 ⁄4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter METHOD: In a medium saucepan bring chicken stock and coconut milk to a boil. Add grits, salt and pepper and return to a simmer while stirring constantly. Once cooked, remove from heat and stir in butter.
To assemble: Spoon grits on a plate and top with Spam cubes. Drizzle tamarind glaze around plate and garnish, if desired, with caramelized pineapple and micro pea shoots. Serves 4 to 6.
Over the years other regular My Table features have included Jake Crimestein’s word art, the late Adie Mark’s cartoons and Edible Etymology by Keitha and the late Mik Kushner. We welcome writers, artists and photographers to showcase their work with us. JAKE CRIMESTEIN’S EUPHEMISMS
Champagne FEB. – MAR. 1999
Nose-tickler • yellow gold • the frizzies • jetset fuel • burp juice • caviar’s sister • the gorgeous gas • love’s precursor • toast point • the high liver • fountain of couth • snap-crackle-pop • the liquid bazooka • Dom bomb • brut force • the sequined belt • sec’em • the geyser grape • throat candy • society suds • hair of the poodle • t he f luted snor t and My Table’s favorite phrase: the 100,000-cent plain
OCT. – NOV. 2000
FEB. – MAR. 2004
edible ETYMOLOGY By Keitha & Mik Kushner DIGESTIF Can’t believe you
ate the whole thing? Before you plop-plop, fizz-fizz away those overfed feelings, consider a more spirited solution to slake the oversatiation syndrome. Calvados, armagnac, cognac and grappa are some of the eaux de vie that have long been used to warm and wend away those well-fed woes. As a rule these fruit-based liqueurs are lightly flavored “fixers,” while Fernet Branca is a stronger, root-based elixir. Eat up, sleep well and live to do it all again! DUMPLING Cuddle up to
these comfort foods: Matzo balls, spaetzle, gnocchi, potstickers, pierogi and wontons are but a small sampling of savory balls of dough simmered in soups
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and stews. Southerners will assure you that dumplings will certainly satisfy the senses. Swathe and steam (or fry) an apple in a sweetened dough for a fabulous finish to fine dining. Life is short. Go ahead and fritter it away. DUXELLES The technique of
taking mushrooms, shallots and herbs down to a fine dice once was a labor-intensive effort achieved only with a sharp blade and a steady hand. Since the advent of the food processor, this fabulous fungus fête is easily available to us all. Once condensed and concentrated in butter over a slow flame, this aromatic addition becomes the perfect complement to sauces and soups.
EDIBLE ENUNCIATION DIGESTIF dee-zheh-STEEF EAU DE VIE oh-duh-VEE FERNET BRANCA fehr-
NEHT-BRHN-kah SPAETZLE SHPEHT-sehl GNOCCHI NYOH-kee PIEROGI peer-OH-ghee DUXELLES dook-SEHL
S E R I E S
SO YOU WANT TO OPEN A RESTAURANT
Finding the Right Location
by Chris Tripoli
Selecting the right location for your restaurant is as important as creating the concept, developing the menu or designing the restaurant. In fact, it may well be more important, because location is the most permanent thing about a restaurant. You can modify your concept, change the menu, redesign the interior, redirect the marketing and even replace the management if you want to. You cannot, however, easily change the location of your restaurant. You better get it right from the start. In this installment of So You Want to Open a Restaurant, I present the fundamentals of choosing a good location. It is a complex process, one that the big chains study carefully. While you may not have the benefit of a skilled site-selection team on your payroll, by applying the following information and a little street smarts, you can sidestep a bad address. DEFINE YOUR TARGET MARKET
To select a good location, one must first know the target audience the restaurant is designed to attract. Simply asked, “Who is your customer?” Do you really know? Many restaurateurs think they do, but often their personal enthusiasm for their concept overwhelms common sense. We sometimes tend to overestimate the mass appeal of what we see as a “dream concept.” This delusion leads to a misperception that your customer base is much broader than reality would dictate. It’s a vicious cycle, since in the attempt to appeal to this broad demographic, the concept becomes diluted from the original intent.
Remember that a restaurant concept can seldom be “all things to all people.” It is important to understand not only your broad customer base, but also the profile of who you believe will become your most frequent customers. Knowing that frequent customer and his or her dining, work and shopping habits will help identify “trade areas,” which reflect the demographics you require for long-term success. LEARN YOUR TRADING AREA DYNAMICS
Trading areas don’t appear on a map in perfect circles. They come in all shapes and sizes. Most reflect an irregular shape, altered by physical and psychological barriers as well as the demographics of the residents and employees in the area. In a zoning-free city like Houston, being able to plot out your trading area is extremely critical. There is little room for blind luck. Therefore you must recognize the structure of the marketplace within the trade area. Every city and neighborhood has a structure. In addition to physical and psychological barriers (e.g. inside The Loop/outside The Loop) and socioeconomic characteristics, the commercial and industrial concentrations, types of employment, age of residents, income, shopping habits and other factors determine the structure of a marketplace. LOOK BEYOND THE NUMBERS
When searching for the right location, it is important to look beyond the population numbers typically provided by a leasing agent or real estate broker. Apply all your resources, including local newspaper articles, conversations with business owners in the area and your own power of
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observation. While you may also review computer-generated data on population size, number of households, age and income distribution and traffic counts within a given area, such information — even if accurate — is not enough. For example, knowing the traffic count alone is only part of the story. Knowing why the traffic is there, what time of day is busiest and where it is coming from and going to should be your ultimate goal. Consider that breakfast and lunch business is usually related to employment in the area. Thus, it is necessary to recognize company size, type, location and number of employees. The time permitted for lunch, existing commissaries in employment concentrations, food delivery offerings, food trucks and other means of servicing the lunch market are all important bits of information. Drive the designated areas to look at the neighborhoods. Watch the traffic patterns. Observe the shoppers. Talk with the current retailers and other foodservice operators to help you develop your own feel for the market. It is important to visit the target areas during different trade times (lunch hour, weekday evenings and weekends). Make note of the major activity genera-
S E R I E S
tors within the area and how that activity best supports the needs of your restaurant. This same information will help you later, when you have to develop promotional activities — i.e. whether you need a special fast-lunch menu, “early bird specials” at supper or a “kids eat free” night. Activity translates to people, and these people are your potential customers. Examples of key activity generators are commercial developments, shopping centers and major malls, office buildings, schools, hotels, hospitals, recreation complexes and amusement parks, cinemas and major roadway interchanges.
READ PART 3 OF THIS SIXPART SERIES ON OPENING A RESTAURANT IN OUR JUNE–JULY EDITION.
intercepting customers without requiring them to alter their habits or change their patterns. People resist change, so it is much better for you to locate yourself within their existing patterns. Remember that the most important element in this research is not finding how many people reside or work within the area, but rather who these people are. IDENTIFY YOUR COMPETITORS
All of the above factors are important because people are creatures of habit and tend to follow certain patterns each day. Observe your prospective location at various times over a period of weeks. It will become easier to predict the patterns of your potential customers. Wise restaurant operators want to locate within the existing travel patterns of a majority of people in an area. This permits a greater likelihood of
It is important to identify the existing competition and measure each competitor’s importance to your target market, both before and when you plan to enter the market. Will you enter a market that is already (or soon will be) oversaturated with your concept? Does your concept have the ability to win a significant share of their customers? Is the market growing at a substantial
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enough rate to justify your investment? This is particularly important if you can only take a minor share away from the competition’s loyal customer base. Speaking of loyalty: Don’t underestimate the loyalty of customers to restaurants that have been in the market for years. And don’t think those competitors won’t take some action to keep that customer base once they learn you are invading their turf. On the other hand, if you find a trading area that doesn’t have any restaurant like yours, it doesn’t guarantee your restaurant will be a slam dunk. I know of one full-service dining concept that entered a market totally void of any casual chain restaurants. There was only one independent, which had been there for years. The owner preparing to enter the market was thinking that his new concept would be a no-brainer. He hung on for two years and then disappeared. Even though the demographics looked good, there was a reason that only one upper-end casual dining restaurant existed in the entire trading area. It was because when the residents wanted an evening dining experience, the first thing they did was drive into town. It is not uncommon for the residents of some suburban bedroom communities and small towns to have an “escape mentality” when it comes to a nice evening out. This is referred to as psychographics. And this true story illustrates the importance of looking beyond the numbers and into the factors surrounding those numbers. Fast food is the market segment that first taught us the importance of the magnet site-selection method, more commonly known as the cluster effect. Fast-food operators saw that the most successful burger locations were the ones next to fast-food Mexican, pizza, chicken and sandwich restaurants. Clusters draw customers like a magnet to certain locations. This is the same strategy that retail developers use to create shopping malls. Casual and upscale restaurant concepts have learned that they are more successful when located within the same market area. You can never perform too much due
diligence. Don’t settle without knowing what your target market does and where it goes. KNOW THE COMPETITION
Most restaurant operators can easily learn the type and number of other restaurants within the immediate trade area. But is that enough? You should know the competitor’s sales, seating capacities, menu price ranges, service levels and significant features. Observing the trading area during the different times of the day will help in determining this, as will visits with landlords and purveyors and reviewing liquor tax records. Eventually you will add up all of these factors in order to determine your estimated sales. Estimating sales can be a difficult process. An owner must be sure to review each variable based on how it will affect sales. Then review each on how it can influence profitability. Finally apply each variable to each line of a pro-forma restaurant P&L (profitand-loss statement). Remember, a conservative upfront effort to forecast your restaurant’s performance can prevent the eventual loss of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Emily Durham, president of the Houston-based realty firm Restaurant Connections, tells her clients to prepare their financial projections completely and accurately. A landlord’s most common first questions are about the proposed restaurant’s financial feasibility. Rent may vary depending on the particular location, but normally averages between 6 percent and 8 percent of revenue. How much (if any) tenant improvement funding the landlord will contribute toward the construction costs depends largely on the viability of the restaurant’s financial. HEED THE BIG THREE
Once a general location has been identified, it is essential to select the site within that location that most benefits your operation. Some locations may offer free-standing sites on pads in front of a shopping center or other “activity
STEP BY STEP So you have a site in mind that you like. What do you do to more accurately gauge the viability of the location? Begin with these steps: IDENTIFY SITE CHARACTERISTICS.
These include the total area, grade level (does the parking lot flood when it rains?), soil conditions and existing improvements. INVESTIGATE THE VISIBILITY.
Any sight obstructions (e.g. trees, buildings, billboards)? Check visibility from both directions, as well as “practical” visibility, as discussed earlier, and freeway visibility (if applicable). WHAT ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY?
This includes ingress and egress turning ability; location on proper side of street (going-to-work side of street in morning and going-home side at night); any traffic control (signs); freeway access; and congestion potential. TAKE NOTE OF TRAFFIC.
Here is where daily count information is valuable, including primary and secondary street activity during breakfast, lunch and dinner hours. Also take into consideration the posted speed limits, where commercial arteries are located and the number of traffic lanes of the thoroughfares surrounding your unit. ARE THERE ANY ACTIVITY GENERATORS?
These include shopping activity, community centers (schools, churches, etc.), office buildings, gyms, hotels and other significant people-gathering places. ANALYZE THE COMPETITION.
You need to plot the straight-line distances from your competitors’ sites to your location, as well as your position to them relative to traffic movement during various day parts, e.g., breakfast, lunch and dinner. ARE THERE ZONING ORDINANCES?
Are there any nuances of zoning that might affect your business? For example, do you want a used-car dealership next door? Depending on your concept it could be a good, bad or neutral thing. CHECK EASEMENTS.
Are there any reciprocal parking arrangements, shared driveways or other rights conferred on third parties to have access to your property? WHAT ARE THE SITE REQUIREMENTS?
These include parking, landscaping and paving, which can have a great deal of influence on the cost of construction or improvement. WHAT ARE THE SIGNAGE RESTRICTIONS?
There will be requirements and restrictions, due to both local laws and tenant covenants. Also consider requirements and restrictions on temporary signage, such as posters and banners.
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generators” such as cinemas and large retail chains (e.g. Walmart and Home Depot). Others may offer in-line lease spaces only. Both can work well or become disastrous if the particular site doesn’t offer enough of the “big three”: visibility, accessibility and parking. Visibility in this instance refers to a location’s ability to be seen and recognized. Good visibility must create clear opportunity for the impulse decision-maker. This is particularly critical for fast-food operators. In the case of fast food, when the decision to eat may not have been predetermined, visibility has to be practical. It won’t do you a lot of good if the driver sees you only after he has passed the exit to your location. So, “practical visibility” means you are viable because you are visible. Full-service restaurants also need good visibility. Even though your regular guests may know how to find you, all concepts rely on new business to offset normal population shifts out of a trading area. For a new concept or an established concept trying to attract new
business, the principle of “out of site, out of mind” applies. That bargain price on the site around the corner from Main Street may be a real estate deal, but it could be a restaurant killer. Accessibility occurs at three levels. The first is easy access to the general location, such as the shopping center parking lot. Second, access to parking at your particular site is critical. Finally, you must have direct access from the car to the front door. Stop signs, curb cuts, easy parking and ramped sidewalks facilitate ease of ingress and egress. Reputation or promotion rarely overcomes poor access, and new concepts are particularly vulnerable. Parking is often overlooked when all other factors seem positive. Certain cities have parking-to-seating ratios that may seem unnecessary or overkill. But I have been amazed at how some fast-casual operators open a 50-seat restaurant with just five nearby parking spaces. Or they may choose a spot in a strip center with 50 spaces, but on either side of the restaurant are a big Tex-Mex chain unit and a large fitness center. When
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counting the number of parking spaces, be sure to count only the ones that will be available during your peak hours. Before committing to a location be certain you have allowed sufficient time to check on the many other details that can cause trouble if overlooked. Such areas of concern are parking requirements, signage restrictions, landscaping minimums, utility availability, noise and lighting ordinances, plus restrictions placed on liquor and building permits. By following these general principles and seeking qualified expert assistance, you can hedge against possibly becoming another restaurant placed in a misjudged location. The last thing any restaurateur wants to do is put a good place in a bad place. Chris Tripoli is the president of Houston-based À la Carte Foodservice Consulting Group. He teaches restaurant courses at the University of Houston’s Small Business Development Center and writes regularly for Restaurant Start Up & Growth magazine.
L I S T I N G S
Uncommon Ramen By Carl Rosa
Since the 1970s a fascination with Japanese cuisine has burned bright and then dimmed in Houston. We become fascinated by various aspects of Japan’s culinary traditions — e.g. sushi, tempura, sake — until the next hot thing captures our attention. That red-hot focus can be good for restaurants and make for fun meals and lively debates. The issue that I have with this continual stream of hot and cold attention is that only a small percentage of people within our great city actually take the time to understand and respect Japanese cuisine from the get-go. I don’t fault anyone for an ignorance of Japanese cuisine. It’s an ancient culinary tradition, and its nuances are not readily accessible to enthusiastic followers. But now the latest craze has surfaced, capturing the interest of thousands of Houstonians: ramen. Simply defined, ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that typically contains four fundamental elements — broth, noodles, egg and toppings. Debate lingers as to the origin of this dish. While some claim that the essence of ramen has its roots in China, others believe that real ramen (as we know it today), was developed in Japan during the 1950s. Today, ramen houses (often called ramen shops or ramen restaurants) are sprouting everywhere, Houston included. From my point of view, there are two forms of ramen — traditional and contemporary (also known as fusion). But as creative as any chef may claim to be, even contemporary/fusion recipes adhere to a traditional discipline. I love that. For example, the ideal blend of a fantastic ramen broth aligned with a superior noodle makes or breaks a bowl of ramen. And no matter what you add to that combination, it’s incidental. Most critically, if the four basic
components (broth, noodles, egg and toppings) do not harmonize, the ramen is not a success. If you find yourself visiting a local Japanese restaurant or ramen shop, it’s important to understand the fundamental characteristics of a great bowl of ramen. While there are exceptions to every rule, you can’t go wrong by making a few mental notes in order to understand what you’re eating. TEMPERATURE With few exceptions, ramen should be piping hot. Too hot to eat? Well, almost. It’s important to ensure that your ramen retains a suitable
temperature while you’re working your way to the bottom of the bowl. If you receive a ramen that’s lukewarm from the start, send it back. Good ramen is hot ramen. Slurping a tepid broth halfway through your meal is a disappointment. The moment your ramen is served, cup your hands at the bottom of the bowl (near the base) and feel the surface. If you can’t keep your hands on the bowl for very long (too hot to handle), you’ve got a good temperature. If you’re able to pick up the bowl and hold it indefinitely, send it back and explain your reasoning: “This must be hotter.” A great ramen broth is crucial to the quality of the serving. Depending on the type of the broth, it will possess a variance in flavor that you’ll quickly learn to expect. For example, a tonkotsu (pork-based broth) provides a smooth, creamy consistency while a shoyu (soy sauce broth) will offer a dark, saltier flavor. BROTH
SOMA’S TEXAS RAMEN
PHOTO BY ERIKA MULLER
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NOODLES This is the element that ignites the most debate. While some people prefer an al dente texture, others prefer a softer noodle that will fully absorb the broth. One critical factor: A great ramen noodle should never congeal. Using your chopsticks, pick up a few noodles. If a large group of noodles seem to follow along, you’ve been served overcooked noodles. Also, the noodle itself is very important, but it’s the type of broth that dictates the type of ramen noodle that’s used. The broth and noodle have to match well; many Houston ramen restaurants have yet to figure this out. EGG Some swear by the texture and flavor of the egg while others dismiss it all together. Typically, the egg is softboiled — the white is fully cooked, and the yolk remains molten. CHASHU Spelled a few different ways (e.g. char siu, cha-shu), chashu is sliced succulent pork belly topping that typically offers a sweet-and-salty fatty flavor. Ideally, it’s tender and flavorful. Chewy chashu (or one that immediately falls apart) means you’re dealing with an
inattentive kitchen. The meat is intended to absorb the broth while maintaining an independent flavor at the same time. A few wimpy pieces of pork won’t cut it. A great bowl of ramen should offer a few hefty cuts of pork to tantalize your eyes while giving you enough to compliment the broth. Whenever I’m enjoying a great bowl of ramen and find KATA ROBATA the chashu to be on the light side, I always send it back and politely ask for a few additional pieces. For the most part, ramen in Houston has a long way to go. But that’s to be expected. Our city is new to the experience, and every restaurant deserves robust applause for the kitchen’s efforts thus far. Speaking honestly, if
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you’re seeking a bowl of superior ramen that might resemble a fantastic bowl in Japan, you’d be hard-pressed to find it in Houston. Many ramen shops throughout Japan have been optimizing their menus for decades, carefully developing their recipes until a phenomenal collection of ingredients is assembled. And although a handful of Houston-based Japanese restaurants and ramen shops are working hard to make us happy, it’s important to reconcile the fact that ramen in Houston is in its infancy. Give it time and appreciate your options. The good news is that it’s only going to get better. With the assistance of a handful of enthusiastic members of my Ramen in Common group, we were able to identify 10 Houston-based ramen recommendations that give you a glimpse of hard-working restaurants that are clearly putting a noble effort to giving ramen a good name. KATA ROBATA 3600 Kirby at Richmond, 713-526-8858, katarobata.com
Two of Kata’s ramens are on our Top 10 list: Tonkotsu (pork-based) and spicy soy ramen are their biggest sellers with good reason. When it comes to making the choice, we suggest the spicy soy ramen. Now make a mental note that
recommend ordering his Texas ramen for starters. Soma’s entire ramen menu is available during lunch and dinner. RAMEN JIN 11181 Westheimer just west of Wilcrest, 713-278-8702, ramenjin.com
PHOTO BY ED GRUBER
We recommend their latest tonkotsu hybrid — a semi-traditional tonkotsu ramen accompanied by a flavorful mayu (burnt garlic oil). Ramen Jin offers a handful of ramen to choose from. Open lunch and dinner, but closed on Sundays.
Kata’s tonkotsu ramen is only available at lunchtime, while their spicy soy ramen is available at both lunch and dinner.
FAT BAO 3419 Kirby just north of Richmond, 713-6770341, fatbaohouston.com
KUBO’S SUSHI BAR & GRILL 2414 University Blvd. (upstairs) near Morningside, 713-528-7878, kubos-sushi.com
It’s not a spot you might expect for ramen, but we suggest trying their duck miso ramen during your next visit. Fat Bao’s ramen is considered a
Kubo’s tonkotsu ramen is clearly a highlight of their menu. With the majority of Kubo’s menu adhering closely to traditional Japanese cuisine, it’s a suitable resemblance of traditional ramen and is available for both lunch and dinner.
special-menu item and only available on Mondays and Tuesdays after 5 pm. NIPPON 4464 Montrose just north of the Hwy. 59 bridge, 713-523-3939, nippon-sushi.com
They are the only sensible ramen option in the Museum District, and we suggest shoyu or tonkotsu ramen. Both are available at lunch and dinner. TIGER DEN 9889 Bellaire Blvd. just east of Sam Houston Tollway in Dun Huang Plaza, 832-804-7755
Tiger Den offers something unique — ramen noodles made in-house. We recommend their tonkotsu ramen, which is hearty and boasts immense flavor. They are only open after 5 pm (and are closed on Mondays). As founder and president of both the Sushi Club of Houston and Ramen in Common, Carl Rosa frequently leads culinary tours of Japan. He also credits the efforts of six eager ramen lovers for their contribution to this article: Ed Gruber, Erika Muller, Kimberly Villarubia, Dominic Walsh, Naoto Ueno and Cassandra Santos.
CAFE KUBO’S 9889 Bellaire Blvd. just east of Sam Houston Tollway in Dun Huang Plaza, 713-995-4200, cafekubos.com
We recommend two of their standard ramens: tonkotsu and miso butter ramens. Basing their broths on traditional Japanese recipes, either option might satisfy your craving. Both are available after 5 pm. SOMA SUSHI 4820 Washington Ave. bet. Shepherd & Durham, 713-861-2726, somasushi.com
Soma’s executive chef, Mark Gabriel Medina, has been experimenting with a variety of options and is well respected within the ramen community. We
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2200 Post Oak Blvd. bet. Westheimer & San Felipe TELEPHONE 713-622-9996 WEBSITE caracol.net CUISINE Mexican seafood CREDIT CARDS All major HOURS Open 11 am-10 pm Sun.Thu., 11 am-11 pm Fri.-Sat. RESERVATIONS Recommended NOISE LEVEL Depends on time of day, can get very loud
LIFE’S A BEACH By William Albright If you go to Caracol — and you really should if you know what’s good for you — don’t let yourself get deflected by the wrong car-parkers. The terrific new Galleria-area Mexican seafood restaurant created by the husband-and-wife team of Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught of Backstreet Cafe and Hugo’s fame is located one slot down from Osteria Mazzantini in BBVA Compass Plaza’s row of deluxe storefronts, and so the latter’s valet stand is a few feet in front of Caracol’s. Now, I’m not saying John “Mockingbird Bistro” Sheely’s equally new and buzz-creating Italian eatery would try to hijack incoming diners. I’m just saying don’t hand over your ride at the first beach umbrella you come to. Caracol is the Spanish word for sea snail or conch, and the spacious, airy dining room is awash in nautical iconography. There is a wall-spanning painting of a giant red squid at one end, various wittily geometric depictions of fish stare out at customers on another wall, and the coil or spiral of a snail’s shell is featured everywhere, from the carpet and the menus to the glowing red filaments in the big wheel-shaped chandeliers’ fauxEdison light bulbs. Conch is served at Caracol, which opened December 16 as an early Christmas present for Houston foodies, but snails are not. I guess escargots are too Frenchy for a place dedicated to the seafood of Ortega’s native land. I didn’t have the ginger-and-red-jalapeño-
spiked conch ceviche, but if the kitchen tenderizes that notoriously tough mollusk as well as it does octopus, I’m sorry I did not. Octopus can be had in an almondadded cocktail ($13) or a salad with roasted potatoes and pumpkin-seed dressing ($15), but I got it in two other dishes. Just-chewy-enough bits of SpongeBob’s pal Squidward Tentacles swam with bite-size shrimp and lumps of crab in the Mexico City-style campechana ($15). Served in a Manhattan glass rather than the ice cream sundae goblet favored by Goode Company Seafood, it packs a jolting blast of spicy heat thanks to a hearty dose of serrano chiles in the tomato sauce.
Baked Gulf oysters have become pretty common seafood-restaurant fare in a town so close to the water, but at Caracol, for $14 or $23, they are deliciously personalized with chipotle butter and a scatter of crunchy breadcrumbs before hitting the woodburning oven. Baptizing the bivalves by squeezing a grilled lime over them completes the experience. While other restaurants serve campechana, two other appetizers must be unique to Caracol. Sopa de tortuga ($10) or green turtle soup is silky pistachio-colored ambrosia all nubbly with ground meat. And empanadas de zaragalla ($13) give spicy fish hash the Hot Pocket treatment, encasing it in PHOTO BY CHUCK COOK
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Pulpo — octopus — also figured in the large lunchtime bowl of seafood soup ($16) that came with a bolillo for sopping. In this Mexican version of cioppino or bouillabaisse, a pair of headon shrimp and multiple morsels of fish (plus some cubed zucchini) were the luscious main ingredients in the zesty tomato broth that was almost as good as the incredible shrimp soup that came in a demitasse-size cup as an amusebouche.
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wonderfully crisp dough and serving the package with cilantro cream. Mashed fish found another home in an oceanic variation on the chiles rellenos that are a staple in Houston’s Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants. Here, a poblano pepper is stuffed with a fish “stew” and covered with a velvety red pumpkinseed sauce ($15). With a pyramid of white rice studded with green peas served alongside, this dish easily vies with a cheese- or beef-filled classic.
ad directory APRIL – MAY Kenny & Ziggy’s (page 39) Kevin McGowan Photography (page 27) Khun Kay Thai Cafe (page 21) Kris Bistro (page 21) La Casa Del Caballo (page 84) Landry’s Signature Group (page 37) Louisiana Foods (page 84) Max’s Wine Dive/Flow (page 2) My Table 20th anniversary (page 43) My Table subscriptions (page 6) My Table’s Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to Houston (page 28) My Table/Chef ’s Day Off (page 19) Nirvana (page 24)
60 Degrees Mastercrafted (page 3) Ben E. Keith (page 75) Boudro’s (page 42) Cameron Ansari, Realtor (page 4) Cantina Laredo (page 10) El Meson (page 15) El Tiempo/Laurenzo’s (page 1) Galveston CVB (page 78) Glazier Foods (page 23) Haven (page 24) Houston Wine Merchant (page 28) III Forks (page 11) Jake’s Finer Foods (page 7)
Osteria Mazzantini/Mockingbird Bistro (back cover) Rainbow Lodge (page 76) Rodeo Uncorked! Round-Up & Best Bites (page 44) Sonoma Retail & Wine Bar (page 27) Spec’s (page 83) Sqwick.com (page 51) Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair (page 87) Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen (page 41) Sysco (inside back cover) Tom Callins, Photographer (page 41) Truluck’s (inside front cover) Uptown Sushi (page 5) Vine Wine Room (page 42) Zummo Meat Company (page 83)
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What about fish that’s left more or less whole, you say? Glad you asked. I ate two entrées that didn’t pulverize the fish, and both were excellent. Pescado alcaparradoa la plancha ($26) is a filet of the catch of the day (it was bass the day I had it) enhanced with a zippy tomatillo-caper sauce. My order was a tad dry and non-flaky, but a whole fish — called huachinango or red snapper on the menu but identified by one of the unfailingly friendly and attentive servers as black bass — given the zarandeado (shaken) treatment was as moist and fall-apart tender as could be. Butterflied and splashed with a spicy marinade ($27), it was roasted in a basket over wood. Caracol is definitely a family affair, and not just on the ownership/management side. Hugo Ortega’s brother Ruben is the pastry chef, and he has come up with some creative mealenders. Strawberry rhubarb pie is turned into an empanada ($8.50) with rose petal ice cream on the side and the celery-like rhubarb not cooked to mush. Crunchy churros are filled with pineapple marmalade and come with rum raisin ice cream that in my case was disappointingly short on both rum flavor and raisins. The churros ($9) were delicious all on their own, though. Even better were a kind of Mexican bread pudding ($8) and what is called El Coco. A kind of capirotada, the former is called caballeros pobres (poor cowboys) and consists of cubes of Mexican-style French toast augmented with brandied cherries and some sweet cream and cinnamon ice cream. The latter ($11) is something I am sure will become one of Caracol’s signature dishes. Strata of coconut butter cream, coconut-flavored ganache, crumbled coconut streusel and whipped coconut are all encased in a softball-size chocolate shell with a coconut-like exterior. Nestled in a bed of crushed chocolate cookies that stabilize the sphere the way rock salt anchors baked oysters, this clever bit of fun is broken open piñata-style with a little wooden mallet and is an inspired bit of dessert theater. In all, Caracol argues tastily that Cajuns aren’t the only folks who know how to cook fish.
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60 degrees mastercrafted
warrant it. To its credit, Sixty Degrees offers the steaks in three cuts and lets you specify the size. The filet mignon, for example, goes for $8 an ounce with a fourounce minimum. But Mon.-Thu., 5-11 pm Fri.-Sat. Brunch 11 am-3 pm Sun. the beef is certainly rich RESERVATIONS Recommended at peak hours NOISE LEVEL Can get noisy enough that even the minimum order ($32) should satisfy most appetites, especially with a side of sweet A NEW potato fries ($4) or white truffle mac ’n cheese ($5) to fill out the meal. NEIGHBORHOOD SPOT The other cuts, strip and ribeye, cost By Eric Gerber about a buck less per ounce, but both have eight-ounce minimums, so you are Disregarding that lumbering name looking at $50-plus for entry-level and a few gimmicky affectations (such orders. If you are a big-time carnivore as a $200 hamburger), Sixty Degrees Mastercrafted is a fairly likable addition to and like your steaks in the 16-ounce Houston’s mid-to-upper end dining scene. range, prepare to pay three figures. Of It resists easy description, with a tony, course, there is also a to-share option, called The Cowboy, which serves up a top-credentialed chef at the helm but a 30-ounce bone-in ribeye ($85) that, capricious, up-and-down menu that’s with smashed potatoes, onion rings and part burger joint and part country club vegetables included, might be the best bistro. Some will find this quirky character engaging, no doubt, and others buy on the menu. Do the math. In keeping with that beef-centric a trifle off-putting. Probably more the menu, Sixty Degrees has elected to take former than the latter. Frankly, my own reaction initially was to be put-off, but I on a vaguely ranch-styled theme, with a few passing nods in that direction. eventually warmed to this place. There’s a vintage wagon wheel adorning Set up on the southern edge of River one corner, and, on the ceiling, a Oaks in a substantially remodeled checkerboard arrangement of cedar posts. Westheimer site that previously housed Other than that, though, it’s a lot of bare Palazzo’s (and Beso before that), Sixty walls, neutral colors and a sizeable glass Degrees is as much a specialty wall looking out on the capacious patio steakhouse as anything else, trumpeting its array of Akaushi beef dishes. Akaushi alongside Westheimer. (As we go to press, the parking lot, signage and attractive — rhymes with “tender, juicy” — is a streetside patio are being finished.) Japanese-derived breed, the meat of Sometimes, it’s better to underwhich is high in marbling, relatively decorate than overdo it and this is a good healthful and quite succulent. The American version is merchandised under example. It can, however, make for fairly the name HeartBrand, and a Texas ranch harsh acoustics and, when crowded, Sixty Degrees is conversation-impaired. in Harwood is Sixty Degrees’ supplier. Although beef clearly takes center Now, this is not an exclusive arrangestage here, there are enough alternatives ment and you can find Akaushi beef on to avoid pigeon-holing the place. For a few other menus (and grocery stores) one thing, the kitchen apparently has an around Houston. But it’s doubtful you unending supply of jumbo lump crab will find so many selections. Sixty and is not afraid to use it. There is an Degrees serves it up as a variety of steak cuts and sizes, as hamburgers, as pâté, as appetizer of fried green tomatoes and crab ($14) marred only by the rigidity of chili, even as … bacon. Yes, beef bacon. While that may seem like overkill, the those ’maters. There is, naturally, a jumbo lump crabcake ($17) with a outstanding quality of the beef seems to ADDRESS 2300 Westheimer bet. S. Shepherd & Kirby TELEPHONE 713-360-7757 WEBSITE 60degreesmastercrafted.com CUISINE American ranch-to-table CREDIT CARDS All major HOURS Lunch 11 am-2 pm Mon.-Fri., dinner 5-10 pm
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wonderfully smoky aioli dressing. The mild-mannered campechana ($14), with a sweeter than usual sauce, leans heavily toward the crab. And the deconstructed bouillabaisse entrée ($29) slides a small crab cake into the mix for good measure. There is even a Surf & Turf option ($17), which has the Akaushi hamburger sharing the plate with, you got it, a jumbo lump crab cake. If I were auditioning Sixty Degrees and wanted to sample its strong points in a single dish, I think this Surf & Turf would do the trick. And, I would note, it’s available on the lunch menu as well as at dinner. Chef Fritz Gitschner, who boasts the impressive title Certified Master Chef from the American Culinary Federation, pays tribute to his Austrian roots with a dish of chicken schnitzel ($21), complete with potato coins and cucumbers. Gitschner also tips his toque to his Central European background with a three-pork platter ($27.50) that comes heaped with pork ribs, a slab of pork belly and a sausage as well as smashed potatoes, slaw and Brussels sprouts. A considerable undertaking, it will remind you of ordering the house special at any place with the names Opa or Oma in the Hill Country. With the exception of a bread pudding soufflé ($12), desserts are hardly memorable. The wine list is promising, though the by-the-glass offerings on our visit were relatively limited. Vanessa Trevino Boyd, late of Philippe Restaurant, is the new beverage director. Along with its peculiar name — which has something to do with three principles equilaterally supporting the restaurant — Sixty Degrees Mastercrafted qualifies as an oddity for having the longest continuing “soft opening” in the history of Houston restaurants. It launched in mid-November and, three months later, Sixty Degrees had still not “officially” opened. I guess if you’re calling yourself “Mastercrafted,” you really need to get it right. William Albright is a freelance writer in Houston. Eric Gerber is the director of communications at the University of Houston.
Kitchen: Possible by Sarah Bronson
In the age of Amazon.com, we’re used to the idea that nearly any imaginable gadget is just a credit card transaction away. But the act of prodding the actual jerky guns, beer taps and chocolate molds that are the means to starting a business or making your own wedding cake might be what you need to bridge the gap between thinking about it and going for it. ALLIED KENCO SALES 26 Lyerly St., 713-691-2935, alliedkenco.com
As we consider rib pullers, liver hooks and yard-long bone saws, our first instinct is to run while we still can. Then we spot a tamale maker and feel more at ease. This butcher supply store carries the equipment and the books to literally show you how the sausage is made — or how to pickle kimchi, ALLIED KENCO SALES cure charcuterie, dry fruit, brew beer, build a smokehouse, preserve salsa, ferment miso or bone a deer carcass. Did you know about jerky guns? We got one; it really “shoots” out jerky. Sausage spices abound here, including mixes for fresh chorizo, smoked kielbasa and bratwurst as well as seasonings made by men named Carmie, Zach and Ol’ Bob. We learn which animals’ guts best present which sausages: beef bung cap for capicola, sheep intestine for bockwurst and hog intestine for boudin, to name a few. “Most Texan gadget” award goes to the pepper rack shaped like the Lone Star State, with slots to keep each jalapeño popper or armadillo egg in place through bacon wrapping, grilling and party time. PHOTOS BY SARAH BRONSON
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KITCHEN GADGET STORES
host of angels; a heap of giant molars to celebrate, AMAZING CAKE SUPPLIES perhaps, a successful wisdom tooth extraction. Pastry, fondant and candy can be finely formed with any one of a library of tools — a drawer of chocolate molds we pull out holds “Liberty bell” through “mermaid.” Frosting colors from teal to dusty rose and essences like crème de menthe, pear, sassafras and watermelon promise infinite possible color and flavor combos. Watch the Facebook page to hear about classes on how to sculpt sugar peonies, fondant bows and more. ACE MART 3500 Katy Fwy., 713-861-4582, and other locations; acemart.com
Whether you’re a rising restaurateur investing in a 10-burner range or a person who wants a blender and a sheaf of umbrella toothpicks, Ace Mart has what you need. A lot of them. Big ones as well as regular-sized ones. You can not only fully outfit a kitchen here but also complete a bar (from jiggers to keg pumps), furnish a restaurant dining room, get the hot dog rollers and cotton candy spinners to feed a crowd at a carnival, and prepare to cater an event in style, majestic ice dolphin centerpiece and all — or even deliver a still-warm pizza. ACE MART
AMAZING CAKE SUPPLIES 5611 Bellaire Blvd., Suite 118, 713-665-8899, amazingcakesupplies.com
A trip to Amazing Cake Supplies could make the difference between nailing it and Pinterest-failing it. You can find a pan for whatever shape you want your cake, be it bundt, heart, threetiered hexagon, pirate ship or whoopie pie. With a whole wall of cookie cutters, it is possible to make the following batches: NEW YORK BAGELS triceratopses pitted against T-rexes; a herd of tiny longhorns; a
Sarah Bronson’s packing a gun that shoots meat, a very sharp knife and chocolate disguised as blue pebbles. Come at her.
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T O W N T H E T A S T I N G
CRAZY SUSHI ROLLS
Roll With It by Robin Barr Sussman
Most foodies favor the purist side of sushi: high-quality sashimi, hold the rice. But sometimes we (or the rookie in the group) crave bulging specialty sushi rolls, the crazier and more ingredient-packed the better. Get your digits on these cool (and filling!) Japanese bites exploding with flavor. H-E-B 9710 Katy Fwy., 713-647-5900
and impeccable presentation. Happy hour pricing is key for experimenting.
San Antonio. No, it’s not a giant caterpillar. The San Antonio roll is surimi (imitation crab) in brown rice and seaweed paper, topped with paperthin avocado, painted with spicy mayo and sweet “sushi” sauce, topped with sesame seeds. Rich. And we’re afraid to think about the calorie count.
PRICE: $14 for 6 pcs. SCORE: 10
PRICE: $7.99 for 9 pcs. SCORE: 6 KATA ROBATA 3600 Kirby, 713-526-8858
Tropical Spicy Tuna. Inside this luscious rice roll, find a surprising pair: spicy tuna and fresh mango. Wrapped in succulent salmon, it sports pretty avocado slivers and black tobiko (flying fish roe) and is kissed with wasabi vinaigrette. This sushi shrine is pricey but reliable for freshness
NARA 2800 Kirby (in West Ave), 281-249-5944
Salmon Truffle. Chef Donald Chang’s new Korean eatery proffers inventive specialty rolls (presented in eight perfect bites) like the gorgeous salmon truffle roll. Scottish salmon is rolled over the rice. Find black tiger shrimp tucked inside along with cucumber glossed with truffle oil. The signature Nara roll starring prime rib is way popular, too. PRICE: $12 for 8 pcs. SCORE: 10 SOMA SUSHI 4820 Washington Ave., 713-861-2726
Crazy Irish Man. Despite the nutty
name, this six-piece roll is frequently ordered. Expect a rice roll filled with diced tuna, salmon, avocado and masago (capelin fish roe) that has been lightly tempura fried on the outside. Although fresh, this didn’t rank as high as some of the others because it tasted like a panfried dumpling. More flavorful is the Ginger Salmon roll with ginger pesto. PRICE: $9/$6 happy hour for 6 pcs. SCORE: 8 SUSHI KING 3401 Kirby, 713-528-8998
Houston. Our five-piece Houston roll was composed of diced tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado and roe garnish. But Houston had a problem: The roll, sliced in large pieces, was awkward to eat and the fish didn’t taste perfectly fresh. Next time we’ll try the Hana Age roll with shrimp, shiitakes, sweet onion and papaya. PRICE: $9.50/$8 happy hour for 5 pcs. SCORE: 6 UPTOWN SUSHI 1131 Uptown Park Blvd., 713-871-1200
Lickety Split. This glam restaurant is known for fusion and inside-outside sushi rolls. Fresh, pretty and big enough for a light meal, the eight-piece Lickety Split is a favorite. Tucked inside artfully rolled rice, find softshell crawfish, cucumber and sprouts. Spicy tuna, yellowtail, salmon and avocado pave the outside. A simpler, tongue-tingling roll is Godzilla with fresh salmon, onions, jalapeños and green Tabasco. PRICE: $18 for 8 pcs. SCORE: 9
Robin Barr Sussman is a a freelance food writer with a culinary mission: great taste. ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS HSU
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BISTRO AND WINE BAR 1985 Welch at McDuffie Reservations 713.533.0200
TWO HOUSTON RESTAURANTS by AWARD-WINNING CHEF JOHN SHEELY
A Marriage of Old World and New â€Ś 2200 Post Oak Blvd., Suite 140 For reservations: 713.993.9898