Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bowl

I’m a pretty healthy eater and struggle at times to find a good salad in town. Fortunately we now have Bowl, a small create-your-own-salad joint new to Richmond Avenue near midtown.

How it works: As you walk in, pick up an order form from the front counter. The form features an extensive list of possible salad ingredients and dressings. You choose your greens, check off the toppings you’d like, pick a dressing, and then pass your order to a server. Minutes later your custom salad arrives.

- 10 toppings, one cheese, and one dressing is $7
- 15 toppings, one cheese, and one dressing is $10
- Add a protein (herb chicken, beef tender, shrimp) for $2

Salads are neither too big nor too small, contain fresh ingredients, and arrive promptly. I love a lot of “stuff” in my salad, so the extensive topping list was key. However, the champagne vinaigrette tasted like straight oil. Blech! Next time I’ll try the lemon tarragon.

Not an herbivore? Bowl also features a mouth-watering list of sandwiches. I went back for the El Capitan, a delicious mix of prosciutto, brie, basil, and a honey drizzle. Tasty delight! The pulled pork with thai coleslaw and pistachio chicken salad sandwiches also piqued my interest.

While the location is a bit no-man’s-land-ish, and it’s only open M-F for lunch, Bowl serves a great niche in town, and I’ll definitely be back.

Bowl – 607 Richmond

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Himalaya

I had already planned to meet some friends at Himalaya for dinner on Wednesday when I decided to see what the Fearless Critic had to say about it. I had read the review before (it received an A), but had completely forgotten about this part:

"If you do not want to know what your dining companions look like when they have sex, we suggest not bringing them here, because after they take a bite of any of the masalas, biryanis, or naans, you're definitely going to see their O face."

Huh.

My two "dining companions" were old friends from high school, and I didn’t especially want to see what they looked like mid-dibity. One of them is married, after all, and the other I've known since age 12. What would Jerry Seinfeld do? I am intrigued.

I walk in the door to a stark white, well lit room, scattered with tables and chairs. A sign directs me to the corner, where the menu hangs on the wall near a well-loved cash register. This restaurant has no sexual appeal. Like, at all. I will be fine. I find a table and wait for my friends, who soon arrive.

As the owner approaches to take our order, he scrunches his eyebrows for a minute before telling me that I bear a striking resemblance to Cheryl Ladd from Charlie’s Angels. This place rules, I think to myself as I place our order: Chicken tikka masala, naan, and "two other dishes that you think are the best."

Mere minutes later we're staring down a plate of hot samosas. I bite into one with a satisfying crunch, but the lamb inside is dry. The cardamom sauce helps, but next time I'll try the vegetable samosas.

Before we can finish our appetizer, out come the mains. The pumpkin-colored tikka masala is flavorful and rich, with tender pieces of chicken swimming in a spicy masala bath. Delicious. I use my piece of naan to scrape the sauce off my plate, not willing to waste a single cell. The other dish, lamb biryani, is a gigantic plate of rice interlaced with aromatic spices and tender chunks of lamb. While it may look plain, a first taste reveals surprisingly complex flavors. Soon I realize that I am too busy devouring my meal to notice what my friends’ faces look like, nor do I worry about how my own appears.

At times like this there’s only one thing to do. Throw caution to the wind and keep going.

Himalaya – 6652 Southwest Freeway (at Hillcroft)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Guadalajara Bakery and Tacos

The Houston Chowhounds recently ranted and raved about this place: Raved about the to-die-for tacos, and ranted about its impending closure to make way for [shudder] more condos on the Washington corridor. Since it’s scheduled to close in August, I figured I’d better get over to Guadalajara Bakery and Tacos with haste.

“Tacos? How many?” she asks as we walk in the door. “Um, four,” we reply, wondering to ourselves if we would get to pick what goes inside. This, we soon learn, is when they begin making our tortillas. EPIC. It takes a few minutes, which is fine because it gives us a chance to look over the steam table wherein lie the taco fillings: refried beans, scrambled egg with chorizo, barbacoa, picadillo (ground beef with potatoes), chicharrones (cooked pork skins) with chilies, and more. I love this place already.

Sweet goodness, the tortillas arrive and they are the most beautiful disks I’ve ever seen. Maybe that’s my stomach speaking. OK, I go with one chicharron (with beans) and one barbacoa. We amble to a canary-colored table, and my mouth waters as I wait for my friend Jaime to snap a photo of our gorgeous tacos. With one bite my love for this joint doubles. I’m no expert on chicharrones, but this is the best I’ve had; the beautifully spongy rind melts all too quickly in my mouth, leaving me only a *spicy* memory of its goodness. Was it a dream? Ahhh, I still have one taco left. Against all odds, the barbacoa one is even more impressive; the meat is slow roasted nightly, and I can’t recall ever having a better taco. And the green sauce? I could eat it with a soup spoon. Rumor has it that the proprietress turned down a $10k offer to give up the sauce’s secret family recipe.

We leave vowing to stage a sit-in protest of its closing.

Guadalajara Bakery and Tacos – 4003 Washington (near Yale)

Check out these *killer* pics from Jaime of Casa de Camera!




Monday, July 21, 2008

Raia's Italian Market

Though only open for a few weeks, the new Italian Market on Washington, has already received top marks from reviewers of every level. She Eats and I adventured over to Raia's Italian Market on Sunday to give it a whirl.

A few things to note:
-- There is no sign out front yet (Marketing 101?), but the windows are filled with all things Italian-esque.
-- This is both restaurant and Italian market; the market selection is limited, but intriguing. Mmmm, cheese!
-- Though Italian by trade, there is a certain Cajun connection (Cajun pizza, New Orleans pasta, shrimp po’ boys, and more).
-- Service was downright refreshing. The entire staff was friendly and outgoing. Which was good. Since I had a jabillion questions.

We started with the “Cakes and Claws,” two large crab cakes and a six (count ‘em) fried crab claws. Now slap my arse and call me gumbo – this appetizer ruled the roost. The cakes were loaded with fresh crab meat and topped with a semi-spicy remoulade sauce. The claws were breaded with cornmeal and lightly fried to perfection. This app was plenty for two people.

Next came the pasta. I ordered the Carmine (rigatoni with Italian sausage, broccoli, and tomato). With no real sauce to keep it together, this dish wasn’t quite to my liking. While the broccoli was done right and the pasta, itself, great, the sausage was overly anise-seed-y, which made the dish too bitter. Sad face.

Never fear, though. I was happy to beg bites off Katharine, who ordered the Corleone (angelhair with eggplant, black olives, capers, and ricotta with marinara). This? Is what I dream of when I dream of pasta. The ricotta blended beautifully with the marinara, coating the pasta in a creamy, tomatoey glaze. And the rest of the flavors mixed marvelously.

We wrapped up with a “mini cannoli,” which is a nice-sized taste for a post-meal splurge. The almond-flavored outer shell was good enough, but the custard inside was what made my heart flutter. Add a sprinkle of pistachios, and then ask yourself why you’d bother to order the “mini” cannoli as opposed to the “regular.”

Raia – 4500 Washington, suite 200.



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Housewarming Heaven

I moved into a new house on Tuesday, and my realtor brought over the best possible housewarming gift: a flat of lasagna from Carrabba’s and a vat of bread pudding form Joyce’s. Oh la la!

The original Carrabba’s (on Kirby) is the only one still owned by the Carrabba family, and it is every bit as fabulous as the day it opened. The lasagna was picture perfect with just the right combination of meat, noodle, and ricotta. Hearty and delicious, without feeling overly rich. Sure beats the Sam’s version.

Fine, I admit it. I still like the Sam's lasagna. Just like I still like Kraft mac-and-cheese. They are hard habits to break.

And now? Dessert. Bread pudding ranks as an all-time favorite for me. I love Monica Pope’s. Brennan’s and Ruggles Café sure serve them up nice. And for the love of Pete, don’t you dare add raisins or dried fruit. Yes, my love for bread pudding is intense, but not blind, and I was blown away by the talented version from Joyce’s, a seafood joint on Westheimer. My sweet realtor made a special trip there just to get it, when theoretically, she could have toted a so-so tiramisu from Carrabba’s without dropping the extra coin on gas. Joyce’s bread pudding is a white chocolate number topped with crumbled pecans, and it is heaven on a spoon. Melty, gooey, bready goodness with just the right amount of crunch.

Just a few ideas for the next time it's your turn to host.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cherry Fever

If anyone loves cherries as much as I do and is as appalled at the general price, cherries are on sale at Randall's for $4/pound (down from $7/pound). Both Bing and Ranier. Woo-hoo.

Boom Boom Room

While the name inspires seedy images of 70's-disco-esque night clubs, Houston’s version of the Boom Boom Room comes across as subdued cool. I met a friend for a quick catch-up session and we were immediately struck by the unique fixtures, roomy space, and comfy seating. However, we were the only people there. Only people. Which. Was. Weird.

On to the food. Boom Boom Room concentrates on paninis, which they offer in a wide variety. Since it is physically impossible for me to say no to brie, I had the turkey, avocado, and brie sammich, but the seared tuna sounded wonderful, as did the braised beef with caramelized onions. My panini arrived perfectly warm and perfectly cooked, with melty cheese and a light crunch. And the sandwich was LARGE. Plenty of food, though it also came with a side of veggie chips.

Afterwards we split the aptly named Crack Brownie. What they refer to as “crack” is better known as a layer of heath bar sandwiched between layers of brownie. It comes warm and is worth every penny.

Overall, Boom Boom Room is a fantastic place for a low-key dinner with friends. They also have fun drinks, a fabulous wine list, and a regular band every Saturday, making it a super weekend venue, too.

Boom Boom Room - 2518 Yale Street

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cow Appreciation Day

Mark your calendars, folks. This Friday July 11th is Cow Appreciation Day at Chik-fil-A. Customers will receive a free combo meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) if they go into any of the chain’s 1200+ locations fully-dressed as a cow. Mmmmm, waffle fries!

See Chik-fil-A’s official Cow Appreciation Day FAQ for details:
http://www.chick-fil-a.com/downloads/CFA_CAD_1pgr.pdf

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ten Things I Love

- Red Hawk Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery
- Sausage, egg, and cheese taquitos from Whataburger
- Butter tortillas from Central Market
- Shrimp and pork rolls from Les Givral’s
- Chicken tortilla soup from Mission Burrito
- Monica Pope’s pimento cheese
- Popovers at Nelore
- Deep-dish starburst on whole wheat at Star Pizza
- Crawfish ravioli at Tony Mandola’s
- The vegetable plate at Backstreet Café