Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tampico Seafood

I’d heard so much about Tampico Seafood that when I accidentally stumbled up on it during today’s misadventure to the post office, I knew we had to stop in. It was early enough – about 5:00 – so the restaurant was pleasantly crowd-free. Yay!

The server recommended the fried fish plates, so I thought I’d try the shrimp. Somewhere along the way, however, he decided that I should have tilapia, and that’s what showed up instead. Huh. The fried fish was decidedly mediocre, as was the fried rice that came with it. Ho-hum. Next!

Our first highlight was the ceviche tostada, a mass of light and tangy seafood piled high on a crispy tortilla. The crabmeat here was unfailingly fresh, and they added just enough vinegary sauce to tie it all together. A winner, for sure.

What really set our hearts on fire, though, was the grilled snapper, another server recommendation. Our fish came out well seasoned and beautifully cooked with a side of green peppers and sautéed onions. Inside the crispy outer layer, the fish was juicy and fresh. Snapper is what gulf coast seafood’s about, and this version is fantastic... and so pretty! I wish I had remembered to take a picture.

Do not come for the atmosphere. Or the service. Come for the whole grilled snapper.

Tampico - 2115 Airline Drive (near Cavalcade)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cooking with the Kimballs

After being laid off from an advertising agency during the Tech Bust in 2001, I found myself with a rare spot of free time and decided to create a family cookbook. I am semi-obsessed with taking on gargantuan projects, and this one was mainly to make sure we recorded my maternal grandmother’s deliciously eclectic recipe collection for all to share.

Mamaw was born to Serbian parents, but spent most of her life in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Thus, she ate baklava and homemade pita bread just as often as she ate Southern beef stew and hoppin’ john. The initial cookbook found me borrowing dozens of recipes at a time, typing them into Word docs, and then having the final product color-copied and spiral bound at Kinko’s.

I thought it was beautiful.

But just as soon as the thing was “published,” we realized just how many recipes I’d left out... “What about the recipe for Mamaw’s lamb? Or that cold cucumber salad she makes?” “Where’s poteca bread? I don’t see it in here.” The second edition was already a glimmer in my eye.

Mamaw’s passing last year was the catalyst I needed for a major overhaul. Her enormous wooden recipe box was handed off to me, and I feverishly began to transcribe every recipe I could. In the box I discovered faded letters from the old country hand written in Serbian. I adored looking through the entire section involving jello molds. And I loved asking my mom to tell me over and over about how Mamaw used to make her own Phyllo dough, stretching it long and thin across the dining room chairs.

The final product arrived last week: 400 recipes from family, friends, and neighbors, soft bound with descriptions, stories, and hilarious old pictures: http://www.blurb.com/my/book/detail/380100

Shout out to Blurb.com, a brilliant software company that lets you self-publish your own books… The software is easy to use and FREE, and the final product is absolutely gorgeous. Create your own soft- or hard-cover books with travel photos, poetry, wedding memorabilia, or the next great American novel, which -- perhaps -- is next on my list of gargantuan projects for the undertaking.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Taqueria del Sol

Happy was I to begin the school year anew, and only partially because I teach on the south side of town where there are taco trucks a plenty. I made it all the way to day three of in-service before bolting at lunchtime for my favorite taqueria: Taqueria del Sol.

Seeing how the lunch rush starts darn near breakfast time, finding a quiet time here is next to impossible. My group of four teachers walks in as the day’s only Caucasians, which clearly deters neither us nor them. Ever encouraged by the low prices, we order waaaaaaay too much, and they quickly fill our table with gorgeous plates of flautas, gorditas, quesadillas, and more. Leigh Anne the Adventurous had two equally brilliant gorditas: one de chicharron (cooked pork skin) and one de nopales (grilled cactus). Nancy’s quesadillas and Amanda’s enchiladas received top marks and clean plates as well.

My clear favorite, though, is the torta de barbarcoa, a Mexican sandwich of tender barbecued pork atop a soft, flavorful bun and bursting with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and sour cream. Try as I might, I cannot tear myself from this dish when I go. It’s got the holy trinity of elements we teacher’s seek in a meal: it’s delicious, it’s huge, and it’s $2.75.

This place is four times better than your regular Mexican joint, and half the price. Service is friendly and helpful. And there’s a bakery attached if you need a little pan dulce post meal. Don’t let the hazardous parking lot scare you away, and don’t forget to try the lemonade. Buen provecho!

Taqueria del Sol - 8114 Park Place Blvd (near Hobby Airport)


Monday, August 18, 2008

Restaurant Week II

Great news: So popular was Houston Restaurant Week that some places have decided to extend it for another week!

Six restaurants have already committed (Arcodoro, Del Frisco’s, Max’s Wine Dive, SoVino Bistro, The Capital Grille, and Oceanaire), and the list should be final by 5pm today.

Here’s to hoping that many more restaurants jump on the bandwagon! Check the Houston Restaurant Week Web site (http://www.houstonrestaurantweek.com/) for the latest additions and menus.

UPDATE: 24 restaurants are on board! Happy eating :)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Glass Wall

Due to a last-minute dental problem I had to bail on Wednesday’s Chowhound dinner at VOICE [sad puppy]. Rather than wallow in self-pity the *entire* night, I waited for the anesthesia to wear off and went in search of food.

Situated just two blocks from my home, Glass Wall was clearly the lazy choice. And I had yet to try it, so at least it had that going for it. Gingerly I picked up the phone to see if it was possible to a) get the HRW menu, b) at the bar, c) by myself, and d) in gym clothes, and to my delight, they welcomed me with open arms.

The first course was a wonderful salmon bisque – not overly salmony, like many iterations, and with just the right amount of cream. The second course was the jalapeno-potato-chip-crusted chicken fried steak from the regular menu. Now I haven’t had a chicken fried steak since, um, middle school, and really have no business judging one, but this one was good enough, with just the right amount of heat. Add the mashed potatoes and gravy, and you have the dude-food trifecta. Sigh.

Alongside my dinner came a glass of rose, and while I never choose to order rose wines, this one was nice. My server mentioned they were trying to make sure the meal was a good value for the $35… Amen, brother!

Dessert was the white chocolate and raspberry bread pudding. Though it was fantastically over rich, I got half of it down before crying uncle.

The Good: The salmon bisque and the included glass of wine.
The Bad: Zero choice in menu items.
The Ugly: There’s a huge glass wall in the center of the dining room that says GLASS WALL in 18-inch letters. Really?

Would I go back to Glass Wall? Meh. Am I glad I went last night? 100%.

Glass Wall – 933 Studewood (in the Heights)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

*17

Last night I kicked off Houston Restaurant Week with ten Chowhounds at *17. While I used to shun restaurants inside hotels, a new generation has popped up, and I’ve since rethought my stance on the issue. Indeed *17 has gotten a lot of play in the local media, and I was aflutter upon walking into the Alden Hotel downtown.

The space is deceptively small, but lovely-ish, and we begin the meal with a quick amuse bouche: tuna tartar atop a watermelon radish. The bite was beautiful in presentation, and the tuna’s flavor was nice, but the watermelon radish proves overpowering. But no reason to be alarmed, right? Bring on the epic three-course menu!

The first course is a choice between tomato soup (with pork belly, we’re told) and a baby lettuce salad. Given my affinity for both tomatoes and pork belly, the soup is an easy decision. Unfortunately, though, it arrives plain, acidic, and SANS PORK BELLY. Like, none. Hmpf. We are unimpressed, but hold onto hope that the next course will win back our hearts.

Oh, brother. Second course is a choice between halibut with corn pudding or a NY strip steak with potato puree, spinach, and a bordelaise sauce. I choose the fish, which arrives fine and all… yet it was the only thing on the plate! That teensy squirt of corn puree does *not* a side dish make. Where is all my food-glorious-food? Pangs of jealousy creep in as I watch the three who ordered the steak devour a full plate of vitals. [Sigh.]

Whatever. On to dessert: a choice between a chocolate fondant cake or homemade ice cream. I go with the cake, which proves to be bittersweet and too dry. Though still hungry from my lack of sustenance [grrr!], I decline to waste the calories.

- GOOD: the bread and whipped butter were fantastic, and we had a Beringer 2002 reserve cabernet that knocked my socks off.
- BAD: the meal, in general, and still being hungry afterwards.
- UGLY: we debated going out for sliders post dinner. No, really.

Not the winning experience for which I’d hoped, but perhaps redemption will come at VOICE on Wednesday. Don’t just take my word for it, though... Check out what Jenny who’s never full and Misha of Tasty Bits have to say.

*17 - 1117 Prairie (downtown)




Big plate, small food. I was crying inside. And why is there a huge crevasse in my fish?


Now THIS is a plate of food. Looks can be deceiving, though -- Reviews for this entree were mediocre as well.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don’t Forget: Houston Restaurant Week

Don’t forget about Houston Restaurant Week, coming right up from August 11-17! Starting Monday, 53 restaurants across Houston are offering a specially created 3-course menu for $35. It’s a great opportunity to try that new buzz-grabber while the price is right-ish.

The menus for each restaurant have been posted, so you can peruse the goods before you commit. $5 from your meal goes to Houston’s End Hunger Network. And if you reserve your table online, OpenTable donates even more.

I’m headed to *17 on Monday and VOICE at the Hotel Icon on Wednesday… And could *easily* be convinced to hit Gravitas next weekend (Hello? Slow roasted pork shoulder!). GET FIRED UP!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Feast with the Beasts

The Houston Zoo’s venerable Feast with the Beasts is coming up on October 10. Past participants tell me it’s a wildly fun evening (21 and over only). For $70 (or $65 for Zoo members), you can sample cuisines from 30+ restaurants among the Zoo’s most famous residents. This year’s food line-up includes Arcodoro, Crapitto’s, Cyclone Anaya’s, D’Amicos, Joyce’s, Molina’s, Ouisie’s, Sorrento’s, the Strip House, and plenty more.

Sounds great... Just keep me away from the snake house [shudder].

Friday, August 1, 2008

Someburger

The first time I went to Someburger I had just come from the Saturday “tour” at the St. Arnold’s brewery, so my taste buds might *not* have been their tip-top most discerning [sigh]. But daaamn, that cheeseburger was tasty. Now that I live in the area, I’ve made my way back a few times to soberly confirm that the little shack does, in fact, make a dynamite burger.

It’s a burger in the old fashioned way – just like I like ‘em – skinny patty on a toasted bun with warm fixin’s drippin’ out the sides. No juice will slide down your chin, and it doesn’t require two hands. And while the fries, I thought, were only so-so, the onion rings are outta this world. Last week (after my lil’ niece got beaned in the face by a foul ball at an Astros game) we tried the milkshakes. They, too, were pretty spectacular.

My favorite burger growing up was at the original Otto’s on Memorial. Since Otto’s is forever rumored to be closing (anyone have details?), I’m relieved to have found an traditional burger joint that doesn’t pride itself on a 3-inch thick patty or try to linen up its service. It’s cheap, it’s cash-only, and it tastes great whether you’ve had the beer sampler or not. Enough said.

Someburger – 745 E. 11th Street