Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brunch at Dharma

Looking for a new Sunday brunch spot? Try Dharma Café, which translates its “Food for Life” philosophy into a unique all-you-can-eat cornucopia of flavors every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Houston Avenue lies dormant on Sunday, but the restaurant contains just the right amount of bustle -- the perfect spot for coffee and newspaper, a mimosa with friends, or an afternoon meal. Light pours in through the well-windowed space, washing this friendly little place in a natural radiance.

Fill your fancy with traditional breakfast items (like waffles, banana pancakes, cinnamon rolls, and made-to-order eggs) -- or branch out with more progressive fare (like delicious homemade fettuccine in a roasted red pepper sauce, fabulous Cuban black bean soup with pork, and grilled eggplant with peas and chickpeas). The buffet is $17, which also earns you a mimosa, champagne, or orange juice.

A full belly and a soothed soul. What a nice way to welcome in the week ahead.

Dharma Café - 1718 Houston Avenue (at Crocket)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Royer’s Round Top Cafe

Best known for its twice-a-year antiques fairs, Round Top is a tiny pinhead on the Texas map, a laid-back country town with a picturesque town square and sweet-as-pie towns people. There’s even a sign posted that says “If you’re in a hurry, go to Houston.” That sign, of course, is at the famous Royer’s Round Top Café.


Royer’s is the heart-and-soul of Round Top, serving “contemporary comfort food” in a cozy, be-signed space. Bud Royer lives by the saying “Life is too short” and plans his menu accordingly. The jalapeno cheese soup was a fiery hit, as was the chicken corn chowder with cilantro. I had the grilled shrimp BLT, with spicy grilled shrimp sitting atop a soft roll with thick, sweet bacon. The sandwich was chock-full and tasty, though the fries were unimpressive.


Royer’s is firstly famous for its pies, and FYI, you’ll pay 50 cents more if you want your slice without ice cream. Why? Because pie is supposed to be eaten with ice cream, that’s why. So after lunch we split the sampler plate, our choice of four slices, generously topped with Amy’s vanilla ice cream.


We chose the Butterscotch, Tollhouse Chocolate Chip, Apple, and Strawberry Rhubarb… and I liked them in that order. With flaky crusts filled with rich flavors and a slick sweetness, the pie alone makes this place worth the trip. Antiques weekend or not.

Royer’s Round Top Café - 105 Main Street, Round Top, Texas

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kraftsmen Baking

Kraftsmen has quietly become the go-to place for artisan bread in Houston, supplying an astounding number of restaurants with their fresh baked goodness daily. Whether you know it or not, you’ve had their bread, and if you haven’t been to the retail space, well, you’re missing out on a local treat.


Nestled in an ivy-covered storefront on Montrose (next door to the Black Lab), Kraftsmen offers sandwiches on their own fresh bread, plus unique salads, fabulous soups, homemade pastries, and fair trade coffee. Breakfast, lunch, and early dinner. Seven days a week.

Sound ordinary? It’s not. My turkey and brie sandwich also featured avocado and bacon. Amanda’s turkey sandwich was filled with provolone, alfalfa sprouts, green apple slices, and apple butter. The tomato-basil soup was divine, smooth with and extra bit of basil and just the right amount of cream. In fact, everything on the menu seems to have a touch of flair.


Kraftsmen uses local ingredients when possible, and everything is natural. It’s cozy and cute, and it has free Internet. Don’t forget to pick up a loaf of bread, a peppermint latte, or a gigantic peanut butter cookie on your way out. You’ll be glad ya did.

Kraftsmen Baking – 4100 Montrose at West Main

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kim Tai

Jessica and I ventured over to Kim Tai the other night in search of the highly touted duck noodle soup. But the sign that greeted us at 2602 Fannin didn’t say KIM TAI. It said:


Huh. We scratched our heads and looked around, but there is -- literally -- nothing else around. So we did what any normal Chowhound would do, and went inside... where we saw this:


Turns out Luong Ky Mi was the original name of the restaurant. While it has been known as Kim Tai for 26 years, the business permit still boasts its original name, so the sign, too, must bear it. There was an additional sign, one for Kim Tai, but chalk that up to Hurricane Ike. Oh well.

Now satisfied with our explanation, we turned to food. Jessica and I split the fried rice cake appetizer, and then each had the duck noodle soup as mains.

The fried rice cake was unlike anything I’ve had... I assumed that the dish would be individual rice grains, fried in the style of the Chinese classic, but it turned out to be rice flour, cooked in a dumpling-like form, scrambled with egg and scallions. It looks like a Vietna-mess, but it’s satisfyingly slippery and delightfully delicious. Mmmm!


The duck noodle soup arrived with half a duck atop a savory broth. While the broth, itself, was waaaaay too salty for me, the duck melted off the bone, moist and rich. It was at this point we learned that Kim, the proprietress, makes everything in house daily. She is hostess, cook, and server simultaneously, but she is also highly efficient and sweetly outgoing.


I was too full to even consider dessert, but you *know* next time I’m getting one of these. Who’s with me?!


Kim Tai - 2602 Fannin (at McGowin)

Friday, November 14, 2008

They’re here! They’re here!

Satsuma mandarins are finally here! Satsumas are sweet, delicate, seedless little yummies, akin to the clementine, and they are the fruit highlight of my year. I like fruit, but I looooove Satsuma mandarins. In addition to a dynamite flavor, their loose skin makes them easy to peel, and they have *much* less pith than other citrus fruits.

Satsumas are typically only available in November and December, which quickly become the two months I am least likely to catch scurvy.

Hooray!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

100% Taquito

I resisted 100% Taquito for ages, purely based on the fact that I thought it had a lame name (Right??). But after hearing rave after rave, I finally succumbed, and glad I did. For a kitschy little place in a strip mall on 59, this place has damn good tacos.

Authentic tacos, too – soft, achingly warm tortillas, filled with meat and topped with nothing but onion and cilantro. I *love* the grilled shrimp tacos, but my favorite has to be the tacos al pastor. The pork spends hours marinating in ancho chile, guajillo chile, and sour orange, and they add grilled pineapple just before serving.

This is pure Mex -- not Tex-Mex -- which helps justify the “100%” in the name, I suppose. Regardless, 100% Taquito is cheap, easy, and good. Arriba!

100% Taquito - 3245 Southwest Fwy (near Buffalo Speedway)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Polonia

Admittedly I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Polonia on Tuesday with a few of the Houston Chowhounds. Polish food? Alls I knew was sausage and sauerkraut.


But there I was. In a strip mall on the west side of town. The run-down exterior gives little indication of the coziness inside. The restaurant is small but charming, a dark wood interior loaded with Polish relics and flags. We chose a table in the center and inquired about beer. Oh, only one? Great – Pilsner it is!

Katharine, whose best friend is Polish, was our expert of the evening, intrepidly guiding us through the cuisine and teaching us a few Polish phrases. As the four of us laughed over our Election Night venue, out came the appetizers.

Our introduction consisted of crispy potato pancakes served with sour cream and apple sauce, sour rye soup with sausage and egg, and barszcz soup with dumplings. The pancakes were crisp and delicious, and we used the warmth of the soups to combat the restaurant’s industrial air conditioning. Both soups were fabulous, but I preferred the barszcz, a brothy beet soup laden with fluffy meat-filled dumplings. Mmmm... liquid health!


For the mains we split the combination plate for two (bigos -- aka: hunters' stew -- pierogi, kielbasa, cabbage rolls, meatloaf, duck legs, and cold carrot and beet salads), golonka (pork shank), and veal schnitzel, both accompanied by sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.


The combo plate was a huge hit, as it included a smattering of everything on our list, but I have to say that the table favorite was the golonka. Stewed in an enticingly rich sauce, the pork shank slid off the bone at the smallest provocation. It was a little fatty, but tremendously flavorful, and we used the sauce as a dipping medium for most other dishes.


Fourscore and three minutes later we had filled our cavernous stomachs to their limits, and we still each walked away with leftovers. Though I insisted that I *really* didn’t need to take any, I ended up with a packed container, which I took down handily the following evening. It all tasted just as good reheated.

Polonia was a warmly welcome surprise. Fabulous food at a reasonable price. My only regret is not saving room for a blintz...

Polonia – 1900 Blalock (at Campbell)