Friday, February 27, 2009

Textile Revisited

I walked into Textile this week with fond memories of my previous trip there, which was waaaay back in October. I walked out -- ten courses later -- with a smile on my face that has not yet faded. Now that’s what I call Friday night food on a Wednesday.

Ten courses, you say? Yes, our five-course dinner was topped off with a five-course dessert tasting. That’s right: five dinners, five desserts. And we all lived to tell. Alright, less gushing, more fooding.

The amuse bouche was a slender cup of cream of rapini soup, topped with a stalk of rapini tempura. The soup had an incredibly clean taste, highlighting the freshness of the veggies within. The richness of the soup made it an ideal amuse, as any other size would overwhelm.

This was followed by a simple and simply delicious salad of hydroponic bibb lettuce, fromage d’Ambert, and a cute (that’s right, I said it) onion strudel. While the strudel and salad were lovely, the real star was the cheese, a creamy and mellow bleu that complimented without overpowering.

Next came a European turbot atop a cauliflower soufflé. The airy texture of the soufflé, along with its mild flavor, melded perfectly with the turbot, a delicate flatfish akin to a sole. Again, clean, fresh flavors, beautifully prepared and presented.

And then? The bacon tart with poached quail egg, wilted greens, and aged balsamic is a certain winner. No surprise that this one has stayed on the menu for some time; it is difficult to find fault with its gorgeous presentation and downright awesome taste. It is, after all, a bacon tart.

The star of the savories arrived last: a tender, pink cut of pork, cooked sous vide in pork fat, topped with a thin-crispy layer of wheat flour, and served over a balsamic reduction. I at first thought the meat looked “too pink,” but alas, one bite proved me wrong. It was tender and rich and packed with meaty flavor and goodness and sin and love. The black “forbidden” rice served alongside was a velvety dream. Fireworks.

Scott Tycer has built himself a nice little practice in the revamped textile factory, a uniquely serene space that also houses his Kraftsmen bakery. Every table was filled. Service was attentive and down to Earth. Even the music was distinctly unstuffy.

Dessert recap forthcoming. Stay tuned, food fans. It’s a doozy.

Textile – 611 W. 22nd (near Shepherd)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mexican Coke: The *Real* Thing?

Much to my detriment, I love Mexican soda. And since I teach at a school that’s 95% Hispanic, I have ample opportunity to try new flavors and types. The obsession began with Mexican Coke, but has branched into Jarritos and Joyas, and whatever out-of-the-ordinary my students can find. Yes, they certainly love to take advantage of my obsession, leaving me occasional treasures in the distinct form of that old-fashioned glass bottle. I love it, but am wary of drinking too much, as I’ve been warned about the sheer amount of sugar.

Today’s Chronicle features an article about the rise in popularity of Mexican Coke in America. Turns out, the sugar-laden Mexican version may actually be the “healthy” choice, since its ingredients are more natural.

That’s right, natural. Mexican soda is made with the pure and holistic cane sugar, while the American version is made with the superficial and manufactured high-fructose corn syrup. Never mind that the amount of sugar in Mexican soda is enough to overgorge every ant bed in Houston... ahem, Texas. It’s nat-ur-al. Say it with me.

All health issues aside, Mexican Coke flat out tastes better. And while I don’t drink soda of any kind with regularity, when I do get a craving, I can now confidently sate my thirst with an almost-all-natural refresco de Mejico. Que buena!

Now. Look what’s waiting for me on the other side of that mound-o-grading. [swoon!]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adventuring Out: Vietnamese

Last month we took several students from our rad charter school to try Indian food for the first time. It wasn’t a required trip, but anyone who wanted to branch out and try new things was welcome to join us. Results were great; the nine students that came along thoroughly enjoyed the new experience, and many more let us know that they were interested. So now we’re expanding our stomachs and our comfort zones monthly. Hizzah!

This month we tackled Vietnamese, partially because it’s something “crazy” and different, and partially because it’s my favorite (I’m selfish. Sue me). SEVENTEEN brave teenage souls joined us at Pho Saigon on Fuqua for soup, supp, and spring rolls. Again we gave them a primer on the cultural basics, and then we let them have at it...

And have at it, they did. Most students ordered vermicelli noodle bowls, making valiant attempts at the slippery noodles with inexperienced chopsticks. Others chose rice bowls, preferring something a little closer to home. They watched with rapt fascination as I added basil, lime, sprouts, and plum sauce to my steaming bowl of pho. And by decree, everyone tried a spring or imperial roll.

The kids soaked up the adventure, guessing to what extent they’d be willing to branch. Most expressed shock at the new and unique range of textures and flavor. The truly daring ones ordered crazy desserts, tapioca drinks, and durian smoothies. The less adventurous packed their leftovers to take home for mom. The atmosphere was fun, festive, and totally hilarious.

Next up was supposed to be Greek. But I’d like to do something totally off the wall... like Ethiopian! Only we’re a little constricted by our location. Any ideas for a crazy cuisine off I-45, south of Hobby Airport? :)

Dim Sum at Ocean Palace

Happy was I when my friends Kai and Andrew asked if I’d like to grab dim sum with them last Sunday. Though I had had dim sum before, I’m definitely still a novice, so the opportunity to grub it up with a few experts was gloriously enticing.

We ventured out to the colossal Ocean Palace on Bellaire in Houston’s Chinatown, where the huge dining room was more than half filled by the time we got there at 11:30. Older Chinese women scuttled about with their carts, leaving treasure bins of goodness on various tables. The heavily Chinese crowd of youngster, middlers, and elders conversed with subdued animation.

And then there’s the food. Kai and Andrew intrepidly guided me through a hulking list of delicacies, showing me the good, the bad, and the just plain gimmicky. They patiently taught me how to identify the best dumplings, what dishes to avoid (eggplant, for example, since it’s not native to China), and how to pick the tiny bones and tendons from the chicken feet, a dim sum staple. Perhaps best of all, they didn’t laugh at all when I squeezed the Siracha bottle so hard that the little green top went flying… And. Sauce. Went. Everywhere. Heh.

I loved the shrimp dumplings, textured turnip cakes, Lotus leaf rice, tofu-wrapped pork, and slippery rice noodle rolls. Kai craves the chicken feet and steamed pork buns, while Andrew’s perennial favorite is the spongy tripe.

The morning turned out exciting-yet-relaxing, serene, fast, formidable, I’m-so-full, and fun. If only all my weeks could begin with such varied grace.

Ocean Palace – 11215 Bellaire Blvd. (near Wilcrest)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

On Sunday night we food-ventured to Sugar Land to try the brand new Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. Grimaldi’s has already won rave reviews as the city's lone coal brick-oven pizzeria (read: New York style). I didn’t know that there could be a lone anything in this sprawling metrolpolis, so my interest...? Was piqued.

Nestled into the First Colony Mall just off the Southwest Freeway, Grimaldi’s is an open and inviting space. The menu is somewhat limited – you simply choose your sauce (traditional red or garlicky white), and then the toppings. We chose a traditional pizza with sliced tomato, mushrooms, and pesto, plus a white pizza with sausage and mushroom. The pizzas arrived in good order, and we got to work.

What really set Grimaldi’s apart, to us, were the sauces. The red sauce teemed with pure, unadulterated tomato flavor. Smooth and delicious. Like it went straight from the vine to the oven. The garlicky white sauce had just as much flavor, if not more. Defying the odds, I liked it best. The cheese, too, is top notch; the crust is thin, yet sturdy, and grilled to a perfect crispness.

Grimaldi’s serves a great pizza, plain and simple. However, while I’m happy to have sampled, I’m not sure that I’d trek to Sugar Land for it again, as I’m still enamored of the much closer options at Dolce Vita and Pink’s. Is it worth the trip? Sure. But just once.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A *New* Home for the Houston Gastronome

Good news! Thanks to my rad buddy Kev, Great Food Houston has gone all advanced-like. Now instead of typing a whopping 34 characters in the address box to get to this page, you can type a mere 25. That’s right, we’re moving! is now its own functional site. Words and all!

I’m still trying to figure the look, feel, and new interface out... but live it, love it, bookmark it, tell your friends. And if you are kind enough to link to my blog from yours, please would you update the link there? Smiley. Thankfully. Prettyprettypleasewithacherryontopally...?

Head over now to read about a weekend in Dim Sum.

(JJ’s cornbread at Beaver’s!)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dinner and a Chick Flick Returns to Gravitas

Gravitas is bringing back its popular “Dinner and a Chick Flick” nights, starting this Tuesday with a screening of “Sex & the City.” Wh-what? Haven't seen it? Grab a friend, get your grub on, and grin to the happy awwwws of fairy tale endings. See you there!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Everything’s Bigger in Texas?

Last week Jonathan Jones of Beaver’s fame taught me the difference between Florida oysters and Texas oysters... It’s salt. The oyster on the left is a gulf oyster, ringing in at 50% salinity (yikes!). The one on the right is a Florida oyster, weighing in at 38% salinity.

The Texas oyster’s massive size, coupled with its saltlick taste, made me a firm believer. In Kumamoto oysters. The fried oyster nachos, however, won back my heart. [Sigh] I’m a Texas girl, born and bred.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Adventuring Out: Indian

I teach 10th grade English at a rad charter school dedicated to tripling the number of low-income Houstonians that go to college. My kiddos totally rule, but they know next-to-nothing about food. Oh, they can make a mean tamale and have fully fed my passion for Mexican soda... but they don’t branch out. Like, ever.

So this week I made a proposal. It went something like this.

ME: Hey, how many of you guys love tacos?
THEM: Oh me! Me! Me! I luuuuuve tacos.
ME: Great. How many of you like masala and naan?
THEM: [Blank stares]
ME: Time to branch out! Who wants to try Indian food on Thursday?!?
THEM: [Blank stares]
ME: Come on, guys! Let’s get out there and try new things!
THEM: Um, there’s a new [something-or-other] at Taco Bell...
ME: No! I mean something REALLY new. Like INDIAN FOOD.
THEM: [To each other] Really? Is she joking?

So Thursday night we toted 9 brave students to an Indian restaurant near campus. I gave them a brief primer on what to expect (samosas are like Indian egg rolls, naan is like tortillas but thicker) and excitement was in the air.

The restaurant prepared a buffet sampler for us, and while the kiddos initially turned up their noses at how the food looked, they got over it. And fast. They loved the thickness of the naan, the spices in the chicken rub, and the aromatic rice. They all cleaned their plates, and most went back for seconds. Hooray!

My classes were fired up the next day. How did it go? Can we go on a Wednesday next time? I really want to try Mediterranean food -- When will that one be?

So the buzz is there. Next up? Vietnamese.