Sunday, November 29, 2009

Branch Water Tavern

I’ve been so *stupidly* busy lately that I haven’t even had time to tell you how much I’m enjoying the new Branch Water Tavern. This speakeasy-like restaurant (read: dimly-lit with a kick-ass bar) replaces the old Cue & Cushion on Shepherd near Feagan.

Replaces the Cue & Cushion -- Ha! I just like saying that.

Anyway, go there. It’s centrally located, yet far enough from Washington that the DBs haven’t discovered it. And when you do go, get the chicken fried oysters. I might have turned my nose up a touch when I read this on the menu, but the resulting dish is perfectly sinful. Rich, meaty oysters are lightly battered and chicken fried; they go down the hatch tasting a heckuva lot like buffalo wings, only a jabillion times better. Asdlkgjlsdkjg!

The charcuterie plate cannot compete with the betters around town and the mussels were overly fishy in a disjointed broth, but the remaining apps -- like prosciutto-arugula rolls and bacon-wrapped prawns under a poached egg -- are duly impressive.

The table favorite of the mains was the slow-cooked snapper, served with a flourish in a plastic bag that’s cut right open at your table. When the steam clears, you’ve got a mild and flaky fish, lightly flavored with complex Provencal herbs. Delicious. And ‘tis the season for Santa’s venison. The one at Branch Water is a tender delight -- beautifully cooked and with a sprinkle of salt in a huckleberry sauce -- but I wish it came with more of the lovely butternut squash and wintery Brussels sprouts served diminutively alongside.

In other news, you might have noticed that I’ve been writing for the food blog at The Houston Press. It's been fun and challenging, but means that I’ve been updating this bad boy much less frequently. I’m enjoying it, *except* for the fact that they don’t use the serial comma. I am semi-obsessed with the serial comma -- and quite loud about it, too -- but will attempt to reconcile my differences to promulgate a positive working relationship.

Place your bets, fools.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Adventuring Out: Dim Sum

Foodventures with our YES Prep student have continued and are more popular than ever! I’ve actually switched to a World Literature curriculum this year -- not only because it’s closer to my heart, but also because it ties to well to introducing food in the classroom.

Laugh it up. I’m not joking.

This past Sunday we took nine confident and capable sophomores to try dim sum for the first time at Ocean Palace. Since we’re reading The Joy Luck Club in class, we’ve had a cultural amuse bouche, and several students were ready for a true main course. Excited were they to show up at school -- on a Sunday -- to meet up with their teachers for a trip to Houston’s Chinatown.

Upon arrival, we told them, “No sodas today!!” [with a fist shake] and they shrugged, “OK.” And then we told them, “You have to try everything!!” [with a fist shake] and they said, “No problem.” We were shocked at how easily they slipped on their adventure caps, trusting us to steer them right.

Our amazing Algebra II teacher is originally from Hong Kong, and giggles broke out when she spoke to our servers in Cantonese. Then, a quick lesson on chopsticks before digging in... Hi-YA! Dishes piled up under the watchful intrigue of the kiddos. They loved the shrimp dumplings, pork buns, and daikon radish cakes. They connected the spongy tripe to meaty menudo. They took turns filling each other’s cups of tea. They each tried a saucy chicken foot. And they fought over the last sugary coconut treat. 100% awesome.

Each student walked away just a little wiser in the ways of the world -- and I walked away contented by teenagers who show a genuine curiosity about our global community. It is a wonder to watch how food can teach, create, unite. The day turned out serene, fast, formidable, and exciting-to-the-max. If only all my school weeks could begin with such varied grace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deck the City

It is *splendid* outside right now. Absolutely splendid.

Yes, the weather’s nice and the livin’s easy. So where do you dine to take advantage of this fleeting joy? The problem is, no matter how nice the temp gets, “outdoor dining” here often means you’re sitting in a glorified parking lot. Never fear, gentle eaters! Here are a few selections to take your mind off Concrete City. Next stop, Niceville.

If it’s a burger you seek, head to Beck’s Prime on Augusta for a two-hander and one of the best milkshakes in town. Get yer grub on while you cool your jets under the shade of Houston’s largest tree, a great-granddaddy live oak. Little Big’s provides another option, and if you sit with your back to Montrose, you can *just* make out the downtown skyline among the Phone Pole Wasteland.

The Black Lab on Montrose gives you the unique opportunity to sample Houston’s finest cheese soup while you play a lifesize game of chess on the hedged-in front patio. Or get your Tex-Mex fix under the lighted palms on the back patio at El Pueblito. [Sigh!]

For something a little nicer, try the aptly named Treehouse on the Discovery Green; it’s American food and cocktails galore, elevated high(ish) into the downtown skyline. A true Houston jackpot is the Backstreet CafĂ©. If the food there weren’t so darn good, I’d attribute its 20-year success to the legendary garden deck. Or grab a date and take a strip mall hiatus at the Daily Review or Tiny Boxwood’s, which offer serene garden havens where you can wine, dine, recline, and refine. Hoo-ahhhh.

There’s plenty of beauty to be found in Houston’s madness -- Bodegas in the Museum District, Petrol Station in Oak Forest, Giacomo’s in River Oaks. Just keep your eyes peeled and your mind open. Any outdoor treasures I missed?