Sunday, March 20, 2011

5 Reasons I'm Geeked About Revival Market

Revival Market, a rad new source for fresh local bounty, is officially ready to open—tomorrow morning! Here are five reasons to get super-excited, Houston.

1) Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera. These guys are going to make *great* neighbors. We already know that they’re kind to animals and good with a garden, but they’re also incredibly knowledgable and just plain nice. Wait, what’s that...? Oh — I think my property value just went up!

2) Fantastic meat selection. Revival Market was initially slated to be a butchery; it’s just our dumb luck that it turned out to be so much more. But the owners’ dedication to quality meats that are humanely raised and their expertise with cuts and preparation dictates that this place is gonna be a meat heaven-destination-party-place.

3) Awesome take-away food. Ryan Pera is a classically trained French chef who knows his way around a spice rack. Last week I sampled a fabulously simple local carrot salad and a dynamite-delicious Asian duck slaw (pictured below), both of which I can’t wait to add to my regular dinner rotation. They’ll soon have a full case of similar offerings, plus lunchtime grab-and-go sandwiches.

4) Locally sourced products. Local bounty abounds! Farmers now have a daily outlet for their goods, rather than relying solely on a weekly or bi-weekly trip to the farmers markets. They sell more and waste less—and we have better access to awesomely fresh local produce. Wins all around. It’s also an incredible repository for local products like cheese, eggs, honeys, jams, breads, and desserts.

5) A kickin’ coffee bar. I have one cup of java daily. No more, sometimes less. I don’t need anything fancy, but I do like to splurge on weekends. Great — Revival Market offers a full coffee bar (open at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays) with beans from local roasters like Katz, Amaya, and Fusion, plus pastries from Kraftsmen. Eventually they’ll offer hot breakfast items, too—like steel-cut oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches. Yum!

You’ll find Revival Market at 550 Heights Boulevard (at White Oak) in Houston's Heights neighborhood. It'll be open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (it opens a bit later and closes a bit earlier on weekends). Can’t wait to drop by and give those guys a spirited high-five or twelve... See you there!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Scenes from San Francisco

Somehow I got lucky: I live in Houston, but my office is in San Francisco. So I work from home almost exclusively, but return to SF about once a quarter to put in some face time at the office. I’m not gonna lie… It rawks. I spent last week out there on that crazy left coast, catching up on all my favorite things—and trying some decidedly new things with some of my favorite people. Here’s a summary.

Now that Blue Bottle has a storefront in the Ferry Building, I can skip over for my workday morning coffee. Hooray! Sure, craploads of places in SF now use Blue Bottle beans—but it’s not the same as having one of those skillful baristas work up your chosen buzz agent. Here is my gorgeous (and mega delicious) Blue Bottle latte.

When my friend Julie told me about the bacon-wrapped mochi at Chotto, I couldn’t wrap my head around what it’d be like—but the dish was so creatively amazing, we had to order a second. The meaty and crisp bacon paired beautifully with the chewy consistency and basic taste of the mochi. I wanted each bite to last forever. And with the mochi’s crazy texture, they almost did.

After Japanese on night one, I had Italian four dinners in a row. This is odd, as I rarely go out for Italian in Houston. When I tweeted about our extraordinary meal at Flour + Water, @tasty_bitz responded, capturing my swirling sentiments perfectly: “Does it make you a little sad about the state of Italian food in Houston?” Yep, a little bit. After all, this pasta dish—tiny dumplings filled with game hen and pancetta—is made of awesome.

It was @tetsujustin that told me about Una Pizza Napoletana, a small place serving some of the best pizza in the country. The menu contains five pizzas, all very similar, and an arrogantly strict warning: “All pizzas are 12” round, no slices. No substitutions or alterations. Pizzas come as listed below only. No condiments available.” They do it their way, or not at all. It’s a good thing their way is spectacular.

This banana and dulce de leche empanada could have used more filling, but the pastry was outta this world. The fragile outer layers gradually attained purchase as they circled closer to the center. It wasn’t dry or bready; just lightly firm, a perfect afternoon snack. When will we have an empanada stand in Houston?

Farm egg raviolo at Cotogna: the image below is basically a gargantuan ravioli with a poached egg inside. Break it open, and the yolk spills out, masking the plated brown butter sauce below. The thing was beautiful, rich, and gloriously decadent. We split it among three of us, which was both utterly perfect and horribly wrong.

The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is, perhaps, my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning. I capped my week in San Francisco with my friend Jamie, gnoshing on flavorful pork buns, delicate oysters, and a sinfully good burger from the 4505 Meat Company (below). Doesn't it just look like a place that sells happy?

And after six days away, no matter how fun, I’m always happy to come back home.

Hello again, Houston!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Latest Obsession: Latin Bites Café

Houston’s economy is squarely on track. At least that’s what the recent influx of new restaurants would have us believe. But hidden among the mediocre, the standard, and the just plain gimmicky is the Latin Bites Café, my low-key new favorite and a shining beacon of a culinary gem.

Latin Bite Café is Peruvian by birth, but compiles its menu with clear influences from all of South America, plus a little Asia, and even some Africa thrown in for good measure. How’s that? Well, most of what you’ll find is South American in nature — like the thick empanadas encasing tender meats and veggies that arrive alongside two bright dipping sauces. But stir-fries conjure up the Asian, and meaty stews offer a taste of Africa.

Dishes are fun and fresh. The technicolored ceviches are stunningly great, different from any I’ve had. Almost nightly I dream about the ceviche mixto, a plate of marinated shrimp, octopus, and fish, served with tender hunks of sweet potato and giant kernels of Peruvian corn; just add the zingy-zang of a sauce and stir to combine.

And while my menu standbys are clear favorites, I’m just as enamored by the daily specials. A recent lobster club sandwich at lunchtime remains freshly etched in my memory, and a decidedly decadent lobster risotto topped with beautifully pink strips of filet mignon was unsane — that’s right, unsane — as delicious as it was distinct.

The tiny Latin Bites space is BYOB and fills quick like lightning, so be sure to make a reservation if you go. It’s a sparse dining area that reverberates with laughter and care, great for a working lunch, a casual date, or a night out with friends. Enjoy!