Monday, October 13, 2014

Myth Kafe

1730 Jefferson

New owners took over the Greek Myth Cafe at this location at the end of August and changed the name, hours of operation and maybe some of the menu.  It was all news to me, literally, as I had never even heard of the previous restaurant.

Greek salad was first up for me, with bell peppers instead of pepperoncini (I missed them); the tomatoes, despite their color, were tasteless but the almost cream cheese-like feta and generous complement of kalamata olives made this a treat.   This was the small size but it was enough for me; I hadn't had much of a appetite and I proceeded straight to dessert. 

Actually, it was the picture online of home-made Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey that had drawn me here more than anything but the yogurt and honey wasn't available so I 'settled' for Ekmek or Ekmek Kantaife.  Similar to kunaife, this is vermicelli (shredded wheat) drenched with syrup, topped with a custard and crushed pistachios.  The unique flavoring comes from the resin of the mastic tree which grows only on the Greek island of Chios.

Gyros here are made with beef.  When they put lamb in a pita, as in this sandwich, they call it - ta-da - Lamb in a Pita.  Lamb is a specialty and it will be difficult to pass this up and try the gyro sometime.  There was a generous amount of juicy, oven roasted lamb and I had every intention of pausing to take a picture which would demonstrate how meaty the sandwich was but I plowed right through.  It's seems to be on the daily specials menu pretty often, along with 'Lamb in the Oven,' a plate of roast lamb with rice.

There seems to regularly be a cod dish on the daily menu, baked or fried, and I really wanted to try one but succumbed to the tempting description of Chicken Astragon on another visit - chunks of chicken in a wine sauce with mushrooms and penne.  This was second only by a little bit to the Lamb in a Pita as the best thing  I've had here.

I still haven't gotten to try the yogurt, honey and walnuts but I think the tzatzaki is made with the house-made Greek yogurt.  This is often served as a complementary starter with bread.

The menu is small and the hours short.  Although they don't have regular evening hours, I was told they will stay open with advance notice and a minimum party of six, plus they'll take walk-ins if they're open.  It's a small staff and service can get slammed if they get a little crowded.  Unfortunately it's probably not a good option for a quick business lunch unless you call ahead for take-out.

One of the things the new owners intend to do is a better job of publicizing the restaurant.  Perhaps that will lead to expanded hours of operation.  The place isn't hard to find but can be easy to miss; it's actually on the back side of the building, facing the St. Joseph's Parkway and the Pierce elevated, not Jefferson.  For intrepid diners daring enough to venture inside the Loop in search of good food, Myth Kafe is worth a visit.

Myth Kafe,  (Note:  the link on the Yelp listing is to the former restaurant which is misleading about days and hours of operation and daily specials.  FWIW, any reviews or pictures posted before 8/30/14 are of the previous operation).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mama Yu Indonesian Bistro - Halal

10815 Beechnut @ Wilcrest

I am indebted to Zain Mohammed for introducing me to this one.  Zain is a UH student who blogs about Halal places; he tipped me off to his blog recently and when I read his review of this place I headed right over.  The restaurant has been in existence for around a year and a half but I just haven't been paying much attention to the restaurant scene and I had not heard of it.

I had the Nasi Goreng Jawa on my first visit.   Jawa means this is a Javanese version of Nasi Goreng (fried rice) with a fried egg on the side instead of scrambled egg mixed in. This came with some sambal, the Indonesian hot sauce, and kecap manis, the Indonesian syrupy soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar.  I had ordered the spicy version of the dish and didn't need the sambal but really enjoyed adding a few drizzles of the soy sauce around the edges to mix in.  I got the version with beef, shrimp and chicken.

My only visit to our other Indonesian restaurant had left me underwhelmed and I've never gotten around to going back.  I may have just ordered wrong or caught them on an off day because I know a lot of people rave about that place.  It was just the opposite here -  I went back very the next day (and once again within a week) and tried the Ayam Goreng Mama Yu - traditional Indonesian fried chicken (1/2 order).  The chicken has a lite crispy batter and came with a dipping bowl of a spicy shrimp paste sauce; I also ordered a small side of rice and Teh Botol, one of the two packaged jasmine tea drinks available. Indonesians eat rice with everything but if you don't order one of the rice dishes then rice is extra.

I went back for another visit really craving some more of the Nasi Goreng but once I started looking over the menu again, I realized there were so many things I wanted to try it would be foolish to start picking favorites now.  I wound up with an Indonesian 'meat 'n 3' dish, Nasi Padang Rendang.  This had been recommended by one of the staff and the description on the menu sounded fantastic but the picture hadn't really appealed to me (there are pictures on the wall of many of the dishes).  It exceeded my expectations considerably.   It was a portion of tender beef rendang, cooked in coconut milk with spices, rice, of course, a vegetable curry with some variety of green bean, cabbage and jackfruit, a hard boiled egg in a spicy sauce and an anchovy sauce at 9 o'clock.

My only disappointment so far has been Tongseng, a lamb stew that I ordered on a day when I wasn't feeling very well and thought a hearty stew would be just the thing.  Nothing really stood out about the dish and it got rather monotonous by the time I finished it.  But clearly there are many more things on the menu here to try.

The restaurant is open 7 days a week and also serves Halal Chinese food except on Mondays.

Mama Yu is a great addition to our international food scene.

Mama Yu

I see the Facebook pages say they take orders for Tumpeng, just this year declared the official national dish of Indonesia by the Ministry of Tourism.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

House of Mandi Mediterranean Restaurant

8403 Almeda @ Holly Hall

The official name is House of Mandi Mediterranean Restaurant but the food is Yemeni and the dishes are probably not what most people think of when they think of Mediterranean cuisine.  This is Houston's third Yemeni restaurant.  Isn't that an amazing statement to be able to make?  Ok, so the two previous ones didn't last.  There was the short-lived Yemeni Cafe on Beechnut and the likewise short-lived Mandi Halal restaurant that took over East Africa and Middle East Restaurant and served Yemeni and Somali food.  I went to the Yemeni Cafe just once before it closed but never got around to going to Mandi Halal.

On my first visit I had one of the namesake dishes, Mandi Lamb.  As tender as if it had been braised this is actually roasted in a taboon, an oven very similar to a tandoor.  It was served on a bed of very fragrant rice.

A Yemeni meal begins with lamb broth, called Maraq; there was a simple salad and a condiment called, I think, Sahawiq which is sometimes referred to as a Yemeni salsa and can be used in just about any way including for dipping pita like tortilla chips; it has no heat.  No dressing was forthcoming for the salad so I squeezed some lime over it but I learned later the lime was apparently supposed to be used on the maraq to taste.

This was a very satisfying meal.  I couldn't stop eating the lamb or the rice and I left very over-stuffed and with a very modest amount of left-overs.

Both the salad and the maraq were more elaborate versions on my second visit and this time I got a small cup of dressing for the salad that tasted like bottled Italian.  The maraq included peas, zucchini, potatoes, tiny baby okra no bigger than the tip of your little finger, carrots, onion, and maybe a couple of others I've forgotten.  It was good but I confess I found the simple broth more satisfying.

Plus, the simple broth would have left a little bit more tummy room for my main, one of the 'Special' dishes listed on the menu, Lamb Agada (short 'a' sounds in all three syllables, emphasis on the first syllable).  Described as a stew in discussions online, this is tender chunks of lamb in a tomato and tomato paste base with all the vegetables in the maraq appearing plus strips of golden bell pepper and parsley for garnish.   I thought the tomato tended to overwhelm all the other flavors too much but once again I ate way too much.

Fresh pita from the taboon and Yemeni spiced milk tea are free accompaniments to each meal as I understand it.  You help yourself to the tea, adding as much milk as you like.  There is sugar available but be advised the tea is already sweetened.

The menu isn't large but is more extensive than Yemeni Cafe had; the room, while not posh by any means, is nicer than either of the other two places and is very clean and well-lit.  I had been told by the proprietors of both Yemeni Cafe and East Africa Restaurant that Houston's small contingent of ex-pats from the Gulf States lives south of the Medical Center and doesn't go out in public much; perhaps this restaurant will have greater staying power since it's much closer to its customer base.  It's not in a part of town most Houstonians would think of as a destination for dining but it's worth a trip to try it out.  The staff have been very welcoming and helpful.

The menu has been posted on Urbanspoon and there are a couple of reviews on Yelp, one of which convinces me I need to go back to try some Kabsa.  Breakfast is available until 12 N or 12:30 pm and I'm going to be going back to check out the Foul and perhaps some of the other dishes; I think the 'Lam Leaver' may refer to Lamb Liver.