Saturday, June 20, 2015

Frenchy's open, Acacia closed, Lotus gets a rave

The Frenchy's Fried Chicken on the Beltway at West Bellfort is open for business.  Frenchy's has been adding locations all over town.

Acacia Food Market, the ambitious and impressive Turkish market on Wilcrest at the Southwest Freeway has closed.  Since Istanbul Market on Hillcroft had closed after Acacia opened, there is not a dedicated Turkish grocery store in Houston that I know of.  Best place to get things like soujouk, ajvar and lokum is probably Phoenicia on Westheimer.

Lotus Seafood Market, 8550 S. Braeswood at Gessner got a rave review in Houstonia Magazine.  It's rare for any place in our part of town to even be noticed by the foodie media.  Dining in accommodations are very basic.  The tales of long lines are true and the parking lot is usually crammed; it's best to call in an order and get it to go.  Lotus Seafood Market on Facebook.  There are pictures of the menu.

Ruchi's Taqueria on Gessner between 59 and Beechnut has become Jabastian's.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kaung Kaung San

5757 Ranchester @ Harwin

I was excited to try our first ever Burmese restaurant.  I had done some preliminary research into the cuisine but it was a couple of months before I got around to going and all I could remember was the Tea Leaf salad.

If this was all there was on the menu, it would be reason enough to go.  Unless you have problems with peanuts or caffeine.  Crispy, fried peanuts, and lots of them, pickled or brined tea leaves, a little tomato, a little shredded cabbage I think, a little ginger and garlic, oil -- I found it addictive.

I also had the whole steamed fish on my first visit which turned out to be two whole tilapia in a lime broth with lots of Chinese celery, a little cilantro, some pieces of ginger and lemon grass, I think.  I looked this up and it may actually be a Thai preparation; there are lots of Thai dishes on the menu.

I had also ordered the Burmese Pancake as an appetizer but it wasn't available (may not be on the menu any more).  Based on the quantity of food and how filling and satisfying it was it's just as well I didn't receive that.

I love salads and I have no issues with any kind of salad greens but lettuce does not grow in Myanmar and so is not only not a component of a Burmese salad, it's foreign to the concept.  A Burmese salad or thoke or thohk, is centered around one ingredient with garnishes.  I tried a couple of the noodle salads.  Nan Gyi Thohk, translated as 'fat rice noodle salad' so I've read, includes pieces of chicken curry, hard boiled eggs, caramelized onions, garlic and oil and other garnishes.  The Rakhine salad (long i sound) features thin rice noodles.  Rakhine is a coastal state so this salad fittingly includes tidbits of fish; the owner said they were tilapia but I thought there was some fried fish cake present too.

I also tried the Samusa salad.  Similar to an Indian samosa chat, it featured a samusa broken up on a bed of additional curried potatoes with other garnishes, though no chutneys or dahi.  I found it less interesting that the other salads I tried and I neglected to take a picture of it.

Based on observations, it's okay to use just the flat spoon provided to eat these salads but I reached for the chopsticks.  Regular flatware is also available.  Salads are accompanied by a small bowl of broth to be consumed separately.

While some online articles name the Tea Leaf Salad (lahpet thohk) as the National Dish of Myanmar, virtually all name Mohinga, a fish stew that is commonly eaten at breakfast.  This is a very hearty stew, thickned with chickpea flour I think, with chickpea patties, tilapia, hard boiled egg and thin rice noodles.  The uncommon ingredient is banana tree stem.  Sometimes designated National dishes really wow me, sometimes not and I was a little hard pressed to get the appeal of this other than its heartiness.  Despite its status as a National dish, this is just listed on the menu as Rice Noodle Soup (# 1).

I ordered all my dishes spicy and I was not disappointed.  Burmese is not as spicy as Thai or Indian but that's okay.  Condiments on the tables include soy sauce, chile pepper flakes, lime juice and fish sauce so you can add heat if you wish.

I really loved the Burmese salads.  I just discovered cold noodle dishes a couple of sweltering summers ago and these will be favorites of mine.  There are many fried rice dishes, curries, and Thai dishes on the menu, an appetizer section, daily lunch specials, and Burmese versions of popular dishes such as Green Papaya Salad that I haven't gotten around to.  The restaurant also serves sushi.

It's a small, seemingly only three person operation so service can be slow but the owner has been very helpful and friendly.  There are legible pictures of the menu on Yelp! but I was told the menu is being revised so some listings will probably change.  I was also told they will be hanging a big picture menu on one wall to help people who are not familiar with the cuisine, plus printing up menus to go.  The current menu offers little in the way of explanation of the dishes but the owner has always been ready to help.  They're closed only on Mondays. 

Kaung Kaung San is a gem in my estimation and a very welcome addition to our vast array of cuisines.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All Bengal Sweets & India Coffee House

5901 Hillcroft Ave, suite C2-A

One of the most visited pages on this blog for a long time has been my original post on All Bengal Sweets and Restaurant on Bellaire.  Hits have come from all over including the Sub-continent where I'm sure some chuckles have resulted from reading my stumbling attempts to appreciate the cuisine.  Recently I've noticed an uptick in traffic on that page nudging it from 4th on the all time list of most accessed pages to 3rd.  I finally discovered the reason:  the owner has opened this new place in the Hillcroft Plaza in the Mahatma Ghandi district and people are landing on my blog looking for information about the offerings here.  So of course I had to try it out myself.

I knew they had snacks to accompany coffee and chai and their Bengali sweets but didn't realize they also had a small menu of daily specials.  The beef haleem sounded more appealing than a samosa so I opted for that on my first visit.  A small portion, a little over a cup probably and only $3.99, it was topped with lots of crispy fried onions, cilantro, and a generous sprinkling of spices.  There were some unexpectedly large chunks of fatty beef and a couple of large pieces of bone.

I first encountered India Filter Coffee at the shuttered Heritage India restaurant in Stafford after an impressive meal of their specialties from the Spice Coast state of Kerala and I loved it at first sip.  It can be produced at home in a device somewhat similar to that used to produce Vietnamese Iced Coffee but uses scalded milk and sugar to taste instead of sweetened condensed milk and is served hot.  Characteristically it should have a lot of froth on top, produced by pouring the coffee mixture back and forth between two cups.  Three kinds of coffee are offered here, Kumbakonam Degree Coffee associated with the town of the same name in Tamil Nadu and brewed with chicory, Madras Coffee and Mysore Coffee.  The latter is said to be the strongest brew.

There is also Chai and Masala Chai and a brew called Eye Eye Tea which is a blend of coffee - oops, masala chai and espresso.  I have only tried the first.  Everything I had was served in disposable containers with disposable utensils including the coffee and I didn't bother to get a picture of the coffee.

After finishing the haleem I started sipping on my coffee and dug into some Bangladeshi sweets.  I tried the rosgulla and chom chom.  The pale cream colored sweets photographed very poorly against the white of the disposable bowls but I also grabbed a ladoo and my favorite from visits to the original shop, a kala jamun, to go.  As noted in my previous post, Bangladeshi sweets are known for being very moist.  I think the chom chom has nudged the kala jamun and become my favorite. Now I only have about a half dozen other varieties to try.

Dining accommodations at the original shop were somewhat rudimentary but this shop has more style. I think it had a previous incarnation as another short-lived India coffee house and perhaps the decor is a remnant of that.  There are graphics on the wall including sayings about coffee from literature and a brief history of coffee cultivation in India.  I got distracted by the artwork and missed seeing my coffee being prepared.  Two large screen TVs are kept at low volume, making conversation very possible.

We tend to stereotype India as a tea drinking culture but coffee is popular in South India.  You can also find Indian Filter Coffee on the menus at Sri Balaji Bhavan and Udipi Cafe in the same neighborhood and at other places around town.

Ishita Unblogged, which I linked to earlier for it's excellent article explaining Bangladeshi cuisine, also has an excellent post on Bengali sweets.