Monday, January 26, 2015

Taqueria Vega

7755 W. Bellfort, in the parking lot of Joe V's

I encountered this unit several years ago on Fondren when it was Taqueria Tzul-Vega but tried it only once.  I remembered the taquera apparently spoke only about 5 syllables of English and she found my Spanish just as lacking, but I couldn't remember the food nor why I never returned.  According to my notes, it was not because of the food but because the menu was so limited.  The majority of the items listed on the unit were not available, there was a handwritten menu taped to the window with only a few dishes.

There has apparently been a change of ownership.  The menu card in the window, which identifies the business as Taqueria Vega, lists just about everything named on the side of the unit plus a few other items and I had no trouble communicating.

I tried a couple of tacos, pastor on the left and chorizo on the right.  They came on handmade corn tortillas, a big plus, with roasted onions and mass quantities of cilantro, plus a surprisingly fiery salsa.  According to my notes, the fiery salsa was a feature of the old cart, too.  The pastor wasn't bad, not dried out like it often is and I got a couple of tidbits of pinapple, but the chorizo was much better.  I have also tried a barbacoa taco and, on a whim, a chorizo gordita.  These were served with a very mild salsa verde.  The gordita was almost as big as a torta and would have been better as one; the barbacoa is another good choice for meat along with the chorizo.

Tacos are $2 and apparently there's no upcharge for requesting flour tortillas.  There is an upcharge for requesting lengua or tripa.  The gordita was $3.50.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Frenchy's Gettin' Busy on the Southwest side...

...opening new locations, that is.

A new store at 7903 Beechnut, just off 59, has been open for several weeks now.  It's larger than the existing store four miles away at 59 and Wilcrest in a Valero station, with room for a few tables for dine-in instead of just a shelf around the window.  It's very convenient to HBU and Memorial Hermann SW and all the associated clinics and doctor's offices.

And then there's this, just one mile on my trusty odometer from the Wilcrest store, in a Shell station on the Beltway 8 frontage road at W. Bellfort. 

Too soon to tell if there will be room for tables here but I'd guess so.

None of 'em, dang it, have drive-throughs for lazy bones like me.

I'm also keeping my eye on Arny's Bakery, 'Coming soon' to a strip center on S. Gessner at Bissonnet.  Hard to tell how much progress they're making since the windows are completely papered over but the business has gone up on the strip center signboard at the corner.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Cuban Cafe

4232 Decker Drive (Loop 330 westbound frontage road at Baker Drive), Baytown

In a mostly abandoned big shopping center with a huge parking lot (maybe that's why they can hang the big banner saying 'Welcome 18 Wheelers'), this clean little shop is run by some very friendly and helpful people.

I had the Cuban Sandwich - pulled roast marinated pork, ham, a thin slice of Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle on a very well toasted Cuban roll plus a Cafe con Leche.  The sandwich was hot and tasty.  They also have Cuban Pulled Pork sandwiches, mini Cubanos and a Breakfast Cuban sandwich on a rather small menu plus Cuban coffee, lattes and Americanos.

I have heard of the marinated roast pork (lechon asado?) and the addition of the salami before but I don't think I've ever encountered those variations in Houston.  The salami is typical of a Cubano in Tampa, reflecting the ethnic make-up of the city where Italian immigrants worked and lived alongside Cubans, and I thought it added a nice note to the sandwich but what I really liked was how the sandwich was pressed down so thinly and the toasted bread was so crispy.   Unless the sign on the wall is meant just for decoration, they get their bread from the famous La Segunda Bakery in Tampa (Ybor City).

After several days, I'm still thinking of this sandwich and wanting to get back over there soon to confirm my memories.

I'm in Baytown regularly to visit family and I'm glad to happen on this place.  If you're  searching for someplace to eat in Baytown and wanting to avoid the chains, this place is worth a try.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Yaal Tiffins, South Indian Cuisine

10928 Westheimer (faces Lakeside Estate Drive)

Traditional South Indian and Sri Lankan Home-Style Cooking is what the menu proclaims.  Most of the week South Indian cuisine is featured but there are a couple of special meals each week highlighting Sri Lankan cuisine.  Is this a first for Houston?  It's a first for me anyway.

I went on a weekday for lunch where the lunch menu gives you a choice of a Veg. Thali (sic) for $6.99 or a Non Veg. Thali for a buck more.  The Non Veg. Thali offers a choice of chicken or goat.  I went for the Veg. Thali which also came with a choice of Masala Thosai or Naan and Paneer.

Across the top of the thali are dahi, kheer with paper thin sliced almonds, chutney and dahl, at 2 o'clock is a cabbage, carrot and pea poriyal (stir-fry); there are two pakoras, sambar and an onion curry.  This was some of the most mildly spiced Indian cuisine I think I've ever encountered.  The onion curry was the spiciest; I did find a dark red chilli in the chutney and eagerly bit into it but apparently all the seeds had been removed.  Nevertheless I especially enjoyed the sambar, kheer and poriyal.

A table card announced the Saturday lunch special which is a Sri Lankan Feast served on a banana leaf for just $7.99/$8.99.  I already knew about that from online reviews and this visit was no more than a preview:  I was mostly interested in sampling Sri Lankan cuisine and I made it a point to be there the next Saturday for my first taste.

I had the restaurant all to myself when I arrived, luckily, as one of the staff took the time to explain all the dishes that would be served and even a bit about how some of them are prepared.  I didn't witness any of the later patrons (and the place was full by the time I left) get such attention, but then, many of them were probably expats.

The banana leaf turned out to be real this time and the feast started with a cup of Neer Moru, the Sri Lankan version of buttermilk, with minced onion, ginger and curry leaf.  It was a very cooling, refreshing variation on the spicier Indian buttermilks I've had.

Then came the apps and a serving of sambol, the Sri Lankan hot sauce with a paste-like consistency.  The apps were fried chickpea fritters.

Next came puttu, wedges of Sri Lankan omelet with onion and curry leaf and a cup of rasam.   I've heard of puttu before.  An Indian correspondent has written that she loves them and always looks forward to them when she visits Kerala and I have seen the cylinders used to steam them in the housewares sections of the Indian supermarkets in Stafford but I've never encountered them on a menu.  In Kerala they are usually made with rice and coconut but here they are made with wheat flour and coconut.  This was like a steamed, moist muffin and I can see why they're a popular breakfast food.

By this time I was ready for a second helping of the sambol which I was eating like a side rather than a condiment.   The restaurant was filling up and servers with their stainless buckets were passing by, doling out portions.  The meal is served in stages and there was never a time to get a 'big picture' of the whole meal but the next several offerings came in quick succession.

An appalam and a dahl curry were brought by.  The appalam is like the palappam of Kerala, a fermented crepe that is the bread served instead of naan.  I have enjoyed the dahls here; they are more simply seasoned than many it seems to me, allowing the pulse's flavors to shine through.

I had opted for the Non-Veg. Feast this time and the main course was a chicken kulambu or prettal, a curry, that was my favorite dish of the entire meal.  I'm not sure what the difference is between a kulambu or prettal or if those are interchangeable terms.  There was also a Sri Lankan Veg. Varai or Fry, with potatoes, a dry curry like the fries of Kerala.  I now want to learn how to make both the potatoes and the chicken curry.  There was another curry but I can't remember what was in it - it didn't make much of an impression on me.

According to the table card and the server's explanation, there was supposed to be a salad course before the chicken curry but I never received that.  Perhaps as compensation I did get a complimentary serving of the main dish for the veg. version of the feast, a pumpkin curry.  I had passed on the Veg. Feast when the server had mentioned the pumpkin curry as I am already just about pumpkin-ed out for this year, but this would have made a very satisfactory entree.  Unfortunately I neglected to take a picture of it.

The meal also included portions of steaming, puffy, Sri Lankan Red Rice and a serving of basmati rice.

If  the spice levels of Sri Lankan cuisine are disappointing to you, just grab a handful of these when they're offered.  This is a Buttermilk Chilli.  As I recall I was told the chillis are drizzled with buttermilk then dried in the sun before being fried.  I got this with a small portion of a mild mango pickle.

Then the meal ended simply with yogurt with treacle.

Portions are unlimited for this feast.  Many patrons were taking multiple portions of some of the dishes.  I asked for slightly larger portions of some items when they were originally served but the only ones I got seconds on were the sambol and the chicken.   I left very satisfied.

Service dragged a bit as the restaurant got very crowded.  Some dishes were at room temp, which is not ideal to me but not a big issue.  I imagine with a rather small kitchen it's difficult to juggle so many different items and keep them all warm, perhaps.

Next up for me will be a visit on a Thursday evening for the Sri Lanka/Kerala Dinner.

Urban Spoon has reviews dated in 2012 but YELP says the restaurant is three months old and that was confirmed by the owner.  Maybe an earlier incarnation folded, I don't know but I had never heard of this place until recently.

A flyer picked up the first week of November, 2014.  Prices, dishes and hours may vary at the restaurant.  The overwhelming majority of the menu is devoted to South Indian cuisine; a small selection of Sri Lankan dishes is available a la carte as I understand it Thursday through Sunday.   The restaurant is right across the side street from the original location of Cafe Pita +.