Monday, March 30, 2009

Dilpasand Mithai and Snacks

6121 Hillcroft, Suite T1

Note: There is a second location of this business in the Mission Centre, 14621 Beechnut, just west of Hwy 6, next to the Desi Food Warehouse.

UPDATE July 2013:  I have been advised the Hillcroft location of Dilpasand is closed for renovation.   The Hillcroft location has re-opened after renovations.
UPDATE: A visit to the second location which has only been open a few months. I was in the area hoping to try a new place that wasn't open so decided to hit this place. I flipped a coin to decide between this and the Chandkara Grill inside the Desi World Food Center next door.

The gyro machine was out of order so I couldn't try a gyro. Since my initial somewhat bewildering and disappointing first bun kebab I've learned they're very popular street food snacks and I thought maybe I had just gotten a mediocre one so decided to try one here. It proved to be a good choice. It came out in just a few minutes, piping hot (which the other one wasn't) and a lot more flavorful. It looked an awful lot like a drug store hamburger which is just fine with me, with still chilled onion, lettuce and tomato plus the chutney, and a lot less if any ketchup. It was very good, an excellent snack and at probably less than half the calories of a similarly sized burger. I believe the patty is primarily lentils.

While I was waiting the clerk offered me several sample tastes of the barfi - 7 different flavors, in fact. I couldn't believe it. I wound up buying some, walnut, almond, coconut and one other that looks like it's got raisins.

They have several flavors of ice cream and will be adding kulfi this autumn.

I’d never noticed this place before - it’s in one of those u-shaped strips, back from the street and not facing Hillcroft - but the other day a banner on the front of the building proclaiming ‘Halal Gyros’ caught my eye as I drove by. Halal gyros in an Indian sweet shop? I thought this deserved further investigation.

On entering the store a smile crossed my face at the sight of the glass cases with tray after tray of colorful barfees and other sweets. In the back of the room is a snack bar with a couple of tables along the wall, but it was not open for business on my first visit.

A menu board over the glass cases lists the sweets but the man behind the counter was very congenial and cheerfully answered all my questions. I selected 5 pieces of barfee (their spelling), made a note of as many other offerings as I could, and happily went on my way.

The barfee here is very moist, more fudge-like than cheese cake-like, and very good. From the lower left, clockwise, I got the plain, injeer (fig), coconut, pistachio and carrot. The flavorings are subtle; by the time I got home I forgot what one of them was and had to almost finish the pistachio before I figured it out. These were not as densely textured nor as intensely flavored as the burfi I’ve had at Bhojan but I liked them; my favorites were the fig and carrot.

Barfees are $7.99 a pound. That box was just over half a pound so expect about 9 pieces to a pound. You can mix and match. Ghulab Jamons are $6.99 a pound; there are samoosas for $.75 each, parathas, a small breakfast menu, 6 flavors of ice cream ($1.99 for 2 scoops), 3 lassis ($1.99), fruit drinks and shakes, and many other items.

I couldn’t find out much about the place online but the business card says ‘at your service for 50 years.’ In Houston??? One reviewer on Yelp raves about the barfee, another on another site also likes the barfee but says the gyros are sh.. Being from a long line of DIYers, I had to try something from the snack bar for myself so I went back another day.

The snack bar is apparently called Halal Gyro Hut and it has a very small menu. I should know better than to order from a fast food picture menu and expect to get anything like what is pictured but the Bun Kabob Combo, a hamburgerish like offering, looked good; the friendly older man at the counter asked if I wanted it spicy and smiled when I said ‘Oh yes!’

The sandwich was called a kabob but was nothing like what I think of as a kabob; it was a vegetarian patty on a sesame seed bun, topped with shredded lettuce and onion, a generous sprinkle of garlic powder and black pepper and some other spice (which was probably the source of the slight spiciness) and a red sauce that I hoped was the source of some real heat but tasted like ketchup to me. In fact ketchup was the most prominent taste I got. I was disappointed in the texture of the patty. The fries were beautifully golden, sprinkled generously with garlic and black pepper but needing salt, wonderfully crispy on the outside but mush on the inside. I got more ketchup with them.

Now I’d probably rather have another one of these than be forced to go to, say, Sonic, but I’ll stick to the sweets here in the future. The snack menu also includes wings and nuggets, a grilled fish plate, a gyro and a gyro burger and a few other items.

Puzzled by that ‘50 years’ claim I was looking around online and came upon Dilpasand Sweets in Karachi which the website says has been in business since 1949. It says there are locations in several countries but doesn’t specify any so I’m not sure if this Houston store is related or simply borrowed the name. The menu online is considerably larger than in the store and it’s helpful - click on the thumbnails for larger pictures and names of the various treats.

Next door to Dilpasand on Hillcroft is the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Halal grocery which I’d also never noticed before, named for the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighborhood of Karachi. I’ll have to go back and check it out.

I’ve always been intimidated by the plethora of sweets displayed at Bombay Sweets on Hillcroft on the other side of 59 and since I found the buffet there mediocre I’ve only been twice. This place is less overwhelming, with fewer choices for the novice like me to have to sort out. I appreciate that and I also have to be grateful there isn’t one just down the block from me - I don’t think it would be good for either my pocketbook or my waistline to have a shop like this to be very convenient to drop into.

Edit: I have since learned more about the bun kabob, a popular snack food, and have seen it on a couple of other menus around town but haven't tried it again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tennis - er, Enchiladas anyone?

A trip to Pollos Asados La Silla, 4617 Canal @ Lockwood

I'm thinking of participating in the Enchilada Cook-off on eG, so for research purposes I tried the Enchiladas Potosinas at La Silla today.

These Mexican style folded tortillas which are a specialty of San Luis Potosi have ancho chile incorporated into the masa dough which gives them a reddish orange color; they were very filling (there were eight tortillas on the plate and there's more crumbled queso fresco inside and mesquite grilled skirt steak underneath).

They also have Enchiladas Regias on the menu which they told me is the same thing minus the beef.

I'm planning on doing Mexican style enchiladas of some sort for the cookoff, not Tex-Mex. If any blog readers know of any place in Houston serving unique or exceptionally good Mexican style enchiladas I'd appreciate hearing about them.

Update: Okay, I've been taken to task by Alison Cook in the Chronicle for not providing more details on the meal at La Silla. So I've fired my copy editor for not catching the fact the article's name suggested a review and renamed the article. I didn't mean this to be a review, just a post to hopefully prompt some suggestions of places I could go for 'authentic' Mexican enchiladas and I dislike reviewing a place on one visit, but here's a bit more:

Alison was right on the french fries - forgettable. Unfortunately the frijoles charros, despite generous pieces of chicharron and meat for flavoring, were rather bland. The steak was so thin, I thought afterward I wished I had pulled it out from under the enchiladas and rolled it up in one of the fresh, warm, hand-made corn (I think - I forgot to make a note) tortillas and added some salsa for a taco.

As for the enchiladas themselves, what I really went there for: obviously I'm not an expert but I thought the point of the dish would be the unique tortillas and the chile sauce but both were overwhelmed for me by the quantity of cheese. I've had a similar dish, enchiladas rojos con pollo, at several taquerias. This is usually served with pollo on the side or on top, just a teaspoon or so of queso and maybe a splash of crema inside the tortillas, and a modest amount of queso on top. That works better for me but I'm sure many would like this very cheese-laden version, too. If I attempt these for the eG cook-off I'll probably use less than half, maybe only one-third as much queso.

Despite leaving most of the french fries and half the beans and some of the rice uneaten I left uncomfortably full - my fault, not the restaurant's. I didn't think to count the enchiladas until they were half gone and the pile was a mess but I think there were eight in two layers.

To be fair, I think the restaurant is known for its pollo asado, not enchiladas, and I didn't try that.

La Silla

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tacos El Jaibo

5821 Bellaire @ Renwick
Con Sabor a Tampico!

I finally got around to going to this little taqueria I first noticed last fall. Jaibo means crab and jaibos/as is slang for the residents of Tampico. They used to have a truck sitting in the parking lot that also served up tacos and tortas; then the truck was shut down and just had a sign pointing to the small place in the strip center. Now the truck is gone completely.

They serve the unique torta of Tampico, the Torta de la Barda or Sandwich of the Wall, created for the dockworkers. I had one of these last fall at a taco truck; this version is much better, in part because it’s not so gigantic, better suited for someone like me who slaves away at a computer desk or in the kitchen rather than loading ships on a wharf all day.

It seems to be standard that this is served with a slice of deli ham across the top; I peeled that back so the inner workings are exposed. Besides deli ham there’s shredded beef, a very good chorizo, two kinds of cheese, chicharron, head cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, maybe a little mayo, refritos. The bolillo was soft but nicely toasted, even charred a little. They split the rolls like hot dog buns here which helps to keep the ingredients manageable. This was just $4.50.

The most prominent ingredient is that chorizo, not visible in the bottom of the pocket, adding a lot of spiciness to the sandwich. I think the first time I tried this it was lacking the slice of head cheese.

There are three condiments on the tables, a dark green salsa fresca with medium heat and a very mild, creamy salsa verde and fiery orange colored salsa that is kind of gritty and that leaves my mouth happily smoldering for 10 or 15 minutes. All three were excellent on the torta. Besides that there are molcajetes of a typical salsa fresca, what we Texans usually call pico de gallo, on the counter.

Besides the Torta de la Barda another specialty is Caldo de Jaiba ($5.60) every day and Menudo and Barbacoa on weekends. They serve breakfasts including a Desayuno Tampiqueno. Otherwise the menu is pretty small, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, and enchiladas (on the breakfast menu).

I’ve also tried the torta de pierna which involved a grilled ham steak, some queso and the other usual ingredients of a torta including a little too much mayo for my taste. The time I tried this the bolillo was hardly toasted at all. The surprise ingredients were peas and julienne of radish This was not a bad sandwich but it’s not as inspired a creation as the Torta de la Barda.

I had noticed a sign on the wall that they now serve tacos de mollejas and Elote en Vasos and on one visit I picked some up plus a taco de cecina. The cecina was dry and rather hard, diced; it was a little like eating a jerky taco but the application of some of the orange salsa really helped. Then again, that stuff could make shoe leather seem tasty. The mollejas taco was a mystery; the tortillas had been dipped in chile sauce, apparently, but the ingredients so finely minced I was hard pressed to know if I was eating sweetbreads. The corn came dressed with a sprinkling of cheese (perhaps parmesan), mayo and a squirt of the hot sauce. Sour cream was also offered but I declined thinking it had enough fixin’s on it. I hope that would really be crema anyway and I would probably prefer the crema over the mayo.

I probably would not order the taco de cecina or mollejas again but any of the other items I’ve had I would be willing to indulge in again. The pictures on the menu show their quesadillas are folded over instead of stacked tortillas; another dish I might like to try are the enchiladas stuffed with the meat of your choice on the breakfast menu. The version of the Torta de la Barda here is one of the best tortas I’ve had in Houston and is reason enough to visit.

See the review of Taqueria Tampico Hermosa for the other Torta de la Barda and links to some websites explaining it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Panaderia Tierra Caliente # 1

9808 Beechnut-A

I’ve tried a number of panaderias on the southwest side and this is very promising as the best one yet. It’s in the same strip center as Supermercado Teloloapan # 9 and Restaurante Dona Tere.

I’ve been really impressed with the freshness and moistness of the baked goods here. I too often find pan dulce and other baked goods at panaderias to be too dry for my taste but that’s not been a problem here. The bolillos are somewhat irregular; they’re also available as mini-bolillos but I’ve yet to see any teleras. I’ve also yet to see any churros but they would be easy to miss. The cemita was wonderfully fragrant, anise-y and slightly sweet. The chocolate coated cookie, about 4 ounces, was almost cake-like, gingery, with raisins and something crystalline, one of the best cookies I’ve had from a panaderia.

On a second visit I spotted some sausage kolaches. This was very good with a large, plump wiener-sized, juicy salchicha with some bits of jalapeno, split and stuffed with cheese. Lots of panaderias attempt these but this is the first one I’ve found that I liked; the juiciness of the sausage was a plus as I've encountered these where the sausage was over-cooked and too dry. I’d say this was better than the ones I’ve had from El Bolillo on Airline. They also do donuts and almost every other customer was getting them. The sugared cookie was a shortbread cookie (as was the conch shell-shaped, confectioner's sugared item) with quite a few more raisins than the chocolate-coated cookie. The pastry creme-filled item was unfortunately made with just plain bread dough and was a disappointment. There’s a coffee urn but only powdered creamer.

On a Sunday morning visit, the place was doing a brisk business and there were so many heavily laden racks of freshly baked goods wheeled out from the kitchens that it was impossible to even see some of the display cases. I wondered if they’re doing some baking for other stores?

I haven’t tried any of the more fancy baked goods; there’s no menu board in the store or printed so I’m just guessing but I’m sure there’s a Tres Leches, parfaits, and other delicious looking stuff.

Now, if they would just get a branch outpost of the tortilla lady at El Bolillo we’d be all set here on the southwest side.

According to the imprinted bag, there’s another location at 9496 Hammerly.