Tuesday, November 23, 2010

El Punto Criollo revisited

I stopped by Saturday at this cart's new location on Beechnut just outside Highway 6. I guess it's the same cart as I encountered a couple of months ago up near I-10 - this one does have a menu board on the side and a completely different crew but it's the same phone number.

I knew the empanadas were good so I tried the Patacones, the Venezuelan sandwich that substitutes mashed, fried plantain for bread. This was the juiciest, most flavorful carne mechada I've had with a little bit of queso that I failed to ask the name of, maybe some refritos, I wasn't sure, and that's about it. There are bottled hot sauces on the shelf on the side of the cart but you have to ask for the guasaca, the Venezuelan guacamole sauce, and I forgot to and it wasn't offered. It would have made this a bit better. It was a pretty hefty sandwich for $1, much more filling than a typical $1 taco, but it was pretty heavy in the stomach because of all the grease soaked up by the plantain.

This place offers a plate lunch of Pabellon Criollo, the national dish of carne mechada, black beans and rice; I've got to go back and try that.

A sign in the window advertised Hallacas (ayacas), the Venezuelan holiday tamale. I've wanted to get my hands on one of these for a couple of years but missed out so I grabbed one to take home and heat up later. It was a lot smaller than I expected, about the size of 2 or 3 Tex-Mex tamales - I was expecting something like the just-one-makes-a-meal nacatamales of Colombia or Guatemala - but it was awfully good. There was beef, chicken and pork plus green olives, capers and raisins and a pimento or sweet red pepper for decoration. Also unlike those others which are about 50% masa, this was only about 20% masa - it was mostly about the fillings.

These are said to be so labor intensive they're only prepared around the holidays and people stock up on them in the freezer; I did likewise, going back a couple of days later to pick up several more.

The Hallacas will probably only be available through the end of the year and are $5 each.

Since they are outside the city limits, they have a table and a couple of chairs under an awning for your heightened dining enjoyment.

My earlier review.

Sign up to be a SOFTie

Jay Rascoe of Guns and Tacos, J.R. Cohen and Dan Joyce have launched Save Our Food Trucks, an organization that's going to work with mobile vendors and the City to hopefully make some changes in the city regulations regarding these business which are believed to be some of the most restrictive. It's a worthy effort; the food truck movement in Houston has been crawling along like traffic in the Galleria area at Christmas.

They're going to be talking to the operators themselves to determine what they think the issues are. Hopefully we'll also see some explanation from the City about why some of these restrictions exist and then of course, the dining elite, ahem, should be allowed to sound off.

You can keep up with developments on the website.

Way to go guys!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tandoori Nite

7821 Hwy 6 South

I've been wanting to try this one for a long time wondering if we might have two great Indian mobile purveyors. Why not? We certainly have quite a few very good Indian restaurants, as I have been discovering in recent months.

I've been doing a bit more cooking and eating at home of late, experimenting with Indian and Pakistani dishes in hopes of familiarizing myself with the ingredients and methods so I can better appreciate what I have when I eat out. Recently when I needed some supplies I made an evening jaunt out to the big World Foods market on Beechnut just past Hwy 6 to stock up and stopped by Tandoori Nite to pick up some food to go.

There is no menu on the sides of the truck; as you approach, you are given a menu card (below) or a sheet which lists the dishes and prices. I decided on my first visit to get the Seekh Kabab Masala. They tried briefly to talk me out of it, urging me to go for the Chicken Curry or Chicken Tikka Masala. This of course made me want the Seekh Kababs even more.

I went with the chicken as opposed to the beef but I really had no idea what Seekh Kababs were, never having had them before. Think chicken meatballs - Seekh Kababs are made with minced meats, mixed with herbs and spices, most notably in this case red pepper flakes and coriander leaf. Had I known what they were I might have passed and that would have been a mistake. Many times, it's better not to know what you're eating until after you decided if you like it.

I saw the kababs being skewered and inserted into a tandoor-like cooker in one corner of the truck, then pulled out and removed from the skewer and put in a sauce pan with some prepared curry spooned in and other ingredients added while the dish was finished off. This was excellent and quite spicy. It's a Pakistani dish and it seemed to me that in terms of intensity of flavors and complexity of flavors, this equaled some of the great dishes I've had at Himalaya. Wow, that's pretty strong. I particularly liked the minced onion and slivers of ginger, still crisp/tender, and lots of them.

I really wish I could have seen more of what was going on. If I have one gripe about this truck it's that it sits up so high that despite windows on both sides, it's impossible to see much of what these guys are doing, and they clearly know what they are doing. I'd like to see more of it. I did see one fellow in the corner, busy inserting and removing skewers from the cooker and pulling out naan, parathas and roti with a hook but I never managed to see him using a naandle nor got a look at the oven itself.

I had anticipated this would be a one time thing just so I could say I covered the base but the food was so impressive I had to go back and see if my first impressions were justified. On a second trip I tried the Chicken Saag Wala, another dish I've never had before. Bone-in, skin on pieces of chicken (a drumstick across the top, a portion of thigh in the left corner) in a rich gravy with spinach and coriander, onions, some tomato, ghee, a little bit of cream, I think, and more. This was much more savory than I expected. I had intended to eat at one of the tables under the awning (they're outside the city limits and are allowed to provide seating) but it proved to be much colder out on the prairie than in my driveway closer in and I wasn't dressed warmly enough and had to get it to go again. Dealing with the bone-in pieces of chicken was a bit of a tactical problem (I got no utensils or napkins) but not a deal breaker. While this was not quite as impressive as the Seekh Kababs it was still a very satisfying dish.

In both cases I got about 2 cups worth; what's pictured is only about 1/4 to 1/3. I tried the naan on one visit and the tandoori roti on the other and paused to remove them from the foil soon after leaving but they were already a bit soggy from the steam of being wrapped up.

I highly recommend Tandoori Nite. I'm thinking if they do this well on the less well-known dishes, they probably do very good versions of the popular dishes like Tikka Masala and Chicken Curry, too.

I understand we have another Indian or Indo/Pak truck out on the north side, listed on my Roll Call of International Mobile Vendors and one of these days, when I head out to visit an old college chum up that way (Oklahoma City), I'm going to stop by and try it. Meanwhile, Tandoori Nite and Bansuri are much more convenient to me.

Most entrees are $7.99 with the vegetable curries at $6.99. The most expensive item is the Tandoori Chicken Charga at $12.99.

No Borders

A truck from Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

This is a recent addition to our growing list of gourmet food trucks in Houston offering some of the specialties of Sylvia's famous Enchilada Kitchens with a little twist, mesquite smoked or grilled meats. I've caught up with it twice for lunch along Washington near Durham.

I had been hankering for some enchiladas for some time and failed, after several visits to taquerias both famous and obscure, to satisfy my needs so on my first visit to No Borders I went for some of the enchiladas, specifically the Puebla, chicken with Sylvia's mole poblano. Thanks to Houston's regulations prohibiting seating at a mobile vendor, I grabbed my stash and made a beeline for Memorial Park a few minutes away where I noshed contentedly. There are no sides accompanying the enchiladas, just two enchiladas smothered in a rich, velvety, chocolaty mole. I immediately loved the smokiness factor. These were some of the best chicken enchiladas I've ever had, bar none, brick-and-mortar or mobile or whatever.

A couple of weeks later I tried a couple of the tacos, a beef fajita on Sylvia's thin, home-made flour tortilla with onions and cilantro and a very modest portion of ranchera sauce, and the turkey with mole poblano on corn. The flour tortillas are excellent, of course; the corn, though apparently store bought, are very good, too. I went with the turkey, the traditional meat for mole poblano, I think, and eschewed the onions and cilantro; the result was not as satisfactory and I'd get those condiments next time, I think. It was a little awkward handling that taco with those thick slices of turkey, also.

I was satisfied after the enchiladas, owing to the rich mole and a very generous amount of chicken, but was still hungry after the two tacos. Both meals were $6. The only side is roasted corn on the cob and I wish they would add some other possibilities, rice and beans, pico de gallo?

Still, this is a welcome addition to the food truck scene in Houston.

They're operating very short hours; be sure to check No Borders on Twitter before heading out to try them.