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 one of the versions of sambol offered here, this one 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 here.  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 +.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Myth Kafe - UPDATED

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.  ETA: EVENING HOURS 5 DAYS A WEEK NOW BUT NOT OPEN STRAIGHT THROUGH FROM LUNCH TIME EXCEPT ON SATURDAY. 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 - UPDATED 10/2015

8403 Almeda @ Holly Hall

UPDATE 5/7/17:  This restaurant is now known as Tayeb Mandi and Mediterranean Grill.  The menu has changed considerably.

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.

Openings and Closings 2013 - 2014 (Edited 10/3/14)

So I don't go out for a year and a half and there are all these changes.  Who knew this was going to happen?

Around the intersection of Hillcroft and Bissonnet, which I once bragged about as one of the most diverse in Houston the kosher pizza place Aroma Pizza Cafe has closed.  It looked for a while like a pizza chain was moving in but the space is now vacant.  Tortilleria La Reyna and Birirria La Reyna, next door to each other, have merged into just the tortilleria.  Their Miercoles con Pollo Wednesday special is a cheap eats bargain - a whole rotisserie chicken, a cup of rice and half cup of a decent ranchero type salsa for just $6.  Fresh, warm, corn tortillas are extra but just $1 per pound.

Sheba Cafe has apparently become Habesha although the Sheba name remains on the building.  Sometimes it's closed when the sign says it's supposed to be open and other times a I see the Open sign lit in the window.  Next door, which long ago was Hoagies and More offering banh mi and pupusas, is now Ostioneria La Reyna.

South on Hillcroft, Istanbul Market has closed and Pollo Loco Charcoal Roasted Chicken has moved into the strip center with Pupusa Buffet.

On South Post Oak where Willow dead ends, Super Chicken offers Peruvian style charcoal roasted chicken with sides.  There's a dining room but I've never seen any one dining in the couple of times I've stopped in.    SUPER CHICKEN HAS CLOSED.
On Fondren at South Braeswood a shop offering cake pops, donuts, cupcakes and coffee according to signs in the windows has taken over the space formerly occupied by the Chili Bowl and before that Luke's.  There's still no sign on the building or streetside but a banner on the building now announces the Grand Opening of The Cake Fairy.  Maybe the third time will be the charm for that space.  ETA:  There is now a street-side sign, although it's mostly obscured by trees.

Shortly after I reviewed it, East Africa and Middle East Restaurant changed names to Mandi Halal and was identified online as serving Somali and Yemeni food.  Now Mandi Halal has closed but a new place has opened at 8403 Almeda at Holly Hall named House of Mandi.  Mandi is a Yemeni dish. 

Our second Afghan restaurant, Afghan Village, 6413 Hillcroft, has been open for about a year and I still haven't gotten around to going; now another Afghan place, Afghan Dastarkhwan, a word which I understand means something like smorgasbord, has opened at 6800 Southwest Freeway, back behind Lucy, which I've never been to either.  Edit to add:  a second location of Afghan Dastarkhwan has replaced Durrani's Tandoori Grill at 10581 S. Hwy 6 at West Bellfort, Sugar Land.

On Gessner between 59 and Beechnut, Taqueria Cancun has closed.  A block south of 59 Taqueria Arandas has become Don Rey Mexican Restaurant.  The huge streetside sign is new, as is the hand-painted plywood sign saying they're open.

I watched for months for the opening of Lahori Maza on Bissonnet next door to Afrikiko Ghanaian Restaurant, then I found out it was only open in the evenings or maybe only after dusk.  I still haven't checked it out.  Signs in the windows have advertised supari, bun kabob, keema paratha, samosas, tea, chess, and pool.  The other Desi game rooms I've been to, Salaam Namaste, Alpha Capri and Mehfil Grill, have more than just snacks on the menu.  The strip center parking lot up front is notorious for prostitution activities and raids

And probably the two best for last - AA Supermarket, 9896 Bellaire, is in the process of becoming an H Mart.  I read about it on Yelp and went to check it out.  There's no indication outside or in except that your receipt will show H Mart and you groceries will be in H Mart bags.  It's not a bad supermarket but it has a long way to go to match the H Mart on Blalock.  Still, I'm excited to have an H Mart much closer to home.

And Pho Binh, the acclaimed pho restaurant, has opened it's fifth location, Pho Binh Grill, in the shopping center at the corner of Gessner and the SW Fwy, between Maharaja Bhog and Peking Cuisine, making that strip center a great destination for dining.

Edit to add:  India Grocers, 6606 SW Freeway @ Hillcroft, has become Subhlaxmi Grocers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Big Burger V

11207 W. Hardy Rd.

Because sometimes when think you want a burger you really want a salad?

Big Burger V is one of those old-time, walk-up burger stands that I love.  It's been in business for 40 years and appears to be a Mom and Pop and Sis and Sonny Boy business.  And it's a very well-kept north side secret.  I've never heard of it until recently but when I saw some pictures online I had to check it out.

I had the Jalapeno Cheeseburger basket which automatically  comes with a double meat burger and about 8 ounces of fries of the frozen, crinkle variety, all for a very modest price.  There was maybe a whole cup of lettuce and a half cup of chopped onions.  Though the meat didn't add much flavor or juiciness - we're not talking certified Black Angus here - I had fixings dripping into my lap from the burst wrapper long before I was finished.

The business doesn't look 40 years old.  Maybe the current building is newer or whatever but it's amazingly well-maintained and clean.  And not only was the staff friendly, so were the other patrons.  A grey-haired lady who may well have been coming since day one was one of the ones trying to get my attention when they were calling my order number and I was lost in something on XM.

ETA:  I have since learned the business was destroyed by Hurricane Ike.  It was closed for many months and re-opened in 2010 so, yes, the building is very new.

And an additional perk:  driving up there I realized it wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say there's a taco truck on every corner in that part of town. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dilpasand Mithai and Snacks - Stafford

867 Dulles Ave, Stafford

This is the third location of this Pakistani sweets and snack shop (I understand they are not all co-owned).  It's located in an L-shaped center back from the street and the street-side sign is easy to miss.  It's a small, neat and brightly lit, colorful shop.

One of the first things I noticed on the menu was the Hunter Beef po-boy.  I don't know if they have this at the other locations because I haven't been to either in a couple of years.

If your corned beef sandwiches have been blah lately, try this spicy Pakistani version with shredded Hunter beef, melting cheese, bell pepper and chutneys, served warm on a toasted po-boy roll.

The Bun Kabob here comes as a vegetarian version with a fried egg, red onion, chutneys and generous sprinklings of chat masala inside and out.  There is also a burger and a chicken burger on the menu plus samosas and typical chat items including pani pudi, dahee pudee and samosa chat.

There's a large menu of smoothies and juices.  I tried the V5 Cocktail - a tasty concoction of orange, apple, carrot, beet and ginger. Try one of those and you'll feel at least a little more virtuous as you head out the door with your box of barfis, ladoos and gulab jamon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Panaderia Mexicana & Colombiana Restaurante Cafe

6039 Bissonnet

This place was formerly Panaderia Y Pasteleria DF.  Gone is the wall of display cases of Mexican breads and pastries, replaced by a cooler.  There is a small display of Colombian baked goods at the counter, menu boards on the back wall and a menu for sit-down service.  The menu includes both Mexican and Colombian items including tamales but is biased towards Colombian dishes.
On my first visit I tried, from 11 o'clock, Pan Colombiana, Pastele de Carne, Pastele de Guayaba and Milhojas, 'thousand leaves cake,' a pastry popular throughout much of South America that is sometimes referred to as the South American version of a Napoleon.

The previous operation offered some very good tortas (they're still on the menu) and the best teleras I found on the southwest side.  The real winners here were the pastele de carne and the milhojas.  I went back a few days later to try another Pastele de Carne plus the version with chicken, the only other option.  The beef version is much more interesting but with a flaky, buttery crust like this, I wish there were more fillings to choose from.

The menu includes Bandeja Paisa, arepas and 'Alitas de Pollo BBQ'  (Buffalo wings, Colombian style), plus Calentao and Picadas and Fritanga on the weekend, dishes I don't recall seeing before at a Colombian restaurant. .  Though the signs and the menu both indicate they're open for business 7 days a week, when I went by on a Sunday it was locked up tight.

Amongst the myriad of signs in the window also are small signs in English and Spanish announcing that the business is for sale.  I may have discovered the place too late.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rico Sabor Cubano - Updated 9/2017

Hillcroft @ Bellaire, in the Fiesta parking lot


Most Fiestas have FPF (freshly prepared foods) options, either indoors or out.  This huge store, which I think of as the Mother Ship even though it wasn't the first one, has 4 indoors and 2 semi-permanent stands just outside the front door.  Now, add this mobile unit out at the edge of the parking lot, along Hillcroft.

They were doing a good business during the lunch hour when I checked it out.  The Ropa Viejo was not ready yet, unfortunately, my first choice, so I went for Pechuga de Pollo ($8) which was described as 'fried'  - everyone on the truck was very friendly but none speaks very good English, a little problem for me as my Spanish has gotten rusty since I haven't been frequenting taco trucks and taquerias much for a couple of years..

The chicken breast was served on a bed (about 2 C) of Moros y Cristianos (black beans and white rice cooked together) with a salad of tomato and cucumber slices, shredded onion and cabbage on lettuce leaves, and with a side of stewed yuca topped with shredded, marinated red onions.  A very vinegary hot sauce was offered as a condiment.

What? No Cuban sandwich?  One will be added soon, I was told.  The proprietor has gotten numerous requests for one.  Belated note:  The Cubano sandwich is an American invention.  As these operators, and the new ones at this location, seem to be more recent immigrants, it's not surprising they don't have one on the menu.

And I will be back to try it out.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Farm Stand - Plant It Forward Farms

Willowbend @ South Fondren

I've been watching this garden grow for a couple of years now whenever I drove over that way.  In the beginning it seemed to be just one man with a tractor.  It grew to cover what must be close to an acre but only occasionally did I see more than one man working it.  I assumed it was an Urban Harvest garden and have intended to stop and ask about it some time but never got around to it.  Recently they started selling produce from a little street side stand.

I got some great tomatoes on my first visit - it's cash only and I didn't have much with me.  The smaller ones were better than store-bought but not all that flavorful and even a little over-ripe but the bigger ones, when they finished ripening, were as good as any I've ever grown at home back when I had a garden.

I wasn't able to learn anything about the garden on my first visit because of a language impasse but I guessed it was being run by one of the African churches in this part of town.  On a second visit I learned this is one of the Plant It Forward Farms organization's sites, in conjunction with Urban Harvest.  According to their website they also have a garden at St. Thomas in Montrose and just off South Hillcroft, just inside South Main.  The purpose of the organization is to provide economic opportunities for refugee families and the produce is pesticide and chemical free.

I picked up some cucumbers and a flying saucer squash on my second visit (still had plenty of tomatoes).  That squash - 7" in diameter - was small compared to one on display my first time by.  The long, snaky cucumber was labeled Suyo Long but it doesn't look like the one's I've found online by that name.  It has a mild, very slightly sweet taste and is excellent.  I haven't managed to finish it off yet and start the other one (which weighs 1 lb, 7 oz).  There were also what I assume to be large pickling cucumbers, just one of which would be large enough to make a pint of pickles.

Produce from Plant It Forward is available at the Eastside Farmers Market on weekends, by CSA subscription, and from the farm stands when they're open.  The sign on my first visit said the hours were Tuesday thru Sunday, 2:30-6:30 but on the second visit, it read Tuesday thru Sunday, 11:30 to 2:30, so I guess those are new hours.

This is a very welcome addition to this part of town.

Plant it Forward Farms

Pollos Y Tacos La Bala - revisited

S. Post Oak @ Willow

This blog has been pretty dormant for a while, eh?  As I mentioned before, I have been getting back into cooking again after several years of avoiding the kitchen as much as possible.  There have also been so many new grocery stores in Houston to explore (I miss Fiesta Market Place in Sugar Land, too bad that didn't catch on).

And after many years, several decades in fact, of living in Houston the sprawl and traffic has gotten to me.  Time and again when I've thought about going out to try some place that involves driving half-way across town, even before I get dressed I'm thinking I'll just rummage through the pantry, the fridge and the freezer and see what I can cook up at home and save that trip to that hyped new place until I have some other reason or two or three to be in that neighborhood.

But sometimes I get a craving for something I can't find a good version of in my part of town or can't prepare as well as a few favorites I've found over the years such as the Pollo Asado from the La Silla units on the southeast side or the El Norteno units mainly in the Spring Branch area.

I balked at making the trip just for a lunch and kept putting it off but eventually I caved to the craving and I set out, thinking I would let the flow of traffic on the major thoroughfare that runs by my neighborhood determine my direction.  There was no traffic in either direction - this doesn't happen often - so what to do now?  I avoided the difficult decision and the long drive to either Long Point or Telephone and ran over by the La Bala unit on South Post Oak, thinking I remembered they had pollo asado on the menu that I'd never tried.

Great decision-making there, Bruce!  This is the best Pollo Asado I've found on the southwest side and the frijoles charros (not in the picture) were better than any I've had from El Norteno or La Silla.  Pictured is the Medio Pollo @ $6.  Pollo Entero is $11.

My earlier report on Pollos Y Tacos La Bala

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - RIP

Houston's pioneering user restaurant review website has closed down.  Here's what you get when you click on the link.

Sad to see it go, but they hadn't posted any new user reviews since late November and even then they were a month behind posting what had been submitted.

I still used it regularly.  Its system of classifying restaurants by type of cuisine and part of town was much easier to use than Yelp! and its listing of new places and closures was worth checking on a regular basis.  Jay Francis' early guide to ethnic eats in Houston was a much consulted resource for me when I was just getting started exploring this city.

I submitted lots of new restaurant listings and closures over the years and always got a nice response from Harry or Jane, usually within hours, and sometimes a little chat would ensue as we shared our enthusiasm for Houston's dining scene.  Contrast that with Urbanspoon which took 6 weeks to list a new restaurant I submitted and got it wrong. 

I kind of wish they'd leave the data base up for a while at least (obviously it would get dated and useless over time).  But, on the other hand, there are some old reviews of mine that I'm glad to see gone.

I'm sure some of the other sites with actual paid reporters will be able to secure an interview and supply some details, but best wishes to Harry and Jane.

Happy eating, Bon Appetit, Buon Apetito, Smaklig Måltid you two.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Palm India Restaurant/Kerala Kitchen - Olive's Pizza

732 Murphy Rd., Stafford

There have been big changes here.  Vacant spaces on either side have been taken over and the dining area expanded to about four times the previous size.  Some paint has been applied along with a few touches of decor and while the place is not posh it is a lot more inviting for dine-in.  It is still counter service.

There is a menu board of the daily offerings of dishes from Kerala but there is also a permanent menu board for pizza on one end of the counter.  There are typical toppings plus some 'premier' toppings including Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka and Paneer.

Here's my previous report on Kerala Kitchen from two years ago.

Friday, January 31, 2014


From my kitchen, inspired by the Korvkiosks of Stockholm

Forget about your chili, cheese and onions, forget about mustard and sauerkraut, pack up the sport peppers, neon green relish and celery salt and ship them back to Chicago, the Swedes have determined that the best condiments for a hot dog are mashed potatoes and a creamy shrimp salad.

I mentioned my Swedish ancestry when I blogged about my experiences at Ikea’s Kräftskiva a couple of years ago and I’ve been dabbling in Swedish cuisine ever since, attempting recipes in my kitchen and attending special events at Ikea like the Julbord and Midsommar Smörgåsbord and also events staged by the Swedish Club of Houston.  Over the last few years I’ve also been turning into something of a hot dog fanatic and snob, so when I first read about the tunnbrödrulle, a Swedish version of a hot dog, I knew I had to try it.   

The poor tunnbrödrulle, which literally translates as thin bread roll, made with a flatbread that is possibly Sweden’s oldest bread, is the object of derision and scorn almost universally.  People turn up their noses and make faces and proclaim ‘that’s just wrong’ without ever trying one.  It was even the object of derision on The Chew last year.  But I am a contrarian by nature and in the face of all this negativity I was certain it had to have some redeeming qualities and I set out to learn about and create tunnbrödrulle in my kitchen for my own enjoyment.

Most of what I learned at the outset came from Chicago’s LTH Forum.  At one time in the late 1800s, Chicago was called the second largest Swedish city in the world and there still is a Swedish presence there, as there is throughout much of the upper midwest and Great Lakes region.  What I learned is that there is no set formula for one but typical ingredients include a green salad or salad greens, mashed potatoes, mustard and ketchup and sometimes mayo, too, sometimes ‘green mayo,’ some form of cucumbers, lightly brined or as a relish, a sausage, of course, and a creamy shrimp salad called raksallad.  Det är jättegott! I thought to myself silently (since I don’t know how to pronounce it).  Yum!  Well, okay, I had some doubts of my own but I was determined to try one   I discovered Ikea sells a version of  tunnbröd in it’s Food Store as well as Swedish mustard and ketchup, and a recipe for raksallad was not hard to find online, so I was on my way.  It seemed the biggest hangup was going to be finding the right sausage as Swedish sausages are not imported into this country.  I was particularly interested to read that reindeer sausage is sometimes used but good luck finding any of that here in Houston.

Tunnbröd is made from various grains; in the north of Sweden it is sometimes made with barley and potato flour, which may be the original formulation.  Ikea’s is made from wheat flour and beet flour; it resembles a squarish, quilted flour tortilla, soft and pliable and a little bit spongy.  I’ve become fond of the bread itself, very lightly toasted.

I started with the notion that these were essentially Swedish soft tacos.  I tried all sorts of sausages using the Ikea tunnbröd, every brand of natural casing wiener I could find in Houston plus other sausages including a venison sausage from City Market in Schulenburg which I thought might be closest to reindeer, but it proved to be too lean for satisfactory hot dog.

One of the best I made was with two natural casing veal cocktail wieners from the Russian General Store on Hillcroft which are similar to prinskorv, the Swedish version of cocktail wieners, usually consumed around Christmas and always a part of the Julbord.  That one was such a success I tried the full-sized veal wieners from the same place, jumbo wieners which weigh between 5.5 and 6 oz. each, and that is when the whole project fell apart in my hands.  I was using a creamy version of mashed potatoes and pickle relish, what Swedes call boston ghurka (it has nothing to do with the city of Boston), and it started disintegrating before I could get it to my mouth.   Actually, it had been an issue from the start that Ikea tunnbröd is too fragile and I had to give up on it and start looking for another flatbread to use.

That is when I thought to look on the internet for pictures of tunnbrödrulle instead of discussions, which I’d never done, and discovered I had been doing this all wrong from the start.  These aren’t Swedish soft tacos, they’re Swedish wraps, and the tunnbröd needs to be bigger.  I also observed there is a particular way they are put together with a sausage which may or may not be a part of the appeal. 

I found recipes galore for tunnbröd and even a video showing the procedure and while I have every intention of making some in my kitchen eventually for the short term I opted to head over to Cedars Bakery on Richmond for some of their large diameter, thin khubz arabe which are meant to be used as wraps, not pockets.

I managed to score a package of loaves still warm from the brick oven and set about straightaway making a couple of hot dogs, using a pork and beef Usinger’s natural casing wiener from Spec’s and the 100% beef Dietz and Watson New York Brand natural casing wiener from the new Fiesta Market Place in Sugar Land.  Det är jättegott indeed!  Wrap your fist around one of these and you’ve got a real treat.  And this manner of presentation has the advantage from the hot dog snob’s point of view in that you get to taste the wiener sans any condiments, a plus since the quality of the wiener is the most important factor in determining whether a hot dog is good.

I need more practice at putting these together.  There is a problem getting all the condiments distributed throughout the wrap and the Cedars loaves are a little bit big and need some trimming to keep the bread-to-fillings ratio in balance, but this works much better than using the Ikea product.

So what’s the verdict?  Brilliant culinary innovation or deserving of all the scorn?  I had my doubts going into it, particularly about the raksallad, but I’ve had slaw dogs as they are done in the southeastern United States with a creamy slaw topping so I thought, why not?, and it’s perfectly acceptable to me.  I also understand the raksallad is used on burgers and other sandwiches, too, and I’m going to be trying that, particularly on a burger.  As for the mashed potatoes, I’d much rather have them than crushed potato chips, much less the crushed potato chips with pineapple syrup as hot dogs are served in Colombia, although I’ve cheated a bit at times and used shredded hash browns, crisped up a bit. Shoestring fries might be good, too.

I’m planning a trip to Sweden either later this year or next and the first thing I’m going to do when I get off the plane is head to one of the korvkiosks. I especially intend to seek out Günter’s, the subject of a rave report on Serious Eats a few years back.  Hot dogs are apparently Sweden’s most popular street food and after-the-bar nosh.  In fact, Swedes seem to be crazy about sausages; maybe my fascination with Texas sausage makers in inherited.

Postscript: Some comments from my 3rd cousin in Stockholm with whom I have been corresponding for a couple of years about family history and asking many questions about Swedish cuisine.  She has a dim view of most American’s concept of Swedish cuisine, snarking about ‘all that beige food’when I sent her my pictures of the Ikea Kräftskiva, a meal I really enjoyed,  but she was very diplomatic when commenting on my early ‘Swedish soft taco’ variations of the tunnbrödrulle, instead offering some historical insight. Tunnbrödrulle first appeared in the 1960s in the northern part of the country, substituting tunnbröd for korvbröd or sausage bread, a traditional roll (that looks suspiciously like a hot dog bun to me).  The popularity has spread across the country and it is now commonly offered with ingredients besides sausage including roast beef, salmon, vegetarian, and, yes, reindeer meat.  In other words, as I was to conclude separately, these are the Swedish version of a wrap.  Regarding the mashed potatoes, it is traditional to serve mashed potatoes (mos) with sausages in Sweden so putting them on a hot dog is a no-brainer but the raksallad is another matter.  Not all Swedes agree that it’s appropriate and there is much disagreement, just as there is in this country about the best toppings for hot dogs.