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.