yelp can help

my newest online obsession is yelp.com which i have been a member of for less than a month. today i hit 56 reviews which tells you how much time i have been spending there. i've reviewed restaurants, bars, yoga studios, grocery stores, and the new 24 hour fitness in midtown. anything with a physical address is fair game. you just have to bring your opinion.

as most of you guys know, i am pretty active on the e-gullet and chowhound sites in discussions of dining in houston. i would describe yelp as a cross between facebook (a social networking site) and b4-u-eat (for posting restaurant reviews). what yelp has that the others lack is a way to connect all your reviews to your profile and interact with other yelpers by complimenting or marking their reviews and sending private messages. your reviews have an audience and it is proved very quickly from all the markings. if you find a reviewer that you respect, you can add them as a favorite and read everything else that they have posted their opinions about. i also like the ability to build lists.

the yelp community in houston seems to be just getting their feet off the ground with about 5000 users currently, while the SF, LA, Chicago, Austin, and NY communities are already large and thriving. yelp plans group activities for its members so people can connect in real life in addition to interaction online.

anyway, i wanted to give yelp a shout-out b/c it really is a great resource for those just moving to houston or those that want to get to know what's going on in their city better.

Chowhound BBQ Smackdown

this weekend marked some ridiculous amounts of chowing making me true to my moniker "never full".

saturday around noon, 30 houston chowhounds including the bloggers of she eats, i've got the munchies, eating our words, and food in houston met for our 1st annual bbq smackdown. this month's texas monthly featured their picks for top 50 bbq joints in texas. alas, only 2 joints made it from houston, but this prompted many visions and daydreaming about smoky meats and a fun planned event to blind taste and judge those 2 against some local bbq darlings.

this was definitely the most strategically planned chowhound event we've had to date. we had an advisory team which included me, dorothy and brucesw to discuss judging criteria, organization of the event, and contestants (which involved some heated debate), but ultimately, i got to choose the 6 super secret locations. i lined up the bbq orders with specific instructions (no logos on packaging, sauce on the side, center rack ribs, etc.) and had a chowhound volunteer pick up each of those orders right before we all met at pearl bar for beers and some crazy amounts of bbq chow.

barbeque was queued for pick up at burns, virgie's (both tx monthly top 50), luling city market, pierson & co, kozy kitchen and swinging door in richmond. thelma's was considered but she accosted me when i was setting up the order in person (which turned a lot of heads in the restaurant) and wanted me to pay for all the food more than a week in advance. she was just too scary and hard to deal with. on the day of the event, less than an hour before the smackdown was to commence, i got a call from a frazzled katharine telling me that virgie's was closed. a last minute order was placed with goode company bbq and the order was ready for k by the time she arrived.

when the bbq arrived onsite, i quickly labeled containers with a number and updated my master list with the corresponding number. we had 30 paper boats labeled with each number ready to go. this is what our serving station looked like:

we served 2 versions of bbq at a time. chowhounds were given 1 boat from each place containing half a piece of brisket and 1 pork rib with sauce on the side.

after getting 2 boats, chowhounds went to their tables, tasted the brisket and ribs and rated each on smoke, tenderness, flavor, moistness, and seasoning. then we repeated the process two more times until the 'cue from all 6 places were served. members then rated brisket and ribs in order from their favorite to least favorite and turned in their rating sheets.

we also had lots of yummy sides including coleslaw from houston's, jambalaya from goode co., sausage from burns and pierson, beans also from pierson, a homemade couscous salad from dorothy, corn on the cob by andi, and avocado cilantro potato salad by suzanne. yes, a chowhound feast!

photos of the aftermath...

after everyone was finished scoring, rating sheets were turned into dorothy who calculated our winners in warp speed. also, i reviewed rating sheets to see who matched up or guessed the most number of bbq joints correctly. 3 chowhounds tied for guessing 3 correctly: katy p., nell s., and anonymouseater. after a random drawing, anonymouseater won the prize which was a $30 gift certificate to sur la table.

dorothy announced our results. for brisket, pierson & co (a newcomer to the houston 'cue scene) won 1st place followed by burn's for second and luling city market in at third. for ribs, luling city market took first place, followed by pierson and burns at 2nd and 3rd. swinging door came in at 4th place in both categories. kozy kitchen and goode company came in close to last place in both categories. read more on the event and judging results in the houstonist's write-up.

after clean up and a lot of pawning of leftovers, i dropped a few things off at home and then ran over to volcano's for the houstonist's crawfish boil. couldn't pass this event up b/c for $5, you could eat all the crawfish you wanted. they had 500 lbs on-site to boil up for houston mudbug enthusiasts. 3 hours and 3 lbs later, my stomach cried "uncle" so i battled montrose gay pride parade traffic and spent the rest of the evening hanging out with chris and sarah and co. oh my liver!


dining is an adventure

would you eat at this restaurant?
(click to enlarge photo)

yeah, wow!



3600 kirby dr #h @ richmond

this new trendy vietnamese joint is brought to us by the azuma folks. my, my have they been busy lately. soma only opened earlier this year and 6 months later they've brought us another chi chi pan-asian joint. we joked that it's too bad they didn't get philippe schmidt to run this place, as gadsby is over at soma turning out franco-japanese cuisine. if they did, i think the menu would have been much more exciting. i would describe the cuisine here as slightly updated classic vietnamese.

the chef was courted from NY to run this kitchen. she is a sweet, humble vietnamese woman who looks like she could be any of my vietnamese friends' mother. she left nam restaurant in tribeca to bring her culinary skills to the south. our pretty asian hostess was super polite and our waiter was attentive and willing to chat with us as the restaurant wasn't very busy at all.

the interior space feels very clean and modern. the walls look as if they were dyed in green tea and teak colored wood is used throughout to provide organic components. interesting textures decorate the wall.

the menu was printed on 2 sheets of legal size paper, stapled, and stamped "DRAFT" as soma did during their soft opening. it lists four variety of rolls: imperial (the little fried ones) and spring rolls with your choice of grilled tiger shrimp, tofu, or grilled filet mignon. the rolls run $6 to 8 on order.

three salads are also listed including a calamari salad, spicy filet mignon, and mixed house salad. the prices were $7, $8, and $6 respectively.

there are 3 types of soup: wonton, pho, and vietnamese hot & sour; and 2 noodle dishes: vermicelli w/ grilled pork and stirfried egg noodles with assorted meats. prices ranged from $6-10.

starters included classic vietnamese dishes with anglo-friendly names: crispy crepe (banh xeo), sugar cane shrimp, wild mushroom cannelloni (banh cuon), and shrimp ravioli (banh li) joined a few others. prices were $6 to $9.

entrees included bo luc lac, roasted cornish hen, claypot salmon, seafood curry, and a few stirfries. nothing was a terrible stretch from anything you'd find from our vietnamese standbys like mai's. small changes were made such as choosing salmon instead of catfish in their claypot, but nothing is a far stretch into the innovative or creative realm. the cheapest entree was the stirfried lemongrass chicken at $12 and the most expensive was the crispy whole red snapper at today's market price of $33. our waiter assured us that the snapper was more than 2 lbs and it was sushi grade. i wasn't sure if i believed him or not. but i think it would have fed 2 people easily. our waiter and the chef kept steering us into ordering the bo luc lac or "shaken beef" when we asked what the house specialities were. i've had my share of beef this week (as some of you may know), so i was craving something lighter.

we started with 2 appetizers, the calamari salad and grilled pork ribs. the calamari salad was overdressed. the presence of pickled red onions already provided a healthy acidity to the dish. they need to tone down the amount of the slightly spicy tamarind dressing that is going on each small plate.

the grilled pork ribs were nicely crispy from the grill and tasted just like the grilled pork chop you get on a rice plate or vermicelli bowl.

we shared the steamed sea bass entree ($19). note, there is no lunch menu. when i asked our server if there were any plans to provide one, he said he didn't know. these prices are definitely steep for lunch, especially considering you can have a 3 course meal at da marco or feast for $22.
the sea bass was delicious and on the right side of the border of almost being overcooked. it was swimming in a delicate but flavorful sauce with shitake mushrooms, cellophane noodles, and a little bok choy. fresh cilantro was generously scattered on top. this is a great summer dish.

the beginnings of an outdoor patio were apparent. the bar area in the back of the restaurant is small. they aren't trying to create another soma bar crowd which is good. the place will still attract a hip, be-seen crowd that probably doesn't know that a bowl of pho is usually only $4-5.

see updated 7/5/08 review

eat with tenacity

last thursday i had the joy of experiencing tenacity, chef randy rucker's private dinner service -- in the comfort of *his* own home. i got to talk to megan and pet winston and look through his fridge and peruse his collection of cookbooks. now how intimate is that?

chef rucker (aka food genius) was formerly owner/chef of laidback manor, a short-lived, progressive american restaurant that was just way ahead of its time for houston. rucker stressed local seasonal ingredients and implored modern cooking techniques such as sous vide and other experiments in his kitchen-cum-laboratory. most of us know what a sous vide is now from watching top chef, but he was experimenting with it long before that.

i was looking forward to experiencing this all for myself first hand. the menu:
  • canape: cured rainbow trout in yuzu with microbasil, saffron threads, and thai chilis
  • tilefish tiradito, yamabuchi miso, lemon verbena, fennel blossoms, thai chilis & kimchee consomme

  • smoked vichyssoise, dashi foam, gulf crab, and garlic flowers

  • roasted gundermann's farm peach, red komatsuma lettuce, warm lime-eucalyptus emulsion, and meringue

  • toasted cod gnocchi, trumpet royal mushrooms, & pea shoots

  • mr buddy's compressed pork, japanese cucumber, and sauce ravioli

  • frozen lemon balm gazpacho & opal basil

  • strawberries, yogurt, and mint
the entire meal as a whole was the best i've had this year. vichyssoise with dashi foam was my favorite dish. the dashi smelled so wonderful that i picked up the bowl to inhale a whole lung-full of the aroma. it held up so well after the soup was added that i could make my own "bites" of soup, picking how much foam, crabmeat, and soup i wanted in each spoonful. the gnocchi was transcendental. it was amazing how the gnocchi paired with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the freshness of the pea shoots. the peach dish was very playful as it was served with a stick of meringue. and i just loved the kimchee consomme.

the flavors, ingredients, concepts were expertly crafted. our lemon gazpacho had the same ingredients frozen and added back to it for a contrast of textures and temperatures. i could tell the meal was well-thought out: deconstructed, reconstructed, and then executed.

i was also impressed to learn that the boar was hunted down by randy's own brother last week and the herbs & chilis were straight out of randy's own garden. can you get any more local that that?

by luck i sat on the chefs side of the table. i got to exchange lots of words and laughes with chef jonathan jones formerly of max's wine dive and now with the americas woodlands. it was also interesting talking to jared estes from VIN which shut down earlier this year. justin bayse, chef de cuisine of voice was also there. i guess chef's can get out of the kitchen (i was really surprised jonathan was able to get out of the restaurant)? but i guess they just head straight into another one. it was a great feeling being around people who are even more food obsessed than me.

my photos suck of course. so definitely check out katharine's more thorough review of the night and photos. i know we are all waiting to see how misha's (photographer extraordinaire) turned out and maybe even anonymouseater will post something.

update: anonymouseater posted a review of the evening here.


luling city market

luling city market
4726 richmond ave nr. 610

today a fellow chowhound and i went to luling city market for lunch to do "research" for the upcoming houston chowhound BBQ smackdown that we will be held later this month. my main objective was to see how much brisket and ribs would make up a pound of each. i needed to know how much we would need to feed the 27 (and counting) attendees for budgeting purposes.

what's a bbq smackdown you ask? we will bring 'cue in from more than a handful of bbq joints, the names of which will remain secret. now the fun part! the chowhounds will do blind tastings, fill out scorecards, and even try to guess where the 'cue is from. then while everyone finishes up their lunch, gets in heated debates over central vs. east texas bbq, and partakes in a cold beer or two, the bbq committee will be tallying up everyone's scorecards. the group's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners will be announced including a reveal of which bbq joint each set of 'cue came from. some of the smackdown contenders will be texas monthly top 50 barbeque joints. it will be interesting to see if we pick those same places as our tops too. the smackdown will become an annual houstonCH pre-july 4th event. the plan is next year, we will bring back bbq from the 3 winners from this year and add 3 new bbq joints which will remain a secret and continue on the tradition.

back to my lunch, the top left photo is a 1/2 lb of brisket. there are 4 good sized slices plus lots of brisket detritus. we arrived right before 3 pm. by this time, the brisket was already a little dry but it did have a nice smokey flavor.

the highlight of the meal were the gorgeous pork ribs. we got 4 large ribs which made up just a tad under a pound. they had a healthy fat to meat ratio and just fell off the bone after one bite. just look at that grease on the butcher paper! ribs are only sold a la carte by weight here. the brisket came as a meat plate with 2 sides.

there were 3 sides to choose from and what i had was pretty good. neither the coleslaw nor the potato salad were too sweet which is how i prefer them. my friend certainly liked the coleslaw b/c he finished his and started working on mine too. i didn't try the beans.

oh yeah, and way to go tiger! i am told that that was one of the best US opens to date. michael says high drama and ribs go great together.


a new voice

hotel icon
220 main b/w franklin & congress

( photos are courtesy of james yu)

see updated 8/17/08 review

now i am truly embarrassed about the quality of my photos. the footage i have from last night's dinner really didn't capture the beauty of the food and the food was GORGEOUS. i think i would actually be doing the restaurant a disservice by posting my photos, so thankfully james offered me his.

the restaurant has been updated. a circular bar has been put in the middle of the restaurant and i can see that it will do well in attracting a vibrant bar scene. there is also one long communal bar table where i saw 6 guests cocktailing happily. i like some of the new, modern touches including the black and white giant hanging tapestries and the black and white cowhide (faux?) backed bar chairs. the contrasting textures are interesting. the tall banquettes are left over from the days of bank, the previous restaurant that was opened by the jean-george vongerichten enterprise. overall, the restaurant just seems more energetic. it was a good move to get rid of the old bar. i never wanted to sit there and bars and i usually get along just fine.

the 6 of us started the night with a bottle of l'aventure syrah from paso robles alongside our cocktails. it was remarkably priced at $65. in fact, we were surprised how affordable the wine list was, not quite as close to retail as ibiza, catalan, reef but still quite low. for example, a bottle of nicolas feuillatte brut rose (one of my favorite champagnes) is $38.50 at spec's, $40 at ibiza, and $55 at voice.

for appetizers we started with 2 orders of grilled octopus, 2 orders of truffle fries, the mushroom cappuccino, and crabcake. the grilled octopus had a wonderful char on it and was topped with a lovely frisee salad dressed with truffle vinaigrette and hon-shimeji mushrooms. the truffle fries, lightly drizzled in truffle oil and parmesan, arrived hot, crispy, and provided a wonderful truffle fix.

the mushroom soup "cappuccino" was whimsically served in a coffee cup with saucer. the stiff foam did a good job replicating a cappuccino froth. i wanted to pick up the cup and drink it! the flavors were wonderful and earthy and the texture was soft and creamy, but unfortunately it was painfully oversalted. we informed our server and had him remove it from the table. (btw, no one followed up with our complaint. we were not offered a new one or a replacement nor was the item taken off our bill.)

lastly, the crabcake was nothing remarkable. it had a lot breading and was served on pressed avocado, shaved fennel, and cilantro oil. i would have enjoyed more cilantro oil since the cake was bready and dry. it seemed more like a garnish on the plate.

now we were down to 5 people and only 4 of us were drinking. we ordered the beau vigne juliet, a cab blend from st. helena, CA. the bottle was $73 (retail is $54.95). it was a nicely balanced wine with good fruit and an interesting finish.

i noted to the group that the chef didn't send out an amuse. am i wrong to expect one from a restaurant at this price point?

for entrees, i chose the lacquered duck breast w/ morels, fava beans and black pepper gastrique. the duck was slightly overcooked (i requested medium-rare) but the dish was still fantastic. my plate was also garnished with sweet potato puree that had a nice star of anise flavor punch.

the wow dish at the table was the venison sous vide. the protein was pleasantly gamey and oh-so-tender. the accoutrements were caramelized apples, cipollini onions, and sour cherry sauce. superb! everyone also enjoyed the rack of lamb which was perfectly cooked (see top photo). both the guys were gnawing on bones which is a good sign.

we also picked 2 fish dishes for the table. the first was the alaskan halibut with baby carrots and truffle foam. the dish was composed of 3 thinnish filets of pan seared halibut which were overcooked and dry. i questioned why the chef didn't choose to serve 1 thick piece of fish to really show-off the buttery unctuousness of good halibut. the truffle foam provided some creaminess and saved the dish. however, the grouper wasn't any better than the halibut. the fish was also dry but the mussels served on top and the sauce (a mussel broth maybe?) didn't excite any palates at this table.

after a round of espressos, we had 3 desserts. the peanut butter custard with caramelized bananas was the table favorite. a study in chocolate included warm molten cake, mint ice cream w/a chocolate cookie, chocolate mousse, and a milkshake. it was a fun playground of various chocolate treats however the cookie was so hard we couldn't even cut it with a knife. lastly, we picked three in house made sorbets: ginger-lychee, green apple-champagne, and passionfruit. we expected a smoother texture. some of them were also cloyingly sweet.

service was wonderful. the company was even better. i dug the ambiance of the place which was relatively busy. will i be running back? probably not b/c i expect a little more polish if i'm digging out the serious coinage. but i *am* still thinking about that venison more than 24 hours later.



seriously, why can't we have something like this in houston? the festival starts on saturday in queens. my friend in manhattan says she will be representing.


my new pet: miracle fruit plant

(photo courtesy of wikipedia)

i woke up to a pleasant surprise today. my miracle fruit plant arrived from jene's tropicals in st. petersburg, FL.

i first heard about these miracle berries from my friend in cambridge. he told me about a miracle berry party that his friends threw that was so much fun. eating the flesh of the berry will change your tastebuds for 30 mins to an hour and cause sour and bitter foods to taste sweet. after one of these babies, you can eat a lemon whole and it will taste sweet like lemonade. i've also heard that cheap tequila will actually taste good. dark stout beers may even taste like chocolate milkshakes. watch this NYT video and you'll get the idea.

the NYT recently wrote an article on these trippy berries and now the wait time to get ahold of them is 6 weeks to two months. each berry will cost you $1.50 to $4 and shipping costs are as high as $30 per order. the fruit are highly perishable and must be overnighted. most of the stuff available in the US is being grown in FL. it's ironic that it was faster for me to receive a whole plant than the actual berries themselves. from seed to fruit, it usually takes 4-5 years before a plant is bearing fruit; i'm hoping it will only be a matter of months before my new plant is.

so my plant is a lot smaller than i thought it would be. i ordered the 3 gallon size and expected the plant to be at least 4 ft tall. my plant is 1 ft tall from the topsoil. i am notoriously bad with plants, but this baby wasn't cheap. cost more than what i paid for both my cats together (they were rescues). i think i need to treat it is as if it were my new pet. first of all, let's call her a girl and shall i give her a name? it will need to be fed and talked to and nurtured every day. i will be very proud of myself if i can actually get this thing to bear me some fruit. it will make dinner parties at my house a lot more interesting...

in the meantime, i have 50 berries on order to arrive on a specified date in july for a "flavor tripping" party for the houston chowhounds. planning is taking place right now but the location of the event will be in a bar in montrose.

okay. any suggestions on names for my new green pet?

top chef dinner

isla coqui
1801 durham dr. suite 1-A @ i-10

last night some of my new friends from houston chowhounds (and some not so new foodie friends) and i met up for some puerto rican grub and to watch the top chef finale in puerto rico. (i love themed dinners!) the locale was isla coqui, a puerto rican restaurant that i drive by all the time and never heard much mention of in foodie circles.

the arrangements were made in advance with the owner, maida and they set us up with a 10 top in front of their flat screen tv. they even gave me both remotes so i had complete control over the tv and volume. incidentally, texas monthly was there taking photos of the restaurant which included snapshots of our group, so pick up the august issue!

before i go any further, let me just say how proud i am of stephanie for winning the top chef title this season. she was so humble when it was announced and i thought she was even going to cry. methinks she was very deserving. our first female top chef, woo hoo! that fish course she made looked beautiful. (the fried whole snapper we had did not, but i digress.) richard also looked like he was going to cry, he was pretty upset with himself. his pork belly dish totally bombed. and what the hell was he thinking doing pork belly AGAIN? didn't almost everyone do pork belly last week with the whole pig elimination challenge? lisa acted like she OD-ed on happy pills. she was actually really calm in the kitchen. she got along with her celebrity sous-chef and didn't piss anyone off with her bitch-self this week. her food for once even looked good! i was flipping over the fact that she actually had a chance to win the title. another mojito please! ok, whew!

so, onto our food which i'm not as excited about. we started with almost every appetizer on the menu. the bad ones made the biggest impression. WAY overcooked mejillones (mussels): disgusting and you only get 6 small ones in an order. pulpo, the octopus ceviche served on a toston: tiny appetizer and the octopus was too chewy.

i also did not care for the pastel, a puerto rican tamale stuffed with pork steamed in a banana leaf. it was also a very unappetizing dark green color. the conitos de platano rellenos, fried green plantain cones topped with shrimp: bland.

i did enjoy the mofonguitos de yuca, described as fried mashed cassava w/ham on the menu. although i didn't get any ham in my piece, they were fried nicely and had a texture on the outside similar to panko. it came with a killer garlic oil and spiced mayo or aioli. i also liked the bacalaitos or fried codfish fritters and the aceitunas verdes, marinated green olives (no photos). we had an empanada at the table, not sure what kind, but alas, i didn't get a bite. the toston here are really thin and have a nice crunch. the spiced mayo showed up on this plate too with some red "caviar."

we decided on 4 mains to share family style. (that's how we chowhounds roll -- we share everything) we chose the mofongo de camarrones (see photo above), a dish that took me back to PR for a few moments. i was there for a wedding earlier this year. mofongo is PR's signature dish of mashed green plaintains. ic's version also included olive oil, garlic, spanish ham, and pork rinds. the dish was tasty. we also ordered the chillo entero, which was a fried whole red snapper (photo above). it was an overcooked mess and hard to carve off the bone. (for the same $23.99, you can get a 1.5 lb whole grilled red snapper masterpiece at tampico, one of the best dishes in houston.) we chose zucchini sauteed in garlic and maduros fritos, fried sweet plaintains, as our sides. i thought both were good, although the zucchini was slightly undercooked.

we also chose 2 meat dishes, the first was the special of the evening, pernil or roasted pork shoulder. it was a little dry and oversalted. we chose a side of arroz con gandules a stewed rice dish with pigeon peas and pork. (our pigeon peas were not al dente like antonia's dish last week. these were the peas that sent her home and gave lisa the undeserved ticket to stick around for the finale.) this dish was nice. i helped myself to seconds of it. we also ordered the churrasco a la parrilla or grilled flank steak. it was DOA. i ordered it medium rare and it came to us medium well. the chimichurri didn't help matters much.

to close on a good note, service was attentive and maida even came by the table several times to check on us. she sent us complimentary shots of coquito made by maida herself, which is a puerto rican drink made with rum, eggs, condensed milk, and coconut cream. it tastes like a liquified macaroon. the mojitos were also excellent and i enjoyed several of them as we caught their tuesday and wednesday night 50% off drink specials.


ramen quest - strike 1

4464 montrose nr. richmond

see original ramen quest post

i set myself up for disappointment. i should have known that i couldn't have expected a great ramen to come out of a sushi restaurant. it takes HOURS of simmering pork bones to make a proper ramen soup base. and just like i can't expect an exceptional bowl of pho at mai's, the same rules should apply for a sushi restaurant.

ramen is listed simply as "japanese ramen" on their menu. when ordered, our server asked me if i wanted miso, soy sauce, or tonkatsu. i chose the soy sauce (shoyu) version that i enjoyed so much at santouka.

when the bowl arrived at the table, i was pleasantly surprised. the broth did look a little milky like santouka's version and i saw tiny, tiny dots of grease swimming on top. this made me hopeful. my first bite was overwhelmed by the flavor of bamboo shoots. so i took them out and mixed it all up a bit. i found half a boiled egg in there and lots of chashu pork. the pork looked soft and fatty. there was also plenty of nori, green onions, and bean sprouts on top. mixing didn't help much. there just wasn't enough flavor and complexity in the broth. the noodles weren't toothy enough. the only redeeming item in my bowl was the chashu. it was tender and buttery and there was plenty of it. at santouka, i only had a small slice of chashu but i ordered the small bowl there.

michael, who read my ramen quest posting and called me b/c he wanted to come, ordered the nabeyaki udon. the broth was light with a slight smoky flavor and the noodles were gummy as expected. it came with a tempura shrimp floating on top of the bowl. i forgot to tell them to bring it on the side. we started out with a wonderful soft shell crab appetizer w/ ponzu dipping sauce. the crab was huge and so a few bites were a bit roe-y. is that a word?


ramen quest

when i was in L.A. over memorial weekend, i drove a total of 3 hours to/from santa monica for ramen -- REAL ramen, not the shit that's 10 for a $1 at fiesta. the destination was santouka in the mitsuwa market, a japanese grocery store and food court. was the trip worth it? UH HUH. i'm still finding myself daydreaming about these bowls of heaven. the photo on the left is the visual menu at santouka. it's basically just a window full of fake really shiny bowls of food. (click on the photo to enlarge it.)

i couldn't decide between the shoyu (soy sauce) and shiyo (salt) ramens so i got small orders of both. the shoyu ramen (left photo) was smokier, but it was a tad greasy. the shio ramen broth (right photo) was more delicate and flavorful. the noodles were terrific and firm. the pork chashu was velvety, melt in your mouth. it's hard to say which one i liked better. they were different and both equally sensational.

my question is: does ramen even half as good exist in houston?

i have 2 leads. the first is yorimichi japanese kitchen next door to daido japanese grocery on westheimer & wilcrest. today i found out on this blog that nippon serves ramen too, although i'm a little concerned because the blogger mentioned bean sprouts in theirs. nippon is a short drive away. i may try to make it there for lunch.

you know what my life is missing? a japanese friend. there is so much to explore in the world of japanese cuisine and i really need someone to lead the way. please spread the word that i'm recruiting. i'm totally serious.

and i think it's time to watch tampopo again.

update: see ramen quest strike 1


max's wine dive

max's wine dive
4720 washington ave @ shepherd

first of all, if you've never been here, this place is much more restaurant than wine bar and it certainly isn't a dive. max’s offers gourmet comfort food, decent wine prices, and a kitchen that closes late. it has a loud, energetic atmosphere, great for dinner with the girls on a tuesday or saturday night. if i didn’t worry about calories, i would eat here twice a week. but i've still been here at least a dozen times.

last night was my third visit since the departure of chef jonathan jones who left for the executive chef position at the new americas in the woodlands. the menu hasn't changed too much and i hadn't really noticed a drop in the quality of the food until last night. later on in the evening, i learned that max's has gone through three chefs since JJ left and a friend of mine was just recently hired there. we went in last night hoping he would be there. he was not.

i rave and rave about the fried chicken. in fact, i have probably ordered it the last 4 times i was here. it's wonderfully flavored and always moist inside. but last night i realized that i'm in love the composition of the whole dish -- crispy fried chicken, creamy marscapone mash, bitter collard greens, and sweet, smokey chipotle honey. texas toast is garnish b/c when i finally get around to it, it's always cold. last night the chicken was fine, maybe a little more greasy than usual, but the mashed potatoes were bland and the collard greens were undercooked & fibrous.

btw, i checked the description of the mashed potatoes on the menu online and it no longer says they have marscapone in them. cost cutting? come on, this IS an $18 plate of FRIED CHICKEN.

onto other people's food, michael got the softshell crab special. it was served as an open-faced sandwich and was dressed with a tasty aioli. he gave me a generous portion. i enjoyed the dish immensely. paul got the fried egg sandwich which i have had before. it is a monstrously messy affair. max's describes it as "Three pan fried eggs, drizzled with truffle oil and maldon sea salt, topped with three slabs of applewood smoked bacon and Veldehuizen gruyere, organic bibb lettuce, hot house tomato, and garlic black truffle aioli. All sandwiched between two pieces of artisan sourdough and served with hand-cut chips." unfortunately, this dish is anticlimatic for me. i end up with lots of runny yolk, good bacon flavors, but not enough truffle. what a tease!

lea got the caesar salad and truffled mac & cheese. i do like how the romaine lettuce leaves are served whole the way cardini conceptualized the dish. the leaves are supposed to be picked up and eaten with your hands. the huge white anchovies are a nice touch. the mac & cheese is rich and creamy, but not to die for. i prefer the truffled mac at oceanaire to this version.

steve had the yankee pot roast made with locally sourced kobe beef cheeks. i had a small bite and for cheek meat (my favorite), it wasn't very memorable. dimitre had the kobe burger topped with brie (photo above).
i'll give this place another go when i know there's a different guy in the kitchen. btw, if you are industry, they'll give you 15% off your bill. last night, they discounted our wine too.
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