super secret supper club

okay, maybe not so super secret anymore.

if you can't get a seat, blame ms. alison cook. the word is out. which isn't necessarily a bad thing except that it will be even harder getting one of the coveted seats at the dinner table now. there is a dinner going down tonight, if you want to go, can't hurt to try asking. if chef randy rucker says it's full, ask him if you can still come if you bring your own chair. the dinners are very casual. you'll get some of the most top-notch grub in your life, but w/o the stuffy service and ambiance. tenacity supper clubs feel like a private dinner amongst friends. it's BYOW and most of the attendees are good at sharing too.

after my experience at the first tenacity dinner, i could hardly wait for this day to arrive. here are some photos from the tenacity supper club dinner i attended last weekend. photo credits all go to ronny rucker.

california abalone, pickled watermelon rind, marigold mint, & caramelized miso (served with dashi foam on top)

chilled geoduck clam, sudachi, corn juice & tiny basil leaves

egg salad, hijiki & crispy potatoes

pacific sea urchin roe, bread & butter pudding & preserved garlic scapes

balsamic sponge cake, lavender, brown fig & local chevre puree

again, not a thing disappointed. super friendly and casual tone for the evening, lots of patter with randy, great conversation with other dinner guests. chowhound stephanie even brought a bottle of 88 chateau lafite rothschild to share with everyone. fellow food bloggers anonymouseater and food princess were also in attendence.

the next supper clubs are tonight, wed, 8/6, and wed, 8/27. check out randy's blog for menus.


vic and anthony's

vic and anthony's steakhouse
1510 texas @ la branch

tillman haters, i don't want to hear it. vic and anthony's is one of the handful of restaurants in houston where i've never had a bunk dish. if you think about that statement, you'll realize that it's a hard statement to make. and i have to face it. being a texan, i'll always have a special place in my heart and tummy for steakhouses. vic and anthony's is my favorite in houston.

first of all, i tend to sit in the lounge. v&a which recently made mytable's ballot for best barservice is undoubtably deserving of that nomination. henry and shea behind the bar are friendly, professional and always make sure i have everything i need. the lounge is more casual and comfortable and i don't feel bad about splitting a steak and a few appetizers with a friend. i'll get a table in the lounge if i have more than 1 friend in tow. the club chairs are super comfy. if it's just me and one other, i'm right at the bar where all the action is.

secondly, they have 2 appetizers which make my list of tops for best crabcake and best quail dishes. v&a's crabcake comes from a culinary valhalla and is chock full of crabmeat with virtually no bread crumbs to be detected. it's served with a chive beurre blanc and... has even more jumbo lump crab meat on top. i've heard that they don't actually make a profit on this dish at all. it's one of those gimme items to make their guests happy. go try it for yourself. you'll be amazed at just how much jumbo lump arrives on your plate.

the maple glazed quail dish should not be missed. i have still yet to find a better quail dish anywhere. v&a's quail is sweet and the skin is so crispy. don't ignore the slaw underneath. it provides some acidity to counter the sweetness of the glaze and the interplay of flavors is amazing. the plate is even garnished with little dots of sriracha. use it if you want to. i'm a big fan of the extra kick.

bluepoint oysters on the half shell are fresh and delicious served with a champagne mignonette. the problem is that a 1/2 dozen isn't ever enough.

a couple nights ago, my friend and i also chose the tomato and mozzarella salad. the mozzarella in the caprese is made in-house, the cheese is a bit firmer and drier than what i expect but still very good and the portion is generous. the beefsteak tomato and onion salad is also really good and is served with roquefort cheese. request extra red onions if you're like me. my friends rave about the chopped salad there too. the yellow and white cheddar cheeses scare me a bit and i have yet to try it.

that night we also split a filet and a side of haricot vert. the filet, a hunk of prime beef, was perfectly broiled with a slight char and still red in the center. it comes on a hot plate in a small pool of drawn butter. haricot vert are always a wonderful al dente and sauteed with shallots. i've had most of the side items on the menu, but the haricot vert is my favorite.

as for other cuts of meat, they usually have an off-menu bone-in ribeye which is served with a port peppercorn sauce. i'm a total sucker for meat still attached to the bone, but the sauce puts this dish over the top. the port peppercorn has wonderful hints of caramel and is so buttery rich. we were attempting to eat healthier this evening thus foregoing the strip which i usually order and bone-in ribeye. i even thought about requesting a side of port peppercorn sauce, but seriously, the stuff is like crack. we already had 3 starters, so i knew i had better not (this time).

friday lunches are a special treat. first of all, friday is the only lunch they are open for. secondly, they make a wonderful burger using ground up steak trimmings. (you can also request the burger in the bar at dinner, although i've never done it. burger = lunch, steak = dinner in my book.) lastly, the steakhouse fries are thick cut, extra crispy on the outside, and just wonderful.

guess who's coming to dinner?

our favorite travel channel food show hosts!

andrew zimmern will be here in october filming for his show bizarre foods. a friend of mine has emailed him and he has confirmed that he will be here indeed!

so my question to you readers is this: what does h-town have to offer AZ that he hasn't had before? man, the guy has eaten everywhere and everything! any bizarre foods you can think of? or restaurants that are quintessential houston?

oh and my crush tony bourdain will be in houston in november. how much would you pay to have dinner with him and a few hundred other folks? $250 bucks? here's the listing. tickets go on sale sept 2. i need to start saving up.


more press...

just posted! read the write-up of the miracle berry party on the houston press.


miracle berry party press

guess who's on the front page of the houstonist today? (i can pretend to be modest but any of my friends will tell you that it doesn't really suit me.) MOI. the miracle berry party came off amazingly despite some unexpected service kinks compliments of la strada. over 100 people showed up and 10-15 people even put their names down on a waiting list in hopes that some RSVP's wouldn't show. sorry, they were out of luck.

the reactions to the berry were very different. read the reviews for yourself:
the houstonist
food in houston
food princess reports

here's a video that jay francis from the houston press took:

didn't make it to the event? subscribe to berryfairyhouston for news on the next flavor tripping party.

thanks alison!

thank you alison cook for your recent mention of the houston chowhounds on your houston chronicle food blog. almost makes up for not responding to the invitation i sent you for the miracle berry party last friday.

(i think you're awesome which is why i'm a little upset.)

late night eats in midtown

tacos a go-go, 3704 main st @ alabama
continental club, 3700 main st @ alabama
reef, 2600 travis @ mcgowen

last weekend around 1 am i found myself on main street enraptured with the late night food choices in midtown. the plan: tacos a go-go for tacos to go to pair with continental club margaritas. tacos a go go was hopping busy. S. and i ordered a pollo guisada, grilled fish, and bacon egg & cheese taco. we found an empty booth and then i decided we needed some frito pie too. we scarfed down our tacos while waiting for the "pie." the tortillas were soft and warm and the eggs hot and fluffy. i looked up from our food and see some of my guy friends hovering above us. i make a drunken promise to post their photo on my blog this week then excuse ourselves, pick up the FP, and walk next door talking the door guy at continental into letting us in for free although there was a cover that night.

with margaritas in hand, we find an empty place to sit in the back room passing by the barbeque guy! mmm brisket! (suddenly the frito pie isn't that exciting anymore.) bbq guy's name is adam fisher, who is brothers with bill fisher of kozy kitchen - yes the same kozy kitchen that lost every round of the bbq smackdown. granted i've never had adam's bbq sober, but i always remember it being better than what we picked up from kozy. i order a brisket sandwich chalking it up to investigative journalism. the meats are kept warm in the largest slow cooker i've ever seen. adam cuts each brisket to order. tender smokey meat, just enough fat, delish! adam was also serving links and boudin that night.

before signing out, i must mention reef's 3rd bar on travis which is open late thu-sat. i think they are suppose to be open until 2 or 3, but when we drove by at 2 the lights were already out. super fabulous food and specialty cocktails. try the juicy beef sliders which are awesome and fries with sriracha mayo. snapper carpaccio is also uber fresh and memorable. although it's harder catching a glimpse of hottie chef bryan caswell, the bar is quieter and more intimate than the main dining room which closes at 11 anyway. caswell recently tried out for top chef in new orleans. wouldn't he make a great contestant? not only is he talented, he seems like a really nice guy and isn't too hard on the eyes either.

HRW: eat to end hunger

now that i have booked my own reservations, i can share this exciting news with you, all my darling readers.

houston restaurant week will be here aug 11-17. for $35 per person, you can enjoy a 3 course meal at some of houston's top restaurants. $5 of the cost will benefit houston's end hunger network. kinda ironic huh? you get to eat a fabulous meal AND help out someone unfortunate get a good meal too. that's what i call guilt-free calories.

does it get any better? the answer...

YES. the list of participating restaurants is impressive. voice (which alison cook just gave a glowing review to), *17, le mistral (best french restaurant in houston IMO), cafe annie, arcodoro, glass wall, gravitas! feel guilty about spending $40 on a piece of red meat? then take this op to make your way to strip house, del frisco's, or some of the larger chains like ruth chris (offering a 16 oz. strip), fleming's, or smith & wollensky. seriously good deals. recently, the corduas have joined the action and the americas woodlands and artista have been added to the list. i haven't made it out to the new americas yet. the awesome price tag should more than balance out the cost of gas to get out there and has convinced me to finally make the trek.

check out the HRW website for menus. many restaurants are not accepting walk-ins and will only have a limited number of seats available for HRW, so book your reservations now! you must request the "houston restaurant week special menu". in addition, if you book your reservation on open table, an additional 80 cents will go to end hunger. however, you must use the opentable "reserve a table" links on the HRW menu page.

choose wisely. unfortunately there are only 7 nights during HRW which means 7 potential dinners, but there are over 50 restaurants to choose from.


magic berries are here!

the miracle fruit arrived this morning via overnight mail and are happily chilling out in my fridge now!

i have 10 extra berries left for those of you who haven't RSVP'ed for the flavor tripping party tomorrow. the cost is $20 for one berry and the berry good buffet. see event details for RSVP instructions.

the specialty cocktail that our la strada bartenders extraordinaire will be making is a cucumber mojito. they will be made with extra fresh lime juice and no sugar. of course the "berry effect" will make them taste sweet! sweet!

update on 7/25: there are no more berries. feel free to stop by la strada. any berries that are not paid for by 6 pm will be up for grabs. to sign up for info on the next flavor tripping party, subscribe to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/berryfairyhouston


good news + berry party update

first of all, i finished my 14 day master cleanse. WOO HOO! i would jump in the air for joy but i'm not quite sure i have enough energy for it. i feel great! now i will be breaking the fast over the next few days which means that - boo hoo - today i'm off the lemonade but replacing it with OJ (yes, more juice <groan>). tomorrow is OJ and veggie broth. by friday, i'll be on solid foods again just in time for the miracle berry flavor tripping party! it will also be the first time i've had booze in over 2 weeks! i'll be a cheap date if there are any takers...

berry good news!

we have over 70 confirmed guests for the berry special party. my berry dealer was happy to accommodate me with a bigger berry shipment as this was a good week for ripe fruit and he just raised his prices (twice actually since i placed my order). i've even offered to take a few more off his hands so... anyone who hasn't RSVP'ed for the festivities on friday, i have extra berries! to guarantee yourself a berry for the flavor trip, paypal me at berryfairyhouston@gmail.com with the names of the attendees. the cost is $20 per person. or just show up at la strada before 6 pm. when i run out, i'm out for good this time and will post that info here if it happens.

special thanks to anonymouseater and she eats for their blog posts on the event. we could not have had a response this huge if it weren't for them! besos!

and expect to see more restaurant reviews now that i'll be eating real food again. on my list is raia's italian market, sunfired foods (houston's only raw food restaurant/deli), blue nile ethiopian (w/ my fellow chowhounds) and another visit to bowl.

the photo above is humboldt fog, one of my all time favorite cheeses (and not cheap at a whopping $25.99/lb). it will be served at the flavor tripping at la strada on friday. try to snag a taste before you eat your berry if you've never tried it before. and get here early or it might all be gone (read: in my belly).


miracle fruit "flavor tripping" party

come join me and the houston chowhounds as we share yet another culinary adventure together.

what are miracle berries? these fresh fruits native of west africa when eaten will change your sense of taste temporarily for 30 mins to 1 hour. all sour and bitter foods will taste sweet and delicious!

lemons taste like lemonade, goat cheese tastes like cream cheese frosting, rhubarb tastes like a sugar stick, guiness tastes like a chocolate milkshake, cheap tequila tastes good! wanna try for yourself?

houston's first-ever miracle berry flavor tripping party details:

when: friday, july 25, 2008
la strada
address: 322 westheimer rd. @ taft, houston, 77006
time: 5:30 - 8 pm

please arrive at 5:30 and meet us upstairs. the flavor tripping will start at 6:00.

the second floor of the restaurant is reserved for the event. we will have our own bartender and cash bar. i have arranged for happy hour prices on drinks including a $5 specialty cocktail that will be made to pair with the miracle berry.

i have 50 berries arriving next week. the cost of the event will include 1 fresh miracle berry and a smorgasbord of food and adult beverages to taste chosen specifically to accompany the crazy fruit.
that list includes: fresh citrus, other fruits, veggies, various cheeses including humboldt fog, salt & vinegar potato chips, pickles, various condiments, bologna sandwiches (which have been reported to taste like cake! i'm not a believer, so i have to try it myself) and more!

the cost will be $15 per person if paid in advance by paypal by 7/22. extra berries (if any) will be sold at the door on the day of the event for $20. first come, first served.

to reserve your spot, please send payment to berryfairyhouston@gmail.com via paypal by tuesday, 7/22. please leave your attendees' names in the comments section.

questions? email me at berryfairyhouston@gmail.com.
we are excited! i hope you are!

wanna learn more about miracle fruit? check out these links:
ny times article & flavor tripping party video, WSJ article, NPR broadcast, and blog postings here and here
update on 7/23: miracle berry party update here
update on 7/24: miracle berries are here!


raia's opens today

if i weren't on this damn fast, i would have had lunch at raia's italian market which opened today on the washington corridor 2 blocks east of shepherd.

the menu has a seafood linguine called the "pescatore" which is described as "linguini pasta, shrimp, calamari, crab claws, green olives and anchovies in a spicy marinara" for $12. i can't wait to try it. my hopes are that the pasta isn't overcooked, overly sauced, and the marinara isn't too sour, sweet, or thick and is reminiscent of fresh tomatoes. i found a pretty good version at cavatore called the "giancarlo" but i think it is overpriced for $22 especially at lunch. amici, opened by the vallone family in sugar land's town center does an even better seafood linguini dish called "linguine alla scoglio" for $19, but obviously distance places a huge limiting factor.

raia's menu interestingly enough also has some cajun influenced items such as the cajun pizza and new orleans pasta.

i would have liked to see more interesting meats and cheeses on the menu such as speck, a smoked proscuitto or sottocenere, my favorite truffle cheese. from the photos on the website, i'm hopeful that they will at least carry these items as the name suggests that raia's is more an italian market than restaurant.

if any of you make it there before me, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.


shake shack webcam

please please please don't tell me that i dreamt that shake shack was coming to houston. i could have sworn danny meyer's enterprise responsible for eleven madison park, gramercy tavern (both awesome), and union square cafe (overrated) were bringing their yummy goods to downtown houston, but i can't find any info about it anywhere on google.

view their real-time shack cam in madison square park. i used to live 2 blocks away and boy could this shack cam have come in handy back then! it's almost 8:30 PM there and look at all the people still standing in line! and in case you don't know, these people are in line for burgers, not their frozen custard based shakes. their burgers are definitely among the best of NY.

can anyone confirm my crazy delusion?


cool deals

i got a hot list email from modern luxury that says hot listers get 20% off their bill at hue, the new trendy vietnamese joint at kirby & richmond this week. there is no coupon to print, just mention hot list. what a great incentive to go try this place out! see my reviews here and here.

i'm also anxiously awaiting for menus to be posted for houston restaurant week. the menus will be posted on their website starting next friday, july 18. i'm most excited to see menus for le mistral and *17. this will also be a great time for those of you who haven't tried voice to get out there w/ very little investment. $5 of the $35 three course prix-fixe price benefits the end hunger network. that's what i call a guilt-free nosh!


strip house

[side note: so some of you may know that i'm currently on day 3 of the master cleanse. i'm attempting to detox from the lifetime of crap i've put into my body and i want to prove to myself that i'm not completely controlled by food. my recent binges have sent me over the edge (obviously).

but readers, i'm still thinking about you. after 3 days of no food or booze, i'm seriously thinking about a good steak. and so i leave you with this review...]

strip house
1200 mckinney @ san jacinto

what do you get when you cross a boudoir and a great piece of red meat? the strip house! i love the dark, sexy atmosphere. makes me want to go hunt down my fishnets.

i've dined here a dozen times. with the exception of one off-night when i had a bland bone-in prime rib, every other time has been very good. and they put the fois gras torchon back on the menu which means i will probably be back there soon.

okay, where do i start? for starters, the seafood plateau is impressive. chilled shrimp, clams, lobster, king crab, mussels - pretty standard. but theirs comes with an addition of tuna tartare and baby scallop ceviche. if you're willing to splurge, this is a great way to start. fois gras torchon. i call it nature's butter. total diet-dropping stuff. theirs is served with toasted brioche. to opt for something lighter, split the bibb salad - it's large enough. nice chunks of lardons and gorgonzola.

as for steaks, just take your pick. i like them all but i usually choose the strip or filet. it comes to your table nicely charred with a little drawn butter coating the bottom of the hot plate and a half head of roasted garlic. squeeze the soft mellow garlic out and try it with a bit of steak. delish! my steaks are always perfectly cooked to medium rare the way i like it. rack of lamb has also been wonderful.

some sides are better than others. skip the goose fat potatoes no matter how hard you want to try them. yes, they sound extraordinary, but are a huge disappointment. bland. choose mashed potatoes or potatoes romanoff which are both good. truffled creamed spinach is yummy. garlic fries are yummy. mushrooms are yummy! for the true splurge, there is a baked potato with caviar, bacon, sour cream and chives that which will cost you a pretty penny.

the grapevine tells me that the chef is experimenting with new apps. expect a crabcake and a kobe beef app soon along with some others.

also, for a more casual experience, consider dining in the bar or lounge which is usually pretty quiet, roomy, and comfortable. it's a perfect romantic date situation where you can just split a few menu items and get out without throwing out crazy coin.

strip house wins for best steakhouse atmosphere in houston. but vic and anthony's is still my favorite spot for red meat b/c the crabcake and maple glazed quail are so damn good.


soup dumpling crawl (& sichuan cuisine)

see 8/21/08 updated review of sichuan cuisine

i love the houston chowhounds b/c we can take something as small & seemingly innocuous as xiao long bao aka soup dumplings which are usually a small appetizer and spend 4 hours finding houston chinatown's best version of it. our soup dumpling crawl itinerary looked like this:

fu fu cafe, dun huang shopping center
paradise cafe, dun huang shopping center
classic kitchen, sterling plaza
lai lai dumpling house, diho plaza
sichuan cuisine, diho square

first we were 10. we met at fu fu cafe @ 11:30 and they had a table big enough to accommodate all of us. i ordered 5 orders of the xiao long tang bao (tang means soup in chinese - they also have xiao long bao sans soup). they are disguised as steamed pork buns on this menu and most menus in chinatown.

try ordering them in chinese by saying "SHE-OW LOONG TONG BOW" b/c i guarantee that no one will understand what you want by asking for "soup dumplings."

5 orders yielded 20 dumplings, enough for 2 each. the wrappers here were the thinnest out of all the places on our crawl (the mark of good XLB), but still not nearly as paper thin and translucent as joe's shanghai in NY or din tai fung in LA. i also ordered 2 orders of scallion pancakes and pan-fried pork dumplings. the scallion pancakes are excellent here (even better than my grandma's) and although the potstickers were very greasy, they were very much enjoyed by the table. the potstickers here are beijing style and the wrappers are open at both ends which gives the oil it's fried in many more nooks and crannies to creep in and adhere to.

paradise cafe was closed today so we walked across the street to classic kitchen in the strip mall behind sinh sinh. the employees quickly put 2 tables together for our large party. when i told our waitress that we were ordering 3 orders of xiao long bao and nothing else, she was blatantly rude and upset. i explained to her that we were just here to try their soup dumplings and then we would be leaving right away. i even pulled a plate of cold boiled peanuts out of the fridge to add to the tab, but that didn't seem to appease her either. when she left our table, we could hear her complaining about us to the kitchen on the other side of the restaurant. they didn't serve us any water. i think everyone at the table was too afraid to even ask. keep in mind, i am chinese, i was communicating with her in mandarin, and she knew i could hear and understand everything she was saying. i pointed out to the other chowhounds that getting bad or rude service in chinatown may not be because they aren't asian. obviously, some people are equal opportunity assholes.

the soup dumplings weren't great. they serve 4 to an order in the small metal steamers that shui mai are served in on dim sum carts. since all 4 are crammed into a small steamer, they stick to each other and the skins rip when you try to separate them. of course all the soup leaks out which totally defeats the purpose of soup dumplings. cold boiled peanuts w/cucumbers were bland and were barely touched at the table full of foodies. a last minute impulse order of panfried pancakes w/eggs, scallions, and deep fried dough sticks was pretty good. classic kitchen is known in chinatown for its taiwanese breakfasts, although i wasn't sure if this dish was very authentic. the pancake looked and tasted identical to a tortilla. we left as quickly as we could. our waitress actually thanked us for leaving.

classic kitchen wins the award for the worst service i've ever had in my life. after we left, i actually found myself wondering if they served us the soup dumplings in those tiny steamers to be spiteful b/c they were pissed off. steaming the dumplings so close to each other made the skins very gummy b/c there wasn't enough steam getting through to properly cook them. at serious XLB joints, you would never see the dumplings touching each other! this is a serious faux pas.

we walked back across bellaire, married ourselves into just a few cars, and met back up at lai lai dumpling house. walking in was a blast from the past, i remember coming here as a child with my family when this was one of the first authentic chinese restaurants on bellaire and chinatown was still downtown. things have changed quite a bit since then... the crowd was very different. there were a several occupied tables, but none of them contained asian patrons. thankfully, the proprietors here were very friendly - hot tea and iced water were brought to the table w/o even asking and we were parched! the soup dumplings here come 10 to an order. we were exactly 10 people so i asked for just one order (i could tell our XLB enthusiasm was waning & i wanted to make sure people saved enough room for our finale at sichuan cuisine). the waitress (her accent was from mainland china) asked me a couple more times if all we wanted were the XLB, but she asked in a concerned way like my grandma did when she thought i wasn't eating enough.

then there were 12. two more chowhounds phoned to inform me they were on their way, so we added 1 more order of XLB (which seemed to make our waitress happier) and a small table to our round one for the new guests. the soup dumplings were large and came 10 to a large steamer and they were also stuck to each other ripping when orphaned from the rest of the group. the wrappers were extremely thick and gummy. i suspected that they were previously frozen. the meat itself was more like the meat in a pork bun. the house-made dumpling sauce was very anglo-friendly. it was more sweet than vinegary w/no trace of ginger. lai lai fans, i urge you to check out fu fu cafe or sandong snacks. a generous tip for the waitress and then we were on the go again.

a stop into olympic bakery next door to chinese cafe to ogle the fresh baked pork and veggie buns, then a short walk to diho square where jay led us into a taiwanese gourmet food store. the overly friendly store owners set us up with some free samples of cold brewed coffee that is popular in taiwan and then we left after a quick look around and invitations to the grand opening of their coffee house that will be a few doors away. then a short stroll to...

sichuan cuisine! they had a round table large enough for the 12 of us w/a lazy susan in the middle. i asked for 1 order of soup dumplings to finish out the crawl although most of us were dumpling-ed out. the dumplings came 8 to an order and were actually the last thing to hit our table which i thought was poignant. they were small-ish in size more aligned with what you would find at joe's shanghai or din tai fung. the wrappers were thinner than lai lai's and classic kitchen's, but the filling wasn't anything exceptional.

by now, readers, you are probably a little full from just reading this post, but our feast was just beginning! from the small cold appetizers table in the back (do not skip this!), we ordered 2 combo plates of 3 items. for one plate i chose pickled cabbage, bamboo shoots (both in sichuan oil), and cucumbers w/garlic. the cucumbers were my favorite item on the plate but the other 2 were good too.

for the second cold app plate, i chose pig ears, smoked pig snout, and sliced beef and mow. i thought all 3 were absolutely lovely. the pig ears weren't the biggest hit at the table (it was agreed it was a texture thing), but surprisingly everyone raved over the pig snout. it looked and tasted like bacon! the sliced beef and mow had the wonderful ma la that i expected - that eye-opening spicy addictive numbing sensation from szechuan peppercorns. another hot app that came to the table were the dragon wontons which look pretty innocuous until you mix the wontons with the spicy oil at the bottom of the bowl. the wontons were okay, not even in the same ball park as the ones you'd find at wu liang ye. i can eat bowls and bowls of those.

entrees included boiled sliced fish in spicy sauce (photo left), one of the best dishes at SC. the fish comes in a bowl of chili oil that is as abundant as soup. it was funny how the chowhounds reacted after seeing this dish. i sensed a lot of apprehension at the table. the chongqin chicken, equal parts bits of deep fried chicken and chili peppers was my second favorite dish. duck tongue w/ jalapenos pleased most of the hounds although one of the peppers set fire to jay's mouth.

the obligatory double cooked pork (photo right) with leeks was as good as i remembered. i chose to temper the meal with 3 non-spicy dishes especially since anonymouseater was dining in tow with his daughter julia who is the most food savvy 9 year old in houston (and who just discovered she is a fan of sriracha!): green beans with ground pork, crispy tofu, and tea smoked duck. crispy tofu is a favorite of mine due to the contrast in textures that i love - crispy, lightly, deep-fried shell and soft tofu-y innards. tea smoked duck was oversalted and dry. on a previous visit, it was one of the dishes that impressed me most - crispy skin, moist smokey meat - better than the versions in NY. today the dish was obviously oversmoked.

the service and the entire experience was absolutely wonderful. the waitress received a huge tip and everyone got $4.50 back from the money pool that each person put $20 into for the crawl. yes, this whole experience cost us each a tad over $15. isn't chinatown awesome?

so the upshot after 4 hours of dumpling research? in my opinion, fu fu's soup dumplings were definitely the best. just looking at photos alone, you can tell how much thinner their wrappers were and how expertly the dumplings are constructed. but still houston's XLB offerings are very, very sad compared to my favorite pork and crab soup dumplings at joe's shanghai.

oh, we're not done yet! katharine won't shut up about taro ice cream (i'm exaggerating, of course) and now we are all intrigued (or we just like each other so much that we don't want the fun to end) so we head to lee's sandwiches to relieve some of the sichuan flames in our bellies. i can't believe i haven't been to this place before. i heard the vietnamese sandwiches are pretty terrible, but they make fresh baguettes onsite. this place is just an experience in itself. it's basically a vietnamese food court all operated by the same owners who obviously have a penchant for neon signage. there are some gourmet groceries on display and a refrigerated section to pick up fresh coconut juice, flan, an assortment of vietnamese desserts, or a bowl of butter pats for $1.25. there is an ice cream stall, another line for vietnamese sandwiches and coffees, and a stand emanating an alluring vanilla baked good smell. they are selling fresh, hot custard filled cakes that resemble french madelines cookies.

chowhound greg aka heritoth stands in line to get a box of 24 for the group. chowhound fulmer and i sample almost all the ice creams (including durian and soursop) and settle on a scoop of mango, taro, and rocky road. some sandwich and coffee purchases too. cash only, guys! and then we settle down to a table with a gajillion plastic spoons and napkins for everyone to share in true chowhound style. poor greg is still in line for another 10-15 mins for little cakes b/c the woman in front of him buys 3 million boxes of them. he finally comes back and we decide the cakes are pretty disappointing but thank greg for "taking one for the team." around 4:30, food coma hit me like a wet towel. nap time! we say our good-byes.

update: so about 5 hours later, that sandwich i picked up from lee's was calling to me. i chose the banh mi thit nguoi (combination). it's huge for $2.65. there wasn't much meat or pate, or vegetables (plenty of cilantro and jalapenos though), but the most essential ingredient that was missing was the yummy garlic mayo/aioli. without it the sandwich was dry and boring. meh! i'm still a staunch believer that the givral hoang on bellaire in diho plaza has the best banh mi in houston.


hue - visit 2

hue vietnamese restaurant
3600 kirby dr #h @ richmond

see 6/21/08 hue review

went back to hue recently with a girlfriend on a tuesday night. there was only one other table in the restaurant but it was 9:30. i learned that the restaurant name is pronounced hwet with a silent t and it's a province in vietnam.

i ordered a green tea mojito which was perfect. she ordered a saigon breeze which was too sweet.

we split 3 apps: (1) hue spring rolls - excellent. the "tiger" shrimp was grilled, rolled, and still warm when it hit the table. i wanted to ask for more sambal or sriracha in our peanut sauce, but i finished before the waiter came back. 3 medium sized rolls to an order. $7

(2) vietnamese sweet and sour soup w/ red snapper, calamari, shrimp, okra, mushrooms, bean sprouts. it was pretty good and the seafood was cooked perfectly, but both mai's and kim son's versions are far superior. note, there was no pineapple in it which is usually standard. $8

(3) banh xeo (crispy crepe) - wow, this thing was tiny. we split it in half and we were each able to put our whole half in a deveined leaf of green leaf lettuce. banh xeo is usually huge with lots of stuffing (big enough for me to order as a meal in fact). the stuffing of chicken, shrimp, crab, and bean sprouts was almost non-existent. $8

we still had a nice meal, but it was a little hard to swallow (pun intended) paying $8 for a banh xeo that was so minute. i could still tell from this visit that the quality of ingredients is fantastic. if i remind myself that the service here is much better than the churlish waiters at mai's i feel better.


so vino monday

so vino
507 westheimer rd nr. taft

last monday was my third visit to so vino and my most memorable. why, you ask? because monday nights are 1/2 off bottles of wine night... so we ordered three! we started off with the jansz brut rose, a sparkling wine from tasmania that was wonderfully priced on the wine list for $24 a bottle. do the math kids. yes, we paid $12 for it. it paired nicely with truffle popcorn tossed in truffle oil and then sprinkled with finely shredded white cheddar. it was served in a paper cone and it was great to find cheese sprinkled throughout the whole order of popcorn and not just on top. this stuff was awesome!

then our flights of apps arrived and included the roasted beet & goat cheese salad, the heirloom tomato & burrata cheese salad, and the house-cured salmon. both salads were wonderful and very well dressed, i would order them again. the cured salmon was served on a cutting board with dijon shallot remoulade, boiled potatoes w/ fresh dill, and pumpernickel bread layered with butter. the salmon was a little bland but was delish with remoulade and potato. the pumpernickel didn't need the butter addition.

next we opened our second bottle of wine, the 2006 turley juvenile zin. the half off price of $24 was a steal b/c it's hard enough just trying to get your hands on a bottle of it. it paired perfectly with the braised short ribs and gruyere polenta. the short ribs were a little too reminiscent of pot roast, but still good. we also ordered the truffled taleggio and mushroom pizza which wasn't anything too exciting. the red sauce on the pizza was too overpowering for the taleggio and i could smell the truffle oil more than i could actually taste it. the really, really thin crust reminded me of a chewy cracker. i'll definitely save my pizza cravings for dolce vita across the street. a side of brussel sprouts were made even more tempting by sprinklings of parmeggiano reggiano on top.

before ending our meal, we couldn't resist ordering the other turley on the menu - the 2006 turley old vines, also a zin. we wanted to taste both turleys at the same time and we could easily afford to at these prices. (i preferred the juvenile, the old vines was a little too spicy for my taste). this bottle was also $24. we drank a third of this bottle, popped the cork back in and took the rest back to my house to finish off the night. an order of smores was fun for the pyros at the table (all 3 of us), we even shared with a neighboring table.

continuing the theme of decadence, we got a second dessert - the mosaic - which was a vanilla semi-freddo wrapped around mango and raspberry sorbets and sliced. it was delicious. service was amazing. the owner of so vino kept stopping by our table to check on us too. i believe my girls and i have found our new monday night spot.
Clicky Web Analytics