Tuesday, August 30, 2005

 

The Last NYC Dispatch

Well, since I'm stuck in LaGuardia with my flight delayed three hours, thought I'd send one last dining dispatch from The City.

Day--uh, well, Sunday in any event:
We met friends Charlie and John at Park (down in the meatpacking district) for brunch. Park is in a beautiful old warehouse with soaring ceilings and a lovely and lushly planted courtyard. The interior was exposed brick walls with red striped banquettes and a huge swath of bamboo in the middle of the restaurant that shot all the way up to the windows in the roof. Lots of natural light, but there were also funky lamps everywhere and large metal baskets of oranges down the middle of each set of banquettes. It was your standard (but good) brunch fare, but the setting was really great.

After that, we wandered around the meatpacking district, west village and soho. It got a little rainy, so we decided we needed a drink. We stopped by the infamous Chumley's (an old speakeasy from which the phrase "86" supposedly comes), but John thought it was too dirty (there were two giant dogs sleeping at the bar *exactly* where we left them over a year and a half ago), AND there were a bunch of teenagers hovering about doing some sort of scavenger hunt (NYU just went back in session), so we went to the Cub Room instead.

After that, we headed back to Chelsea, where Brian and I went to the store to get provisions for dinner. We made a great dinner. We started with an heirloom salad, which consisted of slices of green, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes stacked between slices of fresh mozzarella and basil, garnished with minced red onion, and vinegar and olive oil. We then had a yummy roasted pork tenderloin with a homemade chimichurri sauce. We also roasted some summer corn, vidalia onions, baby squash and thyme to go on the side. For dessert, we had a peach and blueberry crisp with vanilla bean ice cream. It was the fullest I'd been my entire time in New York.

On Monday, my only meal of note was with friends Mary and Susan at Marseilles at 44th and 9th. It was a really comfortable space--I could have drunk there all day (and should have, given my current flight situation). I started with an elderflower martini--Skyy vodka, an elderflower and mint simple syrup with some fresh chopped mint as a garnish. Sounds refreshing, doesn't it? It was. I then had a summer vegetable risotto, with corn, leeks, chanterelles, some other baby mushroom that was terribly cute (and tasty), basil and shaved parmesan. It was wonderfully creamy and delightful, even though I bit into a shard of thick plastic. As a testament to how good the risotto was, I finished the risotto anyway. Plastic be damned!

Okay, I did make one other stop before I left. I was right there in Rockefeller Center, so how could I resist stopping by la Maison du Chocolat, the French chocolate house revered for its truffles? I bought a small bag of said truffles for later, and then got one piece for immediate consumption--a ball of praline filling surrounded by crushed almonds and millk chocolate. It was yummy and had a nice consistency, but a far cry from the incredibly addictive chocolate-covered cheerios I got at Jacques Torres' Chocolate Haven earlier this week. That man can do some crazy good things with chocolate. But what about la Maison's signature truffles? Can they really not hold a candle to chocolate-covered cereal?

(pause)

Mmmmmmm. Wow. Those are good truffles. They just melt in your mouth. They're old-school truffles, not that Godiva crap. Glorious little mounds of pure, dark chocolate ganache, lightly dusted with cocoa. They make you stop, take a breath, and consider how good life can be sometimes. Kind of like a good meditation exercise. I like meditating. I can't wait to get home and share these truffles.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

 

NYC Dispatch #3

Day 3: Central Park & Little Italy

After wandering around 5th Avenue for a while and wondering how someone could spend so much money on such little things, we headed to the Boathouse in Central Park for a client development lunch. I wasn't expecting much more than a nice view, but I was pleasantly surprised. I started off with a chilled asparagus soup, with a dollop of creme fraiche and some lump crabmeat in the middle. The soup was great--there were some herbs pureed in with the asparagus, and the richness of the creme and the crabmeat were a perfect counterbalance to the grassiness of the asparagus. For my main entree, I got another appetizer: king salmon carpaccio with first press olive oil, sea salt and a puree of peas and mint. It was excellent. The salmon came in perfectly meaty slices, and the fruity olive oil was the perfect complement to the peas and mint. It was quite tasty (and I ostensibly don't even like peas).

Re: dinner, the food gods smiled down upon me. To tie off an afternoon of shopping in Soho (and two separate rounds of drinking at one of my and Benjamin's favorite bars, Fanelli Cafe), we headed over, NOT to the dreaded Mangia e Bevi, BUT to Little Italy for dinner (yay!). We dined at Il Palazzo, which according to the sign outside got a 25 in Zagat for food. I can see why. Karen started with a divine salad of butter lettuce stacked high with duck prosciutto, fresh figs, roasted red and yellow peppers, and asiago cheese, with a nice red pepper puree around the edge of the dish. I nibbled off of Karen's plate, and then got rigatoni with chicken, asparagus, shrimp and roasted red and yellow peppers in a gorgonzola sauce. It was incredibly rich but quite tasty. Thankfully we had a nice La Braccesca Montepulciano (2000) to wash it all down, which was very dry and a nice contrast to the rich chessy sauce. After the pasta we all realized how completely exhausted we were, so we headed back to the hotel. We all slept well.

Day 4: Meatpacking District

For dinner on Saturday night, Brian & Thomas made reservations at one of the hot new restaurants in town, 5 Ninth. It's in the heart of the meatpacking district in an old townhouse built around 1850. In an area that has quickly become tragically hip (a big chunk of LA right in the middle of NYC), this space was refreshing--a sparsely but fabulously appointed dining room with white-painted brick walls, exposed ceiling beams, simple wooden tables, and a giant photograph of John Lennon over the fireplace (okay, that was a little cheesy). We started with some great cocktails. I had the Paloma, which was tequila, lime juice, grapefruit and a pinch of salt. Very refreshing. I will be making these at home often. For our first course, Thomas had the "spicy greens," which were mixed greens (including some nice spicy greens, like arugula) with teardrop tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, some other stuff, and a really spicy dressing. Brian had a noodle salad with long beans, cucumber and mint. They were both excellent, but I really felt like I won this one with the pork belly salad--lovely chunks of pork belly that had been fried to a crisp, served with watermelon, chili threads, beans and a light spicy dressing. It was sooooooo good.

For our main course, Thomas and I both got the rabbit, which was prepared three different ways (confit, fried and roasted) with yellow foot chanterelles and excellent beans & bacon. Brian got the spicy hangar steak. Both were awesome. I'd never had fried rabbit before. As Thomas exclaimed, "KFC, move over!" The texture was just like fried chicken, but with more depth and earthiness than your typical fried chicken. The confit was a nice concept, but was hard to get off the bone and not necessarily worth the effort. I can't imagine that rabbit has as much fat as duck (Lesa, correct me if I'm wrong), so the whole concept of confit of rabbit is just not as winning as melting a duck. The roasted rabbit was really nice and paired quite well with the mushrooms and beans (and also with the Casa Lapostille syrah we had). We also got broccoli rabe and pork belly as an additional side, along with some fried whole okra that was served with spicy aioli. Brian said that the okra alone "were worth the price of admission." So true.

For dessert, some porto and muscat all around, along with two different desserts: a corn cake (read: sweet cornbread), with berries and corn gelato (no, that wasn't a typo, and guess what? it was fucking awesome), and a "grasshopper semifreddo," which consisted of a chocolate cookie, with mint, uh, ice cream(?), pistachios and chocolate sauce. They were both refreshing and perfect for summer.

All in all, it was a great meal in a beautiful space (although the music got progressively more dance clubby as the evening wore on). I would definitely go back.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

 

What Will They Say About Me When I Am Old?

"One point, in which he had vastly the advantage over his four-footed brethren, was his ability to recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat. His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait; and to hear him talk of roast-meat was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster. As he possessed no higher attribute, and neither sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit of his maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher’s meat, and the most eligible methods of preparing them for the table. His reminiscences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the actual banquet, seemed to bring the savor of pig or turkey under one’s very nostrils. There were flavors on his palate, that had lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton-chop which he had just devoured for his breakfast. I have heard him smack his lips over dinners, every guest at which, except himself, had long been food for worms. It was marvellous to observe how the ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising up before him; not in anger or retribution, but as if grateful for his former appreciation, and seeking to repudiate an endless series of enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual. A tenderloin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adams, would be remembered; while all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the events that brightened or darkened his individual career, had gone over him with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze. The chief tragic event of the old man’s life, so far as I could judge, was his mishap with a certain goose, which lived and died some twenty or forty years ago; a goose of most promising figure, but which, at table, proved so inveterately tough that the carving-knife would make no impression on its carcases; and it could only be divided with an axe and handsaw."

--from Hawthorne's "The Custom House"

Friday, August 26, 2005

 

Don't tell the neighbors

Tonight I had dinner sitting on the patio at 11th street café. First of all, how great is it that I could sit on the patio? It must have been the half dozen ceiling fans, because the Weather Channel showed that it was still 93 degrees outside.

I feel strangely guilty going to 11th street. A neighbor of mine is beer rep. for the restaurants in the area, and he says that the owner is the sleaziest asshole he’s ever had to work with. The neighbor says he can’t trust the owner, ever, over anything, and is always catching the owner trying to screw him. So the neighbor refuses to go to 11th Street or any of the man’s other places (Jimmie’s Icehouse, Yale Coffee Company). And generally I support my neighbor in his boycott.

But other days I just want the 11th Street turkey melt. There’s nothing all that special about the turkey melt. It’s just sliced turkey and swiss cheese on rye, grilled. But it always tastes so good. Unlike some places, 11th Street actually grills the turkey separately before putting it on the bread and back on the grill, so the turkey let lives up to its name—the meat is hot and the cheese is thoroughly melted and gooey. And 11th Street leaves the sandwich on the grill just a little longer than they should, so the rye is right on the edge of being burnt. It makes the sandwich sturdy, so it doesn’t fall apart when you hold it. The near-burnt rye also has an outdoorsy taste, which is difficult to do when you’re cooking on a griddle and not over fire. And now that 11th Street has French fries to go with the sandwiches instead of just Lay’s potato chips, it’s even more appealing.

The catch is that they were out of turkey. Instead, I sat on the cool patio, watching the ladies close up shop at Someburger across the street, talking to my wife on the phone and eating half a pizza. It had sausage, hamburger, onions, and green olives. Their pizza is pretty good. I’m not sure how to describe the crust. It’s…medium. It doesn’t have the flakiness or crispiness of a thin crust, not the breadiness of a deep dish crust. It’s what a lot of places call “New York Style,” though the pizza I’ve had in New York had thicker and softer crust. Thin Crust Plus? I don’t know.

I’ll ponder it as I have the second half for lunch tomorrow.

Also: 6 Street Cafe opened this weekend. I'll check it out as soon as possible. And look who else has burgers on their mind.

 

Another NYC Dispatch

Day 2: Bolo and the Villard.

So Bolo has been around for well over a decade. Bobby Flay (”Bo”) and his business partner Lawrence somebody (”Lo”) opened this Spanish(ish) place after the initial success of his reportedly fabulous Mesa Grill. Since re-energizing his menu a couple of years ago with tapas nuevas earned the restaurant renewed acclaim, we decided to go for the gold and ordered every single tapa on the menu (but for some potato dish, since we were already ordering a tortilla with a quite tasty romesco sauce).

Before we dove into the tapas, Karen and I started with a chilled white gazpacho with almonds and fava. If I were ultra-rich, I would have ordered a large enough order of it to fill a hot tub at my hotel so I could swim in it. It was an ethereal bowl of contradictions. Airy but with a notable presence, “green” but creamy, the almonds similarly lent a delicately sweet but substantial, almost meaty facet to the dish. It made me immediately miss my husband, for after resisting the urge to lick the bowl, I would have immediately whisked my husband back to the hotel for, um, some quiet conversation. And then came the tapas. You can order four for $16. They arrived on three large square dishes, each filled with four small square plates, with each small square dish beautifully displaying a delectable morsel. Most of them were quite good. The sauteed squid with bacon was at the top of Karen's list, whilst I swooned over the crispy oyster over a red pepper sauce, all reassembled in the shell. The sauteed duck liver was a nice substitute for the more traditional sausage-related tapas. Amy and I both enjoyed the salted cod cake, and I even managed to enjoy some anchovies with tangerines. In addition to the tapas, we could not resist the lure of the appetizer special, which was a buckwheat flatbread topped with sliced figs, serrano ham, manchego cheese and herbs. This paired quite nicely with a glass of amontillado sherry. (Nice little sherry list.) Amy also ordered a garlic and cheese potato gratin as a side dish. We applauded her decision. There were a few of the tapas that were not so good, although gorgeous to look at. There was an ever-so-thin slice of tuna with a cucumber relish. The cucumber was almost bitter, a far cry from the refreshing sensation one typically enjoys with a good cucumber. It did not pair well with the tuna. (However, the sous chef who was able to cut the cucumber into that small but uniform a mince should receive some sort of award.) There was a beautiful roasted artichoke heart filled with melted cheese and salmon roe that we couldn't wait to dive into, but alas, the artichoke was hard and not so flavorful, which we found sorely disapppointing. However, Karen had a lovely-looking scallop with a cream sauce that she said was quite delightful, and there was also an excellent lamb tenderloin with roasted bits of cherry tomatoes and dressed greens. All in all, I enjoyed it. Karen was so bowled over (excuse the pun) by the soup that I think she found the rest of the meal a bit disappointing. Amy, however, thought it was a slam-bang good meal. I fall somewhere in between.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel (the New York Palace) and popped into the Villard. The Villard is an incredible bar--a two-story den of opulnent hipness. Imagine a posh Victorian/Baroque townhouse, containing several rooms with red velvet walls, richly textured red and gold carpet, red velvet banquettes, and lots of gold leaf and carved wood. We ensconced ourselves in velvet and ordered nightcaps. I had a Rubino, which is pomegranate juice and champagne. It was a hard decision between this and the blood orange martini, which is Grey Goose Orange, Campari and orange juice. Um, and the Very Unexpected Martini, which is Chopin vodka and ice wine. Verah nice-ah. Tomorrow I won't even discuss, since we have to go to Mangia e Bevi. Suffice it to say it's a popular spot for bachelorette parties.

BUT--Saturday Brian and Thomas are taking me to 5 Ninth, a hot new restaurant in the meatpacking district. I am looking forward to it.

 

In Which the Author Takes Requests

The other day Alan told me that the Kroger on W. Grey had been remodeled and remade in a fancier image. They even have a little sushi stand, he said. He was quick to qualify that he doesn’t really know what to expect from any grocery store sushi, even that at a “Signature” Kroger.

So I went and tried some. It tasted exactly like all the other sushi-to-go I’ve had at grocery stores (excluding the grocery store sushi I had in California, which was much better). It was mushy and bland, but filling.

Now that half the grocery stores in town have mushy sushi, Central Market upped the ante by getting Kubo’s to do their sushi. But I digress.

What’s interesting about the sushi I saw at Kroger is that the low-carb craze has now even affected sushi. Kroger had regular California Rolls, California Rolls made with brown rice, and California Rolls made with extra seaweed and almost no rice at all.

And as for the freshness of the ingredients: I can’t speak for the fish or vegetables, but one of the sushi preparers was in front of me in line with about twenty packages of cream cheese.

Alan also said the wine selection was good, so I may need to go back to the new Kroger soon.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

 

NYC Dispatch

Amanda is off in New York, "on business," for a few days. She sends a report, typed entirely on her Blackberry:

Day 1: Dinner @ Sardi's

For over 80 years, Sardi's has drawn a steady flock of theater-goers given its prime location directly across the street from the Shubert Theater on West 44th. "Venerable" is probably too strong a word, so I'll just call it an institution. Thankfully, we had the perfect table on the second floor overlooking the theater and the street below, as it gave us something to distract us from our food. The cocktails were a tasty distraction as well. (Karen and I had Grey Goose L'Orange cosmos--I know that's passe, but I don't give a fuck. They're good.)

Now, the food wasn't bad, mind you--just entirely forgettable. I started with what sounded like a promising appetizer: a duck & foie gras terrine served with toasted baguette points, lightly dressed greens, and and onion & cherry compote. Lots of frisee in the salad, which would have been great had the frisee actually possessed any taste or bitterness. The terrine was remarkably bland, but the compote (although somewhat one-dimensional) was pretty good.

Since I'd just had a bunch of fat as a starter, I just got an appetizer-sized portion of the signature dish, "Shrimp Sardi," for my entree. It consisted of four plump shrimp perched atop a small baguette crouton, all swimming in a garlicky butter & tomato sauce with nice little bits of zucchini. As I am a "sopper," I particularly appreciated the sauce-soaked crouton at the bottom of the dish. The shrimp smelled just a bit fishy, and were ever-so-slightly overcooked, but it was still a decent dish. I especially liked the sauce--I enjoyed sopping up every last drop with the crusty French rolls at the table.

I will say this--the wine list was incredibly cheap. Cheaper than most wine lists even in Texas. It was not a spectacular list by any means, but it did have a few gems on it for very reasonable prices. And who *doesn't* like to get a cheap drunk on before going to a show?

For dessert, just Bailey's and coffee, and then off to the theatah!

Spamalot was bloody hilarious. I cried all of my mascara off I was laughing so hard.
Tonight, Bolo (Bobby Flay's Spanish-ish restaurant). An oldie but goodie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

 

T'afia

The other night Amanda and I went to T’afia for dinner.

When we first moved here, I quickly decided that Boulevard Bistro was my favorite restaurant in Houston. The regular menu was delicious (I always like the pistachio-crusted salmon with spinach), and there were daily chalkboard specials. It was nice, but not too nice. Comfortable. You could walk in wearing jeans or a suit and feel fine. You could spend $100 per person or $20. We enjoyed our first visit, and when we went back a second time, we had the same waiter. He remembered us, even remembered what we drank. That did it. The next time we went in, we asked for Andy, and he was perfect—swiftly and delicately handling the live spider my mother-in-law found in her salad (that’s what happens when you use fresh organic produce). We’ve been his party ever since. We even get him postcards when we go out of town.

But Boulevard went away so chef/owner Monica Pope could open a new place, T’afia. We went along, and, lucky for us, so did Andy.

T’afia gets its strange name from ratafia, a fortified wine infused with vodka and fresh produce. T’afia makes their own, as well as a number of other drink creations. Though I almost always have the same boring drink (Manhattan, up, made with Makers or rye), I like to know I can get something completely different. One time they had an orange and basil ratafia. Amanda likes one made with sparkling wine and meyer lemon. This summer I had a few “green teasers,” which were basically mojitos with a touch of green tea.

Some of Boulevard’s popular dishes are still on the menu (the salmon, the flat chicken, the bread pudding), but you really should get one of the day’s specials. The menu is divided into three sections. There’s a five course tasting menu; a traditional menu with a list of appetizers, salads, and main courses; and a mix-and-match list where you choose the meat and sides separately. Though we usually don’t, this week we had the tasting menu—

1. Watermelon with Tabasco honey and Pure Luck feta. This tastes exactly like it sounds. The Tabasco honey was a new taste, but none of the ingredients really melded. It tasted like eating three separate items, thought the items were tasty.


2. Baby zephyr carpaccio with arugula. I had no idea what zephyr was when I ordered it. I was picturing, to much delight, some African antelope-type animal, but it turns out it’s a squash. This is the only time I’ve heard sliced vegetables described as carpaccio. I guess it was sliced pretty thin. So what we had was a basic arugula salad with some summer squash. After the first two courses I was excited, but still quite hungry.

3. Cucumber coconut gazpacho. I was a little upset to see that the gazpacho wasn’t red. I don’t think it had any tomato at all. Amanda instructed me that cucumber is one of the main ingredients of any gazpacho, and that tomato isn’t necessary. We stopped arguing once we took a sip. This soup did perfectly what a gazpacho should do—it provided a strong, but light, burst of flavor on the tip of my tongue. It was cool and soothing. A good gazpacho makes you feel instantly healthier, and this one had me thinking I could cartwheel all the way home. I didn’t.

4. BR3 roast beef with okra and organic grits. Amanda had some fun with me here. I wasn’t paying much attention when I ordered the tasting menu, or else I would have noticed that grits and asked for something else. But I didn’t, and when the plate came I enthusiastically asked Amanda, “are these milled potatoes?” She said yes, trying to trick me into acquiring a taste for grits. It was gross. I made funny faces and nearly dropped my fork. So she ordered me a side of macaroni and cheese (it’s better than average mac and cheese. Andy says he takes some home almost every night). The beef was great, though I would have liked it sliced a little thicker. [I'm hoping that someone can help me figure out exactly what BR3 is. I know it's hormone-free and stuff, but where is it from and where does it get its name? Google isn't talkin'.]

5. Plumb cobbler with vanilla ice cream. At least I think it was vanilla ice cream. Instead of the cobbler, I had a flourless chocolate almond cake. Though denser than a regular cake, this one wasn’t super-dense or super-rich. I ate the whole piece.


Things to get at T’afia: the red miso soup with tofu skins—it has even more of an “I feel healthy!” effect than gazpacho. We call it the “broth of vigor.” Texas wine—it’s not the same old Llano Estacado and Ste. Genevieve you get for a few bucks at the grocery store. A few months ago we had a Texas wine we liked so much (2002 Travis Peak select cabernet sauvignon reserve) that Amanda called the winery and ordered a case. If you get the tasting menu, you can get a Texas wine paired with each course for another $20. Free munchies while you wait at the bar—and not just mixed nuts. You can get spinach dip with goat cheese or mini-burgers.

Things to watch out for: when it’s busy, it’s loud. The brick walls and high, flat ceiling don’t make for great acoustics, and the acoustic tiles they put in the tresses don’t help much. The noise is the only real complaint I’ve heard about the place. They used to run out of items pretty often, but that hasn’t been a problem lately. And only go when you have a few hours to spend. If you’re in a hurry, you’re only going to be disappointed.


Saturday, August 20, 2005

 

Burgers

Now I know that the hamburger is ubiquitous in America, and that they have them everywhere. Certainly every town in the country has a good burger. And since most towns probably have several to choose from, every town must have a best burger. But Houston is different. Here we have several best burgers. There are just so many great burgers to choose from. It’s one of the reasons (along with barbeque and beer) Houston consistently finds it way onto the list of America’s fattest cities.

Lankford Grocery makes a great burger. They’re large, a little greasy, and have lots of lettuce, tomato, and onion. This is important: at Lankford, the vegetables are really part of the burger and not just obligatory garnishes. Part of the joy of eating at Lankford is the building itself. It’s been open since the 30s, and I’m pretty sure the floors have not been replaced once. The tables are close together, so it has a real homey feel to it. The servers are friendly but not chatty. It still has the ambience of a little working-class neighborhood spot, even though the neighborhood now caters to a different class (there are new condos across the street, and our Volvo never looks out of place in the small parking lot). The first time I had a Lankford burger was on a Monday when Jeremy had come to visit from New York. I was suffering through what I thought was a fatal hangover, but the bacon cheeseburger slowly revived my spirits without regurgitating the previous night’s dinner. I am eternally grateful.

Someburger also makes a great burger. And it demonstrates how in food, like in architecture, form follows function. Someburger is a small stand on the corner of 11th and Studewood, with only a picninc table out back. Consequently, a large proportion of Someburgers are eaten while standing or while driving. So Someburgers are more compact, more dense, than a lot of burgers. They use less lettuce and tomato, so the vegetables don’t slip out onto your lap. The cheese is just plain American slices, which melts quickly and thoroughly—no drips. The problem with Someburger, though, is that the fries are terrible, and the onion rings aren’t much better. They do have pretty good shakes, though. But I guess the fry deficit is helpful, because I live blocks from there and still only eat there once or twice a year. If they had good fries to go with those burgers, I don’t think I’d leave.

I don’t know if
Otto’s makes a great burger. I’ve never been there. But Alan says they do, and he’s a guy to be trusted. That is, he’s a guy to be trusted concerning food. I wouldn’t leave him alone in your house for too long, if I were you.

Like a more fancy burger, something more than the basic ingredients, and served in a place where you can sit down at a comfortable table on a level floor? Go to Farrago. Their burger has gorgonzola cheese, steak sauce, and onion rings (not on the side, but onion rings in the burger). Farrago can be a bit too much at times, especially Sundays. It’s very popular with the hip folks down in Midtown. It gets loud, and after waiting a long time for a table, you feel rushed to give it up for the next group. But go for an afternoon lunch during the week and try this burger. [Sometimes I endure the Sunday crowd just for the bottomless Mimosas. Consider it.]

Amanda says the burger she had at
T’afia was the best she’s ever had. We got them one Thursday night, which is Burger Night during the summer at T’afia. The home-made bread was fresh. They had blue cheese and perfectly grilled onions. They were made with hormone- and antibiotic-free BR3 beef. It may have indeed been the best burger I’ve ever had. But I don’t want to push the burger too hard, because there are so many better things to get at T’afia.

Becks’ Prime also makes a great burger. My friend Sue recommended it when I first moved here. They advertise that they were voted Best Burger in the Houston Business Journal, which may say a bit about the clientele. At the location near River Oaks, you can see plenty of very expensive cars lined up at the drive-thru. I always get the B. P. Burger, which is served with “Prime Sauce.” I’m not sure exactly what Prime Sauce is, but it’s a lot like Thousand Island dressing mixed with Heinz 57. It’s good.

Great, but not best, burgers: the blues cheese and bacon burger at
Barnaby’s (the first meal I ate when we moved here), and the burger at Goode Co. Taqueria.

Alternative burgers: the best veggie burger is at Houston’s. And though I know few people who admit to eating turkey burgers, the one at Café Express sure is a big seller. Let’s face it—it doesn’t taste like a hamburger, but it’s pretty tasty when judged on its own merits.



 

Lawyer Update

On our way to Shade for lunch, I saw Vincent standing outside Someburger. The same Vincent who just last night ate all that fajita meat. What a trooper.

 

Lawyer Fear Factor

I just witnessed something very funny and very gross.

I've always heard the stories of the dares that Amanda's former co-workers would make for each other. The time Chris ate a day-old, uncovered, unrefrigerated, truly dangerous quiche for forty dollars and was sick for two days. Nate took a bite of a dried gourd, stolen from a secretary's desk (a Halloween decoration), and nearly broke some teeth. There's something only referred to as "lobsterfest," where the stakes apparently got to $800 and the dare-taker supposedly cheated. Just last week, Cara ate a dried shrimp from Jack's fish food for his koi pond. That earned her fifty bucks. But I've only heard the stories; I've never seen this myself. Until tonight.

At Jack's going-away party, there was plenty of left over Berryhill. Phil figured the best way to get rid of some of the excess food was to pay people to eat it. In about half an hour, Vincent ate more than a pound of beef and chicken fajita meat--and this was after he had already eaten a full meal. He got his price up to $55 from $40, because his wife offered him $50 NOT to eat it. He ate it like a champ.

But the moment to remember was watching Steve drink almost sixteen ounces of spicy tamale sauce. It took him less than a minute, and for that he got $30.

There was an offer that nobody took: to drink about twenty ounces of room-temperature queso. The offer on the table was $300. I left the party around midnight, partly because I was tired and partly because I was beginning to think that I could take the queso.

Ever wonder what lawyers do with all that money? Now you know--they pay each other to eat gross shit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

 

No Reservations

Crap. I keep forgetting to watch Anthony Bourdain's new show on Travel Channel. Monday night just isn't a good time.

I saw the first episode, "Why France Doesn't Suck," and part of the show in New Jersey. I like Anthony Bourdain, mostly for his belief that good food is "chef-driven (as opposed to ingredient driven)." He says that "it is no accident that in just about every country you might want to visit, the good cooks seem to always hail from the most ass-backward and impoverished backwaters." Great food, so the idea goes, is not made from the best and most expensive ingredients, but from chefs who know how to make the most of the nasty bits and the leftovers. Bourdain is, in many ways, the People's Celebrity Chef. Sure, Emeril is supposed to be the people's celebrity chef, what with the "Bam!" and all of that, but Bourdain really fits the bill better. Just read the introduction to the Les Halles cookbook, which is where the quotations are from.

(I'll have to tell you about my love/hate relationship with Emeril some time later. Hint: the best mashed potatoes I've ever had.)

As good as Bourdain's food is--I can still taste the Steak Tartare, and the fois gras at Les Halles was much better than that at French Laundry--he's pretty corny on television. A Cook's Tour, on Food Netwrok, is good, but the accompanying book is much better. And No Reservations has quite a high cheese factor. In the Paris episode, they use really basic special effects, like shaking the camera around, to mimic the psychedelic effects of absinthe. He also "gets lost" in the catacombs beneath the city. The New Jersey episode ends with a horrible reenactment from The Godfather. Mario Batali pees at the side of the road while a Jersey pastry chef shoots Tony in the back of the head. Obviously, Mario tells him to take the canoli and leave the gun. Yuck.

But I haven't given up on the show yet. I just keep forgetting.

Monday, August 15, 2005

 

Under Pressure

Here's a fascinating--and perhaps scary--article on the next wave of food--cryovacing. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about all this yet. It's by no means universally accepted or standard practice. The article mentions that this vaccum-packed cuisine will someday be as accepted as food processors or submerged blenders, and there are plenty of "old school" chefs at very prestigous levels who don't use those.

This trend may be bad for local single-owner restaurants, who will be tempted by the intense flavors to order pre-made foods made in factories rather than going for local foods. The organic/biodiversity crowd are working very hard to counteract this.

But let's face it, compared with the industiral, pre-frozen and microwaved shit all of us eat all the time, this sous vide stuff isn't bad at all. It might even make my favorites at Chili's tastier some day.

But all this talk about New York restaurants reminds me that Amanda gets to go to New York in a few weeks, and she'll get to try (I hope) some new places. And I still haven't been to WD-50, damnit!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

 

New beginnings

I'm still getting used to this new Blogspot. I had prepared a fairly long post about Berryhill. I talked about the Original Fish Tacos as compared with the Grilled Fish Tacos. I talked about their margaritas and my general ambivalence for margaritas. I talked about the distinctions--good and bad--of the Westheimer, Heights, Galleria, and Woodlands locations. I said that although I wasn't experienced enough with Houston tex-mex to declare Berryhill's queso the best queso in Houston, I have yet to have any better.

And then, somehow, I erased it all when I tried to check the spelling. Oh well.

So let me give you this instead. Friday Amanda sent me a link to this Robb Walsh review of Taste of Texas. She added the message "Um, okay, we're never eating at Taste of Texas again." She was referring, of course, to the politics of the right-wing crazy owner and the right-wing-crazy clientele. But I can tell you a better reason not to eat at Taste of Texas. When she sent me the e-mail, I thought to myself "But we've never eaten at Taste of Texas. I've never even heard of Taste of Texas." Until several paragraphs into the review, I had no idea what restaurant he was talking about.

As a restaurant, Taste of Texas is--literally--forgetable. If you want to wait 45 minutes for overpriced steaks (and sometimes I do. Why not?), go someplace else. I've been to a Texas Land & Cattle twice, once in Dallas and once in Houston. It's a soulless chain with mediocre food and the atmosphere of the restaurant of a run-down Hilton hotel. But it's still more of a memorable experience than the one I had at Taste of Texas. And a hell of a lot cheaper.

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