Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Self-Pleasure at Home

No, not that self-pleasure, you pervert. I mean a home-cooked meal. I might give the impression that we never eat at home (the sporadic posts do provide some clue), but Amanda--as many of you know--is a very good cook.

For example, earlier this week she roasted a pork tenderloin. She used Fischer and Weiser's raspberry chipotle sauce as a marinade. I don't like raspberries, but the the berries don't really come out in th pork, so it works. What it does is give the pork that sweetness that pork calls for (that's why pork is also good with peaches, blueberries, and/or apples. I don't recommend banana with pork, though). The chipotle keeps things from getting too sweet. I'm also reminded of a great chili-rubbed pork Amanda makes, but that's for another time.

Amanda long ago started using a meat thermometer instead of a timer, so her meats are always great. I didin't ask what temperature she cooked it to, but I'd say no more than 160, probably less, because the meat was fully cooked but still pink and very moist. Although I put two knives out when I set the table, we didn't need them.

She also roasted some vegetables. I don't know the name of them, but the squah were small, yellow, and kind of diamond shaped. There was also baby zuchini (zephyr again, maybe?) and small potatoes. She added rosemary from the back yard, extra virgin olive, and fleur de sel. And she made a big ol' pile of cous cous. She must have used some kind of timer for that, because it was perfectly fluffy.

The wonderful thing is that she made enough for dinner for two nights.

Bonus: last night I went to El Tiempo for the first time. I hope to give a full report later, but for now allow me to warn you that the margaritas are strong. I had three, over several hours and with a meal, and still had to get Amanda to drive home. I've been hung over all day.

 

McCormick and Schmick

We've all been reminded that it's still hurricane season. But let me also remind you that it's oyster season.

Though I usually push the local places over national chains, for oysters I really think McCormick and Schmick is the best place to go. First of all, it doesn't feel like a chain restaurant. It's got armadillo light fixtures, a stained glass window with a portrait of Sam Houston, and almost every wall is covered in Houston memorabilia--postcards, brochures, and menus from the '40s, 50's, and '60s. They may have 36 locations across the country, but they still go out of their way to make it a Houston restaurant.

They also have really fresh seafood. They claim that their seafood is delivered fresh every morning. I don't quite believe this. I'll bet that they get four shipments a week of fresh and cryo-vacked stuff instead of two shipments a week of frozen stuff. It's just a guess. But that's still better than a lot of places. And when you're eating raw stuff, fresh is important.

And where most places will put "Oysters" on the menu, M&S is much more specific. When we went there the weekend before last, we ordered an oyster sampler. It had two each of oysters from Canada, Massachusetts, and Maine. You can get a feel for different types of oysters from different places. The New Brunswick ones were small and meaty. The ones from Martha's Vinyard were long and salty. Amanda, Jack and I shared notes as we tried different types. Although there was a full meal afterward (I had crab cakes Benedict, Jack had plain crab cakes, Amanda had grilled shrimp wraped in bacon), the oysters were a hit. And there's three more months of the good stuff left to go.

Friday, September 23, 2005

 

Huntsville Edition

Last night we ate at The Homestead, Huntsville's nicest restaurant. I had a small caesar salad, 6 oz. beef tenderloin (rare), mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. Amanda, Jack and I split a bottle of Stonestreet Cabernet. The chef/owner, whose name I can't remember at the moment said "Of the few thousand people who have poured into town, only a small percentage will find and be interested in eating here. But you know, a small percentage of thousands is a good night for us." I hope things go well at The Homestead tonight.

We were going to go out for lunch, but changed our minds when we saw the gridlocked traffic, lines of hundreds outside of Kroger and Walmart, and dozens of folks just parked and camping in every parking lot in town. So many people got stuck in traffic, and so many more ran out of gas, that people are just pitching camp wherever they can. It's going to be a long night tonight.

My mother-in-law is cooking just about everything in her refridgerator, because it's probably going to lose power for a while. Tonight we're having chicken-rice casserole, green beans, biscuits, muffins, cookies, cornbread...who knows what else. Rita is going to make me fat. Or, fatter, I suppose. We also borrowed three big bottles of water from Mary Helen's store.

The rest of the day is just sitting around waiting for the rain to start.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

 

Ready for Rita

Email exchange between Amanda and me this afternoon.

Me: if we get stuck in the house for two or three days, do you think two bottles of cabernet are enough? Should we pick up a bottle of pinot and zin? Or does a hurricane count as a “special occasion” and we can break out the good stuff in the closet?

Amanda: it depends on the damage. If it’s just a few broken windows, we don’t need to go to the closet, but if there’s structural damage, all bets are off. And OF COURSE we should pick up a bottle of pinot and zin.

So we just got back from Target. We got an eight-pack of C batteries, a bottle of Iron Horse Pinot Noir, a bottle of Rosemont Shiraz, and a bottle of Bicyclette Syrah. I’ve never heard of Bicyclette, but it’s only eight bucks. Desperate times….

If we do indeed get hit by Rita and flooded in, it will be bottled water and canned tuna for a few days. The cat will be happy, but it may be another quiet week on the blog.

I don’t know about the national news, but the locals have already begun the rita/margarita puns. Who would have predicted that?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

 

Down time

It's been a very busy week. I was in Dallas from Sunday to Wednesday. I'm very behind with my grading, and grades are due Monday. Tonight I was at a wedding. So there's not much to report. Just the usual suspects: Chili's, Whataburger, IHOP, the kind of stuff I eat all the time but don't tell people about.

I did have two meals from El Rey today, but that will have to wait.

In the meantime, check out this NYT travel article that says nice things about Carneros Inn. It's literally next door to my sister-in-law's place in Napa (which is why we got to stay there for cheap). It's cool to have your own individual cabana, but the rows and rows of tin-roofed buildings look a lot like a labor camp. A labor camp with heated bathroom floors.

Jer--I haven't been, but I suspect that $20 wouldn't even get me a decent appetizer at your ass. Make it 50 and I can do something.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

 

Sixth Street Bar & Grill

Names can be confusing. The receipt I got says “Sixth Street Bar & Grill.” The sign outside says “6 Street Bar & Grill,” which really annoys Amanda, who thinks the sign ought to have the proper “th” after the 6. Either way, the new Heights bar is located at the corner of Studewood and White Oak. If you notice that White Oak is one block south of 6 ½ Street and/or know that farther west White Oak is actually labeled 6th Street, then it makes sense. Otherwise, it’s an enigma.

But when there’s a new bar just three blocks from your house in the space that used to be a closed auto repair garage, you don’t get too worried about names. You get excited.

We went for a tentative visit on a Friday evening. The bar had been open for a week, but it was packed. We grabbed a bar table (what do you call those? The tables that are small and high. You sit on tall barstools, not in low chairs.) next to an incredibly annoying digital jukebox with a ever-changing touchscreen and bright lights. The jukebox claims to have over 200,000 songs. Amanda ordered her usual Grey Goose Cosmopolitan, and she says it was good. I ordered my usual Maker’s Manhattan, up. Our waitress brought my drink and said “the bartender thinks this is right.” It wasn’t. It was Maker’s, but served on the rocks and with dry vermouth, not sweet. The drink wasn’t bad—I ordered another one without correcting it—but the bartender is going to want a little practice. When you have one of the few full bars in the neighborhood, you can’t count on everybody ordering beer.

We went back the next afternoon to try the food. The waitress on Saturday—just as nice as the one who waited on us Friday—explained the limited menu: “We’re a bar that has a grill. I know everybody around here really wants a restaurant, but we’re a bar.” That being said, the bar food is good. I had a club sandwich, and the only way to mess up a club sandwich is to put mustard on it. The fries it came with were promising, but cooked in oil that was not quite hot enough. They were a little limp when some crispiness would have made them great. The menu is mostly sandwiches and burgers, though they also have kabobs of several sorts and dolmathes, adding a Mediterranean angle you usually don’t see on a bar menu.

Sixth Street has several of the required large flat-screen televisions for watching the Astros. And I guess the Texans and Rockets, too. It’s also got patio seating under newly-planted palm trees, though I haven’t’ seen anyone take advantage of it yet. Maybe when the temperature drops below the 90s.

A nice touch: though the women’s restroom is marked with a quasi-offensive hand painted cowgirl with big boobs and a very short skirt, the demarcation for the men’s room is a mechanic in a Hernandez Auto Shop uniform. The renovation is so well-done that the sign may be the only way to know that you’re in a place that used to replace transmissions.

Friday, September 09, 2005

 

Grand Lux Cafe

I’m not the person to ask about Grand Lux Café. It’s a spruced-up version of Cheesecake Factory, and I hate Cheesecake Factory.

[Let me tell you why—it’s not the ridiculously large servings or the insanely long wait that most people complain about. Neither of those are a problem for me. It’s that one time I actually applied for a wait position at CF in Dallas. I filled out the written application in the bar area, which was filled with at least 20 people also filling out applications. I got a callback for a meeting with an assistant manager. He said he was impressed with what I had to say and that he would give me the multiple-choice test and refer me to the general manager. I can’t imagine what sorts of questions they ask on a multiple-choice test for waiters, but I have to. You see, he had run out of the answer documents. So he arranged for me to come back the next day at two o’clock. I showed up at two, but the manager was off that day, and nobody had any idea what I was talking about. They asked me to wait. About twenty minutes later, another ass. manager came by and asked me to wait. Thirty minutes later, the bartender told me that the GM had called down and wanted me to wait just a few minutes. Twenty more minutes, and I was still sitting there. When the GM finally came around to tell me that they were still out of answer sheets and I’d have to reschedule, I fired him. I said “I’ve been here an hour. If I wasted this much of your time, I’d be fired. So I’m leaving and never coming into this fucking place again.” Maybe I didn’t say fucking, but I definitely said the rest. That was three years ago, but here I am in Grand Lux. Shit.]

I’m not the right person to ask about Grand Lux, because I didn’t order what I was supposed to. To really get the right taste, I should have split Double Stuffed Potato Spring Rolls as an appetizer, ordered a Max Burger with fries, and pre-ordered a Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich. You have to pre-order some of their desserts, because they—even ice cream?—take about 30 minutes to prepare. That would be the Grand Lux way. The vomit-your-way-home way.

Instead I had a Manhattan Chopped salad, which is made with lettuce, tomato, red onion, red beets, white beans, green asparagus, turkey, avocado, cheese, and some other stuff. I actually liked it, despite what Robb Walsh has to say about it. No dessert. No appetizer. No over-the-top cream of chicken soup. Just a salad. A not great, but not bad salad. How boring of me.

We noticed that there was a Bento Box on the menu, and Amanda asked about this. Our waiter (who can go into great detail describing the Bishop’s Palace) explained that while a Bento Box is a lunch-sized serving of three different sushi served in boxes, Grand Lux has a less traditional Bento Box. This day their Bento Box was…Salisbury Steak. And two vegetables. While I can hear someone on Food Network, Alton Brown for example, explain that a Bento Box in Japan is the same basic concept as a Blue Plate Special in the States, I cannot accept someone trying to use them interchangeably. A noodle shop in Tokyo’s business district may serve the same function as happy hour here, but if I order a margarita after work and you bring me a bowl of soba, chairs will be thrown. This is not how “Asian influences” are supposed to work.

I’m not the person to ask about Grand Lux Café, because I wasn’t impressed by the décor. The ceilings certainly are high, and the color palate awfully gold, but there’s nothing to break up the areas. Think about how large steak houses and Chinese restaurants are divided into separate rooms. Think about the labyrinth that is Javier’s (in Highland Park, not Houston). They take big spaces and make them feel small and secure. But Grand Lux leaves it open, Grand, overwhelming. It’s supposed to invoke Las Vegas, but in Las Vegas they know how to not make you feel like cattle in a chute. At Grand Lux, it’s obvious. You know that you’re still on a waiting list long after your name has been called and your food is on the table.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

 

Goode Company Seafood

We wanted to go someplace casual and low-key. We wanted seafood. We wanted the seafood to not be expensive or terrible balls of fried mush.

So we went to Goode Co. Seafood. Seafood is my favorite of the Goode Co. empire, though I admit I haven’t been to the Armadillo Palace yet. It’s not perfect seafood, but it’s the best you can get cheap in a laid-back place. At least, it’s the best that I’ve had, but I always welcome emendations. (Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen was good, but I’ll have to go back before making any direct comparisons.)

I had a Bass Ale, Amanda had a glass of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Truth be told, we had two.

We started, as we always do, with the Campechana Extra. The Campechana is what shrimp cocktail ought to be. Shrimp, crab, tomato, avocado, and cilantro (and probably, Amanda adds, a lot of ketchup) are mixed together in a tall cocktail glass, and you eat it with tortilla chips.

I ordered, for the first time, crab cakes. The gauge for measuring crab cakes is their crab-breading ratio, and the cakes at Goode. Co. have a high ratio. Rather than using breading to give the crab cakes shape, I’m convinced they use some type of mold or ring, because there’s only a little bit of breading on the surface of the cakes, but they’re perfectly round. The breading is just for flavor, not shape. So you get a lot of crab. They’re served with a tomato-y remoulade and sliced shitake mushrooms. Even though the two crab cakes are large enough to be a meal, I used the fact that they’re listed as an appetizer as an excuse to order some French fries with them (and I can never figure out why I’m not losing weight).

Amanda had the seafood gumbo with shrimp, crab, and oysters. She says the roux was lighter than usual—it takes a lot of patience for a dark roux, I’m told—but the gumbo base, the roux and other liquids combined, was thicker than usual. I’ll leave it up to the chefs to know what this means and how it’s done. What matters is that she enjoyed it, except the oysters, which I enjoyed. Amanda makes a pretty good gumbo herself, so she knows what she's talking about. She does, may I remind you, know about roux and base and all that stuff.

We forgot, as we always do, that Goode Co. Seafood is always cold. The rail car side of the restaurant is usually warmer, and with the long counter and pictures is definitely the better-looking side to sit on. And now that the whole place is non-smoking, you don’t have to sit in smoke to stay warm. Don't be afraid to take a light jacket, even at the end of August.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

 

Farrago, plain and simple

Farrago, in super-hip midtown, usually conjures decadent images: the French toast at brunch, which is stuffed with maple cream cheese and then fried; the Farrago burger, with its large onion rings thrown right into the burger; bottomless mimosas on Sunday; eggs benedict with crawfish; hostesses baring midriff; 40-year-old patrons wearing expensive sunglasses and trying very hard to look like 30-year-old patrons.

But life at Farrago doesn’t have to be so complicated. We went one night this week because we wanted something simple. Amanda had the hummus and tabbouleh combo, with a healthy serving of hummus—curried, but not too spicy—and fresh mandarin orange tabbouleh. One of us gets this over-sized appetizer of an entrée almost every time we go. We have never been disappointed. In fact, I think this simple dish exemplifies what “Farrago World Cuisine” sees as its mission. They take dishes we already know and add different tastes to them. It’s not as daring or counter-intuitive as “fusion” dishes, it’s just a matter of putting some mandarin orange in the trabbouleh. They also really enjoy adding curry to dishes (the crawfish eggs benedict also have curry, and there’s a curried chicken dish as well). The hummus plate also has a small spinach salad with a spicy, peanut-y dressing, and plenty of pita for dipping.

I had grilled chicken over crimini risotto with asparagus. Because of the airline cut they use, and because they leave the skin on the chicken, the chicken was served without sauce and seasoned with little more than salt and pepper. And it was wonderful. Especially when I think of all the dry pucks o’ protein I’ve had with soggy Caesar salads, this may have been the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had. It’s always great to be reminded how good chicken can taste. The asparagus was well-seasoned with a lemon caper olive oil, but it wasn’t too salty, something that often happens when people grill asparagus.

Another reason to try Farrago—only semi-decadent—is the half-price wine on Monday nights. The entire wine list isn’t discounted, but enough of the good stuff is to make it worth your time if you want to sample something normally out of your price range. Amanda and I once tried a bottle of Flora Springs Trilogy on a Monday. It’s normally listed at $110, which is much more than we usually pay for wine at a meal. But for $55, it was a nice splurge and a nice chance to try some wine we’d heard good things about. We liked it so much we bought a few bottle when we were in Napa—for about $35 a bottle.

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