Frankly, I never expected to find what I found when we entered this new restaurant in a strip center on the feeder of the Southwest Freeway!The first positive discovery was the Instito Gastronomico Caterina de Medeci-trained chef of 40 years, Chef Roberto Crescini! Also, I immediately stood in front of art depicting memories of Chef’s beautiful hometown of Brescia in northern Italy.
Chef Crescini’s concept is to provide fresh (get it? Fresco!) ingredients… bread, pasta, pizza, ravioli, meatballs, sauces, dressings and desserts ALL made in-house daily! The kitchen is “true scratch”. All grains and cheeses are imported from Italy. A pasta machine is parked outside of the kitchen in plain view for the customers to watch the magic of pasta-making. Remembering the menu, classic dishes may be ordered, as well as custom-made dishes crafted from your choices of fresh pasta, sauces and proteins.
We started off with Umbria Lentil Zuppa, a hearty a soup of lentils, chopped onion, carrots, celery, garlic and house-cured guanciale (an Italian cured pork product). I’m a big fan of lentil soup, but this was much richer and tastier due to the depth of ingredients.
The little strip along Richmond avenue just inside the loop has always been a welcome area for Houston’s diners. From Texas Coast seafood to barbeque to Cajun… it’s all good. came Owner and Executive Chef David Chang with an idea and a mission to present his unique vision of seafood and glorious steaks (like 35 day house-aged ribeyes) to Houston. Rather than rustic older buildings that exist there, Chef David plopped an ultra modern glitzy restaurant right in the middle of the others… right in the shadow of the Williams (Transco) Tower!
Opening with full service on April 14th, we had lunch during the “soft opening”. Since we were early, ahead of the rush, we relied heavily upon suggestions by Chef David… so we started off with a sublimely smooth Chicken Liver Pate’. I don’t believe that we have ever had a smoother and more delicious pate’. As it was obvious that this pate was not filled with wine, garlic, or chicken stock, the taste of a truly respected chicken liver was obvious and lot rustic and lumpy as many others are. It as served with house-made crackers that could have stood alone, but truly complemented the pate’.
A guest ordered Shrimp Balls and we all devoured the five, generously plated on a champagne glass, balls quickly. Crispy on the outside, surrounding small shrimp, they weren’t overcook (which we seem to run into frequently in some other places).
We then had an Ahi Tuna Tower that was soooo much than a tuna tower. There was a stack of Ahi tuna, olives, Roma tomatoes, avocado, lump crabmeat and cucumbers… both tasty and 5 inches tall! It sounded complicated, but it wasn’t that… it was just complex with the ingredients perfectly matched, each to the other. I’ll eat there again, but not without this.
Then on to the prima-entree that we split and loved. The huge Hawaiian Flounder again showcased love of lump crabmeat, as it had plenty adorning it! It was nestled in a pool of white Miso champagne sauce and oozed with a creamy cheese.
The Crab Cake was architecturally beautiful. It was crispy on the facade and creamy on the interior… with plenty of the lump crabmeat. It was atop a creamy sauce and vegetable strips and ended up being greedily split among three diners.
The Wine Room has a glass wall with hundreds of fine bottles of wine and would be great for private parties or office dinners.
Inside the loop, this beautiful restaurant is close to most in Houston, but it was good for us as it isn’t much of a quick drive from our house! It’s nice to have you in the neighborhood, Chef David. Thanks for a pleasant dining experience… we’ll be back!
On April 8th, 2018, 1-4 p.m., The Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund will hold its first fundraiser, TACOS OVER TEXAS, in collaboration with El Tiempo Cantina and the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. The event will bring together over a dozen chefs from around the nation in a friendly competition honoring the legacy of Mama Ninfa Laurenzo and celebrating the history and transformation of Houston’s passion for multicultural food. Guests will enjoy a specialty taco from each chef, beer and margaritas, live music and more – all while benefiting those in need. Ninfa often talked about the importance of giving. “We all have so much that we must share with each other.”
Tickets are $40 per person for general admission and $200 for VIP admission. Note: VIP ticket holders will have early access from 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. The gates are open at 1:00 p.m. for for all ticket holders.
Terron Henry, Cool Runnings Jamaican Grill; Nierman Shaw, Niermanz Food Boutique; Dominic Laurenzo, El Tiempo Cantina; Alex Padilla, The Original Ninfa’s; Juan Arellano, Tony Mandola’s; Johnny Carrabba, Carrabba’s; Greg Gatlin and Michelle Wallace, Gatlin’s BBQ; Sandy Tran and Anne Le, Tout Suite; Kiran Virma, Kiran’s; Justin Martin and Elliot Roddy, Fuel Kitchen and Health Bar; Max Torres and Jeff Weinstock, Cake and Bacon; Charles Bishop, Presidio; Michael and David Cordua, Cordua Restaurants; Ken Bridges, Standard Taco, Ritual, Pinks Pizza; Robert Del Grande, Cafe Annie; Donny Navarrete, Laurenzo’s; Hayden Hulings, Your Table. All will be presenting unique gourmet tacos to the fundraiser guests and the judges. As a judge, I found that we will be sequestered away from the competition prior to the judging (as we know most of the chefs and might be biased). Houston Chronicle Food Editor Greg Morago wrote an article about the competition on Wednesday, April 4th in the Chron’s STARFLAVOR section which I knew immediately that I must not even glance at… as it featured photos of various tributes and the chefs.
Please come out and support this fundraiser!
Now a little bit about Mama Ninfa’s famous FAJITAS that she introduced to the world in 1973
Mama Ninfa Laurenzo: If it isn’t a beef skirt steak… it isn’t a fajita!
First of all, let’s get it straight exactly what fajitas are. I like to start off with what they aren’t. They aren’t chicken, or any part of a chicken. They aren’t shrimp. They aren’t pork, either. However, many authentic Tex-Mex restaurants that offer genuine beef skirt steak fajitas also stretch the definition of them in order to serve a broader audience, such as those who don’t care to eat beef.
So, we get a few of the frequent misconceptions about what fajitas are out of the way immediately.
The word “faja” comes from the Spanish word for “belt.” The word “fajita” means “little belt” in Spanish. Fajitas are a dish with roots in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, made from only one cut of meat: skirt steak. Preferably the “outside skirt”. So, what is a skirt steak? A skirt steak is a strip around 18 inches long and about ¾ to one-inch thick – and it is in the beef carcass beneath the heart and lungs, so fajita (little belt) is an apt nickname for this cut of meat.
There are four skirts per beef carcass, yielding about 8 lbs. of meat. The two outside skirts are the diaphragm muscle from the forequarter and the two inside skirts are the secondary flank muscle from the hindquarter (and these need the marinade to tenderize as well as for flavor). Better restaurants use only outside skirts.
The skirt steaks today are usually marinated prior to grilling. This process is actually for flavor and tenderizing the meat if cooking with inside skirts steaks, although acid (often citrus) in the marinade does tenderize the meat slightly. If cooking outside skirt steaks, they are preferable. Skirt steaks are far more flavorful than many other cuts of beef, such as sirloin, chuck, flank and round steaks… and when cooked properly, they are very tender, as well as gloriously flavorful.
Historically, fajitas have been eaten in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas since the cattle drives in the 1930’s, where animals were butchered and the Mexican cowboys (Vaqueros) were given the strip steaks as throw-away cuts of meat (dumb gringos!). There are many stories of the history of fajitas and many claims to being the first to sell fajitas to us gringos. Fajitas appear to have made the leap from cattle drive campfire and backyard grill obscurity to commercial sales in 1969. Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager, operated the first commercial fajita taco stand (his fajitas were unseasoned and unmarinated) at a rural Dies Y Seis celebration in a little Texas town of Kyle in September of 1969. However, what most people know as fajitas were first sold in the Mexican/American barrio of Houston.
Mama Ninfa Laurenzo, a widowed mother of five children, started selling fajitas as Tacos al Carbon around 1973 in a little five-table restaurant (where the family’s tortilla factory used to be) with the help of her five children. She quickly began marketing them as “Fajitas” and they started showing up in Tex-Mex restaurants all over Texas. They soon became a staple in Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants across the U.S. in the early 80’s and the rest is known by almost everyone everywhere. Although, in the late 1980’s, Mama Ninfa’s recipe was sought by Tex-Mex cooks and restaurateurs, but never cloned exactly. Even though many chefs came close, many restaurants left out the most important ingredients… the namesake, Fajitas (skirt steaks). And that is the case today, particularly in the northern United States.
Roland Laurenzo, owner of El Tiempo Cantina’s and Laurenzo’s… and Ninfa’s son.
So, now that we have established the fact that grilled beef, such as sirloin, tri-tip, chuck steaks, flank steaks, grilled shrimp or grilled chicken breasts are NOT fajitas (calling grilled chicken “Chicken Fajitas” doesn’t make them fajitas!), let’s get to making some REAL fajitas. The recipe that Mama Ninfa described to me in the ‘80’s is very similar to this one, but other than her sons and grandsons (in the restaurant business in Houston) she never gave away the EXACT written-down recipe to anyone (as far as I know), but what I DO know came directly from Mama Ninfa and was confirmed by her son, Rolando (Roland) Laurenzo… patriarch of the Laurenzo family and owner/president of El Tiempo Cantinas:
Mama Ninfa’s Fajita Recipe
1 large orange, zested
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup pineapple juice (no matter who in Mama Ninfa’s family talked about the recipe, ALL mentioned how important she thought pineapple juice was in the mix in the early days on Navigation Boulevard in Houston)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 dried chiles de arbol crushed
2 skirt steaks no more than 3/4 inch thick
12 warm flour tortillas
Condiments such as Pico de Gallo, Cilantro, Sour Cream, Guacamole, etc.
Grate the orange and lemon zests. Combine the zest with the water, the pineapple juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and chiles, in a large baking dish.
Skirt steaks with the membrane attached, which must be removed (peeled).
Using a sharp knife, remove any membrane or silver skin from the meat. In most supermarkets, this membrane will already have been removed. If the meat is thicker than 3/4″ thick at the thickest part, cut it in half horizontally (butterfly) so that it will cook evenly. Place the skirt steak in the marinade and turn to coat. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 2 hours if inside skirt steak… or, 1 hour if outside skirt steaks.
Skirt steaks ready to marinate.
Marinate skirts steaks for up to 2 hours.
Grill over HOT wood, a charcoal or gas grill, for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until done. Cut crosswise in one-half-inch strips and serve with grilled onions, jalapenos and server hot and steaming. The Laurenzo family also serves the fajitas on a table grill to keep them hot. Part if the evolution of the recipe that the family has made over the decades also includes a ramekin of drawn garlic/lemon butter to dunk the strips in when served.
The recipe above reflects the words to me from Mama Ninfa Laurenzo, family history, and verified for accuracy by her son, Roland Laurenzo.
Photo of Mama Ninfa is courtesy of Mama Ninfa’s family. Photos of prep, marinating, grilling and presentation are by Jack Tyler and were done in El Tiempo Cantina with the courteous help of Roland Laurenzo… Copyright 2018 Jack Tyler.
What a light, bright airy Louisiana-style dining room in which to enjoy a downhome feast on a spring morning as it rolls to midday! Tony Mandola’s Seafood Kitchen, is located easily south of West Dallas on Waugh Drive. Our gracious host, Tom Mandola, stopped by to assure that all was well.
How could it not be with refreshing cantaloupe and pistachio parfait to start?
Eggs Benedict or “Beni”, as they are affectionately called these days, entice the diner to enjoy variations none heretofore seen nor tried. They lure you to the dark side of overindulgence. We tried only one of those. That was the Carnita Beni. Frankly, Tony went out of his way coming up with this one… but it’s a winner. It’s the Carnita Benedict. Texans will love this… those grand poached eggs won us over:
The crawfish omelette fairly danced with caramelized red and yellow peppers. I like spicy and this was delightfully so; the side of roasted potatoes were a comforting and delicious counterpoint.
And what’s a pretend trip to New Orleans without some deep-fried oysters? With the Gulf issues after Harvey these days, it just makes me want them all the more. Our accommodating oyster friends in Louisiana are keeping us supplied until we recover with those Texans which were darn tasty! Fried to mouth-watering perfection. And the Kale? It was crispy and not overcooked. As a devotee of kale, I despise the act of cooking kale to submission so it may be eaten by those who are not delighted by its unique mouthfeel and flavor. I enjoyed every bite of it.
Bread pudding with apples, raisins and cinnamon topped with a New Orleans-style Bourbon sauce that lulls you to that pleasant sated feeling is a treat that I remember well from previous trips to Tony Mandola’s Seafood Kitchen. I order it on every visit!
All three of us enjoyed the delightful Creme Brulée from the little pot and accented it with the sweet whipped creme and strawberry.
What a great idea to return on Sunday for an Easter brunch celebration!
A little romantic getaway is tucked along Voss on Del Monte in our neighborhood, nestled near a convenient family-owned jewelry store, salon and florist between the Galleria and Memorial Villages. Arturo Boada begs you to fall in love all over again with your date and the food in this seductive and artistic setting. The warmth of the talented chef owner, his attentive, friendly staff and the well-chosen vibrant modern art and coppery handcrafted wall creates the ambiance that lulls you to loosen up and let the world go away. The food cannot be captured adequately on film as it is a pleasure that must be experienced. Arturo Boada, beloved chef owner of 1990’s La Mer and Solero, opened and slipped away from a restaurant in Uptown Park and thankfully, has re-emerged, phoenix-like, in a more appreciative Galleria neighborhood with renewed culinary enthusiasm.
To begin, we sipped a small cup of roasted tomato soup that tickled the senses and left us wanting more. Followed by a trio of salads:
Arturo’s handmade al dente chicken-stuffed pasta virtually floats in a pink sea of creamy walnut, sage sauce. His deft hand in the kitchen is apparent in every dish.
Houstonia’s Food Editor Katherine Schilcutt said “he’s still got it” in 2012, “But you should never count a chef out, especially one who wowed Houstonians for years — albeit in the 1990s. One of Boada’s first restaurants, La Mer, gained a spot on Esquire‘s Best New Restaurants list in 1992. And in 1997, Boada did it again with the opening of Solero, which started the city’s love affair with tapas restaurants.” Competition may be stiff these days, but this is not merely a tapas restaurant and his culinary expertise is still wowing his guests. His talent in the kitchen and love to serve has only deepened.
The entrée of grilled salmon was a piquant juxtaposition to the rich buttery dish that came before. It is always a pleasure to taste food from a chef who so obviously loves to cook and enjoys sneaking a peek from the kitchen or a stroll through the restaurant to see how his dishes are received.
Always good to close the meal and settle in with a little Port and delicious coffee.
To keep guests happy and assure his place in heaven, Arturo’s dessert plate offered something sweet and special for everyone. A perfectly-sized spoonful of Creme Brûlée, gelato and tiramisu draw you rapturously closer to each other.
In the candlelit glow, we retreated home hand in hand, sated and knowing we had found that special place nearby that affords families and friends a sweet haven away from Houston. A wonderful place to go home for the holidays.
We enjoyed some of the best prime rib we’ve ever eaten at Laurenzo’s for lunch. We were still trying to decide what to serve to our family as a spectacular show-stopper on Thanksgiving (or maybe, Christmas, for that matter)… then Chef Donny told me that Laurenzo’s will be closed on Thanksgiving… yet will be providing complete Prime Rib Dinners TO GO for Thanksgiving (or Christmas or anytime, for that matter).
The idea of leaving all of the work to them, then enjoying a beautiful holiday meal at home with the family… without the fuss and mess was immediately enticing (and I’m a chef!) and relieving to this old bird.
And just look at one of the desserts you could have!
Prices, quantities and pick-up instructions can be found on their website: www.laurenzos.net. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
4412 Washington Avenue
Houston, Texas 77007
Since Urban Eats served us well in the past and offered comfort food of every description, there was good reason on Halloween to try some new lunch plates offered there. We found no scary surprises and were positively charmed with the lunch plates we ordered to share.
The Cowboy is a Signature Slider and came on a sesame seed bun and featured a 44 Farms Salisbury steak cooked (per request) medium rare. It was juicy and delicious. It was accompanied by cheddar, bacon, a house-made bourbon sauce and some really crispy fried onion strings and tasty french fries. It was somewhat tricky to split that slider three ways… but we did it and were all impressed.
Sundried Tomato and Prosciutto Meatloaf and Three Pig Truffled Mac & Cheese
Then we tackled a small Sundried Tomato and Prosciutto Meatloaf. Good meatloaf is usually crafted from a combination of three different meats, to get the required juice, texture and taste. This one was, too… but it was a mixture of sirloin, spicy Italian sausage and lean turkey… then topped with a tasty tomato brown gravy and parmesan. It was very moist and rich with flavor, due to the sausage!
Three Pig Truffled Mac & Cheese was greatly anticipated and didn’t disappoint. Everyone was delighted. Many restaurants will try to cheap out by offering a flavored truffle oil that has never seen a truffle. This one was REAL truffle oil – infused with white truffles. I couldn’t tell if it was the flavor of Oregon or Alba white truffles and didn’t ask, but the flavor imparted to the Mac & Cheese was beautiful and tummy-warming. It was made with a smoky bacon, pancetta and honey glazed ham. None of this left to take home!
Grilled Salmon paired with Israeli Couscous and Arugula Salad
We enjoyed a delicious Grilled Salmon paired with a warm basil-infused Israeli Couscous and Arugula Salad. The couscous were LARGE and popped with a delicate mouth feel…loved it!
Various Pumpkin Desserts
We followed all of this with a small (!) selection of desserts including a Butterscotch Pumpkin cookie, a Gingersnap Pumpkin Cheesecake, a Buttermilk Pumpkin Bar (so good) and MY favorite, a Pumpkin Macaron!
When we left, we were greeted by a Halloween-costumed Eric Munoz, Owner/Director of Operations (aka Fantastic Beasts’ Eddie Redmayne)… who was proud that he already had everything in the closet that he wore!
Count three happy diners who WILL return!
3414 Washington Houston, Texas 77007 713-248-8579 FeastUrbanEats.com
Poor table manners are usually the rule… not the exception!
As one who dines out several times a week, as well as one whose parents knocked him on the head with the handle of a butter knife for any infraction at the table (those are poor manners anyway, aren’t they?), I have observed that poor table manners are the RULE… not the exception in Houston (and everywhere else, for that matter). If you don’t care about these things, then skip this article, as you probably hit 10 wrong out of 10 anyway. Who am I to point out your poor table manners? Well, someone needed to, (if you care) unless you do 10 out of 10 correctly. Here are the infractions that occur the most often in restaurants (as well as at $1000/plate galas):
The knife blade should never face outward! This is the
most common infraction of proper table manners.
The knife blade should always face the center of the plate.
1. The most common faux pas at the table is the way the knife blade is faced when placed on the plate between bites. The knife blade ALWAYS faces toward the center of the plate. The knife should be placed across the top of the plate with the blade facing toward you. It is permissible to place the knife across the top right of the plate… but the key to its placement is that the knife blade is always to be toward you or toward the center of the plate. At least eight out of ten were taught by their mothers that a knife blade should point outward when placed on the plate. Sometimes when I’m at table with several people, I feel like they are looking at my “innie” wondering why a guy like me never learned how to eat in public like all of them were taught. Face it, your mommy taught you the wrong placement of your knife.
Once any utensil has been used, NO PART of it should touch the table again, including the handle!
A utensil, once used, should be placed completely on the plate.
2. Once one has used a knife, fork, or spoon, NO part of any of them should ever touch the table again. Between courses, leave the knife and fork on your plate. The waitperson should take the plate and used utensils and bring fresh ones with the next course. Between bites, the knife and fork are always placed completely on the plate.
A soup spoon should never be pulled toward you.
A soup spoon should always be pushed away from you.
3. A soup spoon is never drawn toward the diner… ever. The proper way to eat soup is to push the spoon away from you. Also, the soup should be scooped from the side of the bowl farther away from you.
A soup bowl may be tilted away from you to get the very last bit.
4. May you tilt a soup bowl to get the small amount of remaining soup on the spoon? Yes, you may. However, the soup bowl, if tilted, should always be tilted away from you.
NEVER hold your hand over a glass to indicate that you want no more.
5. You are through with your wine, tea, or water. The waitperson approaches you to refill your glass. Please do not hold your hand over your glass indicating “no more”! The proper way to stop the waitperson from refilling your glass is to open your mouth and say “No, thank you.” NEVER wave away service. By the same token, don’t hold your hand up in the air and insult your server by clicking your fingers to get his/her attention, or summon your server as if hailing a cab. It’s an insult to the server. It’s also distracting (and offensive to other diners in the restaurant and to others at your table).
6. Never fold your napkin neatly after use. That includes when you are going to the restroom… loosely fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate. When you are through with your meal, your napkin may be loosely folded and placed, again, to the left of your plate… not ON the plate. In the past, it was common to place the napkin on your seat when excusing yourself to leave the table temporarily. It is more common today to LOOSELY fold the napkin and place it to the left of your plate. A well-trained waitperson should replace it for you. If not, you at least left it where it should have been placed.
To pick up or not to pick up?
7. OOOOPS!You’ve dropped your napkin or your fork on the floor. What do you do? Well, whatever you do, do it without drawing any attention to yourself and what you are doing. If that is impossible, you may leave it on the floor. Yes, it IS one of the things that your server does as part of his/her job. Emily Post says to leave it on the floor and the server will get it for you. Yes, the server has a lot to do, but, after all, it IS one of those things that are part of his/her job. Here’s the problem for you consider. If you pick up the fork or napkin, what are you going to do with the thing? Of course, you must NOT put either it back on the table after it’s been on the floor. So, you’ve picked it up and now you have nowhere to put it, except to hold it in your hand until the server shows up to take it and replace it. I suggest that you follow Emily Post’s recommendation. The server must be involved either way, so worrying about the fact that the server is very busy is a moot point and you still won’t be able to resume dining until you involve the server to get another napkin or fork, anyway. So, discreetly ask your server to replace it.
Never butter (or dip) more than one bite at a time of a roll!
Tear off a single bite and butter it or dip in dipping oil.
8. Butter bread or rolls only one bite at a time… and only place one bite at a time in your “dipping oil.” Also, only cut one bite of food at a time. If you have only one piece of food on your plate and it’s too big to put into your mouth, then, of course, you may cut it into two bites. This one’s a no-brainer, but I still see diners buttering an entire roll or piece of bread… and still remember my father preaching to me to NOT do it, yet remember him (after my mother died and wasn’t there to monitor him) buttering and holding an entire piece of bread in the air and taking a bite of bread with every single bite of food before he swallowed it. 9. In a buffet, remember that you may waddle back to the buffet as many times as you care to.Never stack your food so that any item covers another. When you return from the buffet table, your plate should have the equivalent of an entrée and two or three “sides”, unless you are too lazy to go back again. Most of all, always get a new, clean plate for any subsequent trips to the chow line.No picture of this as it’s disgusting.
Your elbow may only be on the table between courses and
during conversation… as long as you have put your fork down.
10. Elbows on the table? I don’t even need to talk about this one, do I? Well, surprise! It is OK to place your elbows on the table between courses and during conversation. Also, sit up straight, bring the food up to your mouth and don’t go down on your food. There’s no left hand showing here, as it is placed (correctly) in her lap. If you got 10 out of 10 right, I’d enjoy dining with you sometime. If you got over half wrong, I think I’ve already eaten with you every time I’m in a restaurant or event. Again… if you don’t care about table manners, then thank me for giving you 10 ways to prove it.
After years of enjoying the quiet atmosphere and sumptuous cuisine at the original Pho & Crab Restaurant on Memorial, just past Dairy Ashford, we were delighted to experience the new location on Westheimer as well as the new menu. ALL dishes, old and new were wonderful. But the seafood – the seafood is sublime. Lime and garlicky sauce over Bairdi crab. spicy pho filled with vegetables served with the obligatory basil, bean sprouts and lime, grace the warm dark wood tables as you lounge in comfortable booths and ample chairs. While the old location on Memorial was closer to standard “authentic” Vietnamese, the newer store on Westheimer is a delightful fusion of Vietnamese and South Louisiana… specifically, New Orleans. So, with a tableful of people, we started a farewell dinner for our friends.
The Salt and Pepper Calamari is one of the favorite appetizers at Pho & Crab. The calamari was tender and juicy, yet the batter was delightfully crispy. Calamari is always on my starter list at restaurants that offer it… and it is easy to see why it is here.
Lime Garlic Shrimp is a Vietnamese version of the famous New Orleans barbequed shrimp. Tangy… juicy and sloppy… this dish demanded and deserved the plastic gloves passed out to each guest when it was ordered. Frankly, although I love the New Orleans version, it was JUST AS GOOD.
Lemongrass Coconut Steamed Mussels were a natural choice of appetizer to order next. While this dish at other restaurants might have been prepared in various ways (including with a cream sauce), this one had a decidedly Vietnamese flavor with the coconut milk and lemongrass. the tangyness of the lemongrass and the sweetness of the coconut milk, there was an immediate difference between this and the cream-based ones I had been used to… and we preferred this one.
Bairdi Crabs (Snow Crabs) make up around 10% of the catch in each pot of King Crabs caught in the Bering Sea along northeast Alaska. In Houston, Pho & Crab was a pioneer in the preferred use of Bairdi crabs. Rightfully so. Smaller and decidedly sweeter than our King Crab, these crustaceans made the Garlic Noodle with Steamed Bairdi Crab succulent and tasty with its Cajun-Asian inspired sauce.
Considered a south Vietnamese pho, Hu Tieu, combines spicy seafood noodles with a pork and seafood base, hence the distinctive slightly more aggressive taste. Of the three signature phos served at Pho and Crab, this is by far our favorite.
We enjoyed a Vietnamese crepe from Saigon made from a rice and flour mix with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts inside. A delightful appetizer!
Most who have dined in New Orleans are familiar with the famous New Orleans bread pudding. This homemade Saigon/New Orleans Style Bread Pudding is made with bourbon-soaked raisins and a coconut cream sauce. I liked this version far better! Much creamier and moister!
Though there are many reasons why Pho & Crab has rapidly become our favorite Houston restaurant. An ever-cheerful and most gracious host Andrew Tran, unique cuisine often made to order, and happy decor make this a treat!
The new year is a time to renew acquaintances. I dropped into Peli Peli at the Galleria with fellow web food writer/blogger Hank Lewis, for lunch. We had decided to pair up to gain the appetite to order all six new items. Peli Peli is different from many fine restaurants in Houston. In addition to being the premier South African cuisine and wine cellar in Houston, Peli Peli has the ability to add new menu items quarterly, and its regular clientele can rest assured that they will be typical outstanding Peli Peli quality. We enjoyed a 2-1/2 hour carnage and left still with a wishlist of untried menu items.
Such was our experience this week at Peli Peli. We enjoyed (mentioned in no particular order) a Seared Blackened Salmon slathered with a generous blessing of Hollandaise. The blackening added a rather mild south Louisiana touch… and it was softened by the tangy Hollandaise.
A top contender for the best presentation (yet the absolute BEST was still to come) was the Red Curried Lamb Potjie Pot. Beautiful tender chunks of leg of lamb were tossed in a stew of carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, peas and a red curry that reminded me gently in the back of my throat that there was a tamed heat in the curry. It was served with Toasted Coconut, a Mango Chutney and a very South African Rice Pilaf. This seemed to be a tip of the hat to the large Indian population in South Africa.
The Beef Tongue was a pretty generous portion and it was grilled masterfully! The tongue was tender… with the consistency of a fried chicken liver that had a nice tasty char and a crispy crust on the edges. This is definitely the tongue for those who have shied away from it in the past.It certainly isn’t your grandmother’s version! It was plated with Sauteed Vegetables, Corn Wheels and tangy Peli Mustard. On the side were Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Roasted Potatoes.
One of the most beautiful and enticing dishes was the Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops! These were 12 ounces of tender bone-in lamb with Sauteed Pappadews, Red Onion and Oyster Sauce. Aside from being a visual feast, I could have (and should have) ordered a couple more of these. I kept thinking that this was a typical presentation of the quality and taste of a Peli Peli offering. Delicious!
Then came what was probably the most gorgeous presentation. A Fried Whole Red Snapper dominated the center of the table… then the center of the plate. I’m a fourth generation Texan… so I’m used to Red Snapper… but not with the light rice flour breading or the Creamy Scampi Butter and Stuffed Pappadews. At $42.00, this dish is worth it… yet NOT for the faint of pocketbook. However, remember that this dish is fine dining for two.
A lot of us have had chicken and waffles. The mind wanders during the short wait tor the service of Schnitzel & Deep Fried Waffles, but the comparison’s not even close. Don’t bother. Imagine a tall stack that wants to fall over sideways, but it’s politely held in place by a wooden skewer topped with a South African flag. Imagine it piled with Bacon, Fried Chicken Schnitzels, a Medium Fried Egg with its yolkoozing down the facade and drizzled with Lyles Syrup. Now that isn’t really a dessert. With the bacon and perfectly (to order) cooked fried egg on the top floor… it’s a savory breakfast.
However, there IS a tall stack of waffles that makes a perfect dessert and that was mine for this meal. The dessert, or sweet breakfast, is called South African Deep Fried Waffles. Literally drenching the crispy deep-fried waffles are Cinnamon Butter Spread, Strawberry, Mango, Pineapple, Blueberry, Passion Cream, Vanilla Cream, Amarula Cream… and Lyles Syrup. There’s nothing like it in town and you truly need to try it. I loved it.
Peli Peli has one of the most inventive and creative menus that I have encountered in Houston. The food is always predictably well-presented and delicious… I love this place.