A delicious little corner restaurant on Westheimer near the Galleria just popped up. Sally is a sucker for a pretty typeface sign. She spotted it on a frequent drive-by a few months back and wondered if it was a hair salon. On closer inspection, she reported happily that it was a new French cafe, Flo Paris Bakery and Cafe, tucked nearby Cafe Lili, another favorite lunch-spot. A little late for her recent birthday celebration and in the mood for butter and perfection, I decided we’d better try it.
The gleaming counters and crystal clear display cases beckon with amazing patisseries, confections and a crepe station. Old standbys like Salad Nicoise, Chocolate Eclairs, gorgeous breads and French Onion Soup….cleverly topped with a removable lid of Gruyere and fresh crisp Sourdough bread that could be dipped or submerged into a flavorful dark and comforting “liquid lunch”.
I always thought that Indians and Pakistanis didn’t get along very well. Well that’s NOT the case at Himalaya… a small restaurant in a mostly Indian-American strip center at Hillcroft and SW Freeway. While I’ve eaten here before, it was a surprise for Sally.
Our lunch consisted of regular Naan and Garlic Naan. The Garlic Naan was spectacular and we decided that it could be a destination dish. All crispy and you could taste the garlic before it reached your mouth!
The Aloo Chana Masala (chick peas and potatoes) was delicious and was not one of the dishes that made it to the doggie bag. It was an a vegan Punjab Indian dish simmered in a piquant curry sauce.
The Goat Masala was bone-in goat cooked in a tomato and onion sauce. It also had a rich garlic curry sauce. The meat was tender as can be and the bone-in treatment is testament to the fact that nothing is wasted in that part of the world.
The Indian rice was cooked perfectly and not the slightest bit of stickiness such as in Japanese or American rices. Himalaya is certainly our go-to restaurant for Indian/Pakistani food… and just may become a hang-out for me! Himalaya is a must-go experience!
There are so many restaurants, bars and bistros along the Washington corridor that I keep thinking “So many eateries, so little time.”
So this spur-of-the-moment drop-in at Urban Eats Bistro + Bar + Market was both, a roll of the dice and a fortuitous find.
Urban Eats is housed in what I seem to remember from decades past was an old auto repair shop. A major renovation based upon a lot of creative juices and a limited budget made this building unto something that drew me in. The best description I can come up with for it is a mini-Eatsie’s, as the downstairs also features a specialty market that sells freshly baked breads, carefully sourced cheeses, cured meats and epicurean products that are aimed at local foodies.
The ground floor Market area of the “fast casual” eatery serves brewed-to-order Java Pura Coffee Roasters coffee (they have a barista station) and espresso drinks, as well as freshly baked muffins, croissants and breakfast sandwiches, along with ready made luncheon sandwiches, salads prepared meals. While many of the entrees, sides and salads are ready-made to grab and take to home or office, if you are in a hurry. If you dine in, they are all made from scratch per your order.
The upstairs is full service Bistro + Bar that offers fifty beers (including a full arsenal of Texas beers), a collection of wines from across the U.S., and 36 craft cocktails (I counted them). The outdoor rooftop patio offers views of the Houston skyline. Live music with old standards, jazz and blues is performed every Friday and Saturday after 9:00 pm.
Owner/Culinary Director Levi Rollins has spent his life in the restaurant, service and sales industries. He came from a family of self-taught chefs, he spent much of his time in his family’s restaurants where he learned recipes from his mother and grandmothers.
There’s also a lot of experience detailed by Chef Jason Grigar (Educated at the New England Culinary Institute, and has worked locally for Houston Center Club, Cafe Annie, Lancaster Hotel and A Fare Extraordinaire; as well as Bistro Roti in San Francisco CA, and Eastside Oyster Bar & Grill, in Sonoma CA.)
So now, Tony has a huge beautiful new restaurant on Waugh Drive and four of us dropped in to try old favorites, as well as sample newer items on his menu. Presentation has evolved in ALL restaurants over the past 35 years… but, in Tony’s case, whose standards on the menu taste the same and which are his mama’s recipes, are NOT his mama’s presentation.
Appetizers started with his Oyster Trio. It included two Oysters Rockefeller, two Oysters Buccaneer and two Oysters Bienville. All of these were prepared traditionally and were made with large fresh oysters.
Spiedini followed. They are mini-roulades of mozzarella and Genoa Salami rolled in pork tenderloin, tossed in garlic and olive oil, then grilled. My first time to try this dish and they are now a go-to appetizer for me (in addition, of course, to the Oyster Trio).
Next was a Crab Salad of seriously jumbo lump crabmeat, avocado, golden beets, mixed baby greens, sliced tomato and sliced boiled eggs. Vegetables were all crispy and fresh and this salad (although I ate plenty more) is a light lunch in its own and perfect for that choice.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit ordering and eating anything with the word “decadent” in its name. However, I’m pretty proud that I bit on this item. The Decadent Pizza is everything that you might expect here in a specialty item… except that you can’t convince me that Tony’s Mama ever made it! If there was ever a take-out item for a party, this one, by itself, qualifies as a unique catering delicacy for an office luncheon or board meeting. The Decadent Pizza is loaded with a fried egg right in the center, bacon, lobster meat, truffle cheese, an Alfredo-type sauce and sprinkled with parsley. Can I have a “yum”?
Now to something that is one of my “hot buttons” in restaurants in Houston… and I guess, in restaurants all over the country outside of San Francisco. I ordered the Cioppino, which I order whenever I see it on a menu anywhere. Tony Mandola’s Cioppino is actually Cioppino! Well done… it even has the right type of crabs in it. Most I order and try elsewhere are served sans crab and those with crab don’t use the requisite Dungeness crabs as in San Francisco. So, what we have here is classic in that it has Dungeness crab, mussels, shrimp, fish (as in SF, the “fish” varies with the catch brought in by the fishermen that day), scallops, peppers, and potatoes in a rich broth. Loved it.
Another at the table ordered Gulf Red Snapper Martha. Fresh broccoli and tomatoes were topped with shrimp, crawfish tails, and crab meat basil a basil wine butter sauce… sprinkled with julienned fresh basil leaves. This Napoleonic presentation of veggies, fish, shrimp and sauce wowed the senses and was as beautiful as it tasted.
I can only eat so much, but I dutifully photographed what others were raving about… with the exception of the monster/delicious Salmon Burger and the Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon (both of which I took home to Sally, who wasn’t with me at lunch). For what it’s worth… and it’s worth a lot, she raved about both.
I’m a big believer in cooking lessons and grab knowledge wherever I can… especially of Mexican regional cuisines.
Most of my limited cooking expertise in Mexican regional cuisines has been gathered around Mexico in cooking classes and in the kitchens of Mexican chefs who were generous with their time and knowledge with me. I learned to prepare Huachinango a la Veracruzana in Veracruz. I was taught the simple art of making Aguachile, as well as many grilled seafood specialties in Mazatlán. I’ve been mentored on the preparation of richer, more complicated ceviches and cocktails in Acapulco. I’ve lurked in the kitchens and learned the importance of lard in the unique spiny lobster dishes typical of the Pacific coast of Baja California Norte, such as Puerto Nuevo-Style Lobster.
Yet, I had shied away from learning what I had considered the more mundane typical Mexican dishes, such as tamales and enchiladas, as I always seemed to gravitate toward what I considered to be the more difficult and exciting regional dishes. I no longer feel that way… nor, do I consider tamales to be something casually thrown together by almost any Mexican wife/mother on a moment’s notice. A couple of weeks ago, as part of Sylvia Casares’ Fall Cooking Classes, I was a student in her class on making tamales (Tamales 101). That class was in the form of Sylvia’s memories of her family’s “Tamaladas”, with her dear recently departed mother at the helm… then a demonstration of making tamales as she was taught by her.
A Tamalada is a family celebration. It’s a family tradition. In Mexican families, especially at Christmas time, ALL generations of the family gather to make tamales in a party that is led by the matriarch… and enjoyed by as many as three-four generations, as they come together to pass on the traditions and recipes that have existed in Mexico since pre-Columbian times.
So, this isn’t going to have a recipe for making tamales. I am making you aware of the fact that Sylvia has been teaching cooking classes for 4-5 years and that I strongly recommend that for a deeper understanding of Mexico… Mexicans… and the foods… you might want to look into her schedule of cooking classes.
Those classes remaining in her 2014 fall schedule are below:
November 15 – Tamales 101 – Learn the ancient art of tamale making in a fun hands on class! Class will be on pork and chicken tamales. $65
In mid-September, 2014, a group of Tex-Mex lovers gathered (Official Notice of a Comped Meal) at the Los Tios on Beechnut (across from Meyerland Mall) at the invitation of Gary Adair… owner of Los Tios. We were helping the Adairs celebrate the 44th anniversary of the multi-location restaurant. But moreover, Adair was using the 44th anniversary to honor and thank his extended family… his employees.
Gary Adair spent his Summers in Beeville,Texas. His family had been there since the War-Between-The-States, but due to a quirk of fate (like mine), his father was stationed in Louisiana, and Gary was born there. You know Beeville, don’t you? Well, it’s a small town down sorta close to Corpus Christi. Its particular location puts it far enough from Mexico to not be a hotbed of JUST Mexican food and far enough from Houston to not be a hotbed of “designer” Tex-Mex food. YET, it was close enough to Mexico that Gary and his family enjoyed the foods of the region as he grew up.
People around Beeville always knew what “puffy tacos” and “puffy quesos” were. They always knew about chili gravy and (very importantly), yellow cheese grated generously on a combination plate. The contrast of the bright yellow cheese and the rich dark chili gravy grated on a cheese tortilla and topped with finely chopped white Rio Grande Valley onions was a taste of heaven to Gary, growing up. So, when Gary moved to Houston, it didn’t take him long to fall in love with Rosemary Garbett’s Los Tios Mexican Restaurants at age 16. It was a taste of his Summer home and the “Valley.” Little did he imagine that it would become such an obsession that it would surprise no one that he bought Los Tios in 2000.
Slowly, he made a few operational changes, He improved the quality of ingredients, adding freshly made tortillas, and premium, fresh squeezed lime juice to 100% blue agave tequila margaritas. Previous owner, Rosemary Garbett claimed that Los Tios served the first frozen margaritas in Houston. The menu still features its signature mesquite-grilled fajitas, enchiladas, tacos, nachos, tamales, burritos, quesadillas and the world famous puffy queso (a hallmark identifier of a true Tex-Mex restaurant).
Presentation of the Tortilla Soup has changed over the years… but not the ingredients, nor the taste.
And LARD! Lardy, lardy… a genuine Tex-Mex restaurant, like Los Tios, can also be identified by the unique flavor imparted by lard in many of its offerings.
We all expected to be in at 7:00 and out at 8:30… but the focus of our group became a discussion of the Tex-Mex dining genre, with constant illustrations provided by plates (“hot plate… don’t touch!”) of familiar old Tex-Mex standards and we didn’t break out until around 10:00 p.m.!
We were introduced to those who Adair feels are responsible for the success of Los Tios… such as long-time loyal employee-family members like Juanita (35 years), Jose (26 years), Johnny (24 years), Martha (23 years), Tino (21 years) and Veronica (16 years) and the consistency they bring to the kitchen and the “front of the house”.
Desserts are colorful and authentic. Sopapillas and Flan and Tres Leches are offered as the finale!
As one who has eaten at Tex-Mex restaurants since his childhood, I always looked forward to the bill being handed to my father when we were in Raymondville, Harlingen or Brownsville. That was where the main course was handed to us… the Tex-Mex pralines! By the way, here in Texas, they are pronounced “pray-leens”… NOT “prah-leens”. Los Tios makes them in-house and they don’t disappoint at meal’s-end.
Poor table manners are the rule… not the exception!
As one who dines out at least 5-6 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 (That’s poor manners in itself, isn’t it?), 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):
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 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.
2. Once one has used a knife, fork, or spoon, NO part of either 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 is 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 one 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.
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 for 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. No picture of this as it’s disgusting.
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 (correctly) in her lap.
If you got 10 out of 10 right, I’d enjoy having dinner with you sometime. If you got over half wrong, I think I’ve 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. Bon appetit!