Friday, January 23, 2015

Coltivare: Part 2

THIS IS MONUMENTAL.

Well, in the world of my blog, THIS IS MONUMENTAL.

In my almost two years of living back here in Houston, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I'VE REVISITED A RESTAURANT IN THIS BLOG.
You can't believe it I know.

I wrote about my amazing trip to Coltivare with my friend Christy back in May, and I figured that was that. But when I went recently with my boyfriend Jon and our friends Heather and Dan, we tried a dish that was a total game-changer. Jon and I split their spaghetti with black pepper, Parmesan, and olive oil (rather, I had about 2 bites, turned around, and it was completely gone, THANKS A LOT JON IT'S A GOOD THING YOU'RE CUTE), and I'm telling you it was an earth-shattering experience. I couldn't not write about it.

But before I delve into our most recent visit there, I want to come right out and say I fully acknowledge that anyone who knows me knows I have some standard catchphrases.

"I SO value my female friendships!"

"Instagram is my social media drug of choice!"

"I never met a cheese I didn't like!"

And specifically in the world of this blog~~> "x is the best y I've ever had!"

And here's my new one: "The spaghetti with black pepper, Parmesan, and olive oil is the best dish I've had in Houston."

I sincerely mean this, so please do not take what I've said with a grain of salt. I'll admit I often I get excited and *maybe* a little over-the-top enthusiastic about food on this here blog. But I have never been more serious in my life with regards to food when I talk about this dish.

SO.

Determined to go back to Coltivare and revisit this incredible pasta (and secure more than a few pathetic bites, JON), we took my parents there for dinner. It was a Saturday evening, the restaurant opened at 5:00, we got there at 5:45, and we were told there was an hour wait (which we expected). We had a drink out in the beautiful heated garden, and ended up only waiting 30 minutes.

Coltivare magic.

My folks offered me a bite of this vibrant salad comprised of local citrus, arugula, mizuna backyard radishes, avocado, lemon aioli, and pink peppercorn. This was a very light and refreshing salad that gave hint to summer and warmer days on the horizon. It's hard for me to get truly jacked up about a salad because in general they make me feel sort of dead inside, so while this dish didn't blow my mind (like, oh I don't know, WHAT WAS TO COME), I appreciated the light, delicate, palate-cleansing nuances it offered.

Jon and I started off with with a side of brussels sprouts.

I have now had this dish twice, and in both instances was witness to a complete brussels sprouts-hater 360-conversion (Dan and my Dad). Tossed with shallots, the smoky brussels tasted like they had been extensively marinated in balsamic vinegar (while not at all overbearing) and roasted to complete perfection. This simple side is elevated to such complexity due to its preparation. It is something that diners really need to experience.

Now onto the entrees....

My mom and dad split the pasta of magnificence (which we'll get to shortly) and this pizza, which was topped with local meyer lemons, Texas chevre, green and black olives, and rosemary. I had tried this pizza on my previous visit, and it was outstanding. I learned back in the spring when I had their seasonal potato rosemary pizza that Coltivare had mastered the art of creating pizzas that were equal parts filling, comforting, indulgent, and astoundingly light. This one was no exception. The tangy lemon mixed beautifully with the salty olives and creamy chevre against the soft, doughy crust.

Jon and I decided to split their four cheese pizza, topped with mozzerella, fresh ricotta, Parmesan, and Point Reyes blue. Have I told you guys I've never met a cheese I didn't like?

We absolutely adored this pizza. Even Jon - who has met a cheese he doesn't like and it happens to be blue - gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. The plethora of gooey cheeses balanced perfectly with the fresh, fluffy crust, and we didn't feel skimped on - or conversely, overpowered by - anything. I could still taste my beloved blue, though it was pleasantly muted by the soft ricotta. The union of the cheeses was delightful, and once again, the pizza still managed to be relatively light.

Those Coltivarian wizards.

But you guys? It's that time.

I think we need to look at it from another angle.

And another for the sake of posterity.

I'm sitting here at a complete loss for words on how to eloquently start this portion off, but I'm going to try to do my best. 

Coltivare's spaghetti with black pepper, Parmesan, and olive oil (which nbd Garden & Gun rated one of the 10 best dishes of the year in 2014) is a completely other-worldy experience. And it blows my mind because, true to other Coltivare offerings, it's so simple: spaghetti. black pepper. Parmesan. olive oil. That's it! Which is why I'm so utterly baffled at the insane complexity of this dish. The freshly made thick, smooth spaghetti is the perfect vessel for the rest of the ingredients. The velvety olive oil forms the Parmesan and cracked pepper into beautiful melty clumps, which are woven throughout the pasta. The dish is warm, soft, intricate, surprising, fulfilling, and seriously transcendent.

So go there. Get this. And I'll say it again: 

The spaghetti with black pepper, Parmesan, and olive oil is the best dish I've had in Houston.

 And there's one more for good measure.

Coltivare Pizza & Garden on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Local Foods in Upper Kirby

I have a new favorite lunch spot.

Can you guess what it is?

Yes, Local Foods has now joined the ranks with the big guns of my favorite Houston lunch places: Benjy's, Chatter's, Bowl Cafe, Brasil, and the [beautiful memory of] Sorrel Urban Bistro.

But before we get to that, everyone needs to know that my dog is now an international celebrity. He was featured in The Daily Mail as the dog who peed on a couch.

I couldn't be more proud.

Also, is anyone watching The Bachelor? I have mixed feelings about it. On the plus side, I think Farmer Chris is legitimately a nice person. On the down side, I think this is going to result in a pretty boring season where the producers try to fake dramatic situations out of nothing even more than usual. On the relatable side, there was a girl who kept running her head into a brick wall while wearing a motorcycle helmet during this week's episode.

Life, you are one great paradox sometimes.

So my mom and I had lunch recently at Local Foods, and we both fell in love with it hard. The interior is open, airy, industrial, chic, funky, and welcoming. Enthralled by the decor, we walked up to the counter to order our food (and wine since it was almost noon, #helpme).

All sandwiches come with a choice of two sides or a cup of soup, so we decided to split two of the amazing looking sammies on the menu. My mom ordered the truffled egg salad sandwich with a cup of lemongrass soup.

When I tell you this is the best sandwich I have had in at least a year, I promise you I'm not being dramatic. The creamy, decadent, haunting egg salad contained the perfect, playful amount of truffle. The crisp tomato and lettuce and the crunchy, fresh pretzel bun were exactly the right counterparts to the egg salad. The whole sandwich was absolutely exquisite, warm, and enveloping. This was a diamond bracelet, a hug, and falling in love with a new Netflix original television series all wrapped into sandwich form. Believe me when I say the truffled egg salad sandwich at Local Foods is...........

p h e n o m e n a l . 
(^ necessary)

My mom reported that the lemongrass soup, filled with chicken, wonton crisps, and cilantro is the the best soup she's ever had. <~~(who does she sound like?) She even ranked it above the chicken soup at PF Chang's, which she's totally obsessed with.

For my meal, I ordered the garden sammie with a side of quinoa and acorn squash.

The garden sammie, though not as jaw-dropping as the truffled egg salad, was also top-notch. In between two fresh slices of ciabatta bread lives a layer of avocado, brussels sprouts, hummus, oven dried tomato, sprouts, cauliflower, and pickled onions. The first major standout in the sandwich was the layer of avocado, which was really in my opinion a light, zesty guacamole. It balanced out superbly with the smokiness of the brussels sprouts (whoever invented brussels sprouts on a sandwich, I'd like to give you a fat kiss on the mouth) and fluffiness of the cauliflower (which for the record, is not listed as one of the ingredients on the online menu, hello magical surprise!). 

The quinoa contained cauliflower, lentils, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. The sweet pomegranate seeds added a nice zing against the more prominent nutty, earthy, peppery flavors of the dish. It was an interesting and unique side, but I'd probably try a different one next time.

The acorn squash was combined with green beans and red potatoes in a ginger curry base. This was definitely my favorite of the two sides. It was rich, soft, intricate, and absolutely delightful.

The folks at Local Foods have really hit it out of the park. The space is inviting and fun, the crowd is buzzing and vibrant, and the food is fresh, complex, perfectly executed, and downright amazing!

I wonder if they'd let me bring my dog in.

Local Foods on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 9, 2015

Polonia

Bears have it SO easy.

They're all, oh hey I'm gonna wake up whenever I want, hunt for some fish in a stream, scare people away just for the hell of it, and SLEEP THROUGH WINTER.

And I realize that my crankiness with Houston's 32 degree weather is laughable when I have friends in the northeast posting pictures of weather readings of 12 degrees (NYC) and 1 degree (Boston). You guys win on the My Winter Sucks More Than Yours scale, hands down. But regardless of all that....I'd still like to sleep through the winter and wake up in beautiful spring.

You know. Be a bear.

But since the odds are that I'll continue to be a human, I'll cope accordingly: stay in the hot yoga studio for as long as I can until I get kicked out, daydream about warm weather vacations, eat lots of comfort foods, and do happy things that make my insides warm and fuzzy and bear-like.

And Polonia fulfills the last two.

When my sister Emily was in town for the holidays she joined my mother and me for lunch at Polonia, and our little Polish clan reached extreme levels of nirvana.

I was raised on Polish food - especially during the holidays - so this is where the warm, fuzzy, good feelings part comes in. For me, eating at Polonia is a nostalgic trip down my blissful, sauerkraut-aroma'ed memory lane.

The no-frills interior was inviting, and the service was warm, friendly, and attentive. Our charming server brought us a fresh bread basket and exchanged a few Polish phrases with my sister.

My mother and I asked for hot tea so we could warm up and pretend to be bears, and we were presented with a beautiful case of assorted teas to choose from.

Seriously, the place is magical.

When you order an entree at lunch, a soup comes with it. The soup changes daily, and that particular day we were served tomato soup. The delightful soup was light, creamy, and tart, and had noodles inside!

Tomato noodle soup, where have you been all my life?

Not realizing I was getting a soup anyway, I had already ordered the barszcz (pronounced "borscht) soup without dumplings to make it vegetarian. I'd actually never had barszcz, but I figured a beet soup would be right up my alley.

While it certainly was vibrant and pretty to look at, I wasn't really into it. I think this is because: a) I omitted the dumplings, an integral part of the soup; b) I had expected it to taste sweet and beet-like, but it had more of a bitter taste; and c) this is not something I ate growing up. My mother ate barszcz growing up, and she seemed to like it, though she said she prefers it with sauerkraut.

But the PIEROGIES.

In Christmases past, the three of us would devote an entire day to making homemade pierogies from scratch. We'd make the dough, roll it out, cut hundreds of little circles, fill them with potato and cheese or potato and sauerkraut, fold them over, crimp the sides down with a fork, boil, and fry them up. Making pierogies is a lot of work and a major labor of love!

And the ones at Polonia are no exception. Emily and my mom split an order of fried potato and cheese pierogies (along with an order of kielbasa, a meat dish I truly miss). They were soft and crunchy, and I was super impressed with the amount of filling inside each one. Too much filling, and pierogies break open, so how these were stuffed with so much potato is beyond me. These tasty pierogies were comfort food in its finest Polish form!

I tend to stick with pierogies of the fried, potato-cheese variety, but that particular day I was feeling adventurous and ordered the boiled mushroom and sauerkraut pierogies. And they. were. PHENOMENAL. Topped with caramely onions, the pronounced tartness of the sauerkraut created a perfect partnership with the delicate, sauteed mushrooms inside. Wrapped up in the smooth, doughy, boiled exterior, it all came together beautifully.

I admit that part of my new love for Polonia coincides with my love for Polish foods and my heritage. That aside, the food there is insanely good. You don't have to be Polish to appreciate it (especially those pierogies, GAH). So I invite you to partake in some of the Polish food traditions that have been such an important part of my life. Believe me when I say a trip out to this homey, welcoming, tasty spot is definitely worth your while!

Bears eat Polish food, right?

Polonia on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Vacation Days: Fort Worth

My sister Emily has been living in Fort Worth since August, and I finally was able to visit her recently. Right before Christmas my boyfriend Jon and I headed up there to grab her for the holidays, but not until we checked out her adorable studio apartment, participated in various Christmas festivities, ate our weight in DELICIOUS food, and all-around painted the town red! And before I go any further and post the pics, let me just say that I (like any other born and bred Houstonian) will tell you I am not the biggest Dallas fan (you can blame that one on my father who is currently "nervous" that the Cowboys might go all the way to the Super Bowl this year). BUT, I'm here to tell you just how much I LOVE Fort Worth. What a great, charming, fun city!

First of all, how darling is her apartment?

And you know what Fort Worth has?

That's right, Pizza. And salads (because then it's healthy).

Emily and her boyfriend Danny had this all ordered and ready for us for our late Friday night arrival. Talk about phenomenal hospitality!

I mean, how impressed are you?

(Don't answer that).

Let's talk about the incredible brunch we had.

We lucky ducklings happened upon this hipster-yet-humble restaurant for Saturday brunch called Brewed. Even luckier, they sat us in the "Game Room," which was filled with vinyls, vintage mannequin heads, and you guessed it - games. And not only was it quirky and fun, but the food was exceptional and inexpensive. We all fell in love hard with this place.

 
Isn't she a cutie?

^Yes, this picture makes me break out into hives, just like you. But we weren't seeing the Cowboys, we were there to cheer on Jon's alma mater, Katy High School, as they played in the state finals!

...at Coyboy Stadium.

*wince*

We had dinner at a great restaurant in Fort Worth's hip Sundance Square called Little Red Wasp. Everything was awesome.

 
And if you stumble upon a big beautiful Christmas tree in the middle of the town square, you better grab the first stranger who walks by you and plant a big one on their cheek for a picture!

Just kidding, I met that guy earlier that morning.

Also cheesecake.

It was a great weekend, and I am now a huge fan of Fort Worth! If you go, be sure to check out Brewed, Little Red Wasp, and Sundance Square. They were big hits with this crowd!

Also that. Check out that.