Monday, March 30, 2015

My 10 Favorite Houston Dishes: Year Two

I have been living back in Houston for the past two years now, a fact that I find completely unbelieveable. Time, you are a flyin'!

Last year I shared with you my 10 favorite dishes from Year One, and I am incredibly excited to now be able to share my faves from Year Two. This past year has seen me through many changes (a new vegetarian lifestyle, a flipping awesome solo trip to South America, the presence of a dreamy guy I've managed to trick into being my boyfriend), but one constant remains the same:

I flipping love Houston food.

So let's get started, shall we?

Kim's Favorite Houston Dishes
April 2014-March 2015


#10: Vegetable Risotto - Radio Milano (February 2015)

During a super fun night out with my boyfriend Jon and our friends Lindsey and Caleb (a night that kept the room spinning and left me eating Kraft mac and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next day because when you're pushing 30 hangovers are a whole new level of Worst Thing Ever), we had dinner at City Centre's highly regarded Radio Milano. The service was so incredible that our server completely created a new dish for me to accommodate my vegetarian diet. Behold the vegetable risotto: creamy, fluffy, filled with various vegetables, and lightly accented with truffle flakes and pecorino romano. It may not cure hangovers, but it does change lives.


#9: Dark Chocolate Cake - Backstreet Cafe (August 2014)

I am not a dessert person at all. If given an after-dinner option of cake or an entire bag of kettle cooked salt and vinegar chips, I'm choosing the latter (#help). So it's saying a lot that a dessert has made my Top 10 list. While dining off of the 2014 Houston Restaurant Weeks menu at Backstreet Cafe last year with my friend Meredith, I had an otherworldly experience with their dark chocolate cake. I'm surprised I didn't get kicked out of the restaurant because with every bite, I emitted a new delightful noise at the divine decadence of this dessert. Go there. Get it. But consider yourself warned: I'm not bailing you out of jail for public misconduct with a piece of cake.


#8: Veggie Shinoda Roll - Japaneiro's (January 2015)

I am happy to report that two Houston suburban dishes have made it to this year's list, the first being the veggie shinoda roll at Japaneiro's in Sugar Land. Jon and his sisters Joanna and Jaclyn have been frequenting this trendy outer-loop spot for years, and I am so glad they admitted me into their club. Because it was there that I experienced the best vegetable sushi roll I have ever had. The veggie shinoda roll is covered in deep fried tempura coating, and filled with an exciting medley of soft vegetables. The various sauces it is topped with give the intricate roll some serious depth. Is it healthy? Not a chance. But what's life without a few indulgences?


#7: Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches - The Tasting Room (October 2014)

Speaking of indulgences.

The Tasting Room is a small Houston chain, and I visited their Kingwood location last October with Meredith. Now I've had many a grilled cheese in my day. I've had many an awesome grilled cheese in my day. The mini grilled cheese sandwiches at The Tasting Room were stupid phenomenal. Silky, dripping goat cheese is enclosed by little baby pretzel buns and topped with a sweet tomato jam. This multifaceted appetizer is little, but mighty. Plus, they're small, which means they're cuter!


#6: Roasted Brussels Sprouts - Coltivare (January 2015)

I wrote about Coltivare not once (when I went with my friend Christy), but twice this past year, because after more visits with Jon, my friends Dan and Heather, and my parents, I had to mention a few new dishes I had tried. One of these dishes was their roasted brussels sprouts. The smoky, sweet, earthy sprouts are cooked with such care, I was witness to two brussels sprouts-hater conversions in their presence. I have been back to Coltivare several times since, and I continue to order them every time.


#5: Blue Cheese Polenta - Just Dinner on Dunlavy (December 2014)

After much cajoling from my mom and dad, Jon and I went to dinner one night at Just Dinner on Dunlavy. Things I learned from that experience: 1) You can never escape your parents, no matter how hard you try; 2) Just Dinner is BYOB, so Jon and I were able to enjoy our own bottle of wine we brought back from the Hill Country; 3) The restaurant is by far the most romantic spot I've been to in town, and; 4) Their side of blue cheese polenta is mind blowing. This indulgent little side was creamy and buttery, with just a hint of tangy blue cheese. It was absolutely perfect. I said it then that it was in the running for best things I had in the past year, and whaddaya know, it made Top 5!


#4: Truffled Egg Salad Sandwich - Local Foods (January 2015)

My mom and I went to Local Foods in Upper Kirby and were left completely flabbergasted by their truffled egg salad sandwich. The silky, sumptuous, playful truffled egg salad is topped with fresh veggies and encapsulated by a crispy, fluffy, hearty pretzel bun. The sum of all parts is downright explosive. I've been back for lunch several times since, and I have this every time. It's just that good.


#3: Curried Chips - Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen (October 2014)

My first year back I was convinced that the Bangkok fries at Boheme were the best fries I'd ever had (they're awesome, you should definitely try them!). And this past year they may have been knocked down a spot by the curried chips at Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. During our One Year Friend-a-versary celebration last October, my friend Megan and I were completely blown away by this dish. A generous amount of spicy curry envelopes beautifully browned fries. The whole thing is topped off with a runny egg, which sends the diner into absolute Food Nirvana. It's absolutely incredible.


#2: Fireman's #4 Macaroni and Cheese - Local Pour (October 2014)

After going for a run one evening through River Oaks with Jon (HA. Remember that time I ran.), we hit up Local Pour for some bevvies and bites. Little did I know I was about to eat my second favorite dish of the year, the Fireman's #4 macaroni and cheese. This bubbly, gooey, soul-warming little side dish is a complete masterpiece. For how simple it is, you wouldn't expect as much. But you should expect as much. Served piping hot in an adorable little cast iron "cauldron", the magnificent, unassuming side dish is packed with velvety, decadent flavor and lots and lots of love.


#1: Spaghetti with Black Pepper, Parmesan, and Olive Oil - Coltivare (January 2015)

For anyone who's been following along this past year, this one will come as no shock to you. "The Dish So Nice I Wrote About the Restaurant Twice." I went back to Coltivare this past winter for my second visit, and I had such an out of body experience with their spaghetti with black pepper, parmesan, and olive oil, that I had to write about it again (along with the aforementioned brussels sprouts). I even made the bold claim that it was the best dish I've had in Houston. I've been back countless times since, ordered this dish every time (as I have with the sprouts), and I still stand firmly behind my statement. The freshly crafted pasta welcomes the smooth olive oil, clumpy parmesan cheese, and poignant pepper in one giant, warm embrace. The intricate dance on your palate is baffling because the dish is so seemingly simple. But it is by far the best thing I've eaten in Houston. And it is hands down one of the loveliest, most masterful food creations I've ever experienced.

Because the competition was so stiff, I once again have a list of honorable mentions I need to tell you about! Here they are in chronological order of having eaten:




1) Grilled Veggie Salad with Shrimp at Brick and Spoon; 2) Hot Buttered Baby Beets at Coltivare; 3) Yukon Potato, Oyster Mushrooms, Taleggio, Rosemary, and Garlic Pizza at Coltivare; 4) Fried Mac and Cheese at Reef; 5) Hummus Wrap with Soy Boca Patty at Onion Creek Cafe; 6) Cornmeal Crusted Avocado at Backstreet Cafe; 7) Mac-and-Cheese at Lowbrow; 8) Chicken-Fried Black Bean Veggie Burger with an egg and cheddar cheese at Lowbrow; 9) Boiled Mushroom and Sauerkraut Pierogies at Polonia; 10) Mushroom Flatbread at Ambrosia; 11) Horchata and Spicy Chocolate soft serve swirl at Fat Cat Creamery; 12) Fried Pickles at Canyon Creek Bar & Grill; 13) Truffle Patatas Fritas at 1252 Tapas Bar

And that's that - My Best of Houston list from my second year of being back! Like I said, there have been many changes in my life, but I am so fortunate to be able to continue to try so many exciting, new, and unique flavors that are integral to the Houston culinary and cultural scene. For everyone who has been reading along - Thank you for listening to my ramblings and letting me continue to take you with me on my food journey through our awesome city. What a ride!

Happy 2 Year Anniversary, Houston!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Well hello there.

First off, I have to confess that the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was not in my plans this year. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the rodeo, but life has been super busy, and the weather has been so bogus lately that it didn't seem like it was in the cards for me this year.

WELL.

My best friend Courtney was in town for roughly 72 hours this past weekend, and I had to show her a good time of course. She loves Luke Bryan, but by time I knew she was coming for a visit, the tickets for his concert on the last day of the rodeo were sold out. As she and my boyfriend Jon sat in my living room Saturday night - drinking some delicious wine - I lamented to her that I tried to win her tickets on the radio, but to no avail.

More wine, more chatting, Jon picking up his iPad, more wine, more catching up, more wine, and next thing I know Jon looks up from his iPad, and says, "Just got you girls tickets to see Luke Bryan tomorrow."

What a guy.

So off to the rodeo we went! I didn't EAT the entire rodeo like I did last year because Courtney insisted on having "those amazing fajitas that have ruined all other fajitas for me" at El Tiempo for lunch prior to going, but I did have an amazing fried Oreo experience!

But we'll get to that.

So let's get started!

Whoops. I have no idea how that picture of me sleeping got in there... #bliss

Mutton Bustin': America's Greatest Pasttime.

To the great shock of absolutely no one, my favorite part of the rodeo is the wine garden.

Okay, here we go.

Exhibit A: Pull fried Oreo out of bag.

Exhibit B: Put fried Oreo in mouth and take a selfie because you're an adult and you can do whatever you want.

(Not pictured: Lose consciousness at the utterly sensational rock concert going on in your mouth. My friend Lindsey recently described the scientific process as, "frying an Oreo, which then turns it into some sort of magical, delicious, cake-like matter." She also added, "It's so incredible, I wish I had never tried one.")

Um, me too.

Exhibit C: Examine the cake-like, mushy Oreo goodness, and wonder if you've just died and gone to heaven.

WHAT EVEN JUST HAPPENED.

Oh, and Jon didn't just get us seats. He got us THESE seats:

Fun fact, this picture was snapped before I realized that the folks off to the right were some of Jon's friends. Small world!

Photo Credit: Courtney
And there you have it! This year's unexpected trip to the rodeo was another insanely fun one for the books! My New England best friend had an amazing time, and I'm pretty sure it sealed the deal on my Grand Master Plan to Get Her to Move Here.

Muah!

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Trip to the Suburbs: 1252 Tapas Bar in the Woodlands

Happy March Madness everyone!

I know a little bit absolutely nothing about basketball, and a little bit absolutely nothing about NCAA spreads, so it makes a little bit of absolutely no sense that I am participating in a March madness spread this year. But I did it for a good reason!

To be able to compete against my boyfriend and talk smack to him daily.

(Because boys and girls, that's the secret to a loving, long-lasting, strong relationship.)

And much to his delight, my extensive knowledge of the sport has me constantly texting him with incessant questions.

"Jon, if Villanova is ranked #1 and Lafayette is ranked #16, why is Lafayette favored to win by 22 points?"
"They definitely are not favored."
"Oh."

"So my last game for today has a 0 point spread...what does that mean?"
"Means there is no spread so each team has an equal opportunity to win. Cut and dry."

"I downloaded an NCAA app! Damn, your girlfriend is sporty."
(silence)

It's madness I tell you!

And you know what else is madness? The awesome food and atmosphere at 1252 Tapas Bar in the Woodlands.

I took my good friend Meredith there recently for her birthday, and we had a lovely time. The weather had previously been chilly, so I had reserved a table inside. When we got there, however, the weather was gorgeous (sounds like temperamental Houston these days, huh?), so we asked if we could sit on the patio. There were no spots available, but they said we could sit inside until one opened up, which happened almost instantly!

To start, we ordered the stuffed piquillo peppers. The sweet peppers were filled with fresh goat cheese, walnuts, and honey, and topped with a sort of subtle pesto. Y'all, these were awesome. The creamy goat cheese was light and decadent, and the crunch provided by the hidden walnuts was a real treat. These were a great way to start everything off.

Next up, we ordered the Spanish grilled cheese without ham to make it vegetarian. The grilled aged manchego cheese sammy was accompanied with a sweet quince sauce. We both agreed that while this wasn't the best grilled cheese ever, it was still a good one. The toasts were wonderfully buttered, crisp, and not at all soggy. And the generous offering of cheese was oozing with melted delight. Nothing really brought this grilled cheese to a new unique level, but I did enjoy it.

After the grilled cheese, we shared the tres huevos: quail eggs three ways - soft scrambled with goat cheese, fried with crispy jamon (ham), and truffle deviled atop little crostinis. For as pretty as the presentation was, this was probably the least impressive tapas dish we ordered. The scrambled eggs were nice and light, but they simply were just that - scrambled eggs on a piece of toast. I didn't try the fried egg and jamon, but Meredith wasn't blown away by it. And Lord knows I love me some truffled anything, but I couldn't really taste it in the deviled eggs. Just like the scrambled eggs, they were simply deviled eggs atop a piece of toast. Do not get me wrong, this dish was not bad by any stretch. It just lacked the creativity it seemed to promise.

Fortunately, the next thing we ordered made my heart go pitter patter.

The truffle patatas fritas (sans bacon to make vegetarian) were  o u t . o f . t  h i s . w o r l d .

The dish consisted of thin potato crisps topped with tetilla cheese, chives, and truffle aioli. The potatoes were beautifully crispy, and the lemony, truffly, tart, savory cheese/aioli combo was absolutely sinful. This excellent dish was far and away my favorite thing we ordered.

Because we couldn't stop at four, we ordered a fifth plate, #duh, which was the beautiful dish with the proud title, "Houston's Favorite Goat Cheese." Boucheron goat cheese with honey, figs, walnuts, and apple cider perched elegantly atop a plump, ripe slice of tomato. The rich, creamy, heaping slab of goat cheese reminded me of a velvety brie. The combination of the salty, crunchy walnuts, the sweet, syrupy honey, and the candy-like figs made this an interesting, eclectic, and thoroughly enjoyable dish. This was Meredith's favorite thing we ate, and I was definitely a fan.

And because it was Meredith's birthday, and there were three desserts on the menu, gosh darnit if we didn't sample all three!
I was not a wowed by the crema Catalana: Spanish custard-style crème brûlée topped with caramelized sugar and fresh strawberries. While I give 1252 an A for Presentation once again, I had a bit of a weird aftertaste in my mouth after eating it. But then again, I'm never really one to order crème brûlée.

I was however a HUGE fan of the churros, which were served with homemade strawberry chocolate chunk ice cream. 1252 wasn't trying to re-invent the wheel with this one, and they certainly didn't have to. Lightly crisped on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside, the cinnamon-heavy churros were divine. And that strawberry chocolate chunk ice cream was a wonderful, refreshing companion. This was definitely my favorite of the desserts.

Lastly, the chocolate tart with a vanilla wafer crust was also very good. Dusted in powdered sugar and vanilla wafer crumbles, the cake was super rich. The tiny portion was spot on for such a large-tasting dessert. Paired once again with that awesome ice cream, it took the edge off of what might be a potentially-too-bitter dessert, to create something lovely and enjoyable.

Even though it took me an hour and 10 minutes to get out there (Seriously, is that Dallas-->Woodlands-->Houston bullet train ever happening? Can we get a kickstarter fund going for that?), 1252 Tapas Bar was well worth the drive. Located in the pristine, buzzing (albeit commercialized) Market Street area, it's quite the happening spot. The prices are not outrageous, though I'm sure they have the potential to get a little out of hand. Luckily for us, 1252 was celebrating their 5th anniversary that night, so they had some great food and drink specials going on! Regardless, the food is carefully prepared, thoughtful, and thoroughly enjoyable. It for sure gets the Kim Stamp of Approval!

March. Madness.

1252 Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy Hour at MKT Bar

If someone made me choose a life without Brunch or a life without Happy Hour, I would absolutely lose my mind.

First of all, I don't like this imaginary person AT ALL.

Second of all, we're talking apples and oranges here. One takes place on a lazy weekend day, where you partake in completely acceptable daydrinking while stuffing your (occasionally hungover, I swear I'm not speaking from experience or anything, okay a little bit I am, help me) face with all of the brunch things. The other takes place after work, during the week, when a stiff drink, a trendy meal, and catching up with a good friend are just what the doctor ordered!

It's a toss up. I wouldn't know what to do.

My fake problems are the pits.

But let me say - and please don't hate me for this - I do think Houston does Happy Hour better than Brunch. I have fallen in total love with my home city during the past two years (TWO YEARS?!) of living back here. And I have had some acceptable, and even some great brunches (RIP Sorrel). But from what I've found, there aren't a whole lot that live up to my post-NYC standard.

But the Happy Hours? Houston's Happy Hour game is strong. I've managed to eat and drink at some of the nicest joints around town for dirt cheap, with the quality of service and food never lacking. I am a complete fan.

So I was pumped to try out Downtown's MKT Bar (located in Phoenicia) for the first time with my friend Boh, whom I hadn't seen in a while. I love Phoenicia, if only to window shop and feel incredibly fancy in a grocery store (I mean, how could you not?), so I had good feelings about the place.

To start, Boh and I shared the hummus. I liked it, but it definitely was not my favorite hummus I've ever experienced. The hummus itself had a much thicker consistency than I'm used to, and the oven baked pita chips were a little overpowering in crispiness and flavor. I would have preferred a more subtle vessel for the hummus. Again, I did like the hummus, but I would have liked to see an overall lighter dish that one typically receives when ordering hummus.

Next up, we ordered the salt roasted beets with fresh tarragon. Much to our surprise we received golden beets, and the dish was soft, sweet, and comforting. This dish offered the lightness I was craving with the hummus, and yet at the same time it was filling and satisfying. The beets were roasted until very tender, and the tarragon spice was fragrant and balanced nicely with the sweetness of the beets.

Our last dish we ordered (my favorite of the three) was the squashed pizza. Topped with roasted butternut squash, roasted garlic, blue cheese, walnuts, and fresh arugula, the presentation was vibrant and colorful. The flavor combination of the sweet squash and earthy blue cheese, combined with the crunchiness of the walnuts was lovely. We ate the whole darn thing. I do think the addition of something a little sweeter than the squash - perhaps pear or apple - would have given the dish even more depth. All in all though, I would probably order it again.

My portion of the bill came out to $16, which included half of the food a glass of wine. Was I blown away by the food? No, but I certainly did enjoy it. And the atmosphere at MKT Bar is just so cool. Exposed brick walls, industrial ceilings, buzzing energy, lively patrons, excellent service, and on that particular night a live DJ made it a great spot to indulge in a post-work drink and a few noshes with a good friend!

Happiest of hours.

MKT Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Canyon Creek Bar & Grill

Does anyone actually even understand Daylight Savings?

Here I was super pumped about spring forward - not minding the lost hour of sleep on Sunday - because I couldn't wait for the sun to be out when I woke up in the morning! It wouldn't be dark anymore!

It had been rainy the beginning of this week (and *ahem* right now, what the heck Houston.), so I attributed the dark mornings to that. But surely I'd see my 6:00 am sun soon!

(I think you all know how this story goes.)

How is it that I've lived for 29 years on this earth, have subsequently gone through 29 spring Daylight Savings(....es?), and STILL I am shocked and completely befuddled every year when it happens?

But I swear I'm not the only one confused! Man, woman, and all of God's creatures big and small seem to be completely bewildered. My dog Newton and the yapping birds outside my window seem confused. And I'll bet those fellas pictured above at Canyon Creek Bar & Grill are confused too.

My mom and I went to lunch recently at Canyon Creek by Memorial Park, and we had a great time. I had been before, but only for drinks. I did have a certain high expectation of the food though because I am a big fan of Creek Group restaurants Lowbrow, Onion Creek, and Dry Creek.

Much like Onion Creek and Dry Creek, the atmosphere is that of a fun, welcoming, neighborhood bar, where one would expect typical standard bar fare. And much like the others, first-time patrons are pleasantly surprised with creative, high quality, top-notch food.

For the record, if my mother sees hummus anywhere on a menu, she can't not order it. So obviously she couldn't not order it (apologies for the excessive use of double negatives) when she spotted it on Canyon Creek's menu. Canyon Creek goes above and beyond to make this roasted pepper hummus plate really special. Served with pita bread, vegetables, tzatziki sauce, and (what really sent it over the edge) a gorgeous hunk of feta, this beautiful plate was vibrant, fresh, and light. The creamy, mild hummus, salty olives, crunchy cucumber, and tart feta fused together perfectly atop a piece of simple pita, drizzled with the light tzatziki.

Without much persuasion from me, she also ordered the fried pickles.

As a general rule, I like fried pickles. As a new general rule, I freaking love Canyon Creek's fried pickles.

Fried pickles have a tendency to be a little soggy, but these were super crunchy, with a delightful, slightly spicy seasoning. The pickles themselves were bursting with wonderful sour flavor. And dipped in the ranch dressing, they were perfect. Y'all, I'm going to say it:

Best fried pickles I've ever had.

For my meal I ordered the luckenburger with a soy boca patty and no bacon to make it vegetarian.

I'll admit it - you could slap a fried egg on a piece of paper, and I'll eat it.

So put one on a veggie burger, and I'm happy as a clam in high tide! The patty itself wasn't anything exceptional (though I do go nuts over the hummus wrap with soy boca patty at Onion Creek, which admittedly is probably the same patty). But the egg, smooth white cheddar, crisp vegetables, and fluffy buttery bun gave the patty a significant extra nudge, which made the dish enjoyable. So while it wasn't my favorite veggie burger I have ever encountered, or even in the top five, it was still a respectable contender.

Ugh, and those fries. Just like the fries served at Onion Creek, they had a zippy seasoning, and were delightfully crunchy. Dip 'em in the broken yolk, and I swear you'll see stars.

I am beyond happy to report that I have fallen in love with yet another Creek Group joint. Canyon Creek is a lively, fun spot, serving inventive, delicious, beyond-standard bar food. It's definitely gained a secure spot in my Houston restaurant rotation, and I definitely recommend adding it to yours!

Daylight Savings be darned.

Canyon Creek on Urbanspoon