Tony Mandola's

Monday, June 23, 2014

 "Vegetarians actually can live really good lives!"

That was said by my adorable mother after (sort of) eating veg with me one night at Tony Mandola's.

I had driven by Tony Mandola's on Waugh probably 752 times before that day, but had absolutely no idea what it was. With its grandiose exterior and lack of obvious signage, I had always thought it was a club or an event space or some sort of secret society where the members can only wear long capes and drink out of 5,000 year old chalices (omg sign me up).

Fortunately, my mother had been to Tony Mandola's before, and because she loves it so much, we started out our June weekend of eating our way through Houston there.

Even though we were there during Happy Hour, we started off with the Fried Green Tomatoes appetizer from the regular menu (asking for the shrimp on the side).

Here's the part where I tell you that before I could get a picture, as the server was standing there, my mother dove into a tomato and started spreading the remoulade on it (see the top right tomato). I subtly tried to ask her with my eyes if she could please wait so I could take a picture, and she said out loud and not with her eyes, "Oh! That's right! You have to take a picture!" She turned to the server and said, "You see, she has a food blog!" This is the part where I not so subtly tried to tell her with my eyes, "Moooommmmm!!" and she said out loud again, "Whoops! Was I not supposed to say that? They're not supposed to know that, right?!"

Coincidentally, the General Manager was over not long after, chatting with us. But he was super nice and explained that he was new there, and he was brought in to help introduce new wines as well as help bring in more crowds.

It was actually nice getting to talk to him, and I was glad to hear about their new publicity effort. Because even though the food was amazing, there weren't that many people there for a Friday after work.

((Maybe if they started distributing long capes at the door....))

We then were debating between ordering a side of rice and beans off of the main menu, or the Happy Hour rice and beans. My mom said the Happy Hour offering was ginormous, so we opted for the smaller (though come to find out, more expensive) side of rice and beans.

Which was awesome.

It only had one hunk of sausage in it, so it was easy for me to pick around it. And sweet mother of pearl was it tasty-rich, hearty, filling, and full of character.

Then we ordered the linguini primavera to share, tossed in garlic and olive oil with fresh vegetables. And it was stupidly good. First of all, you could tell the pasta was made in-house, and that it was done with super high quality ingredients. But it was also colorful, and lovely, and light, and complex, and bursting with a million different flavors! Wonderful.

Also it came with a little side salad which included some artichoke and olives. A+!

But the thing we ordered that absolutely sent me through the roof was...

...the garlic bread!

(It doesn't take much.)

But y'all. This garlic bread was PERFECT. Super crunchy on the outside, buttery garlic clouds on the inside. I'm embarrassed to say this, but my mom had one little slice and I DEVOURED the rest.

Oh just shut up and kiss me already.

I'm so glad I got to enjoy Happy Hour (well, really the only HH item we ordered was the wine. which was good, hello) with my mom at Tony Mandola's. If the weather is nice, I definitely recommend sitting on the beautiful patio, but the inside is large and open as well. And the food is good. REALLY stinkin' good.

Capes mandatory.

Tony Mandola's on Urbanspoon

Taco Tuesdays: Torchy's Tacos

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Can't everything just be wrapped in a tortilla?

Two weekends ago while my dad and sister Emily were off celebrating her 22nd birthday in Vegas, my mom and I decided to have a girls weekend out on the town. This included Happy Hour at Tony Mandola's, lunch at Bowl Cafe, dinner at Mockingbird Bistro, brunch at Down House, catching the play "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at the Alley, and breakfast one morning at Torchy's Tacos on Shepherd.

In other news I can't hear you over my clogged arteries and failing liver.

But we had such a great weekend! And Torchy's was ahh-mazing as per uszh. I've been to this Texas chain several times before, but this time I came equipped to take photos and write about it.

The tacos are loaded so completely with several pieces of heaven, that one is plenty for me. But we decided to be adventurous and ordered three for the two of us to sample. Each one was darn good in its own way (fresh tortillas ugh I love you), and you really cannot go wrong with any of these, but I will rank them for you in order of Favorite to Most Favorite to Most Most Favorite.

3. Fried Avocado

Hand-battered fresh avocados fried and served with vegetarian refried beans, topped with pico, lettuce, & cheese. Served with poblano sauce on a corn tortilla.

Yeah, that'll do.

The main star of this taco, the fried avocado, was delicate and sensational, and the poblano sauce gave it a wonderfully spicy kick. It's my number three because the avocado - although perfectly cooked - was a tad overwhelming. A little less avocado, and a little more of the accoutrements would have probably balanced it better. But still incredibly good.

2. #5 Breakfast Taco

Potato, (pinto or black) bean & cheese. Served with your choice of fresh tortilla and choice of sauce.

This one was almost a tie with my number one. WOW. First of all, if you put a potato in anything (and I do mean anything), there's pretty much no way I'm not going to love it. We added green chiles to this, and it was ridiculous. The combination of the potatoes, beans, cheese, and green chiles might be the most genius thing to happen to food since fluffernutter sandwiches.

1. Dirty Sanchez

Scrambled eggs with a fried poblano chile, guacamole, escabeche carrots and shredded cheese. Served with Poblano Sauce on a fresh flour tortilla.

Y'ALL. I cannot pinpoint an exact reason why this one landed the number one spot, but please believe it's incredible. Was it the eggs? (Neither of the other tacos had eggs) Was it the spicy fried poblano chile or the poblano sauce? The guac? The carrots? The cheese? So many different textures and flavors created one of the most perfect breakfast tacos I've ever had. If you go, this is my number one recommendation. So grab a fork and dig in, as you discover new exciting flavor combinations with every bite of the Dirty Sanchez!

Torchy's is a beloved Texas chain, and it's become a regular weekend breakfast spot for me. That particular morning, we sat on the patio, which was quiet and breezy. There's also plenty of seating inside for those hot Houston summer days. You can't go wrong with the creative tacos at Torchy's, and it's the perfect weekend morning treat!

A taco a day keeps the doctor away.

Common Bond

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I realize this is just white noise.

But I just can't help myself.

For the past few weeks, Inner-Loop Houstonians haven't been able to read the newspaper, peruse local websites, talk to their friends, or brush their teeth without hearing everyone raving about the newest "It" bakery in Montrose, Common Bond.

And I don't know about you, but I only want to hear the musical timbre of Matt Lauer's silky voice narrating over to me from the living room when I'm brushing my teeth in the morning.

Just me?

Last week for my sister Emily's 22nd birthday my dad took her Las Vegas to see Billy Joel in concert (Ummm, how cool is that?). Before they left, she came into town from Dallas for one night, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to grab a couple of treats from Common Bond to celebrate!

First of all, how stinkin' adorable is their display when you first walk in?

The interior of Common Bond is something you would see straight out of one of the schfancy homes on HGTV's Selling New York.

...or so I've heard.

And the dessert/pastry display, ehrmergerd.

I popped by during lunchtime to pick up a few things to-go, and it was particularly busy with people dining off of the lunch menu. In addition to dessert, pastries, and lunch items, they also have gorgeous loaves of bread lining the back shelves.

And while I could easily house a 12-inch baguette during one commercial break of The Bachelorette (who said that?), I did not come for the bread.

I came for the dessert.

I decided to do a sampling of a few macarons, so I ordered one of each of the salted caramel, vanilla, peanut butter & jelly, and pistachio. Immediately upon setting the dessert out in my parents' kitchen, my mom and dad split the salted caramel in two and dove in before I could blink (so I have no idea what it tasted like...probably a combination of salt and caramel if I were to wager a bet). According to them it was amazing. The other three were delightful. I loved the quirky playfulness of the peanut butter and jelly macaron, the vanilla macaron was simple but satisfying, and the nutty sweetness of the pistachio macaron sent me through the roof. The outer cookie (cookie? biscuit? insert fancy French word here?) parts of the macarons were lightly crisped on the outside, but like clouds on the inside, and the inner filling was perfect and not at all overpowering.

Long story long, I liked them. A lot.

But my absolute favorite thing I ate that evening was the coconut eclair. I ordered a chocolate eclair as well, which was also very good. It was super rich though, so one bite was enough. But the coconut eclairs? I could have housed 17 of them during one commercial break of I Wanna Marry Harry.

Who keeps saying that?

The coconut eclair was creamy, and fluffy, and sweet but not too sweet, and so light you'd think it was calorie-free! AND IT PROBABLY IS!!!

No there's no way that's true.

Regardless, if you're looking for an indulgent treat that's going to make you literally say "Mmmmmm" out loud several times, lick your plate clean, then kiss it on the face, look no further than Common Bond. And if their bread and lunch offerings are anywhere near as wonderful as their baked goods, sign. me. up.

Even their packaging is so flipping adorable I want to give it a hug.

Brunchin' at Empire Cafe

Thursday, June 5, 2014
I am no longer in a TV rut.

In 2007 I took a trip to NYC, saw Spring Awakening on Broadway with my best friend Courtney, promptly fell in love with John Gallagher Jr. who was in the show, and dragged Courtney to the stage door afterward to meet him. That was back during my performing days, and I had been called in to audition for the show a couple of times so it was all in the name of research! (but mostly true love). After standing outside for 30 minutes in the cold rain, I got my chance to meet the future Mr. Kim Ogonosky. Conversation was as follows:

John: Hi, how are you guys doing?
Courtney: Great!
Kim: Good you were so great.
John: Thank you! What are your names?
Courtney: I'm Courtney.
Kim: And I'm Kim you were so great.
Johns: Thanks! Do you guys live here or are you just visiting?
Courtney: Just visiting, but we're moving up here soon.
Kim: You were so great.

Nailed. it. 

The second time I met John (he and I are on a first name basis now after all) was after seeing his band play a show in the village months later (stalking is legal, right?). After having had several beers and several mock conversations where Courtney played John, and I played a non-idiot version of myself, I was prepared this time. Sporting wavy hair, Chuck Taylors, some weird chain-looking bracelets, and a punk rockesque t-shirt (god I'm a tool), I was ready to go. Conversation was as follows:

John: Hi, how are you guys doing?
Courtney: Great!
Kim: Doing great - Awesome show man.
John: Thank you! What are your names?
Courtney: I'm Courtney.
Kim: I'm Kim. And you are....? (laughs)
John: (laughs) John. (looks at me) Haven't I met you before?
(long awkward pause)
Kim: Uhhh, nope. I don't think so.

My point in revealing these humiliating fangirl moments to you is now I've found my TV show to binge-watch and obsess over, and it's The Newsroom, and JGJ plays an adorable quirky intellectual on it, and I love him, and the show is awesome, so watch it now, the end.

Other things that are awesome? Brunch at Houston's Empire Cafe! (Like my segue there?)

Last weekend, I had brunch at Empire Cafe with my mom and my friend Boh. Even though the place was pretty slammers, we were able to nab a table on the expansive, breezy outdoor patio. To start the morning off right I decided to stray from my normal mimosa/bloody route and order the Ruby Kiss, a "dazzling blend of Champagne and Raspberry Liquor." It surely was dazzling. And potent. And hella sweet. If you're into super sweet cocktails, the Ruby Kiss is your lady!

For my meal I ordered the Verdi - 2 eggs any style (I chose sunny side up which I strongly recommend) on a spinach "nest" with garlic and olive oil, served with cheddar hash brown potatoes and fresh fruit. Then I threw in a side of whole wheat toast for good measure. But let's break this down here:

1) Spinach sauteed in garlic and olive oil? Mah lord. Topped with broken sunny side egg yolk running over it? Absolute harmony. Just lovely.

2) Cheddar hash brown potatoes? Girl, I cannot even. And they don't give you a ton, so you don't eat them and feel terrible about your life. It was the perfect amount of cheesy potato-y goodness.

3) Complemented by fresh fruit and whole wheat toast? Home run, Astros style (okay that *might* be a stretch).

This casual, charming, counter service Montrose spot is perfect for a lazy, hazy, boozy weekend brunch with your pals. And I definitely recommend going and sitting on the patio before the weather turns into the 7th circle of Houston Hades. But they do have an overhead fan so powerful it could energize all of Switzerland, so you'd probably be okay anyway.

I should take John there sometime.
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