Houston Food Blogger Collective: The Del

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

AND I'm going to an awesome Halloween wedding, AND I get to cheer my mom on in the NYC Marathon! AND you bet i'll visit my favorite New York restaurants with all the awesome food AND give hugs to my friends that I love and miss so much! It's going to be one crazy fun, amazing weekend. I may try to squeeze one more restaurant post in before I say my brief farewell to Houston, but this may be the last one before next week, pending life craziness.

Last week, The Houston Food Blogger Collective had it's first official Executive Board Meeting, which was hosted by the newly opened restaurant, The Del, located just outside of Houston's West Loop. The lovely and talented people in attendance were Claire (The Petite Professional), Erika (Black Girls who Brunch), Dalida (Brunch and Conversation), Megha (Hot Pink Houston), Erin (Tidbits), Morgan (The Foodie Chef), Sarah (Sarah in the South), Renee (Guaca-Scuse Me?), Jay (The Fried Chicken Blog), Jenna (The Starving Foodist), Julie (JulieJulez), and Madeleine (The Sizzle Houtson). These are a great group of foodies, and their sites are definitely worth a visit!

(Speaking of the Houston Food Blogger Collective, we posted our second video (filmed by yours truly) of our visit to Songkran Thai Kitchen, which can be viewed here! If you are a Houston food blogger or social media sharer, I really cannot recommend joining this fun group enough!)

Upon first glance, The Del appears to be a regular bar. Upon walking in however, you are greeted with a beautiful, open, laid-back "country club casual" interior, which is attached to an expansive patio and game area (complete with giant jenga pieces and corn hole setup).

It was a beautiful night, hinting the arrival of Houston's delayed but welcome fall, and our group was seated out on the patio. The generous folks at The Del provided us with "light appetizers" on the house (which as you'll see, ended up resulting in nothing short of a feast), as well as happy hour priced drinks for the time we were there.

Chef Albert Vasquez - who is quite the jokester - introduced himself and discussed the recently opened restaurant with us. He described his vision of The Del as a Houston neighborhood restaurant where people could "enjoy good food without focusing on the food."

The first round included a crab cake, yellowfin tuna tartar, and gnocchi tots.

I only tried the gnocchi tots since this was the only vegetarian plate in the first round, and it was my absolute favorite dish of the evening. The potato gnocchi was presented to us, swimming in a bath of cheddar and ale fondue. The gnocchi tots themselves were ever-so-slightly crisped on the outside, and full of soft, hearty, potato-y goodness on the inside. The fondue was rich and velvety, and went perfectly with the subtle-tasting gnocchi. The crispy, sweet, fried onions on top added an outstanding contrast to the savory symphony underneath. I absolutely loved these tots!

Next up were french fries, steak (I believe it was their steak frite), and mussels.

Again, I only tried the vegetarian option from this group, which in this case was the French fry plate. The toasted hot dog bun served alongside them was a little perplexing (but amusing), and this was a darn good offering of fries. Crispy, yet full, it seemed that these fries were lightly battered. The inclusion of the potato skins (as opposed to peeling them) was a welcoming change of fry pace as well.

By this point, I figured there was no way there would be more food (since there had already been so much). Since I still hadn't had a whole lot to eat (and since, let's just say it, I'm a pain in the ass), I went ahead and ordered myself their mac & cheese appetizer. But the kind folks at The Del went ahead and brought several plates of it for the whole table!

As far as Houston restaurant macs go, this particular one was a fine contender. Much like how the facade of the restaurant appeared to be a regular bar, at first glance this dish appeared to be your basic mac & cheese. It was, however, hardly regular or basic. The use of large rigatoni noodles gave the mac and cheese a bouncier fullness. The cheddar and ale sauce was vibrant and sharp in flavor, yet surprisingly light in feel. What really elevated this dish though, was the generous inclusion of toasted bread crumbs mixed in, which give it a playful, pleasing texture. I was so glad I was able to try the restaurant's mac & cheese, and I had no regrets in ordering it.

Much to our surprise, a third round of food came out! Ribeyes, accompanied by a cucumber tomato salad and risotto, were brought to us.

The cucumber tomato salad was a simple, light, refreshing palate cleanser. And the risotto? my. goodness. Cooked in a vegetable broth base, the risotto was incredibly rich and creamy, with just the right amount of pepper mixed within. It was the fettuccine alfredo of risottos, and it was quite the breathtaking indulgence.

And while I did not try the ribeye myself, it seemed to receive praises around the table!

The final round of food was the dessert round! We were greeted with oatmeal raisin cookies and a s'more parfait of some sort.

I did not try the s'more dessert since I was unsure if it was vegetarian (marshmallows, who knew?), but I enjoyed the oatmeal raisin cookies. They had a sticky, dense texture, and were not overly sweet - always a bonus with me!

It's certainly worth making the venture outside the loop (and let's be real, this restaurant is barely outside the loop) to check out The Del. The clean, welcoming, pretty neighborhood restaurant and bar is great on it's own, AND it has a stellar patio that is worth experiencing during these beautiful Houston autumn days and nights. It was the perfect spot to host the Houston Food Blogger Collective Board Meeting. To top it off, the service was great, and the food was thoughtfully prepared and incredibly enjoyable!

Gnocchi tots and wine. Dreams do come true.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Last Friday I found myself stranded on Mars, completely abandoned by my crew, with no contact to earth, and enough potatoes to last me a mere 100 days of food, if I portioned them out correctly.

houston food - batanga patio

Oh wait, I must be confusing myself with Matt Damon (a common misconception).

Last week, before catching a showing of "The Martian" (really good movie. REALLY good) at the Sundance theater in downtown Houston with Jon and our friends Blake and Katie, we all grabbed dinner at the nearby Batanga.

(P.S. If you're curious as to how much money the U.S. Government has spent "saving" Matt Damon in his various movies [fictionally of course], you can find that out at this link. Hilarious.)

houston food - batanga sangria

Batanga is a lively and fun Latin-inspired tapas restaurant with an enormous, downright magical patio. It was a gorgeous, crisp, Houston autumn evening, so we sat outside and ordered a pitcher of sweet, fresh, smooth sangria to share before starting in on the food.

Our server was incredibly bubbly and friendly, and we talked through the menu with her. While the others ordered a few different meat/seafood dishes, there were also plenty of vegetarian food options to have as my dinner, as well as share with eachother.

houston food - batanga brazilian cheese rolls

The pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese rolls) were fun, bite-sized starters. The texture of each cheese roll was dense and similar to that of a coconut macaroon. Paired with the preserved guava, the sweet/savory result was simple, yet delightful.

houston food - batanga marinated olives

We also split the marinated olives, which were bathed in citrus, rosemary, and lime. I am a big olive fan, so I definitely liked these, though I didn't think they were out-of-the-ordinary food. They were salty and fleshy, and I did appreciate the wide variety of different olives in the mix, however.

houston food batanga cauliflower

The cauliflower & chayote casuela, topped with manchego cheese and toasted bread crumbs was another fun dish. There appeared to also be some zucchini thrown in, and the vegetables had a crisp, crunchy texture. The melted manchego added a lovely creaminess, which wove everything together nicely.

houston food batanga fried eggplant

I had high hopes for the eggplant fries, but they mostly fell flat for me. Topped with cumin, mint, honey, and queso fresco, the soft (slightly soggy) breading and large spears of eggplant overpowered everything else. Perhaps if the eggplant was cut into smaller strips and the breading was lighter and crispier, all of the ingredients would have come together better. But as a whole, we all agreed that we could take or leave this food item.

houston food batanga mushroom croquettes

The mushroom croquettes served with truffle aioli, on the other hand, were wonderful. What was interesting about these is that the mushrooms inside the croquettes were finely ground up, creating a texture akin to ground beef. They were incredibly rich, so one or two was plenty, but they were bursting with earthy mushroom flavor. The silky, decadent truffle aioli was the perfect compliment to the crispy croquettes. This was probably my favorite dish of the whole dinner!

houston food batanga tiradito yellowfin tuna

And for the record, tuna lovers: Jon absolutely adored the tiradito (yellowfin tun + avocado + aji panca ponzu), pictured above!

After we finished dinner, we still had a little time to kill, so I ordered a pineapple mojito, one of their specialty cocktails.

houston food batanga pineapple mojito

Jon said he could only taste pineapple, but I definitely caught a hint of lime and mint in my drink. It was super refreshing and served as a nice farewell-to-summer drink!

While I wasn't completely floored by all of the food we had for dinner at Batanga, there were some dishes that I really enjoyed. What really sells the place for me though, is the atmosphere. Whether you dine inside the industrial, dim, sexy interior, or outside on the open, beautiful patio (during these milder Houston fall evenings), you can't go wrong. The service was great, and it's for sure a fun dinner option when dining out with a group!

houston food batanga latin tapas dinner

We should probably send Matt Damon some croquettes.

Batanga Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beer Market Co.

Monday, October 19, 2015
Why is it so hard to wake up on a Monday?

Like, listen up here BODY, I rested you all weekend long (minus the late night dinner and movie with lots of cocktails on Friday and all day wine spree on Saturday, which are totally irrelevant to my argument), can't you just be ready to tackle the week head on?!

Mondays are for the birds.

I generally manage to muscle through Mondays by game planning fun things to do throughout the week, which [generally] [usually] [okay, always] pertain to food and [sometimes] [occasionally] [you got me again, always] drinks. Last week, one of my many "foodventures" <~~(permission to punch me in the face granted) entailed joining a bunch of friends for drinks/food at Beer Market Co. to watch the final Astros/Royals playoff game.

Before we get into the food, let me just take this moment to say how proud I am to be an Astros fan. This year's young team played with so much heart, did so much more awesome than anyone had predicted, and got so much further than they had in years (ten. ten years to be exact). As Jon put it, they could have lost the Wild Card game to the Yankees, and it still would have been a fantastic season. Furthermore, I swell with pride over the overwhelming positive sentiment reflected by Astros fans city-wide after their series loss to the Royals. It truly was a great season.

Anyone who knows me is probably laughing right now because I am so not a sports fan. But I AM an Astros fan, so this was an exciting season for me! And secondly, after having lived in Queens for several years, I am also a Mets fan, so I'm excited to see how the postseason pans out for them!

Okay OKAY. Food.

Jon and I split the fried mac 'n cheese balls and brew pretzels + real ale "hans pils" cheese dip to start.

The fried mac 'n cheese balls was my absolute favorite dish of the evening. They were wonderfully crispy, and managed to stay crispy despite the creamy, oozing beautifully seasoned mac and cheese contained within. They were served with a spicy tomato sauce, which added a nice tartness to them, though they were wonderful on their own as well!

The pretzels and cheese were also great. The ones at Local Pour still reign supreme in my mind, though these were a close second. Four baguette-sized pretzels come out hot and fluffy, and are served with a gooey, sticky, melty cheese for dipping. I loved the consistency of the cheese, and the flavor had a nice punch from the beer. It was a tad mild though, and I think I would have a preferred a stronger cheese thrown in the mix. And seriously - props to them for serving the pretzels with an adequately proportioned amount of cheese! (I hate when places can't get that ratio right.)

I was pretty full after all of that, but I wanted to try one more thing, for the sake of research you know. So I ordered the veggie "workout" burger, which everyone found amusing since I had shown up to the bar in workout clothes, after having taken a yoga class. Of course I negated the whole "workout" aspect of the burger by adding cheese and a fried egg (well, the egg is healthy), and getting fries instead of a side salad.

I thought the burger was just okay. The garbanzo and black bean patty tasted overly green, almost grassy to me. My friend Kate and Jon's friend Blake both really enjoyed it however. Blake said he'd eat that "stuff" (he didn't say stuff) all day long! Given that I am a vegetarian, I try a lot of veggie burgers at restaurants, which is why I'm so opinionated on the matter I suppose. But I did really enjoy their thinly cut, crispy fries.

Overall, I for sure was a fan of Beer Market Co., and I definitely will go back. I've learned in Houston that if you're going to open a bar you cannot serve mediocre food. Joints like Local Pour, Little Woodrow's, and The Gorgeous Gael are just a few that I think set the bar pretty high with their food. The appetizers I had at Beer Market Co. certainly meet that high standard. I also loved the sleek, open interior with tons of large screens everywhere. Beer Market Co. is a fun, welcoming spot that's definitely worth a visit!

Go on, our Monday needs this.

Beer Market Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Houston Food Blogger Collective: Dinner at Songkran Thai Kitchen

Friday, October 16, 2015

I don't know about you all, but I've been waiting for this moment since...Monday.

And even though I'm super pumped for the weekend, I did have some definite highlights during the week. In particular, I attended a Houston Food Blogger Collective dinner on Tuesday night at Songkran Thai Kitchen, and it was a wonderful evening! (psst, click here to check out the latest video I put together about our previous event at The Counter!)

The night started off with a cocktail reception out front, where we were provided with one drink ticket to use towards a glass of white wine, red wine, or a lychee martini. I opted for the lychee martini, which was strong, subtly sweet, and incredibly smooth.

They also passed around a whole slew of appetizers during the reception. I was able to try two vegetarian-friendly apps, the por pia tod (crispy veggie spring roll) and the kari puff (baked curry potato puff). Of the two, the veggie spring roll was my favorite. The rolls were served piping hot on lollipop sticks (I'm sure there's a much more beautiful, eloquent, Thai term for these?) and had a delightful layered crunch to them. The filling was popping with flavor and texture, and was accented nicely with the sweet sauce served underneath.

After the cocktail reception, we were seated on their beautiful outdoor side patio, which (thankfully) was lined with gigantic fans and misters (since Houston refuses to acknowledge we are well into fall now).

Executive Chef and owner Junnajet Hurapan visited with us and gave us a rundown of the menu and what to expect for the evening. The passion with which this talented Bangkok native has about his food was evident through his boundless energy and enthusiasm.

During dinner I had the pleasure of sitting with Natalia, Arash, Arash's friend Jeff, Greg, and Judy. Getting to know fellow food-lovers over awesome food is not a bad way to spend a Tuesday night, let me tell you!

We were served three family-style courses, and fortunately I was able to indulge in a few different vegetarian options. The first course looked like this:

  • larb gai (spicy chicken lettuce wrap with herb, chili & lime)
  • pad hoi (wok PEI mussels with red curry & Thai basil)
  • nuer nam tok (grilled flatiron steak with shallot, dry bird chili vinaigrette)
  • pad-ped pla (Bangkok fillet fish with chili rhizome & kaffir lime)
  • tow hou tod (crispy turnip cake with egg, bean sprout, wild chive)

The tow hou tod was the only veg offering in the first course, and it was by far my favorite thing I ate that evening. Before I realized the cubes I was eating were in fact turnips, I could have sworn they were potatoes! They were fluffy, hearty, and felt totally sinful. The bean sprouts provided a pleasing textural contrast, and the hot sauce drizzled on top packed some serious heat and was a wonderful added layer. I would absolutely come back and order this dish!

This is what the second course looked like:

  • tow hou pad prik (spicy wok tofu with three peppers & garlic chive)
  • pla sam ros (crispy whole red snapper with three flavor sauce)
  • neua siam (braised wagyu short rib with Thai herb sauce)
  • kang phet ped yang (clay pot crispy duck with red curry & pineapple)


Just kidding, the fish's face didn't really bother me. In fact, it was quite photogenic! I still however, did not eat it. But I DID eat the tofu, and I very much enjoyed it! Also incredibly spicy, the tofu was cooked perfectly - It was pleasantly crispy and golden on the outside, and wonderfully soft (but not soggy) on the inside.

Finally, we were served a dessert plate which consisted of:

  • white chocolate bread pudding (homemade brioche bread, cocoa fudge, & coffee ice cream)
  • molten chocolate cake (strawberry coulis, almond brittle, & vanilla bean ice cream)
  • lychee & jackfruit crème brûlée (served with fried banana rolls)
  • sagu tua dum (tapioca pearls, sweet corn, black beans, and young coconut)

The standout among this quartet was far and away the sagu tua dum. I hadn't read the description prior to my first bite, so I was fascinated to discover corn and black beans in my dessert! The hearty beans and corn, along with the gummy tapioca pearls swirled together in a pool of silky awesomeness, punched with a hit of sensational coconut. It was just so interesting and different, and I loved it!

The decadent white chocolate bread pudding was also notable. The fluffy bread and rich coffee ice cream were an absolute delight!

Based on the delicious offerings I sampled that evening, I definitely want to go back to Songkran to try some more of their vegetarian fare. The patio is lovely, and next time I'd like to sit inside the gorgeous restaurant, which is decorated with dramatic fixtures, bold colors, and romantic, dimmed lighting. The Houston Food Blogger Collective is an awesome group of people, and I am so glad I was able to attend such a fun (and delicious!) event!

So, go. It's Friday. You deserve this.

*fist bump*

Southern Goods

Thursday, October 15, 2015
I'm afraid of my washer and dryer.

I recently asked Jon if he heard about the cobra that was found in a Houston apartment complex this past summer because someone owned it AS A PET (like, why. WHY?!) and it escaped. And Jon told me about a woman finding one (a neighbor's "pet" as well) in her home in Florida. He said "do you know where they found it?" and I was like, "umm, in the piping in the ceiling or something?" And Jon goes, "Nope, that's not where. Do you want to know?"

You know those moments in life when your brain is telling you very loudly, "No! You don't want to know! Stay ignorant on this one, it's for your own good! TELL HIM NOT TO TELL YOU!" That's exactly what my brain did.

So of course I said, "TELL ME."

"Underneath a woman's dryer."




Needless to say all weekend long I was avoiding laundry like the plague, asking Jon to retrieve clothes for me, and cautioning him to "watch out for cobras" as he did. During rare moments when I'd let my guard down and walk casually by the dryer, Jon would say, "LOOK OUT FOR THE COBRA!" and I'd jump high in the air.

My boyfriend is so funny sometimes.

Fortunately the cobra did not get us, and we lived to have dinner at the new Southern Goods with my dad!

I had been to Southern Goods once before, but it was during White Linen Night in the Heights, and we all know what a hazy crazy evening that is! So it was necessary that I came back again for a clearer and calmer time.

The wait for a table for three at 7:00 pm on a Saturday was 30 minutes, which I didn't think was bad at all, especially given the recent popularity of Southern Goods. The inside of the restaurant is rustic and dim, and the outside patio is airy and dreamily lit with string lights.

Once seated inside, we took a look at the menu, which is pretty small, but filled with creative, delicious-sounding plates. The menu items are organized by size, having the smaller plates listed on top, and increasing in size the further down you go. This setup reminded me of the menu at Cured in San Antonio.

There weren't any larger portioned vegetarian items, so I decided to order a lot of smaller plates, starting with the skillet cornbread, which we all shared.

This cornbread was unbelievable. It was wonderfully sweet and grainy, and the fresh chives garnished on top provided it with a playful, crunchy contrast. Crispy around the edges, the inside still managed to be incredibly moist. The way the cornbread was prepared in the skillet produced a sort of caramelization on the outside, which was absolutely lovely. My dad dubbed this "the greatest cornbread he's ever had," and I can't say I disagree!

Next up was the Mexican street corn.

Topped with cotija cheese and cilantro, this was your standard [delicious] Mexican street corn. The corn was wonderfully fresh and sweet, and the melted cotija offered a nice creaminess once stirred in. This was not a brand new Mexican street corn dish, but it was a reliable one, and certainly one that I would order again.

After that, I tried the fried green tomatoes.

This essentially was a caprese salad, using fried green tomatoes in place of your normal raw, red tomatoes. How interesting is that?! And it was a lovely little dish. The lightly battered tomatoes were layered with hand pulled mozzarella, aged cane vinegar, Texas olive oil, fragrant basil, and other fresh herbs. There was a nice softness to this palate-cleansing dish, and it probably would have best been served as my opening plate. The syrupy vinegar gave it a slight naughtiness, but I would have preferred more of it. Overall though, it was a unique, light, and pleasant dish.

Last up for me were the fried mushrooms.

WHOA. These were neck and neck with the cornbread for my favorite dish of the evening, but I think these came out on top! Hearty, textured, hen of the woods mushrooms were fried and served with a side of dill buttermilk dressing. The mushrooms were golden, crispy, and earthy, and the dressing was creamy, rich, and tart. Paired together, the two were absolutely outstanding. I could not get enough of these!

After my dinner at Southern Goods last weekend, I see what all the fuss is about. We had a great time, and it was exciting to try several very different, very carefully-crafted dishes. I definitely recommend this non-pretentious, cozy, neighborhood joint which offers thoughtfully prepared southern-inspired fare and excellent service!

(and no cobras).

**UPDATE: I went back to Southern Goods a second time, and they told me that hardly anything on their menu was actually vegetarian. Namely, the skillet cornbread and fried mushrooms were actually cooked in bacon fat, or something similar. So if you are a vegetarian and you eat there, make sure to ask lots of questions!**

Southern Goods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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