Monday, 26 November 2012

Houston, Texas

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the lack of posts this past week.  The good news is that it was for good reason: vacation!!!  And the even better news?  I have lots of food to report on!  So, let's get to it.

Two weekends ago I was lucky enough to go visit a dear friend and her wonderful husband in Houston, Texas.  The week before I left, my friend started sending me a bundle of links to different restaurants.  I'd heard that Houston had really good Tex Mex, and the restaurants she was sending links to looked delicious, so I was expecting some good food, but the places she took me to completely blew my expectations out of the water.  There was so much variety and totally different tastes than you would ever get in Vancouver due to the different populations.  It was a real treat and I'd like to thank my friend (we'll call her the hot Texan marathon runner) and her husband (we'll call him the future curer of cancer) for being such fabulous hosts and showing me the best the city has to offer.  I can't wait for our next visit!

On Friday night we headed to MKT Bar for happy hour.  It is literally a bar in the Phoenicia Specialty Food grocery store.  It was one of the neatest concepts I have ever seen and boy do they have a happy hour!  Live band, fun atmosphere, and scrumptious food!  I started off with the beer sampler and added on the food sampler.  For $7 I got the following:

From left to right: Yule Shoot Your Eye Out Ale, Sympathy for the Lager, Hopadillo IPA, Weisse Versa Wheat.  All delicious and so much fun in sampler size!

The food sampler from left to right: Dark chocolate ginger snap, orange and fennel salad, seared scallop with black olive vinaigrette, corn fritter with shredded curry chicken.  All extremely yummy and way bigger portions than I was expecting for the total cost of $7 for the beer and food sampler.

Za'atar Shoestring Fries ($7): za'atar dusted handcut fries with lemon zest, spicy Moroccan ketchup and garlic sauce for dipping.  These were the best stand-alone fries I've ever had.  There was so much flavour.

Curry Shrimp Skewers ($15): grilled gulf prawns, halloumi cheese, red onion, zucchini & cherry tomatoes with eggplant salad.  I stole a photo of these from my friends' friends' plate because they looked really good. 

Lebanese potato salad ($8): poached gold potatoes, arugula, parsley, preserved lemons & Aleppo pepper.  This dish stole the show for me tonight.  It was fresh, filling, lemony and the Aleppo pepper was out of this world.  I'm definitely going to have to find a recipe and try this one at home, because I'm not going to be able to live long without it!
The chocolate cake special.  My friends' friends ordered this for dessert and it was all I could do to refrain from reaching across the table and stealing a bite!

Cardamom Creme Brulée ($8).  My friend's husband, Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer, ordered this for dessert but didn't take more than one bite because it had Cadamom in it.  Mr. He's Going to Find the Cure to Cancer has a special spot in my heart, but it had Cardamom in the name!!!  What were you expecting??  The good news is that Mrs. Hot Texan marathon runner thoroughly enjoyed it, as did I.  The cardamom made it amazing!!!

My apple cinnamon baklava gelato ($3.50).  Not the most traditional gelato I've ever had (it was a lot harder than true gelato) but the flavours were awesome!
I'd highly recommend checking MKT Bar out for happy hour if you're ever in Houston.
Oh My Gogi! food truck
So, I know that Vancouver and Portland have a food truck scene, but I was most definitely not expecting Houston to have one.  Lucky for me, it did!!  After dinner we still had a bit of the nibblies, so we made our way to the Oh My Gogi food truck for some Oh My Gogi fries.

The official OMG! Fries ($6): basket of 3/84 inch cut fries with your choice of beef short rib, chicken or spicy pork (spicy pork is the way to go in my opinion), topped with four Mexican cheeses (monterey jack, mild cheddar, queso quesadilla and asadero), spiced up with their house-special spicy sauce (tasted like the sauce used in spicy tuna rolls) and sriracha sauce, onion and cilantro.  This is one heck of a unique poutine.  It rocked!  And the portions were very big.  You could easily split it. 

Definitely a great place to check out if you've got some nibblies.
La Guadalupana Café
The one thing that I had requested of Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner was to try authentic Mexican food while I was in Houston.  So, after our morning runs on Saturday morning (albeit Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner's was five times as long as mine) we headed to La Guadalupana Café for brunch.

The homemade tortillas and spicy and mild salsa that came complimentary with our meals.  Yummy in my tummy!

Huevos Rancheros ($6.99).  I officially showed my Canadian-ness when I was asked "flour or corn tortillas?" and responded "whichever you think would be best."  ha ha ha.  It caught me off guard.  I've never been given the choice before! I think I made the server's day, though, she almost cracked right up on the spot!  The Huevos Rancheros were good, but not quite as flavourful as I was expecting.

Breakfast Torta ($4.50).  This thing was massive and looked like it was full of yummy goodness!  Mrs. Hot Texan marathon runner thoroughly enjoyed it.  She also had a cup of their coffee which is well-known for its cinnamoniness.  I didn't have any because I don't drink coffee, but I took a sip and even I would have enjoyed it.  It was really good!

The inside of the café.

The outside where we sat.
If you're ever in Houston and are looking for some good, inexpensive Mexican food, you should check La Guadalupana Café.  I'd just recommend trying the Torta over the Huevos Rancheros.
Philippe Restaurant and Lounge

To ensure I got to see a little bit of everything that Houston had to offer, Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner made a reservation at Philippe, one of the most popular upscale restaurants in Texas, for Saturday night.  It made for a very yummy and enjoyable evening.  Although, in my personal opinion, the company had as much to do with it as the food. 

 The goat cheese salad ($9).  Both Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner and I had this scrumptious salad to start.  Unfortunately I can't remember the exact ingredients, but it was essentially a bed of thinly sliced pears with greens, mushrooms, candied nuts and two pan-fried tubes of goat cheese.  Very yummy.

Sherried Onion Soup with Melting Gruyere ($10).  Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer said this was good, but it was not a classic French Onion soup and he would have preferred a classic French Onion soup.

My fish dish.  Unfortunately, the menu that Philippe has listed online is not the same one that we ordered off of, so I don't have all of the details available.  The fish was a white fish, and the plate included three home-made potato chips, fresh veggies, and a stack of au gratin potatoes.  It was good.  The fish was a fish that I never have the opportunity to eat in Vancouver (which is why I can't remember what type it was!).  The fish was more meaty and drier than most white fish I've had before.  It was good, but didn't blow my socks off.

Seared scallops with andouille sausage, spring vegetables and smoked carrot coulis ($29).  Mrs. Hot Texan marathon runner thoroughly enjoyed this meal.

This was Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer's Tuna.  Unfortunately, I can't find the details on his meal either.  The most important thing is that he licked the plate clean, so I think it was pretty darn good!

Tres Leches: with coconut chantilly, pineapple chip, passion fruit caramel and fresh mango ($9).  I'd been told by many a person that I had to try Tres Leches when I was in Houston, so I ordered it for dessert.  This particular one tasted similar to Tiramisu and I was promptly informed that it was not a traditional Tres Leches.  It was good, but nothing spectacular. 
Blackforest cake ($9).  Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer thoroughly enjoys a good piece of blackforest cake.  He said this particular piece was good, but not mind-blowing.

Churros with chocolate dipping sauce and salted caramel ice cream ($9).  When the desserts arrived at the table, Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer and myself instantly regretted our dessert choices and hopped on the churro train.  It's a good thing Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner was full and willing to share!
Overall, I would say Philippe's was good but not great.  I could also be partially biased because I'm not so much of a fancy restaurant type of person, unless the food is mind-blowing.  In conclusion, I would say that if you want to go to a fancier, trendy restaurant in Houston, this is a good choice.  If you're looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, with casual but delicious food, Philippe's is not the place for you.

Sunday was Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner's birthday, so we went out for a yummy brunch to start the celebrations.  Unfortunately, she was driving which meant no mimosa for her...but it didn't mean no mimosa for me!
She was kind enough to pick a well-known Mexican restaurant with an amazing brunch buffet and mariachi band, so I could try out some more authentic Mexican food while being serenaded.  It was a lot of fun!  I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. 

My excitement over the food led to a rookie mistake: I forgot to do a pre-food walk of the buffet prior to starting to load up my plate!  So, needless to say, I ended up with one very full plate that included: tamales, rice, corn bread, eggs benedict on corn bread, chips and homemade guacamole, cacti salad, marinated veggies, marinated name it!  My favourite was most definitely anything that had the corn bread in it.  It was so moist and flavourful...scrumptious!  The cacti salad was also fun to try.  Although, I had a bit of a panic attack when I bit a herb and thought it was a cacti needle!

Dessert: two shortbread like cookies with a light caramel-flavoured filling inbetween them (heavenly mouth-watering!), churros (not as good as the churros from the night before), some sort of a cake that tasted like pistachio cheesecake with all the different layers combined and, drum roll please, the real Tres Leches.  This Tres Leches was unbelievable.  I had never heard of it before my trip to Houston, but it's a sponge cake which has been soaked in condensed milk and then topped with the richest whipped cream you can ever imagine.  It's unbelievably heavy...but unbelievably scrumptious.  Definite two thumbs up.

Some hot chocolate, another short-bread-like cookie, and two pastries to finish off brunch.
I thoroughly enjoyed this brunch, although, I'd warn you that it is very expensive ($29/person).  I can eat a fair bit, but there's no way we got our money's worth with that price.  It was lovely to be able to try a little bit of everything, though, and the atmosphere was great. 
13 Celsius
My last taste bud experience in Houston was for Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner's birthday dinner at 13 Celsius.  She'd picked the location but she thought it was just the three of us going out.  Little did she know that her husband had arranged for her friends to be there...mwah ha ha ha!
It was an evening full of great people, laughter, yummy food and even more delicious wine.  In all honesty, this lovely place absolutely stole my heart and was by far my most favourite taste bud experience in Houston (although the Lebanese potato salad is a photo finish second).
The interior of 13 Celsius.  Word on the  street is that it used to be an old laundromat.  I absolutely love restaurants with distress and feeling, so this place really tickled my fancy.

The birthday girl's dinner.  I'm heartbroken over the fact that 13 Celsius doesn't have their menu online because this was one unique sandwich.  If my memory doesn't fail me, it was reubenesque but with a fried egg and on a fresh pretzel bun.  It looked and smelled amazing, and was reasonably priced (around $12)!

I am again crushed that I can't provide a better description of the sandwich that I had but the long and the short of it was fresh bread, prosciutto-ish meat, ooey-gooey cheese and greens, and served with chips and gerkins!  Who cannot love a sandwich that comes with a mini dish of pickles?!  The sandwich itself was delicious and reasonably priced.

Now I'm not sure if this was actually on the menu or whether Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer  pulled some miraculous dessert action but, after dinner, a plate of S'mores managed to landed on our table for dessert!  Graham crackers, marshmallows, hershey's chocolate, peanut butter, nutella, another spread that I can't remember, peanuts, cranberries, apple slices and our own mini campfire that never went out.  It was completely and utterly spectacular!

You have no idea how much restraint it took to take the time to take a photo before popping this delicious yumminess in my mouth!
Two random gentlemen who came over to try their hand at burning a few marshmallows and making some S'mores.  I still can't get over the interior of this restaurant.  I loved it the moment I walked in!
Needless to say, if you only have the time to go to one restaurant in Houston, I would highly recommend 13 Celsius.

Mr. He's Going to Cure Cancer and Mrs. Hot Texan Marathon Runner, thank you very much for your hospitality and for showing me the culinary delights of Houston!  It was a treat to see you both.  Let's just make sure it doesn't take as long for a visit next time...and that there are plenty more culinary delights included!

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