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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Fork in the Road: Lambert's (Austin, TX)

Some folks want 'fancy' BBQ, others don't.  My thought is why mess with something that isn't meant to be fancy.  Barbecue isn't meant to be fancy, elegant or any variation of the word; yet, for some reason, Austinites love Lambert's 'Fancy' BBQ, a love affair I do not understand. 

First off, it is chalk-full of extremely loud fraternity and sorority kids milling about (to be expected) and while the live music at night is a nice (free) addition, the guy running the soundboard clearly doesn't know his craft.  The scene upstairs was far too ear-splitting in which to dine.

Moving onto the food. 

I liked the composition of the deconstructed salad, from taste to colors.  The royal purple beet juice bled into the horseradish creme fraiche, dressed with only a few pieces of celery heart and covered with tiny flecks of Parmesan.

The brisket I was less impressed with.  Almost dry-to-the-bone with the pickled vegetables being the only accoutrement to save the dish.

Steamed broccoli with onions and garlic - Good
Brussel sprouts in brown butter (and always a hit with bacon) - Great

 Sauteed lemon spinach - Excellent
 The verdant colors of the side vegetables just make you want to eat healthy.  Every single one was tasty.  Thanks to my brother for suggesting these. 

The winner of the evening was cold smoked Lockhart quail, Mexican rice stuffing, cheese enchiladas, fried quail eggs and ranchero sauce.  Wooooweeeeee!  Just look at it.  Hearty, no?  By the way, Forkers, cold-smoked does not mean the dish is cold.  It is simply the process of smoking the meat in temperatures not to exceed 100*F.  I've never seen a hunk of quail as big as this before, nor prepared as well. 

Two disappointing dishes:

After seeing Green Chili Queso on the menu, it was the entire reason to try Lambert's.  What a disappointment.  It may seem silly to some, but this girl knows her queso.  There would have been more green chilis had a can of Rotel been added and it would have definitely thinned it out a bit.  Thick queso on thick chips is gross!

I like to see how restaurants specializing in meat dishes will execute the lone, or two, seafood dishes. In this case, the Gulf fish in an artichoke/crab/tomato barigoule was plated well, but lacked any flair. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Fork in the Road: Perla's (Austin, TX)

Located on South Congress, Perla's is a seafood restaurant with a steady following.  Perla's has a lovely white-washed nautical interior completed with netting, fish tanks and blue & white stripes.  I actually felt like I was dining somewhere in Cape Cod or the Hamptons. 

This was a large group dinner, but I honestly couldn't snap photos as fast as the food was going in my mouth.  What a shame I didn't get the other dishes!  My dishes, naturally, are the only photos I got.

Roasted beets, Cambozola cheese, pumpernickel croutons, mâche, and Aquavit honey.  It was beautiful arrangement on my plate; I don't think I've an enjoyed a beet salad nearly as much as this one.  It almost sounds like too many ingredients, but alas, it was not!

Thank you to my friend, Maria, who suggested (or better yet, told me) I order the Oak grilled Gulf Redfish on the Halfshell.  YUM! YUM! YUM!  What halfshell means is grilling on the skin-side without having to flip the fish.  This allows the oils to cook into the fish and it won't dry out.  You don't even need the sauces they serve to accompany it.  It is one serious fish.

Light and Luxurious Gingered Semifreddo - There is a reason this is at the top of the dessert menu.  I didn't have a bite of anything else, but I am sure nothing could have topped this.  Again, another dish with what sounds like many ingredients, was not.  This was a cold semifreddo served with olive oil cake, plum sake sorbet, pink peppercorn crisp and Greek yogurt underneath.  Be still my heart!

One awesome addition:  Our waitress was an English major and I've never heard better descriptions of menu items....ever.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Co Ba Vietnamese

Vietnamese has been on my mind for a long while and oddly enough, in a town full of Asian dining trucks/malls/restaurants, Vietnamese has not really had a presence in the New York dining scene.  To my surprise, Houston is the most densely populated city with Vietnamese people.  Luckily, there is a restaurant near my apartment in Chelsea that seems to be undiscovered.

Suon nuong – finger-lickin’ lemongrass baby back ribs and the meat falls off the bone, topped with crushed peanuts with short grain semi-sweet rice cakes.

Muc chien don – chili-pepper fried calamari with tamarind-lemongrass sauce and just a touch oily.

Banh uot thit nuong – honey glazed pork with Vietnamese ham served over rice ravioli with basil, cilantro, cucumber, bean sprouts, crispy shallots and chili-lime sauce. The ‘ravioli’ were rice ribbon nests and the chili-lime sauce wasn’t saucy in the slightest, but more of a vinaigrette. This is a must!

Com tho ga – clay pot baked ginger chicken with shitake mushrooms and onions over rice. This dish is perfect to edge you into fall with its heavy pepper undertones.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Downtown Galloway Hooker

Saturday I was really craving a burger…a really good burger, so I wasn’t thrilled with the decision of Galloway Hooker downtown. BUT I almost always enjoy bar food, even when it isn’t good, so you can imagine my surprise when this bar had incredible burgers! We ordered the Irish Bacon Burger and the Turkey Burger, but the Irish Bacon Burger was the bomb! Galloway uses all local ingredients (Florence Meat Market, Murray’s Cheese and Tom Cat Bakery) for menu items and it is noticeable. The burger was so juicy and seasoned perfectly topped with an over-easy egg, cheddar cheese and Irish bacon. The bacon didn’t pack much flavor and could have been omitted completely. The fries, the FRIES! Like Parisian bistro fries, perfectly crispy. Pass on the turkey burger over the regular burger. While it is yummy and served with garlic aioli, braised leeks and English muffin, it is just a tad dry.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Original Sandwich Shoppe

What you see here is bacon mixed with eggs and swiss cheese on local French bread that was oiled and toasted. I'm totally willing to shell out an extra $2 over the deli's sandwich. This is what breakfast sandwich dreams are made of!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Spotted Pig

True gnudi lovers will know exactly whose these are.  That's right April Bloomfield and no one does the ricotta gnudi like her (this is a close second).  I don't care if these pillowy, cheesy balls of heaven seem like they should be a seasonal item because of their basil pesto, they should never disappear from the menu. They are glorious!

Against my better judgment, I did not order the burger and opted for the pork belly.  $29 is entirely too much money for two tiny pieces of pork belly and only one of the two being tasty.  The bite I had of crispy skin, soft pork and fried squash blossom would have been the makings for a grand entree, but alas, I only get one. 

I very much enjoyed the summer dish of pan-seared sea bass with squash and anchovy.  I loved that I didn't get the stealthy fish taste, but instead, complimenting the bass with the saltiness.

I'll be the only one who says it, I hate shoestring fries.  These are served with fresh rosemary, but I feel unless you are actually tasting potato, don't waste the calories.

Just love the atmosphere here.  Can't wait for winter!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

SHUTTERED A Fork in the Road: Concepcion (Houston, TX)

Although I don't share Alison Cook's immense enthusiasm for Concepcion.....yet, I do believe it is deserving of a visit, or two, or three.  The concept is Peruvian tapas and I think helps move Houston into more cutting edge dining.   Chef Jonathan Jones ideas are explosive!   Jones takes a multitude of ingredients and creates dishes without over-complicating.  I'm super ticked I somehow tossed the menu on my arrival back to NYC, but I will try and and explain these wonderful dishes.

Sikil Pak - Spicy Yucatan pumpkin hummus with habanero.  At first, I wasn't crazy about ordering hummus here, but wow!  The spices and texture of this hummus was super interesting.

3rd Coast Ceviche - Fresh snapper ceviche with radish, red onion and cucumber.  One of Concepcion's strengths.  The fish was indeed fresh, but didn't melt in your mouth: however, had a masterful balance of citrus, chilis and herbs.

Pulpo con Nada - Poached octopus sits in a pot, stews and essentially cooks in its own juices.  I know what they were trying to do here, which is what Chef Masato Shimizu of 15 East in NYC does outrageously well.  Unfortunately, the edges were soft and chewy, but the core was far too tough.

Salt crusted prawns cooked in shell with garlic kumquat mojo.  This is how a prawn should taste and hella delicious!

Snapper, oyster mushrooms with chimichurri (most of y'all think chimi only goes on steak.  Wrong!) in a light foam.

Braised short rib, shitake mushrooms and fried yuca.  I thought the best part of this dish was the yuca :-0  I just couldn't taste the chimichurri and overall bland.

Barbacoa tacos -  Juicy, tender lamb cooked overnight in avocado leaf, red chilies and tamarind with homemade blue corn tortillas and pickled onions. 

These dishes are far from tapas portions and well-priced, so get there while the gettin' is good!  Additionally, this has to be one of the best patios in Houston.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Had this:

Pulled pork with spicy black beans, cheese, avocado, cilantro, roasted chipotle peppers and pickled red onion.

Read this, apply to pork :

Couldn't have said it better myself.  Really Tortaria?!?!?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A little more than a year ago, Sara Jenkins added lasagna to her miniature menu at Porchetta on East 7th Street.  It was an odd addition to the protein-filled 'restaurant', but was fabulously flavorful and foreshadowed things to come.  Since, she has opened her Roman-inspired pasta ristorante down the same street and wins not only with the innovative pasta dishes, but also takes reservations.  In case you haven't heard, reservations are coveted these days in the "No Reservation Generation" (Adam Platt).

Olive oil poached baby octopus with celery, chickpeas, lemon and olives.  Light oil and fresh ingredients as well as a fair amount of tentacle-y octopus.  Very Roman and superb! 

Savory whipped bacalau spread with toasted, oiled bread and actually more appealing to stateside diners due to the fact it was not salty to the extreme.

Anelloni with salsiccia e rape.  This is exactly what makes Jenkins a creative chef in a city of thousands of Italian chefs.. She chooses the ring-shaped pasta which has a ridge on the outsides that seals the sauce in the pasta alongside spicy lamb sausage, mustard greens and breadcrumbs.  An incredible textural contrast.

The Eggplant Parmesan I didn't care for.  The tasteless eggplant was swimming in a soupy bechamel sauce, although it was hidden under a thin layer of piping hot cheese.

Hence, why Porsena is regarded as the 'pasta restaurant' and rustic cooking at its finest.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bahari Estiatorio

Crossing the bridge to Astoria provides you with a plethora of Greek restaurants, but does not guarantee them to all be fantastic dining experiences.  Bahari is an exception AND it is half a block from the subway.  The restaurant has the typical 'Greek feel' with its white-washed walls, wooden chairs and fishing nets/rope/gear, but nothing unique in terms of decor.

Krya Pikilia platter of traditional spreads:
Taramosalata (roe mixed with mashed potatoes) usually has a distinctive roe taste, but this one had none.
Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumbers) used a high quality yogurt that was a bit firmer and held the cucumber well.
Skordalia (garlic) was another spread that should have a very strong jolt garlic taste and aftertaste.  This was lost in the puree.
Melintzanosalata (eggplant) was a whipped eggplant spread with nice proportions of lemon and garlic.
Tyrokafteri (peppers) was far-and-away the best dip.  The combination of red peppers, yogurt, lemon and garlic was well-balanced by feta.

Here's the deal with the 'appetizer' of moussaka.  The ingredients were all fresh, but there was a noticeable separation in each layer of potato, eggplant, ground beef and bechamel sauce.  The sauce shouldn't just fall off the top....

Baby lamb chops cooked well, but far from perfection and underseasoned.

Whole dorade was simply grilled with oil, lemon, salt and served with okra that was stewed.  I'm not sure it was supposed to have that texture, but was cooked in a light tomato sauce.

These peas were cooked down with oil, spinach, carrots and potatoes.  The real zinger of the dish was how well the vegetables were complimented by the dill and lemon.  This is such a simple dish to make at home!

Monday, July 23, 2012


Get. here. now. before many more Manhattanites uncover this East Village gem. 

Nai is now home to the now defunct tapas bar, Xunta.  Xunta was inexpensive and a neighborhood joint, and the food was always appetizing, but never superior in the world of tapas.  Nai's wide range of tapas are comparable to Spain's with their perfectly sized, mouthwatering portions.  If only my stomach was as big as my eyeballs.

Albondiguillas Estofadas - stewed, tender meatballs in a brandy sauce (great for dipping bread)

I love the presentation of the goat cheese balls sandwiched between bread, tomato and serrano.  Quite honestly, the bread could be lost all together.  These are fantastic!

Patatas Bravas are a traditional menu item, but these were served in the most non-traditional way.  I much prefer the potatoes to be crispy and drizzled with cream/mayo and hot sauce.  These were completely saturated in a hot sauce that wasn't particularly hot. 

Unfortunately, I forgot (after the first bottle of white wine) to snap photos of the salt-cod croquettes.  I devoured these whipped finger foods in under a minute!  The chorizo a la placha were also gone in under a minute.  The very tiny plates here are dangerouso!

As you are gorging on these little plates of heaven, wonderfully talented Flamenco dancers are stomping at Nai on Thursday and Saturday nights at 8:30pm.  You could only have a better experience in Spain itself!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


When I saw sabich on the chalkboard menu, I started to grin.  So few places in New York have sabich, so I was excited to try their version.  Unfortunately, it didn't meet any expectations I had.

The pita was too thick then the egg was quartered!!! and mixed in with the Israeli salad.  That wasn't even the bad part.  There was a salty/chewy piece of eggplant and all was blanketed in an exorbitant amount of amba (mango curry sauce).  This sauce is one of my very favorite things in the world, but this amba was pureed instead of liquefied.  It was too 'fruity' for this type of sandwich.

I will be returning, but not for sabich (the honors still go to Taim).  The plain Israeli salad looked fresh and delicious as well as the chicken kebab platter!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Lovin' Cup Cafe

The Drunk Brunch for $15 is a mighty good deal at The Lovin' Cup Cafe in Williamsburg. Options aren't exactly high-end, but tasty enough especially with three drinks.  Plus, tater tots make great hangover food. 

Make sure you ask for your mimosa with just a splash of OJ, otherwise you'll be having three glasses of orange juice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Fork in the Road: Masraff's (Houston, TX)

Dining at Masraff's on Post Oak is significantly different from the old, rustic free-standing Masraff's, but not in terms of cuisine (which is still top notch).  It is now somewhat a Vegas dining experience with its colorful lighting fixtures and super contemporary furniture, but has great energy nonetheless.
Not often do I find glitzy restaurants serving large portions also falling into the 'high-quality' category, but this is where the Masraff father/son duo succeed.

I begin with the Boston Wedge Salad with English Cucumber Relish, feta and aged balsamic.  Quite a refreshing salad and was not too filling. 

Baby spinach, creamed goat cheese, onion confit, walnuts tossed with garlic vinaigrette.

Loved their take on Caprese with Kumato tomatoes.  Kumatos are a little less acidic and balanced nicely with the mozzarella.

Rich avocado soup with lump crab meat.

Normally, I have a severe aversion to tuna tartare.  Chopped up tuna mixed with avocado has never excited me, but this tuna tartare was divine.  Every tatare dish has now been ruined because this one is simply amazing.  Not only is the quality of fish superb, but the presentation beautifully created with wakami goma, campari tomato and tobiko vinaigrette.

Perfectly seared lump crab cake, beurre blanc, red wine reduction, and saffron aioli. 

An unfortunate dry Nova Scotia halibut, butternut squash, baby carrots, charred green cauliflower, yellow beet and tobiko vinaigrette.

Filet Mignon al a Plancha, fingerling potatoes, baby green beans, smoked bacon and mushroom ragout.  Deliciouso!

This special fish loaded with crab meat and shrimp atop of farro, a well-received accompaniment, and spinach was a nice combination.  This is definitely enough for two (though maybe not in Texas).

Passion fruit, lemon and strawberry sorbet terrine.  Creamy, tart and sweet!

I was super excited for this dessert.  The peach creme brulee.  What was supposed to be Texas peach creme brulee, was actually brulee in peaches and not executed very well, sadly enough.  The peaches were very hard and not sweet at all.