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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Fork in the Road: Underbelly (Houston, TX)

You have to write fairly quickly when it comes to Underbelly given the frequent seasonal menu changes at Underbelly, but it is still blog-worthy.  Chris Shepherd is certainly considered one of the best chefs in Houston, if not the country; although I am not too sure how the menu tells 'The Story of Houston Food'.  He does use local ingredients, but the Creole-Houston story is confusing.  The menu is mostly family-style which didn't fare well with my folks and their friends, but it was somewhat enjoyable. 

Beet and goat cheese mixed greens

These market vegetables in caramelized fish sauce almost didn't have a photo at all!  I love when restaurants use fish sauce and these wax beans handle it well.  (Oh, please order the sourdough bread with chive butter that you see in the background.)

Seared duck breast - I've had better.  This was too chewy and under seasoned.

My favorite dish was the whole fish with roasted root vegetables.  They ask if you like it filleted or whole and I opted for the whole fish to practice my culinary school techniques.  Chef Gabe at ICC would have been proud!  Heck, the waitress even told me I was doing a great job.

One negative aspect of dinner at Underbelly is the noise level.  Now, I am not outdating myself, but it was even too loud for my club-loving ears.  My friend, Liz, said it is much more enjoyable at lunch.

Monday, March 11, 2013


The first time I dined at Tertulia, I thought these were better tapas than I had when I went to Spain two years ago!  Way better.  Of all the tapas ordered, not one dish was 'off'.  We arrived at 6:30 and no wait, but anytime after 7:30, you will definitely have upwards of an hour, or more.  During our trip, no one really understood the allure of pan con tomate, but somehow ate it everywhere we went.

The simple dish of bread rubbed with tomato, garlic and oil really boiled down to the bread at Tertulia.  I don't know what purveyor they use for the bread, but it is a crusty sensation. 

There is a variation of this oyster special every night
Oysters with fino sherry, celery mignonette, crispy shallots and jamón serrano - if you haven't tried this, it is not to be missed.  It is such a unique way of serving oysters on the halfshell.

Grilled octopus with a hearty kale pistou which I found to be forgettable.

Holy sh****t ham croquettes.  We also ordered the bacalao (I'll get to that in a second) and when I took the first bite of a croquette, it was so smooth and whipped, I thought it was the bacalao.  All who read my blog know how much I love a salty and sweet pairing and this was perfect with the membrillo (quince paste).  Sidebar - for a small, imported and inexpensive Portuguese groceries go to Soho's M&O Market Deli at 124 Thompson...they also have one of the best sandwiches around.

Bacalao with baked egg and roasted peppers - When there is a chance to eat more of that fantastico bread, get it, period.  The bacalao is made with potatoes, oil, garlic and egg for cream.  Similar to the dish I had in Sintra at Tulhas.

My ears only heard one word...uni.  Anything with uni I will order, so I thought I would keep the richness theme up with Arroz Negro, a frequent special of squid ink rice topped with the delicacy and tiny pieces of squid. Yum. Yum. Yum.

Stick with extra small plates when thinking about desserts. I have yet to have a dessert at Tertulia worth writing about.  Additionally, the service and food have been inconsistent as of late; however, it is worth the money and you should at least go once.

Friday, March 8, 2013

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

There are a few Southern restaurants in the Houston area and the Museum District Lucille's shows some promise in the category.  Chris Williams has created a menu from life experiences...spending summers with his grandmother cooking and traveling after graduating Le Cordon Bleu in Austin.  Williams traveled to Portugal and discovered the cooking of fresh fish and coincidentally, I began to have serious thoughts of attending culinary school after having a similar experience at Apeadeiro in Portugal.  His unique Southern cuisine does not include a heavy take on the dishes, rather a lighter approach. 

Fried Green Tomato appetizer with spicy aoili.  I wasn't blown away as I like the tomatoes a larger, but the bite-size chili biscuits were delish.

I was completely blown away with the entrees.  Blown away.

Purple nailpolish courtesy of Lauren Levicki
If there is one dish you should get on the menu, get the pork & beans.  This is not your typical sweet, saucy pork and navy beans, rather a hind shank with lima beans, English peas, black lentils agrocdolce reduction (in this case, an Italian sweet sauce).  The braised meat fell right off the bone and was truly sensational.  Very forward thinking when it comes to Southern dishes.

Equally exceptional was the fish fry.  A whole fish facing you with sweet basil succotash and fresh greens.  Like the pork, the fish could be pulled off the bones.  I fancy this presentation and eating with your hands!

Less successful were the oxtails with sweet potatoes.  I find oxtail difficult to eat when not prepared in a stew, but on the bones.  It ends up being alot of work for little reward.

The go-to Southern mac & cheese side
The desserts needs an entire makeover; so much so I didn't even like the bites  I had :-( and the presenatation was inconsistent from the first part of the meal.

The bread pudding was missing the vanilla-y gooey, bread in addition to the hard topping, but had the caramel.

A strawberry shortcake that I don't know could be considered as such.  Dry, tasteless cake with stems on the strawberries?  No, no, no!  Get a pastry chef in there!

Lucille's is the type of place I want to see succeed.  It has family history, Texas history, family values, passion and outdoor backyard with food and drink!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Giovanni Rana

If you find yourself wandering through Chelsea Market, make a stop at Giovanni Rana, even if it is just to check out the homemade pasta bar.  You can choose from a variety of fresh pastas, and for only a few dollars more than store bought.  In general, I have an issue with spending more than $15 on a plate of pasta unless you are dining at Babbo or Felidia.  Typically, the restaurant pastas aren't worth the dough you are shelling out.  Now, in Rana's case, the pasta is worth the money (buy the fresh pasta), but the dine-in prices are steep for what I thought was a little above average plates.

Loved the copper pots hanging from the ceiling
I went on New Years and this I can say, worth every penny to not go to a restaurant with a prix fixe menu. 

Stuffed artichokes with a wonderful fruity Taleggio tang

The light,  'somewhat gratuitous for $24' lobster mezzaluna with Chanterelle mushrooms and adored the plating.

Spinach and ricotta girasole (essentially ravioli shaped like sunflowers) in a Parmesan reggiano basket...the basket, not so much a fan.

My advice: don't overpay for pasta unless it is something special.  Rana also offers a takeaway menu that is very affordable with all pastas under $12

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Fork in the Road: Lucile's (Boulder, CO)

Lucile's, a 32-year old family establishment, is the breakfast institution of Boulder and its surrounding areas.  It also comes with a lengthy line that is totally worth the wait and the portions :-)
We had a large group which works out well for the reviewer who wants to try a bit of everything.  It's amazing Creole can taste this good in this part of the country.  We began with beignets and unsurprisingly, these weren't that good.  Unlike Cafe du Monde, they are not soft and doughy.  These are way too hallow and crispy; but on to better dishes....

See the partial piece behind?  It is a quarter of my biscuit!

Me first!  Eggs Rockefeller - scrambled eggs, steamed spinach, fried oysters and Rockefeller sauce which is essentially cream, herbs and a Pernod or Herbsaint liquer.  As if this isn't enough food already, they serve it with a side of grits and a HuGe biscuit.  The biscuit could be a meal itself, or broken into quarters to serve four....not joking.  Of course this was heavy, but given I hardly ate the grits or biscuit, the portion was great for me.  The Rockefeller sauce was good, but could have used a tiny more Pernod.  It needed a little BAM! ala Emeril.

Creole Omelet with spicy sausage and delicious.  I am a big fan of tomatoes integrated with eggs, but not the tomato/seafood combo with eggs.  This worked much better for me with the sausage/ham.  For a couple extra bucks, order the cheddar chive grits.  It is worth it.  Trust!

The simple Eggs Eisenhower of poached eggs, grits, bacon, and biscuit.  You want heavy?  Order Carlin County (background) sausage gravy over a biscuit, red beans and grits.  The sausage gravy was good, but could have used a little more sausage dripping with pepper instead of a cream, roux and sausage mix.

Lightest of the bunch was Eggs Jennifer with spinach, tomato, avocado, and poached eggs. 

The idea here is go big!  Zero portion control.  It's what Creole is all about.

Gorgeous drive to Boulder

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Murray's Cheese Bar

Ok, so one of my favorite foods in world is cheese and Murray's has some of the best, if not the best, cheese in the city.  If you love cheese as much as my friend Natalie and I do, then you will make your way over to Murray's Cheese Bar on Bleecker.  One must have real determination to eat full-on courses of cheese.  We didn't have a reservation and luckily, sat down immediately which I think is unheard of in the New York dining scene lately.

It was a lovely, cozy winter scene (and thank goodness about to end) with cheese oozing out of every menu section.  We took the suggestion of our waitress and had the seasonal cheese flight with condiments, such as carmelized onions and brandy-soaked cherries, that only enhanced the cheese.

Grilled artichoke hearts with mixed greens, served with buttermilk dressing.  This was the only item we had without cheese, but was diary.
Murray's Cheeseburger with the overindulgent Rarebit Cheddar sauce (sauce is made by blending cheese and mustard into a Bechamel sauce).  Rarebit is of Welsh origin and usually served with eggs.  Murray's typically serves the burger with a brioche bun, however, the night we dined, it was thick, oiled toast.  Having the sweetness of brioche would have played nicely with the salty cheddar.
Needless to say, we couldn't stomach dessert especially since everything had more...cheese!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Shanghai Asian Manor

Shanghai Manor in Chinatown almost always has a long wait, but happens to be worth that long wait (we went on a Saturday night and only stood about 20 minutes).  This is a typical Chinese restaurant with the typical fare, except Shanghai Manor's food is mostly appetizing.  For instance, every time I have dined at Joe's Shanghai and ordered anything other than soup dumplings, I notice all dishes taste exactly the same.

Egg drop soup (beaten eggs in chicken stock) - usually in American Chinese restaurants, cornstarch will be used to thicken the soup, which in this case, I believe has been done; however, it did have a smooth taste.

My biggest complaint with scallion pancakes is the amount of oil dripping from them, but these were perfectly crisp and doughy inside.

The infamous soup dumpling and, as I shared on Twitter, the quality on-par with Joe's.  Without a doubt.

In typical American Chinese fashion, the food is laden with sauce.  The chicken with cashews and peppers was light(er), but had flair!

The Lo Mein was entirely too saucy.  I couldn't get more than a bite down.  All in all, the food here is of quality, but I would stick with appetizers and dumplings.