Wednesday, September 17, 2014

KUU Restaurant… Tasty Pictures at an Exhibition

We’ve all heard the saying “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” For me, it’s the same with sushi!
I eat Japanese cooking (mostly sushi) 3-4 times a month. I do that not because of health or fitness reasons, but because I just love it. So, I’m elated when I find a new Japanese restaurant. Well, KUU isn’t, in the truest sense of the term, a Japanese restaurant. It’s more like a contemporary Asian restaurant on a visual steroid trip. It’s a restaurant in which a foodie says “I’m glad my smart phone has a camera!”

First of all, Chef Adison Lee learned at the feet of the master, Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu fame. He has honed his skills at Nobu in New York and London. Now in Houston, Chef labels his specialty as “modern cooking” paired with traditional Japanese techniques.

So, let’s walk through the exhibition in the art gallery that is KUU Restaurant (pronounced “koo”) with very little commentary from me (Chinese proverb, “One picture is worth ten thousand words”).
New Style Soft Shell Crab Tempura
We mixed “starters” with entrees, as all dishes at KUU are served tapas-style and in the manner of the old Chinese restaurants, are meant for sharing. SO, let’s start with the New Style Soft Shell Crab Tempura. Served with guacamole and a sweet roasted tomato, the crab stands on its hind legs majestically like the Lone Ranger’s steed, Silver. It is large for commonly served soft-shell crabs, so it's very juicy and surrounded by a very crisp tempura.

Crispy Duck

The Crispy Duck (That’s more Chinese, isn’t it?) was served with “compressed apple”, scallop chip and a unique wasabi beef reduction. In addition to the perfectly crisped skin, this was a real “looker”. Loved it.

Grilled Chicken with Wasabi Pepper Jus

Grilled chicken crept unapologetically onto the menu and our table in the form of Grilled Chicken with Wasabi Pepper Jus. Served with watercress and a wasabi pepper jus, we commented that if grilled chicken were served like this in other restaurants, it would be a more common addition to most restaurant menus… really juicy (In my experience, it’s hard to find juicy grilled chicken!). I attend a lot of nonprofit fundraisers where we look askance at the “rubber chicken” served to save money. It’s certainly not THIS chicken.

Hot Rock
Dining should be fun, shouldn’t it? This is the fun interactive dish. Named simply Hot Rock, VERY tender and heavily marbled Akaushi beef was served with a very hot rock for diners to sear their own beef on. Served with ponzu and garlic butter, this is one of those beef dishes that, if the beef isn’t cooked to your liking, you have only yourself to blame. Note to chef, the rock is perfectly heated when delivered to the table, and is best at the temperature it is initially heated to… but as one might expect, it is bound to cool and if a foodie fools around with a camera or conversation, the seared beef at the beginning is not as spectacular as in the end of the serving of raw beef. The server might warn dawdlers to move along, or maybe, as with refilling iced tea… if there is beef left in a few minutes, a new hot rock might be dropped off? I will still order this on my next visit, but since I already have a pic, I’ll not waste any time annoying others with my obligatory photography and eat hot food like everyone else.

Last, but in no way least, was the signature roll, KUU. This spectacular and fulfilling roll included Asian pear, yuzu kosho (a citrusy rough-chopped chutney), avocado, tuna, LOBSTER claw meat and an edamame paste was rich and extravagant. Lobster AND tuna? It was well-worth the $18.00 for a sushi roll. If you go there, this needs to be one of your choices.
947 Gessner Road #A180
Houston, TX 77024


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Laurenzo's Introduces New Menu Items

 A media tasting dinner at Laurenzo's netted mostly hits (and a slight miss).

Here's my usual "full disclosure" when a review is based upon a "media dinner". Some members of Houston's food blogging and magazine publishing media (including Sally and me) were treated to some new menu items in the Laurenzo family's serious prime meat outlet in Houston's Heights. 

The Laurenzos are one of the best-known restaurant families in Houston (Ninfa's, El Tiempo, y mas). As most who read my scrawls are well aware of Laurenzo's, I'm only dealing with the items introduced at the dinner (it's been one of my go-to spots for nice rare Prime Rib for years). In the words of someone I don't know, talking about a Chicago restaurant that I don't remember, Laurenzo's provides "Rare beef well done".

Beef Carpaccio

So, the dinner started with Beef Carpaccio ($15.99). The thin slices of Hereford beef tenderloin were drizzled with olive oil and a balsamic reduction and topped with baby arugula and shaved parmesan. Slices are slightly thicker than most around town, but tender and (I believe) twice the quantity of most. Very nice. I usually order this wherever it is offered. This was a hit. 

Grilled Artichoke

Grilled Artichoke ($12.99) Hardwood grilled and seasoned with only salt and pepper and basted with butter, giving these a flavor far richer and tasty than could possibly have been attained by simple steaming. Served with house-made remoulade, these (while tasty) are kind of difficult to deal with and while I cook them at home, dealing with these requires a combo of knife, fork and fingers. The menu warns that there are limited quantities available, and while some at our table considered these a hit... due to the fact that they were very flavorful, they were only a slight miss for me, due only to the difficulty of dealing with them.

Maryland-Style Colossal Lump Crab Cake

Maryland-Style Colossal Lump Crab Cake ($18.99) Now, we're talking...we're lucky here in the Texas Gulf coast, to have Blue Crabs equal to those anywhere around the U.S., including Maryland. In fact during the late 80's and early 90's, Chesapeake Bay was so polluted and screwed up that many "crab houses" in the Baltimore/Annapolis area were serving crabs from Texas and Louisiana. These cakes were molded from "Colossal" lump crab meat and seasoned with Maryland spices (I recognize Old Bay when I taste it... and that's fine with me), lightly breaded and pan fried. Key, in MY opinion is that Laurenzo's follows the inviolable rule that crab meat should be handled only once! That's when it is added to spices and the very smallest amount of breading needed to bind it. Served with house-made remoulade,  these crab cakes are among the very best I've found in Houston. A big hit!

Jumbo Prawn Cocktail 
(Here's Looking at You, Babe)

While we're on the subject of giant seafood, here are more of them. Jumbo Prawn Cocktail ($17.00) is jumbo saltwater prawns boiled in citrus and southern spices (I still think it's Old Bay and I still don't mind). It was served with a slightly spicy and tangy house-made remoulade and as well as a definitely spicy cocktail sauce. These were peel-um-yourself creatures that really were worth the effort.

Double Cut Lamb Chops

Big "hits" are the Double Cut Lamb Chops ($37.99). These four savory ribs were lightly breaded and pan-seared and finished in a mint demi-glace and a side of mint jelly. As it should be for nearly $40.00, these were MY stars of the evening. I make 'em at home and I still order them medium-rare in restaurants that know how to serve them. That's the case here. Served with garlicky mashed potatoes, I repeat that these were a hit for all who tried them, especially me.

Veal Parmesan

As Veal Parmesan ($21.99) goes, so went these. Tender and tasty, they were nicely presented and exactly what you would hope them to be. They were breaded in savory house-made Italian-style bread crumbs and topped with a flavorful marinara and melted provolone. They were served with Linguini Aglio e Olio (garlic and olive oil) and crispy garlic bread. They followed the wonderful lamb chops so I felt sorry for them. Still... they were a hit.

Veggie Burger

Sorry, Roland and Dominec,  I was off taking a photo of your prime rib being carved when your chef announced to everyone else that this was a Veggie Burger ($13.99). It's not like I ate it totally fooled and thinking that it was prime beef. I ended up deconstructing it right down to the patty trying to figure out what kind of meat it was and still couldn't get it. I'm a carnivore and, frankly, love the mouth feel and flavor of a really good beef patty on a burger. BUT... vegetarians would LOVE this thing. But not me though, regardless of its great overall flavor (and its presentation's eligibility for Burger Porn sites). The house-made patty was made from brown rice and black beans and finished in a barbecue molasses glaze. As with any Texas-style burger, it was piled high with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, onions, mayo and brown mustard. That's a Texas-style burger "all the way", isn't it? It was served with a kale salad. If you are a vegetarian, it's a hit.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

First dessert was a beautiful Strawberry Pie ($8.99). Piled high with fresh strawberries and topped with a white chocolate ganache.  Fellow diners swarmed it like hungry sharks and I only had a strawberry carcass to photograph. The second dessert offered was my favorite, ranked by creativity. Pumpkin Bread Pudding ($8.99) was topped with ice cream dribbling down the side and I loved it. Both desserts were hits.

4412 Washington
Houston, TX 77007

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Last Meal of Houston Restaurant Weeks 2014

Last week, I joined Cleverley Stone and Rissa Jenkins at Bradley's Fine Diner for for my last meal of the Houston Restaurant Weeks 2014 run.

All together, as a result of our table, alone, the Houston Food Bank was able to provide 36 meals to homeless or needy Houstonians! I am working on a recap of the entire annual event to post later.  However, without the benefit of this year's figures, I will point out that, in the history of this weeks-long event (envisioned and run with no compensation by Cleverley Stone), The Houston Food Bank has been able to provide MILLIONS of meals to needy Houstonians. More in this blog when this year's recap is compiled.

Rissa, Cleverley and Me

So, all I'm doing here is showing what $35.00 bought for me and also fed eight other people from Bradley's Fine Diner donated to the Food Bank on my behalf:

Fried Green Tomatoes

From the many choices on the Restaurant Weeks' menu, I chose from three appetizers and my choice was Fried Green Tomatoes. These were fried in a tasty, slightly spicy breading. They were served with bleu cheese and a house-made buttermilk dressing.

Berkshire Pork Chops

My entree was also a choice of three and I went with some really, really juicy Grilled Pork Chops (served grilled to a perfect slightly pink "medium") with almondine green beans and fingerling potatoes.

My Dessert was an un-photographed creamy Bradley's Butterscotch Pudding. Damned auto-focus messed up!

Now, I ask you... how else can you feed thirteen people (including ME) for $35.00? Next year, don't miss Houston Restaurant Weeks!

Below, enjoy some of other's choices (including a crab cake I paid extra for because I had had it before at BFD)

Galerie du Cuisine

Maryland Blue Crab Cake With Arugula Slaw
and a Roasted Red Pepper Aioli

Pan Roasted Rainbow Trout

Friday, September 5, 2014

Let's Support Texas Beer Garden!

Crash and Grab at Texas Beer Garden Nets a Nice Haul for Thugs and Lost Income for Beer Garden in Magnolia!

I live in Houston near the Galleria and it took a small business owner/restaurateur being burgled for me to go to spend some money in Magnolia. Had I known how good the food would be I would been there much faster. I'm trying to convince YOU to drop in and support these small business people!

I'm not going to dwell on the burglary, as it's a done deal... let's talk about food. First of all, this is a Beer Garden.  It's NOT a bar (yet it's a bar). You sit down at hand-made heavy wood tables all cut from one single tree. A beautiful server will take your order and serve your food, wine and/or beer. The menu I saw (I don't drink, so it's Greek to me) had 45 craft beers and ales. My dining companions DO drink and the selection got excellent reviews.

Chicken Fried Steak

Let's get down to the main event, in my opinion, Chicken Fried Steak. We can argue all day long about who serves the best CFS around, but I'll tell you that this is hand-tenderized... hand-battered and fried crispy and tender with a cream gravy that has a bacon grease flavor (don't know if that is what it is... but it is really good. I was particularly impressed by the hand-mashed lumpy Mashed Potatoes to warrant asking for some extra cream gravy.

Boudin Balls

Smoked Wings
We ordered a couple of appetizers that were really nice. While I enjoyed the Boudin Balls, I was relatively ambivalent about them... good... not spectacular. My friend Albert Nurick said that the whole Boudin sausages were far better. HOWEVER, the Smoked Wings were spectacular. Those were a treat, as it's not often that I stumble upon something that's new to me. I really enjoyed the wings.
Soft Pretzel
Then there was a giant Soft Pretzel! Large, Kosher salt with three tasty dips.
Chicken Gumbo
Chicken Gumbo had a beautiful dark roux and was loaded with chicken... I hate to see restaurants add so much rice that there is no gumbo in the bowl. That's not the case here. The gumbo is really good. And that's from a guy who is in love with his own gumbo.
I recommend that you give Texas Beer Garden in Magnolia a try... especially now, when they are recovering from a burglary and vandalism.
Texas Beer Garden
7214 FM 1488 #101
Magnolia, Texas


Friday, August 29, 2014

El Tiempo Opens Another Location on Gessner

Here I Go Again Posting About a Restaurateur Opening a New Location!

Most often, when I write on this blog, it is to review a restaurant. Well, this isn't a review (just a reminder), so I need to tell you that this is about a "media event" at El Tiempo Cantina's newest location on Gessner, north of Westheimer and none of us paid for anything except a tip (Is that full disclosure?)

This grand table, cut from a single tree trunk, was found
 in Central Mexico

The reason that it isn't a review is that I've reviewed El Tiempo Cantina before (and other than a striking new facility and beautiful interior), nothing has changed. It's still the same authentic Tex-Mex that owners, Roland and Domenic Laurenzo, (son and grandson of their matriarch Mama Ninfa Laurenzohave been serving Houston in the tradition of their Mama Ninfa, who started selling Fajitas and Tacos al Carbon in the original Ninfa's on Navigation in 1972-1973.

The dish that made Ninfa's and El Tiempo the go-to
spot for Fajitas.

So, I thought I would just post some pics in my Galerie du Cuisine of what we had that evening and remind all of us that sometimes it's good to come home to the mother load... the offerings of the family that introduced Fajitas to those of us not living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and, certainly, to the rest of the U.S.  For a history of Fajitas and the Laurenzo family, go to my article here:

Galerie du Cuisine

Deluxe Parillada has it all!

Unless you plan to share, the small order of Acapulco Shrimp
may still be all you can eat.

Grilled Quail is tender, smoky and the marinade is perfect.

El Tiempo's Signature Orange Flan!

I don't think you've had Tres Leches like this!

Laurenzo's El Tiempo Cantina
2605 Gessner
Houston, Texas 77063

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sylvia's... The Enchilada Queen's Third Location (Or Is It?)

Why would anyone review the opening of a "third location" for a restaurateur?

Sylvia Casares in front of her pueblo-style
stove at the entrance to Sylvia's

In a town with millions of citizens and thousands of restaurants... AND a HUGE Hispanic population, it's puzzling that there are so few chefs/restaurateurs who present truly authentic REGIONAL Mexican cuisine. Along with fellow restaurateurs, Hugo Ortega and Arnaldo Richards, Sylvia Casares (a second-generation native Texan), in her Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, presents authentic REGIONAL Mexican cuisine.

So, here's Sylvia's, a third location for Casares and the same regional enchiladas, moles and traditional offerings such as Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Snapper Veracruz) are served there, but the new name and concept are raising the flag that says "Hey! I have far more depth than that!"

Casares is hoping that Houstonians will note and enjoy her Mesguite Grilled Ribeyes, Beef Filets, huge Bone-In Pork Chops (served with a beautiful dark mole), South Texas Quail, tender inside skirt steak Carne Asada (simply marinated in soy and garlic) and Grilled Fish. Have you ever had a group who would like to go out for Mexican food and there's one hold-out who just doesn't care for "Mexican food"? This could be your destination.

At a "media Dinner" hosted by Sylvia on her grand opening (Is that OK for full disclosure?), various members of Houston's print media, as well as food bloggers were treated to this facet of Sylvia's self-taught and studied expertise and repertoire.

As this is not a "review", as such, I offer a Galerie de Cuisine below of photos of the focus of this side of Sylvia Casares, "The Enchilada Queen". :

Galerie de Cuisine

This, believe it or not, is a side salad.

Mesquite-Grilled Quail

Mesquite-Grilled Fish

Moist Mesquite Grilled Pork Chop

Mesquite Grilled Ribeye

Gorgeous Mesquite Grilled Beef Filet

If there was ever a "destination side", it would be
this Tex-Mex version of Potatoes Au Gratin!

Sylvia's "regular" Tres Leches.

Chocolate Tres Leches


1140 Eldridge Parkway
Houston, TX 77077

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sal y Pimienta Kitchen

 “With Meat this Good, the only Seasoning Needed is Salt and Pepper and a Great Chimichurri” -  Chef Gianfranco Percovich
Sal y Pimienta Parilla
Chef Gianfranco Percovich, a native of Uruguay, grew up in his family’s restaurant there.  After moving to Houston to follow his dream, he joined the Cordua Restaurant Group. He was part of the team that opened Americas in The Woodlands and designed the wine list. With more than ten years of experience under his belt in Houston, he created a concept of his own, and opened the highly acclaimed Tango & Malbec South American Cuisine in the Galleria area in December of 2010.  After over five years of great success with Tango & Malbec he sold his interest to open his new concept, much more casual, and recently unveiled Sal y Pimienta Kitchen.
Open Kitchen with Wood-burning Grills
On our visit, young Japanese customers at the bar were taking selfies; there were couples; a long table of friends and dates; young families were all seen enjoying their evenings and the orgy of wood-grilled meats that were constantly drifting among the tables. Surprisingly, in spite of the open concept dining room being packed, the noise level wasn’t deafening.

Sal y Pimienta's Bar Draws Interest From the Street Via Full
Wall Floor-to-Ceiling Windows
Percovich came by to introduce himself and to apologize for the temperature in the dining room (two of the four A/C units were on the fritz that night).

Empanadas al Horno

Trying to stick with traditional South American specialties not widely served in Houston restaurants, we started with Empanadas al Horno (Uruguayan/Argentinean pastry stuffed with chicken, cream of corn, grass-feed ground beef, aji rojo and spinach), which were flaky and aromatic.  The Matambre Arrollato  (veal flank steak cooked for three hours, thinly cut and stuffed with spinach, carrots, hard boiled eggs and spices) was a delicious complex layered terrine with egg yolk “eyes” in the middle staring up at its admirers. 

Matambre Arrollato 
Ceviche is a common dish in Houston and served in almost every Mexican and South American restaurant here, but Percovich’s fresh, cool Flounder and Shrimp Ceviche (delightfully) was not drowned in lime that made us pucker, but had such a light citrus touch that we could almost imagine the fish’s heartbeat. We certainly appreciated the tingle of the mild flavor of jalapeño against the shrimp and flounder. Sal y Pimienta Parilla, a mixed grill of beautiful grass-fed beef (aged 40 days), sweetbreads, kidneys, grilled chicken breasts, inside skirt steaks, lamb chops, steaks as thick as pot roast and so much smoky tender MEAT made my meathead spin. Two types of Argentinian sausage, including Blood Sausage, were excellent. Blood (black) sausage suitable for my taste isn’t easy to find… and it seems to be all about the texture. This one had a slightly coarse “mouth feel” that was pleasant and satisfying.
Niman Ranch Tomahawk Steak. 
One unique cut – which my wife suggested looked like a brontosaurus leg – was the Niman Ranch Tomahawk Steak.  It was presented in its entirety, then carved skillfully at the table… although the menu claims it serves one, there was easily enough for two in the prime bone-in steak.
Carving the Niman Ranch Tomahawk Steak for Two Tableside
The beef (and food in general) at Sal y Pimienta is of such quality that the only seasonings applied to all meats there are salt and pepper – hence the restaurant’s name and Percovich’s statement that, “With meat this good, the only seasoning needed is salt and pepper and, of course, a great chimichurri”
Percovich said that he is proud of his selection of wines from small wineries and of his team’s ability to craft distinctly unique pairings.

Butterscotch Crème Brulee

Dinner concluded with a very moist Quattro Leches and a Butterscotch Crème Brulee and a rich perfectly brewed espresso. Service was attentive, water glasses were continuously refilled; every need was attended.

Quattro Crème Brulee
An outdoor dining area will be open soon and those who stroll the Centre will be attracted to the friendly, popular end of the walkway location. Parking is relatively easily managed from an $8 valet stand nearby. The valet parking is neither managed, nor owned by Sal y Pimienta and serves more than one restaurant. Customers line up like hungry sharks to get their cars, but it still took only around 5 minutes to get our car back.

 We were impressed.

818 Town and Country Boulevard

Suite 105

Houston, Texas 77024