Saturday, September 19, 2015

Himalaya... Indian and Pakistani Cuisine

I always thought that Indians and Pakistanis didn't get along very well. Well that's NOT the case at Himalaya... a small restaurant in a mostly Indian-American strip center at Hillcroft and SW Freeway. While I've eaten here before, it was a surprise for Sally. 

The restaurant is small and casual and you must be 
impressed by the awards and rave reviews on the wall!

The restaurant is small and casual and there is plenty of attention from the owner, Kaiser Lashkari. This trip, we decided to eat rather lite and asked Kaiser to order for us. Hard to do, as food from this region is not easily "diet-ized."

Garlic Naan.

Our lunch consisted of regular Naan and Garlic Naan. The Garlic Naan was spectacular and we decided that it could be a destination dish. All crispy and you could taste the garlic before it reached your mouth!


Aloo Chana Masala

The Aloo Chana Masala (chick peas and potatoes) was delicious and was not one of the dishes that made it to the doggie bag. It was an a vegan Punjab Indian dish simmered in a piquant curry sauce.

Chicken Achaari 

Chicken Achaari was cubed chicken simmered in a tangy smoky curry sauce. Delicious.

Goat Masala 

The Goat Masala was bone-in goat cooked in a tomato and onion sauce. It also had a rich garlic curry sauce. The meat was tender as can be and the bone-in treatment is testament to the fact that nothing is wasted in that part of the world.

Indian Rice

The Indian rice was cooked perfectly and not the slightest bit of stickiness such as in Japanese or American rices. Himalaya is certainly our go-to restaurant for Indian/Pakistani food... and just may become a hang-out for me! Himalaya is a must-go experience!

Himalaya Restaurant & Catering Houston, TX
6655 Southwest Freeway, Houston 77074

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar

A Chef's Journey... From Salerno on the Amalfi Coast of Italy to Sardinia and back to the Amalfi Coast!
Born and reared in Solerno on Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast.  Chef Giancarlo Ferrara was immersed, as a child, in his fourth generation cheese makers family’s love of and contribution to the foods and cuisines of the area. He attended Centro Professionale Albergiero cooking school in Salerno, then furthered his training at Scuola Arte Culinaria Etoile. Upon completion of his studies and apprenticeships, he built upon his experience at various of the finest resorts and restaurants in Italy (receiving such awards as finalist in Barilla’s Prima d’Italia contest and winning the honor of Best Restaurant in Veneto from the Veronelli Guide in 1998).
Chef Giancarlo and Lisa Ferrara

In 2002, Giancarlo joined Arcodoro in Houston as executive chef and quickly became well-known in Houston for preparing the cuisines of Sardinia for eager Houstonians who raved about his expertise and creations from that area.  He represented Arcodoro at the prestigious James Beard House in 2003 and won the “People’s Choice” award at the 4th annual Risotto Festival.
Not a sports bar... but a good place to watch NBC Nightly News
while enjoying a cocktail!
After 11 years with Arcodoro, Giancarlo is now fulfilling his dream of opening his own restaurant. He has come full-circle to the cuisines of his homeland of the Amalfi Coast of Italy with his new eatery, Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar.
The Wine Room Doubles as a Private Dining Room
So, with that in mind, noting that the new restaurant had opened in my neighborhood in Briargrove Center, I dropped in for lunch with a friend (more dishes to taste and write about if I liked it… which I did). Also, it is important to note that the Amalfi Coast of Italy and Sardinia have important similarities… the main daily occupations of the citizens are dining, drinking, relaxing and enjoying life… hence, Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar seems to be an oasis of casual relaxation, wine and (in my opinion) great food. So, we weren’t pushed along with each course bumping the previous one out of the way.
Salmone Maritato Agli Agrumi
We started with a daily special, which was Salmone Maritato Agli Agrumi. Giancarlo smokes Scottish salmon in-house, then marinates it with sea salt, lemon, orange zest and raw sugar. It’s topped with a julienne of carrots, zucchini, micro greens, an orange-infused dressing (and some strategically placed salmon roe). I know that it looks like it was delicious, but it was better than that.

Tartar di Mezzancolle e Caviacole

Our server suggested a Mediterranean red shrimp tartar, Tartar di Mezzancolle e Caviacole, as a second antipasti. It was at once gorgeous and tasty and photogenic (important!). The shrimp were marinated in lemon-infused olive oil, chives, basil and pepperoncino, then served over a zucchini carpaccio with Servuga caviar and a shrimp dressing.

Ravioli di Zucca Aragosta e Tartufo

This house-made ravioli, Ravioli di Zucca Aragosta e Tartufo, was filled with creamy butternut squash then topped with LOBSTER and a black truffle sauce. The pasta was perfect and I am qualified enough to say that the truffle sauce, while it may have been made with truffle oil... it was house-made from black truffles. It was a sophisticated presentation of rustic ingredients with a musky, sexy aroma... really nice!

My dining companion ordered a custom-built pizza... that's not a problem here, as they even have a granite counter for customer-involved pizza crafting. There are specialty pizzas on the menu, such as Margherita, Prosciutto di Parma, Salame, Funghi (etc., etc.), but from what I could see, if they have it, they will put it on a pizza for you. It was delicious with a perfect crust and I noticed that they also have Calzones and Focaccia on the menu.

Ossobuco al Taurasi con Risotto al Timo e Burrata

The king is in the house! My rule has always been that if there is Osso Buco on the menu, I look no further. Of course, it has to be prepared by a chef who knows how to do it. When the dish arrived, braised in Taurasi wine with thyme risotto, it had the marrow fork already inserted in the bone, indicating that Chef Giancarlo knew why I order Osso Buco and what I wanted to do first. Tender, rich and juicy with creamy marrow, this veal dish is as good as I've had in Houston. The aromatic aroma of it wafting behind the server, as he glided through the tables, drew the admiration and comments from a table-full of "ladies who lunch" next to us (one of whom came over to our table to gaze at it).

Trilogia di Nocciola

Dessert was a creative and decadent Trilogia di Nocciola (Is "decadent" overused in dessert reviews? Certainly it is.). It's like Hazelnut three ways. A warm cake, creamy smooth and melted in the center... a panna cotta... and a smooth gelato. There was even a macaron perched on the plate. Our server suggested a Frangelico Cappuccino to be paired with it and it worked beautifully. 

Frangelico Cappuccino

We found Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar to be comfortable, unhurried and elegantly casual. All of the dishes we ordered were delicious and I, for one, recommend it without reservations. But I recommend reservations (today).

 Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar
6100 Westheimer
Houston, Texas 77057

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Urban Eats Bistro + Bar + Market, in Houston's Washington Corridor, is Definitely a Keeper

There are so many restaurants, bars and bistros along the Washington corridor that I keep thinking “So many eateries, so little time.” 

So this spur-of-the-moment drop-in at Urban Eats Bistro + Bar + Market was both, a roll of the dice and a fortuitous find.

Urban Eats is housed in what I seem to remember from decades past was an old auto repair shop. A major renovation based upon a lot of creative juices and a limited budget made this building unto something that drew me in. The best description I can come up with for it is a mini-Eatsie’s, as the downstairs also features a specialty market that sells freshly baked breads, carefully sourced cheeses, cured meats and epicurean products that are aimed at local foodies. 

The ground floor Market area of the "fast casual" eatery serves brewed-to-order Java Pura Coffee Roasters coffee (they have a barista station) and espresso drinks, as well as freshly baked muffins, croissants and breakfast sandwiches, along with ready made luncheon sandwiches, salads prepared meals. While many of the entrees, sides and salads are ready-made to grab and take to home or office, if you are in a hurry.  If you dine in, they are all made from scratch per your order.

The upstairs is full service Bistro + Bar that offers fifty beers (including a full arsenal of Texas beers), a collection of wines from across the U.S., and 36 craft cocktails (I counted them). The outdoor rooftop patio offers views of the Houston skyline.  Live music with old standards, jazz and blues is performed every Friday and Saturday after 9:00 pm.

Owner/Culinary Director Levi Rollins 
Chef Jason Grigar

Owner/Culinary Director Levi Rollins has spent his life in the restaurant, service and sales industries.  He came from a family of self-taught chefs, he spent much of his time in his family’s restaurants where he learned recipes from his mother and grandmothers.

There’s also a lot of experience detailed by Chef Jason Grigar (Educated at the New England Culinary Institute, and has worked locally for Houston Center Club, Cafe Annie, Lancaster Hotel and A Fare Extraordinaire; as well as Bistro Roti in San Francisco CA, and Eastside Oyster Bar & Grill, in Sonoma CA.)

Tuscany Pommes Frites are served with fresh rosemary, oregano
crumbles feta cheese and an herb balsamic vinaigrette on the side

The savory Skillet Seared Cauliflower is seasoned with sea salt, shallots, 
toasted pine nuts and golden currants. 

The Eggplant Napolean is a savory, rich, gooey bread crumb crusted
eggplant layered with mozzarella, ricotta, sharp provolone and 
house-made marinara and parmesan. Big enough to share and
MY favorite.

The Fried Green Tomato BLT is served on a warm pretzel
roll with thick hickory smoked bacon, baby lettuce cumin aioli 
and red pepper jam. These are "Signature Sliders", but large ones!

The Mob Boss slider is a combo of herbed and breaded eggplant,
meatloaf, dry salami, mozzarella and marinara.

After tasting this Fried Chicken and Pickled Veggie salad,
I admitted to Levi Rollins that they may have changed the way
that I fry chicken from now on. The salad has greens, shredded 
red cabbage, savory fried breast tenders, pickled root veggies 
(you can buy these pickled root veggies downstairs), goat 
cheese, buttermilk biscuit croutons and a sweet/tart vinaigrette.

Lemon Meringue Tartlet

Pecan Praline Bread Pudding (YUM)

3414 Washington Avenue

Houston, Texas 77007.


Monday through Thursday, 7 am to 10 pm; Friday, 7 am to midnight; Saturday, 8 am to Midnight; and Sunday 10am to 3pm.

The Bistro + Bar

Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 10pm; Friday through Saturday, 11am to midnight; and Sunday 10am to 3pm.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Tony Mandola's is still a Modern-Day Classic

“Dedicated to the preservation of the art of our Mama's Cooking"
- Tony Mandola
It was almost 35 years ago (1982) when Tony Mandola opened his restaurant, Tony Mandola’s Blue Oyster Bar, on the Gulf Freeway… and I remember it well. Later, he had one on Shepherd… and I remember it well, too. However, his location on West Gray became the go-to meeting place for those in the River Oaks area and beyond. I was a regular there for his Mama's Gumbo. He was always kind enough to me to make a plain old Oyster Gumbo (off the menu) by adding fresh raw oysters to steaming hot gumbo just before delivering it to my table… the edges of the oysters were just starting to curl and were at the perfect juncture of cooked and raw.
So now, Tony has a huge beautiful new restaurant on Waugh Drive and four of us dropped in to try old favorites, as well as sample newer items on his menu. Presentation has evolved in ALL restaurants over the past 35 years… but, in Tony’s case, whose standards on the menu taste the same and which are his mama’s recipes, are NOT his mama's presentation.

As there were four of us, we all shared and I have a lot of observations in this review!

Mama’s Gumbo

So, I started with Mama’s Gumbo.  Nice dark roux, as usual, and topped with shrimp, fried crawfish and fried okra. Looked good… tasted good… different, but the same. That’s good.
Oyster Trio
Appetizers started with his Oyster Trio. It included two Oysters Rockefeller, two Oysters Buccaneer and two Oysters Bienville. All of these were prepared traditionally and were made with large fresh oysters.


Spiedini followed. They are mini-roulades of mozzarella and Genoa Salami rolled in pork tenderloin, tossed in garlic and olive oil, then grilled. My first time to try this dish and they are now a go-to appetizer for me (in addition, of course, to the Oyster Trio).

Crab Salad

Next was a Crab Salad of seriously jumbo lump crabmeat, avocado, golden beets, mixed baby greens, sliced tomato and sliced boiled eggs. Vegetables were all crispy and fresh and this salad (although I ate plenty more) is a light lunch in its own and perfect for that choice.

Decadent Pizza
I’m almost embarrassed to admit ordering and eating anything with the word “decadent” in its name. However, I’m pretty proud that I bit on this item. The Decadent Pizza is everything that you might expect here in a specialty item… except that you can’t convince me that Tony’s Mama ever made it! If there was ever a take-out item for a party, this one, by itself, qualifies as a unique catering delicacy for an office luncheon or board meeting. The Decadent Pizza is loaded with a fried egg right in the center, bacon, lobster meat, truffle cheese, an Alfredo-type sauce and sprinkled with parsley. Can I have a “yum”?


Now to something that is one of my “hot buttons” in restaurants in Houston… and I guess, in restaurants all over the country outside of San Francisco. I ordered the Cioppino, which I order whenever I see it on a menu anywhere. Tony Mandola’s Cioppino is actually Cioppino! Well done… it even has the right type of crabs in it. Most I order and try elsewhere are served sans crab and those with crab don’t use the requisite Dungeness crabs as in San Francisco. So, what we have here is classic in that it has Dungeness crab, mussels, shrimp, fish (as in SF, the “fish” varies with the catch brought in by the fishermen that day), scallops, peppers, and potatoes in a rich broth. Loved it.

Gulf Red Snapper Martha

Another at the table ordered Gulf Red Snapper Martha. Fresh broccoli and tomatoes were topped with shrimp, crawfish tails, and crab meat basil a basil wine butter sauce… sprinkled with julienned fresh basil leaves. This Napoleonic presentation of veggies, fish, shrimp and sauce wowed the senses and was as beautiful as it tasted.
Salmon Burger
Bacon-wrapped Filet
I can only eat so much, but I dutifully photographed what others were raving about… with the exception of the monster/delicious Salmon Burger and the Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon (both of which I took home to Sally, who wasn’t with me at lunch). For what it's worth... and it's worth a lot, she raved about both.

Galerie du Cuisine

Stuffed Poblano Pepper
Salmon Sofia
Molten Chocolate Cake
Tony Mandolaʼs 1212 Waugh Drive
Houston, TX 77019


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hugo Caliente... Farm-to-Fork Quick Serve Concept is Open

When was the last time that the chef came to your table in a "quick serve" restaurant to check on your meal?

OK, full disclosure... I was with two other food/restaurant writers to check out Hugo Caliente, a new quick-serve "Tex-Mex/Mexican" restaurant in Town and Country Center. Also, he knew who we were. The real point here is the fact that there IS a chef. Furthermore, all of his offerings are scratch-made and from locally sourced fresh seasonal ingredients. So fresh and so seasonal that he doesn't even have a freezer. So, what what we have here is a true chef-driven quick-serve restaurant (called "fast food" a little over a decade ago). When I say "chef-driven", by the way, Chef Chris Smith is a veteran of over 25 years with Pappas Restaurant Group and was manager of their sous chef program.

Chef Chris Smith

If you care to have a glass of wine or a margarita with your meal, Hugo Caliente  (wine and beer license only) has a nice, yet medium-to-low-priced wine list and serves really tasty "margaritas" made from agave wine that (to people like me), smells and tastes much like Tequila.

A master of "mise en place" all food is prepped throughout the day and prepared by Chef/Owner Chris Smith's kitchen/line staff as ordered, in front of the customer right in the service line. As an example, outside skirt steaks (sourced from Cameron, Texas) are grilled to your order to build fajita plates, then accented with locally grown veggies, such as in a tangy Pico de Gallo.

Outside Skirt Steaks

Speaking of Pico de Gallo, Hugo Caliente  has an impressive array of salsas to complement the offerings and all are made in-house.

Hugo Caliente's Salsas

Galerie du Cuisine

Bacon-Wrapped Outside Skirt Steaks 
with Avocado Puree

Shrimp Cocktail

Chicken Quesadillas with Manchego Cheese

Tres Leches

709 West Sam Houston Parkway, Suite 112 
Houston, Texas