Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How Y'All Doin??

Last week The Doc and I were in Houston visiting our good friend BJM. Houston is somewhat of a culinary conundrum. The NYT food critic Craig Claiborne said that there are only five regional American cuisines worth considering - bbq, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex and soul-food - these all converge in Houston. It is the city that eats out more than any other in the US, yet it is also the fattest city in the US. As the fourth-largest city in the US it also has a very diverse range of ethnic eateries, the expected Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian and Chinese abound but there are also Korean, Ethiopian, Sardinian and Greek restaurants. A good guidebook is the 'Food Lover's Guide to Houston' which includes information on grocery stores, markets, bakeries, speciality shops, bars cafes, kitchenware shops as well as restaurants.

On our whistlestop tour we ate at:

Brasil: BJMs local cafe. Simple salads, quiches, pizzas, good coffees and yummy desserts. The emphasis here is freshness and organic where possible.

Aladdin: We got take-out food from here. In my head 'take-out' is associated with greasy 'fast-food' but this Greek restaurant has a big selection of the freshest salads, 3 served with a meat of your choice (grilled to order) for $10.50, and the best hummus I've ever had, served with fresh pitas. There is a large Greek community in Houston with their own Orthodox church and school (about 40% of the students here are ethnically Greek). As we left they were preparing for their annual Greek festival.

El Tiempo: The one miss of the trip, The Doc's fajitas were good but my Chalupas del Mar didn't taste of much and came smothered in iceberg lettuce. It was also overpriced for the level of resaturant that it thinks it is.

Paulie's: Down the road from BJM's house (although nobody walks anywhere in Houston, I sense a possible connection with the obesity level). A simple neighbourhood Italian which is also known for its cookies, these were a little on the sweet side for me but the pecan tart is to die for.

Beck's Prime: This styles itself as 'The World's Freshest Fast Food' and is a far removed from McDs as a fast-food joint can be. I had the California burger, with fresh guacamole and a patty that was reassuring inhomogeneous in both shape and texture, a burger that both looked and tasted like it once ran around a field. The chips (skin on) were good but the limeade was a little to sweet for my liking - I did eat lemon halves as a child though, so my taste is probably on the sour side for most.

Mockingbird: The standout meal of the trip. This bistro is proud of its wine list, it runs to 17 pages and although I'm not an expert on any wine, nevermind American ones, those in the know do rate its selection. The food on the other hand I can comment on, the menu here is the one we chose from (it changes regularly). I started with the calamari which were plentiful with a light crispy batter and not at all chewy. At that they were not a patch on my main course of buttery mountain trout served with lobster and garlicky green beans (and only $29!!). The Doc's Kobe beef burger came topped with 1/2" of Hudson Valley foie gras and the accompaning truffle fries brought that heady earthy smell to the table. Around the table we also had the tuna with wasabi potatoes, the free-range chicken with roast veg and the Angus beef fillet, there were votes of approval all around. Dessert was a carrot cake served with ginger ice-cream and caramalised pineapple, a combination I'll be trying at home soon.

Starbucks: had to add this in. It seems like there is one everywhere you turn in Houston, even to the extent that there are two directly across from one another in BJM's local mall!!

A tip to all those travelling to the US, I bought two Microplane graters for my sister for $12 each, I love these graters and use mine everyday but I've never seen them here for less than 30 Euro.

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