Category Archives: Geography

Songkran Thai

New job, new lunch crew. We had our first group outing last week to try a recent entry into the Thai arena, Songkran Thai.

Atmosphere
I wish I understood what’s happening in Songkran’s neighborhood, Uptown Park. On the one hand it offers high-brow venues catering to the wealthy Central American residents who buy up all the glossy, multi-million dollar condos. On the other hand it definitely tries to appeal to those who want sit-down fast food. Maybe the combination works.

Songkran Thai is in the newer section of Uptown Park. Its a small space inside and they do have limited outdoor seating, not that you’ll remotely consider that an option in Houston during the summer. Exposed brick, brightly colored Buddha art, modern music at conversation-level volume, polished but casual. For lunch they seemed to attract entry-level professionals in skinny suits and shiny, pointy shoes.

B_IMG_4497 B_IMG_4499
B_IMG_4499 B_IMG_4497

Food
We’ll be returning for a Restaurant Weeks dinner this weekend but this time was lunch which was mostly good. Lunch offerings are ‘plates’; entree, salad and soup. The soup was hot but unfortunately it lacked any flavour and we all moved it aside rapidly. Salad was good but not notable; most of the enjoyment came from the creamy sesame-ginger dressing. Removing the dressing you’d have some torn lettuce, carrots shreds and a few fried wonton strips.

My main event was excellent; fish in tamarind sauce. Lightly floured and pan-fried but I couldn’t tell you what kind of fish was used, it was about the sauce – basil, ginger, tamarind, fish sauce and garlic was strong but enjoyable. Broccoli and rice were along for the ride, apparently more for visual appeal and texture.

B_IMG_4499 B_IMG_4497

Service
We arrived at the very start of lunch, 1130, and it was clear they were in the middle of setting up for a lunch crowd coming much later. Given that, the service was pleasant and efficient but often distracted. Orders for our table of 8 arrived in 20 minutes.

Price
Acceptable for the Uptown Park area but a little higher than normal for Thai food. Lunch plates ranged from $10-15.

While we liked Songkran and I’ll be returning this weekend to try it again for dinner, it does not dethrone Thai Gourmet as best Thai in Houston.

Lunch: August 2016

Songkran Thai | 1101-08 Uptown Park Blvd. | HTX 77056

Advertisements

Cockrell Butterfly Center

New job has me traveling. And, oh no, I exceeded the WordPress limit on photos! $100 a year for a “premium” plan? I don’t think so. Good thing there is Flickr and now I’ve figured out to make them work together – mostly.

With younger niece coming to visit this summer, I’ve been on the lookout for things a teenage girl might want to do. She’s very active in music so we have some music-based events, like her first time to see Wicked. She’s also into vegetarian cooking and making desserts, so we’ll be off for tour of Houston’s largest farmers market followed by a chef-led cook-then-eat with whatever we buy at the market.

But what else?

Whilst walking about Hermann park during  Japan Festival I made note of this place, the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Its attached to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which I’ve been to loads of times, but the Butterfly Center just never appealed. Until now. I did a recon visit and I’m glad about that.

Upper floors are more of museum and introduction to butterfly biology; interesting exhibits which probably appeal to the teen and younger crowd. At the end of the “museum” you exit into the butterfly habitat which is loosely a 3-story glass terrarium filled with hundreds of butterflies. Surreal and otherworldly, definitely you feel as though you’ve left the greater Houston area for some serene storybook setting. The giant orange lizard baking under a heat lamp seemed a big lumpy contrast to the other inhabitants.

Check yourself on exiting for stowaways looking to break out.

B_IMG_4497 B_IMG_4499
B_IMG_4499 B_IMG_4497
B_IMG_4499 B_IMG_4497
B_IMG_4499 B_IMG_4497

Japan Festival

JF-1Houston may have many faults but it certainly does not lack festivals. On any given weekend there will be one or more festivals, usually country themed. Greece, Lebanon, Jamaica, Germany – sure, you can visit all of those in a 2-week span.

The Japan Festival, which has been going on for decades, I always seem to miss. But not this year. While you can sample ‘Japanese food’, its really more food trucks with generally Asian offerings. The pulls here for me were the patrons themselves, dressed up as their favourite anime characters, and the Taiko drumming concert.  If you happen upon this mid-April festival in Hermann Park, definitely make time for the Taiko concert. The drummers with their wide stances, intense focus and intermittent yelling appear both as musicians and martial arts warriors. You have to love drumming you can feel in your teeth.

JF-2 JF-9
JF-4 JF-3
JF-7 JF-6
JF-5 JF-8

Izakaya

After discovering a sensitivity to rice I cut back a little on my sushi outings. Sad but luckily there are rice-free options in sushi restaurants and there is a new crop of Japanese ‘farmhouse’ restaurants featuring even more rice-free options.

Izakaya is one of the new “farmhouse” entries and I’m happy to say, excellent across board.

IMG_4411 IMG_4410

Atmosphere
Casual anime chic, I suppose. Polished concrete floors and walls surrounding raised booths, big anime murals in the brightest of colours. We were late in the lunch cycle so it wasn’t busy, making conversation pleasant. However, I’ve seen this place mobbed beyond capacity on Saturday night.

Food
Wins.

Edamame. Use caution if you are hot pepper sensitive. I loved the super spicy version with soy-ginger-garlic sauce but my lunch partners were eating one or two, smile-turned-surprise, then gulping down a quart of water.

Scallop Banh Mi. Open faced scallop banh was good as well as creative. Nice sized scallops, lightly marinated in a fish sauce base then seared, placed atop a pillowy French bread round. Cilantro, julienned carrots, peppers and radish mixed and topped to finish the assembly. Good mix of salty and herbal which, surprisingly, did not detract from the flavour of the scallops.

IMG_4404 IMG_4406
IMG_4407 IMG_4409

Snapper Crudo. Snapper sliced thinly, topped with extra virgin, ground pistachios and quartered grapes.  Simple flavours which work surprisingly well together without muddling the flavour of the snapper.

Wasabi Beef Skewers. You can’t go wrong with skirt steak strip marinated in a sweet soy then grilled to crispy-out, juicy-in texture topped sparingly with wasabi.

IMG_4405

Gelatinous Peach Sake. OK, this was not what I would call good, however I would still recommend you try it once as a rite of passage. Sake mixed with gelatin, peach flavouring and something carbonated. Its a chewy, bubbly, whirlwind on your tongue and just its plain weird. It comes in a can and our server tried to pour it out but it had to be coaxed out like ketchup from of a bottle.

Consider it a conversation piece.

 

Price
Its a little pricey. Three small ‘tapas’ plates and a weird sake drink – $45. The quality is excellent, however.

Service
Very friendly and efficient with good knowledge of the offerings but they lean a little towards overselling. Quick turnaround but we were on the late side of lunch with only three other tables in play.

I’ll definitely be back to try some of the other offerings, perhaps at a busier time to see how the crowd and atmosphere evolve.

The peach-gelatin sake will not be on the menu.

Lunch: April 2016

Izakaya| 318 Gray | HTX 77002

 

Eggplant “Sushi”

While in Miami Sister and I found an interesting dish at a sushi restaurant, Doraku Sushi, eggplant prepared and presented as a sushi roll. It satisfied Sister’s vegan lifestyle and my sensitivity to rice, plus it was amazing in texture and flavour.

So impressed with the dish I set out to recreate. Overall this rendition is good. Not having used miso before, now I know its much saltier than expected; next time I’ll cut the miso in half.

IMG_4252 IMG_4253
IMG_4255 IMG_4260
  • 2 Japanese Eggplants (the skinny ones)
  • 2-3 T Yellow Miso
  • 2-3 T Mirin
  • 1 T Chives, chopped, dried
  • 2 T Oil (any light flavour)
  • 1 t Sesame Oil
  • 2 t Garlic, chopped
  • 2 t Ginger, chopped
  • 1 t Red Chili Flakes
  • 2 t Sesame Seeds, roasted

To prepare the glaze, take miso, mirin, oils, garlic, ginger and chili and process in a food processor until smooth. You could also do this with a whisk if you want a chunkier glaze.

To prepare the eggplant, slice 1-2″ rounds, depending on how high you want them to stand. If you’re going for pick-up appetizers, 1″ is better. If you’re going for a side with visual appeal, 2″. In the 1″ case, it worked out better to pre-cook the rounds by slightly basting with oil then baking them for 15 minutes in a 375 oven. Remove from oven, let cool slightly then top each round with a  few teaspoons of glaze and a few toasted sesame seeds. Pop them under the broiler until the glaze starts to char around the edges. Remove and sprinkle with the remaining toasted sesame seeds and chopped chives.

I loved the flavour (savory with a little garlic-chili bite) and texture (pillowy on the inside but still sturdy enough to pick up) of these, although they were not as good as the Doraku version. The secret here seems to balancing the miso with the other flavours and finding the right pre-bake time and temp for the desired texture.

I’ll try these again, perhaps with less miso or  a little agave and a longer time under the broiler.

Sculpted In Steel

Another month of work interruption but things seem to be returning to somewhat normal.

I did have a chance to sneak away from my computer to see Sculpted In Steel, one of the newer exhibits at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I loved these cars and motorcycles all from the Deco Era, late 1920’s through early 1940’s. Sleek linearity and symmetry of the Deco style were a countermanding force to the ornate detail and asymmetry of the previous style, Art Nouveau. Its a shame Deco fell out of favor at the start of WW2 but at least its quite well preserved here, that is until 30 May when it moves on to another location.

B-IMG_4353 B-IMG_4352
B-IMG_4347 B-IMG_4350
B-IMG_4344 B-IMG_4339
B-IMG_4334 B-IMG_4327
B-IMG_4317 B-IMG_4310
B-IMG_4306 B-IMG_4305
B-IMG_4297 B-IMG_4299

Miami | Vizcaya

Nope, we don’t have any relatives living in Miami but it turned out to be a convenient place for a makeshift family gathering and given it was winter, much warmer.

Miami reminds me of Las Vegas in the late 90’s; perpetually busy and shiny with high rise condo construction rocketing forward on every corner. If you happen to be in Miami and are looking to escape the maze of impassable streets and a density of cranes blotting out the sun, you’re in luck. A mile or so south in Coconut Grove, there is Vizcaya Museum. Museum might be a strong word, its really the villa and grounds formerly belonging to the Deering family. Despite current renovation of the villa, this is still an extraordinary 2-3 hour stop. You’ll need at least that long to traverse the “Gardens”, which cover 50 bay-side acres and seem similar to gardens I’ve seen in Florence, Italy.

B-IMG_1511-LOFI B-IMG_1478-LOFI
B-IMG_1436-LOFI B-IMG_1446-LOFI
B-IMG_1497-LOFI B-IMG_1439-LOFI
B-IMG_1452-LOFI B-IMG_1493-LOFI
B-IMG_1462-LOFI B-IMG_1472-LOFI
B-IMG_1467-LOFI B-IMG_1466-LOFI