Category Archives: Texas

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

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Buffalo Bayou Trail

I knew about Buffalo Bayou Trail but never took the time to explore until just recently. The Bayou itself runs from the notorious Houston Ship Channel around the north side of downtown to the west side before meandering westwards and paralleling Allen Parkway. The Bayou itself is not a sight, in fact, its probably better to not look directly into the Bayou. However, the trail is a pleasant walk easily integrated into whatever activities you have planned for downtown, near-town, Washington Corridor or Montrose.

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Access
You can get to to the trail from the west side of downtown via just about any of the east-west streets or anywhere along Allen Parkway; just look for a bridge and likely that bridge will have a set of stairs leading down to the trail. There places to pop up at Bell St for the density of oil and gas high-rises, another at Prairie for the Wortham and Buffalo Bayou Centers, one for the Aquarium and many that allow access to either Montrose or Rice Military.

It looks like they are building out the north side and east side trails, since the paths were closed with a “building in progress” look. There is a separate path that runs along the Bayou from EaDo out to the ship channel but it does not appear to be connected to the rest of the system. Yet.

Condition
In most spots parallel to Allen Parkway there are separate walking and biking paths which allows different transport modes to peacefully coexist, however they merge in downtown. The paths, bridges, benches and everything else are kept in immaculate condition. There’s nothing to watch out for save a few ducks, who apparently think the trail is for them.

The trail is lit up at night; its not great lighting but it will keep you from biking off the trail and into the Bayou.  Its particularly interesting to explore this path at sundown;  the highly reflective skyline of downtown slightly beyond the cobalt blue lights they installed under the freeways make the city look like an anime setting.

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Duration
You can customize this walk to your liking. I did an 8-mile return from the north side of downtown at Prairie St, across the Aquarium, under the Sabine St. Bridge, past Montrose and coming close to River Oaks. Then back. It was a 3 hour walk, stops included

Gear
You could do this with flip flops and water bottle; its that easy.

Activities, Sights

Wortham Center for cultural. Bayou Center for entertainment including Sundance Theatre. Main St. for craft cocktails. Aquarium. Volleyball, soccer, dog park, exercise courses and picnic areas are along the Allen Parkway segment.

The views of downtown are second only to those from the north side; you’ll see the city from a very different perspective. You’ll see some funky art installations, which frankly I did not know existed before walking the trail. I was fascinated by the metal Buddha-ish figures welded together from various alphabets.

This is a very heavily traveled path at all times; if you’re looking for solitude, keep looking, however if you like knowing other people are always around, you’re in luck.

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Dak and Bop

Ironically it was a friend who lives in the burbs who told me about this restaurant which just recently opened in my neighbourhood. Dak and Bop is a Korean fried chicken house. Its interesting that I had just tried Korean fried chicken for the first time recently and thought it was good but rather a novelty, now there is restaurant focusing on just that.

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Atmosphere
Its located in one of the new concentric box buildings on Binz St. near the museums; glass front, lots of concrete, steel and generally has a vertical loft feeling. For lunch its an absolute madhouse with a 15-30 minute wait. Its a little off-putting to think of waiting for what is basically fried chicken in sauce but its likely due the newness of the restaurant combined with the fact that there aren’t many options for lunch in this part of town. Go ahead and wait, its definitely worth a few extra minutes.

Food
There are other items on the menu, like truffle fries and kimchi empanadas but I’d recommend going straight for the main event, the chicken. The chicken has options, here’s what you need to consider: the size of your meal in pieces, what kind of pieces and which sauce. The sauces vary in spicy level from the innocuous garlic soy to the warning-included, super-hot Korean pepper.

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I went 5-piece, the smallest, with 4 ‘strips’ and a drum with the middle-of-the-road sriracha lime and honey sauce. Incredible! I didn’t have high expectations but the crispy-out, juicy-in chicken was prepared extremely well. The sriracha was as expected, pleasantly warm, the lime adding a good acidic depth and the honey rounding out the lot with a little sweetness.

Price
$8 seemed reasonable, however I can get the comparable non-Korean version from any other of the grillion fried chicken places for a few bucks less.

Service
Its a small space, cramped and very busy. Despite that,  service here is excellent, turnaround times are quick – 10-15 minutes and everyone is very friendly as the warp 9 from table to kitchen and back.

Lunch: September 2015

Dak and Bop| 1801 Binz | HTX 77004