Category Archives: Texas

Honeymoon Cafe

Honeymoon Cafe is one of several craft cocktail bars recently opening in the Market Square area of downtown. I hadn’t noticed before last month but almost all of the spaces on Main St in this part of town are now bars focusing on anything but off-the-rack cocktails. Good on them.

Honeymoon is a little different from the rest of the craft cocktail bars since they also have  breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner menus. I liked that their breakfast menu was available all day which makes possible the almost irresistible breakfast for dinner option.

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Atmosphere
Houston considers ‘old buildings’ anything built more than 50 years ago. Its also prone to yanking those buildings down in favour of shiny glass and steel boxes. Shame, but at least in downtown you’ll find the last remnants of buildings originally built before 1900. Honeymoon is smack in the middle of one cluster.

Historical context and old-world architectural detail aside, you’ll find Honeymoon to be very casual with mixed bag patronage. Early hours usually pulls in post-work suits umbilically attached to laptops, later hours pulls the pre-party crowd getting in some meaningful conversation before the night spins out of control.

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Drink
Yep, there is food and I’ve been happy with my food orders here on previous trips, however  this round was about drinks. And actually I just tried the one, Peter Cottontail,  but with different preparations.

The base layer of the Peter Cottontail is carrot juice. Ginger and lemon are added and then there is the variable; either Green Chili vodka or Mandarin Orange vodka. I tried both but my preference was for the Green Chili version. A little amusing heat from the chili, inherent sweetness of the carrot, a little acidity from the lemon and the zing of ginger all in one glass. Its health drink! I can rationalize with the best of them.

Service
Like most ‘craft cocktail’ venues, each drink is prepared with almost ceremonial process so it will take a bit longer. Food orders are typically a 20-30 minute turnaround. Staff here are mostly friendly and knowledgeable however I did get some impatience from one bartender when I asked some questions about preparation. Who knows, maybe dude was having a bad day but this seems an anomaly rather than the standard.

Price
Pretty fair. $9-12 per cocktail. $8-15 per food main.

Drinks: August2015

Honeymoon Cafe| 300 Main | HTX 770902

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Karbach Brewery

I knew about Karbach beer, however not being a huge beer consumer I was surprised it was brewed right here in Houston. I was also surprised when Karbach Brewery Restaurant popped up for restaurant week, so I felt compelled to investigate their 3-course dinner with beer pairings.

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Atmosphere
Disneyland for adults.  Its a modern structure, sporting the ubiquitous soft-loft feel; floor to ceiling windows, lots of steel and polished concrete. The interior is filled with upbeat music, brick walls, wood tables and chairs and people who are arguably the happiest in Houston. From the interior you can see the squeaky clean inner workings of the brewery through large glass windows. You can also see the outdoor seating area which is about as large as the indoors. Its a loud space but not so bad you’ll need to scream. If you were thinking about getting dressed up, there’s really no need, almost everyone was in shorts and flops; I felt over dressed in jeans and boat shoes.

Food
Surprisingly, for a brewery, the food here was great. One of our crew explained that they hired a chef away from another restaurant to create a menu pairing well with their beer offerings. He nailed it.

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Korean Fried Chicken: What’s not to like? Crunchy on the out, juicy on the in, a very spicy glaze of hot pepper, garlic, soy and honey. That they added a bit of chopped kimchi and green onion created a fermented and herbal note that peeked through the glaze momentarily. Very tasty and satisfying in a comfort food way.

Weekend Warrior Chicken: Roasted chicken is uninteresting on its own but here they create a layered approach to the dish both for your eyes and your taste buds.The roasted 1/4 chicken, brined in their Weekend Warrior Pale Ale, sits atop crispy polenta rectangles which sits atop a spicy tomato sauce; a tangle of grilled green onion which, in turn, creates a nest for a grilled lemon. I might have to try it again to confirm that I really liked.

BBH Chocolate Cake: Not a dessert person but who can resist taking at least one bite of chocolate cake made with BBH, Bourbon Barrel Hell-raiser, which is Karbach’s much lighter version of a Chocolate Stout. Still too sweet for me but people with more normal taste buds appreciated, particularly when paired with cinnamon vanilla ice cream and, of course, a 4 ounce pour of BBH itself.

Price
Hard to say about their usual menu since this was restaurant week and the 3-course lot was $35. My guess is the everyday menu is fairly priced.

Service
This is part of the atmosphere. While shorts-clad and very young, the wait staff here know everything about the food and beer offerings. Restaurant week meals come with pre-selected beers (4 ounce pours), however that did not stop us from ordering more beer and our server was spot on aligning particular tastes with what was on tap.

While the brewery is a little out of the way for us inner-loopers who don’t normally travel too far north of the 610 and the parking was a little odd, we all agreed we’ll be back. An interesting note, just in case you like to throw large parties, the entire upstairs is rentable.

Dinner: August 2015

Karbach Brewery | 2032 Karbach St | HTX 77092

 

Mandala

I walk through the Museum District daily. The first year I watched the banners for coming attractions and was at some exhibit every weekend. After a time though they started to fade into the background as the novelty wore off and the day to day details took over. Friends visiting from out of town started to be my source of exhibit information.

But last week I happened to look up at the Asia Society banner and noticed Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery were coming to Houston to create a mandala live. A must see and definitely noted.

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I don’t know much about Tibetan sand art other than that it typically takes weeks and weeks of effort laying down one grain of sand at a time. And that it is, symbolically, healing and repairing for the surroundings; I suppose it more depends on whether you subscribe to Buddhism or Hinduism. I saw an already assembled mandala once in California. There I watched the closing destruction ceremony which seemed much more important to the monks and the onlookers than the art itself. In the destruction ceremony they removed, in a very specific order, all of the components of the mandala, placed the sand in a jar, wrapped it cloth, then deposited the lot into the Pacific Ocean.

The act was meant to symbolize the ephemeral nature of life. Those kooky monks, they really get it.

Locally I watched the construction. Its fascinating to see if only for the patience these men have to load the sand tubes (chakpur) with one colored sand, scrape the side so the sand comes out almost one grain at a time into an intricate pattern. Then they unload the tube, load up another color then the process repeats until done. Luckily there were 5-6 monks working otherwise it would have taken weeks.

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Dosi

The Korean sector in Houston is concentrated slightly west of town along Longpoint Rd. near Blalock. There you can find dozens of Korean restaurants and a Kroger-sized grocery dealing mostly with Korean items. However, in town, Korean options are sparse. This in-town restaurant, Dosi, is not strictly Korean, it leans more towards fusion.

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Atmosphere
Dosi did a Madonna; It disappeared only to come back with a new look. The look is sophisticated industrial with a tinge of street thanks to inside murals by Houston’s Aerosol Kriminals. The bright pink murals, light trees and wall of marinating produce broke up the rectangular grid of interior and created interest.

There were not many people for lunch but apparently they had a bumper crop the previous night – a late, last minute party of 20 – and they were out of a lot of items. They were quick to offer impromptu substitutes for missing items and they actually closed the restaurant after we were seated so we had full run over the remaining menu items.

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Food
The food here is mostly great, however Korean purists are going to take exception to the ingredients, preparation and presentation.

Bibimbab: I ordered the bibimbap for lunch and it was mediocre. The chicken and vegetables lacked flavour and the rice was dry. I salvaged the lot by applying liberal amount of gochujang, the Korean hot pepper paste.

Kimchee, Pork Belly Pancakes: Stellar. Crispy on the out, soft on the in, good texture play with the roasted pork belly and just the right amount of kimchee to flavour without becoming overpowering. The vinegar, soy, hot pepper dipping sauce was amazing. The homemade kimchee in pots on every table were a great topping with these.

Gulf Oyster Ssam: Also amazing. Crispy potato-starch fried oysters presented with lettuce for wrapping along with nori strips, red bell pepper, kumquats and a gochujang aioli. This is a good example of how Dosi does fusion with excellent results.

Price
Its in line with other Upper Kirby establishments for lunch, $8-10 per app, $10-15 per entree. For those who know the prices of authentic Korean restaurants, this will seem high, however consider the time and money costs of getting to those from an in-town location.

Service
It was our server’s first day and she was faced with 12 hungry people, serious time restrictions and a lot of missing menu items. I applaud her ability to negotiate with the chef to come up with adhoc substitutes and to offer us deals on those items. I would not want that as my first day experience but she handled it extremely well. Hopefully that is a harbinger of the service level in general.

While I’m still partial to authentic Korean I’ll definitely return to Dosi to try more of their fusion items. I’m also curious to try a few of their Soju offerings which are featured prominently during their daily Soju happy hour.

Lunch: July 2015

Dosi | 2802 S. Shepard | HTX 77098

Barley Swine

Barley Swine, Bryce Gilmore’s experiment in adventurous culinary creations has been on fire since it opened. The  $85, 12-course tasting menu is the only thing on the menu, that is, until later this year when they leave their South Lamar digs for a spot north of UT Austin. Rumour has it they will offer small plates independently of the tasting menu in the new spot.

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To avoid a 10-page post I’ll just say that if you are in Austin and you are a confirmed foodie known to brave odd-sounding combinations of ingredients – this place is for you. The menu changes often, below is what I and long-time friend, The Hobbyist, tried. Everything was incredible in taste and presentation. The young and heavily tattooed staff were wizards with polished service. Each course was about 1-3 bites and at the end of the 12 courses you will be pleasantly full. You might have a little more room to stop at neighbouring Lick for ice creams made with the oddest ingredients.

Definitely make a reservation, its small and very popular.

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  • Tomato, buttermilk snow, smoked trout roe
  • Gulf shrimp, fried head, mango soup, jasmine panna cotta, buckwheat groats
  • Cured squash, goat feta, cast iron seeds, basil oil
  • Shishito, fermented mushroom glaze
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  • Pork bun, bourbon, peach
  • Morel, avocado, strawberry
  • Gulf fish, hoja santa, corn, fried egg foam
  • Eggplant, squid, grapefruit
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  • Waygu tongue, pintos, tomato, homemade Funyuns
  • Roasted duck breast, confit, plum, potato
  • Aerated vinegar pie, chewy fruit, streusel
  • Peach ice cream sandwich
  • Cannoli, mango, keffir lime, spiced chocolate
  • Coffee and hay semifreddo, toasted peanut, puffed rice, salted caramel, dark chocolate candy bar

Dinner: July 2015

Barley Swine | 2024 S. Lamar | Austin, TX 78704

Kitchen 713

There’s no shortage of Southern-cooking inspired restaurants in Houston. They run the gambit from drive-thru to sit-down, white tablecloth. No matter what your budget, time restrictions or personal tastes happen to be, you will find some venue to suit.

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What makes Kitchen 713 different? Its menu is small and focused on a handful of items which they prepare extremely well. They are located deep into the new, scruffy IT neighbourhood of EaDo. In fact, they are so far into EaDo, it might be considered East Houston. They are extremely casual in atmosphere while serving items you could order from a much schmancier venue for half the cost. They are located in leased space from the adjoining church. This last bit you will want to know if you are thinking about alcohol. They don’t serve it and you cannot bring it; its part of the lease agreement.

Atmosphere
Very casual; you’ll find most patrons are in shorts and flops.  Order at the counter, table delivery. Don’t forget to pickup your silverware and self-service tea or lemonade at the counter in the back. Its basic, small (about 6  4-tops) and insanely popular, therefore it can be loud and chaotic but in a fun way. My advice is to try it on a week night but check their hours online before heading out; they are closed Monday and Tuesday, they also roll up at 9p.

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Food
Some of the best in the city. Breakfast Club has been the defacto Southern venue in Houston for a while now but Kitchen 713 is going to give them some competition. All items were extreme wins.

Boudin Balls: I’ve seen these made any number of ways in Louisiana but here they are chopped Boudin sausage mixed with breading then rolled in cornmeal then deep-fried and served with toast points. Of course they’re good, like a hush puppy with a sausage bonus. There was no accompanying sauce but you can roll your own from the large collection of hot sauces on the back counter.

Shrimp and Grits: Depending on who you ask ‘what is the most southern dish?’ in Houston you’ll likely hear Fried Chicken or this dish, Shrimp and Grits. Like Boudin Balls, Shrimp and Grits is prepared differently everywhere you go. Kitchen 713 prepares theirs with a lemon-cream sauce with a hint of garlic bite, which considerably brightens up a typically heavy bite. Grits are forced to share the bowl with a half-dozen or so squeaky fresh 11-count shrimp and the occasional boudin sausage round. Highly recommended for those seeking to escape the bacon-cheesy renditions.

Also featured in the photos, Lamb Belly with Potato Cake – a definite win for the birthday boy who ordered it. Will try next time.

Service
You can steal a look at the kitchen as you walk by the front since its all glass front. You’ll see the two chefs who work tirelessly in the small space; usually they will briefly stop to flash a smile and wave. Considering the heavy traffic at Kitchen 713, the orders are up quickly, 20 minutes or less. For a no-frills venue, the service here exceeds expectations and the staff will ask you many questions about how often you’ve been, what was your favourite, how can they improve. They will also fill you in on any upcoming specials and they will be sure to note their hallmark fried-chicken lunch served only on Sunday – its a whole fried chicken, so bring a friend.

Price
Frankly, given the quality of the dishes here, I think the prices are low – app, drink and entree will hover about $20-ish.

If you’re an urban pioneer willing to brave the what most Houstonians still consider a ‘bad neighborhood’ (it isn’t and ironically it has the lowest crime stats of any inner city zipcode) and you’re up for some classic Southern dishes spun with care and creativity, Kitchen 713 should be high on your culinary to-do list.

 

Dinner: June 2015

Kitchen 713 | 4515 Canal | HTX 77011