Tag Archives: Downtown

Andalucia

IMG_1083Th-upSpain has a passion for just about everything: food, music, dance, architecture. I’ve been there and loved the experience but continuing to travel to Spain to experience these passions is cost-prohibitive, so I continue to look for surrogates locally. Andalucia comes close, excelling in some areas, while being flat in others.

I noticed the downtown tapas venue on a walk back from neighboring Phoenicia. I then remembered a coworker’s raves from weeks earlier and thought – must “research”.

Atmosphere

IMG_1093Open, heavy wood tables and high bar benches, warm tones, lively. Like all open, indoor areas filled with people, its sometimes difficult to hear against the background levels. But Andalucia is not about quiet conversation, its more about replicating the energy and experience you would find in Spain. The overwhelming reason to come here is for the live flamenco – 830-1030p – which for me, dictates the atmosphere. The performers are fantastic, the is crowd energetic, transforming Andalucia into a more of a performing arts venue with a food & drink bonus.

Service

Courteous,  prompt and otherwise good but there were some missteps with drink orders, likely due to the noise level.

Food

Some wins

Sangria: Too sweet for me. The base flavors were spot on with the red wine giving the drink its depth; present orange flavors added the requisite citrus notes. But I think either they are mixing a store-bought sangria or adding sugar to their own brew. Or maybe they were heavy handed with the fruit juices, possibly grape or apple. Not bad but not the best.

Patatas Bravas: Ah, the quintessential tapas plate. These were good but constructed differently than their traditional counterparts. The potatoes themselves are spicy, heat level rising only to mildly amusing with aioli piped in criss-cross pattern over the lot. It works well from a flavor perspective but the presentation was uninspired.

Albondigas Marroquis: Good but the advertised spicy, cumin pepper sauce was weak on both spice and  cumin and I was actually looking forward to the spicy, cumin pepper punch to break up the sweetness of the sangria.

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Price

Tapas range between $5-15. My two tapas and two drinks were under $30, which I considered reasonable.

I recommend Andalucia but I would book an 8p table on Saturday and consider live flamenco the highlight while the food and drink, an accessory.

Dinner: 18 May 2013

Andalucia | NW Corner of Polk & Caroline | Houston TX 77002

Phoenicia

IMG_1072Several friends simultaneously recommended Phoenicia to me. Not that Phoenicia is new to Houston, it isn’t, but the location downtown is relatively new and they said it was HUGE. Typically I avoid the eastern edge of downtown, it is dense with sports arenas and the prospect of running into herds of drunk Texans pissed off because their team lost, doesn’t appeal. But a HUGE grocery specializing in middle eastern fare, I’m there.

I’ve been test driving Phoenicia downtown for a few months now and I have to say, its impressive. It is HUGE, two stories and its not just a grocery, its also a restaurant and bar and apparently live music often plays on a small stage near the back. If you want to explore before its gets busy, try a Saturday around 9a.

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As a grocery, it is full service; meat counter with a good selection of halal items, limited but fresh produce, rows of off-topic legumes, spices labeled in Arabic, stacks of fresh baked breads, cheeses galore and even a decent set of Le Cruset cookware. However, for me, the standouts are

  • Deli Counter : Hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and other mid-east salads you wont find anywhere near downtown. Definitely snag a container of basil chicken salad to stuff into your fresh baked pita!
  • Dessert Counter: Freshly made baklava, halva and other desserts I could not pronounce even if I could remember my Arabic.
  • Wine: Upstairs you find what is quite possibly the oddest selection of wine in town. Standard products from France, California, Argentina and Australia exist but notice the options from Armenia, Jordan, Lebanon and Croatia.
  • Condiments: Also upstairs, the largest selection of non-Italian olive oils I’ve seen as well as a good selection of tahini. I use loads of olive oil and tahini but other ethic stores only offer them in industrial sizes; Phoenicia has smaller sizes for those who are not feeding a family of 12.
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Phoenicia is now a staple for my weekly acquisitions and I’m thrilled that the owners, one from Armenia, the other from Lebanon have brought authentic mid-east fare into the downtown area!

Phoenicia | 1001 Austin | Houston, TX 77010