Tag Archives: Texas

Avocado Margarita

It sounded interesting so I ordered it and now I’m on a mission to reproduce. At  El Alma, where I also had some incredible soft tacos, the Avocado Margarita seems a straight up lime-tequila variety but the added avocado smooths out the flavors and adds an interesting richness. A nice touch – the glass was rimmed in ancho flavoured salt.

Be warned, at El Alma, drinks are seriously strong. So strong I forgot to photo the tacos.

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El Alma | 1025 Barton Springs Road | Austin, TX 78704

Beer Can House

Ironically it was my friend, the Hedge Fund Mistress, who does not even live in Houston, who told me about the Beer Can House. When I read her forwarded article from AP, I knew I would have to go; it was just too odd to pass by.

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Apparently, dude who lived here created the Beer Can House from beer he actually consumed over a 20 year span. Good on you Beer Guy, you were ahead of the recycling curve. Its worth a visit since you miss the context unless you are in person. This piece of art is buried in a cluster of McTownhomes, which, to me, makes it all the more appealing.

Beer Can House | 222 Malone | HTX 77007

Little Lilly Sushi

There are sushi bars and then there are sushi bars. Little Lilly is the later. Lilly’s is running under an old-school philosophy – fish, raw, on a plate speaks for itIMG_1313self. I’m on board with that philosophy. Some newer sushi places have stopped short of adding rhinestone tiaras and sparklers to sushi but they still smother rolls in sickly sweet mayo sauces and misguided presentation as marketing gimmicks to distract from lower quality ingredients.

Lilly’s came as a recommendation from the Marketing Goddess, a good friend and fellow foodie in Dallas. I’m normally on the giving end of restaurant recommendations but Marketing Goddess and I have similar tastes and expectations, so off I went.

Lilly is the owner’s daughter. And the Lilly Roll featured under house specialties is a vegetarian roll created for Lilly since she is allergic to all seafood. If you picked up on the personal touch in those two facts, get ready to feel it up close and in real-time when you take a seat.

Atmosphere
Minimalist but well-appointed decor. Small, 6 seats at the bar, 20 seats otherwise. No club music. The patrons seem to be the conservative, well-heeled variety, more concerned with quality than price. Lilly’s seems more the place for conversation, good friends and lingering.

Service
Great. Sushi chef was deeply knowledgeable about the offerings and very good at matching  personal tastes to whats on the menu. I’m not usually a fan of salmon nigiri but he highly recommended the wild New Zealand Salmon, claiming he had not tasted anything quite so fresh and flavourful in a long time. He was right.

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Food

All wins.

Litmus Test: For virgin sushi restaurants I have a litmus test of Yellowtail and Fresh Eel nigiri. If those don’t pass, I won’t order anything else and usually, I won’t return. Both passed with exceptional marks.

Salmon Nigiri: Chef mentioned the wild New Zealand salmon was some of the best he had tried. While I’m usually not a fan of salmon nigiri, I had to agree with him, it was stellar!

Hawaii Roll: Since chef was spot on with the salmon nigiri suggestion I asked him to pick out a IMG_1316roll, something offbeat, something I could not not find elsewhere. He proudly made me a Hawaii roll which is tuna & avocado on the in, escolar on the out, topped with a small amount of light sauce made from lime juice and sriracha. An odd taste combination on paper but the flavours were truly a fantastic experience; lime, like lemon,enhancing the fish, sriracha sneaking in and lingering after the fish flavours dissipated.

Price
Lilly is on the high side, however the quality is likewise high. Here, I believe you are getting what pay for. 3 nigiri (2pcs each), 1 roll – $38.

Lunch: 10 August 2013

Little Lilly Sushi | 6100 Camp Bowie | Fort Worth, TX 76116

Galveston’s Opera House

I poke fun at Texans for a variety of reasons. Its OK though, they poke back and in the end, they DSCN2285know who they are and they aren’t afraid of a little criticism, particularly since verbal sparring in Texas is more a form of entertainment.

Like all mature people, we acknowledge the positives and negatives in our philosophies. One thing I like about Texans is the connection they feel to their history; they go to great lengths to preserve that history. Case in point, the Galveston Opera House, built in the late 1800’s, severely damaged 3 times by some of the state’s worst hurricanes, neglected for decades due to regional economic fallout,  but rebuilt by the donations of Texans who refused to let it decay. Good on them.

While the architecture is nice and the physical preservation is admirable, that the opera house is still standing and in operation says something noteworthy about the people.

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Galveston’s East End

I read Galveston had some older Victorian homes GTX_EndEndbut I didn’t realize it would be a 10 block area of very well-kept Victorians. I didn’t quite make it through the whole Historic District, as it’s branded on the street signs, however I liked what I saw. The Historic District is centered around Post Office St from Downtown to the east about 10 or so blocks.

The nice thing about the Historic District is that it is wedged in between two areas dense with restaurants and bars. Walk a street to one end, have lunch. Walk back on another street, have a beer. Repeat. Its a nice way to spend the day.

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Gumbo Bar

In all the times I’ve lived in Houston, I’ve never traveled the entire hour south to the island of Galveston. Today some friends were leaving from the port of Galveston for a cruise so I thought why not see them off and spend a little time exploring. Glad about that. I had bookmarked another restaurant but it was not open so I poked Trip Advisor and found Gumbo Bar. Glad about that too.

Gumbo Bar is wildly popular with locals and tourists alike but if you are a table for one you will find no wait and better service at the bar. Its also easier to see the selection of beers in the glass front cooler at the bar and you’ll definitely want one or four of those to cool down.

Atmosphere
Galveston is terminally casual and tourism has quite the large presence so the atmosphere everywhere is extremely relaxed. Gumbo Bar is upscale diner with a mixed bag patronage. I saw an elderly couple with walkers seated next to a couple of scary-looking biker dudes (who ironically would later help the elderly couple out of their booth and into their walkers).

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Beer
I was surprised by the variety of local-ish beers, most of which were from Texas and Louisiana. I tried one from each state; Southern Star’s Bombshell Blonde Ale and Abitas Amber Lager. Abitas is a small brewery north of Lake Pontchartrain, LA. Their Amber Lager is smooth, malty with a light caramel flavor and pairs surprisingly well with peppery-hot and salty. Southern Star is a small brewery from Conroe, TX, which used to be a separate town but has now been sucked into the gravitational pull of the HTX (aka Houston, for non-locals). Their Bombshell Blonde is blunt and squeaky clean with a slight “biscuit” flavor, it did not stand up to the hot-pepper as well as the Abitas but it was great with salty.

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Food

All wins.

Fried Pickles with Ranch. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a state law in Texas that anything fried must be served with Ranch dressing. Fried Pickles are something I had never tried but I’m a fan now. The pickles must have been partially dried before frying since there wasn’t a drop of pickle juice when I bit into these. The casing was a grease-less cornmeal mix; pleasantly crunchy giving way to an even crunchier pickle. The combination of creamy ranch and salty pickle is surprisingly good, even if your blood pressure will hate you for your sodium-intake indiscretion.

Seafood Gumbo. But can she make a roux? The most common quip I heard from boys about girls when I was partaking of New Orleans nightlife. Not sure who is making the roux at Gumbo Bar but they can make a serious roux, which you might know, is the flour and butter fry up serving  as a foundation for all things gumbo. Surprisingly, the gumbo, while super rich, dark and ridiculously dense with seafood (oysters, shrimp, fish and crab) was not the least bit salty. I had a choice of four hot sauces, so I tried them all in succession. Alas, my favourite was the least interesting – Tabasco – straight up, no Jalapeno, Garlic or Chipotle distractions.

Service
Outstanding. Again, there is very little wait at the bar. I was seated immediately, the bartender was on the spot with beers, actually talking me out of a couple of choices which would have been too heavy for my meal. My food order started coming out in 10 minutes. I  felt neither rushed nor overlooked.

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Moderate and worthy

  • Beers, $5 a pop
  • Fried Pickles, $5
  • Seafood Gumbo, $10

I’ll be making more trips to Galveston; I like the casual, leisurely beach culture, the surprising 10×10 block of well-kept Victorian houses and the food scene seems good for a town of only 50,000.

Lunch: 3 August 2013

Gumbo Bar | 2105 Post Office St. | Galveston, TX 77550

Perot Museum

IMG_1239After hearing about how difficult it was to get into Dallas’ Perot Museum but how extraordinary an experience it was, I finally decided to go. I bought tickets on the internet about a week out and found that there were 400 available and they let in 400, so not so hard to get in at all. Actually quite a bit easier to get in than the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

About the experience, I had mixed feelings.

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First, the Perot Museum is a beautiful building and it is architecturally fascinating, somewhat presenting itself as the Borg having landed to assimilate downtown Dallas. You can see most of architectural aspects from the outside. And aside from some interesting views of downtown Dallas, there isn’t much of a reason to go inside, unless you are a kid or have them in tow.

That’s the rub here, the content is geared for those about 14 or younger. I would imagine even a high school student would find the exhibits trite since most of the content is taught in primary school; oil industry and Texas wildlife displays notwithstanding. That said, if you have kids in the tween or younger range, they are going to find it engaging if only for the plethora of hands-on, interactive displays. The interactive displays are extraordinary, however the problem with them is the ridiculously long lines that queue up for each experience. I didn’t wait in any lines since I wasn’t interested, however I did find the constant long lines of children forming a road block an irritating aspect of navigating the interior. Maybe its better during the week?

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One of the more interesting hands-on activities was the bio labs. Kids are queued up for their white lab coats, goggles and gloves then they travel from station to station inside the fishbowl area performing experiments and looking at results through microscopes. There is a focus here on DNA, so I’m thrilled that single digit kids are being exposed to the fundamentals of biotechnology, there is no reason they shouldn’t.

If you do have kids, this is a great stop for 2-3 hours, otherwise I would do a 1-2 stop about the exterior, snaps some shots, then move on to something more interesting.

Glad I went, won’t be back.

12 July 2013

Perot Museum | 2201 N Field St | Dallas, TX 75201

Trinity Trail, Redux

Back in May I walked part of the Trinity Trail, from Benbrook to South of Fort Worth. While July isn’t really the best time to be trekking 20 miles in Texas, I really wanted to finish the trail for the experience of seeing “the whole thing”.  Aside from a few legs that go off toward the east side of Fort Worth and out west to the Naval Air Base, I’m done!

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From the Crystelle Waggoner Trailhead on University St. its a little more of a urban experience. Straightaway, I ran into a group of food trucks gathering at the river’s edge tucked between office parks and other restaurants. From there it was just a short jaunt to the Trinity Park Trailhead opposite the Botanic Gardens. Around Trinity Park there were a couple of places to cross over the river into downtown; that is if you’re good at hopscotch, the crossovers are stepping stones, not bridges. Railroad crossings, standing kayakers and views of downtown Fort Worth emerged.

From the Trinity Park Trailhead up to the Panther Island Trailhead, downtown Fort Worth came more into focus and actually at Panther Island was easy to hop off the trail and down to Sundance Square, which has been the entertainment nucleus of downtown Fort Worth for many years.

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Crossing the river north from Panther Island downtown Fort Worth started to fade away and more pastoral and river views took center. You’ll also find this part of the trail is not frequented by many people, save a few cyclists. When you cross over the river at Hogsett Trailhead, you might as well have a sitdown and enjoy the last view of downtown.

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Beyond Hogsett there was nothing to see except the trees and the river, which were nice but the novelty wore off abruptly for me. After a mile or so it became industrial and for a long stretch there was no shade. I went all the way round to Delga Trailhead  near I-35, which is anchored by the small and lonely Delga Park.  I do not recommend going this far. Beyond Delga it was looking sketchy and the noise from the freeways and factories was not pleasant.

My bottom line for Trinity Trail is I like. I would do it again but only from Art Cowsen to Hogsett Trailheads and I would shoot for April or November.  Pop off destinations would be at Trinity Park for the Botanic Gardens, Kimbell and Modern Art Museums and at Panther Island for Sundance Square.

Ellen’s

Th-upFor years, attempts to revitalize downtown Dallas had failed. Not for lack of trying, rather lack of perspective. The replicazzi mentality copied and pasted successful efforts from the inner city to the suburbs; the results were hit and miss for the suburbs but it completely undermined the success of downtown.

It seems Dallas woke up from its decades-long stupor to realize if it wants to be taken seriously as a major city, it will have to develop its inner city with transportation infrastructure, culture and activities. Poof!, light rail has exploded in all directions out to the massive collection of wonder bread suburbs. Poof!, cultural venues have been erected all over the narrow corridor loosely separating downtown from uptown. Poof!,  now there is a beautiful park over a stretch of downtown freeway, a welcoming transition to downtown.

When good friends told me they had become the principal investors in Ellen’s, a southern kitchen restaurant in downtown’s West End, I had a visceral reaction, not a good one. West End has seen many ups and downs but my previous trip to the area was forgettable; no people, no activity, a bleak wasteland of lovely, historic brick buildings that were wallflowers to the party going on in shiny, happy Uptown. But after a recent trip to support their new business venture, I’m happy to report the West End is in an upswing. It shouldn’t surprise with Dallas’ center of gravity shift toward downtown, it is clearly a destination now.

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Ellen’s offers Southern classics per Chef’s mom, Ellen. Also, they offer breakfast as dinner, which is something I truly enjoy but rarely find in the inner city. They are not participating in the elitist one-up-ism frenzy that has out-priced and killed many a venue in Dallas. They have a niche and they want to stay true to form while being responsive to the wishes of their customers.

Atmosphere

Ellen’s is small, perhaps eight 4-tops inside, a few table outside and space for 6 at the bar. As such its cozy and comfortable, however with a L bank of large windows looking over the hustle of West End, it simultaneously feels lively; a place for leisurely conversation without losing connection with the crowd. Dressed mostly in black and white, it feels more like a sophisticated diner; a diner without the truckers, the smell of grease and the post-meal indigestion.

Service

No matter how good your food is, if your service sucks, you aren’t going to last. Service here is seasoned. Our “culinary care” expert, Judge Tracey, had what I consider an innate ability to set expectations, treat people as they want to be treated and juggle the many conflicting requirements one faces when dealing with the general public. Since Ellen’s does not pre-make anything, the wait time for table delivery might be a little longer than a conventional diner. Judge Tracey was very good at managing the wait time.  I called her Judge Tracey since she is also studying to be a paralegal. Personally, I think  she will consume that career rapidly and then she’ll be looking for more. I’ll be checking up on her.

Food

All wins

  • Fried Red Tomatoes: Red vs. green tomatoes, not sure why the red but these were delicious. The secret here is the cornmeal crust, which I find infuriating to make. The wrong ingredient proportions or fry time and you’re looking at a hockey puck. Chef knows the secret balance since the crust was grease-less, flavorful and crunchy. A reduced balsamic drizzle enhanced greatly.
  • Stuffed Jalapenos: Same flawless cornmeal crust, different target. These are shrimp stuffed but you get to customize how you want the shrimp prepared – blackened, fried or sauteed. We went for blackened but that might have been too much hot. Quite good otherwise. Layers of texture; crunchy crust, toothy pepper and shrimp, soft melted cheese. You’ll need a side of ranch to cool down the pepper.
  • Omelet : Customized. I ordered mine with Chorizo, Tomato and Avocado. Massive and delicious. They forgot the avocado but quickly corrected by bringing an entire avocado, sliced thin.
  • Manhattan : I wanted a Makers Mark Manhattan – dry, up, no fruit. Chef came to table apologizing for Bartender since the last of Makers Mark had just been consumed. As a fellow Manhattan consumer he recommended a substitute and it was excellent.

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Price

Very reasonable;  mains average about $10.

I’m thrilled for my friends and I believe they are acting with the smart money mentality, getting in before the sheeple figure out the trend. Good on them.

Ellen’s | 1718 N. Market | Dallas, TX 75202

Empamundo

Th-upI always associate empanadas with Argentina. However, I don’t know if their origins are from Argentina and if you ask anyone from Latin America you will get the same answer as asking someone from the Middle East about the country specific origins of hummus. Don’t ask, its a black hole from which a definitive answer will never emerge. Just enjoy your food and move on!

I was lucky enough to stumble upon this empanada house in Irving, Texas – of all places. The empanadas I had in Buenos Aires were rolled thick by hand, 2 tablespoons of filling placed on half the round which was IMG_1066hand closed and crimped. They were absolutely delicious but the focus is on the buttery crunchy crust; the filling is merely an accessory. At Empamundo, they are machine rolled, thin, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filling is placed into the center, then they are mechanically sealed. The focus is on the filling, the crust is an accessory. The effect is undeniably enjoyable.

The owners are a couple: He is from Buenos Aires, She is from Indonesia. They are both extremely warm and good at business; the combination is rare. Like any ethnic food venue in Texas, its important to acknowledge the local demographics. They have done so by keeping a portion of their empanada offerings true to Argentine standards, while extending the menu for local tastes – witness the Brisket Empanada and the Cheesesteak Empanada. Their approach has been wildly successful and we’ll see if my subliminal message of “Houston, Houston, Houston” will precipitate an expansion southward.

Atmosphere

None, don’t come here for atmosphere. Its located in a scruffy, ubiquitous strip mall and has limited seating. Better to order to go, chat with the owners during the wait, then consume elsewhere.

Service

Fantastic. They are both very personable and like chatting with customers. Some of it is business courtesy, however they also seem genuinely interested in knowing the people walking through their doors. My wait was only 15 minutes but during that time I chatted with He and She, learning more about His history in Argentina and His prowess at being on the sharp end of the business stick.

Food

All wins

  • Criolla : Beef, onions, green olives, raisins with chopped egg. The raisins and green olives, while strong, actually work together in a successful flavor balance. Toothy and filling, this was easily my favorite.
  • Ham & Cheese : Strips of juicy ham and a salty yellow cheese with the visual and taste surprise of red bell strips and mushrooms. The flavors were good but I used too much of the included Chimichurri sauce, which drowned out the most everything but the salty aspect. Next time, no Chimichurri with this one.
  • Brisket: How could I not try this? Delicious. Texas standard brisket – smoky and sweet – manages to stay inside in the empanada, however I don’t know how, considering its fall-to-pieces tender. Worthy of a redux.

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Price

Inexpensive. You can easily be pleasantly full for less than $8.

Sucky photos courtesy of my dirty-lensed iPhone — you’re welcome!

Dinner: 10 May 2013

Empamundo | 3977 N. Belt Line Rd. | Irving TX 75038