By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
We've already covered 20 food words you need to stop mispronouncing. And then 20 more words after that, since apparently people still stumble over the fact that there is no "x" in espresso. And espresso is definitely one of those words that people — even people who work in coffee shops — misspell on a daily basis.
But there are far worse sins than putting an "x" in espresso. And there's one brilliant but under-the-radar Twitter account that's been compiling them all: @CheeseCasadia. Here are our favorites and a list of the ten words that you need to stop misspelling:
10. Casadia / Quesadilla
9. Pork shops / Pork chops
8. Jumbaliya / Jambalaya
7. Dognuts / Doughnuts (or just keep it simple with Donuts)
6. Orange jewce / Orange juice
5. Bowel / bowl
4. Pooping champagne / Popping Champagne
3. Umbeyonce / Ambience
2. Flaming young / Filet mignon
1. Lack toast and tolerant / Lactose intolerant
A Stop at Trader Joe's
Texas's newest sensation hits Texas.
What do you get when you take a grocery store with a jazillion specialty products, organic produce and flavorful freezer food and intertwine it with low prices throughout, then sprinkle it with a laid-back Hawaiian vibe? Trader Joe's. The specialty store, whose roots lie in the small town of Monrovia, California — something I share with the booming national retailer — is Texas's newest sensation.
The trading at Joe's commenced with the opening of its Woodlands and Fort Worth locations on the same date, June 15. Not only did the opening of the two stores mark a milestone in its local communities, it marked the specialty grocery store's much-anticipated Lone Star State arrival. Lines that wrapped around the building, abuzz with excited chatter, characterized Trader Joe's debut.
If I were to take a wild guess, I would predict that the same excitement will surround the 2012 opening of Trader Joe's two Houston stores, along with its San Antonio, Dallas and Plano locations. Then there's the second Dallas store opening, slated for 2013, and the 2014 Austin opening (assuming the hipsters can wait that long).
Devoted fans of Trader Joe's, such as my dad, have been waiting years for it to make the move to Texas. Upon my family's relocation to Texas in 1997, one of the first things he did was call the Trader Joe's headquarters.
"When the heck are you opening up a Woodlands store?" he asked the employee who happened to take his call. "Your audience is here; this would be the perfect spot for you guys."
"Thank you for your suggestion," was the response from the Trader Joe's representative. "We have been conducting market research for expansion. We appreciate your call and your interest in having a Trader Joe's opened in your area."
Fifteen years later, now that Trader Joe's has expanded into the Texas market, my father is perhaps a bit resentful that it took them so long, but excited that it finally happened.
Truth be told, Trader Joe's is a sensation. What makes it so? Lots of things. Most prominently: its wide selection of unique edibles — many "ready-to-eat" or "ready-to-cook" — stamped with Trader Joe's private label.
Examples include cookie butter, s'more chocolate bars and ice cream sandwiches, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, and frozen mandarin orange chicken created by "the chef that originally created mandarin orange chicken," according to a Trader Joe's employee whom I chatted with. (That description was a little iffy, but we'll roll with it.) Best of all, every Trader Joe's-stamped product promises "no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, MSG, genetically modified ingredients or trans fats." Not too shabby, right?
For those looking for more traditional foods like produce, baked goods and meats, Trader Joe's offers all of this — for the most part at very reasonable prices and, many times, in organic varieties. Of course, pretty much any grocery store you walk into can offer such things. What sets Trader Joe's apart from the others is the quality of what they offer at the disproportionately good prices.
And let's not forget Trader Joe's adult beverage selection, most famously Charles Shaw's red blend, otherwise known as "Two Buck Chuck." The California red blend, originally priced at $2, now costs $2.99 due to inflation. Its quality is a tad questionable, but the product is perfect for putting into sangria or calimochos. You can also get a bottle of bubbly or Moscato for less than $6. Come on, don't even try to hide the fact that cheap alcohol is your guilty pleasure.
Finally, Trader Joe's is known for its excellent customer service. Upon entering the store, you'll be greeted by cheerful employees who actually seem to like their jobs. And that cheerfulness rubs off on you by the end of your grocery-shopping experience. BY CARLA SORIANO
1981 and Now
Exploring The Texas Chefs Hall of Fame.
Assistant Music Editor Craig Hlavaty recently purchased a 1981 edition of The Genuine Texas Handbook, a guide to all things Texan. It's an often-tongue-in-cheek look at the people, places, outfits, songs, foods and more that made someone Texan 31 years ago. Near the very beginning of author Rosemary Kent's chapter on Texas foods, she lists seven food personalities worthy of inclusion in a hypothetical Texas Cooks Hall of Fame.
One was from Houston (I'll give you one guess as to who that was). And at least three of them were personally connected to Lyndon Baines Johnson, something I couldn't quite understand until my boyfriend pointed out that LBJ had been our last — and most significant, until that time — Texan president. And LBJ's rather enormous impact on the way Texas and Texans were viewed translates into the culinary arena as well.
We also got a chuckle at how the food personalities were listed as "cooks" rather than chefs — something you'd never see now, in the era of chef-as-rock-star-king. And just which cooks made the list?
Helen Corbitt: Director of Neiman-Marcus restaurants, creator of low-calorie menu for The Greenhouse. Famous for her poppy seed dressing, ice cream molded into flowerpots, and "Texas caviar" (pickled black-eyed peas). Responsible for putting blue sugar in the N-M Zodiac room.
Since much of The Genuine Texas Handbook is tongue-in-cheek (think of it as Texas's answer to The Official Preppy Handbook published just one year earlier), it's often difficult to tell when Kent is being genuine in her praise. On one hand, the inclusion of Corbitt seems a bit silly to us now — poppy seed dressing and kitschy ice cream presentations? — but Texas caviar is still a popular dish today, and it's hard to argue against the impact that Neiman Marcus and its swanky cafes had on the 1980s.
And remember: Corbitt was a highly respected cookbook author and the very first woman ever to win a Golden Plate Award. It's also interesting to see the very first roots of more health-conscious dining popping up in meat-friendly Texas, although it's no surprise that those roots grew out of the high-profile ladies-who-lunch scene in Dallas. Corbitt was who our grandmothers aspired to be, and her cookbooks were their guide to dignified, at-home entertaining.
Walter Jetton: LBJ's personal barbecuer, called the King of Barbecue; was forever dragging his chuck wagon and chowhounds down to the LBJ ranch to barbecue for world dignitaries.
This is a no-brainer. Hell, I know people who have named their children after Walter Jetton (although not pronounced the same way; Jetton himself pronounced his name "Jet-TAHN)." Jetton cooked the first Presidential barbecue in United States history on December 29, 1963.
That barbecue, in fact, was LBJ's very first state dinner. Jetton smoked his signature meat for 300 people, and they ate his ribs and brisket in the Stonewall High School gymnasium to the sounds of Van Cliburn playing the piano. A more Texan affair was probably never had.
Mary Faulk Koock: Founder of Green Pastures Restaurant in Austin; close friend of LBJ family and Texas governors. A big help with culinary projects during the Texas HemisFair. Serves the biscuits Van Cliburn can't stop eating. Clever party hostess, planner.
Again, the fact presents itself that cooking 30 years ago was far less about going out and far more about entertaining in your own home. (Even the Johnsons knew this, entertaining on their own ranch near the Pedernales.) In an interesting side note, Koock was the sibling of radio host John Henry Faulk, best known as the University of Texas alum who sued the McCarthy-backed Red Channels after being blacklisted and labeled a Communist — and won. This lawsuit effectively ended the Hollywood blacklist.
Koock herself was a very famous cookbook author whose Austin restaurant — Green Pastures — was a bit like an early version of The French Laundry. Koock lived at Green Pastures before eventually turning the sprawling estate — her ancestral home — into what is now known as the "grande dame of Austin restaurants." Calling Koock a "clever party hostess" is doing her a bit of a disservice, too: She was the state's premier hostess for three decades in the mid-20th century, and James Beard himself was sent from New York City to help her publish the Lone Star State's "definitive" cookbook in 1965, The Texas Cookbook.
Ninfa Laurenzo: Turned her Houston tortilla factory into a Mexican food empire. Responsible for inventing and marketing "tacos al carbon." Dared to use Italian seasonings with her Tex-Mex dishes.
Another clear-cut inclusion on the list, Ninfa Laurenzo and her blended Mexican-Italian family were responsible not only for the proliferation of fajitas or "tacos al carbon" throughout Texas, but for helping bring the Mandola family to Houston from Rhode Island. From Mama Ninfa came Ninfa's, yes, but also such diverse restaurants as Bambolino's (although there's only one location now, there used to be 17), El Tiempo and Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen.
Frank X. Tolbert: Known as the "Godfather of Chili" in Texas. Co-founded the Terlingua World's Championship Chili Cookoff; has own chili parlor in Dallas. His cookbook is considered the chili Bible.
Frank Tolbert was such a well-known and universally beloved figure in the 1980s that his death — in Texas — was reported by The New York Times, which called him simply " a longtime newspaper columnist and lover of chili." You can still get his famous chili recipe at Tolbert's in Dallas.
Tolbert's book A Bowl of Red is still a fascinating tome on the history of chili in Texas, full of rambling but fascinating essays and time-tested recipes that still make a tremendously good bowl of chili. His life as an author and columnist for The Dallas Morning News is also a tribute to the fact that a degree is a useless piece of paper if you have passion for something: Tolbert attended no fewer than four Texas universities and didn't graduate from a single one.
Joseph "Cap" Warren: Chuck wagon boss for fifty years at Waggoner Ranch. Fed hundreds of hungry cowboys daily; carried his Dutch oven and frying pans in a cowhide sling under rear axle. Wearing an apron made of two flour sacks, his specialties were fried steak and sourdough biscuits.
Cap Warren is perhaps best known thanks to Frank Tolbert, who once quoted the chuck wagon boss as saying: "Cowboys today is mostly a crowd of sissies." Of course, you'd have to be a tough son of a bitch to be the head cook at the massive Waggoner Ranch for 50 years; the West Texas spread was barely second in size to the King Ranch at over 520,000 acres and long one of the most profitable — and therefore busiest — cattle ranches anywhere.
Warren was eminently quotable, in fact, and a fount of information on the many ways in which Texan frontier dining had changed over half a century and since Warren himself started out as a range cook in 1912: "If I was cooking for real cowboys," he said in 1966, "I wouldn't have nothing but beef and bread and coffee this morning. Not with this bunch here, though. They got to have their fruit juices when they get up. And they got the gall to tell the cook how they want their eggs did."
Once again, Kent does a great woman a great disservice by noting her for something as simplistic as keeping the president on a diet. Zephyr Wright had far more of an influence on LBJ than solely on his waistline. In fact, many historians attribute some of the Johnson administration's work in the Civil Rights movement to the impact that Wright made on both LBJ and his wife, Lady Bird.
A maid from my grandmother's hometown of Marshall, Wright became the housekeeper and cook for Lady Bird Johnson when Wright was only in her early twenties. She remained with the Johnsons for decades, becoming a de facto member of their family. Wright developed popular recipes — including that Pedernales River Chili — that are still revered to this day. But Leonard H. Marks, director of the U.S. Information Agency during the Johnson administration, once told NPR of a far greater legacy that Wright left behind:
Many say that Lyndon, because he came from the South, didn't believe in civil rights. Lady Bird had two people as hired help, Zephyr and Sammy Wright. Zephyr was the maid and cook, and Sammy was the chauffeur. At one of the luncheons I attended before Johnson became president, Zephyr was serving when Lyndon told her that she and Sammy should get ready to drive to Austin. The family would join them later. She said, "Senator, I'm not going to do it." There was silence.
She said, "When Sammy and I drive to Texas and I have to go to the bathroom, like Lady Bird or the girls, I am not allowed to go to the bathroom. I have to find a bush and squat. When it comes time to eat, we can't go into restaurants. We have to eat out of a brown bag. And at night, Sammy sleeps in the front of the car with the steering wheel around his neck, while I sleep in the back. We are not going to do it again."
LBJ put down his napkin and walked out of the room. Later, when Johnson became president and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, Zephyr was there. Johnson motioned to her, gave her the pen that he used to sign the bill. He said, "You deserve this more than anybody else."
Who would you nominate as the seven Texas chefs for inclusion in the Texas Cooks Hall of Fame today? Here are our picks:
Robert del Grande, Stephan Pyles and Dean Fearing: The three men who helped found the Southwestern cuisine movement in the 1980s and 1990s and helped elevate upscale Texas cooking in Dallas and Houston to nationally regarded levels.
Michael Cordúa: The first chef to introduce significant Latin American influences into Texan cooking that weren't from Mexico, and whose restaurants — Churrascos, Américas, Artista and Amazón Grill — are still relevant today.
Monica Pope: James Beard nominee, Top Chef: Masters contestant and the only Texas woman ever to be named a Top 10 Best New Chef by Food & Wine, Pope helped introduce and popularize the concept of locavorism with restaurants such as The Quilted Toque, Boulevard Bistrot and t'afia.
Hugo Ortega: Another James Beard nominee and ultimate American success story, Mexican immigrant Ortega showed that Mexican food is more than just fajitas and enchiladas — it can be upscale, destination dining, too.
Tyson Cole: James Beard winner and commander of the Uchi empire, Tyson Cole epitomizes the new wave of young turk chefs who are changing the way Texas cuisine is perceived at a national level. It's adventurous, highly modern and yet still in keeping with our Lone Star roots. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT
Openings & Closings
Ava becomes Alto, Il Mulino becomes 024 and death becomes Nga.
Rumors had been swirling for the past few weeks that Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar — one of the restaurants in the two-joint Schiller-Del Grande concept at West Ave — would be closing soon. But instead of closing completely, the restaurant is moving in with its sister restaurant — Alto Pizzeria — upstairs. The news is unsurprising, as Ava itself never quite took off despite its pedigree; the Schiller-Del Grande group also run RDG + Bar Annie, The Grove, Taco Milagro, Rio Ranch and several Cafe Express locations.
In a press release, Lonnie Schiller said that they are "taking the best items at Ava and merging them with Alto," although it's unclear exactly which items will remain on the merged menu. Guests will continue to access the second-story Alto through its staircase entrance, while a smaller space downstairs will serve as a curbside pickup area. West Ave plans to revamp the now-vacant Ava space, and further rumors indicate that a Fleming's may be its next occupant.
In other transformations, Trattoria Il Mulino has closed and quickly reopened as 024 Grille (a nod to its ZIP code). The ground-floor level of a Westin facing Memorial City Mall was an odd spot for the little sister location of NYC's famed Il Mulino, and the spot always seemed to suffer as a result. The new 024 promises to blend "the atmosphere of a local bistro and the classic tradition of a Texas steakhouse."
In case you missed it, Solea opened last week in the increasingly popular Shepherd/Durham restaurant corridor south of I-10. The wine bar-cum-live music joint is near both old favorites such as Pizzitola's and new favorites like La Fisheria.
Speaking of La Fisheria, the coastal Mexican restaurant is now open for brunch. In keeping with Chef Aquiles Chavez's almost compulsive need to trademark everything in the restaurant with his name, the brunch offerings will include his twist on chilaquiles — Red Chile-"Aquiles," which includes a red sauce with spicy and smoky red chiles along with shredded chicken breast, fried corn tortilla strips and fried eggs topped with cotija cheese. The menu will also feature dishes such as Mexican paella and adult pick-me-ups like Bloody Marias. Sunday brunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Coastal Crossing Grill in Alvin is now open after The Barbed Rose Steakhouse saw its last day of service on June 30.
Also closed this week were Korma Sutra — a bit of a surprise considering the restaurant's nicely prepared entry into the recent Curry Crawl at Straits — and Nga Restaurant, which was an excellent Midtown alternative to the much busier Mai's and Van Loc. Midtown is becoming less Vietnamese with every passing day...BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT
A Newbie's Guide to Sushi
Venturing down a new food road.
Some love sushi, some hate it and some only eat California rolls. But there is so much more to it than just a roll of rice with cream cheese, avocado and crab. If you, like me until recently, have never ordered sashimi or nigiri and have stuck with hand-rolled sushi, I suggest you venture along a new path of eating true sushi.
Carl Rosa, President of the Sushi Club of Houston, contacted me after reading my story about trying raw fish at Uni Sushi, offering to teach me more about sushi. How could I pass up this opportunity?
We met at Kubo's Sushi Bar & Grill in the Rice Arcade Shopping Center for lunch and discussed the basics of sushi. He broke down each component — rice, fish, soy sauce and wasabi — and took me through a sushi menu starting with basic sushi, then working my way up to more exotic flavors.
Here's my newbie's guide to eating sushi.
5. Rice and Fish Go Hand in Hand
When you eat a sushi roll, you usually can't distinguish each flavor inside the roll. You have avocado, cucumber, seaweed, rice, crab or shrimp and spicy mayo, and then you've probably drenched it in soy sauce, right? Rosa explains that the problem with this is that it strays from what sushi is — simple. As with most dishes, the flavors are meant to complement each other, not fight for attention.
Sushi rice and fish are of equal importance. If the rice is body-temperature warm, it's good rice and will balance with the flavor of the fish. Rosa says the fish and rice need to be a "harmonious combination."
4. Do Not Mix Wasabi and Soy Sauce
Not that we're judging, but raise your hand if you've done this. Rosa says it's one of the biggest faux pas with sushi. First of all, you should use a minimal amount of soy sauce. The sushi should not be overpowered by the soy sauce, or you're taking away from the pure flavor of the rice and fish.
Think of it this way: If you need more soy sauce, you can always pour more. Second, wasabi and soy sauce are meant to be used in different ways. Soy sauce enhances the flavor of the sushi. Wasabi is a spicier component that is already added to most sushi. Don't kill your taste buds by drenching your sushi in wasabi or soy sauce. You won't learn to love the simplicity of the rice and fish.
** On a side note, the majority of wasabi served in America is artificial — dry mustard, dry horseradish and green food coloring. The real wasabi is actually called Hon Wasabi, or fresh-grated wasabi root, and it's a lot more expensive. Hon Wasabi tastes fresher and doesn't have the shockingly spicy taste that the artificial wasabi has — it diffuses through your taste buds, leaving them tingling, not gasping for water. Look for it on the menu and order it the next time you're in a sushi restaurant.
3. Take Baby Steps
As I said in my review of Uni Sushi, I took baby steps when I decided to try a sushi roll with a piece of raw fish on top. Don't order something so exotic or unfamiliar to you the first time you decide to eat nigiri or sashimi. It takes time to build a palate for raw fish. It's kind of like riding a bike. Take the training wheels off, order something that's cooked, then work your way up by trying familiar fish. Rosa started me off with unagi, a barbecued freshwater eel. The cooked fish with teriyaki sauce was a good fit with my palate. It wasn't strange or gross; it actually melted in my mouth and was extremely sweet, making it easier to eat.
2. Learn the Proper Way to Use Chopsticks
Not everyone knows how to use chopsticks, and even for those who do, they are probably using them wrong. When you're grabbing any sushi off of a community plate, use the thicker end of the chopsticks. It's improper to use the end you put in your mouth to grab sushi off of a community plate, just as you wouldn't use your fork or spoon to take food from a plate or bowl in a buffet line.
Also, use chopsticks only when eating sushi rolls, not when eating nigiri, which means "to grab." When you're eating nigiri, use the thick end of the chopsticks to place it on your plate, then, using your fingers, pick up the sushi, turn it upside down so the fish is on the bottom, lightly dip the fish in the soy sauce and eat it in one bite. It's easy, simple and won't make a mess.
1. All Fish Taste Different
Each piece of fish on a sushi menu tastes different from others. Experiment with the ones you enjoy the most. Everyone has a different appreciation for different fish, so take a gamble after you've begun to work your way into eating raw fish. If you want to take the route I took, start with yellowtail or amberjack, then try salmon (sake), tuna belly (toro) and tuna (akami).
I tried sea urchin (uni) gunkan-maki and, surprisingly, enjoyed the buttery and golden flavors. But if you have not tried nigiri, you probably don't want to order sea urchin. It's expensive, and it's too advanced for a beginner's palate. BY MOLLY DUNN