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So Delicious, a Caveman Could Eat It

Paleo-friendly restaurant menus abound in Houston.

Top 10

Although I don't adhere to the paleo diet, many of my good friends do.

Here's an explanation in a nutshell of the nutritional regimen, for the uninitiated: The paleo (short for "paleolithic") diet encourages the consumption of foods that advocates claim were abundant in the diets of paleolithic-era people. Fish, seafood, grass-fed meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, mushrooms (and other fungi), roots, seeds and nuts are all fair game. It discourages consumption of foods that cavemen wouldn't have had access to: gluten of any kind, grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, processed oils, and basically any and all processed foods.

The Birdie Galore at Cafe TH: roasted chicken over all the vegetables you could ever want.
Katharine Shilcutt
The Birdie Galore at Cafe TH: roasted chicken over all the vegetables you could ever want.
Lisa Mattson, a wine industry marketing whiz, brought home the 2012 Wine Blogger award for "best winery blog" in 2012 for the Jordan Winery Blog.
Jeremy Parzen
Lisa Mattson, a wine industry marketing whiz, brought home the 2012 Wine Blogger award for "best winery blog" in 2012 for the Jordan Winery Blog.
Crawfish enchiladas at Cyclone Anaya's.
Photo courtesy of Cyclone Anaya's
Crawfish enchiladas at Cyclone Anaya's.

To go into all the pros and cons of eating a paleo diet would take all day. Suffice it to say the diet has its proponents and its detractors. Neither I nor Eating...Our Words advocates any kind of diet except the kind of diet where you're doing the healthiest things you can for your body. If paleo is that diet for you, here's a list of places that make it easy to stick to your clubs. (Cavemen didn't have guns.)

Corner Table

It's on the pricey end, but this new restaurant offers a rather large paleo section on Bruce Molzan's menu that's been getting rave reviews from everyone I know who's tried it. Look for dishes such as Paleo Paella with grated cauliflower rice, housemade chorizo, organic chicken, crispy salmon, shrimp and mussels cooked down with saffron, tomatoes, coconut milk, coconut oil and jalapeños, or a Turkey Bolognese with spaghetti squash noodles, tomato sauce with ground turkey, fresh herbs, basil, EVOO, shaved Parmesan and grilled asparagus. If you're super strict, just ask them to leave the Parm off.

Roots Bistro

Much of the menu at Roots Bistro is naturally paleo-friendly, since it focuses on raw, vegan and vegetarian dishes with a modern, upscale twist. There's still plenty of meat to be found, though. Try appetizers such as smoked mushrooms or sautéed Jerusalem artichokes with beet purée and pesto, or entrées such as roasted chicken with market-fresh vegetables and a pesto made with kale and sunflower seeds.

Sammy's Wild Game Grill

The paleo diet strongly encourages consumption of wild game, which is naturally very high in protein and contains higher levels of omega-3 fats than domesticated meat sources. While Sammy's does offer plenty of wild game burgers and hot dogs, the real appeal here for paleo adherents is its salad section: You can get nearly any animal on a salad here. Llama, elk, antelope, venison, buffalo, kangaroo, ostrich — anything goes.

Cafe TH

As with Corner Table, chef and owner Minh Nguyen has devoted a large section of Cafe TH's menu to a paleo section, which Nguyen calls "Fan Specials." A logo next to many of the items indicates that they have been "Washington Gym-approved," referring to a gym that's a favorite of many paleo adherents in Houston, which makes choosing a dish even easier. You can also add extra meat to any of the dishes, like the "Squamicelli," which replaces noodles with spaghetti squash for a delicious paleo version of bun (your choice of chargrilled pork, chicken or beef).

Georgia's Farm to Market

Not only does the grocery side of Georgia's (both downtown and in Memorial) carry an abundant selection of paleo-approved grass-fed meats, the buffet at both locations features a great daily selection of paleo-friendly food for very little dough.

Snap Kitchen

It's no secret that Snap is my favorite of the health food stores around town that sell prepackaged food, and it's because the dishes are consistently tasty. Snap Kitchen (which just opened a new location in the downtown tunnels at One Allen Center) offers an entire paleo section in its stores, which also happens to feature my new favorite juice as one of the options: Far East Turmeric Elixir, a blend of pineapple, jícama, fresh turmeric root, Thai basil and Granny Smith apples. "Healthy" doesn't even factor into my decision-making process when something tastes this great.

Ruggles Green

Thanks to the handy labeling system on the menus at Ruggles Green, you can tell at a glance if the dish you're ordering is gluten-free, dairy-free or vegetarian. The blackened shrimp salad tossed with pistachios and five different kinds of fruit is a favorite, especially topped with Ruggles Green's ­garlic-hemp poppy-seed dressing.

Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine

This is a favorite among my friends who want to eat a lot of meat and vegetables for not a lot of cash. Just pass on the pita (although it's really tough during the week when the fluffy bread is unlimited and free with your meal). Steak, chicken and lamb kebabs come with a lot of meat to a plate and are best when you get a side of the colorful veggie sampler to go along with them.

Dadami

Want really amazing sushi and a lot of it? Don't want to pay regular sushi prices or venture into the sushi section of your grocery store? Head to Dadami — and bring a group — for Korean sushi, a.k.a. hwe. The emphasis here is on raw fish and seafood of every stripe, and you will be presented with enough to feed an army for around $25 a person. The banchan (side dishes, both hot and cold) served along with your meal are usually paleo-friendly, too, with plenty of vegetables crowding the table alongside your fish feast.

Partners in Paleo

This is a relatively new restaurant in League City that specializes in — you guessed it — paleo food only. Although it's only open for lunch right now, Partners in Paleo has already garnered praise for what fans are calling delicious, inexpensive food in a cute, cozy cafe environment.
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Wine Time

A California Chardonnay with Restraint
Does your choice of wine describe you?

Jeremy Parzen

A few years ago, a holiday weekend drive to Palm Springs from my native San Diego delivered me to the doorstep of Chardonnay Hills, an upscale homeowners association in Temecula.

In this day and age, it's not surprising that a community would name itself after a grape. After all, ampelonyms (that's Greek for grape names) evoke much more than just the humble berry of the vine. In today's popular culture, grapes are widely (and wildly) associated with lifestyle, fashion, tastes and personal expression.

No one would be surprised if a power lawyer described her/himself as a "Napa Cab kinda gal/guy." Nor would anyone be taken aback by a person who described her/his wine tastes by saying, "I'm a California Chardonnay drinker."

That's because grape names and their affiliated winemaking styles have transcended their purely descriptive and technical functions in contemporary discourse.

A "Napa Cab" person is likely to be aggressive, forceful, decisive and muscular. A "California Chardonnay" person is likely to be soft, a little bit oaky and maybe even buttery.

When I sat down with wine blogger extraordinaire Lisa Mattson the other day to taste the Jordan 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, I was impressed by how little it resembled the "California Chardonnay" paradigm.

Where others can be flabby, this wine had healthy acidity. Where others can be overly oaky, I found the wood to be well balanced in the wine. And where many expressions of California Chardonnay (not in quotes) can attain a creamy mouthfeel and buttery flavor (due mostly to extended and/or chemically induced malolactic fermentation, whereby tart acidity — malic acid — is trumped by softer-tasting acid — lactic acid), this wine showed genuine fruit and minerality. It's an elegant and earnest wine that will pair well with unctuous fish like salmon or grouper or even fresh goat cheese.

Honestly, Jordan isn't a wine that I regularly reach for at the wine shop or while out for dinner. But I was geeked to sit down with my blogging colleague Mattson and talk to her about the cutting-edge social media program she's developed for the Jordan winery (the estate's blog won "Best Winery Blog" in the 2012 Wine Blogger Awards competition).

"We're always looking at Google trends, and we create an editorial calendar around what we see," she told me, revealing a trade secret.

She pointed me to her "Gangnam Style parody video" that she posted late last year, now with more than 20,000 views. Not too shabby.

Anyone who's ever worked in or around the wine trade will tell you that "it's all about relationships." And in my view of the world, Mattson has done more to create relationships for her brand through social media than anyone else in the field (she's also writing a book about her "ex-relationships," Exes in My iPod).

I think Mattson would agree that I'm not exactly what you would call a "California Chardonnay" person. But our connection through social media prompted me to sit down and taste her brand's wine with her. And to my surprise, it wasn't half bad.

You can find Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay at Spec's and Richard's for around $30.
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Top 10

Peeling Is for Suckers
Ten crawfish dishes to try this season.

Katharine Shilcutt

One of the best crawfish dishes I ate last year didn't involve a boil, peeling or shucking of any kind. It was a very simple, very extraordinary plate of crawfish tails poached in butter over al dente Texas-grown rice with green coriander and fermented carrot at Oxheart.

While that particular dish is no longer on the menu — this was last June, and the Warehouse District restaurant is famous for changing up its menu with regularity — the fact remains that there are plenty of enjoyable crawfish dishes to be found in Houston that don't involve burning cuticles or lips. Because for every person who enjoys barreling face-first into five pounds of boiled crawfish, there's another for whom the process simply isn't that enjoyable.

For those folks — and for everyone who enjoys a creative twist on our precious mudbugs — here are ten crawfish dishes to try in Houston in which the focus is solely on that sweet tail meat.

Crawfish pho at LA Crawfish

LA Crawfish — the food stand inside 99 Ranch Market — is rightly proud of its crawfish pho. It's the only pho of its kind in the city, and it's damned delicious for something that could be gimmicky and underwhelming. LA Crawfish gets the balance of the broth just right for the sweet crawfish by spiking it with cinnamon and andouille sausage. It's not your typical pho, but it's a downright magical pairing of two insanely popular Houston Vietnamese specialties. Consider it the best and most natural celebrity marriage in the world, as if Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams finally got back together.

Crawfish cheesecake at Backstreet Cafe

Sommelier Sean Beck calls the oddly named "crawfish cheesecake" created by chef Hugo Ortega at Backstreet Cafe "a decadent version of a quiche with a healthy kick of spice." I call it lunch, especially when it's served with a roasted red pepper hollandaise sauce and green salad on the side and eaten al fresco on Backstreet's pretty patio.

Crawfish bread at Beaucoup Bar & Grill

The Cajun restaurant off Highway 288 near the Medical Center is known as much for this famous appetizer as it is for gumbo, po-boys and deep-fried hamburger. Imagine the best garlic bread you've ever eaten, topped with juicy crawfish meat and melting, bubbling cheese. The crawfish bread is one of the major reasons Beaucoup was awarded a Best of Houston® award for Best Cajun in 2009.

Crawfish enchiladas at Casarez

Casarez bills itself as Creole-Mex. As such, you shouldn't find it odd to encounter items like the popular crawfish enchiladas that are stuffed with tail meat, then covered in both "étouffée sauce" and queso. God in heaven. Just writing that gives me goosebumps.

Cajun egg rolls at St. John's Fire

This was the very first item I ever tried from the St. John's Fire food truck, and it's still my favorite. Not only are the Cajun egg rolls stuffed full of plump crawfish tails, they also come with shrimp and Tasso ham inside. It's a Bayou buffet inside a bubbly, crunchy wrapper.

Crawfish half and half at Joyce's Seafood & Steaks

The best of both worlds is on one plate at Joyce's Seafood & Steaks: fried crawfish and crawfish étouffée. While this is not particularly creative, it bears mentioning because of two things. First, the fried crawfish at Joyce's are the best and biggest I've had anywhere in Houston. And second, although it's not everyone's cup of gumbo, I love the buttery blond roux at Joyce's for its soft, subtle way of enhancing the crawfish's natural sweetness.

Crawfish bisque at Bayou City Seafood

I can count on two fingers the number of places where the bisque never disappoints: Gaido's in Galveston and Bayou City Seafood on Richmond at the Loop. The crawfish bisque here is always pitch-perfect: creamy without being too dense or oily, spiked with a rush of flavor instead of flat and one-note, and flush with plump crawfish tails.

Crawfish rolls at Fraîche Mobile Kitchen

Maine and the rest of New England can keep their lobster rolls. We have something sweeter down here: the crawfish roll, thanks to Fraîche Mobile Kitchen. It's the creation of the Fraîche team: former pastry chef Kristen Schafbuch and chef Balmore Gomez, both of whom you can find onboard their food truck at the City Hall Farmers Market every Wednesday.

Crawfish tostada at BB's Café

This is exactly what it sounds like. If, for some reason, you aren't in the mood for a BB Gun (the crawfish po-boy) or a Cajun crawfish boil, you can get your crawfish atop a crispy corn disc loaded up with a blend of Cajun, Southwestern and Tex-Mex ingredients: red beans, Cajun slaw, avocado, black bean corn relish, salsa verde and sour cream. BB's Café tends to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks; the tostada is a shining example of what happens when it all does.

Crawfish enchiladas at Cyclone Anaya's

Unlike the enchiladas at Casarez, these are more straightforward Tex-Mex than anything else — plus, they're available only during March. The crawfish enchiladas are a yearly seasonal special, just like the mudbugs themselves, and are even better when washed down with one of Cyclone's tornado-strength margaritas.
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Grocery Guide

Mass Transit Market
You, too, can shop for groceries on the light rail.

Christina Uticone

When I tell people that my husband and I share a car and have for the entire three years we have lived in Houston, we get a lot of funny looks. It's true that the logistics don't always work out, but we almost always make it work. Note the "almost" — that's the little word that forced me to get out and explore my grocery-shopping options via light rail.

On more than one occasion, I've found myself with both an empty kitchen and an empty stomach but no car to hop into to get to the grocery store. Most of the time I opt for an afternoon of playing hooky from work and riding the train to do some people watching/grocery shopping. It's an easy way to have a little urban adventure and feel productive at the same time.

I'm not going to claim that this is any way to do a week's worth of grocery shopping, but it sure is fun to pick up enough for a meal or two.

The number of grocery-shopping options along the rail has grown in the last year or two. And a little work with Google Maps plus the METRORail Web site — which is full of information if not organized in a totally intuitive way — can help you find the best options for grocery shopping while you ride the rails here in the city. My favorite shopping stops:

• Fiesta Mart on San Jacinto, via the Wheeler Station

• Phoenicia via Main Street Square

• Georgia's via Preston Station (ambitious folk can walk both; it's only a couple of blocks)

• Urban Harvest Farmers Market at City Hall (Wednesdays) via Main Street Square

Here are some of my top tips for making the most of an afternoon of grocery shopping sans automobile:

Pack Smart

Never, ever forget your own bags. This is no big deal when you go to the regular grocery store, but when you are traipsing all over the city — presumably with blocks to walk on either end of your train ride — you definitely want a canvas bag you can throw over your shoulder. Even better, go urban hiker and bring a backpack. This is especially great if you pick up canned goods and bottled drinks.

Fuel Up

You wouldn't drive your car around all day without filling up, so think of yourself the way you do your car. Go out to lunch! There are lots of delicious options for dining along the rail, and more are popping up every day. I love Natachee's, Bombay Pizza Co., or just cutting to the chase and filling up at Phoenicia before I shop.

Use the Buddy System

Okay, I know this whole thing started because I don't always have a car to drive, but bringing my husband makes this a lot more fun. He carries most of the stuff, and sometimes he pays for it, too. I do find this to be a fun way to pass an afternoon, especially if you:

Drink!

There is that advice about never going to the grocery store hungry, and going shopping drunk is probably an even worse idea. That said, it can occasionally be a great idea because it's hilarious and you end up with a lot of weird stuff you might not otherwise try. Weird cheese! Discount canned fish! The sky is the limit.

Picnic

Sure, you've already had a few drinks and maybe a meal, but why not stick around at City Hall or take the train to Hermann Park and have a lil' picnic? Make sure you stash a book — or some other old-fashioned technology, like a Walkman! — before you leave the house, and then enjoy a snack before you head home to put away your goodies. Skip this last step if you bought, say, seafood.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Coltivare tries to cultivate community support.

Katharine Shilcutt

Two new establishments looking to make a positive impact on the Heights have been stymied by the same foe in the last few months: variance-request issues. Both the upcoming Coltivare from Revival Market team Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera as well as the under-construction brewery Town in City Brewing want to have plenty of green space when their facilities are finished.

Not so fast, says the City of Houston.

While Town in City Brewing was finally able to agree with the city on a 15-foot setback for its combination brewery and tasting room — which still provides ample room for parking and a garden area — Coltivare is still struggling with its own variance request.

"Many of you have probably noticed a lot of 'not much' going on with the construction process," the Coltivare team wrote in an e-mailed plea. "This is because we've been going through the variance process with the City of Houston Planning Department."

Because the team wants to install a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden (their plan from day one), there's less room on the property at White Oak and Arlington for parking. However, there's plenty of parking for lease — if the City will just let Coltivare use it.

As they explain it:

"Across Arlington Street on the North side of White Oak sits a warehouse space that has been in existence since 1938, best we can tell. Dating back to the 50's, via Google satellite images, those same spaces have been used for parking. They are used for parking today as they will continue to be used for parking tomorrow. Over the last 80 years, as White Oak's right-of-way has widened, it has slowly encroached on the depth of these spaces. They sit between 15'-16' deep now. The City likes 19'. However, there is another 13' from the back of the spaces to the actual street, leaving plenty of room to maneuver safely. These spaces are already legally being used by the warehouse during they day; we simply want to use them at night."

Coltivare is asking for community support in getting the City of Houston to allow these spaces to be used by the restaurant. If you're in favor, make your voice heard by attending the Planning Commission hearing on March 28 at 2:30 p.m.

Been wondering what will go into the recently vacated Palazzo's space on Westheimer? Swamplot has the scoop: According to a sign posted on the front door, look for a restaurant called "60 Degree Mastercrafted" with Master Chef Fritz Gitschner to open soon. Gitschner was the longtime executive chef at the Houston Country Club, and the only Master Chef (as certified by the American Culinary Federation) in Texas. In 2005, Gitschner led Team USA to a pretty nifty ninth-place win in La Bocuse d'Or competition in Lyon, France.

Local Pour — the anticipated craft beer bar in the River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray anchored by the River Oaks Theatre — is also opening in early April. According to a press release, look for wine, cocktails and "rare and hard-to-find brews, including a frequently rotating selection served from a firkin," as well as a "shareable, chef-crafted menu that incorporates local spirits."

Also opening in early April, according to Eater Houston, is Batanga on Market Square. Of the food, editor Eric Sandler writes that "chef Ben McPherson, who also moved here with [owner Brian] Fasthoff from Atlanta, focuses the menus on tapas; diners can order them individually or in platters that include six or eight dishes. Batanga's menu will be both vegetarian and pescetarian friendly, with a whole section devoted to vegetable dishes."

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