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
Houstonians love food. Dining out is one of our favorite pastimes, and we embrace it like it's the official sport of Houston. We are a city of "foodies," and thanks to us, the restaurant industry is thriving.
Unfortunately, this insane love of food has spawned a culture of restaurant monsters — people who make dining out less of an enjoyable diversion and more of a nightmare. If you've eaten out at a restaurant recently, you've probably met all of them, and we're sorry you had to go through that. We're here to commiserate.
The Slave to Technology
She goes out to a nice meal with friends, and as soon as she sits down, her cell phone appears on the table, screen up, as if by magic. Is she a national politician expecting an important call from the president about the state of world affairs? Is she a world-renowned surgeon waiting for a transplantable organ? Is she a journalist anticipating a call about the scoop of a lifetime? It turns out she's not. She's just eager for a distraction. And she must know the precise moment that the hot guy from the bar texts her back. And then, as if to further emphasize how boring a lunch date you are, she'll answer the phone when it rings and talk loudly, oblivious to the fact that you're sitting there silently waiting for her to finish. But she can't be bothered with that. She needs the whole restaurant to know how important and popular she is. "What am I doing now? Oh, nothing; just out with some people. It's not important." And then you start plotting how to "accidentally" spill your iced tea on the table, which may or may not ruin any electronics in its wake. KAITLIN STEINBERG
The Single-Category Expert
He suggested the steakhouse because it's his favorite restaurant. He doesn't need to look at the wine list. He already knows his three favorite Cabernet Sauvignons without looking at the menu, and even knows where the vineyards are located. (Napa, of course.) He can tell you what part of the cow the steak comes from and why beef from some breeds is more desirable than others. It's a luxurious meal, and you want to return the favor. Would he like to come to your favorite restaurant, a nice mom-and-pop Indian restaurant just around the corner from your place?
"I'm not really into Indian," he says.
"Have you ever had it before?" you inquire.
"No," he replies curtly.
"No, I've heard that's really spicy. I don't like spicy."
"Okay, how about Vietnamese?"
"Listen, I'm just not into weird shit like you."
And that's when you realize that not only will you never dine with this person again, you aren't associating with him at all in the future. This isn't a food problem. It's a person problem. PHAEDRA COOK
The Food Name-Dropper
So you're out to dinner with a few friends and there's always that one "well-traveled" individual who seems to compare every single dish she orders or even you order to something she has had in Paris, Milan, Athens, Florence, Barcelona, etc. But it doesn't end at a simple "This tastes like the dish I had while studying abroad in Paris." No, the trip down memory lane continues as she babbles on about how the food in said country is a million times better than this food. "I will never forget the fresh, soft, homemade lasagna with a creamy béchamel sauce that we ate after we rode horses through the Tuscan countryside. If only this lasagna tasted as good as the one made by Andrea Accordi at his Michelin star restaurant, Villa La Vedetta, in Florence, Italy." Okay, it's great that you're a cultured individual and that you have a love for delicious food. I am sure that that dish was excellent, but seriously, don't make everyone else jealous of and annoyed at your culinary experiences by whining about the "lesser-quality" food in America. MOLLY DUNN
The Laissez-Faire Parent of the Hyperactive Roaming Toddler
I like little kids, especially chubby, bald toddlers who are just begging to be nicknamed "Porkchop" regardless of gender. You know what I don't like? Obtuse parents who let these otherwise adorable youngsters run amok and caterwaul to their hearts' content in upscale restaurants. What's that — you don't believe in "attachment parenting"? Well, Mommy, make a friggin' exception when you're dining in public and attach yourself to your errant offspring. Now, I understand children of a certain age can't be expected to sit still and shut up while the sommelier rattles off his pinot recommendations. If that's the case, leave them at home with a baby-sitter/trusted family member/neighbor. I want to relax and enjoy my duck confit in the absence of infantile shrieking, and the waitstaff wants to successfully transport plates of hot food without having to dodge roaming rugrats. And your kid? I'm willing to bet he wants to be home eating mac and cheese and building a couch fort. Leave him at home and everybody wins. Even you, I promise. JOANNA O'LEARY
The Unnecessary Educator
He knows everything about everything on the menu, no matter where you eat, because he always has to be the one to educate his friends about current food trends and the story behind the restaurant. Sometimes his contributions are interesting and add to the meal, but mostly you just wish he'd stop talking. You could certainly do without him filling you in on what he feels is the moral injustice of foie gras right after you order a pâté de foie gras on your salad. You could also do without his lecture on the origin of the word "pâté" and his recounting of his summer in France when he learned that you should only really call a dish pâté if it meets certain criteria. By the time he strikes up a conversation with the waiter on the very obvious difference between a tie with a Windsor knot and a tie with a half Windsor knot, you're more than ready for the check. Perhaps you could take this time to educate him on the glory of silence by shoving that beautiful piece of organic chocolate cake (the beans are from Boliva, he tells you) down his freaking throat. KAITLIN STEINBERG
The Menu Rewriter/Sender-Backer
You know the one: He asks for all sorts of substitutions, wants everything on the side and doesn't have any qualms about sending back a dish he just didn't like, even when it was prepared properly. He doesn't expect to pay for it twice, of course. This person carries a sense of entitlement that confuses service professionals with personal servants. No matter if he's choosing a side for his entrée that comes off a station usually unaffiliated with that particular dish, potentially throwing off the rhythm of an entire kitchen. No matter that the guacamole is already made; he'll take his without onions, thank you very much. He'll demand the addition and removal of sauces and garnishes to fit his whims, and he'll redesign whole swaths of the menu because he really doesn't care for crab, but the crab-cake salad sounds good; can't you do that with the portobello mushroom from the veggie burger, but instead of spring mix, can he have spinach? Then, when it comes out with the hot sauce that he ordered, expecting hot sauce but the milder one, he'll bat his eyelashes and hand the plate back to his server, forcing that person to repeat his Franken-dish again, while the kitchen staff grabs their knives and pitchforks. Don't do that. NICHOLAS L. HALL
The Person Who Refuses to Leave the Loop
I mean, obviously there isn't any culture outside the Loop anyway, right? Like, why leave when everything you need can be found within a five-mile radius of downtown? She'll tell you that she's never been to Chinatown, but she's pretty sure it's stupid, and anyway, there's a P.F. Chang's right inside the Loop! If you want local Chinese food, she'll say, there's always Auntie Chang's Dumpling House and Kam's Fine Chinese Restaurant. Oh yeah, and they both happen to be a convenient 15-minute drive from wherever you are! Alief? Bellaire? Spring? She's never heard of those, and they don't sound like the kind of places she'd want to go to eat anyway. Downtown is the epicenter of any big city, so why would anyone choose to stray too far from there? What's that saying...nothing exciting ever happens in the suburbs? No, that's not it, but it's so true! She'll drag you to meal after meal inside the Loop, which is certainly home to tons of great restaurants, but she'll never agree to eat outside of 610. She will, however, make a "quick trip" to the Galleria for some new shoes in a heartbeat. KAITLIN STEINBERG
The Bad Tipper
I've been to many places where tipping isn't customary. China and Barcelona come to mind; the locals will think you're rich (and a prime target for being ripped off) or just dumb. In the States, though, tipping is customary, so it really gets my goat when I go out in a group, everyone puts in his "share" to pay the bill and somehow I'm left with a $100 deficit that I have to cover out of my own pocket because ten of you forgot to add tax and tip to what you owe. It drives me nuts if we get separate bills and I accidentally get a glimpse of the $5 tip you left on a $50 tab. (And if I catch it, I won't say anything; I'll just supplement it with some money of my own and make a mental note never to be seen in public with you again.) Don't brag to me about how you left a $1 tip for some poor server in an Asian restaurant because you used to be a server yourself and you found her service unacceptable. Or even worse, don't pick up the tab for your table as if you're some generous dude and "forget" to leave a tip for your group entirely. I can do without that type of generosity, and so can the restaurant. If you're confused about how much to tip, err on the generous side; don't be cheap. It's one of the least attractive things for any dining companion to display, and whether you know it or not, people will notice and you'll be forever known as "that" person, a.k.a. the bad tipper, the friend that no one needs and one of the worst kinds of diners on the planet. MAI PHAM
The Waiter Who Says Everything You Order Is His Favorite
I've been to several restaurants where there is that one waiter who endorses everything your table orders. After you order the chicken dish, he or she responds, "OOOOH, that one is my favorite!" Then the next person at your table orders the pasta dish and the waiter says, "OOOOH, that one is my favorite! Excellent choice!" As the waiter takes each person's order, it's a broken-record response of "That's my favorite!" Is everything on the menu your favorite? Or do you just not know how to respond to people when they order something? While this is annoying, it's also annoying when waiters can't tell you which dish to order. I usually can't decide between two dishes, so I like to ask the waiter which one he or she would recommend. It's not going to offend anyone if you say, "I prefer this one over that one," so don't give me a neutral response because that doesn't help me whatsoever. Have an opinion, please. MOLLY DUNN
The Restaurant Critic
We know you know who we are, but we still pretend to be sneaky. Oh, me? I'm just here enjoying a leisurely meal with my two friends who happen to feel the need to discuss the menu with me before they order anything. Yeah, and we're just really hungry. That's why we ordered 15 different dishes. It's totally not that I have to taste them all or anything. Nope, I just love food. Taking notes? Of course not! I'm...um...texting. Yes, I'm texting. And I swear I'm not looking too hard at the decor or the wine list or mentally discussing the pros and cons of each dish while I'm eating. How does a 25-year-old afford all this expensive food? Uh, I'm an heiress. Right. Heiress. With a trust fund. Just for food. Oh, I'm sorry, was my judgmental stare interrupting your pleasant meal? I was really just thinking about my cat, that's all. (And, of course, about how best to convey the complete and utter failure of this chicken breast to remotely resemble food while I maintain an air of innocent naïveté so people will like me.) That's not annoying, is it? KAITLIN STEINBERG
TOP 5 MICHELADAS IN HOUSTON
An unashamed love of micheladas.
I was first introduced to the michelada one summer in Corpus Christi. I grew up on the bayfront, but I'd never learned to surf, so a few years back, I decided it was time. My first lesson had nothing to do with the board or the waves, though. Instead, my instructor handed me a michelada and explained that that's what you drink while surfing in the Gulf.
I liked it immediately, but I've always been a big fan of Bloody Marys and eating salsa out of the jar with a spoon. When I tried to introduce micheladas to some of my friends in the Midwest, they were less enthusiastic. And I get it. A medley of beer, tomato juice, hot sauce and seafood is not for everyone.
If you're one of the brilliant few people who, like me, love an ice-cold bloody beer on a hot day, then this is the list for you. Check out my favorite michelada spots in town (in no particular order), and let me know where you go to get your fix!
I get the feeling that this isn't really a place where you go sit at the bar and nurse a michelada or two (like I do) instead of ordering food, but sometimes you just want to drink lunch. The micheladas at Taqueria Arandas are heavy on the beer, and you have a choice of draft or bottle. I stick with Modelo Especial, which I highly recommend. The michelada mix is light — combined with the beer, it's almost the color of a Shirley Temple — but it packs a spicy punch. I also detected lots of fresh lime juice and pepper. It's a great choice if you're in the mood for a high-alcohol michelada.
Captain Tom's Seafood and Oyster Bar
Captain Tom's is out near Cypress, so it's a bit of a haul for me. But it's totally worth it for the cheap micheladas and fresh seafood. The restaurant is in the shape of a boat, and there's not a lot of space inside to sit down and eat. If you're able to squirm your way up to the bar in the middle, you'll see that nearly everyone in the joint is drinking a michelada of some sort. Many choose to pair the spicy tomato juice with Bud Light, which I personally feel is disrespectful to the michelada. It must be made with Mexican beer. Captain Tom's will give you a bottle of Corona and a mug partially filled with Cajun Chef hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and lime juice and allow you to add the beer as you please. The best part? If your michelada gets too weak as you add beer, all the ingredients are sitting out on the counter. Just whip up some more, and you're good to go!
Though Beaver's is pretty well known for its epic brunch offerings, the cocktail menu is pretty awesome as well. Micheladas aren't listed on the cocktail menu, but the bartenders are happy to make them. You can choose which type of beer you'd like (I went with Modelo), and they add the delicious homemade Bloody Mary mix. The bartender explained to me that the Bloody Mary mix features "bruised celery," which they knock around a bit with the bottom of a cocktail shaker. That gets mixed with tomato juice, garlic, lime juice, wasabi (instead of the more traditional horseradish) and Big Daddy's Hot Sauce. It's topped off with a salt and pepper rim for just the right amount of kick. Also, since Beaver's uses actual tomato juice in the micheladas, you can totally tell yourself that they're healthy.
Connie's Seafood Market & Restaurant
This is another example of a super-simple michelada done well. The micheladas at Connie's feature whatever beer you choose (again, always Mexican beer, people!), hot sauce, lime juice, salt and pepper. Connie's actually bottles its homemade michelada sauce because it's so good that people want to be able to make these at home. If you ask the restaurant to jazz it up for you a little, though, they'll throw some shrimp or a raw oyster in the bottom of your glass to marinate while you sip. The best thing about these micheladas is that they pair well with pretty much everything on the menu. I recommend the fried whole tilapia and shrimp fried rice.
The micheladas at Ninfa's aren't as spicy as some of the others in town, but they certainly are refreshing. They're served in a tall glass that holds a full beer (as opposed to other michelada glasses that require you to pour in a beer gradually or give you less than a full serving), and the glass is rimmed with some sort of spicy, nutty mix. The guy behind the bar either couldn't or wouldn't divulge what exactly it's made of, but I got salt, chile powder and sesame seeds from it. Were I to order another Ninfa's michelada — and let's be real, it's going to happen — I'd ask for a little extra hot sauce in the mix. But if you're a michelada newbie, absolutely start here.
TOP 5 HOUSTON DESERTS FOR CHOCOLATE-LOVERS
Satisfy your sweet tooth.
5. Belgian Chocolate Milkshake (Amy's Ice Creams). Here are some famous last words: "I'll just get a milkshake." That's what I said one night when a bunch of friends and I stopped at Amy's for some dessert. We had just finished dining at Chuy's, where I ate my weight in chimichangas, and I was feeling a bit full. So I ordered a milkshake, opting for Belgian chocolate instead of my regular Mexican vanilla, because, hey, why not? Why not? WHY NOT? Because Amys's Belgian chocolate milkshake is an unbelievably rich liquid chocolate concoction that is a chocolate-lover's dream....or, in my case, a nightmare if her stomach is just too crowded to fit in every last sip. I tried to drink half, but it just got too painful. I stuck it in the freezer, and the next day I downed it in five minutes.
4. Double Chocolate Chip Cookie (Sinfull Bakery). Sinfull's double chocolate chip cookie is just good. Not "good for a vegan cookie." Not "good despite the absence of butter and milk." Just good. 'Cause they don't skimp on the carob and chocolate chips. So just go eat it.
3. The Milk and Dark Chocolate Classic Sampler (The Brownie Bowl). Sometimes, and especially at The Brownie Bowl, it's too hard to decide between milk and dark chocolate. So don't. By combining two flavors of your choice, the Classic Sampler facilitates a sugary showdown of some of the moistest cocoa-dense brownies in Houston. You decide which is your favorite. I prefer the dark.
2. Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake (Ooh La La Bakery). When I wrote my gushing post about Ooh La La's s'mores cupcake, I felt a bit guilty for giving that cupcake a monopoly on my adoration. With four cocoa manifestations (chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream icing, chocolate ganache and chocolate chunks garnish), the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake boasts an equally impressive and decadent cross-section. It makes triple-chocolate baked goods seem so effete. You may discover this fact because you thought you wanted to split it with a friend. Well, offers are made to be retracted.
1. Uncle Darryl's Chocolate Cake (The Chocolate Bar). Though The Chocolate Bar may be the predictable purveyor of the number-one pick on this list, At least I hope you are mildly surprised I went with the Uncle Darryl's Cake rather than the straight-up fudge explosion that is the Aunt Etta's. Nothing against dear old Etta, but the inclusion of toffee chips in the Uncle Darryl's gives the cake a savory, buttery crunch that delightfully contrasts, and inevitably heightens, the smooth sweet ganache and the spongy cake. I don't know if there has been a better use of the Heath Bar in the history of desserts.
OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS
Surprising shutterings and provocative plans.
There were about as many openings as closings last week (way to maintain an equilibrium, Houston!), but we did get news of many upcoming restaurants with plans to open in the next several months.
First the bad news.
CultureMap reports that River Oaks Coffee House, at the corner of Westheimer and Edloe was open for business one day and closed and empty the next. A sign on the door read, "It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of our doors and we apologize for our prompt departure...We hope that we have served you well and helped brighten your mornings during our time here." In the comments on the story, people seem to be blaming large corporate coffee chains for putting independent owners out of business.
Farm to Market Restaurant in Kingwood made an announcement similar to that of River Oaks Coffee House, only they did it via Facebook. The post reads, "Thank you to everyone who has supported our humble little establishment and who have made us a part of their routine! Sadly, we will [be] closing our doors indefinitely. It has truly been a wonderful journey for all of us." Two days later, the restaurant posted a confusing call for family photos of fishing trips on the Facebook page, hinting that they would like to use them in the decor for a new restaurant. "Want to be a part of something new and exciting?" the post reads. "Same principles, different concept...but we need your help!" So...Farm to Market appears to be closing and reopening at some point with a seafood theme? I suppose time will tell.
B4-U-Eat reports on the closure of The County Line BBQ on Cutten Road, which is the last of the County Line chain in the Houston area. Evidently, Campioni Restaurant was granted a beverage permit back in June for the now-closed County Line location. It's unclear whether Campioni is moving or opening a second restaurant.
Cheap Eats Houston tells us that The Brooklyn Cafe in The Woodlands has also closed.
In not-quite-closed-but-maybe-news, Eater reports that Kobecue, a local Korean barbecue and taco fusion chain, may be close to shuttering all its storefronts. The Sugar Land location closed about a month ago, and on its Facebook page, the owner mentioned that he was looking for possible franchisees or investors. David Danh, the assistant manager of the Richmond location, told Eater that business is great.
Now for the good stuff...sort of.
B4-U-Eat reports that Diego's Cantina closed and has reopened as Musas Sports Bar with the same address, same phone number, and same management but a totally different vibe. Musas Sports Bar still serves Mexican food on the menu, and it also serves up a lot of hot chicks in skimpy outfits.
Daddio'z Pizza began a soft opening two weeks ago in Webster, according to B4-U-Eat, but they're still in the process of hiring and training employees. They are currently open seven days a week and serving pizza in house or to take home and bake yourself. The menu includes pizza, wings, and a few sides and salads. But can we talk for just a second about the possessive "z" in the name? I'm sorry; I can't get past that.
Cheap Eats Houston tells us that Bambu Desserts and Drinks opened its second local shop on Tomball Parkway in north Houston. The Vietnamese coffee and tea shop specializes in milk bubble tea and exotic jelly smoothie desserts. I'm super intrigued by some of the desserts, like the chè trái cây, which includes lychee, longan, red tapioca, jackfruit, palm seed, pandan jelly, Jell-O and young coconut.
A similar shop called Honey Bee Teahouse and Fast Food also opened last week. Located on Bellaire, the teahouse serves much more than just tea and coffee drinks. Its Facebook has photos of delicious-looking Peking duck bao and squid bao, filled with sautéed squid, kimchi, sautéed cabbage, and crab and topped with a spicy homemade sauce.
Eater notes that what appears to be a food truck in-the-making was spotted outside of Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar in Montrose. The chef told Eater to expect completely different food from what is served at the bar, including upscale comfort food like fried Cornish hen.
Last week we got word of many restaurants and bars that haven't opened yet but are well on their way.
We got a sneak peek at Vallone's Steakhouse, opening in Memorial City in October, thanks to a mock-up posted on the Vallone's Facebook page. Tony's Restaurant chef, Grant Gordon, and general manager, Scott Sulma, are excited about the progress of the new restaurant, and Sulma tells CultureMap that about 90 percent of the menu is ready and they're already taking reservations for the private dining rooms. For more photos of the restaurant's development, Sulma encourages people to follow its progress on Facebook and Twitter.
The Texas Taco Co. opens in Friendswood this September, according to Eater. Eater's report describes it as "comfort-meets-contemporary fare that is beginning to characterize the modern Mexican options" but notes that the menu is pretty similar to the menu of Torchy's Tacos.
Another much-anticipated restaurant is nearing completion. Ronnie Killen of Killen's BBQ and Killen's Steakhouse is set to create a permanent restaurant (as opposed to a weekend pop-up) in October or November, when renovations on the former Pearland ISD cafeteria are completed. Killen gave CultureMap some details about one of the most exciting aspects of the new restaurant, the reserve flow brick pits used for smoking Killen's famous meat.
We don't have many details, but the Houston Chronicle reports that Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs are finally coming to Texas, and Houston is the first stop. The grand opening will take place in about three months at its new Memorial City Mall location. The chain is already pretty popular around the country, so it's about damn time Nathan's came to Texas. Ken Hoffman of the Chronicle says these are legit New York hot dogs, and though the dogs are good, the fries are even better.
Finally, Chris Cusack, Benjy Mason and Richard Knight unveiled their plans for their new venture, a bar called Hunky Dory, to the Chronicle's Alison Cook last week. The new Heights bar won't open for at least another year, but excitement is already growing thanks to the success of the group's other efforts, Down House and D&T Drive Inn. The trio hopes to provide upscale but accessible food in a casual setting. They told Cook that some of their menu ideas include "wood-baked oysters with Manchego cheese and ham, grilled mussels with curry butter, a tongue and mustard sandwich" and "something called a 'man steak': either beef for four people, pork for two, or lamb for one, all served with fries, mashed potatoes, board juices and fresh greens." So wait, we have to wait a whole year for this? Ugh.