Off the Wall
I believe the last time I willingly ate bugs was when I was five and didn't know any better. So, how did I find myself in my twenties ordering grasshoppers to share as an appetizer with my fiancé while dining atHugo's?
In certain countries, bugs and insects are delicacies, such as fried centipedes and locusts in China, spiders in Cambodia and the Witchetty grub in Australia. In America, we tend to step on our bugs more often than we toss them in a frying pan to serve for dinner. However, at Hugo's, grasshoppers, or chapulines, are pan-fried and served with guacamole, blue corn tortillas and a spicy chipotle tomatillo salsa.
I have always seen the chapulines on the appetizer menu at Hugo's, and admittedly have been curious to try the little buggers, but could never bring myself to actually order them. In fact, the one time I almost did, I was informed they were sold out; I saw that as a sign not to have them.
The other night, though, my fiancé and I agreed to take a whack at trying these fried grasshoppers. If it didn't turn out well, we would just feast on the blue-corn tortillas and guacamole and sip on our margaritas, because we sure needed something to get us through eating bugs.
The platter of fried grasshoppers, guacamole, salsa and tortillas arrived. Just as I expected, the bowl of chapulines literally looked like a bowl of bugs, but the additions of sautéed onions and wilted greens made it more of a "dish," in my opinion. We asked our waiter the proper way to enjoy the grasshoppers, and he told us "by the spoonful" was his preferred method. But if we couldn't stomach that, he said, we should coat the small tortilla in guacamole, place a spoonful of grasshoppers onto the tortilla and top with the spicy salsa. Sounds harmless, right?
Once my first soft grasshopper taco was assembled, I took a bite. Crunch. My taste buds were instantly hit with the oil used to fry the bugs, the tangy guacamole and the spicy salsa. While I expected the creamy guacamole and salsa, I did not expect the incredible flavor from the grasshoppers. Who knew little fried bugs could taste so good?
Chef Hugo Ortega enhances the grasshoppers with a spice mixture I can't quite put my finger on, but it's awesome.
All in all, this was a dining experience I never thought in my wildest dreams I would ever have. From the waiter asking us, "How are the grasshoppers?" (words I never thought a waiter would utter) to my eating the bugs with only guacamole, this was one of my craziest culinary endeavors, and I am so glad I mustered up the courage to order the chapulines.
As soon as you get past the fact that you're eating bugs you're accustomed to squashing with your shoe and that their little legs get stuck in your teeth, you'll definitely appreciate the salty and oily fried insects. This comes from someone who can't bear to watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, so you should trust me and order the chapulines at Hugo's. After that first bite, you'll be eating them by the spoonful.
Five 2013 Food Trends We Want in 2014
Hopefully these things stick around for the new year.
Not all food trends are annoying, and though we know "to each his/her own" is a good rule by which to live, there are a few gems out there in the food world that we cannot wait to see more of.
Here are Five 2013 Food Trends That We Hope Stick Around in 2014:
5. Bread & Butter Service
Bread and butter programs have been #trending in the past couple of years...and we love it. If the breads and spreads are as exceptional as we've seen at restaurants like Provisions, Roost or Underbelly, we certainly don't mind shelling out the extra cash.
Take, for example, Provisions' bread and cheese pairings — a black-olive loaf with violet-date mostarda and a wedge of Red Rock cow's milk cheese is well worth the $9 price tag.
Keep the crusty baguettes coming. We look forward to more restaurants creating mindful pairings of their own.
4. The Revival of Downtown
Like a phoenix ascending from the ashes, it's clear that downtown is back and better than ever.
This year we saw the rise of a downtown überblock with the introduction of hot spots like The Pastry War, Fusion Taco, Goro & Gun, El Big Bad and OKRA Charity Saloon, which technically opened in December 2012. We love walking around Market Square Park and reacquainting ourselves with old favorites like Warren's, La Carafe and Hearsay Gastro Lounge in between exploring the newbies — like the upcoming live music bar and lounge The Nightingale Club.
With the expanding train line, more bike lanes and the bike-sharing program B-cycle, we hope for the area's continued development and success so we can put the days of the downtown ghost town behind us.
3. The Rise of Ramen
Love it or hate it, ramen is here to stay. We think the recent showings — from this summer's ramen throwdown at IKEA to ramen-centric restaurants like the newly opened Tiger Den and Ramen Jin — prove that ramen deserves its fair chance. Houston's a big city, after all.
We're looking forward to the continued flow of ramen shops in 2014. Soon, Midtowners can enjoy the California-based Jinya Ramen Bar, while ninja enthusiasts can enjoy Washington Avenue's Ninja Ramen, a restaurant that, according to Eater Houston, plans on slinging top-notch ramen and offering discounts to people dressed as ninjas.
We have high hopes that these places will pan out and even adapt to our city's unique tastes with a few Houston-centric bowls. Crawfish ramen, anyone?
2. The Boom of Houston BBQ
We're sick and tired of Houston being snubbed on national Best Barbecue lists. In the past, even we have bought into the myth that Houston is not a "barbecue city," but the times they are a-changin'.
We're coming off the sellout of the first-ever Houston Barbecue Festival, the overdue recognition of favorites like Corkscrew BBQ and Gatlin's, and a couple of exciting restaurant openings and pop-ups.
Take Killen's BBQ, for example. Chef Ronnie Killen has vowed to put Houston on the map and, as he told Eater Houston, "overthrow Franklin from being the king of barbecue," with his soon-to-open barbecue joint. If the ultra-successful pop-up that he's been running up until the restaurant's opening is any indication, consider Houston recognized.
But we don't want the barbecue train to stop there. We are all aboard for 2014.
1. Kitchen Collaborations
From chefs and sommeliers to master brewers and food-truck crews, when the city's top culinary masterminds mash their minds, the result is nothing shy of genius.
This year, we saw chefs collaborating all over town. At pho pop-up Blacksmith by Night, Pho Binh By Night dished out specialties like pho ga kho, while Blacksmith baristas served up Vietnamese iced coffee and jasmine milk tea. During James Coney Island's (a.k.a JCI Grill) Show Dog series, we were treated to hot dogs created by the city's top chefs — like chef Monica Pope's Date with a Dog, a chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped kobe beef dog topped with date jam.
Even out-of-towners have joined the fun. At Underbelly's Food & Wine Best New Chef Collaboration Dinner, chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer teamed up with chef Chris Shepherd to create an unforgettable meal, including a course dedicated to the late Feast, a dish of cassoulet beans, spicy sausage and boudin-stuffed duck necks.
Most recently, we proudly supported local chefs as they rallied to raise funds for My Dee Dee's Pie Shoppe, which burned down in late November.
And those are just a few of the collaborations this year has brought. In our opinion, this is one trend that should never end.
Other trends we are looking forward to? Vegetables as the star of the show; family-style menus; and the emphasis on sourcing locally, whether it be produce and poultry or artisan chocolate and craft brews.
Here's to 2014, Houston! We can't wait to see what's next.
100 Favorite Dishes
Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
If you haven't been to Lowbrow, the new bar opened by Free Press Houston's Omar Afra, you need to get there. It opened softly back in October, and after some consulting from the Eatsie Boys' Matt Marcus, Rachel Merk stepped in to run the kitchen. Merk was previously at Liberty Kitchen before working in Denver and New Orleans and ultimately returning to Houston. Now she's hoping to make her mark with her own kitchen at Lowbrow.
I generally go to Lowbrow for a cocktail and end up staying long enough to get a major hankering for some of the hand-cut fries served with sambal mayo, but if you're in the mood for a meal, few things are better than the Juicy Lucy burger, filled with fontina and jalapeños.
I love me a fat little stuffed burger.
To make the Juicy Lucy, the chefs start with Longhorn beef, which is totally delicious on its own. I ordered a rare burger once (I've since come to the conclusion that they're best medium-rare), and the raw beef rivaled any tartare in town. But for the sake of getting that great burger char, order it a little more cooked than I did.
After a few minutes on the grill, the patty is topped with fried shallots and pickled shallots — two versions of the same vegetable that taste noticeably different. The fried shallots are crispy and almost sweet and a more expected burger topping than the pickled shallots, which are reminiscent of pickled onions and give the burger a vinegary bite.
Also adding to the slightly spicy flavor profile is the fresh arugula sprinkled on top of the meat. There's enough greenery on the burger that you can fool yourself into thinking it's healthy. Or at least that there are some redeeming qualities to the meal beyond just an awesome taste.
And really, you're going to need the fresh green arugula to counter some of the richness of the burger. When you cut into it (please do not attempt to hold it to your mouth and bite it), melted fontina enveloped in the center of the meat will ooze or occasionally spurt out — a creamy, gooey center that, though it's written in the menu, takes many by surprise. Coupled with the jalapeños, it's almost like Mexican queso. Stuffed in a burger.
If that's not heaven, I don't know what is.
The list so far:
No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme
No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia
No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos With Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: Date With a Pig at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 63: Banh Mi at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga
Openings and Closings
Changes at Brian O'Neill's & MAM'S Snoballs gets a permanent location.
The week of Christmas was a slow one for restaurant openings and closings (as is expected).
Eater reports that Brian O'Neill's will be temporarily closed after the holidays while owners Brian Young and Colm O'Neill revamp the pub with a new name and a new image. According to the current general manager, Leo Vela, the pub will be completely different in appearance and will offer a much better selection of beer and wine. Eater reports that the new menu (crafted by a "big-name" chef) will include items such as leg of lamb and tuna tartare. The relaunch date will be announced soon, but Vela and the owners hope to premiere the revamped pub as quickly as possible.
Word spread earlier this year that The Courtyard on St. James Place would close in December. After 22 years, the wedding venue/event hall/restaurant has officially closed.
Even though Prohibition shuttered after its Blowout Closing Party on December 21, the restaurant and bar will reopen at a new location downtown in 2014.
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Thanks to a tip from commenter Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, we now know that Mancuso's Italian Table is closed temporarily. The restaurant's Web site home page states, "NOTICE: We will be closed for business until further notice. We apologize for the inconvenience. Have a safe and happy Holiday season!"
The Woodlands Waterway has seen lots of restaurant growth recently. On December 16, Kona Grill opened in The Woodlands on the Waterway Sqaure. This marks the second Houston location and the first Woodlands location for Kona Grill. The Waterway area now houses BurgerFi, Morton's Grille and The Refuge Bar & Bistro.
MAM'S House of Ice Snoballs officially opened its brick-and-mortar. B4-U-Eat's weekly newsletter reveals that the snoball truck opened at its storefront on West Cavalcade. In addition to the sweet snoballs, MAM'S will also serve Frito pies, Cleburne corn and pocket pies at its new home.
B4-U-Eat's newsletter also notes that Suzie Wong's World opened in Katy on December 27. This is the second location for the Chinese restaurant.