Let's Cook Asparagus
The first culinary sign of spring in much of the U.S. and Europe is asparagus shooting up from the soil. Americans generally cut them off to eat when they reach seven to nine inches in length, to prevent them from getting woody, but Europeans — especially Germans — cover them with dirt to block out the sunlight and produce white asparagus, which are treasured for being more tender and less bitter.
Asparagus season starts in January in California, then moves north about this time to Washington, Michigan, Massachusetts and New Jersey, where the asparagus will keep popping up until June. There's no asparagus season here on the Gulf Coast, since the vegetable requires ground freezes and a dry season.
Still, there's lots of low-priced asparagus in stores right now, as imports from Peru and Mexico are competing with asparagus harvested in America, and the cost has plummeted from a usual $3.99 per pound to the $1.69 I saw in the H-E-B on Buffalo Speedway. That's not so good for U.S. farmers, since production has dropped from 50,000 acres ten years ago to about 25,000 acres this year, but it's certainly good news for American diners.
Asparagus stalks should be firm and not wrinkly. Asparagus as thin as a pencil won't require peeling. Thicker asparagus tastes just as good and can be peeled with a super-sharp vegetable peeler; strip the skin from tip to bottom on four sides, so that the stalk is somewhat squared. It's also a good idea to grab the whole bunch of asparagus and cut off the bottom inch or two to get rid of any woody parts (and simply to get it to fit in the pan).
No Special Pan Necessary
It's easy to cook asparagus consistently and tenderly; try the following method of power-steaming. It doesn't require the use of a tall cylindrical asparagus pan or specialized steamer, just a simple covered skillet or sauté pan.
1. Boil 1/2 cup of water in a separate pan or teakettle.
2. Place the spears in a skillet or saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Turn the heat on high.
3. Add the 1/2 cup of hot water to the asparagus pan, clamp the lid on tight and cook it on high heat for five minutes.
4. After five minutes, drain the remaining water, turn the heat to medium and return the pan to the stove. Add a few fat pats of butter and roll the spears of asparagus around to slightly sauté them in the melted butter.
5. Move the spears from the pan to a serving dish, and pour any remaining butter over the asparagus. Salt and pepper the asparagus, and serve.
The asparagus will come out a vibrant green — not the olive color of overcooked spears. It won't be limp, and it won't be tough, either. A hollandaise or other white sauce can be poured over the spears, but asparagus cooked this way will taste great with a simple dusting of finely minced parsley, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese or a dip into Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise.
Here, Eat This
Boheme's New Lobster Pizzas
Unlike any pies you've had before.
Since Rishi Singh took over as executive chef atBoheme, the food has gone from microwaved bar fare to truly top-notch. The inventive chef is constantly dreaming up ways to elevate the cuisine at the space that's better known for being a bar than a restaurant, and he's doing it all from a food truck.
That's right. Boheme still doesn't have a kitchen. Singh and his crew are able to feed as many as 600 people on busy nights exclusively out of a food truck parked behind the bar, and the quality of what they put out under those circumstances is pretty darned impressive.
Take, for instance, the lobster pizza. Singh recently replaced the crab and shrimp pizzas on the menu with ones specifically designed to highlight the flavor of lobster claws. 'Cause go big or go home, right?
The pizza menu now features four different lobster pies, each one totally unique from the others. They're all served on Boheme's signature lavash crust, which is so thin that it serves mainly as a crunchy vessel to get the gourmet toppings from cardboard platter to hungry mouths.
"It's all about designing a menu which is simultaneously efficient and delectable," Singh says. "I generate the menu with considerable thought about the tools I have on hand, my main tool being the pizza ovens, and my space constraints, being a truck. It forces me to be innovative."
While lobster on pizza may not sound like the most innovative culinary trick in the world (remember Max's Wine Dive's chicken-fried lobster?), it's the fact that the combination of crustacean and pizza actually works so well that makes the dishes so impressive.
Singh admits that his first hurdle was trying to pair lobster and cheese. Lobster pairs with cream sauce, sure, but cheese? And tomato sauce? So he went back to the pizza drawing board and started with one of the most basic and classic pizzas: the margherita.
On the menu, it's called the Lobster-ita, and it's a lot like a traditional margherita pie, only with a few gourmet twists to enhance the lobster. Instead of fresh tomatoes, this pizza employs dark red roasted tomatoes, big fresh basil leaves, mozzarella, and a bit of truffle oil and garlic. Then the butter-poached lobster is laid on top and a bit of the poaching butter is drizzled on as well.
Singh figured out quickly what a lot of chefs don't always get about lobster — it's best left alone. He doesn't fire it along with the pizza or try to slice it up like pepperoni. It's literally just sitting on top, which I think is the ideal way to serve a big red claw on a thin, cheesy slice.
The Lobster Verde pizza heads in a different direction, globally, from the margherita. The sauce is green pesto, and it's topped with mozzarella, more roasted tomatoes, onions marinated in spicy Mongolian oil, a few crumbles of goat cheese and more butter-poached lobsters.
Then there's Singh's take on carbonara, which employs Parmesan, mozzarella, pancetta and peas to evoke the classic pasta dish. The pie then gets a generous topping of lobster claws and two sunny-side-up eggs. This is probably my new favorite pizza on the menu, including all the non-lobster versions. It's truly divine.
The newest pizza isn't even on the menu yet, but I recommend you order it as soon as you see it printed. It's called Mesopotamian Lobster, and it evokes the flavors of the Middle East with a muhammara spread featuring Aleppo peppers, walnuts and olive oil. There are big green daubs of fresh mint chutney dotting the lobster and a sprinkling of dark red sumac for color and texture. I was dubious about the strong Middle Eastern flavors paired with the subtly sweet lobster, but it works.
Singh explains that in order to make a lobster pizza that really tastes like lobster, the crustacean must be the last thing you taste as you're eating. First you get the crust, then the spices, and once you're done chewing those, there's still a big hunk of lobster inundating your mouth with a delicate but briny seafood flavor.
"I'm really into pushing the pizza envelope these days," Singh says. "I get to entertain and indulge myself on a daily basis whilst serving the community. It's a win-win for everyone."
Just what downtown needs.
If you work, live or just spend all your time downtown, you've probably noticed there aren't that many places to grab a quick bite to eat, sit down for a cup of coffee, or enjoy a casual dinner and dessert before or after a theater performance. Sure, there are lots of restaurants, such asThe Grove,Batanga,ArtistaandSambuca; and there are lots of bars, such asFlying Saucer,Hearsay Gastro LoungeandReserve 101. But there's one thing missing from the downtown dining scene — a casual place to grab a coffee, cocktail and bite to eat.
Let's face it. If you're searching for a laid-back coffee shop in downtown or along the rail line, you'll be searching for a while. But that problem will soon be solved when The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar opens at 300 Main this spring.
The Honeymoon is a partnership between Matt Toomey and Charlotte Mitchell of Boomtown Coffee and Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse of The Corinthian Bar Group (Goro & Gun, Lei Low Bar, OKRA, Bad News Bar, Big Star Bar and Grand Prize Bar). The foursome believe that this establishment will assist in the revitalization of downtown.
"I really think downtown needs this," Moore says. "It will be a concept that's open from 7 a.m. until midnight. It rounds out the corner [of Main and Congress]. We've got Boomtown doing super high-quality coffee, and Justin [Burrow] from Bad News Bar, he's doing the cocktail program, and we've got a great staff management and are otherwise ready to execute this. It should be fun, and I really think it's what downtown needs."
Toomey describes the partnership between the coffee program from Boomtown and the cocktail program from The Corinthian Bar Group as "a marriage." In addition, the partners believe opening The Honeymoon along the rail line firmly evokes the spirit of NOLA, which is one of their goals.
"What it reminds me of most, in terms of just the concept, and it's unintentional, but it's right along the rail line, but it reminds me a lot of the bars and cafes in train stations, like all across Europe and everything," Mitchell says. "So it's...open from the morning; you can get your coffee; you can get your pastry; something quick, something sit-down, and then all the way into the evening."
The Honeymoon sits on the corner of Congress and Main along the rail line, just down the street from Goro & Gun, The Pastry War and Bad News Bar. The coffee shop and bar is still in the construction stage, but the historic building has made the process much easier on the partners. The building already had hardwood floors, a built-in oak bar and an ample amount of natural light.
"During the day, we've got lots of windows, lots of natural light coming in," Moore explains. "Then, at night — we're real picky about lighting — so it's going to be pretty, sultry. But yeah, during the day there's so much good light coming in. We've got to work on paint schemes, wood, because we are doing a lot of dark wood in there. But also the paint is going to be light. Always ever-important is lighting, and we've been scrutinizing that like crazy."
Burrow is consulting with the cocktail menu, and according to Moore, he is "going to crack the whip" with his training program. He will educate all the bartenders on how to create classic drinks but with a New Orleans influence.
"So basically the cocktail menu is going to be divided into two different categories," Mitchell says. "There's the New Orleans classics that are going to be a lot of stirred drinks, and some really great stuff like a classic Hurricane or a classic daiquiri, and then the original drink portion of the menu will be featuring dessert cocktails, and that's coming from the...I can't think of a creative way to talk about Justin Burrow's brain... Justin is a fantastic resource that we have to tap for creativity."
"In a bearded, surly kind of way," Toomey adds.
Mitchell also notes that The Honeymoon will have a wider selection of wines and bubbles — another thing downtown currently lacks.
As far as the coffee program is concerned, Mitchell and Toomey explain that the focus is on a simplified and classic approach. The menu will include several coffee drinks found at Boomtown, and Boomtown's roasting facility will be relocated to The Honeymoon, giving them more opportunities to use a variety of fresh coffees each day. They've also purchased a "badass" espresso machine called The Slayer.
"Our focus, I think, is to not overdo ourselves and to just focus on what's inherently good in all of these ingredients we are using, and to, in a sense, to educate the masses, because, let's face it, we are going to get a lot of volume here, but we want to bring that kind of subculture specialty to downtown," Toomey says. "And across the board, not just with the coffee, but with the cocktails, too. You'll notice that there will be continuity between the simplicity of those drinks as well. And of course, we'll combine the two and have coffee cocktails that are some in-house originals, [and] some traditional, expected drinks."
In a way, Boomtown Coffee has come full circle after starting downtown just a block from 97 Franklin, moving to its current location on West 19th Street in the Heights, and re-establishing its roasting facility downtown at The Honeymoon.
To accompany the coffee and cocktail menus, The Honeymoon will serve breakfast and lunch and small plates throughout the evening. Amanda McGraw, formerly of Brasserie 19, is consulting on the food menu. The partners want to keep her around for as long as they can, but McGraw won't be the full-time chef.
"We are going to do mainly a breakfast and lunch menu," Mitchell says. "Just focus on high-quality ingredients for sandwiches and salads, and some other type of small plates, and then not really transition into a dinner menu; it's going to be more of a small bites, cheese plates, and we're going to do some plated desserts to try and capture the theater crowd. Say people are going to a 7 o'clock show and they have to go somewhere to wolf down dinner really fast and they don't have time for dessert. We want to be the place that people finish their night."
There's no official opening date for The Honeymoon yet, but the partners are shooting for sometime this spring. Mitchell says her fiancé and his peers who work downtown can't wait for The Honeymoon to open so they can leave their desks in the afternoon for a cup of coffee.
"We want to be a part of the revitalization of downtown, but also bring in the people who have always worked here and the theater crowd," Moore says.
Openings & Closings
Do you want doughnuts with that ice cream?
The Daily Review Cafe closed due to water issues, according to the Houston Chronicle's Syd Kearney, but it seems as if things have been going downhill for the restaurant for a while. Recently, Yelp reviewers have been giving the River Oaks cafe many poor reviews, saying it was "awful all around" and that patrons waited nearly 45 minutes to be served their food. One reviewer even remarked that the Daily Review needs Food Network's Restaurant Impossible to help it with its struggles. There's no news as to whether the restaurant has closed for good or only temporarily.
Thanks to commenter justthefacts from last week's openings and closings report, we now know that Papa Joe's BBQ in Memorial City on Kingsride Lane has closed. The restaurant's website states that a Starbucks will be taking its place.
Waldo's Coffee House closed last summer but has been replaced by a new coffee shop from the same owners. Boulevard Coffee opened on Heights Boulevard last week and showcases an expanded patio for concerts and outside seating (it's dog-friendly, too) and a kitchen in which chef Steven Hernandez makes pastries, kolaches, cookies and sandwiches each day.
Hello Taco, a family-owned Mexican restaurant, opened on Grogan's Mill Road in The Woodlands on March 14. Hello Taco is a fast-casual restaurant serving a variety of tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas and bowls, all with a choice of chicken, shrimp, fish or carne asada. The flour tortillas and guacamole are made fresh daily.
Way Good Food Truck held its grand opening on March 16. The food truck serves sandwiches and burgers, such as classic cheeseburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, and an inventive potatochip-crusted fried chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and pickles; the truck also offers small bites, such as hummus and pita chips, stuffed jalapeños, brisket nachos, and fried mac-and-cheese balls.
Apparently doughnuts and ice cream don't have enough sugar on their own, so Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins teamed up to open a combo restaurant in Katy on March 18. This is the first Dunkin' Donuts in Katy and the first Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins hybrid to open there as well. Can you say "chocolate cake doughnut with a scoop of Gold Medal Ribbon ice cream on top"? Don't worry; my stomach hurts just thinking about that, too.
Ragin Cajun opened its fifth location, this one in The Woodlands, on March 22.
It's been nearly half a year since MF Sushi was forced to close due to an early morning fire, but as announced on the restaurant's Facebook page, MF Sushi will reopen on April 20. CultureMap's Eric Sandler spoke with Alex Kinjo, brother of chef Chris Kinjo, about the reopening. Kinjo tells Sandler that the restaurant has been completely remodeled; the only things that stay the same are the sushi bar and the small alcohol bar, but other than that, MF Sushi's interior will be quite different from what it was before the fire.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.