You could say that discovering hole-in-the-wall places is a favorite pastime of mine. I love stumbling onto small, family-owned gems, where the cook is the dad or the brother or the uncle or the mother, the server and hostess is the wife or mother or sister, and the waitstaff is the daughter or cousin or some member of the extended family.
Sur Latin Peruvian Cuisine, a modest sliver of a restaurant that just opened four weeks ago near Katy, is one such place. And while I can't take credit for stumbling upon it accidentally (I saw a Facebook post by Latin Bites chef Robert Castre that alerted me to its opening), it fits the profile of that typical hole-in-the-wall that I find so endearing.
First of all, it's not just a family affair, but also a lifelong dream of its owners: Pilar Forkel, her cousin Ursula Delgado, her cousin's husband, King Aguilar, and partner and chef Juan Carlos Collomp. Until recently, Forkel worked in sales and Delgado in insurance, and Collomp had a private catering business making fresh Peruvian items like salsichas (Peruvian sausages).
"I am passionate about food," says Forkel, adding, "I've been wanting to do this for a long time." Delgado echoed her sentiments. She said that after she'd spent 18 years in the insurance business, it was time for a change.
Though the restaurant is called Sur Latin Peruvian, the tight, focused menu is entirely Peruvian. I liked the straightforward, no-nonsense layout of the menu, fashioned like a small book that opened up to reveal appetizers and soups on the left; entrées to the right; and sandwiches, desserts and drinks on the back cover.
The prices were reasonable, with most appetizers in the $7 range and entrées maxing out at $15 for the signature lomo saltado, a stir-fried dish made of cubed chunks of beef, onion, tomato and french fries that you can find all over Peru. It is usually a must-order for me, a litmus test, if you will. If a restaurant does a good lomo saltado, it's a solid Peruvian restaurant in my book.
Sur's lomo saltado was well portioned, tasty and hearty. Presented on a square white plate with a small round of white rice and french fries, the large-ish two-inch chunks of tenderloin glistened with a deep brown glaze, combining with sweet pieces of red onion and fresh tomato in a very satisfying way. Though the french fries could have been a bit crisper, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish and would definitely order it again.
I apply the same thought process to Peruvian ceviche. Without a doubt the national dish of Peru, a good ceviche is a mandatory menu item. Served in a square bowl and topped with the traditional red onions, Peruvian large-kerneled corn (choclo), toasted Peruvian corn kernels (for crunch) and a sweet potato puree, chunks of white fish were steeped in a marinade of key lime, a bit of garlic, and salt and pepper, the strong citrus acidity authentic and pleasing. I would have liked smaller pieces of fish (my preference is for a Hawaiian poke-style cut), but overall it was a very good rendition of ceviche.
Other highlights of the meal included a flaky-crusted empanada filled with a slightly sweet dark-meat mixture, and what will probably be a go-to sandwich on future visits to Sur, the pan con chicharrón (bread with fried pork). Served on a long white plate, the fluffy, lightly toasted round bun was topped with chunks of crisped pork and a tuft of red onion, with slices of sweet potato and lettuce. It was tasty and super-hearty, reminding me of my late-night sandwich runs during my most recent visit to Lima.
Finally, to the sweets. They're something you'll want to save room for. A Peruvian baker makes the selection of sweets for the restaurant daily, and they're all fantastic. Included among them is the traditional Peruvian ultra-sweet (this is how they make it in Peru) suspiro de limena, a thick, meringue-topped pudding; delicious, exotic cheesecakes (try the passion fruit or the guanabana and lucuma); caramel-filled shortbread alfajores cookies; and the traditional rice pudding topped with purple corn jelly, or arroz con leche con mazamorra morada.
Sur Latin Peruvian occupies the corner space in a nondescript strip mall. The small restaurant is cozy and casual, boasting an open kitchen with a long counter and barstools, and about a dozen tables that can be arranged to seat parties.
The evening I was there, I saw couples enjoying a casual meal, and a family party of approximately ten. At one point, the group erupted in song, singing "happy birthday" to a young girl who was smiling shyly. The scene reinforced the warmth of the vibe that had greeted me from the moment I stepped into this small but charming Peruvian strip-mall gem.
Get to Hubbell & Hudson Market Now
10 items to buy before it closes.
A few months ago,Hubbell & Hudson Marketwas hopping with shoppers. The entrance was filled with fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, displays of gorgeous bouquets and shelves of holiday-themed treats. As you walked through the store, you were greeted with samples of artisanal cheeses and meats, fresh-squeezed juices, slices of fluffy bread and everything else in between.
Now the only way I know to describe Hubbell & Hudson Market is by saying it's a sad scene. The employees are distraught and unmotivated and have no pep in their step as they once did, the once-overflowing produce section has diminished to practically nothing, and the display counters for cheese and deli meats are almost empty.
"What day are y'all closing?" I asked my cashier. "March 12 is our last day," she responded without even glancing up at me.
It's sad to see Hubbell & Hudson Market close. It's sad to see a once happy-go-lucky specialty grocery store so dim and lifeless.
But as Hubbell's enters its final month of operation, it's time to stock up on the best items you normally cannot find at other stores. Here are my ten picks for the foods and products you should buy before Hubbell & Hudson Market says good-bye forever.
Hubbell & Hudson is known for its dry-aged beef. You won't find anything like it at standard grocery stores such as Kroger or Randalls. Purchase a few steaks for that evening and grab a couple more to freeze. The extra flavor and tenderness from the dry-aging process make Hubbell's beef outstanding.
Jeni's Ice Cream
This Ohio-based ice cream is a special treat found at Hubbell & Hudson. As of recently, the market had only a few half-pints left, so act fast if you want smooth, sweet and extra-creamy ice cream in fruity and exotic flavors, such as wildberry lavender and chamomile.
Whether you want coffee from Central America or Africa, or some of Hubbell & Hudson's specialty blends, you can find it in the coffee bean section of the store. Have the roaster grind the beans for you, or take the whole beans home for yourself. I recommend the Seven Cities Roast, Mexican Rainforest or Papua New Guinea.
On the other side of the coffee section, you'll find a variety of intriguing candies. Fill up a bag with chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, chocolate toffee pistachios, malt balls or the giant "boulders" of chocolate. Keep them for yourself or save them for Easter — they just might be able to keep fresh that long.
The Hubbell & Hudson Bistro uses Cyprus Black Lava Salt in the olive oil dip for bread, but you can also buy it inside the market, along with a variety of other specialty salts. Fill up a bag with Fleur de Sel, Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. You can definitely keep these for a while in your pantry.
There's not much left in the produce section, but there are a few items worth stocking up on, such as the mini Seckel Pears, a variety of spicy peppers, French green beans and Grpples. Hubbell always had a wide selection of intriguing fruits and vegetables, so head to the market now and pick out a few things you've likely never seen in ordinary grocery stores.
Hubbell has a variety of staple breads, such as challah, brioche and French loaves. But if you want something different, opt for the breads studded with chocolate and cranberries, olives, or garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. You might be able to sample some slices when you shop!
Pastries and Cakes
Grab a small Italian cream cake or a vanilla lemon cake, for a special occasion or just for fun, from the pastry display case in the middle of the store. You can also purchase cakes, pies and tarts by the slice. Don't forget about the cannoli and strawberry éclairs.
Unfortunately, macarons don't stay fresh very long, so you'll have to eat them soon after you purchase the delicacies, but the ones sold at Hubbell are quite tasty; they are also decorated with a pretty drizzle of filling on top. Pair a raspberry or Earl Grey macaron with a cup of coffee for a nice treat. Throw in the banana bread covered in chocolate for a twist on a cake ball.
Hubbell sells beautifully designed chocolates from Norman Love and Christopher Elbow. Each chocolate is glossy, shiny and gorgeous; they almost look like works of art. Fill a box with a variety of flavors, such as Lemon Bar with a white chocolate shell, tiramisu with a dark chocolate shell or Tahitian Caramel with hints of vanilla.
Camerata Brings Beer/Wine Hybrid Drink to Houston
You want this unnamed concoction.
There isn't a name for it, David Keck, head wine guy at Camerata, tells me. At least not yet.
Beer produced by spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast is a lambic. Wine with quite a bit of carbon dioxide caused by fermentation is sparkling. This wine/beer hybrid is a bit new to have a name, perhaps. The different varieties, produced by Italian brewer Birra del Borgo, have names like Caos and Equilibrista, but unlike Champagne, saison beer, hefeweizen or rosé, the product itself doesn't have a name. It's too innovative, too new.
"It's really like a rosé sparkling wine mixed with a saison beer," Keck says by way of explanation. "It has that earthy, spicy quality of a saison. I think they're not for everyone, though. They've got a certain flavor profile that's different from what people are expecting."
The color of the Equilibrista, the more winelike of the two, is similar to a rosé, and it has the funky, almost sour quality of a saison. But then, on the back end, there's a bit of almost metallic tannin, like you might find in a dry red wine.
The Equilibrista is a blend of 50 percent Duchessa, a Birra del Borgo saison, mixed with the must of Sangiovese grapes. The must is the pulpy stuff containing grape seeds and skins that you get while making wine. The Equilibrista smells coppery, like pennies, and it has the acidity of a dry white wine. Beyond that description, you kind of have to try it for yourself.
Camerata is carrying Caos, also made by Birra del Borgo, which the company calls "a new experiment on the 'wine meets beer' theme." It's bottle-fermented using Champagne yeasts, which means the liquid isn't done fermenting when it's bottled. The chemical process continues to take place in the bottle, creating carbon dioxide that becomes trapped as bubbles, and also giving the finished product a dry, frothy head.
Unlike the Equilibrista, the Caos has only 25 percent wine must (from a different grape, called Malvasia), as opposed to 50 percent must, so it's a little more on the beer side than the wine side.
Personally, I prefer the Equilibrista, but it's definitely not for everyone. They'll be at Camerata until they run out, which might be by the end of the week. Unless no one is drinking them, because they are pretty weird. Still, in the spirit of adventure, I suggest you try them both.
And then maybe you can be the one to finally give this unusual combination a name.
Openings and Closings
Fish & The Knife finally opens; Pico's Mex-Mex is almost here.
The week was filled with openings and upcoming restaurant announcements, as well as one notable closing. Gigi's Asian Bistro and Dumpling Bar has closed after serving customers classic Asian dishes and dumplings for six years inside the Galleria. The Houston Chronicle's Greg Morago reported that the restaurant closed on Wednesday, February 12, due to economic issues. But Morago writes that this might not be the last time we see Gigi Huang in the Houston restaurant scene, since she told customers to "stay tuned on news of the 'Return of the Phoenix.'"
Many of you have been waiting for Pico's Mex-Mex to open on Kirby, and you won't have to wait much longer. According to Eater Houston, Pico's was scheduled to open on Wednesday, February 19. Despite the fact that Pico's is directly across the street from Pappasito's, chef and owner Arnaldo Richards tells Eater that its fare is "completely different" from the food served at Pappasito's because Pico's doesn't serve Tex-Mex. Yes, you'll find staple Tex-Mex items such as fajitas, but for the most part it's authentic Mexican cuisine.
Stick around Kirby and visit Oui Desserts, a new French bakery serving a variety of macarons, éclairs and fruit tarts, as well as American classics such as shortbread cookies and red velvet cake. The bakery opened on February 3 and already has a following among French-dessert enthusiasts in Houston, including Houston bloggers Patty and David.
Looking for another place to grab a slice of pizza in Houston? Check out Luna Pizzeria. CultureMap Houston's Eric Sandler spoke with the chef and owner of the new restaurant, which occupies the previous location of Brown Bag Deli at 3435 Kirby. Luna's owner, Jeff Gale (who also owns Brown Bag and Barnaby's), decided to open a restaurant for diners to frequent during the evenings, which wasn't possible at Brown Bag, since it closed at 4 p.m. The menu includes pizzas made with sourdough crust provided by Angela's Oven, as well as the Barnaby's Caesar salad.
According to Houston Business Journal, Corner Bakery Cafe was set to open another location in Katy on Monday, February 17. This makes the chain's fifth location in Houston, but it won't be the final one. The local franchise owners, Adam Beasley and Steve Whiddon, are working on expanding the franchise to The Woodlands and hope to open 16 more Corner Bakery Cafes in the next five years.
But that's not the only franchise expanding throughout Houston. We all know that Dunkin' Donuts is spreading around the city like wildfire, and Dunkin' Donuts held a grand reopening of the doughnut shop at 814 FM 1960 on February 13. That northwest Houston location has been completely remodeled, and according to a press release, it's more modern and has more seating for customers and "a more efficient drive-thru" — no one wants to wait for his or her doughnuts!
Flow Juice Bar opened next door to Max's Wine Dive on February 3. Flow offers juices for just about everything you can think of — mental health, weight loss, flu-fighting, detoxing, and mixtures for the body and skin. Along with a multitude of juices, Flow also serves vegan and gluten-free snacks, such as choco-coconut truffles, carrot cake bars and a kale salad.
Two weeks ago we reported that the previous location of Red Lantern would be replaced by a Creole, Cuban and Caribbean restaurant. Last week, Eater reported that the fusion restaurant's name would be El Gallo Rojo; it had its soft opening on February 14. The restaurant, located at 917 Franklin, holds its grand opening on March 2.
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In case you didn't know it by now, opening a restaurant can be tricky and difficult. Fish & The Knife has proved this to us several times with delayed opening dates and speculation about construction coming to a halt after the restaurant's Facebook page disappeared. But on February 10, Fish & The Knife held a media preview event (which was supposed to be the opening day), and according to Mai Pham, the restaurant opened for business (for real this time) on February 13.
Mo Mong closed at the beginning of the year for renovations and has emerged with a new interior, new food offerings and a new name, Dua. The 1201 Westheimer restaurant reopened on February 7 and is open for dinner from 5 till 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and from 5 till 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Another Prince's Hamburgers opened on the Katy Freeway; this one is located between Dairy Ashford and Kirkwood. This I-10 location will serve all the classics, including old-fashioned hamburgers, root-beer floats (with homemade root beer), soda fountain concoctions and your favorite diner food: chicken-fried steak, cobbler and stuffed French toast.
Crawfish Cafe will open its second location soon. The Cajun and seafood restaurant's new location will be at 811 South Mason Road in Katy. With crawfish season right around the corner, it doesn't hurt to have another place to grab some Louisiana crawfish along with a cup of seafood gumbo and oysters.