On the Menu
As part of the holy trinity of Tex-Mex (the other members being tacos and fajitas), the enchilada appears in diverse forms in our city. And thanks to intense competition among Mexican restaurants, few enchilada platters are really bad, and most are pretty good. Some, however, are just terrific. This list is not just about where to get good enchiladas, period, but what exactly to order. Here are my five recommendations:
5. Mushroom Enchiladas (Radical Eats). Although the fried avocado taco seems to be the favorite Tex-Mex offering on Radical Eats's inventive menu, not to be overlooked are the vegan mushroom enchiladas for their terrific texture (thank you, cashew cream) and rich, dusky flavors. Where's the Beef? Cheddar Makes Everything Better? WHO CARES?
4. Enchiladas Poblanas (Maria Selma). Their stuffing (shredded white meat chicken and rice) is fine and good, but what makes these enchiladas truly exceptional is the slightly sweet, smoky mole sauce and nutty dusting of sesame seeds. They taste even better on Tuesday, when all enchilada plates are half-price.
3. Shrimp Enchiladas (Lost Tios). In my recent post about Los Tios's delightful summer specials, what I did not mention was that there was a second act to that meal: a bountiful platter of shrimp-stuffed enchiladas blanketed in a thick cilantro cream sauce and cheese and buttressed by pico de gallo and fluffy rice. This dairy-forward dish might be overwhelming if not for the slight briny edge from the crustaceans and the accompanying crisp avocado salad. At least I'm never overwhelmed enough to lick the platter clean.
2. Cheese Enchiladas with eggs! (Los Dos Amigos). Numerous food critics (including Robb Walsh and Katharine Shilcutt) have lauded Los Dos Amigos for its cheese enchiladas, and I have no problem following suit. There may be nothing particularly transcendent about plain enchiladas in red sauce (though Los Dos Amigos does an outstanding take on this dish), but with the addition of two fried eggs, the platter soars to savory new heights as the yolk floods the tortillas, cheese, rice and beans.
1. South of the Border Enchiladas (Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen). Sylvia's "South of the Border" enchiladas plate is a four-stop culinary journey that begins with one "Mexico City" enchilada stuffed with chicken and topped with green salsa. From there, your fork proceeds to the more piquant "Morelia" enchilada (queso fresco and onions in a spicy red chili gravy), then the "Hidalgo" enchilada (tender carnitas in red or green sauce garnished with avocado). Last point on the itinerary is the "Puebla" enchilada (chicken dressed in an earthy mole poblano sauce) — assuming, of course, you're consuming each enchilada in its entirety before moving on to the next. Switching back and forth is perfectly acceptable, too, but be forewarned that the delicate, subtle flavors of the four different sauces and fillings are best appreciated one by one.
Taste-Testing Houston's Cronut
Pena's Donut Heaven & Grill makes the "dosant."
I've been avoiding this whole "cronut" craze since the donut-croissant hybrids first appeared on everyone's radar back in early May. I just haven't been that interested. I like donuts. I love croissants. Why do I need to eat them together? What's so magical about that? Aren't some things best left alone?
After picking up some "dosants" at Pena's Donut Heaven & Grill in Pearland recently, I think I get it.
Because I didn't arrive at Pena's at 5 a.m., I wasn't able to get my hands on owner Raymond Peña's newest invention: the maple bacon dosant. By the time I picked up some dosants around noon, there were only about a dozen left in the case, so I got one each of strawberry, chocolate and cream cheese and went to work dissecting and then eating them to figure out what the big deal is.
Each dosant is composed of three layers of rich fried croissant dough fashioned into a donut-shaped ring of awesome. In between each layer is a generous helping of pastry crème, available in a number of flavors including chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, cream cheese, raspberry and now the new maple bacon. Each is decorated on the top with something indicative of the flavor like a raspberry or a chocolate chip and then is sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The dosant is an intimidating pastry to tackle. It's taller and less squishy than the average donut or croissant, plus you have to worry about inhaling powdered sugar when trying to take a bite. Then there's the fact that the layers slide and ooze crème under the force of a knife or a bite. And, being a fried delicacy, the dosant is a tad crumbly.
Once I finally got over my reservations and finished analyzing the damn thing, I took a bite. It was chewy and crispy on the outside and smooth like the center of a croissant on the inside. It was magical. I get it now.
The chocolate and the strawberry flavors were a little too sweet for my liking, but the cream cheese version was pretty perfect. It is neither donut nor croissant, and yet it is both. It's complicated to make and tricky to eat and entirely worth the $3.50 price tag (less than the $5 price of the originals out of New York).
Peña says they've been selling out nearly every day, even though the dosants have been on the menu since mid-June. He also says they won't be going anywhere any time soon.
Now that I've been exposed, would I wait in a three-hour line just to get my grubby hands on one extra-special cronut? Probably not. Will I eat all three of Pena's dosants even though I'm not hungry? You betcha.
The Little Sommelier Conference That Could
Texsom is now a major national event.
'TexSom has grown from just a few diehard fans to a fairly decent following," wrote Master Sommelier and TexSom co-founder Drew Hendricks in an e-mail.
The Houston-based wine pro and former wine director for Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is "nervous and excited about the amount of seminars," he said. "We have many more moving parts, but it is giving us the opportunity to cover much more."
Since he and Master Sommelier James Tidwell (wine director at the Four Seasons in Dallas, where the event is held) founded the annual convention in 2005, it has transcended its homegrown roots: Today it is a nationally recognized gathering that attracts wine professionals and wineries from around the globe.
As Texan wine professionals gear up for the conference this week (August 8-13) and wine professionals from across the country prepare to travel to Dallas to attend, not a day goes by that a colleague from New York or California doesn't e-mail me asking me if I'll be there. (I won't this year because my wife and I just brought our newborn baby girl home from the hospital.)
According to data compiled for this post by TexSom Executive Director Donaji Lira, this year's attendance is expected to increase nearly twofold, from roughly 300 to 600.
Last year's event, she wrote, included participation of 30 Master Sommeliers and one Master of Wine. (Master Sommeliers are full-fledged members of the elite Guild of Sommeliers; Masters of Wine belong to the Institute of Masters of Wine, an equally exclusive association.)
This year, 34 Master Sommeliers will be in attendance, as will four Masters of Wine.
Last year's conference featured nine seminars and 64 wines. This year's: 22 seminars and 154 wines poured at seminars and 226 wines poured at the grand tasting, up from 165 poured at last year's grand tasting.
That is one serious buttload of wine!
But even in the wake of TexSom's unbridled and practically unrivaled success on the national wine-education circuit, the organizers have never lost sight of their Texas roots: As in past years, one of the conference's highlights will be the Texas's Best Sommelier competition.
"We love it that all come and want more and more," said Hendricks, who now sells wine for luxury Californian producer Rudd. But the competition, this year sponsored by Texas Monthly, "keeps a focus on Texas."
And while Texas wines have always made an appearance at TexSom (including some notable seminars led by leading Texan wine professionals), this year's conference will include the first-ever "Taste Texas Wines" hospitality suite, featuring the wines of four different Lone Star State bottlers: Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, McPherson Cellars and Pedernales Cellars. Considered by most wine-trade observers to be among the best in the state, the four wineries have banded together to form a new marketing consortium, a smart move in a bustling wine world where it's not easy to stand apart from the crowd.
The Texas wine scene has changed radically since I first moved here five years ago. At the time, TexSom was considered a top but wholly local wine education event. Today it represents one of the most important schmoozing opportunities on the U.S. wine community's yearly calendar.
As someone who has lived and worked on both coasts, I can tell you from personal experience that New Yorkers and Californians used to shrug off the fine wine community in Texas. Today I have ex-colleagues calling me nearly every day and asking me if we'll connect at the conference.
As one of the events organizers, Master Sommelier Devon Broglie, said to me in a tweet the other day, "We've come a long way, baby."
This new world of fine wine in Texas emerged in part thanks to a couple of Master Sommeliers who had a vision for a better Texas wine world and a little sommelier conference that could.
Without pollen, the origin is unknown.
Whenever we buy products from a grocery store, we usually don't second-guess where they come from. If a sign for shrimp says that it's from the Gulf of Mexico, we believe it. We are a very trusting society when it comes to purchasing food or drinks at supermarkets, farmers' markets or grocery stores, but there's one product whose origin we should definitely question, and that's honey.
Honey comes from all around the world, and there are hundreds of types available for purchase. Just as there are different kinds of apples that taste different from one another and can be used in different ways, there are a variety of honey flavors based on the pollen from different flowers.
Dr. Vaughn Bryant, a professor in the anthropology department at Texas A&M University, has conducted a lot of research into detecting pollen in honey. In fact, in a 2011 study sponsored by Food Safety News, Bryant found no pollen in more than 75 percent of the honey he tested from stores around the country.
Bryant says that no one can determine where a sample of honey came from or even what was used to make it if the pollen has been removed.
"People can say anything they want," Bryant says. "If you went into a liquor store and wanted to buy a really good-quality Bordeaux, don't you think you ought to get what you paid for?"
To some people, honey is just a sweet condiment they like to spread on biscuits, use when baking or add to their tea, but to others, honey is more than that; they care about its origin and will pay extra for their favorite flavor. But what if that special flavor of honey is not really where its label says it is from? What if it's cheaper honey?
Bryant has visited a number of health-food stores and supermarkets and found that the origin claimed on some bottles is not where the honey truly came from, which means the consumer pays more for something that is not what is advertised.
Honey provides excellent health and nutritional benefits, but pollen needs to be present. The quality of health benefits depends on the plant of origin; each plant provides different benefits. The propolis, a mixture of resins and materials that protects the beehive against intruders, has been shown to help prevent cancer. Honey helps maintain blood sugar and insulin sensitivity and increases immunity, and, more specifically, buckwheat honey has the ability to reduce coughs in children above the age of two.
Even though honey has many healthy benefits, it is useless without pollen. Unfortunately, you can't tell just by looking at a bottle if the honey contains pollen, and even if it does, you can't determine where it came from just by looking at the bottle, Bryant says.
The FDA doesn't have a procedure for inspecting honey for pollen. There is no law in the United States that says honey must be labeled to indicate its true origin.
"It's my understanding that what Customs does is that they do not test the honey for pollen," Bryant says. "They are more concerned with where the shipments came from."
Bryant explains that to a degree that is okay, but it isn't a strict enough inspection for honey. Importers can simply put any label they want on a jar of honey, and as long as it came from a legal source, it can be sold in the States.
Because there is no law or procedure in place for determining the source of honey that's sold in this country, many are proposing a Senate bill that would create a standard for analyzing honey's origins.
Not only does the removal of pollen from honey affect consumers, it also affects the beekeeping industry. With more and more types of honey coming into the United States without proof of origin, it has become more difficult for beekeepers to survive, decreasing demand for their products, which most of the time do contain pollen.
Openings and Closings
Sunday brunch gets a little less fun, and Midtown gets a little more boozy.
Whew! What a crazy week it's been for openings and closings!
First, the bad news.
The worst news last week came from Farrago World Cuisine, whose owners announced it was closing after 13 years due to a massive increase in rent. The restaurant located in Midtown, which has seen a lot of construction in recent months as the neighborhood continues to undergo a revitalization. Farrago was a popular spot for Sunday brunch, offering delicious mimosas and consistently good food. The closing was announced on the restaurant's Facebook on July 28. The owners wrote: "We love and thank you for the last 13+ years. We endured the construction, paid parking and towed customers. Alas, the over double rent was more than we could bare. Today will be the final Sunday brunch. We thank all of you for the wonderful memories. We will remember you fondly. Adieu."
B4-U-Eat reports that Doneraki on Westheimer closed last week without any fanfare. Fortunately for fans of the "authentic Mexican restaurant" (their words, not ours), the Gulfgate location just completed construction on a new deck and celebrated with a 40th-anniversary party, so it looks like the local chain is poised to be around for a while longer.
Dulce Spoon Ice Cream and Desserts in Spring Branch has closed to make way for Habibi Cakes Bakery, which will be opening in mid-August, according to B4-U-Eat. It looks like Habibi Cakes has been in the cake-making business for a while now, but the bakery hasn't previously had a storefront.
The Kroger at 3665 Highway 6 in Sugar Land will soon be closing, Swamplot reports, and it seems that competition from surrounding grocers (including two newer just-down-the-highway stores that Kroger itself put in) might be the cause. On Facebook, Kroger wrote, "Since 1988, this location has served families in the community. During that time, we have met thousands of residents like you who have become valued customers. Within in the past several years, we attempted to increase sales, profitability and store conditions. Despite our best efforts, we weren't successful. We've made the very difficult decision to close the store later this summer." Fortunately, there are those two other Krogers in close proximity, as well as two H-E-Bs, Whole Foods, Randalls, Food Town and Walmart Supercenter. Sugar Land will not go hungry.
Now for the good news: Sprouts opened its fourth Houston location on August 7 with a grand-opening celebration that included free coffee and muffins as well as goodie bags for the first 200 paying customers.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Eater reports that the owners of Guru Burgers & Crepes have opened a new restaurant in Sugar Land called Jupiter Pizza & Waffle Co. The menu includes "stone baked Neapolitan pizza" and Belgian waffles as well as farm-to-table salads.
The Houston Chronicle reports that Fusion Taco has opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant at 801 Congress. The menu has expanded to include items like 24-hour Beef Short Rib Vindaloo with raita and cucumber tomato relish and Tempura Rock Shrimp with jalapeño/wasabi aioli, watercress and togarashi. It's already getting rave reviews from Gastronaut, and we agree that the menu looks pretty tasty.
The new Midtown hot spot 3rd Floor opened July 24 with a big crowd who came to see what all the hype was about. The menu has eight cocktails on tap as well as 50 American draft beers and 50 American draft wines. The bar also has a small dinner/snack menu. The coolest thing about 3rd Floor is its view: Two large patios look out over the downtown skyline to the north and Midtown to the south.
Though it hasn't opened quite yet, the date is getting closer. Radical Eats will open for breakfast and lunch (and brunch) in Montrose on August 11. Radical Eats has taken the place of the vegan/vegetarian-only joint Roots Bistro and will now be offering a few dishes for omnivores in addition to the beloved veggie fare. Owner Staci Davis promises that the menu will still be "radical," but now it will be radical with some sustainably raised meat. Dinner service begins soon after opening week, and a grand-opening celebration will be held August 28. The new menu isn't yet available on the Radical Eats Web site, but we're pretty interested to see what Davis decides to cook up next.