Friday, April 30, 2010

City Jewel: Houston

You can probably tell by now I'm not a big fan of chain restaurants. Sure, I eat at my fair share of them...but rarely are they memorable. I like the small restaurants, the ones with character...and of course great food! Hidden Gem will be a regular entry on the blog. One restaurant will be highlighted...a quick, short take on a place that's already proven itself in the art of awesome food. And if you think Hidden Gem begins and ends in Houston, you're wrong...stay tuned for other cities!

Restaurant: Alamo Tamale & Taco

Location: 809 Berry Road

Tables: Maybe 5 (in the porch out front). This is a stand, order and get out place.

Specialty: Well...guess it's in the name. Breakfast tacos and tamales are great...maybe not the best but darn close. They are a little higher in price than most places, but portions are bigger. Highly recommend anything pork...and I never met an egg there I didn't like.

Chance of getting food poisoning: LOW. Clean place, and I've never gotten sick.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quick Hit

I usually save my recipes for Tuesdays, but a reader emailed me this one yesterday. This sounds disgusting...still gonna give it a try! It received excellent reviews. One person claimed adding tomato and bacon makes it even better. Baby steps for me. I'll report back in the comment box sometime this weekend after I give it a go.

Peanut Butter, Mayonnaise and Lettuce Sandwich

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

He Said, She Said

I promised a He Said, She Said by the end of the month. Carrie and I came through! Here’s how it works:

We went to the same restaurant at different times.
• Neither of us had been to this restaurant before.
• We read no previous reviews.
• We wrote our reviews separately.
• Once written, the reviews were not changed.

Cafe Rabelais specializes in French cuisine and is located in Houston's Rice Village. We'll be doing this once a was just too much fun not to make it a regular blog entry. Hope you enjoy!

Atmosphere: (3.5) Stars
He Said:
Café Rabelais’ décor has a nice cross-section of modern and rustic. Nice bold colors, cement floor, exposed duct work…all the standard things that make you feel like you’re somewhere. They have a wonderful bar taking up about 25% of the restaurant and wine racks running along the walls. We went for lunch...pretty laid back vibe with a nice flow of customers. The menu was displayed on an enormous chalk board. I wasn’t too keen on this…couldn’t see the board from where we sat. Sara actually had to get up and stand over someone’s table. I’m guessing for dinner Café Rabelais has a nice, romantic feel…and who knows…maybe even some menus.

Atmosphere: (4) Stars
She Said:
Having never been to France, this is what I imagine a French bistro to be. Simple but clean décor. What some may consider cozy, I found a bit crowded, especially since I was trying to navigate through the tightly packed tables with a child in a car seat. By 7:00 (they open at 6:00 on Mondays), the place was crowded with only a single table open and patrons waiting at the bar for a table outside. Could be romantic if not so noisy. Also, while the chalkboard menu on the wall may be considered quaint, I found it annoying, as I had to crane my neck around to order. Other diners stood in the middle of the restaurant deciding on their dinner choice. Hey, Café Rabelais, splurge on some menus, please!

Taste: (4) Stars
He Said:
Nothing bad about the meal. They brought out some bread which was pretty good…super crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside…steaming hot! Sara ordered a glass of wine and Nat and I split an Orangina. The Orangina was a first for me…citrus flavored drink with a slight bit of carbonation...very refreshing. Sara ordered the Sandwich au Poulet. This contained sautéed chicken, onions, tomatoes and swiss cheese. It came on that wonderful French bread with a butter condiment. She let me steal a bite…solid sandwich. I ordered the special…Shrimp with Garlic Butter. This came with white rice and a sautéed vegetable medley. The rice and veggies didn’t do much for me but the shrimp were spectacular and the presentation was nice. Five jumbo-sized, head-on shrimp…bathing in a pool of herbed buttery goodness. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and I know this sounds gross to some, but don’t be shy about eating the head innards. Very tasty! My dish also came with a side salad that was pretty run-of-the-mill. Dessert was the most interesting part of the meal. We all split a Lavendar Pear Tart. Sara loved it…I just liked it. It was a bit too savory for me but the lavender throughout was undenieably good. It came with a raspberry sauce. If you are into trying unique desserts, give this one a try. We both had coffee. Given that it was a French place, I expected more out of the java…it came up short.

Taste: (4) Stars
She Said:
Luckily, I am taking my husband’s meal into consideration here. I must admit, my disappointment with my meal may be due, at least in part, to my expectation. I ordered the Sandwiche de Nice, described as “fresh tuna steak, egg, tomato, spring mix, aioli.” Picture it….got it? OK…so the tuna steak was maybe ½” thick and lacked the crisp sear that I love on a tuna steak. Did you picture hard boiled egg? I did. It wasn’t. It can best be described as “egg snot,” fully cooked, but lacking flavor or texture. The sandwich was redeemed by the incredible ciabatta bread on which it was served and some of the best damn French fries I’ve ever eaten. Perfect crunch, salty…yum! Warren ordered fish soup and the pork chop with oyster mushrooms and bacon (although the menu stated it was oysters, bacon, mushrooms…). The fish soup was very fishy and somewhat one note but presented beautifully with a garlic crostini. The pork chop was delicious. Tender and juicy with the most wonderful big chunks of crispy bacon. Just proves my theory that everything is better with bacon.

Service: (2.5) Stars
He Said:
The service just was lacking for me. Our waiter was a nice guy, but didn’t seem knowledgeable about the food nor wine menus. By the way, the wine menu was thick…scanned it and saw several bottles that hit the $2500 mark. Our food took a bit longer than expected and the plates took awhile to be cleared. As Sara tells me…the French don’t use bread plates. This annoys me. I hate sitting in a mess of crumbs and if you aren’t gonna give me a plate, you better clear that stuff off my table quickly.

Service: (2.5) Stars
She Said:
The service left much to be desired. The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived, yet we waited for nearly 10 minutes for the waitress to come to our table. We ordered wine and again waited. When asked if there were any specials, our waitress responded, “The entire menu is special.” No mention of the soup of the day. Hmmm... The gentleman (the manager, maybe) who took our order seemed significantly more professional and knowledgeable, but there appeared to be a lack of communication when the waitress brought me utensils and a wet one to eat the mussels which I had not ordered. Food arrived quickly, but the waitress was inattentive. We would have ordered a second glass of wine if offered and we needed to get her attention for the check.

Pricing: (3) Stars
He Said:
My meal was $15.00. For lunch, I was feeling more the 12.50-13.00 range. But go figure…they weren’t up for negotiating. Although, as a side note, wouldn’t that be fun if you could do that at restaurants? Sara’s sandwich was reasonably priced at about $8. I wouldn’t go back here for lunch but I’d check it out for dinner. Café Rabelais was a bit overpriced, but not outrageous.

Pricing: (3.5) Stars
She Said:
Pretty much what I expected in the Village. Wines ranging from $5 - $20 per glass, $8.95 for my sandwich, $25.00 for the pork chop.

Overall Opinion: (3.5) Stars
He Said:
I would go back to Café Rabelais. My highest rated category was Taste…and that’s never a bad thing. Those shrimp were awesome. I could see myself getting a craving for them with a nice glass of wine. I firmly believe this is one of the key ways to make it as a restaurant. Do something (at least one thing) so well, it will keep the people coming back. The service needs to be better, and quite possibly I caught them on an off day. When you open an authentic French cuisine restaurant, every person better be knowledgeable.

Overall Opinion: (3.5) Stars
She Said:
I would probably go back if someone else suggested it. Nice ambiance, hit-or-miss food, not so hot service.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

Prosciutto Ravioli

Here's the Giada recipe. This can be made as an appetizer or as a main course. I prefer to make as an appetizer and throw a little chopped Italian parsley on top. A few recommendations:
  • You may want to cut down on the butter significantly if that's not your thing.
  • I've made this with regular tomato sauce, instead of butter...and it's just as good.
  • A little prosciutto goes a long way.
  • Please make sure you squeeze the spinach well to get rid of excess water.
  • Having a hard time finding dumpling wrappers? In Texas, you'll find them at Central Market in the freezer section. For a greater selection, go to any Asian market in your city. In Houston, I love going to H-Mart.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Tomorrow's Mighty Good Recipe comes from Food Network giant Giada de Laurentiis. If you have a pulse and watch television, you know the person I speak of. The lady can cook...after that...I take issue. Rather than be completely cynical, I decided to pair the good with the bad. Here's a look at my...

Giada Pros/Cons List

Con: Easy one...her pronunciation of Italian words is utterly revolting. I enjoy eating "spaghetti" not "spageeeeti".
Pro: Because of this...her show tops the ratings for the Italian immigrants 80+ demographic.

Con: Cleavage...we get're rather fond of your breasts, and more importantly the six-inch, black line they create when smashed together. Mix in a turtleneck every six months.
Pro: Cleavage. Hey, I'm not an idiot. Sometimes the positives outweigh the negatives. I think that's a double entendre!

Con: Giada...Clinique called..they want their makeup counter back. Who knows...that might be Emeril underneath all that spackle.
Pro: Easy sponsorship deal coming her way. If the chick from The Office can get her own hair ad, I figure Giada is a lay-up for some eyelash revitalizer promotion.

Con: She's built like a candied apple on a stick. As the guy from Seinfeld once said..."You've got a big head. It's too big for your body."
Pro: Big head=big brain=better recipes=happier me

You just have to look on the bright side!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tip Jar

Each week I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

This tip is for the individuals/families who eat-in Monday-Thursday. You can use Sunday afternoon to your advantage. Get ahead of the game by preparing Monday's meal the day before. When you get home from work on Monday evening, just pop it in the oven. Sunday is also a great time to cook with the kids. In a little over an hour, you can make three meals. Here's the plan. Buy a three-pound ground beef package. Separate the meat in thirds. Make three different beef recipes. I don't want to eat beef three straight days. Put two in the freezer and those will be for the following Mondays. Here's three easy beef recipes that should take you no longer than an hour (total) to put together. For the first two, you may want to dice up some carrots or zucchini so you get your veggies.

1. Sloppy Joes: follow directions and stick in freezer

2. Spaghetti Pie: this freezes well too

3. Meatloaf: don't cook this ahead of time...just put together (pop in freezer or fridge if you want to cook the next day)

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I don't like fondue. I know's not the melty, cheesy goodness that only a vat of boiling cheese can provide. It's that weird wine aftertaste. I hate it and every couple years I think I'm not gonna hate it. Then I try fondue again and I still hate it. Candy corn has a similar effect on me, but that's an entry for another day. Although I hate fondue, you can't deny it's impact on society...
  • The 70's provided us with the first fondue craze...but I don't think it had much to do with the cheese. Back then, fondue was a code word for "swinger's party". "Hey Mike...would you and Debbie like to come over for some fondue?" "Why yes...yes we would!"
  • In the 80' s and 90's fondue pots were great wedding presents from people who neither liked nor hated you.
  • Over the last few years fondue restaurants like the Melting Pot continue to be popular, but are the people going for the cheese or the pot of chocolate gold at the end of the dining rainbow?
Fondue is the center of my biggest food regret. The incident happened three years back while visiting Sara's homeland...Switzerland. We bypassed the raclette (my favorite) to give the fondue a shot. Thought this time would be different...wrong! I think they actually dumped extra wine in the sauce. But no worries, the meal came with fresh raspberries and whipped sweet cream. One Europe, the sweet cream is not sweet! It's a thick, unsweetened bucket of clogged arteries. No really...they actually serve it in little buckets. It was like the place was mocking me for bypassing the raclette. Maybe I've smartened up a bit...haven't had fondue since.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Restaurant Review

Firefly was another Las Vegas restaurant I checked out last week...

Rate each category on a 1-5 star rating.

Atmosphere: (3.5) Stars
Brief Take: Typical tapas restaurant...bold colors, modern art, very clean layout on the inside. Firefly had a front, outside porch with about six tables. I'm guessing on a Friday night this place is hopping. It's not a big restaurant but it has a nice, open flow. The fairly small, but immaculate bar is located on the side. To be fair...we went as a family in the middle of the afternoon, so the place was dead. Am I the only one who feels these tapas restaurants are designated for 20-somethings trying to inject a tiny bit of culture in their lives? Guess I'm getting older.

Taste: (3) Stars
Brief Take: The food was good, not great...and certainly not memorable. What puts this place on the map for me is the mojito. You had a choice of the traditional or one of the multiple infused flavors such as peach, mango or passion fruit. I could imagine sucking down a few of these on a 100 degree Vegas day. Perfect blend of alcohol, fruit, mint and hand-crushed ice. We ordered five mini plates that included: gazpacho, tuna peppers, tomato basil soup, chicken skewers, and fish sticks. The tuna peppers came out and I was disappointed to see it was canned tuna...but surprisingly they were very tasty. The chicken skewers were well seasoned but were paper-thin and thus got dried out in the cooking process. The gazpacho was refreshing, pretty standard, but excellent. I was expecting big things from the panko-crusted fish sticks. Turned out good, but the tartar sauce was a bit underwhelming. Again, everything was good...just nothing stood out...besides the booze.

Service: (5) Stars
Brief Take: Great service. No complaints here. The food came out in a timely fashion, kids were treated well, and he left the menu with us just in case we wanted more food. He checked on us regularly and kept the drinks flowing...hey...we were on vacation.

Pricing: (3) Stars
Brief Take: The mojitos were about what you'd expect in price...just wish they were a little bigger. Tapas is small, overpriced food. Everyone knows this going in. That said, I thought Firefly was reasonable.

Overall Opinion: (3.5) Stars
Summary: One of the best aspects of Firefly was location...a few blocks away from the bustle of The Strip. If I lived in Vegas, I'd go back again on an occasional basis. As a visitor, I'd definitely stop in for a cocktail again. Firefly had a good vibe, solid food, great service and perfect beverages!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deep Fried...Testicles!

I recently ordered lamb testicles at a steakhouse in Oklahoma City. I'm not gonna get cute here...they were disgusting. Consisted of an earthy taste with an interesting texture. Looked like they had been run through a deli slicer on the #2 setting...battered...then fried to imperfection. Cattleman's, the restaurant I was at, is one of the most famous in the area and has been around for more than 100 good a place as any to try a lamb's manhood. Wrong. I asked the waiter before ordering what he thought of the "lamb fries". I quote..."Sir, I don't put testicles in my mouth". Ten minutes later, he and I no longer shared that commonality. Just to be clear...still talking about lamb fries.

To the readers...ever eaten anything weird, crazy, absolutely disgusting? Would love to hear about it in the comment box.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Restaurant Review

I was in Las Vegas last week with the family. Our good friends Brendan and Stacy recommended we try out Battista’s…an Italian restaurant one block off The Strip. Great call!

Rate each category on a 1-5 star rating.

Atmosphere: (5) Stars
Brief Take: What an atmosphere! I think the Rat Pack use to kick-it at this place. Definitely looks the part. Extremely dim lighting (takes several minutes to adjust). The walls are decorated with celebrity, old-school pictures. The décor had a lot going on, but I honestly couldn’t see much. When I finally could, my focus was on the food. Expect to enjoy a nice, quiet dinner at Battista’s. The lighting definiely mellows the patrons.

Taste: (4.5) Stars
Brief Take: The food played the part as well. Battista’s menu is interesting…it’s limited to about 20 dishes. I ordered the veal parm. Sara got the lasagna. Each main entrée came with a side salad, side of pasta, unlimited house wine (red or white), garlic bread and a cappuccino. Let’s start with the salad. It consisted of a light olive oil vinaigrette, with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, a thin slice of salami, and hunks of fresh mozzarella. I can’t imagine a better salad at any restaurant. I don’t usually make a big deal about bread, but this was some of the best I’ve had. Crispy outside, soft inside..lathered with butter and pieces of roasted garlic. The house red wine was simple but offered a perfect compliment to the meal. It was served slightly chilled in a juice glass. I tried Sara’s lasagna and the freshness of the pasta is what stood out for me. It was also super cheesy. So was my veal parm. The only slight disappointment came with the was a bit tougher than I like, but still tasted excellent. Nat and I split the strawberry cheesecake. That’s one of those items that’s never bad, but the consumption gave me a one-way ticket to Discomfortville.

Service: (5) Stars
Brief Take: The service was impeccable. They really treated the kids like royalty. The waiter brought Nat a side of pasta and didn’t charge me for it. They even made it look fancy for her. Syd fell in love with our waiter. We didn’t have to wait long on our food, and they kept the wine flowing. Only complaint...the four-foot tall, 80-year-old accordion player making his rounds passed up our table. I had a $5er pulled out and couldn't wait to hear his stories about how he played for Sinatra. Oh well, maybe next time.

Pricing: (5) Stars
Brief Take: Dishes range from $22 (basic pastas) to $37 (steaks). When I first scanned the menu, I thought this was outrageous. But as you can see from above, when you take into account what comes with the meal…there may not be a better deal in Vegas.

Overall Opinion: (4.5) Stars
Summary: Battista’s has it all…charm, affordability, great atmosphere, awesome food and excellent service. There’s really not more you can ask from a restaurant. I honestly would not change one thing about the place. Next time, I’ll try to limit my cheese intake. The pound that I consumed that night sent me back to Embassy Suites breathing like a woman with contractions three minutes apart.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#1 Oklahoma Joe's Barbeque Kansas City, MO

My numero uno...Anthony Bourdain's #13...IN THE WORLD! That's right...the great foodie has Kansas City's Oklahoma Joe's on his "Places to Eat Before You Die" list. Celeb opinions usually mean nothing to me, but the man got it right on this one. My favorite restaurant ever is actually located inside a gas station. Don't worry, it's clean with plenty of tables. Plus, if you order more than $20 worth of meat, you get 3 cents off each gallon of gas (just kidding). The reviews said to get there early or be prepared to stand in line. Arrived at 10:30 for an 11 o'clock opening. Okay, in fairness, our plane was a little early and we had nothing else to do. Spent the down time in the parking lot inhaling the sweet BBQ fumes. Never before have I gotten full off oxygen. Eleven o'clock came and it was time for the real deal...authentic Kansas City ribs. Although, this didn't stop me from ordering a pound of sliced brisket...and the meal came with some delicious, seasoned fries. The half-slab of ribs were something out of a magazine. Big, thick, just the right amount of fat, and unreal tenderness (don't worry, I'm still talking about BBQ...although I think I have a legitimate problem). Their homemade sauce had a perfect level of spiciness. The brisket was the best I've ever eaten, but the star of the show was definitely the ribs. I've lived in Texas my entire life. No offense, but OK Joe's far exceeds any Texas BBQ I've eaten. Texas loves Kansas City, it's a way of life. To be honest, I'm not that big a BBQ eater. It's typically not my thing, which makes it even more amazing it's on my list...much less #1. I've given Sara permission to fly me up to KC if/when I make it to 85. I want to gum down half a slab and have her knock me over the head with a bottle of BBQ sauce. I figure it will be a short trip to heaven since I'm already there.

Eating OK Joe's ribs, along with a little motivation from Sara, were my inspirations for starting this blog. I emailed my friend Stephanie a week before our Kansas City trip. She led me to Ok. Joe's. That's the essence of this blog ...interaction/sharing ideas/opinions. It's all about finding the next Mighty Rib.

Mighty Good Recipe

Garlicky Appetizer Shrimp Scampi

It's Tuesday...time for a recipe. I've made this one several times when I'm in a rush. Makes a great presentation and who doesn't love shrimp for an appetizer?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#2 Lai Lai Dumpling House Houston, TX

Lai Lai is as "hole in the wall" as it gets. In fact, I'm guessing there are actual, man-made holes in walls much bigger than Lai Lai. It's a family-run eatery located in the heart of Houston's new Chinatown...serving the best damn dumplings you've ever eaten. I get teary-eyed just thinking about those pockets of heaven. Go with an order of pork fried and steamed beef. The fried ones are about three inches long, with a perfect crispy outside, and a delicious filling. Sara's favorites are the steamed beef. I just can't get over the tastiness...when you look at the filling, there just doesn't seem to be much going on there. But there is...oh, there is. Yes, the dumplings are phenomenal, but so is the rest of the food. We always get an order of green beans. I know that doesn't sound sexy, but you've never had better. I could eat the entire over-sized platter. I'm guessing the sweet people at Lai Lai flash fry them, followed by a quick saute with garlic. How they get plain ol' green beans tasting so good is beyond me. An order of lo mien and sesame chicken is usually in the mix. Very solid. The menu is somewhat limited, but this doesn't matter. What they do, they do well...the trademark of any good restaurant. Lai Lai even does off-menu-items like Crispy Shrimp...and you can always count on the waiter bringing over something to try (which is on the house). We always of my favorite past times is gorging myself on leftovers. Plus, Lai Lai isn't exactly around the corner for me...which is the only downfall of the place. It's also cash only. Lai Lai has somewhat of a cult, underground following. Consider yourself part of the club.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tip Jar

Each week I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

This tip could prove especially helpful for the families trying to save a few bucks. Boboli pizza crusts are almost $5 at grocery stores. I think that's pretty expensive. Stop by a discount bread store. They usually have Bobolis or equivalent there for a $1 (always check expiration date). Buy a bunch and throw them in the freezer. Have fun making pizzas with your kids at a fraction of the price.

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#3 El Siboney Key West, FL

This is the finest Cuban food in the United States. Let me know if you find one better...I'll fill you in on a little won't. My brother-in-law Scott found this restaurant with his trusty Blackberry on a day-trip to Key West. Thank you Scott. Getting down to Key West takes a little time. But a visit to El Siboney is as special as the drive itself. El Siboney is located a few blocks off the beaten path (which is always a good thing) in touristy Key West. It's won every food award in the area. I recommend trying as many dishes as you can. If you go with a big party and everyone is cool with sharing, this is definitely the way to go. Our table started out with sliced avocado and yuca. The avocados in this part of the country are enormous and have such a buttery flavor. Roasted pork, vaca frita (shredded beef), Cuban sandwiches, plantains...I could go on and on. The plantains were sweet like candy and went with just about every dish. The shredded beef was extra crispy and went quite well with black beans. There's Cuban roast beef on the menu...that would have been my choice with a second visit. No one in our party got seafood, but butterfly yellowtail and grilled mahi-mahi don't sound bad. I truly miss El Siboney.

Vegetarian's View

This is Molly. She's a long time friend, current member of Dinner Club, and hopefully a regular on this blog. In short...she's our Vegetarian's View. Her first review highlights Beaver's (located in the new restaurant district off Washington Ave. in Houston).

Each category is rated from 1-5 stars.

Overall Vegetarian Selection: (4) Stars

Brief Take: (Did the restaurant have a good selection?)

An upscale ice house most popular for their BBQ, Beaver’s amazingly has several legitimate vegetarian and vegan choices (and I don’t mean grilled cheese from the children’s menu.) Beaver’s changes about a third of their menu quarterly, but vegetarian and some vegan menu items are always present. The meat-free menu sometimes features a vegan vegetable risotto, pumpkin salad, BBQ tofu, nut burger, pinto bean ragu and macaroni and cheese.

Ordered Dish: (5) Stars

Brief Take: (What did you get and how was it?)

Appetizer: I started off with Beaver’s Smoky Queso and it is truly the best queso I’ve ever had. Seriously. It puts every Tex-Mex restaurant queso to shame. Light colored, warm, dense, creamy cheese served with chunky pico and accompanied with toasty homemade, thick, salty chips. If I am ever at Beaver’s with friends without my husband, he always makes me get him a to-go order of the Smoky Queso.

Entrée: For my main dish I had the Beaver Nut Burger with a side of Mac & Cheese. The burger was very hearty, full of brown rice and as the dish’s name indicates – nuts. Served on a fluffy, thick bun the burger is garnished with super ripe tomatoes, red onion, bibb lettuce, pickles and a miso-mustard sauce. The nuts and rice tend to make the burger fall apart so it must be gobbled fast which isn’t a problem since the Beaver Nut Burger is one of my favorite veggie burgers. As a vegetarian, the veggie burger is a common meal for me at a lot of restaurants. Most of the time I am dismayed only to find a grocery store, microwaved soy patty slapped on a limp piece of bread - but not at Beaver’s. I am going to be brave and say I think even meat eaters would like this one. The Mac & Cheese is super gooey and super good. Corkscrew pasta, parmesan, cheddar gratin and cream cheese are baked in a deep soup bowl dish and served hot with bread crumbs sprinkled on top. I get this gourmet side dish every time no matter what my entrée is. I can safely say it’s my favorite macaroni and cheese.

Dessert: Now on to the reason why I really come to Beaver’s…Beaver Balls. Fried brownies drizzled in a peanut butter sauce served with white chocolate ice cream. Who doesn’t like fried brownies? This dessert is so simple yet delicious. I always make sure I save room for Beaver Balls.

Healthy Rating: (2) Stars

Brief Take: (Was it still healthy even though it was vegetarian?)

The Beaver Nut Burger was the only healthy thing about my meal at Beaver’s. It seemed to be low fat and I know it had a lot if fiber. Eating healthy vegetarian food in restaurants can be challenging since so many dishes use extra cheese in place of meat.

Overall Opinion: (5) Stars

Summary: (Quick review of the overall eating experience…what was the restaurant like?)

As a vegetarian I always try to find something on a restaurant’s menu to eat without making a big scene about my personal choice not to eat meat. Sometimes the options are sparing and I find myself ordering from the children’s menu or a small random appetizer. The first time I visited Beaver’s I was apprehensive but pleasantly surprised that a place where BBQ dominated the menu would have quite a few vegetarian and vegan choices.

The atmosphere and servers at Beaver’s are friendly and laid back. The bar always has a large menu of unique cocktails with liquors such as habanero-infused vodka and maple-smoked rye whiskey. The only non vegetarian friendly drink at Beaver’s is the Squealin’ Mary which contains bacon-infused vodka. Like the food menu, the cocktail menu changes every three months. One of my favorite drinks that is now gone, had vodka, lavender, lemon and honey. With such a drink variety I am sure I will find a new cocktail to enjoy without bacon-infused vodka.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dinner Club

Dinner Club last Saturday night was another success. As usual, we all had a great time and the food was awesome. The Shalins hosted and made the appetizers and entree. The Shooks brought over tasty beverages, and the Jaegers were on dessert detail. Here's how it broke down:

Theme: Going Green (Didn't make my guests recycle their food, rather...every dish had a green element)

Corn and Avocado Salsa
Avocado Stuffed Yams

Shrimp with Penne and Zucchini

Grandma's Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (rhubarb is somewhat green)

Wine and Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini ( green here, but I bet you're green with envy)

Above... is the picture of the salsa...that was a hit. The yams were good, somewhat interesting, but I would probably take a pass on doing that recipe again. Thought the entree was very healthy, but still was quite tasty. The zucchini really sucked up that lime juice. The drinks and dessert were perfect. If you have the patience to make pie crust like Carrie did, that recipe is a winner.

1. (***NOTE***Carrie recommends adding extra 2 TBSP of cornstarch to filling)




Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#4 Old Town Mexican Cafe San Diego, CA

My sister-in-law Rachel took us down to Old Town San Diego to walk around, check out some shops and grab a bite to eat. Oh, we grabbed a bite to eat alright. Stumbled upon the Old Town Mexican Cafe... the crown jewel of this restaurant district. What a combination of food and atmosphere! This bustling restaurant had awesome written all over it. Sometimes you just know a restaurant is going to be good as soon as you walk through the door. The multiple people making tortillas as you enter didn't hurt Old Town's cause...this place just had it all (including a one hour wait). I started the meal with a halibut ceviche. Ceviche is the perfect marriage of what San Diego is known for, fresh fish and Mexican food. It was perfection, but only the start of wonderful things to come. Those said things are known as carnitas. Carnitas are the very reason Old Town is this high on my list. What are carnitas? The most tender pulled pork...slow roasted for hours, and then fried on a grill right before serving. The end product is served with refried beans and rice. I keep trying to order carnitas at other places since then...I'm ruined.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

Pan-Seared Tuna with Avocado, Soy, Ginger, and Lime

It's Tuesday and I promised an old friend I would post this one today. It's from Tyler Florence on the Food Network. If you love fresh tuna, this one's for you. Please, please, please...just sear the tuna. Don't overcook. This can also be made into a great appetizer as well. Guests will think you've had formal training when they taste this one....guaranteed good.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#5 Polynesia Cafe Kauai, HI

"Gourmet Food on a Paper Plate"...that's Polynesia Cafe's slogan. Went there twice on my trip to Hawaii a few years back. It's definitely held a place in my heart. When you are in a spot as nice as Kauai, I'm sure it makes great food become memorable food. I'm told Polynesia serves breakfast and lunch. Not for me they don't. Located in the northern tip of the island in a town called Hanalei, Polynesia is a walk-up, laid back restaurant that's best visited an hour before sunset. Grab a pulled pork sandwich, an order of sesame chicken, and head about 10 minutes west to Kei'i Beach. Park yourself down with your meal and enjoy one of the world's best sunsets. Ok, now back to the food. The Hawaiians have mastered the pig...this is quite evident when you take a bite of that pulled pork sandwich. Very tasty and it doesn't hurt that Polynesia bakes their own wheat buns. The sesame chicken is the best I've ever had...and it looks fancy to boot. There's just a lot going on in that extra sturdy paper plate. Polynesia, like everything else in Hawaii, is in no rush. Fast service is not one of their strong points. Expect a long line at Polynesia. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to catch that sunset.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dinner Club

I made mention of Dinner Club in my original post. This entry explains it all. Dinner Club started a few years ago. The idea was to get six friends together...cook, eat, drink, relax and appreciate the company...all at someone's home. Below are some things that seem to work for our group. In case anyone has ever wanted to set one up, let me share with you some of the things I love about our Dinner Club...

1. Dinner Club meets one time a month (on an agreed upon Saturday night).

2. Six people is a perfect number (couples tend to work best). Four is too few and eight is too many. It's a totally different ballgame when you cook for eight people as opposed to six. In short, it becomes a lot of work. That defeats the purpose. Six is a perfect fit at the table as well.

3. Each couple plays a part. The meal breaks out like this: The hosting couple cooks the appetizers, entree and sides. The second couple is responsible for all beverages (wine/mixed drinks). The third couple is responsible for dessert. Each month the responsibilities rotate.

4. We have W. Every club needs a president...Dinner Club is no different. The leader is responsible for sending reminder emails about the date/time and who is bringing what. Warren is currently our president, but we just call him W.

5. We pick a theme. I know...this sounds stupid. The theme just makes it a little more fun. We don't take ourselves too serious with this. Example of a theme: "Olympics" get the has to have some tie-in with the theme.

6. Try things out. In Dinner Club, we all try our best to cook new things. That's the fun of it. Cook something you've never cooked before. If it sucks, that's what the wine is for.

7. We've learned to cook in stages. Molly and Keith opened my eyes a few months back. Don't have anything ready when people come over. Start out with a drink. The host couple prepares the apps. Eat slowly, in stages, and enjoy the company with the food being part of the social experience. Sara and I would rush to get things done by the time people came over...not any more.

8. We always plan the next dinner club before going home. This is important. It's much easier to pick a date when everyone is right there. Emailing back and forth becomes a real mess.

9. All of us enjoy cooking and trying new things. Notice I didn't say everyone must be a great cook. We're fortunate...everyone can cook in our group. But we're all novice cooks having a great time. If someone isn't into cooking, don't force the idea of Dinner Club on them. It will last about two months and then you'll start getting the cancellation excuses..."Can't make it this a lot going on."

Ok...there you have it. You'll get to follow our Dinner Club on this blog. You'll see the dishes we cook, posted recipes, and whatever else that may come up. You'll see me write about Molly, Keith, Sara, Carrie, and W (Warren) El Presidente.

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#6 Chompie's Phoenix, AZ

This is getting very tough. My final six restaurants are on a different level than the rest. Take nothing away from the others, but we are in serious territory with these last few. I stumbled upon Chompie's a few years back on a Spring Training baseball trip with my brother. The baseball was great...Chompie's was better. You may be in the desert, but when you walk through the doors of this deli, you are sent straight back to Queens, NY. It's really hard to even know where to begin, so I'll start with bagel chips. Their version of chips and salsa....the wise owners of Chompie's feel no need wasting stale bagels. After a basket of those, I move on to the classic good matzo ball soup. A sandwich usually follows. Can't go wrong with a mile-high pastrami or corned beef. Not into sandwiches? Don't worry, at Chompie's you could go an entire year and never order the same thing...I've never seen a bigger menu and I've never gotten something bad. I went there three times that first trip and twice when I went back two years later. Tried out the breakfast skillet on my second go round and was not disappointed. Did I mention the bakery? Leaving Chompie's without a Black and White cookie is a sin. I've been to several NY-style delis through the years. None uphold that true New York feel like Chompie's.

Tip Jar

Each week I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

Trick people into thinking you are a master BBQ-er.

#1 Easy Baby Back Ribs
Take a rack of ribs, cut in half. Salt, pepper, and sprinkle just a bit of red pepper flakes. Wrap with foil and throw in the oven for 2 1/2 hours at 300 degrees. Take out, cover with favorite sauce and put back in the oven for 10 minutes. Take out again, get the grill going. Throw ribs on grill for 5 minutes...char to perfection. Serve.

#2 Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Go to the store and buy a 5-poundish pork shoulder (butt). Rinse. Place in crock pot. Don't you dare trim one ounce of fat off the meat. Generously add salt and pepper. Chop one onion and throw in. Pour in favorite bottle of beer. Put lid on and cook on low for about six hours. Take out...let cool for about 45 minutes. Pull tender meat away from fat. Gross, but very easy. Pull the pork apart and add favorite sauce. Serve.

Congrats, you're a winner!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#7 Roberto's Seafood and Steak Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Inching my way closer to the top of my restaurant mountain with Robert's at #7. I know...Puerto Vallarta is technically not in the country. But it's flooded with American tourists, and Roberto's is so good, I just couldn't leave it off my list. I discovered Roberto's on my honeymoon while in the old town part of Puerto Vallarta. For many years, this place topped my charts based on the Lobster Rockefeller I consumed. Why? Oh, I don't does lobster sauteed in wine, with spinach, mushrooms and cheese sound? This dish is truly amazing. I can still picture it almost eight years later. I savored every bite, knowing full well I may never be back there again. I had soup that night as well. I remember is was great, but other than that, can't offer many details. You can get any seafood under the sun at Roberto's...scallops, red snapper, crab, name it. Roberto's also offers standard Mexican food plates, hot and cold tapas, as well as choice steaks. They even have paella. Paella is never a bad thing. One day I will go back to PV. I will get the Lobster Rockefeller, and life will be good.

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#8 Teotihuacan Mexican Restaurant Houston, TX

Say that three times. What Teo's lacks in name choice, they make up for in food. Go to the Airline location and park yourself on the deck. Start out with a frozen margarita and a small order of the beef steak nachos. Teo's take on the nacho offers a more personalized touch. You won't find a mess of chips piled high with various fixings. Each chip is individually dressed with cheddar cheese, refried beans, and tender beef steak. Guac, sour cream and tomatoes are there for the dippin'. I've never had better nachos, and often times this is all I get. Everything from the tacos al carbon to enchiladas to fried avocados are fantastic. Teo's represents the best all-around Mexican eating experience in Houston. Wake up early on Saturday morning and take the family for a dynamite breakfast. All the standards are there...migas, breakfast tacos, and a can't miss huevos rancheros. There's nothing better than mopping up the egg yolk with a fresh, homemade tortilla...or two...or three. Teo's has gotten very popular over the last few years. Most people realize the food is a lot better than Spanish Flowers, the iconic restaurant located just a few blocks away. Finding a table could prove to be challenging on a Friday night. I'd get there by six or prepare to wait.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#9 In the Raw Oklahoma City, OK

In the Raw defies all logic. It's an awesome sushi eatery on the banks of Oklahoma City's version of the Riverwalk. It just makes no sense...until you taste it. I'm a firm believer that food generally sucks in the touristy parts of cities. In the Raw proves me wrong. Chic and trendy come to mind as you enter the place. We didn't have reservations, so to the sushi bar we went. I don't mind this can learn a lot about a place by parking yourself at the bar. I've been to my fair share of sushi establishments to quickly realize these people knew what they were doing. I chatted it up with our waiter who raved about the sushi's freshness (driven in from Dallas each day). Sara and I ordered our standard portions of sushi. Sara also coaxed me into splitting a salad as an appetizer. Well, at In the Raw, they refer to appetizers as "Beginnings". Told you it was trendy. We ordered the Lomi Salad...$17.95. I thought that was outrageous for a salad until I looked at the description. Here's the rundown: fresh tuna, salmon, halibut, tomatoes and cucumbers marinated in lemon-chili vinegar, served on sushi rice, topped with scallions and masago. It was enormous, probably under priced, and positively the finest thing I have ever eaten at a sushi restaurant. The portions of fish were outstanding and the warm rice underneath was the perfect temperature. All the flavors melded together in absolute harmony. We were full from just splitting the salad. Our sushi rolls were outstanding as well. The fresh, buttery salmon was definitely the highlight for me. My in-laws live in Oklahoma City. In the Raw has not seen the last of me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

He Said, She Said

Coming later this month....He Said, She Said. One restaurant, one woman, one man...two reviews. Props to my dad for coming up with this idea. My friend Carrie will be the "she" angle and I'll be the "he". I've selected a random restaurant in Houston, one that neither Carrie nor I have ever been. Neither of us have read any reviews on the place. We'll both dine on separate occasions, write our reviews, and see how it comes out. Stay tuned.

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#10 Gumbo's Round Rock, TX

I haven't been to Gumbo's in over 13 years. You won't be seeing any picture posted on my part for this restaurant. Until recently, I completely forgot the name and location of this place, but I never forgot the dish I had there. I talked with an old college buddy and fortunately he remembered the details of this restaurant. Gumbo's, as the name suggests, is a Cajun seafood restaurant. If you go to the web site you'll see they have a pretty extensive menu. My dish was the shrimp and crawfish tails over pasta. It comes in three different sauces. I went with the creamy lemon, caper and tarragon sauce. It was amazing, and the portions are quite plentiful. I wish I could provide more information on Gumbo's. What I can tell is that it was good enough to make my top 10 off of one dish from over a decade ago.

Mighty Good Recipe

Grilled Pork with Hot Mustard

Made this one last week...was very pleased with the outcome. I ditched the last two ingredients in the mustard sauce because I felt lazy. The recipe had a nice Asian flare. Buy one of those double pork loin packs at the store, marinate overnight, and throw on the grill (low heat) for 40 minutes. Very moist.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#11 Giacomo's Boston, MA

This name just screams Boston. The place does as well. Giacomo's is a wonderful Italian restaurant with two metro locations. I chose the slightly less popular southern locale. A good friend recommended I try it out. Giacomo's bumped his status to "very good friend". Pretty simple process at Giacomo's. Sit down...order the calamari...and wait for heaven to arrive at your table in about ten minutes. What separates their calamari from others is the soft texture. I'm guessing the chefs utilize some sort of soaking mixture well before the battering and frying process. Whatever they do works! Two people in my party ordered the chicken parm. Looked pretty standard, and was met with rave reviews. Sara had the butternut squash raviolis. I tasted one. It was delicious but quite sweet...would do better as an appetizer. The only negatives about Giacomo's have nothing to do with the food. If you are taking a date (make reservations), know it can be a bit loud. Also, this place is cash only. The prices are reasonable, but you may want to stop by an ATM to make sure you're covered...just in case the wine consumption gets a little out of hand.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tip Jar

Each week, I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

Was reading a fellow blogger recently and she got me thinking about coffee. I love coffee, but I'm no expert and definitely not a snob. I was in a rush the other day and had to make a quick stop at a coffee chain. Let's call it Marmuck's. I got the cheapest cup of coffee they had. I think the total came to $1.62. It got me thinking. About twice a year I order coffee from Kona, Hawaii. Kona coffee is some of the best you can drink. I was there a few years back and spent half a day going to all of the plantations. Anyway, Kona coffee is not cheap. A pound usually runs about $25. When you factor in shipping, you're looking at $35. A typical one-pound bag of coffee yields about 25 cups. See where I'm going with this one?

Back to Marmucks. If I plunk down $1.62 for 25 straight days, that comes to $40.50. Do I spend $40.50 for bad coffee or $35 for great coffee? Every once and awhile I order some Kona. All the plantations produce great coffee. My favorite so far is Greenwell Farms.

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#12 Eischen's Okarche, OK

I really thought long and hard about this one even making my list. Just a disclaimer, I've had better fried chicken. My mom's is better, but she does not have a restaurant. Eischen's does, and their chicken is the best I've ever exchanged money for. Before we get to the chicken, let's get to the location. Take I-35 north of Oklahoma City. Take a left and drive 45 minutes. Ten minutes after taking that left, you'll realize you're in the movie Twister. No really, I think this was exactly where it was filmed. If a tornado should happen to arise, you'll probably be dead within a few minutes. I know what you're thinking...this better be some good chicken, right? It is. Your near hour journey to nowhere actually leads you to the town of Okarche. In the middle of this thriving metropolis is Eishcen's. Expect a long wait. Spend that time deciding between the vast items on the menu. They include: fried chicken, fried okra, frito pie. That's it (maybe one other thing). I decided to be bold and went with the fried chicken and okra. The bird is small and tasty. Not greasy at all. It's super crispy and a person with a hearty appetite could take an entire one down. The okra is second to none. Those little and light nuggets of joy may even surpass the chicken. Eischen's is an Oklahoma landmark. This restaurant is very laid back and is a real memorable eating experience. And remember... since you're in Oklahoma, sleeves are optional.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top 20 Restaurants Cont.

#13 Casa de Leon Houston, TX

Home of "El Guayin"...which loosely translates to: "Best *ucking Omelete in the History of the Universe". At least you now know what to order at Casa de Leon. This Mexican eatery serves up a mean breakfast, highlighted by El Guayin. How does a three-egg omelete stuffed with onions, bell peppers, diced jalapenos, ham, and gooey cheese sound? Oh, and one more thing...this culinary delight rests in a pool of broth. Sometimes you've got to dig deep to find a hidden gem. And that's exactly the case with Casa. The elements around the restaurant are somewhat sketchy, and the establishment itself won't win any awards for decor. But we're talking food here, so sometimes those other things take a back seat. Bottom line...Casa is clean, the service is excellent, and El Guayin is unforgettable!