Josh

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About Josh

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    Lone Ranger
  • Birthday November 30

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    Houston, TX

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  1. As much as I try to be a booster for neighborhood places, I can't go all out for Skinny Rita's. I'll admit to being put off by the name, but they were named by Thrillest as one of Houston's "Most Underrated" Tex-Mex joints, and called a "Hidden Gem" by Eater. They also have a multi-level patio with a nice view of downtown, and happen to be pretty close to my house. The margaritas are set apart by having only 150 calories...I prefer more calories apparently. These were unbalanced - too sweet, with no tequila edge that my favorite versions have. Cristina's carnitas tacos came with limp store-bought corn tortillas filled with a fairly dry roast pork any one of us could make in our home oven from a NYTimes.com recipe. If that sounds harsh, it's meant to be. Carnitas are an actual thing, and I get annoyed when people call any pork-based taco "carnitas." My beef fajitas (half off on Wednesdays) were passable, but suffered from sitting for over 5 minutes until the accompanying (store-bought) flour tortillas arrived. ' Queso was par for the course for non-Texas versions but way behind the curve for Houston. A trio of salsas were actually great: a mild tomatillo, smoky chipotle, and moderately hot habanero. The green-colored chips are apparently made from cactus rather than corn, but come off as standard tortillas. The bottom line I took away from Skinny Rita's is that this might be a successful suburban chain in the Midwest, but for a Tex-Mex joint in Houston, it is far from a gem, and certainly not underrated. If I'm in the Heights looking for Tex-Mex, you'll find me sticking to Teotihuacan from now on. (BTW, there are a number of claims on the menu regarding "organic," "healthy," ingredients, etc. but importantly, I saw no mention of sourcing for said ingredients. Caveat emptor.)
  2. One thing I've learned about the top tier Texas BBQ joints is that they have pitmasters who have dedicated years not only to the craft, but to a particular smoker setup and particular space. The interaction of equipment and environment have a huge effect on the final product in central Texas-style barbecue. I imagine that DC can't hope to have a "great" barbecue place until someone makes that kind of long term commitment.
  3. Agree re: Rittenhouse for cocktails. When I just wanna quick fix, Old Overholt works just fine. I also find that High West has some interesting offerings.
  4. Family dinner last night at Paulie's. A few things to know going in: It's counter-service, which is a surprising choice (to me) for a restaurant like this, but seems to be a fairly popular model in Houston. It is small and tables are first-come first-served. Portion sizes are mind-bogglingly big, and a half-portion of pasta will be enough for 2 meals. The panzanella salad in no way resembled any panzanella I have encountered before, and was essentially a spinach salad with a few croutons in it. Not bad, but not what we expected. Again, the portion size was crazy, and I would suggest a half portion to share between 2 or 3. The Caesar salad my in-laws got was the better choice, and perplexingly had a higher crouton to roughage ratio than the panzanella. The kids happily devoured spaghetti and meatballs. A couple small bites I had were good...a smooth, fairly sweet sauce with light and well-seasoned meatballs. At $8 for a "small" that 2 kids only finished half of, this is a ridiculous value. Cristina's creste di gallo was served with that same tomato sauce, kicked up with some red pepper, pickled onions and half moons of sweet Italian sausage. The sausage itself is nothing special, a finely ground and tightly packed version with a good dose of fennel and caraway (but not too much). My mother-in-law had the skirt steak served with a side of pesto gnocchi. The steak itself was described (by my MIL) as "a bit chewy, but hey, it's skirt steak," and the gnocchi I tasted were good - medium density and coated in a solid standard basil pesto. I think I won the night with my bucatini Amatriciana, which was smoky, and spicy, with a good amount of sweetness from the tomatoes. This is the must-order dish as far as I can tell. With prices that are $11 or less for "small" portions of pasta that are really enough for 2 people, the value at Paulie's can't be denied. The pastas are reportedly made in house, and were all decent, though I prefer a bit more al dente texture. Reasonable people may disagree though, as my wife thinks my "al dente" is too chewy. There are a number of well-priced beers by the bottle (local bottles priced at $5), and Italian wines by the glass ($10-15) and bottle (all in the $40 range). Paulie's is a neighborhood gem that I would compare favorably to Frank or Supper in NYC. Dinner isn't going to blow your mind, but it is solid, and perfect for a family-style night out.
  5. When crawfish are in season, it's tough to go a week without heading out for a few pounds, and this weekend we set out early for lunch at what may be the most well-known of Houston's Viet-Cajun joints, Crawfish and Noodles. C&N has hosted Zimmern, Chang, and god knows who else, and they are clearly aware of their celeb-status, with t-shirts for sale prominently displayed as you walk in. That kind of hubris is typically not a great sign, and I have to admit approaching the rest of my visit as though I were cross-examining a hostile witness. C&N held its own, and while I didn't leave with a "We've Got Crabs" t-shirt (I mean, really), I can dig the food they're putting out. We started with an order of honey-garlic chicken wings, as requested by the 4-year old. He fell in love with the "Viet wings" at Cajun Kitchen, and hasn't stopped talking about them for weeks since. C&N's wings were solid, though I think we should have ordered the "Fish sauce" version for a more direct comparison. These were a bit too sweet for my tastes, with no heat. There are a variety of noodles and soups to choose from, and we went with the stir-fried rice noodle with mixed seafood. This is a hefty portion, with onion, celery, carrot, and crispy shallots mixed with shrimp, (chewy) squid, and fish balls, with a peppery sauce on the side ready to be mixed in. Delicious, and devoured quickly, but if we had to go head to head, we all agreed the crabby garlic noodles from Cajun Kitchen might edge out a win. The crawfish delivered. Choices are limited to spice level (though an intriguing "ginger grass" option is listed as being available at some point in the future). Medium is Houston-medium, which is to say, probably "hot" if you're coming from somewhere else. We opted for medium with a side of "hot" dipping sauce, and I would heartily recommend this combo. For the spice-loving but not super-spicy friends, the medium mudbugs alone are perfect. For those of us who prefer to see God when we eat, you can drag the tail through the sauce and get it done. Compared to the purely Cajun versions I grew up with (and have had at Houston places like The Boot in the Heights), these have a more pronounced garlic and citrus flavor. Priced at $10/lb, these were also the most expensive I've had thus far. Note on wait times: We got there just before noon on Sunday, and were 1 of 5 or 6 tables there. 30 minutes later there was a line out the door.
  6. We were absolutely blown away by dinner tonight at Cuchara. A kind of last minute decision, with kids in tow, all we needed was a couple beers, a patio, and adequate food. What we got were aggressive, authentic micheladas, perfectly crafted, soulful Mexican dishes, and...a patio. We started with a trio of dishes to share (and the portion sizes really are ample enough for sharing): huitlacoche quesadillas, nopalitos, and tacos chero. The quesadillas resemble empanadas more than what I've become accustomed to, but were filled with delicious white cheese and huitlacoche. Drizzled with cream, these are served with a small side of a smoky and a bit more than medium spicy salsa. The nopalitos are served essentially as a salsa, the cactus paddles diced with tomato, onion, and cilantro, alongside a plate of crisp tortilla chips. The tacos cheer were my favorite of the starters, 3 crispy rolled tacos filled with mashed potato and topped with an eye-opening salsa verde and crumbled cheese. Addictive. The huachinango Veracruzano comes in a small cast iron skillet. A sweet plantain and amaranth cake is topped with red snapper in a rich tomato sauce with peppers (both fresh and pickled), olives, and onion. The perfect balance of all the flavors here reveals a kitchen that knows their game. Sweet met salty. Sour held hands with rich, and everyone played nicely without a cross word. Bravo. Finally, the mole verde won me over by avoiding the dullness I often find with the sauce. Many times, the pumpkin seeds round out any fun sharp edges of the sauce, but Cuchara's version had plenty of piquancy to compliment the tender cubes of pork tenderloin bathed in it. I love getting blindsided by a delicious meal, and Cuchara completely won me over tonight. We'll be back to explore more of the menu (and definitely to try the unique brunch offerings).
  7. This has been bothering me for a few days now, and I feel the urge to weigh in here. I will admit to tagging Eric's post for moderation, as I felt like it was a spiteful comment that did nothing to address Beachgirl's question or further discussion on Breaking Bread. I still feel that way. Political partisanship is only one way to be disrespectful toward the community. Re: Breaking Bread. I looked around here in Houston, but didn't come up with anything. I love the idea, though (if only to get a list of new restaurants to try), and reached out to the Houston Chronicle food editor Alison Cook to see if she knew of anything similar down here. I'll update if I hear anything back.
  8. Pit Room wowed again for lunch today. The venison sausage was a bit looser today (still quite dense). Marked improvement over last time. Tough to choose between the 3, but I think it was my favorite among the garlicky beef and jalapeƱo-cheese. Brisket on point again.
  9. I was down at the GRB Convention Center this afternoon to pick up my bib for the marathon tomorrow, and stopped into Huynh for what was meant to be a quick lunch. I never thought about it until today, but Vietnamese food is an excellent choice for "carb-loading" before a race. Lots of rice/rice noodle dishes, and limited amounts of fat. Clearly many of my running compatriots had thought about such things before, as the restaurant was packed, with a 30 minute wait. The 4-year old and I shared orders of banh uot thit nuong and banh uot tom chay, rice paper wraps filled with grilled pork and crushed dried shrimp respectively. The pork wrap is served as a wrap with herbs and lettuce along for the ride, while the crushed shrimp is more of a loosely folded affair, topped with crisp fried onions. Light and carby. I wanted rice, but the boy demanded noodles, so we settled on bun tom nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled shrimp). As long as the protein is well-grilled, bun is pretty hard to screw up, but the well-seasoned, snappy-but-moist shrimp served atop our tangle of noodles kicks up Huynh's version a couple notches above the standard. Of course, while preparing for a marathon in the hot and humid Houston weather, one shouldn't neglect electrolyte replenishment, and the chanh muoi (salty lemonade) made with pickled lemons (or limes?) hit the spot. Let the rest of the country gorge themselves on plates of pasta. In Houston, we'll stick with Huynh.
  10. I knew it and loved it. Makes me sad to think it isn't there anymore. This was a great write-up that made me homesick for a particular place and time in my life.
  11. Crawfish season is just getting underway here in Houston, and today's visit to Cajun Kitchen marked our first batch. We opted for the "Fatass Number 1" combination. 3 pounds of crawfish (still pretty small this early in the season), a half-pound of head-on shrimp, and a generous section of snow crab legs, plus some potatoes and corn. Market price was $56 today, including the $2 upcharge for the "Kitchen Special" spicing on the boil (which appears to include orange slices, generous amounts of garlic and ginger, onions and peppers. Totally fair, I think, given the amount of seafood you get, but YMMV. We got "medium" spice on the boil, planning to share with the boys, but be forewarned that "medium" is pretty damn spicy. The shrimp and crab are clearly added after the crawfish are tossed in the spice, and were mild enough to share with kids. Aside from the boiled seafood, the garlic noodles and Viet-spiced chicken wings were winners with the whole table. The noodles are fairly thick, tossed in a garlic sauce, and topped with ample amounts of sweet lump blue crab meat and crispy fried shallots. The wings veer toward the sweet side, with a nice backbone of funky fish sauce. There are big screen TVs all around the dining room, and cheap domestic beers available...This could be a great place to spend an afternoon watching a baseball game come Spring.
  12. We stopped by several weeks ago while on a weekend jaunt to Austin with the boys. The line was about 1.5 hrs at noonish when we were there, but it was a beautiful warm weekend day. The brisket at LA Barbecue was among the best I've had. I'd love to have it side by side with Killen's in Pearland, and Houston newcomer The Pit Room. We ate at Louis Mueller's a couple days before, but I opted for the beef rib there (which lives up to its legendary status), so can't compare the two places directly. The pork ribs at City Meat Market (the one in Giddings) still rank at or near the top of my rib list, but I haven't been to City Market in Luling just yet.
  13. Alison Cook from the Houston Chronicle reviewed Ritual, and seems to have enjoyed her visits for dinner as much as we liked it for brunch. "At Ritual, 'ranch-to-table' is more than a slogan" by Alison Cook on Houstonchronicle.com
  14. I have a ton of respect for Tim's palate, especially with barbecue. Worth noting re: smoke ring that he also included a link to the (awesome) amazingribs.com that agreed that the presence/absence/prominence of the smoke ring doesn't correlate with quailty. Good to know. Looks can be deceiving...it all comes down to the taste.