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About will_5198

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  1. Houston got a lot of love and attention for sure this year. Good to see, with national awards being so Austin-biased in years past. Dallas was almost completely shut out, by comparison.
  2. Anecdotally, it was dead as a doornail when I visited last August. Typically slow month for restaurants and I was there on a weekday, but I saw one two-top in the entire restaurant from 5:30-6:30 pm (I was at the bar). One Fifth Steakhouse seemed to be super successful the year it was open, so I guess Shepherd is keeping that as his moneymaker with Underbelly 2.0 as the smaller footprint.
  3. The gas was out when I opened the cumbersome castle door (seriously, it's weird) to Pondicheri, Anita Jaisinghani's nationally-recognized, modern Indian café. I was really looking forward to her kitchen's renditions of breakfast -- I hardly stray from the reliable American breakfast, as it's the only meal the United States can defeat all comers in, so trying an Indian version would be an interesting change. The persistent construction along Westheimer made that not possible, so I marched upstairs to Jaisinghani's Bake Lab. There, my disappointment faded with a bite of the cherry upside down cake ($4 per slice), which was a spongy, tart slice of love. Light enough to eat several slices, this is your tea or coffee's new best friend. Moving on to the main course of chai pie ($6 per slice), I understood why it's so locally renowned; tall as a meringue pie, but with dense spiced custard responsible for the height. Buttery biscuit crust that reminds one why pie is superior to cake. Skip the whipped cream on top, do not pass on the cashews. Very happy at this point, my chocolate chip, coconut and mint cookie ($3) was the final glory for the Pondicheri baking team. A simple combination but done better than most. I hope to try a savory breakfast at Pondicheri one day. I know for sure I will be back for everything else that comes out of their baking ovens.
  4. As soft as Wisconsin's schedule is, an undefeated P5 team will always get into the CFB Playoff. The only rankings that matter are the final ones. Funny thing about this part of year is the same scenarios are always brought up. It's fun water cooler banter and part of the sport (polls!), but ultimately it nearly always works out.
  5. Dusty is an older-school players coach, which was a great fit for this current club. I don't blame him for the past two NLDS losses -- Nationals had plenty of chances to win both on the field, and they didn't. That predates Dusty. I also believe managers make the least impact across all the major sports when it comes to tactical decisions.
  6. "The trend is clear: Most elite high school QBs think they’re going to beat out whoever is front of them."" If you're good enough to be considered one of, if not the best quarterback in HS, you don't think about losing a competition. Call it hubris or naivete or that alpha dog mentality so treasured in football, but these guys only see themselves as competition. If I grew up loving Clemson and Clemson loves me, and I've outperformed every other quarterback I've ever been put up against, I'm not going to my second choice because somebody else with a high star ranking is already there. Of course, as anyone who follows college football regularly can tell you, there are plenty of times that these highly ranked recruits turn out to be not that good. Especially at quarterback. So an abundance of riches ends up being one viable starter. That reminds me of USC's 2006-2007 recruiting classes, at the height of the Carroll dynasty. In 2006 they signed four of the top 13 running backs in the class. In 2007 they signed the top 1 and 2 running backs in the class, the former being the number one overall player in the country. None of them turned into an All-American, a few transferred out, only one was drafted by the NFL and at the end of their careers it just turned into the familiar recruiting tale that the next big thing may never come -- even if you have a bunch of them.
  7. Loved my visit here. A great taco stand is one of the best ratios of price-deliciousness-efficiency in the world of food. I especially appreciated the no-nonsense cashier to weed out gawkers asking irrelevant questions. Barbacoa was wetter than my favorite editions, as I live for those crispy bits (tripa dorada forever), but all the flavor was there. Pastor was indeed sweet, but I’ve got a forgiving range when it comes to pastor (no trompo here, though). Chicharron was ordered because it’s often done poorly, but passed the test as well. Homely and tasty corn tortillas for all. Salsa verde had that perfect balance between spice, cilantro and acid. Highly recommended anytime meal. These tacos would play well in Dallas, Austin or San Antonio.
  8. Yes. I took advantage of weekday happy hour (1/2 off wines by the glass) and was recommended a Pierre Henri Morel Laudun Blanc ($5!) that went over well with both my dishes. I have an infantile understanding of wine, but it was just what I asked for.
  9. Since opening five years ago, Chris Shepherd's Underbelly has been a self-appointed beacon for the evolution of Houston food. The menu has a half-page thesis on why Houston is the most interesting culinary city in the country, there are dozens of celebratory links to *other* Houston restaurants on their main webpage, and Bun B is quoted on the wine list. From afar I've found the chest-beating a little too much, but I can appreciate a chef who wants to represent his city -- especially in a time where many owners are happy to replicate restaurants from other cities. And being such a vocal proponent certainly helped Shepherd win the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. But hey, what about the food? Head-on Gulf shrimp with buttermilk dill panna cotta, pickled beans ($24). Plump and sweet, this was a great showing for Gulf seafood. The panna cotta was a nice compliment. Hand-torn cornbread pieces and pickled beans were both sort of throwaways. Seared soft-shell with eggplant curry ($24). Shepherd recently made a big PR announcement about getting away from beef and pork, which meant a larger focus on seafood. Soft-shells are among my personal favorite foods, and this was a very good one. The eggplant curry was nicely done with a touch of heat; Shepherd is a fan of moderate-to-significant spice (if you're not, be aware, as it permeates the entire menu). Vinegar pie with salt brittle ($9). Previous savory dishes were not coursed (nor labeled as appetizers or entrees; guess by price) so I was rather full after two. Still curious enough to try this dessert, which I believe has been on the menu since 2012. It's not scary at all; more key lime in flavor than sour or acidic. Overall, a quality showing by Shepherd and his team. I didn't fall in love with Underbelly, but it's worth visiting for anyone who appreciates loud flavors with global influences -- basically the "Houston creole" cuisine that the restaurants trumpets.
  10. Expansion is always a scary word for acolytes of a particular restaurant. Although it often results in financial stability, a new creative avenue, and the room to retain or promote staff -- as a selfish group, us diners demand our favorite chef to be chained to his or her one restaurant, serving us with the dedication of a lifelong host. For Hugo Ortega, who is the American dream personified (Mexican immigrant dishwasher to James Beard award winner), expansion is just another way to demonstrate why he’s one of the best chefs in Texas. Xochi is the newest of the four restaurants he runs in Houston, opened this year, and a no better argument for adding even more to his mini-empire. Occupying one corner of the brand-new and gorgeous Marriott Marquis downtown, Xochi is sleek and lively, keeping up the modern aesthetic that Mexican restaurants have finally been allowed to embrace nationwide. The food follows suit; progressive and rooted in history (mostly Oaxacan) at the same time, for an all-together exciting meal that deviates just enough from Ortega’s other restaurants. Infladita de conejo ($14) -- Ortega’s version of the Olvera-popularized street snack. A puffed black tortilla cradled a sizable portion of braised rabbit, the bitterness of the fried tortilla balancing out the sweet, tomato-braised conejo. Red and green sauces with raisins and almonds rounded out the dish. Something old, something new, but a complete success. Puerco en mole de chicatana ($15) -- The pork ribs are fine on their own; obviously distant in comparison to the smoked meats found at true barbecue pits. But the real magic is when you pull apart the meat and slather on the “ant” mole served underneath. Ortega has long welcomed the presence of insects in his cuisine, and ants are what I assume account for the acidic and sweet notes in the otherwise hearty mole. Add the mole-doused rib meat to the accompanying corn tortillas (which probably have an interesting heritage, as they were a pale gold color and flecked with blue), and you have one hell of a taco. Helado de maiz ($9) -- Two types of ice cream here: one sweet corn, the other queso fresco. The former is playfully represented as baby ears of corn. Crumbled corn cookie and a dab of cinnamon-y, atole-influenced corn cream acted as garnish. Very fun and just right for those who pass on cloying or heavy final courses. I expect Xochi to be better a year from now, as any weak points get discarded and the best dishes are fine-tuned into perfection. Right now it’s excellent, and I would urge anyone traveling to the city to make time for a meal there. Houston is lucky to have Hugo Ortega, and his followers are lucky to have so many different ways to enjoy his cooking.
  11. Is mole the most commonly misunderstood Mexican dish in the United States? I’ve had objectively bad mole, and what I presume is good mole, but coming from my own place of ignorance, I’m never sure the exact standard I should be looking for when I eat it. With no trip to Puebla or Oaxaca in the horizon, I guess I will let Daniela Soto-Innes and her team define mole for me. To that end, Cosme’s duck enmoladas with red mole ($25) was a brilliant display of layered flavors: rich, slightly sweet, and with a toe-tap of chili at the end of every bite. Dotted with crème fraiche and red onion to break up the indulgence, strained to a texture that reminds me why I eat out at restaurants, this was a sauce that took care to make and was finished with an attention to technique. The rest of my lunch never quite reached that height, but was nonetheless enjoyable. An arctic char tostada with elderberries, yuzu and avocado ($21) was introduced as a Mexican take on a bagel with lox -- a cute story that didn’t really make any sense. Huge ribbons of fish played nice with all the ingredients, but the appetizer was a reminder that even “modern Mexican” chefs cannot make eating a tostada any less clumsy. Of course, a proper meal here should end with their famous husk meringue with corn mousse ($16). Big punches of salt and restrained sweetness, balanced by the delicately broken meringue pieces. I loved it.
  12. I should make it to Houston before the end of the summer. I'll put it on my list -- currently hitting up Corkscrew, Tejas Chocolate and Killen's while I'm in the area.
  13. Tom Micklethwait puts more pride and knowledge of craft into his sausages than any other I've tasted in Texas. He can give you a perfect rendition of the classics -- their jalapeno cheddar link is a benchmark -- and as mentioned, his more creative takes are as good or better.
  14. I nearly missed the ticket dispenser when I first stepped into Russ & Daughters. Packed from end to end with me just barely fitting inside the door, and suddenly engulfed by all sorts of food curiosities I wanted to pursue, it took a moment before I realized to snag my number in line. Ticket 590. I looked down to the end of the store, where the sign flashed 557. It was 11 a.m. on a rainy Friday and I hunkered down for a wait, surrounded by like-minded tourists, locals, chefs, and an angry woman “who drove 45 minutes” and had “never waited an hour in all her years coming here.” One employee smiled and told her to come during the holidays, where she’ll wait for two hours instead of just one. After a few walkout casualties and little regard for the distracted (your number is called once, then promptly skipped after a beat or two), I finally made it to the counter with my order recited: everything bagel, toasted, with cream cheese and Scottish salmon loin. Nothing more. A few minutes later, on a street bench away from all the cellphone picture-taking, elbows and clatter of the 103-year-old institution, I unwrapped perfection. The ideal ratio of bagel, cream cheese and smoked fish. Hot, cold, crisp, tender, fatty, salty. I am not an expert on bagels or salmon or the heritage behind their combination, but for me this was a new personal benchmark. The best of its kind I’ve ever had. What’s the Michelin tagline for three stars? Worth a special journey. Over 1,500 miles from home, finishing my last bite of a Russ and Daughters Classic, and all I could think was -- absolutely.