Oxbow 7

I have noticed that the last couple of restaurants I’ve reviewed, the newly-opened ones, don’t have menus online. Is this a new “thing”? Being a teeny bit OCD when it comes to eating out, this concept is a bit daunting because I really want to know what I’m in for before making reservations.

Oxbow 7 is Bayou Cuisine with Chef Bryan Caswell at its helm. I guess that little nugget info was enough for me to venture into the unknown. As I grew older, I welcome surprises more and more. Although, I would not put it beyond me  NOT  to walk out if the menu is simply underwhelming. Speaking of menu, it was strange that the dishes were grouped in numbers. It was numbered  1 through 6; 1 and 2 seem to be appetizers, 3 and 4 soups and salads, 5 are the entrees, and 6 are the desserts. This wasn’t explained to us, although I’m pretty sure I came to a fair assumption. Why just not label it as such? Again, is this a new “thing” with restaurants that I’ve never heard of?

Like I always said, in every dining experience, good food covers a multitude of sins. And boy, with the food we had, they could have written the menu backwards, I would still have forgiven them. It was THAT good!

Tasso cornbread with preserved fig.

I was never a big fan of cornbread, but this was so good, I actually had two orders of this to-go.

Gulf Crab Gratin – a beautiful dish, cooked perfectly
Longfin Yellowtail with Grilled Watermelon and Lemon Catsup — this is an explosion of flavors. This kind of dish is creativity at its best
Crispy Skin Snapper with Charred Corn and Green Tomato Mache Choux, Roasted and Raw Peach.

All this time, I ate my fish with some sort of sauce or dip. The combination of corn and roasted peach together with the snapper is absolutely delicious.

Dry Aged Strip with Chorizo Dirty Rice

D knows that I love  chorizo so he lovingly picked it all out and gave it to me. Love!

Gooey Cake for dessert. Apple butter pudding with candied apple. Yum yum!
These are the faces of the delightfully surprised.

This was definitely one of our better dinners. D was happy with his Joquet Chinon 2014 as I was with my daiquiri. Sometimes in life, we just have to trust our instincts. I’m glad that we did tonight.

Oxbow 7, 1121 WALKER STREET
HOUSTON, TX 77006

 

 

Quattro

Last week, I read an interesting article on how men are so exasperated when women in their lives can’t decide where to eat. It’s the total opposite with me. I decide where to eat 99% of the time. I usually book our weekend restaurant reservations on Mondays. I was pretty sure that I booked for BCN this weekend but for some reason, I just didn’t. This threw me off completely, so, for once, I let D decide where to eat.

He chose Quattro because he said that we have been loyal patrons to this restaurant for the last 8 years for a reason— it is always consistent in it’s quality and service. I have good memories of this place. I remember how we always have our Easter Brunch here because Beans loves the egg-hunt and there’s always an Easter bunny handing out treats.

This is B with the Easter Bunny. He’s about 8 years old in this pic. I can’t wait for him to find out I posted this.

This is also our go-to restaurant during New Year’s day when I’m too lazy to cook.

This was 5 years ago. Getting an early buzz courtesy of the amazing bellini is always a good way to start a year.

D’s criteria in choosing a restaurant is based solely on the wine list.

This is the real reason why we are here. He wanted to get this bottle. Luckily, it was really good.
I had Jalapeño Mule.
The server recommended that we start with Padini – they contracted this cheese maker from Italy. It is very similar to Parmesiano-Reggiano without the saltiness
I loved, loved, loved this wild caught octopus. Perfectly cooked and paired with olives and grilled potatoes
D had 30 day dry aged filet
This tiramisu was made table-side and it totally stole the show. The lady fingers are freshly made and soaked in espresso with marsala.

Yesterday, we had a really bad experience in a once-loved restaurant. It has all been settled now. Manager has apologized and all. But for once, it’s nice to dine and have everything the way it should be. That is Quattro. From the time they lead you to your table, to the way they pour the wine, everything is done correctly. D made a great choice.

Quattro, 1300 Lamar St, Houston, TX 77010

 

Aqui

My quest to find the best lechon in Houston led me to Aqui, the new Southeast Asian cuisine created by Chel Paul Aqui, a “Top Chef” champ who is behind the success of of several Austin restaurants. Another food blogger told me about their lechon and urged me to try it and see if it’s up to my expectation.

I always make it a habit of viewing the restaurant’s menu before I decide to book. The restaurant opened less than two weeks ago so their menu is not up in their website. But since lechon was already promised, I decided to wing it. Imagine my surprise as I sat down and realized that the menu is filled with Filipino dishes. EVerything is certainly familiar except that the presentation was really unique, and well, fancy.

There is a column called “Perfect Bites” and you can choose one or a couple of delicious samplers. I chose three of these as my appetizer.

Dinuguan and Rice Cake – pork jowls cooked in pork blood on top of a rice cake (puto)
Ensaymada – brioche with scamorza filling topped with Iberico ham and Manchego cheese

I used to bake ensaymada back in the Philippines. But I was not fancy then. I just topped it with cheddar cheese. I am serisouly considering baking these brioches again, this time with all the fancy trimmings.

Tapioca Dumpling with ground pork, peanut and salted radish. This was too salty and spicy.
D had a Filipino classic – Yellowfin Tuna Kinilaw, it had coconut sauce and jackfruit. It even had the siling labuyo which frankly, should have come with a warning as it is super hot.
So here’s my LECHON. They serve the belly part and the requisite crispy skin.
It came complete with all the trimmings: the liver sauce, atchara, kim chi and nam chim
D had the Bistek – this is a fancy-fied version as it uses Wagyu steak, cooked medium well.
I had Turon for dessert – it had banana cream, instead of the real banana. It reminded me of fried ice cream
D had this chocolate curry mousse with cocoa crumbs. I never thought curry would go well with chocolate.
D with his Cotes-du-Rhone

My verdict: Every dish turned out great. I was very impressed by the creativity on what used to be everyday food that I had growing up. The lechon,  however, was still not up to what I expected. This was more like lechon kawali (deep fried pork belly) and not the conventional lechon, which is the whole pig roasted in a spit.

I am happy, however,  that someone elevated the Southeast Asian cuisine to this level. The restaurant  is located in the Montrose area, right in the heart of all the hip foodie hangouts and it hangs with the best of them. The last time I was in a similar restaurant was back in New York, 2013, at Purple Yam when they made it to Michelin publication. It’s a hight time that Houston would have one as well.

Aqui, 520 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX

 

One Fifth (Romance Languages)- Houston

We rushed back from Fredericksburg for this restaurant reservation so I was really hoping that it was worth it. And it was.

One Fifth is Chris Shepherd’s (of Underbelly) five-year project featuring five different restaurant concepts. The first one (last year) was Steak, which I unforgivably missed. I was determined not to miss this year’s so as soon as I got a reservation, I knew I had to keep it.

This year’s concept, Romance Languages, is French, Spanish and Italian Cuisine. It’s really hard to get bad food from such cuisine so I knew that one way or another, we will end up happy.

I started with a very refreshing LE CHIEN ROSÉ — vodka, grapefruit, house cherry, turbinado, sparkling rosé
D had a very interesting 2011 Syrah
D’s appetizer – CRUDO made of snapper
I had CHARRED OCTOPUS–almond romesco, salsa verde, squid chicharones

For entree, I chose the suckling pig aka cochinillo. In the Philippines, it is called lechon. I could have had the entire pig at the price of this dish but it did not even taste half as good! Here’s when I’m really starting to have a bad case of homesickness…If I didn’t have to compare it with Cebu’s Inasal, this dish would have bode well.

SUCKLING PIG PRESSE–white bean puree, charred broccolini, red pepper mustarda
D had CHICKEN ROULADE–whipped potatoes, mushroom jus, truffle
I love the dessert—croquembouche!!! Takes a bit of time to execute so order early (they recommend 20 minutes)
It paired excellent with this 1963 Rivesaltes, easily the best dessert wine I’ve had by far.

This restaurant is faultless. Not an easy feat in this city crawling with really good restaurants. Our server, Emily, was above par.  I kick myself for having missed the Steak concept they had earlier. I ditched that reservation for Roka Akor, which was no slouch either. Next year’s concept is Fish. I can’t wait.

One Fifth, 1658 WESTHEIMER RD, Houston, TX

 

Artisans – Houston

You can make food pretty and delicious, but making it artistic and scrumptious is even better. Artisans in downtown Houston is the latter.

We stumbled upon this restaurant as I was making frantic reservations on a Saturday afternoon. Houston has an absolutely dynamic restaurant scene, but it is like that for a reason. In this part of the world, you cannot swing a dinner napkin without hitting foodie whose aim in life is to be the first to try any new budding restaurant in town (ouch!). It is a must to make a reservation early on to get a good table at a decent hour. For me, a good dinner experience is not just about food. It is the sum of food, service and the best ambience the restaurant has to offer. If it is a scenic, I need to be by the window overlooking the view; not the window that looks through the kitchen…

Anyhoo…thanks to Google’s snooping on my web searches, this restaurant popped up in OpenTable. It was voted best in wine selection, so D had to go. And since he is my designated driver, this became the obvious choice.

Totally love the decor and lighting, very welcoming.
D’s Lalande de Pomerol and my Artisan Daiquiri–tread lightly, packed with alcohol!
Amuse-Bouche — Seafood Beignets
Le Saumon Fumé et Caviar
House Smoked Salmon, Caviar
Shallots, Caperberries, Asparagus
Crispy Potatoes, Boiled Quail Egg
My entree — La Bouillabaisse Marseillaise
Saffron Tomato Fennel Broth, Gulf Prawn
Sea Scallop, Mussels, Catch of the Day
Garlic Rouille Croûtons
I personally love bouillabaisse. This is my go-to order whenever I’m in a French restaurant. That or Beef Bourguignon.

 

Guess whose entree — Le Filet de Bœuf au Poivre
Black Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Green Peppercorn Sauce
Fingerling Potatoes Rôties, Haricot Verts
Dessert!!! It’s the prettiest thing that I’ve eaten. It’s Honey sponge cake topped with creme brûlée

After the delicious dinner, we stumbled upon Spec’s downtown and I found my official celebratory I-survived-Harvey Sauterne. This is the highlight of my night.

 

We Beat Harvey

It started with the total eclipse, followed by first day of school, panic-buying at the grocery stores, tornadoes, a bitch of a hurricane, more tornadoes, then the flooding…and more flooding…and even more flooding. The last two weeks were action packed. Two weeks of my life I could certainly live without.

But life goes on. My family and I were fortunate enough to live through this historic catastrophe unscathed. And while i have never felt so relieved, my heart bleeds over my neighbors and friends who were not as fortunate.

Through it all, there was food. As the news broke that it was going to be a big catastrophe, I knew people would panic. So before leaving for work, I did my grocery shopping at 6 in the morning. My freezer was packed so I had to start cooking some stuffs to give them a longer life in case we lost power. I have ordered the most amazing oxtail from Wisconsin so I cooked that, along with some baby back ribs and steak (for sandwiches).

This is Filipino kare-kare. It’s oxtail with peanut sauce topped with vegetables. 

This is my trademark tornado dish. We were hiding out in the safe room for almost a day, sneaking out to eat and this is what we’ve been eating. I don’t think I’ll be eating this anymore. Not good for my PTSD.

The following days of tornado and hurricane were harrowing. I had to make comfort foods. Noodles are the Asian mac n cheese. There is something about hot noodles that make me feel like i’m home and safe.

Noodle dish 1 – Beef Udon. I use thinly sliced rib-eye, the one that’s used for pho.
Noodle Dish #2 – Pancit Bihon — stick noodle and vermicelli, with pork and chicken
Noodle Dish #3 – Garlic Noodles

Yes, these are not calorie-friendly. We each gained an easy ten pounds during these most trying times.

Finally, Harvey is gone. The rivers have crested and we did not flood. We had bad case of cabin fever so we went out to celebrate. Beans was out helping his friends clean up the neighborhood and requested take-out. We went to our local Jap restaurant (Akashi) then to B’s wine bar.

Had a celebratory margarita and ahi tuna tower.
Sashimi!!! Food without grease, finally.
We topped the evening with some wine at B’s
Not the best we’ve had, but it was just nice to be out.

Tomorrow, we bring the stuffs down to the first floor. It will be a long day. Like everyone else in the city, we will rebuild and bring everything close to what it was pre-hurricane.

We prevailed!

We will rise.

Cafe Annie

It’s been a long 2 weeks since we dined out. Once again, my regular job gets in the way of my culinary pursuits. Thankfully, no new worthwhile restaurant opened, so I’m pretty much on track on the list of restaurants I have to try. No FOMO here.

Cafe Annie is in the same building as la Table. D has been here a couple of times for corporate dinners. He’s been wanting to take me because he knows how much I like rabbits. The last rabbit dish I had was back when we were in Nice 5 years ago.  I am hoping that this will be as good.

We started with Cote du Rhone and a summer mule
Crab Meat Tostada
Wood Grilled Rabbit Loin and Leg with Adobo Sauce in Banana Leaf

The flavor reminds me of Filipino barbecue. Kinda salty sweet with the pungent smell of smoked banana leaf.It is very different from what I had in Nice but still delicious. It was not gamey and it tasted really lean and clean.

D’s Filet Mignon with Poached Garlic Sauce
Texas Pecan Pie with Bourbon Ice Cream
It’s dinners like this that make long weekdays bearable.

Street Food California

Sometimes, it is nice to have good food without having to go through OpenTable and cough up cash for valet. This may be the beginning of an interesting category. Nothing quite reflects a city’s foodscape than the eateries that locals love and frequent. It is usually very affordable, informal and can be had spontaneously. This is my collection of food/places that my family and I enjoyed in our California summer break.

Copenhagen Bakery and Cafe is in Burlingame. It’s a short drive from where I lived. D and I love the breads and pastries. They also serve good brunch but the place is always packed and like everywhere else in Cali, parking is a bitch. So we always end up ordering things online while D circles the block as I pick it up.

Bread and Pastry Loot!! Specialty is obviously the Danish pastries but the Princess cake is also to die for.

I was told that they now ship all over the US. I will be ordering the Princess Cake for my birthday. I like how you can get almost anything shipped now (for a price). It makes a very good inspiration to work your ass off to get all the things your greedy, little consumeristic heart desires at a click of a mouse.

Geisha Float

Cafe Hana is in JapanTown, San Francisco. I really love this area, food-wise. This area can instantly turn ghetto, so don’t make quick turns. Otherwise, it is a food street heaven. Geisha Float is a favorite. It’s called something else now because apparently, we can’t use the term geisha anymore. California being California.  I will still call it Geisha float because I’m Asian. I’m not about to go all political on a food blog, so just go figure.

My Mom didn’t like hers, so she gave it to me. Oh how the tables have turned.
D has his own. My geisha-float es su no geisha-float

In Solvang (a Dutch-founded city near Sta. Barbara), we found another amazing Danish bakery.

My mom in front of the very picture-worthy bakery
The interior. I wish I could capture the smell of this place.
My loot. We snacked on these all through-out the drive to LA.

With all humility, I must admit, i’m an absolute delight on long drives. You really don’t want me to be behind the wheel, but I never sleep, I keep up a constant chatter, have the best playlist on my phone, and most importantly, I bring the best eats. Exhibit A pictured above.

In LA, we went to The Original Farmers Market. It is huge with lots of food stalls. The Waffleshot caught my attention.

In its ad, it is hoping to eliminate waste in the most delicious way possible by creating edible cups filled with coffee, hot chocolate, and more. Alrighty then. Far be it for me to stand in the way of making our world green. It is absolutely delicious too.

Cup is made out of cone and there’s a slew of flavors of that. It is then filled with coffee of choice.

Word of warning, the cone is not meant to withstand the heat of the espresso. Things can get dirty pretty fast. It will melt and you will find yourself licking the delicious espresso from your elbow. So take a pic, sip within a minute, post in social media, call it a day.

Laduree is not exactly cheap street food. But we ate it on the streets, so…

We were waiting to meet my med school friends in an hour so we thought that Laduree was a good place to kill time. It has a more- than- decent wine list and the macarons, while severely over-priced, were crafty and yummy.

I love how California weather can allow you to drink alcohol outdoors without sweating out your make-up.

The Butcher, The Baker and The Cappuccino Maker is a really nice coffee and small-plate place in Beverly Hills. Again, not cheap, but it is a local favorite. We had coffee here as we were winding down from a day of LA sight-seeing and were simply not in the mood to get it from Starbucks.

And because it’s in Beverly Hills, there’s gotta be a fancy alcohol section. Note the fountain that dispenses Proseccos and what-nots. I’m not sure if I would want alcohol from that, but it sure looked cute.
Carrot cake!
cappuccino

Cow’s End is another quaint coffee-shop favorite in Venice, California. To be honest, the food part is really almost the same as Starbucks. The location, is gold, though. It’s right smack in the midst of Venice in all it’s weird and hip-ness. Sitting outdoors with people next to us smelling like weed, made me feel young…

So this wrap-ups my Cali adventure in super casual food places that’s not MacDonalds. It’s a hit and miss, but almost always fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aubergine – L’Auberge Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Aubergine is another name for eggplant. It is also a restaurant within L’Auberge Carmel, a hotel and spa. When D and I were dating, Carmel-by-the-Sea was our usual go-to weekend get-away. We were not big on wines back then so we preferred this quaint beach and artsy city than that of Napa. That will never happen now. We go to Napa every chance we get when in California.

This summer is no different. After a few days in Napa and SF, we were ready to head south so we booked a few days here. It sure has changed. There’s a lot more options now for wine-tasting. Proof that wine industry has indeed taken over  tourism in a big way. That point will soon be made even clearer as we drive towards Paso Robles where every inch of the hills and valleys now grow grapes.

DInner in Aubergine is on the form of an 8-course tasting menu. Growing up Asian, I always think of multiple course dining like that of a traditional Chinese banquet. I always end up so full and guilty afterwards. This experience was the furthest thing from that. Portions are well-thought of in terms of quantity and the quality is definitely above par.

We started with this absolutely amazing Bordeaux. No Cali wines tonight!
kumamoto, caviar, seawater
potato, uni, soy, shiso
asparagus, roe, shiro dashi
squid, pepper, nasturtium
abalone, cranberry bean, celery
celery root, radicchio
lamb, eggplant, quinoa
gin & tonic, fennel, lime
zucchini cake, sweet corn ice cream
chocolate, blackberry, anise-hyssop
Fresh from their bakery- macaron and white choco truffles

I cannot believe this restaurant is not Michelin-starred. I spoke to the chef and we discussed how Michelin rating has a lot to do with location and campaign. This restaurant has achieved every honor and distinction in the culinary world and rightfully so. I am a big fan of campaign and suggestion so I will definitely write to the powers-that-be in Michelin and give them my 2 cents.

Aubergine, Monte Verde at Seventh
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, 93921

 

 

 

 

a’Bouzy

Champagne-fueled concept. Have you heard of anything more enticing? I couldn’t wait for this weekend to try this place. Shawn Virene, one of the guys behind another awesome restaurant that we frequent –  Brasserrie 19, founded this gem. It boasts of more than 1000 wines on the list and 250+ of sparkling wines. With this nugget of info, me, Dave and our livers were set to go.

I ordered this a’Bouzy Mule while waiting for D to order wine. It takes him a long time to pick wines. To be fair, he did have a thousand to go through.
This is his winner. I know little about wines but I know enough that you cannot go wrong with a 2009 Bordeaux.
Tuna Watermelon Sashimi—Ahi Tuna, spicy soy caviar, watermelon,
avocado mousse
Baked Oysters —
Tomato, onion, pesto, parmesan, bacon, aromatic rock salt
Seared Diver Scallops–
Baja diver scallops, shrimp, clams, braised Swiss chard,reduced seafood broth, basil lemon oil, grilled bread
Prime Tenderloin Filet–
Prime beef center cut Filet Mignon, horseradish mashed
potato, green bean medley
Chocolate Creme Brûlée
This is my winner—Vintage Port!!!

The restaurant lived up to the hype. It was already very crowded when we left. The noise level, was kinda high. All the champagne being popped certainly made the atmosphere very festive. We realized as we left that we had three different kinds of booze and none was champagne….Clearly we need to go back!!!

The food was really good. I was already expecting that because of our really good experiences at Brasserrie 19. The drinks really floored us, though. So many good selections and really affordable. As we got home, D already looked at the wine list online that knew what bottle he was going to try next!

a’Bouzy , 2300 WESTHEIMER HOUSTON, TX