The (3rd) Best Burger in Texas

In this Yelp-driven world we live in, a business with 4.5 stars out of 250 reviews, is no easy feat. A lot of businesses would kill for that, I know mine would….(ok, not “kill” but more like “go out of one’s mind), to get those stats. When I read about Alamo Springs Cafe being the third best burger in Texas, I was dubious. Not that I doubt the credibility of the writer, coz we all know that food writers are the pillars of integrity (cough-cough!). But when I searched for the reviews, there it was. Four point five stars in Yelp and Google, on over 400plus reviews! For a restaurant that is so laid-back it doesn’t even have a website, that is pretty cool.

It has a hole-in-the-wall vibe, it will never win awards in design. But there’s award-winning smell of the burgers all the way from the parking lot.
I recruited a highly qualified individual to help me review this burger—my teenager!!!
We started with this roasted garlic with goat cheese tostini. 
This is the burger in question. Is it pretty? No. Is it the third best burger i’ve had in Texas. Hell to the YES!

This is the kind of burger that I would make if I decided to make a burger. I am still on a diet  (I ate only 1/4 of this— I declared today my cheat day for the sake of this effing blog). I weighed myself yesterday so I know that it would be a loooooong while before I make these kind of dishes. But if I did, it would be like this — made of the best meat available, best blue cheese I could get my hands on, cooked in medium-rare perfection, and tucked in the middle of the best buns which I would probably bake from scratch. Thank God, this place is just about ten miles from Fredericksburg. Just thinking about the amount of labor that would go into making this, makes me want to crawl back to bed and sleep off my burger craving.

And just for kicks, they have the Jefe’s Challenge. It is a sight to behold.
This is how the challenge works.
Onion rings for sides.
My favorite kind of fries—crusty fries!

Alamo Hills Spring Cafe embodies the thought of food being done right. While most of the food they offer are not healthy by nature (fried avocados—enough said), it is cooked in such a way that it justifies an indulgence. They also have an honor system in their drinks wherein you can just grab anything off the counter from soda, beer to wine, and just declare it as you pay for your bill. It’s a wonderful touch! It is definitely not a fast-food even if the offerings are similar to that of Whataburger or MacDonald’s. Here’s what’s hanging in one of their walls:

If you ever get in my neck of the woods, this is a fun try. It is in the middle of nowhere but the drive is wonderfully scenic. That plus a big, juicy burger, it is worth the trip!

 

Welcome To My Kitchen

As you’ve probably seen on my Facebook posts, I am now a proud mom of four adorable puppies. For the longest time, we always maintained two. But as I unwittingly followed Facebook feeds of Pomeranian breeders, I instantly gained access to adorable puppies looking for a forever home. Truffle is a puppy Pom that I got from North Carolina and Tofu is a year old Pom from Russia. He was imported by a breeder here and was meant to be a show dog until his teeth started overcrowding, which, I was informed was a big no-no in AKC standards.

Isn’t Tofu the fluffiest thing in four legs???

Anyhooo…How do these furry babies equate into my present kitchen?  The first two pups, Cookie and Mochi, always hang around in the kitchen. They know very well that when I cook, scraps of food fall to the floor, so they’re always on a look-out. Naturally, when the two newer ones joined us, they caught on to that as well. So I now have four dogs, yipping at my heels every time I cook. Oh joy!

I once saw a video of a Pom breeder and it was a scene in her kitchen where she had almost a dozen fluff balls running around. I thought that was the coolest thing! I only have eight more to go to have my dream kitchen. Ha!!!

These are my kitchen buddies. Three smiling Poms and one Yorkie wishing he was an only puppy.

Enough of my puppy insanity…. Let’s get cooking! I am on week 3 of my low-carb cooking. I’ve been having lettuce/cabbage, fruits and sashimi. Surprisingly, it’s almost painless. I have discovered a slew of flavored vinegars and spices which jazz up the dish without bringing on the calories. I am, however, close to being sick of raw salmon and tuna (let’s not even go on how expensive those are ).

Innovation is the mother of necessity — said by some philosopher who was tired of paying $29/pound of sashimi-grade tuna.  So I will whip up the next best thing — lean turkey. Here is my Cilantro-Lime Turkey Wrap.

Get a pound of the leanest ground turkey you can find. Saute lightly. It will look like it’s one huge stretchy piece, but be patient, it will break apart as it starts to cook. As it breaks apart, add salt and pepper.
Add Lime Ponzu sauce, about 3 tablespoons.

It will look soup-y and you will feel like you’re doing it all wrong. Don’t despair, it WILL dry up. As it dries, it will concentrate the flavor of lime. This is really needed because when you work with super-lean meats, the low amount of fat makes it difficult to hold flavor. Hence, you need to cook in the flavor.

When dry and broken-up add freshly cut cilantro, about 2 teaspoons.
Wrap in cabbage and lunch is ready!!!

Check-out my folded plate. Got it for $12 at Home Goods. So pretty! It makes up for the atrocity of my wrap. I still haven’t figured out how to separate cabbage leaves without tearing, so I always end up with odd pieces that make it difficult to wrap well.

If you can stand to lose a pound or two, this is a good dish. Very flavorful, calorie-friendly, cooks fast and uses only one pan! In my book, it can’t get any better than that.

 

Bosscat Kitchen and Libations

Dining with wine is always delicious. I soon found out that dining with hard liquor is even more so! This liquor-themed restaurant located in River Oaks district is very impressive, considering that it just opened 12 days ago. Many of their dishes are cooked with whiskey and bourbon. Its original location is in Newport Beach and judging by the way things look and run, they were pretty much a success there too.

D is in whiskey heaven. We were told that the restaurant boasts more than 300 bottles of whiskey from all over the world
He can literally live and die here….
I had Kentucky mule made of Larceny Bourbon and D had a 38 Special which was made of Bulleit Bourbon
We started with Bourbon Chicken Flatbread. I forgot to take a picture up-close…I got so flustered with the delicious drink we had…
For my entree, I had CAJUN BRICK CHICKEN —Pasture-raised chicken, crispy skin, Charleston gold heirloom dirty rice. The rice is really good, spicy without being over-powering
D had CAROLINA BARBECUE SALMON
Faroe Islands salmon, Carolina barbecue mustard, butter bean succotash.
For sides, we had SWEET POTATO MAC + CHEESE
Smoked ham chips.

There’s only two kinds of dessert,  so naturally, we ordered both…

CHOCOLATE BOURBON POT DE CREME
RED VELVET CHURROS — I bit into it to show the yummy red color inside. I really love this. Such a nice twist from the a dessert classic

Everything was good. All the liquor, both drank and eaten, did not make me drunk! This is why I really love dining out. There is so much to learn and discover. It’s the start of Spring Break so there’s a lot more dining adventures in the works. Can’t wait!!!

 

 

 

World Championship Barbecue

I’ve been a Texas gal close to ten years and the I’ve been living the phrase “everything is bigger in Texas” (my waistline attests to this).  Cheesy as it may sound, it really is true. We live life here in the superlatives which is not really a good thing at all times, but seldom are things done half-scale. The World Championship Barbecue Cook-off is the biggest, baddest contest,  drawing both local and international competitors. The wait-list just to compete is 4 years. All this is set on no less than the huge Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo which attracts more than 2million visitors each year.

We got our cowboy gear on! There’s a lot of walking to be done, and these boots are up to it!
This is the tent that we got the invites to
Each contestant has a tent which is roughly 4 times this size, my camera can’t pan the entire room.

The counters you see are the bars (open bar!). Because of the scale and magnitude of this competition, contestants have sponsors, and sponsors get invites to the event. And that is the only way to get into these tents, by invitation. No tickets are for sale. I was told there’s a black market for this with invites selling for more than a hundred bucks per invite. Seriously? What kind of appetite does it take to eat a hundred dollars worth of barbecue?

The open bar features a lot of local liquor. Particularly loved Tito’s Vodka. I can’t count how many trips I made to this bar.
This is one big-ass hog. The tent can dish out three of these each night. It tastes nowhere like the Filipino lechon that I’m used too.
Here are the other goodies –brisket, potato salad, barbecue chicken, mac n cheese, corn. As much as you can, all night long. Oh my…
What’s a party without the band?  I guess I got so food-logged that night, I totally forgot the name of the band

Outside the tents, festivities (and more food) abound. There is something for everyone (except the vegetarians…)

Everything fried. If it fits in the frying pan, we fry ’em and serve ’em…
More carnival food treats
What a night!

That was quite an experience. For once the weather was great and so ideal for all the walking. Unfortunately, when we got back, Beans had a fever (flu!), so we did not go back the following night. Just as well because it rained all day. Will definitely make plans for the rodeo and carnival just so I can feature all the fried goodies. Ahhh…the life of a foodie….

 

 

 

 

Healthy Eats

As I promised in my latest Facebook post, I was going to make poke at home. Poke (pronounced as po-kay)is a raw fish salad in Hawaiian cuisine. I remember having this  10plus years ago in Honolulu. I was not a big fan of raw fish then. I was also 20 pounds lighter and can don a swimsuit without fear, so safe to say, a lot of things  have changed since then. I love sashimi, so the thought of mixing it with great fruits and veggies plus a savory sauce makes it very enticing.

We went to North Shore Poke Company. This is a restaurant which started at Huntington Beach and they now have branches in Cerritos, Costa Mesa, and most recently, H-town!

An order of poke would first have a base of rice or veggies. You will then pick a choice of raw fish  (salmon or ahi tuna) or octopus. Extras would comprise of mango, avocado, masago, crab, crispy garlic, ginger ,sweet onion. This would all be topped by a savory sauce. There’s a variety of sauces to choose from, depending on the restaurant.

My bowl – brown rice, salmon,mango, masago, blue crab, sweet onion and Ponzu sauce
D’s bowl- brown rice, ahi tuna, pickled ginger, masago, Wasabi Shoyu Sauce

I knew I had to have more of this so I vowed to make some at home for dinner. And also for Beans who was still asleep when we left. We stopped by at Nippon Daido grocery to pick up some sashimi grade salmon and pink snapper. This is my version:

Base is wild rice and some lettuce. Fish is a mix of salmon and pink snapper. I added mangoes and avocado. For the sauce i mixed ponzu and sesame oil. Ah-mazing!

This has really been a wonderful day, food-wise and weather-wise. We ate this outdoors where we recently just cut the grass. I love the smell of freshly-cut grass. It smells so clean. For dessert, we had the cream puff pastry I picked up from the Japanese grocery store. Since the North Shore didn’t serve alcohol, we thought we’d just drink at home. It’s a weekend and it’s past 5 and the weather is awesome, it would be a crime not to…

 

 

Bateaux Mouches – Dinner Cruise in River Seine

If I had to choose only one dining cruise in my lifetime, I would definitely choose this cruise. A close second would be the one in San Francisco Bay, but the food is not nearly as good as this one in Paris, although the scenery is gorgeous as well.

We took this a couple of years back. D and I wanted to do a spring get-away to France and I’ve visited it often enough to know that as lovely as that country is, if not for Disney, there really is nothing much to do for the kids. Luckily, my sister was spending her break in her house in South Padre and didn’t mind if I left Beans with her. I don’t tell her often enough, but I’ve always appreciated her generosity and support for my travel adventures.

We booked our tour here and picked the prestige dinner cruise. It promised a romantic dinner and entertainment.
I love how the French are so upfront in their dress code. They enforce a formal dress code and will have no qualms to turn anyone away wearing jeans. I actually saw it happen.
And because this is France, wine was served as soon as we got seated. This is just in pre-departure area. Great start!
This is the interior of the cruise boat. It starts at pre-twilight. It’s timed perfectly so that you get to take in the sights both in daylight and at night with all the twinkling grandeur.Paris is, after all, the City of Lights.
In the boat, they wasted no time to open our first bottle of bubbly–Petit Chablis, La Chablisienne
Salut! The French really know how to start a celebration. No, I am not pregnant. It’s how the dress is cut. I have thrown it away.
Live music started as we enjoyed our drink. Music selection was classical- very appropriate for the setting
Appetizer – Duck foie gras and Smoked and cured duck breast, salad of winter vegetables.
Also served with our second bottle of wine, this time, a red.
My entree– Filet of veal, parsnip puree, seasoned gravy
D’s entree-Smoked salmon, Swedish flatbread (tunnbröd), sour cream and chives
Another bottle for dessert. Desserts were Homemade chocolate lava cake, thick custard cream and Coffee mousse dome

After all the food, we ventured out as it was already twilight.

The views at this time of the day is amazing. This is taken by my trusty iPhone, unedited
The City of Lights behind me
Beautiful pic to end the magical night.

This is where we disembarked from the boat. Nothing beat being welcomed back in land with the Eiffel Tower all lit up. It took us forever to get  a cab back to the hotel. This was pre-Uber era, although I doubt if Uber would have made a difference. This city is so crowded. We were walking for almost an hour trying to find a cab, which was good because we had a few thousand calories to burn. But for my high heels? Not so much….My advise for foodies on adventure tours? Loose clothes, comfy shoes and whole lot of appetite. Paris is delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roux Pour

In life, the best laid plans are sometimes trumped by the magic of serendipity. This is one of those of moments. We were not planning on having a heavy brunch because we are still reeling from all the food from last night’s Fort Bend Care charity dinner.  But while hunting for gourmet spices in Home Goods (yes, they have quite a selection), we saw some Cajun spices. Just like that, D and I got a craving for same New Orleans cooking. As we were out in the parking lot, we saw  Roux Pour and I remembered my friend Cheryl saying that they just started serving brunch on Sundays.

As we were approaching the restaurant, a car pulled out so we instantly got a parking spot. For those unfamiliar with Sugar Land Town Center, it is an awesome place (it has my spiritual place, Sephora), but parking is such a b—ch, so off-putting. Finding a spot is like finding a four-leaf-clover!

A live band started playing as soon as we entered. I love dining with live music. And just when I thought all the start were aligning, I read the menu and saw “Bottomless Mimosa”. This is gonna be a great day!!!

Roux Pour specializes in New Orleans cuisine. On Sundays like today, they have Jazz brunch. The sound, the sight and the smell all spell party! So festive!

This is their array of entrees. In  the adjacent room is the soup/gumbo section, as well as the omelet, dessert and prime rib section.

D is really a dear when it comes to these things. He diligently shuttles back and forth to get me food because he knows I really hate getting up once I’m seated for a meal. He is also nice enough not to overstuff my plate. Notice how he has a firm grasp on plate real estate. He knows how to arrange the food so the flavors don’t overlap.

My first plate —crawfish mac n cheese, shrimp bisque, prime rib, jambalaya and half a dozen oysters
My second plate—more shrimp bisque, boiled shrimps and God-knows how many oysters. I am shameless at this point. The oysters were good!!! It paired well with my third glass of mimosa.
I really wasn’t sure if I had room for dessert. But the white chocolate cake and the cinnamon banana smelled really good. I had these two while D had cheesecake.

We decided to eat really slow and just enjoy the jazz band. Pretty soon, I was sneezing incessantly, signaling that I am already full. That was some brunch! I’m really happy that we tried this place. There are still many things on their menu that they didn’t serve for brunch that I wanted to try. I will definitely be back for that.

 

 

Righting a Wrong

Vallone’s is D’s favorite steak restaurant in Houston. So when he got the news about his promotion, it was not a surprise that he chose to celebrate it here. As luck would have it, I also got an email from their management that they have finished their renovation and it would be nice if we came in to check it out. I had no doubt that this is a good choice to celebrate another milestone in D’s career.

The last time I was here, I was on this crazy diet that made me order fish in this amazing steak place. What was I thinking??? All throughout our meal, I kept reaching over to get a piece of D’s steak. He did not like that. So for sure, this time, I won’t make the same mistake. I will definitely have a steak!

This is what the renovation was all about. In place of the big window overlooking the streets, a wall was built with an amazing light wall fixture made of different kinds of lightbulbs.
Cabernet and Strawberry Basil Hickey—off to a good start!
This is a smoked salmon pizza—crust is actually crispy potato strips and the sauce is chive creme fraiche
This is me righting a wrong—I had a 55 day dry aged rib-eye
D, of course, had filet mignon
Predictably, I ordered truffle mac n cheese because it was on the menu. We ended up taking home 3/4 of this because the steaks were quite hefty.
Dessert is midnight cake —a dark Belgian chocolate cake.

Renovated or not, Vallone’s continues to impress. It never bother me that the old windows actually overlooked the crowded streets. I guess, the new look now has improved the ambience a thousand fold. Food quality and service is still impeccable.

D is a very hardworking man and this promotion is well-deserved. True, we don’t usually wait for a reason to have great steak. But having a reason to celebrate takes the guilt away from the binge. Sure, sure. Whatever makes us sleep at night, right?

 

Easiest Chicken Enchilada

My teenager, Beans, loves Mexican food. I love mojitos…and margaritas! So as mother and son combos go, we are absolutely clicking! This is my go-to recipe because it’s ridiculously easy and pantry-food friendly.

It uses the following;

rotisserie chicken, shredded

2 cans of enchilada sauce, 1mild and 1 medium hot

1 can of diced tomatoes

a bag of sharp cheddar and a bag of Mexican mix cheese

salt and pepper to taste, optional

Saute the shredded chicken in olive oil for about 5 minutes
add the two cans of enchilada sauce, simmer for 5 minutes
add a can of diced tomatoes, mix and simmer for 15 minutes, to allow incorporation of flavor
Add half a bag of each of the cheeses, save the other halves for topping. Mix and allow to melt for about 3 minutes
I don’t fry the tortillas, too oily. I stuff the enchilada to the tortilla, then roll up.
Top with treat of the enchilada and add the remaining cheeses
Bake in 375 for 20 minutes

Goes so well with mojitos and/or margaritas. Muy Bueno!!!

Vintage

At around this time last year, I wrote a piece on underachieving on January. This year is no different. I put so much stuff on hold from last December that I find myself in a catch-up game on January instead of attacking new year’s resolutions head-on like the rest of the population.

When I started this blog, I never had anything else in mind other than chronicling my life in food. It never occurred to me that the reviews that I post will eventually reach the actual restaurant scene in the city, and that I’d get notices to review a new joint or just a new dish that just came on the menu. Because of that, I have grown very self-conscious on my writing. I find myself struggling to put in quality work which basically negates the purpose that writing about my food adventures relaxes me…Why my life can never be as simple as a bowl of fried rice, I will never know…

I’m now writing again, not because I’ve finally “caught up”. I’m writing again because there’s too much good food and good stories that need to be told. This restaurant is our choice for our last dinner in Vail. Obviously, as soon as we landed in Houston, life immediately happened. It started with Beans discovering that he left his phone in Denver (a few thousand calls and emails and Fedex shipping fee later, we got it back). I didn’t realize until now, that I haven’t posted this review after having promised management that I would.

Vintage is a French brasserie right across Four Seasons. So it was really very convenient because it was snowing that night. The concept of snow has always been magical to me, having been raised in tropical country. I soon realized that its magic is very short-lived, very dependent on the number of layers that one wears. Beans just finished the last of his snowboarding lessons and just about had enough snow for the day, so he opted not to come with us.

Here’s me with my frozen smile.I can’t wait to go indoors!
Vintage is so pretty. Excellent lighting, tasteful interiors. 

Vintage is known for their brunches but we were leaving the following day and we would be short of time to enjoy a relaxing brunch, so we decided to come for dinner instead.

We were seated at a bay window where you can overlook Vail Village with all the snow and twinkly lights.
Bang Island’s Black Mussels and Pomme Frites — this is their highly-suggested entree for the month. I wouldn’t expect it on December, but me being me, I’m up for anything, food-wise

The salt-and-vinegar fries is the star of this entree. I never thought I would say this, but it tastes better than the fancy truffle fries. The mussels are no slouch either. I don’t know where Bang Island is but,  man, they grow good mussels.

Wagyu sirloin for D. I’m so tempted to mock him with the obvious (and recurrent) steak choice, but I vowed to be nice this year. Haha.

I noticed that most restaurant in Colorado have Wagyu steaks. While it is not comparable to Kobe beef, it’s a nice, close second. The steak was cooked perfectly, always a plus.

It was snowing pretty hard while we were eating so we decided to skip dessert while we can still walk our way back to the hotel.

This is the last of my Vail posts. I am looking forward to a lot of foodie activities this weekend and of course there’s Super Bowl! I’m collaborating with my good friend, Vinh, for the most awesome crawfish party. Stay tuned!!!