There's no question. This is a British Restaurant!
I love the red phone booth in front and the red Vespa! The front door is red and this very fine uniform is, as well. No humans wear costumes or uniforms at Black Labrador, (and I do enjoy some entertaining clothing) but this mannequin did. He gave us 3 bonus points for starts!
5 bonus points a lovely outdoor area! Even though Black Lab is in the heart of busy Montrose, there are large trees that give a neighborhood feel. I always appreciate it when a restaurant gives me an outside dining option. But this is above and beyond! Tables, benches AND a giant chess board!
The restaurant has been here for 25 years, housed in what used to be the office section of a church. The 65 year old Cantral Church of Christ, with bell tower and stained glass, now houses a library. What a nice switch from the majority of cafes and restaurants in my blog. Most of them are in strip malls! 5 bonus points for a restaurant with a classy, if not holy history!
I happen to love antiques, so I loved the warped table tops and wobbly benches. I even liked the sort of aged smell of the dining room. Every old print, kettle, crock and Windsor chair probably had a history of smells.
Or maybe it was stale beer and pipe smoke from back in the day...I don't know. But it reminded me of my Aunt and Uncle's old Missouri Ranch! 5 points for all the old stuff AND for and our corner table which had "pews" for seats and lace over the windows!
Lisa in the Blog!
This was Lisa's first time on a dining blog adventure, so 2 bonus points for that! It was fun sitting in our cozy corner while a little thunder rumbled outside. We waited for our food to arrive while sharing a few travel stories. Lisa's memories about dining in England got me eager for my order to arrive. It also got me in the mood for a trip back to England.
I had been more excited about the atmosphere than the food, until my Tour of Britain arrived! A small sheppard's pie, battered fried fish with malt vinegar, banger sausage and onions, sweet baked beans and a little veggie assortment! I ate almost every bite. Lisa gave me a sample of her English Fish Pie! A pretty amazing mountain of fish, potatoes and cheese! 4 points for our hearty meal at Black Labrador!
People Encounter with Nikki
Nikki was working behind the bar. I asked if there was anyone in the restaurant with a British accent. (always searching for authenticity) She laughed and said she could fake a British accent for us. Nikki was busy whipping up some cream. "For desserts?" I asked. "For drinks." She answered, reminding me of all the cozy coffee drinks I'd like to sip on in the winter, next to their fireplace.
I asked Nikki about some of the antiques. She told me one interesting detail. Even though they constantly straighten the framed prints and photos on the walls, in the morning they are always crooked.
5 bonus points for Nikki and the very thought of a ghostly...black Lab, perhaps!
Mugs and a Dumbwaiter!
There were a couple other intriguing bits! I noticed the pewter mugs hanging above the bar. Each was engraved with the owner's name. If only I lived closer, I could purchase one for $85. and get a a cheaper rate on my beer. That would give Nikki more work though. She says they have to be hand washed.
And what's the dumbwaiter for!? The kitchen is upstairs! Must give Black Lab 5 more bonus points for their mugs and the very first dumbwaiter I've seen in a restaurant!
Not Enough Time
We didn't have enough time to read all the framed write ups or study all the portraits of Royalty. If only we'd had time to sit down and read a newspaper hanging on one of those wooden library racks!
But we had to go, pausing just a moment to enjoy the sweet statue and painting of the black lab near the front door.
Black Labrador earns...
A Total of 34 Points!
Avoiding the Chains
But I made an exception here. The logo makes it clear that we are not at an American chain restaurant. (That's a sheep, in case you couldn't tell)
This restaurant opened in China and now has a few in the States and Canada. They seem to be playing down the Little Sheep title in this Texas version. Hmm? That's odd. 1 bonus point for giving us something to ponder.
I don't recall why Cliff, Rhona and Don were laughing. But I do know we were very slaphappy after our 1.5 hour drive getting to this Westheimer location from Sugar Land.
The traffic jam on I- 59 was enough. But we were giddy by the time we reached the comically congested intersection in front of Little Sheep. Fussy drivers were trying to make U-turns. Numerous needy folks were weaving in and out of traffic holding signs. By the time we reached our table we were just goofy with hunger. 5 bonus points for whatever was making us so eager with anticipation!
Oh! Do take note of our shiny burner in the center of the table!
So many things to notice!
Our lovely round table was tucked away from the busier part of the dining room. This gave me a lot more freedom to snap away with my camera. That is actually a picture of Rhona, taking a picture of me taking a picture of this fancy little bit of decor! 3 bonus points for curious features.
What is Mongolian about this place?
I've never been to Mongolia, but the flashy decor and American pop music surrounding us didn't make me feel like I was there. It did feel like a modern restaurant in Shanghai, though. Maybe that's because there were Mandarin characters printed on our menu, or the funny little sheep wearing Asian clothing on the back of the menu. But they don't even speak Mandarin in Mongolia, do they?
Things were hopping and festive, even if not totally Mongolian. About half the diners were Asian and the waiters wore snappy little uniform jackets with toggle style buttons. So I'll give 3 bonus points good atmosphere.
The Hot Pot!
Our giant, divided pot arrived and was placed on the burner. Our waiter dialed up the heat, squeezed the dishes of veggies and meats onto the table and gave us a few instructions for cooking. Nothing like a steamy facial of herbs and spice!
Before the half and half broth started to bubble and steam, we could see how distinctly different the 2 sides looked. Huge cloves of garlic, herbs, dried fruits and spices floated in the milky, milder broth. Giant peppers began to dance around in the spicy red broth!
There's something a little crazy about having a dial attached to the table and leaning over a burner in a restaurant. I'm glad I didn't have a few hyper kids climbing around our booth with us. Maybe I should give 4 bonus points for my most risky dining adventure.
Foods for Cooking
Being beginners, we chose a sampler of sorts. We chose beef and lamb as our 2 meats and the rest of the goods just came. There were things I would never have chosen, but I tried them all.
This blog emphasizes experience more than food usually. So I'll go ahead and give my highest food rating of 5 points. Not because I loved it all, but because I'll remember it!
As you can see it takes a lot of concentration to figure all this out!
Cliff was very good at timing the cooking of our different ingredients. Rhona was good at digging out the correct foods and serving them up. (Trickier than you would think)
I wonder if the Mongolian Nomads who originally prepared their hot pots over fires took their cooking serioiusly. Maybe they were slaphappy from travel like we had been earlier.
3 bonus points for eating a food with history!
I think the only way you can eat beef tripe is to steam up your glasses and pretend it's something else. The tripe is the only food we didn't finish. That's pretty good, because there were some strange ones. Cuttlefish balls, mussel, beef tendon ball. These made the tofu pod suddenly taste extra yummy.
My main hint for anyone trying this for the first time is to come with friends you are comfortable with! This was one big splattery food party and luckily Cliff and Rhona were relaxed and amused.
A Photo with Andy!
Andy gets 10 bonus points for serving us with whacky sarcasm! He gave us reasonable advice about not over-ordering and he was delightful as he coached us with our cooking. There were silly comments about kids falling in the pot and a lot of other nonsense I can't remember. He was fun, but I had a heck of a time getting him to pose. His first excuse was that he might be identified on America's Most Wanted.
He finally agreed if I promised not to claim he was my boyfriend in the photo. (Never know when one of the girlfriends might spot this very photo and be mad) I do have to subtract 1 point because Andy was not wearing one of those decorative jackets that I love!
New to the Blog
This is Cliff's first dining adventure with the blog, so I get to add 2 bonus points. Now I have almost as many friends on the blog as restaurants!
Cliff is making sure I don't miss one more detail as we head out. A bubbling water feature! I guess I better add 1 bonus point, since Cliff pointed it out!
Total of 36 Points for Dining Adventure at Little Sheep!
Strip Center on Westheimer
I just wonder how many restaurants on my list are on Westheimer Parkway. Half?
The road has about 20 miles of strip centers and that includes the buildings hidden behind other buildings, like this one! But let's give Saldivia's 2 bonus points for being here at all. Their old restaurant was in a strip center on Bellaire ...and they moved when that center was torn down!
Bonus Points for the Heredias!
This is Mario's first time in the blog. I always get to add 2 bonus points for someone new! This is not Monica's first time. But 2 bonus points for Monica, since she has been to Uruguay.
The Heredias are from Argentina which is next door to Uruguay, so they were helpful with the menu and chatting with the owner Gus Saldivia. But mostly it was fun hearing stories about Mario and Monica's family roots ....and a curious story about the Heredia name! 2 bonus points for good conversation that fit the restaurant atmosphere!
Movies in a Restaurant!
The first thing we noticed when we stepped into the dimly lit dining area, was the big screen on the wall showing an old black and white film. Gus, the owner was happy to talk about Carlos Gardel, the actor in the film. He was a famous baritone, associated with the history of tango, before dying in a plane crash in 1935.
The Heredias were very familiar and laughed about how Argentina and Uruguay still argue about which country Gardel called home. Too bad we came on Friday, since on Saturday night Saldivia's was planning a big celebration with live music to commemorate this late star. 5 bonus points for my first dining adventure that came with a movie! 3 bonus points for learning a little film/music history!
Piping hot rolls in a little napkin teepee! I was starved and they smelled wonderful. Nice treat! The beef empanadas weren't complimentary, but worth $2.25 each! Delish chimichurri sauce as well.
I ordered the traditional Uruguayan Skirt Steak, Entrana. Mine was covered in onions, peppers and cheese, along with rice, roasted potatoes and grilled veggies. 5 points for food at Saldivia's! (There was lots to take home, too!)
10 Points for Atmosphere
If we had come on Saturday with live music and the Gardel Celebration, it would have been a very festive atmosphere. But I sort of preferred the quiet on Friday. When we first entered, Gus welcomed us and began chatting right away. He wouldn't have had time to answer so many questions on weekend.
The atmosphere always gets higher ratings if I see flags, photos or art that reflects the country. The giant photo of the capital, Montevideo was a good conversation piece. Gus pointed to the photo and explained where he used to live. He and his father left Uruguay in 1977. As Gus chattered on, it was clear he has fond memories of his old home.
The music of course added to the atmosphere. There was no sound to the movie that played, but we were listening to old recordings of Carlos Gardel singing!
People and Animal Encounters
I walked to the bar for a closer look at the cow wearing a Uruguay hat. I chatted with a man name George at the bar who seemed to be a regular. I asked if the cow had a name and George teased that we should call the cow Carlos ...which is really the waiter's name. Carlos offered to pose with the cow.
He told me the cow often wears different decorative pieces ...or even shirts. 3 bonus points for a restaurant mascot! 3 bonus points for George who is not pictured. He often samples different international restaurants and gave me a few new restaurants to try!
TOTAL of 37 POINTS for SALDIVIA'S!
We left very full and very content. Good food, music, conversation!
How to Decide?
There are over 100 Indian restaurants listed for Houston on the UrbanSpoon website. How do you pick? I could have just driven down Hillcroft in the Mahatma Gandhi district. Or I could have pressed my Indian friends or neighbors for more suggestions. But I never get a firm answer, since they all seem to prefer home cooking So we trusted our friends the Gergelys. They are Hungarian, but lived in India, where their sons were born.
Right Here in Sugar Land
There is nothing unusual about the name or the appearance of this restaurant on Williams Trace and Hwy 6.
But this is the place the Gergleys have been returning to since they moved to the area about 14 years ago. Margit raves about the food.
2 bonus points for not having to leave Sugar Land for a change!
Not New to the Blog!
This is not Margit's first time in the blog, so no bonus points for that. But 3 bonus points for Margit's enthusiasm, telling me about the different selections on the lunch buffet! Margit's husband, Ivan was most excited about the Egg Pullao (I think it is called), which is a rice dish with boiled eggs. That was the favorite dish made by the nanny who worked in their home in India. I thought the dish was pretty good, but I mostly liked the idea of imagining a nanny who cooked mouthwatering dishes! Margit said the nanny also prepared wonderful French dishes. Margit ended up teaching her to cook Hungarian food, as well. "She ended up cooking them better than me!"
2 Bonus points for a dish that's brings up good memories. That "nanny" must have been really good with the children ...or they would they would have called her the "cook" who watched the kids.
And a full table! We had a few new faces to the blog, so 2 bonus points for that! We had an added treat when Mate and Sarah were able to join us for our lunch ...or breakfast to them. They were recovering (and celebrating) after recently completing grueling exams ...the kind that make most of us never consider med school!
5 bonus points for enjoying good food with pleasant company! Our conversation went in many directions, but I loved most hearing the stories of India. Mate was too young to remember living in India, but I'll add 2 bonus points for the fact he was born there. Always searching for any little twist to make a dining adventure more authentic!
The frothy Mango Lasi in the chilled mug, would have been enough for lunch by itself. But I had 2 heaping plates of food, as well! I loved the samosas and the curry dishes. I probably liked the Sag Paneer (spinach and cheese) best.
I also liked having the naan bread served hot at the table. We even had garlic naan, which is a first for me! 1 bonus point there. And for dessert, I managed to find just enough room for Kheer (rice pudding) and 1 moist ball of Gulab Jumun...oozing with sweet!
5 Points for food at Cafe India!
A Shy People Encounter
There was a friendly feel about the cafe. Our server was gracious and chatty and even a fellow diner stepped in, offering to take our photo at one point.
But our best moment was when we met the cook, Jaktar. When I asked our server if she could convince him to come out, she warned us that he was a bit shy. But when he emerged, he recognized the Gergelys. He's been chef as long as they've been coming. He was very humble when we praised his good cooking. He seemed flattered when I asked to get him in a picture. I'm afraid Jaktar got very serious just in time for the camera's click. We'll capture his smile next time! 5 bonus points for our shy chef!
TOTAL of 25 POINTS for CAFE INDIA!
Cafe India didn't rack up points for curious decor or music or costumes, like some restaurants. 25 points...all for good food and people!
Why would I choose the world's largest furniture retailer for a dining adventure? Because, they serve food. And I'm a little desperate as I search for a country not on my list!
I've seen snack bars in stores before, but this was a cafeteria, with Swedish foods and healthy, hot options! Our server wasn't Swedish, but she did smile and laugh. "Blogging?" She questioned, when I asked if I could take a photo. 3 bonus points for that!
I didn't feel like I was in a furniture store...or a restaurant, really. I felt more like I was in an international airport, having a bite before flying off to an exotic place.
Maybe I was influenced by the display of clocks on the way, showing me it was 6:20 in Stockholm and 7:45 in London. 4 bonus points for knowing the time around the world!
I don't usually give points for parking lot views, but there was something sort of crazy about this glassed in corner! I could nibble away and stare down on an absolute sea of cars, or I could watch the cars and semis zoom by on an elevated portion of I-10. 5 bonus points for feeling like I was in the Jetsons cartoon.
So Much Food!
This is just amazing to me! All this food for $16.71! 23 Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries and Potatoes, Najad Cold Smoked Salmon, Spinach Crepes and Almond Cake! Why so much food? We were joining in the Swedish celebration of "Midsommar" by feasting and appreciating the upcoming longest day of the year! 5 points for food!
I hardly ever get dessert, but how can you turn down a dessert that's a little over a dollar?
Actually, I made room by purchasing a to-go box for 25 cents... so I could take lots home. Having to buy a to-go box could annoy a diner. But I actually like the IKEA philosophy of keeping costs down as well as being green. So I was happy to buy the box and clean off my table when I was done.
2 bonus points for the thought of INGVAR KAMPRAD who started this curious business at the age of 17 in 1943! What would he think if he could see this business today?
I Love a Shop
Not only did we dine at IKEA, we did a bit of grocery shopping. 3 bonus points for imported foods that I'm not used to seeing!
We have some cookies, jam and cheese, 2 jars of herring and some very curious crab and salmon that comes out of a tube like toothpaste! Hmmm?
A TOTAL of 22 points for IKEA DINING!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.