With Monica, Margit and Sigi
You'd think right away I would be allowing for big bonus points for just finding an Afghan restaurant to experience...but I've been here many times. No points for a NEW dining adventure or even new dining friends. My international dining friends, known as the TWITS have made a few appearances in the dining blog already. But pictured left, you can see Margit and Sigi are eager to add this spot to the dining list.
I will give 3 bonus points for curious location, though! At Hwy 6 and Voss, this is actually in good old Sugar Land. However the shopping center probably gets passed up by many people I know. How could they... with so many options! There's the Halal Chinese spot next door and a Pakistani dessert shop a few doors down. Many other choices as well!
I'm cheating on this picture, because it was taken last year. However, it shows the TWITS group in the very festive atmosphere with flags and tile roof and woven art. There is a stage behind us with a woven rug and speakers. We asked about entertainment, but you must provide your own. Next time we will come more prepared.
As you can see Zamir, our waiter has a very big smile. When the 4 of us arrived at 7:30, he greeted us with a grin and a slight chuckle which we interpreted as, "Oh my, here they are again!" We asked if he had missed us and he gave us some kind of polite response. We like Zamir's service because he is very pleasant, but he mostly leaves us alone. We tuck ourselves into a booth, pull out our own wine, (allowed) feast on flavorful dishes and chat for an hour or two. 5 points for Zamir who never gets annoyed with us. I know that may be a high rating when most customers want their water glasses filled constantly...but I am one of those people who worries that we may be overstaying our welcome. Think I worry too much? It helps to know that at age 6, I fretted about my noisy family of 6 in our Staten Island apartment and slipped apology notes under our neighbors' doors.
Atmosphere! You know I like authentic and everything about this place says Afghanistan. We thought this woven piece was possibly something you might put on a camel's back, but we were told it was just decoration. The huge painting in the picture above, feels a bit intense, but the kites add a playful touch...unless you've read the book Kite Runner, which could bring up some darker thoughts. ( I did like that book, though!)
There are some curious instruments and there is a big screen TV if you want to watch Afghan TV...at least I guess that was what was playing? But it is the people who come and go, who make Afghan Cuisine, the most authentic. It was quiet on this night, but most nights we see a steady flow of groups and families. Lots of colorful clothing and language to make you feel like you've taken a trip! For authentic atmosphere I give 5 bonus points!
This really is why we come. Prices are so reasonable and we can get a few appetizers and a couple entrees and share. This is Bolani, which they describe as Afghani calzone! It's stuffed with leeks, potatoes and cilantro, seasoned and grilled! Homemade yogurt for dipping!
No pictures of the Borani Badenjan (sauteed eggplant with garlic and tomatoes) or the Mantoo ( Afghani dumplings stuffed with beef and onions, then steamed and covered in sauce) These 2 disappeared so fast I couldn't snap a shot! But if you go, get these small dishes to share! Wonderful!
Margit is my only Hungarian friend, so I was eager to have her help me enjoy an authentic Hungarian feast! Much to our surprise, there is no restaurant that claims to be simply Hungarian.
However Ziggy, of Kenny and Ziggy's is 3rd generation Hungarian and the menu includes many Hungarian dishes, from goulash to stuffed cabbage. The story of how Ziggy's grandfather immigrated from Budapest to open the first New York Deli on Broadway, is a curious one.
http://kennyandziggys.com/ Check out their website for fun and humorous details of this lively restaurant!
At 11:30 K &Z's was already hopping. Servers in black vests and ties zipped from table to table with trays holding everything from bagels to 5 inch high corned beef sandwiches. The location on Post Oak, in the Galleria area packs in a big crowd of shoppers and business folk...but I'm guessing half the crowd is made up of regulars who just appreciate an authentic kosher deli with a lively NYC atmosphere. The walls are entertaining, too...covered with Broadway and NY related movie posters and caricatures of stars! Okay, there is nothing Hungarian about the atmosphere, but I like it! 3 bonus points for atmosphere!
I think we also get 1 bonus point for being greeted by a bowl of pickles at the table! I've gotten free bread and chips, but this was a treat! Margit, I think you said something about pickles being Hungarian and not just NY Deli?? Anyway, that was a positive way to get started.
Margit took one look at the specials and her jaw dropped to see "Chilled Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup" on the list! She said she has never seen this served in the States. We shared a large bowl and it was cool and tangy. The cherries were delicious flavor bursts! Margit makes this at home and has to buy imported sour cherries from a shop in Houston. She said this was delicious...although not as good as hers!
Friends, Katharine and Lilian joined us a little later for some more American dining...BLT and coffee. The giantic pile of fried onions in the foreground is hiding a few fried pierogis! Margit said it was a must that we have something salty after our sweet soup!
We were also eager to try the Hungarian stuffed cabbage. This is a rather scary looking picture, but the sweet and sour tomato sauce added quite a zing to the dish. Margit, said the dish was "fair" and she mentioned this kind of sauce was not usually served in the summer with stuffed cabbage. So there are seasonal ways to eat stuffed cabbage?! I learned something... 1 bonus! Overall the food rating for Hungarian food is 4+...at least for me, the non-Hungarian.
A ways back I mentioned that as a child I gave myself the job of rating bathrooms. I don't often comment on restrooms in this blog, but I did enjoy the entertaining posters...and I believe some Broadway music was playing! Gotta love bathroom decor with Liberace and hey, there's the St. Louis arch over there! 2 bonus points!
Beverly was our very busy, but patient server. She had to deliver the sad news that Ziggy was not in and I could not meet him. I told her, she could stand in for Ziggy in my photo and she was eager to do so. Well, I'm not sure the photo captured the enthusiasm, but Beverly was a good sport. Beverly, along with our dining neighbors (who were excited to see what we ordered and talked with Margit about visiting Budapest) means we get at least 3 bonus points for people encounters!
TOTAL OF 14+ POINTS FOR KENNY AND ZIGGY'S (this rating will go up if I can come back and meet Ziggy!
Lorrie has not been to Peru, but she is the only person I know who has ever been to this amazing tiny restaurant, tucked into the Art/Warehouse District of Houston. (I didn't even know there was such a thing) 5 Bonus points for taking me to a part of Houston I've never visited!
This old building may not have been built by the Incas, but there is a great deal of charm to the worn exterior. In fact those block-like stones sort of look like the stacked stonework of Machu Picchu!
I have used the word adventure often, when describing these food outings! I also appreciate people encounters, when evaluating these excursions. But I never realized you could start racking up points before even entering the restaurant! 2 Bonus points for a people encounter before dining!
We met these 2 fellows after parking the car and asked if we could photograph their retro VW Van. John, the guy in yellow, owns Dharma Cafe, known for great brunches and Jazz nights. Our friend in the hat owns a shop called "Grow Your Own" ?? I think we're talking vegetables here??
I was busy getting a business card from John, when I turned and saw Lorrie and Shari enjoying a view of tattoos. Now Shari and Lorrie are both artists, so I understand their curiosity...but you must admit, their body language does look as though they are keeping a polite distance from the tattooed creature on his arm.
Once inside, we met Roberto Castre, the gracious and talented chef and owner of Latin Bites. He was born and raised in Lima, Peru and also attended culinary school in his country. Although the dishes he creates for Latin Bites are a fushion of many internationl foods, he puts his Peruvian roots into all of his cooking.
Roberto said he would try out a new dish on us. He experiments and changes his menu often. No wonder the New York Times gave this tiny restaurant a good review! It's like no other in Houston!
I would like to say we called ahead and asked about the color of the china to make sure we matched. But I promise you, it was just good luck. 1 bonus point for matching our plates!
Now honestly, the food was absolutely mouthwatering! I only give 5 points at most for food, but my rating system makes no sense at all, so I'm giving Latin Bites 6 points for food!
I had no idea our appetizers would come out looking like this! "Delicate flavors and sophisticated appearance" are words I have since read in reviews...and how true! Here we have empanadas filled with beef tenderloin and Arepitas, which is cornbread dough stuffed with Oaxaca cheese...and 3 meats AND Tacu Tacus, rice and bean cakes served with 3 meats! Perfect!
This is the dish Roberto created for today. We told him to come up with a name, but forgot to ask before we left. Let's call it The LoShaBe for the 3 diners who first sampled the dish!
We split this heavenly feast 3 ways, after devouring many appetizers. The pork with special spicy rub melted in the mouth and the discs of turnip-like goodies on top, were a nice surprise. I can't remember all the details about the sauce...chopped zucchini and other goodies...but i know it was a perfect addition.
We also shared a fruity Peruvian drink of blended apples, raisins, blue corn, orange and cinnamon. The only thing missing was a shot of PISCO, Peru's National alcoholic beverage. At their new location in December, they will be able to serve Pisco!
We were getting ready to leave when Roberto's wife and cousin introduced themselves. I told them I'd been to Peru and had never eaten anthing close to this delicious. They seemed pleased, but then cringed when I told them I had eaten guinea pig and alpaca on my trip many years ago. Once again I learned to not make assumptions about cultures! For years I thought everyone in Peru ate those 2 animals. 2 Bonus points for learning that!
So on top of delicious food and fun people encounters, we must throw in 2 Bonus for interesting fellow diners (no pics) and 1 Bonus for some nice, possibly Peruvian music playing softly. We will be sure to try out their new location after December!
TOTAL OF 19 POINTS FOR LATIN BITES!!!
Rhona is looking up to make sure we have arrived at Cafe Pita, our little Bosnian restaurant on Westheimer.
I actually had to look up Bosnia on the map to remind myself where it is! I've never been anywhere close to Bosnia. ( although I could have taken a swim across the Adriatic Sea from Italy) I had no idea what kind of food this would be, but it was Rhona's idea and how could I say no!
Once inside this cozy, family owned spot, we were seated by a lively table of young gentlemen speaking, what we guessed was Bosnian. Rhona posed with her menu so I could sneak a photo of our fellow diners. A mighty 4 bonus points for hearing the Bosnian language as we feasted!
Cafe Pita, does not get extra points for decor. I sort of wanted to iron out this warped print next to our table, but then I had memories of a childhood attempt to iron the vinyl TWISTER game, so it would lay flat. (not a good idea for the game or the iron)
Anyway, in this photo Rhona presents a basket of lepinga bread! This is like an extra fluffy, puffy pita bread. They serve many sandwiches on this. It was delicious all by itself!
For our lunch we decided to split a sample platter of cevapi, stuffed pljeskavice, beef and chicken kebabs, basmati rice, ajvar, fresh onions and kajmak...now to remember what all that was?
Bosnian food is a mixture of Western and Eastern influences. The Kebabs were familiar, but the cevapi (sausage) is what Bosnia is known for. Looks like breakfast sausage, but is hand ground daily with lots of garlic and spice and even soda water! Rhona was kind of enough to send me home with the leftovers and I made 2 more meals using the meat! 4 points for our Bosnian food!
No time to chat with our chef here, but he was working fast and furious! He looked up and gave me a generous smile, but my camera was too slow.
1 bonus point for a smiling chef!
We noticed our lively dining neighbors had moved outside to enjoy a little smoke and some kind of boxed chocolates. Rhona and I decided to find out if these fellows were indeed from Bosnia. Since they said they were, we wanted the inside scoop. Was this the best Bosnian food in Houston? They thought this was a pretty silly question, because Cafe Pita is the ONLY BOSNIAN restaurant in Houston...maybe Texas . " So how does this honestly compare to food back home?" I asked, since we were outside...away from chef and servers. What a relief that Rhona and I had raved about the food, because it turns out one of the gentleman, Omer Okanivic (white short sleeves) is the owner! They got quite a laugh out of revealing this, then gathered for a nice pose, letting me have the chair since I was the "Queen".
5 Bonus points for being called Queen! (I must have reminded them of their mother back home!)
TOTAL OF 14 POINTS FOR CAFE PITA....but one more thing BELOW!
If we had done our homework and watched Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, we would have seen clips of Guy Fieri chatting with Omer the Owner!
Guy gives a much more thourough peek at Cafe Pita! See clip below!
When Scott's girlfriend, Chali was in town we were eager to search out the most authentic Thai food we could find. Chali grew up eating Thai food, cooked by her mother and she's also spent much of her life in Thailand. Figured we'd venture away from our neighborhood favorite, Thai Cottage...all the way to the Heights for our dining experience!
Asia Market is really a tiny food shop (on a rather run down part of W. Cavalcade St.) that also prepares meals. On the internet I noticed "grungy" and "hole in the wall" being used by reviewers who also adored the flavorful dishes. As you can see in the photo, the tables are squeezed into the front of the shop where you can eye stacked bags of rice and crowded shelves of goodies while you dine! 3 bonus points for the browsing possibilities! I would not use the word grungy! It just felt like eating in a friend's cluttered home.
Papaya Salad!! Chali was very excited about this, because it is not always served in Thai restaurants. It looks like noodles, but is really shredded papaya with shrimp. We shared this cold dish, using the plastic goods at a nearby table where you also help yourself to condiments and sauces and pitchers of water. Again, I felt like I was getting up from my kitchen table to serve myself from the fridge! Comfy...not grungy!
Another thing Chali was fairly giddy about was sticky rice. I guess it's harder to make than steamed, so her mother doesn't make it as often. In the photo she's teaching Scott to use his hands.
Now about chopsticks... for years I thought using chopsticks in a Thai restaurant showed your ignorance. Chail says she uses them for noodle dishes. 3 bonus points for what I learned!
I ordered Tom Yum Soup with chicken for my main dish. I am a big fan of coconut milk, so this was a treat! The soup was packed with chicken, veggies and spice. I had heard food can be pretty hot here, but this was just about right. I had a little water in my Styrofoam cup, just in case!
3 points for Tom Yum soup! I actually had enough left over for lunch the next day!
Don is looking very sly about his Pad Thai! We certainly can't give him any bonus points for trying a new and unusual dish, since Pad Thai is about the most common of dishes in Thai restaurants. But he said it was quite tasty!
The photo hardly gives a peek at the other diners, but with only 8 tables you wouldn't expect much people watching. However, by the time we left all the tables were full.
3 points for a very eclectic crowd of diners (as well as food shoppers) We had a policeman and UPS driver. We had a curious Johnny Depp/Carlos Santana guy. A surfer dude trying to dress for business... Less than half the crowd was Asian, which was a bit surprising since the store attracts customers seeking Asian ingredients. But all in all there was a likeable feel to the curious characters we dined near!
Our server Phloi (sp?) added many bonus points to our meal adventure. She was very delighted to learn that Chali's mother is Thai, but even more delighted when Chali told her that her parents had almost named her Phloi!
2 bonus points for Phloi!
Hearing the Thai language certainly added to authenticity. I couldn't understand a word, but wondered why Chali anwered a question with "Nit noi". (that's the name of a Houston Thai restaurant) But Chali said she was just answering Phloi's question of "how spicy?" with "a little bit."
5 Bonus points for Chali helping us have an authentic adventure!
TOTAL OF 19 POINTS FOR ASIA MARKET!
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.