March 31, 2022

A Taste of China Restaurant - A Michael Shum Discovery

Michael Writes:

"Thanks to the recommendation of a friend and a most talented chef herself, we had lunch with another couple on a nice spring Saturday at Taste of China for the first time.
My guests were excited immediately upon seeing the menu, taking charge of ordering, relieving me of the responsibility.
The NanJing Style Salted Duck was their first pick as a cold dish appetizer. It has a clean presentation with the duck chopped into precise pieces by a skilled person. The taste is subtle, with a mild saltiness. The meat is tender and the skin is softened.
My favorite is probably the Dried Bamboo Shoot with Roasted Pork Belly. The dried bamboo shoots are imported from China; fragrant and slightly salty. They infuse the soy sauce that's used to roast the pork belly, resulting in the lean part of the protein being super flavorful and the fatty part of the belly satisfyingly melting in your mouth.
We were going to skip a dish that turns out to be a crowd favorite, thanks to the insistence of our waitress. The Diced Beef Tenderloin in Black Pepper easily is a must-order dish, with fatty and tenderized beef cubes, prepared in an umami sauce with the right amount of pepperiness, resting on a generous bed of vegetables.
I personally could not pass on the Xiao Long Bao, which we all like, and these may belong to the top-tier level in Houston. Seeing my elderly Chinese guests skillfully scoop up and devour those tiny dumplings filled with soup is a sight to behold; showing how they are accustomed to this dish.
The only dish that packs some heat is the Stir-fried Preserved Chinese Bacon with Bamboo Shoots and Dried Tofu. The spiciness comes on two fronts, the initial spike from the chili oil and then a slow burn that builds up after.
Our guests, who went through the Cultural Revolution back in China shared with us life experiences of dire hardship and threat of survival. They worked so hard to finally immigrate to the US because of their academic achievements and hard work at the University. We felt fortunate to listen to them, sharing their special life stories.
Taste of China is a hidden gem right in Sterling Plaza, the heart of Bellaire Chinatown. My Chinese clients assured me that the food is on par with what they had in China with the bonus of safer and cleaner ingredients. I will come back for this authentic Chinese restaurant that serves delicious and unique regional Chinese dishes. When you want to take a break from American-Chinese food and sample similar dishes that are served in China, this is a place you should consider."









John Nechman writes: " The quality of Asian food in this city continues to stagger, and near the top of the list is a spot in Bellaire's Asian District called Taste Of China (9888 Bellaire). Of course, Mr. Bellaire himself Michael Shum first reported on this spot, and today, my brother Scott and our friend Jay P. Francis enjoyed a fabulous lunch feast, ordering most of Michael's recommendations.
Here's the blueprint for a stellar meal:
1. Bamboo shoots with roast pork. The dish arrives looking almost like a dessert, resembling a mound of German-style red cabbage studded with blocks of shiny caramel. The base is actually seasoned steamed bamboo shoots with an almost smoky, slightly sweetened and salty flavor, and the candy-lookalikes are actually braised pork belly chunks, about 2/3 lucious pork and 1/3 glorious fat. We all fell in love with this dish.
2. Diced beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce. The beef chunks ae juicy and expertly-cooked in a dazzling black pepper sauce with an assortment of different colored peppers, onions, celery, outragesouly-flavorful and chewy mushrooms, and garlic. Pretty much every other dish you've ever seen on other Chinese menus that sounds like this one will pale in comparison.
3. "Spicy chicken." Ok, no style points for names here. But this was one of my favorites--expertly-fried and surprisingly tiny chunks of chicken cooked in a glistening oil with tons of sliced fiery red chili peppers and peanuts--the chicken had a flavor that hinted cumin and Sichuan peppercorns though I didn't see any in the dish. I could not stop eating the chicken and the peanuts.
4. Xiao long bao--spectacular Shanghai soup dumplings. Michael places them near the top of his Houston list of these soup-packed delights. 'Nuff said.
5. Stir-fried baby bok choy with yuba (tofu skin)--a vegetarian stunner. The yuba pulls a flavor from the sauce that makes it almost taste like morel mushrooms.
Our server Cammi took wonderful care of us, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we experienced some unforgettable flavors and dishes today. We look forward to many returns.

Miyagi Sushi - A Houston Treasure

The lines form around 11:30 for the opening at noon. There are only 12 tables and the restaurant is staffed by the sushi master and his wife handles front of the room. 

The food is fantastic and I will let the photos tell the story. There is a lunch menu from which we made our choices. Recommended: the curry udon soup ; and the salmon salad; but everything here is great. 

On most days Sushi Miyagi is open only from 12 to 3 (see photo of business hours). I can't recommend this place highly enough. A Houston institution.













(Kinjo and I waiting for the doors to open at noon)




Sao Lao - Laotian Cuisine in Houston

 




















I first heard about Sao Lao on N. Shepherd, just a little bit north of the B&W Meat Market in early 2022 through the Houston Heights Foodies food group on Facebook (I'm a member). The photos of the dishes looked fantastic, and, in February, I had my first opportunity to check it out. Wow.


A small menu, and that is a good thing. A lot of attention to each dish. The chef told me that she started with some family recipes for the Boat Soup, but then kept working and working on it until she was satisfied. A lot of spices, prepared in a way that none overwhelmed the others. Just a fantastic broth with rice noodles pork meatballs and tender ribeye steak slices. Again, wow.

To begin, order the jerky, which comes with sticky rice and a sauce and lettuce and have them show you the way to eat it. 

Next, go for, well, based on our experience, just about anything on the menu is going to be fantastic. But we had the boat soup, and the crunchy crispy Laotian rice. And we had dumplings.  











I have a gut feeling that this place is going to become incredibly popular so go before the crowds discover it.




























John Nechman writes: “ Our friend, foodie and expert on all things fried chicken and Mexican,  Jay P. Francis, was sweet enough to pick up a jar for me of something I've been trying to hunt down for a long time--mayhaw jelly. I've had a crazy work schedule but wanted to meet up for lunch (and to get my jelly!), and to be able to include Richi, who was anxious to see Jay, we needed a place between the school where he teaches in the North End and the Galleria, where he had some serious shopping to do. We settled on Sao-Lao Thai Café (5013 N. Shepherd), a place Jay highly recommended.

Though humble in size and appearance, Sao Lao more than makes up for it in flavor.  I went full-on Lao, ordering the house-made Lao beef jerky with a traditional spicy tomato sauce and sticky rice.  It put to shame anything I've bought at Bucee's.  

As my imagined/imaginary Laotian grandmother would likely tell me--WASH YOUR HANDS! Little pouches of sticky rice come with just about everything--the idea is to pinch off a portion, roll it into a ball, and dunk it into the omnipresent sauces while eating whatever they come with.  Richi ordered what was described on the menu as sliced filet ignon but which was actually a Laotion specialty that appeared to be a beef tartare made with ground tripe and served with lettuce leaves to make "tacos," along more of that sticky rice. He scarfed down every bit of it.

I had the Nam Khao, which looked like a large bowl of paella adorned with lettuce leaves. The rice was crispy fried and cooked with a red curry sauce, dessicated coconut, cilantro, green onions, spices, peanuts, and ground fermented pork. It is served cold, but I enjoyed its unique and complex flavors. Jay spoke glowingly of the beef boat noodle soup, which looked like a Louisiana gumbo rich with roux. It must be great--Jay ordered it on his first visit as well.

We ended the meal with a mango sticky rice and thanked the sweet server at the register who we all thought was Lao but is actually El Salvadoran. Like us, she appears to really love the food at this delightufl little spot. “





Chā Giô Houston - Crispy Rice Paper Vietnamese Spring Rolls

 I've set out, for my next project, to explore Houston in search of the perfect chā giô. A lot of places have moved over to offering these with the lumpia/spring roll type wrapper that is wheat based. But I am looking for a traditional one with a clear rice paper wrapper. 















Making these perfectly requires skill and finesse, as frying rice paper can result in a burned and/or greasy result. The rice paper is dry and is reconstituted with a water and sugar bath. The sugar helps with the browning and helps create a bubbly surface texture. Chewiness and crunchiness. 

This version of spring rolls made by wrapping filling in clear rice paper wrappers (bánh tráng) and then frying them. The filling usually consists of ground pork, vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, and glass noodles. They’re often served with lettuce and herbs, for wrapping, and, with nuoc cham as a dipping sauce.

I went to the Facebook group, Chowdown in Chinatown - Houston, for recommendations. I'll be publishing that list at a future date. 

At the same time, my friend Michael Shum messaged me "I know a place". And honestly, his recommendation for Phat Ky, well, I can probably stop my search now. But I won't.

On my own, I've visited Thien An and Kim Son, both in the downtown area. Both were good...perfectly acceptable. 

But. 

I'm looking for "spectacular".

Next day saw me at Phat Ky with Michael and friends. We enjoyed an excellent catfish clay pot, mango and shrimp salad, and the chā giô. Enough to order a second serving. Just great. Here are some pictures.










Quesos to Go - Venezuelan Cuisine in Houston

 Tucked into a little strip center just one street over from Fry Road is a delightful grocery store with regional cheeses and specialties from Venezuela. 

Friend, John Nechman, calls this area of Fry/Mason : "Katyzuela", because of the number of South American eateries and options out there.

Here is where you will find your various ground corn for arepas and other South American dishes, and cheeses, and snack foods. 

Look out for the assortment of ají chile based hot sauces and the extensive collection of cookies and chocolates. 

Even Venezuelan style sandwich bread (butter bread).

Tequeños in different flavors, (a fried snack) perfect for parties, are available in the freezer section. And empanadas, also in the freezer section (see menu below).

We chatted with one of the owners about methods for making arepas. Although one can buy electric arepa makers, similar to a waffle maker, a good old griddle or cast iron pan will work just fine. Lots of recipes on YouTube if you want to tackle them at home. And the owners will walk you through the corn flours for the masa when you visit.













Tierra Nueva - An Amazing Place for Shopping

I was asked if I’d like to do an article on paleterías and I immediately said “Heck yes!” Today’s explore took me to Crosstimbers (El Pibe and La Florecita Michoacana). And in driving around I came across an absolutely terrific place called Tierra Nueva (corner of Irvington and Crosstimbers). Check out the photos. One stop shopping for fruits, vegetables, spices, candies, et al….. just as one might find in México! Check out these photos.