November 20, 2023

El Bolillo Bakery on Airline across from the Airline Farmer's Market

El Bolillo on Airline. 

Back in the day, about a decade or more ago, there were a bunch of panaderias in the Heights. Two on North Main, two on Yale, etc. But there was something disappointing about all of them. Like the owners and staff didn't care. Messy cabinets, paint peeling on the walls, a kind of here we are, we're a Mexican bakery so this is how we are kind of attitude. Kirk Michaelis, Galveston born, had a doughnut shop and his staff of bakers told him that if he would put together a panaderia they would come and make all the traditional breads of Mexico. He established the first El Bolillo (which is actually a pun, since a "bolillo" in addition to being a dinner roll is also slang for a "white guy") and went out of his way to make it very nice and hospitable. 

Soon, people were shopping at only his place and the other panaderias went out of business. Was this cultural appropriation by a white guy? I say no. He just made a cleaner,better, more friendly venue for patrons and they supported him. With the success of the first location (where El Rey meat market is an aside, this is where I buy my chorizo as it is made in house from a family recipe of one of the butchers) he built his new location across the street and went out of his way to make it pretty, with murals on the wall, lots of space, and a large assortment of the breads of Mexico. I got to have some input. 

On one of the walls, the artist whom he had hired was painting a woman at her metate. But in her hands was a rolling pin. I showed the artist what a metlapil should look like and she repainted over the rolling pin!

Kirk survived a cancer lymphoma.

Kirk knows how to juggle.

He has three daughters that went to Nashville to start a music career as a trio. Under the name Michaelis.

For me, like for so many others, El Bolillo is my Heightw default when I want breads and I'm not baking my own.

Although they sell flour tortillas, my preferred source for flour tortillas by the dozen is actually Spanish Flowers, where Airline dead ends into North Main. Less greasy. And I also love the flour tortillas at Trigo's, but that isn't in the Heights and is a story for another time.

Many years ago, when he was just building the new place, Kirk and I did a walk through his production area. I did a video of one of his bakers forming bolillos and to this day, it is the YouTube video that I've had the most hits on. Go figure.

November 19, 2023

Specialty Coffee in Houston - Great Artisanal Coffee Places in Houston - Many of Which Do Their Own Roasting

Click on the map in order to enlarge it:

1. Here is the actual link to the map so that you can explore it in greater detail:

2. Here is a link to an excellent blogpost by Carrie Colbert on her favorite coffee spots in Houston:

3. There was a terrific show on Houston Public Media with Eric, Gwendolyn and David on their favorite coffee shops. Here is a link to that show. 

August 31, 2023

Lasbela Pakistan Cuisine - Sugarland - A John Nechman Discovery


John Writes:

"Of the many Houston Restaurant Weeks menus that we’ve tried this year, the best in flavor and value by a long shot is at a place I had not heard anything about until finding them on the HRW list – Lasbela, a delightful, and beautiful Pakistani restaurant in Sugar Land (13849 Southwest Freeway). We first visited this location when it was called Mai Colachi, which we really liked, but the new place is even better. If you love Indo-Pakistani food (and if you don’t, I’m sorry for you!), HRW continues through September 4th, and this is a perfect opportunity to discover (or re-discover) this place.

You can view the HRW menu at this link ( ). Four courses for only $39. But these aren’t just any courses. The first three feature plates that each are the size of typical entrées at most restaurants. In other words, this is a hellalotta food! That wouldn’t matter too much if the food weren’t magnificent, but it is. We dined with a friend, and when we told our wonderful Afghani server Aftab that we wanted to try each of the dishes from each course, he warned us that it was a huge amount of food, and he suggested we just order 2 HRW menus and share the chosen dishes between the 3 of us. We told him that we felt up to the challenge of trying all the dishes, not realizing that with portions this huge, just one HRW menu would have been enough to fill all 3 of us. (SEE MORE OF THE REVIEW AFTER PHOTOS)

We thoroughly enjoyed every course. Some were stunning. I usually stay away from sweet-and-sour chicken, but the Patakha chicken here, infused with a brisk spicy kick, is a riveting Pakistani-Chinese version with subtle hints of turmeric and mango. The word “riveting” can also be said for the restaurant’s version of Pakistani fish and chips, the Muzang fried fish, featuring an ambrosial batter and a homemade sauce that looks like tartar but tastes like Heaven.

The second course includes a selection of savory kebabs and tender strips of chicken marinated in cream and spices and described perfectly on the menu as being of “melt in the mouth texture.” The third course brought three enormous karahi (deep cooking pots that look like woks) containing a trio of delights, including my favorite dish of the evening, the murgh malai handi, featuring a rich, savory mélange of tender chicken, fresh cream, butter (and plenty of it), herbs and spices. This and the other 2 dishes mix perfectly with 2 massive mounds of rice that you can choose at no extra cost to accompany the meal—we went with the spicy and the cumin versions. You can also choose at no extra cost any of their selection of naan—we loved the garlic naan.
And though we were stuffed and staring at an enormous amount of leftovers, we couldn’t resist the dessert course, which included a creamy ice cream-like burfilee, a sundae-like dilbahar ananas, and spectacular warmed gulab jamun served in fragrant rose water.
The drinks here, all non-alcoholic, are also creative and wonderful. Aftab was very helpful in explaining each of them. We tried the Lala Rukh, a very refreshing cooler made with strawberries, as well as the Burg-E-Gul, made with rosewater. Richi loved his mango lassi, and the aromatic chai is the perfect way to end a meal here.
The restaurant is beautiful with soothing music. The service is caring and attentive, and you’re simply going to be amazed at what a wonderful experience you get for this HRW menu price. An 18% service charge is added, which I’m not crazy about (simply because I don’t like charges added before I authorize them), but the service is so excellent that we added considerably more. We look forward to returning and trying much more from the amazing sounding menu.
Our city is blessed to have what is likely the finest selection of Pakistani restaurants in the United States, led by Chef Kaiser Lashkari’s always magnificent and creative Himalaya. For another captivating glimpse at the magical cuisine of this region of the world, add Lasbela to the list.

July 6, 2023

Sugarcane! - Mia on Bellaire Blvd has sugarcane juice and all sorts of beverages!

Right next to The Duckhouse on Bellaire Blvd. is a new beverage destination. They have a machine that strips and extracts juice from sugarcane, for making all types of beverages, as you'll see from their extensive menu.

We loved Mia and are looking forward to going back soon. 

Sugarcane juice. In Mexico, India and other parts of the world, the juice extracted is boiled down, water evaporated, resulting in the first, most raw sugar. Called "gur" in Hindi and "piloncillo" in Mexico and Hispanic countries, it contributes a delightful flavor as it sweetens the beverage. Example, the well known cafe de olla in Mexico, with coffee, cinnamon and piloncillo. I have a trick for cafe de olla. The normal method is to simmer coffee grounds in boiling water with a stick of Sri Lankan, aka Mexican, cinnamon and piloncillo to taste. That, however, results in a very bitter coffee. So I extract my specialty coffees with a Kalita, Chemex, or V60, sweeten to taste and then add two drops of cinnamon oil, like one can find at Michael's Hobby Shop in the cake decorating section. That preserves the flavor profile of the coffee.

July 5, 2023

Mimo on Telephone Road

With three others to help me dine, we were able to sample many items on the lunch menu including two salads,  bucatelli with sausage, a fettucine with mortadella, orechiette in a light tomato sauce, and their Hoagie #1, as well as the panna cotta dessert. I can tell you truthfully that there was not a dud in the whole order. Flavorful. And the service was excellent.

Thanks to Alison Cook's Houston Chronicle review, which is how we heard about this restaurant, located in the old Kanomwan location on Telephone Road, across from Bohemeo's.

A high point were the zucchini fritters. Wow. Listed as a happy hour offering, but they were happy to fry some up for us. Panko (and some secret stuff) made for a delicious, crispy, crunchy crust.

Highly recommended. But with one caveat emptor. See comment below.

I have a good friend who owned a one star Michelin restaurant in Rome. And he is Roman to the core. And passionate about Italian, well, all cuisine as presented in Europe (which is very differently prepared, for him, based on his experiences here in Houston).

His "al dente: is REALLY "al dente". "To aid in digestion" he would say. I know, cause he's made a pasta a la Amatriciana for me in his home, and softened the pasta for me. Not much. But a little. What he called "al dente American style".

Well. He took one look at the parsley, topping the bucatini (and let's not get into the soft pasta which he would hate but which I prefer) and said "No, no, no, absolutely not! If you brought a dish with the parsley stems still intact, you would be laughed out of business. That is NOT done in Italy. Ever." He also was amused by the mortadella topping the fettucine and the general appearance of the dish. I've learned a lot from him. 

John Nechman writes of the lunch:
"You’ve likely heard amazing things about Mimo ( ) the unassuming spot that has taken over what was once Kanomwon in the Tlaquepaque complex at 736 ½ Telephone Rd. Believe everything you’ve heard. Dramatic flavors from the finest ingredients set forth in a simple manner so that every individual element shines through. Superb wines. A caring staff who knows how a dining experience is supposed to be managed. Dining at Mimo yesterday for lunch with a couple of delightful friends, we tried a wide assortment of dishes and found all of them good.

You don’t want to rush this. Mimo is the ideal place to relax, share plates and conversation, and contemplate the magic of each plate set before you. We started with a snappy suppa del giorno of creamy chickpeas in a slightly tart and aromatic broth and a salad of red-tip lettuce dressed in a classic Caesar. We couldn’t pass up another salad about which the Chronicle’s Alison Cook (a Mimo regular) raved—tangy and just-bitter-enough layers of burgundy-speckled Castelfranco radicchio with watermelon relish doused in preserved lemon-miso vinaigrette, then buried under a snow flurry of fine shaved parmigiano. Simply stunning.
We split 3 excellent pastas—a fettucine coated in lemon, crushed pistachios and English peas, then topped with sliced mortadella; orecchiette blended with crispy pancetta, roasted cherry tomatoes, and lemon butter, with the unique nuttiness of fresh chunks of Romanesco and the earthy qualities of mature Pecorino; and a daily special of bucatini in a velvety sugo rosa-like sauce with nuggets of sweet rosemary-spiked homemade salsiccia. Nothing was left from these 3 plates.
Of the 5 mouth-watering panini, we chose and loved the one simply called “hoagie,” featuring finocchiona (a rarely-seen-in-Houston fennel-flavored salami), mortadella, and provolone on spectacular bread, served with a homemade giardiniera of iceberg lettuce, tomato, and peppers in top quality vinegar and evoo. One of my favorite dishes is easy to miss on the menu—look under the sides for the corn and zucchini fritters, served with truffled honey. These are totally addictive and would make a sensational antipasti. If you are more than 2 people, you will want more than 1 order of these. An Azimut Brisat Parellada, a bracing orange wine, set off all the flavors of these wonderful dishes we enjoyed.
We went with 2 desserts—an insanely rich panna cotta topped with a candied lemon and mint honey-like syrup, and fresh-baked lemon amaretti cookies served with crema di vin santo.
After lunch, I tried to remember where I’d seen the handsome gentleman with the gorgeous blue eyes who was one of 3 who took such great care of our table—the receipt showed M. Sammons, and I saw his name in Alison Cook’s review ( ). He has managed or owned several of our favorite places—How to Survive on Land and Sea, La Dolce Vitá, and 13 Celsius, Weights & Measures, and Mongoose vs Cobra in Midtown. We’ve enjoyed all of these places, and Mimo brings together much of what we’ve loved in all of them. "

July 4, 2023

The Duck House on Bellaire Blvd. -Bun Mang Vit Thanh Da ( A Doc Ricky Discovery)

 "I always like it when a particular restaurant on Bellaire Blvd. specializes in one dish".

It was a Monday, and Irene and I had put a call in to Doc Ricky to see if he was free for lunch. And he suggested we try this place that he had read about, specializing in a Vietnamese duck specialty.

We ordered and were served a big bowl of sliced duck, bone in, on a bed of cabbage that had been lightly seasoned with vinegar and spices. On the side was another large bowl, this one with rice vermicelli noodles in a broth. And a ramekin with garlic chillie paste. All of these things came together in a delicious "bun". The duck was room temp and I asked them if it was to be heated up in the soup broth. "Whatever way you like is fine." I'll have to confirm that the duck meat was a tad tough. 

Because the duck was bone in, and chopped up in that Asian style, I remarked that I missed the Western method of deboning poultry. And since there was enough food for at least one more meal, I ended up packing the remaining portion of duck to take home. When I got home, I put it into a cooking container with a little water and slow cooked it in the oven for hours until the protein broke down and it became pull apart tender. The next day, I shredded the duck meat away from the bone.

While Irene and I went for the noodles, Doc Ricky opted for the congee, and I will get that the next time myself. "I'm fascinated by the different ways congee is made in different regions." Me too. Love congee. 

We had such a great time here and I'm already looking forward to going back.

Here is what I wrote in my Google Maps review: " Darn, this was fun! Way outside of my comfort zone but I’m an adventurous eater. Duck themed. What arrives is one bowl of duck, chilled, bone in, on a bed of shredded cabbage. On the side, a large bowl of rice vermicelli soup. Mix and match. Totally enjoyed the first time and will return. Note. Periwinkle style snails are also a specialty. I’m not a fan of them, based on a few tries at places around town. For me there is too much of a sewage taste, and I’m a person who likes durian. But if you’ve never had them, give them a try."

And so, I put the duck into a sauce pan, covered, added some water and simmered it in the oven for about 6 hours at a setting of 200 F. Then, after it had cooled, I did the de-boning, discarding the bones. I had the option of keeping or discarding the gelatinized broth. And I decided to keep that separate. Here then, are photos of the shredded duck. Tender. And if anything, the cabbage and duck is even better after a night in the refrigerator!

The duck, next day. And the noodles reheating. And the cabbage.