October 1, 2023

Comalito HTX in the Airline Farmer's Market Complex

I came away thinking, “I don’t want to eat Mexican food anywhere else from now on in Houston.”  I would normally wait several months before trying out or commenting on a restaurant that had just opened. To allow them time for new restaurant growing pains.

But everything about today’s meal was very good. Perfectly CDMX to be specific. Because of family, I have been traveling in Mexico for over 50 years. Our family friends live in Mexico City, a.k.a..CDMX. And you can imagine just how many meals I have enjoyed in that wonderful city. 

My tacos were bistec. This is a good taco to gauge a place by. Because in Mexico where there is such intense competition between the different Taquerias and price cutting is common you can go the full range of very tough and gristle-y ones to very tender ones. My taco today was as tender and perfect as it gets. And the sauces that came with it were excellent. in addition, I ordered some thing that is typical of CDMX But not as common up here. And that is the.”costra”, or, chicharrón de queso. A thin slice of cheese is grilled and then rolled into a crunchy deliciousness. And theirs was about as good as it gets. 

The mushroom soup was excellent. In style of the La Marquesa area on the way to Toluca. Mushrooms, stock, onion, garlic, and strips of guajillo chiles. Perfect.

I’d skip the tortilla soup as it was more like a thick chile puree gravy than a soup. Not recommended. 

But definitely try the flan. I saw, but did not sample, their churros, which looked perfectly made.

Tortillas.  They use several special types of corn to nixtamalize. It's one of the things that they feature. The tortillas are good, but dry. They could be softer and more flexible. But the tortillera making them does have the technique down to make them puff up. You typically need two-three different heat zones so you can move the tortillas from a lower temperature area to a higher temperature area. I've had tortillas in Oaxaca and Puebla that were so soft and pliable that you'd swear they were flour tortillas. But here at Comalito, that is not the case. These are harder and drier tortillas, still within the tortilla spectrum but not to my liking.The sign that a tortillera knows her stuff is when you watch the tortilla release its interior steam and puff up. You have to properly sear it, flip several times, do some heat transfers, and then know precisely when to give it a press to cause it to inflate. .

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 now...as 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.

Granel Spice Market - Airline Drive

Granel, I am told means "bulk" in Spanish. This latest, wonderful venture from the Flores Spices family is located directly across from El Bolillo Bakery on Airline Drive. It is impressive and is my default, go-to location for all of my spice needs. Especially cinnamon. The cinnamon we know of as Mexican cinnamon is actually from Sri Lanka. It is a milder cinnamon that is much loved in Mexico for flavoring pastries, coffee, chocolate, etc. Here follow photos of the Granel Spice Market.

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 ( https://houstonrestaurantweeks.com/.../lasbela.../ ). 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.