Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Well enough about Spain. For now. You will of course hear more about Spain after my Spain party next month. But for now lets get local.

The lovely ladies and I went out to a new place. New to me, that is, since the last time I lived in Houston this place did not exist. Its interesting how the midtown Houston area has incubated the mainstream deflecting indie crowd in all facets. I'm finding not only is the art in this area unique and thought-provoking, so is the food.

New place is called T'Afia. T'Afia is the realization of talent from chef Monica Pope. Chef Monica was actually cooking that night so it was a special treat. I learned that Chef Monica is part of the gay community, loves Houston and insists that all of her ingredients are local to the area. She also loves to push flavors into collaboration which do not at all seem intuitive. Or at times even appetizing. But I have to say, she's got a gift and everything works well together. Surprisingly well and in a completely unclassifiable way.

Things to try here.

Ratafias. A ratafia is a fortified wine infused with seasonal produce. I had a white wine infused with strawberry (hint of basil) and a red wine infused with grapefruit. Both were amazing.

Red potatoes, bacon, maple & nutmeg. You know how pancakes taste when you get a bit of bacon and a bit of maple syrup on them? Well this is the same thing. Unbelievable. I would have never thought of creating a maple-based sauce for my red potatoes, but you better believe I will be trying this at home.

Chermoula scallops, red quinoa, buerre blanc. Chermoula is a Moroccan inspired seasoning which seems to take on a peppery paprika flavor. This blended extremely well with the earthy nuttiness of quinoa, one of the best-for-you grains around. Of course everything tastes just a bit better with a buttery beurre blanc sauce on it. Texture, flavor, discovery and wonder - this dish has it all.

Caramel semifreddo, crunchy sesame. I'm not much on dessert but the table ordered this one so I was "forced" into trying it. Semifreddo has the consistency of ice cream blended with marshmallow creme, quite airy despite its heavy caloric punch. What was interesting were the candied sesame seed clusters and the very unconventional addition of a sauce based on a balsamic reduction. I know, it sounds odd but I bet you will not be able to stop.

So far, T'Afia has kicked the other Houston restaurants' collective culinary butt. You know where I will take you should you decide to visit.

3701 Travis
Houston, Texas

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

BCN: Eat

For my last post about Barcelona I make you a promise - You won't go hungry in Barcelona.

You will find just about any flavor but you should expect the regional Catalan fare to take stage everywhere. And you should try as much of the local food as possible. You can get pasta and baked chicken anywhere, you dont need to fly 14 hours for that.

Sister and I narrowed down our Top 3 to these 5 (alas there were 2 ties, otherwise known as we couldn't make a decision)

Third place

Xuclá i Pintor Fortuny

Located behind the swanky Hotel 1898 we found an alley. The alley had three great indoor / outdoor restaurants. We liked Sagarra the best. Definitely try to snag one of the outdoor tables. You might have to put up with a beggar or two but the street musicians are worth the minor annoyance.

Tapas to try here are: Patatas Bravas, Crab Salad and the uber addictive Spinach Croquettes! Of course, it goes without saying that you will order a litre of Sangria.


Basement of Cortes Ingles
Placa de Catalunya

Sure, you are entering a big mall. So what? Take the escalators down to the basement and round the corner to the counter deli. Pick up a couple of bocadillos (ironically called flautas); make sure to try at least one that is made from Torta de Espana (the ubiquitous potato omlette). This is an inexpensive snack or lunch. Sister and I had these for breakfast so often we started referring to them as Mc Torta Sandwiches.

Second Place

Taller De Tapas
Rambla de Catalunya, 49

On the northern stretch of Las Ramblas in the La Eixample hood. Definitely get an outdoor table and remember noone eats here until at least 10pm. There are items on this menu that we did not see elsewhere and there are some that are just better here.

Tapas to try here: Spinach and Chickpeas with Serrano Ham (we ate this at least four times and loved it!), Patatas Bravas (because you cant get enough of fried potatoes) and Octopus in Garlic Olive Oil (I'm usually luke warm about the Pus but this was unbelievably good!) Once again, you will need to order a litre of Sangria, just in case you forgot.

Taller De Tapas

El Che
Vilà I Vilà, 71

No trip to Barcelona is complete without trying Paella, the most wonderful saffron rice dish. When we asked for the best Paella restaurant we got many responses but this one came up more often as the place the locals would go for their Paella fix.

It was a small, elegant restaurant in the middle of the most diverse neighborhood we saw in Barcelona. Not far from the harbor and only a 15 minute walk from La Rambla. We went old school, Paella with seafood, although we were jealously eyeing our neighbors Paella Negra, a paella made with rice and squid ink; the deep purple of the rice definitely set off everything else. We were totally happy with our paella, although we wanted more seafood.

With paella I recommend taking a break from Sangria and switching over to one of the many wonderful Spanish Tempranillos or Riojas.

Our Favorite

Cuidad Comdal
Rambla de Catalunya, 18

Ask any Barcelona native and they will tell you this place is the best place for tapas. We agree. By now you know the drill: sangria, patatas bravas. Here you should also try Pan con Tomate, Grilled Asparagus, Grilled Pork Loin and the Tuna Stuffed Peppers! If you like beer, try the one brewed in Barcelona, Estrella Damm. If you like desserts try the Catalonain Creme, its like Creme Brulee only more pudding like. Its better to sit inside to capture the whole natives-eat-out feel, however be prepared to scream to be heard; its always busy and the Barcelona crowd is loud.

Cuidad Comdal


Saturday, April 04, 2009

BCN: Barcelonetta and Port Olimpic

Barcelonetta is a sea-hugging, older part of town having a dual life: it hosts the working class fisherman of the city and its one of the new, "cool" parts of town under gentrification. It's gritty, offers an amazing array of seafood and should not be missed. After strolling through the ultra-confusing, nameless and signless grid of streets, try to emerge at the sea and follow the massive sidewalk toward Port Olimpic, the newer part of town in which you'll find Barcelona's rendition of the "Twin Towers", the "World Trade Center", as well as every luxury hotel built in the last decade.

Port Olimpic

The two taller buildings in the background are known locally as the Twin Towers. They are not twins, of course. The big copper looking structure is known as Moby Dick, its a huge metal scupture of a whale.

Port Olimpic - Jungle Gym at the Sea

Port Olimpic - Boats!

Port Olimpic - World Trade Center (seriously)

Barcelona's World Trade Center is currently up and running although as you can see from the photo, the top floors are still under construction.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

BCN: Parc De La Ciutadella

Walking east from La Rambla allows you to explore the soulful neighborhood of Barri Gòtic; an interesting and ecclectic mix of people, smells and sounds, all nestled casually into narrow, criss-crossing streets and older construction vaguely reminding me of Florence, Italy. A eastern exit of Barri Gòtic will place you at the entrance to yet another lovely and historic park known as Parc De La Ciutadella.

Here you will find the Barcelona Zoo, the Catalan Parliament Building and the huge fountain area known as Cascada, loosely modeled after the Trevi fountains in Rome. If you dont know the convergence and divergence of Catalan and Spanish history, this is the place to learn. I would recommend not asking a Barcelona resident about the difference between Catalonia and Spain; this is a black hole from which discussion never exits. Keep in mind the Catalan sense of nationalism is extremely strong and they do not consider themselves part of Spain, technicalities aside.

Building Detail

Metal Sculpture

Creepy Trees

Grand Walkway



Catalan Parliament Building

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