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

Friday, June 18, 2010


From outward appearances one would not guess that it has been deemed the best new restaurant to hit the Houston scene since it opened last December. Rather, it almost looks like a wayward Zen Garden that became frozen in the constant stream of headlights on Southwest Freeway.

I don't get out much, so I can't speak to the 'best new' crown that Haven is currently strutting around town. I can tell you it should not be missed.

Continuing the escalating restaurant trend in Houston of using locally grown ingredients, Haven creates an ecclectic menu that is equal parts down-home-Southern and urban sophistication.

Shrimp Corn Dogs

The Shrimp Corn Dogs were an excellent choice of app. Created in upscale street fair fashion, super-sized shrimp meet a tasty thick batter which become greaselessly deep-fried to a visceral crunch. A spicy remoulade with lemon overtones was a perfect dipping sauce. Clever, that each plate was accompanied by a homemade lemonade shot. Really, this was the perfect sweet, airy counterbalance to the savory weight of the Shrimp Corn Dog.

Wild Boar Chili with Redneck Cheddar was equally excellent. Thick, meaty and midly spiced. The Redneck Cheddar, sour cream and grated purple onion that were served with, not only create visual texture, they added dimension to a chili that already had a lovable, quirky personality of its own. BTW, Redneck Cheddar is a cheddar that has been washed in Shiner Bock.

Alas, although I'm sure the chef would work with a vegetarian, there were not many vegetarian options. And for vegans, you can have the water with lemon. Yum!

Decor was casually chic-minimalist. Service was upbeat, efficient and informed. While the space was one-big and open, the noise factor supported inside-voice conversations. Street parking was easy on Algerian Way for lunch but the valet might come in handy for dinner, given its meteoric rise in popularity. Prices were the upper end of moderate but that was expected and easily digested.

Haven: Manager BQQ Approved Dining

2502 Algerian Way

Houston, TX, 77098

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Miami: Eat

My perception of the Miami dining scene was that it would be saturated with Cuban fare and fast seafood. Absurd! Of course, some of the best Cuban meals can be had in Miami, if thats what you're looking for. To my surprise Miami is influenced by ALL of Latin America, particularly those cultures that are semi-resident in the city due to the financial industry; yes, Miami is the financial representative in the US for much of Central and South America.

My favorites were:

55 SW Eighth St
Miami, FL 33135

I have to believe that this is the quintessential Cuban restaurant. Located deep in the heart of Little Havana on Calle Ocho, comfortable, loud and constantly packed with people from all cultures. The menu, while it is heavily dominated by pork and seafood has just about everything imaginable. I let our sevrer decide my meal and it was a beautiful Garlic Soup and a Calle Ocho Special pressed sandwich.

The Garlic Soup was prepared by placing a large, thick slice of buttered garlic bread in a bowl, topping that with a over easy egg, then ladeling a super roasted garlic broth over the top. Easily a meal but why stop there? The Calle Ocho Special press, which I now refer to as the Triple Pigging, was a weighty combination of ham, roasted pork shoulder and bacon, combined with some other less important ingredients that might have been vegetables but really, who cares! This was probably the best sandwich I've ever had. As with everything, it came with enough plantain chips to feed a small country. I highly doubt these were fried in 'good' oil, they tasted way too good!

Dont miss their bakery next door for a Cuban pastry and Cortadito, Cuban coffee.

Versailles: Niecelette Approved Dining

947 Brickell Ave
Miami, FL 33131

Peruvian food is terrific but almost impossible to find in Houston. Its a shame, the combinations of flavors are surprisingly good. Inka had just opened the week prior but judging by the crowds infiltrating the rather swank dining area, they will be very successful.

We had a trilogy of ceviches, each of which were prepared very differently, the most outstanding was Yellowtail mixed with key lime, papaya and just a smattering of hot pepper. The staple Peruvian potatoes in 'cheese sauce', Papas a la Huancaina, were also surprisingly good; thick firmly cooked sliced potatoes served cold, topped with the cheese sauce, which is actually not cheese based, its made from hot yellow Peruvian pepper and cream, giving it the appearance of cheese.

I had a fantastic fish special, but for the life of me I cant remember what it was. It was certainly artfully prepared. And I have proof. Those Pisco Sours were really, really good. All 4 of them.

My Mysterious Dish

As you can infer, the Pisco Sours were phenomenal; its amazing the difference when you have a good Pisco Sour; crisp, refreshing with right balance of lime and very little foamy egg whites. I discovered that Pisco is distilled from a Peruvian white grape.

Inka: Sis and BroInLaw Approved Dining

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Miami: Stay

I've never actually been to Miami. Sure, I've flown into Miami airport, then begrudgingly convinced my rental car to go to the outbanks of Miami, otherwise known as South Beach. I've since equated Miami to South Beach, which is not only unfair, I happy to report its completely absurd.

Miami has changed since the last time I saw it, in the late 90's. Now the skyline looks like mini-Manhattan. Sure, its only one or two streets deep of 60-story buildings but still its an impressive, if not unbelievable change. I liked.

View From Room

I don't usually comment on hotels, more or less from my travel perspective a hotel is a room to store stuff, shower and sleep. However, in this case I feel compelled.

Attention other hotels, you should be learning from Epic.

Location: Ideal. Safe. Surprisingly quiet. Walking distance to major event venues, retail, upscale and hole-in-the-wall dining, nightlife, museums and design district. 10-minute drives to Little Havana, Little Haiti, Coconut Grove and beaches.

Decor: Modern, sleek, sophisticated. Floor to ceiling glass, rich wood tones and white in varying textures set the tone. Epic's focus is on solid design and architecture. Not pummeling patrons to death with every sparkle-and-fade trend.

Pool: On the 16th floor, a pool with a great view. Two infinity pools, many canopy covered seating areas, roving wait staff, plenty of eye candy and several private 'cabanas' around the perimeter.


Rooms: Consistently followed the decor theme. Beds were disturbingly comfortable. Bathrooms were well-stocked and spacious; ceiling mounted rain showers were a nice touch. The view from my patio on the 23rd floor overlooking Brickell Ave and the water was incredible. Requisite flat-panel TV, iHome alarm and wireless were all in check.

Service: Class. Epic has service honed to an art form. Not once was I upsold, cross-sold or pitched anything. Genuinely friendly staff are always available but never intrusive. All requests I had became feverish missions for the staff. Expectations exceeded.


"I'd like a restaurant that can handle both an organic vegan and a carnivore, preferably an Italian or Thai and within a 15-minute drive" -- They found two. They made reservations, printed a map and the next day followed up to make sure we enjoyed.

"I'd like a 7-10 mile walking path through downtown." Done. Map printed, path highlighted in yellow; recommended sites, coffehouses and restaurants circled, areas to avoid were outlined in red. An umbrella was handed to me on the way out for those everyday at 3pm, 'surprise' rainshowers.

"Is there any way I can get a coffee maker in my room?" Moments later a Keurig appeared with a variety of coffee pods.

The next time I travel to Miami I will not check for other hotels, I will simply make a reservation at Epic and feel 100% confident that I'll enjoy my stay.

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Pre Miami

Its bad this time. Its been so long since I logged on that I forgot both my username and password :)

Back for a bit to report on a interesting trip to Miami. I should probably get that done before the other trips.

Tomorrow, really, I will.