Noun 1. gastronome - a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink)bon vivant, epicure, epicurean, foodie, gourmetsensualist - a person who enjoys sensuality. Follow me on Twitter: @Aghastronome

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lusty Italian: LaGriglia = EPIC FAIL!

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine announced to me, "I have a Landry's Gift Card for $100, and I think I've had it for some time.  We need to use it, and soon."  We?  I get a freebish meal?  Why, of course "we" do!  Further discussions ensued and all we nailed down was "This Friday we will go have dinner!".  Negotiations continued into where is Happy Hour?  What Fertitta-based eatery is near?  Cadillac Bar was mentioned, a lot.  Finally, I (in my infinite wisdom) said, "Let's have dinner at LaGriglia on West Gray.  Italian sounds really good today."  You see, my brain was focused on the pre-buy-out LaGriglia, which was always a winner.  My bad.

We went for our hour of happy and hit LaGriglia around 7:00 p.m., the dinner crowd was modest, and we were seated far, far away from the seensters.  Apparently, I bear no resemblance to any of our reknowned society writers, nor do I look like a denizen of River Oaks, just guessing.  We ordered a decent bottle of red and chatted about potential menu selections.  The wine service was just fine, no complaints.  Once we ordered, a cloud of leprosy apparently enveloped us.  I had the Linguine Pescatore, for $20.95 and my friend had  the Open Flame Rotisserie Maple Leaf Farms Duck (say that three times real fast) for $19.95. Less than 5 minutes later, plates were unceremoniously plopped in front of us, with a "Need anything else?" and a glimpse of vapor trail, as the waiter scuttled away.  Well, I have a pasta dish, creamy pasta, oops a "Vibrant Bianco Sauce" with shrimp, crab, calamari, clams and mussels.  Unfortunately, LaGriglia, an Italian-themed eatery, was apparently completely and utterly devoid of fresh or pre-grated parmesan.  Totally. Out. The parmesan container was empty, the wheel reduced to a dried out rind.  That, or the waiter just knew it wasn't allowed on my "diet".  Leave my chubby out of this, I eat what I want.  I always want cheese, it's one of my favorite food groups.  The sauce (Vibrant?  Bianco?) was somewhat watery and bland, in my opinion.  The shrimp were mushy and small-ish and I would guess definitely pre-frozen (read, somewhat mealy in nature).  The clams and mussels were almost, but, not quite, as fresh as a farmhand at dusk, during a SouthEast Texas, high-humidity, August.  It was not "fresh" and we live on the "Gulf of Mexico", if you're picking up what I'm putting down.

And then there was the "duck", which I had a bite of, just to be sure.  This link, right HERE speaks volumes.  Fully cooked, just mash a couple buttons on the ole microblaster and "viola" a gourmet meal.  That was duck?  While not complely offensive, and fairly palatable (I did eat all of my nastified frozen lobster ravioli)- it did not taste like duck, it tasted like (yeah, chicken) roasted cornish game hen.  The wild rice on the side, delicious, toothsome, nutty and I would definitely want that, again.  The raspberry sauce, other end of the taste spectrum.  Syrupy and overtly sweet for something as delicate as duck.  Fruit with duck, yes, pancake syrup?  Hell. No.

The Landry's Empire has seemed to follow a very successful business plan, especially if you have something monetary to gain.  Reducing costs while leaving prices static is a proven means of generating profits.  I would surmise that old school residents of River Oaks and some preppy seensters keep the lights on at LaGriglia.  I don't believe I'll be returning, ever.  Again, for the monies spent, a better meal could be had at a smaller and less chain-like establishment.  Now, to caveat my bitter disappointment - I will say to anyone who listens, Pesce and Vic & Anthony's are two standouts in the Landry's Empire. They should be tried, all I have heard (because I am a Ferti-phobe) is that Pesce is over-the-top wonderful.  I hear lauds for the V & A crabcakes, burgers...well, okay, anything they serve.  My sister swears the best crabcake in town is at Brenner's on the Bayou (poor Sis, she knows bupkis, Haven is "where it's at"..Hello?).  I resolve to try each establishment in the nex quarter, afterall, us poorfolk may need a new, stylish outfit (yo, Omar, warm up the Singer) and to save some folding money, first.

Recap:  Not all of these locally-based, Landry's chain of restaurants are "bad", some are allegedly quite amazing.  This one, is not amazing.  This one is on my "blacklist".  Poor service, poor quality food and a general and off-putting snubbishness combined to create a perfect storm of "hell no, I won't go".  Well, the wine we selected was tasty....oh, right, hard to louse that up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tonight and the Near Future: Synopsis of Stuff

There's a lot going on, and I have been hugely remiss in writing up events, arts and music. So, here goes - I hope to do this regularly, sorta like bowling and belly dancing, scheduled.  So, here goes.  You want more or other content, leave me a comment.  I know, asking for comments is like opening Pandora's box, and burning the lid, but, hey, you people are silent.  "Comments at 15 paces" people.


Rainbow Lodge is hosting their Monthly Wine Event "Tastes From Germany", which even includes *gasp* a beer!  Here's the menu:

"Bohnen, Birnen und Speck"

Green Beans, Pears and Bacon
Darting, Durkheimer Michelsberg, Riesling Kabinett, Pflaz, 2008

Cured and Smoked Pork Loin over German Potato Salad
Paulaner, Salvator (Double Bock)

Marinated Braised Beef with Spatzle
Joseph Drathen, Dornfelder, Trocken, 2008

Apple Strudel with Farm Egg Sabayon
Kruger-Rumpf, Scheurebe, Kabinett, 2008

$29/per person, call to save your spot:  713.861.8666
Rainbow Lodge
2011 Ella Boulevard @ TC Jester

Tomorrow, November 11th - Veteran's Day

All Veteran's and Military Personnel receive a free Express Car Wash at Mister Carwash.

Cheap Eats in Houston compiled this list of food freebies and deals for Veteran's on Veteran's Day. 

Steel Panther plays the House of Blues, $15 for gen ad ($17 day of show)/$20 for balcony.  As an aside, "someone" told me that I "had" to go, and they were taking a whole group.  "Someone" has pants on fire...fibber!  If you have the slightest ability to make this show, please, for the Love of Metal and Hair Bands and all things terribly funny - GO!  Tell me about it.  If I cannot go, I'll experience it by proxy.  They crank it to...Eleven.

Blaggard's bring Stout Irish Rock to O'Bannon's in College Station, 10:00 p.m. - LAST show at that location for 2010, miss 'em tonight, you gotta catch 'em next year.

Friday, November 12th
Dash Rip Rock is in the Bronze Peacock at the House of Blues, located at 1204 Caroline (in case you have not graced them with your presence).  Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 Day of the event, or check online!  All tickets for this show are general "flesh pressing" admission. 

Bob Schneider plays the House of Blues, same place, just not the Bronze Peacock.  Doors at 8:00 p.m., Bob's on at 9:00 p.m..  He kicks arse live, in my humble opinion.  Tickets are $25/gen ad; $35/balcony and $50/VIP.

What's For Lunch? Feast!

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of lunching at Feast, again.  I've been several times over the summer and feel compelled to toss in my few cents.  I've read in various places of the foodie variety, that the prices are high and all you have to choose from are bits of offal.  This is an eggregious error, to say the very least.  On my last visit, I ordered salad and chicken pie with a suet crust from the lunch menu.  I only order a two item meal, as my dining companion is rather smitten with their various liver and heart-based appetizers and I get to have some of that also (bonus for me, as I am enamored of their offal-ness).  His lunch was tomato soup and beef tongue with vegetables and mashed potatoes, it always arrives with lovely crisp bacon on top.  If my chicken pie had not been as outstanding as it was, I may have had buyer's remorse.

Now that the weather has cooled, it's time for my next trip to Feast.  I read all about their cassoulet, courtesy of Robb Walsh's 100 Favorite Houston Dishes.  It looks outstanding.  Honestly, as well as they do everything, and I've tried a good smattering of their Spring and Summer offerings, Fall should bring greatness.  I love cozy stews, soups and hearty fall casseroles.  As Feast only prepares local, non-processed meals, diners are guaranteed fresh, peak of the season fare.  The waste not-want not approach to using pretty much all of the animal is also appealing to me.  The menu consists of "Feast Favorites", which are always available and daily items, which they describe as more seasonal or adventurous.  While many entrees range from $20 - $25, as compared with other restaurants $15 - $20 range, typically - I would gladly pay slightly more for vastly better.  Their lunch menu is the best deal in town, two items are $13.95 and three items are $17.95.  When asked if I had any questions, I did, "Can I have two appetizers and one entree as my three?" That really was a Feast, however, as noted above, I find that two items is typically sufficient.  They do use biodegradeable "doggie boxes", which is another gold star on their toothpaste chart, so don't be afraid to take it home for later.

New at Feast, a Tasting Menu is offered at night from Sunday through Thursday.  The cost is $52.95 per person and offers a large variety of Feast Favorites and specialties.  In addition, they are hosting a Happy Hour (and a half) with half price wine, beer or cocktails and a selection of $4 appetizers.  Happy Hour specials are available from 5:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.

Finally, a toast, to Feast New Orleans for making The Eater New Orleans Heat Map:  Where to Eat Right Now . I have already made a date, with myself, to have lunch there in the near future.  I'm giddy with excitement.

219 Westheimer Rd.

Monday, Wednesday and Thursday: 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sunday: 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

Please note:  If you heard a rumor that all they serve is offal, rumors are just wrong.  They serve a wide variety of meats and vegetables, and they make the most incredible soups I have ever had.  Heaven would be spending time in the kitchen with them, as they work.  I am certain magic is involved, somehow.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Save the Date! Antique Warehaus Benefit

Antique Warehaus, in business on lower Westheimer since 1947, owned and operated by Gordon and Tara Greenleaf since 1990 was destroyed by fire on October 31st.  The Greenleaf's had worked to turn an antiques-only store into a "trash and treasure" effort, selling yard art pieces, Tara's art works, local honey, antiques and a line of new, more modern furniture.  Throughout 2010, GOrdon GREENleaf morphed his business into an eco-effort, after all "Reduce, ReUse and Recycle" is what it's all about (well, if you ask me).  Now working to re-establish themselves without insurance monies, with an inventory that went up in smoke along with the shop they rented, we're giving them an assist.  As we are facing the impending holiday season, members of the community are organizing efforts to give back to them, hoping to keep them on their feet, while they regroup.

"Strength" by Tara Jordan-Greenleaf
As I have muddled through life, I have found that there are four-types of people (well, excepting the ones that fall into the instant heebies, run like hell category)  from the "Heavy Starch Dress Shirt" types, that you need a soft undershirt to buffer you from, to the "Butter Soft T-Shirt" types that you just instantly feel at ease around.  People you tend to seek out and strive to be near, or in the presence of because they are like soft, well worn cotton against your skin.  Gordon and Tara are "those" people - two butter soft t-shirts - honest, hard-working and salt of the earth.  They give to their community selflessly (including donating time, monies and fund-raising items for the MBGC Cook-Off). The night of the fire, they were working a community center Halloween Party in their neighborhood.  They volunteer to make a difference to people who wish things were better, so, we're helping them...because they wish things were better.  There are also "Medium/Light Starch Shirts" and "Dryer Wrinkled Shirt" types.  I will say right here, my peeps are straight outta the dryer, or butter soft...I don't typically hang with the starchier mother scratchers.

Lone Star Beer is helping sponsor a benefit at PJ's Sports Bar, located on W. Gray at Stanford on November 20th, beginning at 8:00 p.m.  The Leo Trio has generously offered to entertain guests (and they are fabulous, I might add) and there will be barbecue and sides (unless that plan changes), a silent auction and a raffle.  Not to mention cold Lone Star - who can resist The National Beer of Texas?  Not I.  So, mark your calendar now for November 20th, it's a Saturday and everyone knows Friday is "date night" - so, no flimsyarsed excuses, m'kay?  For a small admission fee, you will be fed, watered and entertained.  You will have the joy of knowing that you've helped a wonderful couple in need.  You will reap endless benefits from the good karma you are building in giving back to those who give selflessly.  You will get to see me (um, that might be more bust than boon, just saying).  I am making SexyRexy's Fabulous Jalapeno Potato Salad (way better than seeing me, promise) and TenderPalate's Blandier Potato Salad.  Plus, I'm putting some kickass stuff in the auction, maybe even a recipe or cookbook-type thing, or food-related doohicky.  You'll just have to see for your ownself - be there.  Oh, and bring something nice or groovy for the silent auction, think of all of the children who's lives were made better through their efforts, just saying.

If you are truly unable to attend and wish to contribute, a benefit fund has been established.  Please mail checks payable to Antique Warehaus or Gordon Greenleaf to: 

Greenleaf Donations
c/o Antique Warehaus
P.O. Box 22654
Houston, TX 77227

P.S.  Get your carcass over to kaxm Gallery to see their art work, there are still works available for sale.  While you are at it, donate art supplies for ArtBridge.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Home Cookin': Irish Stew, My Way

The weather is now cooperating with fall food.  For the past week or so, I have been craving chili, soup or stew.  A bowl full of homey warmth, crusty bread and a spoon.  Toss in a Guinness and I'm in heaven.  I made a batch of chili to take for Sunday football at my favorite little sports bar.  It was pretty good, I went a little crazy with the tomato paste, though.  Combined with some fritos, grated cheddar, chopped onion and a nice dollop of sour cream, I can't really complain.  I can share the recipe later, if anyone requires a recipe for Texas Red, but, today I'm all about the lamb.  Irish Stew, my latest hankering to slake at my own hand.  Monday, I pulled some lamb arm chops out of the freezer and did a "quick thaw" in some cool water.  I trimmed the fat and gristle and removed as much of the meat from the bones as possible.  Used the scraps to make a broth and the outcome was delicious!  As much as I am longing for the first batch of vegetables from the garden in spring, in August or so, when it's a balmy 100 degrees and stupid humid, my thoughts turn to hearty winter fare.  This isn't a difficult one pot wonder to pull off, so don't be afraid to try it.

Irish Stew

1 1/2 lb lamb, cut into cubes
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, scraped or peeled and diced
2 or 3 medium potatoes, cleaned and diced (skins are your call, I'm a skin girl)
3 cloves garlic, peeled, mashed and rough chopped
3-4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour, more if needed for dusting
salt and pepper
4 cups of lamb stock or beef broth

If using a bone-in cut of lamb, trim fat, debone and cut into cubes (I normally aim for 1/2 inch).  To make lamb stock, put all bones, fat and other trimmings (gristled bits) into a 2 or 3 quart pan over medium-high heat.  If you don't have very much fat, add about 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil to prevent the lamb from sticking.  Stir and turn the pieces every few minutes until all of the bones are browned and the fat is rendered and crisp.  Cover with 4-5 cups of water and cook, stirring occasionally, at a low boil.

While the stock is cooking away, prepare all vegetables.  Add flour to a plastic zip top bag, or baking pan and season well with salt and pepper.  Dredge lamb cubes until completely dusted with flour.  In a dutch oven, heat up 2 Tbsp. of the vegetable oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Brown lamb on all sides in batches, try not to overcrowd.  Once all lamb has been browned and drained on papertowels, check the level of oil in the dutch oven.  Saute onion and garlic in leftover oil. Using about two tablespoons of oil, add 2 tablespoons of your dusting flour and stir until browned and well incorporated.  Pour in broth or stock and deglaze the pan.  Add the browned lamb, carrots and potatoes and simmer for 45 minutes, or until meat is tender and vegetables are done.  Test for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.  The broth should be slightly thickened from the roux, but, not the consistency of gravy.  If it's too thin, stir 4 Tbsp of flour into 1/2 cup of water, until there are no lumps and stir into the stew.  If too thick, add stock or water to thin.

Options:  I "pantry/fridge" cook, so, if there are a few ribs of celery hanging out in the crisper, or an errant bell pepper, I chop them and add with the onion and garlic.  When I have frozen green peas (and I almost always do), I add them at the end.  Freshly minced rosemary or thyme would add nice depth, I just overlooked darting out to the herb garden for them.  Cayenne, it's all-purpose and goes with everything in my house, add it, heat 'er up.  Don't be afraid to experiment a little, stews are very forgiving, unless you turn them into the Dead Sea, can't help ya there.  You don't possess a little lamb?  Use beef or pork, and don't feel compelled to pay over $2.50/lb for "stew meat", get a roast cut on sale and dice the mother up.  Seasoning. My general rule of thumb, if it smells right, it's gonna taste right.  Taste it anyway, and don't double dip if you have company, just saying.

P.S. Think your stew recipe is all that and a sleeve of saltines?  Leave it in the comments.  Go for it.  I'll cook it, so long as sardines and sauerkraut are not involved.  Unless, it's this.

P.P.S.  It's November 4th, you got your McRib on, yet?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Art Opening: Visual Spectrum at KAXM Gallery

This Friday, November 5th a group of artists and jewelry crafters will host the opening of their one of a kind works as a part of "Visual Spectrum" the latest exhibit at kaxm Gallery.  The opening reception lasts from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. giving you a first look at some incredible works, as well as live music from Lucky Trujillo.  The exhibit will remain open until November 30th, in case you happen to miss the opening (but, you really should attend - it's the best chance you have to add to your art/jewelry collection).  In conjunction with this exhibit, kaxm Gallery will be accepting donations of art supplies for ArtBridge Houston, a non-profit that provides art programs for our city's homeless children.  Actually, we should "go for broke" with the art supply donations on Friday night.  If you don't know what to buy - because you just ate the paste during art class as a child, TexasArt might have some gift cards for sale you could donate instead.  Just saying.  Ya'll be generous now, you hear - don't bring a set of watercolors from the store where things sell for a dollar.

kaxm Gallery
1135 E. 11th Street
Tara Jordan-Greenleaf - "Strength"
(near the corner of 11th and Studewood)
Friday, November 5th
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Exhibiting Artists:

Tara Jordan-Greenleaf
Lynn Chatman
Gordon Greenleaf
Doria Goldman

Jewelry crafted by:

Lee Billings
Amanda Howe
Monique Weston
Sarah Whatley

And don't forget the music.....from Lucky Trujillo. 

Bring some art supplies or one of those cards I mentioned earlier.  Bring a sack of cash to buy art, too.  One should never pass up a perfectly good opportunity to purchase any reasonably priced work of art, especially if you're supporting a local artist. You never know, could be the next Warhol?  Picasso?  Monet? 

I can personally say, I have some of Gordon Greenleaf's photography and my wish list includes a work from Tara.  Christmas is coming, so, if you all pooled your money and purchased one of her works for me, that would be just great, okay?  Thanks in advance for the gift, dear friends.  Just saying.  Plus, you might have overlooked my birthday, and I am keeping a list of "those" people, too.  Again, just thought I might mention that.