Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kipper, spinach, bacon and new potato salad

Kroger deep discounted their canned kippers so I picked up a can to see if I could make a meal out of it.  I have never had them before but my wife had.  She explained to me that they were a very English thing.  Brits would have them for breakfast.

I found a nice recipe that also included the other very English food:  Rashers. These are sort of a combination of Canadian bacon and American bacon.  However, I used baby spinach leaves and only needed half the amount required by the recipe.

The meal was a big hit.  There was no great fishy smell or taste from the kippers...until the next day.  The fishy smell and taste would infuse itself into everything. So, make sure you eat it fresh.  If you eat leftovers, like I do, you have been warned.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Waldo's Coffee House

Originally posted September 4, 2012

"Would you like that heated?"  I winced inside.  The death call for a croissant.  I knew then it would not be fresh.

Waldo's is literally a house.  A house that was converted into a coffee, uh, house. It's located right on Heights Blvd on the east side of the esplanade (or maybe it's just a wide medium) where joggers and dog-walkers like to run up and down.

The place was, well, homey.  Tranquil.  I was relaxed....until a worker started hammering a sign on the door post of an adjoining room. "This area closed" for who knows what reason.  But I supposed, hammering doesn't always occur.

The floor looks to have been kept in its original worn condition.  More patina, I guess.

There is a certain polish missing in the place.  I'm looking at a torch lamp that is leaning to the left.  There are stacks of leaflets over by the restrooms.  The choice of artwork needs more work, needs a more discerning eye.

Outside, the neighbor has a pickup truck with one wheel missing.  But that may be temporary.

Croissant Brioche French Bakery and Cafe

Originally Posted August 29, 2012

Today I went to the limits of where I can go without running into time constraints.  I'm out at the Rice Village area at the Croissant Brioche French Bakery and Cafe.  And I am not disappointed.  If this place shows one thing it is that if you build it, they really will come.

I am surprised (but....maybe shouldn't be).  I mean, the name.  Look at the name.  The word CROISSANT is in it.  So immediately expectations (although, guardedly) go up.

And the place is busy.  You can tell the place is popular on a regular basis.  They've jammed lots of tables into the dining area and for spill-over there is outside seating.

There is a medium amount of a "roar" as people talk.

The only thing that irritates me is the number of retirees that come here.  I've discussed this before so I won't get into it again.

The flooring is a red tile with patina to give an old world look, I guess.  The glass counter is filled with nice muffins, tarts, carrot cake, etc. The place is decorated nicely with a couple of high shelves lined with many curios, quite a few of them being clay and ceramic chickens.  I guess we're to feel like we're in a country French farm.  Just a guess.

Rustika Cafe and Bakery

Originally posted August 29, 2012

Rustika.  I guess the idea is to be...rustic.  But there is nothing rustic about the place at all. 

The cafe appears to laid out well.  When you enter, there are the cakes and cookies immediately to your left.  I guess you could say the whole display from cakes to cashier is cadenza shaped. I'm sitting near the door facing a wall that looks like the outside wall of a sidewalk cafe.  Because in Houston opportunities to sit outside are so few we have to pretend.  How sad are we?

And as usual, when I order the croissant the whole deal is killed with the "would you like that toasted?" question.  I'll say it again.  Croissants are not toast.  This croissant is soft and chewing.  The texture is not pleasing.  As usual. It is a sad thing that I am disappointed many more times than I am pleased.

Another thing that just chaps me is the fact that servers do not listen.  She asked me what I wanted.  I said "I'd like a plain croissant and a cup of coffee."

"Ok, plain croissant and Dr. Pepper"

Huh?  "No.  Cup of Coffee" I exaggerate the words since this person is not listening to me.

I've taken years and years of voice lessons.  There are few people in this world that can enunciate better than I can.  If I enunciated anymore people would look at me strange.  But for some reason these guys don't listen.  They only listen for what they expect to hear.  They expect people to say "coffee" or "small coffee" not "cup of coffee" and even fewer to say "small cup of coffee" which I usually say.  Because if I just say "coffee" it is always followed by "small or large?"  And I get tired of the many choices I'm offered. So, I cut to the chase.  Or try to.

Besides cakes and cookies, there is a back rack of loaf bread with functional decorations of various things such as coffee and such.  The idea of leaving the loaves in the pan is rather different and novel.  I like that.  But the selection is small.  I can't tell whether this means that most were sold earlier in the morning or they just don't sell many.

The section labeled "pastries" had a few others besides the croissant.  I just hope the other pastries are better than the croissant.

Some of their desserts look good. They have an apple empanada that I'd like to buy to eat after dinner.  But the place isn't convenient for me to pick up on a whim.

Black Walnut Cafe

Originally posted August 24, 2012

I am presently at their new location on Memorial.  I guess the outside decor is the latest fashion.  Greeting you as you walk up to the entrance are three large vegetables: red bell pepper, asparagus top and, what I would almost bet is a black walnut.

This is a restaurant.  So, the aim of the decor is different, I guess.  It's not homey. It's not hip.  It's maybe modern, I guess, but not avant guard. There's lots of large wood paneling, high ceilings with mechanically driven wood two-blade fans.  I don't know if you've ever seen these fans, but there is a central motor and set of pulleys and belts distributes out to spin the fans.

Smooth Jazz music plays constantly.  No indy bands.

There's a coffee bar (but not like an Italian coffee bar) and next to it is a gelato freezer next to a dessert cooler.

I'm handed a buzzer like those used at Cafe Express or Chuy's.  But I just ordered a croissant and cup of coffee.  How long should that take?

Although, I was never asked "would you like that heated?" was heated.  No fresh croissant here.  I'm sorry, a croissant is not toast.

As usual, with few exceptions, the coffee is good.  But I'm easy to please when it comes to coffee.  Having lived off of gas station coffee for most of my life, I'm probably not a good judge of the stuff.

They hand me a cup and point down the way to where the insulated hand-pump carafes are located.  These things are a modern convenience...but for a classy place like this... c'mon, there's a COFFEE BAR HERE! Can't you guys whip me up a cup from that?  I guess I have to physically sit... at the coffee bar to get THAT cup of coffee.

I've never been to any of the other Black Walnut locations.  But this place here seems...institutional.  Like Starbucks now is.

Stone Mill Bakers

Originally posted August 14, 2012

Right now I'm sitting in what is probably the coolest area of the entire bakery - I mean temperature-wise.  The rising sun shines through the large glass windows with nothing to block its rays. It gets a little "warmish" in here. Probably the best time to come here would be during cloudy/rainy days or maybe during the Winter when the sun rises later.

But it is a bakery and because of this, it smells wonderful.  And you are right next to all the hustle and bustle of the bakers.  Right now I'm watching a baker add texture to the risen dough.

The decor here looks to be more functional with the baking area being the largest part of the decor. There are nine two-seater tables and another two three/four seater round tables. To the left of the serving counter is a large shelf tastefully decorated with items for sale.

There are no croissants here.  But I did buy a kolache.  It was ok.  Nothing special.

Of their variety of breads I was happy to see they had focaccia....but...I didn't like it and it was nothing like real Milanese focaccia.  I was so disappointed!  There other breads look very nice, but I don't have much of an interest in loaves of bread.

The photo on their website of a calzone doesn't impress me.  Fresh calzone when brought to your table in Milan puffs up dramatically. Then as it cools, becomes flat.  So, what you are getting is the flat.

I like this place because it is relatively quiet with the low key noises of bread pans being handled.  There is a radio playing in the background...but it's for the workers.  The short round counter worker is fairly pleasant in a sort of dead-pan way.  At least to me.  She perks up when regulars come in.

River Oaks Coffee House

Originally posted August 9, 2012

Wedged between a dance studio and dry cleaners is the narrow River Oaks Coffee House.  The place is nicely decorated with interesting flooring of slate with a portion of wood.  On one wall are two large mirrors and a wood framed painting of a woman wearing a hat.  The opposite wall was made to look like an exterior wall of an old-world building with a window, cracked/exposed stucco.  There is even a line of tiled roof.

To round out the old-world look, there is a sign over the back door reading "pay toilets 5 cents".

The tables are all the same size but there is an eclectic set of chairs that mix and match around the tables.

The seemingly husband/wife team are very pleasant.  There seems to be a sporadic number of regulars who chat away with the servers, coming and going.

Unfortunately, they were out of plain croissants but had on hand some chocolate almond and almond croissants.  I ordered the chocolate almond.

"Would you like us to heat that up?" They always ask.  That is, they always ask that question when the pastry has been in the cooler for a day or two.  I knew it wouldn't be fresh and I was not disappointed.  Why can't a shop raise my expectations?

Inversion Coffee House

Originally posted August 7, 2012

Inversion had turned into one of my favorite places to go to.  They are close to my house and the coffee is great.  Alas, their croissant is only bearable.  So I don't come here as much as I used to.

But the place is very nice.  The decor is artsy.  This theme is not only well done, but changes every so often.  The hanging artwork is removed and new artwork is put up.

When I first started coming here not too long after it opened, the owner hovered over the workers which clearly annoyed them from what I could tell.  Nowadays you don't see her for one reason or another.  The tenseness has disappeared.

One of the complaints I have is how many retirees discover coffee houses in Houston and become regulars.  In principal, I have no problems with this.  But, I guess, since they are older and have lost hearing (or maybe they just don't care), they are louder and I get to listen in to their conversations.  Which...I would rather not.

I had the same problem with McDonalds at breakfast time.  I quit going there due to the large number of retirees who just seemed to hang around chatting.  Which I would normally think is wonderful. What better way to keep in touch?  It's certainly better than being lonely.  But they are just LOUD.

Sorry guys.  I'm still trying to wake up. I don't need to have so much noise pushing against my ears.  I need to be eased into the morning.

French Gourmet

Originally posted August 6, 2012

I remember when I first came here after returning from Italy.  I bought a couple of pastries, cup of coffee and juice.  My daughter was with me that morning.  I was shocked that it cost about six or seven dollars.  What an expensive place, I thought.

Well, as it turns out, this is one of the cheapest places for a croissant and cup of coffee.

And it's one of the emptiest.  Although, the place is large - it takes up two floors - no one but me is here.  A few have come in and ordered pastries to go.  That's a good thing.  This place has been here for, oh I don't know, at least 10 years (their website says "since 1973").  So, they must be making money.

Two times I've been here in the past month and both times I ordered a plain croissant.  Both times the server said "We have two small ones in the back."  Today I asked her if they just made two every morning.  "No, I just broke open a six pack."

Broke open a six pack?  Like, opened a package of them that's wrapped in plastic?  No way.  Maybe a six pack they made.  That  must be it.

Behind me is a viewing window to a part of the bakery where you can watch them bake.  There are carts of cookie sheets that hold cake pans.  But nothing is going on.  It was like that when I was here last time.  Maybe they bake at night or in the afternoon?  I don't know.

I remember as a kid going to the new Dunkin Donuts shop that opened in Columbia, SC.  Every day I would go there I would watch them through the glass window to the baking area making donuts.  

There is another part of the baking area where I hear noises like something is being baked.  Maybe the non-productive space is just for overflow work.

The croissant I have is ok.  I guess I'm expecting too much?  I sort of expect since this is, after all, a French bakery due to the name, this would be the go-to place for a croissant.  It is buttery - a fact that I can't say about any of the others I've tried elsewhere.  Flakey, yes.  Crisp?  No.

Maybe the fancy ones with almond or chocolate are better.  But, they are too big.

A gentleman just came in amd took with him about a dozen long baguettes.  Possibly for a grocery store.

The decor is pleasant enough.  The area is festooned with artificial sun flowers.  The railing on the stairs is reminiscent of the
 wonderful wrought iron railings you see all over Paris.  Perhaps the place isn't "hip"?  Maybe if they brought the decor up to date and played French Jazz in the background more people would come and stay.

Ah, a couple just came in and sat down.

Catalina Coffee Shop

Originally posted August 3, 2012

Lots of tastey looking pastries and all I want is a plain croissant. Good coffee, too. But to be honest, I have yet to have a bad cup of coffee anywhere in town. Maybe I have no taste buds. I don't know.

Sort of like Brasil, the front entrance is only for show. Hardly anyone uses it. I guess the main reason is the parking is in the back.

There was someone to finally enter through the front.

I've taken some pictures but, as usual, the low early morning sun makes composition difficult.

Acoustics here are better. But still just as loud as any Starbucks with the coffee grinder supplying the bulk of the noise. But overall, the level of noise is much lower.  Very little echo with the same number of people as Brasil had.

From the front, the coffee shop appears to be empty.  But when you turn the corner to park, you see otherwise. This is a very popular place.

As far as the croissant is concerned, I like the fact they took the time to glaze the croissant with egg white (I think that's what they use). Not as fresh as the croissant at Brasil - which is now my standard. The shell isn't crisp, but it is flaky. I'm sorry, I want fresh baked.

The interior walls are brick - not old brick.  Patches of stucco were added to give it an older look, but I'm not sure the effect is, well, effective. Wall hangings are mainly patches of wood flooring slats that had been painted to give a rustic feel. I'm not sure what they were attempting to achieve. One hanging is of a Star Wars Trooper's helmet. Another is of Winnie the Pooh. Another is of a couple of guys with the inscription "Fight Me".  One of the faces is identical to the avatar Tyler Durden uses on the Zero Hedge blog.

I may be getting too picky. The whole thing just sort of blends in the background. If you don't pay attention, you would never notice this. Same as with Brasil.

The modern coffee shop phenomenon can be traced to the popularity of Starbucks (I may be wrong. This is just my observation). These cafes have not copied Starbucks (thank goodness) but have become something...British. The coffee shops here are very similar to the ones in London.

On the other hand, cafe's in Italy are completely different, for the most part. There, the espresso reigns as the caffeine shot of choice.  Many of the cafes are cramped and narrow.  There may be four small tables that sit two per table. Maybe there is one large table in the back against the wall. The main feature is the bar. A real bar like you would see in a...well, a bar. That serves beer. Most patrons order their espresso, and after two or three sips, they are done and leave. On the other hand, I'll stand at the bar and order the "cafe Americano" After 15 sips, I'm still standing there...getting tired of the whole experience.  In the meantime, 20 people have come and gone after downing their espresso.

I have often wondered how this name came to be. The concoction is simply espresso diluted with hot water.  Drip coffee in Italian Cafes are unheard of.  I never understood this name since the Germans invented drip coffee (or so my German friends have told me).

In fact, no matter where you go in the world, it's "cafe Americano". When I lived in Ulsan, South Korea, I would order coffee with this monicker.