PK’s Best 9 New Eats of 2016

PK’s Best 9 New Eats of 2016:

You’ve seen on instagram (@eatsbypk), that people are posting their #Best9 most liked photos of 2016.  Mine (shown below) featured mostly homemade original recipes!  I love the affirmation that other people liked my home cooking!  In 2016, I learned new techniques and continued to creatively expand my original recipe collection.

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As much as I love cooking, nothing compares to a stellar dining experience, where chef-inspired preparation meets local foods, hospitality, and interior design!  I love taking in every detail about dining out.

Here are MY top 9 new eats of 2016 (noteworthy places I had not been until this year):

Shake Shack (Dallas, Houston, Austin, & Many more)

Finally, I got to try Shake Shack as it made its Texas debut.  I love a good burger.  The Shack Burger is the classic perfect cheeseburger.

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Supper at Hotel Emma (San Antonio)

I loved the Smoked Crispy Quail with pickled corn relish and gold potato puré.  For dessert the Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with blueberry sorbet, cornbread, elderflower, blueberry relish blew my mind (photo below)!  The location in Hotel Emma is beautiful, the patio is along the Riverwalk extension makes for great outdoor dining & the bar at Hotel Emma is a cool place to get an after-dinner drink!

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Biga on the Banks (San Antonio)

I was born and raised in San Antonio but somehow missed this amazing dining experience until a recent visit!  The menu changes daily.  I had some incredibly tender deer meat.  They have large and small portion options (love that)!  On our visit, we had a toddler and baby with us, the staff was super accommodating (kudos to our server, Rob).  Chef Auden has been honored with multiple nominations to the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef / Southwest Award.

Husk (Nashville)

Southern food at its best!  James Beard award-winning Chef Sean Brock is at the helm of this beautiful restaurant in a neighborhood area near downtown Nashville!  It was the culinary highlight of my girls’ trip to Nashville.  Our favorites included the deviled eggs, the pimento cheese & the shrimp and grits!  The menu changes daily.

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BCN Taste and Tradition (Houston)

Our date nights at Uchi are amazing, but were getting a bit repetitive.  We are excited to add BCN to the mix.  This is easily one of the more romantic places in Houston – located in a dim lit house and service is top notch!  The food is traditional and modern Spanish cuisine.  It has been open since 2013, but we finally paid it a visit and love it!  I wrote about our first visit in this blog post.

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Helen Greek Food (Houston)

This small restaurant in Rice Village takes Greek food to a new level.  The Greek wine menu is a fun educational experience.  I am a fan of the grilled halloumi and feta brined chicken.  Opened in 2015, Helen Greek Food received a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2016.  This restaurant is one of my best new eats of 2016.

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Emily (Pizza loves Emily) (Brooklyn)

I love a good pizza, especially one inspired by love!  This pizza place is named after chef Matthew Hyland’s wife Emily.  I shared the Colony pizza with my best friend (red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, pickled chili, honey), but we added burrata (blogged about my burrata obsession here).  This was easily the best pizza I had in 2016, but maybe in my lifetime.  Matthew and Emily opened the second location Emmy Squared.

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Two from our honeymoon in Italy:

Aurora Capri (Capri, Italy)

If you find yourself on the island of Capri in Italy, this place is incredible.  We loved the way the server took control and picked things for us that we would like.  The pizza was this incredibly thin crust masterpiece – something I have never had in the states.  We didn’t know this, but it is apparently a celebrity hot spot and Mariah is a regular.  It is the oldest restaurant in Capri, and the pizza recipe is allegedly 100 years old.

La Scala (Trastavere Neighborhood, Rome, Italy)

Truffle fries, truffle popcorn, truffle everything!  Truffle oil that has taken over many menus here in Houston, but the real deal is actual shaved truffle mushrooms over fresh pasta, soft cheeses, etc. This restaurant has an entire menu dedicated to black truffle!  We loved the toasted bread with black truffle, burrata and black truffle, & steak with green peppercorns and cream.

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All-Inclusive, Including Bliss

You know the phrase, follow your bliss?  I found mine, it is next to an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, at a boutique all-inclusive hotel nestled on a hill in the jungle!  This combo of nature and hospitality has serious healing powers.  This is a slight departure from my regular all food programming, but I have to tell you about this all inclusive in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!

I’ve been to a few all-inclusives in my life.  I am not a fan of the theme-park style wrist bands, the watered down or too sweet/syrupy cocktails made with so-so liquor brands, and the average food.

So, I was really excited about our trip to Puerto Vallarta when I found Hotel Mousai.  It is not as big as the all-inclusive theme parks (adult only), but includes many of the great amenities.  We picked Puerto Vallarta because it is one of the few travel destinations of Mexico less prone to hurricanes during October.  Hotel Mousai did not disappoint!  The only “downside” is that because the hotel is practically built along a jungly cliff side, it has a small private sand beach, surrounded by mostly rocks.  But, the pools with the views made up for it!  Also, the rooms were so comfortable, with amazing balcony views, and state-of-the art technology (automated curtains, gorgeous bathrooms with toto toilets, and surround sound just to name a few).  Here’s my simple summary, followed by pictures that speak for themselves.

  • Hotel Mousai has 3 great restaurants for dinner (top shelf alcohol and great wine by the glass)
    • Steak (BocaDos STK)
    • Mexican (Blanca Blue)
    • Sushi (Hiroshi)
  • The hotel has 3 infinity pools each with its own appeal.
    • One on the roof (unreal views as you are suspended between the ocean and the sky)
    • One in the “middle” amidst shady palm trees and beautiful flowers (my personal favorite, it was just very relaxing)
    • One right along the beach (great for getting some sun and hearing the ocean waves)
  • You can enjoy it all in a quick 3 night trip!

 

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One of 3 Infinity Pools Overlooking the Ocean
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Sunset View from our Balcony
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Balcony of my Dreams ❤
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Perfect Breakfast – Huevos Rancheros, Fresh Fruit, and French Toast.
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Room service Breakfast – Poached eggs over English muffins with lox salmon and chocolate chip pancakes.
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This Black Cod Miso at the Sushi Restaurant (Hiroshi) was so tender and flavorful, we ordered a second one.
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Salmon Sashimi with crab, avocado, micro-greens and sauce
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spicy tuna + lime roll!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fried Chicken For Brunch

Fried Chicken for President 2016,  oops I mean, Brunch!  But if I had to pick a candidate that was comparable to Fried Chicken in (1) amazingness, (2) a versatile ability to work with anything, and (3) upholding classic American values of inclusion and solidarity (because chicken totally does that), it is Hillary all day. #imwithher #imwithfriedchicken

Alright, now back to our scheduled programming all about food.  So the last two weekends I had some freaking amazing fried chicken brunch dishes in Houston, Texas.  AND I LOVE LOVE LOVE fried chicken, so these have been some good weekends.  One dish is a wonderful unique take on a classic: Chicken & Waffles.  The other is also a unique take on a classic: Eggs Benedict.  Both added spice for a fun twist, and most importantly both dishes NAILED the fried chicken itself, with a crunchy flavorful batter and juicy meat.

TOUT SUITE

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If you have not been to Tout Suite in Houston, TX, you need to get there fast.  This open-design cafe is full of natural light, delicious desserts, and legit menu options.  When you arrive, you can order food off the “daily menu,” which is constantly changing, and pick desserts and fresh juices from the counter.  I personally LOVE the Crème brûlée macaron!  The pistachio and rose are fantastic too – really they all are great.

When we went for brunch, we shared this Southern Eggs Benedict.  It has a potato hash at the bottom (shredded seasoned potatoes) topped with crispy flavorful fried chicken, and of course poached eggs and a spicy hollandaise sauce!  My husband and I ate in silence, both of us so focused on enjoying the flavors, and then laughed when we realized we had both become completely hypnotized by the delicious meal.  I already loved the vibe, coffee, and macarons at Tout Suite, now I will be back for brunching too.

RITUAL

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The Heights neighborhood in Houston, TX has become THE place-to-be in terms of trying new restaurants, bars and coffee shops in Houston.  I found this list that is a pretty good listing of all the restaurants in the area.  Ritual is a new addition.   Ritual pays homage to local ranchers and farmers whose day-to-day care of livestock and produce is nearly ritualistic in its attention to detail and repetition.  The decor is trendy and modern, but the dishware is mismatched southern floral prints, taking the theme back to the Southern on the farm vibe.

The menu is pretty small, but this Chicken & Waffles dish was a complete standout!!!  I love Chicken & Waffles, and yes I have been to the original classics (Roscoe’s in L.A. and Breakfast Klub in Houston).  In college, when all I had was a microwave in my dorm room, I would microwave waffles and frozen nuggets – yes, I have come a long way – but I had to get my chicken and waffles fix somehow.  Ritual’s chicken was super flavorful, covered in a spice (they called it a cayenne pepper rub but it  was almost like a buffalo bbq sauce but not as strong), which paired really well with the cornbread waffle!  The sweet pickles on top created another level of flavor and a touch of acidity to balance things out.  I’ve never had a preparation of Chicken & Waffles this unique, complex, and delicious.  It paired great with a bloody mary or mimosa (yep, I tried both).

In sum, fried chicken for brunch 2016.

 

Scallops and Roasted Corn Salsa

Scallops: delicious to eat, easy to cook, and perfect for portion control.  After a trip to BCN Taste & Tradition (a really fantastic Spanish restaurant in a 1920’s home in Houston’s Museum District), I have been in the mood for Spanish flavors and spice, especially paired with seafood.  (You can see my eats at BCN Taste & Tradition photographed below, including a cod dish with red bell pepper sauce… yum!)  Nothing inspires me more to cook than a delicious meal.  As with all my recipes, this started off as a fun experiment, and turned into a lovely meal where I combined seafood and Spanish flavors as I experienced at BCN.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 corns
  • 1 can of spicy black beans
  • ½ red bell pepper chopped
  • Ground cumin
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Heavy Cream
  • 10 scallops (ideally never frozen – this is hard to find but sometimes exists at Whole Foods. If they were previously frozen, try to cook them the same day or next and don’t freeze again).

Roasted Corn Salsa:

  • Cut the corn off the cob (I promise this corn tastes so much better than the canned corn)
  • Heat a pan to medium heat (like 5 or 6 out of 10)
  • Add olive oil
  • Add corn to the pan and stir, allow the corn to “roast” or blacken just enough to get a smoky flavor (taste!)
  • Add chopped red bell pepper and continue stirring
  • Add cumin and crushed red pepper to taste (I like mine spicy and smokey)
  • Add salt & pepper to taste
  • Add 3 TBSPs of cream (this will create a saucy consistency… you can add more if you taste and want something creamier)
  • Add 2/3 of the can of black beans, drained (I used “spicy black beans” so they already have some added flavor, drain the can because you don’t need the “can juice”)
  • Stir and taste
  • Take pan off heat and cover to keep warmIMG_1650

Scallops:

  • Heat pan to medium-high heat (7 out of 10 for example)
  • Add olive oil to pan
  • Pat dry scallops, and salt each side of scallop
  • Place scallops in pan (enough room so they are not touching and you can turn them)
  • Cook each side for 1 and 1/2 mins (be precise)
  • Scallops should be golden on each side
  • Remove from pan
  • Add a touch of salt

Place the scallops over the plated corn salsa and enjoy!  I plated 2 scallops for myself (35 cals each without the salsa of course) and 3 scallops for my husband.   Put the rest in containers with the corn salsa for meal prep throughout the week, so you can show off at work about your cooking skills.  

Once you learn how to perfect scallops, you can keep coming up with all sorts of interesting combinations!  Or you can sear a few scallops with a small steak for a surf and turf meal.  I have been wanting to make a Japanese inspired scallop dish, I am thinking soy sauce, avocado, jalapeno, and maybe even some mango or citrus… I’ll keep you posted ❤

Pictures from my incredible meal at BCN Taste & Tradition are below.  Follow me on instagram at @eatsbyPK for updates on restaurants and recipe ideas!

 

the warmth of 13 celsius

Weekend after weekend, for almost two years, we have found ourselves at the corner of Anita and Caroline, at this lovely wine bar with no signage, happily sipping wine and eating cheese.  It is known as one of the best wine bars in the city  of Houston, but strangely, despite its notoriety 13 Celsius feels like our little wine bar.  I get warm fuzzy feelings thinking of “our wine bar” where we’ve had so many great conversations, where we always take our out of town guests, where the staff knows us, and where we always leave in a better mood than when we came (and not just because of the happy-wine-buzz).

So here’s what our weekend visit looks like:

(1) get there early (between 6-7).  It is easy to find street parking or grab a spot in the small parking lot and the bar isn’t packed yet.  We have plenty of options on where to sit and we can chat with the staff about wines when we get there early.  (obvious side note: don’t drive drunk (yes wine-drunk counts)).

(2) ask about wine.  You can describe your preferences and they have a phenomenal ability to find you something you will like. The wine list changes from time to time, so it is worth hearing about what is new and noteworthy.  On Sunday there’s a deal, usually half-price bottles written on a chalkboard. I generally love the Italian red wines and prosecco when I don’t want red.  Sometimes I like something with a little more spice for my red, and they pick out a perfect tempranillo or red blend for me.  My husband does a somewhat ridiculous routine every time, which goes like this: “I want something dry, but not too dry, acidic but not too acidic, and  not too flavorful” and they not only put up with him, they help him find a perfect glass every time.  (Thanks, y’all.)

(3) cheese.  We have gotten predictable with our three favorite cheeses ($16 three cheese plate):  Pure Luck (Soft Goat Cheese), Triple Cream Brie, and Manchego.  This trifecta of cheese provides the perfect combination of a flavorful but fluffy goat cheese, milky rich brie, and the sharper flavor and hard texture of manchego.  Every cheese plate comes with bread, granny smith apples, marcona almonds, and a perfect jam/preserve with citrus and tiny pieces of kiwi!  I have also had the Sottocenere, which is sprinkled with truffle for a really fun, unique flavor.

(4)  dessert.   Cakes and fruit tarts are brought in from Weights + Measures (a bakery & restaurant down the street).  The carrot cake is very rich, loaded with nuts and handed it out in generous portions.  Our favorite is the blueberry tart, it is sweet but not too sweet and pairs great with a crisp white wine.  They also have house-made truffles: soft chocolate truffles with ginger inside – so amazing.  And of course, there is a make-your-own s’mores option, complete with a personal tiny fire pit.


(5) the small things.  Someone constantly shines the wine glasses, so every glass literally sparkles.  The music is at the perfect volume so you can talk, but keep things lively.  The lighting is perfect between the candles, the light fixtures, and plenty of natural light.  The smell of fortune cookies has permeated the entire block because of the fortune-cookie factory next door.  I love these small details.

When you are at 13 Celsius, you can feel life slow down for just a bit, as you sink in to your chair, wine glass in hand and think “this is the life.”  Then you get through a few weekdays and you do it all again next weekend.

 

Welcome to Houston Hopdoddy Burger Bar

I LOVE a good burger.  To me, that is a burger with a thick juicy patty, made with fresh ground beef, cooked to a light pink center.  A beef patty that lovely must be gently cushioned between the soft warmth of perfect hamburger buns.  Hopdoddy delivers every freaking time with their burgers.  That is because they live by some awesome food rules,  like the the beef comes from cows without growth hormones or antibiotics.  The menus vary per location based on local ingredients.  They grind their own beef daily, in-house (they also grind their turkey, chicken, tuna, etc. for their other “burgers,” but I’m all about the beef burger). The buns are also made from scratch and baked daily.

I first experienced the magic of Hopdoddy in Dallas, TX at the Preston location meeting a good friend for lunch.  We had burgers and milkshakes, and then went into food-comas at our respective jobs.  Then, a few years later when my husband and I were in Austin, TX for fun, we realized he had not yet tried a Hopdoddy Burger.  So we went to the ORIGINAL in Austin, TX on South Congress, and waited in line for at least an hour drinking their milkshakes and beer, letting our appetites grow as we waited.  We ended up eating three burgers between the two of us (stop judging).  Hopdoddy opened in San Antonio,TX earlier this year, and has opened a number of other locations too.   And then we just waited and waited and waited and WAITED for the Houston location to arrive.

It is finally here, in the new glitzy River Oaks District.  The fancy shopping center, lined with high-end fashion boutiques, has this neighborhood burger spot to bring it back down to earth with a $7 dollar perfect, “all-American” cheeseburger.  Right now the lines are crazy but we went on a weeknight and were able to grab two seats quickly at the bar. Thanks, Hopdoddy and welcome to Houston!

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THE CLASSIC BURGER$7 Angus Beef, Red Leaf Lettuce, White Onion, Ripe Beefsteak Tomato, Sassy Sauce (added cheddar) 
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NUTELLA & CHOCOLATE PRETZEL MILKSHAKE $6

 

Goodbye Galveston, TX

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As you might know from my ramblings on this blog (or ramblings in person) my husband lives in Galveston, TX, a solid fifty miles away… correction fifty point two miles away.  We have done longER distance before, so this is a treat for us, but still, on a hard day, I want to come home to my person.

We have embraced his years in Galveston.  The slower pace compared to Houston is a nice get-a-way.  The beachy breeze and ocean sounds are my favorite, even if the sands aren’t the cleanest to take a walk on.  But it is all coming to an end friends, it is his last few weeks in Galveston!

So here’s a quick list of some Galveston spots I’d say are worth a visit:

  • Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream (see my full post here: eatsbyPK: What’s the Scoop? The Ice Cream Scoop)
  • Mod Coffeehouse
  • Sunflower Bakery
  • Sky Bar Sushi
  • Blvd. Seafood
  • Mosquito Cafe
  • Mama Teresa’s Flying Pizza and Italian Restaurant
  • Shrimp n’ Stuff
  • Shearn’s
  • Olympia Grill
  • Yamato Japanese (for hibachi)
  • Truth be told, Popeye’s – because eating fried chicken, while sitting on the back of his car, while watching the ocean, was pretty awesome.

So with that, here’s my tribute to Galveston.

 

 Hey Mikey’s, I will Miss you!  When we come back to visit, you will always be our first stop! 

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Actually owned by Mikey himself, this local treasure is a favorite of mine. They nail their flavors and the creativity is out of this world!

Harborside Mercantile, we met too late my friend, but thanks for helping us say Goodbye Galveston over a delicious meal.  

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Harborside Mercantile is a brand new spot on the historic “Strand,” serving local seafood, New Orleans dishes, & beer & wine served in a casual but beautiful dining room!

Sky Bar, how did you know?  There is nothing like a pile of avocado, fresh tuna, and magic sauce.  I’ll miss this one for sure! 

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This is a go-to spot for our weeknights in Galveston – Sky Bar Steak & Sushi. They have excellent happy hour specials! We pretty much always get this Avocado Salad (Avocado stuffed with seaweed salad, diced tuna, white fish, and a special sauce)! This is only half of the order, so we always split. ($10.95)

Sunflower Bakery, thanks for making us feel at home while we eat our over-easy eggs, hash browns, and of course Challah French Toast!  Also, I will never forget my short-term addictive obsession with the Creme Puffs at the Bakery Counter!

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Okay, this picture sucks, BUT Challah French Toast at Sunflower Bakery is AMAZING! I love Sunflower Bakery generally.

Mama Teresa’s Flying Pizza, we took a break from packing up the condo on this rainy Sunday to come eat some comfort-pizza.  We got jalapenos, pepperoni, and fresh basil, and yep, it was comforting!

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Mod Coffeehouse, you are truly the spirit of Galveston.  You capture the beach vibe with your relaxed atmosphere, but also the sophistication of the many art galleries in the neighborhood.  I will miss sitting on your patio, sipping my London Fog! 

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Took this pic from their own facebook page – I LOVE Mod Coffee (right next to Hey Mikey’s).
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Also Mod Coffee, how cute is this place?