Trending Japanese Spots in H-Town

There are a lot of new Japanese spots in Houston.  To be fair and honest with you, UCHI (with their in-house filtered water and hip-hop music playlist) has ALL my loyalty, like every last drip of it.  So it is almost hard to even give new Japanese spots a fair chance, BUT, I always do.  So KUU, KA Sushi, MF Sushi, and Izakaya have all been “trending” recently.  Here is the deal about each of them ( I ranked them in order from best to least-best), but I think you should try them out for yourself.

No. 1:  MF SUSHI (Museum District)

MF Sushi Website

The elegant sushi bar photographed below, overall ambiance, and service are all on point.  #perfectdatenight.  This place is known for its Nigri.  Each bite is already seasoned uniquely, no need to dip in soy sauce or add wasabi.  Go for a night of nigiri and you will not be disappointed.  Photographed below is the sake (salmon) and yellow tail.  Both were yum, and potentially the best nigri bites I have ever had.

No. 2:  KUU (Memorial Hospital Area)

KUU Website

I got to sample some items here as a blogger with the Houston Food Blogger Collective.  (Why is life so nice to me!?)  This new Sushi spot has been highly anticipated because of Chef Adison Lee, who trained at Nobu under Nobu Matsuhisa.  My favorite items that I tried were the cold plates that featured sashimi, like the ones photographed below, but they are a pretty penny for a small bite, starting at $15.  Without a doubt, the ambiance & service are on point.  If I lived in the area, I would be in more often.

No. 3: KA SUSHI (The Heights)

KA Sushi Website

When it comes to sushi, I am most picky about my rolls.  A roll stuffed with extras (tempura fried xyz, cream cheese) and topped with mayo, etc. aren’t really my thing.  So the Dirty South roll (crawfish, salmon, and spicy tuna), which is one of their top sellers, was an overload.  However, I think the cooked non-sushi items at KA Sushi would be worth the visit.  I loved the shishito peppers, photographed below, and they are only $5.  I was not a big fan of the karaage (fried chicken) but Uchi kills that dish. Even though I am not crazy about how this restaurant is set up (one small rectangular dining room), if i lived in the Heights, I’d give it a try.

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No. 4: Izakaya (Midtown) 

Izakaya Website

I caught up with an old friend at this place for a week night dinner, and we were both underwhelmed and found everything a bit salty.  BUT, this place has been all over various media sources, in part because it is operated by the same group as Kata Robata & Azuma, two Sushi “power houses” in Houston.   Photographed below is the Duck and Shrimp Shumai (dumplings).   I also had the street corn and the fries.  I see this being the kind of place you have a few beers, and snack on Asian-inspired “junk food” like the fries and corn.  Overall, it is a good much-needed addition to Midtown, and I love the expanding restaurant options popping up on Gray St.

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What’s the Scoop? The Ice Cream Scoop (Part III): SweetCup Gelato

Houston’s Montrose area is well-known for its many restaurants.  On Montrose Blvd., nestled in a strip center, next to Canopy Restaurant, and a dry cleaner is SweetCup.  When I moved to Houston, a friend from my hometown (shout out to SA-TOWN) told me I must try this place.  On a regular evening while trying to satisfy my ever-skinny fiance’s ever-longing sweet tooth, I suggested we try SweetCup gelato, and trusty google maps revealed that SweetCup was just minutes from my house.  Confession: despite this fact, we have ordered it through Favor, a delivery service, when we were too lazy to drive.. plus the potholes on Westheimer… ugh.

This proximity to home could be seen as either:

  1. a dangerous predicament for my routine dessert regiment and non-existent exercise plan or
  2. stars aligning in a magical way as destiny cries out for me to eat more gelato. 

It has to be the latter… I like the SweetCup Half Full Perspective.  SweetCup became an instant Houston favorite for us, and is perhaps a lesser-known local treasure.  I intend on doing a longer feature on this place later, because it is extra special.  And Here’s Why…

Reason 1: Inventive Flavors. 

SweetCup’s website says it best:

“Each flavor is a cultivation of experiences, from our traditional Italian favorites such as Bacio, Zabaione, Stracciatella to the non-traditional flavors Vanilla Bean Tres Leches, Malai Kulfi (Cardamom & Almond) and Pomegranate Rose inspired by Houston’s diverse culture.”

My personal favorites are those inspired by Indian sweets, like Malai Kulfi, but we also often get the Stracciatella (chocolate chip) a classic flavor.  The Cookies N’ Cream will take you back to your childhood, but the ingredients are improved for your more refined adult palate.  The new flavors are posted regularly on Facebook, but I like to take my spontaneity with me to SweetCup and just try a few flavors until I find a new favorite.  SweetCup has gelato, sorbet, custard, and frozen yogurt to chose from.

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Image Credit to SweetCup.

Reason 2: High Quality Ingredients.

The gelato, sorbet and yogurt, are all free of artificial preservatives, colors, high fructose corn syrup or fillers.  The milk is free of rBST growth hormones.  SweetCup also sources organic and local ingredients when possible!  The result of this attention to detail is in the taste.   The Sweetness of SweetCup is just different than your average ice-cream tub, or even other gelato chains.

Reason 3: Service.

The few minutes you spend ordering your gelato may not seem that significant, but the jovial attitude of the people behind the counter is refreshing.  They ask customers whether it is their first time in so they can provide a quick introduction, and of course, you can sample the flavors!  And best of all, even if you get a cup of ice cream instead of the cone, they give you a little Cone Chip!  What a brilliant invention this Cone Chip is – a perfect bite of cone along with a spoon full of ice cream.  

This spot is a true local treasure, started by one woman pursuing her sweet dream after a trip to Italy tasting the best of gelato.

So my sweet friends, meet my SweetCup!

PK’s Mile High EATS (Denver, CO)

Earlier this summer, we went to Denver, Colorado for a weekend get-away with another couple.  The treasure named Denver is a quick flight from Texas.  I fell in love with this city.  I admit though, I love new cities.  When it comes to new places, “I’m not a player, I just crush a lot.”  This post is as much a travel post as it is an EATS post, so excuse me while I dabble in “Travel by PK” for a bit.  

100 Miles from Denver: Astounding Natural Beauty

Mount Evans Scenic Byway and Lake Echo: About 1.5 hours from Denver is the Mount Evans Scenic Byway and Lake Echo.  The drive alone getting up these mountains is scenic and adventurous. The Byway itself and the top of the Mount Evans are often closed due to ice, like they were in the middle of the summer when we went.  IMG_3510

Red Rock, Blue Skies, Green Hills

The Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater is a shorter drive from the heart of Denver and also a must-see attraction if you like nature.  We absorbed the beauty eating cliff-side at the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.  The massive red rocks standing against green rolling hills and the blue sky are picture-perfect, like a movie-set.  The food was good too, but the view was reason enough to eat there.

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Mountains are amazing and all, but now for the Food…

Acorn. (click for website) This was one of my favorite stops along our way because as a result of its innovative location, we got more than we bargained for.  Let me explain: Acorn is inside a food-complex called The Source.  The Source (click for website) is described as “a reclaimed 1880’s foundry turned new epicurean marketplace in Denver’s River North District,” or as a “new generation urban market” and basically that means when you walk into this warehouse, you find a number of restaurants, a bar, a meat market, a bakery, a coffee shop, an art gallery, a brewery, and maybe some live music.  I’m serious – this magical place is not a figment of my imagination. 

We really enjoyed the kale & apple salad ($12) on the mid-day menu.  This salad had the perfect balance of almonds, parmesan, and shaves apples, and was dressed perfectly.  Kale salads are on every menu now – I mean, I have even had a few kale salads at the airport.  When kale becomes an airport-food, you know kale has made it big.  But, not all places are doing it right.  This was a REALLY good kale salad, the kind that could convert one into a kale-believer.

The meatballs and grits ($13) was a fun inventive dish – I can’t say I ever even thought of that combination before.  We also had a burger, which was good.  After we ate a late lunch, we had cappuccinos at the coffee shop in the Source, got some chocolate muffins from the bakery, and window shopped with the other “vendors,” all of which are regional.  It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours in-doors in the afternoon.

IMG_3598IMG_3595Fruition. (click for website) Sometimes you have a dining experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.  It was our last evening in Denver.  We sat at a two-top by the window and the bright sun warmed us as we enjoyed a meal together.  My fiancé did not do anything particularly romantic, he didn’t even pick out the restaurant (that’s my job, haha)…but, thanks to the experience, I fell a little bit more in love with him while we ceremoniously had our last vacation meal.  (dating tip: good food at a romantic restaurant works like a charm).

Fruition is created by chef Alex Seidel, who often sources from his own 10-acre farm (read more about the farm here)  Everything at this restaurant, down to the butter, was delicate and refined, and true to the simple ingredients.  Featured below is the Pasta Carbonara with a six-minute egg sitting on top of house-cured pork belly, hand made cavatelli pasta and a cacio pecora broth.  I will remember this dish forever, and try desperately to hold the taste in my mind so I can revisit it in my memory.  The egg and egg yolk paired perfectly with the pork belly (a match made in heaven).  The hand-made pasta and broth could be spooned in with a bite of pork belly, adding moisture and flavor.  I won’t ever try to re-create this dish, I just can’t wait to get back to Denver and have it again.  The menu changes seasonally, but luckily this is an item is one of the mainstays on the menu.

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What’s the Scoop? The Ice Cream Scoop. (Part II)

Four years ago, I started to fall in love.  He was reserved but forward, introverted but confident, handsome, and sweet to me… talk about a dreamy man!  But a relationship with him would have to be long distance, since he was moving to Galveston, Texas.  Thank goodness, I fought off all my better judgment, and stuck with my heart (and stuck with him).  If not, I wouldn’t be marrying the man of my dreams and…

I never would have visited Galveston, Texas and tried Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream! 

Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream

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On my first visit to Hey Mikey’s, we parked in a Galveston neighborhood (notable for its pastel colored homes, and palm trees), walked into a small house, and found inside an adorable ice cream adventure.  The flavors are uniquely made by Mikey himself, and a chalk board invites customers to invent their own.  I have always loved the Chai flavor and Red Velvet flavor.

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Recently, Hey Mikey’s moved to Galveston’s “downtown” Post Office Road, which I think just might be the cutest, quaintest, street in all of Texas.  I am happy to see Hey Mikey’s maintain the quirkiness of a family-owned ice cream shop, despite its more commercial location. (click to read more about the history of Hey Mikey’s). On my last visit, Mikey’s son was working behind the counter, and he had invented the “snicker doodle peanut butter” flavor, which was delicious!

I tip my hat to you, Hey Mikey’s!  Thanks for bringing the sweetness!

What’s the Scoop? The Ice Cream Scoop. (Part I)

It is August, so it is HOT.  I don’t know who you are, or where you are, but I bet it is hot wherever you are too.  In Texas, we are getting to our 100-degree days. There are few remedies for this increasingly hot weather.  (Solutions to global warming? sorry, not on this blog, but certainly a compelling topic).  Ice cream – yes, that is certainly one way to handle this problem. What do I look for in an ice cream (or gelato): (1) Natural and creative flavors: (2) Not a syrupy sweetness; (3) Locally owned and of course (4) delicious!  

I will be posting all month-long about my favorite ice cream spots.  So here we go:

Melt

Fort Worth, Texas
(Coming to Dallas’ Oak Cliff Area Soon *CLICK FOR MORE INFO*)

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Visits to Fort Worth, Texas are always sweet for me.  I get to visit my sweet-as-ice-cream sister, my always-jovial brother-in-law, and the most ridiculously-cute toddler of all time, my niece.  My last visit was extra sweet as we stopped at this awesome, creative, locally owned ice-cream shop:  Melt I love being greeted by yellow brick walls and blue sunny skies (pictured above), but what was inside was even better.

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The  reminder to “treat yo self” always helps.

The menu changes based on new inventions as can be seen by the hand-written menu below.  I was particularly happy to see the use of Dude Sweet Chocolate (a local chocolate shop) to make the chocolate ice cream.  The chocolate ice cream had a subtle-sweet taste.   I got a  scoop of “chocolate chocolate” and one scoop of “beans” (vanilla beans that is) and these two classic flavors were perfect.  IMG_4581

Now, Melt is not only about the delicious ice cream melting off your cone.  It is also about melting your heart.  Melt has a local and global impact, beyond just making people happy with delicious ice cream.  Along with pairing with other local businesses, like Dude Sweet Chocolate, to motivate mutual success, Melt has an altruistic side: 

“While creating the best ice cream and a happy experience is MELT’s top priority, we believe that every business can have a larger impact on the world. MELT chooses to partner with non-profits that believe in – and institute – sustainable practices to empower and educate the less fortunate. Globally, MELT pays college tuition for a student named Emmy in a war-torn country in northern Africa. MELT also has a partner in South Africa that employs local women to design and craft artisan bags (which may be purchased at the shop). Locally, MELT regularly works with non-profits and organizations that align with the shop’s mission and with our signature belief: Ice cream can change the world, one scoop at a time.”

How can you not love this place?  For the record, my niece approves.  

OPORTO Fooding House + Wine Takes Houston Midtown Up a Notch

Houston’s Midtown area is home to many bars and casual restaurants.  There are a few stand-out restaurants for a nice dinner (Artisans and Brennan’s to name a few), but for the most part Midtown is known for its bar scene and low-key restaurants.  The new developments on W. Grey are adding some variety – I have dined a few times at OPORTO Fooding House + Wine, and this place takes Midtown up a notch.  There is another OPROTO location on Richmond Ave. which has some similar menu items but is not exactly the same.  Parking Tip: There is valet in front (tip only).

This restaurant has the trifecta: beauty, service, food.  So I had to blog about it.  Because, remember I don’t blog about restaurants I would not recommend you try:

  1. it’s beautiful.  The restaurant itself is truly lovely.  I sat at the bar on one occasion, and another time on the back patio, and both times I really loved the ambiance.  This would be a great date night spot.
  2. good service.  The servers have good recommendations, one recommended an excellent cheese for a starter based on our preference for soft cheese with mild flavor.  We had one hiccup in our experience, but it was handled professionally and did not ruin our evening at all.  As a matter of fact, moments like this make me respect a restaurant more.  The issue was the Octopus.  I had actually just had some amazing Octopus in Chicago at a restaurant called MK during a business trip (I highly recommend it), so I was eager to get another taste of delicate Octopus.  Unfortunately, it came out tough, and I requested that it be sent back.  Octopus when even slightly overcooked changes texture.  They really wanted to cook it again for us, but we did not have time to wait for another round, so they took it off our bill without question.
  3. the food.  two words, SMALL PLATES.  I love the small plates feature of OPORTO Fooding House + Wine.  Small plates are great for sharing, tasting a variety of foods in one night, or having a lighter small meal.  The dinner menu is mostly small plates.  Aside from the photos below, I have enjoyed a number of the cheeses on the mix and match cheese board menu ($4 for 1, $7 for 2, $10 for 3, and $14 for 4), and the Curry Chicken Empanadas (also very good).  Below are some highlights: 

Rocket Salad ($11)

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Arugula, candied walnuts, berries, goat cheese, red onion, and house smoked salmon (added for $4), what is there not to love about this salad?  It is beautiful, refreshing, and healthy.  I love starting my meals with a salad.  It forced me to get some greens in, and I honestly really enjoy salads that are clearly chef-driven like this one.  Also, salads like this give me fun ideas to try at home.  I would not normally put all these ingredients together, but why not?

Crab and Avocado Crostini ($14)

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Lump crab meat, avocado, and herb aioli on a crostini.  This was a super simple but delicious bite. It was a great addition to our meal, and I liked squeezing the fresh lemon on top to give the crab some flavor.

Scallop Farrotto ($14)

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This plate is obviously beautiful.  The scallops were cooked and seasoned perfectly, over a bed of cauliflower, caraway, turmeric root, and farro with green peas.  The cauliflower/farro ended up having a very Indian taste to it (probably because of the turmeric).  If you like Indian spices and curry you will enjoy this, but I felt it overpowered the cauliflower (and I am Indian).  I also wish the dish came with one more scallop considering the price point.

Overall, this was a lovely place to eat and I will be back!  It is nice to see Midtown’s development in the recent years, including additions like this one.

Burrata on Everythang.

This is not a recipe really.  This is about a philosophy – a Burrata  Philosophy.

At restaurants I am often drawn to the Burrata appetizers.  In part, all this time, it was because I rarely eat Burrata.  It is not your everyday cheese.

On one of my routine trips to Whole Foods, while wandering around just taking it all in (yes, I do that), I came across the container of Burrata. I picked it up for closer observation; the cheese ball, floating in that murky water, hanging like a cloud.  Could this really be as delicious and delicate as the Burrata I get at restaurants?  I was skeptical, but went for it.  And wow.  WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING ALL MY LIFE without eating store-bought Burrata!?  And then I realized, I need to change my philosophy on Burrata; Burrata can be had on my dining table, or better yet on my couch while watching Bravo (snuggled up with my cat).  I do not have to reserve the indulgence for restaurant dining. 

Wait a Minute….What is Burrata Cheese? If you are new to Burrata cheese, it is an exquisite Italian cheese.  The outer-shell is fresh mozzarella but the inside is cream and mozzarella making it full of moisture.  When you cut it open, the creaminess oozes out like cutting into a poached egg and revealing the yolk.  If you don’t like a moist texture you may not prefer this.  It has a distinct cream taste, and almost quenches your thirst like milk. 

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I tried Burrata on a number of salads.  Photographed below is kale, apples, a touch of balsamic, and Burrata.  The apple and Burrata played together perfectly.  

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It is tomato season so I also grabbed a huge heirloom tomato while in the produce section.  I made this tomato salad, dressed with olive oil and fresh basil from my balcony garden, and of course a huge portion of my Burrata.

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The Buratta came in one large ball, but I did not hesitate to slice it and eat it in portions.  I kept the portions in the water and container that it came with.  Also, I ate it all within 3 days as recommended after opening it. 

This simple item, which is usually quite expensive at restaurants, can easily enhance your homemade salads and meals. 

I will be seeing Burrata in my fridge more often and will share more Burrata recipes with you as I practice The Burrata Philosophy.