Sunday, April 10, 2011

Glutton's Tour of Houston, Part 2

Waddling back after a fairly early evening yesterday (we capped the day with a walk through the much-expanded Galleria), we got a good night's rest in preparation for today's tour.

We journeyed down Westheimer in search of a good breakfast stop, that particular destination not having been pre-planned. We didn't want anything huge or fancy, given the rest of the day's plans. Luckily we found the Empire Cafe.

As we lined up to order at the counter, several temptations awaited us, including foccacia eggs, omelettes, and frittatas. Taking the "simple" route, I chose hot polenta (I love polenta, but have never had it hot for breakfast), and Robyn got some toast and coffee. The polenta arrived drizzled with a caramel sauce and almonds; a satisfying way to start the day.

Our mom and grandmother lived in this neck of the woods, and we spent some time driving around old stomping grounds. The neighborhood has improved over the years, I'm very happy to report.

We headed for an early lunch, since we had hair stylist appointments at 12:30 with Mom's former hairdresser Stefano. (His salon is Salon Stefano; highly recommended if you're in town.) We did a lot of research before the trip, finally deciding a lunchtime destination of El Real Tex-Mex, Chef Bryan Caswell's newest venture. We got had only been open two weeks at the time.

I can hear you now: "Who needs another Tex-Mex restaurant?" You really do. I can all but guarantee this place will show up, and soon, in the dining pages of Texas Monthly.

They converted the old Tower Theater on Westheimer, with seating both inside and out. It's a funky, retro, and fun place to eat. Every time we drove by it, the patio was full to brimming.

For starters, they make everything...and I do mean everything...from scratch. They even render their own lard and blend their own chili powder.

We ordered a few selections to share, including green chile posole (the best I've ever had; sorry San Antonio), a puffy taco, and a cheese enchilada. All very standard Tex-Mex fare, but elevated to a new level here. You must stop here when you visit Houston (or if you live there).

More driving around in the afternoon, a quick stop by Rice University, and a stop back at the hotel for a post-dining snooze. Then out again for dinner. This evening's stop: Indika.

Decorated inside with warm colors and Indian accents, the dining room smelled amazing the minute we walked in. As usual, our modus operandi involved ordering several small items and sharing. We chose a crabmeat samosa and a butternut and lentil soup. For our entree, we chose a vegetarian sampler (pictured). We never found out what everything was, but the things that look like carrot sticks are actually pickled turmeric. We also enjoyed green beans, barley, paneer in a green sauce, and fried onions. I've already recommended the place to my vegetarian friend when she visits Houston.

A quick aside to the dining experience. We travelled to Houston to accept a posthumous award on behalf of our father. Twenty years ago, he co-wrote a paper for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) about locating oil under sub-sea salt domes. At the time, seismographs couldn't read through salt domes, and everyone told him he was nutz. Technology improved, and guess what they found about five years ago?? Yup...oil. Lots of it. His co-author told me that this discovery "will have a profound impact on world oil supplies in our lifetime." And our daddy was one of the first ones to propose it! The AAPG presented Dad and his co-author with an award for the paper; my sisters and I were honored to accept it on his behalf, and the plaque is currently with my sisters (pictured; Robyn on left, Mary on right....oh, and me in the middle).

We completed our dining experience with a great little pizza joint just outside of downtown called Piola. Since I'm avoiding white flour products right now (hard to argue with a ten-pound weight loss), I always appreciate a pizza joint that serves whole wheat crust.

So don't miss the dining experience in Houston. We only scratched the surface and we look forward to returning!

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