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Monday, January 17, 2011

Culinary Lunch Adventure (What started it all...)

Anyone that truly knows me knows that I have a passion for trying to connect the world through my theories.  I have a theory about people in relation to food.  I believe there are two types of people; The “Same Old, Same Old” people and the “Variety is Fun!” people.  I happen to fall in the second category.  To give an example: My husband, our roomate at the time, & I would go eat at Los Arcos (West & Beltway 8) every Sunday morning while we roomated together, and we would arrive and get seated, and they would only hand ME a menu. 

Why you ask?, because the boys always ordered the same thing every week; Lunch Menu Beef Fajitas w/ nothing but a side of sour cream, shredded cheese, and beans.  I however ordered something different every time; sometimes it was the Flautas, sometimes the Queso Flameado (They have the best of this I swear!!!), or sometimes I would have fajitas with the boys. 

So back to the point, I usually eat my lunch with my co-worker who happens to be a “Same Old, Same Old” person, so when all these restaurants starting opening around the Willowbrook area I really wanted to see what they were all about.  Well because my co-worker is out having her baby I am left with a lunch break to go wherever my little heart desires.  So in this first week I decided to have a Culinary Adventure.  And this is my chronology.

Monday – January 10th, 2011 – I enjoy a good sandwich which I am sure everyone does.  My second job ever was working at Subway.  Subway is good and all don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t seem to have that flair that I’m missing.  My dad used to make subs at the house with Boar’s Head meats, yummy expensive cheeses, and some sort of sub dressing.  They were always very good.  That is the sandwich I am looking for, and how I rate every sandwich shop I go to. 

So I tried that new guy in town called Which Wich.  Upon studying the menu before I ever left the office I spied that they had a French Dip.  I have a love affair with those silly sandwiches, and cannot resist getting them.  I tried to talk myself into a multi-meat and lots of veggies regular sub, but my affair with the French Dip won out.  I will say for starters that I truly enjoyed their bread.  As far as the French Dip itself I would rather enjoy one from say Jason’s Deli or even Arby’s.  As I was finishing eating I said to myself “I should have gotten a regular sandwich!!”  I did like their selection of chips and funky décor.  As well I ended up eating everything I bought. 

I would have to give Which Wich a “Better Than Subway” rating.  I would eat there again.

Which Wich's Website

Tuesday – January 11th, 2011 – I don’t know if you have been to CheeBurger CheeBurger yet or not, but I just LOVE it!!! (The only one in Texas is in the Vintage Park off of Louetta) They have so many different ways to make your burger, awesome fries and onion rings, and shakes beyond belief. 

So when my huband’s little brother said that Five Guys Burgers & Fries’ burgers were better I was skeptical.  So my Tuesday adventure became to see if he was speaking the truth.  Five Guys has a very basic menu.  And I was kind of surprised when I asked the girl the difference between the Burger and a Little Burger what her response was.  What I was expecting was a measurement i.e. ¼ lb., 1/3 lb., or ½ lb., but what she said instead was “The Burger has two patties and the Little Burger has one.”  Well me being a person that can be fully satisfied off of a McDonald’s kids meal (And not the mighty kids meal either, just the regular one)  I ordered the Little Burger with a Regular Cajun Fry.  (I think Curly and Cajun fries are things you just have to get… Who wants a plain old French fry when you can get super potatoes?!?!) 

While waiting for my food I looked around the shop and what they’ve done in there is interesting.  Basically they’ve taken anything anyone (Journalists) have said about them and blown it up and put it on their walls.  I can see where this would draw people in.  If you thought some place had won a bunch of awards and was mentioned many times in various newspapers you would want to eat there too. 

Back to the food…  The gentleman working the fry station calls my number while looking at me; I nod and approach the counter.  He calls the number before he dishes out the fries which I find a little odd, but then he gives me a small wink and smile and dumps an extra portion of fries in my bag.  Which for a guy would have probably been fine and dandy, but I’m thinking, “Shucks I’m totally going to waste all those fries!” 

I return to my office and sit down in the break room and think to myself as I’m unwrapping my burger “How did they get the burger into this shape in the wrapper?”  I couldn’t figure it out before I had opened it and restructured the veggies.  (Which I recommend everyone do!!!  No one making food cares about the perfect bite as much as you do; you have to take on that responsibility as your own!!)  The burger was very good, and I would say that it ranks right up there with CheeBurger CheeBurger.  It’s hard to say which one is better than the other. 

Lets do a comparison real quick.  Five guys didn’t get everything I asked for on the burger because the girl wasn’t listening to me as I placed my order, which at CheeBurger you sit down at the table and have your waitress taking your order with pen and paper, instead of going through the line and ordering your food, waiting for it and sitting down.  The meats are so different it is hard to say which one it better.  I think CheeBurger has a better quality meat and their patties are thicker.  While you can tell the Five Guys meat is hand shaped, and is thinner.  I would say Five Guys would be more a diner style burger even though CheeBurger has a diner style atmosphere.  The bun at Five Guys I would say is better, because it is a true bun.  CheeBurger’s I would almost call a roll.  The fries are better at CheeBurger, they are more of a greasy diner fry which I really like.  The Cajun fries to me had too much seasoning, and left a strange orange color on anything they touched.  Almost like chorizo grease, a little weird.  I finished my burger, but there was no way I could dream of eating that many fries.  I would go back again, and I really want to take my husband there to get a guys opinion. 

I think I would rate Five Guys as “Not Better Than CheeBurger But Right Up There”.

Five Guy's Website
Cheeburger's Website

Wednesday – January 12th, 2011 – A certain someone I know happens to find themselves in kitchens of places around the Houston Area, and that person says that they will never eat at a James Coney Island again.  But if you are like me and have seen that special on PBS on hot dogs; you get the craving every once in a while. 

When I saw the new restaurant open called Franks & Toppings I was interested, and this is why I made it my Wednesday adventure.  What I didn’t realize until I pulled up the website is that they only serve organic food.  Which I really don’t have any cares about, but I know other people do so I thought I would mention it. 

I went there and ordered a good old chili dog, and asked the guy if he liked the fries or onion rings better, and he started in on the sweet potato fries.  I told him I was not interested in those at the moment, but the minute I start a new diet I might be back for them.  He suggested the onion rings.  I received my food and brought it back to work and sat down in the break room.  The onion rings were very crunchy and yummy with big think onions inside.  The hot dog put me off at first because the coloration was a little funny.  Not red or even pink like a typical hot dog, but besides the color this hot dog was very yummy, and texturally fine. 

The chili, cheese, onions, mustard were all great on top, but believe it or not the star of the show was the hot dog bun.  Best hot dog bun I’ve ever seen or had the pleasure eating.  They even said people who have allergies to bread can eat their buns, because of how they are made.  Sorry you’ll have to do your own research here if you are allergic to make sure they will work for you.  I ended up eating all the onion rings, and only half of the hot dog, because I was full.  They only give you like five or six onion rings, but they are so huge!!  I think this would be a great place to check out if you are conscious of your health.  They also have veggie burgers, salmon burgers, turkey burgers, etc.  I would eat here again. 

I would rate this place "Way Better Than James Coney".

Franks & Toppings Website

Thursday – January 13th, 2011 (My Honey’s Birthday!! ) – Well after posting my journey thus far and being one day short of a week on ideas where to go eat each day I took the advice of a friend.  I visited My Fit Foods.  I had seen them there for a while now, as I had been visiting Schlotzsky’s (My Favorite Sandwich Shop!!). 

I have to say this place is very interesting and informative.  Not currently being on a diet and amongst a culinary adventure that has no thoughts about healthiness I felt a little silly upon entering.  But the person I met who helped me was amazing.  His name was Brian and he took me through the whole shpeel about what their goals are and about their food. 

I was expecting a restaurant and that isn’t quite what I got.  I was a little shocked when I walked in and saw no tables to sit at and no counter to order food from.  It is basically laid out like the cold section of a gas station; a long row of refrigerators holding various pre-packaged meals.  Brian informed me that all their meals are made at their 290 and Hollister location and are distributed out to the other stores daily.  Brian told me a bunch about the food there about how they have low glycemic carbohydrates, but really I felt he was speaking Greek to me.  I really don’t know much about the actual parts to food that makes them healthy.  I just want to know… Does it taste good? 

Brian suggested the Lean Lemon Turkey for me, and I decided that’s what I would have.  He explained it as a “Healthy Dirty Rice”.  After getting back to work and taking my food out I assessed the situation.  What I was looking at was a layer of ground turkey meat on a bed of rice (Now I realize that ground turkey meat substituted for ground beef can freak people out, but all I can say is open your mind, Turkey is yummy in all sorts of forms).  It also came with two asparagus spears and a lemon.  I squeezed the lemon across my meal and commenced the consumption. 

Believe it or not my friends this meal was very tasty.  It was lemony and had a little spice to it.  I again received the small portion of food, but you can order a medium to a large portion.  The asparagus was very tasty as well.  I would highly recommend this place to people who are concerned with their health.  It’s like having a fridge full of healthy leftovers at your fingertips.  It was such a nice change to having to worry about making the food yourself, and resisting adding that butter you so desperately want.  I definitely would eat at this place again, but I have a feeling my husband, and perhaps even my co-worker would want NOTHING to do with it. 

I would give this place a “Awesome Healthy Lunch Place” rating.

My Fit Food's Website

Friday – January 14th, 2011 – I was super super busy this day, so a co-worker was nice enough to get my lunch for me, which means something sad… I’ve still never been in this place, but I at least I can tell you about my experience with their food. 

Friday’s culinary adventure was Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.  I have to say I really didn’t enjoy the sandwich I got there… Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten one of their Giant Subs and just stuck with the smaller ones.  But I really really wanted some avocado on my sandwich especially after eating the French Dip at Which Wich the other day.  I got the Beach Club.  The things I was not happy with on this sub was the amount of sprouts, how little avocado they put, and the side cut bread. 

I miss the old days when subway used to cut their bread LIKE A BOAT!!!  This may just be a personal preference, but here is my reasoning behind it.  While eating my Jimmy John’s sandwich every bite I took everything else tried to run out of the other end….  How can eating a sandwich be enjoyable when you are chasing all the innards the whole time?  This is my philosophy either make a boat, like the old subway way, or cut the thing entirely in half.  No more of this half cutting the bread stuff people!!!  It never ends well!  As well I felt like I had to dislocate my jaw to be able to eat it, and that is why I banned Quizno’s so many years ago.  When will these people understand we are not snakes!!  (*Steps off soapbox.*) 

So from this experience I would have to say I would eat Jimmy John’s again, and try a smaller sandwich, but I can’t see myself saying when someone asks me “Where’s a good place to get a good sandwich?”, yelling “Jimmy John’s, Jimmy John’s”. 

I guess I would have to give Jimmy John’s a “Better than Quizno’s” rating.

Jimmy John's Website

After Thoughts:  The “Same Old, Same Old” term I used for the people who aren’t that thrilled with eating different things all the time seems harsh to me now, and I just wanted to clarify that is nothing that would make one of these types of people better or worse than the other they are just different.

I feel another disclaimer should be made here about… Who am I to be able to dole out these judgments of food?  I’m nobody really, just a woman that LOVES food!!, and loves to write I guess.  Please remember that I am one individual and even though they say that journalism does not have bias I believe that anything that runs through a human's mind or is touched by a human hand is somehow biased in the end.  So take my reviews for what they are worth, my opinion. 

I just wanted to make a TMI note here as well.  Let’s just say if you are used to eating all the bad foods, and you switch to eating really healthy foods your tummy will not like you very much.  And this is what happened to me on both Wednesday and Thursday.  So be careful my dear friends.  Either eat healthy or not; don’t mess with your digestive system like that it’s just not nice. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Place Report - Fogo De Chao

I have to say before I start telling you about this place I can feel the love if you can call it love spilling out from my fingertips... Maybe it's adoration or excitement of just being able to share with you how wonderful this place truly is. 

(A funny backstory is the fact that I had actually been inside of Fogo De Chao before, and did not make it to a table.  It was a Friday evening and the person responsible for making reservations failed to do so, and there was an hour wait.  Our party did not feel like waiting so we left and enjoyed a different place that evening.  I was so sad that I had been so close.  But little did I know in the future about a year later I would get my opportunity.) 

My wonderful mother decided that she wanted to take our little immediate family to Fogo De Chao, and boy am I glad she made up her mind to do so.  In attendance were my husband, my brother, my brother's girlfriend, my mom, and I. 

Upon arriving and entering we were seated almost immediately.  The atmosphere of the place is bustling and exciting.  You can tell by the decor that it is an upscale version of the traditional Brazilian Churrascaria.  Before we get to the experience let me tell you more about what a Churrascaria is.  The word Churrascaria means Steakhouse or at least is loosely translated as such.  The type of cooking is actually called Churrasco which is in Brazil the term for Barbecue.  The difference between our Barbecue and theirs pretty much consists of the fact that they cook everything on skewers over coals, versus us who use a grill grate between our food and our fires. 

Now that you are caught up to speed on exactly what all those funny sounding terms mean let's go back to the restaurant.  As you get settled in at your table the Maitre d' explains the process to you.  You have a round card to use at your discretion; one side is red and the other green.  A pretty simple concept if you ask me.  If you want the gaucho chefs to bring you meat then turn your card to the green side and a plethora of meats will be whisked your way.  They will let you know what they are carrying on their spit, and you simply discern whether you would like that type of meat at that very moment or not.  One other heads up I have to give you is most of the meats just get a little cut and are slid straight onto your plate, but there are those few where they start to slice and you are supposed to clutch onto them with tongs that are provided to you.  It takes a little getting used to, but once you get the rythum down you become a seasoned pro at doing your part of the dance.  The Maitre d' also informs you that the salad bar is in the center of the restaurant containing various salads, cheeses, cold meats, and salmon.  They also ask you whether you would like sparkling water or spring water.  Beware I believe both of these options are extra hits to the pocket book.  Thankfully on this visit my sister-in-law said we would like to have regular water. 

While going to the salad bar the direction you are supposed to start at is clearly marked though some like everywhere you go are rebels and try to start at the wrong spot or go in the opposite direction.  The only critique I have about the salad bar is that there should be labels.  You can fancy up some labels I promise.  It is hard to try new things when you are guessing what they might be from the beginning.  I had to ask one of the salad bar attendants what a few things were.  To give my opinion on some of the salad bar items I would first have to speak with you about the salmon.  I can't tell you how much I love smoked salmon.  It is one of the most delicious flavors I have tasted in my life.  The salmon on the salad bar is smoked and very yummy.  I also love the fact that they had tabbouleh which is a salad of sorts that has Lebanese origins which I thought came from Greece that consists of cracked wheat, tomato, parsley, mint, onion, lemon juice, and olive oil.  I have had this in the past pared with salmon and loved it.  Typically pita bread is how you would eat this lovely mixture, but there was not one in sight so I became inventive.  They had large fresh lettuce pieces so I made a Greek lettuce wrap with the tabbouleh and smoked salmon.  To die for!!  Besides my favorite little snack I created there is also fresh mozzarella, various vegetables, salads, aged parmesan, and cold meats.  One of the prepared salads I also enjoyed was their chicken salad.  Very good and worth a little spot in your stomach along the way. 

Meanwhile back at the table the servers have brought our drinks and as well placed the three side dishes that are unlimited for us to enjoy.  The three sides are crispy hot polenta (which tastes like a milder form of corn bread with in my opinion a better texture, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, but keep in mind I'm not a huge corn bread person so take that for what you will), garlic mashed potatoes, caramelized bananas (which I'm not a fan of hot bananas so you will have to go there and try them yourselves),  and a warm cheese bread authentic to Brazil called pão de queijo(the bread is a little different than I am used to, but I really thought at first they just like the middle of their bread doughy in Brazil, but after perusing the internet after my visit I realized it must have been the cheese and not uncooked dough I was experiencing.)

My sister-in-law gave the phrase of the night she said "I don't want for anything."  I couldn't have put it better myself.  Let me go in to detail on how this occurs.  As I mentioned before you have the gaucho chefs that bring you your meat and the Maître d' that is watching how everything is going at every table, but besides these people you have various other waiters and servers that are taking care of your every whim.  If you take a drink of your refreshment and it becomes below a certain level they are there to refill it, if you drop your napkin before you can pick it up and put it back in your lap they are there with a new one, and of course if one of your pieces of silverware happens to fall again they are there before you could think about getting it to place it back upon the table.  During our particular meal my husband dropped his napkin and like I said they were like lighting in giving him a new one and whisking the old one away, and a little bit later during the meal my brother's napkin didn't even really fall completely on the floor it had slid down his legs and towards his feet.  He thought he was being smooth and gently pulling the napkin back to its rightful place and before he could get it sneakily back into his lap a server was there with a new one.  I have to be honest here it is a little intimidating if you are not used to so many people watching you to make sure that everything is going smoothly and there are no issues during the course of your meal. 

Now that I've let you know about the salad bar, the way the process works, and the side dishes you get to enjoy let's get down to the most important thing about this restaurant the MEAT!!!  They have 11 plus types of meats that get brought to your table.  I say plus because some of the meats are the same type of meat prepared in a different way.  On their website they have the Portuguese words for the meat, but when they come to your table they do not use them, which I am glad of, because you would not at any point know what type of meat you were eating.  Here come the meats...  Top Sirloin (My second favorite) which they also call their House Sirloin (Picanha), Filet Mignon (My personal favorite) which you can also get bacon wrapped, Rib Eye (Beef Ancho), Top Sirloin (Alcatra), Bottom Sirloin (Fraldinha), Beef Ribs (Costela), Lamb which you can get in chop form or sliced right off the leg which is my personal preference (Cordeiro), Chicken which comes both as a leg lightly seasoned or a breast wrapped in bacon (Frango), Pork Ribs (Costela de Porco), Pork Loin which is encrusted which parmesan cheese yum! (Lombo), and Brazilian Sausage (Linguica).  Please keep in mind that all these delicious smelling meats are constantly passing by you and filling the whole restaurant with a smell like no other. 

After you have had your fill of unlimited salad bar, side dishes, and meats you may or may not even be able to think about dessert.  While we were there however we took the opportunity to experience the full experience and ordered some dessert.  I enjoyed their crème brûlée which was very delectable; at some restaurants when they give you this dessert the portion is very small, but not here.  I would almost say it would be plenty to share, almost :o).  The other desserts that they offer are a South Americn Flan, Turtle Cheesecake, Molten Chocolate Cake, Key Lime Pie, and their signature dessert is their Papaya Cream which comes in various flavors. 

Well I hope that you have enjoyed my opinion of this wonderful place, and I hope that you get to visit there soon if you haven't been. 

Fogo De Chao's Website