Friday, August 22, 2014

Houston Restaurant Weeks at Backstreet Cafe

Sometimes a dessert literally changes your life.


But I suppose moreso than desserts changing your life? BABIES. Sometimes a BABY changes your life.

Mom, I'm not pregnant, breathe.

But my friend Meredith was pregnant when we went to Backstreet Cafe together last week! And this week she's not pregnant anymore because she had a baby this week! And he's beautiful and perfect and I want to pinch his little cheeks for the rest of his days forever and ever amen.


Ugh, did YOUR heart just do a backflip? Because my heart just did a backflip!

So right before Meredith's life was changed forever by a baby, we decided to try out Backstreet Cafe's HRW menu where my life was changed forever by a piece of chocolate cake.

Please don't feel sorry for me.


Oh what's that up there? Just a regular ole' hunk of bread? HARDLY. Try to only have just one piece of this fresh, warm, fluffy, sinful sourdough bread. You cannot do it, I promise. This is a 5-slices-in-your-mouth minimum loaf, I assure you.

Oh, and just TRY not to order something off of their summer tomato menu to start off with - like these crispy, decadent, fried green tomatoes - even though you're about to essentially have a 3- or 4-course meal.


Nope can't do it, I promise you.

Oh, and what's that, Backstreet Cafe HRW Menu? You have an entire section dedicated to a FOUR COURSE vegetarian meal?


Sure, the meal would have been sufficient with just three courses, but then I wouldn't have been able to drown in the light, lemony, savory amuse orzo summer salad, the perfect starter for my palate.

You just get me Backstreet Cafe.


Um, hello, cornmeal crusted avocado, I think we just became best friends. You are so rich and indulgent, you could basically be a dessert. The creamed corn, the kick of poblano, and the slightly crunchy avocado make you a home run hitter!

(You should try out for the Astros, I hear they're hiring.)


And YOU saffron brushed cauliflower steak?? You were coated and roasted so perfectly, my heart sang. The slow roasted mixed grains underneath tasted like fried rice with a fancy, sensational makeover. The two of you melted so perfectly into one another, I swear I lost consciousness for a moment.


The only thing I'm sad to report on is I was not your biggest fan seasonal summer cobbler. All the right elements were there, but the balance was off, and you quickly turned into a berry mush.

But that's okay, because Meredith shared her dessert with me from the Red Dinner HRW menu...


I really am not a dessert person, so this is saying a lot. If you go to Backstreet Cafe, and you can only order one thing because your very life depends on it,  please promise me you'll get the dark chocolate cake. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is hands down the single best dessert I have ever had in my entire life.

Mindblown.

The cake was rich, soft, moist, and velvety. Combined with the cheese ice cream and marinated strawberries, it was an utterly sensual experience.

I lost. my. mind.

I hadn't been to Backstreet Cafe since my friend Amanda was in town (Gah, was it really that long ago?!), and I am so glad I came back to dine off of the Houston Restaurant Weeks menu with Meredith! The only (and I really mean only) thing that would have made the experience better is if it hadn't been 5,000 degrees outside and we had been able to sit out on Backstreet's magical patio. It's easily one of my favorite restaurants in Houston, so I encourage you to run not walk.


50 Shades of Cake.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Brasserie 19

I love summer.


But more than summer, I love fall, and I have officially [prematurely] gone into full on Fall Daydreaming Mode. The subject of my daydreams are as follows, in no particular order:

1) Fall television - Scandal, Revenge, Parks and Recreation, Homeland... YES.

2) Sundresses with boots, and drapey pretty sweaters.

3) All of the Pumpkin. all. of. it.

4) Hot apple cider. Maybe spiked with rum. Okay definitely spiked with rum.

5) Football season.

6) Obviously:


7) And the start of my favorite holiday, ThanksgivChristmas!

Speaking of, another one of my favorite "holidays" is Houston Restaurant Weeks! My sister came into town recently, and my parents decided to take us out to dinner for a belated birthday/the-family's-all-here celebraysh. So they picked one of their favorites - Brasserie 19 - in part so we could dine off of their Houston Restaurant Weeks menu.

Funny story though, we all ended up ordering from the regular menu.


Oh Life, you have some crazy twists and turns!

I had always heard that Brasserie 19 was an excellent people-watching place. And when I think of excellent people-watching places I think of Venice Beach, nontraditional art shows in Heights warehouse galleries, and the walk of shame in NYC the morning after Halloween (seriously, most entertaining thing ever). So I was eager to see how a restaurant located in the River Oaks Shopping Center would live up to these expectations!

The instant I walked in it hit me: This was not Venice Beach, or a nontraditional art show in a Heights warehouse gallery, or the walk of shame in NYC the morning after Halloween - Quite the opposite actually. This is where the Houston socialites converge on a Thursday night, decked out in designer shoes and ginormous diamonds, sipping on martinis, and smiling through beautifully whitened teeth. This is a place where people come to see and be seen.


And while I'm definitely more comfortable sitting on an old barstool, kicking back a few with friends in a laid-back low maintenance spot, Brasserie 19 for sure did have a lot going on to watch!

But THE FOOD.

The food was incroyable! (See I can be fancy and French!)

First up, I ordered the French 75, which was unbelievably light and refreshing.


Made with prosecco and gin, this lemony drink hit the spot on that hot summer evening. My sister Emily ordered the blue version of it, which was their special that night, and included blue curacao.

Fantastico!

(nope. that's Italian.)

To start I ordered the Roasted Beets, which came with arugula, green onion pesto, local goat feta, almonds, and horseradish vinaigrette.


I love beets. If I could eat them for every meal I probably would. And the inclusion of the sweet golden beets in this salad was sublime. Combined with the bitter argula, garlic-y pesto, creamy feta, crunchy almonds, and tangy vinaigrette, it was the perfect little starter!

For my main course I ordered the Vegetable Cassolette L’Orge, which is a combination of pearl barley, mushrooms, kale, beets, tomato, and sweet potato, among other various vegetables.

And I'm not going to lie, y'all. When I saw that the only vegetarian dish on the menu had a foundation of barley, I was completely unexcited. But our super amazing waiter (seriously, he was the best) sang its praises, so I decided to give it a whirl.


This dish was stupid.

I was completely floored by the combination of beautiful flavors, the silky, slightly briny sauce the vegetables were cooked in, and the integral part the barley played in bringing it all together. It was absolutely astounding. As always, I was so glad to be proven so completely wrong!

And sidenote for any vegetarians out there wondering about the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top? The cheese they use in this dish comes from a vegetarian farm that uses microbial rennet, so you are all good there! If you are not a vegetarian and have no idea what I'm talking about, just try to erase the last 5 seconds of your life.

Then we ordered dessert, and my sister not-so-subtly-right-in-front-of-me sort of "whispered" to the waiter that we were celebrating my birthday.

So they brought me this:


That's right, a giant trophy, filled with cotton candy, and a sparkler (which had died out by this point) sticking out of it.

This may have been my favorite thing about Brasserie 19, and not because I like cotton candy (I'm actually not really a fan, okay you can punch me now). It's because it was such a cheesy and silly thing to do at such a fancy place, that I loved everything about it!

For dessert we ordered the warm chocolate cake, and I'm sorry I don't have a photo because my family had already destroyed half of it by time I got my phone out to take a picture. But the molten cake was absolute heaven. Paired with a side of hazelnut gelato, this was one amazing dessert.

While I don't foresee myself frequenting Brasserie 19 on the reg, the food really is incredible. The care and precision put into each dish is very apparent, and the service is truly excellent. And if you're ever curious about seeing all of Houston's elite on a Thursday night, this is definitely the place!


Muy Bien!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Onion Creek Cafe

Are we basically halfway through August already?


We are basically halfway through August already.

How in God's name did that happen? It's a little scary to me because this means I'm already basically THREE WEEKS away from going to Peru, and even though I perfectly plan everything to an annoying fault, I don't think I'll ever feel prepared, so I'm a little bit freaking out!
 
But more than that, I am incredibly excited. I'm also excited to start wearing my favorite things soon, aka boots and sundresses, come September (wishful thinking? October? November? help.) because this Houston summer has essentially been like this…

No this is not at all photoshopped, and yes my car may be a *tad* dramatic.
...and my giant hair has got something to say about it.

But enough about boots and sundresses and humidity and alpacas (omg, this blog is going to be plastered with photos of me posing with llamas in a month, YOU'RE WELCOME).


A few weeks ago, my dear friends Lenny and Christy packed their lives up and headed Northeast to ship off to Boston. (Is that a song? I think it's a song). And while I miss them terribly already, I am super excited for them and their new adventure!

The night before they left, they decided to have one final hurrah at Onion Creek Cafe in the Heights with me, Lenny's/my de facto little sister Fran, and our friends Caleb and Lindsey. I had never been, but had visited Canyon Creek once and heard plenty about The Creek Group in general.

First impressions: It's a quirky, good-vibey, friendly bar. I anticipated decent food, but nothing more than standard pub fare.


I'm so often wrong! And I love it!

First, before I go into the sheer massive amount of food I ate that night, I have to release the disclaimer that Christy and I had just come from a 90 minute hot yoga class, so I was in Eat All of the Things mode.

We started off with the trio, which included chips, salsa, queso, and guacamole. And it all was great. Life changing? No, but very good. The guacamole was super fresh, I believe the chips were homemade (if not, they definitely fooled me), and the queso was velvety and tasty.

Next up, we ordered the meat and cheese plate to split. And once again, I'm all, "Meh, how good can this really be?"


Answer: UghSOgood.

The variety of cheeses was great, the bread was fluffy and crunchy, and the accompanying strawberries and grapes were fresh and the perfect accompaniment. True, I was drunk from having done 187 downward dogs that night. And true, I'm probably going to love any cheese plate you put in front of me because, #duh. But I do think careful thought went into this one. It's definitely worth a try!

For my main course (this is a judgement-free zone, people.) I ordered the hummus wrap and added a soy boca patty to it.


I'm being 100% serious when I say I dreamt about it that night and craved it for the rest of the week and maybe saw a supermoon after my first bite. I.n.c.r.e.d.i.b.l.e.

The whole wheat wrap contained spinach artichoke hummus, avocado, greek feta salad, lettuce, and tomatoes. That hummus was out of this world. It was super creamy and delicate, and went flawlessly with the soy boca patty. It really was absolutely outrageous. And dipped into that creamy cilantro dipping sauce? Stop it, I'm drooling on my desk.

And look at the fries! Look at that seasoning! They really were as good as they appear. They were perfectly crunchy, served super hot, and the seasoning was salty with a little punch. Loved them.

Onion Creek Cafe is a homey and inviting place, with an obvious "this is a great place to grab a beer" vibe. More unassuming is it's delicious, inexpensive, not-your-traditional-pub-food offerings which are bound to please the crowds!


Even if you didn't just spend the last 90 minutes upside down and contorted like a [mixed up] rubik's cube.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Vacation Days: NYC, Part Two

Something keeps bringing me back.


It's the bagels.


Just kidding, it's the people of course!

(But a little bit the bagels).

The main reason for this trip was to attend the bachelor party of the handsome gentleman above, LJ (aka "Poncho"). Poncho is one of my dearest friends in the whole world, and I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful person in my life. I'm also incredibly fortunate and honored to be in his wedding as one of his best ladies!


Or, as I am now called, "Worst Lady."

Because as you can see, I brought my A Game on. And what exactly did this bachelor party entail?


Yes, that's right, a Katy Perry concert.

I'm 29 years old, and I lived large at a Katy Perry concert. 

#yolo.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but it was so much fun and wonderful to get to spend this special day with LJ. I also snuck in a few other hugs throughout the weekend, so I'll quit gabbing, and just show you the rest through photos!

Photo Credit: Courtney Smith
Oh but first - My flight arrived three hours late and entailed switching planes, switching airports from La Guardia to NEWARK, grabbing the wrong luggage (obviously), missing the last NJ Transit train of the night (ahem, at 2:04 am), and shelling out a cool hundo to cab it to Queens. But when I arrived, my best friend Courtney greeted me with this birthday cake! And the candles almost burned down her entire apartment complex! (see before and after shot above). But she's so adorable! And I love her so much!!!

Okay, more pictures.



Poncho asked the Magic 8 Ball if I would meet my true love that night. This was the response I got.
#Accurate
LJ's amazing fiance Sean made us these awesome party favors!
(But in all seriousness I may have died without them.)

This was a random taco place on the LES, but sidenote, did you know bars in New York stay open until 4am? WHO NEEDS TO STAY OUT UNTIL 4AM?!
(Hint: We do.)
Because if you take me to a karaoke bar, this is a non-negotiable.
Life-saving morning after brunch in BK


And there you have it in a nutshell!

Unless otherwise stated, all photos were taken with my iPhone and edited in VSCO cam, A Beautiful Mess, and Fotor!

Upcoming trips: Peru and Panama in September and NYC again in October for Poncho's wedding!!


But in the meantime I'll be sleeping for an entire month.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Happy Hour at Reef

I survived all of my crazy travels [mostly] unscathed!


I had a birthday, I slept on a boat in the gulf, I got all "New York" ballistic on a guy at 4am for being rude to some girls, and I hugged a bazillion people that I love. But that's a post for next time!

Today I want to talk about my trip to Reef for Happy Hour with my friend Megan. (I also want to talk about how I MISS her because she LEFT ME to go teach English in Vietnam for the summer).

But right before she left me to go teach English in Vietnam for the summer we decided to do Happy Hour at Reef! I was a little hesitant at first - It's a seafood restaurant, what could they possibly offer for vegetarians?

Answer: Many things.

I even miss her little elbow...
I mean well first of all, I had to order the Million Dollar Mojito, because LIFE. And while it wasn't actually a million dollars (*Phew!*), it was AWESOME. If you're a mojito person, I definitely recommend this one. And I used to live in Miami, so I know a good 'jito when I drink one!

For our food, we ordered the black eyed pea popcorn, fried mac & cheese, and crispy fries with sriracha remoulade from the Happy Hour menu. We also ordered the ponzu glazed brussels sprouts from the regular menu.


Before I get into each spectacular dish, I have to say that all of these items worked BEAUTIFULLY together. I seriously felt as though we were eating off of a tasting menu, and each one of the dishes was chosen by the chef - They flowed that perfectly.


Probably the most unique thing we ordered was the black eyed pea popcorn. I don't know how else to describe them, other than they tasted like a classier version of corn nuts. They were crunchy, light, and not at all what I had expected (though I'm not sure what I expected from "black eyed pea popcorn"...)!

And the french fries with sriracha remoulade?


Ugh, YES.

Yes, I will fall in love with every fry you put in front of me, but these were outstanding. Not at all soggy, but not too crispy, perfectly salted, and the remoulade was tangy and velvety, with a little kick. I was a total fan.

And guys/gals, promise me one thing?


You'll get these brussels sprouts.

The caramel-y/sweet/salty ponzu sauce they were cooked in was fantastic. If any of you are not brussels sprouts fans, I'm willing to bet a cool seven dollars that these would change your mind.

All of the dishes were phenomenal. But the rockstar of the evening? The crowned jewel? The Ryan Gosling of all appetizers?


The fried mac & cheese OF COURSE.

Megan had been to Reef before and was adamant that we order these, and with good reason. Fried mac & cheese is always a hit or miss thing with me (WHAT AM I EVEN SAYING). I find that they are often too rich and too large to be fully enjoyed. But these were absolutely magnificent. They were the perfect size, the cheese-to-breading ratio was spot on, they weren't too rich by any stretch, and if another human hadn't been sitting across the table from me, I absolutely would have housed all of them and asked for a second order.


See, even though she leaves me for an extended period of time to go to the other side of the world, she keeps me in check.

I cannot recommend Reef enough, especially for its inexpensive stellar happy hour. You'll sit in the colorful aquatic-like 3rd Bar area, sip on some phenomenal mojitos, and maybe you'll be the first two there because you're 29 going on 99, but I can promise you'll leave happy and satisfied!

And only 18 more days until I get go to back with Megan!


Not that I'm counting.