Food and plates


Two hours north east of Kingwood is this town Woodville. So peaceful is the thirty-some-mile long hilly road from Livingston to it, a thin ribbon through the verdency. Every year mom and dad find it rewarding to make the drive to eat chicken and dumpling at a local restaurant there, when the wind turns cold and the sky is covered in mesmerizing gray. But this year the pilgrimage took a different turn. We missed the chicken dumpling by half an hour, and starvation is not easily appeased with only a tranquil landscape. We drove further to downtown Woodville, found Jack in the Box and Z’s Fillin Station. It was God’s will? We pulled into Z’s Fillin Station. Long menu. The hostess waited patiently for our order, but exhaustion showed on her face. She was also the cook. The host, big and friendly like any countryman of Texas, eagerly checked on us and was happy when we cleaned our plates. A few men in cowboy boots swaggered in, nodded hi to us. This part of Texas is rural and secluded, but it’s nice precisely because of that. People here are home-folk like the land they’ve settled on. The food, too, […]

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Frosting all the way – La buche de Noel

The French colonizers brought many things to Vietnam – Catholic churches, potatoes, veston, coffee and rubber tree plantations, to name a few – but perhaps their baking recipes have left the sweetest memories. Some of those recipes were modified, like the baguette with extra leavening became the crisp and light banh mi, or the croissant with extra butter which is crisp at the two horns (to match its Vietnamese name – “water buffalo’s horn”), golden and shiny at the bottom, more substantial inside, subtly salty, and smells delicious from several feet away. Some names have mysteriously disappeared from the world wide web of delicacies and can only be found in Vietnamese conversations, Vietnamese bakeries, and Vietnamese food blogs – the pâte chaud falls into this category. But many stay true to their origin, like the choux à la crème, the gâteau, and the buche de Noel. There’s the frosting. It can be white chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, even durian flavor, but the traditional dark chocolate ganache is best in my opinion. There’s the middle layer to resemble tree rings, chocolate […]

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Hot Pot City

Drop the ingredients into the boiling stock, let ’em bob up and down while you watch and chat, tak’em out and whack’em on top of a wad of noodle, pour a ladle of broth, and inhale the sweet steam… So what constitutes a good hot pot? Well, the stock is of course the key, then it’s common practice to have some meat, seafood, vegetables (some kind of leafy greens and mushroom), some noodle for the starch base. But there is no set rule. Whatever you want in your mouth, you can put into the hot pot. We opted for the half-and-half stock: Vietnamese lau and Japanese shabu. The two are quite similar, but the Vietnamese lau has tomato and is slightly more seasoned. Both stocks contain green onion and sweet onion, the taste is neutral, neither too salty nor too sweet, just downright savory. In increasing order, you can add more tomatoes, pineapple, or tamarind to make it sour, and any kind of chili pepper until your eyes water. Canadian style thin egg noodle went well with everything. As for the add-ons, we also picked […]

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Little big hits

It was 7 PM in Houston. Cold winds crept up the rustling trees. We were in the mood for kolaches. No kolache store was opened. (I would be surprised if I could even find some right after noon, it’s usually sold out by 9 AM at any local Shipley Donuts.) Desperate as we were for something small and meaty, we pulled into this backyard parking lot on a dark little street of Montrose. The name is cute, but… “Go Horns”?!* A few years ago I would have shy away from any place resembling a shady, fuming pub with TV screens blasting out a football game, hoards of muscles with beer in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a gigantic burger streaming cheese and lard in front of the mouth. That’s what Little Big’s looks like from the outside. But the patio was empty. And so were our tummies. Inside, it was a tamed ambience with three or four rows of long tables and high stools. It has a TV, and football was on, but no attentive enthusiasts screaming […]

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Anzu – Where food is plainfully natural

Back then we used to take a break from Fortran coding, cross the street from the old Physics building to McDonald’s to refuel at midnight. Now having moved up the ladder, we have little unpretentious Chinese and Japanese down the block, though certainly they don’t open 24/7. A vegetable tempura is much lighter and less savory than a chicken nugget, but many of them would do. The batter is a mere coat for earthy cuts of sweet potato, squash, onion rings, and broccoli. The flavor does not go beyond steam pockets eagerly exploding and crumbled flakes scattering like confetti. Like sushi, Japanese tempura standing alone sans sauce is food for the eye, not quite the taste buds. The same thing holds for beef teriyaki. Dark red grilled complexion topped with sesame seeds beautifully masks a rather dry and sinewy texture. The clear, thin dipping sauce needs some more ingredients to balance its salty lonesomeness. If you order teriyaki at Anzu, don’t expect the commercialized, Americanized, sauce-logged beef and chicken teriyaki in a Subway sandwich, it’s simply not the same. The katsudon saved the day. Short for tonkatsu donburi (deep fried pork cutlet rice […]

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Le Regal – Old food, new taste

Vietnamese When asked about Vietnamese food, Americans usually think of phở busily churned out in small noodle houses crowded with plastic chairs and formica tables. Naturally, since most immigrants gather in their community, the variety of traditional food can only circulate in specific areas. A small fraction of the people have settled in a predominantly American neighborhood long enough and are acquainted with the system enough to set up a business, but they often target the young customers with adventurous taste. Meanwhile, most young customers can only afford low price, hence phở and other easily-made noodle dishes make their way to the top. Careful circumspection would show that pasta alla carbonara requires no more effort than bún thịt nướng, so is it just a matter of gaudy names, flashy advertisement, and aging familiarity that brought one into fancy menus but not the other? By no means do I want to sound like a snob, but every now and then I get cravings for a nice dinner in a restaurant aptly labeled “restaurant”. Ladles of this melting cheese and mounts of that grated cheese just no longer light the candle. A retouch of Far Eastern […]

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Azerbaijan cuisine

There are three free things the Bear Transit has to offer (when the buses do come): a ride to and from campus uphill (free for those with a UCB ID), a lively chat between the bus driver and his or her favorite passenger (feel free to eavesdrop – even if you don’t want to, you have to – they’re loud), and a tour around downtown Berkeley, also happened to be the part cluttered with everything from restaurants to food trucks (if you have a free eye to wander). This last offer led to my finding of Azerbaijan Cuisine. Although Alborz was shy of making the list of ubercmuc’s favorites, I thought I should give Persian food another try. After a winter shower, Fulton Street was sparkly clean. The trees shed another layer of their bright foliage. The breeze was quirky but not too cold. It was the perfect weather for a hearty meal in a nice restaurant. Like Alborz, Azerbaijan Cuisine shows great effort in designing an attractive, spacious interior. Plain white light bounces off mahogany surfaces and crystal wine glass, giving a delicate coziness […]

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TAMU Physics building: Beauty and Brain

Just a few months ago, only certain people could go inside to inspect the construction, and everyone permitted had to wear hard hats. Now, driving on University, it would be hard to miss the gigantic banner leisurely hung to announce a brand new presence, that was much awaited and is worth every minute of effort put into it. The two physics buildings at A&M are a charm, and doesn’t one of them (left picture) remind you of some famous structure? (Hint: something in New York). Seven stories high (including the basement for laboratories), the newborn Mitchell Institute now houses the high energy theorists and the astrophysicists, as well as a brass Foucault pendulum complete with a full electronic protractor. Marking a crimson comet tail along its path, the pendulum pridefully swings across the floor, its movement sparks gratification in the eyes of Prof. Edward Fry, the department head. (For comparison, the pendulum at the Houston science museum is tracked by knocking down wooden pegs, much less chance for malfunction and more eco-friendly, I guess?). And just to entertain your scientific mind, every step you make […]

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