Monday, April 21, 2014

Event & Food Review: Vertskebap Donner Kebap Grand Opening on Yale St.

Kebab or Kebap is a Mediterranean style of seasoned cooked meat that can be served all kinds of ways.  Dönner Kebap (sometimes called DONAIR Kebab in Halifax  Nova Scotia) is a special kind of Kebab that isn't served in a wrap, it's served on a roll that resembles a Mexican Torta sandwich or a Pannini   The Berlin version is based on foods brought into Germany by Turkish Immigrants.  The sauce could be like Tzatziki sauce, or more of a dill or even a slightly sweet sauce.  The sandwich can be loaded with veggies or just meat and sauce.  If you said "Gehen wir essen Dönner" in Berlin or "Wanna Donair, eh?" in Halifax, no further words are needed.  However in Houston, we have a new Dönner Kebap place near the Heights that has come to us from Austin called Vertskebap and is based on the Berlin variety of Dönner Kebap.  They recently had their grand opening and gave away a ton of free Dönner Kebap for a ton of hungry Houstonians.  I've had the Donair variety in Halifax and had not had it in years, until I ran into the folks from Vertskebap at the Houston Press Menu of Menus.  Most folks who tried it that day were very happy with it.   I brought the family out to try it that day and we were no exception!

But first a bit of background from their website:
VERTS is a fast casual dining concept built around Döner Kebap, Germany’s favorite street food. VERTS is one of the first to bring authentic Döner Kebap to the United States. Based in Austin Texas, VERTS focuses on delivering a quality dining experience that leaves you filling good and feeling great.  
While studying at the University of Texas at Austin, VERTS founders Michael and Dominik craved their favorite street food from their German home. The Kebap unfortunately could not be found in the US. While working towards an MBA at UT, their cravings turned into a business idea – VERTS. The idea was simple: bring the Berlin-inspired Döner Kebap to America.

Michael and Dominik make sure that every ingredient was authentic and fresh. Everything, from the freshly baked bread, the tender beef, lamb and chicken, all handmade in Texas, to the traditional Turkish seasoning and homemade sauces, is prepared to meet the highest taste standards.
As a fan of the Haligonian variety of Donair, this made me so happy to hear and our experience was wonderful, after we got through the long line.  It was well worth the wait, though!  We got some with beef, some with chicken.  The adults loaded up with veggies and sauce (mine was the spicy sauce) while the kids went with the regular sauce (which was a little sweet and a little garlicky).  Jason opted for no veggies (GRRR!!!) while the rest of us had lettuce, tomatoes, mixed greens and cucumber slices.  I was amazed at how fresh and crispy the veggies were--and the fact that they're locally sourced is a good thing as well.  The sandwich is big, a little messy (keep it in the folded paper to hold it all together), but is full of different seasonings, full of flavour, and is a little juicy.  Overall a real winner, in my opinion 

Cuvee in a St. Arnold cup
The Layout is a bit like FreeB!rds--you do down the line, chose your ingredients and come out at the other end with the product, watching it as it's assembled and prepared fresh for you.  The menu is straightforward and includes wrap and bowl versions, as well as vegetarian versions.  And they have a snack size for folks with smaller appetites as well.  They also have a VERY INTERESTING product besides the usual assortment of sodas, teas, and beer:  Cuvee Black and Blue Variable Temperature coffee that's been nitrogenated and is served cold, on tap like beer.  I've never had coffee served on tap like beer before, and this was something quite special.  Heck, this alone would make it worth the trip for the experience, but the Donair... excuse me Dönner Kebap was the star of the show.  And they're opening a River Oaks location at 1572 W. Gray St this Saturday, April 26 at 11 AM--and they'll be giving away one free entree per customer that day as well!!!  There's also plans to open one in Vintage Market near Lone Star College University Park!  Now if only they'll open a location in Westchase, near Westheimer and Beltway 8... THAT would be EXCELLENT!!!

Report Card for Vertskebap Washington Heights:
Food & Beverage:
     Beef/Lamb Kebap sandwich: A+ 
     Chicken Garlic Kebap sandwich: A
     Cuvee Black & Blue Coffee: A+
     Friendliness: A
     Speed:  Incomplete, special event
     Dining Area: A (given crowd especially)
     Food Prep Line: A
     Men's Room: A
Atmosphere-Halifax Donair Place meets FreeB!rds: A-

Overall Grade: A

Vertskebap Washington Heights is located at:
107 Yale Street
Across the parking lot from Wal-mart
Houston, TX 77007
(713) 714-8101

Open 7 Days a Week
11:00 am - 10:00 pm

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Delicious Dozen 2014: Fish & The Knife's Bento Box Lunch

It's been a little while and I'm finally hitting another one of my Delicious Dozen for 2014.  This time it's Fish & the Knife Sushi Bar & Lounge.  I am fond of sushi.  When done right it is totally wonderful.  When done wrong, it can taste meh but then hit you like the gas station variety hit Howard Wolowitz in a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory called "The Relationship Diremption" and earning him the nickname of "Clogzilla."   Fish & The Knife was under construction for about three years.  Many of the food writers and food lovers in Houston were watching  the 13,000 square foot restaurant take shape and more than a few times it seemed like it wasn't going to happen.  The restaurant finally opened a couple of months ago and many of the local foodsters were ecstatic about it.  Even a little controversy surrounding its design didn't hurt things at all.  I swung by for lunch recently after hearing about their Bento Box special to see what the buzz was all about.

When I first entered, I was quite amazed at the intricate design of the interior--it was a mixture of inlaid stone, metal, wood, glass, some rope, some of it clearly reclaimed materiel.  It reminded me of a mixture of a Frank Lloyd Wright home, coupled with a Zen garden, and crossed with a reclaimed industrial space and parlayed with an Architectural Digest shoot.  However you want to phrase it, it looks beautiful and elegant but has warm elements to it as well.  A hodge podge of all things to everyone much like the city of Houston.  Very nice and is the work of Ostap Rudakevych and the team at Clouds Architecture Office in New York.

Although I had to wait a little for a seat, two servers helped me at different times--Jason took my initial order and Michael actually delivered the food as well as did follow ups.  This particular Wednesday was neither excessively busy nor excessively slow and things were well timed once I was seated.    Although I'd read their menu previous times, a couple of friends had told me about their $10 lunchtime Bento Box deal.  Some folks may cringe and wonder about the price, but when you see the selection and the small yet tasty portions, it makes sense fairly well.  You get a selection from one of 3 soups, 3 salads, one tempura, one teriyaki, 4 pieces of sushi or sashimi, a choice of rice or noodles and one roll.  If you're inclined towards a cocktail, you can get a nice sized martini (several flavour choices) for 99 cents as well.  Personally I went with Crab & Brie  bisque, chopped salad (Jason recommended it), pineapple fried rice, rock shrimp tempura, beef teriyaki, 4 pieces of sashimi, pineapple fried rice & a harumaki roll.  I also had a Lemon Drop Martini (Citron Vodka, Cointreau & Lemon Juice in a sugar rimmed lowball glass).

The soup and salad came out with my cocktail and these were quite nice.  The Bisque was creamy, salty and had a nice herb garnish while the salad was loaded with crunchy pecans, bleu cheese apple, balsamic vinegar and bacon bits with mixed greens.    The Lemon Drop was like a sweet and sour vodka lemonade, a nice treat--even though I usually don't go for sweet cocktails. The only problem would be the temptation to drink about 3 or 4 of them and then need to call a cab...

When the Bento Box arrived, I was quite happy.  This was a nice colourful mix of different dishes that gives a first time diner a chance to sample the different dishes that Fish & the Knife produces.  The bright yellow of the Pineapple Fried Rice, the fluorescent green of the wasabi, the off white pink of the pickled ginger and so forth on down the line.  The hand roll and sashimi were quite fresh and tasty.  The Beef terriyaki was meaty and served some sauteed peppers, onions and veggies.  The tempura shrimp with the sweet potato and green been were crunchy and satisfying.  The wasabi was potent, even when diluted a little with the low sodium soy sauce.  It was nice to have the mixture of several small bites of everything in the Bento Box/Cafeteria plate setup.  I think I need to come back and try them during Happy Hour or Dinner....

Report Card for Fish & the Knife:
Food & Beverage: 
     Lemon Drop: A  
     Bento Box:
          Chopped Salad: A
          Bisque: A+
          Sashimi: A
          Beef Terriyaki: A-
          Tempura: A
          Roll: A-
          Pineapple Fried Rice: A-
     Speed:  B- for seating time,
                  A for wait staff
     Friendliness:  B- for hostess
                            A for wait staff
     Bar area: A
     Dining Area: A
     Men's Room: Incomplete
Atmosphere--Fusion of styles: A

Overall Grade: A-       

Fish & the Knife is located at:
7801 Westheimer Rd
Houston, Texas 77063
(713) 677-0220

Mon - Thu: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 11:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Event: Goose Island Preview at Hay Merchant

I've had some folks ask me when I was going to be doing some more Craft Beer focused posts.  And to be fair, it's come up here and there.  However, I was recently contacted by the folks at Goose Island Beer Company from Chicago.  They were coming into town with some uncommon beers of theirs.  Christina Perozzi, their Goose Island Educator was there as part of a tap takeover they were running at Hay Merchant in Montrose.  Just FYI--it was part of a week's worth of events at several local Houston craft beer bars as part of their Migration into Texas, if you will, to use Ornithological references.  While 312 and Illinois IPA are available pretty well in Houston, they had a couple of great beers I'd not had the chance to try before, but I hope they will be back in Houston VERY SOON!

Although I was running late, thankfully they still had plenty of this great beer on tap.  I got a chance to meet with the Goose Island team, as well as talk with a couple of beer bloggers/radio show hosts from the Houston area while enjoying 3 very distinct beers from Goose Island.  I snacked on a great soft pretzel with Redeck cheddar cheese spread and shared some Nacho Fries from the Hay Merchant while these beers were responsibly enjoyed.  So feast your eyes on these glasses and read my tasting notes on the 3 Goose Island beers I quaffed, if you please!!!

Sofie--A Belgian Style Saison
Sofie:  This beer was particularly interesting to me as it's classified as a Saison yet it has a citrusy nose much like a Belgian Witbier.  It's more clear than cloudy though and you do get a hint of yeast in the nose.  The front note is definitely more citrus, followed by a bit of a twang.  Although it's not aged in wooden barrels, it reminds me a bit of cured wood.  The finish is clean, mellow, and is an overall refreshing beer.
Grade: A

Dark Wheat Ale 
Rasselbock:  This beer is a lovely dark and cloudy liquid that appeals to the eyes immediately,  with a decent head too!  The nose has an air of malt, plums and wood.  The front note has a fruity ester essence that's followed by a malty, woody note.  The finish is all Bock--reminds me of Shiner back in 1989, but a little bolder at the end.  Although it's classified as an American Wheat Ale, it's like a fusion of Bock, Belgian and Trappist per my palate.  Liked it quite well!  Grade: A

Bourbon County Stout
Bourbon County Stout with Intelligentsia Coffee:  I unfortunately missed out on the Bourbon County Stout when there was a very limited supply available at Spec's Downtown last year.  This elusive beer has been on my list ever since and I was beginning to wonder if I would have to haul myself off to Chi-town in order to drink a few of them.  There were 3 kinds of Bourbon County Stout--two different years on Draught  plus the Coffee stout in the bottle.  The Draught was all out by the time I ordered, so I got a bottle of the Coffee version.  As Goose Island allegedly originated aging stout in Bourbon barrels, I found this one to be A LOT like Saint Arnold's Bishop's Barrel 1, mixed with espresso--very bold, very sweet, strong bourbon notes, with a huge hit of mellow, well brewed coffee in the mix.  My fave of the bunch, just wish more were available in Houston.  Grade: A+++

Besides the Goose Island Crew, I also ran into a couple of the producers of Drink of Ages on 92.1 FM who were hanging out and enjoying Goose Island's wares as well!  That show is on Saturday Evenings from 7 til 8 PM and has featured many great folks from Houston's Craft Beer Community.  I'll be listening for sure!!!

I want to thank Christina Perozzi and the Goose Island Crew for having me come out and enjoy their beers, and I also want to add, Hay Merchant has some great grub!  I'll be giving them a proper review VERY SOON!

Drink Craft Beer, Y'all!!!