Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: Café 101 Pan Asian Fusion (SW Houston Chinatown)

A lot of restaurants try to work the Pan Asian, Asian Fusion with Western angle.  Some do very well like Phamily Bites Food Truck, some fall flat on their collective arses (many of you know which Pretty Fouled up Changs-type place I mean, but I won't say it directly).  Usually if the creators of the place of are Asian ancestry or lived in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia or the Philippines, then it's usually okay.  If it's just some Westerner with a cookbook who's watched the Food Network, my instinct is RUN.  RUN FAR AWAY.  Thankfully the wonderful folks who run Café 101 are the former not the latter and no way I'd run from their delicious food.  

Coffee Milk Bubble Tapioca Beverage
On this Friday evening leading into Lunar New Year, the family and I decided to head around the corner to enjoy a place that's fast, has good food, at a good value with a large menu full of different flavours, and again, Café 101 fit the bill exactly.  They have over 100 flavours of fruit tea, served hot or cold, with or without bubbles/tapioca/jelly. They self-bill themselves as having a "unique brand of Pan-Asian fusion that shows the spirit of Chinese cuisine with a Japanese and a Korean twist."  They also have flavoured sake and sake cocktails, along with various beers and wine cocktails too.  This place is very popular with locals from SW Chinatown and Hipsters from 713/281/832 land as well.  Looking around I saw mixed couples, immigrant families, a couple of tables with small packs of mixed groups of hipsters, and so forth.  Just one note:  a lot of folks get a bit deer caught in the headlights when they see the extent of their menu.  Don't sweat it.  Start with a dish that you feel comfortable with and then broaden out from there.

Spider Roll with red ginger and wasabi 
I began with an Iced Coffee Milk Bubble beverage with large Tapioca Pearls.  It was a nice touch to have it served in a large Cognac snifter rather than in the usual plastic sealed cup.  Not too sweet, very creamy, nice espresso flavour and chewy sweet Tapioca Pearls.  All good here, folks.  We then ordered some tuna and spider rolls (softshell crab sushi rolls).  These were deliveredy promptly and were nice, fresh, and full of good seafood flavour wrapped in firm sticky rice and pliable seaweed wraps.  These were served with brewed soy sauce, red pickled ginger and wasabi on the side.  My kids nixed the wasabi, which left more for the adults.  Nice!

Gyoza, Cafe 101 Nuggets, Bacon Fries 
We next picked some gyoza dumplings, some Pan-Asian Chicken Nuggets and Bacon French Fries.  This was a nice batch of appetizers.  The Gyoza were standard pan-fried and pork filled.  Very tasty and again happy eating at our table.  The pan-Asian Chicken Nuggets--just Chicken nuggets on their menu, but I'm calling them pan-Asian because these were shreds, not standard US mixed meat nuggets, and they were breaded in a tempura batter that included a hint of ginger and garlic.  They were served with basil mixed in and were quite a treat for the kids and adults alike.  I got the bacon french fries to appease my son, but all of us noshed on them--it was crumbles of real bacon mixed in with salt and pepper french fries that were clearly fresh cut from potatoes.  Again, good job Café 101!

Sakura Ebi and Basa Fish with BP Sauce
We were starting to get a little full but we wanted to have a a little more food.  We went with the Sakura Ebi, which was stir fried tiny brine shrimp served with peanuts and various seasoning.  We also had the fried tempura battered Basa Fish served with steamed rice and a BP (black pepper) sauce that contained a mixture of chopped green onions, carrot strands and bean sprouts.  The Sakura Ebi was nice and salty, but had twangs of other seasonings which stood out well.  The Basa fish was a very tasty mix of savoury, sweet and peppery flavours with the delicately flakey fried fish.  Magnificent.

I'll also add the service was fairly timely and much of the wait staff was taking orders from memory.  Not easy to do with a party of 3 or more and disparate  drinks and dishes.  Nice job, Café 101.

Report Card for Café 101:
Food and Beverage:
     Gyoza: A-
     Tuna Roll: A-
     Spider Roll: A
     Bacon Fries: A
     Café 101 Nuggets: A
     Sakura Ebi: A-
     Basa Fish with BP Sauce: A+
     Iced Bubble Coffee w/Tapioca: A
     Friendliness: A
     Speed: A-
Atmosphere (Modern Pan-Asian with 
     Western Touches and a Lounge Feel): A-
     Dining Area: A
     Kitchen (Partially visible): A
     Bar: A
     Men's Room: B- (needed attention, notified management)

Overall Grade: A-

Café 101 is located at:
9889 Bellaire Blvd. #101 (Near Beltway 8)
Houston, TX  77036

Hours of Operation:
Open 7 Days a Week
11:30 AM to 2:00 AM

Lunch Specials
M-F 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM

101 Happy Hour
Mon-Thu 4 PM to 7 PM

Reverse Happy Hour
Mon-Thu 10 PM to 2 AM

And remember to Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Cafe 101 on Urbanspoon

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