Bianca: And the final US round-up. Mumma Squads and I had a little side trip away from Papa S and made a beeline for HOUSTON TX. It’s a smooth 3 hour, one way trip from San Antonio. Driving on the US freeways is a little like gambling your life away. Tailgating is a treasured Texas past time, so so dangerous. I digress, Houston, the birthplace of one Beyoncé Knowles.
Our base was the Doubletree by Hilton @The Galleria. In all honesty, yes. We booked this hotel because of its close proximity to the massive Galleria shopping centre. We like to shop, sue us! But it was a great modern hotel with all the mod-cons, good gym and beauts pool.
After dumping our stuff at the hotel, we moseyed on over to the Galleria and headed straight for SHAKE SHACK. I was pretty impressed with their burgers during my 2013/2014 trip to NY and I was keen to see how they stacked up all these years later. My Smoke Shack –w/ chopped cherry peppers and shack sauce $6.89 was right up my alley, I loved the smokiness of the bacon and the sweetness from the diced capsicum. The sauce balanced all the saltier elements. The beef was seasoned well and despite being cooked through, remained very juicy. The bun was soft and pliable, definitely on the smaller side but a tasty burger none the less 3.9/5 pickles.
I forced Madre into the Chick N Shack – w/crispy chicken breast, lettuce, pickles, buttermilk herb mayo $6.49. A new addition to the menu, the chicken breast was moist with a super crispy coating. I enjoyed the tartness from the pickle and the buttermilk dressing. 3.6/5 pickles. And just because I had to, the Shack-cago Dog $4.29 their take on the famous Chicago dog. After FRANKS version in San Antonio, this really paled in comparison. The sausage was fine with a good texture but as a whole, it didn’t make much of an impression.
And of course the Crinkle Cut Cheese Fries $3.99 are always a must.
UNDERBELLY was a fairly last-minute addition to the schedule and boy did we luck out. Underbelly is an interesting one, with quasi-nouveau American/pan-Asian dishes. It’s eclectic but so ridiculously good. Our server Katherine was a bonafide boss and expertly guided us through the ordering process, making sure we got the best of everything. We started with the UB Dan Dan Noodles, sesame paste, chilli oil $18. The Szechuan gave it a really dry heat. I preferred the thicker udon from Hot Joy in San Antonio but mum preferred the thinner version here, so you could really taste all the flavours. The beef was cooked down, so it absorbed all the juices and became very juicy.
The Korean Braised Goat & Dumplings $14 were really not what I was expecting at all. In essence a Korean pasta dish. Get your head around that one… The Gnocchi were pan fried so there was a small amount of bounciness. There was a mild chilli that lingered on the palate (a tomato/capsicum sauce). The goat was super tender, it really reminded me of my nonno’s braised rabbit with onions. I can see why this is a signature dish.
The final main was the Smoked Beef Shoulder, Pimento Mac & Cheese and comeback slaw $34. Really smoky, almost like the brisket we’d been eating. Seasoned beautifully but a little on the tough side. The mac n cheese was dangerously good, creamy and rich and accented by the cracker crumbs. And tying it all together the slaw, a great aide to cut through all the heavy elements. Choosing a dessert was difficult but we settled on the Meyer Lemon Bar, Peanuts, Candied Kumquat $9. A fantastic citrus flavour, a biscuit base sandwiched by a thin caramel layer. The candied peanuts gave both texture and a sweet/salty element. And tying it all together, the slight sourness from the Olive oil and thyme ice-cream! Honestly, Mum and I couldn’t stop raving about Underbelly, the food was innovative, the servings generous and the price beyond reasonable.
NASA should be on the cards for anybody going to Houston but in saying that, mum and I are possibly the least ‘space’ interested people and embarrassingly spent more time in the gift shop than in the entire exhibition. But I do recommend checking out the Shuttle Independence atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, certainly something you don’t see every day.
And incredibly random, we found ourselves in Galveston Texas, barring the famous Glen Campbell song, who’s ever heard of Galveston? Yep…no-one. We walked up and down the Strand, the main shopping strip. There are the main tourist trappings, souvenir shops, knick-knacks and a fudge shop worth dropping in to. But one of the main points of interest is the Pleasure Pier, much in the same vain as the Santa Monica Pier. It would have been nice if you could explore the pier without having to pay the entrance fee for the rides… if wishes were kisses!
Montrose, was home to a number of cool café and restaurants and after a race back up from the Gulf of TX we were properly famished and sidled on up to UCHI. At 5 pm on a Wednesday they were pumping. I like to eat with the roosters don’t get me wrong but Americans are notorious for their early dining and the plethora of happy hour dining specials really do make it worthwhile to eat earlier. The prized seating is unquestionably at the sushi bar, where you can watch the sushi chefs expertly cook and roll each and every sushi roll to perfection.
The value of the happy hour specials was undeniable so with cocktails sorted we went about selecting a few items. The Negi Hama $6, a delicate kingfish, was incredibly light and almost sweet in flavour. The perfect ratios of rice and fish. I was impressed that every course was served with an appropriate side sauce. No soy or wasabi here!
Two bite-sized pieces of Tempura Ebi were placed before us. Plump full prawns in a light unobtrusive, crispy batter. The batter was eerily reminiscent of a salt & vinegar chip.Nasu Nigiri $3 were velvety eggplants pieces, an initial bite leaves a sweetness on the palate, followed immediately by a sharp citrus tang from the lemon curd.
Spicy Crunchy Tuna $6 was really all about the texture of the crumbs on the outside of the roll.
Gyu Jagaimo $8 was well priced for the portion but between two it really was only a few bites. Tender short rib, accented by the citrus crème Fraiche.
But best of all was the Shag we adored the crispy outer tempura, mixed with the salmon and the cream on top, it was the perfect combination. All of the flavours at UCHI were very clean and I liked the fact the sushi weren’t drowned in sauce and each piece was a perfect bite-size. And the very best bit, the price, thanks to the happy hour specials the bill came to just under $70 even with two cocktails and a sake.
Our last morning in Houston was spent picking up some bargains at Godiva, 50% off, we’re not to be blamed! We then walked over to the Gerald D Hines Waterwall Park, a multi-story sculptural fountain. Which is a must see for anyone visiting Houston, it really is a whole sensory experience.
Then things descended into a Donut induced haze. My research told me there were some fantastic donuts to be found in Houston and ever the enthusiastic hunter, mum and I trekked across the city. We picked up a few donuts from 3 places, all to be tried when I was back in San Antonio later that afternoon. First up was River Oaks Donuts. They ran a pretty slick operation with a drive thru as well, the dough across the board was light and airy. The Choc Sprinkles were a touch too sweet for me. The Maple was also on the sweet side but hands down the Apple Fritter was legitimately amazing. Butt ugly but crispy, soft, gooey. A strong apple flavour almost similar to a McDonald’s apple pie.
Agora Coffee was a cute little coffee shop, we grabbed a quick pick me up as we’d been sans breakfast up until this point. I had my usual skim cortado, which was great with just a touch of sweetener.
Christy’s Donut Shop was kind of ghetto but they’re known for their reliable donuts and kolaches. While they didn’t blow my mind, they were the cheapest and the quality was pretty good. The Jam had a great dough but the jam was way too sweet and artificial. The OG Glaze was a standout, super tasty and velvety, a slight saltiness to each bite and melted in the mouth. The Cinnamon Twist had a nice amount of cinnamon but was on the dry side.
We wanted to do something other than eat and heard a great many things about the Menil Collection, an art museum housing the private art collection of founders John & Dominque de Menil. Some artworks in the collection include Yves Tanguy, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock & Andy Warhol but there are up to 17,000 pieces in the collection. This really is a must visit!
And our last Houston donut stop. Hugs and Donuts probably my favourite fit-out amongst all the D-shops and they offered a quirkier variety. The Homer Simpson would have been right up fellow FFS’aker Vanessa’s alley because she LOVES pink icing. The dough was soft and melted in the mouth, there was a strange flavour however that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps the oil to fry the donuts? The El Barto, on the other hand, was up there for our favourite donut of the day. The combination of chocolate icing, Butterfinger pieces and peanut butter was too hard to pass up.
And our very last stop, our final sayonara to Houston. Texas’s burger big gun, Whataburger. They’re literally everywhere, so there was no way I was going to Texas without having one of their burgers. If I had to compare them to another big chain, it would probably be Carls Jr or Burger King. My Bacon & Cheese Whataburger wasn’t all too bad, with a super thin patty. Cooked to high hell but there was that grill taste that makes Hungry Jacks burgers stand out, cheese and bacon were okay but it needed sauce. I did love all the little old ladies in the store, probably our best service experience in a fast food restaurant EVER!
And with that, we bid adieu to Houston and made the trek back to San Antonio.
Thanks for reading my lil TX travels!