We're glad to see all sorts of responsible movements happening in the world of food.  One of our favorites is the focus on sustainable sources - the last thing we want to experience is the disappearance of great ingredients, leaving us to dine on Soylent Green burgers (We've heard they taste like chicken.)

We recently attended a dinner at the swanky new RDG that was focused on an ingredient with a great story: Yukon River Salmon.  It's a wild salmon that has been harvested for centuries by the Yup'ik Eskimos, and they have partnered with Kwik Pak Fisheries to turn their staple food into a source of income for their tribe.  The Yup'ik harvest the salmon at the mouth of the Yukon river, before the arduous journey upstream, while the fish are vibrant and full of nourishing oils (rich in Omega 3 fatty acids).  The Yup'ik tribe is a careful steward of this resource (it is literally their primary source of food) so it's a prime example of a carefully managed, sustainable resource.

But how does it taste?  We got to find out.

Oldways, a non-profit organization devoted to educating the public on better ways to eat, put together a special evening that allowed a group of people to experience Yukon River Salmon in the hands of an expert.  The expert is nationally renowned chef Robert Del Grande, who also provided the gorgeous venue for the event.

Chef Del Grande created a dinner based around salmon, serving it in several courses.  First were the appetizers, passed around as everyone met and mingled.  Salmon was served smoked with a delicate green apple tartar sauce, seared with a red chili ginger sauce, and our favorite, fried into savory-sweet beignets, offered with a creamy buttermilk sauce.

Shortly after, we were seated, and had the chance to explore some other dishes.  First out was a light, clean dish featuring cured salmon n a creamy avocado dressing, served atop a mache and frisee salad.  The flavors were cool and crisp.

Next up was steamed salmon in fennel broth, accented with giant corona beans and black olives.

Then came our favorite dish of the evening.  Wood grilled salmon in banana leaves, served with a dark roasted tomato salsa.  Here Chef Del Grande's southwestern background really shined through; the rich, earthy flavor of the wood grilled salmon was accented by the sweetness from the banana leaves, and the tangy salsa provided a tart counterpoint.  Dishes like this demonstrate the chef's unmatched mastery of southwestern cuisine.

Dessert was the only course that didn't feature salmon (Chef Del Grande quipped that he probably would have included salmon in his younger days, but we applaud his wisdom here.)  A rich chocolate cake with chocolate mousse was complemented by a unique persimmon vanilla bean soup.

We consider the even to be a wonderful experience.  We like salmon, but we were wowed by the variety of flavor profiles and textures that it can take on in the hands of a master chef.  Thank you to Oldways, Kwik-Pak Fisheries, Robert Del Grande, and the Yup'ik people for making this event possible.

Special thanks to Alison Clancy of Oldways who was on hand to answer our seeming endless questions, and who made everything run smoothly.

If you'd like to read more about this event, Ruthie Johnson has her impressions on the Houston Press web site.  And if you'd like to try some of the Yukon River Salmon at home, it's available in Houston at Central Market.

RDG + Bar Annie on Urbanspoon

We're fans of Jasper's, the upscale restaurant concept from Dallas's Kent Rathbun.  We love pretty much everything about their Woodlands location, from the great spot overlooking the Market Street park to the gorgeous modern interior to the excellent service to the creative takes on traditional Texas favorites.  We've been many times, and consider it to be one of the best restaurants in both the Woodlands and the entire Houston area.

But a recent show on TV got our attention.  The claim:  Bon Appetit magazine ranked Jasper's BBQ ribs as their third-best ribs in the nation.  That's a serious claim, and it runs contrary to our First Tenet of BBQ Wisdom:  The Fancier the Store, the Worse the BBQ.

Since we love BBQ almost as much as we love a great burger, we had to test out the claim for our readers.

We visited Jasper's on a beautiful Thursday for a late lunch.  We started with the one thing we can never pass up at Jasper's, their outrageous housemade potato chip appetizer.

The thin-cut russet potatoes were flash-fried to perfection, and covered with Maytag bleu cheese mixed with chives and a mild soft cheese sauce.  The result is nothing short of amazing.  We've recommended this dish to everyone who goes to Jasper's, and the feedback we get is universally positive.

But now it's time to get down to the ribs.  Our server suggested that the half rack was plenty, so we took his advice and ordered them.  After a reasonable wait, they appeared.

The half rack was split into two three-rib bits, artistically stacked, and served with their creamy "baked potato" salad.

We dug into the ribs, and were impressed by their tenderness; the meat came off the bone without any significant effort on our part.  It was thoroughly basted in Jasper's spicy-sweet BBQ sauce, and more of the sauce was on the side.

All we could taste was the sauce.  We simply couldn't taste the meat, and we didn't use the extra sauce.

We are firm believers that world-class BBQ is delicious with no sauce at all, and should be served with the sauce on the side, not pre-slathered on the meat.  We find the preapplication of BBQ sauce to be a crutch to disguise meat that hasn't been adequately rubbed or smoked; it's popular at high-end, high-volume BBQ restaurants because the meat doesn't have to spend hours on the smoker - the flavor comes from the sauce.  Folks who've never been to a great Texas BBQ joint probably won't see anything wrong with this saucing technique, but I contend that they've never really had great BBQ, either.

Bottom Line:  We enjoyed the ribs, but weren't blown away at all.  We believe that better ribs can be had at the County Line upscale BBQ chain, not to mention at landmark establishments like City Market in Luling.

And we're convinced that Bon Appetit really shouldn't be ranking ribs.

Ah, Market Square.  One of the few areas of Houston where history matters, and where you'll find places that have been the same for decades.  On the eastern edge of the square, you'll find the Market Square Bar & Grill, a place that's known for good food as well as strong libations.  We'd been here before, years ago, and really enjoyed it.

This trip... not so much.

We were there a bit after 5; prime happy hour time.  And it was empty; only one group besides our party.  Yet the service was glacially slow - the waitress seemed to be more interested in chatting with the cook than doing her job.

Once we got her attention, we placed our order.  And waited longer.  A burger and a salad should not take 20 minutes to prepare.  Hopefully it'll be worth the wait.

Well, it wasn't.

Something was amiss with the beef; it had a peculiar flavor.  I ate about a third of it and decided not to risk gastric disturbance.  The side of new potatoes was very good, though.  My companion's salad was disappointing as well.  Served in a smallish bowl, it only held about a half-bowl of salad.  Nothing memorable about it otherwise.

When we asked for our check, the waitress noticed that I'd not eaten much of the burger.  She asked if I enjoyed my burger.  "No.  It was horrible, and the flavor was off." was my reply.

In 90% of cases, the offending item will be removed from the bill.  Not at Market Street.  Apparently customer satisfaction isn't a major concern; heck, the waitress had to get back to her conversation with the cook, and thankfully doing her job didn't get in the way.

What was good?  The room is very nice; it's an old, narrow building, and has a cozy atmosphere.  If the food and service improved, it would be a great spot.

Until then... pass.

Market Square Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

A recent discussion on Twitter has me thinking about the valet parking situation in Houston.  It's a hot button with many restaurant patrons.

I don't have a problem with valet parking at restaurants that don't have convenient parking nearby.  At these establishments, the valets perform a valuable service.

But I don't have much patience for restaurants with ample parking, who cone off the closest parts of their lots for valet use.  There would be plenty of parking... if the valets weren't there.

I also don't like having things taken from my cars, and I've several small, valuable items mysteriously disappear when valets have custody of the car.  Even worse, I've had my car keyed one evening, after I declined the valet's rather aggressive "offer" to park my car for me.

Responses on Twitter have been heated; one local celebrity chef is adamant in his support for valets, and unfollowed us for taking part in this discussion.

What do you think about valet parking?  Respond in the comments.

Burger Fresh was ranked #13 in the state of Texas by Texas Monthly magazine, and we'd been meaning to check them out and see how they live up to the hype. So on a recent voyage to Conroe, we stopped in.

Burger Fresh is easy to find. It's located in a strip center a couple of blocks off I-45, right in the heart of town. Immediately you can tell that this isn't part of a big chain; the front of the store has a funky style all its own.

Upon entering the store, we were immediately met by the rich aroma of fried beef - not an unwelcome scent in a hamburger joint.  Looking around the medium-sized dining room, we saw a space filled with folks of all ages and from all walks of life devouring burgers.  Our kind of place.

Looking at the counter, we were overwhelmed by the huge variety of menu options.  Burgers of all kinds, from a half pound all the way up to an insane triple of half-pound patties.  Yes, if you're so inclined, you can order a burger with a pound and a half of beef.  We weren't so inclined.

They also offer a wide range of exotic meats, including alligator and ostrich.  Thanks, Crocodile Hunter, but we're hear for a cheeseburger, and that requires beef.

We decided on a #5 burger:  A half pound of certified Angus beef with a single half-pound patty, double American cheese, and bacon.  It was offered in a basket with sides, and the friendly counterman recommended the onion rings.

We grabbed a table, and waited for our order to come out.  After about five minutes, a very soft-spoken waitress brought us our burger.

What appeared was a nicely griddled half-pound patty, which was unfortunately machine formed.  The American cheese was moderately melty, and the bacon atop was good quality, but very mild in flavor.  The egg bun wasn't griddled in any way.  It was a prime example of a pretty good traditional burger.

We enjoyed the burger, but weren't blown away.  The hamburger patty was dry and overcooked; all of the ooze present came from the cheese.  And the bacon, while considerably higher quality than you'd find at any of the large fast food chains, wasn't as flavorful as we would have liked.

We'd rate the burger in the "Better Burger" category - better than the best offerings at conventional fast food chains, similar to what you'd get at the Five Guys chain.  But it doesn't approach the rich flavor found at the best chains, like Beck's Prime or SmashBurger.

What did impress us were the handmade onion rings.  Large, sweet onion slices, hand breaded and deep fried in a crispy, flaky batter.  Not greasy at all, and very tasty.  Some of the best onion rings we can remember trying.

All in all, we can easily recommend Burger Fresh.  A good burger (with an amazing variety of options) and outstanding onion rings make for an enjoyable lunch in Conroe.  We'll be back.

Burger Fresh
804 Gladstell Suite 110
Conroe, Texas 77304

Burger Fresh on Urbanspoon

Recently, Texas Monthly (@TexasMonthly) asked the Twitterverse who they should put on the cover.

Our suggestion? Jonathan Jones (aka @PapaBeav), chef and partner at Beaver's Ice House.

photo: Katherine Shilcutt

C'mon, Texas Monthly. Do it. (And no, that isn't a real Texas Monthly cover. It's a parody. For now.)

Why? Because Jonathan Jones's kitchen is turning out perhaps the best example of real Texas cuisine in the state. Fresh gulf seafood, expertly prepared. Burgers that are among the best anywhere. Excellent BBQ. Mac and Cheese that's considered by many to be the best in town. Their bar even initiated the cocktail revival that's sweeping across Houston. Heck, Beaver's was our Restaurant of the Year.

A few weeks ago we made our first visit to Grimaldi's (@GrimaldisPizza) and we were very disappointed. But we've heard so many good things about this Brooklyn-based chain that we had to give them a second try. (And the fact that there are very few good pizza joints in the Woodlands entered in to the equation as well.)

We're glad we gave them a second shot.

On this visit, all of our complaints with Grimaldi's legendary thin crust pizza were gone. The pepperoni had a nice savory tang, and the tremendous grease which ruined our last pizza was noticeably absent. The sauce (still sparingly applied) was sweet and very slightly spicy; we see how folks could be blown away by this sauce.

The result? A delicious pizza; perhaps the best thin crust pizza we've sampled. Grimaldi's is now in our regular rotation for casual dining in the Woodlands.

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