My first rule of dining is to order what a restaurant specializes in, or is known for. That rule rarely steers me wrong, so I tend to follow it almost every time. But recently I broke this rule.
Samba Grille is a new restaurant downtown, one I've visited before. I really enjoyed their churrascaria; as a devoted carnivore, a variety of freshly grilled meats is something hard to pass up. They also have some tempting seafood dishes, many of which I've yet to sample.
But I was on a quest. One of the partners in Samba Grille is Nathan Ketcham, who happens to be a friend of mine. Nathan and I used to eat lunch together frequently when he lived in the Woodlands, often at the late, lamented Tesar's Modern Steakhouse, which was home of one of the state's great hamburgers.
Nathan shares my passion for burgers, and he knows a good one from a bad one. Now that Nathan is helming his own restaurant, I had to sample his hamburger. Of course, his place specializes in the cuisine of South America, so my expectations weren't too high... but I figured Nathan wouldn't disappoint me.
So on a recent Friday, I picked up my lovely bride at her downtown office, and we drove over to Samba for lunch. Parking was a snap (often an issue downtown) and we entered and sat down. After a brief perusal of the menu, we both ordered burgers. While we waited, we snacked on Samba's addictive cheese rolls. In short order, the burger appeared.
Samba's burger has a strong Latin flair. It's made from grilled sirloin, no doubt trimmed from the steaks they butcher in-house. The beef is blanketed with buttery Spanish machego cheese. To this they add crisp, smoky bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, and aji aioli, a spicy garlic sauce made with Peruvian peppers. The burger was built on a soft, slightly sweet bun. I'm a bit of a burger purist, so I vetoed the avocado, but I decided to try the aioli.
Biting into it, I was immediately impressed by the smooth mouthfeel and the balance of the burger. Front and center was the flavor of the meat - a robust beefy swagger that really hit the spot. I've eaten some very good burgers lately, but none have nailed the beefy flavor quite like Samba has done. The counterpoint of the buttery machengo cheese added smoothness, and the heat from the aji aioli popped in a moment later, adding a spicy Latin counterpoint to the flavor profile. Not only has Samba created a great burger, they've done so with South American flair.
The choice of ingredients was masterful. The bacon's flavor was subtle, and the slight crunch was a nice contrast to the smooth feel of the beef and cheese. The difference between good and great is in the details, and it's obvious to me that Nathan and Chef Cesar Rodriguez spent the time to sweat the details.
This is the burger I've been waiting for since Tesar's shut down. Thank you, Nathan.
I came to Samba expecting to enjoy a good burger, but instead I found one of Houston's very best. If you love burgers, go check 'em out.
The Mighty Rib, one of our favorite food blogs, has relaunched with a head-to-toe redesign. Kevin Shalin, who also writes for Eating Our Words in the Houston Press, is the voice behind the blog, and we think he's one of the city's unique voices.
Whether they're discussing BBQ or interviewing a world-famous chef, The Mighty Rib brings a unique perspective to food writing. It's one worth reading.
Check it out.
Travel + Leisure Magazine did their annual survey of America's Favorite Cities, and H-Town was on the list. Visitors and Houston residents agreed... Houston has the best burgers in the country.
|Double Cheeseburger at Hubcap Grill - One of Houston's Best Burgers|
Houston was also in the Top Five for Affordable Hotels, Business Hotels, BBQ, and Luxury Stores.
Also worth a look - a handy tool to compare cities. We had to check to see how Houston compared to Dallas. (Spoiler: Very well, even with Fort Worth thrown into Dallas's corner.) Houston also compared favorably overall with such other Sun Belt cities as Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta.
Why? Houston has some incredible home-grown burger joints, like Hubcap Grill, Beaver's Ice House, Zelko Bistro, Christian's Totem, and Beck's Prime. The proprietors of these places raise the bar for burgers in Houston, and other restaurants follow suit by upping their game. Hungry folks all over Houston are the winners.
|Beaver Burger at Beaver's Ice House - One of Houston's Best Burgers|
It wasn't all glory, though. Houston was rated among the worst in terms of Summer, Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness, and Weather.
We recommend dealing with these less pleasant facts the way that every life-long Houstonian does: Get in your air-conditioned car, and go grab a burger.
On the monthly visit to Sam's Club, we noticed a new eatery in the Portofino shopping center, across the freeway from the Woodlands. Called Wahoo's Fish Tacos, it's a West Coast (in this case, California and Colorado) fast casual chain offering a variety of Cali-Mex dishes in a faux surf-shack setting.
We decided to sample the fish tacos, which is their signature dish. The very personable counter guy took our order, and withing five minutes this came out:
We got word today that Chef Michael Dei Maggi is no longer with Caffe Bello.
No word yet on his next gig, or who will be replacing him in the kitchen at Caffe Bello.
In a followup, the company responds:
"We are expanding the menu and we have made changes. We are very proud of the food we are putting out at Caffe Bello."
More news when we get it.
|C'mon. Call him a ballerina. I dare you.|
We missed the show (Thanks, AT&T!) but just got the bad news.
Houston's own Chef Bryan Caswell, the mastermind behind Reef, Stella Sola, and Little Bigs, was cut from the Food Network's Next Iron Chef show.
AT&T said Sunday that it has reached a new carriage agreement with Scripps Networks. Find out more from The Hollywood Reporter .
Sanity prevails. The question - did my DVR still record The Next Iron Chef? The answer - No. %#$#@$!
After they disappeared from U-Verse, I contacted the Food Network to try to find out what happened. Here is the response I received:
Consumerist and other sources are reporting that AT&T has chosen to drop Food Network, HGTV, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, and GAC from its U-Verse service. According to Scripps (the owner of these networks) the issue isn't money; it's non-broadcast rights.
If you're watching Bryan Caswell on Next Iron Chef, you may wonder how to keep watching. I've e-mailed Food Network to see if they have a solution.
Until then, please don't even consider using this link to a BitTorrent network download site if it is illegal where you are.