Tag Archives: sushi

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Katori

Katori entrance

There is yet another new sushi restaurant in town, located right across from the City Center shopping center, where Walmart planted its flag much to the consternation of politically correct ex-pats and the delight of locals who enjoy the shopping experience thank you very much.

The Critic visited the new establishment yesterday, in the company of the always charming Better Half and their friend HC (Houston Critic) who was in town and suffered stoically through the Critic’s taking of photos throughout the meal. “Don’t put your fork in it just yet!” said the Critic, brandishing the very indiscrete Canon he brought along for the purpose of this critique. The good news is that HC is still on speaking terms with both the Critic and Better Half; no friendships were harmed in the making of this review.

This is an ‘upscale’ restaurant and one of their draws is Wagyu beef; there is a Wagyu rib eye on the menu – 200 grams for a paltry $1900 pesos – which on this occasion the Critic and Co did not sample, not having robbed a bank in recent memory. It must be fantastic though.

Front, a lychee mojito. Back, a lychee something or other in a martini glass. Complimentary water bottle is a nice touch

Drinks were ordered and one of these was the somewhat watery lychee ‘mojito’. Not sure what the ‘mojito’ moniker adds to the drink as there wasn’t much to it besides a faint watermelon flavor and presumably some rum. The other drink, whose name escapes the Critics memory this morning, was much sweeter and well, that was about it.

The rolls were fine, the appetizers also, and the standout was the camarones roca which had some sort of extremely thin (asked and were told it was salmon skin) something on top, which actually MOVED as it was set in the middle of the table. It was almost eerie and seemed alive, which apparently it was not; it was a reaction of the heat of the dish or so the group was told, albeit the server also said that the ramen soup had chicken in it so not sure if this was really what was happening with the belly-dancing movements on top of those shrimp.

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The ramen soup, an eternal favorite of the Critic, was not particularly flavorful, leeching into the bland side of the taste spectrum. No comparison with Miyabi’s chigue-ramen soup which is not only 50 pesos cheaper but 100 times more flavorful. Skip it.

Service was fine, especially since one of the servers knew Better Half, but not particularly fantastic, as a place like this might warrant. The room is attractive, parking is nil (valet is your best option) and the place fills up with locals up for a sushi lunch.

If you want to try it, do. And let the Critic know how the Wagyu beef was, if you try it. But if you are looking for a great sushi lunch or dinner, stick with tried-and-true Miyabi, just a kilometer or so down the road.

Enjoy the photos!

The camarones roca and their interesting belly dancing topping

Menu

Squid appetizer

Ramen soup

Roll 2

Roll 1

Casual Restaurant Critic – Houston, Texas

Once again, it’s time for a visit to Houston which is becoming quite the culinary destination and the Critic has had the opportunity to visit and revisit some great restaurants. Here’s the latest:

Tiger Den
The Casual Restaurant Critic didn’t even know that such a sprawling “Chinatown” existed in Houston, or that is was stuffed with small and large eateries of all Asian types, from Korean BBQ to Hunan Chinese with Thai and of course Japanese thrown in the mix as well. It’s not really a “ChinaTown” but more like a large commercial area with several shopping centers, all Asian themed and with more foot massage places than you shake a set of toes at.

The destination was Tiger Den, on many lists of the best places to get ramen, the soul satisfying, mouthgasm-inducing broth that takes hours or days to get just right. The Critic and Better Half were joined by two other, younger and local diners, both male, who agreed to share a table of four and cut the waiting time by at least 10-15 minutes. Yes, there is a lineup every night and the owner, is not shy about warning smartphone-game-playing teens that there is to be no game playing once seated – you are there to eat. If not, “I throw you out!”

While the Critic, BH and friends talked about the latest news (guns, Texas, Dallas) everyone enjoyed a their ramen soup. BH and Critic had the tantan-men soup, with ground pork garnishing a hearty broth and with large, thick melt-in-your-mouth mini-slabs of slow cooked pork belly floating among the noodles. It was, according the Better Half, the best ramen ever, surpassing last years Momofuko which itself was outstanding.

There are other things on the menu like ribeye skewers and chicken hearts too, but stick to the soup and you will be one happy camper.

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Tantan men soup – courtesy Yelp

9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

The Critic had been to this award winning sushi destination alone, and so was eager to share the find with Better Half, who, to make a long story short, proclaimed the evenings meal as one of the top three… ever. High praise indeed from a lover of great food and exotic locales.

The thing to do here is the omakase tasting menu, where the chef decides what’s best for you and serves nine stunning and delectable courses that range from tiny to generously large and run the gamut from fresh oysters flown in from Prince Edward Island to fresh toro from Japan. Everything is sparkling fresh and your place at the bar (do sit at the bar, not a table) is a wonderful vantage point from which to enjoy the artist Hori-san at work with his largely latino team.

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When Better Half noticed some people nearby having a bone marrow dish, she asked the waiter if it would be possible to try that as well. Chef Manabu Horiuchi (above, right) was consulted and included it – a large bone sawed in half and the marrow baked with condiments and spices – in the tasting menu.

The crab, according to our excellent waiter, was so fresh that it had been alive when we walked in. This waiter, by the way, was probably the best waiter the Critic has ever had, at any restaurant, anywhere.

Wine and sake accompanied the 9-10 dishes, including dessert. The experience lasted 2 and a half hours and was truly sublime. Extremely highly recommended.

Oyster

Oyster

Ceviche, toro tuna and watermelon, among other delicacies

Ceviche, toro tuna and watermelon, among other delicacies

Rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots

Seafood custard, sea urchin

Seafood custard, sea urchin

Massive sashimi platter

Massive sashimi platter

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The object of desire, bone marrow

The object of desire, bone marrow

Nigiri trio

Nigiri trio

Crab, tempura style

Crab, tempura style

That is foie gras, really

That is foie gras, really

Sea urchin

Sea urchin

Toro tuna with salmon eggs on top just for fun

Toro tuna with salmon eggs on top just for fun

Our one and only noodle dish

Our one and only noodle dish

Dessert too!

Dessert too!

3600 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098
(corner of Kirby and Richmond)
(713) 526-8858

Caracol
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Have you heard of chef Hugo Ortega? You might have as he has been around for a while, has visited the Yucatan (we visited the Santiago market together) and runs a very successful restaurant called … Hugo’s. More on that place a little later.

Caracol is a seafood restaurant with a definitely Mexican twist featuring a $29 dollar margarita which is quite delicious and packs a kick. The pescado zarandeado is amazing, as are the mejillones. Better Half and Houston Cookie Baker enjoyed, along with the Critic, an amazing meal in a crisp cool room, with attentive service and the location near the Galleria makes it an easy destination for those of the shopping mindset who need a relaxing and refreshing break from the madness of retail.

Service was prompt and friendly; however, for a restaurant of this caliber one expects a side plate for the mussel shells and wait staff to not barge into the middle of a conversation with their obligatory “so, how is everything?” question. Wait until there is a break in the conversation, people.

Mejillones, aka mussels

Mejillones, aka mussels

Poblano chile relleno

Poblano chile relleno

Scallops

Scallops

Pescado sarandeado

Pescado sarandeado

Chocolate ice cream made in house, coffee

Chocolate ice cream made in house, coffee

2200 Post Oak Blvd #160, Houston, TX 77056
(across from the shopping center w DSW, Container Store, etc)
713-622-9996

Hugo’s
Famous in Houston for years,  the Critic was searching for the best brunch on a Sunday and this place always came up, so off he went, with the ever accommodating Better Half in tow.

A buffet was set up and although the seating was at the very end of the brunch schedule, not one of the steam table trays showed any signs of neglect and were promptly refilled with a delicious selection of Mexican food items, all obviously made with quality ingredients (no skimping) and prepared authentically, with dishes ranging from huevos poblanos to pan de cazon.

The desserts are not only pretty to look at, they are actually very good. Which is not always the case in a Mexican restaurant. Service was top notch.

Absolutely amazing and a must-do on your next trip to Houston. Just plan on a siesta afterwards as you will not be able to move.

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1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
(lots of restaurants in this area)
713-524-7744

Dolce Vita (TripAdvisor link – website domain name expired)
This Montrose-area pizza restaurant was recommended by chef Horiuchi at Kata Robata (above) as the best place for pizza. Thin crust and officially recognized by the pizza association from Napoli, Italia as the real thing, the pizza (margherita) was good but not overwhelmingly OMG good. The crust was indeed thin and a tad soggy, but the sauce and cheese and basil were right on. Service was very friendly, prices were reasonable and the place has signs outside prohibiting gun carriers, concealed or open, to abstain from entering the premises.

It was hard to fit in the pizza after the brunch that same day, but somehow the Critic managed.

Margherita

Margherita

500 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
(if you were at Hugo’s previously, it’s in the same area, just a little further down Westheimer)
713-520-8222

Casual Restaurant Critic at the new Miyabi

As of this writing, Miyabi has moved its operation from the commercially doomed plaza on Prolongacion Montejo that features DHL, Carls Jr. (or Burger King – can’t remember which) and Walk To Wok, to a sparkly new location in the new shopping center where Merci is located, somewhere between the San Angelo condominiums and City Center.

The space is gorgeous, and the first thing you will notice when walking in is that the staff has cuadrupled. There are servers and busboys and who knows what else almost outnumbering the potential clients.

On the occasion of this visit, the Casual Restaurant Critic and better half went for a few pieces of nigiri and the always superb ramen soup. Not much to say on that end except that both were excellent.

Service was better than usual but still lacks a real friendly touch.  Many of the waiters are still as sullen as they were at the previous location and the new faces look like they are trying but the Critic suspects they will soon be contaminated with whatever grumpy virus the name carries with it.

Another thing that seemed odd and definitely detracted from the feel of the place is that all the lights were off. This was not a CFE thing as the kitchen was lit as were the little bonsai feng shui garden elements. The dining room was dark and it made for a rather cold feel.

If you are in the mood for ramen, definitely go here. It’s only 95 pesos and is a meal in itself. Sushi is fine, but you will get far more interested service at Hamachi.

Lights out!

Lights out!

Casual Restaurant Critic at Sushi Roll

What is it with the avalanche of sushi reviews! The Critic loves sushi, so no sushi place in Merida gets passed over without at least one visit form the cantankerous Critic and Sushi Roll, recommended to the Critic by the always delightful and insightful BeachWebGourmet power couple, is no exception.

Well the Critic and Better Half, accompanied on this occasion by MiniCritic and QuebecGuest, visited this new-ish sushi option located in the space formerly occupied by the defunct Sushi en Banda, which means sushi on little tracks that whizzed around the restaurant and not sushi in a gang in case you were wondering. In the Galeria aka Liverpool mall, directly above Chili’s and overlooking Merida’s only ice skating rink where you can watch the occasional hockey game or figure skaters practicing.

The welcome at Sushi Roll, a Mexican sushi restaurant chain, was cordial, and our hostess who turned out to also be our waitress, was the most pleasant person and extremely attentive to the point of almost overdoing it. At one point she took the time to stand behind each diner and fold the paper envelope the chopsticks came in into little chopstick stands.

What about the sushi you ask?

Well the Critic was less then impressed with the quality of the sushi. The rolls were colorful and nicely presented. The salmon skin roll was not salmon skin enough, with just a bit tucked into the rice which made each piece look like it had been smushed on top of a mosquito. Unagi (eel) was not warm, which is always a nice detail and was something that stood out at Hamachi and Miyabi. The nigiris were fine, but the Hamachi restaurant offered slightly larger fish portions and it was colder, which when dealing with fresh fish is a big plus, in the Critic’s never humble opinion. The specialty rolls all included the usual cream cheese which was omitted as per the tables request, but in general all were too sweet and tasted too much alike.

Overall, the service was superior to Miyabi (not a stretch) but about the same in terms of attentiveness to the needs of the table as Hamachi. The fish just tasted better, was colder (and warmer in the case of the eel) and portions were slightly more generous at Hamachi.

Prices were high, and it is probably going to be a while before the Critic goes back, unfortunately.

Enjoy the photos!

Calamari, tempura style, were fine.

Calamari, tempura style, were fine.

Lots of fruit on this one.

Lots of fruit on this one.

A little light on the eel.

A little light on the eel.

Sunset or sunrise roll

Sunset or sunrise roll

Eel and toasted almonds was less excellent than expected from the description

Eel and toasted almonds was less excellent than expected from the description

Biggest disappointment of the evening was the duck roll. Chewy, not crispy and kind of off-putting.

Biggest disappointment of the evening was the duck roll. Chewy, not crispy and kind of off-putting.

Hamachi Sushi. Yes, more Sushi.

The Critic is aware that for many people the thought of sushi in Merida is somewhat disconcerting. A lot of these people also think that Starbucks ruined the local coffee culture to which the Critic can only snort in derision at the mere idea of a coffee culture in Merida back in the days of melamine plastic cups served with hot water and a spoon alongside a jar of instant. Nescafé if you were lucky.

But the Critic digresses.

The newish sushi place Hamachi is Japanese owned and features a chef imported all the way from exotic Cancun for the express purpose of putting Miyabi on alert as they may soon be ousted from their premium spot on the list unless the latter becomes a little less complacent and makes an effort to be more professional when it comes to service.

The nigiri or sushi by the piece is scrumptious, with generous portions of fresh and cold fish on perfectly cooked rice. Cream cheese is notably less in your face in comparison with other Merida sushi restaurants and that is a relief. What little there is on the menu can be left out, at diners requests. The unagi is delectable, warmed and again, generous in portion size when ordered as a piece of sushi or as part of a sashimi platter.

The scallops (cooked) on the appetizer menu sound great but while the texture is fabulous, the flavor is to subtle and after a few pieces, it loses its appeal. Dip it in soya sauce for a little extra salt. An appetizer that consists of the cheeks of the robalo fish (fried, you basically get the head to pick at) was better than expected.

Service is superior to Miyabi (not hard to accomplish) and friendly. Prices are up there, but the quality of the fish and an interesting menu make Hamachi worth it.

Fish cheeks

Fish cheeks

Rolls

Rolls

Salmon, tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi

Salmon, tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi

Unagi

Unagi

Casual Restaurant Critic at AOKI – Yet Another Entry in the Sushi Category

Just when the Critic thought that is was not possible to find yet another sushi restaurant in Merida, another one popped up on the radar thanks to Better Half’s socializing and lunching ways.

This one is AOKI and if you have been to the great Beer Box store you will know exactly where it is; if not, you won’t. It’s right next door. Maybe it helps that there is a glorieta with five avenues emanating from it, and in the area is the the Chevrolet Monte Cristo dealership, the Super Deli store which is more super than deli and the Jarochita fruteria where you can get the best, freshest fruit in the area.

But who cares about all that.

The fact that the hostess (who turned out to be our waitress as well) told us to just go ahead and sit wherever we wanted seemed like a rough start. The Critic has become accustomed to having someone show him to his table and maybe that’s just ridiculous, but if you are coming to someone’s house, wouldn’t you want to make them feel welcome? If you’re already at the door and have nothing else to do, take your guest to a table, make her or him feel like you’re glad they’re there.

A look from the back towards the front. Soy soaked serranos on the table.

A look from the back towards the front. Soy soaked serranos on the table.

CRC and BH chose a table along the wall, you know, the kind that have one long bench along the entire wall that serves various tables. The Critic only brings it up because when you sit down on this vinyl stuffed bench, you feel the wood and uneven filling under your butt. This is common in Merida restaurants and one day the Critic will dedicate a whole article to it. Is is possible that the owner or designer has never parked his butt on these uncomfortable homemade booth seats? If you’ve been to Brians and plopped yourself on one of those comfortable looking booth seats and felt your tailbone crush on the hardness of it all, you know what this gripe is about.

Bitch, bitch, bitch.

Well, guess what, dear Reader! Things got better after that, and the food was ordered from the initially shy waitress (note to self: another article on shy and intimidated acting wait staff in Merida restaurants) who opened up, cracked a smile or three and brought all the goodies to the table.

If you are ordering rolls, make sure to notice that all of them contain cream cheese, as seems to be the custom in Merida. If this is the custom in other parts of Mexico, please can a reader enlighten the Critic on the origins of this practice and the reasons behind it? Thank you.

Niguiri pieces are rice-heavy but the fish is cold, delicious and the portion is a welcome fat chunk, not a thin excuse carefully applied on top of the rice. The stuffed squid is delectable and beautiful and for the amount of work involved in preparing this dish and the presentation, the price was ridiculous on the cheaper end of the spectrum. The tempura entree with the funny black noodles sprinkled with nori was just alright. The rolls were excellent.

Would the Critic return? Yes! Better than Miyabi? Food-wise, AOKI is a noodle below but at least they don’t have the Valium Crew waiting on tables, so big plus there.

Felices comidas!

See how fat those slices are on top of the rice. Excellent.

See how fat those slices are on top of the rice. Excellent.

Tempura Noodle Combo

Tempura Noodle Combo. Those noodles are cold.

Stuffed little Squid

Stuffed little Squid

Roll with Spicy de Atun

Aguacate and Cuke Roll with Spicy de Atun and some masago for fun

Tempura Noodle Combo IMG_3806

Tuna on the outside. It comes w cream cheese but you can ask to have it left out

Tuna on the outside. It comes w cream cheese but you can ask to have it left out

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic – Vancouver, Canada (Part II)

Continuing with the Critic and his neurotic reviews, here are some more notes on the restaurant scene in Vancouver which you may or may not find useful. A full refrigerator and invitations from friends for dinners and lunches have scene a drastic decline in the number of establishments visited; nevertheless, there is always something to observe, document or write about and so here goes.

VIJ

A good friend (who shall be referred to as Ms Cinci for the remainder of this write-up) of the Better Half and the Critic came to Vancouver for a brief visit and says “hey, my friend recommended Vijs for Indian food!” by way of suggestion and so the Critic and BH just had to see what the fuss was about; and were pleasantly blown away by the food!!

One arrives at Vij and sits at an outdoor terrace, where one can order an exotic drink; how does an Indian Mojito sound, with cilantro? Or a mango and masala infused dark rum cocktail called Dark Army?  Both of those were had and they were fantastic, while the little group sat outside waiting for a table in the packed, deliciously lit room. Appetizers are brought out while you wait, courtesy of the restaurant which takes no reservations and seating is on a first come, first served basis.

The food is absolutely glorious! Hearty, complex in the variety of flavors that cross your palate as you savor each and every bite. The Critic ordered the prawns, the Better Half a chicken-based dish and Ms Cinci had “lamb popsicles” which were actually little cutlets perfectly cooked – crispy, crunchy and tender chewy at the same time – in the most delectable, buttery and decadent sauce. All the dishes were served in large bowls so sharing was not only nice (inside joke) but encouraged and easy. Appetizers were fantastic as well; the Samosa with a very spicy stuffing was a meal in itself and who could resist the pork belly? Not this group!

The meal was accompanied by a bottle of crisp white wine going by the name of Joie Farm Market and was the perfect, non-intrusive complement to the outstanding food.

Service was gracious, professional and friendly by a mostly female staff who all took care of all the tables at once; none of this “my section” nonsense.

Ms Cinci picked up the bill so price information is not available, but a look at their website can give you, my dear reader, an idea.

Overall, the experience was gourmet, perfect for foodies, but not pretentious or stuffy in any way. Highly recommended!!

Website for Vij here.

Tomokazu Japanese

Tomokazu is a very popular all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant on Broadway in Vancouver. Thanks to the Mini-Critic, the Casual Restaurant and Better Half were able to experience this incredibly inexpensive sushi restaurant which is one of the few places open late in Vancouver, where you can go at 11 PM and find the place hopping.

The sushi is not the greatest in the world but for an all-you-can-eat option, and at the ridiculous price of 12.95 CDN per person, it is a bargain and you will not be disappointed. The Critic suggests ordering your limit of sashimi (there is a limit of 2 orders per person) and plenty of salmon niguiri (pieces). The fish is fresh and cold and delicious. Service is quick, with servers speaking enough English to get by. Orders are taken via a piece of paper where one marks the amount of each sushi you want and this is handed to the server. The food comes along almost instantly, so those guys at the sushi bar are really cranking it out.

Excellent value for the money.

Write-ups on Urban Spoon here.

That Mediterranean Food Store

There is a little specialty shop on Commercial Drive that has the largest selection of Lebanese and other Mediterranean food you have ever seen – the Critic and BH “discovered” this Vancouver institution while searching for lunch options to have at the vacation rental in Vancouver. If you love Lebanese food – and who in the Yucatan doesn’t – this is the place to go. The owner is there each and every day, doling out olives, humus (garbanza) and fresh-baked sweet and savory pastries and making jokes with his many customers.

Write up on Urban Spoon here.

Miyabi Sushi

The Casual Restaurant Critic thinks he may have found a new favourite sushi restaurant in Merida. Opened (and operated) by a 14 year veteran of Cancuns Yamamoto restaurant, tiny sushi-lovers delight Miyabi is tucked unceremoniously in the little strip mall on Montejo where you can also find Carls Junior (formerly Checkers), Segafredo and the underwhelming Ca’ d’Oro Italian restaurant.

Unceremoniously doesn’t mean that this is an unattractive restaurant; far from it! It is all white inside, with a granite sushi bar and many real Japanese decorations brought over from Japan by the chefs Better Half, who is charming and hails from the land of the rising sun.

The Critic and HIS Better Half sat at the slightly uncomfortable sushi bar – uncomfortable because the stools don’t have that cross brace on the bottom which leaves your feet dangling and strains the back. Does this sound like an old fart or what – and ordered directly from the chef/owner. The highlight was a special roll called Nozumi, which featured chopped scallops and heated smoked eel, but all the dishes ordered (sushi – rolls and nigiri only) were excellent. The Critic enjoyed immensely the fact that the raw fish was ice cold and fresh tasting; the chef commented that he only orders what he plans on selling so as to keep things fresh and if it runs out, well better luck next time. This was the case with the salmon (sake, or shake as they call it here) which was no more, much to the Critics chagrin, who ordered a fat slab of fresh cold tuna on a nigiri piece. Fantastic.

After the late lunch, the chef and his lovely wife comped a dessert – red bean ice cream. This is not made on the premises, but brought from Mexico City where a Japanese family makes this and other (Lychee, Green Tea) ice creams.

Miyabi has been open for about two months and apparently, business is booming. Go for lunch soon, but late, as it tends to fill up and you will have to wait in the 40 degree heat outside. And that’s not a pretty picture.