Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fung's Kitchen - Dim Sum - Houston

Before hitting the road back to Jackson, we knew we had to have one last crack at dim sum. It has become a tradition that every trip to the area ends with dim sum at Fung’s Kitchen.

Off 59 south on the Bellaire exit, it’s pretty easy to miss Fung’s amidst the sportbike and atv dealerships.

However, once you find it, you’re greeted with typical Chinese touches such as the pagoda exterior, the foo dogs, and an abundance of red and gold in the decoration.

Stereotypical Chinese décor aside, you can’t help but notice the tanks of live seafood on the wall, but for that’s for another time. I’m here for the dim sum, the best in Houston.

Just like our meal at Kim Son, we started this dim sum with a nice fried dish.

Tom Chà Gio (crispy shrimp roll) are an auspicious start to a meal. Full of minced shrimp, the crunchy roll are perfect with chili oil and soy sauce. I’m not sure how they got the roll to be so crispy. It’s almost as if they took a spring roll wrapper and dunked it in egg whites and bread crumbs. Either way, they’re just great.

Seen Juk Guen (bean curd rolls), these are quickly becoming my favorite dim sum dish. Even though they are a little greasy, these bean curd sheets have been wrapped around pork, fried and then steamed. Imbued with pork flavor, they’re messy and delicious.

Suòn Háp Tau Xi (steamed pork spare ribs with black bean sauce), always a family favorite, and Fung’s delivers. These little spare ribs meld extremely well with the blacks beans and form that sublime sauce. I did prefer the version at Kim Son if only for the little bit of pepper.

Há Cáo (steamed shrimp dumplings spelled, yet another way) are a shining example why Fung’s Kitchen is the best dim sum in Houston. They may not be as meaty as the version at Kim Son but these have a extremely thin dough that let the tantalizing pink of the shrimp shine through.

Xíu Mai (Fung’s steamed shrimp & pork dumplings) is another shining star for Fung’s. The pork does slightly overshadow the shrimp, but the freshness and resilience of the steamed meat nulls that minor fault.

I decided to take a look at what else was available to the dim sum patrons.

Here at the steamer table, there were a variety of options, from pork blood with chives to fried noodles, clams with black beans, squid, duck’s feet with black bean sauce. I decided to stick to the rather inconspicuous.

Clams with black bean sauce was a nice little side dish. Despite black beans being in the name, this little bivalves were bursting with the flavor of ginger.

The other item I got from the steamer table was squid in spicy salt. I don’t know where the spice was in the salt, but these were well cooked pieces of squid.

Tóm Vién Hap Xói (steamed shrimp balls with sticky rice), or Lion’s mane balls, are not for the dim sum novice. At first bite, you think these are nothing but glutinous rice balls, but one you get past the starchy exterior, there’s a moist, minced shrimp interior. These little balls of shrimp and rice are a real workout for the jaws, but well worth the effort.

I have no idea what this is actually called; the waitress said something along the lines of duck dessert roll. I’d never seen one before and I was surprised when I took a bite.

Inside this odd roll is a few pieces of roast duck and a spoonful of sweet mayonnaise. An odd combination, it’s not at all what I was expecting. Nevertheless, this is a decent choice, though I’m not too sure I’d repeat.

Bánh Cuón Xá Xíu (steamed bbq pork rice noodle), covered in sweet soy sauce, this is always a challenging dish. It always seems like this dish is your best bet to stain your shirt. All stains aside, this is a classic dish and well worth the difficulty.

I’m not really sure why we ordered two types of shui mai, but this version is completely shrimp and features a much more delicate flavor than the pork & shrimp combo. I prefer this all shrimp version; the sweetness of the shrimp is a dynamite companion to my plate of soy sauce and chilis.

Bánh Xép Thit Chién (pan fried pork dumpling) was a great way to finish out the meal. Potstickers are always a treat and these are no exception.

Fung’s Kitchen has been consistently rated as the best dim sum in Houston, and there’s a reason for it. The restaurant is small enough to maintain a high standard of quality and an amazing flavor to all their dishes. In fact, the only complaint I’ve ever heard about Fung’s is that parking can be a real pain in the ass. Regardless of the parking problem and the potential wait, Fung’s is a worthwhile endeavor and a guaranteed part of every one of my trips to Houston.

For Fung's Kitchen - Dim Sum part 2, please click here

Fung's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Kenny & Ziggy's - Houston

After two days of heavy meals and heavy shopping, we needed something simple for dinner. Thankfully, I knew of just the place: Kenny & Ziggy’s.

A few blocks from the galleria, Kenny & Ziggy’s is a Houston take on the classic New York deli.

Truth be told, K & Z’s is kitsch to a fault. The deli is lined with old playbills, funny quotes pertaining to delis and food, and various movie stills with random lines about delis under them. It’s all too much.

Granted, the real test of a deli is the food. K & Z’s starts well with a nice plate of half-sours as soon you’re seated.

I love a good half-sour, especially when you can taste the garlic and pepper, and these were perfect examples.

Who cares if it’s clichéd? Doc Brown’s cream soda is a damn fine beverage, and should be the accompaniment to any good sandwich.

With the half-sours done, I soon received my appetizer of fried kreplach. Kreplach, or Jewish ravioli, are dumplings filled with meat or mashed potatoes. These examples are good and doughy with a nice bit of meat inside. The fried onions are a nice touch, although they don’t travel well at all. All onions aside, these kreplach sit in your stomach like a brick, perhaps an inherent trait of the fried Jewish ravioli?

Now for the star of the show, the “fiddler on the roof of your mouth”,

A triple decker sandwich consisting of corned beef, pastrami, cole slaw and Russian dressing. As good as these sandwiches look, they’re a pain in the ass to try and eat. This sandwich was especially difficult because I seemed to have gotten nothing but end pieces of meat. Good though these are, my sandwich could have used more Russian dressing, and a reasonable way to eat it.

Regardless of their faults and foibles, Kenny and Ziggy’s is a decent example of New York deli, even if it is 2500 miles from the Empire state. I’ll continue to be a patron, and soldier through the annoying quotes and pictures that litter the landscape, because only a fool can turn down a good pastrami sandwich.

Kenny & Ziggy's New York Deli on Urbanspoon

Phoenicia Speciality Foods - Houston

One of the best things about Houston is the sheer number of ethnic groups. And with these ethnic groups come markets. Phoenicia is one of those ethnic markets. Instead of a little corner mom & pop store, Phoenicia is a market on a Costco scale.

This is just a small section of their bakery display. Made fresh, we have Turkish baklava, pistachio baklava, walnut baklava, and coconut namoura on the bottom. On top there’s walnut mamoul, pistachio mamoul, sugar free date mamoul, date mamoul, and pistachio birdsnest. A real feast for the senses.

Making my way to canned goods, I happened to pass the cheese refrigerator.

It’s not often that you find that much cheese in one place, much less in whole wheels.

While you’re shopping through this cavernous slice of the Middle East, you might find yourself a little hungry. Fortunately, Phoenicia has that covered. I headed back to the meat section and to their short order counter.

I knew I had to have one each of the lamb and beef köfte kabob.

After a short five minutes, I picked up this delicious plate of roasted meat.

Through the years, I’ve had my fair share of köfte kabobs. Grilled to medium rare, and sprinkled with a little sumac, these meats on a stick are a little slice of heaven. As good as all the past ones have been, I have yet to find a köfte kabob as good as the ones at Phoenicia.

With my energy replenished, I made my way through the rest of the grocery.

This is just my cart, complete with halal beef short ribs, various köfte kabos, four boxes of pastries, salamis, frozen kibbeh, and a plethora of other goods. If you are in Houston, you really have to make your way to Phoenicia. It’s worth the traffic.

Kim Son - Dim Sum - Houston

As long as I can remember, a trip to Houston meant dim sum. This trip was no exception as we made our way to Kim Son on Bellaire Blvd. The first thing you notice about Kim Son is its size.

It looks big in this picture but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The building for Kim Son is nearly a block long and includes a grand buffet section, a ballroom, and a dim sum room. You make your way up the stairs and to the left towards the dim sum section.

Due to its sheer size, I’ve never had to wait at Kim Son and this time was no exception. We were quickly seated in the dim sum room, which really does look like a Holiday Inn ballroom, complete with bland carpet and walls.

To give the place a more Chinese look to it, there are the obligatory dragon and phoenix statues and a giant projector showing Chinese television.

The banality of the décor is of little concern; we came here for the food. As soon as we were seated, our drink orders were taken and the first cart came our way.

Zha hi keem, or stuffed crab claws were our first dish of the meal. This is a simple little dish made by wrapping a crab claw with minced shrimp and then frying it. This version was a little on the greasy side, but find me one that isn’t.

I still can’t find the name for this dish, but it’s nothing more than tofu topped with minced shrimp and fried to a crisp. This is a great mixture of textures, with the softness of the tofu being shielded by the crisp exterior.

Zha ha gao or crispy shrimp ball keeps up the fried seafood trend of this dim sum. You can see how the oil of the wanton strips glistens under the flash, a definite sign that this is health food. Regardless of the health benefits, zha ha gao are always a crowd pleaser, though they are messy. You can tell when someone has ordered this shrimp balls because there are wonton strips everywhere.

Why stop eating fried food when you can have this? These are fried seafood dumplings or sa lad hoisin guen, although I believe this particular dumplings are just shrimp. These dumplings feature a slightly thick wrapper, making sure that you have a audible crunch on your way to the juicy, delicious shrimp inside.

The gold standard of dim sum, the infamous har gao, (or ha gao, or ar gau,har kau, har gao, ha gao, ha gow, ha gau, har gaw, ha gaw, har kaw, ha gaau, har cow, or har gaau) A little ridiculous isn’t it? Nevertheless, these inconspicuous little dumplings are my litmus test for a dim sum experience. These examples were full of plump shrimp, and very little bamboo shoot, a definite plus. Unfortunately, these har gao were too doughy, and weren’t translucent enough to let the delicate pink of the shrimp shine through.

Another dim sum standard, steamed siu mai; these fine examples were entirely shrimp, and had a slightly sweet flavor.

Even though we were gorging on an assortment of fried dishes, I always like to throw in a little greenery. Gai lan or Chinese broccoli is boiled and then served drizzled with oyster sauce. To me, Chinese broccoli has a much more pronounced flavor than traditional broccoli, and is something I look forward to at a Chinese restaurant. Even if these were served without the oyster sauce, they’re better than those annoying little florets will ever be.

We never come back from Houston without a couple of Chinese ducks. I guess we started early by getting an order of siu ngap. This example didn’t have the crispy skin that so many people associate with Chinese (Peking) duck, but you really can’t find a juicier fowl.

Really nothing more than a bowl of greasy rice noodles, I’m not sure why we ordered this.

My uncle loves to order chicken feet, or fung jao. I usually refrain, but I decided to join in this time. These chicken feet are fried and then steamed, usually in a black bean sauce. This particular order of fung jao was sweet and a little spicy from the jalapenos. I can see how people enjoy them, but I think they’re a little too much work.

Our last dish was a real treat. These pai guat ( pork spareribs) were fresh from the steamer, and were bursting with the flavor of black beans and peppers. I love these ribs if only for the entertainment value. You can’t beat watching a first timer try to manage these little ribs with chopsticks.

Even though I always enjoy our trips to Kim Son, it tries too hard to be all things to all men. Simultaneously operating a dim sum ballroom and a 150+ item buffet really does show in the flavor. Some dishes are just lacking, and they try to replace the missing flavor with sheer quantity. If Houston were a one horse town, Kim Son would be king, but with the number of dim sum restaurants available, it will always be playing for quantity over quality.

For Kim Son - Dim Sum - part 2, please click here

Kim Son on Urbanspoon