A Malaysian meal in London (and a hotel or two)

I'd love to blog freely tonight but let's just say my internet connection leaves much to be desired.

I just wanted to share my dinner... Satay House at 13 Sale Place near Paddington A delicious Malaysian restaurant located just off of Sussex Gardens. I had a delicious dinner there... Udang Galah Goreng - king prawns sauteed in chilies, peppers, lime leaves, turmeric and coconut milk. Very good flavor - not at all spicy (despite what the waitress told me). Let's face it - spicy in the UK is not spicy in Texas. I also tried a Monarch beer (nice beer from Singapore) and some kind of special Malaysian coffee which tasted like... coffee. If you can, try to get seated in the basement... it is much nicer and hipper than the ground level. Trust me - it's like two different restaurants. Next door was a Lebanese place called Rotana... looked kind of plain and a bit empty but some reviews I found looked good.

By the way, I ended up really liking my Paddington area hotel... what a convenient neighborhood. There are dozens upon dozens around here, ranging in quality to meh to extremely nice (Hilton over Paddington). No idea what it was like but the Stylotel looked kind of call. Most of these hotels are small establishments and there all lined up like toy soldiers... one after the other. Usually train station areas are sketchy but this one seemed fine. There are probably 3-4 dozen alone along Sussex Gardens, not to mention other side street hotels.

Oh... and if you're in the area and want to try something different, walk along Edgware Road. It won't take long to realize that the area is a Middle Eastern community... stores selling Arab wares, food, services to Middle Eastern clients and many Persian and Lebanese restaurants, many of which have hookahs available for their primarily ethnic clientele.


An unexpected meal in London

Tonight I find myself in London... I'm staying at the Hyde Park Radnor, a quaint and affordable little hotel located a mere 2 minutes from Paddington station. The hotel is comfortable and reasonably priced - a mere 65 pounds for a room with a private bathroom. The room is a bit on the tiny side but, when you're traveling on your own, does it really matter? Everything is nice and clean and the location? Well, the location is ideal. Paddington is two blocks away and provides easy access to the tube and the Heathrow Express. Walk two blocks the other way to Hyde Park Square where 80% of the parked cars are Mercedes, BMW or Audis (not to mention a Rolls, two Bentleys and a Ferrari).

Now, for dinner I had planned on going to Crisitini. Unfortunately, the restaurant was hosting a private party and was closed. Edgware was only a few blocks away so my back-up plan was to go to Maroush, a local Lebanese chain. I never made it. While walking down Connaught, I spotted Arturo - a very nice and reasonable Italian restaurant and one that I would recommend.

Monday nights, one can order from the prix fixe menu at any time (otherwise only available as an "early bird" dinner). The three course prix fixe is only 16,95 pounds. I started with a carpaccio di tonno, followed by orata al forno (a delicious white fish) and had a fritella for dessert. I topped that off with a glass of white wine and paid a mere 20.95 plus service of 12,5%. A very good meal and an excellent value.

Tomorrow is going to be a crazy day... a meeting in Swindon, coffee with a partner at Paddington and then an appointment on Upper Thames Street. It will be a whirlwhind but hopefully it will bear fruit.

My Stay in Aberdeen

Blogger or T-Mobile must think I'm in Scandinavia (it's not that far away) since my login information was in Norwegian. Go figure...

My stay in Aberdeen was a very brief one. I can't add much more than what I provided yesterday since today was devoted to business. I can confirm that Cinnamon was good... I ordered a delicious lamb shank and the nan was the tastiest I've ever had.

The weather in Aberdeen is something else... I woke up to beautiful sunny skies. A short while later, swirling snow was coming down... followed by sun... then rain... then sun... then an awful wind and gray clouds... followed by sun... and rain... well, you get the picture. It seems to change every 15 minutes.

As for the Scottish people, they're probably some of the nicest people I've ever met. If you make it up to Aberdeen, Edinborough or anywhere else in this country, expect to be treated like a friend.

Back to London where I'll be trying out the Heathrow Express to Paddington.


My Quick Stay in Aberdeen

Many people know Aberdeen as the oil capital of Europe (the North Sea is teeming with oil)... probably 80% of the industry in this city on the Northern Sea is dedicated to the oil and gas industries. It's also not hard to figure out why Aberdeen is called the "Granite City" since everywhere you look, buildings are made out of locally quarried granite. In fact, one could call Aberdeen the gray city and do so without it being a disparaging remark. A vast majority of the granite quarried in the area is a deep gray color so everywhere you look, you see gray... from the gray rainclouds that loom over the city to the gray buildings that line the rivers Dee and Don.

Springtime in Aberdeen feels like it does in Houston when an Arctic front rolls in - cold, gray and blustery. I just spent about an hour and a half walking around town... just getting my bearings and trying to fight off the jetlag. Quite a few people were out and about walking along Union Street - the main shopping road in Aberdeen. Off of Union Street one comes across various side streets and alleys with smaller, quainter buildings and quite a few restaurants and shops. The selection of ethnic food is pretty substantial... Indian, Thai, Turkish, Lebanese, Italian and everything inbetween. A few pubs are thrown for good measure but you tend to see more ethnic restaurants.

I came across some nice areas like the Golden Square, St. Mary's Cathedral, the area near the Art Gallery and Old Aberdeen (courtesy of my taxi driver). The wind made it hard to really stick around in one place too long... it's cold by my standards. Locals? Well... some were covered and bundled up. Others were just wearing t-shirts or short skirts with hose... what!? Freezing... I don't get it.

Two of my colleagues recommended I visit Cinnamon tonight for dinner... a local Indian restaurant. I ran by there earlier and the menu looked good. I'll report back later.


Tasty Update for Houston

I suppose I've had a few nice meals over the past week. Aside from my usual glowing reports of Mint Cafe' (just had a wonderful lunch there with the family), here are three of the places I hit up and my impressions.

Himalaya - 6652 Southwest Freeway - Nothing new here... I love going to Himalaya. Kaiser has a tendency to push the special for lunch but don't fall for it. Yes, the special is good but the menu has so many other great options. This week? The grilled fish masala - it was unbelievably good! The portion was massive so I had enough for two lunches. While it takes a bit longer for the grilled fish masala to come out, it is well worth the wait.

Shawarma King - 3121 Hillcroft (at Richmond) - Recommended to me by a friend and I'm glad he did. The chicken shawarma was simply delicious and very inexpensive. I don't know what spices they put on the chicken but it has a delicious flavor. I'll be back there, for sure.

Cafe Mezza - 6100 Westheimer - So, I was a bit confused by this place. I had heard so many people talk about it as a delicious Mediterranean restaurant but, the first warning was the front of the menu... "American cuisine with a mediterranean flair" - I suppose that's fine if you're not expecting an authentic Mediterranean/Lebanese meal but I was. So, yes, the food was pretty good but it was suited more for American palates. The hummus was rather bland (similar to the hummus at Hungry's International) and the babaganoush was OK. Overall, it was a nice place and the service was great (our waitress was wonderful) but I probably would go to a number of other places to get a Mediterranean fix before coming back to Cafe Mezza.


The Majesty of Palms

We love palm trees... their tall gracious look, the way they rustle in the breeze and, most of all, where one finds them - typically in gorgeous tropical locales. So, here are some photos showing off these gorgeous plants...

Near the beach at Las Brisas in Huatulco, Mexico

Close up of a palm frond in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria

The city beach in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

By the boardwalk in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Sunset in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

The pool at the Desert Star in Palm Springs, California

Fascinating Sicily

As I plan our trip to Sicily, the more I read about the island, the more it fascinates me. We will probably end up staying in Trapani as a launching point for Favignana and the Egadi islands and then stay in Scopello for a couple of days and Balestrate on our last night.

There are several islands located off of the coast of Sicily... Salina, one of the isole eoilie, was the location for Giuseppe Tornatore's beautiful Il Postino and this article on its caper festival is excellent. Salina is just 1 1/2 hours away from Sicily and is near other amazing islands like Vulcano and Stromboli.

The famous tonnara di Scopello
There aren't a ton of lodging options in Scopello... some prefer to stay in Castellamare del Golfo but we want to be close to the Riserva Dello Zingaro. So, some of the hotels we are considering in Scopello are:
I think we're leaning towards Corcella although the food at the Pensione is reputed to be amazing!? Tough choice...


Getting down and yummy in Houston with Mediterranean food

My last post was about food but my suggestions were admittedly not around the corner - more like 5,000 miles away. How about some local Houston suggestions?

Well, let's start with a place I kept hearing about and decided to check out - Russo's New York Coal Fired Pizza (owned by New York Pizzeria). About six months or so, I started reading about Russo's and the greatness of their coal-fired oven. Apparently a coal-fired oven can get much hotter than a traditional oven and it can make a pizza particularly crispy... maybe like the ones I'm used to in Rome? Robb Walsh gave it a good review although his most recent review of Grimaldi's made it evident that Grimaldi's trumps Russo's.

What did I think of Russo's? It was fine... nothing spectacular and really not different from most of the pizza places around town. The atmosphere was crazy - lots of families and kids on a Friday night (who are we to talk... we were there with a child) and the service was attentive... but, again, the pizza was just normal. Let's be honest... it does not come close to the greatness of Dolce Vita.

Now, the main reason I wanted to post a food entry was to post a few of my favorite Lebanese/Mediterranean places around town. Here are a few you can check out:

Mint Cafe' - 2800 Sage, 77056- I've blogged on this place before. We really like going there... Zaid and his parents always treat us well and pay so much attention to our son. The meat dishes are good but the veggie sides are what truly shine. Excellent falafel, too. Try their cous cous (different than they typical cous cous you'll come across at most Lebanese places around town), their delicious stuffed squash or my favorite... the ardishawki (see left)

Cafe' Rita - 755 Dairy Ashford, 77079 - I feel like I have Robb Walsh to thank for so many discoveries around town... this is one. As his review states, Cafe' Rita is Lebanese food with an Armenian twist. The twist is spice... a little bit of heat. The Armenian beef kabobs are simply delicious and the vast selection of sides can be a bit overwhelming... in a good way. The fava beans are excellent as is the Armenian cous cous. Prices are extremely reasonable and, while I haven't tried any desserts yet, they look quite good. George and Rita are absolutely wonderful and they will make you feel at home.

Zabak's - 5901 Westheimer, 77057 - I've only been here once but I had heard so much about the falafels, I had to check it out. The falafels... wow! So good... I agree that they're the best in town. A brother and sister run the restaurant using their father's old recipes (he passed away a few months before the restaurant opened... Allison Cook provides a bit of the story). I'll need to go back to try more dishes and to check out the falafel dishes which, apparently, are really really good.

Cafe' Lili - 5757 Westheimer, 77057 - Lili and her family run a great Lebanese restaurant - the service is always spot on and the food is excellent. I really like their kafta kabob salads and their babaganoush is excellent as is the moussaka. Not a big fan of their lebni - too plain. Still, it's one of our favorites and the coffee at the end of the meal is a real treat.

Fadi's - 8383 Westheimer, 77063 - This is the restaurant that put me on a Lebanese kick. Over the years, we've watched as the first location gradually gobbled up its neighbors and grew to a large restaurant. The cafeteria-style restaurant is a great way for newbies to be introduced to Lebanese food... so many great options and dishes like the veggie sampler are massive. Be sure to look further down the line - some of the best dishes are towards the end of the line.

Empire Turkish Grill - 12448 Memorial Drive, 77024 - This is one of our local haunts - as a Turkish restaurant, their menu leans more towards kabob, all of which are excellent. We typically start with their refreshing and delicious shepherd salad and cold appetizers like their delicious ezme and one of the best lebni in town. Kabob appetizers are large enough that they can be divided by two people - the adana kebab and the tavuk kebab (very juicy) are excellent. For something different, try the lahana samra - stuffed cabbage rolls. Desserts are delicious. Empire is more upscale that the other restaurants I've listed so it might be more fitting for a nice dinner although lunch is a steal at only $8.95.

There are still a few places I haven't tried... Mary's, Shawarma King and Cafe Mezza. They're on the list... but these five places are a good start. If you're new to Mediterranean food, start with Fadi's. If you want to go to someone's "home" to eat, go to Cafe' Rita get to know George and Rita.