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I love Willy’s Pub and Valhalla as much as the next guy. The cheap craft beer and convenient location of both bars make it hard to justify schlepping off campus and ponying up $10 a drink at any “more fashionable” off-campus bar. Still, missing out on the enormous array of cocktail bars, ice houses and dives that make up Houston’s bar scene would be a real shame, and for those willing to hunt, a number of excellent bars nearby offer happy hours cheap enough to stay within your beer money budget.
In 2016, “the worst ever” dumpster fire of a year, Houston’s restaurants seemed to follow suit. It’s not as if the city’s entire culinary sector vanished, but the sudden closing of 59 Diner, the announcement of the closing of Houston’s reigning top ranked restaurant Oxheart’s and numerous other closings, including mainstays like Zelko Bistro, Kubo’s and Christian’s Tailgate, all cast a pall over the food scene.
At long last, we had a new Frank Ocean album. Or did we? On the opening track, “Nikes,” Ocean’s voice croons through heavy distortion until the third minute, when Ocean drops a melodic rap over looped acoustic guitar and woodwinds. Three minutes might not be long to wait, but after the near-hysteria surrounding a number of rumored but unrealized release dates, it was enough to make me doubt, if only for a moment, whether “Blonde” was really the anticipated album I thought it was. Further listens show “Blonde” to be similarly deceptive all the way through. Nothing is as immediate as “Thinkin Bout You,” let alone earlier Ocean songs like “Swim Good,” but beneath the lolling tracks, Ocean delivers the same complex, personal lyrics that made “Channel Orange” such a success.
Valentine’s day is tough. Even if you’re in a relationship, dates can quickly end up feeling overdone, cliché and just plain awkward. That being said, cynically moping around on “Singles Awareness Day” by yourself sounds even worse. Regardless of where you land on the relationship spectrum — hanging out with friends, a date or actually trying to make the day special — take the day to do something fun and maybe even just a little romantic…if you’re brave.
The food at Pugon de Manila isn’t quite as diverse as one would think from their extensive menu. The menu, which boasts 50-some preparations of vegetables, fish, pork, beef and chicken, is really more like a catalog from which 15 to 20 dishes are available per day for guests to choose from. The dishes in heaviest rotation are pancit, a fairly generic stir-fried noodle dish, barbecue chicken and sisig, a dish made from broiled pork marinated in citrus and vinegar. The trio actually makes a great starting point for first-time visitors. The pancit, with a mix of fried noodles, soft noodles and carrots for texture, and the moist barbeque chicken are both exceptional and likely be familiar to those uninitiated in Filipino cuisine. The sisig ventures more into the territory of “acquired taste” with a brilliant but pungent marinade of vinegar and juiced calamansi, a hybrid of mandarin oranges and kumquats. Other common menu items like the lechon kawali (fried pork belly), fried whole tilapia and peppery egg drop soup are also safe bets, but tend to be too oily with less nuanced, fragrant seasoning than the barbecue, sisig and pancit.
When the Burger Joint opened last November, few people would have said Houston needed another burger joint. The market already saturated with the delicious patties coming from low-key shacks like Bubba’s and Moontower Inn, owners Shawn Bermudez and Matthew Pak faced a definite challenge in carving out a niche for their new restaurant. The location didn’t help either. Located at 2703 Montrose, the Burger Joint is practically across the street from the Hay Merchant, another extremely popular fast-casual restaurant known for its burgers. Yet, since the beginning, the Burger Joint has risen to the challenge by offering consistently well-made burgers and enough interesting variations and side dishes to distinguish itself, if only slightly, from the rest of the burger-flipping pack around Houston.
It happened to me once. It was past midnight, I was downtown and I was hungry. After being turned away at multiple bars (I swear, I just wanted some food), I went home and made myself a greasy bag of microwave popcorn. Don’t let it happen to you.
If you’re in the humanities at Rice you’re probably used to hearing (and repeating) this familiar mantra: A liberal arts education is important! Students should be more well rounded! Taking an “easy D1” is missing the point!
It’s a good mantra, and all of its points are true, but how often is it reversed? The STEM fields at Rice are already big enough that no one needs to argue that they matter, yet you never hear complaints over other majors taking “Stars for Stoners” instead of BIOC 201 for an “easy D3.” It’s not seen as a cop-out, it’s what’s expected, and that doesn’t bode well for the arts.
Art is inextricably entangled with science. We have optics to thank for Realist painting, oxidation and reduction reactions to thank for the invention of photography, acoustics to thank for music theory; the list goes on and on. But when it comes time for humanities majors and budding artists to try out a science, many of us avoid more rigorous courses without a second thought. It makes one wonder what the arts at Rice are missing out on by ignoring the science behind them.
Cooking, for instance, has very visible roots in chemistry, yet at some point, chefs decided they didn’t need any more chemistry, only “practical” knowledge that they could use in the kitchen. Then Ferran Adri?a and Grant Achatz turned the culinary world upside down with molecular gastronomy, a new approach to cooking that incorporated more chemistry than the traditional methods. Now, even old-school chefs admit that citric acid is perfect for preserving delicate vegetables and that tapioca maltodextrin powder can be pretty delicious.
In poetry, writers rarely even consider how math and science might affect their art. But an experimental poet, Christian Bo?k, decided to study crystallography and apply crystal-like structures to his poems. His book, “Eunoia,” is currently the only Canadian book of poetry ever to become a best seller. Even at the MoMa, installations like the Rain Room, a field of falling water that uses sensors to avoid raining wherever its viewers are, draw eight-hour-long lines and seem to prove that science definitely has its place in art, and it’s an important place at that.
Rice supplies more than enough avenues for students to pursue interdisciplinary learning. Beyond courses like The Chemistry of Art and The Chemistry of Cooking, Rice plans on putting “innovation spaces,” rooms stocked with tools like 3-D printers, easels and laser cutters, in residential colleges starting in 2016. It would be a shame if we, as students, lacked the knowledge to take advantage of these resources.
So next time course selection rolls around, regardless of what side of the spectrum you fall on, use your distribution classes to challenge yourself. It’s said often to STEM majors but not enough to those in the arts. D3s are more than just a requirement to be fulfilled. They are a chance for science and the scientific methods to lead to new unconventional works of art.
There’s something strange about Hearsay Gastro Lounge. Dim decorative light bulbs and a chandelier are the only lighting aside from candles, making for a particularly dark dining experience. By the stairs to the second floor, articles on the building’s historical importance line the walls as if they’re part of the mystique to promote the historic walls of a room you can barely see. The clientele sends a bit of a mixed message as well. There’s no age limit or cover like one might find at a pub, but the customers are almost exclusively affluent 20-somethings hitting the bar, which stays open until 2 a.m. The cocktails do steal the show, but Hearsay maintains a satisfying, if uneven, menu on all fronts. With good food, great drinks and fairly modest pricing, it’s certainly a place to try for students looking for a night out downtown.
When Revival Market began clearing space earlier this year for a full-service dining room, there were plenty of questions to be answered. The market has long been popular for its sandwiches and baked goods, but many worried that a full-service dinner menu would detract attention and quality from the cheaper, more casual lunch counter.
“Simple, responsible comfort food” is as common a mantra for Houston restaurants as it is rare in reality. Plenty of hip cafes check one or two boxes, serving southern-style comfort food with locally sourced ingredients only to drown out the natural strengths of their dishes by squeezing every trendy flavor possible onto the plate. Likewise, “responsibly sourced” food all-too-often becomes a marketing ploy, with many restaurants doing little more for sustainable farming than talking about how much they do. Enter Zelko Bistro, a longtime favorite in the Heights known for what chef Jamie Zelko and Manager Dalia Zelko describe as “new American comfort food.”
Over 100 restaurants are participating in this year’s Restaurant Weeks. Tasting menus range from $20 lunches to $45 dinners and a part of the proceeds from each meal will go to the Houston Food Bank. The menus will only be served until Sept. 7, so with limited time left to taste, the Thresher has picked the top spots to visit before Restaurant Weeks are over.
With all the good Middle Eastern food around Houston, it seems unlikely that Afghan Village, a small Afghani restaurant in a Gulfton strip mall, could be a standout. The quiet dining room is mostly filled with families and regulars. Larger crowds occasionally appear for the lunch buffet, but for the most part, a unique calm pervades the restaurant. It’s the kind of place where, when the waitress asks, “How did you hear about us?” she seems genuinely curious. But if Afghan Village’s vibes cause any misgivings, the food will come as a pleasant surprise. Serving consistently good mainstays of Middle Eastern cooking, as well as a number of dishes unique to Afghani cuisine, Afghan Village is a hidden gem and a great addition to Houston’s portfolio of Middle Eastern restaurants.
Parts of Pondicheri’s menu seem like they could only be a breakthrough hit or a disaster. Replace the fried dough wafers in a papdi chaat with semolina crackers and you get either a healthier, hipper version of the original, or a mealy multigrain imposter. Adding a pumpkin bun to the black garbanzo bean veggie burger could be a stroke of genius or a mark of overzealous experimentation. Luckily, the chefs at Pondicheri are serious about their fusion cooking. With influences from French bakeries to South America’s produce, Pondicheri is all about laid-back twists on Indian favorites. Though the curries and other classics can be underwhelming, the attention paid to innovations like the masala burgers and Madras chicken wings make Pondicheri well worth a visit.
Tired of beer? Freaked out by Franzia? According to a class-action lawsuit filed last Thursday, student favorites Franzia and Charles Shaw may have up to five times the amount of arsenic the EPA allows in drinking water. So given the alternatives, now seems like a better time than ever to highlight some of top low-cost bottles available at the local Spec’s, HEB and even Target.
Khun Kay Thai Cafe's chicken spring rolls
Supartra Yooto and Kay Soodjai have experience when it comes to serving Asian food in the Houston area. The Thai sisters-in-law opened their first restaurant, a popular Chinese spot called the Golden Room, on Montrose in 1982. When it came time to renovate in 2008, they simply tore it down and returned to their roots with the “fast casual” Thai restaurant Khun Kay. The website claims the restaurant offers “most of the Golden Room’s menu with the same superb quality, but with reduced prices.” With pad thai as cheap as $7 a plate and a plate of excellent curry for only $8, reduced prices are certainly a plus. But beyond the low prices, Khun Kay’s extensive vegetarian menu and rotating list of specialties set it far above other counter-service Asian eateries.
Tiramisu from Collina's Italian Cafe