Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Friday, December 09, 2022 — Houston, TX

Walden Pemantle, Thresher Staff

NEWS 4/8/15 5:13am

Fantastic Wines and Where to Find Them

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.

NEWS 3/25/15 5:20am

Khun Kay offers affordable vegetarian-friendly fare

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. 

NEWS 3/18/15 5:25am

Collina's fails to deliver high-quality Italian cuisine

Nestled in a strip mall on Richmond Avenue, Collina’s Italian Cafe looks as inviting as any Italian restaurant. Families and couples chatter over bottles of wine, cooks stir enormous pots of pasta and waiters bustle between the indoor seating and the tables outside on the patio. The affable service, homey red-checkered tablecloths and BYOB policy all add to Collina’s laid-back, neighborhood-Italian-joint atmosphere. It would be all too perfect if Collina’s cooks turned out food that matched their idyllic atmosphere. Unfortunately, Collina’s pastas are far from the heavenly spaghettis and linguinis of superior trattorias; the rustic chicken dishes miss out on the buttery charm that pervades quality Italian cooking. Even the pizzas, the centerpiece of Collina’s menu, seem bland in comparison to the bold and fresh flavors other pizzerias draw from their pies.

NEWS 2/11/15 4:08am

Brewed the hard way: Budweiser's beef with craft beer

Among ads of cute puppies, human Pac-Man games and stampeding Clydesdales, Budweiser aired a new commercial during the Super Bowl proudly titled “Brewed the Hard Way.” The ad heralds Budweiser as “proudly a macro beer … not to be fussed over.” Bud drinkers are juxtaposed with glasses-wearing mustachioed men, who represent Budweiser’s take on microbrewed beer’s finicky hipster crowd. The ad continues by stating that Bud is “brewed for drinking, not dissecting,” and shows yet more hipsters before finally proclaiming, “Let them drink their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”The ad is a direct smear on microbrewing and craft beer’s surging popularity, and it doesn’t come from a struggling brewer desperate for sales, but from the producer of America’s most popular light and regular beer. So why pick on the little guys? It doesn’t take an analyst to see how the craft beer revolution has transformed our country’s markets. Just like California put American wine on the map, microbrews have completely changed the perception of American beer. Once loathed for its cold fermentation and use of corn to add alcohol content without flavor, American beers are now every bit as lauded as the historic beers from Germany, Holland and Belgium, and not without reason. American brewers have pioneered the malting and fermenting techniques that created some of the world’s toastiest porters, creamiest milk stouts and most aromatic pale ales. Other beer giants like Samuel Adams have used the craft beer trend to their advantage. A 2014 commercial for their beer asks people off the street how many styles of beer Sam Adams brews in a year. The people in the ad, one of whom is also a mustachioed, glasses-wearing hipster, reliably named four or five beers before exhibiting shock at the 60 different brews that Sam Adams makes in a year. It’s a commercial that celebrates the ability of serious American brewers and the diversity of their beers. It sends a message that Sam Adams supports them, even if its main source profit is its “macro” Boston lager. Instead, Budweiser offers its viewers a message that there can be only one way of making good beer, and if they don’t agree, they must be pretentious. Perhaps the oddest factor in Budweiser’s choice to run a $9 million Super Bowl ad slamming craft beer is that, in many ways, Budweiser also supports craft beers and microbrews. Anheuser-Bush, the owner of Budweiser and all its breweries, also owns 10 different small craft beer breweries. Widmer Brothers, which merged with Redhook Brewing as part of the Budweiser-owned Craft Beer Alliance in 2012, has released over 65 types of beer, most of which are limited-release microbrews. Elysian Brewing Company, acquired by Budweiser in January 2015, ironically makes a pecan peach pumpkin ale of the exact sort that Budweiser’s ad claims is fundamentally incompatible with the type of people who like Budweiser.So Budweiser: Why the posturing? As a company that already has the largest share of its U.S. market and is managing to profit off the craft beer boom anyway, isn’t slamming the hard work and popularity of talented microbrewers kind of biting the hand that feeds? Budweiser has always run ads that play to its strengths as a straightforward everyman’s beer. But stabs like “[Budweiser] is brewed for drinking, not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer brewed the hard way” don’t seem to sell anything. They make Budweiser seem tasteless, people who care about taste snobbish and beers that aim for a more complex flavor tedious. It’s fine if Budweiser doesn’t want to invest in brewing lines of more flavorful complex beers like Sam Adams, but it could at least leave those who do care about improving taste well enough alone.

NEWS 1/28/15 4:11am

TBO Fusion bring hip Japanese cuisine to Houston

Since its opening in November, Tea Bar and Organic Fusion, also styled “TBO Fusion,” has made it clear that the operative word in their name is “Fusion.” The hip Westheimer location has a tea bar, and it does serve an extensive list of tasty milk teas and smoothies, but the real reason to visit is TBO’s affordable and creative takes on sushi, ramen and other Japanese specialties. The menu is dotted with unconventional and trendy additions like Taiwanese popcorn chicken, sous-vide short rib and sashimi with honey wasabi aioli and truffled ponzu sauce. Many of the experimental dishes are imperfect, and unfortunately, some of the menu’s most interesting inclusions are best left unordered. Nonetheless, the food at TBO Fusion makes for an exciting and eclectic meal.The best of TBO’s fusion cooking manifests in the inventive and addictive appetizers. The lemon garlic popcorn chicken is flash-fried in a surprisingly light batter made from Japanese potato starch that compliments the sour and zesty seasoning. The tako yaki, or battered octopus, is perhaps the best plate on the menu. The octopus fritters have a warm, eggy filling, and are topped with sweet barbecue sauce, tangy Japanese mayo and shredded smoked tuna, which give the dish a flavor reminiscent of both a Texan barbecue pit and a Japanese seaside. Moving even further from traditional Japanese, the 72-hour sous-vide short rib uses the French sous-vide technique to achieve a much more tender product than the tradition grilling method. Perhaps the most eclectic of the appetizers, the Taiwanese sausage dish can be ordered with salsa and queso fresco in a nod to Houston’s Hispanic influence that balances the sausage’s saltiness with the creamy cheese and fresh tomato salsa. Despite the success of the appetizers, the sushi bar seems frustratingly inferior. The problem is not that TBO’s chefs aren’t well-trained or that the fish is not fresh. On the contrary, the fish in the unseasoned sashimi plates is lush with delicate and fresh saline flavor. The problem with the sushi lies in the chefs’ tendencies to over-sauce. In the black-and-white roll, the dominant taste is not the snow crab, avocado, peppered tuna, green onion or honeyed wasabi the menu advertises, but mayo, a shame considering how many great ingredients went into the roll. The worst instance of over-saucing is in the truffle hamachi. The truffle and hamachi, known for being among the most decadent ingredients in European and Japanese cooking respectively, simply mask each other. The truffle’s earthiness obscures the hamachi’s buttery fat, and the sour yuzu and sea salt used to round out the dish clash with the smoother flavors of the truffle and the fish.Some of the sushi chefs’ overbearing tendencies also carry over to the entrees. The ramen and the rice bowls are generally very good but tend to have too much onion, which again clashes with the natural flavor of the dish’s protein, be it short ribs, chicken or the wonderfully fatty pork belly. The seasonings on the meats themselves are far improved. The pork belly has interesting flavors of raw ginger and soy, the short ribs are marinated in sake and grilled with woody Korean spices, and the chicken’s teriyaki sauce is accented with nori and a yuzu sesame dressing. One common problem with nearly all the main dishes, however, is the addition of a cold soft-boiled egg, which can be quite off-putting and which many may prefer to have left off their dish.In spite of its numerous problems, TBO Fusion is still a standout in a city of far too many bland Asian fusion restaurants. It is a very young restaurant, a fact that is hard to ignore as the menus are still printed on stapled printer paper. Although TBO needs some fine-tuning, problems like over-seasoning and cold eggs can be easily remedied. Combined with the friendly staff and deliberately hip vibe, the exciting food at TBO Fusion makes it a restaurant not to be passed over. 

NEWS 12/3/14 3:49am

Houston chefs battle it out for prestigious Eater blog awards

The national blog Eater announced the winners of its annual Houston restaurant awards this past Monday. The awards honored restaurants and chefs in six categories: Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, “So Hot Right Now” (recognizing restaurants with a high level of trendiness), Bartender of the Year, Saddest Closing and “Stone Cold Stunner,” recognizing restaurants with especially impressive decor. Nominees were selected by local food critics and the final winners determined by votes from the blog’s readers.This year’s biggest winner was chef Ryan Pera. Pera won both Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year for his newly opened Italian/American restaurant, Coltivare. Though new this year on the Houston restaurant scene, Coltivare has already topped more than one “Best of Houston” list, named Houston’s top new restaurant by the blog Thrillist earlier this month. Pera, who opened Coltivare after serving as a partner at Revelry Market, specializes in pizza and locally-grown ingredients. The menu at Coltivare changes often but is known for its inventive use of fresh local ingredients, many of which are grown in Coltivare’s house garden.Tout Suite won the “So Hot Right Now” award over Pax Americana, which failed to win any awards despite being nominated for three. Tout Suite, opened earlier this year, took advantage of the make-your-own-dish model popularized by chains like Chipotle to become one of downtown’s most popular spots. Especially popular among the health and price conscious, Tout Suite is known for its fresh custom salads, killer sandwiches priced as low as $6 and its outstandingly creative brunch menu.Bartenders of the Year Leslie Ross and Sheddan Harvey seemed sure to win as soon as their plans for expanding Triniti’s bar into its own entity came to light. Their new bar, Sanctuari, which has been open separately from its parent restaurant, Triniti, for less than a month, has emerged far ahead of its time in its approach to cocktails. Ross and Harvey’s menu incorporates Campari ice filters, lemon pollen, Thai chilies, rose petals, fish sauce, real smoke and more into its drinks, which have been received as the most beautiful, inventive and delicious cocktails in Houston. This year’s Saddest Closing was awarded to Van Loc. The owners of the beloved Vietnamese and vegetarian restaurant decided to retire and close Van Loc’s doors in mid-October. As news of the closing spread, patrons flocked to the Fourth Ward location in such large numbers that Van Loc was closed three days early afterrunning out of food.The final award, “Stone Cold Stunner,” went to KUU restaurant. Helmed by chef Addison Lee, the elegant Japanese restaurant in Memorial City has had a remarkable year, winning accolades for its fresh sushi, notable wine list and delicate presentations, as well as its decor.