Frida’s Mexican and Latin Cuisine [CLOSED]

28 01 2008

frida kahloIf you are familiar at all with Mexican art, then you might guess that Frida’s is inspired by the art and love story of Frida Kahlo. A quote attributed to Frida says “I paint self portraits because I am the person the I know best.” If the restaurant is based on Frida’s inspiration for her art, then the menu says everything about the chef. It has been a long time since I have visited a new restaurant and really enjoyed the food, mainly because most restaurants lack innovation and render out the same standard fare that everyone else in town produces. I applaud Frida’s for taking traditional Mexican and Latin dishes and making them unique and original.

The restaurant is located in the midst of a highly populated residential area in North San Antonio. One of the owners, Cathy, told us during our visit that they decided to stay away from the commercial explosion happening along the Loop 1604 corridor on the North because they wanted to promote themselves as a “neighborhood” restaurant. I will make an effort here to get the word out that Frida’s is a place that locals and visitors alike should make the trip for.

The interior of the restaurant is attractive, with table linens, comfortable seating, earth-toned hues, hand blown light pendants, and a rotating display of local artists’ works. My wife and I went during a slow period and the waitstaff was attentive and friendly. We were there for lunch and were really just looking for a light meal, so we didn’t eat much. But the quality of the food and the interesting menu will bring me back again for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

Never assume what food your kids will like

26 01 2008

Last night I had to prepare a quickie since we had to be at our Pilates class by 7:15 (yes, I take Pilates) and we were short on time. I boiled some spaghetti, poured a jar of tomato sauce on it and called it dinner.

It wasn’t until my son was almost done eating that he noticed something in his pasta sauce.  In a surprised and delighted tone he exclaimed “Yay! Capers!”

Many people find the pickled, briny taste quite nasty, although I don’t think you are supposed to eat these by themselves like an olive. However, they enhance flavors in dishes when combined and used properly. Nevertheless, I think most people will tend to categorize these in the “Nasty” file.

I encourage you to develop and promote an environment for yourself and your kids that food (all kinds) is a wonderful thing to experience. It absolutely pleased me to hear my 9 year old last night.

Restaurant reviews online

25 01 2008

If you own a restaurant and do not have a website yet (I am an optimist, you know?), you must live under a rock. In addition, if you do not manage what is being said about your establishment online then you might as well board it up, because your prospective customers are researching your restaurant in droves.

I read an article in the “Restaurant Startup & Growth” magazine (Dec. ’07) that pointed to an interesting nationwide poll of consumers by AIS Media. No, I am not fool enough to miss the fact that AIS is a website design company (among other things), so we have to take the results with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the poll found that 89% of consumers research a restaurant on the web before visiting. Many of those people (about 57%) look at the restaurant’s website. So, what if you don’t have one? Your prospects will then sift through the rest of the info Google has provided them with for meaningful information. I’ve looked for many restaurants online to find them listed only in a directory on sites like CitySearch with just an address and phone number (gasp! Not even a map!). However, there is usually no meaningful information there to attract me to visit. Even worse is to find disparaging comments on forums, or by reviewers who search these directories. I’ll give you an example Read the rest of this entry »

Double Dave’s – awesome pepperoni rolls

25 01 2008

I was fairly poor when I was in college. I purchased a food plan to eat at the campus cafeteria, but they were closed on Sundays, leaving me to fend for myself. My most common dinner? Top Ramen, Little Caesar’s breadsticks, and a Coke, for a grand total of about $1.60. Every now and then I would splurge and go to Double Dave’s. There were two things they were well-known for: the huge selection of bottled and canned beer (around 150 selections from around the world), and the pepperoni rolls. My roommate, my girlfriend (now wife), and I would buy the pizza buffet and get outright stuffed with pepperoni rolls. Once full, we’d wrap a few extra in napkins and stuff them in our coat pockets for a late night study snack (and hope that the grease wouldn’t soak through).

There are a few DD’s around Texas now, with three of the restaurants here in San Antonio. When I found out that they opened up locations here, I was pretty excited to go. Although the format was a little different, the rolls were just as satisfying and the reminiscing was pleasant. A while back, the location I go to on NW Military at West Ave. served a number of beer selections on tap and several more in bottle or can form. On a recent visit, all of the taps were gone and the rest of the selections were slim. Never mind, though. I was here for the rolls.

If you go, opt for the buffet to get a more rounded selection. Its a little expensive (about $7.50 for an adult) but the quality of the food overall is certainly better than other pizza buffet restaurants. The pizza dough has a hint of sweetness and is a little more flaky than what you would normally expect in a pizza. Overall, the pizza is good, although not my favorite. The pepperoni rolls, however, are fantastic. The dough used has a different texture than the pizza dough. They look like straight croissants, for lack of a better explanation, and are filled with cheese and pepperoni. Look for the thinner rolls, however, since you will be able to taste the filling a little better than a fat dough roll. The dough has a paper-thin crispy crust and the rest of the roll is soft and slightly chewy. I like to dip mine in pizza sauce and my wife prefers a mix of sauce and ranch dressing. If you are interested strictly in the rolls you can order a 1/2 dozen or a dozen at a cost of about a buck a piece. Five or six fills me up pretty good.

This location (I’m not sure about the others) has several TV’s set up playing sports and there is a game room upstairs. Like I mentioned before, this may not be the place to go for value. But expect the pizza to be good and the pepperoni rolls even better.

Kitchen design that works

22 01 2008

Anyone who holds the same disdain for today’s residential architecture and design will certainly have a conversation buddy with me. I recently read a post at one of my favorite blogs that lambasts kitchen design in today’s homes as unfunctional and unusable. The last two “Parade of Homes” I went to featured homes in the $1.5M-$3M range. Few of them had kitchens that made any sense. This seems ridiculous to me until it dawned on me that most of the people who live in these homes probably don’t cook for themselves.

I’ve been blessed to be able to design the home that I live in. My home is not a modified stock plan. It is a bona fide, from-the-top-of-my-head, unique design, all the way down to drawing the blueprints and overseeing construction. In this post, I’d like to show you my kitchen. It went through numerous designs, and we researched many products. My tastes are somewhat minimalist, but not to the extreme. I know that many people will dog on me for the cliché items like the stainless and granite. So be it. I hope you can steer clear of what your personal tastes are and just focus on the design. I’m proud of the design and the look we have achieved and it has served us well. So, here it is:

Kitchen design, IKEA, modern design, galley kitchenThe living room, dining room, and kitchen are an open design. I can watch TV while I cook or keep an eye on the kids. It is designed for entertaining in mind so that I can interact with guests while cooking. The view in the picture above is taken standing at the dining table with my back to the living room. Its a U-shaped galley with plenty of granite counter space and lots of cabs. Read the rest of this entry »

Espresso Martini

18 01 2008

espresso chocolate martiniIf you enjoy alcoholic beverages, I’m sure you’ve seen Espresso Martini on the menu. I’ve tried several at different locations and found that everyone has their own version of the recipe. Certainly, this is not one of those tried and true standard cocktails that every bartender has in their repertoire that will taste the same no matter where you order it. In fact, what makes it kind of interesting is that the recipe allows bartenders to be creative in their craft. To complicate matters, the quality of the espresso will make a difference as well. A bar that has a good espresso machine should be able to produce a quality cocktail. However, a bar that relies on an espresso flavoring (ugh) or instant (gasp!) espresso will produce a mediocre cocktail, at best.

Giada, on the Food Network, has an Espresso Martini recipe that is pretty easy to make, except that it relies on simple syrup for its sweetness. Granted, simple syrup is easy to make (melt 2 parts sugar in 1 part water), but most people don’t have this handy nor do they want to take the time to whip up a batch.

So, here’s my recipe: Read the rest of this entry »

Tostones – Fried Green Plantains

16 01 2008

Its amazing how few people are familiar with the plantain. You know, the large green “bananas” you see in the produce section?

“Yeah, I’ve seen those before,” say most of my guests when they stare oddly at my plantain concoctions, “But I thought that they were just unripe bananas.”

plantain.jpgFor the uninitiated, the plantain is a fruit like the banana, but it has a much lower sugar content. I know of no one that eats these things raw, as they are always cooked. As the plantain ripens it takes on a yellow color with mottled brown spots and tastes sweeter. In fact, it will look just like a banana, except more firm in texture. The plantain is a staple in Latin cuisine and is used in various ways. In this post, I will focus on only one treatment.

Tostones are eaten throughout the Latin Americas and are prepared essentially the same way (in South America they are more commonly knows as patacones). First of all, the plantain needs to be peeled. Believe it or not, this is a fairly difficult task. Read the rest of this entry »

Wasabi – fun for kids of all ages

16 01 2008

I love wasabi. Not for me, though, the stuff is pretty evil. I like turning on my friends to sushi and telling them to eat a small glob of the green stuff. “Its just a condiment,” I lie. “It goes well with the California Roll,” I lie again. Then, I sit back and enjoy the entertainment. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you don’t know what you are missing. Stop reading immediately and go try some wasabi. Then come back and finish reading.

Hey, I told you to stop reading. Allright, go ahead.

Wasabi is known as the Japanese horseradish and its spice is more akin to hot mustard than to the capsaicin of hot peppers. Its difficult to find in its root form (real wasabi), but more readily available in its ready to use form which comes as a paste made from grinding the root to a powder and mixing with horseradish, mustard and food coloring.

Typically, wasabi is eaten with sushi or sashimi. I’m not very familiar with any other uses other than for sheer torture. The flavor of wasabi produces an intense, eye-watering burn on the tongue and nasal passages that is quite fearsome. The first time I tried this I did not know what to expect. The heat came on instantly, searing my tongue and consuming my nasal passages to where I couldn’t even breath. My eyes teared up and it reminded me of when I sprayed myself with pepper spray (yeah, that sucked). The pain was so intense that I panicked, praying that I didn’t do any permanent damage to my esophagus and stomach.

And then, all of a sudden, it completely disappeared. Not a single trace of the burn could be felt on my palate. I totally thought I just hallucinated (darn those 80’s – just kidding). Read the rest of this entry »

Food by-products – yes, I’m talkin’ Methane

11 01 2008

I’ve been mulling this for quite some time and need your help deciding. One of food’s foul (yet in a macabre sort of way, pleasing) by-products is Methane. Yes, I’m talkin’ bout air biscuits here. This is a food blog, you know, and all things food related are fair game. Though it may seem right in my mind to host a series on flatulencia, some might find it offensive. So, I’ve decided to leave it in your hands, my trusted readers. Please let me know if you’d like to read a little and I’ll see if I can get in touch with a friend of mine as a guest writer, the authority on this subject, Dr. Harry Butthonks.

Suffering in San Antonio

11 01 2008

Mountain cedar juniper pollenAround mid-December each year (sometimes as early as late September) and on through January (and sometimes extending through February), cedar pollen makes its unwelcome visit to San Antonio and South Texas. Cedar is actually is misnomer, considering that it is actually the male Ash Juniper tree that produces its berries and decides to pollinate in the Winter. It floods South Texas in clouds like a swarm of army ants moving across a jungle floor. (The picture here shows the red pollen accumulated on the tips of the leaves.)

Personally, I think that mature Junipers can be beautiful trees. These evergreens seem to be the predominant tree species in the Texas hill country. They propagate easily and spread quicker than rabbits. Many developers in the area consider this tree an invasive nuisance in that it uses crazy amounts of water. Nevertheless, they don’t seem to be affected much by drought.

Despite their beauty, anyone who lives in their midst or downstream from their pollination flow will eventually succumb to “cedar fever.” It seems that no one is immune to this evil pollen. Read the rest of this entry »

Pho Ha Long – inexpensive Vietnamese food

11 01 2008

In the mood for Chinese tonight? Skip it, and try out a fresher, healthier, and tastier alternative to Oriental cuisine. My wife and I were reluctantly turned on to Vietnamese food back in the early 90’s (hey, as long as someone else pays, I’ll eat anything, even if it is dog). What we experienced that day was an epiphany in the way we were eating. Vietnamese food, to us, became the gateway to other food cultures like Thai and Indian. In just one lunch we realized how much we had been missing and were excited to begin our culinary quest.

My wife and I have enjoyed Vietnamese food at a number of places around San Antonio. Unfortunately, many of the good restaurants come and go here since many are family owned and operated and just close on a whim. Similarly, a staffing change in the kitchen is almost always noticeable, since the food will take on the character and personality of the cook. Regardless, the food is always made to order and a fresh alternative to typical American food.

In general, Vietnamese food relies on rice noodles and flavorful broths, sometimes combined, and sometimes not. You won’t find dog or horse so don’t freak out, this is America after all. However, Read the rest of this entry »

Easy and yummy donuts

9 01 2008

easy-donuts.jpgI’m normally pretty choosy about donuts. Okay, who am I kidding? I really don’t care where it comes from I’ll almost always stuff my face with these pastry delights. This morning, my wife treated me to her home-made donuts and I ate so many of them (about 9) that I didn’t need to eat lunch. Donuts don’t really seem to fill me up, I just eat until they are all gone. I’ll consume my entire fat intake needs for the week in one sitting.

Well, these donuts are much easier than you think. Go and buy the cheapest biscuits in a can you can get. We haven’t tried to make these with the flaky type yet, so you better stick with the regular biscuits, buttermilk, maybe. Separate all the biscuits and lay them out. Take a shot glass and cut the center out of the biscuit. There, that’s about all the prep work you need (take that, Food Network!).

Here’s the hard part. Read the rest of this entry »

The Flying Saucer – aliens and beer

8 01 2008

saucer-sandwich.jpgWell, not really aliens, but true on the beer. The Flying Saucer is a fantastic place to go in Northwest San Antonio to enjoy a beer (or several beers), listen to 70’s rock, and maybe grab a quick bite. The incredible thing about this place is the number of beers they have on tap. Many of the beers you can get all the time, and a number of selections rotate. Nevertheless, you can expect to encounter well over 100 beers on tap ranging from the most popular American beers to some of my favorite Belgian Tripel ales from the likes of Maredsous and Maudite (which may be alien to most non-beer snobs who skip the corked bottles at the store and head straight for the cases with convenient handles).

The beer menu is quite extensive and is separated by category (i.e. Belgian, Pale Ale, Dark, etc.) to make things easier to find. In addition, the prices are listed and several of the high alcohol content beers are clearly marked (and clearly more expensive). Expect there to always be several specials at reasonable prices. The two times that I have gone, a bartender and a waitress were able to make a good recommendation based on my beer preferences. The design of the menu makes it pretty easy to find something you like in the same category. Read the rest of this entry »

Its my party and I’ll cook if I want to

7 01 2008

I wouldn’t classify myself as a serial party thrower, but we do have people over to our house several times a year for birthday parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the occasional social gathering. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am certainly not a chef, but I love to cook and it gives me great satisfaction to see people enjoy what I’ve made.

Most of the time, I have a theme for my meal. It may be Latin inspired, or tacos, or gourmet burgers, etc. Nevertheless, from the aperitif and appetizers, and on through the entrée and dessert, everything is tied in together either by the general theme, or with a certain ingredient. Now, many of my well-intentioned friends and family ask if they can bring something. I think that’s great. There are many times that I could use a few extra things, or maybe I’ve forgotten to buy plasticware and can’t get out of the house. I totally appreciate this kind of help.

But allow me to propose a bit of etiquette here. As I mentioned, I am nowhere near Nigella, nor do I even pretend to come close to an Iron Chef. However, “I DO HAVE A THEME HERE PEOPLE!” Okay, let me calm down (breathe in 5 seconds, out 5 seconds).

What I’m getting at is this: Read the rest of this entry »

Fennel: the Devil seed

3 01 2008

fennel-seeds.jpgCan you imagine the first caveman who yanked a fennel plant from the roadside and decided that the funny little brown seeds would be a great addition to sausage? (When I say “caveman” I probably mean “Italian”)

“What is fennel?” you might ask. I call it the devil seed. I remember the first time I bit into one of these suckers. I was enjoying an all-meat pizza (can’t remember where at) and I was gobbling up the last bits of scrap left on the pizza pan. I recall reaching for a small sausage ball and wondering what that interesting little seed was that was poking out of the side, yet unwittingly categorizing it as merely a part of the spices and seasonings. Thinking back to this gastronomically momentous yet insipid moment, it all seems to go by in slow motion…

Two fingers delicately pinch the sausage bit and makes its way towards my pizza hole [insert dream sequence here]

I can see it now, just like in the movies: the beautiful woman picks up the poisoned drink, known to be tainted only by the protagonist, her lover. He glances her direction and sees that she has unwittingly picked up the martini with the poisoned olive. The entire scene is in slow motion; the edges blur as the protagonist rushes toward her, screaming “Noooo.” But its too late. Read the rest of this entry »

The 4 horsemen of the Chinese Buffet: fake, famine, foul, & frigid

31 12 2007

I hate Chinese buffets for several reasons:

  • The food is not really Chinese;
  • Most of the food is cold;
  • The food tastes Nasty;
  • A ton of food is thrown away;
  • They are expensive, in order to make up for all the thrown away food.

This past weekend my family traveled a few hours out of town to visit some extended family. Upon arriving, it is customary for the entire family to go out to a restaurant to eat dinner. All in all there were eight adults and five children this time around and to be honest, it makes things a lot easier for a group this size to eat at a buffet. No time needs to be spent with menus and no time wasted to start eating either – just get up and load up.

And you know what? I’m normally pretty excited when I see the array of food I’m about to indulge in. I mean, out of the 75 or so selections, I’m bound to find a couple that I like. Right? Right??? Well, disappointingly, no. Let me work through my list above real quick.

First of all, if these restaurants actually served authentic Chinese cuisine, no one would come. Read the rest of this entry »

All roads lead to Rome’s Pizza

31 12 2007

Yeah, the title is a little tacky, but I plagiarized it from Rome’s themselves. Rome’s Pizza serves gourmet and traditional Italian/American fare, from pizzas, calzones, and strombolis, to sandwiches, salads, and Mediterranean specialties. I’ve been here a few times for lunch and taken advantage of their daily specials, which normally consist of two slices of pizza, or two servings of stromboli and a drink for under five bucks. I’ve been pleased with both.

Rome’s has been around for a while and developed a reputation for having good food and great lunch specials. The place is normally pretty full around lunch time but there is plenty of seating. The restaurant has three locations in and around San Antonio and a new location in North Austin. In addition, the owners have franchised their restaurant concept in hopes of expanding (it will be interesting to see how they do). Read the rest of this entry »

Longhorn Cafe – good food and great value

28 12 2007

Fried mushroomsThe Longhorn Cafe is one of those places you go to for value. Not the fast-food kind of value, though. The Longhorn has two locations in San Antonio and they are as far away from fast-food fare as can be. Be prepared to get full and not spend a lot of money, but expect there to be a lot of people depending on the time of day. This is the place my family goes when we don’t have a lot of time, but want to get some good food and save some dough.

The burgers at Longhorn are Read the rest of this entry »

What is your comfort food?

26 12 2007

What is comfort food? Everyone has their own definition, although some of you may not be familiar with the term. You know you’ve eaten comfort food when your brain says: “Oh man! That brings back memories.” For me, comfort food makes me relax, and it brings my guard down. It could be the food your mom makes, or that you remember eating at your grandma’s house. Its the food you serve yourself seconds of, or thirds. Its the “must have” food when you have returned home from a long trip.

For me, its Puerto Rican food. I was born in the U.S. and was raised as an Air Force brat, moving every three years or so to a different region of the States, or to a different country altogether. Both of my parents are Puerto Rican and they have lived in the U.S. ever since my dad joined the military. I’ve experienced different foods and different cultures, but nothing says “home” to me more than a plate of mom’s cooking. That never changed, regardless of the location. Although I’ve never lived in PR, the food is a part of my upbringing. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is there a worm in the Mescal bottle?

24 12 2007

When I was young I remember going to the grocery store with my mom and waiting in anticipation for the cereal aisle. What was I going to get today? What kind of toys were in the boxes? Do you remember that, too?

Three things would always catch my attention:

  1. The cartoon character. I don’t know why I liked Sugar Puffs, I mean, the frog was not that interesting. But, there was a certain hyper-active energy about him that seemed to resonate with my persona;
  2. The toy, of course. Cheap as they were, I still wanted it. “Collect all 19 stickers!” Okay, but you only have three here! When are the rest coming in? Good thing we didn’t know about Chinese toy lead poisoning back then or mom would have never bought us this crap;
  3. Anything that blared out “Get your chocolate sugar buzz here!” Well, the boxes never said that explicitly, but c’mon, Count Chocula’s eyes are buggin’ out really far and he just seems so excited about this cereal. No : >( mom never, ever, bought me the Count.

My point is this: Read the rest of this entry »