“I made a sandwich out of things. I’m an American. We can eat anything as long as it’s between two pieces of bread.”
Not only is the food to die for, her story is inspiring, plus the graphics are fantastic.
When I was a student in Vientiane, street food was a huge part of my daily life. There was always a woman at a stand under a tree selling different delicious foods; Kua Mee, stir-fried noodles with pork and egg, was one of them.
She would sell it on banana leaves or newspaper. I would order one and eat it with my hands while walking home.
Even after all these years traveling back to Laos, I still find it on the streets; perfectly cooked and served traditionally.
—- Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown
I was wasting some time staring at my computer when a notice came across the interwebs of a Dallas Observer review of a new Laotian Noodle restaurant in East Dallas. The article caught my eye. It said things like:
A Laotian Noodle Shop in East Dallas Is One of Texas’ Best New Restaurants
It feels irresponsible to hype a restaurant as small as Khao Noodle Shop. With just four tables and a counter, this isn’t a dining room meant to handle legions of fans, and the pint-sized kitchen isn’t meant to attract national attention. But national attention is coming, and Khao — with its modest strip-mall space in Old East Dallas, just across the street from Jimmy’s Food Store — is a new milestone in Dallas’ culinary history.
Few restaurants cultivate such an intimate connection between the food on the plate and the broader context in which it is served. Go ahead, take a bite of Khao’s Laotian noodles and snacks — and pair that bite with a side of Dallas cultural history.
I know that neighborhood (though I get hopelessly lost every time I go there… the streets are all on these crazy diagonals) – I’ve written about Jimmy’s Food Store (seven years ago!) and only a few blocks away is another set of excellent restaurants that we visited only a short time ago. The area is becoming a hotbed of Laotian food and culture. And now this Khao Noodle Shop – one of Texas’ best new places – have to give it a try.
I texted my son Nick – “Noodles!” and I drove by, picked him up, and wandered the streets (lost, as always) until we found the Khao Noodle Shop. It was full at one o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, but there were a couple spots at one of the six-tops. It is small – it looked like there were as many cooks and waiters scurrying behind a glass partition as there were customers. I had read the review and knew what to expect as the waitress handed out menus. The idea is to order a number of small bowls of noodles and shareable appetizer plates.
We were in the mood for noodles – so we ordered four bowls and only one appetizer. The food was fantastic.
Especially wonderful were the Sakoo – tapioca dumplings. They had an amazing texture – gooey, yet firm, with bits of radish inside to add some crunch.
We could have ordered a lot more. We asked the waitress what was the record for noodle bowls at a six top table. She said, “Forty or Forty One.” Nick and I and four friends? We could do forty without trying. No problem.
That sounds like a plan.
Everyone has their Christmas traditions. I’ve been keeping this incarnation of a blog since 2011 and we went to Bistro B for Christmas that year, so it’s been at least seven years. I think this is the first year we actually received what we ordered.
Nothing much has changed, so I’ll copy what I wrote then. The only difference is this year I ordered #33 Special Pho with Sunny Egg, and #395, Vietnamese Iced Coffee – in addition to a shared double order of #9 – Vietnamese Spring Rolls.
The wrapping paper has been rent and Santa has been sated. The day now stretches sleepily on – sports on television, fudge on the kitchen table, a cold, gray spitting rain day outside. What is there to do other than lounge around in a mouldering Snuggie® and watch the entropy increase?
For my dollar, there is no better way to spend a few hours on the Christmas Holiday than to go for an afternoon lunch at Bistro B. Actually, I like the pho at Pho Pasteur near our house (the broth is just right) but Bistro B is such a hopping place, even on a holiday, that is impossible to pass up. Plus, Pho Pasteur isn’t open on Christmas Day.
The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.
Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”
It didn’t take long before we were seated and began to attack the menu. There are too many choices at Bistro B – the menu is a little spiral bound plastic laminated book, with page after page of wonders, many with photographs of the food. It is intimidating. Lee recommended shutting my eyes, thumbing through the menu blindly, and then picking something at random. He said he did that a couple of times – once he had something good, but the second time the waiter had told him, “No, you don’t want to order that.” I tried it and came up with Chicken Curry… no, too tame.
The menu items are numbered and the numbers go up 523 – though there seems to be some gaps here and there.
It was cold outside so I thought about some hot soup. I ordered the #43, Special Bistro B Noodle Soup. The waiter asked what type of noodles and I asked for rice. The kids had smoothies and Candy and I hot tea. Nick had Pho, Candy and Lee had chicken. We sent for a couple orders of spring rolls… it was too much food.
But it was delicious. My Special Bistro B Noodle Soup didn’t have the perfect simple balance of subtle flavors that I like in Pho – but it was like eating a Forest Gump box o’ chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Every time my chopsticks would dive into the spice-murked liquid they would emerge with a new surprise. After eating whatever came to the surface – I was able to figure out more or less what it was about half of the time.
Like all Pho – serving places, the table was equipped with a bounty of condiments and additions. Plates of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, Thai basil, and cilantro. Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, rooster sauce, hoisin, and two unlabeled bottles of mysterious somethings. Plus little containers of chopped garlic, pepper oil, and the most flavorful (and hot) chili paste I’ve had in a long time. I spent some time working on the flavor balance of hot and sweet, salty and savory, in my broth. Then I used the hoisin and rooster sauce to draw a bright red and dark caramel ying-yang symbol (for good luck in the coming year) in one of the little plates they supply and used my chopsticks to dip various morsels in there before I ate them.
I ate ’till I was full and then I ate some more. And it was good.
There was a separate menu on our table that outlined the group meals. We thought about the dinner for four – but there were too many fish items on it for Candy. They had a dinner for ten that looked fabulous. I need to get ten people together to go down and do it. That sounds like a plan. Drop me an email if you want in.
“I always tell my kids to cut a sandwich in half right when you get it, and the first thought you should have is somebody else. You only ever need half a burger.”
― Louis C.K.
For a week in New Orleans I was walking back and forth from the Writing Marathon location in the French Quarter to my son’s house in Treme. I noticed a little place on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Street called the Verti Marte. It wasn’t much to write home about, a tiny little bodega, but I thought it might be a good place to pick up groceries on the way home. My son, Lee, used to live near there so I asked him about it.
“Verti Marte? Oh hell yes. We have to go eat there.”
That’s good enough for me – when he had some time off of work, we drove down, parked in Faubourg Marigny and walked back to the place.
Verti Marte is a tiny spot, crammed with stuff – there is barely room to walk and no room to pass another person in the narrow aisles. It is open 24/7 and, although unknown and ignored by tourists, is an oasis of delicious usefulness to the people that live in the French Quarter.
On one wall are two large pieces of plywood that protected the windows after Katrina, covered with spray painted messages begging the Verti Marte to reopen.
The entire back wall, behind a long glass counter, is occupied by the extensive menu. I have never seen so much offered by such a small spot. I ignored the long lists of salads, soups, entrees, and wraps and concentrated on the sandwiches.
Sandwiches – French Bun
Ham & Ch.
Shrimp & Oyster
Tam’s French Fri
All That Jazz
Philly Cheese Steak
Country Fried Stk
Ernies Powboy – Thanks Ernie
One day, at the Writing Marathon, someone had read a piece that they had written on the eternal question, “Can one person eat an entire Muffaletta in one sitting?” Ever since I heard that, I wanted one.
I didn’t want to answer the question that day, so Lee and I split one – and it was enough.
“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Unless you live in North Texas – you have no idea how horrifically big the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is. The entire complex of cities is seventy miles across… side to side or top to bottom… from Rockwall to Benbrook, or McKinney to Cleburn, or Denton to Waxahachie.
That’s a lot of territory. Miles and miles of Texas. That’s almost five thousand square miles of urban landscape.
That’s too much city to cross by bicycle. Or at least by bicycle alone. So, as always, I combined the bike with mass transit – specifically the web of train tracks that once took cattle back to the eastern slaughterhouses… but now shuttle city denizens around the concrete vastness.
Last week, I was surfing the web, checking out facebook, when I was confronted by a photo of a restaurant menu. The restaurant was Brewed – a craft beer/coffee/gastropub in Fort Worth – and they were offering a Temptress-Topped Waffle, paired with a special keg of French Quarter Temptress Stout.
So on Saturday I set up my Xootr Swift Folding bicycle and set off for Fort Worth. That is too far for me to ride, so I would combine the bicycle with the local trains. My departure was delayed for an hour after I discovered a thorn in a tire – but I set off nevertheless for the nearest DART station and took the Red line to downtown Dallas. There I boarded the TRE Line for distant Fort Worth.
The only problem was that they were doing some bridge maintenance west of the airport, so the train stopped, everybody piled off and onto a brace of waiting buses, and rode to the next stop where we reboarded another train. The bus had a bike rack on the front; I had never used one of those before. It worked fine, but I felt a nervous jolt in my stomach every time the bus bounced over some pothole or ditch. I could imagine my bike bouncing off, crushed under the wheels.
Of course, the people that designed and built the rack knew much more than me and the trip was fine. Still, the unboarding, boarding, moving, and reboarding took a lot of time and it seemed like forever before I left the train at the T&P station in Fort Worth.
I used Google Maps bicycling directions to find a route to Brewed, locked my bike up outside, and found a seat at the bar.
The French Quarter Temptress was excellent – the waffle with Temptress laced syrup and whipped cream was even better. I really like Brewed – coffee, craft beer, and good food – what can be better than that? The restaurant has a fun, eclectic décor (including a “Seventies Room”) and would be a regular place for me, for sure, if it wasn’t so darned far away. I sat at the bar, chatting with the staff and customers for a lot longer than I intended, but it was fun.
We talked about local beer, about coffee, about New Orleans, and about the asymmetrical rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth.
I left the restaurant later than I had planned, but still wanted to get a few miles of bike riding in before I headed home. The French Quarter Temptress came in a special souvenir glass – I carefully wrapped it up so I could get it all the way back unbroken. Again, using Google Maps I wound my way to the west, past the Fort Worth Zoo, and along the trails along the river back into downtown.
I wanted to visit the Water Gardens and get some photographs but I felt the pavement grow ragged under me and I realized I had another flat (another thorn) and had to take the time to fix the leak. As I sat on a bench and worked the tire irons and portable pump I kept glancing across the street at something on the sidewalk. It looked like a photorealistic sculpture of a homeless man standing there, holding his shoes, staring into the distance.
During the entire time, maybe twenty minutes, I worked on my tire, the thing never moved, not a fraction of an inch. It must be a sculpture, I thought, I even kept an eye on one little stray lock of hair – which never budged. Testing out my new tire, I rode across the street, and the sculpture turned and looked at me. It was a real homeless person, semi-catatonic, standing stock still until something moved near him.
That shook me a bit – and it was time for a train, so I rode into the T&P station. The trip back included the same train-bus-train dance. So it was TRE train-bus-TRE train-DART Red Line Train-three mile bike ride to get back to my house. I was well after dark when I reached home.
A fun day – but a long way to go for some waffles.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
—-Bob Marley, Redemption Song
I always have a tickle in the back of my head for jerked chicken – the Jamaican dish.
The best jerk I had was in Key West – I remember it like it was yesterday. At least I remember the chicken – I have no idea what the name of the restaurant was. We were walking down Duval, back to our hotel, and it was late, very late… late even for Key West. But Candy and the kids were hungry so we ducked into the first restaurant we saw and sat down. The prices were a bit high for a late-night snack, but this was Key West and nothing comes cheap when it has to be hauled out to that island.
I looked at the menu and my eyes fell on the Jerked Chicken. I was a bit stunned when it arrived. It was an entire chicken – the whole thing. It had been expertly knifed (I have seen chefs do this on TV since) so that it was still whole, though boneless. It was flattened, dredged in jerk spices and then grilled expertly. I didn’t think I could eat the whole thing – but it was so delicious I couldn’t help but soldier through. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t sleep at all that night, but it was worth it. You never remember the pain as much as the pleasure.
When we actually went to Jamaica I wanted to get some authentic jerk but never pulled it off. We were only there for a day on a cruise. My idea was to somehow get to a jerk stand out on a highway somewhere – a place where the locals ate. But on a cruise shore excursion the time is short and the forces are allayed against you doing what you want to do.
The kids went up in the mountains to do a zipline thing and they were served some jerk chicken. The said that it was from a shack and the chickens were all running around a pen behind the place. It must have been great – I was so jealous.
Nick and I did have a little time and a little cash to spare before the ship sailed so we hired a cab to drive us into Montego Bay for some exploring on our own. I had planned on having the driver take us to a place that he knew about where we could get some food, but we spent all our money and most of our time in the city and barely made the boat before departure time.
I need to go back.
But in the meantime I discovered by reading a local blog that there was a new Jamaican Restaurant, The Jamaica Cabana that opened up only couple miles or so north of where we live. The blog made the place look great – so I made a point of trying to get up there.
It took longer than I wanted – but Nick and I had an evening free so we drove to the place for dinner.
The parking lot was packed with people eating at a crowded local Tex-Mex emporium, while The Jamaica Cabana was mostly empty. I simply can’t understand the desire to gobble down mild cheddar cheese enchiladas covered in Hormel Chili perched between a puddle of bland rice and a pile of lard larded mashed pintos. Try something new, folks. Free your mind.
The menu was full of great looking stuff – but I couldn’t resist ordering the Jerk Chicken.
The chicken came with vegetables and plantains – I love plantains. One the side were what the menu described as “rice with peas” – though it was actually rice and beans.
The food was fabulous and the owner very friendly. There were two bottles of very hot Jamaican sauce on the table – be careful, they are of the “delayed reaction” heat. Cool for me, if dinner doesn’t make the top of my head sweat, it isn’t spicy enough.
Now I have to go back and explore the rest of that menu….