Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Houston Culinary Tour--CHINATOWN

Last spring, I saw an article about the Houston Culinary Tours (sponsored by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau), and immediately begged by darling hubby to let me sign up for one of the tours.  I particularly was interested in the Chinatown tour. 

So David said,

"Sure sweetheart...how about I buy that ticket for you for your birthday?"  SWEET! 

So last Sunday, I hopped on a shuttle bus outside the Whole Foods Market on Kirby, ready to get some great eats and armed with my camera.  I actually got there a 1/2 hour early, so I went inside and bought some whole grain barley flour to make some whole-grain chocolate chips cookies for the kids.  I can't find whole barley flour at any other store. 

These tours originally started over a year ago, when 4 local chefs got together and brainstormed ways to get Houston's culinary scene on the map.  Eventually, the idea of taking people on tours of different areas of town, specifically ethnic areas or genre of food (Chinatown, BBQ, Creole, Southern Comfort etc.) was developed.  Ever since, the tours have been sold out (or nearly sold out).

Our tour guide today was local Chef Chris Shephard from Catalan.  

Two other local chefs also came along today, Ryan Pera from Revial Market (R) and David Cordu from Americas (L).  Their bios can also be found on the Houston Culinary Tours website. 

Shepard is chef and partner at Catalan, and extremely knowledgeable about the food scene in Chinatown.  While we rode the bus to our first stop, he talked about how he scoped out the places he loves to eat at.  I couldn't wait...my stomach was already growling! 

A brief side note: None of these places have a website. So when you click on "Fu Fu", you'll read some reviews about the restaurant. Pay NO attention to the reviews people. Everything I had was excellent. Either these people are talking smack, or don't appreciate good, authentic Chinese food. Enough said.

First stop...Fu Fu Restaurant

Another side note: All our food was pre-ordered for us...which I really didn't mind.  Unless you look Asian (which I do, but my hubby obviously does not), the waiter at a Chinese restaurant will hand you a menu in English and a fork.  But...if you're smart, you should ask for the "real" menu, (which may be in English and Chinese) and chopsticks.  Even if you're not that great with chopsticks, you'll get some respect for trying. 

All right... on to the food! 

We had Walnut Shrimp, Steam Soup Pork Bun, and Pan Fried Pork Dumplings.  It was insanely good. (We had a professional food photographer along...I am sure her pics came out much better than mine).  I took a couple of pics of everyone while we waited for the dishes...it didn't take long. 

I make a mean pork dumpling, if I do say so myself, but I have to cheat and use store-bought wrappers.  The wrappers here were obviously made in-house, which I have never attempted, and probably never will...it takes a whole day to make them.  I was able to get a few leftover dumplings and a couple of the soup buns to go...awesome! 

Next stop...Sinh Sinh Restaurant

Here, we sampled Roasted Pork with Crispy Skin, Stir Fried Rice Noodles, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, and the pice de resistance, Peking Duck.

I could not get over the Peking Duck.  We were all trying to pace ourselves, but I just had to have 2 helpings...it was divine.  I had Peking Duck at my wedding reception, but it did not even compare to what I had at Sinh Sinh. 

There was plenty leftover, and everyone at my table insisted I take it home...lucky me!!! (I'd already mentioned I had 4 kids and a hubby at home, and was told they could eat it ;-). 

The next stop was a Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Pagolac (forgot to take a pic outside this time, sorry).  But I did take a picture of the tables they had ready for us...really pretty!

We had Betel Leaf Wrapped Beef, Sugar Can Shrimp, Vietnamese Crepes, Lemongrass Beef and Salted Plum Soda. 

This place was fun!  You get to cook your own beef on a hot skillet in the middle of the table, and wrap our own food up in rice wrappers (which require soaking in water).  It's always great to make your plate just how you like it. 

After our third stop, Chef Shephard decided to stop at Hong Kong Food Market before we hit our last restaurant.  He though it would still be packed with the lunch crowd, and they would be more able to accomodate our group if we gave them a little more time.  So we walked through the market, admiring all the produce, meat, seafood, etc.  I was tempted to buy a rice cooker (but didn't), but loved the smells coming from the bakery section.  There is a Hong Kong Food Market in my area, which I blogged about back in May, so check it out if you want to know more. 

Last stop, Hong Kong Dim Sum.

Here, we feasted on Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, Steamed Pork Spare Ribs, Fried Shrimp Puff with Mayo, Fried Dumpling with Meat, and Fried Egg in Milk Bun (which was a sweet dim sum and disappeared before I could get a pic).  All of the dishes were very tasty. 

 I particularly loved the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings.  Just loved 'em.

Now I was finally full.  And happy.  Very happy. ;-)  I didn't even have dinner that night...and there were visions of dim sum dancing in my head.  Ahh!

Oh, I almost forgot...we got goodie bags on the ride back to Whole Foods.  Who doesn't love a goodie bag? 

I'm keepin' it all for me, except the "H-town" t-shirt.  It won't fit me because it's an extra-large.  (Wait a minute...since I'm 6 1/2 months pregnant, it might fit me after all!). 

David and Rebecca enjoyed yummy leftovers Sunday night and my girl and I had the rest the next day for lunch.  Guess what Rebecca liked the most?  The crispy duck skin!  She is for sure my daughter and a foodie in the making. I made sure to get take-out menus from all 4 restaurants (as did everyone else on the tour).  If my hubby has a client call in the Bellaire area, and it's close to dinnertime, I'm getting it to go y'all! 

I definitely want to go on another tour!  Here's the website again, in case you want to get in on the action.  It was so much fun...it would be especially fun as a date with your hubby or a girl's day out!

Just be sure to go on an empty stomach. ;-)