I'm trying a new format. Fewer long essays. Fewer in-depth restaurant reviews. More short notes about food.
Why? You don't have time to read essays. I don't have time to write them. Besides, most meals are worth a few good thoughts.
So you might see long essays here occasionally. But the plan is to focus on shorter notes.
Mandola's Deli was an unexpected find. When my friends Larry and Halcyon invited me, I expected another upscale chain restaurant that I have come to expect from the Mandola family.
Instead, Mandola's Deli is just a joint.
It serves lunch only. And it has a good crowd, despite its location in a barren industrial area on Cullen, east of I-45.
The biggest surprise was an eggplant parmesan sandwich. I expected the usual eggplant parm grinder -- a giant grease bomb. Although this one came with the mandatory tangy tomato sauce and Mozarella, the eggplant had a thin, delicate but crunchy crust and very little grease.
The breading on the eggplant reminded me of the unique method of frying at the now-closed Frankie B. Mandola's restaurant on Kirby. That Mandola restaurant had crumbled up good-quality bread as a batter on frying. I suspect that Mandola's Deli's eggplant parm may use the same technique.
No matter how they do it, Mandola's makes a mean eggplant parm.
Ibiza for lunch
Ibiza Food and Wine Bar serves one of my favorite soups in town -- the Basque green pepper and crab bisque. Yet Charles Clark's recipe is a mystery to me. Although the soup looks green, you don't taste green pepper. Instead, it has a spicy earthiness unlike any other soup I have found. The chunks of sweet crab are a delicious lagniappe in addition to the green creamy goodness.
At lunch this Wednesday, I also ordered another favorite, Ibiza's salad of roasted beets, pistachio, and goat cheese. As a child, I hated beets. My brother used the word "beets" to mean vommit.
Fortunately, as an adult, beets taste better.
Ibiza's beets were firm and sweet, balanced nicely by the tangy goat cheese. On this visit, the plate came with only red beets. A beet salad is more striking with a mixture of beet varieties with different colors. But the flavor of just red beats is quite good.
Bittman's savory, grain breakfast
The NYT's Mark Bittman wrote a thought-provoking piece this week about eating savory grain dishes for breakfast. He offered several ideas and recipes.
So for Thursday's breakfast, I skipped my usual oatmeal and experimented. I boiled some Israeli couscous with spicy curry powder and a variety of dried fruit.
Perhaps I overdid the curry. My mouth was on fire by the end of breakfast. And I wasn't sure how that made me feel.
Culturally, we have come to expect breakfast to be comforting -- and bland. The spice made me full. And it woke me up. But it was perhaps too abrasive. I worried that I would stink all day of curry.
Even if my execution was poor, Bittman's idea is interesting. It creates a new use for a pantry full of quinoa, couscous, polenta, and farro.