Saturday, May 26, 2012

El Real #7 taking over the Tower.... in theater, which was a movie theater, then a Hollywood Video store and prior to that it served as  a venue for live performances. The Tower Theater was built in 1936, during the art deco heyday, had its grand opening on Valentine's Day of that year. El Real #7 pays homage to that history by showing old movies on a large screen at the south end of the restaurant. No sound, just moving pictures, which is probably the only way that could work.
Placed on my table was a basket of warm crispy tortilla chips and a small caldron full of steaming salsa, which is very flavorful without blowing your mouth out. I have a wimpy palette, maybe sensitive or delicate or intuitive would be better words or not. I like spicy, just not on overdrive. This salsa hit the mark!

I went at lunch time. They have a lunch menu with lunch time prices, a good deal. I chose a combination plate, which included a chicken enchilada with tomatillo sauce, chicken tamale, and crispy beef taco, refried beans and rice. To be honest I wasn't crazy about the rice, but that is a pretty minor point considering that the rest of the food was very good Tex Mex. It felt as though a Mariachi Band was playing "Cielito Lindo" in my tummy. Contentment for sure.

Oh! and those of us living in zip codes 77006, 77019 and 77098, Monday is Montrose Monday with 50% off all food. That's a deal!!!
There is a big patio area facing Westheimer.

I asked the waiter what #7 meant. He said that it is an arbitrary number. Maybe, the owner chose it much like Jack Daniel's chose his #7, some say because it is a lucky number.

The restaurant has friendly helpful staff.

Quote of the day: "I need, therefore I imagine." Carlos Fuentes

El Real #7
1201 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

(713) 524-1201

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Araya means chocolate in my mind, but the name...

....comes from the Araya region in Venezuela, home to salt mines, a very beautiful part of the country.  I learned this fact from Carla, one of the Araya's owners, Araya being the chocolate shop in River Oaks Shopping Center, not the salt mine. The chocolate makers were so taken by the beauty of the area that they named their company after it. Carla told me that while inspecting cocoa plants, they happened upon the salt mines. It is near the area where the plants grow. She also said that when the sun hits the salt at different times of the day, the salt shows off its array of colors. Certainly, there is an array of color and flavor in the chocolates that this small dynamic shop makes. I think I get the connection.

Another thing I learned and keep learning is when people follow their heart's desire good things come about. It was Carla, Stefano and Silvana's, Araya's owners and partners,  love of chocolate that brought them to Houston to open Araya. Great idea. I think that Houston was ripe for a chocolate take over, make over. There was a need, demand, a desire for high quality, artisan made chocolates. They certainly have met the demand. Just a very brief identification: Silvana is Carla's sister, Stefano and Carla are husband and wife, all originally from Venezuela. The trio spent six months with a chocolatier friend in Venezuela learning how to make chocolates. They set up their chocolate factory in Katy, Texas, using chocolate from Venezuela,  one of finest exports that Venezuela has to offer (in my mind anyway) and their chocolates on the finest export that Katy, Texas has to offer, as well. They transport the chocolates in daily from the Katy factory. Okay, so that is only 30 or so miles away, but to an inner looper, it seems like light years.

This small chocolate packs a big flavorful punch!!

They also sell French Macaroons, imported from Paris.

Their shop is nestled between The River Oaks Theater and La Mode Lingerie. Mmmm, what a great combination. Being in the shop makes me think about a couple of great films, that I saw at The River Oaks; "Like Water for Chocolate" and "Chocolate." Chocolate seems to spin some kind of spell over me. I like it. Many times I have popped into Araya before a movie and treated myself to one of their chocolates. I haven't tried all of them yet, but that is certainly on my list of to-dos!

Most of the chocolates that they sell are dark chocolate in the 58 to 60 percent cocoa range and a few are at 70 percent. Their milk chocolates are in the 40 percent cocoa range. They started out using recipes from the Venezuelan chocolatier and have continued creating many of their own. Some of their chocolates are seasonal depending on what fruits and flowers are available.
"Our chocolates are handcrafted following the French and Belgian techniques of using premium single-origin chocolate and only the finest and natural ingredients. No preservatives or artificial flavors added." Araya mission statement

The four chocolates I decided to bring home with me were:

Irish Cream (the orange one ) A soft milk chocolate mousse blended with Bailey's Irish Cream in a hand painted white chocolate couverture.
Acai Pomegranate (pink polka-dots) A merge of acai berry "pate de fruit" and a fragranced dark ganache made with pomegranate juice,
Manhattan (purple)  Dark chocolate ganache infused with a blend of Marker's Mark Bourban, Martini and Rossi Vermouth and cherry juice,
Chai Spice, (blue print) A dark chocolate ganache spiced with an infusion of black tea, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
The descriptions are from their menu. Don't they just make your mouth water. I can't wait to try each one.

Their top seller is the Pink Salt. A strong dark chocolate ganache with a touch of pink salt from the Himalayan Mountains. I tried it while I was visiting with Carla. It is rich, smooth, dark. The thick ganache rolled around in my mouth, settling on my taste buds making them very happy indeed.

The chocolates are either hand painted or decorated with edible decals, beautiful to look at and even more lovely to eat.  They make for great gifts. I've been on the giving and receiving end, with delightful results all the way around.
The chocolate makes for great eating and gifts.

Samples, yes, you get to try a sample, a taste. It will make you want more. I'm proud to say that I am a repeat sampler, taster, customer. Araya is a very bright and friendly shop. It is worth a visit and a taste.

Quote of the day: "Chocolate causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. So, eat lots of chocolate!" Elaine Sherman, Book of Divine Indulgences

Araya Artisan Chocolate
2013 W. Gray, B
Houston, TX 77019

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ziggy's Bar and Grill's patio is doggone friendly....

...because they let you bring your favorite pooch(s). They even have a doggie menu! It looks pretty tasty. They supply water bowls, too!

The patio is well shaded by trees and umbrellas. I found it quite comfortable in the mid-afternoon. The temperature was hovering around 90, but on this breeze catching patio it felt 10 degrees cooler. A perfect place to share a meal with friends, two legged and four legged a like.

Ziggy's Bar and Grill offers, salads, soups, sandwiches, entrees, desserts. I opted for the Ziggy burger and a Saint Arnold's Summer Pils. The meat in the burger is from a local ranch, hormone and antibiotic free. The fries are wonderfully fresh. I had the small duo which included sweet and white potatoes. The St. Arnold's Summer Pilsner, went great with my burger! Besides beers and ciders, they offer wine and cocktails as well.

Ziggy's Healthy Grill is at the corner of Taft and Fairview.

 Ziggy's Bar and Grill
302 Fairview
Houston, TX
and a cautionary tale!
Quote of the day: "No one appreciates the special genius of your conversation as much as the dog does." Christopher Morley

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lady Teal Mobile leads the parade for Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Check her out at this year's Art Car Parade!!!

Lady Teal Mobile to the ready. She is an art car, a transporter of Ovarian Cancer awareness, a unifier, a display for butterfly art. The concept is the brainchild of Barbara Garvin, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2007. 

Barbara had a need to get the word out about this deadly disease. She thought that moveable art would be a great way to do it. Helping to bring this car to its full, brilliant teal self came from the women in her Ovarian Cancer Support Group, two seasoned art car officionados by the names of Rebecca and Isaac, a Girl Scout troop, students from a High School art department and really good friends. This magnificent art car is rolling out its message this Saturday, May 12, from 1-3pm, in Houston’s World Famous 25th Annual Art Car Parade. The 97 teal, hand-decorated butterflies, made by or for women diagnosed with this silent killer will be displayed on the car. The butterfly art is as unique and as beautiful as the woman that they honor. There is power in expression, power in unification, power in getting the word out to all women. 
Wear the Teal and Listen for the Whispers
Taken from Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Web site:
Research suggests that the majority of women with ovarian cancer experience symptoms. Symptoms vary and often depend on the location of the tumor and its impact on the surrounding organs. Many ovarian cancer symptoms mimic those of less life-threatening conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
In June 2007, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, and the American Cancer Society, with significant support from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, formed a consensus statement on ovarian cancer, agreeing that the disease has specific symptoms.
The Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Consensus Statement:[i]
Historically ovarian cancer was called the “silent killer” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the chance of cure was poor. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population. These symptoms include:
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary urgency or frequency
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from what is normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.
Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.
Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.

Check out Teal Mobiles on Facebook

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
 Houston Art Car Parade

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Pimm's Cup at the Queen Vic....

..and got a bit of a history lesson, too!!!
The Queen Vic Pimm's Cup is quite good. It is made with Pimm's #1, a gin based Pimms.

I guess there are variations of Pimms. This Pimm's Cup is made with Pimm's #1, lime juice, ginger syrup, fresh cucumber (I saw the bartender mashing the cucumber in the bottom of the glass, I took that as a very good sign that this Pimm's cup was going to be tasty.), mint and ginger beer. Voila, an excellent Pimm's Cup!

The story of how Pimm's was first made is on the back of the bottle.
It seems that James Pimm, an oyster bar owner in London circa 1823, developed this liqueur to aid with digestion. The first Pimm's was made from gin, quinine and different spices. It was served in a small tankard, called cup #1, hence the name, Pimm's #1. Other Pimm's are made from Scotch whiskey ( Pimm's #2), Brandy (Pimm's #3), Rum (Pimm's #4), Rye Whiskey (Pimm's #5) and Vodka (Pimm's #6)

Pimm's Cup is a refreshing drink, great for the summer. It is a bit high on sugar content, oh well.

Quote of the Day: "A bumper of good liquor will end a contest quicker than justice, judge, or vicar. "
Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The Queen Vic - Pub and Kitchen
2712 Richmond Ave.
Houston, TX 77098

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Networking at its finest, GroundUp Houston...

...check it out.

     If your entrepreneurial voice is whispering in your ear, “let’s take action, let’s find out if we have something to pursue,” I know a place to vet that voice. It is a networking group called GroundUPHouston, that meets the first Thursday of every month, from 8:30 am until 10 am, at the Dessert Gallery on Post Oak. The group is diverse and offers opportunities to people who are interested in following their passion in regard to a start-up of their own. GroundUPHouston was founded by Jerald Reichstein, president of Bouncing Pixels, an interactive design studio, a successful startup in its own right. I asked Mr. Reichstein how and why GroundUPHouston was created. He was kind enough to respond to my questions.

JB: How did you come up with the concept of Groundup?
JR: I've been mixing in Houston's start-up scene for many years. There's a lot of creativity and energy that's going unnoticed, especially at the bootstrapping level. I'm one of those people whose brain doesn't have an off switch when it comes to ideas and business opportunities. I like talking to people with similar qualities, or should I say issues, who also want to build a better mousetrap.
JB: What is the significance of the name?
JR: GroundUP seems to fit the way bootstrappers build a business; from scratch, or the ground up. Also, I didn't know exactly where I wanted to have these get-togethers, but thought a coffee shop would work. So, it's also a play on coffee grounds.

JB: Why did you feel there was a need for such a group?
JR: Creating GroundUP started out as a selfish way to get people I wanted to talk to in the same room. I optimistically expected 10 or 20 people to show up, but it's become much bigger than I thought possible. For about 20 years, I viewed all of my entrepreneurial ventures as side gigs to my career as an owner of an architecture and interactive design studio. I've had one or another start-up going non-stop since college. About five years ago, in partnership with my brother, we sold a Web business we built over a four-year period. I view that as one of the great successes of my professional career and it went completely under the radar in Houston. At the time, I didn't know other entrepreneurs or that start-up support groups even existed. I was completely in the dark. If I had access then to the networking resources I have today, our success might have been accelerated and bigger. I want to provide that opportunity to others. And there's always new things for me to learn, as well.

JB: Why do you think it works?
JR: It works for several reasons, but most importantly because there's no agenda. We chose a venue that was normally closed in the mornings so that everybody that shows up knows why everybody else is there. New attendees are welcomed into conversations and asked about their interest in startups, what they're working on, or what they want to learn about. In turn, they become the welcomers at subsequent GroundUPs as their comfort levels grow. There's a pent up demand from closeted entrepreneurs for places to meet like-minded people. Writing business plans and raising capital are not the only ways to build a business.

JB: Who is your target member?

JR: This group is growing organically and will become what it wants to become. So, we really don't have a target. But we know what we don't want; someone looking to drum up leads, handing out coupons, recruiters, salespeople, etc. "Authentic" is a word I've heard used to describe the crowd and I think that best sums it up.

JB: What prompted the informal nature of the group? No lead speaker, no formal agenda.
JR: My aversion to public speaking is probably what drove that. Like I said, the genesis of GroundUP was to satisfy my selfish need to talk with entrepreneurs. Once I saw a full room at our first mixer, I didn't want to disrupt the chemistry. It keeps getting louder and louder. We schedule it to run from 8:30 to 10:00 am on the first Thursday of every month. The room never empties out until noon.
     The amazing thing about GroundUPHouston is the diversity of the people who come to the meetings and the amount of knowledge and experience that they bring with them.  There are restaurateurs, animators, brew masters, caterers, researchers, designers, Web developers, gamers, novelists, investors, bankers, lawyers. It is at GroundUP that Rassul Zarinfar met Travis Crabtree, attorney with Looper Reed. Travis specializes in business development for small businesses, safeguarding the intellectual property and issues specific to the Internet. Rassul needed his Trademark licensed, Travis was there to make the connection.
     There is a circular cohesion in place. Something that Coert Voohees a novelist and creator of Grammaropolis, an interactive grammar game, calls the “Ethos of the group, a paying it forward.”  It works something like this: Coert Voorhees met Rassul Zarinfar at GroundUP.  Rassul is owner of the micro brewery, Buffalo Bayou Brewing company, and was six months into getting his brewery off the ground when he met Coert. Coert was at the start of putting Grammaropolis into motion. Coert said that Rassul’s support and knowledge was invaluable, because Rassul knew exactly what Coert was going through, the elation and the doubts. Coert in turn shared his expertise with a physicist who wanted to create an interactive game for children using the elements of physics, similar in practice to his own Grammaropolis.  And so it goes….
     I recommend GroundUPHouston to anyone with a seed of an idea that needs some encouragement and nourishment. The informal nature of the meeting takes the pressure off any forced greetings or introductions. As Mr. Reichtein said it allows the group to meet and flow organically. I found that quite exceptional.  The meeting also generates a great deal of creative energy. It is electrifying in its ability to excite and motivate.

Web site:
Meeting Place: The Dessert Gallery, 1616 Post Oak Blvd, Houston, TX
Time: First Thursday of every month from 8:30 AM until 10 Am
Bouncing Pixel’s Web site