Friday, June 28, 2013

Where It All Began

I was asked today when I started writing about food. It's something I've been doing for a long time, and the origin of this avocation is an interesting one.

I've never been a cook. Single through my 20's and 30's, I dined out a lot. And as a geek, I took notes about the places I liked the best, using my trusty PDA (think the contact, calendar, and notes part of an iPhone).

This ragtag collection of notes was at least in some semblance of order, and I wanted to share it with my friends. Enter the web. I'd recently started a web development firm (data.net communications), and I needed to devise a way for a client to publish information in a database to the web. Back then, this wasn't an easy thing to do. I didn't want to experiment with client data, but I had my trusty PDA restaurant list to use.

An idea was born.

The original one was called Albert's Austin Restaurant List. It was first published in 1994. Mentions of it can still be found if you search far enough. As a geek, I wrote a program to create the web pages based on the data in the database I'd extracted from the PDA.

We supplemented my notes with a database from a purchased list of all businesses in Austin. We sorted out only the restaurants, then manually categorized them. I remember this taking more than a week.

Reviews were added as I visited restaurants, and we got comments (In cool '90's lingo, "Buzz") from readers. We got noticed by Blockbuster Video, Budweiser, and Miller Brewing, all of whom sponsored the site at one time or another.

I was developing websites at the time, and had a few restaurant clients. So naturally I linked to their websites from the dining guide.

After today's conversation, I found the third version of the Austin Dining Guide in the Internet Archive; the first two versions predated the archive.

Here's the link to the Austin Dining Guide, 1997 edition. Be kind. The tiny page format is due to the limits of computer screens in use at the time.

The plan was to evolve it into a broader city guide, covering technology and other things of interest to those on the web at the time (in other words, geeks.) The beginnings of it are in place, but due to time constraints, it was never built out.

It was a fun project, but the rise of well-funded projects like CitySearch, Microsoft Sidewalk, and later Yelp spelled the end of small operations like the Austin Dining Guide.

Years later, after a move back to my birthplace of Houston I couldn't resist the call, and started the H-Town Chow Down blog. Thanks for reading.

H-Town Chow Down Honored with Houston Web Award

We were honored (and more than a little bit surprised) to be named the Best Food Blog in the 2013 Houston Web Awards, presented by the Houston Press. This was the third annual Web Awards, highlighting the best of social media and online presences in Houston.



The award was presented Thursday, June 27 at the House of Dereon.

We'd like to thank the Houston Press, its staff, and it's readers for recognizing the work we do to put together this blog. Every time we gain a new reader we're gratified, but an award like this humbles us. Houston is fortunate enough to have a tremendous list of great food writers, and we're honored to be among them, much less to be singled out.

Thank you.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hubbell & Hudson to host Battle of Texas Beers July 5-6

As fans of Texas-based breweries, we'd like to let everyone know about an event that will appeal to beer connoisseurs and casual beer drinkers alike.  It's the Battle of Texas Beers, a great chance to sample a variety of craft beers brewed in the Lone Star State. It's a two-day event, starting with a preview on Friday and finishing up with the voting on Saturday.

Both events are complimentary. You must be 21 years of age or older to sample beers.

Preview Event
Friday, July 5 - 6pm to 9pm
Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen
2526 Research Forest Dr, The Woodlands

Big Battle - Voting for Texas Beer Drinker's Choice Awards
Saturday, July 6 - Noon to 3pm
Hubbell & Hudson Market
24 Waterway Ave, The Woodlands

Everyone who votes will be eligible to win a variety of prizes, including a special hands-on cooking class featuring local brews to be held at Hubbell & Hudson Viking Cooking School.

If you're going, you can RSVP on Facebook. We'll see you there, and may the best beer win!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First Look at Tandoory Taco

As the Woodlands area attracts more international corporations (We're looking at you, ExxonMobil) we're happy to see more restaurants appearing that appeal to more diverse tastes. We love Tex-Mex, but it's hard to get excited about yet another place touting their amazing fajitas and strong margaritas.

A case in point is Tandoory Taco, a new restaurant serving Indian fusion food. Tucked into the sprawling strip center on Sawdust that houses several independent restaurants (including The Olive Oil and Corkscrew BBQ).

Tandoory Taco is a bright, unassuming restaurant, with counter service and ample seating. An owner is on-site and involved, always a good sign. Don't go in expecting traditional Indian decor; casual is the motif, with brightly painted walls adorned with a collection of signs proclaiming a variety of slogans, none of which have anything to do with the food or the concept. It's an endearing and funky touch.


As much as we like less popular (in Texas) cuisines, it's a fact in the restaurant industry that they can be a tough sell in a more conservative market. Tandoory Taco faces this issue head-on:

How do you make Indian cuisine more accessible to the Texas palate?

Alex (Yash) Nagal is a partner, and the general manager. He's an avid foodie, and a chemical engineer. Nagal's concept is to provide an affordable, high-quality meal in an inviting setting. Food is his passion, and his enthusiasm is palpable. His approach is a clever one, and one we've not encountered before. Put freshly prepared Indian dishes into individual portions, and serve them in a soft flour tortilla.

This approach is a clever one. Tortillas are the preferred flatbread in Texas, where Indian cuisine embraces naan, the thicker, fluffier, slightly sweeter cousin. Tandoory fuses the two traditions, serving portions of freshly prepared Indian favorites in a soft flour tortilla.

We love the concept, but as always, execution is the difference between success and failure. A restaurant's success starts in the kitchen, and we were eager to investigate further.

Tandoory's kitchen is helmed by a young 28-year-old chef who knows Indian food, and isn't a man who cuts corners. He prepares all of the sauces from scratch, including Tandoory's signature Agra Tikka sauce, a bright, fresh, creamy tomato sauce that's enhanced with fresh Indian spices. High quality ingredients abound.


At Alex's suggestion, we sampled items incorporating the Agra Tikka sauce. First up was The Patriot. tandoori chicken (in this case, the darker, richer meat from the leg) is marinated in yogurt and spices, cooked in the traditional clay oven, and served with onion, a variety of mild peppers, and avocado. We enjoyed this taco - the traditional Indian flavor of the tikka sauce was balanced by the peppers and the rich tandoori spice.


Next up was The Brit, which swapped the tandoori chicken for a milder version made from the white breast meat, and prepared without the tandoori spices. The excellent tikka sauce was front and center on this taco; we feel it will appeal to those who prefer a slightly milder (but still very flavorful) dish.

We really enjoyed both tacos, and were impressed by the subtle differences between them. Clearly the chef knows his cuisine, and understands how small changes can result in significantly different dishes.

We're looking forward to returning and sampling the other menu items as soon as we can.

Tandoory Taco | 407 Sawdust Road | Spring, Texas 77380 | 281-203-5060 | tandoorytaco.com

Tandoory Taco on Urbanspoon