Saturday, May 12, 2012

Come Hungry

Barnaby's Cafe
414 West Gray
Houston
(a few blocks east of Kirby)

The guy at the next table asked for a doggie bag for his Sausalito Chicken Crunch Salad, a dish I had decided to order. I looked at what he was packing up and thought, "He's hardly touched it!" It was a full bowl, and even though he raved about it, I thought there had to be something wrong with him, or something wrong with the salad.

I was wrong on both counts.

But before we got to the salad, we had an appetizer of Sticky Spicy Chicken Won Tons. These were a delicious chicken mixture wrapped in won tons and fried, served on a bed of red cabbage with a dressing made from sweet-and-sour sauce and Thai chili paste, with a kick that sneaks up on you and tingles long after the last drop is gone. Unfortunately, they didn't go well with the weissbier I had chosen to drink, but on their own they were fantastic.

My tablemate asked for a small salad in place of the french fries his entrée normally comes with. Barnaby's, apparently, doesn't really do "small." His salad, fresh greens topped with everything I would have put on it at home if I had no weight issues, was big enough to be a meal in itself. The bacon alone (excellently cooked, thick slices of Applewood-smoked bacon crumbled into a topping) would have done damage to my WeightWatcher's points-plus allotment (which I generally ignore anyway...); the shredded cheddar would have undone me completely.

His choice for dinner was the dish called Coronado beef. ("Coronado," as in the suburb of San Diego; the owner is an escaped Californio and still remembers all the place names.) It was a plate-sized patty of ground beef topped with cheddar and jack cheeses, diced tomatoes and green onions. For all its impressive appearance, it lacked any real interest. The meat was hardly seasoned and was, I thought, underdone for medium, the way it was ordered. It was just big.

I certainly can't say that about my Sausalito Chicken Crunch salad. It was enormous, big enough to feed three people with average appetites, or two of me. The base of Romaine lettuce vanished under a gigantic pile of Napa cabbage, jicama, grape tomatoes, strips of fried corn tortilla, peanuts and queso fresco. There must have been chicken in there as well. All this was tossed with a light dressing to give it an even moistness and served piled high in a large bowl. The waiter also suggested a "red eye": a shot of hot chili sauce in ranch dressing. I had that on the side, and it added an almost superfluous zing to an already-wonderful mixture of textures and flavours. My one regret in ordering this was that I'm staying in a hotel room with no refrigerator, so a go-box was out of the question. We had to leave enough salad for a complete meal, and a good bit of the Coronado beef as well (though that was less of a heartache).
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