What’s for lunch? Vietnamese vermicelli bowls at Old Saigon Cafe on Westheimer

By Ciara Rouege

I couldn’t be prouder of myself; I’ve almost eliminated fast-food and take-out from my lunch menu options during the workdays. It’s a soup or salad in the breakroom fridge for me!

But, girl! When Friday comes around and those coins drop into my bank account, IT’S TAKE OUT TIME! Since it opened in January 2017, I’ve fallen in love with a little place called Old Saigon Cafe Vietnamese Cuisine on Westheimer Road.

It has kind of become my go-to.

Old Saigon

I’m always rushing back to work and totally forget to grab a picture of the outside…so shout out to Jaime Diep for sharing this awesome photo on Google Reviews!

The attraction is simple: the food is well-seasoned and perfectly cooked.

I’ve had all the vermicelli bowls, Ramen and Pho menu options and can confirm, they’re all absolutely delicious! The Pho broth — which is the make-or-break for a Pho dish in my opinion — is the best I’ve had in Houston.

I recommend the vermicelli bowl with spicy chicken lemongrass. I didn’t find it spicy without extra sauce, but it does have a flavorful little kick.

If they offer you their hot sauce, SAY YES! Now, I pride myself in having a high spice tolerance— but this had my nose snuffling. You only need a super, small amount.

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Vermicelli Bowl with Spicy Chicken Lemongrass

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Vermicelli Bowl with Spicy Chicken Lemongrass

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Psh! Those appetizers though…

While I’m a big fan of Old Saigon Cafe, the appetizers can use a little work— except the fresh spring and Vietnamese egg rolls. Actually, I don’t eat spring rolls anywhere else.

The Coconut Shrimp left me a bit disappointed. First, it tasted overcooked. I was expecting a crispy crunch with the shrimp and was left with a hard, burnt coconut taste. It also wasn’t very flavorful.

The kitchen isn’t blowing minds with its Chinese-style egg rolls, artichokes and Edamame. But it isn’t a bad start if you’re looking for something to munch on while you’re waiting for the main course.

The same goes for the Vietnamese Shrimp crackers. It’s airy, crispy chips…so it’s good snack food.

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Coconut Shrimp with sweet chili sauce.

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Oh, my absolute favorite! Spring rolls stuffed with fresh lettuce, rice noodles, cilantro, shallots and shrimp.

The food is definitely worth recommending, but what keeps me coming back is the service.

creme brule

Each meals ends with a sweet spoonful of crème brûlée.

Old Saigon Cafe has a quaint seating area for about 30 people, including its limited outdoor seating— I’m talking a table and a half. But the environment is open and welcoming.

I’m always greeted with a smile and great hospitality. The staff is personable and tentative— something I always look for from family-owned business.

They’re also quick! I’ve managed to pull off two-course, sit down meals at Old Saigon Cafe during my one-hour lunch break.

The cafe isn’t the cheapest lunch in town; be prepared to spend between $15 – $25.

However, you will leave satisfied…and with a spoon of crème brûlée! It’s the sweetest little touch…verses sending customers off with a peppermint.

Old Saigon Cafe Vietnamese Cuisine

6383 Westheimer Road

Houston, Texas 77057

Hours: Mon. Closed; Tue. – Sun. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Take Out Number: 832-668-5270

PHOTOS: Rain couldn’t stop the turn up at Houston Fajita Festival 2017

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By Ciara Rouege

HOUSTON — The Houston Fajita Festival returned for its second year over the weekend. And while friends and families showed out in light numbers due to scattered showers, the spirit of the festival was still hot and heavy.

HTX Sports Creek — a venue in Houston’s East End — welcomed attendees into its gates Saturday afternoon with live Spanish music, loaded fajita tacos, refreshing drinks and a chance to indulge in some of the city’s spiciest hot sauces and salsas. Visitors also ventured into several tents that offered artwork, jewelry, clothing and other trinkets.

Several well-known Houston restaurants brought the heat and sweets at their stations— severing up everything from loaded funnel cakes, grilled corn on-the-cob, giant margaritas and, of course, fajita tacos! Vendors included Grandma’s Boys LemonadeLos Cocos Mexican RestaurantFajita Pete’sBullritosiBurnMi Picante Homemade Hot Sauce and many others.

There’s a lot we can say about this upcoming festival, but we think social media captured it best!

Can’t wait ’til next year!

This article was originally post on the CW39 website on July 24, 2017.

#GifeLife: Romantic Ramen for that ghetto love under $10

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Oh, yes! Ladies, we are about to come through with some Ramen noodles. Don’t let’em look at you sideways— this dish is filling and absolutely delicious!

It’s also budget-friendly, costing me less than $10. Of course, the noodles cost me 20 cents a bag and the most expensive ingredient was the beef rib eye steak, which costs $5.77.

I’m not one to use measurements, but I’m going to do my best to leave you with adequate measurements and instructions below.

Ingredients

  • 3 packs of Maruchan Beef Noodles
  • 8 oz beef rib-eye steak
  • 2/3 cup of diced Baby Bella mushrooms
  • 1/2 shallot
  • 3 stalks of green onion
  • 2 large white eggs
  • Dried red chili pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper

First, I placed my eggs on the stove to consolidate time. While the eggs boiled for about 15 minutes, I quickly pulled out the chopping block and started preparing my meat and vegetables.

When you’re cutting the steak, be sure to cut away the bone and all fat. You want to finish with vibrant, almost completely red beef pieces.

Next, I sprayed a pan with a cooking oil and then cooked the steak pieces at a medium heat. The meat should be fully cooked.

Place the cooked meat and chopped vegetables to the side.

Start cooking your noodles, following the instructions on the packaging. When the water starts boiling, but the noodles are still tender, start adding the mushrooms and shallots.

Add the beef and Maruchan seasoning into the pot last— constantly stirring the pot.

Drop the noodles and broth into a bowl. Then finally, dress up the noodles with your flavorful garnishes.

Boiled egg halves help give this dish its traditional Ramen taste! Remove the shell from the egg, place the egg long ways and then cut it directly down the middle. Both halves will contain equal amounts of yoke.

Sprinkle the dish with the chopped green onions– as many as you like!

Lastly, top the dish off with dried red chili peppers. Again, use as much as you like! The peppers won’t make the entire dish spicy; the heat comes in when you bite into the peppers.

Bon Appetite!

#GifeLife: Shrimp and creamy tomato sauce recipe is at-home date night perfection!

By Ciara Rouege

Sometimes…a girl just wants some shrimp! I left work Monday evening with an intense craving for shrimp and tomato sauce.

I could’ve made a solo stop to Carrabba’s on the way home, but bae was working late and I didn’t want to leave him with a squished, lukewarm Wendy’s cheeseburger — so to the kitchen I went!

Of all the recipes for creamy tomato sauce, I chose the Spaghetti with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce on the Natasha’s Kitchen website because it had the most reviews and the best pictures. Don’t act like you’ve never bought a brand because the packaging looked cool — I do it all the time!

And the best thing about pasta dishes: you don’t have to worry about sides. I spent about $20 on ingredients, spending the most money on shrimp and shopping mostly store-brand only. It’s a perfect date night dish if you want to impress but not exhaust yourself. Also, if you want to be full but not weighed down before engaging in…other activities.

First, I want to point out that I spent double the suggested time, which was 30 minutes, making this meal because I’m the slowest at-home cook on the planet. Second, I almost never follow the recommended measurements unless I’m like baking a cake. I just add seasoning til it smells good…and stop adding ingredients when I think it’s enough. Hasn’t failed me yet!

However, I resisted my New Orleans upbringing and refrained from adding Cayenne pepper or salted butter— sticking strictly to the seasonings listed: salt and pepper. Lawd, help me! I did add a few extra teaspoons of hot chili flakes, but it needed that extra kick in my opinion. Got to keep it spicy!


The recipe gives you the option of using onions or chives. I went with chives simply to break the repetitiveness of using onions all the time with my pasta dishes — just wanted to experience a different taste! It also looks like they used a chardonnay for their dry wine, but I switched it out for a fruity and reasonably priced sauvignon blanc that I later paired with the meal.

I won’t lie; I was feeling super lazy and bought canned tomatoes instead of dicing up fresh ones. Thinking I wouldn’t have to pull out the chopping block, I realized I’d have to cut the chives and fresh basil leaves when I got home. It would have been a tinsy-winsy better had I diced — and not butchered  — my greens.

The recipe recommended spaghetti or angel hair pasta, but personally, Farfalle is my favorite pasta to pair with shrimp or crawfish. If you’re looking for something a little more hardy, I’d go for the linguine.

Of course, my favorite dessert during the summer months are cherries. We finished our time at the dinner table with a succulent handful of dark Hudson cherries and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Bonus: Chris thought it was delicious! I just love that look on his face when he comes home and the house is clean(ish) and the smell of a tasty, homemade meal hits him right at the door. It’s the domestic southern belle in me— I know, shameful!

What’s next? I’ll figure that out at the grocery store tonight!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of medium-sized, peel raw shrimp
  • 3/4 pound of spaghetti or angel hair pasta (That’s about 9 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 6 diced medium-sized tomatoes (I went with canned diced tomatoes — but do you!)
  • 1 mall onion, or 1/4 cup of chives, finely chopped.
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons of diced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of dry white wine. (Take your pick chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvginon blanc, etc. But it must be dry!)
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan to serve

Instructions

  1. Lightly season shrimp with salt and pepper and saute in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium to high heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until white/pinkish in color. Be sure to turn shrimp over while cooking. And then set aside. Well, be adding this back in later.
  2. Put the tomatoes, onion, chili flakes, basil, garlic and butter into a heavy pan, then season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add wine, and then cook over a medium to high heat until mixture is soft and most of the wine has evaporated. You should have about 1/4 cup of liquid remaining.
  4. While the vegetables simmer, this is a great time to start cooking your pasta! You want it to be al dente, meaning just a tinsy-winsy bit under cooked). Rise, drain and then set aside.
  5. Once the sauce has mostly evaporated, stir in cream and bring back that shrimp! Let it warm all together for about 2 minutes, season it with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the pasta with the sauce.
  6. Top it with Parmesan and a few fresh basil leaves. Let it sent under the lid for about 2 minutes, to help the cheese melt.
  7. Light some candles. Pour some wine. Cue the Sade and D’Angelo. 😉

Nitrogen-frozen ice cream chilling in Vintage Park

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Imagine Bill Nye the Science Guy opened an ice cream shop — it’d be SUBZERO ICE CREAM & YOGURT! The shop opened in late September 2015. And this joint couldn’t come soon enough. I’ve been (trying to) make serious changes in my daily food and beverage intake. Yes, I’m jumping on the health bandwagon and going vegetarian— non-dairy pescatarian to be specific! And no, it doesn’t bother me that I’ll never have the succulent grease of a bacon cheeseburger running down my fingers ever again. But the dairy part? Holy cow— egh, I mean holy eggplant! I cannot enjoy life without cheese and ice cream. Luckily, I’ve discovered a new ice cream and yogurt shop that makes vegan and lactose-free ice cream! While not the only location in the Texas, it’s the only location in Houston.

You can make your creation vegan, dairy-free or gluten-free. 

I’m calling them scientist! Sub-Zero freezes your ice cream with nitrogen, giving you the option to choose coconut milk, almond milk or heavy cream for your base. The coconut and almond milk doesn’t make a super creamy alternative, but it’s still pretty delicious. As cool as it looks, nitrogen ice cream doesn’t permit free sampling before you commit. And they don’t have vegan waffle cones at this location. I’ll admit I was a little bummed.

The flavors are limited, but the combinations taste fantastic.

Nitrogen means whatever ingredients— so whatever flavors. The scientist can make custom confections using the basic elements: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Similar to Cold Stone Creamery and Marble Slab, the shop also has signature mixes with snazzy names including, my personal favorites, Magnetic Mint and Tropical Turbine.  Again, I’ll remind you the good taste is consistent, but the texture varies based on the milk you select.

PARKING AND OTHER INSIGHTS

The shop has pretty good hours compared to most ice cream places, closing around 10pm throughout the week. I’ve gone multiple times this month, and the parking hasn’t been an issue. However, the seating is super limited. It could be the enormous encased nitrogen tank, which a manager said started a little flack with the county fire marshal before they were allowed to open. Oh, and the giant line of customers that leads out the door. It’s so good!

So if you’re making this a sit-and-hang dessert run, I’d recommend walking next door to Whole Foods. The stores share a parking lot and the patio at Whole Foods is huge. The service is polite and moves quickly, but I wouldn’t go their expecting to be in-and-out in 10 minutes. I’m assuming the wait time will improve as the we get further out from the grand opening.


Location: 10123 Louetta Road Houston, TX 77070

The Woodlands gets cheese and wine shop

The two things I love most about eating: cheese and wine (…and okay, chocolate is a close runner up.) We’ve all saved more than a meal or two with adding cheese, and wine is — Jesus drank wine guys! Enough said.

This summer The Cheese Course debuted its first Texas location in The Woodland’s Waterway Square, and I was ecstatic! In line with anything I’m excited about, I didn’t get a chance to visit until months later.

  • The Cheese Course is a  Florida-based shop that serves European-style cheeses paired with various wines, beers, spreads, meats and fruit.
  • Cheeses come in six main varieties: bloomy grind, washed grind, fresh, blue, hard and semi-hard.
  • The menu also includes breakfast items, salads, soups and sandwiches.
  • Catering and delivery services are available.

You should try the Manchego and get accompaniments!

I tried the Fromager d’Affinois and Manchego, which were both delicious! I paired it with black olive tapenade and salmon, which was a very salty combination. Luckily, they gave me honey and raspberry-cranberry relish to balance it out. (I’m assuming he was) the owner let us sample a 10-year old sharp cheddar from Britain. I can’t remember the name, but it was deeply flavorful while pungent.

Cheese is the focus, but I’m going to be nit-picky.

I was a little disappointed in the house wine selection and expected more quality options. It is the the Woodlands; they could upgrade to the 20-something dollar range. A diverse selection of premium wines were available, but we went with a bottle of St. M Riesling.

Craft beer and house wine are only $3 a glass Thursday nights.

When I get the chance, I’m going to check out their happy hour with a group of girlfriends. The shop has a comfortable, causal atmosphere that is just perfect for long chats. I’ve also heard great things about their various cheese making and cheese pairing classes.

PARKING AND OTHER INSIGHTS

Parking shouldn’t be a problem at all. There is ample street parking available and a free parking garage across the street. Should push come to shove, there is also a paid-parking garage next door.

The Cheese Course is located between BurgerFi and the Fiat dealership. The Cinemark Tinseltown 17 movie theater is across the street — great, if you want to make it wine and a movie!


Location: 1501 Lake Robbins Drive, Suite 110, The Woodlands, Texas 77380

Phone:  832-246-8884

Store Hours: Mon. – Wed. 7 a.m. – 9 p.m., Thu. – Fri. 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

*serving breakfast from 7- 11 am Monday-Friday and brunch from 10 am- 2 pm Saturday and Sunday