Author Archives | John

It’s Down to the Final Four on ‘Food Network Star’

It’s Down to the Final Four on ‘Food Network Star’

Did San Antonio’s Luca Della Casa survive Rachael Ray, a pair of notoriously finicky eaters and a live camera setup to make it to the final four on “Food Network Star”?

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

Sunday’s episode of the culinary competition brought a number of challenges to the executive chef of Nosh and Silo as well as the other four contestants who have cooked and charmed their way through Las Vegas before moving on to New York.


The first part of the competition had the chefs presenting live spots at various food stands within Chelsea Market. Della Casa was at The Lobster Place where he talked about what summertime favorite he would make with the seafood at hand. His choice was a lobster salad, but he managed to say you could “downgrade” to shrimp, if lobster simply weren’t available. It was a nice display of humor and he managed to stay engaged with his audience of judges.

The other Texan on the show was not so lucky. Sarah Penrod didn’t wear an ear piece, so she didn’t know when she was supposed to start talking. It led to an embarrassing silence that didn’t stop until she just rushed into a spiel about exotic fruits that are available in the summertime. She hadn’t tasted the melon she chose in her hand before, so when one of the judges questioned her about its, she ended up sticking her face into the melon half and taking a bite. It was a genuinely funny moment and probably saved her in this round.

But Nicole Gaffney showed the most poise and ease before the camera, which gave her the advantage going into the next round.

The chefs were headed for Rachael Ray’s talk show, where they would have to address a problem that a series of families was facing. Each would have 3 1/2 minutes to solve the problem while selling themselves to Ray, their assigned family, the audience and the judges.

Gaffney got to pick which chef would tackle which problem. Della Casa had to make a vegetable dish that two picky children would eat. He thought that was easy, because his sister and he gave their mother the same problem. She solved it by making a “risotto” out of cauliflower and topped it with a Bolognese sauce. But the task wasn’t as simple as preparing the dish. The children were on hand, watching the entire demonstration, so they knew exactly what they were being served and they wouldn’t take a bite of it. The judges also wished he had said “meat sauce” instead of Bolognese.

That may have seemed bad, but Gaffney’s dilemma was worse. Her family was looking for a dish that wasn’t the same old meat and potatoes. She prepared a shrimp dish, but the family’s 3-year-old spit it out in horror. And, of course, that clip was repeated several times.

Fan favorite Lenny McNab, with his oversized cowboy personality, won the round by engaging everyone in a budget-conscious dish of chicken thighs. During his presentation, he faced a wardrobe malfunction: His jeans split down the middle, which was mortifying to him, but no one else noticed.

Della Casa was also declared safe, leaving just the three women: Penrod, Gaffney and self-proclaimed “Butcher Babe” Loreal Gavin. Each had her moments, but the judges decided against Gavin, who failed to use her knowledge in her first segment, when she was asked to describe a cut of meat, and didn’t meet the challenged on Ray’s show. She’d been asked to provide a simple meal for a couple, who were eating out too much, but her dish was so elaborate that even she had trouble making it in her demonstration. The couple liked the stuffed chicken breast she made, but you could see that it wasn’t the easy answer they were looking for.

So next week, Della Casa finds himself up against McNab, Gaffney and Penrod, as “Food Network Star” heads into the quarterfinal. How far can he go?

Food Network Star airs at 8 p.m. CT on the Food Network.


Posted in News, Restaurants0 Comments

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Diners, beware. Open season has been declared on those of you who eat out. And the complaints aren’t just coming from wait staff.

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Chefs, managers, critics and even some actors are getting into the mix.

Oh, sure, there are still a few people who go out to eat, politely order their food, eat and enjoy themselves, tip their server between 15 and 20 percent, maybe thank the chef and then leave. But if you’re one of those people, you need to realize that you’re part a dying breed.

Today’s diners are far less gracious. Don’t think that I’m merely talking about the hipster crowd or Millennials, because the rampant bad behavior seems to belong to no single age group. There are grumblers, old and young, who are never satisfied with what they’re served and make no bones that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

Take tables, for example. Anywhere they’re seated is not good enough. Too close to the kitchen. Too far from the bar. Too noisy. Too close to another table. Too lacking in feng shui. After playing Goldilocks with the chairs a half-dozen times, they still haven’t found a place that’s “just right,” and they blame the restaurant for it.

Or maybe the table is filled with diners who spend 20 minutes taking pictures of their food and then complain that the meal is not hot enough. Really, folks? How long does it take to take a picture? I have often joked that food photography has become the 21st century’s way of saying grace, because, in a way, it’s a form of being grateful for the food that has been set before you. But if it takes longer to get your picture than it does to say the common table prayer, then you have no right to complain about the temperature of your food — or much of any else.

And let’s not get started on the issue of tipping.

Sure, service needs to evolve to meet the new standards, demands and eccentricities of today’s entitled diners. But where is the line drawn between reasonable and ridiculous? The gripes and sniping have gained in volume, as if some people think they’ll get a free meal if they scream loud enough; their puerile behavior leaves the rest of us wondering what we did wrong because we were enjoying our meal. Some of the restauranteurs who failed to cave in to these diners’ demands have later discovered online reviews from those same upset people who have lashed out in their outrage. These reports pile grievance on top of grievance until it seems as if their dinner had been served in a prison instead of a neighborhood bistro.

Too often, though, these posts come across as outrageous and unintentionally funny, and they have led to the hysterical Real Actors Read Yelp series on YouTube. There are more than 20 of these short videos, and each one is sadder and more laughable than the one that came before it. For a particularly apt example, click here. At the end, you can choose any of the others until you’ve had your fill.

In recent weeks, various stories have appeared about a supposed report that a New York restaurant has done comparing its service from 10 years ago to its service today. Why are so many more complaints are generated nowadays about the service? Videos from both years show that, of course, the diners are the problem and not the restaurant. That is why I say “supposed,” because the restaurant’s identity has not been revealed, so there have been claims that it’s a hoax.

Whether it’s false or true, you may want to read one account of the story (click here) because it offers a lot to chew on, in San Antonio as well as New York. Pay attention to the comments at the end of the piece, too. The vitriol from the readers, who come from all backgrounds and not just the restaurant business, equals the petulance of some diners.

This standoff is likely to get worse before it gets better. But all you prickly, picky diners who expect support from food critics, think again. Your behavior is turning off those who eat out for a living. In a recent online chat, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post had this to say after being asked what a restaurant was supposed to do after a person slipped and fell in the dining room: “More than any other business I know, people expect restaurants to be and do everything. Can you imagine asking your hair dresser to give you a free trim because it was your birthday? Or expecting half-off on a root canal if your dentist kept you waiting more than 15 minutes?”

So, the next time you go out, leave your attitude at home. You’ll find yourself enjoying the experience more. So will the people around you. If you can’t do that, then kindly limit yourselves to restaurant drive-thru windows. You may not realize it now, but it never pays to bite the hand that feeds you.

Posted in Featured, Griffin to Go, Restaurants3 Comments

Drink Up National Tequila Day with Your Choice of Cocktails

Drink Up National Tequila Day with Your Choice of Cocktails

Cucumber Mint Margarita

Cucumber Mint Margarita

July 24 is National Tequila Day. To help you celebrate this august occasion, we’re offering four recipes of tequila cocktails that range from the simple, single cocktail to a pitcher-sized party mix.

Some are from Texas. Others are just spiced as if they’re from here. And all are worth a sip or three.

Cucumber Mint Margarita

A lively dose of Tabasco Sauce gives this cool, refreshing margarita a little kick. Enjoy the ride.

1/2 cup chopped cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup key lime juice
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup tequila reposado
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
6 ice cubes
Salt to rim glasses
2 cucumber slices for garnish

Blend ingredients in a blender for 1 minute. Divide between two 6-ounce salt-rimmed glasses. Garnish each glass with a cucumber slice.

Makes 2 cocktails.

Raspberry Picante Paloma Pitchers

Guy on FireThis recipe comes from Guy Fieri’s latest cookbook, “Guy on Fire” (William Morrow, $29.99). As Fieri says, “Oh yeah! This is one they won’t forget. I can hear it now — “Yeah! The drink had raspberries and jalapeños, and it as so the bomb!”

12  fresh raspberries
4 thin slices jalapeño pepper
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) tequila, preferably 100 percent blue agave tequila blanco
1 1/2 cups fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 1/4 cups club soda or lemon-lime soda

Grapefruit Salt:
1/4 cup kosher salt
Grated zest of 1 grapefruit
Lime wedges, for garnish

In a glass pitcher, muddle the raspberries and jalapeño, then fill halfway with ice. Add the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice and agave. Take a second pitcher (the same size) and pour one into the other repeatedly to mix the drink together. Top it off with club soda or lemon-lime soda.

To make the grapefruit salt, crush the salt and grapefruit zest together with a mortar and pestle, then spread on a plate. Run a lime wedge around the rim of each glass, then dip the glasses in the grapefruit salt. Fill with the cocktails.

Prep-ahead tip: Make the base recipe (minus the club soda) in big battches, up to a day ahead, and hold it in the fridge, so when the party is on, all you need to do is pour (rather than stand behind the bar making drinks all night). Just top off each glass with club soda while you’re serving so the drinks stay nice and effervescent.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From “Guy on Fire” by Guy Fieri with Ann Volkwein

Matt’s Old Fashioned

Tipsy TexanThis twist on a classic cocktail comes from David Alan’s “Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99). It was inspired by a Texas classic, he writes: “For generations of Austinites, dining at Matt’s El Rancho has been a tradition that has often begun in utero. This tequila Old Fashioned variation is a tribute to that venerable temple of Tex-Mex.”

2 ounces añejo tequila
1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Dash of orange bitters

Using a swivel-handled vegetable peeler, remove a strip of lemon peel and a strip of orange peel from the respective fruits over an Old Fashioned glass, allowing the peels to fall into the glass and capturing as much essential oil as possible. Add the tequila, elderflower liqueur and both bitters. Fill the glass with ice, preferably in large chunks. Stir using a bar spoon to integrate and dilute.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “The Tipsy Texan” by David Alan

Juan’s Tequila Sour

You’ll have to hunt through used bookstores probably to find a copy of the 1978 edition of “Fiesta,” the Junior League of Corpus Christi’s cookbook. It’s worth the hunt. Until you find a copy, here’s a taste of Juan’s Tequila Sour, as contributed by Mrs. John W. Creveling Jr. (Judy Hoepfner).

2 ounces tequila
2 ounces simple syrup
2 ounces fresh lime juice

Mix the tequila, syrup and lime juice. The proportions may be varied to suite individual tastes. Serve over cracked ice.

Makes 1 serving.

From “Fiesta” by the Junior League of Corpus Christi

Posted in Drinks, Featured0 Comments

‘Food Network Star’ Heads to New York

‘Food Network Star’ Heads to New York

“Food Network Star” continued to luxuriate in the wretched excess of Las Vegas for one more week. Sunday night’s episode was all about going over the top, which is as far from the unadorned beauty of Italian food  that local contestant Luca Della Casa specializes in.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

Would the executive chef of Silo and Nosh make the final cut?


It was in doubt from the beginning of the show, at least judging by the way in which the episode was edited. For the first half of the competition, the six remaining contestants had to visit a restaurant with an extravagant signature dish, such as a $1,000 ice cream sundae or a $777 burger. Most of the selections were featured prominently, though Della Casa’s trip to a handmade noodle shop, a natural fit for him, didn’t earn much air time.

Then Sarah Penrod and Emma Frisch were named team captions for a cook-off that would feature the chefs of their choosing. Della Casa was chosen last, which placed him on Penrod’s team. Each team had to create their own meal that was supposed to be as lavish as the one they had eaten.

From this viewer’s perspective, neither team accomplished that, with the nadir being an ugly variation on an ambrosia salad that might not even be served at a church potluck.

Penrod came closest to the target with a Wagyu steak and lobster creamed corn, though you can get a similar meal here in town: the Akaushi beef and lobster creamed corn, at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood on East Houston Street.

Della Casa made an earthy dish of Muscovy Duck with a sauce inspired by one that his grandmother made. His nerves were on full display and he seemed to have a hard time of serving it. But he did well in sharing his story behind the sauce.

Though a few judges faulted the sauce, his team was declared safe, which meant, of course, that he’d be back another week.

That meant one member of Frisch’s team, which included fan favorite Lenny McNab and Loreal Gavin would be eliminated. In the end, Frisch was let go.

Meanwhile, the chefs move on to New York, where it appears that they’ll take part in a Rachael Ray show. Ray spends a lot of time in Austin each year during South by Southwest. Maybe Della Casa can inspire her to take a drive south the next time she’s in the area.

“Food Network Star” continues next Sunday at 8 p.m.


Posted in News0 Comments

Sunday Night Has Been Saved: La Fonda Alamo Heights Reopens

Sunday Night Has Been Saved: La Fonda Alamo Heights Reopens

The crowds have returned to La Fonda Alamo Heights.

The crowds have returned to La Fonda Alamo Heights.

If you’re one of the Alamo Heights residents who’s wondered what to do with your Sunday evenings since La Fonda Alamo Heights on North New Braunfels Avenue closed more than three months ago, then your empty nights are over.

Juan Romero is back at the bar at La Fonda Alamo Heights.

Juan Romero is back at the bar at La Fonda Alamo Heights.

A new La Fonda Alamo Heights has opened at 8633 Crownhill Blvd. in a space that once housed Raffles. It may not technically be within Alamo Heights city limits, but the crowd on Wednesday evening couldn’t have cared less.

Queso Flameado

Queso Flameado

They were more interested in seeing that everyone on staff, including bartender Juan Romero, was back and that the margaritas were as wonderful as ever. Yes, on both accounts.

Romero, who started at La Fonda when it was on Broadway, is still mixing up some of the brightest margaritas in the city. And he was beaming to be back for the new incarnation. He has been working at La Fonda, no matter the location, since March 9, 1973.  By the way, when you visit, wish Romero a happy birthday; as the regulars know, it’s always his birthday.

They were also interested in seeing everyone else who usually shows up at this version of La Fonda, not related to the one on Main or the one in Oakhills, and to try out the new menu, which has been slightly redone since the new owners, the Hasslocher family of Jim’s Restaurants and more, took over.

Margaritas, chips and salsa.

Margaritas, chips and salsa.

The always-welcome fresh tomato salsa may have a slightly greater kick, while the queso flameado and fish tacos both earned approval from those who tasted it. Other dishes include Enchilada Fiesta with three colorful enchiladas, chile rellenos, carne guisada, soups and salads, ceviche and favorite combination plates.

For those whose families have been frequenting La Fonda Alamo Heights for more than 50 years, it was a welcome return to the dining scene that will be repeated on Sundays and more in the future.

La Fonda Alamo Heights, 8633 Crownhill Blvd., is open daily for lunch and dinner. Call 210-824-4231 or click here for more information.

Posted in Restaurants0 Comments

Luca Della Casa Returns in a Big Way

Luca Della Casa Returns in a Big Way

Luca Della Casa survived “Star Salvation” and headed back to “Food Star Network” on Sunday night.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

The executive chef of Silo and Nosh on Austin Highway returned to the main competition just as the show was relocating from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

“I’m not going to be an easy contestant to go against,” he promised.

Della Casa proved true to his word. He won his competition, tying for top spot with Lenny McNab. Of the chefs that remain, McNab and Della Casa have received the most votes in the show’s fan poll. (To cast your vote, click here.)

Chris Kyler was sent home this week.

The competition continues Sunday evening, July 20.

Posted in News0 Comments

Texas Barbecue Week Runs Through July 19

Texas Barbecue Week Runs Through July 19

Texas Monthly and Shiner Beers have teamed up to sponsor Texas Barbecue Week, which runs from now through July 19.

The weeklong celebration is a fundraiser for Foodways Texas, an organization that helps record and honor Texas’s food culture.

Barbecue from Killen's in Pearland.

Barbecue from Killen’s in Pearland.

Two local barbecue joints, the Granary ‘Cue and Brew at the Pearl and Two Bros. BBQ Market on West Ave., are taking part. So are plenty of great barbecue joints across the state, including Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue in Tyler, Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland and La Barbecue in Austin. If you’re not familiar with these places, they are among the best barbecue that Bonnie Walker and I tasted while researching our upcoming book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas,” which is due out in a few weeks.

For a full list of participants, click here.

Texas Monthly offers the following background: “Some cities have Restaurant Week. We have Barbecue Week. This July, TMBBQ will be hosting the second annual Texas Barbecue Week. During this week-long celebration of our culinary heritage, Texans everywhere can visit participating barbecue joints to enjoy a featured ‘Texas Barbecue Week plate.’ It’s a way to support the folks who are working hard to preserve the barbecue tradition—and to eat some of the state’s best smoked meat.

“Last year more than 50 BBQ joints took part in the first ever state-wide Texas Barbecue Week presented by TMBBQ and Shiner Beers. During this week-long celebration of our culinary heritage, Texans everywhere were invited to visit the participating joints featured in our June issue to enjoy an exclusive Texas Barbecue Week Plate. Over $10,000 was raised to benefit Foodways Texas, which preserves the diverse food traditions of Texas.”

So, go eat some ‘cue for a good cause. Your tummy will thank you for it.

Posted in News2 Comments

Feeding the Man at the Top: Jason Dady Cooks for the President

Feeding the Man at the Top: Jason Dady Cooks for the President

Organic carrots roast over a Caja China filled with a pig from South Texas Heritage Pork.

Organic carrots roast over a Caja China filled with a pig from South Texas Heritage Pork.

Chef Jason Dady of Umai Mi, Tre, Two Bros. BBQ Market and more SA restaurants got a rare chance to cook for the president of the United States Monday evening.

Jason Dady, his family and crew got to serve President Obama.

Jason Dady, his family and crew got to serve President Obama.

“Our catering company was humbled and honored to cook last night for the POTUS party at the Pemberton Castle owned by Robert Rodriguez,” he said in released statement. “It was such an amazing opportunity and I was so proud of our team for their hard work and dedication to making sure that the evening was a success.”

President Obama had been in Austin for meetings on the immigration issue and how it has affected Texas. After the meetings, the president and his staff were served Dady’s dinner. 

“We prepared South Texas Heritage Pork in La Caja China, pizzas from Tre Trattoria, Texas blue crab cakes, and an assortment of JBG (Johnson’s Backyard Garden) Organic vegetables,” Dady said. “We utilized only local, fresh and seasonal products to really showcase what South Texas has to offer: Charred Carrots with Miso, Mixed Melon and Mint Salad, Caponata and a Cherry Tomato-Texas Peach-Cucumber Salad. “

Needless to say, the chance to cook for the president was a thrill for the chef, who couldn’t say why he was chosen for the honor except to say that he has cooked for the Democratic National Committee before. “I’m simply thankful for the opportunity,”  he said. “It was a special night and I’m so thrilled that I got to share it with my wife, brother, mother and staff.”


Posted in News4 Comments

Ask a Foodie: What Do You Do with Bok Choy?

Ask a Foodie: What Do You Do with Bok Choy?

Q. Suggestions for what to do with bok choy? Do I eat the the stalk, leaf, or both?

— Valerie

Bok choy

Bok choy

A. Bok choy, occasionally spelled choi, is an Asian member of the cabbage family. According to, “Its white stalks resemble celery without the stringiness, while the dark green, crinkly leaves of the most common variety is similar to Romaine lettuce. The Chinese commonly refer to bok choy as pak choi or ‘white vegetable.’ Another common name is white cabbage.”

You can use it like cabbage in a stir-fry with water chestnuts, snow peas, carrots, celery and onions, not to mention your choice of meats or tofu. It would go well with pork, beef, chicken or shrimp. Add some basil and chile oil for a Thai-style dish that can be served over rice or with your choice of noodles added.

Even more simple would be to sauté it in your choice of butter, olive oil, coconut oil or bacon drippings. Treat it like brussels sprouts and toss in some bacon and a touch of orange zest for added flavor.

If you didn’t want to cook it, you could use it raw in a coleslaw. Bok choy is also good cut in half lengthwise, lightly oiled and seasoned and cooked, cut side down on the grill. And, you can juice it as well.

To get you started, here’s an easy recipe from “Joy of Cooking.” It calls for baby bok choy. If yours are a little larger, the cooking time will be longer.

Baby Bok Choy with Soy Ginger Sauce

4 baby bok choy
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon slivered peeled fresh ginger

Rinse the bok choy, then cut lengthwise in half.

Steam cut side down over boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a pair of tongs to a platter.

In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, vinegar, water and ginger. Spoon the sauce over the bok choy and serve. Allow 1 to 2 whole baby bok choy per person.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

From “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker


Posted in Ask A Foodie0 Comments

Griffin to Go: Can’t Say No to the Price. Or the Flavor.

Griffin to Go: Can’t Say No to the Price. Or the Flavor.


A double order of the dark meat at Popeyes.

I don’t really care for standing in a long line to order food to go. Even waiting in the car behind a dozen or so cars isn’t my idea of fun.

popeyesBut there’s always an exception to every rule, and mine is Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

I have long loved the fried chicken here, largely because the spicy version packs a mouthful of flavor in each bit. The skin is largely crisp, and the meat, when it’s hot, is moist and tender. Even when served cold, any leftovers are still a treat. What other fast-food place can you say the same for?

And where else at a drive-thru window can you get Cajun rice — or dirty rice, as most of us call it — as well as meaty green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, coleslaw and, of course, those buttery biscuits that are simultaneously flaky at the center yet substantial overall.

Tuesday nights brings us Popeyes lovers out of the woodwork. That’s because they charge only 99 cents for two pieces of dark meat, a thigh and a drumstick, two pieces that pack the most flavor. Or you can get those same two pieces with a 22-ounce soda, a biscuit and a side dish for $3.99. (The regular price for two pieces of dark meat is $3.55, though that order usually comes with a biscuit.)

The word has gotten out about this special. The Popeyes near my house has great lines both inside and out on Tuesdays, and the staff in back seem to be getting that chicken ready as fast as they can. And nobody seems to be in a bad mood if they have to wait a few minutes for their meal, either. They’re just as happy to get a great bargain as well as Popeyes’ irresistible fried chicken.

I’ve had this special at several Popeyes in town, but I don’t know how many stores are participating. You may want to check on the one nearest you before you, too, join the line.

Posted in Griffin to Go, What's Hot!0 Comments


Articles by Date

July 2014
« Jun