Get-together at Cooking Girl - Houston


(Bruce) #1

I met up with Mr. and Mrs. Lambowner and two of her co-workers today at Cooking Girl in Montrose. After some scheduling hassles and anxiety about being able to get a table (it looks very small on the outside), Lambowner discovered on Yelp that they take reservations so we were all set. The website isn’t much help on this. The capacity per the Fire Marshall is 65 and there are only 7 dedicated parking spaces (and no reserved parking!)

They advised us they serve family style which was perfect for us so we could try many dishes - we ordered nine. I tasted eight but only got three pics in the frenzy. I think it’s fair to say we all over-ate. I’m still stuffed six hours later.

Several of the dishes we wanted to try were not available including the Organic Dumplings, Hand-cut noodles, and a special announced on the chalk board, Two Pepper Chicken or something like that. The menu was different that what is online on the website - several additions, several deletions.

The first dish to come out was the Soft Bacon which has received many raves on Yelp. This is just a small portion on my saucer. It was better than I expected and I went back for more. Before the dishes started arriving and we were chatting, Lambowner and I had both voiced concerns about all the hype and wondered if it was just ‘Montrose hype’ particularly since it hasn’t received any coverage in the foodie media yet. After this dish I was ready to pronounce the place the real deal.

The next dishes came out in quick succession. I believe this is, from the left, Cubed Spicy Chicken (or something like that), Dry Fried Green Beans and Kungpao Chicken. I’m not a big fan of the latter but this was very good; also think I’ve had better green beans but the cubed chicken was great.

Some Dan Dan Noodles were ordered (it’s on the appetizer menu). Usually that is one of the first things I order at a Sichuan restaurant but I decided to pass on it this time since we had so much food coming. According to reports I really missed out on something great and possibly the spiciest dish of the day. I’ll be back.

Then came Soy Fried White Lotus, an unbelievable cabbage dish that we all loved and then Crispy Orange Beef which was like crack. Hopefully Lambowner will have some pics of these; if not, I know there’s at least one pic of the cabbage dish on Yelp.

I ordered the Combo Rice Noodle Casserole with Shrimp and Fish, since we had made arrangements to meet here under the guise of the DOTM for this month. I was the only one to try any of this and I took only a few bites and brought about 9/10ths of it home. I’ll report on the leftovers in a day or so!

The last dish to come out - I think the kitchen had to be reminded - was a sausage dish. We basically all just picked at that one a little and my judgement is undoubtedly clouded by the fact I was already over-stuffed.

It was fantastic company and a fantastic meal. I’m sure I’ll find my way back. If you go, go with company and make reservations so the only hassle will be finding a parking place.

We did all notice a general absence of spiciness and the numbing effects of Sichuan peppercorns. I got more of that from the dish I had at Uyghur Bistro last week than from all of these dishes. And it seemed all the seeds had been removed from all the peppers in the cubed chicken dish which had an abundance of pepper pods.

I saw an exchange on Yelp with one diner complaining about the lack of spice and the owners replied they don’t like spicy food themselves so they don’t serve it. A bit strange, admittedly. And maybe part of the reason the place hasn’t received any coverage from the foodie media: Mala Sichuan Bistro has been raved about for several years as the most authentic Sichuan restaurant in the whole state and their second location is only a dozen blocks or so from here.

Still, again, I enjoyed it and will be back.

Thanks again to Lambowner and her cohorts for a great time today.

ETA; The website


(Lamb Owner) #2

Well it was a great meet up, and glad to include my cohorts! I can’t outdo your photos, they are always fabulous. But I’ll post what you did not. My only disagreement is about the numbing effect. I did see a Yelper complaining of the lack of it, yet I commented repeatedly that my tongue had gone numb, and I wonder why that is a thing we want? It’s not something I really like, at all. I do like heat though!

Perhaps the reason you did not hear my complaints of a numb tongue was due to the loud music. Really loud. Too loud for the Tuesday lunch meet up. Also that the dish I wanted to try, 2 spice chicken was not available until Friday when the peppers come in. One can understand supply though. Now to the good stuff.

These are two sisters I believe? But the major Houston food writers have not talked yet about it. Super friendly and answered all our stupid questions and were generally gracious.

Look, cabbage? Not a feature item usually, but this was utterly delicious. Don’t like cabbage? Try this one. One of my favs. Wide eyes around the table.

Described as “soy fried white lotus”, I have no idea how it was prepared, but it was perfect.

The TMD Soft Bacon? What was under that? I suggested mushrooms, others disagreed. Amazing flavor.

We ordered noodles in keeping with DOTM (Dish of The Month, Houston Division - Note there is now a Hungry Onion DOTM internationally). So here is the Dan-Dan Noodles, one of the dishes that numbed my tongue (along with the cabbage)

And then there was the check. Awesome! It was a good time, let’s do it again!


(Bruce) #3

Excellent report and there’s nothing wrong with your pictures. I do remember your commenting about the spiciness of the Dan Dan - my bad. I didn’t hear any comment about the cabbage. We have different levels of sensitivity to the peppercorns, I guess, or maybe I just didn’t get any in the portion of cabbage i took. I did hear that the two spice chicken was not available until Friday - strange that it was on the chalkboard just inside the door anyway - but didn’t understand it was due to a supply problem.

Yes, it was too loud. Not too bad at first but by the time we left I think maybe the four top next to us was the only table not occupied. Mr. Lambowner commented about it on the sidewalk outside - if anybody said anything about it before that, I didn’t hear it!!!

I love cabbage - have ever since I discovered in the 70s it didn’t have to be stewed to the point of disintegration like my mother always fixed it - and that is probably the best tasting cabbage dish I’ve ever had.

Great closeup of the Dan Dan. I have to get back over there and try it and hope my tongue gets numb!

I did hear your comment about the mushrooms under the bacon. I didn’t get that but I did get a distinct aroma of greens when the bowl first came around to me.

I don’t get into that neighborhood very often but I frequently come in on that street since Westheimer is like a speedway for too many drivers - a narrow, curving speedway with curbs. I plan on keeping an eye out for a parking space and just zip in if I see one.

Thanks again for your comments and a great time.

ETA: Yeah, I think it was the owners response to the complaint on Yelp about spiciness in which they say its two sisters. That’s probably what I was (mis)remembering when I said I thought it was a mother/daughter operation.


(Bruce) #4

Phaedra Cook’s review in the Press - posted the same day we were there.

She didn’t like the Crispy Orange Beef as much as we did.

I’m reminded reading this that I had also asked about the Broken Heart Jelly — and was told it wasn’t available! Now I’m wondering if we were deliberately being steered toward the Americanized ‘side’ of the menu? Banana Leaf has been notorious for that - lying to non-Asians about the availability of dishes the management thinks they won’t like.


(Lamb Owner) #5

That orange beef was like beef candy, way addictive. Truly, there was her missing dessert! I didn’t hear you ask ab out the Broken Heart Jelly. So much seemed to be unavailable that day, but I didn’t get the impression they were waving us off certain dishes. At the late great Van Loc, they were quite upfront about it…“you don’t eat that, you eat this.” And no amount of arguing would change that.

By the by, Phaedra recently posted on Facebook that she is not related to Alison Cook and that Phaedra Cook is in fact the name given to her by her parents. Apparently there have been numerous questions about her byline. I had wondered myself.

Did they even have plain iced tea on the menu? Water seemed the only option for me. They could do something about that.


(Bruce) #6

Not surprised you didn’t hear it - it was when she was standing right next to me between me and the empty chair so she was looking away from the table and speaking directly to me. I would have been surprised if anybody overheard that. There are several pics on Yelp - only a couple labeled as Broken Heart Jelly - mostly they’re labeled something like ‘gelatinized vegetables’ or something. It’s been presented many different ways according to the pictures. And she said it was very spicy.

Yeah, I was surprised at the tea selection but water is always fine with me.

Well, I don’t know about whether they’re steering people away from certain dishes. Cook made it sound pretty obvious and it certainly wasn’t to me. But then it wasn’t to me at BL until someone pointed out they always do that (or did - it’s been several years since I was there). I was told dishes weren’t available or ‘that’s really bad, you wouldn’t like that.’

Funny, never thought Phaedra and Alison were related. I figure it would have come out by now. Most of those Press writers have included something about their background at one time or another - probably would have mentioned it. Alison’s been here a long time, came down in the 60s to go to Rice, if I remember correctly.

Maybe I’ll go back on a Friday and ask for all those dishes and see if I get told they’re only available on Monday and Tuesday :smile:.


(Bruce) #7

Just realized I never posted this shot of the Combo Rice Noodle Casserole dish above that I took home. In the take-out container, just stirred up a bit to bring the noodles up to the top. At this point I don’t remember much about it - several types of seafood, several types of mushrooms, some vegetables, broth. The noodles were very soft and it was quite bland compared to all the other dishes we had that day.

I haven’t gotten back over there but did drive by one day, right about 12:45, and was amazed to see 3 open parking spots. I had just eaten at Les Ba’get so kept on driving.


(Lamb Owner) #8

I often think of going back for the cabbage dish alone! And I will eventually!


(Lamb Owner) #9

Cooking Girl, Reprise

Visited CG again this week, I was surprised it was so long ago we met there (January). For the love of all the great dishes we had before, we ordered them again: TMD Soft Bacon, Orange Beef, and that wonderful Soy Fried White Lotus, which is now just called Soy Fried Cabbage on the menu.

Last time they hadn’t received the peppers for the 2 spice chicken, but they had it this time and called it Pepper Twin Chicken (like the new restaurant one sister will be opening in River Oaks soon). The two peppers were green peppercorn and a fiery tiny green pepper:

They served those crispy spicy wonton bits upon arrival again, and this time, every table was laid with filled cold glasses of water on opening, which we stuck with.

In another signal that the restaurant is evolving to meet its customer’s needs, the bill has now been computerized too, which was a little sad…I liked the Chinese bill (above). All in all, the tweaks they’ve made are good. There was a wait when we left at 12:30.

Jaymes was throwing out the occasional Chinese word and the staff was delighted and spent time talking with us despite the busy dining room. But no one there looked unhappy and some had brought wine for a Friday repast. BYOB.


(Bruce) #10

I thought I had read an article recently that Cooking Girl, which was closed for a couple of months because of plumbing problems, had re-opened and was now named Pepper Twins, like the sister place on W. Gray, but I can’t find it now.

However, the website confirms that and says a third location is coming in late Spring in the former Cafe Japon space on Kirby @ 59.

The article that I think I read said there was a Cooking Girl in Sugar Land (?) that was not related. Hmmm. I wonder if they neglected to protect the name like Calliope and had to give it up?


(Lamb Owner) #11

GROUPON!

https://www.groupon.com/deals/cooking-girl-1


#12

Want to say that my son’s fiance comes from a big Chinese family & I asked them if Cooking Girl was too Westernized or the real deal. They said real deal & they go there fairly often.


(Lamb Owner) #13

I think they moved and changed the name to Pepper Twins since we met as a HO group? Although there is still a Cooking Girl in Sugar Land. Totally authentic and addictive, would love to go back again.


(Bruce) #14

The original location is still open, just changed the name. Five locations now: Fairview (original), West Gray, Kirby @ 59/69, Katy, Pearland (just opened). The one in Sugar Land must be completely separate. Maybe they failed to protect the name of the original?


(Lamb Owner) #15

I read they are sisters.


(Bruce) #16

Yeah. I think I remember the original place was run by sisters. I didn’t realize they’d split up.


#17

I dropped a buddy off for some tests in the Medical Center today and had a couple of hours to kill so I ran down Holcombe to get an oil change and then hit up the new Cooking Girl on Holcombe a couple of hundred yards west of Greenbriar.

They have been open about a month and were still using the soft opening menu. I went in looking to order the mapo tofu, a favorite dish for me, but after looking at the photos online while I perused the limited menu, I opted for the Spicy Cubed Chicken that came with literally hundreds of snipped dried chiles and just enough Szechuan Peppercorns to effect the desired result.

It was good. I would like to visit with a group and try a lot of different things.


(Lamb Owner) #18

I’d be happy to visit again. I was near the somehow related Pepper Twins on West Gray recently (are they sisters? not sure) and jumped on yelp to find a lot of cleanliness and service complaints so I passed it up for now.