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Corner Table, Monarch, Mala Sichuan and More

Inside Corner Table
Inside Corner Table
Gary R Wise

In his formal review in this month's Houstonia, food editor Robb Walsh calls Mala Sichuan Bistro "my favorite restaurant in Chinatown." As he explains, even a Chinese-American classic like kung pao chicken takes on a new twist. "If you study the mélange of boneless dark meat chunks, peanuts, and red chiles in your bowl, you'll notice some little star-shaped fragments that look like cloves. These are the Sichuan peppercorns, and when you bite into one, you might taste citrus, mint, licorice, or all of the above. In a minute or so, the tip of your tongue will begin to simultaneously tingle and go numb. The more you eat, the stronger the buzz." [Houstonia]

Chronicle critic Alison Cook awards the Hotel ZaZa's restaurant Monarch one-star. Much like Walsh did, Cook concludes that the requirements of pleasing a hotel's guests have resulted in chef Jonathan Jones serving too many dishes with muted flavors. "His version of shrimp and grits is a strong contender for the best in town. Wobbly blobs of smoked ham-hock fat burst like porky little flavor bombs the day I tried the dish, and the richness of the Homestead Gristmill poblano cheese grits was cut by a sharp Creole tomato sauce .... Yet when I returned a couple of weeks later, the smoked ham hocks I had loved so much had been replaced by bacon. Crestfallen, I asked the chef why. 'The fat of the hocks scared people off,' Jones told me. 'But everybody likes bacon.'" [Houston Chronicle]

Local writer Mai Pham takes another turn as the Houston Press's guest critic, but her visits to former Ruggles chef Bruce Molzan's Corner Table don't go nearly as well as her trips to MF Sushi. River Oaks residents and Paleo eaters may fill the dining room, but Pham isn't impressed. "Of the Paleo dishes that I sampled, two were a complete bust and one was merely okay. The most disappointing dish was the one I'd looked forward to the most: The Paleo Paella looked attractive on the plate but tasted nothing like a paella should, the cauliflower "rice" pureed into a mush that was unappealing and so salty that my companion took one or two bites and pushed it away. The server took it back and subtracted it from our bill." [Houston Press]

The Blogs: Patty finds good soup dumplings at Yu Yuen Shanghai Restaurant, but Daniel writes that the version at Shanghai Dumplings was "extremely expensive and also not very good." Hank on Food makes the highly dubious claim that the knock-off cronuts at Pena's Donut Heaven & Grill "could easily become to Houston what the beignet is to New Orleans."