Monthly Archives: June 2006

Pic. [Closed]

UPDATE:   CLOSED DECEMBER 2006

We struggled with whether to characterize Pic. as a disappointment but decided that, given its genesis (same location, owner, and chef as Aries), it just didn’t live up to our expectations.  Aries has morphed into a more casual, less expensive venue, but with mixed results.  We dined with another couple, so we had a better than usual sampling of the fare.  We seem to be having bad luck as of late with the initial drink service.  It took too long to place and receive our order.  Of course, our harried, indifferent waiter didn’t help matters.  We tried two of the signature cocktails — Hemingway Daiquiri and Bad Santa — with the former being better than the latter, but neither was great.  The wine selections are reasonably priced and one of the other waiters who helped us with the wine menu was much more knowledgeable and friendly than our designated guy.

The menu is quite limited, categorized into four groups — appetizers, salads, plates, and entrees — with 4-6 selections in each category.  The gnocchi with bacon and savoy cabbage was the best of the starter selections, although the tomato basil soup was very good and lighter than the version you get in many places.  We do give credit to the chef for cooking on the healthier side with all the dishes we tried.  The raw vegetable terrine salad was nicely done — a stack of thinly sliced fresh vegetables over arugula, marred only by an overly vinegary dressing.

Our entrees were very good but not great — roasted chicken, grilled salmon, and beef hangar steak.  The roasted potato wedges that accompanied the steak were underdone and underseasoned.  One of us opted for the hamburger and felt something was  missing — it needed some kind of sauce or other condiment to add to the otherwise fine beef, grilled mushroom, and cheese combo.

It’s a pet peeve of ours when a chef uses a commonly recognized food word to describe a dish that doesn’t fit 99% of the population’s understanding of the word.   (The chef at laidback manor has taken this to an art form.)  At Pic., it was the use of the word Sundaes on the dessert menu.  Ice cream sounded good to all of us, so we splurged and ordered three selections under the Sundae list — chocolate swan, strawberry cheesecake, and hazelnut.  There was not a bite of ice cream to be found — it was replaced with mousse like substances in every dish.  Tasty enough, but not Sundaes.

Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Tycer, but we like that other place in which you also have an ownership interest — Gravitas — better than this new venture.

4315 Montrose Boulevard
713/526-4404

Indika

We were very excited to hear this highly regarded Memorial area restaurant was moving inside the Loop.  We just dined at the new place this weekend.  It’s a lovely setting — contemporary with a warm orange toned theme, but with touches of carved dark wood.  Like most of the new places in town, it’s a little noisy but the high ceiling helps.  Our visit started out slightly shaky as our table was not ready, so we sat at the bar.  The bartender was not particularly attentive, although we eventually got served.  The guava mojito was interesting in a good way.  (The bartender forgot to bring the check to our table, so we decided to do the right thing when we left and remind her that we hadn’t paid.  We didn’t get a thank you for remembering, and she didn’t get a tip.)

The food was great.  We tried the crab samosas — an Indian version of crab cakes.  They were delicious and had a little kick to them, although nothing in contrast to our entrées — a lamb chop/lamb curry combo and veal short ribs.  Both dishes were very good.  The sauces set the dishes apart and brought out the Indian influence — although we’ll warn you that they were quite rich and very spicy.  The bus help did a great job keeping our water glasses full.  Our waitress was very helpful also, particularly when we ordered a wine by the glass that she didn’t recommend — she let us sample two others (a Zinfandel and Malbec, both of which we liked) before we ordered.  Although we didn’t order a bottle of wine, the wine list seemed reasonably priced.

We really enjoyed our meal, although the richness and spiciness of the food doesn’t lend itself to frequent dining.   Of course, we may need to go more often if for no other reason than that Carlos’ Jeep Wrangler was parked out front between a Porsche and a Mercedes — the best valet parking spot that vehicle has ever seen.

516 Westheimer
713/524-2170

http://www.indikausa.com

laidback manor [Closed]

UPDATE:  CLOSED SEPTEMBER 2006

Like Dolce Vita, we wanted to like this place, but it just didn’t work for us.  As a starting point, the parking situation is a pain — no valet parking and no easily accessible parking lot.  We know we are spoiled Houstonians, and this is what downtowns are like in other big cities.   More than any other restaurant in Houston, laidback manor takes risks that only an urban foodie could appreciate.  We thought we qualified, but it seems we don’t meet the requirements.   Although the main item of each dish was recognizable, many of the other ingredients described on the menu were ones we hadn’t heard of them.  We swear the chef made up some of the words.  We would have had the tasting menu if even half of it had sounded enticing.   (We aren’t fans of the trend to turn food into foam.)  The non-tasting menu portions were very small, although priced like other upscale restaurants.  When the waiter suggested we not share the salmon terrine appetizer because the appetizers were designed for one person, he was right.  We didn’t realize they made terrine pans that small.  Ditto with respect to the portion sizes on the entrees —  pork and duck.   We have never seen sauces served literally as dots on the plate.  The food was good, but not remarkable.   We were still hungry when we left, so we stopped off at Cafe Rabelais to share some mussels.

706 Main
713/227-0402
http://www.laidbackmanor.net

Joyce’s Ocean Grill [Closed]

UPDATE:  CLOSED EARLY 2008

We had heard alot about this place in the Memorial area, so we wanted to try its new location inside the Loop.  Maybe it just wasn’t our night for seafood, but we weren’t excited about this restaurant.  Perhaps our error was going to eat dinner at 8; it appears from the age of the clientèle that the action likely happens during the early bird dinner hour. The well lit restaurant didn’t have much ambiance.   Our visit started off on a slightly wrong foot when the waiter (who said he had been a bartender for many years) brought a gin & tonic without any lime.  As usual, we ordered calamari, which was o’kay, but nothing great.  The menu is somewhat limited and we didn’t want any more fried food, which was probably a mistake since the fried shrimp are supposed to be a specialty.  We couldn’t find anything else that sounded good to us, so we left and went to Carrabba’s. 

3736 Westheimer
713/850-7738

Carrabba’s

We only go to the original on Kirby  — not that we’re snobby, but it’s closest to where we live.  You can criticize this place for the crowds and the somewhat affected scene, but you cannot beat this restaurant for consistently good food.  It wins # 1 in the calamari contest.  The food is always very good, although a recent brick chicken dish was way too greasy.  Substitutes and special preparations are welcome.  The service is top notch, whether you look and act like a member of the scene or not.  The wait staffs’ Italian version of Happy Birthday can get a little over the top, but, when it’s your birthday, it seems pretty fun.

3115 Kirby
713/522-3131
http://www.carrabbas.com

Escalante’s

We recently tried the new Highland Village location of this Mexican restaurant.  The setting is quite spacious, contemporary, and attractive, but it lacks the ethnic feel of most Mexican restaurants.  We suppose that’s what plays in Highland Village.  To some degree, Tex-Mex is Tex-Mex, but this place is a cut above from a quality of food standpoint.   The most notable difference is the availability of healthier choices — whole wheat tortillas, fat free beans and rice, grilled vegetables.  The ceviche was very good — better than most, although not up to the caliber of Goode Co’s Campechana.  We also enjoyed both the spinach and chicken enchiladas.  The service was much better than average. 

4053 Westheimer
713/623-4200
http://www.escalantesmexicangrille.com

Bar Annie (Closed)

What can you say?  After all, it’s Cafe Annie.  Well, that’s what we thought, but we were somewhat disappointed.  Maybe it was because the place didn’t seem particularly lively the night we were there, and we were expecting some great people watching.  We went around 10 pm and the dining area was almost empty, which left us in the bar feeling like we were in the corner of a place that was closed.  We tried the chips and queso which were just fine but nothing special.  The “signature” cheeseburger was very good, but it should be considering the $16 price.  The fried chicken tenders and wedge salad with blue cheese dressing was also executed well, although the lettuce wedge seemed kind of puny.   Overall, not a bad place to stop by if you’re in the Galleria area, but it just didn’t wow us.

1728 Post Oak Blvd.
713/840-1111

Yum Yum Cha

You can’t beat this place for great dim sum, which is all they serve.  We eat here all the time.   It’s small and very casual (shorts and flip flops), and you don’t even need to venture out the Southwest Freeway.  Yum Yum Cha is right in the Rice Village.  For two persons, it’s very difficult to spend over $20, and that includes hot tea.  The place doesn’t have a liquor license, but they would probably let you BYOB.  We haven’t tried that since tea seems to work better with the food.  All the dumpling selections are great, as well as the turnip cakes (just try them) and the shrimp stuffed eggplant.  We also really like the noodle crepes with bbq pork, although we weren’t big fans of the same pork in the steamed buns (too much bun, not enough pork). 

This restaurant is family owned and operated, and, if you happen to be there at the right time, you may catch some free entertainment by watching the brother and sister (they serve as the wait staff) squabble with one another.   Although recently they’ve hired some new servers, and the service seems a little smoother.

2435 Times Blvd.
713/527-8455

Calamari — The Test of any Kitchen

UPDATED:  FEBRUARY 2007

Yes, we confess that we really love this fried stuff, which many foodies might consider mundane.   After all, if you properly batter and deep fry pretty much anything, it can taste good.  So, we understand that many would not agree that it is the “test of a kitchen.”  But we try it everywhere we go.

# 1 — Carrabba’s — consistently the best in town; at least as the price keeps going up, so does the portion size and the lemon butter sauce is a welcome new addition to the traditional marinara.

#2 — Mockingbird Cafe — tender and tasty (also with a somewhat sweet flavor); stick to the chili aioli and nix the sweet sauce

#3 — Piatto — very crunchy with great lemon pepper sauce

#4 —  Oceannaire — tasty batter with very good remoulade sauce; didn’t like the pickapeppa sauce

#5 —   DaVino — crunchy and tender with good lemon caper sauce

Best of the Rest — Vic & Anthony’s (ask for the pepper sauce on the side); Bice; Capital Grille;Sorrento;Grotto;LaGriglia

O’kay, but Nothing Great — Joyce’s Oyster Resort; Farrago;Crappittos;Ninos

Disappointment — Ibiza (we had really enjoyed the calamari here in the past, but the last time we tried it –just a week ago — it was dry and chewy); Prego (also chewy); benjy’s (used to be very good, but change in sauces and chewy texture on last visit)

Chez Georges

UPDATE:  CLOSED LATE 2007

We’d heard alot about the chef/owner and the family’s restaurants on the far west side but hadn’t ventured out there.  The new place is in a converted house (formerly Aldo’s) that’s been Frenchified (in a very charming, somewhat formal, but not stuffy, way).  The service was great, very personable.  The tables were beautifully set, even including a knife rest (in the shape of a dachsund).  The food was terrific — we shared the foie gras appetizer, and then had lamb and sweetbreads.  (For those who like this organ meat, this was one of the best preparations in Houston.)  We so enjoyed a traditionally French Kir Royale cocktail that we then ordered a bottle of champagne, which was reasonably priced considering the upscale nature of the place.

Chez Georges would be a great special occasion restaurant, particularly if romance is on the agenda.  You can actually hear yourself talk, unlike many of the popular places in Houston.

219 Westheimer
713/529-7788