Monthly Archives: July 2006

Steakhouses

UPDATED:  AUGUST 2007

Given the proliferation of steakhouses in Houston (and they keep coming), we feel obliged to weigh in on these amazingly popular dining venues.  A recent trip out to the westside to try Brenner’s, a Houston institution since the 1930’s that is now owned by the Fertitta conglomerate, has prompted us to give this meaty issue further consideration.  We haven’t been recently to at least a couple of the well known steakhouses (Ruth Chris, Sullivans) to provide any rankings.  In many ways, they are all so similar that it would be hard to rank in any event.   We haven’t had a bad experience at any Houston steakhouse.  There isn’t  much difference in the high quality steaks served at most places, so we distinguish based on starters, sides, and atmosphere.

Some random observations —

      —   Pappas:  Great place; right up there with Vic & Anthony’s; see our separate review.

      —   Bob’s Steak and Chophouse:  Clubby, old school, testosterone laden atmosphere; great steaks and sides; not so impressed with the starters and salads; see our separate review.

     —   Morton’s:  Recently tried the new downtown location and wasn’t particularly impressed; seafood starters were very good; wedge salad was huge, but not the best in town; steak was overcooked and sides were marginal, particularly the creamed spinach and overcooked wild mushrooms; service was attentive although our waiter seemed to be going through the motions and not particularly friendly; it would be fine with us if they cut out the shtick of having the waiter verbally relay the menu items and bringing the raw steaks and live lobster to the table

      —   Vic & Anthony’s:  This is one of our favorites.  The place is always packed and has a great clubby feel.  The calamari (as usual, one of our tests) is very good, as are the crab cake and wedge salad.  The creamed spinach (a steakhouse stalwart) and sautéed mushrooms are also well done.  The service is always consistently good.

      —   Flemings:  A similar atmosphere to Vic & Anthony’s — dark woods and brass.  One of the better versions of the wedge salad — full of creamy dressing and chunks of bleu cheese.  The creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin are great.  We have a friend who considers Flemings’ version of chocolate molten lava cake to be one of the better in town.  This place also has great service.

      —   Brenner’s:   We liked the retro, old house atmosphere at Brenner’s.  The starters are consistent with the retro decor — we were not impressed by the signature wedge salad with a sweet, pink colored blue cheese vinaigrette.  The french onion soup was delicious.  Although quite good, we weren’t bowled over by the signature german fried potatoes.   We also did not like the style of serving the steaks in a puddle of au jus — it sogged up the sides.  The wine steward was very helpful but the rest of the service was spotty (e.g., soup served with a teaspoon).

      —   Strip House:  The decor, a red burlesque motif complete with flocked wallpaper of nudes, is quite urban, as is the somewhat uninviting location — the first floor of a downtown office/retail building.  The lobster bisque is great; the clam appetizer is tiny and overpriced.  The truffled creamed spinach is over the top rich.  A recent special of creamed corn was wonderful.  One of these days we’re going to try the baked potato topped with caviar.

      —   Capital Grille:  We ate in the bar recently and enjoyed calamari and oysters rockefeller.  The atmosphere is clubby and sophisticated.

     




 

Sabor Restaurant [Closed]

UPDATE:  CLOSED DECEMBER 2006

Sabor bills itself as a “modern Mexican restaurant with a seafood influence,” which is an apt description for this new restaurant located in an old strip shopping center on Montrose that formerly housed a hole in the wall Tex-Mex place.  The decor is contemporary minimalist with a few southwestern colors on the walls.  There’s an absence of pinatas or serapes.  The restaurant is owned by a former Vallone group employee.

The place was pretty busy on a recent Saturday evening, although not packed.  The service was very good.  In fact, too good when it came to the arrival of food.  If you want to linger, don’t place your order.  Both our appetizers and entrées came in less than five minutes of placing the order.

We tried two of the signature drinks — the blood orange mojito (rapidly becoming their signature drink, according to the waiter) and the regular mojito.  Both were o’kay but nothing special.  Good mojitos are labor intensive drinks and most places don’t spend the time to muddle an adequate amount of mint in the glass.   (If you are ever at Bank during kumquat season, try the kumquat mojito; depending on the bartender, Mi Luna also turns out a pretty good mojito.)

The food selections are quite limited, particularly for a Mexican restaurant where you typically see many choices.  There seems to be a trend (e.g., Dolce Vita) with serving appetizers that are designed to be shared.  Sabor offers a variety of starters that the menu actually tells you are for sharing.  The seafood cocktail had great fresh shrimp and crab, but the overly sweet tomato sauce didn’t really appeal to us.  We should have tried the ceviche.  Our entrees were o’kay — pulled pork in a sauce that needed a little more oomph and chicken enchiladas suiza.  We will say that the restaurant seems to do well with salsa type sauces — both the salsa served with the chips and the green suiza sauce were very good.  The refried black beans and rice were well executed.

We had somewhat heightened expectations because of the Vallone connection, but we wouldn’t categorize this restaurant as a disappointment as it doesn’t try to be overly ambitious.  We’re just not sure it will succeed.

1308 Montrose Boulevard
713/807-8996

Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen

This longtime West Gray seafood destination continues to be a crowd pleaser, particularly judging by the packed place on a recent Saturday night.  We recommend reservations unless you want to sit at the bar, which isn’t a bad choice, particularly for a drink and a snack.

Six of us dined on this occasion.  Our initial unhappiness with a table in the corner of the room typically used for private dining (if you care, specify a seating location when you make your reservation) was quickly overcome by our very perky waiter (a little bit much at first but entertaining after a few glasses of wine) and some great food.  We shared a number of appetizers — calamari (good, but skimpy serving size may cause us to remove the recommended status we previously gave it in our calamari review), fried oysters with pico de gallo, fried green tomatoes (topped with a miniscule shrimp and too little remoulade), and Mexican shrimp cocktail (okay, but not Goode Company’s campechana).  Overall, the entrées were better than the appetizers.  Three of us greatly enjoyed the soft shell crab (a house specialty) served a couple different ways — sautéed (with a topping of crab, shrimp and lobster) and fried in cornmeal (also topped with crab and shrimp).  Two persons enjoyed a couple of the many snapper options, and the one of us who strayed from the seafood theme cleaned the plate of his veal piccata.

For seafood, this place (together with Goode Company) would get our vote for some of the best in town.  We’ll be back.   
 
1962 West Gray
713/528-3474
   
http://www.tonymandolas.com/