Monthly Archives: December 2006

Azuma Sushi & Robata Grill – Rice Village

On a recent Saturday afternoon during the holiday shopping season, we stopped by this relatively new Rice Village area sushi restaurant, which is located in a strip shopping center on Kirby.   The room was nice enough, and we were encouraged by the number of tables that were filled.

The service was somewhat inconsistent — our waiter seemed a little overwhelmed.  We also aren’t big fans of green tea (we know, we know–it’s very healthy), and that’s the only hot tea available.

Admittedly, we only tried two sushi rolls, but they were the rolls that our waiter advised were the most frequently ordered.  We can’t recall the names (they were the first two listed on the menu) or even much about the ingredients (probaly the usual suspects — tuna, salmon, etc.), which should be an indication of how unimpressed we were.  Plain is probably the best way to describe both items.  We didn’t discern any of the advertised spiciness, and the sauce was almost nonexistent.

For a Saturday sushi lunch in the area, our vote goes to Sushi King further north on Kirby.

5600 Kirby Drive
713/432-9649
http://www.azumajapanese.com/ (under construction)

La Strada – Montrose [Closed]

We were attending a theater production in the Heights, so we thought we’d try the lower Westheimer location of this long-time Houston Italian restaurant.  And, while we know you’re getting bored hearing about the Calamari Travels, we’d enjoyed the calamari here previously.  No reservation was required on a recent Saturday night.  We arrived early in the evening, but, by the time we left around 7:30, there still weren’t many tables filled, with the exception of the 20 sorority women seated next to us, drinking water and eating salads.  Our waiter, who gave us great service all evening, remained upbeat in the face of this adversity.  We understand the crowds still show up for the once infamous (maybe still) Sunday brunch.

The calamari was o’kay but not great.  At least there was a choice of two sauces.  For a main course, one of us had the beef carpaccio appetizer.  The other had the stuffed chicken breast.  Both were quite good.

There are so many Italian restaurants in Houston that a place really needs to stand out to get repeat business.  Although it’s been around for a quite awhile, we’re not sure that La Strada makes the cut in our book.  Perhaps when the weather is a little warmer, we can try the upstairs patio.


322 Westheimer
713/523-1014
http://www.lastradahouston.com/
  

Benjys’s

We’re on a roll with popular Rice village restaurants.  Prego’s a few weeks ago and now Benjy’s.  We made a reservation for 9:00 on a recent Saturday night.  Forty-five minutes after our appointed time, we were seated.  We didn’t mind sitting at the bar, but there’s nowhere else to wait if you are not inclined to have a drink.   (For those who are interested, we were not offered anything other than the insightful explanation that they were very busy.   Perhaps things would have gone more smoothly if the guy at the door didn’t stop every five minutes to canoodle with his wife who was seated at the bar.)  Once we were seated, the service was quite good.

Probably we’re a little cranky because Benjy’s has been a favorite place for calamari which, as those who read this website know, is a favorite dish of ours.  The calamari was not up to snuff this time around.  It has  changed for the worse — the very slight sweetness in the coating and the chili aioli dipping sauce are gone.  We didn’t like the sambal cocktail sauce, and the pieces were a little chewy.  We both enjoyed fish dishes as entrees  — sautéed striped bass and wood oven roasted salmon in a shrimp beurre blanc.  Nothing exceptional but well executed. 

The food was good, but it didn’t wow us to the point where we’ll deal with the reservation issues again anytime soon, at least on a weekend.  Saturday and Sunday brunch is another story.  We’ve always had our reservation honored on time, and the food is very good.  We’ll stick to brunch and let others enjoy the dinner scene.

2424 Dunstan
713/522-7602
http://www.benjys.com/home.html

Prego

A group of us dined on a recent Saturday night at this popular Rice Village contemporary Italian restaurant.   It’s owned by the same folks that have Backstreet and Hugo’s.   We have enjoyed this restaurant in the past, although it hasn’t wowed us.  Probably because the calamari was disappointing, and we tend to be biased against places that don’t produce a good version of that dish.

The place was hopping — be sure to make a reservation, even on weeknights at prime hours.  To its credit, our reservation was honored right on time, which isn’t always the case nowadays in many popular restaurants (e.g., our experience a couple weeks later at Benjy’s).  The service was great from start to finish.  The waiter made a good, reasonably priced wine recommendation — the Dry Creek Meritage — which we all liked.
  
Everyone very much enjoyed their meals.  We wised up and didn’t order the calamari.  For starters, popular choices included the tomatoes caprese, the generous, well priced beef carpaccio, and a salad of tomatoes, pears, avocado, gorgonzola, and walnuts.  The red pepper and poblano cream soup was also very tasty, although not quite warm enough.  For entrees, two of us enjoyed the veal chop; probably not the best in town, but nicely done nonetheless.  Two others raved over the pistachio crusted coho salmon; the sautéed trout special was also well received.  Prego tends to do quite well with fish dishes; of course, it doesn’t hurt that every dish is richly sauced.  That goes for the veal chop as well.  So, if you’re eating light, order the sauce on the side.  That’s obvious advice at most restaurants, but particularly at Prego.

Prego’s is a great choice if you’re looking for good food served in a stylish, casual atmosphere.  The food is similar to other popular Italian restaurants, such as La Griglia and Grotto, but the feel is more laid back.  You won’t be worrying as much about what you’re wearing or who you might see.


2520 Amherst
713/529-2420
http://www.prego-houston.com/