Monthly Archives: April 2007

t’afia

We’re not sure why we didn’t have t’afia on our short list.  We’d both been there before, but we weren’t racing to return. Perhaps it was our perception that the place just might be too creative for its own good; in other words, very innovative, but just not hitting the mark for really great food.  Kind of like the now departed laidback manor.  Perhaps it was the slightly cramped, low-ceilinged space that can seem a little claustrophobic.  We should have put our misgivings aside sooner.  After our recent visit, we can attest to delaying for too long.  We had a great meal. 

t’afia is known for its unique cocktails.  We tried the hangar gimlet, wonderfully tart with fresh lime, and the “long-legged & dirty,” a gin martini cleverly served with a globe of frozen olive juice on a cocktail pick with olives.  We didn’t try any of the “ratafias,” the seasonal fortified wines from which the restaurant derived its name.  For those who want to sample the cocktails and the food, visit t’afia any Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening and, with a drink purchase, you get free lounge food.   And we’re not just talking chips and salsa.

The chef/owner, Monica Pope, is a fixture in the Houston restaurant scene.  She is highly touted for her regionally focused cooking, using many local ingredients.  The menu is divided into three categories of “Seasonal Plates,” i.e., smaller appetizers, larger appetizers, and entrées.  Then there is an a la carte meat/poultry/seafood selection aptly named “Protein.”  All the items in each of the first three categories are priced the same.  

We tried three of the small category starters — mushroom pate, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, and beet salad with frisee, walnuts, and cambazola cheese.  We cleaned each of the not-as-small-as-you-would-have-assumed plates, given the $6 price.    Each dish was wonderfully fresh and tasty.  You could easily make a meal of these small plates.  But we moved on to two of the Proteins –the shrimp/andouille brochette and the grilled sea scallops, each served plain with your choice of various sauces.  We tried a number of the sauces, all of which, other than the beurre blanc, seemed more like salsas or purees, light and flavorful.   Since we felt quite virtuous with our simple entrée choices, we couldn’t resist ordering a side of the mac ‘n cheese — bow tie pasta swimming in a rich sauce.

Our only criticism is that our waitress did not seem fully engaged, but, once we ordered, the food was delivered without a hitch by other waitstaff members.  Of course, that gave us longer to eavesdrop on the couple next to us who were clearly on a first date after meeting on an Internet dating site.  In our defense, the tables were quite close together.

Be sure to make reservations at this very popular venue.

3701 Travis Street
713/524-6922
http://www.tafia.com/index.html

Bistro Toulouse [Closed]

CLOSED SPRING 2008 —

We ventured slightly outside our inner Loop comfort zone on a recent cold and rainy evening to try this casual, unpretentious French restaurant in the Tanglewood area.  We were greeted warmly by the host at the door of the one room, modestly decorated venue that bills itself as a “neighborhood bistro.”  Unfortunately, that door leads directly into the restaurant, resulting in some breezy moments at a number of tables.  In better weather, the outdoor patio looked quite inviting.

The menu is a hybrid of French and New American.  No escargots, sweetbreads, or foie gras.  There is a limited, but varied selection of appetizers, salads, and entrees from the usual suspects of fish, fowl, and meat.  The wine list is short, not just French, and reasonably priced, with a number of choices by the glass. 

For starters, we tried the goat cheese fritters and creole crawfish cakes.  We’d eat goat cheese on cardboard, so it’s hard to go wrong.   The fritters were nicely fried, perhaps not quite hot enough.  The fig jam was an interesting touch.  Overall, good, but nothing special.  The crawfish cakes were also tasty enough, nicely sauced, but slightly too bready.  We moved on to the classic French onion soup, which was the highlight of the meal — piping hot, richly flavored, and covered with lots of melted cheese.

We finished with the beef short ribs, substituting the truffle potatoes for frites.  (Who can resist frites in a French restaurant?)  The short ribs were not any cut of short rib that we’ve ever seen. (And we cook and order short ribs frequently since they seem to  be one of the dishes du moment.)  Although nicely cooked, the two pieces of meat were slightly dry and far too lean.  A little more sauce would have improved matters.  The bigger issue was what were identified on the menu as frites.  What appeared on the plate were chunks (not even wedges) of deep fried potato.  Tasty enough in their own right, but not frites by any stretch of the Frenchination.  (For great frites, stick with Gravitas.)

For true French food, go to Cafe Rabelais or Chez Georges, or venture out to Chez Nous.  In reflecting on whether we would return, we both thought lunch on the patio would be quite pleasant.  Otherwise, short of a craving for French onion soup, probably not.

A note on finding this place — the address is on Woodway, but it’s actually slightly north on Bering, the first light west of Chimney Rock on Woodway.  We drove up and down Woodway before calling to get directions.

5750 Woodway
713/997-6900
http://www.bistrotoulousehouston.com/          



Mi Luna

We’ve frequented Mi Luna in the Rice Village on many occasions.  This lively venue, which specializes in tapas, is as much a bar as a restaurant.  But, blessedly, all non-smoking.  Mi Luna doesn’t have the best food in town (for unique tapas, try Catalan), but, given the many selections, you can have an enjoyable meal in a casual setting. 

We like to sit at the bar, order a bottle of wine, and graze.  The mojitos are better than usual here, and the sangria also appears to be a popular choice.  We always order the baked goat cheese with tomato sauce, served on garlic toasts.  We’d eat goat cheese just about any way, and this is a tasty version.  We tried a couple of new dishes on our last visit — one pretty good (the chicken and rice croquettes) and the other only o’kay ( the braised artichokes).  We’ve had some of the seafood items — mussels and calamari — and weren’t too impressed.  The chicken dishes tend to work, notably the b’stilla.

While the crowd is mixed, it tends toward the younger side, particularly as it gets later in the evening.  Mi Luna seems particularly popular with larger groups who come and sit a good part of the night.  At peak times, the wait can be lengthy for a table.  On weekends, there is live music, which has been a Latin band the last couple times we were there.  The dancing started right away when the band got going around 9:30.

Not a place for a quiet conversation or a gourmet dining experience, but Mi Luna is a good option when you want a drink and a light meal in a fun atmosphere. 

2441 University Blvd.
713/520-5025
http://www.mi-luna.com/