UPDATED REVIEW — DECEMBER 2008
We’ve dined at Catalan a number of times since we first reviewed this restaurant. This time we took out of town visitors to what we think is one of Houston’s better restaurants. Catalan didn’t disappoint, although we stuck to the old reliables — the foie gras bon bon’s and pork belly. We almost cried when we heard the cockles hadn’t come in that morning. We branched out with a few other tapas with varying results. The lamb sweetbreads were not crispy as billed by the waiter. The crab croquettes were tasty enough but not particularly unique. Ditto for the cured salmon. The garlic soup with a poached egg was a winner. We wouldn’t order the pork jowls with pea gnocchi again. The only entrée we tried was the shrimp and grits which was closely guarded by the person who ordered it who made few sounds other than chewing punctuated with moans of pleasure.
While the service was fine, we were disappointed with the lack of knowledge by our waiter who described a Spanish wine as full bodied and earthy when it was primarily grenache and anything but as described. We had to order another bottle of wine to enjoy our meal. We didn’t expect to be comp’d for the first bottle, and we weren’t. Thankfully, Catalan’s wine prices are very reasonable.
FIRST REVIEWED — OCTOB ER 2006
We joined a few friends for dinner at this new, already wildly popular Heights area restaurant, partially owned by the folks from Ibiza. Indeed, Ibiza and Catalan could be fraternal twins from the wood accents to the layout with the open kitchen along the back wall. (Not to mention the bread served in a small bucket with butter on a spoon, and cotton candy for birthdays.) Fortunately, for those who don’t have reservations (an unwise move), Catalan, unlike Ibiza, has a bar. Of note, the very limited size of the bar suggests they don’t want a bar crowd or diners to eat at the bar.
True to its Spanish name, the emphasis at Catalan is on “small plates” (Houstonspeak for tapas), all with a decidedly Spanish theme. There are many choices and we tried eight of them — all were delicious. (As a testament, the picky eater amongst us enjoyed almost everything she tried.) Particular standouts and unique preparations included the crispy pork belly, cockles in chorizo cream sauce, marinated anchovies, and gnocchi.
We understand that many diners just have the small plates and don’t move on to the “large plates.” (There are more than twice the number of small plate options than large plates.) However, we obliged the restaurant by trying two of the entrees. We would have sampled more, but three of us ordered the same dish — crispy ruby red trout cooked in bacon, over roasted brussel sprouts and topped with crab meat. This may sound like an odd combination but, trust us, it was delicious. Another diner enjoyed the grilled shrimp on grits.
Not to be deterred, we topped off our meal with three desserts. The rice pudding fans raved that “this is not your grandma’s rice pudding.” The toasted banana bread topped with caramelized bananas and ice cream was very good and lighter than it might sound. The only disappointment were the peanut butter ballottes — deep fried peanut butter balls that might have been improved with alot more chocolate sauce.
Finally, a few comments about the service, the wine list, and our waiter. Unlike Ibiza, where we have frequently waited too long despite having reservations, our table was ready when we arrived. Ibiza is known for its great wine list at reasonable prices, typically about twice retail. Catalan continues the theme with an extensive, well-priced selection. Our waiter quickly removed the first wine he recommended when it had a decidedly mildewy smell. He replaced it with a nice Pinot Grigio, but what was impressive was that the price was one-half that of the original bottle we ordered. We also discovered a fabulous 2002 California cab priced only $7 over the price at Specs. We are not revealing the name less we flag the issue for the restaurant or, more importantly, others order it up before we can get there to have it again.
Be sure to make a reservation and give this place a try. We’ll be back.
5555 Washington Street
CLOSED — FALL 2009
The chef has great credentials. Robert Gadsby’s first stop in Houston was the highly regarded Noe in the Omni Hotel. He took a break, tried out to be an Iron Chef, and then became a consulting chef to Soma. Now he’s opened his own restaurant named after the English town in which he grew up. Located across from the Glass Wall on Studewood in the Heights, Bedford is in a new brick exteriored building with a decidedly contemporary feel. The bar has a sleek sexy ambiance; the cocktails were nicely prepared (delicious blue cheese stuffed olives) and reasonably priced. There’s an outdoor seating area and another bar for dining near the kitchen. The interior is warmly lit, but there’s a decidedly minimalist feel to the dining area with an Asian influence. And, while it’s hard to describe, the layout seems disjointed.
We dined at Bedford within a week of its opening. We weren’t impressed. Perhaps they rushed in this economy to get the place open by the holidays. Our waiter said the staff hadn’t been given the opportunity to try any of the dishes. He hadn’t even seen a number of them. And the menu isn’t that extensive. Price points were reasonable — appetizers in the low double digits and entrées in the low to mid-20’s. For a brand new restaurant, the service was very good.
But the food pretty much missed the mark with every dish we tried. Be forewarned that the menu descriptions are, to put it nicely, creative and not necessarily descriptive of the dish. Although we can’t recall any references to foam or other molecular niceties, the menu aims for the same cutting edge concepts and combinations as are popular with many chefs today. Picky, conventional eaters may have trouble finding something to order. We note that the menu posted on the website has changed since we dined there, so the chef is listening and evolving.
The amuse bouche was wild mushroom risotto, oddly topped with flavors of grape, pomegranate and red curry. Too much going on and too sweet. We shared the signature tuna roll appetizer that we thought would be sushi like but turned out to be cooked tuna in lightly fried rice paper. Despite our initial confusion, it was tasty enough . As was the foccacia style bread with olive oil. There was nothing resembling the billed potato cauliflower hash on the plate with the seared halibut (alongside carrots and not the advertised haricot verts). The waiter had no clue as to the whereabouts of the missing hash, but came back to the table after talking to the chef to tell us that the hash was represented in the sauce. Come on. Hash is not a sauce, particularly a smooth one. The pork belly entrée (not on the website menu) was moist enough but lacking in taste. And, although better for our health, it lacked any of the tasty fat you typically find on pork belly. The side of apple cider pudding, although served in a cute little crock, was a heavy bread pudding that was likely warmed in the microwave as it had hot and cold spots. The quail entrée was declared to be very good although the solo quail on the plate looked kind of lonely. When we were informed the only chocolate desert was unavailable, we headed for ice cream at The Chocolate Bar.
We wish Chef Gadsby well. We hear there were no tables available on a recent Saturday night. But, it’s unlikely Bedford will see us again soon unless it’s for a drink and an appetizer at the bar. When we’re really hungry, we’ll be back to the other new Heights entry to the Houston dining scene — Textile.
1001 Studewood Street