Monthly Archives: August 2014

Coltivare

 This restaurant hit the Houston foodie scene with quite a lot of buzz,  with its ownership the same as the folks that own Revival market just down White Oak in the Heights.  Quite casual, no reservations, the focus is on the food.  Both Saturday evenings when we’ve eaten at Coltivare, we’ve arrived a few minutes before the 5:00 opening time as the restaurant was full within less than an hour.  There’s both indoors and outdoors dining.  The bar area is small and fills up quickly.  (We had friends who noted that, while they had to stand outside on the sidewalk waiting for their dinner, the local mosquitos were feasting quite well.)  At first, there was no valet parking, but apparently even the most laid back restaurants in Houston require valet parking as it’s now available here, which is likely welcome, particularly later in the evening, when the local street parking fills up.

Coltivare is no exception from many restaurants nowadays with its interesting cocktail menu.  We tried the bourbon-based Ava Crowder (a slightly citrus twist on a manhattan) on our first visit, and now we’re devotees.   Such fans that we haven’t sampled the wine list which we understand is quite interesting and reasonably priced.   We’ve had no issues with the service on either occasion.

The food has been outstanding.  The menu changes over time.  Feeling contrarian, we didn’t try the roasted cauliflower on our first visit even though pretty much every table around us ordered it.   We succumbed on our second visit and, yes, it’s very good, with pine nuts and golden raisins, but it didn’t strike us as overly creative.  On our first visit, we tried the bycatch baccala; as its name implies, who knows what type of fish it was but it was quite tasty  spread on grilled bread (although not on the menu for our second visit).  We also really enjoyed both the chicken liver mousse and grilled leek salad (with pancetta and a poached duck egg) on our first visit.  But one of the real standouts has been the calamari salad on our more recent visit, marinated and grilled, with olives and various greens, it was really good.   If sweetbreads are on the menu, we usually try them, and Coltivare’s crispy sweetbreads pair well with the salty anchovy and horseradish tapenade-style accompaniment.  We also enjoyed the pepperoni pizza.  (We know, kind of boring but, when pepperoni is homemade from Revival market, it’s really good.)  We could not, however, figure out why they threw a salad (greens and shaved parmesan) on top of the pizza.   When you’re going pizza old school, better to stick with the tried and true.

Like Provisions, Coltivare is serving some of the most creative, flavorful food in town in a comfortable, casual setting.   We like to see a kitchen take risks, even if we don’t love every dish, and we like that the menu keeps changing.  Now, if only they took reservations and had a larger bar area …   

 3320 White Oak Drive
713/637-4095
http://coltivarehouston.com

 

Bradley’s Fine Diner (Closed)

Bradley Ogden has been around the Bay Area dining community for many years and his son has  joined the family business, opening his first restaurant as executive chef in Houston.  BFD (initials used on the restaurant’s logo, not an editorial comment by us) anchors one end of a new strip shopping center, which is very close to I-10 , with Bradley’s Funky Chicken, a fast food fried chicken place (more about that later), at the other end.  Thankfully, there’s ample parking in the lot, so no need for a valet service.  Reservations are taken.

The restaurant is quite lovely, in a somewhat ubiquitous casual contemporary mode.  Lots of wood and brick, high ceilings, big windows.  Service was prompt and very friendly.  Cocktails were interesting and tasty.

We didn’t have an appetizer, going right for ample portions of fish and chips and a cheeseburger.  The former was well prepared, probably as good as anything we’d had recently in London.  The homemade tartar sauce was a nice addition and the french fries were piping hot.  The cheeseburger was also quite good, and we opted for the macaroni and cheese instead of more fries.

In the end, we really enjoyed our meal and, if we lived in the neighborhood, we’d probably go back more often.  BFD has a lot of competition in Houston, with similar establishments, so we wish it well.

P.S.   Having eaten a little more lightly than usual, we left room for a piece of fried chicken for dessert at Funky Chicken.  With a crisp, light coating, it was very good.  (Not as good as Barbecue Inn but better than our other more recent fried chicken experience at Punk’s Southern Kitchen.)   Although we didn’t try any of the sides, we’ve heard positive reports.

191 Heights Boulevard
832.831.5939
http://bradleysfinediner.com/

 

Barbecue Inn

Notwithstanding the name, we have limited experience with the barbecue at this long-time north Houston restaurant.   This is a family run place that we doubt has changed much over its 60+ years of existence.    The brightly lit booths are vinyl and the waitresses call you honey.  The bread service is crackers and white sandwich bread.  But, once this place started receiving national attention for its fried chicken, we had to try it.  And it’s really good.   Probably the best we’ve had in Houston, although we concede some could question our Houston foodie cred for not having made it to Frenchy’s.  Don’t go to Barbecue Inn for the sides (with the possible  exception of the homemade thousand island dressing that you might want to just eat with a spoon rather than on top of the iceburg lettuce chunks).  Even though folks talk highly about the fried shrimp (yes, we tried it and it was very good), we’ve gone back just for the fried chicken.   They also do a very credible version of barbecue ribs, although we’d skip the insipid sauce.  And likely the chicken fried steak is pretty good.  A friend suggested that you can do BYOB, which we can’t really picture (we take that back, we did see a guy arriving with a wine carrier, best to bring your own corkscrew).  Perhaps better to stick with beer or iced tea.  And, depending on the time of day, you may encounter a wait.  At 5:30 on a recent Saturday evening, we waited 30 minutes standing up in a rather crowded, warm area.  There’s counter space used by diners, so no bar area.  This restaurant isn’t in the best part of town, but there are large parking lots immediately adjacent, and a security guard has been in attendance both times we’ve been. 

116 West Crosstimbers Road
713/695-8112
http://www.thebarbecueinn.com/index.html

The Pass

Updated — August 2014

We dined at The Pass twice this past Spring, and we’ve been remiss in reporting.  Likely the menu has changed significantly since our visits.   But that’s a good thing since the chefs continue to turn out some of the most innovative and flavor challenging food in Houston.  Every dish doesn’t make us swoon, but there’s nothing we’ve tried that we haven’t really liked (and  more often than not dubbed drool-worthy) and admired for its creativity.   We found the Spring menu as good or better than our first dining experience (notwithstanding that the to-die-for caviar dish wasn’t there).  And the lovely setting and warm, friendly service hasn’t changed.  Who doesn’t love being welcomed at your table by a champagne cart (with a few long necks thrown in).   And the customized menu (“Happy Anniversary”) if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

There continue to be two multi-course tasting options (5 or 8 courses), including a 5 or 8 course tasting menu of vegetarian (not vegan) options.  We dined one evening with a friend who chose mainly from the vegetarian menu, with a pescatarian item here or there, and she loved her dishes.  Wine or beer/cocktail pairings are available, with every wine on the pairing list also offered in half or full pours.

Standouts from the 8-course Spring menu included Asparagus (a velvety, intensely flavored soup); Langoustine (steamed with hearts of palm and avocado); Yakitori (described as chicken mortadella); and Foie Gras (a decadent terrine served with steamed Asian-style buns).  There was an intermezzo style granita and a white chocolate carrot-cake inspired dessert course.  If one of us had any criticism it’s that the cheese course (ricotta and candy cap mushrooms) was too sweet, particularly when followed up by a beautiful tray of Petit Fours (various pastry and candy bites) from which you could select some or all, as much as you wanted (assuming you had any room left).

First Reported — January 2013
The holidays got in the way of our reporting on The Pass, the upscale, tasting menu half of the hot, new restaurant — The Pass & Provisions.  Opened around Thanksgiving, we dined at The Pass in early December.   While Provisions has a contemporary casual vibe, The Pass is urban chic, with lovely table linens, banquettes, and a champagne cart.  Open to the kitchen, with the “pass” (that part of the kitchen where the plates are finished before transferring from the kitchen to the dining room) on display, the chefs conjure their magic, presenting dishes very different from anything we’ve experienced in Houston.  Our closest comparison is Scott Tycer’s short-lived Textile or perhaps a more upscale version of the ahead-of-his-time Randy Rucker’s laidback manor.  Maybe a more sophisticated, carnivore-oriented Oxheart.  (Actually, we don’t think there’s much similarity between The Pass and Oxheart, but they are mentioned by some in the same breath, given that both restaurants opened this year, with a tasting menu concept and chefs with excellent out of town pedigrees.)

Enough with the comparisons.  The Pass stands on its own as the most innovative dining experience currently available in Houston.  Diners can choose from either a five ($75) or eight ($95) course tasting menu ($120 and $160, respectively, with wine pairings).  While you’re asked when you make the reservation whether you have any food allergies, this isn’t the place to take a fussy eater prone to requesting substitutions or changes.   And, unlike some tasting menus, there aren’t choices within each course.  We mention this only for the sake of our readers because we have no interest in interfering with Chefs Siegel-Gardner’s and Gallivan’s creativity.  We’re happy to let them do their thing and sit back and enjoy.

Of course, we went for the eight course tasting menu and one of us did the wine pairings.  We’ve been very impressed with the wine program at Provisions, having been introduced to some new and interesting wines on our visits there.  The wine pairings at The Pass also impressed, working very well with each of the dishes.   And the service was impeccable.

The Chefs intend to re-work the menu periodically, but we’d guess the themes of each course may remain somewhat consistent — Snacks, Truffles, Raw, Beef, Bread, Pig, Vegetables, Cheese, and Petite Fours.  Every course was a visual and culinary delight, with multiple components, creating a lovely and delicious palette on the plate.  Either the chefs or one of the sous chefs served each course, accompanied by a verbal description of the dish.  Yes, there were truffles, caviar, and foie gras. but the chefs clearly have fun with these classic high end ingredients.  For example, one of the Snacks was a tiny gelatinous cube flavored with foie gras and bourbon (appropriately  named a “foie gras ‘ol Fashioned”).  The truffles were grated tableside on top of a soft cooked egg.  The Raw course featured nori bucatini, uni and clams.  The Beef course was “tar tar with marrow brioche.”  The Pig course featured headcheese and blood pudding.  The Vegetable course was the most dramatic — a burning rosemary branch was presented with a squash cake and, with a visible nod to molecular cuisine, tableside created (in a huge tureen) dippin dots that (thankfully) taste nothing like those available at Space Center Houston.  And the Cheese course featured beautifully executed savory macaroons with three different cheese fillings.

Open only for dinner, a weekend reservation at The Pass continues to be  hard to come by without about a months’ wait.  Get in line.  It’s worth it.   And, taking nothing away from the Mandola and Pappas families, we need to cherish and nurture chefs and restauranteurs who are willing to bring this type of dining experience to Houston.

807 Taft
713/628-9020
http://passandprovisions.com/