It took some courage for the folks from Shade to open in this space on Montrose that has housed a number of restaurants. In all fairness, the openings and closings have spanned a 20 year or more period. We’re beyond predicting the longevity of any new restaurant, but we have certainly enjoyed Canopy on a couple of recent occasions. Open for lunch, brunch and dinner, Canopy is both casual and sophisticated. There’s a light, open feel to the space, benefitting from high ceilings and lots of windows. This isn’t a white tablecloth venue. And it’s not particularly romantic. You can hear yourself talk, and there’s no need to dress up. On the flip side, the food is upscale, and it’s a little pricier than a neighborhood joint (at dinner, appetizers, $10-15; entrees $20-30). Reservations are taken, and there’s valet parking. We’ve had great service on both occasions.
We dropped by for Sunday brunch and quickly decided Canopy was right up there for a favorite brunch spot. We had the Croque Madame — grilled ham and cheese, topped with bechamel sauce and fried eggs. (The addition of the latter rendering the dish a “Madame” rather than a “Monsieur.”) The sandwich was sided by a wonderfully fresh spinach salad. The Challah French toast, eggs, and bacon were also quite good. One of the pluses of Canopy is that there are a lot of choices and variety on the menu at every meal. The menu included a number of breakfast-type options, salads, sandwiches, and more substantial entrees.
For a recent dinner, we started with the calamari (a favorite of ours as you know if you read this blog). It was beautifully fried and quite tasty, although the serving size was smaller than you might typically see. One of us really liked the harissa lime mayo, not so much the taste of the other. We opted for appetizers for our main courses — Green Eggs and Ham (a seared scallop, on country ham grits, topped with a sunny side up quail egg), Crab Cake and fried green tomatos, and Mac and Cheese. Our friend had the Garlic-Rosemary Sauteed Scallops entree. Every dish was delicious, made with fresh ingredients, and well executed.
We hope this place endures. We suspect brunch and lunch will see good numbers. The restaurant may not be as big a draw for the evening out crowd.
UPDATED REVIEW — JULY 2009
Buoyed by the great things we’d heard about Randy Rucker’s arrival as chef at the Rainbow Lodge, we successfully bid at a charity auction for Sunday brunch at this long-time Houston establishment. It does seem somewhat of a culinary oxymoron for Chef Rucker, founder of the short-lived, not quite ready for Houston laidback manor, to have landed at a restaurant with a reputation that is anything but food forward, and that is housed in a very non-trendy log cabin in Northwest Houston. And we don’t mean the developing restaurant row on Washington Avenue.
We took full advantage of our unlimited gift certificate to order from every course. There were many choices and almost everything looked good. We were greeted with a better than average basket of biscuits and muffins. We started with two appetizers — crab croquettes and fried oysters. Both were very nicely done, well sauced, and generously portioned. (Chef Rucker’s penchant for dime sized portions at laidback manor clearly won’t fly at Rainbow Lodge.) We moved on to entrées of shrimp and grits and a mixed game grill and eggs. The shrimp, which were beautifully cooked, were sauced with a bit too much worcestershire for one of our tastes, but the grits were fabulous. The homemade venison sausage was a standout on the mixed grill plate. We even indulged in dessert — croissant bread pudding and chocolate creme brulee. Both were standouts. The creme brulee (more like a mousse) was clearly for chocolate lovers; one of the best chocolate desserts we’ve had in a longtime.
We’ve read mixed comments about the service at Rainbow Lodge, but we had great service. Although the restaurant was not packed, there was a nice crowd enjoying the comfortable, cozy setting. We look forward to returning for dinner. Chef Rucker may have found his element — an opportunity to apply his significant creative juices to classic dishes. It’s a winning combination.
FIRST REVIEWED — NOVEMBER 2007
We didn’t have a chance to sample the fare of the new chef at the Rainbow Lodge before Tillman Fertitta’s inside the Loop Brenner’s steakhouse outpost displaced it from its longtime location on Buffalo Bayou. Although perhaps not as inviting as its former digs, the Rainbow Lodge moved into the former quarters of Tour d’Argent on Ella. A log cabin style, multi-level restaurant overlooking a terraced garden, the location is a very pleasant, if not a somewhat dated venue. Not sure if the dead animals on the walls are new or a vestige of the prior place, but they certainly highlight the game oriented menu. We can’t complain too much as we were given a lovely table by the window in a corner nook.
The appetizer and salad selections didn’t particularly wow us. We started with the wild game sausage/mixed grilled appetizer. The featured buffalo sausage component of the dish was very disappointing. Tiny cubes (for cooks, think medium dice) of sausage swam in an overly sweet barbecue sauce with grapes. All in all, there was probably about a tablespoon of sausage. The other two items on the dish were a very nicely grilled quail (thankfully, not doused with sauce) and buffalo tenderloin slices. But we ordered the dish to try the chef’s homemade sausage and, for $14, we were not happy.
We fared better with our main courses — grilled elk chop and buffalo ribeye. Both were beautifully cooked and quite delicious. Elk is a very lean meat, and the chef managed to nicely sear the chop but retain the juiciness. Buffalo, also a lean meat, was well served by the ribeye, a cut that enjoys some natural marbling. The various sides — sautéed spinach, crispy chili onion rings, roasted potatoes, and green beans were fine.
The wine list was pricey, with mark-ups in the range of 2 1/2 to 3 times retail. Our waiter was pleasant and capable enough, but he seemed to hurry us along. We weren’t seated until almost 9:00, and it was clear he wanted to get us out of there sooner than later.
If you are a fan of game dishes, give this place a try. With game entrée prices in the mid-$30s, this is a special occasion place for many. Be sure to make a reservation as it was hopping on the Saturday we were there. And the only viable option for parking is the complimentary valet. There’s a parking lot across Ella, but a reviewer on Houston Citysearch reported that his car was vandalized in that lot.
2011 Ella (just inside Loop 610 North)
UPDATED REVIEW — JANUARY 2009
We dropped by Mockingbird Bistro one recent Sunday for Brunch. We’ve enjoyed dinner and lunch there on a number of occasions since our first review. Notwithstanding the $5 mimosas, we were disappointed in the menu offerrings as the brunch (versus lunch) options were limited. There were probably only four or five dishes that we would categorize as brunch — a few poached egg dishes and steak and eggs. We continue to succumb to the calamari, although this time the pieces seemed smaller and a little chewy. The breading and remoulade sauce were the same as ever. We enjoyed the poached eggs with crab cakes (filled with crab, not alot of breading) although the jalapeno hollandaise was disappointingly bland. Our other entree was the charcuterie plate, which was nothing special and overpriced at $16. We particularly didn’t care for the dull country pate. We’ll stick to dinner or the regular lunch items next time around.
FIRST REVIEWED — AUGUST 2006
We’ve always enjoyed our visits to this restaurant in the past and a recent experience was no different. Judging by the packed house on a Saturday night, this place is one of the more popular restaurants in Houston. And justifiably so — the food and service were great. John Sheely is in charge and hitting on all cylinders, offerring diners great food in a warm, inviting setting. The high ceilings (decorated with large baroque chandeliers) allow you to actually have a conversation without needing to yell or strain to hear — a novelty for Houston’s trendy casual eateries. We still prefer the front room with all the windows, but the back room, which could be clausterphobic without windows, has been beautifully decorated as a wine cellar.
Our evening started out with a well executed tuna tartare amuse bouche, served on seaweed salad. We could not resist continuing with Sheely’s incredible calamari (ranked # 3 in our calamari ratings but probably worthy of moving up to # 2). It was delicious — tender and lightly breaded with a slightly sweet flavor that went well with the spicy remoulade sauce. (We weren’t as excited about the sweet and sour sauce.)
We greatly enjoyed the pork chop and sweetbreads as entrees. The sweetbreads are normally an appetizer, but they were gladly prepared as an entree, served with a wonderful wild mushroom and mustard cream sauce. We substituted the white truffle pomme frites for the mashed potatos with the pork chop and were richly rewarded by this decadent treat. To be fair, the sweetbreads and frites were only lukewarm, but the kitchen quickly replaced them with hot versions.
Despite a few minor glitches, on balance, the service was very good. The hostess kept a watchful eye on the dining room, clearing plates and checking on our replaced frites. Our waiter was very attendant, not bugging us when we lingered over the calamari before placing our entree orders. (One miss — a forgotten sauteed spinach side dish.) We also appreciated and enjoyed the half-bottle of Spanish red wine that was recommended by Marcy, the wine steward.
Overall a great dining experience and one that we would highly recommend.
Family in town one weekend gave us an occasion to return to this highly regarded Mexican restaurant known for its authentic, upscale cuisine. The restaurant, decorated in subtle and sophisticated hues of blue and red, is housed in a restored art deco building on Westheimer between Shepherd and Montrose. The room is spacious and open, with a high ceiling and large windows.
We have dined at Hugo’s a number of times, enjoying them all. No Tex-Mex here. The menu lists many interesting and enticing items, the large majority of which you wouldn’t find at Pappasitos or Ninfa’s (Navigation location or otherwise). And you pay for the freshly made chips and salsa. The seafood campechana is good, but it’s no Goode Company. We particularly enjoyed the lamb barbacoa. The cabrito, served in a banana leaf, was too bland, notwithstanding the side of habenero salsa. Hugo’s is well known for its variety of tequilas, including a number of interesting margaritas made with different tequilas. Served tableside on the rocks in a martini shaker, there’s no frozen stuff coming out of a machine here.
Our most recent visit was for the popular Sunday Brunch. Reservations are advisable. The only option is the bountiful buffet, so come hungry. Service was not as attentive as at other meals, and the band was a little loud. But the food was great. There were numerous hot and cold items, as well as a dessert table ladened with various sweets. Highlights included the guacamole (some of the best in town), napolitos salad, beef brisket in achiote, chile rellenas, chilaquiles, mushroom quesadillas, mini tostadas with refried black beans, squash blossom soup, seafood enchiladas, and meatballs stuffed with rice and queso fresco. Everything was wonderfully spiced, with varying degrees of heat. We weren’t too excited about a couple of the entree items — the tamales did not pass the test of seasoned tamale makers and the whole roasted baby pig lay on its side in a chafing dish that reminded one of us of a bassinet. (Apologies to anyone offended by that visual.) One of our Mexican-born diners thought the flan was very good, although the same could not be said for the Mexican hot chocolate.
Hugo’s is a great place to entertain visitors to Houston. In a lovely setting that makes for a special night out or a relaxing Sunday afternoon, you can enjoy a style of Mexican cooking that is unique among Houston’s many Mexican restaurants and, in all likelihood, to anything available in your visitors’ home towns. And, although you now have to go outside the Loop for Molina’s Jose’s Dip, if you must have some vivid yellow queso, there are plenty of places to go the next day (or just throw some Velveeta and Rotel tomatos into your crockpot).
Breakfast Klub – Warning: do not visit if you are not willing to be gluttonous. Hands down the best breakfast around. This family run restaurant, which is now operated by the original owner’s son, Marcus, continues to produce a great breakfast rich with flavor. Even a regular plate of scrambled eggs and bacon melt in your mouth. The biscuits and gravy are a must try. The gravy is what gravy was intended to be — a thick and well seasoned sauce with a good amount of sausage bits. Another good choice is the chicken wings and waffle. I know, I know, it may not sound appealing, but don’t knock it until you try it. The wings are nicely fried with a just slight kick to them. Don’t worry, they are not the type of wings that try to substitute “hotness” for flavor. Don’t be intimidated by the long line outside the building, as it tends to go quickly and they only take your order once they ensure that a table is open for you.
Spanish Flower – A great place to eat after a night of drinking or on a Sunday morning. The breakfast fare is traditional Mexican. The chilaquiles are nicely done; they don’t overcook the tortilla strips and are genorous with the cheese on top. The coffee is great and the salsa even better. A server is also on hand to periodically pass by your table to offer you fresh flour tortillas, made in-house. Also, make a stop by their restrooms, they’ve been written about in numerous articles, which are on display.
Avalon Diner – Good ol’ homestyle cooking. The name reflects exactly the set up inside, a 50’s style restaurant (with the exception of the color TV). Definitely has some of the best wait staff in Houston, very friendly and outgoing. Although not quite as good as Breakfast Klub, the biscuits are better than everywhere else.
Buffalo Grille – A West U. institution. They offer very good, create-it-yourself omelets and specials, such as the pork chops and eggs (you’ll skip lunch after that one). Although the Mexican breakfasts are popular, we aren’t as enamored with them. The hazelnut coffee is a nice touch. The restaurant offers inside and covered patio seating, and it does tend to get quite a line, which for some unknown reason to us tends to move more slowly than it should. Try to go on the early side on Sunday to avoid the church crowd. If you are in the church crowd, then just be patient. Do not try to hold a table while you wait in line — that’s very bad form.
Le Peep – Think IHOP only a notch above. They offer the regular fare of omelets, pancakes, various other egg dishes, etc., but the whole wheat pancakes are a real treat (add pecans and bananas and they’re really special). They also have a great selection of healthy, egg white based dishes. There are several locations around town.