Category Archives: Casual Chic – Jeans Allowed

Weights + Measures

Brought to Midtown by the 13 Celsius folks (also of Mongoose versus Cobra), very recently opened Weights and Measures includes a restaurant, bar (Love & Squalor), and a bake shop.  Both the restaurant and the bar are pretty good sized and, while the bar seems to fill up quickly, at least there’s somewhere to wait as reservations are not taken.  The ambiance is relaxed and casual, with an open kitchen.  Open throughout the day, starting with breakfast through dinner, followed by a late night bar menu served until 2:00 am, this is an ambitious undertaking, although, from all appearances, it seems to be working out of the gate.

In the vein of Coltivare  (and, to some degree Provisions and Pax Americana), Weights and Measures has artisanal cocktails, “breads”, small plates, salads, pizza and entrees, with interesting twists on seasonal ingredients.  Price points are also similar, in the middle range.  The cocktails are as good as any in town.  We both liked the ones we tried on our first visit so much – the smallish room (bourbon, lime, maple) and senor punche (tequila, lime and something pink) – that we ordered them again the next time.

We’ve tried a number of the starters — chopped chicken liver, pig trotter terrine, baccala brandade, ribeye meatballs, relish plate, and grilled romaine.  The chopped chicken liver included diced boiled egg and lacked the depth of other versions around town.  Similarly, the baccala brandade (salted cod spread) could have used more seasoning.  The pig trotter terrine (gelatinous bits of the pigs foot shaped in a patty, covered in bread crumbs and fried) had good taste although at least one of us was a little put off by the texture.  The meatballs are an excellent version of a  basic dish and, judging by looking around at nearby tables, are a popular starter.  The relish plate — olives, celery, carrots, bread and a savory bagna cauda dip (warm olive oil with strong notes of garlic and anchovy) — was a light start and very sharable.  The grilled romaine represented the restaurant’s twist on a caesar salad, served with a preserved lemon dressing and white anchovies.  (Enjoyable but not quite as good as the very similar salad at Provisions.)

We can’t pass up pizza but weren’t quite up for the roasted carrot and cheddar version (although it’s gotten great reviews from others), so we went for the basics — pepperoni topped with arugula. We aren’t huge fans of salad on top of pizza, but the light sprinkling of leaves worked well, and the pizza was very good.  If we had to rate them, we’d probably score this version a little higher than the same pizza at Coltivare.

For entrees, a number of folks at our table tried the seared Ahi tuna special.  The large serving of beautifully fresh tuna was appropriately cooked (with everyone challenging the kitchen with a different degree of preferred doneness) but, lacking a sauce or much seasoning, it wasn’t quite as strong a dish as the quality of the tuna deserved.  On the other hand, the Wagyu flat iron steak was fabulous.

For dessert, we ordered the doughknots (fried dough rolls, not sufficiently sweet for our taste) and the bittersweet chocolate cremeaux (a pudding-mousse creation that was very good, with just the right level of sweetness).  To go from the bake shop, we left with brownies and cookies that capably satisfied our sweet tooth the next day.

There’s a large parking lot (no valet), although it fills up quickly with the restaurant’s current popularity.  Ample street parking is accessible in the surrounding area.

2808 Caroline (at Dennis)                                                                                                      713/654-1970                                                                                                                 http://weights-measures.com/

Pax Americana

Foodie buzz preceded this opening on Montrose in a former Thai restaurant which also housed an early Monica Pope place.  A number of well known folks in the Houston restaurant scene are behind this restaurant — the Zimmermans (La Colombe d’Or), Shepherd Ross (Glass Wall, BAC), and Ryan Pera (Revival Market).

An inviting bar, outdoor patio seating and glassed in kitchen in the dining area make for a welcome addition to the trend in creative contemporary cooking.  The serving sizes are small and designed for sharing.  The limited menu changes regularly.   Creative cocktails and an interesting beer and wine list.

On a recent visit, we enjoyed the goat cheese ricotta, mild and creamy, served with toasted Common Bond bread.  On our next visit, the ricotta had disappeared, but the roasted bone marrow remained (also served with Common Bond bread), and it was excellent on both occasions.   Gone from the menu, but not forgotten, was an intensely flavored mushroom risotto, which, given the intensity of the flavors, was probably the best dish we’ve tried.   We also enjoyed the sliced sirloin which, although, appropriately cooked, perhaps needed some additional seasoning or a more interesting sauce to support that lean but not super flavorful cut of meat.  Faring better was the octopus that appeared on our second visit. Cooked sous vide and then wood grilled, it was quite tasty (although not as good as the gold standard at Caracol).  Friends enjoyed the grouper and brisket.  And we tried the dark chocolate filled donut holes,  with an interesting addition of pigs blood in the chocolate, adding a noticeably tang that seemed more of a novelty than a beneficial addition.  Credit to the server for pointing out this ingredient as a heads up to any vegetarians who don’t speak Italian (and, thus, weren’t clued in by the description “sanguinaccio fritters”). 

Reservations are recommended; parking is a little tricky in the area, but there’s a complimentary valet behind the restaurant off the side street to the immediate south.

4319 Montrose Blvd
(713) 239-0228

www.paxamericanahtx.com

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/

 

Nara


Not that we were big fans of Katsuya, but we’re hoping this restaurant has longer legs than its predecessor in West Ave.  Fortunately, Nara benefitted from the the Asian influence of Katsuya as the decor doesn’t appear markedly different.  The sushi bar remains in the middle.  The rest of the menu is decidedly different, reflecting a mix of Asian influenced dishes with an emphasis on the owner’s Korean heritage.

Don’t expect the same dynamic as Houston’s long-standing Korean restaurants.  There are no grills in the middle of the tables (replaced by trendy hot rocks brought from the kitchen) or multiple (banchan) side dishes.  Nor are the prices nearly as spender friendly as the long-standing Long Point locations.   (My Korean friend was shocked with the price we paid for a couple standard dishes.)  But this is in an upscale retail complex, and the restaurant describes itself as “Modern Korean.”  (We understand there is a private dining area that includes the table grill.)

We didn’t really come for the sushi.  We were going for the Korean offerings.  We tried an appetizer that we understand is inspired by a dish at Momofuku in NYC — flat buns (bao), like little tacos, available with various fillings.  We tried the Spicy Pork Bulgogi (shredded pork collar, with cilantro and cucumber), which we enjoyed although it didn’t knock our socks off.  We asked the waiter to bring us some sauces for the dish and, while we can’t recall what they were, they added some needed zing.  More impressive was the pork belly bipimbap, a traditional Korean rice dish, served in a very hot stone bowl that cooks the raw egg that you stir into the dish, as well as the rice (creating a crispy lining).  The dish was quite tasty, although it was also enhanced by the sauces we’d received.  Probably our favorite dish was the Korean-style Shin Ramen, with squid and claims (could have been more seafood) in a lush red chili based broth.  (Our waiter described the dish as bold and didn’t seem too excited about it, but we thought it was great.)  We finished nicely with the Crunchy Yellow Tail Roll.

We haven’t had a chance to make it back, but we’ll return for the Shin Ramen as well as to try some of the other dishes.  (Anyone for Bulgogi Pot Pie or whole Spicy Squid Quinoa?)

2800 Kirby Drive (in West Ave)
281/249-5944
http://www.narahouston.com/

Caracol


Much anticipated, Caracol is the new restaurant from Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega (Backstreet, Hugo’s, Prego).  Located in the new BBVA Compass building on Post Oak, the cuisine is Mexican-focused seafood.  (Aptly named, Caracol is Spanish for snail, although we didn’t see any snails on the menu.)  This place has been jumping from the start, reservations are a must at least on weekends.  We’ve dined there twice, both on Saturday evenings, and the surprisingly large space (particularly compared to its neighbor, Osteria Mazzantini) has been packed both times.  There’s an ample bar area, with an outside patio that will be lovely when the weather warms up.  We dined the second time at the bar (no reservations required), and it appeared all the seats were taken by diners.

It’s clear everything has been extremely well thought out, from the creative cocktail menu to the food offerrings.    While there are plenty of wine choices (well-known sommelier Sean Beck guides this restaurant as he does the other Vaught/Ortega venues), we’ve thought the food worked well with the many tequila and agave cocktail offerrings; we’ve enjoyed the Gran Especial (classic margarita),Mountains to the Sea (a smoky, citrus mezcal and gin based cooler), and Past the Heather (a manhattan-style drink made with anejo tequila).

On both occasions, we sampled a number of small plates which seemed to be the approach taken by many of the diners around us.  Dreams are made of the wood fired, cooked in the shell, parmesan crusted oysters; having had half a dozen on our first visit, we ordered a dozen the second time.  The wood-roasted pork ribs were also two-timers for us as was the coal roasted eggplant puree.  And on our next visit, we’ll go again for the crusty charred boneless pork foot with pickled vegetables.  The conch ceviche was beautifully presented but we wanted a little more citrus and chile.  The crispy tuna tacos were lovely bites of tuna, with guacamole and refried beans, in a soft flour tortilla.  The chicharron crusted calamari was a creative twist on that ubiquitous dish that we feel obliged to try at pretty much every restaurant that offers it.

Service was excellent.  It’s clear the waitstaff has been well trained.  And management was walking the floor, keeping a careful eye on everyone.  Feel free to valet park, but there’s validated parking in the very accessible covered garage attached to the building, with an elevator right near the restaurants.


2200 Post Oak Boulevard
713/622-9996
http://caracol.net

Cove Cold Bar (Closed August 2014)


It took us too long to make it to this restaurant within a restaurant at Haven.  Cove Cold Bar is the baby of its chef, Jean Phillipe Gaston, who artfully presents his virtually all raw dishes in a glassed in area near the front of Haven.  We called to make a reservation and the hostess graciously pointed us to a website where, at that time, for $95, we got a coupon for two six-course meals.  We were told that reservations were only available when having a multi-course meal and that seating was at the raw bar.  All that sounded good to us.

The menu is divided into a a number of cleverly titled categories — Smalls, Bowls, Pacific, Americas, Europe/Med/Africa, Four Legs, Dairy and Stickies — and the menu offerrings are well described within each category.  Our coupon let us order from all of the categories except Bowls and Dairy.  With three to four items in each category, we were able to try much of the menu which made for a great experience.  Sitting at the raw bar, we saw the chefs at work, armed with sushi knifes and tweezers, fronted by a huge palette of a multitude of tiny items to grace the various plates.
 
Understandably, the focus is on seafood.  There wasn’t a miss among all the plates we tried.  Each dish was beautifully presented, with dabs of sauce and, depending on the dish, tiny pieces of chile, fruit, herbs, and veggies. There’s clearly been alot of research and thought put into each plate.  Our favorites — sashimi (Pacific), citrus marinated lionfish (Pacific), quick cured salmon (Americas), and the marinated and grilled octopus with a wonderful arugula aioli (Europe).  We enjoyed but weren’t as impressed by the two Four Legs items we tried — lamb heart carpaccio (kudos for the ambition and the effort to prepare the dish, starting with a frozen piece of heart, carefully sliced to order) and the classic steak tartare (overly seasoned).  The chocolate mousse was a lush ending to the meal.

Service was great.  They didn’t try to rush us.  We ordered course by course.  And sipped on some tasty cocktails and beer, all of which paired well with the raw items.

2502 Algerian Way
713/581-6101
http://www.havenhouston.com/cove/

Osteria Mazzantini


Updated Posting:  December 2013

Seriously.  $65 for an off-the-menu osso bucco special when it was on the menu for our first visit at $39 and better executed as well.  And the rest of our dishes weren’t as impressive as our first visit.  We haven’t been back.

Original Posting:  October 2013

Resident in the new BBVA Compass building on Post Oak, Osteria Mazzantini is the latest offering from John Sheely, the chef-owner of Mockingbird Cafe.  Located immediately adjacent to and north of the Old Navy shopping center, we had some trouble finding the place as there’s no sign yet on Post Oak.  But, once we did, we were quite happy.

The inside of the restaurant is on the smaller side.  There’s a nice sized bar area and an expansive outdoor patio that will likely be buzzing once we see cooler weather.   Tables inside the restaurant are spaced close together, which might bother some diners.  The noise level was very manageable (including hearing your neighbor’s discussions).  There’s a bar menu and the now ubiquitous artisanal cocktails.  (The manhattan style one was quite tasty.)  Prices are comparable to other mid to high end Houston restaurants.

Upon being seated and ordering drinks, the complimentary bread service was delivered, complete with a yummy lardo butter and a high quality olive oil.   There were many menu offerrings that we wanted to try, but, when we see bone marrow, we can’t resist, so our appetizer choice was made.  Served piping hot, with grilled toast (order extra) and sided with a vibrant salsa verde sauce, the bone marrow was a great start.  We then tried the kale and sweetbread ravioli, with brown butter, parmesan and pine nuts.  While we couldn’t discern the sweetbreads, the ravioli were quite delicious.  For our entree, we shared the osso buco.  Richly sauced, served with the traditional gremolata and complete with a tiny spoon for the marrow, this was as good a version of this classic that we’ve had in a long time.  But the dish was made particularly special by the parmesan risotto.  Most restaurants can make risotto taste quite good by using copious amounts of butter and cheese, but the tricky part is in getting the right consistency.  Osteria Mazzantini has that down better than most places.

Our reservations were honored on time, and the service was very good.  The only glitch was that we apparently got out the door without receiving the complimentary mini-box of cookies.  We used the free valet parking, but we understand they validate parking in the garage.  This is a hot place right now, reservations are a must.  Given the location, they’ll be busy at lunch, and we’ve heard they’ll also be doing a weekend brunch.  Let’s hope they can keep up the great execution.

2200 Post Oak Boulevard, # 140
713/993-9898
http://www.osteriamazzantini.com/

Brooklyn Athletic Club


We’ve been fortunate to have had great weather for outside dining on the two evenings we’ve spent at this new spot on Richmond in the Montrose area.  From Shepard Ross, the same restauranteur that owns Glass Wall, the focus of this place is on outside dining and drinking, going for the vibe that the owner remembers from his time growing up in Brooklyn.  Hence, alot of open space, opposite the dining area, filled with bocce ball, croquet, badminton, picnic tables, and the like.  Due to the venues immediate popularity, the outdoor bar service is being expanded and a food truck is soon to open in the games area.  There are a couple fire pits we’d heard were for s’mores, although we haven’t seen that use as drinkers and diners lacking reservations have sought a place to sit.

There’s a small bar area and about 10 indoor tables in close quarters.  Dining reservations are definitely required, specifying indoor or outdoor.  We dined on the earlier side, and, on both evenings, despite a busy scene, our reservations were honored on time.  (By the time we were leaving, the valet parkers were asking if you had a reservation.)  Commendations to the on-the-ball hostess who clearly has things under control, understanding that the tables, particularly outdoors, are not going to turn as often as other restaurants as diners come to hang out and enjoy the patio scene.  We’ve had very good wait service on both visits.  

While we wouldn’t call Brooklyn Athletic Club fine dining, the menu is more ambitious and varied than typical bar fare.  We haven’t had a bad dish.  We’ve yet to see a table in our vicinity not order the short rib mac ‘n cheese, whether as a starter (as it’s billed) or as a small entree.  And we’ve had it twice and, yes, it’s very tasty and comes out piping hot.  And we’ll have it again.   We’ve also tried the pork rillettes, which were enjoyable, nice for sharing, and benefitting from a little added salt.  The cheese burger is a justifiably popular dish, sided with crispy thin frites, with optional bacon or a fried egg.  We’ve also tried the pappardelle and meat balls, generously portioned, with good flavors, and a sufficient ratio of meat sauce to pasta (i.e., not skimpy on the sauce).  The porkobucco, which, as its name inplies, is a slow cooked pork shank, was also nicely flavored (perhaps a little underseasoned), sided with a tasty mixture of braised brussel sprouts, mushrooms, fingerling potatos, and crispy bacon pieces.  Unfortunately, the fat and gristle that are typical to the shank resulted in less edible  portions than the initial hunk-o-meat presentation on the plate might have suggested.

Brooklyn Athletic Club is a great venue when the weather accommodates.  We’re not sure how things will go as we approach the summer months.  The outside bar area should still attract the very casual, drinking crowd willing to sweat a little.  We’re not so sure about the dining crowd which, on both our visits, was quite diverse in age.  While we’ve enjoyed the food and will return, we may wait until Fall as the indoor seating area is cramped (one friend called it claustrophobic).  And the single person bathrooms (only one for each gender) need expansion, which we understand is underway with additional outside facilities being built. 

601 Richmond Avenue
713/527-4440
http://thebrooklynathleticclub.com/

Del Frisco’s Grille


From the same folks that have Del Frisco’s Steakhouse in the Galleria comes their new direction in dining in the West Ave complex.  Located where Ava was formerly housed, significant renovations have resulted in one of the current “places to be” in Houston.  This is a large space, with many tables for dining (including patios on the Kirby side and the interior of the complex) and an expansive bar area.  Reservations are a must, at least on weekends.

Del Frisco’s is not our favorite Houston steakhouse.  We understand this is a more casual, less expensive concept being rolled out by the Del Frisco’s folks (initially in Dallas), and we weren’t sure what to expect.  Our reservations were honored right on time which is a good thing as there was no room anywhere for waiting.  The waitstaff was very busy, but service was good.

One of the selling points of this restaurant is its varied and extensive menu choices.  If you want traditional steakhouse fare (at the same prices), there are a few steak offerrings.  And plenty of appetizers, salads (appetizer and meal sized), and sandwiches and entrees (not at steakhouse prices).  We dined with friends and tried two of the most popular appetizers — the cheesesteak egg rolls and tuna tartare tacos.  Del Frisco’s Grille managed to elevate these ubiquitous items to a pretty high level.

One of the highlights of the meal was the kale & brussel sprout “Big Greens” salad.  Chocked full of the aforementioned vegetables with toasted almonds, manchego cheese, dried cranberries, and a yummy creole mustard dressing, this salad alone is worth a trip to the restaurant.  The entrees also impressed.  There wasn’t a speck left on one diner’s plate of a very generously portioned serving of blackened texas gulf red fish (topped with fried oysters).  The lamb burger was nicely seasoned and appropriately cooked, sided with crispy frites. 

For what they’re trying to accomplish, the Del Frisco folks are doing a very good job, and we look forward to returning.  Get there when you can.  Just be sure to make a reservation or expect to fight with the throngs for a seat at the bar.

2800 Kirby Drive
832/266-0464
http://info.delfriscosgrille.com/houston/