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
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
Update: September 2013
This restaurant had a fire and is not currently open.
First Reviewed: June 2013
Fish So Very Fresh
An Oasis In This Heat
This is MF Good
This sushi newcomer has made quite a splash as its chef/owner, Chris Kinjo, ports his magic from Atlanta to an unassuming strip center at the corner of Westheimer and Fountainview. Perhaps we were behind the foodie curve, but we first heard about this curiously named place when we read that a number of local chefs were touting the freshness of the fish and the chef’s deft knife skills. That was quickly followed by Alison Cook’s four star rating. Out we went one recent Saturday evening to sit at the sushi bar and try the Omakase (chef’s pleasure) dinner.
Unlike Uchi or Kata Robata, this Omakase dinner was all about raw fish — either sashimi or nigiri, no rolls. There are a few hot dishes on the menu, but this is a traditional sushi restaurant, not Asian fusion. And we had an amazing experience. From start to finish, the fish was fabulously fresh. While our helpful and efficient waitress gave us a dish of freshly grated wasabi, which was quite a treat, we only used soy sauce and wasabi on one of the many courses. Not sure how many dishes we had, we weren’t counting, just eating. The initial dish was a delicious warm seaweed soup into which we stirred a raw quail egg yolk. The chef then started us off with a variety of sashimi dishes, simply presented, with little adornment. The salmon belly was a particular highlight. We’d read that the chef really shines with nigiri. The dewy fish lay on lightly formed grains of rice with a hint of wasabi and soy sauce, arriving with instructions from the chef to eat in one bite. Multiple bites came our way and we followed instructions well, enjoying everything we tried.
In the interest of journalism, we separately ordered the fried calamari for dessert. It was nicely done and, if variety is our goal on our next visit to MF Sushi, we’ll consider ordering one or more hot dishes and perhaps one of the beautifully presented rolls we saw the kitchen turn out. But the real reason to come to MF Sushi is for the raw fish, served in all its pristine wonder.
CLOSED AUGUST 2011
We were way past due getting our butts out to Tomball to try Bootsie’s Cafe. We’d heard such great things about the place and were already familiar with its chef, Randy Rucker, previously at Laidback Manor and a brief stint at the Rainbow Lodge. We ended up arriving the night that the just shuttered restaurant was having its staff and friends appreciation dinner. We had to write this review because we were welcomed so graciously and fed quite wonderfully, without any charge. And we didn’t know a soul in the place (and they didn’t know about this website); they were just being hospitable.
Given the circumstances, there’s no point commenting on the decor or service or how long it took us to drive out there. We’ll get straight to the food as we assume it’s indicative of what the chef (and his team) will bring out at the new place (see further details below). We loved everything we were served from the beef and vension tenderloin (both very well cooked) and served with some of the best tomatoes we have ever had in Houston, to the whole fried snapper and braised pork shoulder (nicely cooked, tender and well seasoned), the brisket en croute, the corkscrew pasta with ragu, the smoked trout mousse (which was amazing, served on a chilled spoon and cleverly accessorized), the watermelon/cucumber granita, and a liverwurst sausage (enjoyed by the one of us that doesn’t typically enjoy liver). And the sweets — a savory wholewheat shortbread cookie with lemon curd (just awesome, could not stop eating them), oatmeal/chocolate chip bar, lemon cake, and peach crisp (another great dessert, served piping hot).
We know this restaurant had a tough time making a go of it in Tomball (probably too ahead of its time for the clientele), and we sorely wish we’d make it out there sooner. (We understand that a different incarnation of Bootsie’s will be taking its place.) In the meantime, the chef, Randy Rucker, is teaming up with an investor to open a new restaurant in Houston’s Museum District. We’ll be eagerly awaiting the new restaurant and will make sure not to wait to get to it.
It’s difficult to characterize the menu at this recent dining addition to the West Ave complex from the RDG folks. There’s a little something for everybody — salads, grilled meats, pastas. (No pizza, that’s upstairs at its sister restaurant, Alto.) Most everything we’ve tried has been okay; nothing has knocked our socks off, and there have been a few disappointments.
Starting with the good parts — the restaurant is quite lovely with a warm, contemporary vibe. The floor to ceiling windows along Westheimer add light and a little drama. Like so many restaurants, there’s not a soft surface to be found, which lends to some noise. And the place has been quite busy on all our visits, so the noise level is high. Service has been friendly and attentive on every visit. And reservations have been honored on time. Prices are reasonable, with no entree over the low to mid $20’s. The menu is clearly designed for those wanting just a bite to eat or a full meal, and we’ve never felt uncomfortable just ordering an appetizer or salad.
Food highlights have included the crab meat cocktail, white bean soup (on one occasion, not so much the other), bacon roasted pork tenderloin, and a fruit tart. Well executed, but nothing extraordinary, items have been the cheeseburger (and somewhat soggy fries), wedge salad, marinated mushroom salad, and a couple pasta dishes (bolognese and duck & wild mushrooms). The lamb t-bone chops were thin and fatty, leaving not enough edible meat, and the roasted stuffed squid didn’t do it for us (too chewy).
If you’re looking for a fun, happening place with a wide menu choice, give Ava a try. If you’re more into great food than atmosphere, you may be disappointed, but you’ll still enjoy the experience.
2800 Kirby Drive
The latest endeavor by the Reef Guys, Stella Sola occupies the space formerly (and briefly) known as Bedford. Located on Studewood, next door to the Glass Wall, this new Houston restaurant has been buzzing since shortly after it opened. This despite the rocky start caused by the dismissal of its well-known chef, Jason Gould (formerly of Gravitas), just days before the opening. The sous chef, Justin Bayse, stepped in and the restaurant opened just a couple months before the publication of a New York Times article about Houston restaurants featuring Reef and Stella Solla (among others). On a weekend (which starts on Thursday on the Houston restaurant scene), reservations are essential; make them at least a week in advance.
Thankfully, the Reef Guys did some remodeling to cozy up the minimalist interior of Bedford. Banquette seating was added along one side of the restaurant, and the warmer colors go with the “Texas Tuscan” theme of the restaurant. No, we didn’t make that up. That’s how the restaurant was originally presented by the Reef Guys and, after dining there, we suppose that characterization is apt, if not slightly gimmicky. We didn’t spend any time in the bar, but the cocktail menu was designed by Bobby Huegel (Anvil Bar), the artisanal cocktail master of Houston. Since we’d actually been at Anvil (highly recommended) before heading to dinner, we just had a glass of wine and didn’t get a sense of the wine list. Our service was friendly and attentive.
Chef Bayse is touted for his homemade cured meats, so we had to start with the Meat Market Platter. Graced by six different cured meats, primarily with a pork emphasis, we particularly enjoyed the pancetta, lardo (don’t ask, just eat), and the pork shoulder offerings. We were horribly disappointed to find that the restaurant had just run out of the roasted half suckling pig (served for two persons). We settled for the country style pork rib (a hunk of pork shoulder) that was a little dry on the outside but tender and moist closer to the bone. (Having tried cooking country style pork ribs, we have to give credit to the chef; that’s a tricky piece of meat to cook right.) The pork was sided with delicious (i.e., bacon strewn) sautéed kale. We also tried the rock shrimp and bay scallop risotto. The risotto was properly cooked and quite tasty, tinged with lemon, but, for $24, we expected more shrimp and scallops. The shrimp were cut in small pieces, about the size of the bay scallops, and not particularly plentiful.
This restaurant will likely continue its popularity. The Chronicle’s Allison Cook just gave it two stars. We plan to venture back soon, but we’re calling first to make sure the suckling pig is on the menu that night.
A fine French restaurant in Conroe? No way. Way. Despite the Chronicle’s Alison Cook’s declaration of Chez Roux as one of the best new restaurants in 2009, even our most seasoned foodie friends haven’t ventured up there and some haven’t even heard of the place. It does take well over an hour (without traffic) to get to the restaurant and, after a few glasses of wine, you won’t want to drive back to Houston. Hence, we stayed overnight at the recently renovated resort — La Torreta Lake Resort — where the restaurant is located. The 70’s resort (f/k/a Del Lago) has been redone with a contemporary Italian flair. The hotel was dead on a recent Saturday night but, admittedly, this is the low season for a lakeside resort. Our room was very nice and reasonably priced, although we didn’t appreciate an extra charge for valet parking when valet is the only parking option. Just include it in the room rate.
Somehow the developer managed to lure a seasoned Michelin-starred (Le Gavroche in London) French chef, Albert Roux, to open a restaurant in Conroe. No telling how much that cost. The restaurant is lovely, about 15 tables (including a chef’s table) in an intimate, warm, contemporary setting. The service was very good, although the bus help needs some polishing. Granted, it’s unlikely that a local teenager (or any teenager for that matter) knows the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses without some training. The General Manager/Maitre D’/Sommelier hails from one of Chef Roux’s restaurants in London. Don’t you know this debonair, nattily dressed guy had a rude awakening when he thought he was opening a restaurant in Houston and found himself heading north from Intercontinental Airport?
Although the hotel was empty, the restaurant was full this Saturday evening. One look at the menu and you realize that the Menu Prestige (tasting menu) is the way to go. A great value, 8 courses (including amuse bouche and petit fours) for $70. Each course was delicious, beautifully presented, and amply proportioned. Although clearly French in orientation, the chef (an American trained by Chef Roux) strives to use local ingredients. Mustard greens, wild boar, and Texas cheese made appearances. The courses in order: artichoke/quail egg/ smoked salmon; chicken oysters (the tiny piece between the leg and the thigh)/hazelnuts/mustard greens; cod/brandade beignet/carrot puree; wild boar chop/pork cheek roulade/turnip salad; cheddar cheese soufflé/corn kernel cream (cheese soufflé is a signature dish of the chef, localized with Texas cheese and creamed corn, but we thought the corn overpowered the delicate soufflé); cannele/chocolate sorbet.
The only down point of our dinner was the automatic 18% gratuity that was added to our bill; this wasn’t noted on the website or the menu. We didn’t argue that night, but raised the issue with hotel management the next day. We typically tip 18-20% on food but less on wine when we splurge (which we did here). Hotel management told us it was not supposed to be Chez Roux policy to charge an automatic service fee, and they allowed us to adjust our tip.
All in all, we had a big time in Conroe. (Brunched at Whataburger.) We’ll go back.
La Torreta Lake Resort & Spa
600 La Torretta Boulevard, Montgomery, Texas
Open now for a few weeks, this much awaited and anticipated restaurant was hopping on a recent Saturday night. The first LEED certified (i.e., environmentally friendly) restaurant in Houston, it took some time to get it open. The kitchen is manned by Randy Evans, formerly chef at Brennans. Built from the ground up at the northeast corner of Kirby & 59 ( behind the aquarium store and Taco Cabana), Haven has a contemporary, yet warm and comfortable, ambiance. (Similar in feel to Branch Water Tavern.)
Reservations are a must for prime time weekend tables. Foodies are flocking. We ran into three of our foodie couple friends dining there for the first time on the same evening. Parking is an interesting situation. There is a large lot right next to the restaurant that appeared to be entirely reserved for the valet service, at least at dinner.
We started out with shaky service but things improved greatly once our waiter arrived. We like the new trend toward artisanal cocktails but none appealed to us here, so we opted for wine from a varied (although not steakhouse sized), reasonably priced menu.
The menu is somewhat limited at this point. We speculate Chef Evans’ idea is to do everything well rather than bite off more than the kitchen staff can produce. The menu is already expanded from what’s on the limited website. And the idea is to buy local, farm-to-market, seasonally available items, which is inherently limiting.
A number of the appetizers were intriguing. Whether as a starter or a substitute for an entrée, we tried four of them. The best of the lot was the baked oysters, out of their shells, baked in a ramekin with spinach and lardons in a light cream sauce, served with grilled toast wedges, this dish packed a lot of flavor and was a very generous portion. It could easily have been a dinner entrée in of itself. Our next favorite was the pork belly, a large, meltingly good chunk of meat, served on under seasoned creamed peas. Runners up were the shrimp corn dogs (pretty much as described, cleverly sided with a shooter of meyer lemonade), with a nice spicy sauce, and chicken fried chicken lollipops, neatly served on mini biscuits with cream gravy (which we would have preferred a bit more of). The only entrée we tried was the roasted chicken served with bacon spaetzle and crispy fried brussel sprout leaves. A delicious comfort food dish for a chilly evening. A number of desserts looked good, but we were too full.
How quickly will we return? Soon but not right away. We greatly applaud the time and money required for LEED certification, and the commitment to local, seasonal ingredents. The food was very good, but it didn’t knock us off our feet. There’s a large outdoor patio that will be inviting in the Spring, and dropping in for a drink and appetizers at the bar appeals.
2502 Algerian Way
It took us a little time to get to this new Houston restaurant, declared by Texas Monthly to be the best new restaurant in Texas in 2008. Voice is located in the Hotel Icon in downtown Houston. While the restaurant is in the same location in the hotel lobby as its predecessor, Bank, the layout and decor have been redone. The restaurant has a more open feel, with a large circular bar in the center of the lobby, opening into the restaurant. The Whiskey Bar, which was located in the lobby balcony when the hotel first opened, has since been closed. While Bank’s decor was updated but more formal, taking its tone from the old time elegance of the former bank lobby in which the hotel is located, Voice has an elegant, but more contemporary feel. We loved the comfortable high backed arm chairs that circle many of the tables, although they did inhibit the people watching.
The restaurant was full on a recent Saturday evening. We had a reservation and were seated promptly. Although the bar looked inviting, we appreciate not being ushered right away to the bar in an effort to increase the liquor expenditures. The service was fine, although the cocktails took a little longer than preferable to arrive, and there was quite a delay after we ordered desert. But, overall, we have no complaints about the service. It was friendly, but unobtrusive. As you would expect, the prices were on the high end. Think Tony’s and Mark’s. On a positive note, the wine list was reasonably priced and had quite a number of selections under $100.
There were four of us, so we were able to try a number of dishes. Two diners started with the signature mushroom cappuccino soup. Served in a mug, with a frothy truffle foam on top, it deserves the accolades. That was some creamy, rich, intense mushroom’y flavor. Yum. The special sweetbread appetizer was tasty but small. One large crispy sweetbread on top of mushroom puree. And the sauces on the plate were cold. The final appetizer tried — gnocchi with morels and prosciutto — was declared very good, “just like my Italian grandmother would make.” (But, Top Chef fans, what would Fabio do?)
On to the entrées. We went for meat. The pork tenderloin special was three small pieces and nothing special. The rack of lamb was perfectly cooked but, interestingly, served off the bone, making, again, for a small portion. And we have no problem politely chewing on bones, even in the nicest restaurants. The beef filet and bone-in ribeye were better sized and nicely prepared. The mashed potatoes were noted as particularly good. Our only service glitch came when we waited quite some time for the warm chocolate cake. And it was not worth the wait. Nothing molten or even particularly moist about it.
Best new restaurant in Texas or even Houston? Not in our opinion. We had a wonderful evening with friends and the setting was very inviting, but, for food, our vote goes to Textile. Or Max and Julies.
220 Main Street (at Congress)
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