Category Archives: New American Upscale

State of Grace

We’d like to say we’ve dined at this oh-so-hot new restaurant, but every time we’ve tried to make a reservation, all the fashionable dining hours have been booked.  We just need to plan further in advance or our next foray will be to try the seafood bar where we understand reservations aren’t required.   In the meantime, we fondly remember what we tried on our visit early one Saturday evening.  We were seated at a table but elected to sit at the bar, which we heard can be quite lively many evenings.  The cocktails were nicely done and service was good.

Unlike most of the diners around us, we didn’t try the lobster hushpuppies for which the restaurant has become well known.  We opted for the shrimp toast (crispy and hot but not engendering the wow factor), kale caesar salad (delicious), queso “oaxaca” (who can resist wild mushrooms in gooey cheese with amazing bacon fat tortillas), and the garganelli with jumbo lump crab and toasted lemon (also delicious). 

As noted, reservations are a must, and valet parking appears to be the only option in this entirely renovated location in the strip mall across from Lamar High School (where the now Atlanta-based owner, Ford Fry, went to school).

3528 Westheimer; 832/942-8050

http://stateofgracetx.com/

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/

Tony’s


UPDATED:  AUGUST 2012

A special celebration on a recent weekday evening gave us an opportunity to get back to Tony’s.  From start to finish, we  had a wonderful experience.  The place was packed, possibly due to Restaurant Week, but you wouldn’t know that by the service we received.  We’re not sure when we last had better service than we experienced at Tony’s, and that includes the high-end restaurants where we’ve recently dined in London and San Francisco.  And we aren’t boldface types with recognizable names on the Houston social scene.  We make it to Tony’s once every couple years or so.

In his new book, Restaurant Man, Joe Bastianich talks about how Mario Batali and he have created a very successful restaurant empire.  One global point stands out: make every customer’s dining experience the very best that it can be, exceeding expectations.  While this may seem obvious, its created through an attention to detail at every step of the way, with a sensitivity and focus to each customer’s needs.  Tony Vallone has learned that lesson, making him one of the most financially successful restauranteurs in Houston.
 
While the obvious things are important — honoring a reservation on time, filling water glasses, replacing an empty bread basket, bringing the food when it’s hot — it’s the subtleties that make the real difference in a high-end restaurant, again, focusing on the customer’s experience.  Every wait person was gracious and attentive.  Unlike many restaurants, we weren’t made to feel like our table was put in a queue for drinks, ordering, food, etc.  Menus weren’t brought until we’d finished our cocktails.  And the captain didn’t appear on multiple occasions pushing to take our order.  (Likely they weren’t trying to turn the table that night, unlike many of the London restaurants which tell you in advance that you have the table for a certain amount of time.)

The food was delicious.  We started with the burrata with heirloom tomatoes and tomato quiche and the ricotta stuffed ravioli with chanterelles and walnuts.  Our entrees were both pan sauteed fish dishes — branzino and dover sole.  The branzino was wonderfully fresh and beautifully cooked, standing well on its own since we thought the sweet/tart blood orange sauce overwhelmed the fish.  The dover sole was tasty enough, with a lovely citrus beurre blanc sauce (although not served tableside as the captain had indicated and, as a special, priced at $54).   We also couldn’t resist the decadent truffled penne and cheese.  We passed on dessert.  We’ve experienced the souffles in the past and, while wonderful, were more than we could handle this evening.   



UPDATED:  AUGUST 2008

On our last visit, the service was terrible.  Not the case on this visit when we again dined in the bar after the theater.  We didn’t have a reservation and were fortunate to get the last two seats at the bar.   Nothing much was happening in the formal dining area, but all the tables were taken in the bar.   The piano player was in full swing, couples were dancing, and the atmosphere was quite festive, including the hooping and hollering that accompanied one woman diner’s efforts to strategically position herself on her date’s lap.  Yes, this was Tony’s.

Once again, we were greeted by the longtime bar manager.  If the Vallone Group gave out stock options for longevity, this guy would own the place.  He was as gracious as ever, pouring an extra glass of a new single malt scotch for us to try.   The bartenders were just as helpful.

Now, dare we suggest that at least one aspect of the experience was half-ass.  That would be the late night menu, served after 10 o’clock in the bar.  Not that the offerings were bad.  In fact, we were quite interested in the crab cakes benedict.   Despite the menu’s use of plural versions of the words eggs and crab cakes, we only got one crab cake, albeit quite delicious, sitting alone in the middle of a large white plate, no fruit, potatoes, or even parsley garnish.  We did feel inclined to comment to the bartender about the menu’s use of the letter “s,” and the manager authorized another serving be brought to us.  Tony’s is not the type of place where you want to complain about prices and portions, but our belief in truth in advertising prevailed.

We also tried the steak tartare, identified on the late night menu as being prepared tableside.  Not true, according to the bartender.  The dish is, in fact, prepared in the kitchen, which is unfortunate as we could have avoided the heavy handed use of whole grain mustard if we had viewed the preparation.  And, while it was sided with an acceptable arugula salad with cherry tomatos, we had to ask for toast points.  What arrived were french fry size pieces of garlic toast.  Fresh and quite tasty but not appropriate for steak tartare.  (At $19 for a small portion, we’ll stick with Max & Julie’s $25 version that’s about four times the size, served with thin slices of toasted baguette and frites.)

Of course, we’ll return to Tony’s.  We drank.  We dined.  We danced.  We were quite entertained by the clientele.  But we may not order from the late night menu again.     


FIRST REVIEWED:  SEPTEMBER 2006

We stopped by Tony’s one evening after the ballet.  We’ve eaten at the “new Tony’s” twice since it opened, but not since we started the blog … duty called.  We love the warm, contemporary, more casual feel of the place, particularly the beautiful stone sculpture of three curving ladies.  We chose to sit at one of the tables in the bar area; the piano player is great, and the fireplace adds a nice cozy feeling.  The presence of the longtime, always accommodating bartender is an added plus.

Now for the big, big, big, big (thanks, Marvin) bitch … the service was terrible.  It was not entirely the fault of our disinterested, harried head waiter.  He was responsible for the entire bar, which had 7 or 8 full tables.  Where to begin, well, at the beginning — we waited way too long to order a drink .  We had to ask for menus (as did the table next to ours) and butter (cold and hard).  The wait staff gave us very hot plates for the salmon carpaccio, which, upon request, they tried to replace but were interceded by the head waiter who tried to put the hot plates back on the table.  The aforementioned bartender had to come from behind the bar when he noticed an empty drink glass sitting for some time.  He graciously got us a glass of wine.  The waiter perked up a little when he was forced to have a discussion with us concerning the cheese cart, which he wheeled to the table with the markers facing away from the table.

Everything wasn’t lost as the food was very good.  The salmon carpaccio was fresh and glistening with a light coat of olive  oil.  The sea bass (yes, we know it’s not politically correct) was both crispy and moist, served on a bed of black Chinese rice that was almost risotto-like.  The roasted snapper was nicely sauced with lump crab, shrimp, and some exotic mushrooms.  Unfortunately, the snapper was slightly overcooked and drier than it should have been.  We enjoyed three selections from the cheese cart, although we weren’t particularly impressed with the range of choices.

We’d had great service on prior visits so, hopefully, this was an aberration.  But our most rec
ent experience suggests that Mr. Vallone could be doing a better job.  We’ll return to Tony’s because, after all, it’s Tony’s.  But only after we go to Mark’s again first.
 

3755 Richmond
713/622-6778
http://tonyshouston.com/

Triniti Restaurant & Bar


Much anticipated, Triniti opened in the last couple months to packed crowds.  The restaurant is beautiful, a warm modern setting, with an open kitchen at the back.  There’s a nice sized bar that was busy on the recent Saturday evening we dined.  There’s also an outside lounge area.  Attire was varied, but there were quite a few men in jackets and women in dressy attire.  The noise level was very manageable.  Service was a little spotty, but we had no big issues.

We’re enjoying the trend in artisanal cocktails and tried two particularly good ones at Triniti.  The cocktail menu is divided between classics and those with a modern twist.  We tried one from each, consistent with our latest bourbon theme — two styles of manhattans.  Both were delicious.  We later had a glass of Malbec.  We didn’t focus alot of time on the wine list, but there appeared to be a well rounded selection of wines by that bottle that were not overly pricey.
 
What comes to mind when thinking about the food at Triniti is that it’s stylized.  The executive chef-owner, Ryan Hildebrand, was the chef at Textile, which served some of the more creative food we’ve seen in Houston as of late.  But the place didn’t last long.  It was pricey, the portions were small, and there weren’t alot of selections, not your typical Houston restaurant.   Although Houston is the 4th largest city in America, it’s still has a relatively small foodie crowd, unlike New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, which helps sustain these types of restaurants.   We enjoyed our meal at Triniti, but we wonder whether the crowds will continue to come.  The menu is more expansive than at Textile, but this is foodie-style food —  interesting  flavor combinations in smallish portions.      

The evening started with a beautifully prepared salmon tartare amuse bouche.  It had great rich flavor, absent any fishy taste.  Next up were the appetizers.  We tried the veal broth with foie gras dumpling.  It was very good but didn’t wow us.  (One of us is a stickler for food being hot and the broth, poured separately at the table, could have been warmer.)  The brussel sprout appetizer, served with dungeness crab and chorizo, was an enjoyable few bites but also didn’t knock our socks off.  We moved on to the pheasant and salmon entrees.  The salmon was very fresh and nicely cooked (topped with crispy skin), sided by a mushroom asparagus mix and a smear of sauce on the plate.  The pheasant may have been the highlight of the meal — two grilled (but still moist) breast pieces and confit-style dark meat over smoked fingerling potatoes.

Reservations are a must, at least on weekends. Complimentary valet parking is required unless you want to park on one of the side streets.

http://www.trinitirestaurant.com/
2815 South Shepherd
713/527-9090

Up Restaurant


This may be one of the harder reservations in Houston to obtain for a prime dining time, although that may change with summer upon us, and many of Up Restaurant’s target clientele headed to cooler climes.  Located in Highland Village on the third floor of what many refer to as the Cole Haan building, this restaurant is quite an ambitious endeavor by its owner who also owns Highland Village.  The restaurant is very lovely, with a warm, contemporary, upscale decor.  Kudos to the designer as there’s not a bad table in the place, which has many booths and banquettes.  There’s also a large terrace, facing west overlooking the rest of the shopping center.

On the Saturday evening we dined, the place was hopping.  The beautiful people, of all ages, appear to be flocking.  Both the dining and bar areas were filled to capacity.  We’d read on-line reviews about bad service, but our service was great.  We were warmly greeted when we emerged from the elevator.  Our reservation time was promptly honored.  And the drink and food orders came quickly.  The food (more later) probably a little too quickly.

Upon arrival, we were presented with complimentary flatbread and hummus.   It was a very good snack with our drinks and, to the restaurant’s credit, seconds and thirds were offered without asking.  We shared the chopped tuna appetizer, which was a generously sized, nicely seasoned disc of fresh tasting tuna tartare served with flatbread.   We aren’t pizza afficianados, but we’re enjoying sampling the fare from all the brick ovens opening for business in our city.  The short rib and gorgonzola pizza was topped with a mound of fresh arugula, a kind of pizza salad.  The crust was the very thin and crispy style;  the short rib pieces were tender and the gorgonzola didn’t overwhelm.
 
For an entree, we shared the crab cakes with a side of roasted brussel sprouts.   We received two large crab cakes, mostly lump meat, appropriately cooked and very enjoyable.  The roasted brussel sprouts had good flavor and carmelization, but they were way undercooked, and a trip back to the kitchen didn’t help matters.    The price point on the crab cakes was $38.  The remainder of the entrees were similar priced, comparable to Brennan’s or Mark’s.   Appetizers and pizzas were less pricey overall,  in the low to mid teens.  There’s no dessert menu and the waiter recited some of the usual suspects (cheesecake, creme brulee) that didn’t particularly entice us.  But that’s not really a criticism as we don’t usually order dessert, and Up isn’t catering to the diner that judges a place based on the pedigree of the pastry chef.

Complimentary valet parking (carefully wedged into parking spaces along Westheimer; look for the orange cones) is available and, given the restaurant’s location, is almost required unless you want to park in the shopping center across Westheimer.

Would we go back with all the many great restaurants in Houston?  Probably not soon.  We’re more into the food than the decor and who is air kissing who.  That being said, we had a lovely evening.

3995 Westheimer
713/640-5416
http://uprestaurant.com/

Masraff’s on Post Oak Lane


We ventured to this long-time Houston restaurant, cozily located in the woods on Post Oak Lane.  (We’ve heard rumors they’re moving.)  Four of us dined on a recent weeknight during the holidays.  A number of parties were going on and the bar area was quite lively.  Valet parking was a must, despite the large parking lots.
 
Our server was a little too familiar, particularly for the somewhat formal setting (Note to all servers:  if you must smoke, please ensure that your breath is smoke free prior to waiting on your table.)  When asked about wine selections, he pointed out only bottles in the $200 plus range, and, when decanting the wine, left too much in the bottle.  Allegedly for the sediment although it was not an old vintage; it was a 1999 Bordeaux.  And then he removed the bottle.  We asked him to bring it back, which he did.  (Contrast this with our recent experience at Pappas Steakhouse where the sommelier properly left the bottle on the table after decanting.) 

We started with four appetizers — seared calamari (nicely cooked with an Asian sweet and sour twist), butternut squash soup (declared to be very good), three mushroom ravioli (rich and delicious with a prominent mushroom flavor), and a salad.  We moved on to sautéed john dory, seared duck breast (generously garnished with foie gras that was perfectly seared), and sautéed bluefish entrées.  The food arrived hot at the table (a bugaboo of ours).  Everything was appropriately cooked and declared by all to be very good.  When the requested risotto substitution was not reflected on the plate, the chef sent out a piping hot separate order of wild mushroom risotto.

Some may find this comparison off, but Masraff’s has the feel of a sophisticated version of the now shuttered Confederate House, with more innovative, interesting food.  This place is not frequented by the trendy crowd, the clientèle is on the older side, the acoustics permit conversation, and the food is very good.  Now, if they just work on the attitude of the servers.


1025 S. Post Oak Lane
(713) 355-1975
http://www.masraffs.com

Rainbow Lodge

 
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)
713/861-8666
http://www.rainbow-lodge.com/

Voice [Closed]


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)
832/667-4470
http://www.hotelicon.com/voice-restaurant/

Bedford [Closed]


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
713/880-1001
http://www.bedfordrestaurant.com/

Textile [Closed]


We’ve been waiting and watching with anticipation for the opening of this new Scott Tycer restaurant.   Located in an old textile mill where he operates Kraftsmen Baking, Textile is Chef Tycer’s latest foray into the restaurant world after first shuttering the much acclaimed Aries and then the less popular, more casual Pic.  For now, Textile is only open for dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  Reservations are required.

With just ten tables, there’s a notable sense of intimacy in this contemporary, sophisticated setting.  The high ceiling is draped in pieces of white cloth, like sails on a sailboat.  One side of the room is lined with an upholstered banquette against a wall covered in a suede like material.  The lighting is subdued.   Fresh flowers and white linens adorn the tables.  There’s a small bar with a few seats.  No television or pulsing music.  Conversation flows easily.   The service is friendly and gracious.  But the emphasis here is clearly on the food.  And Textile does not disappoint.

We’ll dispense with the negative first — the 5-course Tasting Menu is overpriced at $85 per person.  If we’d looked at the menu, we wouldn’t have ordered the Tasting Menu as all the items are available on the a la carte menu, in larger portions, for a total of about $10 more.  (Contrary to the statement on the website, the a la carte menu is not limited.)  One of the problems we perceived with Aries was that it was pricey but too cutting edge to be a regular destination restaurant for the Tony’s and Mark’s crowd.  With only ten tables and assumably less overhead than at Aries, Chef Tycer can take more risks.  But Houston isn’t particularly familiar with the Tasting Menu concept, so he needs to be careful with the pricing.  And, at that price, for only five courses, at least one of the appetizers should have included a high end menu item, such as the foie gras or scallops.

All that being said, every dish was beautifully executed and delicious.  The amuse bouche was a smoked sturgeon chowder.  The salad was made of the freshest bibb lettuce, with a sherry vinaigrette, sided by a lush Texas blue cheese.  The bacon tart, like a gooey quiche, with wilted greens and a basted quail egg, was first rate.  The delicate kona kampachi was served over julienned vegetables.  Probably the tastiest item of the evening was the braised veal breast with truffled hollandaise — as decadent and delectable as it sounds.  We could have each eaten at least two servings of that dish.   We finished with a pumpkin version of a molten chocolate cake with ice cream.  The one of us who enjoys pumpkin desserts declared it fabulous.  The ordinary tasting bon bons were our only disappointment of the evening.  All desserts and confections are made on site.

We opted for the wine pairings.  The pairings were well chosen, and, at $55 per person, although not inexpensive given the quality of the wine, the price was fair.  The wine list is limited and reasonably priced.  We understand the restaurant also specializes in cocktails with interesting mixers.

There’s no question we’ll be back.  Probably sooner than later.  But we’ll select our own tasting menu.


611 West 22nd Street
832/209-7177
http://www.textilerestaurant.com/1801.html