Houston Restaurant Week and lemonade

One of my favorite times of the year is Houston restaurant week – good food, good prices, and giving back to the community — what more could you ask for? Last night, i had the opportunity to try Indika, and I was truly impressed with the relaxing vibe and interesting yet not overwhelmingly complex selections.

I had the Chaat (Indian Street Food), Organic Chicken stuffed with Pistachio and Mango Chutney and the Ginger Chocolate tart w/ coffee ice cream (note: the Actual menu in restaurant is  slightly different than what is posted on the HRW website)

I had never had Indian food before, so this was a rather novel experience for me – but also relatively authentic according to more seasoned veterans of the cuisine.  The waitstaff was extemely accomodating and quick to make reccomendations – I will definately return as several menu items were quite appealing.

For more information on Houston Restaurant week visit http://www.houstonrestaurantweek.com/ - make reservations ahead of time!

On the note of Houston restaurant week, Daily Grill restaurants nationwide will donate all of its proceeds from lemonade sales on Friday, August 20 (National Lemonade Day) to a special nonprofit that was formed by a 4-year-old girl whose short life continues to make an impact. Daily Grill founder, President and CEO Bob Spivak hopes to double $5,000 typically generated in sales and donate 100% to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.  Daily Grill’s fresh-squeezed, hand-shaken lemonade has been one of the restaurants’ signature items since 1988.

(ref: Frank Groff Inc)

For the full article, click here.

For more information, visit Daily Grill or Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

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Signature houston Restaurants Launch Summer Chef’s Series for a Unique Dining Experience

I recently found out that Vic & Anthony’s, Brenner’s Steakhouse / Brenner’s on the Bayou, Grotto, La Griglia, Pesce, Oceanaire and Willie G’s Seafood and Steak House are all part of the Signature Group that caters to discerning customers who know a merlot from a pinot noir.

On select Tuesday nights through August, this collection of restaurants will host a private and unique dining experience dubbed “Signature Chef’s Series.” Each award-winning Signature Group chef will host an extraordinary dinner featuring their own carefully crafted, exclusive menu of delectable specialties, along with their personal section of inspired wine pairings. Set in an intimate, tranquil atmosphere, each guest will be able to engage exclusively with the Chef and his team, ensuring a truly exceptional fine dining experience. Visit http://www.landrysrestaurants.com for complete menu and pricing information.

Brenner’s on the Bayou
Chef Grant Hunter
Tuesday, June 22
Reservations: 713-868-4444
Chef Series Menu Highlights: Smoked Duck Breast, Crisp Arctic Char Salad, Bacon Wrapped Buffalo Tenderloin, Texas Peach Cobbler

Grotto
Chef Ricky Cruz
Tuesday, June 29
Reservations: 713-622-3663
Chef Series Menu Highlights: Zuppa Di Piselli, Grilled Beef Medallions, Grilled Jumbo Shrimp Served Over Seafood Risotto With Shrimp Sauce, Sautéed Chilean Sea Bass, Spumoni Ice Cream

Willie G’s Seafood and Steak House
Chef Jose Parada
Tuesday, July 13
Reservations: 713-840-7190
Chef Series Menu Highlights: Lobster And Crab Remoulade Tower, Soft Shell Crab And Crawfish Lousianne, Beef Tenderloin Medallion With Wild Mushroom Corn And Foie Gras Ragout, Key Lime Pie And Croissant Bread Pudding

Brenner’s Steakhouse
Chef Scott Castell
Tuesday, July 20
Reservations: 713-465-2901
Chef Series Menu Highlights: Blackened Redfish Over Foie Gras Creamed Sweet Corn With Balsamic And Port Wine Reduction, Rack Of Rabbit Over Rabbit Confit Dressed With Sauce Piquant With Creole Potato, Parmesan And Olive Oil Puree And Rainbow Chard, Chocolate Sous Vide Cake With Texas Peach Sauce And Chantilly Cream

La Griglia
Chef Luis Rubio
Tuesday, July 27
Reservations: 713-526-4700
Chef Series Menu Highlights: Seared Diver Scallop, Short Rib Pansoti, Roasted Artichoke & Wild Arugula Salad, Roasted Venison Rack Chop, Fresh Strawberries In Aged Balsamic Syrup, Vanilla Bean Gelato & Almond Macaroons

Oceanaire
Chef Trevor White
Tuesday, August 3
Reservations: 832-487-8862
Chef Series Menu Highlights: Wild Alaskan Salmon “Carpaccio”, Charred Endive And Pea Tendril Salad, Chai Masala Australian Hiramasa, Grilled Chairman’s Reserve Filet Mignon, Artisan Cheese Plate

ABOUT LANDRY’S RESTAURANTS, INC.
Landry’s Restaurants, Inc., is one of the nation’s largest full service restaurant, hospitality and entertainment companies. Landry’s owns and operates more than 200 properties, including Landry’s Seafood House, The Crab House, Rainforest Cafe, Charley’s Crab, Willie G’s Seafood & Steak House, Oceanaire, The Chart House and Saltgrass Steak House. Landry’s also owns several icon developments, including Downtown Aquarium complexes in Houston and Denver, Kemah Boardwalk, a magnificent 50-acre, family-oriented themed entertainment destination and the Golden Nugget hotel-casino properties in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada.

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The Grove

Rating: 7/10

I think the Grove really has a lot to offer from an ambiance perspective – the dining room is absolutely beautiful.  The decor is crisp, warm and modern and the feel is not stuffy at all. I think it’s a really nice spot for a date – especially if the Treehouse deck is open.  I haven’t had the chance to dine “al fresco” although I’d hoped to both times – it was closed on both occasions.

The food is by no means spectacular, but it’s also pretty good. Some menu items I have tried were fresh fish ceviche (tilapia), 4oz filet, and seared ahi tuna – all sufficiently tasty, just not the best I’ve had. I also sampled a couple signature cocktails – the cucumber rose and the ginger margarita – again, both decent.

I think the prices at the Grove might be worth it with great company and beautiful weather.    I would suggest to come for drinks and appetizers – nothing too heavy.  Next time I return,  it will be to try the Salumi outdoors.

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Stella Sola

Rating: 9/10

When I first started this blog, the main focus was finding cheap yet quality food to eat in Houston.  As you may have noticed, the tone has changed a bit — I have had the opportunity to eat places I could never afford on the reg.  I still very much quest for cheap and yummy places to eat but thought I would take some time to offer a commonfolk POV on what I think about the “fine dining” Houston has to offer — since I am by no means an aficionado.

That being said, I am in love with Stella Sola.  You can smell how brand new it is and it has a nice vibe with an interesting concept – Northern Italian with local/Texan influences (aka. Tuscan Texan)

I started with the Roasted Bone Marrow service, which is something I would have absolutely have never ever thought to order had I not read several reviews deeming it the best.  See picture at the bottom (I know it’s crap) – I could hear two neighboring tables inquire about the dish.  It was actually pretty tasty – the texture is a bit unusual, but the condiments served on the side really added some interesting flavors as a whole.

For my main, I had the Skirt Steak with Jalapeno Gnocci – very tasty.  I have to say fawned over this dish – the meat was prepared perfect and the gnocchi was fluffy and delicate. I ate every last bite.

For dessert, the fried risotto balls with honey ice cream – anything fried tastes good, but the honey ice cream was the star.  I didn’t even finish the risotto balls.

I will definitely be coming back!

Bone Marrow Service at Stella Sola

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Sushirama

I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time by doing categorical posts, but I also feel like it’s more information in less time so it benefits everyone.  I know I look at other Houston food blogs solely to help me decide where I’d like to eat dinner if I’m looking for something new/the best of something, so here are some reviews on other Houston sushi joints I’ve tried in the past month or 2:

Soma – Probably my favorite sushi place in Houston at the moment.  Soma not only has nice sushi, but also has excellent kitchen dishes as well.  I’ve been here both for a full meal in the restaurant section as well as for the HH in the lounge only. Try the Crunchy Koi and the God Made/Man Made roll. Another crowd fave is the Crazy Irishman (also offered at Azuma) – I can’t say I think it’s the best sushi roll I’ve ever had, but for those more squeamish about eating raw fish, this might be a good choice. The only qualm I have with Soma is the parking situation. What is up with Valet these days? I’m getting a little fed up with having the valet guy park my car 5 feet away from me and then expecting some sort of compensation for it. Rant over.

Azuma - I wish I made it to Azuma more for dinner, but I actually partake in the lunch special quite often.  $12 for 3 hand rolls ain’t bad. Azuma is the first place I braved the hand roll, which is actually quite daunting for those new to sushi – it can also get a bit messy.  I asked my server the appropriate way to eat a hand roll and he said “like an ice cream cone!” – I haven’t looked back since.    The dynamite hand roll is dynamite.  Its spicy, simple and delicious.  In the order of 3 you also get the shrimp tempura hand roll and I believe a tuna hand roll – all wonderful and a ton of food for a little price tag.

Japainero’s (in Sugarland) - It’s funny to me that Houston’s highest Zagat rated sushi restaurant is actually Japanese/Latin fusion, but hey I can’t complain.  My parents live in the Sugarland area so I always make a sincere effort to visit Japainero’s.  In addition to having one of the best bang for your buck lunch specials, Japainero’s also has quite a few inventive and tasty rolls.  My personal favorite is the Cabo San Lucas roll – spicy hamachi, green onion, jalapeno, soybean paper topped with avocado, chili powder and black tobiko served with baja dipping sauce & spicy ponzu. This whopper is 18 bucks, but is larger than your average roll.  You can actually order a half version for $9.

Dragon Bowl - I have a strange obsession with Ken Bridge’s restaurants. I can’t really put my finger on why – maybe it’s because the three places I know are my three favorite types of food: asian, pizza and diner. I like Dragon Bowl’s sushi – notably the Tiger Roll – but it is in no way the best sushi around.  It’s convenient, ultra casual and offers dishes to eat of your dining companion isn’t a sushi fan. I often order Dragon Bowl for eating in purposes because I can’t stomach grocery store sushi.  This is the closest you can get to good casual sushi, and that is why I love Dragon Bowl.

Raku - Definitely more of a date/intimate vibe.  The most interesting part of the menu is definitely trying fish flown directly from Japan’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market – I personally had the butter fish which was absolutely lovely.  Raku doesn’t try to impress you with fanciful or overly fried rolls – the specialty roll is hard to find.  The rolls are simple and straightforward and what would expect to find on any sushi menu – but are all incredibly fresh. Although Raku isn’t my favorite sushi in Houston, I definitely appreciate the simplicity of the sushi selection. I did not have the opportunity to try any dishes from the kitchen, which is where I’m told the food especially shines. Next time.

Uptown Sushi (again) - I find the sushi rice here to be my favorite in Houston and my absolute favorite part of the menu at Uptown is the Sushi Nouveau. The sushi chef creates a delicious little bite of sushi that is well worth the $4 you pay for it. The regular rolls are decent, but Uptown is the first sushi place I have been to where I couldn’t eat what I ordered.  The two culprits were the Red Roll and the Godzilla roll – the chili paste on the Red Roll is like a gelatin and the Godzilla Roll is just green tabasco-licious.  I don’t

Osaka - Osaka is a very run of the mill sushi joint.  Nothing overly awesome, but definitely not disappointing either.  Here is where you will find a double fried extra spicy may roll or a simple spicy tuna roll – their specialty roll list is plentiful.  Added bonus: you will inevitably get a free appetizer (something fried) or free dessert (green tea/mango/red bean ice cream). Who doesn’t love freebies at a meal? I know it makes me feel special. Osaka is someplace to go if you’re looking for a very casual place to have sushi with pretty nice prices.

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Houston Wine Bars

One of my new favorite things to do is have a nice long dinner over a bottle (or 2… or 3) of wine and a beautiful cheese plate.  Maybe I’m a bit late to this scene, not sure, but I know most days of the week this is an ideal dinner situation dinner for me.  I am still learning about wines about wine and think I can finally tell the differences between some varietals, but I have a long way to go.  As far as cheese, I am still not warmed up to Bleu – I try and try but just haven’t developed the palette for it…. I’m not sure I ever will.

I have been around several of Houston’s Wine bars and sampled several cheese plates (among other small plate items) and here are some of my thoughts:

Sonoma – this was very highly recommended, yet not my favorite.  Located in Upper Kirby, Sonoma seems to have a lot of wine tasting events – which is great for a newcomer to the wine scene or for someone who enjoys variety.  After sharing a bottle of Oregon Pinot – I opted for a Red Flight of wine which was very interesting and informative.  The cheese plate; however, left something to be desired, I only enjoyed 1 of the 4 cheeses (Drunken Goat)  Ordered a couple small plates here too – smoked salmon (good) mac and cheese (eh).  Overall, the ambiance isn’t the best, but the prices seemed okay to me.

So VinoCame here looking for a late night meal just after the kitchen closed – after the bartender noticed I was visibly upset about the lack of food, he whipped up a cheese plate that was delicious! I was so impressed I vowed to return during regular kitchen hours and did so about a week later (consequently the same evening an event was taking place, but nonetheless…) and enjoyed a beautiful meal and New Zealand Pinot Noir which was offered at a wonderful price. I heart SoVino.

Max’s Wine Dive (revisited)Not your typical wine bar – (hello Fried Egg Sandwich!) but on my second trip, I was still impressed.  I tried to recreate the Fried egg sandwich at home before I even tried it here and my version didn’t touch Max’s.  Great wine prices, cool take on food items, and always – always crowded. If I can go on a less crowded night, I’ll be there.

Block 7 Wine Company (revisited) – Been here a handful of times now and I can’t say I’ve been disappointed.  I’ve noticed the markup is a little higher than at other wine bars that offer “market price” but I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed with any wine I’ve tried. I particularly like the old warehouse feel /open or closed garage door aspects of Block 7 and this cheese plate is one of my favorites so far.  Last time, I had the grilled cheese which was still a bit greasy for my taste and the Block 7 Krack (not impressed at all).  I think I’ll stick to the wine and cheese.

PoscolI was very excited to go to Poscol because not only do I love cheese, I love charcuterie.  Rumor had it Poscol not only offers some great charcuterie, but also a lot of the meats are cured in house. Very cool. Our waiter was extremely well informed and eager to give suggestions, which I love! It always excites me to see the staff so excited about what they are serving. We had 5 meats and 3 cheeses (hard to choose favorite as they were all AMAZING – just take the waitstaff recommendations), the salted cod dip (very interesting but yummy) and risotto (I hear it was good). I read a review saying you could smell fumes from the dry cleaner next door. For me, not so much – but that might be because I sat probably the furthest away you could get from it. As for wines – I rely on other to make the pick but my companion was not so informed on Italian wines so our waiter stepped in and suggested some decent choices…not my favorite ever but still good- and nice prices.  I will def be back.

**I’ve also tried Catalan and Ibiza, but I categorize those as more a restaurant than a wine bar. For the record, our server at Mark’s did obsess a little over the wine selection at Ibiza.

Any suggestions for wine bars to try?

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Capital Grille Does Economical at the Bar

Last week, I had a very exciting opportunity to taste the new Bar Menu at Houston’s Capital Grille, and let me say – it did not disappoint.  Capital Grille has always been on my radar but I could never seem to muster up the gusto to drop that much money on a meal, so I’m happy to report that my first time dining experience was also one of the best I’ve had in quite some time. The idea behind the release of the new bar menu is to give patrons the opportunity enjoy a tasty and gourmet meal in a more casual and relaxed atmosphere while also being a bit more friendly on the wallet.

Jessica, our well informed and personable server, brought out the Capital Grille’s signature cocktail, the Stoli Doli to start.  I’m not a big sugary sweet fruit cocktail fan, so I was a bit weary of how I would feel about it, however, this pineapple infused martini was an absolute delight – very light, sweet and natural.  In fact, so natural that there are no sweeteners added – just pineapple + Stoli Vodka + 2 weeks of infusion time = a simple and tasty beverage. I could see myself getting lost in these and not even realizing it.

As the food piled up on our table, it wasn’t hard for me to pick favorites although I enjoyed most everything:

Pan Fried Calamari with Hot Cherry Peppers ($13) – Easily the best calamari I have had. Ever.  Salty and crispy but not particularly greasy with a kick.  The hot cherry peppers add dimension and an interesting twist to this appetizer staple. You will not need marinara sauce to enjoy this dish. Take note, it is a heaping portion, so make sure to share.

Miniature Fresh Mozzarella, Crisp Prosciutto and Basil Sandwiches with 10 year Aged Balsamic ($10 for 3) – Maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoy the novelty of gourmet twists on classic comfort food, so this mini sandwich was basically heaven on a plate – and I’m also a sandwichaholic.  The balsamic really shined in this dish as it really married all the ingredients together.

MiniatureTenderloin Sandwiches ($18 for 3) – We were presented with several ‘sandwich’ type items on the bar menu, 2 of which were burger like – this slider and the Signature Cheeseburger.  Not only was the tenderloin a beautifully prepared medium rare (not how I typically enjoy my burger, but since it was tenderloin – okay) but the wild mushroom and Boursin cheese made this menu item irresistible – I think it was one of the only items on the menu I finished. This was also the boy’s favorite and he’s quite the burger critic so all was good.

Honorable Mention: Miniature Lobster and Crab Burgers ($15 for 3) (not a huge crustacean lover but all seafood is from the East coast so you can’t really go wrong with this one)

By the end of the meal, I could barely breathe when Jessica realized we hadn’t tried the Signature Cheeseburger ($16)and Parmesan truffle fries ($9). I can honestly say I mustered up the strength to have a bite and it was awesome.  My favorite thing about the Signature Cheeseburger was how fresh it tasted – might sound a bit strange when describing a burger, but I like mine piled high with fresh and crisp veggies to offset the chewiness of the meat and bun. This thing is also gigantic so I have no idea how Peter got through his half of it it and a good portion of the truffle fries – which he said were outstanding. You could literally smell the truffle oil from the moment the friend came out of the kitchen.

After dinner, we enjoyed a drink at the bar – I needed a pick me up from the food coma I was in – and I was introduced to a lovely South African cream liqueur – Amarula – which has the taste of slightly fruity caramel.  I had this mixed in with a regular cup of coffee and it was absolutely lovely.

I can guarantee you I will be back to enjoy after work drinks and share some of these menu items with friends or someone special.  The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the menu items and the food is classic. 10/10!

Note: Be sure to keep you eyes peeled for a supplementary post on the Master Wine tasting.

The Capital Grille

5365 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 623-4600

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