Houston food, restaurants and dining review. Urban living, travel, thoughts and other randomness.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Catalan Food & Wine !

5555 Washington Avenue

Some restaurants make me love living in Houston: Catalan is one of those restaurants. Located in the same strip cetner as Monsterville's Cova Wine Bar, Catalan serves the same demographic as Cova--young, hip, and moneyed. Catalan opened just three weeks ago.

At the far end of the restaurant is a brick palace to wine. The restaurant itself is a series of wood, cement, metal, and dark colors. It is exactly what you would expect from a new place on this newly cool strip of Washington Avenue. The management/ownership consists of the Ibiza folks, the Brennan's guy (cooking), and Da Marco's guy (sommelier/manager). Not a bad pedigree.

Food.... Ohhh My Gosh!!!!!!

We had the frisee salad with lardon and pomegranite taragon dressing. It was good, but not great. I much prefer lardon laden salads to come with warm dressing, but how can you go wrong with bacon? We then had the cockles in sambal (chile) broth with chorizo. Cockles are basically little clams without a lot of meat, though the meat tastes wonderful. Combined with the broth and chorizo, this dish is almost a knock-out--if only there were more cockles!!!

The dish that put us over the edge was pork belly with sugar cane. It's a fatty 1" to 1.5" cube of pork belly (very fatty) that is pan-seared with a chunk of sugar cane stabbed into it. The sauce is a mouth-watering melange of cane syrup contrasting with more savory elements. The outside is seared to perfection and when you plop a chunk in your mouth the flavors burst forth to show you a combination of flavors you always knew could exist, but have never tried.

After the pork belly, the grilled banana walnut bread with chocolate and caramelized bananas was quite a let-down. On the other hand the wine list looks fantastic. I tried a wine that they described as adventerous. You can get a full glass or 3 oz. of many wines, and bottles of many others.

"Catalan" is a misnomer for this rather formal sit-down restaurant. When we visited Barcelona, the Catalan tradition of standing, eating and drinking suited us just fine. But the breadthe and novelty (for Houston) of Catalan's menu does capture the Catalan spirit--as does the number of small plates available.

If you're going to visit, you're going to need reservations. And you're going to be competing against me to get those reservations. Good luck and god speed.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

NOTES: Dragon Fruit

Dragon Fruit
In Vietnam, one of my favorite fruit is Thanh Long, otherwise known as Dragon Fruit. I thought the origin was Southeast Asia since Vietnam was where I first saw the fruit, but it turns out the fruit is from Central America. If so, why is the dragon fruit available here so crappy?

Dragon Fruit has the same texture as a kiwi, but a very delicate flavor. Not as sweet when it's ripe, nor as bitter when it's not ripe. If you encounter this fruit at your local grocer (probably Central Market or Hong Kong Market), I don't recommend that you buy it. I've bought at least three at stupid prices and none of them had the sweetness of the fruit in Vietnam

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Grotto Ristorante !

4715 Westheimer Rd.

It really bugs me that I like Grotto Ristorante so much. I'm not a huge fan of Landry's restaurants, and this is a Landry's restaurant, but the service is so good, the food tastes quite decent, and the atmosphere is fantastic. Throw in the reasonable prices to boot and you've got a winning restaurant... Damn.

The original restaurant was located further East in the Highland Village. The restaurant was originally a Tony Vallone institution (think Tony's Restaurant). For many years (over a dozen, but I don't know how many), Tony Vallone and his family ran Grotto and Griglia before selling both in 2003 to the ever-expanding Tilman Fertita empire.

Fortunately, Landry's didn't change the winning formula much. Antipasto on the counter, cheesecakes for dessert, quick service, and good food. We like ordering an antipasto plate with 4 items--especially the cheese items. We always ask to accompany the waiter as they pick out the antipasto.

This time around, as we do most times, we ordered some pasta. We had rigatoni with sausage. It's not great pasta, but it is very good. The pasta here in general isn't exactly brilliant (Da Marco's does it much better), but it is really nice comfort food.

We als finished the meal with biscotti (ask for extra) that comes with coffee and a tiramisu that was really very tasty--moist, creamy, not too sweet, and powdered to perfection.

We share dishes here (despite the split plate charge) because so much food comes with each plate. By sharing we always get a full three courses for not a lot of money ($50 with tip).

Grotto's is good. Many Landry's restaurants feel exactly the same to me, but this one has retained its Tony Vallone heritage. Bravo!

P.S. This is another haven for the rich and beautiful on certain nights of the week, though I haven't figured out which nights yet.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Harry's Restaurant (Breakfast)

318 Tuam

Near the always popular and much discussed Breakfast Klub, is the much more discreet Harry's Restaurant. They used to be located in a shack of a building, but upgraded a year or two ago into this new stucco facade. I've tried this place for dinner before, but the informality and lack of customers makes dinner here much less interesting than the breakfast.

Today, before the Astros game, we had breakfast at Harry's Restaurant. We had fluffy eggs, crispy bacon, simple waffles and a surprisingly fresh and tasty set of pancakes (they call them hotcakes here). There really wasn't anything special about the breakfast, except the place is a heck of a lot more noisy and interesting than my kitchen counter. The one thing I can't accomplish in my kitchen is the the fresh squeezed orange juice that is a fantastic shade of orange.

What I've discovered about true breakfast places like Le Peep, Harry's, or my kitchen is that I'm much less interested in flavor and much more interested in ensuring that the food is hot off the grill and ensuring that company is lively. Harry's accomplishes both goals.

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