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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cafe Annie

1728 Post Oak Blvd

It's apropros that I review Cafe Annie on the same day the Houston Downtown Park Conservancy named the new eleven acre park, Discovery Park. The owners of Cafe Annie are the same folks chosen to build the cafe and restaurant in the new park.

For too long I've avoided trying this Houston institution. The thought of spending a lot of money for food made by the same people as Taco Milagro scared me--I really dislike the food at Taco Milagro because it's too bland. But I had to try this Zagat favorite before it goes under the bulldozer in the name of redevelopment (new shopping, dining, living complex coming soon).

Without a reservation, we snagged a table on the upper edge of the restaurant, looking down upon patrons dressed up in suits and ties. The space is nice. It exudes fine dining without being pretentious.

We ordered the corn soup and mango and jicama salad. The roasted corn soup with crabmeat and smoked chiles ($12) tasted awesome. Sweet corn kernels drowned in a lightly-sweet corn soup. Finely balanced without tampering from too much salt or any other distracting flavor. The salad went too far down the simplicity scale. It tasted exactly liked it looked--chopped ingredients in a bowl.

For my main course, I ordered what the waiter told me was one of the most popular dishes, the red fish on shrimp tamale all decked out on a banana leaf ($25). The red fish was very good. But it wasn't very exciting--the pipian rojo flavors didn't add much. The shrimp tamale was delicate and tasty: so delicate, I had a hard time remembering it was a tamale and not a souffle. Quite tasty.

For dessert we tried the chocolate cobbler ($12). Essentially it's a light brownie at its base, a middle cake-like tier and topped with the traditional cobbler crunchy topping. It wasn't a cobbler except in the texture department. I really enjoyed it. Rekha, on the other hand, thought the ice cream, not the cobbler, was the bomb.

Overall, I'm ambivalent. We spent $125 including tip (no alcohol). Was the meal good? Yes. Was it $125 good? I'm not sure. I think I'd rather spend an extra $75 at Noe's or spend the same amount at Da Marco's.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gringaux's Seafood Kitchen

NOTES: I've been remiss in updating the past couple of weeks and in responding to comments on the posts. Family issues, but I'm back and have gone through and tried to respond to the comments, so go check out your comments in the previous posts.

12350 Southwest Fwy (Stafford)

Housed in a former Italian restaurant, this new place exudes a modernity and simplicity that contrasts with it's sister restaurant next door, Gringo's Mexican Kitchen. Gringaux's serves cajun food. I'm told the fish plates are pretty good, but $15 seems a little much for lunch. That's not to say I saved much money ordering seafood gumbo and a crawfish po-boy. But $15 with tip is my lunchtime limit and a $15 plate ruins that limit.

The gumbo was very good. It was a tiny bit thicker than some other gumbo, but I like my gumbo with some body! The seafood seemed pretty fresh. I even got an overcooked crab claw to pick at. For some reason, they don't have tabasco at the table: Lack of Tabasco at a cajun restaurant is a serious mistake in my book, but what do you expect from owners who cut their teeth on a Mexican restaurant.

The po-boy itself is rather good. The spiced mayo didn't overwhelm the flavors. The crawfish came nicely breaded and just cooked. Best of all, the bun was a bit chewy and very tasty. It tastes like the buns Three Brothers Bakery makes for some other restaurants in town. Somebody ask them where they get their bread. I want to find out if I'm right.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Raindrop Chocolate

810 Waugh Drive

For months, Rekha and I watched as they put this cute little place together on Waugh. When it finally opened, we rushed in to find that they were still putting together their furniture and installing their cash register.

The proprietor is a former technology executive who left his job, travelled the world, working at small chocolate shops to learn the craft. He described his vision as a European-style chocolate shop with artisanal chocolate.

In this brightly painted shop, there is a glass partition where you can both watch and talk to the owner as he prepares things like rasberry chocolate truffle, and orange chocolate. I tried both. The chocolate here reminds me of Amadei, an Italian chocolate that has won many awards, including the World's Best Chocolate. The chocolate tastes like fruit without there actually being any fruit inside. When you combine a chocolate like that with actual fruit flavorings like orange or rasberry, the result is a very tropical chocolate taste. It's not for everyone, but it will knock your socks off if you're open to a different kind of chocolate.

This is a good place to grab a few bites of something sweet. If you don't want chocolates, they also have cheesecake and gelato. Go support this locally-owned and operated foodie vision. You'll feel good about being such a good neighbor, even before you try the sweets.

UPDATE (October 12, 2006): Last week, I went back to the Raindrop Chocolate and tried four truffles. I was disappointed in all four. I won't name them, but they all had one common problem--the filling tasted more like a cross between equal parts jelly/jam and chocolate, rather than a true chocolate-based ganache. I was really surprised at how much I didn't like the chocolate considering the commentary on this post and my previous good experience with their orange truffle.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Path of Tea

2340 West Alabama

Rekha and I used to really enjoy trying new teas. Over time, our fanatacial interest has died down somewhat, but we still try a lot of new teas. Our recent favorite brand is Mariage Freres. I particularly like their Buddha Blue flavor. You can get it at Kuhl and Linscomb.

Today, we tried The Path of Tea. Upon entering this zen decorated space on a strip mall, we saw a Buddhist monk. Pretty disconcerting even in a city as diverse as Houston. They have a "Sniffing Bar" where you can smell some of the 80+ flavors they have available.

I tried the citrus oolong tea. it came in a glass container that sits above a teacup candle. The tea came out perfectly brewed. The water wasn't too hot. The leaves weren't left to steep too long or short. Perfect.

I also tried the black currant scones. Delicate and delicious, it went quite well with the tea. At $2.50 per cup, the tea here is a great bargain considering the choices, the environment, and the skill in steeping the tea.

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