Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stella Sola

Our list of restaurants to try is still growing faster than we can afford to visit them (especially after I came across this list of the Top 10 restaurants in the Heights, but we were able to cross another one off the other night. We visited Stella Sola before it opened for the Oyster Throwdown, but hadn't made it over there to eat, despite hearing many good things about it, including the chef Justin Bayse getting nominated for a James Beard award less than 6 months after the restaurant opened.

At the oyster throwdown I had tried the Santos Cruz, a citrus/rosemary/balsamic/tequila drink concocted by Bobby Heugel from Anvil as he was showcasing the drink menu he designed for Stella Sola. I tried it again this time, and it was still good, but not quite as good as the ones I remembered from a few months before, they probably take a few shortcuts that Bobby wouldn't take with his own drink.

Suprisingly, our selections from the menu really mirrored what we had eaten at Reef a couple months ago. We were underwhelmed by our experience at Reef, so maybe we were trying to make a few comparisons between Brian Caswell's two restuarants. Based on our experiences, Stella Sola definitely shined brighter. Here's what we ate:

Flounder Crudo: Wow. REALLY good dish. Even better than the snapper carpaccio that was the only real highlight of our visit to Reef. The waiter said that the had recently changed the dish, including apparently switching it from Amberjack to Flounder, but I can't imagine that the original one could be much better than the one we tried. The fish was marinated in citrus and served delicately with a little bit of salty caviar, chiles, some vegetation, and a really delicious mayonnaise-y type sauce that we ate to quickly for me to be able to figure it out.

Scallop and Rock Shrimp risotto: Kimmy was a little bit let down because she was expecting some larger seared scallops instead of little bay scallops cooked in with the risotto, but it wasn't a bad dish. The rice was a little undercooked for a risotto, and the sauce was too rich to enjoy int he portion that was served, but the flavors were pretty nice.

Roasted Grouper: This is where I realized that I was hoping Stella Sola could make up for the Reef disappointment. I tried a similar dish at Reef and the fish was way overcooked, but this time it was absolutely perfect. Nicely seasoned and just barely cooked through, so that the fish just melted in my mouth. It was served with some celery pesto (VERY good, I wish there had been a little more of it on the plate), a little bit of sunchoke puree (a new taste for me but they least interesting thing on the plate), some braised chard, and some really tasty mushrooms. I managed to make a few perfect bites with just the right proportions of everything on the fork, and that's when everything really shined through. A really thoughtful dish.

Caramel Turtle Affogato: VERY rich dessert, tons of candied pecans in between scoops of saleted caramel gelato (really interesting flavor, a little bit of saltiness in a very sweet ice cream) topped with espresso chocolate. Kimmy loved the chocolate, I loved the gelato, the pecans were good but there was just too much of everything for us to make a respectable dent in it.

There's still so much more on the menu that I need to try, so we will definitely be back. The chef's specialty is curing meats - charcuterie, and he showcases that on the menu with a "Meat Market plate," a selection of presumably these sausages hanging to cure next to the endless rows of wine bottles. I'd also like to try their Bone Marrow service, and some of the non-seafood main courses, but that will all have to wait until next time. If anyone else wants to go, I'd definitely be up for a return visit.

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Table 7

Ryan's parents came out to have dinner with us one night and we decided to try out Table 7 which is a new restaurant that opened on Durham near Branch Water Tavern (another one on our list). We heard about Table 7 because the head chef, Shanon Haley, went to high school with us and I saw her post about it on Facebook. When we pulled up and entered the restaurant... it was completely empty. Not really what you want to see when you go in somewhere unless you come at some random time, but we got a table anyways and started reading over the menu. The restaurant itself it very nice and it had a separate part for the bar. The people working were all very nice and friendly and we had a good dinner. I guess there hasn't been a lot of publicity about the place because the environment and food was good so we were a bit surprised to find it so empty. When we were there, I think two other tables came in. Hopefully more people start coming around.

To start off with, we had the complimentary focaccia. We all ordered something different and shared. The portions were big, more than enough. We couldn't finish all the dishes we had. We had the BBQ duck pizza, blackened mahi tostada, kobe beef burger, the seared ahi tuna burger, and a side of the parmesan Basil polenta. I would recommend the blackened mahi tostada again. The burgers came with steak fries which I tend to dip in ranch. However, they do not have ranch here. Instead, the waitress brought out various things for me to dip my fries in. Sorry I don't remember what they were but I remember rotating through all of them because I liked them all. Good place to go to share your food with others.

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Listening to the Southbound Food radio show a couple months ago I won a $200 credit at Tesar's, a new-ish restaurant in the Woodlands. After a few tries, we got together enough people to go and made the trek up there to try it. The credit was supposed to be for a "Burgers and Beers" party, but after we ate and drank, we found out that the drinks couldn't be comped (at least not without the owner there, which is who I had communicated with), so we struggled to make it to the full $200 value, but we definitely had our fill and enjoyed it for the most part.

The Drinks:
They had a small, but nice, beer selection, and Dan, Erik, and I tried some familiar favorites and some new brews, but the drink that really caught me was their jalapeno margarita. I'm really enjoying drinks with a little spice for some reason now, and this one was no exception.

The Burgers:
The Burgers at Tesar's are what has gotten them some recognition in the Chronicle and Houston Press. We thought they were pretty good, but not worth the price or the trip to the Woodlands. We tried "The Magic" burger, which is a bacon & cheddar burger served on an English muffin, and the "Tail End" which has braised pork mixed in with the grass-fed beef, and is topped with green tomato chutney and braised collard greens. The tail end was my favorite of the two. It was really moist, and collard greens make everything better. Eric also ordered some peach-glazed foie gras sliders, which were good, but one or two bites was about all that anyone could handle. Very rich.

The other stuff:
Onion rings were ok, fries came with 3 different seasonings, I liked the chili powder one the best. Kimmy tried the lobster roll, which we expected to have nice pieces of lobster, but instead was more like a lobster salad, not bad though. I also tried an oyster po-boy, because it's hard to pass up fried oysters on a menu, but it was hard to enjoy with everything else we had to eat. Erik seemed to enjoy his Kobe hot dog. But really, I think the best thing we ordered (other than the jalapeno margarita) was the lobster flatbread. I can't remember all the details of it, but it was basically a thin, crispy crusted lobster pizza with tomatoes and herbs.

The desserts:
The waitress told us we still had a ways to go to reach our $200 credit, so even though we were stuffed we got a piece of chocolate torte (not bad - nice contrasting textures, creamy mousse and a flaky crust - Kimmy took a couple more to go), and a few of their ice cream tasting plates - 9 small scoops of different ice creams and sorbets. We figured all of them out but one (or did we eventually decide it was butterscotch?). Jonathan would have said most of them just tasted like vanilla.

Overall, it was a fun lunch, thankfully I'm one of apparently about 10 people who listen to the radio show and was able to win it.

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Mockingbird Bistro

For Valentine's day (yes we are behind on our updates), Ryan and I had dinner at Mockingbird Bistro. We have been wanting to try this restaurant out for a while since we saw them at the Bivalve throwdown and tried some of their food there. For some reason I thought Mockingbird was a lot further away from where we live than it really was. The place is nice and dimly lit inside. We ordered an appetizer and had two entrees. Ryan had some wine with dinner. We had the Veal Sweetbreads to start off with and it was our first time having sweetbreads. I have got to say, this was wonderful. It came with "cippolini onions and crisp pancetta with whole grain mustard sauce." I saw some other appetizers that came out for different tables and the portions were fairly large. Ours had about two or three pieces of sweetbread but it was delicious. So soft and just so much flavor. I'm not one for explaining how good things taste but if I'm in another good restaurant and see sweetbreads on the menu again I will probably order it.

For the main entrees, I had the steak frites. Fries were nothing special-just fries like any other place, but the steak was well cooked and the crimini, shitake and oyster mushrooms were very nice with it. Nothing too out of the ordinary for steak and fries which is just what I happen to want at the time. Ryan ordered the grilled veal T-bone. It came with green asparagus risotto (that I kept stealing bites of), tomato gratin, jumbo lump crab and béarnaise. Their take on the béarnaise was great. It tasted so familiar yet we couldn't figure out what it was at the time but were enjoying it. Sorry for the awful pictures... as I did mention above, it was very dimly lit and I had being in a nice restaurant and then randomly have a bright flash while I take pictures of my food. It was a nice valentine's dinner and I'm glad we can scratch off another place we have been wanting to try. Still many more places to go to...

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Huynh Restaurant

We have been trying to find a good Vietnamese place near our house without having to travel down to Bellaire. The closest Vietnamese we have near our house right now is Pagoda (please don't ever go there) and Vietnam Kitchen (which will have to do if I'm not willing to travel). We read a lot about Huynh Restaurant behind the convention center, real close to where Ryan and I had our wedding reception. From the reviews that we have read, a lot of great positive things were being reported so we decided to check it out.

It is run by the same family that had Pho Huynh but closed that location and opened this restaurant. The family immigrated from Hue and the restaurant is really nice inside with a more modern feel. They were still making updates when we were there because one of the owners was outside painting bricks. It did look nice. Ryan and I orderd: Cha Gio (egg rolls), Banh Uot Thit Nuong (soft spring rolls with chargrilled pork), and two Bun Bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup).

The Cha gio was good- been a while since we have gone so I can't really remember what to say about it now. I do remember that the Banh uot thit nuong was tasty! When we go back, I would order this again. Not slimy rice paper as some can be and nice char on the pork. It was just good. They make their own noodles, so I'm sure this has a big part in why it was so good. The Bun bo hue sure was spicy. I know it is suppose to be but wooo... it was a bit too spicy for me. I did manage to finish as much as I could of it. After one quick sip of the broth when it came out, Ryan instantly tried to tell me it would be too spicy for me. He enjoyed it though. Warning to those who would like to try it: they will ask you if you want pigs feet and the coagulated blood in it. Sure I can see the faces you are making as you read that, but you don't know until you try it- take a polite bite. When I eat bun bo hue, I love having the huge chunks of coagulated blood and the pigs feet are good. Overall, I would say that we both enjoyed Huynh's and would definitely come back. I'm ready to try other things on the menu.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Boiling Crab

Sorry guys- Ryan and I are lagging on the food updates. February has been a busy month and I think March is going to go by even faster. This post is one that we should have done at the beginning of Feb. but we just forgot!

So crawfish season is upon us. I am so excited and once people started posting pictures of the crawfish they were eating on facebook... I just had to get some. Ryan and I posted about Hank's crawfish before and that was a good place to eat when I was taking Lexi to the dog park. However, I don't live out in Cypress anymore and didn't know where to go close to the Heights. Tried searching online for places and just didn't really trust or want to trust some of the spots out here (shuck daddy's, mardi gras grill, the rajun cajun, etc). Decided it was about time I listened to others recommendations to try The Boiling Crab. We drove all the way out there and it was worth it. Had to wait for at table but I was craving crawfish so much that any wait was worth it at the time.

It's a small place that kind of reminded me of joe's crab shack inside. When you sit down, they bring a big piece of white butcher paper on the table. They also brought out a small container with salt and pepper and a whole bunch of limes which was great because that's what I like dipping my crawfish in. Not all places do that and I just end up shaking salt and pepper from the small shakers on the table for a good while. We ordered a fried oyster basket and some crawfish. Honestly, I don't remember much about the oyster basket because I was really only interested in the crawfish. From what I do remember about the basket is that I enjoyed the fries. I always enjoy fries. Anyways- back to the good stuff! The crawfish can be ordered in different flavors. Ryan and I went with "The Whole She-bang" which mixed in all of the flavors they had (rajun cajun, lemon butter, and garlic butter). You could also pick how spicy you wanted your crawfish to be. I went with mild and Ryan went with medium. It was so good!! It definitely satisfied my craving for crawfish. It also came with a piece of corn that was very sweet and buttery. Too bad it is too far away- otherwise I would be stopping by more often. Just writing about it now makes me want some more crawfish. Might have to make another trip out there sometime soon...

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