Devouring Houston: Exploring Houston One Bite at a time

Houston has so many incredible food establishments...from sumptuously designed restaurants to fun storefronts selling gourmet cookies. From Mexican Food Carts to the Best BBQ in the World. And...I want to expore it one bite at a time.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ruggles Green - City Centre

Today was beautiful in Houston, and sitting on the Ruggles Green patio for lunch was devine.  Ruggles Green, the newest addition to City Centre, has had my interest for a few weeks now.  It reminds me of the Ruggles of yesterday and today.  It's consistent.  You know what you are getting.  Although, I thought the prices were a tad high.  $8.95 for a Caesar Salad -- without protein. (add another $3.95 for chicken).   The interior design is light, bright, and airy.  The staff was friendly and prompt.

I ordered the Chicken Curry Salad ($12.95).  It was fresh and flavorful.  The chicken was dipped in a curry yogurt, which had excellent curry flavor -- not too curry-ish.  The perfect curry.  The carrots, jicama, raisins, dried mango, slivered almonds and mandarin oranges added a nice variation of textures and flavors.  Not usually a fan of sweet dressings, the orange honey dressing complimented the salad nicely.

My lunch date ordered the Classic Ham and Cheese Panini.  Excellent sandwich -- hearty....for a girl (not so hearty for a man).  The sourdough, ham, and cheeses (Gruyere and Brie) melted into sinful, delectable bites -- full of the crispiness that a panini demands.  The house-cut french fries that accompanied the sandwich were very tasty.  While a little on the soggy side, the seasonings were right on the spot.   The fries were addictive and delightful.

Every good meal should, would, needs to end with ours did....with the Domino Cake.  Chocolate cake layered with white and chocolate mousse.  These types of cakes are always a gamble to me  -- is the cake going to be dry, is the mousse boring, or the other extreme, too sweet.  This cake met the maximum gratification.  The chocolate ganache on top, and the chocolate cake on bottom were rich, yet the middle mousses were light, giving this cake the perfect formula for scrumptiousness.  And, the strawberry/mango sauce on the side was an excellent pairing as well.

I might have to save up my money to head back to Ruggles Green for a casual lunch, but I will go.  I had a fantabulous experience.

Ruggles Green
@ City Centre
(Also, 2nd location at River Oaks)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Feast Houston

I was a little nervous about trying Feast.  Even though Feast has been named one of Bon Appetit's 10 Best Restaurants (2009), dishes such as "A Rabbit Skeleton" and "Bubble and Squeak" had me a little unsure of what I was getting myself into for dinner.  Let me assure worries at all!  The food was fab!  Feast, which calls themselves, Rustic European Fare, is very authentic European - from the food to the service. 

My dining partner started off with Scallops St. Jacques: Scallops with mushrooms, Cream Brandy Sauce topped with Cheese.  He loved it so much that he was literally scrapping the cheese off the shells (the cheese turned out to be Old English Cheddar). ($9.25)

I started by ordering the Salad with romaine, cucumber, radish, celery, herbs and raisins.  ($7.25)  The salad was not impressive by looks, and I was feeling disappointed.......until I actually tasted it.  The salad exploded with flavor in my mouth!  The herbs (I tasted mint and parsley for sure) grabbed the salad by the horns for a delicious, refreshing start!

The French Onion Soup was hearty and savory.  Very thick with sweet onions, beef stock, and pork stock! Nothing sissy about this soup.  ($8.25)

Back to the Bubble and Squeak. It is actually a harmless, delicious side dish, containing pan fried mashed potatoes with cabbage and brussels sprouts, which were perfectly cooked with excellent flavor (nothing bitter about these brussels sprouts).  This dish is ultimate comfort food.  And, I would take this Bubble and Squeak over a good mac and cheese any day!  Where does the name come from?  Apparently, when the dish is pan fried up, it sounds like a squeaky bubble.  ($3.45)

We ended with a sweet Sticky Toffee Pudding ($8.95).  Served with Clotted Cream.  Excellent spice flavor with chopped dates.  The brown sugar reduction poured over the top gave it the sweet toffee flavor.  The dessert paired very nicely with the Port. 

 I enjoyed the no frills dining room of Feast.  The service was great.  The food was excellent.  An exceptional way to spend a meal.   And, one final note -- lucky residents of New Orleans are getting a Feast New Orleans, scheduled to open tomorrow!

219 Westheimer Road
Houston, Texas 77006

Anvil Bar & Refuge

Anvil is not just an ordinary bar.  There is nothing ordinary about it.  It's splendor comes from its simple interior design with brilliant, astute bartenders.  The establishment "prepares cocktails in the classic tradition - from standards that date back to the cocktails' earliest era."
Anvil truly is a refuge from ordinary drinking.  The bartenders are more like cocktail artists and historians.  They know their liquors, techniques, and histories like no other.

I asked our bartender to recommend a drink for me.  He made me the Corpse Survivor.  Never heard of it?  Me either.  I loved it.  I don't remember what all was in it - but it did contain absinthe (made from wormwood, tasting like licorice or anise).   He gave me an excellent absinthe history lesson (complete with absinthe taste).   And, yes, absinthe is now legal in the U.S. (for about 2 years now). 

Anvil has true cocktail tools and resources, with knowledgeable craftsman mixing the grown up concoctions.  They also have micro brews and yummy munchies such as Margherita Pizza, German Street Pretzel, and Bruschetta.

I very much look forward to my next trip back to Anvil.  Oh, and they have a "Brunch Menu," too -- full of brunch cocktails.  Yum!

1424 Westheimer Road
Houston, Texas 77006

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Beaver's is billed as "Gastropub meets Texas Icehouse."  Very appropriate.  While the establishment is very casual, it does have a wonderful air of sophistication that most burger joints do not emanate.   The decor embodies rustic style meets refinement, clean lines and simplicity. 

The talent behind Beaver's is deep and impressive, starting with Monica Pope (James Beard Award winner and owner of T'afia).  The establishment buys meats and produce locally.   Dishes are seasonal.  Also, the staff was extremely friendly.  The service was quick, but not rushed or forced. 

The Food: very delish.  First up: we tried the Fried Pickels ($7) (appetizer).   For a fried food, the dish was light.  A good size of a quartered pickel inside the yummy batter.  Served with Chipotle Ranch, for a little kick.

The Pan Fried Chicken Livers ($6) (appetizer) were cooked with golden raisins, sesame seeds, and tomatilla salsa.  The raisins added a great flavor and texture to the dish.  The contrast was good.  However, the fried flavor of the chicken livers was a little heavy.  We couldn't get past the overly friedness.

My favorite dish of the day was the Brisket Tacos ($13).  Described as braised with chiles, orange, golden raisins and cotija cheese.  It was delicious!  The orange aroma was ever so stubtle, yet the flavor exploded and lasted on my tongue.  I craved this dish the rest of the day.  The golden raisins added a sweet contrast which worked beautifully.  The brisket was served in a corn tortilla, which was an excellent paring.  A small truffled radish salad, extremely fresh and light, was served on the side.  

Would I go back to Beaver's?  Absolutely.  I loved the fresh, seasonal ingredients.  Loved the simple, yet sophisticated (and super clean) ambience.  Loved the friendly, helpful service.  Great place to go with kids or other grown ups. 

2310 Decatur @ Sawyer (near Washington)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Cupcakery - Coming to The Woodlands

I don't know much about The Cupcakery coming to Market Street in The Woodlands.  But, the thought of a sweet confection covered in frosting always gets my attention.  Looking forward to the opening of this cupcake bakery!

Jasper's - The Woodlands

Love, love, love going to Market Street in The Woodlands.  And, I especially was excited to try Jasper's right in the middle of the square of Market Street.  The sleek, contemporary, clean-lined interior design of Jasper's is masculine, but not too strong.  It is a nice balance of contemporary sophistication and comfort.  All the staff was extraordinary friendly -- from the hostess to the servers. 

Jasper's describes themselves as "Gourmet Backyard Cuisine," which really just means "All American".  The prices are completely reasonable and affordable.

The soup of the day was the Shiner Bock Barbecue Brisket Chili.  It had a great flavor -- full of barbecue smokey goodness, but not over the top,  a kick of spice lingered on our tongues.  The chili was not chock-full of brisket, but the liquid was hearty in itself. 

The Caesar Salad with grilled chicken was fine.  Nothing fancy or extraordinary.  Or worth mentioning in greater detail ($14)

The Creamy Baked Potato Salad was more delish than the salad for sure.  A hearty potato salad, with large chunks of potatoes.  It was served hot in a small skillet with crispy onions on top.  Melted cheese, bacon, and finely diced chives permeated every nook and cranny of the the potato salad.  Each bite was a mouth full of gooey goodness.  A very substantial side which would pair very nicely with a big meat entree. ($6)

All in all, Jasper's was an enjoyable experience.  Jasper's is one of several restaurants owned by Kent Rathbun, who is a well known restaurateur and chef.  He beat Bobby Flay in an Iron Chef competition.  That said, I would have expected a little more "oomph" from Jasper's.  But, it was still a nice stop for lunch. 

Jasper's - The Woodlands
9595 Six Pines Drive
The Woodlands, Texas 77380

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

I'm not a stranger to Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.  I have always had great experiences at this traditional American Steakhouse.  I walked in the door this time and just inhaled the delish smells of meat and wine.  I always enjoy sitting at the Chef's Counter.  Watching the kitchen place delish looking vittles out to be served, observing the hustle and bustle of the kitchen staff, or watching a plump baked potato be stuffed, piled-high with cheese, sour cream, butter, bacon and chives, are all things that make sitting at the Chef's Counter a treat.

As soon as we were seated, our server, Greg, said hello.  He was outstanding -- very knowledge and friendly.  Then,  THE BEST bread on the planet was set down in front of us.  You know the kind -- crispy crust on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.  The butter is the perfect room temperature softness.  Perfect combination! 

Something new at Pappas Bros:  amuse-bouche for the Counter customers and new clients.  Very nice.  Last night's tasting was a shrimp & lobster mousse on cucumber.  It was super fresh and light.  It definitely cleaned our palettes, amused our mouths, leaving us wanting more....

Our order started with the Pacific Blue Fin Tuna - Two Ways: Spicy Poke (excellent layered salad with corn and avocado on tuna tartar) & Smoked Sashimi (good smokey flavor, but not overpowering.  Tender and fresh). ($13.95)


We also ordered the Shrimp Cocktail ($11.95).  The dish was prepared as you would expect, assuming you have high expectations.  Meaning, the shrimp were outstanding.  Fresh.  Cold.  Tender.

For the main course:  10 oz Prime Strip with Mashed Potatoes.    Potatoes were chunky with cheese, bacon, and chives.  While they were not creamy, they were more like a German potato salad.  The hefty chunks of potato made the side an excellent partner to big piece of meat.  The steak had great flavor and was cooked exactly as ordered.  Also, of note, our Prime Strip was ordered from The Bar Menu, which I love.  One can order a smaller portion of the Prime Strip (10 oz) or Filet Mignon (6 oz). Both $29.95.  They come with a side. 

We didn't order dessert this time.  But, I do highly recommend their sweet endings.  My personal favorite is the Moon Pie! 

I love Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.  And, this trip did not disappoint. 

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
5839 Westheimer
Houston, Texas

Monday, September 20, 2010

Flora & Muse, Part II

I tried Flora & Muse a couple of weeks ago and was not all that impressed with their pastries.  But, they are the new kids on the City Centre block and I wanted to give them a second chance.  I really want to like them! The eatery is super cute.  And, I love the concept of a European style flower shop, patisserie, restaurant, and bar, all in one.  It is totally girlie with flowers, chandeliers, and the serving of Afternoon Tea. 

Here is how the lunch played out.  After we were seated in the restaurant, we waited at our table for anyone, someone, to notice us.  About 20 minutes later, a server finally took our drink order.  Then, we waited a very, very long time for our lunch order to be taken.  Then, we waited even longer for our food to be served.  I ordered an appetizer which did not even arrive until my entree had been the same time.  After our finished plates sat there on our table for eternity, we again waited and waited and waited for our bill.   Then, we waited and waited for our server to run our credit cards so that we could finally leave.  Two hours later, we left.  Two hours for lunch (which is totally cool with me IF I have wine, dessert, and coffee)!

Tables were not bused.  Dirty dishes, glasses, and napkins just sat there, and sat there, on tables after patrons had left.  Looking at dirty dishes wasn't really the quaint, posh environment I was expecting.   Our server (I think the only one in the restaurant) said they were understaffed.  That was an understatement.  I know 2 managers were there, but I didn't see them hustle much (actually, I didn't really see them at all, and they sure were not offering apologies.  No one did).  I saw other diners shaking their heads at the service as well.

The food. "supposed" appetizer, Mac & Cheese (three cheeses and orechiette pasta) was thin, soupy, cold, and the pasta was mushy.  My main course:  Curried Chicken Salad Tartine was actually refreshing and nice.  Red grapes, slivered almonds, red onion, and celery with a Harissa-Cranberry chutney on top of toasted brioche bread slices.  The side salad that came with it didn't have any dressing though.  My dining partner had the Grilled Chicken which came with the cold, soupy mac & cheese.  The chicken was dry, but the Tomato Salad on the side was fresh and sharp.

I had wanted to try the Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding, but was afraid it would take another hour if I tried to order it.  By this point, my Diet Coke had already run dry (with no refills), I was out of time, and I was out of patience.

Flora & Muse
@ City Centre
Houston, Texas

Memorial Bakery

I know many people who buy birthday cakes and cookies how does it measure up?  I tried the sausage kolache first.  Very tasty.  Soft bread, brushed butter on top, great sausage flavor. 

Next up, the chocolate chip cookie.  Soft, yet a little crispiness to it.  It did not crumble.  A perfect amount of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Not too many chips, but a little chocolate in each bite.  Now, the smiley face (sugar cookie with icing).  About what you would expect, but very tasty.  The perfect amount of sweetness in the cookie with a little bit of crunchiness from the icing.  The icing was not too sweet or over the top. And, the cookie was not hard or crumbly.  A happy cookie for sure!

Next, The cupcake.  White cake cupcake with white icing...small white chocolate curls on top.  Very pretty.  It must be delish, right?  Except that I was so disappointed.  The cake was dry and boring, and the icing was way over the top sweet.

I will visit Memorial Bakery again.  But, sadly, I will not get the cupcake. 

Memorial Bakery
12345 Kingsride Lane
Houston, Texas 77024

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MAM's House of Ice

I found happiness in a trailer in The Heights.  MAM's House of Ice was every bit as delish as I had heard!  The ice is creamy.  Not kidding.  It is so soft and fluffy.  Yum!  Their website describes their snow cones as "New Orleans style soft fluffy snowballs."  Perfect description.  Plus, they have every possible flavor you could dream.  I'm going back to try the Pink Champagne, Wedding Cake, and Cookie Dough flavors.  If I'm brave...I'll order the Dill Pickle flavor....

Their Fall Hours are Tuesday - Sunday 1:00-7:30 PM.  You may want to check their Facebook Page to ensure they are open and actually at the corner on the day you want to visit.   And, their delectable flavor menu is listed on their website.

MAM's House of Ice
Corner of 20th and Rutland


As I drove up to Poscol, I was having a hard time getting past the not-so-fancy strip center in which the restaurant is located.  The center includes a washateria complete with owner yelling at Poscol patrons who park in front of his cleaners.  However, once I finally did enter Poscol, I found a rustic Italian oasis.  The venue is quaint with minimal decor.  Minimal, but not minimalist.  Wooden floors, wooden tables, simple walls and candle light.  Very nice.

Poscol is owned by Marco Wiles (of DeMarco and Dolce Vita).  I found the eatery a great place to enjoy wines and plates of charcuterie and cheeses.  Many of their Salumis (Italian cured meat products) are made in house.  Instead of my usual red or bubbles, I was in the mood for something sweeter and refreshing.  A Special of the Day was the Bellini.  Not a Bellini made in house, but Bellini in a bottle (prosecco and peach puree).  This bottle of Bellini is a staple in Venice, the manager told us.  Well, clearly, I had to try it.  And, I really liked it.  I will buy this bottle of yumminess and serve it at home for brunches or by the pool.  A great alternative to a mimosa.  Yet, even easier...just pop open the bottle.

Our table ordered a sampling of meats and cheeses.  The Prosciutto San Daniel was light, mild flavor, and lean.  Very tasty.   The La Tur cheese (mixed milk of cow, sheep, and goat) exploded with a bold flavor in my mouth.  A creamy cheese, excellent when spread on crusty bread.

The Calamari was not fried, which was a nice change of pace.  The dish was very fresh, not chewy, and contained the perfect amount of spices. 

Our table also sampled the Flat Bread with mixed salad, reggiano and prosciutto.  It was good.  The salad was light.  The actual flat bread reminded us of a Ruffles potato chip.  I expected big things from their Flat Bread...yet I was left feeling flat myself.

I like the ambience of Poscol.   Although, our server left alot to be desiered (she was rude and short with us), the manager was completely delightful and a wealth of knowledge.   All in all, I will go back to Poscol.  However, between Dolce Vita and DeMarco, I think Poscol ranks third among the Marco and Gloria Wiles eateries.  I think the Bellini was the highpoint.

1609 Westheimer

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Paula's Pastries

Another sweet treat for me today!  I ordered cookies and brownies from Paula's Pastries.  And, the sweet concoctions were even delivered to my front door by Paula herself (free delivery for customers in a 5 mile radius of 77063). 

The Brownies were very moist.  Almost undercooked.  Nuts were sprinkled throughout.  The brownies were glazed with chocolate ganache.  I think they had ganache....the ganache was spread way too thin.

Of the 3 types of cookies I sampled (Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, and Peanut Butter), the Peanut Butter was the best.  The Chocolate Chip was dry and burned on the bottom.  The Oatmeal Raisin was fairly uneventful.  The Peanut Butter had a good, mild peanut buttery flavor, and they looked the yummiest, as well.

Paula's Pastries are very homemade.  So, if you are looking for a more professional looking pastry, Paula's may not be for you.  However, if true homemade is what you are seeking, Paula's might be a great fit.  She offers a wide variety of cookies, breads, pies, and cakes.  Her cookies (above) are pricey at $15 for a dozen, but her cupcakes are only $18 a dozen (for comparison:  Michael's Cookie Jar sells similar cookies for $10 a dozen; and Crave Cupcakes sells a dozen cupcakes for $36).  Paula's brownies (which are very small) were $9 for a dozen.

Paula's Pastries

Friday, September 17, 2010

Caffe Bello

My first impression of Caffe Bello was all about the friendliness.  All of the staff was helpful, nice, and smiling.  My second thoughts - just as positive - centered on the warm, sunny orange tones of the interior design.  The walls are a deep terracotta, and the wooden chairs are a deep coral, too.  The napkins even give off a happy vibe - they are yellow.  The cafe is casual, but not diner-casual.  It is still upscale.

The tables do not have tableclothes but they do have a square of butcher paper where the bread is placed -- right onto the table.  That was a different touch.....and, I liked it. 

I ordered the Margherita Pizzeta (individual pizza) and the Goat Cheese Risotto.  The pizza was tasty and fresh.  The crust was very thin (which I am a fan of).  Small doses of tomato, basil, and mozzarella dressed the top of the pizza.  A great appetizer to accompany a glass of wine and share with friend!

Next, the Goat Cheese Risotto.  The dish was creamy with the perfect measure of a mild goat cheese flavor.  The risotto itself was cooked perfectly.  On top of the risotto was grilled radicchio and drizzled balsamic.  The radicchio had an excellent grilled flavor that did indeed pair very nicely with the goat cheese.  This dish should win prizes in the comfort food division.  I place it in the same category as mac and cheese.  Um, maybe better!

Caffe Bello
322 Westheimer

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cupcakes by Cinnabon

I try to steer clear of Cinnabon at The Mall.   The yummy cinnamon bun store always seems to lure me over with the ever delish smells of drippy, oozy cinnamony frosting on top of the soft, warm cinnamon bun.  You know what I'm sayin'!  Yum!  Of course, the buns are sometimes hard from sitting there all day and the frosting loses its oozing-ness, but let's not focus on that.  In theory, Cinnabons are perfect.  So, when I saw Cinnabon was selling cupcakes, I had to try.

First up, The Cinnacake Classic.  The cupcake was luscious to look at...thick cream cheese icing on top, with a swirl, of course, of cinnamon.  The cake itself had a nice cinnamon essence.  It was, though, fairly dry and crumbled easily.  The icing was very creamy and made up for the dry cupcake.  Next flavor:  Chocolate Passion.  It was another beautifully presented temptation.  Icing piled high on top.  The cupcake was again dry, but it did have a huge wallop of chocolate flavor.  Not too sweet, big on bittersweet, cocoa flavor.  The icing was a sweet chocolaty concoction.  The chocolate cupcake packed a big punch of chocolaty love.  While not, Crave or Sprinkles, this cupcake definitely can take a chocolate craving head on.  Finally, I tried the Vanilla Bliss.  This little cake was the most moist of the 3 choices.  The recipe had a good, mild yellow cake flavor.  The icing did not taste like buttercream (as they claim), but did have a nice spun sugar taste (and was more pleasing than grocery store bakery frostings). However, the vanilla icing was hard and broke off the cupcake. 

All in all, for a mall chain, the cupcakes weren't too bad.  Their piled high icing made for a tempting presentation.   And, at $1.99 for a regular sized cupcake and $ .99 for a mini cupcake, you can afford many more cupcakes to share.  Sweet!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hubbell & Hudson

I have really been anxious to try Hubbell & Hudson up in The Woodlands.  Today was the day.  We went for Sunday Brunch.  And, I was not disappointed.  Hubbell & Hudson is one part very nice Bistro and one part Market.

We first visited the Bistro for brunch.  The Bistro is very serene, full of peach colors.  Classic jazz plays in the background.  But this is no sissy girlie place.   The interior design is full of dark wood accents, including a dark wood floor.  The kitchen is separate from the dining area, but from where I was sitting, I could watch part of the kitchen through a wall of windows.  Pretty neat touch.  Their brunch menu is extensive and indepth.  Of course, they have the standard breakfast fare of pancakes, benedicts, and "Build your own Omlet" (with lobster as an option), but they also offer much of their regular menu (which I look forward to returning to try).  

I first tried the Waffle.  It was served with fresh blueberries and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  It was good.  Nothing fancy about their waffle, but nothing bad either.  Their Pancakes were good, too.  Again, no explosions of flavor in my mouth, but they were tasty.  They were dense, but not heavy.  A dusting of powdered sugar on the top with a big old pat of butter.  Next up, the French Toast.  The toast was made of brioche bread.  I tasted a citrus flavor in the batter.   A side of melted butter with honey was served.  The French Toast was delish.  It was crunchy around the edges, yet the middle of the toast consisted of the good sogginess that you'd expect from french toast.  The melted honey butter was a delicious substitute for regular syrup.  The Toast melted in my mouth leaving me wanting more and more.  Finally, the European Soft Style Scramble with tomatoes and parmigiano-reggiano served with grilled flatbread.  The flatbread was not flavorful and was greasy.  But, the eggs were pleasant.  The tomatoes on top were more of a salsa and it paired excellently with the eggs.  Although the staff was very gracious, they were not necessarily friendly and the service was extremely slow.  We waited a Very. Long. Time. for our food. Our server apologized and the manager checked on us a couple of times, but that was it.  No consolation prize was offered.  As a matter of fact, the side of bacon we ordered never showed up on the table (although it did appear on the bill.  Our server happily fixed that, though). 

Next up, The Market.  I can't wait to go back and just walk up and down the aisles of the market.  I think I could stay there taking it all in for hours.  The market is like a smaller, more intimate version of Central Market.   The Market was bustling with customers shopping in the various sections from cheeses to charcuterie to the Butcher Shop to the Bakery.  The produce was fresh and extremely inviting.  The Market also carries all the staples you would need at home including milk, ice cream, wine, and mustard (yes, mustard is a staple). 

Similar to Central Market, but with a super cute presentation, the market offers candies in old fashioned candy jars.  The candy bar was charming and beckoning me to scoop out some sweets!
24 Waterway Avenue
The Woodlands, Texas 77380

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flora & Muse

I have been waiting for Flora & Muse to open.  I drive through City Centre regularly just to breath in deeply the hipness and urbanness of the mixed use development.  Seriously, I really love it.  I'm thrilled by all the restaurants opening and super pleased that The Tasting Room will be opening at City Centre this coming Spring.   Sorry for the diversion...back to Flora & Muse.  They describe themselves as a European insipired cafe, patisserie, bar, and flower shop.  Pretty terrific combo, huh? 

They just opened their doors this past Saturday, so I will excuse them for being less than perfect.  I loved the flowers, chalkboard, and breads upon entering the front door.  What a Happy Welcome!

The servers behind the counter were very friendly.  Although I was not able to sit down and dine on this trip, I picked up a couple of pastries to sample from the front bakery counter.   First, the Blueberry Scone.  I was so super disappointed.  I think the cafe is darling and want the food to compel others to stay, linger, read the paper, chit chat with their girlfriends over a latte.  I want the place to succeed.

Not with the Blueberry Scone.  On a positive note, the scone had sugar crystals on top, which gave it some crunch.  The rest of the scone was all downhill.  The scone was very doughy.  There was no flavor.  Maybe a hint of blueberry?  But, a hint as in "where is the blueberry?"  A scone should be thicker on the outside, with the inside being softer, yet dense.  These were almost soggy inside and out.  I also tried the Banana Cake.  It was very moist with a very subtle banana flavor (maybe faint? I needed more banana).   The cake had a very sparse, very sad, layer of pecans on top.  The cake could have used more nuts not only for flavor, but for presentation as well. 

All in all, I will try Flora & Muse again because they need time to work out their new restaurant kinks.  Plus, it is cute and charming.

Michael's Cookie Jar

This was my second visit to Michael's Cookie Jar.  The company has been around for several years in Houston, but only recently opened a retail bakery.  Although the bakery is next to a Post Office (how is that for high traffic), it is still off the beaten path.  So, if you visit the bakery, you have to really look for it when driving down Weslayan.  I like the open kitchen of the bakery.  I like the simplistic design of the store.  No thrills or frills.  The architecture focuses on the cookies -- as it should be.  I loved Michael's Cookie Jar the first time.  I liked it the second. 

I started with their Happy Face Cookie (otherwise known as an iced or decorated cookie).  It was super cute to look at, but nothing special to sample.  About what you would expect.  Not too sweet, not too dry.  But, super happy to look at!  Next up, their Ojarasca Cookie (a traditional Mexican cookie).  It was pretty good.  Ojarascas are covered in cinnamon sugar.  And, as soon as the cinnamon sugar hit my tongue, I was content.

Now, my favorite food in the whole, wide, large, big round Earth is....THE Brownie.  Clearly, trying a Michael's Cookie Jar Brownie was a necessity.  I have to say, I was disappointed.   No big chocolate taste.  No fudgy love.  No big cocoa flavor.  It was light (not the dense type of decadence one ordinary expects from THE Brownie).  I didn't even finish my Brownie!!  Can you even believe?!

I was, though, much happier with the Toffee Pecan Crunch Cookie.  It was moist.  It did not crumble.  The cookie had the perfect sweetness...not over the top sickly sweetness, but the type of sweetness you would expect from a "Toffee" Cookie.  The amount of pecans in the cookie were are a good balance to the Heath Bar toffee.  Yummy...I'll get it again.  Finally, I gave the good old American Chocolate Chunk Cookie a swirl.  It was fine.  It was moist.  It did not crumble.  If I had a chocolate chunk in my bite, the flavor was huge.  It was chocolatey.  It oozzed happiness in my mouth.  But, the cookie without a chunk was dull  and flat.  So, eat your Chocolate Chunk strategically and you are good to go with joy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Haven calls itself "a seasonal kitchen."  I love that.  I love fresh ingredients.  I love changing menus with the changing seasons. Not only are they seasonal, but they buy from local farmers and vendors.  Of course, that gives Haven a huge Texas flare.  But, instead of thinking Barbeque or Tex-Mex, Haven is extremely sophisiticated with classical dishes and unique pairings.  They are so true to their local roots, in fact, that they play Texas Country Music (think George Jones and Robert Earl Keen) AND they also serve Lone Star Beer and Shiner Bock (matched with an excellent wine list). But, please do not think of this establishment as unsophisticated or redneck.  It was anything but.  The decor and atmosphere embraced clean lines without frills or kitschiness.

I had heard so many excellent reviews of Haven, that I was worried my expectations might be too high.  They weren't.  My dining partner and I started with both the Free Range Deviled Eggs and Foie Gras.  Both were good.  Not amazing, but consistent and satisfying.  I expected a little more pop from the eggs and the foie gras was a little stringy.  But, the dishes were pleasing.  One of my eggs looked like it had gotten in a fight with the kitchen while the shell was being peeled.  But, the presentation did not affect the taste. 

Next, I had the soup of the day, which was carrot with coriander.  Delish!  It was a creamy soup (though not cream based).  It was topped with a creme fraiche.  It had a mild, non-sweet carrot flavor. The soup exploded in my mouth with a touch of heat (cayenne?).  Enough heat to wake up my palate.   Mmmmm!

Next up, the Tomato "Sundae" with lemon olive ice cream, aged balsamic and tomato sprinkles.  I mean, anything called a Sundae is good in my book.  I missed the tomato sprinkles (where were they?), but the dish did have finally sliced onions on top.  The dish was another pleasing combination.  The ice cream had a crisp, refreshing quality that, once melted a tad, paired nicely with the balsamic.  This is a refreshing dish for all of our hot, humid months in Houston.

The Pork Chop, a large portion, was served with figs and a savory blue cheese pecan tart.  The combination was enjoyable.  The salty with the sweet.  The chop was cooked perfectly.  It was extremely tender, juicy, and had great flavor.

Of course, being in a "Texas" restaurant we had to sample the Goat Buttermilk Pecan Pie.  The pie was a marriage of  buttermilk pie and pecan pie.  It definitely works (and I polished it off), but if you are looking for the traditional corn syrup filling pecan pie, this is not it.  The pie was accompanied by Raileen Rum Ice Cream which had a tasty mild rum flavor, but the ice cream was not super creamy.  The Pecan Brittle served on the side was pretty much To. Die. For.

The prices at Haven are extremely reasonable, especially for the high quality restaurant that it is.  Even the wine list is moderately priced.  The wine list is diverse, eclectic, and about 30% lower in price than similar restaurants.  We tried the Girard Cab, the Laetitia Pinot, a sauterne, a prosecco, and I finished up with the "End of the Road" after dinner drink.  A drink served in a martini glass made with peppermint, dry vermouth, absinthe, egg white, prosecco.  The words "peppermint" and "prosecco" roped me in as they are favorite flavors of mine.  An unusual, interesting combination and very pretty to look at, but not one that I will sample again.  Just not my preference.

The service was excellent as well.  It is obvious that the staff at Haven is well trained and extremely knowledgeable.  I will definitely go back to Haven.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Croissant Brioche

I heard that Croissant Brioche in The Village had some great criossants and eclairs.  So, off we set.  We had to taste.  I had wanted to sink my teeth into a yummy, soft, buttery, chocolately chocolate criossant, but we didn't get there in time.  Sadly, they were sold out.   That is okay, though, because the plain croissant was completely delish!    It was buttery.  It was flakey.  It was soft on the inside with the perfect amount of crunch on the outside.  Adding a little jam was good, but the croissant truly stood great alone.  A good croissant.  I can only imagine how great the chocolate croissants are...

We had to try the eclairs, too.  They had both vanilla cream inside and and chocolate cream filled.  The eclairs were satisifying.  They had a richness to the filling, but not overly so where one is left feeling sick.  The pastry was not dry.  It was not tough.  It was not thick.  These can all be problems that eclairs easily can fall victim to.  We prefered the chocolate filled eclairs.  The chocolate custard had more of mousse consistency.  Yum.  I was impressed with the eclairs. 

Although we specifically went to Croissant Brioche for croissants and eclairs, I had to try their cranberry muffin.  Because, well, I am a sucker  for cranberries.  The muffin was excellent.  It was moist, yet dense enough to hold the muffin together.  It did not crumble.  The cranberries gave the muffin the tartness that I love, and the cake part of the muffin did not get lost by its cranberry counterpart.  The muffin had the right amount of walnuts, too.  Too many nuts can ruin the berry flavor.  That did not happen.  I would happily go back for the cranberry muffin.  And, I hope when I do, they have the chocolately chocolate croissants then, too!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Crave

Several people had the same idea that I did hitting Crave Cupcakes today...on a rainy day.  The small store could have been chaotic, but the friendly staff at Crave was on the ball and kept the long line moving.  Although the place was packed, the atmosphere was peaceful and happy.  I love the clean lines and simple decor of Crave.  I love the open kitchen.  I contrast this with the new Sprinkles in Highland Village.  While I thought the cupcakes at Sprinkes could have been interchanged with Crave (the cupcakes are seemingly identical, including the price), the dark, small, uninteresting Sprinkles storefront leaves much for me to desire.

Now, the best part...the cupcakes!  Delish.  My tasters and I sampled three flavors this time.  First, we started with the Cake Donut.  This is a great breakfast cupcake (because, yes, a cupcake for breakfast is always appropriate).  It does indeed taste like the good, old fashioned cake doughnuts.  The cinnamon toping is a tad crunchy, which adds a nice texture to the moist, dense cupcake.  Next up, The Strawberry Cupcake.  How can one go wrong with a Pink Cupcake?  The icing reminded me of strawberry ice cream - smooth and strawberry-y, but not overly sweet.  The cake was moist and dense, as all Crave cupcakes are.  Bits of strawberry were perfectly mixed throughout the batter.  Finally, my favorite cake flavor anywhere -- Vanilla (i.e. White).  The cake was not too sweet and neither was the icing.  A mild vanilla.  Yum!  I, personally, love a little extra sweet "umph" to a white cupcake, but I will not complain about the Crave cupcake.  It was very tasty! I love the white sprinkles which made the cupcake fun, while still elegant.

I love Crave Cupcakes.  The perfect consistency.  The cupcakes do not crumble.  Always moist.  Dense, but not heavy.  The perfect sweetness where one feels satisfied but not left feeling yucky or blah.  Sprinkles also meets these criteria, but I'd pick the light, clean-lined atmosphere of Crave Cupcakes any day.  (P.S., the Crave Banana Cupcakes are a favorite, but sadly, they were not on the Crave Cupcake menu today...maybe next time).