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, March 31, 2011

Yard House

Yard House is a comforting place.  Much like the comforts of a pub, yet a very nice, upscale pub.   Yard House's name is "derived from a 3-foot tall glass originally designed in England to hand to stagecoach drivers back in the day when travel by horse drawn carriage was common" (Yard House).   I think that is pretty cool.  So, being named after a glass of beer, you know they serve a large variety of the foaming stuff -- ales, lagers, on tap, in the bottle, you name it.  But, quite different than a shabby pub, Yard House serves wine, too.  And, not cooking sherry, which I have actually had in a pub before, but that's another story.  Cabernets, Syrahs, Pinot Grigios, and Champagnes.  Ahhhhhh....happiness.  Yard House actually has a full bar, for any libation you crave.

The Food.  The food is not super fancy, but the menu is extensive.  Appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pastas, pepper crusted filet, pan seared ahi, you get the idea.   And, the food is all sensibly good.  Comforting food.

We started with the Chicken Nachos ($10.85).  The chips were fairly thin and crispy and held up the heap of toppings above quite well.  Those toppings included beans, cheeses,  red and  green tomatillo sauces, guacamole, sour cream, and the chunks of chicken.  The larger pieces of chicken were a little over cooked and dry, but over all the nachos were satisfying, large, and made us smile.  And, at happy hour prices, we got them half price!  Cha Ching!

Chicken Nachos

We also tried the Chopped Salad ($8.45).  This was only an appetizer salad (versus an Entree Salad), and the portion was still substantial.  The fresh, cold, crispy salad included tomatoes, bacon, corn, cilantro, cucumbers, celery, and onions, with sliced avocado on top and served with a bloody mary vinaigrette.  The salad was delicious, refreshing, and hearty. 

Chopped Salad

Our evening at Yard House was all about casual and comfort.  So, on that note, let me note the very delicious french fries.  Thin.  Crispy.  Seasoned.  Well worth an order.

French Fries

Secondly, let me point out the Fresh Baked Brownie, topped with a scoop of your choice of mint chocolate chip, caramel, or vanilla ice cream.  Now, when I say fresh baked, it literally is.  The brownie comes to your table in the metal pan in which it was just baked  -- piping hot.  Perfectly delicious.  Soft.  Fresh.  Truly, nothing fancy, but, comfort dessert in its perfect essence. 

Fresh Baked Brownie

Yard House
(at City Centre)
800 W. Sam Houston Parkway
Houston, Texas 77024

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ruggles Grill - Dessert Only

Everyone knows that Ruggles - from past to present - has always made some of the best dessert in town.  Their selection of big pieces, big chunks, and big bowls of delectable, ooey, gooey, sweet confections has always been a show stopper for me.  We set out just for dessert and champagne. 

Ordering their White Chocolate Bread Pudding was a given for us.  Known for this yummy sweet dish, I have ordered it many times at Ruggles in the past and always been super pleased.  However, this time, I was a little disappointed.  I thought it was too runny.  Also, too custardy.  However, one of my fellow diners, a custard fanatic, loved the fact that the bread pudding was much like a big ramekin of custard, so she was very satisfied.  The top was crunchy and the dish was very flavorful.  A raspberry sauce, served on the side, was a nice compliment (a little sauce went a long way).   The consistency and texture of the dish just did not work for me on this visit.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

We also ordered the Carrot Cake.  I really enjoyed this slice of heaven.  The cake was moist and had a nice spice cake flavor.  The frosting, a cream cheese icing, was not over-the-top cream cheesy.   Instead, the cream cheese gave the icing a nice, not-too-sweet flavor complimenting the cake.  The frosting was done how cream cheese frosting should be done.  Compliments to Ruggles.  Great piece of cake! Also served with their organic vanilla bean ice cream on the side.

 Carrot Cake

Not pictured, but we consumed!! - the Candy Bar Cheesecake and Domino Cake.  I would describe the Candy Bar Cheesecake just like that, a cheesecake made with many varieties of candy bars.  A whole Nestle Crunch bar was even on the side of cheesecake slice!  The crust was a good graham cracker crust.  The Domino Cake was layered white and chocolate mousse between layers of moist, rich, dark chocolate cake, with an absolutely divine ganache icing.  Very fudge-y ganache icing.  Very yummy. 

All the desserts were $7.95.  And while I was a touch disappointed in the bread pudding, I highly recommend Ruggles Grill, especially to satisfy that sweet craving.  By the way, the service was amazing, too.

Ruggles Grill
903 Westheimer
Houston, Texas 77006

Monday, March 28, 2011

El Real Tex Mex

I couldn't wait to try El Real Tex Mex, the new Tex-Mex partnership between Robb Walsh (Food Critic, James Beard Award Finalist, and all round Foodie Rockstar), Bryan Caswell (Chef/Owner, Reef, and also James Beard Finalist), and Bill Floyd (Restaurateur and co-owner of Reef).   El Real is located in the old Tower Theatre on Westheimer in Montrose. 

El Real Tex Mex

I loved the super high ceilings, thanks to the architecture left over from the theater.  The old projection room is still there along with the movie screen, playing old black and white Western movies.  The floor is polished cement and the walls are painted with vibrant colors.  One entire wall consists of windows, allowing lots of natural light during the daytime.  The owners bought the tables and chairs and memorabilia from the old  El Felix restaurant (which had been housed down the street for 60 years, closing 3 years ago).  El Real also pays homage to those Tex-Mex legends who made Houston's Tex-Mex scene what it is today -- including Ninfa Laurenzo and Felix Tijerina himself.   Also, the musical selection was fantastic -- ranging from Tejano to Merle Haggard to Robert Earl Keene.  One of my dining companions said, the food is San Antonio and the music is Austin, yet the cafe is located in Houston = the best of all worlds. 

Old Western Movies in the tradition of Tower Theater

Okay, so, the food, right?  We started with margaritas, of course.  I opted for the Skinny Margarita (espolon blanco, tequila, fresh lime and agave nectar) ($7.25).  Delicious and fresh.  As was the El Real Rita ($7.25) - both frozen and on the Rocks were cold, fresh, and yummy.  I also enjoyed the chips and salsa - the chips were light and crispy (and salty!) and the salsa was fresh and full of tomato flavor.

Skinny Margarita and the El Real Margarita

Being open only a week, the menus were still Xeroxed on paper and they were working out some kinks, but that is to be expected.  I thought the service was pretty good considering the newness of the eatery.   We ordered the regular queso and a queso with Picadillo (ground beef) (small $5.95).  The melted cheese was creamy, with an excellent consistency, and a little kick of spice.  The picadillo beef was delicious.  Good enough to just eat it with a spoon.  Yum!

Chili Con Queso and Queso with Picadillo

Next, we ordered the Nachos with smoked chicken.  The Nachos were delectable -- and the kind I expect as a native Houstonian.  The chips were a little thicker than the ones in the baskets, but not too thick.  Just enough to be able to hold up the mound of shredded cheese, chicken, and beans.  Substantial nachos.  Very good.

Nachos with Smoked Chicken

The 3 Cheese Enchiladas #7 with salsa verde ($12.95) had excellent sauce.  The enchiladas were very traditional and very delicious.  Lots of thick cheddar enveloped in the tortillas.  The enchiladas were classic Tex-Mex, done perfectly. 

3 Cheese Enchiladas #7

We also tried the Enchiladas Borunda - pork enchiladas with guajilla chili (a type of chili pepper common in Mexican dishes).  ($10.95).  Another classic Tex-Mex plate.  Savory, meaty, and very substantial.  This dish had a great deal of food to fill up even the hungriest customers. 

Enchiladas Borunda

Our biggest complaints were the rice and the beans.  While the rice was light and fairly fluffy, it had zero flavor.  The beans were very thin and runny and did not contain any spice or seasonings.  Obviously, these two items are crucial to a Tex-Mex dish, so I'm hoping these issues get worked out. 

For a week old restaurant, the flow of the service was pretty good.  The menu was still limited (no dessert yet) and no lunch service yet.  But, all of these growing pains will be conquered soon enough.  I can't wait to go back in the near future when El Real has hit its stride.  I'm so happy that El Real has opened its doors in Houston.  Houston Rejoice - we have a new classic!

El Real Tex Mex
1201 Westheimer
Houston, Texas 77006

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Tasting Room - City Centre

I love The Tasting Room.  I always have.  Ever since they opened with a tiny hole in the wall in Uptown Park.  And, look how far they have come!  Three locations, a full lunch and dinner menu, and, another new location.  The Tasting Room is now open in City Centre.   By the way, I love City Centre, too.

The Tasting Room at City Centre follows the same basic tenets in design as the other 2 locations.   High energy.  Outside seating.  Nice service and nice staff.  The decor is simple and streamlined.  Polished cement floors, simple furnishings, a laid back approached to a sophisticated experience.  The latest Tasting Room is their largest location with plenty of room for private parties. 

The Tasting Room - City Centre

The menu.  The dinner menu is still more of "bar menu," but they do offer large plates such as Oven Roasted Red Snapper ($18) and Butternut Squash Tortellini ($14), which I thought sounded particularly yummy!  TTR offers many pizza selections and also added a wood-fired pizza oven at this location. 

We started with the Salumi and Cheese plate (3 cheeses and 3 meats for $26; alternatively, you can order just 3 cheeses for $18 or 3 meats for $18).  We enjoyed all 6 of our selections with our favorite being the Ossau-Iraty Sheep Cheese from France.  Sweet, buttery flavors.  Firm, but not hard.

Cheese & Salumi Plate

I am a Risotto Fanatic, so clearly, an order of their Mushroom Risotto was going to happen.  The dish ($10) made of carneroli rice, tomatoes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano was okay.  I was a little disappointed, though.  It was too thin and needed more seasoning, even a pinch of salt would have gone a long way on this under-spiced dish.  Sadness. 

Mushroom Risotto

I love that TTR offers Dessert!  Nothing like capping the night off with a little dolce to satisfy my crazy sweet tooth.  The Pistachio Pound Cake with truffle honey, agrodolce (traditional Italian sour-sweet sauce, made from reducing two sweet items such as sugar and vinegar), and lemon cream ($6) sounded intriguing and delicious.   It was good.  The pound cake was moist, but toasted, giving it a warm, crunchy texture.  The agrodolce was a strong flavor pairing nicely with the citrus-y whipped cream and toasted cake.  I really enjoyed it.

Pistachio Pound Cake

Our experience at The Tasting Room - City Centre was excellent.  I look forward to going back.  The service was perfect, the wines were yummy, the food was mostly delicious, and the ambiance captured high energy with relaxtion.

The Tasting Room - City Centre
818 Town & Country Boulevard, Suite 100
Houston, Texas 77024
(281) 822-1500

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Egg and I

 I'm not sure what to say about this place, other than I have no plans to return.  I guess I am late to the dance because I didn't realize these establishments were a franchised chain.  An Egg and I location opened at I-10 and Gessner, near my house.  I thought, "Hey!  What a cute name!  I love breakfast!  Let's try it!"

The Egg and I is similar to a Denny's or Ihop, yet I don't mean to insult Ihop by lumping these two eateries together.  I love Ihop!  The Egg and I's atmosphere was a little too simple, country kitchen for me.  Indoor/outdoor carpet.  Very basic chairs and tables.   That is completely fine if the service and food had been amazing.  But, the food was nothing spectacular.

I ordered the Garden Fritatta ($8.29).  Actually, a large amount of food came on my plate.  But nothing that was just mind-blowing crazy good.  The Frittata included tomatoes, green peppers, onions, portabella mushrooms, baby spinach, and cheddar and Monterrey jack cheeses.  Fresh ingredients, but the fritatta was very thin and dry. The dish came with a side of potatoes and buttered toast.  While the potatoes were moist and tender, there was no flavor.

Garden Fritatta

I was disappointed by the lack of ambiance, so-so service, and hum ho food.  For a chain breakfast, I'm hitting Ihop in the future.

Egg and I
9778 Katy Freeway
Houston, Texas 77055

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Favorite Part of Rodeo

Well, the Houston Rodeo has come and gone (with 40,000 fried Oreos having been consumed), but let me re-live the yummy memories of fried ooey gooey goodness!

Fried Snickers.  Yes.  Fried Snickers.  Yes.  Yum.   For you skeptics, don't think deep fried like a chicken tender or french fry.  The batter is lighter, and the frying isn't so deep.  The batter reminds me more of Twinky than a Chicken Fried Steak.  The frying process makes the inside goodness ooey, gooey, and delicious.  The Snickers fried confection for example, gets super soft inside.  The melty caramel just dances upon your tongue.  And, of course, the outside chocolate melts just enough to make it creamy.  It's delectable.  Then, that puppy is doused with powdered sugar.  Yum.  I get a Fried Snickers every year at Rodeo.  The Snickers was one of the first fried confections...and truly, it is hard to beat. 

Fried Snickers

Inside the Fried Snickers.  Note the ooey gooey goodness of melty chocolate,
gooey caramel, and warm peanuts

Okay, so each year, I try a new fried sweet treat.  Well, this year, I tried two.  First up, the Reese's.  A Reese's in general is just one of my favorite grocery store candies.  I mean, its hard for me to beat chocolate and peanut butter.  I had to try the Fried Reese's.  But, I personally did not just love the Reese's fried.  Maybe not enough just total blind sweetness (since peanut butter cuts the sweetness of chocolate).  While definitely not bad, the Fried Reese's was just not my fave.

An order of Fried Reese's came with three

Inside the Fried Reece's.

Last up, the Fried S'more.  This item just intrigued me.  Like how exactly do you fry a S'more?  Well, turns out you can pretty much fry anything and the S'more fries up really well.  I think it is my new favorite.  Yes.  Absolutely.  The batter added a soft outer coating to the graham cracker, which held up well to the fry.  The marshmallow.  Ahh...the marshmallow.  Perfectly melty gooey creamy inside.   The chocolate wasn't as melted as I had imagined, but it was still divine.  I liked the S'more with its layers of contrast and deliciousness.  I recommend you get this slice of fried sweet heaven next year at the Rodeo.

Fried S'more

Inside the Fried S'more -- graham cracker, marshmallow, and chocolate
all hot, melty, gooey, ooey, and lovely

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar

Hello Beautiful!  I loved you from the first moment I saw you.  I mean, Look at you!

Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar

Ava is vibrant.  Ava is classy.  Ava has clean lines with the perfect splashes of color, where, and when necessary.  Ava is fun.  Ava is light, bright, and airy.  Ava is contemporary with all the goodness of tradition.  And, I've only mentioned the decor.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable.  And, the food was superb, as well.  A trifecta!

Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar

Ava is the newest concept by the Schiller-Del Grande Restaurant Group.  The upstairs casual Alto Pizzeria should be open in a couple of weeks. 

The menu  at Ava offers many great, solid options from burgers to pasta to duck breast to Filet Mignon, and everything in between.  A great selection with fresh, inviting options.  I started with the White Bean Soup with bacon and cippolini onions ($8).   The soup was hearty, with pureed beans, and a few whole beans as well.  Also included were cippolini onions and a few chunks of bacon, more like chunks of pork fat.  The tender onions were roasted prior to their addition, bringing out their sweetness.  The soup could have used a little more seasoning, but really, it was delicious.  It would have been even better paired with some good old garlic bread!  Yum!

White Bean Soup

My dining companion started with the Provencal Tomato Soup with basil citrus pesto ($8).  It was a thick, very tomato-y soup.  Almost like a pasta sauce.  Excellent rich tomato flavor.  Lots of depth to this soup.  The pesto on top was very lemony, a great contrast and compliment to the deep tomato flavor.

Provencal Tomato Soup

For my entree, I ordered the Chicken Salad with artichokes, roasted peppers and mushrooms ($13).  This grilled chicken salad was no run of the mill grilled chicken salad.  It was fresh and innovative.  The ingredients were not new or unusual, yet all of the flavors and components added a fresh perspective to the respected salad.  The dressing served with it was a pesto of sorts.  I ordered it on the side, and was glad I did.  It was pretty heavy, and I was happy it was not completely dressing my salad. 

Grilled Chicken Salad

My dining companion ordered the Nicoise Salad ($14).  This salad held its traditional roots with tuna, olives, eggs, and potatoes.  A great, fresh representation of a Nicoise.  The tuna was cooked well -- tangy and flaky.  Excellent taste and texture.  All of the ingredients worked well together and stood out to be super fresh.

Nicoise Salad

Our experience at this new eatery located in the new, hip West Avenue was excellent. I look forward to going back.  I loved the atmosphere, the food, and the service.  A trifecta!

Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar
2800 Kirby Avenue
Houston, Texas 77098