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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Alto Pizzeria

I'm a fan of Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar (the sister restarurant downstairs).  Alto Pizzeria, the newest addition to the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, finally opened a few weeks ago (a couple of months after Ava).  While Ava is a little more buttoned up, Alto is more casual.  The decor is similar in both places, but again, Alto is a touch more laid back (in a very nice way, no dive atmosphere here).

Bar at Alto Pizzeria

My first impression (aside from liking the place visually) was that the service was S-L-O-W (also very loud and a tad warm in temperature).   It took a very long while for anyone to come on over and say hello, let alone bring us water.  It was busy?  New kinks to work out?  But just as I want to cut them a break, I feel again like they just don't seem to care:  Alto has 4 bubbles by the glass listed on their wine menu.   I ordered the $10 Proscecco (cheapest glass on the list and I like Prosecco).  They were out of that bottle.  Next price point upwards was a $16 Tattinger.  That's fine, but I asked our server since they were out of the $10 glass, if I could have a similar $10 glass of something else -- even $12 or so.  I mean $6 more per glass when they were out of their listed glass is a big jump.  The answer:  No.  Apparently, he even asked his manager who said, "no, unless I wanted to have a sweet Prosecco."  Well, no I don't want a sweet Prosecco.  I wanted a dry one.  No big deal, I moved on and enjoyed my $16 glass.  However, I'm pretty annoyed at that exchange.  Apparently, making the customer happy isn't part of their mantra.

Dining Room at Alto

Service is already off to an iffy start.  But what about the food?  The menu isn't extraordinary long, but full of great options from a vegetable platter to fried squid to open face meatball sandwich to pizza, of course.   Our table started with the Artichoke "Fonduta" with Fontina and Pecorino ($12).   Traditional Fonduta is an Italian style fondue made of Fontina cheese and served over toast or polenta.  Alto's funduta not so much a fondue or dip as a creamy sauce poured over artichokes.  But, very good!  The artichokes were very tender.  The sauce had a tasty kick of something.  The bread served with the funduta was soft, fresh, and warm.

Artichoke Funduta with Fontina and Pecorino

Next, we sampled two pizzas: Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil ($12) and the Chicken with artichokes, fontina, and pine nut pesto ($14).   We like the Margherita a great deal.  The tomatoes were whole cherry tomatoes, not sliced larger tomatoes (like a Roma).  And, they had a great baked, roasted essence that bursted with flavor when I bit into them.  The pizza crust was chewy, yet crispy and thin.  Excellent.  Very delicious. 

Margherita Pizza

The Chicken Pizza with artichokes?  Hmmmm...not so much.  This pizza was a direct contrast to the excellent flavor combination of the Margherita  The chicken pizza flavors not only didn't compliment each other, they worked against each other.   Fontina and artichoke do work well together (see the Fonduta above), but not on this pizza.  And, pesto as the sauce is usually an great addition.  But not on this pizza.   Too salty?  Too lemon-y?  Odd flavors we couldn't pin point, but knew were not working for our palattes. 

Chicken Pizza with artichokes, fontina and pine nut pesto

Next up, a pasta:  Fettuccine with chicken, leeks, steamed garlic, lemon zest, and fontina (apparently, Alto likes their fontina!).  ($13).  The pasta grew on us the more we ate.  The cream sauce thickened with time and the flavors became more balanced.  The chicken was moist and tender (though, the pieces should've, could've been bigger).  The pasta was a light dish.  I'd order it again. 

Fettuccine with chicken, leeks, steamed garlic, lemon zest & fontina

Finally, our sweet finish.  Not many dessert options on the Alto menu, but the Sourdough Doughnuts (served with Nutella) called my name.  Whether you call these doughnuts or beignets, these fried dough balls rolled in sugar were soft and warm.  Thick sour dough that sunk our teeth into.   The Nutella was a great addition for dipping these babies.  And, at only $5, the dessert was a generous portion. 

Sourdough Doughnuts with Nutella

So to sum up:  I have mixed thoughts on Alto.  Our server was friendly and nice, but service was slow the entire night.  I'm still a little annoyed they couldn't substitue another similar priced-point sparkling wine for me or at least care to try.  But most of the food was pleasant.  And, I do like the atmosphere.  You can check it out and let me know what you think! 

Alto Pizzeria
2800 Kirby (at Westheimer)
Houston, Texas 77098

Thursday, June 2, 2011

French Gourmet Bakery and Cafe

How many times have I driven past both locations of the French Gourmet Bakery?  And never stopped?  Well, you know where this is going -- yesterday I stopped for lunch.   The eatery is definitely themed in a French way, but more like 1990's french country, minus the antiques and simplicity.  This is not a "Guy's Place."  I only saw one man, and he was getting something to go.  And, the customers are definitely an older crowd.  Hip and young this place is not;  however, the service was great, friendly, and quick.

Their menu is small and simple.  And, I actually like that.  Stay focus.  Stay on message.  Stay a French Bakery.  Breakfast consists of pastries (no hot dishes, but sausage and cheese kolaches on weekends).  The lunch menu is made up of sandwiches and salads.   And, with a name like "French Gourmet Bakery," they truly do offer many bakery items from cookies to cakes to breads.

French Gourmet Bakery

I opted for the Chicken Salad Sandwich on Tuscan bread (kind of cross between white and wheat) ($5.95, no sides, just the sandwich).   Yum.   Yum-o.  Yummy.   I liked their Chicken Salad.  I liked it a lot.  I'm not a real fan of fillers in chicken salad.  No fruit or nuts for me.  Just give me the good stuff.  The real deal.  Give me the actual chicken salad.  And, the French Gourmet Bakery did just that.  Creamy.  Moist.  Flavorful.  Delicious Chicken Salad.  The bread was very fresh and soft.  The kind of bread that your teeth just sink right down into.  The partnership of the soft, fresh bread, and the fresh, flavorful chicken salad was perfect. 

Chicken Salad Sandwich

What is a visit to a bakery with out a sweet treat?  So, I ordered some cupcakes.  Well, yes, "some."  I didn't see just single cupcakes so I bought a six pack.  I know.  I know.  But, I did share later on at home.  The cupcakes were excellent.  The icing was thick and creamy with a great buttery flavor.  The cake portion was very dense, yet very moist.  It truly melted in my mouth.  The icing and cake together was an excellent combination working well in perfect flavor harmony.  ($8.99 for 6 cupcakes).

Vanilla Cupcakes

My experience as the French Gourmet Bakery was a good one.  I'll go back. 

French Gourmet Bakery and Cafe
2250 Westheimer Road                        12504 Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77098                         Houston, Texas 77024
713-524-3744                                     713-973-6900