Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Philippe Restaurant + Lounge - Houston

Philippe Restaurant + Lounge
1800 Post Oak Blvd. #6110
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 439-1000

Cameron and I met some friends of friends a couple weekends ago, and we took their recommendation of trying Philippe Restaurant + Lounge quite seriously by booking our next date night there. We purposely arrived an hour early to the venue last Friday evening to partake of the happy hour specials ($6 specialty cocktails and $5 house wine among other promotions from 4-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday) in the trendy lounge downstairs. The Blessing, a concoction of Absolut vodka, strawberry, pomegranate juice and lime juice, piqued my curiousity. Cam chose the French Cowboy, comprised of Jim Beam bourbon, Lillet and agave syrup. The bartender crafted both cocktails exceedly well.

Following drinks, we ascended the stairs to the restaurant located on the second floor. I must compliment the design and decor of both spaces - my favorite element being the two-story wall behind the bar that is flanked with faux candles. Before being seated, we inquired about group parties. We're thinking of hosting a future dinner here. Immediately, the staff showed us the different private dining rooms available. All were spectacular; however, the chef's table really stood out!

I'll cut right to the chase: Our entire Philippe experience was hands-down superior! The spicy duck confit tamales with sundried tomatoes appetizer (listed under the "Flirtations" on the menu) delivered spot on with its taste and texture and left us wanting more. For my "Main Attraction," I ordered the Baked Lemon Sole with savory compound butter, polenta and truffle-port sauce. Whether sampling the sole or polenta individually or combined in one bite, either approach was extremely successful. Cam went with the My Darling Clementine, which consisted of roasted duck magret, crispy duck confit ravioli, carrot flan, asparagus and clementine-Cognac sauce. He couldn't have been happier with the results!

The dessert menu (aka Decadence) tempted us with several seductive options. We whittled the list down to a few and went with the top choice from our server. Our selection was the French Cowboy Churros (cinnamon churros, spicy chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream). Holy Mother of God: divine! Lightly dusted with cinnamon and sugar, the churros were light and airy. And the salted caramel ice cream and spicy chocolate sauce rounded out the dessert nicely.

We will return to Philippe repeatedly due to its incredible service, attention to detail and delicious cuisine ... Now, it's time to plan that group dinner party!

Service: exceedingly exceptional!
Price: $$
Atmosphere: trendy and hip yet inviting

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hugo's - Houston

1600 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 524-7744

A few months in the making, our first monthly dinner club excursion commenced last Wednesday. A conglomeration of people connected through Kat, our apartment finder, the group of five couples didn't lack for conversation. But that's no surprise since food always has a way of bringing people together.

Hugo's is located in the Montrose area off Westheimer in a beautiful 1925 building designed by Joseph Finger, a well-known Houston architect. Executive chef Hugo Ortega and restauranteur Tracy Vaught serve regional Mexican cuisine with unexpected and adventurous items on its menu, among those being the grasshoppers (Chapulines, bottom photo) we sampled. Pan sauteed and presented with blue corn tortillas, guacamole and salsa, Hugo's cooks carefully disguise this protein to taste somewhat meaty, crunchy and extremely flavorful. However edible and seasoned well, I don't recommend a discussion of the grasshoppers' texture while consuming. Some other "Entremeses" deserve attention as well. On a previous trip to Hugo's, Cam and I partook of the Carnitas de Pato (duck tacos), Queso Flameado (steak) and Lechon (tender suckling pig). All three received praise, but the Carnitas de Pato were probably the favorite that evening.

Moving on I must share the divine entrees we ordered the night of our dinner club outing. I opted for the Carnitas (top photo) while Cam chose the Barbacoa. The Carnitas was tender, slow-cooked pork served with salsa Mexicana, cilantro and onions. The Barbacoa was lamb marinated in chiles, onion, garlic and avocado leaves, then slow-roasted in agave skin and served with chopped onion, fresh cilantro and warm tortillas. Both dishes melted in our mouths!

Fortunately, our taste-testing didn't stop with just our selections. Our newfound friends shared bites of their dishes as well. I love food sharers! Kat ordered the Halibut special, which was extremely fresh and light. Brittney had the Cochinita Pibil, which was slow-roasted baby pig cooked in banana leaf, Yucatán-style with pickled onions, arroz negro and habanero salsa. Hugo's menu delivers several more interesting meat choices, including goat meat and rabbit. Hugo's isn't Tex-Mex, people; it's Mexican fare at its finest!

One final note: Not only does the cuisine at Hugo's impress, but so does the drink menu. Sangria, margaritas, and extensive wine list barely scratches the surface.

Service: excellent
Price: $$-$$$
Atmosphere: great for groups, upscale yet comfortable 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Cub Restaurant - Shreveport, LA

The Cub Restaurant
3002 Girard St.
Shreveport, LA 71104
(318) 861-6517

While in Louisiana this past Easter holiday weekend, I politely requested we have dinner at The Cub Restaurant sometime during our visit. Fortunately, it's one of my mother-in-law Dianne's favorites, so it was determined we'd meet her best friends and Cub regulars, Janet and Chuck Hennigan, there on Friday night to celebrate Ms. Dianne's birthday.

Known for their steaks and au gratin potatoes, this Shreveport mainstay was founded in 1936. With so many years of practice, it's no wonder The Cub serves absolutely, positively my favorite steak ever - and I've sampled steaks all across the U.S. Perfectly seasoned, grilled and cooked to order, their filet mignon melts in your mouth. Dip a bite of steak into the piping hot au gratin potatoes, and you've created a taste of pure heaven. With just a touch of spice and the ooey gooey goodness of melted cheeses, their au gratin potatoes deserve high marks for excellence. Entrees include a simple wedge salad (I strongly recommend the homemade Parmesan peppercorn ranch dressing) and complimentary rolls. Other steak cuts and items appear on The Cub's menu, but why try something else when I love what I love: the filet and au gratins?!

Veteran Cub cook Will consistently and expertly serves the absolute best to patrons! I've frequented The Cub Restaurant countless times in the 12 years since I first was introduced to the joint, and never once have I been disappointed.

Side note: Try the fried soft shell crab when in season.

Service: exemplary
Price: $$-$$$
Atmosphere: old school dive, few tables, reservations recommended

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ruggles Green

Ruggles Green
2311 West Alabama
Houston, TX 77098
Other multiple locations as well with more coming soon!

My close friends will attest to my knack for selecting particular descriptive vocabulary and my ensuing incessant use thereafter until I latch on to my next word of choice. Among these words are "divine, excellent, amazing" - my feeble attempt at imparting my idea of slang into my normally scripted and precise rhetoric. And those same good friends will translate my familiar phrase "Holy Mother of God!" into simple prose for those reading this who aren't so close to me. Translation: "exceptional, divine, delicious" ... the list of adjectives could go on.

Our first introduction to the Ruggles Green in the Upper Kirby/River Oaks neighborhood located a few blocks from our place happened when Cam and I moved to Houston two days after Christmas in 2011. People flowed from the restaurant onto the patios - evidence we'd found a treasured jewel that demanded we sample its fare. That night we ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with award-winning sweet potato fries and a wood-fired margherita pizza to go. (The exercise induced from the move had peaked our appetites more than usual.) Knowing our hunger may have preempted our proclamations of love for Ruggles Green late that night, we've since revisited the eatery many times. And each experience hasn't wavered.

Bringing me to today and my declaration of "Holy Mother of God!" which I don't hand out frequently like a loose-tongued, inexperienced foodie. For lunch I walked to Ruggles Green with the intention of ordering the Jenny Dipper or Ruggles Green Goat Cheese Salad - two of my favorites and both of which I add grilled chicken. The Jenny Dipper consists of grilled cremini mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes and grilled red onions on a bed of baby spinach and served with their house-made sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, honey mustard dressing and blue cheese dressing on the side - all excellent dressings. The Ruggles Green Goat Cheese Salad includes baby greens, arugula, toasted almonds, sliced Granny Smith apples, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan and warm Texas goat cheese and tossed with their creamy sun-dried tomato vinaigrette.

However, I found myself leering at the Daily Specials Menu today for some reason. And "Holy Mother of God!" am I ecstatic to have ventured off my predictable routine! I timidly said to the guy at the counter, "I'll take the chicken special." He said, "Do you mean the Pan-Seared Chicken?" I replied, "Yes, sir." Wow! Perfectly seasoned and seared, the chicken was served with organic green beans, asparagus, carrots and broccoli along with olive oil mashed potatoes. And get this: Julienned lemon rinds and sprouts garnished the dish and provided the pièce de résistance. Chicken, potato, vegetable and lemon rind combined to create the purely balanced bite of heaven! The taste still lingers in my mouth. Incredible!

Whether my next trip to Ruggles Green will be solo like today or with visiting friends (Steph, Amber, James and Arabella have all been with me before.) and family (my mother-in-law Dianne), I'll certainly review the Daily Specials Menu from here on out. Now, if I'd only remembered to take my camera ... I promise to start including food photos soon.

Service: order at counter, take number, choose table, friendly staff
Price: $-$$
Atmosphere: earthy and comfortable 

Monday, April 2, 2012


1312 W. Alabama
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 523-5230

Last week Cameron and I found ourselves sitting in our favorite bar, Anvil, sipping new cocktails on Tuesday evening. I taste-tested the Turtle Blues while Cam sampled the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Always an adventure, Anvil's ever-changing menu provides exciting new concoctions mixed with tried-and-true, old-school benchmarks. If you're seeking new cocktail experiences, Anvil is THE place to discover your inner Columbus. The first-ever beverage I consumed at Anvil, The Mexican Firing Squad, remains at the top of my growing list of favorites. Thanks, Alba, for the recommendation!

After we finished our beverages, Cam and I vowed to visit a new restaurant. The target: Bocados on West Alabama. Because the weather was cool and inviting, we opted for patio seating. Never one to decline an opportunity to take advantage of low-humidity nights, the casual dining atmosphere delivered. Nestled in the middle of a neighborhood, Bocados has been in business for 14 years. We skipped appetizers in favor of two entrees. I chose the Lily & Tery Combo (named after the Bocados' co-owners) comprised of a taco, chicken enchilada and chicken flauta. Can you tell I like variety? Perfectly seasoned and balanced, the enchilada was light and delicious. Yes, I used the word "light" to describe an enchilada. I don't think that's ever been the appropriate adjective I would have selected for Mexican food until I dined at Bocados. Cam ordered the chicken quesadillas, which were delectable as well. And for the margarita lovers, I recommend the Mango Margarita. Yum!

Service: attentive and friendly
Price: $-$$
Atmosphere: patio place!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Max & Julie Brasserie

Max & Julie Brasserie
4315 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006

While meandering through the streets just outside our neighborhood one evening, we stumbled upon a cute little grouping of restaurants and bars in the Montrose/Museum District area. Though we didn't select one that night for our last-minute meal out, instead opting for Bocados on West Alabama (future post coming), we immediately commenced Internet research the following day to determine the first contender for the next outing. The winner: Max & Julie Brasserie.

But before the meal, we insisted upon a stop in the quaint Zimm's, which is located a few doors down. In business for 44 years, the Bellini Tini and Manhattans did not disappoint. The service was friendly without being interferring. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the spring weather before the summer descends upon Houston. But rest assured, the inside boasts cool air conditioning for when the hot heat arrives. While sipping our concoctions, several runners and even one cyclist flew through the patio on the designated "sidewalk" that separates the bar structure from the outdoor space. The exercise enthusiasts were no bother actually and just served to reinforce the friendly neighborhood feel of that particular Montrose corridor.

After savoring the delicious Zimm's martinis, we walked a few doors down to check out Max and Julie Brasserie to test our skills at landing a table without a reservation. Fortunately, luck won out though there weren't many empty tables. We perused the menu and selected the special appetizer of half a dozen raw oysters - my husband Cameron's favorite. I sampled one and declined any more as they were small and gritty. Cam wolfed the others down all the while agreeing he has had better. Coming from Louisiana, our oyster quality expectation is a pretty high standard.

Slightly disappointed with the oysters, our entrees were quite the opposite in performance. Both scored extremely well on our report cards. I chose the Petit Poulet Saute Forestiere (chicken with mashed potatoes, carrots and mushrooms in a red wine glaze) while Cam went with the Canard Roti au Miel et Lavande (duck two ways with lavendar and honey). The chicken was tender and juicy with the appropriate balance of starch, vegetables and sauce. The duck was cooked perfectly in an aromatic blend of lavendar and honey and served with grilled vegetables with a few fried mashed potato balls. Cam cleaned his plate, and I came close!

Because of my previous perusal of the menu online, I decided prematurely on sampling the Souffle Maison - hence my reason for not over-ordering appetizer, salad, etc. I had dreamed of tasting their Souffle for several days prior to our dining experience that Friday evening. However, once we learned the flavor for that night was coffee, I knew my husband would decline sharing the dessert. Quite filling we passed on a sweet treat with the decision to return another day for another flavor - hopefully chocolate or vanilla!

Service: Kudos to server Renee and the host staff - all very attentive
Price: $$ (great prices for the quality)
Atmosphere: lovely, great for romantic dates or small groups, large patio