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Da Marco's or Catalan? {HOU}

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My annual birthday dinner treat is coming up. My friend takes me to wherever I want to go, and money is no object. We will be going on Wed. night (6/4) around 6:30. I have scoured the restaurant sites, this site and pumped neverfull with ?'s about possible locations. I had decided on Catalan, but my friend said she went on a Thur. night, around 6, and that the noise level got progressively louder until she couldn't even carry on a conversation. That is not my idea of fun because we always have so much to talk about! I also have chronic headaches, so if it gets too loud I am miserable. I argued that a Wed. should be pretty tame, but then I suggested Da Marco's. That is probably the one of the only places in town that she has never been to - a real shocker because she goes out a lot! She wants to try that, but then I read a few reviews, and although the food sounds delicious some reviews mentioned the noise level, too. What do you CHers think? And if we do go to Da Marco's what do you recommend?

TIA

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  1. I have only been to Da Marco's. I was that on a Friday night. We arrived about 6 and lingered. I loved that whole experience. When we got there, there weren't many people, so it was very quiet but as it filled it did get louder though I don't remember ever thinking it was loud. This is our special occasion place.

    We ordered off the specials of the day menu though we also had the papardelle with rabbit. We ordered a wine that they didn't have in stock so they recommended another wine that was similar and we liked. Service was excellent without being intrusive.

    I have not been to Catalan...yet.

    1. ahh, the equation changes when you throw in da marco as one of the options. if someone else is paying, i'll pick da marco in a heartbeat. da marco is my ultimate special occasion restaurant in houston.

      the noise factor is totally different at these two places. catalan basically has one big open space of a dining room. yes, it can get loud in there due to the sheer # of tables/people in there no doubt all taking advantage of their great wine prices. i can't remember what kind of flooring they have in there, but i'm pretty sure the tables are on an island of carpet to absorb some of the noise. and don't ever go to reef. it is REALLY loud in there = polished concrete floors + large expansive dining room.

      da marco is in a small converted house probably built in the late 30's or 40's. the floors are hardwoods and yes you will probably be able to hear a neighboring table's conversation. it is a very cozy space, but the restaurant is small and i don't remember ever thinking it was loud in there.

      re: da marco's menu, you really can't go wrong. everything i've had there has been first rate. FYI, italian meals are 4 or 5 courses. da marco does 4: antipasti, primi (pasta course), secondi (main/meat), and dessert. (in a 5 course meal, you start with either a bruschetta or soup) definitely do a pasta course (or even split one). the raviolo w/ ricotta, egg and truffle is amazing. the black truffle risotto is delicious if you are craving a risotto. for mains, i love the duck and the whole roasted branzino is fantastic, but i'm sure you'd be very happy with the roasted quail. my friend says the porterhouse there is the best steak he's ever had (which is a true compliment coming from him). the panna cotta w/ saba dessert is very good.

      if i know you, you've been studying the menu online but keep in mind that they have lots of daily specials. and do not be afraid to ask how much a special is before ordering it lest your friend may get sticker shock when the bill comes. there is a truffle special that in the ballpark of $85 or more.

      i have a great meal and happy belated birthday! and of course, please report back.

      6 Replies
      1. re: neverfull

        Thanks! I knew you all would help me. Of course I have been studying the menu, but I don't know Italian, so I can't interpret some of the dishes. The quail dish is with "vignole"? Rabbit in "porchetta"? Duck with "mertillo"? What is papardelle with rabbit.? And what about the short ribs w/burrata risotto? It all sounds so good! I am drooling already! I can't wait and when she said "money is no object" well . . . Okay by me!

        1. re: danhole

          vignole is a spring vegetable stew consisting of peas and/or beans, artichokes, leeks, proscuitto and mint.
          porchetta is italian roasted suckling pig. DELISH.
          paparadelle are wide pasta ribbons.
          mertillos are cranberries.
          burrata is a fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream. think soft buffalo mozzarella but creamier and tastier!

          can i come?

          1. re: danhole

            i found you a photo of that raviolo. if like black truffles or haven't ever had them, please get this dish. it's a great intro to the truffle and it's flavor profile is much more interesting and complex than the truffle risotto.

            http://www.quoz.com/2005/07/da-marco....

            1. re: neverfull

              I have never had black truffles, so I might try that. Sorry jenny, you can't come this time. It's a special night for the two of us, but we can do it another time with her! She would love that.

              Thanks everyone for the translations! I am not very familiar with Italian, as you can tell!

              1. re: danhole

                get the raviolo at da marco then. it's a must.

                and if you ever make it to dolce vita, get the truffled egg toast. shaved black truffles on top country bread topped with an egg, a good parmigiano reggiano, and truffle oil. YUM! and only $12.

            2. re: danhole

              pappardelle is a pasta. pappardelle with rabbit usually means it's a pasta with rabbit ragu. if I can find this on the menu I usually order it. burrata is a type of mozzerella cheese. my husband has had the short ribs with burrata risotto and loved it. porchetta is roast pork so I'm not sure what the rabbit in porchetta would be. maybe it's roasted rabbit. the wait staff there is more then helpful and will answer any and all of your questions without making you feel ignorant. do let us know how it all went.

          2. I have never been to Catalan so I can’t say, although I hear great things. I could be wrong but I think the sommelier there came from Da Marco. I have been to Da Marco's though on several occasions (some prior to the Gourmet write-ups) and truly believe it is one of, if not the best restaurant in Texas. As a Dallasite this is especially hard to admit.
            While I have usually been with a friend who dines there for business often and we usually just do a tasting menu, I can't imagine ever having a bad meal there. And the wine selection is very well thought out and not the garden variety stuff you see at most wine shops. Marco and his wife really seem to care about doing it right over doing it profitable, although I’m guessing they do just fine. Memorable dishes for me included smelts (proudly displayed on ice as you walked in) and pomelo salad with sunflower greens, sublime gnocchi, pork trotters, and twin panna cottas (melon I believe) with a honeyed truffle dripping. I don't remember it being particularly loud.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sike101

              you are right, antonio, the sommelier at catalan used to be the wine guy at da marco.

            2. I don't remember Da Marco as being unusually loud, and the food and service were excellent. The lobster and corn ravioli appetizer is out of this world.
              We've never been to Catalan, but had a great meal at Ibiza, which i believe is run by the same people.

              1 Reply
              1. re: zorra

                She had suggested Ibiza, but neverfull said to look at Catalan also. When I compared the menus they were along the same lines, but a wider variety at Catalan. She also said it wasn't so loud at lunch, so maybe a lunch get together there would be better.

              2. DaMarco. Much more of a special feel than Catalan. Last time I was at DaMarco, I had lamb chops in a gin and blueberry sauce. Delicious. Also, DaMarco is probably a bit less noisy. The Catalan experience can be replicated at a half-dozen restaurants in houston. DaMarco is more unique (although unique can't be quantified).

                I will celebrate a birthday dinner a week after you. Happy birthday and bien provecho.

                1 Reply
                1. re: montroseguys23

                  So, where are you going for your bday dinner? Being nosey, I know. Hope you have a happy one. Cheflambo is having her bday next week.

                2. Looking forward to meeting you at Feast. I agree with your assessment of Catalan being the better choice over Ibiza since they are the same owners and Catalan's menu seems more consistent with the Spanish theme. You can see my Catalan review on this list. Da Marco is on my list of places to try. I've heard very good things about their sweetbreads and the truffled pasta. Porchetta with a truly young pig produces a cracky skin that is often made into a popular street-food panini in Italy. Black truffles may be getting rarer since climate change is making the region drier and truffles are very sensitive to drought. I've heard that there has been a dramatic decline in yield in the last five years.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Herithoth

                    Between your review and jenny's reviews I am determined to eat at Catalan! You guys make my mouth water! Can't wait to meet everyone! After our meal at Da Marco's I'll post our experience, but not with pictures. I think my friend would be mortified if I whipped out my camera, LOL!

                    1. re: danhole

                      so you're going to da marco, right? your post is a little confusing. well then i'll go to catalan for you :) i actually planned a group dinner there tonight. my friend from austin is in town and brought her new beau who is a foodie. his mom is the food critic for the dallas morning news so we wanted to wow him (w/o breaking the bank). catalan of course!

                      we are sitting outside on the patio, but i'll do my best to come back with some good photos for you. everyone has already agreed that they will let me do the ordering! do you know much how i love doing that? and i will let antonio handle the wine. i know the dinner will be so successful.

                      asia market twice yesterday, catalan tonight, and feast tomorrow night... monday, i'm going on a diet.

                      1. re: neverfull

                        Yup, it's Da marco's. I couldn't convince her to go to Catalan (she insists it will be too noisy), and since she has never been to Da Marco's it will be a treat for both of us!

                        I want us to go to Catalan for lunch sometime. Maybe we should put in on the yahoo site. We'll talk. Can't wait to see pictures!

                  2. Da Marco and Catalan are both excellent, but I wouldn't go to either for a special meal. Go to Voice and do a tasting menu. It will be one of the best meals you've had on Houston.

                    http://www.tasty-bits.com/index.php/2...

                    Best way to experience Da Marco without breaking the bank is during lunch. For $22 you'll get an option of 3 entrees, including many that you'll find on the dinner menu. It's the best meal you can have at lunch in Houston.

                     
                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mgovshteyn

                      For some reason she was not interested in Voice at all, and while it is my choice, I still want to go somewhere we both agree on. I sent her that blog link, and the Voice menu. I also sent her the menu from Le Mistral, because that sounded so good, also. In both cases I asked, repeatedly, if she looked at them, and she kept saying things like she couldn't open them, or she hadn't had time, etc. I figured she just wasn't interested, so I dropped those choices. As far as breaking the bank, it's her bank and the places she suggested were even more than it is at Da Marco's.

                    2. I love Catalan but it can't hold a candle to the food at da Marco. Noise will not be too bad at 6:30 on a Wed at either. We eat at da Marco frequently and the chances of you being outshouted there are pretty low on Wed at 6:30, but there are some bad tables there (more bad tables than Catalan). Some of those two tops against the wall are so close together that you feel like you are dining with your neighbors. Lobster ravioli - mmmm.