houston restaurant week 2008 - reviews
*17 in the alden hotel
a group of houston chowhounds, industry folks, and i went to *17. we had a table of 10 and the service was friendly, professional, but a little slow. the restaurant only got about half full throughout the night.
an amuse of tuna tartare on a watermelon radish chip set the dinner into motion. i was busy taking photos of it with my camera, and then the amuse disappeared before she eats and i could eat it.
for starters, almost everyone at the table chose the seasonal roasted tomato soup. our server told us there was crispy pork belly in it, so the baby lettuce salad dressed with EVOO & sherry vinegar largely skipped by everyone at the table. but when the 1st course was dropped, not a speck of pork was to be found at the table. the soup was boring and a tad acidic for my taste.
second course was a choice between halibut w/ corn pudding or a NY strip w/potatoes puree & sauteed spinach with a bordelaise. the "NY strip" was a 4 oz. filet -no grisley strip of fat was detectable. both portions were slightly larger than tasting menu size. the "corn pudding" was a creamed corn. neither dishes were bad per se, but more reminiscent of lukewarm wedding banquet food.
third course was chocolate fondant cake or ice cream. i had a bite of the cake and it didn't excite me, but chocolate rarely does. it was dry and a little bittersweet. it probably would have been better with a bite of the ice cream quenelle which arrived half melted on the same plate. i opted for the coffee ice cream and received 3 small scoops.
i was initially quite sticker shocked by the wine prices, but i realized that i have been spoiled by the wine lists at catalan, ibiza, VOICE, and reef.
they sent us home with a voucher for a free cocktail at a+, the bar at the alden, or free dessert with the purchase of a meal at *17. i can't say i was blown away. jokes were also flying about stopping at catalan or somewhere else for a bite to eat on the way home.
I ate at the grove on Monday:
Apparently they don't want to sell the idea of restaurant week because we were given normal menus and the event was not mentioned. I had to ask for the HRW menus. I can see why. The portions are huge - or, standard American big I guess, depending on your point of view. We tried everything on the HRW menu. Appetizers included the lobster crab bisque and a salad. The arugula/baby greens were fine, and it was enormous, easily split for two. A toasted piece of bread with cheese on the side was ok, but just like my toasted bread with the soup kind of...an after thought. The bisque was heavy on crab flavor, a little fishy, strong spices or roux taste, and thus overall heavy-handed - or maybe actually attempting to finish the portion was a mistake. Mains: organic roasted chicken and roasted salmon on roasted corn. The chicken was excellent, moist, flavorful, spiced. Accompanied with delicious roasted potatoes. The salmon was underseasoned but prepared well. The corn was also underseasoned. Again, both were large portions. Our group ordered two bottles of wine - a Cloudline 2006 ($37) Pinot Gris / Oregon, and a pinot noir Laetitia 'Limite' 2006 /Arroyo Grande ($35). The pinot noir was smooth to perhaps being a little dull, I liked the gris enough.
Dessert - butterscotch flan with seasonal berries or a pie plate: two key lime pie squares, and two pecan pie squares. Key lime pie was lime-tart refreshing and the pecan pie was sweet chewy texture good. I'm not a fan of butterscotch so can't quite comment on the flan. Service was moderately attentive, a lot of large business tables competing for our attention. If you want the $35 to count, the Grove satisfies. I imagine if they do this a bit more they might scale back on the portions.
I posted this in the Yahoo Houston Chowhound Group and thought I'd post this over here as well.
We were a party of four at VOICE last night. They couldn't find our reservation (after confirming it the day before??), but seated us promptly anyways. The place was quiet which surprised me because I thought it would be more crowded for restaurant week. Our server didn't seem to know much about the wine pairings at all, but found out the answers to all of our questions after disappearing for 10 minutes after each. This got to be a little much as we had several questions about the wine and he would run off before we could grab him to tell him we had more questions. The manager ended up talking to us for a while about wines and doing the first pour for us when 3/4ths of us settled on buying a bottle instead of the wine pairing (we went with a bottle of what was being paired with the short ribs, the name escapes me at the moment).
We were provided with bread (first round tasted like hockey pucks! I don't know how long those had been sitting around. The second round was fresh and much better.) with a garlic paste, butter, and sun-dried tomato/olive spread. It took a while for the bread to come out and the water didn't arrive at the table for quite some time.
I had the Summer Risotto which was pretty disappointing. It tasted like regular long grain rice was used and it was not creamy at all. The teeny tomatoes in the dish were fantastic, but the corn was pretty unremarkable. I tried a bite of the bleu cheese salad and wished I had gotten that instead. The greens were very fresh and crisp. My husband reported that the bleu cheese was steller. One of us got the mushroom soup and ended up having to fight off his wife and my husband (I'm not very big on mushrooms) to be able to finish his own dish. He said the truffle cream really put it over the top.
For entrees, it was three plates of the braised short ribs and one plate of the pork loin sous vide. The entrees were delicious. The potatoes were beyond creamy and the beef had a beautiful crust and tender insides. Our friend said he didn't care of the apples on top, but I thought they complimented the celery and tangy flavors of the au jus. The pork loin was on the sweeter side and received high marks, especially the pancetta and beans served along with.
Dessert was a bit of a let down after the high of the entrees. We ended up sampling all the available choices on the HRW menu. The chocolate cake was served with a 'crispy' vanilla ice cream quenelle. The cake was ok, a bit dry on the outside and 'molten' on the inside. The ice cream was custard based with a lot of yolks and rolled in what tasted like wafer-thin fortune cookies. I liked it a lot better than the cake. The chocolate pie tasted like it had a shortbread crust that had gone kind of stale and my husband was not impressed with the rest of the pie (I just tasted the crust). He said the topping was a bit flavorless and the chocolate was unremarkable. He did like the ice cream that came with his dish though. The creme brulee was said to be 'good', but that's all I could get as a review for that dish.
The head chef came by and talked with us for a few minutes, which was nice. He was personable and open to all of our questions.
Overall it was a pleasurable dining experience. We were treated very well and left alone but not forgotton. The manager was by a few times to make sure everything was Ok throughout our meal and once our waiter got all of our wine questions figured out he seemed to get a handle on our table. The portions were very generous and the entrees were top notch, but the desserts and risotto could use a little bit of work. Next time I'd go with a salad for the first course and skip dessert entirely for the homemade ice cream I have in my freezer.
Next up, Le Mistral on Thursday. Yum.