Galatoire's (New Orleans) – Oysters Rockefeller; Galatoire Goute (Crabmeat Maison - jumbo lump crab, green onions, capers, creole mustard aioli, Shrimp Remoulade - boiled shrimp, classic spicy remoulade sauce, iceberg lettuce); Oysters in Brochette (fried oysters, bacon, meunière butter); Turtle Soup au Sherry (turtle, trinity, tomatoes, veal stock medium brown roux, sherry); Hashed Browns; Sautéed Lemon Fish with Meuniére Sauce and Jumbo Lump Crab – Friends had been raving about the Friday lunch in the main dining room at Galatoire’s in the French Quarter for years, both for the food and the fun. It lived up to the anticipation, with excellent takes on classic Creole fare in a very lively setting, complemented by excellent service and nicely priced wines, a white Bordeaux and a white Sancerre, that did very well with the foods and the guests. The late lunch was primed while having wait at their adjacent bar for a couple of hours, and a cocktail or several, which was a lot of fun in itself. During the course of the lunch, scanning the packed, very boisterous room where several tables were celebrating birthdays, I thought to myself that this scene is like an upscale wedding reception, except with far better food and service, and maybe even fun, than ever imaginable.
Peche Seafood Grill (New Orleans) – Louisiana oysters on the half-shell; Shrimp Toast; Baked drum in a mushroom broth with mushrooms and Cajun hush puppies – Chef Ryan Prewitt, who had won a James Beard Award in 2014, had impressed me with his offering at the annual Southern Smoke event and Peche had recently been highly recommended by friend, a native New Orleanian. So, I had to schedule a meal there during a long and very enjoyable gastronomic-centric weekend in the Crescent City. It turned out to be the best meal of the trip highlighted by a baked drum, flaky, moist, and clean-tasting but flavorful served in a mushroom broth with a nice complement of sliced mushrooms that worked wonderfully with the impeccable Gulf fish.
Georgia James – Chicken Liver Pate; Uni Panna Cotta (with crushed peanuts, scallions, drizzled with a Fresno chile gastrique); Wagyu Zabuton (wet-aged, nicely marbled cut of chuck steak from Snake River Farms cooked in an iron skillet); Brown Butter Roasted Mushrooms; sourdough bread from Bread Man Baking served with liquified smokey butter – Chris Shepherd’s chef-y take on the great American steakhouse and successor to One Fifth Steak was terrific in every regard, starting with the not-so-dry martinis to the rich appetizers, decadent, tender steaks, an well-priced Nebbiolo from well-regarded Scarpa that worked quite well with the meats in a lively, pleasant atmosphere.
Vieng Thai – Spring rolls (Thai-style crispy rolls filled with shredded vegetables and tofu and served with sweet chili sauce); Paneang Curry with pork (curry with coconut milk, green beans and kaffir lime leaves) – I hadn’t been to what had been my favorite Thai restaurant in years, and this lunchtime visit proved it had not lost a step. The rich, piquant curry was especially delicious, with the thin pieces of pork doing a better job as the protein center than always less flavorful chicken.
Izakaya – “Tori Kawa” Chicken Skin (skewered and grilled); Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings; Simple Tuna (sashimi with yuzu, soy sauce, crushed black salt, and olive oil); Agedashi Tofu (crispy tofu in a tempura ginger broth) – A modern, locally suited take on the Japanese izakaya concept with influences from Peru and elsewhere done with more subtlety and flavor than in similar dishes elsewhere in town; not surprising in a restaurant that’s a sibling of Kata Robata.
Ristorante Cavour – Gnocchi alla Bava (semolina dumplings in a light cream sauce) – For me, a plate of gnocchi is a test of an Italian restaurant, as it is too often delivered with the flavor and near-consistency of a pencil eraser. Of course, in a kitchen headed by Maurizio Ferrarese there should be no pause for concern about this or any other dish. It was outstanding and nicely balanced even with a cream-based sauce, as were the two other orders, a risotto with lobster and ravioli with porcini and other mushrooms. These dishes would do any highly rated restaurant in Italy proud, and I’ve been fortunate to dine more than a few there in the past year or so.
Izakaya – Original Peruvian Cebiche (celery, garlic, red pepper, ginger, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, snapper, shrimp, roasted corn, salt, pepper); Steamed Seafood dumplings; Takoyaki (battered and fried octopus, kewpie, bonito, nori); Agedashi Tofu (crispy tofu in a tempura ginger broth) – Delicious dining again and at the bar, even.
Indigo – Omnivore Menu: Convict Leasing (shaved, cured and smoked butternut squash tartlet with dried peaches, herbs); Gold Links - Part 2 (dry-aged duck breast with yellow barbecue sauce); Slum Village (ash-aged potato ashcake with okra condiment, caramelized potato crème, crispy shallots and thyme); Forty Acres and a Mule (oxtail and collard green stewed in slabber sauce with Carolina gold rice); Acres of Diamonds (smoked beet red velvet cake, creole cream cheese cremeaux; shortbread cookie – Excellent throughout with a chef who has true skill in creating delicious combinations with evident technique featuring disparate ingredients that might seem unusual or be unfamiliar to many. It’s dinner with a message as the chef helpfully explained the dishes at this 13-seat restaurant with a version of history that provided inspiration for each. Very difficult to get to for most Houstonians with traffic for the early seating during the week and with no beverage program to speak of, it’s still definitely worth a trip for any dedicated local diner.
Goode Co. Seafood (Westpark) – Campechana Extra (Mexican-style seafood cocktail made with al blend of pico de gallo, fire-roasted Anaheim peppers and diced avocados, with shrimp and crab); Gulf Shrimp (marinated then bacon-wrapped and mesquite-grilled shrimp served with fries and a seafood empanada; garlic bread – An exuberant take on the bounty of the nearby Gulf that almost always satiates more than it seems it should.
Arnoldo Richards’ Picos – Camerones al Mojo de Ajo (jumbo Gulf shrimp lightly breaded and pan-sautéed in garlic-infused olive oil with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, avocado slices and tomato habanero salsa and sides of Spanish rice and refried beans) – Some more excellent shrimp from a long-standing favorite of mine that has done nice work with seafood over the years. This visit impressed my cousin and his girlfriend who don’t get food anything like this in suburban Chicago.
The Pit Room – Two Meat Dinner (a plate with brisket, jalapeno-cheddar sausage; mac and cheese; potato salad; slice of very white bread) – Highlighted by the brisket, naturally, that was moist, very flavorful, especially the crusty exterior when eaten with a bit of nearby fat. Excellent.
BCN – sampler platter (Spanish Ibérico ham and toasted “pa amb tomaca”; Spanish Ibérico ham croquettes; “Patatas bravas BCN” potatoes, spicy oil and aioli); sautéed calamari – Grabbing one of the nine seats at the bar after work made for another very enjoyable visit featuring excellent, artistic takes on traditional Catalonian and Spanish small plates and along with similarly artful and creative gin-and-tonics that worked very and refreshingly well in seemingly unusual creations from a talented and engaging bartender.
Habanera and the Guero – Beef fajitas with flour tortillas, charred onions; guacamole, crema, shredded Cheddar cheese; black refried beans and Spanish rice – This dumpy place off the Gulf Freeway is worth the drive for most, not just for their more traditionally Mexican dishes, but also their first-rate beef fajitas, one of the best versions I’ve had in a while.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (downtown) – Caesar Salad; New York Strip; mashed potatoes; haricot verts; potatoes au gratin; key lime pie tartlet – This was the best New York Strip I’ve had in memory and also the best Houston Restaurant Weeks meal I’ve ever had. It was an outstanding meal, period, and wonderful dining experience, even just sitting in the bar area. For Restaurant Weeks!
Cascina Vittoria (Rognano, Italy) – focaccia, eggplant with three consistencies of Parmigiano-Reggiano (an eggplant flan, an involved flan with the delectable Parmigiano served in three states - crispy, as a sauce, and ice cream); risotto with squash and gorganzola; Brasato di Manzo (slices of beef cooked in red wine served with mashed potatoes); panettone – This best meal during a week-long gastronomic trip to northern Italy, which was highlighted by the very best versions of focaccia, an eggplant preparation, and panettone that I’ve ever had.
Xochi – Taquitos Dorados (flautas); Ostiones de Lujo (wood-roasted oysters, mole amarillo, cotija, breadcrumbs); Tlayuda Puerco (very large, thin Oaxacan tortilla with mole negro, Mexican chorizo, bacon, egg, Oaxacan cheese cooked over wood); Cacao (chocolate cocoa pod, chocolate textures: tejate foam, milk chocolate cloud, chocolate criollo soil) – The delicious oysters disappeared quickly at the table to start our Saturday brunch, and though my tlayuda was a bit awkward to eat, it was quite tasty. The dessert that we split among a half-dozen of us was something special: a very cool milk chocolate shell that looked like a squash when presented that was filled mostly with different chocolate ice creams that was absolutely delightful.
UB Preserv – Crispy Rice Salad (fresh cilantro and parsley, tomato, cucumber with a serrano vinaigrette); Wok Fried Beets (with a sweet and sour sauce, fried cheese, bits of orange, and sesame crunchies); Lamb Tartare (served with paratha, shabazi spice mixture. habanero aioli); Vietnamese Short Rib Fajitas (slowly cooked 44 Farms beef short ribs with the usual complement of lettuce, pickled carrots and more) – A terrific meal featuring the expected bold flavors coming in interesting, wide-ranging and very intelligently done combinations from Chris Shepherd’s team at this successor to Underbelly, which serves up some of the very best food in the city. The attentive and friendly staff at the bar proved more than adept at suggesting dishes and drinks that all worked extremely well.
Xochi – Ostiones de Lujo (wood-roasted oysters, mole amarillo, cotija, breadcrumbs); Hongos en Mole Amarillo (wild mushrooms, mole amarillo, masa dumplings, green beans); Cabrito con Chichilo (crispy goat with charred chilhuacle pepper mole) – Yes, this place is good.
Sautéed Lemon Fish with Meuniére Sauce and Jumbo Lump Crab at Galatoire's