Review: Table On Post Oak Might Want to Risk More and Spice Up Its Offerings

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Chuck Cook
The grilled octopus is well presented and delicious.
The grilled octopus looked like hors d'oeuvres served on a silver tray at a fancy dinner party. Dollops of cannellini purée supported little rounds of octopus on top of bite-size, shatteringly crispy lavash crackers. Golden, saffron-infused slivers of onion and bits of olive garnished the little works of art, and it was fun to swipe the crackers through the swaths of aji amarillo sauce on the plate.

The dish was one of the few high points at Table On Post Oak, located in the structure that used to house Philippe Restaurant + Lounge. Little about the space has changed. There's still a casual bar downstairs (which was jumping with white-collar workers and girls'-night-out parties on a recent Wednesday evening visit). Upstairs is the restaurant proper. Gone are the paper placemats with pithy quotes from Chef Philippe Schmit, and the long wall near the kitchen has been transformed into a modern art piece with the glow of electric candles filtered through waffled mesh.

Tall office buildings and a shopping district surround Table On Post Oak. So it's not surprising that one look at the dinner menu reveals the requisite filet mignon, the requisite pork chop, the requisite scallops and the requisite prime rib eye. There's also a great deal of seafood on the menu, with distinctive Mediterranean additions like rosemary, chickpeas, fennel, feta and olives. Sometimes it works. Too often, it doesn't.

Nothing here is terrible, but not enough is wonderful. The platings are entirely sexy and gorgeous, but the flavors of even the more expensive entrées fall short.

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Review: Ordering Family Style Is a Good Way to Go at Pico's Mex-Mex

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The Chiles en Nogada, a seasonal specialty from the state of Puebla, is one of Pico's finest dishes, and is available on their menu year round.
The Chiles en Nogada Tradicionales, a regional specialty from the Mexican state of Puebla, is extraordinary. Typically available only during pomegranate season in Mexico, the pulled-pork filled poblano chiles, topped with a creamy walnut sauce and fresh pomegranate kernels, are so in demand that they've become a permanent feature on the menu at Pico's Mex-Mex.

Order this one to share because the rich, somewhat sweet meat (the meat is cooked with aromatics and dried fruits) and walnut cream topping can be cloying if too much of it is eaten continuously.

Likewise, the Chamorro de Puerco con Verdolagas en Salsa Verde is a sublime creation of fall-off-the-bone pork shank in a viscous tomatillo sauce speckled with still-crisp leaves of wilted purslane. Presented with the bone sticking straight up and stewed until the gelatinous cartilage and meat fibers had melded together, the meat flaked off the bone in juicy, fork-tender clumps.

Piling the meat and sauce generously onto a house-made flour tortilla is a delicious if somewhat dangerous endeavor -- make sure to lean over the table so any drippings land there or on a plate.

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Review: El Big Bad Has Captured Most of the Best From El Gran Malo

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The "Spicy, Smoky, Sticky Ribs" were a near perfect mix of tenderness and heat.
The "Spicy, Smoky, Sticky Ribs" exceeded its promises. The Berkshire ribs, coated in a sauce with smoked Morita chiles, rice wine vinegar and piloncillo sugar, were perfectly tender. The heat from the chiles grew but never became unbearable, and the sauce had a deep, bittersweet character reminiscent of black mole. It's rare that a light sprinkle of sesame seeds makes a big difference, but in this dish, they added visual interest and texture.

We were at El Big Bad on Travis, the surviving sister restaurant of El Gran Malo, the irreverent luchador- and wolf-themed hangout on Ella that closed its doors (in no small part due to complex City of Houston permitting issues relating to the patio and parking). If you're looking for a place with haute cuisine, you're howling up the wrong tree here. El Big Bad serves a wealth of fun appetizers and excels at hearty, comforting entrées. There's room for improvement: A few dishes need work, and they seem to be rationing tortillas.

Yet there are standouts to be had -- among them a hearty pozole and an ever-changing ceviche that's always made with market-fresh ingredients. It's a funky, endearing locale, a good place to hang out with friends, nosh on homestyle, Mexican-inspired food and drink crazy infused tequilas. It would be tough to find a more fun environment in which to eat in Houston.

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Review: Gyu-Kaku Brings Japanese Barbecue to Houston in Style

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Gyu­-Kaku's interior is fashioned like a Japanese barbecue house, with private wooden booths and individual barbecue grills at every table.
"Just 15 to 20 seconds per side," said our server as she delivered a plate of toro beef tare to the table. One of the several meat selections that came with our course menu for two, this looked different from the rest. Heavily striated with fat, the thin strips looked a lot like bacon. When placed on the grill, they behaved a lot like bacon, too.

The instant the meat touched the latticed metal surface of the hot grill, it contracted, its edges curling and eventually attaining a crisp black char. Seconds later I dipped the still piping-hot piece in the house sauce and plopped it into my mouth, savoring the almost-instant gratification with pleasure. Its texture reminded me of just-crisped guanciale, light yet juicily unctuous; I definitely wanted more of it.

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Review: Hubbell & Hudson Has Lost Some of Its Spark Along With its Market

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The delicate sea bass and beautiful chunks of crab rest atop a cloud of tangy goat cheese whipped potatoes.
You can't see inside the market at Hubbell & Hudson anymore. The expansive windows that allowed pedestrians to view the bounty of fruits, vegetables, breads and meats are now fogged and glazed. The elevator that used to drop you off at the floral department now dumps you out onto the Woodlands Waterway. There isn't anything left inside; the only thing that remains is the Hubbell & Hudson Bistro next door.

Dishes using local ingredients and in-season produce still dominate the menu. A chef-inspired cheese board that once included fromage from the deli is a popular starter among patrons who begin their meal with it and a glass of wine while seated at the bar.

Dry-aged beef is still offered, and is accompanied by other local Texas cuts of beef, like the tender, but sadly underseasoned, eight-ounce Akaushi Texas Wagyu tenderloin. The New Bistro Burger reminds guests of the original burger bar situated inside the market. Not all the burgers that were offered in the grocery portion remain on the menu, but the upgraded cheeseburger known as the New Bistro Burger is the only option you need.

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Review: Common Bond's Pastries Are So Divine We're Driven to Rhyme

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Putting the croissant on a pedestal.
It's buttery, flaky, a cavernous treat,
the type of thing no one can help but eat
when they see the whole tray piled high behind glass,
beckoning diners who gather en masse.
The puffy, crisp roll has a light outer shell
that begs to be sliced to reveal each round cell
created by yeast and what must be a ton
of butter, at least, in every one.
There's an art to the dough, called viennoiserie,
but most guests don't care, they need only see
the counter abounding with baked goods galore,
then they end up ordering quite a bit more
than intended. It's all cause their eyes filled with want
the moment they locked on the perfect croissant.


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Review: Dear Toby Keith, You Don't Want Your Name on this Bar & Grill

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The T.K. Stackers "South of You" burger actually isn't bad-- when the kitchen remembers to add all the toppings listed on the menu.
There is definitely a dress code at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill.

After sitting at a table waiting to get service for 20 minutes, I realized that the people around me in plaid, button-down shirts with pearl snaps and dusty brown cowboy boots with Wrangler jeans tucked into the top were getting drink after drink and platters of appetizers within minutes of being seated. I, in my green cardigan and Urban Outfitters sandals, still didn't have a glass of water. Once my friends came and we'd ordered and eaten, we all regretted that we had, eventually, been served.

Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, named after Keith's popular song "I Love This Bar," is anchored by a 95-foot guitar-shaped bar mirrored on the ceiling by a 95-foot guitar sculpture painted with an American flag. The rest of the space houses a large dance floor in front of a stage for live performances, multiple pool tables, private event rooms and all manner of Toby Keith and Americana memorabilia placed haphazardly on the walls and in cases by the front entrance. If that (as well as the ridiculous name of the place) isn't enough to convince you that Keith's hand is upon this godforsaken place, you need only glance at the dozen or so televisions above the bar, each playing a Toby Keith music video that does not sync up with the various other country artists being played over the speakers.

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Review: Punk's Simple Southern May Be Trying a Little Too Hard, But Don't Miss the Biscuits

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Looking for great chicken fried steak in Houston? Look no further than Punk's Simple Southern, where the dish truly shines.
As we placed our order, the server's eyes grew wider and wider, and his hand moved furiously across his notepad, attempting to keep up with our laundry list of desired appetizers. When we were finally finished, he stepped back and looked at us -- two people who had just ordered enough food to feed the Rockets' starting lineup.

"Okay. Sounds good." He kept eyeing us as if concerned that we might be dangers to ourselves.

"We're hungry," we replied simply and sheepishly.

"Hey, man, no worries," he finally said, laughing. "When you come here to eat, you eat."

And indeed we did. Something about the country cuisine at Punk's Simple Southern invites large portions and shared platters and a feeling of being with family, even among strangers. We passed biscuits -- flaky, buttery, pillow-soft mounds of dough that might just be the best in Houston -- back and forth across the table, and even offered some to the waiter, now an accessory in our plot to eat our way though the entire menu. We double-dipped spoons into a single bowl of gumbo, thick but not quite dark or complex enough for our tastes. We took photos of each other with the chicken-fried steak, a portion larger than each of our heads, and we finished the feast with two desserts because why the heck not?

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Review: AC and Really Good Food Have Been Added to The Boot

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Seasonal seafood and flavorful bowls of red beans and crawfish étouffée make up the small but mighty menu at The Boot.
The plywood walls and rickety shelves are gone, replaced by eggshell-colored paneled siding and sleek black wall mounts holding rows of Southern beer and half-empty liquor bottles. There's a new coat of paint on the outside, though years of chipped layers are still visible under the facelift. The perpetually open garage doors have been closed to keep the cool air from the newly installed AC unit in the building as much as possible, and a large OPEN sign has been hung outside, lest people assume the shuttered doors mean the joint is out of business. But the double-parked cars in the small gravel lot are a sure indication that the place is hopping, and the smell of late-season boiled crawfish and sinus-clearing red beans with sausage is more than enough to lure in any patrons unsure of the bar's status.

It's back, it's open and it's better than ever.

Better is a matter of opinion, of course, since some are bound to see the new and improved Shady Tavern Ice House, now called The Boot, as an unfortunate upgrade from the gritty neighborhood watering hole it once was. The original 1939 structure was so hidden among the towering pecan and oak trees on West 20th that to many it felt like a weather-worn oasis, an escape from the hustle and bustle of Houston and a return to a simpler time when everyone shared a complimentary bowl of peanuts and only classic rock poured forth from the ancient juke box.

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