Review: KUU Needs to Work on Consistently Good Cooking, but the Seafood is Wonderful

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The kanpaccio features rosette-shaped pieces of fish with ingredients that include soy and fruit soaked in sake.
The kanpaccio, a word play on "carpaccio" and "kanpachi," or mature amberjack, is a dish that delights every taste bud. Rich slices of fish, shaped into rosettes, gather a bit of heat from small green slices of fresh Thai pepper before being bounced back and forth between the salinity of tobiko and soy and the sweet fruitiness of a fresh slice of orange and halved red grapes that were soaked in sake.

It's a signature dish for KUU, a Japanese fine-dining establishment in Gateway Memorial City that opened in February under the deft hand of chef Adison Lee. Lee trained under Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, a pioneer of modern Japanese cuisine, and it shows. Lee's sashimi dishes are similar in style to Nobu's, with garnishes and accoutrements meant to enhance their flavor and appearance.

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Review: Pax Americana Focuses on Food From This Country in a Quietly Spectacular Way

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Pax Americana's Carrots Confit showcases the colors and flavors of fall with lemon, lime and orange juice and zest.
It's a nearly religious experience when Pax Americana's chef, Adam Dorris, takes one simple ingredient and builds a dish around it that highlights its inherent goodness. Take, for example, the beautiful deep red confit carrots, lightly sweetened with sorghum, that recline in the most lovely way atop a carrot purée enhanced by lemon, lime and orange zest and their respective juices. The whole is elevated and brightened further with a dose of Banyuls vinegar. The finishing touch? A smattering of delightfully crunchy granola of caraway and almond.

"Pax Americana" means "American peace," but the phrase is much more historically significant than that. The term entered the world's dialogue just after World War II, when the United States spent $13 billion to rebuild devastated regions of Western Europe. It was a benevolent act, but more important, it was a stroke of savvy diplomacy achieved by virtue of the country's strong economic position.

The restaurant of the same name highlights the strength of American wines and ingredients. Domestic meats and local produce are used in the most savvy of ways. Expensive European wines are eschewed in favor of stellar Rieslings from New York's Finger Lakes to California's Central Coast and respectable Sauvignons Blancs from Santa Barbara.

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Review: Let Simplicity Be Your Guide at Regal Seafood House and Lounge

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The fried rice with shrimp and dry scallop is elegant, delicate and delicious.
When a simple bowl of shrimp wonton soup grabs your attention and holds it through several meals, you take note. Opt for a bowl to begin a meal at Regal Seafood House and Lounge, the big-box-glitzy Stafford outpost from the folks behind Galleria-area gem E-Tao. Ordered as a peace offering to a couple of kids looking askance at pictures of crispy squab heads on the menu, it was the surprise hit of one weeknight dinner.

Hitting the sweet spot between simplicity and depth of flavor is a tough thing to do. Boasting a deeply nutty broth, a broad and roasty flavor base with just the right note of sweetness, that wonton soup gives any consommé a run for its money in terms of sheer flavor impact. It's like distilled essence of shrimp, its richness matched by its clarity and purposefulness, with a grace note of green onion drifting by as the shellfish blooms across your palate. The wontons themselves could perhaps be slightly thinner-skinned, but the rough-hewn shrimp they enrobe hits all the right notes, plump and pearly and echoing back the flavor of the broth.

Why spend so many words on an offhand order of soup? Because it's a good marker for how Regal Seafood might best be approached in general. Let simplicity be your guide.

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Review: Georges Bistro Offers Traditional French Food Without the White Tablecloths

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The duck confit salad was exactly what you'd want to find in a small French bistro.
The house-made pâté du chef at Georges Bistro comes in a small glass canning jar. Its petite appearance belies what sits within: A very generous four-inch slab sliced into six tranches of smooth, rich, mildly flavored yet oh-so-good pâté -- plenty enough for two to share over a glass of wine and conversation and an excellent way to start a meal at this Gallic little gem on Lower Westheimer.

Georges Bistro is the latest incarnation of the rustic, renovated house that once housed Chez Georges, and later, the critically acclaimed Feast. It is also the newest of the restaurant concepts in Houston created by Georges Guy and his wife, Monique (they also opened Chez Georges, Bistro Provence, La Brocante, Bistro Don Camillo and, most recently, Bistro Des Arts), since they first arrived in the States more than 30 years ago.

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Review: Dosi Takes a Lighthearted, Unpretentious Approach to Its Food

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Andy Warhol would be proud of this pop art on a plate -- the smoked Spanish mackerel.
The smoked Spanish mackerel at Dosi Restaurant + Soju Bar looks like pop art on a plate. Bite-size rectangles of luminescent filet as tender as one could wish for are each garnished with a strip of lardo so thin that it's translucent. Rolls made of equally thin strips of celery stand on end, adding cylinders to the study in shapes. Toasted red quinoa adds a fun, popping crunch and everything is pulled together by a veritable lily pad of deep green watercress and dill purée.

This is just one of the creations that make Dosi a restaurant worth visiting. It's a rather small place, with only about 60 seats, with a hardwood floor, and concrete block and paneled walls. As a result, the place can be loud. Fortunately, it was built for socializing, not seriousness.

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Review: The Honeymoon Will Get You Up in the Morning and Carry You Home Late at Night

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The fried chicken livers po-boy doesn't miss any steps.
In the wake of neighboring Goro & Gun's transition from a restaurant with a killer bar into the more streamlined bar-only concept Moving Sidewalk, it may seem odd that The Honeymoon Café & Bar is positioning itself as a sort of one-stop shop for downtown residents and visitors. Goro's split personality proved confusing to would-be patrons hopping the block in search of bars, who took it for just a restaurant and kept on moving. What's to keep The Honeymoon from suffering the same fate?

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Review: Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen Only Has a Few Good Surprises

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Chuck Cook
Petal-like dumpling wrappers hold a meatball of Duroc pork, dashi gelee and roasted garlic. A side dish of top-notch cabbage kimchi rides alongside.
Several restaurants, namely Ava, Trenza and Katsuya by Starck, all tried to make a go of it at West Ave. Even having big chef names attached, like Robert del Grande and Katsuya Uechi, did not help these restaurants succeed. West Ave may be great for residents, but it's an awful design for business visibility. It's an imposing wall of windows and balconies on the corner of Kirby and Westheimer, and there's no way for passersby to know what's hiding inside.

Nara -- now called Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen -- resides where Katsuya used to be and is up against the same challenges. Unlike with Eddie V's on the corner, there is no Vegas-style sign to draw attention and Korean-Japanese fusion is trickier to sell in Houston than juicy steaks.

Nara's chef-owner, Donald Chang, is respected for his Uptown Sushi place (in the much better-designed Uptown Park center in the Galleria area). But he is no longer cooking at Nara, although he carries the title of executive chef. Head sushi chef Jojo Urbano is the one actually in the kitchen. (Houston Press confirmed this with a call to the restaurant.)

There are two sides to the menu: the kitchen side and the sushi side. The servers will spend a few minutes explaining this to you. They cannot, however, accurately explain what's in the actual dishes.

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Review: Chama Gaúcha Brazilian Steakhouse Thrives in a Crowded Field

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The picanha is the steakhouse's most prized cut of meat.
"Would you like to try our picanha? It's our most prized cut of meat," says the server dressed in a tan-colored shirt with a red scarf around his neck. He holds the three-foot metal skewer just to the side of your plate, close enough so that you can see the juices glistening over the charred edges of the meat. It's a mouthwatering sight, made all the more so when he starts slicing the meat right in front of you.

From afar, the distinctive shape of the picanha is immediately recognizable. Considered the most prized cut at a Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria, it is skewered on the ends so the meat appears curved, its form reminiscent of the popular French pastry known as the palmier, rounded and crescent-like. Up close, one can see the thick, fat cap wrapped around the outer curve of the beef. Ask your server to slice a piece with the fat attached so you can revel in its pork-belly-like tastiness. When the fat is crisped to a near char, it's like taking an indulgent bite into a meaty cut of uncured beef bacon.

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Review: Gratifi Stands Out for the Wrong Reasons

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photo by Troy Fields
The Guido burger: shot through with garlic and chili heat.
Brunch at Gratifi is a leisurely affair, whether or not you want it to be. A little less than two hours after we first sat down for brunch on Sunday, my wife's pain perdue arrived, soggy in the middle. Perhaps the kitchen had rushed it out, a too-late attempt at absolution for its egregious lateness. In my book, that's just adding insult to injury. It's also a shame, since it's among the better dishes at Gratifi, flavor-wise.

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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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