Time Sensitive: Dinnertime Is the Only Good Time at Weights + Measures

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Photos by Troy Fields.
The carrot-topped pizza is about the perfect mixture of texture and flavors.

Weights + Measures sports a flavor bomb of a pizza. It's an imaginative rendition that's topped with carrots, of all things. The crust is simply perfect -- thin and blistered on the edges with just the right amount of char. Thin rounds of carrots lend sweetness, an oniony sauce adds intoxicating aroma, and the inspired, unlikely addition of Veldhuizen Redneck Cheddar brings a friendly richness. At $13, it's an absolute steal.

So struck were we by that carrot pizza that we asked a server about the amazing flavors when we returned for lunchtime on a subsequent day. What were the seasonings? "Egyptian spices." "What are those?" "I'm not sure."

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Le' Pam's House of Creole Offers Good Food and Greetings From its 
Dynamic Owner

Categories: Cafe Reviews

Le' Pam's House of Creole could probably run exclusively on the high-energy personality of its owner, chef Pamela Graham, but it doesn't hurt that she makes good food, too. Customers are enthusiastically greeted with exclamations like "Hello, my babies! Have you been here before? Come here and try my gumbo!" as soon as they walk through the door.

She fills little plastic sample cups with her andouille sausage gumbo on the spot and presses them into her guests' hands. Unlike many gumbos, Graham's doesn't have a dark roux, nor is it made with tomatoes. Instead, it has a rich chicken stock base, and it's not uncommon to find some gizzards in a pleasing state of tenderness. Lucky diners might even find a chicken heart here and there. The gumbo is chock-full of long-grain white rice -- perhaps a little too much, truth be told.

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Amalfi Doesn't Offer the High-End Dining Experience That Houstonians Are Right to Expect

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Photos by Troy Fields
The osso buco is a big, hearty veal shank with chunky tomato sauce strewn with bits of onion and carrots.

It's a good thing that Amalfi's waiters serve wine expediently, because it's the only entertainment guests will get for 30 minutes. That's how long it takes to place a food order at dinnertime, and that's not a one-time problem. It happened on two different visits. As a result, the first nibbles didn't show up for an hour.

There are few dishes at Amalfi worth that interminable wait, and one was downright tragic. The terrina di fegato grasso al moscato, or foie gras terrine, has dashes of moscato wine gelatin and comes on unnaturally green pistachio brioche points. Foie is, of course, never cheap, and in this case, the triangular-shaped terrine was $22.

Foie is revered because when it is good, it's silky and mild with a delicate meaty flavor that is perhaps only a touch livery. When it's not fresh or of good quality, it is pungent. A good analogy is fish. When it's fresh, it doesn't smell fishy -- it smells of the sea.

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Kitchen 713 Is a Mom-and-Pop Gem and a Worthy Dining Destination

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Troy Fields
Shrimp with stone-ground grits and Texas shrimp chorizo? Definitely worth ordering.

So many new restaurants these days project an opening date and then push it back, sometimes for a month, often longer. When James Haywood and Ross Coleman found the space for their restaurant on Canal and North Hagerman in Second Ward, they got things moving quickly. Coleman returned to Houston from Dallas, where he had been working as a banquet chef at the Hotel ZaZa Dallas, and within two weeks, he and Haywood -- friends for six years since they'd met while working together at Minute Maid Park -- made some cosmetic changes, ordered a sign, collaborated on a menu and opened their doors to the public.

As you drive down Canal Street on a drizzly Wednesday night, the neighborhood feels sleepy until you reach the corner where Kitchen 713 is housed. The restaurant is lit from the outside, and the parking lot is full. Though the area doesn't see a lot of walk-by traffic, the menu is posted prominently on the exterior of the restaurant, kind of like a poster, so that even before you walk in, you get a sense of the kind of food you'll get. The tagline is "Flavors of the South, Globally Inspired."

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Urban Eats Puts New Spins on the Classics That Really Work

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Photos by Troy Fields
The "3 Pig Truffled Mac & Cheese" is a standout dish.

The "3 Pig Truffled Mac & Cheese" at Urban Eats is one of the best versions of the dish in Houston. The secret is a complex cheese sauce that includes Fontina, Gouda, Cheddar, Velveeta and cream cheese. Three kinds of pork join the show and turn it into a hands-down hit: bacon, pancetta (cured bacon that's not also smoked) and honey-glazed ham. There's only a small amount of white truffle oil, which thankfully allows the cheese sauce to shine. That's important, because the radiatori pasta (little ridged hunks of pasta reminiscent of radiators) is the perfect shape for capturing it.

Like a cover song, it's a good remake of a familiar tune. At Urban Eats, updated spins on the familiar are the stock-in-trade.

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Not Everything Sparkles at Tout Suite, but There's Enough to Keep You Coming Back for More

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Photos by Troy Fields
The menu features gems like this brioche burger, topped with golden raisins, caramelized onion and a fried egg.

One of the best things about my day job is that it isn't. Midweek days off are a common occurrence, even if they're usually whittled away by my sneaking back into bed to snuggle with the baby (and his mom) after I drop his sisters off at school. We've been trying to take better advantage of these days off, though, or at least more practical advantage. Sometimes, that means hitting the grocery store at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday; it's as empty as six months into a postapocalyptic TV drama, and we're free to roam about at our leisure.

Lately, we've been trying to do something a little more exciting. We're boring and old now, so that means breakfast. As with that postapocalyptic grocery store, though, 9 a.m. on a Wednesday is a great time to go to a popular restaurant, especially if you have a baby with you.

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Prohibition Supperclub & Bar Evokes a Sense of Creole-style Luxury

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Seared foie gras, fried quail eggs and mixed wild mushrooms laid atop coarse, buttery yellow grits.

Every time we've visited at lunchtime, there are only a few occupied tables at Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, and that's just criminal. At a time when the rest of the city is fried-chicken-crazy, Houstonians are missing out on one of the best renditions: a smoked fried chicken with a thin, crispy crust laden with "house seasoning" (essentially Creole).

The crust is determined to slide off the chicken, and while that may be a technical flaw, it's not really a bad thing. As it falls off, it releases even more of the smoky chicken aroma. No one is going to complain about the salty, spicy crumbs of goodness landing on sturdy but tender green beans the color of springtime or the perfect mashed potatoes.

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Fratellini Ristorante Italiano Has an Old Soul With Traditional Cooking

Categories: Cafe Reviews

Forget that Fratellini Ristorante Italiano is only six months old. It has an old soul. It's a faithful re-creation of Raoul's Italian Grill, which used to be just a mile down the road at the intersection of Theiss Mail Route and Louetta. A manager at Fratellini says the new place was started by the owner's sons. Like the original, it's dimly lit, located in a modest strip center and features a piano player on Fridays, Saturdays and special occasions.

They're trying to overcome the modest surroundings with a small bar, divided dining area, booths and a lot of artwork on the walls of the retail store variety.

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So-So Food, Great Fun: More Than Making the Best of It at Little Matt's

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
Go for the Comfort Texas burger with guacamole, pickled jalapeño and bacon and the garlic fries (better than the sweet potato fries by far).
Dining out with children is an exercise in situational awareness. Each experience is unique, with different variables leading to different possible outcomes, DEFCON-like in their escalating threat levels. Keen observation, forward planning and prior experience are critical in determining the proper strategy. In this special edition of DEFCON Dining, we do the grunt work for you at Little Matt's, a safe haven for all DEFCON levels.

We're doing something a little bit different this time around. Since the restaurant in question, Little Matt's in West University, caters specifically to kids (and the harried parents who serve as their bleary-eyed entourage), I figured I'd look to an expert for guidance: my daughter, Cecilia. She's 11, and has accompanied me on more eating adventures in her brief decade-plus than I had in my first two. I gave her a few simple instructions on what to look out for (food quality, ambience, overall impression, etc.), armed her with a notepad (digital, granted) and asked her what she thought. Her words are in italics. Since this is a formal review, I'm keeping things between the ditches with my own color commentary. I'll leave you to decide whose opinion bears more weight.

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La Bikina in The Woodlands Can't Decide What Type of Place It Wants to Be

Categories: Cafe Reviews

If there's a "can't-miss" dish at La Bikina, it's the molcajete de queso, in which two stubby sticks of Monterey Jack cheese are breaded in crumbled chicharrĂłn (fried pork rinds) and gently placed atop a tangy tomatillo sauce with onion and cilantro. It's served in a searing molcajete (a footed stone mortar), and the cheese is stirred into the sauce tableside. The pork adds fat and flavor, while the cheese contributes stringy texture and creaminess. A few more of the small, warm corn tortillas served alongside would have been appreciated, but the complimentary tortilla chips are fine, too.

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