Tierra del Fuego Proves You Can Have Too Much Meat and Not Enough Seasoning

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The chimichurri sauce made a welcome addition to the rib eye.
When you're walking up the sidewalk to Tierra del Fuego in Sugar Land Town Square, the first thing that hits you is the smell of roasting meat. Most of that smoky scent wafts from a glass-encased rotisserie at the front of the restaurant, where big hunks of outside skirt steak and slabs of ribs are sizzling and popping over the fire. It's not just cooking -- it's theater.

Tierra del Fuego is an Argentinean restaurant that wants to entice diners with its beef-centric menu and, once they're inside, seduce them completely with its sexy, dark dining environment. Down the aisles and between the tables, sleek tango dancers execute their intricate, silky moves unobtrusively across the floor. In the open kitchen, flames do their own dance across the grills and make the meat sizzle and pop.

It almost works. It's easy to join in the dance and order the parrillada gaucha, a meat-fest "for two" that includes sweetbreads, short ribs, Argentine sausage, blood sausage, chicken and bife de fuego (outside skirt steak). Then the platter arrives and the mistake becomes obvious. It's about five pounds of meat, most of which doesn't have much seasoning.

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The Best Bet for Novice Diners at Taiko Is to Stick to the Basic Menu

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Troy Fields
The shrimp tempura is wispy light, incredibly crisp and a work of art in its own right.
The tempura at Taiko Japanese Restaurant is wispy light and incredibly crisp at the same time. It doesn't matter if you order the shrimp, the vegetable or the bakudan (which means "bomb"), a big ball of vegetable tempura the size of a small football. Each bite, dipped into the scratch-made tempura sauce steeped with freshly grated daikon radish, is delectable, an explosion of texture and flavor.

The shrimp tempura arrives in a small bamboo basket with a peep-through lattice-patterned lid, giving a glimpse of what's beneath. This attention to presentation, this small artistic touch, is just one of the things that make this restaurant so special. The fact that it's owned and operated by first-generation Japanese who have been working in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years is another.

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Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar Successfully Mines the World for Oysters and More

Categories: Cafe Reviews

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Photos by Chuck Cook
The oyster assortment may be pricy, but these are not your typical Gulf Coast oysters.
There is a lot to love about Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, and at the top of that list is the gumbo. There's rich, lingering flavor from duck confit, stock and dark roux. Meaty Gulf shrimp and delicately fried oysters rest on top and in the center is a mound of long-grained rice dotted with flecks of parsley. Dark green rounds of okra lend a bit of silkiness to the broth and finely diced red bell peppers and onions add the needed punch. A touch of heat slowly grows until it seems to warm the soul as much as the belly. The soup is everything desired in a traditional New Orleans gumbo.

It's hard to resist having a bowl every single visit. On the menu, it's called LH Gumbo -- after Lennie Hall, who worked with chef Mark Holley at Pesce and is working with him again at Holley's.

There is reason to resist, at least occasionally, and that's to indulge in another soup that represents both culinary history and Holley's personal journey as a chef. It's called Koonce's Peanut Soup (after James Koonce, a chef and sommelier who worked with Holley for years at Brennan's). Its warmth and savory depths brighten even the dullest of days.

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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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