Monday, December 29, 2008

A True Michelin Man

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Perhaps you’re like a jabillion percent of the population that resolves to eat healthier and lose weight. *Yawn* Or perhaps you’re more like this guy, who took 2008 to eat at every single Michelin three-starred restaurant in the world...

Friday, December 26, 2008

La Guadalupana

The old pastry chef from Houston Country Club welcomes every newcomer to his tiny restaurant and bakery with sincere appreciation, and I marvel at the satisfied expression of a man contented. La Guadalupana is his baby, molded after his own vision into a bright, welcoming space that serves the freshest Mexican breakfast, lunch, and dinner around.


Breakfast egg dishes -- like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and tacos -- shine with flavor and freshness. The tortas at lunchtime are wonderful, served on soft buns with flavorful meats and fresh lettuce, tomato, and avocado. The spinach and cheese enchiladas, though a little too creamy, had a marvelous taste to them. My favorite, though, were the chicken enchiladas verdes, which came topped with shredded lettuce and queso fresco alongside rice and beans.


But wait, there’s more! Beyond the meals, La Guadalupana does the “extras” right. Don’t leave without trying the cinnamon-y Mexican coffee or the fabulous pastries; the almond croissant is downright awesome -- not pasty as many others are. And the tres leches is the best in town: loads of vanilla and the perfect consistency.


Ingredients are fresh and clean. The food is prompt and delicious. And no fewer than four servers, each as cheerful and unassuming as the last, will stop by to check in. It is family-owned, and family-run, and that’s what makes it golden.

La Guadalupana – 2109 Dunleavy

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Cocktails 'R Us

In the mood for a Winter beverage? Me too!

Run by Kraftsmen Baking morning, noon, or night for a dynamite peppermint latte. Perhaps you’re catching a show in the theater district? McCormick and Schmick’s has added a Nutty Nutcracker (Irish Whisky, coffee, and nutmeg, topped with whipped cream) and a White Christmas Martini (Stoli Vanilla and Godiva White Chocolate) to tickle your fancy. Or stop by Armando’s for a festive green and red Christmas margarita (Hmmm... something tells me this is just a Mexican Flag in disguise).

Among the hordes of holiday beers at The Gingerman are the Sam Adams Winter Lager, the tasty Belgian Barbar Winter Bock, and the ever popular (and local!) St. Arnold’s Christmas Ale. Benjy’s features a fantastically decadent eggnog martini (eggnog, Kahlua, Frangelico, Godiva, and vanilla vodka), though I preferred the tang-a-licious orange/ginger/apple martini. T’afia has added a champagne cocktail with a delicious Meyer lemon syrup. And speaking of bubbly, The Tasting Room is hosting a Champagne Campaign -- Through the new year, they’ll sell all of their champagne at cost to customers. Sounds like a great deal to me...

Staying in? Try the Chronicle’s “Best Eggnog” Recipe. Then, use it to make a Frosty Noggin or a Ginger Snap. Yowza!

Not thirsty? Maybe you’re hungry [sigh]. Head over to Crave for the eggnog cupcake. It will make you a season believer. And I don’t even like eggnog!

Now. What did I miss?! Help me out -- ’Tis the season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Max's Wine Dive

There was some speculation after Jonathan Jones left Max’s Wine Dive for Beaver’s last year that Max’s was done. The venerable restaurant shot out of the gate as the front runner for fun when it first opened and won rave reviews for its large portions of updated comfort food. Could it maintain its flava’?

I was pleased to discover last night that Max’s is still going strong under chef Michael dei Maggi. The new-look menu features several of the old favorites: gator bites, braised short ribs, kobe beef burger, truffled “max and cheese,” and the ever-famous haute dog. It is the additions, though, that speak volumes. While the escargot seems out of place, the remaining items flow smoothly into the Max’s niche: kicked-up comfort.

We started with the warm spinach salad, served with a smooth balsamic vinaigrette and loaded with autumn fruits like prunes, raisins, and huckleberries. That’s right, huckleberries. Afterwards, the fried egg sandwich arrived perfectly cooked, lidded with bacon, and topped with bibb lettuce and fresh tomatoes. The sandwich comes with mind-bendingly thin potato chips sprinkled with Parmesan and the slightest bit of truffle oil.


The half-order of chicken and dumplings was plenty for two of us. The dish had all of the traditional creamy goodness, but adds green beans, turnips, and wild mushrooms to give it a bit more texture. Delicious.


I don’t know what has kept me away from Max’s, but I’m glad I’ve rediscovered. It’s a down-to-Earth spot with a snappy atmosphere. Plus, hearty food seems like a necessity, given the frigid temps. Better get there before it soars back up to 80 next week. [sigh]

Max’s Wine Dive – 4720 Washington (at Shepherd)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dolce Vita

I hadn’t been to Dolce Vita in about a year before last night -- a sin I shall not repeat.

Quite simply, this is the best pizza in town, thin and crispy with unique spices and ingredients. The classic margherita is as authentic as it gets in the You-Knighted States, or try the lover with sheets of prosciutto atop arugula and smoked mozzarella. My heart often steers me toward the pizza of the day, and yesterday’s featured spinach, shrimp, and mozzarella... Magnifico.


But pizza’s not all they do well. Before our meal, the famous egg toast appetizer filled the table with the glorious scent of truffle oil. The bread’s outer layer is crispy and drizzled with oil, but crack it open to find a warm center perfectly suited to mop up any errant drops. The green bean salad generously topped with freshly shaved Parmesan is another do-not-miss. (This is cleverly disguised as fagiolini on the menu -- seek it out.)


Dolce Vita was incredibly accommodating for our large group, and despite the fact that they feverishly tried to push a rosé that lacked substance, the experience was fantastic.

Ahhhh, the good life.

Dolce Vita - 500 Westheimer

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bedford

I sat down at the bar for a glass of wine at the brand new Bedford in the Heights when I was struck by the beauty of the bar, itself. “This is gorgeous,” I mention to the bartender. “Isn’t it?” she replies. “It’s actually 1.5 million carats of uncut emeralds.” Um, wow.

The bar certainly mirrors the upscale feel of the place, a long, dim space with an open kitchen and staff a plenty. The menu pays tribute to chef Robert Gadsby’s own unique background: his parents are from Bermuda and Jamaica, he grew up in Britain, and he learned to cook in Japan, Italy, France, Singapore, and Thailand before moving to California and then Houston. He is the perfect subject for an AMEX commercial (Welcome to Berbrijaporeifornialand!), and his menu combines Asian elements with Indian spices, French techniques, Italian pastas, and local heat.


Yes, Bedford is truly a cultural Cuisinart. The scallops arrived with a sweet crust and a light cream sauce, skillfully balanced with jalapeno peppers and greens. And just like that, I’m in love. A second favorite was the oyster appetizer, served on a timbale of sinfully fresh salmon and avocado. Oh la la.


Onward! The duck ravioli was rich, if not a bit overwhelmingly so, but the swordfish was light-flaky-nice, and the grilled salmon arrived perfectly cooked on a fabulous blend of potato and mushroom.


Save room for dessert! While all of ours were wonderful, we especially adored the Indian doughnuts, chunky balls of sweet dough, filled with a savory cheese, and soaked in a syrup I wish I could bottle. Each is topped with a gold leaf... a little decadence in the midst of recession.


Bedford’s three-course meal will set you back a reasonable $42, and the a la carte pricing is just as appropriate. While it’s still working out the kinks of a place that’s been open just two weeks -- servers unfamiliar with the menu, for one -- Bedford is an outstanding experience... One that I hope to replicate soon.

Bedford - 1001 Studewood (at 10th)