saga food & wine

3017 milam St @ anita

went to saga food & wine last night in midtown brought to us by chef polo becerra of post oak grill and polo's signature. restaurant was slow except for 2 large parties on a friday night at 9 pm. we sat on the patio which was comfortable and had a nice ambiance. the food menu was presented on 2 stapled sheets of zeroxed white paper. the wine list, in a leather bounded binder, is impressive and the prices are even more amazing. we had 2 bottles of champagne, a moet white star for $50 and veuve cliquot for $57.

we only had appetizers, 2 of them were wonderfully executed. the lamb lollipops app is small (2 pieces) but cooked to a perfect medium rare and tasty. the lobster ravioli special of the day was better than the ravioli special at da marco’s where we dined for lunch that same day. the pasta was homemade and it was apparent in the taste and texture. it was rich, decadent, and amazing. the soup of the day, a chicken poblano chowder was dull and uninteresting. the vibe inside the main dining room is awkward. the decor is lacking and the huge refrigerator case, which contained bottles of wine and gelato, casts a harsh glare of fluorescent lighting. the wine prices and patio will lure me back for a full meal.

updated on 5/13/08: drove by saga today and they have rebranded as post oak grill midtown. what a shame that their new concept restaurant didn't succeed.


rudi lechner's

2503 s. gessner rd @ westheimer

rudi lechner's is a german restaurant on the west side of town. i went with a group of 5 friends the night before thanksgiving. we wanted to do something different and buffets just have a way of making my friend paul's eyes light up. that wednesday they were offering the $13.95 oktoberfest buffet. the goulash, 3 types of sausage, and roasted chicken were delicious. the salad bar was boring, the rouladen was a disappointment. it was dry and flavorless, although it looked sensational. the schnitzel was a little tough and dry -- i'm sure it's better made to order. the roasted potatoes and spaetzel were bland, the red cabbage was pretty good.

the band was cheesy and very loud from where we were sitting, but fun and added to the festive atmosphere. we had a great time, especially with the $2.50 draft beer special, but i won't be back anytime soon. this was a novelty dinner (we weren't expecting too much from the food). and it's just too far of a drive from inside the loop.


this is it! soul food

207 gray nr. bagby

"this is it soul food" is in the large shack next door to front porch pub in midtown. it is a cafeteria style restaurant w/ huge portions. choose 1 entree and 3 sides for about $11 -- a little pricey in my opinion, especially for a divey joint like this, but leftovers will be enough for another meal.

the oxtails and chicken and dumplings are both excellent, although greasy choices. they also have chicken fried steak, smothered fried chicken, fried catfish, blackened catfish, apricot glazed chicken, chitterlings, pork chops and much more on their menu which changes each day. some of the sides could be a lot better. the brown gravy on the mashed potatoes still can't mask the taste of instant potatoes. the green beans still taste canned even though they are joined by bits of bacon and onions. the mac and cheese is bland and could use a sharper cheese. the dirty rice is just too dirty for me (although i'm not complaining about that). but this is still some great comfort food.

the neighborhood used to be known as freedman's town or the fourth ward, which was houston's "harlem." the restaurant has not only survived the gentrification of the area, but must be quite successful since they are building a new restaurant next door that they will be moving into. i think they will be able to attract more midtowners after the new place opens. the existing place is a dump, although i think it has a lot of character and is charming in it's own way.

bistro calais

2811 bammel ln b/w w. alabama & richmond

i was excited about trying out this casual french bistro in the upper kirby area. i'm a total sucker for french food and my friend who just moved across the street said she loved the place. i did some research on their website, the prices looked reasonable, the menu interesting, and the restaurant itself very charming and quiant. i wasn't expecting an awful experience, but it happened just the same.

first of all, it took 10-15 mins to be greeted at our table. when we asked if we could order a half portion of the sweetbreads entree as an appetizer, our server assured us it would be no problem. 30 mins later when the appetizer should have been hitting our table, he came back to tell us the kitchen would make us a half order but would charge us full price. so we asked to see the menu again. he disappeared and it took 10-15 mins for him to come by the table again.

since they were out of escargot which he told us the first time we ordered, i opted for the french onion soup and my friend ordered the coconut shrimp w/ peanut sauce, which was on the daily specials menu. both of these dishes were terrible. the gruyere on top of the soup was excellent -- perfectly broiled into warm and chewy goodness, with the sharp and nutty flavor of a good gruyere, but the broth was remarkably sour. i was shocked b/c even the french onion soup at bennigan's (which i recall eating 10 years ago) was better than this version. my guest's coconut shrimp ended up being 4 battered and deep fried shrimp with coconut sprinkled on top. the peanut sauce was thick and sweet. the dish was confusing and heavy.

for entrees, my rack of lamb which was supposed to be served in a mint sauce arrived in a pool of brown acid. at this point, i started wondering if my taste buds were off, but my friend, who teaches food operations at the hilton college, confirmed that i was right. it was the first time i had rack of lamb that was almost inedible. when i mentioned it to our server, he seemed annoyed and said he would take it off our bill and walked off very rudely.

my friend had the roasted duck breast which came out chewy. it was still pink in the middle, so i was confused how it could be chewy. it was obviously cooked perfectly at some point, then sliced and sat under a salamander or in an oven too long waiting come to the table.

although the waiter was surly and generally annoyed with us, he comped our wine and the lamb off our bill. we tipped him well, so we didn't have to feel bad about never coming here again. we should have gone to cafe rabalais or brasserie max and julie.


does beaver make good Q?

2310 decatur st. near washington ave

this is monica pope (from t'afia) & co.’s new restaurant concept. i wanted to love it, but it just missed the mark too many times. the inner loop needed a BBQ joint with table service—a place to dine-out and drink with friends, b/c you know we love our meat in TX. the restaurant is in a great location just a block from the closed-down “pig stand” on the other side of washington. although this place is billed as an ice house, they have a full service bar. i wanted to be impressed, as i could see having many dinners with friends here before heading down washington to the drake for drinks afterwards.

the restaurant itself is sparse. the walls are barren, although they just opened and i’m sure it will be taken care of in time. the seating is arranged with banquettes along the walls and chairs or benches on the other side of the table. there is a great deal of space that is wasted, in my opinion.i dined there with my companion on a saturday night, 8:30-ish. it was a week after it’s opening. the restaurant was full, but we did not have to wait for a table.

we started with the corn “puppies” and chickpea two fry. the corn puppies were a hushpuppy/corn fritter hybrid. it was interesting, but the kitchen chose to serve it with a tartar sauce, which i found strange. the sauce was too overpowering and not complementary to the flavors at all. the chickpea two fry had broccoli florets in it, which again was a bit strange, but the seasoning and crispy texture of the chickpeas was surprisingly delicious.

for dinner, i ordered the texas cross quail which was served on wax paper in a red plastic basket, like the kind your food comes in at dairy queen. the quail was skewered to keep the bacon in place, but it was definitely a knife and fork effort. this was not easily performed on top of the wax paper inside the frail basket. the quail was stuffed with jalapeno cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and grilled. this would have been much better as an appetizer. it was too rich and there was way too much cheese oozing out to enjoy the taste of the quail. but at a $10 price tag for 2 quail, it was an excellent value.

my friend had the pork ribs, again served in a wax paper lined plastic basket. i understand the kitsch of the basket, with the ribs, it worked better. the “berkshire country pork ribs” were prepared north carolina style in a dry rub and were barely sweet. i enjoyed them this way, although my friend prefers them in a more sweet, wet sauce. the house-made BBQ sauce sit on each table with the salt and pepper shakers. they were bottled in glass hot sauce bottles adorned with handwritten labels. it was more vinegary than i am accustomed to, but the sauce went very well with the dry rub on the ribs.

the two sides we ordered were the most disappointing part of the meal. i ordered the “old school” potato salad, which the menu said had eggs, red pepper, and cornichons. well, i wish the menu would have mentioned mustard, b/c i would have passed it up. well, it was very mustardy. also, i found lots of celery in the salad, but not enough egg and no sign of red pepper or cornichons. overall, the side was very bland and boring. the second side we ordered was the “killer coleslaw,” which was described as containing “colorful cabbage, jicama, and 3 seed dressing.” this slaw had no mayonnaise in it. i am a bit of a traditionalist, but open-minded as well. the slaw just didn’t work. we couldn’t find any jicama in it, or maybe because the slaw dressing was so acidic we couldn’t taste the jicama either. in either case, it is definitely not anything i will be ordering again.

so, i may give the restaurant a few more months to work out the kinks. the service was excellent—no complaints there. the prices are reasonable, especially entree prices. and there are a few other enticing menu items such as the brisket, veggie burger, philly style mac and cheese, and beaver burger (which contains beef and pork in their secret recipe). after all, this is monica pope’s place (which is why i had such high expectations) and she definitely deserves one more chance.


ziggy's healthy grill

302 fairview st @ taft
2202 w.alabama st @ greenbriar

hey a girl has to watch her figure every now and then and ziggy's serves up excellent "diet" food. almost everything on ziggy's menu is guilt-free except the deep fried fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings. however, they are fried in canola oil if you aren't that concerned with the calories. the onion rings are sliced really thin and battered and are excellent.

secondly, you can't go wrong with a burger. served on whole wheat buns, my favorites are the black bean burger (very similar to beck's veggie burger) and the spicy garlic turkey. as for entrees, i love the meatloaf -- it is huge and the mashed potatoes with low-fat brown gravy is yummy and comforting. the tilapia and salmon are both very good and with steamed brown rice and veggies, it is also very filling.

perhaps, my favorite time to come to ziggy's is for brunch. i almost always choose the santa fe breakfast burrito w/ egg whites, which is very large and is filled with scrambled egg whites, turkey sausage, black beans, rosemary potatoes, and assorted veggies. it is served with salsa, low fat queso, and fat free sour cream. or i opt for an egg white omelet.

at the west alabama location, you order at the counter, they give you a number and they bring your food to you. it's a great lunch spot, but i would never come here for a dinner out with friends. then my prayers were answered with the second location on fairview which is in a quaint house and has table service. i am very happy that houston has a health conscious restaurant on this level (and now there is a second location on fairview and taft which is much closer to my house). it makes trying to live a healthy lifestyle so much easier.


vieng thai

6929 long point rd. b/w silber & antoine

i had dinner at vieng thai last night and went back today with an out of town guest who i knew would enjoy VT, so i enjoyed 2 back to back meals there. vieng thai sits in a old, run-down shopping center. it's very easy to drive by and miss the restaurant completely. once inside, you feel transported into a thai family's living room. a tv was set up with a/v equipment and what appeared to be a karaoke system. there was also a disco ball hung on the wall. i could just imagine this restaurant turning into a thai karaoke and disco after the restaurant closed for the owner's friends and family.

here is a list of the dishes i had during my 2 trips there and my comments:

e-sarn sausage - both robb walsh and alison greene recommended this app. it was served cold with peanuts, cilantro, lime, chiles, and white cabbage. i did not care for it.

fried chicken wings - dinner companion ordered them last night. as expected, they were tasty and crispy with no heavy battering. nothing unique about them.

tom kha gai - excellent, delicate soup. i was surprised how good it was. it had just the right balance of coconut milk and broth.

som tum - thai style, green papaya salad. wow! fantastic dish and very memorable. perfect spicy kick.

gang keaw whan - green curry chicken. had this last night but they left out the eggplant. the sauce was very soupy. wasn't wild about it. i'll pass on this next time.

panaeng chicken - preferred this thick, rich curry sauce. looking forward to trying the massamum next time.

pad grapraow crispy pork - tasty dish, but when we ordered it last night, they brought it with ground pork in it. i was expecting pork belly, but they ran out and didn't bother to let us know in advance. i'll have to try again on another visit.

plaa pad ped- crispy catfish in curry paste. very lovely with deep fried whole basil leaves. highly recommend this too.

kee mao noodle- a favorite at the table last night. would have been better if it were spicier.

chinese broccoli - better than any chinese broccoli that i've had in chinese restaurants.

the restaurant dumbed down the spice level for us non-thai diners. i wasn't sure how much heat my lunch guest could have handled, so i told them to make our lunch a little spicer than usual. it didn't seem to make a difference. on my next visit, i will ask for "thai spicy" and see what i get.

see vieng thai photos and updated review here

vinh hoa

9600 bellaire blvd #126 @ corporate
dynasty plaza

i love making the trek out to chinatown to this place for lunch whenever possible. hands down one of the best lunch deals in houston. all items on the lunch menus are $4.25 each monday - saturday (until 2:30 or 3 pm). there are 2 lunch menus, 1 chinese (39 items), 1 vietnamese (16 items). i've only ordered from the chinese menu.

this is a pretty typical mom and pop type of place in chinatown. they specialize in fresh seafood so the dining room contains numerous fish tanks full of various live fish, lobsters, geoduck clams, frogs, etc. my mother says they own a seafood wholesale operation which is how they are able to offer their seafood at such low prices.

not to be missed:

  • crisp fried whole rex sole fish (listed on the dinner menu for $16.95)
  • salt toasted shrimp

other good items:

  • shrimp, scallop, squid sauteed with tofu
  • crisp, deep-fried "desert storm" chicken ($8.25 at dinner)
  • stir-fried ong choy (vietnamese spinach)
  • manila clams sauteed with black bean sauce
  • sliced beef w/green onion

my friend and i usually (over)order 4 or 5 dishes and take the leftovers home b/c it is such a great bargain. the fish was so wonderful last time, we may order 1 fish each the next time and couple other dishes to share.

their regular menu has set menus for groups of 4 to 10 people. my friends and i had the seafood dinner for 6. it was a bargain at $98 w/o tax & tip and included:

  • crab meat w/fish maw soup
  • shrimp, scallop, squid sauteed w/tofu
  • salty toasted shrimp
  • manila clams sauteed w/black bean sauce
  • dungeness crab sauteed with XO sauce
  • lobster sauteed w/ginger & scallions
  • steamed fresh tilapia fish
  • stir-fried chinese broccoli
  • fruit

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