VERDICT: excellent service, the food that "hit" were amazing, don't miss it
to be completely honest, this review was difficult to write. i have recently discovered that it's complicated writing an objective restaurant review when you have met the chef personally. in my prior review of VOICE from my first visit to the restaurant, i pointed out some problems that the restaurant had. chef michael kramer read the review and publicly commented on my blog to apologize for my experience and to invite me back to experience his tasting menu on the house. he made no excuses and i was impressed by his business ethic. and you can imagine how tempted i was to take him up on the offer, however i never accepted. i felt it was too awkward of a situation.
in the meantime, i have returned to VOICE on several occasions and have had much better experiences and some pretty amazing food - in particular the grouper entree and fish and chips (tuna tartare on taro chips) on the bar menu. the bar at VOICE has also become my favorite place downtown for a drink these days. the crowd and energy is lively, wine prices are excellent, and they serve a sancerre by the glass
i wanted to generate some goodwill for VOICE because i truly appreciate chef kramer's progressive vision and the talent he brings to houston. i was confident that HRW was going to be a good experience, i was ready to review the restaurant again, and i knew that if i brought the food bloggers along, i could accomplish the same thing more than triple fold. all for a good cause too! VOICE was the restaurant reservation that all the chowhounds looked forward to the most this week.
wednesday, a large group of houston chowhounds and i participated in houston restaurant week at VOICE. everything about the night was wonderful - the exquisite setting, the impeccable service, the impressive wine pairings, and of course, most importantly, the food. everyone left feeling spoiled and completely in love with the restaurant. however, we didn't experience the restaurant as normal guests. i made the dinner arrangements directly through the GM, kevin haagenson, a friend of mine and new addition to the restaurant staff since my first review. since kevin knew what i was up to these days, the staff knew in advance that the party would be composed of chowhounds and food bloggers. we were treated like VIPs all the way.
for starters, they sat our group in the private wine vault, a room that is generally booked with a hefty minimum check requirement. the private room is gorgeous, luxurious, and more interestingly, has a window looking into the kitchen where we were free to spy on chef kramer and his dinner service. as foodies, of course we got a total kick out of it.
other chowhounds reported that they didn't receive amuse bouches when they visited earlier in the week, but we all received a lovely amuse of blue crab, avocado, cilantro and yuzu in heavy crystal tear-shaped bowls. on top of that the sommelier, todd leveritt, poured us two bottles of nicolas feuillate brut rose champagne on the house. the amuse was delightful, the champagne made it heavenly (especially since it happened to be my favorite bottle of champagne under $80).
shortly afterwards, warm rolls and ciabatta hit the table. the bread service has never been better. during the other 3 meals i had at VOICE, i never tried the bread because it always arrived cold and hard. this is passable in my book because it's free, my standards for bread in houston are very low in general anyways, and if a restaurant's bread is too good, i get upset too b/c i spoil my appetite too early in the meal with too many carbs. well, this was the first time i was tempted to try the roasted garlic puree, olive tapenade, and butter that the bread arrives with too. the garlic puree and butter together are amazing and i loved being able to personally control the amount of garlic i wanted in each bite. the rolls were okay but at least they were warm and fresh. the ciabatta i didn't try.
most of us opted for the $25 three course wine pairing option, an option that i was not disappointed with in any way. the pours were generous, the timing of the wine service was impeccable. todd was constantly coming in to open bottles of wine to pair with each dish that came out of the kitchen. he had to keep track of each diner's next course and which wine to serve. this was no easy task.
the table started with 2 orders of truffle parmesan fries from the main menu to share. they did not disappoint. i have been known to order the sliders at the bar because they come with these same truffle fries. they do not skimp on the truffle oil or parmesan.
onto the first course. i decided to play it safe with VOICE's signature mushroom cappuccino. on my first visit to VOICE, the soup was oversalted. on one subsequent visit and this particular night, the soup was creamy and perfect. tonight, the night i an penning this review, i've just had dinner at le mistral and sampled their wild mushroom soup, also cream based and a very unappetizing brown-grey hue. chef kramer tops his soup with clouds of creamy truffle foam and porcini powder accomplishing 2 things: covering the soup with something pretty and whimsical and adding an additional layer of decadence to this wonderful starter. chef kramer wins this mushroom soup challenge. the blue cheese salad with green apples and candied hazelnuts was delicious too. the salad wasn't overdressed which is a personal pet peeve of mine and so the fresh ingredients really shined. fyi, i had both the mushroom cappuccino and blue cheese salad on the $15 lunch box special that VOICE runs every weekday for a mere $15. it also comes with your choice of panini and a dessert sampler that changes frequently.
the third choice for starters was the summer corn risotto with heirloom cherry tomatoes, parmesan, and chives. the dish was as light as summer and others at the table enjoyed it, but i expected more cheese or cream in the dish. based on the 2 bites i had, the acid in the tomatoes (grape size more than cherries) overpowered the dish and the fresh corn flavor was lost. however, chef kramer definitely gets points for adding this off-menu and seasonal dish to the menu. especially if anyone wants to complain that cream of mushroom soup is too heavy for a houston summer. not in my opinion. ever.
mad props for three good HRW entree choices. i chose the braised short ribs, a special that the chef runs often. the portion was huge, the meat was tender and unctuous. it was the best braised short ribs i've had which is quite a compliment considering all the (predominantly) french restaurants i've been to over the years where i've ordered this dish. the whipped potatoes were buttery. the celery apple slaw on top added a bit of tang which played off the fat in dish very well.
i had a bite of the red snapper with melted leeks and english peas. the dish was delicate and the fish was tender. i remember giving it a thumbs up but truthfully, i just wanted to divert my attention back to the heavenly short ribs.
the pork loin sous vide was not enjoyed by the diner on my side of the table who ordered it. i had a bite of the pork and thought it was overcooked. the pork definitely looked seared off as well, which we later confirmed with the chef. i expected the pork to be soft and juicy as the sous vide technique implies. perhaps the dish just needs a fattier cut of pork. this dish was something chef kramer was working on to add to the main menu and he was using HRW to test out the dish. smart idea actually.
for dessert, i chose the creme brulee. it was a generous portion and as good as i expected. it was nothing ground breaking, but i've never had a creme brulee that was. it paired nicely with the saracco, moscato d'asti that todd served it with. warm chocolate cake was actually the molten chocolate cake that peg so desperately wanted but did not find at strip house tuesday night. it was delicious with ice cream on the side. i love warm desserts with cold ice cream. the chocolate cream pie didn't do it for me. perhaps it was b/c the chocolate cake was so rich that the pie seemed bland in comparison, but the crust wasn't flakey enough. it could have benefited with the addition of more butter. the five spice ice cream was a little weird for me. i think i associate the 5 spice flavors with too many chinese foods i grew up with. the sensation of sweet and cold was just too much confusion for my brain to handle. however, other chowhounds at the table really liked it.
we had a dedicated waiter for the occasion by the name of chris who never left our side so we were never in need of anything for more than mere seconds. our wine pairings were poured right before our food all arrived at the same time, our silverware was changed out for each course, our plates were promptly cleared, napkins were folded each time we left our chairs. chef kramer, justin basye, chef de cuisine who i met at a tenacity dinner, and kevin all popped in on more than one occasion to check on us and chat with the table. chef kramer even came by the table after dinner for feedback. the service was attentive, warm, and professional.
everyone left wined, dined, and floating on clouds. foodprincess' review declares VOICE her favorite HRW meal.
other chowhounds share their experiences elsewhere...
see greatfoodhouston's review of glass wall
le mistral (review by cynthiamonster)
verdict: good service, some heavy dishes, but delicious
"Wanted to share our Le Mistral HRW experience on Wednesday night.
General consensus: DELISH!
This was the first time I had been to their new and improved location. It's nice but a little too modern feeling for me. I like cozy but I do appreciate the expanded kitchen and seating.
First off, it was packed. We had reservations for 4 at 8pm and there were no empty tables. The new restaurant seems to be drawing the fans. We weren't given the HRW menus at first and had to ask, but were politely given to us. It looked like most people were ordering off the regular menu so the crowd was not HRW related.
3 of us had the HRW menu and one of us just had the mushroom soup and mussels because she wasn't very hungry...ended up both dishes were pretty heavy. Between the 3 of us we tried the entirety of the HRW menu. The mushroom soup was delicious and there was a lot of it. It was very creamy and very mushroomy, not light. The salad looked great but was eaten by my husband before I got my fork over there. It's their house salad with a blueberry vinegrette, I remember it fondly from the past.
The entrees were both very good, but the pork chop wins hands down. We ordered it medium rare and it was perfect and juicy...and huge. The best part was the accompanying risotto. It looked simple like rice and peas and broth but the flavors were so complex...I'm thinking ginger and mint maybe...I don't remember exactly now but it was delicious! Now that I look on the menu I don't really know what it was, hopefully it is a continued part of the HRW plate because it was great. I ordered the salmon, which I never order, but wanted to explore the menu and no one else was ordering it. It was cooked well, the pasta was fresh and yummy, as were the clams, and it was CREAMY. I love creamy but after the mushroom soup it was hard to plow on through. I would have gotten the pork chop knowing what I know now. But exploration is good.
I'm not a big dessert person but both the sorbet (raspberry when we went) and chocolate molten cake with vanilla shake (ice cream) were very good. I think the cake would have been better to me had I not already been stuffed with heavy courses. My husband was super impressed with the chocolate dessert to the point that he only wanted to share one bite with me anyways. I should also probably mention that it's not a light sorbet either, it was very tangy (I like) and dense with flavor, not too icey or too sweet either.
Note: We did get an amuse bouche, paella and red peppers, I think that's just part of their normal service. Also, the owner was a wonderful sommelier. We had to wait 5 minutes until he was free but once he got to us he was very focused and helpful and polite. He took a good 10 minutes of his time to help us pick out a good Cotes du Rhone including sample tastes...and we weren't buying anything over $40. The waiter was extremely attentive and friendly (but not too friendly). The whole experience was very professional...the old place was too but I think the new environment has set a new standard there."