Dining

Understanding the Art of the Meal

Last year John and I attended a horizontal Bordeaux tasting and dinner held by one of my favorite wine gurus at a great little midtown restaurant. It was a fine evening until the drive home. After encountering a couple of wrecks and an interminable number of mystifying slowdowns along I-45, we finally reached our driveway two hours later. It’s that kind of experience that makes it difficult to work up the enthusiasm to drive “into town” on a weeknight for dinner. And that’s a shame, because some of my favorite eating is inside the loop.

It’s not that there aren’t some wonderful restaurants in The Woodlands area. The last decade of growth out this way has brought sorely needed depth and breadth to the food scene here. Research Forest Drive, the Market Street development near The Woodlands Mall and various points in their vicinity have burgeoned with wine bars, sushi, steakhouses, street tacos, gourmet pizza and various takes on New American cuisine.

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What we’re still lacking, for the most part, is that “inside the loop” vibe. It’s an aesthetic that’s difficult to put a finger on, but Mark Zientek, general manager and co-owner of The Refuge Bar & Bistro, located on The Woodlands Waterway, has set about the task of bringing that feel to the exurbs. He and his partner Luis Padilla, who also serves as bar manager and sommelier, are putting the finishing touches on their highly anticipated new restaurant, The Refuge Steakhouse and Bourbon Bar, set to open in a matter of days and located in the spanking new Crossroads Square developed by Lake Investment Group and located on Kuykendahl Road at Creekside Forest Drive. Continue reading

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Update: Where to Find a Good Cup of Coffee in Spring and The Woodlands

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I’m always on the prowl for new and interesting places to get a good cup of coffee in the suburbs northwest of Houston. It’s easy to get spoiled by places like Blacksmith in the Montrose area, where every bean is meticulously sourced and the espresso drinks are made with such artistry. And though Spring and The Woodlands may not be known as bastions of coffee culture, you don’t have to resign yourself to a long wait in line at a certain American global coffee chain that shall remain nameless. So here, in no particular order, is a list of (mostly) local coffee houses and other spots out this way that take their coffee seriously.

This list is updated from time to time as new coffee shops pop up and as others, sadly, close their doors: Continue reading

Old Vegas, New Vegas

Are you Old Vegas or New Vegas? New Vegas is the strip and its immediate vicinity–plush and opulent, shiny and modern, fairy tale and fantasy. But sometimes the glittering exterior doesn’t deliver on the expectation it creates.

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The New School Old Cool of Brennan’s

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The meal began with a Cajun-spiced Bloody Mary. And it just kept getting better. A rain-free interlude during our mostly water-logged family vacation to New Orleans this spring. Day after day of downpour, triggering memories of those 100% humidity bad hair days that were a fact of life for all us girls who grew up in south Louisiana during the years B.C. (“before Chi”).

But we didn’t let the rain stop us from getting to everything we wanted to do on this trip–browsing the shops on Magazine Street, exploring the 19th century Creole mansions that line the edge of the Quarter along Esplanade, even making a side trip to Chalmette during the height of the “monsoon” to take in the museum and soppy grounds at the site of the Battle of New Orleans. And then Friday morning, while the clouds held onto their contents for a few hours, we put away the umbrellas and made our way to Brennan’s, where the food and surroundings seem to make their own sunshine.

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Bring Me a Red from Ribera del Duero

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When U.S. wine lovers think of Spain, they immediately think “Rioja.” But there’s a new kid on the block, gaining prominence and shelf space as more people discover its robust yet elegant reds. The accolades for the Ribera del Duero continue to grow, and in 2012 it was named wine region of the year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Officially founded in 1982, the denomination is fairly new, yet wine has been produced there for thousands of years.

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If the Walls Could Talk at Restaurante Botin in Madrid

On Calle de los Cuchilleros, near Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, sits Restaurante Botin. Opened in 1725, it purports to be the be the world’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, and even has a couple of prominently displayed Guiness World Record certificates to prove it. Because of this distinction, as well as the fact that they serve some of the best roast suckling pig in this part of Spain, the place is consistently packed with tourists and locals alike.

If you’re going to experience the world’s oldest restaurant, do it right. Arrange a tour, one where you get to explore all the nooks and crannies of the place before it opens for the day–and, of course, one that includes a sampling of multiple courses from Botin’s menu. 

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Sunday Night at Galatoire’s

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Years ago, on a crowded night in the French Quarter, we had no reservations for dinner and seemingly no prospects of eating anything worthwhile, having been firmly rebuffed by every hostess desk within walking distance of our hotel. All, that is, except for Galatoire’s. With its “no reservations” policy for the downstairs dining room (and that is the place to be), you’ve got an equal opportunity shot of getting into Galatoire’s.

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