Thursday, August 22, 2013

White Oak Kitchen- Houston, Texas

Hummus Plate
A friend and I visited White Oak Kitchen in order to participate in Restaurant Week in Houston and try out a new place to eat. Its hard to know where to start when talking about the many disappointments I experienced at this restaurant.  First, the parking is nearly impossible since the restaurant is in the Galleria.  So the first decision any guest must make is whether to succumb to expensive Galleria valet parking or park at Dillards and make the hike across the street to the restaurant. It's definitely not a relaxing start to a night out.

Fried Calamari Appetizer
When we finally arrived at White Oak (where we did indeed have reservations) it took twenty minutes for a server to even arrive to take our drink order.  Fifteen minutes later our drinks finally arrived and we hadn't even ordered our food.  When our server finally appeared my friend and I practically had to pounce on him to get our food order in.  Suffice to say the food was slow to arrive as well.  Additionally, the restaurant was already out of their shrimp appetizer and I was forced to order the hummus instead.  Didn't the restaurant think to plan ahead for restaurant week?  Strike one.

Wok-seared Beef and Shrimp
When the hummus did arrive it tasted worse than a hummus I could buy from Kroger and the pita bread it was served with was dry and had quite obviously been sitting out.  When I noticed my friend demolishing her calamari appetizer I assumed she was enjoying it but she confessed that she was just so hungry from waiting that she would have eaten about anything.  Strike Two.

Luckily when the entrees arrived, wok-seared beef shrimp for me and spicy clam linguine for her, they were hot, tasty, and surprisingly, served in a timely fashion.  I absolutely loved the sesame sauce served with my shrimp and the tangy beef and succulent shrimp were a great combination.

Chocolate Brownie and Ice Cream
However, just as I assumed things were starting to look up for White Oak, it was dessert time.  Naturally, the restaurant was out of the bread pudding I wanted to order so I was forced to order a chocolate brownie instead.  It was, at best, average, but at the very least it was world's better than the chocolate cake my friend ordered.  Since we are both pastry chefs my friend and I are hardened dessert criticss.  We both decided the desserts looked as though they had been frozen at some point and we also felt that they were incredibly bland.  Strike Three.  You're out White Oak Kitchen.  After enduring the poor food and service here once, I will never eat here again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sable Kitchen and Bar- River North Chicago

Shrimp and Grits
Sable Kitchen and Bar is situated in the new, modern Palomar Hotel in the affluent River North area of Chicago.  The restaurant's proximity to Michigan Avenue, downtown Chicago, and the financial district make it the perfect place to stop and have a bite.  Sable has a comprehensive menu for lunch, dinner, and brunch.  And the best part is that the menu is designed for sharing so a guest can choose to order either a half or whole portion of any one item to share with the table.  I would definitely rate the food as excellent.  For brunch I enjoyed the shrimp and grits made with laughing bird shrimp, white cheddar grits, and ham.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly and was tender and juicy.  The grits are soaked full of shrimp flavor and served in a spicy, tomato sauce which perfectly complement the shrimp.  The half sized portion was hearty and was just the right size for your average eater.  For lunch I tried the proscuitto pizza with Fontina cheese, arugula, and balsamic reduction.  This pizza is a flatbread so don't expect your traditional deep dish.  The peppery arugula contrasts with the salty proscuitto quite well.  If you stop by the hotel lobby at 5:00 they serve this flatbread as well as other varieties with a complimentary glass of wine orjuice.  

Prosciutto flatbread
Although the food items were good I would rate this restaurant poorly in regards to service.  The staff was very inattentive and kept forgetting drink orders.  They also neglected to refill water glasses without constant prodding.  Additionally, although we ordered our cappucinos almost upon arrival they took about 20 minutes to actually serve them and the waiter did not accompany the beverage with sugar.  By the time we received the sugar for our coffee it was already getting cold.  So overall, this restaurant has great ambiance, cuisine and the addition of a beautiful bar but it lacks a sense of urgency and hospitality on the service side.  Definitely, do not eat here if you are in a hurry.  The servers take their time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mojitos or Margaritas?

Yes, that is the question.  Maybe not a question you have not asked before but definitely a question you will

ask yourself if you ever visit or reside in Texas.  Because margaritas and mojitos are actually good in the great state of Texas.  Unlike in most places where they are just super sweet, sticky concoctions served in an over sized glass with some tequila or rum thrown in.

But questioning readers may be asking themselves- "What  is the difference is between these two well know cocktails?"  Let me break it down for you.  Margaritas are a mixture of tequila, orange flavored liqueur (such as Cointreau and lime and lemon juices.  Mojitos are made with simple syrup, rum, lots of mint, and rum.

Both drinks are fresh and wonderful in their own way.  However, I don't recommend ordering one of these drinks unless you are in a high quality establishment, south of the border, Texas.  Having a bad one of these cocktails can turn you off them forever.  But having a great mojito or margarita? Sounds like a great start to a night!
Who says a mojito needs to be served in a glass?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Emporium Pies- Dallas, TX

Pie used to be a pretty simple thing right?  That simple baked goodness that you would make just to get rid of all the summer berries in your fridge or bring to a pot luck.  Not so anymore...Emporium Pies in Dallas, TX has taken pies to a whole other level.  With pies named thinks like "Cherry Bomb" and "Mellow Yellow" it's almost hard to know you are in a bakery.

The pies themselves are good but I caution the careful spender.  They are expensive and are likely to stress your wallet more than you would like for an afternoon pick-me-up.  One slice of pie is $5 or $6 a slice and a whole pie is between $30-$40.

My friends and I tried 3 pies: the Drunken Nut, Ebony and Ivory, and Smooth Operator.  Smooth Operator is a rich chocolate concoction with a pretzel crust.  I loved the crust but found the filling to be a bit too heavy to finish the slice in one sitting.  Ebony and Ivory is a chocolate and buttermilk chess pie which tastes every bit as smooth as the name of it sounds but the taste of it fell a bit flat for me.  My absolute favorite was the Drunken Nut.  With a light shortbread crust and a hearty, caramelized, nut filling, this pie was perfection.

The shop itself is situated in the trendy Bishop's Arts District which is an up and coming area near downtown Dallas.  If one has been to Dallas, you can imagine it is a more artistic and relaxed version of the well known, trendy Uptown area.  The pie shop is right in the middle of the action and at 7 pm on a Saturday night the line was already out the door so you may want to get there early.
Dunken Nut
Ebony and Ivory
Smooth Operator