Saturday, February 11, 2006


"Ibiza's real attraction in recent years, however, has been its booming club music culture. Club promoters from Britain and elsewhere have turned Ibiza into the party capital of Europe."

-An online trave guide's description of the island of Ibiza

Ibiza is a very hip, slightly Spanish-influenced restaurant in Midtown. There are two reasons to visit the restaurant.

First, their ever-growing wine list is the best value in Houston. Last night, we had an Australian Shiraz, Torbreck "The Struie", for $56. The same wine retails at Specs for $52. Most restaurants mark up their wines two or three times retail price. At Ibiza, they sell wines for just above retail.

Second, Chef Charles Clark makes a handful of great dishes, mostly appetizers. The following are the real stand outs:

-Basque Green Pepper and Crab Bisque. The idea of green pepper soup does not sound so good, but this is great. The flavors of crab combine with the green pepper, which gives the soup great depth rather than the vegetal flavor you might expect.

-Local Goat Cheese with Morcilla Sausage and Sweet Roasted Beets. The genius of this dish is the combination of the three flavors. The beets are sweet and properly cooked al dente. There is nothing so good as blood sausage mixed with a pungent goat cheese.

-Spanish Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Smoked Duck Breast and Pistachio. Although I do not get a strong duck flavor in this dish, these tiny red peppers have a tasty sweet, meaty stuffing.

-Risotto with Crimini Mushroom, Grana Cheese, and White Truffle Oil. This dish is nothing revolutionary, but they do a good job with the texture of the risotto. Plus, I am a sucker for truffle oil, which they add generously to this dish.

-Crispy Baby Crabs with Moroccan Harissa Dip. Weird and wonderful. The crabs are about the same diameter as a quarter. You pop the whole fried crab -- legs, shell, and all -- in your mouth. The dip is a very spicy, flavorful sauce that makes we want to dip dozens of these crabs in it.

On the down side, the entrees are generally good, but do not stand out like the appetizers. When you go to Ibiza the first time, consider ordering just appetizers so you can sample the best the restaurant has to offer.

Also, the menu does not change that much, which is good and bad. It is good because I can usually order Ibiza's signature dishes, but bad because I rarely find a new dish at Ibiza that is really outstanding.

One final complaint - Ibiza is so hip and cool that it sometimes feels chilly. At night, the noisy crowd is mostly a mix of well-dressed older couples, groups of young fashionable gay men, and slick straight guys with sleazy women who look like they work at a men's club. The chic/trashy element of the crowd reflects the island of Ibiza more than the food does. Also, the staff and owners add to the chilly atmosphere. They rarely seem to recognize me, even though I visit their restaurant about once a month.

But I do not mind the noise, the sleaze factor, or the chilly reception so much after I have had a few glasses of wine and a plate of crunchy crabs.

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