Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Noe - A Second Look

I first tried Noe after it opened in 2005. I was blown away. Although the service was snooty, and the wine list was inappropriate for the food, the food was some of the most creative I had tried in Houston. Each dish was served with over a dozen different ingredients, with combinations I had never considered. The food seemed like an exotic fusion of French and American and Japanese cuisine. This, I thought, was something new.

I returned to Noe last week. It remains one of the best restaurants in Houston. But this recent visit was different in a number of respects:

The wait staff is now more relaxed, friendly, and helpful.

The menu no longer lists prices. If you have to ask, well . . . everything is expensive. Appetizers range from $16-24; entrees from $30-38; tasting menus from $75 - $110.

The wine list is greatly improved. The selection is very wide, and most of the wines now work well with the cuisine.

But the most noticeable difference was the food. This visit, I ordered a six course “discovery” tasting. Compared to my first visit, the six dishes I had this visit were less exotic and simpler, with fewer ingredients. The food did not seem very unusual compared to other fine restaurants in Houston. It was almost like the restaurant had a new chef who was toning down the creativity.

No complaints though. Although the food was not as revelatory, it was well balanced, elegant, and tasty. Four courses involved seafood – although one person in our group requested no seafood and received completely different dishes. Some examples I ate were:

-sushi of baby yellow tail topped with caviar;
-ravioli with lobster and a spicy cream sauce; and
-fillet mignon served with vegetables and a gastrique of rose water and pink peppercorns.

The waiter provided wine pairings with each course for an extra $45 per person. Although I did not like one particularly vegetal California pinot noir, the other five wines were interesting and thoughtfully paired.

There is a lot to be said for Noe's tasting menu. The food is elegant, the chef caters the menu to individual tastes, and the wine pairings are quite good. But my one experience with the tasting menu was not as creative and interesting as my previous visit when I ordered off the menu. Has there been a change in the kitchen? Or is the tasting menu just less creative?

This is a small complaint. If you can afford a restaurant with undisclosed prices, I highly recommend Noe. It remains one of Houston's best restaurants.

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