Catalan is the new restaurant on Washington Avenue brought to us by Ibiza's Charles Clark, Grant Cooper, and Chris Shepard and former Da Marco sommelier Antonio Gianola. It opened on Wednesday, and I tried it today for lunch.
Lunch probably is not the best time to go to Catalan. The restaurant focuses on wine and tapas. But at lunch, they don't serve tapas, and I don't drink wine. Still, if my lunch is any indication, Catalan is a great addition to the Houston restaurant scene.
The real standout was a garlic soup with a soft egg floating in it. The soup had a smooth, viscous texture and tasted great. It was even better when I broke open the egg and stirred around the yolk. What a great idea to float an egg in soup.
I also tried two pressed sandwiches. One was a pulled chicken sandwich, which came with ham, avocado and a white cheese. I loved the texture of the pressed bread, but I did not think the taste of the other ingredients was very special. In contrast, a lamb and mint sandwich was outstanding. The combination made so much sense, but you don't see it that often in sandwiches.
Like Ibiza, the main reason to go to Catalan may be the outstanding wine list and prices. Like Ibiza, these wines are priced around 1/2 to 2/3 the price of most other restaurants in town. For instance, the 2004 Far Niente Chardonnay is $115 at tony's and $75 at Catalan. The 2002 Caymus Special Selection is $350 at tony's and the 2003 vintage is $155 at Catalan. Fortunately, the majority of Catalan's wines are in the $30 - $50 range and are far more interesting than Far Niente and Caymus. There are a lot of wines from wonderfull lesser-known regions like Friuli (Italy), Jura and Zamora (Spain), and Lake County (California). Plus, the list looks quite long -- at least 250 different wines.
The interior of Catalan reminds me of a smaller and more informal version of Ibiza. But don't expect "Ibiza light." The menu looks entirely new. Our waiter told us that one of the best items at night is "pork pops" which are made from pork bellies and rum. He also mentioned fried balls of foie gras.