Last week I was busy writing a paper about corporate shareholder liability, so I could not write much here. But that doesn't mean that I didn't eat.
Ever noticed that every major American city has an Ethiopian restaurant named "Blue Nile"? Compared to Boston, D.C., and New York, Houston does not have much Ethiopian food. But we do have a Blue Nile. And it's pretty good.
A Chowhound Houston group went to Blue Nile last Sunday and tried some of She Eats’ favorite dishes. Compared to Ethiopian food I have tried in other cities, Blue Nile's dishes lacked the same level of spice and heat. But the ingredients were fresh, and the flavors were varied and vibrant.
I was particularly impressed with Blue Nile's Ehtiopian honey wine, which I had never tried. Perhaps the best dish of the afternoon was Alicha Minchetabish, a bowl of nearly rare ground beef with intriguing spices.
Venezuelan food does not seem very complex or nuanced. It strikes me as very basic -- no fancy techniques, few herbs, few vegetables. Just meat, bananas, and grains and legumes.
So for my first meal at Miguelito's, a Venezuelan restaurant on Richmond near Chimney Rock, I thought I should stick to the basics. The Pabellon Criollo is a traditional Venezuelan plate served with carne mechada (shredded beef), white rice, black beans, and plantains. The beef is mildly spiced with onions and cumin.
Although most of the customers speak in Spanish and presumably have Venezuelan roots, this is not exotic food. It is comfort food that would appeal to the appetites of most Texans.
Tim Keating opened Quattro in the Four Seasons as an affordable take on creative Italian cuisine. Since Keating left a few years ago, Quattro's exec chef position has been a revolving door: Paul Wade, Gaetano Ascione, and now Andrea Ossola.
With the newest chef, there is one significant change: the prices have risen to among the highest in Houston. Most entrees are $30 - $40. Some appetizers are over $20. And wine prices have a big markup.
Fortunately, I was a guest of an old friend who is one of Houston's top wine collectors. We drank amazing wines -- an '05 white Burgundy, and a Grenache made by Sine Qua Non, my favorite American wine producer.
With such incredible wines, I did not want to order any food that might interfere. A chilled zucchini and mint soup (with a spoon of caviar) was light and flavorful. Osso Bucco alla Milanese looked beautiful -- a giant bone of braised meat standing upright and surrounded by a bright yellow/orange risotto. The dish was a bit underseasoned, but an excellent foil for the red wine.
Quattro seems to have abandoned Keating's project of attracting Houstonians downtown with creative dishes and moderate prices. Instead, the focus is on the hotel's base -- conservative business travelers who desire quality and consistency and have an unlimited budget. So the food is high quality, consistent, very expensive, and perhaps just a little dull.
When Reef opened, I was very excited. Since then, large crowds and a few service problems have kept me from being a regular. Yet I remain mostly impressed by the food.
Why just "mostly impressed"? The menu does not seem to change that much. And many dishes just are not right for the season. Why, for instance, would anyone order "Seafood Hot Pot" in August?
Still, Reef's style is creative. Often the best part of a dish are the garnishes. For instance, we started with two raw fish plates - kona kampachi and snapper carpaccio. The best part of the first dish was a small salad of watermelon, onions, radish, and something that tasted like a gerkin pickles. The carpaccio was livened up by a sprinkling of parsley, basil, and mint. The herbs were a simple addition, but they made the dish work.
Similarly, a ravioli of ricotta and greens was livened up by splashes of a beet puree. Although I was not too impressed with a runny corn pudding served with Seared Grouper, I did like the grilled half peach on the side, plus a salsa of tomato, green onion, cilantro, and radish.
Most Houston restaurants could use more variety and seasonality in their menus. Perhaps it is unfair for me to expect that of Reef. Yet with dishes this good, the next logical step for this restaurant is greater versatility.