Monday, July 18, 2011

Sorrel, Radical Eats, Tepatitlan, Korean Noodle House

A few interesting meals lately:

Sorrel Urban Bistro (2202 West Alabama). Last night was their 2nd night. Very promising. This less-expensive, high-end restaurant features a Danish chef, daily-changing menu, and a farm-to-market concept.

Large plates are in the $20s and small plates are around $10. The wine list is a mix of small-producers and organic wines.

Bread service includes a deliciously bitter sorrel pesto. A small plate of cured halibut with sweet dill sauce and thinly sliced English cucumbers had a nice balance of sweetness, tang, and sea. Luscious butter-poached lobster and quail eggs sat atop a bitter arugula salad. A slightly over-cooked pork chop was covered in tangy cooked onion and tomato.

These are simple dishes, often with only 3 or 4 high quality ingredients. The kitchen is big on balancing contrasting flavors. Their minimalist approach to ingredients nicely fills a void in Houston's maximalist restaurant scene.

Radical Eats (3903 Fulton St.) Kudos for opening a restaurant east of I-45 and north of downtown. Apart from a few great Mexican restaurants, this area is a food desert.

This new dive is a work-in-progress that serves all-vegan Mexican food. Service is friendly and so laid back that you might think you're in Austin. The real reason to go is quality ingredients with interesting preparations.

A fried avocado taco is outstanding. The avocado chunks resemble cornmeal-crusted oysters. Jalapeno sauce is seriously hot and flavorful. A great mix of textures and flavors, this is one of the better tacos in town.

Chile Rellenos are a healthy version of one of the world's least healthy dishes. Here, a baked poblano is stuffed with mushrooms, onions, and tofu on a base of spicy tomato sauce. If you need batter, cheese, and fat, you'll be sadly disappointed. But if you are looking for an interesting preparation of vegetables, it's a success.

Enchilladas in nogado (walnut) sauce are slightly less successful. Although I dig the tortillas and the mushroom filling, the nogado sauce tastes like health food, not traditional nogado. As Pico's nogado sauce proves, sometimes you have to have cream -- which isn't an option for vegans.

Overall, Radical Eats is a godsend for vegans, and a nice alternative for the rest of us.

Tacqueria Tepatitlan (4720 N. Main location). I was previously disappointed. Then I discovered the trick -- skip the Tex-Mex plates and order off the tacqueria portion of the menu. (And it helps to speak some Spanish).

Tacos, gorditas, tostadas, huaraches, and sopes are served with a choice of 10 different meats. Birria (baby goat) was strongly spiced, but not too much to cover the delicious goat flavor. Picadillo had an earthy, spicy flavor. Carnitas were crispy and chopped into small cubes, which works well for tacos.

Best of all are huaraches, which have a masa base and an addicting texture.

It's not the best Mexican food in the Heights, but the tacqueria offerings are far better than your average taco truck.

Korean Noodle House is a funky Spring Branch restaurant in a ranch-style house (1415 Murray Bay). Half the fun is finding the place, then eating on long bench's in someone's house.

The #1 reason to go is homemade, handcut noodles. There is something inspiring about a bowl of noodles in which each noodle has its own individualistic shape.

The #2 reason is kimchi, easily the best I have had. It is spicy, funky, and addictive.

The menu consists of hot noodle dishes (mostly soups) and cold noodle dishes. Prices are mostly $10 - $12. For handmade noodles of this quality, it's a steal.


John C said...

Oh, man, are you back on the blog? We only need one post a week! No pressure...

Going to Sorrel tonight. Vegan Tex-Mex doesn't sound worth it....

John C

anonymouseater said...

John C - Thanks. If I can find the time, I may try to do several posts a month.

You might not like vegan Tex-Mex generally. But if you ever have to take a vegan law clerk to lunch, you can always get fried avocado tacos.

John C said...

Now, fried avocado tacos I can do! Thanks for the rec.

Very disappointing meal at Sorrel. I know it is the first couple days, but come on people! The waiter was not trained in how to open a bottle of wine!!! He mangled the capsule, shredded it. Then couldn't leverage the cork out. Another waiter had to do it. The pour of the house wine (the one from a keg) was about 3 oz for $10; not exactly a value.

Apps were good, but the fries that I talked to the waiter about coming with the entrees came out with the apps. We sent them back. Rabbit was good. But the black drum was overcooked. The skin was tough, the flesh almost room temp (had been sitting for 10+ minutes). No excuse since there were only about 5 tables there. This was not a hectic, opening week. Even with the sparse crowd, the chef took long breaks, disappearing from the head of the kitchen for 10-15 minutes here and there. I would have liked him to have checked my fish before it came out, or to not have let it get cooked 15 minutes before being served.

The desert of a "plum tarte with Grand Marnier custard and ginger glaze" came out just a plain plum tarte, a small bowl shape with nothing in it. It looked funny on the plate. I asked where the custard was and they said they'd get it. A few minutes later a different person -- a plate deliverer, not the waiter, not a manager -- came by and said they were out of the custard. It tasted okay, but 1/2 was missing. There are only 3 deserts on the menu, so having 1/2 of one on a very slow day is poor planning. Again, why isn't the chef watching things? They really thought it was a good idea to send out 1/2 a desert and hope we didn't notice?

And then they charged full price for it. Not cool.

The flourless chocolate cake with warm center was instead a chocolate ganache, cool all the way through. Good, rich dark chocolate. But it wasn't remotely warm in the center.

Again, three deserts on the menu, 5-6 tables in the house, 8 people in the kitchen, and you screw up two of the three deserts?

I thought all new restaurants do dry runs for one or two weeks before opening. It seems like all of these people, including the cooks, showed up for the first day of work on Tuesday and are still practicing.

Well, they practiced with my $65 per person and they ain't getting any more until I hear reviews about this becoming the best restaurant in town.

Veronica said...

Just got back from the Korean Noodle House and my roommate and we loved it. I had the kimchi noodle soup, and she had mushroom noodle soup. Both were great! We also got the fried dumplings and for $6 we got what looked like about 10 dumplings (we didn't count). It was way too much food, but we did our best. The fresh noodles seemed to get soggy and thicken the broth by the end of the meal, so I doubt the hot noodle soups could be reheated, unfortunately.

Thanks for the great tip on this place!

Lost in Thai Translation said...

I might need a pocket translator to know what I am ordering when I go to all these different ethnic food restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Sorrel Urban Bistro was utterly disappointing. Service was suspect, had to be constantly asking for simple things (water!). Of the wines that I ordered, the first two were out, didn't they just open? Food quality is the issue. Sauces are wonderful, but we choose the hardest food on the menu the first visit and the easiest. In this case Duck Muscovy, done in a confi style. This is a tough test, and his food was not succulent and juicy throughout, down one. Then the easiest, pork chops. Cooked perfectly, but the pork was utterly tasteless. I guess we can blame that on the purveyor, but thats what we pay a restauranteur for! This has enough going for it (location, and Ray) that there is hope, but I'll wait to see if others like it. Not enoguh for me to return.

Cathi said...

As it turned out, I had lunch and dinner at Sorrel on the same day last week. I had the snapper on risotto at lunch, and the fish was cooked perfectly, and I mean perfectly and I am very persnickety about that. The risotto was nothing remarkable, but it was certainly delicious. My friend who is Danish loved her prix-fixe lunch, the tomato soup was outstanding. Dinner: the foie gras on grilled pear was truly delicious, the fried oysters very good, the salad dressing exceptional; yes the veal chop was overcooked, but the flavor and texture of the meat were luscious. the black drum was perfectly cooked. the dessert was a little of a mystery, but half way through, we decided it was really very good: a chocolate tarte in a corn and nut crust. All in all, both were very positive experiences -- the service at lunch was a little disorganized (OK, frankly baffling at one point) but dinner was smooth as could be. Can't wait to go back, and we're making plans for Ray's Grill ASAP.

Paula said...

I just moved to Houston and visited Sorrel one evening last week. I had read great things on several websites but I encountered bad (and awkward) service and food that was just okay. Maybe they're too new but based on that experience I'm not inclined to return.

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jostevenshuws said...

I have been to Sorrel Urban Bistro and I find the food to be well made and the service of the staff to nice.

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Michael Ulrich said...

You should review the newly opened Gloria's Restaurant that opened off of Louisiana St. the 13th of June. I'm from Dallas & I absolutely love Gloria's! Here's hoping Houston will too!!!

Lester Bergeron said...

I really appreciate the detailed description of each spot, from pricing to what not to order. Very helpful. LRB

Dallas Homes For Sale said...

We were looking to try a new restaurant and thanks for your recommendations, we decided to try Sorrel. So Excited!!!

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Awesome blog. It would be very nice for me if I am getting information about various restaurants like Sorrel Urban Bistro along with its opening hours. But really these are very nice places for everything.

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Any suggestion for a good fried rice place?
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Thanks for the blog posts. Do any of these restaurants cater in Houston, TX?

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