Bistro Le Cep

Bistro Le Cep, Houston, TX
December 18, 2007
 

I’m on a slow, occasionally frustrating path to introducing my somewhat reluctant coworkers to something other than what is nuked and passed off as food at the Alonti cafe downstairs or at the utterly horrifying Olive Garden across the street.  To that end, I suggested Bistro Le Cep for lunch yesterday.  And — to my surprise — they agreed.

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Since it was a last-minute decision, we didn’t make reservations.  But the folks at Bistro Le Cep were more than accommodating, seating us immediately even though the restaurant was thoroughly packed.  This was a marked and welcome departure from our debacle at that other French bistro a few weeks ago.  A few of my dining companions were amused to see that one of the daily specials at Bistro Le Cep was wienerschnitzel, a typically Austrian dish (although they actually said “German” and I had to restrain myself from being that unsufferable twat who corrects people on things they didn’t really care that much about in the first place), and this is one of the things that I love about the Bistro.

Bistro Le Cep doesn’t limit itself to only Bourguignonne or Provençal cuisine; it takes the best dishes from each region in France and crafts them into delicious, little one-night-stands that you can have with an adventurous andouillette from Cambrai or a handsome cassoulet from Castelnaudary or even some stoic spaetzle from Alsace.

As we settled into our booth, admiring the homey warmth of the place, we were quickly and cheerfully attended to by a waiter who, when asked by my coworker which dish would make her happier — the salade Niçoise or the salmon — existentially informed her that while they are able to serve her a delicious meal, they could not manage her happiness and that it was hers alone to determine.  His off-the-cuff philosophy of self-fulflling happiness was the bright spot of my day.

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My companions ordered their dishes and I was pleased to note that most of them were trying authentically French dishes — an order for coq au vin on one side, an order for lapin aux haricots verts on another.  My foie de veau aux pommes avec confit d’ oignons arrived looking like something out of a 16th-centrury tapestry hanging in a castle; it was indecently large and sumptuous-looking.  I ate with abandon.

The foie de veau was delicately rich and the taste of the slightly musky liver flooded my mouth with a rush.  Paired with the apples and onion confit, it was sophisticated in its simplicty, yet somehow still decadent.  I was transfixed.  You’d think I’d never had liver before, with the way I was raving about the dish.  In retrospect, it might have even been a bit embarassing.  But such are the hazards of eating out with me.

Everyone else apparently enjoyed their dishes as much as I enjoyed mine.  Before we knew it, we had all cleaned our plates and were peering around at each other curiously, as if we’d just emerged from a group trance.  There was no sharing of bites or pecking at the plate next to you; we had all simply and greedily enveloped ourselves in our own little, rabbity or chickeny worlds before finally falling back into our chairs, exhausted and sated.  Afterwards, we all sipped the Bistro’s delicious coffee, which tasted slightly of chicory, and resumed any polite discussions which had fallen by the wayside during our food orgy.

Now that’s what I call a good lunch.

All photos courtesy of Bistro Le Cep’s website; I didn’t take these myself, sad to say.

Care Package

From the files of my weird and hilarious friends…

My friend Jessica recently moved out to California, oh so far away from any of her friends and family.  So she was excited to receive a giant care package in the mail from our friend Julia, who’s always been the maternal one of the group.  Jessica tore excitedly into the enormous box, eager to see the baked goods and socks that she was certain Julia had lovingly placed inside (…yes, socks…it’s a thing we do).

Instead, she was startled to find herself staring into a caverous box of kettle corn.  There was Ziploc freezer bag upon Ziploc freezer bag of kettle corn, layered one on top of another.  There were a dozen gallon-sized bags of it in all.

Jessica thought that surely the kettle corn was a a clever and edible form of packing peanuts for something much more valuable, but alas — kettle corn was the sole occupant of the box.

That is except for the four, empty sandwich-sized Ziploc bags that Jessica found as she was stowing the giant bags of kettle corn in the cupboard.  Each tiny bag had been marked “To Go” in Julia’s familiar handwriting.  Jessica finally called Julia to figure out her intentions with the kettle corn.

Julia: “I just made a LOT of kettle corn the other day and figured you might want some.”

Jessica:  “A whole, microwave oven box full of kettle corn?”

Julia (impatiently):  “I gave you To Go bags!”

Got a kid in college?  Friend overseas?  I highly suggest this as a care package.  It’s cheap to make AND send.  And who doesn’t like To Go bags of kettle corn?

Three New Faces In The Crowd

I’m a little late to the party on this, but I felt it worth mentioning anyway…

Rhea Wheeler (the Houston entrepreneur-cum-restauranteur responsible for the award-winning Ibiza) is opening a “mixed-use” restaurant in Midtown that will include — among other things — private wine lockers, an upscale restaurant, a club and a sushi bar.  While that should be interesting in and of itself, what really intrigues me is the location.

No, it’s not new construction!  I know — unheard of!  It’s…wait for it…in the old Boy Scout headquarters on Bagby.  No news yet on what the restaurant will be called, but I’m giddy with anticipation.

The real estate and development hawks over at Swamplot have additional details here: Secret Midtown Boy Scout Sushi Location Revealed.  The headline itself just makes me giggle.

In addition to the mixed-use restaurant (which I’m not-so-secretly and desperately hoping will be Scout-themed — can you imagine the possibilities of the staff uniforms alone??), Wheeler is also opening a downtown gastropub called Hearsay and another Midtown restaurant, to be called the White House.  All three are being established in “historically significant properties,” which gives me a small hope that perhaps we won’t tear down every single structure built prior to 1980 during this building frenzy that has currently enveloped the city.

Hearsay will serve — as expected — gastropub fare, which is classic English pub fare done in a much more upscale manner and with the addition of unexpected, high-end menu items.  Gastropubs began making headway in the United States in 2004 after being imported from the U.K. with great caché, the food trend equivalent of The Beatles.  Houston, being a bit behind the times in most things, has been somewhat slower to cotton on.  As previously noted, The Red Lion has made a feeble attempt at this trend.  Let’s hope that Hearsay does a better job, because I’d love to have a quality gastropub in town.

The White House is still a bit shrouded in mystery, too.  All we know at this point is that it will be located in an eponymous white mansion on Austin at Elgin and will serve “Texas cuisine,” a descriptive phrase that annoys me almost as much as the hollow “California cuisine.”  We’ll see what comes of it.  As for now, I’m hoping for something a bit like The Inn at Hunt Phelan in Memphis which, despite its rather dull and pedestrian website, is actually beautiful inside and out.  The Inn at Hunt Phelan, a restored Civil War-era mansion, specializes in Creole/southern cuisine and their food is subtly magnificent.  You might see where I’m drawing a few parallels here.

Rhea Wheeler appears to me to be almost the antithesis of Tilman Fertitta (whose vile, greedy building projects and painfully, nauseatingly gaudy yet utterly-devoid-of quality restaurants are permeating the city).  Wheeler’s zeal for good food and his seemingly true appreciation for the city make me eager to support his restaurant endeavors, entirely absent of any acclaim that Ibiza has received.  That is to say: even if Ibiza weren’t the huge success that it is, I love the direction that Wheeler is taking and I’ll happily follow him along the journey.

G/M Steakhouse

G/M Steakhouse, San Antonio, TX
December 16, 2007

Having barely slept the night before (due to a combination of very bad stomach cramps and being stuck in a room right next to the elevator shafts on one side and some aggressively loud French people on the other), Richard and I blearily stumbled out of the St. Anthony Hotel on Sunday morning in search of a cheap yet hearty breakfast.  He was insistent on going to the McDonald’s next to the Rivercenter Mall, but my stomach and the dimly-lit parts of my brain protested.  I simply couldn’t tolerate the insipidness or the grease of an Egg McMuffin after the night that I’d had.  Besides, eating at McDonald’s just feels like giving up. I needed real food.

We walked, semi-aimlessly, towards the Alamo.  And within five minutes, we stumbled across this, directly across from the Alamo itself:

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Richard was sold on the $3.50 breakfast special; I was sold simply on the word “breakfast.” Continue reading G/M Steakhouse

Where in dreams I live with a memory…

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As you may or may not have guessed by the headline (…I’m betting on “may not,” unless you’re an old school country music fan), I’m heading to San Antonio for the weekend.  Richard and I have a wedding to attend and — in my down time — I’ll be doing spreadsheet-intensive work for the Day Job.  So that means no updates this weekend.  Hey, at least I’m telling you in advance.

Until I get back, I’ll leave you with photos from this evening’s meal: Hearty Tomato and Bean Soup with Beer-Cheese Bread.

The batter smelled like, well, beer. But in that lovely, cool, fresh yeast-y way. And it smelled even better coming back out of the oven.

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Look at all the happy veggies, swimming around in the velvety tomato sauce together! I basically threw in every vegetable I had in my fridge and freezer; this is one of those great “clear out your fridge” recipes.

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A close-up of a fault line that developed on the bread, barely exposing the sweet, fluffy interior. I don’t care if it isn’t technically called a “fault line.” I just really enjoy saying “fault line.”

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And a final, parting shot of the warm bread.

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Good night and happy eating till I see you on Monday!

Christmas Cookies

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At the Day Job, we’ve adopted a needy family for Christmas and everyone was assigned different presents to bring for either the mother, the father or one of the four children.  Needless to say, we went a bit overboard and bought way more than they asked for on their Christmas list.  Some of us are venting our as-yet-unnecessary maternal hormones on the kids, while others are honing their doting grandparent skills.  And others are merely feeling the Christmas spirit, I suppose.  As for me, I bought a bright pink-and-purple bike with streamers for the seven-year-old girl (not pictured).

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I baked sugar cookies last night to take over to the family today.  And then I realized when I came in this morning that the gift delivery wasn’t until next Friday and therefore the cookies have become moot.  Richard will kill me, as he was playing his typical vulture act out in the kitchen all last night, hoping for a cookie to be thrown his way (I almost said “tossed” his way…heh…tossing cookies…*ahem*…anyway) as I was heavily guarding them from his predatory advances.  I’ll save a few for him, but the rest are going to the department potluck this afternoon.

And how’s Christmas looking around your office?  Assuming you have one, that is…

The Oft-Maligned Brussels Sprout

I’m so glad to see that Brussels sprouts are starting to regain their street cred lately.  Cooked properly, Brussels sprouts are a complete departure from the realm of vegetables and have an enigmatic savory taste that’s hard to define; the texture is crisp yet sultry; they melt in your mouth leaving scant traces of nuttiness and fresh air.  Cooked improperly, of course, they taste of cat sick.

To that end, I’m pleased to present a wonderful article on the art of braising Brussels sprouts from one of my favorite blogs, Cooking for Engineers.  If you enjoy Alton Brown (and, really, who doesn’t?), you’ll enjoy Cooking for Engineers.  They even offer helpful pictures of the cooking process along the way.

Avoiding it at all costs (having remembered the horror stories), I never tasted this mini-cabbage until after I left college. Believe it or not, after first tasting them, I thought Brussels sprouts were delicious! What had I been missing out on? Why did everyone complain about these wonderful tasting vegetables and why was it the butt of many jokes in American family sitcoms? I’m not sure, but I think it might have to do with overcooking (which can release noxious smells). Forget the Brussels sprouts of your past and try this fast, simple, and flavorful preparation.

Read the entire entry, along with recipe, here:  Braised Brussels Sprouts.

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Now, don’t those look good?

UPDATE:  And as if the good folks at Serious Eats read my mind, here’s another fantastic recipe for Brussels sprouts that was just posted tonight:  Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts.  Yum!