The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge

The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge
February 14, 2008

I honestly didn’t expect to go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day.  I was expecting to cook dinner and split a bottle of wine with my hubby and watch Lost.  So it came as a pleasant surprise when my husband woke me up yesterday morning with Valentine’s Day cards and notification of a dinner reservation for us at 8pm at a downtown restaurant.

“Ooh, which one?” I excitedly asked.

“I believe it’s called The 43rd Restaurant or something along those lines,” he answered, speculatively.

I sat in confused silence.  I’d never heard of this restaurant before, which was odd for me.

“Is it new?”  I queried.

“Hmm.  I don’t know.  I just heard about it on The Sports Animal.  Apparently, they’re on the 43rd floor of some building downtown and they were having some kind of special Valentine’s dinner and, hey, I thought it sounded fun.”

Still confused.  How have I never heard about some restaurant that’s perched high above our skyline downtown and which apparently offers great views?  This did not bode well.  I either hadn’t heard of it because (a) it’s terrible or (b) it’s just mediocre.  Neither were particularly appealing options.

All that aside, I was still excited to try it out.  My sweet husband had put effort into creating a Valentine’s dinner date for us, just as I had been lamenting the week before that we never go downtown for date nights anymore, so I was going to enjoy our night out no matter what.

Getting to the restaurant itself was no easy task.  You have to park at street level or in a parking garage across the street and walk through the half-deserted streets of the “wrong” end of downtown until you reach The Wedge Tower.  The garage parking is expensive, but — thankfully — the restaurant validates.  The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge is located at the top of the Tower, which appears to be a giant, brown monument to 1980s excess and tackiness.  It also did not appear to be the kind of place where you’d expect a restaurant to be.

Walking into The 43rd after the short elevator ride was like walking into a Bret Easton Ellis novel.  There was a surfeit of mirrored surfaces — ceilings, especially — and everything seemed to have been decorated in that awful 80s palette of mauve, teal and peach.  The restaurant had an air of being an executive’s club — all crystal glasses uplit with some kind of neon lights behind a faux-art deco mahogany bar and giant, tacky flower arrangements — transported through time from 1985.  I half-expected to see Gordon Gecko and Patrick Bateman doing lines of coke together in a corner.  It was quite a jarring effect, all in all.

Part of me admired the fact that absolutely nothing — nothing!! — had been changed since this place was decorated in the 1980s.  It could have been a museum exhibit.  But the other, more normal part of me was very put off and terrified of what kind of food this place would offer.  That feeling was further exacerbated when the bartender brought me a glass of pinot grigio after I’d asked for a pinot noir.  Maybe if I’d asked for a vodka martini….

More frighteningly, the entire place had been decorated as if someone set an entire class of fourth graders loose upon the premises: there were bright red, glittery hearts on every available surface; the tables had been sprinkled with a frowzy mixture of hard, plastic fake rose petals and Red Hots; the candleholders had tealights in them, surrounded by handfuls of candy hearts with messages on them; and there was a cloying, thoroughly annoying single red rose placed on every table.  And, on the speakers, someone had put on a CD of Barry White songs — wait, it gets worse — done by random cover artists.  It wasn’t even the Velvet Voice himself.  It was romance, done by someone who had clearly never experienced a romantic moment in their lives: bizarre and sad at the same time.

All of these factors were combining to form the perfect storm of the world’s tackiest Valentine’s Day dinner ever.  And then, suddenly, the storm cleared.

We were seated at a table with a truly stunning view of the city.  The table was in a quiet, less-brightly-lit corner of the room and our waiter, a young kid, was warm and engaging and very efficient.  The prix-fixe menu had some attractive-looking dishes on it.  Things were looking up.

I ordered the scallops as an appetizer, while Richard ordered the crawfish bisque.  The scallops were clearly fresh and perfectly prepared in a white wine reduction with pine nuts and red peppers.  Richard’s bisque had a surprising kick to it and was crowded with lovely little crawfish.  The meal was definitely off to a good start.

Our entrees were next: beef tenderloin, rare, for me and a New York strip, medium, with a cognac-mushroom sauce for Richard.  They were also cooked perfectly.  My beef tenderloin was curiously accompanied by avocados, black beans, corn and red onions.  I shoved those off my tenderloin and to the side, where they formed a nice little salad of sorts.  Richard’s strip came with fresh, steamed asparagus and roasted potatoes.  All of it was delicious and none of it resembled what I had pictured in my mind when we first entered The 43rd.

The desserts were less than spectacular; they had obviously been prepared off-site and brought in.  But at least the plates and desserts weren’t cold and wet with condensation, nor did Richard’s cheesecake taste of refrigerator (which is almost always what restaurant cheesecakes end up tasting like…).  My key lime pie was too lacquered with whipped cream, but the filling itself was good.

Before we left for the night, Richard and I stepped out onto the balcony of the restaurant where — apparently — people often get married, with their reception back inside.  The view down to the streets below and across the city’s orange and yellow lights was amazing.  The sky above was the color of a deep bruise; Houston never does get “dark” at night, the sky just goes a funny kind of purple and I love it.  The wind was fierce and cold, but we stood out there for a long time to take everything in.  It was the best part of the night.

I know now why I’ve never heard of The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge, and it’s a shame.  The food is good — not award-winning or ground-breaking, by any means — but good.  And the view can’t be beat.  But I’ve never seen it advertised anywhere.  I couldn’t find a single review for it.  No one seems to know it exists, and no one will if they don’t put themselves out there.  And, more importantly, they need a serious face lift inside.  People aren’t going to brave the desolate end of downtown and shell out money for a meal in a place that seems caught in a time warp from 1985.

I’ll probably return — not for the food, really, since I can make that at home — but for a drink at their bar, overlooking the city.  It’s almost like a hidden treehouse that I’m excited to share with my friends.  We can sit and reminisce about slap bracelets and Journey and Less Than Zero while we enjoy white wine spritzers and vodka sours, completely enveloped in all things 80s.  One does hope, however, that the owners of The 43rd will see that this isn’t the best marketing strategy and update the place sooner than later.

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Burgers!

A coworker (and one of the only people at work who can tolerate me when I’m having a bad day) and I went to Cliff’s today for a quick bite at lunch.  I ordered — as I always do — the Murphy burger, a heart-stopping concoction of 100% beef, grated sharp cheddar cheese, sauteed onions, thick strips of bacon and tangy barbeque sauce.  No wussy lettuce or tomatoes on this bad boy; it’s pure myocardial infarction-inducing goodness.

My coworker, who originally hails from Denver, watched curiously as I tossed aside the ketchup packets that came with the burger, irritated by their mere presence.  “Stupid ketchup,” I grumbled.  “Why would they give me ketchup for a burger?”

“Why wouldn’t they?  Don’t you want ketchup on your burger?” he asked, bemusedly.

I glared at him, trying to decide whether or not to answer sarcastically: “Of course!  I love ruining a perfectly good hamburger with ketchup!  Pass those packets back over here!”

Instead, I responded with a sharp, “You’re in Texas now, buddy.  We don’t put ketchup on our burgers.”

“Really?  I mean, I thought I had noticed that, but I wasn’t sure.”

“Yep.  No ketchup on burgers.  It’s like a state bylaw.  Heresy.”

“Wow.  So…what do you put on them instead?”

“Mustard, obviously.  And mayonnaise.  Sometimes.  But always mustard.  Haven’t you been here long enough to know that by now?”

“I guess not.”

“Hmph.  You’ve got a lot to learn.”

“There was this place in San Diego that used to do the best burgers with ketchup on th–”

Me, interrupting: “I don’t care.”

“I was just going t–”

Me, rudely interrupting yet again: “Don’t care.  You’re cutting into my valuable Murphy burger eating time here.  I don’t care how they do it in California or Colorado or anywhere else.  In Texas, you don’t put ketchup on burgers.  Period.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.  Can we eat now?”

Go ahead.  Tempt me.  What do you put on your burgers?  What don’t you put on your burgers?  Be prepared to feel my wrath if you answer “ketchup.”  But, seriously, I’m quite interested.

So tell me, burger fiends!

Wilted Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pork, Apples and Blue Cheese

Instead of a long write-up today, I’m just going to post pictures of our latest dinner with the recipe at the end.  Enjoy!

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The final product.

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Mincing the shallot.

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A savory vinaigrette.

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Matchstick apple slices.

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Fresh spinach from the Farmers Market.

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Sizzling chops, lightly seasoned and coated.

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Wilting the spinach.

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The delectable and pungent blue cheese.  $16 per pound; it was a gift.

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Spinach and apples, ready to go.

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Serve with a side of rosemary & thyme potatoes and a big appetite.

Recipe after the jump. Continue reading Wilted Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pork, Apples and Blue Cheese

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce

Enough, I say!

Enough posting links to and pictures of other peoples’ brilliant work in lieu of my own mediocre and haphazard creations.  I’m finally going to write about something I actually did for a change.

I’ve been putting off posting this for a while, not because it was a disaster, but because the photographs themselves are absolutely hideous.  I couldn’t get the light right, I couldn’t get the camera to focus and I was rushed because the people I was serving the meal to actually wanted to eat it, instead of sitting around and watching me take pictures of their food while it grew cold.  Stupid, impatient people.  Heh.

So, just keep in mind that while the photographs make the food look as if it was reconstituted out of some awful 1970s-era Baptist Ladies’ Fellowship cookbook, the food itself was really quite good.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce
Serves: 4

 

Before I discuss the ingredients, I’d like to talk a little bit about where I found this recipe.  My friend Sarah gave me the new Rocco DiSpirito cookbook recently.  Aside from the undeniable eye-candy on the front cover:

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Yum.

…there are also some fantastic-sounding recipes inside (Beef with Crispy Potatoes and Blue Cheese; Goat Cheese Ravioli; Fried Scallops with Melted Onions; just to name a few).

But the book itself is weird.  I’m educated-guessing that to replace the television income that has been depleted by his widely-publicized legal battle with his estranged produced/friend Jeffery Chodorow, he’s entered into a partnership with one or more food companies to promote their food in this cookbook.

The result is a bizarre mixture of polished yet accessible recipes (good!) with recurring calls for such random yet specific ingredients as “Amore® garlic paste” and “Victoria® Fra Diavolo sauce” or “Dole® classic Romaine lettuce” (bad!).  I mean, we’re getting down to brands of lettuce here?  Really?

The entire thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  These aren’t even things that real chefs cook with.  Canned okra?  Hellman’s® Dijonaise?  Real chefs aren’t sending their staff out with directions to the nearest Sam’s Club, all: “If you don’t return with 80 cans of Green Giant® creamed corn, you can kiss your ass good-bye!”  It’s a scam and it irritates the hell out of me.

If I wanted to cook with a specific list of pre-made, preservative-laden, name-brand ingredients, I’d rip the paper off the back of a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  It’s just not a very tasteful or professional way to write a cookbook and I find myself — yet again — disappointed with our boy wonder, whom I want so desperately to like.

All that said, I enjoyed the sound of Rocco’s recipe for porkchops with a mustard/cherry tomato sauce and decided to tweak it for my own tastes.  It’s quick, easy to make, and is a real crowd-pleaser, which is why I love it.  Finally…here is the recipe (brand names left out for everyone’s benefit): Continue reading Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce

Iiiiiiiiiit’s…bacon!

Hooray for bacon!  So many wonderful uses, such unparalleled taste, so few ways to go wrong with it!  Right?

Except, perhaps, for this monstrosity:

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Holy shit, that’s a lot of grease.

This, my friends, is a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped, Cheese-Whiz-filled hot dog.  Go ahead and vomit now; I’ll wait for you to return.

The wretch-inducing, myocardial infarction of a snack comes to us courtesy of…Seattle, of all places, and the fine folks at The Stranger.  But there’s more!  Check out the article itself for additional pictures of the construction and eventual consumption of the deep-fried bacon-cheese-dog, including this picture:

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…which will all but ensure that you will never want to eat a hot dog again.

There’s also a recipe, should any of you be intrepid enough to actually recreate this masterpiece of cholesterol, saturated fat and unpronounceable chemicals at home.  If so, I would definitely make sure to conduct this experiment in a well-ventilated area and — as the article helpfully instructs — don’t fry the dogs for too long or the “cheese” inside will explode.  Basically, one way or another, these things will kill you.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

The Memorial Grill

The Memorial Grill
January 14, 2008

On my first visit to The Memorial Grill, I wasn’t disappointed.  It was Christmas Eve and the hubby and I were exhausted from shopping and wrapping presents, and we simply picked the first place we saw that was open for lunch that day.  My husband swears by the place, since they serve enormous portions that satisfy his Sasquatch-size appetite (not to imply that my husband is a Sasquatch, as he’s not at all; he’s quite fit and has a metabolism that I’d personally shank someone to have).  But while I wasn’t disappointed in The Memorial Grill, I didn’t come away that impressed, either, and told my husband that I wanted to return a second time during their busy lunch hour and try to glean a better feel for the place.

So today when my lunch companions requested some “basic meat and potatoes,” I suggested The Memorial Grill.  I feel a bit foolish now.  But more than that, I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy the restaurant.  I really wanted to like it.  I like the small-town feel of the place; I like the fact that they’re surviving in a notoriously unlucky location; I like the fact that they’re making an effort to give the neighborhood a comfortable place to hang out, hit up after school, meet after swim practice or have a decent business lunch in the Energy Corridor.

They just need to make more of an effort.

The Memorial Grill is the kind of place that I would imagine could benefit from a Gordon Ramsey-style intervention show.  It has good bones; it just needs someone to flesh them out and straighten them up.  There are good points: pleasant — if a bit pedestrian — decor, excellent music (Yes! and Jackson Browne and other assorted 1970s soft-rock hits) played at the perfect volume, what could be a good location if it didn’t seem to be cursed and a fairly good menu.

Then it starts to fall apart a bit.  The menu, while good, is too diverse.  It’s the kind of menu that screams to me — screams to anyone who’s worked in the restaurant industry — half this stuff is frozen and nuked!  I’m always put off by large menus, as you’re never sure whether or not your dinner will have been shipped in from Sysco’s two weeks ago and kept in cold storage until it was microwaved per your order. Continue reading The Memorial Grill

America’s

America’s, Houston, Texas
January 3, 2007

Oh, America’s.

What is there to say about you that hasn’t already been said dozens of times by dozens of other food writers?  You are such a bulwark of the Houston restaurant scene.  You and your little ones, Churrasco’s and Amazon Grill, define an entire category of dining in Houston that didn’t exist before you did.  Out of the void, you created “New World Cuisine” and we’ve been slavishly devoted to you ever since.

There are things about you that I don’t like; just minor imperfections, really.  I don’t like that most of your food tastes too similar — like Hungry’s, you seem to employ the same spice blend on about 75% of your menu items and it tends towards the repetitive.  Good, but repetitive.  And I’m always slightly — just so slightly! — disappointed in your steaks, since you always season them with the aforementioned spice blend and I’m a girl who likes her steaks naked, save for a pat of butter and a little sprinkling of salt.  But I’ve learned not to order your steaks and instead focus on other, often neglected areas of your menu.  Your seafood is consistently wonderful, as is your pork.  And because of these minor imperfections, I seem to love you even more.  You are like Cindy Crawford or Lauren Hutton — tiny blemishes or gaps only seem enhance your true beauty.

Let me tell you what I ordered last night:

  • America’s Tower, because none of us could decide on an appetizer.
  • A spinach salad with manchego cheese and a perfectly sweet and tart viniagrette.
  • Cerdo, served with an artichoke stuffed with spinach and goat cheese
  • Bread pudding with coconut ice cream

I was very tired when I came to visit you last night.  I couldn’t think straight, except to judiciously avoid the chimichurri sauce on my plantains because you do tend to use too much garlic there.  But I was so tired that I couldn’t possibly look over the entire wine list and decide on something to go with my meal.

Because of this, your always expert waitstaff brought me a glass of La Crema pinot noir and It.  Was.  Divine.  It was otherwordly.  It was so good that I wouldn’t have cared if the price per glass was a pound of flesh and my firstborn child.  But the wine wasn’t very expensive at all!  It was very, very reasonably priced.  So not only did our waiter bring me an unbelieveably good glass of wine to go with my meal, he also didn’t employ the occasion to bring me the most expensive wine on the menu.  I was doubly-impressed.  Do you see how much I love you?

But my love extends further than just wine.  The pork (cerdo) was perfectly cooked with just a hint of pinkness and it didn’t taste anything like the Churrasco steak or the succulent little marineros or anything else that normally bears your signature spice blend.  I was so happy that you let the pork speak for itself.  And the artichoke that was artfully balanced on top was gushing forward with melted goat cheese, spinach and a bit of clarified butter.  It was the ideal sauce for the pork.

My love for you even extends to the simple but delicious spinach salad.  It was all spinach, no filler, with extremely gracious shreddings of manchego cheese throughout.  And the viniagrette, as I stated before, was a wonderful blend of sweetness and sharp tartness.

America’s, my dear old friend, I know that demolition/construction in the Galleria area is making life tough for you.  And I know that the long, drawn-out construction of this new BLVD Place whozamawhatsit (which is taking fooooreeeeveeeer) has got to be frustrating.  But just make me a promise during all of this craziness:

Don’t ever change.