Monday, February 21, 2011

My Ongoing Burger Obsession & First Bites From The French Cowboy

Too much good food/not enough time (and certainly not enough time to write about it). But I do want to share about some memorable meals that have made me especially happy lately .... I'll start with revisiting my long-standing burger fetish ... forever present and thankfully these days, well-fulfilled ...

I still love Hubcap Grill and the promise of a Heights location in the Heights will probably mean the death of my skinny jeans. But there are some other really excellent burgers worthy of exploration in Houston these days, including The Burger Guys, who I'd heard such good things about but just had not made the trek out west to discover for myself until a couple of weeks ago. I must say it completely lived up to the hype (and then some) with the juciest burger I've ever had (I do not say this lightly!) and cooked to order, which is important to me.

While I am usually a purist with regard to burgers and fancy toppings, I elected to try the "Houston" burger with it's onion/bacon jam on the bottom; Lawnmower Ale mustard on top, smoked cheddar and housemade pickles (substituted for the jalapenos). Quality Texas Akaushi beef (quality-everything/house made condiments, etc),this was the kind of burger you can't put down once you start eating it because of the juice factor (which is seriously so awesome). The challah bun is nice but couldn't hold up for long w/ all the juice if you were getting these burgers "to go" so definitely dine-in. The burger had big flavors but fortunately the delicious beef still came throug. I was also extremely impressed with the duck-fat fries - gorgeously crisp outside and tender inside and then the bonus - the cane-sugar soda fountain, which was simply delightful. A sample spoonful of a milkshake blew my mind but I was too full to take on a whole one this time around. I honestly don't know whether to be sad or relieved that I just won't make it out there too often but I really appreciate what these guys are doing - clearly determined to create a superior product. I went back today and enjoyed the "Cleveland" hot dog and I definitely don't know of a better hot dog in Houston. I regretted not ordering the special, a Frito Pie dog (also offered as a burger). Right on.

The following week I was blown away by yet another burger - this time Bernie's Burger Bus, which is parked pretty regularly outside of Lizard's Pub in the River Oaks area so you can grab your burger and sit on the patio at Lizard's to enjoy it. Again, high expectations going in but this one delivered as as well (I was on a roll!). Bernie's uses grassfed Angus beef and the patty is the star with a beautiful char on the outside and cooked-to-order, it was topped by a seriously fabulous bun/not too much bun, made by Slow Dough I'm told. The top of the bun was griddled just a touch - love that- and honestly, this burger rocked overall. I had "The Principal" which is the basic burger with mayo/mustard (housemade), lettuce, roasted tomato (I had them hold the ketchup). I also loved that this burger wasn't huge so I was actually able to eat the whole thing. Mike had "The Substitute" w/ blue cheese and mushrooms which was over the top but quite delicious. Oh and the fries - handcut, gorgeous crispy ... the boyfriend wanted to try the truffled parmesan fries which were over the top - delicious but I can't wait to have those fries without the fluff and another one of those burgers ... soon.

Moving right along to the eagerly anticipated new restaurant Philippe Restaurant + Lounge - that would be the "French Cowboy", Philippe Schmidt, formerly of Bistro Modern. I went for lunch with my friend, food-loving blogger Albert Nurick and we were immediately smitten by the sexy downstairs bar/lounge and ultimately smitten by the food as well. Not the French-driven menu one might expect though there are nods in that direction - it's just that's more than that and I appreciate that Philippe is working to create a regional cuisine more his own. There's actually an interesting range on the menu (very much French Cowboy) including my choice for lunch, the "Texas Cesar" which was presented on a gorgeous oblong platter and topped with extremely tender, well-seasoned skirt steak and charred pieces of Napoles Cactus topped with shards of beautiful Grana Padano cheese (which I love even more than a good Parmesan - how did he know?)and not at all over-dressed (a common problem w/ Cesars). I loved it. I also loved the bread basket and thoroughly enjoyed the dessert "special" which was hazelnut ice cream profiteroles with a lucious dark chocolate sauce. Yum.

A return visit for dinner this past weekend yielded a mostly positive experience for our group of six and espeically an opportunity to try and share lots of different items from the menu. We unanimously agreed that the small plates were the highlight for us including items from the "Au Natural" section of the menu ... "classic naked" beef (aka beef tartare)with a quail egg yolk, capers and onions and the "margarita naked" tuna (aka tuna tartare) made with tequila, Contreau and orange zest. Each were among the best I've ever had in that genre. From the "Contained Decadence" section of the menu (small jars with brioche toast on the side), we were crazy for the crab/avocado which had a very generous portion of jumbo lump crap accented with lime and cilantro and we also loved the Drunken Foie Gras - a duck liver terrine marinated in Sauternes and Amberjack.

Among the mains, the best were the Baked Lemon Sole which was delicate and beautifully prepared served with a savory compound butter, polenta and a truffle-port sauce. The Marscapone Risotto topped with red wine braised chicken, mushrooms and bacon (though I didn't really taste any bacon) was quite nice. The Crispy Rice Paper Salmon had a somewhat overwhelming brocoli pesto which overpowered the salmon and the Cowboy Steak (for 2) came out overcooked (ordered medium rare) and also lukewarm, so we sent it back for those reasons and they actually cooked it more (to make it hot, we suppose) and so it came back hot but even more overcooked. We gave up at that point, unfortunately. For $64 I would expect better. Also beware that unless you order the bernaise on the side (which we did) it will come out all over the steak. But then again, maybe if it's overcooke/served lukewarm at that point you'd get an entirely new one if it was already covered in bernaise ... who knows. Of the desserts ordered, the Upside Down Apple Tart was by far the star.

I think I'd be happiest if I could add some of the small plates we loved most to the bar menu, in which case I'd probably be there more often than I will be otherwise. But it's nice to have Philippe return to his own kitchen here in Houston.


James said...

Hi Jodie ~

Great Foodie blog! I'll be in houston with some friends for the final four weekend and hope you may be able to point us in the right direction on some great insider foodie places? We will be staying at the Hotel Derek. Any thoughts?



Jodie Eisenhardt said...

Thanks, James!! I just sent an email w/ some thoughts ... :)J