Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2009 World's 50 Best Restaurants

That time of the year for San Pellegrino's list of 50 best restos in the world.

Alas, not alot of drama in this year's list sponsored by Restaurant magazine and San Pellegrino. El Bulli and The Fat Duck are one-two again.

The list is compiled by a worldwide poll of 806 chefs, critics and other industry experts collectively known as Nespresso World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy.

The only real news is the absence of muy macho Chef Gordon Ramsay's flagship Royal Hospital Road restaurant in London. It dropped from 13th last year to not even in the top 100 this year.

Spain had a staggering 4 of the top 8 places. The top U.S. restaurant is Per Se in New York City in 6th place.

Full list below. U.S. restos in red.


1 El Bulli, Spain (=)
2 The Fat Duck, U.K. (=)
3 Noma, Denmark (+7)
4 Mugaritz, Spain (=)
5 El Celler de Can Roca, Spain (+21)
6 Per Se, U.S. (=)
7 Bras, France (=)
8 Arzak, Spain (=)
9 Pierre Gagnaire, France (-6)
10 Alinea, U.S. (+11)
11 L’Astrance, France (=)
12 The French Laundry U.S. (-7)
13 Osteria Francescana, Italy (New Entry)
14 St. John, U.K. (+2)
15 Le Bernardin, U.S. (+5)
16 Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, Switzerland (+11)
17 Tetsuya’s, Australia (-8)
18 L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, France (-4)
19 Jean Georges, U.S. (-2)
20 Les Creations de Narisawa, Japan (New Entry)
21 Chez Dominique, Finland (+18)
22 Ristorante Cracco, Italy (+21)
23 Die Schwarzwaldstube, Germany (+12)
24 D.O.M., Brazil (+16)
25 Vendome, Germany (+9)
26 Hof van Cleve, Belgium (+2)
27 Masa, U.S., (Re-entry)
28 Gambero Rosso, Italy (-16)
29 Oud Sluis, Netherlands (+13)
30 Steirereck, Austria (New Entry)
31 Momofuku Ssam Bar, U.S. (New Entry)
32 Oaxen Skaergaardskrog, Sweden (+16)
33 Martin Berasategui, Spain (-4)
34 Nobu U.K. (-4)
35 Mirazur, France (New Entry)
36 Hakkasan, U.K. (-17)
37 Le Quartier Francais, South Africa (+13)
38 La Colombe, South Africa (Re-entry)
39 Asador Etxebarri, Spain (+5)
40 Le Chateaubriand, France (New Entry)
41 Daniel, U.S. (=)
42 Combal Zero, Italy (Re-entry)
43 Le Louis XV, France (-28)
44 Tantris, Germany (+3)
45 Iggy’s, Singapore (New Entry)
46 Quay, Australia (New Entry)
47 Les Ambassadeurs, France (-2)
48 Dal Pescatore, Italy (-25)
49 Le Calandre, Italy (-13)
50 Mathias Dahlgren, Sweden (New Entry)

51 Zuma, China
52 Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, U.K.
53 Spondi, Greece
54 L’Arpege, France
55 L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, China
56 Hibiscus, U.K.
57 Aqua, Germany
58 Le Gavroche, U.K.
59 Chez Panisse, U.S.
60 Les Amis, Singapore
61 El Poblet, Spain
62 Maison Pic, France
63 Cafe Pushkin, Russia
64 Le Meurice, France
65 Bukhara, India
66 Varvari, Russia
67 Schauenstein, Germany
68 RyuGin, Japan
69 La Maison Troisgros, France
70 Wasabi, India
71 The River Cafe, U.K.
72 Enoteca Pinchiorri, Italy
73 Le Cinq, France
74 Allegro, Czech Republic
75 Quintessence, Japan
76 Restaurant Dieter Mueller, Germany
77 Geranium, Denmark
78 Caprice, China
79 Jardines, South Africa
80 Amador, Germany
81 Biko, Mexico
82 L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon U.S
83 Fasano, Brazil
84 Mozaic, Bali
85 Obauer, Austria
86 Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, France
87 L’Ambroisie, France
88 Maison Boulud, China
89 De Librije, Netherlands
90 Babbo, U.S.
91 Maze, U.K.
92 Zuma, U.K.
93 Manresa, U.S.
94 Pier, Australia
95 De Karmeliet, Belgium
96 Aubergine, South Africa
97 Bo Innovation, China
98 Rust en Vrede, South Africa
99 Del Posto U.S.
100 Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, UAE

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peju Wine Dinner at Voice 4.15.09

Voice restaurant in Houston recently hosted a dinner featuring wines from the Peju Province Winery.

The major draw for this dinner was, frankly, the price. A 5-course dinner at the highly regarded Voice restaurant at the Hotel Icon, with wine pairings by the Napa Valley (Rutherford Appellation) boutique winery Peju, all for $85?

That's a no-brainer.

After many conversations with my foodie friends I can state confidently that the days of instantly attending the one-off, triple-digit-price tasting dinners are over for now. The exception being something truly spectacular — a visit by the likes of Thomas Keller or Gordon Ramsay might qualify, or possibly something tied to a charity event. But that doesn't mean $200+ dinner events will go away. There's still plenty of demand from Houstonians with money to burn (and there are plenty of those), just not from the food blogger/foodie crowd I run with. There are just too many events to choose from and too many great dinners out there for well under $100. Plus all this eating is packing on the pounds. No need to be fat and poor.

O.K., rant over. Bottom line, the price point for this dinner was just right. On to the food and wine!


First course. English pea and mascarpone ravioli with mint, tomato, and lemon.


Superbly conceived dish. Flavor combination extraordinary. Simple yet complex. More than the sum of the parts.

The standout here was the lemon/citrus/butter sauce. It's hard to pull off just the right balance between the acidity of the citrus and the richness of the butter. This was perfectly executed.

The dish was paired nicely with a Peju 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was bright and crisp, heavy on the citrus notes. My dining companion, @javapeg, took some time to evaluate and eventually came up with strong grapefruit, passion fruit, and pineapple notes. Reviewing the winemaker's tasting notes after the fact, flavors of passion fruit and pineapple are prominently noted. Nailed it!

Second course. Alaskan halibut with spring onions, caramelized salsify, and truffle butter.

Alaskan Halibut

This was one of the best worst dishes I've ever had. Let me explain. Yes, it was the worst dish of the evening. Nothing about it "popped." Generally underseasoned and bland. Flavors of the accompanying onions and salsify were M.I.A. And truffle butter? Sorry, didn't taste any truffle.

Why? I imagine Chef Michael Kramer struggled with how to balance the pungency of the truffle with the mildness of the halibut. He may have pulled his punches a bit too much on the truffle part.

Fortunately, the halibut itself was perfectly cooked and perfectly fresh with a nice salt and pepper crust. Tender, flakey, savory, and steaming. Would I like Chef Kramer to make a version of this dish with a larger portion of halibut in a simple beurre blanc or meuniere sauce? Yes, please!

This dish was paired with a Peju 2005 Merlot.

Or was it?

When the wine was poured, @javapeg and I sniffed and sipped and wrinkled our collective brows. Damn, that's a big Merlot. Whatever. We dug into the fish and sipped what was left of the Sauvignon Blanc.

Some moments later our host, Lisa Peju, courageously stood up and announced there had been a mistake. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon meant for the next course had been mistakenly poured for this course! Whaaaaa?

It was an excusable mistake I suppose. All of the red wine labels for the evening were virtually identical except for the varietal in small letters.

The Peju 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon itself was excellent, if not a bit pricey at $50 retail. My still-developing wine evaluation skills immediately noted a smoky, charcoal-y aroma and flavor. @javapeg refined that by noting chocolate and cocoa. After the fact review of the tasting notes mention chocolate, cocoa, and tobacco. Nailed it again!

Lisa announced that they were going with the flow and would serve the 2005 Merlot with the next course (this was the wine originally paired with the halibut). And it turned out surprisingly well.

Third course. Coriander scented venison (sous-vide) with young carrots, morels, and sour cherries.


Excellent dish. Again the flavor combinations reveal a chef at the top of his game. The venison was tender and not gamey, with what appeared to be a quick sear after the sous-vide to add some complexity of flavor. The musky morels added a nice complement to the meat (yes, morels are visually freaky). The cherry sauce added a nice sweet/sour dimension. The preparation of the baby carrots, often taken for granted by many chefs, was spot on.

The wine poured for this course was in fact the 2005 Merlot. I asked to see the label. And it worked perfectly with the venison, much better than the Cab actually. Tasting notes mention cherries, cocoa, and cranberries. This pairing worked so well that @javapeg and I wondered if the wine pouring snafu may have been one of those "made a mistake on purpose" type deals. Made for good convo anyway.

Fourth course. Braised beef cheeks with shallots, fingerlings, and braising juices.

[Sorry, pic didn't come out!]

This was the best dish of the evening. After explaining to one of our dining companions about which cheek this meat comes from (the cow head), I cut off a piece with my fork (no knife needed) and tasted. It was as tender, flavorful, and rich as you would expect beef cheek to be. The shallots and potatoes all worked well soaking in the braising liquid. A sprinking of microgreens, often assumed by diners to be inedible garnish (damn you parsley!), added a surprising note of tangy pepper to the dish.

A Peju 2006 Cabernet Franc was poured with this dish. As a stand-alone wine it's maybe not something I'd drink regularly. But the spicy/peppery flavors went well with the beef and braising liquid.

Fifth course. Vanilla panna cotta with grapefruit sorbet and pomegranate coulis.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

A nice dessert course. The vanilla panna cotta was rich with a creamy/gelatin-y texture and crushed vanilla beans on top. The strong flavor of the grapefruit sorbet, although a refreshing palate cleanser, was jarring side-by-side with the panna cotta. A peach or mango sorbet may have worked better.

The dessert wine was a non-Peju Naughty Sticky wine from Naughty Cellars. It was chosen by Voice. It had a deep golden color, almost like apple juice. The staff made a full pour in a regular wine glass. Hello! Alas, the wine was sub-par in my opinion.

Dessert Wine

Some notes about everything else.

Host Lisa Peju, daughter of the winemakers, was charming and accessible. She sat down and visited every table, answering questions (Peju is French-Basque by the way).

The dinner took place in a private dining room on a mezzanine level overlooking the main dining room and bar area, separated by glass. As a reformed architect myself, I know how much designers love mezzanines. They look great in section drawings. But they often have a significant flaw — a low ceiling height resulting in a claustrophobic effect. Combine that with giant round tables seating 10 people and the space seemed crowded. More than once I peaked out to the main dining room with its soaring, airy, and well-lit space and wished I were dining out there.

I love the 10-to-a-table seating arrangement for dinners like this. Our dining companions were friendly and fun. Most of them found out about the dinner because had visited the Peju winery in Napa and had signed up for the mailing list.

Service was O.K., with the wine snafu already mentioned. I think the staff sometimes struggled with the close quarters. Strangely, the service tradition of serving women first was completely disregarded. Dishes were delivered randomly. At least once during the dinner everyone at the table was served except one person. We all thought that person had made a special order so we waited to eat. But no, it just took a few extra minutes for the last dish to arrive.

At the end of the dinner Chef Michael Kramer came out and visited with every table. That's always classy.

I had never tasted a Peju wine before this dinner. All of their wines served for this dinner were notable. Any future visit to Napa will definitely include a visit to the Peju Province Winery.

All in all a wonderful dinner, especially for the price. The service and space issues were minor, at least for me. Voice is a restaurant with a considerable reputation not just in Houston but also in Texas and the US. It lived up to its reputation.

NB. On the same day this write-up was posted my good friend ytee posted his review of Voice. An excellent read.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Q for a Cause


If you are craving the Q and feeling philanthropic at the same time, this Friday is the perfect event to fill up on good home-cooked BBQ and help out a great organization.

Kiwanis Club of Houston Sunrise will hold their 15th Annual Kiwanis BBQ & Silent Auction this Friday, April 17, 2009. Support for this organization shapes the lives of youth in our community by providing activities such as Leadership Training, Conventions, Self Esteem Building, and Scholarships.

A mere $8 a plate will get you BBQ brisket, chicken, sausage, potato salad, beans, tea and dessert. You can dine-in or take your dinner to-go.

Details below:

15th Annual Kiwanis BBQ & Silent Auction
Friday, April 17, 2009
Garden Oak Baptist Church
3205 N. Shepherd
5 - 7 p.m.

Friday, April 10, 2009

SE Texas Seafood Trail Scouting Trip 4.11.09

I love eating seafood in southeast Texas.

View SE Texas Seafood Trail in a larger map

I grew up eating it. It's in my blood literally and figuratively. I've been away for awhile. Steaks and haute cuisine were the main culprits. But I'm back and on the march.

Most of the SE Texas seafood places I went too growing up are, amazingly, still around. I guess they're doing something right. Well, I'm going to find out.

This is the first in a series of scouting trips/food adventures/moseys in SE Texas. Mainly it will be about seafood, of the the Gulf Coast/Tex-Cajun/Cajun variety. But I'm sure I'll stumble upon a few various and sundry BBQ/Tex-Mex/CFS joints along the way. I'm sure you won't mind if I drop in for some brisket or an enchilada on occasion.

My benchmark cuisines will be 1) dark roux filé gumbo (seafood or chicken & sausage), and 2) fried catfish. Will also sample the likes of fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried alligator, hush puppies, etouffe, stuffed crab, dirty rice. Seasonally — raw oysters, crawfish, soft shell crab, and BBQ crab.

But I need your help. Tell me about some places to go for seafood in southeast Texas. It might be a place you went to when you were a kid, or a place you go to now. Give me a name and general location and I'll find it. And I'll report back.

My main geographical focus is I-10 to the north, Gulf Coast to the south, I-45 to the west and the Sabine River to the east.

So here's the first itinerary. Alright, let's roll...


This itinerary is for Saturday 4.11.09. It is a subset of all the places I have pinned in the Google Map above. If you want to locate a place on this itinerary geographically, click on the "View SE Texas Seafood Trail in a larger map" and there will be place name listings to the left of the large map. Find the one that corresponds to the place on this itinerary and click. It will highlight on the map.

I'll start around 10am and try to finish before sunset. This is going to be a "mosey," i.e. I'm in no hurry and reserve the right to do whatever the hell I want. I will try to live tweet as much as possible for anyone interested. You can follow at http://twitter.com/houston_foodie.

Again, if you have ideas of places to go while I am traveling and tweeting, let me know through Twitter. I am happy to break off the itinerary if it sounds like a big payoff.

SE Texas Seafood Scouting Trip 4.11.09

  • Old River Cafe - Winfree TX - Don't know much about this place. May be nothing at all. Then again might stumble on some great CFS. Worth a shot.

  • Gas Station - On the Old and Lost Rivers - This is a shiny new gas station. Last time I drove by they put up and awning that said something with "crawfish" in it. "Crawfish Joes" or some such. Give it a look-see.

  • Gator Junction BBQ - Wallisville? TX - Stopped by here a couple times in the past. BBQ is passable, but need to dig a little deeper. See if I can get the guy to show me his pit.

  • Roadside Produce Market - Anahuac TX - Will probably drop by to see if they have anything interesting. Something tells me I'll be eating paper shell pecans next week!

  • Convenience Store - Anahuac TX - Never stopped here, just a convenience store, but they imply they have some hot food. Country kitchen type deal.

  • Anahuac, Texas - I have no idea what to expect here. But there has to be some restaurants. No chains here, would be surprised to find a McDonalds. So there's got to be something. Just going to drive around and ask people.

  • Smith Point, Texas - Will drive out here for general interest and if time permits. Expect to find no food. Since this was ground zero for Ike, I honestly don't expect to find anything. If I can get to the Bay, from this vantage point I can look west and see San Leon (Gilhooley's) and to the southwest Bolivar (Stingaree).

  • Stuckey's - Middle of Nowhere TX - Before there was Buc-ees there was Stuckeys. This roadside novelty shop and restaurant has been around at least 30+ years. Took quite a hit from Ike but is back to serving up the pecan logs.

  • Boondocks Road aka Jap Road - Fannett TX - There's alot of SE Texas history, some painful history, on this unassuming stretch of blacktop in the middle of nowhere. I'll write more in a blog post, but I may take drive down there just for old times sake.

  • Sartin's Seafood - Nederland TX - Only one thing to look for here: BBQ crabs. Checking for quality and to see if they have reinstituted the AYCE platter service.

  • Sabine Pass, Texas - If you believe what everybody says, there's nothing left here after Ike. I'm going to try to make it down to check it out. I know the elder Sartin's still live here. Maybe I can find the original Sartin's location?

  • Crystal Beach, Texas - Again, afraid of what I will find here, i.e. maybe nothing. Hope I can get across the bridge at the cut. If not, long drive home back through I-10.

  • Stingaree Restaurant & Bar - Port Bolivar, TX - Just going to scout this place in preparation for a visit with friends in a week or so. Known for BBQ crabs, cold beer and beautiful sunsets.

  • Gilhooley's Restaurant-Oyster - San Leon, TX - If I have time I'll swing by here for some roasted oysters.

That's about it. Ambitious itinerary but should be fun.