CUISINE: NEW AMERICAN
6100 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057 | 713.334.2000 | www.mezzagrillehouston.com
Tucked into the corner of a shopping center near Westheimer and Fountain View, Mezza Grille is a well-crafted fusion of Mediterranean and new American cuisine. Chef-owner Mike Tibi opened this small cafe with a large menu back in 2005, which in restaurant years is a very long time. Mezza has survived in its hole-in-the-wall location because of Tibi’s impressive selection of Greek and Turkish inspirations mixed with Italian and American influences.
The starters menu ranges from hummus to bruschetta, and everything in between. I tried the spicy Mediterranean scallops, seared and plated over a spicy cherry tomato salsa, topped by two grilled shrimp and accompanied by toasted baguette slices. The cherry tomato salsa gives the light seafood starter just the right amount of heat, while the scallops were expertly seared.
The full menu at Mezza Grille has something for everyone. Pastas, traditional Greek dishes, seafood specialties, pizza, you name it. I opted, however, for the New Zealand lamb chops. Three lollipop lamb chops drizzled with a red wine reduction and seasoned with Mediterranean spices. I ordered mine with the wild mushroom risotto and grilled asparagus. The herb-seasoned and hearty lamb pairs well with a Pinot or Malbec, especially given the acidity of the red wine reduction. This is a high-end dish, impressively executed by a cafe with such a wide range of menu options and regional variations.
Mezza Grille does a lot, but they do it all well, and at a reasonable price to boot. It’s always nice to find a small cafe with an unassuming attitude that simply does things right. Mezza is doing everything right.
4315 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006 | 713.524.0070 | www.cafeazurhouston.com
When chef Sidney Degaine decided to open his first restaurant in America, he could have chosen any city he wanted. Degaine has already opened three successful restaurants in Brazil. New York, L.A., or Chicago would have been excellent choices for an established French chef looking to hit the American scene. But Houston presents a much more exciting opportunity these days. Having recently received some much overdue fanfare within the culinary community, Houston is finally being recognized as the gastronomic juggernaut that it is. Which makes H-Town the perfect home for Degaine’s French Riviera inspired masterpiece, Cafe Azur.
At Cafe Azur, everything is reminiscent of the Mediterranean Sea. From the pale blue and white decor, to the menu full of French delicacies and southern Italian comfort food. I started my evening with a French 73: gin, lemon juice and champagne. A refreshing cocktail that paired excellently with the foie gras taco I was served. Yes, you read that correctly. A foie gras taco. Actually, it’s duck confit, foie gras, apricot chutney and duxelle, atop a soft flour tortilla. And it tastes about as incredible as it sounds. The taco was second only to what is possibly the best egg based dish in Houston. The “Perfect Egg” is a sous vide egg cooked for 45 minutes, served in a ceramic cup with foamed potatoes and beech mushrooms. A starter so good you may ask for the check immediately after.
The dinner menu at Azur consists of authentic French and Italian dishes fused with the chef’s own artistic touch. I had the sea bass, served over white truffled lentils and a bacon foam. The dish is soulful and nostalgic while progressive and adventurous. One of Azur’s most intriguing menu items, however, is the pistachio ice cream. Made at your table by whipping liquid nitrogen into the room temperature ingredients. The ice cream itself is amazing, astonishingly creamy and smooth. But the table-side science experiment is reason enough to check this place out. I’m excited to see what other magic tricks Chef Degaine has in store for Houston in the future.
4444 Westheimer Rd., E100, Houston, TX 77027 | 713.871.0768 | www.toulousecafeandbar.com
Already a major hit in both Dallas and Austin, this wildly popular French cafe opened its first Houston location last spring to a very warm reception. Toulouse’s luxurious ambiance and impressive selection of authentic French classics has given it a reputation that preceded its River Oaks opening. Now in its second year, Toulouse has introduced a handful of new specials, menu items and an after-dinner drinks menu that will put a sweet end to one hell of a meal.
True to their authentic Parisian ideals, the hors d’oeuvre menu at Toulouse includes foie gras, escargots and frog legs. My wife and I tried the foie gras, served with pineapple chutney and onion marmalade on baguette, as well as the ahi tuna tower, a tuna tartare mold with avocado, spicy tomato relish and pineapple. The foie gras, which was buttery and delectable, paired quite well with the tart pineapple chutney and the surprising sweetness of the onion marmalade. My entrée was the incredibly flavorful Lamb Tajine, a regular on the Toulouse specials board. This Moroccan-style ragu is a medley of roasted leg and shoulder, zucchini, tomato, asparagus, lemon confit and garlic.
The night ended with both the beignets and the crème brulee. Toulouse serves their beignets with an espresso pot de crème, a French custard with the mouth feel and flavor of an espresso gelato, only chilled, not frozen. The glazing on the creme brulee was near perfect, both in consistency and presentation, while the creme itself was delightful and sweet. As a nightcap I tried the Carajillo, an amazing iced espresso and licor 43 cocktail; perfect for snapping me out of the food coma that the lamb and desserts had me settling into.