Editor's note: During the three-week extravaganza that Houston Restaurant Week has become, CultureMap's resident foodie — associate editor Sarah Rufca — is writing a diary of her culinary experiences around the city. This is her second entry.
It's not terribly often that I take my own advice, but after compiling a list of the downtown spots offering lunch menus during Houston Restaurant Week, I knew I had to stop in at The Grove on my way to the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) convention (to hear Sir Richard Branson and otherwise screw around for a couple hours).
Unsurprisingly, I wasn't the only one with the idea. Between business lunchers, restaurant week-ers, conventioneers and a couple of spiffy gaggles of flight attendants, the restaurant was hopping.
Among the dozen or so choices for the appetizer course — plenty of rich-looking salads and spreads — we ordered the Dustin’s Farm deviled yard eggs topped with chorizo and tapenade, the smoked Texas quail skewers, and the queso and tortilla chips, served with salsa and guacamole.
After hearing about the queso at The Grove for what seems like forever, I now understand the love. It had the kind of thick, stick-to-the-chip texture that makes queso so satisfying without the gumminess of processed versions. The only thing keeping it off my mental 'best quesos' list is a lack of heat — I could have used some cilantro and jalapeño mixed in along with the diced tomato.
Next to a chunky but cloyingly sweet salsa and a guacamole, which was both bland and suffused with too much lime, the queso was a clear winner. Another point: It was enough of an appetizer to feed a whole trio.
Next to the queso plate, the other apps were tiny, but full of flavor. The quartet of deviled eggs were a perfectly cooked juxtaposition of textures: Creamy yolk, crunchy chorizo, etc. The quail "skewers" should have been called quail bites served with extended toothpick.
I don't take issues with the size of the plate, it was fair considering the price, but the word skewer implies more than one item per skewer in my worldview. The only true disappointment was the pineapple bourbon dipping sauce served with the quail, which tasted nothing like either pineapple or bourbon, and more closely resembled a bad peanut sauce served at a Thai place.
For entrees, while we considered a burger trio made of the bacon cheeseburger, the shrimp burger with fennel and a lamb burger with tzatziki, in the end I traded the lamb burger for a lighter selection — the pulled rotisserie chicken tacos with corn relish and queso fresco.
The burger was an immediate winner, cooked precisely, served with crisp bacon and boldly sans condiment (minus a side of ketchup), to show off (we presume) the juicy flavors of the meat.
The shrimp burger was not as impressive, especially considering how amazing the version across town at corporate sibling RDG is. Made of tiny shrimp rather than a patty of the bigger, more luscious entree versions, it was a tasty, fennel-y mess — not that there's anything wrong with that. The tacos were simple, yet perfect: Just the right mix of tender chicken, bright cheese and a dash of corn sweetness.
The only real drag to the meal was service. To be fair, the dining room was swamped when we arrived, but the waitress seemed to be in a sour mood. It could just have been me, but I wondered if the $20 max order made us less important than the suits at the next table.
But as far as the food (and the view) was concerned, this was a a meal that was hard to beat.
Other diary entries: