Food for Thought
I love the outdoors.
OK, for everyone who knows me, if you can please stop laughing for a moment, I’ll explain.
I love the beauty of nature, the city skyline, the bustling streets.
I love them best of all from the air-conditioned comfort of the indoors. Either gazing at them on a big flat-screen TV or through a large plate glass window.
I prefer a chilly restaurant for eating over a blanket laid in the park.
I’m clearly not an outdoorsy person. Not a picnic-type gal nor a sports woman. And when I wrote this, it was 108 degrees outside so think what you want, but I am not venturing outdoors.
Which is why I prefer a chilly restaurant for eating over a blanket laid in the park. But I don’t generally choose a restaurant based on its view, so when I was recently asked which eateries had the best views, I had to stop and ponder that question.
My first thought was of the tranquil countryside and roaming peacocks at Vargo’s. Of course I haven’t been there in decades, and apparently I’m not the only one, which explains why it closed recently.
So what restaurants that are still around have the best views?
Here’s my short list:
1) The Grove
The View: It doesn’t get much better than dining while gazing out on the lovely Discovery Green park. I remember when this downtown spot was just a paved parking lot, but now it really is a paradise. Huge trees, lakes, outdoor sculptures. The occasional Dock Dog diving event. All of which can be seen from inside the beautiful Schiller/Del Grande concept. Or, on a cool evening, from the rooftop bar.
The Food: The catch of the day roasted in parchment paper is a good bet paired with the chilled asparagus salad. Cocktails are colorful and tasty, but I miss the deviled yard eggs on the menu.
The View: For first-time Houston visitors you can’t beat dinner at the city’s only revolving restaurant perched high atop the Hyatt Regency. On a clear night, you can see the entire downtown cityscape. Fabulous.
The Food: A simple but classic and well-prepared menu that should start, during the summer, with the chilled watermelon soup and progress to the signature paella that includes Maine lobster. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, but you’re trying to dazzle out-of-town guests, aren’t you?
The View: The patio here overlooks West Gray Street with its bustling retail centers, but from the second floor you can see the entire River Oaks/Upper Kirby area with all the mansions, tree-lined streets and spiraling high rises.
The Food: David Cordúa, baby-faced son of legendary restaurateur Michael Cordúa oversees the menu here and frankly, I can never get past the appetizers and cocktails at this elegant spot. Angel wings are the most delicate version of buffalo wings sans the messy fingers (the bones are Frenched). They’re cooked in brown butter and served with habanero/papaya sauce and blue cheese for dipping. Oh, and the ceviches and smoked lamb lollichops (it’s a meat lollipop!) are to die for.
The View: Nestled in the Gardens of Bammel Lane, a privately owned historical mecca of 19th century Houston homes, this restaurant and wine/jazz bar backs up to a gorgeous garden. In the back room, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a gurgling fountain, bandstand, rose garden and a transported antique English greenhouse.
The Food: Chef/owner Phillip Phillip Mitchell whips up Cajun inspired casual fare including red beans and rice with andouille sausage and seafood gumbo. The Sunday brunch is packed, if you don’t have a reservation you might not get in. But if you do, head to the omelet station for hot eggs with all your favorite fixings and then to the steam tables for prime rib and fried chicken and waffles.
5) Baba Yega
The View: This eclectic, quintessential Montrose mainstay has a myriad of rooms but if you choose the ones looking over the gardens or patios you’re in for a treat. Century-old trees and meandering flower gardens make you feel like you’re in the lap of outdoor luxury, while still basking in the air conditioning.
The Food: Pretty standard fare, but the menu runs the gamut from Tex-Mex treats to Italian and burgers. There are lots of vegetarian dishes to choose from, but I think the best bang for your buck is the $17 charbroiled rib-eye steak served with a baked potato and veggies.
I’m sure I’ve left out lots of restaurants with great views so feel free to weigh in with your favorites.
The maharaja would approve
Entering Wayne Smith Jewels in some ways is like entering a pasha's lair — so many treasures within, each a rare beauty unlike anything we've seen before.
Credit for creation of the wealth of to-die-for pieces goes to the proprietor himself — the gentlemanly Wayne Smith, a trained bench jeweler and certified gemologist who has worked in the fine jewelry arena since starting with Cartier in 1983.
We recently visited Smith in his swank Uptown Park salon to seek out one or two pieces that might represent the best of the best. Of course, that is a purely subjective mission. Should we focus on the most fabulous diamonds in the house or turn our attention to the magnificent strand of faceted aquamarine stones, weighing in at hundreds of carats?
This was the largest collection of branch coral in the vibrant gem color that he had ever seen.
For our visit, Smith pulled out two very different items — one a contemporary creation, the other a redesign of a traditional brooch and accompanying double-strand pearl necklace. The two represent the broad range of possibilities within the Wayne Smith universe, everything from original creations to estate jewelry.
Highlighting his creative bent, Smith first displayed for us the coral, gold and diamond necklace, which he recently completed. "It makes a big difference in designing jewelry," he said of his credentials "because you don't design things that can't be made or can't be worn, like earrings that won't stay on."
The importance of the coral piece lies in the gem coloration. Smith explained that this was the largest collection of branch coral in the vibrant gem color that he had ever seen. He wove the branches into a necklace, supplemented with 14-karat gold branches (exact copies of the coral) that were dipped in 18-karat gold and embedded with diamonds. The necklace has just shy of four carats of diamonds and consists of two ounces of gold. Price tag: $18,000.
"It's really a specimen necklace. We can't replace it," he said.
The second confection was the redesigned ruby brooch, the original emerald removed for a stone more suited to the diamond setting. Smith replaced the emerald with a 30-carat ruby that sits majestically amid 10 carats in diamonds. The brooch features four detachable pearls that allow it to connect to a double strand of nine to 10-millimeter pearls.
The piece is priced at $55,000.
While Smith designs the various pieces or reinterprets estate jewelry, he has two bench jewelers, working fulltime at an off-site workshop, who actually construct the jewelry.
Who's the hottest wine guru in Houston? That would be Vanessa Treviño-Boyd, beverage director and sommelier at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge.
First Treviño-Boyd was named one of the seven top sommeliers in the country for 2012 by Food + Wine magazine. Now Wine Enthusiast has included Philippe on its list of the 100 best wine restaurants in the country — the only restaurant in Houston to make the list, although Houston-based Pappas Bros. Steakhouse did merit a mention for its Dallas location.
Of course, being a great wine restaurant is about more than just the wine list. Treviño-Boyd lists her favorite pairings as the combination of fish and red wine, like chef/owner Philippe Schmit's monkfish with Niçoise olives and chorizo vinaigrette alongside M. Chapoutier’s Crozes-Hermitage.
Bottoms Up Video
The Houston heat is sizzling and has me dreaming of a refreshing cocktail. I want a summertime drink that's delicious, of course, but also light and not too sweet. I want that certain "I could drink this all night - it's that darn good" quality.
I needed professional help.
I decided to turn to an expert for a recommendation in order to save myself time and any potential stomachaches from the many less-than-stellar beverages out there. That cocktail savant is Alba Huerta. Amid her notable list of credits are president of the Houston Chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild and general manager at acclaimed Anvil Bar & Refuge. In short, she knows her stuff.
You'll taste the basis of a mojito, but The Old Cuban takes the flavors to a more sophisticated level.
When I asked Alba about her choice for the perfect warm-weather cocktail she, without hesitation, named Anvil's version of The Old Cuban. Without waffling on my part, I tried it. My initial reaction was: It has all the traits I was looking for . . . and it was love at first sip.
For this edition of Bottoms Up!, CultureMap's "drink of the month" video diary, Huerta shares the recipe and shows us how to shake it up. You'll taste the basis of a mojito, but The Old Cuban takes the flavors to a more sophisticated level. It's sure to become a beloved cocktail on your drink rotation — summer or not.
Cheers from CultureMap, Bottoms Up! and Anvil Bar & Refuge!
The Old Cuban
- Six fresh mint leaves
- 1.5 oz. of 7-year-old Flor de Caña
- .75 oz. of fresh lime juice
- .75 oz. of turbinado syrup
- A dash of Angostura Bitters
- 2 oz. of Champagne
- 1 mint sprig for garnish
To make turbinado syrup: Take 2 cups of unrefined sugar and 1 cup of water, mix slowly over low heat.
To make the cocktail: In a mixing glass, add six fresh mint leaves and .75 oz. of turbinado syrup. Lightly press with muddler; do not bruise. Add .75 oz. lime juice. Remove muddler and add 1.5 oz. rum, a dash of angostura bitters and shake. Fine strain into a cocktail glass, top with 2 oz. of champagne and garnish with mint sprig.
Consume. You're welcome.
What makes a $3.5 million dollar bottle of tequila so expensive?
It's not so much what's inside (supposedly 1.3 liters of a seven-year-old, 100 percent agave tequila distilled by Hacienda La Capilla) that counts, but on the outside: An astounding 4,000 diamonds, weighing in at 328 carats, set into a five-pound platinum bottle.
That one-of-a-kind piece, designed by Mexican artist Fernando Altamirano of Tequila Ley .925, is aptly named "The Diamond Sterling." And it's for sale.
After the bottle's great reveal in late 2010, it was scheduled for a tour of European and Middle Eastern capitols before auction.
If sold, it will usurp the title of the "The World's Most Expensive Bottle of Tequila," an honor that Altamirano also held in the Guinness Book of World Records for a platinum and white gold tequila bottle sold at auction for $225,000 in 2006.
The bottle will be displayed to potential buyers in Houston at Spec's Superstore Downtown, on Thursday from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Though guests won't be able to sip out of the pricey vessel, Spec's will offer tastings of other tequilas within gazing-distance of the jewels.
But if you're just looking for a quality, swanky tequila to sip on, there are a handful of other options that are more within a more approachable price range — Gran Patrón Burdeos, for instance, costs just $649, and Don Julio Real falls in at $350.
CultureMap Emails are Awesome
The nominations for the 2023 Academy Awards have been announced, with 10 films vying for Best Picture. Everything Everywhere All at Once led the way with 11 total nominations, with The Banshees of Inisherin and All Quiet on the Western Front close behind with 9 nominations each.
Take a look back at what CultureMap’s film critic, Alex Bentley, had to say about each of the nominees (listed below in alphabetical order) when they were originally released. This year's Oscars ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 12.
All Quiet on the Western Front (not reviewed)
The epic anti-war German film, available to stream on Netflix, has been gaining steam on the awards circuit in recent weeks, also earning 14 nominations for the British Academy film awards, the most among films nominated there. With nine nominations at the Oscars, it's a serious contender to win not just International Feature Film, but Best Picture as well, a la Parasite.
Avatar: The Way of Water
There’s no denying that everything in the long-awaited Avatar looks spectacular, from the Na’vi to the different animals of the world to the abundant water. But writer/director James Cameron has also employed the high frame rate of 48 frames-per-second, giving everything a hyper-real look that, at least for this critic, does not make for a great viewing experience. Also, for a film that’s 3 hours and 12 minutes long, you’d think there would be plenty of time to devote to all aspects of the story, but somehow that isn’t the case. Though it's nominated for Best Picture, its best chances of winning lie in the three other technical nominations.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this film reunited him with his In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for one of the funniest movies of the year, and also one of the saddest. The film is spectacular in its ordinary nature, with the story centering around Gleeson's character ending his longtime friendship with Farrell's character for seemingly no reason. All four main actors - Farrell (Best Actor), Gleeson (Best Supporting Actor), Barry Keoghan (Best Supporting Actor), and Kerry Condon (Best Supporting Actress) - earned nominations, and McDonagh was nominated for both directing and writing, making this film one of the favorites.
One of those love-it-or-hate-it type movies, the latest from writer/director Baz Luhrmann didn't hit the sweet spot for this critic, mostly because its focus was more on Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and not Elvis (Austin Butler) himself. That meant much more time for Hanks to deliver one of the worst performances of the year. Butler earned his Best Actor nomination, as there are times when he is absolutely electric. But there's a reason that six of its eight nominations are in technical categories - the story doesn't live up to Butler's performance.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
On the other end of the spectrum from Elvis is Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film that knew how to use its flashiness in much better ways. Featuring a breathtaking lead performance by Michelle Yeoh (who earned her first-ever nomination), the return of '80s kid star Ke Huy Quan (favored to win for Best Supporting Actor), and polar opposite performances by Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu (both nominated for Best Supporting Actress), the film was as wild and weird as it was emotional. With a couple of surprise nominations, including Best Musical Score and Best Song, it seems destined for a lot of wins.
The most personal movie ever from writer/director Steven Spielberg (nominated in both categories), The Fabelmans is a lightly-fictionalized chronicle of Spielberg's childhood, where he caught the bug of filmmaking and endured his parents' disintegrating marriage. With seven overall nominations, including Best Actress for Michelle Williams, a surprise Best Supporting Actor nomination for Judd Hirsch (who's in the film for less than 10 minutes), and another nomination for Best Score for the iconic John Williams (who now has 52 - !! - lifetime nominations), it would be unwise to discount this film's chances at taking home the top prize.
If ever a film was defined by its lead actor, it's Tár, featuring a towering - and now, Oscar-nominated - performance by Cate Blanchett as world-renowned - but fictional - conductor Lydia Tár. The first film in 16 years from writer/director Todd Field (nominated in both categories), it is notable for how much time it devotes to setting up Tár as a character. Though the story is set in the rarefied world of classical music, it has a grounded nature that keeps it balanced. The film is nominated for seven total Oscars, but its best chance at a win lies with Blanchett, who's the heavy favorite.
Top Gun: Maverick
My personal No. 1 movie of the year, the long-gestating sequel to 1984's Top Gun delivered everything you could want out of a summer blockbuster and more. Even though it it essentially offers up the greatest hits from the original in a slightly repackaged manner, it does so in a spectacular manner. Even though you'd expect its five nominations aside from Best Picture (which gives star Tom Cruise, who also served as a producer, his first Oscar nomination in 24 years) to be technical ones, it was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, an indication that its story was equal to its visuals.
Triangle of Sadness (not reviewed)
A black comedy that takes aim at the obliviousness of wealthy people, Triangle of Sadness is only nominated in three categories, but they're three big ones - Best Picture, Best Director (Ruben Östlund), and Best Original Screenplay (Östlund). Unlike some of the other films in this category, it was not among the best-reviewed movies of the year, but it's clear that Östlund has his supporters in the writer and director wings of the Academy, so one or two wins are not out of the realm of possibility.
Although it was one of my top 10 movies of the year, Women Talking is perhaps the least likely film among the 10 nominated to be in this category, as it only has one other nomination, Best Adapted Screenplay for writer/director Sarah Polley. Set almost entirely in a barn loft on a Mennonite compound as a group of women decide how to fight back against abusive men, it is a true ensemble film, with no actor truly standing out among the others. Still, with award-winning actors like Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, and Claire Foy leading the way, it deserves to be recognized among the year's best.
houston's top cheftestant
Burrell, who reached the finals of Top Chef season 18 in Portland, Oregon, earned a James Beard semifinalist nomination for her work at downtown restaurant Kulture. The former Olympian-turned-chef will open Late August, a restaurant that explores the intersection of African and Asians cuisines, in the Ion mixed-use development later this spring.
“I’m a natural competitor, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete on the Top Chef stage again to try to bring home the win," Burrell said in a statement. "All in all, it was truly an honor to be selected for this All Stars season — the first across the pond!”
She will compete against an all-star cast of former Top Chef competitors from 11 seasons, including Buddha Lo, winner of last year's season 19 in Houston. The cast also has a global flavor with winners and finalists from Top Chef's international editions in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the Middle East & North Africa, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and Poland.
Such an accomplished group merits an equally compelling set of challenges. Over the course of the season, viewers will watch the cheftestants put their spins on British classics such as beef Wellington, afternoon tea, and pub fare. They'll cook at prominent London destinations including Highclere Castle and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
For the signature Restaurant Wars episode, the chefs will cook at Core by Clare Smyth, a London restaurant that holds three Michelin stars. The finale will take place in Paris and feature an appearance by legendary French chef Alain Ducasse.
Top Chef stars Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Padma Lakshmi will all return to the show. They'll be joined by a number of prominent chefs including the aforementioned Clare Smyth as well as Aquiles Chavez, Hélène Darroze, Martha Ortiz, and Dave Zilber (Judge, Top Chef Canada).
Top Chef season 20 will premier at 8 pm on Thursday, March 9. Episodes will be available the following day on the Peacock streaming service.
Here's a sneak peek at the action.
weekend event planner
What's poppin' this weekend? How about a gazillion bubbles — or so — as a popular New York bubble show bounces into Houston. A highly anticipated downtown park finally hosts a grand opening bash, while Houston Botanic Garden blooms with massive sculptures hiding in plain sight.
A major influencer beefs up a burger pop-up, comedian Jo Koy brings the funny, and a K-pop smash act hits town. Enjoy; here are your best bets for the weekend.
Thursday, January 26
State & Liberty, a clothing retailer of men’s athletic-fit dress shirts, will be hosting a happy hour and charity shopping experience. Benefitting the Kyle Tucker Foundation, State & Liberty opens its doors to shoppers to peruse their wrinkle-free, lightweight performance fabrics. The brand offers suits, sport coats, polos, and casual stretch shorts. The store will donate 10% of sales to the Foundation during the event. While shopping for a cause, guests can also take in complementary whiskey tasting and live music, as well as a cigar gift with purchase. 5 pm.
In collaboration with the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and the ADL Southwest, Holocaust Museum Houston presents The Jewish Dog, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Based on the book of the same name, this moving – and at times funny – one-man show tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of Coresh, a dog born into a Jewish Family in Berlin, 1933. 6:30 pm.
Raise a glass to comedy and decadence with one of the most beloved operettas in the repertoire. What could be more fun than a show that revolves around practical jokes, disguises, and gallons of champagne? Audiences will attend the ultimate masked ball and discover not only why Johann Strauss Jr. is known as the Waltz King, but also just how far some people will go to exact their revenge. 7:30 pm (2:30 pm Sunday).
Friday, January 27
Located in southern downtown, in the Central Business District, Trebly Park is a neighborhood park that features dog runs, a large lawn, Tout Suite and more. At the Trebly Park Grand Opening, experience “three times as much” fun. Visitors can get sweet macaroons at the park restaurant, Tout Suite, visit the dog parks, listen to live music, and play carnival games at downtown Houston's new neighborhood park. And it’s all free. 2 pm.
Houston Botanic Garden will host Steve Tobin, the creator of Intertwined: Exploring Nature's Network, for this exclusive happy hour and dinner, where guests will learn directly from Steve about these sculptures. Guests will also get to take a stroll after-hours at sunset with a private tour of the Houston Botanic Garden and its newest sculpture exhibit. Executive chef Thomas Stacy will host the five-course immersive pop-up dinner and wine pairing, featuring garden grown heirloom collard greens, selected veggies and robust herbs. 5 pm.
The gallery returns to its eclectic roots with a show that incorporates everything but the kitchen sink. Bringing together work from over 25 Texas artists, they aim to take a step back from traditional curation with this show and simply allow their clients to experience a plethora of art and explore their own tastes and preferences. Featured artists include those making their Reeves Art + Design debut, including Gary Griffin, Holland Geibel, Wood Francher Anthony, Jessica Simorte, Hector Hernandez, and more. Through Saturday, February 18. 6 pm.
The lovesick yearnings of the tortured young poet Werther lead to his tragic fate in Massenet’s lush opera, which returns to HGO for the first time in 40 years with this production from French director Benoît Jacquot, making his HGO debut. Matthew Polenzani, one of the world’s most distinguished tenors, leads the cast as Werther in his Houston debut. With mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard debuting alongside, audiences won’t want to miss this chance to see legends perform a rare psychological drama. Through Friday, February 10. 7:30 pm (2:30 pm Sunday).
Saturday, January 28
After 20 years as a Master of Bubbles, in 2007 Fan Yang brought his unique brand of bubble artistry to the Big Apple and has since wowed bubble lovers of all ages. The Gazillion Bubble Show truly is a family affair for Fan: his wife Ana, son Deni, daughter Melody, and brother Jano all can be found on stage in New York and around the world performing their bubble magic. Audiences are delighted with an unbelievable experience, awash with a bubble tide, and some even find themselves inside a bubble. 11 am and 3 pm.
Memorial Trail Ice House will have a Queen of Hearts benefit for the Griff’s employee relief fund. Griff's Irish Pub has been a Houston landmark for many years, and the news of the fire that happened earlier this month has affected a lot of people – especially the staff and owners. Come support the employees as they rebuild, while getting a chance to win 50% of the pot. Tickets are $20 with no purchase limit. Slim Chance Bistro will be on site until 4pm. Noon.
Apollo Chamber Players and Harris County Public LIbrary will reflect Holocaust Remembrance Day with a program of multicultural new music by Sephardic scholar Isabelle Ganz and Rice University faculty composer Richard Lavenda. Guest collaborators include vocalist Ceclia Duarte, percussionist Jesus Pacheco, and bassoonist Benjamin Kamins, former principal of the Houston Symphony and professor at The Shepherd School of Music. 2 pm.
After proving he could headline a big-screen comedy with last summer’s Easter Sunday, Jo Koy and his Jo Koy World Tour will feature all-new material. One of today’s premiere stand-up comedians (dude has a bunch of specials on Netflix), Jo’s uniquely relatable comedy, which pulls inspiration from his colorful family, has reached all kinds of people and has translated into sold-out arenas around the world. 8 pm.
Sunday, January 29
Burger Bodega will host the famous TikTok influencer and viral internet sensation Rahim Mohamed for a one-day pop-up. Mohamed will take over the parking lot with his exotic "Ocky Way" chopped cheese sandwiches. With his enormous following, Mohamed has coined the term "Ocky Way" and has taken it to new heights at his sandwich shop Red Hook Food Corp in Brooklyn. Rahim's unique style of sandwiches helped him gain a following of over 4 million followers with millions of views overall. 1 pm.
Exotic decorations on cabinets, porcelain vessels, and embroideries imported from China inspired a popular design trend in Baroque Europe, one reflected in various objects in the Rienzi collection and on the harpsichord featured on this program. Musical selections by Teodorico Pedrini, Henry Purcell, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Christoph Willibald Gluck illustrate how composers of this time created equally lavish-sounding textures. 4 and 5:30 pm.
After a triumphant U.S. tour last year, the hottest Korean boy band since BTS is back to prove they’re still the most electrifying act on the world stage today. The five members of ONEUS have a fresh, vibrant sound and attitude that sets them apart from all other pop acts. The group’s songs, music videos, and stage show often draw inspiration from traditional Korean instruments, fashion, and culture, but are also forward-looking with intriguing themes, inspired couture, and modern-day sounds like trap, hip-hop, and futuristic funk. 7:30 pm.