Mi Luna, the popular Woodlands-area Tapas bar, is gone. We stopped by recently and found the door locked, and a notice from the landlord that they had been locked out because of failure to pay rent.
Apparently the Woodlands location is the only one closing.
Following on the heels of the smashing success of SmashBurger, the California-based The Counter burger chain has Houston in its sights.
The Counter's concept features a design-your-own burger menu that's filled out by the customer. Options go far beyond the usual burger joint, with ten different cheeses, 28 different toppings, 18 different sauces, and three bun choices, totaling over 312,000 different combinations.
Denver's Magazine named The Counter among Denver's best new restaurants for 2008.
In a struggling economy, there are some companies that succeed. Offer a good product and a good price, and value-conscious consumers will reward you.
Chick-fil-A enjoyed another year of double-digit sales growth in 2008. The company has reported 2008 systemwide sales of $2.96 billion, representing a 12.17 percent increase over the chain’s 2007 overall sales performance. Same-store sales increased 4.59 percent.
Chick-fil-A's record sales performance marked the chain’s 41st consecutive year of systemwide sales gains – a streak that the chain has sustained since its inception in 1967 – and its 16th straight year of double-digit sales growth.
"Chick-fil-A was able to endure a number of challenges that could have been detrimental to any other chain, including targeted product competition among our quick-service rivals and a challenging economic environment, but our restaurant operators and team members remained committed to excellence which resulted in another solid sales year," said Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan T. Cathy.
Jasper's features modern interpretations of traditional American cuisine. Owned by Chef Kent Rathbun (one of the rare guest winners on Iron Chef America,) Jasper's delivers excellent cuisine in an upscale, casual setting.
We met a friend recently for lunch at Jasper's, and ordered one of their gourmet hamburgers.
The recipe: A half pound of high quality beef, hand-formed and grilled over a mixture of woods. Cooked to order (medium rare, in our case) and nicely juicy. Topped with your choice of cheese (cheddar for us) carmelized onions, thick cut applewood-smoked bacon, fresh veggies, and served on a barely toasted egg bun. The result is one of the best upscale burgers you'll find anywhere, and the side of housemade potato chips is a great finishing touch.
Other great bets include prime steaks, upscale BBQ dishes, and gourmet pizzas. They have a decadent appetizer of housemade potato chips covered with Maytag bleu cheese chunks and a creamy cheese sauce that's not to be missed. Desserts are excellent as well, and there is a wecome option of mini-desserts offering just a taste or three; perfect after a large meal.
Brunch is excellent as well; our favorite is Jasper's take on French Toast.
Bottom line: Best restaurant in the Woodlands... or anywhere Outside The Loop for that matter.
Jasper's: Market Street Square, 9595 Six Pines, The Woodlands, 77380, 281-298-6600
Opa! That's the traditional Greek exclamation, and it's heard a lot on Saturday nights at the Olive Oil.
From the street, the Olive Oil is a nondescript little storefront in one of the huge strip centers along Sawdust road. But once you step in the door, you're in a warm, inviting restaurant with some of the best Greek cuisine around.
Like many folks, I'm a big fan of gyros, and the Olive Oil's are top notch. The meat is tender, savory and flavorful. And the pita is fresh and hot; no hard, dry pita here. We observed a wide variety of Greek specialties being served, and are looking forward to sampling them on our next visit. (And for the unadventurous, there are some typical American dishes offered, including a chicken-fried steak.)
Service is friendly and professional - lots of staff, and they're constantly in motion.
If you arrive on a Saturday night, as we did, you'll be greeted by a full house (we were lucky to get a table) and some outstanding Greek dancing and singing. A band set was set up in an out-of-the-way corner, and a troupe of dancers were performing in front. The entertainment made for a very boisterous atmosphere; it was fun, and we'll return.
The Olive Oil: 373 Sawdust Road, The Woodlands, 77380, 281-367-0114
In an unrelated article, the Houston Business journal mentioned that Smashburger, the Denver-based chain, is scouting sites in the Woodlands, Memorial, and Sugar Land areas.
Smashburger opened its first Houston location near S. Main and Kirby to rave reviews.
Citing the weak economy, Houston restaurant icon Tony Vallone announced that he's put on hold his plan to open an Italian bistro and wine bar on West Gray.
"I'm going to wait until the economy gets better," said Vallone.
Tony Vallone is the restaurateur behind Tony's, the landmark Houston restaurant known both for its European cuisine and its famous patrons.
Vallone and his son Jeff were going to operate the restaurant together. Jeff currently operates Amici, the popular Italian spot located in Sugar Land's Town Center.
I love this new trend of serious restaurants opening up in the suburbs, and Sugarland benefits from this with Amici, the brainchild of Jeff Vallone and Bruce McMillian.
(For those who don't know the names, Jeff is the son of Tony Vallone, and Bruce was the Executive Chef at Tony's for many years. Both were instrumental in creating the Grotto.)
Amici is an example of how to do a restaurant right. First, the decor: It's a gorgeous space, with doors that open out on to the town square when the weather's nice. It's modern and elegant, but still manages to be inviting; it's not stuffy at all.
But the reason you come is the food. Jeff and Bruce know as much about Italian food as anyone in Texas, and it shows. The menu has wonderful balance -- traditional dishes like chicken parmigiana are there (and among the best in town) but the real magic lies with the more creative offerings, many of which you won't see anywhere else. The menu changes often, and the focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients is refreshing.
Little touches demonstrate the attention to detail: The bread basket has a variety of housemade breads, and they're delicious. A custom blended flavored iced tea is offered, and it's excellent.
Service is casual, friendly, and professional. And their recommendations are spot on.
We live in the Woodlands, but we make the trek down to Sugarland on a regular basis. It's worth it... at least until they open a Woodlands location.
Amici: 16089 City Walk, Town Square, Sugar Land, 77479, 281-242-2800
Many of our friends who live ITL (Inside The Loop, a Houston term for the part of town inside I-610) maintain that there's nothing OTL (Outside the Loop) worth the drive. In our experience, they couldn't be more wrong.
We'd been hearing good buzz about a small cafe that had opened in a strip center at the far northwest corner of the Woodlands, and finally got a chance to check 'em out last night.
Eden Cafe is a small family owned establishment that serves a wide variety of cuisine. They're serious about variety: They have daily specials that are based on a specific cuisine. Tex-Mex Tuesdays, Italian Wednesdays, Comfort Food Thursdays, and Seafood Fridays (the day we visited.)
I ordered one of the specials - blackened tilapia. It was a beautiful tilapia filet expertly prepared, tender, moist, and nicely spicy. The sides were ver good as well: A mild Greek salad with plenty of feta, and a scoop of sweet potato casserole, rich, earthy, and loaded with nuts.
We also sampled their chicken-fried chicken, which was superb. Very moist, hand-breaded with a light, crispy breading, it was accompanied by a grilled squash/zucchini side that was delicious.
Another winner was the Pasta Marsala. A large serving of penne pasta with plenty of grilled chicken, mushrooms, squash, and a rich marsala wine sauce.
Prices are surprisingly modest. There's nothing on the menu over $13.
The restaurant was packed on Friday night, but the service was still friendly and professional. The owner, Ulises Larramendi, was greeting guests (many of whom were obviously regulars) and making sure things were flowing smoothly.
Browsing the menu, we discovered that Eden Cafe also has a full breakfast menu on Friday and Saturday ('till 3pm on Saturday.) They're closed Sunday and Monday.
Eden Cafe is a winner. It's a comfortable, casual cafe that serves very well-executed food. It's a worn phrase, but there's really something for everyone.
For those coming from ITL, it's a bit of a hike, but we think it's worth it. There are hundreds of small, family run cafes in Houston, but we've yet to find one that offers such a wide variety of food that is so expertly prepared.
We'll be back.
Eden Cafe: 33418 Egypt Lane, Suite 16, Magnolia, 77354, 832-934-2800, edencafe.net
Grimaldi's Pizza, the landmark Brooklyn pizza joint, has been franchising for a while. And now they have their sights set on the Woodlands. Sources report that a deal has been struck to put a Grimaldi's location on the Woodlands Waterway some time in 2009.
Reviews of the chain's locations have been generally positive; here's one from the Dallas Morning News on the McKinney Ave store.