We'd observed a new place going in along I-45 across from the the Woodlands Mall. It was named Ambience... and we had no idea what it was. One Saturday we ventured in, and discovered a new, family-run restaurant and lounge.

Upon entering, we found a lovely setting. Dark yet inviting, the interior was totally redone from the location's previous incarnation. As you enter, on the right is a large lounge area, with lots of leather seating and a full-service bar.

Further back is the dining room. We were seated promptly, and soaked up the vibe of the place. It feels more like a nightclub than a restaurant; there's a second bar on one side of the room, and the blacked out roof, sound system, and mood lighting add to that, um, ambience.

Our server appeared with the menu, and we were surprised... in a good way. A nice selection of international sandwiches and wraps, as well as an eclectic set of entrees - Asian, South American, Mexican, Italian, and American. Prices were good: Entrees are in the $9-11 range, and lighter dishes like sandwiches ranged from $6 to $8.

We tried the Argentinean Chimmichurri Mini Burgers. Instead of the traditional ground beef slider, ours featured marinated and grilled fajita meat, swiss cheese, grilled onions, a bit of lettuce, and housemade chimmichurri sauce. The result was delicious; a multicultural kaleidoscope of flavor. We opted for the yucca fries, a light and healthy alternative to the traditional french fries, and used them to sop up every drop of the chimmichurri sauce.

Our companion tried the empanadas. Ground beef, delicately seasoned and wrapped in a pastry shell, these were among the best we've tried. The side of housemade onion rings were a good accompanyment; the batter was light, crisp, and slightly sweet.

Service was prompt, professional and friendly.

We didn't partake (since it was lunchtime) but Ambience offers live music or a DJ on weekends, and they rearrange the tables to allow for dancing. Dinner and dancing is a tradition that we miss, and we think they've got a great concept for the Woodlands area.

Combine the excellent and varied cuisine, great service, a nice room, and very reasonable prices, and Ambience is a winner. We're looking forward to returning soon.

Chez Nous, the superb French restaurant located in Humble, is hosting a fundraiser honoring Leigh Boone, a 29-year-old woman who was killed in a fire truck collision as she was riding her bicycle.

Boone's brother, Mario Pena, is an employee of the restaurant.

Chez Nous is donating 20% of their sales on April 24 and 25 to help the family.

Chez Nous is located at 217 S. Avenue G. in Humble. Call 281-446-6717 for reservations.

Web site

Brennan's announced via Twitter today that they could have workers in their building as early as tomorrow. We're anxious for this Houston landmark to reopen.

Brennan’s plans to re-emerge at its long-standing Smith Street address this fall, just 13 months after having been damaged by fire as a result of Hurricane Ike. Slated to open in October 2009, the restored Brennan’s is expected to bring an additional 125 jobs back to Midtown.

Travel + Leisure magazine has released their annual 50 Best New US Restaurant list, and four Houston restaurants made this prestigious list. Congratulations to Feast, Textile, Reef, and Voice.

There was one other Texas restaurant on the list... Tei/An.

In an effort designed to curb declining revenue caused by the recession, Seattle-based Starbucks has announced that it's closing 195 stores across the nation.

California is hardest hit, with 76 closures.

The Houston area did not escape the closures. The Starbucks at 5508 FM 1960 West is on the chopping block.

Since we started using Twitter, it's become one of our favorite ways to stay updated on the Houston food scene.

If you Twitter, we'd love you to follow us for our latest updates.

One of our trusted sources just informed us that Thelma's has reopened. Houston BBQ aficionados can breathe a sigh of relief; some of our city's best BBQ is available once again.

We just got a message via Twitter that Sirenuse, the upscale Euro bistro located on the Woodlands waterway, has closed its doors.

The ambitious restaurant never really got traction in the Woodlands. Its location made it invisible to passing traffic, and the concept of a high-end bistro during this economic downturn made it a difficult proposition for success.

We love great food and we love cool technology. When they intersect, we're hooked. Our latest find is GoodFoodNearYou.com, a web site designed to help you find healthy food choices near you. It returns a list of nearby restaurants and their healthiest menu item, along with a link to more healthy choices available.

The database is heavy with national chains, but there are some local spots, too.

What's most interesting about this site are the associated iPhone and Blackberry applications. They let you search for a healthy spot to eat when you're out in an unfamiliar area.

It's free. Check it out.

Local culinary star Bryan Caswell has another feather to put in his quickly-filling cap: He was selected as one of the country's ten Best New Chefs for 2009 by Food & Wine magazine.

Caswell is the executive chef and owner at Reef, a hot spot on the local dining scene. he also recently opened Little Big's, a fast casual hamburger spot in Montrose specializing in beef, chicken, and mushroom sliders.

Caswell is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. While at CIA he secured a coveted six-month externship under Chef Jose Muneisa at Michelin-rated Via Veneto in Barcelona. After graduation, he apprenticed under Aurole Chef Charlie Palmer, Gotham Bar and Grill Chef Alferd Portale, March Chef Wayne Nish, and Union Pacific Chef Rocco Dispiritio.

He then progressed to a two-year stint at Jean-George Vongerichten's flagship Restaurant Jean-George, followed by a world tour of other Vongerichten restaurants in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Paradise Island.

In Houston, Caswell opened Bank with Vongerichten at the Hotel Icon before moving on to open Reef.

Food & Wine: 2009 Best New Chefs

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