News Flash: The Woodlands has no shortage of high-end steakhouses. It's hard to get excited about yet another one.
Maybe this one will be different.
We'd been hearing lots of buzz about Robard's, the new freestanding steak house that was built as part of the multimillion-dollar expansion of The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center. But we had our concerns - hotels are rarely known for interesting cuisine, typically taking the safer route over the more adventurous.
So on a recent evening, we stopped by Robard's to sample their cuisine. On this visit we purposefully avoided the signature steaks, instead focusing on the intriguing appetizer options.
We ordered a selection of appetizers. Chris Perry, GM of Robard's (and our host) supplemented our choices with the appetizers he thought we should investigate. Here are our impressions.
First up was the beef tartare. Beautifully presented on a large slab of wood, a half-pound of chopped prime filet is garnished with house-pickled vegetables and crostini drizzled with sriracha. The beef was wonderfully lush and rich, with just enough zing from the capers and onions to keep things interesting. This is easily one of the best beef tartare we've tried, measuring up well to our benchmark at Tony's.
Next up was the seafood cocktail flight. Large shrimp, lobster chunks, and lump crab meat are served in a quartet of different preparations, from a fresh take on the traditional cocktail sauce to a guacamolito to two zesty and creamy preparations. This is a great way to sample the kitchen's expertise with seafood - everyone in our party had a favorite, and none of us agreed on which one it was.
Crab cakes are de rigueur at any self-respecting steakhouse, and Robard's did not disappoint. Jumbo lump crab meat is mixed with only enough binder to provide form and stability, then lightly breaded and fried. The crab flavor comes through confidently, and we applaud the result of more crab and less cake.
Now things get really interesting. Candied bacon on french toast with maple syrup. This sounds like an incredible breakfast indulgence, but the inclusion of bits of pungent bleu cheese balanced the sweet/smoky bacon, the gently crisp toast, and the decadent maple syrup. We'd have never considered adding bleu cheese, but it was a masterful stroke.
Finally, the seafood tower. A cornucopia consisting of two cold boiled lobsters, huge boiled shrimp, cold jumbo lump crab meat, lobster claws, and oysters on the half shell, this beautifully presented, towering bounty of the sea is sure to impress any serious seafood lover. We were very pleased with the preparation of each individual component; clearly the kitchen at Robard's knows how to handle fresh shellfish.
We walked away from this tasting anxious to come back and sample the other offerings. If a steakhouse takes this care with the preparation and presentation of its appetizers, we can only imagine how much attention the dry-aged prime steaks must receive.
We'll be back.
Disclaimer: We dined as the guests of Food and Beverage Director Michael Hammes and General Manager Chris Perry. Their generous hospitality didn't lessen the impressiveness of the food that was served.
Robard's | 125 Autumnwood Way | The Woodlands | 281-364-6400 | robardssteakhouse.com
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There are a lot of Indian restaurants in the Houston area. But when talk of the best Indian cuisine comes up, one restaurant is always mentioned: Himalaya Restaurant and Catering. Located about 45 minutes outside the Woodlands in southwest Houston at the intersection of Hillcroft and Hwy 59 (6652 S.W.Freeway @ Hillcroft, Houston, TX 77074), Himalaya has become the go-to spot for Houston foodies craving the best of Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
Founded by Chef Kaiser Lashkari and his lovely bride Azra (both of whom are there daily), Himalaya has been delighting guests for almost 20 years. And the patron list is a who's who of national and local foodies: Anthony Bourdain was a regular when he visited Houston, Andrew Zimmern has featured Himalaya on his program, and the walls of this modest restaurant are covered (literally) with accolades from the media, both local and national. Chef Kaiser has been nominated, not once, but twice for a coveted James Beard Award, a feat matched by only a small handful of chefs in the United States. No restaurant in Texas (if not the nation) has been more recognized for its excellence.
The hospitality at Himalaya is warm and inviting. Chef Kaiser is ever present in the dining room, greeting guests and making suggestions for those overwhelmed by all of the choices on his menu. Unlike many restaurants, Kaiser and Azra are present every single day that they're open, insuring that quality never slips and that customers receive the best experience possible. This dedication and work ethic are remarkably rare today, and are a key part of the success that Himalaya has enjoyed.
Speaking of overwhelmed, it's a bit overwhelming to first walk in to the humble Mahatma Ghandi District location, and look around. The walls are literally covered (and by literally, we mean in the literal sense) with recognition from food publications from around the country. Many establishments have a "brag wall" with a half-dozen framed articles praising the restaurant. But Himalaya has hundreds; I wouldn't be surprised if there are more in storage because the walls are out of space. It's a stunning visual testament to the excellence that Kaiser, Azra, and their hard-working team achieve each and every day.
From countless local food writers to Houston's James Beard Award-winning Alison Cook to national media from coast to coast to two nominations from the James Beard Society, Himalaya's walls reflect the recognition that has been showered on the restaurant by those who know great food. We were lucky enough to run into the late great Anthony Bourdain at lunch at Himalaya a few years back; talking with him was an incredible honor.
Curries are a core component of Indian cuisine, and Chef Kaiser has not only mastered the classics, but he has devised new curries that reflect his approach to feeding hungry Houstonians. Perhaps the most notable example is his Chicken Hara Masala, a verdantly green Hyderabadi curry that combines large chunks of moist, tender chicken with lush herbal flavors and a moderate degree of heat. Mexican food lovers will adore this curry; the unmistakable flavor of green chiles and cilantro pervades each bite. This curry is utterly unique, and available only at Himalaya; folks drive from all over the state for another bowl.
Of course, the traditional dishes are well represented. From the best rendition of Chicken Tikka Masala that we've ever experienced to the savory Tawa Gosht (Alison cook called this dish “berserk boeuf bourguignon”) to the Goan delicacy Lamb Vindaloo, Himalaya turns out a tremendous range of curries from mild to wild. One could spend many visits simply exploring the range of curries that Chef Kaiser has mastered.
Himalaya's Biryanis are superb version of this Hyderabadi classic. Made with a base of fragrant Basmati rice, variations include mutton (Anthony Bourdain's favorite), beef, chicken, and two vegetable versions.
Chef Kaiser is a master of grilled meats, many in the Punjabi tradition. The place to start is the Special BBQ / Grill Platter, which is a delight for any carnivore. Combining Lamb Seekh kabab, Chicken Seekh Kabab, Chicken Boti, Persian Kabab and Himalaya's famous Steak Tikka (another Bourdain favorite) this dish is an introduction to the range of tandoori grilled meats that Texans can't get enough of. We keep going back to this dish, because it's very difficult to choose a favorite from these savory bites, but if we had to pick only one, Steak Tikka would be our choice. Not only is this house specialty a delicious north Indian dish, it's one of the best steaks you'll find in Houston, with flavors unlike any other.
Himalaya presents a rare Pakistani delicacy that's not found anywhere else in the United States: Authentic Hanifa-style Hunter's Beef. This south Asian beef creation is reminiscent of pastrami, but with its own unique flavor profile. Andrew Zimmern gave this dish his highest recommendation; meat lovers should not pass it up.
As we mentioned earlier, the cuisine at Himalaya goes beyond traditional Indian and Pakistani cuisine, to Chef Kaiser's groundbreaking fusion dishes, which combine centuries-old desi spice and flavor profiles with modern American cuisine and sensibilities. He's always working on new fusion creations; this keeps the experience fresh and every week.
Perhaps the best example is the iconic Himalaya Fried Chicken. Considered by many foodies and writers to be the best friend chicken in the city (no less than Andrew Zimmern raves about it to this day), this profoundly flavorful rendition relies on Chef Kaiser's secret blend of herbs and spices and a painstaking preparation, which begins days before the chicken even hits the fryer.
Whole chickens are broken down and marinated in a savory mixture of masala spices for 48 hours, allowing the rich flavors to permeate and perfume the tender chicken. Upon ordering, the chicken is dredged in a seasoned batter, and fried using the chef's selected oil that is changed out frequently.
The result is nothing short of remarkable. Friend chicken is definitely a big deal in Texas, and Himalaya's version stands alone with its incredible flavors that are infused down to the bone. Lovers of Nashville-style hot chicken definitely need to try Himalaya Fried Chicken; we think it's the next step in the evolution of this American classic.
Chef Kaiser has also put his spin on another iconic southern favorite: The pot pie. This staple of southern cooks has been elevated to the next level. It begins with a housemade pastry crust, as light and flaky as the proverbial grandmother used to make. But that's where things take a turn to the south; in this case, South Asia.
Instead of the tasty but often bland filling found in a traditional pot pie, Chef Kaiser kicks things up a notch or three with his Desi Pot Pie. He builds a savory combination of tender, juicy meats, fresh vegetables, and his own blend of masala spices to create a pot pie that's incredibly unique and flavorful. Kaiser doesn't do bland, and this dish is a perfect example of the wisdom of his approach.
The fillings of the pot pie change with the seasons and the whims of the chef, so be sure to ask what's available. We've sampled several, and wouldn't hesitate to order any of them again. And again. And again.
To say the food at Himalaya is broad would be an understatement; to say it is outstanding doesn't do it justice. Chef Kaiser Lashkari and his team have wowed everyone from dedicated foodies to award-winning chefs to the media to national food personalities. The approach at Himalaya focuses on providing great food to each and every guest, and after numerous visits, we can confirm that they are experts at exceeding expectations time and time again.
If you're seeking out some of the best Indian and Pakistani food in the nation, hop in your car and head down to southwest Houston to Himalaya. We think you'll be delighted. It's definitely food worth the drive.
Himalaya Restaurant | 6652 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX 77074 | +1 713 532 2837 | http://www.himalayarestauranthouston.com
Chef Austin Simmons is on a tear. Originally moving to the Woodlands as John Tesar's sous chef at the late, lamented Tesar's Modern Steakhouse, Simmons quickly found a home with the Hubbell & Hudson empire, moving rapidly from the sous position to Executive Chef, where he quickly received notice from the food community. He helmed the Bistro, the Kitchen, and the catering operation, winning accolades for each. But it wasn't enough for this ambitious young chef.
So, in 2018, he closed the successful Bistro and reopened it a few days later as the reimagined Tris, to universal accolades. Previously, he had launched a successful tasting menu restaurant, Cureight, giving him a venue to flex is creative muscles.
Having conquered the competitive Woodlands market, Simmons wanted to bring something new, different, and unique to his guests in the Woodlands.
The result is CollaborEIGHT, a series of dinners, each conceived by Simmons and a notable guest chef.
The latest event brought Chef Dominick Lee, of Poitin to the Woodlands. Chef Dominick moved to Houston from New Orleans, and attended the Art Institute under the inaugural Chris Shepherd Underbelly Scholarship. He was executive sous chef at Kiran's, learning from Houston's matron of Indian cuisine, before moving to the executive chef position at Poitin.
The theme for the evening had a definite Asian influence, with chef Dominick's South Asian expertise melding with Chef Austin's extensive knowledge from his travels through East Asia.
The evening started with passed appetizers. Pictured above are Chef Dom's Fried Chicken Tikka Masala bites, a delicious spin on the new Houston trend of Indian-influenced comfort food. (The godfather of this new culinary style, Himalaya's James Beard-nominated chef Kaiser Lashkari, was in attendance at this event with his lovely wife Azra. The pressure was on, and Chef Dom responded beautifully.)
Next, Chris Perry, Director of Operations and General Manager of Tris, passes bite-sized renditions of Chef Austin's Kimchi Crab, a dish that has been wowing crowds at Tris since the opening.
If the appetizers were any indication, the guests were in for a very special experience tonight.
The crowd was seated at the intimate dining space, and the first course appeared: Chef Austin's Tom Yum Soup, accompanied by a nicely crunchy Shrimp Toast with sesame seeds. The bright, tangy flavors of the Tom Yum were complimented by the briny soulfulness of the shrimp.
Next appeared Chef Dominick's first dish: Duck Breast Korma. A beautifully braised and seared slice of duck breast was presented in a pool of light silky yoghurt-based sauce. Almonds and apricots added depth to the wonderfully tender and flavorful duck.
Now, it was time to kick things up. Chef Austin presented his Singapore Chili Crab with Fry Bread. Light, airy chunks of lump crabmeat surrounded by a zesty Singapore Chili sauce were combined with quarter-sized pieces of fry bread. The result was spicy (without being overbearing) and delicious.
Next came Chef Dominick's Pork Belly with Pindi Chana. The chick peas of the pindi chana were perfectly prepared; the chana masala that Chef Dom had whipped up was outstanding. However, the pork belly had issues. The skin's desired crispy texture had been taken too far; it was hard an challenging to bite into. The underlying meat was rich, savory and tasty, but a touch dry. Regardless, we still enjoyed this dish; the delicious chana masala and the well executed chick peas saved the day.
Heading east, we were presented with Chef Austin's Korean Short Rib. Perfectly sous vide rib meat was combined with jewel-like pork dumplings, and the spicy Korean flavors were deftly balanced. This was our bite of the night; I hope this dish makes it onto the menu at Tris.
Chef Dominick parried with a sublime Blanc Angus Strip Vindaloo with Aloo Methi. Strips of precisely mid-rare Black Angus were seasoned, served with lovely roast potatoes, and dressed with a subtle Goan vindaloo curry. Many vindaloo preparations lack finesse and carry lots of heat; Chef Dom's was skillfully balanced and delicious.
The dessert course was presented by Poitin's pastry chef, Hani Lee. Her Balinese Mille-Feuille featured buttery, razor-thin French pastry with a cream filling. Asian accents of coconut and papaya carried the dish from France farther east, and the result was outstanding. A delicious denouement to a very memorable meal.
In bringing together multiple cuisines of Asia, Chef Austin Simmons and Chef Dominick Lee flexed their culinary muscles to the surprise and delight of the assembled guests. The attention to detail shown by these talented men was impressive; the skillful execution of the Tris and Poitin teams is worthy of applause. We look forward to future collaborations between such talented chefs. The Woodlands is very lucky to be able to experience such world-class meals here in our quiet little suburb.
Chef Austin Simmons is a man on a mission. I first met Chef Austin in 2010 when he was John Tesar's sous chef at Tesar's Modern in the Woodlands, Texas. John had just departed the restaurant, and Austin impressed me with how he took the helm and skillfully guided Tesar's after the master left, proving his years of working with Chef Tesar had paid off handsomely. Clearly, this was a young chef with talent, ambition, and the ability to take the reins.
Fast foward a few years, and Chef Austin had moved to Hubbell & Hudson Bistro, rocketing through the ranks to become executive chef. He elevated the cuisine, picking up accolades along the way. His restaurant was named one of the best in Houston, the best in the Woodlands, and most recently won the prestigious 2018 Truffle Masters competition, beating a slew of talented chefs including James Beard award winners.
Hubbell & Hudson Bistro had spawned a restaurant within a restaurant called Cureight, which specializes in eight-course tasting menus. This smaller venue allows Chef Austin and his talented team to explore some outside-the-box dishes, delighting foodies and becoming the destination restaurant in the Woodlands.
One thing you quickly learn about Austin Simmons: He's never satisfied with what he has accomplished. Realizing that a great restaurant needs outstanding service as well as great food, he hired guest whisperer Chris Perry (who opened Robard's Steak House, and as General Manager built it into the Woodlands best steakhouse) to polish the service and run the front of the house.
We'd heard rumblings that some big changes were in the works, and after months of speculation, they rolled out their new concept: TRIS, which takes its name from Chef Austin's lovely daughter.
Amazingly, the restaurant was transformed in less than two weeks. Contractors were working around the clock to rip out the old banquettes and booths, and convert the dining room into an open airy space. Perry trained the service staff on the elevated expectations he has for his team. Chef Austin (along with Chef de Cuisine Cortney Taraboi and Executive Sous Chef Brian Stanek) finalized and polished the all-new menu, which by design has something of a split personality.
Realizing the varied needs of the Woodland community, Austin and Chris gave TRIS two distinct personalities.
By day, TRIS is a casual spot, serving a menu of classic crowd pleasers and some unexpected options. Chef Austin is not one to put boring recipes on the plate, so his versions of these dishes feature distinctive touches that aren't typically found.
By night, TRIS gets dressed up. White tablecloths come out, and the staff has a bit more starch in their collars. The kitchen ups its game even further, with a mix of reimagined classics and some of Chef Austin's more exotic creations.
We arrived for lunch, and were seated in a sunny spot where we could survey the room. Perusing the tightly edited menu, we zeroed in on what we'd try first.
We started with the Philly Cheese Steak. Mystery meat is replaced with razor-sliced prime ribeye, phenomenally tender and piled atop a fresh hoagie roll. House cheese sauce, grilled onions, shallots, and red peppers complete the creation.
This is not your Uncle Larry's cheesesteak. The rich flavor of the tender, marinated beef is enhanced by the silky smooth cheese sauce and the tangy vegetables. You're never going to be satisfied by Cheez Whiz again after devouring this sandwich.
Next up was the Texas classic: Chicken Fried Steak. High-quality beef is pounded thin, then hand-breaded with a gently seasoned breading. Béchamel gravy, Yukon mashed potatoes with caramelized cheese, and huge asparagus complete the dish.
The result is an elevated version of this Texas favorite. The sassy béchamel is an upscale version of the de riguer cream gravy, and it pairs masterfully with the moist, tender beef and the snappy crust. The mash has a sweet, soulful undertone from the caramelized cheese, and the perfectly cooked asparagus demonstrates a deft touch.
Our dining companion was in the mood for something light, so we selected the Avocado Tart. What appeared was stunning.
An etherial puff pastry was paved with thin slices of an entire avocado. vegan cashew cheese, chopped piquillo peppers, pistachios, and pickled mustard seed (almost a mustard caviar) completed this jewel-like creation. The result was delicious, and perfect for vegetarians... or anyone else who wants something light and delicious.
A lunch menu isn't complete without soup. Eschewing something simple, Chef Austin presented his Tonkatsu Miso Ramen. We were a little skeptical; we've not found great ramen outside of a dedicated ramen shop, or at the hands of a experienced master like Chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata. Will this difficult dish prove to be the undoing of the talented chef?
Never attack Russia in the winter. And never bet against Austin Simmons. Chef Austin's ramen hits all the classic notes, but was gently lightened for the lunch crowd. Artisan noodles (imported from Sun Noodle, the benchmark) are topped with planed mushrooms, green onion, smoky grilled pork belly, and sous vide eggs, then bathed in the 48-hour tonkotsu-miso broth. The result is soulful (without being cloyingly heavy,) flavorful, and memorable. This is real ramen, with Chef Austin's distinct signature clearly evident. He apparently picked up a thing or two on his recent food tour of Japan.
Returning a few hours later for dinner (oh, the sacrifices we make for you), we were welcomed into a totally different restaurant. The lights were dimmed, the white tablecloths were out, and the place settings were noticeably more formal. The menu had been replaced as well, and the staff's demeanor was a bit more polished. The menu had expanded, and taken a noticeable turn toward France... but with Chef Austin's signature Asian touches well represented.
Our eyes were immediate drawn to the foie gras, a popular luxury ingredient that is easy to mishandle. But we had faith in the kitchen at Tris.
What appeared was an artful example of attention to detail. House made brioche was crowned with a slab of decadently rich foie, accented with blood orange, honey, and hints of truffle. The result was indulgent and delicious... the sweetness of the brioche and honey, and the tang of the blood orange offset the richness of the foie were in a beautiful balance. Easily one of the best renditions of this dish we've sampled.
As a contrast to a rich dish like foie gras, we chose the intriguing Hamachi Tostada as another appetizer. The blue corn tostada was layered with a generous portion of thickly sliced hamachi, shreds of cabbage, shaved onions, and slices of serrano peppers, glazed with a tangy Thai vinaigrette. This dish was bright, fresh, and delicious, a tribute to Chef Austin's mastery of Asian flavors.
Now it was time for the entrees. We decided to sample from the land and the sea. We started with the 1855 Ribeye, a sliced, bone-in presentation of wet aged super prime beef.
Barely mid-rare (as requested,) it was deftly prepared, served with parsnip puree and a mound of flaky sea salt. The spectacularly charred beef had the subtle flavor of charcoal, and had a bold, beefy swagger. Easily one of the most memorable steaks I've eaten; I now have a favorite steakhouse very close to home.
On a more aquatic note, we jumped on the chance to order a classic we'd not seen on a restaurant menu in years: Lobster Thermador. This classic French creation (Escoffier first served it) is often considered the true test of a classic French kitchen.
This is precisely the kind of challenging dish that Chef Austin executes so well. Huge chunks of lobster were removed from the shell, cooked, and glazed with a sublime cognac lobster creme, then combined with razored shiitake mushrooms and topped with a light crown of freshly grated parmesan-reggiano. The result is a superlative, utterly decadent creation that every foodie has to order at least once. The tender, moist flavorful lobster meat is glazed with the cognac lobster cream, creating a bite that is perhaps the ultimate indulgence.
After this remarkable degustation, we wanted to wrap things up on a sweet note. The dessert menu was full of intriguing options, but one classic choice stood out: The signature TRIS chocolate cake.
The generous wedge of deliciousness was a revelation. The thick, glossy chocolate enrobing locked in moisture and flavor of the riotous chocolate cake, its layers divided by a schmear of caramel buttercream and salt. This simple but masterfully executed cake is destined to become famous; it embodies everything we love about cake but rarely end up tasting. An outstanding finish to an extraordinary meal.
Throughout the adventure the TRIS staff provided excellent advice and service; Chris Perry as been teaching them well. We look forward to returning again to sample more of Chef Austin's creations. It is exciting to have watched the enthusiastic young sous chef land in his own restaurant, expand his already formidable skills, rise to the top, and execute his vision on such an extraordinarily high level.
I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
There are hundreds of Mexican restaurants on Houston’s north side. How does a humble writer determine which ones are worth visiting? You can try them all, but that takes an incredible amount of time, even if you love Tex-Mex like we do. You can check Yelp, but its reviews simply aren’t that accurate. You can read blog and print reviews, but what if it’s a new place?
I’ve pondered this for quite a while, and I came up with a good shortcut. I created the Woodlands Area Foodies group, and it’s grown to over 9,000 members, many of whom are incredibly knowledgeable about food. One of the most knowledgeable is my friend Bob Frasier. Bob is an incredible cook, and very well versed in numerous cuisines.
Recently Bob posted about a new Tex-Mex restaurant not far from the Woodlands, calling it “My new favorite Mexican spot in my neck of the woods”. Trusting Bob’s palate, I headed out to Rita’s Cantina, located north of Tomball on Hwy 249, near Hardin Store Road.
Located in a nondescript strip center, the outside of Rita’s could be confused for dozens of Mexican spots in the area. But stepping inside revealed a neat, clean interior, with thoughtful little touches. Clearly, the management cares about the customer’s experience, always a good sign.
But how’s the food? Looking across the spacious dining room, I found Bob and his lovely bride Heidi. Joining them for lunch, we surveyed the menu and made some choices. Bob assured us they were good ones. We believe in Bob. Will this trust be misplaced?
First to come out was the ceviche. The presentation was impressive: A hefty goblet filled with fish, shrimp, onion, and tomato, garnished with cilantro and topped with artfully arranged avocado slices.
The marinade used for the fish was a deliciously zingy citrus-based juice, combining with the fresh tangy onions to create a classic Peruvian-style ceviche… which happens to be my favorite. And this was an excellent example, flavorful, generously portioned, and beautifully presented.
As we were finishing the ceviche, the hot plates started arriving.
First out were the beef quesadillas, a standard dish that’s popular with adults and children alike. The formula at Rita’s included sliced skirt steak (as found in fajitas), and plenty of melty white cheese, sandwiched between two thin housemade flour tortillas.
Accoutrements were plentiful: A slathering of sour cream, some beautiful pico de gallo, and a scoop of Rita’s guacamole. The quality of the ingredients shone through on this dish, making it one of the more flavorful quesadillas we’d tried in quite a while.
Next up is a combo plate - in this case Combo #7. Consisting of a pork tamale, a chicken enchilada and a beef enchilada, we felt that it gave us a good overview of what Rita’s chef can do with various proteins.
As an aside, Tex-Mex is often difficult to present. It may be delicious, but on the plate it can be yellowish brown and not incredibly appetizing. The presentation here was different and appealing.
Bright colors made the first impression. Beautifully fresh tomato, diced expertly. A sprig of green cilantro, draped over the green and white arrangement of tomatillo sauce and crema that blanketed the chicken enchilada. This burst of color was flanked by the red Colorado-style chile gravy on the beef enchilada, and the more earthy, dark pork tamale.
Looks are wonderful, but tackling this appealing plate proved that the beauty wasn’t just skin deep. From the pork tamale to the chicken enchilada and finishing with the beef enchilada, all of the components were nicely seasoned, distinctly flavored, and were each excellent renditions of their respective dishes. Together they created a very satisfying whole, one we’d order again. Tomorrow, if we’re lucky.
After finishing the last tasty bite of Combo #7, Bob smiled and with a twinkle in his eye, said one word: Dessert.
Bob, you’re an evil, evil man. That’s one reason why we’re friends. A quick consultation with our knowledgeable server resulted in our order of their Cuatro Leches cake. We’d had Tres Leches from numerous establishments, but Rita’s wasn’t going to be satisfied with tres.
Again, the plating tempted our eyes before the fork touched the cake. A rich, saturated slab of cake was laid upon an artful arrangement of strawberries and blueberries, adrift in the four milk solution that had saturated the cake. Atop this was a crown of strawberries and freshly whipped heavy cream, drizzled with caramel and dusted with cinnamon.
And yes, it tasted better than it looked. No small feat.
To say we were impressed with Rita’s Cantina would be an understatement. To find a gem like this in the far northern reaches of Tomball is amazing. The restaurant can hold its own with any hotspot you care to name in the Houston area.
We confirmed two important rules: Great food can be found all over the Houston Area. And when Bob says to try a place, try it. Now.
Rita’s Cantina Mexican Kitchen | 32015 State Highway 249 | Pinehurst, TX 77362 | (346) 248-5097
Hubbell & Hudson is one of the organizations that has been pushing the Woodlands food scene to the next level. With three restaurants (Cureight, Hubbell & Hudson Bistro, and Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen,) Chef Austin Simmons has a venue to showcase his creative and innovative cooking at different price points and for different audiences.
Hubbell & Hudson Bistro is on every list of the best restaurants in the Woodlands. Cureight, the tasting menu concept, was one of Texas Monthly's "Where to Eat Now" picks for the state of Texas in 2016. The Kitchen, the most casual concept is often overlooked by the critics, but after running into Chef Austin teaching hands-on with his team on the line, we observed first-hand that it has his attention.
So how does the creative mind of such a notable chef translate into a fast casual menu?
Today we sampled a handful of items from the new menu at the Kitchen. Always willing to sacrifice for our readers, we accepted the restaurant's generous invitation to sample several of the new items.
First up was the Deviled Eggs. (Disclaimer: I don't like deviled eggs.) A very clever spin on this summertime classic, the kitchen tops the pureed yolk with housemade bacon jam, candied jalapeño slices, and chives. The result is a much more interesting dish; one that even appeals to people who don't normally like deviled eggs. That's an impressive feat.
Chef Austin has a reputation for being a wizard with seafood, so we had high expectations for his BBQ shrimp. He delivered generously-sized Gulf shrimp, applewood-smoked bacon, and jalapeño, combined with a housemade apricot BBQ sauce and citrus mayo. The perfectly grilled shrimp and smoky bacon are nicely finished with the sharpness of the jalepeno and the zing of the housemade sauces. Chef Austin knows his shrimp.
Loaded fries are almost a cliche on casual menus, so we didn't have high expectations for this dish. But the Grilled Steak Loaded Fries far exceeded our expectations. Thinly sliced, expertly grilled sirloin was the highlight, and the slightly crispy fries, pickled jalapeño, housemade pico, and smooth creamy cheese sauce elevated this dish beyond the pale. This dish would make a quick, delicious lunch by itself, and at $9, is a significant bargain.
I've often wondered how a top chef feels when he eats at a fast food establishment. Fast food can be a guilty pleasure, but a talented chef is always thinking "How can I make this dish better?"
Apparently Chef Austin has been to Chick-fil-a, and it stimulated his imagination. The result is the Signature Fried Chicken sandwich. A griddled challah bun is the foundation for a gently crispy fried chicken breast, a tangy honey mustard BBQ sauce, and crunchy dill pickles. As much as we appreciate a good fast food sandwich, this signature sandwich exists on an entirely different plane. Moist, delicious chicken is balanced with the smooth heat of the sauce and the zing of the dill pickles. The result is a chicken sandwich that will please the most jaded palate, something its more humble brethren cannot claim to do.
We saved the best for last. Chef Austin has combined his superb grilled shrimp with holy trinity basmati rice and scallions, and finished it with a superlative white wine cajun cream sauce. The result is simultaneously delicate and intensely flavorful. Cajun food is often one dimensional and disappointing, but this shrimp dish would feel right at home on the menu of any top New Orleans restaurant.
We're excited about the new menu at Hubbell & Hudson kitchen. Chef Austin has received numerous accolades, including being named the best chef in the Houston area by The Houston Press. These outstanding dishes emerging from his most humble kitchen demonstrate once again why this talented young man is the chef to watch in the Woodlands. We look forward to sampling more of his creations as soon as we can.
Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen | 4526 Research Forest Drive | The Woodlands 77381 | 281-203-5650
Sawdust Road just south of the Woodlands is home to dozens of small restaurants. Most are forgettable, but there are a few gems, like Hello Taco, Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, and The Olive Oil.
New on the strip is The Omega Grill, an upscale casual American concept from the people behind The Olive Oil. Taking over the physical space that was a succession of two-letter grills (JP's, PJ's, etc.) the former faux 50’s diner space has been transformed.
The new space is comfortable, contemporary, and inviting.
In the kitchen, Hubbell & Hudson Bistro alum Jason Bielefeldt is creating his take on American comfort food favorites, including pork chops, chicken-fried steaks, hot dogs, and a burger made with 44 Farms beef
Our quick lunch at The Omega Grill was fresh and tasty. The new kitchen is finding its groove, and new menu items are being rolled out on a regular basis
We're excited to return and sample more of Chef Jason's menu.
Omega Grill | 399 Sawdust Road | The Woodlands 77380 | 832-299-6665
On a recent visit to Robard's, we noticed a burger hiding on the very well priced Social Hour menu. Since our quest to find great burgers is continuous, we had to check it out. Our bartender took our order, asking our temperature preference. (Medium rare at a place that knows how to handle ground beef.)
In short order this burger appeared. A half-pound patty of the house grind, made from the USDA prime beef Robard's sources for its steaks. Perfectly medium rare, the patty was rocking a solid char, and its rich, beefy swagger was front and center. Topped with a melty slice of good quality American cheese, and finished with fresh veggies, this burger wowed us. It's an honest-to-Boulud American cheeseburger, without frills, executed extremely well.
Even more amazing is the price: $8, with fries. The best burger bargain in the Woodlands, by far, and one of our favorite burgers in the Woodlands.
Highly recommended. Go check it out.
Update: Robard's excellent Social Hour burger added to the list.
One of the questions we're asked most often is "Where should I eat".
Here is our list of our favorite places to eat burgers in the Woodlands area. This list represents our ideas about the best burgers in the Woodlands. We enjoy burgers at each of these places, and we think you will, too.
Del Frisco's Grille - This more casual American bistro concept from the highly-regarded steakhouse chain knows its beef, and their burgers reflect this expertise. A custom grind featuring aged sirloin is formed into two quarter-pound patties. High quality cheese, fresh, crisp veggies, and an airy, eggy bun complete the package.
Hubbell & Hudson Bistro - What happens when a classically-trained chef with a love for burgers has access to the best ingredients in the world? The Bistro Burger at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. Chef Austin Simmons starts with a carefully developed custom grind of prime beef, hand formed into a generous patty and cooked to temperature. It's covered with melted, aged cheddar and thick-cut bacon, then toped with handcrafted veggies, included oven-dried tomatoes, two process onions, and three styles of housemade pickles. No sauces are needed to dress up this master course in burger execution. For our money, this is the best burger to be had in the Houston area.
Robard's - Tucked away on the Social Hour menu may be the Woodland's best burger value. This classic steakhouse burger, a half-pound custom grind based on Robard's USDA prime steaks, is stunningly good. The beefy, expertly-handled patty is finished with high-quality cheese and fresh veggies. The value is amazing: This serious burger and excellent fries (parmesan truffle or plain) for $8.
Beck's Prime - Mesquite is the key word at the well established local chain. Certified Angus beef, your choice of cheeses, sauces, and fresh veggies have kept burger lovers coming back to Beck's for decades.
Crisp - This Heights import burst on the Woodlands scene and caused quite a stir with it's Italian-accented take on casual American cuisine. The well executed burger is highlighted by addictive purple onions marinated in balsamic vinegar. It's a surprising blast of acid that pairs nicely with the high quality, hand-formed beef patty.
Fielding's Wood Grille - An obsession with high-quality ingredients and unique flavor profiles elevates Fielding's above the norm. Chef Edel Goncalves starts with 44 Farms angus beef, and artfully combines it with hand-selected cheeses, veggies, and housemade sauces to create some of the most unique burgers we've tasted. We keep coming back to his Texas Blues burger, featuring Point Reyes bleu cheese, pickled red onions, fig jam, and jalapenos.
Grub Burger - This college station import grinds its own beef, bakes its own buns, and combines this solid base with a variety of fresh ingredients to create some unique burger combinations. Don't be afraid to sample the often odd-sounding monthly special - a recent muffuletta burger was a surprising favorite.
Jax Burgers - This local take on an old-school burger joint serves up big, hand-formed patties with plenty of melted cheese and your choice of toppings. There are no gourmet pretentious here - just big, classic burgers executed well.