She passed the coffee-date test and you find her lovely: You want to impress her and show her that you know about romance, that you can do the wine and dine thing, that you've got the moves to take it to that next level. With a little help from this guide, you can definitely make it happen.
Charming little bistro you might find in the country somewhere in France. Open kitchen lets you see the lovely domed oven and toque-wearing chefs in their white jackets. Wooden tables, Provencal blue/yellow ceramic tiled motifs and wall art complete the picture. Get a terrine or foie gras to start with duck confit entree, a dessert of apple tart, and a bottle of Bandol Red.
Chef Philippe Schmit's eponymous restaurant offers his "French Cowboy" take what French cuisine should be in Houston. Drunken foie gras is a must. Braised beef cheeks are solid. If you get a chance to taste his his coq au vin or a souffle, just do it and thank me later. Impeccable wine list by Sommelier Vanessa Trevino-Boyd. Desserts by Pastry Chef Jami King, like the tarte tatin, are always delicious.
Taking over the old Andre's spot, Chef Philippe Verpiand shows off his mastery of French classics with dishes like house-made pate, escargots, duck confit, cassoulet, and steak frites. Perfect for an intimate tete a tete or for entertaining friends. Don't forget dessert: Verpiand's apple tart is currently my favorite in town.
If you don't fall in love with the decor at this gorgeous French restaurant, you'll fall in love with the food. Chef Jacques Fox menu features decadent ingredients like foie gras with quail, pistachio-crusted sea bass, and steak au poivre, all created in to the utmost precision in the open kitchen. For a "chef's table"-type show, snag one of the 28 seats around the open kitchen, or for a more intimate affair, ask for a seat on the velvet banquette under the fleur-de-lys awning, where you can order a bottle of vin rouge from their carefully curated list, and enjoy a fine meal with that special someone.
Hidden on the back street parallel to Kirby, Hawthorn, formerly the private dinner club Dorsia aimed to served the Lambourghini set, is a throwback to exclusive clubs of yesteryear. On most nights a pianist sets the mood with a selection of light jazz tunes from Gershwin or Nat King cole. From the kitchen, hand made pastas, risotto, and a beautiful stuffed quail, created with a deft touch by chef Ricardo Palazzo Giorgio, are sure to please. Save room for dessert -- a rosemary panna cotta is creative and delicious, as is the beautiful apple tart.
Indulge in the ultimate people-watching at Frenchie-upscale River Oaks brasserie. Fantastic oyster selection and standard brasserie fare like steak frites. Shockingly affordable wine list. Go off-menu and try one Executive Chef Amanda McGraw's daily specials or her delectable appetizer of parmesan custard with a 63 degree sous vide egg. Apple tart is scrumptious and if it's your birthday, let them know ahead of time for a cool tabel-side surprise cotton candy.
It's a restaurant within a restaurant, each distinct, and yes, fantastic. The more casual side, Provisions, is a little rock 'n roll, with a lively main dining room playing music that sets an almost rambunctious mood. Pizzas are a must, like the guanciale with uni, or the burrata with tomato. Pastas are house-made and will blow your mind, like the wholly unforgettable cresta de gallo. House made breads, served with a selection of cheeses or charcuterie, are also musts, and the wine list/drink program is already shaping up to be one of the best in the city. In contrast, The Pass is decidedly ritzy and upscale. An exclusive place where you can get dressed up (or not), where the star is the food and the chefs who will come to your table to serve them. Plan to stay the whole night, go for the gold and get the eight course tasting menu with a wine or cocktail flight, and get ready for an experience to remember. Reservations a must.
Arguably the most beautiful restaurant in the city at this moment, Triniti won the American Institute of Architects 2012 award for best renovation. Inside the restaurant, the glowing golden orbs of designer Tom Dixon's chandelier set the mood for a night of culinary exploration. Order a tasting menu created especially by the rockstar kitchen team helmed by Chef Ryan Hildebrand, or order a sampling of a la carte dishes that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Recs include the foie gras breakfast, kale salad, or one of the melt-in-your-mouth beef dishes, like a butter-poached ribeye.
Imagine yourself in a small, intimate restaurant in Italy, perhaps somewhere in Villa d'Este. There is that same quiet opulence to the setting at Ristorante Cavour, with its wood panelling and plush cushions channeling old world European elegance. Food by Italian Master Chef Renato dePirro offers choices adds to the overall fine dining experience. Without a doubt, this is one of the most romantic restaurants in town.
This wonderful little neighborhood bistro in Montrose is comfortable and inviting. It feels intimate without being too stuffy with decor that is at once modern as it is retro. You can picture yourself here on a hot date, or relaxing with a group of friends: it fits the bill for both scenarios. At the heart of it is the cuisine by Tony's alum Olivier Ciesielski. On the menu, you'll find French classics that include escargot and a stunning bouillabaisse, seared foie gras and whole grilled branzino, or a chateaubriand to share. Wine list is excellent as well.
If you are looking for tex-mex and want tex-mex prices, don't go to Hugo's. However, if you are looking for excellent service, flavorful regional Mexican dishes, and a superb dining experience, visit Hugo Ortega's eponymous restaurant. Seasonal dishes that include squash blossoms are a must, the lobster taquito addictive, the whole snapper a la veracruzana stunning, the costillas (ribs) just delicious. Fantastic beverage program overseen by Sommelier Sean Beck. Mojitos and sangria are $5 during happy hour with food specials like ceviche. Sunday brunch is hands-down the best in town.
Is there a hotter restaurant in Houston? Quite possibly not. Creative, avant-garde, elevated Japanese cuisine is a joy to discover and savor, with Chef de Cuisine Kaz Edwards turning out some of the most intellectually compelling dishes you'll ever taste. Standouts on the regular menu include the machi cure, Hama chili, bacon tataki, daily oysters, cantaloupe okashi dessert and the carefully constructed specials from the kitchen that change every two weeks.
In Los Angeles, Piero Selvaggio's Santa Monica location is a favorite among the Hollywood elite and jet set. His extensive wine list is also a delight to peruse. He brings this verve to Houston at the Galleria-based Hotel Derek, where Chef Cunninghame West, an alum from Selvaggio's Vegas location, delivers high-end Italian food an intimate, romantic dining room. The vegetable appetizers and the half-moon pasta are excellent. During truffle season, white alba truffle dishes are not to be missed.
Chef David Denis' French restaurant on the Energy Corridor draws everyone from big oil execs to foodies from around town. Simply exquisite food all the time. The private chef's table is a special treat, and the desserts, like the deceptively simple apple tart, a must-not-miss.
That was then, this is now: For those who haven't been to Monarch lately, prepare to be surprised. Under the helm of chef Jonathan Jones, the hotel restaurant with decent food is quickly turning into the hotel restaurant with award-winning food and dining destination. Jones is well known for his strong personality, which translates itself into bold and beautiful menu creations that endear him to the eating public. The 3rd coast ceviche is a must-order.
The authentic, beautifully plated, modern Peruvian cuisine by Chef Roberto Castre deserves all the raves it gets. Colorful causitas, intricately prepared tiraditos, one of the best lomo saltado's you'll taste anywhere, and seasonal specials like the delicious duck confit with cilantro rice are just some of the dishes you should sample at this restaurant. Perfect for a date night, you will ooh and ahh over the beautiful dishes at this Latin American hotspot. For lone diners, the marble-topped bar overlooking the ceviche station is also a great spot to sip on a pisco sour and enjoy your meal while watching the action in front of you.
Chef Randy Evan's dishes are nouveau-American, basically American food reinvented with fresher ingredients, new spice, new presentation. What was once old becomes new, like the corn dog shrimp appetizer with the spicy cream sauce. His menu resonates with Houstonians -- one of the reasons he was voted Chef of the Year 2012 in the My Table Magazine Culinary Awards. The restaurant is elegant without being too stuffy, an excellent destination for a date, with an an affordable, well-curated wine list and cocktails to match.
Set inside a 100 year-old log cabin, going to Rainbow Lodge is like taking a slice out of time. Inside, wild animal trophies hang on wood-slatted walls. A gorgeous winding deck and beautiful green foliage beckon from outside. The wild game theme extends to the menu, where Chef Mario Valdez's offers dishes like nilgai, antelope, and wild boar alongside fresh fish. Their Friday lunch burger, made with wild game and pork or lamb belly custom grind, is also to-die-for.
When I think of Italian restaurants in Houston, one comes to mind immediately: Da Marco. Marco Wiles' eponymous flagship turns out some of the most consistently delicious food in town. The corn & lobster ravioli is always scrumptious. The octopus appetizer is also phenomenal, as is their whole fish. When it's truffle season, go for the gold and get their pasta with shaved alba white truffles or black truffles; it's something you're unlikely to forget, ever.
The decor at this neighborhood bistro is crazy-gothic, but that's part of the charm & food is solid. My fave is their Kobe Burger. The long bar (renovated a few years ago to accommodate more people) is perfect for single diners; happy hour specials and drinks are also solid.
For a superlative dining experience, there's no place in Houston quite like Tony's. Tony Vallone has perfected the art of fine dining. It's in the details, like the fact that the wine list is printed daily to reflect current inventory, or the fact that Tony and his wife Donna are on hand on most nights to greet you with a smile. Try the light-as-air pillows of corn panzoti made with flour and water from Italy. Splurge on his salt-crusted sea bass, which must be special ordered at least a day in advance. Try Chef Grant Gordon's tasting menu and order it with a bottle of wine from their eye-popping list. Then, for dessert, order their souffle in whichever flavor you choose, and know that you have dined on a truly fine meal.
The partridge family retro motif on the wall meets luxe interior at Benjy's on Washington, which perfectly captures the youthful chic of Washington Avenue. The perfect pre-clubbing destination to see and be seen, this is not one of those places that does lip service to food. Under Japanese Chef Mike Potowski's direction, the eclectic American menu turns out everything from pleasing sashimi specials to riffs on Japanese noodles, or their famous fried chicken. Happy hour cocktails and nosh, like the blood mary margarita or a Asian dumplings, are a stellar $6.
Named Best Sushi Restaurant 2012 by Houston Press, the modern Japanese, high-quality sushi by exec chef Manabu Horiuchi makes this one of the best restaurants in the city. Splurge on a 8 or 10 course omakase, or chef's tasting, and count the number of "Wow's" that fall from your lips. Seasonal cold soba noodles and ramen experiments when it gets colder are always a must try. Chefs also happen to love this place when they're off duty -- you'll find them at the bar or taking food to-go.
If you love steak, Killen's Steakhouse is where it's at. Cordon Bleu trained Ronnie Killen has perfected the art of the perfect steak. Winner of the Rodeo Best Bites competition -- beating out at least 60 competitors two years in a row, the food speaks for itself. Crazy-good creamed corn, skillet potatoes, macaroni and cheese and other sides are well worth it, as are the desserts. Think cream cheese topped carrot cake or his signature bread pudding. For the ultimate indulgence, the dry-aged 32oz long bone-in kobe ribeye is ridiculously amazing.