Thursday, November 22, 2007

alice s restaurant

Just when you think Houston is bursting at the seams with steakhouses, another strides into town.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, possibly the grandest and most expensive, opened this week in the Galleria, 5061 Westheimer. The 400-seat restaurant screams money. Costing more than $11 million, the space boasts a dazzling view of the Galleria and downtown through 40-foot-high windows. The location, formerly Lord & Taylor and Planet Hollywood, has been transformed with green slate floors from Brazil, mahogany walls and a cable-framed iron staircase wrought with swirly designs to mimic melting snow. Two Spanish alabaster light fixtures, each costing $75,000, illuminate the restaurant.

Forest green leather booths anchor the first floor, flanked by a gleaming 35-foot-long black granite bar. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows flood the room with light. On the second floor, 1,600 bottles of wines from around the world are encased behind glass. Across from the 100-seat cellar dining room, the Coulter Room is clad in bronze silk and mirrors. Leather chairs frame a table set with flowers and $50 Riedel grand cru wine glasses. The room is wired for audio and visual equipment, tailor-made for board meetings and wine dinners.

``This restaurant mirrors the Del Frisco's in New York,'' general manager Arthur Mooradian said. ``The difference is the size. New York is 17,000 square feet; ours is 13,000.''

Service is also similar. As in New York, the kitchen is downstairs. Waiters climb several flights of stairs, or 116 steps, to reach the farthest table in the main dining room upstairs.

``We have the fittest waiters in town,'' Mooradian said. ``Those who couldn't cut it, dropped off after a few days. I warned them this would be tough. We emphasize service. While many restaurants have one waiter for every five tables, we have one for every three tables.''

To ensure that its wet-aged prime steaks arrive on time and at the proper temperature, Houston executive chef Steve Haug and his cooks blister the USDA beef under a 1,500-degree broiler. Most steakhouses cook their beef at 1,200 degrees, the 35-year-old chef said. Taking a cue from its New Orleans roots, the menu evinces Creole-and-Cajun flair. The crab cake with Cajun lobster sauce and turtle soup is an example.

It wasn't until the mid-1980s, when co-founders Dee Lincoln and Dale Wamstad opened their flagship restaurant in Dallas, that Del Frisco's gained national recognition. Competition for steak dollars was less fierce then. Today, under new owner Lone Star Funds, competition has heated up. In the Houston area alone, there are 100-plus steak chains and independents.

``There are more steakhouses in a one-mile radius in the Galleria area than any other area in the country,'' Mooradian said. ``A short cab ride will take you to Morton's, the Palm, Fleming's, Bob's Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Smith & Wollensky, Sullivan's and the list goes on.''

Competition doesn't seem to faze Del Frisco's, which plans to open in every major metropolitan area. The Philadelphia store is slated to open next November. The company, with seven current locations, is also looking at Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Scottsdale, Ariz., and Chicago.

``There's room for us,'' said vice-president Lincoln, subscribing to the long-held belief that when it comes to expense accounts and celebrations, steakhouses leave little room to complain.

``Steakhouses are how people impress,'' Mooradian said. ``It's safe food. It's food everybody likes. It's meat and potatoes. You can't go wrong. Mondays through Thursdays, it's all expense accounts. Friday and Saturday, locals come to celebrate.''

According to a Technomic survey, the steakhouse category has grown about 13 percent per year in the last five years. Compare this to the average 6 percent growth seen by most restaurant segments. Technomic also tracked the increased consumption of beef in restaurants. In 2006, about 1.4 billion pounds of steak were served, an increase of 68 million pounds from 2005.

The Houston Del Frisco's, 713-355-2600, is open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday and dinner-only on Sunday.

Changing toques

Ryan Pera has left 17 restaurant at Hotel Alden to join Robert Del Grande's newest concept, The Grove. The bi-level 10,000-square-foot restaurant in the new downtown park Discovery Green will open Dec. 10 with a party benefiting the Discovery Green Conservancy. Its official opening is Dec. 14. We'll bring you updates as opening nears.

Spearheaded by the Schiller Del Grande Group of Café Annie, Café Express and Taco Milagro, the Grove will follow the example of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley, Calif., where seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients drive its casual menu.

Meanwhile, spokeswoman Kimberly Parks said the Alden Hotel is interviewing candidates for the executive chef position at 17. The Alden is also looking for a new pastry chef now that Rebecca Masson has accepted a job offer from Charles Clark, chef-owner of Ibiza and Catalan.

French flourishes

Remember chef Frédéric Perrier? Formerly of Café Perrier on Midlane, the chef has resurfaced at Aura, a new 50-seat French-inspired spot in Missouri City. After several elaborate restaurant ventures, the 44-year-old native of Burgundy, France, is keeping it simple this time with low-key décor and a streamlined menu of six appetizers and six entrees. His signature dish is his Surf and Turf, composed of three diver scallops and stuffed braised short ribs. The menu also includes fresh mussels sautéed with Spanish chorizo and Berkshire pork crusted with horseradish.

``I'm in the kitchen full-time. I have only one guy on the line and a girl to make salads. I make all my desserts in-house. This time around, I'm trying to keep it simple. As a result, I'm happier,'' said Perrier, who describes his food as innovative American with an inch of French.

Aura restaurant, located at 3340 FM 1092 (also known as Murphy Road) is open for lunch and dinner Mondays-Saturdays. For details, call 281-403-2872.

Southern comfort

Restaurateur Manfred Jachmich and chef Elizabeth Abraham have opened SoVino, a 3,000-square-foot wine bar and restaurant at 507 Westheimer (across from Indika and Dolce Vita).

Abraham, a former lawyer who exchanged her law books for a toque, was working in the kitchen of Jachmich's Morgan's steakhouse when she approached her boss about opening a place that would combine his love for food and wine. SoVino sports a full dinner menu as well as a selection of 100 bottles of wine and 30 wines by the glass, many from countries in the southern hemisphere. Hip, with an urban aesthetic, the sleek, modern space is warmed by a sculpture of interlocking metal ovals and an antique rug with geometric patterns, the latter a gift from Abraham's parents, who own Abraham's Oriental Rugs.
``The concept lends itself to progressive dining,'' said Abraham, 29. ``You can come for a glass of wine and an appetizer before going elsewhere for the entrée, or you can share an entrée and go elsewhere for dessert. I also wanted wines that were affordable. Many of our wines cost $25.''

Her current picks? Nugan Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia and Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc.

SoVino is opened Monday-Saturday evenings. Call 713-524-1000 or log onto

Fresh start

Family friends John Wilson and J.C. Colgan have opened Zoës Kitchen at 3701 S. Shepherd Drive. The fast-casual concept focuses on salads and sandwiches made fresh daily.

Wilson was in real estate when he tapped Colgan to open a Zoës in Houston. The original opened in Birmingham, Ala., under the tutelage of restaurateur John Cassimus' mother, Zoe. Now there are Zoës in Phoenix, Dallas, Memphis, Baton Rouge and Jacksonville, FL. Wilson and Colgan plan to open others. The partners are scoping out locations in downtown, Tanglewood and the Memorial areas. Zoës Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner. For details, call 713-522-7445, or log onto

Other openings

Shimako sushi bar has opened at 8401 Westheimer, 713-952-7600.

Jenni's Noodle House has closed its Jefferson location and reopened at 3111 Shepherd, 713-523-7600.

Former Houston Rockets guard Nick Van Excel, Miami Heat forward James Posey and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Damon Jones have opened Grooves restaurant and lounge, 2300 Pierce. The menu lists a little of everything, from steaks to burgers. Grooves is
PROVIDENCE — For the first time since January — when her court-appointed guardian removed her from her daughter's house in Warren — 91-year-old Laurette Borduas Eifrig will be allowed by a judge to leave her assisted-living residence in Providence so she can share Thanksgiving dinner with her daughter in a Seekonk restaurant.

Eifrig's guardian, lawyer Paula M. Cuculo, told Superior Court Judge Alice B. Gibney in a chambers meeting Tuesday that she no longer considers Suzette Gebhard, of Warren, a kidnapping risk and that the mother-daughter outing would be good for her ward, a retired schoolteacher who is now blind and suffers from dementia.

Eifrig and Gebhard, the former head of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters and a one-time Democratic congressional candidate, will dine together at Audrey's restaurant in Seekonk. Under the terms of Gibney's order, the outing will be limited to four hours and Gebhard must take a cell phone with her and stay in contact with Cuculo while Eifrig is with her.

At the request of Gebhard and Cuculo, Gibney also agreed for the time being to allow Gebhard to start taking her mother on other outings in Rhode Island once a week for a maximum of four hours. The judge told Gebhard she was loosening the reins as "an act of faith" and would revisit the situation sometime after the new year.

Today's outing will be the first time that Eifrig has been allowed by the court to leave Capitol Ridge since the Warren police removed her from Gebhard's home on Jan. 29 after breaking down the door. Gebhard was charged with obstruction of justice after she moved her mother from Reston, Va., to Rhode Island in May 2006 and then secreted her in her house for months, barring family members and Cuculo from visiting with her. Gebhard spent a night in prison but was later acquitted.

In an interview yesterday, Cuculo said that she has learned from Eifrig that — contrary to representations made by Francine Ardito, Eifrig's Virginia daughter who formerly had power of attorney for her — it was Eifrig's wish to move to Rhode Island with Gebhard. "She wasn't moved here against her will," said Cuculo. "She was tired of living under Francine's rule. She told me, 'If you had the chance to get out, wouldn't you have taken it?' "

The current restrictions on Eifrig's freedom of movement — and the subsequent appointment of an outside guardian — was spurred by a bitter feud between Ardito and Gebhard over what is in their mother's best interest and who would control her finances.

Gibney found, after protracted hearings, that because of their animosity toward each other, neither daughter was a suitable substitute decision-maker for their mother and appointed a paid guardian, Cuculo, instead. Cuculo now controls Eifrig's investments, expenditures, health-care decisions and with whom she may associate.

Ardito is currently barred from seeing her mother. On Nov. 1, Gibney found her in willful contempt for repeatedly violating court orders that barred her from removing money from her mother's trust. Over the past few months, Eifrig's lawyer, Richard A. Boren, has submitted evidence to Gibney showing that Ardito took more than $300,000 of her mother's money — about 40 percent of her life savings — from Eifrig's trust and deposited it in accounts in her own name, without disclosing to Boren or Cuculo that the money existed. In September, Ardito returned $251,183.27 of the money. Gibney has ordered her to repay an additional $16,000.

If the money isn't repaid by Dec. 14, an arrest warrant could be issued for Ardito and the judge could order her to pay a daily fine until she turns over the $16,000. According to canceled checks submitted to the court, Ardito used the $16,000 from her mother's trust to pay a Virginia lawyer to sue her mother and Cuculo in an attempt to regain control over her mother's affairs
my dears, they're still publishing cookbooks — even though we keep hearing dire stories about how no one eats home anymore, and even if a fair amount of cooks get their recipes online.

From late August through November each year, a couple of review copies arrive on my desk each and every day.

Some are winners, but more are not. Sadly, in 2007 there are far too many books written by the people who appear on the Food Network. You sometimes get the idea that the only reason they appear on camera is to shop their books and signature kitchen utensils.

There are also the usual cookbooks meant to help people who want a miraculous way to lose weight.

And let us not forget the "rehash for cash" trend. There are always new printings of old cookbooks with new covers. Let's avoid those.

Instead, here is an overview of what we consider the best culinary books of 2007. None is cheap, but you won't go wrong if you buy any of the choices below — either for yourself or as a gift. "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman (Wiley, $35.) A follow-up to one of best all-purpose cookbooks out there ("How To Cook Everything, 1998), this is a treasure house of meatless recipes. You want to know how to make fresh cheese? You want great pasta? You want simple yogurt sauce? Be Bittman's guest.

And what's more, you won't have to work too hard. Bittman's recipes are sensible and tempting. No attempts to be overly clever here.

"Vegetable Harvest" by Patricia Wells (William Morrow, $34.95). Great for both gardeners and cooks. Recipes for tempting dishes with a French touch — but not too French if you know what I mean. This is not a meatless book. There are recipes for Braised Beef with Carrots, for example, and Roast Leg of Lamb with Honey and Mint Crust. Distinctive food.

"Lidia's Italy" (Knopf, $35.) Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is a favorite Italian cooking authority for many people, this reporter included. And so her new book written with her daughter-inlaw, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, is a predictable delight.

It's part travelogue, part recipes — with the daughter-in-law telling you what you should see in 10 of Italy's regions and what you would eat there.

Good for armchair travelers and cooks.

"The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution" by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, $35) is also worth your consideration since it's been written by the woman who revolutionized American food in the last decade. It is a little disorganized but the recipes are indeed simple; technique is thoroughly dealt with, too.

"The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" by Judith Jones (Knopf, $24.95). Before Alice Waters came along, there was Julia Child and her watershed book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (1970). The woman who was responsible for the publication of that masterpiece was none other than Judith Jones, senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf publisher. This is her memoir.

Jones, who is in her early 80s, has what you might call an "eye" (and a palate). She has been responsible for cookbooks by Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey and other giants. But she was also responsible for the publication of "The Diary of Anne Frank," and is still the editor for nonculinary types like John Updike and Anne Tyler.

Jones grew up in an upscale home where it was considered rude to talk about food. She developed her culinary interest while living in Paris when Paris was very much the center of the gastronomical world. She even ran an illegal restaurant in that city for a time.

Her book is delightful. I particularly salute her dedication to actually cooking for herself, though she lives alone now. But no frozen pot pies here. And yes, it's full of easy to make, non-fussy recipes, too.

"Roast Chicken and Other Stories" by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham (Hyperion, $$24.95.) Hopkinson is a Brit — he was the first chef at the highly acclaimed Bibendom restaurant in London — and this book, adjusted for the American audience with American measurements, actually pushed "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" off the best-seller list when it was published in Great Britain in 2005.

The book is s delightfully opinionated since he gives recipes that he personally is fond of, and it's delightfully charming. Even if you don't cook, it's a fun read.

And finally, what should I tell you about "My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, Portraits, Interviews and Recipes" by Melanie Dunyea (Bloomsbury, $39.95.) It's a coffee table book — for only the grandest of coffee tables. The photographs by the author are what the book is all about. But they are fabulous photographs of the different chefs.

This is a version of the "What would you eat if it was your last meal on earth?" game. And so you get all the great chefs answering the question— Ferran Adria ("I would drink Champagne because Champagne is magic") and Anthony Bourdan (Roast Bone Marrow with Parsley and Caper Salad) and Thomas Keller ("I would like all the chefs from the French


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