Thursday, October 1, 2009


To paraphrase one of my girlfriends, I "accidentally" took the summer off from blogging. I apologize. Things got a little crazy for me -- between searching for, finding, and closing on a house and several fun trips, the summer got away from me. But now that Fall is here, I'm back. I struggled with a topic to catch your attention, so I just decided to write about a new restaurant that I am really excited about -- Voice, at the Hotel Icon.

With Voice, Hotel Icon has finally given Houstonians a reason to come back. Since Rande Gerber's Whiskey Bar stopped being the "it" place for twenty something hook ups, Hotel Icon has been off of everyone's minds. Voice changed all of that. I've been there several times in the past few months, and each time was fantastic -- seriously. But the most notable occasion was when I went to a winemaker's dinner there with my girlfriends and our absolute, all-time favorite winemaker, Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores ( Julie came in town to promote her wines, which are absolutely fabulous by the way, and we took the opportunity to visit with her at Voice. Voice set up a five-course tasting menu and paired Julie's wines with each course.

To start, we had the Mushroom Soup "Cappuccino," which I'd had before and loved. It didn't disappoint the second time around. The unique combination of mushrooms with truffle foam and porcini powder, make this soup divine. When I first tried it, I was concerned that it would have an overwhelming coffee taste, which doesn't appeal to me in food (I think coffee should be coffee -- not ice cream or soup), but it gets its name from the foam and powder, not the coffee. It was paired with a rose sparkling wine from Napa Valley (the only wine we tasted that was not from Julie's winery because she doesn't make a sparkling wine).

Our second course was Sashmi of Yellowfin Tuna, and it was absolutely terrific. It paired wonderfully with Julie's 2007 Tres Sabores Sauvignon Blanc. While my heart belongs to red wine, I enjoy a good white wine occasionally (especially with a multi-course tasting!). And the Tres Sabores Sauvignon Blanc is in a league of its own -- in fact, it singlehandedly turned one of my best friends who once deplored white wine into a white wine drinker. It has all the markings of a sauvignon blanc (great citrus aroma and taste) and pairs well with just about any salad, seafood, or chicken dish.

Our third course was the Slow Roasted Duck, which was superb. I'm not one to get excited about turnips, but even the turnips on this dish were great, probably anything would be great with the tasty caraway sauce that accompanied the duck. The dish was paired with Julie's 2006 Por Que No?, an unconventional blend of zinfandel, syrah, and cab, which Julie markets as "the best of the rest." She takes what's left after making her Estate cellar wines and creates this blend. It is absolutely fantastic and pairs wonderfully with almost any food -- and certainly the duck at Voice! For only $25.00 per bottle, it is a steal and a must try! ($25.00 may seem steep to some of you, but trust me, it is rare to find a wine that inexpensive from a premiere boutique winery as renowned as Tres Sabores).

For our fourth course, we had Kurobuta Pork, which melted in my mouth and was definitely my favorite dish of the night. Instead of detracting from the pork's taste, the maple-mustard sauce accentuated it. There wasn't a morsel left on anyone's plate after this course. The pork was perfectly paired with the Tres Sabores 2006 Rutherford Zinfandel, my personal favorite of Julie's collection. Zinfandel is my favorite wine as it is, and Juile makes one of the best. With its fruit-forward aromas (think blackberry and black cherry) and spicy, black pepper taste, it is exactly what I look for in a Zin. After quickly downing the Zinfandel supply, Julie opened her 2005 Rutherford Perspective Cabernet Sauvignon, which is an outstanding classic cab, with a rich, complex taste. I didn't have much of my pork left by the time I was served the cab, but the few bites I saved paired well. The cab is also great to drink on its own.

Finally, our dessert course was what Voice calls "A Study in Chocolate," which was simply a few random chocolate things. I'm sure the chef would have a fancy way of explaining each one, but I like to talk dessert in normal terms. First, we had a chocolate brownie with a delicious chocolate sauce sprinkled on top. Second, a scoop of ice cream with a sort of nut crust surrounding it, which was covered in a layer of chocolate. And the best was the chocolate milkshake concoction for adults only because it came with a liqueur. The trio was very yummy and also went well with Julie's cab. All in all, Chef Michael Kramer put together a terrific meal. The portions were a perfect size -- we left the restaurant full and satisfied without being in a food coma.

I am also very excited to report that Voice is offering 15% off in the month of October for anyone residing in the 77019 and 77007 zip codes! Additionally, between October 12-16, Voice is offering a 3-course menu for $40 to benefit its charity, Recipe for Success. And if it's anything like Voice's 3-course Restaurant Week menu, it is definitely a big bang for your buck. So check out Voice, and let me know what you think!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Unless it's Friday, downtown lunchers generally don't have time to go off campus. Here are some quick, consistently good downtown lunch spots:

1. Doozo Dumplings & Noodles

This is my absolute, all-time favorite downtown lunch spot. I am literally obsessed with these dumplings. About once a week, I walk approximately 15 blocks from my building to the Park Shops just for these dumplings (I even leave a pair of flats in my desk to change into just for the walk). Doozo is famous for its tasty dumplings served by the Dumpling Lady -- a terrifying woman who is about 95 lbs soaking wet, affectionately know as Houston's own Soup Nazi (for more info on the Dumpling Lady, check out Lords of the Loop blogger Ed Wrath's post:

Because the Dumpling Lady expects the line to move efficiently, it is important to know how to order at Doozo. First, you have to decide what kind of dumplings (made fresh everyday) you want: pork, chicken, veggie, or fish. Hands down, the crowd favorite are the pork dumplings -- they are extremely flavorful and packed with a mixture of pork and spinach. Her veggie dumplings are universally regarded as the best veggie dumplings in town (and are my personal favorite). She stuffs them full of fresh spinach and a little bit of tofu. While the chicken are my least favorite, they are also good -- they have a sweet kick to them. I don't even really acknowledge the fact that she serves fish dumplings, so I will just move on. You can place a full order (1o dumplings) of any kind, a combo (5 and 5) of any two kinds, or a half order (5) of one kind.

Second, you have to specify which sauce you want: mild, spicy, or extra spicy. The sauce is similar to a soy or ponzu sauce. I always go for extra spicy, but if you don't like spicy things, get the mild sauce because even it has a little kick. Doozo also serves a couple Asian soups, soft spring rolls, and some dubious sushi rolls. Personally, I avoid everything but the dumplings -- some of my friends get the soft spring rolls, which are passable but not great. If you want more food than just a full order of dumplings, get 1.5 orders instead of wasting your time with the spring roll or anything else for that matter.

Whatever you decide, make up your mind before you get to the front of the line, and boldly state your order when you are greeted by the Dumpling Lady. Historically, the Dumpling Lady only accepted cash, but since she upgraded her Park Shops' space, she now accepts credit cards, which is a drag because it slows down the super long line. To avoid a stern talking to, I advise bringing cash: it is $6 for a full order of 10 steamed dumplings. If you are wondering why I am spending so much time instructing you on how to make it through the Doozo process, go ahead and ignore my advice: stumble through a decision about which dumplings to order and give her a credit card...let me know how it goes.

2. Droubi's Brothers Mediterranean

This Mediterranean spot is consistently good and reasonably priced. My favorite dish is the chicken kebab plate -- I substitute hummus for the rice because Droubi's has some of the best hummus in town. The chicken is juicy and flavorful but still a lean cut. If you are into sandwiches and wraps, I recommend the chicken kebab sandwich or the chicken shawarma sandwich. They are essentially about the same thing -- the kebab pieces are bigger, almost cube-like while the shawarma pieces are in small strips. If you aren't into sauces covering your sandwich, ask for the sauce on the side -- it is great for dipping. The vegetarian platter is also impressive: it comes with hummus, tabouli, grape leaves, and falafel, and Droubi's does all of those items well. Droubi's also serves great gyros and salads -- in short, you can't go wrong at Droubi's.

3. Corner Bakery Cafe

If you are looking for a quick, light lunch, Corner Bakery Cafe (1000 Main) is a solid choice. It has excellent signature sandwiches (e.g., Turkey Frisco and Tomato Mozzarella), tasty paninis (e.g., Chicken Pomodoro and California Grille), and a variety of entree salads (e.g., Harvest Salad and Chopped Salad). I know this review is not at all descriptive, but there really isn't anything unique to say about these sandwiches and salads. I could go on and on about all of the great veggies in the California Grille panini or ramble about the different ingredients in the Chopped Salad, but why waste your time? You know what you like in a sandwich or salad, so check it out for yourselves. You won't be disappointed.

4. Beck's Prime

If your craving a burger for lunch, go to Beck's (910 Travis in the tunnel). Beck's serves its burgers on a very tasty egg bun (you can ask for wheat if you prefer), and offers eleven different burger options. In my judgment, you can never go wrong with a bacon cheeseburger, and that is certainly the case at Beck's. The bacon isn't overwhelming, and the cheddar cheese is melted just right. But since I'm usually trying to eat healthy at lunch, my favorite thing to order is the Ahi Tuna Sandwich. It comes on a wheat bun with feta, cucumber, red onion, and tomato. Ask for the Ginger Wasabi Spread on the side, otherwise it takes over the sandwich (plus, you keep down the calories this way, especially if you use mustard instead). You can order any of Beck's sandwiches as a basket with fries, which are well-seasoned and very tasty (in fact, it's hard to stop once you start, so I usually opt for a side salad instead). And one of my favorite things about Beck's is that it serves Diet Dr. Pepper, which is my favorite soft drink!

5. Otto's Barbecue & Hamburgers

Most people know about the Otto's on Memorial because it is George H. Bush's favorite BBQ spot. But Otto's has another location at 500 Dallas in the Allen Center Tunnel, which is a great place to go for lunch and avoid the unbearable summer heat. Otto's serves great, traditional BBQ, such as brisket and sausage. But I like to go to Otto's for its turkey sandwich. Otto's turkey meat is lean but still flavorful, and I ask for no butter on the bun. I load up on BBQ sauce, onions, and jalapenos, and I've got myself a healthy, tasty lunch (with Baked Lays). If you are a burger person, I really like Otto's burgers too. They aren't as thick as the ones at Beck's but are equally flavorful.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


First, let me apologize for going radio silent for a couple months...things got a little crazy for me. But K-Ham is back! Now, onto the important seems like everyone is looking to save a few bucks in the current economic climate, so I thought a post on great, inexpensive BYOB restaurants would be fitting.

1. Collina's Italian Cafe

If you haven't been to Collina's, you should try it this weekend. There are two locations inside the loop (Heights & Greenway Plaza) and one outside the loop. Pizza is my favorite thing to eat at Collina's. The pizzas are thin crust, and you can even get whole wheat crust to make yourself feel better about eating the pizza -- I personally think the whole wheat crust is better than the original. I recommend the Margherita and Greca pizzas, but my favorite is what I call the "Shelbs Special" (my friend's go-to pizza at Collina's): pepperoni, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms on whole wheat. It is a little slice of heaven! Pair a 12" Shelbs Special with a bottle of Ravenswood Red Zinfandel, and you have yourself a solid meal for two under $30 total (as a side note, instead of hosing you with an expensive corkage fee for each bottle of wine, Collina's charges $1.00 for each wine glass at the table).

Don't count Collina's out for other Italian fare. Its meat lasagna is delicious with tons of cheese and a yummy meat sauce. But Collina's vegetable lasagna is truly decadent. Don't be fooled by its name on the menu ("grilled vegetable lasagna") because the crema rosa sauce is not light but is so freaking good that you won't be able to stop eating it. Collina's also has fresh, tasty salads -- I love the house vinaigrette, and the bread sticks are great dipped in olive oil and red pepper. In short, you won't be disappointed with anything you order.

2. Thai Spice Asian Cuisine

Thai Spice is a consistent, reasonably-priced Thai restaurant with several locations throughout the city. What makes Thai Spice in the Heights so great is that it's BYOB, and the corkage fee is $1.50 per person per night, rather than by the bottle. Hands down, the best dish at Thai Spice is the Crystal Noodles (otherwise known in my circle as "crack noodles"), which are sauteed with egg batter, mushrooms, celery, onions, and tomatoes. Again, with this dish, you start out thinking you'll take half home and then wind up eating the whole thing. The good news is that for two people, you can get an appetizer and the Crystal Noodles and have enough food to fill you up.
Speaking of appetizers, I highly recommend the crispy spring rolls and soft summer rolls. The crispy spring rolls are small enough that the fried shell doesn't overwhelm you, and the soft summer rolls are refreshing in this summer heat. Any of Thai Spice's curry options are great, but the red and green seem to be the favorites among my curry-loving friends. If you are looking for a healthy, tasty option, the Grilled Lemongrass Chicken is great. It has a light fish oil sauce and comes with noodles, but there is enough chicken on your plate that you really don't have to eat the noodles to be full. For dessert, you have to try the Sweet Rice with Fresh Mango -- it is a delicious blend of sticky rice and mango. I know, it sounds weird, but you'll be hooked after one bite. As for what wine to bring, unless you are going heavy on the beef dishes, I'd bring a Gewurztraminer or a Sauvignon Blanc because both pair well with lighter but flavorful dishes. If your group doesn't do white wine, go with a Pinot Noir.

3. Ruggles Cafe Bakery

This casual spot in the Rice Village is Ruggles food at a reasonable price. So you order at the counter, and the presentation isn't quite as fancy as the original Ruggles -- but the quality of the food is still top-notch. My absolute favorite thing to eat at Ruggles is the Buffalo Burger with sweet potato fries or fruit, depending upon how healthy I want to be. The Buffalo Burger is a very lean cut and is topped with low-fat cheese. The Warm Baked Texas Goat Cheese Salad is also quite tasty -- the sundried tomato vinaigrette is light but flavorful. The Roasted Pork Loin Sandwich comes with caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese -- need I say more? The Ruggles Fish Tacos are also good -- but get the herbed aioli on the side because the tacos are drowned in it otherwise. And the Fettuccine with pepper chicken in a sweet garlic cream sauce is fantastic -- but definitely not light. Don't forget to save room for dessert -- I mean, it's a bakery after all. Ruggles even has low fat desserts (tres leches and bread pudding) that actually taste good. Your wine pairing for an evening at Ruggles will really depend on what the group orders, so I'll refer you to my April post about ordering a bottle of wine. But guess what? Ruggles has no corkage fee, so if you bring a bottle of wine from your house, it'll be cheaper for you to drink wine than iced tea!

4. Vietnam Restaurant

Vietnam Restaurant is an undiscovered treasure in the Heights. In my judgment, it serves among the very best Vietnamese cuisine in town (apart, of course, from homemade). Even if you're a calorie counter, you have to try the Imperial Rolls -- crispy rice paper, pork, vermicelli, mushroom & onion all piping hot, folded inside a cold piece of lettuce. It is truly remarkable. The soft-shell crab is also a must-order. While it's lightly battered, it is still not too greasy. The lemongrass grilled entrees -- beef or chicken -- are flavorful but not heavy. I honestly haven't tried too many other things because I keep going back to my favorites. The menu is consistent, and the servers are friendly. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but it is actually very nice on the inside. Give Vietnam Restaurant a try, and you be pleasantly surprised. (Wine pairings -- see Thai Spice entry above...Vietnam's corkage fee is also $1.50 per night per person).

Monday, April 13, 2009


We are currently in Houston's small window of amazing weather, so naturally, dining al fresco is on everyone's mind. Brunch on a wonderful patio is perfect for this time of year and, frankly, is underrated. My friends and I routinely enjoy weekend brunch -- sometimes to cure a hangover, sometimes to enjoy the weather, and sometimes just to partake in one of our favorite pastimes: drinking during the day. Whatever your reason for brunching outside, these are my favorite spots:

1. Bedford

Hands down, the best brunch in Houston. Before I tried Bedford -- a relatively new, upscale restaurant in the Heights -- I was skeptical, having heard mixed reviews. Most of the criticisms related to itsservice and timeliness of the food. I can't say that I'm surprised -- I had a horrible experience with Chef Gadsby when he was head chef at Soma. He singlehandedly ruined a 10-person tasting dinner that was sure to be, in his words, "the most amazing food experience of your lives." It didn't matter that every item on the pre-set, 10-course menu was tasty because we waited for an hour before receiving our first morsel of food! But I begrudgingly tried Bedford for the first time at a birthday dinner -- I didn't really have a choice because it wasn't my birthday! I will save the dinner blog for another post, but suffice it to say, Chef Gadsby and the Bedford staff blew me away.
So when my friends' parents were in town two weekends ago, we all decided to give it a go. I'm quite certain that I will be unable to do its brunch justice with this post, but here is my attempt: BEDFORD BRUNCH IS IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN. First, Bedford's patio is superb -- it's spacious, its chairs are comfy, and it's beautiful. Second, the service is top-notch. The servers are available and attentive without being in your business or annoying. Third, and most importantly, the food is exceptional. Without a doubt, Bedford's bacon omelet and potato omelet are the two best omelets I have ever put in my mouth. The combination of ingredients in each one (the former combines bacon, chilies, tomatoes, and cheese -- simple yet impeccable; the latter combines potatoes, caramelized onions, truffles, and cheese -- you can't go wrong with that combo) forces you to eat the entire omelet. Seriously. You are bush league if you don't.
We also shared the strawberry-blueberry waffle, which was outstanding and perfect to share because all you need is one or two bites. And of course we had mimosas and sangria, which were consistent. Their sangria recipe is very tasty, and you can get a pitcher for for $14 -- the pitcher goes a long way...our whole table (five of us) had multiple glasses. The spiked milkshakes are a creative twist on brunch beverages, and the Studewood (maker's mark, butterscotch syrup, and ice cream) is reason alone to go back. Skinny options: fresh fruit parfait with skim milk, no whip; two farm eggs (you can request egg whites), no meat, with a side salad.

When you go to Bedford, you are likely to run into one of its owners, the chef, or someone else affiliated with it, and they routinely take the time to stop by your table just for a chat to thank you for your patronage. While quite large, it is a very friendly place that has quickly made its way onto my short list of favorites in Houston. The only downside is that Bedford is only open for brunch on Sundays, so don't head over there on a Saturday.

2. Backstreet Cafe

Everyone knows that Backstreet has a fantastic patio...but does everyone know that it has a phenomenal brunch with flavored mimosas that vary from week-to-week? If you haven't tried Backstreet's brunch, you should. I recommend the bacon-wrapped quail to start -- even if you aren't much into gamey foods, you'll love the flavor of the pair together (and of course the jalapeno grits top it off nicely). The Backstreet Benedict is a unique take on the traditional eggs benedict -- the eggs and Canadian bacon are served on two cheddar chive biscuits. For the sweets lover, the French toast is amazing -- it's stuffed with bananas and a caramel sauce! Pretty much everything on the menu is good, and includes some of Backstreet's most popular staples (e.g., vegetarian plate, pecan crusted chicken) for those who would rather lunch than brunch. Skinny option: goat cheese salad, dressing on the side.

3. Farrago

Because so many new places have popped up in Midtown, Farrago is, in my opinion, too-often overlooked. Farrago has a fantastic patio. And it deserves to be on the list if for no other reason than bottomless mimosas for $9! But for those skeptics out there -- trust me -- Farrago actually does serve good food. Its chilaquiles (scrambled eggs, sausage, tortilla strips, cheese, and salsa) are great (especially before an afternoon of mimosa drinking!) and their huevos rancheros come with polenta, which makes them even tastier. But my favorite dish at Farrago (served at brunch, lunch, and dinner) is the jerked pizza. The combination of the jerk spice, Canadian bacon, fruits (pineapple & mango) and cheeses (mozzarella & manchego) is an open challenge to your self-restraint. I hope you give Farrago a chance -- you won't be disappointed!

4. Tila's

I have to admit...Tila's never would have been on my short list of brunch destinations had one of my friends not organized brunch there a couple weeks ago. I was, frankly, skeptical. Turns out, she was dead on. Tila's is the perfect place to brunch casual (translation: hungover) style. The servers were informative and witty...I showed up first -- in my workout clothes -- claiming to need a table for nine on the patio. I could tell my server doubted whether I actually had nine friends because it took about 45 minutes for them all to show up. But it didn't matter -- she was as attentive to me as if my entire party was already there. I was initially devastated to learn that they didn't serve queso, but she assured me that their queso fundido would do the trick. She was right -- the beef queso fundido is a great appetizer or meal of its own. She also recommended the sopa de fideo (noodle soup), claiming that it would cure my hangover. She was right again...well I wouldn't say I was cured, but I was in good enough shape to tackle the Galleria for several post-brunch hours. Most of my friends had variations of the typical Mexican egg dishes (e.g., huevos rancheros, chiliquiles, etc.), and everyone left happy. I was not a huge fan of their margaritas -- they were too heavy on the mix for my taste, but those who drank the mimosas seemed pleased. Oh, and make sure to read the menu, which is infused with humor as a means of explaining their dishes. To sum it up, if you want brunch without the pomp and circumstance, go to Tila's.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Most guys have a solid, go-to first date locale, but a lot of the dudes I know get stumped on where to take a girl on a second date. You want to impress her, have a good time, but still not spend all your benjamins because you aren’t yet sure if she’s worth the investment. Here are some options:

1. Dolce Vita ($$)

This is a great date place because it’s casual but not too casual and allows for start-to-finish shared dishes, which is important because: (1) chics like to split dishes…they feel less guilty about indulging when they split entrees; and (2) chics dig guys who are willing to share their food. To start, suggest splitting the cheese plate – it’s fantastic, and the gnocchi – also outstanding. For the main course, split the calabrese pizza – it’s the best pizza they have (their version of a pepperoni pizza) and you sound refined ordering it. I’m not too big on their desserts, and dessert is a must on a second date. So I recommend heading across the street to So Vino to split the smores and have a nightcap. You’ll have her eating out of the palm of your hands…a fire, chocolate, and marshmallows coupled with the fact that you planned ahead and thought of two separate places to take her.;

2. Benjy’s ($$$)

This is the second-date place for a girl you are really into because it’s a little pricier than others on the list. This New American, trendy restaurant is sure to impress. The original Benjy’s is in Rice Village, and is always a great option. But to show her you are “with the times”, I recommend taking her to the new Benjy’s, on the very hip Washington strip. Start with the pistachio crusted goat cheese cakes. For your main course, you can’t go wrong with the crusted chicken, buffalo hanger steak, or scallops. You absolutely have to order the mom’s chocolate cake for dessert and watch her go all dreamy on you – chics really dig guys that order dessert, especially chocolate. Aside from creative and tasty cocktails, Benjy’s has a great wine list, and if scouring a wine list isn’t your thing, check out my post on how to order wine on a date.

3. Lucio’s ($$)

This BYOB is great for a second date because its intimate, quiet setting ensures good conversation, and the BYOB aspect allows you to show off your wine ordering skills while not breaking the bank [see my post on ordering wine on a date if you are lost]. To start, I recommend the spinach dip or fried calamari, both are fantastic and easy to eat on a date. All of their salads are awesome – my favorite is the goat cheese apple salad. If your date is looking for something on the lighter side, the sesame crusted ahi tuna is exceptional. But their best dish on the menu is the pasta mixta (not at all on the lighter side). One of you has to get the blue cheese torte – it’s probably the best thing on their menu. For dessert, their crème brulee is among the best in town.


4. Azuma ($$)

Even though it's in the crowded, construction-filled Rice Village, Azuma is my favorite sushi restaurant in town. Sushi is a solid second-date option because, once again, it allows you to share food (see No. 1) and find out whether you've got a picky eater on your hands. Their best speciality rolls are: the crazy irishman , sumo, patriot, and azuma. I'm also a big fan of their spicy tuna roll (it's spicier than most) and their Philadelphia roll (order it with fresh instead of smoked salmon). Azuma's nigiri sushi (raw fish on rice) is always fresh, and they make some of the best escolar in town. If you actually plan ahead and make a reservation (such a small thing that earns big points with the ladies), ask the hostess to seat you in one of the corner-edge booths – it allows for the possibility of some incidental touching.


With wine being all the rage right now, it seems like every guy around knows all about grape varietals and wine lists. SO NOT TRUE! Most guys are super intimidated by the pressure of ordering a bottle of wine on a date, especially on the first few dates. If you are an expert wine guy, this post is not for you. But if you don’t know a lot about wine but still want to impress, here are my suggestions:

I. Selecting the Wine:

As Billy Joel opines, it all depends on your date’s appetite. Unless there is a completely legitimate reason why you can’t bring yourself to drink one of the two, ask whether she prefers red or white. Go with her preference. More than likely, she’ll say she likes both and will defer to you – if she doesn’t, there’s your first high-maintenance red flag. If neither of you wants to step up with a preference, follow these general guidelines: at a seafood restaurant, white is your best choice; at a steak restaurant, you go with red. Anything in between, is up in the air, but in my experience, red usually wins out as the crowd favorite.

White wine options:

  • Generally speaking, a sauvignon blanc is the best bang for your buck. They are more reasonably priced than chardonnays and go well with most foods. If you don’t recognize any of the sauvignon blancs on the menu, go with a mid-priced one from the Napa Valley/California. Duckhorn and Honig make two of the all-time best sauvignon blancs.

  • If she is a chardonnay kind of girl, once again, I recommend a mid-priced one from the Napa Valley/California. Cakebread is one of the best chardonnays out there, but it is a little pricey. La Crema is a good, mid-range option.

  • I would stay away from Riesling, gerwertztraminer, and the like. They are awesome wines, but you really need to know about them to pair them with food.


Red wine options:

  • Once again, generally speaking, a (red) zinfandel is the best bang for your buck. The movie Sideways made pinot noirs more popular than ever and caused their prices to jack up. Zinfandel, on the other hand, is not as well known but pairs remarkably well with most foods and is very easy to drink. You’ll usually find at least one or two zinfandels on most menus, and I’ve never met a zinfandel I didn’t like. Ravenswood Zinfandel is on a lot of restaurant wine lists, and is usually very reasonable yet tasty. In short, go to the red wine list, look for the zinfandels and pick a mid-priced one. You won’t go wrong and will save a few bucks.

  • Most girls love pinot noirs. They pair well with food and are easy to drink. If she doesn’t like heavy wines, go with the pinot noir. There should be a number of options to choose from on the list – go with any from the Willamette Valley/Oregon or the Russian River Valley/California. One of my friends once joked that pinot noir translates into “panty remover”… enough said.

  • Shirazs/Syrahs are also good options and are usually more reasonably priced than pinot noirs. Any Shiraz from New Zealand or Australia should be safe, and any Napa Valley Syrah will be passable.

  • If she likes heavy wines or you are at a steak place, go with the cabernet sauvignon. These can get very pricey, so I recommend, once again, going with a mid-priced Napa Valley/California varietal.

  • Merlots are difficult. Sideways totally poured out the merlot, so people think it is a faux pas to drink merlot these days. But merlot is actually a very drinkable wine and because of its declining popularity, the price point is usually very good. Nevertheless, I’d stay away from ordering the merlot for the first few dates; wait until you know her a little better and then order it. Save the money you’d spend on a cab or pinot once you’ve already sealed the deal.

  • At an Italian restaurant, skip the Super Tuscan and Barolo and go for the Chianti. They are cheap and easy to drink. Usually, the house Chianti will do just fine, but you can upgrade to a mid-range Chianti for a great tasting wine.

II. Tasting the Wine

You probably question the utility of the pomp and circumstance associated with ordering a bottle of wine. It may seem like a complete waste of time, but if you get it right, you are sure to impress your date. And if you follow these steps, you'll end up with a drinkable bottle of wine:

  1. Once you’ve selected the wine, your server should present the bottle to you. Take a look at it to make sure it’s what you ordered (and if you decided to splurge on an expensive bottle, make sure they gave you the correct vintage year, or they could be hosing you on the price), but don’t stare at it like you would Pamela Anderson. Simply glance at it and nod, and then focus your attention back on your date.

  2. Once your server uncorks the bottle, he will set the cork down next to you. Don’t smell the cork. Simply pick up the cork, touch the end that was inside the bottle to ensure that it is not dry, and look to make sure there isn’t a lot of wine running down the sides of the cork (which usually means the wine is skunked). If the cork checks out, it’s time to taste.

  3. If you really want to look big time, swirl the glass around on the table a little bit and then briefly sniff the inside of the glass. If you think that sounds ridiculous, just proceed to tasting it. Most people think that you are tasting it to make sure you like it, but you are actually tasting it to make sure it isn’t skunked. Unless you are at a super swank restaurant (and even then it’s questionable in my mind), you don’t send the wine back unless it is skunked/bad. So unless it tastes rancid, nod your head, tell your server it’s good, and then he’ll pour it into her glass.

  4. Don’t forget to do a quick toast, even if it’s just to say cheers. Chics dig this.


1. Hugo’s ($$$)

If you’re trying to impress, you won’t fail with Hugo’s. Margaritas are must at Hugo’s, and the best part is that you don’t have to waste your money on the top shelf version – their house margaritas rock! If you’re too big time to order “house” anything, try their Isidro or Gran Reposado Margaritas, both are to die for. To start, go with the queso flameado or the taquitos de pollo – consistent pleasers for any crowd. Someone in your party must order the Enchiladas Suizas – hands down their best dish. Their meat dishes are also outstanding, my personal favorite is the Cabrito (goat) dish. Save room for dessert – their chimmichuris, accompanied by an amazing hot cocoa dipping sauce, are worth the calories. Skinny options: (1) order one taquito de langosta and a cup of tortilla soup or the ceviche; (2) Hachinango a la Veracruzana (roasted red snapper with olives and capers).

2. El Tiempo ($$)

El Tiempo is Clutch City’s ultimate “go to” Mexican restaurant. It’s a great place to take a date, go for a fun birthday celebration, or bring an out-of-towner. Their queso is great and comes with those awesome flour tortilla chips, but their best appetizer is their crab and bacon quesadillas, which, in my opinion, are best served with their whole wheat tortillas. The fajitas – they have great chicken and beef fajitas but also have good game options (e.g., quail) and of course the pork fajitas – are among the best around. For those who are not interested in fajitas, their crabmeat enchiladas are remarkable. I am not a big fan of El Tiempo’s house margarita on the rocks – you really need to go with the platinum, but their frozen margaritas (regular or flavored) are great. Skinny option: grilled chicken fajitas with whole wheat or corn tortillas.

3. Ninfa’s on Navigation ($$)

Don’t shy away from this restaurant simply because of its chain restaurant name – this is the original Ninfa’s and is far better than any other Ninfa’s around. It has an authentic ambiance and is the opposite of pretentious. Everything on Mama Ninfa’s menu is good: the fajitas, tacos, and enchiladas are all consistent. This is the perfect place to introduce an out-of-towner to Tex Mex. Skinny option: chicken fajitas with corn tortillas.

4. Lupe Tortilla ($$)

There are two reasons to go to Lupe Tortilla: (1) hands down, they have the best beef fajitas in town; (2) it is very kid friendly. Lupe’s has a sandbox and play area for the kids to play in while the parents sip margaritas (their house frozen are passable) on the deck. If you like beef fajitas you have to try this place. You won’t be disappointed! Skinny option: skip the skinny option at Lupe’s; just do a little extra cardio so that you can enjoy the beef fajitas.