Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!

Whether I’m ordering a meal at a restaurant or cooking up something at home, enjoying what I eat brings me immense satisfaction. On the other hand, being disappointed in a meal sends me into tantrum mode.

I expect certain things out of a dining experience. I’m realistic about the standards I hold for each place, from the local taco bar to the five star steak house. What I've decided is that it's about a perfect balance between service, food quality, ambiance and price. That may seem like a lot to juggle, but Houston is a big city with a plethora of restaurants to choose from. There’s no reason to expect anything less than the best.

If you strip my needs down to the bare essentials, you'll find I'm very much like a baby; I love tasty food and I love to be happy. If an experience doesn't generate a sense of fulfillment for those two basic're gonna hear me cry.

Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!

Sambuca - Give it a Try

The Skinny: For a well rounded night of good service, perfectly executed fare and some lively contemporary music, get Dolled Up and head Downtown.

The Fat: I'll admit, I'm not a huge fan of lunging myself into the Houston mess on the weekends. Why should I venture Downtown when there are more than enough great places in Montrose, River Oaks and The Heights where I won't have to pay $15 to park my car and walk 10 blocks to my destination? However, there are a few places that make the madness well worth it.

I've visited Sambuca about five times over the past few years. Sometimes I'll go on a date, other times I will step in with a group of friends. Whomever may accompany you, this is one of the Houston establishments that really makes you feel like you're living it up. Although they serve a fantastic lunch menu, it's just one of those places you should visit when the sun goes down.

The restaurant has two main levels, each cozy in their own right. Dark accessories and leopard print upholstery pepper the restaurant. Tables for larger groups tend to be upstairs or set off to the side. Some tables are placed right in front of the stage. If you want to feel like part of the action, ask to be seated there. Late night, they move some of the stage-front tables to allow more space for a dance floor. I have been seated upstairs and, while it's the perfect retreat for an intimate occasion, the downstairs level is by far my favorite place to sit.

If you're there to dine, I highly recommend making reservations. There's a swanky bar area where you can wait for an opening or just sip on Martinis, but if you want a table you may as well reserve a spot. My only suggestion would be that you make a specific request for where you'd like to sit.

The last time I made a reservation, I asked for a booth. Requesting a booth is usually a great idea because each one is placed along the perimeter and is curved to face the main dining area. When we arrived, however, all the downstairs booths were occupied, so we were shuffled upstairs to the one remaining booth. We felt quite isolated from the rest of the restaurant. For a reservation with a special request for booth, you'd think they would have asked us if we wanted to sit at THE ONLY BOOTH UPSTAIRS...alone...away from the rest of the crowd. While it was the perfect place for a wild make-out session, (don't get me wrong, I'm pretty adventurous) it was only 6pm and we had a show to attend at 8pm. So shoot me if I didn't want to wrinkle my dress before the Symphony!

Ah, the food. For starters, the Carpaccio in the Raw is a must. This duo of delicate salmon and beef was drizzled with orange and balsamic vinaigrette, respectively. So sublime.

Oh, and I'm always up for a little escargot too. The escargot at Sambuca is an outstanding selection. While I much prefer the basic preparation of butter, garlic and little else, this appetizer was just as alluring because it was smothered in lemon, garlic, spinach and smoked Gouda. They're also topped with small puff pastry pieces, which were flavorless additions that detracted from the dish. In fact, I think it would be best if the escargot were served without them. I promptly removed them from my plate. Instead I used some of Sambuca's crusty bread to sop up the ridiculously cheesy goodness that was left on my plate after I inhaled the snails.

But do sop up the remnants. Don't be shy, what's the point? This is food, people. It's meant to be enjoyed.

You'll surely be satisfied with any entree you order, but I tend to lean toward the steak. I always love a good fish, but I cook a lot at home and so the last thing I wanted was another salmon dish. I'm in it for the meat. The Petite Filet (to be exact) was more than enough for me, but a larger version is available. If there were side dishes on the plate (which there were) I overlooked them entirely. The meat had all my attention...and rightly so.

The great thing about the meat at Sambuca is that, while it is always perfectly prepared (medium rare, baby) they top each steak variety with it's own little pat of seasoned butter. Who doesn't like butter? Mine came with a slice of Gorgonzola Walnut butter. My date's New York Strip came with Roasted Garlic and Thyme butter...oh my!

P.S. I never make it around to dessert at Sambuca, but I'm sure it's delicious. The last thing I remember is that they never offer enough chocolate dessert selections...but with a precursor of good wine, good music, and (if you're lucky) good company, I'm thinking that a fantastic dessert will follow suit.

Location: 909 Texas Avenue (713) 224-5299

Photo courtesy of Kenny Haner

No comments: