The Skinny: This hidden gem makes private dining feel more commonplace than cool.
The Fat: While opening a new restaurant presents a host of challenges that any entrepreneur should be well prepared for, these guys received a truly unexpected jab. Pagoda opened shortly before Ike toured our great city. In the wake of the hurricane the new business was soured, not only by the lull of a city wrought with disaster, but also by the fact that their own building suffered marked structural damage. Lucky for us, they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and reopened their - adorable Vietnamese - doors.
That being said, I’m a huge fan of dives, especially when we’re talking Vietnamese. Houston has such an expansive and delicious array of Asian fare that it’s almost painful to pay more than $7.50 for an extraordinary Vietnamese entrée (see my review for Van Loc under “Vietnamese”.) However, there is something to be said for the fine service, soothing setting and super fantastic cocktails that higher-end Asian restaurants have to offer.
Pagoda presents a delectable selection of starters, including the favorites, like Beef Satay and Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Both are served with the standard, yummy peanut sauce; but since you’re paying more than $4.50 for what you could get at a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall, go out on a limb and try something new.
Try the Crab Stack, a delicately layered tower of crab meat, mango, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber and cilantro all drizzled with a light lime sauce. It’s pretty when it arrives and messy to eat, but the presentation and subtle combination of flavors is well worth it. Also try the Calamari Crunch. The whole strips of calamari are flash fried, plated and served with a traditional lime pepper dipping sauce. Calamari, on a good day, can be mildly rubbery; so if you’ll admit that the texture of this ocean favorite can be unpredictable, you’ll adore the dish.
The first time I ordered a Pagoda entree, I chose the Garlic Ginger Scallops, described on the menu as “seared and served with a garlic cream sauce.” When the plate arrived I was shocked that no more than seven scallops were on the plate. Seven (7) sounds like plenty if you’re expecting the “ideal” silver dollar sized, one inch thick scallops. In that case, five would do it for me. What I got were four (quarter sized) and three (nickel sized) scallops, each no more than 1/3 inch thick. I was astounded. At $16 a plate, I was understandably underwhelmed.
What they failed to mention on the description is that delectable mushrooms were swimming in the creamy garlic sauce. Even though I was disappointed by the scallop to dollar ratio; the abundant serving of mushrooms, with their amazing ability to absorb flavor, saved the dish from being a total disappointment. Nonetheless, any good chef or restaurant owner (as our waiter announced herself to be) should not have let such a serving escape the kitchen.
On my next visit, I got the Shaking Beef, a mound of filet mignon cubes served with a delicate brown sauce and tomato rice. If there was ever an example of pure redemption, it occurred when I put the first morsel of meat in my mouth. They managed to cook each bit of beef to a perfect medium rare. Every bite was like the first bite of the best filet mignon I’d ever had; warm, tender and perfectly seasoned. The tomato rice was like the dish’s step child. I enjoyed that it was there, but my focus was clearly elsewhere.
The selection of cocktails is divine. Their charming little concoctions of fashionable flavors and loveable liquors are the perfect addition to any meal. I like the Pagoda Special (although I don’t think that’s what it’s called) with vodka, cranberry and a skewered lychee garnish.
My dining companion and I went to Pagoda, for the first time, on a Monday night. I’m not usually a fan of reviewing a place on a Monday because it doesn’t give me an accurate feel for the potential vibe. While the décor was divine and the music modern, we were the only patrons there. It wasn’t until we were about to leave that two other customers came in and sat at the bar.
I visited Pagoda again on a Friday night and, sadly, the place was empty again. The adorable hostess led us to exactly the same table and we were the only people in the entire dining room. I guess we could blame it on the fact that Pagoda’s new or that they were trying to relaunch in the midst of the Holidays.
I can only say that, if you want to get good food, at a cute place, without the wait that typically peaks at 7pm on a Friday night - this is the place to try. Let’s just hope the word gets around…before the next hurricane hits.
Location: 4705 Inker Street 832.673.0400
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 needs...you're gonna hear me cry.
Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!