The Skinny: BYOB can appear on invitations to any number of delights; potlucks, frat parties, tailgating - or in this case - one of the best little restaurants in the Montrose.
The Fat: Do you ever crave a great meal without all the hoopla? I absolutely do. I love to get all dolled up for a night on the town just as much as I enjoy walking down the street in sandals for a casual meal. For those precious moments in between, Sophia reigns supreme.
A sloppy little coffee house where I used to lug my laptop and law books when I wanted to study away from the depressing library or the bustling neighborhood Starbucks, is the reincarnated home of a dining gem mere paces away from the Menil.
While under new ownership, this off-the-main-drive location has maintained the simple vibe that originally drew me there, but instead of free wi-fi and stale muffins, we have twinkling lights and fine food.
On my most recent visit, I teamed up with four of my friends for a casual end of week dinner. Once our party of five was complete, we opened some wine and feasted on the soft bread and luscious olive oil dip that awaited our arrival; simplicity at its finest.
As we all studied the menu, I could see that there were eight starters to choose from, four of which were calling my name. I'd been to Sophia before, but my on my first visit with a group, I arrived late after work and missed the spread of appetizers altogether. Needless to say I was teeming with excitement over this fresh opportunity, so I immediately suggested that we order a few appetizers for all of us to share.
We chose the Mussels, the Spicy Sauteed Calamari and the Spinach and Goat Cheese Dip.
The Mussels are a sure bet; fat and plump. These meaty morsels were steamed and flavored with rough chunks of apple smoked bacon, bits of fresh apple and an apple brandy sauce. There were enough for each of us to have 2-3 a piece and plenty of sauce left over for us to sop up with bread - a hit to say the least.
The "Spicy" Sauteed Calamari, while not remotely spicy, were tender and lovely nonetheless. The delicate pile of calamari was tossed with thin slices of Spanish Chorizo, topped with crispy Leek shavings and bathing in a shallow pool of light Habanero broth.
The Spinach and Goat Cheese dip was our last choice, something I thought would be a crowd pleaser, but surely not take center stage. Was I ever wrong...well, half wrong. It was a crowd pleaser alright, but the traditionally ordinary ingredients held their own against the mussels and calamari.
The tangy goat cheese and delicate spinach were folded together into a creamy mix drizzled with, none other than (my fave) truffle oil! Honestly, I had overlooked that ingredient on the menu and just agreed to order the dish because it sounded like something all five of us would enjoy.
When I took the first bite I actually said, "Oh my gosh, this is awesome. It tastes like...like...like there's a little bit of truffle oil in it" and there was. Fabulous Truffle Oil to the rescue! Once again, it proved to be the perfect addition to elevate an otherwise commonplace combination. It was so good, in fact, that once the crisp bread bowl that it had been served in was scraped clean, it was promptly cut apart and devoured as well.
Another round of the same would have served me well, but we sipped on our wine and eagerly went back to the menu to select our entrees.
Sophia offers a limited, but beautiful selection of entrees. You'll find about six menu items and maybe a couple of nightly specials. You won't feel deprived, however, because the short list includes all the essentials like chicken, pork, fish and beef. Just pick your poison and you'll find something there that fits the bill.
The last time I went, I ordered the Grilled Rib Eye, medium rare...yum. It's served with a heavenly pat of Cold Mushroom Compound butter, an amazing side of Blue Cheese Macaroni and steamed broccoli. Fantastic!
I did have to send my steak back for a quick flash. It was incredibly undercooked, but in my opinion, a "rare" mistake is better because it takes a far shorter time to rectify than a "well done" one!
Sometimes my friends and I will order one entree each and share so that we can try it all. Sadly, most of the group ordered the same thing so my sharing options were limited. One friend did branch out and order the Oven Roasted Half Chicken with Rosemary Pan Sauce. Luckily, I pried his hands away from his plate long enough to steal a bite.
I don't typically order basic chicken at a restaurant that offers things like Bacon Stuffed Pork Chops and Grilled Salmon with Tomato Caper Sauce, but this chicken was moist, tender and so delicious.
A party of five or more can have multiple effects on a small place like this. On my third visit, we were the first large party to arrive after two quiet couples had clearly made their way through wine and apps. We were a jovial bunch (not rowdy by any means, but spirited) and so, it was clear that we were changing the mood from "quiet and intimate" to "lively and energetic".
I'm not ashamed of the shift and we weren't made to feel bad about it, but be prepared for either experience. A restaurant with an open floor plan, concrete floors and bare walls ensures that the vibe and noise level will be determined by its patrons.
The service is friendly and the decor is clean and simple. There are booths for parties of two and four, and tables for four or more. The chairs are a bit stiff and wobbly and the tables sit a little too low, but you'll adjust without any long term discomfort.
A great feature about Sophia is that it's BYOB. That's a hard sell to a number of customers, but I am always shocked by that fact. Why a person wouldn't want to pick out their own wine, at their own price and bring it for dinner is beyond me. Each guest in my party was able to bring a unique selection and share it with the table - an amusing option for any dining experience.
I've been to Sophia several times now and each time I brought a great bottle of wine, partook in an array of appetizers, enjoyed an entree and shared a dessert or two - all for $25 to $40. If you love fine dining and are mindful of your budget, it's the best of both worlds!
Location: 1601 W Main St - 713.942.7970
P.S. Although it seemed that reservations were unnecessary on all of my visits, I cannot advise you on whether or not to make them. I always do on the weekends, just to be safe. But if you forget to make them, don't count this place out for a great weekend dinner. Even if it's a last minute idea...swing by and give it a try.
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!