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A Trio of Tastes in Houston

Smoked Salmon Sandwich from Brasserie 19by Joey Stewart            photos by Joey Stewart

Houston is home to one of the most diverse and multicultural dining scenes in the country.  On a recent trip we chose three restaurants that feature Vietnamese, Japanese, and French themes for our readers to try next time they visit the Bayou area.  

La Viet

The city with the third largest Vietnamese population in the US boasts hundreds of these restaurants.  It would take over a year or so to try them all, so after much fuss we settled on Le Viet. It’s spacious with an elegant bar and plenty of tables and booths. Each booth houses its own grill built right into the center of it, which is used for their “grill your own meat” dishes.

The service is attentive and friendly, and daily specials are featured on the chalkboard as you enter. Twin Lobsters and Clams with Basil Sauce were featured on our two visits.

The menu is an extensive five-page list of everything you come to expect plus more:  four kinds of spring rolls, all the usual noodle dishes, soups, salads, an excellent Pho with a rich and savory broth, huge hot pots filled with all your favorites, and a monstrous “Bahn xeo”, or Vietnamese crepe, made with shrimp, spices, flour and coconut milk.  Just tear off a piece and place it inside a lettuce leaf, then fill it up with all sorts of fresh herbs and sauces. It’s a crispy treat loaded with flavor. Oh, and don’t forget that they have a four dollar Bahn mi sandwich. If you’d like to pile on extra meats or vegetables, they are just $1.50 extra.

In a world of strip mall “down and dirty” Vietnamese restaurants, Le Viet stands out.

Kata Robata

Sushi in Houston was almost ruined in the 90’s and early 2000’s with traditional fare being replaced with fusion era establishments. Now things have changed, and expectations are rising. Sushi lovers demand high quality fish while keeping costs as low as possible. The upside is that only restaurants that are knowledgeable and hardworking survive.

According to Carl Rosa, the president of the Sushi Club of Houston, “Houstonians are beginning to understand the integral factors that make the difference between mediocre and great sushi.  There’s still a long way to go, but you’ve never seen this city devour more uni, tamago and anago then ever before.”

Although I would list Uchi as my top choice in the area for overall creativity, the Sushi Club of Houston picks Kata Robata as number one in all of Houston. The club spends nine months of careful reviewing on a variety of factors, with around fifty reviewers chiming in.

“Kata Robata, pulled off the top spot this year (awarded the highest number of points at the end of 2012) due to their commitment to quality sushi rice, sizable selection, suitable portion sizes, and acceptable value.  While others came close to achieving the top spot, Kata won by a few points to make them the best recommendation for this year,” Carl reports.

Brasserie 19

From rock star chef Charles Clark and his business partner Grant Cooper, the duo responsible for Ibiza Food and Wine Bar and Coppa Ristorante Italiano, comes Brasserie 19.  Located in the upscale River Oaks area of Houston, the cuisine

reimagines classic French fare by enhancing it with Gulf Coast flavors and modern American influences.

It features an outdoor patio and lively bar scene, and the diverse crowd is made up of well-heeled socialites, businessmen, and foodies.

“We have the best oysters in town,” our helpful bartender proclaimed. I consider myself an oyster connoisseur, and he wasn’t far off.  The six kinds of Northeastern options were briny, sweet, and full of flavor. Other standouts include a tender grilled octopus, perfectly crisp frites, beef bourguignon, a 63 degree sous vide egg, crispy chicken livers, bouillabaisse, and classic French onion soup. The menu changes on a daily basis and covers a variety of poultry, meat, and fish, all with the touch of chef Clark.

Like so many top-notch eateries that bring in only the best quality, the price can sting a bit. However, if you are the kind of diner that demands the best and you are a fan of Charles Clark, then it’s worth that stinger.

For more information about Brasserie 19 check out their website.

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