Monday, June 8, 2009

Five Guys - A Good Inexpensive Burger by Lake Conroe


The Houston area is blessed with a variety of great burger joints. From Christian's Totem to Beck's Prime, from Smashburger to Mel's, we're fortunate in the variety of excellent burgers available to enjoy.

But one thing we've been watching is the gradual creep of burger prices. Now we aren't surprised to spend $8-10 on a great burger and we've often paid even more than that. The once-humble burger is now a bona fide gourmet sandwich.

But what if you're on a budget? What if you're dining with the kids? Are there any great burgers to be had for less than $5, or do we have to go with the old Texas reliable, Whataburger?

We're happy to report that we've discovered a new place to get an excellent but still affordable burger. Five Guys Burgers and Fries makes fresh, hand-formed burgers, and they are surprisingly affordable.

We visited Five Guys Waterpoint location, on the south shore of Lake Conroe. The bright, clean interior welcomes guests, and their unique location includes a back deck with a view of the water... but the deck is hidden behind the drink service area and the restrooms.

The Five Guys burger is a classic traditional hamburger, with your choice of either one or two hand-formed quarter-pound patties. They griddle the beef well done, but it stays juicy; we suspect that higher-than-average griddle temperature is the secret. The only toppings you pay extra for are bacon and cheese, everything else is included in the price, including grilled onions, grilled mushrooms and a variety of peppers.

The only side offered are hand-cut french fries, served either regular or Cajun-style. We like seasoned fries, but we have to warn you that Five Guys uses a very spicy Cajun seasoning.

We've save the best for last: The price. The single-patty hamburger costs $3.39; the double cheeseburger is $4.99. Considering the quality of the burger, this represents a tremendous value. Five Guys has three locations in the Houston area, and has aggressive plans for expansion. We're looking forward to visiting again.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Valentino Houston opening this fall in Hotel Derek

Exciting news about the new concept coming to the Hotel Derek.

Hotel Interactive Reports:

"An Italian legend is headed to Houston. For more than 37 years, Piero Selvaggio has been celebrated for providing a true taste of Italy at his award-winning restaurants in Santa Monica and Las Vegas. His passion as a wine collector, over 130,000 bottles and growing, just earned Selvaggio induction into the Italian Wine Hall of Fame. Soon, Houstonians will be able to experience the exceptional Italian cuisine, award-winning wine cellar and legendary hospitality when PS Valentino Vin Bar opens at the Hotel Derek, the fashionable boutique hotel in the Galleria. The restaurant will open this fall.

"PS Valentino Vin Bar will house two special dining experiences, an intimate fine dining restaurant and the more casual Vin Bar. Houstonians and Hotel Derek patrons can enjoy Selvaggio’s commitment to an authentic, yet inventive Italian dining experience or choose the eclectic Vin Bar with its wide selection of innovative dishes in a “primi” or small plate format as well as an extensive by-the-glass wine list. The restaurant will also feature multiple private dining areas for special occasions and business functions. Executive Chef and partner, Luciano Pellegrini, who was awarded one of the culinary world's highest honors, Best Chef in the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2004, said “we’ll serve traditional and inventive food with a deep rooted Italian influence that takes into consideration local ingredients, seasonality, and market availability.”

Hotel Derek General Manager, Hans Schmitt, said “we are thrilled to be working with the Valentino team. This truly is a perfect partnership for Hotel Derek as we pride ourselves on exacting hospitality in a chic and welcoming setting. Selvaggio and Pellegrini have developed an incredible restaurant concept which we believe will suit our guests perfectly. Houston is an international city with an appetite for new and exciting food and wine. With both the intimate dining setting and the more casual Vin Bar bistro area under the same roof, overseen by these legendary culinary entrepreneurs, Houstonians and our hotel’s patrons can look forward to a truly memorable experience.”

"The Valentino Restaurant Group is home to Valentino, the flagship restaurant founded in Santa Monica in 1972 by restaurateur Piero Selvaggio. Following the success of the original Valentino Restaurant, Selvaggio opened Valentino Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel in 1999 and Giorgio, in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in 2004. Selvaggio is considered one of the modern fathers of Italian cuisine in America, capturing the charm, warmth and festive spirit of Italian hospitality. "

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chain Restaurant Survey Results

Let's get this out of the way up front: We're not huge fans of large restaurant chains. We are all about small family owned restaurants where the chef and owner is intimately involved with everything from the cuisine to the decor.

But in our modern world, most folks dine regularly at chain restaurants. So it's helpful to find out which ones deliver, and which ones confirm the stereotypes.

Consumer Reports did a recent survey of over 70,000 subscribers making over 150,000 visits to over a hundred different chains. And the results are interesting.

Patrons gave 21 chains top marks for food. Included were The Original Pancake House, Bravo Cucina Italiano, Texas Road House, Bone Fish Grill, Morton's the Steakhouse and Abuelo's.

Five chains earned exceptional scores for value: Black-eyed Pea, Sonny's Real Pit BBQ, Azteca Mexican Restaurant, Cheddar's Casual Cafe, and First Watch.

At the other end of the spectrum, with lower marks across the board, were Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Joe's Crab Shack, and Friendly's.

For good meals on a budget (less than $20,) respondents recommended Mimi's Cafe, Abuelo's, Cheddar's Casual Cafe, Elephant Bar Restaurant and Texas Roadhouse. Those restaurants earned better-than-average marks for food and value. First Watch and The Original Pancake House were also standouts for food and value, but are limited to breakfast and lunch fare.

When choosing a chain for a special occasion, Houston's, J. Alexander's, Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano, Bravo Cucina Italiano, Maggiano's Little Italy, Il Fornaio, Bonefish Grill, McCormick & Schmick's, The Capital Grille, Morton's the Steakhouse, Ruth's Chris Steak House and the Melting Pot all earned the highest marks for food, mood, and service.

Respondents weren't shy about discussing problems. Noise (from loud customers and crowded tables) was the complaint cited most often. The Texas Road House, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, and Hooters were among the chains cited with higher than average noise complaints. Sloppy service (waiters or waitresses were inattentive or slow to bring food or the check) was next. The Rainforest Cafe, Friendly's and
the Cheesecake Factory were among the eight chains with above average
complaint rates.

Friendly's, Shoney's, and Logan's Roadhouse were among the chains cited for lack of cleanliness (bathrooms or floors were dirty, tableware was grimy). On average food-prep problems complaints (dishes were under- or overcooked, had too much or too little seasoning, or looked unappetizing) were low--only about 7 percent

There were also complaints about long waits, which were more likely than average at The Cheesecake Factory, Rainforest Cafe, Texas Roadhouse, Houston's, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, and Outback Steakhouse. At those restaurants, 6 to 14 percent of respondents waited 30 minutes or more to be seated.