Monday, August 5, 2013

Houston's - Irvine, CA: An Extremely Versatile Date Spot

For my first blog post of a restaurant, it would be an honorable beginning to cover Houston's, a fabulous New American restaurant that for sure satisfies the appetites of many from a broad spectrum of culinary experience. Experienced epicures who have not only sampled some of the finest gastronomic masterpieces around the world but also willing to indulge into any cuisine without the slightest reservation will not only recognize but glorify the simplicity of the high-quality dishes served at Houston's. On the other hand, for those who are known as and even acknowledge themselves as picky eaters while completely stubborn in trying anything new as they are immediately sprinting in the opposite direction the moment they gaze at a dish that's unusual and foreign to their palates, or worse, have zero pleasure in eating and pretty much eat the same damn thing everyday for the only purpose of not starving themselves; one can't go wrong even by taking a date of this description to Houston's for a bite to eat. As it's simple New American, it's highly unlikely that someone would have a problem with the food as the ingredients that are used in this genre of food are pretty familiar to many even to those from different parts of the world as American influence has spread all over via globalization.

Before I get into the dishes served at Houston's, I would like to talk about the restaurant's environment and ambiance. The lighting is dim and the interior is accented with medium to dark woods creating a harmonious casual yet sophisticated & intimate dining experience. Their main dining area consists of booths which is ideal for a more private and intimate dining experience while bar dining also remains as an option if you or your date would prefer a more lively, spontaneous one instead. In addition, the patrons that dine at Houston's consist of couples on a date, bigshots having a nice bite to eat after a long day at the office, and families wanting a simple yet more upscale jump up from the typical family restaurant chain. Also, the waitstaff and the rest of the the front of the house staff are courteous, friendly and polite while dressed professionally as well; they definitely deserve to be tipped well. It's because of these versatile qualities that make Houston's a great first date spot while also remaining ideal for recurring dates.

As Houston's has a full bar while also having a great selection of mid to top shelf spirits, it's great to order some classic cocktails such as a Manhattan, Martini or even a Gin & Tonic. In addition, they have a broad wine list by the glass consisting of many varieties such as sparkling wines, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, etc.. While they do carry wines by the bottle, they have a $15 corkage fee if you bring your own vintage. They also carry three different beers on draft and change throughout the year while also having stocked other beer varieties in bottles as well; not exactly ideal for most beer lovers but they serve their pints and other drinks professionally.

Not just in terms of a date willing to eat something solely based on its cuisine, even though they have a small menu, they can serve to a variety of cravings and food preferences with meats, seafood, simple burgers & sandwiches, and vegetarian (even vegan) dishes such as veggie burgers (sans cheese for vegans) and salads. If you or your date is quite the carnivore, the dish I would highly recommend is their Roasted Aged Prime Rib. Granted it may look pretty bloody and might scare your date if ordered rare, they serve it as a beautiful large chop with the bone still on preserving its flavor. While some might scoff at the idea of ordering chicken as it might seem sophomoric palate-wise including myself, their Rotisserie Chicken Should not be overlooked. I was dining at the bar one day and noticed a gentlemen who had ordered the chicken as he seemed to have a discerning, experienced palate from the way he had composed himself while ordering a classic gin martini with three olives. When his dish came, it looked extremely refined as it was coated with a shiny apricot glaze and topped with herbs while at the time had a barley salad on the side. I then ordered that dish when I came back later and it certainly is the most moist and deeply flavored rotisserie chicken I have ever tasted. The barley salad that came on the side was definitely quite welcoming for my taste buds as a refreshing contrast is appreciated and needed after wolfing down a hearty tasting chicken. If one of you is in the mood for seafood, I would recommend their Scottish Salmon as people say it's cooked to the right point as it's highly moist and no where near being overcooked. Even though I haven't had their salmon entrée yet, I have had their smoked salmon and it's one of the most amazing appetizers I've ever had as it was the first thing I have ever ate from Houston's. The smoked salmon's not cold-smoked like you see with sliced smoked salmon on bagels as it appears to have been cooked in the process but it's incredibly moist and with the right amount of smokiness while the dill sauce and the toast points complement the smoked salmon extremely well. Another great appetizer to share is their Chicago-Style Spinach Dip. Although those with more upscale palates might scoff at the idea of ordering a spinach dip as they would imagine it as something greasy coming from a typical chain restaurant, they will ultimately love Houston's take on the appetizer as they use high-quality ingredients in all of their food. Although they are a New American restaurant, I still find it unusual that they would offer sushi on their menu. While their Nigiri sushi combination looked alright from afar, after sampling their Osaka Style Pressed Sushi even though its shape is the only quality that remotely resembles actual pressed sushi in Osaka as they use spicy tuna in their version, this is definitely not sushi that sushi connoisseurs/purists will put in their mouths, let alone enjoy. The sushi is most likely the only thing I wouldn't recommend ordering from Houston's unless if you or your date highly goes for the "rolls". If your or your date is a vegetarian or even a vegan (of course I would double check in order for them to comply with a person's vegan diet), they have two options: their House Made Veggie Burger (as mentioned earlier, without the cheese for vegans) or their Emerald Kale Salad. In addition to their appetizers and main dishes, they have amazing sides as well. My go-to side dish would be their Colcannon (mixed with cabbage) Mashed Potatoes. Unfortunately, they only serve the mashed potatoes during dinner. Also their vegetable side dishes such as their maple-glazed Heirloom Carrots and their Broccoli taste extremely delicious and fresh so that we begin to wonder why we don't like to eat our veggies in the first place. If you want a refreshing, more lighter side, I would definitely recommend ordering their Tabbouleh as that's what I usually go for especially when ordering their prime rib served rare when they don't have their mashed potatoes during lunch. If in season, do try their Braised Red Cabbage topped with Goat Cheese. It may be too acidic for some from the cabbage being braised in red wine, it's heavenly for those that highly enjoy acidity while appreciating the contrasting yet sharp goat cheese on top. I haven't had their desserts as I usually go for a liquid one such as a cognac or a single-malt scotch, they look delicious and well made while not appearing to be overwhelmingly rich from afar such as their Apple Walnut Cobbler. Overall, their food is reasonably priced ($16-46, typically around $30-35 for a main dish) especially when considering the high-quality ingredients they use for their dishes. Along with the dining environment, the reasonable price/highly delicious food factor also makes it ideal for a first date as they won't feel pressured/intimidated as with an extremely expensive restaurant or offended while labeling you as a cheapskate if you take them to a place that serves $5 sandwiches that are a foot long.

-Great first date spot with its intimate yet casual environment; also versatile as a place for recurring dates as well.
-Most likely will appease dates of various levels of food appreciation as New American is a safe bet as a cuisine while those with more upscale palates would appreciate the high-quality simplicity of the food at Houston's.
- Booths in their dining area create a more private and intimate dining experience but bar dining is also available for a more lively, spontaneous dining experience.
-Great for high-end cocktails and spirits. Many different varieties of wines available by the glass.
- Recommended Dishes - Appetizers: Smoked Salmon and Chicago Style Spinach Dip. Main: Roasted Aged Prime Rib, Scottish Salmon and Rotisserie Chicken. Vegetarian/Vegan: House Made Veggie Burger and Emerald Kale Salad.
-Reasonably priced while serving extremely delicious yet simple food using high-quality ingredients makes it even more a great first date spot.

Original Blog Posts from The Metropolitan Lounge:
Houston's (2nd review) - Fine American Simplicity
Houston's - A Peaceful Sunday Lunch

Sunday, August 4, 2013


A Concierge for the Fellow Man is a spin-off blog from my main one, The Metropolitan Lounge. While my main blog is about primarily food & dining with detours into other subjects such as travel, this blog is meant to assist people, mainly men who need help in deciding where to bring a date for dinner while also depending on the occasion such as a first date. I became inspired to start this blog due to a couple of main reasons with one of them being that I get asked by my friends all the time regarding where to take a date out for dinner from a perspective of someone who highly appreciates gastronomic indulgences. The other reason for this blog is to help the nice guys, the guys that truly deserve a woman's affection as they are empathetic, sincere, funny and intelligent. Instead of competing against one another, we men should help each other impress our dates so that we can all find someone who's not only compatible but a partner who's willing to embrace and to have fun in the future chapters of life.

-The Bartender