Time once again to see what the critics have to say about Houston's restaurants this week. The Houston Press' Katharine Shilcutt heads to Chinatown to assess Malaysian restaurant Banana Leaf's new, larger location. In the heart of downtown, Chronicle critic Alison Cook praises Phoenicia's mix of grocery, hot items and drinks. Chris Shepherd's new restaurant Underbelly receives its first formal review from My Table's Eric Gerber. Finally, on the blogs, Chili Bob's Houston Eats looks at French food truck L'es-Car-Go.
Shilcutt is generally pleased by what she finds at Banana Leaf II. Compared to the space's previous occupant, the decor has "been given a beautiful face-lift" that features "handsome mahogany booths covered with palapas and a green wallpaper that approximates the tropical look of bamboo." She praises the menu's diversity noting that there are Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese influenced dishes available. While "a few old favorites like the taro fried shrimp aren't quite up to par," Shilcutt decides that she's "become most attached to ... the Malaysian-style pickled vegetables."
Reviewing a grocery store may seem a little strange, but Alison Cook notes the various ways in which Phoenicia's new downtown location sets itself apart. She singles out the Market Bar, particularly "on Sundays, [when] the Market Bar is the scene for what has to be the most democratic jazz brunch in town." Some dishes are stronger than others "but once you’ve identified some favorites, you can dine well here." Cook singles out the chicken schwarma and lamb sliders as particularly good but was not impressed by "a pizza with a 'rustic olive' crust that came off stodgy and inert." Cook concludes that in the end, it’s not so much the food as the Phoenicia phenomenon that matters."
Gerber's Underbelly write up stands in marked contrast to the strong word of mouth and early reviews the restaurant has received. He finds the menu "challenging" in its "tapas-like approach [that] can also leave you hungry and/or overspent." He flat out rejects Underbelly's claim to tell "the story of Houston food" writing "if Underbelly’s bill of fare were blindly presented to a panel of culinary experts to determine what specific city’s food it represented, I can’t imagine Houston would come up on many score sheets." Despite his confusion, Gerber writes that "there was not a single dish I had at Underbelly that didn’t make me smile ... raise my eyebrows ... or smack my lips" and plans "on becoming very good friends" with Underbelly, at least until Shepherd reads this review that spends more time criticizing the restaurant's attitude than praising its food.
THE BLOGS: Chili Bob's Houston Eats pays a visit to Jean-Phillippe Guy's French food truck L'es-Car-Go. He praises the pulled pork Provencal sandwich, Texas goat cheese quiche and a chicken stew with the line "my only regret each time was that I couldn’t eat more off the menu that day."
· Phoenicia Blooms Into a Downtown Staple [29-95]
· Double Happiness at Banana Leaf [Houston Press]
· Restaurant Review: Underbelly [My Table]
· L'es-Car-Go [Chili Bob's Houston Eats]
Pita conveyor belt at Phoenicia [[EHOU]]