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Taste of Texas

Rancho Tejas does guy food a gal could learn to love

In the puzzling category falls the house specialty, "range beef" cut from the revolving Angus hindquarter and served either fajita-fashion or barbecue-style. Since the beef is slow-roasted over pecan wood, it comes away from the coals as a sort of Yber-brisket: pricey at $12.75 for what amounts to a glorified barbecue dinner. Not bad, but not particularly memorable, either, no matter how striking the spectacle of that hindquarter. As to well-done, briskety fajitas ... no thank you.

More puzzling still are roasted quail swathed in flabby flaps of bacon that defeat any flavor these poor farm-raised birds might summon up. Between all that bacon, and the cornbread stuffing packed underneath, it's hard to find the quail at all. Perhaps mercifully, since they were dry and overcooked one noon last week. Sourish cheese-sauced new potatoes came with them, more's the pity. I longed desperately for those green beans.

Dessert here can be swell, though, if you order the unusual pecan cobbler. It's like a pecan pie without the all-too-fallible crust: crisp, unsweetened shortbread wafers actually perform better than crust, and the filling boasts a distinctive smooth-sticky texture that trumpets the comforting presence of Karo syrup. "Yum" is the word that comes to mind -- again.

Early glitches or no, Rancho Tejas has the air of a smart and promising place that knows the Houston market. The menu is still shaking out: already they've added a much-needed, (relatively) lighter lunch menu with a soup-or-chili-and-salad option that's very attractive, given the classiness of the kitchen's soups. The look is smashing -- pale, serene, solid, sensibly devoid of the Wild Western cuteness that runs rampant at megachef Stephan Pyles' trendy Star Canyon in Dallas and creeps through Robert del Grande's Rio Ranch here at home. The service may be on the bumpy, untutored side, but it's notably cheerful and bushy-tailed.

Harold Farb has already shown up for lunch, minus the eats-like-a-bird Diane Lokey. That says it all.

Rancho Tejas, 4747 San Felipe at West Loop South, 840-0440.

Rancho Tejas: crab nachos, $6.95;
tortilla soup, $3.75;
broiled stuffed flounder, $14.95;
pecan cobbler $2.95

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