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Of the same genre is the supper salad of boiled Gulf shrimp, mixed lettuces and grilled asparagus spears. With its fat, sweet shrimp, its graceful goat-cheese dressing and its cool cucumbers and tomatoes, this is a lovely plate of summer food. Ouisie's traditionally has done right by salads -- from the simple romaine house version to an avocado-and-grapefruit number whose light, lime-laced poppy-seed dressing could teach all its glutinous cousins a thing or two. More avocado and grapefruit would have been nice; otherwise this salad could hardly be improved.
Not so the crab cakes, which suffer from being deep-fried instead of pan sauteed, and from a high bread-crumb quotient. Far better is the pricey new rack of lamb rubbed with a Moroccan-style mix of cumin, coriander and garlic; ordered rare, with simple sauteed spinach and strangely unmemorable minted wild rice, it's worthy of gnawing off the bone. For more conservative eaters, there's carefully grilled beef tenderloin wrapped in trusty apple-smoked bacon, with an updated set of trimmings: foresty wild mushrooms, roasted red potatoes gigged with garlic and rosemary, fresh snap beans and a convincing demiglace sauce. Country-club and then some.
3939 San Felipe
Houston, TX 77027
Region: Greenway Plaza
The soulfully inclined can avail themselves of the resurrected Tuesday-night special so many regulars swore by: a surprisingly acceptable (I'm prejudiced here) chicken fried steak with a respectable cream gravy, peppery black-eyed peas, nicely bitter greens and corn so fresh it seems to have leapt right off the cob. Since I remain convinced that chicken-frying a piece of tenderized round steak is a perverse enterprise at best, I prefer to take my soul in the form of a homey whole onion baked with three sprightly cheeses -- a gutsy idea that falls under the chummy heading of "Appetizers, Little Dinners and Old Friends." It beats the palm hearts with smoked salmon and horseradish cream and the house pate, a chicken-liver mash whose brandy and caramelized onions fail to shine through sufficiently.
Desserts? Yes indeed. Swoon-worthy Black Magic Cake shimmers with rum and brandy; so does bread pudding threaded with fragrant orange rind. An Italian cream cake was suffering through a dry spell, but the dark, bittersweet chocolate pot de creme is as good as ever. One bite and the years melt away.
Elouise never served breakfast in the old days, but clearly she was born to do it. Steaming bowls of latte, robust huevos rancheros, glistening soft-scrambled eggs, creamy polenta layered with spinach and a touch of cheese: these are things worth getting up for. And if monkey bread seems a bit jarring with a jolt of vanilla glaze, there are always the stellar toasted biscuits -- here called by the Southern nickname of "catheads," although they are the size of silver dollars rather than cats' noggins.
I tucked the last stray catheads in my purse to take home. And I came away with something else: the sense that regeneration is possible in the midst of life's outrages and sorrows. Elouise Cooper left the restaurant business after her son was killed in an accident; several years later, her husband died suddenly. Now here she is, serenely ensconced in a glamorous new universe of her own devising, surrounded by well-wishers and old friends. When they wax ecstatic to be back, they are not only happy for Elouise -- they are hopeful for themselves.
Ouisie's, 3939 San Felipe, 528-2264.
fried-egg BLT, $7.50;
grapefruit, avocado and red onion salad, $7;
rack of lamb with Moroccan spices, $23;
supper salad of boiled Gulf shrimp, $13.50.