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Haute on the Grange
Gone are the extra words in the name: What was once the Ohio Grange Cafe is now merely The Grange -- and likewise, the restaurant itself is sleeker and chic-er. Also gone is the menu's oddball ode to Midwestern farm values; instead, emblazoned at the bottom of the page is the name of an executive chef: Ronald Klotzer. Say good-bye to countrified pseudo-modesty; say hello to undisguised ambition.

You can forget the homey old chicken pot pie. Instead, the restaurant now offers "wildflower honey-glazed free range hen." And Lord, you should see what's happened to the meat loaf. No more slices a la mom, gussied up only by ketchup (admittedly, it was a ketchup made in-house; but still, ketchup). Nowadays, you get meat loaf from another planet: A flat-topped cone of ground venison rises from a bed of pureed sweet potatoes, which are in turn surrounded by a moat of roasted vegetable chunks in a burgundy wine sauce. From the top of that assemblage merrily waves a six-inch sprig of rosemary; it looks like one of those over-tall antennas that boosts a skyscraper to a place in the record books.

They don't make meat loaf like that in Ohio.
-- Lisa Gray

The Grange, 1915 Westheimer, 529-9500.

Si Food
Some of Houston's Mexican restaurants soften their recipes and environment to pander to American tastes. Not Ostioneria 7 Mares, a five-branch seafood restaurant that may as well be south of Brownsville, for all its lack of concessions to Yankee timidity.

For something astonishingly out of the ordinary, try pulpo a la diabla, a.k.a. octopus in devil sauce. The name gives fair warning: This sauce is a veritable red sea, intensely sweet and spicy, as if made up of equal parts ketchup, vinegar and cayenne. It's so aggressive that it obscures the identity of the slivers swimming in it; you recognize them as octopus only because they're slightly springy.

Cholula hot sauce in containers the size of beer bottles should be a clue that this place takes heat seriously. Approach the green tomatillo salsa with care; it's got a burn like rolling thunder. Fortunately, it also has the company of lime wedges, which are effective and fast-acting in turning down the heat.

-- Kathy Biehl

Ostioneria 7 Mares, 4602 Irvington Boulevard, 692-7776; four other locations.

 
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