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Bacon, Eggs and Barbera

Treat yourself to Mediterranean-inflected breakfast foods and some of the most amazing wine deals in town at Catalan

Which brings up the question of authenticity. The Spanish island of Ibiza is a European package-tour destination. Its native cuisine was long ago replaced by hotel buffets. Naming a restaurant "Ibiza" leaves you free to offer any kind of nebulous tropical fare you care to dream up.

Catalonia, on the other hand, is a Mediterranean region with a long culinary tradition. Did the restaurant owners intend to use it as a fantasy name like Ibiza, or is Catalan Food & Wine Bar supposed to have something to do with the Spanish region of Catalonia? The mention of Catalonian olive oil, Catalan spinach and Catalan garlic soup on the menu would seem to suggest some kind of stab at authenticity.

I spent three days in Barcelona a decade or so ago. What I remember eating were lots of paella-like casseroles and seafood tapas dishes with octopus, squid and a variety of tiny fishes, along with cold roasted vegetables and lots of wine. But I'm no expert.

The crispy pork belly with Steen's syrup will remind you of breakfast.
Daniel Kramer
The crispy pork belly with Steen's syrup will remind you of breakfast.

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Catalan Food & Wine Bar

5555 Washington St.
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Spanish

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays; 5 p.m. to midnight Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Pork belly and syrup: $9

Tortilla: $5

Seafood stew: $26

Shrimp grits: $24

Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre: $30

5555 Washington, 713-426-4260.

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So I e-mailed a copy of the restaurant's menu to Colman Andrews, the former editor of Saveur magazine and the author of Catalan Cuisine: Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret, to see what he thought.

"It reminds me of the usual Spanish (or Catalan) restaurant menu in the U.S., bearing only the most occasional resemblance to anything you'd see in Spain," Colman wrote back. "Tagliatelle, feta, gremolata, pesto, grits, preserved lemon, pumpkin seeds, avocado, Swiss cheese, portabella mushrooms, seared tuna, Caesar salad and my favorite multinational dish, 'calamatra pasta with sweet corn, Portuguese sausage and caramelized Brussels sprouts...' -- none of that's remotely Spanish, even in today's fusion-made Spain; it's Mediterranean-inflected American food, 21st-century-style. Could be good if the guy can cook, but I guarantee you that no Spaniard would ever identify the menu as being from a restaurant called 'Catalan.'"

I think it's fair to say that head chef Chris Shepherd can cook, and that Catalan serves some very good Mediterranean-inflected American food. In fact, the shrimp grits, the Steen's syrup and the Gulf seafood would seem to put Catalan into the even more intriguing category of Mediterranean-inflected Southern food.

The combination of several sommeliers helped make for a wonderfully eclectic wine list at Catalan. But I suspect too many cooks are looking over Shepherd's shoulder, resulting in a menu that's going several directions at the same time. That said, I predict that with an awesome bottle of reasonably priced wine on your table, you are going to find something to love on Catalan's menu -- especially if you are partial to bacon, eggs and grits.

Just don't expect to learn anything about the cuisine of Catalonia here. And if you have visitors coming in from Spain, take them out for Tex-Mex.

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