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Divine Vin

The dish is served with orzo pasta instead of macaroni noodles, a terrific decision, as it holds and brings together the creamy melted cheese perfectly. Mixed in are peas and thyme-roasted tomatoes, which give the plate a vibrant, colorful look. On top of the steak was a lone lobster claw, which I have to say was quite a bit overcooked. But that was it for the lobster. Do not be fooled, like I was, into thinking heaps of lobster are mixed in with the mac and cheese, as the menu might lead you to believe.

To drink, we picked out a bottle of Craggy Range, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Now, I know this is being picky, but the menu says that the wine is made in Marlborough, the country's most fertile Sauvignon Blanc-producing area, when in fact this wine, as it states on the bottle, was created just across the Cook Straight in Martinborough. Nevertheless, it is a terrific specimen, not as acidic and piercing as some of its fellow whites produced by the Kiwis. The cost: $49, on the low side when you consider wines range from $22 to well over $200. To be fair, more than half of the selections are on the lower end of the spectrum.

On other visits, I also tried the veal osso bucco and crawfish bisque. The osso bucco meat was served already off the bone, and I doubt it would have slipped off like it's supposed to: slow and sexy, like the clothes of a leggy Parisian stripper. It was a tad dry, but the rest of the flavors in the dish came to its aid. Served underneath the osso bucco were collard greens and white cheddar grits with smoky, salty cubes of tasso ham mixed in. Combined with a dollop of pesto on top of the meat, the tastes worked well when everything was eaten together. The soup had a nice bite to it — and a tasty surprise at the bottom of the bowl. Though it was difficult to break off with a spoon, the hominy fritter at the bottom offered a nice addition to the well-made, silky bisque.

The reinvented ham and cheese sandwich makes a great lunchtime escape.
Troy Fields
The reinvented ham and cheese sandwich makes a great lunchtime escape.

Details

Lunch hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Dinner hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and 5 p.m. to midnights Fridays and Saturdays. Weekday happy hour (drinks only): 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Housemade Sweet Potato Agnolotti: $8

Tuna Tartare Diablo: $12

Stove Oven Flatbreads: $11 each

Asparagus Salad: $9

Filet of Beef with Lobster Mac & Cheese: $38

Veal Osso Bucco: $34

Olive Crusted King Salmon: $25

"World's Tiniest Desserts": $3 each

534 Texas, 713-237-9600.

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From the outside, you cannot peek through Vin's dark tinted windows at what lies ahead; only a wooden door with white tinted glass and a metal handle greets ­diners.

Inside, there's a long, narrow side room almost immediately off to the left for private gatherings. The restaurant itself is spacious, with very tall ceilings. Overall, it has a modern decor, with deep, rich-colored wood and red leather seating. A bank of booths is laid out on a platform on the right side of the room, and the bar is straight ahead. Tables fill the center of the floor, and off in a corner there is a little nook, made to look like an Asian-inspired tea house, with soft yellow lighting.

Make no mistake about it, this is definitely a "cool-guy" restaurant.

Throughout my meals there, high-BPM house music pumped through the sound system and muted James Bond movies — with Sean Connery, of course — and Breakfast at Tiffany's played on the flat-screen TVs over the bar. Even the restrooms get in on the act; the sinks are illuminated and made of translucent red glass.

But strangely enough, I didn't see a lot of "cool guys" eating at Vin. In fact, I didn't see a whole lot of anybody eating there. On a Thursday night at seven, the place was only about a quarter full, and two weeks later on a Saturday night at 7:30, it was maybe a third full.

With so few people to attend to at one time, you'd think the service at a high-priced joint like this would be flawless.

No question, the waiters bubble with enthusiasm and are more than happy to take as much time as you need to describe the specials and answer inquiries concerning the menu. But though pleasant and friendly, the service suffered a few hiccups along the way. At one point, our waiter forgot which desserts we had ordered and brought us the wrong one (a good thing, it turned out, as we got to taste four instead of three of the miniature delights), and during another meal, a member of the staff dumped ice water into my wine. Embarrassed, he quickly replenished the glass and no one was hurt.

Lunch turned out to be the best meal of all. Chef Estes has taken the mundane rudiments of lunchtime fare and elevated them to dreamy cuisine.

"Try the hamburger," the waitress said. "Honestly, it doesn't even taste like a hamburger; it's totally different."

Well, it does taste like a hamburger, but a really damn good one. In between a sweet bun rests a generous-sized patty topped with sprouts, onion, Thousand Island, white cheddar and slices of bacon and tomato. It comes with a side of those paprika fries and makes for a great afternoon escape.

Clearly, Vin is not known for its lunches. Hardly a soul was there at 12:30 on a Thursday, but they should have been. As he does on the dinner menu, Estes offers a variety of hand-tossed stone-oven flatbreads for lunch that can be shared or, if you're like me, selfishly gobbled down alone. I tried the "bianco" — served with a thin stripe of zucchini and tomato slices topped with lump crabmeat, thyme and bourbon butter. It all tasted so good, it made me wish I'd had one for dinner.

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