By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The coolest stuff I've eaten at Voice, the new restaurant at the chic Hotel Icon, came from the bar menu. The "four little crab cakes in red chili voodoo sauce," the size and shape of marshmallows, were made out of sweet, solid crab. They were deep-fried in a crunchy crust and served in a sweet and hot red pepper sauce. The "fish and chips" were actually sushi nachos — crispy taro chips topped with raw chopped tuna tossed with soy and sesame oil. It was a witty concept with a sensational payoff. The Angus sliders were top-notch mini-burgers served with a paper cone of ethereal truffle-parmesan fries. All of it was awesome.
Such terrific bar snacks don't come cheap, of course. The two itty-bitty burgers were $14. But I wouldn't have minded if they hadn't gouged me on the drinks. It's $2.50 every time they refill your iced tea at the bar. And a plain old club soda is three bucks. "Sorry," the bartender said with a smile when I asked if she knew of any other restaurant in Houston, Texas, that charges for iced tea refills.
Voice is located in the grand space that Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Bank restaurant previously occupied. It is a cavernous, two-story-high former bank lobby with enormous faux-marble pillars and vaulted ceilings, with gilded decorations and huge, round chandeliers. Fabric panels separate sections of the dining room, and an octagonal bar occupies the center. You feel very important just sitting in such a majestic space.
Houston, TX 77002
Region: Downtown/ Midtown
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7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays;7 to 11 a.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Saturdays.
Sushi nachos: $8
Steak sandwich: $14
Venison sous vide: $31
For lunch one day, a friend and I tried the Voice "Lunch Box." For $15, you get soup, salad, sandwich and dessert, according to the menu. He got the "mushroom cappuccino" which is served with a creamy froth on top so it looks like the coffee drink. It was one of the most intense mushroom soups I have ever tasted. I got the asparagus bisque, a brilliantly flavored, Astroturf-green soup. The salad portions were microscopic. The agreeably seasoned half sandwiches, one with turkey and one with salami, were served on panini bread. Dessert was a shot glass filled with peanut butter custard.
None of the spoons at the table would fit inside the shot glass. So we asked a passing busboy for a spoon better suited to the task. He returned with two long iced tea spoons. The iced tea spoon fit into the top of the shot glass, but it wouldn't go all the way to the curved bottom. The custard was delicious. So my friend turned the spoon over and inserted the handle into the shot glass. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I followed suit. I wonder if anyone besides us has ever eaten all their custard at Voice. I doubt it.
Everything on our lunch box plate was magnificent. But when it was gone, we were still hungry. "Let's go get a burger somewhere," my buddy suggested.
I had never eaten venison sous vide before my first dinner at Voice. Sous vide is a high-tech French cooking method in which vacuum-sealed foods are simmered in a hot water bath for a long period of time at temperatures below the boiling point. The technique supposedly renders tough cuts of meat as tender as filet mignon. My venison was indeed tender. But since I have no idea what cut the meat came from, I can't really tell you if the cooking method made any difference. But I can tell you that the portion was tiny and the flavor was one-dimensional.
The advantage of sous vide cooking is that you can cook a steak to medium-rare without burning the exterior. The disadvantage is that meat cooked uniformly to medium rare is boring. There weren't any charred bits or crunchy edges to contrast with the bloody interior.
Sous vide is also handy for braising meats in sauces. But this venison didn't taste like it was braised. And there wasn't much in the way of seasoning either. The caramelized apples, spring onions and sour cherry sauce that were advertised as accompaniments were sprinkled and drizzled with a minimalist's touch. It was an interesting concept, but not much of a dinner.
One of my companions had the Angus sliders from the bar menu as an entrée — a very clever strategy. We ogled her burger and fries longingly. My other dining companion had red snapper with peas and sorrel butter. The snapper was simply sautéed, and the sour sorrel lent very little flavor to the sauce.
I had hoped that a great glass of wine would add a spark to our understated entrées. Unable to pick a single wine to complement both venison and red snapper, I summoned the sommelier to recommend two from the list of wines served by the glass.
He chose a Chateauneufdupape to go with my venison. The peppery Grenache-based wine was a great idea. I noticed him looking over my shoulder as he considered what might go best with the red snapper. Then he recommended a red Burgundy.
"A Pinot noir — with red snapper?" I questioned him. "Why?" He said it was the classic recommendation for a strong-tasting fish like red snapper.