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It's said that you can judge how good a restaurant truly is by how well they cook a rotisserie chicken. If that actually is the case, The Grove should be one of the best restaurants in town. Their rotisserie chicken was a masterpiece of simplicity.
The skin had the crispy, buttery texture of phyllo dough, melting in my mouth with each bite. The white meat was as juicy and tender as the dark, and parted easily with only a fork. It was subtly seasoned with a refreshing lack of rosemary. The roasted Yukon gold potatoes that accompanied the chicken were a triumph in and of themselves. Coated with the drippings from the chicken underneath which they'd roasted, they were delicately flavored with only a little salt and thyme. This was a simple yet brilliant dish.
Unfortunately, the old adage doesn't hold true for all of The Grove's meals.
1611 Lamar St.
Houston, TX 77010
Region: Downtown/ Midtown
Deviled yard eggs: $8
Artisanal cheese plate: $25
Lamb burger: $15
Roasted organic chicken: $19
Duck meatloaf: $28
Filet mignon $38
Pecan pie and key lime pie squares: $8.50
The Grove is the newest venture from Robert del Grande, one of Houston's landmark chefs. Responsible for institutions like Café Annie and the omnipresent Café Express, del Grande and his partner, Lonnie Schiller, have been instrumental in crafting our local dining scene. The Grove was anticipated partly because of its location in a brand-new, stunning park — Discovery Green, which filled a gaping void downtown — and partly because the city was eager to see what new concepts del Grande would introduce.
Billing itself as "rustic American dining" (a twist on "modern American dining"), The Grove is a welcome departure from the Southwestern- and Tex-Mex-inspired food at other del Grande joints. The menu, by executive chef Ryan Pera, reads like something from a modern lodge, if a lodge could be located on the lush banks of Buffalo Bayou: wild boar and St. Arnold's Winter Stout stew (although this will soon be off the menu), Colorado lamb sirloin, wood-grilled vegetable skewers and seared ahi tuna with braised oxtails.
The interior, too, evokes a certain lodge-like quality with its prevalence of warm wood, high ceilings and expansive views. Comfortable low-slung seating and a jovial attitude emanating from the crowd only add to the feeling that a ski lodge got lost in Texas on its way from Vermont to Vail. The only thing missing is a fireplace, but the open flames from the wide-open kitchen are a passable imitation.
The quail bites and deviled yard eggs I had on my first visit fit perfectly with this aesthetic. Succulent, smoky pieces of local quail speared on bamboo skewers were served with a pineapple bourbon sauce, nectar with a kick that I could have poured straight down my throat. The deviled eggs — also local — were divine, each plump bite bursting with freshness and a lip-licking salty finish, courtesy of the chorizo and olive tapenade that decorated the top of each egg.
As I sat at the bar and enjoyed my quail, I marveled at the gorgeous scene arrayed in front of me. Downtown was bustling and vibrant as Discovery Green played host to countless families and couples strolling along the lake and poking through the farmer's market directly outside the windows. If it had been slightly warmer, I would have happily sat on The Grove's wide wood deck under the shade of the oak trees outside and sipped my martini until dusk chased me away. One thing is certain: The Grove has ambience in droves.
The lunch menu is limited compared to the dinner menu, but its small selection pays off: My lamb burger was a fascinating marriage of a hamburger and a gyro. The fragrant lamb patty was redolent with garlic and marjoram, while the cucumber sauce and ample handful of goat cheese oozed lasciviously from between the buns. Thick red onions and tomatoes gave the burger a perfect amount of bite. It seems that lunches are the way to go at The Grove, with a generous selection of salads, burgers and sandwiches that are easy on the wallet.
Dinner is where The Grove falls short.
If you have dinner plans at The Grove, I recommend starting out with a drink at their bustling bar. The cocktails are unparalleled; I've yet to have a bad one, from a spicy ginger margarita to an expertly muddled mojito to a refreshing Meyer lemon martini with a sprig of thyme. Unfortunately, this prowess doesn't extend to the dining room.
Dinner at The Grove is a noisy affair, as one would expect in a restaurant with such high ceilings and such a large dining room. Perhaps this makes it difficult for anyone to concentrate, from the harried, often clueless waiters to the kitchen staff.
Our waiter seemed to vacillate between two odd extremes: overexplaining simple concepts like what risotto is, but being unable to cope with the intricacies of upscale dining, such as suggesting a wine from The Grove's bewilderingly busy wine list to pair with their filet mignon or correctly identifying the cheese that came out on our artisanal cheese plate. To make matters worse, he had a bad habit of walking away from the table immediately after asking how things were, leaving any comments that we had hanging awkwardly in the air.