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The Taste of Trying

Sorrel Urban Bistro serves modern farmhouse cuisine in a pretty space. So why is it so hard to love?

 Take a spin through Sorrel's bright and busy space in our slideshow.

Sorrel Urban Bistro is one of the most earnest restaurants I've ever encountered. It wants to be loved, and seems to almost bend over backwards in its willingness to earn your goodwill.

Its dining room is airy and open, inviting in its stark white-and-wood casualness, its simple blown-up photos of plaintive sorrel leaves dancing close to the ceilings, or giant turnips as sculpture on the long bar — decor that anxiously conveys its modern farmhouse cuisine with a Texan twist. The bar is friendly and accommodating, offering skillfully made cocktails and locally concocted wine with equal aplomb. Its almost all-male waitstaff is all smiles, crisp white aprons and guileless charm. A brand-new menu is printed twice a day — once for lunch, again for dinner — with brand-new dishes on each run and an interesting historical fact of the day across the top. The kitchen is open in so many literal and figurative ways that it has closed-circuit television monitors throughout for those patrons who wish to examine and approve of the cleanliness of the grout between the tile as much as the painstaking plating of a dish of diver scallops.

The diver scallops are a favorite.
Troy Fields
The diver scallops are a favorite.

Location Info

Map

Sorrel Urban Bistro

2202 W. Alabama
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > Bistro

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays though Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Three-course lunch prix-fixe: $24
Five-course dinner prix-fixe: $65
Animal Farm salad: $9
Fried Gulf oysters: $10
Red snapper: $28
New York strip steak: $32
Semifreddo: $6

READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Modern Farm-to-Table at Sorrel Urban Bistro BLOG POST: Treat Them Fancy Ingredients With Some Respect, Okay?

So why is it that I find myself straining to only like Sorrel instead of love it? It's not just the overeagerness — that's not a crime in and of itself. The dining room truly is one of the loveliest to come along in a while, equally beguiling by day or night. And the food under chef Soren Pedersen can be truly inspired. But in its exhaustive efforts to be so accommodating, Sorrel falls short in many crucial areas.

Sorrel prides itself on obtaining pristine food: the freshest produce from area farms like Warfel and Animal Farm, the freshest fish from the Gulf. "The red snapper just came in 25 minutes ago," my excited young waiter told me on a recent Tuesday night. I wasn't too clear about what else would be involved in the dish other than a lemon beurre blanc and some crab meat — the menu was rather vague on that point, as it tends to be too often — but his excitement over the fish was infectious. I ordered it.

The snapper arrived looking like a piece of eiderdown under a fat feather pillow of blue crab. It was cooked perfectly, a word which is often overused but not in this instance. A delicate pool of satiny beurre blanc sat underneath. I could not wait to eat this fish. But before it even hit my tongue, I knew something was wrong: My lips were already burning with the sting of saline.

The poor fish had been salted as if to be hung and dried. To add insult to injury, it had been peppered to within an inch of its life, too. I imagined a panting, discarded pair of salt and pepper shakers in the kitchen having been emptied of all their contents onto this now-wasted piece of fish. I tried a few more bites, but it was ruined. In an attempt to salvage the meal, I went for the crab on top. It was full of shells, too many to spit out to make eating it worthwhile. The beurre blanc underneath? It was a masterwork.

A New York strip steak that same night suffered as well: gristly and tough — even for that cut — and cooked to a disappointing medium despite a request for medium-rare. And the roasted vegetables we ordered on the side were mostly unidentifiable, as if they'd been put into a steam room instead of an oven, overly peppery like my fish and tough like the steak. Were they parsnips? Turnips? Radishes? The world's worst potatoes? Our waiter was no help in that department, either.

But our appetizers had been dazzling: a salad of freshly torn Animal Farm greens in a bright, citrusy vinaigrette, and plump fried oysters served with a surprising Mornay sauce on the side along with their own little salad of greens and sliced apples (neither of which was mentioned on the menu). And dessert — a lovely, pale slice of lime semifreddo served at just the right temperature with a piece of nut brittle as its sole flourish — nearly made up for the entire affair.

It's this odd inconsistency within not just visits, not just meals, but dishes — stunning saucework under a mauled piece of fish, as one example — that mars Sorrel. And it extends to those odd menus, too.
_____________________

During a weekend lunch, I eavesdropped on a neighboring table as my friend and I awaited our meals. (My friend, like nearly every other person I've taken to Sorrel, was distracted by the TV monitors showing the kitchen activities and arguments — don't take your Hell's Kitchen-loving friends there if you're hoping for a conversation along with your meal.)

The woman at the next table was seated alone, trying to navigate her way through the tricky weekend lunch menu. There were a few standard items on there — a burger, a roasted quail that seemed to be the most popular dish of the afternoon — but nothing was grouped into identifiable areas such as appetizers or entrées. It can be a little tough to tell what you're ordering here sometimes, and the price doesn't always equate to an appetizer or a main course. She aired my own thoughts aloud to her waiter when she told him in a meek voice: "I just don't know what I'm doing here." Then, pointing to something on her menu: "Like, is this a full meal?" She questioned him further on a few ingredients, seemingly exasperated.

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7 comments
dwayne129
dwayne129

Late last year/2013, their Chef was awarded Top Upcoming Chef which will be aired on a cable food network which acknowledges his talent AND Sorrel. His passion in cooking, long hours preparing your food experience and food creativity is top notch and I brought family and business guest to Sorrel.

A recent surgical cancer treatment which this chef will overcome,  was actually fired by the Sorrel owner. Your blood runs cold mister. We are absolutely shocked!!!
Karma is a MF'er and you're DISGUSTING. I wont return and I've notified all guest that I brought into your restaurant. Pathetic Small Person You Are !!!!!

Bmaxey
Bmaxey

Sorrel opened last summer and quickly became my favorite restaurant. And still is. Oversalting? Not heard that before but have heard comments how they purposely undersalt - and provide a trio of different salts for the asking.

While not a big salad person, last Wednesday I ordered seared ahi tuna salad at Sorrel, mmm it was so damn good I had to tell everyone in the office.

sbterry
sbterry

Interesting that your fish was over-seasoned. I have only visted Sorrel once -- I ordered to appetizers at the bar -- both were in dire need of that "pinch" of salt. The couple sitting next to me were having the same experience with their choices requesting salt. They were promptly brought out salt servers containing 3 different types of finishing salts. My thought at that ttime was it would have been better to have used "finishing" salts in the kitchen prior to delivery.

Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

Living as I do in a sea of dining ghastliness punctuated by Ruchi's, Zake, Cafe Adobe, AKA and arguably Ruggles Green, I was hoping Sorrel would be different. I haven't yet walked over to try it, but this very fair review actually makes me want to. They've certainly kept their business since opening, so I'm looking forward to seeing what awaits when I visit. (I have been to Triniti and love the place; the comparison will be interesting.)

Feldman
Feldman

I don't know... I really like the TV monitors. It's so unlike any other place and as a diner who frequently eats alone, it's entertaining to see food being prepared.

GUEST
GUEST

Jim,Please come back and share your thoughts when you do. I ran right away last Summer when Sorrel opened and I have kept going back. (I like the TVs . . . love the bar . . . love the food, never a problem . . . the decibel of sound and flighty wait staff could be addressed). I ran to Triniti, as well. It also grabbed my heart . . . and my wallet! Whoa.

 
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