Five Houston Culinary Splurges

Treat yourself to a decadent holiday feast.

1. Fountain View Cafe

The pancakes at Fountain View Cafe are the stuff of legend: as thin as crepes, with a wispy lace of a crust on the outer edge and a soft, dense, vanilla-scented middle that requires neither butter nor syrup (which doesn't stop us from slathering them on anyway). They were on Katharine Shilcutt's list of 100 favorite dishes for two years in a row. The vanilla-infused flapjacks are one reason there's always a line at the 1980s throwback cafe — that, and the quick, efficient counter service that delivers your cheesy omelets and crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside hash browns tout de suite while allowing you to kick back over a paper and bottomless cups of coffee. But really, it's the pancakes that keep Houstonians coming back for more (and more, and more). Thin and fluffy? Light and dense? How do they do it?!

Restaurant News

Live Alaskan King Crab at Fung's Kitchen: one of the most decadent foodie pleasures you'll ever experience.
Photo Courtesy of Fung's Kitchen
Live Alaskan King Crab at Fung's Kitchen: one of the most decadent foodie pleasures you'll ever experience.
Harry's does French toast the decadent way: with Greek yogurt ice cream and a baklava filling.
Kaitlin Steinberg
Harry's does French toast the decadent way: with Greek yogurt ice cream and a baklava filling.

Nara Debuts Korean Grill Room
An upscale take on traditional meals.

Kaitlin Steinberg

In Korean,gogigui means, literally, roasting meat, and that's exactly what you do in Nara's new grill room, which opened to the public December 19.

Traditionally, diners prepare the Korean "barbecue" themselves at tables with built-in gas or charcoal grills in an informal setting. But at Nara, chef Donald Chang has sought to elevate Korean food with premium ingredients and a venue that is already being called one of the most beautiful in Houston.

Nara opened in mid-November, but this week marks the debut of the space designed specifically for Korean-style grilling. (I took a sneak peek at the space recently and was pleased.)

The three tables in the semi-private back room are conjoined, a communal dining experience ideal for groups of two to 12 people. In the center of each sleek, black table are 14-inch grills, which came from a restaurant-supply store in the Gangnam District of Seoul.

Traditionally, Korean barbecue is served with banchan, small side dishes such as kimchi, sesame eggplant and sautéed oyster mushrooms. The banchan at Nara are all unique, delicious and, of course, authentic. Chang's mother, Kyong Ja Chang, devised all the recipes, and they're so secret that she won't even share them with her son. She and Chang's sister, Esther Cho, who is Nara's head kitchen chef, come to Nara daily to prepare the banchan and a few special sauces.

The kimchi is particularly good — spicy, fragrant and not too watery. It's the ideal complement to the six different kinds of meat offered up for your grilling pleasure. The protein menu includes the classic rib eye (bulgogi), American Kobe short rib (galbi), brisket (ogyeopsal) and Kurobuta pork belly from Japan. That attention to the quality of the meat differentiates Nara from many other Korean restaurants; it's not that others don't want to produce good food, but few are as focused on high-end products as Chang is.

Once the meat is cooked to the desired temperature (rare to well-done — you're in charge), it's traditionally wrapped in either a lettuce leaf, or, at Nara, sesame leaves, which have more flavor than romaine or butter lettuce. Rice, sauce and some of the banchan can also be wrapped in the leaves, and it's all intended to be eaten in one big old (delicious) bite.

As Chang explains, there's really no wrong way to do Korean barbecue, and that's the beauty of it. It's a mix-and-match and prepare-yourself kind of meal, ideal for the communal setting. The room is also available for private parties.

If you've never tried Korean barbecue before — or even if you have — I can heartily recommend Nara. Yes, it's going to be a little pricier than the average outside-the-Loop Korean restaurant, but it's also going to come with better service and authentic food made by Chang and his family.

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
The Burger Guys close; Caracol officially opens.

Molly Dunn

It was a very unlucky day for The Burger Guys on Friday, December 13. Kaitlin Steinberg broke the news that The Burger Guys on Westheimer had officially closed.

The downtown location closed in September, so this is the end of Burger Guys in Houston.

Chef and owner Jake Mazzu gave this statement to Steinberg after speculations about the restaurant's closure appeared online:

"Sorry to say, we have served our last burger at The Burger Guys! Due to low turn out, and a rise in number of restaurants, Houston has no room for us anymore! Thank you for the love you showed my team!!! Forever grateful for the three plus years we ran. We always tried hard, and went to work each day...Chasing a dream comes with a cost, and that has taken it's toll. God bless the news we earned both great and bad - it was well deserved. Wouldn't trade it for the world! Merry Christmas and happy new year to y'all and remember the small guy out there, we are few and falling daily!!!!"

The Good Life has been open only since March, but it seems the Midtown bar has closed. Eater's Darla Guillen explains that patrons of the restaurant and bar think The Good Life closed in November. One Twitter post reads, "Looking like Good Life in Midtown may be done. Fri night, no lights on, nobody inside, back-dated orange notice from city about food permit."

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