Surprise is not something I normally associate with La Madeleine, the ubiquitous chain of bakery/cafes. Convenience, yes: the reassuring certitude of knowing I can dash in for a reliable onion soup or a Caesar salad, un-classic but always sprightly tasting, even when its romaine goes a bit limp (as it does on occasion). Or a respectable rotisserie chicken, so exuberantly showered with herbs that I scarcely mind that its skin could be considerably crisper. But surprise? That's not what I come for, not what I've learned to expect.
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Yet surprised I was when I finally got around to trying La Madeleine's pasta Francese, a soulful, aromatic and splendidly elemental dish of al dente spaghettini tossed with fruity olive oil, parsley and about a jillion browned garlic chips. You order it at the counter, transport a numbered wooden tower to your table, and wait -- not long -- for the noodles to be delivered. It costs just $6.25, and I promise it will cure whatever ails you. This is the Aretha Franklin of La Madeleine's newish supper menu, which also can summon up a very decent chicken breast in mustard sauce along with nicely herbed and roasted new potatoes. It's the pasta Francese, though, that proves old dogs can learn new tricks.
Drink and Drive: I hate to be the one to remind you, but it's time to consider the vital Houston topic of driving-around drinks. These are the cool draughts that save your sanity when you are barreling around the city's hot asphalt during our endless summer, the take-out balms that keep your temperature down and your temper intact.
This summer, I'll have a new staple balanced precariously in the passenger seat: Zuzu's peach-mango iced tea. I know, I know, those fruit-flavored iced teas are irritatingly inescapable these days, but this one happens to be special. Haunting. Subtle. Cool down to its core. It's good enough to wean me from my old hot-weather standby, the lemonade from Jim Goode's hamburger joint and taqueria, which I habitually doctor with two wedges of lemon to give it the right, tart kick. Or my Galleria-area driving-around choice, River Oaks Burger Joint's pale-pink frozen lemonade, which makes me think of a Victorian garden party (and which does the trick when my blood-sugar level dips too low). When I'm feeling sluggish, though, I drive straight to the gruesomely named Yogurt Culture cafe at Shepherd and Westheimer, where an espresso-charged Mocha Buzz from the drive-through window can propel me through the nastiest traffic jams, none the worse for wear.
-- Alison Cook