For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
The days of oil company executives spending a grand on lunch are over. Thanks to big auto execs taking private jets to big-bank bailout meetings and the whole Enron fiasco, downtown offices are spending more time in the tunnels than at places like The Coronado. To step inside this place is like stepping onto the set of Mad Men. Started in '56, The Coronado Club is still serving bacon-wrapped filet mignons and Cobb salads. If the dress code doesn't keep you out, then not being a member will. But if you're an invited guest for, say, a Christmas party, then bask in the extravagant dining room and its elegant fireplaces. You'll be reminded that there was a day when the boss could take you out to lunch, drink three martinis and drop a bill just for a tip with -- that's right -- an expense account.
Although Up owner Haidar Barbouti claims to "fight back against trendy food," there are still plenty of "trendy" dishes to be found at this Highland Village aerie. Perched two stories above Westheimer, Up provides some of the most stunning 360-degree views in town as well as trendier dishes such as a snapper carpaccio in yuzu with a fennel and dill salad or a short rib pizza made with 00 flour and topped with arugula, fontina and Roquefort. The biggest bucks come into play with its USDA Prime steaks, however, which hover near the priciest end of the menu.
8. Brasserie 19
A playground for Houston's rich and famous, Brasserie 19 nevertheless has the food to match the crowds and the hype, turning out classic French and Belgian staples like steak frites and cassoulet and serving an impressive list of beers and wines to match. The sleek bar is the place to be if you're young and single, while the restaurant's main floor is a gathering point for socialites and food-lovers alike. The egalitarian patio is the most pleasant spot to dine, however, with far less noise and a pretty view of the brightly lit River Oaks Theatre marquee across West Gray.
7. Da Marco
Marco Wiles is known for bringing in the best ingredients from across the globe -- but primarily from Italy -- at his flagship restaurant, including specialty items like branzino and seasonal truffles from white to black. The wine list is just as innovative as the food, with lots of crisp Proseccos and unusual Piedmont reds. And the service is nothing short of exceptional. Hell, we've been saying that "there isn't another Italian restaurant in Houston that's even in the same league with Da Marco" since 2002, and that sentiment still holds a decade later -- but you'll pay dearly for it.
6. Eddie V's
As at Da Marco, the service and food at Eddie V's are impeccable. Unlike Da Marco, this is a chain and a restaurant that's often over-the-top extravagant, but mostly in all the right ways. Not even a boring breast of chicken is under $20 here, and the USDA Prime steaks start at $43 (Eddie V's is one of the few restaurants in town to purchase Prime beef in huge quantities). But the pièce de résistance here is its iconic iced shellfish tower, which recently clocked in at just under $57.
No matter how tempting it may be to pig out at dinner, leave room for dessert at Mark's -- it's one of the few restaurants left in town with a serious pastry program. That's just one of the many reasons we named it Best Expense Account Restaurant a decade ago, and why it's still relevant today. Chef Mark Cox still trots out specialty ingredients to rival those at neighboring Da Marco, such as a polenta flan appetizer for $22 that includes morel mushrooms, white asparagus and black truffles, or a tautog entrée for $44 that comes with squash blossoms and fiddlehead ferns.
Thinly sliced hirame with candied quinoa for $18. Uni with king crab and black truffle for $24. "Jar jar duck" with rosemary smoke for $30. There is nothing on Uchi's menu that doesn't sound extravagantly tempting -- yet, because the items are all meant to share, you'll likely be fending off other chopsticks while you try to eat all that hirame for yourself. In the end, because you'll always be left wanting to try more of the brilliant fare here, you'll be lucky to escape for less than $100 a person...but what a meal it will be.
A throwback to steakhouses of generations past, Pappas Bros. has the old-school charm of a private club and is the perfect setting for a power dinner. Plush leather seating, grand marble columns and rich mahogany paneling make this the ideal place to chomp on a stogie and seal a deal. Once you've polished off a buttery 26-ounce porterhouse, take the conversation into the lounge, where an elite selection of cognacs and single-malt Scotch whiskeys await and are sure to impress. And at prices like $600 for a 40-year-old Bowmore Scotch or $500 for a Courvoisier L'Esprit cognac, you'll feel warm all over, knowing the boss or client is picking up the check. So, go ahead and spend away -- it's not your dime.
Never content to simply serve the socialites in town the same dishes year after year, Tony Vallone always pushes forward with his namesake restaurant -- a palatial spot in Greenway Plaza with a curiously hierarchical seating arrangement (the best spots are closest to the bathroom, for maximum people-watching potential) that showcases chef Grant Gordon's modernist cuisine. While Tony's will make almost anything for its customers, specials include extravagant dishes like a $22 plate of tuna toro with fedelini alla chitarra and Sicilian Bottarga roe with Meyer lemon and olive oil (as seen above) and the prosaically named A Study in Black, which features Atlantic black bass with black garlic and black Cerignola olives for $43.
If you're gonna ball, go big or go home. Vic & Anthony's is all about going big, with its opulent dining rooms, grand central kitchen that's as imposing as a throne room, seductive piano bar and service that will make you feel as if you're a prince among men. Here, you can order an immense Porterhouse steak to feed two people for $80 and a bottle of wine at least triple that amount, just as easily as you can empty your pockets on Chef Carlos Rodriguez's elegant charcuterie plate or a jewel box of Petrossian caviar. An iced shellfish collection of the best and freshest lobster, king crab, shrimp and oysters from across the world looks like a towering work of art on the plate, while the nearly $10 croissant bread pudding with bourbon sauce is worth every dollar and every delicious calorie.