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Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar

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We were recently invited to check out the new concept from Houston-based Schiller-Del Grande Restaurant Group, Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar. Located in the ultra-chic West Ave complex, Ava is definitely a see-and-be-seen kind of place that is perfectly suited to meeting friends after work for a cocktail and a nice dinner.

Like many of the newer restaurants around town, Ava has a menu broken into smaller plates that are great for snacking and appetizers, as well as bigger plates meant for sharing.

The Spicy Coppa and Taleggio was a "small plate" that would be make an excellent light lunch served alongside the accompanying crusty bread. The meat was fatty and fresh, the cheese was mild and creamy, and the whole thing was topped with a zesty fennel salad and lightly sweet dried mission figs. My only gripe was I wanted a more equal cheese to meat ratio, but then again I'm a huge cheese fan. And for only $10, this plate has an ample amount of good-quality meat and olive oil on it.

The other small dish was an interesting assemblage of shrimp sausage, wrapped in squid and served on polenta ($12). Again, I was surprised at the generous portion size of the "small plate." I could easily make a meal out of this. The polenta had that perfectly creamy, but not at all mushy, texture which paired expertly with the tender squid overfilled with flavorful shrimp sausage.

My dining companion and I also tried two items from the "Plates and Grills" section. I tried the Rigatoni with Bolognese sauce ($14). Pasta aficionados, take heart, the rigatoni was a perfect al dente that stood up to the hearty, herby meat sauce. I will definitely be getting this again. I also took a bite of the Lamb T-Bone chops with Rosemary & Pomegranate Molasses served with a heap of roasted fingerling potatoes ($28). The meat was tender, flavorful and extremely juicy, an excellent complement to the roasted potatoes. The drizzling of sauce added an herbaceous earthiness to the dish and was also tasty sopped up with the leftover bread from the Coppa plate.

Though I thought I would not have any room, I couldn't help tasting the Caramel Apple Tarte Tatin ($8.50). This dessert is reason enough in and of itself to go try Ava. Really. The caramel sauce must have a pound of butter per batch, but calories be damned, it's freaking awesome. Paired with one of Ava's 50-plus whiskey or scotch offerings, you've got yourself a good end to the night.

Ava has a simple slogan printed on its walls: "Good Food Cocktails Wine," an apt description. Yes, the restaurant is show-stoppingly beautiful, with fuchsia velveteen couches, brushed zinc tables, and intricate lighting fixtures, but none of that matters unless it has the food and the service to back it up. And with decent prices, Robert Del-Grande's menu guidance, and The Grove's Rawad Semaan expertly taking on the role of GM, Ava may quickly become one of Houston's new favorite restaurants.

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