Restaurant Reviews

Diner's Notebook

Old: While we're more or less on the subject of red meat, let me offer a plaintive paean to the changeless Hofbrau, where inexpensive steaks can be had on a regular basis with things a reasonable gastronome might like to eat. One of said things is the deliciously wilted, immoderately garlicky iceberg salad, which has an olive-spiked zing and a marinated quality that lifts it above its roadhouse roots. Another is the superbly nasty hunks of browned, crusty potato. They are big and funky and completely irresistible.

The steaks themselves? I am unaccountably fond of the bone-in rib eye, dosed with almost-too-much salt and griddle-cooked with a carnivore's notion of rare. Okay, maybe the filet could have more flavor (couldn't they always?), but the bottom line here is earthy satisfaction at a bargain price.

And the environment persists: a University of Texas frat-rat time warp that still has the power to engage beyond all reason. Let daylight never penetrate.

New: Let's hear it for the Houston melting pot, which is alive and simmering at Tony Mandolas' various seafood joints -- be they the Blue Oyster Bar in my beloved East End or the Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen in the tony River Oaks Shopping Center. Order Mandola's pasta Mexicana and savor the multiple whammy of ceviche-esque shrimp with cilantro, tomato and green chiles all tossed together with slippery buttered noodles and flavorful flaps of bacon. Too good, I promise you. Maybe it doesn't fall under the protection of the doctor-approved diet plan, but it tastes like Houston -- and like Tony's marriage into the half-Hispanic, half-Italian Laurenzo family. -- Alison Cook

Hofbrau, 1803 Shepherd, 869-7074; Tony Mandola's Blue Oyster Bar, 8105 Gulf Freeway, 640-1117.

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