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Houston Restaurant Weeks: Backstreet Cafe

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What they're up to for Houston Restaurant Weeks: This year, Backstreet Cafe offers one lunch menu for $20 and five prix fixe dinner menus paired with white and red wine, cocktails or beer for $35 each. For lunch, guests have the option of four first course dishes, followed by dessert; dinner includes three courses (the vegetarian menu comes with an amuse of summer orzo pasta salad). Each dinner selection includes a specific libation pairing: $28 for red wine, $27 for white wine, $24 for cocktails, $28 for wine with the vegetarian menu, and $20 for beer. Backstreet Cafe will donate $3 to the Houston Food Bank for each lunch sold, and $5 for each dinner.

Service/Atmosphere: It's always a treat to dine at Backstreet Cafe. Whether you're outside on the patio or inside the vintage home, you'll feel at ease. Even though we placed our order for the entire menu at the beginning, each course came to our table at reasonable times; we never felt rushed or as though we were waiting too long for our next plate of food to arrive.

Items that won't be on the regular menu: Backstreet Cafe constantly updates its menus to showcase seasonal dishes, and this year's HRW menus include a variety of summer flavors. Along with the standard fried green tomatoes and summer mussels as starter courses, the HRW menus include new dishes, such as the cornmeal-crusted avocado dish in the vegetarian menu, or the green bean nicoise salad in the cocktail dinner menu. All of the desserts are special versions including bright and beautiful ingredients, such as mascarpone cheese ice cream and balsamic-marinated strawberries with the dark chocolate cake, a lemon cheesecake with summer fruit compote, as well as a mixed berry cobbler topped with a scoop of smooth vanilla ice cream.

Don't miss this dish: The red wine menu includes the delicious, dense savory bread pudding for the starter course, but the star of this menu is the entrée. It's a slightly deceiving description as the item is plainly listed as "Lamb." Along with the pepper-crusted lamb chops and braised lamb neck, Backstreet also adds sausage links and a pot pie filled with tender, shredded lamb meat, similar in texture to a pot roast.

On the flip side, the vegetarian menu is an enticing offering with fresh summer flavors from the delicate cornmeal-crusted avocado tossed with creamy corn, spicy poblano peppers, juicy halved cherry tomatoes and snap peas, followed by a flat head of saffron-coated cauliflower grilled like a steak and served atop a blend of crispy, roasted grains and vegetables. If you want a hearty, filling meal, opt for the beer dinner menu; it includes the staple fried green tomatoes topped with Gulf coast shrimp remoulade for the beginning course, followed by a creamy, cheesy bowl of risotto blended with tender braised beef short ribs, chewy cippolini onions and root vegetables, as well as fried caramelized Brussels sprouts; the milk chocolate crème brulee dessert sends this menu over the top.

Don't bother: To be honest, everyone at my table enjoyed their meal; no one had any suggestions as to how the food could have been improved, and no one regretted their menu decision. Unfortunately, if you're not a fan of red meat, you might have a difficult time choosing your meal because three out of the five selections include lamb, pork ribs or short ribs. However, the cauliflower steak on the vegetarian menu won't leave you hungry, and from the looks of other diners' mussels and seared scallops, the white wine menu will satisfy your cravings, too.

Final verdict: You don't want to miss out on this special HRW dinner; the selection of menus creates an exciting dining occasion as each person can follow a different theme. The optional alcohol pairings are a bit pricey, but they do showcase sommelier Sean Beck's expertise, and they allow you to explore new libation offerings. Keeping your palate's attention on the food is still a delightful experience.

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