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Houston Restaurant Weeks: The Grove

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What they're up to for Houston Restaurant Weeks: This year, The Grove offers three meals for HRW -- a two-course $20 lunch, three-course $25 brunch, and three-course $35 dinner. Add-on items are available at full-price, such as $14 guacamole and chips, $15.50 pickled Gulf shrimp and $9 deviled eggs. The Grove will donate $3 to the Houston Food Bank for every lunch sold, $4 for each brunch and $5 for each dinner.

Service/Atmosphere: Although Sundown at The Grove was happening upstairs on Wednesday night, the dining room was full by the time we left at 8 p.m. Of course, the view of Discovery Green is always beautiful, and watching the mass of people participate in Zumba is always entertaining. We made our reservation that afternoon and had plenty of options for seating times. Several customers around our table were enjoying regular menu items, but there were a variety of HRW diners as well. Even though the kitchen was slammed with orders, our food came out in a timely manner; the salted almonds and olives were a nice holdover while we waited for drinks.

Items that won't be on the regular menu: None of the items on the HRW menus are unique; all are available on the regular menu. However, The Grove recently updated its menus, so this is an opportune time to try out the dishes for a reduced price. Although some of the dishes are reduced in size for Houston Restaurant Weeks, it's enough to satisfy your cravings.

Don't miss this dish: Order the heirloom tomato salad for your first course. It's a refreshing bowl of halved red and orange baby tomatoes plus larger chunks. The tender, juicy tomatoes paired with the soft oil-glazed croutons and pesto goat cheese sauce creates the perfect bite. For the second course, I couldn't get enough of the spicy chile-braised beef short ribs sitting atop creamy hominy grits and a sautéed blend of sweet onion slices, pepitas and salsa. It's an upscale meat and potatoes dish you can't stop eating. For dessert, I suggest the blackberry tart. End your meal on a light and refreshing note, just as you started; the delicate, buttery pastry shell holds creamy vanilla-lavender custard sitting underneath beautiful sweet blackberries. You can eat the whole thing without feeling guilty.

Don't bother: Every course we were served was excellent. Although, my dining companion chose the best first course; my Romaine Caesar salad was a plain starter, but nothing to write home about. My only issue with the menu is that almost every main course features spicy ingredients, such as red chiles and serrano peppers. There are also no vegetarian second courses.

Final verdict: Sample the new menu at The Grove during Houston Restaurant Weeks. The courses may be smaller, but for $35, you can sample a variety of dishes, especially if you go with several people. I definitely want to come back to The Grove for a HRW brunch; the smoked brisket burnt ends with buttermilk biscuits and poached eggs is calling my name. As is the cranberry pecan brioche French toast.

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