Rattan Bistro & Wine Bar Combines Pan Asian Cuisine, Smart Wine and Traffic Relief

As a relative newcomer to Houston who lives "inside the loop," I have fallen victim to that inside/outside-the-loop mentality. I work inside the loop, while my husband works outside; add to that the fact that we share one car between us (I hear you gasping), and it may not surprise you to learn that we do most of our drinking and dining in the city. Luckily that tendency hasn't prevented us from discovering a new (to us) "outside the loop" destination: Rattan Bistro and Wine Bar, where we recently attended a media tasting.

It's always exciting to try a new place, and my excitement was doubled when I realized how close Rattan is to my husband's workplace--on days I need the car, I spend up to four hours in traffic, and the proximity of Rattan means we can stop for a bite and beat the evening snarl back into the city. But we're here to talk food.

In a word: Yum. I have to confess that on our first visit to Rattan we had just returned from a vacation to the Midwest that involved four straight days of eating (whole smoked pig) and drinking (Bud from a keg), so I basically hated food. The Pan Asian menu has lots of light fare, with plenty of options for vegetables, sushi-grade fish, and Akaushi beef scattered among the small plate, soup and salad and entrée menus. And then there is the sushi--more than two dozen selections from specialty and traditional roll menus, plus sushi and sashimi. My hatred of food evaporated upon viewing the menu, and I let our dining companions do the ordering for our starters, as they had been to Rattan several times. Four of us shared:

• Small Plates: Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp, Sashimi Tuna Avocado Salad, Thai Basil Garlic Clams • Starter Special: Beef Lettuce Wraps • Rolls: Jungle Rolls (salmon, shrimp, mango, asparagus, cucumber, eel sauce, wasabi aioli)

Usually I'm kind of "meh" about lettuce wraps, but the beautiful texture and flavor of the beef, the just-right amount of onion, and the buttery-soft lettuce won me over. The Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp may not look like much, but they were delicious--a true show-stopper, and they rate among the most perfectly-cooked shrimp I've ever eaten. The walnuts added a nice crunch and color to the dish, and the nuttiness gave a good balance to the sweetness of the honey glaze. The photo doesn't do the dish justice, and for that you can partially blame my husband and my camera.

I loved the flavor of the Thai Basil Garlic clams, not surprising since I tend to love all manner of steamed bivalves. The Thai flavors were distinctive, but the basil, garlic and fish sauce didn't mask the flavor of the clam meat.

It would be difficult to choose between the Jungle Rolls and the Sashimi Tuna Avocado Salad as my favorite dish of the night, but if I had to choose, I think it would go to the Sashimi Tuna Avocado salad, but just by a nose. It's like comparing apples to oranges, though, because the rolls were complex and almost heavy with flavors, while the salad was simple, clean and elegant, with a tangy vinaigrette to liven up the freshness of the tuna and avocado.

A word about the wine system. Rattan uses a top-of-the-line Enomatic system that stores each wine at the correct temperature, as well as preserving the freshness of open bottles; this ensures your wine-by-the-glass order is fresh, rather than flat. You can also order flights of wine, which is an affordable way to try new wine and pair dishes with different wines.

Suddenly taking the car for the day doesn't seem like such a chore....

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Christina Uticone