THE POWER LUNCH, A TERM COINED BY ESQUIRE IN THE LATE 70S, SYMBOLIZED A CHANGE IN THE WAY BUSINESS WAS DONE. INSTEAD OF ELABORATE DINNERS IN PRIVATE ROOMS, A LONGER LUNCH ALLOWED THE DEALMAKERS TO NEGOTI- ATE MORE EFFICIENTLY AND STILL DINE IN STYLE.
DESPITE THE DOWNTURN IN OIL AND GAS, HOUSTON’S POWER LUNCH SCENE IS THRIVING. WE ULTIMATELY DECIDED ON THREE RESTAURANTS IN DOWNTOWN/MIDTOWN THAT CATERED TO THOSE DINING ON THE CORPORATE EXPENSE ACCOUNT: DAMIAN’S, VIC & ANTHONY’S AND BRENNAN’S OF HOUSTON.
BRENNAN’S OF HOUSTON
3300 Smith St. | 713.522.9711 | www.brennanshouston.com
The Houston offshoot of the New Orleans mainstay approaches lunch in a unique way. The main dining room still requires a jacket for lunch. However, it is at the bar where the work gets done. Why? Not only do you get to order from Chef Danny’s extensive menu, you also can get $0.25 martinis. Yes. A quarter. And with the generous pour, you do not have to feel like you are cheating the expense account. You can also get Chef Danny’s $20 pairings of soup and an entrée year-round. It’s an economic way to dine in luxury.
For lunch, I went with the Soup Trio and Cajun Cobb Salad. The trio features the turtle soup, the duck gumbo and the soup of the day (squash with house- smoked bacon). A very impressive way to sample them all. The Cajun Cobb is a grilled shrimp salad. Most people who know me would be in shock that I ordered a salad. (Vegetables are usually what food eats.) However, when combined with blue cheese, croutons, house-smoked bacon and lump crab, you cannot go wrong. Prepared tableside, it is even more impressive.
Finishing with Bananas Foster was a bit over the top. In a good way. Again, tableside preparation. It is not only fun to watch, it is a great ending to a fan- tastic meal.
Grab some pralines on the way out. You won’t need them. You will want them.
OVERALL, it was the sleeper (based on the martini price alone). I highly recommend it.
DAMIAN’S CUCINA ITALIANA
3011 Smith St. | 713.522.0439 | www.damians.com
If you have dined at Italian or Cajun restaurants in Houston, you have been served by the Mandola family. The family currently operates more than 20 dif- ferent restaurants, including Vincent’s, Tony Mandola’s, Ragin’ Cajun and the ever popular Carrabba’s.
In 1984, Damian and his cousin Frankie B. Mandola opened Damian’s, a high-end Italian restaurant at the edge of Midtown. Johnny B. Mandola, GM and son of the recently deceased Frankie B., currently oversees the operation.
Johnny met us at door and escorted us back to the late, iconic Milo Hamilton’s table, still highly coveted. From there, you see the whole restaurant and hold court in style.
After looking over the menu, I went with the classics: Tomato Caprese and Shrimp Damian. The heirloom tomatoes were fresh and were well complemented by the basil and balsamic. The Shrimp Damian, sautéed in a thick butter, lemon and garlic sauce, was as good as ever. The sauce had a strong, yet not overpowering, garlic bite.
For a contrast, my dining partner went with the specials: the lobster bisque as a starter and grilled salmon stuffed with crab over asparagus with a light beurre blanc. The lobster bisque was rich and creamy without being too
heavy. However, I was more jealous of the salmon. The beurre blanc didn’t overpower the flavors of the salmon or lump crab.
With our meal, we allowed Johnny to pair our foods. Italian food and wines are an exception to the white with fish and red with meat. The Super Tuscan had an excellent balance of tannins and fruit.
BASED on our experience with Damian’s, I have no doubt that Frankie B. is smiling down from Heaven and loving what his son is doing.
VIC & ANTHONY’S STEAKHOUSE
1510 Texas Ave. | 713.228.1111 | www.vicandanthonys.com
Mon–Thurs, 11am–10pm | Fri 11am–11pm
The jewel of the Tilman Ferttita’s Landry’s restaurant empire has catered to businessmen in Houston for more than 13 years. The dining room is perfectly laid out with tables and plush leather booths, letting the guests negotiate without worrying about being overheard.
With so many options on the menu, we left our dining experience to Chef Michael O’Connor. We made the right decision.
The opening round included three of the most popular appetizers: tuna poke, jumbo lump crab cake and maple-glazed quail. V&A’s poke would please any Maui native. The light soy vinaigrette provided enough acidity to let the tuna truly shine. The jumbo lump crab cake is the most popular appetizer on the menu, and for good reason. Four ounces of lump crab meat with minimal binder is topped with an extra ounce of crab. Why an extra ounce? Because they can.
My favorite was the maple-glazed quail. The quail were the perfect size, plump and juicy. The glaze had a hint of chipotle pepper balancing the sweet maple flavor. They crisped up well without too much char.
The soup and salad course came next, featuring slightly different versions of the Caprese and lobster bisque we enjoyed at Damian’s. The multicolored heirlooms were a wedge cut; the mozzarella handpulled in the back of the restaurant were a cloverleaf pattern. The bisque had good-sized pieces of lob- ster and enough sherry. I gave the edge to V&A on the salad, and bisque slightly to Damian’s.
The final course was almost overwhelming: Akaushi Skirt Steak and the Bone- In Filet Mignon. The marinated meat is cooked sous vide at 135° for five hours until medium rare and finished under the broiler. Accompanied by duck fat fried potatoes, a sunny-side up egg and chimichurri, it was as beautiful as it was flavorful.
Wine. It is impossible to come to V&A and not be impressed with the wine list. I left the choice to our waiter. Mark provided us with a crisp unoaked Chardonnay and a full-bodied Cabernet for the meat. They worked well. Very well.
OVERALL, V&A may be the ultimate destination for a Power Lunch in Houston. I know I will be back.