By Phaedra Cook
Monday, June 6, 2016 6 A.M.
Last year's list of the 20 Most Romantic Restaurants In Houston ended up being such a popular, year-round resource that we decided to brush it up and put a fresh coat of paint on it for 2016. This year’s compilation integrates both new restaurants that have opened in Houston over the past year or two and longstanding classics that readers recommended.
The trifecta of fabulous food, outstanding service and romantic setting often doesn’t come cheap, but some of these places are rather reasonable, and one is even BYOB. Others are definitely in the pricey “special occasion” category. Either way, anyone should find a restaurant on this list that is a good fit for all but the most casual date nights.
10. Américas River Oaks, 2040 West Gray As if it’s not easy enough to get romantic over glasses of South American wine and food, the interior design here practically screams “sex.” (For amusement, check out the “bean mural” very closely. There’s more than a little Kama Sutra going on there.) The red, velvety lamp coverings are “female” and the chairs are chocolate. It’s actually all very tasteful and creative. The shellfish soup known as vuelve a la vida and the corn-smoked crab “fingers” are just the kinds of dishes to get couples fired up for a long night. There’s a location in The Woodlands as well.
9. Etoile, 1101-11 Uptown Park Chef Philippe Verpiand’s restaurant is French, but it’s not stuffy or formal. Diners who crave classic French fare should check out the traditional side of the menu, while those seeking modern twists will find "La Saison" (or “the season”) right up their alley. Break the ice with one of Kimberly Paul’s delightful, creative cocktails, then move on to bubbling hot, garlicky escargot or tuna tartare with yuzuvinaigrette, herbs, cucumber and blood orange “snow.”
8. Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella This 100-year-old log cabin is a picturesque Houston treasure, with vast, perfectly landscaped grounds and stair-stepped wood decks. The inside is like a grand huntsman’s cabin. (This isn’t the place to bring anyone sensitive to taxidermy.) The menu features wild game and Gulf seafood, and the execution is sophisticated without being too precious. The six-course tasting ($122 per person with wine pairings plus tax and gratuity) sounds like a terrific way to celebrate an anniversary.
Couples who love to share seafood will find Brennan's of Houston's Petite platter to be a decadent feast.
Photo by Shannon O'Hara
7. Brennan's of Houston, 3300 Smith Many a Houstonian has celebrated an anniversary or birthday or gotten down on one knee to propose at Brennan’s of Houston. Chef Danny Trace and general manager Carl Walker are constantly coming up with new ideas (the sumptuous seafood tower is a fairly recent addition), but the classic dishes Brennan’s of Houston is known for aren’t going anywhere, either. There are many ways to celebrate here, but “The Kitchen Table” private dining experience is especially memorable.
6. Da Marco, 1520 Westheimer Chef Marco Wiles’s fine-dining establishment highlights the fare and wine of Tuscany and there has always been a penchant for stylish service. Servers go out of their way to ensure diners feel cared for, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so often a top pick for date night. The other reasons include housemade raviolo ricotta, egg and Parmigiano-Reggiano (topped with optional shaved truffles when in season) and the luxurious prime porterhouse for two.
5. Chez Nous, 217 South Avenue G, Humble There's something about servers in black, long-sleeved jackets and starched white shirts wheeling out trays of dishes under domed lids that speaks nostalgically of another time. If you're an "old soul" who loves Sinatra and longs for the good old days, you'll find a glowing warmth in this Humble home. Be sure to request a soufflé when ordering the rest of your meal. They take some time to prepare, and you will want one of these poofy delights at the end of your meal.
4. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland This high-end restaurant, housed in a Mediterranean-style villa on the edge of a Montrose neighborhood, is a traditional taste of Spain right here in Houston. Chef Luis Roger is, in fact, a native of that country and the menu reflects his fondness for both authentic, imported ingredients and fresh, local ones, including the herbs that come straight from the restaurant garden. Dishes such as the bacalao ajoarriero, or salted cod with roasted bell pepper sauce, fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes, aren’t exactly on the inexpensive side, but the impeccable execution makes BCN an apt spot for memorable date nights and anniversaries.
3. The Pass, 807 Taft The idea of “dinner and a show” takes on a special meaning at tasting menu restaurant The Pass. Here, dinner is the show. Chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan were semifinalists for the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest award in 2016, and their dishes are as tasty as they are beautiful. The eight-course menu is $105. Wine or cocktail pairings will add another $75, so the budget-minded might consider a non-alcoholic beverage or nursing one of the many fine wines by the glass. Dishes rotate regularly, cumulating in a complete menu change on a quarterly basis. So, pace visits a few months apart and there will be a whole new set of surprises in-store.
2. Tony's, 3755 Richmond Restaurateur Tony Vallone’s premier establishment has been a fine dining destination for more than 50 years and is an important part of Houston history. Yet it never stands still and often dishes reflect the local harvest as much as Italian tradition, such as spigola or European seabass, enhanced with Texas Ruby Red grapefruit. Tony’s is much more approachable than many might expect for a restaurant of this caliber. Service is always attentive and the lovely dining room, with the striking Three Graces statue near the center, makes a great setting for a romantic dinner. People on the west side of Houston might check out Vallone's in the Gateway Memorial City center instead.
1. Château at La Table, 1800 Post Oak La Table’s upstairs dining room, Château, is one of those “restaurant inside a restaurant” ideas that have been popular as of late. In this case, using the secluded upstairs as a romantic dining spot makes a lot of sense. La Table is managed by Invest Hospitality, the same group behind the famous, Michelin-starred L’atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurants. So they know something about what constitutes fine food and service. Considering the high quality, prices are surprisingly affordable. It is entirely possible to have a memorable, satisfying meal for two for $100 — so don’t just save this one for the occasional date night or anniversary.