North Italia

The North of Italy in the South of Texas

Wow, we’re back. While right now it’s sunny and 75 degrees outside, that was very much not the case a week ago, and we’ve never been more grateful to be safe and sound. Our winter wonderland quickly became a nightmare and we sincerely hope you are all safe and taking care of yourselves. On a quick but very real note, if you were deeply affected by last week’s winter storms and still in need of assistance, FEMA has assistance available and the easiest way to apply is through this website.

Before the apocalypse descended upon Texas, though, we were able to take a visit to North Italia, located in the Uptown/Galleria area of Houston. Our last post was about our at-home Valentine’s Day meal idea, an Italian-inspired Shrimp and Lobster ravioli dish, so we decided to venture out and find an Italian meal you don’t have to cook yourself. The vibe of the whole North Italia restaurant is sort of modern Italian rustic. Plus, the kitchen has glass walls so you can spy on the chef making pasta from scratch, sizzling up your meal, and yelling at the sous chef. It’s dinner and a show. (Kidding about the yelling part, in case you weren’t sure.)

Will you accept this rose? And this Pinot Grigio?

The Fizz

We started our meal off with a glass of the Matteo Braidot Pinot Grigio. This wine was super tasty, with notes of pear and apple. It was balanced, not overly sweet or tart. For a “sweet” wine, it would be considered on the dryer side. If you prefer red wine, we suggest a Chianti or Red Zinfandel to pair with a red sauce dish, or a Pinot Noir to go with a white sauce dish. While we took it easy on the drinks this time around, the cocktail menu at North Italia is nothing to be mocked. Next time we go, we plan to try the Julietta (Ginger and vanilla-infused Tito’s vodka, Italian elderflower, lime, prosecco) or the Ginger Blossom Margarita (Espolon blanco tequila, fiorente elderflower, greenbar ginger, cucumber, and lime). 

The Wild Shrimp Scampi

The Fork

Appetizers can make or break your expectations for a meal, and in this case, they were definitely made. We ordered the Wild Shrimp Scampi, which consisted of shrimp, blistered tomatoes, grana padano, garlic confit, herb butter, charred lemon, and grilled bread. There are four shrimp, so it’s good to share between 2-4 people, and even once the shrimp are gone, the tomato mixture is still wonderful as a bread spread on its own. Considering how heavy Italian food can be, this appetizer is the perfect light option.

Peep those pine nuts!

For the main dish, we ordered a Tuscan kale salad and the Strozzapreti. The Tuscan kale salad was made of crispy pancetta, charred grape, apple, pistachio, breadcrumbs, and parmesan vinaigrette. This is no ordinary salad. We had never tried a charred grape until this dinner, but we can best describe it as a grape, but almost smoky. The grapes were truly the shining star of this dish and added depth to a salad that was overall very light and crisp thanks to the tartness of the apple, tangy parmesan, and saltiness from the pancetta. The other dish was the Strozzapreti…and y’all. This dish was so flippin’ good. It was chicken, roasted mushroom (incredible!!), spinach, toasted pine nut, and parmesan cream. Everything at North Italia, including the pasta, is made from scratch, and it shows. All the flavors in this dish complement each other beautifully. The nuttiness of the pine nuts pairs so well with the earthy roasted mushrooms and the tanginess of the parmesan is the figurative cherry on top. Also, because we wondered at first too, no, parmesan cream is not just another way of saying Alfredo sauce. This sauce is its own beast entirely. It’s not rich like Alfredo–it coats the pasta beautifully and isn’t overwhelming.

It is not in our nature to leave without dessert, especially when gelato is involved. This being an Italian restaurant, gelato was involved, so…we ordered the gelato of the day, the stracciatella. For those not familiar, stracciatella consists of dark chocolate chips folded into a classic vanilla base. It’s the quintessential meal topper because it isn’t too rich with chocolate and won’t leave you feeling overly stuffed. The gelato isn’t pictured because, quite frankly, we were too excited and it was too good. 

This salad is worth the feature

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • Locations: We visited the Houston location, but there are actually North Italia restaurants in several states across the United States. Specifically for our Texas folks, there are locations in Houston, Dallas, Plano, and two in Austin!
  • Hot tip! Located just an elevator ride away from North Italia is the Rooftop Cinema Club. They’ve been closed for Covid reasons, but this open-air movie theater concept is re-opening soon and would make the perfect cherry on top after a dinner at North Italia!
  • Happy hour at North Italia is from 3:00-6:00 pm so if you go for an early dinner you can get some great deals on wine and beer! Plus, all day Sunday are half-price bottles of wine.
Chef’s…and I cannot emphasize this enough…kiss

When Should You Make Your Own Trip to North Italia?

North Italia is an ideal date spot, whether it’s a romantic date or girls’ date. In the evening time, the candles and dark atmosphere are very romantic, but during the day the place is much brighter and, with a solid lunch menu and extravagant cocktail menu, would be a great day date with friends. Either way, North Italia is a great place when you want high-quality, made-from-scratch Italian food but don’t want to completely blow your budget for the whole month (maybe just half the month?).

As the Italians say, *chef’s kiss* 🤌🏼

See you back here next time! Xx

Café Poêtes

Paris in Texas (but don’t get it confused with Paris, Texas!)

January is finally over, huzzah! In the middle of what seemed like the longest month to date, it was easy to forget about some of the good things coming our way. Plus, we were kind of busy eating donuts and more donuts. But alas, February is finally here, which means Valentine’s Day is right around the corner! So don your heart-shaped sunnies, buy your chocolate strawberries, knit some hearts onto a sweater, and buckle up for the season of love.

When we were thinking about the best way to celebrate love this year, one of our first thoughts was our bestie gals. While we love romantic love, and don’t worry, we’ll talk more about that next week, this past year has been particularly tough on friendships separated by the pandemic. The best place we could think of to celebrate the girls who are there with us through it all was Café Poêtes, a French restaurant and tea house in Midtown-Montrose in Houston. This bistro is elegant, glamorous, just as beautiful outside as it is inside, and very, very Parisian. 

Imagine having tea here with your besties

The Fizz

This week’s fizz is a little bit more toned down than our usual cocktails and wine agenda. That being said, it is important to highlight that those things do exist in this bistro! The restaurant even goes so far as to dub themselves a wine club, and they host events with wine pairings that complement their food fusions, which is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Additionally, they have a limited cocktail menu that includes the Kir Royale French cocktail, which is high on our list of things to try next time we go!

It would be impossible for us to talk about the beverages offered at Café Poêtes without mentioning the tea. Everyday from 11am-5pm, the cafe has High Tea, which is exactly what it sounds like. Even tea connoisseurs will be delighted at the selection, which changes seasonally and is offered in small or large teapot sizes. The beautiful teapots are just the cherry on top.

Hidden under that greenery is a melting pot of cheesy pasta

The Fork

Between artisan quiches, savory eclairs, and hachis parmentier (?), there is very little on the Café Poêtes menu we can pronounce, but oh so much we enjoy. During High Tea, pastries and small dishes take the cake (Pun! Always! Intended!). The Madeleines? Incredible.

If you’re there for lunch or dinner, we definitely recommend asking your server for recommendations to help you dissect the menu options. The meal menu changes seasonally, too, so what we ordered may not be available, but we can assure you that you will be in good hands. Keep an open mind, too! Trying something new never hurt anybody, and the French menu and fusions are full of new things. We ordered a cheese soufflé dish that was melt-in-your-mouth incredible and came in the cutest little pot. We also ordered a basquaise eclair, which was light but satisfying. Both of our dishes had a unique combination of flavors we never would have thought to pair, but which somehow work so well. We don’t think we could ever get enough.

Tea for two

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • Make a rezzy! While you can technically walk in and cross your fingers, between limited space in addition to social distancing restrictions, it’s unlikely you’ll get a spot without waiting excessive amounts of time. You can make a reservation via phone, email, or on their website.
  • You will want to take photos when you go. Trust. Heads up, though, if you’re any sort of professional photographer (or have a camera that makes it look like you are), you’ll likely be asked to pay the $40 photography fee. Yes, the space is that beautiful, and yes, that’s why we don’t have a ton of photos.
  • Parking: There is a tiny parking lot for the restaurant on the backside, but if there’s no spot available there, you’ll need to do some street parking.
You will want to take photos. Case in point.

When Should You Make Your Own Trip to Café Poêtes?

Valentine’s Day weekend! Café Poêtes is always chic and girly, but on this weekend in particular we’re sure it will be akin to Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. With your girlfriends as your companions, the trip is destined to turn out far better than it did for Harry and Cho. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the weekend of Valentine’s Day, Café Poêtes is hosting a “Galentine in Paris High Tea” event with three “tiers,” from 11am-5pm each day. If you do decide to go there with your honey, the bistro also has a “Valentine in Paris Dinner” event each evening of the weekend composed of a romantic four-course dinner.

How do you plan to celebrate the day? With one true love or with all of your true loves (gals)? Stay tuned for ideas on what you can do for a memorable Valentine’s Day date night at home, coming next Wednesday!

MAD Houston

We went mad for MAD.

Welcome back, fizzies! (Can we call you that? It felt better than forkies or forkers, but to each their own.) We are so grateful for the time we got to spend soaking in the holidays with our loved ones and eating our favorite recipes (link), but also so excited to get right back to trying and sharing new foods in the new year. 2021 has taken long enough to get here, and we are so grateful to finally be ringing it in tomorrow!

This week we’re going to take you back to the night of one of our favorite experiences of 2020, although it certainly didn’t start out like that. After an almost-missed reservation and a truly harrowing Uber ride we won’t go into here, we arrived at MAD Houston feeling exactly that…mad. We stepped through the neon doors and into the front vestibule with a flurry of apologies and what just happeneds. To be honest, we knew MAD was an upscale restaurant, and we half expected a snobby reception. We were late, after all, and wearing monochrome wig/outfit ensembles (Sometimes girls just wanna have fun!). We’re pleased to report that we could not have been more wrong. Our hosts were overly gracious, assuring us that there was nothing to worry about and that we were finally free to relax. 

The bathroom in question.

This was the start we had been hoping for, and we continued to be pleasantly surprised as we walked through the restaurant to our table. We have to pause for a quick second here to discuss the inside of this place. The decor skirts just perfectly south of “too much,” and if the food wasn’t so mind-blowing, we might say that taking the atmosphere in is the real treat. Everywhere you look is another neon sign, oversized chandelier, or unique Spanish art piece to stare at. If it tells you anything about the level of grandeur, the most ‘grammed spot of the whole place is in the literal bathroom.

Okay, enough about the bathroom. On to the food!

Left to right: Ay Güey, Qué Guay, Fresa Gin Tonic, Rosé

The Fizz

We definitely needed a drink or two after our struggle getting to the restaurant, so we started right off with the fizz–three in total. While expensive, the drinks are also sizable, so don’t feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth. The first drink we ordered was a rosé off the wine menu, the “Bodegas Muga ‘Rosado’ 2018.” It was a dry rosé from Spain that is definitely not for a sweet wine lover, but which we think would pair well with any of the meat dishes on the menu. 

We then moved on to cocktails, which we would say to order before your meal so as not to be too distracted by other flavors. At the tippy-top-of-the-menu was the “Ay Güey, Qué Guay.” This was a tequila-based drink that was a little smoky and a little sweet. The toppers were a spicy foam and a grilled pineapple chunk that lends a zing. We ended with the winner of the group, so good we had to order two–the “Fresa Gin Tonic.” The alcohols at the base of the tonic are a gin and a flavored brandy. Building from there is an explosion of fruity fresh flavors. Strawberry and basil win out for most apparent, but mint and lemon lurk below the surface too. Additionally, we would be remiss not to mention how absolutely mesmerized we were by the basil-infused ice cube that came in this drink. Instead of being watered down, the flavors just got more pronounced as time went on. Incredible.

The Fork

We started off with tapas: the “Bravas Tomás,” the “Serranito,” and the “Empanadillas de Cochinillo.” The Bravas Tomás looked essentially like a plate of cheese fries got taken on a vacation to Spain. But oh boy, did they taste like so much more. The potatoes were soft on the inside but the skins were crisped to perfection, and the sauce draped on top was thick and creamy, akin in consistency but not flavor with a hollandaise sauce. Next up on the tapas was the Serranito. This was “glass bread” topped with the “secret” Spanish cut of pork and a variety of vegetables and spices. Glass bread is called so because of how crunchy and delicate the outer skin is, while staying soft on the inside. The dish sounds complicated, but it was almost like a Philly cheesesteak went on vacation…to Spain. We admit we’re being a bit ridiculous with the Spanish vacation jokes, but it’s our way of trying to relate these foods to more familiar ingredients and make the ordering process a bit less intimidating. Hopefully it’s helpful. Last on the tapas list were the Empanadillas, aptly named because they were teeny-tiny and adorable, approximately the size of a typical Japanese gyoza. They were crunchy and flaky with a mango-apricot chutney that really upped the ante.

Not your average cheesy potatoes

For a full entreé, split between three people from the wood fired rice section, we ordered the “Fideuá de Cochinillo.” Tip: if you want to order any of the wood fired rice options, make sure you do so as soon as you arrive, because they take a good 40 minutes to be prepared. The full cast iron is brought to your table by the chef, who then serves a portion to each diner and is more than happy to answer any questions. We were apparently really feeling the suckling pig this night, because it was a prominent feature of both the Empanadillas and this dish as well, and wow. It did not disappoint–we all agreed it is rare to find meat that tender. The base of the dish is roasted angel hair pasta, topped by the suckling pig and mixed with onions and porcini mushrooms. This dinner was truly in our top five meals of 2020, and that’s saying a lot considering we started this entire blog about food this year. 

This cast iron was huge!

Things to Know Before You Go “MAD:”

  • Reservations: Make a reservation. We cannot stress this enough. They are incredibly strict (reservations last exactly two hours) and not making one will cause a lot of heartbreak, hanger, and pain, especially if you’re wearing heels. Additionally, don’t be late to your reservation. Any more than fifteen minutes late and you’ll lose your spot.
  • Parking: You’ve got options when it comes to parking. There is complimentary valet available at the front, although make sure you have cash to tip if you go that route. There is also free self-parking in a nearby garage, or there is metered parking lining the street leading up to the restaurant entrance.
  • The menu: MAD’s menu is extensive and can be a bit confusing, especially considering half of it is in Spanish and that there are a lot of unfamiliar ingredients used in their dishes. We recommend looking over it before you get there, although the waitstaff is incredibly helpful in walking through the menu with you.
  • Portions: Another important thing to note about the menu is the portion sizes. Most of their dishes are traditionally tapas, so you’ll want to order a few to get a good variety and enough food. On the other hand, some of their dishes, like the “Wood Roasted Rice” or “Over the Open Fire Pit” dishes are huge and designed for multiple people to eat them. Be aware of this, and if you’re not sure, always ask your waiter!
We weren’t kidding about the wigs.

So When Should You Make Your Own Trip to MAD?

MAD is definitely not a restaurant you decide to go to on a whim when you don’t feel like making dinner. MAD is an experience fit for an occasion, like a birthday or anniversary dinner. It’s very expensive, we won’t lie, but it’s worth it. Not only is the food a unique and delightful fusion of Spanish foods, but the atmosphere will make you stare in wonderment the entire time you’re there. We hear they’re also having a killer New Year’s Eve dinner, but reservations are tight so check for yours, like, yesterday, and try not to go mad in the process 😉

That’s it for this week! We’ll see you next year, fizzies, with a recipe inspired by the cocktails of MAD (Really enjoying that. Probably won’t be stopping anytime soon). Happy New Year’s!