Houston's shopping center has everything from Japanese and Mexican food to Neiman's tea room and hamburgers on the ice rink. We tried them all.
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WHEN GERALD HINES, HOUSTON’S own Edifice Rex, built the Galleria complex, he combined under one translucent pleasure dome the elite of the merchandising world.
Below are suggestions of places to eat in and around The Galleria.
If Mexican food moves you, try El Fenix. You’ll find comfortable surroundings and courteous help. The tostadas are hot, crisp, and easily some of the best in town. For a main dish, try the chicken chalupas, double mounds of lettuce, chicken, avocado and sour cream dressing, and grated cheese. These have been spectacular on two occasions and barely passable on a third; they are, however, worth the gamble. The chicken enchiladas with sour cream are notable. On the other hand, don’t jump at the shrimp Veracruz, six shrimp atop enough rice to feed an unplanned family. If you have a strong arm, wash down your lunch with beer served in icy, attractive, three pound champagne glasses.
First level, The Galleria,
5015 Westheimer 6216080
Mon.Sat. 11 a.m.10 p.m.
Inexpensive to moderate
Major credit cards
FARRELL’S ICE CREAM PARLOR RESTAURANT
Farrell’s exudes prefab gay90’s aura. The ice cream is recommended as are the incredible concoctions. For the timorous there is the slab of ice cream, a hearty chunk, for 35¢. For the real pig, there is the trough at $2.15; and for the suicidal, there is the Farrell’s zoo at $8.50. Birthdays are a specialty here. On that happy occasion you will be treated to (or afflicted with—according to your point of view and age) drum beating and singing. Entire birthday parties are encouraged to do their celebrating on the premises. Madness. Sandwiches, hamburgers and lunches are also featured, but are not noteworthy. FarrelI’s is for the young of nerves and digestion.
First level 6261319
Sun.Thurs. 11 a.m.ll p.m.
Fri.Sat. 11 a.m.12 p.m.
HOUSTON OAKS HOTEL
You step from the brilliantly lit lobby of the Houston Oaks Hotel into the muted glow of tastefully civilized surroundings: paneled walls, conservative English prints, softly lit table lamps, black leatherette banquettes, simulated Waterford crystal, and pewter plates. A rosebud for each lady and attentive service complete the Savoy Room’s milieu.
The menu aspires to haute cuisine. Unfortunately, the food has not yet come up to expectations. Everything we have tried to date has been a near miss. In the appetizer category we have found the terrine of pheasant overly dry. Quenelles of red snapper have been burdened with a much too heavy sauce. Smoked salmon has come with a tasty sour cream and horseradish sauce, minced onions, and a lemon slice; but the fish and sauces have arrived tableside still covered with Saran wrap—quite a letdown after having seen this dish so exquisitely handled at the Window Box in the Hyatt Regency.
On one occasion, the bouillabaisse, prepared for two and served in a baroque scalloped shell was crammed with luscious scallops, San Francisco Bay shrimp, gargantuan Gulf shrimp, oysters, and crab meat. Unfortunately, the broth had been reduced to the point of resembling Gulf brine. Senate steak, a selection of tournedos—lamb, beef, and pork—sounds great, but has proved to be dried out and generally undistinguished. However, other beef choices have been adequate.
The wine list is well constructed and prices are reasonable. A special list features some fancy vintages ($16$75) for those on unlimited expense accounts.
At lunch this is a comfortable spot for something light like a salad or the tasty chicken filled crepes, Crêpes à la Reine. The pace is slow, the noise level low, the tables reasonably spaced and you may comfortably linger over your coffee and talk. Rendezvous for business or pleasure in one of the dark corners.
High atop the Houston Oaks Hotel, the Galleria Roof overlooks the Golden Triangle, southwest Houston, the Post OakWestheimer traffic jam, and the red faced University Club joggers. Swagged woven drapes and patterned wall covering, both in rusts and oranges, and clusters of pressed glass lighting fixtures provide a pleasant backdrop for the flashiest part of the decor, the view. Expansive on a clear day, glittering on a clear night, the sight makes it worth your rising to the occasion. On the other hand, when the smog creeps in on giant lion paws…
Lunch is the only regular meal served on the Roof. At night the fare is limited to hot hors d’oeuvres and the Galleria Roof becomes a nightclub. Weekdays the menu offers four fixed entrees and one “pot luck” special. The menu changes intermittently and the quality varies. On one occasion we had a fishy tasting shrimp Newburg, on another day we had a sumptuous crab salad.
On Sunday, the staff prepares a brunch that draws crowds to the roof. Lines form for the buffet which features individually prepared omelets with choices of fillings, pastries, fruits, cheeses, bacon, luncheon meats, seafood Newburg, beef, crêpes, biscuits, even ice sculpture—all for $4.25. The crowds are rather oppressive, but the feast makes it worth the jam. Reservations are required.
Street level: enter from Westheimer;
Third level: enter from mall.
Lunch: Mon.Fri. 11:30 a.m.2 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.Sat. 6:30p.m.11 p.m.
Sun. 6 p.m.11 p.m.
Lunch: Mon.Fri. 11:30 a.m.2 p.m.
Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.2 p.m.
No dinners served
Moderate to expensive
Coat and tie
Reservations advised at dinner (Savoy Room) and required at Sunday brunch (Galleria Roof)
JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE
Located at the west end of The Galleria complex (enter from the Westheimer side; there’s no mall entrance), The Japanese Steak House is strikingly contemporary with an Oriental flavor—sort of EvansMonical East decor. In the main dining room you’ll encounter a communal seating system with assorted couples being grouped around teppans. Don’t plan to whisper sweet nothings or talk shop. A kimonaclad cook deftly sautées prime cuts of sirloin, mounds of fresh mushrooms, onions, bean sprouts, and bell peppers. She portions these out to diners who in turn have to decide how to cope with fair size beef chunks without a knife. Both the meat and vegetables are plentiful and delicious.
In a smaller dining room called My Apartment, seating is at individual tables which can accommodate parties of from two to eight. Each table has a recessed hibachi. Here you can order shrimp, beef, or chicken in barbecue sauce or teriyakied. The meal includes soup, skewered vegetables, tangerine sherbet, fortune cookies, and tea. The advantage to My Apartment is that you may sit unencumbered by strangers, but we prefer the steak dinner in the main dining room. If you want to give the place a onceover before making your choice, sit in the bar for a drink and sample a cocktail portion of shrimp or beef teriyaki.
50.51 Westheimer 6261860
Mon.Thurs. 5 p.m.11:15 p.m.
Fri.Sat. 5 p.m.1:15 a.m.
Cocktails/ Beer/ Wine
Steak dinner—fixed price: $8.95
Lined with whimsical blue and white hand painted tiles by Bjorn Wiinblad, the Mariposa Room is a tiny island of superlative food. Seating is a little close, and the racket from the cosmetic counters intrudes, but the service is usually attentive and there is quite a cook in the kitchen. Many of the recipes made famous by Helen Corbitt in the Dallas store are still in evidence.
At lunch the menu is modest in scope but limitless in imagination. The fresh fruit salad is magnificent still life dressed with Neiman’s own deservedlyfamous poppy seed dressing. The potluck lunch is for the adventurous or the indecisive and is generally a pleasant surprise. A medley of vegetables served with the entrees is a combination of “leftovers” in a smooth, rich white sauce and gets raves. Desserts tend to be on the spectacular side. The swan meringue has to be seen to be believed and the flower pot sundae presents you with a real rose in a clay pot filled with cake and ice cream.
Arrive hungry. This is not a snack shop and is no place for the harried shopper who wants to grab a sandwich. Everything on the menu is substantial, artistically presented, and demands a leisurely pace. Incidentally, due to the limited dimensions of this establishment, reservations are mandatory. At lunch (11 a.m.2 p.m.) reservations are taken for seatings which begin promptly on the hour. Be on time so that you will not feel rushed. This sounds like a Machiavellian regimen, but it seems to work gracefully.
Tea is served from 3 p.m.4:30 p.m. and will give a lift to the shopper exhausted after a hard day in the aisles.
Three nights a week—Monday, Thursday, and Friday—the Mariposa Room serves dinner buffet style. The price is right ($4.75) and the food abundant and imaginatively prepared. Three meats (one evening they were leg of lamb, lobster thermidor, and veal roast), several fresh salads (no wilted, brownedged lettuce here), vegetables (such as sweet potato souffle), and desserts from a cart are available. We recommend that you go early so that you will have time for seconds. The food is removed promptly at 7:30 p.m.
2600 South Post Oak, adjacent to the Galleria 6217100
Lunch: four seatings daily: Mon.Sat.
11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m.
Buffet dinner: 5:30 p.m.7:30 p.m.
Mon., Thurs., Fri.
Moderate at lunch; fixed price at dinner: $4.75.
Bring your own wine: $1 corkage fee
PACESETTER CLUB AND RESTAURANT
Architects will like the Pacesetter’s easy contemporary mood effected by clean lines, pebbley walls, suede upholstery, and splashes of vivid color. Carpenters will enjoy the carefully crafted wood detail and furniture. Sports fans might be interested in the perpetual sportsoriented slides that are flashed on the walls.
In a seat by the window you are at Galleria rinkside, watching the skaters and the efficient icesweeping machine that comes up and down periodically via a huge lift right beside you. The Club (now public) is cozier, dimmer, and usually more crowded. A trophysize Marlin oversees the goingson through luxurious false eyelashes. In the evenings, there is lowkeyed entertainment.
Dinner features a reasonable array of simple choices—steaks, shrimp, etc. The lunch menu features reasonably priced “downhome” specials that are a boon to the traveler or business man who yearns for a wellbalanced meal. Crawfish étouffée, fried oysters, jumbo shrimp, liver, and ham and cabbage are all well prepared. You have a choice of several vegetables which vary from day to day and season to season—fried okra, turnip greens, zucchini, blackeyed peas, sauerkraut, etc. Mothers, vegetarians, and scurvy victims will love the vegetable plate at $1.50.
Several other dining choices are only a dangerous intersection away and the additional shopping prospects (Sakowitz, Rive Gauche, Joske’s) alone make it worth the gambol. Few shoppers can call it a day without crossing Westheimer or Post Oak at least once.
First level 6260660
Restaurant: Mon.Sat. 7 a.m.10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Club (open to public): Mon.Thurs. 11 a.m.midnight
Fri.Sat. 11 a.m.1 a.m.
JOSKE’S HERITAGE ROOM
In many respects, the Heritage Room is like most department store restaurants—tastelessly decorated and afflicted with mediocre food. One evening a week, however, the Heritage Room is special. On Thursday nights, fresh lobster, boiled or broiled, is yours by reservation for $5.95. Joske’s apparently orders several dozen weekly, each weighing about oneandonequarter pounds. (We have found other fresh lobsters around town to weigh a little more, one and one half to oneandthreequarters pounds, but they cost from $9.95 $12.95 each.) Although not large, Joske’s lobsters are well prepared. Undistinguished French fries, slaw, and dressing make up the rest of the meal.
Joske’s is an oasis for an afternoon tea break. The Heritage Room offers six varieties of tea at 25 cents a cup.
4925 Westheimer (at Post Oak)
Lunch: Mon.Sat. 11 a.m.3 p.m.
Dinner: Thurs.Fri. 5 p.m.8 p.m.
Reservations necessary for Lobster dinner on Thursday night
Inexpensive to moderate
Located in what appears to be the attic but is euphemistically referred to as the third floor, the Old Colony offers quiet—if slightly claustrophobic—surroundings and excellent food to its primarily female clientele. The menu is limited, but each item has been proven worthwhile over a period of many years. You can choose from salads, sandwiches, and light entrées. We can recommend any of the magnificent salads, especially the pictureperfect fruit salad with its scoop of raspberry sherbert, and the turkey mornay is a good choice if you want something hot.
For a quick lunch, try the Crazy Calorie Sandwich Shop perched on a mezzanine overlooking the Gourmet Shop. The decor is pop art afterthought—not award winning but not bad. There are only 13 tables, an abbreviated kitchen, and a selfservice area. The menu includes “Sakwiches,” beverages, and desserts. The sundaes are spectacular. The Crazy Calorie is the best bet in the Galleria area for a quick sandwich or hamburger.
5000 Westheimer 2241111
Lunch: Mon.Fri. 11 a.m.2:30 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m.3:30 p.m.
Tea: Mon.Fri. 2:30 p.m.3:30 p.m.; Sat. 3 p.m.3:30 p.m.
Dinner: Mon. & Thurs. 5:30 p.m.8 p.m.
Tue.Fri. 10 a.m.8 p.m.
Mon. and Sat. 10 a.m.5 p.m.
TWOK RESTAURANT (2K’s)
Granted that colored water in assorted apothecary jars, a player piano, and a cashier in a kiosk do not an ice cream parlor make, good ice cream does, and 2K’s is an ice cream at its best: rich, creamy and vividly flavorful. The chocolate, in the opinion of most chocolateophiles, is the best in town. It is deep dark brown and tastes of cocoa. The raspberry sherbet is equally praiseworthy and just tart enough (a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of raspberry is an ambrosial combination). Gooey combinations and weird concoctions are the house speciality. Put your tenyear old onto a “Touchdown” (he hunts the chocolatecovered Brazil nut which lies buried in ice cream) or your eighteen year old onto the “Houstonian” (five different flavors of sundaes living together in one dish at $1.25).
Lunch and dinner are also served from a menu that include steaks, sandwiches, hamburgers, salads, and eggs—certainly nothing to ruin your sweet tooth over. Service is quick, however, and this is one of the few places in town where you can get ice cream and beer!
5016 Westheimer (adjacent to Sakowitz parking lot) 6225760
Mon.Thurs. 11 a.m.midnight
Fri.Sat. 11 a.m.1 a.m.
Melange est omis divisa in partes tres Melange I is a restaurant; Melange II is a wine shop; and Melange III is a discoteque.
Originally, Melange I was a “sidewalk cafe” that featured luncheon only. Dinner was served in the quite elegant Melange III. Currently, however, both lunch and dinner are served in Melange I, and Melange III is only for cocktails and dancing. The menu has changed also, and no longer features as much haute cuisine as it once did. We don’t miss the mediocre ceviche, but we are sorry that the exceptional bouillabaisse is no longer available. The present menu offers a much wider range of prices ($2.50 for half of a broiled chicken to $22 for Chateaubriand for two) and a variety of relatively straightforward dishes, although several rather elaborate house specialties are executed in chafing dishes à la table. With each entrée comes a salad, which you assemble yourself at a salad bar, and your choice of potatoes—baked, au gratin, or French fried.
Shrimp Melange, sautéed in wine and herbs as you watch, is delicate and delicious. Steak Paul, tender morsals of beef sautéed with whole water chestnuts in soy sauce and wine, has an interesting tang. Prime rib has been worth recommending.
Service is exceptionally accommodating. One evening an order of Steak Paul proved intolerably salty due to a surfeit of soy sauce. Our waiter, upon noticing our discomfort, instantly and most graciously whisked it away, brought out all his cooking paraphernalia, and prepared another order for us. The result was superb, and we left well pleased. Of course, this is the way service should be, although it seldom is, and we are most eager to applaud it.
Melange I’s principal flaw is its openness. Set will back against the west wall of the third level of The Galleria, it has two sides completely naked to the mall. At noon, this gives the feeling of a sidewalk cafe as you watch the pedestrians coming and going. In the evening, however, as you sit in the softly lit restaurant, sipping vintage wine and eating Chateaubriand, you stare out on a mall almost deserted save an occasional adipose windowshopping matron in curlers and shower thongs who gawks at the diners as she ambles by. You feel as though you are in a restaurant diorama. Hence, we heartily recommend that you ask to be seated well back into the restaurant.
Melange is a suitable place to dine before seeing a movie at one of the Galleria cinemas or before doing a little serious discotequing at Melange III.
Third LevelThe Galleria 6262171
Lunch: Mon.Sat. 11 a.m.3 p.m.
AE, BA, MC
Dinner: Mon.Sat. 6 p.m.midnight
[endnote] Felecia Coates and Harriet Howle are the authors of the forthcoming Texas Monthly’s Guide to Houston, a paperback bonanza of information on restaurants (Tony’s to The Havana Cuba), shopping (handmade puppets to southern sugar maple), doing things (Planned Parenthood Book Sale to Charity Cat Show), joining things (Hemerocallis Society to the Houston Designer Craftsmen), and sports (rugby to trained buzzard acts).