Some years ago MsIndependent participated in a Cuisine Crawl hosted by a small company, and it was by far one of my favorite events that we've ever done. Who can mean mug with a glass of spirits in hand, and a plate of savory art made with tender love and care? Food is the ultimate equalizer, and one of my favorite ways to bring people together. I'd been dreaming of hosting a Cuisine Crawl for some time now, and the upscale Utopia of CITYCENTRE was an obvious location to host our first crawl. Just as shopping on an empty stomach is never a good idea, reading this article on an empty stomach is just as equally reckless. You were warned!
On Saturday, May 21st, 10 people came together for 4 hours to experience 5 restaurants in the CITYCENTRE community. The crawl went like this: start at Radio Milano, then Straits Restaurant, next Grub Burger, then off to Seasons 52, and finish at Fellini Gelato and Caffe. The majority of women attended the crawl had either never attended one or more of these restaurants, or if they had, never really explored the menu...until now.
As we waited for everyone to arrive, Cuisine Crawlers were welcomed to the Milano Bar with a light and flavorful cocktail made with Prosecco and grapefruit juice among other things. I'm typically not a fan of grapefruit anything because it's too tart to me, but this drink had a romantic aroma and a delicate flavor that still left an impression once the glass was empty...well once my 3 glasses were empty. Don't judge me. The manager Doug, brought the ladies an assortment of lite bites from the upstairs restaurant. I had only been to Radio Milano once for brunch, and that was a while back so this is technically my first time really experiencing their menu. It was like Christmas morning as Doug came down the stairs time after time with a new chef inspired plate of modern Italian fare, The camera phones couldn't be pulled out fast enough! Here's what we sampled.
Risotto Milanese - charred octopus/saffron
Creamy, cheesy, great texture with the octopus which is perfectly cooked. Something I would never have ordered off the menu, not knowing what to think of the combo of octopus and risotto, but it's a brilliant idea, The textures of the risotto contrasting with the octopus meat is just wonderful. I of course look for flavor, but I'm fall in love over texture.
Tuna Crudo - tomato sauce/capers/quail eggs
I adore salmon so I am very biased on reviewing this dish but O...M...G! Smoked salmon with salty pops of capers on crispy bread topped with quail egg. This is where it's hard to be a good host when you want to hide in a corner with your "precious" and eat the whole plate alone. If you can't tell already, this was my favorite item.
Milano Pizza - truffle cream/ prosciutto san Daniele/ aged balsamic
Our last savory surprise before heading over to our next restaurant was indeed the pièce de résistance. Truffle oil just makes everything better.
Cocktails - Corey the bar manager was so excited to show off his skills he made us a variety of drinks just cause. We were even invited to come back at the conclusion of the crawl ( we were running late to our next location) to come try additional cocktails. When we returned at the conclusion of the tour Corey and the head bartender Tim, treated the ladies to customized cocktails. We were each asked if what type of liquors do we like, and if we prefer sweet, spicy, salty or bold flavors. Based on our preferences each person was created a different cocktail. Not so surprisingly some of the ladies came back the next day and returned to the bar for more carefully crafted cocktails.
Our second stop brought us to a restaurant inspired by Singaporean cuisine. We were sat in in a beautiful area with low couches and tables. I loved the sleek and sexy decor inspired by earth tones, that set the stage for a first class dining experience. Our Cuisine Crawlers were offered a beautiful array of curry samples , each offered with a different rice option.
Seafood Jalapeno Green Curry - clams/mussels/calamari/shrimp/fish
Straits Butter Chicken - Cilantro /Tikki Masala/Almonds
Coconut Red Curry - Mussel + Shrimp + Calamari ( pictured here with chicken)
My absolute favorite was the coconut red curry with jasmine rice. I am a huge fan of basil and as we learned coconut brings out more of the basil flavor. I am proud of myself for not licking the plate, as every one of the curry sauces offered its own aromatic blend of spices . What I really appreciated is being able to taste the flavors separately and yet collectively. The first bite gives you the the full affect, and as you chew each distinct spice and flavor makes its presence known. It's that beautiful magic that happens when Eastern influences like Indian and Malaysian food (which are components of Singaporean flavors) get you excited to take that next bite, because each one tastes a little different.
The coconut red curry was such a hit that some of the ladies that attended the crawl came back the next day for seconds. I am planning to come back for Happy Hour on a Wednesday when there are $2 bites, $5 small plates, and $5 beer or wine. This is one of those restaurants where it might be hard to settle on just one dish so I plan to try a variety the next time I come.
I'm not a huge burger lover but I am a huge fan of Grub Burger. It's one of those companies with a soul, created by people who truly care about the food, and the people eating it. The manager Steve, was kind enough to spend time with our group and tell us all about why he loves Grub Burger and it's so easy to see why. Grub burger is actually an acronym that represents the company's core beliefs....
Good people, Real food, Unique vibe, Big flavors
Everything is made in house at this restaurant. They grind their own burger meat (which is half brisket and half chuck), they bake their own bread, and even their unique sauces like the tequila lime aioli are made in house. Their motto is " keep it simple" which is truly the best way to create great food, Food is almost like a model. Clothes and makeup can enhance a look, but too much of either mask a look, which is true of food and flavor. Here's what we tasted.
Guacapotle - Chipotle aioli/cheddar cheese/handmade guacamole
Strange as it may sound my favorite part of the burger was the bun. I never eat the bun, ever, but the bread was so soft and fluffy yet toasted with this radiant golden shine that I just had to indulge myself.
Luai Fries - Braised pulled pork/ monterey jack and cheddar cheese/ grilled pineapple/jalapeños/ Teriyaki & Homemade Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce.
The fries were a very different experience for me. I would never think to add pineapple to potatoes but it works on pizzas so why not, right? The BBQ sauce was stellar, and the jalapenos added flavor without heat. This was my favorite dish at Grub Burger.
Pesto Turkey Cobb - Sliced pesto turkey burger/ mixed greens/hand chopped bacon/ bleu cheese/avocado,/egg/ red onion and tomato
This is a great option if you're on a low carb diet but all your friends want to go to a good burger joint. Everyone at the table seemed to rant and rave about the dressing and sauces offered including the jalapeno ranch dressing.
For me Steve really made this a great experience. I love seeing people do what they love and love what they do. I've been to restaurants that had excellent food but terrible service, and on principle I never returned. You'll feel appreciated here. If you want to eat at a restaurant that cares about the quality of food and aims to create a great experience for diners, this is it. Oh and fun fact, Grub Burger has a full service bar, and I've heard wonderful things about their milkshakes. They have plenty of burger options without beef, a variety of fries, and even food items you wouldn't expect like Tabbouleh. Do yourself a favor and get your grub on!
By this time we were getting good and full but luckily our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and Seasons 52 gave us plenty to look at. They offer a seasonally inspired menu, fresh ingredients, and their menus includes caloric information to help the health conscious make informed decisions. Here's what we sampled....
Caramelized Grilled Sea Scallops - lemon mosto/ micro greens
Kona- Crusted Lollipop Lamb Chops - 15 year old balsamic
Flatbread with roasted roma tomatoes - fresh mozzarella cheese/ Parmesan/ ribbons of basil
Flatbread with lobster - lobster/ fresh mozzarella cheese/ green onion
The scallops were cooked perfectly, I loved the flatbread with lobster, but the star of the show had to be the lamb chops. When these were served at the table there was a collective oh and ah, and we all sat there slightly stunned that something so beautiful was ours for the taking. The lamb chops were juicy, flavorful, cooked medium-rare, and delicious. The conversation ceased while we all feasted on the chops, totally unconcerned with the lady-like way to eat meat off a bone. We also enjoyed cocktails and wine, of which the Cucumber Smash was my favorite. It was made with cucumber vodka, white cranberry juice, agave, fresh lime, cucumber and my favorite, basil. This is the perfect summer drink and something that would pair well with Flatbread and lobster. Everything we sampled can be found on their happy hour menu.
Fellini is one of the newer cafes in CITYCENTRE, and is already a big eat. The first few times I came on my own there was always a table of people sitting around drinking coffee, oh excuse me caffe, and speaking Italian. Until I can make that trip to Italy, Fellini is the closest thing to experiencing the sidewalk cafés of Italy and the authentic tastes and textures of Italian dessert and coffee. Best of all the pastry chef isn't someone they hired off the street to fill a space, he's an actual native Sicilian, living in Houston, and preparing the desserts. He's also a fan of Amalfi, a restaurant that we've visited before. The chef was gracious enough to come to our table and give us a few lessons in Italian which was just as enjoyable as the desserts. We sampled the following.
Chocolate Dipped Florentine Lace Cookies
Cream-filled Mini Canoli
Although it's not one of the items sampled, I also purchased their Tiramisu, my favorite dessert of all time, and the standard by which I judge any restaurants Italian desserts. There's is absolute perfect! I personally get offended when I don't like a restaurant's tiramisu, I mean what's not to like? There is coffee flavor, their is light and fluffy cream and soft yet firm ladyfingers, how the hell do you mess that up? Well Fellini hit it right out of the park, and I highly recommend the canolis, tiramisu, and their gelatos. Perfetto!
I learned something new about each restaurant, tried something new at every restaurant, and have a newfound respect for every place we stopped on the crawl. Restaurants are not food factories...well the good ones aren't, they are the expression of creativity and passion that just so happens to be on the end of a fork. I'm so grateful to each of these restaurants for sharing their time, cuisine, and zeal for what they do, and for making MsIndependent guests feel like guests at a dinner table, not just restaurant patrons. Do yourself a favor and the next time you're in CITYCENTRE, treat yourself at one of these fabulous restaurants.