Monday, August 31, 2009

Sweet Temptation

On a road known more its collection of famous Mexican restaurants (Airline Drive, in the Eastern section of the Heights) sits Sweet Temptation. The name itself creates even more confusion, perhaps signaling that this concept wasn’t fully thought out.

The best dishes are the bruschetta and the restaurant's version of a spaghetti carbonara. The bruschetta is simply prepared with fresh tomatoes and herbs and served on a fairly generic slice of store bought Italian/French bread. The carbonara is served with an egg yolk inside of a hollowed out egg shell. The best prepared dish was the sauteed chicken breast, which was pounded thin, coated, skillet fried and still juicy. The fact that I was most excited by a fairly generic chicken breast entree should tell you all you need to know about Sweet Temptation.

Misses included most of the meat entrees, which are all served with the same unimaginative duo of mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. The biggest miss was the pork chops, which were overcooked to a shoe leather texture. Desserts include the standard tiramisu, creme brulee and cheesecake.

My dream is for the Heights to land a truly authentic Italian eatery. A few weeks ago I sat in Dolce Vita and split two starters and the best pizza I've had outside of New York City. A simple shaved brussel sprouts starter—served cold and tossed with a slight hint of acid—was one of the best dishes I've had this year. The fact that we got out for less than what we spent at Sweet Temptation is both amazing and depressing at the same time.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Collina's on 19th has been serving even worse fare for several years and still has a line out the door most days of the week. Sweet Temptation has the same BYOB policy, so I would expect it to be a hit as well (both recent visits the room sat mostly empty).

Sweet Temptation should be defined as an Italian American restaurant. Italian American is never going to be Dolce Vita, nor does it need to be. I would be happy if Sweet Temptation could equal the highs of Patronella's, which is located just a few miles south. Sadly, Sweet Temptation is more in the style of Birraporetti's. You'd be better off just opening a jar of Prego.

1504 Airline Drive
Houston, TX 77009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An open letter to HEB

Dear HEB,

Congratulations on the opening of your new Buffalo Market (on Buffalo Speedway and Bissonnet). From what I’ve read over the last few weeks, your new store looks mighty impressive. Your cheese and wine selection look just as extraordinary as Central Market’s selection. I’m sure the residents are quite pleased that they will no longer have to drive the extra two and half minutes it would have taken to get to Central Market.

HEB's grand new store | Source: Swamplot

Forgive me if that sounds sarcastic. I currently reside in the Heights area, an area you have ignored for far too long. Presently, you have one store in the area, an HEB Pantry Foods that has seemingly been there since the dawn of time. The floors are grimy and the entire place has an odor of meat that is past its prime. The selection is limited to the bare essentials, which I guess is the concept of the Pantry Foods line.

Orange-colored "vine ripe" tomatoes (lower right) and overripe/spoiled tomatoes (upper left)

Grocery shopping in the Heights is getting better, but still needs some help. Fiesta on Shepherd is a great place to shop for every cut of meat imaginable, but lacks the quality in upper end cuts of meats and mainstream produce selections. Kroger has been doing a fairly poor job of servicing the area (the store on 20th is pathetic), but is at least attempting to improve the situation by revamping the tired store on 11th and Shepherd.

I know you can do much better. Your Bunker Hill location is one of my favorite places to shop. Prices seem fair, the store is clean, the selection is top notch, and you don’t need one of those annoying shopper cards in order to get the sale price. Quite frankly, I’m puzzled why a decision was made to open a store in the saturated 59 corridor, while other areas are grossly under-represented.

The typically empty membership only Restaurant Depot, next door to HEB Pantry: What could have been a perfect new HEB

Thank you.