But that's OK, the food was free!
Last night, The lovely and talented Anne Linehan from BlogHouston
invited a very select crowd of us bloggers to a semi-private semi-opening of Wolfgang Puck's Gourmet Express In First Colony Mall, across the street from Chipolte. Her very friendly husband runs the place, and he met us at the door. They were holding a "Mock". For the uninitiated (like me), a Mock is a dry run with real food and real customers but apparently fake bills. The intent is to give the staff real people with real orders to serve in order for them to work out the kinks and give management a chance to see where there might still be rough spots that need to be ground off.
My wife and I and our youngest knee-biter (the four year old) got there at 6:30, an hour and a half after the festivities started. This was unfortunate as Anne, Matt Baramanti (Lone Star Times
), Sedosi Alhambra (Isolated Desolation
), and apparently Chris Elam (Safety for Dummies
) whom I apparently missed, were there at 5 and were just leaving as we got there. I managed to get a "Hi, I'm Rorschach, nice to meet you..." in before everyone had to bug out. Well CRAP! So much for witty conversation over the meal.... Anne emailed me after she got home apologizing for not being a better hostess (her kids were starting to get antsy and wound up so she had to bail before something bad happened. Hey, all of us parents have been there, ya know?) but I told her if anyone needs to apologize it is me for showing up so late.
A menu of offerings can be found here
. I had the four cheese pizza and was pleasantly surprised, goat products are generally verboten in this household after a very bad experience with goat's milk, but there was very little of the pungent taste I expected. It was served with sliced tomatoes and shredded Basil. It certainly made Pappa John's offerings (my favorite take-out) look like cardboard by comparison. My wife had the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and I must say, that was the BEST damned meatloaf I've ever eaten. And I have to tell you, meatloaf is not normally one of my favorite foods, but this stuff you'd loose a finger if you tried to take it away from me.
The Rugrat was a bit more "discerning" (picky) about her acceptance criteria, seems she actually LIKES the cardboard pizza genre and the kid's cheese pizza was a bit more refined than she was used to. I tried it and it was excellent to my taste but she was having none of that. So we got her an order of the kid's chicken fingers which she ate with abandon. Ok, so we know what NOT to order next time...at least for her.
The restaurant concept itself is an interesting hybrid. Kind of a cross between a full blown elegant gourmet restaurant and a McDonald's. Patrons walk in, order at a register with a big menu on the wall behind them and are given a receipt and a laminated order number card and they seat themselves. A waitress comes out and reads the order back to make sure the order is correct, and then after a little bit, brings the food out. The food IMHO is certainly equal to the best gourmet meal to be had, but the decor is closer to a fast food place than an elegant gourmet place. The floor is finished concrete, the ceiling is open to the underside of the roof and painted dark grey to de-accent it. The lighting was closer to the gourmet place, warm and low and each table had it's own light above it. The booth we were seated at was larger than your standard booth and didn't make you feel like you were trying to wear it. This combination of hard surfaces above and below however makes for a very loud place with even a few patrons. I know restaurant consultants think a loud place does more business, and maybe it does, but for me, I would have appreciated it being a couple decibels quieter. If I had to find one thing that was not quite up to snuff, that would have been it. Retrofitting the place with a bit more insulation in the ceiling and maybe some carpet to dampen out the sound would be my recommendation IMHO, but even without that it is certainly an excellent place to take a date (I THINK I remember what that was like =D) or your spouse for a evening out.
One other thing that is more a limitation of the space available than anything is the issue of drafts. There is no "airlock" on the entrance, where you have to pass through two sets of doors to get in, as a result every time the door opens, a blast of cold air rolls in. For patrons seated further back from the doors, that is obviously not that big a deal, but for someone seated near the door as we were, on a cold night like tonight, it was a bit uncomfortable. But to alleviate that you'd have to take up floor space and that would cut into seating area. The place was packed to the gills when we arrived, so loosing seating area is one of those tradeoffs that architects have to make. I probably would have chose differently, but I can certainly understand why that was not the choice this architect made.
On the whole it was quite an enjoyable treat to give the place a chance to use me as a guinea pig. When they open The Woodlands restaurant in the Spring, perhaps I'll have a chance to compare and contrast.