That sentiment also captures my feelings about the demise of Robert Del Grande’s flagship Café Annie in June 2009 and the opening of RDG + Bar Annie a month later.
For 29 years in two locations (Westheimer at Augusta, then Post Oak at San Felipe), Café Annie was famous for its elegance and refined Southwestern cuisine. But Del Grande and his partners in the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group haven’t put all their eggs in the fine-dining basket.
In addition to Rio Ranch and The Grove, they operate Taco Milagro and Café Express. Much less stuffy/snooty than Café Annie, RDG + Bar Annie seeks to balance classy and casual. Given its Galleria-area location in the BLVD Place development, just a high-rent block or two south of Café Annie’s last home, classy is the prevalent vibe in both ambience and cuisine, but the dining experience is invitingly relaxed and welcoming.
There are multiple spaces and menus here. The BLVD Lounge is just inside the door, and the Grill Room, Bar Annie and an inviting patio overlooking Post Oak are at the top of a wide, airy staircase. Apparently there’s also a long communal table a la the original Ouisie’s, but I never spotted it.
Bar Annie’s bar seems to stay busy, and its dining area is actually just a space between the watering hole and the more formal Grill Room with its couch-like banquettes, tooled-leather-seated chairs, pricier menu, spacious kitchen — partially hidden behind a fence-like sculpture of prickly-pear cacti — and fanciful mural of what looks like a prehistoric rain forest. Customers are invited to sit in either place and order from either menu, and there is much overlap in the lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch lineups.
Because a restaurant’s best dishes are probably the ones the proprietor signs, I ordered several items bearing Robert Del Grande’s initials. The most playful was the delicious starter called RDG Fresh Canned Smoked Gulf Oysters Deluxe. Here, slurpy, smoky bivalves arrive in a tumbler-like stainless steel can, swimming in an appealingly sweet-hot barbecue sauce. And Chocolate Cake RDG for MDG — Del Grande’s wife Mimi — easily took dessert honors from the ho-hum sour cream cake, and blackberry and cream cheese tart. Caramel custard enhanced with coconut broth and diced fresh pineapple was a close second.
The RDG hamburger puts a thick, succulent patty of ground USDA Prime on a cloud-light toasted bun along with a slice of cheddar cheese and the usual trimmings. Add a large serving of crisp hand-cut fries and, at $16, you’ve got an even bigger bargain than the other Bar Annie entrée I tried: the $18 pressed chicken breast topped with nicely spicy, jam-like Caribbean-fig jerk sauce.
Bacon-wrapped Gulf shrimp and Gulf crab beignets were officially nameless but made tasty starters just the same. The habañero dipping sauce accompanying the shrimp had only a fraction of that pepper’s legendary heat so as not to overpower the pork-clad seafood, and the fleshy beignets were more like hushpuppies than hollow, doughnut-like beignets. And a salad of smokily seared avocado, paper-thin slices of radish and queso fresco, both cubed and crumbled, proves avocado is good warm as well as cold.
RDG + Bar Annie’s version of steak frites is a thinnish but sizable wood-grilled ribeye served with a smoked cheddar sauce, slow-cooked onions and fat steak fries. For more adventurous diners, there’s a terrific pairing of a hunk of wood-roasted rabbit and enchiladas filled with lumps of rabbit meat and napped with a great red molé. Surprisingly, the lobster sausage crumbled over a skin-on filet of Mediterranean sea bass added nothing to one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever eaten.
Those nostalgic for Café Annie can take comfort that its ruddy tortilla soup is on tap at RDG + Bar Annie. But for me, this excellent multifaceted eatery better suits Houston’s current dining habits and preferences.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Monday - Friday: 11:30 AM - 4:00 PM
Sunday: 11:00 AM - 2:30 PM
Monday - Thursday: 6:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Friday & Saturday: 6:00 PM - 10:30 PM
Sunday: 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Monday - Friday: 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Monday - Friday: All Day
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