Local and sustainable seems to still be going strong across the nation and in Houston we, as we like to say, ARE ALL IN. So when Sorrel Urban Bistro, Farm to Table Dining, opened about nine months ago it was right on time. It was the shared vision of restaurateur Ray Salti and Executive Chef Soren Pedersen to bring affordable farm-to-table dining to Houston. On our first visit to Sorrel, surprisingly we had no big expectations, beyond having a good meal. So we were shaken-up a bit (in a good way) when we walked into this euro-sleek bistro. We LOVED the clean line designs with the open kitchen concept. The walls of windows helped to add to the modern Zen feel of the place. And due to its great vibe, before we could get to our seats, we had already made plans to host an event at Sorrel! I guess knowing they have wine on tap, a charcuterie bar area, and one of the best looking open kitchens in the city did not hurt either (#just saying)!
Once we were seated our waiter came right over to get us started. Mike, that is his name just in case you to want to request him (hint, hint), asked if we were first timers. He seemed to be very excited when we said "yes". We think this is due to his love for all things culinary and the fact that he thoroughly enjoys his place of employment; which meant he got to be our guide for this performance. He quickly went into the concept of the restaurant and moved right into their ever-changing chalkboard menu of organically and locally sourced cuisine. Their menu changes twice daily and is based on what they get fresh that day. Their seafood comes directly from a local fisherman and you can guarantee it has been caught within the last 3 days. Produce is handled in the same fashion; it comes directly from local farmers markets. In addition, all proteins that are used are grass fed. And the shout outs to those local establishments at the bottom of each menu, solidifies Sorrel's dedication to their vision.
Next, Mike pointed out the flat screens that were placed in strategic locations to show the Chef and his supporting cast in the kitchen cranking out master pieces. All we could say was, "That is poetry in motion BABY!" After we were bought up to speed, it was time to order cocktails. Apparently, cocktails were on the brain. We were so intrigued by the selections, that we went on a cocktail tasting spree. We opted for a couple of their specialty creations:
Hibiscus Margarita (Espolon Tequila, Cointreau, and House Infused Hibiscus Syrup & Fresh Lime Juice) - It was not only beautiful to the eye, but delicious and satisfying. The lava salted rim and the light fragrance and taste of the Hibiscus was a nice twist on a classic. Yes, we had several.
Skinny Guava Berry (Cruzan Strawberry Rum, Cruzan Guava Rum, Agave Syrup, Fresh Lemon Juice & Soda Water) - A skinny cocktail doesn't miss our radars and we had to try this one. It was light and we enjoyed the freshness of the lemon juice and agave, which is a great option that adds natural sweetness to a cocktail.
Ginger Fizz (Domaine Di Canton Liquor, Bombay Sapphire, Fresh Lime Juice & Ginger Beer) - I think the name had us sold. Ginger beer adds a great spin on a cocktail.
While we waited for our next course, they brought out focaccia bread and a trio of Hill Country Olive Oil, Traditional Pesto, and Sundried Tomato Pesto. All breads are made in house by the pastry chef, Kristen Schafbuch. We must admit that we asked for seconds on the bread as we had a "love at first bite" moment with the Sundried Tomato Pesto. It would have been inappropriate to just eat it with a spoon ;-). We thought maybe we had over done it and would not have room for our appetizers and entrees, but we were completely off the marker. Once they were put on our table all those thoughts left us...immediately.
For our appetizer we had what we called, the Salad of Goodness (new creation that did not have a name, so we gave it one). Shrimp, Crabmeat, Citrus Butter, Oranges, and Beets were the main ingredients. This was one complex blend, and there was a nice routine going on with the flavors (minus the shrimp heads...it must be an acquired taste). Think of synchronized swimmers when they are in sync and you got it! Deciding on our entrees is where the fun began. Chef Soren offered a tasting menu in addition to his regular menu. The five course menu offering that evening was a Seared Foie Gras on Grape Marmalade, Alligator Bisque with House Pesto, Chili Sugar Cured Scallops on Fennel with Sage Butter, Grilled Petit Filet Mignon and Parsnips; with Peppercorn Demi Glaze, and Slice Baked Pear. Our thoughts exactly! We were screaming with our inner voices as we were now officially undecided. Eventually we made our selections:
Golden Tile with Black Sticky Rice (Swanky Girl) - I love seafood and require freshness. The fish was so fresh that I was curious if they had pulled it out the water a few hours before. It was tasty and had me thinking ahead to our next visit. The black sticky rice had me smiling with each bite; especially since I love sticky rice but had never had black sticky rice before. It is a sweeter rice and that sweetness played nicely against my fish.
Grouper with Risotto (Urban Girl) - Risotto does NOT (and I repeat "NOT") get any better than this. It was all the things a great should Risotto should be - creamy, savory, rich, creamy, well-seasoned...did I say creamy? The Grouper could stand alone and if I had to take a guess, I would say it was caught at exactly 5:03 a.m.
All desserts are made by their pastry chef as well. That evening, we received the sinful trio of Sliced Baked Pear, Cheesecake, and Espresso Cake. Since we were so full we didn't get the opportunity to fully enjoy the dessert, however, the Espresso Cake did seem a bit on the dry side. We noted the need to save more room for the finale during our next visit. After such an amazing experience we could not wait to return. We left with not only a new favorite for our list, but a better appreciation for all the great resources we have from a culinary perspective right here in our area.
On our second visit, we did not think it could get any better at Sorrel. The food was amazing, the service was stellar, and the vibe was on point. So, when we walked in and realized that our table was one of the chef’s tables, I think tears welled up in our eyes. Okay maybe that is a little dramatic, but you get what we are saying! These are by far the best tables in the house. You have a direct line of sight into Chef Soren’s world and you can drool over each and every plate as it comes out of the kitchen. Hell, within the first fifteen minutes of sitting at our table we wanted every dish that came up. Food envy at its worst! So, after returning to our table with the second round of drinks and us still trying to decide on what to order; our waiter suggested we do a true chef table and partake in a Chef’s selection. This is where Chef Soren selects our dishes for the evening. "WHAT YOU TALKIN BOUT WILLIS"; that is an option for us? Folks this was a no brainer in case you were wondering! Only a few questions followed: "What do you enjoy?" and "Is anything off limits"?
Chef Soren’s Selections:
Oysters Au Gratin and Scallop Ceviche (Swanky Girl) - I love oysters and was very pleased that this was selected for me. Freshness and creaminess were oozing out of each bit.
Scallop Ceviche (Urban Girl) - Being a virgin to scallops served ceviche style, initially I was a little taken back. However, I put my trust in Chef Soren and took the dive. The freshness of the scallops shined but I don't think I would try it again. I will just stick to the pan seared version.
Lamb Chops with Butternut Squash (Swanky Girl) - I had seen someone order the lamb chops and was wondering how they tasted. Happy to report these were slammin'! They had a very mild taste and were extremely tender; all the factors that make-up good lamb chops.
Smoked Duck Risotto (Urban Girl) - The smoked duck was tender and the risotto was well prepared. Although this dish was quite busy, including the surprising bite I received from the currants, it was a great rendition.
Dessert Sampler Plate (Vanilla Bean Cheesecake, Lavender Crème Brulee, and Baked Pear) - By the time this plate came out we were pretty full; but in true Urban Swank style we decided to at least taste a little of each. Our favorite was the Lavender Crème Brulee. It was yummy goodness at its best. The Baked Pear was our least favorite and most likely due to the texture :-(.
After our visits to Sorrel we can say that the vision of its owner and executive chef have not only been accomplished, but they are doing it on a completely different level than their competition. Just remember..it's not just about the food; it's about the experience and if a unique experience and great food floats your boat, make sure you check out Sorrel Urban Bistro!
~ Urban Swank