Fall in love with Houston: Enjoy “Uptown Staycation” or know where to find the flavor during Super Bowl fever

HOUSTON — After the election and holidays with in-laws, we know it will be the perfect time for a staycation! The holidays will already drain those pocketbooks and [designer] handbags, so we want to make it easy for you to get away, without going away.   No need to run away from home, get to know this great city of ours while finding yourself — and falling in love with the Bayou City — all over again.

Just because the summer is over, and fall is handing us over gently to winter, doesn’t mean the fun has to end. Summers are all about the family and the fall is all about the romance, so  pack a bag for a weekend, grab your best guy or gal — leave the kids with someone you trust — and head Uptown for a “staycation” right here in Houston! Also, with the upcoming Super Bowl, we want to give the “outsiders” an “inside” look at the best the city has to offer. From great food, to robust whiskey and shopping for days, Houston has enough to keep the spirits flying high while you take over the city, starting with our world famous Galleria area and Uptown District.

Set yourself up somewhere that can cover all the bases and check into the Royal Sonesta Houston hotel, one of the premier hotels in the city and state.  Rather than relying on heritage and overt Texas references, the Royal Sonesta is international and cosmopolitan chic, and flavored by the principles that make Houston a leader in energy, medicine and space exploration.

Situated perfectly near the Galleria, which offers a shopping experience like non-other, the hotel boasts 485 impeccable guestrooms, and offers multiple food and beverage outlets, 50,000 square feet of meeting and event venues, a rooftop swimming pool and a fitness center.

Visitors can enjoy the convenience of being in the heart of one of Houston’s most well-maintained and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with nearby leisure attractions such as Uptown Park, the 1,500-acre Memorial Park and Highland Village.   But that’s not all, for those looking to relax “in-house” there is “Launch,” a grab-and-go shop with a carefully curated selection of sundries, and “Axis,” a sleek bar and lounge serving small plates and “Liquid Art” specialty beverages. Get a little more “gussied up” and check out ARA, dining on Executive Chef Robert Graham’s menu. And for the ultimate experience, make reservations at Table one, which offers six to 10 guests a private Chef’s Table experience.

And if you’re looking to venture out for a little of the scenic life, just take a quick taxi ride or a stroll outside to explore other restaurants in the Uptown District.

We know there will be no shortage of barbecue and steak joints all over the place — this is Houston, you know — but here are our recommendations for places that you should check out when you want to please the palate with a cautiously addictive twist.

Enjoy!

Brunch at Cia Bello:

Are you missing that authentic Italian comfort food? Well look no further and just say Ciao Bello! The restaurant boasts hearty Italian cuisine featuring housemade pasta and locally-sourced seafood.

Named “Houston’s best Italian 2013” by the editors of the Houston Press, Tony Vallone’s Ciao Bello is “your neighborhood Italian restaurant,” a warm and friendly spot for brunch, lunch and dinner. All pastas are made in-house and the pizza is inspired by the sottile, thin-crust pizza found in Rome’s colorful Trastevere neighborhood. Widely considered Houston’s leading expert on Italian cuisine today, Vallone works closely with his kitchen staff to create Houston’s most authentic dining experience. The restaurant’s recent “Italian Regional Cuisine” dinner series is one of the city’s most popular culinary events each month.

The most popular dishes are Vallone’s family-recipe meatballs, Chianti-braised beef cheeks, creative pastas and pizza Margherita.

And the restaurant does not lose any of its local flavor. Artwork by local artists adorn the restaurant and the “Southern hospitality” Houston is famous for shines through!

Lunch at PESKA:

PESKA Seafood Culture is considered one of Houston’s best dining establishments for brunch or lunch, and from the atmosphere to the staff, we see why. The words of the day are FRESH and FLAVORFUL! With unique and classic preparations from coastal areas around the globe, Chef Omar Pereney brings the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Spain and the Iberian Peninsula plus Mexico, Central and South America to the axis of The Galleria. While the culture and cuisine may vary from one region to another, what never changes is the celebration of freshness.

The service was impeccable, and our server for the night was Vitale, a student from overseas. When I tell you he is the epitome of service at its finest, and is the type of host that you will make you want to return to the establishment over and over again.

It would be an absolute sin for anyone to visit PESKA and not take advantage of the Alaskan King Crab, Oysters, or Tuna Poke, all highly-recommended by Vitale. And for those who are not in the mood for seafood — no worries — the pork belly and Filet Mignon are among dining favorites. Another favorite is the Miso Bacalao, which is made with nori sauce, bonito flakes and sishito peppers.

Whatever palate you are trying to please, PESKA satisfies to perfection!

Dinner at Et’ Toile:

Fine, French food front and center – there is no better way to explain Etoile cuisine et bar,  and one taste of the cuisine makes it easy to see how the restaurant has quickly become a star in the Houston culinary scene.

The critically-acclaimed restaurant – featuring Master Chef of France Philippe Verpiand’s authentic, accessible and unassuming French cuisine – opened in a farmhouse-inspired space in Uptown Park in October 2012. It has developed a legion of loyal fans, immediately striking a chord with Houston diners as a visionary restaurant with no pretention, fully focused on classical and seasonal French fare, carefully crafted wine and cocktail lists and excellent service in a simple, yet elegant setting.

Étoile’s dinner menu has two distinct categories. Can’t speak French? No worries – translations included! “La Tradition” features exquisitely prepared French classics such as Les Moules (mussels) served two ways (”Marinière” and “Saint Jean de Luz”), Coq au Vin (chicken braised in red wine, creamy potatoes and seasonal vegetables), Escargots Bourguignonne (baked in garlic and fresh herb butter), Foie Gras au Torchon (cold duck foie gras terrine, dried fruit mousseline, toasted brioche), Cassoulet Toulousain (pork shoulder, duck confit, sausage, beans, parsley bread crumbs) and Verpiand’s signature Raviolis de Champignon (mushroom ravioli, port wine and white truffle oil, aged parmesan).

“La Saison” features more seasonal/modern fare, including game dishes for the winter. Among the highlights: Foie Gras Poêlé (seared duck liver, green apple and red bell pepper chutney), Plat de Côtes de Boeuf Braisés (braised beef short ribs, butternut squash mousseline and winter vegetables) and Magret de Canard “à l’Orange” (roasted duck breast, butternut squash mousseline, crispy potato cakes, beech mushrooms).

Verpiand makes everything in-house, including his bread and ice cream. His exquisite dessert offerings include Tarte Fine aux Pommes (apple tart “à la mode” with fleur de sel caramel), Dark Chocolate “Pastilla” (with mango gel and coconut ice cream), Profiteroles (vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate sauce) and Pistachio Napoleon (fresh raspberry, raspberry sorbet).

And every self-respecting restaurant in Texas has to have a burger!  Étoile got the memo, and features favorites such as the 8 oz. House Ground Burger (melted gruyère, tomato confit) on the menu.

Tour the Yellow Rose Whiskey Distillery:

Six years after a series of backyard discussions between friends lead to the incorporation of Houston’s first legal whiskey distillery, Yellow Rose Distilling, which is just a short drive from the Houston Galleria.

Founded in 2010, Yellow Rose Distilling debuted the first legal distillery and tasting room in the Houston city limits in late 2014. The 10,000-square-foot facility has become a destination for whiskey enthusiasts with twice weekly tours and a myriad of special events, plus a popular spot for locals and visitors from around the country and the world to sip and socialize over a menu of seasonally changing Yellow Rose craft cocktails. Featuring a 600-gallon mash ton, four 600-gallon fermenters, plus a 600-gallon whiskey still and vodka column, current production capabilities are over 20,000 cases per year.

Since Yellow Rose’s 2010 founding, each two years have marked a significant milestone in the company’s growth. Outlaw Bourbon officially debuted in Texas in 2012, and in 2014 Yellow Rose opened a 10,000 square foot production facility and tasting room in the Spring Branch area of Houston.

In addition to its award-winning Bourbon, Rye and Blended whiskeys, Yellow Rose is debuting three new products this fall:

  • Single Malt Whiskey – A unique American style malt whiskey produced from the finest malted barley. Double pot distilled and aged initially in bourbon barrels, the whiskey is then finished in port wine barrels.
  • Maple Finished Rye Whiskey – High rye whiskey that is finished in used bourbon barrels previously used to age maple syrup. The finishing ads a hint of maple while smoothing out the edges of the whiskey. Allocation is limited to only 250 nine liter cases in 2016.
  • Premium Collection No. 1 Bourbon Whiskey – This is the first of several planned annual releases of special whiskey. Each collection will use a different whiskey and finishing technique. For Collection No. 1, selected bourbon casks were finished in port barrels for up to six months. Allocation is limited to only 500 nine liter cases in 2016.
  • Additionally, 1.75L bottles of the Blended Whiskey will soon be available in Texas, and 50 mL bottles will also be available in various markets.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST – SHOP….. the Galleria awaits you!