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Thursday, February 10, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 92

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Amazon Grill offers mouth-watering cuisine

Eats

Jim Parsons

If there's one black mark against Amazon Grill, the newest restaurant from the family that brought Houston Churrascos and Américas, it has to be the location.

Situated at the notoriously low-traffic rear of the notoriously high-fashion Pavilion on Post Oak, Amazon's not likely to draw a crowd by its exposure alone, despite brightly colored banners displayed along the street.

But Amazon shouldn't have to worry about its lack of Post Oak frontage. Anyone who ventures into the space formerly known as Café Express will find more than enough reasons to make a return trip, and bring some friends.

The key word for Amazon seems to be fun. For proof, check out the menu, which starts off with dessert -- including cotton candy and s'mores. The kid's stuff may stop there, but the fun doesn't: The rest of the menu is full of tempting South American-inspired dishes that might seem ambitious if you hadn't experienced Amazon's big brothers.

The restaurant shares the breeding of the high-dollar Américas around the corner, but fortunately it sports a much lower price tag -- all menu items are $9 or less. Everything more than $5 comes with a salad, deliciously light plantain chips and a trip to a dressing/salsa bar. And, in a move that makes us non-math people rejoice, the prices include sales tax. It makes splitting the check much easier.

The $9 entrees aren't shabby, either. The standout is definitely the gamburras, a spinach bread pudding topped with succulent grilled shrimp, plantains and a creamy chipotle sauce. The shrimp and vegetables are well-done, but the moist, tasty bread pudding stole the show. Another star was the pasta bahía, linguine-style pasta in a cream sauce with tender grilled chicken, coconut and tomatoes.

The chicken sandwich ($8), a grilled chicken breast with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, pesto and maple mustard served on a soft roll, is another favorite. The salads don't disappoint either, ranging from the esmerelda ($6), an excellent spinach salad with vegetables and a bacon vinaigrette, to the unica (also $6), a sort of modified Caesar featuring a good herbed cheese pita.

Definitely make sure to order the yuca fries ($3) with your meal. They're very flavorful, thin-cut and crispy, and they come with a creamy wide of mojo de ajo sauce.

For dessert, release your inner child with the tabletop s'mores ($4). They're really a do-it-yourself item: a circular compartmentalized tray holds all the ingredients (graham crackers, animal crackers, Hershey chocolate squares, marshmallows and -- for some reason -- pre-melted chocolate) as well as a container of flaming blue goo over which to cook your gooey, tasty confection. And long after the s'mores are gone, the fun with the flaming goo will linger on. Just be careful with the wooden skewers.

Granted, some quirks exist in Amazon's setup. For one, everything over $5 comes with a side salad, including salads, which is a bit difficult to understand. The service -- Amazon took over not only Cafe Express' location, but also its philosophy of placing your order and being summoned by a flashing plastic coaster -- is sketchy at times.

Overall, Amazon is a great idea: a place that serves first-rate food from one of Houston's premier restaurant families in a casual atmosphere. Go, have fun, and don't forget to order the s'mores.

Amazon Grill, 1800 Post Oak Blvd. in the Pavilion. (713) 599-0020.
 

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