Monday, July 9, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 151


Estancia features Latin cuisine 

Estancia: Grill has great food, subtle ambience

By Maurice Bobb
Daily Cougar Staff

Well, my fellow patrons of palatable provisions, it's summertime and your food critic is here to continue filling you in on the latest and greatest in the world of
cuisine. So all of you who aren't hiking through Europe or visiting family in other locales and are stuck in the doldrums of summer school, but hey, at least you'll be one step ahead of the fast-food junkies who roam our great city.

Brian Viney/The Daily Cougar

Estancia Grill, located on West Gray Street between Montrose Boulevard and Taft Street, is chef Greg Webb's third attempt at the restaurant business. The grill's intimate atmosphere and creative food, as well as moderately priced lunch specials, provide it with plenty of ingredients for success.

It's amazing how many cafes and restaurants are popping up all over Houston. At this rate, I may never be out of a job. It seems my pants are getting progressively
bigger for the benefit of research, but that's another issue entirely.

We begin with Estancia Grill, a cafe of modern Latin cuisine located at 414 W. Gray St. between Montrose Boulevard and Taft Street. This relatively unknown spot
has the kind of food that will certainly satisfy that skeptical palate of yours.

The different Latin dishes are an extension of chef Greg Webb's saucing and smart seasoning. Webb brings a kind of checkered past of failures with him. He
headed the kitchens of three different restaurants that have failed within the last three years. But at Estancia, Webb has created a menu that has promise.

Originally fashioned as an Argentine grill, Estancia shifted gears with Webb's arrival and found a niche with its new modern Latin focus. Webb's versatility fuses
well with Estancia's new direction, so this venture bodes well for both parties.

Restaurants of this size typically cater to each diner with slow, detailed service -- if you're in a rush, shovel down a few nuggets at the golden arches. I started with
the complimentary garlic croutes and a bowl of chimichurri, a parsley-garlic-olive oil spread popular in Latin America. The adventurer in me opted for an appetizer
of camarones diablo, which consists of three jumbo shrimp marinated with five chiles, diced tomato, lime, garlic and Mezcal. My taste buds were on fire, but happy.

For the main event, I ordered the coriander-crusted chicken breast, which is stuffed with pineapple and cheddar cheese and topped with a jack cheese sauce. It
was so good, I think I may have eaten the decorations on the plate. You can bet the dishwasher's job is fairly easy at this place.

As I sat back and let my meal charter the depths of digestion, I took in the subtle ambience of the mustard-colored walls, the distinctive artwork and the cherry
wood chairs that give the place an important, but humble and quiet, feel. Next, I ordered the torte Maria for dessert. Let me make clear here that it was only for your
benefit that I indulged. I mean, what's a meal without dessert?

Now that I've thrown my disclaimer out there, I have to tell you that you can't miss the torte Maria, a caramel/fudge cheesecake. It's rich, it's creamy and it's
practically sinful -- but you deserve it, right?

Overall, this grill gets high marks. Estancia has the good sense to offer a discounted lunch menu from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, allowing the
lighter-pocketed crowd -- like those of us burning money in the tuition machine -- to enjoy the finer points of dining. Only time will tell if Estancia will fare better than
the previous two restaurants did in the same location. But if the menu is any indication, Webb and company may have finally found a winner.

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