First Bites: Cafe Luz & Majorca

First Bite #1: Earlier this month, Cafe Luz announced its opening in the front room of Kitchen Incubator, a downtown co-op kitchen concept. The commercial kitchen in the back is rented out to chefs without a storefront or kitchen of their own and for small catering projects, while the front has now been cozily decorated with a handful of tables and comfy chairs to accommodate early morning caffeine fiends. The cafe provides free WiFi, so you can work away the morning sipping on seasonal roasts from Amaya Roasting, a Houston-based company. The little cafe is also equipped with a vintage soda machine with flavors such as Mexican Vanilla Coke, Dublin Dr Pepper and Vanilla Mint soda.

But what I really loved was the nice variety of pastries and sweets from Kitchen Incubator chefs, such as The Little Baker and Bread N’ Batter. Barista Frank Freeman’s coffee was surprisingly flavorful, too – strong without being bitter. A perfect morning pick-me-up: a cappuccino and The Little Baker’s imaginative Pie Pops (think ice cream push-up pops), which were cute and delicious. I had the s’more pop, but lemon icebox was also available. Flavors change daily.

I don’t expect that Luz will draw regular crowds from The Heights or Montrose – it’s not really a destination spot – but it will definitely switch things up downtown and provides the nearby UH-Downtown crowd with a cozy cafe.

First Bite #2: Lunch this week took us to Majorca Bistro & Tapas, a new restaurant in Midtown claiming a fusion of Spanish, Moroccan and Portuguese flavors. The décor definitely stands out – warm red walls, funky bullfighting frescos, red tablecloths and a bar that looks like it’s been in place for a decade at least. Overall it’s a great-looking restaurant. But after taking in the wonderful decorating, we realized that we were the only customers in the whole restaurant at 12:30 in the afternoon.

Looking over the menu, we had a clue. There was only one entrée (osso buco) for less than $20, and no separate lunch menu. We decided to be very Spanish and just have a selection of tapas. They were a mixed bag. We’ll start with the dismal and work up. The fried calamari was soggy and greasy – too-low heat too long, perhaps? A tiny wedge of potato-filled Spanish tortilla (i.e. omelet) was dull and cold.

The heartbreak of the meal was the bland and rubbery albondigas (meatballs). They will not be a contender in the Second Annual Meatball Invitational in 2012, I’m pretty sure. But they did have a cool presentation: four meatballs and tomato sauce in a Moroccan clay tagine, a sunny-side-up egg in the middle. The empanadillas (fried empanadas) had some promise but were soggy and – where’s the beef? – nearly empty of filling. Crazy enough the highlight of the meal, which we all three agreed we’d happily return to eat again, was the sweet onion soup: flavorful, if a little greasy, complex and delicious, with chunks of bread and a handful of grated manchego cheese. It was brilliant.

Majorca Bistro & Tapas has only been open about two weeks, so perhaps time will be good to it and it will have a chance to mature. We’re hoping so. We’d like more of that soup.

CAFE LUZ, 907 Franklin near Travis, 713-581-0609, cafeluzhouston.cc

MAJORCA BISTRO & TAPAS, 207-A Gray west of Bagby, 832-582-7176, majorcabistroandtapas.com

by Rachel Kitchens | SideDish | Date August 19, 2011

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