Dining Out For Life, a national annual fundraising event, will take place on Thursday, April 24. Once again, Houston and El Paso are the only Texas cities participating this year, although restaurant participation is down for EP. Twelve local restaurants will donate 25% of their proceeds to El Paso’s International AIDS Empowerment organization.
This nonprofit’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce the incidence of new infections through education, outreach and testing. For more info and how you can help, visit internationalaids.org.
I’ll be posting a three part series of mini reviews of the participating restaurants here on the blog. These reviews originally appeared in What’s Up Weekly.
Visit diningoutforlife.com to find out if your city is participating.
Tabla, Red Mountain Bistro, Pot Au Feu, and Sam’s Chinese will be donating lunch AND dinner proceeds. Kudos to them! I accidentally included Sam’s in the lunch only category yesterday. Sorry!
Three years ago, a gastropub was replaced by a restaurant that quickly became the go-to spot for dates and visitors. Situated in beautiful Union Plaza, Tabla offers patio and bar seating in addition to their casual yet elegant dining area. White subway tile and an open kitchen brighten the very darkly lit restaurant.
True to tapas-style dining, a variety of Spanish-influenced small plates and snacks are offered. Chef Norbert Portillo masters simplicity and packs on global flavor in every dish. He’ll make you a fan of any vegetable, including celery. Thinly sliced celery hearts are combined with kalamata olives, feta and heirloom tomatoes dressed in grilled tomato infused oil. Other cold plates include beets and oranges with goat cheese and crackers, and curried garbanzos and carrots in preserved lemon dressing. The chef recommends mussels in a chorizo fennel broth, but the most popular items are papas bravas, bacon dates and pinchos, a grilled pork skewer with piquillo pepper aioli. The Benedicts gives a nod to brunch with fried oyster and apple pancetta slaw atop a waffle with hollandaise sauce.
Those wary of tapas can order more complete plates like a burger with manchego cheese, paella, arrachera steak, smoked duck with cheddar polenta and plum walnut sauce or pecan salmon with a honey orange glaze.
Six dulces, or dessert options, are classics that get some serious makeovers. Crème brulee has candied pistachios, lavender, rosemary and beet syrup, while capirotada has arroz con leche, hazelnuts, dried grapes and pancetta syrup. Tabla and tapas are best shared with a group of people over wine, craft beer or one of Tabla’s signature cocktails. If dining alone, visit during happy hour for the best value.
Chef Portillo has future plans of continuing to rotate new menu items, a lunchbox special and a campfire cinema series. Also expect the return of evening cooking classes and Sunday brunch.
Bonus Veg Snob Notes: I’m not a tapas person and I didn’t think Tabla was all that great a year ago. Fast forward to this month, I’m still not a tapas fan, but I am now Team Tabla. They’ve added more vegetarian items that are amazing! The chickpea fries are not to be missed.
Price range: $6-22
Red Mountain Bistro
El Paso was abuzz last year when its newest restaurant addition hit the westside. The former location of La Jolla Kitchen was renovated into a completely different restaurant with hip decor salvaged from local wrecking yards. Native El Pasoans may recognize the sign in the patio area as part of the now defunct Herald Post. Red Mountain serves up familiar and creative dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
A complimentary basket of freshly made breads with a dipping oil of roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar arrive at your table along with a glass bottle of chilled water. Don’t eat all of the bread, because you’ll want to save room for the variety of seafood, figs, cheese, bruschetta, quail or filet tips that make up the appetizer menu.
Lunchtime offers soups, salads, pastas, risottos and sandwiches. It’s difficult to choose between the 12 sandwiches available during lunch. Classic sandwiches like turkey and brisket reside next to fun items like a lobster club, prime rib reuben and portobello mushroom lasagna. Risotto is popular and choices include green chile, mushroom, seafood or fall vegetables.
During dinner, the sandwich section gets replaced with six sensational entrees. Seafood rules the menu, but there are also various cuts of beef, lamb and chicken. For brevity’s sake, we’ll only list one description: “Barramundi is grilled with apple-corn fritters, asparagus, swiss chard, beurre blanc and apple-jalapeno salsa.”
Prices are on the steep side, but quality ingredients are used and expertly prepared. Seasonal desserts, fresh coffee and espresso and a full bar are also available.
Bonus Veg Snob Notes: Chef Hunt is always changing the menu, so the items listed in this review may not reflect the current offerings. I came here for lunch during last year’s Dining Out for Life fundraiser. It was good, but I wasn’t as blown away as other reviewers on Urbanspoon and Yelp have been. When I went last year, there were about 3 vegetarian options. Their website is no longer valid, so I’m not sure what their current menu contains.
Price range: $8-27
Pot Au Feu
Situated next to the historic Gardner Hotel, Pot Au Feu embodies a 1920s French bistro with modern flair. Chefs Robert Espinoza and Richard Mendez trained at Le Cordon Bleu and in turn have created brunch, lunch and dinner menus that are a mix of world cuisines coupled with classic French cooking techniques. Flags are pictured next to each menu item, denoting each dish’s country of origin.
It’s rare to find bourekas (Israeli savory cheese pastries) on an appetizer menu, but you’ll also find more familiar items like sesame ginger wings, hummus or fried calamari. The chefs’ take on France’s quintessential beef stew dish, pot-au-feu combines pork shanks, short rib and oxtails with vegetables, whole grain mustard, cornichon and pickled onion. Other popular menu items are the tea smoked duck served with soba noodles and lamb burger served with a choice of side.
Check in frequently to try seasonal menu items, the soup of the day and desserts like hot chocolate cheesecake. The chefs also create a special menu that celebrates a different country each month. April (2013) paid tribute to Thailand with Thai peanut chicken, grilled bok choy and basmati rice served over romaine lettuce and drizzled with a ginger lime vinaigrette.
Brunch is served during the weekend. Happy hour specials run throughout the week.
Bonus Veg Snob Notes: This is another place that everyone raves about that I feel meh about. In their defense, I’ve only eaten lunch there, so maybe their entrees are better. I’d like to hit them up for happy hour; the appetizers and beer selection sound good.
Price range: $9-28