Although it was voted Best Coffeehouse in 2004, 2005, and 2006 by the Houston Press, the term "coffeehouse" doesn't begin to do Agora justice. Inside it's sociable, woody interior, guests imbibe a menu of Greek wines, beers, and teas––all while tapping their toes to tunes playing on the jukebox or filling the air with smoke rings from their favorite cigar. Patrons can also break off bits of fine chocolates to swirl into cups of Greek coffee, fork up Agora's famous baklava, and surf the waves of the world wide web courtesy of the shop's free wi-fi––an amenity for which the coffeehouse has also garnered an award.
Chef Marco Wiles is practically synonymous with Houston’s Italian dining scene. No other chef has done more to bolster the city’s standing as a gourmet destination for that nation’s cuisine, though he does claim the distinct advantage of having grown up in a small Italian town. Vinoteca Poscol, Wiles’s third and latest venture, is named after a street in that town and ostensibly modeled after a neighborhood-style Venetian wine bar. The chef’s affection for his native land is apparent everywhere in the restaurant, from the focus on Italian varietals to the gondola oars set in place of traditional silverware. In keeping with his reputation for thoughtful, creative pairings, Wiles has crafted each small plate with a selection of fine wine in mind. Whether you opt for the butternut-squash risotto with chicken livers, the spicy prosciutto cotto for your selection of house-cured salumi, or a board of regional cheeses, your server can help you select a wine that complements the dish’s flavors and textures.
A tiny island off the eastern shores of Spain, Ibiza lies at the intersection of Mediterranean cultures. This makes it an altogether proper namesake for Houston’s Ibiza, where chef Charles Clark has created a seasonal menu that reflects a confluence of Spanish, French, and Greek traditions. The Spanish influences are perhaps the most immediately noticeable, thanks to the wide variety of tapas customarily served before dinner. With offerings such as crispy pork belly, duck empanadas, and pan-fried oysters, it’s tempting to make these a main course in their own right. But then there’s the fish, which chef Clark has delivered twice daily and cooks in its own pan jus, and the lamb shank, which he braises for six full hours before serving. Thanks to the restaurant’s open kitchen, guests can stare unblinkingly at him and his team while they work.
Visitors to the Dionsio Winery Wine Festival sample the award-winning rich reds, crisp whites, and sweet fruit wines from a selection of local wineries. Local restaurants and vendors whip up delectable dinners and food pairings, while merchants peddle memorable keepsakes and handmade jewelry. Energetic classic rock outfit Thermal Fusion fills the air with a catchy live soundtrack, as staff fill commemorative wine glasses with endless samples of Dionisio's delicious wines. With food, wine, and tunes provided by Houston-based bands and businesses, the fest is a better way to celebrate the local culture than nibbling sandwichs into the shape of the Astro's stadium.
When thinking of a wine collection, minds often spring to dark, dank caverns filled to the brim with dusty bottles deep beneath the earth. At The Corkscrew, however, potential pours are on full display out in the open, their labels proudly peering out from the sprawling wine wall. While oenophiles sip on their glass of chosen wine, they can dig into a menu of tasty snacks, including paninis, thin-crust pizza, and cheese plates. Resident pianist Nick Greer takes the stage every Thursday through Saturday to sweeten nights out with the dulcet strains of his keyboard ministrations.
"Don't worry if you don't know much about wine," Manager Mike Kurth told the Houston Press just after the restaurant's grand opening in 2010. "I'll find you something you like." Drawing from a palette of more than 170 wines, Cork Soakers' bottle-handlers exude a casual confidence in dispatching potions to pair with a menu of artisanal meats and cheeses. As they consider the flavor notes of herbed Da Vinci gouda, chévre goat cheese, and smoked duck breast, the wait staff never cross over from savviness into snobbery: as Kurth notes, "Anyone who says they know everything about wine is lying. You can always learn more."
While continuing to build their knowledge base, the Cork Soakers team marinates in an atmosphere of full-on wine culture: cork-covered tabletops and menus, wine-barrel light fixtures, and a giant grapevine slowly entrapping the kitchen staff. At the center of the rustic space, a big table carved from a single mighty tree trunk holds a scrumptious brunch spread every Sunday. In fine weather, diners can take their beverages and bites out to the expansive patio.