By J.D. Herman
The diversity of the Brays Oaks Management District is well known. Still, it amazes me how great the culinary diversification is in our neighborhood. Fact: the best Russian food you can find in our fair city is in Brays Oaks at the Terrace Cafe.
I should clarify it’s more than traditional “Russian” food. They excel at multiple styles from countries that once made up the former Soviet Union, doing justice to many regional dishes, including those with Kazakhstan, Ukrainian and Eurasian influences.
Terrace Cafe is located in a two story banquet hall off Bissonnet on a quiet side street. A simple understated awning belies the rich tapestry of flavors waiting for you inside. Upon entering, you are greeted by high ceilings with posh, gossamer decor in the traditional banquet room. The space does double-duty as an events facility and restaurant, giving the room a unique feel that is both sophisticated and casual. We chose to sit in the brightly lit back room for lunch but you could also opt for outdoor seating by a small pool.
Since it was late afternoon, we started with a pitcher of kvass. The made-in-house beverage is lightly fermented like kombucha, with less fizz and a mellow honey flavor, similar to mead. It is a great palate cleanser, accompaniment to your meal or a refreshing stand alone.
We ordered the spicy carrot salad to start. The dish is similar in flavor to some coleslaw variations here in south Texas but with a tangy note highlighted by coriander. Served chilled, the salad was a great light start to our lunch and, a recipe I would love to steal for my next summer BBQ.
Our main course consisted of deruny – traditional potato pancakes served with sour cream – and an order of their Eurasian style chicken kabob with grilled vegetables. Both dishes were outstanding. The potato pancakes were perfectly crisp on the outside with a delicious earthy note of root vegetables on the inside; the sour cream balancing the crisp, flaky pancake with soft, creaminess. These were hearty, comfort food at its best!
The chicken kabob was also perfectly executed and the grilled vegetables were wonderfully seasoned. The table next to us ordered the towering shuba – Russian herring layered with potatoes, beets and onions. The shuba was stacked to resemble an amazing pastry, this dish is definitely on my list for my next visit.
The meal was rounded off with an order of sweet vareniki. These Ukrainian style dumplings are made of a very light dough stuffed with sour cherries and dressed with a yogurt like cream. The balance of sweet and tart was a delicious ending to an exceptional meal.
Terrace Cafe– a gem among Brays Oaks restaurants–is BYOB with no corking fee. Make sure to bring your favorite bottle of wine and settle in for a culinary experience you won’t find anywhere else in Houston; first-rate food that is thoughtfully presented (many dishes are garnished with flower petals) at genuinely affordable prices.
In addition to lunch and dinner service they do a Sunday brunch buffet filled with Russian favorites, and continental options for the young ones. For the really adventurous visit Terrace Cafe on weekends when the DJ spins favorite tunes and passes the mic, making for an entertaining night of karaoke. Cheers!
Terrace Cafe is located at 8225 Cantrell St, Houston, TX 77074.