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Big Tickets… and Bargains in the Bayou City and Beyond

Thrifty and nifty: The price is always right (free) at Hermann Park’s Miller Outdoor Theatre, which has been presenting performances under the stars since the 1920s.Houston means many things to many people: oil Mecca; NASA headquarters; center for education, medicine, and the arts; and yes, the region in which the 1980 John Travolta flick Urban Cowboy was filmed. Even to its leaders, which aspect of the nation’s fourth-largest city best defines its image remains fuzzy. One thing is clear, though: It’s a great place to spoil yourself, whether you’ve got the budget of an oil sheik—or just the high-dollar taste. Check out these decadent destinations.

Masraff’s

If you’ve ever wondered why Houston has so many good restaurants, one reason is the presence of the prestigious Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management—brainchild of Conrad Hilton himself and alma mater of Masraff’s owner, Russell Masraff. Russell and his father, businessman Tony Masraff, started the restaurant in the 1990s and have been setting the standard for Houston fine dining ever since.

Everything on the menu stands as a good value considering what you get—and what you get is exquisite: a sophisticated combination of American and European cuisine with a dollop of regional fare. Even the grouchiest foodie would find no room to nitpick the Texas Quail with Molasses Caramelized Onions or Masraff’s Axis Venison Chops with Wild Rice Pilaf, Snow Peas, Red Onion Confit, and Black Currant Sauce.

You don’t have to spend a lot for a great meal while you’re there (dinner entrées average about $25 each), but if food is your indulgence, this is the place to invest in the best. The wine list, offering well-considered selections from around the world, would make a Frenchman weep for joy. If you want to truly splurge, go for the Roederer Cristal 1989 champagne at $360 a bottle, or the divine 1966 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for $1,800. And while you wait, the $200 Osetra Caviar is a tasty warmup. The Sunday Jazz Brunch (think Eggs Florentine, Maine Lobster Frittata, Bananas Foster Pancakes; $8-$22) draws a heck of a crowd.

Following is contact information for sites in the main story. For more information, contact the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, 901 Bagby, Ste. 100, Houston 77002; 713/437-5200 or 800/4-HOUSTON; www.visithoustontexas.com. The area code is 713 unless otherwise noted.

Masraff’s on Post Oak Lane, 1025 S. Post Oak Lane (between San Felipe and Woodway); 355-1975; www.masraffs.com.

Houston Grand Opera, Wortham Theater Center, 550 Prairie; 800/62-OPERA; www.houstongrandopera.org. The 2006-07 season begins Oct. 21 with Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.

Hotel Derek, 2525 West Loop South; 961-3000 or 866/292-7100; www.hotelderek.com.

Cafe Express, 12 Houston locations, including 3200 Kirby (522-3994) and 1101 Uptown Park (963-9222); www.cafe-express.com.

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Dr. (in Hermann Park). Admission is free, but some performances require tickets for covered seating. Program hotline: 281/FREE-FUN; www.milleroutdoortheatre.com.

Modern B&B, 4003 Hazard, 832/279-6367 or 800/462-4014; www.modernbb.com. (See “Houston’s Eclectic B&Bs,” May 2005 print issue.)

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