This Week: Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Madrid, Las Vegas, Kaua’i

080604_hotlist_westin_princeville_exteriorviewpool.jpgNew hotel and restaurant reviews from Fodor’s for the week of June 2, 2008

Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, Kaua’i.

Spread out over 18.5 acres some 200 feet above Kauai’s Anini Beach in tony Princeville, The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas marries the comforts of condominium living with the top-notch service and amenities of a luxurious hotel resort. From the tapa-inspired art in each villa’s living room to the wood cutouts of Hawaii’s state plant, taro, the look of the place is decidedly that of a Hawaiian plantation. The “hang-loose” attitude for which Hawaii is so famous definitely prevails here in the best possible way. Friendly employees sport nametags with their favorite “passion,” such as shopping, sleeping, watching TV, and eating, which makes for fun conversation. Pros: on-site mini-market; extensive calendar of on-site activities; first-rate kids program; regular shuttle to nearby attractions in Princeville. Cons: path to the nearby beach is a six- to seven-minute walk and a bit steep for youngsters; whirlpool tub barely fits one adult. 3939 Wyllie Road Princeville, 96722. 808/826-2404 (ph.). 808/826-4793 (fax). 173 studio units, 173 one-bedroom units. In-room: safe, kitchen, refrigerator, DVD, Ethernet, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: 1 restaurant, 2 bars, 2 pools, gym, laundry service, concierge, free self-parking, no-smoking rooms. Rooms start at: $600.
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So Vino Wine Bar and Bistro, Houston.

An added bonus to the already restaurant-laden Lower Westheimer, So Vino is the product of a partnership between Elizabeth Abraham and Houston restaurant legend Manfred Jachmich. Oenophiles and foodies are equally satisfied at So Vino, as the well-curated wine list does a good job of complementing the bold and flavorful dishes. Menu highlights include shrimp and grits in a spicy chipotle brown sugar sauce, melt-in-your mouth beef short ribs with a side of gruyere polenta, and chic bistro fare such as a silky smooth pâté and a pungent cheese plate. Do save room for the cranberry bread pudding. The place gets packed on Friday and Saturday nights, so ask to be seated in one of the white leather booths in the back; the view of the action can’t be beat. 507 Westheimer Rd., Montrose. 713/524-1000. AE, MC, V. Closed Sun. No lunch. Median entrée price: $18.
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Yoshi’s, San Francisco.

Open in late 2007, the San Francisco branch of Yoshi’s (the nationally-known Oakland jazz club, previously a very good reason for San Franciscans to be jealous of their neighbors across the bay) has brought the up-and-coming jazz district on the edge of Japantown into the Bay Area spotlight. Talented musicians perform in a separate space, while chef Shotaro Kamio serves some of the city’s finest—and priciest—Japanese food: exquisite sashimi, memorable robata, crisp tempura, exotic maki-sushi (rolls), and pristine nigiri sushi. A wood-burning oven delivers unforgettable big-eye red snapper, tender rib eye, cedar-paper-wrapped vegetables, and more. The big, handsome restaurant harbors stylish booths, a sushi bar, a tatami room, a mezzanine lounge, and a bar, ensuring a comfortable perch for every diner. 1300 Fillmore St., Japantown. 415/655-5600. AE, D, MC, V. No lunch. Median entrée price: $20
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Tigertail, Seattle.

Seattleites love happy hour so much that many establishments offer it twice: once for after-work revelers, then again for night owls and hospitality industry folks. Although the booze rules at Tigertail’s daily 3-6 p.m. version, Asian-inspired small plates, including lamb pot stickers, green tea chicken satays, and char-sui pork, provide plenty of tasty sustenance. This stylish and unassuming place mostly attracts a crowd of locals who know better than to pay typical Ballard bar prices. 704 NW 65th St., Ballard. 206/781-8245. AE, MC, VC. Median entrée price: $14.
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Ramses, Madrid.

Courtesy of designer Philippe Starck, Ramses is the latest bar/restaurant/club on the Madrid social scene. Its minimalist Champagne bar introduces American-style cocktail culture (think Cosmopolitans and dirty martinis) to a photo-spread-worthy clientele, while the neighboring petit dining space serves up luxurious oysters and caviar to a lively after work and late-night crowd. A chic dance club occupies the basement, but it’s the lavishly decorated second floor bistro, serving dishes like candied loin of cod with tripe stew, that has set well-heeled Spaniards swooning. If money is no object, treat yourself (and up to nine friends) to a meal in the private dining room, where a dedicated chef caters to your every gastronomical whim. Plaza de la independencia 4, Retiro. 1/435-1666. AE, MC, VC. Median entrée price: €35
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CarneVino Italian Steakhouse, Las Vegas.

Just inside the front door of Chef Mario Batali’s newest restaurant, a giant bronze steer attests to the primary offering: beef. (Veal, lamb, and pork share the menu.) The steaks are dry-aged, grilled until the crust is slightly charred, then carved tableside by knowledgeable, attentive servers. A favorite appetizer is the steak tartare, egg-free and chopped to order. Others include fresh pastas served with everything from duck to Dungeness crab. The fine wines are complimented by an equally-impressive list of other spirits, including beers, bourbons, and rums. When the bread arrives, be sure to try the lardo, a savory spread made from pork fat, ginger, allspice, and rosemary. The Palazzo, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S. 702/789-4141. AE, D, DC, MC, V. No lunch. Median entrée price: $42.
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Contributors: Emma Fox, Jay Jones, Tim Moloney, Sharon Silva, Kim Steutermann Rogers