We live in the suburbs. It’s pitiful sometimes, really. The ‘burbs are great when you want to choose between the seven grocery stores within a mile of your house, but it’s not great for people who like to eat food off the beaten path. We have Carraba’s, Willie’s, Chili’s, Church’s, Spring Creek BBQ, James Coney Island, Outback and IHOP. But because our area is so densely populated, a few gems have managed to squeeze in too. We have Hikari Sushi (post coming soon), the original Lupe Tortilla, a great new Thai place, and at least five Pho restaurants nearby (yet another post). So it was with great pleasure and gusto that we decided to venture out for Houston Restaurant Week and try something different inside the Loop.
What’s so great about Restaurant Week here is that a portion of all your meal tickets goes to the Houston Food Bank. $5 of each lunch and $10 of each dinner purchased from the special Restaurant Week tasting menus are donated. In this scenario, I think everybody wins. People are encouraged to eat out and feel less guilty about spending $60 on dinner because it’s for a good cause, the restaurants get more traffic and customers, and the Food Bank gets donations and much needed publicity. Here’s a cause marketing scheme I can get behind!
Something else nice about Restaurant Week are the tasting menus themselves. Instead of poring over pages and pages of expensive and unfamiliar food (who knows if it will be any good), the menu breaks it down into three or four choices for each course. It really takes the pressure off. I’d like to note here that I have no clue what words to use in describing food. I will attempt to keep “yummy” and “tasty” and “delicious” to a minimum, but my goal here isn’t to present you with the written word of food porn (all these gorgeous photos that you really ought to click on and enlarge are a different story). I’m mostly writing to promote an awesome event and share my delight over being so fortunate to eat great food with great people.
My first meal was eaten at Indika with my best friend. She was in from Japan for a few days to visit before moving to Hawaii to be with her boyfriend. He was coming into town for the weekend before they left and she was extra nervous because he was supposed to propose soon. Indika helped answer an important question for A. during this intense moment.
After the first course she declared, “If he doesn’t propose soon, I’m going to ask the chef here to marry me. I don’t care about gender, just as long as they cook for me!” Good to know that A. has her priorities straight. The food was really beautiful and richly flavored. I don’t eat a lot of Indian food, but I am assured that this is one of the best places in Houston to try it. The dining room was big and airy and I’d love to sit on their inviting patio this fall and have dinner.
Later in the weekend, we took A and R to Branch Water Tavern for lunch. We’d eaten here before, but the food was so great that we decided to come back and show our support. The three course lunch menu was a great treat, although R suggested I do a “redneck review” of our food. So instead of Duck Mousse with bread and pickles, we had “fancy cat food on toast.” And instead of heirloom gazpacho, we found ourselves eating “salsa soup.” R shut up when he was served the most enormous chicken pot pie we had ever seen as his entree.
I need to say that Branch Water serves miraculous desserts. I had dessert at every meal during Restaurant Week and Branch Water puts them to shame. I don’t know if it was the good company or the simplicity of the desserts that won me over, but they did. See the Peach Semifreddo above.
The following week J and I went to try Brasserie Max and Julie. Neither one of us had ever tried specifically French food and a friend had recommended it. We went for dinner which may have been a mistake because the portions were huge and we did not finish them all. Max and Julie feels intimate and classy inside. The waiters were very formal and attentive, which was a bit unnerving. We had to ask specifically for the tasting menu, but once we had it in hand the rest of the experience was fine.
All the food was very hearty and warm and filling. In retrospect, it was home food, something mom cooks a lot of and overfeeds you with when you’ve been gone too long– in a nice, caring way. At least my dinner was like that. I had French onion soup with an inch of amazing cheese and bread and tons of onions followed by an entree of three slices of pork and mashed potatoes made entirely out of butter. J opted for a salad and some river trout, although he got the butter potatoes too. I might go back if I feel like I need to be deeply comforted or if Houston ever actually gets cold.
Our last stop was at Haven, A Seasonal Kitchen this week. I’ve never heard anything about, but the offerings looked good and fun: Shrimp corndogs and Wild boar chili. Who could say no to that? Haven is really sleek and modern and a “green” building to boot. The dining room is giant with row upon row of white tablecloths and expectant wine glasses. The patio looks like an island getaway, although we noticed it is unfortunately situated behind two other eateries’ dumpsters (though they are across the street). We may have to come back just for the cocktails and to try it out.
I love that the Porch Swing J ordered came in a mason jar. Haven is supposed to be about Texas regional cuisine and it works to show off that influence. For example, we listened to country music the entire time we were there in that fancy dining room. Our lunch was fun and adventurous, much like the Texas spirit. My plate of adorable shrimp corndogs and accompanying shot of lemonade to wash it down was a thing of reality television competitions. And they were great! fluffy corndog batter, juicy shrimp inside, and a spicy remoulade to brighten it up. J’s wild boar chili was flavorful and not too complicated. Our entrees were straightforward and good lunch size. And my cut of tenderloin was cooked perfectly. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly at Haven and we’ll be back again, hopefully with friends.
And that’s it, folks. We had a great time at Restaurant Week and feel encouraged to try the Houston food scene a little more often. We had planned to take advantage of it anyway, but our visitors prompted us to make the most of the tasting menus and discounts. Here’s to Restaurant Week and Here’s to the Houston Food Bank! Cheers!