Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dining Out

Houston has a very vibrant restaurant scene and over the last few months several more places near us have opened. Since we needed a break from all our labors in closing down this house we studied the newspaper restaurant reviews and chose Gravitas....on Taft Street just across Buffalo Bayou from us.

It is in a "reclaimed" building and next door to the old Fox Diner which is now Annabell's. The decor is rather New Yorkish elegant minimalism but with tables further apart. The minute we entered the dining room we were engulfed in noise. I'm beginning to think that part of the design of a restaurant has to be how can we raise the noise level to where you can barely hear the person across the table. The kitchen was open and on view in the restaurant so it was a part of the entertainment for the evening to see the different stations of food prep doing their thing.

The wait staff was very efficient, the wines were very good, and the food was trendy. I loved the gazpacho with a avocado cream.....very, very spicy. Ned said his spinach salad with apple smoked bacon was wonderful. I then had quail stuffed with a cornbread-black-eyed pea dressing and served with sauteed spinach and fresh corn cut from the cob. I was disappointed with the stuffing. The cornbread became a mush and the al dente blackeyed peas didn't add enough texture or flavor to save it. Ned had roasted lamb with roasted potatoes and green beans. He said it was good.

Overall, this was a very nice dinner and we loved watching the kitchen and the other diners but we both agreed that while we would not get the creative combinations or the quality of the ingredients in San Miguel, something was missing. And the missing piece is hard to put my finger on and certainly hard to explain. I can't begin to tell you how many times it is that when we go out to eat in San Miguel, I will lean back in my chair, close my eyes, take a deep breath and say, "I'm so happy." We might be in the little patio at Brassiere or on the portico at Don Quijote or beside the fireplace at le Invito or near the fire of the pastor at Los Faroles, at a window table of the San Francisco Cafe, I'm happy. I'm contented. I'm relaxed. Last night I was interested in what was happening but I didn't have this rush of contentment or find that I was taking deep, relaxing yogic breaths.

What are the differences? We didn't walk a 1/2 mile to get to the restaurant. The restaurant was noisier. The wait staff seemed to be on a time schedule so we started to feel the time too. The food was the main event, not the dining experience. The cost was almost twice as much as a nice dinner in San Miguel. I never had that "I'm so happy" feeling.

After dinner we stopped at the Corkscrew, a wine bar near the house. We are kind of once a week regulars when we are in Houston so we know some of the people there. Excellent wines by the glass. We savored Frida truffles with our wine. They have a kick of cayenne pepper on the roof of your mouth as you let them melt on the back of your tongue. A perfect dessert for the evening.

Last night was a needed break but it was also a push to get back to San Miguel where the food is less trendy but the eating experience more satisfying.


Anonymous said...

Hi Billie - Dining out is almost always fun, but more so in Mexico! One of these days we are going to surprise you and come to SMA - we will all dine out - you pick the spot.

BillieS said...

JUan, I'd love that. When can we expect you?