Sunday, June 14, 2009

Eating Out in Houston

The 2009 Zagat Survey of Texas reports that Houstonians eat out 4.2 times a week, compared to the national average of 3.3, and our average dining tab is still a relative bargain at $29.10, about five dollars less that the national average.

We've been doing our best to stay up with or even surpass the average for the number of times we eat out in a week. We justify that by saying when we are in Houston we are on vacation. Now that we are here for a little longer we may have to readjust.

Everytime we come back to Houston we try to hit one or two of the new "in" places. We did that again this time.

First dinner at The Bedford in the Heights. It is a new building rather than a remodel space and the interior is nice but not outstanding. The big problem with the space is that it bounces the noise. It was so noisy that it was difficult to hear our dinner companions across a 36 inch table. This really affects my enjoyment of the food and the whole experience of dining out. I always talk about how much the conversation means to me when we see friends for dinner. So for me, being able to have a intimate conversation is at least 1/2 of the dining experience. The food at The Bedford was okay but it wasn't outstanding enough that I'd be willing to spend those kinds of bucks to eat there again.

Another night we went to Reef. It is another new space but this time it is a repurposed space that is beautifully done in colors that make you think of the sea. We were sitting at a somewhat isolated table so the noise wasn't too bad but some friends who have sat in the middle of the room say the noise level is high in this restaurant too. The service was excellent and the food was very good but I'm surprised at the ratings it has been getting including being named the #1 seafood restaurant in the USA by Bon Appetit Magazine. I thought it was good, but not that good.

I think Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood has been around a year or so but it was new for us. We went with friends from San Miguel. Except for the price, it reminded me of some of the old time fine gulfcoast seafood restaurants both in decor and the food. Everything we had was good especially the corn and crab bisque. I love crab and can't seem to get enough of it, so I ordered lump crabmeat sauteed in butter. I really liked that it had a kick of red pepper but it wasn't swimming in butter.

All of these places were "good" but I don't know that they were outstanding enough to bring me back. The places that the food and service were such that we will go back and have already been back to some of them on this trip are places that serve food that is perfectly prepared and well presented but not pretentious. Antica Osteria. Supposedly this is a Italian restaurant but it has such a varied menu it doesn't seem Italian to me. We have eaten there several times over the last two years and everything I've had there has been perfectly prepared. The prices are quite reasonable for what you get.

A fairly new neighborhood restaurant that is a standout is Jonthan's Rub just off I-10 and Campbell Road. It is a tiny restaurant in a strip center with very few tables. We had a wait, even at 6:30, for a table but it was worth it. Jonthan is turning out some delicious food and his wait staff of young ladies were doing an excellent job in this small homey space.

We have been back to Goode Company Seafood any number of times for lunch. Oysters on the half-shell, campechanas, gumbo, crawfish.....we don't seem to be able to get enough gulf coast seafood. We like to dash in and sit at the bar down at the end where we can watch the master open oysters and peel shrimp.

Brasil's on Westheimer and Dunlavy for great salads and pizzas, Romano's on West Gray for pizza and pasta, Central Market for fresh sushi.....I could go on and on but you get the idea. Houston really is a city of wonderful restaurants. So remember, if you are going to Houston you are going to have some great dining opportunities and at a lower than the average cost in the States.


Heather said...

Mmmm! Love trying new restaurants. Isn't it funny that some of the small lesser known places are the ones worth returning to than the fancy "best of the best" ratings places?

Chrissy y Keith said...

Sounds delightful. I am with you on the noise level. It has driven me away for some nice places with good food and prices, but I never could relax and always felt a bit cranky not being able to communicate with my guests or the wait staff. What is the dish in the photo?

Deb Hall ~ Zocalo Folk Art said...

I will second that. Houston is one of the best restaurant cities in the US.

Billie said...

Heather, I'm with you the noise just really gets to me.

Chrissy the photo is of giant scallops. They were delicious. I had some more scallops last night at Hugos. They were on a bed of creamy cornbread topped with greens, spinach and/or chard. Really delicious.

Deb, There are so many places that are just really, really good. Can't eat at all of them but we seem to be trying.

Billie said...

ooppps, sorry Heather, it was Chrissy who commented on the noise.

Chrissy y Keith said...

I thought thoses looked like scallops. Some of my most favorite things. I like them raw in sushi as well. One time Keith dove in Alaska for some and it was my job to clean them. Well, none made it to the skillet, they sure just tasty snacks. He never asked me to clean them again.

Babs said...

There are over 14,000 dining establishments in the Houston area! And many are redesigned or go out of business every 2.5 years - now you see why I stayed busy for 20 years...Great food, great prices and usually good service.
When I used to lecture on "noise abatement", I would suggest gluing carpet tiles on the bottomside of the tables. It's amazing what a difference it makes. Noise is the #1 complaint of diners far surpassing quality, quantity or service, but the restauranteurs don't get it when selecting's all about "hard surfaces". Really irritating.

John said...

Thanks for all the restaurant pointers, Billie. I'll be sure to check out a couple of them when I'm there next month.