Not all Houston Restaurant Weeks menus are created equal.
The list has been published, and many in the Houston area are feverishly working on their spreadsheets and organizing a raft of reservations for lunch and dinner. Houston Restaurant Weeks, which begins on August 1, is back for its 14th year, and it’s your chance to do some good for the hungry with your dining dollars (the charitable aspect is the draw for me here — all of the donations raised go to Houston-area food banks).
The way it works is simple: Make a reservation at the restaurant of your choice, pay $20 to $45, and dine in a state of beneficence, knowing that a portion of your check will buy meals for needy individuals — click here for the details. (Last year, the event raised $1.9 million for the Houston Food Bank, which oversees distribution of the funds.) The program is also a great opportunity for people to eat at restaurants for less money than they might otherwise, and it gives restaurants extra business in the slow month of August.
Other than the usual arguments that one might not get the “true” taste and experience of a place during restaurant week initiative, there’s nothing that should stop you from making your reservations now. To assist in that endeavor, I’ve put together a highly subjective and very biased list, my Top 11 HRW Reservations, with suggested courses included. The restaurants are listed in no particular order, and were assembled solely by my palate. It’s a list designed to provide maximum flavor and pleasure for your dining dollars. Tip: Be sure to review the menus; don’t make the mistake of thinking “that expensive dish you have been wanting forever but did not want to pay that much for” will be available.
Now, without further ado, bon appétit!
Caracol (dinner) — Go for the Menu de Nuestro Estilo: start with a tamale and sautéed lobster, continue with a grilled ribeye, and finish with a coconut cheese cake. Chef Hugo Ortega and partner (and wife) Tracy Lee Vaught have this place firing on all cylinders. (Tip: Let Sean Beck pour your wines.)
Bramble (dinner) — I’d opt for the country ham, followed by the duck confit, with cornmeal cake for dessert. A chef-driven local focus puts this one on your must-try list. (Restaurant suddenly ceased operations a few days before HRW began.)
Lucille’s (dinner) — Charming interior and a homey feel — and good food — make this place a winner. Here’s your progression: fried green tomatoes (and have your dining companion get the watermelon salad); oxtails and grits; croissant bread pudding.
Merlion on 4th (dinner) — My favorite restaurant south of Clear Lake, and the chef/owner and his staff are great people who know how to treat guests. What to order: crab & apple Thai salad, followed by panang with duck or pork; Thai coconut ice cream
La Table (lunch) — Elegant, perfect service, great setting for an interview or date. What you’ll eat: cheese soufflé and lobster velouté, then roasted Atlantic salmon, ending with Crème brûlée vanille.
Roost (dinner) — Charming spot, one of my favorite restaurants in Houston. Here’s your plan: wild boar meatballs to begin, then the cast iron quail from Bandera, Texas (with wild rice and chorizo), ending with Roost’s nutmeg donut holes. Honest, delicious food here; Houston needs more place like Roost.
Tony’s (dinner) — A dynamic young chef — Kate McLean — helms the kitchen, and a culinary legend is in charge of everything. Looking for a romantic table? Book here, and order this: agnolotti al zafferano as a starter, followed by the fire-roasted hen, then finish with the Gran Marnier soufflé ($8 supplement).
Weights + Measures (lunch) — Casual and fun neighborhood place, with a satisfying wine list. Give Isaac my regards (and ask for his wine recommendations) when you check in, and go with these menu items: Tuscan kale salad, Wagyu short rib sandwich.
Hubbell & Hudson Bistro (dinner) — Take a trip to The Woodlands (and if you live there, this is a no-brainer) for some straightforward fare. My recommended course progression: Humboldt Fog goat cheese and Parmagiano-Reggiano terrine; Marble Ranch dry-aged sirloin flap; Black Out sponge (chocolate crèmeux and mousse).
Le Mistral (dinner) — French, solid, steady wine list. You’ll be more than happy with the following selections: goat cheese ravioli, then duck confit and hand-made tagliatelle, closing with Valhrona carré brillant.
And a final note: Here’s hoping that not a single restaurant treats the Houston Restaurant Weeks services as drudge work — it’s unfortunate, but there always seem to be some that phone it in, creating more of a ” hotel banquet catering” feel than what they normally produce. This is, of course, a disservice to diners, many of whom will be visiting a particular restaurant (or restaurants) for the first time and who would become regular guests/repeat customers were it not for lackadaisical service and food not shown the proper respect. (After all, The Red Cat, Casa Mono, David Burke Kitchen, ABC Kitchen, Hearth, DB Bistro Moderne, and a multitude of other great and good restaurants participating in New York CIty’s 2016 Restaurant Week, which began on July 25 and runs through August 19, are offering their patrons $29 lunches and $45 dinners, prices on par with Houston’s rates.)