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Like clockwork

I was cringing by the time I finished reading the first paragraph of the latest Houston Press review of Voice at Hotel Icon. I was wrong, Randy was right and it was only a matter of time before he went off like a hand grenade.

The disagreement Randy and I had a few weeks ago was about Robb Walsh and what Randy called his limited palate (there is some creative license there with the exact terminology). I have always liked Walsh’s reviews and had never given much thought about his palate, but it does seem as though he prefers rustic American fare and ethnic food to what’s loosely classified as fine dining. I didn’t argue that Robb Walsh doesn’t have a strong affinity for burger shacks, taco trucks and pho houses, only that I didn’t think he was entirely one dimensional in his coverage.

I still love Walsh’s writing, but maybe Randy has a point. When your experience with a gastronomic restaurant begins and ends with burgers, perhaps you are missing the point.

To be fair, Walsh does seem to like the food at Voice, but what he really likes are the bar snacks. The beef sliders are his favorite. The rest of the review is full of complaints about high prices, small portions and more mentions of hamburgers than seems necessary. To really drive the point home, he suggests that people intent on eating at Voice stop by a nearby convenience store first and grab a $4 cheeseburger before their dinner.

High end dining is a funny business. The very same people who complain about spending more than $60 on a meal in Houston are very likely to go out of town and gladly fork over twice as much in a subpar restaurant like Aqua in San Francisco – enjoying themselves immensely in the process. That visit will be justified by glowing reviews from local critics who play up to the well heeled readership and the Michelin rating of 2 stars. In reality, the food is much better at Voice than at Aqua. Voice just happens to be in a “wrong” city, where critics love a good burger.

I cannot explain why Robb Walsh would form an opinion about Voice based on bar snacks and business lunch boxes, when the restaurant clearly excels at multi-course dinners. The tasting menu at Voice is the best way to experience what Michael Kramer can do at a reasonable price. At $80 for 7 courses (there is also a 5 course option for $65) it’s a relative bargain, when you compare it to restaurants in the same class that charge $100-$130 on the West Coast. A review of that experience would have been the review I would have liked to read, even if it was a hatchet piece.

Before you start down the “people in Texas would never spend that kind of money on a meal” argument, consider this. Harris County is 6th in the country in number of millionaires; close to 100,000 households in all. This economic class spends freely on leisure and entertainment when they travel and many of them are very sophisticated diners. Is it possible that Houston Press readers may be interested in something other than the local greasy spoon? (a rhetorical question, for the most part).

Some photos from a Voice lunch in May. My friend had a rather stellar burger. Oh, the irony…

July 12, 2008   5 Comments