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First taste of Textile

Even before Textile opened, I couldn’t resist driving by the Oriental Textile Mill to see the site. Houston doesn’t do preservation well, but Scott Tycer has now successfully revamped historical buildings twice – first with Gravitas and now with Textile.

I couldn’t stay long enough for the tour of the bakery, but the restaurant has a contemporary feel  similar to Gravitas and reminiscent of Bachannalia, another restaurant that occupies a converted factory in formerly industrial areas of Atlanta. Other than the striking backlit bar the small dining room is tastefully austere, though I have to admit that given the history of the building and the restaurant’s name I expected more … fabric?

As much as I like the space, I am more interested in light and the lighting at Textile is atrocious. There are restaurants that manage to dim the dining room and illuminate the food without sacrificing atmosphere (L2O in Chicago is one example), unfortunately Textile is one of the places that insists on hiding their food in the dark. It’s really too bad, because the kitchen does a nice job of plating, especially with desserts, which often get the ho-hum treatment in restaurants.

Our dinner got off to a rocky start at first. I had called ahead to ask that two of our meals be vegetarian tastings and had a brief moment of panic when all four of us were served pork filled ravioli (it may have been called a won ton) as an amuse. After a few minutes the waiter came by to explain that the kitchen made a mistake, whisking two of the plates away. A few more minutes went by until he finally re-appeared, giving me plenty of time to ponder whether I was really expected to eat my amuse without silverware. I certainly wasn’t about to ask and ruin my street cred.

Eventually all the issues were resolved, silverware magically appeared on the table and things rapidly improved. My ravioli was good, but my wife’s white asparagus, served with perfectly blanched almonds and tied into a bundle held with pickled red onions, was simply outstanding. I have no way of knowing if the asparagus was canned or fresh, but it tasted great.

I eat onions in all forms (even raw) and the onion strudel served with bibb lettuce was excellent, better in fact than the onion tart at Le Reve, where it occupies a near permanent spot on the menu. The slightly bitter greens were offset by an extraordinary Fourme d’Ambert, which gave the dish it’s real depth.

I don’t have a good photo of the bacon tart with basted quail egg, nor do I remember much about that course other than it was good, but I do remember wishing I was eating my wife’s mushroom tart instead. Mushrooms seemed to be front and center in this dinner and they tasted spectacular in every dish. Mushrooms took center stage again with the next course, this time in form of lightly poached salmon on top of maitake mushrooms. And again, with the main course of veal breast and mushroom sausage, which took place of the leek sausage regularly listed on the menu.

Ambitious restaurants focused on muti-course tastings, like French Laundry, sometimes have a rule against using the same ingredient twice in the course of a meal. Thankfully Textile has no such limitations. Somehow mushrooms ended up being in top form that day and I have no complaints about their inclusion in nearly every dish. If Plinio had found a way to integrate mushrooms into the dessert courses, it would have made things even more interesting.

At some point I noticed that Scott Tycer had taken a seat in the armchair at the front of the dining room, as if preparing to hold court. We got a bit more dinner theater when the servers began to bring the entrees out for inspection, though I do wish he had sent our badly overcooked veal breast back to the kitchen.

For one reason or another I’ve gotten used to disappointing meat courses, so I am not all bent out of shape about the overcooked veal at Textile. Even the best kitchens in the world make mistakes (L’Arpege?) and the rest of the meal was outstanding, so the veal thing is easy to overlook. Besides, this wasn’t even close to the end of our dinner, which ended on a high note because of the exceptional desserts.

I sound like a bit of a broken record when I say that Plinio Sandalio is easily one of the top five pastry chefs in the country, but I am going to keep doing it until he gives me a reason to stop. Even at America’s, where his range of motion was a bit limited creatively, he produced often stunning dishes. At Textile, given all the creative freedom he needs by Scott Tycer, who also had him kick up the desserts at Gravitas into the next gear, he finally has a chance to show what he can do and that doubles the number of reasons to go to Textile.

IMG_6240

Dessert station at Gravitas

We didn’t really expect a dessert tasting (or order one), but I guess Plinio knows that I can just as easily go for five courses or a dozen, so the dishes began to appear on their own starting with carbonated citrus in coriander syrup – a perfect waypoint between the savory and sweet courses.

I really liked Plinio’s take on PB&J in the form of peanut butter terrine, quince jelly, quince butter, peanut butter powder and candied bread (you can see how he comes up with this stuff here). I wondered if this was way too much peanut butter at first, and in truth there was a little too much sugar, but the flavors really worked. If you have ever had halva, a middle eastern dessert made from sesame seeds, then you have a decent frame of reference for the texture of the peanut butter terrine.

If memory serves me right, the second dessert was what I think may have been “coffee & milk” – a really great play on breakfast with flavors of French toast and coffee all in one bite.

Next thing to show up was a sort of an interlude between dessert courses – a lollipop filled with a sweet and slightly acidic shot of apple/celery juice that explodes once in your mouth, which I have had before at one of the Tenacity dinners where Plinio was a guest chef. Not knowing exactly what to expect, a couple of people at our table promptly got a shot of juice up their nose.

The gianduja ganache torchon has taken on new interpretation since the last time I had it at America’s. The pop rocks and the liquid acai berries are gone, and the dessert is now 100% grounded in the most intense chocolate flavor imaginable. If you are going to have choose a dish to be your calling card, this is definitely the way to go.

By the time we polished off the torchon the mostly chocolate bon bons were more than we could handle. I was starting to feel a full on chocolate buzz and it was time to run for the hills.

Textile could stand a few improvements.  The chairs feel like a torture device. The last dessert plate we were served was so warm it immediately melted the bon bons served as mignardises. Waiting for the kitchen to get our amuse courses right gave us a few awkward minutes, yet there is a whole brigade replacing silverware after every course as if they are competing for Michelin stars.   And I am still wondering what that veal tastes like when it’s not overcooked (I bet it’s really good). But I am going back anyway. The food is very, very good.

Textile, like a select few restaurants in Houston, seems obsessively focused on ingredients. By that I don’t mean they are local, green, sustainable or any other such nonsense. I mean that almost everything that hits your plate is of exceptional quality and nothing is served out of season. The number of substitutions on the menu based on availability is just one example of this. The fact that I was jealous of my wife’s vegetarian dishes is another. Who wants the slightly better than average veal when you can have an exceptional stalk of asparagus, after all?

the lineup
amuse bouche
bibb lettuce, fromage d’ambert, onion strudel
bacon tart, basted quail egg, wilted bitter greens, balsamic
salmon, roasted maitake mushrooms, pickled vegetables
braised provimi veal breast, mushroom sausage, truffled hollandaise
carbonated citrus, coriander syrup

peanut butter terrine, quince jelly, quince butter, peanut butter powder, candied bread
“coffee & milk”, iced milk, milk jam, french toast, coffee foam, bacon streusel
exploding lollypop thingies
gianduja ganache torchon


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9 comments

1 Peggy { 12.19.08 at 9:50 am }

Thanks for the extensive breakdown, I really enjoy the thorough detail you bring for the high end meals. Textile is very much on my list for next year. BTW, when do we get a writeup of Vetri? (We blog readers are insatiable!)

2 Fulmer { 12.19.08 at 2:56 pm }

Great review Misha. My postponement for dinner there will hopefully be sooner than later. To be honest, it’s my desire for an extensive sampling of Plinio’s wares that lures me.

3 Eric { 12.19.08 at 3:08 pm }

I was there back in Nov for the 7 course meal along with the wine pairings. Amazing. Our service suffered mildly cause of a big top table happening that night as well, but only mildly. We did get a cheese sampling platter plate for free at the end. Would I go again? Yes! But it is expensive. 7 course with wine pairings for two comes out to about $480. Also note that one of the guys involved with the upcoming opening of the Anvil bar is working the bar there at Textile. It was fun watching him work the Absinthe water pourer thingy that they have there.

4 Jenn { 12.20.08 at 9:35 am }

Textile is on our list for 2009 for sure!

Are you planning to stop by Bedford in the Heights anytime soon?

5 Misha { 12.20.08 at 10:00 am }

Peggy – I would say soon, but I am so backed up on posts that it would be a total lie. I will say that Vetri is one of the very best meals I had this year.

Jenn – I am going to Bedford on Tuesday, actually:)

6 Jenn { 12.20.08 at 12:47 pm }

I am eager to hear what it is like! We walked by after Lights in the Heights and our first reaction was “oooh! Shiny!!” My boss likes it but he is not always the best judge. I am seeking a good restaurant with a private table/room for a business dinner (8-10 people) in January, and am thinking possibly Bedford? Ouisie’s table was my other choice. We have some very meat & potatoes people in my group, so I can’t go anywhere too fussy.

7 Misha { 12.20.08 at 2:24 pm }

I think Mockingbird Bistro may be the best choice for that.

8 jodycakes { 12.30.08 at 8:19 am }

Misha~
Thanks for the write up – my husband and I are dining at Textile NYE. They are planning a 7 course that is not posted online…so I can only hope that it turns out as well as yours.
Love the mushroom theme though…:)
Like your new layout…take care.
Jody

9 Handicapping the best of Houston picks | tasty bits { 01.03.09 at 5:47 pm }

[...] Textile and Voice are without a doubt the best upscale restaurants to open in 2008. Russo’s introduced coal-fired pizza to Houston, which a number of people commenting on this blog deem an almost landmark event. BB’s Kitchen has a few clunkers (vegetarian po-boy and beignets), but the oyster po-boy was one of the best I’ve had in Houston. The Grove cooks beneath the level of talent in the kitchen (for that reason it should be tied with Bedford), but it does provide reliably good upscale food for Discovery Green – the most important public space to open in 2008. [...]

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