Feast and the local cats
Today is the first anniversary for Feast. One year in business is rarely a special occasion for anyone but the owners, but Feast is a special restaurant.
Some months ago I was having a dinner at Moto in Chicago and got into a conversation with a couple from London who wanted to know if the food served at Moto was widely accepted in the US. I did my best to provide some context: Chicago may have the most progressive diners in the country, but even Alinea relies on a steady stream of visitors who specifically seek out a special occasion meal. Something they normally wouldn’t eat in their hometown.
The couple from UK was a good example. They were clearly knowledgeable about food and made it a point to arrange their travel itinerary around various restaurants. They were genuinely thrilled that Chicago had a whole street (!) full of Vietnamese restaurants and listened with a certain level of disbelief when I described Houston’s Chinatown. The food at Moto blew them away and they marveled at just how open minded US diners must be.
They were even more surprised to learn that I had been to a restaurant in their own neighborhood in London. Living in Smithfield they had passed by St John countless times, but never went in. I tried to convince them that British food is finally getting the respect it deserves, and while it may not be “new” it’s certainly new to most people, but they seemed to have their doubts. Fergus Henderson may have touched off one of the most important cooking directions today, but even he can’t necessarily convince people in his own neighborhood that British food is worth eating.
This is what makes the first anniversary of Feast a special occasion. The restaurant isn’t merely surviving, they have a loyal and growing following in Houston - a city with virtually no tourists. Good things are happening to the dining scene in Houston in the midst of a recession and Feast is just one example.
I have written about Feast many times before and not going to wax even more poetic about their charms. I do want to show a couple of exemplary dishes I had at Feast last night that highlight why it’s such a great place to eat.
If you have had the duck neck at Feast before, you’ll recognize the the cooking method used here. This dish is easier to eat and works even better, because there is enough meat to develop a whole range of texture – from tender to fully caramelized – as it slowly poaches in oil.
The smoked Barracuda tail is the first smoked fish to appear on the Feast menu, but its already one of my favorite items. The meat is firm, sort of like a cross between whitefish and swordfish, but the best part is that the tailbones are coated in a nice bit of gelatinous fish fat. If you see this on a menu, order it. It will be the best $3 you have spent in a very long time.
Eating the local cats
Several days ago Randy Rucker left this comment to my post about Manresa:
guess you just forgot about “us” local cats…
I am sure Randy is only half serious – two weeks ago I had dinner at Rainbow Lodge, not once but twice in one weekend. Still, I wanted to reply in some detail.
Just a few years ago it was easy to make choices in Houston. If you wanted to eat well, this was a great place to live. Few cities have the combination of regional American cuisine and ethnic diversity found in Houston. But if you wanted to go high end and experience creative, chef driven food, then going out of town was an opportunity – a chance to experience fine dining of the sort you can’t easily find in Houston.
Today’s choices aren’t as simple. Take a look at the list of the best meals I had in 2008:
- Manresa (Bay Area)
- Vetri (Philadelphia)
- Urasawa (LA)
- Le Bristol (Paris)
- Restaurant August (New Orleans)
- Tenacity – Randy Rucker (1st dinner) Justin Bayse (pig dinner)
- Sawa Sushi (Bay Area)
- Sea Grill (Brussels)
- Voice (Houston)
- Le Reve (San Antonio)
This list is based on complete meals, from start to finish. Take the best of Tenacity collection and it probably moves up a couple of spots. Just out of the Top 10 are some impressive names as well: Incanto, L20, Alinea, Yamazato, French Laundry, Moto, L’Arpege, Bucharin (St Petersburg restaurant, now closed).
I first realized that eating out of town isn’t always delivering the same kicks when I was at Momofuku Ko. I had a good meal and realize that David Chang is clearly a gifted chef, but after spending the summer attending Tenacity dinners I just wasn’t blown away by the creativity.
The menu at Ko has not changed in months, while Randy and his guest chefs were banging out new dishes every week. Not all were great, but some were off the charts brilliant. Half way through my dinner at Ko, I was wishing I was at one of the Tenacity dinners, instead. The hipster sitting on a stool next to me was getting exasperated about his love for all things David Chang (boy wonder wasn’t there that night, but his iPod was) and I was seriously considering punching him in the throat.
Which brings me to the local cats Randy speaks of. Since my odd Momofuku Ko experience, I have decided that I really don’t want to feel like I am missing out on something back home. I’ve been on the road more than usual, but I have also had several great meals at Rainbow Lodge and Textile. Reef and Inn at the Dos Brisas are on the agenda soon, as well. But first, I am going to Voice. If I can drive to Los Gatos for a meal, I can survive Houston downtown as well.
Sunday dinner at the Rainbow Lodge bar
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