Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dinner at Catalan

Year upon year Catalan lives up to its reputation as one of the best restaurants in the city. And not surprisingly. The good people at the upscale bistro have not only captured a winning formula, they also make it look easy. Servers, chefs, and sommelier slide gracefully around the low-lit room, maintaining their equanimity despite a packed house and crowded kitchen. Truly this is beautiful food in a beautiful space. But it’s also exceedingly loud. You’d be wise to ask for a table around the perimeter.

At Catalan it’s all about technique. As far as appetizers go, you won’t want to miss the roasted pork belly topped with a pure cane syrup; this dish will have your mouth singing in sugary seconds. The fresh and crispy crabmeat croquettes are certainly worth a try. Even the “redneck” mac and cheese, in its creamy splendor, could find a spot on the best dressed list.

While the entrees aren’t always perfectly executed, they don’t ever miss by much. The crabmeat crusted grouper ruled the table, beautifully prepared in that melt-in-your-mouth kind of way, although the adjoining Israeli couscous offered too many flavors at once. The local triggerfish (which gets top billing by the chef, himself) arrived lukewarm and lacking the expected fireworks.

There’s even a section of the menu for all you “Houston radicals.” It’s called the Chef’s Playground, so named because it contains a handful of the chef’s most rambunctious and inspired dishes, like barbecued head-on shrimp and housemade corned beef. P.S. you can add foie gras to anything; it says so right on the menu.

Not like I need to tell you, but don’t skip dessert. The peanut butter bread pudding is a perfect end to a near perfect evening.

Catalan - 5555 Washington (at TC Jester)

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