Sunday, January 3, 2010

State of the City: 2010

Remember when you were little how time seemed to stand still? And now that you’re older, it pretty much travels at mock speed. Yeah, um, who can we speak to about that?

Ten short years ago we sighed with relief as the millennium swooshed by without the trolls of technical and physiological misfires that were “destined” to occur, Houston was settling in under the guidance of our first African-American mayor, and FORTUNE magazine listed Enron as one of its “100 Best Companies to Work for.” Ten years later technology pervades our every move, we welcome our first openly gay mayor, and the mere mention of Enron inspires sadness and spite, some nine years after it imploded. We’ve certainly aged.

To say that the past decade brought massive changes to Houston’s culinary landscape would be fairly banal on my part. Lord, in the last year alone we added gems like Stella Sola, Vinoteca Poscol, Bodegas, Giacomo’s, Canopy, Branch Water Tavern, Ciao Bello, Yelapa, and Kata Robata, among dozens of others -- all in a down economy. Chefs have become mock celebrities around town, Twitter changed the way we communicate, and diners are more willing to try new foods and preparations... as long as there’s a juicy steak to fall back on.

If anything, The Oughts taught us that with passion, skill, and the right tutelage, anyone can succeed in Houston’s culinary landscape. Anyone -- that is -- except Robert Gadsby, who proved that the fourth requirement around town is humility. Hot damn, Texas proud!

And even Texas isn’t bass-ackwards all the time. Over the past decade, Ruggles Green and Haven gave us Houston’s first green-certified restaurants. Monica Pope worked tirelessly to advance the slow food movement. Feast taught us to savor every part, nose to tail. The Houston Chowhounds inspired camaraderie through foodie smackdowns, rockstar throwdowns, and general chowdowns. And chefs like Randy Rucker, Plinio Sandalio, and Jonathan Jones challenged our thinking with their creative, avant-guard styles.

Tilman Fertita became the Microsoft of Houston’s culinary world: An experienced veteran churning out mediocre products with little in the way of serious competition. Landry’s is the evil empire everyone loves to hate. But 2009 saw Bryan Caswell emerge as the gastronomic Google: Young, brash, and infinitely cool, slowly adding new venues and rising chefs to his culinary pantheon. (Is anyone else picturing a Fertita/Caswell knife fight a la Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Beat It” video?) Caswell will never reach Fertita’s status -- he’d never choose to sacrifice quality for quantity -- but he has become Houston’s new prodigal son. It will be interesting to see how his 2000-teens play out.

Right now, the city is sittin’ pretty like pocket aces. What will the next decade bring? I have no idea. But here’s to hoping that our metaphorical adolescence sees us capitalize on the upswing.

My 2010 wishlist:
-- More street food faster
-- Better food in schools
-- More midrange restaurants like Giacomo’s
-- Fewer, more comprehensive farmers markets
-- A rad grocery store in the Heights (please!!)
-- Reasonably priced organic/sustainable food
-- Meatloaf, corndogs, and banana pudding
-- And, of course, more candy necklaces

What’s on your New Year’s wishlist?


Anonymous said...

candy necklaces--you're right--an artisan, small-batch candy necklace where the yellow pieces would be elderflower flavored :)

nicely done, Ruthie. cheers & happy new year!

Whole Fish said...

Holy Smokes!! I loved the knife fight bit. Made me laugh out loud.

Jodie said...

Great article and wish list, Ruthie! Love the pic of the pistachio poundcake w/ those cherries from Stella Sola ... mmm

HTownChowDown said...

Great article, Ruthie. I can't argue with your wish list; I'll just add two: A Beaver's outpost and a Ciao Bello in the Woodlands. :)

Anonymous said...

where are the dumplings from

Ruthie Johnson said...

The dumplings are from Weslayan Cafe, a fabulous place right by Central Market -- Great sandwiches and burgers, and the best dumplings outside of Chinatown. Love that place!

Anonymous said...

thought so but wasn't sure - agree with your assessment only they need to stay open later!

Anonymous said...

interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did any one hear that some Iranian hacker had busted twitter yesterday.

scorpio said...

very nice love it man.gr8

Gerald said...

It is true. Things have changed. Especially how we communicate, just like twitter. In my resto, The Background, we love adapting to change. We used that name because we believe in people's lives and story. We love using twitter. Backgrounds of customers, and where they words are really coming out is important. Just like in my restaurant, comments from the other cities or states amazes us, that the other people, away from us like what we do. This will craft us to be better professionals, ( twitter, background of the people and the business as well help us to be one).

We are old but we need to shadow the movement of time. Never too late to learn the magic of twitter. Background, our restaurant has never been the same since we learned to adapt.

Have a great day!

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