Thursday, December 23, 2010

State of the City: 2011

I’m sorry to see 2010 come to a close. It was the year I got both engaged and married and switched from teaching high school English back to full-time copywriting. I traveled, I lived, I lounged, and I ate. But I’m certainly excited to see what 2011 has in store.

Houston tends to fly under the radar of the national food scene, but that’s alright by me. Yes, I loved seeing Bryan Caswell on The Next Iron Chef this year, and it’s cool to see Houston on John Mariani’s list of Best Restaurant Cities, but I think our food scene rather benefits from the relative national obscurity. After all, the Bayou City has been setting off culinary fireworks left and right this year, thanks to generally amiable attitudes from kitchen compatriots and diner darlings alike. No pressure, little drama; just a friendly competitive spirit.

Here are a few reasons I enjoyed the 2010 culinary air around town.

In one especially eclectic week last summer, I ate Serbian, Filipino, Moroccan, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mediterranean food... in addition to my usual fare. Recently I had Ethiopian food for the first time in eight years, and then went next door for a post-meal pupusa with bubble tea. Friends like Dr. Ricky and Jay Rascoe introduced me to Hot Pot, Peking Duck, and the wonderous array of taco trucks. Maybe the diversity, itself, isn’t new, but perhaps our growing desire to seek it out is.

Wine is typically the chosen buzz agent at fine-dining establishments, but this year the beautiful brewsky stepped into the foreground. We began flocking to beer-loving places like Petrol Station and Liberty Station, and restaurants began offering fancy-pants beer dinners. I attended the Southern Star beer dinner at VOICE in May, but was sorry to miss those Stone Brewing beer dinners at Vic & Anthony’s, among others. Perhaps this also reflects our growing preference for casual dinners and comfort foods.

It’s not just restaurants and breweries working together... Chefs are sharing kitchens, too, wowing eaters by combining culinary repertoires. There was the Lazy Summer Repast featuring chefs from Chez Roux, Bootsie’s, and the Just 8 Project. Shortly after that came the 10-10-10 dinner: 10 courses and 10 drink pairings from Seth Siegel-Gardner, Justin Yu, and David Buehrer, held at Paulie’s in Montrose. Pastry chefs Plinio Sandalio and Rebecca Masson even held their own collaborative dessert tasting.

Houston has never been known as a local food mecca, but that’s starting to change as restaurants citywide are spotlighting our local bounty on their menus -- or even growing their own. Eh, we’re no California, but Texas does have a surprising girth of local foods in the form of Gulf seafood, local cheeses, area beers, and Texas tomatoes, peaches, and grapefruits. Look for them on menus citywide, area farmers markets, or at the soon-to-open Revival Market. Hooray!

The City of Houston is notoriously hard on food trucks, but the community is beginning to prosper despite the strict regulations. Now that a few are up-and-running, they’ve created a kind of support group for one another, offering tips and advice to the newer ones making a go. Everyone’s a winner now that we have stands like Melange Creperie, the Eatsie Boys, and Oh My Pocket Pies. Even some of the brick-and-mortar restaurants are going mobile -- like Hubcap Grill, Armando’s, and Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen.

Yes, it’s been a banner year for lovely H-Town. And my calendar’s never complete without a list of selfish requests for the year to come.

1) A continuation of the trends from above. Why not? I like where we’re headed.

2) A return to dessert. With all the savory hullabahoo this year, we seem to have forgotten about dessert. Gone are the days when I checked out the dessert menu first to decide whether or not I needed to save room.

3) More pop-up restaurants. The Just August Project opened our eyes to culinary possibilities, creative cheffery, and a new type of dining. More, please!

4) More vegetables. Some of my most memorable dining experiences this year (in Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver) included vegetables in starring roles. I want more of this in Houston, though places like Haven, The Grove, and Bootsie’s are close.

(A plate at OIMBY, a feast made almost entirely from locally sourced foods.)


QViews said...

What a terrific analysis of why we're having so much fun in Houston these days. Thanks!

Kevin said...

Great post Ruthie!

Anonymous said...

That breakfast sandwich (aka Eggman) is brought to you by the Eatsie Boys.

tera gold said...

The city of Houston is notoriously challenging on foodstuff trucks, however the local community is commencing to prosper in spite of the rigid regulations.

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