What’s crispy, crunchy, sweet, tangy and creamy?
Or: Seven Hours in Houston.
On my way to Costa Rica, I had a layover in Houston, Texas. I made sure it was long enough for me to get out of the airport and get some sun, fresh air and a decent meal. With less than ten hours in a city that’s quickly gaining points with gastronomes, I faced the typical foodie dilemma. Where and what do I eat?
The quintessential response for someone stopping in Texas is to click one’s cowboy boots and exclaim, “get some barbecue!” But I wasn’t feeling particularly carnivorous. So what else do you have, Houston? Tex-Mex, of course. Alas, that wasn’t an option either as I was about to spend a couple of weeks in the land of rice, beans and avocados. After some serious research I managed to narrow it down to three places that I wanted to eat at. I shared my list with my cousin, who currently lives in Houston. He quickly picked his favorite: Backstreet Café.
Situated in the quiet River Oaks neighborhood (doesn’t that name
just ooze money sound posh?) Backstreet Café is a popular destination for rich housewives, lawyers, young professionals who are earning a little more than they can spend, and fellow foodies. I got into my cousin’s fiery orange Camaro and we cruised past mansions and groomed gardens. Nothing works the appetite like a dose of yearning to marry a millionaire. Eventually, we made it to the restaurant and were escorted to the popular backyard, where a party of ten white women lunched (read: guzzled bottles of wine and ran perfectly manicured nails through perfectly cut-dyed-and-blow-dried blonde manes). Every once in a while I’d be blinded by the dazzling light bouncing off their diamonds.
A little less about the folks and a little more about the food, please. Before I get to that part, let me tell you about the words. The words, the words, the words. Have you ever read a menu and sighed? And then ran your fingers across the words as you licked your lips and imagined that sundried tomato pesto spread on warm, just-toasted ciabatta? No? Just me then? Huh. The menu, you see, was beautifully written with each ingredient listed. (Side note: I don’t understand why some restaurants feel like it’s funny to surprise me with hidden eggplant or covered bacon or unlisted olives? Are those ingredients spies? Are they undercover? Are you trying to get rid of them? STOP IT. Tell me exactly what’s in my food, oi!)
I spent 30 minutes shooing away the waiter and begging for more time. Finally and sadly, the indecisiveness came to an end. We placed our orders. At this point, all previous claims of not feeling carnivorous melted under the warm Texan sun and my will power dissolved under an incantation of “crispy lobster…pan roasted oysters…lamb shoulder”. Unfortunately, we were only two people and could not order all that our hearts and stomachs desired.
We settled (ha!) for a starter each and a main course. My cousin got the Saint Arnold braised rabbit with wild mushrooms and sour dough and the coffee crusted tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes, spinach and spicy maple chipotle sauce. The rabbit, once cute and fluffy, was succulent, warm and buttery. The tenderloin, however, stole the show. I believe that every steak, hereafter, should be coffee crusted and grilled medium. I am getting teary-eyed just remember the contrast of the seared crust against the juicy meat.
So, what’s crispy, crunchy, sweet, tangy and creamy? Why it’s Backstreet Café’s fried green tomato salad – also known as The Best Salad I’ve Ever Had Or Maybe Not But it was So Darn Good. The bleu cheese, smokey portabella (psht, never again am I using the common spelling: portabello) on a bed of arugula with a couple of deep-fried green tomato slices were like a happy family in my mouth. I’m sure that sounded creepy but you’ll have to excuse my limited vocabulary. I haven’t even told you about the sweet cherry tomatoes and the candied pecans. I’m getting emotional again! My main course was an overwhelming pan seared duck on butternut squash purée tossed with some spinach and figs. Verdict? A little too much going on and insanely rich; I couldn’t put a dent in it.
The food left me glowing happily all the way back to the airport and even as I boarded another plane on my insanely long journey. All in all, it was a very satisfying meal and I think we picked the right restaurant. I desperately want to go back to Houston just to brunch at Backstreet Café. I may have to find me a rich husband in the interim and insist that he showers me with diamonds. You know, just so I can dine in style.