UPDATED: The 8 Stupidest Things in the Houston Restaurant Scene Right Now, Plus 1

Categories: Food Fight

uberburger.jpg
Burger from the National Institutes of Health. Nasty add-ons from Kaitlin.
A giant gourmet margarita burger rolled in bonito flakes and topped with watermelon foam. YUM.
First off, we want you to know that we think Houston has a killer restaurant scene. We have some truly top-notch eateries in this town, and we're damn proud of them.

That said, everyone messes up from time to time. Chefs, waiters and restaurateurs all do stupid things. And we totally forgive them, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to call them on it. So we did a quick survey of our Houston Press food writers and came up with these gut reactions.

Think of this article as a public service. It's a means of inciting a discussion about what really chaps our asses (and your asses) about the Houston restaurant scene. And maybe, if we're lucky, our combined forces can help bring an end to the likes of bonito flakes and margarita flavoring.

One can only hope.

Artsy Plates
Sure, a beautifully designed plate of food is fun, but not if it comes at the cost of losing the quality of flavor in the dish. Today's chefs seem to be focusing more on the plating and presentation than on the quality and taste of the dish. More often than not, the best dishes are the simple ones, without frou-frou sauces spread across the plate like a painting. Focus on the taste more than the presentation; the quality of food is becoming less important than its appearance. MOLLY DUNN

nastyburger.jpg
Photo by Barry Pousman
I think the pink slime from Ghostbusters is on that burger.
Gourmet Burgers
Look, if a burger is good enough, it doesn't need a bunch of bells and whistles to make it delicious. Enough with the avant garde peanut butter and jelly burgers or lobster and foie gras-topped creations (offenders, you know who you are). Don't put a Frito pie on top of my burger and call it a burger. You just invented something else entirely. Good for you. Now make me a burger. Just give me a hunk of great, high-quality beef, a toasted bun, lettuce and tomatoes and some killer pickles. If you must, add some bacon or cheese. But THAT'S IT. Let the good ingredients do the talking instead of masking them with grilled fruit or chips I can get out of a vending machine. KAITLIN STEINBERG

Overly Large Portion Sizes
There used to be a restaurant called Tejas on San Felipe. When I was in college, some family friends took me there, and I ordered the chicken-fried steak. When it came out, the dish boasted two large, piled-on-top-of-each-other, at-least-16-ounce chicken-fried patties. The mound of mashed potatoes that came with them was enough to feed four or more, and my friends stared at me aghast, asking, "You're going to eat all that?" The single portion was enough to feed six, maybe even more. While Tejas isn't there anymore (in its place is Yia Yia Mary's), it irks me when I order a half portion of pasta and get enough to feed three. That gourmet burger piled high with a thousand accoutrements looks scary to me instead of mouthwatering, and the fact that Houstonians demand -- and get -- 16-ounce steaks (do we need to eat that much, really?) is disturbing when the protein serving size recommended by nutritionists is three ounces. Our state may be big, but our waistlines and our portions don't need to be. MAI PHAM

waiterswaiting.jpg
Photo by Garry Knight
It's all hurry up and wait around here.
Rushed Service
When I go out to eat, I like to take my time. I'm paying to enjoy food at a restaurant, so I don't want to feel like I have 30 minutes to order, eat and pay the check. Just about every restaurant I have eaten at asks me what I want to drink before I even have a drink menu in front of me -- sometimes the second I sit down. At least give me some time to look over the menu before you pull out your pencil to write down my drink order. If you're going to do that, I'm just going to order water and you're not going to make any money off of me from ordering a drink. Not only am I rushed to order drinks, but even if I say there's no rush on the food and that I would like each course to come out separately, either everything arrives at the same time or the second one plate is cleared, there's another one sitting in front of me. If I wanted fast food, I would go through the drive-through. Waiters need to respect diners' time a bit more, especially if they say there's no rush. MOLLY DUNN

Check out five more stupid scene trends on the next page.


My Voice Nation Help
75 comments
Racmann
Racmann

Frankly I think you're totally nuts for not liking gourmet burgers. I get where you're coming from but...I don't know, man. Sometimes I just need a burger that has banana and crunchy PB on it (thanks, Hubcap) or some mac & cheese and jalapenos (Lankford).

But I suppose when your diet consists of 75% burgers you have to try some new things every so often.

MelADavis
MelADavis

That is great, Ms. Dunn, that you are one of the few that likes to sit down and enjoy their breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  People should, as it is unhealthy to consume a proper portion if you plan on eating your meal within 10 minutes.  


However, I think that the greater Houston wait staff, in general, can be cut some slack on the rushed service.  That is a simple reaction to the majority of the general public that demands that kind of rushed service and attention.  It's American culture. 

Kirbe Llabra
Kirbe Llabra

I don't know Lorraine, poached/fried eggs are pretty great on most things, especially burgers and sandwiches! I'll agree with you on the pizza though.

jacobsimonbocanegra
jacobsimonbocanegra

the waiters hate the customers, the customers hate the service, so just eat at home, u save money and u dont have to worry about food poisoning, or spit in your food...

Lorraine Cherry
Lorraine Cherry

I enjoyed the article, but was disappointed that they didn't include my favorite pet peeve in restaurants these days: fried or poached eggs on everything. Chinese foods, Korean foods, banh mi sandwiches, mexican rice, italian salads--everywhere I go, a friendly waiter is asking "Do you want a fried egg on that?" As a forerunner to this, I remember being in the south of France about 10 years ago with some friends, and the pizza we ordered for dinner came with a nearly raw poached egg in the middle of it. Nothing, it seems is sacred.

Shaun Gray
Shaun Gray

I thought it was funny about "margarita flavored anything" and then a bakery unveiled a possible margarita flavored cupcake and I thought, "ugh".

Tom Kennedy
Tom Kennedy

I don't know why people are unhappy. I agree 100% with the list.

TheBestCritic1
TheBestCritic1

Biggest problem is the restaurants will reduce their Texas-Sized portions, but will keep their Texas-Sized prices.Bigger is not always better!!Portion control by restaurants would help keep Houstonians healthier, but might reduce the restaurant's revenue.But of course once you’ve laid out the cash for Paul Bunyan’s dinner, you certainly not going to waste it.Catch 22….

redneck3
redneck3

I am grateful as hell that I likely will never have enough money to even set foot in any restaurant that does the stupid crap described in this article. The exception is the big portions issue... and quite frankly, for the price of a sit-down restaurant meal, I do indeed expect to be able to take home enough leftovers for a whole second meal.

squatty92
squatty92

bonito is a natural ingredient that a person can substitute instead of MSG to achieve the "umami," aka savory flavor.... shows us how much this writer actually knows about the culinary arts.  It is not a fad, it is actual friggin knowledge.

FAILBLOG
FAILBLOG

TASTING MENUS....says the 20 year old who blogs about cupcakes and pinterest.  Tell me, which of Houston's relatively few tasting meus have you tried Ms. Dunn?  And $50-60 is "soaring"? Go try NY Chicago or L.A or SF>  and try $400.

Then it's right next to two foodies complaining about foam and bonito flakes, something 95% of readers here have probably never ever encountered because they tend to occur you guessed it, on TASTING MENUS!

miss_msry
miss_msry

Mai, most Houstonians I know agree that restaurant portions are totally out of control, much less demanding 16oz. steaks.

Maria Elena Saade
Maria Elena Saade

I went to a sit-down restaurant yesterday and the first thing I thought of was your article. I was asked what I wanted to drink before I even had the chance to sit down.

ducttaperoses
ducttaperoses

I'm kind of into food, but I'm really glad I'm not so into food that I have to care about any of this.

sunnybogden
sunnybogden

You know what would be a good followup to this is a little self deprecating humor... Top annoying things about food writers.

Sara Stephens
Sara Stephens

Re: portion size- I hear way too many complaints of "that's all?" from people to believe we'd accept actual 1 serving portions. Ya'll want a half pound serving of meatloaf, be my guest. They're not my arteries.

Jacob Bocanegra
Jacob Bocanegra

stop opening up restaurants in houston! and bars too!! theres too many...Jesus, open up a damn factory, build something,fuk!

kfbolger
kfbolger

1) this wouldn't've necessarily been a terrible list if they'd not added the qualifier "Houston" to " restaurant scene"-

b/c guess what? with the possible exceptions of a) too much food & b) bacon, bacon everywhere (not too sure about the hot dogs, but i AM beginning to wonder how many "gourmet hot dog" joints one city can support) these are pretty much nationwide trends. worse, they're nationwide trends that were old by 2010.

2) to the tweezer haters/deniers out there: you've never experienced high end fine dining in any other US cities have you? Charlie Trotter's? The French Laundry?

3) i'm still chuckling over the "soaring" "$50-$60" price of tasting menus.

4) finally, this list is missing one of the only things i've ever really complained about re: Houston's restaurants- that would be the delivery of empty food boxes to my table when i ask for something wrapped to go. wait...so i'm paying you *how much??* to watch me while i sit and try to scrape leftovers into a big styrofoam container and fit it onto my table full of dirty dishes?! good LORD this drives me up a wall! while i agree with some others that in most situations in a decently fine establishment there shouldn't be a need for doggy bags, the fact remains that it can and will happen. *especially* here in Houston where everything is bigger than anyone needs.

(honorable mention Houston peeve: i have yet to have a server crumb my table- even at Da Marco, which has the consistently best service i've found down here. in fact, Da Marco is about the only place i've found that clears dirty silverware and then properly replaces it, without being asked to, before the next course comes out.)

Mark Markovich
Mark Markovich

I don't have a problem with gourmet burgers. If it's what you want, why not?

bowdoin
bowdoin

Restaurant Weeks. 

One woman's publicity grubbing excercise posing as charity and fobbed off on local restaurants whose August sales suck and think therefore they must discount to get traffic.

bouche
bouche

- food trucks

- mixology / "craft cocktails"

- Jonathan Jones

Michelle Pringle Frogge
Michelle Pringle Frogge

That's funny, but it makes me feel like I don't get out enough because I haven't seen a lot of that stuff.

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

Agreed on all the points. Tired of the pretensious, overpriced restaurants taking over the city. Variety is good, but can we get back to basics?

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

"Foam", brought to you courtesy of the same hipsters always screaming for density and first floor retail.....

Mitsy Marshall Parton
Mitsy Marshall Parton

I realize that these are only opinions (and APPRECIATED!) and I agree with many things on the list however, I don't believe it's necessary to label people who may actually LIKE the mentioned items names like mouth breather and the like. Why do we have to ridicule others to validate our opinions? Just an observation. Thanks for sharing.

WomanBearPig
WomanBearPig

KPRC's Amy Davis and her lazy and rip-off of Zindler's restaurant reports is also stupid enough to qualify for this list.

Amanda Lehew
Amanda Lehew

Don't you guys usually praise the gourmet burger, anyway? What's with this article? So out of place!

Alexander_Bites
Alexander_Bites

I just now snapped that burger was a photoshop. I am much relieved now that I know such a monstrosity does not exist in this town. However, I am worried for the mind that thought it up. I'm watching you @kakakakaitie.

TA

MadMac
MadMac

Agreed on all o' the above. That bonito bit reminds me of corn-flake-cursted EVERYTHING from the late 80s/early 90s. It was gross then and this is gross now. Oh, and a smear on a plate is not appetizing. That's not gangsta, it is not GANGSTA! Thanks, this was much more enjoyable and less petulent as that linked-to article.

Christopher Bulkley
Christopher Bulkley

Totally agree with portion size. Let's make it a human seriving, and feel free to knock a few bucks off it while you are at it. We all know you are purposfully givin un realistic portion sizes to gouge the person per seat price.

Albert Vasquez
Albert Vasquez

Gourmet burgers are to junk food as Elvis is to black music. #noculture

Nojusticenopiece
Nojusticenopiece

Also, can we do away with the phrase "to perfection?" I see this phrase way too often on menus. Cooked, grilled, baked or whatever "to perfection." And it's usually at restaurants that don't do anything to perfection.

Pedro Heisenberg
Pedro Heisenberg

how is getting you food in a timely matter annoying in anyway? and oversized portions? really dude you dont have to eat the whole thing there you can eat some and take the rest home. ILLOGICAL article

paval
paval

A few trends that hopefully shall disappear soon. 

- The use of tweezers to plate a dish is taking it a little bit far in my eyes. I am not paying high dollars in a restaurant so the executive chef can play with three leaves of arugula and place them in a perfect composition on a plate with his newest toy, the tweezers. It is like asking the CEO of CHevron to go make some copies. Totally unproductive behavior. 

- coming from a food culture where people stay on tables all night (but tell their friends what an awesome evening they had at such a restaurant) enjoying the outing (but therefore eating out a lot less than Houstonians do) I have always hated to get the check presented without asking for it, topped only by getting the check presented when I have the last bite of my starter in my mouth. I am very vocal about how much that bothers me and have requested from wait staff to leave me alone with the bill till I ask for it. (Of course I only do so if the place is not cram-packed full. I am not an a..) I am also known to get up and leave if they say they cannot comply. Too many restaurants in this city to put up with this stupid policy and people that cannot be somewhat flexible if the room and time permits. 

- Sysco and Ben E. Keith ready meal reheaters. This is a trend I have observed in many restaurants in the US. When I see a truck of the previously named companies I try to see what they are delivering. If its more than boxes of meat and supplies, i normally tend to forgo that restaurant. I want a restaurant to cook food not reheat it. I can do that myself, thank you. 

- Pizzas and Hamburgers in high end restaurants. Those are and will stay casual food in my book. You cant ask me to wear a jacket to dinner when you serve that kind of shorts and flip flops food. it does not matter how much truffle oil and foie gras you smear on that pizza or burger to make it "haute cuisine". A spanish saying goes like this: "Even dressed in silk, a monkey will always be a monkey" . The hamburger is pretty bad right now. Even my favorite restaurants seem to jump on that bandwagon. Of course we consumers and the media are co-culprits as the former eat hamburgers as if there is no tomorrow in all kind of places and the latter glorify each new burger place that comes around the corner. So we prepare our own demise. (A french chef in a french allured restaurant preparing burgers. Oh merde)

- waiters in "higher end" restaurants talking the "creations" of the chef up, like the best NSA and CIA spin doctors dressing up the illegal killing of people abroad into a sterile sounding operation. "Chef has prepared a brie en croute with a homemade cranberry jam". What was served was an old abandoned brie (recognizable on the grey color of the paste), with a heavily garlicky croute (to mask the strong ammonia taste) and the sweet cranberry jam (to counteract the garlic notes). Remember the monkey of previous tab. 

- waiters that are touchy, feely with my stuff (same as brie restaurant). If i get up to the bathroom I dont want you to touch my napkin with your hands that touched probably other eaters napkins too, plus the kitchen doors, and other areas of the restaurant before they went to the napkin that comes in close contact with my maybe lips that just today happen to have cold sores, so you can spread them better with the rest of the guests. Please leave my napkin where I leave it and stop playing a butler from the English Royalty to give me the impression you take care of my all and everything. And of course waiters that buddy me.( this actually extends to anyone I am not on a real buddy level. I cant stand the "Sir" so widespread in Texas either, but respectful distance with someone you dont know as a friend does not need tags to be established) 

- doggy bag to take the food of a 100 USD menu home with me, let it sit in the refrigerator for three days, reheat it in a microwave and spit that nasty stuff out because it has lost all its magic. Which was the place that prepared such a nasty stuff? I will never go back. My restaurant would have a strict "no doggy bag policy, as my great food will not taste anywhere as to what you expect me to serve after three days in your stinky fridge at home and then reheated in an even worse to my food microwave" 

 




TheBestCritic1
TheBestCritic1

Dried bonito flakes, known as katsuo-bushi or katsuobushi in Japanese cuisine, are flakes of dried, smoked bonito fish. They look similar to wood shavings. The "bonito" is a type of tuna, but may not be marketed as tuna in many countries.

Bonito flakes are used to make katsuobushi-dashi, the second most favored type of dashi (Japanese broth) for miso soup. Bonito flakes are also used for onigiri filling and to make ponzu sauce.

Bonito flakes are also marketed as cat treats in the United States, primarily in specialty pet stores.

Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow

sunnybogden
sunnybogden

@FAILBLOG my issue with the comment about bonito flakes is when you pair it with the fact that she mentions roasted peppers, there leaves little doubt as to what place is being called out. that dish is delicious and the bonito flakes are definitely part of that. 

paval
paval

@bowdoin and what used to be used by restaurants to present their art at a lower price has turned into a dumbed-down version of their everyday menues. 

Restaurant Weeks is not a bad idea by itself, but it should be maybe twice a year like in NYC and only one week long. To keep it running over weeks just takes away the special character of it away. And it should be something chefs use to test new dishes (every HRW menue has to have a new item in each of the three courses to the restaurant in question or alike rule)

MadMac
MadMac

That's kinda like code for "shut up and eat it," and, "don't even think about asking for that lamb/beef/3lb pork chop cooked medium well. We don't care about your plebian hang ups, you'll eat it like we cook it and you'll like it."

heyheyJ
heyheyJ

@paval Regarding doggie bags—Not everyone can finish the huge portions that most restaurants serve, in fact, most people can afford to maybe spread out their calories over a few days. Why do you think so many people are fat?

mansruin
mansruin

@paval I think that it should be pointed out that many of the things that servers do are required of them by management/owners as part of company policy and standards of service.  So don't blame the server for folding your napkin with their grubby hands.  That being said - your plate/utensils/glassware and the food itself has been touched by many hands. Just letting you know!   And lastly - in 20 years in the food service industry I have never seen a chef using tweezers.  You must get most of your knowledge of kitchens from the Food Network.

kelMOd
kelMOd

@paval Sounds like you would just be better off not dining out at all. I would hate to wait on you, sir. 

sunnybogden
sunnybogden

@KaitlinS lol actually I like lists, the top 100 is something I look forward to but the over usage of lists is kind of annoying. 

paval
paval

Huge portions was something addressed in the article as something that needs changing and then portions would not be big enough to take doggy bags home.

paval
paval

@mansruinI agree with you that the policies are set by owners and management of a restaurant, I apologize for that omission to the server's community. 

I am also aware that everything gets touched by hundred of hands all the time, yet I am convinced that touching the napkins goes a little bit further than touching the rim of the plate coming out of the kitchen, or the silver ware when re-setting a table. Certain materials are more prone to an exponential growth of bacteria than others. 

As for the tweezers I can only say that I cant have seen it in the Food Network as i do not watch any TV and do not have cable, but saw the images in the links that follow (one more I cannot find, but it was the whole army of Oxheart with tweezers in hand. No bias on Oxheart though, I think they are the Paragon I would want to measure Houstons food at):

http://www.houstonpress.com/slideshow/dinner-as-an-experience-behind-the-scenes-at-oxheart-39662967/#35

http://www.marketingandtechnology.com/repository/webstories/webst7643.jpg




paval
paval

@kelMOd @paval I indeed do not eat out as much, after finding so much that bothers me and since my friends do not enjoy going out with me anymore (I wonder why?), so most servers in this city are safe from me. 

sunnybogden
sunnybogden

 @KaitlinS1. You're right  2. Prose is overrated.3. It would be hard to end a paragraph/idea at the end of a page like you can with a list.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@sunnybogden @KaitlinS Honestly, It's a page view thing I think. And a lot of people would rather read lists than two pages of uninterrupted text. We're in the Internet age, man!

ducttaperoses
ducttaperoses

@paval "Huge" is relative.  A serving that would leave my brother hungry might still be too much for me.  It isn't possible for a restaurant to serve a portion that will be ideal for everyone since different people are comfortable eating different amounts.

No doubt., though, the ideal portion is whatever you, sir, prefer to eat at a sitting . . . 

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