15 Houston Restaurant Trends to Abandon in 2015

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Yesterday's darling is today's tired old trend.

It's a new year and an opportunity for a fresh new start. We asked professionals from Houston's restaurant industry -- chefs, bartenders and fellow food writers -- to share which trends they think need to be left behind in 2014. Some answers were about food and service trends. Others delved deeper into our restaurant culture. In more than one instance, one person's beef was the exactly opposite of another's complaint.

Let's start with one of my own:

15. Enough With the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Beet Salads
I love roasted Brussels sprouts and beet salads, but I would not be sorry not to see another one for at least a year. They need to be left in the same memory book as "The Great Bonito Flaking of 2013."

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Is Your Car Safe From Vandals While You're Eating at Houston Restaurants?

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Should all restaurants be able to promise security?
We bitch and moan about valet parking all the time, but it does have its upsides.

For instance, when there are valet drivers running back and forth between lots day and night, your parked cars are less likely to get broken into. When the parking is up to you though, who's watching your car?

According to one unhappy diner at Pluckers on North Shepherd, not the Houston Police Department.

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Dish of the Week: Chicken Tikka Masala

Photo by SteFou!
Don't forget the naan. You'll need it to sop up your rich and creamy chicken tikka masala.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

Chicken tikka masala is a popular restaurant dish made up of chicken tikka -- or bits of yogurt-marinated chicken baked in a clay oven called a tandoor -- that are smothered in a creamy masala, or spice mix, sauce before serving.

Though chicken tikka has its roots onthe Indian subcontinent, chicken tikka masala is said to have been created in an Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom. Some say it was Pakistani chef Ali Ahmed Aslam who first developed the dish at his restaurant in the west end of Glasgow, while others claim the dish originated in Birmingham or Newcastle. Regardless of where it was born, the deeply rich and spicy chicken dish, similar in taste to butter chicken but with less emphasis on the butter, has become a popular item throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the U.K., and the U.S., among many other places.

There is no set recipe, but the heavy-cream-based sauce usually incorporates tomatoes and spices like coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and paprika, all of which help to give the sauce its signature orange tint.

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Snacks in the Sun: The Food of Free Press Summer Festival

Categories: In the Trenches

Photos by Groovehouse.
Not sure what these guys are trying to share with us, but we appreciate it.
One of the nice things about the modern festival experience is the variety of food options. I like popcorn and chicken fingers as much as, if not more than, the next person, but having more than the standard concert food options is pretty sweet.

Face it, eating is a big part of spending all day at a festival. You can try to fight it, but you'll need to eat eventually, whether it's to get an energy boost or just to soak up some of the booze in your system.

Free Press Summer Festival gave a lot of people the chance to check out some local food options they might never have tried before. Take a look at a sample of some of the food items that were available and the people who were chowing down on them.

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The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Restaurants Where Service Is King

Photo by Hotel de la Ville Monza
"How may we do our best to ensure your dining experience is the polar opposite of Fawlty Towers today?"
It's hard to find good help, or so the saying goes. Indeed, many of the chefs and restaurant owners I've spoken with over the years privately admit that finding good waitstaff in Houston can be a Sisyphean task: You manage to find a truly great server or two, they dazzle your diners and then -- because this is a very marketable skill we're talking about -- they're lured away to another restaurant, and your search begins anew.

But at the restaurants we're spotlighting today, the service remains consistently spectacular from visit to visit -- whether the same employees are retained or not. These restaurants run the gamut from fine dining to mom-and-pop joints and all manner of cuisines.

They have one thing in common, however: Service that makes every meal memorable. The kind of service that encourages you to return again and again just to see a favorite waiter or catch up with restaurant owners who treat you like family. The subject of this week's cafe review, L'Olivier, is an excellent example of old-school service in an updated climate -- and so are the 10 restaurants below.

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And We Still Got the Shaft: Self-Righteous Tipper Gets Waitress Fired After Being Outed on the Internet

See you tomorrow...that is if I still have a job.
Any healthy adult will tell you that the proper response to being called out on a self-admitted mistake is to have the dignity and wherewithal to own the mistake and work toward improvement in the future. That sounds like a lot of work, though, and apparently Pastor Alois Bell thought so, too.

Pastor Bell, of St. Louis, Missouri, decided to spend her recent Friday evening, January 25, dining with members of her congregation -- a party of ten -- at a local Applebee's franchise. After what we assume was a hearty meal -- or "Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood," as it is known in certain circles -- the party received their check, which was then split among the group as requested.

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When Culinary Gadgetry Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

Categories: In the Trenches

No thanks.
I still remember the sight of my first -- and only -- glass cooktop. It gleamed in the soft glow of the kitchen lights like some beautifully alien technology. With all of the coils and heating elements contained under a sleek, shiny surface, it would be a breeze to clean...or so it promised.

Instead, I found out quickly that the glass cooktop was not only terribly easy to get dirty -- it was also terribly difficult to clean. Within only a few months, its surface was scarred with what would have been the most minor of spills on a regular electric or gas stove. Spills that could have easily been wiped clean from a steel surface, but which stuck stubbornly to the glass cooktop.

Those spills were even more firmly adhered to the cooktop by the fact that the heating elements practically glued any spills -- even water! -- into place more quickly than you could grab a rag. And forget about trying to clean the spills up right after they'd occurred anyway; the surface was always too hot to even come near with a rag, and stayed that way long after you'd turned off the burners.

Some kitchen gadgets seem too good to be true, but aren't: My countertop Breville convection oven, for example, is the perfect marriage between a toaster and a full-sized oven. Others, however, are simply a frustrating waste of money.

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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Food Critics: Jonathan Kauffman, Lauren Shockey and Hanna Raskin Weigh In

Categories: In the Trenches

I have yet to meet a food critic who looks -- or acts -- like Anton Ego.
We don't expect you guys to read every little thing we write. After all, Eating...Our Words publishes at least ten posts per day. But every once in a while, a topic arises on which we've pontificated in the past -- and in those cases, we like to re-run a previous post which we think still addresses the issue with some relevance. Parts of this post were previously published on June 26, 2011.

Last week, the owner and chef of Lucille's took umbrage at our cafe review of his restaurant -- not a glowing one, but also not a complete slam -- and took to the comments section to voice his dissatisfaction.

"This is not journalism, this is an attack done in poor taste," wrote Christopher Williams. " "Since we are unable to satisfy your discerning palate with our 'leathery ice tea,' we invite you to dine else where in the future."

And in a move that restaurant critics everywhere have seen since the day that they first crawled out of the primordial ooze created by the likes of Craig Claiborne, Williams blamed the harsh review on advertising. Or rather, Lucille's lack of interest in advertising with the Press.

"To any restaurant who wants a good review from the Press, and avoid this type of attack," Williams finished, "you had better fucking advertise now!"

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Chefs Rate America's Food Critics at the Daily Meal; Two Houston Writers Get Ranked

Chefs are not fans of Cook's prose stylings, according to The Daily Meal.
Photo courtesy of Eater Houston
They say that turnabout is fair play, and that's just what The Daily Meal did this week when it polled a group of chefs across the U.S. to see how those chefs rated some of the nation's most preeminent food critics.

Those 20 food critics were chosen by Arthur Bovino, executive editor of The Daily Meal, and editorial director Colman Andrews, who sat down and -- according to Bovino -- "developed a 'wish list' of chefs and restaurateurs who are among the most well-known and revered in the industry." Each of the 20 critics was rated by chefs on four metrics: culinary knowledge, prose style, integrity and likeability (the latter of which is arguably the least important measure of how good a food critic is at his or her job).

Two of Houston's own made the "wish list": Alison Cook -- longtime food critic at the Houston Chronicle -- and Robb Walsh, who was the former food critic here at the Houston Press and has lately been writing independently at RobbWalsh.com.

And while Walsh escaped relatively unscathed in the rankings, Cook was near the bottom of the pile: She came in at No. 18 out of 20, beating out the Orange County Register's Brad A. Johnson -- whose own website humbly suggests that he is the "best food critic in America and worldwide" -- and Tim Carman, food critic for The Washington Post and former managing editor here at the Houston Press.

At the very top of the list were Pete Wells of the New York Times at No. 3, Jeffrey Steingarten of Vogue at No. 2 and Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times at No. 1.

But exactly what methodology is behind these rankings? And which chefs are responsible for stating of Cook that she "is a critic with limited knowledge in a limited market and at a fading newspaper"?

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To Order Fish on Mondays or Not: How Valid Are the "Rules" of Ordering in Restaurants?

Categories: In the Trenches

Photo by Kevin Harber
There's no need to fear the daily specials.
You've heard the old adages about dining pitfalls to avoid:

Don't order fish on Mondays. (It's all left over from Friday's seafood shipment, goes the tale, and you don't want gross, slimy salmon.)

Don't eat the bread in the bread basket. (It's supposedly recycled from table to table, people say.)

Don't order the daily special. (It's just a way for the kitchen to use up old food that's on the verge of spoiling, they'll tell you.)

But in the modern era of chef-driven restaurants and places that emphasize fresh, local, seasonal ingredients above all things, are these old wives' tales just that? Or is there still a kernel of truth in the warnings?

"The beauty about food these days is constant availability," says David Luna, executive chef at Line & Lariat in the Hotel Icon. "Seafood is available and my sources have product coming to them or them going to the docks pretty regularly."

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