It’s no secret (at least to Houstonians) that Houston is becoming a destination city for culinary arts. When my parents first moved here in the late 50’s, good restaurants were opening, and have become Houston’s “Old Guard”, some of which still exist today. Even if they have closed, they passed along a legacy of first-rate food to their children, who have opened wonderful eateries here and beyond.
Most recently, I was able to enjoy a wonderful dinner with one of my favorite foodie friends, at Underbelly, which could only be described as AMAZING(!). The chef/owner Chris Shepherd emphasizes the use of local merchants and agricultural products. The menu is punctuated with seasonal produce, freshly caught local seafood, and grass-fed beef. To show his love for butchery, there is a window in the corner of the restaurant, which shows beef hanging and ready for butchering.
We were able to steal a few precious moments from the General Manager, Matthew Pridgen. Matthew grew up on a farm, but has spent quite a while in Houston, as part of well-known places as Mark’s and Catalan.
The restaurant is located in lower-Westheimer, near Montrose, in one of Houston’s original buildings, which has been wonderfully preserved and repurposed. Working with designers from Collaborative Projects, they were able to keep the building as close to the original as possible. As you enter, there is a gallery of photos taken by local artists. The style of the interiors is barn-like in scale, yet very cozy, with an open dining concept, so that guests may see the kitchen in action. In the center of the dining area are two very long communal tables, where diners can sit and visit more intimately with other diners.
We were able to sit at the communal table, flanked on both sides with groups of business men, making deals and talking shop. While the table is large and deep, I still felt a strong sense of intimacy with my dining partner. We were able to sample many dishes, between many courses.
In our typical style, we became acquainted with the waitress, and asked her to bring us many small courses to share, while keeping the courses secret, until presentation. We started with a dish of blood orange sausage, then had amazing roasted brussels sprouts (in fact, we had TWO portions they were so good). For our entree, we shared, what has been voted the #1 entree in Houston, which is the Korean braised goat with dumplings. Oh, it was heavenly. The meat was pulled and flavorful and the dumplings light, like gnocchi. The sauce was tomato-y, but also spicy. It was comfort in a dish! We ended with Beet Panna Cotta. Now, I would never think that beets should make their way into a dessert, but the flavor was rich, not too sweet, and a lovely color. Of course, we washed all of that down with some quality red.
I look forward to going back again and again, and sampling whatever the wait staff brings us. The atmosphere is warm and charming and a perfect place for old friends to dine, or to bring business associates. As part-owners of the bar, Anvil, you might also try some of their very interesting aperitifs before dinner.
In cibus speramus!