By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
The drama is subtle but unmistakable. Thick wood beams branch through the ceilings. Wide ducts bulge underneath, like bodybuilder veins. Drilled through the wood beams are black bars that hold lighting boxes. The overhead lighting web looks like it was pulled from a stage or a television studio. Lights are positioned above each table, illuminating the surface without spilling illumination off the edges. Light is tightly contained. The restaurant feels dark, yet menu reading and food scrutiny is easy, creating the sensuousness of subdued lighting without its inherent dining annoyances. Is such balance really that hard to strike? Must be, because precious few restaurants seem to grasp it.
The lighting allows you to appreciate the pork chop and its bizarre dimensions. It's as massive as a thick slice of layer cake. It's juicy and pink, if a little spongy. It glistens with a sauce that is slightly sweet; notes that are picked up in the couscous spooned nearby, studded with golden raisins and currants among flecks of parsley.
Menu listings are droll and mundane: traditional salad, seasonal vegetable plate, famous French dip au jus and cheeseburger. Out of nowhere pops this: evil jungle Thai noodle steak salad. Corporate culture rarely flirts with evil, so let's explore. It's a lush mélange heightened with mint and a pungent sauce kicked with spice heat. Around this flavor core are cabbage shreds, carrot, small wedges of avocado, slices of juicy marinated beef, cooked tomatoes, peanuts and pieces of stringy mango.
"Today's fresh fish" is a red snapper fillet blanketed with a crab lemon-butter sauce. The sauce is thick. The crab is lumped generously over the snapper span. The fish is moist and flaky but seems overwhelmed by the sauce. Pull it back a little to let the natural fish juices and textures have their say, as well as the crab humps.
Houston's recipes may be closely held secrets, but that doesn't mean there aren't people out there working on knockoffs. One Web site says this: "Houston's Restaurants make the best apple walnut cobbler ever. Here is a copycat's version of Houston's recipe."
The formula calls for a 20-ounce can of sliced apples. It's doubtful Houston's uses a 20-ounce can of apples, not so much because they probably shun cans, but because it's hard to find any apple (or cobbler cake) in this heap of walnuts. Yet it's a rich delicious mix nonetheless with a heady sauce that makes it more of a chunky nut soup than a cobbler.
The Park Cities Houston's is a cog in a Phoenix-based, 47-unit chain. And it's a well-oiled machine that never lets its gears show. 8300 Preston Road, 214-691-8991, Open 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday; 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$