"Houston Heights' dry ordinance, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in large portions of the community, was passed on September 25, 1912. This ordinance remains in force today."
-Houston Heights Association
It is hard to open an upscale restaurant in the Houston Heights and make a profit because, in most of the Heights, you cannot serve alcohol.
The two best upscale restaurants in the Heights are restaurants that found a way to get around the ordinance: Shade and The Glass Wall. In fact, they may be the only upscale restaurants in the Heights. Shade began as a BYOB restaurant, but now sells wine after you get a free private club membership. The Glass Wall, however, must be in one of the "wet" parts of the Heights; it managed to open its doors with a full bar.
The two restaurants beg for comparisons. The decor at both restaurants is hip and modern. Shade is slightly more casual; Glass Wall slightly more elegant. Both restaurants are conspicuously un-Heights like: no antiques; contemporary food. And there seems to be a suspicious overlap among their wait staff -- I have seen some of the same waiters at both restaurants within the same week.
Although I ate dinner at Shade when it opened, my most recent meals have been lunches. The food -- contemporary American cuisine with international influences -- is rarely fantastic, but is always very good. A typical dish at lunch is the Mediterranean Plate. It comes with a selection of Mediterranean comfort food -- pita, hummus, and orzo pasta with cherries and tomatoes. None of these items are revelations, but they make a good lunch. Similarly, the Curried Tuna Salad Sandwich is a lot like the same dish I make at home -- tuna with mayo, curry, grapes, and toasted almonds. It is not all that original, but it is a heck of a lot better than the eggy tuna melt at Yale Street Grill. (See my June 30, 2006 post). This tuna sandwich costs about $3 more than Yale Street Grill, but it includes a small soup and plantains. The best part of Shade's menu may be the frequently changing soups. The last soup I had was a Thai Red Curry Soup with Pork. Sure, I have had spicier and more authentic Thai Curry, but this soup was a nice and unexpected accent to my tuna sandwich.
Lance Fegen, formerly of Zula, recently opened The Glass Wall on Studewood. The food is contemporary American cuisine, which is very similar to Zula, except the portions are smaller and the focus seems to be on fewer ingredients. Like Zula, on my first visit, no dish was a revelation, but each dish was very good. I had a quail appetizer and a pork chop entree. The ingredients were all high quality, but I missed the smoky grill flavor that I find in some of my favorite grilled quail and pork dishes around Houston: the grilled quail at Goode Company Mexican Food and El Tiempo, and the grilled porkchop at Houston's. On the other hand, a roasted beet salad was fantastic because of the many different colored miniature beets, which carmelized in the roasting process. The beets were served with a simple, but tasty, mint yogurt. The dessert -- a small chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate center -- was the best part of the meal.
For a new restaurant, The Glass Wall began with an amazingly good wine list. Even better, the menu suggests wine pairings with each dish and offers that pairing by the glass. Absolutely brilliant! Why don't more Houston restaurants suggest by-the-glass pairings? Not only do they suggest pairings, but they suggest pairings that are interesting and unusual. For instance, the pork chop was paired, not with a zinfandel or a pinot noir, but with a pinot blanc.
Shade and The Glass Wall may not offer the most innovative cuisine in Houston. But they are welcome additions to the Heights -- and some of the few places in the neighborhood where you can get some good wine.