Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Shade - I eat my words and enjoy the flavors

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Shade based on several recent lunches. I suggested that it may be one of the best restaurants in the Houston Heights, but not one of the most innovative restaurants in Houston. After I made that post, I returned on a Saturday night.

I am going to have to eat my words.

At night, Shade's dishes are very innovative. And the quality rivals some of Houston's best restaurants. The menu sounds good, but the food tastes even better. Here are some examples:

Soups. Shade always serves three interesting soups. On my recent visit, one was good and two were outstanding. The posole was spicy, but a little light on hominy and salt and a little heavy on cumin. (My favorite posole in Houston, at Farrago, is the perfect balance). A cabbage and bacon soup sounded dull, but the flavors were vivid and bright. The combination of flavors was surprisingly interesting. A sweet potato-apple soup soup defied my expectations. Often this sort of root vegetable soup is served in the fall. But this soup tasted like summer -with flavors that were bright and crisp and clean. It was one of the best root vegetable soups I have had in any season.

Fried shrimp with bacon cheese grits. I ordered this for my seven-year-old daughter because it did not sound too wierd. It too was far more better than I expected. The large shrimp tasted fresher than any shrimp I have had this year. The batter (panko?) was perfectly crispy. And the grits were creamy and full of flavor. Everyone at the table loved the grits, even my daughter.

Grilled king salmon was served with mozzarella, micro arugula, a chipolte corn coulis, and small, correctly ugly heirloom tomatoes. King salmon is wild, rare, and available only seasonally. It is the best salmon for grilling because it is thick and has lots of oil. This fish was very good, but I particularly enjoyed the coulis and the flavorful tomatoes. Although I have never thought to pair salmon with tomatoes, wild salmon and real tomatoes are two of the best arguments a foodie can make for summer.

A flourless chocolate cake with pistachio gelato was good, although the cake was slightly overcooked. But my daughter's trio of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla pots de creme was fantastic.

The wine list is smart and reasonably priced. It includes many small production, food friendly wines. I was delighted by the number of unusual varietals, such as gruner veltliner, chenin blanc, and verdejo. Most wines were $30 - $60.

Shade stands out among Houston restaurants for its simple, vivid flavors. It stands out for its synthesis of local food with international cuisine. And it particularly stands out for the ratio of quality and innovation to value. I would expect wild king salmon to cost $30 - $35 at most Houston restaurants. At Shade, it is under $20 -- and better than any salmon dish I have had this summer.

Shade is even better at night than at lunch. It's not just a good restaurant to visit when you are in the Heights. The outstanding cuisine by chefs Claire Smith and Jeb Stuart is worth driving across town for.

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