Where are this year's new upscale restaurants? Now is the time to open a high-end restaurant because winter is when they profit more from selling expensive red wines. Usually four or five new fine dining restaurants have opened by January, but not this year. I count only two -- the Oceanaire Seafood Room (see my last post) and The Lodge at Bayou Bend.
I want to try The Lodge at Bayou Bend, but I have a serious problem with the name. It opened in the location of the old Rainbow Lodge -- a venerable Houston dining institution. I heard that the landlords refused to renew the Rainbow Lodge's lease after 29 years. That's business. But it seems presumptious and confusing to open a new restaurant in the same location using the unique word "Lodge" in the name. I bet a lot of people go there thinking it is the old Rainbow Lodge.
But it isn't. The real Rainbow Lodge has opened in a new location -- a real log cabin on Ella near TC Jester. The log cabin is great. Sure, it doesn't have the great view of the old building, but it really feels like a "lodge."
When it comes to food, the reason to go to Rainbow Lodge is wild game. Although the preparations are conservative, the chef does innovate enough to make interesting. And the results are excellent. A ceasar salad was classic. It had the tang of a real ceasar dressing with eggs and anchovies. Even better was a bitter arugula salad with parmigiano reggiano cheese, olive oil, and a lot of lemon. I also tried the Taste of the Wild game sampler, which came with some very nice game sausage and other grilled game. My entree was peppercorn crusted fillet of venison tenderloin with rosemary polenta, roasted figs, and shallots. The dish had an interesting purple garnish and a subtle sweet reduction sauce that paired well with the venison. It was a modern twist on a classic game dish.
The other reason to go to Rainbow Lodge is wine. Over 30 years, they have built up some great allocations from top-notch wineries. The list is not huge, but it is high quality, selective, and includes some rare cult wines: Turley zins and petite syrahs, great Australian shirazes like Shirvington and Torbreck's The Factor, amd cult California cabernets such as Paul Hobbs and Shafer's Hillside.
As you might guess, Rainbow Lodge is not cheap. Their website disclaims: "An average cost for dinner, including wine is approximately $120 per couple." They must need that sort of statement when they open the only fine dining restaurant in Near Northwest Houston -- a part of town known for cheap middle class food. (See my August 15, 2006 post.)
You shouldn't go to Rainbow Lodge expecting the most creative new cuisine in Houston. But you should expect the best game in the city, one of the best lists of hard-to-find wines, and one of the most romantic settings. It remains the only restaurant in town that truly deserves to be called the "Lodge."