On some of my favorite evenings, I set out for a quiet dinner and somehow get caught up in a fabulous party. It happened yesterday. I took my wife, my 8-year-old daughter, and 73-year-old mother out for dinner of Hugo's, and we ended up in the middle of the Gay Pride Parade.
As we drove to Hugo's, we noticed the police had barricaded Westheimer. I suggested, "maybe it's an art festival." My wife responded, "maybe a criminal on the loose."
When we arrived, Hugo's was packed. Mayor White was just leaving. The bar was noisy, crowded and extremely festive. Despite our reservation, we had to wait 20 minutes for our table.
Then the parade began. Hugo's opened its front doors along Westheimer and the restaurant seemed to become part of the sidewalk. As the music began pumping outside, my daughter exclaimed with glee, "a parade! a parade!" "Daddy, can I go watch?"
I took my daughter to the sidewalk. Gay merrymakers began handing her beads. She pointed to a colorful float with flashing lights and a big sign for "South Beach." On it were six or seven hunky men with six-pack abs and chiseled chests, wearing nothing but BVDs -- about 2 sizes too small. There was a rainbow float for Berring Methodist Church, another for Christ Church Cathedral, floats for various AIDS outreach groups, and even a gay float for Shell Oil.
Of course, a number of the floats showcased princesses and queens. My daughter -- raised on Disney movies -- thought they were great.
My daughter makes friends quickly, and a group of nice men agreed to watch her while we ate. At one point, she drug in her music teacher, whom she had found on the street. He was having a great time playing drums in the parade, although, he insisted, he is "straight as an arrow."
The real treat was all the beads and glow lights and beach balls and tee-shirts that everyone seemed to want to give to my daughter. Although it was a parade, she was the only child in sight, and all the passerbys decided that she needed their trinkets. At the end of the evening, our little Gay Pride Queen looked like this:
Hugo's did admirably well, despite the enormous, drunken crowd. Yes, they ran out of white wine glasses and served our white wine in pinot noir glasses. Yes, a drunken reveler knocked over our wine bucket and wine bottle. Yes, the kitchen forgot about one item we ordered, and brought the wrong dish in place of another. But, as usual, the food was incredible.
We started with an appetizer of squash blossoms gently fried and stuffed with goat cheese. At this time of year, Hugo's has a whole series of squash blossom dishes. If you have never had a squash blossom, I recommend that you try them soon at Hugo's before the season ends. They are beautiful, large yellow flowers. They taste great with goat cheese.
I had a Taquito de Longosta -- a small lobster taco. The dish consisted of a corn tortilla with grilled lobster and some mild pico de gallo -- appropriately simple so that the taste of the lobster stands out.
As an entree, I had Callo de Acha -- pan seared scallops over sweet corn bread with a chili pepper cream sauce. We all enjoyed the combination of the sweet corn flavor with the mild spiciness of the chilies and the sweetness of the scallops.
As usual, we appreciated Hugo's wine list. With lots of Alsatian whites and low-tannic reds, it is the perfect list to match the mild heat of the kitchen's creative, interior Mexican food.
The end of a fabulous evening
My daughter exclaimed as we left, "I had the time of my life." My mother, a Houston resident for over forty years, was thrilled to finally get to see the Gay Pride Parade. And my wife and I became intoxicated with the spirt of the party, some great wine, and the excellent food.
As we walked out of the restaurant, it struck me how much I love this city. Yes, Houston is hot, humid, sprawling, and ugly. But it has character. And characters. To experience that, sometimes you just have to go out.