Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fearless Critic's Houston Restaurant Guide

Why Houston needed a restaurant guide

For years, there has been no comprehensive guide to Houston's restaurants. Houston has a lot of restaurants, yet there has been no one place to go to find out where to eat.

Other sources of reviews are not sufficiently reliable or comprehensive to act as a one-stop source of reviews. The capsules in the Chronicle, Houston Press, and Texas Monthly are helpful, but too short, and too few restaurants are reviewed. Our outstanding food critics (Robb Walsh & Alison Cook) and amateur bloggers (like Epicurus and me) can only write detailed reviews for a handful of restaurants at a time. And the more populist dining guides, like Zagat and b4-u-eat, are only as informed as the people who decide to voice their opinion -- and often they are not very informed.

In short, Houston desperately needed a smart, cuisine-conscious collection of thorough reviews about a broad range of restaurants.

It's here

Today I received a copy of the Fearless Critic's Houston Restaurant Guide. This big volume contains detailed one-page reviews of over 400 Houston restaurants. I am impressed with the intelligence and candor of the reviews, the scope of coverage, and the judgment of the reviewers. Houston finally has the restaurant guide it deserves.

Good concept, good reviewers

The FCHRG's format is user friendly. Every restaurant gets a witty one sentence caption such as: "Good-hearted Greek food in a gaudy room that ranges from raucous to strangely lonely" (Alexander the Great Greek); and "Vegas decor, and haphazard pan-world food that's even worse than a sleazy casino" (Zula). Then, the restaurant gets a thorough review, with informed details. I like the fact that restaurants are listed alphabetically, but also indexed by cuisine style, location, top 100, and other categories.

This guide also succeeds because it is the work of six informed reviewers, all with chef and/or guidebook writing credentials. They write well. The reviews are entertaining.

Should I even continue this blog?

The FCHRG is now the single best resource for finding a great place to eat in Houston. My immediate reaction was that the FCHRG might make this blog obsolete. What else can Epicurus and I add?

A few things. First, I can disagree. And sometimes I do. The FCHRG gives some dismal grades to a few restaurants that I enjoy:

Bistro Le Cep (C) (deserves a B+)
Goode Co. Barbeque (C-) (deserves a B)
Kanomwan (C+) (deserves a B)
Lankford Grocery (C+) (deserves a B)
Oceanaire (D) (deserves a B)

It gives some mediocre grades to some of my favorite restaurants, (each of which deserves at least an A-):

Benjy's (B)
Backstreet Cafe (B+)
Kubo (B-)
Mark's (B-)

And it gives some grades that are just too high:

Tony's (A) (deserves at best a B+ for overpriced, uncreative food)
Doneraki (A) (utterly average Mexican food, deserving no more than B-)
Luling City Market (A-) (some of the driest, worst barbecue in town, a D)

Fortunately, though, most of FCHRG's rankings are about right.

Second, the FCHRG misses some great restaurants. With over 400 reviews, it covers a lot of ground, including almost every good upscale restaurant in town. Yet with one page per restaurant, it is impossible to cover everything. It skips many of my hidden favorites, especially on the cheaper side: La Sani, Mary'z, Oporto, Candelari's Pizza, Droubi Bros. (on Hilcroft), Mint Cafe, La Jaliescience, Merida, Blue Fin, Rattan, Alfreda's Cafeteria, Cafe Mezza, and William's Smokehouse. On the other hand, it includes many out of the way places that I have never tried.

Despite these quibbles, I highly recommend the FCHRG, the best guide I have ever seen to Houston's most visible restaurants - and some that are not so visible.

8 comments:

K said...

You won't be rendered obsolete by a book, as good as it may be. The internet is the medium of choice for information now, so don't fret. We'll still turn to you for recs. :)

-K (she eats.)

jyu said...

As one of the writers in the book, I can say I use you to find new restaurants too. So it's more of a hand-in-hand thing.

Again, it's likely (and probably healthier) to disagree at least some times, but I urge you to try out Luling City Market again. Maybe it's the style of the bbq you don't agree with? Which is why you would enjoy goode co more than luling. Just as I disagree with your high praise of Rattan. I found it to be pretty normal and without that punchy flavor you look for in that type of cooking. Not quite worth the drive out there.

Keep on putting restaurants out there for us to try. There's been a billion more popping up since we stopped writing. (reading your last entry, I realized I forgot to write about daniel wong's... and I had droubi's on my list. not sure how I missed it.)

Keep up the good work.

anonymouseater said...

Thanks for the comments.

About barbecue: I tried Luling twice several years ago. I found the meat dry and not very flavorful. (I have the same reaction to Demeris, which ranks high in the book). BBQ expert Robb Walsh reviewed it in 05, and he found the meat inedible. But I will try it again.

Goode is not my favorite, but is the best for some niche items: smoked turkey breast, smoked duck, German-style sausages, Austin baked beans. The brisket and ribs are forgettable.

For hardcore barbecue, my favorites are Thelma's (brisket), Williams Smokehouse (pork ribs), and Pappas Bros. (beef ribs that are too sweet for many). All three restaurants have a mostly African American crowd, so perhaps I just prefer a more African-American style of barbecue. To me, Luling and Demeris typify the style popular in white Southern culture. And although I am (on the surface at least) a white Southerner, that just isn't my thing.

Robin said...

As another author, I thank you for the kind words and promise (like jyu) that your blog is anything but obsolete. I, for one, rely on your sage recommendations, especially of great out-of-the-way places, and I also value all your feedback on the ratings. I'll take that as a preliminary list of places to re-taste for the next edition. In the meantime, keep up the fantastic blogging!

Anonymous said...

Do any of the authors of the book live in Houston? If so, how long have they lived here?

jyu said...

yes, all except Robin do.

I can't speak for everyone but I've lived here my entire life.

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