Why do a new list?
I posted top 10 lists back in 2006 and 2005.
It is time for a new list for several reasons. First, since 2006, two of my favorites (Noe and Bistro Moderne) closed. Second, some great new restaurants have opened. Third, I need two lists -- an upscale restaurant list and a cheap eats list. I will post my favorite cheap eats soon.
So here is my current, utterly subjective list of my top 10 upscale restaurants in Houston:
1. Indika. My favorite restaurant is the one that blows my mind. On my last two visits, Indika has been better than ever. No other Houston restaurant currently offers the the exotic combination of ingredients and flavors that blow my mind like Indika does. Indika also has one of the best small, low-priced wine lists in town. Discussed more here.
2. Da Marco combines the best quality ingredients in town with both creative and traditional Italian preparations. Best Italian wine list in Houston, but be prepared to pay out the nose for a bottle. Discussed more here.
3. Le Mistral never waivers in its position near the top of my list. The combination of Chef Denis' creative southern French cuisine with a great French wine list and family-like service makes this wonderful restaurant consistently worth the drive to far west Houston.
4. Ristorante Cavour. Chef Denis designed this menu too. But this one is Italian. How can a French chef come up with Italian food that rivals Da Marco? And how can everyone fail to notice, even though the restaurant is in Uptown Park? Discussed more here.
5. Backstreet Cafe is my wife's favorite Houston restaurant and often near the top of my list. For about 20 years, it has featureed some of Houston's best upscale comfort food, plus one of Houston's most well-considered wine lists, in a charming, casual setting. Desserts are amazing. One dish is discussed here.
6. Reef has so much promise. Inventive, multi-cultured seafood dishes. Amazingly inexpensive and deep international wine list. Hip atmosphere. I worry whether the menu will continue to show innovation and whether service is already suffering because of success. Discussed more here.
7. Catalan has a great philosophy - let the chef's continually play with the recipes and ingredients. And let the wine guy provide one of Houston's deepest international wine lists at near-retail prices. If I had to work in one kitchen in Houston, it would be Catalan. The only problem is that dishes are occasionally uneven -- which may be part of the fun. Discussed more here.
8. Feast. Is Feast too young to show up on this list? Perhaps. But in just a month, the kitchen has demonstrated that it can experiment with ingredients and preparations from Old Europe, and excite most of Houston's foodies. Feast's dishes are unlike anything else in Houston. Is it anti-modernism or post-modernism? Who cares -- it's good stuff, even if a bit on the heavy side. Discussed more here.
9. Soma. Has Soma officially emerged from its extended "soft opening" period? Its first several months have been a rough ride. Already, the pastry chef - one of Houston's best - has left. The pairing of fairly ordinary sushi-bar fare from Azuma with Chef Gatsby's strange creations is incoherent. Service is inconsistent, and the pre-party crowds on weekends are annoying. Yet my 5 meals at Soma have been jaw-dropping, primarily because of Chef Gatsby's restless creativity and his brilliant combinations of ingredients. Discussed more here and here.
10. Bluefin. My family eats Japanese food once a week, and Bluefin is in a dead heat with Kubo's for our favorite. Kubo's bi-monthly specials showcase its continuing innovation. But Bluefin gets a slight edge because of the fish quality and the artistry of the sashimi presentation. Also, Bluefin's dining room may have the most spectacular design in Houston. Discussed more here. (Update July 17, 2008: Blue Fin has closed)
My next 13 favorites
Dolce Vita Pizzerea Enotecca
How can you do a top 10 list in Houston without Mexican food? Or a steak house? Or Vietnamese? How can you not list Tony's? Or Cafe Annie?
If you have criticisms -- or your own list -- let me know. The best part of a top 10 list is not the list itself, but the discussion it creates.