Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hurricane Ike: a strange week for food in Houston

4 leaks. 1 broken window. 1 refrigerator full of spoiled food. 5 days without power.

And my only internet access is at my temporary law office in the food court at Memorial City.

It's been a strange week for food.

"FEMA send beer" - a week of cooking out on the street

There is nothing like a neighborhood barbecue - especially when nothing in your kitchen works.

I had no idea that former sportscaster Bob Boudreaux lives on my block. But the night after Ike, he put up a cardboard sign, pointed upward, that read, "FEMA send beer." And he fired up the grill. I had to meet this guy.

So I brought two magnums of Sonoma cult wines as an offering. Of course, Bob was drinking beer. But he was happy to share his thawing freezer full of grilled venison and pork chops with the neighbors.

We stuffed ourselves on grilled meats, wine, and beer. And I got to know a lot of neighbors.

The following nights, we scored other food to grill. A friend fled town, leaving her barely frozen wild salmon. After a few days, Kroger started selling frozen tuna, and then offered a great deal on rib eyes ($9.99 a pound). Nightly we had cocktail hour with neighbors and then went home to grill.

A hurricane is a community-building exercise.

Anniversary dinner at Mockingbird Bistro

Last night, my wife and I went out for the first time. It was our anniversary. Many restaurants were closed, but some were open. We found ourselves at Mockingbird Bistro.

It is just not fair to review a restaurant when you have been eating hand-to-mouth for a week. Last night, Mockingbird was fantastic. They had a full menu. Every ingredient was fresh.

Mockingbird's beef tartar is a delightfully retro dish topped with a raw quail egg and served with toast and olive tapenade. A nicely seared filet of king salmon was served with a twice baked potato, brocolini, and a beef reduction sauce. A flourless chocolate cake was delicious.

Others fared worse

Before the power went out, I heard the tragic news about Brennan's. It was at Brennan's that I learned to love turtle soup, pecan-crusted fish, and bananas Foster.

I never wrote much about Brennan's. Perhaps I took it for granted. Now, I miss it terribly.

Yes, Brennan's was retro, still serving food two or three generations behind the times. But most dishes were good, and some were fantastic. The only good news is that most of the wine cellar was saved because the restaurant had iced it down with dry ice before the storm, which became a fire.

On Monday, I traveled east to rescue my elderly uncle from Sour Lake, Texas. I drove by Baytown and Nome and a lot of small towns on the coast between Houston and Beaumont.

I saw a house blown onto the middle of a service road. I saw mobile homes flipped over. I saw power lines scattered in fields like matchsticks. I saw large homes crushed by trees or wind. I saw a damaged world with few traces of civilization. I was reminded of Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

I saw misery that utterly dwarfs a broken window, some leaks, and a week of camping out with the neighbors.


neverfull said...

glad to hear you and your family are okay. the chowhounds miss you! try to meet us at himalaya for lunch tomorrow at noon. we'd love to have you. bring julia too. naan is the best comfort food!

neverfull said...

oh and more importantly, brennans will be reincarnating. we will have to be patient and wait for our turtle soup and bananas foster, but boy will it be good when they are back!

also, the tasting room uptown is hosting a benefit this saturday from noon to curfew to help those employees and family members severely injured in the brennan's fire. there will be other benefits to follow by catalan and del frisco's too.

Anonymous said...

We did the same with our condo neighbors. A gas-powered lantern served as our campfire as we all sat on lawn chairs in a circle around it. This, after grilling meats that were thawing. We had tenderloins, strip steaks, venison sausage, grilled pizzas, salmon patties. :)

This went on for three nights. The fourth night, our power returned.

And I finally learned quite a few names.


Jacey said...

It was an awfully weird week. I, too, grilled regularly during Ike. I craved salad when it was all over, but enjoyed every bite of chicken, sausage and rare vegetable my neighbors or I could scrounge up.
It is still eerie to drive around parts of the city, and it probably will be that way for quite some time.

anonymouseater said...

I did not realize that several people were burned badly in the Brennan's fire. That is far more of a tragedy than just the loss of a restaurant.

This hurricane has helped almost everyone in this city get a little more perspective about what is important.

It is important to get the word out about these benefits.

neverfull said...

yes, a real tragedy indeed. brennan's som and daughter were critically burned, and carl walker the GM and ex-executive chef was severely burned.

the benefit at TTR on saturday will benefit the red cross. my bad.

but catalan will be offering a $65 tasting menu starting tonight of which $10 will be donated to the fund for brennan's sommelier james and his daughter katherine.

"4-course homage to the beloved local institution will feature crab and corn bisque; Gulf shrimp remoulade; blackened redfish over St. Arnold's local shrimp boil with "all the goods"; and New Orleans style bread pudding topped with whiskey sauce." see alison cook's blog today.

i'm looking forward to seeing how the houston chowhounds can raise some money for this fund. time to put our thinking caps on.

good lunch today, huh?

Anonymous said...

Good to read a dispatch from you, buddy! Sounds like I missed a good lunch at Himalaya yesterday; wish that work was a bit easier this week or I could've gotten away. If you're still in the food court next week, lemme know. I work about five steps away and I'll treat you to Taco Bell. ;)

anonymouseater said...

Hi sheeats: Today I moved from Memorial City Mall to a real office -- loaned to me by a friend. But there is a chance I may be back at the food court next week.

neverfull: Thanks again for organizing lunch. That was fun. These days, I am enjoying just about anything that isn't canned or grilled.