Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Randy Rucker at the Rainbow Lodge

Last week Randy Rucker started as the new head chef at Rainbow Lodge.

An ideal marriage

For years, I have called Randy Rucker my favorite chef in Houston. Randy knows who I am now, but I was calling him my favorite chef long before we ever met.

Randy's cooking has transformed from the chemistry-lab aesthetic of laidback manor to the home-grown pure flavors of his tenacity home dinners. His progression has been fascinating to watch.

Rainbow Lodge is a fantastic venue for Randy. It has a history of game and regional food, a large outside space for growing regional produce, and a large dining space for customers in various rooms and on an outdoor patio. It is a perfect vehicle for his creativity to reach a wider audience.

And Randy is a fantastic chef for Rainbow Lodge. The location is in a charming lodge, now located at Ella near TC Jester. It sits on top of a rolling landscape of beautiful gardens. Its patio is perhaps the prettiest in Houston.

In my last few visits to Rainbow Lodge, the food was uninspired. The kitchen served high-quality game and local seafood, but did not do much with it. I even spent the last New Year's Eve at the Lodge. The atmosphere was fun, the wine was fantastic, but the food was little better than banquet food.

Randy is going to change that.

Before the menu changes

Before you rush over to Rainbow Lodge, know that Randy has not had time to change the menu. The new menu may not be unveiled until the end of the year. And the old menu is a bit dull.

But if you call in advance, you might be able to line up a chef's tasting menu, especially if you go during off hours.

Last Friday, I arrived with a friend after the lunch hour. When Randy saw me, he grabbed the menu and asked me how many courses we wanted. The resulting five-course meal was an amazing impromptu tasting experience, comparable to Houston's very best restaurants. That was after Randy had been in the kitchen for only four days!

One highlight was a flounder crudo with radishes, apples, Meyer lemon zest, and fresh herbs. These clean flavors sums up Randy's recent cooking philosophy and points to the direction in which he will be taking the Lodge.

Another fantastic dish was a Randy Rucker classic -- sauteed compressed pork served with a deconstructed potato salad and barbecue sauce. (Pictured at top). This strikingly modern dish is loaded with smoke and local flavors that remind me of East Texas pot luck church dinners.
The pairing of Randy Rucker and Rainbow Lodge makes so much sense because both believe in high quality local ingredients and a regional, Gulf Coast-based cuisine.
I will have much more to say about Rainbow Lodge in 2009 after trying the new menu.


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Misha said...

I had no idea the Rucker kitchen was open for business and serving new dishes. Awesome.

Did he mention if they are really going to let him change the entire menu? Sounds very similar to the direction McCrady's went, but I am still having trouble the Lodge owners would be bold enough to let him do exactly what he wants.

Jim said...

I could not agree more with your comments about recent cooking at Rainbow Lodge. I visit often (most recently on election night), usually in conjunction with their wine events, and look forward to the changes Chef Rucker has in store.

anonymouseater said...

I have every reason to think that Rainbow Lodge is going to give him creative freedom. Still, it might be wise to leave a few old dishes. The Lodge has a lot of long-time followers.

I can't promise you can get any new dishes before the new menu arrives. But my guess is that if you call in advance, or if you arrive during off hours, Chef Rucker will hook you up with the good stuff.

carlos said...

You guys have a very good chef with you now...thats pretty much what i can say about R.Rucker. Chef Testino

Peggy said...

A) Glad to have your blogs, always useful
B) heading over tonight to sample the latest from Randy! Should be great based on your post.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked to hear this. I have watched the roller coaster career of rucker. thought he hit his mark with the tencity dinners and perfect forum for his cooking in houston. rainbow lodge will be a bumpy ride for the three parties(the owners, randy and us). a restaurant that size can't do that food and can't if the seats either. the menu will be split between two styles. good luck

Melli0 said...

How long are you going to ignore Au Petit Paris? The most authentic and consistent French food in this foodforsaken city?