Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bedford - Robert Gadsby's new restaurant

Chowhounds at Bedford

Bedford is a new restaurant in the Houston Heights. I shared a 7-course meal there with 24 Chowhounds on Monday night. We had the restaurant to ourselves. Although no one knew we were Chowhounds or bloggers, we were given special attention.

These are my initial impressions.

It's the chef

Although Bedford has a beautifully ornate bar, and an attractive chef's table, the dining room feels cavernous, cold, disjointed and incoherent. I spent a long time staring at the walls, ceilings, and fixtures just trying to figure out the design concept. I never did.

The service and wine list are not great just yet. Servers wear uniforms that look like gas station attendants. Although they were trying hard, it does not flow well, yet.

The wine list is standard. It is hard to for a restaurant to get a deep list with interesting wines when it opens. But the wine guy was very insightful in pairing wines with Gadsby's complex dishes.

Despite all that, Bedford has the potential to be one of Houston's best restaurants for one reason -- Robert Gadsby.

The arc of Gadsby's short career in Houston

Gadsby moved here from L.A. and blew us away with his innovation and distinctiveness.

At Noe in the Omni Hotel, his signature style was maximalism -- the combining of as many as 20 or 30 disparate ingredients in a dish. His style was an ecclectic blend of Asian and European cuisine. For many Houstonians, Noe's location in the Omni Hotel was too hidden. And it was perhaps too elegant and expensive for Houston.

At Soma, Gadsby employed a similar style in a more causal, less expensive location. Some dishes continued his maximalism, especially salads. Yet other dishes, particularly the Japanese-influenced dishes, were simpler. The problem was that Soma was operated by the owners of Azuma, who ran the restaurant and the sushi bar. Gadsby's contribution was brilliant. In other respects, Soma was just a sushi restaurant, with a noisy nightclub crowd.

This one meal at Bedford reflected elegance and restraint. The Asian influence is still there, but muted. His style shows some experimentation, but more tradition. Bedford is not as exciting as Noe and Soma when they opened. Yet this new phase of Gadsby's cooking may taste even better.

The seven courses

An amuse bouche was a Thai-inspired mushroom risotto with pomegranate. This bit of rice was served in the tiniest skillet, about two inches wide. The mixture of pomegranate, mushroom, and some hot spice was intriguing. But a layer of flour tortilla on the bottom was just odd.

Tuna tartare was topped with an avocado fondue, a quail egg, sesame seeds, and cauliflower foam. I think I tasted wasabi too. Raw tuna is everywhere now. Yet the combination here was unique.

Perhaps the most unusual dish of the night was a hot pot soup served in a tea pot. We were instructed to first drink the broth, which had an intense, tangy, complex flavor. Rarely have I been so excited about broth. Inside the pot were nicely cooked bits of tofu, sea bass, scallop, and hazelnut.
As an alternate, some of us recived a gingery butternut squash cappucino. The high quantity of ginger made this normally bland soup spicy hot.
Perhaps the best dish was foie gras served with bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, and a dash of truffle oil. The eggs were scrambled French style -- constantly stirred while cooking over low heat. Because it takes a lot of effort, few American restaurants use that technique. Sure, the foie gras was great. But it was the finely textured eggs that pushed this dish over the top.

A "Shanghai style" duck ravioli was topped with firsee, vegetables, and a bechamel made with duck fat. It was a small bite of Gadsby's old signature maximalism.

In tasting meals with wine pairings, I begin to lose focus after four or five courses. Gadsby served some sausage rigatoni with the best Italian sausage in Houston -- even better than Candelari's. And dessert included carmelized pear and chocolate "sticky loaf" with Bailey's sauce, a chocolate pistachi nut cookie, and an orange chcolate truffle.

A caveat: I have heard, but cannot confirm, about service issues at Bedford on weekends. For now, go on a weeknight. And don't expect Tony's-like service anytime soon.

Never Eat Alone

A final note: The Chowhound group reminded me of the value of dinner conversation. I sat with seven other delightful people who I barely knew. Our only connection was a love of food. Yet our conversation took unusual turns, ranging from profound to silly but always fun.

A friend wants me to read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazi. Ferrazi talks about dinner parties as a way to experience a "fast and meaningful" slice of intimacy. You don't have to know your companions to achieve that slice of intimacy. There is something about great food, and wine, and folks who enjoy it that makes it possible.


Jim said...

Great article! This restaurant definitely has promise and I'm looking forward to trying it. I believe the chef's name is spelled "Gadsby" :)

anonymouseater said...

Thanks Jim.

A friend e-mailed me the typo, and I fixed it just before I saw your comment.

I blame F. Scott Fitgerald.

Anonymous said...

The most amazing food I have ever had!! Robert Gadsby is amazing

Ruthie J. said...

Wonderful write-up mirroring a wonderful evening! Hope to see you again soon.

P.S. I liked the tortilla under the risotto. So there.

Rubiao said...

Funny coincidence, I ate there last night, though just a normal meal, no special treatment. I thought the decor and atmosphere were fine and the food was very good. Hopefully the menu will be tweaked and improved over the next couple months and the place will thrive.

Fresh oysters: It turned out to be two stacks of tuna tartar below an avocado wasabi fondue, sesame seeds on top and a raw oyster on top of each one, all stacked up. The portion was enormous and the dish was insanely spicy, but absolutely delicious.

Some other appetizers were a very Thai-tasting Butternut Squash Soup and another very spicy Papaya salad with a hint of smoked peppers, both very generous portions and well put together.

As it was SNOWING, our choices leaned toward the wintry dishes. I had the short ribs with root vegetables, another fairly large portion and another very tasty dish. The lamb osso bucco was definitely the winner, one of the most delicious pieces of lamb I've ever tried, though both dishes suffered from being brought out less than lukewarm.

I thought the rigatoni with goat cheese and sausage had a very strange taste that seemed to get worse the more you ate and while the lobster cobb salad sounded good, the lobster was battered and fried, which felt wasteful and tasted boring.

The desserts we tried were actually bad, a pumpkin smore and a banana something.

We were served great food in what I thought to be a great atmosphere, looking out the giant windows at SNOW actually piling up on the houses across the street. If the braised dishes would have been served piping hot it would have blown me away.

Negatives: The bread/oil before the meal was boring and uninspired (WHY!?) and the desserts were bad. You definitely don't want to dig yourself a hole, work your way out of it, and then leave on a bad note. Hard to imagine a dessert menu where none of the items even sound appealing. Most people at the table didn't even bother.

Positives: Most dishes were delicious and clever. Big portions and reasonable prices. And I liked the space.

That foie gras course, definitely not on the menu sounds amazing as does the hot pot soup. A tasting menu seems to be the way to go here, unless some of those dishes make their way onto the regular menu, which doesn't even mention the tasting menu.

anankae said...

It certainly was engaging sitting next to you!

Victoria said...

Thanks for being a great dinner buddy! As we discussed, I wholeheartedly agree with your observations on decor and service. (Although the bar has a very nice atmosphere.) Despite those problems, I will definitely return for any dish with that italian sausage in it.

anonymouseater said...

Rubiao: Thanks for your detailed comments. My view on the space may change. When I went, the restaurant had few guests apart from our group. It was raining, not snowing. And the restaurant rearranged the tables to put us together, which left a large gap in the middle of the dining room. I expect the space feels better when it is full of people.

Unlike you, every dish I tried was outstanding -- even the dessert.

Victoria, anankae, and Ruthie: I truly enjoyed our conversation. After our dinner, I was inspired to start planning a number of dinner parties -- something I have never done much. Thanks for sharing the evening.

jodycakes said...

hey there!
Sorry I haven't had a chance to shoot over the wines yet...busy, busy with the holidays!!
I just found your blog - guess I didn't write the addy down when we spoke at Bedford!

Hope you are well - great post!!!
see you soon

Anonymous said...

I recall a wonderful dish at Noe a few years ago that involved a minitature skillet. It was foie gras served three ways, past, modern and future. The "past" was a perfectly seared piece of foie gras with eggs. The future involved white chocolate. It has been a long time and I do not remember all the details but remember being very taken with all the flavors and the presentation.

bill large said...

This guy is totally overrated. Houston does not yet have a world class chef or restaurant, in genral

Courtney said...

For my birthday dinner, my husband thought I would enjoy this new and up-in-coming restaurant. He was VERY wrong in deed. The one pleasant aspect of my dining experience last night was that the decor (especially in the restrooms) was very modern and refreshing for the Heights. I ordered the trio sampler and chose the wild mushroom risotto, boneless short ribs, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate desert. Much to my dismay, the risotto was so undercooked it was actually crunchy. While the interesting mix of flavors could have been unique, the chef obviously cannot cook risotto so his creativity was lost due to his lack of basic culinary skill. I would have gladly sent back my risotto and given the chef a second chance; however, our waiter never bothered to inquire as to my satisfaction. I even gave an uneaten dish back to the busboy and told him I did not care for my dish. He never bothered to inform the waiter of my dissatisfaction.

My meal could have been redeemed if my second and third courses had been the slightest bit edible. My short ribs were very over cooked and dry. I have made better myself in a crock pot. Once again, our waiter never bothered to ask if we were enjoying our meal. He barely had the chance to see if we had eaten any of our food as the busboy whisked away half eaten plates one by one as soon as our forks were set down. I find it quite rude when the table is cleared intermittently instead of once all guests have finished eating. I should mention that by this time 3 out of 4 of us were dissatisfied with our dining experiences, but I'll let them write their own reviews.

By then almost two hours had passed in our dismal dining experience and not by choice. The kitchen was obviously running at a snails pace because the 4 or 5 other tables in the restaurant were also drumming their fingers on their respective tables in anticipation and presumably frustration. By the time our deserts hit the table I was ready to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy what I had hoped would a birthday treat. I mean, how can anyone screw up chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Leave it to the chef at the Bedford. My hot chocolate was luke warm, the mint ice cream, probably store bought, was edible but set on top of a hard chocolate crunchy that tasted like cardboard and the beignets were raw on the inside and left a cornmeal aftertaste in my mouth. I was disgusted and dismayed.

By this point I really wanted to let someone, anyone at the Bedford know how much I disliked all aspects of my meal. Unfortunately, our waiter never bothered to ask if we enjoyed our meal. The maiterde' never inquired as to our satisfaction. Even the chef, who could not have been overly busy in the kitchen, never bothered to visit with his guests and check up on their satisfaction. The hostess barely glanced up as we left after almost three hours of one of the WORST dining experiences of my life.

Happy Birthday to me...

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