Monday, March 23, 2009

Bedford Restaurant

This isn't going to be a full-on review of Bedford, Robert Gadsby's new digs, both because I lack the time for a full review, and more so because a few weeks have passed since I dined there, and I do not think it is entirely fair to the establishment to pen a review after such a passage of time.

Really, then, this post is much less a review and much more an airing of the grievances, Festivus style.

First, I am happy to admit that I am generally a total Gadsby Groupie.  At its peak, Mrs. E and I were firmly convinced that Noe was the best restaurant in Houston.  We loved the setting and decor -- ambient blue is lovely, and appears at Bedford, too -- the service, which was first rate, and, above all, the cuisine.  Mrs. E and I know a thing or two about Japanese cuisine, and we were enthralled with the way Chef G worked these techniques, fused with a European style, that produced food that was both elegant, complex, and yet avoided the hoity-toityness regrettably common to fine dining (and food critics, I might add.  No one I know, of course.  *Whistling*).

We also particularly loved that Chef G tends to eschew heavy usage of butter and cream.  See, here's the thing, and this may be the worst kind of gastronomical blasphemy: I'm not all that impressed when a chef loads up butter, cream, and cheese in a given dish.  If a chef is unable to load up a dish with butter, cream, and cheese, and make it taste pretty damn good, then they really stink.  Note: I have no problem with butter, cream, and cheese.  Quite the contrary; I dearly love all three.  My point is simply that liberal usage typically underwhelms me.  See also: bacon.

In contrast, a chef who understands the loveliness of these items, but uses them sparingly and still manages to turn out incredible food tends to garner my undying admiration.  I, aspiring home cook that I am, can manage to make things taste wonderful with butter, heavy cream, cheese, and bacon.  I guess the analogy here is to Alison Cook's general suspicion of truffles (and truffle oil).  I adore truffles, but I think she is right to point out that adding truffles to a dish is basically Instant Fancy.  Make it taste good first, then add just a hint of truffles . . . 

Noe gradually decreased in quality as Chef G seemed less present, and, while I think it remains pretty good, it is not what it once was, IMO.  So, I was thrilled when Bedford Restaurant opened -- finally, Chef G's own restaurant, with everything directly from his brain and hands.  I was doubly comforted when I walked in to dine a few weeks ago, and saw the man himself in the front, talking to some Serious People (investors?).  The smile at seeing him present quickly left my face as I realized that he was not actually in the kitchen at that time.  Ah well, if you want the Man to cook for you, better reserve a private table . . . 

The short of it is, I was underwhelmed.  The amuse bouche and appetizer -- butternut squash cappucino -- were quite good.  But the main course was disappointing indeed.  Perhaps I should have gone with my instincts and chosen seafood, but I was hankering for some pasta, and order the rigatoni with house-made sausage and aged goat cheese.   The dish was fine, as far as it goes, but seemed strangely un-Gadsby-esque.  From experience, I tend to expect true Gadsby-style dishes to be reasonable-size portions (this harkens back to Gadsby's Japanese training, I am guessing, because portions in Japan are substantially smaller than in Houston), with a gorgeous, artistic, yet almost minimalist presentation.  The dish was none of this.  It was a giant bowl of pasta, with everything kind of tossed in.  Little care seemed to have been taken with the presentation, and it was a huge bowl of pasta.  I was not particularly excited to eat it.

It tasted fine; the sausage was well-spiced, and it is, in my mind, impossible to go wrong with goat cheese.  But I was not wowed, with either the presentation, the portion, or the conception of the dish itself.  From Chef G's incredible culinary mind comes . . . a bowl of pasta with sausage and goat cheese? And it tasted extremely heavy, which I suppose might be expected from the dish I ordered, but seems to lack some key elements of Chef G's cuisine.

Anyway, I'll chalk this experience up to my ordering the wrong dish, and to Bedford perhaps still working out the kinks.  I'll be back, of course, perhaps after I scrape together the needed funds to sit at a private table . . .



Anonymous said...

I hate to pile on as well - I like supporting new restaurants and people taking risks, but too many things to comment on here. We went in early February and couple things to note - (1) good bottle of wine came out very warm, I actually went looking for where they stored it; (2) layout of the restaurant is strange, does not feel like a good flow - some tables are cramped and some have tons of space; (3) service could use some help - no one took wine orders until well into 45 minutes of being there, that probably made the difference between us having two bottles of wine instead of just one. That would have made the dinner more profitable for them!

I did have the same pasta you did - thought it was good - but not at those price points. Like you, was hoping for something more interesting as a Chef's special dish.

I am going to go back - I want it to be a good experience, going to give them a little more time to season and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

I ate here and it was a mediocre meal at best. Here are the top memories:

a) Our white wine was served warm because, according to our waiter "our guests like it that way". Huh?
b) Food was average. I specifically asked that the endive sauce be left off my tuna yet it arrived all glopped on there. Our lobster salad arrived all mushed into a small salad bowl so getting a morsel out resulted in the salad spilling out everywhere.
c) The service was abysmal. The waiter got our order wrong. We had to flag him down a number of times. The busboy tried to take our amuse-bouches before we'd even had a chance to take one bite!
d) The decor looks like a boring in-house restaurant at a Marriott in North Dakota or something.
e) There were typos on the menu of things as simple to spell as "Manila clams" which were spelled "Manilla clams".

Lastly, one thing I find interesting is the protectionism that some of the local restaurant blogs feel towards this chef/restaurant. For example, I wrote a factual review of my disappointing experience on in January and they still have not published it and won't respond to my inquiries as to why not. I guess they only want to publish glowing reviews to help keep Bedford alive.

There are so many better places in Houston besides Bedford! Glass Wall, directly across the street, blows it away in my humble opinion.

anonymouseater said...

Nice write-up E.

I can see how that sausage & pasta dish might be oppressive as a main course. I had it as part of a multi-course tasting, and it was a nice contrast to Gadsby's lighter dishes. I loved the dish.

I have had a few great meals at Bedford. But I have heard a lot of others who were not impressed. The restaurant is probably best when Gadsby focuses on cooking you a multi-course meal, especially at the chef's table.

Rubiao said...

I had pretty good food when I went to Bedford, once before it was "open." Someone at my table had that pasta though, and they were considerably less generous than you in describing it. I did notice the large portions and someone at my table did not like the space. My main grievance was the difference in the quality and creativity of my meal compared to what I had heard from people doing the tasting menu or chefs table, which sounded amazing. I am hoping for a big menu overhaul for Spring.

Anonymous said...

It was really up-and-down when I went there. Some spectacular highs (the duck ravioli), but some dismal lows. Consistency is going to be key to any kind of success there. I found the staff responsive, but Houston service is never up to par.

NOLAGIRL said...

I have never tried the pasta dish you mention, but will say that all of my meals at Bedford have been out-of-this world. I admit that service has been slow in the beginning, but I have started to notice improvements. The hidden jewels are the lunch and brunch menus. First of all the restaurant isn't as crowded as a weekend evening and there are a number of menu items not offered in the evening. My favorites include the spicy soft shell crab wrap for lunch and the potato, onion and truffle omelette for brunch. To top it off, I could take my kids for brunch who said that the waffles were the best they had ever tasted! I also look forward to service on the patio which I hear is about to open.