Saturday, January 10, 2009

halcyon days: a dinner at Textile

When Scott Tycer's Aries closed two years ago, I was mad -- so mad that I brought this blog out of hibernation. I was mad because the Houston food scene had not supported the work of one of our formost geniuses.

But now, Tycer has opened Textile. And I finally tried it tonight. My wonderfully psychedellic evening at Textile convinced me that Textile is not the work of a single genius. It is the work of at least four geniuses.

Genius #1: The Bartender

We had a 9:30 reservation. Our table was not ready for almost an hour after that. Ordinarily, that is a prescription for disaster.

But Textile has a sympathetic, creative genius behind the bar. He took care of us. My wife was struggling with severe allergies. So he made her a drink involving ginger beer, whiskey, and honey. He made me a classic Manhattan (easily the best I have ever had). Then he made me a gin drink involving lemon juice and pomegranate seeds. The bartender also brought us some spears of endive with crab meat, avocado, and herbs.

None of this -- not the 3 drinks, not the endive dish -- showed up on our bill. The waiting may be the hardest part. But Textile made a virtue of it. Bravo!

In our hour at the bar, we learned a lot from the bartender about bitters, vanilla bean syrup, aged rye, gin, and absynthe. I recommend asking him to just make you something interesting. He will comply. You will not find a more interesting mixologixt in Houston.

Genius #2: The Chef

Scott Tycer still has the chops. A tart was served with bacon, basted quail egg, wilted bitter greens, and balsamic vinegar. Nothing is better than great-quality bacon and bitter greans. This dish was outstanding.

Black cod is my favorite fish. Tycer's cod came with a crispy skin. The meat of the fish was strangely mushy -- not flaky. Yet the taste -- mixed with caulifower -- was salty and fascinating. The fish texture bothered my wife. I couldn't decide whether the texture was intentional, but with the oustanding flavor, it did not matter. A veal breast was served with leek sausage and truffles hollandaise. The flavorful dish was certainly in the style of Tycer.

Genius #3: The Wine Guy

Textile's wine guy is a classic wine nerd. And he's brilliant.

He started us off with a Sancerre with strong flavors of mineral and slate. It was a remarkable pairing for a salad of hydro lettuce, blue cheese, and an onion struedel. He served a brilliant Montrachet with the cod. It was bursting with fruit flavors such as apple and banana.

He served an Italian (!) pinot noir with the bacon egg tart. By itself, I did not like the slightly vegetal wine. Yet with the dish, it transformed into something crisp, dry, and delicious. The veal breast arrived with a rich cab franc. And the dessert course arrived with a 30-year-old Pedro Ximinez - a divine nectar.

Every wine was an intelligent pairing with the flavors of Tycer's food. He described the flavors in more detail than you usually get from wine guys. For a wine pairing fan, this wine guy is easily one of Houston's best.

Genius #4: the pastry chef

I have said it before. Plinio Sandalio is Houston's best pastry chef. His dishes redefine what we think of as dessert.

For my tasting menu, Plinio created a liquid pumpkin pie with brown butter ice cream. The pumkin liquid that oozed out of the soft crust was beyond description.
For my wife, I told the waiter that she "needed" chocolate. Plinio complied with rich pieces of chocolate mixed with sweet nuts and a banana puree - a delicious combination.
We also received a plate of intensely chocolate bon bons.

Halcyon Days

We were at Textile very late. The music started to warp. First I heard the dub sounds of King Tubby. Then Sonic Youth. Then Panda Bear -- the singer from the Animal Collective. Then Wilco.

My mind started to bend. Perhaps it was the ginger/whiskey drink. Perhaps it was the remarkable food. Or maybe Plinio's chocolate. Or the glorious P-X. Or the psychedellic music. My thoughts began to swirl with a rapture of flavor, alcohol, and sound.
This certainly was not Aries -- a great restaurant that was a bit too stuffy. This was a restaurant comfortable enough with itself to take its customers on a wild ride without having to assume pretensions or justify itself.

Even for the price (one of the most expensive meals in Houston), I wondered whether this was too much genius for one night. I wondered whether this experience is better than Houston deserves, and whether it can last.
In short, Textile is one of our best restaurants. Right now, perhaps our best restaurant. It took me too long to get there. But when I finally did, I was overwhelmed.


BusterFrito said...

I just read a review of this resturant in Texas Monthly and have been tempted to try it. Thanks to your review I think I will. I am also a Houston Foodie. Check out my blog

Anonymous said...

I want to go so badly, but it seems too good to be true. Nothing wonderful in the Houston restaurant scene seems to stay put for very long. It always seems that by the time I get there the star chef is gone or the restaurant closed. I hope Tycer and Plinio can stick around long enough for me to get a reservation!

Anonymous said...

Textile is fantastic. I need to go back when the menu changes up a bit. And the more I travel the more I become convinced Plinio isn't just the best in Houston. Few more shots from Textile

plinio said...

hey robert.
thank you for stopping by textile the other night. it was great to see you again. and do come back.

let me know when you come, please!! i may be working on something new and would like to use you as my guinea pig, hahaha! jk.


anonymouseater said...

Plinio - Thanks. I may do that next time. I like to be a guinea pig.

But for the first visit, I wanted to be able to say that no one at Textile knew I was a food blogger.

Misha - Great photos. How did you get that artistic blur in the first one?

anonymouseater said...

In the original post, I misspelled "halcyon" as "halcion." Halcion is a sleep-inducing drug. I did not mean to suggest that Textile induces sleep.

"Halcyon days" refers to times of prosperity and joy. It is perhaps an ironic term to use in economically catastrophic times. Yet for the Houston food scene, this moment in time is perhaps the best ever for great restaurants. In just a little over a year, we have seen the birth of Feast, Voice, Ristorante Cavour, and Bedford. Plus, Chef JJ has upgraded Beavers and Chef Randy has upgraded Rainbow Lodge.

To mix metaphors, Textile is the icing on the cake.

It can't last, can it?

Unknown said...

Hoping to eat there on Valentine's Day.

The bartending talent is assuredly a wise move and it's good the restaurant comp'd your drinks and bar dish.

I'm not sure a restaurant should earn a "best" title if there's an hour wait for your reservation though. A restaurant in that class should be able to manage the tables.

That said, I don't doubt that it may be the best gastronmic experience in Houston right now. And certainly the wait risk didn't stop me from trying to book a table - I'm just as eager to try the creations in store. (I only ate at Aries once before it closed but it was a great meal.)

anonymouseater said...


I am more critical than most people about waiting times for a reservation. But I also realize that is much harder to schedule reservations for an 8-table restaurant like Textile than a 50-table restaurant. With a 50-table place, historical statistics should give the front desk a good prediction of when tables will be free. With an 8-table restaurant, 2 slow tables can throw off the whole evening.

HoustonWok said...

wow the presentation is wonderful! I have to admit, I eat first with my eyes so prestige presentation makes the meal all that much more desirable.