By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The stand-out vegetable dish had to be the eggplant, which was roasted until it fell apart and then was served in a tart and creamy Persian sauce. Vegetarians will also love Garson's spinach-and-kidney-bean stew, a creamy spinach puree with whole red beans and the exotic aroma of coriander. I tried the rich vegetable blend ladled over the strange crispy rice cake called tahdig.
"Many cultures have a dish like this," rice expert Paul Galvani told me. "It is literally the potstick -- the cake of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot, which is then fried until it's very crisp."
The tahdig I had at Garson was so hard it was like chewing uncooked rice. I had to let the spinach-and-kidney- bean stew soak in for a good 15 minutes. Only then did I eat it -- for dessert. But most Iranians seem to prefer their tahdig to have the texture of concrete.
2926 Hillcroft St.
Houston, TX 77057-5802
Baba ghanoush: $4.95
Must museer: $3.95
Garson special (chicken and rib eye): $14.95
Lamb shank: $12.95
Tahdig with stew: $4.95
Iranian spinach dishes are always a good bet -- the strain of spinach eaten in the West came from ancient Persia. So did many common herbs such as basil, mint, cumin, cloves and coriander. Persia also introduced oranges, pistachios and saffron to the world, along with the domesticated goat, the preferred livestock of nomadic tribes. Too bad Garson doesn't serve a goat stew.
"So what did you say to the waitress in the bathroom?" I ask Sonia as we finish our wine.
"I said to her, 'I'm here with someone!' She says, 'But you're not married to him, are you?' Then when we go out of the bathroom, this guy is walking by, and she says, 'That's him. Don't you want to talk to him?' "
Sonia is part embarrassed and part amazed. She gives me the guy's card. The playboy wanna-be has scrawled his cell-phone number on the back.
Now I'm a broad-minded guy. But it seems to me that when the manager of a restaurant hits on a customer's date when she gets up to go to the bathroom, he has violated the laws of hospitality. These sacred laws, as described in Greek mythology, were enforced by the gods. In fact, these creative deities apparently loved nothing better than to sit around and think up really clever punishments.
Paris, it is said, violated the laws of hospitality when he seduced his host's wife, Helen, and carried her off to Troy. His host was the king of Sparta, and the punishment for Paris's bad manners was a thousand ships full of angry Greeks who eventually took out the Trojan prince with a big wooden horse.
The restroom Romeo at Garson doesn't have anything nearly that awful to worry about. Nobody is going to send a thousand ships after him. But the gods who enforce the laws of hospitality have conceived an ingenious punishment nonetheless. They have sent him the wrong woman to proposition: the date of the local food critic who is dining anonymously in his restaurant. It has that broad, delicious irony so common to ancient myths and I Love Lucy episodes. He smiles as we leave, completely clueless as to his impending fame; and I return his grin.
Sometimes working as an anonymous food critic is like being behind the lens on Candid Camera. Restaurant folks do the weirdest things when they think that no one important is looking. But the best thing about my secretive job is that, sometimes, when I write about a restaurant's faults, the hard words actually convince them to change.
For instance, I can pretty much guarantee that the Garson loo-lurker won't be hitting on pretty girls in his restaurant again anytime soon. Even when the humiliation of reading about his sleazy moves subsides, he will still be seeing anonymous food critics lurking behind every menu. Which gives this story a happy ending. Now you can go to Garson and enjoy the beef-and-lentil gheimeh, the stewed lamb and the hot crisp flat bread. And whether you are an attractive woman or a couple on a date, I predict you will be treated with the kind of hospitality normally afforded visiting royalty.
And we will all eat there happily ever after.
Wine notes:Oxford Landing, cabernet-shiraz, Australia, 1999, $26. Shiraz is the capital of the Iranian region of Fars; it is also the name of a wine grape believed to have originated there. The shiraz grape yields a fruity wine with wonderful berry and plum aromas and a bright red cherry color. It is the most common varietal of the northern Rhone region, where it is known as syrah. Today, shiraz is revolutionizing the wine business halfway around the world in Australia. Winemakers there are producing magnificent shiraz-based blends, including this one, which combines fruity shiraz with cabernet in a new style of blended red. The shiraz gives the wine an easy-drinking character, while the cabernet adds depth and complexity with its stronger tannins and cigar-box aromas.