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Get the down low on Down House in our behind-the-scenes slideshow.
A white plate holding a prodigious piece of grouper arrived at the table at Down House last Saturday night, completely halting the conversation I was having with my dining companion as we both pondered its immense size.
"Do you see this?" said my dining companion, Brandon Fisch, as he examined it from several angles. I'd invited Fisch, most recently the executive chef at Yelapa Playa Mexicana, along for his seafood expertise. He looked momentarily dumbfounded by the sheer size of the thing.
Houston, TX 77008
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
â€¢ Breakfast torta: $7
â€¢ Croissant sandwich: $9
â€¢ Cortado: $3
â€¢ Cappuccino: $3.50
â€¢ Longhorn burger: $11
â€¢ House salad: $6
â€¢ Fries: $8
â€¢ Tempura vegetables: $10
â€¢ Grouper: $22
â€¢ India Express cocktail: $9
"This is at least a $30 portion of fish by itself," Fisch finally continued. "And they're serving it for $22?" He just chuckled and shook his head, perhaps baffled by Down House's portions but beguiled by the fish nonetheless as he quickly dug in.
Across the table, I was admiring my little bento-esque box of tempura-battered eggplant and zucchini. It's always heartening to see thoughtful vegetable dishes on menus even if I'm not a vegetarian myself, and I was impressed with not only the arrangement of the vegetables but the small touches that accompanied them: a well-dressed watercress salad with julienned apples on top and a bowl of effervescent kombucha-ginger dipping sauce.
We traded dinner plates halfway through, polishing both off despite an ample appetizer of Down House's twiggy French fries, seasoned with fresh thyme and Banyuls vinegar. I loved the little ramekins of citrusy housemade mayo served with the fries, a touch I hadn't seen previously at lunch, and reminded myself to order the mayo on the side with every future order of fries.
"Was the grouper a little overcooked?" asked Fisch, as we regarded our empty plates. "Yes."
"But did it taste good?" he continued. "Absolutely."
I couldn't disagree, though I found myself wanting more of the smoky vegetable ragout underneath that had been out of proportion, serving-wise, with the giant piece of flaky fish on top. Wanting more of a restaurant's food is a good sign nevertheless.
And while there are still a few kinks to work out, Down House has already made a tremendous impact in the short two-and-a-half months that it's been open.
The Heights isn't exactly wanting for restaurants, bars or coffee shops right now. You can get an excellent cortado at Revival Market or upscale cafe-style food at Shade. You can get that stay-all-day vibe at Onion Creek or great craft beer at Petrol Station just north of the Heights. But combining all of these concepts into one is what makes Down House unique. It's a tricky thing to pull off, and I initially thought it couldn't be done.
On my first visit to Down House two weeks ago, I nearly got up and left. I wasn't dazzled by the twee dining room – my dining companion, a coworker, referred to it as "affected" with a tone of derision – and it smacked of over-exertion in all the wrong places.
I don't really care how old the medicine cabinets and botanical prints on the walls are if your waitstaff can't be bothered to come by the table even once in 20 minutes. And I also don't care how cute my waiter's old-timey tie pins are, or how darling my waitress's 50s-inspired dress may be (okay, maybe I care about that one a little bit) – it means absolutely nothing if they disappear for good after taking my drink order. Being left alone for 20 minutes during that initial lunch service was something that was repeated at another lunch the very next week, frustrating me to no end.
After barely receiving menus and then being left to our own devices, my coworker and I were ready to leave. Finally, we flagged down a waiter who seemed to have completely forgotten that he gave us our menus and took our drink order (drinks which never materialized) and decided to stay put.
Luckily, our lunch came out in record time, a tribute to Down House's thoughtfully small menu. My coworker's Longhorn burger was the stuff of sweaty-foreheaded, dilated-pupil, burger wet dreams. The patty tasted as if it had been cooked on a griddle made of butter, cooked to a splendid medium-rare and tasting of nothing but sweet, buttery beef with a hint of salt. It was slightly smaller than its fresh, yeasty bun. And instead of interfering with that driving, meaty flavor, the other ingredients simply complemented it like a chorus of backup singers whose sole purpose is to make the star shine even brighter: Longhorn cheddar, peppery arugula, ripe tomatoes and house-made mustard thick with whole grains of mustard seeds that popped and sizzled against the beef.
The burger made my atrocity of a salad that much sorrier. The same arugula on the burger was the base here, with accents of fennel and shaved radish. There were scant few of the touted "spiced pecans" from the menu and barely any peach vinaigrette at all. The salad tasted bitter and dissonant. I shoved it aside after four bites and idly scooped some boring tomato-basil soup into my mouth. I even tried the salad again on another visit, a week later, and came away disappointed once again.
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After reading the "hot and cold" reviews of Down House restaurant in the Houston Press, we decided to give it a try anyway. We arrived and were told to sit anywhere. We walked to a table to be told "but not there." Hmmm... Found a table with ample seating for three, yet the tables would only hold a dinner for one comfortably. So, we drank our used wine bottle of chilled tap water and waited. And waited. Some "idiot" decided to turn up the restaurant's sound system unbearably loud so we waited more, but without anymore conversation. So we read the menus. The food menu was a third sheet of paper with choices of entrees of either a burger or salad. The drink menu was a flagrant rip off of Anvil Bar and Refuge. We left approx. 30 minutes after arriving, without any semblance of service and the reflection of a "restaurant" ran by frat boys who wanted to open a trendy place without so much as a single thought or idea on how to run one. We were thoroughly disappointed and will NOT recommend. As far as our evening? Thank you, Dry Creek!!!!
I have to say that your experience seems very standard and your assessment of the "frat boys" wanting to open a trendy place is SPOT ON. I too had a horrible experience, very similar to your own and I give my STRONGEST SUGGESTION TO AVOID THIS PLACE. Rude and arrogant staff of incompetent morons.
i had such awful service at my first meal here, i will never return. the waitress took our order and forty-five minutes later returned to our table, asking if anyone had taken her order. when we said, yes, someone had, she asked who. um, you. the omelet with salmon and goat cheese i finally got had an off taste, and although i am not usually a "value shopper" when it comes to food, i was shocked to see that the side it came with consisted of a few grape tomato halves. not even a piece of toast. the sandwich my friend had was so forgettable, i can't even remember what it was. they did not so much as comp the ice tea and the coffee that we had ordered. i guess when you are that busy swanning around in bow ties and vintage dresses, you can't really be too concerned with service. never again.
This was an excellent and very balanced review by Katharine.
I am pleased to advise that, based on my lunch today, the Down House is well on its way to ironing out any glitches. The service was wonderful. The salads and the burger were great. The espresso shot (Cuvee coffee from Austin...of course I'd rather see them use a local coffee roaster, but it was a very good coffee) was pulled perfectly. I think they read your comments and made improvements accordingly.
I will be going back soon. The only constructive criticism I might toss to them is that they could bring down the salt level in the pulled pork and maybe bring a little brown sugar into the sauce to up its sweetness just a tad. The hamburger was very good, and the meat on the burger had absolutely no fat or gristle.
I especially like the Charles Darwin them of the restaurant and I joked with them that they should put a note on their menus that all of the dishes are "creatively designed".
I looked at their beer prices online and would easily be better off going to the Taps House or the Ginger Man.
I thought she used her prose to communicate a really great burger. Get your own format and do vour own review if you're so much smarter. I really hope Katharine reviews Phil and Derek's soon. Old school entertainment that's amazingly good. For us service that was great in the beginning, not so much after we started our meal. We drank more wine as we listened to the amazing singer for hours after we finished our meal. I hope Katharine will have a good meal and enjoy the entertainment.
I wish I could disagree, but the service has been iffy, though friendly, each time I've been. Sitting at the bar at least keeps you entertained while you're ignored. Avoid the seafood fondue though!! It seems all the fish was on your plate, because there was none in the fondue.
I take dispute with the authors conjection that the Heights "isn't lacking for restaurants." The Heights is just coming into its own with restaurants - the feel and need of the Heights demands restaurants to which residents can walk and bike to. The author notes Revival Market as a restaurant option. Revival Market only has three tables. Not exactly what I call a restaurant, although I think it has a stupendous selection for a local market and I regularly shop there. I'm thrilled to see new restaurants in my neighborhood and proud to support them.
"take dispute" "conjection" "to which residents can walk and bike to [sic]" "the author notes" "stupendous selection" -- who ARE you trying to impress???!!! Take a few English grammar lessons and drop the pretension, will ya'? You're embarrassing yourself.
What cfig said. And I certainly didn't say that Revival Market was a restaurant option, as much as I love the place. :)
Um, I think the author said that you could get a great cortado at Revival Market (very true) but implied it wasn't a restaurant as few places combine good coffee with great food offerings.
Down House needs to seriously work out the horrid service issues or they'll find themselves Down & Out Of Business.
I think that sums it up. Spotty at best. Some folks have been a handful of times and had great service each time. Others have gone and had horrible service every single time. Me, I went four times with a 50-50 result: great service half the time, disinterested service the other half. Consistency needs to be addressed.