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Texas on Washington

The second benjy's location serves low-key local foods.

The night before Halloween was fairly quiet at benjy's, despite its location on Washington Avenue. Two Hamburglars — one male, one female — sat at the bar, sipping pints of beer, while a woman dressed as a Rubik's cube ambled around semi-awkwardly in search of her friends. They were upstairs, it turned out. And it turned out that all of the loud partying one would normally expect from a Washington hangout was upstairs, too. Downstairs at this new benjy's was serene, calm and home to some surprisingly amazing dishes.

That night, a friend and I were dawdling over a fifth of Jester King's Drink'in the Sunbelt Hoppy Wheat beer and the remnants of our meal. It had been so good that we were in no rush to leave, especially with some Halloween costumes beginning to trickle in the door. We'd already seen a sexy Hamburglar — what other treasures would the night hold?

We picked at the remains of our entrées, too full to continue but unwilling to part with them. The cobia sashimi with green apple slices and wasabi had gone quickly, the pearlescent, soft pink discs of fish gobbled down with just the barest hint of a soy vinaigrette on top. The shark-like fish is thick in Gulf waters and can be seen served as hamachi just as often as it's referred to as cobia. It's not in constant rotation, however; the sashimis served each day rotate out according to whichever fish the restaurant has in at the moment.

Asian-inspired comfort food: the beef udon at benjy's.
Troy Fields
Asian-inspired comfort food: the beef udon at benjy's.

Location Info

Map

Benjy's on Washington

5922 Washington
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Sashimi: $11.95
Goat cheese cakes: $9.50
Pork potstickers: $8.95
Cuban sandwich: $11.95
Beef udon: $15.95
Tofu with forbidden rice: $14.95
Short rib pizza: $11.95


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: benjy's on Washington: Bringing Local Foods to the Chic Masses
BLOG POST: What Did benjy's Ever Do To You?


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Much of the strikingly Asian-influenced menu is this way, thanks to Japan-born chef Mike Potowski. Aside from being steadfastly seasonal (the current menu is charmingly labeled "early fall," as if Houston has any other seasons than summer and February), benjy's is also keen to use local ingredients as often as possible. It doesn't flout this fact aside from a few T-shirts seen on staff members that read "Farm to Table," and it doesn't just talk the talk, like many other restaurants in town — benjy's actually uses roughage from Animal Farm, pork from Black Hill Ranch, cheese from Pola and Mia Bella, even beer from local breweries like Karbach.

It's refreshing to see a restaurant commit so quietly and unobtrusively to serving local food, and gives me hope that overused terms like "farm to table" and "locavorism" will one day fade away and that restaurants like benjy's will still be serving Texas pork and cheese when it's no longer fashionable to do so. It gives me hope that one day locally sourced food will be a given in our restaurants, and neither a curiosity nor an obsequious spectacle.

"As the farm-to-table movement ramped up, so, too, did the idea of restaurants printing their purveyors' names on menus as some sort of badge of locavore honor," wrote a frustrated Felix Salmon last week in Grub Street, New York magazine's food blog. "But even as the qualifying terms have become more vague, their ability to increase a restaurant's bottom line has gone up."

I don't get this sense from the local items at benjy's, in spite of the fact that the benjy's team — headed up by owner Benjy Levitt and partner Dylan Murray — has just opened its own Revival Market-esque store next to the original benjy's in Rice Village, a store called (appropriately enough) Local Foods. Because at the same time, benjy's doesn't hew so closely to locavorist dogma that it eschews quality ingredients sourced from far and wide.

Take, for example, the forbidden rice in my tofu entrée from that pre-Halloween night. It's pleasant enough to see a well-constructed, thoughtful vegetarian item on a menu, let alone to have it actually taste good. The onyx grains of rice were tossed together with curried cubes of tofu, green beans, cauliflower and candied pumpkin seeds in an autumnal dish that was kept light with bright leaves of cilantro but still hearty enough for a full meal.

My best friend and I traded our dishes back and forth, trying to decide which was better. I was ultimately more enamored of her beef udon with thick, juicy slices of rib eye in an oil-slicked broth that was thick with bok choy and slithery, slurpable noodles. Served with a fried egg on top, the udon was the epitome of Asian-inspired comfort food that night, washed down ably with glass after glass of the pleasantly hoppy Jester King on our table.

The beer director stopped by toward the end of our meal and checked out the 750-milliliter bottle, nodding approvingly at our selection. He told us that the restaurant had just gotten in (512) Brewing's latest anniversary beer, a Belgian-style triple. My friend and I looked at each other, paid our tab, then moved promptly to benjy's bar, where we ordered up another round — this time of the triple.
_____________________

The downstairs bar area is small here, but that's because the action is all upstairs. Downstairs is where I'd prefer to be anyway, taking in the sweeping views of benjy's luxe dining room. Familiar touches from the now 16-year-old Rice Village location are found here — such as the studded, white leather chairs with seductively curved arms that line the bar and the semiprivate dining table at the front of the restaurant — but it's mostly a creature unto itself.

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17 comments
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kvn
kvn

I love the "douche" comments about this place. I actually have taken my parents here on two occassions who are in their 70s and are in my humble opinion, very non douche or "Jersey Shore". They in fact are not the type that venture off far from a meat and potatoes type of meal.

When I explained this to the waiter, he was more than happy to recommend not only items on the menu but that they would be happy to make a meat and potatoes type of entree for them. To that end, the steaks they ordered were cooked perfectly and they very much enjoyed the pickled beets and also the sides. Sides they normally wouldn't enjoy. i can't remember ever seeing my Brooklyn born parents eating brussel sprouts or mac & cheese for that matter.

Was it noisy, sure, but not to the point that my parents couldn't hear our conversations. Also, were there some overly trendy folks around us, yes. But it again didn't take away from their experience.

I realize that dining is more than simply the food, it also includes the setting, the crowd, the presentation, etc. That being said, at the end of the day, in my opinion, and yes I agree with the other comments that these are all simply that, opinions, that the food is what should be the main baise of the review.

Again, I am always for opinions. But at the same time, I think it is ridiculous to hold in some higher esteem one critic because he or she is an expert. What makes them an expert? Because they dine out quite often and like to use witty comments and sarcastic criticisms of food? I do come to the table with an opinion of my own. I have managed in the past several years ago for both independent upscale establishments, upscale casual, etc. establishments and upcoming chains.

I guess now as I am no longer in that direct day to day market in my current profession, but still involved in working with the hospitality industry I am still just floored by both individual diners and critics comments.

Do you really think that these places are not trying their best every day? Yes there are some places that are simply terrible, some servers that are uncaring and some kitchens that simply have no business being the restaurant industry. But let's face it, when they make a mistake, a mistake all of us make in our jobs, such as my spelling, rambling, etc. in this post, do we have individuals jumping on us for every point?

I just wish that individuals who make posts would realize the impact that their comments have in this information age. You didn't like your salmon...okay, was it really that terrible? You made a reservation for a table with a view and were not given that table, was your entire meal a failure? These comments that are posted can make or break a person's establishment whether founded or not. How many of us would like to have a group of people from the outside rate us in our job performances on one small snapshot of their opinion and have it be the reason for us having a job or not?

When you make a mistake in the restaurant industry, there is no delete button, there is no "recall of my email" it has gone out there to the table. But how many times in our own professions do we get a second chance in our mistakes etc. to not have the entire world wide web know that we had a hiccup or flub and not have everyone with an internet connection pounce upon it and give their two cents of what they would have done better.

I apologize for my rant but I just get tired sometimes of how much we think that every single dining experience should be without one fault and not realize that our comments, while well meaning as constructive criticicsm can have long reaching effects.

Erin
Erin

benjy's is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Their delicious food and commitment to using local products and hormone-free meats is applaudable. Doesn't anyone care where their food comes from? Do you really want to eat a chicken breast that is as big as a turkey breast? BTW, they have an awesome happy hour - every day - from 4 to 7pm - and the scrumptious pistachio-crusted goat cheese cakes are on the menu. Yumba!

Robert Rosenberg
Robert Rosenberg

It does not matter if the food is locally grown, organic, pumped full of hormones, or anything else. If you don't know how to cook it, its just not going to taste good. On my one and only visit to the Benjy's on Washington I ordered the chicken breast encrusted with pecan meal. The chicken was inediable on several levels. First, it was cook so long it was like a hockey puck. Second, it was so oversalted that even softening in one's mouth before chewing it would, besides being kind of stange, very unpleasant. It came with side vegetables but the vanilla buerre blanc sauce onthe chicken was so disgusting and had leached onto the sides, I could not stomach the vegetables either.

To management's credit, when the manager asked how I liked the meal in a genuine way so rarely happens these days, I responded with an honest critique of my experience there, which including nice things to say about the decor and service and far from flattering things to say about the food and noise levels. The manager gave me a gift card fora free meal. After walking around thei free meal gift card, I gave it away to a friend.

Hugo
Hugo

I don't like going to washington either. The traffic is terrible. But, the dining scene is definitely worth going. Especially for benjy's and Chef Mike Potwoski's menu. Bravo to Shilcutt for reviewing this restaurant and actually "getting" what they are doing there. There are some really fantastic dishes and Chef's technique is so undervalued in town. we try and go often because their menu changes (!) and the produce and seafood they feature are so fresh.

Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

The weekend night Washington "scene" is definitely not for me. But, early on weekday evenings, the interesting new restaurants are easy to enjoy....

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Like you, I don't like driving down Washington/descending into the heart of darkness, either. But you're right that the dining scene is worth the journey: Coppa, benjy's, TQLA, Branch Water Tavern, BRC, are all great, just to name a few. And you only have to deal with valet at two of them. ;)

Corey
Corey

In speaking with an out of state client, who we had referred to benjys last year as being a nice upscale restaurant his quote "Was as close to Houston gets to being Jersey Shore and even more pathetic".... Enough said, words of a true sage. You and your conspicuous consumption set can have Benjys and my ire, my apologies for preferring real versus pretension..

MericaRulz
MericaRulz

I'm not a big fan of the Washington location. In fact I refuse to go there. I find it too loud and yes it is a bit douchey. I found it hard to carry on a normal conversation, without having to yell. All that being said, I goto the Village location often. I've been going there for 10 years a can honestly say I have never had a bad dinning expierence there.

Corey
Corey

I knew this was inevitable as much benjys gushing as the HP has been doing. Can't stand this place, hate they drove my atones out of business, and it's the epicenter of all things douche in Houston, and conveniently located on douchington avenue.. So much for journalistic integrity.

Texmex01
Texmex01

I agree, they took a business that has been there for over 30 yrs, and replaced it with a trendy market that will be gone inside of 2 years...sad...

Really?
Really?

I like that Benjy's superior food and service drove Antones mediocre foods and staff out of business.

Corey
Corey

Sorry did I offend your Ed Hardy shirt sensibilities? My bad....

guest
guest

Again, as mentioned before, it's one thing to base an opinion on bad experiences with food or service. However, it's another to share an opinion based on your own bad experiences with "Douches." There is not a correlation between the two. The only explanation I see is you may have been to benjy's once 2 years ago when Ed Hardy was actually worn and the crowd made you feel uncomfortable to the point where you associate your self-consciousness with every establishment down "douchington."

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

"So much for journalistic integrity," meaning "you reviewed a place I don't personally like"? Is that about the gist of it? Otherwise, I fail to see how integrity comes into play here at all. And let it be said about Antone's that the crumbling of that empire took place from the inside out, not the other way around...

Corey
Corey

It's across the board from the Owners, to the food, to the prices, to the clientel, and given the sheer amount of superlatives and references on the HP as of late it's not hard to spot bias, and an impending good review. So much for keeping us guessing, you just keep gushing to deaf ears, hope they paid you well for this dreck..

Robin
Robin

And might I also add, because this is a pet peeve of mine, that this is a REVIEW. Of course it's biased. She's being paid by a newspaper to express her opinion. If you don't agree with said opinion, why don't you express your own? I love dissenting opinions! Can you back yours up with something other than poorly-expressed vitriol? I love and over-use the term "douche" myself, but it doesn't really tell me what you don't like about benjy's.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

For what it's worth, I believe the last two things we wrote about benjy's were a post earlier this month that included them in a roundup of restaurant lagniappe, and a Chef Chat post with Mike Potowski (both written by other writers) back in April. So...okay!

 
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